What’s That Sound?
I loved books. No one could ever read to me enough. I was promised when I got to school, I would learn to read. I couldn’t wait to read any book I wanted, anytime I wanted!
I vividly remember sitting at my kindergarten desk as a teacher quizzed each classmate about letter sounds. When my turn came, I was asked what sound the “J” made. I was stumped. There were too many sounds to remember. I was overwhelmed and confused.
“Jelly, Jar, Jam” the teacher prodded. “What goes with that?”
“Grape?” I answered.
Everyone laughed and I was in trouble (again) for being a clown.
I desperately wanted to read but I was missing key pieces of information. I’ll never forget the exact moment the next year when a teacher said just the right words to me. By that time, I had more recall of letter sounds. She reminded me to use the letter sounds. She slid her finger across a word as I made the sounds again and again until a word formed. In one moment, it all made sense. I remember delighting in my ability to see print and figure out the words.
I didn’t give the process of reading much thought until one of my sons struggled in school. We explored tutoring, therapies, private, and home school options. I read stacks of books trying to help him. All of this experience helped me when I became a Teacher's Assistant. I've worked in both public and private schools.
“What’s That Sound?” includes the key pieces of information early learners need to grasp to become readers.
Those elements are:
*The letter/sound relationship clearly described
*Multiple opportunities to track from left to right
*A repeated visual of the concept that sounds can be in the beginning, middle, and end of
*The alphabet letters are not introduced in alphabetical order. Research of order of
sounds children could learn was considered, as well as artistic design to please the
*The vowels become actual characters to playfully introduce the concept that some letters
have more than one sound, and immediately after the child’s name will be considered.
Confusion can be cleared immediately! (Years ago, I spent numerous sessions with a
young reader who absolutely could not remember the short e, a, and u vowel sounds.
One day she pointed at the name tag on her desk. Carefully moving from left to right
she sounded out all the letters in her name. Both the “e” and the “a” in her name made
the short “u” sound…in two different places! No wonder she was confused! The most important word she could easily read and write didn’t follow the sound rules she had been taught so far! By second grade she had written her name hundreds of times!)
What’s That Sound?” is designed to be an interactive book for very young readers to practice letter sounds at their own pace. A bonus is a visual schedule within the story to give structure to the morning routine. Everything a young student needs to equip them for reading success is provided in one beautiful book! When parents read they will be imitating the way the alphabet is presented during the school day.
After an entire year of online schooling, this book will help young students catch up!
The ebook is receiving stellar reviews! The hard copy will be available next month.
#kidsbooks #childrensbooks #bookstagram #kidsbookstagram #books #booksforkids #picturebooks #kids #kidlit #reading #raisingreaders #kidsbookswelove #illustration #childrensbook #picturebook #bookworm #storytime #kidsbook #booklover #book #readaloud #homeschool #childrensliterature #children #childrensbookillustration #booksforchildren #kidsbookshelf #homeschooling
What is Memory and Ego?
My pain is forever
A piece of me.
My history stored
In files to read.
There's all kinds of files
Some hard and some easy
I guess each one
Is a gift to me.
Each Experience a lesson
An aide from here
Demons play and tease and
Angels teach and hold and
Past lives and ghosts and dieties too.
Each one a being,
Just like you!
DNA made a body to hold,
Soul is something and Glue,
And then the two stick
And Three makes you!
Untitled current book of poetry and short stories, age 5-500, word count not applicable, mostly handwritten, but 60ish typed pages, Brigid Faye, People need my writing, A Guide to emotion, anyone and everyone, bio? I am an autistic adhd bipolar they with an IQ of 128. I went to the school of hard knocks, but I have 126.5 college credits. No platform. I like colored pens and notebooks and nature and learning interesting things. My hobbies are learning how to take care of myself, writing poems and songs, and studying Vibrational Astrology. Hodgenville, Kentucky. 23.
Three Times Perfect
It always seems like an unbearably hot day on graduation. All of us graduates are sweating under our caps and gowns. Even though we are all uncomfortable there is a nervous, excited giddiness rolling through the sea of green. Standing in a crowded room, surrounded by all the kids that I’ve grown up with, I look to my right to see a tall girl in dull red heels, her name is Sara. When we were in elementary school, we were best friends, but eventually we just drifted apart. She got a new group of friends and now her hobbies include; boy watching, drinking, and watching makeup tutorials, none of which I’m particularly interested in. I remember when we would go to her house. We’d had so much fun sliding down the stairs engulfing ourselves in the massive pile of pillows at the bottom. We would dress up and have tea parties. I miss those carefree days.
I look to my left and see a short, nerdy looking boy staring at me. He is my best friend’s little brother. It’s obvious to me that he has had a crush on me for the longest time, however, he doesn’t know that I know. I look down at my feet, trying not to let memories engulf today. This is a day for making memories, not wallowing in them. However, it does seem that the closer this event has been coming, the more memories dredge up from the depths of my mind. Some making me want to get as far away from this place as possible and some making me hesitant to leave. I see in front of my size-seven flats appears a pair of large worn-out dress shoes. I crane my neck to look at the owner of them and see the mousy face of my best friend, Jacob. He smiles at me, giving me the same feeling I’ve always had when he smiles. I immediately feel the grin of the lonely little middle schooler who he asked to hang out with, spread across my 18-year-old face. “You’re late,” I say, tamping down my smile to try to look strict and angry. It doesn’t work… at all. We both start laughing. Our lighthearted greeting gets interrupted by a voice booming down the hallway. It appears that it’s time to start lining up for the precession. I turn back to him and say, “Well, it looks like you slipped in right under the wire.”
“Yeah, it appears that way,” He says, “Are you sure you’ll be able to find your spot? I know that you sometimes have trouble with the alphabet?” He asks me jokingly. He always likes to make fun of my intelligence.
I playfully hit on the shoulder and say, “Just because I’m not a genius like you doesn’t mean that I can’t find my way by myself!”
He nods his head and mouths I know, “It’s just so much more fun to make fun of you about it.”
I role my eyes and turn around, walking in the general direction of the front of the line. When I figure out who I’m supposed to be standing next to I start to procrastinate taking my place in line. I’m supposed to be standing next to Vivian. She’s a very nice girl, but she’s one of the ones who put on so much perfume that it smells bad. I take one final deep breath and step up next to her. She smiles and gives a small wave before looking back down to her phone. I turn to search the end of the line for Jacob. I, being one of those too-short-for-it-to-be-convent kinds of people, have to go up on pointe to be able to see over the mass of teenage bodies. Soon my toes and ankles start protesting to the abuse, so I return to my regular height.
The precession starts moving, so I turn back around to face the front and paste a smile on my face. After we all file through the isle and sit down the ceremony starts. I zone out until my name is called, then I snap myself out of it and make the slow, agonizing trek up to the stage. I receive my diploma and shake hands with a few of the school officials that I never liked. They smile at me, pretending that they care. That’s one thing I’ve learned about my school. The staff don’t care unless it has something to do with sports, the gain of money, or the gain of power. I walk back down to my seat and look at the kids that I’ve grown up with. There are many reasons to leave floating, like little wisps of cloud, around the heads of them. Some want the freedom of being away from their parents, some just believe that they deserve more then what they have. There are some who want plainly to move on, and then those who are tired of the tedious, mechanical brainwork of increasing one’s own knowledge. As for me, in a way, I identify partially with all of them.
I force myself to pay attention of the rest of the presentations. At the end we all throw our hats in jubilee and flow, a tidal wave of freedom, out onto the track to be applauded and congratulated on our survival of high school. Jacob runs up to me, lifting me up and swinging me in a large circle around him.
“We made it!!” he exclaims.
I giggle as he gently sets me back on the ground. “Yeah, we did,” I said slowly. “It was torcher sometimes but yeah we did.”
I hear a voice from behind me call my name. I turn and see a familiar voice and form barreling towards me. I smile again and run to meet my favorite cousin. When we meet, we hug each other tightly.
“I’m glad you made it,” I whisper in her ear.
“Me too! It was close though, we just barely snuck in the door when it started.” Jacob walks up behind us and stands there awkwardly. She glances at him then back at me with a look of sudden understanding. She, being my favorite cousin, is one of the first people that talked to about my best friend/crush. She opens her mouth to say something then I give her a look, begging her not to speak.
“Jacob, this is my cousin, Samantha.”
“Oooohhhhh, I’ve heard a lot about you!” he tells her.
“Likewise,” She replies.
I see the crowd of teenagers slowly starting to make their way to toward the school. I tell her that were not quite done with graduation yet and that we’ll meet her at the house once it’s over.
We have a tradition that all the graduates walk though the school one last time. Staring from the kindergarten hallways then through upper elementary, middle school, and finally high school. It just gives us a little while to go back through the memories of our school career. We all walk through together through the dark school, and even though there are quite a few of us it’s quiet. Most of us are stuck in our own heads, reliving memories of us running down the carpeted hallways or waiting in anticipation for lunch. We remember summer days spent on the playground and cold winter twilights when our parents were late picking us up. All in all, the senior walk through took around 45 minutes. After emerging from the High School, we take one last long look, most of us with mixed feelings. The kids who transferred to the school halfway through don’t feel such a strong attachment, but those of us who have lived here all our lives feel like it’s a second home, in a way. I slowly turn away and start walking toward my car. Jacob runs up behind me and grabs ahold of my hand, a gentle reassuring gesture. We’ve talked about leaving before and it seems that he’s the only one who can see through the façade of needing to go on and never look back. He knows that I’ll miss it here, even if I don’t want to admit it.
We both get in my car and drive to my house. He can’t drive yet so, as his best friend, it’s my job to chauffeur him around. I don’t mind it driving, so it’s not a problem for me. We also decided to host our graduation parties together at my house.
When we arrive, my driveway is full of cars. I’m forced to park on the curb a few houses away.
I live in a fairly small house, but the set up of the kitchen is good for parties and get-togethers. Its got a large table area and a door out onto the back porch, which has a wooden privacy fence and a set of chairs and tables under an awning.
When we walk in a cheer erupts from the room. Since we did the memory walk most of our relatives have not yet had a chance to congratulate us. We quickly get grabbed and passed around the room from embrace to embrace. Once I’m finally able to escape I make my way into the kitchen. I smell nachos cheese and the little pulled pork sliders my mom made. I see her standing in the corner, waiting to help anyone who needs assistance getting food or finding the bathroom. I walk up to her and ignore the wetness in her eyes as I give her a big hug.
“ I’m so proud of you baby,” she whispers in my ear.
“I know momma,” I reply, trying very hard to not tear up.
All throughout the party Jacob and I get our ears talked off, get asked about pans for the future, and are forced to listen to suggestions, and financial plans that neither of us will follow.
Eventually we got bored, politely excused ourselves, and made our way outside to my trampoline. At night we love to sit out there together, watching the stars. It isn’t completely dark yet, but it’s almost there. I find that when I come out here with him, I often feel safe. I feel like the way the light reflects off his pale skin makes the world around us look less dark and ominous. He turns to me with his green eyes and asks, “What? Is there something wrong?”
I look away to the hills, “No, I’m just thinking about this summer and college. I feel like we should go earlier, so that we can have some time to adjust to the environment.”
“I think that would be a good idea, but where would we get the money for the extra time?”
“Well, we could start our jobs a little early, too. Well, I can start mine and you can find one.”
He smiles at the jab, knowing I beat him to that one. “That’s true, but we’d still have to ask your mom and both my parents. They are going with us, remember?”
“Yeah, how could I forget,” I say sarcastically. We’re going to New York, so mom talked me out of taking me car, but it’s going to destroy me to leave it behind. If anyone was ever known to love their car it would be me. I’ve got to admit that my little Honda has gotten me through many rough situations. I look at Jacob and say, “I can’t believe that I’m leaving my poor car behind.”
He looks at me and then we both burst out laughing. “It’ll be worth it,” he promises.
“I have no doubt about that,” I reply. We sit out there in peace for a few more minutes then decide that we should go back inside and spend the rest of the night immersed in the combination of joy and sadness that come with the progression of a life.
The weeks fly by, between finishing track and the start of the summer, both Jacob and I have been busy, but we always try to find time to hang out with each other. A lot of the time we get is after track, he comes over and just chills at my house for a few hours. Usually we end up sitting on the trampoline and talking. Lately most of what’s been on our minds is college. We both asked our parents about going early, I got a surprising reply. My mom said that if we were going to go early, we should go closer to the beginning of the summer. It would give us time to find a church, find a job for Jacob, and start to find our own friends before term starts. Jacob’s parents, however, had a bad reaction to the idea, they said they he should stay with his family as long as he could, after all friends might come and go, but family will always be there. Personally, I agree with my mom, but I’m not going without him, so we really need to work it out. I already feel the summer slipping away, hours and minutes ticking by, a constant drip of water falling onto the cave floor from a half-grown stalactite. Indecisiveness is something that I don’t like about my best friend. He will take hours on a decision that should have taken minutes.
“I know this is really stressing you out,” I pause, not wanting to upset him, “But you do need to decide soon what you’re going to do. I think it will be easier if we stay together, so I’ll probably go with whatever you decide on.”
“I know,” he says, looking down at his hands, “It just seems that no matter what I choose I will be hurting someone.”
“Well to be honest, I don’t think that I would prefer going if I didn’t have the support of my mom. You don’t have to worry about me, I will support your decision, whatever you choose.”
He turns to me and gives me his mischievous grin, I immediately start backing up with the thought of: no, not the grin, what are you planning?! Before I have a chance to get too far, he tackles me and starts poking my sides, which he knows are very ticklish. I thrash around trying to fight him off me, laughing all the while.
