Donate coins to chainedinshadow.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 10 of Losing Troy
Written by chainedinshadow

Losing Troy, Part 10

"We have to get him back," Rachel replied immediately. She didn't know Troy very well, but she enjoyed his sense of humor and easy-go-lucky manner. Also, she'd seen so many deaths... She wasn't eager to add another name to the ever growing list.

     Audrey nodded mutely. The whole time she'd been onboard the ship, she hadn't had time to think about it much. But now, now she felt numb. And there was this emptiness inside of her.

     "Hey, don't worry," Rachel soothed. "We'll get him back. Unfortunately, I'm the only one available right now...but I should be enough."

     Audrey allowed a small smile to lift the corners of her mouth. "Trying to escape the paperwork?"

     "If only one could..." Rachel muttered.

Jolie drummed her fingers on the control panel. "They'll be here by tomorrow. That allows for Audrey to get back, get help, gear up, and return."

     Her ever constant companion, the captain of the ship (a.k.a the silent warrior), grunted. "Whatever it is you say."

     Jolie raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. "You'll see. I haven't been wrong so far."

     "As long as I get what I need, I'll let you live. But if I don't get what I need..." He let it hang in the air.

     "You'll be stuck," Jolie interrupted.

     The creature blinked slowly and tolerantly. It didn't bother to point out that wasn't what he was going to say. What was the point? He was going to kill her eventually, anyway, whether he got what he needed or not.

Somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, Troy thought briefly about his mother. He wasn't sure what brought her to mind, but it was comforting.

     Wait, did that mean he was dying? After all, his mother was dead, and he was seeing her face very clearly.

     No, he couldn't be dying. Now the memories were going faster, as if someone was prying through them.

     And someone was.

     That someone was Jolie.

"We'll get a good night's rest, then head out early tomorrow. The ship is already fully equipped, so that won't be a problem. Negotiating might be an option, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Rachel wrapped up. "Sound good?"

     "Anything that deals with getting Troy back sounds good," Audrey responded. She rubbed her temples to try and ease the pain that had taken up residence there. Rachel watched her keenly.

     "I think it's about time we went to bed."

     "Mm. Not opposed to that at all," Audrey responded, smiling slightly. "I'm looking forward to it very much."

     Rachel stretched and yawned before standing up. "C'mon; I'll show you your room."

Jolie finally grew bored of searching Troy's memories, so she called the technician of the ship into her quarters. Setting the mind-control orb down on her dresser, she turned to face him.

     "The core isn't a vital part of this ship, correct? There are back-ups in the hard drives."

     The technician nodded his reptilian head. "Yes, ma'am, that is correct. Our energy matrix collapsed, so we need something to power the ship."

     Jolie nodded. "So it doesn't matter if I recover the core or not?"

     The technician wasn't sure where this was going, but he shook his head. "No."

      "Alright. You may go now." She smiled now, but it wasn't a nice one; it was more like the leer of a wolf before it lunges for the killing stroke.

6
5
5
Juice
34 reads
Donate coins to chainedinshadow.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 10 of Losing Troy
Written by chainedinshadow
Losing Troy, Part 10
"We have to get him back," Rachel replied immediately. She didn't know Troy very well, but she enjoyed his sense of humor and easy-go-lucky manner. Also, she'd seen so many deaths... She wasn't eager to add another name to the ever growing list.
     Audrey nodded mutely. The whole time she'd been onboard the ship, she hadn't had time to think about it much. But now, now she felt numb. And there was this emptiness inside of her.
     "Hey, don't worry," Rachel soothed. "We'll get him back. Unfortunately, I'm the only one available right now...but I should be enough."
     Audrey allowed a small smile to lift the corners of her mouth. "Trying to escape the paperwork?"
     "If only one could..." Rachel muttered.

Jolie drummed her fingers on the control panel. "They'll be here by tomorrow. That allows for Audrey to get back, get help, gear up, and return."
     Her ever constant companion, the captain of the ship (a.k.a the silent warrior), grunted. "Whatever it is you say."
     Jolie raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow. "You'll see. I haven't been wrong so far."
     "As long as I get what I need, I'll let you live. But if I don't get what I need..." He let it hang in the air.
     "You'll be stuck," Jolie interrupted.
     The creature blinked slowly and tolerantly. It didn't bother to point out that wasn't what he was going to say. What was the point? He was going to kill her eventually, anyway, whether he got what he needed or not.

Somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness, Troy thought briefly about his mother. He wasn't sure what brought her to mind, but it was comforting.
     Wait, did that mean he was dying? After all, his mother was dead, and he was seeing her face very clearly.
     No, he couldn't be dying. Now the memories were going faster, as if someone was prying through them.
     And someone was.
     That someone was Jolie.

"We'll get a good night's rest, then head out early tomorrow. The ship is already fully equipped, so that won't be a problem. Negotiating might be an option, but we'll cross that bridge when we get to it," Rachel wrapped up. "Sound good?"
     "Anything that deals with getting Troy back sounds good," Audrey responded. She rubbed her temples to try and ease the pain that had taken up residence there. Rachel watched her keenly.
     "I think it's about time we went to bed."
     "Mm. Not opposed to that at all," Audrey responded, smiling slightly. "I'm looking forward to it very much."
     Rachel stretched and yawned before standing up. "C'mon; I'll show you your room."

Jolie finally grew bored of searching Troy's memories, so she called the technician of the ship into her quarters. Setting the mind-control orb down on her dresser, she turned to face him.
     "The core isn't a vital part of this ship, correct? There are back-ups in the hard drives."
     The technician nodded his reptilian head. "Yes, ma'am, that is correct. Our energy matrix collapsed, so we need something to power the ship."
     Jolie nodded. "So it doesn't matter if I recover the core or not?"
     The technician wasn't sure where this was going, but he shook his head. "No."
      "Alright. You may go now." She smiled now, but it wasn't a nice one; it was more like the leer of a wolf before it lunges for the killing stroke.
#scifi  #action  #teen  #epic  #legit 
6
5
5
Juice
34 reads
Load 5 Comments
Login to post comments.
Advertisement  (turn off)
Donate coins to wardnerm.
Juice
Cancel
Written by wardnerm in portal Simon & Schuster

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?

1
0
0
Juice
16 reads
Donate coins to wardnerm.
Juice
Cancel
Written by wardnerm in portal Simon & Schuster
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?

1
0
0
Juice
16 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to bjneblett.
Juice
Cancel
We're all caught in their strings, our actions aren't all our own.
Written by bjneblett

Ripples

BJ Neblett

© 2010, 2015

June 9, 5:45 AM

San Rosario, Colombia

The child’s crying had awakened the old man in the middle of the night. He sat on the edge of the tiny bed watching as the five year old stirred in a fitful rest. Loving concern clouded his soft, kind eyes. Every few minutes trembling hands rinsed a tattered blue handkerchief in a basin of cool water lying on the floor. He returned the damp cloth to the child’s forehead. Her eyes struggled to open and she softly moaned.

“Easy, my child, I am here. Grandpa is here.”

His callous hands gently stroked the girl’s long raven hair. It was matted and soaked with sweat. Juan Carlos looked about the tired darken room, sighing heavily. The front of his worn cambric shirt heaved with weary muscles. The child’s fever had not broken; if anything it was worse.

He rose, stiff bones popping like kernels of corn in a fire. “Be brave, mi Niña,” he whispered, tenderly patting the girl’s shoulder, “be brave.”

Outside, somber shadows began to stir as the first breath of light touched the silent village. A puffy white mist kissed the earth, causing Juan Carlos to feel as if he were walking in a cloud.

“Someday,” the cracked lips proclaimed to the air, “someday I will know what it is like to walk among real clouds. Then there will be no more problems… no more troubles.” His voice trailed off. He had reached the square wooden house of Victor Manuel.

“Victor, my friend,” Juan Carlos called out in a voice heavy with the hour. “Victor Manuel, are you awake?”

A brown gibbous face appeared in the open window. It wore an unkempt moustache and a kind expression. “Juan Carlos you old goat, you stalk the streets like a ghost. Come inside, it is early. We will drink some of our special coffee which the Americans prize so highly.”

The old man shook his head, white stubble of his beard glistening in the yellow sunlight. “No, there is no time. Please, I need your assistance. My granddaughter is very sick. She has great fever. I am afraid for her. You must take us in your truck to the hospital in Vélez.”

“María Elaina, sick?” Victor Manuel blessed himself and disappeared. The front door to his home creaked open. “The hospital you say… the hospital is well over one hundred kilometers away, in the next valley. It will take us most of the day to get there. Are you sure my friend?”

Juan Carlos nodded, “I am sure.”

“This I will do for you, of course, but what of the beans? The big trucks are supposed to arrive today.”

The senescent face twisted in protest. “The trucks can wait! Already the men from the company expect too much from us. They work us hard and pay us nothing. It is because of them I must take my poor Niña across the mountain! They refuse to even provide our village with a doctor. And for what…” Juan Carlos spat on the ground, “just so some rich gringo can enjoy the special coffee that grows only here in our little valley!” He looked Victor Manuel in the eye. “Tell the men of the village to stay home… stay home till I return. There is no work today; maybe no work tomorrow.”

Victor Manuel opened his mouth to challenge his old friend and boss. He was cut off by an indignant wave of the other’s hand.

“I am in charge and it is my decision,” the old man said arrogantly. “I do not wish to hear about shipping schedules and deadlines. All I care about is my sweet little María Elaina. Come, the day grows old as we speak.”

By the time the crescent moon lay contentedly over the mountain, María Elaina lay under comfortable white sheets, resting peacefully. The fever had been reduced but she remained a very sick little girl. Juan Carlos shifted his position in the chair next to her bed. He would stay with his granddaughter at the hospital until she was better. Victor Manuel had returned to the secluded valley. The coffee beans would wait a few more days. The people of the village who grew the rich and rare beans prayed for little María Elaina. They understood.

The big international company that purchased the valuable commodity did not understand.

Nor did they care.

June 12, 8:19 AM

London, England

Nigel Bannister paced the thick green carpet of his plush twelfth floor office overlooking the Thames. Outside, a steady drizzle played against the smoke tinted windows, reflecting Bannister’s mood. On the expensive mahogany desk waited a steaming cup of English breakfast tea, while three yellow lights on the multi-line telephone flashed impatiently.

Bannister ignored them.

The intercom buzzed, pulling Nigel Bannister from his thoughts. “Excuse me, Sir. Mr. Cooke is here. And I still have Mr. Howard, and Mr. Smyth, and Todd Worth on hold.”

Bannister stopped pacing and frowned, his aquiline nose flaring. Finally he approached the desk and pressed a button. “All right, all right Miss Hastings… very well, let me speak to…” Bannister paused. Smyth could wait. He knew when he finally faced his boss he’d better have some serious answers.

Nigel Bannister was a good, albeit brusque man; a company man. After Oxford, he’d gone from buyer to vice president of export. Bannister knew his beans. He knew and understood the coffee business inside and out, perhaps better than he knew and understood the people he dealt with every day. But Nigel was also a cautious man. He was used to making important decisions in his own time, on his own schedule, after he had considered all angles, weighed all his options. This business with the small plantation in Colombia had popped up rather suddenly. And Smyth, his boss, wanted it disposed of swiftly and quietly.

