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Please vote for the most deserving: Theme - A Chase

Poll closed Apr 16, 2008.
  1. lessa - A Chase

    4 vote(s)
    19.0%
  2. pegasi_quill - Here Goes Nothing

    4 vote(s)
    19.0%
  3. AWR - Hunted

    0 vote(s)
    0.0%
  4. anthraxx - Faith in a nutshell (Over Word Limit)

    2 vote(s)
    9.5%
  5. Luminous - Leaving Darkness

    3 vote(s)
    14.3%
  6. Cogito - Cold Vengeance

    6 vote(s)
    28.6%
  7. thecox - Only Shadows

    1 vote(s)
    4.8%
  8. Rickie writes - Loser

    1 vote(s)
    4.8%
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  1. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Voting Short Story Contest 22 - Theme: A Chase

    Discussion in 'Bi-Weekly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, Apr 9, 2008.

    Short Story Contest (22) Voting Theme: A Chase

    Thank you for all your entries. The winner will be stickied until the next contest's winner is crowned.

    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 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 strictly 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. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    lessa - A Chase

    A chase 1333 words

    They met at a bar. She was there with a friend. He was there as he was every Friday night. He and Paul came over and he asked her if she would let them buy both girls a drink.

    She said “sure, why not join us and we will have a Screwdriver for me and Heather will have a rum and coke.”

    He called the waitress over and ordered a screwdriver, 2 rum and cokes and a White Bacardi Rum.
    They made small talk till the drinks arrived.

    Heather and Paul just sort of sat there on the fringe of the conversation, only putting in a comment when they figured they should join in at least a bit.

    He asked what she did and she said “I am in college, going to become a mental retardation counsellor.”
    “What do you do?”

    He answered “I am going to be starting at the mines on Monday. Until today I was working as an assistant manager at Kresgie’s.”

    ”Why did you want to change to the mines, aren’t they pretty dirty to work in?”

    “Sure they are but the pay is great and I get to stay in town instead of having to leave to live in Toronto.” “Nobody can live in Toronto on as a salesman’s salary.”

    Heather and Pete got up to dance but the two of them just sat and talked. After a couple of hours he asked if he could drive her home. She said it was quite a ways out of his way since she lived in the next town. He said no problem he would drive Pete and Heather home and then take her to her house.

    After they dropped the other two off he asked if she wanted to go for something to eat. So they ended up at the Deluxe Drive In and had hamburgers and fries and a vanilla milkshake.

    When they were done he asked her directions to her house.

    They made a slight detour and ended up at the arena parking lot and sat and talked some more.
    She finally made it home about 3 AM.

    The next day he called and asked if he could take her out for dinner. She said, “sorry I can’t as I have an assignment due and I need to work on it tonight.”

    So he asked if the next night would get a better answer.

    She said, “call tomorrow and we will see.”

    When he called she said her homework was done and they could go out that night.

    He said, “great, I will pick you up at 6 and we can go out for dinner and maybe a movie.”

    They went to a very nice Chinese restaurant and spent the entire evening talking and never even thought about going to the movie.

    She could not figure out why she was so much more outgoing with this guy but she liked the feeling and he seemed to enjoy her talking so she kept it up.

    She went home with him that night and on the Monday she went home from school and picked up clothes so she could stay with him in town instead of having to take the bus each day to get to school and then have him drive out and bring her back to town for their dates.

    Her family was shocked and told her what a bad girl she was. She didn’t care she had her plans and so far they were falling into place.

    About a week later he said he wanted her to go home because he was not good enough for her. He was into a lot of bad things that he was not proud of and he didn’t want to bring her down into them as well.
    This event was not exactly what she planned but it did have possibilities for furthering her advances.

    She went home after school that day and her sister said, “that guy has been phoning you since 4 o’clock every five minutes. I sure hope you tell him where to go when he calls next.”

    “I certainly will, don’t worry about it.”

    The phone rings. She lets it ring 3 times before she picks it up.

    “Hello!” pause “you are where?” Pause “Sure I can be ready in 5 minutes.” Pause “See you then.”
    “I thought you were going to tell him where to go?”
    ”I did, I told him to come here and pick me up.”

    “How is that going to get rid of him?”

    “Get rid of him? Why would I do that?”

    “Because he is a jerk and no good for you, you should know better than to do something your family won’t like.”

    “To be honest I have finally decided to stop doing things my family likes and now I am doing something I like.” “So tell mom when she gets home that I am going out with Don again and I don’t know when I will be home.”

    “But he is a good for nothing who can’t give you anything but grief.”

    “Well at least he is giving me something that has been missing in my life and he is chasing me so that is something to be grateful for. Love is wonderful and I want to experience it in everyway possible with this guy.”

    Knock on the door. “Got to go and let him chase me a bit longer.”

    That day she told him that she had to leave town to do more training for school. She would be gone from April until December. So they probably wouldn’t be seeing each other since she would only have weekends off and a 3-hour drive back home was just not in the plan or the budget. She didn’t drive so she would have to take a bus and there just wasn’t enough money from her student loan to pay for that each weekend.

    When he drove her down to her job, it was like a damp towel had been tossed over them. There was none of the fun conversations that they usually had. It was the radio playing and both of them listening to it, as if it was the most important thing going on.

    Neither wanted to admit this was going to be the last time they saw each other for quite a while if ever again.

    He was very popular so there was no shortage of girls for him to go out with.

    She was going to be doing something she had wanted to do since she was 6 years old and had a good friend who was mentally challenged. So her life dreams were being fulfilled.
    They went out for dinner and then he said good-bye, kissed her and got into the car and drove away.

    He called her each night that week and then on Friday night he showed up at the apt. door. He asked if she wanted to go home for the weekend and she said definetly. The drive home was a wonderful drive. The sun was setting the drive was along the lake and they were together.

    That weekend he told her that he spent the entire week thinking that he would never see her again and he hated the thought. So he had to go and get her to bring her home. He would take her back on Sunday but he just had to hold her to make their love seem real and permanent.

    The next weekend he asked her to marry him.

    Three weeks later they were married much to the chagrin of her entire family. To top it off they eloped so no one was there to say what a mess she was making of her life.

    But when all was said and done, and anyone asked about she managed to get Don to marry her and give up his carefree bachelor days.

    All Lynda said was “I let him chase me till I caught him.
     
  3. Gannon
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    pegasi_quill - Here Goes Nothing

    They were coming nearer. The golden horse could hear them, so close behind her, the hooves of their mounts, heavy on the dry earth as they sped after her, gaining on her, closer, ever closer. The wild plains of the West spread below her as she continued her escape up the mountain. Her powerful legs trembling, flanks heaving, she gasped for air as she raced up the narrow mountain path, kicking off stones into the vastness of the black abyss below. Even at the pace she was going, with the wind whistling in her ears and the blood pounding through her veins, she could hear the distant splash of the pieces of gravel as they vanished beneath the surface of the river below, the river that was said to flow faster than even the eagle could fly. On she went, her last hope in the delicate wooden bridge which she knew was there. Or, at least, it used to be.

    “Careful, now,” her mother’s voice filled the unsettling silence, which seemed to hover all around them as they stood on the edge of the chasm. “Many of your ancestors have lost their lives here because of carelessness,” she explained, tentatively stepping onto man’s delicate creation. The old wood creaked under her, but held her weight.

    Whimpering slightly, the young creature followed, feeling queasy on the swaying bridge, yet, like any other at her age, not questioning her mother’s judgment. Doing all she was told to do, keeping her hesitance to herself. A few planks away from solid ground, there was a gap. Afraid her daughter might miss it, the mother pointed it out and let the younger one pass by first. She watched her child cross it safely, and steeled herself to pass it too. Her breath coming in short snorts, the older mare did not even pay attention to the unnatural silence that surrounded them. Silence that seemed to be waiting for someting to shatter it. Instead, she continued her treacherous walk. Stepping carefully, testing the wood with the tip of her hoof before putting her weight on it, swaying precariously every time her leg slipped, but always catching her balance at the last moment.