“Dinner’s ready,” Mom calls from the porch. Thankful for the distraction I push him off and start sprinting for the house.
Before I can even reach the steps of the porch he grabs hold of my waist and spins me to face him. His smile is bright, and his face is so familiar. I lean my head against his chest and just stay there. It feels so good to be there with him. He makes me feel safe and like everything will be alright.
“Your Mom is probably waiting for us.”
I just nod and slowly let go of him.
Together we walk inside, going straight to the kitchen.
The pizza is good. The cheese sticks to the top of my mouth as I slowly chew on the gooey bread. I really hope he decides soon. I look across the table at him, his mousey face, his slouch, and his messy dirty blond hair. He looks up at me with his green eyes. He puts down his pizza. “Mrs. Cingly, may I ask you a question?”
“Go for it,” mom says.
“What would you do in my position?”
She also puts down her pizza. “It doesn’t really matter what I would do. It’s your choice and you must make it on your own. There are a few things I thing you should think about to help you make the decision. One: Is this what you want and if so, are you ready? Two: What is holing you back? Three: What is another choice, if there is one available?”
He nods solemnly. “Thank you, I hope that will help me decide.”
She smiles at him. “You’re very welcome.”
Once dinner is over, we go back outside and start walking down the dimly lit streets.
“I’m going to miss your mom,” Jacob says.
I laugh, “Yeah, me too. I will still most likely call her like every day though, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.”
“I’m going to miss my parents, too.”
I realize that he’s still trying to puzzle out what he should do. I put my hand on his arm and turn him to face me. “Do you want me to help you answer those questions?”
“That would be nice,” he replies.
“Ok, the first one I can remember is; is there a third option?”
“Well, I mean we could go halfway through the summer that would be kind of in the middle of both plans.”
“Okay, we can talk to our parents about a happy medium between the two ideas. The next one; what’s holding you back?”
He looks at his feet and says quietly, “I’m scared. After we leave, life won’t be the same.”
That hits me. I’ve been feeling the exact same thing. I’ve lived here all my life, it’s been my home. I feel moisture in the back of my eyes and I try to keep my voice from catching as I say, “I feel that too,” I pause, letting the darkness conceal a tear sliding down my face. “The last question.”
“Technically it’s two,” Jacob points out.
I giggle, “Yeah, I guess it is, but you still need to answer them, do you think you’re ready?”
“No, yes? I don’t know. I don’t feel ready but I know that I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.” He drags a hand down his face, “I thought these were going to be easy to answer.”
“When a decision has an effect on the future it is never easy. That’s why you have people who care for you. They are here to help you figure out what’s best for you.”
“I hope you consider yourself a part of that group.”
“I don’t know. I’m too selfish, I wouldn’t think about what’s best for you, I would think about what I want you to do.”
He stops walking and turns to face me, “Which is?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me.”
I take a breath, “I think that we should go as soon as possible. There will be a long period of change and adjustment. I would feel better if we get that out of the way before school starts.”
“When you say it like that, I agree. My family can’t afford for me to fail any classes.”
I laugh, “If I know you at all then there is no way you could ever fail a class.”
“I’m not perfect you know,” he says, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
“I know, but you don’t have to be.”
He smiles, “I needed to hear that.”
“Well, I’m glad I was able to help,” I lower my voice, “The last question is; do you want this? I know it was kind of my idea to go to New York. Is this what you want”
He looks off into the distance. “Well, it wasn’t originally, but I always wanted to stay with you. Also, Berrett has a really good Astronomy program, so even if it wasn’t what I was thinking of originally, I think it will be really good.”
“What did you want originally?”
“Well, I wanted to stay closer to my family.”
“That makes sense.”
“I also want to stay close to you though,” he pauses, “Jen I…”
I shiver as a cold breeze flows across my bare shoulders.
“Maybe we should get you back inside.”
“Wait no, what were you going to say?”
“It’s not important,” He says, turning me toward home. I raise my eyebrow at him, “Seriously Jen, don’t worry about it.” I shake my head at him, and he laughs, “I don’t want you to freeze to death.” He puts his arm across my shoulders to keep me warm and we start the walk home. Even in the darkness, I feel safe in the familiar presents of my best friend.
Hello, this is the first chapter of my finished book Three Times Perfect. I wrote this mostly for young adults, but I think some adults would enjoy it as well. The genre is a little hard to categorize, it's action and romance with gang theme. I think my project is a good fit because I've tried and can't think of any other books like it as well as the fact that the beginning is very relatable to a lot of people. The mix of anxiety and relief about graduating high school and the process of moving to college. The word count is around 59,800 words.
Synopsis - Imagine dreaming of alternate realities. In this novel, Jennifer Cingly does. Her seemingly normal and relatable life takes on an intense challenge after a choice regarding a deadly car crash, she starts seeing visions of two other paths her life could’ve taken. One she knows is safe, another she knows is familiar, and the last is a feeling of utter exhilaration… Sadly it is too late to ask herself what the best choice was. Is she destined to give up her life for a world of gunshots and smoky backrooms or are the fates planning to give her another chance at the life she always thought she’d have?
My name is Bailey Juhl, I go by the pen name Erin Bailey. I am going into my Junior year at South Dakota State University. I am a double major in the French Language and Broadcast Journalism with a minor in English. I don't have much experience with publishing however, I have been entering short stories contests for a long time, one of which is the Scholastic Arts and Writing festival in which I have earned the achievement of Silver Key on multiple works, including my novel, at the regional level.
I hope to hear from you soon, Erin Bailey
Father F*cker! - Prologue
June 15th, 2003–Father’s Day
Huddled in the cold Malibu sand with my knees hugged against my chest, I stare out at the Pacific Ocean through swollen eyes. Tears mingle with snot, drip off my chin and onto my leggings. I don’t care. In the 5am hour, the sky is still dark, dotted with shimmering stars. A biting chill cuts through the thin, oversized T-shirt in which I slept. I tremble, not from the bite, but from the undulating sorrow crawling through my body. I have contained this fucking torment my whole life. Now I simply refuse to house it any longer. Out it comes. I am falling apart as I am coming together.
I have set this scene on an exquisitely excruciating stretch of beach by the Malibu Lagoon at Cross Creek—a place I have romanticized so deeply and for so long that, on sight, it conjures an unquenchable longing—greater than words can describe—for a certain someone to hold me and make me feel safe. No! My brain screams at my anguish. I won’t hold you in. Get out of me. Fuck you. Fuck me. Take me. I surrender.
I am so tired of longing.
Somewhere along the way, I have relinquished the power to defend myself. I am depleted of the strength, the massive amounts of energy it takes, to keep this God forsaken grief out, or in, or whatever. I have no choice but to let it engulf me. So, I tremble. My gut rushes toward the earth. My teeth clatter in my head. And it feels strangely good.
The sounds of my sorrow, joined by sporadic first-call-of-the-morning seagull squawks and the rolling crash of low-tide waves on the horizon, create a backing-track for an enormous blanket of black silence. I feel small, and alone, but no longer afraid.
In my hand I clutch a crumpled pile of stationary onto which, at 3am, a letter to my father poured from a pen I had plucked off my bedside table, after I’d awaken from a dead-sleep, hit by the knowledge that the pipe by the pen’s side was empty. I had no weed. I had gone to sleep the night before completely sober. This drama is not even driven by a hangover. This drama is pure.
I am determined to face Father’s Day for once.
I have spent my life not talking about mine. I have ignored his existence, or lack thereof, since I was five years old. I’ve become a master at changing the subject of conversation. As soon as I know the flow of someone’s words is headed toward a remotely daddy-related topic, I suddenly have profundity I must share and that just so happens to be un-daddy-related. I have figured—by ignoring the most gorgeous, breathtaking, God-like image of a man I’ve ever seen not even close to enough of—I could make his absence go away, and it has worked. Or, has it?
I have managed to suppress my feelings by various methods that have evolved, as I’ve grown older. When I was a girl, I vanished into books, reading away my feelings and escaping my fucked-up, grief-soaked childhood whenever possible. Reading inspired the writing of fantastic stories that whirled me away from reality. The Cabbage Patch Kids and Furskin Bears, with which my grandfather had spoiled my sister and me to make up for the inconvenient fact that we had no daddy, had become my first subjects. I gave them dialects and dialogue, personalities and passions; with them I kept grand company. Fantastic stories transformed into poetry. Poetry morphed into the worship of boys, unrequited love and obsession. All of which led to self-medication—like dropping acid for the first time when I was fourteen and realizing it carved open a certain can of creativity in me that lent nicely to my penchant for staying far away from actuality. Cocaine, crystal meth, hallucinogens, marijuana, pills and alcohol were glorious tools for constructing my walls of denial.
Five months before now, I turned twenty-seven and took a sharp turn in the “spiritual path” I had discovered in college. I had been practicing yoga for a few years , but it had been about “working out,” twisting into poses, stretching and sweating more so than communicating with the divine. Then a friend turned me on to Ezra Stern. Ezra Stern. Sigh! Ezra had been taking his yoga bag out of the trunk of his car, in front of The Dane Moss’ Power Yoga Studio, where he taught in Santa Monica, when I noticed his surfboard peeking out. He’s a surfer like my dad was! I thought excitedly.Ezra walked toward us through the morning marine fog, and I was certain I was in love with him by the time he approached and my friend introduced us. From that point forward, I dove headfirst into a spiritual practice of Bhakti Yoga and Kirtan Chanting (call and response chanting to Hindu Gods), guided by God-like Ezra. He was the perfect Guru, and just the object my obsession needed to continue not looking at myself. I knew I was circling a key, I could sense it, but I had no idea what was behind the door that key would unlock.
Bhakti Yoga and Kirtan Chanting were said to reach an individual toward enlightenment, and I was all ready to go, as long as I got to drool over Ezra at least six days a week on my journey. During chanting sessions that bookended my daily yoga practice with Ezra, I was flooded with childhood memories. My daddy. Schoolteachers who had scarred me. Relationships gone wrong. The first time I got drunk and woke-up in vomit. Drug trips. Moments my addictions had melded. And a burning fucking desire to communicate with my father. My father. The most beautiful man I had ever seen. Yes, he was even more beautiful than Ezra. He was more beautiful than any of them ever were, but I couldn't reach him.
How the fuck am I supposed to deal with the fact I will never see him again? Never? Not even a peek? How the fuck could he leave me like he did? No. Not Never. Please. Just once? Denial. I have a hard time accepting the forever-ness of never again. I want to fucking see him. I want him to put his arms around me. I want him to tell me I’m pretty. I want him so badly it’s almost unholy. Like, not seeing him throughout my life has planted seeds of wanting to be with him in ways a girl is not supposed to want to be with her father, but what else can I do? I have no fucking ability to grasp him and there is nothing I can do about it. So, for, say, sixty more years I have to contend with the unrelenting fact I will never again get to touch him or hear his voice? Well, that sucks but I can’t not face it any longer.
Five months into my heart opening, here I am, huddled on the sands of my dreams and nightmares, a heap of razor-sharp, raw emotion. Exposed nerves zap up and down my spine. It is time to release all I have never been given a chance to say to my father.
I unfold my body, look down at my letter and watch my black-inked, cursive scrawl smear with tears. I want to read it one last time before I send it.
I haven’t referred to anyone by that name in a long time: Daddy. I suppose I used to call you that, but it’s hard to remember because I was so young when you left. I likely fantasize my once use of that word more so than I remember it. Daddy. I’m not sure if I more miss the word or resent it.
Daddy, I got to know you through photographs, in case you’ve wondered. Almost every memory I have of your face is connected to a picture I’ve seen in Mom’s or Grandma’s photo albums. I have seen some video footage of you, too. So, I’ve gotten to hear your voice, but not enough, not even close to enough.
You left me with a void I have never been able to fill, although I keep trying. This drink, that drag, some guy, some new heartbreak, which is just like the last, but always seems to hurt more.
I am not angry with you, or at least I haven’t allowed myself to be angry with you, yet. Maybe what I’m trying to say is I’ve missed having you around—a lot. Maybe I just want to tell you, I love you. You gave me your dimple; I notice that in photographs and that you were beautiful, so beautiful. I compare every guy to you, but they never compare.
You were going to drive us to the zoo that day after you did what you did. Were you really going to drive your two young daughters in that condition? You must have been so high you thought you could fly. By the way, I do have a few memories of you. I remember our trip to Catalina, searching for seashells. I remember you pulling Hannah and me around the lagoon at Cross Creek on your surfboard, and I remember the day you died—it’s my most vivid memory of you. In fact, it has replayed in my head for twenty-two years. You were wearing a pair of faded Levis the last moment I saw you, and nothing else. You were lying on the bed; I tried to see you for as long as I could before Mom pushed us out of the room and slammed shut the door on which we had been knocking all day long. Hannah and I were six and five years old then, respectively.
Oh, yeah, and you gave me a dozen red roses on my fifth birthday; I’ve always thought that was a class act on your part. Mom has a Polaroid of the roses, but it’s fading.
For years, living in that house where you died, I fantasized about you coming home. I wasted birthday wishes on you until I turned eleven. At last I got it, you were never coming back, so I wished to make it to the Olympics as a gymnast instead. I blew out my candles and finally understood the finality of death, but I still don’t fully get it. I never made it to the Olympics and I still fantasize about you, sometimes, when I’m feeling really lost, really alone. Like now, I fantasize you will receive this letter.
