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Written by MClariety in portal Trident Media Group

Msbehaved: Las Vegas, the Horses, and Reaching the Finish Line

Flagstaff, Arizona

I opened my eyes, and it was dark. I was moving in a silent lull. I could hear the radio playing quietly in the background, but it was so quiet that it was indistinguishable. ‘Where was I?I wondered.’ I laid there, quiet, silent, unsure, and unmoving. A new smell had reached my nose. It was unknown for the moment, yet familiar. It was the smell of a new car. I held on to the make shift blanket atop me, after seeing the strings, I recognized it as my shawl. My vision began to come back to me, and I noticed the window. Outside of it there were speckles of white, hypnotizing flakes. It was snowing, but it was May, I thought. In the darkness the trees were far back in the background, barely visible, but covered in white. I was sleeping in the front seat of a car, but whose car? Who was driving? Where was I going? All of those questions and confusion had registered within me within the first few seconds of awakening. Then, it finally came to me. The rental car. I looked over to the drivers seat and there was a focused little Asian man driving, it was T. We were driving through the night to go to Kingman, Arizona. You see, I went to Vegas earlier that week. I went there with a boyfriend and a car, and I came back with neither. T and I were on our way to get one of them.

Earlier that night, at 2:00 AM and my alarm was going off. In the pure darkness of my room I could hear my CD alarm clock begin to spin the disk that it encapsulated. The low, lull of Radiohead began to fill the room. Each morning when I heard it, instead of waking me up it whisked me away to another place, another time and I drifted back into a trance, back to a different country. Then from my nightstand, my phone entered the darkness. ‘Tap for snooze’ it said. I did. I laid there buried under layers of make shift pajama’s, the hoodie that comforted me the most, and a flowery duvet, I hid my head under it completely. I was engulfed. I asked myself why on earth were my alarms going off at this hour? Did I fuck up my alarm? Was I dreaming? What day was it? Did I have to go to work? Those were all of the questions that ran through my head. The answer was Kingman. Kingman, Arizona. I had to go get T, and we had to drive there through the night, or at least that’s what he told me to do. I was so broken and worn at that point in my life, that anyone giving me direction on how to proceed was welcomed. If T said we had to leave at 2:30 AM, then, we had to leave at 2:30 AM.

My dog was now aware that I was awake, and he was confused. It seemed that even he knew something was different. Then, as he does, gave me this sad look that he gave when he knew I was about to leave him. I hated that look, it was always heartbreaking, but knew that I had to go. T said. I pulled my duvet and placed my pillows ‘just right’ on my make shift bed, a futon laid flat that I’d slept on for years. I got up and managed to pull some clothes on, ones that would leave me looking like I hadn’t driven all night. It looked, instead, as though I just came in from a night out. I looked slightly hungover and wore slightly wrinkled skinny jeans, a black top, and the hoodie that I slept in. It was black and from Mother Board Brewery in Flagstaff, Arizona.

I grabbed a tiny pillow from my bed and my black fringed shall. Each accompanied me with their own distinct memories, and those memories comforted me. That was why I took them. Then, I grabbed my backpack, a toothbrush, and my emergency overnight bag (a Ziploc with a collection of tiny toiletries from the hotels I’ve frequented, strictly in tact for impromptu Vegas trips). Oh, and my full sized wine bladder. Filled.

Finally, I packed the car with what I thought I needed and it was time to go. With his big brown sad eyes, he looked up at me, knowingly. “I’m sorry buddy, I gotta go. Zoe will be here, and she’ll take care of you. I’m so sorry buddy. Bedtime.” With one last ruffling of his coat, he sadly walked towards his crate and got in. I felt horrible. With my tired, half drunk eyes I squinted for the bulky rental car fob and I pushed in my alarm code with my slightly numb fingers, 1-9-4-0. Why did I drink so much wine last night? Outside of my door everything was still. The outside world had no memory of what had happened or no knowledge of what was about to. The cool air greeted me under the dim porch light.

I arrived at what I could remember was T’s apartment complex…was this the place he showed me last night? I questioned myself. I wasn’t sure. In the darkness of the early morning and the haze still in my head, I scanned the balconies of each complex in search of the jungle that he had grown to ‘keep people out.’ I supposed it was a good idea, I mean, who would want to weed through a bunch of plants just to break in? Too much effort, I thought. After driving in at 5 mph searching, there it was, just to my left. There were plants everywhere, tipped over, over grown, and just out of control. It was impossible to even see if there was an entrance behind them. Feeling a little weird, and oddly slightly nervous, I got out of the tiny little black sedan. I shut the door and once again, everything was still.

Tucked back into a nook within the complex, his door stood there in the dark, nestled between the walls with another door parallel. With my slightly shaky hand, I began to knock softly as to not disturb the neighbors. But, in the silence my knocks on his door could still be heard throughout the complex. The first knock was quiet. I stood there and wondered how he’d come to the door. The next knock was equally as quiet. My first attempts were polite. I wouldn’t want to wake up to someone banging on my door at 2:30 in the morning –wait, I have. I began to question why I was there. Did he change his mind? Would he lead me down a road of disappointment like other men in my life? I knocked and knocked with more enthusiasm, harder and harder. I called and knocked simultaneously, now impatient and worried. Finally, the door began to open and there stood a short, yet stout, half asleep Asian man. T.

He opened the door, turned around and walked deeper into his apartment without so much as a grunt. He was barefoot, in gray sweat pants, and an oversized shirt that looked more like a muumuu than a shirt. He never seemed to wear shirts that fit. May be he couldn’t find any. Maybe he didn’t like being small and the big shirts built up his confidence. He stopped at the counter, lit a cigarette, and disappeared down the hallway into his room. It left me time to look around. His place reminded me of something, but what? My breath was muffled by the thick, stagnate air of cigarette smoke. I didn’t think there had been a window open for years, nor was there any clue of a woman’s presence for an equal amount of time. The haze of air was slowly suffocating me, yet there was something soothing about it all. It came to me. It reminded me of my uncle’s house, my ‘drunkel’. Suddenly I was at ease.

Everything in his apartment was covered with years and years of cigarette smoke. It appeared as though it was never dusted, never wiped down, everything was just there. There was a sticky layer of film to which the dust and everything else clung to. The once beige sofa was now shades darker, covered with the same layer of film and dirt. And, there were more plants. They were as equally chaotic in his apartment as they were on the balcony and then there were random things. They were interesting. There was a big gold Budda statue stood by his door collecting loose change. Even more peculiar was that at the end of his hallway on his bedroom door was a mounted poster of ‘The Dude’ from the Big Lebowski. I couldn’t help but notice the enormous collection of liquor bottles half full, half empty, or nothing at all, just sitting there in the smog of his apartment.

He came out with what looked like the exact shirt he went in with, with a pair of jeans, black leather loafers with an old worn cotton ball cap that sat slightly sideways, almost hanging off of his head, a lit cigarette hung from his lip slightly to the right. He blended with the ambiance of his apartment. Meanwhile, all of this was happening in silence. As he approached where I stood, he simply said, “We need coffee,” and he didn’t break stride. He opened the door, stood there, and waited for me to walk through. He shut it, locked it, and we were on our way. By then it was nearly 3:00 AM. We were late.

As we walked to the car he spoke sternly to me and I felt like I was being scolded. In his unique version of English, he said, “Last night you plant a seed in my head,” pointing to his temple. While we walked towards the car I asked sheepishly, “What seed? What did I do now?” Walking towards the passenger side of the car looking blankly ahead, still smoking his cigarette, now placed between his right index and ring finger, “I Googled Laughlin and it only 30 mile from Kingman. 30 miles!” he exclaimed, “We go, bet horses there. We see when we get there,” That was the last thing he said for the next few minutes after he got into the car. Those few minutes felt like an eternity. I got in the driver seat and pushed the button to start the car. Without breaking my forward stare, I tried to make small talk. The silence was uncomfortable. I’d never spent any sober time with him. “You know it took me forever to figure out how to start this stupid car the first time? I received no reply. I was talking to myself. The hum of the car was all that occupied the air. But then, sharply piercing the silence was T’s voice, “Turn right, you turn left at light on Cambria, then you see Giant on right. We get coffee there.”

We pulled into the gas station. T said something to the cashier that was outside who was trying to fix one of the busted sprinklers while he marched in. And, that’s exactly what he did, he marched in. He was familiar with them. I could only guess that this was a part of his morning routine. We walked in and I could feel how at ease he was, yet I could feel their eyes and thoughts spinning. In the meantime, my eyes were trying to adjust to the brightness. T had probably walked into that gas station for coffee for years on his own and now he was this middle aged Asian man showing up in the middle of the night with some random chick, nearly half his age. My black hair was tied, my bangs parted just right, with the black eye liner pointing out my half blood shot, half green eyes. I wore flip flops so I didn’t tower over him like I usually did. I always felt weird about being taller than him with my usual high heel boots. I didn’t want to emasculate him. I always felt bad when I stood next to him in heels.

T didn’t skip a beat. While I was busy wondering what the cashiers must have thought, he went directly to the coffee. I wandered around the gas station leisurely looking at everything they had as though I was in a foreign country.

As I wandered and wondered what would go with the wine I snuck into the car, T small talked and joked with the cashier. He was a regular looking white guy who probably had cashier jobs his entire life with the hopes to one day build his dream car and win a local drag race. The idea was to capture the glory days of high school once again. I grabbed a bag of lays, a suicide sandwich, a handful of mustard packets, and a coffee. T stood there looking frustrated. He didn’t offer any special attention to me, nor did he insinuate anything between us. Instead, as I was paying the cashier asked, “Where are you going so early?” T replied on my behalf, “We’re going to get her fucking car in KINGMAN ARIZONA!” We walked out.

Away we went. As I sat there and we sipped our coffee, I was reminded of T’s philosophy. If you can sit in a car with someone for eight hours without killing each other, that was a signal of true friendship. I wondered what would happen. Could we make it? One time he told me that he was driving to Washington state from Albuquerque with his girlfriend, and he wanted to kill her within hours. So much so, that he tried to fly back, but he was in the middle of nowhere by the time he decided that enough was enough. He was stuck driving to Seattle with her. He said it was so bad, that as soon as they arrived there he went straight to the airport and flew back to Albuquerque. He was supposed to be moving there with her – I could only imagine how bad it got. We, on the other hand were still relatively quiet as we headed west on I 40. Then, he decided to speak again. “You stop at Route 66 Casino, that sushi and wasabi go right through me. I empty and then we go. And, more coffee.” That was a good way to remember the sushi we had the night before. I cringed and remembered that I was just one of the guys.

We were back on the freeway again. This time T was driving. I didn’t want to fall asleep on him. It was going to be a long drive. But I wondered, how do I stay awake? I knew how. I wanted wine. “T, I’m going to have some wine. Are you okay with that?” I asked. While drinking his coffee he didn’t take his eyes off the road, “Yeah, I don’t care. It your car, you do what you want.” I stretched the wine out to last just over three hours, a tough task but I wanted to keep him company. After coffee T began to open up, and I was at ease with some wine in me and we began to exchange stories. I’d heard most of his story’s many times, but I just listened and acted like it was my first time. His stories were one of the best parts of him. With a sly eye and voice he turned my way and said in a slight whisper, “You know why I drink vodka?” He answered his own question, “…because you not smell vodka.” I began to think about how and when I had met T...

…T and I met sometime the year before. He held a true Vietnamese name that I couldn’t quite get comfortable saying, Trung. So, for short, I, and everyone else, just called him T for simplicity. I didn’t remember exactly how I met him, but it was at the Grand Stand, adoringly referred to as the track. The track was and remains, a peculiar place that I was introduced to some years ago. I was brought there on a first date – but that’s a different story. The track evolved, and soon there was a brand new casino. They had cheaper wine. Over there, I always sat at the bar and, I had a bartender who would look the other way on most of my tabs. I morphed over to the new casino for that very reason, but I kept referring to it as the track. I was a creature of habit, even though it was really called the First Turn Lounge. The bar was ascetically pleasing, and that helped. There were silver stars in groups of three hanging from the ceiling that were put up for the first Christmas that they were opened, but were never taken down. They remained a part of the bar’s atmosphere.

It wasn’t long before my bartender had quit working at the casino and I had to find a new seat, one away from the bar. I wasn’t comfortable there without him but, I found a safe place. I sat at a table of gay men who bet the horses; affectionately to be known as ‘my gays’. For one reason or another T was sitting among them. I would get so very excited every time I saw him there. He was always so, wait…he was nice. I always squealed his name, “TEEEEEEEEEEE!” each time I saw him and I would hug him as hard as I could, sometimes I would lift him off of his feet. He pretended as though he didn’t like it, but, I think he did.

T had come to be something of a foundation in my life. We had always maintained a relationship where we never talked outside of the casino. We had met at the track each Saturday and Sunday for the past year though. I bugged him for his number, but he would never give it to me. He always did it out of respect. I always seemed to be in a relationship. And then, one day when he realized that I was in a fucked up relationship and he had to help, he finally gave me his card. Even then, when I’d text him through the week, he’d never reply. That was just how he was, and I was okay with that. That, was how I met T…

I looked up and I realized that we were approaching Flagstaff. In the early snowy, morning, I could see the snow capped peaks of the San Francisco mountains. I couldn’t handle it. I had finished my wine, and the idea of driving through Flagstaff and not stopping was just too much, especially atop of all that was happening. He was so close, but we’d just have to drive through. “T, I’m sleepy.” I told him. I was tired, but I just wanted to avoid driving through it, seeing it. “So, sleep then!” He barked, in the snowy blizzard that we drove into for the past two hours. I laid the seat back as much as possible, and nestled myself up against the side of the car with the only two comforts that I brought from home, my pillow and shawl. I closed my eyes and I couldn’t quite sleep, nor could I help but think about him, Vin. He was the one person who I had let go a long time ago and I shouldn’t have. In that moment, I began to lose myself into the thoughts of our beginnings…

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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 MClariety in portal Trident Media Group
Msbehaved: Las Vegas, the Horses, and Reaching the Finish Line
Flagstaff, Arizona

I opened my eyes, and it was dark. I was moving in a silent lull. I could hear the radio playing quietly in the background, but it was so quiet that it was indistinguishable. ‘Where was I?I wondered.’ I laid there, quiet, silent, unsure, and unmoving. A new smell had reached my nose. It was unknown for the moment, yet familiar. It was the smell of a new car. I held on to the make shift blanket atop me, after seeing the strings, I recognized it as my shawl. My vision began to come back to me, and I noticed the window. Outside of it there were speckles of white, hypnotizing flakes. It was snowing, but it was May, I thought. In the darkness the trees were far back in the background, barely visible, but covered in white. I was sleeping in the front seat of a car, but whose car? Who was driving? Where was I going? All of those questions and confusion had registered within me within the first few seconds of awakening. Then, it finally came to me. The rental car. I looked over to the drivers seat and there was a focused little Asian man driving, it was T. We were driving through the night to go to Kingman, Arizona. You see, I went to Vegas earlier that week. I went there with a boyfriend and a car, and I came back with neither. T and I were on our way to get one of them.

Earlier that night, at 2:00 AM and my alarm was going off. In the pure darkness of my room I could hear my CD alarm clock begin to spin the disk that it encapsulated. The low, lull of Radiohead began to fill the room. Each morning when I heard it, instead of waking me up it whisked me away to another place, another time and I drifted back into a trance, back to a different country. Then from my nightstand, my phone entered the darkness. ‘Tap for snooze’ it said. I did. I laid there buried under layers of make shift pajama’s, the hoodie that comforted me the most, and a flowery duvet, I hid my head under it completely. I was engulfed. I asked myself why on earth were my alarms going off at this hour? Did I fuck up my alarm? Was I dreaming? What day was it? Did I have to go to work? Those were all of the questions that ran through my head. The answer was Kingman. Kingman, Arizona. I had to go get T, and we had to drive there through the night, or at least that’s what he told me to do. I was so broken and worn at that point in my life, that anyone giving me direction on how to proceed was welcomed. If T said we had to leave at 2:30 AM, then, we had to leave at 2:30 AM.

My dog was now aware that I was awake, and he was confused. It seemed that even he knew something was different. Then, as he does, gave me this sad look that he gave when he knew I was about to leave him. I hated that look, it was always heartbreaking, but knew that I had to go. T said. I pulled my duvet and placed my pillows ‘just right’ on my make shift bed, a futon laid flat that I’d slept on for years. I got up and managed to pull some clothes on, ones that would leave me looking like I hadn’t driven all night. It looked, instead, as though I just came in from a night out. I looked slightly hungover and wore slightly wrinkled skinny jeans, a black top, and the hoodie that I slept in. It was black and from Mother Board Brewery in Flagstaff, Arizona.

I grabbed a tiny pillow from my bed and my black fringed shall. Each accompanied me with their own distinct memories, and those memories comforted me. That was why I took them. Then, I grabbed my backpack, a toothbrush, and my emergency overnight bag (a Ziploc with a collection of tiny toiletries from the hotels I’ve frequented, strictly in tact for impromptu Vegas trips). Oh, and my full sized wine bladder. Filled.

Finally, I packed the car with what I thought I needed and it was time to go. With his big brown sad eyes, he looked up at me, knowingly. “I’m sorry buddy, I gotta go. Zoe will be here, and she’ll take care of you. I’m so sorry buddy. Bedtime.” With one last ruffling of his coat, he sadly walked towards his crate and got in. I felt horrible. With my tired, half drunk eyes I squinted for the bulky rental car fob and I pushed in my alarm code with my slightly numb fingers, 1-9-4-0. Why did I drink so much wine last night? Outside of my door everything was still. The outside world had no memory of what had happened or no knowledge of what was about to. The cool air greeted me under the dim porch light.
I arrived at what I could remember was T’s apartment complex…was this the place he showed me last night? I questioned myself. I wasn’t sure. In the darkness of the early morning and the haze still in my head, I scanned the balconies of each complex in search of the jungle that he had grown to ‘keep people out.’ I supposed it was a good idea, I mean, who would want to weed through a bunch of plants just to break in? Too much effort, I thought. After driving in at 5 mph searching, there it was, just to my left. There were plants everywhere, tipped over, over grown, and just out of control. It was impossible to even see if there was an entrance behind them. Feeling a little weird, and oddly slightly nervous, I got out of the tiny little black sedan. I shut the door and once again, everything was still.

Tucked back into a nook within the complex, his door stood there in the dark, nestled between the walls with another door parallel. With my slightly shaky hand, I began to knock softly as to not disturb the neighbors. But, in the silence my knocks on his door could still be heard throughout the complex. The first knock was quiet. I stood there and wondered how he’d come to the door. The next knock was equally as quiet. My first attempts were polite. I wouldn’t want to wake up to someone banging on my door at 2:30 in the morning –wait, I have. I began to question why I was there. Did he change his mind? Would he lead me down a road of disappointment like other men in my life? I knocked and knocked with more enthusiasm, harder and harder. I called and knocked simultaneously, now impatient and worried. Finally, the door began to open and there stood a short, yet stout, half asleep Asian man. T.

He opened the door, turned around and walked deeper into his apartment without so much as a grunt. He was barefoot, in gray sweat pants, and an oversized shirt that looked more like a muumuu than a shirt. He never seemed to wear shirts that fit. May be he couldn’t find any. Maybe he didn’t like being small and the big shirts built up his confidence. He stopped at the counter, lit a cigarette, and disappeared down the hallway into his room. It left me time to look around. His place reminded me of something, but what? My breath was muffled by the thick, stagnate air of cigarette smoke. I didn’t think there had been a window open for years, nor was there any clue of a woman’s presence for an equal amount of time. The haze of air was slowly suffocating me, yet there was something soothing about it all. It came to me. It reminded me of my uncle’s house, my ‘drunkel’. Suddenly I was at ease.

Everything in his apartment was covered with years and years of cigarette smoke. It appeared as though it was never dusted, never wiped down, everything was just there. There was a sticky layer of film to which the dust and everything else clung to. The once beige sofa was now shades darker, covered with the same layer of film and dirt. And, there were more plants. They were as equally chaotic in his apartment as they were on the balcony and then there were random things. They were interesting. There was a big gold Budda statue stood by his door collecting loose change. Even more peculiar was that at the end of his hallway on his bedroom door was a mounted poster of ‘The Dude’ from the Big Lebowski. I couldn’t help but notice the enormous collection of liquor bottles half full, half empty, or nothing at all, just sitting there in the smog of his apartment.
He came out with what looked like the exact shirt he went in with, with a pair of jeans, black leather loafers with an old worn cotton ball cap that sat slightly sideways, almost hanging off of his head, a lit cigarette hung from his lip slightly to the right. He blended with the ambiance of his apartment. Meanwhile, all of this was happening in silence. As he approached where I stood, he simply said, “We need coffee,” and he didn’t break stride. He opened the door, stood there, and waited for me to walk through. He shut it, locked it, and we were on our way. By then it was nearly 3:00 AM. We were late.

As we walked to the car he spoke sternly to me and I felt like I was being scolded. In his unique version of English, he said, “Last night you plant a seed in my head,” pointing to his temple. While we walked towards the car I asked sheepishly, “What seed? What did I do now?” Walking towards the passenger side of the car looking blankly ahead, still smoking his cigarette, now placed between his right index and ring finger, “I Googled Laughlin and it only 30 mile from Kingman. 30 miles!” he exclaimed, “We go, bet horses there. We see when we get there,” That was the last thing he said for the next few minutes after he got into the car. Those few minutes felt like an eternity. I got in the driver seat and pushed the button to start the car. Without breaking my forward stare, I tried to make small talk. The silence was uncomfortable. I’d never spent any sober time with him. “You know it took me forever to figure out how to start this stupid car the first time? I received no reply. I was talking to myself. The hum of the car was all that occupied the air. But then, sharply piercing the silence was T’s voice, “Turn right, you turn left at light on Cambria, then you see Giant on right. We get coffee there.”

We pulled into the gas station. T said something to the cashier that was outside who was trying to fix one of the busted sprinklers while he marched in. And, that’s exactly what he did, he marched in. He was familiar with them. I could only guess that this was a part of his morning routine. We walked in and I could feel how at ease he was, yet I could feel their eyes and thoughts spinning. In the meantime, my eyes were trying to adjust to the brightness. T had probably walked into that gas station for coffee for years on his own and now he was this middle aged Asian man showing up in the middle of the night with some random chick, nearly half his age. My black hair was tied, my bangs parted just right, with the black eye liner pointing out my half blood shot, half green eyes. I wore flip flops so I didn’t tower over him like I usually did. I always felt weird about being taller than him with my usual high heel boots. I didn’t want to emasculate him. I always felt bad when I stood next to him in heels.

T didn’t skip a beat. While I was busy wondering what the cashiers must have thought, he went directly to the coffee. I wandered around the gas station leisurely looking at everything they had as though I was in a foreign country.
As I wandered and wondered what would go with the wine I snuck into the car, T small talked and joked with the cashier. He was a regular looking white guy who probably had cashier jobs his entire life with the hopes to one day build his dream car and win a local drag race. The idea was to capture the glory days of high school once again. I grabbed a bag of lays, a suicide sandwich, a handful of mustard packets, and a coffee. T stood there looking frustrated. He didn’t offer any special attention to me, nor did he insinuate anything between us. Instead, as I was paying the cashier asked, “Where are you going so early?” T replied on my behalf, “We’re going to get her fucking car in KINGMAN ARIZONA!” We walked out.

Away we went. As I sat there and we sipped our coffee, I was reminded of T’s philosophy. If you can sit in a car with someone for eight hours without killing each other, that was a signal of true friendship. I wondered what would happen. Could we make it? One time he told me that he was driving to Washington state from Albuquerque with his girlfriend, and he wanted to kill her within hours. So much so, that he tried to fly back, but he was in the middle of nowhere by the time he decided that enough was enough. He was stuck driving to Seattle with her. He said it was so bad, that as soon as they arrived there he went straight to the airport and flew back to Albuquerque. He was supposed to be moving there with her – I could only imagine how bad it got. We, on the other hand were still relatively quiet as we headed west on I 40. Then, he decided to speak again. “You stop at Route 66 Casino, that sushi and wasabi go right through me. I empty and then we go. And, more coffee.” That was a good way to remember the sushi we had the night before. I cringed and remembered that I was just one of the guys.

We were back on the freeway again. This time T was driving. I didn’t want to fall asleep on him. It was going to be a long drive. But I wondered, how do I stay awake? I knew how. I wanted wine. “T, I’m going to have some wine. Are you okay with that?” I asked. While drinking his coffee he didn’t take his eyes off the road, “Yeah, I don’t care. It your car, you do what you want.” I stretched the wine out to last just over three hours, a tough task but I wanted to keep him company. After coffee T began to open up, and I was at ease with some wine in me and we began to exchange stories. I’d heard most of his story’s many times, but I just listened and acted like it was my first time. His stories were one of the best parts of him. With a sly eye and voice he turned my way and said in a slight whisper, “You know why I drink vodka?” He answered his own question, “…because you not smell vodka.” I began to think about how and when I had met T...

…T and I met sometime the year before. He held a true Vietnamese name that I couldn’t quite get comfortable saying, Trung. So, for short, I, and everyone else, just called him T for simplicity. I didn’t remember exactly how I met him, but it was at the Grand Stand, adoringly referred to as the track. The track was and remains, a peculiar place that I was introduced to some years ago. I was brought there on a first date – but that’s a different story. The track evolved, and soon there was a brand new casino. They had cheaper wine. Over there, I always sat at the bar and, I had a bartender who would look the other way on most of my tabs. I morphed over to the new casino for that very reason, but I kept referring to it as the track. I was a creature of habit, even though it was really called the First Turn Lounge. The bar was ascetically pleasing, and that helped. There were silver stars in groups of three hanging from the ceiling that were put up for the first Christmas that they were opened, but were never taken down. They remained a part of the bar’s atmosphere.

It wasn’t long before my bartender had quit working at the casino and I had to find a new seat, one away from the bar. I wasn’t comfortable there without him but, I found a safe place. I sat at a table of gay men who bet the horses; affectionately to be known as ‘my gays’. For one reason or another T was sitting among them. I would get so very excited every time I saw him there. He was always so, wait…he was nice. I always squealed his name, “TEEEEEEEEEEE!” each time I saw him and I would hug him as hard as I could, sometimes I would lift him off of his feet. He pretended as though he didn’t like it, but, I think he did.

T had come to be something of a foundation in my life. We had always maintained a relationship where we never talked outside of the casino. We had met at the track each Saturday and Sunday for the past year though. I bugged him for his number, but he would never give it to me. He always did it out of respect. I always seemed to be in a relationship. And then, one day when he realized that I was in a fucked up relationship and he had to help, he finally gave me his card. Even then, when I’d text him through the week, he’d never reply. That was just how he was, and I was okay with that. That, was how I met T…

I looked up and I realized that we were approaching Flagstaff. In the early snowy, morning, I could see the snow capped peaks of the San Francisco mountains. I couldn’t handle it. I had finished my wine, and the idea of driving through Flagstaff and not stopping was just too much, especially atop of all that was happening. He was so close, but we’d just have to drive through. “T, I’m sleepy.” I told him. I was tired, but I just wanted to avoid driving through it, seeing it. “So, sleep then!” He barked, in the snowy blizzard that we drove into for the past two hours. I laid the seat back as much as possible, and nestled myself up against the side of the car with the only two comforts that I brought from home, my pillow and shawl. I closed my eyes and I couldn’t quite sleep, nor could I help but think about him, Vin. He was the one person who I had let go a long time ago and I shouldn’t have. In that moment, I began to lose myself into the thoughts of our beginnings…

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Roads Less Traveled

His black overcoat was dusty, like he'd been standing on the side of that dirt road for a while, watching old pickup trucks clatter by.

He didn't quite match the setting. His tailored black suit and wool coat would be more appropriate for Madison Avenue or Wall Street; that's what made her take notice of him. That, and the piercing eye contact he made as her little compact car closed the distance between them.

He was utterly relaxed. In fact, he leaned against an old fencepost. It was as though nothing mattered to him at all; not the dust clinging to his coat, not the chill in the air, nor even the cigarette in his hand. He was completely nonchalant.

But that look. Those eyes.

He was perfectly composed. For all the surrounding farmland, this strange man in a tailored three-piece looked like he was leaning against a mahogany conference table in a boardroom.

All of these details, she processed at 45 miles an hour. She hadn't even realized she'd slowed from sixty until she came to a stop in the road just feet from where the man leaned.

He made no gesture. He made no signs.

And yet.

Those eyes, they commanded her to stop.

Piercing, dark, almost black. They stood out in contrast to his alabaster skin so pale she could nearly see the veins in his neck on the back of his hands.

He acknowledged her with a nod as he tossed his spent smoke into the fine sand of the road. Grinding it further into the dirt, his shining black shoes dimmed a little in the sunshine as they collected a bit more dust.

She pushed a button and lowered the passenger window. He leaned against the frame, smiling.

It wasn't a harmless smile, nor was it threatening. It was genuine, it was warm, but it spoke of danger and wonder in equal measure.

"Why are you out here dressed like an undertaker, Mister? Are you lost?"

A small laugh shook his slender frame, and he shook his head.

"No, ma'am. I'm always where I need to be."

She didn't quite know how to take that, so she just waited.

"I could use a ride, though. If you wouldn't mind."

"My dad says I shouldn't ever let hitchhikers in the car."

He adopted a very serious look. "Your father is a wise man. But I'm no hitchhiker."

"Well, you're on the side of the road, and you just asked me for a ride."

"This is true. But I can tell you're uncomfortable. That's fine, dear. You drive on, until you're ready."

