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    Past Contest Submissions CLOSED for Short Story Contest (154) - Theme: "The Wizard of Calladan"

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by GingerCoffee, Apr 29, 2014.

    Short Story Contest 154
    Submissions & Details Thread
    Theme: "The Wizard of Calladan" courtesy of @Thomas Kitchen

    Submissions will be open for 2 weeks.


    IMPORTANT: PLEASE READ!

    If you wish to enter the contest please send your story via 'A Conversation' (aka a PM) to me to enter the story via this thread. Don't post the story here directly or it will not be counted as entered into the contest. This is to ensure anonymity, and to make this contest fairer for all - having each story judged based on their merits.

    This contest is open to all writingforums.org members, newbies and the established alike. At the deadline I will collate all entries and put them forward for voting in a separate 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.

    Theme is courtesy of our last contest winner. Any interpretation is valid. 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 11th of May, 2014 1800 (6:00 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 25 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.

    I believe with the new board software, italics and bolding are preserved when I copy/paste, but justification is not. If I have to do too much by hand to restore the entry to its entered formatting, I reserve the right to ask the author to adjust the formatting.

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

    If there are any questions, please send me a PM (Conversation). After the entries close, posting in the thread is 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!

    **New information: If you wish to edit your story after you've submitted it, send the newer version to me in your 'conversation'. I will replace it one time with the edited version if submitted before voting has begun.**

    THE FOLLOWING SUBMISSIONS ARE NOT MINE, MERELY ENTERED BY ME ON BEHALF OF THE AUTHORS.
     
    Last edited: May 5, 2014
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    The Power of Love [492 words]


    Rain tumbled down, cutting off any view Harry may have had from his window. Through gaps in the rain, Harry could just make out bulky figures slashing one another, bodies falling here, there and everywhere. Screams tore through the night sky, some in pain and others in victory. The savage war was coming to an end, fewer men on their feet.

    Harry was distracted by his mother, beckoning him from the gruesome war that no fourteen year old should ever witness.

    “Harry, get over here!”

    Harry scurried over to his mother, worrying that any noise may attract the vicious invaders, struggling to keep his balance as his mother pulled him toward the stairs that led to the basement.

    “Mother, why are we suddenly rushing?”

    Harry’s mother bent down and looked him in the eyes, fear engulfing her once beautiful eyes.

    “I’m afraid Calladan is losing the battle, we must hide.”

    Harry looked at his mother, terror flooding his every thought in an instant. He was about to ask how such a tragedy could happen when a smash made way for the sound of warriors rushing through the small house.

    Harry’s mother pulled him toward the stairs once again, chanting silent prayers.

    As they made it into the basement, Harry’s mother turned to lock the basement door, when a terror filled scream filled the house. As his mother fell toward him, Harry knew that she was terribly injured even before he saw the spear towering out of her heart.

    “MOTHER!” he called, silencing every sound around him.

    Blood seeped from his mother’s chest, draining her from the life she lived with every drop.

    “Har...ry… I lov...e… yo…” as her eyes rolled back into her head, tears poured from Harry’s eyes, covering his Mother’s face.

    He was pulled from his grief by the sounds of footsteps, the warriors that killed the only thing he held close continued their raid on Calladan.

    Harry pulled himself up, all his grief and rage coming at once.

    “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE” he screamed, tears streamed from his face, dropping onto his shaking hands. He looked at his hands, noticing for the first time what was really happening.

    the tears were red, and his uncontrollable powers unleashed themselves from within him.

    Harry shot his head toward the warriors, only several meters in front of him.

    Everything he had, all his powers that he had never been able to master, finally came under his control. He threw his hands out before himself, pulling all of his power toward his hands, creating a powerful orb of energy.

    Every warrior stopped running, staring at this magic that stirred just feet away.

    The warrior that ended his mothers life stood in front of him, an indescribable fear spreading over his face.

    “W-w-w-what.. are you!?!?”

    Harry pulled every last ounce of magic toward the ball of energy, and said the last words the warriors ever heard.

    “I, am the Wizard of Calladan”.
     
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    Lights [1808 words, warning - language]


    There was more rum than Coke in his drink. Lucky break. The bartender was either very generous or very distracted. But it didn’t matter either way. He drank. In the morning there would be nothing left but the taste of the rum, the taste that would cling to his tongue and rot overnight, the taste that would take ten minutes to brush out of his teeth. But right now he welcomed it. It made his face flush and his eyes swim and the music fade into just a thumping bass. The world vibrated around him.

    She stood under a light fixture on the other side of the room. In a new dress. A purple dress. The ice in his drink rattled against the glass as he picked it up. She always hated purple. He stirred the liquid with his straw. And the necklace was new, too. An amethyst. If it’d been his gift she’d have chucked it back in his face. He wondered who the new guy was and braced himself for the taste of the rum. Her girlfriends laughed at something she said. Probably some exaggerated college story. She was full of those.

