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Carl Melcher… Into the Great Alone

His best dreams were the ones about young women. They were interested in him and took his arm as they walked and talked. They wore colorful dresses of smooth fabric that slid over their skin; they were slim and lithe, not big and tattooed like so many 21st century American women. Sometimes they slowly morphed into older women over the course of the dream, their hair turning grey or cropped short like cancer victims, but they were always petite with warm skin and serious, attractive faces that looked at him with respect and love. There was no sex, but there was a hint of it to come. These women wanted to be with him, and when he woke to find them gone he was always disappointed and sad for a while.

He washed his eyes, his face, combed his hair, worrying about how thin it was becoming. He went into the kitchen and ran the water for the coffee machine. As he put the coffee into the filter basket, Ziggy the dog and Suzanne the cat were close at his feet and he was careful not to tread on them. The house was cold and he knelt before the pot-bellied stove and balled-up some newspaper for fire-starter. He made a mound of it and lay a couple of pine cones and two logs over top. He lit the paper, closed the door and stood. Ziggy looked at him expectantly. Like him, the dog was now old.

“Okay, Ziggy. You and Suzanne are next.” He went into the shed, the two animals close behind. He filled Suzanne’s bowl with kibble and she jumped up onto the drier and put her head in the bowl as she ate, arching her back up to be caressed. Siamese were interesting cats, he thought. He gave Ziggy his kibble and went back into the kitchen, getting out his coffee cup and saucer. He turned on his laptop, logged on, and clicked on the streaming site for the talk radio show. The traffic report from the San Francisco Bay Area where he used to live and work was on. He listened with interest and some schadenfreude to the managed chaos that getting to work in the Bay Area had become. He had done it for 35 years and sometimes when he listened to all the problems it sounded like he had gotten out in the nick of time. His congratulatory back-patting was suddenly and guiltily tempered by the knowledge that his son, a young man, now had to contend with it every day.

He added sugar and creamer to his coffee, sat down at the table and wondered what the hell he was going to do all day.

I lived in a California town called Chilton, high up in the Sierras. The population was 2,000, equally divided between young families, many of them on government assistance, and retired couples living on fixed incomes, with just a hand-full of loners like me.

Situated smack dab in the middle of a National Forest, it was a beautiful place, but I wasn’t happy here. Don’t get me wrong; Ansel Adams would have loved living here, so would a lot of others. And I did, in the beginning, but not anymore.

Main Street was typical middle-America -- a small supermarket, a bank, a burger joint, a gas station, bar, motel, that sort of thing. We had three restaurants: a Chinese (bad), a Mexican (bad also), and a diner (awful).

In the summer the place bustled with tourists -- happy families of campers in town for hamburgers and ice cream, fishermen buying beer and bait in the supermarket, middle aged, elderly walkers with green eyeshades and ski poles, photographers and bird watchers setting their tripods up on the sides of the road by the lake, young millennial hikers, scruffy and dirty-looking like homeless people, down off the trails to pick up their mail and use the laundromat. For the locals there were neighbor’s barbecues, yard sales, church picnics… But when winter settled in (there were no nearby ski resorts), most of the businesses closed and the people on the street dwindled to a few, and after dark… nobody, nothing.

Now that I was divorced and living alone again, I did my best to keep busy. I did a little writing. I’d had a few books published over the course of my lifetime, but none of them really went anywhere. I still had the desire to write, to be a part of the culture, so I continued with it. When I tired of that and wanted some diversion, there was cable TV or internet chat on Facebook, videos; I saw -- fire fights and bombings in the Middle East, young men doing death-defying BMX bike stunts, ISIS atrocities, young Antifa toughs, their identities hidden under bandanas, throwing metal barriers into plate glass doors, street fighting. If you wanted real, rather than virtual, you could wander the aisles of the Dollar General, or join one of the church groups or go to the AA or Overeaters Anonymous meetings. I’d never been much of a joiner and so I often went out alone to walk.

There were only about ten of us in town that went out during the winter months -- the two most down-and-out drunks in town, Henry and Manuel (roommates), two middle-aged couples who fast-walked together, two retarded adult men who lived with a kindly Christian family, me and my dog, Ziggy, and Danni, the beautiful, retarded girl who spent a lot of time sitting on her bicycle wearing her Disney Aladdin helmet, calling out to passers-by for attention. Twelve years old, with long scalloped blonde hair, already filling out with little breasts and hips, she always wanted to pet Ziggy or take him for a walk, or come to my house. I felt sorry for her, but as an older, divorced man, I kept a safe distance. I couldn’t imagine how much her parents must have worried about her.

I’d been happy in Chilton with my second wife, Divina, for most of our eighteen months, and then we’d split up. I had thought we had it all and would go the distance, till death do us part. After all, we were both older. I was sixty-five, she fifty-five, and we lived a quiet life in a nice clean house in a safe little town. Yeah… I know what you’re thinking.

I don’t blame Divina entirely. It takes two to make a marriage soar, and two to rip its delicate diaphanous wings off. We’d had love, commitment, but now it was gone. Sometimes when I look back, I think Divina expected me to rein her in, to get physical with her like she got with me a couple times. I definitely got the feeling when we got into it a couple of times that she expected a physical response from me, a push or a slap. But I could never get physical with a woman. I figured that when things sank to that level it was time to move on. And in California, if a man hit his woman, even if she’d hit him first, he’d quickly find himself in deep legal trouble.

This was all my doing. I was the one who found Divina, a Filipina, on-line in Spain, pursued her, married her. It was all based on my loneliness, and on that devil, attraction. She had a Mona Lisa smile and a tiny, girlish figure. When we finally met on skype, I felt like it was just perfect.

I had started out on regular dating sites, but somewhere along the way I got switched onto this other site -- Asian Cutie. I don’t remember how that happened, but all of a sudden, after weeks of struggling to get women to respond to my ‘winks,’ young, beautiful, and aggressive, women appeared on the screen, all of them pleading to chat with me. I’m no fool. There are only a few reasons why a sexy twenty-something year-old girl would be interested in a sixty-five year-old American man. I had fun teasing them at first, but I wasn’t going to succumb to the ‘drooling old geezer/hot young chick’ fantasy. I was ready to drop it all when Divina gave me a ‘flirt.’ She was middle-aged, 55, but looked more like 40. Her smile caught my eye right away -- warm, etched with a tired, stoic cast, as if she’d seen it all and knew every game people played and was ready for the real thing. So was I.

I sat on the couch reading, Ziggy snoring at my feet, Suzanne reclining Sphynx-like behind me on the high back of the couch. I was alone a lot now. That’s not a pity play, just a fact, my new norm. The fan on the propane stove came on, pushing hot air into the room; flames rippled orange light onto the carpet. Ziggy raised his head inquisitively, then lay it down again. It was almost eleven at night and I had an hour before I had to be at work, graveyard shift. Outside, the temperature was 15 degrees. Going out was like jumping into a pool of chilled water. I sat for a while longer, then made a thermos of coffee, put it in my brief case and went out, locking the door.

I pulled up to the guard shack at the sawmill for my shift as a security guard. Up here there weren’t a lot of jobs available in the winter. Machinists and welders at the mill, gas station clerk, security guard at the mill, substitute teacher at the high school if you were degreed. I was, and I’d subbed there the semester before, but the kids were brats and I hadn’t liked it. So now I sat in a guard shack instead, making a patrol every hour or so, climbing steel catwalks around and over huge pieces of machinery that could grind a man to hamburger in seconds -- abraders that ripped the bark off of giant sequoia trees, high-speed band saws that sliced them into 2 x 10’s. As I walked my rounds in the cold and dark, I looked for signs of fire or pipes ruptured by the freezing cold.

I didn’t want to work; I was retired, but the spousal support I was paying to Divina every month, and the money I was sending to help my son through tech college, was more than was coming in every month from my SSI. And there were the occasional co-payments for medical bills, dental cleanings, new glasses, etcetera.

Things had been very different just a year earlier. I’d had money in my savings account and owned my own house. I still owned the house, but my savings account was almost exhausted. My marriage, and getting out of it, had been costly, but I still think I did the right thing. My lawyer said that if I had waited much longer I might have ended up losing my house.

Before Chilton, before my marriage to Divina, I lived in Concord in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked fifty five miles away at Western Aerospace. My son Anthony was living with me. I already had my little house up here in Chilton, which I was using as an occasional weekend getaway. I’d been with Western Aerospace for thirty years and was scheduled to retire in two more. I’d been separated from my long-time lady friend Lily for a couple years and divorced from my first wife for eleven. Things were quiet, settled, and boring. I felt like my health, and especially my sex, was slowly slipping away. What was the saying? Use it or lose it? Well, at sixty-five, how many years of a sex life does a man have left? Could be five years, could be twenty-five, could be one. Nobody knows. I had been sleeping alone too much and was in the most common kind of rut. You know, get up, eat, commute to work, work all day, commute home, make something to eat, clean up, watch a little TV because you’re too tired to do anything else, and go to bed. Repeat five days a week and recuperate on the sixth and seventh. Anthony, was twenty-five and in junior college. Like I had been at his age, he was still trying to find himself, vacillating between various jobs and being a student.

The only thing that made that phase of my life bearable was the knowledge that I was in the home stretch of my career at Western Aerospace, just a couple years from retirement. I knew I could put up with a few more years of anything, and I did. My day went like this: get up at four, drive to Frank’s, my carpool buddy’s place, by four thirty. We’d zip into the Starbucks at the strip mall. He’d run in to get his coffee. I’d wait. He’d come out and get in. Wordlessly I’d put the car in gear and take off. Going down 680, I’d do 75 like everybody else (actually, a lot of guys did 80 or more). We’d do the 65 miles in 36 or 37 minutes. It was easy. I’d put the car in cruise control and Frank would lie down in the back after he’d had his coffee, and go to sleep. One time his huge bulk rose up behind me and he said groggily, “where the fuck are we?” “Huh?” I said. I had gone two stops past our exit after evidently falling asleep at the wheel. But, as bad as my driving was, Frank’s was worse. When it was his turn I’d just lay down in the back and go unconscious, knowing that if he ran the car off the road at 85 mph, it was better that way. Fortunately that never happened. About 5:15 or 5:30, Frank would wake me as we rolled into the company parking lot. Since Frank was a manager, he worked ten hour days and so I had to as well. If we could have left earlier we could have avoided the worst of the evening commute, but often Frank wasn’t finished until 5:30 or 6:00. Then we’d get on the freeway and crawl home for two, two and a half hours. It was awful. Awful! That was my life for the two years after I’d broken up with my long-term (about six years) lady-friend, Lily. Then Western had a big meeting in an off-site conference hall and formerly announced the company’s poor performance, loss of contracts, and down-sizing. They had to jettison twenty percent of the workforce, enticing volunteers with generous severance packages. They asked for volunteers and mine was the first hand up.

Back then I went out on the occasional Friday or Saturday night to look for women. I found a couple, but we ended up dating for only a month or two. I wasn’t the kind of man that women instantly felt an attraction to; after a lifetime of experiences, I knew I had to work hard at it. So my choices seemed to be somewhat limited. I wasn’t tall, and women liked their men taller than themselves. And I was modest, not prone to bragging, and women liked men that were full of themselves, or at least that’s what I told myself in my jealous or down moments. Strangely, I did better with women from alien cultures. My first wife was Chinese, from Hong Kong. I met her in San Francisco on a blind date set up by one of my friends -- I had two of them, a Chinese man from Vietnam, and another guy from Thailand. After my marriage crashed and burned, I didn’t go out; instead I spent my time working and raising my son alone (the court had given my daughter back to her mother to raise). It was tough, but I had a little help from kindly neighbors who had two boys my son’s age, and I also belonged to a wonderful social support group of unmarried parents. We met on a regular basis to share our experiences as single parents, and the children got to interact with other children dealing with divorce or the death of a parent. It was a good concept and it helped me and my son a lot.

After about five years of singleness, I started making tentative attempts to meet women. I met Lily, also Chinese, at a singles’ dance in San Francisco. I truly didn’t have anything against American women, at least I didn’t think I did, but they just didn’t seem all that interested in me. Whereas, there were lots of Asian women in the San Francisco Bay Area and many of them seemed to fancy American men. When in Rome…

Like half the men at the club, the slow starters, I stood around between the dance numbers, drink in hand, trying not to look desperate as I sized up the women. Then Lilly made her entrance. She was, perhaps, a little over-dressed, in a gown of some kind, like she was part of a wedding party. I think others noticed that too. But she was beautiful. Her eyes were rounder than most Han Chinese, her skin lighter. She was not petite like many Chinese women, but my height and rather voluptuous. There had to have been an interloper high up in her family tree, perhaps a Silk Road foreigner hiding in the barn; what else could account for her exotic beauty? She moved about the club, her eyes downcast. Women this beautiful were usually not self-conscious and tentative; I couldn’t understand it. I watched her speak to a couple of men (she stayed well away from the women), but her conversations with them were brief. The men seemed uncomfortable with her, despite her beauty, as if she had some deformity which I couldn’t detect from the distance. Finally she came within range and I approached her. She was beautiful, but her gown -- pink and fluffy -- looked antique, like she’d found it on the set of Gone With the Wind or in a thrift store (later I would find out that she worked in a thrift store).

“Hello,” I said. “What’s your name?” Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly Mister smooth-talk.

“Lily.”

“Are you a professional single?”

She brought her hand up to her mouth, giggling, “I sorry. I… I don’t speak good.”

“No, no, relax, I understand you just fine.” (This would, of course, eventually turn out to not be true.)

She had a primitive command of English, but I didn’t care. She hovered close to me for about an hour. We danced a few and I was astounded by my luck. The male swells in the room weren’t willing to invest a little more attentiveness and effort to converse with her, but I was -- their loss. Before I said goodbye, we exchanged phone numbers. For the next three days, she called every day when I was at work. My son took the calls. “Dad,” he said, “I think she’s really interested in you.”

For our first two or three months together, I couldn’t take my eyes off her, couldn’t believe my luck. Lily liked her sack time. Her husband hadn’t been too interested -- turns out he’d had something on the side -- and Lily seemed to be trying to make up for lost time. Once, at her insistence, we made love in a copse of bushes in Golden Gate Park. Lily had never made love outdoors and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. After driving around, I found a spot that looked safe. Golden Gate Park had a homeless population in the thousands and I’d seen some of them close-up. They were not kindly, aged hippies, but feral, mean drunks, druggies, and criminals. I was nervous and on my guard for the approach of anyone, and so it wasn’t good for me, but we managed to pull it off. Lily seemed to have been simply satisfied to cross it off her list. Fortunately, most of our lovemaking was in my bed and she was playing catch-up. For the first couple months I was happy to comply, but eventually I slowed down a little, wanting and needing to get enough sleep after the toll of working and commuting. Lily, however, was relentless and usually got her way.  

One day Divina asked me to take her to the bank so she could open up her own checking account. I had opened up a joint checking account for us when she’d arrived, giving her responsibility for managing the household expenses. The money for this was direct-deposited every month from my SSI check. Now she wanted her own account to tuck away the money she was earning. We argued about it and she brought up the fact that I had my own savings account at a bank down in San Francisco. That was true, but this was for the money my employer had given me to sweeten my early retirement, before I met Divina. My pension, accumulated over a lifetime of work before I met Divina, also went into this account for our rainy day fund. I’d already taken from this account for occasional trips, luxuries, but I reserved the right to manage it myself.

We went into the Alpine Bank. The building was big, built forty-five years earlier when logging companies employed thousands up here -- a long counter with ten stations. Only three of them were open, the others roped off. The other side of the bank was dimly lit and devoid of customers, with a floor-to-ceiling diorama of a doe leaning down to nibble the grass, as above, a fanged mountain lion on a rocky ledge prepared to pounce.

I directed Divina towards Charlene, a talkative, friendly woman, Canadian by birth (we’d talked a few times before Divina arrived. I’m pretty sure she was interested in me, but I was already courting Divina on Skype at the time and I’m loyal to a fault, or a fool; take your pick.)

Charlene smiled. “What can I do for you two love birds today,” she said.

I smiled.

Divina’s face was taut. After a pause she said timidly, “I want to open an account.”

“Not a problem.” Charlene tapped at her keyboard. Adjusting her reader glasses, she studied the screen. The tellers on either side of us smiled as they busied themselves.

In the beginning, Divina did not work and that had been fine with me. After the required three-month wait, we submitted a Form I-765 work permit application as stipulated in the terms of her Fiancé Visa. There really was no need for her to work. I owned my home and we had no rent to worry about and could live comfortably on my social security. That made our marriage wonderful in the beginning… waking up every day not having to fight the hordes of commuters to get to a job you didn’t like, a cranky boss, catty co-workers, tedious Quality Control meetings, long commutes home. And when you arrived home you spoke a few pleasantries to your wife or husband, made dinner, washed and put away the dishes, then sat together on the couch, both of you too tired to do much but yawn and watch TV in a daze. Then it was time for bed, but only for sleep, because you were too tired to do anything else.

“You already have a checking account,” said Charlene, “is this a new one?”

“That’s right,” I chimed in -- the loyal, supportive husband -- “we have a joint account. But this one is for Divina.”

I noticed the other tellers react slightly, an eye blink, a tightening of facial muscles. When Divina had told me she wanted her own checking account, I’d felt a rift opening between us. But what could I do? This was 21st Century America, California… She was an adult and had a job now, two actually. I could see that the tellers found the whole business curious and I wondered how long it would be before half of Chilton would be discussing it over dinner.

Charlene knew that Divina was in the country on a 90-day fiancé visa because when we opened our joint account, Divina still had only her Philippine passport for identification. She’d arrived in autumn as the weather was beginning to cool. Here, 5,000 feet up in the Sierras, we had four seasons. Three were wonderful, but winter, the longest, was harsh and not for the faint of heart. I’m talking ten degrees at night, sometimes ten below, highs in the low-thirties during the day, and snow, lots of it, measured in feet, not inches. Hard to believe for California, right?

In order to satisfy one of the requirements of the visa we had to get married within ninety days. But we got along so well that two weeks after she arrived we decided to drive over to Reno Nevada and marry in one of the little boutique wedding chapels. Snow was threatening and I had no chains for the pickup, but we took a chance and went for it. And although the skies were grey and portentous, we made it there okay. It was great. We went shopping at the mall, had lunch, got married, saw a movie, and honeymooned overnight in one of the casinos, arriving back in Chilton the next morning.

At that time, due to the terms of the visa, Divina couldn’t work, and so most days we were forced to hang out at home next to a toasty-warm wood stove, watch TV, read, or growing bored with that, catch a little afternoon delight in the bedroom, actually a lot of it. It was wonderful, let me tell you.

We had four wonderful months like that -- long, leisurely breakfasts, comforting walks around the town, watching the river skin over with ice, the trees along the banks turn crystalline white with frost. Then we’d head home where I’d pull her into the bedroom. Forget the old adage about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach. There was a better route and Divina knew it well. Afterward, we’d have a nice nap, then leisurely preparations for dinner. Divina was a great cook. I loved her Pork Adobo.

Then Divina informed me that the money she had brought with her, (I hadn’t known about it) that she had been sending home to her parents every month, had run out. She told me that her parents depended on it to live, and that I could either take over the monthly allotments or she would have to go to work.

I crunched the numbers; it wasn’t good. If I took over the payments, we’d have a negative cash-flow. If a disaster befell us, like the truck’s engine blowing out, or the roof beginning to leak, we’d have no money to cover it. That would mean a loan, maybe a lien on the house, which after saving for it over a lifetime, I absolutely did not want. I told her that if she wanted to work it was fine with me. It would take away some of our leisurely honeymoon time, but the alternative bothered me more.

We looked through the want-ads in the local paper. The only thing Divina qualified for was in-home elder care. The salary wasn’t bad for up here (most folks made minimum wage, and I’m not talking about high school kids, but rather adults with high school kids); it payed eleven bucks an hour and included a health care plan paid for by the agency if the employee worked a minimum of thirty hours a week. The only problem was that Divina did not drive and the clients were too far for her to walk to. So I retired from my retirement to go to work as Divina’s driver. I’d do my thing at home until the phone rang, and then off I’d go to Uber her to the next client’s place. I didn’t mind, of course; that’s what husbands do.

Don’t get me wrong. After Divina went to work it was still good between us, at least for a while. She was ten years younger than me, so I had already considered that she might want to go back to work. While she was gone I spent my time reading, going on Facebook. And the sex was still good, although there wasn’t as much of it. Despite that, I had more sex with Divina in these eighteen months than I’d had with my first wife over fourteen years of marriage.

To her credit, Divina was a hard worker. Her clients liked her, and within a month she had a full dance card as word of her work-ethic spread. She had no problem making thirty hours a week. Then she heard of an opportunity at the supermarket, one of the few businesses in town open all year long. She got hired. Now she was working sixty hours a week. Of course things began to slowly change.

Divina had been sending her parents $750 a month. Now she was earning $2300 a month and it was all going back to the Philippines. Her finances had tripled and I was the one who had made it all possible. I should’ve been a UN poster boy for supporting Women’s Empowerment; I should’ve been happy. But instead I felt used. On the other hand (why does there always have to be an ‘other hand?’), it was her money. It would have been nice though if she would have put some of it in the community pot. Despite all of this we still got along okay and we still had great sex.

(a novel-in-progress)

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by callingcrow in portal Trident Media Group
Carl Melcher… Into the Great Alone
His best dreams were the ones about young women. They were interested in him and took his arm as they walked and talked. They wore colorful dresses of smooth fabric that slid over their skin; they were slim and lithe, not big and tattooed like so many 21st century American women. Sometimes they slowly morphed into older women over the course of the dream, their hair turning grey or cropped short like cancer victims, but they were always petite with warm skin and serious, attractive faces that looked at him with respect and love. There was no sex, but there was a hint of it to come. These women wanted to be with him, and when he woke to find them gone he was always disappointed and sad for a while.

He washed his eyes, his face, combed his hair, worrying about how thin it was becoming. He went into the kitchen and ran the water for the coffee machine. As he put the coffee into the filter basket, Ziggy the dog and Suzanne the cat were close at his feet and he was careful not to tread on them. The house was cold and he knelt before the pot-bellied stove and balled-up some newspaper for fire-starter. He made a mound of it and lay a couple of pine cones and two logs over top. He lit the paper, closed the door and stood. Ziggy looked at him expectantly. Like him, the dog was now old.

“Okay, Ziggy. You and Suzanne are next.” He went into the shed, the two animals close behind. He filled Suzanne’s bowl with kibble and she jumped up onto the drier and put her head in the bowl as she ate, arching her back up to be caressed. Siamese were interesting cats, he thought. He gave Ziggy his kibble and went back into the kitchen, getting out his coffee cup and saucer. He turned on his laptop, logged on, and clicked on the streaming site for the talk radio show. The traffic report from the San Francisco Bay Area where he used to live and work was on. He listened with interest and some schadenfreude to the managed chaos that getting to work in the Bay Area had become. He had done it for 35 years and sometimes when he listened to all the problems it sounded like he had gotten out in the nick of time. His congratulatory back-patting was suddenly and guiltily tempered by the knowledge that his son, a young man, now had to contend with it every day.

He added sugar and creamer to his coffee, sat down at the table and wondered what the hell he was going to do all day.





I lived in a California town called Chilton, high up in the Sierras. The population was 2,000, equally divided between young families, many of them on government assistance, and retired couples living on fixed incomes, with just a hand-full of loners like me.

Situated smack dab in the middle of a National Forest, it was a beautiful place, but I wasn’t happy here. Don’t get me wrong; Ansel Adams would have loved living here, so would a lot of others. And I did, in the beginning, but not anymore.

