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Written by mcmajess in portal Simon & Schuster

Alaris

Chapter 1

The Silver Knight

Alaris Moonwell, a young woman about 5' 6'' with long brown hair, green eyes, and a medium build. She grew up with her grandmother on the farm. Alaris never knew her real parents. She has been with her grandmother since she was a baby.

Alaris was still sitting under the apple tree when she heard her grandmother call her from the house across the field. When Alaris walked through the old wooden door she saw that her grandmother had prepared lunch for her. Rabbit stew.

“Sit down and eat dear,” Grandmother instructed.

“Looks great! Thanks grandmother.”

“Your welcome dear.”

Alaris loved her grandmothers cooking. Her plate was empty in no time. After she finished she decided to go and join Carver in swimming. She gave her grandmother a hug and headed out the door. She crossed a field and into the forest line. The usual spot they went swimming was a small waterfall and stream. They all enjoyed jumping off the waterfall. As Alaris approached the waterfall the only sound she could hear was the moving water. She did not hear Carver or anyone. She searched around for awhile and was about to head home when she heard two large splashes in the water on the other side of some bushes. “Carver,” she thought to herself excited as she headed towards the sound.

Alaris came to a line of bushes and still didn't hear Carver or his friends. She moved into a gap in the bushes and froze when she heard and deep growl that gurgled at the end. She stood silent and it repeated again. Alaris slowed. She crept into the bush and moved branches aside to look. It was not Carver. Two of the ugliest creatures she has ever seen stood in the water on the other side. The creatures were large, they had four arms that came down into three claws for a hand. Their heads were insect like with large mandibles. Alaris gasped and stumbled backwards, tripping over a root and hits the ground hard. Crawling backwards as quickly as possible, she then turns, gets up, and starts running.

Alaris ran as fast as she ducking branches and and plowing through brush, she could hear the creatures behind her closing in, breaking through branches and anything in their way. She could hear them getting closer.

Alaris, struck in the back with a force that sends her hard to the ground. Her shoulder smashing into a rock, pain pierces through her body. Before she could get her bearings straight she was grabbed and hurled backwards as if she weighed nothing. Alaris met the ground with no hope of recovery. She tumbled over and over, falling off a small cliff. She stopped when her body hit a log stuck in the stream. She hit hard enough she felt the break of her ribs, hard enough to taste blood in her mouth and dropped into the water.

Alaris battered and broken attempted to stand. Her ribs throbbing, blood ran from her shoulder and dripped into the water. She could hear the creatures moving towards her. The sloshing sound of the water and they closed in. Alaris pushed herself to her feet. The sloshing of the creatures had stopped. Alaris turned to see what was going on and saw him. There standing in the middle of the stream. A man, sliver plate armor shimmering in the light that broke through the forest trees. A large sword rested on the back of the man The creatures chattered at one another, turned and charged the silver knight. Alaris's legs gave way and she collapsed. Darkness overtook her.

The Silver Knight counter charges the creatures, plowing into the first one and sending it to the ground. The second creature attempts to grab the hero. The knight ducks under the creatures arm and swings off to the right of the creature, catching its arm and in one motion pulls the arm back with his right hand then strikes the center of the arm with his left. The arm snapped clean through. The creature roars in pain as its arm falls limp to its side. The first creature is on its feet, charges again. The Silver Knight stands and waits. At the perfect moment he spins under the creatures outstretched arms, grabbed the mandibles and uses the creatures own momentum to snap it's necks. The creature falls lifeless to the ground. The second creature turns and runs off.

The Knight approaches Alaris's broken body laying in the small stream. He kneels down next to her. His hands begin to glow. He pulls up the bottom of her shirt and touches her ribs. The glow transfers into her body. He then picks her up and carries her off into the woods.

Chapter 2

So It Begins

A large dark throne room. Large pillars about, few torches providing little light to see. Huge double doors creaked open. Foot steps echoed down the center approaching a dark throne.

“Lord Kellor,” said a man as he bowed. “We have found her.”

“Where?” Kellor's deep voice echoed in reply.

“She lives on a farm in the west coast of the free lands sire.”

“Bring her to me alive Melor,”

“Yes sire,” said Melor as he bows his head and exits through the double doors.

Alaris awoke with a startle, she sees the Silver knight crouching near a recently built fire. She had no idea how long she has been asleep. All she knew is it was night. A bedroll was beneath her and a large cloak draped over her for warmth. Her shoulder was bandaged. Not even the slightest amount of pain came from her ribs. She pulled up her shirt to look. Nothing not even a bruise. “Your awake,” the Knight said, startling her a little.

“Yeah surprisingly, What...happened?” Asked Alaris.

“Not important, the only important thing is that your alive Alaris.”

Alaris paused for a moment, “How do you know my name?”

“I know a lot about you Alaris,” he said as he pulled two sticks out of the fire. Both had some kind of meat on them. “Here you need to eat,” he said as he brought one of the sticks over to her.

Alaris recognized the meat as snake and took a bite. “Who are you,” She asked with a mouth full

“I am Tyrinon Lighthand, Silver Knight of the Land and protector of this realm. I'm here to protect you Alaris and ensure your survival.”

“But eh......”

“Enough questions, finish eating and sleep. We will talk in the morning,” interrupted Tyrinon as he got up and walked into the darkness.

With that Alaris finished her snake and went back to sleep.

Dawn came and Alaris awoke. She had a fresh bandage on her shoulder. She looked around and saw Tyrinon standing watch, still in his armor with his sword on his back. “ I don't think he has slept at all,” Alaris thought to herself. “So what now?” she asked breaking the silence.

“You must come with me,” he replied and he walked over to Alaris and knelt down. “You must live and I can't keep you safe if your not with me.”

“I can't leave my life, my grandma.” Alaris said, then sat there for a moment. “Oh my god! Carver! Did you see him? Is he okay?” she asked frantically

“Your friend is dead Alaris, I am sorry, I ran across his body while looking for you,” said Tyrinon sincerely.

“Oh Carver, I'm so sorry....” With tears in her eyes.

“I'm so sorry Alaris,” said Tyrinon as he came and sat next to her.

“ Why didn't you save him!” she said in anger. She began striking him. Her small hands clanking on his breast plate. “ You could have saved him!”

“He was already dead when I found him,” Tyrinon tried to explain , but Alaris would not listen. “Alaris!,” Tyrinon grabbed her by the shoulders. “I cannot bring people back from the dead. It is not within my powers. Things will continue to get worse, these creatures you met are just the beginning. There is an evil sweeping across this land, more will die. You Alaris, are the only one that can stop it.”

“Why me?”

“Because you are the daughter of the man that stopped it 50 years ago.”

“My father? But I know nothing of my parents. Who they are? Where they are from? All I know is that they gave me to my grandma when I was just a baby, she has raised me ever since. Did you know them?”

"No I did not, but I do know someone who can answer all your questions. We must go and you have to come with me,” said Tyrinon as he stood up and started packing up the camp.

"I cant just leave my life, my grandmother,”

"Then we will go to her first and go from there.”

Once Tyrinon had the camp packed up, he and Alaris headed towards her grandmothers farm.

Alaris burst through the door, “Grandmother!” She yelled. She looked in the kitchen. “Grandmother!” She yelled again. Tyrinon's large figure stood in the doorway.

“I'm here dear.” Said Grandmother as she came out of the bedroom. “Where have you been? I have been worried. Oh dear what happened to your shoulder?” She said as she approached Alaris.

“I'm fine Grandmother, please don't worry, I went to see Carver and there were these creatures and they...they killed Carver, then this knight showed up and he saved me and...”

“Shush darling, I'm just glad your okay...” Grandmother trailed off. Her eyes fixed on the Silver Knight standing in her doorway. “Tyrinon Lighthand. What pleasure it is to meet you. I knew someday you would come here.”

Tyrinon bowed his head in respect for the old woman.

“Grandmother,” Alaris said. “He says I have to go with him.”

“I know dear,” Grandmother said looking at Alaris with a smile. “Your father said one day this would happen,” she walked up the nearby stairs, Alaris followed. Her Grandmother walked into a empty room to her right. Alaris was confused, this room was empty, has been as long as she could remember. Her Grandmother walked to the far corner of the room and removed a wooden panel, out of the hole Grandmother removed a sword and dagger.

“These were your fathers,” Grandmother said handing them over to Alaris. “He also wanted you to have this, dear,” She handed Alaris an old paper.

Alaris looked at the paper, it was blank. “I don't understand Grandmother.” Seconds later words appeared on the paper.

“My dearest daughter, I leave these with you in regret that you are about to embark on a journey that will change your life forever. You have to finish what I started. May these help you and guide you safely..."

The paper then turned to ash in Alaris's hand.

“Go with Tyrinon dear, find the answers you seek. I have looked after you and watched you grow. This is your new path,” said her Grandmother with a smile.

Tyrinon watched as a group of men on horses approached

Alaris changed, she put on a white sleeveless shirt then a long sleeved shirt over it. Light leather vest, long brown pants and mid calf leather boots. She put her fathers sword and dagger on her belt then grabbed her old sword she used to train with her Grandmother. She then tied her hair in a tail and headed down the stairs.

“Alaris!” Yelled Tyrinon. “ We have to go.”

Alaris hit the last step in stride and into the room Tyrinon stood. “They're here,” stated Tyrinon.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by mcmajess in portal Simon & Schuster
Alaris


Chapter 1
The Silver Knight

Alaris Moonwell, a young woman about 5' 6'' with long brown hair, green eyes, and a medium build. She grew up with her grandmother on the farm. Alaris never knew her real parents. She has been with her grandmother since she was a baby.
Alaris was still sitting under the apple tree when she heard her grandmother call her from the house across the field. When Alaris walked through the old wooden door she saw that her grandmother had prepared lunch for her. Rabbit stew.
“Sit down and eat dear,” Grandmother instructed.
“Looks great! Thanks grandmother.”
“Your welcome dear.”
Alaris loved her grandmothers cooking. Her plate was empty in no time. After she finished she decided to go and join Carver in swimming. She gave her grandmother a hug and headed out the door. She crossed a field and into the forest line. The usual spot they went swimming was a small waterfall and stream. They all enjoyed jumping off the waterfall. As Alaris approached the waterfall the only sound she could hear was the moving water. She did not hear Carver or anyone. She searched around for awhile and was about to head home when she heard two large splashes in the water on the other side of some bushes. “Carver,” she thought to herself excited as she headed towards the sound.
Alaris came to a line of bushes and still didn't hear Carver or his friends. She moved into a gap in the bushes and froze when she heard and deep growl that gurgled at the end. She stood silent and it repeated again. Alaris slowed. She crept into the bush and moved branches aside to look. It was not Carver. Two of the ugliest creatures she has ever seen stood in the water on the other side. The creatures were large, they had four arms that came down into three claws for a hand. Their heads were insect like with large mandibles. Alaris gasped and stumbled backwards, tripping over a root and hits the ground hard. Crawling backwards as quickly as possible, she then turns, gets up, and starts running.
Alaris ran as fast as she ducking branches and and plowing through brush, she could hear the creatures behind her closing in, breaking through branches and anything in their way. She could hear them getting closer.
Alaris, struck in the back with a force that sends her hard to the ground. Her shoulder smashing into a rock, pain pierces through her body. Before she could get her bearings straight she was grabbed and hurled backwards as if she weighed nothing. Alaris met the ground with no hope of recovery. She tumbled over and over, falling off a small cliff. She stopped when her body hit a log stuck in the stream. She hit hard enough she felt the break of her ribs, hard enough to taste blood in her mouth and dropped into the water.
Alaris battered and broken attempted to stand. Her ribs throbbing, blood ran from her shoulder and dripped into the water. She could hear the creatures moving towards her. The sloshing sound of the water and they closed in. Alaris pushed herself to her feet. The sloshing of the creatures had stopped. Alaris turned to see what was going on and saw him. There standing in the middle of the stream. A man, sliver plate armor shimmering in the light that broke through the forest trees. A large sword rested on the back of the man The creatures chattered at one another, turned and charged the silver knight. Alaris's legs gave way and she collapsed. Darkness overtook her.
The Silver Knight counter charges the creatures, plowing into the first one and sending it to the ground. The second creature attempts to grab the hero. The knight ducks under the creatures arm and swings off to the right of the creature, catching its arm and in one motion pulls the arm back with his right hand then strikes the center of the arm with his left. The arm snapped clean through. The creature roars in pain as its arm falls limp to its side. The first creature is on its feet, charges again. The Silver Knight stands and waits. At the perfect moment he spins under the creatures outstretched arms, grabbed the mandibles and uses the creatures own momentum to snap it's necks. The creature falls lifeless to the ground. The second creature turns and runs off.
The Knight approaches Alaris's broken body laying in the small stream. He kneels down next to her. His hands begin to glow. He pulls up the bottom of her shirt and touches her ribs. The glow transfers into her body. He then picks her up and carries her off into the woods.

Chapter 2
So It Begins

A large dark throne room. Large pillars about, few torches providing little light to see. Huge double doors creaked open. Foot steps echoed down the center approaching a dark throne.
“Lord Kellor,” said a man as he bowed. “We have found her.”
“Where?” Kellor's deep voice echoed in reply.
“She lives on a farm in the west coast of the free lands sire.”
“Bring her to me alive Melor,”
“Yes sire,” said Melor as he bows his head and exits through the double doors.

