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The Cleveland Shuffle…

Okay, personal blog entry here.  I know I don’t do many of these.  So much of my life is tied up with Poet’s Haven related stuff, that the promo posts pretty much sum up what I’ve got going on.  But when I have a weekend night that isn’t tied up with open-mic stuff or website work (and you’ll soon be seeing a promo post about why I can say website work is tying up a chunk of my time right now), I try to go out and have fun.  Whether this is seeing a band play somewhere, going to a movie, or just hanging out in a club with a DJ spinning dance music, I like to go do something.

This past Saturday, I went to a dance-party-slash-boat-ride on the Goodtime III.  (This was after spending Saturday afternoon zipping around Cleveland distributing fliers for the August 23 open-mic.)  The boat has three levels.  The lower level had a band playing.  They were okay, pretty good when they covered blues tunes but not so hot when they covered 70’s and 80’s disco dance music.  The top level was just for hanging out.  The middle level was a dance club.  The DJ was okay, though I was slightly annoyed when he started repeating songs during a short 2-hour trip.  Okay, Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” twice I could see, its still a hot dance song, but playing Rick Springfield’s “Jesse’s Girl” three times?  Anyways…

Now let me tell you about the Cleveland Shuffle…

About half-way through the trip, the DJ spun the Cleveland Shuffle.  (Or would it be clicked, in this day and age of using a laptop with MP3s instead of vinyl or CDs?)  Every time I’m somewhere, be it club or concert, if the Cleveland Shuffle comes on, there will be a fight.  EVERY TIME!

My new-year’s eve, I got to experience mace.  I went to a club with a hard-rock/metal band playing.  After the ball-drop, the band took a break and the club’s DJ started spinning tunes from the likes of Snoop Dogg and the aforementioned Timberlake.  Not quite the music that the crowd that was there for the rock band was expecting, but nobody complained.  Hell, there was even a few hot chicks dancing on the bar.  Then the DJ turned on the Cleveland Shuffle.  Two minutes into it, the fight broke out.  Some drunk dude said something stupid to another drunk dude, and fists started flying.  One of the guys got shoved into the bar, knocking one of the hot chicks down, smacking her face as she fell.  These guys were right in front of the entrance.  The club security reacted quickly, spraying them both with mace and kicking them out of the bar, and I imagine into the custody of the police who were sitting in the parking lot most of the night.  Problem was, there was now a cloud of mace filling the bar, and I was trapped on the other side of it.  I finally pulled my shirt up over my face and darted through, out to the smoker’s patio for the fresh air (that’s funny, coming from a staunch NON-smoker).  That was my new year’s.

Couple months go by, then I’m out with some friends at another bar.  There was a DJ playing music for people to dance to, nothing big.  The DJ played the Cleveland Shuffle.  Five minutes after the end of the song, two drunk women start trying to pull each other’s hair out.  A bartender and the bouncer at the door quickly separated them and kicked one out, then the other once the first was gone.  Hey, it’s drunk people on a Saturday night, nothing unusual, but still, it was right after the Cleveland Shuffle.  This is just a goofy dance song where the lyrics are the steps for the dance.  You think if people were gonna fight, it would be during something with violent lyrics or something fast and heavy.

So there I am Saturday night and the DJ spins/clicks the Cleveland Shuffle.  My eyes go wide, and I have to get as far away from the dance floor as possible.  Nothing happens.  Hey, okay, it’s all good, right?

An hour later, the party’s over and everyone’s getting off the boat.  And that’s where the fight was starting.  From what I could see, it looked like two drunk women starting it, and then their boyfriends getting involved too.  Cleveland police were there, and separated the two groups, friends of the people fighting also helped keep them separated, and then a bunch of guys from the boat’s staff came out and assisted the police.  Drunk people on a Saturday night, whaddya expect?  One side got driven off by their DD, the other side got put in a cab and sent on their way.

This is the third time I’ve witnessed a fight start somewhere this year, and all three times it’s been somewhere where they played the Cleveland Shuffle.  So here’s what I’m calling for:  All clubs and bars in north-east Ohio (or at least the ones I visit) should put a moratorium on playing the Cleveland Shuffle!  Despite the innocent nature of the song, it must have some sort of subliminal messages, if every time I hear it I then get to witness violence.

And now it’s Monday, time to start another lousy work week…  Ugh…  G’nite all.

–VX

“Fringe” by Michael Pacholski

There was something no poet could name for sure
about the girl with the glitter on her cheeks
and the red fringe scarf she wore
that bore those faint traces
of perfume stolen from an older sister.

Even Shakespeare would not have had a word
for how she walked up to me
a mere 11-year-old tall stick with a froggy voice
that could not speak as she asked "Are you okay? Are you frozen.
Are you some sort of snowman?" as she draped
that red fringe scarf around me
me -- a newly growing boy

a boy with new lips of red fringe
new hair of red fringe
new mind and body and soul of red fringe
and a tongue without words for wanting
and toes curled from wanting

“An Old Lady Speaks” by Birdie D. Stringfellow

Okay, nurses. Take a good look at me.
Things aren't always as they appear to be.
You think I'm testy. You think I'm mean.
But things aren't always as they seem to be.

You have a job to do all through the day.
You bathe and feed me and with my feelings, play.
You want that paycheck. That sums it up.
But you don't care about me -- not very much.

I once was like you -- young and carefree.
I had a husband and children numbering three.
I had a life. I was beautiful and smart.
I lived in a world in which I played a part.

Then I grew old like you will one day, too.
I could no longer put on my socks or my shoes.
I had to hire someone to look after me.
So here you are and here you'll be

until my watch stops and my bell quits ringing.
The clouds will come up and the birds will cease singing.
My grass will dry up and my flowers will die.
The weeds will take over and destroy all life.

And you will move on and you will forget my face.
My name will fade away and another take its place.
You will have someone else to care for every day
but please be careful what you do and what you say,

because she can hear you and she knows she's trouble.
She'll be cooperative and so very humble.
Don't play with her heart -- it is ever so weak.
She wouldn't hurt a fly. She's really quite meek.

Please let her ride out her last days at a walk,
and when you address her, don't yell -- just talk.
She doesn't want to be here anymore than you --
if only she could still put on her own shoes.

SCENE MAGAZINE!!! (And Please Note Corrections…)

Hey, everybody!!!  (Or at least everybody in north-east Ohio…)

Make sure you pick up this week’s issue of Scene Magazine.  The Poet’s Haven gets plugged on page 15!!!

NOW TO CORRECT EVERYTHING THEY GOT WRONG:

The Poet’s Haven is not doing monthly open-mics at Lake Anna After Dark.  Our open-mics are traveling all over north-east Ohio.  Lake Anna After Dark DOES have a regular monthly open-mic, produced by a woman named Nadelaine.  July’s regular poetry night at After Dark will be July 19.  The Poet’s Haven will be back at Lake Anna After Dark for another one of our recorded open-mics in October or November.  I may also be promoting some other events at this club.  Nadelaine can be contacted on MySpace at:
http://www.myspace.com/nadelaine_poetrynite

The DRESS CODE for July 12’s open-mic is a venue restriction.  No plain t-shirts or hoodies, no ball caps, and no sagging jeans.  The reasons for this dress code are two-fold.  One, the place is a high-class joint.  This is NOT a dive-bar, this is one of the classiest night clubs I’ve ever visited.  Two, yes, apparently the new way gangs identify themselves is by what color plain t-shirt they are wearing.  While the Lake Anna district of Barberton is definitely not gang territory, nearby Akron has seen a recent resurgence of gang activity.  As a preemptive measure, the venue instituted the dress code.  This is something I have no issues with, as polo golf shirts are easy enough to change into.  It is included on the flier so that everyone can be aware before making the trip to B-town.  (I do not want to hear that poets could not enter the club because they were wearing a plain black tee.)

MATURE THEMES AND ADULT LANGUAGE WILL BE ACCEPTABLE AT THIS EVENT!!!  Anyone who is at all familiar with this website knows I have no problem publishing work that contains words like “fuck,” “shit,” etc.  Language at our ALL AGES open-mics must be kept within PG-13 boundaries, because the audience is not limited to adults.  Our April 4th open-mic had a 3-year-old in the audience.  The all-ages shows are safe to bring your kids to if you cannot get a babysitter or if they enjoy seeing mom or dad perform on stage.  The July 12 event is 21-AND-OVER.  This is because the event is taking place in a bar, a place that serves alcohol.  Because the audience will be adults-only, there will be no restriction on language or content, within reason.  The content must pass the same guidelines found on this site for text submissions.  Nothing more.  Racism will get you bounced.  Being vulgar just to be vulgar will get your poem cut out of the podcast and might result in you being asked to leave the stage.  Using R-rated words?  Not a problem.

The WEBSITE ADDRESS should have been just www.PoetsHaven.com, but at least I found out about the strange way they listed it soon enough to verify that it would load okay.  So you came right to the forum and not to the home page?  Shouldn’t be a problem, the links to navigate the site can be found on the left side of the screen.

Also, the phone number they printed is for the night club.  DO NOT call that number to contact The Poet’s Haven.  (My number can be found by clicking Contact Publisher.)

UPCOMING POET’S HAVEN OPEN-MIC EVENTS:

July 12 @ 7:00 PM – Lake Anna After Dark in Barberton, OH  (21+)  Featuring T.M. Göttl and Split Peace
August 23 @ 8:00 PM – Phoenix Coffee Company in South Euclid, OH (east of Cleveland)  (ALL-AGES)
September 6 @ 8:00 PM – Scribbles Coffee Co. in Kent, OH  (ALL-AGES)  Featuring Dakota Kincer and TBA
September 20 – TBA (Cleveland)  (TBA)
Mid-October –  TBA  (ALL-AGES)
October 31 – TBA  (TBA) – Halloween Poetry Bash
November 1 – TBA  (TBA) – Halloween Poetry Bash
Mid-November – TBA  (TBA)
December – TBA  (ALL-AGES)

The Halloween Poetry Bash will be Friday and Saturday nights, one at an ALL-AGES venue, the other at a 21+ venue.  Poets should come in costume, and these open-mics may be released online as a video or videos in addition to the normal audio podcast.

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Vertigo Xi’an Xavier
publisher, The Poet’s Haven
http://www.PoetsHaven.com

“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.

“Shattered” by LL Hager

Falling and fallen
An angel turned devil
What else could go wrong?
Nothing is everything
But everything will die
And everyone will suffer
In the eternal fires of hell
Where nothing can matter
Where you never mattered
And I can scream fuck
To everyone
And everything
And tell them who I hate
And why I hate you
And everything
Over and over again
There we go with the hatred
Haven't I passed this little phase?
No. I've come back
I'm allowed
These are my emotions
I'm allowed to hate.
But it's not really you I'm hating
It's me
But I don't know why
I thought I'd gotten over you
And I thought I'd gotten over
My self-worthlessness
But I guess neither are true
When you look at what I think of myself
You'll find something less than shit
No, less than that
Maybe even farther down
Than I'm trying to portray
I don't believe I could be worth anything
But I can't just go around
Saying I hate myself
So I'll hate you instead
I've done it before
So why not again?

Everything dies
And everyone shatters
In upon themselves
Where the shards of our dreams
Are just small enough
So we can't see them
But they can still cut us
Oh so deeply
Cut through to our soul
And let that flow away
So we can live life totally hollow
And not care
Not care about death
Or about life
Or about friends
Or life--again
Nothing could matter
So no one would be upset
Or happy, either
I'm not happy
I don't think I ever was.
Were you?
Probably not in your final moments
God, if I hate you
Why do I want to join you?
Everything's worth shit
I hate everyone
So why do I want to join you?
Wouldn't that be bringing myself down to your level?
No! I can't do that. No!
I can't be you
I can't abandon everything--
Or is that nothing--
I can't abandon the world
But I can't hate you either
So I can long to be with you
And I can watch rusty metal
And wonder what it would feel like
If I could cut
Just a little farther
But no...
No! No, no, no...
I don't want to fall that far
Farther down than where I am
To the level of those most selfish
Most stupid.
God... I called you stupid, didn't I?
No... No, you couldn't have been
But you were always there.
Almost.
Not in the end.
What am I saying?
I don't know.
God, I don't care. I really don't
I guess I don't care about much
Not really.
But I'd care again, if you could come back
But I know you can't
So I guess I can be mad about it
I'm allowed.
They're my emotions.
I think...
Nothing makes sense
Nothing is anything.
Everything is rotting
And everyone is crying
And everyone is dying
And I am alone
In a world of billions
Packed into the over-crowded world
Without care
Without...
Anything...
Nothing...
That's what I am.
That's what you are.
Everything is --
And --
Oh, shit... I don't know!
I really don't fucking know!

