Do Not Go Gentle (The Gift)
I gasp hard, one quivering breath after the other. My chest clenches like it’s crushing inward because there is not enough air to fill the lungs. The spacesuit keeps me swaddled in like a cocoon, only two inches away from becoming one with nothingness. It is too tight. I can't feel my fingers.
“Oxygen level at 35%.” eUDORA's soothing voice inundates the limited room around me, but my ears are still buzzing.
I blink to clear up my vision and try to focus on the helmet’s HUD data when the whorl of contorted metal passes briefly in front of my eyes. "Tom", I whisper, and my heart comes undone in one million pieces. After a brief second, the muddled inkiness of the void seizes my vision once more.
It was supposed to be a routine check on the cooling conducts of the research bay. A gallivanting stroll while securely anchored with my mag-boots to the outer haul, and I am no stranger to spacewalking. But I am a stranger to being thrust out into space and becoming an insignificant speck of dust against such a majestic creation. I am a stranger to death. We all are.
How filled with life and light was the night’s sky as I looked upwards from my parent’s lawn. How full of wonders it seemed, when I embraced it with my gaze from another's loving embrace. How blood-chillingly gargantuan is the pitch darkness that surrounds me now.
I need to focus and keep my bearings on the remains of the spacecraft. I need to think.
“eUDORA," my voice is shaky, "are any distress calls coming from the Gauntlet?”
“Let’s – Let’s try hailing them, see if anyone answer.” Like moving through layer upon layer of snow, invisible needles make my muscles spasm as I bring my hands together to operate the control panel and adjust the signal for long-range.
The repeating sound of the call bleeps a couple of times and I instinctively turn my head searching for what’s left of the spaceship. For sure, I must be spinning away from it, and I better figure out soon the direction and the rotation speed.
The beeping sound stops.
“Dam it! Pick up!” My voice is hoarse, and I punch in the command to hail again. "Tom, pick up…" I whisper, ignoring the tears swelling behind my eyes. Despair creeps in from my subconscious. “God, I hope he’s not dead.”
“There has been no contact with the crew in the 20 minutes since the event.”
eUDORA’s calmness gets on my nerves with every passing minute. How I miss Tom murmuring my name in the swirls of passion. What I wouldn't give for a strained, hoarse voice like mine, dripping with despair and humanity, to take eUDORA’s place. But the only answer I get is silence. The only presence I have to cling to out of this mess is eUDORA.
“Alright – alright. eUDORA, set a trajectory for the Gauntlet.”
Dotting lines take shape on the visor, disappearing as soon as they form.
“Cannot establish a clear trajectory.”
“Compensate for Gantlet’s new orbit, damn it!” I yell, wasting more oxygen than I should.
Finally, there is a green, stable, lifeline pointing to the spacecraft. Mangled as it is, it remains all I have to call hope. A haze slowly takes over my thoughts, making me shake my head and blink a couple of times. The indicator shows oxygen level at 25%. One deep breath is all I need, as long as I can still take one. I must think.
A short, calculated burst could put me on a path towards the Gauntlet. Releasing the pressure from the oxygen tanks should do the trick, but I must time it precisely. It would be like catching a fly with a thread if the fly was more precious than air.
While inputting the overrides, eUDORA thinks it wise to share an opinion. “Warning. Releasing the pressure from the oxygen tanks will leave the oxygen levels dangerously low.”
“Why, thank you for the obvious, smart pants,” I snicker back, with a weird sense of satisfaction. I never thought sharing banter with someone, even an AI, could feel so heartening. Must be the reason why banter was first invented but no one realised it. Meanings get lost over time. People get lost.
My head gets flooded with gibberish like it often does, courtesy of my attention deficit. Not even the looming shadow of death could get my full attention. But I must concentrate.
I set the timer and steady my breath, anticipating the sudden change in acceleration. I am shooting for the stars, but I am clinging on to hope. As I am hurled across space, crackling sounds and the stench of burning plastic mixed in with overheated metal are not good signs. The HUD flashes intermittently and no indicators are clear. I can't see the spaceship anymore, neither on the HUD, nor out there as the beacon of home in the vastity of space.
Am I aimlessly drifting or dead? But the worst of all, why has eUDORA gone silent?
“eUDORA? eUDORA, are you still there?”
No answer. There is a void inside the void of helplessness, and I can taste its bitterness. A void eUDORA’s soothing voice filled. So what if I found it annoying at times? Bring it back.
My arm stings, probably where the short circuit fused the connectors, but I welcome the pain. It means I am still alive and for as long as I am alive, I will feel whatever I need to feel. But I am alone.
All alone. Is this it? I rest my head on the back support trying to come to terms with the inevitable when all I want to do is scream.