I’m working on writing a novel titled, Daddy Issues. Lord knows I have them.
I love you, Daddy.
P.S. I’ve always hated Father’s Day.
I finish reading my words and feel empty, which I guess was the goal. I stand up, dizzy with some sort of lightness, and pull out a lighter I had tucked under my bra. I walk to the water and light my letter on fire. I watch it flutter into the ocean as ashes, like I watched my father’s ashes flutter into the ocean twenty-two years ago.
The rising sun sheds a hushed light on the budding day. I fold my arms across my chest and breathe in the baffling never-ending-ness of the Pacific, of God.
I have no way of knowing what he has in store for me. My act of writing a letter to my father has been innocent. Later I will look back and wonder: had I known whom my ceremony would summon, would I have written that letter?
title: Father F*cker!
genre: literary fiction / women's literary fiction
age range: 25-55
target audience: women / fans of hollywood tales and music (specifically seventies laurel canyon)
word count: 133,890
author name: Franki Pineapple - age: 46
hometown: Los Angeles
why your project is a good fit: it's timely and it has all the elements
platform: www.frankipineapple.com / @frankipineapple
Deathly Loneliness Attacks
I throw away all of my severed bonds that lay by my feet
I learned that no matter how many tears I cry,
Nobody gives a damn apparently
Making me want to say goodbye
Cracks run through my heart
The person who always stood by me disappear
What do I do now?
Without meaning to, I drag down whoever is near
I’ll always be like this
Even if I hold my knees and scream
I already know
In the end, it won’t change a thing
Even if I try to lament
Saying, “Something's not quite right”
In the end I do what I always do
I walk away with no answer in sight
Everything ends up being nothing
To all the things I turned away
I always did the same thing, without learning from my mistakes,
I say, ‘’What a pain’’
Again my heart gets attacked by the thing called ‘’loneliness’’
It hurts so bad deep down inside
The powerlessness of “loneliness” begins to sink in
The punishment for curling up all those times when I cried
Even if the moon shines upon it
Even if the night swallows it
It won’t disappear, it won’t disappear
With my inexperienced hands I tried to protect it
With my clumsy hands, I tried to fix what I shouldn’t have done
Before I notice it, Loneliness began to turn on me
My heart just won’t heal the scars
I cry a tiny plea
My heart shatters after hearing a kind voice
Please don’t treat me so kindly or I will cry inside
I hide myself away in the shadows,
I hope for someone to find me, the tears don’t subside
This loneliness is deadly
Making it impossible to speak out my true feelings
I hide away my emotions
But yet it ends up revealing
I hate myself, I hate myself
These words end up repeating in my mind
I don’t want to either die nor live
Ah, a penalty game called “Life” begins to rewind
Forced into loneliness
I’m already done
Please don’t treat me so nicely
I’m not someone you should waste your kindness on
Title: Deathly Loneliness Attacks
Age Range: 10+
Word Count: 353
Author Name (Profile Name): Iroha
I think that my piece is fit, because it contains all the emotions that I felt, and pain. I know that some people can relate to the pain I suffered, so this poem is written to reach out to others. I'm very young for my age, and I think that, it's really amazing how far my experiences in life brought me to come this far. Some people say that young people have to enjoy their youth as best as they can, and that it's impossible that youngsters suffered pain like they have. Well, they're wrong. I suffered a lot, been traumatized so many times, and I can hardly trust others because of the betryal, gossip, and backstabbing things I've saw and went through. I just want the people who thinks, "It's alright to die, no one cares about me," let me tell you, that's not true. I overcame that phase because I heard there are good cotton candy in Japan, and if I can find a goal in life to live for, so can you.
I'm a introvert when I'm alone, but when I'm with the people I love, I'm somewhat between a extrovert and a introvert. Life is not always fun, and it never will be; it's up to you to create the fun in life is what I think.
CHAPTER 1: Not in Kansas Anymore
"Ow." Dylan Engstrom opened his eyes and found himself on a hard metal surface. "What … the hell?"
The last thing he remembered was sitting at his desk, sipping a cup of coffee, and preparing to join his buddies for a few hours of mayhem in Grand Theft Auto Online. At some point after that, everything had simply … faded out.
I'm dreaming. That's gotta be it.
He rolled over, stood, and fought off a wave of dizziness. He staggered, rubbed his hands over his face, took a few breaths, and waited for his vision to clear. When it did, he took a slow look around and realized he was in a chamber the size of a gymnasium, with metal walls, ceiling, and floor. No windows. Several doors at the far end. And filled with … aliens? Or something.
Sure, why the hell not? Since this is a dream, I might as well just roll with it.
One a few feet to his left looked like a bipedal, wingless dragon, easily ten feet tall, with muscular arms and powerful thighs and small but noticeable breasts under a tunic that appeared to be made from the skin of an animal. She glanced around quickly, confusion and fear in her reptilian eyes, and he guessed she had also awakened moments ago.
Huh. Doesn't make sense for reptiles to have boobs. But then, I guess an alien wouldn't have an exact correlation to life forms on Earth. He chuckled. More likely it's teenage hormones causing me to dream about tits. I can barely stop thinking about 'em when I'm awake.
Past the dragon was what appeared to be an orc, of all things. Also female, dressed in leather and furs, like a barbarian, sporting huge muscles but somehow managing to still look feminine. Her burgundy hair was tied into a long ponytail with a few locks hanging past either side of her face. Her dark green skin looked kind of leathery, and her face … well, she certainly wouldn't have won any beauty contests even without the two big, parallel scars running from her forehead down and across her right cheek.
Still, there was something about her -- the angles of her cheeks and her wide jaw and chin -- that exuded an air of great strength. But then, he gazed into her yellow eyes as she glanced around. She appeared to be in her forties, but there was far more mileage in those eyes than on her face. They were the eyes of someone who had all but given up on life.
He looked away reluctantly. She may have been as ugly as hell, but goddamn, what a body. He ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair and decided to check out some of the other life forms. His eyes passed over a large number of creatures he couldn't quite get his brain around -- translucent things walking on tentacles, something that resembled a millipede the size of a horse, an eight-foot-tall cross between a pig and an ogre -- and locked on to another female.
He almost laughed at that. Mind always in the gutter, even now.
This one was around six feet tall and might be described as somewhere between chubby and burly. Her eyes glowed white in contrast to her obsidian skin, but aside from that, her face was mostly human. And quite lovely, in fact. A pair of horns curved up from under her wild mane of silver hair, like a ram. She wore a dark blue cloak with a hood hanging over her back, and from what he was able to glimpse, she didn't appear to be wearing anything under it. Each hand had two big fingers and a thumb, just like the orc and the dragon-woman, and her digitigrade legs ended in large hooves.
Not bad at all. He guessed her age to be close to his, or maybe a few years older, and the extra weight was perfectly proportioned.
Huh. Usually, my dreams aren't this detailed. But there's no way this can be real. I'm probably slumped over my desk and drooling on my keyboard. He shrugged to himself again. I just hope I remember all this when I wake up.
His eyes opened a little wider as a realization hit him and he drew in a quick breath.
Shit, I hope I wasn't looking at porn when I fell asleep. If Mom or Dad barges into my room like they always do, I'm hosed.
The alien girl caught him staring at her and smiled, but it was shaky and faded fast.
Well, I can't do anything about it until I wake up. Might as well just see where this goes.
He smiled back before she turned away, and continued examining the people around him. Over to the right was a trio of bipedal creatures that looked like a cross between horses and cows wearing some sort of tribal attire.
Huh. More aliens that kinda-sorta resemble terrestrial animals. How would that even happen?
Past them was a quartet of thirty-foot-long snake people with four arms, wearing only skirts made of glowing multicolored beads roughly where the naughty bits on a human would be.
Dylan's eyes, once again, automatically locked onto the lone female in the group. Her skin was dark brown with a red and black diamond pattern running down her back. Her hands, like the orc and the chunky hooved girl and the rest, had three digits, only hers ended in claws. The top of her head swept back into a curving, three-pointed crest. Her bare chest sported two pairs of breasts. Her face was close enough to human, though covered with scales, and she was actually kind of cute.
Hah. I can't dream about a human with four tits, of course. It's got to be some weird creature. And why would an alien based on a snake have any at all? He realized he was staring and turned away. Again, though, she's an alien, so I guess there's no reason she can't be a mix of mammal and snake. What the hell, you can't go wrong with four of 'em.
He grinned and glanced around again, trying to find other humans. If any were in this chamber, they weren't close enough for him to pick out of the crowd. But his gaze did pass across something that was close enough, at least in size and shape.
The robot stood with her arms crossed over her chest, leaning against the wall behind him, about ten feet away. She had apparently been designed to look like an athletic woman, with a face of flexible metal carrying a friendly -- albeit bewildered -- expression and softly glowing red optics. Her gunmetal body was covered by a pair of cargo pants, boots, a T-shirt, and a long black coat.
Interesting. He wondered if she was anatomically correct.
Before he could check out anyone else, something nudged his shoulder. He turned and found a nine-foot humanoid wearing copper armor and a helmet with an opaque visor. It grasped his shoulder, pointed at one of the doors at the far end of the chamber, and pushed him toward it. He stumbled, regained his balance, and hurried ahead of the whatever-it-was.
In the corner of his eye, another hulking armored figure shoved the orc woman in the same direction. She snarled half-heartedly but headed for the door. She ended up walking alongside Dylan.
"I don't suppose you have any idea how we ended up here or what's going on?" He doubted she would even understand him.
"Nope. I was hoping someone around here could tell me that." Her accent was an odd mixture of Russian and Scottish.
"You speak English. You've met humans before?"
"A fair number of them, yes." She smiled at him, but it was tinged with sadness. "You remind me of one of them, a little. Someone I knew long ago."
"Ah. Decent guy, I hope."
"The best." Her smile grew ever so slightly, and so did the sorrow. "I miss him a great deal."
Dylan wondered what had happened but assumed it was a sensitive matter and didn't pry.
When they reached the door, she sighed and motioned at her clothes. "The one time I put on this old outfit instead of what I usually wear, which includes several guns, and look where I end up. Though I suppose any weapons would've been taken away before I woke up."
The nine-foot goons shoved both of them through the door and onto a large platform. He stumbled and the orc reached out to catch him before he fell. He regained his balance and found himself inches away from her face for a moment, gazing into her eyes, until she looked away and steadied herself. Her face turned a slightly darker green.
Huh. The goon's hand had felt solid enough. And the woman's breath briefly on his lips had been just as real as the three times in his life that he'd gotten this close to a girl. Dylan caught himself blushing and looked away.
He glanced around and noted the others who'd been separated from the main group -- the snake-girl, the three horse-cow people, the burly obsidian girl, the giant bipedal dragon, the robot chick, and about a dozen others. Two of them were human.
Finally! He grinned, but before he could greet them, something else caught his attention.
The goons who'd herded them onto the platform remained behind as the door closed, separating them from Dylan and the others. A bright light washed over everything and his whole body tingled.
Oh, this can't be good.
The light faded and he blinked a few times. His vision cleared and he looked around.
His mouth fell open.
He no longer stood in a room. He and the others were still on a platform, but now it was surrounded by an enormous metal structure made up of sets of stairs, ramps, platforms, and partial walls seemingly placed at random. If he had to give the architecture style a name, it would be … scaffold-chic.
"What the hell is this?" One of the other humans whimpered. "What's going on?"
"Sorcery," a woman's voice came from behind Dylan, barely above a whisper. He turned to find the obsidian-skinned girl glancing around with wide, terrified eyes and trembling.
"No." The orc shook her head. "I've seen enough to know there's no such thing. This is technology, but nothing I'm familiar with."
In the corner of his eye, the snake girl slithered past, put her upper hands on a nearby wall, pulled herself up and leaned over the edge.
"Look at this." Her voice was slightly raspy.
Uh-oh. Dylan walked slowly to the wall, jumped to grasp the top, and pulled himself up.
One of the other humans found a lower wall, leaned over, and drew in a slow breath. "Oh, hell." Her face turned pale.
Dylan glanced at her, frowned, and peered over the edge.
We're in the sky. He couldn't see the ground from here. Below the structure, there was nothing but a sea of red and orange clouds. And off to the right, he could make out two distinct suns, one larger -- closer -- than the other.
Then he realized the metal under his palms felt quite real for something in a dream. In fact, everything around him was as vivid and detailed as everyday life. His dreams were never even remotely like this, at least not the bits he could remember.
What if this is real?
"Oh, fuck me," he muttered.
"Now?" the snake girl said. "Or can it wait?"
"What?" He turned and caught a glimpse of her smirking at him before lowering herself back to the ground. He shook his head and dropped back to the floor.
"This is not a good tactical position," the orc said, flicking her eyes over the structure. "We're out in the open. We should move to an area that's less exposed to …"
Movement in the corner of his eye drew his attention. Hers, too. She snapped her head around to scowl in the same direction before he finished turning. More of the armored, helmeted, blank-visored guys appeared from behind several walls on the far side of the structure. She swept her steely gaze over them and backed up a step. "Find cover."
Dylan squinted, trying to get a clear look at the things the copper-armored goons were carrying.
"They have rifles," the orc said. "Get behind something."
A thin, yellow bolt of energy lanced out from the business end of one of the weapons and crossed the distance between the two groups in an instant.
Behind Dylan, a woman screamed. His pulse jumped and he cried out as he spun around. The human woman staggered backward, bumped into the wall, and collapsed. Her eyes stared straight ahead without seeing anything. Smoke rose from a hole that had been burned through her chest.
