Daily Archives: January 26, 2010

“Things Are Better Now” by Robert Maxwell

"Your dad," the seasoned teacher smirked, jabbing a finger at a cocky boy named Patterson, "and your mom," whirling his laser gaze onto a pudgy girl with nasty pink hair, "both your parents. I taught them," he chuckled, shaking his head with disdain. The boy made a rude face. The teacher made a ruder one.

"Yes sir, I've taught just about all your folks at one time or another..." He moved quickly to the front of the room. "...and that's how I know that you, Patterson, are a troublemaker. Born and bred. It's in your genes. Your daddy was trouble. And I've certainly seen your grandfather down at the Legion. Trouble with a capital T." All the kids laughed, except Patterson. The teacher, the legendary Gary Walsh, chuckled along with his barb.

"Alright, enough of this. You guys waste your education laughing all day in school like this and the Chinese will flatten us. The buggers even go to school on Saturday, you know!"

A new boy named Lee stopped smiling.

"Mr. Walsh," whined a thin boy with glasses, "can I get a drink?" Walsh laughed.

"Oh, you need a drink, do you? Fat chance, Flanagan. You've been in class five minutes. You're not getting up ‘til you're dryer than a prune."

The boy knew better than to protest. This was Mr. Walsh after all, not some bleeding-heart kid-lover fresh out of teacher's college. Legend has it that Mr. Walsh once threw Edmund Donivan over a desk for cheating on a test. That was in '73, but time hadn't done much to erase the collective memory.

"Alright Flanagan. I'm feeling merciful today. Since it's the first day back from holidays, go get a drink. But make it snappy!"

Flanagan blinked, not sure what to make of the change in situation, his thick glasses exaggerating the bewilderment.

"Hello? Anybody in there? I said you can go, Flanagan. Unless you'd rather waste the day in La-La Land. Wake up you boob!"

More laughs. Hot blood flushed Flanagan's cheeks as he stood up and shuffled towards the door.

"Anyone else want to divide their time equally between work and water breaks?"

No one breathed.

"Didn't think so. Jamie! Hand out these history textbooks. I'm going to teach you kids about the time the British whipped French ass in less than fifteen minutes on the Plains of Abraham."

A dark-haired boy named Claude groaned softly.

"What's the matter, Clod? Does your stomach hurt?"

"Huh?" was all the boy could manage. Not a response Mr. Walsh appreciated.

"I asked if you have a stomach ache. You were groaning like a woman in labour."

Someone snorted. Then laughter broke out for the third time that morning. Claude's fists clenched beneath his desk. It wasn't easy being a French kid in what had to be the most English part of the country.

"Well?" Mr. Walsh demanded, his voice suddenly rising.

"No," stammered Claude at last, looking at his desk. "I'm fine."

"Then don't disturb my class with your noises. Now, about those poor Frenchies on the Plains of Abraham..."

When the morning bell rang forty-five minutes later, Claude slammed his history textbook shut fast enough to squish a housefly. He had his coat on and was out the door for recess before most of the class were out of their seats. Two hours passed, and so did French class, music, and lunch. Back in the homeroom, math with Mr. Walsh struck like a falling anvil in a roadrunner cartoon.

"Martin, two out of ten." Martin burrowed into his sweater.

"Alicia, three out of ten." Alicia looked like death would be preferable.


The boy cringed.

"...Nine out of ten. Very good. Did you cheat?"

Flanagan's sigh of relief was loud enough to justify snickers.

Two pop quizzes and a worksheet later Mr. Walsh ordered the room to pack up and get out moments before the final, afternoon bell rang.

"Get out of here you maggots. You think I want you guys wasting my beer and cormorant time?"

No one did. Outside school, Mr. Walsh was known for two things: drinking beer and shooting cormorants. Anyone foolish enough to interfere with either obviously hadn't heard the old stories. Probably because there weren't many brave enough to repeat them.

The class stood up. A herd formed, heading for the door. Mr. Walsh barked.


The boy stopped, fear and annoyance on his face.

"I'm part French, you know. On my mother's side. I'm allowed to make fun. Just don't let anyone know about me."

Claude's eyes widened, as Mr. Walsh winked.

"See you tomorrow, kid."

He never did. Two seconds after blasting the third cormorant of the evening, Gary Walsh's left arm exploded in pain, dropping the warm 12-gauge onto the limestone rocks along the shore. The pain spread to his chest. He knew something was wrong when his foot kicked spasmodically, knocking over his open Coors. He'd been drinking for half a century, and never wasted a beer before.

"Things must be bad," he grunted. Then his eyes rolled and he fell backwards, taking his army green lawn chair with him...

"Good morning, class! My name is Miss Barnes," the slightly overweight woman with hair dyed too dark chirped, "and I'll be taking over for Mr. Walsh until the school board finds a full-time replacement."

Every word was rehearsed. She paused to sip her coffee. Her breath was awful.

"Where's Mr. Walsh?" Claude asked loudly, surprised to realize that he actually wanted to know.

"I'm not at liberty to say just now," the woman smiled, double chin wobbling slightly. "Like I said, I'll be taking over for Mr. Walsh until the board replaces him permanently. Now, will someone please tell me where you left off in your history textbooks?"

"Page thirty-two," the class pleaser piped up.

Pages ruffled.

"Ah yes. Have you learned about the brutality the British imposed on the French on the Plains of Abraham yet..."

Two months later the board still hadn't found a replacement for Mr. Walsh, but Miss Barnes was seriously considering resignation anyway.

"Good morning, class."

A chorus of laughter rose. So did a squadron of paper airplanes and a flurry of goopy, pen-launched spitballs. Miss Barnes fought tears, then lost. Wet rivulets of mascara flowed downwards, highlighting wrinkles that hadn't been there in September. She hid her face behind a quivering hand.

"Open your history textbooks, please."

A few kids obeyed.

"We're the British, and Miss Cow-Barn is the French on the Plains of Abraham," Patterson shouted eagerly. "Let's get her!"

Spitballs flew in a focused line. Miss Barnes, taking cover, stumbled out of the room, silently sobbing. She never learned how to deal with a mob in teacher's college.

That night the principal phoned Miss Barnes at home, causing her to spill herbal tea all over her lap.

"I want you to stay on, Gloria. You like the kids, and it shows... just between you and me... you don't pick on them like Gary did."

Miss Barnes pressed her lips together hard enough to turn them white.

"It sounds harsh, but as a principal I'm glad he's gone. He didn't understand the new policies and new psychologies. He practically bullied the kids, and we all know the harm that does. Why some of the parents liked him is beyond me. Things are so much better now, don't you think?"

“Seizing the Moment” by Ron Koppelberger

The movie was a raging tangle of relationships, specifically the relationship between machetes and pliant flesh. Saxon Crisp dug his hand into the yellow and burnt umber colored tub of popcorn. The giant cola had cost him four dollars and the corn five. Crisp mumbled something unintelligible and bits of popcorn tumbled from his lips. A dark stain of cold moisture from the icy cola stained his wranglers with the secret moviegoers stigma. Saxon watched as the masked maniac cut and slashed his way through several screaming teens. "Yaaaaaaggggggghhhhhhhaaaaaaa," he said through bits of corn. The nocturnal spirit sang and Crisp pounded the arm of the plastic and metal seat. "AAAArrrrrrrrrggggghhhhaaaaqa." Darkness filled his eyes for a moment as scarlet rivers flew in cascades of beaded mist in giant projected offerings of wild abandon. "OOOhhhhhhaaaaahhhhhaaaaa," he sighed as the cola spilled to the floor in a sugary ice cube spray. "OOOhhhhhaaaaahhhhhaaaaa," he moaned. His arms flailed and a shower of popcorn flew in all directions. "AAAArrrrrraaaaaaaggggggghhhhhhaaaaa," he screamed as he stood and striped off his shirt. Crisp screamed at the top of his lungs and dug tiny ten fingered trenches into his chest. Unbound, he ran to the front of the theater screaming and whooping like a man in the shadow of an urge, an urge to ignore the withering wills of stoic reproach, calm reserve and jaded poise. "AAAArrrraaaaaggggghhhhhaaaaa," he screamed as the wolf took hold, dreaming him to sylvan express and wild extreme. Saxon padded up the aisle and into the maw of human breed as the theater resounded with screams of terror and shock borne of decreed fangs and fear. Saxon Crisp seized the moment and howled in silhouette to the applause of evening-tide shadows and the wan face of a dappled moon.