Out of the blue, a poem Tom recited while trailing star-charts on my back comes to me. “Do not go gentle– Do not go gentle into–” I search for the words out loud, but my mind fights me, and I can’t remember the rest.
eUDORA’s voice blasts through the speakers and tears are finally free to trail down my cheeks.
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”
Oxygen level at 1%.
WSOTB - Chapter I For Brothers
"Every new day and new dent in my armour brings me closer to death's final embrace. By now, I lost count of all the wars where I was a witness and an executioner, but one thought remains. When kings and emperors ruled over lands scorched by wars, the moments of peace allowed my people to enjoy twice as much life. May the Gods forgive me for I have waged war when I longed for peace." Chronicles of the Winter War, General Kim Min-Jun, Devoted "Bone" of the Great Silla Kingdom.
The silence of winter reigned over the thatched houses, and the wide eaves of the rundown shrine were draped in icicles and solitude. If the dancing columns of chimney smoke had made sounds, their music would have brought life to this lazy scenery. Packed tightly together, the shepherds' village stood guard on the edge of an ancient forest.
Inside the huts, vigilant eyes stood guard as well.
Beyond the village, the woodlands undulated together with the hills, interlocking their shoulders along the western border. The sky had sifted its white flakes, one by one to the ground, obscuring the autumnal colours under a monotone blanket. On top of it, everything was preserved in stillness.
There was no movement. No sound. Death was walking in the forest.
Kim Min-Jun's topknot blended into the white surroundings. The cold was all he could smell in the crisp air. His frosted eyelashes twitched as he blinked. At least he was not turned into an ice statue. Shifting in place, he winced and wished he was. Sitting undercover for so long sent needles through his muscles. To unstiffen his hand, he flexed his fingers, tracing the ornate rooster embedded on his armour. Bad choice. Touching the frozen metal almost left his skin glued in place.
“Not even the rats would dare to show their whiskers in this weather. Hmph! And they call this the Month of the Rat,” he whispered.
The soldier sitting close turned his attention to him, but Min-Jun shook his head as if saying it was nothing of importance. He remained to stare at his frost kissed hand that waged war, setting brother against brother. Not from the cold, his hand began to shake.
Looking left and right, his soldiers kept as still as he did, hiding behind the trees and the snow-coated rocks. Vapours coming out of their mouths proved they were not blanched forest spirits statues.
Standing with him were the brave men fighting to dissolve the Baekje border that kept the region divided. It was a godly effort for this was a tough land to cross and a tougher land to fight upon. Where it was not littered with forests and guarded by hills, the landscape gave way to narrow valleys. It was nature’s trap for all of them. The Silla armies and the Baekje egotistical king faced each other in battle wherever they found open terrain. But with walls of trees or slopes of hills surrounding them, they ended up like ants, crawling inside a porcelain cup. There was no easy way out. Only to fight and live, or to fight and die.
Meaningless Baekje and Silla deaths because even on the battleground, when they spoke they understood each other. When they prayed, they prayed to common ancestors. Sure, they skirmished across the ages, but even the best of brothers fight. If only Baekje would have joined their alliance, all this fighting would have been the stuff of which nightmares were made of. All this fighting would have weighed less on Min-Jun if the rumours about his Second Brother Yu-Sin, colluding with the Baekje king, were untrue.
But fighting was Min-Jun’s duty, as a lord of these lands, a True Bone from the Kim clan. After so many years, fighting became his burden, or was it the weight of his armor on his aging bones?
A thud came from behind. His old heart jumped but he remained put, only leaning forward, and squinting to see what the sound was all about. No other noise followed. It must have been a branch snapped from a tree, under the weight of snow. He exhaled for now and settled back in his spot when he noticed it.
One of his soldiers was standing upright, hyperventilating, and clutching his sword, ready to fight chimaeras hidden in thin air. His companions tried to pull him back into hiding in vain. The soldier’s mind was lost as he anxiously watched the tree trunks and bushes for a sign it was time to attack. Until he met Min-Jun’s gaze.
The general locked eyes with him and gave a short nod, then motioned with his hand for him to sit. Like under a spell, the young man calmed down and went back into hiding. He must have been afraid, fatigued, and cold. They all were. Through mud, fire and ice, his soldiers marched in the wake of his command without reproach, and they made him proud. But they were only humans.
A hushed voice came from behind, startling him. "General Kim Min-Jun, I've counted them. Fifty Baekje traitors, hiding like scared crows in the huts." His lieutenant knelt beside him with no sound. This was his way, to move with stealth and sneak up on anyone like a ghost on a moonless night.
"Good job, Lieutenant. Go reunite with your squad!" The idleness Min-Jun dwelled in up until now was slowly shaping into a plan. He offered back a curt nod and prepared to signal the rest of his men to enter the village, almost grateful he would be able to set his body into motion again.
