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  1. Brakes screamed, and the world spun. Metal slammed and roared, and glass exploded. Moira’s shattered and bloodied face expanded before Kyle’s eyes as it flew toward him accusingly. He woke quaking, his heart pounding, and his bed sheets soaked with sour sweat.

    Kyle climbed out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom. He splashed cold water on his face and tried to slow his breathing. In his recurring nightmare, he was the drunk driver who had split Moira’s car in half and stolen her life. Kyle had never seen the wrecked car, had never been able to confront that horror.

    The rest of the night, he lay on twisted clammy sheets, staring at the ceiling until blackness gave way to the grey of dawn. He arrived at work with eyes as red and swollen as he was sure the driver’s had been. Glenn Baker looked up at him and frowned. “You look like hell. Another rough night?”

    Kyle nodded. “That same nightmare again. I couldn’t go back to sleep.” He sat down at his desk and sighed wearily. “That stupid argument over a stupid check.” Moira had written out a check without recording it, and he had lectured her as if she were an irresponsible child. His heart ached with remorse. “If I hadn’t made such a big thing of it, she wouldn’t have stormed out.”

    “Cut the crap!” Glenn spoke softly, but with an edge to his voice. “You’ll just make yourself nuts thinking that way. Cut yourself some slack, and put the blame where it belongs.” Glenn’s phone rang, and he turned to answer it.

    Kyle knew in his head that Glenn was right. The driver of the other car had been convicted of vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, and operating without a license. It had been his fourth drunk driving arrest, and he was now serving the maximum prison sentence the judge could impose. But Kyle still suffered over the petty squabble that had put her at that intersection at that moment. His day dragged on like so many others in the months since the crash.

    Exhausted as he was, sleep gathered him swiftly that night. He found himself at a table in a comfortably dim lounge filled with an easy babble of casual conversations. A jazz quartet was warming up to perform a set, and he realized he was at the Blue Note jazz club. He had only been here once, before he had met Moira. At the bar, he was suddenly aware of a woman with straight dark hair and an elegant deep blue dress. She turned and looked directly at him. He was startled by the intensity of her eyes, the color of sapphires. He blushed and looked away, and shifted his thoughts to Moira’s smiling face framed with auburn waves. All at once, he felt love, sadness, and forgiveness emanating from her. He wept, while the quartet began a rendition of “Fever”. Peace settled over him. He looked up, embarrassed by his emotional display, but no one appeared to have noticed. The woman he had noticed earlier was no longer at the bar.

    Then he felt firm hands on his shoulders. A warm breath washed over his ear and he felt a soft kiss on his cheek. Kyle opened his eyes to darkness. He stretched his hand to the empty side of the bed beside him, and thought of Moira until he fell back into a dreamless slumber.

    He awoke well rested. Kyle faced the day feeling calmer and more aware of his surroundings than he had for months. Last night’s dream kept returning to his thoughts. He told Glenn about it at lunch.

    Glenn focused his gaze on his sandwich, and chose his words carefully. “I gave up telling you that you need to move on. Sometimes I thought you wanted to hit me for saying it.”

    Kyle looked at him. “I’m sorry. It just seemed - well, wrong. She’s dead. But I really loved her. Love her.”

    “I know. But do you think she wanted you to just stop living? Do you think that would make her happy?”

    Saying nothing, Kyle finished his meal, and they returned to the office. He thought about what Glenn had said, and for once, he didn’t feel an argument building in his head. Moira had said the same thing in his dream, silently, with one look.

    That night, he found himself in the Blue Note once more. The bar seat was empty, but then the same woman strode to it as it were hers exclusively. She seated herself, and turned toward Kyle. Again he was pierced by those startlingly blue eyes. Then she smiled, the slightest lift at the corners of her lips. Her regard pinned him in place, his soul naked before her. He held her gaze for a long moment, then looked away again, heat rising in his cheeks. Soon after, he felt her behind him once more. She slid her hands down his arms to grasp his hands, as though she had known him forever. “I’m waiting,” she whispered to him. He woke suddenly, pulse racing and blood rushing, and lay awake several minutes. Soon he drifted back into a dreamless sleep.