Alaris awoke with a startle, she sees the Silver knight crouching near a recently built fire. She had no idea how long she has been asleep. All she knew is it was night. A bedroll was beneath her and a large cloak draped over her for warmth. Her shoulder was bandaged. Not even the slightest amount of pain came from her ribs. She pulled up her shirt to look. Nothing not even a bruise. “Your awake,” the Knight said, startling her a little.
“Yeah surprisingly, What...happened?” Asked Alaris.
“Not important, the only important thing is that your alive Alaris.”
Alaris paused for a moment, “How do you know my name?”
“I know a lot about you Alaris,” he said as he pulled two sticks out of the fire. Both had some kind of meat on them. “Here you need to eat,” he said as he brought one of the sticks over to her.
Alaris recognized the meat as snake and took a bite. “Who are you,” She asked with a mouth full
“I am Tyrinon Lighthand, Silver Knight of the Land and protector of this realm. I'm here to protect you Alaris and ensure your survival.”
“But eh......”
“Enough questions, finish eating and sleep. We will talk in the morning,” interrupted Tyrinon as he got up and walked into the darkness.
With that Alaris finished her snake and went back to sleep.
Dawn came and Alaris awoke. She had a fresh bandage on her shoulder. She looked around and saw Tyrinon standing watch, still in his armor with his sword on his back. “ I don't think he has slept at all,” Alaris thought to herself. “So what now?” she asked breaking the silence.
“You must come with me,” he replied and he walked over to Alaris and knelt down. “You must live and I can't keep you safe if your not with me.”
“I can't leave my life, my grandma.” Alaris said, then sat there for a moment. “Oh my god! Carver! Did you see him? Is he okay?” she asked frantically
“Your friend is dead Alaris, I am sorry, I ran across his body while looking for you,” said Tyrinon sincerely.
“Oh Carver, I'm so sorry....” With tears in her eyes.
“I'm so sorry Alaris,” said Tyrinon as he came and sat next to her.
“ Why didn't you save him!” she said in anger. She began striking him. Her small hands clanking on his breast plate. “ You could have saved him!”
“He was already dead when I found him,” Tyrinon tried to explain , but Alaris would not listen. “Alaris!,” Tyrinon grabbed her by the shoulders. “I cannot bring people back from the dead. It is not within my powers. Things will continue to get worse, these creatures you met are just the beginning. There is an evil sweeping across this land, more will die. You Alaris, are the only one that can stop it.”
“Why me?”
“Because you are the daughter of the man that stopped it 50 years ago.”
“My father? But I know nothing of my parents. Who they are? Where they are from? All I know is that they gave me to my grandma when I was just a baby, she has raised me ever since. Did you know them?”
"No I did not, but I do know someone who can answer all your questions. We must go and you have to come with me,” said Tyrinon as he stood up and started packing up the camp.
"I cant just leave my life, my grandmother,”
"Then we will go to her first and go from there.”
Once Tyrinon had the camp packed up, he and Alaris headed towards her grandmothers farm.
Alaris burst through the door, “Grandmother!” She yelled. She looked in the kitchen. “Grandmother!” She yelled again. Tyrinon's large figure stood in the doorway.
“I'm here dear.” Said Grandmother as she came out of the bedroom. “Where have you been? I have been worried. Oh dear what happened to your shoulder?” She said as she approached Alaris.
“I'm fine Grandmother, please don't worry, I went to see Carver and there were these creatures and they...they killed Carver, then this knight showed up and he saved me and...”
“Shush darling, I'm just glad your okay...” Grandmother trailed off. Her eyes fixed on the Silver Knight standing in her doorway. “Tyrinon Lighthand. What pleasure it is to meet you. I knew someday you would come here.”
Tyrinon bowed his head in respect for the old woman.
“Grandmother,” Alaris said. “He says I have to go with him.”
“I know dear,” Grandmother said looking at Alaris with a smile. “Your father said one day this would happen,” she walked up the nearby stairs, Alaris followed. Her Grandmother walked into a empty room to her right. Alaris was confused, this room was empty, has been as long as she could remember. Her Grandmother walked to the far corner of the room and removed a wooden panel, out of the hole Grandmother removed a sword and dagger.
“These were your fathers,” Grandmother said handing them over to Alaris. “He also wanted you to have this, dear,” She handed Alaris an old paper.
Alaris looked at the paper, it was blank. “I don't understand Grandmother.” Seconds later words appeared on the paper.
“My dearest daughter, I leave these with you in regret that you are about to embark on a journey that will change your life forever. You have to finish what I started. May these help you and guide you safely..."
The paper then turned to ash in Alaris's hand.
“Go with Tyrinon dear, find the answers you seek. I have looked after you and watched you grow. This is your new path,” said her Grandmother with a smile.
Tyrinon watched as a group of men on horses approached
Alaris changed, she put on a white sleeveless shirt then a long sleeved shirt over it. Light leather vest, long brown pants and mid calf leather boots. She put her fathers sword and dagger on her belt then grabbed her old sword she used to train with her Grandmother. She then tied her hair in a tail and headed down the stairs.
“Alaris!” Yelled Tyrinon. “ We have to go.”
Alaris hit the last step in stride and into the room Tyrinon stood. “They're here,” stated Tyrinon.

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Written by melissatissa in portal Simon & Schuster

Elbert

"I can't take it anymore!" His meaty hands pulled at his stringy brown hair in a flout of passion, his shirt rising to expose a large swathe of pale flesh. He swiveled his chair towards me and grumbled, "I swear, these people are going to make me have an aneurysm, what with my mother driving me crazy and these clowns not doing their jobs, just the other day..."

And the familiarity of his voice drifted me into a daze, and my eyes drifted towards the computer. What does he do in here all day? I doubt the masturbating rumors are true. Damn, this office has no sense of feng shui, I'd probably go crazy too if I spent the majority of my time sitting in this cluttered office on a non ergonomic chair from the 90s. "...and this server just decided not to show up today, God, i swear I'd fire everyone if I could..." And the color choice is terribly drab. My closet has more space and color than this turd of an office. "...I don't understand it! I'm sick of this place..." Okay, I'm going to stare at his eyes and nod every three seconds. Then shift slightly towards my stack of cash every five seconds until he subconsciously gets the hint. "... I'm glad someone understands. You're the only one who ever truly listens to me, Diamond. I've never had a problem with you at all..." The irony almost made me want to actually try to empathize with this man, only I've tried that before. All his negativity just seeps into me if I allow it, and that's no way to go home to my two young boys. His ruddy, shiny face looked up at me in frustration. "I give everybody in this restaurant what they want. They want to cherry pick their schedule, I bend over backwards to honor that. They want free food, smoke breaks, whatever, I'm there saying yes to them. And you know why I do that, Diamond?"

I shake my head, not wanting to interrupt this night's tirade partly out of curiosity and partly out of exhaustion.

"Because when I'm there asking them to wipe the bar down or clean their tables, they can think back to all the times I've said yes to all their requests." He sat back in the chair with an air of disgust and shook his head. I figured this would be an opportune time to take my money and leave for the night, but he stared back at me, this time with a sharp look in his eyes.

"Everyone here demands respect from me, and don't want me to talk about them behind their backs, but what about when they're crowding around the servers stations snickering about me?"

His tone changed from an obnoxious rant to tired resignation and defeat. I couldn't help but think back to all the fat jokes and mimicry of his signature penguin waddle and his obnoxious voice...

I guess he could see my eyes widening in panic as I grasped at a response, and he went in for the kill.

"Everyone loves Damien, even though he's been an asshole his whole life. I'm a nice guy, I work hard, and I try to be fair, yet he comes in insulting employees and being a dick and all the girls come running to give him a hug. What does he have that I don't? Why does everyone hate me?"

The answer was glaringly obvious, Damien had rugged good looks, money, and status. Elbert had none of those, not even charisma to make up for it. Poor Elbert. What could I possibly say to him? I inadvertently shifted my eyes to the stack of money on his desk and inwardly cursed at myself.

"Oh I understand I'm holding you up. I'm sorry for ranting to you about me, I'll just do my job and hand you your money. Have a nice night, Diamond." His face was devoid of the raw humanity it possessed moments before, and all I could see was a caricature of a restaurant manager just doing his job. With a customary "Goodnight Elbert", I left his cramped office a half hour later than expected and blamed my lateness on Elbert, which garnered a few laughs from my coworkers at his expense.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by melissatissa in portal Simon & Schuster
Elbert
"I can't take it anymore!" His meaty hands pulled at his stringy brown hair in a flout of passion, his shirt rising to expose a large swathe of pale flesh. He swiveled his chair towards me and grumbled, "I swear, these people are going to make me have an aneurysm, what with my mother driving me crazy and these clowns not doing their jobs, just the other day..."
And the familiarity of his voice drifted me into a daze, and my eyes drifted towards the computer. What does he do in here all day? I doubt the masturbating rumors are true. Damn, this office has no sense of feng shui, I'd probably go crazy too if I spent the majority of my time sitting in this cluttered office on a non ergonomic chair from the 90s. "...and this server just decided not to show up today, God, i swear I'd fire everyone if I could..." And the color choice is terribly drab. My closet has more space and color than this turd of an office. "...I don't understand it! I'm sick of this place..." Okay, I'm going to stare at his eyes and nod every three seconds. Then shift slightly towards my stack of cash every five seconds until he subconsciously gets the hint. "... I'm glad someone understands. You're the only one who ever truly listens to me, Diamond. I've never had a problem with you at all..." The irony almost made me want to actually try to empathize with this man, only I've tried that before. All his negativity just seeps into me if I allow it, and that's no way to go home to my two young boys. His ruddy, shiny face looked up at me in frustration. "I give everybody in this restaurant what they want. They want to cherry pick their schedule, I bend over backwards to honor that. They want free food, smoke breaks, whatever, I'm there saying yes to them. And you know why I do that, Diamond?"
I shake my head, not wanting to interrupt this night's tirade partly out of curiosity and partly out of exhaustion.
"Because when I'm there asking them to wipe the bar down or clean their tables, they can think back to all the times I've said yes to all their requests." He sat back in the chair with an air of disgust and shook his head. I figured this would be an opportune time to take my money and leave for the night, but he stared back at me, this time with a sharp look in his eyes.
"Everyone here demands respect from me, and don't want me to talk about them behind their backs, but what about when they're crowding around the servers stations snickering about me?"
His tone changed from an obnoxious rant to tired resignation and defeat. I couldn't help but think back to all the fat jokes and mimicry of his signature penguin waddle and his obnoxious voice...
I guess he could see my eyes widening in panic as I grasped at a response, and he went in for the kill.
"Everyone loves Damien, even though he's been an asshole his whole life. I'm a nice guy, I work hard, and I try to be fair, yet he comes in insulting employees and being a dick and all the girls come running to give him a hug. What does he have that I don't? Why does everyone hate me?"
The answer was glaringly obvious, Damien had rugged good looks, money, and status. Elbert had none of those, not even charisma to make up for it. Poor Elbert. What could I possibly say to him? I inadvertently shifted my eyes to the stack of money on his desk and inwardly cursed at myself.
"Oh I understand I'm holding you up. I'm sorry for ranting to you about me, I'll just do my job and hand you your money. Have a nice night, Diamond." His face was devoid of the raw humanity it possessed moments before, and all I could see was a caricature of a restaurant manager just doing his job. With a customary "Goodnight Elbert", I left his cramped office a half hour later than expected and blamed my lateness on Elbert, which garnered a few laughs from my coworkers at his expense.
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Written by NurielFiona in portal Simon & Schuster

Soldier's Child - Picture Book

                                             Soldier’s Child

“Mommy, where’s Daddy?” I asked, curled up in her lap.

My Mom pulled me closer and spoke as we sat,

“He’s just at work sweetie,” as she would often say. “It’s not really much different than any other working-type day.”

“But where?” I asked, this time wanting to know more.

She replied, “He’s in a land far away, bravely fighting the war.”

I slid from her lap with a scowl on my face, “But why,” I asked angrily, “why such a faraway place?”

Mommy’s gentle arms scooped me up as I hid my face and cried,

She soothingly rubbed my back, gave me a kiss and replied,

“People needed his help, so he answered their call,

Keeping bad people at bay, while helping others stand strong.”

I didn’t feel any better though as out the window I stared.

I really missed my Daddy -- my Daddy wasn’t here.

Daddy couldn’t kiss my booboos or chase me through the park.

No silly bed-time kisses to keep the monsters out of the dark.

He couldn’t toss me high into the air, as I shrieked out with delight.

He wasn’t here to catch the fireflies when we stayed up late at night.

But I knew Daddy missed me too, as he’d often call to say,

And to sternly remind me that for Mommy I’d best behave!

One day he sent us a letter, and told us about the usual.

About his long, tiring days, and how his feelings were mutual.

But towards the end, a surprise, something exciting had taken place

In a tiny village he often visited several miles from his military base!

He wrote about a small girl he’d met, who was not much older than me,

She had dark hair and dark eyes, and she had needed his help indeed.

He’d found her crying in the marketplace -- giant tears streaming from her eyes.

She couldn’t find her Daddy, as much as she had tried and tried.

Mean men had come through their town, carrying off people left and right;

They tried to take her too, but her Daddy chased them into the night.

My Daddy cried as well as he wiped her tears away

And scooped her into his arms -- this was no ordinary day!

He gently rocked her in his arms as he hummed to her my favorite tunes.

He held her close, he held her tight, and he told her that her daddy would be back soon.

He gave her a kiss, and a pat on her head

And told her a story, from one of my books that he’d read.

Her crying soon stopped, and she began to smile.

She was so happy that my Daddy had just stayed for a while.

My Mommy finished the letter as tears streamed down my cheeks.

I had begun to realize, how selfish I’d been for weeks.

It’s ok to miss Daddy, but now I really understand,

That maybe others need my Daddy too --

Kids who also miss their Dads.

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Written by NurielFiona in portal Simon & Schuster
Soldier's Child - Picture Book
                                             Soldier’s Child




“Mommy, where’s Daddy?” I asked, curled up in her lap.
My Mom pulled me closer and spoke as we sat,
“He’s just at work sweetie,” as she would often say. “It’s not really much different than any other working-type day.”






“But where?” I asked, this time wanting to know more.
She replied, “He’s in a land far away, bravely fighting the war.”
I slid from her lap with a scowl on my face, “But why,” I asked angrily, “why such a faraway place?”




Mommy’s gentle arms scooped me up as I hid my face and cried,
She soothingly rubbed my back, gave me a kiss and replied,
“People needed his help, so he answered their call,
Keeping bad people at bay, while helping others stand strong.”

I didn’t feel any better though as out the window I stared.
I really missed my Daddy -- my Daddy wasn’t here.
Daddy couldn’t kiss my booboos or chase me through the park.
No silly bed-time kisses to keep the monsters out of the dark.


He couldn’t toss me high into the air, as I shrieked out with delight.
He wasn’t here to catch the fireflies when we stayed up late at night.
But I knew Daddy missed me too, as he’d often call to say,
And to sternly remind me that for Mommy I’d best behave!

One day he sent us a letter, and told us about the usual.
About his long, tiring days, and how his feelings were mutual.

But towards the end, a surprise, something exciting had taken place
In a tiny village he often visited several miles from his military base!
He wrote about a small girl he’d met, who was not much older than me,
She had dark hair and dark eyes, and she had needed his help indeed.

He’d found her crying in the marketplace -- giant tears streaming from her eyes.
She couldn’t find her Daddy, as much as she had tried and tried.
Mean men had come through their town, carrying off people left and right;
They tried to take her too, but her Daddy chased them into the night.

My Daddy cried as well as he wiped her tears away
And scooped her into his arms -- this was no ordinary day!
He gently rocked her in his arms as he hummed to her my favorite tunes.
He held her close, he held her tight, and he told her that her daddy would be back soon.

He gave her a kiss, and a pat on her head
And told her a story, from one of my books that he’d read.
Her crying soon stopped, and she began to smile.
She was so happy that my Daddy had just stayed for a while.