Main Street was typical middle-America -- a small supermarket, a bank, a burger joint, a gas station, bar, motel, that sort of thing. We had three restaurants: a Chinese (bad), a Mexican (bad also), and a diner (awful).

In the summer the place bustled with tourists -- happy families of campers in town for hamburgers and ice cream, fishermen buying beer and bait in the supermarket, middle aged, elderly walkers with green eyeshades and ski poles, photographers and bird watchers setting their tripods up on the sides of the road by the lake, young millennial hikers, scruffy and dirty-looking like homeless people, down off the trails to pick up their mail and use the laundromat. For the locals there were neighbor’s barbecues, yard sales, church picnics… But when winter settled in (there were no nearby ski resorts), most of the businesses closed and the people on the street dwindled to a few, and after dark… nobody, nothing.

Now that I was divorced and living alone again, I did my best to keep busy. I did a little writing. I’d had a few books published over the course of my lifetime, but none of them really went anywhere. I still had the desire to write, to be a part of the culture, so I continued with it. When I tired of that and wanted some diversion, there was cable TV or internet chat on Facebook, videos; I saw -- fire fights and bombings in the Middle East, young men doing death-defying BMX bike stunts, ISIS atrocities, young Antifa toughs, their identities hidden under bandanas, throwing metal barriers into plate glass doors, street fighting. If you wanted real, rather than virtual, you could wander the aisles of the Dollar General, or join one of the church groups or go to the AA or Overeaters Anonymous meetings. I’d never been much of a joiner and so I often went out alone to walk.

There were only about ten of us in town that went out during the winter months -- the two most down-and-out drunks in town, Henry and Manuel (roommates), two middle-aged couples who fast-walked together, two retarded adult men who lived with a kindly Christian family, me and my dog, Ziggy, and Danni, the beautiful, retarded girl who spent a lot of time sitting on her bicycle wearing her Disney Aladdin helmet, calling out to passers-by for attention. Twelve years old, with long scalloped blonde hair, already filling out with little breasts and hips, she always wanted to pet Ziggy or take him for a walk, or come to my house. I felt sorry for her, but as an older, divorced man, I kept a safe distance. I couldn’t imagine how much her parents must have worried about her.

I’d been happy in Chilton with my second wife, Divina, for most of our eighteen months, and then we’d split up. I had thought we had it all and would go the distance, till death do us part. After all, we were both older. I was sixty-five, she fifty-five, and we lived a quiet life in a nice clean house in a safe little town. Yeah… I know what you’re thinking.

I don’t blame Divina entirely. It takes two to make a marriage soar, and two to rip its delicate diaphanous wings off. We’d had love, commitment, but now it was gone. Sometimes when I look back, I think Divina expected me to rein her in, to get physical with her like she got with me a couple times. I definitely got the feeling when we got into it a couple of times that she expected a physical response from me, a push or a slap. But I could never get physical with a woman. I figured that when things sank to that level it was time to move on. And in California, if a man hit his woman, even if she’d hit him first, he’d quickly find himself in deep legal trouble.

This was all my doing. I was the one who found Divina, a Filipina, on-line in Spain, pursued her, married her. It was all based on my loneliness, and on that devil, attraction. She had a Mona Lisa smile and a tiny, girlish figure. When we finally met on skype, I felt like it was just perfect.

I had started out on regular dating sites, but somewhere along the way I got switched onto this other site -- Asian Cutie. I don’t remember how that happened, but all of a sudden, after weeks of struggling to get women to respond to my ‘winks,’ young, beautiful, and aggressive, women appeared on the screen, all of them pleading to chat with me. I’m no fool. There are only a few reasons why a sexy twenty-something year-old girl would be interested in a sixty-five year-old American man. I had fun teasing them at first, but I wasn’t going to succumb to the ‘drooling old geezer/hot young chick’ fantasy. I was ready to drop it all when Divina gave me a ‘flirt.’ She was middle-aged, 55, but looked more like 40. Her smile caught my eye right away -- warm, etched with a tired, stoic cast, as if she’d seen it all and knew every game people played and was ready for the real thing. So was I.



I sat on the couch reading, Ziggy snoring at my feet, Suzanne reclining Sphynx-like behind me on the high back of the couch. I was alone a lot now. That’s not a pity play, just a fact, my new norm. The fan on the propane stove came on, pushing hot air into the room; flames rippled orange light onto the carpet. Ziggy raised his head inquisitively, then lay it down again. It was almost eleven at night and I had an hour before I had to be at work, graveyard shift. Outside, the temperature was 15 degrees. Going out was like jumping into a pool of chilled water. I sat for a while longer, then made a thermos of coffee, put it in my brief case and went out, locking the door.

I pulled up to the guard shack at the sawmill for my shift as a security guard. Up here there weren’t a lot of jobs available in the winter. Machinists and welders at the mill, gas station clerk, security guard at the mill, substitute teacher at the high school if you were degreed. I was, and I’d subbed there the semester before, but the kids were brats and I hadn’t liked it. So now I sat in a guard shack instead, making a patrol every hour or so, climbing steel catwalks around and over huge pieces of machinery that could grind a man to hamburger in seconds -- abraders that ripped the bark off of giant sequoia trees, high-speed band saws that sliced them into 2 x 10’s. As I walked my rounds in the cold and dark, I looked for signs of fire or pipes ruptured by the freezing cold.

I didn’t want to work; I was retired, but the spousal support I was paying to Divina every month, and the money I was sending to help my son through tech college, was more than was coming in every month from my SSI. And there were the occasional co-payments for medical bills, dental cleanings, new glasses, etcetera.

Things had been very different just a year earlier. I’d had money in my savings account and owned my own house. I still owned the house, but my savings account was almost exhausted. My marriage, and getting out of it, had been costly, but I still think I did the right thing. My lawyer said that if I had waited much longer I might have ended up losing my house.



Before Chilton, before my marriage to Divina, I lived in Concord in the San Francisco Bay Area and worked fifty five miles away at Western Aerospace. My son Anthony was living with me. I already had my little house up here in Chilton, which I was using as an occasional weekend getaway. I’d been with Western Aerospace for thirty years and was scheduled to retire in two more. I’d been separated from my long-time lady friend Lily for a couple years and divorced from my first wife for eleven. Things were quiet, settled, and boring. I felt like my health, and especially my sex, was slowly slipping away. What was the saying? Use it or lose it? Well, at sixty-five, how many years of a sex life does a man have left? Could be five years, could be twenty-five, could be one. Nobody knows. I had been sleeping alone too much and was in the most common kind of rut. You know, get up, eat, commute to work, work all day, commute home, make something to eat, clean up, watch a little TV because you’re too tired to do anything else, and go to bed. Repeat five days a week and recuperate on the sixth and seventh. Anthony, was twenty-five and in junior college. Like I had been at his age, he was still trying to find himself, vacillating between various jobs and being a student.

The only thing that made that phase of my life bearable was the knowledge that I was in the home stretch of my career at Western Aerospace, just a couple years from retirement. I knew I could put up with a few more years of anything, and I did. My day went like this: get up at four, drive to Frank’s, my carpool buddy’s place, by four thirty. We’d zip into the Starbucks at the strip mall. He’d run in to get his coffee. I’d wait. He’d come out and get in. Wordlessly I’d put the car in gear and take off. Going down 680, I’d do 75 like everybody else (actually, a lot of guys did 80 or more). We’d do the 65 miles in 36 or 37 minutes. It was easy. I’d put the car in cruise control and Frank would lie down in the back after he’d had his coffee, and go to sleep. One time his huge bulk rose up behind me and he said groggily, “where the fuck are we?” “Huh?” I said. I had gone two stops past our exit after evidently falling asleep at the wheel. But, as bad as my driving was, Frank’s was worse. When it was his turn I’d just lay down in the back and go unconscious, knowing that if he ran the car off the road at 85 mph, it was better that way. Fortunately that never happened. About 5:15 or 5:30, Frank would wake me as we rolled into the company parking lot. Since Frank was a manager, he worked ten hour days and so I had to as well. If we could have left earlier we could have avoided the worst of the evening commute, but often Frank wasn’t finished until 5:30 or 6:00. Then we’d get on the freeway and crawl home for two, two and a half hours. It was awful. Awful! That was my life for the two years after I’d broken up with my long-term (about six years) lady-friend, Lily. Then Western had a big meeting in an off-site conference hall and formerly announced the company’s poor performance, loss of contracts, and down-sizing. They had to jettison twenty percent of the workforce, enticing volunteers with generous severance packages. They asked for volunteers and mine was the first hand up.



Back then I went out on the occasional Friday or Saturday night to look for women. I found a couple, but we ended up dating for only a month or two. I wasn’t the kind of man that women instantly felt an attraction to; after a lifetime of experiences, I knew I had to work hard at it. So my choices seemed to be somewhat limited. I wasn’t tall, and women liked their men taller than themselves. And I was modest, not prone to bragging, and women liked men that were full of themselves, or at least that’s what I told myself in my jealous or down moments. Strangely, I did better with women from alien cultures. My first wife was Chinese, from Hong Kong. I met her in San Francisco on a blind date set up by one of my friends -- I had two of them, a Chinese man from Vietnam, and another guy from Thailand. After my marriage crashed and burned, I didn’t go out; instead I spent my time working and raising my son alone (the court had given my daughter back to her mother to raise). It was tough, but I had a little help from kindly neighbors who had two boys my son’s age, and I also belonged to a wonderful social support group of unmarried parents. We met on a regular basis to share our experiences as single parents, and the children got to interact with other children dealing with divorce or the death of a parent. It was a good concept and it helped me and my son a lot.

After about five years of singleness, I started making tentative attempts to meet women. I met Lily, also Chinese, at a singles’ dance in San Francisco. I truly didn’t have anything against American women, at least I didn’t think I did, but they just didn’t seem all that interested in me. Whereas, there were lots of Asian women in the San Francisco Bay Area and many of them seemed to fancy American men. When in Rome…

Like half the men at the club, the slow starters, I stood around between the dance numbers, drink in hand, trying not to look desperate as I sized up the women. Then Lilly made her entrance. She was, perhaps, a little over-dressed, in a gown of some kind, like she was part of a wedding party. I think others noticed that too. But she was beautiful. Her eyes were rounder than most Han Chinese, her skin lighter. She was not petite like many Chinese women, but my height and rather voluptuous. There had to have been an interloper high up in her family tree, perhaps a Silk Road foreigner hiding in the barn; what else could account for her exotic beauty? She moved about the club, her eyes downcast. Women this beautiful were usually not self-conscious and tentative; I couldn’t understand it. I watched her speak to a couple of men (she stayed well away from the women), but her conversations with them were brief. The men seemed uncomfortable with her, despite her beauty, as if she had some deformity which I couldn’t detect from the distance. Finally she came within range and I approached her. She was beautiful, but her gown -- pink and fluffy -- looked antique, like she’d found it on the set of Gone With the Wind or in a thrift store (later I would find out that she worked in a thrift store).

“Hello,” I said. “What’s your name?” Yeah, I know, I’m not exactly Mister smooth-talk.

“Lily.”

“Are you a professional single?”

She brought her hand up to her mouth, giggling, “I sorry. I… I don’t speak good.”

“No, no, relax, I understand you just fine.” (This would, of course, eventually turn out to not be true.)

She had a primitive command of English, but I didn’t care. She hovered close to me for about an hour. We danced a few and I was astounded by my luck. The male swells in the room weren’t willing to invest a little more attentiveness and effort to converse with her, but I was -- their loss. Before I said goodbye, we exchanged phone numbers. For the next three days, she called every day when I was at work. My son took the calls. “Dad,” he said, “I think she’s really interested in you.”

For our first two or three months together, I couldn’t take my eyes off her, couldn’t believe my luck. Lily liked her sack time. Her husband hadn’t been too interested -- turns out he’d had something on the side -- and Lily seemed to be trying to make up for lost time. Once, at her insistence, we made love in a copse of bushes in Golden Gate Park. Lily had never made love outdoors and she wouldn’t take no for an answer. After driving around, I found a spot that looked safe. Golden Gate Park had a homeless population in the thousands and I’d seen some of them close-up. They were not kindly, aged hippies, but feral, mean drunks, druggies, and criminals. I was nervous and on my guard for the approach of anyone, and so it wasn’t good for me, but we managed to pull it off. Lily seemed to have been simply satisfied to cross it off her list. Fortunately, most of our lovemaking was in my bed and she was playing catch-up. For the first couple months I was happy to comply, but eventually I slowed down a little, wanting and needing to get enough sleep after the toll of working and commuting. Lily, however, was relentless and usually got her way.  



One day Divina asked me to take her to the bank so she could open up her own checking account. I had opened up a joint checking account for us when she’d arrived, giving her responsibility for managing the household expenses. The money for this was direct-deposited every month from my SSI check. Now she wanted her own account to tuck away the money she was earning. We argued about it and she brought up the fact that I had my own savings account at a bank down in San Francisco. That was true, but this was for the money my employer had given me to sweeten my early retirement, before I met Divina. My pension, accumulated over a lifetime of work before I met Divina, also went into this account for our rainy day fund. I’d already taken from this account for occasional trips, luxuries, but I reserved the right to manage it myself.

We went into the Alpine Bank. The building was big, built forty-five years earlier when logging companies employed thousands up here -- a long counter with ten stations. Only three of them were open, the others roped off. The other side of the bank was dimly lit and devoid of customers, with a floor-to-ceiling diorama of a doe leaning down to nibble the grass, as above, a fanged mountain lion on a rocky ledge prepared to pounce.

I directed Divina towards Charlene, a talkative, friendly woman, Canadian by birth (we’d talked a few times before Divina arrived. I’m pretty sure she was interested in me, but I was already courting Divina on Skype at the time and I’m loyal to a fault, or a fool; take your pick.)

Charlene smiled. “What can I do for you two love birds today,” she said.

I smiled.

Divina’s face was taut. After a pause she said timidly, “I want to open an account.”

“Not a problem.” Charlene tapped at her keyboard. Adjusting her reader glasses, she studied the screen. The tellers on either side of us smiled as they busied themselves.

In the beginning, Divina did not work and that had been fine with me. After the required three-month wait, we submitted a Form I-765 work permit application as stipulated in the terms of her Fiancé Visa. There really was no need for her to work. I owned my home and we had no rent to worry about and could live comfortably on my social security. That made our marriage wonderful in the beginning… waking up every day not having to fight the hordes of commuters to get to a job you didn’t like, a cranky boss, catty co-workers, tedious Quality Control meetings, long commutes home. And when you arrived home you spoke a few pleasantries to your wife or husband, made dinner, washed and put away the dishes, then sat together on the couch, both of you too tired to do much but yawn and watch TV in a daze. Then it was time for bed, but only for sleep, because you were too tired to do anything else.

“You already have a checking account,” said Charlene, “is this a new one?”

“That’s right,” I chimed in -- the loyal, supportive husband -- “we have a joint account. But this one is for Divina.”

I noticed the other tellers react slightly, an eye blink, a tightening of facial muscles. When Divina had told me she wanted her own checking account, I’d felt a rift opening between us. But what could I do? This was 21st Century America, California… She was an adult and had a job now, two actually. I could see that the tellers found the whole business curious and I wondered how long it would be before half of Chilton would be discussing it over dinner.

Charlene knew that Divina was in the country on a 90-day fiancé visa because when we opened our joint account, Divina still had only her Philippine passport for identification. She’d arrived in autumn as the weather was beginning to cool. Here, 5,000 feet up in the Sierras, we had four seasons. Three were wonderful, but winter, the longest, was harsh and not for the faint of heart. I’m talking ten degrees at night, sometimes ten below, highs in the low-thirties during the day, and snow, lots of it, measured in feet, not inches. Hard to believe for California, right?

In order to satisfy one of the requirements of the visa we had to get married within ninety days. But we got along so well that two weeks after she arrived we decided to drive over to Reno Nevada and marry in one of the little boutique wedding chapels. Snow was threatening and I had no chains for the pickup, but we took a chance and went for it. And although the skies were grey and portentous, we made it there okay. It was great. We went shopping at the mall, had lunch, got married, saw a movie, and honeymooned overnight in one of the casinos, arriving back in Chilton the next morning.

At that time, due to the terms of the visa, Divina couldn’t work, and so most days we were forced to hang out at home next to a toasty-warm wood stove, watch TV, read, or growing bored with that, catch a little afternoon delight in the bedroom, actually a lot of it. It was wonderful, let me tell you.

We had four wonderful months like that -- long, leisurely breakfasts, comforting walks around the town, watching the river skin over with ice, the trees along the banks turn crystalline white with frost. Then we’d head home where I’d pull her into the bedroom. Forget the old adage about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach. There was a better route and Divina knew it well. Afterward, we’d have a nice nap, then leisurely preparations for dinner. Divina was a great cook. I loved her Pork Adobo.

Then Divina informed me that the money she had brought with her, (I hadn’t known about it) that she had been sending home to her parents every month, had run out. She told me that her parents depended on it to live, and that I could either take over the monthly allotments or she would have to go to work.

I crunched the numbers; it wasn’t good. If I took over the payments, we’d have a negative cash-flow. If a disaster befell us, like the truck’s engine blowing out, or the roof beginning to leak, we’d have no money to cover it. That would mean a loan, maybe a lien on the house, which after saving for it over a lifetime, I absolutely did not want. I told her that if she wanted to work it was fine with me. It would take away some of our leisurely honeymoon time, but the alternative bothered me more.

We looked through the want-ads in the local paper. The only thing Divina qualified for was in-home elder care. The salary wasn’t bad for up here (most folks made minimum wage, and I’m not talking about high school kids, but rather adults with high school kids); it payed eleven bucks an hour and included a health care plan paid for by the agency if the employee worked a minimum of thirty hours a week. The only problem was that Divina did not drive and the clients were too far for her to walk to. So I retired from my retirement to go to work as Divina’s driver. I’d do my thing at home until the phone rang, and then off I’d go to Uber her to the next client’s place. I didn’t mind, of course; that’s what husbands do.

Don’t get me wrong. After Divina went to work it was still good between us, at least for a while. She was ten years younger than me, so I had already considered that she might want to go back to work. While she was gone I spent my time reading, going on Facebook. And the sex was still good, although there wasn’t as much of it. Despite that, I had more sex with Divina in these eighteen months than I’d had with my first wife over fourteen years of marriage.

To her credit, Divina was a hard worker. Her clients liked her, and within a month she had a full dance card as word of her work-ethic spread. She had no problem making thirty hours a week. Then she heard of an opportunity at the supermarket, one of the few businesses in town open all year long. She got hired. Now she was working sixty hours a week. Of course things began to slowly change.

Divina had been sending her parents $750 a month. Now she was earning $2300 a month and it was all going back to the Philippines. Her finances had tripled and I was the one who had made it all possible. I should’ve been a UN poster boy for supporting Women’s Empowerment; I should’ve been happy. But instead I felt used. On the other hand (why does there always have to be an ‘other hand?’), it was her money. It would have been nice though if she would have put some of it in the community pot. Despite all of this we still got along okay and we still had great sex.

(a novel-in-progress)


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Sudden Death (excerpt)

Melanie taped up the last of the boxes and made a quick call on her cell phone. “Bring the truck around back,” she said. “And hurry the fuck up. We’ll load from the cellar.”

She checked her watch. An hour to go until the funeral. She pocketed the phone, deciding to heave it in the river once they unloaded in Bangor.

***

The church had reached capacity. Caroline was sandwiched between James’ ex, Linda, and an older man whom she recognized but couldn’t place. “Whole town’s here,” the man said, giving Caroline’s hand a light squeeze. “We lost a true hero.”

To her left, Linda alternated sniffling with an occasional dab at a tear. A packet of Kleenex rested precariously on her knees. Caroline brushed away a wayward strand of hair, annoyed. Her brother had been captain of the Academy’s hockey team, student body president, but a hero? He’d given up a scholarship to MIT to get married, to stay in this shithole fishing village and become a drunk. Hero was not how she’d describe James.

The music stopped abruptly as Reverend Desjardins plodded down the aisle. He had officiated at her mother’s funeral twenty years ago, the last time Caroline had been home. She had made it back in time to visit her mother at the tiny hospital the day before cancer stole her mother’s last breath. The hospital had shut down five years ago. Sunrise, aptly known as the town where the sun first rose in the U.S., now lay on the brink of being sundowned.

As the reverend droned on in his New Brunswick monotone, Caroline surveyed the crowd. She was overdressed, her heels and makeup as out of place as she felt just being back in town. James’ first girlfriend, Betsy, stood against the back wall in black jeans and turtleneck, long black hair shrouding her like a veil. Mike Halloran, who owned the only remaining grocery store in town, had his arm around her. The room was filled with the staccato of sobbing. And still, Caroline could not cry.

***

Betsy’s brother, Sam, was my best friend. We’d all grown up together, went to Miss Cloutier’s preschool, attended the same Sunday school classes at the All Saints By the Sea every week. We all played hockey, too, but in Betsy’s case it was field hockey at the Academy. Sam and I played for the Academy, and later, for fun after school, usually against some of the scrappier townie dropouts who’d realized lobstering was a more lucrative career path than a diploma.

Sam and Betsy were twins, Sam and I were buddies, and inevitably, I fell in love with Betsy. But at fifteen, do you really know what love is? All I know is this: I never felt that intensity again. Not even when I was married to Linda.

Betsy and I started dating our junior year. She wore my ring around her neck; it was way too big for her birdlike fingers. I was head over heels for her. But love is fleeting, at least for Betsy, anyway. After a few months, she dumped me for Mike Halloran, Mr. Hockey himself, All Star Goalie award winner twice in a row. Mike had money. Mike had a new truck. And Mike had my girl.

***

Betsy met Caroline at camp, the funeral and reception long over. Fog hovered above the Cove, gloomy and gray. Camp. It had been in the family for generations, the cottage where James and she spent every childhood and teenage summer. James had moved in with Linda shortly after their wedding and installed a woodstove and storm windows to survive the brutal Downeast winters. And he’d never left.

Caroline stepped over the mound of trash bags lining the deck. Seagulls had scavenged through most of the garbage, whiskey bottles and macaroni boxes strewn everywhere. The screen door hung precariously on one hinge.

“Guess Jimmy lost interest in dump runs,” Betsy said. “Along with everything else.”

Caroline walked inside. “What happened to the couch?” She went into the kitchen. The sink overflowed with dirty dishes and mugs. “And the refrigerator? And Grampa’s dining room set?”

Betsy headed upstairs. “There’s nothing up here at all,” she hollered. “No beds, no lamps, no bureaus. What’d he and Melanie do, sell them for drugs?”

Caroline stumbled halfway up the stairs. She’d forgotten how steep they were. “What the hell are you talking about? Melanie? Drugs?”

Betsy pointed to the empty syringes and burnt foil scraps on the floor. “Well, Caroline, if you’d ever bothered to get your stupid head out of your ‘life coaching’ ass and actually listened to your brother, I guess you’d know, wouldn’t you?”

***

She sat in the passenger’s side of the U-Haul, leaving the driving to Alvin. “Can this thing go any faster? We gotta get this load to Bangor before Jack leaves.”

“Christ, Mel, I got it floored,” Alvin said. “Truck’s a piece of shit.”

A logging truck passed them. Chunks of bark and splinters ricocheted off the windshield.

“Fucking Airline.” Melanie lit a Kool. “If it’s not loggers, it’s the fog that gets you.”

In the end, it was neither.

***

I left the hiding place by the All Saints right after my funeral service began. The morning was now filled with an abrupt silence after everyone had shuffled into church and the doors slowly closed. When we were kids, Sam and I had found this spot behind the rhododendron hedges where we’d sometimes hide out, swapping baseball cards instead of going to Sunday school.