    The next day flew by. Kyle walked briskly to his desk, humming under his breath. He nodded to Glenn, who nodded back and looked at him curiously, but said nothing. That evening, Kyle yielded to impulse and dined at a Korean restaurant he had been meaning to try. As he finally returned home, with the taste of spicy barbequed beef still on his tongue, he wished he had gone there sooner.

    As he slept, Kyle again found himself in the intimate club, listening to the smooth smoky sounds of a Miles Davis favorite, followed by a lively Dixieland medley. But the mysterious woman never appeared. In the morning, Kyle opened his eyes, and was surprised to feel a lingering disappointment.

    As he drove to work, he thought again of Moira, and the haunting smile she wore in his dream.. He knew he would always love her, but also felt that both of them had finally found some measure of peace. Maybe there would be room for someone else in his heart, someday. Moira had her own place within him, never to be dislodged He locked his car in the parking garage and walked the two blocks to the office building’s lobby.

    Kyle boarded the elevator, and the doors began to close. “Hold please!” Kyle reached out and tagged the doors with his hand, and they opened again. As the woman hurried into the elevator with a quick “Thanks,” Kyle found himself looking into a pair of brilliant blue eyes. She turned back toward the doors, but after a moment turned back around and looked back at him curiously. “I know how this sounds, but do I know you? You seem familiar somehow.”

    He shook his head.. “No. I’d remember.” He smiled and held out his hand. “Hi. I’m Kyle.”

    (I wrote this for the first Short Story competition on the site, in late June 2007, and posted a final revision on 7 July, 2007. The competition theme was "Dreams.")
  2. Todd Rizzo could not keep his eyes off the gun. Once again he lifted it from the coffee table to feel its cold weight in his hand. The Smith and Wesson .22 caliber pistol weighed 33 ounces, a little over two pounds. He was surprised how easy it had been to buy it through his friend Barry. The faint smell of steel and gun oil made him feel both nervous and somewhat excited. What the hell am I doing he thought for a moment. Annoyed at his weakness, he firmly set the gun back down on the table next to the half-empty pizza box. Picking up the can of Colt 45 instead, he gulped down the last third of a can, then flipped the can toward the trash. It clattered against the wall and came to rest a foot to the right of the trash bucket.

    Elaine Federmeyer stepped out from the shelter of the bus stand as the bus pulled to a stop. Hurrying through the cold drizzle, her foot splashed in an oily puddle in front of the open door of the bus. There were no open seats, so she braced herself with one of the upright steel columns and glanced at her watch. She should make it home around 5 PM, and she was dreading the argument she was sure would come. Or perhaps tonight would just be another crackling silence, waiting for an explosion that would never come. She wasn’t sure which was worse. She shifted her weight so the pole wasn’t pressing on her bruised shoulder.

    Todd looked at the clock and sighed. Only 4:50? He was sure it would be after 5:00 by now. But everything seemed to drag on forever since last Thursday. It wasn’t fair. He had been less than ten minutes late, and it wasn’t his fault. He had told her he didn’t have time to discuss it, but she wouldn’t let it go. He looked at the time again.

    Elaine rummaged into her bag and found a sample packet of Advil. Tearing open the packet, she swallowed the tablets dry. Todd had been hard to live with for a while, but he had become impossible to be around after losing his job. But after last night, she knew she had to leave him. A tight wave of fear gripped her at the thought. She had nowhere to go, and was afraid of what he might do when she told him. He had changed so much from the thoughtful man with the easy sense of humor she had moved in with. As the bus slowed at the Roosevelt Street bus stand, she checked her watch again.

