?

Please vote for the piece you feel is most deserving

  1. acd90210 - Protecting Innocence

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  2. Khaelmin - Maybe, just this once

    2 vote(s)
    11.1%
  3. Perplexity - When is our last?

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. Drusy - Guardians

    1 vote(s)
    5.6%
  5. MoonWriter67 - Worth Protecting

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  6. johann77 - The town

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  7. Searching4aMuse - Forbidden

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  8. seelifein69 - 499 Willow

    3 vote(s)
    16.7%
  9. thedarkknight - CEASE AND DESIST

    2 vote(s)
    11.1%
  10. ottawainkspot - Little Sunshine

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  11. neuropsychopharm - Memories Worth Protecting (You're Too Wonderful to Die)

    5 vote(s)
    27.8%
  12. JJ_Maxx - Animal Instincts

    4 vote(s)
    22.2%
  13. jedellion - Worth Fighting For

    1 vote(s)
    5.6%
  14. Pauly Pen Feathers - Old Gold

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
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  1. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Voting Short Story Contest (126) Theme: Something Worth Protecting

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Lemex, Jan 20, 2013.

    Voting Short Story Contest (126) Theme: Something Worth Protecting

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned(maybe). No more entries are allowed in this contest.

    Voting will end Saturday 3rd of February 2013 (I still haven't got used to that) to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    It is possible to vote for yourself, but I would hope in the name of good sportsmanship that you would only do so if you have read all the other stories and given them your honest evaluation. You gain nothing if you base your vote solely on how you feel about the author or whether you have personally invested time and effort in the story. In the end, your conscience is your only judge.

    Any entries under or over the suggested word limit will be flagged as such - they are still entered in to the contest. It is for you to decide whether they are still worthy of your vote.

    Any entry not in accordance with the theme will be dealt with on a case by case basis to determine eligibility. Consider how the author has responded to the theme in making your decision.

    Good luck to everyone!
     
  2. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    acd90210
    **Protecting Innocence [1,214 words]**

    “Okay class, now what is nine times nine?” Ms. Thompson asked the class.

    Her third grade class replied in unison “Eighty-one.”

    “Good job.” She smiled. The bell rang signaling the end of another school day at Thomas Jefferson Elementary. “Alright kids, don’t forget your homework tonight. Do the multiplication worksheets I handed out. Everyone who turns in a fully completed worksheet gets a cookie tomorrow.”

    “Yay.”

    Missy sat down. The days corralling a group of eight year olds was taxing but she enjoyed every minute. Missy was an attractive 28 year old with a slim build, soft features, and long straight red hair. She was an extremely good student herself. She could have been anything she wanted. Her mother wanted her to be a doctor. Her father wanted her to be a lawyer. Her love of helping children drew her to teaching.

    Missy sat for about an hour at her desk reviewing some of the children’s work from the day. She looked out the window of her classroom to see everyone had deserted the premises. She packed her bag and locked up her room. As she headed to her car in the setting sun she noticed something move out of the corner of her eye.

    “Carrie?”

    The small child sitting in the child pick-up area answered “Yes, Ms. Thompson.”

    “What are you still doing here?” asked Missy.

    “My parents forgot to pick me up again. It’s okay, it happens all the time.”

    Carrie’s appearance reminded Missy of herself at a young age. Carrie was small for her age but was very cute with big green eyes. She kept to herself at all times and rarely ever spoke to anyone.

    Missy motioned over to the child “Come with me sweetheart. I will take you home.”

    Carrie followed Missy to the car and got in. Carrie sat silently in the passenger seat.

    Missy broke the silence, “How are you enjoying school?”

    “I like it very much.”

    “You are a very smart little girl. I enjoy having you in my class.”

    Carrie slightly nodded “I like your class very much, Ms. Thompson. I wish I could stay in your classroom all of the time.”

    “Oh Carrie, that can’t be true.”

    Carrie shook her small head “No, it’s true. I wish I never had to go home. I wish I could stay with you in your class room forever.”

    The car pulled up to Carrie’s home. The home was built in the 1950’s, and had seen better days. The yard had not been mowed in months, shingles were missing from the roof, and the paint on the house had long since faded. Missy unlocked the car doors and spoke “Do you want me to walk you to the door?”

    Missy looked over to Carrie with a worried look “No ma’am, please don’t. I will go myself.”

    Missy nodded. Carrie opened her car door and stepped out. Missy could hear a man and a woman yelling at each other inside the home. Carrie turned around and waved to Missy, and Missy noticed a large bruise on Carries upper arm. Carrie closed the car door and made her way up the walkway toward the front door. A man saw her through the window, “Carrie, where the hell have you been? Get in this house now!”

    Missy sped away. She scolded herself aloud as she drove home, “How could you just leave that poor girl there? You coward. She needs your help and you left her.“

    She went to her empty home and ate dinner by herself in silence. She couldn’t help thinking about Carrie all night. She tossed and turned in her bed until morning came.

    The next day at school Missy finished up the English lesson in the morning “Okay children. It’s time for P.E. Let’s go exercise.”

    As the children meandered out of the classroom Missy lightly put her hand on Carrie’s shoulder. Carrie immediately winced in pain.

    “Sweetheart, what’s wrong?”

    Carrie immediately looked at the ground “Nothing Ms. Thompson.”

    “Carrie, are you hurt?”

    “No ma’am, I’m fine.”

    Missy moved Carrie’s t-shirt sleeve up and discovered a dark purple bruise.

    “Oh no, baby, what happened?”

    “I was being a bad girl and Daddy had to get on to me.”

    Missy’s face flushed red and tears came to her eyes. She grabbed and Carrie and hugged her “You don’t deserve this. How often does this happen?”

    Carrie shrugged “I don’t know, a lot”

    Missy wiped her eyes and straightened her blouse “Okay, go play.”

    Missy followed Carrie out the door. She sat on the bench near the playground and watched the children play in silence. Her face was like stone as the wheels turned in her head. Missy knew something had to be done to protect this innocent child, and she believed she was the only one capable of doing it. Someone had to pay for what this poor girl was forced to endure.

    At the end of the school day the children filed out of the classroom to head home. Missy called to Carrie.

    “Carrie, would you like to leave your home and live with me, far away from here?”

    “Where?”

    “Anywhere you want to.”

    Carrie thought about it for a few seconds “That would be nice. I really like you Ms. Thompson.”

    A tear slightly appeared in the corner of Missy’s eye “I like you a lot too Carrie. I would like that very much too.”

    Missy went to her car and sat, staring in her rearview mirror watching until Carrie was picked up in an old sedan. Missy calmly pulled the car out of the parking lot to run a few errands in preparation for the night’s events.

    At about eleven o’clock that night Missy slowly parked her car across the street from Carrie’s house. She tiptoed around the house and found a spare key. She unlocked the back door and silently slipped into the house. She passed by the living room and saw a man and a woman passed out alongside broken beer bottles and pieces of drug paraphernalia Missy vaguely recognized. She made it to Carrie’s bedroom and carefully woke Carrie up. She led the small girl back the way she had entered the house and around to her car.

    “Okay now sweetheart, why don’t you lay down in the backseat here and go to sleep. I will be back in a minute.”

    ****

    Kim Sutherland anchored the Channel 11 Morning News the next day.

    “Good morning, the top story this morning is a house fire that occurred overnight. The house was almost completely burned down before firefighters were able to get to the home. A family of three lived in the home and according to authorities only the bodies of two adults were found, however due to the destruction caused by the fire officials believe it is very likely that all three members died in the fire, including the eight year old daughter of the couple. Authorities do not believe foul play is involved as the house was in an advanced state of disrepair.”

    That morning the principal of Thomas Jefferson Elementary opened the door to his office to find a resignation letter from his best teacher, Missy Thompson. It was the last time anyone in the town would ever hear from Missy.
     
  3. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Maybe, just this once (2736 words)


    The jungle was lush and the air was very close. We ran chaotically, every pace slowed by a cacophony of monolithic fallen logs, web-like vines and thorny bramble bushes. My sword arm was sore from the endless slashing and my legs ached from all the running and jumping. But I couldn’t afford to stop for a breather. Never stop, until we’ve reached the rapid extraction module. A gravelly howl in the distance, too malicious and angry to belong to any of the native animals, filled us with renewed dread. I used this to press on even harder.

    Our way was blocked by a large boulder. With a pained and exhausted bound I was astride the rock. Almost out of instinct, I had thrust out my hand, gripping my companion’s extended palm and hauling it up on the boulder with me. I didn’t need to look to know where it was, because I knew its position precisely. Every movement, no matter how slight, every breeze, no matter how faint and every emotion, no matter how diffuse, I felt as if it was my own. And vice versa.

    When I did train my gaze upon it... upon her, I did so to drink in her beauty. Not beautiful like a woman, she was much too alien for that. But her bipedal form was so frail, her features so graceful, the colors of her skin so vivid, that I couldn’t help but fall in love a little. She studied me with those ruby red eyes, large and smooth, so shiny that they appeared to be made of glass. My fascinating Volucris. I could see the silver cord of our link jutting out of her forehead, connecting it to mine. It appeared solid, but I knew it was just a construct of my mind. Or hers.

    Distant angry growls emboldened us to get moving again through the thicket. My obsidian sword never dulled, my slashing never stopped. A question burst into my mind.

    ~ Why have the others deserted you, Mapija-Knight?

    The response blossomed in her mind.

    ~They were afraid, Brood Daughter.

    ~Are you not?

    ~I am. I’ve never been so scared in my life.

    Still running, I had remembered the departure of the others. Their betrayal. If I didn’t have her, the loneliness would have been crushing. We had split up, everyone retreating to their extraction modules. Mine lay in the same direction as George’s, our squad leader, so the three of us were running together. The links that connected us to the Brood Daughter’s mind offered us a closeness we had never experienced before.

    George had just reached the module. The Daughter’s foot had slipped, and she had fallen heavily to the ground, wrapping her four arms protectively around her swollen belly. I had hurried to help her up. This had served only to infuriate my leader and I could see his silver cord vibrate and shrink to a thin thread.

    ‘I told you to ditch her, Mapija!’ he shouted, his breath still short from all the running. ‘She’ll only slow you down.’

    ‘For the last time, sir,’ I replied coolly, ‘I’ll not leave her.’

    ‘Octadec, this is an order! You can’t take her with you. There’s a bloody Worgen Beta Priest on our trail. We can’t prevail against him. He’ll squash us like bugs!’

    ‘George, she’s the last of her kind. The last Brood Daughter, soon to be a Brood Mother. She has to survive, or the Volucris race will be extinguished!’

    ‘Listen to reason, brother!’ he implored. ‘She’s just an alien. Don’t sacrifice yourself for her! Nothing is more precious than a Solarian Knight’s life. You have a duty to your brothers and to your kind, to stay alive!’

    I said nothing. He chose to take my silent, steady gaze as defiance. I saw the link coming from his forehead break as he drew his sword. From the Brood Daughter I felt a wave of fear and I could see her arms clutch her belly again. Right now, this was her purpose, her only reason to exist. Within her were the tens of thousands of embryos that would become a whole new hive-city. Thousands of genetically diverse individuals and tens of thousands of possibilities. Thousands of opportunities for the continuation of the Volucris.

    ‘I have a better idea,’ he growled. ‘You’ll take my extraction pod instead. You’ll be leaving now, even if I have to cripple and throw you in the pod myself. I will not lose you. I’m sorry about this.’

    ‘As am I, brother,’ I said, drawing my own sword.

    Sunlight gleamed from his gilded ceramo-titanium blade and my reinforced obsidian one. The moments dragged on and the tension built up to almost an unbearable degree. Suddenly, he struck. A high guard strike, which I parried easily. He tried to kick me in the groin, but I sprung out of the way just in time. Sparks flew from the blades as I made my riposte, three blows in rapid succession. Annoyed, he responded with a powerful low slash, which I barely managed to avoid with a jump. Using the back swing, he tried a vertical slash, equally powerful. When I twisted out of the way, I saw my opening. As his blade hit the ground where I had just been, I dug the point of my sword through his left knee. The soft material of the suit’s joint failed, and he let go of a piercing scream. Taking advantage of this, I swung the sword up, slashing through his right wrist. The gloved hand, still gripping the gilded sword fell to the ground.

    ‘You’re older than me, but you still fight like shit, George,’ I said, letting the point of my sword fall to the ground. ‘She will leave with your shuttle.’

    It was stupid of me to let my guard down. With his good hand, he produced a plasma pistol from behind his back. In less than a second he emptied the whole magazine in my chest and head. None of the shots penetrated the armored breastplate and helmet, but they staggered me and I fell on my back, dazed. When I came through, he had already crawled into the module and was resting his hand on the door controls.

    ‘Farewell, you traitor,’ he spat towards me. ‘You deserve to die here, after all.’

    The hatch closed and a second later the dust thrown up by the thrusters blinded us. How hollow he was, and how selfish. How fast had his feelings towards me changed, from devotion to loathing in a heartbeat. Now, as the Volucris and I were running through the jungle’s green labyrinth towards my own shuttle, I traced the scorch marks his gun had left on my breastplate. My brother of five hundred years, the hypocrite.

    There was another angry growl and boulders started crashing all around us. The nearest one had crashed not twenty meters away, making a tall tree fall towards us. I quickly and none too gently pulled her away from its path.

    ~He’s getting closer, Brood Daughter, I thought urgently. We have to hurry.

    ~What is that creature, Mapija-Knight?

    ~A Worgen Beta Priest. They’re very rare, but they’ve immensely powerful telekinetic abilities. If I could fight it, I would, but even with my full squad we would be annihilated. You’ve seen with your own eyes what they can do.

    ~Yes. I watched my hive-city fall, just like all the others before. Ours was the last one standing. The monster collapsed and crumbled it with a mere thought. It snuffed the survivors out with another, crushing skulls and breaking necks with the tiniest of gestures. What good is this genocide? What do they want?

    ~Room to grow, resources to consume, bigger populations so they can raise more armies. Pick one. Generally, what all beings want. More. And some more after that.

    ~We don’t want that.

    ~Yes you do. Else you wouldn’t have spread your hives all over the whole planet. Now please, concentrate. We’re almost there.

    We finally reached a clearing I recognized. The light of the system’s reddish sun was sneaking through the break in the canopy above, giving everything a rosy tinge. I sheathed the sword and pressed a button on my left wrist. The extraction shuttle appeared out of nowhere near the far edge of the clearing, as it's optical camouflage deactivated. I felt some dismay from my companion.

    ~It’s so small a vessel. Are you certain that we’ll both fit inside?

    ~No. This one's just for you.

    ~But, Mapija-Knight... the creature. What will you do?

    ~I have another shuttle waiting for me nearby.

    ~You lie. Why do you speak untrue, when you know that through the link we share I can feel all of your emotions?

    ~Because it’s important that you escape. I’ll draw the Beta Priest away, so you can escape. If it sees the shuttle, it could pluck it out of the sky.

    ~I will not have you sacrifice yourself for me.

    I balled my fists in a fit of anger. There was no time for this crap! She flinched and took a step away from me, slightly alarmed. I forced myself to calm down.