The lieutenant grabbed his forearm and would not let go. "Not all the villagers have fled, General. And I am sorry to tell you, but I saw the Second Son of the Kim clan, your brother, entering a hut near the village shrine.''
A punch in his gut would have been welcomed instead of hearing that the rumours were true. The lives of those without a caste who lived here, the shepherds, hunters and butchers, held as much value as the meat and goods they provided. Now, they equaled his brother’s life. But they all held much value in his eyes. It was still blood. The ground was saturated with it. If he would put a sword through the soil, it would come oozing out. He’d seen it in his dreams.
Such is the way of life and war, Min-Jun settled the battle between his affections and his duty. He wore the title and the armor. It was up to him to not allow the Baekje flee to regroup. Not when he and his small squadron had chased them from the battlefield up to the hills. Not when he should be the one to capture his foolish brother, alive or, may the gods forbid, dead. Every day at war became a sacrifice. And every sacrifice called for another. All in the name of honor and unity.
Min-Jun sighed out his remorse then gave his signal, leading his men out from the cover of the trees and rocks and into crawling, crouching, then sneaking. The tension was like smoke in his mouth.
As soon as the Sillian troops reached the village, they dashed inside the first huts, pulling out the rebels, clashing swords together. Their presence was felt, and the traitors came out of hiding to greet them with blood. A deathly rumble grew louder and louder and the innocents' cry slowly took over the silence, foreshadowing doom.
Min-Jun detached from his vanguard and went to search for a familiar face. He made his way through the tight gap between several shacks. The jingle of his plate armor and the crunch of his footsteps in the snow replaced the clash of the battle behind him. His heart pounded from the adrenaline, making it hard to control his panting. He was approaching the shrine.
As soon as he stepped out into a clearing the glint of a menacing sword came at him faster than he could blink. His instincts activated quickly enough for him to jump back into the safety of the narrow alley, saving his big nose from a sudden encounter with a sharp edge.
Blocking the exit in front of him, was a younger version of his face. The same hard lines on the nose, the same light-brown hooded eyes and a recognizable voice that spoke out of decorum.
“Did you enjoy my hospitality, old one? It’s about time we had a real sword fight. We had enough practice while growing up.”
“Do you think of yourself as a wolf now, Second Brother Yu-Sin?”
“I was only a lamb to you and our family. It’s about time I am the wolf and you be my lamb.” Yu-Sin threw his hand at him in an insulting manner and readied his sword.
That was the hand that used to hold his tunic wherever they went when they were young. That was the mouth that used to smile at him with missing teeth when growing up. Time turned everything sour.
"Daring and foul-mouthed, my young brother. Better for you if you had stayed home to learn how to address your elders.” Min-Jun took better hold of his ring-pommel blade and slid it out of its sheath with a soft metallic hiss. It felt heavier than before. “Run back home, little lamb!" Targeting his brother turned enemy, he came at him running, forcing him onto the village green.
Yu-Sin did not back down from the fight as Min-Jun had hoped. Instead, he jumped back or lunged in swift counterattacks fuelled by never-ending stamina. His brother's youth and vivacity were on par with his skill and experience.
“We should fight together, not each other, little brother,” Min-Jun said, panting and pushing aside an attack.
“Feeling a little tired, old one? Or has your skill lessened since you began tutoring children?” Yu-Sin taunted before setting loose a flurry of strikes.
Min-Jun parried or retaliated, a little slower every time. The armour was weighing him down. He was tired, from fighting and of fighting. His wrists hurt, even more so from the cold. His blood coursed backwards through his veins for having raised his sword on a brother.
Finding a break through the blur of deadly edges coming at him, Min-Jun smacked Yu-Sin against the face and pushed him backwards with a leg kick. It gave him a respite to catch his breath and a chance to check his surroundings. In their deadly frolic, they had entered the courtyard of one of the homes that stood solitary, with a gaping mouth instead of a door.
“I am tired of your foolishness.” Min-Jun pointed his sword at Yu-Sin. “You were meant to honour our family, not betray us”, and he began retreating for the wooden frame entrance of the hut, like a trapped into believing he felt trapped.
“What family?” Yu-Sin shouted back, not minding the blood trickling from his nose.
“I grew old standing in your shadow. Nothing I did ever pleased our esteemed clan council. I was nothing to them next to the great Min-Jun.” He closed the distance between them, the chance of victory glimpsed in his eyes.
Min-Jun continued to back away slowly. “Oh, I remembered you were always hot-tempered, always going against the righteous way. But you are a Silla True Bone. Why go against your king?” he stopped when the hard wood of the door frame pressed against his armour.