“No,” Bannister corrected himself, “send in Cooke. And I’ll speak with Howard in a moment. Tell Smyth and Worth I’ll call them back momentarily.” With that Nigel Bannister closed the intercom. He nervously fiddled with the four-in-hand knot of his silk tie from Harold’s, painting on a plastic smile as the door to his office opened.

“Roger, old chap, good to see you again… been much too long…”

“How are you, Nigel? How’s the misses?” The two men stiffly shook hands, considering one another like prize fighters in a ring.

“Oh, fine, fine, thanks… now, what’s all this rubbish about San Rosario, eh?”

Roger Cooke was a field man for the company. He enjoyed his work, loved the people and countries he dealt with, and had no use for big cities, board rooms or four-in-hand ties. His sudden summons to the home office both surprised and annoyed him. He was glad Bannister had come right to the point. The sooner he could return to the field and his duties the better.

“There’s not much to it actually, Nigel. The growers are dissatisfied with conditions. It’s nothing new. Only it seems one of the children nearly died because there was no doctor nearby. She’s in the hospital in Vélez. It’s the same problem I’ve been pitching to you for years. The growers just need some improvements. They want the company to provide the village with a doctor and a medical facility.”

Bannister’s thin lips pursed, his steel eyes narrowing. “Damn nuisance, this business. It’s like the whole planet is on some health care kick or something; only why now, Cooke, why the work stoppage now?”

“Well, it seems the girl is the granddaughter of Juan Carlos. Carlos is the foreman of the plantation and a village elder. The people love and respect him. They…”

“Yes, yes,” Bannister interrupted impatiently. “So this Carlos character is the key to this whole mess then?”

Roger Cooke studied his vinegar faced opponent carefully. He knew his type. Twenty years behind a desk had hardened him to the needs of the field. The simple people of the towns and villages who grew the beans were the heart and soul of the company. Cooke knew this. Cooke also knew that the company looked upon them as no more than numbers; pluses and minuses, assets and liabilities; pawns in a global game with extremely high stakes.

“I think we need to listen to Juan Carlos this time, Nigel. I think…”

Once again Cooke was cut short by his superior. “Now listen here, Cooke. The world wants its coffee when it wakes up in the morning. It doesn’t want excuses. It doesn’t want to hear about some five year old; or her stubborn old grandfather; or some jungle village without a doctor.” Bannister let out a contemptuous snort. “And neither does the board of directors! In twenty years I’ve never lost a shipment nor had one delayed for any reason… hurricanes, revolutions, old men and children be damned!”

He paused, once again fiddling with the knot of his tie. No need to get all worked up over this, he thought. The solution is simple. He looked up at Cooke. “Your man in Colombia, this Howard chap, he’s a good man?”

Roger Cooke bristled at the inference of the question. “James Howard is a fine man. I picked him myself. This is what I do, Nigel… I know the field, and my people. If Howard says the situation is serious, then I trust his judgment.”

“Yes, quite… fine…” Without another word, Nigel Banister strode over to the large mahogany desk and pressed a lighted button on the telephone. “Hello, Howard? James Howard, are you there?” he bellowed into the speaker box.

“Yes, Sir, James Howard here…”

“Good, good, this is Nigel Bannister in London. Roger Cooke is here with me. Now listen carefully, this is what I want you to do.” He turned, his unforgiving gaze falling upon Roger Cooke. “I think it’s time for some changes. Find me a new foreman… I don’t care who… that’s your department. But I want this trouble maker, this Carlos fellow out… and I want him out today! Get those people back to work! And tell them I’ll hear no more talk of a doctor or health care or whatever… understood? And for God’s sake get that shipment on the trucks! Got it?”

Bannister didn’t wait for a reply. He snapped the speaker box off, severing the connection. His trademark confident half smile returned. “Well, that should take care of that, eh what? That’s how we handle things here in London. Decisions, that’s what I do, Cooke, handle problems; make decisions.”

August 3, 10:32 AM

The Hamptons, New York

Valerie White had a hangover. This was nothing new for Valerie White. Not to say that she was an alcoholic. No. But Valerie White enjoyed the way alcohol made her feel. She liked the way it loosened her, relaxed her. And she loved the way it made all of the troubles and tribulations of being young and rich and beautiful and single seem to disappear. What she didn’t like was the way it made her feel the morning after. And this particular morning after was a doozey.

It was her birthday, her twenty fifth. Valerie and a couple of close friends had gone out to celebrate over a simple dinner. But nothing in Valerie White’s life was ever simple. By midnight the friends numbered over thirty, some of whom she didn’t recognize. And the party had moved to a private corner of the hottest and trendiest night spot in New York City.

Now Valerie lay in her oversized bed, watching her posh and over done bedroom slowly revolve about her.

“Did daddy buy me a carousel for my birthday?” she moaned.

“What’s the matter? You always said the world revolved around you.” Valerie’s kid sister Amy swallowed a sagacious smile. “Close your eyes, it’ll help.”

“When I close my eyes I see little pink spots,” Valerie reported uneasily.

“Here, drink this.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, Amy held a steaming cup to her sister’s lips. Valerie took a long sip.

She almost gagged.

“Eeew! What is that stuff?”

“English breakfast tea,” Amy replied, stifling another giggle at her sister’s distress.

Valerie half opened one eye, sniffed cautiously at the tea, wrinkled her pert, perfect, expensive nose, and pushed the cup away. “Yuck! How can they drink that stuff? No wonder the British are all prune faced and stuffy! Where’s my coffee?”

Amy rose, setting the cup on the night stand. She looked down at the prone figure of her big sister. “Some role model you turned out to be! No wonder mom and dad decided to have me.”

Valerie’s road mapped eyes yawned fully open and she glared at Amy. “Just get me my coffee… please!”

“Sorry, we’re all out. Daddy had the last this morning. And the city as well as the country and the rest of the world are dry as prohibition. Since the major coffee bean growers went out on strike in support of the independents nobody is getting their coffee fix, nobody. Daddy says it all has to do with health care or something, I don’t know. But coffee futures are through the roof. I’ve never seen daddy happier.”

“Great… the rich get richer… meanwhile, I’m riding a king size Sealy roller coaster and my tongue feels like it needs shaving.”

Reaching the door, Amy stopped, turned and smiled sweetly. “Try a cold shower. Happy birthday, sis,” she chirped with a devilish grin and was gone.

By noon Valerie was feeling almost human. She wandered into the large, ornate, over done White family study. “Mother, father,” she announced in a serious tone, “I’ve made a decision.”

Her sister, sprawled on the floor with an Archie comic book, rolled her sparkly hazel eyes. “I’ll alert the media.”

“That’s nice honey,” her mother answered without looking up from her knitting.

“Ah, there you are. Happy birthday, Princess,” her father called from behind his newspaper.

Valerie surveyed her family, shaking her pretty blonde head. She started to leave, but then changed her mind. “No, I’m serious. I’ve decided to quit drinking. Not just cut down or anything, but quit completely, cold turkey.” Holding up one hand, she dramatically cupped the other over her heart. “No more alcohol for Valerie White. I’ve learned my lesson, especially if I can’t get any more coffee.”

Amy dropped her comic book, “Maybe I should notify the media.”

“That’s nice, honey,” her mother calmly repeated.

Valerie’s blue eyes narrowed and she scrunched up her face. “Daddy, what do you think?”

“Whatever you like, Princess,” he replied, stealing a peak at his oldest daughter before returning to his Wall Street Journal.

“It’s ok with him,” Amy commented slyly. “He doesn’t deal in alcohol futures.” With that she grinned, sticking her tongue out at her sister.

“Well, it’s my decision, and from this moment on no more alcohol,” Valerie called out, ignoring Amy, and stomping one dainty foot in petulant determination.

“And what about Brad Harrington?” Amy asked, voicing her parent’s thoughts. “Don’t you have a date with him tonight?”

“Oh… well…” The question made Valerie pause to think. Boorish Brad was bad enough, but sober? She wasn’t sure if she could take the obstinate heir while sober. “No,” she said at last, stomping her foot again. “No, I’ve decided. Valerie White is on the wagon. Brad will understand.”

“I don’t understand…”

“What?”

“What…?”

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘What?’”

“What?”

Valerie grabbed Brad Harrington by his Sean John collar, dragging him from the tightly packed dance floor.

“Hey, watch it. You made me spill my drink,” Brad protested over the bone numbing thump of the trendy club’s bass. “What’s with you tonight, anyway?”

“What’s with me?” Frustration twisted Valerie’s carefully made up face. “You hardly said a word to me all night. Then you drag me to this nauseating human freak show…”

“Are you kidding? This is the hottest new joint in the city! Even the Kardashians would have trouble getting passed the door. But here we are, babe!”

“So what…”

Brad grinned broadly, surveying the sea of undulating bodies. He signaled for a fresh drink. “Lighten up, will ya…”

“I just thought tonight could be different,” Valerie admitted with a tightening catch in her throat, “that we could maybe go some place quiet and talk.”

A waitress arrived with a pair of purple martinis. Brad snatched them from the tray with a wink to the attractive brunette. He made no attempt to conceal his obvious admiration for her shapely figure as it seductively weaved through the crowd. “What did you say, babe?”

Valerie looked hopelessly at her date. By now all she wanted to do was flee the officious club and its obnoxious clientele. “How come I never noticed that before?” she said softly.

“What’s that?”

“How you never look at me when we talk… hell… we never talk!”

“What do you mean? We talk, we’re talking now.”

“No! We’re not, Bradley… look at me… look at me!”

Their eyes met for what seemed like the first time. Valerie wasn’t sure if it was the flashing dance floor lights or the clarity of sobriety, but she didn’t recognize the man standing in front of her; the man everyone assumed she would marry.

“What?” shouted Brad angrily. “You know, you can be such a drag when you’re not drinking.”

Valerie White squirmed uncomfortably on the hard plastic seat. People, buildings and billboards flickered past like a movie out of sync, framed in the grimy window pane.

“My life,” she murmured, “that’s my life… blinking past… out of focus… distorted.”

“That’s not a good sign.”

The young man sitting across from her, studying her carefully seemed to appear out of nowhere. He wore faded jeans and an old corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows. A reassuring confidence graced his dimpled face.

They were the only two in the car. Valerie thought he looked like someone you’d find on the back cover of some stuffy best seller. “I’m… I’m sorry…”

His smile warmed the cool conditioned air. “A beautiful woman riding the subway alone at night, talking to herself… that’s never a good sign.”

“Oh, well… I was just thinking… thinking out loud I guess.” Her moist blue eyes gazed into the night. “About my life,” she continued with a sigh, “how it seems to be flickering past, right before me…”

And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round, painted ponies go up and down

The verse pulled Valerie from her reverie. “That’s pretty… are you a poet?”

“No, not a poet… a journalist, an out of work struggling journalist I’m afraid.”

Valerie felt herself blush. “And here I am… I’ve never had to struggle for anything in my life.”

“Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are, sweetheart,” the stranger mouthed through a clenched jaw.

For the first time that night, Valerie smiled. “I know this one… Humphrey Bogat, right?”

“Close enough… Hi, I’m Bill Brown.” He moved to the seat next to her, his hand sliding comfortably over hers like a fine Italian leather glove; his engaging smile widening till it tugged at the corners of his mocha eyes.

“Hello, Bill… I’m Valerie White.”

“And what is lovely Valerie White doing riding a New York subway train alone at night?” He was still holding her hand in his.

“Oh, well, I’m not going far… just downtown.”

“You must be taking the scenic route then.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m afraid this train goes to Flatbush.”

“Oh, it does? I mean…” Now her pink cheeks blazed crimson. “Flatbush… that’s in New York right?”

“Well, there are many who would dispute the fact, but yes, it is. I take it you don’t ride the subway very often.”

Glancing down at her Dolce and Gabbana silk dress, her Ugg heels and Fendi purse, Valerie couldn’t help but laugh. “What was your first clue, Sherlock?”

“Let’s just say I had a hunch,” and they both laughed.

“Tell me, Bill, what’s it like in Flatbush?”

“Oh, you’d hate it… the streets are narrow and worn; the houses are old and they all look alike; and the redolent air hangs heavy with the sautéed scent of a hundred nationalities.” His voice softened in deep reflection. “But the people, Valerie… the people are real, and honest, and hard working, and kind, and friendly, and just about the greatest bunch of nobodies you’d ever care to meet.”

The train rocked and shook and the star crossed couple found themselves pressed together in the darken car as the lights blinked and dimmed.

“It sounds like a wonderful place.”

Valerie White awoke feeling strange. She lay in her oversized bed trying to analyze the alien sensations coursing through her body. Her head didn’t throb to a dissonant drum; her eyes didn’t protest the daffodil dayspring, and her mouth didn’t feel like a litter box. No, she thought with a refreshing clarity, none of the usual symptoms. Instead, Valerie felt rested, alive, energized. She even found she actually had an appetite for breakfast. And she didn’t miss her coffee.

Valerie White was sober and happy…

… and in love.

August 5, 1:10 AM

Flatbush, New York

“I think you’re totally out of your league, that’s what I think.” Rob gave his roommate a pitiful look. “And I think you’re totally nuts.”

“Quiet, you made me lose count again.” Bill Brown scratched his head then scratched thru the figures he’d just written on the yellow legal pad. He stared at the meager stacks of fifty and hundred dollar bills lined up like an undisciplined band of mercenary soldiers. With a sigh he began to count again. On the bed next to the tired particle board desk from K-Mart, lay his passport; a well traveled, over stuffed army surplus back pack, and the worn leather case that housed his aging laptop.

“Some poor little rich girl you met on the subway gives you her cell phone number and right away you become Don Quixote, off on a noble quest.” Rob threw up his hands and laughed, “The things we do for love.”

Bill finished his counting and tucked the money into a Harley Davidson wallet chained to his belt. “That’s not it at all, Rob. You don’t understand. This is what I do.”

With no attempt to conceal his bemused expression, Rob replied. “Oh, yeah, I forgot… the renowned investigative reporter who’s going to change the world. Ok, Clark Kent, suppose you explain it to me.”

Bill peered at his friend from across the top of his spectacles. “It’s not because of her,” he began patiently, “well… not exactly… it’s something she said, something that clicked in my mind. As we were talking she mentioned health care. At first I just figured she had changed the subject.” His face adopted the dopey expression of a beagle in love. “She can be kinda hard to follow sometimes…”

“You mean scattered,” Rob mused.

“No, not scattered…”

“Flighty…”

“No, complex…”

“Hair brained…”

“Enigmatic…”

“Not the sharpest knife in the drawer…”

The reporter looked at his friend, the dopey expression giving way to acceptance. “Ok, scattered.”

“And because ‘lil Orphan Annie confuses health care concerns in this country with striking coffee growers, you’re off to South America. Meanwhile, every legitimate reporter is in London getting the real story.”

Bill ignored the dig. “No… no, it’s not because of her, but her name. I didn’t connect the two until today. She said her father told her the strike was over health care.”

“So, who’s her papa to have inside info the rest of the world isn’t privy to?”

“Her father is Wayne White.”

Rob let out a long low whistle. “Wow, Daddy Warbucks himself! If anyone should know…”

“Wayne White should know,” Bill said in agreement, finishing the thought.

“That’s some hunch you’re playing, my friend. I don’t know if I’d have the coconuts to empty my piggy bank on the word of some ditzy blonde…”

“Scattered,” Bill corrected.

“…scattered blonde,” Rob acquiesced. “You know, any one of Ms. White’s outfits is worth more than that entire bank roll you’ve got strapped to your hip.”

The realization gave Bill Brown a start and a chill. “Yeah, I know… I know it’s a gamble… but something tells me… besides, I’ve made the decision, and the reservations. It’s the red eye to Rio; puddle hopper to Cartagena; train to Vélez; then over the mountains and through the woods by Jeep I go, in search of coffee and a story.” He grinned up at his friend, slinging the olive drab back pack over one shoulder. “By the way, I borrowed your Nikon.”

“Hey! That’s my best camera!”

August 7, 3:06 PM

San Rosario, Colombia

Some sixty hours later, a weary, bleary eyed Bill Brown sat in a small square wooden house, eating flat bread and drinking his first cup of coffee in weeks.

“I can see why your beans are prized so highly,” he said with sincerity. “This is beyond a doubt the best coffee I have ever tasted.”

Juan Carlos scratched his stubbly chin and snorted indignantly.

“Juan Carlos, do not be so rude… where are your manners?” Victor Manuel turned to his guest. “Por favor, excusa, señor. Do not mind my friend. It was his granddaughter, little María Elaina, who was very sick.”

“I’m sorry, señor Carlos. I am glad that María is better.”

“You think this gringo is going to help us?” Juan Carlos snapped, ignoring Bill’s concern. “You are a bigger fool than I, Victor. He is just like the rest.”

“No!” Bill almost shouted, catching himself as the two men raised their eyebrows. “I’m sorry… no… no, I am here to help.”

“You must understand,” Victor said with a sigh, “we have been told that before. Men of the company have come to our village these past months, men like yourself, with fancy cameras and other gadgets.” He pointed to the open laptop and small digital recorder resting on the table between them. “They talk and talk and then they go away, and still we hear nothing.” He folded his sun browned arms across his broad chest. “The radio tells us of other growers in other places and of their demands. They want this thing and that thing… but there is never mention of our village or of a doctor. I do not understand… so much talk…”

“That is because the company has kept your village and its needs out of the papers. But I am not from the company,” Bill said softly. “And I have not come here to talk, señor Manuel. I have come here, to your village, not to talk but to listen.” He looked over at the old man. Juan Carlos’ dark eyes were the color of the coffee beans he grew and loved. “Señor Carlos, I will listen. Tell me your story. And I promise you, I will do everything I can to see to it the whole world hears your words; hears the truth.”

With a shrug Juan Carlos spoke. “It is not an easy life. But we are a hardy people. We love these mountains; they have been good to us. The coffee business I know nothing about, nor do I care.” A confident smile splintered the ancient face. “But the beans… the beans… this I know. It is not an easy thing, raising the beans here. But as you yourself have said, it is a good crop we have.” He relaxed, leaning his chair back on two legs. “The men of the fincas – where the beans are grown – are patient people… they must be… you cannot rush the beans. The trees must be hand planted, and then hand pruned; watered by hand and looked after. They require much attention, like a bebé.

“Harvest time is year round and the beans are handpicked, sorted by hand; washed and sun dried, and then allowed to ferment.” His expression grew serious as he placed a knurled fist firmly on the table. “It is only then, at the precise moment, that they are ready to be sent away. San Rosario coffee is the best in the world,” Juan Carlos proclaimed proudly.

“The work is hard, yes,” Victor Manuel continued. “But it is what we do… what our fathers and their father’s fathers did before us. And it is what we teach our little ones. We do not ask for machines and trucks and fancy factories. No, that is not our way. Our life is simple; it is a good life. All we ask is that our children do not have to suffer as poor little María Elaina. The company owes us that much.”

August 9, 11:58 PM

Washington DC

“So, are you going to run it?”

The managing editor of the Washington Post loosened his tie and top two shirt buttons. His sleeves were already rolled and perspiration marked his furrowed forehead. The east coast was in the middle of a devastating heat wave and the air conditioner struggled to meet demand.

“I’d be a fool not to. This is dynamite stuff. And the interview with the little granddaughter is Pulitzer material.”

“But he’s an unknown, a nobody…”

The editor looked up at his assistant. “We all were at one time.”

“What about our man down there, Riley?”

“Riley is a fool! And he’s damn lucky he still has a job. If I hadn’t needed him to confirm what is in this exposé he would have been gone. This story was right under his nose all along!” The editor mopped his brow, tossing the article on the desk.

“So, you are going to run it.”

“I’ve made the decision.” The Washington Post chief grinned. “Tomorrow morning unknown reporter B. Brown will find his story front page center with a by line. Before noon every paper, news agency, TV and radio station will have picked it up. And by dinner time he will be the most sought after journalist in the country, if not the world.”

“And we’ll have on hell of a scoop.”

The editor scanned the galley proofs with satisfaction. “Mister Bill Brown, your life is about to change.”

August 11, 9:15 AM

Joplin, Missouri

Steve Fields sat in his small office, drinking ice cold buttermilk. He re-read the article for the third time. The accompanying photos tugged at his heart, making him think of his own young granddaughter. Bill Brown’s exclusive exposé of the London based international conglomerate and their treatment of the coffee growers was headline news. The Washington Post story had been picked up by newspapers worldwide, including the Joplin Globe. Fields sipped his milk and smiled. Maybe… just maybe…

He made up his mind. The big, affable mid-westerner rose and strode into the outer office. “Mrs. Marshal, have every department head assemble in my office, please.”

“Yes, Mr. Fields.”

Fifteen minutes later, Steve Fields surveyed the stunned faces on half a dozen employees. “Any questions?”

Silence.

Finally a soft, timid voice spoke up. “Sir… are you… are you sure, sir?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“This is all very well and noble of you,” a more confident voice advanced. “But you’ve got to think of the customers. What will they say, and will they go along? And what about sales? Since the new chain supermarket opened up around the corner on Range Line Drive, we’re barely staying afloat. This store can’t take any more losses.”

Fields grinned. “That’s why I hired you, Tom. You are always the voice of reason. That and because you’re my son-in-law.” Nervous laughter circled the room. “I know the situation, of course… but I’m glad to see each of you is aware as well.” He leaned back in his chair. “This store is fighting for its very existence. Being an independent is never easy. My father and his father’s father faced even tougher times… wars… the depression. It’s during those hard times that people look to their friends, their neighbors, and the community. The independent has been the backbone of commerce in this country… it still is. But more importantly, the independent is looked upon as a community leader.” He tossed the copy of the Joplin Globe onto the broad, round meeting table. “You’ve all read the story. You all know what those people in South America are up against. I couldn’t in good conscience drink another cup of coffee now, even if I could get one. It’s David and Goliath all over again. But this time David needs all the help he can get.”