My Mommy finished the letter as tears streamed down my cheeks.
I had begun to realize, how selfish I’d been for weeks.
It’s ok to miss Daddy, but now I really understand,
That maybe others need my Daddy too --
Kids who also miss their Dads.
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Written by Charlton_Ghosh in portal Simon & Schuster

The Blade of Tiak; Chapter One

   The Beast charged forward and smashed through the outer gate of the city. The creature was gargantuan in size and strength. It was so tall that its back rose above the high outer wall of the city. It slowly backed up, crunching the flattened gate under its hind legs.

The Beast swung its massive horned head and destroyed another fifty feet or so of the outer Wall. This creature was a Bhari Jeyint. One of the last of its kind; some distant, cousin to the Common Dragon.

   The city that the Bhari was attacking was the capital of the local land. The only place in the small country that had Dragon Riders and the only place with the ability to call for help from the surrounding countries. If this city fell the country would crumble in a matter of days.

   The Mages and Wizards in their Magic Towers on either side of the main square watched in horror through their scrying bowls and crystal balls. Some of them had theorized this might happen, but the city was completely defenseless to such an attack. None of these men, powerful in their own right, had any magic strong enough to effect something like a Bhari. They scrambled around in shock and panic trying to evacuate the city as fast as possible. Most of the citizens had already been warned and had moved to the far side of the city. A few had even started filtering out into the plains. However, many people would be, and had been, killed in the destruction of the city. The Mages knew their dragons would do little to slow the Bhari, so they primarily used them now to help with evacuation.

   The Bhari moved forward again, completely disregarding the twelve battalions of city guards moving around its feet. A fire bolt streaked through the air and hit the creatures head. It reared up, not in pain, but in annoyance. This counter attack had come from a Dragon Rider who had been sent as a decoy. His mission was suicidal and he knew it. He was just here to keep the Beast busy a little longer. The Bhari swung its head and snapped its powerful jaws once and the Rider and Dragon disappeared in an instant. The Beast landed back on all fours completely destroying two blocks of the outlying city along with half a battalion.

    It moved quickly up the eighteen tiers of the lower city until it reached the inner wall. Constructed to dizzying heights, this wall was built to protect the heart of the city from sieges. Made from massive hewn blocks of granite and marble, the inner wall could withstand powerful hits from great siege catapults. The gates set within the wall were made from a fire hardened VeraWood and could withstand all but the heaviest battering rams. This wall and gate had stayed strong against the past eight sieges of the city's history.

   The Bhari’s goal was to lay waste to the city, to leave it in ruins. The only way to effectively achieve this was the destruction of the Magic Towers. These buildings held a special charm over the city which helped it stand strong in the face of attack.

   The Beast ignored the gate in the inner wall. With its goal in site, the Bhari charged full speed and shattered the thick inner wall as though it were kindling, cascading massive stones to the ground. The Bhari paused, shook its head as though slightly dazed, and now almost leisurely moved towards the two towers. It put its horned head against the Mage tower and pushed. The tower groaned and cracked. Mages fled from the building, swarming away from the base like ants. A shimmer of magic ran across the tower's walls as spells broke and the tower gave one last ominous groan. It crumbled into a pile of rubble kicking up a cloud of dust and destruction. The Bhari turned towards the Wizard tower.

                                                               ~~~

   Arvin Cob sat bolt upright, his mind racing. He sat staring into the room, shaking slightly with the memory of the ruination fresh in his mind. The Bhari’s destruction made him feel sick. He didn’t know the name of the city but he felt sure that it had existed and was not a mere figment of his imagination. Arvin stared around at the room simply to remind himself that he was truly here and not in the ruined city.

    He was sitting on a big comfortable suede chair in a corner of his uncle’s cheerily lit study. The room had three beautiful floor to ceiling windows, that let in a jocund amount of sunlight, although they did little to lighten his perturbed thoughts. Against the wall directly opposite the windows presided a massive bookshelf that held many well read books; these comprising only a small percentage of the complete collection. To Arvin’s left sat a sturdy oak desk upon which a plethora of papers sat awaiting the return of their author. A small bowl, situated cozily among the owners writings on The Telepathic Link Between Dragon and Rider: A Study of the Thinkable, sat a bowl of slightly dusty chocolates. The entire desk looked as though it had been cleaned once, a very long time ago, and had been thoroughly loved since.

   Arvin, having decided that some history searching might help him find the destroyed city, slid off his chair and moved over to the bookshelf. He did not know what book specifically he wanted, but he knew it most probably would be there. Although his uncle, Professor Troup, didn’t technically have every book ever written in Unauri, he definitely had most of them, and Arvin had yet to request a book that Professor Troup could not find somewhere in his collection. Arvin ignored the books on the shelf and went directly to the end where a small lever was hidden. He pulled it and stepped aside as part of the bookshelf swung out revealing a doorway. He slipped into the opening and pulled the lever on the other side to close the door. Arvin now stood in the biggest room in the house; the library.

   This room, his uncle’s pride and joy, took up most of the left side of the house leaving just enough room in the front of the house for the study, a coat room, and the newly added indoor bathroom. The library also extended up into the air a full three stories high, a feat of architectural ingenuity considering the house itself stood only two stories high. Several balconies encompassed the room from floor to ceiling at regular intervals with three spiral staircases tying them vertically together. A number of tables and chairs were placed in the center of the room allowing for more book placement and reading comfort.

Arvin walked over to the historical section that held city records from around Nydria. He stared at the extensive shelves wondering where to start. Should he look at such books as The Wonderfully Ancient History of Nydria, or maybe a book about a specific cities’ history. He eventually decided to look in a book titled Record of Recently Vanished Cities.

   After two and a half hours revealed nothing but bookworms and dust, he decided to put the book down. There was nothing for it, he would have to wait for his uncle to get home. Arvin left the library through the main door and walked down the hall towards the front sitting room. He met the butler, Giles Rampston, half way down the hall.

   “Say Rampston, when will Uncle be home?” the boy queried.

   “Ah, master Arvin, I do believe he said he would be home at three sharpish; just ten minutes from now. As a matter of fact I was just coming to find you. He said he wanted you seated in the tea room because he wants to discuss something with you.”

   “Oh?” Arvin replied. “Any idea what that’s about?”

   Rampston gave an elegant shrug of his shoulders, “Haven’t the foggiest. Best I can figure, he wants to know who took the last of those delicious buttermilk pancakes that Mrs. Flaugherty made for breakfast.” He looked pointedly at Arvin.

   “Well they were pretty good weren’t they?” Arvin smiled sheepishly. Rampston winked down his long nose and continued on with the varied tasks of a butler.

   Arvin did an about face and headed back up the hallway, past the library, into the tea room. He chose one of the chairs that looked out through the bay windows into the garden. The garden was very beautiful this time of year what with the cherry tree displaying a hundred shades of pink and the leaves of the Dragon Tree shining a rich orange; something about the pink and orange blended perfectly in their intertwining branches. These trees had been planted in memory of Arvin’s mother and father, both of whom had died long ago in the Northern Ice epidemic. Arvin had read about the breakout in various history books but he could never make much sense of what had happened exactly and nobody willing talked to him about it. Too many people lost someone during those three terrible days. Based on all he could gather, the Northern Ice was some illness that looked like frostbite, was highly contagious, and it killed its victims quickly. It was something that had flared up in Tiak and just as quickly had choked itself out.

   Just as Arvin settled in to reminisce about his long dead parents, his uncle came home. The door to the front of the house banged open and Arvin could hear the sound of a man's greatly exasperated voice drift in from the street. "You shouldn't be so foolish, Curtis. The boy is only twelve, how do you think this will affect him?"

   Arvin could hear his uncle reply, "I know what I'm doing, Edmund. And I think the trip will do us both some good." With that the door slammed shut and Professor Troup called down the hallway. "Rampston! Say Rampston, where is Arvin?"

   "In the tea room like you requested, sir." Replied the ever calm voice of the butler.

   "Ah yes. Can you take this to my study? There's a good fellow." With that, Professor Troup tripped his way down the hallway towards the tea room. In came a wind blown fellow with wavy white hair and a rotund pot belly. "Arvin," said the boy's uncle, "We are going to be going to Homalith for a few months. I've planned everything out and we will be staying with a good friend of mine."

   Arvin sat in stunned silence for a moment. "We'll be going to Homalith? You mean half way around Nydria?"

   "Yes indeed." His uncle smiled, "I need to do more research and you need to get some adventure into you. You look so sad and bedraggled just sitting there. Besides, we'll be going by boat and you've always liked boats haven't you?"

   "Well yes, but I'm not much for the sea. It feels to big and wide."

   "Eh, details. I think we will be doing a fair amount of coastal sailing anyways. You had better start packing. We are leaving tomorrow morning."

   "What, already?" Arvin's mouth hung open. "But what about school and Vertilline?"

   Arvin's uncle thought for a moment, "You can say your goodbyes today I guess. Although do you really want to hang out in that musty little cellar of a school for the next few months?"

   "No not really." Arvin replied. "Oh, and I have a question about a city."

   "You'll have to ask me in an hour or so, Arvin. Actually... make that two hours I need to do some thinking before we leave."

   "But-"

   "No but's about it." Professor Troup interjected. "This is going to be some serious thinking. Can you hang onto your question till supper? I can never think about writing while eating. Ask me then."

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Written by Charlton_Ghosh in portal Simon & Schuster
The Blade of Tiak; Chapter One
   The Beast charged forward and smashed through the outer gate of the city. The creature was gargantuan in size and strength. It was so tall that its back rose above the high outer wall of the city. It slowly backed up, crunching the flattened gate under its hind legs.
The Beast swung its massive horned head and destroyed another fifty feet or so of the outer Wall. This creature was a Bhari Jeyint. One of the last of its kind; some distant, cousin to the Common Dragon.

   The city that the Bhari was attacking was the capital of the local land. The only place in the small country that had Dragon Riders and the only place with the ability to call for help from the surrounding countries. If this city fell the country would crumble in a matter of days.

   The Mages and Wizards in their Magic Towers on either side of the main square watched in horror through their scrying bowls and crystal balls. Some of them had theorized this might happen, but the city was completely defenseless to such an attack. None of these men, powerful in their own right, had any magic strong enough to effect something like a Bhari. They scrambled around in shock and panic trying to evacuate the city as fast as possible. Most of the citizens had already been warned and had moved to the far side of the city. A few had even started filtering out into the plains. However, many people would be, and had been, killed in the destruction of the city. The Mages knew their dragons would do little to slow the Bhari, so they primarily used them now to help with evacuation.

   The Bhari moved forward again, completely disregarding the twelve battalions of city guards moving around its feet. A fire bolt streaked through the air and hit the creatures head. It reared up, not in pain, but in annoyance. This counter attack had come from a Dragon Rider who had been sent as a decoy. His mission was suicidal and he knew it. He was just here to keep the Beast busy a little longer. The Bhari swung its head and snapped its powerful jaws once and the Rider and Dragon disappeared in an instant. The Beast landed back on all fours completely destroying two blocks of the outlying city along with half a battalion.

    It moved quickly up the eighteen tiers of the lower city until it reached the inner wall. Constructed to dizzying heights, this wall was built to protect the heart of the city from sieges. Made from massive hewn blocks of granite and marble, the inner wall could withstand powerful hits from great siege catapults. The gates set within the wall were made from a fire hardened VeraWood and could withstand all but the heaviest battering rams. This wall and gate had stayed strong against the past eight sieges of the city's history.

   The Bhari’s goal was to lay waste to the city, to leave it in ruins. The only way to effectively achieve this was the destruction of the Magic Towers. These buildings held a special charm over the city which helped it stand strong in the face of attack.

   The Beast ignored the gate in the inner wall. With its goal in site, the Bhari charged full speed and shattered the thick inner wall as though it were kindling, cascading massive stones to the ground. The Bhari paused, shook its head as though slightly dazed, and now almost leisurely moved towards the two towers. It put its horned head against the Mage tower and pushed. The tower groaned and cracked. Mages fled from the building, swarming away from the base like ants. A shimmer of magic ran across the tower's walls as spells broke and the tower gave one last ominous groan. It crumbled into a pile of rubble kicking up a cloud of dust and destruction. The Bhari turned towards the Wizard tower.

                                                               ~~~

   Arvin Cob sat bolt upright, his mind racing. He sat staring into the room, shaking slightly with the memory of the ruination fresh in his mind. The Bhari’s destruction made him feel sick. He didn’t know the name of the city but he felt sure that it had existed and was not a mere figment of his imagination. Arvin stared around at the room simply to remind himself that he was truly here and not in the ruined city.

    He was sitting on a big comfortable suede chair in a corner of his uncle’s cheerily lit study. The room had three beautiful floor to ceiling windows, that let in a jocund amount of sunlight, although they did little to lighten his perturbed thoughts. Against the wall directly opposite the windows presided a massive bookshelf that held many well read books; these comprising only a small percentage of the complete collection. To Arvin’s left sat a sturdy oak desk upon which a plethora of papers sat awaiting the return of their author. A small bowl, situated cozily among the owners writings on The Telepathic Link Between Dragon and Rider: A Study of the Thinkable, sat a bowl of slightly dusty chocolates. The entire desk looked as though it had been cleaned once, a very long time ago, and had been thoroughly loved since.

   Arvin, having decided that some history searching might help him find the destroyed city, slid off his chair and moved over to the bookshelf. He did not know what book specifically he wanted, but he knew it most probably would be there. Although his uncle, Professor Troup, didn’t technically have every book ever written in Unauri, he definitely had most of them, and Arvin had yet to request a book that Professor Troup could not find somewhere in his collection. Arvin ignored the books on the shelf and went directly to the end where a small lever was hidden. He pulled it and stepped aside as part of the bookshelf swung out revealing a doorway. He slipped into the opening and pulled the lever on the other side to close the door. Arvin now stood in the biggest room in the house; the library.

   This room, his uncle’s pride and joy, took up most of the left side of the house leaving just enough room in the front of the house for the study, a coat room, and the newly added indoor bathroom. The library also extended up into the air a full three stories high, a feat of architectural ingenuity considering the house itself stood only two stories high. Several balconies encompassed the room from floor to ceiling at regular intervals with three spiral staircases tying them vertically together. A number of tables and chairs were placed in the center of the room allowing for more book placement and reading comfort.
Arvin walked over to the historical section that held city records from around Nydria. He stared at the extensive shelves wondering where to start. Should he look at such books as The Wonderfully Ancient History of Nydria, or maybe a book about a specific cities’ history. He eventually decided to look in a book titled Record of Recently Vanished Cities.

   After two and a half hours revealed nothing but bookworms and dust, he decided to put the book down. There was nothing for it, he would have to wait for his uncle to get home. Arvin left the library through the main door and walked down the hall towards the front sitting room. He met the butler, Giles Rampston, half way down the hall.

   “Say Rampston, when will Uncle be home?” the boy queried.