"Sarah!" The man rushed to her and fell to his knees. He stared disbelievingly at her, grasped her shoulders, and shook her. "Get up! Come on, baby, please get up!"
A hand grabbed Dylan's arm and he spun around to find the orc woman dragging him away.
"Get to cover!" She shoved him ahead of her just as another beam appeared for a split-second and drilled through the back of the other human's head.
A silvery thing about the size and shape of a hockey puck landed behind Dylan and bounced past him before coming to a stop.
"Grenade!" The orc pushed him again, drew in a deep breath, and yelled, "Run!"
The explosion flung bodies into the air and sent others tumbling across the ground -- more than Grishnag had time to count. She shoved the young human ahead of her and ran until both of them reached a wall. She ducked behind it, grasped his shoulder, and held him down. She turned to see if anyone else had survived the blast and found four bodies bleeding all over the metal surface and another -- one of the equine-bovine people -- teetering over the edge of the platform.
"Jesus Christ," the human moaned, hunching over and tucking his head under his arms. "This can't be happening!"
The snake-woman zipped over to the horse-man just as he rolled over the edge. She dived at him and missed his left ankle by a centimeter. She stared in shock as he plummeted out of sight.
One of the armored attackers appeared, crept up behind her, and aimed its rifle at the back of her head.
Grishnag glanced at the human and said, "Stay here." Remaining in a crouch, she moved one step forward -- and suddenly the robot blurred out from behind one of the other walls and tackled the larger humanoid from behind. Her momentum carried both of them into the wall and slammed the enemy into it with bone-crushing force. She drove her foot into its left knee, folding its leg the wrong way, and clamped her arms around its head as it fell. One quick twist snapped its neck, and she snatched the huge rifle out of the air before the body hit the ground.
The robot opened fire on the armored figures. Grishnag risked a quick peek around the corner just in time to see one of them catch a shot clean through the visor and out the back of the helmet. The others ran for whatever cover they could find.
Nice! Grishnag waited until all of them had ducked behind something, and then she glanced at the robot and said, "Cover me!" She sprinted over to the fallen humanoid while the robot continued firing.
In the corner of her eye, one of them swung its rifle around toward her as she picked up the dead one's weapon. She leaped and rolled, and the shot drilled through the space she'd already vacated. She came up in a crouch and put five shots through her opponent's chest. It slumped over and she lunged forward to grab its rifle, and then she ran back to the human.
He was where she'd left him, curled into a fetal position and rocking back and forth.
Okay, giving him the gun wouldn't be a good idea. She glanced around, found the snake girl, and tossed the gun to her. "Do you know how to use that?"
"I can figure it out." She pointed the rifle away from everyone and pulled the trigger, firing a blast into the floor. She squeaked and twitched, pulled herself together, and rose above the wall to fire at their attackers.
Grishnag took a quick look around for more survivors and found only a horse-woman, the burly woman, and the giant humanoid dragon.
"What is happening to us?" The obsidian-skinned female whimpered, huddled against the wall behind the human. "Why is this happening?"
Grishnag noticed the girl's mouth movements didn't match the words she spoke. Something is translating her speech. What the hell is going on?
"We can worry about that later if we survive the next few minutes." Grishnag popped out from behind cover long enough to shoot another of their attackers.
An enemy shot punched through the wall and searing heat on her right cheek made her lunge to her left.
"I want to wake up," the human moaned. "Why can't I wake up?"
"This isn't a dream." Grishnag gunned down another one. Before she could duck back under cover, a movement caught her eye. She turned and found another grenade spinning through the air toward her. She sucked in a breath to shout a warning to everyone else, but suddenly a beam struck the disc-shaped device in midair. It vanished in a flash and an expanding cloud of shrapnel. Grishnag glanced to the left and found the robot shifting her aim from the blown grenade to another pair of attackers.
Grishnag sighed and looked up at the platforms above them. "We'll be better off if we can get to higher ground. We need to …"
Behind the dragon, another of the armored men stepped into the open and lobbed a grenade. It arched over everyone's head and came down straight toward her. The human looked up, spotted it, and his face turned white.
Grishnag rose to her feet as the grenade reached her, caught it in her right hand, and hurled it straight back to the enemy humanoid. It threw itself to the right but wasn't fast enough. Grishnag turned away from the sudden flash and winced at the sharp bang, but laughed when she saw the body flopping off the edge of the platform.
She only had a moment to celebrate, though. Another humanoid hopped over the top of the wall they'd been using as cover and dropped down in front of the dragon. It raised its rifle, but the dragon swatted it aside, braced her hand on the side of his head, and shoved it into the wall with enough force to leave a dent. The gun fell from its suddenly limp hand.
"Hold on." Grishnag hurried over and searched the pouches and compartments on the body's belt. She found three stubby cylinders she guessed were spare power cells for the guns and a rectangular box that might be a communication device or a control system. After finding nothing else on him, she nodded at the edge of the platform.
The dragon flashed a predatory grin and gave the body a casual toss, sending it plunging through the fiery clouds under the structure. She looked the gun over, glanced at Grishnag, and mimicked her pose, holding the rifle in one hand and propping it on her shoulder.
Grishnag found the rest of the survivors gathering behind her. The robot pointed ahead before popping off a few more shots.
"Clear the road. I'll cover our rear."
Grishnag took the lead and made her way to the nearest ramp. She rounded a corner -- and caught a split-second glimpse at the stock of a rifle before it rammed into the side of her head. When she regained her senses, she found the business end of the rifle inches from her face. She tried to ignore the pain lancing through her head and shifted her eyes from the rifle to the humanoid pointing it at her.
A brown blur came in from the right and plowed into the figure, knocking it off its feet and sending the rifle clattering across the floor. Grishnag pushed herself upright and found the snake-girl coiling her body around the enemy. The serpentoid rolled, twisted, and wrenched her body to the right, flinging the humanoid across the floor to the edge of the platform.
As it tumbled over the edge, it lashed out and clamped onto the end of her tail, dragging her along with it as it fell. All four arms flailed, her claws scraping across the metal, trying to find a handhold.
The human leaped after her and managed to grab her upper-left hand, but the combined weight of her and the goon dragged both of them closer to the edge.
The dragon clamped her talons around the human's right ankle, and that was enough to hold them in place.
The snake grunted and contorted her face, and from her movements, Grishnag guessed she was swinging her tail around, trying to dislodge the enemy.
"Pull her back up." Grishnag picked up her rifle and glancing around for more of their attackers. "One of us will be able to pick it off as soon as it reappears."
"Wait," the snake grunted. She took the human's other hand to hold herself steady, gave her tail another swing, then another, and Grishnag saw the enemy appear momentarily before gravity pulled it back down.
One more swing hurled it into full view -- and a rapid series of bolts from the robot's gun drilled through its head. It loosened its grip on the snake girl's tail. Grishnag and the dragon blasted it several more times before it dropped out of sight for the last time.
The human pulled her away from the edge. When she was no longer dangling above the clouds, she threw all four arms around him and just held him for a moment. He looked startled, but recovered after a few seconds and put his arms around her.
"Thank you," she finally whispered.
"Uh … sure, any time."
"Let's keep moving." Grishnag rubbed the side of her head, winced at the pain, and made sure to keep checking in every direction as she resumed the lead. Everyone followed her up the ramp to the next platform, and then on past two more. The next ramp led to a long, narrow level with waist-high walls. She lowered herself to her left hand and her knees, holding the gun in her right hand, and crawled forward, keeping her body below the top of the wall.
The others followed, crawling along close behind her.
Once she reached the end, she found herself in a larger chamber. Fortunately, this one had a solid wall between them and the attackers' last known position. Everyone stood and rushed across to the door and the huge window at the far end. They paused to look out the window before moving on to the door.
"What is that?" the girl with the glowing eyes whispered.
"Looks like a city," the human muttered.
Grishnag nodded. In front of her sat several kilometers of metal buildings, domes, and spires colored in varying shades of gray with streaks and splotches of brown all over. She cocked her head. Is that rust?
"A … city?" The horse-cow woman shook her head in disbelief.
"Like a village, but larger." Grishnag pointed at the nearest structures. "Those buildings are basically … tents? Huts? I've never met any of your people before, so I don't know what you're familiar with." She shrugged. "People live in some of those, work in others. Theoretically, at least."
"Ah. I think I understand."
"Maybe there's someone here who will help us out." The human glanced around at the others.
"I doubt it," the dragon said. "Would they have brought us within reach of someone willing to help us?"
"I … I guess not." He rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. "So what do we do, now?"
"Most cities have vehicles in them. There's probably something there we can use." Grishnag patted his shoulder and smiled. "So, we keep going until we find a way out." She opened the door. "Let's move."
CHAPTER 2: Waking Up Dead
"So," the male said after they'd been traveling through the city streets for a while, "we've faced death together, but we don't even know each other's names."
The muscular green woman chuckled. "I'm Grishnag."
"Pleased to meet you, Dylan."
"And I'm Nishara." She slithered closer to him, smiled, put her upper hands on his shoulders, and touched her forehead briefly to his.
"Uh, hi." He smiled but clearly wasn't sure what else to say or do.
The tall reptile woman bowed, first to him, then to the rest. "Ayastal."
"I am Zilaka," the furry one with hooves, muzzle, and horns said.
"My name's Cora," the machine-woman said, turning to keep watch for more of the helmeted people.
"Syala," the thick one with glowing eyes and hooves murmured.
"Okay." Grishnag stopped at the next street corner and glanced around. "We haven't seen anyone else here. This part of the city appears empty." She sighed. "I hope the rest isn't empty as well."
"The buildings are rusting away." Cora stopped at a wall and looked it over, but was careful not to touch anything. "Looks like it hasn't been occupied in a long time."
"Probably just used for training exercises or something like that," Grishnag said. "Or whatever it is they're doing with us."
"I don't suppose any of you have seen a place like this before?" Dylan mumbled.
Everyone shook their heads.
"I've seen metal buildings before," Ayastal said, "but none like these. When I was a child, there was a settlement of 'sky-people' not far from where my tribe lived. Buildings made of metal, but the …" She took a moment to find the right word. "The shapes were different."
"You're familiar with other worlds, then?"
"No. My people are aware of those who came from the sky, but none of us have been there. Well, until now. When I was a child, I would often sneak away from home and spend most of the day simply watching their flying machines." Ayastal smiled. "I've always wanted to ride one of those machines into the sky."
"Well, you may get your chance yet," Grishnag said as they continued on their way. "If we can find our way out of here."
"Maybe if we investigate some of the buildings," Dylan said. "If there's a computer in one of 'em that's hooked up to the inter -- uh, a global network, if this planet has one, we might be able to find a map."
"I haven't detected any wireless networks." Cora shook her head. "I'm not picking up any power sources, either."
"Damn. We should keep moving, then." Grishnag sighed and walked on.
The rest followed her, glancing around every few seconds to be sure no one was pursuing them. Nishara wasn't sure how much time passed as they made their way across the empty city, everyone remaining silent as they took random turns every now and then, until she'd lost any sense of the direction from which they had come.
Not that there was anything back that way except death if the metal people were still pursuing them.
Finally, they emerged onto an enormous platform, easily bigger than her clan's largest encampment back home. And on it sat large metal structures of varying sizes and shapes. They looked different from the buildings they'd passed by earlier, resting on sets of large things that looked like feet, or in some cases, wheels.
"Flying machines?" Ayastal cocked her head and smiled slightly.
"Looks like it." Dylan turned to Grishnag and Cora. "Any of these look familiar?"
"Some are similar to technology I'm used to." Grishnag walked slowly past one, brushing her hand over the lettering on its side. "But not exactly. I don't recognize any of the insignia or the names."
"Huh," Dylan muttered, stopping to stare at the letters painted on one flying machine's side. "These are all in English. Hell of a coincidence."
"I'm seeing these in my native language." Grishnag moved on to the next ship. "I noticed during the battle that when some of you spoke, your mouth movements didn't match what you were saying, and the same is probably happening for all of you when I speak. Something has been translating us, and I assume the same thing is happening with the writing on these ships."
"Ah. I was wondering how we could understand each other." Nishara slid past Dylan and stopped to examine the ships beyond the one he stood beside. "I don't understand how it's done, though."
"Were you all unconscious when you were brought here?" Dylan glanced around at each of them. "Did you fall asleep back home and then wake up in that huge room where we met?"
Everyone else nodded or murmured an affirmative response. Dylan suddenly looked uneasy.
"I bet they implanted something in us. Hardware that interfaces with our brains and translates what we see and hear." He shivered. "And if that's what they did, then what else did they do to us while we were asleep?"
Syala shuddered and her lower lip quivered. Nishara slithered over to her and put her left arms around her.
Cora looked unsettled for a moment, and then she pulled herself together and marched across the platform. "We'll have to worry about that after we get out of here. We need to take one of these ships, assuming any of them are still functional. A shuttle wouldn't do us much good. Too short-range. We'll need a ship that has a hyperspace vortex generator in case there are no jumpgates nearby."
"But isn't the ability to understand other languages a benefit?" Syala patted Nishara's hand and walked alongside her. "Why would they give us an advantage if they simply want to kill us?"
"For the challenge," Grishnag said, her eyes opening wider at the realization. "They're hunting us for sport."
Dylan grimaced. "Why'd you have to put that idea in my head?"
"Sorry, but it just fits. They give us a way to communicate and work together when they could've just shot us dead. So, they're either hunting us, or this is a test. Evaluating specimens to decide which planet to invade, possibly."