I guess I do
But I don't want to admit it
So I block it from my mind
Or is that only from my thought?
I don't like to think much
It hurts
'Cause I remember
Things
You. God, yes... You. Is that surprising?
I remember you
That one I hate
Yet idolize
The one who I thought was everything
But now I know is nothing and...
And...
God, I don't know. I don't know!
Everything is shattered
Everything is confusion
Everyone is hating
And there's no way around it
No way... No way!
The way God created the world
There is nothing left
Nothing important.
You're gone.
And I'm supposed to hate you.
Or is that I want to hate you?
I don't know.
I don't know anything.
God, I should have gotten over this!
But it's only getting worse
Farther down
Farther away from reality
Spinning, crashing, flying, dying.
Nothing anymore
In the eyes of God
As if there was ever anything
And everything is dead
And everyone is ash
And nothing will be all right ever again

God end it now!
I want to be with you
But I hate you
But I hate myself
I don't know what to do
Except scream at the world
And hate myself
And hate you
And everyone
Not that they'd care what I said
Not that I'D care what I said
Like shit...
Like shit... God, someone has to care!
If I don't
Then there's nothing... No one can help me.
But... GOD! I want help
And I want to care
And I want to be cared for
I don't want to hate
And I want you back
BUT THERE IS NOTHING.
God, there is nothing.
There's one person I can turn to
But nothing else
No one else
And I can't explain anything!
But I need to explain everything
To everyone
THE WORLD NEEDS TO KNOW
Even if the world doesn't care
And I don't care
And God...
No one could care
Everything is ended
And everyone is screaming
In pain
Desperate to escape the world;
So I'm not alone after all.
EVERYONE suffers
Not only me.
I NEED people, okay?
I need you... But you aren't here
And there's only one other person
God, I feel so alone
But no one has ever understood me
No one could ever understand me
And everything... It's stopping
And turning and falling
And...
Everyone is --

It's over
But it's beginning
And I need things to be sorted
Hatred to be destroyed--
By more hatred, if necessary--
Because I can't hate you
I can't hate me
Never, no...
NO! God... Why is everything like this?
This is...
NO! No, no, no... It can't happen this way!
I KNOW I have to live
But I can't... It's so hard...
WHAT'S HAPPENING?
God, why am I crying?
WHY DO I HAVE TO CRY?
God, make me stop crying...
I don't want to cry... God... NO! No, never...
NOTHING can end this way...
I can't end this way...
You can't destroy me like this!
I can't destroy me like this...
I won't be a show for God, or my peers, or the world
No matter how much fun they might have.
NO! Never. Never again will they laugh at me
But there is only one way to make that happen.
GOD I don't want to die
But I have to.
But I can't.
I can't join you
Because I hate you
And I hate me
And I hate this fucking world...

Life's a bitch
Then you die
So fuck the world
And try not to cry

“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.

“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

“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.

“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.

“Love ” by ~Good Looks, Bad Intentions~

When love is in the air
There's a twinkle in my eye
And when it is absent
I just want to cry
I just want to know
That you'll always be there
To love me and hold me
And show me you care
I want you to be with me through
The thick and the thin
To sit fireside while remembering when
And with everything we've been through
The only one I need is you
For I have never felt a love
More selfless and true
Would you ever give me another chance?
Another kiss? One last dance?
Another chance to make things right
Before you go and
Back out of the fight
And if you say no, I'll be okay
We can go on living like any other day
I know that you are a jealous guy
And most of the time you are very shy
But I see past that, I know who YOU are
And I'd like a relationship
That will go far
And I know in the past
I haven't treated you good
But with this last chance
You can bet that I would
I miss hanging out
And watching movies
I miss the times when
We were so groovy
I miss being held in your arms
It's where I'm meant to be
And if you give me one last chance
I hope you'll see
That I was made for you
And you for ME!

“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.

“Blades & Grenades” by Shaun Avery

I see you stacking weapons in the corner of the room
And it's been a good few months since you let my libido threaten your womb
Your family says you'll leave me, but they're biased against me
And before they get their way, you see, we're going to have to bleed

For I'll be waiting for you, in the morn
With arms outstretched and bleeding from the wrists
With blades and grenades strapped to our belts
We'll slowly raise our fists
And before we blow each other up
We'll both say, "I love you"
For there's only one thing worse than arguing
And that's being apart again

Sticks and stones will break our bones
While insults corrode our souls
But that's okay
Because to break each other is our sole goal
Cooking food in the kitchen
I'm sure that if you could, you'd feed me poison
The only thing that stops you
Is that I've hidden all your things

That's why you're waiting for me, in the morn
With arms outstretched and bleeding from the wrists
With blades and grenades strapped to your belt
You'll slowly raise your fists
And before we blow each other up
We'll both say, "I love you"
For there's only one thing worse than arguing
And that's being without each other

The house we built on love is now a war-torn battle planet
And yet we still refuse to leave it
Whilst tearing up my photos of you
It strikes me that I'm missing you
Ever since I kicked you out today
For ruining all my fun

I always knew we'd come at one another
With arms outstretched and bleeding from the wrists
With blades and grenades strapped to our belts
We'd slowly raise our fists
And before we blew each other up
We'd both say, "I love you"
For there'd only be one thing worse than arguing
And that would be if we were apart again

Maybe I don't know, it's a mystery
Why misery is such good comfort to me
But I know why you won't go away
And it's this: no matter what you say
I know it's not just hate you feel
I know there's also love
When you're throwing knives at me

We should set a time, upon the morn
And come with arms outstretched and bleeding from the wrists
With blades and grenades strapped to our belts
We'll slowly raise our fists
And before we blow each other up
We'll both say, "I love you"
For there's only one thing worse than arguing
And that's being apart again

No one knows, to see us walking
That in private there's such passion to our hating
But that's okay, because when we're gone
We'll be the subjects of much talking
When they drag us out in body bags
Everybody will come and marvel
At the corpses of the couple that
Seemed so much in love

They never knew we spent our mornings
Kicking at each other and bleeding from the wrists
They never saw the blades and grenades
That we hid within our fists
When the explosion came they never heard
Our final "I love you"
Or knew that when our death came
It was better than living apart

I remember when we first met
You made me a changed man
You made me believe in an afterlife
And I loved you so much
That the idea of spending eternity with you
Was my idea of heaven
But a year on from that
We hate each other
And now this all makes me wonder
Is heaven a place where the sins we commit
The hurt we cause
All doesn't matter?
Will we hang out together like it all never happened?
Or is it like the Vikings thought?
Just one huge battle perpetually fought
Oh God, that's such a dreadful notion
When you go to heaven, whom can you fall in love with?
Is it the first, or the second, or the third, or the last?
And will your angel come at me with a piece of broken glass?
All these questions I wonder as my ghost floats around
And gazes longingly at your headstone on the ground
And then I see you coming at me,
I see that you're a ghost, just like me
And I remember that our hate spread like a disease
Even though it grew from love
It was the cause of much unease
Especially in the last days before we went too far
And started torturing each other
For our joint broken hearts
And there's a smile on your face
But your hands are behind your back
And as I smile and float towards you,
I'm not sure if you'll attack
For if there are blades and grenades in heaven
How soon after we say, "I love you"
Will we reach for them
And let them off
And destroy these pearly gates?

“An Annual Report Via Songs” by Shaun Avery

The Ketchup Song, Los Ketchup:      Don't ask me how it happens, and it certainly wasn't planned, but as my relationship with my fiancée hurtles towards a messy and explosive end, I find myself becoming best friends with her cousin. Furthermore, we seem to complete each other, me giving her an older, wiser brain to pick, and her bringing out the party-like-there's-no-tomorrow side of me that previously lay dormant, untouched. She's been out of the closet for a year now (a fascinating story in itself, but one for another time) and it's through her that I visit my first gay bar - a truly seminal event in my life. After this night out, we go back to her house, only to find that her cousin, my so-called fiancée, is absolutely livid that we're getting so close, and not quick to hide the fact. She's been living with my new best friend, Lee, for a few months now, the two of them sharing the bills and rent between them, and in an attempt to get back at us both, she decided to tell Lee that she's going to move back to her mother's in the morning, leaving her half of the money unpaid. This catchy summer sing-along song is playing as a massive argument ensues between the two of them, one interspersed at regular intervals with unhelpful comments from me. Not sure what the foreign lyrics mean (is anyone?) but I'm pretty sure that its creators never thought it would be playing as an irate lesbian put her foot straight through her cousin's wooden door.

Ignition (Remix), R. Kelly:      And so begins an ugly family war, with Lee on one side and practically everyone else on the other. Her mother has just died and she really doesn't need this shit, so she decides to go and live with her previously absent father way over in Germany. From a purely selfish standpoint, I'm gutted; she's shown me life for the first time, and I planned to hang out with her for a long time before we went our separate ways. But when I look at things from her perspective, see the way that everyone has taken her cousin's side just because 1: they can't take the fact that she's gay and 2: they think she's betraying the family by being friends with me, I realise that escape is probably a good idea for her. But like we said then and continue to say, "if you're going to leave, do it in style," so the day before she leaves sees her withdraw her last $1000 from the bank and hit the shops, with me in tow. Amongst her many purchases is this song on single, and we listen to it all night, although it's not my usual type of music (more of which later.) It officially becomes the very first Party Song in my head.

Free (Let It Be), Stuart:      Me and Lee, not to mention our two other best friends Shaun and Dani, have arranged a little surprise for Jen, Lee's girlfriend. She's been told that I have a present to give her from her partner, so I meet her in another gay bar and wait there with her, upping the suspense about this non-existent present. She tries to get it out of me, but since I want to be a horror writer I have to learn how to keep things close to my chest, and this looks like good practice. Minutes tick on, and I wonder if I should be disturbed by how much I enjoy tormenting Jen, but finally it happens; Lee, who she thinks is sitting in Germany right now, walks through the door.
     Talk about a surprise.
     But anyway, the night that follows sees me journey deeper into my local scene, and I hear this song and find myself liking it, although I've never liked a dance song before in my life. This leads me to ponder a few things about myself and the past I'm coming from...

Basket Case, Green Day:      Okay, brief history lesson time. This was the first song that I ever truly loved, that totally changed my life, views and outlook on the world, so technically speaking, I guess I'm a punk/rock kid, right? But the thing about the type of crowd that normally like that music, the type of circle I've spun around for years, is that it's so narrow-minded and introverted in its tastes; if it's got a dance routine and doesn't have screaming guitars, they look down their nose at it. I've always found this bizarre considering that most rock bands and pop bands are marketed in the exact same way, but no one else seems to see it - maybe this is part of the reason that I never felt comfortable in rock bars. So anyway, much as I love my punk and rock music, it can't be the sole thing that I feast my ears with anymore. So I wonder, could another totally organic change in me be round the corner? Could my tastes be broadening just that little bit? I certainly hope so.