“Love Me Forever” by Mary Beth Asaro

I watched her life slip away from me like melting ice dripping down the drain in the secluded cabin. Her grey eyes glazed over and her head fell back as I held her in my arms, bleeding. My concentration flickered from Sarah to Jason's cold snare. A moment later, I was laying her lifeless body gently on the light brown rug and brushed back a strain of blonde hair from her lips. Then I slowly got to my feet and glared at him.

"Don't fuck with me, Shawn." Jason waved the pistol in front of me.

"She was never yours."

My hands balled up into two tight fists.

"She was playing us."

"She was playing you."

Jason stood there for a moment, baffled at my response. Then he slowly aimed the metallic pistol right between my eyes.

"I love you. You know that, right?" Sarah once asked me over coffee at one of those out of town restaurants. She was wearing that light blue tank top and short shorts that always drove me wild with the peeping sun shinning through her dangling hair. She smiled as if she had told a joke.

I sipped my cup of coffee and leaned back in the chair.

"Does Jason know?"

Her smile faded and the glow from her face darkened.

"I'm just waiting for the right time to tell him."

"He's my friend."

"You have my heart."

I shook my head in disbelief of the situation.

"Look, I'll tell him tonight at the cabin. You have nothing to worry about." She smiled as if my worries were childish.

"I'll come with you."

She caressed my fingers in acceptance.

"You son of a bitch! You knew the whole time!" Jason spat out.

I just stood there for a moment taking it all in. There was nothing more for me to say. Not only was Sarah betraying him, but I was betraying him as well. But I loved her more than he ever did. After a regretful "Yeah," I couldn't look him in the eye. I didn't want to. Jason began to pull the trigger while I closed my eyes. The shot beamed out as an echo in the wind. Within the darkness, I could feel no pain. Is this normal for a person to feel no pain before they die? I opened my eyes. Jason was laying face down on the floor. Dark blood stained the back of his black leather jacket.

"What the..."

My wife stood there over the railing of the wooden staircase with a small hand laser in the palm of her hand aimed at my chest, her finger hovered over the red button of the laser. She was in her everyday pink tee and faded blue jeans with her hair bound together in a rough ponytail.

"How did you..?"

"I followed," her face filled with a nonchalant facade, but her eyes were saying something else; something that wanted me to explain my behavior.

I stared at the laser gripped firmly in her hand.

"The mission, Zara. What about..?

"Don't! You are more important than these... things," She eyes Jason's lifeless body on the floor with a snare.

"Sorry," I murmured. It was the only excuse I could manage to get out of my dry, tense throat.

"Don't be."

She lowered her laser and smiled an unearthly gleam. We stood there for a moment just staring at one another from a distance. I realized then that we didn't know each other anymore. Ever since we came to this water mixture of a planet, we'd grown apart. She was always busy observing and carefully planning how to dominate the species from a watery cave beside the ocean while I was stuck with the delightful task of trying to find a weak spot in the inhabitants, but slowly, some how, I started to change. I was tired of it all. I wanted to feel alive again. That's when Sarah came into the picture. Sarah caught me at a very fragile state.

"Hi, are you waiting for someone?" Sarah's eyes squinted at me because of the fire ball rays out on the animal crowded beach.

"Not really." I smiled at her alien beauty that shined within the shadows of her face.

"Do you mind if I sit here with you for a while? Everywhere else is crowded." She looked back at the ocean of people basking in the hot sun.

"No-no, go ahead," I blushingly urged.

"Thanks." She threw a bright colorful beach towel out on the dessert sand and laid down on it, looking up at the mass of blue liquid that has begun to reach out to us.

"You must be new around here?"

"What makes you say that?" The question startled me enough to look around to see if anything was showing out of my skin suit.

"I haven't seen you around."

She looked at me for a moment in a peculiar way. Then she hands me a grey plastic bottle.

"What's this?"

I held the foreign object as if it had thorns all over the sides.

She giggles. "Very funny. Isn't it what you were looking for?"

"What does it do?"

"You don't know what sun lotion is?"

She looked at me for a puzzling moment; her grey eyes sparkling at me with a hidden life behind them.

"No," I mumbled.

Sarah took hold of the bottle and squirted some of the white liquid cream onto her palm. Then she began to rub it into my arm.

"What are you..?"

I cringed for a moment, expecting a burning sensation. Instead, there was a cool relaxation that I had never experienced before.

"It protects you skin from the sun," she grinned at me with those pale pink lips. "So... where are you from where they haven't heard of sun lotion?"

"Way up north," I smiled back at her, enjoying the cool sensation on my arm.

"You should come with me. I'll show you around."

"I'll be honored," I replied.

"I was starting to think that you were growing attached to them." Zara's expression was hard as concrete, but her eyes pleaded for a good excuse as I thought of the only explanation.

"Only as a pet. Nothing more."

The explanation brought a smile to her face.

"Come. We have much to discuss."

As I began to make my way up the stairs to her, all I could think about was our first night together on Earth.

We'd tear each others' earthly skins off just for our transparent jelly bodies to cling to each other under the August moon on the cool grains of sand. Our long tentacles caressing each other while our crystal red stomachs heaved into each others whirlwind of passion. A moment later, the feeling expired and we went back to our usual way of pasting our skins back on each other by using a misty glue called fint from a plant called finus that is grown from our home planet, Benstral. Afterwards, Zara stared at me with those dark crystal eyes as if I'd taken something from her.

"Will you love me forever?"

I looked at her in those crystal eyes and said, "I will." Then I brushed the strain of ash brown hair from her cheek. She smiled; comforted by the answer. Our tentacles connected with each other through our peachy cream skins and we were one, thinking the same thoughts and sharing each other's emotions.

Her white, smooth tentacles wiggled out beneath the fingernails. They grabbed a hold to mine in an affectionate embrace. "I have great things planned for us," she smirked.

I glanced back at Sarah lying below us in a small puddle of her life's elixir. One of Zara's tentacles turned my face towards hers. "No regrets?"

My tentacles touched the moist, distant smile on her beautiful face. "None," I murmured.

She dragged me to the bed room with a human hand.

"Don't worry. It will be painless... and you won't have any lasting impressions of them when I get through with you."

Zara clenched my wrist unexpectedly. Her cold eyes were focused on mine. "There will be no distractions next time."

"I understand," I replied. My eyes pleaded for mercy.

"You will," her crystal eyes cackled, "when I insert part of myself in you."

She pulled me in the room and slammed the wooden door with a heavy bang. It's one thing to betray them and it's another thing when you betray your own kind.

“The Werewolf Tavern” by Mary Beth Asaro

Dianne hypnotically stared at the small containers of bees wax and the hot pink plastic bottles of hair remover lotions while two middle aged men stood beside her in the Wal-Mart. "I hate messin' with this stuff. Why did I ever bother with it in the first place?" Dianne thought.

"So, I heard you went to France for a month," the man in the dark brown jacket mentioned.

"Yeah... yeah. I did some sight seeing. Went to a couple of bars. Saw some women..."

"Women! Well, you had an exciting vacation! So, how was the French women?"

"Hairy," the frost brown bearded man in flannel proclaimed. "Very hairy. God forbid you wouldn't want to see 'em. Ugly as hell!"

"I bet they smell raunchy too with that bush hangin' out their arms," the shaven man in the jacket added.