Steve Fields ran his fingers through his thinning, graying hair. He looked each of the men and women assembled before him in the eye, deciphering their expressions. “I don’t want any of you to get the wrong impression of my altruism. I am doing this as much for the store as for the coffee growers. It’s a gamble I’m sure. But one I’m willing to take. I’ve made the decision. We’ll all have to work hard and pull together and keep a positive attitude. A few well said prayers would be appreciated as well.”

By noon, every product sold by the London based conglomerate had been removed from the shelves of Field’s Family Market. Along with the missing coffee, tea; crackers; cranberries; cat food; canned meats, and a number of other products disappeared. Each item was replaced by a neatly printed handbill. It read:

Dear valued customer, as long as the parent company

of this product refuses to see to the needs of the small

village in Colombia on whose production of coffee beans

they rely, Fields Family Market will refuse to carry any

of their products. We apologize for any inconvenience

this may cause our customers. We thank you for your

support, and encourage others to join our boycott.

A copy of the handbill along with a letter explaining the store’s position was forwarded to London.

That night the market owner counted the spots on his bedroom ceiling instead of sleeping. He tried counting up his savings and investments in case of a forced early retirement, but discovered it too depressing. By five AM he abandoned any hope of sleep and reluctantly rolled out of bed.

When Steve Fields arrived to open his store he found the parking lot cluttered with mobile remote vans and satellite trucks. Several starched, shinning TV reporters, followed closely by huffing camera men, rushed over as Fields exited his old pick up. A microphone with the CNN logo was among the many thrust in his face. “Mister Fields, can you please comment on your decision to pull the London company’s product from your shelves?”

By the next day the media circus had abated somewhat. The new story du jour became the hundreds of chain stores and independents across the country that had joined in the boycott. The Joplin Globe ran a feature on Steve Fields, proclaiming the gutsy store owner a home town hero and a national inspiration. The impassioned speech he’d made to his staff just two days earlier was featured in a side bar. It was printed nearly word for word with some additional patriotic pumping. The David and Goliath remark was picked up by the New York Times and soon became a catch phrase with the media. Fields couldn’t decide if he should kiss or kill his over eager son-in-law.

But the gamble paid off. The small family owned business began to thrive again. Old customers showed their support and new patrons flocked to the small maverick store that had challenged the large international conglomerate.

August 30, 9:27 AM

London, England

Todd Worth settled into the thick winged back leather desk chair of his plush twelfth floor office overlooking the Thames. Outside, a cheery yellow sun cast it contented smile on the smoke tinted windows, reflecting Worth’s mood. On the expensive mahogany desk waited an iced can of Pepsi, while a single yellow light on the multiline telephone blinked impatiently. Worth ignored it, staring blankly at the framed photo of his new sports car.

The intercom pulled Todd Worth from his thoughts. “Excuse me, sir, Doctor Hawthorn is here.”

Worth mumbled to himself, a strand of sandy blonde hair falling across his smooth, tanned brow as he reached for the speaker box. “Thank you, Ms. Schafer. I’ll see him in a minute.”

Pressing the flashing yellow button, he lifted the receiver to his ear. “Hello… Todd Worth here… what’s that? No, no… I’m afraid Nigel Bannister is no longer with the company… yes, that’s right… took an early retirement, I’m in charge now… yes, quite… very good.”

He hung up the phone, his last words echoing sweetly in his mind: I’m in charge now…

Todd Worth was a good, albeit casual man; a company man. He learned the coffee business from his father. From plantation to export to refining to packaging to shipping to merchandising, Todd Worth knew his beans. He spent twelve long, sweltering years in South America as a company representative, dealing with plantation owners, cartels, drug lords, dictators and revolutions.

The next decade Worth spent dealing with hurricanes and sea sickness, riding the endless blue green waves of the Atlantic. He’d graduated to the position of senior supervisor of shipping. The fancy title translated into interminable hours at sea babysitting the company’s cargo of coffee beans.

Then for six years Todd Worth rode a desk. He was finally back in England, this time checking and rechecking the status of shipments to the company’s numerous distributors. The work was boring and repetitive. And, it seemed for a time he would ride this desk to retirement.

But Todd Worth always considered himself a lucky man.

The unexpected and troublesome work stoppage had mushroomed into an international incident. Coffee growers all over the world refused to pick or ship the valuable commodity. Chain stores and independents across the US and Canada canceled major orders, removing from their shelves all products produced by the coffee conglomerate. Consumers around the globe stood in support of the boycott for better conditions for the people of the tiny village of San Rosario. Common stock of the London based company plummeted, with no bottom in sight.

But Todd Worth’s luck held true.

Forty eight hours earlier Worth was in the right place at the right time when aging CEO Smyth pointed his finger and made his decision. Now Todd Worth was enjoying his first full day as vice president of export and international relations.

Worth rose, confidently fiddling with the Windsor knot of his hand painted silk tie from Soho. The door to his office opened and a man with graying temples, round spectacles and a limp entered. “How are you, Todd? My, it’s been a time hasn’t it?” The two men shook hands, sizing up one another like a pair of British bulldogs.

“Yes, quite, Quincy, quite some time. How are things at the hospital?”

They took up positions in matching arm chairs near the oversized window. “Oh, well, running along smoothly as ever, you know.” Dr. Quincy Hawthorn considered the opulent office. “I must say, you’ve done well by yourself, old chap.”

“Yes, yes, we’ve come a long way since Eaton, haven’t we?” Worth turned in his seat, his brown eyes narrowing. “I need your help Quincy old man, I’m up against it. Surely you’ve heard about this mess in South America. I can’t see how anyone could avoid it. That school of yours has recently graduated a fresh batch of interns. Perhaps you could fine me one willing to pull a year or two of service in Colombia. The company’s setting up a wonderful little clinic in a place called San Rosario. It will be well equipped and maintained; there’s a fine hospital nearby and the pay is decent. It should be a great experience as well as quite the adventure for the right chap.”

The doctor studied his flaccid faced friend carefully. He knew what medical facilities in remote places could be like. He knew that the nearby hospital was in Vélez, a grueling full day’s journey. And he was aware that this was as much a publicity ploy as a humanitarian effort. Still, Worth was right. The medical experience gleaned would be invaluable to a young doctor just starting his practice. He thought of his own years with the home service as a young doctor in India.

Dr. Hawthorn smiled, nodded and made his decision. “Ok, Todd, I’ll find you a doctor. I’ll start the process immediately. In fact, I think I just might have the perfect candidate.”

Rising, they strode to the door. “Thanks, Quincy. I knew you’d come through for me. Ring me up as soon as you have somebody.”

As the office door closed, Worth’s own words returned, playing over like a stuck record: I’m in charge now…

He grinned slyly. “I’m in charge now,” he said to no one, straightening his tie. “And I make the decisions. You got your health clinic thanks to a lot of bleeding heart liberals and that senile old duck running this company. But just step out of line again and you’ll have to deal with Todd Worth!”

September 6, 6:39 PM

Flagstaff, Arizona

“So, you’ve made up your mind?”

“Yes.”

“And that’s it? You’re back home less than a month and you are leaving again?”

“Dad, I…” Paul Chandler slid the half eaten meal from in front of him. Across the elegant dining room table his father eyed him curiously. “Dad, I know it hasn’t been easy for you since mom passed away.”

Dr. Thomas Chandler balled his linen napkin, tossing it onto the table. “I told you, Paul, your mother has nothing to do with it,” he replied, closing his eyes and his mind to the bitter memory. “Lord knows I’ve missed her these last two years. But I’m fine, son, just fine.”

Paul smiled across the room. He loved his father and would do anything for him. He understood his father’s pain. There wasn’t a day that went by he didn’t miss his mother. He remembered how proud she was the day he started college, following in his father’s footsteps. His mother had been his biggest fan and strongest supporter during the difficult first years of pre-med. It wasn’t fair. She never got to see her son graduate from medical school.

“Why do you think we sent you off to that school in England?” his father asked for about the tenth time since Paul broke the news. “We wanted the best for you; you are a part of this family, and a part of the family business, Paul. You and I are a team. Your Uncle Jack and cousin Jess are looking forward to you joining us at the clinic.”

“That’s your dream, dad,” Paul said patiently, “not mine. At least it isn’t right now. Perhaps in a couple of years, after…”

“After what?” his father interrupted. He caught himself. He didn’t mean to raise his voice. But this wasn’t the way it was suppose to be.

“Dad, those people in San Rosario need me.”

“Those people don’t even have any kind of a facility for you yet. If you are determined to go, what’s your hurry?” Chandler faltered, the words welling up in his chest. “I need you, son, here at the clinic, the way your mother and I always planned.” Rising from the table he began to pace. “I’m sorry, Paul, it’s just so hard to understand.”

Paul’s quiet blue eyes turned inward. “The Grand Canyon…”

“How’s that…?”

“The Grand Canyon,” Paul repeated softly. “Do you remember that trip we took to the Grand Canyon?”

The question caused the senior Chandler to stop and turn. “Why, you couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old.”

“I was six. And we never made it to the Canyon. Remember, dad?”

Dr. Chandler’s stern face softened. “Yes…”

“Traveling up route sixty four,” Paul continued, “we were flagged down by that Hopi Indian family. The woman was in heavy labor, a breach birth. You saved her life… and the baby. But not just that, you made the decision to go with them all the way to the hospital, over seventy miles away. You wouldn’t leave her until she was out of danger. For two days mom and I waited in that old motel room while you remained with your patient. By then our vacation was over and we had to return home. Later you took me aside and explained. You told me no one, regardless of who they may be, should have to suffer for lack of medical attention. I was never so proud of you. It was then and there I knew I wanted to be a doctor… just like my father.” He rose, moving to his father’s side. “Now I am a doctor, dad, just like you. And I’ve made my decision.”

Dr. Thomas Chandler smiled and nodded at his son but said nothing as he walked out of the room.

Young Paul Chandler looked up as his father entered the kitchen. “Good morning, dad. How are you? I haven’t seen much of you these last two days. Is everything ok?”

Dr. Chandler poured himself a glass of juice. “I’ve been very busy; had plenty to occupy my time… and my mind. Son, I…”

“Dad, don’t… please. Everything is set. I’m leaving in an hour.”

Setting his glass aside, Chandler grinned broadly at his son. “Yes, I know: US Air flight 90 to LA; American Airlines from LAX to Panama City; then Aeromexico to Bogata. The train and Jeep trip into the hills promises to be interesting. It should be quite an adventure. Hopefully, the medical supplies I’ve arranged for won’t be far behind us. We should arrive in San Rosario sometime Thursday.”

“We…?”

Chandler placed a loving hand to his son’s arm. “You are right, Paul. I’ve lost sight of why I became a doctor. Thanks for the kick in the pants.”

“But, what about the clinic here in Flagstaff?”