“I go where I am appreciated. Why submit to our king? He let you play the school teacher when you’re a general. He lost his firm hand and allied himself with the Tang Empire to get his hands on Baekje. The Tang will be our doom, Brother, you will see. Now put your blade down.” Without breaking a sweat, Yu-Sin approached, sealing Min-Jun in place with the tip of his sword.
Drawing fast breaths, Min-Jun aligned his blade close to his eyes, “you fool. What about Baekje calling on the Nihon for help? Don’t you see? With the Tang in the North and the Nihon lurking across the South Sea, now is the time for this region to come together as one country, as one family. You are doing the opposite.”
Yu-Sin narrowed his gaze and allowed his actions to speak. He raised his strong arm high, stretching for the sky, casting a shadow over his brother’s face. Min-Jun’s stomach clenched and sorrow flooded his face. His brother had no second thoughts claiming his life.
In the blink of an eye, Yu-Sin’s sword came swishing through the air towards his brother. Min-Jun moved out of its way, leaving the hilt stuck in the frame and Yu-Sin's eyes agape, as he pulled desperately to free it.
With grace unmatched and speed unseen even for his old muscles, Min-Jun danced behind a desperate Yu-Sin and put their family’s ancestral hwandudaedo against his neck. “On a lamb, a wolf’s clothes are easy to put on and easier to take off. Get inside,” and he pushed his brother through the hut’s open door, making him stumble and fall against the rear wall.
A piercing cry startled them both. Only now did Min-Jun realize that next to Yu-Sin, leaning against the furs on the wooden planks, sat a frozen woman with her eyes and mouth open. Close to her chest, something made noise and stirred under the swaddle blanket. Keeping his brother under the tip of his sword, Min-Jun came to lift it.
The chubby strained face of a baby stared back from underneath, its crying intensifying in between gnawing hungrily on the tiny wooden figure of a bear. A spear was buried in the woman's back. A few inches more and that spear would have sent the child on a never-ending journey, alongside his mother. Her fingers, now rigid with death, still clasped his delicate frame tightly, either hoping she would keep him safe with her own body or simply as the last goodbye she could offer. Perhaps it was both.
Yu-Sin wiped his bloodied nose and grinned. “Would you look at that? I will have some company for the afterlife. You can’t help any orphans; you know the military protocol. You have two executions on your hands, First Brother.”
“Silence,” Min-Jun ordered, as he tried to think, his sense of purpose muddled.
“You are right. The babe is too young, a lesser thing. It still has one foot in the living world and another in the spirit realm. It would not be an execution if you send him back into death's arms. Or would you leave it to fate? Me, on the other hand –”
“Silence, I said!” Min-Jun shouted back, unsettled from having another heavy decision on his shoulders. He bowed his head, considering whether to smother the infant now or walk away, abandoning him to the divine will. However, something made him take another look at the crying man-cub, who did not appear to have more than five or six months of life.
The baby’s wailing lent itself to the horrendous symphony of grunts and metal notched on metal coming from outside. But all General Min-Jun could hear was its cries.
Memories of his daughter inundated him. The rocking motion, the lullabies he used to sing, the weight of her tiny frame in his arms as he tried to calm her down, the smell of her dark hair that made his heart swell, all re-emerged out of nowhere. If he closed his eyes, he could have sworn this baby was his daughter. His daughter, who he had lost so early on. The longing for those plump cheeks he had ardently kissed moved him closer in an attempt to soothe his shattered heart. But he found himself pinned down by strange colored baby eyes that brought visions of a crystal-clear mountain lake, and a name spurred in the general's mind: Soo-Ah, meaning beautiful water.
Not holding his tongue anymore, Yu-Sin began to laugh ironically, “Oh, I have seen this look on your face before, First Brother.”
Say “I’m Sorry”, But Make It Naughty
*Warning graphic content
The ruckus in the reception room could compete with the sounds of the busy New York street underneath Sara’s window. Through her closed office door, she could clearly hear a man was gradually raising his voice at Vera. The poor receptionist was new but quite competent. Hardly any reason for anyone to bash her like this. Sara tore herself away from the supplies report needed for tonight’s Christmas party and came to see what it was all about.
A guy stood perched on the front desk, a little too close for Vera’s comfort, and pointed God knows what, with his manicured finger on the surface of the desk. His hair was freshly cut and ruffled. His beige Burberry coat had buckles on the sleeves and near its raised collar, a la Tom Cruise-Top Gun style. He looked young and entitled.
The heated discussion attracted the attention of the other employees on their floor who peeked their heads to see what was going on. The least they needed was a distraction ahead of the upcoming version release.
“Vera, what seems to be the problem here?” Sara asked.
The man raised his head and a smirk appeared on his lips as he righted himself. His daring hazel eyes lingered a little too long on the wrong areas of her body. Men usually smirked and checked her out for she did not look a day over 22 despite pushing 31.