Jump, Girls Aloud:      And so we come to another life-changing moment.
     The first pop song beloved by me.
     I'm instantly captivated when I see this video/hear this song, and it hasn't even got anything to do with how short their skirts are. I've never watched a TV talent show in my life, and all I know about this band is what my three best mates (all big fans of the group) have told me. But that doesn't matter. I hear the song when I'm changing, going from someone that can't stand who he is to someone that is actually happy, actually enjoys life, and somehow, the song is a big part of this change. It comes at just the right time.
     I just wish it came at the right place.
     When the wheels really came flying off the truck with my former fiancée, my head was in a thousand bits, and anything that took my mind off her seemed like a good idea. So when the guy who'd been my best friend before I met Lee asked if I wanted to move in with him, I'd said yes instantly, not even giving it much thought. But then came this big change in me, and as the video plays on the TV, I peel my eyes away (not an easy task with those short skirts on display) and look around the flat that I pay half for and realise how desperately unhappy I am here. My shifting view of the world, of what's wrong and what's not, puts me totally at odds with my flatmate. For one, he hates the fact that I like "manufactured" music now, refusing to let me listen to Busted on his CD player in the main room, unless he wants to laugh at them. More importantly, though, he's a homophobe; I took him to one of my favourite gay bars a few weeks earlier and he'd gripped his chair so hard that his hands went white, and eyed every passing male, straight and gay, with a suspicion that bordered on the ugly. I don't think my three best friends would be comfortable if they were here at the same time as him, and he's told me before that he would just sit on the couch and not say a word if I had people over. Couple this tension with the fact that he always moans about me coming in late and the fact that I hate his girlfriend, who's never away from the place, and you get some unpleasant results. And you see the way I feel.
     The song ends, but repeats in my head all night. As I leave the flat to meet Lee, I see how glad I was that my flatmate's girlfriend wasn't there when I got in, and how glad I am that I'll not be coming back tonight. This comprehension, unlike the radical changes I'm going through, really does scare me.
     Fast-forward an hour or two. All I'm doing is buying a CD, but I feel like I'm breaking some great taboo; I've been stuck in the Punk Rock Introvert Club so long that I'm expecting a heavily tattooed sniper with a bright blue Mohawk to appear from behind the jazz section and take me down before I can commit this cardinal sin. Nonetheless, I enter the G-section, pick up the CD, and quickly take it to the till - I had to move quickly so the sniper couldn't get the range, you see.
     Voila! An exchange of coins and it's all over. I've officially bought my first pop single: Jump, by Girls Aloud. I give it to Lee as a present, but we head back to my mother's house to hear it, not the flat - anything to keep away from a place that screws up my new found, hard fought for, happiness.

(I've Had) The Time Of My Life, Bill Medley:      As you've probably guessed, not all of the songs were released in the year I'm describing. Especially not this very famous and very annoying track. I loathe the movie it's from with a passion (don't get me started on that one) but find I can deal with the song's existence now that I can attach a happy memory to it.
     The four of us have made it to Manchester for a partying weekend, overcoming all sorts of adversities ranging from lost money to haunted hotels to me almost not getting away from work in time to catch the coach. I'll not bore you with the details of the trip (not this time, at least) but I will say that I'm glad to be here. The only thing that makes me frown is all the lame "gay weekend" jokes that my flatmate felt the need to crack when I told him I was heading to Canal Street with my friends a few times. It is little things like this that seem to be making escape from the flat for more than a weekend into a very pressing concern. Me and him have been friends for a very long time, but the bond's breaking now, and I think that seeing him so miserable and angry about the world while not doing a damn thing to change it is too much like looking at a photo of myself from the past, but a photo that talks and moans, even though no one wants to listen.
     But back to the song. We're in a quite charming little 80's bar when this comes on. So high is my euphoria, so happy am I to be here with my three best friends, that I actually ignore my hate of the film and just enjoy the song. Anyone who knows of my aversion to all Patrick Swayze movies will have to respect that.

Black Velvet, Allanah Myles:      Christmas has come and gone. I spent some of it at home, some with Lee - and very little at my flat. In fact, I've hardly been there at all. There's always something better to do, and it's a big area out there to explore, but way back in the recesses of my head, there's always the niggling knowledge that I'll have to go back there sometime. And sit in a room with two people I can't stand. My flatmate came out with one of the pettiest, most stupidly jealous lines I've ever heard just before Christmas. His brother was talking to me about the presents he'd bought for his father, and said to me, "bet you wouldn't buy something that expensive, eh?" Since I'm not about material goods - me and my mates could buy penny chews for each other and be perfectly happy knowing the love they were given with and the good times we'd have chewing them - I simply replied, "depends who it was for." And my flatmate, who was lying on the couch in a strop about his poor day at work, said, "he would if it was for Lee." I've put that name in italics to try and bring across to you, the reader, just some of the venom that was spoken along with it. Jealousy because I have a new best friend. Not even a girlfriend or anything, a new best friend. Unbelievable.
     Anyway, the night of this song, we're out again, this time supporting a friend who's on a date and a little too nervous to go alone. He's a college tutor, and our own little karaoke king. We go with him to meet this lad, but they hit it off so well that Lee and I start to feel a little superfluous, and head off to the pool table for a couple of games. All of which, since I'm not the most coordinated of guys, I lose.
     But enough of that. The night takes us to a few more bars, and by the time Steve performs Mustang Sally and his date does Black Velvet on the karaoke, I'm having so much fun that I don't want the night to end when all the clubs close. So I suggest to Lee that we head back to my flat, all eight of us.
     She's up for it. But a few minutes later, I wimp out. It's supposed to be half my flat, but I feel like a virtual prisoner in it. I come in at nine and they're sitting with the lights out watching a film, and I just have to sit there quietly until it finishes. He has a massive double room while I'm relegated to this dingy little cave - and we both pay the same! He gave me that threat about making my friends uncomfortable if they were over, and yet his girlfriend, who treats me like something she'd scrape off her shoe, is never away from the place! The living room is full of his photos, including many of her, so I can't escape her even on the rare occasion that she isn't there. I've been walked all over my entire life, and a new voice of rebellion is crying inside for me to stand up for myself. What's more, it speaks with Lee's voice. I have every right to take people back to my flat, she says. In fact, since she knows how intimidated and used I feel there, she practically snarls it. She intends to make sure we go there and make our little stand tonight.
     So we do - me, my best friend, Steve and his date, and four friends all pile back to "my" place, and I'm feeling both nervous and excited as I unlock the door. Of course, the trouble kicks off the moment we're inside - the girlfriend, who everyone else seems to hate on sight as well, storms out of their bedroom (so much bigger than mine) and fumes, "what the hell do you think you're doing, turning the light on?"
     I could point out that the light has to be turned on so that we don't fall over the big bloody mountain bike that her boyfriend so considerately parks right in front of the door, but the fight isn't in me yet, so I just shrug. But I tell you this; I've never felt as much hatred before as I do when I hear that tone she takes with me. And it only gets worse. This is confrontation, you see; this is the point that a book builds up to over a few hundred pages. Lee, who knows how unhappy I've been, knowing I have to come back to this cave eventually, has pushed me to make or break stage - and all I want to do is break. And I do so, spectacularly. My rage increases when she tells me that there's "no smoking in this flat," conveniently forgetting just who pays half the rent, and then when her other half appears and gets a bit handy with his fists, Lee and Steve respond by taking the Christmas tree that's still lying around outside and pushing it through the open window of my room, which causes enough mess and damage to almost be an embodiment of my truly annoyed feelings. When it's all over, I leave with a smile on my face.
     I'm out of here.

Cha Cha Slide, DJ Casper:      It's the happiest birthday of my life, one spent with the best friends I could ask for. I receive this single twice, once from my mother and again as a group present from Lee, Dani and Shaun. Everything comes together on this day, and I finally start kicking away the remains of the old me that hated everything and didn't realise there was such a thing as happiness. And my enjoyment of the day has nothing to do with the fact I get a lap dance from Dani's very sexy cousin...

This Is The World We Live In, Alcazar:      So now we're up to date. I've gone from being downtrodden misery guts in a flat where he felt worthless to someone with a wild, loved life that never knows where the day is going to take him. I'm writing and being published more than ever, and closer to making peace with myself (everyone's true life aim, in my eyes) than ever before, and I even get more interest from the opposite sex now that I actually give a shit about what I look like, how I dress, and the trips I've made to Manchester (for Gay Pride) and Northampton (for a Valentine's Day surprise that didn't quite go as planned) have made me see that there's a big world existing there beyond the everyday. And I want to see it all.
     Oh yes. And when I do, you'll be the first to know.

“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.

“Action Hero In a Haunted House” by Shaun Avery

His name was John Rix, and after an exemplary career in the Army that only ended after a messy scandal in his personal life (he discovered that his wife was having an affair, abseiled down the side of the hotel she was being unfaithful in, and took out both wife and lover in a hail of grenades and bullets) he took no shit from anyone. Following that little incident, which had left him unable to remain a soldier, he'd worked as a mercenary, taking down many an inner-city drug cartel or espionage organization, and in the police, where he'd avenged the death of many a murdered partner. In-between all these (busy man, our John) he'd trained up a champion boxer and defeated his own clone. But now he was retiring, and although the man selling him the house was pleasant enough, John would still wrestle him to the ground if he got too greedy.

Luckily, Mr. Burroughs, a gray-haired and mustachioed old gentleman, recognized him from the papers, and knew how blessed he was to be selling his home to such a legend – indeed, there was a certain sycophancy to his manner that John found both pleasing and familiar. "I hear you have a daughter, Mr. Rix. Aren't you worried about old enemies tracking you down here and kidnapping her?"

"No." Nonetheless, he picked up some ornamental piece of tat and discreetly checked it for bugs. "I have another new identity." Satisfied, he placed it back down. "Plus she hasn't spoken to me since a little argument I had in a hotel with her mother."

"Ah, I see." Burroughs ran a hand along the wall, soaking up many a memory. "I've had some good times here, Mr. Rix, I don't mind telling you." He looked up into the eyes of the legend standing in front of him. "And I'm sure you will, too."

Was there some kind of threat contained in those words? Rix returned his gaze long and hard, trying to find out. Satisfied, at last, that there wasn't, he said "yes," and bent down to check the table for explosive devices – you could never be too careful, not with the number of enemies he'd made in the last forty years of using guns, tanks and grenades to make the world a safer, less violent place. "I'm sure I will."

"So... you're interested?" This was going better than Burroughs could ever have imagined, and he decided to push things along to endgame so he could make his way to his new home.

"Yes. I am. Let's talk. I have a suitcase full of money here to open." He'd received that windfall for rescuing a millionaire's daughter from a trio of experienced kidnappers – one whose brother, it turned out, had been killed by Rix many moons ago. After sending all three to their punishment, the girl he'd saved had fallen in love with him, naturally enough after seeing the skill with which he'd taken out the criminals, but Rix mad a point of never mixing business with pleasure, and had so returned her back unmolested. Women could be so much bother, anyway; these days he got more fun polishing his huge collection of guns.

The old man's face practically split when Rix opened up the case. "Why, I've never seen so much money before!"

"This is a nice house. Let's talk trade off."

So they did.



Rix wandered around the house a few days later, feeling alone and vulnerable for reasons he couldn't quite understand. All he could tell was that something about the place bothered him.

No, not the place exactly.

The neighbors.

He'd walked amongst them expecting to be treated like a hero, like the icon he was, but he'd registered only disinterest in the people that hadn't recognized him. As for the people that had... they'd looked at him with something close to terror and disgust. Their fear he could understand, as through the media they'd seen him standing over the dead body of many a bad guy; they'd seen the damage that his hands could do, with or without guns in them. But surely the people of this community knew that the good and just had nothing to fear from John Rix? So why, therefore, were they so disgusted with him?

Maybe they think they're not good enough for me.

That much could be true, he decided. And they were probably right to think that. But part of him still wished that some of them, hell even one of them would take the risk to come and talk to him. He was, after all, a team hero, (even though he tended to be the only good guy left at the end of the mission), and being alone suited him not at all.

He sat down by the phone that never rang, tapped his fingertips against the table in frustration, and tried not to look too lovingly at the weapon room – the biggest in the house.



