1. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for Contest #170 Theme: "Twins"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Feb 9, 2015.

    Short Story Contest # 170
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "Twins" courtesy of @Lancie

    Submissions will be open for 2 more weeks.

    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ, Thanks

    If you wish to enter the contest post the story here directly in the thread. It will show up as an anonymous author.

    This contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will link to this thread from the voting thread. The winning entry will be stickied until the next competition winner. As always, the winner may also PM me to request the theme of the subsequent contest if he/she wishes.

    Entries do not have to follow the themes explicitly, but off-topic entries may not be entered into the voting.

    Word limit: 500-3000 words
    Deadline for entries: Sunday the 22nd of February, 2015 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time

    There is a 10% word-limit leniency at both ends of the scale. Please try to stick within the limit. Any piece outside of the suggested limit may not be entered into the voting.

    If we reach 20 entries, the maximum number of stories for any one contest, I will consider splitting the contest into two. Only one entry per contest per contestant is permitted.

    Try to make all your entries complete and have an ending rather than be an extract from a larger one and please try to stick to the topic. Any piece seemingly outside of the topic will be dealt with in a piece by piece basis to decide its legitimacy for the contest.

    A story entered into the contest may not be one that has been posted anywhere on the internet, not just anywhere on this site. A story may not be posted for review until the contest ends, but authors may seek critiques after voting closes for the contest. Members may also not repost a story anywhere, or bring attention to the contest in any way, until the voting has closed.

    Please remember to give your piece a title and give its word count in brackets [xxx words] at the top of your story.

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the voting ends, posting in the thread will re-open for comments.

    ***And thanks to even more long hours put in by our very special mod/member @Wreybies, winners are now awarded with olympic style medals displayed under their avatars.

    Thanks, and good luck!

    Be sure to preview your entry before you hit 'reply'.
    Check italics and bolding as sometimes the end code for bold or italics doesn't copy/paste affecting large stretches of text.
    If you need to fix the formatting, hit 'control a' to 'select all' and clear all bold and italics code. Then re-add it back in using the board's font controls before you hit 'post reply'. Watch those extra line spaces. Delete them directly from the post before hitting 'post reply'.
     
    Last edited: Feb 11, 2015
  2. BeckyJean
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    BeckyJean Member

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    Hey Ginger! I'm guessing this was accidentally posted wrong for the "Twins" short story contest...? "Deadline for entries: Sunday the 1st of February, 2015 1600 (4:00 pm) US Pacific time.

    Is the deadline three weeks from last Sunday?
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I try so hard and still can't manage not making a typo or some other mistake. Sigh...

    Yes, deadline is the 22nd. Thanks for pointing it out.
     
  4. BeckyJean
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    BeckyJean Member

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    I'm sure you're a busy lady. I just couldn't remember if the contests run every 2 or 3 weeks. Anyway - thanks!! Have a good Sunday!
     
  5. BeckyJean
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    BeckyJean Member

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    One More Try (2059)

    Often I do this; slip my head under water when I’m in the tub, pushing every bit of air from my lungs – right to the basement of the inferior-lobes. I'll watch the bubbles burst, breaking the water’s surface. Sometimes I’ll count. Not the bubbles; I’ll count how long I can hold my breath, like a kid at the neighborhood swimming pool. I made it once to ninety-two seconds, trying in vain to hit one-hundred. Too many late night Marlboros kept those eight seconds away.

    Other times I’ll float my hands, fingers splayed, and imagine being somewhere else; a place with soft, pliable walls - confined, liquid and cool. I’ll try to picture what it was like then – before memory was an actual thing. I’ll visualize the fleshy cord extending from my belly, perhaps grapevined and twisted around the second cord sharing this space with me. I’ll envision bumping against her arm or leg through the fluid; feeling peaceful and comforted, knowing she’s there.

    Sometimes I’ll imagine us snuggling; holding one another as I’ve seen unborn twins do in pictures online. I’ll close my eyes; try to will myself back to that place - back into our mother’s womb. I don’t know it – because no one can know such a thing – but I have a very strong feeling that was the last time I felt truly safe.

    And then, as always happens, my lungs will betray me, forcing me to surface, gasping and sputtering, flinging me back into a world that’s made it clear it has no use for me. This much I know; this much I’ve learned. Every moment I’m alive is rigid and heavy, burdened and weighted with loss.

    This feeling has led to several attempted escapes. The first was inside my Toyota late one night in my aunt’s garage; a clumsy attempt at carbon monoxide poisoning. Another time I plundered through loose, paper-wrapped tampons and old tubes of lipstick and Neosporin in my friend Lizzie’s medicine cabinet, looking for the small brown bottle she used for her own daily ‘escapes’. I even went to a gun range once, with plans of turning the pink handled Smith and Wesson 9mm into my chest and pulling the trigger. KAPOW! I could almost feel my sternum explode.

    These were all miserable failures, of course. My aunt was so furious and frightened by my actions, despite my apologies, she hasn’t allowed me into her home since; as if seeing me will curse her somehow.

    On that night she’d come outside to look for me after I’d pushed myself from the dinner table with an offhanded remark about needing some air. It’s ironic that she found me forty-five minutes later quite literally needing it. She found me gagging and coughing as I stumbled through the man-door of the garage. Inside, my Corolla was still running, a garden hose shoved into two places; my car's exhaust pipe and its cracked window.

    I’ll never forget how pale my aunt looked in the moonlight; her skin made paler by the shock and terror swimming in her saucer shaped eyes. I'm conscientious enough to feel terribly guilty about it.

    My attempt at OD’ing was a bust as well. My friend Lizzie never even knew I’d swiped her pain pills. She often lost track of how many were in the bottle, vacillating between swearing there were more and surprised there are so many… the hazards of being a prescription junky, I guess. But after gulping down the ten I’d stolen with the remnants of a Diet Mountain Dew, I ran out the back door and puked them into the ditch behind her house. Lizzie slept right through it, tucked under a pink faux-fur blanket on her futon, a TV talk show (The View, I think) as background noise.

    The gun range was particularly humiliating. I suppose my behavior was too peculiar for the attendant not to notice. He kept eyeballing me from the other side of the triple-thick glass. And at the very moment, the second I was about to turn the muzzle inward, I looked up to see him already walking toward me, his eyes intense, his stride deliberate.

    Feeling naked and mortified, I pretended to inspect something on the gun’s grip. But I knew he knew. I turned away, emptied my clip downrange at the paper target (completely missing it altogether) and got the hell out of there.

    The bathtub is a more recent thing. But even this is half hearted, at best. So far all I've done is hold my breath. Not terribly ambitious, I know. Some might say it’s because I’m attention seeking; not serious. But they would be wrong. I want out; gone, gone from this world. I just can’t seem to get it done.

    Drowning always seemed to be a dignified, perhaps even gentle way to die. The calmness of water, the silky feel of it against one’s skin, the sense of weightlessness, perhaps floating or drifting,… it must be peaceful, the best possible exit from this horrible place. But every time I think I’m ready to go - I fail.