    Until she made that fatal step, forgetting for a split second to test the plank before making it bear her weight. A terrific crack of breaking wood resounded, as the mare snorted in panic, plunging downwards as the old, rotten logs at the edge gave way. It took only two of the flat pieces of wood to fall, taking a life with them, plummeting helplessly down, always down, into the churning waters of the treacherously beautiful river, a winding snake, glittering in the sunlight as if full of diamonds. The youth watched, transfixed with horror, as her mother’s body disappeared below the surface, with a last desperate call for help, never to appear again.

    Snorting with frustration, she pushed the traumatic memory aside. She would not let her life be taken so easily as her mother's had been, she would make sure to step carefully. She would not die here, with nobody to witness her leaving. She focused on her determination, instead of the reality that was bearing down upon her.

    Here she was, fleeing for her life, with nowhere else to go. She cursed her fear for clouding her reason, for allowing her to come here, allowing herself to be cornered like this. Foam flew from her mouth like snow, leaving a white trail behind her. Her nostrils flared, desperate for air. She was on the verge of exhaustion, on the brink of breaking down and giving up. But deep down, she knew this was not something she would do – although nobody would miss her, she knew she would miss her life, lonely as it was, if ever she was captured by men. She was one of a kind, and possibly the most beautiful; golden specimens like her never gave up.

    Her leg grazed against the stone, she tripped. Suddenly, she found her hind limbs struggling on the brink of the path, kicking down stones, trying to keep her weight up on land, losing precious time. And with each strong kick, with each laboured breath, her desperation grew, and her mind dug out another unbidden memory, concealed for so long under all her life.

    They were faster than her, more experienced, and violent. It would be minutes, seconds before she would hear the hot breath on her back. All too soon, she felt it. She fought harder, tried to force her legs to accelerate, but they wouldn’t. She was too young, she did not have enough stamina to keep up such a pace. The whistling of the rope reminded her of this, and there was nothing she could do. This time, it did not just hit her back, her legs. The ominous loop flashed in front of her eyes for a split second before circling around her glistening neck, pulling her to the ground, slowing her down. She struggled and fought, she did everything she could to free herself, desperation overwhelming her as she tried to stand up. But she could not.

    Fear inched its icy fingers towards her heart, attempting to paralyse her. But she wouldn’t let that happen – she knew what it would be like, just like it had then. The whipping, the kicking and starving, the pain. And this time, there might be no escape, no suddenly open gate, beckoning her back home, giving her back her stolen, ripped out freedom. Chances like that were more than rare, they didn’t occur twice in a lifetime. This time, she might never get out, never feel the wild wind of the plains in her mane, race the soaring eagles of the high mountains.

    A fraction of a second before her leg slid off the edge, she regained her footing. Determination once more surged through her tired body, fighting against the panic which was threatening to overwhelm her completely, supplying her with the strength she so desperately needed in order to survive. Leaping back onto the track, she bounded forwards once more, ignorant to the yells behind her, the snorts and squeals of pain of the rider’s mounts, the cracking of whips. Unconscious to the crashing of the river below, unfeeling to the wind steaming in her face, mane, tail. All her energy was spent on focusing on one thing: survival.

    The end was near, she could feel it in her bones. She was high up now, any moment, the bridge would come in sight, she’d see her greatest fear and her only hope. Any moment now…

    She saw the poles which had once supported the unsteady construction before she noticed that the actual bridge was gone. The only proof that it had ever been there was a piece of rope which hung from the wooden stake, swaying gently in the soft, quiet breeze that cooled the mare's body.

    Halting mere inches from the edge and sending small and large stones skittering in all directions, she found herself staring down into the deadly valley below her. Stamping in distress, she knew her last hope of survival, of life, was gone. There was no way forwards, and the way back was blocked. Turning round, she was faced by half a dozen men, advancing slowly, one leering, another twirling a lasso expertly. All of them carelessly happy, the fire of a victorious fight glinting brightly in their eyes.

    Those eyes showed her the future that awaited her. The future that had haunted her dreams from the past. The future from which she was desperate to escape, aware of the doom awaiting her lest she allow herself to be caught.

    Turning round once more, crying out her despair to the world she was abandoning, she cleared the edge in one magnificent jump, holding on the sensation of flight for as long as she could, before plunging to her death. It was a jump of hope, the leap to eternal freedom.
     
  4. Gannon
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    AWR - Hunted

    Hunted (945 words)

    Kevlin dragged knives of air into his lungs, each breath slicing deep into the abused tissue. He huddled beneath the scraggled shrub, all too aware that the sparse leaves did little to hide his trembling form. Deliberately he slowed his breathing and fought to calm his thundering heartbeat. He had to be able to hear. The men had told him it would be vital to his survival.

    Finally he heard the hooting calls of the hunting weirds to his west. Faint on the breeze, the sound of query in their voices suddenly gave Kevlin hope. There was none of the rough excitement that would mean they had found his scent.

    He had hope because he had a plan. Unlike the heavy acceptance of many of his peers, Kevlin had thought long and hard about the day they would release him for the hunt. Each day as he had toiled at his tasks he had prepared. He had hidden such tools and food as he could, knowing that any item discovered would mean at least a maiming. If the whole stash had been found they would have killed him. But the small god of men had been with him. Now he just had to make his way to it, to an old hollow tree near the latrines.

    Wearily he dragged himself out of his hiding place. With disbelief his eyes lighted on a bunch of sourberries hanging dryly on a bush nearby. He had had no food all day except snatches of leaves chewed to trick a cramping stomach. With eager fingers, Kelvin picked the meagre bunch and shoved it into his mouth. The Summer sun had sweetened the flavour slightly but still his lips tightened involuntarily around their tartness. The small trickle of juice was welcome to a throat dried by lack of moisture and fear.

    A squint at the sun told Kevlin it was mid-afternoon. He had spent all morning circling away from the compound and now was heading back toward it. He only hoped the guards had been caught up in the hunt.

    The cry of a hunting weird made him snap his head around to the face the west, the mass of berries still on his tongue as he froze. Certainty that the beast was closer than before, and therefore its cruel owner not far behind, Kevlin quickly swallowed the half-chewed meal. His sore feet protested the sudden flight, flapping leather thongs tied around his ankles the only remnants of the sandals he had donned that morning.

    Dragged from his sleeping quarters, he had only time to snatch them from the floor before the guard had thrown him through the door. Calls of support came from the other rooms despite growled threats. His father, Starkin, had pressed against the bars to whisper encouragement, his words at odds to the grief in his eyes. Kevlin had broken away from his guard to reach through to squeeze Starkin’s shoulder. He bore the guard’s blows with fortitude until his father pushed him away.

    Starkin, his father. Not the man who had sired him, but the man who had raised him. Kevlin held the image of him in his mind. After all, he had survived the six hunts that each man must endure to be allowed to live. The man who had sired him had not been so fortunate.
    Kevlin slowed. Through the trees wound the worn track trod by the perimeter guards. He watched for several minutes but no-one came to sight. It was as he hoped. The guards had been unable to resist joining the hunt and the hunters all believed he would be trying to escape as quickly as possible. None had thought he might actually try to return to the compound. Still he edged forward cautiously, almost weeping in relief when he finally reached the weathered old tree. The relief quickly dissolved into gut-clenching panic when he reached into the hollow. His bag was not there!

    “Ma was right. Might be I’ll listen to the ol’ girl more often now,” the amused voice spoke behind him.

    Turning, Kevlin’s legs seemed no longer able to support him. He fell to his knees.