   “Ah, master Arvin, I do believe he said he would be home at three sharpish; just ten minutes from now. As a matter of fact I was just coming to find you. He said he wanted you seated in the tea room because he wants to discuss something with you.”

   “Oh?” Arvin replied. “Any idea what that’s about?”

   Rampston gave an elegant shrug of his shoulders, “Haven’t the foggiest. Best I can figure, he wants to know who took the last of those delicious buttermilk pancakes that Mrs. Flaugherty made for breakfast.” He looked pointedly at Arvin.

   “Well they were pretty good weren’t they?” Arvin smiled sheepishly. Rampston winked down his long nose and continued on with the varied tasks of a butler.

   Arvin did an about face and headed back up the hallway, past the library, into the tea room. He chose one of the chairs that looked out through the bay windows into the garden. The garden was very beautiful this time of year what with the cherry tree displaying a hundred shades of pink and the leaves of the Dragon Tree shining a rich orange; something about the pink and orange blended perfectly in their intertwining branches. These trees had been planted in memory of Arvin’s mother and father, both of whom had died long ago in the Northern Ice epidemic. Arvin had read about the breakout in various history books but he could never make much sense of what had happened exactly and nobody willing talked to him about it. Too many people lost someone during those three terrible days. Based on all he could gather, the Northern Ice was some illness that looked like frostbite, was highly contagious, and it killed its victims quickly. It was something that had flared up in Tiak and just as quickly had choked itself out.

   Just as Arvin settled in to reminisce about his long dead parents, his uncle came home. The door to the front of the house banged open and Arvin could hear the sound of a man's greatly exasperated voice drift in from the street. "You shouldn't be so foolish, Curtis. The boy is only twelve, how do you think this will affect him?"

   Arvin could hear his uncle reply, "I know what I'm doing, Edmund. And I think the trip will do us both some good." With that the door slammed shut and Professor Troup called down the hallway. "Rampston! Say Rampston, where is Arvin?"

   "In the tea room like you requested, sir." Replied the ever calm voice of the butler.

   "Ah yes. Can you take this to my study? There's a good fellow." With that, Professor Troup tripped his way down the hallway towards the tea room. In came a wind blown fellow with wavy white hair and a rotund pot belly. "Arvin," said the boy's uncle, "We are going to be going to Homalith for a few months. I've planned everything out and we will be staying with a good friend of mine."

   Arvin sat in stunned silence for a moment. "We'll be going to Homalith? You mean half way around Nydria?"

   "Yes indeed." His uncle smiled, "I need to do more research and you need to get some adventure into you. You look so sad and bedraggled just sitting there. Besides, we'll be going by boat and you've always liked boats haven't you?"

   "Well yes, but I'm not much for the sea. It feels to big and wide."

   "Eh, details. I think we will be doing a fair amount of coastal sailing anyways. You had better start packing. We are leaving tomorrow morning."

   "What, already?" Arvin's mouth hung open. "But what about school and Vertilline?"

   Arvin's uncle thought for a moment, "You can say your goodbyes today I guess. Although do you really want to hang out in that musty little cellar of a school for the next few months?"

   "No not really." Arvin replied. "Oh, and I have a question about a city."

   "You'll have to ask me in an hour or so, Arvin. Actually... make that two hours I need to do some thinking before we leave."

   "But-"

   "No but's about it." Professor Troup interjected. "This is going to be some serious thinking. Can you hang onto your question till supper? I can never think about writing while eating. Ask me then."
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Written by albrew in portal Simon & Schuster

The sky was impossibly distant above her as she lay in the dry grass. Pale blue, like a bowl suspended, not a single cloud. She had created a small nook for herself--crushed the tall grass below her stomping, bare feet and now she was concealed, a small boat sunk in a golden, rustling sea.

She'd come here often after the fire, walking the dusty road from the neighbors', escaping the heavy silence in the guest room she was sharing with her aunt, the closed drapes and kleenex wads and untouched tea mugs. In retrospect, it seemed an odd choice, as it was this very same grass that had allowed the fire to spread so quickly, hungrily engulfing everything in its path, death and a blackened smoldering in its wake.

But the grass had grown back since that day, exactly three months ago.

Unlike so many other things, that disappear in an instant and are gone forever, like smoke dispersed in the wind.

The charred remains of the house still stood, as though perpetually against the backdrop of a setting sun, blackened to silhouette. If she sat up and turned east, she could see the roofline in the distance, leaning precariously, doomed to collapse when the winds picked up in early fall.

It had been a spring day, notable for its very ordinariness. She'd eaten her breakfast of yogurt on the front porch, swinging her feet off the edge, watching their shadows pass over the ground. It was quiet, a mild breeze stirring the yellowing grass, birds warbling in distant trees at the horizon. Her uncle had gone out to start the tractor a half hour or so before, and she could see him now, out in the field, bent over the engine. His red cap stood out like a beacon and he was dwarfed by distance and the rusting hood that hung open above him. Inside, her aunt bustled about, humming distractedly as she passed from room to room, pushing windows closed against the gathering heat.

As she turned to open the screen door, she heard a shout, and wheeled about to see a looming tower of black smoke hovering, then moving toward her over the field. Orange flames licked, rose, grew, reached and she could see nothing of the tractor or her uncle.

"Auntie!" she shrieked, and felt her voice strain against the roar in the air, in her ears.

She froze, paralyzed with panic. No answer from inside. She ran into the house, screen slamming roughly behind her, screamed. Couldn't stop. Heart in her throat, bursting. Her aunt on the stairs, eyes wide with fear. "Get outside, now!"

The porch, the field, the road. Air that burned, hot and singeing her throat. And the roaring that grew. Tears on her hot cheeks and rasping, ragged breaths as she ran as fast and as far as she could, and then farther.

Neighbors' voices, loud and then very quiet. The house, consumed, yellow paint melted, peeling, the brick chimney somehow bright, unscathed in the ruin. Distant sirens howled, too late.

Her uncle, vanished, the tractor a shrunken smoking skeleton. The ground black, the sky gray.

Her aunt, silent in the midst of comforting arms, her mouth slightly open, still carrying a dishtowel in one hand.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by albrew in portal Simon & Schuster
The sky was impossibly distant above her as she lay in the dry grass. Pale blue, like a bowl suspended, not a single cloud. She had created a small nook for herself--crushed the tall grass below her stomping, bare feet and now she was concealed, a small boat sunk in a golden, rustling sea.
She'd come here often after the fire, walking the dusty road from the neighbors', escaping the heavy silence in the guest room she was sharing with her aunt, the closed drapes and kleenex wads and untouched tea mugs. In retrospect, it seemed an odd choice, as it was this very same grass that had allowed the fire to spread so quickly, hungrily engulfing everything in its path, death and a blackened smoldering in its wake.
But the grass had grown back since that day, exactly three months ago.
Unlike so many other things, that disappear in an instant and are gone forever, like smoke dispersed in the wind.
The charred remains of the house still stood, as though perpetually against the backdrop of a setting sun, blackened to silhouette. If she sat up and turned east, she could see the roofline in the distance, leaning precariously, doomed to collapse when the winds picked up in early fall.
It had been a spring day, notable for its very ordinariness. She'd eaten her breakfast of yogurt on the front porch, swinging her feet off the edge, watching their shadows pass over the ground. It was quiet, a mild breeze stirring the yellowing grass, birds warbling in distant trees at the horizon. Her uncle had gone out to start the tractor a half hour or so before, and she could see him now, out in the field, bent over the engine. His red cap stood out like a beacon and he was dwarfed by distance and the rusting hood that hung open above him. Inside, her aunt bustled about, humming distractedly as she passed from room to room, pushing windows closed against the gathering heat.
As she turned to open the screen door, she heard a shout, and wheeled about to see a looming tower of black smoke hovering, then moving toward her over the field. Orange flames licked, rose, grew, reached and she could see nothing of the tractor or her uncle.
"Auntie!" she shrieked, and felt her voice strain against the roar in the air, in her ears.
She froze, paralyzed with panic. No answer from inside. She ran into the house, screen slamming roughly behind her, screamed. Couldn't stop. Heart in her throat, bursting. Her aunt on the stairs, eyes wide with fear. "Get outside, now!"
The porch, the field, the road. Air that burned, hot and singeing her throat. And the roaring that grew. Tears on her hot cheeks and rasping, ragged breaths as she ran as fast and as far as she could, and then farther.
Neighbors' voices, loud and then very quiet. The house, consumed, yellow paint melted, peeling, the brick chimney somehow bright, unscathed in the ruin. Distant sirens howled, too late.
Her uncle, vanished, the tractor a shrunken smoking skeleton. The ground black, the sky gray.
Her aunt, silent in the midst of comforting arms, her mouth slightly open, still carrying a dishtowel in one hand.

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Written by rcraft in portal Simon & Schuster

Escaping the Legacy of "The Stolen Child"

My grandmother spent her entire life trying to escape her life.

Her secret weapon for escape, which she kept tucked like a magic key pressed against her breast, was the promise that, if all else failed, one day she would die and pass from this world.

I always thought my grandma resembled one of the heroines in my novels—someone misplaced in the wrong dimension or time, a tragic figure who couldn’t understand why she had been dropped into an unacceptable and confusing situation.

Because my grandmother just did not belong in a world of poverty and sorrow—and that is exactly where she found herself her entire life.

Grandma was born in 1922 to a family in Ironton, Ohio, that was wealthy and educated, consisting of politicians and business owners. But grandma’s father did the time-honored, unthinkable cliché: He married a beautiful young woman who lived on the wrong side of the Ohio River, a Kentucky native from a poor family. He became the proverbial black sheep of the family because of the marriage.

Tragically, grandma’s mother died of pneumonia when she was only thirty-four years old after giving birth to twin daughters. One twin died within hours. One twin was given away to someone who, unlike my great-grandfather, could care for a newborn.

Grandma was only two years old when her mother died. She spent her childhood being passed among her affluent relatives who, she said, treated her like hired help.

“Cousin Drusilla would sit in a chair reading a book while I ironed the family’s clothes—all those tiny pleats on the skirts and dresses. I hated pleats. I wished that I could lounge around all day reading.”

A modern-day Cinderella who, rather than finding her Prince Charming, encountered, instead, an abusive pedophile who married her after she became pregnant at twelve years old.

By the time Grandma was twenty-four, she already had given birth to nine children, losing three in infancy—ghosts who haunted her for the rest of her life.

I don’t know the details of how Grandma met my grandfather, who was ten years older than she was.

Why did her father allow a 22-year-old man to hang around his prepubescent daughter? Was he a friend of the family? Was Grandma raped? Was she just looking, in the theme of her life, for an escape?

Grandma only released certain details about those early years, years shrouded in secrecy and guilt. She refused to speak about things she found sad or uncomfortable, focusing instead on how she had survived.

Much of the story of Grandma’s life was about survival, escaping one mishap to wind up in another. From losing her mother to dropping out of school to being a victim of violent abuse, Grandma survived.

Although Grandma’s formal schooling ended in the eighth grade, she was the smartest person I knew. She loved to read and draw. She could spell anything—even words she had never encountered. She used to enchant my sister and me by reciting poetry and risqué ditties that she remembered from her youth:

"Tattle tale, tattle tale,

Hanging on the bull’s tail.

When the bull begins to pee,

We shall have a cup of tea."

I often wondered if Grandma made up some of those poems she sang to us. I knew she had learned “The Village Blacksmith” by Longfellow in school, but the others had no reference. Poetry and books had always been an escape for her as well.

"Under a spreading chestnut-tree

The village smithy stands;

The smith, a mighty man is he,

With large and sinewy hands;

And the muscles of his brawny arms

Are strong as iron bands."

Grandma’s interest in poetry and reading led me down the same path of books and words even before I started kindergarten. I incorporated early the belief that I, like Grandma, could slip into other worlds using stories.

My favorite book when I was in first grade was a collection of children’s poetry called "All the Silver Pennies". Here I encountered poems about the fairies and gnomes and pixies that I so staunchly believed existed just out of sight. Grandma and I read the poems over and over. I would always return to the phrase written on the first page of the manuscript, the phrase that generated the title of the book:

"You must have a silver penny to get into Fairyland."

I wanted desperately to disappear into Fairyland. At only six or seven years old, I had already been indoctrinated into grandma’s philosophy of escaping to enchanted, other places—places that were anywhere but where I currently was.

When Grandma told me she had an actual silver penny, I was ecstatic.

Tucked away in one of her old purses, purses that smelled of cigarettes and faded perfume, among black-and-white photos and letters from Uncle Donnie’s tours of Vietnam, Grandma drew forth a silver penny. Minted in the 1940s to aid the war effort’s use of copper, the “silver” pennies were actually made of nickel. They were, however, shiny metallic silver in color.

When Grandma slipped the penny into my outstretched fingers, I knew Fairyland was only a whisper of longing away.

“Aunt Lulie used to have an entire jar of silver pennies setting on the counter in her grocery store.”

Imagine an entire jar filled with magic escape tickets to Fairyland, I remember thinking. Why hadn’t Grandma used them long ago?

From silver pennies I progressed to other escape hatches from dreary reality to the exciting lives I read about in the books I devoured.

I was forever trying to discover secret worlds at the back of closets. We didn’t have any Narnia-era wardrobes, but I assumed a closet would suffice. I spent a great deal of my childhood immersed in a jumble of shoes with freshly laundered clothing swaying against the top of my head.

From closets, I proceeded to contests.

I entered lots of contests for Grandma, carefully printing out her name and address on entry forms for all-expenses-paid trips to Ireland.

Oh, Ireland. It was the land where all the fairies and magical creatures from my books resided. It was also Grandma’s ancestral home, a place her father had talked about often, playing sad songs on his violin, invoking memories of washerwomen and emerald fields, memories of a mother country he had never visited.

I imagined that if Grandma won the contest she would, of course, take me along with her. But looking back now, that seems highly implausible.

My grandmother couldn’t drive. She had never in her whole life had a driver’s license.

Grandma had no income or job. She hadn’t worked since her days as a waitress at a small truck stop, where all of her money went to provide necessities for her six living children.

The only savings account with Grandma’s name on it was shared with my aunt. She was dependent on her children for everything: food, clothes, shelter. She lived with one of my aunts or my dad her entire life after refusing to stay with my grandfather after their children were adults.

In return for their support, Grandma watched her children’s children, cleaned their houses, mowed their lawns, and did their laundry—similar to her childhood experiences with her wealthy relatives.

She wistfully wished for a little home of her own.

So how would Grandma have managed, if she had won the contests I entered her in, to take a 10-year-old girl on a tour of Ireland?

Grandma’s utter dependence made me desperately independent. There was such a feeling of freedom when I obtained my driver’s license and was able to take Grandma for rides down the rural roads near our home.