"That's even worse."
"Yeah." Grishnag sighed and moved on to the next ship.
"Whatever the reason they brought us here," Ayastal said, "they paid a terrible price for it. I didn't take the time to make an exact count, but I believe we reduced them by at least half."
"Assuming they haven't brought in reinforcements." Cora walked over to a sleek, black ship that looked like a saucer that had been stretched out to twice its original length.
Zilaka crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "This is a nightmare. It has to be."
"That's what I thought at first." Dylan walked around the front of another ship, shook his head at the buckled strut that had once held it up, and moved on. "It's too detailed and too linear to be a dream. And it just feels too real."
"Even if it were a dream or hallucination," Cora said, "we can't afford to assume it's not real with those assholes trying to kill us."
"Yeah, guess we don't have much choice. We have to keep playing along, just in case." Dylan turned to look at another ship -- and one of those yellow beams came out of nowhere and pierced his chest. A startled look crossed his face, then was replaced by a grimace of pain as he collapsed.
Everyone stared in shock.
"Dylan?" Nishara whispered. Her hearts pounded.
Grishnag and Cora were the first to recover. They threw themselves behind the nearest ship and tried to find where the bolt had come from without exposing themselves to more.
Ayastal pulled Syala and Zilaka behind another ship. Syala stared at Dylan's body and burst into tears.
"Damn it," Grishnag snarled. "He was just a kid."
"What the hell?" Cora aimed her weapon in the distance, but couldn't find a target. "I should've been able to detect them. Why couldn't I detect them?"
Nishara sucked in a deep breath and screamed, "Dylan!" She slid over to him, hoping he was only wounded as she rolled him over.
His eyes stared blankly into the sky and smoke curled up from the hole in his chest.
Still, she put her upper hands on his shoulders and shook him gently. "Dylan! You can't …"
"I'm sorry, Nishara," Grishnag said. "He's gone. Get under cover."
Nishara wiped the tears from her eyes and lifted her head to glare at the place from which the shot had come. She could make out movement among the metal structures in the distance.
Ayastal turned suddenly to face something behind everyone. More of those damned beams drilled into her chest. Her legs buckled and she slumped over on top of Syala.
Nishara turned to find a dozen more metal men charging them. She drew in another breath and let it out in a shriek that caused everyone around her to stop in their tracks for a moment, even the murdering bastards who had taken poor Dylan from them. She raised her weapon, surged forward, and pulled the trigger. The nearest of their enemies stumbled backward and fell, smoke pouring from all the holes she'd blasted through his torso.
A series of flashes came from the others' weapons and sudden, searing pains lanced through her chest as if white-hot knives were being plunged into her. Before she even understood what had happened, she found herself sprawled face down on the metal ground, unable to move, barely able to breathe.
"M … monsters," she whimpered before blackness engulfed her.
"What the --" Dylan flailed, gasped, and clutched his chest. Before he realized he was on a raised platform, he lost his balance, fell off, dropped several feet, and landed face down. Groaning, he pushed himself up slowly and looked around. "What the hell?"
More platforms filled the room, almost like metal beds.
No. More like autopsy tables. A shiver rippled through him.
All the tables were occupied by the alien women who'd surrounded him just before …
Just before I died. He glanced down at the front of his shirt, but couldn't find the hole that had been burned through him. The shirt hadn't been repaired -- it was exactly as it had been before that fatal shot.
Just to be sure, he lifted his shirt and slid his hand over his chest. There was no sign of a wound.
How am I alive? He leaned on the platform and tried to take deep breaths and slow his pounding heart. He looked around again and a chill rushed through him.
They're not breathing. He held his breath for a moment, trying not to let a sudden burst of tears out. The only familiar faces in this goddamn place, and they were all dead.
But he wasn't. Why?
Suddenly, Ayastal inhaled. She twitched and lurched upright, glanced around, and her eyes locked on to him.
"What …? How …?"
"I don't know." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Did you, uh … ?"
"Die? Yes." Ayastal shuddered. Even though her face wasn't human at all, Dylan could still read her confusion and fear in her wide eyes, twitchy movements, and rapid breathing. Maybe some things were universal. "I felt my heart stop! And yet …"
"Here we are. I know. I think …"
Nishara suddenly sucked in a deep breath and screamed. She convulsed and rolled off the platform.
Dylan let out a quick scream of his own and backed away from her, but pulled himself together and approached her slowly. "N … Nishara?"
She glanced around frantically, found him, and stared. "Dylan?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Yeah, it's me."
"Yeah, I noticed that. So did Ayastal." He motioned at the dragon woman, and Nishara glanced over her shoulder. Ayastal nodded at her. Nishara stared, took a few breaths, looked as if she were about to say something, then she turned back to Dylan.
"As did I." Nishara stared down at herself and ran her hands slowly over her chest. "The wounds are gone."
"Mine, too." He lifted his shirt. "See?"
She slithered up to him, stared for a moment, then reached out hesitantly and touched his chest. Her skin was softer and warmer than he'd expected. She moved her hand slowly over his chest for several more seconds, looked up and met his gaze, and finally pulled him into a tight embrace.
"I don't know. Maybe whoever brought us here is able to heal wounds like these." Or maybe we're clones and the originals really are dead. He didn't mention that one to either of them, not just because he would've had to explain what clones were.
"But why?" Tears trickled from Nishara's eyes and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. "Why are they doing this to us?"
"I wish I knew." He pulled the bottom edge of his shirt out to wipe away her tears. "I wish I knew how to even begin to find out."
She put her upper-left hand over his, held it to her cheek, raised her lower-left hand to his cheek, and stroked it softly. She gazed into his eyes for a moment, and then she leaned forward slowly and kissed him.
What the hell? Though it caught him by surprise, it was also quite nice, so he let it continue as long as Nishara wanted. When she finally pulled back from him, her face turned slightly darker, and she couldn't look him in the eye again.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"I'm not." He smiled.
Ayastal managed a chuckle, though she was still visibly unsettled. She stood and ran a hand over her chest as if still looking for her wounds, and finally glanced around at the other bodies.
"Since the rest of us are here, I think we can assume they were killed, as well, and will wake up soon."
"Yeah. Well, I hope they will." Dylan turned slowly, looking around at the others, but kept his left arm around Nishara. "I wonder which one of them died next."
"I wouldn't know." Ayastal's muzzle quirked slightly into what might've been an attempt at a smile. "I was unable to observe anything, being dead at the time, myself."
"Right. Heh." Dylan managed a shaky smile and waited silently to see if anyone else woke up.
The others woke one by one. Dylan, Nishara, and Ayastal took turns explaining what had happened -- or what they thought happened. Cora and Grishnag understood instantly, but Syala and Zilaka took a bit longer.
"We died," Syala whimpered. She remained on her platform, pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, and rocked slowly. "How can we be alive if we died?"
"Whoever's doing this to us," Grishnag said, "if they're able to abduct us and bring us who knows how many light-years to this place, then repairing fatal wounds might be child's play for them."
"So, this is what our lives will be from now on?" Tears trickled down Syala's cheeks again. "Dying, waking up here, and being killed again? Over and over, perhaps forever?"
"I don't know." Dylan walked over to her, and Nishara joined him. At the same time, they each put an arm around Syala. "But that means we might have a chance to get out of here. As long as we survive, there's hope. Right?"
Syala didn't answer. After staring at nothing in particular for more than a full minute, she put her arms around him and cried into his shirt. He glanced at Nishara, who smiled and nodded. He embraced Syala and rubbed her back slowly.
"And maybe not," Grishnag finally said. "Maybe they'll leave us alone for a while."
A door at the end of the room slid open and two of those damned nine-foot humanoids entered.
"Fuck," Grishnag snapped.
"Jinxed it," Cora muttered, and Grishnag sighed.
Everyone stood and faced them except Syala. She gripped the front of Dylan's shirt, twisting the fabric in her clenched fists as if terrified he was about to move away from her. He and Nishara remained by her side.
A third humanoid followed the first two, pushing a large cart. They stopped in front of Dylan and the females, and the two in front stepped aside. The third pointed into the cart.
Grishnag peeked into the cart. "Guns. They're arming us, this time?"
"Oh, shit," Dylan moaned. "What the hell are we gonna be facing?"
"Doesn't matter." Grishnag shook her head and backed away from the cart. "I'm not fighting for someone else's entertainment."
The humanoid pointed into the cart again. Grishnag growled.
"Fuck you. I'm not playing your games."
The one on the right turned its blank faceplate toward her and raised its left hand, pointing its palm at her.
She hunched over suddenly, clutched her head, and screamed. Everyone else gasped, and Syala clamped a hand over her mouth and began crying again.
Grishnag stumbled to the right, toppled over, curled up on the floor, and continued screaming.
"Stop it!" Dylan pried himself away from Syala and rushed over to Grishnag. The goon on the left pointed its palm at him. He ignored it, reached out to touch Grishnag's shoulder, but hesitated. He glared at the humanoid on the right and shouted, "Stop it! We'll do whatever you want, just stop!"
Both figures lowered their hands back to their sides. Grishnag suddenly went limp, still holding her head and weeping, but no longer screaming. She rolled onto her back, sobbed, and tried to pull herself together.
"Fucking monsters," Nishara practically hissed before slithering over to help Grishnag sit up.
Dylan clasped Grishnag's right hand in both of his and just held it while she took deep breaths and regained control of herself. Finally, she gazed into Dylan's eyes, reached out and caressed his cheek. Then her eyes widened and she pulled her hand back as if shocked by her own actions.
Okay, what is it with me and alien women, anyway? Have I turned into Captain Kirk or something?
"You gonna be okay?" Cora leaned over to touch Grishnag's shoulder.
Grishnag shuddered before answering. "Eventually." She pushed herself back to her feet and staggered over to the cart. "Fine. I'll go along with whatever insanity you've got planned." Glaring at the helmeted humanoid in front of her, she picked up one of the huge, long-barreled rifles. Then she snarled, "How do you know I won't kill you with it?"
The armored alien stared blankly at her. She held its "gaze" for a long moment and finally sighed and turned away. Her shoulders sagged ever so slightly.
Dylan sighed and picked up one of the guns. He thought it over for a few seconds and then turned to the humanoid on the right. "This is for hurting my friend."
He aimed his gun square at the bastard's chest and pulled the trigger.
Trembling, he sagged and stared at the gun. "Fuckin' hell!"
Grishnag patted his shoulder, smiled shakily, propped the gun on her shoulder, and strode out the door.
"I can't do this," Syala mumbled.
"You saw what will happen if you don't." Nishara hugged her and rubbed her back, then took her hand and led her to the cart.
"We'll be right there with you," Dylan said. "We'll all get through this together."
Zilaka nodded, patted Syala's back, and picked up one of the guns. Holding it uncertainly, she sighed and clopped past the guards.
Dylan smiled one more time at Syala, took a step past the humanoid who'd tortured Grishnag -- then he spun around and slammed the stock of his rifle into the bastard's visor. The impact knocked the alien off its feet and sprawled it on the floor.
Holy shit, that actually worked?
The other guards stepped toward him and pointed their hands at him. He propped the rifle on his shoulder and glared at them.
"What?" he snapped. When he made no further moves against them, they stepped back but kept their palms aimed at him. He realized suddenly how close he'd just come to being subjected to the same punishment that had been inflicted on Grishnag, but tried to cover up his fear by pushing past the guards and grumbling, "Get the fuck out of my way."
As he turned the corner to follow Grishnag, he caught a glimpse of Syala staring at him with an awestruck grin -- then picking up one of the guns and marching after him.
He caught up with Grishnag at the end of the corridor, which widened out and ended with what looked like a hangar door. The sounds of boots and hooves approaching from behind told him the rest of the women had armed themselves and joined him and Grishnag.
"I just realized something," Zilaka said, obviously struggling to keep her voice steady. "There were many others sent with us onto the first battlefield, but we're the only ones who woke up in that room back there."
"The others were killed almost immediately." A troubled look crossed Cora's face. "Maybe they were rejected."
All the confidence Dylan had just built up drained away as her meaning sank in over the next few seconds.
"Wonderful." Grishnag turned back to the door. "Well, let's get this over with."
CHAPTER 3: Wheels of Fire
"Huh. That's not what I expected." Dylan turned around slowly and took in their surroundings. He and the alien females stood in the middle of a street with a set of vehicles in front of them. Wheeled vehicles, but none of them familiar to him. Each was about the size of a four-door sedan but ranged from sleek lozenge shapes to something that looked like a cross between a sports car and a SWAT tank.
The city itself was unlike anything Dylan had seen on Earth, but it reminded him of any number of futuristic cityscapes in movies, video games, and TV shows. Lots of gleaming metal, concrete, glass, bridges, overpasses, and skyscrapers. In the distance, vehicles zipped around and equally sci-fi aircraft traced paths across the sky here and there.
I wonder if we're still on the same planet as the place we were killed a while ago? The sky was tinted red instead of the familiar blue and the air felt different -- thinner, with a sharp odor of overheated wiring filling his nose with every breath. If the assholes who abducted us can teleport us to other planets, what fucking chance do we have of ever escaping?
"I know how this works," Syala clopped over to one of the cars, her mouth hanging open and her glowing eyes opening wide. "I've never seen any of these before, never even imagined such things, but I know how to drive them."
"So do I." Ayastal leaned over the nearest car, placed her hand on its roof, and peered in through the windshield. "The knowledge just appeared in my mind. But I can't fit into any of these."