    The woman’s naked body was streaked with hunting paint, the mixture of mud and animal blood swirled and snaked in the patterns of her clan. She wore only a leather belt from which dangled feathers and bright pieces of cloth and a metal ring around her neck. At her feet lay the Kevlin’s small bag. Her teeth shone in a cruel grin and she kicked it to one side. She placed the tip of her spear beneath Kevlin’s chin and forced his head up.

    “You be a pretty one. Glad Ma told me about t’ ol’ tree. Said she caught her boy here. Now I caught you. T’others are all off to the river. Most boys try to go that way.”

    She snapped open the ring that was around her neck. Kevlin starting backing away. The woman stepped forward and swiftly slapped him. She snapped the ring around his neck.

    “There,” she said, satisfied, “Now we be married. I be Haj.”

    Haj sneered down at his weeping form.

    “Come now,” she said, “It will be a good year. And if you get me with child I will ask the old women to be kind to you.”
    Kevlin looked up, hope trembling.

    “Yes,” Haj smiled kindly, “Get me with child and I will ask them to kill you swiftly,” Her smile hardened, “But if there is no child …”

    Kevlin’s head fell, despair filled his heart. And when Haj commanded him to follow, he rose unsteadily to his feet and obeyed her.
     
  5. Gannon
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    anthraxx - Faith in a nutshell

    Faith in a nutshell (4,034 words)

    “Pass the pack of chips, Dee Dee.”
    “Shut up.”
    “What? Is asking for chips such a sin, Dee Dee?”
    “I said, shut up.”
    “Aww, Dee Dee angry?”

    Zain giggled as Dylan turned away, his innocent anger airing the flickering fire which whirled in the sky.

    The sun further melted into the sky and a symphony of massacre painted it. The small huts which pitted the grassy hilltops mixed with the empowering darkness. Entertainers could be heard singing lullabies, their voice echoing in the souls of only those with a heart. Water trickled down the slope, smashing into rocks and hurdles but managing to freeze to an icy figure at the hills’ end. The trees fell to a dark green and myths of bewitched and accursed trees seemed so valid at that time.

    Young birds usually sought refuge at this time – but these two carefree chirpers had nothing better to do in life than eat a packet of chips when a serial killer was at loose (under a tree).

    Zain let out a sigh and rolled over to Dylan, who was trying to avoid Zain for the time being.

    “Come on, have a little love and tolerance for this Muslim. I had to go pray. Hey, do I ever swell up jus’ because you go to Sunday mass once in a while?”
    “I never break a promise.”

    Dylan now scratched his arms, folding them over each other. Zain gave a low but pleasant chuckle and pecked Dylan’s cheek. He gave a brief glance to the smoldered state of the sky and the chilling breeze which overlapped his breathing.

    “I didn’t break my promise, Dee Dee. What makes you think I ever will?”
    Dylan looked over to his shoulder and saw his novel nestling in Zain’s hand.
    “I read it, like I promised. And yeah, it’s a great one. You’ll be a famous writer someday.”
    Zain said again, his voice cheerful and reassuring. Zain quickly fit the novel in his jacket as Dylan took his time to recover. After a short while, Dylan smiled wickedly and punched Zain in his shoulder.

    “Ow! Hey, this just ain’t humane.”
    “You could’ve saved me the trouble and told me that you had read it. Stupid!”
    “Hey, this isn’t Jesus Christ’s person talking.”
    “Well, this isn’t Allah’s slave talking either.”

    Dylan jumped over Zain, playfully tickling him. Howling in excitement and zest, both of them pushed each other to roll over the undulating hill, piercing through the scrubby forest which had just grown there. The squirrels squirmed away and the serene witchcraft of nightfall was shattered with the playful games of these two men.

    “Zain Farooq and Dylan Andrews!”
    A shrill voice put an end to the charisma of voices which had inundated the night. Zain and Dylan looked up to see a giant man with dark markings on his forehead, on the bottom of the hill, holding them back with his gun. They got up with the support of each other, and also the gun, dusting their suits which were wet from the icy water and ornamented with leaves and twigs.

    “Yes sir?”
    They murmured simultaneously, at which W. Philips hardened his gaze and waved his arms around frantically.

    “I think you two are supposed to be at camp right now!”
    “Our shift has ended, sir.”
    Dylan spoke defensively, at which W. Philips became only more enraged.
    “Yes, but not your chase! What kind of journalists are you, who aren’t up-to-date all the time? Now go and review the information Emma has found out. She’s a junior, but with sense of responsibility!”

    Zain and Dylan nodded and remorsefully muttered:
    “Sorry sir.”
    In those emotional voices, innocence was apparent in such intensity that W. Philips toned down and gave them a pat on the back.
    “Just go.”
    Both of them grabbed the chance and sped off, not even speaking of their unfaithful encounter.

    Instead, they broke into the camp without knocking (not like there was a door) and concluded their glistening night with a group of nerds sitting right over there. Emma looked over to them and handed them the latest information.

    “It’s got spice all over it.”
    She commented, as she applied lipstick on her lips. It was Emma’s way of telling that a murder (or more) had happened yet again.

    Zain curiously read the paper along with Dylan.

    Masood Ali, 27, (m), journalist for ‘News on the Plate’, throttled to death in his house, Tuesday morning, 10:01 am. Suspects: wife – Aliya Ali, son – Faisal Ali, special element x.
    Nasir Imran, 39, (m), journalist for ‘Serener Sundays’, shot in his stomach and feet and then thrown over in his house, Tuesday morning, 11:31 am. Suspects: wife – Ramlah Imran, special element x.
    Omar Ahmed, 45, (m), ex-journalist for ‘The Daily Newsflash’, poisoned and then burned in his house, Tuesday Morning or Evening (depends on the postmortem reports which are due Thursday). Suspects: special element x only.

    Zain stopped reading the paper and took a seat, while Dylan was still busy with the paper.
    “So what’s the conclusion?”
    “You tell.”
    Emma said dryly, and Dylan immediately threw the paper towards her.

    “Mind your tongue Emma.”
    Emma was slightly apprehended, but she understood that Dylan really cared for Zain though they had been friends for only the past month, when Zain had been sent here to help cope up with the murder suspects who had to be interviewed.

    “Hey, chill Dee Dee. What’d she say so wrong? I am a senior, so I’ll check it out again.”
    Zain innocently picked up the paper to review it, when Dylan slapped his hand down on the table, gritting his teeth.
    “No need.”
    “Okay, that’s it you two.”

    Emma stood up, snatching the paper from both of them.
    “The readings very openly indicate that the serial killers, who we have named special element x, has been aiming Muslim journalists. There have been eight murders now in the past three months, most of whom were Muslim journalists.”
    Emma stopped to see Zain’s color drain out, but he looked as calm as ever.
    “The only exception was when in the last two murders they killed two cameramen who were Hindus.”
    “Probably to mislead the police.”
    Zain said calmly, and then chuckled like always.
    “So I’m next, eh?”

    “Shut up. Is this something to laugh about?”
    Dylan punched him in his stomach, at which Zain smiled and replied:
    “We’re going to die someday in any case. Might as well have an idea when.”

    Emma flipped the pages of her romance novel after taking a seat once more. Zain’s conduct was quite different from the others like always – but this was rather electrifying.

    Dylan, too, unhappily took a seat, though there was a tint of materialism in his expressions. Zain got up and bit him on the ear as a friendly gesture at which he pushed him away.

    “No fair, Zain. Please convert or something.”
    Zain laughed lightly with some amount of anger and fury immersed in his laughter.
    “I’d rather die than convert, dude.”
    He then sat right beside Dylan, playing with his short, golden locks.
    “I came here just six weeks ago, and I felt like I was going to commit suicide. There was no one of my interest here, and the operations were paining in any case. Then you came along. And now – this just isn’t fair!”

