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CotW #63: Take a much-loved Disney story, twist it into an adult, kick-in-the-gut tale. Poetry or Prose. The most eloquent, elegant, entertaining entry, ascertained by Prose, earns $100 and stays atop the Spotlight shelf for six straight days. Feel free to invite friends, distant family, even strange acquaintances to play this challenge with you anonymously. Please use #twistedtales for sharing online. Now lights, camera, fiction.
Written by SpaceyCasey

Real.

     At first, it tingled, like a million splinters popping at once. She never warned me how much it would actually hurt. My chest heaved and my hands reached for my throat.

     “Breath,” I heard the fairy said. I gasped and placed both hands on the floor. I choked as air filled my newly formed lungs. Every breath stung, so I tried to relax and take the longest breaths possible. My sides ached and my back popped with something called a spine. I screamed and tore off my gloves. In horror, I watched skin crawl over what used to be wooden stumps of fingers my father gave me. I felt each fingernail and toenail itch its way to the surface. I grabbed each body part as it formed, as if I was saving it somehow. I thought my eyes were going to burst from my skull. My lips stretched and the top of my head was on fire. My hair sprouted fast and I tried desperately not to pull at it. I wrapped my arms around my body as my wooded body was replaced with real parts.

     Eventually, the pain subsided and I was left, naked huddled under the table. I was shaking, whether from fear or from the open window letting in the cold of the night.

The fairy smiled slightly and gave me an apology. I watched as she made a blanket appear out of nowhere and placed it over me.

     “I’m sorry,” she said again, “But if you had known the pain before…”

     “I still would have done it,” I shouted to her. I wasn’t sure why I was mad at her. I just wanted her gone, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be alone. Everything hurt but I knew eventually, the pain would go away. She told me it would and I trusted her.

     “Well. You are now a real boy,” she said to me. She waited for a reply, but when I said nothing, she bowed her head and disappeared in a blink of an eye. I laid there under the thick blanket with a shiver until my father returned.

     I woke the next morning before he did. I stood and wiggled my toes in delight. My body was sore from the transformation, but it was worth it. I regret not thanking the fairy, but I had hope of seeing her again. I dressed myself and ran to the barrel of water out back. I studied my face in the water for a long time. It was strange not to see the dark circles of the tree that created my face. I tenderly touched my nose and said in a timid voice, “I am still a wooden puppet.” I backed away with closed eyes and waited for it to grow. My nose tingled for a second. I blinked my eyes open and looked back into the water. A smile crossed over my lips as I realized my nose will never grow again.

     “My father’s name is Mary!” I said louder. “I have three eyes!” I giggled after each lie, and every time, my nose would tingle.

     “My dear Pinocchio,” my father said from the doorway, “What are you…” His words trailed off when he saw me. He squealed with joy and hobbled in my direction. I smiled and met him halfway. He dropped his cane and wrapped his arms around me. It was nice to feel this. I couldn’t before. I sniffed and felt my eyes water. “I thought it was all a dream!” He laughed and showered me with kisses. I snorted and tried to pull out of his grip.

     “Come, come,” he said, “We shall go to the market. I will buy you some new clothes and make a grand dinner for tonight.” I nodded and followed him back inside the house.

     There was a man inside that I didn’t know. He was a heavy-set man with a suit and dark eyes. He had a sneer of a smile underneath a thick mustache and a scar down the left side of his face.

     “Gepetto,” he said. His voice was deep and crackled with anger. “I hope you don’t mind. I let myself in.” I hid behind my father and watched carefully. His eyes locked onto mine. “Get lost, kid. This is between daddy and I.” He chuckled.

     “What do you want?” Gepetto asked.

     The man pulled out a long knife and began to pick at his nails. I gulped at the sight of it. I grabbed for my father’s hand and he gave me a reassuring smile.

     “You remember our deal?” he pointed the knife at me, “About the boy. You are a lucky man, Gepetto, and an old friend. But a deal is a deal. I’m here for payment.”

     “I-I,” Gepetto fumbled his words and shook his head, “I don’t have it. I was sick.” He taps his cane. “I couldn’t work. Please, give me another week.”

     The man laughed and began to walk toward Gepetto. “I’ve given you enough time. Pay now, or else.” He shook the knife in the air.

     “Pinocchio, run!” My father yelled as he pushed me out of the way. The man lunged after him with his blade drawn.

     “No!” I screamed and jumped in the way of the man. I felt a sharp pain in my side. The man looked down and laughed. He twisted the knife and winked at Gepetto before turning away.

     “Consider our debt repaid,” he shouted over his shoulder. I heard the clink of the cane fall onto the floor as Gepetto caught me. He had tears in his eyes and blood on his hands. I tried to blink the haze away, but each blink made it worse.

     “Pinocchio,” Gepetto sobbed.

     “Don’t worry, father,” I said, “I’ll be okay.” The last thing I felt was the tingle on my nose.

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CotW #63: Take a much-loved Disney story, twist it into an adult, kick-in-the-gut tale. Poetry or Prose. The most eloquent, elegant, entertaining entry, ascertained by Prose, earns $100 and stays atop the Spotlight shelf for six straight days. Feel free to invite friends, distant family, even strange acquaintances to play this challenge with you anonymously. Please use #twistedtales for sharing online. Now lights, camera, fiction.
Written by SpaceyCasey
Real.
     At first, it tingled, like a million splinters popping at once. She never warned me how much it would actually hurt. My chest heaved and my hands reached for my throat.
     “Breath,” I heard the fairy said. I gasped and placed both hands on the floor. I choked as air filled my newly formed lungs. Every breath stung, so I tried to relax and take the longest breaths possible. My sides ached and my back popped with something called a spine. I screamed and tore off my gloves. In horror, I watched skin crawl over what used to be wooden stumps of fingers my father gave me. I felt each fingernail and toenail itch its way to the surface. I grabbed each body part as it formed, as if I was saving it somehow. I thought my eyes were going to burst from my skull. My lips stretched and the top of my head was on fire. My hair sprouted fast and I tried desperately not to pull at it. I wrapped my arms around my body as my wooded body was replaced with real parts.
     Eventually, the pain subsided and I was left, naked huddled under the table. I was shaking, whether from fear or from the open window letting in the cold of the night.
The fairy smiled slightly and gave me an apology. I watched as she made a blanket appear out of nowhere and placed it over me.
     “I’m sorry,” she said again, “But if you had known the pain before…”
     “I still would have done it,” I shouted to her. I wasn’t sure why I was mad at her. I just wanted her gone, but at the same time, I didn’t want to be alone. Everything hurt but I knew eventually, the pain would go away. She told me it would and I trusted her.
     “Well. You are now a real boy,” she said to me. She waited for a reply, but when I said nothing, she bowed her head and disappeared in a blink of an eye. I laid there under the thick blanket with a shiver until my father returned.
     I woke the next morning before he did. I stood and wiggled my toes in delight. My body was sore from the transformation, but it was worth it. I regret not thanking the fairy, but I had hope of seeing her again. I dressed myself and ran to the barrel of water out back. I studied my face in the water for a long time. It was strange not to see the dark circles of the tree that created my face. I tenderly touched my nose and said in a timid voice, “I am still a wooden puppet.” I backed away with closed eyes and waited for it to grow. My nose tingled for a second. I blinked my eyes open and looked back into the water. A smile crossed over my lips as I realized my nose will never grow again.
     “My father’s name is Mary!” I said louder. “I have three eyes!” I giggled after each lie, and every time, my nose would tingle.
     “My dear Pinocchio,” my father said from the doorway, “What are you…” His words trailed off when he saw me. He squealed with joy and hobbled in my direction. I smiled and met him halfway. He dropped his cane and wrapped his arms around me. It was nice to feel this. I couldn’t before. I sniffed and felt my eyes water. “I thought it was all a dream!” He laughed and showered me with kisses. I snorted and tried to pull out of his grip.
     “Come, come,” he said, “We shall go to the market. I will buy you some new clothes and make a grand dinner for tonight.” I nodded and followed him back inside the house.
     There was a man inside that I didn’t know. He was a heavy-set man with a suit and dark eyes. He had a sneer of a smile underneath a thick mustache and a scar down the left side of his face.
     “Gepetto,” he said. His voice was deep and crackled with anger. “I hope you don’t mind. I let myself in.” I hid behind my father and watched carefully. His eyes locked onto mine. “Get lost, kid. This is between daddy and I.” He chuckled.
     “What do you want?” Gepetto asked.
     The man pulled out a long knife and began to pick at his nails. I gulped at the sight of it. I grabbed for my father’s hand and he gave me a reassuring smile.
     “You remember our deal?” he pointed the knife at me, “About the boy. You are a lucky man, Gepetto, and an old friend. But a deal is a deal. I’m here for payment.”
     “I-I,” Gepetto fumbled his words and shook his head, “I don’t have it. I was sick.” He taps his cane. “I couldn’t work. Please, give me another week.”
     The man laughed and began to walk toward Gepetto. “I’ve given you enough time. Pay now, or else.” He shook the knife in the air.
     “Pinocchio, run!” My father yelled as he pushed me out of the way. The man lunged after him with his blade drawn.
     “No!” I screamed and jumped in the way of the man. I felt a sharp pain in my side. The man looked down and laughed. He twisted the knife and winked at Gepetto before turning away.
     “Consider our debt repaid,” he shouted over his shoulder. I heard the clink of the cane fall onto the floor as Gepetto caught me. He had tears in his eyes and blood on his hands. I tried to blink the haze away, but each blink made it worse.
     “Pinocchio,” Gepetto sobbed.
     “Don’t worry, father,” I said, “I’ll be okay.” The last thing I felt was the tingle on my nose.

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Challenge of the Week #62: Tell us the story of Lucifer, where Lucifer is female. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by darinlamontagne

The Pick Up

Mark could not believe his luck as he hailed the cab. The rain that had fallen all day had petered out to a light drizzle. As the cab came to a stop it pushed water from the curb onto his shoes.  He opened the door and looked back to the entrance of the bar.  She was still there smiling as she started to walk over to the cab. She moved like a cat, all long legs and curves.  The raindrops seemed to part like a curtain as she made her way to the vehicle and he could swear that she was completely dry as she bent down and slipped inside.  Mark himself was wet, so he quickly closed the door after she pulled her legs inside, hurried to the far side of the cab and sat down behind the driver.

"Where to Jack?", the driver asked as he leaned over and started the meter.

"The Hilton Garden Inn on Peter Street."  Mark answered, noticing that the driver kept his eyes on his companion while talking to him.  It was something he was getting used to, everyone at the bar had stared at her since the moment she had walked in and sat next to him, men and women alike.  He could not blame them, he had rarely taken his eyes off of her himself.

"That's just around the corner, we'll have you there in no time." the driver responded, checking over his shoulder at the downtown traffic before pulling out onto Front Street.

Mark turned his attention over to the passenger seat just as she reached over and gave his knee a squeeze. Her hand was very warm, the squeeze gentle and brief before she slid slowly up his leg to settle on a spot mid thigh.  Her voice was deep and husky, with the trace of an accent that Mark could not place, it added to her seductiveness and mystery, full of provocation and temptation. "I can't wait to get to your room and pull off these shoes", her large, brown, almond shaped eyes danced with delight "I love the way they make my legs look, but 20 minutes after putting them on, my feet are ready to murder me for it." 

Mark smiled and assured her that she would be able to rest her feet shortly.  She smiled back before giving his thigh a small squeeze and turning to look out the window at the passing street.  She let go of his thigh and reached up to run a hand along her jaw and neck.  Mark watched, transfixed, as she idly pulled her long black hair over her shoulder, hiding the profile of her face before she spoke.  

"Thank you for spending some time with me.  It's rare I get the chance to get out, the demands at work are never ending and they keep me eternally busy.  It's nice to meet someone outside of ... the office."  Office was said like it was not really what she meant, just a word that somehow fit the occasion and Mark remembered that he knew very little about the woman he was currently taking back to his hotel.

"I know what you mean" he replied, "it's hard to balance work and a personal life.  The headaches involved over dating employees or clients are not worth the trouble.  Let alone the rules. Makes a social life extremely difficult if you work a lot."

"The only rules at my job are the ones I make."  she said, emphasizing I in a way that made Mark believe her.  "A woman in my position however, has to rule decisively and with authority.  Makes the men who work for me kowtowed and subservient. Definitely not traits that I look for in a ... companion. But a woman has needs and sometimes you get an itch that just can't be scratched on your own. That means, once every century or so I have to get out and let my hair down."  She looked back at him, her hair parting a little at the side and showing Mark the first imperfection that he had seen in this woman. Her ears were slightly pointed at the top, like she was wearing a prosthetic for a Star Trek convention.  The hair fell back in place and Mark dismissed what he had seen.  This woman was so beautiful that Mark had been wondering if she was really even human, or if he had suffered a stroke and was hallucinating the entire encounter while lying on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.  Pointy ears somehow humanized this woman, made her reality more plausible.  

“What kind of work do you do?” Mark asked.

“Oh Mark” she began in a cool voice, “we’re in town for only a short time and we both know what this is. I appreciate the effort, but it’s not necessary. Tomorrow, we’ll go our separate ways with only the memories we make tonight, nothing more. Talking about work will only dampen the mood. I don’t think you want that. I know I don’t. Let’s just say I work in the penal system and leave it at that.” She laughed, reached over and gave his knee another squeeze.  "And it’s time to let off some steam."

Mark turned, looked in the rear view mirror and caught sight of the driver.  He looked like a man who hadn't eaten in days watching someone about to devour a 10 course meal from across the room.  He felt a surge of pride and confidence and smiled back at the man.  

"Ahhh, yes" his companion said, her voice low, almost purring, "you are a lucky man tonight Mark.  But lust is already a sin you’re committing, don't put yourself on anybody's radar by adding pride and trying to incite envy in others. I know bad when I see it, and you are not a bad person Mark.  I know.  You could almost call me an expert on the subject, so be cautious how you act. You wouldn't want to corrupt yourself too much would you? It's not .... pious ... and you never know who's watching ...."  And with that cryptic comment, she turned again to the window to watch the street as it passed.

Mark thought pious was a strange word to use considering their current situation. He was not even sure he had heard it used since his days as an alter boy 20 years ago. He tried to imagine this woman as the warden in a prison and could not. This woman was sexy, intelligent and strong-willed. She could do anything she wanted, why would she work in the penal system? She was definitely a woman of many layers, but it appeared as if Mark was not going to get the chance to explore them all. She was right, he had no wish to dampen the mood. If tonight was all he was getting was, he was planning to make it count.

He had been sitting at the bar of the Azure Lounge, drinking a martini and wondering if he should order something off of the menu when he had seen her walk into the room in the long mirror behind the bottle collection.  Long, jet black hair, almond shaped dark eyes and full lips framed an almost perfect face.  She had a darker hued skin color, not black or tanned but almost reddish in color, like a subtle maroon, or the color of weathered red bricks.  Her shapely figure was in full effect wrapped in a long, form fitting red dress that ended well below the knee but had a slit at one side to the upper thigh, flashing long, muscular, but very feminine legs.  She paused at the entrance to the bar and looked around the room, seemingly indifferent to the open stares of every table.  She locked eyes with Mark through the mirror before starting in his direction.  She moved like a model, long strides, one foot in front of the other like she was walking across a narrow beam.  She held Mark's gaze in the mirror as she approached, never acknowledging the attention of the other patrons.  Mark could almost hear necks muscles creak as she passed by.  She took the seat next to him without ever asking if it was occupied, and only after she was seated did she break Mark's gaze in the mirror. She looked down at the bartender who had paused while wiping glasses, apparently transfixed by her presence as well.

"I'll have whatever he's drinking" her voice snapping the man from his reverie. She then turned to Mark and introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Ereshkigal. What are we drinking?" 

"Mark", he replied after a pause, "I mean, my name is Mark.  We're drinking martinis … vodka martinis. This one is a plain vodka martini, but the bar has a whole list of signature ones if you wanted something different..." he trailed off, aware that he was stumbling around in the dark and stammering like a teenager on a first date.

"Plain is fine" she replied with a smile that said she knew how uncomfortable she was making him feel.  She turned back to the bartender who had started to mix her drink and said "Make mine dirty and drop in a couple of olives."  She turned back to Mark, leaned in close and whispered "I usually take them dry, but I'm feeling a little naughty tonight."  Up close, Mark could smell a heady aroma of herbs.  He thought he detected garlic, cloves, fennel and ginseng.   Underneath that though was a stronger odor that it was masking, a smell like you would get from coals after a charcoal fire had burned down. Also up close, he could tell that she was hot, like she had a fever or had just stepped out of the sauna after a marathon session.  The very air around her felt charged with electricity.  He felt his hair start to stand up and bend towards her.  A friend in high school had a plasma globe in his room. They used to turn it on, smoke pot and watch the colored lights dance around the ball.  When he touched it, he would feel a tingle in his hand and his hair would stand up.  The product of electrical discharge through the gas that filled the globe.  Being next to Ereshkigal felt the same as touching that globe.  Then she laughed and pulled away, breaking the spell.  The bartender put a drink in front of her and she pulled it to her lips to take a heady gulp.  

"Delicious", she said and touched the bartender on the hand, "I couldn't have made a better martini myself."  The bartender had been staring at her lasciviously, gaze planted firmly on her chest, but he started when she touched him, like he had been shocked or touched unexpectedly when napping. 

"Uh, thanks", he replied, staring at her like he was unsure what he was doing in the bar in the first place, "no problem, glad you like it", he shook his head slowly, turned and moved towards the far end of the bar, his first few steps unsteady, like a newborn deer.  She watched him walk away before letting out a small chortle and turning back to Mark. She fixed him in place with her eyes and took a smaller sip of her drink. She sat staring at him, unspeaking, an expectant look on her face.