“The gentlemen here – ”
“Mr Jung Jr.” he added, not tearing his gaze from Sara.
“Mr Jung Jr. says he is Mr Jung’s grandson and insists on waiting in his office.”
“I am sorry, Mr Jung Jr., but Mr Jung is out and he did not announce he was expecting anyone. Waiting in his office is out of the question. You are welcome to wait here in the reception,” and Sara pointed at a set of very comfortable armchairs. “We could bring you some coffee or tea.”
“My grandfather bought your company and you expect me to wait by the door? Like any loser?” He blurted with an incredulous expression.
He did say those words and they were not a joke, rubbing Sara in all the wrong ways, muscles tensing under her olive skin.
“What are you? His secretary?” he continued in the same uptight tone. “Go ahead and call him yourself. He will tell you who I am.”
“I am the Office Manager, Sir. And I can not call our CEO as he is meeting important clients. I highly doubt this requires us to disturb him. But I have the perfect place for someone of your status.” Sara came closer and took his arm. The man did not oppose as he seemed to enjoy her proximity.
Being close to him Sara was hit by his luxurious cologne mixed in with some alcohol. And it was not even noon. She wondered if he would be the type who blamed his drinking for his mistakes. That could explain his overbearing exuded self-importance.
All absorbed in her presence and in his entitlement, he did not notice he was being led to the exit door until it was too late. “What do you –” but could not formulate his question, because Sara closed the door in his face, wishing him a good day.
“And do not let him in again,” she said, turning to Vera. The doorbell buzzed without stop and the irked man banged and shouted threats from outside until Sara added loud enough for him to hear. “And if he continues like that, call security please, Vera.”
A troublemaker through and through, he had no problem shouting at her, through the door, something about a Bitch. Sara did not care. She had tough skin, forged in Queens, on the wrong side of the tracks. And she was a busy Queens bee who had a lot to do ahead of tonight’s Christmas party.
By night time, all of her colleagues were already headed to the reception at the hotel from across the street. Sara had to stay behind to draft the final bills before calling it a day.
When getting to a party, it’s better to be late than never.
She pulled out the little dark green dress with sequins from the dress cover and changed in her office, then pulled out a mirror to fix her makeup and hair. Her olive-green eyes stared back at her with some unwanted bags under them. Her eye and skin colour came as a package, courtesy of her Italian grandmother and might just be what saved her precious time getting ready. Good skin needed not much cover and a simple brown eyeliner would do wonders. When she checked herself again she thought she did not look 20. Perhaps a very exhausted 29 years old. She shrugged it off.
Her ex always complained about her looking like coming from a train wreck every time she got home. Perhaps that whore, who will not be named, that he cheated on her with would look better after working 10 hours a day with her eyes stuck in a laptop screen.
She did not miss him. Good riddance. But she did miss something.
Out, in the chilly air, she pulled her coat around her and checked for cars before crossing on the other side. Nighttime in the city around this neighbourhood was eerie quiet. Steam columns danced their way out of the manhole covers like ghosts on the wet pavement. Sirens, calling for each other in the distance, were replaced by music as soon as she passed through the revolving doors of the hotel.
The dance floor was overflowing with people, celebrating a successful release and a night out paid for by the company. Sara avoided dancing for now. Perhaps after a couple of drinks. She sat at the bar and ordered two Dry Martini. After drinking the first glass she felt a heated stare drilling in her back. She turned but found no one. Only people letting loose to the dance moves. She gulped down the second glass and hit the dance floor. A sure recipe to make herself invisible to anyone staring at her.
She let down her hair and swayed to the music put on by the DJ. A couple of the girls from the office recognised her and came to dance together. She felt liberated until another body slowly glued itself on her back, following the same rhythm as she was. Strangely, she was not creeped out. A lot of things are allowed on the dance floor. She pulled her hair to the side with intend to glance at who was behind when foreign hands came to grab her waist and helped her turn around, coming eye to eye with a somewhat handsome face.
The same face she threw out the door this morning.
He smirked at her, then leaned closer to her ear, taking advantage of her shock. “Not the so stuck up after a couple of drinks I take. Mind if I buy you some more?”
Sara pushed him away and shouted, hoping it would be loud enough to make herself heard over the music. “The drinks are already paid for.” She moved past him and headed in the direction of the bar because she had no other direction to head for. The man followed her and sat next to her on a stool.
“Cranberry vodka and whatever she had before. It did her good,” he said to the bartender, while Sara rolled her eyes and turned her attention to her colleagues, dancing.
He waited for the drinks to be ready before handing over the Dry Martini. “Since we are sharing drinks, we could share our names as well. I’m Lucas, Lucas Jung. And you are?”