    Beth, my twin of nearly twenty-seven years, got it right the first time. She was dependable that way.

    I often imagine what she did, how it happened, the sequence of events. I can’t really know it, because I wasn’t there. But in my mind I can see.

    First, her nimble hands form the hanging-man’s loop at one end of a newly purchased length of rope; something she’d learned to do from a YouTube video, because my twin adored YouTube videos. Then I picture her stringing up and securing that rope over a crossbeam in her basement. Next she squares the piano bench beneath it, climbs on top, and slips her head through the noose. Finally – she rocks and leans until the bench tips over, leaving her boot clad feet twitching and jerking in the air.

    Maybe that’s not how it happened – but it’s what I see.

    I found her two days later... in the basement, limp boots dangling, her piano bench on its side beneath her.

    I would have found her sooner had we not been in a fight. We’d never gone more than a day without speaking. But I was exhausted by her high-maintenance drama, tired of the overwhelming constancy of it. I spent those two days silently seething, refusing to be the first to say I’m sorry. I’ve always been the first to apologize. Our dysfunctional, codependent pattern needed to stop. And I was going to stop it.

    Except after two days of silence, I was sorry. And when she didn’t call, I was guilt-ridden over how I’d spoken to her, the things I’d said, the way I looked at her. But mostly for bringing up that thing… the thing I swore I’d never say.

    I said it, though – right into her tear streaked face. I screamed it, in fact. And seeing her physically recoil as if she’d been punched; it filled me with a sickening, perverse satisfaction. I knew I’d hit my mark, crushed her spirit, put a chink in that self-righteous armor of hers. I’d succeeded in devastating her. And I’d wanted to… oh, how I’d wanted to!

    Four months later and I don’t remember what was behind that want. It’s less than a faint memory. It’s more of a ricocheting echo of something that was never real. The need to destroy her, to ground her into dust, had come out of nowhere, like an erupting volcano boiling over with resentment. I still don’t understand it. But I couldn’t keep it in; it refused to be stayed.

    So I said what I said. And then suddenly she was dead; practically at my hands. Dead – gone from this world, gone from me.

    Her note made no sense to others, but it made sense to me. I never explained it, though – not even to the family members that questioned it. “I have no idea,” I told them. “It must be for Jason,” I said – referring to Beth’s ex-boyfriend. And they all nodded in agreement, grateful to have no connection to those words; grateful to not be responsible.

    Because I have to – because you were right” the note read, in Beth’s girly and adolescent bubble cursive.

    Because you were right, she’d said.

    But I wasn’t. God, Beth – I wasn’t right! I was more than wrong; I was lying! I screamed that lie into your face because I wanted to hurt you, damage you, make our mother’s death your fault. But please, please believe me; I wasn’t right. Her dying wasn’t yours or my fault. It wasn’t our father’s fault; it was her fault. She did it. She chose to leave us. It wasn’t you.

    Of course, there’s no one to hear this; nobody to tell. Those words are bricked and mortared into my chest, marinating my heart in a soup of sour hopelessness, looping and repeating themselves, tormenting me.

    Shivering and waterlogged, I wonder if perhaps this time is it; maybe this time I’ll get it right. Help me, Beth, I say aloud. Help me get it right. My voice sounds foreign and hollow in the tiny bathroom. “I have to… I need to,” I plead. A plead to end the agonizing existence of an identical-twin that is without her other half; a twin that has caused – that has driven – her beloved sister to take her own life. And all for a single, selfish moment that had no basis in truth.

    Suddenly I'm hit with a light bulb moment; an idea. Yes, yes – a genius, brilliant idea!

    I crawl out of the tub, trail puddles down the hall, and make my way to the laundry room. In the drawer next to the dryer I find what I’m looking for; the small plastic box that holds the single edged blades I use for scraping hardened, crusty debris off my granite counters.

    Like a kid discovering a forbidden, secret stash of goodies, I clutch the small box to my chest. Then - bare breasted, bare assed, and practically skipping – I head back to the bathroom, my skin a sea of goose bumps; both from chilled air and anticipation.

    I slink into the bathtub. The water is no longer warm, but it doesn’t matter. I won’t be here long enough to care. My fingers are wet and slippery, but I manage to retrieve a razor from the protective box.

    First I run the sharp edge against the back of my forearm. It leaves a thin, red line. Blood.

    I flip my hand over. I stare at my wrist. Like the squiggly lines of a roadmap, I see the faint blue of veins just below the surface. Holding my breath, I press the blade against my flesh; hard enough to hurt. But the motion needed – the slicing action necessary to open that flesh, to empty those veins… I can’t make myself do it.

    I try again. I stop again. Frustrated and furious, I give one more try – hurrying, rushing, trying to not think about what I’m doing. But something stops me.

    It’s me. I stop me.

    A whimper escapes; a hopeless, pitiful noise, humiliating me even more. I hear the metallic ping as the blade drops and strikes the subway tiles below.

    Beth, oh Beth,” I wail, “I’m sorry… I-I-I just can’t.” I sob the words over and over again. “I can’t…I can’t…”

    I’d failed. Again I’d failed.

    I sit in the cold water for a long time, weeping and trembling; until I’m a bundle of shriveled flesh. Finally I pull myself into a standing position. I reach for my towel as I step out of the tub. My foot skates wetly along the damp, ceramic floor. My arms flail, pinwheeling wildly, as I reach for the shower curtain. I grasp it at the last second, just before going over. But curtain-rings aren’t designed to support a one-hundred-twenty pound woman. No; they were made to hang a thin sheet of waterproof fabric.

    Snap, snap, snap I hear as the rings break off and fly across the room. The curtain splits, shearing down the center. “Beth…” I whisper, and begin to fall. For reasons unknown, even after my horrible sins, what I did to my twin; I’m spared the pain of my broken neck as it strikes the bathtub's edge.
     
  6. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    Reflections [508 words]

    I have a mirror that spans the whole of my bedroom wall.

    When I was little, people explained it to me. It’s just a reflection, they said. The light bounces off things, then the mirror, and when it returns to us it makes it seem as if there is a perfect copy of the world on the other side of the glass.

    There’s a girl in the mirror, too, looking back at me when I watch her. And whatever I do, she does at the same time. How does she know what I’m going to do? Once she stubbed her toe against a chair leg. Only when she cried out in pain I realized that the same thing had happened to me. How could she know, before I did?

    Nobody has been able to explain that much. Speed of light, they mumbled uncomfortably and changed the subject soon. They even bought me science books, but none of them has helped.

    I decided I had to see her make a mistake, at least once. Now and then I’d make a move suddenly to catch her off guard, but she was always on time. I’d watch her from the corner of my eye, seemingly turned away from the mirror, or with my eyes closed to the thinnest of cracks. She never failed. Never rested, unless I slept too. As if she always knew. She definitely had to read my mind, I decided.