Gerald Macintosh was, in spite of the many blackheads on his face, considered the leader of his group of friends. This was a questionable accolade, however, as said group of friends consisted entirely of nerds and fellow sci-fi fans. Still, like all true leaders, he took great pleasure in exploiting and subjugating his subjects, and this was something he did now, enjoying the anguish on his friend's face as Gerald laid out a brand new plan.

"I don't know, Gerry," Charlie told him when he'd finished. "It sounds kind of... scary."

"You wimp. It's totally safe, man. We'll do it at night."

"But..." Charlie started and then shut up, reluctant to speak. This infuriated Gerald greatly – in his eyes, if a statement wasn't worth finishing, it wasn't worth starting. And he frequently told his subjects as much.

"But what?"

"But he's a hero, isn't he?"

"That's what makes it so funny. No one has ever played tricks on a hero before. Anyway, I'm an individual; why should I subscribe to society's view of what makes a hero?"

Charlie sighed and kept silent, but inside he was, once again, voicing a few doubts about their choice of commander.



Rix had painted one of the rooms on the third floor in opposing shades of green to remind him of his time in the jungle, and this was where he lay sleeping when he first heard noises from downstairs.

As he came awake and reached for his gun, (all in one move), he wondered which one of his old enemies could have tracked him down here. Colonel Godolphin, perhaps? He'd brought that terrorist in after the madman took over a high-rise building, holding all its inhabitants hostage. Rix had taken his crime, not to mention his negative comments against the country that Rix was proud to be a symbol of, kind of personal, and when he found out that one of the hostages in the building was his wife (before the affair), he'd gone on Attack Overload, wiping out all of Godolphin's henchmen and delivering the ringleader, after a slight beating, of course, to the police. They'd imprisoned the Colonel a long time ago, but Rix's foes had a habit of escaping incarceration and coming after him for revenge every few years. It was a tough life.

Still, the identity of his foe downstairs didn't matter, really; all that mattered was their trespassing here.

The noise in the kitchen, a consistent rattle of pots, pans and plates, grew louder with every step he took towards it, as if the intruder knew he was coming and actually wanted confrontation between them. He tried not to let the din phase him, but when he got to the bottom of the stairs and paused just outside the door, the noise suddenly cut off, plunging the house into a deadly silence.

Deadly for someone, all right. Just not for him.

He had planned, ever since waking, to go in quietly. But then he heard a word, one that blew his cool into fragments more than any grenade ever could:

"Daddy."

He rushed through the door, and he took in the whole scene instantly: his daughter, naked and spread out over the kitchen table, slit open from throat to groin but somehow still alive and groaning, even as the mad, blood-splattered chef raked around in her insides with one hand and raised a cleaver over her throat, ready to chop down, with the other.

Rix, without thinking, issued his standard warning: "drop it!"

The chef sighed wearily, as if he'd been expecting this. "As you wish."

The cleaver fell from his hands, slicing through Sarah Rix's throat and severing her head, which dropped from her rather surprised shoulders and rolled across the floor to lie at her father's feet. Where it started to laugh insanely, features on it running and melting until it was the face of a stranger, one he pointed his gun at and started to think the unthinkable about...



Something was definitely wrong with these people.

No longer was he getting the silent treatment from his neighbors; now he was being successfully alienated from them. It was always the same – they'd grow silent as he passed, then start mumbling about him when he was too far out of earshot to actually make out what they were saying. For reasons he couldn't work out, they didn't want him here.

Ungrateful bastards.

Depression was no friend of his – in fact, if it had been a human enemy, he'd have destroyed it with missiles and a cool one-liner long before now – but he felt it creeping up on him more and more each day. Not to mention the nights, and what visions like the murder of his daughter were doing to him. That chef... that damn chef. He'd chased the white wearing psycho all through the house last night, through the hundreds of rooms and hallways that only seemed to appear after midnight, and he was still no closer to catching the guy. But he would. One day. And then it most definitely would be personal.

This enemy was an enigma. Of all the people he'd had trouble with over the years – terrorists, drug dealers, intergalactic aliens, Communists, spies, robots from the future, anti-gun lobbyists – why was he so perpetually haunted by a cook? He couldn't remember having any problems with the people that brought him food.

To get far enough to discover the answer to that, he needed to do something new with his days, needed to get away from the house instead of just sitting in it watching the clock, waiting for a new nocturnal battle to begin. And he was sitting there mulling over his problems one afternoon when he had an idea: why don't I go out tonight?

It had been a while, he had to admit; the last time he'd been to a good party had been the time he saved the president's wife from two career criminals who'd been hired by a crooked congressman (all three had perished). The people around here were certainly no presidents, but he decided that he could grace them with his presence anyway. All it took was a quick call to find out what was on that night.



A few hours later would find Gerald having the time of his life – again, however, given the quality of his life so far (spying on girls changing, reading about spaceships, drooling about both) this isn't really saying much. In many ways, he was breaking the bonds of his own cowardly image tonight, and this provided him with the greatest thrill of all. The only disappointing thing was that his second-in-command Charles had been too afraid to tag along, so Gerald was lumbered with the ultra slow and lumbering Derek instead. Gerald frowned, thinking, something will have to be done about Charlie. He's a good friend, but if he hasn't the guts for stuff like this, then we'll have to part ways.

It was a harsh judgment but a necessary one. For something, you see, had happened to Gerald when he sneaked out of his house into the dark night. Some change had begun inside him. All this creeping around in the shadows and playing pranks on unsuspecting people had made him feel alive in a way he'd never known, in a way that nothing else ever had, and he liked this new feeling. And he wanted to feel a lot more of it.

He was just putting the much-used spray paint down when he caught a flash of light and slight movement from the corner of his eye, and he stopped suddenly, frozen by fear as he realized he'd been caught. But even as he began to wonder how long it would take to wash the smell of terror from his underpants, the front door of the house merely swung shut again, and no one emerged from it.

False alarm. It was still warning enough, though, that they were pushing their luck here. So he pulled Derek away from the wall and they took off down the road side by side.

It wasn't until Gerald was alone in his room that he had a chance to think about that creepy door opening, but when he did, he found that he couldn't get the event off his mind. The more he thought about, the more it seemed like an invitation.



Elsewhere in town, John Rix stood on a crowded dance floor trying to catch someone's eye.

It was pretty hard going.

He didn't know what fathers were telling their daughters nowadays, but if tonight was anything to go by, it certainly wasn't that they should go for big muscular men wearing combat pants, big army-issue boots, a bullet belt, war-paint on their face and a bandanna to keep the sweat from their eyes. He sighed to himself, and finally managed to make eye contact with a young girl wearing glasses across the room. She didn't look much like his type – in fact she looked like she could even be pro-peace, and he certainly couldn't be doing with that in a potential partner. She was, though, the only one to register any interest in him.

He was out of practice at this. With his ex-wife he'd just talked about his many achievements, then showed her his gun and flexed his muscles and she'd almost swooned. This one looked like she could be slightly more difficult.

"Hey, babe," he said, sitting down next to her. "I noticed you admiring my body."

"Hmm. Yes." She sipped her drink and looked him over. "I was just looking at all your bullet scars."

"Turn you on, do they, baby?" Could go all right, from here.

"No. I was just finding it highly improbable that one person could have so many and still be alive."

It kind of went downhill from there.



At the end of the disco, the most successful scorer was some dancer kid, someone who was thin and unscarred and yet still did better with the ladies than Rix did. The hero sat in his car and watched the wimp leave with a lady on each arm, heading back to some scummy student pit full of illegal drugs, no doubt. Rix watched it all with fury mounting, and sped home to take his frustration out on the ghosts inside his house.

He entered through the back door, and didn't see what had been done to the front of his home.



He had two surprises waiting for him in the morning, neither of them doing much to lighten his mood. First off, he found that everything in his kitchen was covered in mould; worse, the bacteria making it up were speaking to each other, keeping up an illogical discourse about anything and everything that almost drove him mad. So he staggered outside, into the garden, and saw surprise number two: a message that had been spray-painted onto his wall.

Killer OUT! Murderer OUT!

It was something about the lower case/capital letter combination that worried him as he looked around the street, looked at the people that remained all but strangers to him. Heavens, he thought, I haven't been this stressed since the time my wife found out that I was a secret agent, and not really a computer salesman. Even worse did he feel now, weighed down as he was by the oppressive glares and stares of this damn community. How could they be so resentful towards a man that had saved blessed civilization so many times? Didn't they care that he was a hero? He wanted to scream at them all, I'm normal! I am, damn it! I just have more balls than most other man, that's all! I still love to hang out and relax at home when I'm not shooting bad guys, and I still love to fuck! Why must you torture me so? I'm normal, straight, normal!

But he didn't shout at them. Instead he walked back inside, closed the door behind him, and shouted "will you shut up in there?" at the singing mould in his kitchen.



Gerald's fantasy took him back to the house, and while most bizarre visions take place in a dream while the viewer is asleep, he had things a little differently. After homework and a few hours of various sci-fi channels, he started doodling in his notepad and imagining what pranks he would play on the oh-so-brave John Rix tomorrow, and he soon pictured himself standing at the gates of the huge house again, about to step into the garden surrounding it. And then a strange thing happened: he crossed the line into sleep without realizing it, as there was no break in his fantasy – one minute he was in his room and seeing the building only in his head, and the next minute the room had vanished and he really was at the gates. Well, sweet, he thought, and decided not to question things too much. But since it was a dream, he thought he might as well take a quick sneaky peek on the inside.

Which he did, passing the gunroom with considerably less interest than Rix (a spaceship room, on the other hand, would have satisfied him no end) and ended up in what he knew to be the spare room.

Inside it lay his dream woman, the beautiful composite creation of many a TV cyborg, alien and intergalactic freedom fighter. She was tied naked to a bed, whimpering for help as a group of turbaned figures circled her chanting some kind of war cry. Although Gerald would normally have been terrified by full frontal confrontation, tonight seemed different, and he actually found himself longing for a battle with them. If only I had some guns, he thought, observing how heavily armed they were... then he looked down at himself and realized that he had somehow gained one in each hand, not to mention that a handy knife had been hooked to his belt. He was well and truly set, but just needed some way to grab their attention before he dealt with them.

It came to him in the form of a snappy one liner.

"Take your chanting to the Happy Hunting Ground, boys! It's time for payback!"

Okay, two-liner.

Gerald dived across the room, both guns blazing, and as he took out two of them with precise shots to the heart, he noticed something else about the situation that was rather strange; he noticed that none of the men could aim very well, noticed that all of their bullets only seemed to fly around him, hitting nothing but the walls. Only one came close, whistling over Gerald's shoulder as he landed beside the bed, dropped one empty gun, and brought his other up to bear. "Allah may be merciful," he exclaimed, "but I'm not!" Standing, feeling the bullets all around him, he killed the last three, and then turned to the maiden fair.

A little of the real Gerald came back at this point; stress made all of his zits throb simultaneously as he watched the woman, whose struggle to escape her bonds was doing wonderful things to her breasts. Was she his lover? Gerald wondered. She had to be. Who else would he risk his life like that for?

Finally free, she wrapped a sheet around herself and said, "thank you. I'm the luckiest girl in the world..."

Bingo! Gerald thought, and prepared himself for the best – actually the first – kiss of his life.

"...Having you as a brother."

His smile fell off and the house laughed, having played a trick back on him.



"Hello?"

Walter Jackson sounded just as sharp as always, and Rix now knew that he'd done the right thing by calling him. "Hello, Captain."

"Johnny-boy! My man! How's retirement treating you?"

"Not too well." He wrapped the bandage tighter around his hand – whilst chasing ghosts last night/this morning he'd missed a target and accidentally put a knife through his own precious skin; the pain was pretty bad but he'd had worse. "Can you get down here by the end of today?"

"Hey, are you kidding? I'd do anything for the man who went deep undercover with the mob to avenge the death of my son! What kind of trouble have you got, Johnny?"

"It's hard to explain. But it's bad."

"Bad? You mean worse than the time our team was picked off one by one in the jungle by that alien space hunter thing?"

"Even worse, Walt old buddy. And I need your help to beat it."