"Ereshkigal?" Mark asked after he could not handle the charged silence or her penetrating gaze any longer, "That's a unique name, I don't think I've ever heard it before."

"It's an old middle eastern name.  It means ‘Queen of the Great Earth.’  It's not common, but then again, neither am I."  She smiled at him again, the muted light of the bar making her eyes seem to dance as if on fire.

"Um, are you here for the convention?" Mark asked, reaching down to grab his own drink and taking a much needed swallow.  He knew he was not an unattractive man and had never experienced problems talking to women before, but he had also never had an encounter quite like this one.  Ereshkigal was definitely the most attractive and sexy woman that he had ever met.  That and her aggressive style was putting Mark on the defensive.

"Convention?"  she asked, "What convention are you talking about?"

"The Yoga Conference and Show" Mark replied, "at the Metro Convention Center down the street.  I run a chain of Yoga studios in Vancouver and we have a booth set up in the hall."

"Yoga hmmm" Ereshkigal replied and took a long look at Mark starting with his feet all the way up to his head.  It added to his discomfort and he idly wondered if this was how women felt when they walked by a construction site.  Lots of men fantasized about an aggressive, sexualized woman, Mark himself one of those, but now that he was facing just such a woman he realized that the fantasy may be a little more than he could handle. "I like a limber man.  So many possibilities."  She reached for her glass, drained what was left and then fixed her eyes onto his.  "You'll do.” she said in a matter of fact tone, “Why don't you take me back to your hotel."

Mark felt a bead of sweat start at the base of his neck and drip down to his collar.  This was crazy, unbelievable.  Things like this only happened in letters written for magazines that were stored at the bottom of closets or underneath mattresses.  15 minutes ago he had been sipping a drink after a long day and wondering if he should order food. Now he was in a situation without precedence, an opportunity that any man would be crazy to turn down and completely unsure what to do about it.

Ereshkigal laughed, that deep, husky laugh again, like she knew exactly what he was thinking, exactly how she was making him feel, and enjoying every second he squirmed. "You're not afraid of little old me, are you?" she said, delight dancing in her eyes.  "Such a big strong man like you?  Besides" she added, standing up from her stool and looking around the room before returning her gaze to his, "are you going to get another offer this tempting?"

Mark again became aware of the smell of her, the heady aroma of herbs.  Ginseng and ginger filled his nostrils.  The physical heat she was putting off in waves was palpable and Mark felt more sweat forming on his back.  This woman could turn any bathtub into a Jacuzzi just by getting into the water.  She was obviously crazy, beautiful, but crazy.  Or it was a con and he would wake up in the morning handcuffed naked to the bed, his wallet gone. No one acted like this, it just never happened.  "I...uh...look", he began starting to get up from his stool, he met her gaze again and then promptly forgot everything he was going to say.  An image of what this woman would look like naked came bursting into his mind.  She was physical perfection. All curves, taunt and fit but zoftig at the same time. Mark may never meet a woman like this for the rest of his life, much less have the opportunity that she was offering.  She was playing in a league all of her own and he would regret not taking this chance for the rest of his life.  She was right, as fit as she was, she was just a woman.  Mark spent his life working out and easily had 60 pounds on her. If she had an accomplice waiting, someone who would follow them to his hotel, ready to burst in and rob him, then they were going to be disappointed.  He was not staying at some seedy No Tell Motel.  The Hilton had security and tons of cameras, no one was slipping in at night unseen and unchallenged.  If that was her game, she would back out once she entered the lobby, no harm, no foul to him.  He reached an impulsive decision, locked onto it and dove in headfirst. He reached for his wallet.  

"Let me pay the tab and grab a cab."  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  Mark had another moment of doubt when she smiled, she looked like a cat that had cornered a mouse, predatory and in control.  Her teeth were incredibly white, jarringly so against her dark skin, her canine teeth more pointed and pronounced than he had realized before, adding to her predatory demeanor.  In an instant however, the look was gone, replaced by one of lust and playfulness. Mark again smelled that heady mixture of herbs, ginseng and ginger at the very forefront.  He stood, laid his money on the bar, placed an arm around her waist and started for the door.

By the time they arrived at the hotel, he was convinced that she was indeed running a con and would concoct an excuse to leave when she saw that the hotel was upscale, cameras in the lobby, employees alert and engaging everyone who entered.  She made no such excuse however, met the gaze of everyone who entered her field of vision and made no attempt to conceal her presence.  Not that she could anyway.  She was definitely the center of attention in any room she entered.  Nobody was apt to forget the tall beautiful woman in a skin tight red dress.  She said nothing as they made their way through the lobby, up the elevator to the third floor and down the hall to his room.  Mark used his key card to unlock the door and held it open for her.  She entered the room without hesitation and slowly made her way past the bathroom and into the living area.  Mark had only seen her walk towards him, he had also walked beside her, but this was his first opportunity to watch her move from behind and he was not disappointed.  She walked slowly, knowing that she was giving him this glimpse for the first time, hips swaying back and forth seductively, the slit in her dress flashing her long tanned legs.  She kicked off her shoes as she entered the living area and looked back at him over her shoulder, a knowing smile on her face.  "Much better," she said "my feet are eternally grateful."  Mark still stood in the doorway, transfixed until she beckoned him in with her finger. "Why don't you come in and help me with my zipper."  She brushed her long dark hair over her shoulder, revealing the back of her dress and Mark entered the room quickly. He walked towards her and pulled the zipper down, parting the garment and revealing a long slice of perfect silky skin. She walked three steps forward and pulled her dress down over her shoulders, let it fall to her midriff and then pulled it down again past her well-rounded hips.  The garment fell to the floor and Mark saw that it was the only item of clothing that she had worn.  She took another four slow steps further into the room before turning around to face him.

"You like?" she asked, a small coy smile played across her face.  Her tongue darted out and licked her top lip.  Mark could see that it was very long, narrow and ended in a point.  Another small imperfection, but immediately put aside in his mind.  He had imagined how this woman would look like naked, tried to picture it in his mind, but even his most unrestrained imaginings paled in comparison to the image that now stood before him.  She was the dream woman that you would not, could not even dream was real. She was perfection. His lust, which had been simmering since she had first sat down next to him, now boiled over into a frenzy.  How could he have ever thought to turn this woman down?  How could anyone?  He felt heat rush into his body and he started moving towards her, that heady smell of herbs growing stronger with each step.  Gone was any doubt, his fears were forgotten and any misgivings were thrust from him and swept away in the tornado of his desire.  Just as he reached her, was reaching out for her, to touch her, the phone on the bedside table rang.  It was unexpected and broke the spell of his lust.  He saw her turn towards the phone and look at it with pure hatred.  

"She knows who's calling" he thought, "She knows and it's for her."  He walked over to the bedside table and picked up the receiver, "Hello" he said into the mouthpiece, "can I help you?"

"Ereshkigal" was the reply, not a question, simply a statement.  The connection was hollow and full of static, like the caller was on a cell phone in a parking garage. The voice itself was all wrong.  It hurt to listen to, even though he only spoke the one word, Mark cringed when it was uttered.  It sounded like the caller was speaking while chewing glass.

"Who is this and how did you know she was here?" he answered angrily, thoughts again of this being a con flashed in his mind, lust started to be replaced by fear and his mind raced as he wondered what type of trouble he was in and how he could extricate himself from this predicament.  Then he felt her hand on his shoulder as she reached over with the other to pull the phone away from him.  She pulled the receiver from him easily, his hand went numb, the fear and anger poured out of him and he suddenly felt weak.  He backed away from her as she tossed her hair to the side and put the phone up to her pointed ear.

"This had better be important" she said in a tone filled with malice.  Gone was the sexy, seductive voice.  It was replaced by one so menacing that it sent a chill down Mark's spine.  "I've only been gone for a few hours, how could someone even as worthless and stupid as you have fucked things up so badly, so quickly, that you needed to call me now?" Mark had backed up until his legs had bumped into the chair at the far end of the room and he sat down on it heavily.  Ereshkigal listened on the phone as the person with the mouth full of glass apparently spoke.  He watched her as she listened, her body tensing in anger, the sexy and seductive siren that had been standing there turning into seething pile of rage. He felt the heat coming off her body in waves and they were growing hotter by the second. Gone was the aroma of herbs, that burnt charcoal smell now dominated.  Mark looked down at her feet and could swear that the carpet had started to smolder.  He looked back up at her face and watched the point of her ear grow longer, almost bat-like.  The maroon tint of her skin changed, becoming more crimson.  He watched in growing horror as the hair on the top of her head bulged out and he thought he saw a bony tip start to protrude.  It almost looked like she was growing horns. "You are as much of a disappointment to me today as you were when you first arrived Gallu.  Is one night away every century or two too much to ask for?  Your penance for this intrusion will be monstrous.  Do nothing.  I will return shortly."  She turned her back on Mark to hang up the phone and took several deep breaths.  The heat radiating from her subsided, her color deepened back to it's original, muted hue and when she turned to face Mark again, the bumps on her forehead were gone, her ears less pointed and he wondered if he had imagined it all.  She smiled and stepped towards her dress. He saw that the carpet was blackened where she had stood, blackened perfectly into the shape of 2 feet and knew that it had not been a delusion.

She stepped into her dress and pulled it up.  "Zip me up?"  she asked, smiling at him as he sat on the chair.  Gone was the monster of a few moments ago, replaced once again by the seductive beauty that had approached him at the bar.  He could not trust himself to answer and merely shook his head side to side.  The monster may be gone, but Mark had seen behind the curtain.  He had caught a glimpse of the real entity and knew that the person facing him now was only a mirage, a spell cast to allow her to walk and move among regular people.  He knew that what he shared the room with was unnatural, inhuman and he dared not approach.  

"No?" she said, "No matter, I think I can manage."  She smiled and reached back with her arm, it stretched out and moved in an unnatural way. It continued to stretch over her shoulder all the way down to her lower back until she grabbed the bottom of the zipper and pulled it up.  The physicality of the movement impossible but she accomplished it without showing the least exertion, the smile never leaving her face.  "How many yoga classes till someone can do something like that?" she asked and laughed again. "Sorry to cut our night short" she continued, "but duty calls.  So hard to find good help nowadays, especially when you don't get the cream of the crop.  He”, she looked up and made a face, “gets all the thinkers, the planners and the poets and leaves me with all the brutes and the animals. No first bite at the apple for me so to speak".  She looked at Mark with wide eyes, smiling and waiting. When Mark did not answer she pulled another face, this one of exasperation.  "Oh, come on ... first bite at the apple ... that's funny, don't you think?"

Mark could only stare at her. He was paralyzed with fear, his whole body cold and numb. He swallowed and managed to spit out "Apple?"

"Oh for Christ's sake" she said, "get it together and stop being such a pussy Mark.  Be thankful that you’re not one of those I left in charge before I left. Those fuckers are the ones in trouble."  She took a few steps towards him and pointed a finger at his chest.  "And mind our conversation in the cab, or you will get to see everything I am and can be for all eternity."

"You’re not going to kill me?" he asked.

She threw back her head and laughed.  "Oh my, someone is feeling dramatic. Why would I kill you."

"I have seen you.  I know who you are.  I could tell the world about you" he said.

"That you could … that you could" she replied, "but, then again, who would believe you? Locked up in a cell, doped up and drooling over a kid’s jigsaw puzzle is where you would probably end up.  You're a smart man Mark.  Would you believe a story like yours?  You have a nice life, you're attractive, successful, why jeopardize that life to tell a story that people are just not willing to hear?  I think not.  Go back to Vancouver, go back to your life, live it like any day could be your last. But not too well.  You have seen a little of what follows, and in my case, the grass is definitely greener on the other side of the fence, or gate as it were." She then turned and walked to the center of the room.  An energy began to fill the space, Mark felt it tingling along his skin, a low humming sound began to emerge from nowhere and everywhere. Ereshkigal turned and looked at Mark, "Chow, it's been fun" she said and smiled again, "be seeing you ... maybe".  The energy reached a crescendo, the hairs on Mark's skin rose, he felt an ache in his fillings and the low humming rose in volume until it filled the room.  Ereshkigal winked at him and then, the next moment, she was gone.  He heard a popping sound and the air in the room was suddenly filled with the smell of sulfur. A fine haze of ash appeared as if from nowhere and drifted about the room.  The energy was gone as well as the hum, disappeared with Ereshkigal.

Mark sat dumbfounded and silent, watching the ash settle over his room for several minutes, too weak and tired to move.

"First bite of the apple" he mumbled finally to the empty room, "oh, I get it."