    Why don’t they research these things more? They scan people’s brains and monitor their activity. They attach wires to their heads and even drill holes in their skulls to peek inside. They feed all the data to computers and run complicated programs to make sense of it, and still they know so little. No one seems to explore the possibilities of a psychic link between a person and their mirror twin.

    Sometimes I wonder whether I could talk to her, somehow. I know for sure that she thinks the same thoughts as I do, still occasionally tries the childish tricks to make me do something too soon or too late. Even now I believe it’s possible, but I’m not so sure that she—or I—can actually make it. To bend the rules that tie us. To break them and become two persons, not just two copies of the same story: one right-handed, the other left-handed, but otherwise the same. To work as a team, not a single mind, and maybe succeed where others have failed.

    Still alone, I study all the books on mind reading I can get. I need someone to discuss their errors with me. My sister in the mirror does, too. But even if we ever manage to break away, to become two people and partners, we lose the same link we want to study.

    There is no way out.

    That’s always the last thought that gets stuck in my head when my twin passes through the door on her side of the room and I stay here, patiently waiting for her to return.
     
  7. lustrousonion
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    lustrousonion Contributing Member

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    EVERYTHING IS EITHER OK OR NOT OK, AND IT ISN'T—BUT IT IS
    (2,602)


    Alex is smart. Good grades through school and always at the top of her class. A good pupil. A hard worker. Now in residency at a local hospital.

    Alex is lucky. Born in Korea and abandoned by her biological parents at birth, she was adopted by kind, loving people. They gave her everything. They gave her love and faith.

    She's pretty. Sleek, glittery hair that falls to her shoulder blades and smooth skin. She exercises at the gym and runs on the weekend, pumping her arms and listening to songs on her iPod. She works hard. She smiles big. Everyone likes her.

    Everything is either OK or it isn't, and Alex is OK.

    #

    Jupiter is a barista. She makes coffee drinks with quirky names, like black velvet and industrial sludge. The coffeehouse is on a trendy street with a string of Vietnamese, Mexican, and other not-American restaurants. Patrons appreciate the location, the mismatched tables and chairs, local art hanging on the walls, and the edgy staff

    When it's slow, Jupiter pulls at her eyebrows and stares desperately at the cakes in the display case.

    Jupiter is not OK.

    #

    “How ya doin'?” Tod asks.

    Alex is dead on her feet after a ten-hour shift. There's nothing she wants more than to go home and get some sleep. “Good.” She pours herself some coffee into a paper cup. “You?”

    The doctor shrugs his broad shoulders and takes a sip of his coffee. The cup looks miniscule in his hands, and Alex wonders how many of those little cups her burly supervisor consumes on any given day.

    “Oh, you know,” he says. “Can't complain.”

    She tugs out the tie at the back of her neck and shakes her hair free. “We both know that isn't true.” This earns her a companionable wink.

    #

    Jupiter is working the morning shift when Chris comes in.

    It's hot outside and Jupiter is wearing a large t-shirt and jeans cut off at the knee. On top of this she's got on a cardigan, because Jupiter is always cold.

    Chris is a regular. He comes in every weekday like clockwork, looking clean and neat. He's wearing a button-down shirt. On his feet are shiny Doc Martens.

    “Hey, Ju.”

    Jupiter pushes her lips forward to disguise a smile. “You know,” she says, “when you say that it sounds racist.”

    “You think? Well, I'm one-quarter Jewish. I'm allowed.”

    Jupiter fills the sugar dispensers so she has something to do with her hands. “If you're only a quarter Jewish, then you should only be allowed to say it a quarter of the time.”

    Chris leans against the counter. His hair is slicked up and back. Jupiter can smell his cologne. “That's good. You should be the lawyer. I guess I'll have to think of something to call you the other three-fourths of the time.”

    Jupiter ducks her head. “Industrial sludge?” she asks.

    “That,” Chris leans in closer, his elbows resting on the counter's graffitied surface, and says, “and dinner.”

    She sneaks a glance at him. “Industrial sludge, coming up.”

    As she tamps down the coffee grounds, her hands shake. Jupiter hasn't eaten in eighteen hours.

    #

    Alex drives home. The hospital and her house are in St. Paul, the quieter sibling of the Twin Cities.

    When it came time to choose a college, Alex briefly considered going somewhere else, but in the end she decided to stay. She never regretted it. The atmosphere is peaceful and friendly. Her neighbors are families raising their kids, walking their dogs. It suits her.

    Alex enters her house and immediately smells something delicious.

    “Hey,” she calls out.

    Jeremy appears from the kitchen. His face is red and a kitchen towel is tied around his waist. “Hi, honey.” He gives her a kiss on the mouth. “I missed you.”

    “You, too.”

    Alex puts her hands on his hot cheeks and looks into his eyes. A little too long, because Jeremy's features begin to transform, going from soft and open to hard and critical.

    “You made dinner?” she asks, trying to quell the argument she feels looming. “You're an angel.”

    It works, and Jeremy's face relaxes. “Chicken and risotto. So I'd better go stir.”

    Alex caresses his face and pastes on a smile. “Stir. Get me when it's ready. I'll be the lump on the couch.”

    #

    “Morning, Cleopatra.”

    Jupiter quirks an eyebrow.

    “What?” Chris asks. “Got to think of something new, remember?”

    Jupiter shrugs, unsure of what to say. “Usual?” She reaches to ring up the order, but something stops her. Chris. He's holding her wrist. Lightly, but definitely there.

    Eyes as wide as saucers, she stares at him. He can't be touching her. People don't touch her; she makes sure of it. But Chris is touching her.

    She feels like everyone in the room must be watching them, but a quick look shows the opposite. People are drinking their coffees and typing on their computers, as if everything was perfectly ordinary.

    “I'm going to try something,” he says. “You don't have to say anything, just nod when I tell you, OK? If you don't nod, I won't bother you again. So, I'm going to make my case. You know I like you. I ask you out, and you always say no. Or, really, you say nothing at all. Still, that probably means I should leave you alone. But when you look at me...”

    Jupiter's entire body flushes. He's noticed. She's so embarrassed she wants to crawl into a hole in the ground.

    “So,” he continues, “I think you like me too. If there's something you don't like, something you're unsure of, maybe we could talk about it over dinner. Figure it out together.”

    He lets go of her wrist and straightens up. Jupiter realizes only then that he was leaning towards her.

    “That's it. Oh, and please don't sue me for harassment.” He swallows once and says, “Will you have dinner with me?”

    Jupiter stares.

    “Now is the time to nod.”

    #

    “You don't care! You don't care!” Jeremy's hand are in his hair, pulling so hard Alex worries he will tear his scalp.

    “Of course I care.” She's propped up in bed, knees up, head in her hands. “I'm just tired.”

    It's late. Alex can only make out Jeremy's silhouette in darkness of their bedroom.

    “Tired! You're always tired. All you think about is work. With your friends and colleagues and patients. It must be nice to have someone to talk to all day.”