    The chair beside him moved. An old man in a suit sat down and drummed his fingers on the countertop. A moment passed.

    “They need a goddamned bell.”

    He sipped his drink and looked back at her. Since when did she like martinis? Not any time he could remember. Just the smell of gin made her sick. He narrowed his eyes. Was she even the same person? Maybe he was too drunk to notice. But no, she had that birthmark on her left shoulder. It was her. She was just impersonating somebody else at the moment.

    A grunt came from the seat next to him.

    “What the hell do you think you’re drinking, anyway?”

    “Rum, mostly,” he replied. Her girlfriends giggled. She sipped her drink, then kept on pattering. “Though I get a little hint of Coke every few sips.”

    “Man up.”

    The bartender approached the man in the suit, an expectant look on his face.

    “Macallan,” said the man. “Neat.” A second’s pause. “Make it two.”

    The bartender nodded and walked off, returning a moment later with the scotch.

    The man sipped it and grunted again. “What’s your name, boy?”

    “They call me Yosemite Stan.” He narrowed his eyes—a guy walked up to her and they exchanged a few words. Then he walked away. He sipped his rum and ignored the scotch.

    “Trying to be funny?” he replied. “Your real name. What is it?”

    He turned and caught the man’s eye. It was bloodshot. “Just regular Stan, then,” he said. “And you?”

    The man scoffed. “The Wizard of Calladan.”

    Stan raised an eyebrow. “You trying to be funny?”

    “Norman Biggs,” he said. “A name you probably never heard before.”

    He turned back. She wasn’t there anymore. Probably left with that guy. But she had never been easy like that, not since he’d known her. Two of her girlfriends were still there. Maybe she just went to the bathroom. Maybe she wasn’t looking for a hookup. Maybe she wasn’t trying to stick it to him good. Or maybe she was just doing an excellent job of it.

    “Nope, never heard it,” he said. “But it sounds pedestrian enough. I’ve known a Biggs and a few Normans. No wizards of cardigans, though.”

    “Calladan.”

    He shrugged. “Whatever that is.”

    “It’s a town,” he said. “Doesn’t matter. You don’t know me.”

    “Of course I do,” Stan replied. “You’re that old guy who sat next to me at the bar that one time. Bought me an expensive scotch even though I hate the shit.”

    She was back. As if she had appeared out of thin air. No evidence of where she went anywhere on her. Now she was drinking something blue with an umbrella in it. Still just the girlfriends. That guy was just a coincidence, then.

    The Wizard shook his head. “You kids don’t have a clue. We’re in fucking Vegas for Christ’s sake. My name’s in big, flashing letters.”

    He hit the bottom of the glass and his eyes swam some more. Now her dress and her drink were the same color—not quite blue and not quite purple. He reached for the Macallan and sipped. Maybe with enough of the magic potion he could make her disappear again. He barely even noticed the burn.

    “You a magician, then, is that it? It’s your stage name?”

    He grunted his assent.

    “Do some magic, then.”

    The Wizard glanced sideways at him. “If you insist. Watch me make this scotch disappear.” He leaned back and drained the glass before motioning to the bartender. “And now my lovely assistant will get me another.”

    “So what’s your problem, then?” Stan asked. “Your name’s in lights. What are you doing moping in a bar?”

    “Magic’s gone and disappeared,” said the Wizard. “Poof. Vanished. No one gives a shit. I’m a hack.”

    “So bring it back.”

    The bartender brought another glass. The Wizard took a long sip.

    “Not that easy.”

    The group had shifted. Now her back was to him. One hand held her drink, the other moved a mile a minute in her habit of talking like an Italian. The girlfriends smiled and laughed. She was the center of attention, as always.

    He knew the brunette to the left. Met her once or twice. A college roommate, probably. A nosy gossip, too. She was the one who spread the rumors. Bitch. And for what? Just to prove relationships fail? She’d grow up to be a bitter old shrew with seven cats. Or she’d get laid real good one night and change her mind on everything. Or not. Whatever.

    “Sure it’s easy,” he said. “You do it all the time. Make something disappear, then bring it back. It’s all part of the shtick.”

    “I’m not the one who made it disappear,” said the Wizard. “You did.”

    “Me?”

    He waved his hand. “All of you. You all made magic a dead art form.”

    “It’s not dead,” said Stan. The brunette’s eyes wandered and nearly caught his own. He looked away. “I still see David Blaine on TV all the time.”

    “Nah,” he said. He sipped his scotch. “You kids don’t get it. The things you love haven’t been taken from you yet. Just give it time.”

    Stan scoffed. Easy for him to say. What did he know? Maybe he was a wizard, but he sure couldn’t read minds. Or body language.