It was hard to tell how old he was, exactly, but Melissa knew he was a good bit older than her seventeen years. A junior, she was making her way home from high school. She was used to being called "sugar," or "baby," or "dear," but she wasn't used to this man's strange accent. He sounded like an old movie actor; thoughts of "It's a Wonderful Life" flashed in her memory.

She almost missed his comment.

"What do you mean, ready?"

Melissa took this way every day.  There were other routes between home and town, but these particular dirt roads were more fun to drive, even if there was the occasional obstacle by way of tractor or wandering livestock.  She knew the way like the back of her hand; it was filled with sandy traps and gravelly snares that would snag and pull, adding to the excitement.  Her little city car wasn't meant for such country living, but she was determined to drive where she wanted, how she wanted.

The man just smiled, and pushed himself away from her car window.

"Run along now, Melissa. You've places to be."

It wasn't until a mile later that she realized she'd never told him her name.

____

The dust cloud finally settled as her car faded from view.

The man in black went back to his fence post, reaching for a new Nat Sherman.

As the lighter on his cigarette case clinked, an audible pop sounded as the air around him was displaced.

"How long will you let her drive, Kharon?" The voice rumbled, menacing, but the threat implied was ignored by the man in black.

Not answering immediately, the slim man savored the flavor of his cigarette.

"You shouldn't get this one, Lucy. It isn't right."

Rumbling laughter echoed as Lucy spoke. "You know the rules. You make the deliveries. Where the packages go isn't your problem. You just get them there."

"How is this one yours? She's seventeen. A good kid."

"The wages of sin, and all that bullshit, K."

"She's just a goddamned kid."

"Was a kid. Quotas, K. I don't make the rules, I just play by them. Same as you."

"Oh, for fuck's sake. You're the king of breaking the rules."

"Prince of lies, actually."

The man in black couldn't help but chuckle.

"Technically, she isn't yours until I ferry her."

"Yes, I know. Which is why I'd like to know how long you're going to let her keep passing you."

"She's happy here. Dreaming."

"Kharon. She's been wasting away in a coma for years."

"What's this? Sympathy?" Kharon looked sideways at the man he called Lucy.

"I see what you did there, K. No. She's mine. I'm due."

"Wordplay from you, now, is it?" Kharon watched the road, where Melissa would reappear any moment.

"It's been seven years since she wrecked on this road. Think of her family, watching her rot in a hospital bed."

"Jesus, Lucy. You almost sound like you care."

Lucy cracked a devilish grin.

"What's a few more months to the likes of us? Let her have this. It's better than what you have to offer."

Sighing, Lucy finally responded. "I will be waiting when you finally do your job."

"And if I just let her haunt here, even after the plug is pulled?"

Palpable, simmering anger was the only response to the question.

From around the road's bend, Melissa's car glimmered in the sunlight, billowing a cloud of dust.

The man in black's companion popped back to his domain, leaving Kharon to his work.

Slowing and rolling down her passenger window, the teenage girl had no way of knowing she was asking the same question for the thirteen thousandth time.

"Why are you out here dressed like an undertaker, Mister? Are you lost?"

He smiled, happy to answer her again.

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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 Ferryman in portal Trident Media Group
Roads Less Traveled
His black overcoat was dusty, like he'd been standing on the side of that dirt road for a while, watching old pickup trucks clatter by.

He didn't quite match the setting. His tailored black suit and wool coat would be more appropriate for Madison Avenue or Wall Street; that's what made her take notice of him. That, and the piercing eye contact he made as her little compact car closed the distance between them.

He was utterly relaxed. In fact, he leaned against an old fencepost. It was as though nothing mattered to him at all; not the dust clinging to his coat, not the chill in the air, nor even the cigarette in his hand. He was completely nonchalant.

But that look. Those eyes.

He was perfectly composed. For all the surrounding farmland, this strange man in a tailored three-piece looked like he was leaning against a mahogany conference table in a boardroom.

All of these details, she processed at 45 miles an hour. She hadn't even realized she'd slowed from sixty until she came to a stop in the road just feet from where the man leaned.

He made no gesture. He made no signs.

And yet.

Those eyes, they commanded her to stop.

Piercing, dark, almost black. They stood out in contrast to his alabaster skin so pale she could nearly see the veins in his neck on the back of his hands.

He acknowledged her with a nod as he tossed his spent smoke into the fine sand of the road. Grinding it further into the dirt, his shining black shoes dimmed a little in the sunshine as they collected a bit more dust.

She pushed a button and lowered the passenger window. He leaned against the frame, smiling.

It wasn't a harmless smile, nor was it threatening. It was genuine, it was warm, but it spoke of danger and wonder in equal measure.

"Why are you out here dressed like an undertaker, Mister? Are you lost?"

A small laugh shook his slender frame, and he shook his head.

"No, ma'am. I'm always where I need to be."

She didn't quite know how to take that, so she just waited.

"I could use a ride, though. If you wouldn't mind."

"My dad says I shouldn't ever let hitchhikers in the car."

He adopted a very serious look. "Your father is a wise man. But I'm no hitchhiker."

"Well, you're on the side of the road, and you just asked me for a ride."

"This is true. But I can tell you're uncomfortable. That's fine, dear. You drive on, until you're ready."

It was hard to tell how old he was, exactly, but Melissa knew he was a good bit older than her seventeen years. A junior, she was making her way home from high school. She was used to being called "sugar," or "baby," or "dear," but she wasn't used to this man's strange accent. He sounded like an old movie actor; thoughts of "It's a Wonderful Life" flashed in her memory.

She almost missed his comment.

"What do you mean, ready?"

Melissa took this way every day.  There were other routes between home and town, but these particular dirt roads were more fun to drive, even if there was the occasional obstacle by way of tractor or wandering livestock.  She knew the way like the back of her hand; it was filled with sandy traps and gravelly snares that would snag and pull, adding to the excitement.  Her little city car wasn't meant for such country living, but she was determined to drive where she wanted, how she wanted.

The man just smiled, and pushed himself away from her car window.

"Run along now, Melissa. You've places to be."

It wasn't until a mile later that she realized she'd never told him her name.
____

The dust cloud finally settled as her car faded from view.

The man in black went back to his fence post, reaching for a new Nat Sherman.

As the lighter on his cigarette case clinked, an audible pop sounded as the air around him was displaced.

"How long will you let her drive, Kharon?" The voice rumbled, menacing, but the threat implied was ignored by the man in black.

Not answering immediately, the slim man savored the flavor of his cigarette.

"You shouldn't get this one, Lucy. It isn't right."

Rumbling laughter echoed as Lucy spoke. "You know the rules. You make the deliveries. Where the packages go isn't your problem. You just get them there."

"How is this one yours? She's seventeen. A good kid."

"The wages of sin, and all that bullshit, K."

"She's just a goddamned kid."

"Was a kid. Quotas, K. I don't make the rules, I just play by them. Same as you."

"Oh, for fuck's sake. You're the king of breaking the rules."

"Prince of lies, actually."

The man in black couldn't help but chuckle.

"Technically, she isn't yours until I ferry her."

"Yes, I know. Which is why I'd like to know how long you're going to let her keep passing you."

"She's happy here. Dreaming."

"Kharon. She's been wasting away in a coma for years."

"What's this? Sympathy?" Kharon looked sideways at the man he called Lucy.

"I see what you did there, K. No. She's mine. I'm due."

"Wordplay from you, now, is it?" Kharon watched the road, where Melissa would reappear any moment.

"It's been seven years since she wrecked on this road. Think of her family, watching her rot in a hospital bed."

"Jesus, Lucy. You almost sound like you care."

Lucy cracked a devilish grin.

"What's a few more months to the likes of us? Let her have this. It's better than what you have to offer."

Sighing, Lucy finally responded. "I will be waiting when you finally do your job."

"And if I just let her haunt here, even after the plug is pulled?"

Palpable, simmering anger was the only response to the question.

From around the road's bend, Melissa's car glimmered in the sunlight, billowing a cloud of dust.

The man in black's companion popped back to his domain, leaving Kharon to his work.

Slowing and rolling down her passenger window, the teenage girl had no way of knowing she was asking the same question for the thirteen thousandth time.

"Why are you out here dressed like an undertaker, Mister? Are you lost?"

He smiled, happy to answer her again.

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Written by DGCoutinho in portal Trident Media Group

tongue tied

When I was small, I lost my voice, do not be mistaken, I could speak, I just could not talk. When asked to describe my day at school, my lunch in the park with my family, my day at the beach? I would tear the pen from your hand and make you feel the depth and breadth of everything I experienced and more but if asked to open my mouth the stories gave way to ear-splitting silence.

Those that loved me encouraged me and like some voiceless minstrel, my wordless stories kept those in my company captive and rapt.

Those that loved me most were my parents. Although the distance between one another had become one of polite chasm; they were unstoppable in their devotion to me and I was infatuated with them. 
It seemed that staying together for the sake of the children never worked so well.

My mother was Indian, a soft-spoken Goan Catholic with amber eyes and hair in inky black waterfalls. I would spend hours with it coiled around my fingers, plucking out grey hairs for fifty pence and her delight. It was not altogether lucrative but certainly enjoyable work because she would laugh as I mouthed a cheer each time I released one holding it up to the window, watching the sunlight turn it silver.

My West African father, was a huge French-speaking bear of a man whose voice was chocolaty even when angry. His skin was the colour of newly hewn coal. As a child, I had always thought his eyes were violet but it’s just that they were so dark brown they became oily, in summer when he was happiest? They glinted like wet slate.

From this unlikely and curious mix of continents, came me.

I was not large or small, I was not wide or thin I was not happy or sad I was neither plain nor beautiful, I vaguely resembled mother and vaguely resembled father.

I was the most middle of children and yet the eldest of three.

My average was so unremarkable that it evolved into a blessing, invisible to almost everyone, I hardly caught the eye. However after I lost the power of speech, I became more interesting. There were those who thought, that I lingered hushed because of new attention, but the truth was I could no sooner speak than pilot an aeroplane; the words having tumbled freely before now backed up in my throat like a car crash.

You must take her to see someone, a doctor, a specialist, my family judged my mother as she held my head to her thigh but my father stood his ground; they will take her from me, we will deal with it our own way.

So my mother bought me ornate pens and notebooks which she strung into my school bag on a long cord so I would not lose them and I ritually presented the filled pages to her in exchange for more books and when the pens ran dry she replaced them, each time wishing I’d ask out loud.

Every night my father divided up the pages of my books with penciled compartments; ‘for your mother’, ‘for your father, ‘for your sister, ‘ for your brother, ‘for your teacher’ and ‘for someone you don’t know’, what he expected my friends to do, I never asked. Maybe, he thought I would now no longer have any.

All the time, while he worked on my little journals, he stared at me, willing me to call to him before returning to his lines concentrating hard with his tongue sticking out like a child engrossed in a puzzle.

He longed for me to misbehave, yet I never rewarded him. Instead, no one ever told me to be quiet, like the others because I was already quiet. No one told me to eat slowly, as I never spoke with my mouth full, I would not be in danger of choking and was viewed as having impeccable table manners.

I sat peacefully in class and not distracted by gossip; I performed well and easily passed exams. Loved by Teachers who commented on my lively accounts, wonderful illustrations and beguiling descriptions.

Soon, years were folded away like unused blankets and the time had come for decisions.

My mother sifted through twelve years of my little scribbling, convinced I should be a writer. My father ever more pragmatic meant for me to be an architect; who needs to speak to build, she has spent years writing. He then gathered up all my notebooks and put them in a box. My mother cried and nodded. While I slipped unheard into university.

My life soundless life crept by. I had changed my major by the end of the first year but as I began writing, my father stopped calling, although he sent long missives which belied how adamant he was at my wasting my time with books. My graduation had been blissfully quiet and I decided to move even further away from my parents for postgraduate study. Term after mute term flew by and I enjoyed tapping away in closed mouthed achievement. No one approached me and I would have been content to continue like that for the rest of my time there.

However, in the middle of my second year among my solitude and cigarettes, I saw a student bent over a real typewriter. The click-clacking made my mouth water the carriage return played over in my head and I began timing my visits to coincide with her. Soon I persuaded her to share her research on reviving long departed languages. She seemed resolutely untroubled by my unspoken existence. We fell in love and although I had not spoken in years, it was only then I truly understood speechlessness.

Her tongue danced behind my teeth and dislodged a million syllables all dusty and scratchy. For the first time since I was a little girl, I spoke. I told her what I wanted for the two of us we spent long nights, making plans, trading pasts and offering futures. We were no different than any other new couple it felt sublime.

Then as suddenly as it was perfect it was flawed. I began to notice that something was missing. First, there were three chapters returned by my supervisor, with scathing criticism, my usual formality in jeopardy and so close to writing up. I showed the comments to my lover these are normal they want you to shine my love, it's fine why not follow their suggestions? she laughed, unperturbed but I was obsessed by their observations and became a brooding seething loudmouth. My tutors commented on a lack of commitment, my phrases were bland and finally my pages blank.

Where I had covered my lover in gratitude, I now blamed her for my verbal paralysis, believing she had made me dull with her love. I sought to break her heart at every turn making it impossible for her to want me and succeeding one autumn, she left me, speaking in tears.

Like children in the playground, her friends would come to me taunting me with their stories of how she was so much better off without me, which, because I agreed, they would then try other tacks, telling me I had fabricated my muteness and unable to sustain the lie I had broken it off between us. They took turns at calling me in the middle of the night saying she had found someone else. I admired her friends’ loyalty but as the months drew on my capacity to listen eroded and blocked out their derision. Then when what small pleasure they received in avenging her dwindled and they, at last, left me alone. One night, perhaps a little drunk, I spoke to my mother in desperation. She tried to comfort me but then could not stop herself from asking, baba, she gave you back your voice and you gave her away? There was a scold behind her question. I lay awake and a familiar lump swelled in my throat as my skin crumpled with longing.

Time does not wait for revelation. Then, realising I had not seen my father for a year, my sister called to tell me he had died. I had never expected him to be someone who would not be there anymore. I had been so self-absorbed that I had missed him slipping away forever. When I arrived home my mother stood in the doorway, having given up cigarettes long ago her hands were idle. She reached to groom and fuss.

At the funeral, my speech rasped and gurgled. My brother frowned his recognition, and my mother rose from her chair and moved steadily toward me to wipe my tears with her thumbs and slowly smooth my hair while I tried to make myself heard.

Later, she stood by the freshly turned earth. Her hands cradled my fathers Tiffin wrapped in the faded bandana he had often worn when decorating or working on one of his bad cars. She handed them to me to place on the coffin. That was when I first felt the familiar swelling lump in my throat. By evening it had become a wedge, straining in my mouth, freezing my jaw shut. I knew what was happening and in a fit of selfishness, I made my escape.

Night passed. I watched myself wash in the mirror my eyes still half closed with swelling redness. I considered visiting the doctor, but I know they would not find anything wrong. Even though the pain inside my ears felt like molten needles and my tongue felt like it had fused to my palate. I returned to the piled up sheets. At least there I could be calm. I may even sleep.

It was the knock at the door startled my self-pity and I shuffled out of my bed and went to answer. She stood arms crossed. Why had she come, when all I had been was hateful?

She told me how she had heard about my father, from my mother who had called her to say I had disappeared from the funeral. she bent her face to my ear and whispered her conditions; I bowed my head like an obedient puppy, she sat down and looked at the ceiling, I took the cue, I went for a shower and kept the door ajar to keep watch on her decision to stay.

As the water heated up, I could hear her sing in what used to be our kitchen and the clink of cutlery and her drumming fingers waiting for the kettle. My mouth loosened, my tongue fell away from my teeth.

I stepped out and sat in a chair opposite keeping my distance as she watched me twitching, crossing and uncrossing my legs, searching for words. At last in a sort of half irritation half compassion, she motioned for me to come to her, she allowed me a place next to her and as if to encourage me she placed her hand over my thigh while sipping her tea and nodded for me to start.

"There is a saying that the children of lovers are orphans. Except we never felt neglected due to our parents love for each other. Even later when the distance between them became agony they never let us suffer for the indifference they felt towards one another. I do remember their love not being accepted this was a time when their marriage was seen as one of those ‘mixed marriages’ so frowned upon, whole communities closed against and families took years to open their homes. I did not know what mixed marriage meant. As a child mixing anything made me think of baking which only sounded good to me and I did not know why adults spoke about it in such hushed tones, but I did know; my grandparents did not see me until I was five, that white people called my parents names; Africans spat at them and crossed the street, Indians called my mother a whore and slapped her in the face. They slapped her in the face even when she was walking me to school my hand curled in hers whilst she was carrying my sister on her hip who would always start to cry although my mother never did she just went about her business meeting the few friends she managed to make. Quickly stubbing her cigarette out by the school gates where she’d meet me every day until a while later, when pregnant with my brother she trusted me to walk my sister home.

I had always seen my parents kiss and they held hands even when my father was driving they seemed so happy which made us happy. But something was coming that haunted those times and strained conversations among the grown-ups; they said work was sparse, everyone around us started losing their jobs, and like the others, my father was not immune.

When soon he too became worthless he knew he had to make some money. He did anything for cash in hand so as we would not feel their desperation. If they fought we did not see it. Although there were times I knew they had been up talking all night, their movements slow with tiredness, but most times we would be too innocent to notice, that whilst we always had chicken on Sunday they were eating toast and tea or worse going without, telling us they’d already had most delicious meal and couldn’t eat another bite. We believed them because we wanted to but partly, because they wanted us to.

The reality was, they struggled and with those around disowning them, their already bad situation became worse with fewer than others to turn to my father started borrowing more and more money until what little work my father found could not cover what he owed. My mother did a few days in shops but she hated leaving us and started blaming my father for the situation they were in. Looking back it was her guilt, which led to her losing faith in my father and into doing something about the situation herself.

Even having half an Asian family meant I seem to have hundreds of aunties and uncles. It was one such uncle that one day during the holidays my mother pleaded with to help us out. She asked that we promised not to tell, not our father, not anyone. We did not really know what we were promising not to do but we agreed anyway she was our mother and she knew her fan base was loyal. It did not matter, she’d got the money we so badly needed and she would just tell our father she’d worked extra. They would be fine. She would pay it back when my father got a real job.

The thing with secret agreements is that because no one knows about them then no one can help you when they unravel, which they invariably do, precisely because they are so covert and someone else always has the power to change the agreement to suit themselves.

In the meantime, my father was so busy looking for a job, he found one. unfortunately, although it would pay him enough money to settle his debts and plus a little more, it meant he would have to leave us for a few months and my parents had never been apart. How would he explain to this her? Better not to tell her. She would talk him out if it and it would be an easy task he did not want to be away from us. And there they were secrets, both. We three in the middle.

When I wanted to be alone, I stayed in the cupboard under the stairs with my nose in my parent's coats, comforted by the scent of them. On one such hiding day, there was a knock at the door and my mother shouted for me or my sister to answer it but we were occupied at our respective games and did not see Uncle come in. He spoke to my mother I could hear her voice, shrill and agitated, so I opened the door enough to decipher the words circling around the kitchen.

I could hear him trying to placate her. But she was having none of it; I can’t get you the money by next Tuesday, you know how it is with us, you told me this was ok with you, no problem, take your time, you said, we’re the same you said, brother and sister, you said, what brother would do this?

I heard his pressure: things are different now, I need the money back, Didi, to get my son a car, you know, what these young ones are like needing to get about, very headstrong, we don’t want him to look bad In front of his goray friends, ha? She softened a little ok yes she said I understand but Tuesday’s too soon I can’t do it then, but as she spoke Uncle was gripping her arm, I narrowed my eyes, this did not look like being friends, he gritted his teeth and repeated more deliberately, you’ll have it here for Tuesday, he said, I was not sure that he should be holding her that way and as she nodded she glanced sideways, I think she knew I was in amongst the coats. I had never seen her look scared of anyone but her face was marked with fear for hours after he left, leaving the door open behind him.

I came out from my hiding place and walked passed her, my head down. I knew she did not want me telling my father and I knew I would not but she still kissed the tacit agreement to my forehead.

Later when my parents were in the kitchen and I could hear they were being sweet to each other it made me relax and forget the horrible Uncle. My mother smiled broadly when she left and went upstairs and my father beckoned me he held me very close and told me he had to go away somewhere but that when he came back it would all be good.

However the next few days were strange my father said things to my mother he had not said before asking her about a man that his friends had seen coming to the house I did not know what he meant but it upset my mother greatly and I wanted to say that it was just Knox Street Uncle, but my mother's face told me I shouldn’t. My mother told her friends that my father was being distant which was odd because he always seemed to be around. Everything they said began to confuse me but I also had every faith it would work out.

One evening I ran into the living room and shouted out to my father asking aloud whether he was still going away he rose to his full height and grabbed me to him and scowled. Do not say anything about that do not talk about that and I did not want you saying anything to your mama you understand me, I looked up and nodded I felt like crying but did not, he knelt down contrite at his reaction bebe it’s just that it’s a surprise we cannot spoil the surprise no? I nodded and he gave me some sweets that tasted of almonds and each bite emptied my mind of his words and my attentions turned to my sister fighting me over the packet whilst my mother cooked some food and things were normal again.

The next day I was playing in the street and Knox Street Uncle turned up. My mother opened the door and I stopped what I was doing and followed him into the house and ducked into my hiding place making sure the door was ajar so I could hear what was being said.

So you have my money? You know I have not I need more time. She shrugged. There is no more time, he grimaced.

What do you expect me to do? She half pleaded.

The Uncle moved very close and put his hand in my mother’s hair just like I did, but I knew he wasn’t playing nicely with it. Well, maybe there are other ways you could write this off or do you save it all for that bhandava of yours? Before he finished his words my mother had slapped him he started shouting words in the language I knew my mother spoke but I had not yet learned well enough and then he put one of his hands on her throat, I could see he was squeezing very hard, my mother put her hands on the work surface behind her to stop herself from falling. Then in English, he called out; You fucking whore, do you think this is funny? Do you know how many desperate people there are? you can’t give it away to your own kind for money but you gave it every night to some kala chutiya for nothing? He began shaking her and would not stop so I ran toward him and put his free hand in my mouth. I bit down on his palm with all my strength so hard that I felt his blood on my tongue. He screamed at my mother; get your little bastard off me, but my jaw was locked around the base of his little finger. When he had let her go, I loosened my grip of my own accord. I saw him bring his hand to his chest. I stood next to my mother. She raised her eyebrows and motioned to the door, he staggered out, defiantly announcing that he would be back for what was his and she had better be ready with the money.

My mother ran to the door and slammed it and I stood there looking at her. I think we need to tell daddy now I said quietly but she tried to reassure me that Uncle had got what he needed and would not be coming back although her eyes said something different, as she looked away and I knew she thought what I had said was true.

That evening, the kitchen door was shut. The three of us crouched on the landing straining to hear what was being said. My father repeated that his friends had seen some man in our house, my mother said that wasn’t it enough that everyone thought they had the right to call her a whore that now her own husband thought she was. My father started crying saying he did not know what to think when suddenly they had all this money but she had not been doing any work because he had asked at the shop. My mother asked did he expect that we should starve, she did what he should have been doing the volume was unbearable. I knew I had the answers and ran into the kitchen to tell him all about Knox Street Uncle, to tell her father was going away to get what we need but not to worry, because of how good it would be when he came back, but my parents both stared at me. My father took my arm and lead me back out and closed the door.

We took ourselves to bed that night, something we had not done before.

Next morning. I noticed my father’s Tiffin was still on the dining table with his flask of tea but my father was not there. My mother had told him everything but he used it as an excuse to leave without telling her. My parents had told me that nothing bad comes from telling the truth, but my mother had told my father the truth and it had made him leave us. It was my fault. I’d told them to tell each other and because of me, he hated us.

My mother helped me make my bed. She asked me why I had not told her what my father had planned. I said he had told me not to say anything. She smiled weakly and held me to her but I could feel her tears in my hair.

My father was gone for over a week and in those days there were no cell phones to rely on and pick out your movements so that loved ones feel secure. Our telephone had been disconnected for months now and then two weeks became four and my mother became desolate she began to look hollow-eyed with lack of sleep she had taken to being on the sofa not wanting the bed without him and wanting to be downstairs when my father came back.

Somehow I knew this was all down to me. My parents had been so happy and I had made my mother tell her secret and now she was the most sad I had ever seen her she did not rest she did not eat and when those four weeks became eight she was a shuffling thin ghost and no longer saw us and then she stopped counting the weeks and now she did not have the strength to fight off Knox Street Uncle when he again returned grasping and touching and saying things he should not because he thought he could.

He poured himself a drink and sat himself sat in my father’s big chair and scoffed; They can’t be trusted Didi you know they are not like us what you need is your own people now, its too late for your children, but you should think about yourself, people talk, you here, no husband. I watched my mother pale, grey and silent. I sat on the floor at her feet watching him stroke that scar I’d given him.

It was then I heard my father’s voice as deep and chocolaty as ever. The three of us squealed in delight. Forgive me please he says out loud. my mother put her head in her hands in disbelief as he came whistling through the house calling out to us; hey, hey my darlings everything is good now and my angel, I have the money for that thieving dog, where are you all my loves he broke off on coming into the living room, eyes boiling over, what are you doing here?

Uncle jumped up; ha-ha we thought you were dead no harm done my brother. My father moved toward my mother and looked at her with a question I knew was only between them. She slipped her hand in his as he turned to the intruder; I am not your brother and this is not your sister. The uncle sneered You think you are better than everyone else? In the end she came to us for help while you did nothing! My father dropped my mother's hand and reached inside his coat and brought out a roll of noted money. He rifled through it counting, then he slowly stepped forward and took Uncle by the wrist; this is yours he growled you take it and go and leave us alone now.

The Uncle put his hands up and smiled his relish; Oh no, your wife took care of that, we are paid in full, I’m sure she’ll tell you, later, ha? You think she didn’t enjoy herself just now before you came in, ask her, she did not complain.’

My father knocked the uncle to the floor and kicked him my mother ran toward us but she need not have bothered we had already scattered.

My father’s howling reproach was too loud for me to hear the words even if I had not already covered my ears. I saw my father bring down something over Uncle’s head, to this day I do not know what. But when the money flew up, some of it was red. I saw my father drag the Uncle along the floor by his jacket and push him out the door and throw the red money after him.

My mother cowered in the corner of the living room tears streaming.

It was quiet and I could take my hands from my ears. He came to find me, he sat outside my cupboard and whispered my name and said hey little one come out for daddy I said it would be good when I came back there is nothing wrong, now he has gone. I stumbled out and fell into his lap he stood up and steadying me I saw blood on his hand, tell me what happened he asked. I looked at him. Bebe its ok he said just tell the truth and in that instant, I remembered what the truth had done I remembered that he had gone away because of the truth. No. not saying anything at all was the best thing I could do.

My ears ached, and my tongue felt like it was swollen from a sting. My father picked me up and carried me upstairs and over his shoulder, I saw my mother say she loved me. Waking up to the sunshine, we all went out together. Each time my father and I were alone, he would ask me what happened, but I never told him. For a few weeks after he still asked. Asked me every day but I did not speak, and when my voice dropped from existence altogether, my father gave up asking. It was not long before my parents gave up talking to each other and although I tried to make them happy with my silent stories, but nothing was ever the same again.”

My story was done. I watched for some sign I had given what was needed. She stood up, she walked over to the window then turned to look at me

“It's a sunny day she said, smiling, get dressed let's go out.”