    “What are you talking about?” She knows Jeremy can't help it, that this isn't his fault, but Alex feels annoyed anyway. Attacked. “And if you want colleagues, then--”

    “Oh, sure, get a job. Get a job.”

    Alex's head is pounding. “You could get a job. You're a wonderful chef. If you would take your meds--”

    It is the wrong this to say. Jeremy rises to his knees and pounds both fists against the wall.

    It's an episode, Alex reminds herself, and episodes pass.

    “That medicine wasn't working! It made me crazier!”


    “I've told you how it works. Everyone is different.”

    “FUCK YOU!”

    Alex instinctively makes herself into a ball. He wouldn't hurt her, she knows that, but sometimes he's so out of control.

    “You don't care what happens to me. You don't care what I'm thinking. What I'm going through. You'd be better off without me.”

    Alex doesn't think that is true. She wants to believe it isn't true.

    As Jeremy rocks and rants, Alex closes her eyes and prays.

    #

    The bar is crowded. Uptown, Minneapolis, the dirtier, louder twin, is known for being trendy and young. See a concert. Eat a vegan hot dog. Go bowling. A few blocks away you might hear the occasional gunshot, but in here twenty-somethings in plaid listen to the Violent Femmes.

    Jupiter drinks a greyhound, a mixture of vodka and grapefruit juice. She read somewhere that vodka has less calories than wine or beer. Chris is on the other side of the table. He's drinking dark beer out of a pint glass.

    They got Thai for dinner. It was hard for Jupiter to concentrate on the conversation, even though Chris had tried his best. It took so much effort for her to eat forkful after forkful of food as though it wasn't the most difficult thing in the world. Then when they were done she had to go and make herself throw it all up.

    The bar is easier.

    “Hey,” Chris reaches across the table suddenly and, for the first time that night, touches her. Immediately, Jupiter's heart begins to pound. “I like your eyebrows,” he says. “Let's keep them.”

    “Oh,” Jupiter says. She lowers her hand from her face. “I didn't realize I was doing it.”

    Chris smiles.

    She swirls her glass on the scarred wood of the table, and the glass leaves a wet trail of condensation. “You keep saying that.”

    “What?” he asks.

    “That you like me.”

    He reaches his hand out across the table, palm up. With some hesitation, Jupiter takes it. His hand is hot, like fire.

    “Because I do.”

    It's so hard not to look at him. A losing battle. And he looks better than ever. He's dressed down in jeans and V-neck shirt, and he's got a bar through his septum that isn't normally there. Probably he has to take it out for work, but it looks good.

    “You don't know anything about me.”

    “I like your voice.”

    “It's deep,” Jupiter replies.

    “I know. That's what I like about it. I like your humor,” Jupiter rolls her eyes and Chris laughs, “and the way you make pictures in the coffee foam with so much care.”

    “It's not anything. I looked all those coffee tricks up on the internet.”

    “And here I'd thought you were a foam Picasso.” He tugs on her hand. “You don't know much about me. Why do you like me?”

    Jupiter tries to pull her hand away, but his grip doesn't allow it. “I bet everyone likes you,” she says quietly.

    Slowly, as if not to alarm her, Chris raises their joined hands. She feels his breath on her fingers, then his lips, and he says, “But I don't like them.”

    #

    “Mom?”

    “Hi, sweetie-pie. How's your day going?”

    Alex is sitting on a bench outside the hospital. Her ID badge is clipped to her shirt and her hands are chapped.

    “I had a rough night.”

    There is a pause on the other end of the phone, and in that space of time Alex wonders what she's hoping to hear. She doesn't know if there is anything that would make her feel better today.

    “Jeremy?” her mother asks.

    “Mm-hm.” She doesn't say more. If she does, she'll cry.

    “Oh, sweetheart. What can I do for you?”

    Alex doesn't speak. She can't. She shakes her head and considers what she can say.

    “We like Jeremy, you know that. But...”

    “What?” Alex croaks.

    “He's a good man when he's well, but, sweetie, he's not well. Maybe you don't see it, but he's getting worse.”

    “I see it.”

    “The truth is sweetie, sometimes Daddy and I wonder if...if you aren't staying with Jeremy because you think it's what you deserve.”

    Alex stands up for no reason at all. “What does that mean?”

    “It's just something we've noticed. Something you've always done. Always the same kinds of friends and boyfriends. Always taking on other people's problems and making them your own.”

    She thinks about that, about the difference between knowing and realizing. She knows Jeremy is getting worse. She knows something has to change, but she doesn't realize.

    She makes plans to visit her parents on the weekend, hangs up, and goes back to work.

    #

    Jupiter watches Chris. He's outside the window talking to someone. A girl. A woman. A beautiful, thin woman.

    Since their date, nearly thirty-three hours ago, Jupiter hasn't eaten. She can still taste the Thai food in the back of her throat.

    Chris is laughing. He touches the woman's shoulder.

    Jupiter clenches her fists and looks down towards the counter. Next thing she knows, he's in front of her.

    “Hello, you.”

    Jupiter shivers at the sound of his voice. She remembers their kisses. She wanted him so much in the hallway outside her apartment. She wishes now she'd let him in, let him touch her.

    “Hi,” she mumbles, and Chris quirks an eyebrow at the cold greeting.

    “You all right?”

    Jupiter wraps her arms around herself and stares at the floor. “Fine. Sludge?”

    “Yeah...” Chris leans against the counter. “Hey, tell me what's up. You're acting weird.”

    “Nothing is up.” She turns to start his coffee.

    The voice inside her head is berating her, telling her how stupid she is.

    “I had a great time the other night,” Chris says behind her.

    She puts the plastic lid on his coffee, hands it to him. “You did?”

    “Couldn't you tell?”

    Jupiter shrugs. “Who were you talking to? Outside.”

    “Ohh...” he says. “Just a colleague. No one special.”

    The words are intended to soothe her, and she raises her eyes finally to meet his. He looks pleased. A little smug.

    “Are you laughing at me?”

    “Only a little.”

    Jupiter smiles. She's starting to feel happy again. “You're weird,” she says.

    “Yes,” Chris confirms. “I thought we had that in common.”

    Jupiter lowers her head and laughs.

    “Gotta run. Can I call you tonight?”

    “Of course,” she replies.

    Chris leaves and the happiness stays. There's a rush in the afternoon, but Jupiter doesn't mind. She hums as she works.

    At around two o'clock the room begins to spin and Jupiter collapses.

    #

    Alex has never been so afraid.

    “Just stay there, OK? Put down the knife.”

    “No.” Jeremy points it at her. It's a long kitchen knife. Blood is everywhere, on the floor, the walls, and running down his arms. “No, I have to keep it.”

    “I need to call an ambulance.” Alex has her hands in the air. She starts to lower her right hand to her bag.

    “No! Don't do that.”

    Everything in the house is ruined. He's slashed the furniture, broken the dishes.