I couldn’t imagine spending my life having to ask someone to take me somewhere, to not even be able to go shopping alone. Always, there was someone with Grandma.

That dependence made Grandma depressed.

Grandma’s favorite phrase, when she was disconsolate or wanted my sister and me to imagine that life could be different, was, “Let’s run away and join the circus.”

Even when I was in college, I would find that phrase circling in my brain and slipping from my mouth when I had exams or had endured an especially rough day.

“Let’s just run away and join the circus,” I would tell my boyfriend and eventual husband. He never understood the allure.

What exactly my sister, Grandma, and I would have done in the circus is beyond me. We had no unique “circusy” skills. No high-wire training or acrobatic talents. Perhaps Grandma could have been the circus cook, my sister and I clowns or ticket takers at the tent flap.

While she was not suited for circus life, juvenile Grandma was an excellent cook. I never tasted her homemade biscuits or pies, however. Her youth was spent cooking for an abusive husband who demanded dinner promptly on the table at a certain time.

Because of those desolate cuisine recollections, Grandma was anxious in the kitchen. She would start shaking if she was required to make anything more complicated than apple butter-topped toast or sandwiches.

For most of my life, Grandma was depressed and sick, seemingly, to me, on the verge of dying.

In her later years Grandma descended into mental illness, losing touch with reality until she was placed on medications that wiped out most of her short-term memory and caused her to remember her past in sweet, rose-tinged hues.

That, too, was a way of escaping her life.

For a time in high school, when Grandma refused to get out of bed following my uncle’s death (her fourth child lost), I was obsessed with suicide, writing stories and watching movies in which the main characters took their own lives.

In literature class we read the poem “Resumé” by Dorothy Parker. I copied it from my English lit book and posted it on our refrigerator.

I think now how freaked out people would be by a teenager hanging a poem about suicide on the door of the family refrigerator. My parents read the poem (I was always placing quotes and sayings on the refrigerator door), but just thought I was being my quirky, moody self. Grandma thought the poem was funny:

"Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live."

Reading over the words as an adult, I realize that I actually was not hoping to escape my life like Grandma. I wanted to live. I wanted the adventure that was my life.

The words that my sister and I chose for Grandma’s headstone came from William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Stolen Child”:

"Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild

With a faery, hand in hand,

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand."

On the front of the headstone, we glued the silver penny Grandma had given me as a child. Etched above the penny were the words, “You must have a silver penny to get into Fairyland.”

Even Grandma’s headstone reflected her search for an escape. Finally, she found what she had been longing to achieve.

While Grandma taught me to use words and books as my vehicle for fleeing the heartbreaks of my life, I have never felt like a displaced traveler, a “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Grandma did, however. She finally used her magic powers to push past the fur coats in the back of the wardrobe, and, with the smell of pine in her nose, venture forth past the light post and into another world.

I hope she is where she is supposed to be, happy and no longer searching.

THE END

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by rcraft in portal Simon & Schuster
Escaping the Legacy of "The Stolen Child"
My grandmother spent her entire life trying to escape her life.

Her secret weapon for escape, which she kept tucked like a magic key pressed against her breast, was the promise that, if all else failed, one day she would die and pass from this world.

I always thought my grandma resembled one of the heroines in my novels—someone misplaced in the wrong dimension or time, a tragic figure who couldn’t understand why she had been dropped into an unacceptable and confusing situation.

Because my grandmother just did not belong in a world of poverty and sorrow—and that is exactly where she found herself her entire life.

Grandma was born in 1922 to a family in Ironton, Ohio, that was wealthy and educated, consisting of politicians and business owners. But grandma’s father did the time-honored, unthinkable cliché: He married a beautiful young woman who lived on the wrong side of the Ohio River, a Kentucky native from a poor family. He became the proverbial black sheep of the family because of the marriage.

Tragically, grandma’s mother died of pneumonia when she was only thirty-four years old after giving birth to twin daughters. One twin died within hours. One twin was given away to someone who, unlike my great-grandfather, could care for a newborn.

Grandma was only two years old when her mother died. She spent her childhood being passed among her affluent relatives who, she said, treated her like hired help.

“Cousin Drusilla would sit in a chair reading a book while I ironed the family’s clothes—all those tiny pleats on the skirts and dresses. I hated pleats. I wished that I could lounge around all day reading.”

A modern-day Cinderella who, rather than finding her Prince Charming, encountered, instead, an abusive pedophile who married her after she became pregnant at twelve years old.

By the time Grandma was twenty-four, she already had given birth to nine children, losing three in infancy—ghosts who haunted her for the rest of her life.

I don’t know the details of how Grandma met my grandfather, who was ten years older than she was.

Why did her father allow a 22-year-old man to hang around his prepubescent daughter? Was he a friend of the family? Was Grandma raped? Was she just looking, in the theme of her life, for an escape?

Grandma only released certain details about those early years, years shrouded in secrecy and guilt. She refused to speak about things she found sad or uncomfortable, focusing instead on how she had survived.

Much of the story of Grandma’s life was about survival, escaping one mishap to wind up in another. From losing her mother to dropping out of school to being a victim of violent abuse, Grandma survived.

Although Grandma’s formal schooling ended in the eighth grade, she was the smartest person I knew. She loved to read and draw. She could spell anything—even words she had never encountered. She used to enchant my sister and me by reciting poetry and risqué ditties that she remembered from her youth:

"Tattle tale, tattle tale,
Hanging on the bull’s tail.
When the bull begins to pee,
We shall have a cup of tea."

I often wondered if Grandma made up some of those poems she sang to us. I knew she had learned “The Village Blacksmith” by Longfellow in school, but the others had no reference. Poetry and books had always been an escape for her as well.

"Under a spreading chestnut-tree
The village smithy stands;
The smith, a mighty man is he,
With large and sinewy hands;
And the muscles of his brawny arms
Are strong as iron bands."

Grandma’s interest in poetry and reading led me down the same path of books and words even before I started kindergarten. I incorporated early the belief that I, like Grandma, could slip into other worlds using stories.

My favorite book when I was in first grade was a collection of children’s poetry called "All the Silver Pennies". Here I encountered poems about the fairies and gnomes and pixies that I so staunchly believed existed just out of sight. Grandma and I read the poems over and over. I would always return to the phrase written on the first page of the manuscript, the phrase that generated the title of the book:

"You must have a silver penny to get into Fairyland."

I wanted desperately to disappear into Fairyland. At only six or seven years old, I had already been indoctrinated into grandma’s philosophy of escaping to enchanted, other places—places that were anywhere but where I currently was.

When Grandma told me she had an actual silver penny, I was ecstatic.

Tucked away in one of her old purses, purses that smelled of cigarettes and faded perfume, among black-and-white photos and letters from Uncle Donnie’s tours of Vietnam, Grandma drew forth a silver penny. Minted in the 1940s to aid the war effort’s use of copper, the “silver” pennies were actually made of nickel. They were, however, shiny metallic silver in color.

When Grandma slipped the penny into my outstretched fingers, I knew Fairyland was only a whisper of longing away.

“Aunt Lulie used to have an entire jar of silver pennies setting on the counter in her grocery store.”

Imagine an entire jar filled with magic escape tickets to Fairyland, I remember thinking. Why hadn’t Grandma used them long ago?

From silver pennies I progressed to other escape hatches from dreary reality to the exciting lives I read about in the books I devoured.

I was forever trying to discover secret worlds at the back of closets. We didn’t have any Narnia-era wardrobes, but I assumed a closet would suffice. I spent a great deal of my childhood immersed in a jumble of shoes with freshly laundered clothing swaying against the top of my head.

From closets, I proceeded to contests.

I entered lots of contests for Grandma, carefully printing out her name and address on entry forms for all-expenses-paid trips to Ireland.

Oh, Ireland. It was the land where all the fairies and magical creatures from my books resided. It was also Grandma’s ancestral home, a place her father had talked about often, playing sad songs on his violin, invoking memories of washerwomen and emerald fields, memories of a mother country he had never visited.

I imagined that if Grandma won the contest she would, of course, take me along with her. But looking back now, that seems highly implausible.

My grandmother couldn’t drive. She had never in her whole life had a driver’s license.

Grandma had no income or job. She hadn’t worked since her days as a waitress at a small truck stop, where all of her money went to provide necessities for her six living children.

The only savings account with Grandma’s name on it was shared with my aunt. She was dependent on her children for everything: food, clothes, shelter. She lived with one of my aunts or my dad her entire life after refusing to stay with my grandfather after their children were adults.

In return for their support, Grandma watched her children’s children, cleaned their houses, mowed their lawns, and did their laundry—similar to her childhood experiences with her wealthy relatives.

She wistfully wished for a little home of her own.

So how would Grandma have managed, if she had won the contests I entered her in, to take a 10-year-old girl on a tour of Ireland?

Grandma’s utter dependence made me desperately independent. There was such a feeling of freedom when I obtained my driver’s license and was able to take Grandma for rides down the rural roads near our home.

I couldn’t imagine spending my life having to ask someone to take me somewhere, to not even be able to go shopping alone. Always, there was someone with Grandma.

That dependence made Grandma depressed.

Grandma’s favorite phrase, when she was disconsolate or wanted my sister and me to imagine that life could be different, was, “Let’s run away and join the circus.”

Even when I was in college, I would find that phrase circling in my brain and slipping from my mouth when I had exams or had endured an especially rough day.

“Let’s just run away and join the circus,” I would tell my boyfriend and eventual husband. He never understood the allure.

What exactly my sister, Grandma, and I would have done in the circus is beyond me. We had no unique “circusy” skills. No high-wire training or acrobatic talents. Perhaps Grandma could have been the circus cook, my sister and I clowns or ticket takers at the tent flap.

While she was not suited for circus life, juvenile Grandma was an excellent cook. I never tasted her homemade biscuits or pies, however. Her youth was spent cooking for an abusive husband who demanded dinner promptly on the table at a certain time.

Because of those desolate cuisine recollections, Grandma was anxious in the kitchen. She would start shaking if she was required to make anything more complicated than apple butter-topped toast or sandwiches.

For most of my life, Grandma was depressed and sick, seemingly, to me, on the verge of dying.

In her later years Grandma descended into mental illness, losing touch with reality until she was placed on medications that wiped out most of her short-term memory and caused her to remember her past in sweet, rose-tinged hues.

That, too, was a way of escaping her life.

For a time in high school, when Grandma refused to get out of bed following my uncle’s death (her fourth child lost), I was obsessed with suicide, writing stories and watching movies in which the main characters took their own lives.

In literature class we read the poem “Resumé” by Dorothy Parker. I copied it from my English lit book and posted it on our refrigerator.

I think now how freaked out people would be by a teenager hanging a poem about suicide on the door of the family refrigerator. My parents read the poem (I was always placing quotes and sayings on the refrigerator door), but just thought I was being my quirky, moody self. Grandma thought the poem was funny:

"Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live."

Reading over the words as an adult, I realize that I actually was not hoping to escape my life like Grandma. I wanted to live. I wanted the adventure that was my life.

The words that my sister and I chose for Grandma’s headstone came from William Butler Yeats’s poem “The Stolen Child”:

"Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand."

On the front of the headstone, we glued the silver penny Grandma had given me as a child. Etched above the penny were the words, “You must have a silver penny to get into Fairyland.”

Even Grandma’s headstone reflected her search for an escape. Finally, she found what she had been longing to achieve.

While Grandma taught me to use words and books as my vehicle for fleeing the heartbreaks of my life, I have never felt like a displaced traveler, a “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Grandma did, however. She finally used her magic powers to push past the fur coats in the back of the wardrobe, and, with the smell of pine in her nose, venture forth past the light post and into another world.

I hope she is where she is supposed to be, happy and no longer searching.

THE END
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Written by Iseun1 in portal Simon & Schuster

The Kids that Eat the Cookies

We were on our second package. Half an hour into evening shift and we decided to take a break. We sat on the work table furthest from the bakery entrance, listening to music and talking real loud. I kept readjusting myself as the breadcrumbs that covered all the tables were sanding away at my butt. Eight foot baking racks towered around us waiting to be filled with the night’s order of frozen doughs. Though something was telling me we needed to get back to work, I much preferred listening to Brandon talk about the most recent females he occupied his “spare” time with.

“Yeah, dude,” Brandon said. “She’s a cutie.”

“Where’s she from?” I asked.

“Mmm,” Brandon grabbed another chocolate chip cookie. “Like ten minutes from here? She goes to Shamokin’ Dam.”

“Gotta pic?” He fumbled through his phone for a bit, keeping it at an angle so that I couldn’t see the screen unless I wanted to make it painfully obvious.

“Nah dude, I can’t find one. I’ll show you her the next time she snaps me, though.”

“Alright.” We kept talking about other mundane things - mundane for Brandon, at least. He was taking that girl, Katie, to a party where everyone was going to get “shit face drunk” as he put it. His friend already had the booze.

“You should come too, Luke. I can take you.” I thought for a moment. I mean, it would be a new experience for me. But is it really something that I want to get into? My mind drifted to being at the party. I saw plastic red cups are all over the floor. I saw people all over the floor. I’d walk over them and try to head somewhere quiet just to see Brandon passed out on the stairs, his long hair looking like a wet mop plastered to his face. No, parties with Brandon are definitely out of the question. I shook my head of the thought.

“Some other time dude. I’m not feeling it tonight.” Or really any night, but I didn’t just want to flat out say no to him. I wouldn’t want to offend him or anything.

Brandon just shrugs.

“Just lemme know whenever dude, I got you.” A kid came running up to the counter.

“May I have a cookie please?” I guessed he was like 8 or so. I smiled and walked over.

“Sure thing big guy. Chocolate chip or sugar?” He thought about it for a moment.

“Uh, chocolate chip!” I nodded and opened a new package.

“Good choice, little man. Here you go, enjoy.” He scampered off. I headed back to Brandon, who took the package from my hand and grabbed another cookie.

“Dude, like, why are you so friendly to them?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I’m friendly to everyone. Just makes things go a lot more smoothly.

“He’s a kid though.”

“I mean, yeah. But still. I’m nice to everyone. It’s how I am.” Brandon laughed.

“No wonder you’re single.”

“Hey!” I tried to think of something clever to say. It’s hard to argue with the truth, though, so I pushed him.

“Niceness is a long term investment dude,” I said.

“Well maybe, but you’re too nice.” I’m often told that.

“Whatever you say man.” Brandon grinned. Suddenly his eyes widened and he hopped off the table.

“The manager is coming,” he said. I hopped off and headed over to the sink in the back wash my hands.

Joselyn walked in.

“Hey guys, how are things going?” I shouted a hey from the back and she started talking again.

“Doesn’t look like you guys have gotten much done.”

I started. “Yeah, well, you see we got distracted by customers.”