I drove back to camp. It felt weird here, too, like the part of the buzz when you’re painfully aware of everything. The smell of the mud flats. The fog soaking into your skin. The sound of silence, which is never really silent at all. I walked inside.

The place had been completely cleaned out, I mean, literally everything but the kitchen sink was gone. This had Melanie all over it. Her final score. No doubt in my mind.

Appliances and TVs can be replaced. But the portraits on the wall? Family photo albums and mom’s pottery? Even our Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews, for fuck’s sake, and my entire baseball card collection. That bitch didn’t just steal memories. She stole pieces of my life.

I shook out a handful of oxys from the bottle in my sweatshirt, figured what the hell. I had nothing left to lose. My soul was dead long before the funeral.

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by amieweb in portal Trident Media Group
Sudden Death (excerpt)
Melanie taped up the last of the boxes and made a quick call on her cell phone. “Bring the truck around back,” she said. “And hurry the fuck up. We’ll load from the cellar.”
She checked her watch. An hour to go until the funeral. She pocketed the phone, deciding to heave it in the river once they unloaded in Bangor.
***


The church had reached capacity. Caroline was sandwiched between James’ ex, Linda, and an older man whom she recognized but couldn’t place. “Whole town’s here,” the man said, giving Caroline’s hand a light squeeze. “We lost a true hero.”



To her left, Linda alternated sniffling with an occasional dab at a tear. A packet of Kleenex rested precariously on her knees. Caroline brushed away a wayward strand of hair, annoyed. Her brother had been captain of the Academy’s hockey team, student body president, but a hero? He’d given up a scholarship to MIT to get married, to stay in this shithole fishing village and become a drunk. Hero was not how she’d describe James.



The music stopped abruptly as Reverend Desjardins plodded down the aisle. He had officiated at her mother’s funeral twenty years ago, the last time Caroline had been home. She had made it back in time to visit her mother at the tiny hospital the day before cancer stole her mother’s last breath. The hospital had shut down five years ago. Sunrise, aptly known as the town where the sun first rose in the U.S., now lay on the brink of being sundowned.



As the reverend droned on in his New Brunswick monotone, Caroline surveyed the crowd. She was overdressed, her heels and makeup as out of place as she felt just being back in town. James’ first girlfriend, Betsy, stood against the back wall in black jeans and turtleneck, long black hair shrouding her like a veil. Mike Halloran, who owned the only remaining grocery store in town, had his arm around her. The room was filled with the staccato of sobbing. And still, Caroline could not cry.

***



Betsy’s brother, Sam, was my best friend. We’d all grown up together, went to Miss Cloutier’s preschool, attended the same Sunday school classes at the All Saints By the Sea every week. We all played hockey, too, but in Betsy’s case it was field hockey at the Academy. Sam and I played for the Academy, and later, for fun after school, usually against some of the scrappier townie dropouts who’d realized lobstering was a more lucrative career path than a diploma.
Sam and Betsy were twins, Sam and I were buddies, and inevitably, I fell in love with Betsy. But at fifteen, do you really know what love is? All I know is this: I never felt that intensity again. Not even when I was married to Linda.





Betsy and I started dating our junior year. She wore my ring around her neck; it was way too big for her birdlike fingers. I was head over heels for her. But love is fleeting, at least for Betsy, anyway. After a few months, she dumped me for Mike Halloran, Mr. Hockey himself, All Star Goalie award winner twice in a row. Mike had money. Mike had a new truck. And Mike had my girl.

***

Betsy met Caroline at camp, the funeral and reception long over. Fog hovered above the Cove, gloomy and gray. Camp. It had been in the family for generations, the cottage where James and she spent every childhood and teenage summer. James had moved in with Linda shortly after their wedding and installed a woodstove and storm windows to survive the brutal Downeast winters. And he’d never left.


Caroline stepped over the mound of trash bags lining the deck. Seagulls had scavenged through most of the garbage, whiskey bottles and macaroni boxes strewn everywhere. The screen door hung precariously on one hinge.



“Guess Jimmy lost interest in dump runs,” Betsy said. “Along with everything else.”



Caroline walked inside. “What happened to the couch?” She went into the kitchen. The sink overflowed with dirty dishes and mugs. “And the refrigerator? And Grampa’s dining room set?”



Betsy headed upstairs. “There’s nothing up here at all,” she hollered. “No beds, no lamps, no bureaus. What’d he and Melanie do, sell them for drugs?”



Caroline stumbled halfway up the stairs. She’d forgotten how steep they were. “What the hell are you talking about? Melanie? Drugs?”



Betsy pointed to the empty syringes and burnt foil scraps on the floor. “Well, Caroline, if you’d ever bothered to get your stupid head out of your ‘life coaching’ ass and actually listened to your brother, I guess you’d know, wouldn’t you?”

***
She sat in the passenger’s side of the U-Haul, leaving the driving to Alvin. “Can this thing go any faster? We gotta get this load to Bangor before Jack leaves.”


“Christ, Mel, I got it floored,” Alvin said. “Truck’s a piece of shit.”



A logging truck passed them. Chunks of bark and splinters ricocheted off the windshield.



“Fucking Airline.” Melanie lit a Kool. “If it’s not loggers, it’s the fog that gets you.”



In the end, it was neither.

***


I left the hiding place by the All Saints right after my funeral service began. The morning was now filled with an abrupt silence after everyone had shuffled into church and the doors slowly closed. When we were kids, Sam and I had found this spot behind the rhododendron hedges where we’d sometimes hide out, swapping baseball cards instead of going to Sunday school.



I drove back to camp. It felt weird here, too, like the part of the buzz when you’re painfully aware of everything. The smell of the mud flats. The fog soaking into your skin. The sound of silence, which is never really silent at all. I walked inside.



The place had been completely cleaned out, I mean, literally everything but the kitchen sink was gone. This had Melanie all over it. Her final score. No doubt in my mind.



Appliances and TVs can be replaced. But the portraits on the wall? Family photo albums and mom’s pottery? Even our Hardy Boys and Nancy Drews, for fuck’s sake, and my entire baseball card collection. That bitch didn’t just steal memories. She stole pieces of my life.



I shook out a handful of oxys from the bottle in my sweatshirt, figured what the hell. I had nothing left to lose. My soul was dead long before the funeral.


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Written by Siarra_writes in portal Trident Media Group

excerpt from untitled novel - Elyeen and Caine in the midst of the Dregs

Eyleen stared blankly at the mounds of sand piled into mountains. A warm breeze whipped her face and loosened dirty brown strands in her braid as she drove. Caine refused to elaborate on what happened at the Black Market so Elyeen boiled in her own stew that slowly evolved into a storm.

Caine told her everything. He looked out for her. Her eyes shrank to slits as she replayed the memory in her head. Caine stood up and leaned out the buggy. Elyeen ignored him, not wanting to heed his desert warnings.

“El, stop the buggy,” Caine huffed. Elyeen’s face was permanently twisted in a stormy position. Not even her ears twitched at his command.

“Stop the damn buggy El,” Caine asserted much more barbaric than the first time. Again, she kept her eyes on the desolate desert and let no reaction escape.

“STOP!” Caine screamed at her furiously. Elyeen stomped on the gas and the buggy roared. The desert heat scowled at the two in the buggy. What would normally seem like a beautiful, twinkling twilight was filled with something heavy and dark. There was an invisible fog that made it difficult to breathe and kept Caine on edge. He shoved Elyeen out of the side of the buggy. She tumbled over wave-like and came to a crashing halt. Caine had jumped in the driver’s side and hit the brakes so quickly that the buggy screeched. Caine hustled over to Elyeen as she picked herself up and dusted off her already faded and torn pants.

“What is wrong with you?” Eyleen hissed.

Caine grabbed her elbow and yanked her down. “Shut up and stay low,” he murmured. Both lay on their bellies anticipating what would happen next. A powerful, mechanical humming took over the sky. It was a Kaiser Citadel military ship. These ships looked much like blimps but were made entirely of metal. They were used by the military to transport weapons and to drop off exiled criminals to the unforgiving desert.

Elyeen lowered her goggles over her eyes. Using sensors, the goggles zoomed in on the military ship like binoculars. Crisscross lines pinpointed what her pupils focused on and a red circle enveloped the faces of those departing the ship. Four disheveled people walked down the ramp first. They had black cloths over their faces and their hands were tied up in laser cuffs. Trailing after them were two soldiers. The soldiers of Kaiser Citadel were always adorned in all black garb from head to toe so that they were all uniform and if dealing with a highly sensitive situation, their identity was secure. The last person coming from the ship was quite obviously one of the gaudily dressed military captains. One could tell the ranking based on the color accent and the moon phase on the chest. This particular captain wore a midnight blue cape with identical colors stripping his boots, gloves, and helmet. On his chest, a third quarter moon – left half of the moon visible – lay imposing to its viewers.

“That captain, he’s pretty high ranking I think,” Elyeen uttered to Caine.

“What’s he wearing? What are his colors? I don’t have those damn fancy goggles. I can’t see shit,” Caine grumbled, “They all look like little ants to me!”

“Blue, dark blue, like the night sky. And the moon phase – it’s third quarter.”

“Hmmm, ya you’re right El. He’s only two rankings away from Standardization General and when ya get that far you have access to the people of that planet Arcapia.”

Elyeen paused for a moment before reacting. She had heard of the mythical planet Arcapia and how it was much bigger than the tiny planet of Distonous. Distonous was the size of an asteroid compared to Arcapia. She had only heard of jump ships that had the capability of getting to the planet, but most were destroyed in the Atomic War. What made Arcapia so mythical was that it was apparently the perfect place for people to live and the technology was so advanced that they could even cloak the entire planet so that it was invisible to outsiders. She had never heard Caine talk about the mysterious planet before.

“What about Arcapia?” she asked curiously.

Caine sighed and rolled his eyes listlessly at Elyeen’s response. He grunted out, “Not important right at this moment. But yes, it’s more than just hear-say.”

“Wha- why haven’t you said anything before?”

“El, it’s not like we can get to it anyway. Jump ships don’t exist. If they do… well that’s something the government knows not me.”

“But how do you know that the Standardization General has access to the planet? Why are you keeping things from me?”

“El, it’s better this way. Besides, I buy secrets occasionally at the Black Market for a reason. Anyways all I know is that they have some way to contact the people or at least whatever government officials they have. I’m not sure exactly how though.”

Elyeen huffed and tightened her braid. Something was going on with the soldiers and criminals that caught her eye. Leaving the conversation for a later time, she scanned the situation. She wished she had some way to hear what they were saying based on their aggressive, jerky movements.

The criminals had been lined up in a row and cloths removed. Elyeen didn’t recognize them. She wondered when the soldiers and captain were going to abandon the exiled prisoners to live out the rest of their days in the wretched Dregs. Elyeen watched as the captain pointed directly at the prisoners. Her face twisted in confusion. She had never seen this before, nor had they ever taken this long to drop off criminals. One of the soldiers lifted his lazer shooter toward the outlaws.

Elyeen gasped in horror, “I thought they let them go. I’ve never seen them kill people.”

Caine shot her a glare, “What? No, I’ve never seen that, but now it makes sense…” his voice trailed off as he tried to peer down to see what was happening.

The soldier with the raised lazer shooter had yet to fire and it seemed to have made the captain red. Zooming in, the other soldier stepped in front of the shaking people afraid for their lives. The captain’s reaction to this was not a pretty one. Steam seemed to blow out his ears and his eyes were volcanic. He tore over to the defiant soldier and snatched the lazer shooter out of his back holster then pounded him upside the head. The soldier cascaded down with a thud. With the stolen lazer shooter, the captain shot each of the hostages and down they fell like a row of dominos.

Elyeen was shaking at the horrific sight she witnessed. “Caine, we have to do something. We can’t just–”

Caine worriedly interrupted her, “On it. Get in the buggy. Drive as fast as you can. Think on your feet and I’ll follow.” He swiftly hopped in the car and Elyeen followed his lead.

Elyeen hit the gas before Caine had even gotten himself situated. He grasped the roll bar til his knuckles were white. As they hastily approached the scene, Elyeen gazed at the captain ambling up to the out-cold, resistant soldier. She saw the captain aim the lazer shooter to the helpless soldier. She grit her teeth and skid up to the military personnel.

The buggy tumbled over and around crashing into the captain and the complacent soldier knocking them down face first into the sand. She had hit them at just the right angle to baffle them and give them a dizzying headache, but not directly enough to kill them. The buggy was at a slight angle, easy to fix with a punch to the gas. As soon as she got the buggy completely grounded, she jerked the buggy around the drove past the unconscious soldier. Caine was hanging onto the edge and bent over. As they passed the soldier, he grabbed him by his arm and reeled him in. The soldier was strewn across the back of the buggy. Not wanting to be followed, Elyeen gassed it and the trio disappeared like a speck of sand amongst the many arid hills of the Dregs.

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Written by Siarra_writes in portal Trident Media Group
excerpt from untitled novel - Elyeen and Caine in the midst of the Dregs
Eyleen stared blankly at the mounds of sand piled into mountains. A warm breeze whipped her face and loosened dirty brown strands in her braid as she drove. Caine refused to elaborate on what happened at the Black Market so Elyeen boiled in her own stew that slowly evolved into a storm.
Caine told her everything. He looked out for her. Her eyes shrank to slits as she replayed the memory in her head. Caine stood up and leaned out the buggy. Elyeen ignored him, not wanting to heed his desert warnings.
“El, stop the buggy,” Caine huffed. Elyeen’s face was permanently twisted in a stormy position. Not even her ears twitched at his command.
“Stop the damn buggy El,” Caine asserted much more barbaric than the first time. Again, she kept her eyes on the desolate desert and let no reaction escape.
“STOP!” Caine screamed at her furiously. Elyeen stomped on the gas and the buggy roared. The desert heat scowled at the two in the buggy. What would normally seem like a beautiful, twinkling twilight was filled with something heavy and dark. There was an invisible fog that made it difficult to breathe and kept Caine on edge. He shoved Elyeen out of the side of the buggy. She tumbled over wave-like and came to a crashing halt. Caine had jumped in the driver’s side and hit the brakes so quickly that the buggy screeched. Caine hustled over to Elyeen as she picked herself up and dusted off her already faded and torn pants.
“What is wrong with you?” Eyleen hissed.
Caine grabbed her elbow and yanked her down. “Shut up and stay low,” he murmured. Both lay on their bellies anticipating what would happen next. A powerful, mechanical humming took over the sky. It was a Kaiser Citadel military ship. These ships looked much like blimps but were made entirely of metal. They were used by the military to transport weapons and to drop off exiled criminals to the unforgiving desert.
Elyeen lowered her goggles over her eyes. Using sensors, the goggles zoomed in on the military ship like binoculars. Crisscross lines pinpointed what her pupils focused on and a red circle enveloped the faces of those departing the ship. Four disheveled people walked down the ramp first. They had black cloths over their faces and their hands were tied up in laser cuffs. Trailing after them were two soldiers. The soldiers of Kaiser Citadel were always adorned in all black garb from head to toe so that they were all uniform and if dealing with a highly sensitive situation, their identity was secure. The last person coming from the ship was quite obviously one of the gaudily dressed military captains. One could tell the ranking based on the color accent and the moon phase on the chest. This particular captain wore a midnight blue cape with identical colors stripping his boots, gloves, and helmet. On his chest, a third quarter moon – left half of the moon visible – lay imposing to its viewers.
“That captain, he’s pretty high ranking I think,” Elyeen uttered to Caine.
“What’s he wearing? What are his colors? I don’t have those damn fancy goggles. I can’t see shit,” Caine grumbled, “They all look like little ants to me!”
“Blue, dark blue, like the night sky. And the moon phase – it’s third quarter.”
“Hmmm, ya you’re right El. He’s only two rankings away from Standardization General and when ya get that far you have access to the people of that planet Arcapia.”
Elyeen paused for a moment before reacting. She had heard of the mythical planet Arcapia and how it was much bigger than the tiny planet of Distonous. Distonous was the size of an asteroid compared to Arcapia. She had only heard of jump ships that had the capability of getting to the planet, but most were destroyed in the Atomic War. What made Arcapia so mythical was that it was apparently the perfect place for people to live and the technology was so advanced that they could even cloak the entire planet so that it was invisible to outsiders. She had never heard Caine talk about the mysterious planet before.
“What about Arcapia?” she asked curiously.
Caine sighed and rolled his eyes listlessly at Elyeen’s response. He grunted out, “Not important right at this moment. But yes, it’s more than just hear-say.”
“Wha- why haven’t you said anything before?”
“El, it’s not like we can get to it anyway. Jump ships don’t exist. If they do… well that’s something the government knows not me.”
“But how do you know that the Standardization General has access to the planet? Why are you keeping things from me?”
“El, it’s better this way. Besides, I buy secrets occasionally at the Black Market for a reason. Anyways all I know is that they have some way to contact the people or at least whatever government officials they have. I’m not sure exactly how though.”
Elyeen huffed and tightened her braid. Something was going on with the soldiers and criminals that caught her eye. Leaving the conversation for a later time, she scanned the situation. She wished she had some way to hear what they were saying based on their aggressive, jerky movements.
The criminals had been lined up in a row and cloths removed. Elyeen didn’t recognize them. She wondered when the soldiers and captain were going to abandon the exiled prisoners to live out the rest of their days in the wretched Dregs. Elyeen watched as the captain pointed directly at the prisoners. Her face twisted in confusion. She had never seen this before, nor had they ever taken this long to drop off criminals. One of the soldiers lifted his lazer shooter toward the outlaws.
Elyeen gasped in horror, “I thought they let them go. I’ve never seen them kill people.”
Caine shot her a glare, “What? No, I’ve never seen that, but now it makes sense…” his voice trailed off as he tried to peer down to see what was happening.
The soldier with the raised lazer shooter had yet to fire and it seemed to have made the captain red. Zooming in, the other soldier stepped in front of the shaking people afraid for their lives. The captain’s reaction to this was not a pretty one. Steam seemed to blow out his ears and his eyes were volcanic. He tore over to the defiant soldier and snatched the lazer shooter out of his back holster then pounded him upside the head. The soldier cascaded down with a thud. With the stolen lazer shooter, the captain shot each of the hostages and down they fell like a row of dominos.
Elyeen was shaking at the horrific sight she witnessed. “Caine, we have to do something. We can’t just–”
Caine worriedly interrupted her, “On it. Get in the buggy. Drive as fast as you can. Think on your feet and I’ll follow.” He swiftly hopped in the car and Elyeen followed his lead.
Elyeen hit the gas before Caine had even gotten himself situated. He grasped the roll bar til his knuckles were white. As they hastily approached the scene, Elyeen gazed at the captain ambling up to the out-cold, resistant soldier. She saw the captain aim the lazer shooter to the helpless soldier. She grit her teeth and skid up to the military personnel.
The buggy tumbled over and around crashing into the captain and the complacent soldier knocking them down face first into the sand. She had hit them at just the right angle to baffle them and give them a dizzying headache, but not directly enough to kill them. The buggy was at a slight angle, easy to fix with a punch to the gas. As soon as she got the buggy completely grounded, she jerked the buggy around the drove past the unconscious soldier. Caine was hanging onto the edge and bent over. As they passed the soldier, he grabbed him by his arm and reeled him in. The soldier was strewn across the back of the buggy. Not wanting to be followed, Elyeen gassed it and the trio disappeared like a speck of sand amongst the many arid hills of the Dregs.
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A Man's Trials of Being

The cobblestone pavement was dusted with colored confetti; banners hung from clothing lines draping across the town square. The children danced and played. Laughter and symphonies flooded the air with the aroma of sweet breads and savory feasts. Oblivious were they to the aged structure resting just a mile from their protection. Through the lavish forest of fruitful bushes and under arched tree roots lay a barely recognizable path leading to the rotting, mossy steps of a wooden porch graced with a verdant abundance.

Behind the rickety doors, up the stairs decorated with a moth-eaten carpet, and into the turret, a middle-aged man stood at the small window reminiscing at the memories of the festivities he participated in for years until his unjust exile had taken place decades ago…

The guards had knocked on the door to his home with solemn expressions lacing their faces, diminishing the warm, loving atmosphere and silencing the usual pleasantries and welcomes exchanged in this cottage. The man’s two rays of youthful sunshine hid behind their Mum’s skirt, their eyes widened as they stared and watched what would be imprinted in their minds and hearts. Screams and pleas fell on deaf ears as the husband and wife begged for mercy though they had not a thought for the reason behind this man being escorted out of his home, far from his family, and away from the life he had built. The young man was no criminal. He’d always gone out of his way to help anyone he encountered and his smile rarely fell. The man was raised well through beliefs of equality and respect and never had he thought of harming a woman.

Confusion and melancholy had soon transformed into disgust and hatred, for the people had nothing else to believe as they blindly followed what they had been given. He was taken to the town's courthouse; a humble yet menacing building with two mere levels towering over the threatened man nonetheless. Authorities ordered the man to keep himself silent as a young woman stepped into the room before the judge. Her slim figure seemed fragile and lost in a space filled with husky, burly men. However, it was not the sense of misplacement that was shocking, it was the feeling of familiarity he felt as they made eye contact. Her shimmering blue orbs now gazed at him with a dull flicker. Her glossy, rouge lips now pursed dryly against each other. Her silky tresses now hung in a dirty braid. And her voice, once melodious and warm, now laced with a fiery sadness.

"Your honor." she bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.

The conversation continued and the young woman was asked questions regarding the case at hand. Voices in the courtroom faded into a slight, continuous ringing in the man's ears. He heard the cries of his wife and children as they pulled onto his shirt and grabbed at his arms. He felt bruises on his skin when he tried to grasp at the last bit of his heart until he was ripped away from the part of his life he cherished most. His values, beliefs, and soul comforted his family as they sobbed at the entrance of their broken home. The sobbing continued until it morphed into the tears of the woman in the court.

"Miss? What happened after he struck you? Miss?"

"He raped me." she whimpered before the bawls returned and her face buried itself in her red hands and deceit.

The man was forced to the outskirts of town where the soldiers instructed him to take his leave through the field and into the acres of nowhere. The mere mile he had walked seemed to take centuries as his heart refused to follow and his body was weakened by the agony he feebly bared. His shoulders fell heavily as each step pulled him down farther and captured the essence of his soul. The man’s eyes threatened to fall back as raw tears pooled down his cheeks and dripped from his jaw, the salty drop splashing onto the flowers and plants that dimmed and grew colorless and dull as an aura of suffering and distress washed over them. Despite the anguish he felt, the young man knew to keep his strength as he felt the three saddened gazes of the angels he had unwillingly left behind. When he turned back, he could see the silhouette of the several men casting accusing glares his way and a few of them protectively held their wives and daughters.

Days after his departure, a kind old recluse with a crooked walk and white, tangled hair had welcomed the exiled man into his abode. The hermit, while filled with eccentric ideas and an odd way of living, had offered all he could. The poor man was given bland plates and bowls of significantly filling soups and breads and a small bed with a musty quilt and pillow. The elderly man offered a toothy grin and a listening ear as a friendship was developed between the two.

Now, his heart fluttered as he recalled his beautiful wife sitting beside him with a small book in her hands while their children sat on the rug in front of the little fire as they played with wooden dolls. He smelled the spices of the soup they had had for dinner drifting in the air. He heard the soft melodies his daughter hummed, the rhythmic turning of pages, and the occasional crackle from the fireplace.

The man smiled and opened his eyes while they twinkled with bliss. The corners of his lips fell slightly as he looked around him at the tower interior. Although he was grateful for the hermit’s hospitality, this house could never compare to the home he had. He sighed gently and blinked his sad eyes as he walked to the bed and proceeded to lie on the mattress. He knew he’d see them again; he knew he’d come back for them. His head rested lightly on the pillow, hands on his stomach, as his eyes gently closed and his tender breaths faded away until his chest lay still and motionless while his body’s warmth grew faint until the color in his cheeks died away.