"Beyond word... God, I hate hairy women! They ain't natural!" The bearded man proclaimed.

Oh, that's why. Dianne grabbed the pink bottle of hair remover lotion from the upper shelf and quickly walked towards the nearest 10 items or less check out. She patiently watched a caramel woman place her items on a belt while the ebony cashier scanned them. She focused on every inch of the two women. Smooth faces, necks, arms, and legs; hairless. Dianne glanced down at her peachy cream hairy arms and scratched her shaved, stubble cheek. If only I were beautiful.

"Momma, people say I'm ugly because of my hair."

Seven year old Dianne sat on the toilet seat naked with her eyes closed tight as her mother smoothed steaming golden bees wax on her breasts with a wooden popsicle stick.

"Dianne, what do I keep tellin' ya?" Her mother placed the stick in the bees wax and waited for the wax to dry.

"I'm beautiful," Dianne replied through clenched teeth.

Her mother poked at the dry wax then yanked it off a breast.

The woman paid for the items and went on her way. Her time had come.

"Hi. How are you?" The cashier asked mechanically while scanning the lotion.

Dianne took one last glance at the cashiers face and neck.

A mental wreck. "Fine," she bit her bottom pale pink lip.

"$2.04," the casher replied.

Dianne dug in her black velvet purse for a five. She retrieved it and handed it to the casher.

"$2.96 is your change. Have a nice day," the casher handed Dianne her change. I doubt I ever will, Dianne thought. She placed the money in her purse, collected her plastic bag, and walked out of the store.

The orange South Carolina sun gave one last glare at the graveled parking lot before it slowly sank into the forbidden horizon. A few small grayish white birds chirped and warbled on the cold metallic, black pole of the night lamp near Dianne's black '92 Cougar. She thrusted the bag and purse on top of her blue luggage bags in the mild grey passenger's seat and hopped in the car.

Dianne drove with the window down hearing only the wind scattering her spiral rustic brown hair and the small chatter of people walking on the paved side walk until the roads where unfamiliar. Several cars passed by her at long intervals as she adjusted her review mirror and glanced at the familiar home of small run down businesses near house parks.

Dianne walked into a crowded cafeteria of the junior high. She dodged careless clicks trying to make it to a lunch line. Finally, she spotted a clear path to the line and took it paying no attention to the chaotic people outside the path until an olive skin girl backed into her and spun around. She stared at Dianne as a high pitched laughter escaped her Champaign lips.

"Hey, girl! Are you a dude or a she man?" A dirty blonde boy asked standing beside the olive girl.

Dianne felt a million eyes watching her. She quickly made a U turn out of the cafeteria while many colorful faces flashed before her eyes.

"Goodbye," she murmured. Then she turned her attention to the freshly paved road in front of her. I'm tired of the mental, physical, daily pain. The memories... I want... "No more," she mouthed as a single tear flowed down her cheek. She wiped away the stream with the back of her hand and glanced at the sun slowly moving down west. A mile down the road, she spotted a small Exxon station and pulled in. The tarnished bell toiled as she pushed her way through the glass door. A flabby white haired man with a toothpick slowly twisting from the side of his mouth eyed her from the counter.

"'Scuse me, you wouldn't happen to know the nearest motel around here, would ya?"

"It depends on where ya goin'," the old man replied.

"Any where but where I came from," Dianne smiled. Her eyes watered.

The man chewed on his toothpick. He didn't take his eyes off her for a second.

"Up about ten miles or so is an old tavern. It no motel. It a bar with rooms for people like you. Just keep goin' straight up yonder," the man pointed up the road, "'till ya come 'cross it. It'll say Club Colony in big letters. Ya know it when ya see it."

For people like me. I don't think there are people like me. "Thank you," Dianne whispered and went on her way as the man watched her leave.

Dianne sat in her high school desk waiting for the bell to ring. She stared at her classmate, Meca, from across the room. Little curly, soft, black hairs covered her bronze cheeks.

"Why won't you do something about that?" A ash brown girl sitting beside her asked.

"I tell you like I told my parents. I won't shave it 'cause it will only grow darker. If a man really wants me, then he will just have to put up with it. Besides, I'm only hairy on my face. And ya can't see it unless you're right up close to me." Meca glanced at Dianne and shook her head. "Dianne... with her white skin and dark hairs all over... I feel sorry for her. Her's just pops out at ya from a mile away."

The sky began to turn shades of shadows until it was pitch black. The white dotted stars peeped out and the green trees swayed with the wind while Dianne spotted an old wooden tavern with a faded red neon sign of CLUB COLONY painted above the door. She turned in, parked her car closer to the road on thick crab grass, grabbed her bags, locked the car, and proceeded towards the tavern. An owl hooted, hidden within the thick dark trees behind the tavern as crickets played violin music with their legs while Dianne walked in.

The dim rustic moonlit atmosphere crawled with people brushing against her as she made her way to a wooden round table. She sat there for a moment taking in the new scenery and the inhabitants. In front of her sat a fiery haired woman in a silky smooth red dress with her legs crossed showing her black needle hairs as if flaunting them to on lookers while chatting with a baby face tan man. Dianne's mouth opened wide in amazement until a loud, ringing voice caught her attention.

"Would you like a menu, hun?" A blondish grey haired waitress asked. Her face was filled with soft, light yellow chin and cheek hairs.

"I'm here for a room."

"It's forty bucks a night.

Dianne nodded. The hirsute waitress motioned her with an index finger to follow her to the counter where she grabbed a key from a wall of hooks.

"Room twelve," the waitress motioned her head towards the wooden spiral staircase. Dianne followed the gesture and glanced at it for a moment. The man was right. It's no motel.

"That's forty bucks for tonight."

Dianne grabbed two twenties from her purse and paid for the room. Then she proceeded up the stairs away from the unusual. It was dark and silent on the second floor with chatter and music booming behind her and a hallway full of unopened doors in front of her. She walked cautiously through the hall until she came to room twelve. Dianne plunged the little key in the hole, twisted it, and opened the creaky door. She felt the cold, smooth wall for the light switch, stumbled upon it, and witnessed the plainness of the room as it lit up. Just a regular bed, nightstand, and bathroom were provided. Dianne closed the door, sat the key on the night stand, dropped her bags on the mahogany floor, and plopped her body on the bed. She stared up at the boarded ceiling as if she was in a trance. "Where do I go from here?" Dianne thought.

Dianne sat with the men of the family in the living room watching deer hunters stalking their prey.

"Honey, you should shave that," her father pointed to her arm. "Did you start shaving your arms?"

"No, I have never shaved my arms. I don't see anything wrong with it."

"You need to shave that," he pointed out. "It's disgusting! I can't believe you've been goin' out like that! A eighteen year old don't even know how to shave!"

Dianne stared down at his ash hairs on his arms which extended to his hands and knuckles.

"I got it from you," she protested.

"I'm a man! I'm suppose to be hairy! Women are not suppose to be hairy!"

Dianne glanced at her uncle in the cocoa recliner and her cousin in the wooden rocking chair staring at her. Then she looked back at her bearded father.

"If a man really loves me, he will just have to put up with it."

"I luvs ya and I'm not puttin' up with it!" Her father retorted.

Dianne took one last look at her uncle and cousin before she jumped up from the couch and went into her Aunt's kitchen. She grabbed her green jacket from the chair, covered herself, and went out the back door.

I will never be beautifully normal. Dianne sat up and stared out the window at the grayish white full moon. The sight of the outside was peaceful, soothing, and comforting to her. She sat there for a moment taking it all in before she made an exit out the room. Dianne carefully walked down the stairs and sat at a nearby wooden round table. A drunken charcoal woman sat at a table next to Dianne with her hirsute friends chug-a-lugging on Bloody Marys.

"Supermodels... like vampires they are. Looks enticing to some people 'till ya get a whiff of their armpits! Years of sank! Ya know I may be hirsute, but at least I only use deodorant once a day to smell good! Those so called beauty queens have to use deodorant two to three times a day! Curse of bein' hairless."