    “Look, you can wax nostalgic about the good old days, or you can go do something about it,” he said. He finished that disgusting scotch and pushed the glass away. “You can’t expect the audience to stay the same for decades. People want different things now. It’s up to you to go out there and get what you want.”

    The Wizard grunted his grunt. “Naïve little kid.”

    “Whatever.”

    He tried to get the bartender’s attention but his rival was a gaggle of Vegas streetwalkers. The brunette was wandering again. This time she found him. They stared at each other a moment. Maybe she didn’t recognize him. Maybe she was too drunk to notice, too. Then the scowl. Then the glare. He rolled his eyes. She turned away.

    “Hard to trust a kid who doesn’t follow his own advice, anyway.”

    He glanced back at the Wizard. “What do you mean?”

    He nodded his head in her direction. “Who’s the broad you’ve been eyeing up?”

    “An ex.”

    The Wizard sipped his scotch. “You want her back?”

    He let some time slip by while he pondered it. As long as that bitch roommate wasn’t part of the deal. Everything was going fine before that debacle. And it would’ve kept on going fine, probably. She was talking to some other guy now. A guy in a suit. Young guy. Probably from New York, on Wall Street, making six figures right out of college. As if the world didn’t have enough of those. The brunette stood by her, trying to get her attention. Shit was about to hit the fan.

    “I think so.”

    The Wizard scoffed again. “What kind of wishy-washy answer is that?”

    He sighed. “Yes, I do. Happy?”

    “So go get her.” He emptied his glass. “She ain’t going anywhere. Yet.”

    “What do you care, anyway?”

    The Wizard went back to drumming his fingers. “You get her, maybe I’ll think about going and getting magic. Magic’s a much more promiscuous bitch, I’ll have you know.”

    The world continued to vibrate. The bass thumped in his chest, clashing with the rhythm of his heartbeat. It was time to make up his mind. The Wizard was right. He could get her back. He stumbled off his barstool and tried to stand straight. The Wizard chuckled beside him.

    Things could go back to the way they were. Maybe. They could grow. They’d both be stronger for it. Whatever happened in the past could stay there. Any and all transgressions, real or made up. None of them mattered. It was time to quit sitting and sulking and moping and get up on that stage, under the glittering Vegas lights, and pull off some fantastic sleight of hand. Everyone was watching.

    The brunette was watching, too. She succeeded in getting her attention, flashing a not-so-subtle sneer at him in the process. The Wall Street guy looked oblivious.

    Stan ignored her and kept his eye on the real target. The bitch wasn’t about to get in his way again. He stepped around the bar, slowly, building up the audience’s suspense. She leaned in while the brunette whispered something in her ear. She pointed. Their eyes met. His heart stopped.

    For the briefest moment her eyes shot to the Wall Street guy beside her. She tugged on his sleeve. Time hung around them, captivated, on the edge of its seat, as if waiting for the big reveal, the prestige, the release.

    In that moment he knew. There was no chance. None. She believed her roommate. Completely. Not a doubt in her mind. And there would be nothing he could say to sway her. The show was over, the audience had left. He was playing to an empty orchestra. He stood frozen in place, eyes hard, locked, swimming. Maybe not just from the alcohol, either. The Wall Street guy took her hand, and together they turned and walked away.

    His heart pounded. He sought the gaze of the Wizard of Calladan, but the old man was busy chatting up one of the Vegas streetwalkers. Turning back, his eyes met only those of the brunette. She sneered again. A sneer of victory. The battle was lost, the war over. She was gone, as if by magic. Vanished into thin air. And there were no magic words he could utter to bring her back.
     
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    Just the One [818 words]

    Calladan. From a distance it looked like a castle on an island in a lake. Close to, it revealed itself to be a collection of randomly shaped and positioned buildings, each with a variety of features arranged as if by a blind man. There was a variety of bridges that connected the buildings and open walkways, windows and balconies festooned every facade.

    Chez and Anya stood on the hillside, looking back at the monstrosity that was their beautiful home. Well, they thought it was beautiful anyway, in a monstrous sort of way, if that was possible. Which it obviously was because there it was if front of them, bold as brass.

    Chez had never seen brass before and wondered what it was like. "It's a bit like gold", Anya had told him, "only more yellow".

    They were on their way to see the wizard. "It's such a tiny place", Anya exclaimed as they approached the cottage, high up on the slope.

    "It has a brilliant view though" declared Chez, looking back, defending the wizards choice of abode. "When we get there", he added, "What are we going to say? I mean, when he opens the door, are we just going to say 'are you the wizard?' or what?"

    "Why, what's the problem?"

    "Well, I have heard he's really a sorcerer rather than a wizard and we don't want to insult him by calling him the wrong thing, do we?"

    "What's the difference?"

    "I don't know. That's the whole point. I just don't want to make a mistake."

    "You worry too much. Anyway, were here now. I'll just ask for the wizard or sorcerer, that'll be all right won't it?"