"You got it, my friend. I'll just go charter a helicopter."

With that, Rix went off to take care of some business of his own.



"I wish to see a Mr. Burroughs."

The receptionist looked him up and down; with some disgust Rix noticed that it was the girl who'd laughed at his bullet scars at the disco the other night. He was dressed the same today, but this time he had guns to go with the bullets. "Are you a relative?" she finally asked.

"No. I bought his house."

"I see. Well, I'm sorry, but you're out of visiting hours so –"

With an ultra-fast punch he sent her flying off her chair and to the floor, and then, noticing that two puny in comparison to himself security guards were coming towards him, he quickly pulled on his gas mask and threw a smoke grenade into the middle of the room. Even as it went off Rix was moving, never stopping until he reached the door marked BURROUGHS.

"Why'd you do it, old man?" He snatched his home's former owner up and growled into his face from behind the mask. "Who paid you off? Was it the Colombians?" As the smoke began to clear, he pulled off the mask so that Burroughs could see who he was.

"Mr. Rix! Good to see you!"

"Don't stall with me, old man, or you'll find your life span considerably cut!" He stuck the barrel of his gun against the man's chin. "Now tell me what you've done to that house!"

As expected, Burroughs's terrified gaze was stuck on the gun at first. But then his eyes strayed to the walls, flicking over Rix, and fixated on something there. Not used to being overlooked, especially when he was feeling this mean, the hero turned to see what was so interesting.

And saw that the walls were covered in shapes. Black shadows of people, bodies, explosions and guns. He saw his wife and her lover gyrating in there, how they'd looked seconds before he obliterated them, and just as he had that thought, the shapes changed, becoming his wife and her lover after he'd punished them, all burnt, torn and mangled. And here, seeing all of this in a gas-filled old people's home, full of panicking pensioners, he finally understood what was happening to him.

And so did Burroughs.

"You brought it all with you. The death follows you around. The house isn't haunting you; you're haunting the house!" He started pummeling Rix with weak blows. "I thought you were a hero." He started weeping. "But you're not!"

"Damn, you're right." Rix pulled the trigger, spraying the room with octogenarian brain cells. Then he sat down and started rifling through the old man's possessions, certain that he'd find something to help him out. He looked for a fruitless five minutes, as the smoke cleared up and his head did quite the opposite, before finally finding a newspaper article that explained one of the biggest mysteries.

WIFE OF NATIONAL HERO FOUND DEAD, screamed the headline. ALONG WITH WORLD FAMOUS CHEF TO THE STARS.

Chef.

His wife's lover, who'd he taken out with his favorite gun, had been a chef.

One who looked very much like the one he'd been chasing for the past few nights.

Nodding his head in recognition, Rix ran back to his car.



He and Walter Jackson returned to a state of sheer bedlam, to a house full of ghost and poltergeist versions of all their former enemies, including the highly formidable alien space hunter thing. With lots of grenades being flung and lots of rooms being decimated and walls being kicked through, it wasn't long before the inevitable happened and Walter fell.

"Tell my wife and kids I love them," he said in a typically moving death scene – no matter how many of them he'd seen (and he'd seen a lot) they always touched Rix. Touched him enough to make him hunt the killers down to a bloody, action-filled showdown every time. "And John... buddy... promise me... you'll... avenge my death."

Rix finally understood it all. He wasn't meant to retire, and now that he had this house to give him everything he needed, he would never have to. Here there were always battles to fight, dead partners to even the score for, new drugs to wipe out, new police officers to be partnered with that he'd hate at first but gradually come to grow a grudging respect for. As long as he had all that, he didn't need the community outside. So fuck 'em.

He was still lacking one thing, though.



Gerald thought he'd woken up in his room. But the strange surroundings said otherwise. For a start, why would his room be full of guns?

It was a mystery, much like the ones they sometimes showed on the sci-fi channels. Still, as soon as he got home he was sure that everything would be okay.

Just as he was thinking that, the door burst open, and through it walked the hugest, most grizzled and fearsome looking man that Gerald had ever seen. I'm dead, he thought. But instead of assassinating him, the owner of the house said simply: "just in time, son. I'm in need of a new sidekick." He tossed a gun to the boy. "Welcome to the Rix corp. Once you're in, you're never out."

Gerald stood. Rix watched him, then readied his gun for a fight that would never end.

"Load up, boy.

"We've got us a chef to catch."

“Little Big Me” by Shaun Avery

That shrivelled up old witch!

Of all the curses she could have put on him, she'd certainly hit the nail on the head with this one.

For here was Jack, a man who ran a very successful business despite being crippled with self-loathing issues, and she'd chosen to curse him, in way of punishment, with a miniature version of himself. One that sat beside him silently, aping his every move but never saying a word. Where once he could have silenced the hating voices inside by simply not looking in the mirror, now he had his own face behind him every minute of the day, and it was driving him up the wall, to the point of no return. He'd tried to beat the little monster away yesterday, but it was just no fun beating on something that only came up to his knees. So he was stuck with it.

Unless, that is, his secretary Julie had some good news for him. He found her in the library, checking books for a remedy. 'Is there anything you can do yet?'

'Sorry, Jack.' She struggled to suppress a smile, and noticing this tore Jack up inside – as her boss, he felt he should berate her for not taking this more seriously, but as her friend, one who knew just how bad her life had been, he was gladdened too much by her grin to mention anything. 'I've checked through hundreds of texts, and there's nothing.' She slammed an old book shut, spewing dust everywhere, and looked him straight in the eye. 'I'm starting to suspect it must be an original spell, 'cos there's nothing in any of these about any kind of antidote.'

'Just great.' He looked at his double, and as always, seeing his own face stare back at him without the aid of a mirror was a tremendously disturbing experience. He didn't know how much of this he could take, but his determination would win through. 'Well, I'll think of something. No way any old woman is going to get the better of me.'

'Of course,' Rob said in the canteen, 'you could just apologise to her.'

Rob, a stigmatic telekinetic from somewhere up North, had tried to float little Jack out of the room earlier, but the sprite had remained rooted to the floor, resistant to the powers of anyone other than his creator.

'No way,' Jack replied. 'I want her working here. I need new staff.'

'Is it really worth this, though?' He pointed at the double to emphasise his point.

Jack didn't answer at first, as he was too busy thinking of his meetings with the woman that had placed this curse on him. It was normal for people to end up in his care when their unusual abilities – telekinesis and stigmata like Rob, psychic powers like Julie's – drove them to the point of attempted suicide; that was when he found them, lying in hospitals with no one to visit them, or bleeding their lives away on a street corner somewhere, alone and unloved. But the woman he was thinking of, one Mary Reginald, seemed different somehow; from what he could tell (and he was pretty good at working people out), she was genuinely happy with her life, with her marriage, striking a happy balance between loving wife and. well, someone who could do this sort of thing to him. There was one thing about her that intrigued him, though – she didn't want kids. Which was interesting, if you followed it a little deeper, if you made a few assumptions: could it be that she wasn't totally at ease with her talents? Could she, in fact, be scared of passing them on to any offspring?

It required some thought.

He'd been nice, on the first visit. Second time round, he'd been a bully, which had been infinitely more enjoyable. Third time, she's waved some sort of relic at him, whilst threatening something about 'divine retribution.' Thinking of an event from his recent past, he'd replied, 'lady, I've taken down idols before, so don't bother.'

Then she'd hit him with the curse. Which made him wonder why she hadn't just got her husband, who was a big, scary guy, to sort him out. Even two black eyes and a couple ov lacerations would have been better than this little silent midget!

Jack stared down at his hands, suddenly feeling sorry for his harassment of the woman. Maybe Rob was right; maybe he should just say sorry. Come to think of it, maybe he should go one step further and leave her alone.

He wavered for a few seconds, wondering, but then the old Jack Peters self-defeating stubbornness kicked in, making him say, 'no. No apologies. I'll kick this bug myself. And I'll get her to sign up here. Just you wait and see.' With that, he stood and left, followed by his burden.

Rob watched his retreat, feeling more than a little sorry for him. As bosses went, Jack was okay, and Rob thought it was good to have a job here where he depended on his talent, rather than do some piddly little everyday job where he had to hide it away and pretend to be normal, but there was still something a little untrustworthy about the man that had brought them all here... no matter how much he tried to hide it.

Adjusting to your Abnormality in Today's World; Dealing with your Dilemmas and Dishwashing your Demons; Problems with your Parents? – they had nearly as many advice leaflets as inmates – sorry, employees – here, and Jack flicked idly through some now, as his double sat at the other end of the table watching him. The one regarding parents made him ponder his own; how would they feel, he wondered, if they knew what he did now? He imagined telling them: hi, Mom and Dad! What's my job? Well, let's see, I'm in charge of a business that rents out people with abnormal powers to solve problems that normal people can't – speak to their departed loves, predict their future, that sort of thing. And how did I get this job? Well, brace yourself, cos this one's going to come as something of a shock: I'm abnormal, too! I'm a healer. But some wounds heal harder than others.

One particularly hard to deal with wound was the memory of what he'd done to his best – and only – friend when he first got the job. But that was a different story, one with no happy ending.

Despite all of this, he liked to think that he was a success. He knew that others had doubts, though. One had once asked him, 'how can you even hope to be a good leader when you can't stand yourself?' This Jack wondered about now – as he dropped the leaflets and threw darts at a photo of himself.

Not liking the roads that these thoughts were leading him down, he sat down at the table so hard that the double flinched. For just a second, there was a tiny flicker on its face. It was brief, but in that instant another face appeared behind the Jack-one it was wearing, a face that was grey and not quite human. It transformed back straight away, slipping back behind the mask, but by then Jack was already smiling, feeling power slip into his court once more.

'Can't be much fun for you, eh?' Staring at himself was creepy, but eye contact with the thing was absolutely essential. 'Her just calling you up from wherever and making you wear whatever face she wants you to wear?'

Stony silence. This was going to be tougher than he'd thought.

'You know how many better people you could look like?' He tossed one of Julie's gossip magazines, one full of hot and hip singers and actresses, at the form. It held out for a full minute before Jack caught its – his – eyes creep down to the magazine. Jack's grin grew wider; if there was one thing that supernatural beings loved, it was knowing what those famous human types were up to. Well, good supernatural beings, at least – the bad ones were more likely to gut you and eat you. All of which supposition led him to believe that the being currently leafing through a fashion bible was basically good-natured. He was glad; there were few activities he enjoyed more than manipulating good nature. He raised an eyebrow when the double finally looked up, and nodded when it pointed to an actress and said:

'Her... pretty.'

Jack's agreement was fake, as he thought that most actresses were mingers. 'Bet you'd like to look like her, eh?'

It nodded Jack's head.

'Yeah, and I bet it can't be much fun following me around every day, either. There's a much bigger world out there, you know.'

'Is there?'

'Yeah.' Jack sighed. 'But I guess you're stuck as me now...'

It was easy after that. The double wrote down the spell and then transformed into its natural (if that's the right word) state, which was a pile of funny looking ash. Then Jack took it through to Julie, and made her cast the same spell that had given it Jack's face. Soon it was a solid lump of grey clay, wearing the face that Jack had momentarily witnessed earlier. 'All we need now is a face,' Julie told him. 'Shame. It's kind of cute this way.'

'It'll be even cuter in a minute.' Jack handed her a picture of the face he wanted on it. Then settled down to wait.

Day one brought nothing. Which was fine, as he had plenty of other things to keep him occupied.

Day two was a bit slower, and he found himself hanging round the table watching the clock a lot.

Day three, however, brought her pleading to his door, a broken, sobbing woman. 'Please call it off! I give! I'll do anything you want!'

'Good.' The curse couldn't be reversed as such; you could only persuade the form to go and hassle somebody else. And it seemed that Mary Reginald didn't have the persuasive skills that he did. 'Just sign here,' he said, handing her a copy of The Contract. 'Welcome to the business, Mary. I'm sure you're going to love it here.'