"We don't fit in society, Sharen," an olive woman stated before sipping her drink.

"Poodles... all of 'em! Artificial man made poodles! Like just the other day in Bi Lo an old woman took me a side and told me how ashamed I should be for going out in public like this!" A yellow tented woman stammered. "I said, lady... go fuck yourself 'cause you need it!"

The charcoal women raised her glass in triumph. "I am werewolf woman! Ya'll watch out! I may infect ya... pass on my hairiness!"

The women cackled. "I wish I had inner strength like them," Dianne thought.

"Do you need a menu, hon?" The waitress asked Dianne.

"Yes, please."

The hirsute waitress laid a menu on the table while Dianne took in the little yellow spike hairs on her arms before she turned and walked away. She began to look at the menu until a light brown sugared man walked up to her. His dark hair was partially spiked with a hint of Irish red tent. He looked down at her and smiled.

"Hi, do you mind?" He pointed towards the empty wooden chair in front of her. She glanced at it as if she'd never saw it before.

"No, go right ahead," she shook her head.


He sat down in front of her.

"You're new here," he replied.

"Yeah... yeah. I am. Just traveling... exploring to settle." I thought he was goin' to borrow the chair to sit someplace else.

She glanced at his dark sprawling chest hairs that peeped out of his red v-neck shirt and his ash arm hairs which extended to his hands and knuckles. Then she glanced at her own wolf like arms.

"What's your name?"

She looked up at his smooth, shaven face in response to his question. There was a sparkle in his light brown eyes.


Dianne... that's a beautiful name. I'm David."

The waitress came back with a pad and pen in hand.

"Are you ready, sweetie, or do you need a little more time?"

Please, make him go away. Dianne stared at the menu.

"Coke and a cheeseburger."

She looked up at the woman as she jotted the items down.

"And what will you have, pretty boy?"

David glanced at Dianne and back at the waitress. The waitress arched a light blond eyebrow.

"Nothing for me."

The waitress took the menu and scurried away.

"So, where're you from?" asked David.

Enough with the question already. You just want me for the sex. "Why are you interested?" Dianne shuffled in her chair.

"Oh, come on! A beautiful lady sittin' right in front of me and that's all you can come up with?"

Nice one. But I'm not stupid, pal. "So I'm beautiful, am I?"

"You're saying you're not?"

Dianne paused at this question and began to chew on her bottom faded pink lip.

"People don't like werewolves for ladies," Dianne stared at the cracks in the table.

David leaned back in his chair soaking the answer up as the waitress sat a glass of coke on the table.

"Is everything okay over here?" The waitress gave a tired smile.

"Just fine," David replied.

"The cheeseburger needs a few more minutes."

Good. Go away and take him with you! Dianne nodded her head and the waitress disappeared into a crowd of hairy women dancing with men to the pure, soothing sounds of "Dolphin's Cry."

"You could get rid of it, ya know," David broke the silence.

Easy for you to say. "I can't. Nothing works... not on me."

"Have you ever thought that may be nothing is wrong with you?"

"What do you mean?" She stared at him wide eyed.

"Hair grows on the body whether some people define it as bad taste or not." He slid his chair a little closer to Dianne. "And some men even find it naturally sexy... erotic." His eyebrows jumped in a fast motion several times.

Dianne made her chair hop back at this reaction. "You only like the sex."

"Don't all men?" David smirked.

He's getting' horny. What do I do? "So what are you tryin' to say?"

He slid his chair closer to her. She slid her's back.

"Some men are attracted to hair just like some are attracted to smooth skin."

"And that's suppose to make me feel better?" Dianne arched an ash brown eyebrow.

He leaned into her. "Don't you dare," Dianne thought. She slid the chair back until it bumped into another chair. He kissed her with his eyes wide open staring into her walnut eyes. Then he leaned back and smiled at her. A tear flowed down her cheek. Something inside her burst into a million pieces. He touched her cheek.

"What's wrong?"

Wouldn't you like to know! She jumped up and ran out the door. The waitress stood there with a plate of cheeseburger sitting in the palm of her hand staring at him.

"So who's paying $4.96 for this?"

He took a five dollar bill from his wallet and laid it on the table.

"That's better," the waitress laid the plate on the table, took the money, and walked back to the bar.

Dianne crouched down in the crab grass with stickers poking her through her faded blue jeans. She wept while the lonesome cry of a whippoorwill echoed in the cool night air. Dianne looked up at the pure white full moon with a wet face and closed her eyes. She felt the light breeze blow gently against her back and heard the sound of relaxing classical music played from crickets' legs. What happened to me? Why do I keep hating myself? She heard the song of the frog's croak and hugged herself. I should start new memories. She looked at the white dotted stars for answers.

"I want to belong," Dianne mumbled.

She looked back at the tavern and then at the grass. I already belong. She stood up and pulled the stickers from her blue jeans. Then Dianne walked back into the tavern. "May be I should buy myself a short skirt or some short shorts? I've always wanted to wear them," Dianne thought as she made her way through the crowd and back to her table with a plate of food waiting for her.

“The New Year’s Gift” by Mary Beth Asaro

Michael Sneezer made his way to the closest cemetery he could find. He needed to get away from the constant reminder of what he didn't have. With dirt filth hands from another year of a homeless living, he unlatched the gate leading to a small, out in the open cemetery. He left a portion of the gate cracked and continued walking. Dead silence was all that welcomed Michael on New Year's Eve in Montrose graveyard. Nothing out of the ordinary caught his eyes or shivered his spine. The yard was just a pile of grass, orangey-brown leaves, and granite headstones. He went close to the middle of a sea of grey headstones and sat down. Michael leaned against an expensive looking headstone with a statue of an Arch Angel chiseled on top of it. His hazel eyes watched the setting of the sun for the very last time of the year. Then he pulled out of his black jacket caked with dried mud an old silver harmonica his father gave to him when he was eight. Staring at the instrument, Michael smiled at the memories of a simple childhood and a prosperous adulthood as an engineer until he was suddenly let go four years ago by the plant simply down sizing. A heavy, irritating cough sensation caused the interrupted memories to fade as he is brought back to his present. After a few moments went by, the cough passed and Michael was brought back to the cold night air and a silver harmonica. Gripping the instrument tightly in his hand, he began to play a free style melody that expressed his frustrated sorrows with only the dead to hear his plea.

Sounds of the gate banging shut made the tragic symphony come to a halt. Michael leaned over until he was on all fours squinting to see the person who had crashed his New Year's party. But there was no sign of another life lingering in the dark crevices of the cemetery. He looked to the black velvet sky for answers and found only a thumbnail of the moon glaring back at him. Then he finally stood up. His hazel eyes wandered through the surrounding area carefully as his body followed. "Is anyone here?"

Footsteps on crunching grass and snapping twigs behind him penetrated his ears. Michael spun around to see nothing, but the night air beginning to mist over and the headstones becoming harder to see as the night wore on. He could see his panting breath before him and felt an icy chill cling to his bones. "Who's there I said?"

A crushed leaf buried in the dark close by him answered.

"I have a gun!" Michael plunged one of his hands in his empty, holy pocket to make his claim look authentic. "And I'm not afraid to use it! So why don't ya just do yourself a favor and come out nice and slow like!" Michael stood there for a good ten minutes feeling his blood racing through his veins against his cold pale skin.

Heavy boot steps emerged from behind him. Michael spun around again ready to fight, but a vague figure in a Civil War uniform vanished before Michael could land the first punch. Frightened by the disappearing image, he stumbled over backward. He wiped his eyes with his dirty hands and stared back into the black nothingness of the graveyard.

"Who is he?" A little girl's voice whispered from somewhere in the dark next to Michael.

Michael jumped up on all fours and started looking rapidly around n a circle for anything moving in the dark. "Who are you? What do you want?" He found himself screaming out.