“Uh huh,” Joselyn walked around the room. She noticed the packages lying around.

“Umm, how is it that we have gone through 3 packages of cookies in 45 minutes? Have you guys been eating them?” I swallowed. Nothing went down, considering I downed about a dozen cookies. I glanced over at Brandon, who was holding himself up with a broom.

“There were a lot of kids today.” Joselyn raised an eyebrow.

“Is that right?” Brandon’s nonchalant expression never changed.

“Yep.” Joselyn grabbed a package and set it out.

“One more pack then, and that’s it for tonight. I don’t want any more fresh merchandise being given away.” She left. The second she was out of earshot we busted out laughing.

“Dude, you pulled that out of your ass!”

“Yeah, but she bought it.” Brandon grabbed another cookie from the package before heading back to work. I turned to him.

“Hey, do you think the little kids notice when the cookies are stale?” Brandon laughed.

“Oh, yeah. They definitely notice.” It seemed kind of messed up that the only free items we were allowed to give out were the week old sea-biscuits. And yet, the same ones kept running back to us, hands out and salivating. I felt bad giving them cookies like that, but they never complained. So I kept quiet, taking another chocolate chip for myself. Looking at the clock, I saw we still had a solid three hours left on the clock. There’d definitely be more breaks to come.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by Iseun1 in portal Simon & Schuster
The Kids that Eat the Cookies
We were on our second package. Half an hour into evening shift and we decided to take a break. We sat on the work table furthest from the bakery entrance, listening to music and talking real loud. I kept readjusting myself as the breadcrumbs that covered all the tables were sanding away at my butt. Eight foot baking racks towered around us waiting to be filled with the night’s order of frozen doughs. Though something was telling me we needed to get back to work, I much preferred listening to Brandon talk about the most recent females he occupied his “spare” time with.

“Yeah, dude,” Brandon said. “She’s a cutie.”

“Where’s she from?” I asked.

“Mmm,” Brandon grabbed another chocolate chip cookie. “Like ten minutes from here? She goes to Shamokin’ Dam.”

“Gotta pic?” He fumbled through his phone for a bit, keeping it at an angle so that I couldn’t see the screen unless I wanted to make it painfully obvious.

“Nah dude, I can’t find one. I’ll show you her the next time she snaps me, though.”

“Alright.” We kept talking about other mundane things - mundane for Brandon, at least. He was taking that girl, Katie, to a party where everyone was going to get “shit face drunk” as he put it. His friend already had the booze.

“You should come too, Luke. I can take you.” I thought for a moment. I mean, it would be a new experience for me. But is it really something that I want to get into? My mind drifted to being at the party. I saw plastic red cups are all over the floor. I saw people all over the floor. I’d walk over them and try to head somewhere quiet just to see Brandon passed out on the stairs, his long hair looking like a wet mop plastered to his face. No, parties with Brandon are definitely out of the question. I shook my head of the thought.

“Some other time dude. I’m not feeling it tonight.” Or really any night, but I didn’t just want to flat out say no to him. I wouldn’t want to offend him or anything.

Brandon just shrugs.

“Just lemme know whenever dude, I got you.” A kid came running up to the counter.

“May I have a cookie please?” I guessed he was like 8 or so. I smiled and walked over.

“Sure thing big guy. Chocolate chip or sugar?” He thought about it for a moment.

“Uh, chocolate chip!” I nodded and opened a new package.

“Good choice, little man. Here you go, enjoy.” He scampered off. I headed back to Brandon, who took the package from my hand and grabbed another cookie.

“Dude, like, why are you so friendly to them?” He asked. I shrugged.

“I’m friendly to everyone. Just makes things go a lot more smoothly.

“He’s a kid though.”

“I mean, yeah. But still. I’m nice to everyone. It’s how I am.” Brandon laughed.

“No wonder you’re single.”

“Hey!” I tried to think of something clever to say. It’s hard to argue with the truth, though, so I pushed him.

“Niceness is a long term investment dude,” I said.

“Well maybe, but you’re too nice.” I’m often told that.

“Whatever you say man.” Brandon grinned. Suddenly his eyes widened and he hopped off the table.

“The manager is coming,” he said. I hopped off and headed over to the sink in the back wash my hands.

Joselyn walked in.

“Hey guys, how are things going?” I shouted a hey from the back and she started talking again.

“Doesn’t look like you guys have gotten much done.”

I started. “Yeah, well, you see we got distracted by customers.”

“Uh huh,” Joselyn walked around the room. She noticed the packages lying around.

“Umm, how is it that we have gone through 3 packages of cookies in 45 minutes? Have you guys been eating them?” I swallowed. Nothing went down, considering I downed about a dozen cookies. I glanced over at Brandon, who was holding himself up with a broom.

“There were a lot of kids today.” Joselyn raised an eyebrow.

“Is that right?” Brandon’s nonchalant expression never changed.

“Yep.” Joselyn grabbed a package and set it out.

“One more pack then, and that’s it for tonight. I don’t want any more fresh merchandise being given away.” She left. The second she was out of earshot we busted out laughing.

“Dude, you pulled that out of your ass!”

“Yeah, but she bought it.” Brandon grabbed another cookie from the package before heading back to work. I turned to him.

“Hey, do you think the little kids notice when the cookies are stale?” Brandon laughed.

“Oh, yeah. They definitely notice.” It seemed kind of messed up that the only free items we were allowed to give out were the week old sea-biscuits. And yet, the same ones kept running back to us, hands out and salivating. I felt bad giving them cookies like that, but they never complained. So I kept quiet, taking another chocolate chip for myself. Looking at the clock, I saw we still had a solid three hours left on the clock. There’d definitely be more breaks to come.
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Written by armindaroddy in portal Simon & Schuster

The Mountain

Prologue

“But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains.” -Mark 13:14 KJV

Chapter 1

At one time, the Blue Ridge Parkway buzzed with life. At one time, it had been a favorite Sunday afternoon luxury for families from all around. Who didn’t enjoy leaves and cider in the fall? Who wouldn’t be awed by the vastness of the mountains and landscape seen from Lover’s Leap? And even more, how much more could Maya long that all of that still existed as she once knew it?

In this world, Maya, along with everyone, was both a victim and a hero. During the invasion, Maya had saved people, had needed saving, and had been everywhere in between. Two years ago, the world had been surprised by an invasion of the ever-speculated life on Mars that scientists had spent years arguing about whether it existed. However, these were not your typical, bulb-headed green creatures that we’d seen in the movies. When we had speculated life on Mars, the world had imagined creatures entirely different from us, but that was not the case. The creatures that violently invaded homes and streets had been horrifyingly like humans. The difference? These creatures had died some years ago and were half decomposed. They stood on two legs like humans and could stumble clumsily forward, only making the effort to run when provoked by wild, instinctive hunger. They were the embodiment of the animal that lives inside humans, the one that is only tempered by our capacity for emotion and compassion. It was this that drove the human race into hiding. This was what drove Maya and those she loved to the Mountain.

As the resources were in the once more-populated areas of the world, that was where the creatures, or as they had come to know them, the Anti-humans, had flocked to. Of course. So, it was this that had Maya out in a small, deserted rural town scavenging what was left in the once wonder-filled general stores and not in the middle of a big city somewhere. Maya’s family had been one of the first to leave for the Mountain when it happened, and this was lucky because they had been able to supply themselves with some salt-cured ham, apples, flour, and other necessities to make some long-lasting, sustainable food. Her father had immediately gone for the farming and planting materials, and so they were able to grow a garden. Maya and her family had more than most actually. Living on a meal and a half a day, her family had lived semi-comfortably considering the circumstances for the better part of two years.

Maya looked at the deserted general store. As the chill of colder days had begun to set in, and the Community’s supplies dwindled quite a bit, she had volunteered to scavenge for more food. In her hand, she had her husband Jackson’s shotgun for defense, or in the event she spotted a nice deer. As she walked the desolate aisles of the store, she wielded it in front of her, prepared for anything that might surprise her. The Anti-humans had not populated the rural mountain communities much yet, but still, a rare stray was never out of the question, and if they were hungry, you were dead. Despite looking like zombies and obviously “dead”, they did not lazily and aimlessly limp behind you if they saw you. The most dangerous aspect of the Anti-humans was that they had a relentless capacity for the chase. If you became their prey, the chase would be unending. While you would eventually tire and slow, these awful predators would not. You would not become the living dead like so many zombie movies had depicted. You were bound to die of exhaustion in the chase or as a meal if you became the target. And so Maya was ready.

All the quiet of the Mountain gave a person time to think, and so when Maya wasn’t clinging tightly to every shred of family time she could, Maya did a lot of this. She thought back to her home living room sitting with her family. They were in the middle of one of their famous family discussions. They tended to have these discussions regularly about everything from good music and good wine to the many “what-if” scenarios of life. During this particular discussion, her dad, Greg, spoke up.

“You know, the Bible says that in a time of catastrophe, you’re supposed to flee for the mountains,” he said matter-of-factly.

“So, if the world were to end, where exactly in the mountains would we go?” Maya asked.

“Where else? To the Third Sunday Church up in the Blue Ridge, of course.”

Maya smiled at her dad as she fondly thought of that little piece of paradise. Maya had grown up going to a tiny Baptist church in the Blue Ridge mountains. They only met every other Sunday, but each Sunday created its own little slice of heaven. The church was old, white, and small, situated down in a quaint valley that sat way back off the road. Dogwood trees blossomed there in the spring, filling the air with the smell of new life. Down beside the church, there was a dirt road overshadowed by tall, green trees that made a beautiful, glowing hallway into what could only be classified as the vision of simple happiness. But what truly made this church was the people. While most of the members were well into their seventies and eighties, they welcomed you with youthful ardor that brought sunshine to the place even when it rained. And who could forget the food? Maya’s heart warmed and her stomach grumbled just thinking about it.

At the time of that discussion, Maya had only rested on the warm feelings of nostalgia that thinking of her family and that wonderful little place had fostered. She had not thought of the wild pandemonium of running for her life to that place if catastrophe were to strike. But when the time actually came, that’s all there was. Panic and fear. It was a long time, months and months, after they made it to the church that they could allow themselves to be filled with, at very least, the joy of being together.

Step. Shuffle-slide. Step. Shuffle-slide. Something was coming. Maya slowly and silently readied her gun. She listened. An Anti-human was just on the other side of the aisle shelves. She eased sideways so as not to have her back to it. She waited until she had sight of the creature to get a good shot. And she trembled a little with her finger on the trigger when she realized it was close enough that she could feel its hot, ragged breath on her face.

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Written by armindaroddy in portal Simon & Schuster
The Mountain
Prologue
“But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let him that readeth understand), then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains.” -Mark 13:14 KJV

Chapter 1

At one time, the Blue Ridge Parkway buzzed with life. At one time, it had been a favorite Sunday afternoon luxury for families from all around. Who didn’t enjoy leaves and cider in the fall? Who wouldn’t be awed by the vastness of the mountains and landscape seen from Lover’s Leap? And even more, how much more could Maya long that all of that still existed as she once knew it?
In this world, Maya, along with everyone, was both a victim and a hero. During the invasion, Maya had saved people, had needed saving, and had been everywhere in between. Two years ago, the world had been surprised by an invasion of the ever-speculated life on Mars that scientists had spent years arguing about whether it existed. However, these were not your typical, bulb-headed green creatures that we’d seen in the movies. When we had speculated life on Mars, the world had imagined creatures entirely different from us, but that was not the case. The creatures that violently invaded homes and streets had been horrifyingly like humans. The difference? These creatures had died some years ago and were half decomposed. They stood on two legs like humans and could stumble clumsily forward, only making the effort to run when provoked by wild, instinctive hunger. They were the embodiment of the animal that lives inside humans, the one that is only tempered by our capacity for emotion and compassion. It was this that drove the human race into hiding. This was what drove Maya and those she loved to the Mountain.
As the resources were in the once more-populated areas of the world, that was where the creatures, or as they had come to know them, the Anti-humans, had flocked to. Of course. So, it was this that had Maya out in a small, deserted rural town scavenging what was left in the once wonder-filled general stores and not in the middle of a big city somewhere. Maya’s family had been one of the first to leave for the Mountain when it happened, and this was lucky because they had been able to supply themselves with some salt-cured ham, apples, flour, and other necessities to make some long-lasting, sustainable food. Her father had immediately gone for the farming and planting materials, and so they were able to grow a garden. Maya and her family had more than most actually. Living on a meal and a half a day, her family had lived semi-comfortably considering the circumstances for the better part of two years.
Maya looked at the deserted general store. As the chill of colder days had begun to set in, and the Community’s supplies dwindled quite a bit, she had volunteered to scavenge for more food. In her hand, she had her husband Jackson’s shotgun for defense, or in the event she spotted a nice deer. As she walked the desolate aisles of the store, she wielded it in front of her, prepared for anything that might surprise her. The Anti-humans had not populated the rural mountain communities much yet, but still, a rare stray was never out of the question, and if they were hungry, you were dead. Despite looking like zombies and obviously “dead”, they did not lazily and aimlessly limp behind you if they saw you. The most dangerous aspect of the Anti-humans was that they had a relentless capacity for the chase. If you became their prey, the chase would be unending. While you would eventually tire and slow, these awful predators would not. You would not become the living dead like so many zombie movies had depicted. You were bound to die of exhaustion in the chase or as a meal if you became the target. And so Maya was ready.
All the quiet of the Mountain gave a person time to think, and so when Maya wasn’t clinging tightly to every shred of family time she could, Maya did a lot of this. She thought back to her home living room sitting with her family. They were in the middle of one of their famous family discussions. They tended to have these discussions regularly about everything from good music and good wine to the many “what-if” scenarios of life. During this particular discussion, her dad, Greg, spoke up.
“You know, the Bible says that in a time of catastrophe, you’re supposed to flee for the mountains,” he said matter-of-factly.
“So, if the world were to end, where exactly in the mountains would we go?” Maya asked.
“Where else? To the Third Sunday Church up in the Blue Ridge, of course.”
Maya smiled at her dad as she fondly thought of that little piece of paradise. Maya had grown up going to a tiny Baptist church in the Blue Ridge mountains. They only met every other Sunday, but each Sunday created its own little slice of heaven. The church was old, white, and small, situated down in a quaint valley that sat way back off the road. Dogwood trees blossomed there in the spring, filling the air with the smell of new life. Down beside the church, there was a dirt road overshadowed by tall, green trees that made a beautiful, glowing hallway into what could only be classified as the vision of simple happiness. But what truly made this church was the people. While most of the members were well into their seventies and eighties, they welcomed you with youthful ardor that brought sunshine to the place even when it rained. And who could forget the food? Maya’s heart warmed and her stomach grumbled just thinking about it.
At the time of that discussion, Maya had only rested on the warm feelings of nostalgia that thinking of her family and that wonderful little place had fostered. She had not thought of the wild pandemonium of running for her life to that place if catastrophe were to strike. But when the time actually came, that’s all there was. Panic and fear. It was a long time, months and months, after they made it to the church that they could allow themselves to be filled with, at very least, the joy of being together.
Step. Shuffle-slide. Step. Shuffle-slide. Something was coming. Maya slowly and silently readied her gun. She listened. An Anti-human was just on the other side of the aisle shelves. She eased sideways so as not to have her back to it. She waited until she had sight of the creature to get a good shot. And she trembled a little with her finger on the trigger when she realized it was close enough that she could feel its hot, ragged breath on her face.