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Written by SoulKiattavong in portal Trident Media Group
A Man's Trials of Being
The cobblestone pavement was dusted with colored confetti; banners hung from clothing lines draping across the town square. The children danced and played. Laughter and symphonies flooded the air with the aroma of sweet breads and savory feasts. Oblivious were they to the aged structure resting just a mile from their protection. Through the lavish forest of fruitful bushes and under arched tree roots lay a barely recognizable path leading to the rotting, mossy steps of a wooden porch graced with a verdant abundance.
Behind the rickety doors, up the stairs decorated with a moth-eaten carpet, and into the turret, a middle-aged man stood at the small window reminiscing at the memories of the festivities he participated in for years until his unjust exile had taken place decades ago…

The guards had knocked on the door to his home with solemn expressions lacing their faces, diminishing the warm, loving atmosphere and silencing the usual pleasantries and welcomes exchanged in this cottage. The man’s two rays of youthful sunshine hid behind their Mum’s skirt, their eyes widened as they stared and watched what would be imprinted in their minds and hearts. Screams and pleas fell on deaf ears as the husband and wife begged for mercy though they had not a thought for the reason behind this man being escorted out of his home, far from his family, and away from the life he had built. The young man was no criminal. He’d always gone out of his way to help anyone he encountered and his smile rarely fell. The man was raised well through beliefs of equality and respect and never had he thought of harming a woman.

Confusion and melancholy had soon transformed into disgust and hatred, for the people had nothing else to believe as they blindly followed what they had been given. He was taken to the town's courthouse; a humble yet menacing building with two mere levels towering over the threatened man nonetheless. Authorities ordered the man to keep himself silent as a young woman stepped into the room before the judge. Her slim figure seemed fragile and lost in a space filled with husky, burly men. However, it was not the sense of misplacement that was shocking, it was the feeling of familiarity he felt as they made eye contact. Her shimmering blue orbs now gazed at him with a dull flicker. Her glossy, rouge lips now pursed dryly against each other. Her silky tresses now hung in a dirty braid. And her voice, once melodious and warm, now laced with a fiery sadness.

"Your honor." she bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.

The conversation continued and the young woman was asked questions regarding the case at hand. Voices in the courtroom faded into a slight, continuous ringing in the man's ears. He heard the cries of his wife and children as they pulled onto his shirt and grabbed at his arms. He felt bruises on his skin when he tried to grasp at the last bit of his heart until he was ripped away from the part of his life he cherished most. His values, beliefs, and soul comforted his family as they sobbed at the entrance of their broken home. The sobbing continued until it morphed into the tears of the woman in the court.

"Miss? What happened after he struck you? Miss?"

"He raped me." she whimpered before the bawls returned and her face buried itself in her red hands and deceit.

The man was forced to the outskirts of town where the soldiers instructed him to take his leave through the field and into the acres of nowhere. The mere mile he had walked seemed to take centuries as his heart refused to follow and his body was weakened by the agony he feebly bared. His shoulders fell heavily as each step pulled him down farther and captured the essence of his soul. The man’s eyes threatened to fall back as raw tears pooled down his cheeks and dripped from his jaw, the salty drop splashing onto the flowers and plants that dimmed and grew colorless and dull as an aura of suffering and distress washed over them. Despite the anguish he felt, the young man knew to keep his strength as he felt the three saddened gazes of the angels he had unwillingly left behind. When he turned back, he could see the silhouette of the several men casting accusing glares his way and a few of them protectively held their wives and daughters.

Days after his departure, a kind old recluse with a crooked walk and white, tangled hair had welcomed the exiled man into his abode. The hermit, while filled with eccentric ideas and an odd way of living, had offered all he could. The poor man was given bland plates and bowls of significantly filling soups and breads and a small bed with a musty quilt and pillow. The elderly man offered a toothy grin and a listening ear as a friendship was developed between the two.

Now, his heart fluttered as he recalled his beautiful wife sitting beside him with a small book in her hands while their children sat on the rug in front of the little fire as they played with wooden dolls. He smelled the spices of the soup they had had for dinner drifting in the air. He heard the soft melodies his daughter hummed, the rhythmic turning of pages, and the occasional crackle from the fireplace.

The man smiled and opened his eyes while they twinkled with bliss. The corners of his lips fell slightly as he looked around him at the tower interior. Although he was grateful for the hermit’s hospitality, this house could never compare to the home he had. He sighed gently and blinked his sad eyes as he walked to the bed and proceeded to lie on the mattress. He knew he’d see them again; he knew he’d come back for them. His head rested lightly on the pillow, hands on his stomach, as his eyes gently closed and his tender breaths faded away until his chest lay still and motionless while his body’s warmth grew faint until the color in his cheeks died away.

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Hackleby

“Are you still thinking about him then?” asked Robert jealously while he cleaned his rifle as they jiggled along in the helicopter.

Ferdie stared disinterestedly at him. “No. I just get kind of bored of the predictability of the people that I end up paired with on expeditions. No matter who I'm working for, some jackanapes is plodding along right next to me, thinking they're plotting a dirty scheme while truthfully, they're just doing the same thing everyone else has already done over the last ten years. To think I used to romanticize archaeology. I wanted to be Mary Leakey growing up, and now I've turned into a generic imagining of Lara Croft.”

“Well, you do have a silver spoon upbringing, men with guns at your disposal, and a pretty similar disposition,” observed Eric over the beating of the propeller. “I do hope we land soon. I've never gotten used to jostling about in the air.”

“I don't think we're done being shaken up yet,” said Ferdie as she grabbed onto the side of the door and swung her head out to look behind them. She could see something that looked like birds, but she knew they weren't. She pulled the rifle scope out of Richard's hand and looked again. Those must be Tommin's friends. She put her headset on. “Jackie boy, I think we're being tailed.”

“Yes, ma'am,” said the pilot in his western American dialect. “You just take a seat and let me worry about that.” The team had outfitted him with a hover-plane concept vehicle, which was a very fancy helicopter. He had been flying for almost eight years. He knew his way in the air.

“What kind of guns do you have in this thing?”

“Rocket launcher under the seat, a few larger caliber guns, some grenades, and a few semi-automatics for handguns. There's also a machine gun on the roof. Rigged it myself.”

“Alright, Richard, hand me some rope and your magnetic gloves please,” she yelled and threw Eric the headset. “Eric, look for small passages where we can sneak through and get away. Be Jack's extra eyes.”

Richard gave her a long line of rope. He already knew what she was going to do. She tied one end to the hook above her head towards the door.

“Alright, I'll throw the other end over. You can secure me at the other door. Keep Jack covered and he'll get us back to base,” she yelled and reached up to test the magnet on the top of the helicopter. It would hold her just fine. She would have to move slowly because the magnets were so high powered.

"Ms. Hackleby,” came a loud voice over the speakers attached to the other helicopters as they closed in, “we insist that you land immediately or we will be forced to shoot you down.”

Ferdie ran the rope through her belt loops and her body harness. She extended her arm out of the doorway and gave them an unladylike gesture. Richard laughed and pulled the guns from under the seats. Eric was using his binoculars as hard as he could.

She climbed up the side of the helicopter while their pursuers started to fire on them and got onto the roof near the machine gun. She wrapped the rope around her waist a couple of times and threw the rest of the rope down the other side of the helicopter. She took the magnetic bands off of the gloves and slipped them onto the balls of her hiking boots. She stood firmly magnetized to the roof of the helicopter. Ferdie felt Richard tug the rope twice to tell her it was secure.

The other gunners must have seen her then. All of the helicopters rose up to aim their guns at her gun.

Ferdie loaded the gun and started mowing the other birds out of the sky. Richard was taking aim at the closest helicopter that was trying to pull around the side and shoot at Jack.

“Hang on!” yelled Jack, but only Eric could hear him as they swung hard into a young canyon.

Ferdie laughed as she blew another baddie out of the sky. This was exhilarating. Maybe Lara Croft wasn't such a bad role model after all. Shells fell like metal rain off of the sides of the chopper. Her arms were sore from holding the machine gun steady.

“Fire in the hole!” yelled Richard as he shot a rocket at the helicopter gaining flank position to Jack's side.

The impact of the explosion shook their helicopter while Jack strained to hold it steady. He could hear Eric say there was a small crevice they could dodge through and change back to sneak away. Jack raised the copter out of the deeper part of the canyon and turned a full ninety degrees to head into the crevice. The other helicopters tried to follow but smashed into the rocks.

Ferdie wrapped her arms through the ropes and held on while they navigated the crevice as quickly as Jack could. When they came out the other side, her arms were covered in rope burns and her shirt was torn from the friction.

She felt one of the sides of the rope become loose and she knew it was time for her to go back inside the chassis. Part of her wanted to ride it into base on top like a Valkyrie, but she knew it wasn't really the proper thing to do. She climbed down and resumed her seat across from Eric. Richard proceeded to continue cleaning the guns.

“Sorry about your binoculars,” she said as Eric examined the bullet hole that went through the side of one of the lenses.

He chuckled and broke them in half on the floor, placing the undamaged side in his pocket. “Just glad it wasn't my face.” He wiped his glasses and replaced them onto his nose. “Your arms are bleeding, you know.”

“Yeah,” she said and dabbed them with her handkerchief. “I'll get checked out after I take the samples to the lab.”

The helicopter circled the landing pad and landed softly on top of it. Ferdie grabbed a fiver out of her pocket and shoved it in the pocket of the pilot while they disembarked. 

“You keep flying like that, Jack, and someone will think you're actually good at it.”

(Break)

“I don't think I've ever been so hungry in my life,” Ferdie said as she shoved another biscuit into her mouth, followed by a sandwich, two hard boiled eggs, and a glass of milk.

Dr. Sheridan smiled with his legs crossed and leaned on his elbow in the armchair across from her. “I'm glad to see you back from Asia so soon. I wasn't expecting any sort of positive result.”

“Well, we've yet to see if it's positive, sir,” she said as she gulped down her eggs. “I'm 

sorry, you must excuse my manners. Climbing takes a lot out of me.”

“Climbing takes a lot out of anybody,” he scoffed. “Why do you think I pay other people to do it for me? Did you make out any of the inscriptions?”

“I had a gun pointed at my head as soon as I saw daylight, so I may have forgotten to take any impressions.”

“Nevertheless, you did bring the samples from the spring. We should have the results soon. If it is the Fountain of Youth,” he said, “then it will be the realization of my life's work, and I'll be forced to go into a long and happy retirement.”

“We can all dream of such discoveries, sir,” she said and wiped her mouth. Her arms were bandaged all the way from her wrists to past her elbows, so bending them made her wince a little. “I was wondering if there were any other relics or treasure maps hiding in that collection of yours that you might be inclined to let go of.”

“You mean, give you more things to occupy your time instead of finishing your obligation to the university? A better man would refuse,” Sheridan pulled a leather book from his jacket and gave it to her. “I, on the other hand, was always more fond of field work than academia in my youth, so I sympathize with your cause.”

She smiled. “Do you mind if I open it?”

He waved his hand permissively and lit a cigar. Ferdie had always been like a daughter to him, and he was happy that she wanted to continue his treasure hunting legacy. Sheridan was a world renowned researcher, explorer, and professor who had made some of the most important discoveries in the last 50 years, including a new settlement of the extinct Olmec people of Mexico. That was where he had met Ferdie Hackleby, a bright-eyed, sharp field archaeologist fresh out of her undergraduate studies. She was an encyclopedia of history and geography, a connoisseur of the arts and artifacts, and unusually adept to negotiating with terrorists and ruffians. She could climb anything, ride any animal, shoot any gun, and was an expert with knives. She was something out of the dime adventure novels of his youth. She was the kind of explorer he had always wanted to be.

Ferdie ran her hands over the pages lovingly. “Henry, you don't understand what this means to me. All my life, I've wanted to be good enough to do what you've done. You've always been my hero, and for you to give me this...it feels like you think I'm capable of doing the great things that you've done.”

“There was never any doubt, my dear,” he said and opened his decanter to pour himself two fingers of brandy.

“This early?”

“It's never too early to reward yourself with a drink.”

Richard entered the room. “Little early to be celebrating yet, eh?”

Ferdie gave Sheridan a knowing look.

“When you're as old as I am, you'll come to understand that there's never a perfect time for anything and that you must seize the moment for enjoyment while you can,” Sheridan chuckled and took a drink of his spirit. “To what do we owe the pleasure, Richard? You never join us for tea.”

“Is that what you're calling brandy now? I would have joined you for tea a long time ago, had I known about that.” He handed Sheridan some papers and poured himself a hefty glass. “Can't say I'm surprised, especially at you, Ferdie. You never struck me as a tea drinker.”

“My European disposition is deeply hurt by that remark,” she said and showed him her cup. “I am in fact drinking tea at teatime, and not spirits like some sort of lush.”

Title: Hackleby

Genre: Adventure

Age range: Any

Word count: 1786

Author: Kaley Keane

My project is an excellent fit for commercial work.  I am an endless story teller.  Ferdie Hackleby is an explorer and treasure hunter who finds herself being pursued by a secret organization who wishes to bury her discovery of the Fountain of Youth so that they can exploit it for profit.  But she soon finds out that the water from the Fountain may be darker in origins that what she initially suspected.

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Hackleby
“Are you still thinking about him then?” asked Robert jealously while he cleaned his rifle as they jiggled along in the helicopter.

Ferdie stared disinterestedly at him. “No. I just get kind of bored of the predictability of the people that I end up paired with on expeditions. No matter who I'm working for, some jackanapes is plodding along right next to me, thinking they're plotting a dirty scheme while truthfully, they're just doing the same thing everyone else has already done over the last ten years. To think I used to romanticize archaeology. I wanted to be Mary Leakey growing up, and now I've turned into a generic imagining of Lara Croft.”

“Well, you do have a silver spoon upbringing, men with guns at your disposal, and a pretty similar disposition,” observed Eric over the beating of the propeller. “I do hope we land soon. I've never gotten used to jostling about in the air.”

“I don't think we're done being shaken up yet,” said Ferdie as she grabbed onto the side of the door and swung her head out to look behind them. She could see something that looked like birds, but she knew they weren't. She pulled the rifle scope out of Richard's hand and looked again. Those must be Tommin's friends. She put her headset on. “Jackie boy, I think we're being tailed.”

“Yes, ma'am,” said the pilot in his western American dialect. “You just take a seat and let me worry about that.” The team had outfitted him with a hover-plane concept vehicle, which was a very fancy helicopter. He had been flying for almost eight years. He knew his way in the air.

“What kind of guns do you have in this thing?”

“Rocket launcher under the seat, a few larger caliber guns, some grenades, and a few semi-automatics for handguns. There's also a machine gun on the roof. Rigged it myself.”
“Alright, Richard, hand me some rope and your magnetic gloves please,” she yelled and threw Eric the headset. “Eric, look for small passages where we can sneak through and get away. Be Jack's extra eyes.”

Richard gave her a long line of rope. He already knew what she was going to do. She tied one end to the hook above her head towards the door.

“Alright, I'll throw the other end over. You can secure me at the other door. Keep Jack covered and he'll get us back to base,” she yelled and reached up to test the magnet on the top of the helicopter. It would hold her just fine. She would have to move slowly because the magnets were so high powered.

"Ms. Hackleby,” came a loud voice over the speakers attached to the other helicopters as they closed in, “we insist that you land immediately or we will be forced to shoot you down.”

Ferdie ran the rope through her belt loops and her body harness. She extended her arm out of the doorway and gave them an unladylike gesture. Richard laughed and pulled the guns from under the seats. Eric was using his binoculars as hard as he could.

She climbed up the side of the helicopter while their pursuers started to fire on them and got onto the roof near the machine gun. She wrapped the rope around her waist a couple of times and threw the rest of the rope down the other side of the helicopter. She took the magnetic bands off of the gloves and slipped them onto the balls of her hiking boots. She stood firmly magnetized to the roof of the helicopter. Ferdie felt Richard tug the rope twice to tell her it was secure.

The other gunners must have seen her then. All of the helicopters rose up to aim their guns at her gun.

Ferdie loaded the gun and started mowing the other birds out of the sky. Richard was taking aim at the closest helicopter that was trying to pull around the side and shoot at Jack.

“Hang on!” yelled Jack, but only Eric could hear him as they swung hard into a young canyon.

Ferdie laughed as she blew another baddie out of the sky. This was exhilarating. Maybe Lara Croft wasn't such a bad role model after all. Shells fell like metal rain off of the sides of the chopper. Her arms were sore from holding the machine gun steady.

“Fire in the hole!” yelled Richard as he shot a rocket at the helicopter gaining flank position to Jack's side.

The impact of the explosion shook their helicopter while Jack strained to hold it steady. He could hear Eric say there was a small crevice they could dodge through and change back to sneak away. Jack raised the copter out of the deeper part of the canyon and turned a full ninety degrees to head into the crevice. The other helicopters tried to follow but smashed into the rocks.

Ferdie wrapped her arms through the ropes and held on while they navigated the crevice as quickly as Jack could. When they came out the other side, her arms were covered in rope burns and her shirt was torn from the friction.

She felt one of the sides of the rope become loose and she knew it was time for her to go back inside the chassis. Part of her wanted to ride it into base on top like a Valkyrie, but she knew it wasn't really the proper thing to do. She climbed down and resumed her seat across from Eric. Richard proceeded to continue cleaning the guns.

“Sorry about your binoculars,” she said as Eric examined the bullet hole that went through the side of one of the lenses.

He chuckled and broke them in half on the floor, placing the undamaged side in his pocket. “Just glad it wasn't my face.” He wiped his glasses and replaced them onto his nose. “Your arms are bleeding, you know.”

“Yeah,” she said and dabbed them with her handkerchief. “I'll get checked out after I take the samples to the lab.”

The helicopter circled the landing pad and landed softly on top of it. Ferdie grabbed a fiver out of her pocket and shoved it in the pocket of the pilot while they disembarked. 

“You keep flying like that, Jack, and someone will think you're actually good at it.”

(Break)

“I don't think I've ever been so hungry in my life,” Ferdie said as she shoved another biscuit into her mouth, followed by a sandwich, two hard boiled eggs, and a glass of milk.

Dr. Sheridan smiled with his legs crossed and leaned on his elbow in the armchair across from her. “I'm glad to see you back from Asia so soon. I wasn't expecting any sort of positive result.”

“Well, we've yet to see if it's positive, sir,” she said as she gulped down her eggs. “I'm 
sorry, you must excuse my manners. Climbing takes a lot out of me.”

“Climbing takes a lot out of anybody,” he scoffed. “Why do you think I pay other people to do it for me? Did you make out any of the inscriptions?”

“I had a gun pointed at my head as soon as I saw daylight, so I may have forgotten to take any impressions.”

“Nevertheless, you did bring the samples from the spring. We should have the results soon. If it is the Fountain of Youth,” he said, “then it will be the realization of my life's work, and I'll be forced to go into a long and happy retirement.”

“We can all dream of such discoveries, sir,” she said and wiped her mouth. Her arms were bandaged all the way from her wrists to past her elbows, so bending them made her wince a little. “I was wondering if there were any other relics or treasure maps hiding in that collection of yours that you might be inclined to let go of.”

“You mean, give you more things to occupy your time instead of finishing your obligation to the university? A better man would refuse,” Sheridan pulled a leather book from his jacket and gave it to her. “I, on the other hand, was always more fond of field work than academia in my youth, so I sympathize with your cause.”

She smiled. “Do you mind if I open it?”

He waved his hand permissively and lit a cigar. Ferdie had always been like a daughter to him, and he was happy that she wanted to continue his treasure hunting legacy. Sheridan was a world renowned researcher, explorer, and professor who had made some of the most important discoveries in the last 50 years, including a new settlement of the extinct Olmec people of Mexico. That was where he had met Ferdie Hackleby, a bright-eyed, sharp field archaeologist fresh out of her undergraduate studies. She was an encyclopedia of history and geography, a connoisseur of the arts and artifacts, and unusually adept to negotiating with terrorists and ruffians. She could climb anything, ride any animal, shoot any gun, and was an expert with knives. She was something out of the dime adventure novels of his youth. She was the kind of explorer he had always wanted to be.

Ferdie ran her hands over the pages lovingly. “Henry, you don't understand what this means to me. All my life, I've wanted to be good enough to do what you've done. You've always been my hero, and for you to give me this...it feels like you think I'm capable of doing the great things that you've done.”

“There was never any doubt, my dear,” he said and opened his decanter to pour himself two fingers of brandy.

“This early?”

“It's never too early to reward yourself with a drink.”

Richard entered the room. “Little early to be celebrating yet, eh?”

Ferdie gave Sheridan a knowing look.

“When you're as old as I am, you'll come to understand that there's never a perfect time for anything and that you must seize the moment for enjoyment while you can,” Sheridan chuckled and took a drink of his spirit. “To what do we owe the pleasure, Richard? You never join us for tea.”

“Is that what you're calling brandy now? I would have joined you for tea a long time ago, had I known about that.” He handed Sheridan some papers and poured himself a hefty glass. “Can't say I'm surprised, especially at you, Ferdie. You never struck me as a tea drinker.”

“My European disposition is deeply hurt by that remark,” she said and showed him her cup. “I am in fact drinking tea at teatime, and not spirits like some sort of lush.”

Title: Hackleby
Genre: Adventure
Age range: Any
Word count: 1786
Author: Kaley Keane
My project is an excellent fit for commercial work.  I am an endless story teller.  Ferdie Hackleby is an explorer and treasure hunter who finds herself being pursued by a secret organization who wishes to bury her discovery of the Fountain of Youth so that they can exploit it for profit.  But she soon finds out that the water from the Fountain may be darker in origins that what she initially suspected.


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Prologue: Season of Awakening

The following is (the better part of) the prologue to a fantasy novel I am currently writing, also entitled Season of Awakening.

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The next morning started slowly, especially since Stefan didn’t wake until well after the sun was up. Despite everything that had already happened, he had still harboured a hope that he might be able to rise earlier than his host, get his hands on the kind of small boat that one who lived on an island must surely have, and make his way to somewhere near a route used by the Imperial convoys or merchants from one of the Seven Sisters. There were things about his visit to Singaraja he hadn’t been able to tell her – couldn’t tell her, and it would have been better to leave before the questions turned in that direction, because of the risk to him and because of the risk to her. As eccentric as she was and as unusual as her living arrangements might be, it seemed clear that she was just a civilian, and it would have been the best way for him to show gratitude for all she had done.

But when he opened the curtains, he found that it was mid-morning, and the cool autumn sunlight dazzled him for a moment. He craned his neck, taking in the view. Morgan’s garden was unfenced, and the edges blended into the surrounding landscape, relatively seamless except for the longer grass and wild dandelions beyond where she had planted. The island stretched away from him, larger than he had realized; there was even an actual wood in the distance, clearly very small compared to the great northern forests but probably large enough for one to get lost without proper caution.

Even for an astronomer, this was late in the morning, and Morgan was undoubtedly up and about. He dressed slowly, wincing now and then as the aches in his muscles reminded him just how long he’d lain on wood planks that were nowhere near as flat as they should have been. Perhaps it was just as well that it was impossible to make a secret exit now; he had no serious injuries, but rowing would be too much of an inconvenience and an ordeal for a while.