    “Why don't you love me, Alex? What's wrong with me?”

    Alex lowers her hand a little more. “I do love you, but you need help now.”

    “There's no help. You can't help me.”

    She realizes in the moment that he's right. The knowledge moves through her like wave. That's when she runs.

    #

    A few days later, the girl wakes up. Alex goes on her rounds and visits her.

    She's very small, but she's put on a bit of weight since she entered the hospital. Her arms are covered in colorful tattoos of birds and trees. Her bangs are cut high on her forehead, in imitation of Betty Page. She has a prominent, sharp nose and blue eyes.

    Those eyes are looking at Alex.

    “Hello, Janice. How are you feeling?”

    “Cold.” She has a harsh voice, like broken glass.

    Alex sits down next to the bed. “I'll have the nurses get you an extra blanket.”

    She doesn't reply.

    “Those are nice flowers,” Alex tries. “From someone special?”

    A small nod.

    Alex considers telling her how difficult it will be to keep that special someone in her life, that recovery is the worst time to be in a relationship. But that's not really her place. The therapist can tell her things like that. The same things they have been telling Alex.

    She says something else. She says, “It's bad now, and it might be bad for a while longer. But it will get better. You'll be OK.”
     
  8. Boger
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    Boger Contributing Member

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    Hardly Bearded Innocence [906 words]

    He nearly sunk into a sleep, but his surrounding kept his dreamworld from creeping in. He looked around the equally not sunken yet classroom and realized it was Thursday, the only day of the week Miss Judy worked. The other days mister Bashir was in class. He was strand, and sometimes didn't realize how funny he was to the whole class. "Why are you laughing? There, there, enough!" were maybe the best phrases to remember him by.

    "Miss!" he held his finger high in the air.

    Her spine listened to the frequency of his little man voice, curved itself, guided buy a shiver from down her lower back, frozen into an arch, physiologically approximating a graph, would it be displayed on an oscillator of joy. He was her favorite, and she procrastinated looking up from her just as pretentiously concentrated class's assignment of the day.

    They both had goosebumps. He was already nervous, but now just deeply insecure from her radiance that aimed to translate his wants into satisfaction. Trying to avoid the necessary awkward eye contact, he made it clear he needed to go to the toilet. She gave in to his big panicky eyes, waved, and his little legs gamboled down the aisle and out of the stuffy classroom. Drowned with cheers and laughter from a classroom down the hall, his dribbling feet guided him along other doors that muted teaching voices, here heavy and bellowing, there faint and titillating.

    He pulled his trick once a week with every teacher: twice. He had to be smart, in first grade were smart teachers. He did not actively feel remorse for prematurely deserting the rest of the class, but they did not appreciate it, even though he had to do it, in order not to be the last out of class. They also knew he was slow. He did not understand why he already looked forward to tomorrow while he paced through the hallway, that waited in anticipation of this school day's wrap-up. He was going to finish his drawing of his group buddy that sat opposite of him, but was already proud of his effort, and the rest of the day. Tired, he hung his buried jacket on the rack in front of other's and started to tie his shoelaces.

    "You're still doing it wrong. You're supposed to know how it works by now."

    Aghast, Damian looked up. Think of the devil. His group buddy stood there.

    "You sneaked out, but it's nearly time. I'm going back now, before teacher gets mad", he said, as he kept fidgeting bunny-ears.

    "Wait here, you wiseacre silly head." Mohammed couldn't let him go just yet, he had to teach the unlearned Damian. "This is faster." And he taught him the 'grown-up' way. Ties a zealous knot. It was never explained to him properly and still didn't understand. "She's not going to get mad, trust me", his buddy said, who felt like the teacher would understand it if you'd teach things and be a bit of a teacher yourself.

    "I don't know. I'm going back fast now." He trusted his own gut. Besides, how could anyone ever just say things are going to be some way they say it is?

    -​

    At home he asked his mother what wiseacre meant. His mother didn't understand where his friend learned that word. He wasn't wiseacre, usually he taught Mo things, for example this week when his best friend said "You're reading wrong. You have to read like me; the other way around." He had to explain that because he was opposing him his left became his right and his right was his left to him, if you'd mirror your world. But sitting next to him, he miraculously entered this mirror world where everything was written the other way around. They had a laugh trying to actually read backwards.

    "But mommy, what does it mean if you say something before it happens, and then it happens?"

    "Like a prediction? That's a prophet, honey. Whoever has that ability is a prophet."

    "Prophet." In a way, Mo's prediction did come true. Teacher wasn't mad. She was even a bit happy, or something. "School was fun. But I can't tie my own shoes. Mo had to explain it, but I still don't understand."

    Back home, his mother taught him once and for all.

    Next school day he finished his drawing. It was a portrait of Mohammed, and so he wrote his full first name. Also, because he thought highly of last day's prophecy, he wrote "The Prophet" there too.

    A beautiful fingerprint swiped crayon depiction of 'the prophet' Mohammed. He held it up, radiant, in anticipation of Mo's uplifting appraisal. It was the assignment to make a portrait. He did well, but he was kind of late lodging it.

    But, instead his face turned gray, saying "That's not me!"

    Well, who is it? A twin? Damian wondered disappointed.

    They never spoke again. That day was the last school day for the rest of the week, and the next week's sudden suspension. Apparently because there was going to be an investigation to reports of remains of asbestos in the building, but that was just an excuse... The school was regarded as a different kind of soiled by some, and was closed out of precaution for a different kind of threat that could have been aimed against the school.

    Mo's seat was empty when school opened again. And his picture was gone too. But for some reason, Miss Judy took mister Bashir's place, who had also mysteriously left.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2015
  9. Wynter
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    Wynter Active Member

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    Fate's Decree (567 words)

    They don’t know how they were chosen, or why, all they know is that they were. They were just two men, boys when they found out that one was destined to save the world, the other to destroy it. And so they set along their own paths, found their own way in life despite knowing that eventually they would meet, eventually they would do battle and eventually one of them would die, whilst the other would live and see his vision for the world become reality.

    Neither of them had ever considered running, fleeing to some far off shore away from everything they knew just for the purpose of their own survival. It wasn’t built in them. They had no sense of self-preservation. All they knew, all they could do was run around in circles chasing the other. And for all the running they did, they missed each other, time and time again until now, until today.

    Chosen by fate, no blood to bind them other than the blood they shed in their quest and yet through that, they were linked more than any others could hope to be.

    XxX​

    He wakes up in field, the early morning light rousing him as he glances around, finding it empty.

    There’s nothing left for him to do, no-one left to take care of, no-one left to take care of him. In a world where he’s always felt alone, now he actually is, and this scares him in a way.

    Now there’s no one left to fight for, no hope to cling too. He’s alone, and throughout it all there was always someone beside him, someone to fight with, someone to die for and he’s never known how to fight just for himself. Or so he thinks.