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Challenge of the Week #62: Tell us the story of Lucifer, where Lucifer is female. The most masterfully written piece, as voted and determined by the Prose team, will be crowned winner and receive $100. Quality beats quantity, always, but numbers make things easier for our judges, so share, share, share with friends, family, and connections. #ProseChallenge #getlit #itslit
Written by darinlamontagne
The Pick Up
Mark could not believe his luck as he hailed the cab. The rain that had fallen all day had petered out to a light drizzle. As the cab came to a stop it pushed water from the curb onto his shoes.  He opened the door and looked back to the entrance of the bar.  She was still there smiling as she started to walk over to the cab. She moved like a cat, all long legs and curves.  The raindrops seemed to part like a curtain as she made her way to the vehicle and he could swear that she was completely dry as she bent down and slipped inside.  Mark himself was wet, so he quickly closed the door after she pulled her legs inside, hurried to the far side of the cab and sat down behind the driver.
"Where to Jack?", the driver asked as he leaned over and started the meter.
"The Hilton Garden Inn on Peter Street."  Mark answered, noticing that the driver kept his eyes on his companion while talking to him.  It was something he was getting used to, everyone at the bar had stared at her since the moment she had walked in and sat next to him, men and women alike.  He could not blame them, he had rarely taken his eyes off of her himself.
"That's just around the corner, we'll have you there in no time." the driver responded, checking over his shoulder at the downtown traffic before pulling out onto Front Street.
Mark turned his attention over to the passenger seat just as she reached over and gave his knee a squeeze. Her hand was very warm, the squeeze gentle and brief before she slid slowly up his leg to settle on a spot mid thigh.  Her voice was deep and husky, with the trace of an accent that Mark could not place, it added to her seductiveness and mystery, full of provocation and temptation. "I can't wait to get to your room and pull off these shoes", her large, brown, almond shaped eyes danced with delight "I love the way they make my legs look, but 20 minutes after putting them on, my feet are ready to murder me for it." 
Mark smiled and assured her that she would be able to rest her feet shortly.  She smiled back before giving his thigh a small squeeze and turning to look out the window at the passing street.  She let go of his thigh and reached up to run a hand along her jaw and neck.  Mark watched, transfixed, as she idly pulled her long black hair over her shoulder, hiding the profile of her face before she spoke.  
"Thank you for spending some time with me.  It's rare I get the chance to get out, the demands at work are never ending and they keep me eternally busy.  It's nice to meet someone outside of ... the office."  Office was said like it was not really what she meant, just a word that somehow fit the occasion and Mark remembered that he knew very little about the woman he was currently taking back to his hotel.
"I know what you mean" he replied, "it's hard to balance work and a personal life.  The headaches involved over dating employees or clients are not worth the trouble.  Let alone the rules. Makes a social life extremely difficult if you work a lot."
"The only rules at my job are the ones I make."  she said, emphasizing I in a way that made Mark believe her.  "A woman in my position however, has to rule decisively and with authority.  Makes the men who work for me kowtowed and subservient. Definitely not traits that I look for in a ... companion. But a woman has needs and sometimes you get an itch that just can't be scratched on your own. That means, once every century or so I have to get out and let my hair down."  She looked back at him, her hair parting a little at the side and showing Mark the first imperfection that he had seen in this woman. Her ears were slightly pointed at the top, like she was wearing a prosthetic for a Star Trek convention.  The hair fell back in place and Mark dismissed what he had seen.  This woman was so beautiful that Mark had been wondering if she was really even human, or if he had suffered a stroke and was hallucinating the entire encounter while lying on a stretcher in the back of an ambulance.  Pointy ears somehow humanized this woman, made her reality more plausible.  
“What kind of work do you do?” Mark asked.
“Oh Mark” she began in a cool voice, “we’re in town for only a short time and we both know what this is. I appreciate the effort, but it’s not necessary. Tomorrow, we’ll go our separate ways with only the memories we make tonight, nothing more. Talking about work will only dampen the mood. I don’t think you want that. I know I don’t. Let’s just say I work in the penal system and leave it at that.” She laughed, reached over and gave his knee another squeeze.  "And it’s time to let off some steam."
Mark turned, looked in the rear view mirror and caught sight of the driver.  He looked like a man who hadn't eaten in days watching someone about to devour a 10 course meal from across the room.  He felt a surge of pride and confidence and smiled back at the man.  
"Ahhh, yes" his companion said, her voice low, almost purring, "you are a lucky man tonight Mark.  But lust is already a sin you’re committing, don't put yourself on anybody's radar by adding pride and trying to incite envy in others. I know bad when I see it, and you are not a bad person Mark.  I know.  You could almost call me an expert on the subject, so be cautious how you act. You wouldn't want to corrupt yourself too much would you? It's not .... pious ... and you never know who's watching ...."  And with that cryptic comment, she turned again to the window to watch the street as it passed.
Mark thought pious was a strange word to use considering their current situation. He was not even sure he had heard it used since his days as an alter boy 20 years ago. He tried to imagine this woman as the warden in a prison and could not. This woman was sexy, intelligent and strong-willed. She could do anything she wanted, why would she work in the penal system? She was definitely a woman of many layers, but it appeared as if Mark was not going to get the chance to explore them all. She was right, he had no wish to dampen the mood. If tonight was all he was getting was, he was planning to make it count.
He had been sitting at the bar of the Azure Lounge, drinking a martini and wondering if he should order something off of the menu when he had seen her walk into the room in the long mirror behind the bottle collection.  Long, jet black hair, almond shaped dark eyes and full lips framed an almost perfect face.  She had a darker hued skin color, not black or tanned but almost reddish in color, like a subtle maroon, or the color of weathered red bricks.  Her shapely figure was in full effect wrapped in a long, form fitting red dress that ended well below the knee but had a slit at one side to the upper thigh, flashing long, muscular, but very feminine legs.  She paused at the entrance to the bar and looked around the room, seemingly indifferent to the open stares of every table.  She locked eyes with Mark through the mirror before starting in his direction.  She moved like a model, long strides, one foot in front of the other like she was walking across a narrow beam.  She held Mark's gaze in the mirror as she approached, never acknowledging the attention of the other patrons.  Mark could almost hear necks muscles creak as she passed by.  She took the seat next to him without ever asking if it was occupied, and only after she was seated did she break Mark's gaze in the mirror. She looked down at the bartender who had paused while wiping glasses, apparently transfixed by her presence as well.
"I'll have whatever he's drinking" her voice snapping the man from his reverie. She then turned to Mark and introduced herself. "Hi, I'm Ereshkigal. What are we drinking?" 
"Mark", he replied after a pause, "I mean, my name is Mark.  We're drinking martinis … vodka martinis. This one is a plain vodka martini, but the bar has a whole list of signature ones if you wanted something different..." he trailed off, aware that he was stumbling around in the dark and stammering like a teenager on a first date.
"Plain is fine" she replied with a smile that said she knew how uncomfortable she was making him feel.  She turned back to the bartender who had started to mix her drink and said "Make mine dirty and drop in a couple of olives."  She turned back to Mark, leaned in close and whispered "I usually take them dry, but I'm feeling a little naughty tonight."  Up close, Mark could smell a heady aroma of herbs.  He thought he detected garlic, cloves, fennel and ginseng.   Underneath that though was a stronger odor that it was masking, a smell like you would get from coals after a charcoal fire had burned down. Also up close, he could tell that she was hot, like she had a fever or had just stepped out of the sauna after a marathon session.  The very air around her felt charged with electricity.  He felt his hair start to stand up and bend towards her.  A friend in high school had a plasma globe in his room. They used to turn it on, smoke pot and watch the colored lights dance around the ball.  When he touched it, he would feel a tingle in his hand and his hair would stand up.  The product of electrical discharge through the gas that filled the globe.  Being next to Ereshkigal felt the same as touching that globe.  Then she laughed and pulled away, breaking the spell.  The bartender put a drink in front of her and she pulled it to her lips to take a heady gulp.  
"Delicious", she said and touched the bartender on the hand, "I couldn't have made a better martini myself."  The bartender had been staring at her lasciviously, gaze planted firmly on her chest, but he started when she touched him, like he had been shocked or touched unexpectedly when napping. 
"Uh, thanks", he replied, staring at her like he was unsure what he was doing in the bar in the first place, "no problem, glad you like it", he shook his head slowly, turned and moved towards the far end of the bar, his first few steps unsteady, like a newborn deer.  She watched him walk away before letting out a small chortle and turning back to Mark. She fixed him in place with her eyes and took a smaller sip of her drink. She sat staring at him, unspeaking, an expectant look on her face.
"Ereshkigal?" Mark asked after he could not handle the charged silence or her penetrating gaze any longer, "That's a unique name, I don't think I've ever heard it before."
"It's an old middle eastern name.  It means ‘Queen of the Great Earth.’  It's not common, but then again, neither am I."  She smiled at him again, the muted light of the bar making her eyes seem to dance as if on fire.
"Um, are you here for the convention?" Mark asked, reaching down to grab his own drink and taking a much needed swallow.  He knew he was not an unattractive man and had never experienced problems talking to women before, but he had also never had an encounter quite like this one.  Ereshkigal was definitely the most attractive and sexy woman that he had ever met.  That and her aggressive style was putting Mark on the defensive.
"Convention?"  she asked, "What convention are you talking about?"
"The Yoga Conference and Show" Mark replied, "at the Metro Convention Center down the street.  I run a chain of Yoga studios in Vancouver and we have a booth set up in the hall."
"Yoga hmmm" Ereshkigal replied and took a long look at Mark starting with his feet all the way up to his head.  It added to his discomfort and he idly wondered if this was how women felt when they walked by a construction site.  Lots of men fantasized about an aggressive, sexualized woman, Mark himself one of those, but now that he was facing just such a woman he realized that the fantasy may be a little more than he could handle. "I like a limber man.  So many possibilities."  She reached for her glass, drained what was left and then fixed her eyes onto his.  "You'll do.” she said in a matter of fact tone, “Why don't you take me back to your hotel."
Mark felt a bead of sweat start at the base of his neck and drip down to his collar.  This was crazy, unbelievable.  Things like this only happened in letters written for magazines that were stored at the bottom of closets or underneath mattresses.  15 minutes ago he had been sipping a drink after a long day and wondering if he should order food. Now he was in a situation without precedence, an opportunity that any man would be crazy to turn down and completely unsure what to do about it.
Ereshkigal laughed, that deep, husky laugh again, like she knew exactly what he was thinking, exactly how she was making him feel, and enjoying every second he squirmed. "You're not afraid of little old me, are you?" she said, delight dancing in her eyes.  "Such a big strong man like you?  Besides" she added, standing up from her stool and looking around the room before returning her gaze to his, "are you going to get another offer this tempting?"
Mark again became aware of the smell of her, the heady aroma of herbs.  Ginseng and ginger filled his nostrils.  The physical heat she was putting off in waves was palpable and Mark felt more sweat forming on his back.  This woman could turn any bathtub into a Jacuzzi just by getting into the water.  She was obviously crazy, beautiful, but crazy.  Or it was a con and he would wake up in the morning handcuffed naked to the bed, his wallet gone. No one acted like this, it just never happened.  "I...uh...look", he began starting to get up from his stool, he met her gaze again and then promptly forgot everything he was going to say.  An image of what this woman would look like naked came bursting into his mind.  She was physical perfection. All curves, taunt and fit but zoftig at the same time. Mark may never meet a woman like this for the rest of his life, much less have the opportunity that she was offering.  She was playing in a league all of her own and he would regret not taking this chance for the rest of his life.  She was right, as fit as she was, she was just a woman.  Mark spent his life working out and easily had 60 pounds on her. If she had an accomplice waiting, someone who would follow them to his hotel, ready to burst in and rob him, then they were going to be disappointed.  He was not staying at some seedy No Tell Motel.  The Hilton had security and tons of cameras, no one was slipping in at night unseen and unchallenged.  If that was her game, she would back out once she entered the lobby, no harm, no foul to him.  He reached an impulsive decision, locked onto it and dove in headfirst. He reached for his wallet.  
"Let me pay the tab and grab a cab."  He smiled at her and she smiled back.  Mark had another moment of doubt when she smiled, she looked like a cat that had cornered a mouse, predatory and in control.  Her teeth were incredibly white, jarringly so against her dark skin, her canine teeth more pointed and pronounced than he had realized before, adding to her predatory demeanor.  In an instant however, the look was gone, replaced by one of lust and playfulness. Mark again smelled that heady mixture of herbs, ginseng and ginger at the very forefront.  He stood, laid his money on the bar, placed an arm around her waist and started for the door.
By the time they arrived at the hotel, he was convinced that she was indeed running a con and would concoct an excuse to leave when she saw that the hotel was upscale, cameras in the lobby, employees alert and engaging everyone who entered.  She made no such excuse however, met the gaze of everyone who entered her field of vision and made no attempt to conceal her presence.  Not that she could anyway.  She was definitely the center of attention in any room she entered.  Nobody was apt to forget the tall beautiful woman in a skin tight red dress.  She said nothing as they made their way through the lobby, up the elevator to the third floor and down the hall to his room.  Mark used his key card to unlock the door and held it open for her.  She entered the room without hesitation and slowly made her way past the bathroom and into the living area.  Mark had only seen her walk towards him, he had also walked beside her, but this was his first opportunity to watch her move from behind and he was not disappointed.  She walked slowly, knowing that she was giving him this glimpse for the first time, hips swaying back and forth seductively, the slit in her dress flashing her long tanned legs.  She kicked off her shoes as she entered the living area and looked back at him over her shoulder, a knowing smile on her face.  "Much better," she said "my feet are eternally grateful."  Mark still stood in the doorway, transfixed until she beckoned him in with her finger. "Why don't you come in and help me with my zipper."  She brushed her long dark hair over her shoulder, revealing the back of her dress and Mark entered the room quickly. He walked towards her and pulled the zipper down, parting the garment and revealing a long slice of perfect silky skin. She walked three steps forward and pulled her dress down over her shoulders, let it fall to her midriff and then pulled it down again past her well-rounded hips.  The garment fell to the floor and Mark saw that it was the only item of clothing that she had worn.  She took another four slow steps further into the room before turning around to face him.
"You like?" she asked, a small coy smile played across her face.  Her tongue darted out and licked her top lip.  Mark could see that it was very long, narrow and ended in a point.  Another small imperfection, but immediately put aside in his mind.  He had imagined how this woman would look like naked, tried to picture it in his mind, but even his most unrestrained imaginings paled in comparison to the image that now stood before him.  She was the dream woman that you would not, could not even dream was real. She was perfection. His lust, which had been simmering since she had first sat down next to him, now boiled over into a frenzy.  How could he have ever thought to turn this woman down?  How could anyone?  He felt heat rush into his body and he started moving towards her, that heady smell of herbs growing stronger with each step.  Gone was any doubt, his fears were forgotten and any misgivings were thrust from him and swept away in the tornado of his desire.  Just as he reached her, was reaching out for her, to touch her, the phone on the bedside table rang.  It was unexpected and broke the spell of his lust.  He saw her turn towards the phone and look at it with pure hatred.  
"She knows who's calling" he thought, "She knows and it's for her."  He walked over to the bedside table and picked up the receiver, "Hello" he said into the mouthpiece, "can I help you?"
"Ereshkigal" was the reply, not a question, simply a statement.  The connection was hollow and full of static, like the caller was on a cell phone in a parking garage. The voice itself was all wrong.  It hurt to listen to, even though he only spoke the one word, Mark cringed when it was uttered.  It sounded like the caller was speaking while chewing glass.
"Who is this and how did you know she was here?" he answered angrily, thoughts again of this being a con flashed in his mind, lust started to be replaced by fear and his mind raced as he wondered what type of trouble he was in and how he could extricate himself from this predicament.  Then he felt her hand on his shoulder as she reached over with the other to pull the phone away from him.  She pulled the receiver from him easily, his hand went numb, the fear and anger poured out of him and he suddenly felt weak.  He backed away from her as she tossed her hair to the side and put the phone up to her pointed ear.
"This had better be important" she said in a tone filled with malice.  Gone was the sexy, seductive voice.  It was replaced by one so menacing that it sent a chill down Mark's spine.  "I've only been gone for a few hours, how could someone even as worthless and stupid as you have fucked things up so badly, so quickly, that you needed to call me now?" Mark had backed up until his legs had bumped into the chair at the far end of the room and he sat down on it heavily.  Ereshkigal listened on the phone as the person with the mouth full of glass apparently spoke.  He watched her as she listened, her body tensing in anger, the sexy and seductive siren that had been standing there turning into seething pile of rage. He felt the heat coming off her body in waves and they were growing hotter by the second. Gone was the aroma of herbs, that burnt charcoal smell now dominated.  Mark looked down at her feet and could swear that the carpet had started to smolder.  He looked back up at her face and watched the point of her ear grow longer, almost bat-like.  The maroon tint of her skin changed, becoming more crimson.  He watched in growing horror as the hair on the top of her head bulged out and he thought he saw a bony tip start to protrude.  It almost looked like she was growing horns. "You are as much of a disappointment to me today as you were when you first arrived Gallu.  Is one night away every century or two too much to ask for?  Your penance for this intrusion will be monstrous.  Do nothing.  I will return shortly."  She turned her back on Mark to hang up the phone and took several deep breaths.  The heat radiating from her subsided, her color deepened back to it's original, muted hue and when she turned to face Mark again, the bumps on her forehead were gone, her ears less pointed and he wondered if he had imagined it all.  She smiled and stepped towards her dress. He saw that the carpet was blackened where she had stood, blackened perfectly into the shape of 2 feet and knew that it had not been a delusion.
She stepped into her dress and pulled it up.  "Zip me up?"  she asked, smiling at him as he sat on the chair.  Gone was the monster of a few moments ago, replaced once again by the seductive beauty that had approached him at the bar.  He could not trust himself to answer and merely shook his head side to side.  The monster may be gone, but Mark had seen behind the curtain.  He had caught a glimpse of the real entity and knew that the person facing him now was only a mirage, a spell cast to allow her to walk and move among regular people.  He knew that what he shared the room with was unnatural, inhuman and he dared not approach.  
"No?" she said, "No matter, I think I can manage."  She smiled and reached back with her arm, it stretched out and moved in an unnatural way. It continued to stretch over her shoulder all the way down to her lower back until she grabbed the bottom of the zipper and pulled it up.  The physicality of the movement impossible but she accomplished it without showing the least exertion, the smile never leaving her face.  "How many yoga classes till someone can do something like that?" she asked and laughed again. "Sorry to cut our night short" she continued, "but duty calls.  So hard to find good help nowadays, especially when you don't get the cream of the crop.  He”, she looked up and made a face, “gets all the thinkers, the planners and the poets and leaves me with all the brutes and the animals. No first bite at the apple for me so to speak".  She looked at Mark with wide eyes, smiling and waiting. When Mark did not answer she pulled another face, this one of exasperation.  "Oh, come on ... first bite at the apple ... that's funny, don't you think?"
Mark could only stare at her. He was paralyzed with fear, his whole body cold and numb. He swallowed and managed to spit out "Apple?"
"Oh for Christ's sake" she said, "get it together and stop being such a pussy Mark.  Be thankful that you’re not one of those I left in charge before I left. Those fuckers are the ones in trouble."  She took a few steps towards him and pointed a finger at his chest.  "And mind our conversation in the cab, or you will get to see everything I am and can be for all eternity."
"You’re not going to kill me?" he asked.
She threw back her head and laughed.  "Oh my, someone is feeling dramatic. Why would I kill you."
"I have seen you.  I know who you are.  I could tell the world about you" he said.
"That you could … that you could" she replied, "but, then again, who would believe you? Locked up in a cell, doped up and drooling over a kid’s jigsaw puzzle is where you would probably end up.  You're a smart man Mark.  Would you believe a story like yours?  You have a nice life, you're attractive, successful, why jeopardize that life to tell a story that people are just not willing to hear?  I think not.  Go back to Vancouver, go back to your life, live it like any day could be your last. But not too well.  You have seen a little of what follows, and in my case, the grass is definitely greener on the other side of the fence, or gate as it were." She then turned and walked to the center of the room.  An energy began to fill the space, Mark felt it tingling along his skin, a low humming sound began to emerge from nowhere and everywhere. Ereshkigal turned and looked at Mark, "Chow, it's been fun" she said and smiled again, "be seeing you ... maybe".  The energy reached a crescendo, the hairs on Mark's skin rose, he felt an ache in his fillings and the low humming rose in volume until it filled the room.  Ereshkigal winked at him and then, the next moment, she was gone.  He heard a popping sound and the air in the room was suddenly filled with the smell of sulfur. A fine haze of ash appeared as if from nowhere and drifted about the room.  The energy was gone as well as the hum, disappeared with Ereshkigal.
Mark sat dumbfounded and silent, watching the ash settle over his room for several minutes, too weak and tired to move.
"First bite of the apple" he mumbled finally to the empty room, "oh, I get it."
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Written by JacksonYoung

Jacob Ardemus Monroe, Adventurer, Chapter 2 -- Jacob and Etienne

The sun was less than an hour from disappearing behind Sadler’s Ridge when the Frenchman first made himself known to me. I turned around to reach for my canteen and there he stood, setting sun at his back. I couldn’t tell much about him other than he was big. My pistol, my knife and my rifle were all with Ahoti, a mistake I would not make again. I picked up a rock to defend myself.  Only, he didn’t come at me. He just stood his ground and after a long moment, he spoke.

“Monsieur, you have been tramping through my woods for half a day. You have scared away every beast, grand et petit, for kilometers. Tell me why I should not kill you.”

I could barely make out his outline against the sun but I could see no weapon and he didn’t sound as angry as he would have me believe. I shaded my eyes with my forearm hoping to see his face but I could not.

He pressed the point. “Monsieur, I am awaiting your response and I am losing my patience quickly with you.”

The sun was blinding me. I turned my face to the ground only to see a timber rattler that had crawled to within six feet of me. He was well disguised and practically covered with leaves. I kept my eyes on him as I spoke. “Bon monsieur Frenchman. There is no reason to kill me, mon ami.” I had just used every word of French that I knew. “I am just a traveler passing through, on my way to somewhere else. I had hoped only to rest for the night. I didn’t know you were here or I would have gone on a little further.”

“I have heard you and smelled you for many hours. You make the noise of ten men. Perhaps a man of your grace should not venture into the woods. There are many dangers here -- mountain lions, bear, wolf. However...” he paused and took one step forward “in this forest, not all danger walks on four legs. Do you understand me well, monsieur?”

“Yes. I do understand you Frenchman. And I know all about the dangers of the forest, even more than I’d like to about right now. My name is Monroe, Jacob Ardemus Monroe. If you aren’t going to kill me right now, there's a rattlesnake that just might. He's about to crawl across my boot.”