Sara looked at him sideways. She did not want to take the drink. She’d better not take the drink. Why did she take the damned drink?
After a first sip, she replied in an ice-cold tone, “Sara Daniels,” and put aside the glass, no longer gulping it down in one shot. She better keep focused.
“Yes, yes, the Office Manager, right? Better call yourself Office Guardian.” He displayed an insatiable grin. “Hey, we started on the wrong foot. I am sorry if I was a bother earlier.”
Sara huffed at him then turned on her rotating chair to ignore him once more.
“You could say sorry too, you know,” Lucas continued. “I did ask my grandfather to give you a raise for defending that office of his like a lioness.”
She wanted to get up and leave, annoyed for becoming his joke target, but he gently grabbed her arm.
“Hey, I am sorry, I really am,” he said with enough sincerity to make something shift inside of her. She stared at his daring fingers wrapped around her arm, then into his eyes.
Before she remained a prisoner in that hazel abys, she leaned over, “You wanna dance?”
Lucas smiled and nodded. Sara headed back to the dance floor not checking to see if he was coming. She knew he was close behind. When he put his hands on her again she turned and came even closer, swaying her body, wrapping her arms around his neck and teasing him. He stared at her as a boy caught with his hand in the candy jar. Not knowing if he was about to be punished, but unwilling to let go of the candy.
“You – you wanna go upstairs? I’m staying in the penthouse.”
Sara grinned at him. “Of course you are,” and she continued to sway to the music.
After some time and some awkward glances at her, he asked again, looking out of place from having to repeat the question. “So? You want to go up?”
She liked to put him in difficulty and remained silent. In turn, she unwrapped her arm from around his neck and continued to dance by herself. Now that he was delving in uncertainty, she could tease him some more. But Lucas took her by the hand and led her out of the dance floor and the party room.
Sara stayed with him, as they passed the front desk and reached the elevator. He still kept her hand in his, barely grasping her fingers. It felt cold, moist and soothing. She could easily pull it out, yet she wanted to see where all this would lead. It did occur to her he might assault her, but she had a blue belt in karate, courtesy of her Chuck Norris obsessed father, and she would not feel sorry to inflict some pain if he deserved it.
During the elevator ride, she kept staring at him but he avoided returning the favour. Perhaps he was afraid to start a conversation that might lead to her leaving. Once inside the penthouse, he set aside his suit jacket on the couch.
“Some wine?” he inquired, sifting through a couple of bottles from a dedicated bar and picking one. He kept talking while opening the bottle, “I wish I could brag about my personal taste, but I am afraid this is the hotel’s selection. It looks promising.”
Sara remained under the archway connecting the small lobby with the main room. She looked around. It smelled of potpourri and bleach. The city was peeking in from the two stories high windows. To her right was the bathroom. The bed could be glimpsed on the mezzanine. She wondered if she should let herself in or turn around and leave with a lame excuse.
“This was a mistake,” she went for the truth and for the door.
Lucas dashed to stop her, “Hey, hey, wait!” he tried to grab her shoulder but his hand recoiled back with a screech. “Auch! What do you have there? Pins and needles? Jesus!”
Sara was surprised to see his finger bleeding and instinctively looked at her shoulder pad. It had big holographic sequins and they were sharp. “You cut yourself? What are you? 8?”
“I’m 23! Thanks for the compliment.” He still had a sense of humour despite winching in pain like a kid.
“Alright, let me see that,” she came closer to assess his wound and entered together in the bathroom. She put his finger under the faucet and looked around the hotel amenities but found no disinfectant, nor a bandaid. Five-star hotel rubbish. Luckily she was always prepared. She dug around her purse and took out the hand sanitiser and a bandage.
“Well, now I am impressed,” he joked while looking at her as she mended his finger. “I didn’t expect to get hurt before our first date ended.”
“Oh, is this a date?”
He did not reply right away. Instead, he stared into her eyes and came a little closer. “I want to kiss you,” he murmured.
Sara said nothing, nor did she move away. She stayed there holding his gaze until his lips smacked on hers. At least he was good with his tongue. The swirls he went for sent shivers all over her body.
She missed this, having a mouth search for hers, feeling so intimate with another. It tingled that special spot in between her legs. With shame, she admitted she was attracted to this 23-year-old, full of himself, guy. Or perhaps there was something else she had been missing. Her poor vibrator had been used until ruin.
She put her arms around him and instinctively pressed her body on his. This was all he had been waiting for. His eager hands went to search for absolutely nothing all over her back. She allowed him to lead her up the stairs, to the bed, and to unzip her dress. Then to push her on the mattress and settle himself over her, his very enlarged self pressing on her hip through his trousers.