    ~Look, there’s a slim chance that I will get away. And should I die, it will not have been for nothing. I’m one individual, whereas you are potentially thousands. It’s more than a fair trade. Now go!

    ~I am... grateful. Providence help you, Mapija-Knight.

    ~And you, my young Volucris.

    The shuttle door opened and reluctantly, she started running towards it. In that exact same instant, there was a great crashing sound from behind us. The trees were bending and collapsing out of the way of the Beta Priest. It was by far the biggest Worgen I had ever seen in my life, at about three meters tall. Not only that, but it was also massive, chest like a great barrel and arms as thick around as my legs. Even though it was heavily armored, with the exception of the furry head, it easily floated one foot above the ground.

    ‘Oh, Ancestors,’ I whispered, ‘not yet. Please, not yet!’

    The Brood Daughter was almost at the shuttle. I had to stall the Worgen for a few more minutes. I drew my sword and my plasma gun, the only two weapons that I still had. I had lost my rifle long ago, in the insanity of the retreat. I ducked behind a fallen log, hoping to catch the thing off guard. She had reached the shuttle, but she had not gotten in yet.

    ~What are you waiting for, gods damn you! Get in!

    My thought had so much urgency it was almost like a shove for her. Without wasting another instant, she strapped herself in the seat, and with a button, I closed the hatch and started the engine ignition sequence. The shuttle began to rise, blowing leaves and dust everywhere. But then the Beta Priest stepped in. With an upraised hand, it focused its telekinetic force and effectively halted the shuttle in mid air. The vessel’s engines were still going at full thrust and they were threatening to break it apart.

    This was my cue to intervene. I took careful aim and fired a volley toward its unprotected head. Most of the shots hit the breastplate or missed outright, but one nicked it right above the left temple. It gave a monstrous screech and gripped the wound with both hands. But it had been enough. With its concentration disrupted, the shuttle bolted skyward with incredible speed. I hoped the acceleration woudn’t hurt the Brood Daughter. I kept firing, all the while retreating towards the jungle’s edge. The shots were peppering its armor, producing small pink explosions where they landed.

    ‘Eat plasma, you piece of shit!’ I shouted.

    But I knew that ultimately, it was futile. The beast was getting really angry. The air became heavy with its exerted power. Branches and rocks trembled. The smaller pebbles and twigs rose slightly into the air. With a thud, a massive boulder jutted from the ground and started rotating in in midair in front of the Worgen, effectively blocking my line of fire. I started shooting at its legs until my clip was empty. I reloaded with a curse, and was nearly crushed when the thing launched the boulder at me. At the last instant, I lunged out of the way of the rolling projectile.

    With my line of fire now clear, I started shooting again, full auto, but the fire was much less precise. This time, unfazed by my opposition, the Priest just lifted its right hand and made a squeezing motion with its four fingered hand. My pistol abruptly stopped shooting and began issuing contorted metal sounds. Through the heat receptors in my glove I could feel it overheating. Before I could toss it away, it exploded, throwing my hand back, painfully.

    I turned around and tried to run away, but found I could no longer feel the ground under my legs. I had been yanked into the air. Looking back I could see the Worgen, floating, unfazed by its earlier wound, with an outstretched hand, palm up. I was being drawn to him rapidly. At the same time, invisible pressure began to squeeze me from all sides and alarms started flashing on my helmet’s visor. My joints began to hurt agonizingly, because the soft material covering them offered almost no resistance.

    ‘Insolent wretch,’ it growled in that disgusting Worgen language. ‘The annihilation of this planet’s pitiful race would have been complete had you not intervened.’

    ‘Kiss my ass, freak,’ I managed to grunt.

    ‘However, capturing a Solarian will more than make up for it. You will suffer in ways uncounted.’

    In the past, I had studied the Worgen enough to recognize their expressions. From its furry, long snouted face and from the orange, almost incandescent eyes I could see that the anticipation of my torture was giving it an almost orgasmic amount of pleasure. This was it, then. The final show. I didn't want to suffer any torture. There was only one thing left to do.

    I tensed the centuries old muscles in my sword arm, preparing them for the blow. With a superhuman effort I managed to defeat the Worgen’s telekinetic force and slashed its face. It flinched back, but it was too slow. A gash appeared, stretching from the base of the snout to its forehead. Indigo blood gushed out, dripping on the front of its armor. Half blinded, panicked, the Priest started smashing me to the ground repeatedly. When it calmed a little, it snatched the sword from my grip with but a gesture, and its will shattered the blade in a million little pieces.

    It wouldn’t be long now. My armor started groaning, buckling and warping. The clasps holding my helmet in place snapped, one by one, and the thing just peeled away like an orange’s crust. The foreign atmosphere began to burn my unprotected nose and throat. The breastplate, already weakened, started fracturing and losing pieces of itself until it was no more. With a toothy grin, the Worgen jutted long black claws from its outstretched fingers. They looked more like small knives.

    Not long now. I could feel the points of the claws on my ribcage. ‘Make this count, Daughter,’ I thought desperately to her, even though I knew that by now, she was too far away to feel my thoughts. ’Don’t let me die in vain.’ The broad talons were cracking my ribs, sliding in towards my heart. I had lived a good life, surrounded by brothers and friends everywhere. The claws were now digging into my lungs. Filling them up with blood and making me want to cough convulsively. I had always been proud of who and what I was, and I was always loyal to my kind. What more can be expected of a Solarian?

    The claws, which had now reached my heart, lacerated it and stopped it completely. With a cry of sheer bliss, the Beta Priest, ugly monster that it was, abruptly snapped its arms open wide. A myriad of pieces, which had until recently been my body, landed everywhere around the clearing.

    What little oxygen I had left in my brain granted me one final though. Nothing is more precious than a Solarian Knight’s life. But maybe, just this once, an exception could be made.
     
  4. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Perplexity
    When is our last?

    Currently [715] words, but revisions will be made to it in the upcoming days.


    "Hey, can I play?" I was 14 years old and at my brother Jacks varsity baseball game. Upon being asked to watch the coach's seven year old son Lucas, a group of the player's little brothers were sitting in a circle attempting to play 'Duck Duck Goose' with him. Being inside of the bathroom when the game was organized by this charming little kid, I was left to negotiate my way into it.

    "No!!!!!!" He began walking me away, saying that he already had to many people playing. After tugging my shirt and moving in the opposite direction from the game for about ten paces, he let go of me. I twisted my face into a look of sorrow, making my eyes as big as possible, doing my best to resemble a saddened puppy. When he looked at me again he hesitated, and then spoke.

    "Okay, okay! You can play! But on one condition -- we have to be best friends!" Grabbing my arm, he dragged me back to the game where the other kids were waiting. Running around the circle as fast as his little legs would take him, it was evident that the game had started.


    ~~

    It was exactly two years and 3 months later when I was sitting on the couch watching a generic 'New Years Eve Count Down to the Drop,' on TV when Jack received a phone call. As he walked into the other room, I wrote his trip off as a call from his girlfriend in which he seemed in constant contact with. It was only when he called my mom over with an unusual hoarse voice that I grew suspicious. Walking into the office alongside my mom looking to do some investigating for myself I came across the sight of my brother with tears streaming down his face, his head in his hands. As we slowed our approach, my mom cautiously asked what was wrong.

    Dramatically beckoning us to look at the computer screen, Jack continued his slow moaning, emitting sobs every once and a while. The Oregon Live website was up, an online newspaper that held the most current information one could find around. A Breaking News Article's headline read :


    Father escapes crash into Sandy River, but son dies, police say


    Now switching the internet tab to Twitter, my brother showed us the frantic tweets being made, and who allegedly had been in the car accident. Sitting down almost as if in a daze, tears welled up in my eyes. As they ran down my face, the only thing that I could think about was what he had said to me, the look of pure kindness on his face as he decided to include me. My heart sank as I whispered the words, the memory that was always so clear within my mind. "Okay, okay! You can play! But on one condition -- we have to be best friends!


    ~~

    As Jack stood at the door of the house a week later, I thought about the ridiculous argument we had been in the day before about who got to keep the XBOX this time. He, being the older one of us had won the argument with his famous superiority statement that basically said "I've been alive longer than you, so I should get it." Going straight to bed last night after the disagreement and not speaking a word to him this morning, I had finally realized the stupidity of the entire situation. When it became my turn to say goodbye, I closed my eyes and embraced him in a big bear hug that lasted at least fifteen seconds.

    "I love you man, I'm sorry, and have a safe drive back to U of O."


    Nodding his head slowly, he gave one final wave to touched mother.


    Lucas's family had been in this exact situation roughly a week before, and I can garuntee that the last thing they ever said to him wasn't "I love you," or "You mean so much to me."Keeping those that are close to you aware of the fact that you love them and making sure they know how much they mean to you is hugely important, because you never really know when the last time you see them will be. Always keeping a meaningful relationship with those special people in your life is definitely something worth protecting .
     
  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Guardians [1033]


    “Which one do you think it is?” Gadfel asked as we sat staring at the sphere resting on my palm.

    “I’m not sure.” I shrugged. “None of us are.”

    I rolled the pearlescent orb around the confines of my hand with a fingertip, the smooth surface brightening at my touch. It had become almost a habit ... except we angels don’t have such things.

    “How can you not know?”

    I closed my fist around the ball and placed it back into its pouch before slipping it into my jacket. Gadfel was new. Always asking questions. Why and how and when. Such human concepts, but then I reminded myself, those will wear off.

    I stood up and stepped into the air where I waited for my new protégé to follow but his mind was still too trapped. He was frozen at the edge of the building, his eyes trained only on the quarter of a mile to fall below him. I held out a hand to him. “Join me.”
    Gadfel stood, relieved, and reached out. So trusting. I could have pulled my hand back. I could have left him there and said, “When you are ready to leave, you will.” But that was the way of others. Instead I felt the warmth of his hand join with mine before he closed his eyes and stepped off the Empire State Building. Then we were walking.

    A step away from New York and we were in Egypt. Another, the south of France. And as we walked, hand in hand, I answered him.

    “There was a time I believed it was pain.”

    We crossed over the Atlantic where I paused to watch an eternity of jellyfish pushing their way through phosphorescent waters. It was a favorite sight of mine.

    I continued. “During the Inquisition it lit up like a beacon. Arabos came to me with his own stone then and we compared our two. He brought back Ferathos and Sighba to do the same, but none shone as brightly as my own small seed. During the Crusades, World War II, after 9/11 … each time its body has radiated such light that only the magnificence of Him had overcast it.”

    A small pod of dolphins broke the water and I listened to them talk for a moment before moving onwards. We stepped forward again to Rome.

    “There was such anger, such overwhelming despair and suffering through these times. I was certain that the seed I held was fueled by the breaking of the human heart.”

    “Did it make you sad, then?”

    With a thought, I brought us indoors and released his hand so that it was the two of us – no longer connected, watching the latest Pope sign orders. My first instinct was to tell him “no”. After all, what sadness is there in performing a duty? Each of us carried a small sliver of the human condition. Sadness, fear, beauty, faith, etc. It was our job to protect them. None of us knew their origin or their final purpose. Like the seeds, we simply were.

    But there in the quiet of that office, with only the two of us angels, and a few old men, the truth slipped out.

    “A little.”

    He was silent.

    “Envious too.” My words are soft. “Fasmos has kindness, I believe. And from many thousands of years, I have come to know the one that carries truth. I wanted such as these.”

    “You said you used to think that it was pain. Now?” I must give the young one credit, he makes a good listener.

    I looked at him. “I also said I don’t know. There are times when it lights and I can find no reason for it.”

    I closed my eyes then and brought myself to Russia, to a small church outside the limits of the city. It was silent inside but the slow snow falling outside sounded like thunder to my ears. Two, three, four … I counted to twenty-three before Gadfel appeared beside me. He’s getting quicker. I smiled and took a seat on a cold wooden pew.

    Gadfel quickly settled beside me and together we read the prayers in the candles lining the altar.

    A mother had a sick child and prayed that God would heal her. In the middle, a man had just found out that his wife cheated on him with his best friend. He prayed for both of them to be struck down.

    I pulled the small stone from my pocket again and shook it out onto my hand. In the dim of the chapel, with only the candles for light, it reflected and once again I found myself rolling it around absently as I continued to study the altar.

    In the right hand corner a young man worried about his brother.

    Wind whipped quickly in to the room surrounding us as the door to the chapel burst open. We turned to watch a stooped figure flee into the relative warmth of the church; layer upon layer of tattered clothing blanket in white.

    I looked over to see Gadfel observing the old woman as she pushed against the metal door trying to force it closed. “Do you remember cold?” I asked.

    “I’m not sure.” He looked down at his fingertips. “I think I remember the sting but now, it is like remembering what the brush of silk once felt like, it has faded so far that it is all one thing.”

    Her battle with the door over, we watched the woman shuffle forward towards the row of wax tapers ahead of her. She slowly slid a match from a box resting beside the short candles and struck it. It didn’t light. She tried again. Another failure. She dropped the spent match and picked up the box once more. There was only one match left.

    Gadfel put his hand on my arm and I looked down to see the small ball, still rolling between my thumb and palm, pulsing softly. Just as I heard the head of the match catch fire, for less than a fraction of the most infinitely small division of time, the pearl flared in the darkness.

    I smiled slightly. Ah, hope.
     