    Zain grabbed hold of Dylan’s shoulders and shook him a little.
    “Chill, man. We’re all going to die someday, right? I’m thankful I don’t have wife and kids yet! Even so, my time’s here, so what? It’s not like you’re going to die with me.”
    Zain then pulled out Dylan’s cheeks lovingly, and then got up.
    “I’m going to say my prayers now, the night prayer, remember? Then I’ll have a good night’s sleep for the chase tomorrow. We have to keep up with the police if we want our newspaper to fare well.”

    He stretched his arms, then covering his mouth as he yawned. Dylan forced a smile, which had no plausible value, but it was enough to fool Zain who was more concerned about his prayers for the moment. Zain left immediately, as he had proclaimed.

    Emma looked back at Dylan with a loving and sympathetic smile.
    “Come on, Dylan; you knew of the case since it started! You probably guessed this situation.”
    “Yeah, but I expected the clumsy police to catch the brutes by now.”
    “The people murdering are too united and tied together to be found easily. It’s not just one mastermind; there are many. They never leave any evidence in their murders. I think we’ll need a good investigation squad in this little town of ours soon enough.”

    “In this town where Mother Nature starts the day by spraying the morning dew and summons the night with her lullabies? Never.”
    Jack spoke from behind the computer screen where he was formatting the final draft for Sunday’s special issue. The remark was thoughtful and something to contemplate about, but Dylan was thinking about other things. With mixed feelings of guilt and selfishness, he poured himself another cup of hot cocoa.


    Dylan drowsily crawled out of his sleeping bag, the ceremonial tunes of the nomads making way into his ears and creaming his thoughts with the hypnotic effect of beauty. The poor people still sung, and the hills still stood mighty, the dew now swelling out from the ice and splashing its way to revive the sleeping plants. The twinkling butterflies with rainbow on their backs spread the message of sunrise to those still asleep. The nightingales sung their jubilant hymns for God early in the morning, as the golden sun pierced through the frozen canvas of the sky.

    Dylan made his way to Zain’s tent right away, where he only saw an abandoned camping site. A panic spread within Dylan and he ran towards the main camp, only to find Emma, Fred and Vijay packing up. Everyone else had seemingly started to move.

    “What’s…what’s happening? Where’s Zain?”
    He screamed out senselessly, not realizing that this was no time for seeking consolation. Emma placed a finger on her lips, speaking in low voice:
    “Be quiet. W. Philips is talking with the Sergeant.”

    Dylan lowered the audibility of his voice only a little, panic still evident in it.
    “But what’s up? And what about Zain?”
    Emma moved closer to Dylan, putting down her purse, the map and related accessories.
    “Sergeant is very upset because of these murders. He thinks that the serial killers can be easily caught, now that there’s just one left to do with anyway. So –”
    “Is Zain okay?”
    Dylan asked restlessly, though a side of him mocked his so-called sincerity. Emma frowned and tried hard to keep her cool.
    “I’m getting to it, Dylan. Like I was saying, the Sergeant wanted Zain to play bait for the serial killers. And –”
    “He agreed, didn’t he?”
    Dylan broke in yet again, at which Emma shook her head in dislike and picked up the items she had put down.
    “If you know everything, why do you ask?”
    Dylan realized his crude attitude and immediately pulled Emma behind with a sorry expression on his face.
    “Sorry, okay? At least tell me if he agreed or not.”
    Emma shrugged him off, replying plainly:
    “Duh, he agreed. You know Zain.”
    Dylan just had gotten control of himself when he blew up all over again.
    “Then – then why didn’t you tell me!”
    Emma backed away, trying to find a way out of the conversation.
    “He asked us not to wake you up until you got up yourself. Now let me go.”

    Dylan exercised his fists and bit his lower lip. Emma immediately paced herself and ran out of sight, avoiding any of Dylan’s ‘violent’ interrogation. Dylan simply followed, unable to differentiate between right and wrong. He had been prepared for this for the past three months. But he had no idea that God would put his friendship to the test. Moreover – his faith to the test.

    Dylan caught up with the trekkers after a long while, since he had been slacking behind most of the while, pondering over his ill deeds. However, when he did catch up, it wasn’t difficult to find Zain, who was giggling and joking all the way long.

    “Zain!”
    Dylan screamed from behind, pushing behind the junior reporters and some of the policemen. Zain looked back, and smiled upon seeing Dylan, who worriedly ran towards Zain and gave him a fulfilling hug.

    “Good thing you came along. I was hungry, and man! You stole my Skittles this Monday.”
    Zain immediately started to forage for food in Dylan’s pockets, who frowned and pulled out the Skittles from his breast pocket.
    “Here you go.”
    Zain clutched the packet immediately, like a playful puppy and was about to speed away from Dylan when he pulled him back.
    “Zain, we need to talk.”

    Zain knew which subject would be on his lips, so he dragged him off rail.
    “I wanted to talk as well. You know something? My mother called early morning! Guess at what time, eh? Three!”
    Zain kept his voice high-pitched and convincing, but Dylan was not to be suppressed so easily.
    “Zain, don’t change the subject like that. You know what I have to talk about, and –”

    “Zain Farooq, please stay in the front so that the Sergeant can intimate the plan to you.”
    Zain grinned widely, relieved that he could skip the questionnaire Dylan was going to make him fill up and quickly joined the Sergeant along with W. Philips.

    Dylan tried to get a hold of his pesky friend Zain, but Zain always outsmarted him. Sometimes it was his hunger pangs, at other times his Sergeant – Dylan knew that that little looking man had a huge brain inside of him.

    It was almost noon when the trek finally halted at a terrace which had been under rice cultivation a couple of years ago. The once fertile land only had freckles of soil carpeting the stony floor which had a few stubborn weeds peeking through. Sunshine hardly kept up with this part of the hills, where there were canyons with seemingly immeasurable depths. The only creatures which guarded this barren land were vultures with stiff necks and brown, furry coats. They rested on the trees downhill, eyeing the team of journalists accompanied with the police on a mission to make money for a local magazine and catch all-rounder serial killing champs, respectively.

    “They won’t know what hit them.”
    The Sergeant beamed happily, pointing at the map.
    “This route is supposed to be broken. But we efficient people crossed it anyway!”
    He then pointed to the blackboard which had a few drawings on it concerning positions of the policemen and also the involved journalists.
    “The serial killers do not know we could’ve come this way. No satellite, not even a police terminal knows our location.”
    “Excuse me, but doesn’t that mean we can die here and no one will know?”
    Fred interrupted, at which the Sergeant nodded.
    “But it’s worth the cunning serial killers, if you ask me.”
    Fred swallowed down a painful lump and let him continue.
    “But, they know Zain is here. Or that is, a Muslim journalist is here. For capturing the torture faced by the drought inflicted zone of this hill. Our policemen have done the favor to deliver this news. Our radars also tell us that they’ll be here by night. Our best bet is the most expensive camouflage we have available, along with a good sight of the enemy. We start rehearsing after a fifteen minutes break.”

    Thereafter, everyone broke away from the meeting, including Zain who was tired of the trekking. He washed himself properly in a small spring of water, basically his face, hands and feet, for the noon prayer. Dylan watched him closely, somewhat observing how compellingly water spattered against the rocky bottom and ran downhill.

    As Zain got up and started to wear his socks, Dylan got closer to him and jumped to the topic of discussion.
    “Zain, what is this about? You’re going to take part in an experiment which involves getting killed. How Islamic is that?”
    Zain opened his mouth to protest as he moved on to button his cuffs, but Dylan did not let him have a word in.
    “No, not a word from you. How Islamic is that you ignore me all morning, huh? How Islamic is everything you’re doing right now?”
    Zain was finally finished with his cuffs and spoke softly:
    “I’m doing this for the betterment of other beings. That’s Islamic – and Christian – enough.”