“Uncle Jack can handle it while we’re gone. He’s got Jessica and a great staff. Hell, the place practically runs itself. I doubt if I’ll even be missed. I’m sure your mother would approve. Besides, I told you, we’re a team.”

Father and son embraced warmly. “I love you, dad.”

“I love you, too, son.” Wiping a stray tear, Dr. Thomas Chandler ran his arm around his son’s shoulder. “C’mon, we’ve got patients waiting for us in San Rosario.”

September 15, 7:45 AM

Seattle, Washington

Rick McConnell was running late. Not having his morning coffee didn’t help his disposition. “What do you mean?”

“I’m sorry; I just didn’t have time yesterday. I’ll stop by Tully’s this afternoon.”

McConnell swallowed hard, struggling to contain his anger. “Damn it, Laura, I ask you to do just one thing, just one! You know how important this meeting is to me. If I can get on old man Baxter’s good side I’m a shoe in for a promotion.”

“And the best way to get on his good side is with that special coffee,” McConnell’s wife replied patiently. “I know, you’ve told me.”

Reaching for his briefcase, McConnell started across the kitchen. “Then you know how much he loves his coffee. Because of that nonsense with the growers, it’s been months since he’s been able to get any. That specialty coffee shop promised the first shipment would be on their shelves yesterday!” He nervously checked his wrist watch. “Let’s see, they should be open now…”

“No, Rick, surely you’re not thinking… that’s all the way up in Ballard, the only store that carries that blend. Your meeting is in forty five minutes. You’ll never make it in time.”

Rick McConnell’s kiss barely grazed his wife’s cheek as he barreled out the door. “I’ll make it…”

Thirty minutes later, McConnell’s Ford raced down 15th avenue. On the passenger seat rested a package of rare, expensive coffee beans: San Rosario Select Blend. Up ahead the Ballard Bridge began to lazily creek open, allowing a fishing trawler to glide silently beneath. Traffic on the busy thoroughfare slowed to a stop.

McConnell cursed aloud, pounding a fist to the dashboard. Ignoring the red flashing warning signals, he wheeled the silver Taurus onto a side street. A block further the speeding vehicle violently broadsided a minivan as it backed out of a driveway.

Five year old Mary Ellen, on her way to her first day of pre-school, was killed instantly.

7
2
0
Juice
30 reads
Donate coins to bjneblett.
Juice
Cancel
We're all caught in their strings, our actions aren't all our own.
Written by bjneblett
Ripples

BJ Neblett
© 2010, 2015

June 9, 5:45 AM
San Rosario, Colombia
The child’s crying had awakened the old man in the middle of the night. He sat on the edge of the tiny bed watching as the five year old stirred in a fitful rest. Loving concern clouded his soft, kind eyes. Every few minutes trembling hands rinsed a tattered blue handkerchief in a basin of cool water lying on the floor. He returned the damp cloth to the child’s forehead. Her eyes struggled to open and she softly moaned.
“Easy, my child, I am here. Grandpa is here.”
His callous hands gently stroked the girl’s long raven hair. It was matted and soaked with sweat. Juan Carlos looked about the tired darken room, sighing heavily. The front of his worn cambric shirt heaved with weary muscles. The child’s fever had not broken; if anything it was worse.
He rose, stiff bones popping like kernels of corn in a fire. “Be brave, mi Niña,” he whispered, tenderly patting the girl’s shoulder, “be brave.”
Outside, somber shadows began to stir as the first breath of light touched the silent village. A puffy white mist kissed the earth, causing Juan Carlos to feel as if he were walking in a cloud.
“Someday,” the cracked lips proclaimed to the air, “someday I will know what it is like to walk among real clouds. Then there will be no more problems… no more troubles.” His voice trailed off. He had reached the square wooden house of Victor Manuel.
“Victor, my friend,” Juan Carlos called out in a voice heavy with the hour. “Victor Manuel, are you awake?”
A brown gibbous face appeared in the open window. It wore an unkempt moustache and a kind expression. “Juan Carlos you old goat, you stalk the streets like a ghost. Come inside, it is early. We will drink some of our special coffee which the Americans prize so highly.”
The old man shook his head, white stubble of his beard glistening in the yellow sunlight. “No, there is no time. Please, I need your assistance. My granddaughter is very sick. She has great fever. I am afraid for her. You must take us in your truck to the hospital in Vélez.”
“María Elaina, sick?” Victor Manuel blessed himself and disappeared. The front door to his home creaked open. “The hospital you say… the hospital is well over one hundred kilometers away, in the next valley. It will take us most of the day to get there. Are you sure my friend?”
Juan Carlos nodded, “I am sure.”
“This I will do for you, of course, but what of the beans? The big trucks are supposed to arrive today.”
The senescent face twisted in protest. “The trucks can wait! Already the men from the company expect too much from us. They work us hard and pay us nothing. It is because of them I must take my poor Niña across the mountain! They refuse to even provide our village with a doctor. And for what…” Juan Carlos spat on the ground, “just so some rich gringo can enjoy the special coffee that grows only here in our little valley!” He looked Victor Manuel in the eye. “Tell the men of the village to stay home… stay home till I return. There is no work today; maybe no work tomorrow.”
Victor Manuel opened his mouth to challenge his old friend and boss. He was cut off by an indignant wave of the other’s hand.
“I am in charge and it is my decision,” the old man said arrogantly. “I do not wish to hear about shipping schedules and deadlines. All I care about is my sweet little María Elaina. Come, the day grows old as we speak.”
By the time the crescent moon lay contentedly over the mountain, María Elaina lay under comfortable white sheets, resting peacefully. The fever had been reduced but she remained a very sick little girl. Juan Carlos shifted his position in the chair next to her bed. He would stay with his granddaughter at the hospital until she was better. Victor Manuel had returned to the secluded valley. The coffee beans would wait a few more days. The people of the village who grew the rich and rare beans prayed for little María Elaina. They understood.
The big international company that purchased the valuable commodity did not understand.
Nor did they care.

June 12, 8:19 AM
London, England
Nigel Bannister paced the thick green carpet of his plush twelfth floor office overlooking the Thames. Outside, a steady drizzle played against the smoke tinted windows, reflecting Bannister’s mood. On the expensive mahogany desk waited a steaming cup of English breakfast tea, while three yellow lights on the multi-line telephone flashed impatiently.
Bannister ignored them.
The intercom buzzed, pulling Nigel Bannister from his thoughts. “Excuse me, Sir. Mr. Cooke is here. And I still have Mr. Howard, and Mr. Smyth, and Todd Worth on hold.”
Bannister stopped pacing and frowned, his aquiline nose flaring. Finally he approached the desk and pressed a button. “All right, all right Miss Hastings… very well, let me speak to…” Bannister paused. Smyth could wait. He knew when he finally faced his boss he’d better have some serious answers.
Nigel Bannister was a good, albeit brusque man; a company man. After Oxford, he’d gone from buyer to vice president of export. Bannister knew his beans. He knew and understood the coffee business inside and out, perhaps better than he knew and understood the people he dealt with every day. But Nigel was also a cautious man. He was used to making important decisions in his own time, on his own schedule, after he had considered all angles, weighed all his options. This business with the small plantation in Colombia had popped up rather suddenly. And Smyth, his boss, wanted it disposed of swiftly and quietly.
“No,” Bannister corrected himself, “send in Cooke. And I’ll speak with Howard in a moment. Tell Smyth and Worth I’ll call them back momentarily.” With that Nigel Bannister closed the intercom. He nervously fiddled with the four-in-hand knot of his silk tie from Harold’s, painting on a plastic smile as the door to his office opened.
“Roger, old chap, good to see you again… been much too long…”
“How are you, Nigel? How’s the misses?” The two men stiffly shook hands, considering one another like prize fighters in a ring.
“Oh, fine, fine, thanks… now, what’s all this rubbish about San Rosario, eh?”
Roger Cooke was a field man for the company. He enjoyed his work, loved the people and countries he dealt with, and had no use for big cities, board rooms or four-in-hand ties. His sudden summons to the home office both surprised and annoyed him. He was glad Bannister had come right to the point. The sooner he could return to the field and his duties the better.
“There’s not much to it actually, Nigel. The growers are dissatisfied with conditions. It’s nothing new. Only it seems one of the children nearly died because there was no doctor nearby. She’s in the hospital in Vélez. It’s the same problem I’ve been pitching to you for years. The growers just need some improvements. They want the company to provide the village with a doctor and a medical facility.”
Bannister’s thin lips pursed, his steel eyes narrowing. “Damn nuisance, this business. It’s like the whole planet is on some health care kick or something; only why now, Cooke, why the work stoppage now?”
“Well, it seems the girl is the granddaughter of Juan Carlos. Carlos is the foreman of the plantation and a village elder. The people love and respect him. They…”
“Yes, yes,” Bannister interrupted impatiently. “So this Carlos character is the key to this whole mess then?”
Roger Cooke studied his vinegar faced opponent carefully. He knew his type. Twenty years behind a desk had hardened him to the needs of the field. The simple people of the towns and villages who grew the beans were the heart and soul of the company. Cooke knew this. Cooke also knew that the company looked upon them as no more than numbers; pluses and minuses, assets and liabilities; pawns in a global game with extremely high stakes.
“I think we need to listen to Juan Carlos this time, Nigel. I think…”
Once again Cooke was cut short by his superior. “Now listen here, Cooke. The world wants its coffee when it wakes up in the morning. It doesn’t want excuses. It doesn’t want to hear about some five year old; or her stubborn old grandfather; or some jungle village without a doctor.” Bannister let out a contemptuous snort. “And neither does the board of directors! In twenty years I’ve never lost a shipment nor had one delayed for any reason… hurricanes, revolutions, old men and children be damned!”
He paused, once again fiddling with the knot of his tie. No need to get all worked up over this, he thought. The solution is simple. He looked up at Cooke. “Your man in Colombia, this Howard chap, he’s a good man?”
Roger Cooke bristled at the inference of the question. “James Howard is a fine man. I picked him myself. This is what I do, Nigel… I know the field, and my people. If Howard says the situation is serious, then I trust his judgment.”
“Yes, quite… fine…” Without another word, Nigel Banister strode over to the large mahogany desk and pressed a lighted button on the telephone. “Hello, Howard? James Howard, are you there?” he bellowed into the speaker box.
“Yes, Sir, James Howard here…”
“Good, good, this is Nigel Bannister in London. Roger Cooke is here with me. Now listen carefully, this is what I want you to do.” He turned, his unforgiving gaze falling upon Roger Cooke. “I think it’s time for some changes. Find me a new foreman… I don’t care who… that’s your department. But I want this trouble maker, this Carlos fellow out… and I want him out today! Get those people back to work! And tell them I’ll hear no more talk of a doctor or health care or whatever… understood? And for God’s sake get that shipment on the trucks! Got it?”
Bannister didn’t wait for a reply. He snapped the speaker box off, severing the connection. His trademark confident half smile returned. “Well, that should take care of that, eh what? That’s how we handle things here in London. Decisions, that’s what I do, Cooke, handle problems; make decisions.”