  6. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Worth Protecting (1148)

    “Give me one reason,” the torturer muttered, pressing the barrel of his pistol against my forehead. “Just one god damn reason why I shouldn't blow you're head clean off right now.”
    I was in a heap of trouble. It had happened in a blink of an eye. One second, I'd been downing my second light cocktail at the bar. The next moment, I'd found myself strapped tight to a chair in a pitch black torture chamber. My assailant wore a fabric mask with torn eye holes. His muscular, hunched figure was illuminated by a flickering gas lamp which he'd placed next to my bound feet.
    I shivered as a bead of cold sweat streamed down my temple. Past the pistol barrel.
    “Oh god man, what did we do to you? I'm on holiday with my family, you prick. What the hell do you even want with me? Money?”
    The truth was, I did have money. A hell of a lot of money. This situation seemed surreal, but when I deeply thought about it, it was believable. Well, if you were a young, multi-millionare tycoon like I was, you were bound to make a few enemies... in this case, they were pirates.
    “Don't get cocky, Captain f***ing obvious.” the torturer replied with a sarcastic undertone in his foreign accent. “Listen here, hermano. Out there, in the world, you were powerful. Too powerful. But here, on this island, you're nothing. Nothing. You hear me? You have no authority here, so stop with the f***ing back talk before I carve a pretty f***ing picture into your head.”
    Pulling away the pistol, he stooped closer to me. I felt his warm, humid breath. Then a harsh slap smacked my cheek. I was thrust sideways, tugging at the constraints.
    “What the hell, man?”
    Dazed, I repositioned myself. A line of dribble and clotted blood oozed from the corner of my mouth.
    “You're Rick Graham Smith. Your passport says so. Know your own god damn name, you dumb ass? We're not idiots. You have money, we know you do. You will give us money, whether you like it or not. If you don't,” he stated, lifting a red can of gasoline. “We erase you completely.”
    “Oh god.” I mumbled, casting my eyes around the room. There had to be a way to get out of this nightmare.
    “Well?” my captor asked. “What's it gonna take, friend. Electric shock to the...lower regions?”
    He motioned to his crotch and let out a sinister giggle. I gulped, my stomach flipping. Whatever the next minutes held in store, I wasn't going to let this psychopath anywhere near my private parts. I grunted and stared down. My wrists were beginning to rub against the rope bindings, the skin raw. I tried to squeeze my fingers through the rope, and it seemed like the rope weakened. I was distracted suddenly by the gruff voice of my captor.
    “Look at me when I'm talking to you, hermano!” he shouted. “LOOK AT ME.”
    A firm, painful grip tugged my matted hair, forcing me to lock eyes with the deranged man.
    “I'll repeat the damn question. What is it gonna take.”
    I remained silent for a moment, and didn't really think about what I was about to say.
    “I'm not giving you crazies one god damn penny.”
    Then I spat blood in his mask covered face.
    He stepped back and laughed, pulling away the mask. His toned skin was revealed in the dim light, along with a grizzly scar which ran from his eyebrow, past his nose and down to the stubble covered chin. His eyes were wide with frustration and surprise. I could tell I had crossed some sort of line.
    “Oh my god.” he croaked at a surprisingly subtle volume. “Do you have any idea how angry I am about what you just did? I liked that mask. THE DEPTH OF THE S**T YOU ARE IN, IS SO F***ING DEEP RIGHT NOW.”
    I gasped at his sudden outburst and coughed up a ball of phlegm and blood, spitting it onto the floor this time.
    “You're not getting anything from me.” I said, but regretted the words instantly. I remembered my wife, Eve. What would she think of my reckless threats to a man who could take my life with the mere pull of a trigger? I remembered my daughter, Emily. I remembered her innocent voice, her laugh. I failed to notice a warm tear dripping from my cheek as the captor drove his fist into my stomach. I groaned and keeled over as far as I could, spluttering. The air had been stolen from my lungs. I desperately attempted to inhale. The captor gripped my throat and sat me up once again. I noticed something. Another voice. A voice I didn't want to hear. Not in a situation like this...
    “Daddy, what are there doing?” my daughter cried. Her pink holiday shirt was stained with crimson blood. The thoughts of where it had come from repulsed me. She had the firm hand of another masked pirate on her shoulder.
    “It's gonna be alright, ba-”
    The captor silenced me with an elbow to the head. A shot of pain forced me to wince, but I suppressed a yell. I didn't want Emily to see her daddy like this. In pain.
    A moment later, the unthinkable suddenly became heart wrenchingly close to reality. The captor placed his weapon against Emily's head.
    “Let me call this...raising the stakes a little.” he giggled. “Is there something wrong, Rick? You look a little worried.”
    “You do so much as touch her, I'll rip out your throat and shove it up your god da-”
    “SILENCE. Let the girl talk.” he said. “She's got a pretty little voice.”
    Emily remained silent.
    The captor turned towards me. Then he ran his hand across Emily's face.
    I snapped.
    Getting to my feet and hunching over, I span towards the captor. The wooden chair attached to my back smashed against him with a ripple of force. The frail wood snapped into fragments. I was free. I pulled my wrists away and pushed Emily out of the violent cacophony. Then the rage that had built up inside me since the second I'd woken up exploded outwards. Into the captor. I knocked him to the floor as a flash and bang sounded. His pistol had shot. The flailing man clambered backwards, shocked by my sudden, rage filled attack. Emily was something worth fighting for. Worth protecting. Worth risking my life for.
    I had to kill the captor.
    I reached down to grab the weapon as it glinted in the torch light. I gripped the barrel and raised it to my eye line. The man was in my sights. I pushed backwards. Closed my finger around the trigger. Pulled.
     
  7. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    johann77
    The town - 2939 words

    The Town in 1832


    The sun was shining through the bare limbs of the trees, onto the ice of the creek, never revealing what it knows. The four young adults were only one semester and one summer away from college. They always wanted to skate on the creek ice, just like the way they do in Holland. They talked about it, after school the day before yesterday, when they were able to get together. They made their clandestine plan for today; the ice was to tempting to not to at least tried to skate on this day. There was laughter and quick squeals from the girls as they tried to prevent themselves from falling while skating. The boys were saying things like “watch it,” “coming by” and watch this,” as they skated fast back and forth past the girls.

    Carol was trying to do delicate moves that she had been practicing last year on the pond. Sara was trying to do circles. Robert was just having a good time. Tyler thought this was the best experience he had ever had with ice-skating. The time seemed to be going by fast; the sun was obviously past noon. They were not aware that a crack had formed on the underside of the ice and the human eye could not see that it.

    They continued to skate, unaware of the present danger. Sara tried to skate on one leg. It was in that instant that the ice gave way and Sarah fell into the water. She went straight under, then came up and tried to grasp the ice to keep her head above water. The other three young adults stood there in shock and didn’t know what to do. Tyler turned around, grabbed along stick and then skated towards the hole in the ice. Falling forward, then slid on his stomach with the stick in his hand pointed towards Sarah. However, by that time she had gone under again. Panic began to set in on the three young adults.

    “Get her Tyler, get her, she’s going to die,” frantically said Carol. Her voice had a crying sound in it.

    All of a sudden in front of everything that was going on, two giant sized men appeared out of nowhere. One of the men was tying a rope around his waist. The other man took the remainder of the rope and wrapped it around a medium sized tree one time.

    “Hurry it up, get out there,” said one of the men.

    “I’m there now,” said the other man. He laid down on his stomach and began moving fast out to the hole in the ice. Sarah was now under water.

    “GET OFF THE ICE YOU FOOLS,” yelled the man on land.


    “GET OFF THE ICE NOW,”yelling again.


    The young adults were awakened from the mental frozen state they were in and started heading for land. They headed towards land. Carol and Tyler got to land. Robert was three feet from land when the ice broke out from under him and he fell through. Luckily, the bottom of the river only allowed him to down to his thighs. He realized the situation and immediately headed for land.


    The man on the ice was able to get his chest to the edge of the ice. He put almost his giant sized arm into the water with his face only an inch from the icy water. He tried to grab the girl by reaching down in the water as far as he could. He pulled his arm out and he began to think that maybe the river claimed her. He pulled his arm back and maneuvered himself to another spot on the ice. Again, he plunged his arm into the icy cold water. He moved his arm around. This time he found her. He was able to grab her by the hair. He pulled her up out of the icy water. The first thing came up was her face. Her eyes shut closed, her lips purple, and her face was whiter than the snow. She was surely dead, he thought to himself.


    “I HAVE HER, PULL ME BACK," yelled the man


    As the other man pulled him back, he changed his handgrip on the girl from holding her hair to grasping the back of her collar. She came out of the icy water like a dead fish. Because of the man holding her by her collar, her face was face down dragging on the ice and her arms were by her side completely limps. This woman is sure as dead thought the man. The Young adults had changed into their shoes by then and were now standing by watching what was going on.


    “GO GET THE BLANKETS OFF THE WAGON AND BRING THEM HERE AND HURRY IT UP,” said the man on the land.


    The three adults ran as fast as they could to the wagon and two minutes later, they came back with four blankets.


    “OPEN THEM UP AND LAY THEM ON THE GROUND OVER HERE AND HURRY UP FOOLS,”said the man on land


    The man on the ice was able to get the girl off the ice and now he picked her up and took her to the blankets. Both men wrapped her up real well and the man who was on the ice, picked her up and began carrying her towards the wagon.


    “COME ON FOOLS HEAD FOR THE WAGON. WHERE IS THE CLOSEST DOCTOR FROM HERE? “asked the man


    The young adults told him that a doctor’s house was about a mile and a half up the road. The man carrying Sarah finally got her to the wagon and placed her gently in it.


    “Get up in the wagon, now,” said the man.


    The three young adults got up into the wagon, while the two men got up onto the front of the wagon. They took off causing the horses to run as fast as they could. About half way to the doctor’s office.


    “Why were you four on the ice and ice-skating at that?” asked the man


    “We wanted to try it out skating on the ice of a river or stream like the way they do in Holland,” said Robert


    “The people in Holland don’t start skating on the ice until after December, not in early November, fools,” said the man with anger in his face. Then he turned back towards the horses. They finally got to the home of the doctor. The man in the passenger seat jumped off and ran around the horses and to the front door. He began banging the door with his big fists and then he started kicking the door.


    “OPEN UP, IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH,” yelled the man


    Finally, The door opened up and it was a woman who answered the door, it was the wife of the doctor. The man then explained the situation with what had happened. The other man had just gotten Sara off the wagon and was heading for the door.


    “Bring her right in and take her to that room,” said the woman as she pointed to a bedroom on the first floor on the other side of the house. She went on to explain that the doctor wasn’t in right now, but she expected him any time soon.


    The man with Sarah carried her into the bedroom. The one man turned to the two male young adults.


    “Don’t you boys go any where or you will be sorry for it. You boys are really lucky you’re not my sons, I would give you a beating that you would never forget for pulling this stunt,” said the man


    The wife of the doctor, her house servant, carol and the two big men went into the bedroom.


    “Ok gentlemen, your going to have to leave, we have got to get these wet cloths off of this woman and you can’t be in the room while we do this. Now shoo, shoo,” said the wife of the doctor.


    The two big men left the room and went back to where the boys were at in front of the living room fireplace.


    “Where do her parents live?” said one of the big men.


    “They live about three miles that way,” said Robert, as he pointed in the direction.


    The other man turned and went for the door.


    “Where are you going?” said the one man


    “I’m going out to wait for the doctor,” said the other man As he walked out the door.


    The house servant had gone into the kitchen to boil some water. The door of the bedroom, opened up.


    “JACK, WHRE ARE YOU? COME HERE QUICKLY,” Said the wife of the doctor


    Jack was between the house and the Barn when he heard his mother calling him. He went in quickly, going to the door and knocked.


    Yes Mom, what do you need?” said Jack. He knew instantly that there had to be a patient in the house from the way his mother was calling him, which has happened many times before.


    “Jack, I want you to get plenty of fire wood for this room, we have a female patient here and when you bring the fire wood I want you to be as quiet as possible,” said the doctor’s wife.


    “Yes Mam,” said Jack and he went off doing what his mother asked him to do.


    The one man waiting for the doctor started walking down the long drive looking for the doctor. When he got down to the bottom of the driveway, a few minutes, later the doctor was on his way towards the house. The man waved at the doctor wanting him to hurry. The doctor got to the man and the man explained what was going on. The doctor caused the horse to run up the driveway and got to the house in seemingly instant. The doctor grabbed his bag, abandoned the horse and the buggy, and then ran into the house. The doctor went past the man and the two young adult males, headed strait for the bedroom, and then went in. Several minutes later, the other man came back into the house.


    “Where is the house of the girl?” said the one man.


    Robert again told them where it was.


    “That’s good you know where they live at. Let’s go because were going there now to tell her parents what has happened and where she is at,” said the one man


    The two men and the two young adult males went out and got on the wagon and left, leaving carol behind. They arrived at the house in a little bit of time. The two men got off the wagon and told the boys to say where they were. They then went to the front door, knocked, and waited. A man answered the door and the three men began to talk. The man became very shocked at the news and called for his wife, then invited the men in. hey were inside for about 15 minutes. The man from the house then bolted out the door and went straight to the barn to hitch up the horse and carriage. The two big men then got back onto their wagon and left. They took the two boys home and then they went back to the doctor’s house.


    The father and mother of Sarah, less than 30 minutes later, pulled up front of the doctor’s house they went to the door and knocked. The house servant answered the door. He couple were deeply concerned regarding their daughter.


    “Is my daughter alive?” asked the mother.


    “You will have to ask the doctor, I don’t know. Please come in out of the cold,” said the servant.


    Right at that time, the wife of the doctor was coming to the door as Sarah’s parents were stepping in


    “The doctor is with her right now and we are doing the best we can to try to revive her. Please come back and you can see her,” said the doctor’s wife. They walked back to the bedroom and went in. The doctor and carol looked up when they came into the room.


    “She’s going to live. However, she’s in real bad shape right now. She’s in shock from the cold. When she was in the water, it caused her body temperature to drop which caused her to pass out. If she was in that water a couple of more minutes she could have been dead,” said the doctor


    The father went to a corner of the room and sat down looking at his daughter from the distance, relieved she was still alive. The mother sat on the edge of the bed then bent over to kiss her on the forehead.


    “It’s going to be another hour or two before she wakes up, “said the doctor


    The two men then asked Carol where does she live. She told them and they left to go to her house. They told her parents what had happened and that she was still at the doctor’s house with Sarah. The parents went and got their horse and buggy and proceeded to the doctor’s house. The two men left and went back to their residence at their lumber job.


    The doctor talked to the parents


    “Don’t you two worry about, she’s going to live. Her body temperature is now going up and she will live. She is going to have to stay here for three or four weeks until she’s better and has her strength back. It would be unadvisable to be having her leave here sooner than that. After she leaves here, she won’t be able to leave your house for about another two weeks. She is not to leave the house for anything,” said the doctor.


    Later on the parents of the two young men and the young men themselves entered into the house. They met with the parents of Sarah. They talked and expressed how grateful they were that she lived. About 30 minutes later came in the parents of Carol, who was still in the room with Carol. They talked and stayed until late at night. The parents of the two boys and the two boys left around midnight. Every one was relieved that Sarah was going to live. Jason and the house servant made sure the fire was just right to keep the room warm. Sarah’s father went home about two A.M in the morning leaving his wife there. Sarah’s mother stayed in a room on the second floor, while her daughter was there. She watched over Sarah and took good care of her. When she wasn’t doing that, she was helping the doctor’s wife do chores and things around the house. A couple of times, after a couple of weeks had passed by; he brought her brother and sister to see her.


    As Sarah was recovering at the Doctors house, the mayor got news about what had happened. He was disturbed of hearing what had happened. He got together with city legislature representatives and they created a law saying that it was illegal for anyone to be on the ice of any stream, river and any body of water for any reason. If anyone broke this rule and caught, then it would cause them to be in jail for a solid year. The law passed through out the land forbidding anyone to walk or skate or to be on the ice between September and March. The built ice-skating rinks in the spring to let the public start use them in the winter of next year.


    Next year, in December, Carol, Sarah, Robert and Tyler were at the ice skating rink near then, along with seemingly half the town. Two giant men were at the opposite side of the rink. They were looking at all the people skating and did not see the four young adults skating on the opposite side of the rink.


    “Do you see those big men standing over there?” asked Carol


    “Yes, so what,” said Sarah. She didn't realize who the men were.


    “Those two big men were the one’s who pulled you from the river and saved your life,” Said Carol.


    Sarah began to skate towards the men, with carol following close behind. Carol turn and signaled the boys to come. They all wound up in front of the giant men, which surprised the men.


    “Look who it is,” said one man to the other


    “Yes, I see,” said the other man.


    They were all happy to see each other. The parents of the children were not far and they came and joined in. There was talking and laughing going on.


    Why don’t you men come over our house tonight and have dinner with us and we will celebrate a one-year anniversary of you saving my daughter. The men agreed to come. The father also invited the other family members. All went back to Sarah’s house after everyone finished skating and there was a big festival. The two big men stayed until one O’clock in the morning before they really had to go to get back to camp. The other family’s laid on the living room floor and slept there until the next morning when they had to get back home. They all thoroughly enjoyed the celebration the night before.