    Dylan didn’t even know what he was arguing about, but his internal conflicts were showing up on the surface. He simply didn’t want Zain to volunteer.
    “What betterment of beings? You’ll get killed. These policemen lie to you when they’re so optimistic! They’re entangled with the serial killers and you think you’ll survive.”
    Zain smiled, trying to calm Dylan.
    “I know. But at least no Muslim can say that –”
    “That you didn’t try suicide bombing? What, you’ll win a Nobel Prize from the Taliban if you follow this tradition loyally?”

    That stung right on Zain’s heart. His giddy and happy self burned away as anger and disgust enveloped him. That wasn’t Dylan talking, he knew. But he wasn’t going to listen to this blasphemy and insult in any case. The media was enough for him. His black eyes were engulfed with fiery fire as he roared in response.
    “I listened to everything Dylan, good or bad, because it was about me. But nothing about my religion goes unnoticed.”
    Dylan was shocked by the furious Zain who had suddenly emerged from the otherwise carefree man. Dylan had never seen this side of him.
    “What would you know about Islam, Dylan? What would you know about what’s right and wrong! You, your people –”
    Zain raised his skinny index finger, pointing him.
    “– you have started this trend of killing Muslims here, and you blame us! Why would you care about Muslims, anyway? You hate all of us, regardless of who we really are.”
    Dylan shook his head immediately, unsure of how he should word his defense.
    “Zain – you know I don’t hate you or –”
    “Me? You just like me because I’m your only source of ‘fun’ in this ‘boring’ place. Otherwise, you would’ve probably been one of the serial killers, right? You would’ve probably killed me long time ago.”
    Dylan’s eyes were filled with hot tears, which couldn’t even conjure the courage to flow down. Zain pushed past Dylan, still boiling all over. Dylan wiped his tears and immersed himself in guilt and rejection.


    “I still don’t get it. The borders were working yesterday.”
    “Were working. I think when there was a blackout in the woods the PC got shut down too.”
    “Great. And you didn’t have a soft copy, Jeannine?”
    Jeannine shook her head, and Zain crossly sighed.

    He rested his eyes on the flooded valley in which small, black children were playing. Mudskippers could be seen in the puddles on the sides, while unseen bacteria probably inflicted the mud coated children. The sun melted the torrents of ice once again, which mixed with the polluted floodwater. As the children splashed into the mud, a cool sensation spread to their bloodstream when the icy mud invoked feelings of humbleness and humanity.

    “Zain, we’re going to have to arrange a border. Should we edit an existing one or make a
    new one altogether?”
    Zain kept his eyes on the scenery when Jeannine nudged him.
    “Zain?”
    “Huh? Oh, yeah, existing one. We don’t have much time.”

    Zain had been distracted yet again, which had been the case with him since his fight with Dylan. He hadn’t said anything to anyone, but his distracted attitude and humorless conversation conveyed much of his grief. He was sorry and wanted to apologize, but changed his mind when he noticed that Dylan hadn’t shown up this morning.

    No missed calls or SMS on his cell-phone. No one bothered tell him where he was, either. All that only sparked a naughty form of anger in him which kept him from calling Dylan to apologize. Actually, he did call; but only once, and when no one attended the call he withdrew.

    “Emma?”
    He finally cried out, after staring at the valley for the hundredth time.
    “Yeah?”
    “Any news?”
    Emma ducked his gaze, shifting her eyes to her work.
    “Don’t tell me no. Ya Allah (O’ Allah), I am so going to march down at his house now! I mean, first he leaves the trek in the middle of it all. After that, no serial killer came, our plan was a flop and I am alive. But, he’s still angry.”
    He got up from his desk, at which Fred tugged Emma’s shoulder with a frightful expression.
    “I think it’s time.”
    He whispered to her, and she nodded lightly. After Emma exchanged looks with everyone in the tent, she reluctantly got up and handed Zain a folded piece of paper.
    “Zain – your clipping for the day.”

    Zain calmly opened the page, a regular smile on his face. Slowly the smile fell down into a frown. His eyes trembled as a creek of water erupted in them and he shook his head in disbelief.

    “Emma, no. This isn’t true. Please, this isn’t true!”
    Emma lowered her head, as Zain pleadingly looked at everyone. Fred, Vijay, Jack – whoever he caught glimpse of – were only sympathizing, but not reassuring him that the clipping was a lie.
    “No, no. You guys – April fool’s way past! Please, tell me it’s a joke. Please.”
    Emma sobbed a little, and then murmured:
    “I’m sorry.”
    Zain shook his head, his sentiments becoming a tornado of anguish.

    Dylan Andrews, 25, (m), journalist for ‘The Daily Revelations’, stabbed in his private parts and left to bleed to death, Wednesday Evening (Details can only be confirmed after postmortem reports due on Sunday). Suspects: special element x only.

    Zain tore away the paper, at which Emma started to tremble. He buried his face in his hands for a short while, weeping, and gradually stopped crying. When he raised his face, there was uncertainty on it.

    “I don’t believe this. Why did he die? He wasn’t Muslim. This isn’t right.”
    Before anyone could stop him (provided anyone intended to), Zain ran out of the camp. His boots splashed onto the puddles which had formed around the track to Dylan’s tent. He ran as fast as he could, his heartbeats racing against time. He knew that something was missing, something didn’t fit in.

    He stepped in the tent, and searched through the tent, discovering few of the many things which had been recovered from his dead body. From amongst them, emerged a letter addressed to him. He quickly picked it up and started to read it – speedily at first, but then, he read it slowly. And kept reading it, until he fell to his knees, and started to sob once more. His heart trembled against his emotions, while his brain contracted with nervous impulses trying to break away from the brain.

    My dear Zain,
    I’m sorry for what I said about Muslims earlier in the day. You’re right, I was going to kill you. I was, that is. Now I’m not. You made me realize something, Zain. You’re a great Muslim, a true Muslim. You don’t fear death – and that shows how good a guy you are.
    But I, I was a terrible Muslim. I feared death so much that I pretended to be a Christian just so I wouldn’t be killed.
    But now I know that being a true Muslim is a lot more. It’s doing the right thing, no matter what. And that’s what I’ll do. The serial killer cannot be stopped; but I can at least make it up to you and Allah. The serial killer operates alphabetically, if you observe. It’s my turn now, not yours. Aslam-u-alaikum. (Peace be on you)
    Yasir Ahmed.

    “I’m sorry, Allah. I’m sorry Yasir. I’m so sorry.”
    Zain cried as the letter got blotted with his tears. His prejudice, for sure, had only cost him more grief than Yasir had intended.
     
  6. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Luminous - Leaving Darkness

    Leaving Darkness
    1,918 words

    The light's white beamed brightly on the forested landscape; though the thick canopy of trees cast shades upon the ground, the light sliced through the unseen cracks of its cover in radiant columns. The region’s grasses and shrubs radiated vivid greens, blues, and purples in such harmony that consumed eyes in its beauty.

    “Emylee!” The voice called out in summoning with a loving tone but was muffled by the distance it was carried. She didn’t move, unaware, still lying along a soft patch of meadow, her eyes drifting open less as the seconds went on. She grinned unmindfully, aroused by the sunlight warming her skin.

    Her passion and desires were all focused in the world around her, and Emylee found herself often lying in the grass and adoring the sights. It’s not the small details that make a picture beautiful, she would often say, but the unity that every detail shares to make one gorgeous piece. It wasn’t hard to find beauty here, and her blue eyes were often found sparkling because of it.

    The voice called out again, this time with more strength, and Emylee’s head perked up respectively. Recognizing the sound, she stood to her feet and dashed through the shrubbery, letting the wind whip across her limbs and face. Her legs carried her over hills and roots in her path without trouble, and time moved slowly. After climbing one of the tallest hills on her route, she only looked back once. An uncertain look crossed over her face when she saw a darkness falling across the land miles down the expanse behind her. Emylee stood still for long moments, hoping for better understanding with more time, but she left unfulfilled. Coldness…I haven’t felt this kind of coldness.