    Anya was about to knock at the door when it opened. "Hello. You must be Anya and Chez. Oh, you didn't knock did you? Sorry I keep getting that wrong. Anyway, come on in and you can introduce yourselves."

    "But you already know who we are."

    "Yes I suppose I do don't I. Well they don't call me the wizard of Calladan for nothing you know. Not that I do much wizarding these days it's sorcery they want from me all the time now. The wizards; always after something new and can't be bothered to learn if for themselves."

    "I was wondering," said Chez, "what's the difference between a wizard and a sorcerer?"

    "It's simple really. A wizard just uses spells, to do things that the laws of physics don't normally permit, in a virtual way of course. Spells are the exceptions to the rules you see. You can always have exceptions if you have the right permissions. And a sorcerer creates the spells in the first place. He writes the code. That's what sorcerer means really, it's just short for source-coder.

    Chez and Anya looked at each other doubtfully. They had no idea what he was talking about.

    "Can you show us some magic, some real magic?" enquired Chez

    "Magic, certainly. The real part, not so much. But before that, you two come here for a reason didn't you? You want somewhere nice to get married and they sent you here."

    "Yes, how did you know?"

    "Well, they don't call me the wizard of Calladan..."

    "For nothing." said Anya. "Yes, we get it but I think we're wasting our time, this place is nice but we're looking for something a little grander for a wedding. No offence."

    "This place?" said the sorcerer giving his surroundings a cursory glance. "This is only the entrance. This is where you hang your coats. You didn't bring any coats did you? Probably just as well. I'll have to get around to putting up some hooks for coats. You'll be wanting the cathedral. It's just through here." He gestured towards a set of double doors and made his way towards them.

    Anya stared at Chez. "Cathedral?" she mouthed in disbelief.

    Resplendent in white marble and monumental in stature, columns and arches rose from a perfectly polished floor. Light flooded in through stained glass and every feature and surface was exquisitely decorated in bold forms, intricate details and everything in-between.

    They gazed in wonder. It truly was the most beautiful building they'd ever seen. Chez wondered where the light was coming from, since they were obviously inside the mountain but he chose not to ask.

    "It's new", declared the sorcerer. "No one's ever used it before. I made it especially for the wedding ceremony of the future king and queen."

    Anya was thrilled to have such an incredible place made available to her. "I'm sure lots of people will be getting married here" she said, trying to temper her excitement before it overwhelmed her. "Are you expecting many weddings?"

    "Oh no, not many at all", said the sorcerer confidently. "I know exactly how many weddings there'll be."

    Chez and Anya looked at him expectantly.

    "Just the one."
     
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    A True Fool (From the Tales of Bilbus the Fabulous) [699 words]


    Our tale begins many years ago, in the great Dracithian Ocean. It was near twilight and the pirate ship of Calladan was battling against the waves. Any other ship wouldn't have dared sail the seas on that stormy night, but this was one daring group of pirates and they had a secret weapon. It was five feet tall, and held an orange toad in his hand; Filius, the ship's wizard. He was a powerful wizard, well known across the seven seas, and very greedy (as any wizard who would join a pirate ship) and his magic helped the ship battle the waves and travel across the seas.

    The crew had a simple goal, to reach an island called Heaven Harbor, for they had been told this island holds the biggest treasure a pirate ever laid hands on. For many hours they sailed, guided by a magical compass the wizard held. That compass would allow any person to reach his destination, as long as he asked for it, so when they reached the island they weren't surprised, but they were surprised to find a terrible creature guarding the island; a giant dragon.

    The dragon was a greedy dragon, as greedy as the pirates and Filius, and he was not about to give away the treasure he liked so much. He would have wanted very badly to burn the ship, but he was also afraid. Even dragons had heard of Filius and his skill in the magic arts, and all were scared of him. So instead of attacking the rude pirates he greeted them, and praised their ability to reach his island. He offered them not to fight, but to take one item of worth and leave. The pirates were very happy with the deal, as there hasn't been a person born who would have wanted to fight a dragon, but Filius was not. As we said, he was very greedy.

    And so, one by one the pirates entered the island and took out a treasure. Items made of gold silver and jewels, ancient and priceless books and other riches. The dragon got angrier and angrier as each pirate took some more of his treasure, but he had a plan; he was cunning, and knew the weak link in the group. When Filius entered he became amazed at the amounts of riches on the island. Every time he took an item, he found a better one. So he threatened the dragon, if the dragon doesn't let him take the entire hoard he would kill the dragon. The dragon bowed and made him a new deal. Filius will take only half the treasure and the dragon will teach Filius a power long denied from man, the power to breathe fire. For a man like Filius, it was a dream coming true.