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Written by DGCoutinho in portal Trident Media Group
tongue tied
When I was small, I lost my voice, do not be mistaken, I could speak, I just could not talk. When asked to describe my day at school, my lunch in the park with my family, my day at the beach? I would tear the pen from your hand and make you feel the depth and breadth of everything I experienced and more but if asked to open my mouth the stories gave way to ear-splitting silence.
Those that loved me encouraged me and like some voiceless minstrel, my wordless stories kept those in my company captive and rapt.
Those that loved me most were my parents. Although the distance between one another had become one of polite chasm; they were unstoppable in their devotion to me and I was infatuated with them. 
It seemed that staying together for the sake of the children never worked so well.
My mother was Indian, a soft-spoken Goan Catholic with amber eyes and hair in inky black waterfalls. I would spend hours with it coiled around my fingers, plucking out grey hairs for fifty pence and her delight. It was not altogether lucrative but certainly enjoyable work because she would laugh as I mouthed a cheer each time I released one holding it up to the window, watching the sunlight turn it silver.
My West African father, was a huge French-speaking bear of a man whose voice was chocolaty even when angry. His skin was the colour of newly hewn coal. As a child, I had always thought his eyes were violet but it’s just that they were so dark brown they became oily, in summer when he was happiest? They glinted like wet slate.
From this unlikely and curious mix of continents, came me.
I was not large or small, I was not wide or thin I was not happy or sad I was neither plain nor beautiful, I vaguely resembled mother and vaguely resembled father.
I was the most middle of children and yet the eldest of three.
My average was so unremarkable that it evolved into a blessing, invisible to almost everyone, I hardly caught the eye. However after I lost the power of speech, I became more interesting. There were those who thought, that I lingered hushed because of new attention, but the truth was I could no sooner speak than pilot an aeroplane; the words having tumbled freely before now backed up in my throat like a car crash.
You must take her to see someone, a doctor, a specialist, my family judged my mother as she held my head to her thigh but my father stood his ground; they will take her from me, we will deal with it our own way.
So my mother bought me ornate pens and notebooks which she strung into my school bag on a long cord so I would not lose them and I ritually presented the filled pages to her in exchange for more books and when the pens ran dry she replaced them, each time wishing I’d ask out loud.
Every night my father divided up the pages of my books with penciled compartments; ‘for your mother’, ‘for your father, ‘for your sister, ‘ for your brother, ‘for your teacher’ and ‘for someone you don’t know’, what he expected my friends to do, I never asked. Maybe, he thought I would now no longer have any.
All the time, while he worked on my little journals, he stared at me, willing me to call to him before returning to his lines concentrating hard with his tongue sticking out like a child engrossed in a puzzle.
He longed for me to misbehave, yet I never rewarded him. Instead, no one ever told me to be quiet, like the others because I was already quiet. No one told me to eat slowly, as I never spoke with my mouth full, I would not be in danger of choking and was viewed as having impeccable table manners.
I sat peacefully in class and not distracted by gossip; I performed well and easily passed exams. Loved by Teachers who commented on my lively accounts, wonderful illustrations and beguiling descriptions.
Soon, years were folded away like unused blankets and the time had come for decisions.
My mother sifted through twelve years of my little scribbling, convinced I should be a writer. My father ever more pragmatic meant for me to be an architect; who needs to speak to build, she has spent years writing. He then gathered up all my notebooks and put them in a box. My mother cried and nodded. While I slipped unheard into university.
My life soundless life crept by. I had changed my major by the end of the first year but as I began writing, my father stopped calling, although he sent long missives which belied how adamant he was at my wasting my time with books. My graduation had been blissfully quiet and I decided to move even further away from my parents for postgraduate study. Term after mute term flew by and I enjoyed tapping away in closed mouthed achievement. No one approached me and I would have been content to continue like that for the rest of my time there.
However, in the middle of my second year among my solitude and cigarettes, I saw a student bent over a real typewriter. The click-clacking made my mouth water the carriage return played over in my head and I began timing my visits to coincide with her. Soon I persuaded her to share her research on reviving long departed languages. She seemed resolutely untroubled by my unspoken existence. We fell in love and although I had not spoken in years, it was only then I truly understood speechlessness.
Her tongue danced behind my teeth and dislodged a million syllables all dusty and scratchy. For the first time since I was a little girl, I spoke. I told her what I wanted for the two of us we spent long nights, making plans, trading pasts and offering futures. We were no different than any other new couple it felt sublime.
Then as suddenly as it was perfect it was flawed. I began to notice that something was missing. First, there were three chapters returned by my supervisor, with scathing criticism, my usual formality in jeopardy and so close to writing up. I showed the comments to my lover these are normal they want you to shine my love, it's fine why not follow their suggestions? she laughed, unperturbed but I was obsessed by their observations and became a brooding seething loudmouth. My tutors commented on a lack of commitment, my phrases were bland and finally my pages blank.
Where I had covered my lover in gratitude, I now blamed her for my verbal paralysis, believing she had made me dull with her love. I sought to break her heart at every turn making it impossible for her to want me and succeeding one autumn, she left me, speaking in tears.
Like children in the playground, her friends would come to me taunting me with their stories of how she was so much better off without me, which, because I agreed, they would then try other tacks, telling me I had fabricated my muteness and unable to sustain the lie I had broken it off between us. They took turns at calling me in the middle of the night saying she had found someone else. I admired her friends’ loyalty but as the months drew on my capacity to listen eroded and blocked out their derision. Then when what small pleasure they received in avenging her dwindled and they, at last, left me alone. One night, perhaps a little drunk, I spoke to my mother in desperation. She tried to comfort me but then could not stop herself from asking, baba, she gave you back your voice and you gave her away? There was a scold behind her question. I lay awake and a familiar lump swelled in my throat as my skin crumpled with longing.


Time does not wait for revelation. Then, realising I had not seen my father for a year, my sister called to tell me he had died. I had never expected him to be someone who would not be there anymore. I had been so self-absorbed that I had missed him slipping away forever. When I arrived home my mother stood in the doorway, having given up cigarettes long ago her hands were idle. She reached to groom and fuss.
At the funeral, my speech rasped and gurgled. My brother frowned his recognition, and my mother rose from her chair and moved steadily toward me to wipe my tears with her thumbs and slowly smooth my hair while I tried to make myself heard.
Later, she stood by the freshly turned earth. Her hands cradled my fathers Tiffin wrapped in the faded bandana he had often worn when decorating or working on one of his bad cars. She handed them to me to place on the coffin. That was when I first felt the familiar swelling lump in my throat. By evening it had become a wedge, straining in my mouth, freezing my jaw shut. I knew what was happening and in a fit of selfishness, I made my escape.

Night passed. I watched myself wash in the mirror my eyes still half closed with swelling redness. I considered visiting the doctor, but I know they would not find anything wrong. Even though the pain inside my ears felt like molten needles and my tongue felt like it had fused to my palate. I returned to the piled up sheets. At least there I could be calm. I may even sleep.
It was the knock at the door startled my self-pity and I shuffled out of my bed and went to answer. She stood arms crossed. Why had she come, when all I had been was hateful?
She told me how she had heard about my father, from my mother who had called her to say I had disappeared from the funeral. she bent her face to my ear and whispered her conditions; I bowed my head like an obedient puppy, she sat down and looked at the ceiling, I took the cue, I went for a shower and kept the door ajar to keep watch on her decision to stay.
As the water heated up, I could hear her sing in what used to be our kitchen and the clink of cutlery and her drumming fingers waiting for the kettle. My mouth loosened, my tongue fell away from my teeth.
I stepped out and sat in a chair opposite keeping my distance as she watched me twitching, crossing and uncrossing my legs, searching for words. At last in a sort of half irritation half compassion, she motioned for me to come to her, she allowed me a place next to her and as if to encourage me she placed her hand over my thigh while sipping her tea and nodded for me to start.
"There is a saying that the children of lovers are orphans. Except we never felt neglected due to our parents love for each other. Even later when the distance between them became agony they never let us suffer for the indifference they felt towards one another. I do remember their love not being accepted this was a time when their marriage was seen as one of those ‘mixed marriages’ so frowned upon, whole communities closed against and families took years to open their homes. I did not know what mixed marriage meant. As a child mixing anything made me think of baking which only sounded good to me and I did not know why adults spoke about it in such hushed tones, but I did know; my grandparents did not see me until I was five, that white people called my parents names; Africans spat at them and crossed the street, Indians called my mother a whore and slapped her in the face. They slapped her in the face even when she was walking me to school my hand curled in hers whilst she was carrying my sister on her hip who would always start to cry although my mother never did she just went about her business meeting the few friends she managed to make. Quickly stubbing her cigarette out by the school gates where she’d meet me every day until a while later, when pregnant with my brother she trusted me to walk my sister home.
I had always seen my parents kiss and they held hands even when my father was driving they seemed so happy which made us happy. But something was coming that haunted those times and strained conversations among the grown-ups; they said work was sparse, everyone around us started losing their jobs, and like the others, my father was not immune.
When soon he too became worthless he knew he had to make some money. He did anything for cash in hand so as we would not feel their desperation. If they fought we did not see it. Although there were times I knew they had been up talking all night, their movements slow with tiredness, but most times we would be too innocent to notice, that whilst we always had chicken on Sunday they were eating toast and tea or worse going without, telling us they’d already had most delicious meal and couldn’t eat another bite. We believed them because we wanted to but partly, because they wanted us to.
The reality was, they struggled and with those around disowning them, their already bad situation became worse with fewer than others to turn to my father started borrowing more and more money until what little work my father found could not cover what he owed. My mother did a few days in shops but she hated leaving us and started blaming my father for the situation they were in. Looking back it was her guilt, which led to her losing faith in my father and into doing something about the situation herself.
Even having half an Asian family meant I seem to have hundreds of aunties and uncles. It was one such uncle that one day during the holidays my mother pleaded with to help us out. She asked that we promised not to tell, not our father, not anyone. We did not really know what we were promising not to do but we agreed anyway she was our mother and she knew her fan base was loyal. It did not matter, she’d got the money we so badly needed and she would just tell our father she’d worked extra. They would be fine. She would pay it back when my father got a real job.
The thing with secret agreements is that because no one knows about them then no one can help you when they unravel, which they invariably do, precisely because they are so covert and someone else always has the power to change the agreement to suit themselves.
In the meantime, my father was so busy looking for a job, he found one. unfortunately, although it would pay him enough money to settle his debts and plus a little more, it meant he would have to leave us for a few months and my parents had never been apart. How would he explain to this her? Better not to tell her. She would talk him out if it and it would be an easy task he did not want to be away from us. And there they were secrets, both. We three in the middle.
When I wanted to be alone, I stayed in the cupboard under the stairs with my nose in my parent's coats, comforted by the scent of them. On one such hiding day, there was a knock at the door and my mother shouted for me or my sister to answer it but we were occupied at our respective games and did not see Uncle come in. He spoke to my mother I could hear her voice, shrill and agitated, so I opened the door enough to decipher the words circling around the kitchen.
I could hear him trying to placate her. But she was having none of it; I can’t get you the money by next Tuesday, you know how it is with us, you told me this was ok with you, no problem, take your time, you said, we’re the same you said, brother and sister, you said, what brother would do this?
I heard his pressure: things are different now, I need the money back, Didi, to get my son a car, you know, what these young ones are like needing to get about, very headstrong, we don’t want him to look bad In front of his goray friends, ha? She softened a little ok yes she said I understand but Tuesday’s too soon I can’t do it then, but as she spoke Uncle was gripping her arm, I narrowed my eyes, this did not look like being friends, he gritted his teeth and repeated more deliberately, you’ll have it here for Tuesday, he said, I was not sure that he should be holding her that way and as she nodded she glanced sideways, I think she knew I was in amongst the coats. I had never seen her look scared of anyone but her face was marked with fear for hours after he left, leaving the door open behind him.
I came out from my hiding place and walked passed her, my head down. I knew she did not want me telling my father and I knew I would not but she still kissed the tacit agreement to my forehead.
Later when my parents were in the kitchen and I could hear they were being sweet to each other it made me relax and forget the horrible Uncle. My mother smiled broadly when she left and went upstairs and my father beckoned me he held me very close and told me he had to go away somewhere but that when he came back it would all be good.
However the next few days were strange my father said things to my mother he had not said before asking her about a man that his friends had seen coming to the house I did not know what he meant but it upset my mother greatly and I wanted to say that it was just Knox Street Uncle, but my mother's face told me I shouldn’t. My mother told her friends that my father was being distant which was odd because he always seemed to be around. Everything they said began to confuse me but I also had every faith it would work out.
One evening I ran into the living room and shouted out to my father asking aloud whether he was still going away he rose to his full height and grabbed me to him and scowled. Do not say anything about that do not talk about that and I did not want you saying anything to your mama you understand me, I looked up and nodded I felt like crying but did not, he knelt down contrite at his reaction bebe it’s just that it’s a surprise we cannot spoil the surprise no? I nodded and he gave me some sweets that tasted of almonds and each bite emptied my mind of his words and my attentions turned to my sister fighting me over the packet whilst my mother cooked some food and things were normal again.
The next day I was playing in the street and Knox Street Uncle turned up. My mother opened the door and I stopped what I was doing and followed him into the house and ducked into my hiding place making sure the door was ajar so I could hear what was being said.
So you have my money? You know I have not I need more time. She shrugged. There is no more time, he grimaced.
What do you expect me to do? She half pleaded.
The Uncle moved very close and put his hand in my mother’s hair just like I did, but I knew he wasn’t playing nicely with it. Well, maybe there are other ways you could write this off or do you save it all for that bhandava of yours? Before he finished his words my mother had slapped him he started shouting words in the language I knew my mother spoke but I had not yet learned well enough and then he put one of his hands on her throat, I could see he was squeezing very hard, my mother put her hands on the work surface behind her to stop herself from falling. Then in English, he called out; You fucking whore, do you think this is funny? Do you know how many desperate people there are? you can’t give it away to your own kind for money but you gave it every night to some kala chutiya for nothing? He began shaking her and would not stop so I ran toward him and put his free hand in my mouth. I bit down on his palm with all my strength so hard that I felt his blood on my tongue. He screamed at my mother; get your little bastard off me, but my jaw was locked around the base of his little finger. When he had let her go, I loosened my grip of my own accord. I saw him bring his hand to his chest. I stood next to my mother. She raised her eyebrows and motioned to the door, he staggered out, defiantly announcing that he would be back for what was his and she had better be ready with the money.
My mother ran to the door and slammed it and I stood there looking at her. I think we need to tell daddy now I said quietly but she tried to reassure me that Uncle had got what he needed and would not be coming back although her eyes said something different, as she looked away and I knew she thought what I had said was true.
That evening, the kitchen door was shut. The three of us crouched on the landing straining to hear what was being said. My father repeated that his friends had seen some man in our house, my mother said that wasn’t it enough that everyone thought they had the right to call her a whore that now her own husband thought she was. My father started crying saying he did not know what to think when suddenly they had all this money but she had not been doing any work because he had asked at the shop. My mother asked did he expect that we should starve, she did what he should have been doing the volume was unbearable. I knew I had the answers and ran into the kitchen to tell him all about Knox Street Uncle, to tell her father was going away to get what we need but not to worry, because of how good it would be when he came back, but my parents both stared at me. My father took my arm and lead me back out and closed the door.
We took ourselves to bed that night, something we had not done before.
Next morning. I noticed my father’s Tiffin was still on the dining table with his flask of tea but my father was not there. My mother had told him everything but he used it as an excuse to leave without telling her. My parents had told me that nothing bad comes from telling the truth, but my mother had told my father the truth and it had made him leave us. It was my fault. I’d told them to tell each other and because of me, he hated us.
My mother helped me make my bed. She asked me why I had not told her what my father had planned. I said he had told me not to say anything. She smiled weakly and held me to her but I could feel her tears in my hair.
My father was gone for over a week and in those days there were no cell phones to rely on and pick out your movements so that loved ones feel secure. Our telephone had been disconnected for months now and then two weeks became four and my mother became desolate she began to look hollow-eyed with lack of sleep she had taken to being on the sofa not wanting the bed without him and wanting to be downstairs when my father came back.
Somehow I knew this was all down to me. My parents had been so happy and I had made my mother tell her secret and now she was the most sad I had ever seen her she did not rest she did not eat and when those four weeks became eight she was a shuffling thin ghost and no longer saw us and then she stopped counting the weeks and now she did not have the strength to fight off Knox Street Uncle when he again returned grasping and touching and saying things he should not because he thought he could.


He poured himself a drink and sat himself sat in my father’s big chair and scoffed; They can’t be trusted Didi you know they are not like us what you need is your own people now, its too late for your children, but you should think about yourself, people talk, you here, no husband. I watched my mother pale, grey and silent. I sat on the floor at her feet watching him stroke that scar I’d given him.
It was then I heard my father’s voice as deep and chocolaty as ever. The three of us squealed in delight. Forgive me please he says out loud. my mother put her head in her hands in disbelief as he came whistling through the house calling out to us; hey, hey my darlings everything is good now and my angel, I have the money for that thieving dog, where are you all my loves he broke off on coming into the living room, eyes boiling over, what are you doing here?
Uncle jumped up; ha-ha we thought you were dead no harm done my brother. My father moved toward my mother and looked at her with a question I knew was only between them. She slipped her hand in his as he turned to the intruder; I am not your brother and this is not your sister. The uncle sneered You think you are better than everyone else? In the end she came to us for help while you did nothing! My father dropped my mother's hand and reached inside his coat and brought out a roll of noted money. He rifled through it counting, then he slowly stepped forward and took Uncle by the wrist; this is yours he growled you take it and go and leave us alone now.
The Uncle put his hands up and smiled his relish; Oh no, your wife took care of that, we are paid in full, I’m sure she’ll tell you, later, ha? You think she didn’t enjoy herself just now before you came in, ask her, she did not complain.’
My father knocked the uncle to the floor and kicked him my mother ran toward us but she need not have bothered we had already scattered.
My father’s howling reproach was too loud for me to hear the words even if I had not already covered my ears. I saw my father bring down something over Uncle’s head, to this day I do not know what. But when the money flew up, some of it was red. I saw my father drag the Uncle along the floor by his jacket and push him out the door and throw the red money after him.
My mother cowered in the corner of the living room tears streaming.
It was quiet and I could take my hands from my ears. He came to find me, he sat outside my cupboard and whispered my name and said hey little one come out for daddy I said it would be good when I came back there is nothing wrong, now he has gone. I stumbled out and fell into his lap he stood up and steadying me I saw blood on his hand, tell me what happened he asked. I looked at him. Bebe its ok he said just tell the truth and in that instant, I remembered what the truth had done I remembered that he had gone away because of the truth. No. not saying anything at all was the best thing I could do.
My ears ached, and my tongue felt like it was swollen from a sting. My father picked me up and carried me upstairs and over his shoulder, I saw my mother say she loved me. Waking up to the sunshine, we all went out together. Each time my father and I were alone, he would ask me what happened, but I never told him. For a few weeks after he still asked. Asked me every day but I did not speak, and when my voice dropped from existence altogether, my father gave up asking. It was not long before my parents gave up talking to each other and although I tried to make them happy with my silent stories, but nothing was ever the same again.”
My story was done. I watched for some sign I had given what was needed. She stood up, she walked over to the window then turned to look at me
“It's a sunny day she said, smiling, get dressed let's go out.”
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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 StephenLHughes in portal Trident Media Group

Excerpt from "Mr. Smokey and the New Nation" The First Novel in a series to prepare children for a coming Global War

The Assault on Hissington and the Forces of Prince Benjamin Coliescaputin of East Tirkmenia. Excerpt from Chapter 11: "The Offensive"

The Aceman, General Oscar, and the animal army were approaching the backside of Hissington when they heard distant gun shots. Very distant gun shots.

“Seems like we have that one part down. Should we let the elephants proceed?” said the Aceman.

“Yes. Please, my pachyderm friends, tear down this back wall so we can destroy the town of Hissington,” said General Oscar.

The elephants did as they were bid and immediately began to throw themselves against the wood wall which quickly shuddered under their weight. The splinters of wood flew through the digging site as the excavators, scientists, and snakes began to run for the camouflaged veil.

The animal army screamed as one and shook the unlit torches they had made before arriving to Hissington. Each ostrich soldier had a spear while the others had their claws, teeth, and weight to fight the snakes.

The Aceman quickly took point and lead the animal army to the veil where they quickly ran through it causing several more rips. One elephant lead the advance while one had remained in the back. When the elephant in the back came through, the veil was torn from the sky and fell to dust on the ground. The veil had fallen exposing Hissington for all of its truth and soon the animal army spread.

Snakes had stayed behind and formed a defensive line against the animal army but they were soon crushed, trampled, or cut in half by the spears of the ostriches. Several snakes slithered away in retreat towards the plantation house. General Oscar gave the next order.

“Steady now and stand back. Aceman, go and get it,” said General Oscar.

“Aye, General,” said the Aceman with a grin.

The Aceman had taken out his rifle now and was advancing towards the plantation house. Luckily for him, no snakes were outside the house. He ran towards the house when a bullet came from a window on the top floor.

He spotted that it was one of the excavators with a pistol trying to hit the Aceman, but his accuracy was poor. The Aceman’s wasn’t and his round  went straight through the head of the excavator causing him to fall forward through the window. The East Tirkmenian landed on the earth, making it resound as a struck bass drum.The Aceman quickly made it to the courtyard and had no further confrontations from the East Tirkmenians of the snakes of Hissington.

He quickly lit his torch from the urns by the bronze serpent causing it to blaze in reflected glory for a mere second before dissipating into a lesser shine. The Aceman ran back to the army and began to light the torches of the animals.

“It is amazing to burn our enemy with his own fire that stands to glorify him. His fire shall soon deconstruct his efforts at returning. Burn Hissington to the ground! Take prisoners if they surrender, otherwise for the win. Let us go and conquer, my brethren!” yelled General Oscar.

“Do not go to the Plantation house, yet. Make your way to the front of the town and we will then work our way up the asphalt road,” said the Aceman

The animal army advanced with a heavy pace to the front gate. They were advancing on the back side of the chicken coop-like houses and not on the road to the front of the town. They soon were at the destroyed front entrance from the rescue attempt of Mr. Smokey and Sally the miniature giraffe. Only a few snakes were at the entrance in defensive stances but were briskly killed.The gate, still lying in shambles from the rescue the day before, was set aflame and so was the front wall and the small army started to march up the asphalt road.

Every house was set on fire. The chicken coop-like structures which served as the living quarters of the serpent forces were licked up with yellow and orange flame like the tongues the snakes used to smell which animals were advancing towards them.

“Tear down those lampposts! Tear up the asphalt road! Tear it all to shambles!” said General Oscar.

The Aceman stood back and watched the small animal army advance and merely waited until he was needed.The elephants were stomping on the road while deer, dogs, horses, and other quadrupeds attached ropes to the lampposts; thus, tearing them down. The ostriches were picking at the fragments of road with their spears and were flinging the broken bits of asphalt into the air. The flames and sun glistened on the tiny reflective bits in the road as they flew through the air and landed on the grass around the burning chicken coops.

Suddenly, gunfire erupted and the Aceman ran towards the nearest house that was not on fire and took cover. 

There were five men. One with a pistol, two with shot guns, one with a knife, and another with an automatic weapon.The Aceman took out his handgun and checked to make sure it was loaded. He opened and closed his hand, attracting the attention of seven ostrich soldiers who were alerted to the presence as was the rest of the army.

They ran towards the Aceman out in the open.

“No, not in the open! Take cover!!”

The East Tirkmenian with the automatic weapon hit two ostriches, mortally wounding them. The other five had made it to the Aceman.

“What do we do human, human,” said one of the big birds.

“On the count of three, I want you to throw your spears at those five men. My bet is you most likely will not hit them – if you do good – but I bet it scares them. Giving me enough time to drop ‘um. You hear me, right? No, wait, I promised Smokey. Just wait until I count. I am going to talk to them first,” said the Aceman.

“East Tirkmenians, this is the Aceman. I ask that you surrender or we will open fire. We do not wish to kill you,” said the Aceman.

He was answered by more gunfire and cursing from the men.

“Yes. Well. I tried. On the count of three. One. Two. Three.”

The spears flew into the air and as the Aceman had hoped scared the guards and impaled one of the men.The Aceman swung from behind his cover from the house and shot the remaining four before they had a chance to react.Their bodies landed on the broken asphalt road, several animals dragging them to a pile of snakes that was burning.

“Wait! Bring those bodies with us. Advance!” shouted the Aceman.

The animal army continued to advance up the street eventually destroying all of Hissington until all that was left was the Plantation House. The Aceman had the bodies of the five men brought up and laid in the courtyard by the bronze serpent.

He then went to the front door and knocked on it one time and commanded in a deep voice, “Surrender! Or suffer the fate as these men and your town. You will burn to death and nothing will be left of Hissington.”

“We will not,” said a prompt voice, “We will fight. All the snakes in Hissington are here ready to fight you. We will burns you.” With that said, a glass bottle hurtled down from one of the windows and busted over a dog. Several animals began to pat him but put out the flames. Other animals took the dog away to be with the other wounded. 

“Molotov cocktails…” said the Aceman.

“No negotiations! Burn it down. They were idiots to hole up in there. Burn it and kill any that leave through windows or doors,” said General Oscar.

“Wait!” said the Aceman to the army, “General, we can’t just burn it down. We have to see if the King Cobra is in there. He may have some answers for us. If we can catch him alive, it would be a treat for all of us and we will find out why the East Tirkmenians are on this island.”

“Why didn’t you suggest that before! We have no way to take the King Cobra alive. Why it’s suicide for most of us if he is in there. Let’s burn it down and we will never have to worry about it. The problem will be gone,” said the ostrich General.

“No, now I’m telling you we are going in. There’s a cellar in this place so I imagine there’s a door on the side of the house that leads down to it. Take a group with you down there and work your way up. I will take the rest through the front door and search every room. If he is not here, then we will burn down the house,” said the Aceman.

“I’ve already lost enough animals today. How many more for that stupid cat of yours!”

“Now listen here. We are fighting for this island as well. Smokey is definitely not stupid. Don't let your jealously of his reveal to humanity as the world's first talking animal hurt your judgement.  We are trying to get off of this island and save your sorry excuse of a resistance in the meantime. You should be damned grateful I showed up.  I’m surprised you never gave in to them and surrendered outright in the beginning,” said the Aceman.

“How dare you! I am fully competent and…” SMACK! The Aceman slapped General Oscar across his beak and the ostrich bowed his head and agreed to the Aceman’s plan.

General Oscar’s group went down to the cellar while the Aceman and the remaining army went through the front door. They were met with heavy resistance.

The Aceman ordered that the torches be thrown in the main throne room so the hands of animals would be free to fight the snakes. Several animals were bitten and fell from the venom of the snakes. Some snakes had wrapped themselves around the legs of animals like they had Mr. Smokey and began to pull until they fell. The Aceman used his machete to cut the snakes from the animals’ legs.

There were three floors and the first was cleared very quickly.The army rushed up the stairs and encountered heavier resistance but they were stronger and more willing to fight and they did. Snakes cleaved in half by the spear, the machete, the claw, were thrashing about like a turned on garden hose left on the ground to its own devices.

The torches on the first floor had spread and the rising heat was making everyone sweat.

The Aceman called for a rush to the third floor after quickly clearing the second floor.

The third floor and similar resistance to the second floor except there were several people in one room who were unarmed.

One man jumped up and threw a punch at the Aceman. The Aceman grabbed the man’s right hand and twisted it, breaking his arm. Another man had a chair and came charging towards the Aceman, screaming. The Aceman quickly disabled that man. Another tried to kick. Another punch. A slap. A rope around the neck which was used to choke an East Tirkmenian’s neck. The men fought, a wardrobe knocked over from the fighting. The Aceman stood over the men who lay about the room.

“Please, just surrender and come with us. You don’t have to die,” said the Aceman.

“We are already dead. Just look at the label,” said one man who was sitting in a rocking chair, rubbing his elbow. He stopped rubbing his elbow and pointed to a pill bottle lying on the single bed in the room. The home made quilt bore on it a small orange bottle that was labeled with a skull and crossbones. 

“The house is burning though. Please, don’t burn to death. At least die peacefully out in the cool air. There is no reason for this sort of agony,” said the Aceman.

“We deserve to burn. Everyone who accepts the Prince and the Shatterers deserves to burn forever,” said the devote East Tirkmenian, one of the scientists from the excavation site.

“Don’t. Come on let’s go!” said the Aceman.

“You do not understand yet. It is fine. Help yourself. We must stay,” said a woman.

The Aceman, without any further argument, left the room and had found out that the floor was cleared and most of the animals had already gone outside. The animals with him ran down the stairs with him and had to duck under the flames which had engulfed the entire first floor. The vases, pictures, and tapestries melted into the old wood leaving only shadows. It was breath taking to the Aceman. He grinned at the flames.

The Aceman found all of the army outside and General Oscar who had ash over his feathery coat. Some animals still had torches and merely stood looking at the first floor burn through the windows and open door the Aceman had stepped through.

“Throw in the rest of the torches. Into the windows on the second and third floors, onto the roof. Wherever. Just get it done quickly. Hurry, hurry, hurry!!” said the Aceman, scratching the back of his head and stretching his neck.

The rest of the torches were thrown into the plantation house and the fire spread. The windows cracked and the housed creaked and groaned from the feverish fire eating up every ounce of paint, furniture, and structure. The porch frowned as it sides bowed to the excessive degradation of the eroding wood.The sky above turned red. The hell termites from the Bronze serpent’s urns spread rapidly and did their work over the plantation house. No screams were heard except for the house’s own.

Soon the skeletal remains of the house collapsed as the frail debris was sucked up by the  flames sending its black grey smoke to the air where  Hissington would be converted to new life.

“Hissington is gone for good! Hissington is gone for good! Hurray!” shouted the animal army as they continued to watch their independence day.

The Aceman stood and watched as he lit a cigarette with the remains of greatest structure in the town of snakes. Hissington was no more and soon Mr. Smokey would be on a radio in the Prince's fortress named the Napoleon calling in for help.

The Bronze serpent, however, still eyed the animal army and was left unharmed and seemed to be laughing. It glowed a fierce metal hot red.

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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 StephenLHughes in portal Trident Media Group
Excerpt from "Mr. Smokey and the New Nation" The First Novel in a series to prepare children for a coming Global War

The Assault on Hissington and the Forces of Prince Benjamin Coliescaputin of East Tirkmenia. Excerpt from Chapter 11: "The Offensive"


The Aceman, General Oscar, and the animal army were approaching the backside of Hissington when they heard distant gun shots. Very distant gun shots.

“Seems like we have that one part down. Should we let the elephants proceed?” said the Aceman.

“Yes. Please, my pachyderm friends, tear down this back wall so we can destroy the town of Hissington,” said General Oscar.

The elephants did as they were bid and immediately began to throw themselves against the wood wall which quickly shuddered under their weight. The splinters of wood flew through the digging site as the excavators, scientists, and snakes began to run for the camouflaged veil.

The animal army screamed as one and shook the unlit torches they had made before arriving to Hissington. Each ostrich soldier had a spear while the others had their claws, teeth, and weight to fight the snakes.

The Aceman quickly took point and lead the animal army to the veil where they quickly ran through it causing several more rips. One elephant lead the advance while one had remained in the back. When the elephant in the back came through, the veil was torn from the sky and fell to dust on the ground. The veil had fallen exposing Hissington for all of its truth and soon the animal army spread.

Snakes had stayed behind and formed a defensive line against the animal army but they were soon crushed, trampled, or cut in half by the spears of the ostriches. Several snakes slithered away in retreat towards the plantation house. General Oscar gave the next order.

“Steady now and stand back. Aceman, go and get it,” said General Oscar.