August 3, 10:32 AM
The Hamptons, New York
Valerie White had a hangover. This was nothing new for Valerie White. Not to say that she was an alcoholic. No. But Valerie White enjoyed the way alcohol made her feel. She liked the way it loosened her, relaxed her. And she loved the way it made all of the troubles and tribulations of being young and rich and beautiful and single seem to disappear. What she didn’t like was the way it made her feel the morning after. And this particular morning after was a doozey.
It was her birthday, her twenty fifth. Valerie and a couple of close friends had gone out to celebrate over a simple dinner. But nothing in Valerie White’s life was ever simple. By midnight the friends numbered over thirty, some of whom she didn’t recognize. And the party had moved to a private corner of the hottest and trendiest night spot in New York City.
Now Valerie lay in her oversized bed, watching her posh and over done bedroom slowly revolve about her.
“Did daddy buy me a carousel for my birthday?” she moaned.
“What’s the matter? You always said the world revolved around you.” Valerie’s kid sister Amy swallowed a sagacious smile. “Close your eyes, it’ll help.”
“When I close my eyes I see little pink spots,” Valerie reported uneasily.
“Here, drink this.” Sitting on the edge of the bed, Amy held a steaming cup to her sister’s lips. Valerie took a long sip.
She almost gagged.
“Eeew! What is that stuff?”
“English breakfast tea,” Amy replied, stifling another giggle at her sister’s distress.
Valerie half opened one eye, sniffed cautiously at the tea, wrinkled her pert, perfect, expensive nose, and pushed the cup away. “Yuck! How can they drink that stuff? No wonder the British are all prune faced and stuffy! Where’s my coffee?”
Amy rose, setting the cup on the night stand. She looked down at the prone figure of her big sister. “Some role model you turned out to be! No wonder mom and dad decided to have me.”
Valerie’s road mapped eyes yawned fully open and she glared at Amy. “Just get me my coffee… please!”
“Sorry, we’re all out. Daddy had the last this morning. And the city as well as the country and the rest of the world are dry as prohibition. Since the major coffee bean growers went out on strike in support of the independents nobody is getting their coffee fix, nobody. Daddy says it all has to do with health care or something, I don’t know. But coffee futures are through the roof. I’ve never seen daddy happier.”
“Great… the rich get richer… meanwhile, I’m riding a king size Sealy roller coaster and my tongue feels like it needs shaving.”
Reaching the door, Amy stopped, turned and smiled sweetly. “Try a cold shower. Happy birthday, sis,” she chirped with a devilish grin and was gone.
By noon Valerie was feeling almost human. She wandered into the large, ornate, over done White family study. “Mother, father,” she announced in a serious tone, “I’ve made a decision.”
Her sister, sprawled on the floor with an Archie comic book, rolled her sparkly hazel eyes. “I’ll alert the media.”
“That’s nice honey,” her mother answered without looking up from her knitting.
“Ah, there you are. Happy birthday, Princess,” her father called from behind his newspaper.
Valerie surveyed her family, shaking her pretty blonde head. She started to leave, but then changed her mind. “No, I’m serious. I’ve decided to quit drinking. Not just cut down or anything, but quit completely, cold turkey.” Holding up one hand, she dramatically cupped the other over her heart. “No more alcohol for Valerie White. I’ve learned my lesson, especially if I can’t get any more coffee.”
Amy dropped her comic book, “Maybe I should notify the media.”
“That’s nice, honey,” her mother calmly repeated.
Valerie’s blue eyes narrowed and she scrunched up her face. “Daddy, what do you think?”
“Whatever you like, Princess,” he replied, stealing a peak at his oldest daughter before returning to his Wall Street Journal.
“It’s ok with him,” Amy commented slyly. “He doesn’t deal in alcohol futures.” With that she grinned, sticking her tongue out at her sister.
“Well, it’s my decision, and from this moment on no more alcohol,” Valerie called out, ignoring Amy, and stomping one dainty foot in petulant determination.
“And what about Brad Harrington?” Amy asked, voicing her parent’s thoughts. “Don’t you have a date with him tonight?”
“Oh… well…” The question made Valerie pause to think. Boorish Brad was bad enough, but sober? She wasn’t sure if she could take the obstinate heir while sober. “No,” she said at last, stomping her foot again. “No, I’ve decided. Valerie White is on the wagon. Brad will understand.”

“I don’t understand…”
“What?”
“What…?”
“What did you say?”
“I said, ‘What?’”
“What?”
Valerie grabbed Brad Harrington by his Sean John collar, dragging him from the tightly packed dance floor.
“Hey, watch it. You made me spill my drink,” Brad protested over the bone numbing thump of the trendy club’s bass. “What’s with you tonight, anyway?”
“What’s with me?” Frustration twisted Valerie’s carefully made up face. “You hardly said a word to me all night. Then you drag me to this nauseating human freak show…”
“Are you kidding? This is the hottest new joint in the city! Even the Kardashians would have trouble getting passed the door. But here we are, babe!”
“So what…”
Brad grinned broadly, surveying the sea of undulating bodies. He signaled for a fresh drink. “Lighten up, will ya…”
“I just thought tonight could be different,” Valerie admitted with a tightening catch in her throat, “that we could maybe go some place quiet and talk.”
A waitress arrived with a pair of purple martinis. Brad snatched them from the tray with a wink to the attractive brunette. He made no attempt to conceal his obvious admiration for her shapely figure as it seductively weaved through the crowd. “What did you say, babe?”
Valerie looked hopelessly at her date. By now all she wanted to do was flee the officious club and its obnoxious clientele. “How come I never noticed that before?” she said softly.
“What’s that?”
“How you never look at me when we talk… hell… we never talk!”
“What do you mean? We talk, we’re talking now.”
“No! We’re not, Bradley… look at me… look at me!”
Their eyes met for what seemed like the first time. Valerie wasn’t sure if it was the flashing dance floor lights or the clarity of sobriety, but she didn’t recognize the man standing in front of her; the man everyone assumed she would marry.
“What?” shouted Brad angrily. “You know, you can be such a drag when you’re not drinking.”

Valerie White squirmed uncomfortably on the hard plastic seat. People, buildings and billboards flickered past like a movie out of sync, framed in the grimy window pane.
“My life,” she murmured, “that’s my life… blinking past… out of focus… distorted.”
“That’s not a good sign.”
The young man sitting across from her, studying her carefully seemed to appear out of nowhere. He wore faded jeans and an old corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows. A reassuring confidence graced his dimpled face.
They were the only two in the car. Valerie thought he looked like someone you’d find on the back cover of some stuffy best seller. “I’m… I’m sorry…”
His smile warmed the cool conditioned air. “A beautiful woman riding the subway alone at night, talking to herself… that’s never a good sign.”
“Oh, well… I was just thinking… thinking out loud I guess.” Her moist blue eyes gazed into the night. “About my life,” she continued with a sigh, “how it seems to be flickering past, right before me…”
And the seasons, they go ‘round and ‘round, painted ponies go up and down
The verse pulled Valerie from her reverie. “That’s pretty… are you a poet?”
“No, not a poet… a journalist, an out of work struggling journalist I’m afraid.”
Valerie felt herself blush. “And here I am… I’ve never had to struggle for anything in my life.”
“Don’t ever be ashamed of who you are, sweetheart,” the stranger mouthed through a clenched jaw.
For the first time that night, Valerie smiled. “I know this one… Humphrey Bogat, right?”
“Close enough… Hi, I’m Bill Brown.” He moved to the seat next to her, his hand sliding comfortably over hers like a fine Italian leather glove; his engaging smile widening till it tugged at the corners of his mocha eyes.
“Hello, Bill… I’m Valerie White.”
“And what is lovely Valerie White doing riding a New York subway train alone at night?” He was still holding her hand in his.
“Oh, well, I’m not going far… just downtown.”
“You must be taking the scenic route then.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m afraid this train goes to Flatbush.”
“Oh, it does? I mean…” Now her pink cheeks blazed crimson. “Flatbush… that’s in New York right?”
“Well, there are many who would dispute the fact, but yes, it is. I take it you don’t ride the subway very often.”
Glancing down at her Dolce and Gabbana silk dress, her Ugg heels and Fendi purse, Valerie couldn’t help but laugh. “What was your first clue, Sherlock?”
“Let’s just say I had a hunch,” and they both laughed.
“Tell me, Bill, what’s it like in Flatbush?”
“Oh, you’d hate it… the streets are narrow and worn; the houses are old and they all look alike; and the redolent air hangs heavy with the sautéed scent of a hundred nationalities.” His voice softened in deep reflection. “But the people, Valerie… the people are real, and honest, and hard working, and kind, and friendly, and just about the greatest bunch of nobodies you’d ever care to meet.”
The train rocked and shook and the star crossed couple found themselves pressed together in the darken car as the lights blinked and dimmed.
“It sounds like a wonderful place.”

Valerie White awoke feeling strange. She lay in her oversized bed trying to analyze the alien sensations coursing through her body. Her head didn’t throb to a dissonant drum; her eyes didn’t protest the daffodil dayspring, and her mouth didn’t feel like a litter box. No, she thought with a refreshing clarity, none of the usual symptoms. Instead, Valerie felt rested, alive, energized. She even found she actually had an appetite for breakfast. And she didn’t miss her coffee.
Valerie White was sober and happy…
… and in love.

August 5, 1:10 AM
Flatbush, New York
“I think you’re totally out of your league, that’s what I think.” Rob gave his roommate a pitiful look. “And I think you’re totally nuts.”
“Quiet, you made me lose count again.” Bill Brown scratched his head then scratched thru the figures he’d just written on the yellow legal pad. He stared at the meager stacks of fifty and hundred dollar bills lined up like an undisciplined band of mercenary soldiers. With a sigh he began to count again. On the bed next to the tired particle board desk from K-Mart, lay his passport; a well traveled, over stuffed army surplus back pack, and the worn leather case that housed his aging laptop.
“Some poor little rich girl you met on the subway gives you her cell phone number and right away you become Don Quixote, off on a noble quest.” Rob threw up his hands and laughed, “The things we do for love.”
Bill finished his counting and tucked the money into a Harley Davidson wallet chained to his belt. “That’s not it at all, Rob. You don’t understand. This is what I do.”
With no attempt to conceal his bemused expression, Rob replied. “Oh, yeah, I forgot… the renowned investigative reporter who’s going to change the world. Ok, Clark Kent, suppose you explain it to me.”
Bill peered at his friend from across the top of his spectacles. “It’s not because of her,” he began patiently, “well… not exactly… it’s something she said, something that clicked in my mind. As we were talking she mentioned health care. At first I just figured she had changed the subject.” His face adopted the dopey expression of a beagle in love. “She can be kinda hard to follow sometimes…”
“You mean scattered,” Rob mused.
“No, not scattered…”
“Flighty…”
“No, complex…”
“Hair brained…”
“Enigmatic…”
“Not the sharpest knife in the drawer…”
The reporter looked at his friend, the dopey expression giving way to acceptance. “Ok, scattered.”
“And because ‘lil Orphan Annie confuses health care concerns in this country with striking coffee growers, you’re off to South America. Meanwhile, every legitimate reporter is in London getting the real story.”
Bill ignored the dig. “No… no, it’s not because of her, but her name. I didn’t connect the two until today. She said her father told her the strike was over health care.”
“So, who’s her papa to have inside info the rest of the world isn’t privy to?”
“Her father is Wayne White.”
Rob let out a long low whistle. “Wow, Daddy Warbucks himself! If anyone should know…”
“Wayne White should know,” Bill said in agreement, finishing the thought.
“That’s some hunch you’re playing, my friend. I don’t know if I’d have the coconuts to empty my piggy bank on the word of some ditzy blonde…”
“Scattered,” Bill corrected.
“…scattered blonde,” Rob acquiesced. “You know, any one of Ms. White’s outfits is worth more than that entire bank roll you’ve got strapped to your hip.”
The realization gave Bill Brown a start and a chill. “Yeah, I know… I know it’s a gamble… but something tells me… besides, I’ve made the decision, and the reservations. It’s the red eye to Rio; puddle hopper to Cartagena; train to Vélez; then over the mountains and through the woods by Jeep I go, in search of coffee and a story.” He grinned up at his friend, slinging the olive drab back pack over one shoulder. “By the way, I borrowed your Nikon.”
“Hey! That’s my best camera!”