Stefan stretched, massaging his left shoulder as he exited the guest room and shut the

door behind him. In the hall across from the door hung a large painting showing a scrubland pierced by a wide river, the river itself filled with old-style longships of various sizes, sails billowing and dove-marked flags waving. In the background, the square, squat silhouette of a walled city loomed. In the foreground, two huscarls in elaborate chainmail and winged helmets carried a black stone that resembled nothing less than a miniature pyramid, and which was decorated with primitive human-shaped figures and strange geometric designs.

Morgan’s house was like a museum. A museum standing alone on a small island somewhere between Trest and Marbella, with no fences or watchtowers, inhabited by a young widow and some wild birds. A small island that, judging by the peace and quiet, was completely absent from the charts of the Empire’s merchants and Libertalian rogues and Ninevan slavers. It certainly suggested a puzzle; perhaps he would find more clues while waiting for the ship she’d mentioned.

He found Morgan eating breakfast in the garden, accompanied this time by an entire family of starlings who had found something fascinating to dig up next to the path.

“Friends of yours?” Stefan joked.

“Yes,” she replied, setting her plate on the ground next to her. “That little brown one was born in the cherry tree, right outside my window. How are you this morning?”

“Much better, thank you.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Here, let me get you something to eat.” She rose and walked back towards the kitchen door. The birds hopped a couple of steps away, and as they entered the house one had seated himself on her plate, preening his wing feathers contentedly.

Stefan leaned on the kitchen table and watched Morgan rummage through a cabinet, then a couple of wood boxes by the sink. “Do you like cheese?” she asked. “I know I have some around here somewhere . . . ah, here we are. I’m sorry it’s a little old.”

He accepted a plate piled with the cheese along with more black bread. “I’m sure it’s just fine.” He took a bite, and it was. “Thank you again. I was admiring your decorations upstairs. What is that painting in the hall outside the guest room? It looks like an Alfred Alonso, yes?”

“Ah, I know the one you mean – it’s called ‘Victory at Heliopolis.”

Stefan nodded. “Heliopolis? Like the town in Tanis?” He set his plate on the table while she retrieved hers from outside.

“Yes. It shows the Jomsvikings on the way home from their successful raid, taking the Obelisk of Akhenaten as a prize. Are you familiar with the story?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“They say it’s why the Ninevan corsairs go out of their way to attack the Seven Sisters whenever they can.”

Stefan narrowed his eyes, swallowing the last of the cheese in a piece somewhat larger than he probably should have attempted. “Really?” he coughed. “That would have been, what, three hundred years ago?”

“Even more than that, I think.” She hovered over him, a concerned expression on her face, but his coughing subsided rapidly. “I guess they don’t believe in forgiveness.”

“Or moving on.”

“I think I have a history of the Jomsvikings in the study somewhere.” Morgan nodded towards the door, and they went through, picking a path around the orrery and its little balls of light. She stopped in front of a tall bookshelf, running her eyes over the volumes packed in on the higher rows. “I’m pretty sure it’s up there; it should be one of those ones with a gilded spine. Feel free to read it; or anything else, for that matter.”

“None of these are your private diaries or something?”

He winked, and she laughed. “No, those are all buried under the apple trees out front. Enjoy! I’ll be back shortly; I need to check my star charts for tonight’s observations.”

Stefan stood up on a conveniently placed footstool and picked out a couple of the gilded volumes. The first turned out to be a book of recipes, but the second was the one she had mentioned, the title Doves of Jomsburg embossed on its cover. He seated himself in an armchair and opened it. The pages were smooth and still carried a distinctive papery odor, the printing in a rounded, flowing style.

The Jomsvikings have been many things over the centuries – pirates, raiders, crusaders, explorers, merchants, knights; and on occasion, all these at once. Those who indulge in metaphor would no doubt say they wear many hats, a fitting expression considering Adailton’s reputation for constantly changing fashions.

His eyes wandered from the page, and he settled deeper into the armchair with a sigh. He usually had little time to spare for reading, much less relaxing, and he had to fight a reflex to feel guilty about being idle, shipwreck or no. The room was light and airy, and the sunlight glinted gently on Morgan’s gadgets and the gilt binding of the more expensive books. He was supposed to be in Adailton soon, yes, but he really should stop and smell the roses (and the books) more often; after all, a man couldn’t wear the same hat all the time, metaphorical or otherwise.

He turned the page. The early parts of the book were written more like poetic prose than a history, and Stefan read of the longboats plying the wide, slow Falskov River to its mouth, where Dove Island lay blanketed in trees under the timeless light of the Queens. He read, letting the images soak into his mind without care for strategies or politics or money, for the first time in what felt like much too long.

He didn’t realize he had fallen asleep again until he heard a clatter from the hallway.

“I’m sorry!” Morgan called. “That was just me. Believe it or not, I dropped this.” She appeared in the doorway, holding an astrolabe. “I’m not quite sure how I managed it, but it doesn’t seem to be broken.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Stefan replied. “How long was I asleep?”

“Hm, about two and a half hours, I think?”

He shook his head blearily, setting the book down on the chair’s arm. “I’m sorry. Must’ve – ”

“Don’t be silly! You’re more than entitled to rest. There’s nothing at all to be embarrassed about.” She smiled, cradling the astrolabe in the palm of her hand.

In the end, the history of the Jomsvikings sat unused on the chair’s arm for the entire afternoon, as he was active in relatively short bursts, interspersed with an hour or two of such heavy weariness that he could barely stand up. By evening, though, he felt quite a bit better. He was reluctant to admit it even to himself, but there was no way he would have made it if he had tried to sneak off the island.

As the sun sank towards the western horizon, the wind died down and the cherry tree

behind the kitchen stood tall and stately. Morgan emerged from the study, carrying the astrolabe in one hand and a small bundle of paper under the other arm.

“Stefan, I was going to ask you – do you feel like joining me tonight to make some observations? I can always use a second person to help with my telescope.”

“Don’t know how much I know about telescopes . . .” Did she know of his troubles the previous night? Her expression betrayed nothing, as yet. “But I’d be glad to.”

The telescope turned out to be on a balcony high above the house’s front yard, accompanied by another small table and chairs and still more calculations scattered across both, weighed down in some places by extra lenses. It was a slim five-foot tube with a little nest of gears and machinery, and he was in his element as he noted which one turned which other, how they related to the markings on the ring that served as the azimuth scale.

“And this,” Morgan said, “adjusts the focus when you look in the eyepiece.”

“Brilliant. I hate to admit I never thought that much about the stars. Until now.”

“Look.” She inclined her head towards the east, where the White Queen was rising glimmering and gibbous above the sea. “Let’s start with her.” His hands flashed over the levers and gears, aiming the telescope straight at the moon. “Take a look.”

Stefan leaned over and peered through the eyepiece. His breath caught in his throat as he beheld a smooth, grey vista, marked here and there with craters and mountains. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the White Queen’s surface, he also noticed larger shaded expanses that were almost the color of the sea.

He dragged his attention from the eyepiece. Morgan was smiling at him. “Is that real?” he gasped.

For half the night, they moved the barrel from one star to the next to the next. And as the Red Queen’s white lakes and the Lady of the Morning’s great green halo burned themselves into his memory, and they traced the River of Veles filled with more stars than there were drops in the ocean, he began to understand how people could believe they held some sort of power.

* * *

On his second morning on the island, clouds blew in from the north, and the starlings kept up their activity in the yard as the rain started to fall. It continued through the middle of the day, running in streams down the study window as Morgan picked a hardcover tome from the shelf and opened it to an illustration near the back, inviting Stefan to examine it.

It was a schematic diagram of a flat-topped pyramid. The structure’s dimensions were marked along the outside of the illustration, and they were staggering: a height of just over two hundred feet, its base a perfect square with sides six hundred and fifty feet.

“That’s what you and Daniel were researching?”

“One of the things, yes,” Morgan explained, “and the most recent. He’d been studying them his whole life, though, years before we married. You know, the same chartered company that excavated this pyramid built our house.” She turned the page to an artist’s impression of murals found on the structure’s higher faces.

“That’s the Golden Spiral.” Stefan gestured at the image at the top of the left-hand page. “But what’s this?” The bottom half of the page was occupied by a strange image of two interlocked triangles, within which were eight small circles laid out in no pattern he was familiar with.

“I believe it was intended to be a representation of the Prince – the constellation. This could be his head, and his arm raised to wave here. It doesn’t exactly match the Prince as we know it, but we never were able to find anything that seemed more likely.”

Stefan tried to draw the image she’d described in his mind’s eye. “The Lemurians were interested in astronomy?”

“They were positively obsessed with it,” said Morgan. “The other day I told you about the Eastern Wanderer, and beyond things like that, they believed that the connections between the earth and the sky were what moved the world and everything in it – the source of power and magic. ‘As above, so below.’ There were temples with windows decorated like the Red and White Queens, and stones that align with the sunrise and sunset on specific days. Even after all these years, we’ve only scratched the surface, really.”

“Never would’ve guessed.” His gaze wandered to a rectangle filled with tessellated triangles and similar small circles. “What constellation is that?”

“I’m not sure – possibly Thor’s Chariot. I haven’t been to the pyramids for . . . a while.” He knew what she was referring to. She stared at the page as a wistful smile grew on her

face. In the bottom right corner a line of text explained: Artist’s re-creation based on rubbings taken by Daniel and Morgan Rose. He looked at her until she lifted her face to meet his gaze.

“I’m sorry I never had the chance to meet him.”

Morgan blinked a few times. “I think the two of you would have gotten along very well.” With one last glance at the illustration, she closed the book and set it down on a low shelf.

He started slightly as she suddenly patted him on the elbow. “It’s almost lunch time. What would you like?”

Stefan rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Anything Lemurian?”

“Ah! Their taste in food remains even more mysterious than their religion.” Their laughter rose above the rain’s steady drumming on the roof as they left the room.

* * *

On his fourth morning on the island, Stefan was sitting in Morgan’s study, thinking about how he hadn’t shaved since Singaraja. He’d almost never considered stopping, no more than he’d consider failing to check his calculations or leaving behind his protractor (which was now presumably at the bottom of the sea). He thought about how he’d never been entirely happy with his chin, and how a beard might improve the lines of his face once it came in. If he grew his hair out a little more, he might even manage to look a little like a Jomsviking. His contemplation was interrupted when Morgan emerged from the kitchen door, wiping her hands on a towel.

“How did you know you could trust me? That first day.” He trailed off and noticed that she was wearing bright blue, the first time he’d seen such a color on her. It looked . . . right.

She smiled. “I don’t think I’m that out of touch, Stefan!” She stopped near the orrery, folding the towel in quarters. “And besides, sometimes you just have to have faith.”

“Went with your instincts, eh?” She picked up a large stack of papers that had occupied the seat of an armchair in the corner, and started for the door that led to the stairs. “Can I help you with that at all, Morgan?”

“Oh, it’s not necessary. You’re my guest; and besides, you’re supposed to be resting.”

“I’m fine, really. I don’t feel right letting you carry all that . . .”

“You’re a sweetheart, Stefan. But it’s not that heavy; just some things I really should have filed better before.” She glanced back mischievously as she reached the door. “I’ll be upstairs – don’t hurt yourself picking up those hardcover books!”

He shook his head, swallowing a laugh. Perhaps it was nothing more than the circumstances of their first meeting, or the close-quarters living circumstances, but he was rapidly becoming accustomed to Morgan’s company, to a degree he would not have expected when he first arrived. The ease and comfort with which they interacted made him, in a strange way, uncomfortable. He was concerned less about how much time he had spent on her island or the fact that his contacts in Adailton had probably reported him missing, and more about the fact that he couldn’t get himself to be particularly concerned about either.

He rose and made his way back towards the kitchen. A small page similar to the calculations she had shown him the other day rested next to the orrery. He glanced at it instinctively as he passed by, but this seemed to hold no numerals or equations, only handwriting. The part he could see seemed to be about something that would be “removed from the site for sale, very shortly”.

A swirl of competing thoughts rose in Stefan's head. As little as he knew of Lemuria, he did know of the demand for relics, both authentic and fake, and that countries, including the Empire, had banned their trafficking to discourage people from looting archeological sites. The cost of furnishing Morgan’s large and luxurious house crossed his mind, as did the fact that as an official representative of the Empire in foreign lands, he was obligated to report any breaches of laws that involved cross-border movements.

He watched the bright glass spheres move for a while, wondering how he should feel. He wondered how Morgan would feel in turn, were she to learn that more of his business in Singaraja had been with people hiding from the Sultan’s justice than with the Sultan himself; or that his previous stop on the passage to Adailton had in fact been Libertalia, that the last crew he’d sailed with was not, as far as he knew, dead, and that he had gotten on the raft only at swordpoint. Whatever else she might be, she was also warm, and kind, and caring, and perhaps that was enough for now. As things stood, the two of them were in a different orbit than the Sultan and the Electors and the Free Captains, and such questions were not in their stars, not right now.

Stefan turned his back on the orrery and the letter and looked out the window, at the garden. One of the starlings fluttered into the air, drawing his attention to two strawberry

plants standing near a clump of poppies. They were evidently an ever-bearing strain, as a number of bright red fruits hung from their lush branches, and many of them looked to him to be almost ripe. He smiled to himself. Morgan had warned him away from the hardcover books, but not the garden.

By the time she was done upstairs, he had seated himself on the armchair she had cleared, and didn’t look up as she came in. “I hope,” he greeted her, “you don’t mind my monopolizing your history of the Jomsvikings. Fascinating people.”

“Not at all, Stefan! You’ll learn a lot more about them when you get to Adailton – wait. What is this?”

“What is what?”

He kept his eyes on the page as she stood over the desk, looking down at the basket of strawberries. “Oh, Stefan, I told you to save your strength.”

“I know.”

“You were in a shipwreck not a week ago.”

“I know.”

He stole a glance out of the corner of his eye. Morgan’s hands were on her hips, but she was grinning. “I wonder what I should make with them. It’s past Midsummer, of course, but perhaps something for dessert? I might have some metaxa around . . .” Stefan looked up, and the earnest gleam in her eyes made him grin too.

* * *

On his sixth morning on the island, Stefan was in the kitchen when Morgan called him to the high balcony where the telescope sat. It was pointing west, but he didn’t need it to make out the small triangle-rigged ship approaching in the distance, once she pointed it out. The sea was calm and sunlit, without even a hint of the turbulence that had brought him to the island. He smiled, but it was a little harder than he expected, and he wondered if she noticed.

“That should be my friend from Adailton,” she explained. “I think they’ll be here in a day or two.”

“I see,” he replied. Neither of them looked at each other for a moment. “Morgan, I can’t thank you enough. For everything.”

“Thank you, too. It’s been a long time since I had a man about the house. It was . . .”

He waited. “Do you believe in fate?” she asked.

Stefan raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like the idea that I don’t have a choice.”

“How did you wash ashore here, practically on my doorstep?”

“I don’t know.”

“The odds against it are astronomical – and I’m an astronomer, so I should know.”

“Yet it happened,” he said.

“That’s exactly my point.” She glanced away and toyed with the telescope’s eyepiece.

They stared out to the west for a lonely moment. The tiny outline of the ship bobbed on the waves as a group of seagulls circled to land on the beach below them. “Any going-away advice for a seafaring man?” Stefan said at last.

Morgan looked up at him, and her eyes were glittering. “Watch the skies.”

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Prologue: Season of Awakening
The following is (the better part of) the prologue to a fantasy novel I am currently writing, also entitled Season of Awakening.
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The next morning started slowly, especially since Stefan didn’t wake until well after the sun was up. Despite everything that had already happened, he had still harboured a hope that he might be able to rise earlier than his host, get his hands on the kind of small boat that one who lived on an island must surely have, and make his way to somewhere near a route used by the Imperial convoys or merchants from one of the Seven Sisters. There were things about his visit to Singaraja he hadn’t been able to tell her – couldn’t tell her, and it would have been better to leave before the questions turned in that direction, because of the risk to him and because of the risk to her. As eccentric as she was and as unusual as her living arrangements might be, it seemed clear that she was just a civilian, and it would have been the best way for him to show gratitude for all she had done.

But when he opened the curtains, he found that it was mid-morning, and the cool autumn sunlight dazzled him for a moment. He craned his neck, taking in the view. Morgan’s garden was unfenced, and the edges blended into the surrounding landscape, relatively seamless except for the longer grass and wild dandelions beyond where she had planted. The island stretched away from him, larger than he had realized; there was even an actual wood in the distance, clearly very small compared to the great northern forests but probably large enough for one to get lost without proper caution.

Even for an astronomer, this was late in the morning, and Morgan was undoubtedly up and about. He dressed slowly, wincing now and then as the aches in his muscles reminded him just how long he’d lain on wood planks that were nowhere near as flat as they should have been. Perhaps it was just as well that it was impossible to make a secret exit now; he had no serious injuries, but rowing would be too much of an inconvenience and an ordeal for a while.

Stefan stretched, massaging his left shoulder as he exited the guest room and shut the
door behind him. In the hall across from the door hung a large painting showing a scrubland pierced by a wide river, the river itself filled with old-style longships of various sizes, sails billowing and dove-marked flags waving. In the background, the square, squat silhouette of a walled city loomed. In the foreground, two huscarls in elaborate chainmail and winged helmets carried a black stone that resembled nothing less than a miniature pyramid, and which was decorated with primitive human-shaped figures and strange geometric designs.

Morgan’s house was like a museum. A museum standing alone on a small island somewhere between Trest and Marbella, with no fences or watchtowers, inhabited by a young widow and some wild birds. A small island that, judging by the peace and quiet, was completely absent from the charts of the Empire’s merchants and Libertalian rogues and Ninevan slavers. It certainly suggested a puzzle; perhaps he would find more clues while waiting for the ship she’d mentioned.

He found Morgan eating breakfast in the garden, accompanied this time by an entire family of starlings who had found something fascinating to dig up next to the path.

“Friends of yours?” Stefan joked.

“Yes,” she replied, setting her plate on the ground next to her. “That little brown one was born in the cherry tree, right outside my window. How are you this morning?”

“Much better, thank you.”

“I’m glad to hear it. Here, let me get you something to eat.” She rose and walked back towards the kitchen door. The birds hopped a couple of steps away, and as they entered the house one had seated himself on her plate, preening his wing feathers contentedly.

Stefan leaned on the kitchen table and watched Morgan rummage through a cabinet, then a couple of wood boxes by the sink. “Do you like cheese?” she asked. “I know I have some around here somewhere . . . ah, here we are. I’m sorry it’s a little old.”

He accepted a plate piled with the cheese along with more black bread. “I’m sure it’s just fine.” He took a bite, and it was. “Thank you again. I was admiring your decorations upstairs. What is that painting in the hall outside the guest room? It looks like an Alfred Alonso, yes?”

“Ah, I know the one you mean – it’s called ‘Victory at Heliopolis.”

Stefan nodded. “Heliopolis? Like the town in Tanis?” He set his plate on the table while she retrieved hers from outside.

“Yes. It shows the Jomsvikings on the way home from their successful raid, taking the Obelisk of Akhenaten as a prize. Are you familiar with the story?”

“I’ve heard of it.”

“They say it’s why the Ninevan corsairs go out of their way to attack the Seven Sisters whenever they can.”

Stefan narrowed his eyes, swallowing the last of the cheese in a piece somewhat larger than he probably should have attempted. “Really?” he coughed. “That would have been, what, three hundred years ago?”

“Even more than that, I think.” She hovered over him, a concerned expression on her face, but his coughing subsided rapidly. “I guess they don’t believe in forgiveness.”

“Or moving on.”

“I think I have a history of the Jomsvikings in the study somewhere.” Morgan nodded towards the door, and they went through, picking a path around the orrery and its little balls of light. She stopped in front of a tall bookshelf, running her eyes over the volumes packed in on the higher rows. “I’m pretty sure it’s up there; it should be one of those ones with a gilded spine. Feel free to read it; or anything else, for that matter.”

“None of these are your private diaries or something?”

He winked, and she laughed. “No, those are all buried under the apple trees out front. Enjoy! I’ll be back shortly; I need to check my star charts for tonight’s observations.”

Stefan stood up on a conveniently placed footstool and picked out a couple of the gilded volumes. The first turned out to be a book of recipes, but the second was the one she had mentioned, the title Doves of Jomsburg embossed on its cover. He seated himself in an armchair and opened it. The pages were smooth and still carried a distinctive papery odor, the printing in a rounded, flowing style.

The Jomsvikings have been many things over the centuries – pirates, raiders, crusaders, explorers, merchants, knights; and on occasion, all these at once. Those who indulge in metaphor would no doubt say they wear many hats, a fitting expression considering Adailton’s reputation for constantly changing fashions.

His eyes wandered from the page, and he settled deeper into the armchair with a sigh. He usually had little time to spare for reading, much less relaxing, and he had to fight a reflex to feel guilty about being idle, shipwreck or no. The room was light and airy, and the sunlight glinted gently on Morgan’s gadgets and the gilt binding of the more expensive books. He was supposed to be in Adailton soon, yes, but he really should stop and smell the roses (and the books) more often; after all, a man couldn’t wear the same hat all the time, metaphorical or otherwise.

He turned the page. The early parts of the book were written more like poetic prose than a history, and Stefan read of the longboats plying the wide, slow Falskov River to its mouth, where Dove Island lay blanketed in trees under the timeless light of the Queens. He read, letting the images soak into his mind without care for strategies or politics or money, for the first time in what felt like much too long.

He didn’t realize he had fallen asleep again until he heard a clatter from the hallway.

“I’m sorry!” Morgan called. “That was just me. Believe it or not, I dropped this.” She appeared in the doorway, holding an astrolabe. “I’m not quite sure how I managed it, but it doesn’t seem to be broken.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Stefan replied. “How long was I asleep?”

“Hm, about two and a half hours, I think?”

He shook his head blearily, setting the book down on the chair’s arm. “I’m sorry. Must’ve – ”

“Don’t be silly! You’re more than entitled to rest. There’s nothing at all to be embarrassed about.” She smiled, cradling the astrolabe in the palm of her hand.

In the end, the history of the Jomsvikings sat unused on the chair’s arm for the entire afternoon, as he was active in relatively short bursts, interspersed with an hour or two of such heavy weariness that he could barely stand up. By evening, though, he felt quite a bit better. He was reluctant to admit it even to himself, but there was no way he would have made it if he had tried to sneak off the island.

As the sun sank towards the western horizon, the wind died down and the cherry tree
behind the kitchen stood tall and stately. Morgan emerged from the study, carrying the astrolabe in one hand and a small bundle of paper under the other arm.

“Stefan, I was going to ask you – do you feel like joining me tonight to make some observations? I can always use a second person to help with my telescope.”

“Don’t know how much I know about telescopes . . .” Did she know of his troubles the previous night? Her expression betrayed nothing, as yet. “But I’d be glad to.”

The telescope turned out to be on a balcony high above the house’s front yard, accompanied by another small table and chairs and still more calculations scattered across both, weighed down in some places by extra lenses. It was a slim five-foot tube with a little nest of gears and machinery, and he was in his element as he noted which one turned which other, how they related to the markings on the ring that served as the azimuth scale.

“And this,” Morgan said, “adjusts the focus when you look in the eyepiece.”

“Brilliant. I hate to admit I never thought that much about the stars. Until now.”

“Look.” She inclined her head towards the east, where the White Queen was rising glimmering and gibbous above the sea. “Let’s start with her.” His hands flashed over the levers and gears, aiming the telescope straight at the moon. “Take a look.”

Stefan leaned over and peered through the eyepiece. His breath caught in his throat as he beheld a smooth, grey vista, marked here and there with craters and mountains. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness of the White Queen’s surface, he also noticed larger shaded expanses that were almost the color of the sea.

He dragged his attention from the eyepiece. Morgan was smiling at him. “Is that real?” he gasped.