"How is this happening?" Syala drew in several ragged breaths and glanced around until her terrified gaze locked onto Dylan. "How do I suddenly know things I could never have even dreamed of before?"
"I don't know." He hurried over to her and held her hands. "Maybe we'll find out sooner or later, or maybe we'll never know. Right now, all that matters is that we get through this."
She took a few more breaths, pulled herself together, and nodded.
Cora walked over to them and rested a hand on each of their shoulders. "Whoever is doing this, we can't let them break us. Don't give them the satisfaction."
Syala nodded again, smiled, closed her eyes for a moment, and sucked in another long, slow breath to help calm herself.
"I also know what we must do," Zilaka muttered, turning to stare in shock at the others. "Just like the cars -- I didn't know a moment ago, and now I do."
"Same here." Dylan nodded slowly. "There's a package we have to pick up and take somewhere."
"And there will be someone trying to stop us." Nishara turned to gaze out over the city and shivered. "Someone trying to kill us."
"Again." Grishnag sighed. "No matter why our captors are doing this -- to test us, or just for their entertainment -- I don't want to submit to it."
"You know what'll happen if we don't." Dylan tried to give her a reassuring smile, but couldn't hold it for more than a second. "The longer we survive, the more time we have to figure out what's going on and how to stop it."
"True enough." A smile tugged at the corner of Grishnag's mouth. "Well, I guess we should get on with it."
Nishara cupped Dylan's face in her upper hands and held his hands with her lower ones.
"For luck." She leaned in and kissed him.
Uh … wow. He let the kiss continue until she pulled back, gazed into his eyes, and smiled. He stroked her cheek and she gave his hands and shoulders a gentle squeeze before turning to slither over to one of the cars.
Another hand brushed his arm. He turned to the left and found Syala leaning toward him. He met her halfway, thinking she wanted to say something to him without the others overhearing.
Instead, she slid her right hand behind his neck, pulled him closer, and kissed him.
Huh? His heart began to pound, but he went along with it. When Syala finally pulled back, she smiled and glanced away.
"For luck," she mumbled.
"Thanks." His face turned hot and he glanced around and caught Grishnag grinning and chuckling in the corner of his eye. He cleared his throat and tugged on his shirt collar. "So. Uh. Anybody else want a good-luck kiss?"
After everyone flicked a few glances at each other, Cora shrugged and walked over to him.
"What the hell. I don't believe it'll tilt the odds in our favor, but I'm all for finding a moment of pleasure in this nightmare we're all in." She pressed her cool metal lips gently against his and the faint smell of mechanical lubricants and polish filled his nose. Neither the kiss nor the scent was at all unpleasant.
When they parted, the other females approached him. Before he could get his brain around what was happening, each of them kissed him. In the corner of his eye, he found several of them kissing each other.
Okay, this is getting weird. The only possibility he could think of was that maybe humans were the only species that had any sexual hangups, and it simply didn't occur to any of these females to think there was anything strange about this. Hah. Getting weird. Good one.
Finally, Grishnag was the only one who hadn't kissed him or any of the others. She shrugged and put her arms around him.
"I suppose I shouldn't buck the trend," she said softly, chuckling. Her breath brushed across his lips and his heartbeat revved up again. "It has been a while since I've done this, so maybe it's about time, anyway."
Their mouths met and he closed his eyes and lost himself in the moment. It was a little odd, with those big fangs sticking up from her lower teeth, but no more so than any of the others.
When they parted, they gazed into each other's eyes for a moment, smiled, and then Grishnag walked off to choose a vehicle. She picked one of the sporty-SWAT tank-looking things, opened the door, and settled into the seat. Her eyes flicked over its control panel and she pushed a button. The engine started -- not the familiar sound of the car engines Dylan had heard all his life, but more of a throbbing hum.
The others chose their cars, except Ayastal. Grishnag glanced over at her, smiled, and pointed a thumb at the roof of her vehicle.
"This one looks sturdy enough for you to ride on top. You won't have any protection, but at least you'll be able to participate. I mean, if you want."
"Thank you. After seeing what they did to you when you refused to play their games, I'm probably better off not appearing to be uncooperative." Ayastal crouched on top of the car, braced her feet on the rear end, and found handholds on the roof.
Dylan picked another hotrod-tank, got in, and glanced around. All the controls were on the dashboard, including the brakes and accelerator. At least that meant Nishara could drive one despite having no legs. He glanced over at her in time to watch her try to enter one of the lozenge-shaped cars. She ducked in through the driver's side door, pulled back out, entered again, extracted herself again. She grumbled something, opened the back door, slid in and between the front seats, took her position awkwardly at the controls, and pulled the rest of her body in.
Syala closed the back door for her.
"Thank you." Nishara spent the next few moments trying to coil her body around the interior and find a comfortable position.
Dylan started his engine as Syala and Zilaka picked out their cars.
Grishnag's voice came from a speaker in the dashboard. "Okay. Let's do this."
"Almost there." Grishnag glanced at the mini-map on her dashboard and noted the position of the waypoint. She returned her attention to the road ahead and slowed as they passed through a gate and entered an area filled with what appeared to be warehouses.
As they approached the waypoint, a dozen red blips appeared around it. Grishnag noted their positions on her mini-map and grumbled.
"Well, here we go." Dylan's voice quivered slightly.
Before Grishnag could offer any reassuring words, she eased around the corner of a large, rectangular building and found a dozen males and females of varying species spinning toward her and snapping their guns up.
"What the hell?" Dylan said. "I was expecting more of the goons we fought last time."
"So was I." Grishnag steered toward the nearest three and accelerated. "No matter. Just focus on getting through this."
"R-right." Dylan's vehicle surged forward, plowed into two of the "enemies," and sent them tumbling across the pavement.
"Nice." Grishnag flashed a feral grin. "Ayastal, you may want to …"
"Dismounting." The huge reptile woman leaped off the top of Grishnag's vehicle and slammed into a pair of humans who'd opened fire a split-second before. The impact flattened them and she made sure they stayed put with a solid punch to each of their faces. She rolled off them, crouched, and sprang over the head of a pig-ogre as he tried to target her. She hit the ground, rolled forward, and came to a halt with her legs braced under her, ready to launch at another enemy.
The pig-ogre whipped his rifle around and lined up a shot at her chest.
Dylan's tank-car shot into view. He turned sharply to the left and the car skidded. The rear end swung around and slammed into the pig-ogre like a bat knocking a baseball out of the park. He rocketed into the side of a parked cargo truck, crumpled to the ground, and came to a stop with his neck twisted at an unnatural angle.
"Nice moves, kid," Grishnag said with an arched eyebrow.
"Thanks. I just now realized this reminds me of a game I played a lot back home. This was one of the moves I used on opposing players."
"This reminds you of a game?" Nishara steered her car around the back of a nearby warehouse and flinched as four enemies concentrated their fire on her.
"Yeah, a video game. It's a -- actually, never mind. I'll try to explain it later." Dylan whipped his car to the right and shoved his rifle through his open window. He pulled the trigger and perforated the human and three bovine males. They twitched and collapsed, fingers convulsing on their triggers and firing random shots until the life finished draining from them.
"Video games," Cora muttered. "I'm familiar with them. They're sort of like simulations."
"Yeah, kind of. You okay, Nishara?"
"For now." Nishara changed course again and accelerated. "I'm near the … whatever we're here to take. I'm going for it."
"I'll cover you," Dylan said.
"As will I," Syala added.
"Simulations. Hmm." Cora veered off to join the other three.
"What?" Grishnag caught up with them, glanced at the waypoint, and followed them toward a building that appeared to be an aircraft hangar.
"Just a suspicion I have. I don't want to distract everyone with it now."
"Sounds good." Dylan mowed down another opponent with his car and continued on to the hangar. "You can tell us after we finish this. Or the next time we wake up dead." He chuckled.
Hah. He has my kind of sense of humor. Grishnag grinned and parked in front of the hangar's massive open door. "Make a barricade with your vehicles while Nishara picks up the package."
Dylan backed his car up until his rear bumper nudged her front. The others followed suit, keeping their driver-side doors facing into the hangar. Everyone except Nishara jumped out and aimed their guns at the remaining enemies, using their vehicles as cover. Nishara extracted herself from her car and surged forward, slithering deeper into the building so fast she became a blur.
Dylan and Syala charged after her, flicking their wide eyes all around the interior, searching for more enemies.
Grishnag glanced at the mini-map on her dashboard. Only three enemies remained … until ten more red blips appeared at the edge of the map and approached her team's position with alarming speed. Grishnag snarled. "More enemies incoming."
"That's what I was afraid of," Dylan grumbled. "It works the same way in that game I mentioned. No matter how many bad guys we take out, more keep teleporting in."
"It's hopeless," Syala whimpered.
"No, it's not." Grishnag drilled a beam through the forehead of each of the three approaching them. "It'll end when we complete our task."
"Yeah." Dylan tried to smile at Syala. "Maybe then we'll get to sit out the next round of fighting. Y'know, as a reward."
Grishnag glanced at her mini-map again. The new red blips were almost on top of her and the others. She frowned, realizing a hissing sound had been growing louder over the last few moments.
That's inside the hangar. But … She gasped and raised her gun to aim at the ceiling.
"They're above us!"
Thumps of multiple feet hitting the roof echoed through the cavernous room.
Cora spun and snapped her gun up toward the ceiling. "I see their heat signatures." She opened fire, burning dozens of holes through the metal. Several voices cried out, and then a guttural roar overwhelmed them. More thumps echoed from the ceiling, the sound of bodies rolling down the angled roof.
"I've got the pilots," Ayastal snarled before opening fire.
The hissing sound revved, sputtered, and turned into a rattling whine. A stubby aircraft with two huge, ducted fans spun into view, a dozen holes melted through the canopy and a mixture of red and yellow blood splattered all over the cockpit. The aircraft continued its spin, tipped to the left, and crashed into the ground. It continued sliding and shedding parts, finally rolled over and ground to a stop upside-down.
"Good work, Ayastal," Grishnag said.
A deafening, sharp bang of a grenade slammed into the side of the building, almost drowning out a truncated scream. Grishnag staggered, shook her head, and a cold sensation rose up in her chest. "Ayastal?"
Nishara, Dylan, and Syala stopped in their tracks. Nishara fumbled and nearly dropped the brick-shaped, crystalline object in her hands.
"Ayastal!" Grishnag rushed to the rear of her car, peeked around the doorway, and found her sprawled on the ground with her chest blasted open.
Past her, two more large vehicles rumbled toward the hangar.
Grishnag winced and turned away. She met the others' gazes and shook her head.
Syala sobbed and covered her mouth with her hand.
"She'll be okay," Dylan whispered, reaching out to rub her back.
"How do we know?"
"She'll probably wake up in the same room we found ourselves in after the first time we were killed."
"He's right." Grishnag took a deep breath and waved a hand around the inside of the hangar. "Take a quick look around. Maybe we can find something useful. Bigger guns, or armor."
"On it." Cora rushed over to the wall to inspect the shelves and crates.
Nishara handed the golden crystal brick to Dylan. "Take this. You seem to know what you're doing."
Grishnag glanced over her shoulder at the mini-map on her dashboard. A new waypoint had appeared at the northern edge.
"We have a new destination."
"Good." Dylan carried the faintly glowing crystal back to his car. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Oh, look what we have here." Cora had just opened one of the metal crates in a corner behind a shuttle and grinned at what she'd found. "Grenades, sticky bombs, and rocket launchers."
"I don't know what those are," Zilaka muttered, "but if they keep us alive, I'll be happy with them."
"They should definitely give us a chance." Cora passed the grenades and sticky bombs to the others, grabbed two rocket launchers, and handed one to Grishnag. "You seem to know how to use stuff like this more than the others. I think we'll have a better chance of holding the goons off while the others escape."
Dylan whipped his head around to stare at her and Grishnag.
"Don't worry." Cora strode toward the space between the door frame and Grishnag's car. "I'm planning on both of us catching up with you. Now, get moving."
Dylan sighed, nodded, and started his engine. Syala, Zilaka, and Nishara returned to their vehicles.
Cora peeked around the corner, found the two vehicles still fifty meters away but approaching rapidly, and nodded at Grishnag. Cora lined up a shot on the nearer van and fired. A fist-size rocket streaked toward her target. The second van veered off and accelerated, while three people bailed out of the first. Cora's rocket struck the front of the van, ripped it apart in a split-second, and the shrapnel shredded the three who'd tried to escape.
Grishnag stepped around Cora and took her own shot while Cora reloaded. The van swerved, but couldn't avoid the rocket. Shrapnel and body parts scattered in every direction. Grishnag smirked, turned toward her car, and stopped suddenly.
"Cora told you to take off."
Cora turned and found the others waiting with their engines running. "Yeah. What she said."
"We're not leaving you here." Syala aimed a stern stare at her, couldn't hold it, and faced forward again. "We finish this together."
Cora almost rolled her optics, canceled the action, and ran to her vehicle. "Fine. Let's all get the hell out of here before anyone else starts shooting at us."
"Dylan," Grishnag said as she climbed into her car, "we'll surround you and escort you to the next waypoint. Stay in the center."
"I'll do my best." He gripped the controls and waited.
"I'll take the lead. Cora, bring up the rear." Grishnag moved her car into position.
Four red, car-shaped icons appeared on Cora's mini-map, approaching rapidly from the rear. She leaned out the window, glanced around, and zoomed in on a distant motion.
"Guys, we've got more --"
"I see them on my map," Syala said, almost whimpering. "Let's go!"