"What are you doing here?" A voice of an old southern woman asked in his ear.

Michael turned towards the voice that had neither form nor shape, just the misty darkness. Scared out of his mind, he began to weep. "Please... please don't hurt me! I mean no harm! I mean... no harm!" He pleaded on his hands and knees to what ever was out there cloaked by the night.

The air grew quiet again. After a while, Michael laid down on the grass and curled up in a ball praying that nothing would easily harm him in that position. He was too scared to think straight and run for the gate. Moments later, Michael drifted to sleep.

Hours passed by when an owl's hoot woke him up. He hugged himself for warmth. Then he maneuvered himself up off the grass with his legs as he carefully looked at his surroundings for any suspicious characters lurking around the head stones. The cemetery was quiet and ordinary again. Michael glanced at the velvet clouds blanketing the stars letting only the crescent moon shine through. With an exhausted sigh from his visible breath, he proceeded towards the gate.

Michael was relieved to see the gate in plain, reachable sight. His anxiety of the whole atmosphere lifted off of his shoulders. He started walking faster as his paranoia grew about what stood lurking behind him. Before Michael could comprehend what was happening in front of him, his body froze at the sight of a dark cloaked figure pacing back and forth in front of the gate. It seemed to take notice of Michael while it blocked his only exit. Michael took a couple of steps back. Behind him, heavy footsteps came running towards him. He spun around and was immediately pushed down by a bolt of icy air. He landed hard on his back. The impact made him lose his breath for a moment. The night seemed to be a nightmarish dream until he found himself in a conscious state staring up at the moon with an aching back. He slowly sat himself up until a ton of invisible bricks pushed him back down on the ground as if he was a bag of flower. Michael was paralyzed. As his fear grew, the force got stronger and more aggressive.

"You can't leave. I won't let you leave. You're mine now," a deep demonic voice laughed.

Michael felt claws running through his chest and face. He screamed out only to hear other demonic laughter surrounding him. Then as quickly as the beatings began, they stopped. Michael had the sudden urge to cough. He tried to fight it, but the urge was overwhelming and finally won him over. Pinned down, Michael coughed until he was coughing up streams of blood all over himself. The more he coughed, the more the dark figures enjoyed it.

"There will be nothing in death for you," the voice on top of him assured him.

Beyond the sounds of cackling and painful coughing, Michael could hear fireworks in the distance. A moment later, colorful rain like sparks emerged in the sky as a sign of new hope. He could feel the force feeding off his energy little by little. There was nothing he could do, but lay there as road kill while the vultures feed off of him.

A blurry green light appeared far off in the distance in front of him. It rapidly grew closer until Michael could make out the light as a lantern attached to a dark figure behind it walking amongst the headstones. As the figure drew nearer, the fewer demons he heard around him until the very last demon on top of him made a run for it. His coughing ceased and his body was free to sit up.

Michael held his chest with one hand and rubbed his blood stained throat with the other.

"What business do you have here?" A female voice demanded.

Michael looked up to see only the bright green light blinding him. He placed a hand in front of him to block out the excess light, but still he could only see an outline of a dark figure with an old and withered pop hat on.

"It depends. Are you the caretaker?"

"You could say that," the voice responded in an ironic tone.

He felt relieved to hear another human voice besides his own.

"I know you must hear this of'en, but somethin' is not right about this place. It's haun'ed. You see, I was attacked..."

"By skin dwellers," the woman finished his sentence.

Michael paused for a moment as he tried to figure out what skin dwellers were. "'Scuse me."

"What your kind calls Shadow People or... Demons is what my kind calls skin dwellers. They seem to hate ya'll so much that they tend to cling to ya."

Michael didn't know what to make of the figure standing before him. Was it even human at all? Michael could not tell through the dark silhouette.

"Looks like you be needin' some cleanin' done to ya. Cancer's been eaten away at ya good. Couldn't seem to keep away from those tobacco sticks much when you had a home to go to, huh, Michael?"

Michael sat there with squinted eyes trying to find some detail on the figure, but it was no use. It was too dark to see. "Do I know you from sum where?"

"Not particularly." A hand reached out and grabbed him by the hand that was shielding him from the green light in the lantern.

The figure pulled him up. Michael could feel the blood rushing to his numb legs. His eyes hit upon a young woman behind the lantern. At a first glance, the woman look beautiful in a black weathered down trench coat and black trimmed hat on with her ash brown hair dangling down to her elbows. But at a closer look, Michael was shocked to find a pair of bobcat eyes on the woman with cat like teeth smiling back at him. She was dressed in only a trench coat. A portion of her feminine hirsuteness showed revealing some of her chest and legs. The woman wore no shoes and stood on her tip toes. "You seem to be at a loss for words, Mr. Sneezer."

Michael looked at her stubble face and stepped back. "What in god's name are ya?"

The woman gave a high pitched bobcat laugh. Then she placed a hand on his shoulder; her long nails clenched to his jacket loosely. "You have nothin' to fear from me, Michael. The name's Claudia." She pulled him close to her. "You reek of death," her facial expression changed from warm loving to serious. "I give a gift at the start of a new year to the one destine to find it. That is if ya want it bad enough." She stared at him eagerly. "Any requests."

Michael's mind fell into a blank fog. He could not believe what was happening as he stood in awe at the situation that lay before him.

"Very well then. I know just what to get ya." The woman pulled him closer to her and kissed him.

Michael stared into her big cat eyes. He tried to push away, but her strength over powered him. She growled as she sucked the sticky disease from his body. His lungs felt like masking tape was being pulled off of them. He closed his wet, burning eyes and felt his knees give way. Within a couple of minutes, the pain in his lungs eased off. The scratches on his face and chest began to heal until all that was left was a blood stained face and neck. She released him and started to cough violently.

Michael fell to the ground. His whole body was numb. The last image he saw of the woman before his eyes' sight faded into a black veil was of her on all fours coughing up a big black hair ball.

Michael awoke to the sound of whispers. He sat up from the sofa and peered down at two small children staring up at him.

"See, I told you we were gonna wake Dad if we played here!" The boy reminded his sister.

"You did not!" The small girl argued.

"Sam! Kelly! What have I told you about disturbing your father?" An exotic Asian woman came into the room. "Clean this mess up!" The woman pointed at the Go Fish cards scattered on the floor. "...And go play in your rooms!"

"But MOM!" The boy whined.

"Move those butts!" The woman demanded.

The children silently sulked while they gathered all of their cards and stomped out of the room. Michael stood up and looked around the lavished living room.

"How was work?" The woman brought his attention back to her.

Michael was dumb founded by what his eyes were showing him. "Work?"

The door bell rang.

"I'll get it," Michael quickly went to the door and opened it.

A Caucasian woman with ash brown hair pinned up in a bun stood at the door dressed in a UPS uniform. She presented a small package to him. "Here ya go."

Michael held the box in his hands and stared back at her. He gazed at those familiar bobcat eyes winking back at him. Then he straightened up and thanked her with one of those smiles one usually gives to a stranger.

"You're quite welcome, Mr. Sneezer," the woman returned the smile.

"Hun, did you order somethin'?" He called out to his wife before he closed the door on those once familiar eyes forever.

“Dog Days” by Ron Koppelberger

He cleared the mystic plane, the realm of sleeping dogs and flittering sparrows in misty dreams of paradise, never wavering, tail-wagging, sloppy tongued and hungry. The trail was dusty and lined by the red sash of roses and amber marigolds in bloom. He paused near a clearing at the far end of the path, scratching fervently at his haunch. Fleas, the entrance to doggy nirvana and he still itched. The sky rolled in azure reflections of nearly, except for the fleas, perfect paradise. Sniffing the ground, he wagged in a curious hope. The scent of food, warm perfumed wind, roses, and daisies commingled with the odor of damp leaves and the female. A soul-mate perhaps, the heady mists filled the spaces between whispering tempests in heavenly reward and the urge to run, run for the promise of a sunrise, a gentle respite from the cares of life.