“I have been watching him.” The steel of his blade flashed briefly as it flew through the air with deadly accuracy and nearly severed the rattler’s head. “Now I have food to eat. Perhaps I will wait and kill you on a full stomach.” He came toward me and picked up the rattler by its tail. cut the snake’s rattles off and tossed them onto the ground at my feet. “Those will serve you well, weary traveler, if you survive the night. Even the bear fears the rattlesnake. Do you know the way to properly prepare snake?”

“Yes, I do. I know how to cook snakes and rabbits and just about any other animal you could find around these parts.” There was an uneasy pause for a moment as we stared at each other. Even though he was just a few feet away from me, in the shadows I still could not see him clearly. “I told you my name, Frenchman. How about you telling me yours.”

“You wish to know the name of your executioner, eh?” He took out a leather strop from a deerskin pouch and sharpened the blade of his knife across it as he spoke. “Very well. I am Etienne Gerard Marceau the First, Emperor and ruler of this very forest in which we stand, son of Rene Philippe Marceau -- a thief and a scoundrel that was guillotined by the Emperor Napoleon III in the courtyard at Versailles when I was but a small boy. I witnessed it with my own eyes.” He paused and looked at me again. It was the first time I could glimpse his face. It was so weathered that I couldn’t tell his age. He had a beard and wore a black beret and there was a scar running from his left ear down his neck. “It is my father’s blood that is coursing through my veins.”

“My father is a farmer and it his blood that flows in my veins. Perhaps we are not so different.”

“Perhaps. Before the night has passed, we will know more of each other, yes?”

I picked up the rattles of the snake and looked them over. “This snake will be good enough for supper, Etienne, but there are other things for us to eat around here – mushrooms, roots, berries, other plants.” Etienne didn't respond. “I can probably find some snails if you want escargot."

He laughed as he wiped the blade of his knife across his buckskin pants and placed it in a scabbard that was strapped across his shoulder like a quiver. “Perhaps you can also find truffles.” He looked at me again, longer this time. “Go and find your plants and roots. I will prepare the snake for cooking. ” He paused again. “You are a lucky man today, monsieur. Do not be foolish.”

I retrieved my knife from Ahoti’s saddlebags and went deeper into the woods. When I returned to the camp the sun was soon to disappear behind the ridge. Etienne had already skinned the snake and started a fire. “It is good that you have returned before the darkness was upon us, mon ami. You would not wish to be captured by la bête.”

“La bête, Etienne? Is that another Frenchman? Why would he want with me? I'm just a man looking for someplace else.”

Etienne sliced the snake into pieces and placed them on a thin flat rock he had staked above the fire. “La bête -- the beast. The beast is no man, mon ami.”

“The beast? Do you mean a bear or a mountain lion? I've heard stories about monsters but I never believed in them.”

Etienne turned his head slowly to face me. “The weary traveler should not have a mind that is so closed to things he does not understand. There are many things to be feared in these woods, especially when the sun is gone. Le bête is not those things you speak of mon ami. Even I, Etienne, Emperor of this very forest, do not venture far into the night. I wish someday to go back to France or maybe go north to Quebec. It would not serve me well to be dead.” Etienne's eyes glowed like embers in the firelight. “In the forest, it is what you do not believe to be true that will get you killed. You will be dead, and no one will ever know of you again.”

Then, he laughed again.

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Written by JacksonYoung
Jacob Ardemus Monroe, Adventurer, Chapter 2 -- Jacob and Etienne
The sun was less than an hour from disappearing behind Sadler’s Ridge when the Frenchman first made himself known to me. I turned around to reach for my canteen and there he stood, setting sun at his back. I couldn’t tell much about him other than he was big. My pistol, my knife and my rifle were all with Ahoti, a mistake I would not make again. I picked up a rock to defend myself.  Only, he didn’t come at me. He just stood his ground and after a long moment, he spoke.

“Monsieur, you have been tramping through my woods for half a day. You have scared away every beast, grand et petit, for kilometers. Tell me why I should not kill you.”

I could barely make out his outline against the sun but I could see no weapon and he didn’t sound as angry as he would have me believe. I shaded my eyes with my forearm hoping to see his face but I could not.

He pressed the point. “Monsieur, I am awaiting your response and I am losing my patience quickly with you.”

The sun was blinding me. I turned my face to the ground only to see a timber rattler that had crawled to within six feet of me. He was well disguised and practically covered with leaves. I kept my eyes on him as I spoke. “Bon monsieur Frenchman. There is no reason to kill me, mon ami.” I had just used every word of French that I knew. “I am just a traveler passing through, on my way to somewhere else. I had hoped only to rest for the night. I didn’t know you were here or I would have gone on a little further.”

“I have heard you and smelled you for many hours. You make the noise of ten men. Perhaps a man of your grace should not venture into the woods. There are many dangers here -- mountain lions, bear, wolf. However...” he paused and took one step forward “in this forest, not all danger walks on four legs. Do you understand me well, monsieur?”

“Yes. I do understand you Frenchman. And I know all about the dangers of the forest, even more than I’d like to about right now. My name is Monroe, Jacob Ardemus Monroe. If you aren’t going to kill me right now, there's a rattlesnake that just might. He's about to crawl across my boot.”

“I have been watching him.” The steel of his blade flashed briefly as it flew through the air with deadly accuracy and nearly severed the rattler’s head. “Now I have food to eat. Perhaps I will wait and kill you on a full stomach.” He came toward me and picked up the rattler by its tail. cut the snake’s rattles off and tossed them onto the ground at my feet. “Those will serve you well, weary traveler, if you survive the night. Even the bear fears the rattlesnake. Do you know the way to properly prepare snake?”

“Yes, I do. I know how to cook snakes and rabbits and just about any other animal you could find around these parts.” There was an uneasy pause for a moment as we stared at each other. Even though he was just a few feet away from me, in the shadows I still could not see him clearly. “I told you my name, Frenchman. How about you telling me yours.”

“You wish to know the name of your executioner, eh?” He took out a leather strop from a deerskin pouch and sharpened the blade of his knife across it as he spoke. “Very well. I am Etienne Gerard Marceau the First, Emperor and ruler of this very forest in which we stand, son of Rene Philippe Marceau -- a thief and a scoundrel that was guillotined by the Emperor Napoleon III in the courtyard at Versailles when I was but a small boy. I witnessed it with my own eyes.” He paused and looked at me again. It was the first time I could glimpse his face. It was so weathered that I couldn’t tell his age. He had a beard and wore a black beret and there was a scar running from his left ear down his neck. “It is my father’s blood that is coursing through my veins.”

“My father is a farmer and it his blood that flows in my veins. Perhaps we are not so different.”

“Perhaps. Before the night has passed, we will know more of each other, yes?”

I picked up the rattles of the snake and looked them over. “This snake will be good enough for supper, Etienne, but there are other things for us to eat around here – mushrooms, roots, berries, other plants.” Etienne didn't respond. “I can probably find some snails if you want escargot."

He laughed as he wiped the blade of his knife across his buckskin pants and placed it in a scabbard that was strapped across his shoulder like a quiver. “Perhaps you can also find truffles.” He looked at me again, longer this time. “Go and find your plants and roots. I will prepare the snake for cooking. ” He paused again. “You are a lucky man today, monsieur. Do not be foolish.”

I retrieved my knife from Ahoti’s saddlebags and went deeper into the woods. When I returned to the camp the sun was soon to disappear behind the ridge. Etienne had already skinned the snake and started a fire. “It is good that you have returned before the darkness was upon us, mon ami. You would not wish to be captured by la bête.”

“La bête, Etienne? Is that another Frenchman? Why would he want with me? I'm just a man looking for someplace else.”

Etienne sliced the snake into pieces and placed them on a thin flat rock he had staked above the fire. “La bête -- the beast. The beast is no man, mon ami.”

“The beast? Do you mean a bear or a mountain lion? I've heard stories about monsters but I never believed in them.”

Etienne turned his head slowly to face me. “The weary traveler should not have a mind that is so closed to things he does not understand. There are many things to be feared in these woods, especially when the sun is gone. Le bête is not those things you speak of mon ami. Even I, Etienne, Emperor of this very forest, do not venture far into the night. I wish someday to go back to France or maybe go north to Quebec. It would not serve me well to be dead.” Etienne's eyes glowed like embers in the firelight. “In the forest, it is what you do not believe to be true that will get you killed. You will be dead, and no one will ever know of you again.”

Then, he laughed again.
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Written by patwcoffey5

Lucky Man

"Look at this parking lot. You can't even fit a bicycle in between the cars." Peter continued to assess the area for empty spaces. "This is what we get for waiting till the last minute to shop on New Year's Eve. Toni, I'll pull up in front of the store. You jump out. Meet you after I park this beast."

"Okay, remember to bring the grocery sacks," instructed his wife unbuckling her seat belt. "We don't need much. Meet me at the fresh meat counter."

Nodding his head, he replied, "I've never seen this parking lot so full. I'll probably have to park across the street at the mall." He turned to his wife and smiled, "Now get in line my sweet. We want to make this a short shop."

The automatic doors welcomed Toni into the supermarket. She stopped before the next set of doors opened. This is ridiculous. All the shopping carts are gone. She grabbed the last red plastic basket sitting on the floor.

The second set of doors opened. The determined shopper continued undaunted by the long lines. Toni arrived at the fresh meat and seafood counter. "Excuse me sir, is this the end of the line?"

Without looking at her, a man in a blue coat standing in front of her answered, "Yes!"

She watched as shoppers navigated the line to view the available selections. Four butchers assisted every customer with smiles to calm their uneasiness. Every sale ended with a Happy New Year.

Toni unbuttoned her wool coat, untied her magenta scarf, and placed it in her basket. She passed time by circling items in the store's flyer to complete her shopping list.

"Excuse me Miss, is this the line for seafood or meat?" Asked a man facing her with a fedora, tweed jacket, glasses, and goatee.

"Thanks for calling me miss," responded Toni, lifting her head from her makeshift list. “I don't think they divided the line."

"Well, I'm in a hurry. I was hoping I could get in a shorter line," replied the man as he wiped his glasses. “Now, what is on sale?"

She waited for the man to raise his head before replying. When his eyes met hers, she did not answer.

He took a deep breath. Put his glasses back on his face. His cheeks flared red with embarrassment. "I'm an inexperienced shopper. Forgive my terrible manners."

The young woman recognized the apology. "I know what I want.” Would you like the weekly sales flyer? You can look through it as you wait in line."

"That's kind of you." The man answered as he shifted from one leg to another. "Do you have a lot to buy?"

"Are you in a hurry?" Toni responded with a soft smile.

"Well, my wife's out of town visiting our daughter. I'm suppose to bring some fish to a friend's house for a New Year's Eve party. I can't decide between the salmon or halibut."

"Do you know if your host prefers wild caught or farmed fish?"

He looked up from the grocery ad and asked in a louder voice, "Are fish farmed?"

Trying to assess his needs, she inquired, "Do you and your wife and shop together?"

Shaking his head while untying his scarf, the man answered. "I never go to the grocery store." He surveyed the area and asked in a softer voice, "Is it always this busy?

Sensing the shopper's anxiety, she offered her help. "If I'm going to be your shopping assistant, call me Toni."

"Oh excuse me, I'm Isaac."

"Nice to meet you."

Toni explained the difference between farmed and wild caught fish. She gave him the details of when halibut and salmon are in season. She explained the terms 'fresh' and 'previously frozen.' "It looks like I'll be next. I'm waiting for my husband, why don't you get in front of me."

Isaac stepped in front of the resourceful shopper. He handed her the flyer. "Thanks for your help." He selected his order with swift precision. As he turned to allow his assistant shopper to step up to the counter he said, "Thank you, Toni. Does your husband know he is one lucky man?"

"Who's a lucky man Isaac?" Pete's voice boomed over Toni's head "Do you shop here often?"

"Pete! My wife left for New York to immerse herself in new role as grandmother. Are you here shopping for your wife?"

"No, it seems you two are shopping together."

Isaac turned, winked at Toni who was giving instruction to the butcher. "She only gave me her first name. She took pity on an old man abandoned by his wife."

"Don't consider it pity. She talks to everyone. I can't leave her alone too long. She picks up strangers on a regular basis."

"I hope you know she is a keeper. You’re a lucky man. So glad you accepted our offer to teach in our department."

Toni joined the two men and handed the basket to her husband. Isaac tipped his hat towards the generous woman and pronounced, "Don't ever stop talking to the world. Your help eased the task. You'll be a bright addition at the faculty soirees."

He tucked his fish under his arm, tipped his hat towards Toni, and smiled. He stepped closer to Pete, placed his free hand on his shoulder, "Cherish her, you lucky man. You're a very lucky man."

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Written by patwcoffey5
Lucky Man
"Look at this parking lot. You can't even fit a bicycle in between the cars." Peter continued to assess the area for empty spaces. "This is what we get for waiting till the last minute to shop on New Year's Eve. Toni, I'll pull up in front of the store. You jump out. Meet you after I park this beast."

"Okay, remember to bring the grocery sacks," instructed his wife unbuckling her seat belt. "We don't need much. Meet me at the fresh meat counter."

Nodding his head, he replied, "I've never seen this parking lot so full. I'll probably have to park across the street at the mall." He turned to his wife and smiled, "Now get in line my sweet. We want to make this a short shop."

The automatic doors welcomed Toni into the supermarket. She stopped before the next set of doors opened. This is ridiculous. All the shopping carts are gone. She grabbed the last red plastic basket sitting on the floor.

The second set of doors opened. The determined shopper continued undaunted by the long lines. Toni arrived at the fresh meat and seafood counter. "Excuse me sir, is this the end of the line?"

Without looking at her, a man in a blue coat standing in front of her answered, "Yes!"

She watched as shoppers navigated the line to view the available selections. Four butchers assisted every customer with smiles to calm their uneasiness. Every sale ended with a Happy New Year.

Toni unbuttoned her wool coat, untied her magenta scarf, and placed it in her basket. She passed time by circling items in the store's flyer to complete her shopping list.

"Excuse me Miss, is this the line for seafood or meat?" Asked a man facing her with a fedora, tweed jacket, glasses, and goatee.

"Thanks for calling me miss," responded Toni, lifting her head from her makeshift list. “I don't think they divided the line."

"Well, I'm in a hurry. I was hoping I could get in a shorter line," replied the man as he wiped his glasses. “Now, what is on sale?"

She waited for the man to raise his head before replying. When his eyes met hers, she did not answer.

He took a deep breath. Put his glasses back on his face. His cheeks flared red with embarrassment. "I'm an inexperienced shopper. Forgive my terrible manners."

The young woman recognized the apology. "I know what I want.” Would you like the weekly sales flyer? You can look through it as you wait in line."

"That's kind of you." The man answered as he shifted from one leg to another. "Do you have a lot to buy?"

"Are you in a hurry?" Toni responded with a soft smile.

"Well, my wife's out of town visiting our daughter. I'm suppose to bring some fish to a friend's house for a New Year's Eve party. I can't decide between the salmon or halibut."

"Do you know if your host prefers wild caught or farmed fish?"

He looked up from the grocery ad and asked in a louder voice, "Are fish farmed?"

Trying to assess his needs, she inquired, "Do you and your wife and shop together?"

Shaking his head while untying his scarf, the man answered. "I never go to the grocery store." He surveyed the area and asked in a softer voice, "Is it always this busy?

Sensing the shopper's anxiety, she offered her help. "If I'm going to be your shopping assistant, call me Toni."

"Oh excuse me, I'm Isaac."

"Nice to meet you."

Toni explained the difference between farmed and wild caught fish. She gave him the details of when halibut and salmon are in season. She explained the terms 'fresh' and 'previously frozen.' "It looks like I'll be next. I'm waiting for my husband, why don't you get in front of me."

Isaac stepped in front of the resourceful shopper. He handed her the flyer. "Thanks for your help." He selected his order with swift precision. As he turned to allow his assistant shopper to step up to the counter he said, "Thank you, Toni. Does your husband know he is one lucky man?"

"Who's a lucky man Isaac?" Pete's voice boomed over Toni's head "Do you shop here often?"

"Pete! My wife left for New York to immerse herself in new role as grandmother. Are you here shopping for your wife?"

"No, it seems you two are shopping together."

Isaac turned, winked at Toni who was giving instruction to the butcher. "She only gave me her first name. She took pity on an old man abandoned by his wife."

"Don't consider it pity. She talks to everyone. I can't leave her alone too long. She picks up strangers on a regular basis."

"I hope you know she is a keeper. You’re a lucky man. So glad you accepted our offer to teach in our department."

Toni joined the two men and handed the basket to her husband. Isaac tipped his hat towards the generous woman and pronounced, "Don't ever stop talking to the world. Your help eased the task. You'll be a bright addition at the faculty soirees."

He tucked his fish under his arm, tipped his hat towards Toni, and smiled. He stepped closer to Pete, placed his free hand on his shoulder, "Cherish her, you lucky man. You're a very lucky man."
#fiction  #prosechallenge  #Itslit  #getlit 
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Written by wardnerm

Saving Myself

My alternate universe self got laid a lot more than I did. But at night, in the dream space where the barriers separating the realities were less fixed, I caught glimpses of his sexcapades. Every night he slept with a different partner- some beautiful, some plain, some fat, some thin. I grew concerned. Who were these women that he brought home night after night? What about disease?

I had to help him. I read in a comic book that it was possible to run fast enough to alter your vibration so as to be in tune with the frequency of an alternate universe.

I went to the gym. I hopped on a treadmill. I ran as fast as I could. I wanted to stop but I knew that I was the only hope for the alternate me. I ran until I was so exhausted that I slipped and fell. I blacked out.

When I woke on the gym floor, a woman wearing gym shorts and leg warmers was helping me. She smelled good. She was nice.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

I said I was. I thanked her. I realized that I was probably in their alternate universe now. I realized that she was probably one of the women that my alternate self would take to bed. I decided to play along. I decided to act like my alternate self. I was more confident. I didn't talk as much.