Cora grabbed her rocket launcher, climbed through her window, and perched her ass on the lower edge. She lined up a shot and squeezed the trigger. The rocket streaked away and she zoomed in to watch the impact.
One of the four vans exploded and the shockwave knocked two others off course.
What the hell was that? Cora pulled the last few seconds from her optics' buffer and replayed it in slow motion. Parts of the van flickered and broke into tiny cube shapes for a split second as it exploded, as did the air around the shockwave. She scowled and lined up another shot. Voxels. Damn, I was right.
"Dylan, what?" Her proximity sensors picked up a sudden movement to her left before he could respond. She snapped her head around in time to catch a glimpse of a rocket before it drilled into the side of her car.
The roar of the explosion overwhelmed her auditory sensors and the flash overloaded her optics for a few seconds. When her sight returned, the entire world was spinning around her -- until the pavement slammed into her back. She glanced around, found parts of her legs and other debris scattered all around her, and her internal sensors detected various lubricants and other fluids spraying out of what was left of her torso.
"Cora!" Dylan shrieked again.
"Keep going! I'll do what I can from here." She found her rifle several meters away and dragged herself toward it while running a diagnostic. Primary systems failing, main power cell breached and heading for a critical overload. Whatever I do, I have to do it soon.
"Go!" She clamped onto the rifle and tried to line up a shot on the approaching vans, but her targeting system was offline. "I'll see you all on the next go-around."
"Shit," Dylan moaned before accelerating away.
The others hesitated another few seconds but finally followed him.
The remaining three vans reached Cora.
Fuck it. She rolled onto her back, jammed her rifle's barrel against her exposed power cell, and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the detonation tore her body apart too quickly for her sensors to detect any damage.
The blast was enormous -- far bigger than anything Nishara had ever experienced. It deafened her and shook her vehicle. Both hearts pounded as she glanced over her shoulder and found parts of Cora's body and two of the vans raining down. The remaining van swerved around the debris and continued its pursuit.
"No," Dylan groaned.
"Take it easy," Grishnag said, clearly straining to remain calm, herself. "She'll be okay. She's probably in that same room we woke up in before, with Ayastal."
"I hope so." Dylan took a deep breath. "Alright. Let's get this over with." He accelerated.
Six more blips appeared on Nishara's mini-map, directly ahead. "No …"
"Where are they coming from?" Syala's voice quivered.
"Stay focused," Grishnag said.
A beam from one of the van's occupants drilled Nishara's rear window, the passenger-side headrest, and the windshield. She flinched and her hearts beat even faster.
Must try something. Must do something before we're all killed again. She took several deep breaths. "I … I have an idea."
She twisted her tail into position, gripped her weapon, and slid through her window. She kept her lower-left hand on the controls, kept the accelerator pressed down with the tip of her tail, and held on to the roof with her upper-left hand. With her two right hands, she raised the gun awkwardly and tried to aim it at the approaching van.
A male that appeared to be Zilaka's species leaned out one of the van's windows with his own rifle.
Nishara clamped her mouth shut to prevent a horrified whimper from escaping and fired her weapon. Half of her shots struck the ground or pierced empty air, but the rest punched into the front of the van.
The male fired and a familiar searing pain lanced through Nishara's upper-right shoulder. The gun almost slipped from her hands, but she managed to keep her grip on it and continue shooting.
Finally, one of her beams drilled through the van's windshield and vaporized part of the driver's head. He flopped over and the van swerved off to the right and crashed into a stack of red metal barrels. Nishara shifted her aim to the barrels without understanding how she knew what was about to happen, and continued firing. Whatever was in the barrels ignited violently, and engulfed the van in flames.
Nishara sighed, faced forward, and grimaced at the pain spreading out from her wounded shoulder.
Grishnag veered off to a curving ramp leading to an overpass that wove among dozens of gleaming metal skyscrapers. The rest followed her. Wincing and trying not to cry out, Nishara steered her vehicle in the same direction.
Three more enemy vans appeared directly ahead, swerving through the oncoming traffic.
"Damn it," Grishnag snarled. "Too many innocent people are in the way."
"There's nothing we can do about that," Dylan said with a sigh. "We'll just have to do the best we can to avoid hitting any of them."
A human leaned out of the lead van and began firing. Nishara groaned, shifted her grip on her weapon, and returned fire.
A beam pierced her upper-left arm and another hit her chest, just below her lower heart. She screamed and dropped her gun.
"Nishara!" Syala shrieked. "Oh, no!"
Another shot burned through Nishara's abdomen, and yet another drilled her upper heart. She flailed, screamed again, and her car began to turn sideways and skid.
"No!" Dylan bellowed.
Nishara caught a glimpse of a hail of enemy shots slamming through his windshield and multiple bursts of red blood filling the inside of his car, and suddenly she turned cold inside.
"No …" She coughed as everything around her began to fade away. "Dyl … Dylan …"
Her car struck the divider between lanes and rolled. The last thing Nishara saw was the road rushing up toward her, and the last things she felt were her body twisting and the car crushing her beneath it.
Title: Game Over
Genre: Science Fiction
Age range: adult
Word count: 80,000 words
Author: Fred T. Kerns
Why the book is a good fit: I tend to write the kinds of stories I wish I could find on bookshelves. As TMG has an eye toward innovation, my work would bring them something new and fresh to pass along to the world. TMG also works with a range of genres and my novels and stories are primarily science fiction but also include elements of action, humor, and an often hopeful vision of the future despite the villainous characters standing in the heroes' way.
The Hook: On this planet, "fun and games" is a matter of life and death.
Synopsis: Dylan Engstrom wakes up in a strange place and is thrown into a series of combat scenarios with a handful of aliens. Together, they must figure out what's going on and how to escape before they're all killed. And killed again. And again. And again ...
Target audience: Readers who enjoy action, adventure, humor, spaceships, aliens, and fun characters in a story that leans toward the harder end of the SF scale.
Bio: Sci-fi writer, semi-competent gamer (on a good day), and a huge geek. Born in a small town in Oregon, lived on the Oregon coast until 2013, then moved to Tucson, Arizona, and has lived there ever since.
Platform: My blog has links to most of the stuff I'm up to: https://fredtkerns.blogspot.com/
Education: High school diploma, followed by life in general
Experience: Started writing and submitting short stories at 17 and have never stopped writing since then. I've finished five novels and have another in-progress, and have written a number of shorter works and ongoing serialized stories.
Personality/writing style: Usually pretty mellow. Able to roll with the punches thanks to life being a very long stretch of bad luck. Able to face each setback by immediately going to work on possible solutions almost like a reflex. Writing style tends to be to-the-point with characters who are often a little off-kilter. I've been told that I'm particularly good at writing action scenes. I also like to research specific scientific concepts to attempt to get them right (for instance, hull breaches in my writing won't result in an endless rush of venting air) without bogging the story down with details regarding physics and whatnot.
Likes/hobbies: Writing, video games, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Have been a lifelong fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and others. More recent like/influences include the Mass Effect series, Babylon 5, Star Trek Online, Red vs. Blue, gen:LOCK, among others.
Hometown: Tucson, AZ
I hide behind words, sometimes.
I officially started describing myself as a writer when I took a graduate class in poetry writing. Then another writing class, this time in fiction. I wrote a poem entitled
Ode to a Dunkin Donuts Cashier No one
understands my words when to my boyfriend I say
“I think it’s over”
to my friends I say
Like the dunkin donuts cashier Who
When I say “light and sweet” Hands me coffee
With cream and sugar
Words are insufficient.
I use words insufficiently.
I have used words insufficiently, in the past. I suspect I will again. But not now. Now, I will tell you.
I remember. I can’t forget.
Stay with me, please. I’ll tell you why all that is true. And, I know you’ll understand, because sometimes you hurt too.
Stay with me, because there’s joy, too. And gratitude.
I hide behind words, sometimes.
So, when I was seven years old watching To Kill a Mockingbird with my dad, and Atticus Finch defended a man accused of rape, and I asked what “rape” was, and Dad said it’s when a girl says no and a boy forces her to have sex anyway, and I decided right then and there- I would never be raped. I would never say no. And I didn’t. Ever.
On my first date, I was safe. Imagine that. Not excited. Or nervous. Not thrilled. Safe. My sister and I were double dating. I don’t remember what we did or where we went. I just remember, in the back seat, I never said no. I turned my head away. My muscles froze. And my sister, in the front seat, didn’t have a reason to turn around.
I can, could, can twist words like a contortionist. I know the real definition of rape. But, my first definition and subsequent plan afforded me control. I told myself.
I hide behind my words, sometimes.
Later, when accepted Early Decision status at Boston College, I was excited. And, naive. And, once there, homesick. And lonely. So, I went to a frat party with my roommates. This is what I remember:
Being offered a drink from a red Solo cup. Seeing my roommates talking with others. A lot of people (40? more?).
Worn, mustard carpeting. The smell of beer and sweat.
Being taken by the elbows, a guy on each side, to a room. Thrown face down on the bed.
Face smothered by party-goers discarded coats. My underwear pulled down, my skirt pushed up. Someone entering my asshole.
Someone else calling others in.
Someone reassuring another, If you want in (the frat?), you gotta get in (me?).
Going away, but not leaving.
Waking up down a set of grey stairs, surrounded by Solo cups. And other party trash.
And, never (like a badge of honor) saying no. This is what I don’t remember:
How many frat pledges entered me.
How I got back to my dorm.
Why I didn’t go inside the campus security office, but cried outside its glass door. Why an officer didn’t come out?
I told my parents Boston College was not for me. That’s all. And when I transferred
to a small university in my home state and students there asked where I came from, I said
And, just like that, it never happened. Or, I became someone to whom it never happened. What I was, I was no longer. So, not really worth talking about any longer. But, it leaked out in my poetry decades ago. And I see it’s just further evidence: I hide behind my words, sometimes. But, it’s not all I am. I hide so much more.
I hide behind my words, sometimes. In college, I often heard my hunger pangs in my gut and drew the natural conclusion I was hungry. Then, as a sort of sick social experiment to demonstrate my own ability to control my body- Jesus, could I just control someone’s body?!- I trained my brain so that anytime I heard my stomach make a sound I excused myself to the bathroom and retched. I spent the entire summer after sophomore year of college this way. I’d meet friends, binge eat, and purge it all before
leaving the restaurant.
I was staying with my fiance, his brother, his mother and his drunken, verbally abusive correctional officer father. I worked as a cocktail waitress at a State Beach patio. Every once in a while, I’d dip into the cocktail condiments- lemon and lime
wedges, maraschino cherries. Before the shift ended, tourists’ grateful bills stuffed in my cargo shorts pockets, I’d purge. Clean slate.
I hide behind words, sometimes. When I said, “not guilty” to the judge what I meant was- yes, clearly I’m guilty. Was probably born guilty, Original Sin and all that. I was on camera in various locations of the mall, seen stuffing the inside pockets of my denim
jacket and my two shopping bags full of items I neither cared about or needed. I spent an overnight in holding. My parents were driving from Maine to Iowa to visit my dying grandmother in her nursing facility for patients with Alzheimer’s. It didn't seem the right time to bother them. So, I waited for the bail bondsman and wished I’d used the bathroom before stealing. More to the point, before getting caught.
I hide behind words, sometimes. Like, when I got married.
Not to the fiance mentioned previously. Twenty two pound weight loss, plenty of college guys to affirm the new size 1 me, and a trip to Aruba with my college roommate redirected that plan.
No. To this new guy- not the blonde my former fiance was, not the baseball player my former fiance was, not the basic neanderthal jock he was. This new guy- dark skinned, ponytail, artist. This new guy. Passion and pressure. Romance and rage. A stone I felt sure was a diamond waiting to burst forth.
When I said I do, I meant:
I do believe we’re a partnership.
I do believe we’re both responsible for income. We’re both responsible for expenses. I do believe, when we’re parents, we are both parents. We both need to act like role models. We both need to demonstrate responsibility, maturity and compassion.
When I said I do, I didn’t mean:
I do believe dishes are for throwing, walls are for punching, or voices are for yelling.
I do believe mornings are for his hangovers and my making excuses for his behavior. And I most certainly didn’t mean:
Daughter of mine, here is your example of a loving relationship. An example of how a husband treats a wife, or a father treats a daughter.
When I said I do, I meant: I don’t.
I hide behind my words, sometimes. More to the point. I misuse words. I lie. So, when my marriage ended, I left my job and I began to write. I began to excavate. To
recall. To sober up. To turn to my demons- to the me that life and trauma had created- and to hurt. A pain indescribable- this honest self-exploration thing. So, in one last cowardly comfortable move, I lied. I told all those around me I had breast cancer. In truth (as I interpret it)- I did have a scary mammogram result and was asked to return twice for ultrasound follow up. But, I didn’t have cancer. What I had were kind friends and a warped sense of worth. I just couldn’t allow myself kindness or compassion unless it had been earned, and was life-threatening.
Slowly, I’m hiding behind words less. And meaning my words more. And this is
where the real story begins. My love affair with words that don’t cover, conceal, contain. Words that instead meditate, muse and mend. So, to where I began. I grieve. I feel.
Pain. Joy and gratitude.
Welcome to Utopia Theater
Utopia Theater is a blatant misnomer and whoever named it was well aware of that. The audience is comprised of felons, thieves, kidnappers, war criminals and every type of unsavory character one could think of. It's the abode of sinners.
The stage is devoid of red curtains and a musical pit. There are no stage lights to illuminate it. Ghastly fluorescent tubes continuously cast a flickering glow upon white tiles and barren walls. With each passing moment, the stagnant silence somehow echoes in intensity.