For half the night, they moved the barrel from one star to the next to the next. And as the Red Queen’s white lakes and the Lady of the Morning’s great green halo burned themselves into his memory, and they traced the River of Veles filled with more stars than there were drops in the ocean, he began to understand how people could believe they held some sort of power.

* * *

On his second morning on the island, clouds blew in from the north, and the starlings kept up their activity in the yard as the rain started to fall. It continued through the middle of the day, running in streams down the study window as Morgan picked a hardcover tome from the shelf and opened it to an illustration near the back, inviting Stefan to examine it.

It was a schematic diagram of a flat-topped pyramid. The structure’s dimensions were marked along the outside of the illustration, and they were staggering: a height of just over two hundred feet, its base a perfect square with sides six hundred and fifty feet.

“That’s what you and Daniel were researching?”

“One of the things, yes,” Morgan explained, “and the most recent. He’d been studying them his whole life, though, years before we married. You know, the same chartered company that excavated this pyramid built our house.” She turned the page to an artist’s impression of murals found on the structure’s higher faces.

“That’s the Golden Spiral.” Stefan gestured at the image at the top of the left-hand page. “But what’s this?” The bottom half of the page was occupied by a strange image of two interlocked triangles, within which were eight small circles laid out in no pattern he was familiar with.

“I believe it was intended to be a representation of the Prince – the constellation. This could be his head, and his arm raised to wave here. It doesn’t exactly match the Prince as we know it, but we never were able to find anything that seemed more likely.”

Stefan tried to draw the image she’d described in his mind’s eye. “The Lemurians were interested in astronomy?”

“They were positively obsessed with it,” said Morgan. “The other day I told you about the Eastern Wanderer, and beyond things like that, they believed that the connections between the earth and the sky were what moved the world and everything in it – the source of power and magic. ‘As above, so below.’ There were temples with windows decorated like the Red and White Queens, and stones that align with the sunrise and sunset on specific days. Even after all these years, we’ve only scratched the surface, really.”

“Never would’ve guessed.” His gaze wandered to a rectangle filled with tessellated triangles and similar small circles. “What constellation is that?”

“I’m not sure – possibly Thor’s Chariot. I haven’t been to the pyramids for . . . a while.” He knew what she was referring to. She stared at the page as a wistful smile grew on her
face. In the bottom right corner a line of text explained: Artist’s re-creation based on rubbings taken by Daniel and Morgan Rose. He looked at her until she lifted her face to meet his gaze.

“I’m sorry I never had the chance to meet him.”

Morgan blinked a few times. “I think the two of you would have gotten along very well.” With one last glance at the illustration, she closed the book and set it down on a low shelf.

He started slightly as she suddenly patted him on the elbow. “It’s almost lunch time. What would you like?”

Stefan rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Anything Lemurian?”

“Ah! Their taste in food remains even more mysterious than their religion.” Their laughter rose above the rain’s steady drumming on the roof as they left the room.

* * *

On his fourth morning on the island, Stefan was sitting in Morgan’s study, thinking about how he hadn’t shaved since Singaraja. He’d almost never considered stopping, no more than he’d consider failing to check his calculations or leaving behind his protractor (which was now presumably at the bottom of the sea). He thought about how he’d never been entirely happy with his chin, and how a beard might improve the lines of his face once it came in. If he grew his hair out a little more, he might even manage to look a little like a Jomsviking. His contemplation was interrupted when Morgan emerged from the kitchen door, wiping her hands on a towel.

“How did you know you could trust me? That first day.” He trailed off and noticed that she was wearing bright blue, the first time he’d seen such a color on her. It looked . . . right.

She smiled. “I don’t think I’m that out of touch, Stefan!” She stopped near the orrery, folding the towel in quarters. “And besides, sometimes you just have to have faith.”

“Went with your instincts, eh?” She picked up a large stack of papers that had occupied the seat of an armchair in the corner, and started for the door that led to the stairs. “Can I help you with that at all, Morgan?”

“Oh, it’s not necessary. You’re my guest; and besides, you’re supposed to be resting.”

“I’m fine, really. I don’t feel right letting you carry all that . . .”

“You’re a sweetheart, Stefan. But it’s not that heavy; just some things I really should have filed better before.” She glanced back mischievously as she reached the door. “I’ll be upstairs – don’t hurt yourself picking up those hardcover books!”

He shook his head, swallowing a laugh. Perhaps it was nothing more than the circumstances of their first meeting, or the close-quarters living circumstances, but he was rapidly becoming accustomed to Morgan’s company, to a degree he would not have expected when he first arrived. The ease and comfort with which they interacted made him, in a strange way, uncomfortable. He was concerned less about how much time he had spent on her island or the fact that his contacts in Adailton had probably reported him missing, and more about the fact that he couldn’t get himself to be particularly concerned about either.

He rose and made his way back towards the kitchen. A small page similar to the calculations she had shown him the other day rested next to the orrery. He glanced at it instinctively as he passed by, but this seemed to hold no numerals or equations, only handwriting. The part he could see seemed to be about something that would be “removed from the site for sale, very shortly”.

A swirl of competing thoughts rose in Stefan's head. As little as he knew of Lemuria, he did know of the demand for relics, both authentic and fake, and that countries, including the Empire, had banned their trafficking to discourage people from looting archeological sites. The cost of furnishing Morgan’s large and luxurious house crossed his mind, as did the fact that as an official representative of the Empire in foreign lands, he was obligated to report any breaches of laws that involved cross-border movements.

He watched the bright glass spheres move for a while, wondering how he should feel. He wondered how Morgan would feel in turn, were she to learn that more of his business in Singaraja had been with people hiding from the Sultan’s justice than with the Sultan himself; or that his previous stop on the passage to Adailton had in fact been Libertalia, that the last crew he’d sailed with was not, as far as he knew, dead, and that he had gotten on the raft only at swordpoint. Whatever else she might be, she was also warm, and kind, and caring, and perhaps that was enough for now. As things stood, the two of them were in a different orbit than the Sultan and the Electors and the Free Captains, and such questions were not in their stars, not right now.

Stefan turned his back on the orrery and the letter and looked out the window, at the garden. One of the starlings fluttered into the air, drawing his attention to two strawberry
plants standing near a clump of poppies. They were evidently an ever-bearing strain, as a number of bright red fruits hung from their lush branches, and many of them looked to him to be almost ripe. He smiled to himself. Morgan had warned him away from the hardcover books, but not the garden.

By the time she was done upstairs, he had seated himself on the armchair she had cleared, and didn’t look up as she came in. “I hope,” he greeted her, “you don’t mind my monopolizing your history of the Jomsvikings. Fascinating people.”

“Not at all, Stefan! You’ll learn a lot more about them when you get to Adailton – wait. What is this?”

“What is what?”

He kept his eyes on the page as she stood over the desk, looking down at the basket of strawberries. “Oh, Stefan, I told you to save your strength.”

“I know.”

“You were in a shipwreck not a week ago.”

“I know.”

He stole a glance out of the corner of his eye. Morgan’s hands were on her hips, but she was grinning. “I wonder what I should make with them. It’s past Midsummer, of course, but perhaps something for dessert? I might have some metaxa around . . .” Stefan looked up, and the earnest gleam in her eyes made him grin too.

* * *

On his sixth morning on the island, Stefan was in the kitchen when Morgan called him to the high balcony where the telescope sat. It was pointing west, but he didn’t need it to make out the small triangle-rigged ship approaching in the distance, once she pointed it out. The sea was calm and sunlit, without even a hint of the turbulence that had brought him to the island. He smiled, but it was a little harder than he expected, and he wondered if she noticed.

“That should be my friend from Adailton,” she explained. “I think they’ll be here in a day or two.”

“I see,” he replied. Neither of them looked at each other for a moment. “Morgan, I can’t thank you enough. For everything.”

“Thank you, too. It’s been a long time since I had a man about the house. It was . . .”

He waited. “Do you believe in fate?” she asked.

Stefan raised his hand to shield his eyes from the bright sun. “No.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t like the idea that I don’t have a choice.”

“How did you wash ashore here, practically on my doorstep?”

“I don’t know.”

“The odds against it are astronomical – and I’m an astronomer, so I should know.”

“Yet it happened,” he said.

“That’s exactly my point.” She glanced away and toyed with the telescope’s eyepiece.

They stared out to the west for a lonely moment. The tiny outline of the ship bobbed on the waves as a group of seagulls circled to land on the beach below them. “Any going-away advice for a seafaring man?” Stefan said at last.

Morgan looked up at him, and her eyes were glittering. “Watch the skies.”
#fantasy  #fiction  #romance 
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By The Whites of Their Eyes

Fern knew from the first day she arrived, that, in her woods, the trees had eyes; they whispered it so to her. Each tree in her forest was exactly like the next; paper-white, with the slightest hint of a grainy, slate-colored film, like the light of a pale lantern cast against rain-speckled concrete, and perfectly smooth, spare their jagged, unforgiving eyes. Aspens, she’d heard them called, in human tongue.

Fern hid in the looming shadows of their trunks, and only their trunks, as the leaves had fallen for the last time long ago and left only barren branches. She sat upon a low branch, whistling a song taught to her by a blue jay, in a different time. A murder of crows perched on the branches above her and stared down at her with eyes like dark distant stars, singing back a single, low note. They were the only winged folk who took nest in her woods.

Her eye slid to theirs in envy, as she only had one that worked; the other was milky-white like the bark of the trees, and blind. It hadn’t always been that way; it was a curse of sorts inflicted upon her by the aspens. Although the audience of crows was few, Fern could feel hundreds of eyes focusing on her, as was common. Fern didn’t mention it aloud, but her mind cried out to the trees that it was impolite to stare.

Somewhere off in the distance, Fern heard the sound of a wolf’s howl, a bitter cry at the moon, which had first started as one voice, and became many. A pack of wolves prowled the woods in the same way she did, creating trails in the thin layer of snow that always blanketed the ground; they kept visitors away, but they weren’t the real danger to fear in the woods, Fern knew. Large slivers of moonlight shone through the canopy of empty branches, and made cracks in the seemingly-everlasting twilight of each night. During the day, the sunlight bled through the overcast clouds that hung low over the trees, casting everything in a pale grey light that reminded Fern of a smooth, riverside stone.

Suddenly, Fern sensed a presence that disturbed her peaceful half-slumber under the cover of dusk. She smelled them long before they were visible to her sharp eye, which, although lone in its watch, could see in night’s cover as well as it could by day.

Humans…. Fern thought, as their fleshy, multi-layered stench lingered in her nose. Thinking of the word lit a pang of regret ablaze in her chest, but it was quickly drowned out by something ravenous clawing at her stomach.

“Whitewood! Whitewood!” She could hear it whispering into her ear like a creature of the night, before it fell silent once more, as soon as she flicked her head to look below her, all of her senses sharpening and instantly sending her back into the present.

Looking up, she gave the crows an eldritch smile that lacked many teeth, which was expected from someone of her young age, and struck a feeling of unease in even the night-colored birds. Fern made her way swiftly to the forest floor with a well-aimed leap, causing her curly, wild brown hair to fall across her face in long waves. Brushing her hair out of her face, she stood for a moment, looking off into the darkness surrounding her, that crept behind trees and slid past the slits of moonlight. As she tasted the scent bristling through the air again, an odd hunger took root in her stomach, and Fern understood that it wasn’t her own.

Her feet found their way quickly across the gnarled vines and twisted roots that littered the forest floor, whilst guiding her gracefully through the trees. Although she went on two feet, her sense twitched and strained in the way that only an animal’s could; she displayed an odd mix between human and beast. Fern stopped at the edge of the clearing, where there were four people dressed in warm clothes, teasing each other and laughing boisterously in raised voices like a merry council of elves as they trotted upon a game path that had been downtrodden by wolves, and other creatures of the forest they had yet to meet. Watching their faces, clearly those of young adults, and the shadows stretched out across them, Fern snaked between the trees at the edge of the clearing with her body pressed close to their bark, like her namesake.

“Whitewood! Whitewood! Whitewood!” The thing took up its chant again, except it hissed the words with a fiercer volume than before, and willed her body to move without her commanding it so. The teenagers poked and shoved each other in the ribs, clearly having trespassed into her territory on a dare, and a sudden flood of hatred overtook her. For a moment, she hesitated, in an attempt to keep a hold on her humanity, which she knew the forest was stripping her of, but the power of the woods met the threshold of her own power quickly.

Her hands hovering at the sides of her head, Fern allowed the whitewood to overtake her. At that moment, her blind eye began to twitch and move in its socket. The woods came alive. The trees pulsed, their eyes, which had changed from slits in the wood into something piercing and catlike, darted in every direction, before resting on the people disturbing their forest. As her blind eye glared sharply, yet sightlessly at the intruders, they became quiet and looked around cautiously, a sudden chill coming over them.

The pale-white bark of the aspens peeled itself off, revealing the darker colored underwood, which was unveiled to the world for just a moment, before it began stripping away too, this time in a fluid fashion, in the same way wax melts off a candle. Saplings began to appear in a circle around all the people, and she could feel the creature hidden within both her chest and the trees weaving something powerful around them; a cold feeling in her stomach gave Fern the realization that she was nothing more than a device to expel it. The saplings that were closer in began to wind themselves around the feet of the teenagers, slinking up their wriggling legs, and grasping tightly onto them, whilst the ones that were farther out shot up into small, crooked trees that craned over the intruder’s heads. Disappearing from her line of sight, the people were trapped behind the line of small, thin trees that looked as if they were the white, brittle fingers on the hand of a skeleton hidden beneath the dirt. The woods that controlled Fern had become part of a forgotten creature, one as big as a mountain and just as old, and it was hungry.

The cage of trees began to pull them down into the ground, which had opened up into a seemingly endless pit to receive them, the teenagers within them, as she watched. As they disappeared underneath the earth, and their screams muffled into nothing, the woods settled back to the way they were before almost immediately. Fern let out a deep breath, when the creature finally released its grasp on her mind, and her unseeing eye. The crows, who had been watching from another spot in the trees, began to sing the low note again, willing her to continue her song from earlier. Although the sound of her whistling was clear and sharp once more, she couldn’t help but hear the aspens whispering to her.

Whitewood… Whitewood…

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By The Whites of Their Eyes
Fern knew from the first day she arrived, that, in her woods, the trees had eyes; they whispered it so to her. Each tree in her forest was exactly like the next; paper-white, with the slightest hint of a grainy, slate-colored film, like the light of a pale lantern cast against rain-speckled concrete, and perfectly smooth, spare their jagged, unforgiving eyes. Aspens, she’d heard them called, in human tongue.
Fern hid in the looming shadows of their trunks, and only their trunks, as the leaves had fallen for the last time long ago and left only barren branches. She sat upon a low branch, whistling a song taught to her by a blue jay, in a different time. A murder of crows perched on the branches above her and stared down at her with eyes like dark distant stars, singing back a single, low note. They were the only winged folk who took nest in her woods.
Her eye slid to theirs in envy, as she only had one that worked; the other was milky-white like the bark of the trees, and blind. It hadn’t always been that way; it was a curse of sorts inflicted upon her by the aspens. Although the audience of crows was few, Fern could feel hundreds of eyes focusing on her, as was common. Fern didn’t mention it aloud, but her mind cried out to the trees that it was impolite to stare.
Somewhere off in the distance, Fern heard the sound of a wolf’s howl, a bitter cry at the moon, which had first started as one voice, and became many. A pack of wolves prowled the woods in the same way she did, creating trails in the thin layer of snow that always blanketed the ground; they kept visitors away, but they weren’t the real danger to fear in the woods, Fern knew. Large slivers of moonlight shone through the canopy of empty branches, and made cracks in the seemingly-everlasting twilight of each night. During the day, the sunlight bled through the overcast clouds that hung low over the trees, casting everything in a pale grey light that reminded Fern of a smooth, riverside stone.
Suddenly, Fern sensed a presence that disturbed her peaceful half-slumber under the cover of dusk. She smelled them long before they were visible to her sharp eye, which, although lone in its watch, could see in night’s cover as well as it could by day.
Humans…. Fern thought, as their fleshy, multi-layered stench lingered in her nose. Thinking of the word lit a pang of regret ablaze in her chest, but it was quickly drowned out by something ravenous clawing at her stomach.
“Whitewood! Whitewood!” She could hear it whispering into her ear like a creature of the night, before it fell silent once more, as soon as she flicked her head to look below her, all of her senses sharpening and instantly sending her back into the present.
Looking up, she gave the crows an eldritch smile that lacked many teeth, which was expected from someone of her young age, and struck a feeling of unease in even the night-colored birds. Fern made her way swiftly to the forest floor with a well-aimed leap, causing her curly, wild brown hair to fall across her face in long waves. Brushing her hair out of her face, she stood for a moment, looking off into the darkness surrounding her, that crept behind trees and slid past the slits of moonlight. As she tasted the scent bristling through the air again, an odd hunger took root in her stomach, and Fern understood that it wasn’t her own.
Her feet found their way quickly across the gnarled vines and twisted roots that littered the forest floor, whilst guiding her gracefully through the trees. Although she went on two feet, her sense twitched and strained in the way that only an animal’s could; she displayed an odd mix between human and beast. Fern stopped at the edge of the clearing, where there were four people dressed in warm clothes, teasing each other and laughing boisterously in raised voices like a merry council of elves as they trotted upon a game path that had been downtrodden by wolves, and other creatures of the forest they had yet to meet. Watching their faces, clearly those of young adults, and the shadows stretched out across them, Fern snaked between the trees at the edge of the clearing with her body pressed close to their bark, like her namesake.
“Whitewood! Whitewood! Whitewood!” The thing took up its chant again, except it hissed the words with a fiercer volume than before, and willed her body to move without her commanding it so. The teenagers poked and shoved each other in the ribs, clearly having trespassed into her territory on a dare, and a sudden flood of hatred overtook her. For a moment, she hesitated, in an attempt to keep a hold on her humanity, which she knew the forest was stripping her of, but the power of the woods met the threshold of her own power quickly.
Her hands hovering at the sides of her head, Fern allowed the whitewood to overtake her. At that moment, her blind eye began to twitch and move in its socket. The woods came alive. The trees pulsed, their eyes, which had changed from slits in the wood into something piercing and catlike, darted in every direction, before resting on the people disturbing their forest. As her blind eye glared sharply, yet sightlessly at the intruders, they became quiet and looked around cautiously, a sudden chill coming over them.
The pale-white bark of the aspens peeled itself off, revealing the darker colored underwood, which was unveiled to the world for just a moment, before it began stripping away too, this time in a fluid fashion, in the same way wax melts off a candle. Saplings began to appear in a circle around all the people, and she could feel the creature hidden within both her chest and the trees weaving something powerful around them; a cold feeling in her stomach gave Fern the realization that she was nothing more than a device to expel it. The saplings that were closer in began to wind themselves around the feet of the teenagers, slinking up their wriggling legs, and grasping tightly onto them, whilst the ones that were farther out shot up into small, crooked trees that craned over the intruder’s heads. Disappearing from her line of sight, the people were trapped behind the line of small, thin trees that looked as if they were the white, brittle fingers on the hand of a skeleton hidden beneath the dirt. The woods that controlled Fern had become part of a forgotten creature, one as big as a mountain and just as old, and it was hungry.
The cage of trees began to pull them down into the ground, which had opened up into a seemingly endless pit to receive them, the teenagers within them, as she watched. As they disappeared underneath the earth, and their screams muffled into nothing, the woods settled back to the way they were before almost immediately. Fern let out a deep breath, when the creature finally released its grasp on her mind, and her unseeing eye. The crows, who had been watching from another spot in the trees, began to sing the low note again, willing her to continue her song from earlier. Although the sound of her whistling was clear and sharp once more, she couldn’t help but hear the aspens whispering to her.
Whitewood… Whitewood…

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The 1st Step

Hello my name is Aurora and I’m an Ingression. Don’t know what that is? Basically I’m a gateway, a portal to another realm. People can literally step through me and end up somewhere else. Sounds cool right? Well it’s not! Can you imagine going through puberty then suddenly random objects start flying out of your naval? Now that was scary. Fortunately the local healer explained that this peculiar behavior was normal for an Ingression my age. It was still odd though. Neither of my parents had magic anything resembling mine. Mom was imbued with ice magic and Dad can make cheap illusions. Mom was obviously the more favorably endowed of the two. Still while growing up I thought I would get some kind of cool mashup of the two. Like making illusions that freeze people when you touch them. You know something like that. But instead I got this stupid curse. Some of you that aren’t endowed are probably thinking well maybe it’s not the best magic but it’s still something. Well I’d really rather have nothing than this ability. This curse has ruined my entire life.

When I realized my magic had finally awakened, after the trip to the healer I was very excited. Once I learned to open my portal on my own the expulsions of random objects stopped (which was a huge relief). When I focus my magic into my navel I feel the tickle of the portal becoming active. I remember I used to giggle every time I did it. Then I feel a rippling sensation that spreads through my whole body. And... that’s it. People can walk through me to another realm. It’s super basic. And that little bit of hocus pocus is all I’ll ever be able to do. There’s no one that can teach me anything else. Even Zale doesn’t know much about Ingression magic. By the way Zale is my butler. He’s one of those perfect butler types. He can do anything from beat up thugs to pour a perfect cup of tea. Seriously! I mean he’s a strong magician, well learned, polite, a great cook, patient, dependable, and I started to notice a while ago extremely handsome. Anyway back to what I was saying, Ingressions are extremely rare. There’s only one other known Ingression in our realm, but not only is he on the other side of the continent he’s also part of the royal family. So the chances of being taken on as an apprentice is basically zero.

So knowing I would probably never be able to be more than convenient transportation for other people was a big letdown. Still it’s not even close to the worst of it. As disappointing as this ability is for me it is invaluable for others. A lot of people would pay good money for access to an instant portal. A fact that my Dad was quick to move in on. Discovering my abilities turned Dad into a completely different person. He use to look at me and see his little girl, but now when he looks at me he sees a golden idol. As soon as my portal was stable my Dad was ready with large groups of people ready to pay to go inside me. Wait… ok that sounds worse than it is, but honestly not even by that much! I really felt violated! Just imagine every other day strangers coming up to you with expectation. They already paid for your services so you’d better deliver. Ofcoarse being 11 at the time I had no say in the matter. That and I felt like I was letting my dad down.

Before I couldn’t do more than 5 people a day. My Dad was furious. “Is that it?!”He asked standing over me. I’d fallen to my knees drenched in sweat after the last customer had passed through. “I thought you said you were practicing!” “S sorry Dad” I panted from the floor unable to support myself any longer. “Hey, am I still gonna be able to go to Nocturne, because I paid extra gold to be able to go today?” “Heh heh, sorry everyone.” my Dad said addressing the four people who were still waiting. “We’re having a few minor complications... I’ll deal with you later.” He growled at me out of the corner of his mouth.

Things seemed to change so abruptly Mom and Dad started fighting. I’d never seen them fight before my magic awakened, but it became an almost nightly event. My Mom was against the idea of making money off me from the start and she only grew more adamant as my Dad continued to change. One night there fighting reached a fever pitch. My Mom was screaming that she would just take me and Zale and leave and he could keep all the stupid money if that’s what really makes him happy. When I woke up the next day Mom was dead. My dad said she tripped on her gown and fell down the stairs. I knew he killed her. So did Zale and the guards he hired to protect the house, so his precious golden goose never gets stolen. What could we say? I was a kid, Zale a young butler, and he was the now rich and prestigious figure that was helping to stimulate the economy in our lonely town. Honestly I’m sure he knew that we knew he killed her. There was shame in his eyes whenever he held my gaze and at the funeral he even managed to shed a few tears. I on the other hand bawled like a baby.