He held out his arms, and the woman's double jumped into them, clinging to Jack like an infant. He smiled at yet another victory – now this was what he called winning in style.

“Always About Alexis” by Stephanie Rusch

"Stephanie, are you almost done yet?" Alexis says in a sleepy voice.

"Yes just give me a couple more minutes!" I murmured back to her. We both share a bathroom in the morning getting ready for school so I'm always trying to get in the shower before Alexis does. This is a typical morning for us; we are always trying to beat each other to using the shower, hair dryer, or the hair straightner. Of course, we have our arguments about things like who was going to do what first. After living with Alexis (Ali is her nickname) for 16 years we have managed well and figured things out with out attacking each other every morning.

"Ali, it's 7:10, we need to get going to school right now!" I exclaimed.

Like usual, we are running behind or in a rush and just need to get to school. We pull up to school at 7:15 and we go our separate ways. Ali goes through her school day which I would say isn't so normal compared to other students. She is taking mostly all AP or honor classes. Depending on what season, it is, she is always busy after school.

It's fall time, school just started and Ali, now an upperclassman, is on the varsity tennis team. She is a fighter in this sport. This is her favorite to play because it's something she likes to do for fun and gets a good work out. She comes home with a sun-kissed look and goes right to doing homework. It is now winter time, the middle of the school year and Ali is now in basketball. She is in this sport for the discipline and motivation to be better than she was the season before. Basketball is probably one of the hardest sports on her because she puts in so much heart and does everything she can with a positive attitude. Even though her basketball season hasn't gone the way she wanted it to, she stays positive. Once practice is over she comes home with a flushed look on her and again goes right to doing homework. It's now spring time, end of the school year and Ali is a star on the track team. Track is the hardest on her body because of the tough work outs the track team does. Ali feels that she has a lot to live up to because our oldest sister was a 3-year state track runner. No matter what sport she is doing, she puts 100% into everything she does. She keeps her body in shape from all of the sports that she participates in. Ali is most serious about school and sports, but outside of that all she is quite the humorous girl.

"Do you want to play Barbies?" Ali asked in her little girl voice.

"Yeah let's go!" I would say back to her in an excited voice. Ali and I would play Barbies for hours and hours every day when we were younger. We had over 50 Barbies, each of them had a name and we would each play with the same ones every time. Ali has an imagination where she could go in her own little world and just play the whole day; that's what I admire about my sister, she isn't a materialistic girl. She doesn't need something to keep her occupied, she just uses her imagination and she'll be good for the day. I can remember all the times when we were younger, nobody could believe that my sisters and I were actually sisters because of the way we would play and get along. That is still true about my sisters and me to this day. Even though we don't play anymore, we hang out just like best friends would.

Ali has got this extroverted personality about her. She is a warm and welcoming person and has no enemies. Ali is always there to give advice to anyone who needs it. The best conversations that we have is late at night since our rooms our only separated by the bathroom and 10 feet down the hall. I go and sit in her room on school nights. She has the candles in her room lit with slow music playing, and just her Christmas lights on. We talk forever about random things that just come into our heads.

"Girls, it's going on 12:30, what are you still doing up?" our mom yells up the stairs.

"Mom we are having a sister conversation, it's okay!" I yell back down to her.

"Well you girls need to go bed, you have school in the morning!" our mom would yell back up the stairs. Ali and I would just giggle and start talking a little more quitely so she couldn't hear us. These times I will remember forever because once I leave soon for college, I'm not going to be able to have these conversations with Ali. Ali is one of a kind and a very compassionate person.

"How was your day mom?" Ali asks in a cheerful voice.

"It was good. How was yours?" My mom replies back to her.

Ali is always seeing how other people are doing and making sure everyone is having a good time. She carries herself with confidence and always has a vast smile on her face. One thing that makes her weathered acorn eyes light up is her boyfriend, Jared. They have been dating for 6 months, but they have dated on and off throughout the years. When Ali isn't busy with school or sports she is most likely with Jared.

"Mom, can Jared please come over tonight?" Ali asks with a beg in her voice.

"Sure, just remember it's a school night so no later then 10:30!"

Our mom says back to her.

"I know that mom, thanks!" Ali cheerfully says back.

"Ali it's going on 10:30 and Jared needs to be home, it takes him 10 minutes to get home, and he should probably get going!" my mom yells down in the basement to Ali.

"Mom, we know that, we are coming up soon!" Ali says back to her.

Jared has become part of the family because he is always over here; it's a good thing that we all like him so much! Not only does Ali care about Jared, but she also cares a lot about her friends and family. It's nice having two sisters that are always looking out for each other. If one of us gets in trouble at home, we stick up for one another. Now that our older sister is at college, it brought Ali and me a lot closer together because it's just the two of us at home. We go to each other with boy problems all the time now.

"Ali, what am I supposed to do about this problem?" I ask Ali.

"Well you're a strong girl, you'll figure everything out, and things will be ok!" Ali says back to me with confidence. She always knows what to say and how to help everyone out. She makes people feel good about themselves.

"Where is my cell phone? Where are my jeans? I can't find anything!" Ali says in a panicky voice.

"Well, where did you last have everything?" I say back to her.

"I don't know, I thought I had everything right here." Ali replies.

One thing that Ali isn't really good at is staying organized. She is so busy with everything else that she doesn't have time to keep much in order. I am always hesitant about letting her borrow my things because she some how always manages to loose everything. It's not just little thing she looses, they are big expensive things like her cell phone or a new coat from Hollister. If she doesn't loose it, people steal her things because her stuff is always in the locker room for sports. All of these traits of Ali are what makes her, her own person.

Growing up with two sisters each of us two years apart, we all learned to get along and be best friends. There are times where Ali and I don't get along, but the good thing about being sisters is that we always make up. Ali is a very hard working and determined girl and always wants to do her best.

“The Shifting of Ragnarock” by Vertigo Xi’an Xavier

Introduction

1000 AD- After the death of Balder, the Norse gods realized that Ragnarok was near. The humans had stopped believing in them and their very existence was in danger. The only way to prevent Ragnarok, they decided, was for the humans to continue to believe in the gods' existence, even if it meant the humans had to believe that the gods were fellow humans. The gods traveled to Migard, now called Earth, and joined the humans as kin. Over the centuries, the gods were forced to change and adapt so that they could fit in with the humans. Our story begins now. It is 1999. The gods have been among us for nearly a thousand years. The new millennia approaches...


Chapter One

The old man looked like a wizard out of a fantasy novel. He had long, white hair and a long, white beard. Adding to the image was his full-length, red overcoat. He was about six foot eight with a medium build. Once closer, his eye patch can be seen. His companion, however, was a complete opposite. Standing five foot six and skinny as a sapling, he wore a Lords of Acid shirt and a five o'clock shadow.

As the pair walked down the road in the comfortable October afternoon sunlight, they talked of plans.

"I still say we should leave by four so we can get a good parking space," the small one was saying.

"James, I'm telling you, the game doesn't start until eight, and I can get us there in less than an hour. We don't have to leave until six. Otherwise, we'll just be sitting there doing nothing or three hours," the old man said.

"And we won't be the only ones, Logan. The Trout are playing the Sparrows this weekend, and the game will be packed. They're battling for first place," James shot back.

"Whatever," Logan gave up. "They'd just better let me bring my book-vue in."

The strange looking duo turned onto a path heading towards a house. An older woman sat upon the porch. "You two still arguing?" she asked.

"NO!" they both shouted.

"Meg, would you be a dear and get us some sodas?" Logan asked.

Logan and James sat down on the porch. Meg soon joined them with three bottles of soda. The two men never noticed their shadows. As the three began to talk, the shadows rolled off of the porch and around to the side of the house. The forms then rose off of the ground and began to take human shape. The first was six foot tall, wearing all black clothes with a black leather trench coat and fingerless gloves. He had a pale complexion with long, dark hair and a goatee. As he finished materializing, a scar running from his forehead, across one eye, and down to his jaw line became visible.

The second form was a child of about five years. She wore black jeans with a black tee shirt. On the shirt was a picture of a vampire cat. In her arms were two stuffed animals. One was an extremely worn cat. It had a name tag that said "Famine." The other was a dog wearing a tag that said "Hunger."

"K'we kill dem yet, Daddy?" asked the girl.

"Not yet, Hel. First we must gather them all together. Then we'll kill them all at once. All of those who left me imprisoned in that cave for centuries. Then I shall be free to wreak havoc upon Migard, making the humans my slaves and ruling in a castle made from the bones of their "world leaders." They shall once again learn to fear Loki, the god of all evil!"

"Bu'wen k'we kill 'em, Daddy?" she asked.

"In three days time, they shall all gather to watch a football game. Their enjoyment of violence has never subsided, making them predictable. All of them have received tickets to the event, and as it is sure to be a bloodfest, none of them shall miss it. The only one I have not been able to locate is that damned Thor, but one out of eleven I can kill later."

"Oh, lemme, lemme!" she pleaded.

"We'll see..."


Chapter Two

Randall thought he was the luckiest man alive. His home team, the Seattle Sparrows, was battling the Cleveland Trout for first place in the International Football League, and he had won four tickets to the game that were right on the fifty yard line, plus airline tickets, round trip, open ended, and rental of a house for a month. He didn't even know what contest he had entered.

He invited his friends Fred and Laya to go, and he would be bringing his girlfriend, Valerie. Girlfriends, he reminded himself. See, he actually had one-hundred eighty-three girlfriends. The difference was, they all resided in the same body. His only complaint about that was that it tired him, having to make sure she had one-hundred eighty-three orgasms at a time.

They had just finished packing and were getting ready to go pick up Fred and Laya on their way to the airport. Fred and Laya were siblings and as such, argued constantly. They were also the best of friends. The good news was that the house they were staying in was big enough that Randall and Valerie wouldn't have to listen to them. Besides, if Valerie had her way, they'd be making plenty of noise themselves.


Chapter Three

As Ben placed the "Closed for Vacation" sign on the window of the coffee shop he ran with his wife, Ida, he let out a sigh. "You think it will be okay, leaving for a week and announcing it to the world?" he asked his wife.

"Of course, it's not like we're in a bad part of town, and besides, the campus kids'll watch out for us. They'd better, otherwise they won't be able to manage that late-night, caffeine induced studying anymore," she laughed. "And even if something did happen, it's not like we'd go hungry or anything," she added as she made a golden apple materialize in front of her.

"True enough," Ben admitted. "I still can't believe Adam had to go on an emergency business trip to Scotland, and just gave us his game tickets. And he knows better than to buy non-refundable plane tickets."

"Yeah, we really lucked out. Dealing with college kids all evening for so many years, I think we need a vacation," Ida added.


Chapter Four

The lights went out in the windows of J&H Swords and Fishing Supply at nine o'clock. There was a sign in the window that said "Closed for the game. Why are you here?" Every weekend when there was a home game, the owners, Jared and Herman, placed that sign there before they headed towards the game. In the two years since the I.F.L. had formed, they had never missed a game. It was their belief that nobody within five hours of a football stadium should ever be home on Saturday night during football season.


Chapter Five

Homer loved it when the record company execs sucked up to him. He had brought in their last nineteen hit performers, and now he had another hot selection under his management. One they desperately wanted. Her name was Aiera, and everybody wanted to know her secret. Homer knew, but he wasn't telling.

The reason all the good acts signed with him was because he knew they should get to keep what they make, and not have to give ninety percent to a greedy manager. He charged a flat twenty percent of profits. No loopholes, no hidden costs. He was honest and therefore successful.

The company had sent him two tickets for the big game in Cleveland, one for himself and one for a date, wanting to show him a good time while they tried to get him to sign Aiera to their label. But again, instead of inviting a girlfriend, he invited Aiera to the game, since she'd been the reason he'd gotten the tickets. Besides, between scheduling tours, checking album sales, and scoping new acts, he didn't have time to go out on a date.