“Aye, General,” said the Aceman with a grin.

The Aceman had taken out his rifle now and was advancing towards the plantation house. Luckily for him, no snakes were outside the house. He ran towards the house when a bullet came from a window on the top floor.

He spotted that it was one of the excavators with a pistol trying to hit the Aceman, but his accuracy was poor. The Aceman’s wasn’t and his round  went straight through the head of the excavator causing him to fall forward through the window. The East Tirkmenian landed on the earth, making it resound as a struck bass drum.The Aceman quickly made it to the courtyard and had no further confrontations from the East Tirkmenians of the snakes of Hissington.

He quickly lit his torch from the urns by the bronze serpent causing it to blaze in reflected glory for a mere second before dissipating into a lesser shine. The Aceman ran back to the army and began to light the torches of the animals.

“It is amazing to burn our enemy with his own fire that stands to glorify him. His fire shall soon deconstruct his efforts at returning. Burn Hissington to the ground! Take prisoners if they surrender, otherwise for the win. Let us go and conquer, my brethren!” yelled General Oscar.

“Do not go to the Plantation house, yet. Make your way to the front of the town and we will then work our way up the asphalt road,” said the Aceman

The animal army advanced with a heavy pace to the front gate. They were advancing on the back side of the chicken coop-like houses and not on the road to the front of the town. They soon were at the destroyed front entrance from the rescue attempt of Mr. Smokey and Sally the miniature giraffe. Only a few snakes were at the entrance in defensive stances but were briskly killed.The gate, still lying in shambles from the rescue the day before, was set aflame and so was the front wall and the small army started to march up the asphalt road.

Every house was set on fire. The chicken coop-like structures which served as the living quarters of the serpent forces were licked up with yellow and orange flame like the tongues the snakes used to smell which animals were advancing towards them.

“Tear down those lampposts! Tear up the asphalt road! Tear it all to shambles!” said General Oscar.

The Aceman stood back and watched the small animal army advance and merely waited until he was needed.The elephants were stomping on the road while deer, dogs, horses, and other quadrupeds attached ropes to the lampposts; thus, tearing them down. The ostriches were picking at the fragments of road with their spears and were flinging the broken bits of asphalt into the air. The flames and sun glistened on the tiny reflective bits in the road as they flew through the air and landed on the grass around the burning chicken coops.

Suddenly, gunfire erupted and the Aceman ran towards the nearest house that was not on fire and took cover. 

There were five men. One with a pistol, two with shot guns, one with a knife, and another with an automatic weapon.The Aceman took out his handgun and checked to make sure it was loaded. He opened and closed his hand, attracting the attention of seven ostrich soldiers who were alerted to the presence as was the rest of the army.
They ran towards the Aceman out in the open.

“No, not in the open! Take cover!!”
The East Tirkmenian with the automatic weapon hit two ostriches, mortally wounding them. The other five had made it to the Aceman.

“What do we do human, human,” said one of the big birds.
“On the count of three, I want you to throw your spears at those five men. My bet is you most likely will not hit them – if you do good – but I bet it scares them. Giving me enough time to drop ‘um. You hear me, right? No, wait, I promised Smokey. Just wait until I count. I am going to talk to them first,” said the Aceman.

“East Tirkmenians, this is the Aceman. I ask that you surrender or we will open fire. We do not wish to kill you,” said the Aceman.

He was answered by more gunfire and cursing from the men.

“Yes. Well. I tried. On the count of three. One. Two. Three.”

The spears flew into the air and as the Aceman had hoped scared the guards and impaled one of the men.The Aceman swung from behind his cover from the house and shot the remaining four before they had a chance to react.Their bodies landed on the broken asphalt road, several animals dragging them to a pile of snakes that was burning.

“Wait! Bring those bodies with us. Advance!” shouted the Aceman.

The animal army continued to advance up the street eventually destroying all of Hissington until all that was left was the Plantation House. The Aceman had the bodies of the five men brought up and laid in the courtyard by the bronze serpent.

He then went to the front door and knocked on it one time and commanded in a deep voice, “Surrender! Or suffer the fate as these men and your town. You will burn to death and nothing will be left of Hissington.”

“We will not,” said a prompt voice, “We will fight. All the snakes in Hissington are here ready to fight you. We will burns you.” With that said, a glass bottle hurtled down from one of the windows and busted over a dog. Several animals began to pat him but put out the flames. Other animals took the dog away to be with the other wounded. 

“Molotov cocktails…” said the Aceman.

“No negotiations! Burn it down. They were idiots to hole up in there. Burn it and kill any that leave through windows or doors,” said General Oscar.

“Wait!” said the Aceman to the army, “General, we can’t just burn it down. We have to see if the King Cobra is in there. He may have some answers for us. If we can catch him alive, it would be a treat for all of us and we will find out why the East Tirkmenians are on this island.”

“Why didn’t you suggest that before! We have no way to take the King Cobra alive. Why it’s suicide for most of us if he is in there. Let’s burn it down and we will never have to worry about it. The problem will be gone,” said the ostrich General.

“No, now I’m telling you we are going in. There’s a cellar in this place so I imagine there’s a door on the side of the house that leads down to it. Take a group with you down there and work your way up. I will take the rest through the front door and search every room. If he is not here, then we will burn down the house,” said the Aceman.

“I’ve already lost enough animals today. How many more for that stupid cat of yours!”

“Now listen here. We are fighting for this island as well. Smokey is definitely not stupid. Don't let your jealously of his reveal to humanity as the world's first talking animal hurt your judgement.  We are trying to get off of this island and save your sorry excuse of a resistance in the meantime. You should be damned grateful I showed up.  I’m surprised you never gave in to them and surrendered outright in the beginning,” said the Aceman.

“How dare you! I am fully competent and…” SMACK! The Aceman slapped General Oscar across his beak and the ostrich bowed his head and agreed to the Aceman’s plan.
General Oscar’s group went down to the cellar while the Aceman and the remaining army went through the front door. They were met with heavy resistance.

The Aceman ordered that the torches be thrown in the main throne room so the hands of animals would be free to fight the snakes. Several animals were bitten and fell from the venom of the snakes. Some snakes had wrapped themselves around the legs of animals like they had Mr. Smokey and began to pull until they fell. The Aceman used his machete to cut the snakes from the animals’ legs.

There were three floors and the first was cleared very quickly.The army rushed up the stairs and encountered heavier resistance but they were stronger and more willing to fight and they did. Snakes cleaved in half by the spear, the machete, the claw, were thrashing about like a turned on garden hose left on the ground to its own devices.

The torches on the first floor had spread and the rising heat was making everyone sweat.
The Aceman called for a rush to the third floor after quickly clearing the second floor.
The third floor and similar resistance to the second floor except there were several people in one room who were unarmed.

One man jumped up and threw a punch at the Aceman. The Aceman grabbed the man’s right hand and twisted it, breaking his arm. Another man had a chair and came charging towards the Aceman, screaming. The Aceman quickly disabled that man. Another tried to kick. Another punch. A slap. A rope around the neck which was used to choke an East Tirkmenian’s neck. The men fought, a wardrobe knocked over from the fighting. The Aceman stood over the men who lay about the room.

“Please, just surrender and come with us. You don’t have to die,” said the Aceman.

“We are already dead. Just look at the label,” said one man who was sitting in a rocking chair, rubbing his elbow. He stopped rubbing his elbow and pointed to a pill bottle lying on the single bed in the room. The home made quilt bore on it a small orange bottle that was labeled with a skull and crossbones. 

“The house is burning though. Please, don’t burn to death. At least die peacefully out in the cool air. There is no reason for this sort of agony,” said the Aceman.

“We deserve to burn. Everyone who accepts the Prince and the Shatterers deserves to burn forever,” said the devote East Tirkmenian, one of the scientists from the excavation site.

“Don’t. Come on let’s go!” said the Aceman.

“You do not understand yet. It is fine. Help yourself. We must stay,” said a woman.

The Aceman, without any further argument, left the room and had found out that the floor was cleared and most of the animals had already gone outside. The animals with him ran down the stairs with him and had to duck under the flames which had engulfed the entire first floor. The vases, pictures, and tapestries melted into the old wood leaving only shadows. It was breath taking to the Aceman. He grinned at the flames.

The Aceman found all of the army outside and General Oscar who had ash over his feathery coat. Some animals still had torches and merely stood looking at the first floor burn through the windows and open door the Aceman had stepped through.

“Throw in the rest of the torches. Into the windows on the second and third floors, onto the roof. Wherever. Just get it done quickly. Hurry, hurry, hurry!!” said the Aceman, scratching the back of his head and stretching his neck.

The rest of the torches were thrown into the plantation house and the fire spread. The windows cracked and the housed creaked and groaned from the feverish fire eating up every ounce of paint, furniture, and structure. The porch frowned as it sides bowed to the excessive degradation of the eroding wood.The sky above turned red. The hell termites from the Bronze serpent’s urns spread rapidly and did their work over the plantation house. No screams were heard except for the house’s own.

Soon the skeletal remains of the house collapsed as the frail debris was sucked up by the  flames sending its black grey smoke to the air where  Hissington would be converted to new life.

“Hissington is gone for good! Hissington is gone for good! Hurray!” shouted the animal army as they continued to watch their independence day.

The Aceman stood and watched as he lit a cigarette with the remains of greatest structure in the town of snakes. Hissington was no more and soon Mr. Smokey would be on a radio in the Prince's fortress named the Napoleon calling in for help.

The Bronze serpent, however, still eyed the animal army and was left unharmed and seemed to be laughing. It glowed a fierce metal hot red.













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Written by BiteBack in portal Trident Media Group

The Switch - Excerpt

Anais flicked the stovetop on with the kettle over it, leaning against the counter and listening to what was as close to complete silence as one might find in a city of nine million inhabitants. She could hear the clock ticking, the water roiling uncomfortably above the blue flames, the hum of her own breathing. She closed her eyes and she felt herself relax, her body releasing a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding all day.

“Hello, darling Anais. All grown up.”

Anais knew the voice before she saw the man it belonged to. She knew the voice even though she couldn’t remember anything he’d said the last time they’d met. It was a nice voice, an unplaceable accent hiding beneath certain syllables and a droll drawl that slung the words together.

He stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room. He wore a dark suit and those same dark shoes, with a thin black tie slicing him into perfect monochrome symmetry. Even his hair and his eyes were dark. He stood with his hands in his pocket and a slouched back, but not the kind that betrayed insecurity. His posture was casual in a way that told Anais that he was right where he was meant to be in that moment, and that she had no right to question him.

“You haven’t aged,” Anais remarked. It was true, and it was the first thing she thought upon seeing him. She would have placed him somewhere in his early to mid thirties, which was exactly where she would have placed him sixteen years ago.

“Mm. Aging, that was a bad habit. The trick is to nip it in the bud.” He flicked a finger towards the kettle. “Enough in there for me, I hope?”

“Should be. How’d you get in here?” Anais didn’t move as he entered the kitchen and located the tea selection without searching or scrounging; he moved as if he spent more time in this flat than Anais did.

She heard him tut to himself as he unwrapped a tea bag and dropped it into a seamlessly located mug. He turned to face her again, a distant cousin of disdain written across his features. “Honestly, of all the questions you could ask? I expected more of you, Anais.”

Anais crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing at the man. Perhaps he was on the run, just like everyone else. He probably wanted her to send him somewhere with her willful wishes.

“Are you running from the Angels?” She was almost nervous to ask the question, afraid she’d say it the wrong way or incite anger in the man. Maybe even summon the Angels, whoever they were.

He snorted. “No. They’re a dreadful lot, yes, but they know better than to go after me.” He leaned in, pushing his voice down to a stage whisper. “I’m too much fun for them to get rid of.” He topped the statement off with a sly wink.

There were too many questions, and each of them seemed to branch off in a different direction. Anais wanted to ask them all at once, inquiries falling to the floor and shattering into answers upon landing. He obviously knew about whatever side of reality it was that Anais occasionally brushed with. But it was him she was dealing with now, so it seemed best that she find out more about the strange man joining her for an impromptu tea time.

“Who are you?”

“You can call me Mr. Whimley. Fox, if the two of us get really close.” Another wink. He still spoke and stood with complete confidence, but he pulled the name out of the air just a breath too slowly. Anais didn’t think he had come up with it on the spot. Instead, it sounded as if he had scraps of paper tucked into his jacket pockets, ones with pseudonyms scrawled upon them that he chose from at random. Maybe Fox Whimley was a name he’d used before, and his memory hadn’t been as sharp as he’d hoped. Perhaps Fox Whimley was a name he’d been saving for Anais. It flew from his tongue with a flourish, his accent writing it in gaudy calligraphy in the air.

“You remember me, then?” he asked, beaming when Anais dipped in chin in affirmation. “Glad to hear it. I do love to make an impression.”

“You’ve been following me,” Anais said suddenly. The shock of his presence had faded ever so slightly, and past occurrences were demanding to be brought up.

“Ooh, good eye,” Whimley sing-songed, nodding his head appreciatively as he silenced the building whistle of the tea kettle. He poured the water into his mug and reopened the cabinet. “Any preference on mugs? And what kind of tea would you like?”

“I’ll get it myself, thanks,” Anais replied, biting out her false gratitude. He seemed unperturbed by her snapped reply, and simply backed away from the counter, moving to the other side of the kitchen and pulling a spoon out of the drawer.

“Have you been in my flat before?” Anais asked as she watched the water pass through her tea bag. “You seem to know your way around exceptionally well.”

“Perhaps not as good an eye as I’d hoped,” he murmured. Anais cast sideways glances around the flat, wondering if there was any indication of his presence there on days previous. She didn’t know what she should have looked for. It wasn’t as if there were footprints tracking their way through the kitchen or wayward ties dangling from window sills.

“But, yes, I have been keeping my eye on you for a bit,” he said, taking an experimental sip of his tea. “Ever since I met you, really. Do you remember that, when we met? Do you remember what I said to you?” He was speaking with sudden seriousness, as if the matter at hand had become the single most pressing issue the world had to offer. He waited, staring at Anais with a look of profound concern, as if a faulty memory might spell a doomed future for her.

Anais shook her head, hoping it would perhaps unearth those words he’d said to her, to no avail.

“Pity,” he breathed over the lip of his teacup, blowing at the trails of steam. His eyes emptied for a moment, as if he was watching a golden opportunity be swept into an unfathomable wind. Anais didn’t bother asking him if he’d tell her his words; he considered them lost, and so they must have been.

“What were you doing with my father all those years ago?” Anais said. A part of her wondered if her parents were in danger somehow.

“I was doing almost exactly what I told him I was doing,” he replied, snapping back to the present. “Him and I, we were making deals. I needed money, and his company had money. It was nothing underhanded, really. Admittedly, the money was going directly to me, not to another corporation as I’d told him. And I suppose I wasn’t entirely honest about what the money would be spent on after that. But, those things aside, it was all fair play.”

“My parents can’t remember any details of that night. They don’t know your name or anything you said. My dad can’t even remember what deals he made with you.”

“You’ve been asking around about me? I’m flattered.” He lay a hand to his chest to support the statement. “Yes, I can see why it’d all be a bit hazy in their minds. Ignorance is bliss, you know.”

Anais could allow his words from twelve years ago to slip away, but she didn’t like the crypticism surrounding her parents. “What deals did you make, and how did you make them forget afterwards?”

He breathed out a puff of laughter. “It’s alright, I didn’t harm them in any way. The deals I made were solely concerning money. They were unwise on your father’s part, yes, but you got over that little financial blip, didn’t you?” Anais tried to remember any economic discussions after Whimley’s meeting, but she would have been too young at the time to comprehend budgeting. She couldn’t even recall if things had seemed scarcer afterwards. “As for your parents’ memory problems, that’s just a trick of mine I’ve picked up. Like the aging thing.” He waggled his fingers, as if the ability to revoke entire lifetimes sat just below his fingernails. He stopped, pointing one directly at Anais. “And as I understand it, you’ve picked up a fairly handy trick of your own, haven’t you?”

“So they tell me,” Anais said. She thought this made it sound as if she was more knowledgeable on her ability than she truly was.

“Do they really? Who was the one to spill the beans on it?” He leaned against the counter behind him, crossing one leg over the other and balancing his foot on the toe of his shoe. They were the same kind of shoes he’d been wearing when Anais had first met him. Not so much as a speck of dust on them.

Anais shrugged. “I didn’t get her name. Some woman on the tube, about a year ago.”

“Blonde hair? Irregular gaps between her teeth?” he shot back, prompting her with two entirely unfamiliar characteristics when paired together.

“Brown hair, well-dressed, and no irregularities concerning her teeth, from what I could tell,” Anais said. She didn’t know much about what was going on with this strange man, but she did know she was out of her depth, and that was how he wanted it. She figured the best way to convince him that she wasn’t confused was to pretend she had heard everything he’d ever said before.

“Hm. I’m sure if you had a picture I’d be able to place her right away. No matter.” He gathered the mug up from where it sat on the counter and pointed in the direction of the sitting room. “Fancy a seat? Negotiations get so tedious, no need to stand all the while.”

“What are we going to be negotiating? And I hope you’re not expecting to take my memories after we talk.” Anais didn’t know what threat she was making if his plans said otherwise, so she imagined that there was a small yet efficient knife in her back pocket. If she could fool herself, she could fool him.

“We’ll be discussing your peculiar and particular gift, and how to best make use of it. And don’t worry.” He slipped his right hand into his pocket. “I wouldn’t dream of tampering with that head of yours.”

All of his smiles and winks were props, the hammers he was using to beat his point into place. Were Anais going solely off his voice, she would have believed every word he said. The only reason she knew he was lying was because he wanted her to know he was lying. The thought etched a crooked line across Anais’s lips; he was simply broadcasting how clever he was, but when he was truly employing his intellect for devious purposes, Anais would have no way of knowing.

“Lead the way, then,” she invited, motioning through the kitchen’s threshold. He chuckled to himself but didn’t object, making a show of walking in front of her. She watched the way his jacket moved, traced the outlines of his pockets for weapons. From what she could see, he didn’t have anything on him.

He lowered himself into an armchair Anais often did her work in, watching her as she settled herself into the crook of the sofa. He placed his teacup on the table between them, lacing his fingers together and fixing her with his dark eyes.

“So. What do you know?”

Anais didn’t have to ask him to specify. “I know that I’m called a Switch because of what I can do. I’ve only done it three times, and the last time was the only time I had any answers. It happened once with an older man when I was seventeen, once with two young children when I was nineteen, and then about a year ago with that woman I’ve mentioned.” She shrugged. “That’s about it.”

“And how do you do it?” he asked.

“I just have to touch the person who wants to go and will them away.” Anais looked down at her fingertips, then over at Mr. Whimley’s steepled ones. “Can anyone do it, if they know how?”

He laughed as if a young child had just stumbled over the punchline of a simple joke. “No, dear Anais. If only. What you can do is actually quite rare. I must say, I’m surprised you didn’t further pursue knowledge on the subject.”

“I did, at first. After a few days I lost interest.”

He frowned, his lips creasing downwards and his brows pulling inwards. “Lost interest? If that didn’t catch your interest, you must be an easily bored individual.”

“I wouldn’t say I am, no. I just don’t want much to do with it, is all.” Hearing it through someone else’s ears, Anais knew it sounded absurd. She knew she held something that millions of people would pay millions of dollars for. Not necessarily the power itself, but the knowledge of something more to the world that came with that power. It was a knowledge that keyed you into the shadows at the corner of your vision and the flurries of unexplained activity that you attribute to tricks of the light.

“Too tedious for you?” he said, his mouth splitting into a mocking little grin.

“Not tedious, no. It’s just not anything I feel I need in my life.”

“Easy money, though.”

Anais was about to agree when she thought back to the 100 quid that had been passed from hand to hand on the tube. She remembered squirreling it away, chipping away at its sum through book purchases and clothing purchases, occasionally using it to supplement her oyster card. She’d long since spent all of it, and she hadn’t told anyone of her acquisition of it.

“How did you know about that?” Anais asked. It felt redundant, sitting there and filling him in on her knowledge and the events of her life when it seemed he had them all on a transcript in his head. It was as if he was assessing her, waiting for her to give a wrong answer or slip into the cracks between details.

“I make it my business to know a little bit about everyone and everything. No need to worry about how,” he reassured her, taking another sip of his tea.

A silence grew between them, and Anais could tell that he was waiting for her to say something. As always, there was a correct answer stowed away just behind his lips, but he wanted to hear it from her first. She felt as if she’d been thrust into a complex dance with no knowledge of where she was supposed to move next, with her impatient partner awaiting the next spin or bow or dip.

“Your negotiations...they involve what I’m able to do, don’t they?” Her eyebrows tipped upwards, not for fear of his answer but for fear that her move had been miscalculated.

“Anais, do you know how many Switches there are in the world? That we know of?” He set his teacup down and watched her for an answer, his eyes narrowing and lines of concern cracking his facade.

“No. I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Then again, I don’t quite know what to look for.”

“Take a guess,” he said, tipping his chin forward in invitation.

Anais shrugged, the ballroom she’d imagined herself tiptoeing across transforming into a minefield. “I don’t know. Thousands. Maybe millions.”

“Twenty-seven.”

Anais blinked, betraying the highest degree of shock she was willing to reveal to him. “Twenty-seven?” she enunciated, disbelief chopping the syllables into terse, angled things.

Whimley returned with a single deep nod.

“That...that can’t be right. There must be more. Besides, I didn’t know until I was seventeen. I’ll bet there are thousands of others out there who don’t know what they can do simply because no one has ever approached them about it.”

“Well, that could most certainly be true, but if those people don’t know what they can do, what good are they to us?” He leaned forwards, lacing his fingers together. “You see, when someone wants to make use of a Switch, they first need to find a Switch. It’s quite the process, but, to make things brief, I’ll simplify it. Essentially, the stronger the Switch is, the easier it is to locate them. You said people have asked you for help three times, yes?”

Anais nodded, trying to pretend it was formulas or theories she was processing, not the ins and outs of something that ground the laws of physics into dirt.

“Of the other twenty-six Switches, only one of them has been approached about their ability twice. For everyone else, it’s been a one and done deal.” Whimley said. “Not only that, but the one woman who it’s happened to twice? Those two occasions were seventeen years apart. Once when she was twenty six, and once when she was forty three.” He leaned back again, getting to the part where he got to tell her why he was so immensely pleased with himself. “But you? You’re an irregularity. Three times in the past five years?” He widened his eyes and blew a breath out through inflated cheeks, shaking his head as if to wipe away the prospect of Anais’s ability. “You’re the strongest Switch we’ve seen in generations.”

Anais leaned her fingertips against her temples, tugging the skin there in circles and dropping her eyelids shut. The other times she’d made use of what she could do had made sense, in their own incomprehensible way. At those times, she was in control. Those people who approached her thrust robes and rosaries into her hands, naming her as their god and begging divine favors from her that she didn’t even know she could grant. The robes were uncomfortable and rubbed against her skin in the wrong way, and the rosary beads were nearly dribbling through her fingers, but those people hadn’t known that. In their eyes, she was a priestess, no matter how unsure or discombobulated she seemed. The trust they put in her gave her a platform to stand on, something solid and elevated that gave her a bird’s eye view of the twilit reality she had stumbled into. Now, she had nothing. She was being told that she was the most powerful in her field, and yet she felt parched, thirsting for rest and wine and a normal night followed by a prosaic day.

“What do you mean by ‘the strongest we’ve seen in generations’?” Anais asked, shaking her head as she pulled it up from her hands. “Who is ‘we’? And how long have you been looking for people like me?” Anais swerved around the word ‘Switch’. She hated its hulking capital S, the way it curved around her ankles and slithered down her throat, claiming her and marking her as an irregularity. She didn’t know what it was she could do, but she didn’t want to be a member of the club her ability defined.

“There are other people like you. And I don’t just mean other Switches by that. I mean that there are other people who don’t quite live in the same reality that everyone else does.” He swept his hands through the air, as if the entirety of the ‘normal’ human population stood beside him as an example. “It’s all very complex and uninteresting, but the ‘we’ I refer to is all of the people whose reality is ever so different. We keep track of Switches because they’re so rare.” He leaned back, settling into the armchair as if he was a king reclaiming his throne at the start of the new day. “And because they’re so useful.”

Anais drew a deep breath in. She knew that was why he was here. It was the only thing that made sense. And yet, she had hoped it wouldn’t be true, that’d he’d somehow skate around it until spiralling in on the topic of conversation and forgetting his purpose in coming here completely. “I don’t feel like offering my services to anyone, thanks,” she replied, clipping the sentence off in a way she hoped conveyed that the conversation was over and it was time for him to leave.

He sighed, dipped his hand inside his jacket, and pulled out a small silver revolver. He stuck his index finger into the loop of metal where the trigger teased and began twirling it around, watching his own dexterous movements as he did so. “I had so hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he said, mournful eyes locked on the gun’s fluid rotations. Suddenly his finger curled around the trigger and the grip of the gun settled into his waiting hand. His fingers absently rubbed at the handle as he levelled it at Anais, his head tilting to the side and his posture wilting to something far too casual for someone who was brandishing a firearm. “But, hey. You can’t always get what you want.” The last sentence was sung in a nostalgic whisper, as if he was reflecting on the heyday of the Stones and not complaining about the labors of threatening someone at gunpoint.

Anais knew she should be maneuvering to a less vulnerable position, or at least displaying some variation of shock, but she couldn’t rouse herself to do anything more than regard the gun with disinterest. The ring of metal regarding her not five feet away seemed to be no more than a circlet silver. She wouldn’t be able to see its fatal potential until there was a curl of smoke drifting away and she was lying dead on the floor.

At the same time, she knew that her life was very much endangered. It was only because this wasn’t entirely unexpected from Mr. Whimley that she reacted so stoically. Despite his flamboyance and sociability, Anais sensed that he was a creature of calculation. And so she would be, too. The best way to balance her current equation was to recognize the danger, but remove the emotional reaction.

“What is it you’re going to ask of me?” Anais said, pushing the barrel of the gun out of focus and returning her gaze back to Whimley.

“Well, that’s all very complex. You see, it’s not just the Switches you don’t know about; it’s everything. I can’t even begin to explain it all to you, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be so interested if I was inclined to try. But for my situation, I only ask one thing, for the time being. I just want you to come with me so that we can discuss this elsewhere.”

Anais heard all of the packaging he wrapped around ‘I want you to come with me’, trying to bury it in innocuous statements before arriving to the final point. ‘I want you to come with me,’ always sounded like a threat, no matter who was speaking it and in what tone. Hearts race and palms sweat when those words are spoken. Anais felt her own heart rate kick up a notch when those words stood out of his meaningless sentences.

“Where?”

He chuckled and shook his head, grinning at Anais with amusement. “Pardon me for saying so, but I don’t believe you’re quite in the position to be asking too many questions.” He said it like a friendly suggestion, the gun wavering in his hands to back up his point.

Anais sat for a moment more, making peace with the fact that she would not be going to bed early tonight. “Fine,” she said, standing and putting her discarded coat back on. She waved a resigned hand at the doorway. “Lead the way.”

“Splendid.” He spun the revolver once more before tucking it back into its hiding place within his jacket. There was no indication of the weapon’s hiding place once it was stowed away.“We’ll be Switching.”

“We?” Anais questioned, pausing as she zipped her jacket.

Whimley looked at her with a misunderstanding vacancy before shaking his head with realization. “Oh, of course. Yes, you're entirely capable of Switching yourself along with someone else. Your friend on the tube didn't tell you that?”

Anais slowed her movements, the sudden implication of everything she now knew laying flat at her feet. “She failed to mention that.” The entire world was somehow just beneath her fingertips, and she’d never known it. All this time.

“Yes, well. You let me do all the work. I’ll picture the place we’re going, and you can just come along for the ride.” He stood beside her and offered a leisurely arm out. Anais looped her own arm through his, well aware that the very instrument he’d threatened to kill her with was stowed only a few inches from her elbow.

“Is it any different, Switching myself? I know I have to be in contact with you, but what about me?”

“You’re in contact with yourself all the time, aren’t you? No, all you have to do is will the two of us away.”

“Where are you taking me?” Anais asked, looking up at him, already unsure if she could trust his answer.”

“Does that really matter?” he said, patting the place where he’d hidden his gun.

“I suppose not,” Anais replied. She looked forward, wished to leave, and they were gone.