    Todd put down the crust of the last slice of pizza, and popped open another can of beer. He tipped it back and savored the icy rush of it down his throat. Then he stopped and listened. Was that the outer door of the apartment building? He looked at the clock. It was a few minutes after five, it could be her coming home. He listened, and thought he could hear footsteps on the stairs.

    Elaine pulled the key from her bag and hesitated for a moment before sliding it into the lock. I’m not going to say anything tonight, she thought. I need to be smart about this, find a place to move to first. She turned the key and opened the door.

    Todd heard the key scrape into the lock, and he picked up the gun. He pushed the safety off, and pointed the gun toward the door. He reminded himself that he had run out of choices.

    Elaine smelled the beer as she opened the door, and pizza. Then she saw Todd, sitting on the couch. He was looking at her strangely. He was pointing at her. He had a gun. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, but in flashes. The flashes were coming from the gun. She dove backwards throw the open door, or maybe she was falling. A sharp pain seared the side of her head. She hit the floor hard, and her breath wouldn’t come. A loud bang echoed in the enclosed space, or maybe more than one. She wasn’t sure.
    As Elaine stepped through the door, Todd squeezed the trigger and the gun jumped in his hand. He fired again as Elaine fell out the door into the hall. Then he pushed the gun barrel against the roof of his mouth and squeezed a third time. Hot white pain exploded in his skull.

    Elaine was dimly aware of doors opening, of feet pounding on the stairs, of voices yelling. The fall had knocked the wind out of her. She struggled to breathe. The seconds dragged by as she gasped painfully.

    Todd’s gaze was fixed on the clock. He couldn’t move, or even blink. The searing white fire was growing in his head. Todd wanted to scream, but nothing came out. The time was 5:09, and the second hand hovered over the 7. Todd waited for the pain to end, along with everything else.

    “Hold still.” Someone was bending over Elaine, checking her over. “Looks like a piece of the doorframe hit her. She has a nasty cut, but I don’t see anything worse.” Then to her, “The EMT’s are on the way. Just stay still, you’ll be okay.” Elaine’s back began to throb painfully as she waited for the ambulance. Time began to return to a normal flow.
    The agony in Todd’s head in Todd’s head continued to grow, until it and the clock were all he knew. The second hand ticked once, twice toward the 8, and froze. The pain grew to a roar. The second hand ticked again. Something was wrong. Todd could not feel the end coming. All he could feel was pain, never ending torture. He felt minutes stretching into hours, and hours stretching into days, and the pain continued to expand beyond all comprehension. Suddenly, before the pain washed away even this thought, Todd knew there would be no end. Time in the world would continue, but for him this minute would never end.

    The second hand ticked to 5:09:39.

    (I started this story in 2003, and revised it a couple times over the years. When I arrived on the Writing Forums in May of 2007, I received valuable feedback which led to this, probably final, revision.)
  3. A thousand ghostly serpents stretch
    pale heads above the lake,
    warning the rising white wavering

    Fearless a grey shell among them slips.
    Shadowed pilot lets oars drift
    launches a silent line;
    a soft plop; the figure waits
    in vain.

    A starling squawks, the only sound
    to pierce the peaceful air.
    The figure lifts his arm once more
    another plop, and rippling rings

    Then a splash, the rod bends down
    the snake heads veer away
    as water churns and figure turns
    a crank.
    Net dips down,
    brings silvery prize

    The figure bends to take the oars
    and glides ahead once more.
    And stops.
    And waits.
    And baits the hook
    while silence reigns

    (This is a poem I started on 10July2007, and finished revising on 12July2007)
  4. Although I wear the magenta, I remain primarily a Reviewer (at least in my head). One of the things I have decided to pay more attention to is sentence length, both when reviewing and when writing. Each sentence should convey one thought, one action. The rare exception is when two thoughts are so closely connected, they need to be joined in a sentence.

    I also want to encourage writers to use their spellcheck, and to manually proofread each story or poem before they post it. The less time a reviewer has to spend on the simple writing mechanics, the more effort that can go into the finer points of writing.
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