    A week later Sarah met a young man named Carl at the ice-skating rink and they became good friends. Then they wound up becoming really, good friends, for the rest of their lives.
     
  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Searching4aMuse
    Forbidden [2940]

    I'm Addison and I'm sixteen years old. I live with my mother and big brother. Jonas is twenty-one, though he still lives at home. He provides for us. Mom cannot, or will not work. She is depressed. I don't mean she's just sad. She is sad, but it is more than that. Mom is a shell. She eats and sleeps, but that's all she does.

    We both take care of her. Jonas is great. He's not my blood brother, nor is he mom's child. He is my step brother. His father and my mother were married since I was ten and Jonas was fifteen. I called him dad because he was the only father figure I ever knew. Jonas didn't mind sharing. He seemed to like having a little brother. He spoiled me. He still spoils me. He buys me all kinds of great things and he spends more time with me than he spends with his friends.

    Though I've began to wonder if he has any friends. He never talks of any.

    Since I've reached the age of consent, I can leave the house any time I want to and make my own life, get married, even. It might seem like a young age, but the world has changed a lot. I'm just lucky I'm not a girl or I'd be forced to leave my home at sixteen and marry.

    I do not want to leave Jonas or mom, even if she is only a shell. I love both of them too much. I can even remember a time when she was normal. It was when dad died that she started to change. I guess she was always a little broken, though I was unaware of this.

    ----

    She finally succumbed to her illness in year 2120. I cried one tear and then I locked the pain away. After all, she had been gone for a long time. Jonas also shed a tear or two, but he tried to hide them from me. We stood at the park. Her favorite place when she had been normal. We held the urn that held her ashes. They no longer let anyone be buried in graveyards. There were too many grave-robbers and people who liked experimenting with the dead bodies.

    We each had a hand on the urn and Jonas had a hand on my shoulder.

    I was eighteen and he twenty-three. We were still unmarried. It was unheard of for two healthy males to live together and not have a wife to breed with, but they knew we were brothers, and not one of those “forbidden” couples.

    Couples who couldn't breed, that is. So they left us alone. Somehow they missed the memo that said we were not blood related. If they had known that, they would have made a fuss, even though we are not a couple.

    At least not that kind of couple. We were close and we did love each other, but our affection had never gone over the forbidden line. Same sex couples and infertile couples were not allowed to live together if they were over the age of eighteen, let alone be in a pleasurable relationship. You were only allowed to live with someone and not be married to them when they were a blood relative.

    Sex was forbidden unless it was to breed. Population was so low and even with all the advanced technology at the hospitals, infants and children were dying a lot more often. Our race was dying out.

    We tipped the urn together and let her ashes blow across the park and past her favorite tree.

    ----

    That night I sat in the same room with Jonas. We sat on his bed. We were just talking about a lot of random things like we often did whenever we weren't taking care of mom or working.

    “When do you want me to move out?” I asked him. He gave me a startled look.

    “What do you mean Addison?” He scooted closer to me and grasped my chin in his slender fingers.

    “If they find out we're not blood related, we'll both be punished, Jonas.”

    “But they do think we are blood related. We got that letter, remember? The one after mom first went to the hospital.”

    I remembered. It hadn't been the most thoughtful of letters. We had been angry after reading it.

    Dear Dunner Family,

    We regret to hear of the health of your mother. Now that you are well past the age of consent and your mother will soon be passing, it is time to think about doing something for your country. Why not come to the Single Ball in one months time? Here are your enclosed invitations. If you do choose to continue to live under the same roof, we can not force you to do anything, but please consider to take on a wife or two.

    Yours truly,
    Jennen and Jennen Co.

    The president of Jennen and Jennen Co. owned everything there was to own in what was left in the world. They had branches all over and controlled the people in every way possible. Once a month there was a public execution to remind people who were in charge. The people executed were mostly innocent people. People like myself and my brother, who are not blood related, but still living together, or couples who get married, even though they are forbidden to. The gays and the barren.

    There is talk of little places in the world where Jennen and Jennen Co. hasn't reached. I dream of finding a place like that.

    “How is it they think we're blood related?”

    “I- well mother and father must have done something. They did work where they keep records and birth certificates.”

    I can see it now. Father hacking into the system and filling in the black spot where the name of my birth father should have been. He had to have put his name if they think Jonas and I are brothers.

    “They had to have wanted to make it so we wouldn't be forced apart when they passed.”

    Jonas nodded. “Can we look at our birth certificates without drawing suspicion?”

    I shrugged. “Sure, they're ours, aren't they? If anyone says something, we can make something up. Like we wanted to know the name of the doctor who delivered me... cause if have my own children one day, I'd like to use the same one.”

    “If he lives.”

    “Yeah.”

    So we looked on the computer. It wasn't hard to find. All you needed was your full name and the name of your mother and the identification number they gave you when you were born. Sure enough, looking 100% legit, was the name of my stepfather. My father. Not my true birth-father, but he was now according to this document.

    I smiled. We plopped back on Jonas's bed and spent some time staring up at the ceiling, with goofy looks on our faces. We were free in a way. Didn't have to get married if we didn't want to and nobody was going to force me to leave Jonas..

    Thanks. I hoped if there was a Heaven, my parents could hear our gratitude for their huge and dangerous lie.

    “If they had been caught... wow.”

    Jonas flopped around toward me and grabbed me in his arms and started to tickle me. We hadn't had a tickle fight since the time we first became brothers. Jonas had always liked to playfully torture me when he was younger, but it stopped the older he became.

    “I-I know,” I gasped as I laughed and tried to push him away. “They would ha-have been executed.”

    Not to mention what would have happened to us. Would we too have been murdered to set an example for other people thinking to forge legal papers?

    He stopped tickling me and just held me. It was strange. He has hugged me before, but never held me in such a way before. I was pulled to his chest and didn't resist. Jonas rubbed my hair and just held me gently and for a moment, I thought he was trying to comfort me, but realized maybe he was trying to comfort himself.

    When he let go, I could tell he was a little embarrassed. He was blushing. He said “sorry” and then sat up.

    “It's fine. I was scared too.”

    I hate this world. Where it forces you to be on your own when you turn eighteen or it forces you to get married if you are a woman and the men are strongly encouraged as well. Innocent people die all the time and that is not counting all the dying babies and children who can't seem to get over sickness.

    They used to kill the elderly when they could no longer bare children, and they killed barren women for the same reason. Now they force the barren women into brothels to entertain men or they turn them into slaves of some sort. Though they forbid sex for anything but breeding, sex is allowed for pleasure in brothels. There are even some of the questionable brothels for barren men. Gay brothels. The government allowed this, as they believed allowing this would satisfy the curiosity of sinful men.

    Elderly are no longer killed by the hands of the government, but they are dying a lot sooner on their own. It's usually double suicide.

    He hugged me again. When he pulled away, he placed his palms on my face.

    “You mean a lot to me. I would break every law to keep us together.”

    I was having a hard time figuring out Jonas's meaning behind his words and his actions. Being sinful wasn't unheard of even among family members or in our case, pretend family members.

    “What do you mean, Jonas?”

    He leaned his forehead against mine. “I asked father to change your birth certificate right before he passed. We all knew how sick he was and that he didn't have much more time on this plane. He didn't question me and it wasn't hard for him to hack the system and put his name as your father, because there hadn't been a name listed before.”

    Shock. Yes, that's what I felt.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “I didn't want us to be pulled apart when they both passed and I knew I never wanted to become a pawn for Jennen and Jennen Co. and be forced to marry some poor girl and impregnate her.”

    He pulled away from me and held his hands in his lap. I could see they were shaking.

    “I hate what they've turned the world into. It is their fault so many young are dying. The water, the air, nothing is healthy, especially for a young immune system and now the fact they force people to marry for breeding purposes only. I just hate them. It's just lucky your birth certificate never had a father listed or it wouldn't have been so easy changing the record.”

    I didn't know who my real father was. He had died before I was born and I guess mom never had the heart to give me my father's name, so she left that spot blank. She was left alone and never forced to marry again. Mom just told me she fell through the cracks or something. Then she met Jonas's father and they got married and now here we are eight years later.

    “Lucky,” I agreed. I tried to stand up and move away from the bed, but he grabbed my hand and pulled me back to him suddenly. I was laying on top of him before I could even make a sound.

    I had tripped, but neither of us tried to move.

    “You have to know something and you might not like it, Addison.”

    I looked into his gray eyes. They were like mine and we both had dark hair, so it was no wonder people believed us to be related. “What?”

    “When I first met you, I was fifteen and already quite mature for my age. I thought a lot. I had the wrong kind of thoughts a lot. Only dad knew about them, though he insisted there had been a time in the world when my kind of thoughts had been okay, even allowed.”

    Trying to roll off him, I couldn't, because he had wrapped his strong arms around me and held me to him.

    “W-what thoughts, Jonas?”

    “Sinful thoughts, illegal thoughts.”

    He was stalling, but I allowed him to.

    “When I met you, you were ten and so vibrant and smart, and kind. We looked alike, though we were so different. You were cute, too.”

    “You had those kind of thoughts about me when I was ten and when we were brothers?” I wasn't upset or anything, or even horrified. Mainly, I was just confused.

    “No, no, not like you are thinking. Not those kind, especially when you were still a kid. It's true we were now brothers, but you grew and matured and so did my feelings. Sinful and wrong and painful. I'm only telling you now since mom and dad are gone... I'm giving you a chance to choose if you want to stay in the same house with someone with a sinful mind.”

    I'm eighteen, no longer a child. He hasn't been a child for a long time. I can see that now. Those feelings of his have been haunting him for who knows how long, making him grow faster then he should have. I'm just glad dad was on his side. I doubt mom knew though. According to papers we are brothers, but we are not. The government does not count us as brothers, or if they knew about us, they wouldn't.

    I couldn't think of Jonas as sinful. Of course since sex was only allowed for breeding now, being gay and especially acting on it, was seen as sinful again. There had been a time when it was allowed and accepted.

    “It's not sinful because they say it is. It isn't sinful at all. Okay? Now can I get up, one of us needs to make dinner?”

    He looked half relieved and half frustrated.

    “I guess you didn't understand I meant I still have feelings for you?”

    I guess I didn't. I thought it had been a phase when he was a teenager or something. He honestly has feelings for me? I'm not sure how I feel about it, though I am not scared or disgusted, nor do I feel like pushing him away. Never wanting to get married and have children with a girl. I've always felt that way, but could there be a deeper reason? Could I ever feel for him like a lover and not a brother?

    He let me get up and I stood at the foot of the bed and looked down at him. “I guess... let us make dinner and then we can think about this and decide what's to be done.” I started to walk out of the bedroom. At the doorway, I turned and looked back at him.

    “But whatever we decide, I do not want to leave this house or you.”

    He smiled at that and I felt a tickle in my stomach. I think I was blushing as I quickly rushed out of the room.

    ----

    We did make dinner and we did think while we ate, but we didn't speak. We were both in our own little worlds. I bet he was imagining every type of rejection I could give him, and even imagining a couple where I throw myself at him and confess my undying love. I was thinking about pros and cons. I know it sounds silly. I want to keep my brother. I do not want to grow away from him because of this.

    Can I stop thinking of him as “brother” and be with him? Or can I be with him and think it okay even though we are supposed to be brothers, step brothers at any rate? What will happen if I turn him away and cannot return his special feelings for me?

    Pros:

    1. He will not get hurt if we are together.
    2. He does love me.
    3. He takes care of me by working and providing for me.
    4. He makes me laugh.

    Cons:

    1. Jonas is a man
    2.

    If that was the only con, then it was stupid to turn him away. I guess I could have added that us being together would be illegal and we could get executed if found out.

    -----

    “Jonas.” I walked into his bedroom and looked around for him. I ended up finding him in mom and dad's room, sitting on the bed, with a torn up book in his hands. These days books were quite rare, but our parents had a huge collection from back in the day.

    “What are you reading?” I set down next to him and leaned toward him to take a look at the cover. “Little Women, mom's favorite. Such an old book, but a classic.”

    He set it down, and faced me. I gulped.

    Okay, here comes the 'talk'. I'm prepared for it. I've thought long and hard about it... I have. Blushing, I leaned my head against his shoulder.

    “I don't mind trying to be ex-step-brothers and trying... well, you know?”

    Jonas grinned. “So we're going to have a step brother divorce?”

    I chuckled. “Okay, but only in secret, or we'd get in trouble for sure. Jennen and Jennen have to continue to think we are brothers.”

    We shook on it and then he kissed me, and I was okay with that.

    THE END
     
  9. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    seelifein69
    499 Willow
    [1,555 words]

    Her lips made the shape of an ‘O’ as she deeply exhaled, clenching her firsts together, so tightly. The grip of her wrist restraints made blood pool in her hands, and they throbbed as she struggled. Through her fingertips the anxiety buzzed, feeding across her insides like a relay race, consuming her in an overwhelming sense of loss and desperate fear. The rush of insanity helped her to stay awake, even if it was only for that little while longer…

    “I’m going to need you to relax, and lean back into the bed.” A muffled voice, the microphone too close to his lips, echoed from the speakers inside the room. “BX-464, I need you to lean back.” This time was a bit more caring, almost with love.

    Another voice took over from behind the two way mirror, with his nasal speech, this time forceful and angry, “464, I need you to relax and lean back, or I will come in there and do it for you.”

    She allowed her tense back muscles to loosen and she fell back from holding herself up. She was strapped, her arms and legs, to a medical bed inside a harmless and sterile looking white tiled room. She faced the large dark mirror, her own eyes looking back, but she knew there were other sets of eyes staring through to her, examining and taking notes.
    Her eyes began to tear up as she realized her defeat.

    Just another bag to poke and prod, she was only that. Just another number to add to the list of failed tests. She didn’t always know it was this way, or rather, she didn't always know that this way wasn't normal, that it wasn't the life of every child.

    464 grew up among the other ‘numbers’ inside of the compound, of which no one ever left. There was no hoping or wishing, no thoughts of abuse or yearning for a difference because the knowledge of a different life was simply not there. Not until the very night, the Night, when there was an uprising from the elder numbers. They screamed at the men in the white coats, they refused to accept their medications, their vaccinations, their surgeries, and even the food. They screamed that ‘It’ was in the food. ‘It’ was in the cures, and the water. ‘It’ kills us! They shouted, they overturned tables and tried to light fires. But that night was over very quickly; the numbers not involved were taken to their rooms, dosed, and put to bed. They awoke some three or four days later. Enough time to reprimand the situation, to clean and assess the disturbed hallway, and to bring in the exact same furniture to replace what was broken.

    But the outlaw numbers, the ones who refused to accept, they were not seen, they were not heard of, for they were not there. Only the loud rumble of the incinerator cooling down and a putrid smell, one that lingered for days…that was the only sign of the outlaws.

    “What do you want?” she cried, her voice wavering, tired of fighting, no longer relentless, “What do you want that’s inside my head?” Her face was twisted and ugly from emotion.