    Within what felt like hours, she came into an opening in the forest, and small cottage like buildings came into view. Emylee’s mother stood at the entrance of the nearest with one hand on her hip, the other blocking the light from her eyes.

    “Well, there you are. We really need to have you keepin’ better track of time missy.”

    “Sorry mom. Drifted off a bit.” She replied in a quiet tone as she entered the small cabin. Some dozens of chairs sat in rows facing the stage, a man already standing at the podium. Some dozens of people were all that lived in this town, which meant everyone played a part in its affairs and decisions. They held a town meeting every week. This one was already in session.

    “We can’t pretend nothing is happening.”

    “We can’t jump to conclusions either…Man, you should listen to yourselves. Overreaction, one of our greatest flaws.”

    Men continued speaking out in the crowd of townspeople seated on the chairs, half of the room already on their feet. Emylee forced her way through their legs and walked to a chair sitting in the middle of the back row. She listened contently.

    “I’ve seen what it’s doing! Death…it’s not a thing you play with.”

    “Someone please settle this man. Everyone, silence.” The man standing at the podium successfully attempted to calm the room. “Now, we are going to take a few minutes to regain order at this meeting. I will be back then,” he finished his thought, and with that he wandered out of the building’s backdoor. Voices erupted, but everything went unheard.

    Emylee turned to her mother and spoke in a whisper, “What were they talking about?”

    “That man claimed he saw something “consuming” the land, and that it would kill us all,” she replied with a hearty chuckle, “and we should plan a course of action and possibly evacuate the town.”

    Emylee didn’t respond, but instead stood up after a pause of silence and walked over to the man who was now seated by himself in one of the front rows. If overreaction is our biggest flaw, curiosity is our greatest strong point.

    With a friendly smile, she approached him and nodded in acknowledgement. “May I sit here a moment?”

    “You sit wherever you like. Not my call to make kid.” His name was Arcing Mont. The town thought him to be the crossest of its men, and her mother thought him to be a loner that she really didn’t want her daughter to be around. He didn’t intimidate her, because if anything, she intimidated every man within a mile radius of the town’s borders. Arcing came the closest to meeting her at eye level.

    A more serious look came on her face as she took her seat next to him. After a small silence, she decided to speak up. “What did you see?”

    He smirked up at her, almost amused by her interest and responded, “The light is turning off across the fields, girl. Your little world seems to be shutting down overnight.”

    “You know me better than that, Mont.” Her eyes rolled. She was young, and he loved to throw that on her potential, but he knew better than that. They spoke with each other often, and had grown a fondness for each other. It wasn’t romantic; it was more like a mutual understanding. She hesitated a moment, and replied in an even more serious voice, “On my way here, I saw something. The light really was turning off, and the dark made a perfect line across the ground. It wasn’t just the sun going down…I mean, there was literally a line separating the two. It was a few miles off, but it felt like I was in it.”

    “At least I’m not nuts then, aye girl?”

    “Never were. Just wish I knew what was comin’.”

    “We all will soon enough, kiddo.” They both looked away from each other and back to the stage when the man once at the podium reappeared. The rest of the meeting was uneventful, and exactly what they both expected. These people weren’t the type to do anything.

    Emylee didn’t get much sleep that night. Her eyes stayed wide open as her thoughts jumped between the darkness and her love of nature’s beauty until she fell into an uncomfortable sleep.





    The warming sun and chirps of songbirds welcomed her on her waking. Her figure rose out of her sheets and slowly stripped herself of her sleeping cloths. She stretched her arms high in the air with a yawn and wandered across the room to her dresser, pulled out a hand-sown sundress, and slipped it gently over her head. The world hasn’t left me overnight at least.

    She meandered out of her house barefoot and skipped back to her most beloved view. Walking bristly through the trees and up inclines, her eyes drifted from side to side, admiring the environment. The warm light always gave her a sensual and arousing feeling, as did the scent of wildflowers sparsely spread on the ground. She was so enthralled in it all, that she didn’t realize the figure sitting on the same tall hill she passes on her path everyday, gazing off onto the horizon. She walked up to him and sat beside him, looking out in the same direction, her smiling face turning distraught. Her meadow was consumed in shadows; it was gone, and the darkness was quickly moving across the region.

    For a minute, no one spoke or moved, but just watched it approach. Emylee leaned her head into his shoulder as she mourned the loss of her land ahead. He laid his arm around her, and she could only think that he was feeling the same way. She never has seen him look that distraught before.

    “Arcing…we have to get out of here.”

    A minute passed, and with one motion, Mont stood up to his feet and helped Emylee onto hers. His eyes pointed in the direction behind them, and he gave her a slight push.

    “Start moving.”

    She complied. Slowly struggling back into a comfortable standing position, she began to race down the hillside opposite the darkness with Arcing right behind her. Her heart pounded partly from exhaustion and the other part from fear as her legs struggled more with her familiar terrain. Every time she stumbled, Arcing was right there with his hands lifting her waist back up and balanced. By the time they were down the hill, the darkness was already at its peak.

    “It’s going faster than us! We can’t keep this up forever.” Her voice was stressed by the panting of her breath. Emylee continued cutting through blindingly vivid color of the forest with no real idea of where she was going. She found herself panicking, and nothing could settle her nerves. The end is here. Her thoughts never deviated.

    Both of them ran as hard as their legs would allow them, and the darkness behind them effortlessly strolled along faster than they could keep up with. Emylee finally had reached her physical limit; breathing heavily, she stopped dead in her tracks, leaving Arcing standing in front of her now.

    Her panic was gone. All that was left was acceptance of fate. He could see it in her eyes, and for the only moment the darkness would allow them, they both stood and gazed at each other. He pulled her into him and wrapped his arms around her, hesitant to release, but realizing the value of time, he let her go. With a final look and what she saw to be a small tear on his cheek, he turned and ran off.

    This is what it feels like. No fear. Except him… I will miss him.

    She sat down and felt the soft grass against her fingertips. It was just as she always remembered, feeling just as wonderful and relaxing as ever. She didn’t have much energy left in her and couldn’t get herself moving comfortably, so she decided it would be here. Lying in the sun smelling the field’s fresh scent, this is where I’ll let it happen.

    Seconds past that felt like hours, but you can only suppose that’s what seconds would feel like when a life lasted only minutes. She knew it was closer, but she wouldn’t run anymore. She wouldn’t make the inevitable chase her, so she would end it with her love: her world, her beauty, her home.

    As the last minute approached and her muscles relaxed, Emylee laid there, still and almost lifeless. She smiled a small smile in her last second, but what she remembered was her last sensation of feeling in her hand. With the last seconds only seconds away, a figure had laid itself next to hers, and only being able to catch his eyes in hers for a moment, a soft smile showed on her face. Arcing’s hand gently took her hand in his own and held it firm. I’ll be seeing you.

    The darkness consumed the entire world, leaving very few traces of what was, trying to only leave now what will be. Emylee sat up and gazed at what was surrounding her; the vividness of color was washed away, and she felt tears crawl out of her eyes. She remained despondent until her eyes caught glance of a familiar sight. Sitting just to her side was a bold blue wildflower that smelled with strong floral fragrance. Her tears stopped. Beautiful.

    I will find reason to smile in this new experience, someday. I will understand one day that the darkness wasn’t chasing me. I was chasing a fantasy.

    She looked down into the hand she was holding with beaming eyes.

    Someday will be a sooner day than I think.
     
  7. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cogito - Cold Vengeance

    Cold Vengeance (1549 words)

    Virgil Lambreaux was a dead man, and he knew it. He had nearly a sixteen hour lead, but there was no possibility of escaping his inevitable demise.