August 7, 3:06 PM
San Rosario, Colombia
Some sixty hours later, a weary, bleary eyed Bill Brown sat in a small square wooden house, eating flat bread and drinking his first cup of coffee in weeks.
“I can see why your beans are prized so highly,” he said with sincerity. “This is beyond a doubt the best coffee I have ever tasted.”
Juan Carlos scratched his stubbly chin and snorted indignantly.
“Juan Carlos, do not be so rude… where are your manners?” Victor Manuel turned to his guest. “Por favor, excusa, señor. Do not mind my friend. It was his granddaughter, little María Elaina, who was very sick.”
“I’m sorry, señor Carlos. I am glad that María is better.”
“You think this gringo is going to help us?” Juan Carlos snapped, ignoring Bill’s concern. “You are a bigger fool than I, Victor. He is just like the rest.”
“No!” Bill almost shouted, catching himself as the two men raised their eyebrows. “I’m sorry… no… no, I am here to help.”
“You must understand,” Victor said with a sigh, “we have been told that before. Men of the company have come to our village these past months, men like yourself, with fancy cameras and other gadgets.” He pointed to the open laptop and small digital recorder resting on the table between them. “They talk and talk and then they go away, and still we hear nothing.” He folded his sun browned arms across his broad chest. “The radio tells us of other growers in other places and of their demands. They want this thing and that thing… but there is never mention of our village or of a doctor. I do not understand… so much talk…”
“That is because the company has kept your village and its needs out of the papers. But I am not from the company,” Bill said softly. “And I have not come here to talk, señor Manuel. I have come here, to your village, not to talk but to listen.” He looked over at the old man. Juan Carlos’ dark eyes were the color of the coffee beans he grew and loved. “Señor Carlos, I will listen. Tell me your story. And I promise you, I will do everything I can to see to it the whole world hears your words; hears the truth.”
With a shrug Juan Carlos spoke. “It is not an easy life. But we are a hardy people. We love these mountains; they have been good to us. The coffee business I know nothing about, nor do I care.” A confident smile splintered the ancient face. “But the beans… the beans… this I know. It is not an easy thing, raising the beans here. But as you yourself have said, it is a good crop we have.” He relaxed, leaning his chair back on two legs. “The men of the fincas – where the beans are grown – are patient people… they must be… you cannot rush the beans. The trees must be hand planted, and then hand pruned; watered by hand and looked after. They require much attention, like a bebé.
“Harvest time is year round and the beans are handpicked, sorted by hand; washed and sun dried, and then allowed to ferment.” His expression grew serious as he placed a knurled fist firmly on the table. “It is only then, at the precise moment, that they are ready to be sent away. San Rosario coffee is the best in the world,” Juan Carlos proclaimed proudly.
“The work is hard, yes,” Victor Manuel continued. “But it is what we do… what our fathers and their father’s fathers did before us. And it is what we teach our little ones. We do not ask for machines and trucks and fancy factories. No, that is not our way. Our life is simple; it is a good life. All we ask is that our children do not have to suffer as poor little María Elaina. The company owes us that much.”

August 9, 11:58 PM
Washington DC
“So, are you going to run it?”
The managing editor of the Washington Post loosened his tie and top two shirt buttons. His sleeves were already rolled and perspiration marked his furrowed forehead. The east coast was in the middle of a devastating heat wave and the air conditioner struggled to meet demand.
“I’d be a fool not to. This is dynamite stuff. And the interview with the little granddaughter is Pulitzer material.”
“But he’s an unknown, a nobody…”
The editor looked up at his assistant. “We all were at one time.”
“What about our man down there, Riley?”
“Riley is a fool! And he’s damn lucky he still has a job. If I hadn’t needed him to confirm what is in this exposé he would have been gone. This story was right under his nose all along!” The editor mopped his brow, tossing the article on the desk.
“So, you are going to run it.”
“I’ve made the decision.” The Washington Post chief grinned. “Tomorrow morning unknown reporter B. Brown will find his story front page center with a by line. Before noon every paper, news agency, TV and radio station will have picked it up. And by dinner time he will be the most sought after journalist in the country, if not the world.”
“And we’ll have on hell of a scoop.”
The editor scanned the galley proofs with satisfaction. “Mister Bill Brown, your life is about to change.”

August 11, 9:15 AM
Joplin, Missouri
Steve Fields sat in his small office, drinking ice cold buttermilk. He re-read the article for the third time. The accompanying photos tugged at his heart, making him think of his own young granddaughter. Bill Brown’s exclusive exposé of the London based international conglomerate and their treatment of the coffee growers was headline news. The Washington Post story had been picked up by newspapers worldwide, including the Joplin Globe. Fields sipped his milk and smiled. Maybe… just maybe…
He made up his mind. The big, affable mid-westerner rose and strode into the outer office. “Mrs. Marshal, have every department head assemble in my office, please.”
“Yes, Mr. Fields.”
Fifteen minutes later, Steve Fields surveyed the stunned faces on half a dozen employees. “Any questions?”
Silence.
Finally a soft, timid voice spoke up. “Sir… are you… are you sure, sir?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“This is all very well and noble of you,” a more confident voice advanced. “But you’ve got to think of the customers. What will they say, and will they go along? And what about sales? Since the new chain supermarket opened up around the corner on Range Line Drive, we’re barely staying afloat. This store can’t take any more losses.”
Fields grinned. “That’s why I hired you, Tom. You are always the voice of reason. That and because you’re my son-in-law.” Nervous laughter circled the room. “I know the situation, of course… but I’m glad to see each of you is aware as well.” He leaned back in his chair. “This store is fighting for its very existence. Being an independent is never easy. My father and his father’s father faced even tougher times… wars… the depression. It’s during those hard times that people look to their friends, their neighbors, and the community. The independent has been the backbone of commerce in this country… it still is. But more importantly, the independent is looked upon as a community leader.” He tossed the copy of the Joplin Globe onto the broad, round meeting table. “You’ve all read the story. You all know what those people in South America are up against. I couldn’t in good conscience drink another cup of coffee now, even if I could get one. It’s David and Goliath all over again. But this time David needs all the help he can get.”
Steve Fields ran his fingers through his thinning, graying hair. He looked each of the men and women assembled before him in the eye, deciphering their expressions. “I don’t want any of you to get the wrong impression of my altruism. I am doing this as much for the store as for the coffee growers. It’s a gamble I’m sure. But one I’m willing to take. I’ve made the decision. We’ll all have to work hard and pull together and keep a positive attitude. A few well said prayers would be appreciated as well.”
By noon, every product sold by the London based conglomerate had been removed from the shelves of Field’s Family Market. Along with the missing coffee, tea; crackers; cranberries; cat food; canned meats, and a number of other products disappeared. Each item was replaced by a neatly printed handbill. It read:
Dear valued customer, as long as the parent company
of this product refuses to see to the needs of the small
village in Colombia on whose production of coffee beans
they rely, Fields Family Market will refuse to carry any
of their products. We apologize for any inconvenience
this may cause our customers. We thank you for your
support, and encourage others to join our boycott.
A copy of the handbill along with a letter explaining the store’s position was forwarded to London.
That night the market owner counted the spots on his bedroom ceiling instead of sleeping. He tried counting up his savings and investments in case of a forced early retirement, but discovered it too depressing. By five AM he abandoned any hope of sleep and reluctantly rolled out of bed.
When Steve Fields arrived to open his store he found the parking lot cluttered with mobile remote vans and satellite trucks. Several starched, shinning TV reporters, followed closely by huffing camera men, rushed over as Fields exited his old pick up. A microphone with the CNN logo was among the many thrust in his face. “Mister Fields, can you please comment on your decision to pull the London company’s product from your shelves?”
By the next day the media circus had abated somewhat. The new story du jour became the hundreds of chain stores and independents across the country that had joined in the boycott. The Joplin Globe ran a feature on Steve Fields, proclaiming the gutsy store owner a home town hero and a national inspiration. The impassioned speech he’d made to his staff just two days earlier was featured in a side bar. It was printed nearly word for word with some additional patriotic pumping. The David and Goliath remark was picked up by the New York Times and soon became a catch phrase with the media. Fields couldn’t decide if he should kiss or kill his over eager son-in-law.
But the gamble paid off. The small family owned business began to thrive again. Old customers showed their support and new patrons flocked to the small maverick store that had challenged the large international conglomerate.