For the next several months. I spent the better part of the days crying. When I wasn’t crying I would just lie on my bed hating myself. Why did I have to be an Ingression? If I didn’t have these wretched powers Mom would still be alive. I was too depressed to eat. I pretty much reverted back to infancy. I only ate what Zale spoon fed me and when I’d sob uncontrollably Zale would hold me in his arms and rock me to sleep. My Dad was absent during these months. I stayed locked in my room and he did whatever he was doing. I wanted to hate him. I did hate him. But still as the months past I wondered why he never came up to check on me. I guess I can at least thank him for getting me out of my depressed stupor. One day he showed up at my room and pocked his head through the door. “Hey are you ok?” He asked. “Yes.” I responded monotonously. “Good. Someone wants to travel get yourself ready.” And then he was gone. So I dragged myself out of bed put on decent clothes and waited to receive the latest traveler wondering if I even still had the capability. Fortunately it was just one guy and the process went as smoothly as if it’d been just yesterday since last opening my portal. After that it was back to business as usual. I’d manage to increase the duration of my portal opening significantly but it still wasn’t exactly easy. This was especially true when there were andragons in the group. Since the average andragon was over 7 feet tall I found it surprising I could even pass them through. There height along with their wide frame meant they would often protrude past my portal space even when taking a wide stance and extending my arms as far as they would go. This always gave me a weird feeling of being uncomfortably stretched and I could almost feel the scales scraping against my translucent body.

Sometimes after these sessions I felt so tired that all I wanted to do was go to sleep, but Zale insisted that I get out of the house for a while for my own good. I had no idea how much I needed it until I was outside. We didn’t go far; we just walked to the town market then came back. Still it was enough. Just seeing the sky and feeling the wind on my face gave me such a liberating feeling. After that I made it a point to get out of the house every day. Sometimes it was for brief periods after sessions of transporting people. Other days when no one was traveling I would spend the entire day out of the house. I would go on walks with Zale, spend time by the river, visit my friends in town, and browse around the market. For a while this was acceptable. Then Dad started seeing this as a problem. He said it wasn’t safe for me to go be going outside all the time and insisted that I never leave the house without the company of at least five guards. I didn’t see the point of it since we never went too far from town, where we knew everyone. Even if something actually did happen, Zale was always with me and I’m pretty sure he was worth more than five guards. In any case we complied. Having the guards always on our heels definitely put people on edge whenever we came through. That caused us to start spending more time in remote areas. As time went on my Dad grew more and more agitated by our excursions. He would show clear disapproval of my casual coming and going to the point that leaving, even with the required guards, was met with a challenge.

One day when I was thirteen I decided it was a nice day for a picnic. So Zale made us lunch and we planned on going to get my friend Naomi and enjoy our meal amidst nature. As we were heading out the door my Dad asked boorishly, “where are you going?” “We’re going to have a picnic in the dead woods” I answered. Our escort of guards was already forming a line behind us. “Why do you have to go out?” He said “you can have lunch here in the house.” I couldn’t fathom what his issue could be with us going to a location so close to home especially when we were still being escorted by the guards. “Umm well it’s a nice day outside, and no one is traveling today so I just thought…” “Oh there no travelers today so you’ll just leave huh? Guess you have too much time on your hands fine then, go on go, go!” So we went. He was like that now. He just got angry for no reason.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, he spent the remainder of that afternoon and the next couple of days sending out messages far and wide by any means available. In a months’ time half the continent knew that there was an Ingression in Ozrin. Travelers came flooding in with renewed vigor. Every day there were more people to transport. Where were all these people even coming from? I felt like the entire realm should have been vacant by now. The groups got larger and larger and the breaks in between got shorter. I thought things were at their worst when an entire troop of andragons showed up wanting to go to Yandrasille. That led to an incident Zale had to diffuse, but in the end I was able to transport them all. Things really did hit their worst serval weeks later when I passed out trying to transport a group of twenty six. I made it to nineteen.

It’s hard to remember clear details of that time. I know I had an extremely high fever after that. I mean unnaturally high. The town healer had never seen anything like it. A request was sent for a healer in the capital but he hadn’t seen anything of the sort either. He thought I was dying which was just as well because that’s how I felt. I spent most of the time sleeping having weird fever driven dreams. I remember waking up several times to Zale swabbing my neck and forehead with a cool towel. According to him my delirium lead to a few crazy conversations. “Zale”… I’d whisper. “Yes lady Aurora I’m here.” “Could you take my skin off please…” “No my lady I don’t think that would be wise.” “Please Zale? Just for a little while, we can put it back on later. It’s cooking my insides…” another time I thought I dreamed my Dad and Zale were arguing above my bed. I was sure it was another fever dream because I’d never seen Zale so much as raise his voice in anger let alone engage in a full blown argument with my Dad. A few weeks later when I started to recover I ask him if I’d dreamt it. That’s when he told me it really happened. When I asked him what they were arguing about, he said I should focus on finishing my herbal tea, so I didn’t press him on the subject.

It was a slow process but when it seemed whatever it was that afflicted my body ran its course my strength began to return. My full recovery took almost 6 months. I remember in the last month when I was well enough to walk around my room I thought of how nice it would be to go outside. If only there was a way to sneak out of the house so my Dad wouldn’t know I could leave the house without keeling over. I wasn’t sure if I could make it if he made me start transporting people again so soon. But as I gazed out through my window I realized that sneaking out was not an option. The guards around the house seemed to have multiplied two fold. I’m not sure what it was but as I watched the guards from my room window it suddenly dawned on me; the guards weren’t really meant to keep people out, they were meant to keep me in. That’s why my Dad had guards following us everywhere we went. And that’s why he always got agitated whenever I wanted to leave. He thought I was going to try and run away. Something else clicked. The picnic. That’s why my Dad went out of control when we were leaving for the picnic. For all he knew our bags were packed with enough food and supplies to make it to the city. No doubt Zale had already figured this out long ago. I scratched my head violently in frustration. I wished he’d let me in on what’s going on sometimes…

This whole thing was ridicules I was fourteen already and my Dad had me under permanent house arrest. He couldn’t keep me here. He had no right to. There were times that I wanted to just tell him off and let him know that, but I always got scared. Since my Dads transformation there’s no telling how far he would go to keep me here. The truth is I always wanted to travel to different realms and go on adventures and stuff. That’s what Mom did. She was part of a guild based in Tiada. Since her death I struggled finding motivation to move let alone go to far off places. But the idea of My Dad tethering me to the house, to himself,… It made me feel like a bird in a cage. I had to get out! So the obvious question. Aurora, you’re an Ingression, why don’t you just use your own portal to go somewhere far far away. Well that would be because of the extremely unfavorable stipulation that occurs when Ingressions step through their own gateways… their locked out of the realm they traveled from forever. When Zale read me that line in an old book he found after I’d discovered my abilities my stomach tied itself in knots. I had so many questions like what happens if you accidentally fall into your own portal or what if you somehow lock yourself out of all thirteen realms? Unfortunately the book was lacking in details but I decided then that it wouldn’t be a problem because I would never go through my own portal. Who would have guessed I’d be contemplating it just four years later.

A few months after I recovered I was back to opening portals. Thankfully my Dad didn’t try to overload me like he did before. Maybe going almost a year without traveler money made him realize if you kill the goose you’re out of eggs. Still even with the more manageable group size it was still largely laborious work and I knew I couldn’t stay here forever. Since I became aware of the guards true intentions it became painfully obvious that they were monitoring my every move and reporting it back to my Dad. I felt stupid for not seeing it sooner. I thought more and more about how I could leave without using my portal but I could never come up with anything that didn’t involve Zale fighting an army of guards. If I was going to leave it would have to be through my portal.

I weighed the options over and over again. In reality there really wasn’t much for me here. My life consisted largely of waiting in my room for the next job transporting people trying not to faint then rinse and repeat. My relationship with my dad was that of a tool and the user, I barely saw my friends, I was monitored round the clock by guards, and it didn’t seem like any of that would ever change. On the other hand if I did use my portal I could end up anywhere with no way of getting back. Even though that wasn’t the most ideal situation I still preferred that to being my Dads portal slave forever.

The biggest dilemma for me was leaving Zale behind. The times that I was actually happy here was because of him. He’d been here with me all this time, even stepping in when my father left gaps. I couldn’t imagine what life would be without him at my side. But I didn’t know how to take him with me. The best I could do is to send him somewhere then follow after him and hope I’d land in the same place. One out of thirteen not the best odds. There’s that plus, I know Zale would never agree to it. He would never agree to a plan that would leave me in a potentially dangerous situation without his help. He was much more likely to support the plan with him single handedly fighting the small army guarding the house since that plan involved us staying together. That was something I couldn’t agree with. I had no doubt the guards wouldn’t hurt me if I tried to escape. Zale on the other hand was a different story. Dad doesn’t even like Zale. I doubt he would give the guards instructions not to hurt or kill him if things took a turn for the worst. There was no way I was letting that happen. Not after everything Zale has done for me. I refused to drag him down with me. Zale was the kind of person that could excel at anything. Without me to worry about I’m sure Zale could slip past every guard without a problem. He could live a successful happy life without having to foster me all the time. He would never say it but it was the truth. My situation was a miserable one and this extended to Zale by the fault. Zale would be better off without me. So I continued being Daddy’s little money maker in silence though below the surface I was plotting this best time to escape.

A month after I turned sixteen I was ready. It was hard to tell how much I would need starting my new life in another realm. I figured if 10 gold coins was a days wage for someone with a good job, with the amount my Dad gave me after transporting sessions, pitiful as it was compared to how much was actually made, I should have enough to live comfortably for roughly 3 years. Slowly but surely I got around to seeing all my friends again because I knew it would be the last time. I spoke to them in private and let them know just how much I appreciated them. I tried not to get too choked up about the final goodbyes I didn’t want Zale to know what I was planning. He was already suspicious of me though. (Know it all!) I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when I left Naomi for the last time.

The hardest goodbye was Zale. I couldn’t tell him in person or he would try to stop me so I decided on a letter. Every time I started writing I started crying to the point that I couldn’t write anymore. Saying goodbye to Zale felt too real. It was almost too much to bear. It took six or seven rounds before I could finish the letter. Finally everything was done I was ready to leave. Though my whole body was trembling with fear but also excitement. It was time to go… but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t just leave without saying something to my Dad. I don’t know why I still cared but I did. So I wrote another letter much shorter than Zale’s but I still wasn’t able to get through it without crying. Once that was done there was no longer anything holding me back. I had to leave, and now before I lost my resolve. I’d lived as a bird in a cage for five years. That was more than enough. It was time for this chapter of my life to end. I put on my pack with all my clothes and money, then took my stance. I felt the familiar tickle in my naval as my body responded to the focus of my magic. The rippling grew and spread thought my entire body. I took a last sweeping looked around the room that had been my home for so many years… then I closed my eyes and fell backwards and forwards simultaneously. Into my portal. Into myself, for a destination unknown.

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Trident Media Group is the leading U.S. literary agency and we are looking to discover and represent the next bestsellers. Share a sample of your work. If it shows promise, we will be in touch with you.
Written by D_Reaper in portal Trident Media Group
The 1st Step
Hello my name is Aurora and I’m an Ingression. Don’t know what that is? Basically I’m a gateway, a portal to another realm. People can literally step through me and end up somewhere else. Sounds cool right? Well it’s not! Can you imagine going through puberty then suddenly random objects start flying out of your naval? Now that was scary. Fortunately the local healer explained that this peculiar behavior was normal for an Ingression my age. It was still odd though. Neither of my parents had magic anything resembling mine. Mom was imbued with ice magic and Dad can make cheap illusions. Mom was obviously the more favorably endowed of the two. Still while growing up I thought I would get some kind of cool mashup of the two. Like making illusions that freeze people when you touch them. You know something like that. But instead I got this stupid curse. Some of you that aren’t endowed are probably thinking well maybe it’s not the best magic but it’s still something. Well I’d really rather have nothing than this ability. This curse has ruined my entire life.

When I realized my magic had finally awakened, after the trip to the healer I was very excited. Once I learned to open my portal on my own the expulsions of random objects stopped (which was a huge relief). When I focus my magic into my navel I feel the tickle of the portal becoming active. I remember I used to giggle every time I did it. Then I feel a rippling sensation that spreads through my whole body. And... that’s it. People can walk through me to another realm. It’s super basic. And that little bit of hocus pocus is all I’ll ever be able to do. There’s no one that can teach me anything else. Even Zale doesn’t know much about Ingression magic. By the way Zale is my butler. He’s one of those perfect butler types. He can do anything from beat up thugs to pour a perfect cup of tea. Seriously! I mean he’s a strong magician, well learned, polite, a great cook, patient, dependable, and I started to notice a while ago extremely handsome. Anyway back to what I was saying, Ingressions are extremely rare. There’s only one other known Ingression in our realm, but not only is he on the other side of the continent he’s also part of the royal family. So the chances of being taken on as an apprentice is basically zero.

So knowing I would probably never be able to be more than convenient transportation for other people was a big letdown. Still it’s not even close to the worst of it. As disappointing as this ability is for me it is invaluable for others. A lot of people would pay good money for access to an instant portal. A fact that my Dad was quick to move in on. Discovering my abilities turned Dad into a completely different person. He use to look at me and see his little girl, but now when he looks at me he sees a golden idol. As soon as my portal was stable my Dad was ready with large groups of people ready to pay to go inside me. Wait… ok that sounds worse than it is, but honestly not even by that much! I really felt violated! Just imagine every other day strangers coming up to you with expectation. They already paid for your services so you’d better deliver. Ofcoarse being 11 at the time I had no say in the matter. That and I felt like I was letting my dad down.

Before I couldn’t do more than 5 people a day. My Dad was furious. “Is that it?!”He asked standing over me. I’d fallen to my knees drenched in sweat after the last customer had passed through. “I thought you said you were practicing!” “S sorry Dad” I panted from the floor unable to support myself any longer. “Hey, am I still gonna be able to go to Nocturne, because I paid extra gold to be able to go today?” “Heh heh, sorry everyone.” my Dad said addressing the four people who were still waiting. “We’re having a few minor complications... I’ll deal with you later.” He growled at me out of the corner of his mouth.

Things seemed to change so abruptly Mom and Dad started fighting. I’d never seen them fight before my magic awakened, but it became an almost nightly event. My Mom was against the idea of making money off me from the start and she only grew more adamant as my Dad continued to change. One night there fighting reached a fever pitch. My Mom was screaming that she would just take me and Zale and leave and he could keep all the stupid money if that’s what really makes him happy. When I woke up the next day Mom was dead. My dad said she tripped on her gown and fell down the stairs. I knew he killed her. So did Zale and the guards he hired to protect the house, so his precious golden goose never gets stolen. What could we say? I was a kid, Zale a young butler, and he was the now rich and prestigious figure that was helping to stimulate the economy in our lonely town. Honestly I’m sure he knew that we knew he killed her. There was shame in his eyes whenever he held my gaze and at the funeral he even managed to shed a few tears. I on the other hand bawled like a baby.

For the next several months. I spent the better part of the days crying. When I wasn’t crying I would just lie on my bed hating myself. Why did I have to be an Ingression? If I didn’t have these wretched powers Mom would still be alive. I was too depressed to eat. I pretty much reverted back to infancy. I only ate what Zale spoon fed me and when I’d sob uncontrollably Zale would hold me in his arms and rock me to sleep. My Dad was absent during these months. I stayed locked in my room and he did whatever he was doing. I wanted to hate him. I did hate him. But still as the months past I wondered why he never came up to check on me. I guess I can at least thank him for getting me out of my depressed stupor. One day he showed up at my room and pocked his head through the door. “Hey are you ok?” He asked. “Yes.” I responded monotonously. “Good. Someone wants to travel get yourself ready.” And then he was gone. So I dragged myself out of bed put on decent clothes and waited to receive the latest traveler wondering if I even still had the capability. Fortunately it was just one guy and the process went as smoothly as if it’d been just yesterday since last opening my portal. After that it was back to business as usual. I’d manage to increase the duration of my portal opening significantly but it still wasn’t exactly easy. This was especially true when there were andragons in the group. Since the average andragon was over 7 feet tall I found it surprising I could even pass them through. There height along with their wide frame meant they would often protrude past my portal space even when taking a wide stance and extending my arms as far as they would go. This always gave me a weird feeling of being uncomfortably stretched and I could almost feel the scales scraping against my translucent body.

Sometimes after these sessions I felt so tired that all I wanted to do was go to sleep, but Zale insisted that I get out of the house for a while for my own good. I had no idea how much I needed it until I was outside. We didn’t go far; we just walked to the town market then came back. Still it was enough. Just seeing the sky and feeling the wind on my face gave me such a liberating feeling. After that I made it a point to get out of the house every day. Sometimes it was for brief periods after sessions of transporting people. Other days when no one was traveling I would spend the entire day out of the house. I would go on walks with Zale, spend time by the river, visit my friends in town, and browse around the market. For a while this was acceptable. Then Dad started seeing this as a problem. He said it wasn’t safe for me to go be going outside all the time and insisted that I never leave the house without the company of at least five guards. I didn’t see the point of it since we never went too far from town, where we knew everyone. Even if something actually did happen, Zale was always with me and I’m pretty sure he was worth more than five guards. In any case we complied. Having the guards always on our heels definitely put people on edge whenever we came through. That caused us to start spending more time in remote areas. As time went on my Dad grew more and more agitated by our excursions. He would show clear disapproval of my casual coming and going to the point that leaving, even with the required guards, was met with a challenge.

One day when I was thirteen I decided it was a nice day for a picnic. So Zale made us lunch and we planned on going to get my friend Naomi and enjoy our meal amidst nature. As we were heading out the door my Dad asked boorishly, “where are you going?” “We’re going to have a picnic in the dead woods” I answered. Our escort of guards was already forming a line behind us. “Why do you have to go out?” He said “you can have lunch here in the house.” I couldn’t fathom what his issue could be with us going to a location so close to home especially when we were still being escorted by the guards. “Umm well it’s a nice day outside, and no one is traveling today so I just thought…” “Oh there no travelers today so you’ll just leave huh? Guess you have too much time on your hands fine then, go on go, go!” So we went. He was like that now. He just got angry for no reason.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, he spent the remainder of that afternoon and the next couple of days sending out messages far and wide by any means available. In a months’ time half the continent knew that there was an Ingression in Ozrin. Travelers came flooding in with renewed vigor. Every day there were more people to transport. Where were all these people even coming from? I felt like the entire realm should have been vacant by now. The groups got larger and larger and the breaks in between got shorter. I thought things were at their worst when an entire troop of andragons showed up wanting to go to Yandrasille. That led to an incident Zale had to diffuse, but in the end I was able to transport them all. Things really did hit their worst serval weeks later when I passed out trying to transport a group of twenty six. I made it to nineteen.

It’s hard to remember clear details of that time. I know I had an extremely high fever after that. I mean unnaturally high. The town healer had never seen anything like it. A request was sent for a healer in the capital but he hadn’t seen anything of the sort either. He thought I was dying which was just as well because that’s how I felt. I spent most of the time sleeping having weird fever driven dreams. I remember waking up several times to Zale swabbing my neck and forehead with a cool towel. According to him my delirium lead to a few crazy conversations. “Zale”… I’d whisper. “Yes lady Aurora I’m here.” “Could you take my skin off please…” “No my lady I don’t think that would be wise.” “Please Zale? Just for a little while, we can put it back on later. It’s cooking my insides…” another time I thought I dreamed my Dad and Zale were arguing above my bed. I was sure it was another fever dream because I’d never seen Zale so much as raise his voice in anger let alone engage in a full blown argument with my Dad. A few weeks later when I started to recover I ask him if I’d dreamt it. That’s when he told me it really happened. When I asked him what they were arguing about, he said I should focus on finishing my herbal tea, so I didn’t press him on the subject.

It was a slow process but when it seemed whatever it was that afflicted my body ran its course my strength began to return. My full recovery took almost 6 months. I remember in the last month when I was well enough to walk around my room I thought of how nice it would be to go outside. If only there was a way to sneak out of the house so my Dad wouldn’t know I could leave the house without keeling over. I wasn’t sure if I could make it if he made me start transporting people again so soon. But as I gazed out through my window I realized that sneaking out was not an option. The guards around the house seemed to have multiplied two fold. I’m not sure what it was but as I watched the guards from my room window it suddenly dawned on me; the guards weren’t really meant to keep people out, they were meant to keep me in. That’s why my Dad had guards following us everywhere we went. And that’s why he always got agitated whenever I wanted to leave. He thought I was going to try and run away. Something else clicked. The picnic. That’s why my Dad went out of control when we were leaving for the picnic. For all he knew our bags were packed with enough food and supplies to make it to the city. No doubt Zale had already figured this out long ago. I scratched my head violently in frustration. I wished he’d let me in on what’s going on sometimes…

This whole thing was ridicules I was fourteen already and my Dad had me under permanent house arrest. He couldn’t keep me here. He had no right to. There were times that I wanted to just tell him off and let him know that, but I always got scared. Since my Dads transformation there’s no telling how far he would go to keep me here. The truth is I always wanted to travel to different realms and go on adventures and stuff. That’s what Mom did. She was part of a guild based in Tiada. Since her death I struggled finding motivation to move let alone go to far off places. But the idea of My Dad tethering me to the house, to himself,… It made me feel like a bird in a cage. I had to get out! So the obvious question. Aurora, you’re an Ingression, why don’t you just use your own portal to go somewhere far far away. Well that would be because of the extremely unfavorable stipulation that occurs when Ingressions step through their own gateways… their locked out of the realm they traveled from forever. When Zale read me that line in an old book he found after I’d discovered my abilities my stomach tied itself in knots. I had so many questions like what happens if you accidentally fall into your own portal or what if you somehow lock yourself out of all thirteen realms? Unfortunately the book was lacking in details but I decided then that it wouldn’t be a problem because I would never go through my own portal. Who would have guessed I’d be contemplating it just four years later.

A few months after I recovered I was back to opening portals. Thankfully my Dad didn’t try to overload me like he did before. Maybe going almost a year without traveler money made him realize if you kill the goose you’re out of eggs. Still even with the more manageable group size it was still largely laborious work and I knew I couldn’t stay here forever. Since I became aware of the guards true intentions it became painfully obvious that they were monitoring my every move and reporting it back to my Dad. I felt stupid for not seeing it sooner. I thought more and more about how I could leave without using my portal but I could never come up with anything that didn’t involve Zale fighting an army of guards. If I was going to leave it would have to be through my portal.

I weighed the options over and over again. In reality there really wasn’t much for me here. My life consisted largely of waiting in my room for the next job transporting people trying not to faint then rinse and repeat. My relationship with my dad was that of a tool and the user, I barely saw my friends, I was monitored round the clock by guards, and it didn’t seem like any of that would ever change. On the other hand if I did use my portal I could end up anywhere with no way of getting back. Even though that wasn’t the most ideal situation I still preferred that to being my Dads portal slave forever.

The biggest dilemma for me was leaving Zale behind. The times that I was actually happy here was because of him. He’d been here with me all this time, even stepping in when my father left gaps. I couldn’t imagine what life would be without him at my side. But I didn’t know how to take him with me. The best I could do is to send him somewhere then follow after him and hope I’d land in the same place. One out of thirteen not the best odds. There’s that plus, I know Zale would never agree to it. He would never agree to a plan that would leave me in a potentially dangerous situation without his help. He was much more likely to support the plan with him single handedly fighting the small army guarding the house since that plan involved us staying together. That was something I couldn’t agree with. I had no doubt the guards wouldn’t hurt me if I tried to escape. Zale on the other hand was a different story. Dad doesn’t even like Zale. I doubt he would give the guards instructions not to hurt or kill him if things took a turn for the worst. There was no way I was letting that happen. Not after everything Zale has done for me. I refused to drag him down with me. Zale was the kind of person that could excel at anything. Without me to worry about I’m sure Zale could slip past every guard without a problem. He could live a successful happy life without having to foster me all the time. He would never say it but it was the truth. My situation was a miserable one and this extended to Zale by the fault. Zale would be better off without me. So I continued being Daddy’s little money maker in silence though below the surface I was plotting this best time to escape.