In between kisses she had lost count of how long it had been or when she, or was it he who undressed her fully. She became aware of herself only when he took off his shorts. Him, tearing with his teeth the packaging and sliding the condom on his nakedness, brought her to the present.
“Wait, this is all sorts of wrong,” she said, keeping Lucas at an arm’s distance.
He sighed and sat next to her, clearly disappointed. His eyes still lingered over her naked form. Sara felt ashamed and covered herself with her hands. Noticing this, he brought her the sheet.
“If you want, I can call you an Uber or something,” Lucas said, running his hand through that perfectly ruffled hair, his thing still as stiff as a pole.
“Why did you bring me here?” Sara asked the obvious question. What she did not expect was the answer.
“It felt right. At that moment, something felt right.”
His answer seemed sincere and resonated with a hidden chord within her. She turned his face her way and brought it closer. For the first time tonight, she kissed his lips. Putting aside the sheet, she laid on her back, spread her legs and received him. With youthful eagerness, he began grinding himself against her body.
This... This was what she missed. To have her hunger quenched by another’s hunger for her. To have something fill her up to feel whole again. To have a man’s body weight pin her down and bring some rest to her restlessness. She needed this. She enjoyed it until exhaustion and she was vocal enough to let him know.
The sweet fatigue, settling in after she released her passion, together with the tender manner in which he was holding her, allowed Sara to close her eyes for a second. When she opened them again the city skyline was bathed in the morning light. Lucas was softly purring near her ear. She tried to slip out of bed unnoticed but found his arm still wrapped around her waist.
He stirred awake and pulled her closer, nuzzling and kissing her neck. That was her special spot. She had no objection when he took her again that morning.
“What do you want for breakfast,” Lucas asked while she was still in the shower.
“I don’t eat breakfast.”
“Then let me buy you some coffee at least. This hotel brew is rubbish,” he requested, leaning on the bathroom door.
Sara offered him a bright smile, barely visible through the steamed shower glass. “I know a great coffee shop a couple of blocks away.” She did not feel out of place like she thought she would. In fact, she felt strangely satisfied.
Saturday morning was a busy time to be out for coffee. Sara was sitting outside, at the table they spied and hunted together, and watched Lucas through the coffee shop window. He was waiting his turn in the queue, fretting with impatience and making funny faces at her. How he could be immature in a funny way and alluring at the same time was a puzzle to her.
“I had to fight tooth and nail for these,” he placed the two small cups of italianos on the table. While he sat in his chair, with his locks shining under the morning sun, in his Burberry coat with raised collar and buckles, sipping leisurely from his coffee, he was the image of a wild boy, ripped out from a magazine cover.
“So, when are you gonna give me your phone number, or your Twitter handle, or something?” Lucas asked, blowing to warm up his hands.
Sara searched for a pen in her purse and took a napkin.
“I see. No phone bump. You are an old fashion girl,” he half-smirked.
Putting down her empty cup, Sara lifted from her seat and handed him the note. “I am sure if you need my phone number, you have your ways to get it.” She smiled and left him there with a simple goodbye.
Next Monday, before the end of a new day’s work, Lucas was waiting for her, patiently sitting on the armchair in the office reception.
At least once, do tell a Lie
And see it twist the world around you.
Note how deceit is short-lived
So you’ll learn the Truth has value.
Then ignore all you need to do
And do all else that does not matter
Squander away those precious hours.
So you'll learn your Time has value.
Did someone make you punch a wall?
Punch their faces, spat your anger!
Allow bitter regret to leave you hollow,
So you'll learn Kindness has value.
There are terrors all around you.
Quiver in fear in your burrow,
Let the others save the day
So you’ll learn Valor has value.
While most lessons are forgotten,
The sins you pay for with tears and sorrow,
They will leave you marked forever.
They’re the lessons for tomorrow.
Not until you've walked a mile
In a sinner’s shoes of lead,
Will you believe the truth and power
Of a saint’s holy creed.
I believe there are no sinners;
Only people who need to learn.
A Page, A Story
Carpeting the ground
You’ll see them fall,
Specs of yellow, amber and even some green.
Before you step,
Have you stopped to consider
They were once rustling in the trees?
Before you step,
Have you stopped to remember
The shadow they gifted in the summer haze?
Before you step,
Have you stopped to breathe,
The air they filtered for you to live?
Just like you,
They come in all shapes and sizes.
You’ve seen them being born, then turn into a guise of green.
Just like you,
They were once part of the whole.
Now, they float powerless when the wind blows.
As you might crush a page of your life story
Encased in a leaf’s memory.
Up in the trees, I am sure it seemed
They would live forever, but let Autumn come,
Because sometimes not even the afterlife lasts.
Tread carefully because you will turn them to dust.