    There was no answer from the speakers.

    “You breed us? You breed with us, just to make more? Just so that when your tests go wrong, there’s another one to fill the slot?” She was screaming at this point. But no hysteria could take away the scar of blinding heat and agony that she lived through on a daily basis. She was clear minded, despite the drugs pumping in her blood.

    There was no answer.

    “Is that why you chose me to give birth? Because I’m dying?”

    There was a pause, so long in fact, that she opened her mouth again to question and accuse.

    “There is an eighty percent chance you will not live through this procedure. 499 was born so that if, in fact, you perish during the surgery, he is lineage to you and carries the same immunities to the basic diseases you are resistant to.” He sounded like he was just recording results, he sounded like he was ordering fast food. How could one be so cold, when giving the death sentence?

    She began to cry, to beg, and thrash around in her restraints. The movement of the medical bed sent the stand of sterile medical tools flying spontaneously towards the great mirror. Behind it, the beady eyes of two men hung in the darkness like scavengers in the jungle.

    “I think you know what to do, Dr. Willow.” The man in the white coat, the tall one, the one with a mean voice, said to the other, a more portly and submissive man.

    “But, I-I couldn’t, I’m a….I’m not authorized to give a Sanction Green…not even you are, Sir. She’s already in Sanction Yellow…W-wouldn’t that be putting our subject at risk? As well as our own reputations, here? I mean, that’s unethical…” The chubby man stuttered.

    “May I remind you, Addison,” there was a specific emphasis on the man’s feminine name. “That you took it upon yourself to do a few sanctions of your own, don’t you remember? A very unofficial, and very illegal sanction…and it wasn’t the first time, eh! With our own little belle of the ball, here, BX-464! Can you recall? About nine months before the birth of CX-499?” He heard the man swallow, hard, and smiled at the bead of sweat he saw running down that fat balding head. “I would ask you to remember that, Addison, and remember it well, because I was the one who put the documents together, I verified that unplanned mess you made, I put it in the books as a planned pregnancy. You owe me everything.”

    He paused, allowing his subjugate to think it over the ramifications of disobedience.

    “You know,” the mean man continued, “that she will die during this surgery. So what does it matter what you do? Inside her brain stem is the answer to why she is able to resist these diseases, and I’m going to take very thorough samples. She’s young, but she’s used. If I can get some kind of promising vaccine out of this, I can get almost five hundred dollars a dose. Plus, every one’s had a turn on this pony, and it’s time to thin the herd.” and he pointed into the room where 464 lay.

    “But Dr. Teranno…” the lab technician pleaded, he was sweating and becoming uncomfortable.

    The tall man looked down at his worker, and noticed the mustard stain on his shirt collar, “You fu**ing disgust me, Dr. Willow.”

    Dr. Teranno traversed to the other side of the observatory lab. He looked through a few drawers, all white, white handles, white paint, and white insides. He turned around and held up the syringe encased in a plastic lining. There was a red liquid inside the chamber that danced about when he shook it from side to side, with a dastardly grin on his face. His teeth gleamed white against his sunken in black eyes. He gave the little package to Dr. Addison Willow, who looked down at the item in his shaking palms.

    It was just a sedative…Dr. Willow told himself. But that didn’t keep his emotions from running rampant in his head, but mostly in his heart, which ached like a cold breaking bridge. He was so taken by 464, he loved her, he loved her face, and he loved 499 because it was his own child.

    His swollen and damp fingers couldn’t grasp the smooth door handle, he wiped his palm on his coat and opened the door. She was staring at him, his heart was racing. She was unaware of his feelings, and of his doings. She was unaware that 499 was his son. The bright overwhelming echo of white hues in the room started to make him feel dizzy. She was screaming at him now.

    She shrieked, ‘What are you going to do to me? What are you going to do to my baby when I’m gone?”

    Dr. Willow began to cry, harder with each step he took closer to her, and he held his face down so that she could not see. He sobbed as he ripped the split packaging to the needle. An utter of an inaudible prayer and sounds of whimpering erupted out of him when he screwed the needle to the syringe.

    It was something he had to do, but every fiber of his heart-strings reverberated through his empty soul, screaming for him to stop.

    “I promise,” the words were barely recognizable through his break down, but he was able to get close enough to her while inserting the needle to whisper in her ear, “I promise with all of my heart, I will get 499 out of here.”

    He began to watch her fade away into the sedatives, her iris no longer vivid and her pupils no longer responsive, she would be in surgery within the quarter hour. She was beautiful even though her head was shaved, despite the marker lines and dots to denote cutting points. For a moment, he saw the corners of her mouth dip up, a smile through the agony.

    “I promise I will get him out of here.”
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    CEASE AND DESIST
    (1878 words)

    Dallas, Texas 2012

    Red had bigger balls than a Pilates studio.

    I wanted to rip the letter to shreds. Although it would be sacrilegious to desecrate a legal missive from the prestigious law firm of Harrison, Parker, and Wallenberg.

    Dear Mr. Victor Connor... Firm representing Thomas Reed AKA Red… Intellectual property… trademark infringement…You are to immediately Cease and Desist from using the name Maggie’s Farm... severe legal repercussions… Sincerely Manfred B. Parker, Attorney at Law.

    You jerk. You pompous, backstabbing, runaway, AWOL, glory whore. You didn’t think I was using anyone’s “intellectual property” when I was sucking dust at county fairs. No trademark problem when you mocked me for “playing moldy oldies in senior centers”.

    I needed an ally.

    Jeff was dead. Eight years ago, he nodded off driving home from a Nebraska C&W roadhouse. Nobody knew what happened to Garrison. Billy was running a music store in Portland. The store website listed a number.

    “Hey Thunder. This is Vic.” I said.

    “Hi. Been ages,” he said.

    I got right to the point. “Did you get some legal bullshit from Red?”

    “Ahhhh… He called me and asked me to join him on the tour. That what you mean?”

    Another gut shot. I closed my eyes tightly to stop the stinging tears of betrayal. “You doing it?”

    “Why not?” replied Billy. “I need the money.”

    “He didn’t ask me. He sent me some letter saying I couldn’t use ‘Maggie’s Farm’ for the band anymore. Can you believe it? Me!?”

    “Oh. Didn’t he… really? Um. Shit, huh?”

    “You know I kept it going. He dumped us for ‘sold out’ stadiums with ‘super group’ Greased Pig.” I emphasized ‘sold out’ and ‘super group’ with a sarcastic Monster Truck Rally voice.

    “Right. But in a million years I would never thought… I mean that movie. You know it’s all timing and dumb luck. Long as we’re aces, a reunion tour makes sense. Grab those fifteen minutes.”

    Billy’s logic was impeccable, except two band members is not a reunion – unless your name was Van Halen.

    “You gonna help me?” I asked.

    “Sorry.”

    “Know where Garrison is?”

    “Course not”.

    “Well this sucks and I’m not taking it.” I hung up without saying goodbye.

    It was twenty-three years ago when I and four other Kansas University students formed Maggie’s Farm.

    We developed a large regional fan base and eventually recorded. “Silver Spoon” charted first, a Dylan-esque, philosophical, piss-n-moan song. It was followed by a handful of up tempo ditties. The kind of thing they make a little less up tempo with violins and put in boutiques. “Is That Smile For Me” reached #3. We were so MOR, our logo should have been a white dotted line.

    One day Garrison just quit. Nobody knew why or where he went. Live off his old man’s money? Found religion? Or drugs? Fed up with Red complaining about the band’s direction? The gossip columns whispered rumors about Argentina and an underage Filipino girl.

    As unofficial manager I hired a new keyboardist. Then a new guitarist. Then a drummer. The lineup changed so often, the playbills rarely matched the band roster. Crowds shrunk. The venues regressed from Dallas to Little Rock to Mountain Grove.

    Then lightning struck twice.

    We were playing the Indian casino circuit and hustling CD’s when a movie producer bought “Maggie’s Farm Greatest Hits Volume I” – there never was a volume II. The film was dismissed by the critics, but not by the ticket buying public. Sleeper. Feel good movie of the year. The soundtrack featured our five best songs. The aging fan base revived.

    I didn’t tell Billy that I parlayed the renewed interest into a spot at the ZiegenBock Music Festival in two weeks. MY band was scheduled to perform outdoors in front of thousands of new, and renewed, fans. I was going to be there, Cease and Desist be damned.

    * * *

    Bloomington, Illinois. 2012

    He fired up the laptop, typed “Maggies Farm” and hit SEARCH.

    Dateline Houston, Texas.

    Interesting.


    * * *

    Lawrence, Kansas 1989

    Four young men, T-shirts soaked from the humidity, unpacked an ancient Ford van in back of the Club Nouveau.

    “Hey, careful with the guitars!” I warned.

    “So what. Jeff plays air guitar better than his Strat,” Red said.

    Jeff punched Red on the arm.

    “Oooooo, I don’t think I can play tonight.” Red mocked as he rubbed his shoulder with exaggerated strokes. “Maybe I’ll hang with the chickies instead.”

    “Come on, if you want me to book you guys, at least be serious,” I said.

    “We are serious… about chickies,” Red snorted.

    Jeff high fived him.

    “Geez Vic, take some ex-lax. You’re manager cause you ain’t got a life,” Billy teased. “Garrison. Garrison! Get your lazy ass out here and help with the amps. Write your stuff in Chem Lab.”

    “I already do.”

    That was true. Garrison Lockwood was the Mozart of our music. A paper trail of napkins, phone book pages, and newspapers followed the band, all scribbled with lyrics that looked like subway wall graffiti. He tapped into the teenage psyche and found new expression to the most mundane adolescent fears. The amused drinkers gently heckled when The Genius composed music at his keyboard in between sets.

    The club was filling fast. The trade school graduates slouched in early with fresh auto grease or kitchen grease stains on their working class jeans. They ordered gallons of forget to erase another dead-end day. The KU Jayhawkettes arrived fashionably later. They strolled in like Hollywood stars on the red carpet, heads high, surreptitiously counting admirers. Waitresses with trays carried high threaded through the cliques and zeroed in like smart bombs on the big tippers.

    Showtime.

    Billy “Thunder” Otterman played – or rather attacked – his drum set. Guitarist Jeff Shandy chunk-chunka-chunked rhythms. I held down the bottom with my Fender bass.

    Tom “Red” Reed salt and peppered songs with gasket blowing, bluesy guitar licks. “Alligator Spit” the student newsletter described it. While Billy thundered, Red lightninged. He radiated ease and caffeine fueled energy as he patrolled his natural habitat, the front center of the stage. One time the high school principal misread his name and announced to a full auditorium that Tom Red made the all-conference football team. “Red” stuck.

    The female regulars danced near stage. Maggie’s Sorority. They debated cuteness endlessly; Red’s athletic 6’2” frame or Garrison’s cerulean eyes or Billy’s shaggy jet black hair.

    Garrison romanced the girls at closing with his version of “Sealed With a Kiss”, just him and his keyboard. They swayed and held Bic lighters with uplifted arms, like candles at a memorial service, as they smiled and brushed tears from their cheeks.

    Although they arrived weary and disillusioned, the nightclub patrons wore good-time smiles and hummed Garrison’s tunes as the bouncers corralled them to the door. Not thunder, not lightning, but pure nighttime sunshine.

    * * *

    Dallas, Texas 2012


    My cell phone chirped.

    “Hi, Vic speaking”

    “This is Mr. Carl Dunning from the Festival Committee.”

    MISTER Carl Dunning. Who talks like that anymore? “Yes?”

    “I’m calling to inform you the committee is cancelling your appearance.”

    “How come?”

    “Due to certain, ah, ah, technicalities that have been raised.”

    Due to Manfred B. Parker, Attorney at Law, most likely, I thought. “We’ll be there,” I replied. “Save us a spot.”

    “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

    “We’ll see about that.”

    “Look, I know you’re disappointed. But there’s no point in being bitter. Please consider my position, say if you were to bill yourself as a “tribute” band, then perhaps --”

    I hung up.

    It didn’t matter who was right or wrong. Red’s 2012 Corvette could drive right through the gaping rust holes in my ‘93 Buick LeSabre. Going on forty-five and flat broke. A loser in the eyes of Lady Justice. But I believed in Garrison’s music. That was the simple truth. He was probably the last great melody and hook writer in the long tradition of the Great American Songbook. Rap music threw the final shovel of dirt on its grave. But Maggie’s Farm kept the music on life support. Dr. Frankenstein waiting for the lightning bolt that would resuscitate Garrison’s creation. The music was worth protecting, worth preserving, worth spreading the sunshine.

    * * *

    Houston, Texas 2012

    The band’s current lineup was professional, competent, and today – uneasy, as we arrived at Houston Race Park. Wu, Quentin, Allen, and Chuck stared out the windows during the four hour drive.

    “Admission is twenty dollars,” the attendant informed us.

    “We’re playing,” I said pointing to the guys, “Maggie’s Farm.”

    The attendant ran his finger down a program. “You’re not on here.”

    “See?” I handed him the original letter from the Festival Committee. “I talked with Mr. Dunning yesterday.” I kept my voice even as if trying to beat a polygraph test.

    He skimmed it, looked at the program again and frowned. Screw it. I put the van in gear and drove in.

    We brought our portable amplifiers. They weren’t loud, but mobile.

    We sat through a few sets and enjoyed it very much. I’d forgotten what it was like to be the audience.

    I recognized his voice from the phone call.

    MISTER Carl Dunning spoke into the microphone. “Thank you for coming to the tenth annual Music Festival. We hope you have enjoyed the performances.”

    Applause and cheering.

    “Please visit our website for details about next year’s Festival and follow us on Facebook. Drive sober and drive safe.”

    I waited until Dunning had turned and was walking off the platform. “Let’s go” I signaled my guys to drag their gear on stage.

    I stepped up to the mic and addressed the audience. “And don’t forget to brush and floss, kiss your mommy goodnight, and don’t have unprotected sex with figure skaters.”

    They stopped folding up their lawn chairs and stared.

    Dunning turned and froze. I swear he stopped breathing.

    “You may be confused by the two different bands touring under the name Maggie’s Farm, I continued, “we don’t care! Leave that to the lawyers! We care about the music! Let’s! Rock!”

    Some scattered hoots and whistles from the audience. They were focused on the stage again.

    My hands were trembling harder than Cosmo Kramer on speed as I tried to plug my guitar cord in the amp. Out of the corner of my eye I saw someone walking on stage from the wing. Attendant? Security? Off duty cop?

    A ripple of applause started on the right side of the spectators near the front. Then it spread and crescendoed.

    The man motioned to Allen who obediently stepped aside, then he sat down at the keyboard and grinned at me. His weight had shifted and he had more forehead and thinner hair. But his eyes were all Garrison.

    Now my breathing stopped.

    He nodded his approval and went seamlessly into the piano intro of “Is That Smile For Me”.

    The years, the miles, the places, blurred.

    A few venturous mothers jumped on-stage and danced. Their spirited daughters followed. The new Maggie’s Sorority transformed that huge platform into the Houston Race Park Club Nouveau. Even the husbands, the boyfriends, and the security joined in.

    In that unforgettable evening, as the darkness snuggled in and Garrison serenaded a lake of swaying Bic lighters…

    My life was validated.
     