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by Tbisco in portal Simon & Schuster

One Night at Giovanni's

Giovanni's Dining hung inconspicuously in a small alley on 4th Avenue in New York City. To a random passerby, it would look like one of those alleys you see in the crime dramas; where the opening scene takes place and someone gets murdered. For the venturous and well-informed, it was an intimate little Italian restaurant with the best foods from every region of Italy.

Marco Eris was a regular. He sat in the far right corner of the restaurant, away from the entrance and opposite to the kitchen. A seat designed for lovers, newlyweds and those hoping to spark up their romance. It was housed in a cocoon of twinkling lights wrapped along faux grape vines with a mural of the Adriatic Sea painted along the walls. For Marco, he took it as his own. A place not of love, but escape.

"Some more, sir?" asked the waiter, holding out a bottle of Brunello. Marco nodded while staring idly at his phone.

There was always something to check. Always someone that would be expecting him to know something or solve this and that problem. Marco earned his life this way and even in his escape, he was bound to it. Like a symbiotic relationship, his work kept his wallet healthy so long as he gave it the attention it needed.

"Your appetizer will be out shortly, sir," the waiter said as he was passing by. Then he paused. "And I hope you won't mind, but tonight the chef wished to do something different. He is wondering if you would mind having all your courses out at once? He feels each dish may enhance the next."

"Yes, sure," muttered Marco as he responded to another inquiry on his phone.

After the waiter left, he put down his phone and scanned the restaurant. There was the usual crowd. The extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, in black suits and shiny bald heads with their trophy women, all at least 20 years younger. Whether they were their wives or mistresses, no one could ever be certain. But this was not a place for questions like that. This was a place to enjoy luxury. To feel like the world was at your fingertips.

Marco's phone vibrated. He picked it up and saw it was his wife, Fiona. She hoped he was having a good night and not to get too rowdy while she was away. As of now, she was in their villa in Mexico. Probably about to get fucked by the pool boy again as she did last night and the night before. Marco saw it on the hidden cameras, but he could not blame her. He was no better.

"And we have the bruschetta topped with grilled prosciutto, sliced parmesan, and tomatoes," said the waiter, placing the first dish in front of Marco. He walked back to the kitchen and brought out a small bowl of soup. "Fresh Italian Wedding with handmade orzo, housemade meatballs."

"Hmph," scuffed Marco. He did not enjoy having soup before a meal. To him, it was a waste of stomach real estate.

"Is everything alright, sir?" the waiter asked.

"Yes, just hurry up with the main dish."

The waiter briskly walked towards the kitchen, ignoring a request for water from a couple along the way. Out he came with a steamy plate, ignoring the couple once again and placed it on the table. It was chicken parmesan and looked like something from any rundown diner in the city.

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

The waiter appeared distraught and stepped away to help another table.

"Hey!" yelled Marco. "You better tell that dickhead chef I'm not paying for this garbage. I don't care how it tastes, this is ridiculous!"

The waiter was finally flagged by the couple needing water and went to the kitchen to retrieve some.

"Really enhance the dish, huh?" Marco muttered to himself. "Yeah, this other stuff might help make up for that shit." And Marco began to eat.

He started with the soup. Despite his disposition, it was incredible. The broth was balanced as if on a tightrope that never teetered too far from the center. Then he crunched into the bruschetta. It sang melodies that brought his taste buds to tears. Finally, there was nothing left to try but the chicken parmesan.

The idea of eating it almost brought pain to Marco's chest. It was almost an insult to fine dining, to all his loyalty to this hidden eatery. He picked up his knife and fork and placed them aggressively on tomato-sauced chicken as if he were a serial killer about to disembowel his victim. As he cut, a blackened sludge from the inside poured out.

Marco sat back, aghast. "What the fuck?" he said loudly, but no one in the restaurant turned their head.

The meat appeared rotten. There was an algae-like fuzz among the black flakes of meat. Marco pushed the meat apart with his fork, separately the pieces of rotten flesh.

"Waiter!" he called. But the waiter kept running his rounds.

"This is ridiculous," said Marco and he tried to stand but his legs wouldn't let him. It was as if he glued in place. No matter how hard he fought, his legs would not lift.

As he pressed himself against the edges of his chair, he watched as the rest of his food began to turn. The bread of the bruschetta grew moldy, the broth of the soup went pale, and the aroma of death began to waft through the air. Even the restaurant began to change.

First went the trellises. The great network of white-painted scaffolds that supported the faux grapes vines through the restaurant began to break apart. Most fell without consequence, but some landed on tables and knocked over glasses. Still, the patrons carried on as if nothing happened. And that was when the place began to crumble.

The walls of the building collapsed, followed by the building on the other side of the alley. Then, the streets lay exposed but continued to run with the hustle and bustle of traffic. Beyond, one by one, the buildings New York fell to the ground. And with nothing left to protect Marco from the elements, the cold winds of the night blew through.

"What the fuck?" cried Marco as he shook in his chair.

His phone vibrated. He checked it. "999 missed messages, 999 missed calls." Marco flipped through and checked each message and call. They all turned up blank. Every message was empty and every missed call had no number. In a bout of desperation, he tried dialing his wife.

The phone rang and rang once more before connecting. It switched immediately to facetime and Marco watched the moaning face of his wife and the pool boy having his way with her. She looked at Marco for a moment and smiled before throwing the phone on the ground. It rested, looking up at the two-headed beast.

Marco threw his phone onto the ground in repulsion. It landed on the concrete, scraping against the light coat of sand that blew along the ground. Through his tears, Marco gazed around at what was once Giovanni's Dining to find a desolate landscape of sand and broken rock. The patrons were reduced to skeletons, yet they still seemed to be smiling.

Marco, broken and alone, cast his head into his hands. He wept like he never had before. He felt the sum of all his parts come to life. For all he planted in life rotted beneath him, for all he neglected to nurture lay withered at his feet. Wrapped in his despair he heard the patter of footsteps.

The waiter stood next to his table with a bottle of Brunello.

"Some more, sir?" he asked.

Marco seemed to awake from his nightmare. He looked around at the restaurant walls and the customers who were happily in conversation with each other. Pavarotti filled the air. On his table, were a set of unused utensils and an empty wine glass.

Did he drink too much? He didn’t know. What he did know was the reflection of his life was not a false cloak of illusion. It was as much a nightmare as it was his reality. Only change could change his fate. Change and the effort to change. He would have to do away with the restaurant, with his job, with his life and start all over again. Everything would have to be different and it scared him.

“Sir?”

Marco gazed up at the open bottle of wine, pausing for a moment. He gave a grave nod.

"Some more."  

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Simon & Schuster is one of the world’s leading publishers and we are always looking for fresh new voices. Write a story, chapter, or essay about whatever you like. The 50 best entries will be announced by Prose and read by our editorial staff for consideration.
Written by Tbisco in portal Simon & Schuster
One Night at Giovanni's
Giovanni's Dining hung inconspicuously in a small alley on 4th Avenue in New York City. To a random passerby, it would look like one of those alleys you see in the crime dramas; where the opening scene takes place and someone gets murdered. For the venturous and well-informed, it was an intimate little Italian restaurant with the best foods from every region of Italy.

Marco Eris was a regular. He sat in the far right corner of the restaurant, away from the entrance and opposite to the kitchen. A seat designed for lovers, newlyweds and those hoping to spark up their romance. It was housed in a cocoon of twinkling lights wrapped along faux grape vines with a mural of the Adriatic Sea painted along the walls. For Marco, he took it as his own. A place not of love, but escape.

"Some more, sir?" asked the waiter, holding out a bottle of Brunello. Marco nodded while staring idly at his phone.

There was always something to check. Always someone that would be expecting him to know something or solve this and that problem. Marco earned his life this way and even in his escape, he was bound to it. Like a symbiotic relationship, his work kept his wallet healthy so long as he gave it the attention it needed.

"Your appetizer will be out shortly, sir," the waiter said as he was passing by. Then he paused. "And I hope you won't mind, but tonight the chef wished to do something different. He is wondering if you would mind having all your courses out at once? He feels each dish may enhance the next."

"Yes, sure," muttered Marco as he responded to another inquiry on his phone.

After the waiter left, he put down his phone and scanned the restaurant. There was the usual crowd. The extraordinarily wealthy businessmen, in black suits and shiny bald heads with their trophy women, all at least 20 years younger. Whether they were their wives or mistresses, no one could ever be certain. But this was not a place for questions like that. This was a place to enjoy luxury. To feel like the world was at your fingertips.

Marco's phone vibrated. He picked it up and saw it was his wife, Fiona. She hoped he was having a good night and not to get too rowdy while she was away. As of now, she was in their villa in Mexico. Probably about to get fucked by the pool boy again as she did last night and the night before. Marco saw it on the hidden cameras, but he could not blame her. He was no better.

"And we have the bruschetta topped with grilled prosciutto, sliced parmesan, and tomatoes," said the waiter, placing the first dish in front of Marco. He walked back to the kitchen and brought out a small bowl of soup. "Fresh Italian Wedding with handmade orzo, housemade meatballs."

"Hmph," scuffed Marco. He did not enjoy having soup before a meal. To him, it was a waste of stomach real estate.

"Is everything alright, sir?" the waiter asked.

"Yes, just hurry up with the main dish."

The waiter briskly walked towards the kitchen, ignoring a request for water from a couple along the way. Out he came with a steamy plate, ignoring the couple once again and placed it on the table. It was chicken parmesan and looked like something from any rundown diner in the city.

"Are you fucking kidding me?"

The waiter appeared distraught and stepped away to help another table.

"Hey!" yelled Marco. "You better tell that dickhead chef I'm not paying for this garbage. I don't care how it tastes, this is ridiculous!"

The waiter was finally flagged by the couple needing water and went to the kitchen to retrieve some.

"Really enhance the dish, huh?" Marco muttered to himself. "Yeah, this other stuff might help make up for that shit." And Marco began to eat.

He started with the soup. Despite his disposition, it was incredible. The broth was balanced as if on a tightrope that never teetered too far from the center. Then he crunched into the bruschetta. It sang melodies that brought his taste buds to tears. Finally, there was nothing left to try but the chicken parmesan.

The idea of eating it almost brought pain to Marco's chest. It was almost an insult to fine dining, to all his loyalty to this hidden eatery. He picked up his knife and fork and placed them aggressively on tomato-sauced chicken as if he were a serial killer about to disembowel his victim. As he cut, a blackened sludge from the inside poured out.

Marco sat back, aghast. "What the fuck?" he said loudly, but no one in the restaurant turned their head.

The meat appeared rotten. There was an algae-like fuzz among the black flakes of meat. Marco pushed the meat apart with his fork, separately the pieces of rotten flesh.

"Waiter!" he called. But the waiter kept running his rounds.

"This is ridiculous," said Marco and he tried to stand but his legs wouldn't let him. It was as if he glued in place. No matter how hard he fought, his legs would not lift.

As he pressed himself against the edges of his chair, he watched as the rest of his food began to turn. The bread of the bruschetta grew moldy, the broth of the soup went pale, and the aroma of death began to waft through the air. Even the restaurant began to change.

First went the trellises. The great network of white-painted scaffolds that supported the faux grapes vines through the restaurant began to break apart. Most fell without consequence, but some landed on tables and knocked over glasses. Still, the patrons carried on as if nothing happened. And that was when the place began to crumble.

The walls of the building collapsed, followed by the building on the other side of the alley. Then, the streets lay exposed but continued to run with the hustle and bustle of traffic. Beyond, one by one, the buildings New York fell to the ground. And with nothing left to protect Marco from the elements, the cold winds of the night blew through.

"What the fuck?" cried Marco as he shook in his chair.

His phone vibrated. He checked it. "999 missed messages, 999 missed calls." Marco flipped through and checked each message and call. They all turned up blank. Every message was empty and every missed call had no number. In a bout of desperation, he tried dialing his wife.

The phone rang and rang once more before connecting. It switched immediately to facetime and Marco watched the moaning face of his wife and the pool boy having his way with her. She looked at Marco for a moment and smiled before throwing the phone on the ground. It rested, looking up at the two-headed beast.

Marco threw his phone onto the ground in repulsion. It landed on the concrete, scraping against the light coat of sand that blew along the ground. Through his tears, Marco gazed around at what was once Giovanni's Dining to find a desolate landscape of sand and broken rock. The patrons were reduced to skeletons, yet they still seemed to be smiling.

Marco, broken and alone, cast his head into his hands. He wept like he never had before. He felt the sum of all his parts come to life. For all he planted in life rotted beneath him, for all he neglected to nurture lay withered at his feet. Wrapped in his despair he heard the patter of footsteps.

The waiter stood next to his table with a bottle of Brunello.

"Some more, sir?" he asked.

Marco seemed to awake from his nightmare. He looked around at the restaurant walls and the customers who were happily in conversation with each other. Pavarotti filled the air. On his table, were a set of unused utensils and an empty wine glass.

Did he drink too much? He didn’t know. What he did know was the reflection of his life was not a false cloak of illusion. It was as much a nightmare as it was his reality. Only change could change his fate. Change and the effort to change. He would have to do away with the restaurant, with his job, with his life and start all over again. Everything would have to be different and it scared him.

“Sir?”

Marco gazed up at the open bottle of wine, pausing for a moment. He gave a grave nod.

"Some more."  
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Written by Elliwrite in portal Simon & Schuster

Dear Laura : Dad and the A-bomb

Prologue –– Freedom

There was only one fact that I knew in the beginning. My dad stood six-foot-two inches tall and weighed eighty pounds when the U. S. Marines rescued him on a beach at Hatmamatsu, Japan in September, 1945.

This is a little-known story that took place during the last time an entire world was at war, in a part of the world that remains a mystery to most Westerners––Indonesia and Japan.

I wouldn’t know the entire story until the year Dad died, and neither would he. I wrapped up the ending to Dad’s story and gave it to him for his 92nd birthday. I’ll never fully comprehend the kind of fortitude, endurance, courage and grace he’d needed to cultivate in order to survive an experience that would crush the souls of most people.

But, he didn’t just survive. He thrived. This book is dedicated to people longing to do the same.