He stared ahead and watched as a pond, cool freshwater and mossy around the edges, appeared like a mirage in a sweet dream of respite. Gentle, lazy eyes, and wagging grins, the female sniffed the air near the far side of the pond. She barked in commune with the spirit of freedom and love. She padded closer to him with expectant joy and the prospect of sharing a divine fate, an Eden in sure seasons of rabbit hunt and foxy demeanor. Closer, closer, until he was within inches of her damp nose; tail wags in acquiescent glee and the essence of both biscuits and prime rib savored in tune with the quiet joy of souls in commune, he had never been happier.

The jangle, jangle of a bell, low and resounding, filled the air. The old dog heard footsteps and the noise of people talking in hushed waves of sound.

"Come on, boy." Confused in mazy sensation his eyes began to clear and the dinner bell clanged on. Vast, grassy green, he ran and ran to the dinner that awaited him. The dream would wait and the promise of another love would greet him someday, for now he had the dinner bell, dog bones and the affections of his master to fullfill the waking wont of dog days.

“Round Robin” by Ron Koppelberger

Belonging to the mix of entertainment, women, and cheep cologne was a satisfying wrinkle in the web of tense embryonic existence. He caused the fray, cured the commotion, and assured the gaggle of drama. A sure secret, a mystery of import and tempered rumor gone round robin. In a turn to return, a will to passing whimsy, just a whisper to the giggling mistress of screams and guffaws, laughter and flittering evanescent communication; just a whisper in a room full of parishioners. He leaned toward the raven haired beauty; she smelled of lilacs and wine as her gold and diamond earrings danced in delicate circles of light, prismic and casting tiny spears of candent white light against her slender neck. Just a whisper to come along, round robin, round robin.

Her smile faded as he whispered in gentle coquette, "There's a fire in the loft love, a fire in the loft." He watched as she struggled to identify the whispering source of her fear. He watched as she grimaced, teeth bared in fright.

"YYYYYIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEE," she screamed through clenched teeth. "FFFiiiiiiirrrrreeeeeeeee." her face contorted into creased lessons of fright and her expression became a contagious rhythm of flowing fear.

The room shifted and the crowd churned to the front door. Screaming surges trampling, crushing in waves of patent leather and stiletto heels, in waves of bloody stomped silk, stumbling ails and tuxedo stain. They surged and pressed and the demon smiled in distracted interest as the broken bloody bodies of a dozen lay heaped near the door.

"Round robin, round robin," he hissed in sibilant appreciation.

“Blue Moon” by Mary Beth Asaro

I can still smell the grass growing in the summer rain. The lights are out and all that is a glow is the silver moon spying on me through the blinds as I watch its light pour down on me from my bed. It's calling to me again. The sound of panting, paws scrapping against dirt, and the earth wrenching howl draws me up to the window. They are waiting for me outside the glass, beneath the blinds as though there were no blinds. I can't stay away. They won't let me. Those eyes of porcelain grey will not let me rest or even dream of sun again. "It is my fate," I tell myself. I must go forth into the unknown before it engulfs me by force. I stand there in my black silk gown until my bare feet instruct me to the back door and onto the chewed up, rain damaged, pine steps. The air with its warm breath caresses my body and arouses my gown into a little nightly dance. They are gone as far as my eyes can see. Nothing but drying grass and dripping pine woods in front of me.

The earth is silent for a brief moment. Then the crickets start their ten o'clock gathering of Blue Grass Music. Something makes me draw closer to the woods. Curiosity? May be or just a sense of proof that I am not dreaming. The sound of a lonely whippoorwill emerges from behind a pile of olive pine needles that automatically makes my bones jump and my mouth gasp until its beautiful dark wings flap away into the starry sky. I stare up at the silver moon for an answer and all it can give me is a simple white glow highlighting a narrow dirt path through the woods. What else can I do? I'm bone tired of fighting. I slowly follow down the muddy path letting the pine needles pick away at my skin. There's nothing left for me. My family is gone. She's got her wish. I am alone.

I reach the uneven clearing where the moon is shinning its brightest. They are waiting for me in a perfect circle; the wolves with her in the center. Her fiery hair stands out against the fold. The canines are protruding outward as her porcelain grey eyes laugh at me. "Come," her red lips urges. "You are my family now."

I move forward to the center entranced by her beautiful human skin wrapped in a white gown. "No longer shall you be lonely," she whispers in my ear. "I'll take care of you."

She takes me by a breast, tasting some of me, and then lets me fall down to the wet ground watching the moon glow blue while the deafening howls pierce the night air.

“Whispering to a Vampyric Moon” by Mary Beth Asaro

The air was warm, cryptic, and sweet to listen to on a bus traveling to small towns. Keisha sat in the back feeling what little breeze a seventy mile an hour bus can make through a cracked window. Then she closed it, took one look at her dry ebony skin, and pulled out a bottle of vanilla lotion from one of her bags. She smoothed out and rubbed in the lotion on her arms, legs, neck, and face as if it was a religious ritual to cleanse the soul. The coolness of the lotion felt good against the roughness of her cream sweater and denim blue jeans. After the lotion bath, Keisha tossed the bottle in the bag and leaned against the grey cushioned seat while watching the blend of living and dead leaves, and grayish brown tree bark chopped with colorful double wides flash before her window. The rhythmic colors danced in her eyes at a fast pace under the dying sun. Then she lifted her nappy head slightly against the small comfort of a cheap seat as the bus began to show signs of slowing down. They passed by a speed limit sign flaunting the bold black letters of fifty-five to the passengers.

Keisha stared at the tin roof while she caressed a small square locket around her neck. Hours went by as her hypnotized eyes transfixed on a memory she worked hard most of her young life to bury. A shade of anger shaped her facial features; her hand just stayed pressed to the silver locket as if to hide it from the rest of the world. Then within a snap of a finger, the emotion was gone and Keisha was back to staring at the window.

The bus slowed down before coming to a halt. Keisha spotted her destination in the distance of a corn field. She grabbed her bags and walked slowly off the bus. The door hastily closed behind her and continued on its way again to another destination. Keisha glanced beyond the corn field at a two story grey shack and began to walk, racing the shadow of the sun to the house.

Sweat poured from her brow as she climbed the creaky steps on to the wooden porch and banged on the storm door. She heard nothing arose from within. A call from a whippoorwill made her jump, shrill, and look towards the back woods.

"Lord, I don't wanna die here," she proclaimed silently.

The storm door flung open making Keisha jerk her head towards the disturbance. A middle aged Caucasian woman stood next to the door with her green eyes looking Keisha over. Her long dark curls were held up from the pale face in a halfway pony tail and the woman's thin figure was dressed in all black as if she was one of those modern day vampires that are shown in a horror movie.

"Can I help ya?"

Keisha was beside herself for a moment. She didn't know whether she should answer the woman or drop her bags and run.

"Is there something I can do for ya? Are ya lost?" The woman drew near Keisha and placed her black painted fingers on Keisha's arm. The coolness from the fingers made Keisha come to life with answers.

"I'm lookin' for a room... for rent. I read in the paper that this place has one. Are you Miss Kurby?" Keisha could feel her bags beginning to slop away from her sweaty palms.

The woman took a contemplative look at her. "You're not from around here, are ya?"

"Not lately, no." Keisha heard several plops on the wooden porch and realized that she wasn't holding her bags any more.

Miss Kurby smirked. "Call me Kat."

"I'm Keisha Burner."

Miss Kurby opened the storm door and waited for her. Keisha quickly picked up her bags and just stood there for a moment wondering if she should go in.

"Well, are ya comin' in or not?" Miss Kurby's body showed signs of impatience.

Keisha took note of this and hesitantly went inside. Miss Kurby followed after her and let the door swing shut behind them.

"It's one-fifty a week plus room and board."