“Yes,” I said. “Thanks to you. What is your name?”

“Rose.”

“That's beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“Rose, can I take you to dinner?”

“I have a boyfriend.”

“He's a lucky man, Rose-- I hope he treats you like a queen. Because that's how I would treat you, Rose.”

“You're bleeding,” she said.

She was right. I had hit my head. Rose took me to the emergency room but didn't wait around with me for the doctor. Already I felt a new lightness knowing that things were different here. And I had saved myself from a potentially dangerous sex encounter with this gym woman; exotic name or not, a lot of nasty germs live in gymnasiums.

As I was checking out, I discovered that this alternate reality took my insurance card. I got a cab. They took my money too! And when I stumbled up to the alternate reality apartment, I was surprised to find my key worked in that door’s lock.

Once inside the apartment of the alternate me, I cautiously entered, expecting my doppleganger to be there. But the apartment was empty and I collapsed in my double’s bed, exhausted. I dreamed. I had a shocking realization that woke me immediately. Sitting straight up in bed, I shook with wild comprehension.

It was all too clear: my double had sensed my trespass into his sphere and had simultaneously entered into my world—his alternate universe. And while there he sought to usurp my place. With lascivious intent, he entered my life and was determined to sully the straight-laced, chaste, and altogether good life that I lived. How cunning and cruel he proved to be—to take my exact plan exactly in reverse! But what else could I expect from someone just like me but altogether opposite? And then I had a second and more profound realization: each night, he must have also seen into my world just as I had seen into his. And surely, he had the same but mirrored reaction to my life and the way I choose to live it. Where I saw carnal licentiousness in his life, he saw something altogether different in mine.

I wondered what, but immediately stopped—realizing that asking that question was exactly what he wanted. To introduce the idea of something else in my pure temple of a mind would only encourage it to grow. And fester. And… stop, I thought! No more! I would not fall into his trap.

I must abandon this mission of mine and return to my reality. I immediately left the apartment and headed to the gym. I walked through the doors of the 24 hour health club and presented my membership card. The receptionist expressed some concern at the wound on my head but I was determined and headed straight toward the treadmill.

Now I must note that I was completely aware that this bold move was not without risk. Surely, in his post-coital slumber my double had gazed into my reality and could see my trajectory toward the treadmill. I imagined a half-dressed me, reeking of sexual congress, sprinting toward the fitness center. And so we had a race.

The room was empty so late at night. I mounted the treadmill and burst into a quick trot. If I had learned anything from my last ill-fated inter-dimensional adventure, it was to hold on to the handrails. Too much was counting on this.

As I started to run I knew that my frequency was changing ever so slightly. Soon I would be returning to my dimension. I looked across the dark, empty room and saw my doppelganger running just as fast as I was on an identical treadmill. He mockingly mimicked my stunned expression and met my pace stride for stride. I gave it everything I had. Surely he had burnt some energy in his last sexual conquest? Energy of which I had untapped reserves.

How long we continued like this I could not say—I looked at the timer on the treadmill: five minutes! My God, I thought, how much longer? I was huffing and puffing. A sidelong glance revealed that he was equally tired. I made a fateful decision to employ some more dastardly means to achieve victory. I reached for a cup left in the drink-holder. I grabbed it and, as hard as I could, I hurled it at him. It bounced across the glass leaving a dark liquid spill on the mirror. I smiled knowing this must have slowed him down. But this victory was short-lived.

"Sir, you are not using the gym equipment properly,” the receptionist said. She marched over and pressed a large red button. The treadmill immediately began to slow down and so too my hopes.

I pushed past to get back on the treadmill but she grabbed me. She was very strong (she clearly took advantage of her employee membership). She hurried me toward the lobby and outside.

I gazed at the city lights. Surely my double had won our race through the dimensions. But which reality did he choose? Mine? Or his own?

I started to walk toward my/his apartment. And then I saw me -- standing up the street staring right back.

"Nice race," I said.

"Thanks. I guess you won."

"Let me get you a drink."

There was a bar up the street I was known to frequent. My double ordered us drinks and we sat in a booth opposite each other.

"So-- do we have a problem? I mean, do I need to get a restraining order?" he asked.

"I won't be able to come within 100 feet of myself!" I said, cracking myself up. We laughed for a good minute and that seemed to break the ice. He scanned the bar like a hungry shark. There were a few other people drinking and a cute bartender.

“Look—every night I go to bed and I have dreams,” he said. “Dreams of sitting in my apartment alone. Reading comic books. Watching bad TV.”

I bristled a bit. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a condom and put it on the table.

“There you go, tiger. Problem solved.”

I looked at it.

“Now—go order a drink from that bartender. Chat her up.”

I stared at him.

“Really. I look at you, I see myself-- but pure and clean and totally sad. Now, my life is not perfect. I am completely alone. I probably always will be. I don’t know the answer for me. But I think I know what you need. Get up there.”

I walked to the bar. The bartender walked over.

“Do you come here often?” I asked.

“Yeah, every night for about eight hours,” she said.

This was going better than I hoped.

“What can I get you?”

“The same as before. And one for my friend over there.”

“There’s nobody there.”

“Okay, one then.”

She went to make a drink for me. I looked back at the booth. Empty. I reached inside my pocket and felt the condom. It was exciting and scary. Like holding a loaded gun.

If comic books had taught me anything about alternate dimensions it was that once you interfered with one you actually created a new one. So if you were from Earth-one and went to Earth-two, then you created Earth-three -- a whole other reality. As I thought about it, I realized that might be time-travel. But I don’t think it really mattered because who knows what was possible?

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Written by wardnerm
Saving Myself
My alternate universe self got laid a lot more than I did. But at night, in the dream space where the barriers separating the realities were less fixed, I caught glimpses of his sexcapades. Every night he slept with a different partner- some beautiful, some plain, some fat, some thin. I grew concerned. Who were these women that he brought home night after night? What about disease?
I had to help him. I read in a comic book that it was possible to run fast enough to alter your vibration so as to be in tune with the frequency of an alternate universe.
I went to the gym. I hopped on a treadmill. I ran as fast as I could. I wanted to stop but I knew that I was the only hope for the alternate me. I ran until I was so exhausted that I slipped and fell. I blacked out.
When I woke on the gym floor, a woman wearing gym shorts and leg warmers was helping me. She smelled good. She was nice.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
I said I was. I thanked her. I realized that I was probably in their alternate universe now. I realized that she was probably one of the women that my alternate self would take to bed. I decided to play along. I decided to act like my alternate self. I was more confident. I didn't talk as much.
“Yes,” I said. “Thanks to you. What is your name?”
“Rose.”
“That's beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Rose, can I take you to dinner?”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“He's a lucky man, Rose-- I hope he treats you like a queen. Because that's how I would treat you, Rose.”
“You're bleeding,” she said.
She was right. I had hit my head. Rose took me to the emergency room but didn't wait around with me for the doctor. Already I felt a new lightness knowing that things were different here. And I had saved myself from a potentially dangerous sex encounter with this gym woman; exotic name or not, a lot of nasty germs live in gymnasiums.
As I was checking out, I discovered that this alternate reality took my insurance card. I got a cab. They took my money too! And when I stumbled up to the alternate reality apartment, I was surprised to find my key worked in that door’s lock.
Once inside the apartment of the alternate me, I cautiously entered, expecting my doppleganger to be there. But the apartment was empty and I collapsed in my double’s bed, exhausted. I dreamed. I had a shocking realization that woke me immediately. Sitting straight up in bed, I shook with wild comprehension.
It was all too clear: my double had sensed my trespass into his sphere and had simultaneously entered into my world—his alternate universe. And while there he sought to usurp my place. With lascivious intent, he entered my life and was determined to sully the straight-laced, chaste, and altogether good life that I lived. How cunning and cruel he proved to be—to take my exact plan exactly in reverse! But what else could I expect from someone just like me but altogether opposite? And then I had a second and more profound realization: each night, he must have also seen into my world just as I had seen into his. And surely, he had the same but mirrored reaction to my life and the way I choose to live it. Where I saw carnal licentiousness in his life, he saw something altogether different in mine.
I wondered what, but immediately stopped—realizing that asking that question was exactly what he wanted. To introduce the idea of something else in my pure temple of a mind would only encourage it to grow. And fester. And… stop, I thought! No more! I would not fall into his trap.
I must abandon this mission of mine and return to my reality. I immediately left the apartment and headed to the gym. I walked through the doors of the 24 hour health club and presented my membership card. The receptionist expressed some concern at the wound on my head but I was determined and headed straight toward the treadmill.
Now I must note that I was completely aware that this bold move was not without risk. Surely, in his post-coital slumber my double had gazed into my reality and could see my trajectory toward the treadmill. I imagined a half-dressed me, reeking of sexual congress, sprinting toward the fitness center. And so we had a race.
The room was empty so late at night. I mounted the treadmill and burst into a quick trot. If I had learned anything from my last ill-fated inter-dimensional adventure, it was to hold on to the handrails. Too much was counting on this.
As I started to run I knew that my frequency was changing ever so slightly. Soon I would be returning to my dimension. I looked across the dark, empty room and saw my doppelganger running just as fast as I was on an identical treadmill. He mockingly mimicked my stunned expression and met my pace stride for stride. I gave it everything I had. Surely he had burnt some energy in his last sexual conquest? Energy of which I had untapped reserves.
How long we continued like this I could not say—I looked at the timer on the treadmill: five minutes! My God, I thought, how much longer? I was huffing and puffing. A sidelong glance revealed that he was equally tired. I made a fateful decision to employ some more dastardly means to achieve victory. I reached for a cup left in the drink-holder. I grabbed it and, as hard as I could, I hurled it at him. It bounced across the glass leaving a dark liquid spill on the mirror. I smiled knowing this must have slowed him down. But this victory was short-lived.
"Sir, you are not using the gym equipment properly,” the receptionist said. She marched over and pressed a large red button. The treadmill immediately began to slow down and so too my hopes.
I pushed past to get back on the treadmill but she grabbed me. She was very strong (she clearly took advantage of her employee membership). She hurried me toward the lobby and outside.
I gazed at the city lights. Surely my double had won our race through the dimensions. But which reality did he choose? Mine? Or his own?
I started to walk toward my/his apartment. And then I saw me -- standing up the street staring right back.
"Nice race," I said.
"Thanks. I guess you won."
"Let me get you a drink."
There was a bar up the street I was known to frequent. My double ordered us drinks and we sat in a booth opposite each other.
"So-- do we have a problem? I mean, do I need to get a restraining order?" he asked.
"I won't be able to come within 100 feet of myself!" I said, cracking myself up. We laughed for a good minute and that seemed to break the ice. He scanned the bar like a hungry shark. There were a few other people drinking and a cute bartender.
“Look—every night I go to bed and I have dreams,” he said. “Dreams of sitting in my apartment alone. Reading comic books. Watching bad TV.”
I bristled a bit. He reached into his wallet and pulled out a condom and put it on the table.
“There you go, tiger. Problem solved.”
I looked at it.
“Now—go order a drink from that bartender. Chat her up.”
I stared at him.
“Really. I look at you, I see myself-- but pure and clean and totally sad. Now, my life is not perfect. I am completely alone. I probably always will be. I don’t know the answer for me. But I think I know what you need. Get up there.”
I walked to the bar. The bartender walked over.
“Do you come here often?” I asked.
“Yeah, every night for about eight hours,” she said.
This was going better than I hoped.
“What can I get you?”
“The same as before. And one for my friend over there.”
“There’s nobody there.”
“Okay, one then.”
She went to make a drink for me. I looked back at the booth. Empty. I reached inside my pocket and felt the condom. It was exciting and scary. Like holding a loaded gun.
If comic books had taught me anything about alternate dimensions it was that once you interfered with one you actually created a new one. So if you were from Earth-one and went to Earth-two, then you created Earth-three -- a whole other reality. As I thought about it, I realized that might be time-travel. But I don’t think it really mattered because who knows what was possible?






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Prose countdown coin challenge. Write the first chapter of your bestseller in 50 to 500 words. The winner will be chosen based on a number of criteria, this includes: fire, form, and creative edge. Number of reads, bookmarks, and how many shares will also be taken into consideration. The winner will receive 1000 coins! When sharing to all your social media channels, please use the hashtags #LitUp #GetLit #ItsLit #Hybrid #WeAre
Written by wardnerm

Saving Myself

My alternate universe self got laid a lot more than I did. But at night, in the dream space where the barriers separating the realities were less fixed, I caught glimpses of his sexcapades. Every night he slept with a different partner- some beautiful, some plain, some fat, some thin. I grew concerned. Who were these women that he brought home night after night? What about disease?

I had to help him. I read in a comic book that it was possible to run fast enough to alter your vibration so as to be in tune with the frequency of an alternate universe.

I went to the gym. I hopped on a treadmill. I ran as fast as I could. I wanted to stop but I knew that I was the only hope for the alternate me. I ran until I was so exhausted that I slipped and fell. I blacked out.

When I woke on the gym floor, a woman wearing gym shorts and leg warmers was helping me. She smelled good. She was nice.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

I said I was. I thanked her. I realized that I was probably in their alternate universe now. I realized that she was probably one of the women that my alternate self would take to bed. I decided to play along. I decided to act like my alternate self. I was more confident. I didn't talk as much.

“Yes,” I said. “Thanks to you. What is your name?”

“Rose.”

“That's beautiful.”

“Thank you,” she said.

“Rose, can I take you to dinner?”

“I have a boyfriend.”

“He's a lucky man, Rose-- I hope he treats you like a queen. Because that's how I would treat you, Rose.”

“You're bleeding,” she said.

She was right. I had hit my head. Rose took me to the emergency room but didn't wait around with me for the doctor. Already I felt a new lightness knowing that things were different here. And I had saved myself from a potentially dangerous sex encounter with this gym woman; exotic name or not, a lot of nasty germs live in gymnasiums.

As I was checking out, I discovered that this alternate reality took my insurance card. I got a cab. They took my money too! And when I stumbled up to the alternate reality apartment, I was surprised to find my key worked in that door’s lock.

Once inside the apartment of the alternate me, I cautiously entered, expecting my doppleganger to be there. But the apartment was empty and I collapsed in my double’s bed, exhausted. I dreamed. I had a shocking realization that woke me immediately. Sitting straight up in bed, I shook with wild comprehension.

It was all too clear: my double had sensed my trespass into his sphere and had simultaneously entered into my world—his alternate universe. And while there he sought to usurp my place. 

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Prose countdown coin challenge. Write the first chapter of your bestseller in 50 to 500 words. The winner will be chosen based on a number of criteria, this includes: fire, form, and creative edge. Number of reads, bookmarks, and how many shares will also be taken into consideration. The winner will receive 1000 coins! When sharing to all your social media channels, please use the hashtags #LitUp #GetLit #ItsLit #Hybrid #WeAre
Written by wardnerm
Saving Myself
My alternate universe self got laid a lot more than I did. But at night, in the dream space where the barriers separating the realities were less fixed, I caught glimpses of his sexcapades. Every night he slept with a different partner- some beautiful, some plain, some fat, some thin. I grew concerned. Who were these women that he brought home night after night? What about disease?
I had to help him. I read in a comic book that it was possible to run fast enough to alter your vibration so as to be in tune with the frequency of an alternate universe.
I went to the gym. I hopped on a treadmill. I ran as fast as I could. I wanted to stop but I knew that I was the only hope for the alternate me. I ran until I was so exhausted that I slipped and fell. I blacked out.
When I woke on the gym floor, a woman wearing gym shorts and leg warmers was helping me. She smelled good. She was nice.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
I said I was. I thanked her. I realized that I was probably in their alternate universe now. I realized that she was probably one of the women that my alternate self would take to bed. I decided to play along. I decided to act like my alternate self. I was more confident. I didn't talk as much.
“Yes,” I said. “Thanks to you. What is your name?”
“Rose.”
“That's beautiful.”
“Thank you,” she said.
“Rose, can I take you to dinner?”
“I have a boyfriend.”
“He's a lucky man, Rose-- I hope he treats you like a queen. Because that's how I would treat you, Rose.”
“You're bleeding,” she said.
She was right. I had hit my head. Rose took me to the emergency room but didn't wait around with me for the doctor. Already I felt a new lightness knowing that things were different here. And I had saved myself from a potentially dangerous sex encounter with this gym woman; exotic name or not, a lot of nasty germs live in gymnasiums.
As I was checking out, I discovered that this alternate reality took my insurance card. I got a cab. They took my money too! And when I stumbled up to the alternate reality apartment, I was surprised to find my key worked in that door’s lock.
Once inside the apartment of the alternate me, I cautiously entered, expecting my doppleganger to be there. But the apartment was empty and I collapsed in my double’s bed, exhausted. I dreamed. I had a shocking realization that woke me immediately. Sitting straight up in bed, I shook with wild comprehension.
It was all too clear: my double had sensed my trespass into his sphere and had simultaneously entered into my world—his alternate universe. And while there he sought to usurp my place. 
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The Copperplate Awards | Short Fiction Write a piece of fiction where a lie is unearthed. Judges will be basing their decisions on fire, form, content, and creative edge. They will also pay particular attention to grammar, spelling, and formatting. Previous entrants are welcome to resubmit their entries with edits. Submissions are evaluated by Prose and a trusted panel of judges.
Written by BeckRobertson

Being Zoe

Would Zoe ever notice she existed? Cat watched her from across the office, drinking in every detail of the dark haired girl’s appearance. Zoe was so effortlessly chic, her silk blouse elegantly nipped in at the waist, her black cigarette pants showcasing slender ankles.