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The Switch - Excerpt
Anais flicked the stovetop on with the kettle over it, leaning against the counter and listening to what was as close to complete silence as one might find in a city of nine million inhabitants. She could hear the clock ticking, the water roiling uncomfortably above the blue flames, the hum of her own breathing. She closed her eyes and she felt herself relax, her body releasing a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding all day.
“Hello, darling Anais. All grown up.”
Anais knew the voice before she saw the man it belonged to. She knew the voice even though she couldn’t remember anything he’d said the last time they’d met. It was a nice voice, an unplaceable accent hiding beneath certain syllables and a droll drawl that slung the words together.
He stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room. He wore a dark suit and those same dark shoes, with a thin black tie slicing him into perfect monochrome symmetry. Even his hair and his eyes were dark. He stood with his hands in his pocket and a slouched back, but not the kind that betrayed insecurity. His posture was casual in a way that told Anais that he was right where he was meant to be in that moment, and that she had no right to question him.
“You haven’t aged,” Anais remarked. It was true, and it was the first thing she thought upon seeing him. She would have placed him somewhere in his early to mid thirties, which was exactly where she would have placed him sixteen years ago.
“Mm. Aging, that was a bad habit. The trick is to nip it in the bud.” He flicked a finger towards the kettle. “Enough in there for me, I hope?”
“Should be. How’d you get in here?” Anais didn’t move as he entered the kitchen and located the tea selection without searching or scrounging; he moved as if he spent more time in this flat than Anais did.
She heard him tut to himself as he unwrapped a tea bag and dropped it into a seamlessly located mug. He turned to face her again, a distant cousin of disdain written across his features. “Honestly, of all the questions you could ask? I expected more of you, Anais.”
Anais crossed her arms, her eyes narrowing at the man. Perhaps he was on the run, just like everyone else. He probably wanted her to send him somewhere with her willful wishes.
“Are you running from the Angels?” She was almost nervous to ask the question, afraid she’d say it the wrong way or incite anger in the man. Maybe even summon the Angels, whoever they were.
He snorted. “No. They’re a dreadful lot, yes, but they know better than to go after me.” He leaned in, pushing his voice down to a stage whisper. “I’m too much fun for them to get rid of.” He topped the statement off with a sly wink.
There were too many questions, and each of them seemed to branch off in a different direction. Anais wanted to ask them all at once, inquiries falling to the floor and shattering into answers upon landing. He obviously knew about whatever side of reality it was that Anais occasionally brushed with. But it was him she was dealing with now, so it seemed best that she find out more about the strange man joining her for an impromptu tea time.
“Who are you?”
“You can call me Mr. Whimley. Fox, if the two of us get really close.” Another wink. He still spoke and stood with complete confidence, but he pulled the name out of the air just a breath too slowly. Anais didn’t think he had come up with it on the spot. Instead, it sounded as if he had scraps of paper tucked into his jacket pockets, ones with pseudonyms scrawled upon them that he chose from at random. Maybe Fox Whimley was a name he’d used before, and his memory hadn’t been as sharp as he’d hoped. Perhaps Fox Whimley was a name he’d been saving for Anais. It flew from his tongue with a flourish, his accent writing it in gaudy calligraphy in the air.
“You remember me, then?” he asked, beaming when Anais dipped in chin in affirmation. “Glad to hear it. I do love to make an impression.”
“You’ve been following me,” Anais said suddenly. The shock of his presence had faded ever so slightly, and past occurrences were demanding to be brought up.
“Ooh, good eye,” Whimley sing-songed, nodding his head appreciatively as he silenced the building whistle of the tea kettle. He poured the water into his mug and reopened the cabinet. “Any preference on mugs? And what kind of tea would you like?”
“I’ll get it myself, thanks,” Anais replied, biting out her false gratitude. He seemed unperturbed by her snapped reply, and simply backed away from the counter, moving to the other side of the kitchen and pulling a spoon out of the drawer.
“Have you been in my flat before?” Anais asked as she watched the water pass through her tea bag. “You seem to know your way around exceptionally well.”
“Perhaps not as good an eye as I’d hoped,” he murmured. Anais cast sideways glances around the flat, wondering if there was any indication of his presence there on days previous. She didn’t know what she should have looked for. It wasn’t as if there were footprints tracking their way through the kitchen or wayward ties dangling from window sills.
“But, yes, I have been keeping my eye on you for a bit,” he said, taking an experimental sip of his tea. “Ever since I met you, really. Do you remember that, when we met? Do you remember what I said to you?” He was speaking with sudden seriousness, as if the matter at hand had become the single most pressing issue the world had to offer. He waited, staring at Anais with a look of profound concern, as if a faulty memory might spell a doomed future for her.
Anais shook her head, hoping it would perhaps unearth those words he’d said to her, to no avail.
“Pity,” he breathed over the lip of his teacup, blowing at the trails of steam. His eyes emptied for a moment, as if he was watching a golden opportunity be swept into an unfathomable wind. Anais didn’t bother asking him if he’d tell her his words; he considered them lost, and so they must have been.
“What were you doing with my father all those years ago?” Anais said. A part of her wondered if her parents were in danger somehow.
“I was doing almost exactly what I told him I was doing,” he replied, snapping back to the present. “Him and I, we were making deals. I needed money, and his company had money. It was nothing underhanded, really. Admittedly, the money was going directly to me, not to another corporation as I’d told him. And I suppose I wasn’t entirely honest about what the money would be spent on after that. But, those things aside, it was all fair play.”
“My parents can’t remember any details of that night. They don’t know your name or anything you said. My dad can’t even remember what deals he made with you.”
“You’ve been asking around about me? I’m flattered.” He lay a hand to his chest to support the statement. “Yes, I can see why it’d all be a bit hazy in their minds. Ignorance is bliss, you know.”
Anais could allow his words from twelve years ago to slip away, but she didn’t like the crypticism surrounding her parents. “What deals did you make, and how did you make them forget afterwards?”
He breathed out a puff of laughter. “It’s alright, I didn’t harm them in any way. The deals I made were solely concerning money. They were unwise on your father’s part, yes, but you got over that little financial blip, didn’t you?” Anais tried to remember any economic discussions after Whimley’s meeting, but she would have been too young at the time to comprehend budgeting. She couldn’t even recall if things had seemed scarcer afterwards. “As for your parents’ memory problems, that’s just a trick of mine I’ve picked up. Like the aging thing.” He waggled his fingers, as if the ability to revoke entire lifetimes sat just below his fingernails. He stopped, pointing one directly at Anais. “And as I understand it, you’ve picked up a fairly handy trick of your own, haven’t you?”
“So they tell me,” Anais said. She thought this made it sound as if she was more knowledgeable on her ability than she truly was.
“Do they really? Who was the one to spill the beans on it?” He leaned against the counter behind him, crossing one leg over the other and balancing his foot on the toe of his shoe. They were the same kind of shoes he’d been wearing when Anais had first met him. Not so much as a speck of dust on them.
Anais shrugged. “I didn’t get her name. Some woman on the tube, about a year ago.”
“Blonde hair? Irregular gaps between her teeth?” he shot back, prompting her with two entirely unfamiliar characteristics when paired together.
“Brown hair, well-dressed, and no irregularities concerning her teeth, from what I could tell,” Anais said. She didn’t know much about what was going on with this strange man, but she did know she was out of her depth, and that was how he wanted it. She figured the best way to convince him that she wasn’t confused was to pretend she had heard everything he’d ever said before.
“Hm. I’m sure if you had a picture I’d be able to place her right away. No matter.” He gathered the mug up from where it sat on the counter and pointed in the direction of the sitting room. “Fancy a seat? Negotiations get so tedious, no need to stand all the while.”
“What are we going to be negotiating? And I hope you’re not expecting to take my memories after we talk.” Anais didn’t know what threat she was making if his plans said otherwise, so she imagined that there was a small yet efficient knife in her back pocket. If she could fool herself, she could fool him.
“We’ll be discussing your peculiar and particular gift, and how to best make use of it. And don’t worry.” He slipped his right hand into his pocket. “I wouldn’t dream of tampering with that head of yours.”
All of his smiles and winks were props, the hammers he was using to beat his point into place. Were Anais going solely off his voice, she would have believed every word he said. The only reason she knew he was lying was because he wanted her to know he was lying. The thought etched a crooked line across Anais’s lips; he was simply broadcasting how clever he was, but when he was truly employing his intellect for devious purposes, Anais would have no way of knowing.
“Lead the way, then,” she invited, motioning through the kitchen’s threshold. He chuckled to himself but didn’t object, making a show of walking in front of her. She watched the way his jacket moved, traced the outlines of his pockets for weapons. From what she could see, he didn’t have anything on him.
He lowered himself into an armchair Anais often did her work in, watching her as she settled herself into the crook of the sofa. He placed his teacup on the table between them, lacing his fingers together and fixing her with his dark eyes.
“So. What do you know?”
Anais didn’t have to ask him to specify. “I know that I’m called a Switch because of what I can do. I’ve only done it three times, and the last time was the only time I had any answers. It happened once with an older man when I was seventeen, once with two young children when I was nineteen, and then about a year ago with that woman I’ve mentioned.” She shrugged. “That’s about it.”
“And how do you do it?” he asked.
“I just have to touch the person who wants to go and will them away.” Anais looked down at her fingertips, then over at Mr. Whimley’s steepled ones. “Can anyone do it, if they know how?”
He laughed as if a young child had just stumbled over the punchline of a simple joke. “No, dear Anais. If only. What you can do is actually quite rare. I must say, I’m surprised you didn’t further pursue knowledge on the subject.”
“I did, at first. After a few days I lost interest.”
He frowned, his lips creasing downwards and his brows pulling inwards. “Lost interest? If that didn’t catch your interest, you must be an easily bored individual.”
“I wouldn’t say I am, no. I just don’t want much to do with it, is all.” Hearing it through someone else’s ears, Anais knew it sounded absurd. She knew she held something that millions of people would pay millions of dollars for. Not necessarily the power itself, but the knowledge of something more to the world that came with that power. It was a knowledge that keyed you into the shadows at the corner of your vision and the flurries of unexplained activity that you attribute to tricks of the light.
“Too tedious for you?” he said, his mouth splitting into a mocking little grin.
“Not tedious, no. It’s just not anything I feel I need in my life.”
“Easy money, though.”
Anais was about to agree when she thought back to the 100 quid that had been passed from hand to hand on the tube. She remembered squirreling it away, chipping away at its sum through book purchases and clothing purchases, occasionally using it to supplement her oyster card. She’d long since spent all of it, and she hadn’t told anyone of her acquisition of it.
“How did you know about that?” Anais asked. It felt redundant, sitting there and filling him in on her knowledge and the events of her life when it seemed he had them all on a transcript in his head. It was as if he was assessing her, waiting for her to give a wrong answer or slip into the cracks between details.
“I make it my business to know a little bit about everyone and everything. No need to worry about how,” he reassured her, taking another sip of his tea.
A silence grew between them, and Anais could tell that he was waiting for her to say something. As always, there was a correct answer stowed away just behind his lips, but he wanted to hear it from her first. She felt as if she’d been thrust into a complex dance with no knowledge of where she was supposed to move next, with her impatient partner awaiting the next spin or bow or dip.
“Your negotiations...they involve what I’m able to do, don’t they?” Her eyebrows tipped upwards, not for fear of his answer but for fear that her move had been miscalculated.
“Anais, do you know how many Switches there are in the world? That we know of?” He set his teacup down and watched her for an answer, his eyes narrowing and lines of concern cracking his facade.
“No. I haven’t seen anyone else do it. Then again, I don’t quite know what to look for.”
“Take a guess,” he said, tipping his chin forward in invitation.
Anais shrugged, the ballroom she’d imagined herself tiptoeing across transforming into a minefield. “I don’t know. Thousands. Maybe millions.”
“Twenty-seven.”
Anais blinked, betraying the highest degree of shock she was willing to reveal to him. “Twenty-seven?” she enunciated, disbelief chopping the syllables into terse, angled things.
Whimley returned with a single deep nod.
“That...that can’t be right. There must be more. Besides, I didn’t know until I was seventeen. I’ll bet there are thousands of others out there who don’t know what they can do simply because no one has ever approached them about it.”
“Well, that could most certainly be true, but if those people don’t know what they can do, what good are they to us?” He leaned forwards, lacing his fingers together. “You see, when someone wants to make use of a Switch, they first need to find a Switch. It’s quite the process, but, to make things brief, I’ll simplify it. Essentially, the stronger the Switch is, the easier it is to locate them. You said people have asked you for help three times, yes?”
Anais nodded, trying to pretend it was formulas or theories she was processing, not the ins and outs of something that ground the laws of physics into dirt.
“Of the other twenty-six Switches, only one of them has been approached about their ability twice. For everyone else, it’s been a one and done deal.” Whimley said. “Not only that, but the one woman who it’s happened to twice? Those two occasions were seventeen years apart. Once when she was twenty six, and once when she was forty three.” He leaned back again, getting to the part where he got to tell her why he was so immensely pleased with himself. “But you? You’re an irregularity. Three times in the past five years?” He widened his eyes and blew a breath out through inflated cheeks, shaking his head as if to wipe away the prospect of Anais’s ability. “You’re the strongest Switch we’ve seen in generations.”
Anais leaned her fingertips against her temples, tugging the skin there in circles and dropping her eyelids shut. The other times she’d made use of what she could do had made sense, in their own incomprehensible way. At those times, she was in control. Those people who approached her thrust robes and rosaries into her hands, naming her as their god and begging divine favors from her that she didn’t even know she could grant. The robes were uncomfortable and rubbed against her skin in the wrong way, and the rosary beads were nearly dribbling through her fingers, but those people hadn’t known that. In their eyes, she was a priestess, no matter how unsure or discombobulated she seemed. The trust they put in her gave her a platform to stand on, something solid and elevated that gave her a bird’s eye view of the twilit reality she had stumbled into. Now, she had nothing. She was being told that she was the most powerful in her field, and yet she felt parched, thirsting for rest and wine and a normal night followed by a prosaic day.
“What do you mean by ‘the strongest we’ve seen in generations’?” Anais asked, shaking her head as she pulled it up from her hands. “Who is ‘we’? And how long have you been looking for people like me?” Anais swerved around the word ‘Switch’. She hated its hulking capital S, the way it curved around her ankles and slithered down her throat, claiming her and marking her as an irregularity. She didn’t know what it was she could do, but she didn’t want to be a member of the club her ability defined.
“There are other people like you. And I don’t just mean other Switches by that. I mean that there are other people who don’t quite live in the same reality that everyone else does.” He swept his hands through the air, as if the entirety of the ‘normal’ human population stood beside him as an example. “It’s all very complex and uninteresting, but the ‘we’ I refer to is all of the people whose reality is ever so different. We keep track of Switches because they’re so rare.” He leaned back, settling into the armchair as if he was a king reclaiming his throne at the start of the new day. “And because they’re so useful.”
Anais drew a deep breath in. She knew that was why he was here. It was the only thing that made sense. And yet, she had hoped it wouldn’t be true, that’d he’d somehow skate around it until spiralling in on the topic of conversation and forgetting his purpose in coming here completely. “I don’t feel like offering my services to anyone, thanks,” she replied, clipping the sentence off in a way she hoped conveyed that the conversation was over and it was time for him to leave.
He sighed, dipped his hand inside his jacket, and pulled out a small silver revolver. He stuck his index finger into the loop of metal where the trigger teased and began twirling it around, watching his own dexterous movements as he did so. “I had so hoped it wouldn’t come to this,” he said, mournful eyes locked on the gun’s fluid rotations. Suddenly his finger curled around the trigger and the grip of the gun settled into his waiting hand. His fingers absently rubbed at the handle as he levelled it at Anais, his head tilting to the side and his posture wilting to something far too casual for someone who was brandishing a firearm. “But, hey. You can’t always get what you want.” The last sentence was sung in a nostalgic whisper, as if he was reflecting on the heyday of the Stones and not complaining about the labors of threatening someone at gunpoint.
Anais knew she should be maneuvering to a less vulnerable position, or at least displaying some variation of shock, but she couldn’t rouse herself to do anything more than regard the gun with disinterest. The ring of metal regarding her not five feet away seemed to be no more than a circlet silver. She wouldn’t be able to see its fatal potential until there was a curl of smoke drifting away and she was lying dead on the floor.
At the same time, she knew that her life was very much endangered. It was only because this wasn’t entirely unexpected from Mr. Whimley that she reacted so stoically. Despite his flamboyance and sociability, Anais sensed that he was a creature of calculation. And so she would be, too. The best way to balance her current equation was to recognize the danger, but remove the emotional reaction.
“What is it you’re going to ask of me?” Anais said, pushing the barrel of the gun out of focus and returning her gaze back to Whimley.
“Well, that’s all very complex. You see, it’s not just the Switches you don’t know about; it’s everything. I can’t even begin to explain it all to you, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be so interested if I was inclined to try. But for my situation, I only ask one thing, for the time being. I just want you to come with me so that we can discuss this elsewhere.”
Anais heard all of the packaging he wrapped around ‘I want you to come with me’, trying to bury it in innocuous statements before arriving to the final point. ‘I want you to come with me,’ always sounded like a threat, no matter who was speaking it and in what tone. Hearts race and palms sweat when those words are spoken. Anais felt her own heart rate kick up a notch when those words stood out of his meaningless sentences.
“Where?”
He chuckled and shook his head, grinning at Anais with amusement. “Pardon me for saying so, but I don’t believe you’re quite in the position to be asking too many questions.” He said it like a friendly suggestion, the gun wavering in his hands to back up his point.
Anais sat for a moment more, making peace with the fact that she would not be going to bed early tonight. “Fine,” she said, standing and putting her discarded coat back on. She waved a resigned hand at the doorway. “Lead the way.”
“Splendid.” He spun the revolver once more before tucking it back into its hiding place within his jacket. There was no indication of the weapon’s hiding place once it was stowed away.“We’ll be Switching.”
“We?” Anais questioned, pausing as she zipped her jacket.
Whimley looked at her with a misunderstanding vacancy before shaking his head with realization. “Oh, of course. Yes, you're entirely capable of Switching yourself along with someone else. Your friend on the tube didn't tell you that?”
Anais slowed her movements, the sudden implication of everything she now knew laying flat at her feet. “She failed to mention that.” The entire world was somehow just beneath her fingertips, and she’d never known it. All this time.
“Yes, well. You let me do all the work. I’ll picture the place we’re going, and you can just come along for the ride.” He stood beside her and offered a leisurely arm out. Anais looped her own arm through his, well aware that the very instrument he’d threatened to kill her with was stowed only a few inches from her elbow.
“Is it any different, Switching myself? I know I have to be in contact with you, but what about me?”
“You’re in contact with yourself all the time, aren’t you? No, all you have to do is will the two of us away.”
“Where are you taking me?” Anais asked, looking up at him, already unsure if she could trust his answer.”
“Does that really matter?” he said, patting the place where he’d hidden his gun.
“I suppose not,” Anais replied. She looked forward, wished to leave, and they were gone.
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Regina's Journal

Chapter 01 

Countless people stumbled alongside each other at the Subway station, scampering towards their destinations. Eager to head back to Manhattan, I boarded a metro and sighed when I finally found a seat that wasn’t taken. All the poker-faced strangers surrounding me had their eyes fixed on a mobile screen and their fingers incessantly tapped buttons. Laced with boredom, I adorned a pair of headphones and swiftly bobbed my head to the mellifluous music.

My eyes wandered to the seat next to me which was vacant yet, occupied. A spiraled, green-hued journal was seated gracefully next to me. As curiosity overpowered me, I grasped it with cautious hands and softly flipped it open. On the very first page, a name, Regina Clay was scribbled in cursive. The more pages I turned, the more secrets of Regina’s life were unveiled.

I discovered that she was from Brooklyn and was dating a charismatic man named Mason. Immersed within the pages of hastily written anecdotes, I had almost forgotten that it was time to disembark at my station. Swiftly, I navigated my way through the overcrowded building with the journal clutched within my hands; for some peculiar reason, I had refused to part ways with it. I had never fancied being an eavesdropper or an intruder but, reading this journal unleashed waves of emotions I didn’t know I had and I felt inspired after a long time.

I had been struggling with writer’s block for a few weeks and I desperately looked for stories everywhere I went; this journal filled me up with the creative energy I was lacking. Everything that Regina had written was accompanied by an enigmatic metaphor; honestly, I was thoroughly enjoying reading about her day-to-day ordeals and her infatuation with Mason.

As I turned a page, a polaroid photograph slid out. A brunette girl with gleaming, green eyes who seemed to be in her mid-twenties smiled sweetly at the camera, holding a giant teddy bear. I flipped the photograph overleaf to find a few words scattered there, “Valentine’s Day present, 2013.”

I continued to read until I had to surrender to my drooping eyelids. A dreamless sleep enveloped me and I slept until the alarm clock piercingly cut through my peaceful slumber.

With a brewing cup of coffee and a pile of unread newspapers, I sat down at the kitchen table; this was my mundane morning routine. Sipping leisurely, I read the headlines and a particular one caught my attention: Brooklyn girl still missing, no clues found yet.

Underneath the headline, there was a picture of the brunette girl I had come to know as Regina Clay. Speechless, I hurriedly swallowed all the words from the article and learnt that she had been missing for nearly a week now and even after thorough investigation, they couldn’t find enough clues to trace her location.

Numerous questions circled back and forth in my mind as I wondered how her journal ended up in a metro and where could she have gone? Did someone do this to her? This case was overflowing with riddles.

Distracted by Regina’s mysterious disappearance, I couldn’t concentrate at work the entire day. My desk was cluttered with a truckload of paperwork but, it all seemed like a static blur to me as I continued to comprehend the newspaper article. I spent my lunchtime studying the journal; she was extremely happy when she wrote these diary entries and as I proceeded, I noticed a gradual change in the way she described Mason.

Until the last three months, she loved Mason unconditionally and never questioned his actions but, in the more recent entries, her perception of him wasn’t as rose-tinted. Her writing reflected the doubts she was having about their relationship and how insecure she had been feeling. With each day, her elation faded and the smiley faces she used to doodle vanished completely from the dog-eared pages of the journal.

Her love for Mason dwindled with the ceaseless clockwork but, I couldn’t figure out what exactly he had done. Since, I had deadlines to meet and columns to write, I put her journal aside and began working with my mind wandering elsewhere.

When my workday finally came to an end, I hurried back to my apartment and got engrossed once again in the journal. She had scribbled about bruises and scars on numerous pages; talking about how some wounds never turn brown and being heartbroken. I traced her mood with each word and it had only continued to deteriorate. Her writing was woven with metaphors and I couldn’t decipher whether she was talking about an abusive relationship or emotional scars; either way, it seemed like she desperately needed help but, nobody reached out to her.

After surfing the internet for a while, I learnt that the investigators still hadn’t found any concrete evidence that could lead them to Regina and today marked nine days since her disappearance that has left the police clueless. My heart clenched guiltily and I debated whether I should move forward with the journal and hand it over to the police department but, since they don’t have a single clue about this case, the suspicion might get thrown in my direction.

Bewildered, I ran a hand through my hair and tried to look for more information. All the websites told the same tale over and over again and it seemed like I had more information than they would ever be able to gather. Something written in this journal will be the answer to this riddle; I just have to look for it through these words.

The tumultuous transition from love to hatred for Mason made me wonder if he caused Regina’s disappearance or harmed her in any way. Maybe they had an argument that shaped into something bigger, he was overcome by rage and he mistreated her? Multiple websites came up with their own theories by using the scraps of information about her whereabouts and some even suggested that she was no longer alive.

As breeze fluttered through the windows, the pages of the journal swayed along with it. The last page was invitingly spread before me and it was paired with a photograph. A dark-haired man adorning a turtleneck with a pensive face was posing for the picture but, there was a scarlet cross mark etched across the photograph and this deeply puzzled me.

A line scrawled in crimson ink underneath the picture caught my attention: I used to sleep next to him each night now all I have left of him is his bloodstained jersey and his bloodcurdling screams echoing through my ears.

 

................

Description 

Title: Regina’s Journal

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Age Range: For teenagers and adults

Word Count: 1,107 words (1st chapter)

Author: Ria Chakraborty

Why It Is A Good Fit: This mysterious story is accompanied by numerous twists and turns which will make it enjoyable.

Synopsis: An enigmatic journal is discovered on a metro which might have the answers to the questions related to a girl’s disappearance. In this puzzling case, countless pieces are missing and searching for them is the herculean task that Alan has unintentionally taken up. Will he be able to connect all the dots?

Writing style: I am fond of writing fiction and poetry.

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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 Ria17sep in portal Trident Media Group
Regina's Journal
Chapter 01 
Countless people stumbled alongside each other at the Subway station, scampering towards their destinations. Eager to head back to Manhattan, I boarded a metro and sighed when I finally found a seat that wasn’t taken. All the poker-faced strangers surrounding me had their eyes fixed on a mobile screen and their fingers incessantly tapped buttons. Laced with boredom, I adorned a pair of headphones and swiftly bobbed my head to the mellifluous music.

My eyes wandered to the seat next to me which was vacant yet, occupied. A spiraled, green-hued journal was seated gracefully next to me. As curiosity overpowered me, I grasped it with cautious hands and softly flipped it open. On the very first page, a name, Regina Clay was scribbled in cursive. The more pages I turned, the more secrets of Regina’s life were unveiled.

I discovered that she was from Brooklyn and was dating a charismatic man named Mason. Immersed within the pages of hastily written anecdotes, I had almost forgotten that it was time to disembark at my station. Swiftly, I navigated my way through the overcrowded building with the journal clutched within my hands; for some peculiar reason, I had refused to part ways with it. I had never fancied being an eavesdropper or an intruder but, reading this journal unleashed waves of emotions I didn’t know I had and I felt inspired after a long time.

I had been struggling with writer’s block for a few weeks and I desperately looked for stories everywhere I went; this journal filled me up with the creative energy I was lacking. Everything that Regina had written was accompanied by an enigmatic metaphor; honestly, I was thoroughly enjoying reading about her day-to-day ordeals and her infatuation with Mason.

As I turned a page, a polaroid photograph slid out. A brunette girl with gleaming, green eyes who seemed to be in her mid-twenties smiled sweetly at the camera, holding a giant teddy bear. I flipped the photograph overleaf to find a few words scattered there, “Valentine’s Day present, 2013.”

I continued to read until I had to surrender to my drooping eyelids. A dreamless sleep enveloped me and I slept until the alarm clock piercingly cut through my peaceful slumber.

With a brewing cup of coffee and a pile of unread newspapers, I sat down at the kitchen table; this was my mundane morning routine. Sipping leisurely, I read the headlines and a particular one caught my attention: Brooklyn girl still missing, no clues found yet.

Underneath the headline, there was a picture of the brunette girl I had come to know as Regina Clay. Speechless, I hurriedly swallowed all the words from the article and learnt that she had been missing for nearly a week now and even after thorough investigation, they couldn’t find enough clues to trace her location.

Numerous questions circled back and forth in my mind as I wondered how her journal ended up in a metro and where could she have gone? Did someone do this to her? This case was overflowing with riddles.

Distracted by Regina’s mysterious disappearance, I couldn’t concentrate at work the entire day. My desk was cluttered with a truckload of paperwork but, it all seemed like a static blur to me as I continued to comprehend the newspaper article. I spent my lunchtime studying the journal; she was extremely happy when she wrote these diary entries and as I proceeded, I noticed a gradual change in the way she described Mason.

Until the last three months, she loved Mason unconditionally and never questioned his actions but, in the more recent entries, her perception of him wasn’t as rose-tinted. Her writing reflected the doubts she was having about their relationship and how insecure she had been feeling. With each day, her elation faded and the smiley faces she used to doodle vanished completely from the dog-eared pages of the journal.

Her love for Mason dwindled with the ceaseless clockwork but, I couldn’t figure out what exactly he had done. Since, I had deadlines to meet and columns to write, I put her journal aside and began working with my mind wandering elsewhere.

When my workday finally came to an end, I hurried back to my apartment and got engrossed once again in the journal. She had scribbled about bruises and scars on numerous pages; talking about how some wounds never turn brown and being heartbroken. I traced her mood with each word and it had only continued to deteriorate. Her writing was woven with metaphors and I couldn’t decipher whether she was talking about an abusive relationship or emotional scars; either way, it seemed like she desperately needed help but, nobody reached out to her.

After surfing the internet for a while, I learnt that the investigators still hadn’t found any concrete evidence that could lead them to Regina and today marked nine days since her disappearance that has left the police clueless. My heart clenched guiltily and I debated whether I should move forward with the journal and hand it over to the police department but, since they don’t have a single clue about this case, the suspicion might get thrown in my direction.

Bewildered, I ran a hand through my hair and tried to look for more information. All the websites told the same tale over and over again and it seemed like I had more information than they would ever be able to gather. Something written in this journal will be the answer to this riddle; I just have to look for it through these words.

The tumultuous transition from love to hatred for Mason made me wonder if he caused Regina’s disappearance or harmed her in any way. Maybe they had an argument that shaped into something bigger, he was overcome by rage and he mistreated her? Multiple websites came up with their own theories by using the scraps of information about her whereabouts and some even suggested that she was no longer alive.

As breeze fluttered through the windows, the pages of the journal swayed along with it. The last page was invitingly spread before me and it was paired with a photograph. A dark-haired man adorning a turtleneck with a pensive face was posing for the picture but, there was a scarlet cross mark etched across the photograph and this deeply puzzled me.
A line scrawled in crimson ink underneath the picture caught my attention: I used to sleep next to him each night now all I have left of him is his bloodstained jersey and his bloodcurdling screams echoing through my ears.
 

................
Description 
Title: Regina’s Journal
Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Age Range: For teenagers and adults
Word Count: 1,107 words (1st chapter)
Author: Ria Chakraborty
Why It Is A Good Fit: This mysterious story is accompanied by numerous twists and turns which will make it enjoyable.
Synopsis: An enigmatic journal is discovered on a metro which might have the answers to the questions related to a girl’s disappearance. In this puzzling case, countless pieces are missing and searching for them is the herculean task that Alan has unintentionally taken up. Will he be able to connect all the dots?
Writing style: I am fond of writing fiction and poetry.
10
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0
Juice
27 reads
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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 hkrollsmith in portal Trident Media Group

Dichotomy 7

N48 42’ 24.5602” W113 38’28.3374

I give in—occasionally. It’s always there, the nagging itch to wonder (let’s be honest: fantasize). So I grant myself brief moments in time and allow my thoughts to drift—untethered—and explore the question of “what if”.

The backdrops of these “what ifs” always start exactly as it was that night. They feature the same pulsating music (I remember the exact beat), the humid, dank smell of raw humans and the oscillating darkness mixed with strobe lights that are present in every club on planet earth. But in these versions (ok, fantasies) the moment in which I—the resident DJ, who is contemplating the merits of getting fired over having to finish the set—look into the abyss of drunk club rats and obnoxious bachelorettes and see them: two eyes locked in position. That exact position being me.