    He slowly lifts himself off the ground and begins to walk. As he does so, the memories of those he’s left behind whirl through his head and he smiles. The realization that they died so he could live gives him what he’s spent the past night searching for. The will to face what comes next, and the desire to live through it.

    XxX​

    He’s never been anything but alone. The knowledge of what fate had planned for him had led to him driving everyone away, had led to his determination to live alone so that he could truly find a will to live for himself. It had broken him in more ways than one, but in others it had strengthened him.

    Forged from the fires of hell the only things he had left were those that made him stronger, every weakness had been burnt away long ago.

    He sits in the restaurant by himself. Last breakfast. He morbidly thinks as he savours every last bite.

    Eventually he finds himself at the counter, a few coins tossed the waitress’s way and he makes his way out, telling her to keep the change. He probably won’t need it anymore.

    Every step feels like a mile as he walks, but he knows he’ll get there eventually.

    It’s what fate has decreed after all.

    XxX​

    On a hill in the middle of the countryside two men meet for the first time. Yet both feel as if they have known the other for eternity.

    On a hill in the middle of the countryside, one man will win, and another will die.

    And the world will never be the same.
     
  10. edamame
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    edamame Contributing Member Contributor

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    Brandon [602 words]

    When I came out of my mother’s womb, my stillborn brother followed, still gripping onto my right ankle. The umbilical cord had wrapped around his neck, choking him to death. My mother told me when the nurse gave me to her, she wasn’t sure what to feel: Happiness, despair, relief? She was on her own then; it was years before she met my stepfather, and it was easier to raise one child than two.

    When I was four or five, I used pieces of myself and started fashioning what Brandon would have been like had he lived. I hated cauliflower, but he ate them off my plate when mom wasn’t looking. I suffered from asthma. During recess, I stayed in the corner of the playground with a book, pretending to read but spying on all the other kids playing tag. Brandon sat with me, the collar of his shirt pulled down so I could see the welt around his neck. He breathed laboriously and I made fun of him, glad that I wasn’t as poorly off.

    It’s easy, for the living to one up the dead.

    But in junior high, Brandon disappeared. That was when I met Linda.

    “Honey, thinking about outer space again?”

    Linda reached down to kiss me on the forehead, one hand in my curly hair, the other against her swollen stomach. I smiled crookedly. Swiveling away from the sci-fi manuscript I was editing, I leaned my ear against her tight skin. I patted gingerly at my son or daughter; we’d asked the obstetrician to keep us in the dark as much as possible, and only cared about our baby’s health.

    “No.” I nuzzled my beard against her. “I was thinking if we had enough baby clothes and various other little people paraphernalia.”

    Linda laughed, but her tone wobbled and her fingers in my hair tightened uncomfortably. I raised my head.

    “What’s wrong?”

    “John…my water broke three minutes ago.”

    “Why didn’t you tell me? Oh god!” I flew into a panic, grabbed the car keys off the kitchen table, raced back to usher my wife out with a thick winter coat, and drove as fast as I dared through the heavy snows of rural Wisconsin. Linda’s face furrowed in concentration; her breathing grew deeper, measured, as I pulled into the local hospital’s emergency room.

    I paced in the waiting area, inhaling Marbolo after Marbolo, until an hour later, a doctor pulled me into the maternity ward.

    “I’m afraid I have some good news and some bad news, Mr. Stephenson,” he began.

    “Is my wife okay?” I interrupted.

    “Yes, she’s—”

    “Let me see her.” I shouldered him out of the doorway.

    In a clean room, Linda sat half upright on her bed, sobbing and cradling a small bundle in her arms.

    “Baby.” I sat by her bedside, wiped the tears that ran hotly down her cheeks. The infant in her arms was ashen, immobile.

    “Mr. Stephenson,” the doctor said, and placed another swaddle in my hands.

    Linda turned away. “Go away!” She yelled and clutched our dead baby closer to herself.

    I rose carefully. Balancing felt like a monumental task and I staggered a few feet toward the other corner of the room where I could lean against the wall with the new burden in my hands. The doctor followed me.

    “He’s healthy,” he said. “And fine. I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Stephenson, but you have one beautiful son.” He smiled.

    The baby in my arms gurgled happily, waving his fists. I cried and touched the birthmark on his neck, a red rope-burn welt, and said his name.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2015
  11. BookLover
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    BookLover Contributing Member

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    Coffin Forest [2536]

    “Where did you find a two-headed dog?” asks the bearded man next to me as we both peer through the tower bars at the dogs wagging their doubled tails twenty feet below us.

    I grip the bars with all the fingers that I have left. “That's a long story. And it's not a dog. They're dogs. Two dogs. Conjoined twins means they're supposed to be identical twins, but the egg never split all the way. There are still two of them. Two brains. Two dogs.” Absinthe barks at me, and I make kissy noises back at him. More tail-wagging ensues.

    “I've been in this prison a quarter of my life.” The disheveled, bearded man backs against the cobbled wall and frowns. “And will be here until I die, so I guess I have time for a long story.”

    “Well, the short version is that I got my two headed dogs here, in Boondania." I pause and retie the bloodied bandanna around what's left of my hand before continuing. "There are fifteen inhabited planets, and I swear I've been to prison on every single one of them. I don't mean to. It's not like I'm trying to break any universal records. I just always end up on the wrong side of the law, and every damn planet seems to have a different set of laws! You know what I originally got thrown in here for? Pissing on sacred ground. That pile of rubble didn't look sacred to me! They should have a sign or something... Luckily my escape skills are unmatched and I've been able to break out of every prison I've been in, including this one.”

    The man looks up and smiles at me, a glimmer in his eyes. "You got out?"

    I smile back and nod, then stare off at the wall to better remember my story. “So the last time I escaped from this horrible, nasty place, I went east because I knew the ocean was a short distance east, and once I was on the ocean I'd be outside of Boondanian jurisdiction.

    “I'm running east, Boondanians on my trail, and I hit this gloomy, foggy forest, and I think, 'Great! It's dark and shadowy. The Boondanians will have a hard time finding me here.' And I was right, the Boondanians never even tried to follow me in because they knew something I didn't. That forest was deadly. It's official name is The Coffin. Who needs barbed wire fences when nature has provided it's own death trap on one entire side of your prison?

    “So right off some cat starts stalking me. A varc panther, or whatever they're called, the kind that have two sets of claws and a shitload of teeth. Luckily, I've been hunted enough to know when I'm being hunted, so I do everything I can to stay out of it's reach. I know I can't outrun it, but I try to outsmart it. This goes on all day. I throw every trick I know at this cat, and I'm tired, and I'm just done! Done! Luckily, I haven't heard the panther for a while. I think I've lost him when I happen upon this cave. I rush in and it looks good, I mean I can't see shit, the sun is setting, but I'm feeling up the rock walls and things feel good. It's solid, solid, solid, but then I stick my hand into a crack and find there's a whole back room to it.