  11. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    ottawainkspot
    Little Sunshine [779 words]
    Kay-Lynn opened the door. Stuff animals and clothes littered the room. She danced her way to her bed. As her head hit the pillow, the blanket encased her whole body with familiar warmth. “Goodnight my little one.” Her father closed the door behind him. Dreams of a pink playground were calling to her to come and enjoy what delights that had until the monster overwhelmed Kay-Lynn. She sat up and only saw the silhouettes of her room due to the moonlight. The noise could be heard as Kay-Lynn legs began to shake. His breathing got louder; A new scraping noise added on to the already breathing from
    beneath the bed. Kay-Lynn put her head back down on the pillow pulling the blanket as close as she could over her head. The noises moved closer and closer, to the point that the blanket was being pulled from off of her. Just before the blanket was pulled completely off, Kay-Lynn let out a scream. Her tiny feet carried her from her bed, up the hallway and through the open bedroom door. She stopped at the foot of the bed as she saw her mom and dad looking down at her. “Mommy! Daddy!” Kay-Lynn screamed.
    “What?” Both parents answered.
    “There’s a monster in my room. It tried to eat me.” Kay-Lynn pushed out with tears on her face. She ran over to mom and jumped into her open arms. As her mom’s wrapped her arms around her, a sense of security replaced the thought of the monster eating her. “There’s no such thing as monsters sweet pea. Your dad will walk you back to your bed OK?” Mom said. Kay-Lynn looked over to see her dad climbing out of bed with a smile on his face, “Yes little one, I’ll tuck you back into bed. Come on though, you need to get some sleep. We don’t want you all tired and grumpy”
    “Like mommy in the morning” Kay-Lynn added.
    “Yup, just like mommy. You’re too sweet for that so let’s go” Kay-Lynn grabbed her dad’s hand and walked back to the door to her bedroom. The light turned on and her clothes were exactly where she had left them. All of her stuffed animals were in the same place as well. Nothing had been disturbed at all. She again made her way into her bed; once again felt the warmth of the blanket. “See, there’s no monster hiding anywhere in your room but just in case there is. I want you to do something for me.”
    “What’s that?” Kay-Lynn asked.
    “Protect your teddy bear from the monster.” Her dad grabbed a white stuffed teddy bear and then put it right beside Kay-Lynn, “I know you can do it.”
    “I won’t let anything happen to the little guy”
    “I know you won’t. Goodnight.” Dad said before he closed the door. Kay-Lynn pulled the teddy bear close against her pillow and began to fall asleep once again. The monster started up again.
    The monster’s heavy breathing was coming from underneath the bed. This time it was closer and louder than before. A finger nail dug against the side of the bed. Kay-Lynn started to tremble again; she
    ran to open her bedroom door but as her small fingernails gripped the doorknob tight was about to turn it open when she stopped. She looked back over at the bed. The teddy that her dad had told her to protect from the monster was lying on the bed all alone. It couldn’t run away, it was all alone and helpless. Kay-Lynn took a deep breath and inched her way back to her bed. She dropped to her knees, look around the sides of the bed. She didn’t see anything. As she got off her knees and was about to climb back into bed, the monster’s took another deep breath. Kay-Lynn grabbed a ruler that was nearby and knelt back down. Kay-Lynn gripped the ruler tight then plunged it into the darkness. The ruler hit something hard. The monster made a groaning sound before trying to take the ruler away. Kay-Lynn struggled with monster for minutes until one final thrust broke the ruler off and then there was silence. The ticking of the outdoor clock was all that could be heard. No monster breathing, no scratching against the bed. Nothing but silence was heard. Kay-Lynn got back up and into bed next to teddy. “It’s ok teddy. No one is going to hurt you. I won’t let them.” Kay-Lynn wrapped herself back into her blanket. She looked at the teddy and its silence was all the thank you she could ask for.
     
  12. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    neuropsychopharm
    Memories Worth Protecting (You're Too Wonderful to Die) (2,472 words)


    I've recently become aware of the fact that I no longer hate the number nine. That is sort of weird to think about, because I can't really remember having a problem with any number until I discovered that you did. Odd numbers. You hated all odd numbers, nine especially. You wouldn't even call me at nine, which is when I get home from work almost every night. It would've been nice to come home from dealing with angry hungry people who didn't like their chicken strips to a phone call from you. Not that I hate you for it or anything.

    Your friend Chris calls me at nine every night. The consistency is nice. And he's so easy to talk to. It's like the complete opposite of phone conversations with you (the random moments you decided to call me, never at nine). You were so weird on the phone. A completely different level of weird than you were in person. All those poems you used to read to me. Your sentences would break like it hurt you to read them, which, if it did, I can see why, because your poetry was really terrible.


    I can't really remember, but there were like eight things you hated about Mrs. O'Brien, our guidance counselor. Eight things that make her an annoying and useless individual, or probably more. I can't remember them all, but sitting here in front of her I have a suspicion the way she's always licking her lips is one of them. That would probably drive me crazy too, if I spent as much time with her as you did.

    "How are you coping?" she asks, truly concerned I'm sure. Just like everyone else who has already asked me like, four billion times. Four billion and nine, just out of spite for you, because I completely blame you for this.

    "I'm, you know…coping," I say, because really it's not her business. Counselors are here to fix your schedule, and little else.

    "I cannot help you," she says, "unless you help me to help you. Things will be easier if you open up and talk to someone."

    And that would be easier if I knew what to say. What to feel. I always have the hardest time in English class responding to questions like, "How did this passage make you feel?" There are hundreds of thousands of pages and pages of words in the English language and I cannot even think of one to help capture my feelings.

    That sounds like something you would say.

    "I'm like, you know, sad or whatever," I tell her. I watch the clock tick eight seconds. "And I guess this doesn't matter or anything, but what kind of boyfriend doesn't mention his girlfriend in his suicide note anyway?"

    I mean, I deserved at least that much.


    For our school staff, according to a handy little flipbook of procedures I happened to view, there are seven steps to follow in case of a student death. I personally find it admirable they can just wrap up something so horrid into a concise seven step process. A short thirty minute staff meeting where everything that will be whispered about among teachers is told to be kept from the students.

    But the students all already know and can probably speak volumes more on the subject than any teacher. In my case, I could probably even say what song was playing at the exact second of death. Your death.

    "You all know this by now, I'm sure," Ms. Davis said The Day After, standing in front of our Chemistry class. "But here is what the administration has allowed me to tell you." She picked up a bright orange piece of paper (in keeping with the somber tone of the message, obviously) from her desk and read. It was a general statement about your death. They didn't mention your name. They didn't mention your suicide. They didn't talk about how you put a bullet in your own head. About how it took maybe a second for you to die.

    But it's okay, because I already knew.


    Your funeral marks the sixth one I've ever been to. It was, by far, the most unpleasant. The other funerals were for distant relatives that I'd met maybe three times when I was, like, two. So it's pretty safe to say I had the most emotional attachment to you. I tried not to focus on the fact that your dead body was in a stupid box a few feet away from me, and instead observed the people around me. Your mother and your twin sister were in front of me. Your mother's eyes were closed and she was sort of leaning on your sister, who looked really bored. That isn't a big deal though, Amy always looks like that. I watched them for awhile, but eventually had to stop because Amy's resemblance to you was reminding me of the thing I was trying to ignore (Which was you. And your state of being…not there.) So I, like your mom, closed my eyes. There were considerably less things to observe then, smells and sounds only. Listening to someone old crunch something in their mouth is the most unsettling noise ever, and it was just my luck I was seated next to your great aunt whoever, who has a hardcore Tic-Tac habit.

    After the funeral there was the obligatory whatever-it's-called gathering, with all the food and laughter even though someone just got put into the ground to stay forever. Your sister and I were sitting together away from the others, but we weren't speaking. She was scribbling something on some napkins and I was listening to your family and everyone else who has ever known you talk about how shocked they were. Everyone was saying how happy you'd been, and what a nice boy you were, and how they couldn't believe you would take your own life. Which I find a little funny, and also extremely depressing, because I could totally see it coming. It wasn't like you were constantly threatening suicide or anything, but it was apparent you felt like you had no business being alive anymore. It was almost like you were offended by your own existence and determined to do something about it. It was never other people who upset you, always yourself. And I couldn't have been the only person to notice this, unless it was my fault you were that way or something. Was it? It's completely unfair you had to go and kill yourself, without even giving me a clue as to my involvement in your mental state. You probably did that on purpose, so it could drive me insane forever and ever.

    Maybe, if you had stuck around long enough, they would've found the cure to whatever was wrong with you. Maybe it already exists, and is hidden in those cheddar and sour cream chips you always made fun of me for eating.


    There are only five pictures in existence of us together. They are probably the only pictures you've ever voluntarily taken, yearbook and baby pictures not included. You're only smiling in two of them, me in four, but even your sullen angry teenager pout manages to look better than my uneasy camera shy smile. In all of the pictures my hair is in evil mode, parted oddly, or frizzy, or whatever else it can do to just ruin everything for me. My hair thinks it controls me or something. Like I am some human tumor sprouting from beneath it. We fight a lot, my hair and I, and the hair usually wins. That doesn't really give me a positive outlook on my future, because, like, how can I ever amount to anything if I can't even tame some stupid strands of hair?

    Your hair, in contrast, was absolutely perfect. Always. You had beautiful soft dark brown hair that curled at the ends. I was a little obsessed with your hair, but you didn't mind me playing with it (except that time I put a bow in it and you wouldn't let me touch it for like a week). That was what I first noticed about you when we met, besides the little "I have to pee" dance you were doing. You were at your front door, struggling to unlock it as I walked to the mailbox. "Why do you always have to pee right before you get in the house?" you asked. Not that I was going to answer or anything, but before I could you finally triumphed over the lock and ran inside the house.

    It was the first of many very philosophical questions you would ask me.


    It was four months before you died that you decided you were a kleptomaniac. You highlighted passages in some old psychology book you'd found, eagerly showing them to me. "That's great and all," I said, "but have you ever even stolen anything." You had, you said. A pack of gum when you were eight and your mom wouldn't buy it for you. You pointed out specific traits of a kleptomaniac you felt were within you, but hadn't been fully realized yet.

    I remember you were mad when I laughed.

    You decided to prove it to me by driving down to a drugstore to have a fit of kleptomania I guess. You drummed your fingers on the steering wheel and ignored me as I messed with the radio and told you how stupid you were being. You snorted and pointed to the car in front of us. "Look at the license plate." It read "Jenneric." Why, you wanted to know, would someone call themselves generic? "We're all special, after all," you said, in a tone that obviously meant you didn't agree with the statement. I suggested that her name was Jenn Eric, or something. You were disgusted by the proposition.

    In the drugstore you paced around the aisles for what felt like four years. "This is an art," you said, when I begged you to hurry up. I was missing this thing on TV I had been looking forward too. I demanded then, that you at least take something that I would find useful, to make up for wasting my time. You argued that went against your compulsive nature. Fifteen minutes and countless excuses later, I ended up just shoving something off the nearest shelf into your pocket. It was purple nail polish. We both had purple nails every day until the polish ran out.

    I think, the next time I break the law, I'm really going to make it count.


    I feel like I haven't moved from this couch in three days, but in reality it's more like three hours. I've found myself watching a lot more TV lately, what with you not being around to make fun of me and rant about how media controls us and the country's obsession with celebrity and blah blah. I can hear you in my head now, and I turn up the TV to block you out.

    Take that.

    I'm watching some inane countdown on VH1, and the host is "TV's George Lopez." Like, he really says this. "I'm TV's George Lopez." The use of the possessive makes me wonder if the TV owns him. If it's taken control of his life and soul, and forced him to help VH1 countdown the 232 worst dance songs of 1985 or something. I'm reminded of you again and I have to wonder if insanity is contagious. If so, I guess it's good you're dead because you'd probably only resent me for it. You hated being similar to other people, especially your twin sister. It was like you were identical aside from the whole XY/XX chromosome thing. "I hate feeling like my personality has been stolen by someone who wears it better," you said.

    This stream of thought is not what I had in mind when I plopped down in front of the TV, so I change the channel to once again immerse myself in someone else's fictional reality. The Princess Bride is on and I'm completely prepared to ignore my thoughts again when Prince Humperdinck says to Buttercup, "Please consider me an alternative to suicide."

    I cut the television off. It has let me down.


    Two days ago I was in your room. It was the first time since you died. I stood at the door, uncomfortable, while Amy sat on your bed sorting through your CDs. "He's got two copies of this one," she said, holding one up for me to see. I had bought that CD for your birthday. You didn't say you already owned a copy, and seemed genuinely happy to receive it. "What are you over there for?" she asked, motioning for me to sit on the bed.

    I walk over to the bed and my shoes slap loudly against the wooden floor. They stripped the carpet because of you.

    "I never wanted to be a twin," she said. "And I mean, I still don't. But I don't want him dead either."

    If Amy were anyone else she would have probably been crying as she said this.

    "And now I have to deal with counselors talking to me about not having any male influence with my dad and my brother being dead and all, and treating me like I'm going to shoot myself just because he did."

    "Yeah," I offered. I reached out to take the two CDs. I couldn't tell which one I gave you so I slipped both into my purse.

    "Doesn't it suck though?" Amy asked. "Knowing we weren't enough for him to stay alive?"


    "One more thing," Amy said when I left that day. She handed me an envelope with my name on it. "I didn't know whether to give it to you or not."

    The envelope is still sealed, sitting on my desk. This must be the suicide note, version two. It could answer every question I want to and can't ask you, or it could just be something stupid and typical of you. Like a poem. I think knowing would make it worse, but I can't bring myself to destroy it.

    Maybe I'll read it one day, when I've almost forgotten about you.
     
  13. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    JJ_Maxx
    Animal Instincts [1977 Words]

    “Jasper, get your ass over here!” Toby yelled. I was inspecting a burned out truck while Toby moved ahead to an abandoned gas station across the street. Running over, I noticed he was digging through some drawers in the manager’s office. “Ha!” he said, holding up a box of shotgun shells. “No gun, but new ammo is cause enough for celebration I’d say.” He plopped down in an office chair and took a swig from his flask. One of the plastic wheels broke, lurching him backwards, but he didn’t seem to care.

    The chair, like everything else, was old and decrepit, untouched since before the outbreak, just sitting around collecting dust for over eight years. When they first caught wind of the infection, I was young and Toby and I were living in an apartment outside of Chicago. The virus spread rapidly, leaping from person to person. I heard the news talking about a defective protein that replicated itself in the brain. Apparently, it damaged the cells, affecting functions like reason, emotion and critical thinking. The worst part was what it didn’t touch; Animal instincts, aggression and the desire to survive.

    Toby’s eyes closed for moment in silent victory, the box of ammunition resting on his chest. I returned to the doorway, watching and listening. I heard some trash cans tip over a few streets away. It could be a possum, but this deep in the city I assumed it was a patient looking for food. That’s what Toby called them, patients, because the first wild ones we saw were all wearing hospital gowns. Nowadays, most of them were naked, dirty and long-haired like homeless hippies, but they wouldn’t hesitate to rip your throat open. I heard Toby climb out of his chair and walk over to me.