    And so Filius agreed and the dragon gave him the power. He then used his magic to make his plunder invisible, not to make the other pirates jealous, and left the island. At dawn, when all the pirates finished collecting their treasure, they left, singing merrily, as is the way of pirates. Little did they know the dragon was flying closely behind them watching. The following night each pirate boasted on what he took. One showed a giant's crown made of gold and jewels, the other boasted on a magical sword that fights on its own. When it was Filius' turn he bragged about his new power. The pirates laughed at him. Nobody can breathe fire, they said. Angry, the wizard decided to teach them a lesson. They will see my new power, he thought. And they will fear. And so he breathed, and flames came out of his mouth, covering the ship, and the pirates. Filius tried to stop, but the dragon only taught him how to start fire, not how to end it. And so, came the end to the pirate ship of Calladan, as it burnt in the sea, and the dragon retrieved his hoard.

    And from that day on, whenever a fool does something, and forgets the most important part, we call him The Wizard of Calladan.
     
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    Dr. Know [3000 words; language]


    It’s frigid cold. My skin is a blanket of goose bumps over a sheet of numb flesh. We need it like this, though. If we could make it colder – drop the AC another ten degrees (something the thermostat limits), we would. The one thing we know – the one thing we’ve learned; cold slows it down.

    Maybe it even kills it. I hope it does...I pray it does, I think. Four of our team members have already died, before we learned about the cold. Four of us are left.

    Seated on the sofa, I rub my palms briskly up my forearms, trying to flatten the stiffened hairs. Sissy, my best friend and fellow team member, is shivering on the opposite end of the couch. Our team’s second in command, Randy, my fiancé, is on his feet, staring out the window. From my periphery I see Sandra, another team member, rocking furiously in the wooden rocking chair. Every so often she scowls and sternly shakes her head, as if refusing some phantom internal voice.

    How did it come to this? After everything we’ve gone through to get here… just like that, four of us are gone; Brad, Molly, Lisa, and Jim. Losing Jim is the worst part. I liked and respected the others - but Jim… I’d known him since my first week of grad school. He was our team leader, our authority on infectious diseases, and my mentor.

    It seems impossible that I’ll never see him again. Him with his six foot seven frame, his gray, untamed curls and bushy, almost-sideburns, and that constant glint of “what if we tried this?” in his eye; he seemed invincible, like a great, big mountain of steel and granite, sturdy and unshakable, unaffected by silly occurrences like hurricanes or earthquakes. I suppose I thought someone like him couldn’t die. The powers-that-be simply wouldn’t allow it. I was wrong.

    I ache already for our friendship, but how can we continue this work without him? We’re here, in the jungles of Calladan because of him. Weneed him; now more than ever. The irony is that he was the second to die, right after Molly. There wasn’t enough time for him to figure out what we were dealing with; what we should avoid, expect or plan for.

    We had found Molly in her tent four days ago, swollen, masked in blisters with bright red, splotchy skin under each runny sore. Her eyes and mouth hung open, a surprised expression on her face.

    Jim, the constant scientist, flew into action. As much as he valued Molly, the mystery of her sudden death excited and intrigued him. It was catnip to Jim, and likely his downfall. He wasn’t careful enough.

    Why wasn’t he? He was the expert, I think, suddenly pissed. It took only six hours for Jim’s intrigue and fascination to end with his death.

    “I can’t take it…I’m a glacier! Do you think by now it’s safe to put on my jacket?” Sissy says, interrupting my thoughts through chattering teeth. Her eyes are begging for permission, but I can’t give it. I can’t because it would be a lie.

    In fact, we all know that when one gets too warm (how warm that technically is – we still aren’t sure) - it triggers the illness. At least, that’s what we’ve deduced from the other deaths. Lucky for us, the AC is working two-fold; keeping us safe, and keeping our friend’s bodies from decomposing too quickly. That part won’t last forever, though.

    “You really shouldn’t, Sissy.” I say gently. “The cold keeps it at bay – whatever this is. But so far, that’s all we know. Best not to risk it.” I continue rubbing my hands over my arms. The hairs are angry barbs.

    “SHIT, SHIT, SHIT!” she shouts, making us all jump. “Then what are we going to do - huh?What the hell are we going to do? Just sit here, freezing our asses off until… what? Somebody comes looking for us?” She stands, then paces, shaking out her hands. “Those assholes probably knew what we were walking into. I bet they planned it all along! They just couldn’tstand that we got the grant and they didn’t. I mean, right? RIGHT?” She scoffs and falls back onto the sofa. Her eyes dart from me to Randy, and then to Sandra.

    “Could you give it a rest, Sissy?” Randy says too calmly… dreamily. His arms are folded across his chest. He balances on his heels, a slight sway in his posture. Like he’s sleepy - or tipsy.

    Then I see it – the shift of light through the window. His blonde hair glistens, the whole front of him is lit up, glowing. He tilts his face skyward, eyelids slack, sighing deeply. One corner of his mouth lifts as a ray of sunshine warms his cheeks through the glass.