Two thunderclaps ensue and everyone's gaze is immediately affixed to the translucent stage. The sound could put a Gorgon to shame. It never fails to petrify the theater's audience. Rheumy eyes water in anguish and stiff muscles cry out in protest. Despite that, nobody dares to move a muscle whenever the stage is in session.
"Good evening ladies, gentlemen and all distinguished guests of the Utopia Theater." A child's voice booms. It's shrill, tacky and squeaky. Yet, nobody laughs.
"Please welcome our newest guardian angel. Come on now, don't be shy!"
A silhouette enshrouded by mist strides up to the stage. There's a shorter figure trailing behind it but it's barely discernible from the fog surrounding the silhouette.
Startled eyes begin to morph and slowly soften. For a fleeting instant, fear is replaced by another emotion: empathy.
The rest of the audience knows what being a guardian angel entails and the new recruit is blissfully unaware.
Utopia theater is not heaven. It's a purgatory of sorts and all of its inhabitants are guardian angels. They don't carry beaming golden lyres or don pristine white robes. Halos don't adorn their head and prayers don't reach their ears.
Instead, they gouge their eyes out and are given a new set of glass eyes. There's only one reason for their existence: Repentance.
Each evening, the theater whisks them away to the home of their reincarnation. They're tasked with overseeing their reincarnation and steering them away from the path of sin. Whenever their reincarnation does sin, indescribable pain seizes the guardian angel. It doesn't matter how severe the sin is. Even petty shoplifting forms cordons of searing hot pain around the guardian angels.
The new recruit lets out an ear piercing shriek which signified that they had finally gotten their glass eyes. A moment later, I felt my own eyes begin to whir to life. The white around me warped into a spiral of color and my gut fell.
My reincarnation had finally awoken and it was time for me to embark on another day as a guardian angel.
Title: Utopia Theater
Age range: Young Adult
Word count: This excerpt is 429 words long
Author name: Kaye Eisen (pseudonym)
The hook: Utopia theater explores a variation of purgatory. Instead of the undergoing the trials presented in works such as Dante's Divine Comedy, the Utopia Theater forces its audience to change the fate of their future counterpart.
Target audience: Young Adult
Platform: Prose is my primary platform. I once used Quotev but didn't publish anything noteworthy.
Education: Currently in high school. Took a few college classes at a local community college.
Experience: I've taken AP Literature and two semesters of college English Composition. My experience with writing is very minimal. It's only a hobby at the moment but I did win a small writing competition offered in my town. I placed first in the junior grade level division for the Laura Jackson Writing Foundation Poetry Contest in 2021.
Bio + Personality / writing style: I'm quite reserved but I do enjoy talking to others. I've met a variety of people in my life and I'm grateful for meeting every one of them even if I don't get along with them. The people I meet give me a broader perspective on what the world is like.
No matter where I go, I want to be involved in my community and perform altruistic deeds. A kind gesture goes a long way. Hopefully the career I pursue will allow me to constantly help others in the community while affording me financial stability.
I don't know how to describe my writing style other than random. At times, it's lucid and flowery. Some times it's cut and dry and gets straight to the point. I just hope that my words carry out the message I intend for them to.
Likes/hobbies: I'm very involved in music. I've played piano for 10 years and picked up flute and violin along the way. It's been six years since I've started middle school band and orchestra and now I'm involved in a variety of local ensembles in my town for flute and violin. I study piano privately and sometimes help my younger sister who recently started. I also really like art and writing. I invest most of my spare time in my AP Drawing projects and I express myself through descriptive blurbs on Prose.
Reading and writing have always been a large part of my life. It's how I learn, express myself and slowly understand the world and the people in it better. I'm especially fond of poetry and philosophy. Although my understanding of mythology and history is very limited, I enjoy trying to find references to myths and history in the media I consume.
Age (optional): 17
Why My Project is a Good Fit: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
I just wanted to enter this challenge since I was having writer's block
Wound Up and Winded
I worship the Winds. They are whimsical and flighty like I’ve come to be. The roads, seas, and skies are friends to my gods and me. And every morning I pray on a walk in the woods to the East, to the South, to the West, and to the North. I stop and humbly give my breath for theirs. A windbent branch beckons me. I approach the waving scene. Then at once and with a passion, I’m upsprung by Spring, kissed by Summer, and whisked by Autumn and chilly Winter. Then they plop me down, all wound up and winded.
Title: Wound Up and Winded
Genre: Fantasy / Romanticism
Age Range: All ages
Word Count: 100
Author: River Byrnes
Why my project is a good fit: It’s incredibly short and fun. A great addition to any children’s anthology. Maybe a poetry/short fiction collection. It is so tiny and compact that it would be honored to fill up the extra unused space of a book that is one page shy of an even number.
Hook: “I worship the winds.”
Synopsis: A Wind acolyte goes out on a walk to pray to his or her gods who take him or her on a short flight with them until he or she is plopped down, back to the ground.
Target audience: All ages; those who enjoy cute flash fiction/bit-sized stories
Bio: I’m a 20-year-old university student studying at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. I come from a small lower-middle-class family in a small town in Louisiana called Ball. As a kid and even still, my family and I struggle financially–who doesn’t these days?–but through scholarships and Pell grants, I’m somehow blessed to go to school almost debt-free. I’m a Creative Writing Major so this is my hobby and craft. I also know this is a highly competitive business. All I hope to do by entering into this contest is to develop the skill of stepping out into the big beyond and giving it a shot, no matter how terrifying it is.
“Drake,” she spoke his name as if to ask him a question.
“Yes Grace?” He replied taking a glance into her eyes in the hopes that she was still there. Hoping that she wasn’t saying his name as if she was trying to remember. When he saw that she was looking through her diaries still, he breathed out a sigh of relief.
“Have you ever… have you read any of these yet?” Grace hesitantly asked him, giving a nod to her journals as she did so.
“No… I haven’t Grace. Not yet any way. You told me not to until your lapses became more consistent, and I needed to use them to guide you back.”
She was looking up at him now, watching him answer her as stoically as he possibly could when discussing this particular subject. Completely unaware of the tumultuous thoughts that invaded his mind.
What he wanted to tell her was that he never desired this for her. He wanted to tell her that he didn’t know if he could be strong enough to guide her back to him. He couldn’t tell her that he was terrified every time her mind ran away from her, and he was left with the shadow of a woman he once swore to protect and cherish.
As Drake’s thoughts spiraled through his grief, Grace gently brought her hand to his face and brushed her fingers like feathers across his cheek. Her unexpected touch brought him back to the present, as his eyes snapped to her own arresting gaze.
In this moment she calmed the raging sea of his own mind, like she had done so many times before. And in this moment Drake was reminded that this would sustain him to do this all over again. He was willing to find her every day if he had to, and bring her back to him so that they could share these precious fleeting moments. They were supposed to share eternity together, and he knew that a couple seconds more with her would be far more bearable than never being with her again.
As he stared into her eyes, he vowed that he would do whatever it took to remind her of who she was, even if she was unable to remember him. He would never let her forget herself, until she herself decided no more. He’d do it for her, because she did it for him.
“Drake,” Grace softly spoke, darting her eyes back and forth as if searching for the words to follow with. “Do you remember when,” she paused, licked her semi-parched lips and continued, “when you set up the tree swing for me a gazillion summers ago?”
Drake grinned from the memory that she chose to discuss. He was half relieved that she was obviously trying to lighten the mood, and half amused because he did in fact remember that summer vividly. “Yes, Grace, I do remember doing that. And I do believe that summer was maybe about 100 years ago… give or take a few years. Possibly decades. But don’t quote me on that.”
She giggled and smiled back at him. “Ah yes, that sounds about right. If I remember correctly, you thought it was such a silly request at the time. But who was it that used that swing more than I did!?” Grace teased as she stuck her tongue out at him.
“Hey now, I did apologize and say it was a good idea. We needed a bit of silly during that time. Our life hasn’t always been… normal.” He replied to her playfulness by gently brushing her hair away from her face as he leaned in to press his forehead against hers. He loved staring into her eyes like this, even more so when they were so filled with joy and wonder. Joyous moments were few and far between them these days. “Those years were some of the fondest memories I’ve ever experienced. I just wish…” he trailed off. Now was not the time to talk about regrets.
She stared up into his eyes reassuringly as she reached for his hands and held him there. “Those were fond memories for me too.” She continued to smile, but her face no longer matched the feeling she was trying to convey. “I loved that swing. I loved that even though you thought it was a silly idea, you still did it.” Her voice started to waiver now, “For me. You did it for me, and in the end it brought us both joy. You did it because you knew I was afraid that I was beginning to forget what it was like to be a child. To be innocent and new.”
Grace’s eyes began to well up as the smile fell from her face. “Do you remember what I told you when I first asked for the swing?” Drake nodded in reply.
He remembered vividly how she had pleaded for him to plant a giant oak tree on top of an open hill, which was only a short distance from their mansion. He remembered how she had described seeing other young couples enjoying the summer swinging on a tree together, and how she missed feeling young and alive. To which Drake retorted that she was an immortal vampire so technically she was neither of those things, resulting in a playful slap on his arm from her followed by a soul piercing glare.
What finally got him to cave was when she dropped all pretense and humor. It was then that she told him how she was afraid she was disappearing. She was afraid that the person she used to be, was beginning to fade. He remembered the moment that broke him and caused him to immediately go out and get a tree to plant for her swing. It was the moment she told him that she was scared of her humanity slipping away, and it was the moment that he promised her he would never let that happen. He wouldn’t let her disappear.
“And what did I say to you Drake?” As he opened his mouth to respond, he noticed her eyes begin to glaze over, and her grip on his hands tightened as she frantically grasped to regain control of her mind. This was a battle they couldn’t possibly hope to win, but it was a battle they would face together. “D… Drake?” It was no longer a knowing question bent on an answer. The name had tasted unfamiliar on her lips.
She shook her head as if to clear away an invisible fog, but no matter how hard she seemed to try, the fog remained. All he could do was watch her lapse into a state of delirium as her memories slipped away.
Grace began rapidly shooting glances around her room in confusion at what she could see. “Whe…where am I?” Her eyes landed on his, questioning him as to how she came here. He tried to form the words to say that could ease her mind, but nothing came out. The only thing he could feel in this moment was rage that once again their time was cut short. He wanted to scream, and cry, and hold her close as he apologized to her over and over about how he was powerless to stop this. But this would not be the response she needed now, not here as she stared questioningly into his eyes, the eyes that she could no longer remember.
“Who are you?” She began to raise her voice, growing more agitated by the second. Grace’s hands began to slip away from his when she realized that she was holding him. “Do…do I know you?”
“Yes, you do Grace. I’m your…” he paused for a moment, trying to think of a persona for himself that she could take comfort in. Someone who wouldn’t frighten her with the idea of intimacy, but was still close enough to care for her. “I’m your brother. My name is Drake. Do you remember me Grace?” The words hurt as soon as they left his mouth, knowing that from now on he’d be reduced to a familial status during her lapses, and that as this disease progressed, he may never be able to call her his love again.
“N… no not really,” she slowly scooted herself away from him on her bed. When she looked down and saw what they were sitting on, she shot her eyes up to him puzzled.
“We’re in your room Grace, it’s night time now. I was just saying good night to you.” He quickly replied, hoping that his answers would give her some sense of stability. They did not.
“I don’t know who you are,” her voice was growing louder by the second as her expression hardened into panic. “Did you do something to me!?”
“No! No Grace, I’m telling the truth. You’re safe here, this is your safe space,” he cried out desperate to not have to use drastic measures again. He hated every time he was forced to sedate her.
She was having none of it. “What did you do to me!?” Grace was yelling now as she started to swing her arms at him. It took everything in him not to take the abuse. He would see it as some sort of redemption for what he did to her. For how he had made her a vampire in the first place. But he knew that he had to stop this before she eventually hurt herself.
Drake reached for the stock of ready to use sedatives he kept locked away in the top drawer of her desk. He had to act quickly in her confusion before the rage consumed her.
When she saw what he was going for, she lunged with brute force at his neck, but she was never fast enough. Drake was much older and therefore stronger than she. In a few deft movements he had grabbed a sedative, pinned her to his body, and injected her with it, holding her close to prevent further harm.
As she succumbed to the effects of the drug, she lazily glanced up at Drake, tears streaming down her face. When he looked back into her eyes, he could see her again. He could see his Grace, and with a moment of clarity she choked out, “I’m so scared Drake. I don’t want to… I don’t want to forget.” She began sobbing uncontrollably, and all he could do was hold her close to him as she drifted into a deep sleep. Her eyelids slowly fluttered shut as her body slumped into his. When he could tell that she was truly asleep, the composure that he had so carefully strained to maintain finally broke, and he wept.
Title: Grace Historia
Age Range: Teen-Adult
Word Count: currently working on the book. This is an exerpt that appears later in the story.
The story I'm writing is a unique take on immortality, the benefits and the curses that could befall someone of that nature.
Synopsis: Sarah Mavis is given the opportunity of a lifetime for her young and budding career as a New York Journalist. The events that follow show her how easily gifts can be turned into curses, which is something Drake Aldrich knows all too well.
I majored in psychology, but I've always loved to write. Unfortunately my life doesn't always permit me the time to do so, but I try to make do when I can. I have an odd style of writing, which I'm working on improving. Clearly my writing needs editing, and more tlc. I'm mostly doing this to see if my work has what it takes. Thank you for your time!