I was the weird one of the bunch.
The one they’d tease, the one they’d scare,
The one who would close her eyes
To see how nature unravels.
They never tried to understand
Why butterflies sat on my hand,
Why flowers bloomed as I gently blew,
And why for me time moved so slow.
I never thought I looked like much,
With curly hair, freckled pinched nose,
But what always stood out
Was the distinct air that I wore.
My Mum would kiss away my tears,
Patting the unruly clump of hair.
A velvety voice would ease my fears
And whisper sweet nothings in the air.
“I’ve never seen a witch as bewitching
As the lovely witch which you are.”
It was a lie, it was a scented dream,
It was all that lay in between,
From the first moment they left me bruised,
Until I rose above the abuse.
Words are magical spells when infused
With love, with care, with understanding,
That soothes the soul and mends the wounds,
Leaving a crippled hero standing.
Now, I’m the witch who shares the magic...
Have you heard of the legend of the poor troubadour
Who enchanted your hearing while making fun of you?
His talent for music was well renowned,
But what a pity his jokes were so bland.
One night in October, when he got drunk,
Walking around town like an unskilled acrobat,
He made a mistake that he could never payback.
He made a joke about a witch's pointy hat.
In his liquor sweetened infused delight,
And without caring who else was in sight,
He told her it looked like the stem of a pumpkin
While her face was just as yellow and just as bright.
It didn’t take long for the scorn to be born
As the witch’s eyes squinted and she offered a frown.
With exercised gestures, the wand twirled in the air,
While the words that she uttered were the last ones he’d hear.
“His eyes shall be graved as he can not see much.
His head shall be hallow as he’s not very smart.
His mouth shall be stretched in a weird-looking grin,
While his teeth shall be as absent as the politeness he’s got within.”
Sparks flew high and circled the man overrun by despair.
In the blink of an eye, his majestic figure spun in the air
He shrunk to the size of a full, fleshy pumpkin
While his last expression was carved on its skin.
And this is how from an ill-fated joke,
Devised as lightly as the last words he spoke,
Spurred this tradition to keep witches at bay
By carving a companion for Old Hallow’s Day.
This is a question for all of you who've been here for longer than I have. What is it with all the advertisement accounts - accounts clearly made to promote a business, no posts, no followers, that have nothing to do with the purpose of this platform? It is a mystery for me... Why would someone expect I would be interested in doing a laser removal located in DUBAI when I live halfway across the globe, and that I would choose them from a platform destined for writers? Are these fake accounts? What's up with that? Why waste time? Just... why???
The Final Wish
Black wings angled sharp,
With feathers sparkling in the dark.
If I could see Its face
I'd guess there's beauty hiding beneath the mess.
But all I do is feel the pinch
Of a cold breeze, that foul stench
Of all the moments I have lived
And the regrets that came with it,
Of all desires, I have smothered
And all the dreams I never shared.
Because you see, Sweet Tormentor of my despair,
When I had the time, I did not care.
With parched lips, I look for water,
What I wouldn't give to taste once more
That insipid liquid, devoid of color
That is said to infuse life again.
Once I had dreams and aspirations,
Now all I dream is to take a sip.
“Cruel Angel, offering a placid stare,
Do say I have more time to spare.”
“Reap what you sow,” I hear him speak
While he sharpens his sickle to send me into the abyss.
I guess it is time for the harvest,
As I await Death's final kiss.
I have a garden, a place I belong,
Where the sun rises and never goes home.
Where there’s no cloud hiding the sky
And where My Love turned into a storm his goodbye.
The promise he whispered was caught by the wind
And carried in the distance, across the battlefield.
Despite all of my flowers or how hard I prayed
I couldn’t keep My Love from going away.
If I am never My Love to see,
At least let his promise come back to me...
By now twas the season of the auburn leaves,
When the warm rays of the sun patted my knees
As I sat waiting in my garden to see
If My Love made his way back to me.
Twas then when the Zephyr carrier the word
That My Love’s cold body was deep in the mud.
My tears fell like the leaves from the trees
And I knew by Winter my heart would freeze.
I remember the Spring when we said our goodbyes
For the first time, this Autumn, I learned everything dies...
When his last letter fell in my lap
My eyes saw again the promise we swapped.
“No matter what, my darling, believe
Love stays with us; love never leaves.”
Only now could I read between the lines.
The promise he made was that Love never dies…
Author’s Note: This was inspired by the stories my grandfather used to tell about the time he was fighting in WW2. He had promised a girl from his village to marry her when he came home. Unlike many others, he did come back home, married his girl and eventually got to meet his children and grandchildren. The rhythm and feel of the poem were inspired by all the 70’ war & peace folk songs I used to listen to. This poem also has a melody in my head :) If only I knew how to play.