    “Randy!” I scream, launching myself at him, knocking him to the floor. Our limbs tangle together like last year’s bundle of Christmas lights. I feel heat through his shirt, on his chest; heat from the sun.

    “What the hell?!” he says beneath me.

    Frantically, my eyes search his face. Nothing. I search the skin of his neck, his ears, down the front of his throat, lifting his shirt to check his chest. Still nothing. He’s clear. Thank God, he’s clear!

    “Christ, Wendy – I’m fine. Get off of me.”

    Clumsily, we struggle to our feet. Almost as an afterthought, I glance at his arms, so filled with relief I could cry. But then I can’t breathe. I’ve forgotten how to breathe. No, no, no, no, no! It can’t be – please God; don’t let it be! I’ll do anything you want, God - just please, don’t let this be!

    “What?” Randy says, alarmed. “What is it?” He lifts his shirt trying to see, twisting, pulling, searching.

    “It’s… it’s on your arm…” I stammer, stifling the sob lodged in my throat. If I loosen the grip on my emotions, I’ll never rein them in again. “Here,” I turn his arm over, showing him the underside, near his elbow – the part that’s always soft and pale.

    Slightly larger than a quarter is a bright pink circle with a patchy pattern just starting to bloom in the surrounding tissue. Randy and I stare at it, dumbfounded. Sandra and Sissy are quiet as well; completely still and gawking at us. The tension in the room feels like it could ignite and set us all on fire. I look up, at the surprised panic and fear on Randy’s face. His blue eyes and full lips are a total blur. I hadn’t realized I was already crying. I let go of his arm and latch onto both his hands, squeezing them for dear life.

    “It doesn’t mean anything. Are you listening?” He looks dazed. “RANDY!” I shake his hands hard. “It doesn’t mean anything. We’re going to get out of here and you’re going to make it!”

    I say it with conviction I don’t feel. But what else can I say? That this is the beginning of the end? That we have less than a few hours together? That all of our life-long plans will never see the light of day? That we’ll never be man and wife, never buy our dream house, never have children together?

    The emotions wedged in my throat reject suppression and come bursting out. Grief and loss have already taken root. Trembling, I wrap my arms around him, pressing my cheek to his chest. He‘s too warm; warmer than the sunlight could have made him. It’s the fever.

    Evidence of my broken heart covers the front of his shirt. I’ve never cried so much, so quickly. Randy stands stiffly, blank faced and rigid, allowing himself to be hugged, but not hugging me back.

    “Randy? Babe…?”

    “I, I was so cold… I felt the sun… it felt… good,” he says distractedly, apologetically - as if remembering a dream, and then sorry for the dream. “I forgot… Jesus, Wendy - how could I forget?” His desperate eyes find mine, mirroring what I know. Then he reaches for me, squeezing so tightly, my back audibly cracks. I don’t care. I pay no mind to the fact that we’re skin on skin. I ignore his breath on my face. The love of my life is dying. As I stand here holding him, it has already begun.

    “What are we going to do now? Wendy - ? ” Sissy says, standing again and wringing her hands. She’s close to losing it; her eyes are wild, her breathing too fast. Hysterics are next. I unravel from Randy, keeping hold of one of his hands. Sandra is rocking faster and faster. She hums loudly, eyes averted, looking every bit the asylum patient. How will I keep them both calm while tending to Randy? I need to stay strong. I’m overwhelmed already at the idea of his bloated, blister-covered body, choking on that last sip of oxygen.

    “What’s important, Sissy, is that we stay calm,” I tell her, trying to find meaning in what I’m saying. But I don’t feel calm. In fact, I wish I could mimic Sandra; find a corner and rock myself into oblivion. Anything to not face what’s coming.

    “Are you calm, Miss Perfect?” she shrieks. “Knowing that your fiancé is literally boiling -from THE INSIDE OUT?” Her words strike me like a blow to the gut. Instinctively, I clutch at my stomach, unable to hide the pain her words cause. I find I don’t want to. How can she say this to me? She’s my best friend. But I know that some people lose who they are when faced with death. Not everyone stays strong.

    I see instant regret, an apology surfacing in her eyes. But as I look at her, I spot something else; moisture on her brow. She looks back at me; confusion giving way to defiance. “What? Stop staring at me!” she demands, her apology forgotten.

    Randy shifts. We watch him robotically move to the sofa. He sits, staring into space, hands folded neatly in his lap. What’s going on in his head? What is he thinking? He won’t look at me. His panic was too short lived. That fact terrifies me. He’s simply shut down, like a breaker being tripped. And he’s too quiet – like he’s retreated to some secret place, and I’m not welcome.

    I raise my eyes back to Sissy, seeing again the glossy sheen of perspiration on her forehead. Following my eyes, she swipes at it with her hand, and then holds it out in front of her. She gapes at the moisture as if a hive of hornets has suddenly sprouted from her palm. Her eyes wide, they cut from the sweat to me and back again.