She watched Keisha survey the living room and the small wooden fire place for anything unusual.

"You're the first since October."

"Why's that?" Keisha turned her attention towards Miss Kurby.

"Since the serial came to town."

Keisha's dark eyes grew bigger than a pecan on a summer's day.

"Oh, it was just some psycho who thinks that he's some kind of vampire. He's probably long gone by now." Miss Kurby assured her with a wave of her hand. "Find anything... to your liking?" She gave a warm smile to her new guest.

Keisha stood in the middle of a black and white Third Eye rug while taking in the creepy environment. "My, what a... interesting place you have here."

Miss Kurby brushed passed her and elegantly walked into a large, modern kitchen area filled with all the home comforts of a New Age phone, sink, counter, table and chairs, cabinets, microwave, stove, freezer, and refrigerator.

"Oh, that's only the beginning," Miss Kurby grabbed a cocktail glass from one of the upper cabinets and sat it down on the counter closest to the refrigerator. "You don't mind do you?" She smiled at Keisha. "Or do you want something to drink as well?"

Keisha stepped in the room and eyed both the cocktail glass and Miss Kurby before politely mumbling a "No, thank you."

Miss Kurby opened the refrigerator and took out a clear, rectangular plastic bag filled with dark red plasma. "Thanks. It's that time of the month for me." She snipped a good size portion of a plastic edge with scissors she scrambled for from a bottom drawer and poured out the contents in the cocktail glass. "I have a cravin' for blood once a month since I was twelve." She threw the scissors in the drawer and slammed it shut with a hip. Then she placed the empty plastic bag in a small white trash can hidden in one of the bottom cabinets.

Keisha could feel her pulse pumping out of her wrists. "H-human blood?"

Miss Kurby took a sip of the blood and nodded a quick "Uh-huh."

Keisha clasped a hand to her mouth and back ed up a few paces after dropping her bags on the Mahogany floor.

"Miss Burner, it's nothin' like that!" She raised the glass. "This is from willing patients at Carolina's who are aware of my cravin's."

Keisha released her mouth and drew nearer. "What?"

"I work the graveyard shift at Carolina's Hospital. Everybody knows I have 'em." She began to drink some more blood before continuing the explanation. "It's some sort of disease. I forget what they call it. Any way..." She reached over and grabbed Keisha by the hand. "I'm harmless as a butterfly." Miss Kurby shook Keisha's hostage hand with her free hand and winked at her to comfort Keisha. Then she slowly walked beyond the kitchen to an old spiral staircase. Miss Kurby turned towards Keisha and motioned with the glass in her hand to follow. "Come on! There's still lots more to see."

After a moment of waiting, Miss Kurby started to walk up the staircase. Keisha glanced at her bags on the floor; then the living room leading to the front door and back to the slow rhythmic feet moving up the wooden staircase. Seconds later, she grabbed her bags and joined Miss Kurby on the staircase.

Miss Kurby took another swallow of blood. She kept her eyes upward on the decreasing stairs. "Where ya from?"

Keisha bit her bottom lip. Then she exhaled exhaustedly. "Came from Florida, but was born here in South Carolina." She felt one of her hands begin to lose its grip on one of the bags. Keisha digged her nails into the black fabric for a tighter grasp until she could reach the second floor. "Was raised here in Dovesville 'til thirteen."

They reached the second floor. Keisha put her bags down for a moment to rest her hands. Miss Kurby stared at her guest massaging her hands. "You and your parents moved to Florida, I take it."

Keisha kept her eyes down at her aching hands. "No. They been dead since I turned thirteen. I just ran away so I wouldn't have to go some place I didn't wanna go."

Miss Kurby was intrigued by Keisha's answer, but she didn't dare to dig more into it. Instead, she kept drinking her blood. Keisha finished massaging her hands and picked up her bags. While in the process of lifting up the bags, the corner of her eye caught a glimpse of an open door with lit candles and a black opened casket inside at the far left side of her. She quickly turned her head towards that direction to get a good look to confirm what she just saw. Miss Kurby followed her alarming gaze.

"Oh, that's my room. I can't get to sleep in open spaces. Some how I tend to get more rest in a closed coffin than in an open bed." She drank the rest of the blood in one gulp. "Everything is a disease now-a-days."

Keisha gulped down a ball of fear that appeared in her throat. Miss Kurby smiled at her. "Come on. Your room is this way." She escorted Keisha to the opposite end of the hallway. They came to the last door. Miss Kurby opened it and switched on the light. The light illuminated a room in the style of the 1950's with just a plain bed, dresser, and closet area; the bare essentials for a traveling guest. Keisha sat her bags on the bed and took a look around. Then she noticed a small window next to the dresser. She approached it and stared up at the grey spotted, pale moon shining down at her in its full spotlight.

"Protect my innocence and forgive my faults as I go my own way," Keisha whispered to the moon.

Miss Kurby eyed her as if trying to figure her out. "Who are you whispering to?"

"To the vampyric moon." Keisha closed her eyes for a moment while she listened to a frog croaking outside her window.

"And why did you come back here?" Miss Kurby stood in the door way anxiously awaiting an answer.

Keisha opened her eyes and turned back towards the bed. "Sometimes you can't out run your past."

"Right." Miss Kurby took a step back. "I'll just let ya pack. I'll be down stairs if you need me 'til eleven thirty when I go to work."

In a matter of seconds, Miss Kurby was gone from the door and Keisha was left with herself. She unzipped her bags and began to unpack her belongings on to the bed. Then Keisha went through them, one by one, placed them in the empty dresser drawers, and plopped down on the bed. She laid her head down on the pillow. With her eyes closed, she listened to the nightly house and outside noises until she fell into a dreamless sleep.

Keisha awoke to the sound of breaking glass. She jerked up and slowly made her way towards the threshold of the door. "Kat! Is that you down there?"

She could hear footsteps walking around down stairs. A moment later, the sound of a chair slid across the floor. "Miss Kurby!" Keisha carefully walked from her room to the spiral staircase. "Did ya break somethin'?"

Only the petrified silence answered her back. Keisha made her way half way down the stairs and paused for a moment. She leaned against the rail and tried to let her eyes adjust to the pitch black of the dinning room next to the lighted glow of the kitchen. A bell toiled from a grandfather clock near the staircase letting the near by inhabitants know that it was now midnight. Keisha jumped at the sound of it and almost screamed until she held her mouth closed. She took a deep breath and gazed over the railing again. A dark figure sat at the dinning room table watching the staircase.

"Who's there?"

"Whuz dere? Whuz dere?" A male voice mimicked psychotically.

Then the figure rose up from the table and walked into the lighted area of the kitchen. "Death cums ta dose who find it," the charcoaled man replied. His artificial fangs laughed at her while his greenish red contact lens glared at Keisha crazily. He brushed back his long dreadlocks with a flick of his head. Keisha just stood there paralyzed as the man ran towards her until she felt something inside of her pulling her to run. She found the strength to run to her room and slammed the door. Keisha pressed her body weight to the door trying to keep the nightmare at bay. But the man wedged the door opened, and began to taunt her with his fake hisses and cackles. Minutes later, he pushed her on to the bed, over powered her, and prepared to sink his teeth into her neck.

Filled with anger and fear, Keisha could feel the mental power building inside her. No longer fighting, she placed her arms around his neck and closed her eyes; welcoming the nightmare.

His teeth slightly caressed her skin when he felt his life draining out of him. The man tried to push away, but Keisha held on tight. She could feel herself getting stronger while her victim grew weaker. Keisha liked the taste of him, his energy.

A couple of minutes went by when she could no longer mentally taste the life within his body. Keisha pushed him off of her. He fell to the floor dead. She got up from the bed and opened her locket from around her neck. Her smiling parents stared back at her as the vivid memory of her angry thirteen year old self mentally draining the lives out of her parents flashed through her mind. A tear fell and caressed her cheek. She closed the locket and brushed it away.