August 30, 9:27 AM
London, England
Todd Worth settled into the thick winged back leather desk chair of his plush twelfth floor office overlooking the Thames. Outside, a cheery yellow sun cast it contented smile on the smoke tinted windows, reflecting Worth’s mood. On the expensive mahogany desk waited an iced can of Pepsi, while a single yellow light on the multiline telephone blinked impatiently. Worth ignored it, staring blankly at the framed photo of his new sports car.
The intercom pulled Todd Worth from his thoughts. “Excuse me, sir, Doctor Hawthorn is here.”
Worth mumbled to himself, a strand of sandy blonde hair falling across his smooth, tanned brow as he reached for the speaker box. “Thank you, Ms. Schafer. I’ll see him in a minute.”
Pressing the flashing yellow button, he lifted the receiver to his ear. “Hello… Todd Worth here… what’s that? No, no… I’m afraid Nigel Bannister is no longer with the company… yes, that’s right… took an early retirement, I’m in charge now… yes, quite… very good.”
He hung up the phone, his last words echoing sweetly in his mind: I’m in charge now…
Todd Worth was a good, albeit casual man; a company man. He learned the coffee business from his father. From plantation to export to refining to packaging to shipping to merchandising, Todd Worth knew his beans. He spent twelve long, sweltering years in South America as a company representative, dealing with plantation owners, cartels, drug lords, dictators and revolutions.
The next decade Worth spent dealing with hurricanes and sea sickness, riding the endless blue green waves of the Atlantic. He’d graduated to the position of senior supervisor of shipping. The fancy title translated into interminable hours at sea babysitting the company’s cargo of coffee beans.
Then for six years Todd Worth rode a desk. He was finally back in England, this time checking and rechecking the status of shipments to the company’s numerous distributors. The work was boring and repetitive. And, it seemed for a time he would ride this desk to retirement.
But Todd Worth always considered himself a lucky man.
The unexpected and troublesome work stoppage had mushroomed into an international incident. Coffee growers all over the world refused to pick or ship the valuable commodity. Chain stores and independents across the US and Canada canceled major orders, removing from their shelves all products produced by the coffee conglomerate. Consumers around the globe stood in support of the boycott for better conditions for the people of the tiny village of San Rosario. Common stock of the London based company plummeted, with no bottom in sight.
But Todd Worth’s luck held true.
Forty eight hours earlier Worth was in the right place at the right time when aging CEO Smyth pointed his finger and made his decision. Now Todd Worth was enjoying his first full day as vice president of export and international relations.
Worth rose, confidently fiddling with the Windsor knot of his hand painted silk tie from Soho. The door to his office opened and a man with graying temples, round spectacles and a limp entered. “How are you, Todd? My, it’s been a time hasn’t it?” The two men shook hands, sizing up one another like a pair of British bulldogs.
“Yes, quite, Quincy, quite some time. How are things at the hospital?”
They took up positions in matching arm chairs near the oversized window. “Oh, well, running along smoothly as ever, you know.” Dr. Quincy Hawthorn considered the opulent office. “I must say, you’ve done well by yourself, old chap.”
“Yes, yes, we’ve come a long way since Eaton, haven’t we?” Worth turned in his seat, his brown eyes narrowing. “I need your help Quincy old man, I’m up against it. Surely you’ve heard about this mess in South America. I can’t see how anyone could avoid it. That school of yours has recently graduated a fresh batch of interns. Perhaps you could fine me one willing to pull a year or two of service in Colombia. The company’s setting up a wonderful little clinic in a place called San Rosario. It will be well equipped and maintained; there’s a fine hospital nearby and the pay is decent. It should be a great experience as well as quite the adventure for the right chap.”
The doctor studied his flaccid faced friend carefully. He knew what medical facilities in remote places could be like. He knew that the nearby hospital was in Vélez, a grueling full day’s journey. And he was aware that this was as much a publicity ploy as a humanitarian effort. Still, Worth was right. The medical experience gleaned would be invaluable to a young doctor just starting his practice. He thought of his own years with the home service as a young doctor in India.
Dr. Hawthorn smiled, nodded and made his decision. “Ok, Todd, I’ll find you a doctor. I’ll start the process immediately. In fact, I think I just might have the perfect candidate.”
Rising, they strode to the door. “Thanks, Quincy. I knew you’d come through for me. Ring me up as soon as you have somebody.”
As the office door closed, Worth’s own words returned, playing over like a stuck record: I’m in charge now…
He grinned slyly. “I’m in charge now,” he said to no one, straightening his tie. “And I make the decisions. You got your health clinic thanks to a lot of bleeding heart liberals and that senile old duck running this company. But just step out of line again and you’ll have to deal with Todd Worth!”

September 6, 6:39 PM
Flagstaff, Arizona
“So, you’ve made up your mind?”
“Yes.”
“And that’s it? You’re back home less than a month and you are leaving again?”
“Dad, I…” Paul Chandler slid the half eaten meal from in front of him. Across the elegant dining room table his father eyed him curiously. “Dad, I know it hasn’t been easy for you since mom passed away.”
Dr. Thomas Chandler balled his linen napkin, tossing it onto the table. “I told you, Paul, your mother has nothing to do with it,” he replied, closing his eyes and his mind to the bitter memory. “Lord knows I’ve missed her these last two years. But I’m fine, son, just fine.”
Paul smiled across the room. He loved his father and would do anything for him. He understood his father’s pain. There wasn’t a day that went by he didn’t miss his mother. He remembered how proud she was the day he started college, following in his father’s footsteps. His mother had been his biggest fan and strongest supporter during the difficult first years of pre-med. It wasn’t fair. She never got to see her son graduate from medical school.
“Why do you think we sent you off to that school in England?” his father asked for about the tenth time since Paul broke the news. “We wanted the best for you; you are a part of this family, and a part of the family business, Paul. You and I are a team. Your Uncle Jack and cousin Jess are looking forward to you joining us at the clinic.”
“That’s your dream, dad,” Paul said patiently, “not mine. At least it isn’t right now. Perhaps in a couple of years, after…”
“After what?” his father interrupted. He caught himself. He didn’t mean to raise his voice. But this wasn’t the way it was suppose to be.
“Dad, those people in San Rosario need me.”
“Those people don’t even have any kind of a facility for you yet. If you are determined to go, what’s your hurry?” Chandler faltered, the words welling up in his chest. “I need you, son, here at the clinic, the way your mother and I always planned.” Rising from the table he began to pace. “I’m sorry, Paul, it’s just so hard to understand.”
Paul’s quiet blue eyes turned inward. “The Grand Canyon…”
“How’s that…?”
“The Grand Canyon,” Paul repeated softly. “Do you remember that trip we took to the Grand Canyon?”
The question caused the senior Chandler to stop and turn. “Why, you couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old.”
“I was six. And we never made it to the Canyon. Remember, dad?”
Dr. Chandler’s stern face softened. “Yes…”
“Traveling up route sixty four,” Paul continued, “we were flagged down by that Hopi Indian family. The woman was in heavy labor, a breach birth. You saved her life… and the baby. But not just that, you made the decision to go with them all the way to the hospital, over seventy miles away. You wouldn’t leave her until she was out of danger. For two days mom and I waited in that old motel room while you remained with your patient. By then our vacation was over and we had to return home. Later you took me aside and explained. You told me no one, regardless of who they may be, should have to suffer for lack of medical attention. I was never so proud of you. It was then and there I knew I wanted to be a doctor… just like my father.” He rose, moving to his father’s side. “Now I am a doctor, dad, just like you. And I’ve made my decision.”
Dr. Thomas Chandler smiled and nodded at his son but said nothing as he walked out of the room.

Young Paul Chandler looked up as his father entered the kitchen. “Good morning, dad. How are you? I haven’t seen much of you these last two days. Is everything ok?”
Dr. Chandler poured himself a glass of juice. “I’ve been very busy; had plenty to occupy my time… and my mind. Son, I…”
“Dad, don’t… please. Everything is set. I’m leaving in an hour.”
Setting his glass aside, Chandler grinned broadly at his son. “Yes, I know: US Air flight 90 to LA; American Airlines from LAX to Panama City; then Aeromexico to Bogata. The train and Jeep trip into the hills promises to be interesting. It should be quite an adventure. Hopefully, the medical supplies I’ve arranged for won’t be far behind us. We should arrive in San Rosario sometime Thursday.”
“We…?”
Chandler placed a loving hand to his son’s arm. “You are right, Paul. I’ve lost sight of why I became a doctor. Thanks for the kick in the pants.”
“But, what about the clinic here in Flagstaff?”
“Uncle Jack can handle it while we’re gone. He’s got Jessica and a great staff. Hell, the place practically runs itself. I doubt if I’ll even be missed. I’m sure your mother would approve. Besides, I told you, we’re a team.”
Father and son embraced warmly. “I love you, dad.”
“I love you, too, son.” Wiping a stray tear, Dr. Thomas Chandler ran his arm around his son’s shoulder. “C’mon, we’ve got patients waiting for us in San Rosario.”

September 15, 7:45 AM
Seattle, Washington
Rick McConnell was running late. Not having his morning coffee didn’t help his disposition. “What do you mean?”
“I’m sorry; I just didn’t have time yesterday. I’ll stop by Tully’s this afternoon.”
McConnell swallowed hard, struggling to contain his anger. “Damn it, Laura, I ask you to do just one thing, just one! You know how important this meeting is to me. If I can get on old man Baxter’s good side I’m a shoe in for a promotion.”
“And the best way to get on his good side is with that special coffee,” McConnell’s wife replied patiently. “I know, you’ve told me.”
Reaching for his briefcase, McConnell started across the kitchen. “Then you know how much he loves his coffee. Because of that nonsense with the growers, it’s been months since he’s been able to get any. That specialty coffee shop promised the first shipment would be on their shelves yesterday!” He nervously checked his wrist watch. “Let’s see, they should be open now…”
“No, Rick, surely you’re not thinking… that’s all the way up in Ballard, the only store that carries that blend. Your meeting is in forty five minutes. You’ll never make it in time.”
Rick McConnell’s kiss barely grazed his wife’s cheek as he barreled out the door. “I’ll make it…”

Thirty minutes later, McConnell’s Ford raced down 15th avenue. On the passenger seat rested a package of rare, expensive coffee beans: San Rosario Select Blend. Up ahead the Ballard Bridge began to lazily creek open, allowing a fishing trawler to glide silently beneath. Traffic on the busy thoroughfare slowed to a stop.
McConnell cursed aloud, pounding a fist to the dashboard. Ignoring the red flashing warning signals, he wheeled the silver Taurus onto a side street. A block further the speeding vehicle violently broadsided a minivan as it backed out of a driveway.
Five year old Mary Ellen, on her way to her first day of pre-school, was killed instantly.

7
2
0
Juice
30 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to SpaceyCasey.
Juice
Cancel
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.

6
3
3
Juice
42 reads
Donate coins to SpaceyCasey.
Juice
Cancel
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.

6
3
3
Juice
42 reads
Load 3 Comments
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to darinlamontagne.
Juice
Cancel
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."

2
1
0
Juice
15 reads
Donate coins to darinlamontagne.
Juice
Cancel
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."
2
1
0
Juice
15 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to JacksonYoung.
Juice
Cancel
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.

0
0
0
Juice
14 reads
Donate coins to JacksonYoung.
Juice
Cancel
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.
0
0
0
Juice
14 reads
Login to post comments.
Advertisement  (turn off)
Donate coins to patwcoffey5.
Juice
Cancel
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."

3
1
0
Juice
122 reads
Donate coins to patwcoffey5.
Juice
Cancel
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 
3
1
0
Juice
122 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to wardnerm.
Juice
Cancel
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?

0
0
0
Juice
44 reads
Donate coins to wardnerm.
Juice
Cancel
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?






0
0
0
Juice
44 reads
Login to post comments.
Donate coins to sandflea68.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 64 of Jade Murder Without Remorse
Written by sandflea68

Chapter Sixty-Three

This post requires a license to read. You can support the author by purchasing a Permanent Book License to unlock this post forever.
Unlock Book
200
0
0
0
Juice
17 reads
Donate coins to sandflea68.
Juice
Cancel
Chapter 64 of Jade Murder Without Remorse
Written by sandflea68
Chapter Sixty-Three
This post requires a license to read. You can support the author by purchasing a Permanent Book License to unlock this post forever.
Unlock Book
200
0
0
0
Juice
17 reads
Donate coins to wardnerm.
Juice
Cancel
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. 

2
0
0
Juice
50 reads
Donate coins to wardnerm.
Juice
Cancel
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. 
2
0
0
Juice
50 reads
Login to post comments.