Please vote for the piece you feel is most deserving:

Poll closed May 22, 2011.
  1. dlpereira - The Train from Paris

    0 vote(s)
  2. nzric - Joie de vivre

    4 vote(s)
  3. Leatherworth Featherfist - Queen Bee

    3 vote(s)
  4. Vick - Sanctuary

    0 vote(s)
  5. nastyjman - Cursed

    0 vote(s)
  6. TheSpiderJoe - Looks Can Be Deceiving

    0 vote(s)
  7. Omega14 - Arriving Late

    3 vote(s)
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  1. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England

    Voting Short Story Contest 92: Pre-Written Character (Chloé)

    Discussion in 'Monthly Short Story Contest Archives' started by Gannon, May 9, 2011.

    Voting Short Story Contest (92) Theme: Pre-Written Character (Chloé)

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

    Voting will end Sunday 22nd May 2011 to give you all a chance to read the entries.

    Note: For this week's contest, all entrants were required to use the following, pre-written character:

    Name: Chloé, surname unknown.
    Born: Paris, France, 1918.
    Age: 103.
    Sex: F.
    Current Occupation: Unknown.
    Current Location: Aboard a train, heading out of Paris for a meeting, 2021.
    Characteristics: Mysterious. Observative. Nervous.
    Other: Appears much younger than she is.

    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. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    dlpereira - The Train from Paris [over word limit]

    Outside, drops of water rivered down the glass, glittering the early-morning, springtime lights of Paris behind me. The train was headed eastbound towards Genova, Italy. This wasn’t, however, my final destination. From Genova I would find other transport towards the small town of Portovenere. A small fisherman’s horizon that clung precarious to a rocky peninsula; the thirsty tongue of the Appennine Mountains lapping the waters of the La Spezia Gulf.
    Several days ago, in my modest Paris abode I received a letter.

    “Monsieur Rene Honnrie,
    Simply, you astonish me. I have been watching you a very long time Monsieur. Your life as well as the work you do interests me so and as such I have become one of your greatest aficionados.
    My own research has uncovered great truths in your field. I have found the thing you do not search for but desire most! Please agree to meet me so we may claim this greatest of discoveries together.
    I will await you in three days time in Portovenere, when Lune’s pale face is smiling her brightest.”

    That was it. No other correspondence came with it, not even a signature. I had good mind to ignore it; my work after all had been reduced to ‘articles de merde,’ Throw-away pieces that I had been regulated to since Lucas Olivier had been hired. After being hired all Lucas did was hang around asking inane personal questions, claiming that he looked up to me and wanted to learn the Honnrie Standard. I was a phenomenal writer but ‘La Figaro’ needed a fresh voice with the youth’s perspective. What crap, the youth didn’t even read the news.

    I knew the truth. Two years ago I was placed on assignment in the very place I was headed now. There had been a string of murders taking place in the town and along the surrounding countryside. They were ghastly scenes of apropos horror including all the standard fare; torn limbs, bloody, razed torsos and missing heads – assumed trophies for a perverse soul.

    Few survived. Those that did were taken to hospitals and questioned relentlessly but they were silent, reliving their nightmare only for themselves. Their eyes no longer saw the world around them, only the evil that had ravished them. Everyone understood why some would soon pass several days after surviving an attack, but what puzzled authorities and hospital staff alike was the disappearance of those poised to recover. Most died while others just ‘evapore’.

    I spent months traipsing over dead bodies into dead ends. The time I spent in that languid Mediterranean town left my mind as desecrated as its victims. The townsfolk were a superstitious lot claiming monsters and demons of that ilk. They cared not about the ‘imbecile’ that would walk alone at night without the protection of Venus or San Pietro, whatever you believed. They stayed inside at night, and stayed alive.

    My only souvenirs from the trip were the nightmares I brought back with me, dreams of being torn apart by powerful arms that brought their hands to a shadowy face to taste my insides. My waking hours were plagued with lethargy and a new anxiety. I was harried by my failure to come to any conclusion in the deaths at Portovenere and because of my deficiency, I had not only lost my post, I felt as if something was now after me. It was all ridiculous, I know, thinking that I would be the next victim of a long gone murderer in a town over 12,000 km away was complete lunacy, but you tell that to the person taking the heavy SSRI just to maintain a level of normalcy.