    “That's when I hear the growling, and I see these glistening blue eyes. I slowly back away as this animal approaches, making this low gravelly, growly noise. A wolf. A big ass wolf, nearly twice my size. And then out of nowhere the damn panther attacks me from behind! I'd never lost him. He stalked me right into that cave. Probably thought he had me cornered, but he hadn't counted on seeing a wolf either. So the wolf becomes real agitated, seeing a second intruder in her cave, and she attacks the panther that's attacking me. Somehow, hell if I know how, I roll out of the mess and the two go at each other. I press my bloodied, torn up back against a wall and watch the whole thing in the dim light. It's a fight for the death. I mean, literally, they both die. So I'm like, 'Alright, two dead corpses, I'm not sleeping here.' But it's dark, I'm injured, and the forest seems to be screaming with predators, so I feel my way to that little back nook in the cave. I slip through the crack and see four sets of tiny eyes staring up at me. Pups. That mamma wolf was protecting her babies.

    “I always kind of liked dogs so I snuggle in with the pups. It wasn't the best sleep I've ever had, and the little fat pup kept licking my wounds, but it was do-able. When you're tired, you'll sleep anywhere. Morning came, and I knew I had to keep moving, keep heading east, but those babies weren't up to snuff yet. They'd probably die on their own, get eaten by panthers or some shit, so I do the stupid thing and take them with me.

    “The sun's not shining into the cave. I can't really see what I'm doing, but I know there are four of them because I made out four sets of eyes the night before. I make a sling out of my folded shirt and start stuffing the pups into it. I pick up the big fat one. Put the little one on top of him and a third body on top of that. One, two, three, and I can't find the last one. I bend over, I feel all around the cave corners, make kissy noises, and nothing. I've got two rotting corpses at the front of the cave that are sure to attract predators. I have to move. I think I'm abandoning the last pup and I feel pretty shitty about it, but I have to move. I tumble out the cave, trip over some hills, and finally trample my way to a stream to unwrap the pups and drink some water, and then, in the light of day, I see it. I had four pups the whole time, it's just two of them shared a body. Two heads, three front legs, two back legs, and two tails. I figure whatever. It's a forest in Boondania; nothing surprises me anymore. Sure it's weird, but you should see some of the other shit in that forest. The bugs have toes and the flowers have teeth.

    “I went the next four weeks trying to protect those puppies and myself from predators. It was hell. The big fat one was always getting himself in trouble and growling at everything that moved. Not to mention every time I got a scrape or cut, he was there licking it like it was dinner. The little, white female was bit by a snake. I had to suck the poison out and carry her feverish little body around for three days. She was such a sickly thing. And the twins constantly fought with each other. It's like they couldn't agree on anything, including how to walk. One pulling left, the other pulling right. They were all four too loud. They attracted every predator within miles. After a short time with them, I really wanted a drink which is why I named them all after my favorite drinks. See the one on the right?” I motion through the bars. “That's Whiskey. The one on the left is Absinthe. Those two and their fat brother and little sister followed me all the way to the coast. We never met up with another human, but, Christ, did we run into all manner of creature.

    “We were about a day's walk from the coast when I knew we were being hunted again. This time by wolves. We hit the sand by nightfall, and I climbed a tree. I don't know what my thinking was at that point except that dogs can't climb trees. The wolf pack starts to show, one by one slinking out of the shadows and into the moonlight, making their way toward the tree. My four pups they're at the base of the tree looking up at me and looking back at the dogs. I intentionally left them down there. I thought they should be with their own kind. I figured they were still young enough that the pack would let them in. The little white one was the first to leave the tree trunk. She always was the curious type. Then my big, fat puppy leaves. But Absinthe and Whiskey are still at the trunk. They're not budging. The wolves hang around most of the night howling and growling at me. That's what hell must sound like, an angry wolf pack right below you.

    “They're nice to the pups though. They even nudge the twins with their snouts to get them to come along with them, but my boys don't move. They just sit there looking up at me with their big, sad, puppy eyes. Finally the wolf pack leaves at daybreak, and I climb down. A couple days later I get lucky and catch the eye of a pirate ship and me and my twin boys are gone, never to go back to The Coffin, or so we think.” I pause and scratch at the itchy parts of my wound, the bandanna unraveling itself once again.

    My celly shuffles his feet a bit before eagerly asking, “So... How'd you end up back here?”

    “Well, I've got a drinking problem, and I get really stupid brilliant ideas when I'm drunk. So three years after escaping this prison, I happen to be back around these waters with my dogs because they go everywhere with me. They've got that dumb pack loyalty. And I'm drunk, and I say, 'Hey, boys, your brother and sister live in that forest right over there. You want to go there and have a family reunion! Let's do that!' The next thing I know, I wake up on solid ground in what looks like the middle of the forest with an empty bottle in one hand and a self written note scribbled on my belly. I do that sometimes, write myself notes when I get to the point of blackout drunkenness.” My good hand pushes up what's left of my shirt to show off the lovely, upside down manuscript to my cellmate. It reads:

    Dear Sober Me,

    In case you don't remember, you're back in this deadly forest for the family reunion. But don't worry, you came prepared this time. There's a knife in your boot, and it doubles as a flashlight so everything will be fine.

    Love Always,
    Drunk Me

    I pull down my shirt and continue, “So sober me pulls out the knife in my boot and the blade is only about two inches long and I don't know why the hell I thought it turned into a flashlight because it didn't. I really don't understand my drunk self. So after cursing myself to hell for a few minutes, me and the boys head east again. Luckily drunk me hadn't made it too far into the forest, and it's only about a half a day's travel to the coast. But hungover me had awoken so late in the day that it's dark by the time we get there, and those damn nocturnal wolves find us again. A slender, white one comes out first, spitting and baring teeth. Whiskey and Absinthe are in front of me growling right back at her. You don't see white wolves very often. I doubtfully whisper, 'Vodka?' And she stops, looks at me, and whimpers. My twins get confused for a moment and stop growling and then she jumps right over them and onto me! But not in a 'I'm gonna kill you' kind of way. She was all play and kisses.

    “I couldn't believe it was her, but the rest of the pack they're coming out of the forest now and making all those low gravelly, growly noises, so the boys start growling again, and this time Vodka stands in front of them and starts making yapping noises at her own pack! I'm looking for a tree, but it's a bit late for that. Suddenly the alpha comes forward and he looks like a brick wall. He's the biggest dog I've ever seen, and I'm sure we're all dead. He ignores Vodka's protests and practically walks over her, but my dogs, they're ready for a fight. They're growling and jutting out their chest, and a fight they get. The big one and my two just start tearing each other apart. Fur's flying. Blood's flying. Me and Vodka are both on the sidelines sort of crying together.

    "I'm trying to bargain with the flying spaghetti monster, telling him I'll never drink again if you just let my dogs live through this, but it's no use. My dog's are losing. I'm hearing bones crack. I'm hearing my pups' cries, and I can't take it anymore. I grab my little tiny baby knife, and rush into the fight. I thought if I got a good aim I could hit a main artery or something, but instead that brick of a dog bit my knife and two of my fingers right off my hand! I'm screaming in pain as he's chewing on my fingers, and he stops. Stops everything, and looks at me. Then he licks my hand.