    “Time to go.” he said, slinging the satchel over his shoulder. Making our way deeper into the city we ducked back into an alley behind a bank. Our steps were light, and we kept to the shadows, avoiding parking lots and highways. We rarely went that deep into the city because it was too dangerous, there were too many patients and they hunted in packs.

    Crossing under a crumbling overpass, we found ourselves in a suburban neighborhood. The houses were dark and lifeless. The streets were littered with broken furniture, burned out cars, and plants attempting to reclaim the landscape. All the debris of a population running from inevitability.

    One by one the virus found them. A drop of blood, a bead of sweat, a spore drifting on the breeze, they all found their intended target and consumed them. Men, women and children slowly ceased to be human. Memories, love, lust and happiness slowly scrubbed from their brain. There was, however, a small percentage of the population that was naturally immune to the virus but most of them were quickly overtaken by the infected and now only a few human settlements remained.

    We came to a house at the end of a side street. Toby held up his hand and I stopped in my tracks. A slight breeze made my stomach churn. I knew that smell. It was so strong my nose felt like it was buried in it. Human shit covered the front yard and caked the porch. The front door was open. I couldn’t hear any noises inside.

    “Pack house,” Toby said. “They’re probably out hunting. Let’s get out of here before they decided to come back.” I turned around to leave, but Toby was staring intently at the house.

    “Jasper, look there,” He said, pointing back toward the house. “In the upper window.” The bedroom window was broken and the remains of a body draped over the sill. Shreds of clothing did little to cover the missing limbs and what was left seemed to be attracting flies. And there, still slung around the torso, was a rifle. I gave Toby a look that said this is a bad idea.

    “Relax,” he said, reassuringly. “We’ll be in and out quickly and quietly, and then we’ll drop from the second story roof and get out of here.” It was getting late and we should have been finding a place to spend the night, but Toby insisted. He slowly approached the house. I didn’t.

    “Come on,” he said, hissing the words. “Hurry!”

    Reluctantly, I followed Toby as he walked up the stairs, the boards creaking beneath his feet. Reaching into his satchel, he pulled out a battered flashlight and he unsheathed a machete from his hip. Entering the foyer, the beam from the flashlight revealed broken furniture and chunks of rotting flesh everywhere. The floor was filthy beyond recognition, coated with refuse. The smell was overwhelming, and Toby covered his nose with his shirt.

    Making our way down the hallway, I could see a few picture frames still clinging to the walls. A happy family beamed at me through a layer of dust. I thought of children playing in backyards and cars being washed in driveways. I could hardly recall those times. I remembered playing ball in the summer, swimming in the lake, but they all seemed like dusty pictures barely hanging on the walls of my own memory. Toby grabbed me before I tripped over a dead body on the floor.

    “Pay attention,” he whispered.

    Reaching the base of the stairs, Toby pointed the flashlight up into the second floor. There was no movement.

    Walking up the stairs, we headed toward the bedroom. Something crashed in the kitchen downstairs and we both spun on our heels, expecting a riot of patients to explode from the darkness. Nothing. We were both frozen in place, breathing heavy. Toby quickened his pace, walking toward the closed bedroom door. Toby held up his blade, ready to strike, and turned the doorknob. He flung the door open and jumped backwards, ready to strike.

    After a few moments of silence, we crept into the room. Besides the dead body in the window, it was empty. This was a child’s room; old toys were decomposing in the corners. There was the rifle. I walked up to the body and looked it over. At one point, this man was a soldier. The tattered clothing used to be army-issued fatigues. Through the window I could glimpse the last rays of the setting sun. Toby began to pull the rifle from the body, but the strap was embedded in the soldiers dried flesh. I heard something. I wasn’t sure where it came from. I heard it again. It was a faint scratching, and it was close by.

    There was an old dresser standing on its side against the wall. Walking over to it, I listened closely. My fear subsided as a possum jumped out of one of the drawers. Toby shot me an annoyed look. Looking closer, I saw a doorknob behind the dresser. Before I could react, an infected patient burst through the door, knocking the dresser over and pinning me underneath it. I howled in pain. Toby dropped his flashlight and grabbed for his machete. I struggled free and jumped on the patients’ back. It was on all fours, hissing and growling at Toby.

    “Jasper!” Toby yelled. It tried to buck me off, but I hung onto its neck. Toby was pressed against the wall. “Jasper, keep it still!”

    Toby rolled along the wall. He regained his flashlight and pointed it at the creature. It screamed as the blinding light burned its eyes. Black teeth and long black hair, she was naked and her body was covered in oozing sores. I held my grip, but she was able to carry me on her back without effort. Toby was trying to get a clean shot without hitting me. I tightened my grip as much as I could.

    She lunged at Toby and he fell backward and onto the floor. I pulled on her neck until my muscles burned.

    “Now!” Toby yelled.

    I let go and was flung across the room, slamming against the wall. Free from my grip, she darted at Toby. I heard a single gunshot and she slumped to the floor, black blood draining from the hole in her head. We sat there in stunned silence. There was a small stream of smoke coming from the barrel of the rifle. Toby checked the magazine and reloaded. He looked at me.

    “You alright?” He said, rising to his feet. I walked over to him limping, pain shooting through my leg with each step. “Shit,” Toby said. “Oaky, we need to get you out of here. Let’s go.” We started to climb out the window and onto the roof when we saw them coming.

    There were easily twenty of them, and they were running on all fours down the road. Most of them were naked, and the ones in the back were carrying various body parts. In the fading twilight, I couldn’t make out if they were human or animal. Toby pulled me back inside the bedroom. He slid the dresser in front of the door. Coming back to the window, we both crouched down and watched them.

    “Alright, here’s the plan,” Toby said whispering. “We’ll wait till they get in the house and then we’ll climb out onto the roof and jump down and make a run for it.”

    They barreled into the house, sounding like wild apes at the zoo. They were growling and stomping and making guttural noises. We slipped out and onto the roof. The noises inside the house suddenly stopped. Quiet. There was a slight bang on the bedroom door, followed by another one, even louder. Toby helped me to the edge of the roof. The banging grew louder and the growls and screams became a fever pitch, the whole pack was trying to push through the door.

    “Ready?” Toby said. We were about to jump off the roof, when three patients burst through the front door and out onto the lawn. They spotted us. We retreated back onto the roof. Behind us the bedroom door was splintering and the dresser was scraping across the floor. Fingers were grasping through the cracks. “Shit, shit, shit!” Toby quickly looked around the roof. He ran to the opposite corner and the patients on the ground mirrored his movements.

    He ran back to me and helped me up. “Time to go, buddy!” he said.

    We ran to the corner of the roof where he bent down. “Mind if I borrow this?” He said, removing my leather collar. A loud bang came from the bedroom as the dresser toppled over. They poured in but they hadn’t reached the window when Toby shouldered the rifle and took three shots, killing the patients in the yard. I whimpered as he picked me up and held me under his arm. Toby looped the collar over the electrical line attached to the house and jumped.

    Sliding down the line, we crashed through a window of the neighboring house and darted for cover. Out of breath, we crept back to the window to see if they were following us. The pack had reached the roof and were running back and forth, gnashing and growling. After a while they gave up and retreated back to the house. Toby brought me down to the basement, locking the door behind us. We collapsed on the floor and I laid my head on his lap. He scratched between my ears and I wagged my tail.

    “Ya know Jasper,” he said. “You may be man’s best friend, but you gotta stop saving my life. You know I won’t live long enough to repay you.” I ignored him and licked his face. I knew when we made our way back to the settlement that a box of shotgun shells would be enough to trade for a steak…

    …or a ball.
     
  14. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Worth Fighting For (2822)


    Crows took to the air; cawing their disapproval as Kat rode into what was left of the small cluster of hovels. Her eyes scanned left and right but nothing moved. Two days of tracking the brigands had finally led her here. But this wasn't what she’d expected. The men had died fighting; their bodies stripped of weapons and armour. Her eyes fell upon a ragged lump of fur; a hound that had died trying to protect its master or mistress. There were no women or children to be seen anywhere. That was bad. The simple huts had been crushed or burned and everywhere was the litter of lives torn apart; scraps of clothing, broken wood. Anything and everything of value had been taken.

    Kat dismounted and patted Rowan’s neck to reassure him. She reached down and plucked an odd shaped piece of painted wood from the mud. She wiped the worst of the muck from it and turned it around in her hands. It was the arm from a child’s wooden doll. So, there had been children here.

    She bit back her anger. She had ridden towards the smoke as fast as she could, but this had happened several hours ago. She knelt down and examined the marks in the ground. Boot prints, lots of them, paw prints, probably from the dog. But what of these other marks; like long bare feet, but clawed almost like…

    Her eyes snapped upwards and searched her surroundings.

    The Spawn. Here?

    Looking around quickly she drew her sword, whispering a quick prayer to the Five for strength and courage. They were probably long gone, but with the Spawn it was far better to be safe. But what were they doing this far north? The mountains were over two days ride away. This was wrong. If the bandits hadn’t done this, then who had she been tracking?

    Realisation dawned. These were the brigands. This was their camp.

    She drew in a deep breath trying to ignore the stench of burnt flesh. Rowan nickered softly, nuzzling her neck. Kat closed her eyes and tried to feel the Sisters, but the Five seemed content for their servant to be here for now. Letting her breath out slowly, she debated her next steps. Decency demanded that she deal with the bodies. Burial was out of the question but there should be enough material for a decent pyre.

    She started gathering material together. There was plenty of rough-hewn wood. It was as she was dragging support poles form the ruins of one of the crude huts that she felt it. Slowly she turned her head, looking with her spirit as much as her eyes. There…

    She moved quickly, half running across the uneven ground to another ruined hut. She started pulling at the wreckage, lifting mud bricks and sticks out of the way. She could feel it, her hands working quickly and with growing surety. Then she was gazing down at the face of a young woman. At first she thought it was too late, but she looked closer and saw the colour in the girl’s cheeks, and the slight flaring of nostrils as she breathed. a pair of dark eyes filled with a mixture of terror and relief.

    Kat closed her eyes for a moment.

    “Thank the Sisters.”

    The woman young, no more than eighteen, and she was filthy. She wore only a simple shift dress. Her body was covered in bruises and scrapes and her legs were trapped under a large beam.

    “Hold on, I’ll get you out. Rowan!”

    The stallion glanced up and trotted over. Kat took ropes from the saddle bags and quickly constructed a simple harness. She then lashed the free ends to the beam. She noticed the girl’s eyelids flickered, and Kat worried about what injuries lay under that hunk of wood. Looking around she took up a large pole to use as a level.

    “Hang on, girl.” Kat yelled. Then she braced the pole and turned to her horse.

    “Come on Row.” She urged, clicking with her tongue once. Rowan snorted and walked forwards, the beam shifted, then started to move. Kat pushed up hard trying to keep the weight of the shifting beam off the girl’s legs. In a few moments, the hunk of wood was clear. Rowan looked back and stopped pulling.

    “Good lad, Row.”

    Kat tossed the pole aside and gently cleared the rubble from the girls legs. They had been badly crushed, bones broken.

    “Arha’s tears!” Kat cursed under her breath. She reached out a hand and brushed hair from the girl’s face. The girl stirred and moaned softly, like a child.

    Kat looked around for inspiration, but she knew this was up to her. Brewersford was almost a day’s ride away and she was many miles from any village. The brigands had selected an out of the way place to hide. Damn them.

    Kat sighed and knelt down next to the girl. This was going to take every scrap of healing she had. Ideally she would have meditated and prayed for some time before attempting anything this complex. Why had the Five not sent a better Paladin? Kat’s healing was the weakest of her gifts.

    No, she could not think that way. She had to have faith. The Five would sustain and aid her. She had to do this. Steadying her nerves and slowing her breathing, she drew on her strength, whispering prayers to the Five. She felt their love enter her, and she reached out her hands, placing them on the girl. Firstly, she placed the girl in a trance, preventing her from moving while the healing took place. Then her consciousness entered the girl’s body. Gradually she understood the injuries before her, cataloging each hurt, prioritising the most serious threats.

    The sun slowly crawled across the sky. Kat barely moved, Rowan never more than a few feet away, his presence a steady anchor to the world as she worked. At last, it was done. Kat sank back on her heels. She could barely move she was so tired. Then she heard and felt a gentle whuffling and Rowan was nudging her head. She gratefully drew on his strength, just enough to get her up on her feet. She stood shakily and wrapped her arms around his neck.

    “Thank you, old friend.”

    Kat glanced around, several hours had passed and her stomach growled hungrily. She fetched food and water and blankets from her saddlebags, gulping down some fluid gratefully. Then, chewing on a hunk of bread she went back to the girl. Her colour was much better and her legs, while far from perfect, were whole. Kat gently lifted her and laid her on a spare blanket before whispering the words to end the healing trance she had placed the girl in. The young woman stirred, her eyes blinking open. She opened her mouth to speak, but all that came out was a tortured croak. Kat shushed her and offered up a water skin. The girl drank gratefully and Kat nodded, pleased.

    “Better?”

    The girl nodded. Her eyes took in Kat’s armour and white cloak, then up to her face and finally the circlet of silver around her forehead.

    “You’re Chosen?”

    Kat nodded.

    The girl took a slow shuddering breath and she sighed as she relaxed.

    “You healed me?”

    Again, Kat nodded.

    The girl closed her eyes a moment, then they snapped open, looking around. “The others?”

    “Dead or taken. Spawn from the looks of things.”

    The girl winced as she remembered, but she nodded. “They came in the night, there were so many. I ran into the house, there was fire, shouting. Then, I don’t know.”

    Kat placed a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder. “The house collapsed with you in it. I expect it is the only reason they didn’t find you. You were lucky.”

    Those words hung between them a moment. Everyone knew want the Spawn did to women. The girl swallowed hard, her face pale.

    “Lucky.”

    Kat glanced up at the sky, sunset was not long away. If the Spawn were still close… She shuddered. She had faced them before, but never on her own. They had to get moving.

    “What’s your name?”

    The girl turned her head away slightly, almost embarrassed. “Vivienne.”

    “Well Vivienne, I am Katrina, but my friends call me Kat. I am sorry to do this but we have to move, and quickly. Night is not far away and we need to get word to the garrison at Brewersford. I need you to get up for me. You can eat as we ride.”

    Vivienne must have sensed the tension in Kat’s voice as her eyes widened. “You think they’ll come back?”

    Kat shook her head. “There’s nothing left here, but if they are in the area… She did not need to finish. Vivienne nodded and tried to stand up. She winced as she bent her knees.

    “My legs hurt.”

    “They were crushed. I healed them as best as I could. I am sorry I could not do more.”

    The girl stared. “You healed me, but… “ She frowned. “You said you were a Paladin?”

    Kat nodded as she helped the girl to her feet.

    “But I thought… your magic, don’t it come from the Gods?”

    “Yes” Kat was relieved to see the girl could stand. She led her to Rowan who stood patiently.

    The girl reached up for the pommel but paused.

    “Why would they heal me?”

    Kat frowned. “I don’t understand, they…” Vivienne cut her off.

    “ I've done things, bad things, Lady.”