    The day the letter came was a dark one. Even almost over-dosing, the night terrors came on again and my debilitating anxiety prevented me from writing even the lightest pieces on the most saccharine subjects. Someone wanted to show me the ‘truth.’ Someone had been watching me and they wanted to see me. Even the fruition of this ‘je te l’ai dit’ moment could not over-shadow the fact that somewhere out there had been watching me beyond my cognizance. I barely slept the following days and sometime in the hazy morning hours of the third day I found myself boarding the train towards Genova.

    The cars at that hour held few people but even still I found my way to a secluded corner at the end of the last one. The man at the station seemed too inquisitive about my destination and the lady conductor who came to collect my ticket asked too much of my well-being. After what I felt was more than a cursory check-in, she left the car and I was once again by myself watching my fair city twinkle into the distance.

    The rhythmic thrum of the track and the gentle patter of rain at my window calmed me and soon I was asleep. I was walking along a beach, salty water washed against my bare feet. I was astonished at the detail I could see all around me though night veiled my surroundings. The moon sat so close and enormous on the horizon that it seemed to be admiring its own spectral complexion rippling in the ocean. Far ahead I could see tightly-knit buildings along a rocky outpost. They were fantastically colored but shone pallid in the moonlight. I followed their short climb with my eyes to the base of a mountain where the town ceased its hazardous ascension either out of reverence for the mountain itself or the castle that clung to its stony breast.

    To use the ‘American’ idiom, this place held an eerie ‘déjà vu.’ I had been here and seen those castle walls more than once before, but in my dream state I could not find a name for anything before me. From my vantage I could see the stone walls rising from the mountain, the gray slate walls that would surround the great, ‘ipostila’ hall. Uneasiness settled over me as I observed the sleepy landscape. Something was wrong. As I looked at the castle a dark shape among the timber of the mountain caught my eye. It was very large even though it was so far away and was moving faster than anything I could picture in my own head.

    It gained speed as it descended and about 50 meters from the highest castle wall it exploded from the ground in a cloud of dust, rocks and up rooted brush. It sailed agilely through the air and landed forcefully if not gracefully atop the stone wall. There it stood at let out a most ferocious howl. What new nightmare was this that my mind had chosen to torture me with?

    The black figure absorbed the pale light that bathed everything else in this ethereal world. It was an onyx cloud poised in an opal sky. Out on the beach I shivered against the salty, humid air. The creature’s scream tore through the calm night, a grizzled bear against chirping crickets. When all was once again quite it lowered its head in my direction and in its black form I could see the pinprick glare of two nocturnal eyes. Nimbly it jumped from one end of the wall to the next then dropped down into the surrounding foliage. Seeing it had sent fear across my skin, tightening it against my musculature, but no longer being able to see it sent my skin crawling against me like millions of caterpillar escaping famished beaks.

    I turned and ran the direction opposite but panic began to jelly my legs. That creature had just skipped down a mountain side and scaled a hundred meter wall with a leap. ‘Prie a dieu’ that I was not its quarry. Prayers in panic are never heeded however and within seconds I heard the steady thumping of something giving chase behind me. The growled huffing approached with greater speed than my adrenaline could counter and too soon it was upon me.

    I felt its hot breath across the whole of my back right before it tore at me with giant beastly claws. I fell to the ground in searing pain but kept my face buried in the sand, I would not turn to face it. Better it kill me without it being the last thing I would see. So it complied with my wish. I felt it crunch my leg between its jagged maws. It placed one massive hand on my back to hold me still and pulled at my limb until I heard a pop. I could no longer feel the individual injuries, my body in its entirety was in a state of shock, but the sound of my detaching leg coerced from me my own animal scream.

    “Dieu s’il vous plait!” I screamed and the creature stopped mid evisceration. I could hear it smacking its lips above me and feel it’s ragged, hungry breathing on my back. Then it did something that I could not have expected.

    It spoke, “Face me Rene.” I was not sure, over my own sobs, that I had even heard the creature speak let alone utter my name so I lay still, crying my pain into the sand. I felt a hand on my back but this time it was different, gentle, human.

    “Face me,” said the voice again, higher in timber yet still somehow guttural, as if a woman and a lion were speaking through the same mouth. The hand left my back and came around to my face and gently cradled it. Now I could see that this new hand belonged to that of a woman. Where had the creature gone?