    “W-Wendy…?” she breathes, and crumbles onto the sofa, bawling noisily like a child, pounding her fists into the cushions. Through her screams, under all the noise - I can hear Sandra’s humming from the corner. It’s louder. She’s rocking faster than ever – back and forth and back and forth, as if someone has jammed the fast-forward button on an old VCR.

    “Sissy, let me look, okay?” I ask over her crying. “You’re probably fine. Sweat doesn’t mean you’re sick,” I tell her.

    But it does. I know it does. First comes the fever. Then comes the sores. After that, her trunk, limbs and face will distend, like a gigantic balloon-doll, filled to capacity with diseased fluid. Her skin will stretch and tighten; a field of crimson patches and oozing blisters. And then finally, when it seems she’ll literally bust open – she’ll stop breathing.

    This is her fate; hers and Randy’s. She ignores me and continues crying.

    Stupidly, naively we thought the air conditioning in this strange little shack would save us; that the frigid air had actually stalled the virus, or bacteria, or whatever it is that has targeted us. We thought we would be safe, that it would buy us enough time for someone to realize we’d been radio-silent too long and come looking for us. Perhaps Beta Team, our rivals - the team Sissy blamed for all of this. Maybe they would come, once they realize they’ve heard nothing from our end. They are the closest, at headquarters’ camp, about seventy miles north of our intended location. They were to join us after five days. That would be now.

    Of course, nobody knows we even left our camp. The tents are still up, the coffee pot and breakfast dishes still by the campfire. We’d planned to find help, and then, as soon as we could, return and complete what we came here for - our search for the elusive sozylocosmineg;a prehistoric microorganism that almost every modern scientists claims is a myth.

    Jim was convinced they were wrong, staking his entire scientific career on proving it. So he’d assembled our team – Alpha Team – on the legs of that conviction. Fifteen years of lab work, living on Ramen Noodles and frozen broccoli at home, endless studies in third world countries, sleeping in shit-holes and shitting in dirt-holes; those were only a fraction of the sacrifices Randy and I made to be on this team - traveling the globe, turning over every blessed rock. The search seemed endless.

    When Jim came across the article that referenced this mystical microbe living in this jungle, he made it his mission to get our team here. He was certain it was the answer to Alzheimer’s and MS and a myriad of life altering diseases. He just had to find it. Our team would help him do that.

    Of course, discovering a dead team member on morning-one wasn’t part of that plan. A mere two hours after finding Molly’s body, Jim’s face and arms was a quilt of seeping blisters. Inside of twenty minutes, it covered his entire body.

    I admit we panicked. With one mysterious death and Jim’s rapid decline, we didn’t know what to do. So we gathered what we could carry (by then Jim could barely walk on his own), rigged a sling to tow Molly’s body, and headed toward the road, toward help. Our radios had somehow gone dead in the night, spare batteries included.

    Within three hours, in the middle of nowhere, we came to a metal shack. We knocked, but there was no answer. By then, two more – Brad and Lisa - had begun to blister.

    We had no choice. Praying there was a phone, we broke inside. Lisa – already sick, but the smallest – crawled through a tiny window over a gas-fueled generator and opened the door. Inside was practically empty; only a plaid couch, a rocking chair, and a small desk, all pushed to one end of the larger of two rooms. A huge window faced the jungle, framing it like a work of art.

    Nobody noticed the hidden cameras.

    There was no sign of a resident, but the AC was on. We cranked the thermostat down. Everyone was hot, but the heat was worse for those sick. Sweating grew more blisters.

    By then Jim had only two hours left to live. Lisa and Brad were dead two hours after that. But then, after we gently laid our friend’s bodies in the smaller room – strangely, magically there was no more infection. No fever, no discolored skin, no blisters. Our only reasoning was the cold; it did something to it. It must. Because we went a full four days and nobody got sick. Not until Randy stood near the window, in that ray of sunshine.

    Suddenly the room is filled with Sissy’s screams. She’s looking at her forearms, hysteria etched into every facial feature. I can see the sores from where I stand. Many, many sores. Beside her, Randy’s face, arms, and throat are a lumpy terrain of ripe and watery, flesh colored bumps. He sits back, lids closed, taking shallow, tidal breaths. He’s almost gone… already.

    It’s happening too quickly; faster than the others. Panic fills my chest. NO! I need more time! I take a step toward him, but realize Sandra has stopped rocking. I glance over and freeze. Her face and arms are blister free, but her skin is a series of red and pink raised rings; searing hot, keloid circles.

    It’s already mutating.

    With quiet resignation, our eyes meet. I reach up, covering my mouth; holding the horror and sadness back, perhaps. Sandra’s eyes focus on my hand. Slowly I turn it over. There, like a branding, or an admittance stamp from a nightclub is a round, pink circle - and surrounding it, layers of red rings just beginning to surface.