Her boyfriend was a lucky man, Zoe could have anyone she wanted. It must be nice to be desired like that. Most of the time people didn’t even seem to realise Cat existed.

“Cat.” The voice snapped her out of her daydream.

“Huh?” Looking up she saw John Walters, her boss and Zoe’s boyfriend. He was undeniably attractive with blonde hair and high Nordic cheekbones but he didn’t deserve Zoe in Cat’s opinion. How could anyone?

“That concept you thought up’s gone viral. Over ten million views, its only been up half a day.”

“Really?” She was a little taken aback.

“Yep. Good work girl. I’m taking you to lunch at Carlo’s.”

“You don’t have to do that John. It was just a lucky idea.” Well it was true, she wasn’t being self-effacing.

“No protests. I want to.” He chucked her under the chin gently, forcing her to tip her face up to look into his bright blue eyes.

“You’re an interesting one you are,” he said, turning her face one way then the other, before releasing her and turning away to walk off. She stared at his retreating back feeling slightly bemused. What did that mean? Out of the corner of her eye she spied Zoe crossing the office, and she swivelled in her chair to watch her.

That body, god what she wouldn’t give...

She scribbled down what Zoe was wearing in her eggshell coloured suede notebook, exactly the same type as the one Zoe used herself. She felt closer to Zoe by buying the same things she did, wearing the same clothes.

Today she was wearing the exact outfit she’d seen Zoe in three weeks ago. Maybe today Zoe would finally notice her.

                                                                       ***

At lunch Walters caught her by the elbow, steering her out of the office, and into the lift.

“You’re coming with me,” he said. Nodding, she acquiesced; there was no getting out of it now. At least she might learn more about Zoe, he was her boyfriend after all.

It was strange, she’d never really noticed girls before Zoe but now the woman occupied nearly every waking hour of her thoughts. They entered the restaurant, which was packed with the usual lunch crowd; braying office workers slurping glasses of chardonnay and chomping down their salmon on a bed of wild rocket. The word that sprung to mind was pretentious.

“Everyone who’s anyone in PR eats here Cat,” John said, bending his head to her ear as they stood in line behind dozens of people waiting for a table.

“Michael,” he said, spying a dark haired young waiter, who nodded, smiling and pointing them over to a window seat.

“Good to see you again Sir.” Michael bobbed his cap of dark curls in a kind of half bow.

“We’ll have two clam chowders, and I’ll have the squid with French fries and a side salad. Cat will have the Seabass.” She went to protest but he gave a brash chuckle, waving her away. “You have to try it Cat. Oh and we’ll take two glasses of your best Tatinger.”

“Champagne goes well with sea food,” he said, turning back to Cat and winking.

She sat there feeling a bit stunned, he hadn’t even asked her if she liked fish. But he was paying, she supposed she shouldn’t really complain. Still it seemed a bit rude. Was he this arrogant with Zoe? She couldn’t imagine her standing for that, Zoe would put him in his place surely?

The waiter brought the champagne over and uncorked the bottle, pouring out the pale gold liquid into two crystal glasses. She sipped at her fizz gently, allowing herself to pretend she was Zoe for a moment, sitting at the table with John like this.

“Great outfit Cat. It suits you,” he said, looking at her and winking again. She blushed, did he recognize it?

“Thanks,” she said, feeling unsure of what to say exactly, “I spotted it when I was out shopping with my sister.” She didn’t even have a sister, why had she said that?

“It’s nice,” he said, and she felt his hand on her leg. What the hell?

“You’re nice,” he said, as his hand started to traverse up the inside of her silk pencil skirt.

“No we shouldn’t,” she said, removing his hand from her leg. Was this some kind of test?

“Why not?” He leaned closer, leering at her.

“Because Zoe’s your girlfriend?” She looked at him feeling genuinely puzzled. Was he mad, how could anyone forget about Zoe?

“Zoe.” Sighing, he released his grip on her thigh. “Zoe and me have an understanding Cat, ” he said, pronouncing the word as if they had some special meaning.

“What do you mean?”

“We like to see other people, have fun. I didn’t want to at first, but Zoe encourages it.” He reached for her under the table and she wriggled out of his grasp. Zoe liked her boyfriend to sleep around?

“Still, I don’t think we should.” She didn’t feel comfortable with this; she didn’t like him like that. She didn’t like anyone like that. Except-

“Come on Cat,” he said, the tone in his voice wheedling now, “It’s obvious you look up to her.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Your little secret’s safe with me. But haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like? To experience what she experiences?” How did he know she wanted that?

“I can tell you how she acts in bed if you like? What she says, how she feels, how she moans?” The offer hung like a tasty morsel, held tantalisingly beneath her nose. God what she wouldn’t give to know.

“Alright,” she said, nodding and swallowing.

“Follow me to the bathroom then.”

                                                                   ***

Fiona, her co-worker, looked up and grinned at her as she staggered back to her desk afterwards.

“Good lunch I see?”

“Uhh yeah,” she said, her cheeks burning. Hopefully no one had seen her leave the office with John. Where was her notebook? She wanted to record every new detail of what she’d just learned about Zoe.

“So good you forgot to do your blouse up,” Fiona said with a smirk. Her hands flew to it, feeling flesh where silk should be. Shit, how long had it been hanging open like that?

“I don’t know how it got that way,” she said, feeling flustered.

“Probably the same way your lipstick ended up halfway across your cheek.”

Mortified, she didn’t wait to respond, scurrying from the office for the safety of the women’s bathrooms to repair her face.

In the bathroom, she dabbed at her face with a paper towel to try and erase the ugly red smear. John had been like a hungry animal, pawing her all over, she hadn’t enjoyed his groping or his sweaty grunting. What she had liked though was how much closer she’d felt to Zoe. She’d shut her eyes and imagined she was Zoe as she allowed him to maul her.

She heard a sniffling sound coming from one of the stalls; there was someone else in here?

“Are you alright in there?” She walked to the locked stall and knocked on the door. No reply.

“Hey, what’s the matter in there?”

“Go away.”

That voice, it sounded familiar?

“I just want to know everything’s alright.”

“Everything is alright,” the voice said flatly, “now go away.” Zoe’s voice?

“Zoe? Is that you?” She heard the sound of a chain flushing then the door opened and Zoe stood in front of her, her eyes red rimmed.

“What’s the matter?”

“This.” Zoe brandished the white plastic stick. A pregnancy test?

“You’re pregnant?”

“Well done Einstein.”

“You don’t have to keep it you know,” she said, trying to reassure her.

Zoe looked at her with resentful eyes. “You don’t understand. This has ruined everything.”

“But why? You don’t have to keep it, this is London not bloody Oklahoma.”

“It’s not that. I want to keep it. But John’ll dump me, he won’t want anything to do with a baby.” John didn’t want commitment? That wasn’t what he’d said in the restaurant.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. John loves you,” she said, feeling more than a little uncertain. But Zoe just started to cry again, loud, choking sobs that made her thin shoulders heave.

“Don’t cry, please,” she said, stepping forward and folding Zoe in her arms.

“He’ll dump me, he already cheats on me. He was with a girl today, had her lipstick smeared over his bloody face. Lied to me about it too, said he had to meet with a manager at lunch, so he couldn’t go with me.”

She felt the anger pulse through her. Zoe was a goddess, it was unthinkable. She rubbed her hand in small circles, over the tailored silk of Zoe’s blouse.

“How dare he, the lying bastard.”

                                                              ***

Who did he think he was? As Cat stalked back to the office, she saw him, leaning out the window of the fire escape as he smoked a cigarette. It was his hair that gave him away; the thatch of bright blonde impertinent as it leered at her.

If he wasn’t careful he could lose his footing and go tumbling over the edge, but if anyone deserved that surely it had to be him?

All it would take would be one little shove and Zoe’s problems would be gone. A tragic accident, they'd call it and then Zoe could move on with her life, find someone she deserved, who would love her as she deserved to be loved. Someone like you? Perhaps, why not?

He wheeled around to face her and she started.

“Cat.” He grinned. She wanted to smack the cheesy expression off his face; he had no right to look so bloody pleased with himself the smug bastard.

“You told me it was Zoe who wanted to sleep around but it was you,” she said, looking him straight in the eyes.

He held his palms up. “Look Cat, she’s a bit unstable. I’ve been trying to tell her I’m not ready for a full on relationship but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

He was lying again she knew, he was a bloody snake, a backstabbing treacherous coward. A white hot anger rose within her.

“You’re a liar John. Zoe already told me everything.”

He raised his eyebrow at her. “Calm down Cat, don’t get hysterical. I know you want to get in her knickers; I read your weird little diary.” So that’s where her notebook had gone, he had taken it.

“You had no business reading that,” she said, her voice rising as she spoke. She was practically shouting she knew but she couldn’t help it, her whole body was trembling with rage.

“Zoe and I laugh about your little crush you know. Now run along there’s a good girl.” He turned around to finish smoking his Marlboro.

She didn’t think; she just acted, reaching out and shoving him hard in the centre of his back. His hands flailed as he stumbled forward, desperately trying to get his balance, but there was nothing there to grab onto, and toppling, he fell over the edge, his mouth opening in a scream as his body whistled through the air.

A loud thunk, the sound of flesh hitting something solid, then the screaming stopped, the wail of a car alarm starting up to take its place.

Zoe would be distraught of course, at first anyway but she’d soon get over it, with friendship and loyal support.

“Loyal support, hear that John” she said, underneath her breath, as she peered over the rail to stare down at the bloody mess lying below.

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The Copperplate Awards | Short Fiction Write a piece of fiction where a lie is unearthed. Judges will be basing their decisions on fire, form, content, and creative edge. They will also pay particular attention to grammar, spelling, and formatting. Previous entrants are welcome to resubmit their entries with edits. Submissions are evaluated by Prose and a trusted panel of judges.
Written by BeckRobertson
Being Zoe
Would Zoe ever notice she existed? Cat watched her from across the office, drinking in every detail of the dark haired girl’s appearance. Zoe was so effortlessly chic, her silk blouse elegantly nipped in at the waist, her black cigarette pants showcasing slender ankles.

Her boyfriend was a lucky man, Zoe could have anyone she wanted. It must be nice to be desired like that. Most of the time people didn’t even seem to realise Cat existed.

“Cat.” The voice snapped her out of her daydream.

“Huh?” Looking up she saw John Walters, her boss and Zoe’s boyfriend. He was undeniably attractive with blonde hair and high Nordic cheekbones but he didn’t deserve Zoe in Cat’s opinion. How could anyone?

“That concept you thought up’s gone viral. Over ten million views, its only been up half a day.”

“Really?” She was a little taken aback.

“Yep. Good work girl. I’m taking you to lunch at Carlo’s.”

“You don’t have to do that John. It was just a lucky idea.” Well it was true, she wasn’t being self-effacing.

“No protests. I want to.” He chucked her under the chin gently, forcing her to tip her face up to look into his bright blue eyes.

“You’re an interesting one you are,” he said, turning her face one way then the other, before releasing her and turning away to walk off. She stared at his retreating back feeling slightly bemused. What did that mean? Out of the corner of her eye she spied Zoe crossing the office, and she swivelled in her chair to watch her.

That body, god what she wouldn’t give...

She scribbled down what Zoe was wearing in her eggshell coloured suede notebook, exactly the same type as the one Zoe used herself. She felt closer to Zoe by buying the same things she did, wearing the same clothes.

Today she was wearing the exact outfit she’d seen Zoe in three weeks ago. Maybe today Zoe would finally notice her.

                                                                       ***

At lunch Walters caught her by the elbow, steering her out of the office, and into the lift.

“You’re coming with me,” he said. Nodding, she acquiesced; there was no getting out of it now. At least she might learn more about Zoe, he was her boyfriend after all.

It was strange, she’d never really noticed girls before Zoe but now the woman occupied nearly every waking hour of her thoughts. They entered the restaurant, which was packed with the usual lunch crowd; braying office workers slurping glasses of chardonnay and chomping down their salmon on a bed of wild rocket. The word that sprung to mind was pretentious.

“Everyone who’s anyone in PR eats here Cat,” John said, bending his head to her ear as they stood in line behind dozens of people waiting for a table.

“Michael,” he said, spying a dark haired young waiter, who nodded, smiling and pointing them over to a window seat.

“Good to see you again Sir.” Michael bobbed his cap of dark curls in a kind of half bow.

“We’ll have two clam chowders, and I’ll have the squid with French fries and a side salad. Cat will have the Seabass.” She went to protest but he gave a brash chuckle, waving her away. “You have to try it Cat. Oh and we’ll take two glasses of your best Tatinger.”

“Champagne goes well with sea food,” he said, turning back to Cat and winking.

She sat there feeling a bit stunned, he hadn’t even asked her if she liked fish. But he was paying, she supposed she shouldn’t really complain. Still it seemed a bit rude. Was he this arrogant with Zoe? She couldn’t imagine her standing for that, Zoe would put him in his place surely?

The waiter brought the champagne over and uncorked the bottle, pouring out the pale gold liquid into two crystal glasses. She sipped at her fizz gently, allowing herself to pretend she was Zoe for a moment, sitting at the table with John like this.

“Great outfit Cat. It suits you,” he said, looking at her and winking again. She blushed, did he recognize it?

“Thanks,” she said, feeling unsure of what to say exactly, “I spotted it when I was out shopping with my sister.” She didn’t even have a sister, why had she said that?

“It’s nice,” he said, and she felt his hand on her leg. What the hell?

“You’re nice,” he said, as his hand started to traverse up the inside of her silk pencil skirt.

“No we shouldn’t,” she said, removing his hand from her leg. Was this some kind of test?

“Why not?” He leaned closer, leering at her.

“Because Zoe’s your girlfriend?” She looked at him feeling genuinely puzzled. Was he mad, how could anyone forget about Zoe?

“Zoe.” Sighing, he released his grip on her thigh. “Zoe and me have an understanding Cat, ” he said, pronouncing the word as if they had some special meaning.

“What do you mean?”

“We like to see other people, have fun. I didn’t want to at first, but Zoe encourages it.” He reached for her under the table and she wriggled out of his grasp. Zoe liked her boyfriend to sleep around?

“Still, I don’t think we should.” She didn’t feel comfortable with this; she didn’t like him like that. She didn’t like anyone like that. Except-

“Come on Cat,” he said, the tone in his voice wheedling now, “It’s obvious you look up to her.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Your little secret’s safe with me. But haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like? To experience what she experiences?” How did he know she wanted that?

“I can tell you how she acts in bed if you like? What she says, how she feels, how she moans?” The offer hung like a tasty morsel, held tantalisingly beneath her nose. God what she wouldn’t give to know.

“Alright,” she said, nodding and swallowing.

“Follow me to the bathroom then.”

                                                                   ***

Fiona, her co-worker, looked up and grinned at her as she staggered back to her desk afterwards.

“Good lunch I see?”

“Uhh yeah,” she said, her cheeks burning. Hopefully no one had seen her leave the office with John. Where was her notebook? She wanted to record every new detail of what she’d just learned about Zoe.

“So good you forgot to do your blouse up,” Fiona said with a smirk. Her hands flew to it, feeling flesh where silk should be. Shit, how long had it been hanging open like that?

“I don’t know how it got that way,” she said, feeling flustered.

“Probably the same way your lipstick ended up halfway across your cheek.”

Mortified, she didn’t wait to respond, scurrying from the office for the safety of the women’s bathrooms to repair her face.

In the bathroom, she dabbed at her face with a paper towel to try and erase the ugly red smear. John had been like a hungry animal, pawing her all over, she hadn’t enjoyed his groping or his sweaty grunting. What she had liked though was how much closer she’d felt to Zoe. She’d shut her eyes and imagined she was Zoe as she allowed him to maul her.

She heard a sniffling sound coming from one of the stalls; there was someone else in here?

“Are you alright in there?” She walked to the locked stall and knocked on the door. No reply.

“Hey, what’s the matter in there?”

“Go away.”

That voice, it sounded familiar?

“I just want to know everything’s alright.”

“Everything is alright,” the voice said flatly, “now go away.” Zoe’s voice?

“Zoe? Is that you?” She heard the sound of a chain flushing then the door opened and Zoe stood in front of her, her eyes red rimmed.

“What’s the matter?”

“This.” Zoe brandished the white plastic stick. A pregnancy test?

“You’re pregnant?”

“Well done Einstein.”

“You don’t have to keep it you know,” she said, trying to reassure her.

Zoe looked at her with resentful eyes. “You don’t understand. This has ruined everything.”

“But why? You don’t have to keep it, this is London not bloody Oklahoma.”

“It’s not that. I want to keep it. But John’ll dump me, he won’t want anything to do with a baby.” John didn’t want commitment? That wasn’t what he’d said in the restaurant.

“I’m sure it’ll be fine. John loves you,” she said, feeling more than a little uncertain. But Zoe just started to cry again, loud, choking sobs that made her thin shoulders heave.

“Don’t cry, please,” she said, stepping forward and folding Zoe in her arms.

“He’ll dump me, he already cheats on me. He was with a girl today, had her lipstick smeared over his bloody face. Lied to me about it too, said he had to meet with a manager at lunch, so he couldn’t go with me.”

She felt the anger pulse through her. Zoe was a goddess, it was unthinkable. She rubbed her hand in small circles, over the tailored silk of Zoe’s blouse.

“How dare he, the lying bastard.”

                                                              ***

Who did he think he was? As Cat stalked back to the office, she saw him, leaning out the window of the fire escape as he smoked a cigarette. It was his hair that gave him away; the thatch of bright blonde impertinent as it leered at her.

If he wasn’t careful he could lose his footing and go tumbling over the edge, but if anyone deserved that surely it had to be him?