    His fate was sealed the moment he walked into the Icarus Base transport bay and recognized the brunette near the cargo lockers. “Rissa! What brings you down here of all places?” He hurried toward her, but his grin faltered at the cold glare she gave him as she turned and pointed at him. He dove to the deck and scrambled for cover behind a crate. A searing pulse from the plasma pistol in her hand barely missed his head and charred an elliptical pit in the deck plate. He crawled quickly between a loading jack and a mobile welder. Rissa cursed loudly from near where he had been standing.

    Virgil moved behind the welder, and silently picked up a wrench left by one of the workers. His stomach tightened as he saw a motionless figure on the floor nearby. The smell of burned hair invaded his nose and he fought the urge to vomit. Sensing movement behind him, he spun and the wrench struck Rissa’s elbow. The plasma pistol jerked away, and then pointed back toward him.

    He swung the wrench hard and felt bones crunch. Blood from Rissa’s head soaked Virgils hand, and she crumpled to the deck. Virgil gripped the side of the welder, and retched convulsively.

    This was not the Rissa Swan he thought he knew. She had killed three workers in the transport bay, and had been breaking into one of the cargo lockers when he arrived. Rissa had always been passionately outspoken in condemning her notorious father, Colby Swan, thought to be in control of most of the organized criminal activity in this region of the Belt.

    The cargo lockers along the wall were airtight safes for valuables. The one Rissa had been working on was damaged but still sealed. Whatever she was after, it had to be worth a lot, judging by the carnage she had inflicted.

    But Rissa was Colby Swan’s daughter, and he would take Virgil’s life for ending hers. So Virgil boarded the fastest scout vessel in the bay, and fled for his life.

    An hour out from Icarus, he berated himself over his decision. He’d have stood a better chance losing himself among the population of the base. The ion-driven scout ship was leaving a trail of charged atoms that could easily be tracked, no matter what course he followed. And as fast as the scout ship was, there were faster ships, especially if his pursuer had the resources of Colby Swan.

    It was too late to turn back. Rissa’s body may already have been discovered. Virgil closed his eyes and tried to dispel the image of her lovely body, mutilated through his actions. But it was self-defense! he thought. She was about to kill me. His conscience answered with a single word, repeated insistently: murderer. Virgil sobbed, and began a frantic search for cached booze of drugs. But there was no oblivion to be found. He altered his course toward a dense cluster of asteroids and cometary debris, hoping against hope to find a hiding place among the drifting rocks and ice. Then he curled up in a fetal position and slept fitfully.

    Eighteen hours out from Icarus, Virgil was awakened by a deep voice, as smooth and dangerous as an oiled dagger. “You may as well shut down your drive now. You cannot escape.”

    Virgil flailed in fear, and winced as his arm struck the pedestal of the pilot’s seat. Then he realized that the sound was coming from the comm. panel. No one was on board the scout ship but himself.

    Virgil recognized the voice of Colby Swan. So he decided to kill me himself, he thought, and an icy fear flooded though him.

    Colby spoke again. “I know you have it. I want it back. I’ll even let you live, if you surrender now.”

    Virgil did not expect this. He didn’t for a moment believe that Swan would let him go free. But what was it that Swan thought he had? What had Rissa been trying to steal?
    Someone else must have finished what Rissa had begun, he realized. And Virgil was left to take the fall.

    For the first time since he left the transport bay, he felt a glimmer of hope. If Swan thought he had – whatever it was, Virgil might have a bargaining position. At the least, it would probably mean Swan wouldn’t fire on the ship and risk destroying the prize.

    Virgil turned the scout’s sensors back toward Icarus. He could see the flare of twin fusion engines driving the pursuing craft. He estimated that Swan would catch up with him in four or five hours. He scanned ahead, and found a large, jagged wedge of frozen ice and rock, but his heart sank when he realized it would take him seven hours to reach it. Finally, he saw another, smaller mountain only three hours away. The scans indicated that it was approximately six kilometers along the longest dimension, a slab of frozen methane, ammonia, and water ice studded with rocks, and riddled with crevasses and deep pits, He altered course toward it and set to work modifying a mining sled for his purposes.

    Colby Swan’s rage threatened to swallow him. Whoever this thief was, he would never see home again. Swan and his personal guard had entered the cargo area to collect his property. The buyer was primed, ready to pay nearly twice what the prototype was worth. But the locker stood gaping open, mocking him. With a feral growl, he slammed the door so hard it jammed with a screech. Then he saw his daughter, lying in a sticky stain of her own blood, and his fury turned glacial. She must have surprised the thief, and paid with her life, he realized.

    Swan ordered his guard to ready his yacht for him. As he hurried to his personal docking platform, he wondered if the thief knew whom he had killed, and how personal this had now become.

    The yacht was designed for comfort, but also for speed, and it was discretely armed. Swan used the small vessel for smuggling and other illicit operations, and he had spared no expense to ensure that it had the teeth for a fight, and the legs to avoid one. His guard began to board behind him, but Swan turned and glared. The guard backed away without a word. Another of Swan’s men, on board making the final preflight checks, didn’t notice Swans mood, wrapped around him like a thundercloud.

    “Out!” Swan spoke quietly, but the man nearly fell over himself in his haste to get out of Swan’s ship.

    Now, several hours later, Swan was approaching the frozen asteroid where the ion trail ended. He couldn’t see the ship itself; the rugged surface had too many places to hide. He began scanning the surface for stray signals. Finally he found a faint electronic emission, emanating from a cluster of spongelike holes in the surface. He landed on the far side of a nearby ice ridge, and shut down the engines. Then he donned an EV suit, chose a pair of sidearms, and disembarked.

    The brittle frozen surface crunched under his boots, even in the low gravity, and wisps of vapor curled up from his footprints. Several minutes later, he stood on the rim of a deep pit at the source of the signal. In the shadows, a mining sled was half buried in the grey wall of the crater. Coward, Swan thought. Ok, I’ll secure the prototype before I end his miserable life. He climbed down to the sled, and cleared off the debris.

    His rage flared as he realized that all the sled contained was a spare suit radio, rigged to emit low level static. It was a decoy, to waste his time and give the thief a chance to escape! He hurried back to the yacht. No more games! He would destroy the arrogant sonuvabitch, even if the prototype was destroyed along with him!

    Back on board, he removed his helmet but did not even take the time to remove the pressure suit. He strapped in and powered up the engines. But the yacht didn’t move. He cursed and applied full power.

    The comet shifted under the scout ship, and a bright sphere of expanding ice crystals rose into view. Virgil restored the power, fired the maneuvering jets, and the scout ship lifted gently from the crevasse over a kilometer away where it had been concealed from view.

    A large section of the icy surface had been blasted away. As Virgil had hoped, Swan had not taken into account the heat of his fusion engines when he landed. The surface had melted under the yacht and then frozen solid, trapping the vessel in the frigid surface. When Swan fired the engines to full power, the trapped energy built up in moments to a powerful detonation which vaporized the ship and its surroundings.

    As he set course toward a home the had thought he would never see again, Virgil thought kind words toward whomever had outwitted both Swans and walked off with the stolen item.
     
  8. Gannon
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    Gannon Contributing Member Contributor

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    thecox - Only Shadows

    Only Shadows (1096 words)

    I pulled back the Mickey Mouse head from my PEZ dispenser and grabbed the edge of a hard candy with my front teeth. I chewed the strawberry candy methodically, stuffing the plastic toy back into the pocket of my ragged khaki shorts. My PEZ kept company with a soggy Winnie the Pooh band-aid and a wedding ring. In my right hand, I hefted a spear, hand-crafted from the branch of a eucalyptus tree. A series of notches etched into the soft wood climbed halfway up its face.

    I crouched behind a low bush. As I waited for my quarry, I became aware of the forest as a living entity. It surrounded me like a cocoon. The heat smothered me, making it difficult to breath. The oppressive humidity matted my hair to the sides of my head like a wet dog. The steady whoosh of the ocean waves taunted me with their siren’s call, coaxing me back to the depths of their cool waters.