Chapter 1 –– A need for six nails

In July of 1986 at our home perched in the hills of Echo Park in downtown Los Angeles, my brother Mike had joined my husband and I in the celebration of our daughter’s first birthday.

I squatted down on our huge redwood deck to help Candice walk into the house, ridiculously excited to let her loose on her first birthday cake. On the dining room table sat a traditional, German log roll sponge cake topped with two pink candles. I’d continued mom’s tradition of baking the cake and also her tradition of always including a candle to grow-on.

My daughter’s hand in mine, we toddled into the house. Mike glanced at the little wooden bench Candy used to steady herself. A bench my dad had made with her a few months before––another tradition. My brothers, sister and I had all made them with Dad as children. We used them to sit upon while weeding in our garden, or to put things within our reach.

As I lifted my baby into her high chair, Mike pointed to the bench and offhandedly whispered, "Concentration camp bench.”

“What are you talking about?” I said in a hushed tone as if such a thing could shield my baby from the ugly words.

“Ask Dad,” my brother said.

For me, this is where the story begins.

Before my brother whispered those three words on Candice’s first birthday, we’d never spoken of Dad’s WWII experience. I don’t recall when I learned the news for the first time. I seemed to have been born knowing Dad had been a Japanese POW, the fact flowed through my veins as much a part of me as my skin or hair.

After Candy’s birthday and some soul-searching, I wrote Dad a letter asking him to tell me the story about his first wooden bench. This began a decade-long adventure and involve a quest to uncover the truth. To put long-since forgotten pieces of Dad’s life back together again. To do what he’d spent a lifetime trying not to do––remember.

I’d ask questions. Dad would answer. I’ve interviewed many people in my writing career, but the most interesting interview of my life wasn’t with Quentin Tarantino, Christian Bale, the latest up-and-coming actress in Hollywood, or an adrenaline-addicted adventurer. The best and most significant interview of my life took place with my dad over stolen moments during our busy lives.

Dad and I exchanged many letters over the years. He was a good letter writer because he comes from a long line of missionaries. They were famous for writing letters because they lived in far-flung parts of the world and longed for news from home. It’s hard to imagine a world without the Internet and instant communication. In those days, letters were the only way to get the news until an invention called the radio changed the world forever.

I’d like to say that receiving Dad’s letters were like receiving little treasures, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Part of his trauma was to do everything he could to protect himself and his family from experiencing danger ever again––any kind of danger.

So along with the answers to my questions, he sent what I fondly called packages of fear. Manilla envelopes filled with articles and books and documentation about the things I needed to be most afraid of––the coming BIG LA earthquake, financial crisis, water shortage, you get the idea. The fear around the envelopes became so palpable to me, that after a few years I asked my then-husband to open them and let me know what was inside. Tucked away within the packages, among the fear, treasures waited to be discovered and explored. Some begged to see the light of day.

The packages were a metaphor for Dad––fear-filled and joy-filled. Confusion ruled over the truth. Together he and I opened his package of fear and brought its contents into the light. Our exploration together unlocked mysteries over a half a century old that had been sealed tight if not almost completely destroyed by trauma or the fog of war. I wouldn’t know it then, and neither would Dad, but his package was missing something very important––the end.

All I knew was I needed answers. And Dad loved to tell stories. In a way, it didn’t really matter to him what stories he told. He whole-heartedly enjoyed the time we spent together and our correspondence by mail. He loved connection. Along the way, he would say that there was no greater treasure than a package delivered by the postman. It would take years for me to understand why.

To get to the heart of Dad’s story, the real story, he had to be brave enough to let me in. In order to do that, I had to show him the patience he’d shown me while working math problems that brought me to tears, repairing cars I’d destroyed, enduring dating disasters and serious boyfriends, giving me away in marriage, the journey of motherhood, the agony of betrayal and divorce and more. Together we’d talk and laugh and drink tea. I am convinced this story would have never seen the light of day without God, the U.S. Post office, tea, Indonesian food, movies, and Mom’s patience.

I am a romantic. This is my great strength and terrible weakness. As I received my answers and they turned into more questions, the developing narrative evolved into something more epic than a dad answering his daughter’s questions. The story transcended the personal. I was writing history.

I dedicated myself to reigning in romanticism’s role in the research and the form the story took. I surrendered to how the story needed to be told. That the story developed from the primary research of one individual was valid from a research perspective, but I couldn’t follow the breadcrumbs unquestioningly.

I had to verify the facts as we discovered them, use a pick axe and goggles to discover others, and allow for many Acts of God––being in the right place in the right part of the world at the right time; randomly meeting people who knew more about the story than I did, pointing me and the story in the right direction. There is no way this story would have been able to be written without Devine intervention. I state this fact in the interest of full-disclosure.

My journey naively began with the search for the answers to my questions. But the real job was to answer Dad’s and in doing so many more stories came to light. Instead of checking off the questions I had, I found myself creating new lists. Originally tangents of this story, I quickly realized that their answers would best be served in books of their own.

The most dramatic settings of Dad’s stories would be the European and Pacific Theaters of WWII. Not many families found themselves in peril in both theaters of the war, but mine did. Escape from one was lucky, escape from both impossible.

Dad’s first letter came without a package of fear. He’d mailed his letter in his signature white business envelope, a no-nonsense black, rubber-stamped return address in the left-hand corner. A handwritten note inside on blue-lined, ruled paper gave me my answer:

“Dear Laura,

When I was seventeen, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy sailed down into the South China Sea.

Suicide dive bombers flew down the stacks of two British battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, and sank them both. This destroyed the Allied Navy in the South Pacific.

Singapore surrendered and the Dutch East Indies followed. The Japanese landed on the island of Java where I lived with my family. I would celebrate my nineteenth birthday in a Japanese prison camp. A men's camp. I was a boy.

Our quarters were made of bamboo and thatched palm fronds. In normal Indonesian fashion, the floor was raised over the ground, and we slept on mats on this floor. The benches became our chairs.

By the time I turned 19, I'd learned to adapt. I found an opportunity to work in the kitchen. The rule was that the kitchen help could eat in the kitchen but not take food out of the kitchen. This way, I was not hungry.

My job was to keep the fires under the drums going with firewood provided. We were given a small axe to split the wood. Between meals I had free time and was able to split certain firewood logs into planks. It took a lot of work and the planks were uneven. The legs were two shorter planks braced by sticks.

The real important part of the bench was the need for six nails. Nails were impossible to get. But the prison camp was surrounded by a six-foot barbed wire fence. The posts were made of bamboo and the barbed wire was nailed into the bamboo post. At times, when the guards were not there, I crept to the fence and pulled nails out, being careful to only pull out nails which did not cause the wire to droop. By my 21st birthday, I had a little side business making benches.”

At this point, there were only two facts that I knew about Dad’s experience as a Japanese POW. One was the story of the bench and the other was that my dad was six-foot-two inches tall and weighed eighty pounds when the U. S. Marines rescued him on a beach at Hatmamatsu, Japan in September, 1945.

I had to know what happened in between.

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Written by Elliwrite in portal Simon & Schuster
Dear Laura : Dad and the A-bomb
Prologue –– Freedom

There was only one fact that I knew in the beginning. My dad stood six-foot-two inches tall and weighed eighty pounds when the U. S. Marines rescued him on a beach at Hatmamatsu, Japan in September, 1945.

This is a little-known story that took place during the last time an entire world was at war, in a part of the world that remains a mystery to most Westerners––Indonesia and Japan.
I wouldn’t know the entire story until the year Dad died, and neither would he. I wrapped up the ending to Dad’s story and gave it to him for his 92nd birthday. I’ll never fully comprehend the kind of fortitude, endurance, courage and grace he’d needed to cultivate in order to survive an experience that would crush the souls of most people.
But, he didn’t just survive. He thrived. This book is dedicated to people longing to do the same.


Chapter 1 –– A need for six nails

In July of 1986 at our home perched in the hills of Echo Park in downtown Los Angeles, my brother Mike had joined my husband and I in the celebration of our daughter’s first birthday.
I squatted down on our huge redwood deck to help Candice walk into the house, ridiculously excited to let her loose on her first birthday cake. On the dining room table sat a traditional, German log roll sponge cake topped with two pink candles. I’d continued mom’s tradition of baking the cake and also her tradition of always including a candle to grow-on.
My daughter’s hand in mine, we toddled into the house. Mike glanced at the little wooden bench Candy used to steady herself. A bench my dad had made with her a few months before––another tradition. My brothers, sister and I had all made them with Dad as children. We used them to sit upon while weeding in our garden, or to put things within our reach.
As I lifted my baby into her high chair, Mike pointed to the bench and offhandedly whispered, "Concentration camp bench.”
“What are you talking about?” I said in a hushed tone as if such a thing could shield my baby from the ugly words.
“Ask Dad,” my brother said.
For me, this is where the story begins.
Before my brother whispered those three words on Candice’s first birthday, we’d never spoken of Dad’s WWII experience. I don’t recall when I learned the news for the first time. I seemed to have been born knowing Dad had been a Japanese POW, the fact flowed through my veins as much a part of me as my skin or hair.
After Candy’s birthday and some soul-searching, I wrote Dad a letter asking him to tell me the story about his first wooden bench. This began a decade-long adventure and involve a quest to uncover the truth. To put long-since forgotten pieces of Dad’s life back together again. To do what he’d spent a lifetime trying not to do––remember.
I’d ask questions. Dad would answer. I’ve interviewed many people in my writing career, but the most interesting interview of my life wasn’t with Quentin Tarantino, Christian Bale, the latest up-and-coming actress in Hollywood, or an adrenaline-addicted adventurer. The best and most significant interview of my life took place with my dad over stolen moments during our busy lives.
Dad and I exchanged many letters over the years. He was a good letter writer because he comes from a long line of missionaries. They were famous for writing letters because they lived in far-flung parts of the world and longed for news from home. It’s hard to imagine a world without the Internet and instant communication. In those days, letters were the only way to get the news until an invention called the radio changed the world forever.
I’d like to say that receiving Dad’s letters were like receiving little treasures, but that wouldn’t be entirely true. Part of his trauma was to do everything he could to protect himself and his family from experiencing danger ever again––any kind of danger.
So along with the answers to my questions, he sent what I fondly called packages of fear. Manilla envelopes filled with articles and books and documentation about the things I needed to be most afraid of––the coming BIG LA earthquake, financial crisis, water shortage, you get the idea. The fear around the envelopes became so palpable to me, that after a few years I asked my then-husband to open them and let me know what was inside. Tucked away within the packages, among the fear, treasures waited to be discovered and explored. Some begged to see the light of day.
The packages were a metaphor for Dad––fear-filled and joy-filled. Confusion ruled over the truth. Together he and I opened his package of fear and brought its contents into the light. Our exploration together unlocked mysteries over a half a century old that had been sealed tight if not almost completely destroyed by trauma or the fog of war. I wouldn’t know it then, and neither would Dad, but his package was missing something very important––the end.
All I knew was I needed answers. And Dad loved to tell stories. In a way, it didn’t really matter to him what stories he told. He whole-heartedly enjoyed the time we spent together and our correspondence by mail. He loved connection. Along the way, he would say that there was no greater treasure than a package delivered by the postman. It would take years for me to understand why.
To get to the heart of Dad’s story, the real story, he had to be brave enough to let me in. In order to do that, I had to show him the patience he’d shown me while working math problems that brought me to tears, repairing cars I’d destroyed, enduring dating disasters and serious boyfriends, giving me away in marriage, the journey of motherhood, the agony of betrayal and divorce and more. Together we’d talk and laugh and drink tea. I am convinced this story would have never seen the light of day without God, the U.S. Post office, tea, Indonesian food, movies, and Mom’s patience.
I am a romantic. This is my great strength and terrible weakness. As I received my answers and they turned into more questions, the developing narrative evolved into something more epic than a dad answering his daughter’s questions. The story transcended the personal. I was writing history.
I dedicated myself to reigning in romanticism’s role in the research and the form the story took. I surrendered to how the story needed to be told. That the story developed from the primary research of one individual was valid from a research perspective, but I couldn’t follow the breadcrumbs unquestioningly.
I had to verify the facts as we discovered them, use a pick axe and goggles to discover others, and allow for many Acts of God––being in the right place in the right part of the world at the right time; randomly meeting people who knew more about the story than I did, pointing me and the story in the right direction. There is no way this story would have been able to be written without Devine intervention. I state this fact in the interest of full-disclosure.
My journey naively began with the search for the answers to my questions. But the real job was to answer Dad’s and in doing so many more stories came to light. Instead of checking off the questions I had, I found myself creating new lists. Originally tangents of this story, I quickly realized that their answers would best be served in books of their own.
The most dramatic settings of Dad’s stories would be the European and Pacific Theaters of WWII. Not many families found themselves in peril in both theaters of the war, but mine did. Escape from one was lucky, escape from both impossible.
Dad’s first letter came without a package of fear. He’d mailed his letter in his signature white business envelope, a no-nonsense black, rubber-stamped return address in the left-hand corner. A handwritten note inside on blue-lined, ruled paper gave me my answer:
“Dear Laura,
When I was seventeen, three days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Navy sailed down into the South China Sea.
Suicide dive bombers flew down the stacks of two British battleships, the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, and sank them both. This destroyed the Allied Navy in the South Pacific.
Singapore surrendered and the Dutch East Indies followed. The Japanese landed on the island of Java where I lived with my family. I would celebrate my nineteenth birthday in a Japanese prison camp. A men's camp. I was a boy.
Our quarters were made of bamboo and thatched palm fronds. In normal Indonesian fashion, the floor was raised over the ground, and we slept on mats on this floor. The benches became our chairs.
By the time I turned 19, I'd learned to adapt. I found an opportunity to work in the kitchen. The rule was that the kitchen help could eat in the kitchen but not take food out of the kitchen. This way, I was not hungry.
My job was to keep the fires under the drums going with firewood provided. We were given a small axe to split the wood. Between meals I had free time and was able to split certain firewood logs into planks. It took a lot of work and the planks were uneven. The legs were two shorter planks braced by sticks.
The real important part of the bench was the need for six nails. Nails were impossible to get. But the prison camp was surrounded by a six-foot barbed wire fence. The posts were made of bamboo and the barbed wire was nailed into the bamboo post. At times, when the guards were not there, I crept to the fence and pulled nails out, being careful to only pull out nails which did not cause the wire to droop. By my 21st birthday, I had a little side business making benches.”
At this point, there were only two facts that I knew about Dad’s experience as a Japanese POW. One was the story of the bench and the other was that my dad was six-foot-two inches tall and weighed eighty pounds when the U. S. Marines rescued him on a beach at Hatmamatsu, Japan in September, 1945.
I had to know what happened in between.

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