Chapter Six: Game Night

"James, here's a fifty, run down and get us each a couple hot dogs and a beer," Logan said as he handed a rolled up bill to James. They had been sitting in their seats for two and a half hours. Logan had read all of Neil Gamian's Good Omens in that amount of time, and was anxiously awaiting the game's start. The team had finally come out on to the field and started warming up. Logan couldn't believe how many familiar faces he saw in the crowd. Almost all the remaining major gods were there. It made him suspicious, for he didn't like having them together. He knew that the Earth's existence depended upon their survival. The only ones he didn't see were Thor, Loki, and Hel. He didn't know what had happened to Thor. Nobody had seen him in about thirty years. As for the other two, they were locked in a cave deep below the earth with Fenrir, the wolf, and the World Serpent.

Downstairs, James had finally gotten to the counter. "Six hot dogs and three beers," he ordered.

"I sorry sir, no hot dog left," the young girl behind the counter spoke in broken English.

"Great," sighed James. "Now what do I do?" He began to walk to another line when suddenly someone grabbed him and pulled him into a storage room. Before he knew what had happened, he was bound and tied to a chair. Then a light snapped on overhead.

James saw a pale man dressed in all black standing over him. Somewhere in a darkened corner of the room he herd a little girl asking "Can I kill 'em, Daddy, huh, huh, can I kill 'em?"

"Not yet, Hel, first we must get some information from him," said the pale man.

"Pleasedon'thurtmepleasedon'thurtmepleasedon'thurtme," James started repeating.

"Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy, Jim. We're not here to hurt you, we're here to KILL YOU!" Loki taunted. "Now tell me, James, have you ever heard Odin mention someone named Thor?"

"Who'sOdinwho'sOdinwho'sOdin?" the bound man began.

"Odin! Oh, what's he callin' himself now? Hel?"

"Logan, Daddy!" she answered. "Can I kill 'em yet?"

"Have patience, my dear," said Loki.

"Awww, patience is boring!"

"Hesawmycomics,saidthatThorwassofake,that'sall,that'sall,"

"Aaa, I should'a' known Odin would be smart enough not to talk about the gods in front of a mortal."

"Whoareyouanyway?" James finally wondered.

"Why, James, you don't know me? I'm Loki, the god of all evil!"

"Oh,JesusChrist,oh,JesusChrist! Please, please help me!" James started chanting.

"Jesus Christ! What an idiot he was. Yeah, sure, his daddy may have been a god, but-his-mommy-weren't-no-virgin!" Loki let out an evil laugh.

James went back to his "Pleasedon'thurtme" chant. Loki just looked at him. Finally, he said, "Jimmy, when are you gonna get it? I told you I wasn't gonna hurt you. I'm just gonna kill you!" Loki drew his arm back and in an eye blink, his fist was through James' skull.

"Awww, Daddy! I wanned ta' kill 'em!" Hel whined.


Chapter Seven

Ben and Ida couldn't believe it. They hadn't seen Heimdall and the Valkyries in centuries, and they were with Frey and Freya. Even better was, they were in the seats directly in front of Ben and his wife.

"Bragi, Idun, long time no see!" Randall said.

"Uh, hu. It's Ben and Ida now."

"I see. I go by Randall and she goes by Valerie. The twins go by Fred and Laya. Man, it's been a long time!"

"A good three-hundred years, at least," said Ida.

"At least. So what have you two been up to these last few centuries?" asked Fred.

"Oh, nothing much. Ida and I run a coffee shop near Nevada State University. Campus kids pretty much keep us busy all year. What have you been doing?"

"He's a radar control tower watchman at an airport in Connecticut, Fred is a weather forecaster for a radio station, Laya has an advice column in the local newspaper, and I ride the horsies, and I'm hungry, and I am >Caa< >Caa< I'm flying away, and I want to go to sleep, and I want the game to start, and I attend psychotherapy on a regular basis, and I..." she rattled on, and on, and on.

"I think you get the picture," Randall said.

"Yeah," Ida agreed.


Chapter Eight

"Hel, my daughter, fetch the World Serpent. We have need of his talents," Loki said.

"Daddy, 'es not Serpent, 'es a Hamster," Hel replied.

"Whatever, my dear. Take him up to where Idun, Heimdall, and some of the others are sitting. Release him near them. He knows what to do." Loki again let out an evil laugh. "This is too easy!"

Hel left the storage room and began to maneuver her way through the crowd toward a closed concession. Nobody noticed a small child wandering around. When she reached the concession, she slipped into a door beside the closed window. Once inside she said, "'Ello, Fenrir, don' worry, you get fed soon." The large collie looked at her and went back to sleep. She went over to a glass aquarium and opened the lid. Then she took out the aquarium's sole occupant, a small brown and white hamster. "Come on Worldie, you get go get 'de apple lady. I bet you tink she teas good!"


Chapter Nine

Jared and Herman loved their end zone season tickets. They loved being able to see the players coming right at them, the ball flying toward them. "Hey, Herm, think we'll run out of beer before half time?" Jared asked.

"You crazy? We only got five each," Herman replied.

"Hey, don't you think it's weird how so many of the other gods are here?" Jared wondered aloud.

"What do you mean?"

"Look through the binoculars, over on the visitor's side, at the fifty yard line, in about the twelfth row. I see Frey, Freya, Bragi, Idun, Heimdall, and the Valkyries, Valerie or whatever they're calling themself now."

"Oooh, that woman freaks me out!" Herman exclaimed.

"Yeah, me too. Then, over closer to the thirty, up towards the top. Is that Odin and Frigg?"

"Sure looks like them. Wonder what they'd be doin' here?"

"I don't know about you, but I'd guess they want to watch a football game? Besides, last I'd heard, they lived in North Canton, about an hour from here."

"That only leaves Thor and Hoenir," Jared pointed out.

"Guess again," Herman said. "Check the vid screen."

"'Homer Norseblood, of Norseblood Celebrity Management,' well I can figure out what he's been doing the last few years. Who's the chick? She looks kinda' familiar."

"Her name is Aiera; She's some new hot singer. But you're right, she does look like someone I've met, I just can't remember who." Herman stared at the screen, in deep thought. Aiera had dark, medium length hair pulled back with a barette. She was six foot, two-ten, and in perfect shape. She wore black slacks with a short sleeve red blouse. "Wait a sec...Remember when Thrym stole Mjollnir from Thor..."

"Oh, my god, I don't believe it. He must have really gotten a kink, er, I mean kick from that frost giant."

"I'll say..."


Chapter Ten

Logan knew something was wrong. The first quarter was over, and James hadn't returned. Meg was beginning to worry, too. "Logan, every one of us is here. We can't find James. Something isn't right here. Why would we all show up at the same game on the same day?"

"What do you mean 'every one of us?' I haven't seen Thor."

"He's here... Or should I say she's here?"

"What do you mean 'she's...? Oh, I see... Oh, I don't want to know!"

"Well, it can't be a mere coincidence, can it?"

"You're right, it is not very likely we'd all attend the same game. But, I'm not going to try to figure it out, right now, I'm going to say 'hello' to everyone sitting right down there, and then I am going to try to find James." Logan got up and headed toward Randall and his group on the fifty yard line.

"Hello, children. It certainly has been a while since we've all been together," Logan said.

"Odin, you're here too?" exclaimed Laya.

"Nice to see you, too, Freya. It's Logan, by the way."

"Yeah, Laya, Fred, Randall, Valerie, Ben, and Ida. We were just commenting on how odd it is that so many of us would be here."

"All of us, my dear, all of us are here."

"Where's Thor, Njord, and Hermod? We saw Hoenir on the screen," said Ben.

"Njord and Hermod, or Jared and Herman, as they go by now, are in the end zone towards your left. As for Thor, if you saw Hoenir, you saw Thor. She was sitting beside him."

"She..?" started Ida.

"So that's Aiera's 'deep dark secret' that she sings about!" stated Randall.

"But why would we all be here? What could gather us all together, and why would it do that?" asked Laya.

"I see Famine, I see Pestilence, I see a girl, oh, hell, I wanna ride the horsie, we're in it deep, Randall, the voices in my head are telling me to kill a child, isn't that wrong? How much wood would a wood chuck chuck if a wood chuck could chuck wood?" Valerie raved.

"Famine and Pestilence! Hel's companions!" Fred exclaimed.

"And a little girl? Could Hel have taken the form of a child?" Ben wondered.

"Where could she be?" asked Laya.

"I don't know, but isn't Hel supposed to be locked in a cave with Loki and her animal siblings, somewhere deep underground?" Ida asked as she looked around.

"Yes, but they could have escaped," Logan realized.

"Well, we're definitely in for a hell of a game, quite literally!" said Randall.


Chapter Eleven

"I got a hamster, he used to be a sna,a,ake. He's my little brother, he'll decide your fa,a,ate." The young girl skipped as she sang. She loved playing with her brother, the World Hamster. She didn't have to leave him up by the old, rotten, good guys just yet, her Dad could wait for a little bit to get revenge. Why not, she had to put up with him talking of nothing else in that cave for over nine-hundred years! She wanted revenge, too, but she also wanted to have some fun. She bet her Dad wouldn't even let her kill anyone, no matter what he said.

Then she had an idea: "Waid a minnit, whad if I kill 'de gods for 'em. 'Dat'id make Daddy happy. Hey, Worldie, d'ya know 'ow I ken kill 'de gods all by my self? Hmm, I ken git Fenrir, I bet he help me!" Hel then set off back towards the consession stand again to find her other brother, the collie.

"'Ey Fenie, ken 'ou 'elp me? I wanna kill 'de gods on my own, wit'out Daddy, but I don' tink he let me. But he be happy if dey all dead, wite? If we do 'et on our own, Daddy shud be proad of us, wite? 'Ell 'ou 'elp us? Worldie 'reddy said 'e 'ould."

Fenrir let out a whine, then barked, "Arf! Arf!" in agreement.

"So 'ow 'ou wanna do dis, Fenie?"

"Arf, woof, aoooouuu."

"Das' wad I tout, too! 'Kay, les go!"


Chapter Twelve

"Meg, I want you to go and sit down there with them for right now. I have to go look for James, but I don't feel right leaving you alone when something strange is going on."

Logan was genuinely worried. They had started pushing Valerie to find out where Hel had gone, but all she would say was, "She go bye bye." Randall had said that Valerie's more child-like personalities had not begun coming out until after they had arrived in Cleveland. He couldn't even find the usual twenty-something personalities that normally were in control.

Meg let out a sigh of acceptance. "I suppose they'll have to fill me in on the details?"

"Yes, that would be best."

Logan walked down the steps under the grandstands to the concession area. He scanned the crowd of faces for any sign of James, but found none. Then he saw him coming out of a storage room. Logan didn't know what James would be doing in an "employees only" storage room, and decided to investigate the room rather than go after James.

When he entered the door, he found James's body with a hole through the front of his face. Logan had seen a lot of death over his centuries, yet a cold-blooded murder always made him sick to his stomach. Yet, he had seen James leaving the room.

Valerie may have seen Hel wandering the grandstands, but she wouldn't do something this violent this quickly, Logan realized. She liked to have fun with her victims, torturing them or coming up with a clever way of killing them. James had been killed in one strike, no tormenting involved. That wasn't Hel's style. That was more like...Loki!

Loki and Odin had once been good friends. Loki was a trickster, though, and often caused trouble for the gods. When his trickery caused Odin's son, Balder, to die and be trapped within Hel's realm, Odin had Loki locked within a cave deep below the Earth's surface along with his monstrous children. When the gods' council decided to abandon Asgard and live among the humans, the cave was sealed so that Loki would be imprisoned for all time. Or so they had thought...


Chapter Thirteen

The security guard opened the door for the scraggly looking delivery boy. The boy had brought up hot dogs, candy, sodas, and beer for the people in the press box. Homer Norseblood had called an order down about twenty minutes before.

The boy then started handing out everyone's orders. The guard didn't notice that he knew what everyone had requested. However, Aiera did.

As Homer took a bite of his hot dog and a sip of his beer, the boy seemed to hesitate, watching. Then Homer began to choke. As he fell, he spat out the words, "Poison, help me," and died.