All it would take would be one little shove and Zoe’s problems would be gone. A tragic accident, they'd call it and then Zoe could move on with her life, find someone she deserved, who would love her as she deserved to be loved. Someone like you? Perhaps, why not?

He wheeled around to face her and she started.

“Cat.” He grinned. She wanted to smack the cheesy expression off his face; he had no right to look so bloody pleased with himself the smug bastard.

“You told me it was Zoe who wanted to sleep around but it was you,” she said, looking him straight in the eyes.

He held his palms up. “Look Cat, she’s a bit unstable. I’ve been trying to tell her I’m not ready for a full on relationship but I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

He was lying again she knew, he was a bloody snake, a backstabbing treacherous coward. A white hot anger rose within her.

“You’re a liar John. Zoe already told me everything.”

He raised his eyebrow at her. “Calm down Cat, don’t get hysterical. I know you want to get in her knickers; I read your weird little diary.” So that’s where her notebook had gone, he had taken it.

“You had no business reading that,” she said, her voice rising as she spoke. She was practically shouting she knew but she couldn’t help it, her whole body was trembling with rage.

“Zoe and I laugh about your little crush you know. Now run along there’s a good girl.” He turned around to finish smoking his Marlboro.

She didn’t think; she just acted, reaching out and shoving him hard in the centre of his back. His hands flailed as he stumbled forward, desperately trying to get his balance, but there was nothing there to grab onto, and toppling, he fell over the edge, his mouth opening in a scream as his body whistled through the air.

A loud thunk, the sound of flesh hitting something solid, then the screaming stopped, the wail of a car alarm starting up to take its place.

Zoe would be distraught of course, at first anyway but she’d soon get over it, with friendship and loyal support.

“Loyal support, hear that John” she said, underneath her breath, as she peered over the rail to stare down at the bloody mess lying below.
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Written by ArdemusMonroe

Jacob Ardemus Monroe, Adventurer

11 December, 1939

My name is Jacob Ardemus Monroe, being 69 years old, born on July 18, 1868 of Thaddeus and Katherine Monroe in my father’s cabin in the settlement of Locust Fork on the Black Warrior River in the County of Cahaba, in the state of Alabama. The Jacob part of my name comes from the Bible which my father read to us every night, while Ardemus was the name of my great-grand father, and of his grandfather. It is a name that has served me well over the years.

When I was a young boy I seemed to be more a dreamer of dreams than I was a doer of things. Growing up among the hills and hollows of my home, my soul would stir restless at the rustling of the wind or at the echo of a Whippoorwill’s song late on a summer's night and my mind would search for truth in every passing cloud and in every starlit night. It was a time of want without reason, of need without purpose and of knowledge without wisdom, a time of yearning for what was not and for dreaming of what might be. I knew there were many truths to be learned far from the land and river that had sustained me, and many questions yet to be asked.

And so came to pass.

On the 25th day of March in my 25th year, after a lifetime of waiting and a week of goodbyes, I left Locust Fork to find whatever else there was to find, to see and feel and know what the world had to offer outside of the only home I'd ever known.

Know that some of what I tell you will bring you tears of happiness, while others will bring tears of sadness. That is one truth of life I come to know far too well.

Jacob Ardemus Monroe,

Adventurer

Chapter 1 – The Adventure Begins

As the shores of the Black Warrior river disappeared behind me and the sounds of the water rushing past Bear Rock gave way to the sounds of the woodland I felt a freedom like I hadn’t felt before and a sadness I didn’t expect. The roots that bound me to my home ran deep and long across four generations of the Monroe family, back to my great-grandfather Ardemus who settled in Locust Fork in the spring of 1826, having traveled to Alabama from North Carolina with only his horse and two pack mules and a desire to see and do things he had not dared before.

My journey from Locust Fork wasn’t going to last forever. I knew would return one day, hopefully as a wiser and richer man. I didn't know when or how. The same fate and circumstance that determined my path of leaving would one day determine the path of my return.

I had little money and just a few belongings. My horse's name was named Ahoti, a name given to him by my father. It was an Indian name that means restless one but those times had long since passed him by. Now he was getting along in years and his back had become more swayed and his pace had slowed but he was still a good horse that wouldn’t abandon me in times of trouble although he had a natural fear of mountain lions and bears and every kind of snake, or anything that resembled a snake.

In Ahoti's saddlebags I had $43, a U.S. Cavalry compass, two boxes of shells for my Henry rifle, one box of 45 caliber shells for my pistol, and a Bowie knife that my father gave to me on my sixteenth birthday. It was my father that taught me the skills needed for survival in the wilderness. He believed them necessary knowledge for a boy becoming a man. It’s something I’d thank him for many times in the months and years to come. Other supplies were strapped to Ahoti’s back along with a blanket to sleep on.

I couldn’t imagine being more prepared to face the world.

The first part of my journey was going to take me to Cheaha Mountain some ten days northeast of Locust Fork. The town of Ft. Payne was a former cavalry post and was nestled at the base of Cheaha. I planned to spend a day or so there to buy supplies and enjoy the last of civilization I'd see before heading up the mountain. Beyond that, I had no plans.

It would be several hours before I stopped to rest. I followed an old wagon trail for the first two hours but eventually took to my own trail, choosing to cross over Sadler’s Ridge and not go around it. After an hour’s climb to the top and another hour of resting on the cool ground under the shade of a Sycamore tree, Ahoti and I headed north with the mid-afternoon sun to our left and the breeze to our back. Sunset was still a few hours away and I wanted to put more miles behind us before making camp.

The next few hours was pretty uneventful other than coming within eyesight of a small black bear that nearly made Ahoti jump out of his skin. Some two hours before sunset I made camp beneath an overhanging rock near the bottom of a shallow ravine at the edge of a deep forest. It would provide a good shelter and, from its smoke-darkened appearance and drawings on the rock face, it looked to have provided shelter for many others before me.

At the time I was not aware that another human called these woods home, a displaced Frenchman by the name of Etienne Marceau. As I soon found out, Etienne was very aware of my presence and he was not happy that I was there.

Chapter 2 – Jacob and Etienne

The sun was less than an hour from disappearing behind Sadler’s Ridge when the Frenchman first made himself known to me. I turned around to reach for my canteen and there he stood, setting sun at his back. I couldn’t tell much about him other than he was big. My pistol, my knife and my rifle were all with Ahoti, a mistake I would not make again. I picked up a rock to defend myself.

Only, he didn’t come at me. He just stood his ground and after a long moment, he spoke.

“Monsieur, you have been tramping through my woods for half a day. You have scared away every beast, grand et petit, for kilometers. Tell me why I should not kill you.”

I could barely make out his outline against the sun but I could see no weapon and he didn’t sound as angry as he would have me believe. I shaded my eyes with my forearm hoping to see his face but I could not.

He pressed the point. “Monsieur, I am awaiting your response and I am losing my patience quickly with you.”

The sun was blinding me. I turned my face to the ground only to see a timber rattler that had crawled to within six feet of me. He was well disguised and practically covered with leaves. I kept my eyes on him as I spoke. “Bon monsieur Frenchman. There is no reason to kill me, mon ami.” I had just used every word of French that I knew. “I am just a tired traveler passing through, hoping to rest for the night. I didn’t know you were here or I would have gone on a little further.”

“I have heard you and smelled you for many hours. You make the noise of ten men. Perhaps a man of your grace should not venture into the woods. There are many dangers here -- mountain lions, bear, wolf. However...” he paused and took one step forward “in this forest, not all danger walks on four legs. Do you understand me well, monsieur?”

“Yes. I do understand you Frenchman. And I know all about the dangers of the forest, even more than I’d like to about right now. My name is Monroe, Jacob Ardemus Monroe. If you aren’t going to kill me right away, would you mind doing something about that rattlesnake that's about to crawl across my boot?”

The cold steel of his blade flashed briefly as it flew through the air with deadly accuracy and nearly severed the rattler’s head. “I have been watching him. Now I have food to eat. Perhaps I will wait and kill you on a full stomach.” He came toward me and picked up the rattler by its tail. It was even larger than I’d thought. He pulled his blade from the ground, cut the snake’s rattles off and tossed them onto the ground at my feet. “Those will serve you well, weary traveler, if you survive the night. Even the bear fears the rattlesnake. Do you know the way to properly prepare snake?”

“Yes, I do. I know how to prepare snakes and rabbits and just about any other kind of animal you might find around these parts.” There was an uneasy pause for a moment as we stared at each other. Even though he was just a few feet away from me, in the shadows I still could not see him clearly. “I told you my name, Frenchman. How about you telling me yours?”

“You wish to know the name of your executioner, eh?” He took out a leather strop from a deerskin pouch and sharpened the blade of his knife across it as he spoke. “Very well. I am Etienne Gerard Marceau the First, Emperor and ruler of this very forest in which we stand, son of Rene Philippe Marceau -- a thief and a scoundrel that was guillotined by the Emperor Napoleon III in the courtyard at Versailles when I was but a small boy.  I witnessed it with my own eyes.” He paused and looked at me again. It was the first time I could glimpse his face. It was so weathered that I couldn’t tell his age. He had a beard and wore a black beret and there was a scar running from his left ear down his neck. “It is my father’s blood that is coursing through my veins.”

“My father is a farmer and it his blood that flows in my veins. Perhaps we are not so different.”

“Perhaps. Before the night has passed, we will know more of each other, yes?”

I picked up the rattles of the snake and looked them over. “This snake will be good enough for supper, Etienne, but there are other things for us to eat around here – mushrooms, roots, berries, other plants.” Etienne didn't respond. “I can probably find some snails if you want escargot."

He laughed as he wiped the blade of his knife across his buckskin pants and placed it in a scabbard that was strapped across his shoulder like a quiver. “Perhaps you can also find truffles.” He looked at me again, longer this time. “Go and find your plants and roots. I will prepare the snake for cooking. ” He paused again. “You are a lucky man today, monsieur. Do not be foolish.”

I retrieved my knife from Ahoti’s saddlebags and went deeper into the woods. When I returned to the camp the sun was soon to disappear behind the ridge. Etienne had already skinned the snake and started a fire. “It is good that you have returned before the darkness was upon us, mon ami. You would not wish to be captured by la bête.”

“La bête, Etienne? Is that another Frenchman? Why would he want with me? I'm just a man looking for someplace else.”

Etienne sliced the snake into pieces and placed them on a thin flat rock he had staked above the fire. “La bête -- the beast. The beast is no man, mon ami.”

“The beast? Do you mean a bear or a mountain lion? I've heard stories about ogres but I never believed in them.”

Etienne turned his head slowly to face me. “Le bête is not those things you speak of mon ami. There are many things to be feared in these woods, especially when the sun is gone. Even I, Etienne, Emperor of this very forest, do not venture far into the night. I wish someday to go back to France or maybe go north to Quebec. It would not serve me well to be dead.” Etienne's eyes glowed like embers in the firelight. “In the forest, it is what you do not believe to be true that will get you killed. You will be dead, and no one will ever know of you again.”

Then, he laughed again.

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Written by ArdemusMonroe
Jacob Ardemus Monroe, Adventurer
11 December, 1939


My name is Jacob Ardemus Monroe, being 69 years old, born on July 18, 1868 of Thaddeus and Katherine Monroe in my father’s cabin in the settlement of Locust Fork on the Black Warrior River in the County of Cahaba, in the state of Alabama. The Jacob part of my name comes from the Bible which my father read to us every night, while Ardemus was the name of my great-grand father, and of his grandfather. It is a name that has served me well over the years.


When I was a young boy I seemed to be more a dreamer of dreams than I was a doer of things. Growing up among the hills and hollows of my home, my soul would stir restless at the rustling of the wind or at the echo of a Whippoorwill’s song late on a summer's night and my mind would search for truth in every passing cloud and in every starlit night. It was a time of want without reason, of need without purpose and of knowledge without wisdom, a time of yearning for what was not and for dreaming of what might be. I knew there were many truths to be learned far from the land and river that had sustained me, and many questions yet to be asked.

And so came to pass.


On the 25th day of March in my 25th year, after a lifetime of waiting and a week of goodbyes, I left Locust Fork to find whatever else there was to find, to see and feel and know what the world had to offer outside of the only home I'd ever known.


Know that some of what I tell you will bring you tears of happiness, while others will bring tears of sadness. That is one truth of life I come to know far too well.


Jacob Ardemus Monroe,


Adventurer


Chapter 1 – The Adventure Begins


As the shores of the Black Warrior river disappeared behind me and the sounds of the water rushing past Bear Rock gave way to the sounds of the woodland I felt a freedom like I hadn’t felt before and a sadness I didn’t expect. The roots that bound me to my home ran deep and long across four generations of the Monroe family, back to my great-grandfather Ardemus who settled in Locust Fork in the spring of 1826, having traveled to Alabama from North Carolina with only his horse and two pack mules and a desire to see and do things he had not dared before.


My journey from Locust Fork wasn’t going to last forever. I knew would return one day, hopefully as a wiser and richer man. I didn't know when or how. The same fate and circumstance that determined my path of leaving would one day determine the path of my return.


I had little money and just a few belongings. My horse's name was named Ahoti, a name given to him by my father. It was an Indian name that means restless one but those times had long since passed him by. Now he was getting along in years and his back had become more swayed and his pace had slowed but he was still a good horse that wouldn’t abandon me in times of trouble although he had a natural fear of mountain lions and bears and every kind of snake, or anything that resembled a snake.


In Ahoti's saddlebags I had $43, a U.S. Cavalry compass, two boxes of shells for my Henry rifle, one box of 45 caliber shells for my pistol, and a Bowie knife that my father gave to me on my sixteenth birthday. It was my father that taught me the skills needed for survival in the wilderness. He believed them necessary knowledge for a boy becoming a man. It’s something I’d thank him for many times in the months and years to come. Other supplies were strapped to Ahoti’s back along with a blanket to sleep on.

I couldn’t imagine being more prepared to face the world.


The first part of my journey was going to take me to Cheaha Mountain some ten days northeast of Locust Fork. The town of Ft. Payne was a former cavalry post and was nestled at the base of Cheaha. I planned to spend a day or so there to buy supplies and enjoy the last of civilization I'd see before heading up the mountain. Beyond that, I had no plans.


It would be several hours before I stopped to rest. I followed an old wagon trail for the first two hours but eventually took to my own trail, choosing to cross over Sadler’s Ridge and not go around it. After an hour’s climb to the top and another hour of resting on the cool ground under the shade of a Sycamore tree, Ahoti and I headed north with the mid-afternoon sun to our left and the breeze to our back. Sunset was still a few hours away and I wanted to put more miles behind us before making camp.


The next few hours was pretty uneventful other than coming within eyesight of a small black bear that nearly made Ahoti jump out of his skin. Some two hours before sunset I made camp beneath an overhanging rock near the bottom of a shallow ravine at the edge of a deep forest. It would provide a good shelter and, from its smoke-darkened appearance and drawings on the rock face, it looked to have provided shelter for many others before me.


At the time I was not aware that another human called these woods home, a displaced Frenchman by the name of Etienne Marceau. As I soon found out, Etienne was very aware of my presence and he was not happy that I was there.

Chapter 2 – Jacob and Etienne


The sun was less than an hour from disappearing behind Sadler’s Ridge when the Frenchman first made himself known to me. I turned around to reach for my canteen and there he stood, setting sun at his back. I couldn’t tell much about him other than he was big. My pistol, my knife and my rifle were all with Ahoti, a mistake I would not make again. I picked up a rock to defend myself.


Only, he didn’t come at me. He just stood his ground and after a long moment, he spoke.

“Monsieur, you have been tramping through my woods for half a day. You have scared away every beast, grand et petit, for kilometers. Tell me why I should not kill you.”

I could barely make out his outline against the sun but I could see no weapon and he didn’t sound as angry as he would have me believe. I shaded my eyes with my forearm hoping to see his face but I could not.


He pressed the point. “Monsieur, I am awaiting your response and I am losing my patience quickly with you.”


The sun was blinding me. I turned my face to the ground only to see a timber rattler that had crawled to within six feet of me. He was well disguised and practically covered with leaves. I kept my eyes on him as I spoke. “Bon monsieur Frenchman. There is no reason to kill me, mon ami.” I had just used every word of French that I knew. “I am just a tired traveler passing through, hoping to rest for the night. I didn’t know you were here or I would have gone on a little further.”


“I have heard you and smelled you for many hours. You make the noise of ten men. Perhaps a man of your grace should not venture into the woods. There are many dangers here -- mountain lions, bear, wolf. However...” he paused and took one step forward “in this forest, not all danger walks on four legs. Do you understand me well, monsieur?”


“Yes. I do understand you Frenchman. And I know all about the dangers of the forest, even more than I’d like to about right now. My name is Monroe, Jacob Ardemus Monroe. If you aren’t going to kill me right away, would you mind doing something about that rattlesnake that's about to crawl across my boot?”


The cold steel of his blade flashed briefly as it flew through the air with deadly accuracy and nearly severed the rattler’s head. “I have been watching him. Now I have food to eat. Perhaps I will wait and kill you on a full stomach.” He came toward me and picked up the rattler by its tail. It was even larger than I’d thought. He pulled his blade from the ground, cut the snake’s rattles off and tossed them onto the ground at my feet. “Those will serve you well, weary traveler, if you survive the night. Even the bear fears the rattlesnake. Do you know the way to properly prepare snake?”


“Yes, I do. I know how to prepare snakes and rabbits and just about any other kind of animal you might find around these parts.” There was an uneasy pause for a moment as we stared at each other. Even though he was just a few feet away from me, in the shadows I still could not see him clearly. “I told you my name, Frenchman. How about you telling me yours?”