This is where the “what if” comes into play. I forget what I know now: that those eyes and the accompanying look were actually laced with recognition, history and a strategy still undetermined. In these “what if” scenarios, that moment is just a basic human connection and the recognition of a mutual interest, with a stare that feels like a grip. The resulting fantasies that unfold in my mind (which can get embarrassingly graphic) last until an involuntary feeling of regret starts to set in. That’s when I cut it off and remember that these moments aren’t worth my energy or my time.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that I have never lived far from the reality that now consumes me, and I can’t reconstruct what actually happened. Regrets are simply a wish—a wish that a reality, a history or even a person can change. I could ask myself if I am happier now, with the feeling of incompleteness gone. Would I take it all back? The truth—not the fantasy—is that it doesn’t matter.

This is my life now.

CHAPTER 1

When I was little, I called them the “Creeps”. When the creeps invaded, the feelings and the accompanying noise inside my head seemed to wrap their way throughout every cell. The sensation would begin at the back of my neck, and then move from the edges of my fingers and toes. It would crawl its way up my limbs, sometimes a flutter, sometimes a twitch, and if ignored, it could overpower me for days. Once I spent a week in near catatonic shock. So, eventually dealing with the creeps became commonplace and typically started with:

Me: “The creeps are back.”

My brother, Elgar, who I called “El”: “Ok let’s get started.”

From there, we would work our way through El’s patented “Creeps Remedies”.

Sometimes the remedy was as simple as reciting the digits of Pi. I can still picture him patiently saying, “The numbers don’t change, Luna. They stay constant regardless. If you can remember 15 digits, there’s no reason you can’t remember 16. So let’s do it again. 3.14159...” If this didn’t work, we would move on to more exercises—sometimes mental, other times physical. He would work with me until I felt balanced again. Now I know that these were just common tools for dealing with anxiety, OCD, and other run-of-the-mill social disorders. But when I was little, they were a refuge for problems that seemed to only affect me, with causes unknown.

On this particular night, it was easier to pretend that my current problem was Wes, the manager of a club where I had a regular DJ gig. There was something instinctive about the way that we clashed. Although I tried to ignore him as much as possible, every interaction with him left a visceral and negative footprint.

So, it was easy to transfer my growing anxiety to Wes and his mere existence. I felt comfort in cataloging and plotting all the mock ways I could kill him. I started my list while I deftly tugged and pulled my hair into miniature buns across my whole head. My ideas were simple but, I reasoned, effective:

1. Make him shower more than once a week

2. Force sobriety for more than 12 hours

3. Donate just one cent of his earnings to charity

My problem solving was interrupted by a familiar voice. “It’s not your hair’s fault you agreed to this gig rather than celebrate your birthday,” he said. “Don’t you think that spray-in dye you use is punishment enough?”

Shifting my eyes, I saw my brother’s reflection on the left hand side of my mirror. He was leaning slightly against the doorway of my room. I knew he wouldn’t come any further. He was always considerate of my space. Since I was ten years old it had just been the two of us and we had a near perfect waltz after sharing a house together for eleven years.

I tried to meet his eyes in the mirror with a hard stare, but as usual, El’s mere presence diffused any tension I felt, sardonic or not. So instead, I let out a very ungraceful snort and made sure to spray the newest bun with even more blue hair dye.

“You know I always go incognito when I play.” I said with mock offense. “I don’t want any of my so-called fans to recognize me on the street.”

As I rolled the final bun, one of about 10 that now haloed my head, I glanced back at him. His smirk was gone, replaced with a disapproving frown that showed all of the tension he was trying so hard to hide.

“You don’t have to agree to this gig just to avoid me, Luna. No need to make up an excuse. I know we typically see her on your birthday...” he began. 

As I continued to gather my things, he took my silence as an invitation to continue. “If it’s too much—I get that. I was really hoping to hang out, you know, after we got a little work in?”

I groaned. All joking was lost. I was so caught up in myself I forgot that I was dropping the ball on him. He cut me off before I could roll out a flimsy excuse.

“I don’t care about the work, Lu.” His voice grew softer, “Admittedly I had the ridiculous notion that you and I could actually talk about seeing her today. You know, like normal human beings.” He curled his hands into fists and put them on top of his head to make mock hair buns. “You know, El,” he said in an overly screechy, high pitched voice, “I don't think I'll go with you to see mom this year. I have carefully cataloged and reviewed a list of pros and cons and I think I might take a year off from the mamma-drama.”

Trying not to laugh, I pretended like I wasn’t listening and started cleaning up my hair and makeup supplies. But he knew I wasn’t missing a minute of it.

Dropping his hands and placing them on his hips, chest puffed out, he continued with an overly deep voice that exaggerated every syllable, “Sure Sis, I understand. Thanks for discussing it with me. I already figured that out since you evaded the subject every single time I tried to bring it up this year. But thanks for talking it through.”

I hugged my bag against my chest as I watched his little play unfold. A smiled tugged at my lips even though I wanted nothing more than to escape this conversation.

“It’s obvious that you don’t know any normal human beings,” I said dryly. “I am pretty sure that was a scene from a car or insurance commercial.”

Before he could continue I shook my head and resumed packing. Since this wasn’t a planned gig, my pile of extra clothes and gear were just thrown on my bed. They were as unorganized as my thoughts. “I know it’s not my regular night,” I told him, “but Wes kept talking about ‘capitalizing on my 15 minutes of fame’ although I am pretty sure he doesn’t understand what the word capitalize means. I know for sure he can’t spell it.”

I looked up hoping that this would at least make him smile, but he just stared back at me. His blue eyes, lined with worry, were the only thing that came close to showing his age. His brown thick hair was askew and as usual—much like mine—his clothes hung off his lanky frame. Once someone described us as water reeds, because of our dark mop of hair that topped off our lean, angular bodies. But that’s where the similarities ended. His blue steel eyes and pale skin were in direct contrast to my green eyes and olive skin.

I brushed past him, trying not to make eye contact, and walked down the adjacent hall. “So, according to slimy club manager logic, I should be as visible as possible. And surprise, unadvertised shows are the best way to generate attention.”

The first time Wes set me up to work an impromptu gig, I threatened bodily harm. Now I was using his words as my defense? El wasn’t having it either.

“Since when do you agree with Wes?” El asked. “And since when are you trying to get attention? I thought we had an understanding about what generating attention could lead to...”

“Yes, El. I know, ok?” My voice was starting to shake with emotion that I was trying hard to control. I stopped halfway down the hall and turned around. “Why do you think I go to such lengths to hide behind this look?” I said, waving my hands from top to bottom.

My clothes, much like my hair, were carefully designed to cause a distraction. My custom made outfit cost more than some people’s first car. Tight and cut out in all the right places, it was a one piece and made out of the softest black leather money could buy. Getting into it took some practice, since it had one zipper that started at my right foot and ended at my left collar bone. It definitely generated a lot of attention—preferably away from my face. But it was effective in distracting anyone from really seeing, well...me. I took one last glance in a nearby mirror. I was always surprised at the woman who looked back when I was dressed and ready for a set. My green eyes were exaggerated thanks to the dramatic makeup, which was the final compliment to my overall look. The effect was so far from how I preferred to appear that I might as well have worn a mask.

“You know I need the music and I am always careful,” I continued quickly, “Anyway, I don’t have another gig scheduled for two weeks. I’ll make up for it. We won’t fall behind.”

I turned and started walking again, trying to keep my breath even. I hated what she did to us. She was the only conflict we couldn’t resolve together.

“You know that’s not it, Luna.” El said disapprovingly, following me as I made my way to the door. I could hear him dragging his fingers across both sides of the hallway. I knew if I turned around I would see his arms back and stretched across the hall with his head hung slightly over. It was how he walked when he was working out any problem. “The work is always there. I just…”

His pause spoke more than his words. There wasn’t anything left for him to say. Neither of us wanted to come clean and actually speak the words, but the choice was made: I wasn’t going.

I stopped at the door that lead into our brownstone’s central foyer and typed a code into the keypad, pausing for just for a half second to remember the date. Then with a laugh I shook my head at the idea that I had to remember it—it was my birthday after all. But since the code changed daily and was related to the current date, it was second nature to pause and confirm the number.

“Listen, we’ll celebrate tomorrow, ok? I will be 21 for another 364 days.” I said, passing through the open door as I tied my trench coat belt around my waist. “And I’m sorry about today. I’m sorry you have to go alone.”

“It’s not that, Luna,” El began.

“I know,” I said cutting him off. “I just don’t feel like spending my birthday wondering if my mother is going to try and kill me,”As the door closed I gave him one last look, turned back around and finished with a whisper, ”yet again”.

CHAPTER 2

It was the type of day that justified every cheesy movie and platitude associated with autumn in New York, or in this case, Brooklyn. As I closed the outside door behind me, the tangible expressions of fall were everywhere. The chill in the air was perfect; I welcomed its nip on my exposed skin. The noise of tumbling, dried leaves swirling into mini tornadoes at my feet complemented the city’s natural hum. Smoke from fireplaces, being burned for the first time in two seasons, filled the air. The memory of how seasonal pears tasted made my stomach constrict from need. I lifted my trench coat collar, put on my aviator sunglasses and tried to focus on the environment and its sensations instead of the conversation I had just escaped.

Out of habit I involuntarily took in my surroundings and cataloged every person walking by. When I was younger, El used to tell me that the brain was a muscle and if I stopped using it, it would become weak. “Memories can only be made by seeing the whole picture.” 

He always emphasized that memories weren’t one-dimensional. ‘It’s not just what you see. It’s what’s happening in your mind when you see it.” Walks to the store would conclude with painstaking quizzes, “What color was the collar of the dog being walked by the woman in the red dress?” “What did you smell when we walked next to the man in the bowler hat?” He also quizzed me on what was happening contextually. Weeks after something happened he would quiz me, “Remember when we went to the skate park and that kid broke his leg? What size earthquake hit Indonesia that afternoon?” Whatever his purpose, it worked. I involuntarily take note of everything and, in his defense, I have a pretty phenomenal memory.

While I walked, I pushed away the memory of the exchanges I had with El concerning my mother. Same argument. Same awkward pleadings from El, “When I am with her, alone, she is different and only speaks of you. Of protecting you. Of making sure everything is ok for you..”

My thumb obsessively rubbed against the glasses in my pocket, proving again that they were my adult version of a baby blanket. They were my prized possession. Just thinking about the day I found them in a middle-of-nowhere flea market in Wyoming calms me. It was one of the last days I spent with my grandmother and when I proudly held them up for her to see, she cocked her head slightly, but didn’t question why a nine year old would want used welders glasses. At the time they didn’t fit, the rusty nose guard was meant for a man’s face, not a child’s upturned pug nose. But now they fit perfectly and have been scrubbed clean and framed with small LED chips that light up in the night. I also outfitted them with special lenses that diffuse light, allowing me to see better when in the dark club atmosphere. Functional and (in my opinion) uniquely fashionable. They were the perfect addition to my incognito DJ ensemble and I refused to play without them.

But their bumpy exterior couldn’t calm the feeling of guilt that washed over me from my conversation with El. Apparently, even at twenty-one, I was incapable of handling a mature conversation about our mother. I physically shuddered thinking about how a phone call from Wes, truly the creepiest dil-hole on the planet, had given me a sense of relief.

“Hey Moon-Beam” Of course he started off using a nickname that I have told him will someday force me to destroy him. “I need you tonight. Big crowd coming and I want to give them our little super star!”

Usually my response would have been a verbal assault, but he was giving me the out that I craved.

“I am sure you are busy tonight with nerd-duties” he continued, “but dungeons and dragons can wait.”

I cursed the day that I told him that I did some freelance software and web development with my brother. I was caught off-guard—something that rarely happened and will never happen again. A bartender named “Rick” from the club, whom I later dealt with, followed me home. It had been a long set and I failed to notice him walking behind me. It wasn’t until I was going up the steps to our house that he stopped me and asked if I would invite him in for a drink, or breakfast (it was 6 am). I rebuffed him instantly, which apparently bruised his ego. When I returned to the club the next week, thanks to his big mouth, everyone wanted to know how I was able to live in a brownstone in what was known to be one of the more expensive streets in Brooklyn. In an attempt to explain my address, I told them that in addition to being a professor, my brother had a side business. Together we hacked into companies’ security systems to ensure their reliability (the best lie is close to the truth). Despite his limited vocabulary and brain capacity, this was enough ammunition for Wes to come up with endless “nerdy little rich girl” insults and innuendos.

Since then, I don’t feel compelled to disclose anything about my life. Wes’ endless jokes actually prevented me from having to comment anyway. His version of my life has become my story and I am perfectly happy with that. If it weren’t for the music, I wouldn’t even bother putting up with it. But this club was like all the others. So I focused on my sets and remembered that music was my escape, especially on nights like this one.

As I continued down the street, I tried to distract myself from my real issues by obsessing over how much I hated Wes. It wasn’t working. My mother—or rather the image of her sitting in an institution 25 miles away—kept creeping into my head. 

Waiting at a crosswalk, I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the sounds and smells around me, but I could only see dark hallways that reeked of antiseptic and institution. Blazing horns and the sound of wind whipping around city pathways couldn’t distract me from the sound of heels, breaking the silence inside laminate hallways. Whereas most people got cake and candles every year, that sound was the only consistent memory I had from previous birthdays. When I was a child I would spend hours picking out my shoes before visiting my mother. I hated the way hard-soled shoes would sound. While I was still young and still could get away with childish whims, I would stretch each leg from one square to the other, hoping that fewer strides meant less noise. It was a useless attempt, I couldn’t ignore the raw sights and sounds of that horrible place. Which is why this year I gave up and spent my energy getting out of the visit all together.

Mercifully my thoughts were broken by a fellow pedestrian who couldn’t spare a half second and bumped into me when the light changed.

As I reached the club’s basement employee entrance, I took in the quiet and sense of calm. Two hours from now the whole infrastructure would pulsate and beat against the music that I would create. I was filled with anticipation knowing that I would soon disrupt this stillness.

With my hand on the door handle I turned my back against the door and muttered under my breath, “Sixty seconds, Luna. You get sixty seconds to feel sorry for yourself and then you have to get over it.”

I set my watch to count down from sixty and immediately a feeling of guilt washed over me as I pictured El walking down those dank, poorly lit hallways alone.

….57 seconds.

The last time I saw her, she was smaller; even more frail than the year before. One year El suggested that we pick another day to see her, allowing me to actually celebrate my birthday. But it was her birthday too.

….49 seconds

I didn’t want to think of the year before. Instead I thought of my favorite picture of her. In the picture, she’s young and unaffected, on her knees bear-hugging El with one arm. I was a toddler, barely walking. Her other arm looks as though it’s about to stretch out to me and take me into a similar bear hug. It looked as though someone just said something funny, because her head is back, with her mouth relaxed and open in a laugh. What’s so profoundly moving about this picture is how unfamiliar that woman is to me now. Her joy was so tangible and seems to spread to every person in the room.

…..35 seconds

But that isn’t the only mystery behind this picture. Upon careful inspection it’s clear that it could have only been taken by someone who really loved her. The intention is clear: She is the only focus of the picture and it’s obvious that she didn’t know or expect a picture to be taken. The purpose—so perfectly achieved—was to capture her in that moment. Although I couldn't remember the day this picture was taken or what it was like to see her that happy, the real mystery was the photographer. Who loved her—at that moment—enough to capture it? Well, thanks to photo software that allowed me to crop, sharpen and examine the figure that was reflected in a nearby mirror, the picture also provides me with the one and only image I have of my father together with my mother.

…..14 seconds

I cringed thinking of El’s pleadings after our last visit. Unlike me, he visited more than once a year and claimed that she only spoke of me whenever he visited her alone.

His pleadings were usually met with a snarky response from me. “Well El, when I am with her, we don’t talk much. Usually I am just trying to unwrap her fingers from their death grip around my neck.”

…..7 seconds

I hated how she made me feel like the bad seed; the selfish child who wouldn’t rise above the pain. That wasn’t entirely true. I wanted to love the woman that I remembered. But, time was separating me from the mother I knew as a child and the growing distance made that woman feel like a figment of my imagination. Meanwhile my throat still felt constricted against her hold and my heart had never defrosted from her tangible hate on that fateful night.

I clenched and unclenched my hands while I shook my head. Why should I feel guilty? I wasn’t the murderer.

She was.

….0 seconds.

Opening the door, I knew temporarily solace awaited on the other side. With music, I could feel everything and nothing at the same time. The unknown could become the absolute and all questions were temporarily answered. 

Now that the 60 seconds were over I could finally disengage from the guilt. 

Enough. It was time to focus on the music.

------

H. Kroll Smith

Bio

I am a commercial energy consultant. For over 15 years I have worked in the efficiency industry to help design and implement programs that reduce energy. I have a BA in Political Science and live in Florida. I am married with two children and have always been an avid and critical reader.

Title: Dichotomy 7

Genre/Age Range: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/YA; age 14 –

Word Count: + 68,500

Synopsis/Hook

Dichotomy 7 is about a 21 year old woman named Luna. Luna is confident, fiercely independent and brilliant. She has always known her life was extra-ordinary, but believed that its uniqueness began and ended with her small family and the reclusive world they created for themselves. But one night, she meets a woman who looks exactly like her; not just a twin, but an exact carbon copy. She is then abducted, thrust into an unknown world and challenged to reinterpret everything she knows about herself, her family and humanity in general. As she unravels the mysteries of her family’s past, she must fight to regain control of her future without knowing whom or what she can trust. 

I envision Dichotomy 7 as one book in an eight book series. Although this would be a massive undertaking, I have outlined a story line that would keep a reader engaged for eight books. I just finished a first draft this spring and would love to work with an editor to see this story through to fruition. I would be happy to share a more detailed synopsis or full draft if the reviewer is curious after reading my initial submission.

Why is it a good fit?

I think we are ready for a female heroine who doesn’t rely on others to unlock her full potential or play the victim, but is still beautifully human.

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Written by hkrollsmith in portal Trident Media Group
Dichotomy 7
N48 42’ 24.5602” W113 38’28.3374
I give in—occasionally. It’s always there, the nagging itch to wonder (let’s be honest: fantasize). So I grant myself brief moments in time and allow my thoughts to drift—untethered—and explore the question of “what if”.

The backdrops of these “what ifs” always start exactly as it was that night. They feature the same pulsating music (I remember the exact beat), the humid, dank smell of raw humans and the oscillating darkness mixed with strobe lights that are present in every club on planet earth. But in these versions (ok, fantasies) the moment in which I—the resident DJ, who is contemplating the merits of getting fired over having to finish the set—look into the abyss of drunk club rats and obnoxious bachelorettes and see them: two eyes locked in position. That exact position being me.

This is where the “what if” comes into play. I forget what I know now: that those eyes and the accompanying look were actually laced with recognition, history and a strategy still undetermined. In these “what if” scenarios, that moment is just a basic human connection and the recognition of a mutual interest, with a stare that feels like a grip. The resulting fantasies that unfold in my mind (which can get embarrassingly graphic) last until an involuntary feeling of regret starts to set in. That’s when I cut it off and remember that these moments aren’t worth my energy or my time.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that I have never lived far from the reality that now consumes me, and I can’t reconstruct what actually happened. Regrets are simply a wish—a wish that a reality, a history or even a person can change. I could ask myself if I am happier now, with the feeling of incompleteness gone. Would I take it all back? The truth—not the fantasy—is that it doesn’t matter.

This is my life now.

CHAPTER 1

When I was little, I called them the “Creeps”. When the creeps invaded, the feelings and the accompanying noise inside my head seemed to wrap their way throughout every cell. The sensation would begin at the back of my neck, and then move from the edges of my fingers and toes. It would crawl its way up my limbs, sometimes a flutter, sometimes a twitch, and if ignored, it could overpower me for days. Once I spent a week in near catatonic shock. So, eventually dealing with the creeps became commonplace and typically started with:

Me: “The creeps are back.”
My brother, Elgar, who I called “El”: “Ok let’s get started.”

From there, we would work our way through El’s patented “Creeps Remedies”.
Sometimes the remedy was as simple as reciting the digits of Pi. I can still picture him patiently saying, “The numbers don’t change, Luna. They stay constant regardless. If you can remember 15 digits, there’s no reason you can’t remember 16. So let’s do it again. 3.14159...” If this didn’t work, we would move on to more exercises—sometimes mental, other times physical. He would work with me until I felt balanced again. Now I know that these were just common tools for dealing with anxiety, OCD, and other run-of-the-mill social disorders. But when I was little, they were a refuge for problems that seemed to only affect me, with causes unknown.

On this particular night, it was easier to pretend that my current problem was Wes, the manager of a club where I had a regular DJ gig. There was something instinctive about the way that we clashed. Although I tried to ignore him as much as possible, every interaction with him left a visceral and negative footprint.

So, it was easy to transfer my growing anxiety to Wes and his mere existence. I felt comfort in cataloging and plotting all the mock ways I could kill him. I started my list while I deftly tugged and pulled my hair into miniature buns across my whole head. My ideas were simple but, I reasoned, effective:

1. Make him shower more than once a week
2. Force sobriety for more than 12 hours
3. Donate just one cent of his earnings to charity

My problem solving was interrupted by a familiar voice. “It’s not your hair’s fault you agreed to this gig rather than celebrate your birthday,” he said. “Don’t you think that spray-in dye you use is punishment enough?”

Shifting my eyes, I saw my brother’s reflection on the left hand side of my mirror. He was leaning slightly against the doorway of my room. I knew he wouldn’t come any further. He was always considerate of my space. Since I was ten years old it had just been the two of us and we had a near perfect waltz after sharing a house together for eleven years.

I tried to meet his eyes in the mirror with a hard stare, but as usual, El’s mere presence diffused any tension I felt, sardonic or not. So instead, I let out a very ungraceful snort and made sure to spray the newest bun with even more blue hair dye.

“You know I always go incognito when I play.” I said with mock offense. “I don’t want any of my so-called fans to recognize me on the street.”

As I rolled the final bun, one of about 10 that now haloed my head, I glanced back at him. His smirk was gone, replaced with a disapproving frown that showed all of the tension he was trying so hard to hide.

“You don’t have to agree to this gig just to avoid me, Luna. No need to make up an excuse. I know we typically see her on your birthday...” he began. 

As I continued to gather my things, he took my silence as an invitation to continue. “If it’s too much—I get that. I was really hoping to hang out, you know, after we got a little work in?”

I groaned. All joking was lost. I was so caught up in myself I forgot that I was dropping the ball on him. He cut me off before I could roll out a flimsy excuse.

“I don’t care about the work, Lu.” His voice grew softer, “Admittedly I had the ridiculous notion that you and I could actually talk about seeing her today. You know, like normal human beings.” He curled his hands into fists and put them on top of his head to make mock hair buns. “You know, El,” he said in an overly screechy, high pitched voice, “I don't think I'll go with you to see mom this year. I have carefully cataloged and reviewed a list of pros and cons and I think I might take a year off from the mamma-drama.”

Trying not to laugh, I pretended like I wasn’t listening and started cleaning up my hair and makeup supplies. But he knew I wasn’t missing a minute of it.

Dropping his hands and placing them on his hips, chest puffed out, he continued with an overly deep voice that exaggerated every syllable, “Sure Sis, I understand. Thanks for discussing it with me. I already figured that out since you evaded the subject every single time I tried to bring it up this year. But thanks for talking it through.”

I hugged my bag against my chest as I watched his little play unfold. A smiled tugged at my lips even though I wanted nothing more than to escape this conversation.

“It’s obvious that you don’t know any normal human beings,” I said dryly. “I am pretty sure that was a scene from a car or insurance commercial.”

Before he could continue I shook my head and resumed packing. Since this wasn’t a planned gig, my pile of extra clothes and gear were just thrown on my bed. They were as unorganized as my thoughts. “I know it’s not my regular night,” I told him, “but Wes kept talking about ‘capitalizing on my 15 minutes of fame’ although I am pretty sure he doesn’t understand what the word capitalize means. I know for sure he can’t spell it.”

I looked up hoping that this would at least make him smile, but he just stared back at me. His blue eyes, lined with worry, were the only thing that came close to showing his age. His brown thick hair was askew and as usual—much like mine—his clothes hung off his lanky frame. Once someone described us as water reeds, because of our dark mop of hair that topped off our lean, angular bodies. But that’s where the similarities ended. His blue steel eyes and pale skin were in direct contrast to my green eyes and olive skin.

I brushed past him, trying not to make eye contact, and walked down the adjacent hall. “So, according to slimy club manager logic, I should be as visible as possible. And surprise, unadvertised shows are the best way to generate attention.”

The first time Wes set me up to work an impromptu gig, I threatened bodily harm. Now I was using his words as my defense? El wasn’t having it either.

“Since when do you agree with Wes?” El asked. “And since when are you trying to get attention? I thought we had an understanding about what generating attention could lead to...”

“Yes, El. I know, ok?” My voice was starting to shake with emotion that I was trying hard to control. I stopped halfway down the hall and turned around. “Why do you think I go to such lengths to hide behind this look?” I said, waving my hands from top to bottom.

My clothes, much like my hair, were carefully designed to cause a distraction. My custom made outfit cost more than some people’s first car. Tight and cut out in all the right places, it was a one piece and made out of the softest black leather money could buy. Getting into it took some practice, since it had one zipper that started at my right foot and ended at my left collar bone. It definitely generated a lot of attention—preferably away from my face. But it was effective in distracting anyone from really seeing, well...me. I took one last glance in a nearby mirror. I was always surprised at the woman who looked back when I was dressed and ready for a set. My green eyes were exaggerated thanks to the dramatic makeup, which was the final compliment to my overall look. The effect was so far from how I preferred to appear that I might as well have worn a mask.

“You know I need the music and I am always careful,” I continued quickly, “Anyway, I don’t have another gig scheduled for two weeks. I’ll make up for it. We won’t fall behind.”
I turned and started walking again, trying to keep my breath even. I hated what she did to us. She was the only conflict we couldn’t resolve together.

“You know that’s not it, Luna.” El said disapprovingly, following me as I made my way to the door. I could hear him dragging his fingers across both sides of the hallway. I knew if I turned around I would see his arms back and stretched across the hall with his head hung slightly over. It was how he walked when he was working out any problem. “The work is always there. I just…”

His pause spoke more than his words. There wasn’t anything left for him to say. Neither of us wanted to come clean and actually speak the words, but the choice was made: I wasn’t going.

I stopped at the door that lead into our brownstone’s central foyer and typed a code into the keypad, pausing for just for a half second to remember the date. Then with a laugh I shook my head at the idea that I had to remember it—it was my birthday after all. But since the code changed daily and was related to the current date, it was second nature to pause and confirm the number.

“Listen, we’ll celebrate tomorrow, ok? I will be 21 for another 364 days.” I said, passing through the open door as I tied my trench coat belt around my waist. “And I’m sorry about today. I’m sorry you have to go alone.”

“It’s not that, Luna,” El began.

“I know,” I said cutting him off. “I just don’t feel like spending my birthday wondering if my mother is going to try and kill me,”As the door closed I gave him one last look, turned back around and finished with a whisper, ”yet again”.

CHAPTER 2

It was the type of day that justified every cheesy movie and platitude associated with autumn in New York, or in this case, Brooklyn. As I closed the outside door behind me, the tangible expressions of fall were everywhere. The chill in the air was perfect; I welcomed its nip on my exposed skin. The noise of tumbling, dried leaves swirling into mini tornadoes at my feet complemented the city’s natural hum. Smoke from fireplaces, being burned for the first time in two seasons, filled the air. The memory of how seasonal pears tasted made my stomach constrict from need. I lifted my trench coat collar, put on my aviator sunglasses and tried to focus on the environment and its sensations instead of the conversation I had just escaped.

Out of habit I involuntarily took in my surroundings and cataloged every person walking by. When I was younger, El used to tell me that the brain was a muscle and if I stopped using it, it would become weak. “Memories can only be made by seeing the whole picture.” 

He always emphasized that memories weren’t one-dimensional. ‘It’s not just what you see. It’s what’s happening in your mind when you see it.” Walks to the store would conclude with painstaking quizzes, “What color was the collar of the dog being walked by the woman in the red dress?” “What did you smell when we walked next to the man in the bowler hat?” He also quizzed me on what was happening contextually. Weeks after something happened he would quiz me, “Remember when we went to the skate park and that kid broke his leg? What size earthquake hit Indonesia that afternoon?” Whatever his purpose, it worked. I involuntarily take note of everything and, in his defense, I have a pretty phenomenal memory.

While I walked, I pushed away the memory of the exchanges I had with El concerning my mother. Same argument. Same awkward pleadings from El, “When I am with her, alone, she is different and only speaks of you. Of protecting you. Of making sure everything is ok for you..”

My thumb obsessively rubbed against the glasses in my pocket, proving again that they were my adult version of a baby blanket. They were my prized possession. Just thinking about the day I found them in a middle-of-nowhere flea market in Wyoming calms me. It was one of the last days I spent with my grandmother and when I proudly held them up for her to see, she cocked her head slightly, but didn’t question why a nine year old would want used welders glasses. At the time they didn’t fit, the rusty nose guard was meant for a man’s face, not a child’s upturned pug nose. But now they fit perfectly and have been scrubbed clean and framed with small LED chips that light up in the night. I also outfitted them with special lenses that diffuse light, allowing me to see better when in the dark club atmosphere. Functional and (in my opinion) uniquely fashionable. They were the perfect addition to my incognito DJ ensemble and I refused to play without them.