    But I couldn’t abandon my post. I chanted affirmative statements quietly: “I am happy and healthy, ever alert, happy and healthy, ever alert.” The final syllable trailed off as I heard a rustling in the bushes to my left. The formidable figure of a wild boar crashed through the bushes and into a sunken watering hole ten yards from my position.

    My grip on the spear tightened. The boar’s massive flanks shifted as it splashed around in the water. It snorted wildly, shaking insects from its hindquarters. Then it bent down to drink. At that moment, I began to rise from my hiding place slowly. I held my spear above my right shoulder and pulled my forearm back in preparation.

    Suddenly, the boar snapped its head up in fear, looking into the dark interior of the forest. Before I could throw my spear, it squealed and ran away towards the shoreline. I couldn’t see what scared it off. Sprinting from cover, I waded through the watering hole and peered into the covering of trees. Without another thought, I dashed forward into the heart of the forest.

    As I tore through the initial undergrowth, I caught sight of a shadow. The personage resonated within me like the flicker of an old memory. I sprinted after it. The slight figure danced just beyond my vision the entire time, ducking behind a tree, over a fallen log. I leapt and slid through the forest, tearing my legs on outstretched foliage. I stumbled through a rushing creek and up a steep, ivy-covered hill. I chased the shadow for an eternity, never gaining or losing ground.

    “I am powerful and swift. Happy and healthy. Ever alert,” I panted. I wouldn’t allow myself to be beaten. Spots began forming before my vision, dancing to the rhythm of some universal drumbeat. Blood seeped down my shin in an intricate crimson web. My legs felt like rubber, refusing to carry me any further. I finally bent over, resigned. Sweat dripped down my forehead in sheets.

    I lifted my head and searched the thick forest. At first, all I could see was an expansive green pallet. Then, between two low-hanging branches, I caught sight of the phantom standing motionless. It couldn’t be any taller than a child. A chill passed through my body like a wave, traveling gradually down my spine.

    “Happy and healthy, happy and healthy,” I rasped. Tears welled up in my eyes. “Hello?” I cooed, but my voice seemed to stick in my throat. I coughed. Keeping my eyes trained on the shadow, I side-stepped through the trees. No matter where I moved, the figure seemed to face away from me. I could hear the steady roar of the waves against the shoreline maybe two hundred yards from my position.

    Finally, I started walking cautiously towards the shadow and towards the sounds of the ocean. My mind tried to argue with my legs, but I willed them forward. I fiddled with the wedding ring in my left pocket, rubbing the grit and sand from its warm band. I picked at the empty diamond-mount with my fingernail.

    The trees dissipated ahead in a burst of light from the noonday sun. My shadow guide vanished as quickly as he had come. I stumbled through the last trees and allowed myself to roll down a sand dune to the shoreline below. I dropped my spear. Lying in the warmth of the sand-bed, I retrieved the PEZ dispenser from my pocket. I pulled Mickey Mouse back and dropped a piece of the hard candy straight into my mouth. I chewed the chalky morsel.

    Lifting my head from the sand, I saw that familiar shape jutting out of the low tide like the skeleton of some long dead fossil. Its canvas sail writhed in the wet sand. The sailboat had been torn apart by the rocks along the shore. Summer dresses and Zinfandel wine bottles were strewn across the golden sandbar.

    I sat up. Then I knelt on the sand in supplication, rocking back and forth.

    The memories I tried so desperately to bury began to resurface, one by one. I extracted the wedding band from my pocket and held it up to the sunlight. An etching on the inside of the band declared: “My Marissa for time and eternity.” I stared through the band straight into the sun until an angry red dot filled my vision. I looked away.

    With my free hand, I searched for the Winnie the Pooh band-aid. I pulled it out, flicked at it absently with my head lowered. “Lucas,” I whispered. “Why bring me here? Why now?” My tears streamed freely. I sobbed.

    A chill passed through me. It cut through me like a strong gust of wind.

    After a moment of silence, I stood, retrieved my spear, and walked to an outcropping of palm trees along the beach. Two awkward mounds jutted from the sand beneath the canopies. I knelt and settled the wedding ring in the sand above the larger mound. I set the band-aid down on the smaller mound. Then I thrust my spear deep into the ground behind the mounds as a marker. I left the spear and its forty-five rough notches at the head of their graves.

    I took a seat between Lucas and Marissa. I let sand sift through my fingers, felt the sand with my toes. I whispered quietly. “I’m sorry.”

    I wondered about the figure that led me back to this place. I stared out at the never-ending ocean. Miles away, something shimmered in the steady whoosh of the waves.
     
  9. Gannon
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    Rickie writes - Loser

    "Loser"

    I don't know how I get myself into these situations. It seems to be happening to me a lot lately. Maybe I'm drinking too much. Well I am drinking too much but I've been handeling it OK. I should of eaten something besides a hot dog and chips 12 hours ago.

    I hooked up to a poker game with some guys I met at a bar where I washed down my lunch with a couple of drafts. I won some, lost some but came out ahead. I needed sleep and was staggering down a darken street in a strange town. I don't know where I'm am. God you'd think the new buzz would have cleared up that hangover some by now. I gotta pee.

    Moving along minding my own business, I see a bunch of guys coming toward me. Punks by the looks of them, making a lot of noise. I'm not afraid of them, of course, but I cross over to the other side of the street. No need antagonizing them. God I'm thursty.

    They cross over as well and keep walking toward me, pointing, laughing and getting louder. They're high too, crack heads I bet, looking for money. My money.

    I stopped walking, that's a mistake, now I look scared, an easy victim and those street hoodlums can smell it like a wolf smells blood! If I was sober I'd have a chance. Not now, I'm in deep ****. Sure wish I'd gotten that gun permit.

    Turning down the alley I hoped they'd think I'm not worth their effort and just keep walking on to some convience store and grab some 40ozers. Once out of sight I start to run wide eyed and wild! I never knew I could move so fast, so it seemed.

    Once around the next corner I cram my self into a shadow and try to catch my breath. My cheast burns. My heart pounds. My breathing fills my ears so much I can't tell if I'm being followed. Hell! I gotta keep going, gotta keep going, keep goooooiiiing!!

    I think I hear them!? My chest still hurts. There is no choice. Bolting around the next corner, I might just mislead them. Maybe they'll make a wrong turn and I'll be free.

    Not a chance.

    My legs are growing tired and week, I'm slowing down. Pushing, pushing, pushing on harder and harder...I gotta keep moving. I can feel them on the back of my neck more than hear them as they get closer.

    IT'S A DEAD END ALLEY! Christ almighty!

    In a panic induced time warp, every split second seems forever.

    Desperately I slam into a door, it opens. Falling inside onto the floor I crack my head on the stairs rising in front of me. I push the door closed while blood runs into my right eye, I lock the door. Staggering back I hit my heals on the first stair and end up sitting on the third step.

    A dim bulb above is my only light. Suddenly the door booms like a war drum and trembles. Dust falls from above and the door frame. BOOM! BOOOM! and the doors corners flex in. Holy ****!

    Just as it crashes in I turn and run up a long flight of stairs into pitch blackness. Slowly, ever so slowly, like running in thick sticky mud, up the stairs I go, jackals nipping at my heels. Just as they seem to reach me I crash through something and fall, rolling over and over in slow motion.

    It's surreal. I see my feet, the sky, the roof several times like a motion picture.

    I rise to my feet facing the door.

    Suddenly, I'm looking at myself from above. Interesting. Is this what it's like to die?

    The reapers burst out of the open door, reaching out with their cold fingers. Touching me, I stumble backwards, lose my balance and fall over the edge of the roof. I watch myself fall. I'm going to die. Before I crash into the pavement ...

    I wake up.
     
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