“You wish to know the name of your executioner, eh?” He took out a leather strop from a deerskin pouch and sharpened the blade of his knife across it as he spoke. “Very well. I am Etienne Gerard Marceau the First, Emperor and ruler of this very forest in which we stand, son of Rene Philippe Marceau -- a thief and a scoundrel that was guillotined by the Emperor Napoleon III in the courtyard at Versailles when I was but a small boy.  I witnessed it with my own eyes.” He paused and looked at me again. It was the first time I could glimpse his face. It was so weathered that I couldn’t tell his age. He had a beard and wore a black beret and there was a scar running from his left ear down his neck. “It is my father’s blood that is coursing through my veins.”


“My father is a farmer and it his blood that flows in my veins. Perhaps we are not so different.”


“Perhaps. Before the night has passed, we will know more of each other, yes?”


I picked up the rattles of the snake and looked them over. “This snake will be good enough for supper, Etienne, but there are other things for us to eat around here – mushrooms, roots, berries, other plants.” Etienne didn't respond. “I can probably find some snails if you want escargot."


He laughed as he wiped the blade of his knife across his buckskin pants and placed it in a scabbard that was strapped across his shoulder like a quiver. “Perhaps you can also find truffles.” He looked at me again, longer this time. “Go and find your plants and roots. I will prepare the snake for cooking. ” He paused again. “You are a lucky man today, monsieur. Do not be foolish.”


I retrieved my knife from Ahoti’s saddlebags and went deeper into the woods. When I returned to the camp the sun was soon to disappear behind the ridge. Etienne had already skinned the snake and started a fire. “It is good that you have returned before the darkness was upon us, mon ami. You would not wish to be captured by la bête.”


“La bête, Etienne? Is that another Frenchman? Why would he want with me? I'm just a man looking for someplace else.”


Etienne sliced the snake into pieces and placed them on a thin flat rock he had staked above the fire. “La bête -- the beast. The beast is no man, mon ami.”


“The beast? Do you mean a bear or a mountain lion? I've heard stories about ogres but I never believed in them.”


Etienne turned his head slowly to face me. “Le bête is not those things you speak of mon ami. There are many things to be feared in these woods, especially when the sun is gone. Even I, Etienne, Emperor of this very forest, do not venture far into the night. I wish someday to go back to France or maybe go north to Quebec. It would not serve me well to be dead.” Etienne's eyes glowed like embers in the firelight. “In the forest, it is what you do not believe to be true that will get you killed. You will be dead, and no one will ever know of you again.”


Then, he laughed again.
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Written by MerleHanson

I pulled into a place just outside Waco. Billys was the name hanging from the old sign post. Parking lot was empty except for some ancient pickups and a yellow beetle.

The Bartender was a bit scrawny. He wore a white cowboy hat and a gold chain hinging round his neck. wearing a Eagle jersey with the number 92, White stitched on the back.

“You Billy?

“Bob Gibbons, son of Billy. Dad has been dead going on twenty years. Friends call me Billy Bob. Name has followed me around since grade school.”

“That your yellow bug out front?”

“I wouldn’t be seen driving one of those little foreign cars. That yeller one would be Liz’s. Don’t be getting close. She more than likely take your head off. Mean like a rattlesnake.”

“Don’t they hang Eagles fans in Texas?’

“You’d be surprised how many Cowboys fans show up here to watch Sunday football. I’ve been called every name in the book but all in all they are my friends. Had to add on an extra room and the grill became a kitchen. Lucky man to have met Donna Lu. She can cook up a storm. Ain’t no waste in her kitchen.”

“How long you owned the joint?”

“Well like I said Pa died twenty years ago. We struggled taking over. Pa didn't care about the condition of the building and his aging customers were slowly dying away. I noticed Cowboy fans seemed to like a bit of banter when I wore my Eagles gear. You didn’t notice the Eagles flag flying over my roof?”

“No sir, No sir.”

“I went to work nights, loading and unloading trucks for Stan Literski. Hell of a nice guy. Paid well, worked hard. Put the money into the bar.” He handed me my drink.

I walked over to the jukebox. It was filled with old country music. Sad songs about life gone wrong. Pushed some song called Ebdas Lament. Let your hair down girl could be heard coming out of the speakers.

I sat a couple seats down from her, nodded my head. “Texas, sure is hot.”

“You ain’t hitting on me son are you? Last man I had to shoot. Self defense. I had warned him and Billy Bob and all the regulars vouched for me.”

I heard Billy Bob from the other end of the bar, “Be honest Lizzy. You had threatened us all with a hex from your prison cell. I sure wasn’t going to stand up to your wrath.”

I chuckled.

“The demons in that whiskey drinking will get you? Pretty soon you’ll start seeing things that ain’t there,” she said.

“How’d you know?”

“A gift from the great spirit.” Her nose was long, her hair scraggly and she had a big wart at the tip. “I got a bit of the Haitian blood in me. The spirits, Ti bon ange wander this earth. Certainly you feel them. You gotta prepare for the journey to the dead or your spirit will stay.”

I wasn’t sure about Billy Bob and her being mean. I was thinking crazy, flat out crazy.

“Not everybody can practice the Vodoo. It comes from the inside.”

“How’d you find your way to Nowhere, Texas?

“It was the 60’s. Free love and acid and marijuana but it was hot and miserable in New Orleans. Headed to California. Only got this far before I ran out of money. Bobby Bills dad Billy hired me to clean up, serve customers, tend bar. I think I became the daughter he never had. Sweet, sweet man.”

“He had a little bit of land out there near the river. He sold me part of it and I started raising chickens and snakes. Chickens gave me sustenance and those Southern preachers bought my snakes.”

‘How come Billy Bob says you are mean?”

“Me and Billy Bob are more like Brother and Sister. We took a liking to each other and argue like cats and dogs. We are only a few years apart in age so it was natural. So happy he came across Donna Lu. Other wise he’s be just like those other two drunks at the end of the bar.”

He started laughing. “Mean as a rattlesnake, I told you. You certainly don’t think you are going to change her now do you?”

“No, no. She is as she is. I best hit the road got miles to go before the sun sets.”

“It was nice meeting you,’ extending her hand. “Liz Rourke. By the way, if you run into McAndrew again tell him I say hello.”

“Sure enough, sure enough. Billy Bob, you got yourself a nice bar. We’ll be seeing you.”

Those were some of the nicest people in Texas that I’d met. I pulled out of the parking lot and looked for the first road west.

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Written by MerleHanson
I pulled into a place just outside Waco. Billys was the name hanging from the old sign post. Parking lot was empty except for some ancient pickups and a yellow beetle.

The Bartender was a bit scrawny. He wore a white cowboy hat and a gold chain hinging round his neck. wearing a Eagle jersey with the number 92, White stitched on the back.

“You Billy?

“Bob Gibbons, son of Billy. Dad has been dead going on twenty years. Friends call me Billy Bob. Name has followed me around since grade school.”

“That your yellow bug out front?”

“I wouldn’t be seen driving one of those little foreign cars. That yeller one would be Liz’s. Don’t be getting close. She more than likely take your head off. Mean like a rattlesnake.”

“Don’t they hang Eagles fans in Texas?’

“You’d be surprised how many Cowboys fans show up here to watch Sunday football. I’ve been called every name in the book but all in all they are my friends. Had to add on an extra room and the grill became a kitchen. Lucky man to have met Donna Lu. She can cook up a storm. Ain’t no waste in her kitchen.”

“How long you owned the joint?”

“Well like I said Pa died twenty years ago. We struggled taking over. Pa didn't care about the condition of the building and his aging customers were slowly dying away. I noticed Cowboy fans seemed to like a bit of banter when I wore my Eagles gear. You didn’t notice the Eagles flag flying over my roof?”

“No sir, No sir.”

“I went to work nights, loading and unloading trucks for Stan Literski. Hell of a nice guy. Paid well, worked hard. Put the money into the bar.” He handed me my drink.

I walked over to the jukebox. It was filled with old country music. Sad songs about life gone wrong. Pushed some song called Ebdas Lament. Let your hair down girl could be heard coming out of the speakers.

I sat a couple seats down from her, nodded my head. “Texas, sure is hot.”

“You ain’t hitting on me son are you? Last man I had to shoot. Self defense. I had warned him and Billy Bob and all the regulars vouched for me.”

I heard Billy Bob from the other end of the bar, “Be honest Lizzy. You had threatened us all with a hex from your prison cell. I sure wasn’t going to stand up to your wrath.”

I chuckled.

“The demons in that whiskey drinking will get you? Pretty soon you’ll start seeing things that ain’t there,” she said.

“How’d you know?”

“A gift from the great spirit.” Her nose was long, her hair scraggly and she had a big wart at the tip. “I got a bit of the Haitian blood in me. The spirits, Ti bon ange wander this earth. Certainly you feel them. You gotta prepare for the journey to the dead or your spirit will stay.”

I wasn’t sure about Billy Bob and her being mean. I was thinking crazy, flat out crazy.

“Not everybody can practice the Vodoo. It comes from the inside.”

“How’d you find your way to Nowhere, Texas?

“It was the 60’s. Free love and acid and marijuana but it was hot and miserable in New Orleans. Headed to California. Only got this far before I ran out of money. Bobby Bills dad Billy hired me to clean up, serve customers, tend bar. I think I became the daughter he never had. Sweet, sweet man.”

“He had a little bit of land out there near the river. He sold me part of it and I started raising chickens and snakes. Chickens gave me sustenance and those Southern preachers bought my snakes.”

‘How come Billy Bob says you are mean?”

“Me and Billy Bob are more like Brother and Sister. We took a liking to each other and argue like cats and dogs. We are only a few years apart in age so it was natural. So happy he came across Donna Lu. Other wise he’s be just like those other two drunks at the end of the bar.”

He started laughing. “Mean as a rattlesnake, I told you. You certainly don’t think you are going to change her now do you?”

“No, no. She is as she is. I best hit the road got miles to go before the sun sets.”

“It was nice meeting you,’ extending her hand. “Liz Rourke. By the way, if you run into McAndrew again tell him I say hello.”

“Sure enough, sure enough. Billy Bob, you got yourself a nice bar. We’ll be seeing you.”

Those were some of the nicest people in Texas that I’d met. I pulled out of the parking lot and looked for the first road west.
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Written by MerleHanson

I pulled into a place just outside Waco. Billys was the name hanging from the old sign post. Parking lot was empty except for some ancient pickups and a yellow beetle.

The Bartender was a bit scrawny. He wore a white cowboy hat and a gold chain hinging round his neck. wearing a Eagle jersey with the number 92, White stitched on the back.

“You Billy?

“Bob Gibbons, son of Billy. Dad has been dead going on twenty years. Friends call me Billy Bob. Name has followed me around since grade school.”

“That your yellow bug out front?”

“I wouldn’t be seen driving one of those little foreign cars. That yeller one would be Liz’s. Don’t be getting close. She more than likely take your head off. Mean like a rattlesnake.”

“Don’t they hang Eagles fans in Texas?’

“You’d be surprised how many Cowboys fans show up here to watch Sunday football. I’ve been called every name in the book but all in all they are my friends. Had to add on an extra room and the grill became a kitchen. Lucky man to have met Donna Lu. She can cook up a storm. Ain’t no waste in her kitchen.”

“How long you owned the joint?”

“Well like I said Pa died twenty years ago. We struggled taking over. Pa didn't care about the condition of the building and his aging customers were slowly dying away. I noticed Cowboy fans seemed to like a bit of banter when I wore my Eagles gear. You didn’t notice the Eagles flag flying over my roof?”

“No sir, No sir.”

“I went to work nights, loading and unloading trucks for Stan Literski. Hell of a nice guy. Paid well, worked hard. Put the money into the bar.” He handed me my drink.

I walked over to the jukebox. It was filled with old country music. Sad songs about life gone wrong. Pushed some song called Ebdas Lament. Let your hair down girl could be heard coming out of the speakers.

I sat a couple seats down from her, nodded my head. “Texas, sure is hot.”

“You ain’t hitting on me son are you? Last man I had to shoot. Self defense. I had warned him and Billy Bob and all the regulars vouched for me.”

I heard Billy Bob from the other end of the bar, “Be honest Lizzy. You had threatened us all with a hex from your prison cell. I sure wasn’t going to stand up to your wrath.”

I chuckled.

“The demons in that whiskey drinking will get you? Pretty soon you’ll start seeing things that ain’t there,” she said.

“How’d you know?”

“A gift from the great spirit.” Her nose was long, her hair scraggly and she had a big wart at the tip. “I got a bit of the Haitian blood in me. The spirits, Ti bon ange wander this earth. Certainly you feel them. You gotta prepare for the journey to the dead or your spirit will stay.”

I wasn’t sure about Billy Bob and her being mean. I was thinking crazy, flat out crazy.

“Not everybody can practice the Vodoo. It comes from the inside.”

“How’d you find your way to Nowhere, Texas?

“It was the 60’s. Free love and acid and marijuana but it was hot and miserable in New Orleans. Headed to California. Only got this far before I ran out of money. Bobby Bills dad Billy hired me to clean up, serve customers, tend bar. I think I became the daughter he never had. Sweet, sweet man.”

“He had a little bit of land out there near the river. He sold me part of it and I started raising chickens and snakes. Chickens gave me sustenance and those Southern preachers bought my snakes.”

‘How come Billy Bob says you are mean?”

“Me and Billy Bob are more like Brother and Sister. We took a liking to each other and argue like cats and dogs. We are only a few years apart in age so it was natural. So happy he came across Donna Lu. Other wise he’s be just like those other two drunks at the end of the bar.”

He started laughing. “Mean as a rattlesnake, I told you. You certainly don’t think you are going to change her now do you?”

“No, no. She is as she is. I best hit the road got miles to go before the sun sets.”

“It was nice meeting you,’ extending her hand. “Liz Rourke. By the way, if you run into McAndrew again tell him I say hello.”

“Sure enough, sure enough. Billy Bob, you got yourself a nice bar. We’ll be seeing you.”

Those were some of the nicest people in Texas that I’d met. I pulled out of the parking lot and looked for the first road west.

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Written by MerleHanson
I pulled into a place just outside Waco. Billys was the name hanging from the old sign post. Parking lot was empty except for some ancient pickups and a yellow beetle.

The Bartender was a bit scrawny. He wore a white cowboy hat and a gold chain hinging round his neck. wearing a Eagle jersey with the number 92, White stitched on the back.

“You Billy?

“Bob Gibbons, son of Billy. Dad has been dead going on twenty years. Friends call me Billy Bob. Name has followed me around since grade school.”

“That your yellow bug out front?”

“I wouldn’t be seen driving one of those little foreign cars. That yeller one would be Liz’s. Don’t be getting close. She more than likely take your head off. Mean like a rattlesnake.”

“Don’t they hang Eagles fans in Texas?’

“You’d be surprised how many Cowboys fans show up here to watch Sunday football. I’ve been called every name in the book but all in all they are my friends. Had to add on an extra room and the grill became a kitchen. Lucky man to have met Donna Lu. She can cook up a storm. Ain’t no waste in her kitchen.”

“How long you owned the joint?”

“Well like I said Pa died twenty years ago. We struggled taking over. Pa didn't care about the condition of the building and his aging customers were slowly dying away. I noticed Cowboy fans seemed to like a bit of banter when I wore my Eagles gear. You didn’t notice the Eagles flag flying over my roof?”

“No sir, No sir.”

“I went to work nights, loading and unloading trucks for Stan Literski. Hell of a nice guy. Paid well, worked hard. Put the money into the bar.” He handed me my drink.

I walked over to the jukebox. It was filled with old country music. Sad songs about life gone wrong. Pushed some song called Ebdas Lament. Let your hair down girl could be heard coming out of the speakers.

I sat a couple seats down from her, nodded my head. “Texas, sure is hot.”

“You ain’t hitting on me son are you? Last man I had to shoot. Self defense. I had warned him and Billy Bob and all the regulars vouched for me.”

I heard Billy Bob from the other end of the bar, “Be honest Lizzy. You had threatened us all with a hex from your prison cell. I sure wasn’t going to stand up to your wrath.”

I chuckled.

“The demons in that whiskey drinking will get you? Pretty soon you’ll start seeing things that ain’t there,” she said.

“How’d you know?”

“A gift from the great spirit.” Her nose was long, her hair scraggly and she had a big wart at the tip. “I got a bit of the Haitian blood in me. The spirits, Ti bon ange wander this earth. Certainly you feel them. You gotta prepare for the journey to the dead or your spirit will stay.”

I wasn’t sure about Billy Bob and her being mean. I was thinking crazy, flat out crazy.

“Not everybody can practice the Vodoo. It comes from the inside.”

“How’d you find your way to Nowhere, Texas?

“It was the 60’s. Free love and acid and marijuana but it was hot and miserable in New Orleans. Headed to California. Only got this far before I ran out of money. Bobby Bills dad Billy hired me to clean up, serve customers, tend bar. I think I became the daughter he never had. Sweet, sweet man.”

“He had a little bit of land out there near the river. He sold me part of it and I started raising chickens and snakes. Chickens gave me sustenance and those Southern preachers bought my snakes.”

‘How come Billy Bob says you are mean?”

“Me and Billy Bob are more like Brother and Sister. We took a liking to each other and argue like cats and dogs. We are only a few years apart in age so it was natural. So happy he came across Donna Lu. Other wise he’s be just like those other two drunks at the end of the bar.”

He started laughing. “Mean as a rattlesnake, I told you. You certainly don’t think you are going to change her now do you?”

“No, no. She is as she is. I best hit the road got miles to go before the sun sets.”

“It was nice meeting you,’ extending her hand. “Liz Rourke. By the way, if you run into McAndrew again tell him I say hello.”

“Sure enough, sure enough. Billy Bob, you got yourself a nice bar. We’ll be seeing you.”

Those were some of the nicest people in Texas that I’d met. I pulled out of the parking lot and looked for the first road west.
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