A month after I turned sixteen I was ready. It was hard to tell how much I would need starting my new life in another realm. I figured if 10 gold coins was a days wage for someone with a good job, with the amount my Dad gave me after transporting sessions, pitiful as it was compared to how much was actually made, I should have enough to live comfortably for roughly 3 years. Slowly but surely I got around to seeing all my friends again because I knew it would be the last time. I spoke to them in private and let them know just how much I appreciated them. I tried not to get too choked up about the final goodbyes I didn’t want Zale to know what I was planning. He was already suspicious of me though. (Know it all!) I couldn’t help but shed a few tears when I left Naomi for the last time.

The hardest goodbye was Zale. I couldn’t tell him in person or he would try to stop me so I decided on a letter. Every time I started writing I started crying to the point that I couldn’t write anymore. Saying goodbye to Zale felt too real. It was almost too much to bear. It took six or seven rounds before I could finish the letter. Finally everything was done I was ready to leave. Though my whole body was trembling with fear but also excitement. It was time to go… but I couldn’t. I didn’t want to but I couldn’t just leave without saying something to my Dad. I don’t know why I still cared but I did. So I wrote another letter much shorter than Zale’s but I still wasn’t able to get through it without crying. Once that was done there was no longer anything holding me back. I had to leave, and now before I lost my resolve. I’d lived as a bird in a cage for five years. That was more than enough. It was time for this chapter of my life to end. I put on my pack with all my clothes and money, then took my stance. I felt the familiar tickle in my naval as my body responded to the focus of my magic. The rippling grew and spread thought my entire body. I took a last sweeping looked around the room that had been my home for so many years… then I closed my eyes and fell backwards and forwards simultaneously. Into my portal. Into myself, for a destination unknown.




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Sunset and the Cool Kids

the letter

Shakespeare, Hemingway, Anais Nin and other huge names that changed literature, all had one thing in common: they fell in love everywhere they went. I guess it’s the writer’s fantastical mind, that hopeless romantic heart that would rather die than believe in anything less about love. To feel the thunder rolling in on us and the lightening striking the soul, wildfire nerves and a profound, nearly incomprehensible connection with another human being…the desire to live madly in their arms…it does not make us crazy; hell, we are barely human. We are writers. Something I can’t separate from myself any easier than the gene that made my eyes brown. We are not easily understood, even by our own kind.

My point being this: I’ve always been a prisoner of my own heart, and therefore I can’t escape the fact that I was in love with you. I will never know how real it was for time was stolen from us in that inevitable way that life and people move on. Regardless, the moments shared sparked something in me the same way the wind does, the same way sunsets and music move in people, leaving them breathless and overwhelmed by life. And it may pass, it may linger on into eternity; either way, what matters is that it existed somewhere at some point, and that will forever be a part of who I am. So, thank you for the tarnished souvenirs. I can only hope that eventually, if not already, you experience even an ounce of the ecstasy you thrust upon me. I will never settle for any lesser feeling again…

I do not expect you to hold onto this, I can only hope, for one day down the road you may think of a girl you made and shattered memories with in your hometown…and you will always have something to remember her by…

I’m stuttering with my fingers and as these lines draw to close I feel a weight both lift and drop. I’ve never known ‘end’ until I met you. I’ve never known such profound loss until I met you…if only you could hear this sigh that accompanies this drying ink…it is my time to go. But before I put the pen down, if I could say any one thing to you, it would be this: Be high on life. Human beings needn’t subject themselves to anything other than what this world offers. We trick ourselves into thinking we can find euphoria through pipes, papers and bottles. The truth is it comes from nature. Sex and love are our nature. Don’t be afraid of being consumed. This is not a lecture, just a desperate and battered heart wishing that eventually you can surrender to it and realize that once you do, you will need nothing else. I could hardly stand to watch you go that day, and even though we will never be together, I couldn’t bear to hear worse any other…you don’t need to live up to the image other’s hold to you. You are wild, but you need not be reckless with yourself. You are a complex vessel, worth more than a shipwreck…

Looking into your eyes was the freest I’ve ever felt…Find that in someone, and have an incredible life. This is my kind of goodbye.

Maybe forever yours, Remy

prologue

Life has its way of disappearing on us, or coming in all at once.

We were simply fragmented parts of one diverse whole, all of us, dots coasting down a path of adventure and admiration. Speaking of existence was useless, for we possessed this unconscious belief that ours would never fade. Our roads may have been twisted and warped around one another, but they were unending. Each of us with one hand on the wheel, carrying out designated roles that both complimented and pushed each other.

You know, before it all happened, I wouldn’t have used such a metaphor to describe the lot of us, but now I see that we were the living embodiment of that ’68 Camaro. The body, the gas pedal and breaks, the spark, the engine, the fuel…

For each other we were components that worked towards one function, a single end goal: to take off.

the body

Robbie, tough and elegant in his own right, was our protective shell for something much more complex and riveting. He offered the group a sense of security, especially since such peace of mind was difficult to come by at home. The area in which we lived was rural, a town as devoid of culture as our bank accounts were of money. The stresses of the working class were weighty, and for those who didn’t fall into that category, debilitating.

After the loss of his father, Robbie took over the shop. This forced him to grow up fast, for the death of Robert Senior destroyed the few remaining pieces of Robbie’s youth.

The first time we met was at a mutual friend’s house. A big party for a small town. I shared a cig with my sister, Viv, on the front porch when Robbie pulled up. To this day I couldn’t tell you what she fell in love with first, that Camaro or the brown eyes behind the windshield. Regardless, the minute he stepped out she was gone.

I knew early on that my sister would have issues with addiction, alcohol being her poison of choice. But the strangest thing is she was as sober as a judge that night, and I have yet to see her so intoxicated. That’s how I knew he was the one, the one to save her. Robbie was proof that nice cars and good looks weren’t just for assholes. In fact, he was quite deep for a man of such superficial beauty. He was the brother I never had, the rehab my sister would have needed. His smile radiated, but those eyes held a dolour that stung me every time I looked into them. Viv was never the most profound of women, but when she was nearby, that was the only time I felt hopeful for Robbie. And when Viv moved out to live with him, although the house never possessed the same boisterousness again, I knew they needed each other. He was her new poison, only he wasn’t poison at all…

Although beginnings tend to be confined in hopes of romance and allure, the joining of Robbie and Viv sparked something else entirely. I will admit that this is not a love story. It’s the dynamic truth of the internal, pervasive admiration a bunch of kids shared for each other and for adventure. We were everywhere and nowhere all at once, stuck in this unbendable bond. It helps to think now that maybe we didn’t just exist in that small town, but rather all over the world, each with a different face, different voice, different story, separate tragedies. But if not, at least while together we were the light in the dark, accepted by the other in all forms and biases. Never changing but always changing. We were each other and our own. We breathed life and smoked cigarettes, wrote love and made music. Each a name whispered in a forest on the edge of a riverbank around a bonfire pit, never to be heard by anyone other than ourselves and each other. We, my friend, were the cool kids.

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Sunset and the Cool Kids
the letter
Shakespeare, Hemingway, Anais Nin and other huge names that changed literature, all had one thing in common: they fell in love everywhere they went. I guess it’s the writer’s fantastical mind, that hopeless romantic heart that would rather die than believe in anything less about love. To feel the thunder rolling in on us and the lightening striking the soul, wildfire nerves and a profound, nearly incomprehensible connection with another human being…the desire to live madly in their arms…it does not make us crazy; hell, we are barely human. We are writers. Something I can’t separate from myself any easier than the gene that made my eyes brown. We are not easily understood, even by our own kind.

My point being this: I’ve always been a prisoner of my own heart, and therefore I can’t escape the fact that I was in love with you. I will never know how real it was for time was stolen from us in that inevitable way that life and people move on. Regardless, the moments shared sparked something in me the same way the wind does, the same way sunsets and music move in people, leaving them breathless and overwhelmed by life. And it may pass, it may linger on into eternity; either way, what matters is that it existed somewhere at some point, and that will forever be a part of who I am. So, thank you for the tarnished souvenirs. I can only hope that eventually, if not already, you experience even an ounce of the ecstasy you thrust upon me. I will never settle for any lesser feeling again…

I do not expect you to hold onto this, I can only hope, for one day down the road you may think of a girl you made and shattered memories with in your hometown…and you will always have something to remember her by…

I’m stuttering with my fingers and as these lines draw to close I feel a weight both lift and drop. I’ve never known ‘end’ until I met you. I’ve never known such profound loss until I met you…if only you could hear this sigh that accompanies this drying ink…it is my time to go. But before I put the pen down, if I could say any one thing to you, it would be this: Be high on life. Human beings needn’t subject themselves to anything other than what this world offers. We trick ourselves into thinking we can find euphoria through pipes, papers and bottles. The truth is it comes from nature. Sex and love are our nature. Don’t be afraid of being consumed. This is not a lecture, just a desperate and battered heart wishing that eventually you can surrender to it and realize that once you do, you will need nothing else. I could hardly stand to watch you go that day, and even though we will never be together, I couldn’t bear to hear worse any other…you don’t need to live up to the image other’s hold to you. You are wild, but you need not be reckless with yourself. You are a complex vessel, worth more than a shipwreck…

Looking into your eyes was the freest I’ve ever felt…Find that in someone, and have an incredible life. This is my kind of goodbye.
Maybe forever yours, Remy

prologue
Life has its way of disappearing on us, or coming in all at once.
We were simply fragmented parts of one diverse whole, all of us, dots coasting down a path of adventure and admiration. Speaking of existence was useless, for we possessed this unconscious belief that ours would never fade. Our roads may have been twisted and warped around one another, but they were unending. Each of us with one hand on the wheel, carrying out designated roles that both complimented and pushed each other.
You know, before it all happened, I wouldn’t have used such a metaphor to describe the lot of us, but now I see that we were the living embodiment of that ’68 Camaro. The body, the gas pedal and breaks, the spark, the engine, the fuel…

For each other we were components that worked towards one function, a single end goal: to take off.


the body
Robbie, tough and elegant in his own right, was our protective shell for something much more complex and riveting. He offered the group a sense of security, especially since such peace of mind was difficult to come by at home. The area in which we lived was rural, a town as devoid of culture as our bank accounts were of money. The stresses of the working class were weighty, and for those who didn’t fall into that category, debilitating.

After the loss of his father, Robbie took over the shop. This forced him to grow up fast, for the death of Robert Senior destroyed the few remaining pieces of Robbie’s youth.

The first time we met was at a mutual friend’s house. A big party for a small town. I shared a cig with my sister, Viv, on the front porch when Robbie pulled up. To this day I couldn’t tell you what she fell in love with first, that Camaro or the brown eyes behind the windshield. Regardless, the minute he stepped out she was gone.

I knew early on that my sister would have issues with addiction, alcohol being her poison of choice. But the strangest thing is she was as sober as a judge that night, and I have yet to see her so intoxicated. That’s how I knew he was the one, the one to save her. Robbie was proof that nice cars and good looks weren’t just for assholes. In fact, he was quite deep for a man of such superficial beauty. He was the brother I never had, the rehab my sister would have needed. His smile radiated, but those eyes held a dolour that stung me every time I looked into them. Viv was never the most profound of women, but when she was nearby, that was the only time I felt hopeful for Robbie. And when Viv moved out to live with him, although the house never possessed the same boisterousness again, I knew they needed each other. He was her new poison, only he wasn’t poison at all…

Although beginnings tend to be confined in hopes of romance and allure, the joining of Robbie and Viv sparked something else entirely. I will admit that this is not a love story. It’s the dynamic truth of the internal, pervasive admiration a bunch of kids shared for each other and for adventure. We were everywhere and nowhere all at once, stuck in this unbendable bond. It helps to think now that maybe we didn’t just exist in that small town, but rather all over the world, each with a different face, different voice, different story, separate tragedies. But if not, at least while together we were the light in the dark, accepted by the other in all forms and biases. Never changing but always changing. We were each other and our own. We breathed life and smoked cigarettes, wrote love and made music. Each a name whispered in a forest on the edge of a riverbank around a bonfire pit, never to be heard by anyone other than ourselves and each other. We, my friend, were the cool kids.
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Written by nicanne67 in portal Trident Media Group

Hot Air Balloon

I hate heights. I have an insane fear of them since I've been a little boy. I don't personally remember why, though my mother claims it's because my father would toss me too high up into the air. I don't blame her; I've seen pictures and believe her even if I don't believe that's the whole truth. Regardless, the thought of looking over a particularly high place frightens me to the core.

Over the years, my strengthening faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has slowly turned my acrophobia around. The older I've gotten, the more my fears have slowly diminished. I've learned that we don't have to be afraid because Jesus has sent us each a guardian angel to watch over us and keep us from harm's way. I've believed in it so much that I doubt I'm ever alone anymore. I don't personally mind the feeling since it comforts me in the worst of times. I like knowing that I have someone always watching over me and making sure I'm alright.

"Hey baby, thanks for taking me out today. I've never been in a hot air balloon before."

Since conquering my fear of heights, I've since taken up the hobby of flying hot air balloons. I enjoy its slow pace and the panorama of sights that bless my gaze every time I'm up there. For someone as devoutly religious as me, this hobby's the closest that's ever brought me to God Almighty up above. I like being near enough and knowing He's watching over me up close.

Today hardly compares to all other days I've gone flying up in a balloon. Most days I look for clear skies perfect for flying, but this day is the best one yet. High over the horizon, the afternoon sun glows a warm orange hue through skies streaked with strokes of purple. Birds fly overhead and around the basket, almost within arm's length. Besides the scenery about us, there is nothing more perfect than her in front of me.

"No problem, baby. I'm happy you're cool with this."

"Are you kidding? Going on a hot air balloon date is the coolest date idea ever. No guy's ever asked me out like this."

"Well, I believe every girl deserves the best."

Angela is a vision to behold. With the wind blowing in her direction and her face concealed by wisps of dark hair blown about, she looks both playful and beautiful. Any glimpse I'd catch of her almond eyes reflects that mischievous glint of playfulness that I've grown to love over the past few weeks. I love the way her upper lip curls out, almost a tempting sight. Her fair and flawless skin shows well in her pretty denim sundress. She has once been my dream, but she is now within my grasp in this reality. Even I could hardly believe her reciprocating my feelings, but I'm just so happy she has then until now. It's a great feeling, and she is all the more.

"How long have you learned to fly this thing?"

"It's been about two years or so. I still want to learn how to fly other things, but I'm still slowly conquering my fear of heights. I learned to fly this one because it's a slow but fun way of getting over my acrophobia. Besides, don't you like the slow pace and all?"

"I love it. I'd never have thought you're even afraid of heights."

"I'm still getting over it."

I move to Angela's side and wrap my arms around her slim frame, leaning over the edge of the basket as we watch a flock of migratory birds fly past us. I feel her calm breathing right on my chest as she makes herself comfortable in my embrace, nudging her head in right under my chin and on my chest. I've never felt calmer.

"You know, you're a pretty great guy. I wish I'd known you sooner. Then I wouldn't have to deal with any of the jerks I've dated in the past."

"I wish so too, but God wouldn't have wanted it that way. He has plans for all of us, and us on this date right now is just one of them."

"Are you saying we're destined or something?"

"You could say that."

Angela laughs as she turns to face me, her eyes twinkling with childish puppy love and wonder. She looks so beautiful. I sheepishly smile back, but I'm afraid she'd leave me. I guess it's written all over my face at this point.

"Hey what's wrong?"

"I just don't want this to end. I wouldn't want you to leave me in the end."

"Don't think that way. I'm not going to leave you."

Angela cups my face with her hands as though she wants me to see only her. Her face goes serious, but her eyes still retain that lovestruck sparkle. My heart can only beat faster.

"You'll be by my side all the time?"

"Yes, if that's what you want. Think of me as your guardian angel, so that then you won't always be alone."

"You're my guardian angel?"

"Yes, I'm your angel."

I smile at the thought. She's always known the right thing to say whatever the situation. Whenever I'm down in the dumps, the comfort she offers never fails to bring me up. Despite the solace her sweet caress provides, I believe she's only at a lost cause. Even the brightest rays of sunshine can't reach the bottom of the dark ocean floor.

"Thank you. You know just what to say."

"That's because I'll always be here for you."

Oh, how I love her. It's just too bad I'm going to miss her.

I take out a pocket knife once hidden in the sleeve of my jacket and press its cold and unforgiving blade against Angela's porcelain skin, shocking her enough to let go of me. I catch her eyes now glinting with fear and uncertainty as she slowly inches away from the edge and into the middle of the basket. Most other dates I've taken up here would shake uncontrollably, but she seems stunned. I've never seen a sight so wonderful.

"Baby, why do you have a knife out?"

"Why, you're my angel now. I have to kill you."

Angela's eyes begin to water out of fright. Her knees give way under her faltering weight, making her stumble back into the basket. She inches her way away from me as I slowly approach her. She's just so attractive.

"Why do you have to kill me?"

"Mother once told me that I have a guardian angel but that she's trapped in a human body. To free her and to have her continue watching over me, I have to kill her."

Angela starts to cry incessantly. She looks around for some form of escape but immediately finds herself trapped in the basket. Up here in this balloon, there's nowhere for her to run, nowhere for her to hide. I've never felt more attracted to her up to this point.

"Wherever you look, you'll see there's no escape. We're thousands of feet in the air, so there's no one here to save you."

A flock of birds rapidly fly past us in a bizarre frenzy. One of them, definitely a clumsy one, flies straight into the balloon beak-first, popping a huge hole in its side. I laugh while her face registers confusion.

"Another hole in the balloon. I guess I'll have to kill you quick."

"What does that hole in the balloon have to do with killing me?"

"What else do you think the balloon's made of?"

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Hot Air Balloon
I hate heights. I have an insane fear of them since I've been a little boy. I don't personally remember why, though my mother claims it's because my father would toss me too high up into the air. I don't blame her; I've seen pictures and believe her even if I don't believe that's the whole truth. Regardless, the thought of looking over a particularly high place frightens me to the core.

Over the years, my strengthening faith in the Lord Jesus Christ has slowly turned my acrophobia around. The older I've gotten, the more my fears have slowly diminished. I've learned that we don't have to be afraid because Jesus has sent us each a guardian angel to watch over us and keep us from harm's way. I've believed in it so much that I doubt I'm ever alone anymore. I don't personally mind the feeling since it comforts me in the worst of times. I like knowing that I have someone always watching over me and making sure I'm alright.

"Hey baby, thanks for taking me out today. I've never been in a hot air balloon before."

Since conquering my fear of heights, I've since taken up the hobby of flying hot air balloons. I enjoy its slow pace and the panorama of sights that bless my gaze every time I'm up there. For someone as devoutly religious as me, this hobby's the closest that's ever brought me to God Almighty up above. I like being near enough and knowing He's watching over me up close.

Today hardly compares to all other days I've gone flying up in a balloon. Most days I look for clear skies perfect for flying, but this day is the best one yet. High over the horizon, the afternoon sun glows a warm orange hue through skies streaked with strokes of purple. Birds fly overhead and around the basket, almost within arm's length. Besides the scenery about us, there is nothing more perfect than her in front of me.

"No problem, baby. I'm happy you're cool with this."

"Are you kidding? Going on a hot air balloon date is the coolest date idea ever. No guy's ever asked me out like this."

"Well, I believe every girl deserves the best."

Angela is a vision to behold. With the wind blowing in her direction and her face concealed by wisps of dark hair blown about, she looks both playful and beautiful. Any glimpse I'd catch of her almond eyes reflects that mischievous glint of playfulness that I've grown to love over the past few weeks. I love the way her upper lip curls out, almost a tempting sight. Her fair and flawless skin shows well in her pretty denim sundress. She has once been my dream, but she is now within my grasp in this reality. Even I could hardly believe her reciprocating my feelings, but I'm just so happy she has then until now. It's a great feeling, and she is all the more.

"How long have you learned to fly this thing?"

"It's been about two years or so. I still want to learn how to fly other things, but I'm still slowly conquering my fear of heights. I learned to fly this one because it's a slow but fun way of getting over my acrophobia. Besides, don't you like the slow pace and all?"

"I love it. I'd never have thought you're even afraid of heights."

"I'm still getting over it."

I move to Angela's side and wrap my arms around her slim frame, leaning over the edge of the basket as we watch a flock of migratory birds fly past us. I feel her calm breathing right on my chest as she makes herself comfortable in my embrace, nudging her head in right under my chin and on my chest. I've never felt calmer.

"You know, you're a pretty great guy. I wish I'd known you sooner. Then I wouldn't have to deal with any of the jerks I've dated in the past."

"I wish so too, but God wouldn't have wanted it that way. He has plans for all of us, and us on this date right now is just one of them."

"Are you saying we're destined or something?"

"You could say that."

Angela laughs as she turns to face me, her eyes twinkling with childish puppy love and wonder. She looks so beautiful. I sheepishly smile back, but I'm afraid she'd leave me. I guess it's written all over my face at this point.

"Hey what's wrong?"

"I just don't want this to end. I wouldn't want you to leave me in the end."

"Don't think that way. I'm not going to leave you."

Angela cups my face with her hands as though she wants me to see only her. Her face goes serious, but her eyes still retain that lovestruck sparkle. My heart can only beat faster.

"You'll be by my side all the time?"

"Yes, if that's what you want. Think of me as your guardian angel, so that then you won't always be alone."

"You're my guardian angel?"

"Yes, I'm your angel."

I smile at the thought. She's always known the right thing to say whatever the situation. Whenever I'm down in the dumps, the comfort she offers never fails to bring me up. Despite the solace her sweet caress provides, I believe she's only at a lost cause. Even the brightest rays of sunshine can't reach the bottom of the dark ocean floor.

"Thank you. You know just what to say."

"That's because I'll always be here for you."

Oh, how I love her. It's just too bad I'm going to miss her.

I take out a pocket knife once hidden in the sleeve of my jacket and press its cold and unforgiving blade against Angela's porcelain skin, shocking her enough to let go of me. I catch her eyes now glinting with fear and uncertainty as she slowly inches away from the edge and into the middle of the basket. Most other dates I've taken up here would shake uncontrollably, but she seems stunned. I've never seen a sight so wonderful.

"Baby, why do you have a knife out?"

"Why, you're my angel now. I have to kill you."

Angela's eyes begin to water out of fright. Her knees give way under her faltering weight, making her stumble back into the basket. She inches her way away from me as I slowly approach her. She's just so attractive.

"Why do you have to kill me?"

"Mother once told me that I have a guardian angel but that she's trapped in a human body. To free her and to have her continue watching over me, I have to kill her."

Angela starts to cry incessantly. She looks around for some form of escape but immediately finds herself trapped in the basket. Up here in this balloon, there's nowhere for her to run, nowhere for her to hide. I've never felt more attracted to her up to this point.

"Wherever you look, you'll see there's no escape. We're thousands of feet in the air, so there's no one here to save you."

A flock of birds rapidly fly past us in a bizarre frenzy. One of them, definitely a clumsy one, flies straight into the balloon beak-first, popping a huge hole in its side. I laugh while her face registers confusion.

"Another hole in the balloon. I guess I'll have to kill you quick."

"What does that hole in the balloon have to do with killing me?"

"What else do you think the balloon's made of?"
2
0
0
Juice
10 reads
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