While everyone ran over to try to revive him, Aiera took out Mjollnir and tapped the "boy" on the shoulder. As he turned, she saw his true, scarred face. "Excuse me, don't I know you?" she asked, and then swung Mjollnir, taking Loki's head clean off.

Loki's head went flying through the press box window, shattering the glass. It flew all the way out on to the field and landed on the twenty yard line as the Trout kicked a field goal. The kick was good, and Loki's cranium then went flying through the goal posts and toward the crowd, landing in Jared's lap just as he and Herman were taking drinks of their beers. Both gods began choking and were soon dead. Loki's decapitated head then said, "I have not completely failed! I shall have my revenge!" and died.


Chapter Fourteen

Ben, Ida, Fred, Laya, Randall, Valerie, Meg, and everyone else in the stadium saw everything that happened. They watched on the vid screen. They saw Homer die, Loki get decapitated and thrown about, and Njord and Hermod choke to death. Seeing Loki dead, they believed the threat over. As people fled the stadium in panic, Meg asked, "Well, should we leave or wait for Logan to get back?"

"Hmm, with Loki dead, I think we should just wait for Logan. I don't think we have to worry about anything," Ida replied.

Downstairs, Logan was just leaving the storage room as people ran for the gates in a mad rush to get out. Logan knew something must have happened. He began to fight his way through the crowd to get to where Meg and the others were. Suddenly, he tripped and fell on to the ground.

He glanced over near his feet and saw a hamster. "How the hell did that thing get in here?" he wondered. Then he saw a large collie making a bee-line for him. The dog was upon him before he could move. In the background, he could hear a little girl laughing. "Hell's right," he realized, as the dog tore his throat out. "Ragnarok is upon us!" he cracked out as he everything went black.


Chapter Fifteen

"I don't feel so good. Me too. Me seven. What do you mean, seven. Uuuussss ttttoooo."

"Uh, oh, I think Val's feelin' it too," Randall said. All the gods were feeling ill except for Meg. The stadium was abandoned, but they could hear the sounds of horns, screeches, and car wrecks outside. They knew they weren't the only ones sick.

"I think I'll lie down a bit," Ida said.

"I second the motion," Laya replied.


Chapter Sixteen

Hel knew her daddy had done something to the beer everyone was drinking. That's why when she got there, only the old lady was left. The beer had killed them all.

Now she had to figure out how to kill Frigg, for she was the only one left except for Thor. Thor wasn't there though. Fenrir was too full from Odin to eat the old lady. Hel looked at the World Hamster and said, "'Ey, Worldie, 'ya 'ungry?"

The World Hamster flew out of her hands and attacked Meg. Hel didn't know what to do then. She looked at Famine and Pestilence in her arms and asked them. "'Wat we do now? Nobody left to kill. 'Ost 'de gods are ded. 'Wat we do now?"

Her stuffed companions just stared at her blankly. "I know! We take over 'orld our selves!"

As the young girl and her companions skipped out of the stadium, she sang, "We gonna take over 'de 'orld, we gonna take over 'de 'orld, we gonna take over 'de 'orld."

When they passed Odin's body, with his dying breath, he rasped, "Oh, hell, there goes Midgard..."

“How Sleeping In Class Can Save the World” by Vertigo Xi’an Xavier

"Baaa." "One thousand six hundred and fifty-two."
"Baaa." "One thousand six hundred and fifty-three."
"Baaa." "One thousand six hundred and fiftyyyyyyyyyzzzzzzzzzzz...





At forty degrees below zero, you think that school would'a' been called off. But, no. We'd already used all of our snow days for the year, and nobody who worked at the school offices wanted to work extra days, meaning we had to come to school. Making it worse, the school's climate control system had shorted out during the recent blizzard.

So, not only was it freezing outside, but the AC was running full blast inside, and there was nothing anybody could do about it. They (the people who worked at the school) had said that we could wear our coats to class, but lucky me, my sleeve had gotten stuck inside the locker door, and it wouldn't open.

Well, I'd made it to my last period study hall when I began to get tired. I decided to lay my head on the desk to try to conserve my energy. Big mistake...





...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...





"Krack!" I woke with a start. Looking around the room I saw that ice covered the walls, desks, floor, chairs, and everything else in the room. All the other students were still in their seats, frozen solid. I got up to leave the room, momentarily faltering. My joints were stiff and my equilibrium was off balance.

I went to some of the other classrooms, but they were all in the same state. I knew others might be melting soon, so I decided to go and get medical help.

I thought I could get in my car and drive to the hospital to find some doctors, but after exiting the building and walking into the parking lot, I saw that all the cars were gone. So I walked to a nearby house. It was empty, just like every other house on the block. I then walked to where I remembered the hospital to be, but all I found was a mini-mall. I decided to steal a car, but not one "car" in the lot had wheels. "Delusions, after-effects of being frozen," I thought to myself.

I hopped into the driver's seat of a vehicle called a "Moller Merlin 8000," broke open the ignition box, stripped and twisted the red and blue wires, and was on my way...





...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...





Even though I was driving a wheel-less jet-car that could have passed as the Batmobile, I still believed everything was the same. However, after learning that the hospital, my neighborhood, and the police station had all been turned into mini-malls, I knew I wasn't in Kansas anymore.

Finally, I decided to enter one of the mini-malls and try to find a security guard. First thing I noticed was that none of the stores had names: They all had serial numbers. Next, I noticed that everybody was walking in a straight line, entering the same stores, buying the same items, et cetera, like a human conveyer belt. Thirdly, I noticed the obvious lack of security.

As I slipped into line behind one of the "customers," I began to ask him about my observations. I was cut off short before I could finish, though. "Shh," he said. "Do what I do or you'll be absorbed by the Collective Intelligence."

"What do you mean..," I began.

"Just do it!" he shout/whispered. I did as he said.

When we got to his "car" he said, "Okay, you can talk now."

"No, you talk. Begin with an explanation of what the hell is going on around here!" I shouted.

"You know absolutely nothing of what's going on!"

"No."

"Okay, you're obviously what we call a 'free-minder.' Somebody who hasn't been brain washed and placed under the control of the Collective Intelligence. The CI was originally a computer-based virus designed by the military to take control of the minds of enemy soldiers, but it backfired. 'Bout two years back the scientist who designed the virus used it to convert himself into a living computer. He then took control of the virus and shaped the world into what you see before you.

"Only a few of us were able to escape being sucked into that maniac's arcade game. We're waiting until we can find a way to stop the CI, then we're attacking their HQ." I still stared at him blankly. "Hello, it's 2026, what's yer story?"

"Uh, I woke up in a popsicle called Washington High School."





...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...





His name was Flame, Nick Flame. Although in his mid sixties, he could have passed for forty. He was well built with dark hair going gray. He had an even, slightly raspy voice with a British spy style accent, reminiscent of Roger Moore. Together, along with two dozen other people, we had to stop a government-created, computer-based germ with the ability to control minds. Nooo problem.

My name was Xavier, Vertigo Xi'an Xavier. I fell asleep in study hall and woke up a 220 pound ice cube. Worse still, I woke up 32 years in a future where everywhere I looked there was a mini-mall. Not only did I have to save the world, I had to find a way to get back to my own time.

According to Flame, the government told everyone that complications with radiation levels and radon gas poisoning had killed everyone in the school. However, his band of rebels believed that the school was the headquarters for the CI. They believed the government had frozen the school, trying to stop a leak of a virus-prototype that could not be controlled. He said that since I did not have a coat on, my body temperature was probably lower and my somewhat compacted, curled up position had permitted me to thaw out more rapidly. That's why I was still alive.

The Rebels believed that the best way to stop the CI was to cut off its power source. Problem was, it had to be done from inside the school. It was decided that the entire group would attack from the front to draw fire, while three of us snuck in, found the CI's source of power, and shut it down. The team was made up of Flame, a man named Luceno, and myself, for I knew the layout of the school better than any of them. We would attack at dusk...





...Bang! Bang! ZAPOW! Boom! PZZZZZZT! Crash! YAIEEEEeee! Zap! SKKZIPPPT!...





We entered the school through the auto shop garage doors just as the attack began. Since we were already on the second floor (the school was built into a hill), we decided to check all the rooms with computers up there first. The writing lab was empty and there were no signs of recent activity (other than melting). As we entered the library, we looked out the windows. Our guys were getting slaughtered. We knew that if we did not win this time now, all of humanity was doomed.

Since we hadn't noticed anything out of the ordinary upstairs (other than a few hundred half-frozen dead bodies) we headed downstairs. After checking the offices and still not being detected, I began to worry. It was then that I noticed a humming sound following us. "Shh...What's that sound?" I asked Flame.

He shrugged his shoulders. "Luceno?" Luceno didn't say anything, but suddenly aimed his weapon at Flame.

"He's CI!"

"BAM!"





...AAA! Zing! KAPOW! Bam! AARGH! Bzzzzzzit! YAAA! How Do You Stop Them?!...






After I picked up Luceno's weapon and Flame reloaded his, we were on our way. We checked the rest of the classrooms that I knew had computers in them, but we still didn't find anything. We knew that we had been detected by the CI, so we had to hurry.

I did not remember any other classrooms having computers in them, and we still hadn't found the CI's core system, so Flame and I decided to split up. He would take the top floor and I would take the bottom, searching every nook and cranny until one of us found the CI.

I started off in the business wing of the building and began to work my way down towards the main stairs. Nothing, same as the study halls, art wing, auditorium, gymnasium, and the restrooms. Flame was just coming down the stairs as I was going to go look for him. "Nothing up there," he said.

"Where could it be?" I asked.

"Maybe it isn't here at all," he said. "Maybe this was just a trap."

"Or..," I said as I looked toward the cafeteria. "They could hide anything in there."

"Lets go!"





...KaPow! WHAM! TaZing! YAIEE! ;rebel;terminated; PZZZZZIT! Crash! BZZAOW!...





We tore apart ovens, freezers, cash registers, and every other machine in the kitchen until finally, we were down to one last freezer. Slowly, I pulled the door open. A blast of energy came firing out, pinning Flame to the wall. I quickly pushed the door from another freezer into the beam, allowing the metallic surface to send the beam back to its source inside the box. Cautiously, I peered around the door into the freezer.

Inside, I saw hamburger meat, fish fillets (from the biology labs, no doubt), tomato sauce, frozen pizzas, and a human head. Where the neck should have ended, wires began. They ran off to somewhere in the back of the freezer. The energy beam was coming from the mouth. A few seconds later, the beam shut off, the mouth closed, and the eyes opened. Then it spoke.

"Thank you for bringing the Rebels here, Xavier."

"Wha..."

"Please, don't tell me that you haven't figured it out yet. I let you escape so that you would lead the Rebels here to their doom!"

"Yes, now as you stand here, open-mouthed, going into shock, the rest of the free-minders are being absorbed into my Collective Intelligence." I had moved around the freezer door to get a better look at the head. "For aiding me in such a predictable manner, your reward will be a quick death," it said as another beam of energy shot out of its mouth.

Before it could hit me, however, I ducked and swept out with my foot, side-swiping the head, sending the blast into last week's mashed potatoes. "Predict this!" Then the beam stopped, and the light coming from the freezer dimmed and shut off.

Flame came crawling out from around the freezer, with a pulled electric plug in his hand.

"We...missed...step...one." he said with a slight smile. We had won!





...KAPOWZZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...





After disconnecting the head from the wires, I took it and helped Flame out of the school. The rest of the Rebels had already gathered near the doors. Someone took Flame and we returned to the base. Using what medical equipment they had there, they got Flame and the other injured troops into stable conditions. After seeing that everyone was okay, I went outside.

Since the CI virus was no longer controlling everybody, people were wandering the streets with absolutely no idea of what had happened or where they were. I knew that it wouldn't take long to get life into some semblance of order.





...zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...





AfterWord

Right about now, you're probably wonderin' how I can be here now if I was still stuck in the future. Well, that's a story for another day...so for now...lets just say...

To Be Continued...