But their bumpy exterior couldn’t calm the feeling of guilt that washed over me from my conversation with El. Apparently, even at twenty-one, I was incapable of handling a mature conversation about our mother. I physically shuddered thinking about how a phone call from Wes, truly the creepiest dil-hole on the planet, had given me a sense of relief.

“Hey Moon-Beam” Of course he started off using a nickname that I have told him will someday force me to destroy him. “I need you tonight. Big crowd coming and I want to give them our little super star!”

Usually my response would have been a verbal assault, but he was giving me the out that I craved.

“I am sure you are busy tonight with nerd-duties” he continued, “but dungeons and dragons can wait.”

I cursed the day that I told him that I did some freelance software and web development with my brother. I was caught off-guard—something that rarely happened and will never happen again. A bartender named “Rick” from the club, whom I later dealt with, followed me home. It had been a long set and I failed to notice him walking behind me. It wasn’t until I was going up the steps to our house that he stopped me and asked if I would invite him in for a drink, or breakfast (it was 6 am). I rebuffed him instantly, which apparently bruised his ego. When I returned to the club the next week, thanks to his big mouth, everyone wanted to know how I was able to live in a brownstone in what was known to be one of the more expensive streets in Brooklyn. In an attempt to explain my address, I told them that in addition to being a professor, my brother had a side business. Together we hacked into companies’ security systems to ensure their reliability (the best lie is close to the truth). Despite his limited vocabulary and brain capacity, this was enough ammunition for Wes to come up with endless “nerdy little rich girl” insults and innuendos.

Since then, I don’t feel compelled to disclose anything about my life. Wes’ endless jokes actually prevented me from having to comment anyway. His version of my life has become my story and I am perfectly happy with that. If it weren’t for the music, I wouldn’t even bother putting up with it. But this club was like all the others. So I focused on my sets and remembered that music was my escape, especially on nights like this one.

As I continued down the street, I tried to distract myself from my real issues by obsessing over how much I hated Wes. It wasn’t working. My mother—or rather the image of her sitting in an institution 25 miles away—kept creeping into my head. 

Waiting at a crosswalk, I closed my eyes and tried to focus on the sounds and smells around me, but I could only see dark hallways that reeked of antiseptic and institution. Blazing horns and the sound of wind whipping around city pathways couldn’t distract me from the sound of heels, breaking the silence inside laminate hallways. Whereas most people got cake and candles every year, that sound was the only consistent memory I had from previous birthdays. When I was a child I would spend hours picking out my shoes before visiting my mother. I hated the way hard-soled shoes would sound. While I was still young and still could get away with childish whims, I would stretch each leg from one square to the other, hoping that fewer strides meant less noise. It was a useless attempt, I couldn’t ignore the raw sights and sounds of that horrible place. Which is why this year I gave up and spent my energy getting out of the visit all together.

Mercifully my thoughts were broken by a fellow pedestrian who couldn’t spare a half second and bumped into me when the light changed.

As I reached the club’s basement employee entrance, I took in the quiet and sense of calm. Two hours from now the whole infrastructure would pulsate and beat against the music that I would create. I was filled with anticipation knowing that I would soon disrupt this stillness.

With my hand on the door handle I turned my back against the door and muttered under my breath, “Sixty seconds, Luna. You get sixty seconds to feel sorry for yourself and then you have to get over it.”

I set my watch to count down from sixty and immediately a feeling of guilt washed over me as I pictured El walking down those dank, poorly lit hallways alone.

….57 seconds.
The last time I saw her, she was smaller; even more frail than the year before. One year El suggested that we pick another day to see her, allowing me to actually celebrate my birthday. But it was her birthday too.

….49 seconds
I didn’t want to think of the year before. Instead I thought of my favorite picture of her. In the picture, she’s young and unaffected, on her knees bear-hugging El with one arm. I was a toddler, barely walking. Her other arm looks as though it’s about to stretch out to me and take me into a similar bear hug. It looked as though someone just said something funny, because her head is back, with her mouth relaxed and open in a laugh. What’s so profoundly moving about this picture is how unfamiliar that woman is to me now. Her joy was so tangible and seems to spread to every person in the room.

…..35 seconds
But that isn’t the only mystery behind this picture. Upon careful inspection it’s clear that it could have only been taken by someone who really loved her. The intention is clear: She is the only focus of the picture and it’s obvious that she didn’t know or expect a picture to be taken. The purpose—so perfectly achieved—was to capture her in that moment. Although I couldn't remember the day this picture was taken or what it was like to see her that happy, the real mystery was the photographer. Who loved her—at that moment—enough to capture it? Well, thanks to photo software that allowed me to crop, sharpen and examine the figure that was reflected in a nearby mirror, the picture also provides me with the one and only image I have of my father together with my mother.

…..14 seconds
I cringed thinking of El’s pleadings after our last visit. Unlike me, he visited more than once a year and claimed that she only spoke of me whenever he visited her alone.
His pleadings were usually met with a snarky response from me. “Well El, when I am with her, we don’t talk much. Usually I am just trying to unwrap her fingers from their death grip around my neck.”

…..7 seconds
I hated how she made me feel like the bad seed; the selfish child who wouldn’t rise above the pain. That wasn’t entirely true. I wanted to love the woman that I remembered. But, time was separating me from the mother I knew as a child and the growing distance made that woman feel like a figment of my imagination. Meanwhile my throat still felt constricted against her hold and my heart had never defrosted from her tangible hate on that fateful night.

I clenched and unclenched my hands while I shook my head. Why should I feel guilty? I wasn’t the murderer.

She was.

….0 seconds.
Opening the door, I knew temporarily solace awaited on the other side. With music, I could feel everything and nothing at the same time. The unknown could become the absolute and all questions were temporarily answered. 

Now that the 60 seconds were over I could finally disengage from the guilt. 

Enough. It was time to focus on the music.

------
H. Kroll Smith
Bio
I am a commercial energy consultant. For over 15 years I have worked in the efficiency industry to help design and implement programs that reduce energy. I have a BA in Political Science and live in Florida. I am married with two children and have always been an avid and critical reader.
Title: Dichotomy 7
Genre/Age Range: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/YA; age 14 –
Word Count: + 68,500

Synopsis/Hook
Dichotomy 7 is about a 21 year old woman named Luna. Luna is confident, fiercely independent and brilliant. She has always known her life was extra-ordinary, but believed that its uniqueness began and ended with her small family and the reclusive world they created for themselves. But one night, she meets a woman who looks exactly like her; not just a twin, but an exact carbon copy. She is then abducted, thrust into an unknown world and challenged to reinterpret everything she knows about herself, her family and humanity in general. As she unravels the mysteries of her family’s past, she must fight to regain control of her future without knowing whom or what she can trust. 

I envision Dichotomy 7 as one book in an eight book series. Although this would be a massive undertaking, I have outlined a story line that would keep a reader engaged for eight books. I just finished a first draft this spring and would love to work with an editor to see this story through to fruition. I would be happy to share a more detailed synopsis or full draft if the reviewer is curious after reading my initial submission.

Why is it a good fit?
I think we are ready for a female heroine who doesn’t rely on others to unlock her full potential or play the victim, but is still beautifully human.
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Written by Gregory in portal Trident Media Group

There's no innocents here

The smell.

The fucking smell.

You'd think forty years would be enough to drive it out of mind and memory but no, there it was, clear as ever. It was in Dannen's nose long before his foot touched the quay, and it stayed with him up the rutted path from the shore, and it was waiting for him stronger still by the door of the inn. Goats and mist and rot, the unmistakable smells of Ryrk. The smells of an unmissed childhood.

"Let's get that lit," he said, holding the door open and nodding towards the lamp. "I'd sooner not meet the Morelain in the dark."

Ahmad, tall and thin as a lamp wick himself, coaxed a flame into the lantern and Dannen immediately wished he had not. The room revealed was a dismal sight, a table and four chairs standing in dust and decay, though at least it was dry. There was as much water in the air on Ryrk as there was off the shore, which was why so many of the island's men took to the life of the waves - that and the fact that the only alternative was a life of goat-watching.

"So this is your home, is it, Dannen?" said Karim, stepping just far enough inside to get out of the rain. "Next time perhaps I'll choose where we meet."

"If you know a place where we're less likely to be seen then I'll be glad to hear it," said Dannen. "Ryrk's not a place people watch." Or return to, he added silently.

"I can't think why. So where is your Morelain? I thought you said it would be waiting for us."

The drawl of Karim's voice alone was enough to set Dannen's teeth on edge. He tried to tell himself that it was not jealousy, that the fact the Daganite boy came from wealth meant nothing, but of course it was not true. Privilege surrounded Karim as ostentatiously as the rings on his slim fingers - four on each hand, a different colour on every finger making every gesture a damn rainbow. But Karim's ships were one third of their strength so Dannen kept the despite from his voice. "He'll be here," he said.

"You seem very sure of the word of this creature," said the Daganite, one ringed finger tapping the hilt of his knife to punctuate the words. "A twisted son of a twisted race, murderers every one, and worse if the stories told about them are true."

"We're all murderers, Karim. You, me, Ahmad… there's no innocents here." Even to his own ears Dannen's words sounded coarse after Karim's measured tones. Another reason to dislike the boy.

Karim sprawled carelessly into one of the chairs, though his nonchalance did not stop him first turning the chair to keep the door in his line of sight. "And did your Morelain say how long we should wait?" he asked. "No, please, don't answer. In Dagan mothers tell their children that the Morelain will return if we turn away from the gods. And now one has returned and we sit here waiting for it." His right hand touched his heart and moved out palm up in a mocking demonstration of the sign of faith.

"They say the same everywhere. Don't make it true." Dannen spat on the dusty floor and did not repeat Karim's gesture. The unease he felt was real enough without adding superstitions and legends to it.

"Are you sure it will help us?" asked Karim. "You have sailed with the creature, you said."

"I have, aye. Sailed with him twice and spoke with him once. I took him and one of the Learned to Norine. But he was different then." Dannen tried to put finality into his voice; it was not a tale he wished to tell. "You ask me if I'm sure he'll help? No. And if he does, he'll want something in return, I don't doubt. But he's agreed to meet us and one thing I do know: without his help our plan goes no further."

Karim ran a finger up the lamp on the table, affecting boredom, but his voice betrayed his curiosity. "I have often wondered how much truth there is in the stories of the Old World, the Empire of Light and Dark, the Great War… What was it like, this creature, this Morelain?"

"Like a man, not a creature. Not a thing or a monster. A man, different from us, but still a man." Dannen sighed. He understood the curiosity, of course, but he had never been a man who enjoyed the sound of his own voice, nor the retelling of tales already told. "I can't tell you how much of what they say of the Old World is true, and how much is just tales to frighten children. If you really want to know then visit Norine, talk to the Learned - though if you do you might get an answer that's too long even for you, Karim.

"When you look at the Morelain, you see a man, 'cept for his eyes. First time I had him on my deck he was asleep. Barely woke the whole journey. The second time he was awake, though." An unwanted memory came into his mind and tightened his stomach, a memory of a cage, a knife and blood. "Manacled and gagged he was, but even then you didn't look too deeply into those eyes. I saw one soldier mock him and spit at him. But the Morelain, he don't move, he don't speak. He just stares and stares 'til the fool starts to shake and sob. Next morning we find him with his own blade in his gut. They put a blindfold over his eyes after that."

"All right, a man. But you said it - he - was different then," pressed Karim. "What do you mean?"

Dannen looked for the words he needed and failed to find them. "He looked at things like he'd never seen 'em before. Like he was new to the world… like a child."

"A child," Karim repeated, derision spicing the word. He spread his arms wide as if speaking to an audience. "We await help from a child. 'The Morelain can do this', you told us. 'Power without allegiance, the power of the Old World' you said… and now you say 'a child'. Perhaps we should have brought a wet-nurse for him."

Dannen's anger flared again. The boy had a gift for provoking him. "Don't be a fool," he snapped, and this time he did not try to disguise his disdain. "I said he was like a child, not that he was a child. It was as if he knew nothing of the world, as if he was seeing everything for the first time. The Norine - the Learned - said he was waking, as though from a deep sleep."

"A bleary-eyed child, then. And still he is not here."

Something in Karim's voice brought Dannen's gaze sharply round - a note of fear behind the scorn, verging on panic. Karim's arm was held out over the lamp's eager flame like a piece of parchment he wished to burn, and his eyes were wide with confusion and horror. ?Shock held Dannen still then released him?. He shoved at the outstretched arm and pain shot up through his shoulders, for the arm was as rigid as the branch of a tree. He could see Ahmad wrestling futilely with the lamp and heard his desperate cry as he brought a hand down to extinguish the flame, but it leapt hungrily up again as soon as he lifted the hand away and Karim's sleeve went up in a sudden bright rush.

A movement in the shadows took and held Dannen's eye. A movement of the shadows. Darkness gathered, coalesced into a shape and flowed out towards them. Into the lamplight it came and the dark sloughed from it, sliding off like water to reveal the man beneath.

Tall he was, and his skin was black as night and bone-dry, stretched taut over a sparse frame and a hairless head. Angular bones framed his face and a thin mouth below curved in amusement, or mockery, or both. It was a face refined and intelligent and cruel and indifferent, but it was a human face nonetheless, save for the eyes. From their deep sockets they blazed with an intensity hard to meet, yellow-orange rings with black within and without, more akin to a bird's than to a man's.

"So what do you need my help with, Dannen?" the Morelain asked.

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Written by Gregory in portal Trident Media Group
There's no innocents here
The smell.
The fucking smell.
You'd think forty years would be enough to drive it out of mind and memory but no, there it was, clear as ever. It was in Dannen's nose long before his foot touched the quay, and it stayed with him up the rutted path from the shore, and it was waiting for him stronger still by the door of the inn. Goats and mist and rot, the unmistakable smells of Ryrk. The smells of an unmissed childhood.
"Let's get that lit," he said, holding the door open and nodding towards the lamp. "I'd sooner not meet the Morelain in the dark."
Ahmad, tall and thin as a lamp wick himself, coaxed a flame into the lantern and Dannen immediately wished he had not. The room revealed was a dismal sight, a table and four chairs standing in dust and decay, though at least it was dry. There was as much water in the air on Ryrk as there was off the shore, which was why so many of the island's men took to the life of the waves - that and the fact that the only alternative was a life of goat-watching.
"So this is your home, is it, Dannen?" said Karim, stepping just far enough inside to get out of the rain. "Next time perhaps I'll choose where we meet."
"If you know a place where we're less likely to be seen then I'll be glad to hear it," said Dannen. "Ryrk's not a place people watch." Or return to, he added silently.
"I can't think why. So where is your Morelain? I thought you said it would be waiting for us."
The drawl of Karim's voice alone was enough to set Dannen's teeth on edge. He tried to tell himself that it was not jealousy, that the fact the Daganite boy came from wealth meant nothing, but of course it was not true. Privilege surrounded Karim as ostentatiously as the rings on his slim fingers - four on each hand, a different colour on every finger making every gesture a damn rainbow. But Karim's ships were one third of their strength so Dannen kept the despite from his voice. "He'll be here," he said.
"You seem very sure of the word of this creature," said the Daganite, one ringed finger tapping the hilt of his knife to punctuate the words. "A twisted son of a twisted race, murderers every one, and worse if the stories told about them are true."
"We're all murderers, Karim. You, me, Ahmad… there's no innocents here." Even to his own ears Dannen's words sounded coarse after Karim's measured tones. Another reason to dislike the boy.
Karim sprawled carelessly into one of the chairs, though his nonchalance did not stop him first turning the chair to keep the door in his line of sight. "And did your Morelain say how long we should wait?" he asked. "No, please, don't answer. In Dagan mothers tell their children that the Morelain will return if we turn away from the gods. And now one has returned and we sit here waiting for it." His right hand touched his heart and moved out palm up in a mocking demonstration of the sign of faith.
"They say the same everywhere. Don't make it true." Dannen spat on the dusty floor and did not repeat Karim's gesture. The unease he felt was real enough without adding superstitions and legends to it.
"Are you sure it will help us?" asked Karim. "You have sailed with the creature, you said."
"I have, aye. Sailed with him twice and spoke with him once. I took him and one of the Learned to Norine. But he was different then." Dannen tried to put finality into his voice; it was not a tale he wished to tell. "You ask me if I'm sure he'll help? No. And if he does, he'll want something in return, I don't doubt. But he's agreed to meet us and one thing I do know: without his help our plan goes no further."
Karim ran a finger up the lamp on the table, affecting boredom, but his voice betrayed his curiosity. "I have often wondered how much truth there is in the stories of the Old World, the Empire of Light and Dark, the Great War… What was it like, this creature, this Morelain?"
"Like a man, not a creature. Not a thing or a monster. A man, different from us, but still a man." Dannen sighed. He understood the curiosity, of course, but he had never been a man who enjoyed the sound of his own voice, nor the retelling of tales already told. "I can't tell you how much of what they say of the Old World is true, and how much is just tales to frighten children. If you really want to know then visit Norine, talk to the Learned - though if you do you might get an answer that's too long even for you, Karim.
"When you look at the Morelain, you see a man, 'cept for his eyes. First time I had him on my deck he was asleep. Barely woke the whole journey. The second time he was awake, though." An unwanted memory came into his mind and tightened his stomach, a memory of a cage, a knife and blood. "Manacled and gagged he was, but even then you didn't look too deeply into those eyes. I saw one soldier mock him and spit at him. But the Morelain, he don't move, he don't speak. He just stares and stares 'til the fool starts to shake and sob. Next morning we find him with his own blade in his gut. They put a blindfold over his eyes after that."
"All right, a man. But you said it - he - was different then," pressed Karim. "What do you mean?"
Dannen looked for the words he needed and failed to find them. "He looked at things like he'd never seen 'em before. Like he was new to the world… like a child."
"A child," Karim repeated, derision spicing the word. He spread his arms wide as if speaking to an audience. "We await help from a child. 'The Morelain can do this', you told us. 'Power without allegiance, the power of the Old World' you said… and now you say 'a child'. Perhaps we should have brought a wet-nurse for him."
Dannen's anger flared again. The boy had a gift for provoking him. "Don't be a fool," he snapped, and this time he did not try to disguise his disdain. "I said he was like a child, not that he was a child. It was as if he knew nothing of the world, as if he was seeing everything for the first time. The Norine - the Learned - said he was waking, as though from a deep sleep."
"A bleary-eyed child, then. And still he is not here."
Something in Karim's voice brought Dannen's gaze sharply round - a note of fear behind the scorn, verging on panic. Karim's arm was held out over the lamp's eager flame like a piece of parchment he wished to burn, and his eyes were wide with confusion and horror. ?Shock held Dannen still then released him?. He shoved at the outstretched arm and pain shot up through his shoulders, for the arm was as rigid as the branch of a tree. He could see Ahmad wrestling futilely with the lamp and heard his desperate cry as he brought a hand down to extinguish the flame, but it leapt hungrily up again as soon as he lifted the hand away and Karim's sleeve went up in a sudden bright rush.
A movement in the shadows took and held Dannen's eye. A movement of the shadows. Darkness gathered, coalesced into a shape and flowed out towards them. Into the lamplight it came and the dark sloughed from it, sliding off like water to reveal the man beneath.
Tall he was, and his skin was black as night and bone-dry, stretched taut over a sparse frame and a hairless head. Angular bones framed his face and a thin mouth below curved in amusement, or mockery, or both. It was a face refined and intelligent and cruel and indifferent, but it was a human face nonetheless, save for the eyes. From their deep sockets they blazed with an intensity hard to meet, yellow-orange rings with black within and without, more akin to a bird's than to a man's.
"So what do you need my help with, Dannen?" the Morelain asked.
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Written by Delilah49 in portal Trident Media Group

Red Man and the Bear (excerpt)

(nous is a term for the type of magic this character has)

Lilith turned the glass on the table, tilting it in her hand to catch the light. She was sullen, unsurprised to see that the glass was filthy. She rested her chin on the other hand sleepily, elbows propped on the grainy wooden table. She eyed the other occupants of the room, wary of them as they stumbled about their business. Lilith had hidden her blade in the folds of her skirt. She felt for it there, the weight of it comforted her. More than once, her hand had flexed from its grip around her glass at the sound of a shattered plate from the kitchen, or a drunken howl from the corner. Any attempt to retrieve her knife would have been clumsy, but she would be ready if they came for her again. 

Soft, warm lights left the pub aglow. The air was heavy with the scent of food, but most patrons had already eaten their dinner and left, leaving a few stalwart stragglers in the warmer corners of the room. Most of them had climbed the stairs to the inn above, where they submitted to their late night stupor.

Lilith had reached the outskirts of town shortly before nightfall, and found sanctuary at this inn. The forest had grown dark and unwelcoming, and Lilith had been chilled to the bone by the time she stomped up the stone walkway. Her feet were bare, stinging from the cold, and she had cried out in relief when she had taken the brisk step through the door and onto the warm floor.

Lilith gave the name of a childhood friend to the keep, thankfully remembering what her own name might bring. She had been given her room key and an invitation to breakfast before she turned around to climb the stairs to her room.

“Excuse me - ”

There was no yield in Lilith’s shoulder when it hit the girl at the bottom of the stairs. The innkeeper’s daughter, by her assumption, had come out of nowhere to impede her. The girl’s nervous string of words continued without pause, unfettered by the abrupt collision. It took a moment before Lilith even realized the stuttering was directed at her, but assumed it to be the obligation of a hostess. She did not bother to interpret their meaning. Her mind was already upstairs in bed.

It occurred to Lilith to apologize, but today her apathy outweighed her manners. She settled on an apologetic grunt. Her apparent dishevelment should have been enough to thwart any thoughts of polite conversation. This brush-off seemed to surprise the girl - but she nodded and stepped aside for Lilith to pass. Lilith offered a half smile, but quickly climbed the stairs, focusing on lifting her heavy feet.

There was a deadbolt on the door - good. She would finally sleep. She looked around the room. The inn itself was of questionable character - its location and patrons insured that - but this room was welcoming. The many guests it had housed had done nothing to diminish the comfort it offered. The floor was talkative, and every step offered some new complaint. The broken mirror on the back of the door revealed a feral looking girl. Lilith’s brow furrowed in disapproval, cracking the mask of soot and sweat. She had once been a vain creature. Circumstances had broken her of such frivolity.

Her hair, now comically disheveled, housed bits of twig and leaf. She combed at it in an attempt to smooth, but abandoned the effort soon after. She smiled at her reflection. The darkness of the sooty mud made her green eyes bright and clear, and her teeth strangely white. The sharp wind had wet her eyes, and the places on her cheeks not concealed by mud were flushed crimson from the chill. She was nymph like, the picture of pretty and mischievous.

Lilith undressed, eager to peel garment from skin. She would bathe in the morning. Now, more than anything, she needed sleep - and she was hopeful that her dreams would relieve her this night. She collapsed into bed and felt the edges of her worry soften. This earthly pleasure lasted but a second before quiet of the room was shattered by a creak.

 

The creak from the window launched Lilith into the air as if she had branded with an iron. Light exploded from her skin in her burst of fear and adrenaline.

"Whoa - Whoa!"

The innkeeper’s daughter stood before her, shielding her head with her arms. The light created a brief shadow behind the girl, who was taken aback, but steady in stance.

"SPEAK."

Lilith could not keep the nous out of her voice - it filled the room and slapped the ear with its weight. She took a sharp breath - trying to regain control, she could feel it slipping away from her in her surprise. Her knife, retrieved from under her pillow, was brandished by a shaking hand. The woman lowered her arms and brought a finger to her lips, hissing,

"Dear god, please be quiet! We have to get out of this room."

She grabbed Lilith’s unarmed hand, and her own was small, but calloused. She attempted to pull Lilith towards the open window through which she had entered. Lilith withdrew her hand, and her adrenaline surged again when she heard the shouts of several men outside her door. Despite her woolen work clothes, the innkeeper’s daughter was very nimble - climbing once again to perch on the sill. She looked at Lilith down her nose.

"Let's go."

Lilith was about to give haughty reply, but then heard the violent scraping of metal and wood. She spun to look at the door handle. It was not offering much in the way of resistance, and had already begun to dangle from its post.

She looked back at the girl, now reaching from the sill to the banister below. She gave Lilith one more hurried gesture, throwing her chin sideways to beckon her and disappearing from the window’s frame.

Lilith felt that she could at least put up a good fight against this woman, were her intentions more foul than those of the people at her door. She doubted that that was the case. She felt herself pulled to the window, regretting her decision to sleep unclothed. The sill was up to just below her waist, and she struggled to crawl over. The splintered sill chafed her stomach and reminded her once again of her nakedness. She let her legs dangle blindly, finally making contact with the banister the woman had escaped to - feet outstretched. Her eyes, which still held view of her room at the inn - widened at the sight of the four men who burst into her room within seconds of her exit.  

The final man to enter, the more brutish of the pack, dragged the bloodied innkeeper by his collar. By the looks of what could be seen under fiery beard, this brute had been bloodied a few times before in his life, and had probably bloodied many others before the frail innkeeper. The angry looking mass of red hair aside, his face was etched in permanent rage. The intruders had their weapons drawn, and appeared ready for a fight. She gasped, and as she struggled to find footing on the landing below, she felt her legs wrapped by a large set of arms, which pulled her with a yank from the window. It was all she could do to gasp before a man's hand was clamped over her mouth.

She fought, but the arms were not to be swayed - the panicked thundering in her ears did not begin to cease until she once again saw the frustrated face of the innkeeper’s daughter, her finger once again raised before her mouth to silence her. Lilith relaxed, and the arms loosened, allowing her to stand. The man was silent, ignoring Lilith’s glare to look at the innkeeper’s daughter. She looked to Lilith, offering a hand and a whisper,

“My name is Mary, and this is Will. Please, for the love of God, be quiet.”

She left then, and Lilith heard her down the hall, her voice an octave higher -

“Father! The outlaw passed me in the garden, she looked like she was heading into town!”

Lilith looked to the man she had called Will, but he remained expressionless. One would guess this was not their first high thrill escapade. She heard the thunder of heavy boots, and it seemed that the ruse had been successful.

Two pairs of footsteps returned towards them. Lilith was alarmed until she saw the purple face of the innkeeper, who had been released from the red man’s grasp. He seemed upset to see Lilith, turning to his daughter upon his entrance.

“What is she doing here? They’ll be back!”

“She’ll be gone before then.”

He did not seem convinced, but nodded before collapsing into a wooden chair in the corner of the room. Mary busied herself with cleaning his wounds, and Will finally spoke.

“So he’s the new sheriff, huh?”

His accent made the words sound foreign to Lilith, but Mary nodded, gently pressing a cloth to the wincing face of her father. Seeing Lilith’s interest, Will turned to her, continuing.  

“The last one was offed by some girl or some nonsense, so the council sent a real monster this time. They can’t afford to look weak, what with all this talk of revolution - they need to put us in our place.”

He was grim, and Mary snorted, shaking her head. The innkeeper looked up at Lilith then, perhaps he knew of her supposed misdeeds. He waved his daughter away and stood, exiting the room. He eyed Lilith again as he closed the door behind him. Lilith shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but the tilt of Will’s thick accent had caught her attention, and she was awash in a sudden hope.

“Are you from the North?”

He looked at her, but remained silent. Lilith continued,

“Do you know how to get back?”

The innkeeper, still breathless from his assault, returned.

“Could I offer you another ale, lass? It would seem that you’ll be here a while, and you look like yer edges need smoothin’.”

He set the glass gently on the table before her.

“Yes, please.”

Her voice was hoarse in its desperation, and she blushed sheepishly as he exited the room once more. Will rose from his seat and followed him out the room. The ale was swill, but free is free - and she was happy for its lingering reminder on her tongue. She finished it in a few pulls. Lilith stood then, but was halted by Mary -

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to collect my things, all I have right now is my knife. I’m feeling a little vulnerable, as I’m sure you understand.”

She gestured towards her nakedness, an eyebrow raised. Her undergarments were ratty, and not suitable for public presentation under even the best of circumstances. Mary took a deep breath.

“Let me collect your things, I’ll be right back.”

Though Mary may have saved her from ambush, it was moments after she left that Lilith gave in to her normal suspicions. Nowadays even reasonable folk could be tempted to steal, and she was already down to her most essential possessions. She could discreetly observe their retrieval, just to be safe. She waited until the sound of Mary’s footsteps had faltered, exiting the room and turning down the hallway. She soon found herself a stone’s throw away from the red sheriff, who eyed her with curiosity - perhaps due to her state of dress. She smiled, hoping to appear meek. Panic rose in her blood, but she remained calm. Her smile quickly faltered when the innkeeper stepped out of a room between her and the red man, his back to her.

“She drank it, but she got away from the table -”

The red man raised a silencing hand, still in direct gaze with Lilith. The innkeeper turned around, open mouthed in his surprise. Lilith took a step backward, and the hallway swayed before her.

Her gut slammed into her spine with the realization that she had been drugged. Her stupor was not from exhaustion alone. Panicked, she scrambled in the opposite direction. She burst into the dining room, and cursing abounded behind her, the innkeeper shoved aside by the red man in his pursuit. The late night patrons were startled. Wide-eyed, they were curious about this dirty, knife wielding, nearly-naked sight of a woman. She avoided their gaze, and she felt her eyes pull to the center of her forehead, dizzy and nauseous. For a moment her vision darkened, and she strode towards the door blindly, feet heavy and lacking direction. She waved the knife through the air before her - paranoia screaming in her ears.

The door was open, and a befuddled man stood aside for her to exit. She tripped over the raised floorboard of the doorway, and after a short stumble slammed into a wall of solid warm muscle.