She found herself walking down stairs to the kitchen phone and dialed 911. A mellow female voice answered. "I've just killed an intruder. Please, come quickly," Keisha heard herself say calmly before she slowly placed the phone back down on the hook. She walked out into the cool night air awaiting the sight of flashing red lights while singing "The Precious Blood of the Lamb" on the front porch.

“Elegy of Thought” by Jack Merrywell

Thought made a break,
escaped deftly from Brainland;
flopped limply to pavement,
twisting and straining, unable to breathe
in this ether we call reality.
i watch, mesmerized, as poor disembodied Thought
sinks slowly into pavement, choking,
struggling desperately for breath.

unable to move, Thought asphyxiates,
body dissolves slowly, sinks into ground

spacetime cracks, bends in on itself
Thought's corpse too much to handle
universe unravels, dies just like her poor victim;
flickers in and out of being,

then resumes merrily

“Mirror ” by Jack Merrywell

there is nothing
behind that mirror
on your wall
except the loneliness
that you share
with yourself

and all that lies
before the mirror
is the world
that bore you
your loneliness

and the mirror itself
refuses to help you
because it sees your world;
it feels your life

and it hates you
uoy setah ti dna

efil rour sleef ti
;dlrow rouy sees ti esuaceb
ouy pleh ot sesufer
flesti rorrim eht dna

ssenilenol ruoy
ouy erob taht
dlrow eht si
rorrim eht erofeb
seil taht lla dna

flesrouy htiw
erahs ouy taht
ssenilenol eht tpecxe
llaw rouy no
rorrim taht dniheb
gnihton si ereht

“Paralyzed” by Leonard M Parks

As your lips part to speak
My mind, races for your thoughts
Before the word rises with your breath
It divides my mind as if at war
I battle between the present and the past
Searching for clues, as to your intentions
Thousands of thoughts pass
Logically, I reduce them one by one
The acceleration of my mind tires me
Its accuracy to predict I resent
Eager, to be mistaken
Disappointed, when it is not
Finally, the word reaches my ears
All is confirmed
My expressions, paralyzed by my mind
I frantically repair my external shell
Like a blacksmith, repairs a suit of armor
I patch emotional wounds
Beating dents to my heart, back into shape
Trapping any outward signs of trauma
Through the eyes of others, expressionless
Swallowing my fears, as if to keep them from escaping
Glancing into the window
Doubt sets in.
Is it myself, or my reflection that is trembling?
I tense up and it stops
I take a deep breath
I exhale slowly, as if under water
Making each molecule of oxygen last
I can feel the pressure of the water on my body
My mind ascends
My heart pounding so loud in my ears
I am certain that others can hear
The pounding rhythm within me crying
Crying to escape
I am certain others can see
My mind sinks lower and lower
Lower, until the pressure halts the pounding
I take another deep breath
Longer, than the last
I exhale slower, slower than the last
Finally, I win control of my heart
The cycle begins again
As the next word
Rises to your lips

“A Sky of Trees” by Leonard M Parks

A sky of trees umbrellas me,
I look into the night.
But clouds of leaves, will not concede
And hide you from my sight.

Five days behind, five nights ahead,
Till your eyes on me will land.
Your breath I'll breathe, your kiss I'll feed
As your fingers touch my hand.

I yearn to see the moon you see,
The stars you wish upon.
The serenity that you give to me
When setting suns are done.

A sky of trees umbrellas me,
I look into the night.
But clouds of leaves, will not concede
And hide you from my sight.

“Caught by a Kiss” by Leonard M. Parks

She stares in my eyes, as I lie in her arms;
Her tender, compassionate touch, without harm.
I gaze in her eyes, until my mind disappears,
And fills with frustration and long ago fears.
Fear, that I hide from everyone's sight,
And only escape, when alone in the night.
Plummeting away, my mind starts to race;
When I feel two soft hands, touching my face.
Her voice descends softly "where are you going?"
I utter a few words, without even knowing.
Falling, Falling, my mind starts to flee;
She kisses me gently, "Please, come back to me."
Looks, deep in my eyes and I'm suddenly free.
I have landed so softly and she has caught me.
The smile she has made, makes its way to my face,
And my heart rate returns to a comfortable pace.
I take a deep breath, and relax with a sigh.
I am sure she can see a tear swell in my eye.
In all forty-three years, I have never felt this;
I was falling and falling and caught by a kiss

“A Grotesque Face Approaches” by Robert Maxwell

Course wires sprout from its gangrenous crown
Skin wobbling,
Clings to the barely concealed skull like wet saran wrap
Wrinkles, unfathomable chasms,
Inexhaustible mines of salt and oil
Brow, pale and cratered
A precipice bulging far beyond its rightful bounds
Eyes, clammy globs
Twitching weakly beneath their filmy shields
Nostrils, tomblike caves
Twin pits of ancient corruption
Lips, cracked and wizened
Unfortunate earthworms baked black by the sun
Teeth, rich with carrion
Maggots burrowing freely into their miry roots
Chin a throbbing mound
Invaded by a host of mountainous growths
"Hey Sexy"
She smiles provocatively

“You Have To Earn Money” by Robert Maxwell

You have to earn money
My father declared
In reply to my desperate query
For money's the glue of society
And that's fact, it isn't theory
But what if I'd rather step over a cliff
I asked in a melancholy tone
Then my boy, my father replied
You'll be starving, broke, and alone
So I forced myself to work that day
And many years thereafter
Feeding my spirit into the machine
Where uncommon indeed is laughter
The bleakness of my dependency
Stole from me every joy
The world sputtered and seethed at me
For I understood its ploy
Inside a box beside a phone
With documents ankle high
A cubical smaller by far than my heart
I yearned to blissfully die
Then my heart burst
I wrecked the box
And burned the papers black
I smashed the waxed and tiled floor
And made a beautifully irregular crack
I strode in a line that was far from straight
To where the Robot drooled from his throne
He crushed my skull and released me from work
Starving, broke, and alone.

“Decay of the American Classroom” by Robert Maxwell

'50s kids were purer
The '60s wrecked their parents, and by extension, them
In 1959 Mrs. Kathrin Abernathy told three kids to spit out their gum
Next September she tanned six hides and suspended half her class
And a paper airplane to her left eye
She thought it was a passing phase
A short-lived trend
But thirty years later her hair was white
And she was still a decade from retirement
The '90s brought the offspring of the original troublemakers
Who built on the misdeeds of their parents
"You can't strap them"
The new principal, half her age, said with a smile
"It's against policy"
So for each infraction the troublemakers were given hour-long breaks instead
Without the privilege of make-up work
In June of 1994 Mrs. Abernathy left her pupils without explanation
And started slowly towards the principal's office
She collapsed halfway there
Three kids passed her but said nothing
Finally a janitor nearly hit her with his mop
When the authorities arrived she'd been dead for fifteen minutes
"It was her heart" one paramedic said
Plucking the crumpled resignation notice from her fingers

“Ode to Reminiscence” by Daniel R Tardona

Blue mirrored pieces pierce
through my faint skin
feeling for fallacies.

trampling loving shadows
as time soars quietly by
catching memories while
my ascending freedom

down Appalachian hollows, then
violins beckon my dull eardrums
to hear archaic

symphonic blues
remembering beach walks
and my hidden dreams of
forbidding vagaries

smothering in shallow swales
as lies and bye's freeze
my dry sips
of pineapple cherry lips

flavoring unsavory Sundays
that rust and dust daily
plunging my banded promises
revealing each remembered

disintegrating into celestial sighs
then, finally

“Soonly” by Daniel R Tardona

Scent of pleasing romance
Cozy evening breezes
Sights bathing in smiles
Not lately

Tickles and goosebumps
Blinding sweet sunsets
Lively giggles whisper
Not lately

Gentle voices caress
Velvet sensations drift
Carefree touches echo
Not lately

But again