    Kat understood. “You mean the men, you… helped them.” Kat expected she did a lot more than just cook and clean.

    Vivienne shook her head. “You don’t get my meaning, Lady. Sure enough, they all took their turns at me, I can see you guessed that much. But no, I was one of ‘em. I’ve hurt people, Lady. I’m a …a bad un. Why would they help someone like me?”

    Kat sighed. It was a question she had sometimes pondered herself. She had heard of cases where prayers had been refused. She could have offered a reason, but instead she just smiled.

    “It’s not our place to judge why the Gods choose to give their gifts to us. We must just be grateful. Now get up there, we need to move.”

    She helped the girl into the saddle and mounted behind her. They would have to ride through the night, and with Spawn in the area lighting a fire would be suicide. She turned Rowan and with the briefest of coaxing, He was off.

    As they rode, the girl revealed something of her life. She had taken to crime early, and had been with the brigands since she started her moontimes. In return Kat shared something of her life as a Paladin in the service of the Five Sisters.

    “Lady, can I ask you something?”

    Kat smiled. They had been riding for some hours now, and there had been no signs of trouble.

    “I told you, call me Kat.”

    Vivienne was quiet a moment.

    “Why’d you do this?”

    “Do what?”

    “Help.”

    “That… “Kat paused. “That’s complicated. On the one hand, I have little choice. I’m Chosen.”

    The girl shifted in the saddle. “But, I mean… well take me. You could just make a dash for Brewersford, you could have left me for dead. I’m nothing. Even if you do get us back, chances are I’ll be stretched.”

    Kat frowned. “I see. And you could be right, but that is man’s law. Not the Five’s. The Sisters hold life precious. As to why I didn’t leave you. That’s not for me to say, but if you should come to know the answer to that… well, let’s just say I would be happy.”

    The rode a little way in silence, the girl considering Kat’s words. For the Paladin’s part, she was finding it increasingly hard to stay alert. She was desperately fatigued from the healing and needed sleep.

    Suddenly the quiet was shattered by an ear splitting scream. Kat uttered a most unladylike curse and wheeled Rowan to one side. From the darkness a shape leapt past them, just missing.

    “Spawn!”

    Vivienne screamed and it was all Kat could do to get Rowan into a gallop and hold onto the girl as well. She looked around and could see shadows flitting to the left and right. If she had not been so tired, they would never have come up on her so easily? She urged Rowan onward and he increased his pace. Spawn were quick but couldn't match Rowan’s pace.

    “Keep your head down and hold tight!” Kat yelled. She drew her sword which glimmered dimly. A twisted face loomed out of the darkness and she hacked at it. With a squeal the thing fell backwards. They sped through the darkness and the guttural cries and howls started to fall behind. Abruptly, Rowan whinnied and his pace faltered. Kat felt that he was injured in some way, his rump and the top of his right rear leg. Kat fought down a cry of despair. She reached backwards and felt the fletched end of a crossbow bolt lodged in Rowan’s flank.

    “Damn.” Rowan was trying valiantly to keep up his pace, but Kat knew this was now a matter of time. How close was the town? How soon was sunrise? Behind them she could hear the Spawn gibbering and calling. They would sense her calling. Their Master, who opposed the Five, would delight in capturing a servant of the Sisters. She shuddered, imagining the torments and ordeals they would make her endure.

    The images tortured her as they rode on. Minutes passed and Kat fancied she could discern the first indications of the coming dawn. She could make out the dim shapes of Tyrian’s Pass. They weren't close enough, they would never make it. The Spawn would catch them and that would be that.

    But that was the price every Chosen faced. But Vivienne… no matter what crimes, she did not deserve such a fate. At once, Kat felt the love of the Sisters fill her and she knew what she had to do.

    “Vivienne, listen to me.”

    She could sense the raw terror in the girl in front of her and she tried to share the feeling of peace that suffused her.

    “Vivienne. I am going to slow Rowan, and I am going to get off. Then you two are going to ride as fast as you can towards the sunrise.”

    The girl tensed.

    “No, you can’t.”

    “Listen.” Kat raised her voice. “You have to tell them all that has happened. You have to warn them.” There was so much Kat wanted to tell the girl, but there was no time.

    “Find Marshall Edric. He knows me. Tell him about the Spawn. Tell him I said to Marshall the garrison.”

    “Lady, no, they’ll tear you to pieces.”

    Kat winced, pushing back her fears. “Don’t you worry about me. The sisters will be with me.”

    “Lady…”

    “Enough!” Kat barked. “This is not open for discussion. You have to get through and warn them, that is all that matters.”

    The girl said nothing, and Kat drew in a deep breath, pulling back on the reins. Rowan resisted and she pulled again.

    “Come on Lad, this is how it has to be.” Rowan whinnied, and slowed coming to halt, his breath forming clouds in the chilly pre-dawn air. Kat leapt down and glanced back along their path. They had a few seconds.

    She looked up, Vivienne was peering down at her.

    “I don’t understand, why are you doing this?”

    Kat smiled. “When you figure it out, this will all make sense to you. Now go!”

    With that she slapped Rowan’s rump, sending with it a mental command. Rowan leapt forwards. Kat whirled and called on the Sisters. The dim light of her sword flared brightly, lighting the landscape. The spawn were coming, lots of them. She grinned, feeling only a fierce exultation. She cast a glance backwards, Rowan was already little more than a shadow in the distance. They would make it now.

    Then she was swinging her sword, calling on the Sisters. Her arm was strong, her spirit determined. When her sword broke she used the rent stump, when the sword was ripped from her grip she kicked and punched. But in the end, there were too many. She could feel their delight, their hands pawing at her, tearing at her armour and clothes. As they started to drag her away she managed to look once, just once towards the sunrise. The morning would be bright and warm and filled with light.

    She hoped that one day Vivienne might understand. If she did, there would be hope for her, and the unborn child she had sensed growing in the girl’s belly.

    Some things are worth fighting for.
     
  15. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    Pauly Pen Feathers
    Old Gold
    [2076 words]


    I have to come to terms with the fact that I have been obsessing over something for quite some time. In fact, it’s gotten to the point where I’m now becoming ill. There’s less sleep every night and during the day I’m jittery and not able to focus. My stomach aches, my hands are constantly sweaty and shake and I’ve taken to pacing back and forth in my room, a lot.

    The wife wants me to be more open with the doctor but there’s very little chance of that happening. You see, if I told him what I did, he'd never forgive me, and I just couldn’t take that.

    It all began about eighteen months ago. My job requires me to travel, and while driving through town after town I’ve enjoyed going to garage and estate sales. I would find an occasional interesting item and proudly show it off to the wife upon returning home.

    There was nothing special about this particular item, or so I thought. I’m not sure what attracted me to it other than it was old, and I like old things. For three bucks I figured I couldn’t lose, so I bought it, tossed it into the back seat of my car and headed out of Lubbock Texas making a B-line for Chicago.

    #

    “What did you get this time?” the wife asked.

    “Just an old tape recording” I answered.

    The tape was on a 7 ½ inch reel kept in a metal case. It looked high quality for the period. The only identification on it was an old, time-worn card on the inside of the case that simply read ‘Saturday, June 8, 1957’. Under the date were four neatly hand written names, ‘Charles, Jerry, Niki and Joe’. That was it.

    “I don’t know if there’s anything on it.” I added. I’ll have to find a machine to play it on, and see.”

    “We may have one at school” the wife said.

    ‘The wife’, as I affectionately call her, works for a college that offers classes in sound recording and film editing. They had tons of equipment as well as a small museum full of old time radios and other odds and ends. Who knows, I though, it might pan out.

    The call came the next day at around ten o’clock; the wife said they did indeed have a tape machine and would allow me to use it. The machine was located in the library so she and I made plans to meet for lunch, then she would walk with me across campus and turn me loose.

    An hour later I was on the bus heading into town, and to the school. I planed on spending the afternoon there and driving back with the wife when she got off from work.

    #

    The machine was a 1950 Ampex Model 600 Reel to Reel tape deck that looked like it could pass for brand new. I sat down at the desk, loaded the tape onto the machine and plugged the headphones into the jack. I didn’t know it at that time, but what I would hear over the next twenty minutes would change my life for ever.

    I turned the machine on and the tape started rolling.

    At first I thought it was a dud. There was nothing, no sound at all. Then about thirty seconds into the tape I heard a ‘thump’, then another, and another.

    Then a voice came through the headphones. “Are we live?”

    “Yes, we’re live” another voice said.

    “Well let’s get this show rolling. It’s date night, buddy.”

    “I know what night it is, Jerry. Keep your shirt on.”

    The next thing I heard was the unmistakable sound of a guitar, then drums, and that thump again. The thumping, I realized, was coming from a stand-up bass. It was the sound of musicians warming up. This was a lost practice session of some young band way back in the 1950’s. Now I was getting excited.

    “Let’s try a new one” said voice number two. It was the same voice who was telling ‘Jerry’ to keep his shirt on.

    “It’ll go something like this”

    There was the sound of a driving rhythm guitar pounding out bar chords in a twelve bar pattern in the key of ‘A’.

    “Follow me” said voice number two.

    Then “Hold it” from the same voice.

    “Give me a driving beat, Jerry; just on the tom-tom; no snare, no cymbal. And we’re not going to walk the dog on the bass this time, Joe, just follow the chords. Let’s do it.”

    ‘One, two, three, four’ they started again.

    Then that voice came again. But this time it wasn’t ‘voice number two’. This time I knew exactly who the man was, and this time he was singing.

    It hit me like a ton of bricks and a shock that felt like electricity ran up my spine and into the center of my brain.

    This was Buddy Holly and his band The Crickets.

    The band began again.

    “If you knew Peggy Sue, then you’d know why I feel blue without Peggy, my Peggy Sue”

    I turned the machine off. This was just too fantastic. I must have looked dumfounded with my jaw dropped open and my eyes as big as silver dollars. I turned the machine back on again and listened to the end.

    I sat staring at the reel as it turned round and round. I thought my mind was playing tricks on me as I heard another voice; familiar, but far away. It was the wife. She had a look of stark raving terror on her face and her mouth was moving. I realized I couldn’t hear her because I still had headphones on my ears.

    “What’s wrong?” she pleaded. “Why are you crying?”

    I’m not crying, I thought to myself. Then I discovered I was. Tears were seeping from my eyes, gently licking my cheek. They weren’t sad tears, I realized, but there was something deeply emotional going on in me. Somehow, in some strange Twilight Zone kind of moment in my life I was given a rare opportunity to get up close and personal to a man who had been gone for over fifty years; and not just any man, but one who is arguably one of the greatest men in the history of Rock ‘n Roll.

    “Let’s get out of here” I said to the wife.

    The ride home was quiet. I was still shaking from the startling revelation of what I heard on this tape. Later, after a quiet dinner and a bottle of wine we began to talk. The wife could hardly believe it, either, and we both agreed what we had may be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

    There was only one song on the entire tape. ‘Peggy Sue’. They practiced the song six times, but only once did they play it from start to finish. All the others were interrupted by Holly with instructions to the band.

    Too fast, too slow, too loud, too soft, we’re the comments he made after each try, until the last cut.

    “Perfect” Buddy said. “Let’s do it like that every time.”

    #

    And then began my dilemma. What was I going to do with this find? I could sell it at auction, I thought. Or, I could lock it away in a safe deposit box. I could make copies of it and sell them on eBay. Hardly legal, I reasoned.

    But the whole time, from that moment in the library when I discovered the treasure hidden on this magical magnetic tape to this very moment I knew deep down inside that this was not mine to own. No, this was way bigger than me. It was a treasure so great that not one tiny little man could hold onto it for himself. This belonged to the world.

    I phoned the Buddy Holly Archive in Lubbock Texas and talked with Mr. Johnson, the Executive Director.

    #

    “You made the right decision” the wife told me as I finished packing my suitcase. “They’ll take very good care of it.” she added, “How long will it take you to get back to Lubbock?”

    “It’s a short flight” I answered. “I’ll call you when we land.”

    The flight from Chicago to Lubbock was just under three hours and the short taxi ride from the airport to the Buddy Holly Archives was twenty minutes. I called the wife from my cell phone to let her know I arrived, and then I called Mr. Johnson at the archive to let him know I was on my way.

    “Are you a Buddy Holly fan?” the cabbie asked.

    “Yeah, I am.” I said.

    The driver quickly understood that I was not in the mood for conversation.

    When we arrived at the archive I paid the driver with instructions to pick me up in an hour to take me to my hotel.

    “Mr. Johnson will see you now” the receptionist said as she stood up to walk with me down a short corridor to his office.

    “It’s a pleasure to meet you, sir. Please have a seat”

    “Thank you Mr. Johnson” I said in return.

    “Well,” Mr. Johnson began, “according to our phone conversation, you have quite a remarkable piece of history, there.”

    “I think so, too.” I added. “I’m very worried about this getting into the wrong hands. It needs to be preserved for future generations. ”

    I handed the tape over his desk to Mr. Johnson. His eyes seemed to sparkle as his hands moved nervously over the case that held the tape.

    “Let’s walk over to the quite-room and have a listen” Mr. Johnson offered.

    We walked out of the office, down the corridor and into a small room with only a table, a few chairs, and a tape recorder.

    Mr. Johnson loaded the machine with the tape, put on the headphones and sat quietly listening. A few minutes later he looked up at me with a queer look on his face and said “Are you sure this is the right tape?”

    “Of course I’m sure. It’s the only one there is.” I answered, curtly.

    “Well, there doesn’t seem to be anything on it, sir.” He insisted.

    “That’s impossible.” I replied. “I’ve listened to this tape several times over the past few weeks.”

    “Let’s try another machine.” He suggested.

    “Okay, lets.” I agreed.

    “I’m sorry, sir, there’s nothing on this tape.” Johnson said again.

    “Fine!” I answered, irritated, and nothing more as I took the tape from Mr. Johnson and stormed out of the building.

    Johnson must be a nut case, I thought, as I took the cab ride over to my hotel. Either he’s a nut case or he’s trying to take advantage of me, I guessed. Or perhaps there was something wrong with his tape machines. I didn’t know. I was confused and angry.

    Then I remembered the metal case that held the tape was in my suitcase and set off the detector as it scanned my bag at the airport. The guard opened the suitcase and looked at its contents without saying a word. Then he closed it up and waved me through.

    Suddenly I remembered hearing somewhere that airport scanners are like some sort of x-ray machine and can ruin a floppy disk, or anything magnetic, like an audio tape recording. I wasn’t sure. I wouldn’t know until I got back home and listened for my self.

    #

    It’s been four years since that day in Lubbock Texas when I met with Mr. Johnson and tried to do what I thought was the right thing. Four years in this place is a long time. Fresh paint hangs in the air as a reminder of another year come and gone. They paint our rooms every year at this time.

    It’s the month of June, again. I thought.

    I wondered if my wife would come and see me this month. She used to come every day, then just a few times a week. Now she only comes once a month, if at all. I guess it’s pretty tough on her.

    Well that’s too bad, I thought. It’s tough on me too.

    This is a pretty nice place, though; I really don’t mind being here. I only think it would be a little nicer and a little easier on my wife if they would just let me out of this damn straight jacket from time to time.
     
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