    "I say, 'Rum? Rum is that you?' And he makes this little puppy noise which sounds downright comical coming out of a mammoth like him. I guess the taste of my blood brought back childhood memories. So we had our family reunion after all. I did my best to fix up my boys and what was left of my hand, and then the five of us cuddled the rest of the night. Rum kept his pack at bay. I can see how he managed to become the alpha as big as he is. It sure didn't take long; it was only three years ago he'd been that chubby puppy.

    "Anyway, a day later I get picked up by the Boondanians. They still won't set foot in the forest, but they're patrolling the coast these days. Now here I am once again, up the metaphorical tree with my two loyal dogs waiting at the base. Vodka and Rum won't come. They're all wild and shit now, back with their pack. But the twins... they're my pack. They're my pack forever. We'll probably never see their brother and sister again because I hate that forest. But to answer your question, that's where I got my two headed dogs, the stupid Boondanian Coffin Forest.”

    The bearded prisoner looks down the tower at my boys and then back at me. “I like your dogs, and your story, although it seemed a little hyperbolic... Anyway, a bit off topic, but... you're an escape artist you say?”

    I grin. “Yeah, but when we hit the ground, be sure to go west.”
     
  12. Roman L Glass
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    Roman L Glass New Member

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    The Exchange of Twins [1260]

    Elam longed for a return to his birthright and identity. With a passion that cut at him like a mighty blade, he wanted to be human again. He had given it up to Jalam, the one who called himself his twin. For before Elam made the deal with his foul twin, he was on a slow road to death. In order to defy his undoing, Elam had given all he was or could have been for the sake of living forever. It came with a terrible price.

    The doom of which Jalam had set upon Elam was the lowest of all hell. He had become a monstrous beast trapped within a baron waste. He was in a land of shadows, with no light or sun to warm his face. He was in a place absent of life itself, save for his own. Worse than these, Elam was alone. His only company was the thousands of human corpses that lay mingled within mounds of ash.

    Though there were countless monsters like him. Many of the beasts had completely lost the last of their humanity. They had not one wit about them, as they prowled the night lands in search for the next poor soul to devour. The poor souls who dare make their travel through that awful place. Sometimes the monsters would attack the poor humans just for the sake of it and not for the life energy they carried.

    This was not so with Elam. He would not attack or consume any man. He clung to the last of his humanity like a beggar would a crust of bread. A hollow vessel it was. He just didn’t know for how long he could hang on. Every moment that passed, the remains of his humanity faded. It was no longer the strong voice beckoning him to truth. It wasn’t even an echoing whisper. It was a mere dream; a fantasy.

    Yet, even being among death itself did not quench his fear of his own annihilation. Though Elam clung tightly to his humanity, He clung ever more to his life. For this reason, Elam stood over a near decomposed human corpse with both anticipation and horror. He needed to consume human flesh in order to live.

    Though thousands of corpses lay in the night lands, few of them carried the energy of life. And Elam had at once found a corpse that still had life in it. He watched as his scales withered slowly into ash and his limbs and body began to numb. He was losing his life and his salvation lay lifeless before him. He could not resist no longer, he wanted to live.

    Elam opened his mouth as his long and narrow tongue slid forth. His tongue tingled with satisfaction when it sensed the energy that emitted from the corpse. He had not taste the flesh of man before, but it was as though he had. Worse, he had a longing for it. He hated it. He was not the monster, but yet he was. He had to act a monster in order to live. He had become like his twin. And so, Elam ignored his old righteous mind that he may live forever. He widened his already open mouth revealing many sharp teeth.

    “The day you eat human flesh, you shall be bound by death for eternity,” Announced a voice with the sound of a thousand trumpets.

    Elam withdrew in fear; both because of the sound of the voice and what it had said. Elam looked towards the direction of the voice and found a dark fog that hovered before him. The fog was in truth darker than dark. It was as if he stood before an eternal void.

    “Who speaks?” Elam asked in a deep hiss as he averted his eyes from the darkness before him.

    “The lord of all realms,” The voice replied.

    “You said I will be bound by death if I eat this flesh. Am I not already bound? I must depend upon the dead in order to live,” said Elam.

    “And who told you this?” The lord of realms asked.

    “Jalam, my twin, the one who lured me into giving up my soul,” Elam replied with a grievous rage rising within him.

    “In truth you have no twin,” The voice replied.

    “Of course I have a twin…” Elam began to describe him, but found that he could not. He frantically searched his deteriorating mind to find his twins face. When he thought of Jalam all he saw was a shadow; a shadow that was a pale reflection of himself. He would not believe it to be true.

    “You and Jalam are one,” the voice said.

    The very thought sent a numbing chill down Elam’s spine. He was nothing like Jalam. “I am no monster,” Elam defended. “I am not like the monsters here. I have not attacked any man that has come through this place. I have yet to eat human flesh.” Elam revealed his scales that crumbled into ash. “See, here is the proof.”

    “Yet, you remain a monster in the night lands. You cling to the life of a monster. If I had not spoken, you would have consumed that corpse.”

    “If I don’t eat, I will die. I don’t want to die. Please free me from this place!” Elam bellowed in agony.

    “You have become your twin, Elam. You are Jalam. A mere shadow; An animated corpse of your true self. A shadow cannot attain the birthright of man. A shadow is a parasite that depends upon the light and the living. I cannot free you if you cling to your shadow.”

    “But you said I am both Jalam and Elam.”

    “Yes, and you gave up Elam in order to become Jalam.”

    “How then do I become Elam again?” Elam asked as he looked once more at the deep darkness. Though what hovered before was darkness, Elam could fill it staring at him. Not merely at him but through him.

    “You must die,” The darkness replied.

    Elam quaked. His scales shivered making a terrible noise. “I don’t want to die. As Elam I was already on that awful road. Is there no escape from death?”

    “Death is the price you must pay in order to partake in the joy of Elam. Light gives all for the sake and unity of all. Darkness takes all for the sake of sustaining itself only to die in the end. If you want to live you must die and become nothing. So, Will you live to die or will you die that you may live? Are you Jalam or are you Elam? It is your choice, make it wisely.” The dark fog disappeared into nothing.

    Elam looked at the corpse before him and then at the darkness around him. He hungered for beauty, joy and love. The dark waste around him could not bring him such. Life was not life in the absence of true being. Elam turned away from the corpse and curled up on the ground, where he slowly died and disappeared into ash.

    After this, Elam awoke from the nightmare of Jalam and to the bright yellow rays of the warm sun above him. He stood on a beach before a vast blue ocean. Having descended the lowest hell, he died and became nothing. Being emptied he was filled and made anew. He stood between the bound and unbound, the receiver and the giver. Having made the exchange of Twins, Elam had become a living man.
     

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