    ***


    The smallish, big-bellied, bald man sitting at his computer a quarter mile away grinned at the screen. Dr. Know - a name he’d given himself - fancied himself a double-threat; combination covert spy (though the only people spied on were his victims), and The Wizard behind the curtain. Dr. Know’s delusions were grandiose. But sociopaths don’t recognize this in themselves. Even brilliant ones.

    This was his favorite part. He’d engineered the whole thing, of course; the article that led the scientists here, the virus infected gas canisters high up in the trees, the electromagnetic current used to drain their radio’s batteries. And finally, the little metal house he’d built for them to stumbled onto… what they all ultimately stumble onto. It’s part of the game, after all.

    This group discovered the benefits of cold quicker than the others, though. That Beverly was one smart cookie. He has enjoyed watching her; the way her tits filled out her smudged tee-shirt, her tight, plump ass, the way her lips looked like ripe cherries. His skin became flushed as a bulge began to grow under his zipper. He absently reached down to give it a caress when he glimpsed something else; small red dots all over his forearms, over a sea of raised, pink rings. “Well, fuck me,” sighed Dr. Know.
     
  7. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Youth is a State of Mind [768 Words]

    It was not a place he had envisaged spending his Saturday afternoon yet Jake Mulligan found himself at the reception of Calladan retirement home, slouching on a chair whilst dragging his heels back and forth through the shag carpet. The pencil nosed receptionist across from him would tip her glasses down from time to time, her stoic glare enough to halt his disturbance for a brief moment. But in a manner of silent protest he would meet her stare with his own juvenile sneer and a roll of the eyes.

    All he wanted was out of this purgatory. The plan to meet the boys at Lakers had been cancelled with a short but curt text message, which specified how his Mum was a ‘bitch’ and how he’d make a break for it as soon as he could. This was followed up by a couple of slurs, illustrating how the whole place smelt like piss and there was enough beige splattered across the walls to rival a Volvo Estate. He could only dream of what his mates were up to now, yet Jake was sat here plumped on a chair that many would describe as a starch covered cheese grater.

    “Maybe if you sat in it properly it would be less irritating.”

    Jake spun his head to see an old man. He stood tall and proud and stared down at the boy. Something in his pale, colourless eyes twinkled in a way that Jake had not seen in anyone else at Calladan. Maybe that was why he decided to slowly sit up, placing his mobile phone in his pocket.

    “Who are you?” Jake asked with a slight abrasiveness.

    “Someone that’s been stuck here a lot longer than you have.” The old man said, aching his back into a chair a couple away from Jake. They exchanged glances for a time, the old man twiddling his fingers together idly while Jake resumed the slumped position with his phone in hand.

    “Are you here to see someone?” The old man eventually asked.

    “Erm yeah, my Mum dragged me to see my Nan.” Jake mumbled into his t-shirt while he stared at his phone screen.

    “Then why are you out here?”

    “I didn’t want to come in the first place. My Mum whined at me like I’m a child – so I said stuff this I’m not seeing my Nan,” He pointed lazily to the spot he sat in, “And now I’m here.”

    The truth of it was that Nana Mulligan bored Jake half to death. Her croaky groan of a voice was just the right level for him to tone out of all conversations with her; a monotone drone that just went on forever. Whenever she hugged him Jake drank in a heady concoction of urine and cheap perfume, squeezed up tight in her bingo wings and saggy chest. The real kicker was the ruby red lipstick on her cracked and wrinkled lips, which had either a small hint of drool or some pasta leftover from lunch. He would swear she was always saving it for later.

    “You know, just because we are old doesn’t mean we are boring,” The old man started, glancing up at the tweedy receptionist across the room with a wry smile, “I guarantee your Nan has lived a more adventurous life than you have, for now at least. You sat here bored in a reception while you could be listening to her stories.”

    “All her stories are boring. She just talks about what was on TV every week.” Jake protested.

    “But have you ever asked her about her past?”

    “Well no…”

    “Exactly.” The old man said. “Take this as an example; we OAPs are more interesting than you think.” Then strangely, the old man proceeded to give Jake a red marker pen, got up and waved at the receptionist sporting a cheeky little smile, “Good evening Janine.”

    “Tony,” she said back harshly with a slight grimace on her face, “You better not be up to anything mister.”

    Jake watched as she half-heartedly waved back to the old man, and he could not contain his laughter as he caught a glance at her palm covered in bright red ink. Instantly, the receptionist recognised the blemish on her hand and stared angrily at Tony, who shrugged at her and walked on. Quick as cat she cast her glance to Jake, who sat there laughing like a fool with a red marker in his hand.

    Y-You…” She stammered, standing up out of her swivel chair. “Get back here!”

    But Jake was already off. Through the doors to see Nana Mulligan.
     

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