The horse, startled by the assault, snorted and danced nervously on the stone courtyard. Its hot breath poured over her in the night air, and fell off her shoulders like a cloak. She was surrounded by at least a dozen horses, each with a man perched atop. Her vision was swaying, and she was sure she swayed on the spot as well. Even in her haze, she was painfully aware of her defenseless pink feet as they avoided heavy metal hooves, which would have surely smashed her toes as easily as berries. There was laughter in the group, mostly due to the explicative muttered by Lilith - and her terror heightened violently when she realized her words were slurred.

“You alright miss?”

Another northern accent. She couldn’t lift her head to answer, but she saw the exposed forearms of the speaker were darkened by ink. He was not the only one marked. She couldn’t tell if the tattoos that adorned these bodies were a result of her drugged state, but she did not have the time to further consider. She stumbled through the crowd and into the chests of several more horses before she broke through and into the woods behind them.

Lilith hoped to lose her predator in the dark of the forest, feeling some relief after several minutes of sloppy sprinting. She vomited, violently - her guttural retching echoing in the night - and collapsed face down into the bed of moss and sickness before her. The air was so cold that to lay in her own pile of sick was a pleasant sensation, warm on her clammy skin. Her exposed back pinched and prickled in the night.

There was a deep throated shriek from the bushes, the noise of a scuffle followed by a thump, then silence. Lilith tried to lift her head up, but in her haze she could not even focus on the treeline twenty feet away. She was too sick to even feel fright at the certain sounds of death. Her vision darkened. She felt her consciousness fade, and she submitted to the heaviness.

A shadow presented itself to the clearing, seemingly hesitant to approach the prostrate woman. A bear, so large that when it lumbered to the knoll on which she slept its moon cast shadow more than blanketed her figure. Heat waves came off the bear in the frigid air. It’s dark nose prodded the exposed foot, snorted and drew back. The bear had every appearance of shrugging then, and trotted away, withdrawing from the clearing.

----

Rion's nose curled in revulsion, the smell was horrid. He was hesitant to believe it was originating from this pile of arms and legs and hair. He looked around, uncomfortable with his options. He scooped up the naked girl, and could only imagine what it would look like if he stumbled across a respectable person. He was an easy-going lad, but he had the look of a brute - a big scruffy haired head and a tree trunk of a torso. His unusual height, which usually kept for him the title of tallest, only added to his apparent brawn. His hands - also notably large - gingerly gripped the meat of the woman's thigh so as to secure her position on his shoulders.    

Her breathing was steady, despite what was surely a bumpy ride. Rion took no great cares to be light in his step, flinting rocks under his feet. He threw his firewood sling over her backside, hoping to preserve some of her decency - or at least warmth.

Strange little thing, to run naked until tuckered out in the middle of this ominous territory. This was bear country, after all. He wished that one of the wash maids from camp were there to vouch for his innocence, should his new friend wake up from her nap and scream in terror. Additionally, he had no desire to clean the foul smelling sick from her figure, feeling conflictual delight and mortification to sling her naked form over his shoulder. His concern for her violent return to consciousness kept any physical reaction to her nakedness at bay. She was a pretty thing, but she must be mad. He found that that was often the case.

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Written by Delilah49 in portal Trident Media Group
Red Man and the Bear (excerpt)
(nous is a term for the type of magic this character has)

Lilith turned the glass on the table, tilting it in her hand to catch the light. She was sullen, unsurprised to see that the glass was filthy. She rested her chin on the other hand sleepily, elbows propped on the grainy wooden table. She eyed the other occupants of the room, wary of them as they stumbled about their business. Lilith had hidden her blade in the folds of her skirt. She felt for it there, the weight of it comforted her. More than once, her hand had flexed from its grip around her glass at the sound of a shattered plate from the kitchen, or a drunken howl from the corner. Any attempt to retrieve her knife would have been clumsy, but she would be ready if they came for her again. 

Soft, warm lights left the pub aglow. The air was heavy with the scent of food, but most patrons had already eaten their dinner and left, leaving a few stalwart stragglers in the warmer corners of the room. Most of them had climbed the stairs to the inn above, where they submitted to their late night stupor.

Lilith had reached the outskirts of town shortly before nightfall, and found sanctuary at this inn. The forest had grown dark and unwelcoming, and Lilith had been chilled to the bone by the time she stomped up the stone walkway. Her feet were bare, stinging from the cold, and she had cried out in relief when she had taken the brisk step through the door and onto the warm floor.

Lilith gave the name of a childhood friend to the keep, thankfully remembering what her own name might bring. She had been given her room key and an invitation to breakfast before she turned around to climb the stairs to her room.

“Excuse me - ”

There was no yield in Lilith’s shoulder when it hit the girl at the bottom of the stairs. The innkeeper’s daughter, by her assumption, had come out of nowhere to impede her. The girl’s nervous string of words continued without pause, unfettered by the abrupt collision. It took a moment before Lilith even realized the stuttering was directed at her, but assumed it to be the obligation of a hostess. She did not bother to interpret their meaning. Her mind was already upstairs in bed.

It occurred to Lilith to apologize, but today her apathy outweighed her manners. She settled on an apologetic grunt. Her apparent dishevelment should have been enough to thwart any thoughts of polite conversation. This brush-off seemed to surprise the girl - but she nodded and stepped aside for Lilith to pass. Lilith offered a half smile, but quickly climbed the stairs, focusing on lifting her heavy feet.

There was a deadbolt on the door - good. She would finally sleep. She looked around the room. The inn itself was of questionable character - its location and patrons insured that - but this room was welcoming. The many guests it had housed had done nothing to diminish the comfort it offered. The floor was talkative, and every step offered some new complaint. The broken mirror on the back of the door revealed a feral looking girl. Lilith’s brow furrowed in disapproval, cracking the mask of soot and sweat. She had once been a vain creature. Circumstances had broken her of such frivolity.

Her hair, now comically disheveled, housed bits of twig and leaf. She combed at it in an attempt to smooth, but abandoned the effort soon after. She smiled at her reflection. The darkness of the sooty mud made her green eyes bright and clear, and her teeth strangely white. The sharp wind had wet her eyes, and the places on her cheeks not concealed by mud were flushed crimson from the chill. She was nymph like, the picture of pretty and mischievous.

Lilith undressed, eager to peel garment from skin. She would bathe in the morning. Now, more than anything, she needed sleep - and she was hopeful that her dreams would relieve her this night. She collapsed into bed and felt the edges of her worry soften. This earthly pleasure lasted but a second before quiet of the room was shattered by a creak.
 
The creak from the window launched Lilith into the air as if she had branded with an iron. Light exploded from her skin in her burst of fear and adrenaline.

"Whoa - Whoa!"

The innkeeper’s daughter stood before her, shielding her head with her arms. The light created a brief shadow behind the girl, who was taken aback, but steady in stance.

"SPEAK."

Lilith could not keep the nous out of her voice - it filled the room and slapped the ear with its weight. She took a sharp breath - trying to regain control, she could feel it slipping away from her in her surprise. Her knife, retrieved from under her pillow, was brandished by a shaking hand. The woman lowered her arms and brought a finger to her lips, hissing,

"Dear god, please be quiet! We have to get out of this room."

She grabbed Lilith’s unarmed hand, and her own was small, but calloused. She attempted to pull Lilith towards the open window through which she had entered. Lilith withdrew her hand, and her adrenaline surged again when she heard the shouts of several men outside her door. Despite her woolen work clothes, the innkeeper’s daughter was very nimble - climbing once again to perch on the sill. She looked at Lilith down her nose.

"Let's go."

Lilith was about to give haughty reply, but then heard the violent scraping of metal and wood. She spun to look at the door handle. It was not offering much in the way of resistance, and had already begun to dangle from its post.

She looked back at the girl, now reaching from the sill to the banister below. She gave Lilith one more hurried gesture, throwing her chin sideways to beckon her and disappearing from the window’s frame.

Lilith felt that she could at least put up a good fight against this woman, were her intentions more foul than those of the people at her door. She doubted that that was the case. She felt herself pulled to the window, regretting her decision to sleep unclothed. The sill was up to just below her waist, and she struggled to crawl over. The splintered sill chafed her stomach and reminded her once again of her nakedness. She let her legs dangle blindly, finally making contact with the banister the woman had escaped to - feet outstretched. Her eyes, which still held view of her room at the inn - widened at the sight of the four men who burst into her room within seconds of her exit.  

The final man to enter, the more brutish of the pack, dragged the bloodied innkeeper by his collar. By the looks of what could be seen under fiery beard, this brute had been bloodied a few times before in his life, and had probably bloodied many others before the frail innkeeper. The angry looking mass of red hair aside, his face was etched in permanent rage. The intruders had their weapons drawn, and appeared ready for a fight. She gasped, and as she struggled to find footing on the landing below, she felt her legs wrapped by a large set of arms, which pulled her with a yank from the window. It was all she could do to gasp before a man's hand was clamped over her mouth.

She fought, but the arms were not to be swayed - the panicked thundering in her ears did not begin to cease until she once again saw the frustrated face of the innkeeper’s daughter, her finger once again raised before her mouth to silence her. Lilith relaxed, and the arms loosened, allowing her to stand. The man was silent, ignoring Lilith’s glare to look at the innkeeper’s daughter. She looked to Lilith, offering a hand and a whisper,

“My name is Mary, and this is Will. Please, for the love of God, be quiet.”

She left then, and Lilith heard her down the hall, her voice an octave higher -

“Father! The outlaw passed me in the garden, she looked like she was heading into town!”

Lilith looked to the man she had called Will, but he remained expressionless. One would guess this was not their first high thrill escapade. She heard the thunder of heavy boots, and it seemed that the ruse had been successful.

Two pairs of footsteps returned towards them. Lilith was alarmed until she saw the purple face of the innkeeper, who had been released from the red man’s grasp. He seemed upset to see Lilith, turning to his daughter upon his entrance.

“What is she doing here? They’ll be back!”

“She’ll be gone before then.”

He did not seem convinced, but nodded before collapsing into a wooden chair in the corner of the room. Mary busied herself with cleaning his wounds, and Will finally spoke.

“So he’s the new sheriff, huh?”

His accent made the words sound foreign to Lilith, but Mary nodded, gently pressing a cloth to the wincing face of her father. Seeing Lilith’s interest, Will turned to her, continuing.  

“The last one was offed by some girl or some nonsense, so the council sent a real monster this time. They can’t afford to look weak, what with all this talk of revolution - they need to put us in our place.”

He was grim, and Mary snorted, shaking her head. The innkeeper looked up at Lilith then, perhaps he knew of her supposed misdeeds. He waved his daughter away and stood, exiting the room. He eyed Lilith again as he closed the door behind him. Lilith shifted uncomfortably in her seat, but the tilt of Will’s thick accent had caught her attention, and she was awash in a sudden hope.

“Are you from the North?”

He looked at her, but remained silent. Lilith continued,

“Do you know how to get back?”

The innkeeper, still breathless from his assault, returned.

“Could I offer you another ale, lass? It would seem that you’ll be here a while, and you look like yer edges need smoothin’.”

He set the glass gently on the table before her.

“Yes, please.”

Her voice was hoarse in its desperation, and she blushed sheepishly as he exited the room once more. Will rose from his seat and followed him out the room. The ale was swill, but free is free - and she was happy for its lingering reminder on her tongue. She finished it in a few pulls. Lilith stood then, but was halted by Mary -

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to collect my things, all I have right now is my knife. I’m feeling a little vulnerable, as I’m sure you understand.”

She gestured towards her nakedness, an eyebrow raised. Her undergarments were ratty, and not suitable for public presentation under even the best of circumstances. Mary took a deep breath.

“Let me collect your things, I’ll be right back.”

Though Mary may have saved her from ambush, it was moments after she left that Lilith gave in to her normal suspicions. Nowadays even reasonable folk could be tempted to steal, and she was already down to her most essential possessions. She could discreetly observe their retrieval, just to be safe. She waited until the sound of Mary’s footsteps had faltered, exiting the room and turning down the hallway. She soon found herself a stone’s throw away from the red sheriff, who eyed her with curiosity - perhaps due to her state of dress. She smiled, hoping to appear meek. Panic rose in her blood, but she remained calm. Her smile quickly faltered when the innkeeper stepped out of a room between her and the red man, his back to her.

“She drank it, but she got away from the table -”

The red man raised a silencing hand, still in direct gaze with Lilith. The innkeeper turned around, open mouthed in his surprise. Lilith took a step backward, and the hallway swayed before her.

Her gut slammed into her spine with the realization that she had been drugged. Her stupor was not from exhaustion alone. Panicked, she scrambled in the opposite direction. She burst into the dining room, and cursing abounded behind her, the innkeeper shoved aside by the red man in his pursuit. The late night patrons were startled. Wide-eyed, they were curious about this dirty, knife wielding, nearly-naked sight of a woman. She avoided their gaze, and she felt her eyes pull to the center of her forehead, dizzy and nauseous. For a moment her vision darkened, and she strode towards the door blindly, feet heavy and lacking direction. She waved the knife through the air before her - paranoia screaming in her ears.

The door was open, and a befuddled man stood aside for her to exit. She tripped over the raised floorboard of the doorway, and after a short stumble slammed into a wall of solid warm muscle.

The horse, startled by the assault, snorted and danced nervously on the stone courtyard. Its hot breath poured over her in the night air, and fell off her shoulders like a cloak. She was surrounded by at least a dozen horses, each with a man perched atop. Her vision was swaying, and she was sure she swayed on the spot as well. Even in her haze, she was painfully aware of her defenseless pink feet as they avoided heavy metal hooves, which would have surely smashed her toes as easily as berries. There was laughter in the group, mostly due to the explicative muttered by Lilith - and her terror heightened violently when she realized her words were slurred.

“You alright miss?”

Another northern accent. She couldn’t lift her head to answer, but she saw the exposed forearms of the speaker were darkened by ink. He was not the only one marked. She couldn’t tell if the tattoos that adorned these bodies were a result of her drugged state, but she did not have the time to further consider. She stumbled through the crowd and into the chests of several more horses before she broke through and into the woods behind them.

Lilith hoped to lose her predator in the dark of the forest, feeling some relief after several minutes of sloppy sprinting. She vomited, violently - her guttural retching echoing in the night - and collapsed face down into the bed of moss and sickness before her. The air was so cold that to lay in her own pile of sick was a pleasant sensation, warm on her clammy skin. Her exposed back pinched and prickled in the night.

There was a deep throated shriek from the bushes, the noise of a scuffle followed by a thump, then silence. Lilith tried to lift her head up, but in her haze she could not even focus on the treeline twenty feet away. She was too sick to even feel fright at the certain sounds of death. Her vision darkened. She felt her consciousness fade, and she submitted to the heaviness.

A shadow presented itself to the clearing, seemingly hesitant to approach the prostrate woman. A bear, so large that when it lumbered to the knoll on which she slept its moon cast shadow more than blanketed her figure. Heat waves came off the bear in the frigid air. It’s dark nose prodded the exposed foot, snorted and drew back. The bear had every appearance of shrugging then, and trotted away, withdrawing from the clearing.

----

Rion's nose curled in revulsion, the smell was horrid. He was hesitant to believe it was originating from this pile of arms and legs and hair. He looked around, uncomfortable with his options. He scooped up the naked girl, and could only imagine what it would look like if he stumbled across a respectable person. He was an easy-going lad, but he had the look of a brute - a big scruffy haired head and a tree trunk of a torso. His unusual height, which usually kept for him the title of tallest, only added to his apparent brawn. His hands - also notably large - gingerly gripped the meat of the woman's thigh so as to secure her position on his shoulders.    

Her breathing was steady, despite what was surely a bumpy ride. Rion took no great cares to be light in his step, flinting rocks under his feet. He threw his firewood sling over her backside, hoping to preserve some of her decency - or at least warmth.

Strange little thing, to run naked until tuckered out in the middle of this ominous territory. This was bear country, after all. He wished that one of the wash maids from camp were there to vouch for his innocence, should his new friend wake up from her nap and scream in terror. Additionally, he had no desire to clean the foul smelling sick from her figure, feeling conflictual delight and mortification to sling her naked form over his shoulder. His concern for her violent return to consciousness kept any physical reaction to her nakedness at bay. She was a pretty thing, but she must be mad. He found that that was often the case.
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Written by EnjeckCleo in portal Trident Media Group

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

It had been long enough. To darn long.

I had to get it back.

Reaching into my dark closet, I searched blindly for my cloak. Even in the darkness, my hand immediately buzzed in recognition the moment they touched the surface of the fabric. It was soft and smooth against my fingers. Pulling it out, I shrugged it on my lean body.

Pulling the hood over my head, I let its inky darkness and warmth envelope me. It was strangely comforting. I stepped into the cool night, thankful for the long sleeves of the cloak. It kept a portion of the biting air out. Rubbing my hands together, I trudged forward.

My boot-clad feet were firm and loud against the tarmac of the silent and deserted road. Silence surrounded me, enveloping every part of my body. It was a companionable silence, despite the occasional hooting of owls, crickets chirping and silhouettes of bats flying around the moon-lit sky. The eerie ambiance didn’t bother me at all.

Soon enough, the house came into view. I stopped before it, taking in the huge door, dark windows and cemented walls of the small building before me. Without thinking further, I ascended the stairs, ignoring how they creaked in protest under my weight.

Raising my hand, I poked my knuckles out. Before I could have the pleasure of impacting the wood with my fist, the door flew open and a short stout figure came into view.

“You!” She pointed accusatorily.

“Yes, me,” I replied dryly, folding my arms across my chest.

“What are you doing here?” The Witch of the Dark asked, leaning against the doorframe laxly. Her robe-clad figure was completely shrouded by the darkness. Only her face was visible. She mimicked me, crossing her own stubby arms, lifting her chin to stare defiantly at me, matching my intensity.

“I want it back,” I said seriously.

The Witch laughed humorlessly, clutching her stomach for good measure. “You’re joking,”

My face twisted in a tight grimace, silently asking her if this face was one of a joker. I pulled my brows together, furrowing them. “Do you think I will come all this way just to joke?”

Standing erect, she rubbed her chin thoughtfully. Frowning fiercely, her eyes raked up and down my body indecisively. Dark eyes drilled into me, black lips turned upside down. Clearly, she was not pleased. “No. But what makes you think I shall just give it to you? We had a deal.” She reminded me, jabbing a finger forward towards my chest, “A deal!”

Oh.

She had to go ahead and remind me of my mistake. How could I forget the deal I made with the witch? Everyone knew it is never a good idea to make a deal with a witch, especially with this one. But unfortunately, I did not have a choice. I had to do it to save my father’s life. He had suffered from an incurable genetic disease. The Witch of the Dark had accepted to save him in exchange for something very valuable to me.

My heart.

And I wanted to get it back.

“I know.”

She opened the door further, but not letting me enter inside. That was fine though. I did not want to step my feet inside that dark abyss disguised as a home. It was a little too late at night to encounter a horde of bony skeletons or see blood-painted walls. It was safer for my sanity to stay out here. No matter how dark the night is, her house shall always be a thousand times darker.

“Please,” I resorted to begging. I could not battle her for it. She was one of the most powerful creatures I have ever met. Pleading was my only hope. I was not sure if it will help but I had to at least try. “I beg of you,” my voice sounded as desperate as I felt. “Just one day. Give me my heart for just one day. I miss the feeling of a throbbing thing against my chest.”

“Why the sudden interest?” she cocked here head to the side, her face a mask of interest. Like I said, a mask. I was certain she cared about it as much as she cared about dead bodies—not a single bit.

I sighed, deciding to explain. “Zack. My boyfriend. He delivers the most beautiful kisses. When he does, I can feel his heart beating against my chest. I only wish he can feel my own pulsing heart. Please, just for one day. I want him to place his hand against my chest and feel how fast it is racing for him,”

By the time I was done with that spiel, the witch looked positively nauseated, as if I have said the most disgusting thing ever. Apparently, hearing about a girl drone on and on about her romantic interest and kisses was not a thing of beauty for her. Ah, she preferred hearing stories of children being killed and souls getting devoured. Point to note.

Her nostrils wrinkled. Turning her head away, she stared into the distance. “No. I won’t. I am already in use of the heart,”

“Please. Can’t I have it for one day? I shall return it tomorrow.”

“Why should I give it? What do I get in return?”

Of course! She always wants something in return. There’s always a catch.

The witch continued. “I just want collateral in case you fail to return it.”

I frowned. “What do you want?”

“An ear.”

I sighed dramatically. For the next second, I pondered on the matter. It did not need to ponder for long. It was worth it. “I accept,”

A smile crept on her ugly face. “If you insist,” She reached behind. Out of nowhere, a knife appeared in her wrinkly hand. She brought it towards her chest. I watched unflinchingly. I watched as she slashed the knife fiercely against her chest. I watched as the area tore open without any resistance. I watched as black blood poured out of the spot. So black, one would think it was tar.

All I could do was watch silently.

She brought the inch-long claws of her hand to the bleeding cavity. Delving her hand inside, she tugged. Once. Twice. Then her hand returned from the hole in her chest, holding the delicate blood-covered organ in her hand.

My heart.

Oh, it felt good to see it after so long. Though it looked darker and most likely corrupted by her abject evilness, I didn’t care. It sat there, pulsing in her hands. Blood dripped endlessly from it, coating her fingers, disappearing into her sleeve and some on it hit the dirty threshold.

I heard the barks coming from inside the house. Soon enough, a dog forced its head through its master’s legs, coming out into the open. It was a little chihuahua, sniffing relentlessly. Ignoring me, the canine found the object of its interest. Its tongue darted out, licking the blood covering the floor, growling at intervals in appreciation.

It didn't take a lot to keep my composure and stay relaxed. I’ve seen much worse, believe me.

“Are you sure?” she asked for confirmation.

“Yes,”

“Ah!” I screamed in a mixture of pain and surprise when the knife slashed my own chest. It hurt. It hurt like hell to have you skin cut mercilessly. It was brutal and raw and I felt tears prick the corner of my eyes.

The witch laughed, her warped mind finding pleasure in my suffering. Without further ado, she thrust the heart into my chest. The organ sunk in, taking its rightful place.

The moment of pain was dampened by the relief of feeling my beating heart in my chest once more. I placed my hand against it, trying to make sure it is really there, to feel it. It was beautiful to feel it throbbing against my hurting rib cage. I was revitalized. The relentless aching did not register anymore. Even when she slashed my ear off to keep it, I was too busy getting used to my heart to cry out at the excruciating pain.

With my hand against my chest, I breathed. How I had missed it. Having it gave me a newly-found semblance of humanity. Contented, I smiled and turned around to leave.

“Remember to bring it back,” The Witch of the Dark yelled from behind me.

I turned, seeing the trail of my blood following me, dripping from my wounds. I caught view of the witch’s gratification as she played with my severed ear. I only hope she doesn’t end up feeding it to her dog or the monster she has under her bed.

“Yes, I will.” I whispered. “Mother,” I added as an afterthought.

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Written by EnjeckCleo in portal Trident Media Group
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
It had been long enough. To darn long.

I had to get it back.

Reaching into my dark closet, I searched blindly for my cloak. Even in the darkness, my hand immediately buzzed in recognition the moment they touched the surface of the fabric. It was soft and smooth against my fingers. Pulling it out, I shrugged it on my lean body.

Pulling the hood over my head, I let its inky darkness and warmth envelope me. It was strangely comforting. I stepped into the cool night, thankful for the long sleeves of the cloak. It kept a portion of the biting air out. Rubbing my hands together, I trudged forward.

My boot-clad feet were firm and loud against the tarmac of the silent and deserted road. Silence surrounded me, enveloping every part of my body. It was a companionable silence, despite the occasional hooting of owls, crickets chirping and silhouettes of bats flying around the moon-lit sky. The eerie ambiance didn’t bother me at all.

Soon enough, the house came into view. I stopped before it, taking in the huge door, dark windows and cemented walls of the small building before me. Without thinking further, I ascended the stairs, ignoring how they creaked in protest under my weight.

Raising my hand, I poked my knuckles out. Before I could have the pleasure of impacting the wood with my fist, the door flew open and a short stout figure came into view.

“You!” She pointed accusatorily.

“Yes, me,” I replied dryly, folding my arms across my chest.

“What are you doing here?” The Witch of the Dark asked, leaning against the doorframe laxly. Her robe-clad figure was completely shrouded by the darkness. Only her face was visible. She mimicked me, crossing her own stubby arms, lifting her chin to stare defiantly at me, matching my intensity.

“I want it back,” I said seriously.

The Witch laughed humorlessly, clutching her stomach for good measure. “You’re joking,”

My face twisted in a tight grimace, silently asking her if this face was one of a joker. I pulled my brows together, furrowing them. “Do you think I will come all this way just to joke?”

Standing erect, she rubbed her chin thoughtfully. Frowning fiercely, her eyes raked up and down my body indecisively. Dark eyes drilled into me, black lips turned upside down. Clearly, she was not pleased. “No. But what makes you think I shall just give it to you? We had a deal.” She reminded me, jabbing a finger forward towards my chest, “A deal!”

Oh.

She had to go ahead and remind me of my mistake. How could I forget the deal I made with the witch? Everyone knew it is never a good idea to make a deal with a witch, especially with this one. But unfortunately, I did not have a choice. I had to do it to save my father’s life. He had suffered from an incurable genetic disease. The Witch of the Dark had accepted to save him in exchange for something very valuable to me.

My heart.

And I wanted to get it back.

“I know.”

She opened the door further, but not letting me enter inside. That was fine though. I did not want to step my feet inside that dark abyss disguised as a home. It was a little too late at night to encounter a horde of bony skeletons or see blood-painted walls. It was safer for my sanity to stay out here. No matter how dark the night is, her house shall always be a thousand times darker.

“Please,” I resorted to begging. I could not battle her for it. She was one of the most powerful creatures I have ever met. Pleading was my only hope. I was not sure if it will help but I had to at least try. “I beg of you,” my voice sounded as desperate as I felt. “Just one day. Give me my heart for just one day. I miss the feeling of a throbbing thing against my chest.”

“Why the sudden interest?” she cocked here head to the side, her face a mask of interest. Like I said, a mask. I was certain she cared about it as much as she cared about dead bodies—not a single bit.

I sighed, deciding to explain. “Zack. My boyfriend. He delivers the most beautiful kisses. When he does, I can feel his heart beating against my chest. I only wish he can feel my own pulsing heart. Please, just for one day. I want him to place his hand against my chest and feel how fast it is racing for him,”

By the time I was done with that spiel, the witch looked positively nauseated, as if I have said the most disgusting thing ever. Apparently, hearing about a girl drone on and on about her romantic interest and kisses was not a thing of beauty for her. Ah, she preferred hearing stories of children being killed and souls getting devoured. Point to note.
Her nostrils wrinkled. Turning her head away, she stared into the distance. “No. I won’t. I am already in use of the heart,”

“Please. Can’t I have it for one day? I shall return it tomorrow.”

“Why should I give it? What do I get in return?”

Of course! She always wants something in return. There’s always a catch.
The witch continued. “I just want collateral in case you fail to return it.”
I frowned. “What do you want?”

“An ear.”

I sighed dramatically. For the next second, I pondered on the matter. It did not need to ponder for long. It was worth it. “I accept,”

A smile crept on her ugly face. “If you insist,” She reached behind. Out of nowhere, a knife appeared in her wrinkly hand. She brought it towards her chest. I watched unflinchingly. I watched as she slashed the knife fiercely against her chest. I watched as the area tore open without any resistance. I watched as black blood poured out of the spot. So black, one would think it was tar.

All I could do was watch silently.

She brought the inch-long claws of her hand to the bleeding cavity. Delving her hand inside, she tugged. Once. Twice. Then her hand returned from the hole in her chest, holding the delicate blood-covered organ in her hand.

My heart.

Oh, it felt good to see it after so long. Though it looked darker and most likely corrupted by her abject evilness, I didn’t care. It sat there, pulsing in her hands. Blood dripped endlessly from it, coating her fingers, disappearing into her sleeve and some on it hit the dirty threshold.

I heard the barks coming from inside the house. Soon enough, a dog forced its head through its master’s legs, coming out into the open. It was a little chihuahua, sniffing relentlessly. Ignoring me, the canine found the object of its interest. Its tongue darted out, licking the blood covering the floor, growling at intervals in appreciation.

It didn't take a lot to keep my composure and stay relaxed. I’ve seen much worse, believe me.

“Are you sure?” she asked for confirmation.

“Yes,”

“Ah!” I screamed in a mixture of pain and surprise when the knife slashed my own chest. It hurt. It hurt like hell to have you skin cut mercilessly. It was brutal and raw and I felt tears prick the corner of my eyes.

The witch laughed, her warped mind finding pleasure in my suffering. Without further ado, she thrust the heart into my chest. The organ sunk in, taking its rightful place.

The moment of pain was dampened by the relief of feeling my beating heart in my chest once more. I placed my hand against it, trying to make sure it is really there, to feel it. It was beautiful to feel it throbbing against my hurting rib cage. I was revitalized. The relentless aching did not register anymore. Even when she slashed my ear off to keep it, I was too busy getting used to my heart to cry out at the excruciating pain.

With my hand against my chest, I breathed. How I had missed it. Having it gave me a newly-found semblance of humanity. Contented, I smiled and turned around to leave.

“Remember to bring it back,” The Witch of the Dark yelled from behind me.

I turned, seeing the trail of my blood following me, dripping from my wounds. I caught view of the witch’s gratification as she played with my severed ear. I only hope she doesn’t end up feeding it to her dog or the monster she has under her bed.

“Yes, I will.” I whispered. “Mother,” I added as an afterthought.

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Juice
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