    I was still in immense pain but slowly, with the delicate guide of the woman, I began to turn. As I did I saw the sand, then the beautiful moon reflected in the ocean, then the night sky, dark and teeming with stars then I turned expecting to see the graceful woman who had somehow saved me but hot, noxious breath offended my nostrils and burning, acrid saliva sizzled down on my skin. A flash of dazzling, razor white splashed with a dark crimson bore down on my face and suddenly everything was bright.

    I was sweating in the cool conditioned air of the train. The sun had passed its highest peak in the sky and I was startled awake and staring straight at it. I had slept for a while it seemed and it was well into the afternoon. I must have been more than half way to Portovenere. I turned my stiff neck away from the degrading sun and was startled again for the second time in as many minutes.

    A young woman sat across the aisle in the shaded seat staring at me more anxious than I might have assumed I was looking at her.

    “Buon pomeriggio,” I saluted, assuming from her dark features that she was Italian although she seemed to have avoided the sun for the better part of a century.

    “Bon jour,” she fluently replied, so she was French, my mistake. It would not be my last before the end of our conversation. “Were you having a nightmare,” she asked? I was not sure that she had privy to the secrets of my mind being an unwelcome stranger in my deserted train car so I simply replied, “No.” Her eyes narrowed at me like she had seen the dream herself and she knew I was lying.

    “You were crying Monsieur, and speaking of demons and praying to God.” I wiped my brow of its sweaty sheen and the rest of my face as nonchalantly as possible. I felt the puffiness of my eyes and tasted the salty flavor of tears on my lips. ‘Merde.’ She was right.

    “Just a childhood dream that pops in now and again.” I claimed. “All nonsense when the rational brain is awake.” She smiled at me but still seemed uneasy. Well, it was not my job to handle another’s feelings. She could have sat in any other vacant seat or any other vacant car for that matter. My grumpy retort was almost just that but she interjected.

    “My name is Chloe,” and she lifted a hand as elegantly as a movie star from a bygone era of black and white.

    “Rene,” I said as I listlessly tossed my hand towards her, “C’est un plaisir,” I lied. What business do beautiful women have coming in and watching me cry and jostle about in my sleep? No, it was not a pleasure at all.

    “Are you headed towards Genova?” she prodded.

    “Yes. But I will be only stopping there briefly.”

    “Good,” she said, relieved. “I have business beyond there as well but will be glad for the company until we disembark.” Great, I thought, she expects a consort. If one is too nervous to travel alone, bring a friend, or don’t travel at all, or I do as I did and placate yourself with medication so the anxiety is minimal - although I didn’t see how my method was helping me any better than her method of befriending a stranger.

    “How long will you be staying in Genova?” she started again after a few minutes uneasy silence. “Will you be long enough for supper?”

    “I plan to eat aboard the train then head out immediately after my arrival there.”

    “Oh my,” she commented plainly as she looked down at her fidgeting hands. What was this woman getting at? I was too far her senior for her to want to indulge in any romantic frivolity and if looking like a frightened school girl was an invitation to anything then I hoped mine would be lost in the post.

    “Will you be headed any where near Portovenere she asked?” I was shocked by her question and in my silence she hurried on. “I only ask because that is where I am headed. If you are traveling near it would be nice if we could taxi together.” Her twitchy smile turned down into a deep sadness. “Monsieur Honnrie, please allow me to accompany you. You are headed to Portovenere as well, are you not?” she searched my face and figure for the answer as I sat in stunned silence. “It showed in your posture when I first mentioned the town.”

    My mouth flapped open and shut the very visage of a fish out of water. How did this stranger know where I was headed? Even more worrisome was how did she know my surname? I know I didn’t offer mine, because she had not offered hers and even if she had she still would not have received it.

    “Who are you?” I finally managed.

    “I told you my name is Chloe. I was born Parisian like yourself.” She stated still holding on to that same dour look.

    “Mademoiselle that is now three things you have revealed about me that I have not supplied to you; my destination, surname and city of birth. Please tell me how you came to learn these things.” I tried to stay calm while simultaneously searching my pockets for my prescription of Fluctin. I felt a panic attack coming on.

    She allowed me the time to find my medication and calm my breathing before she began her ludicrous tale.

    “A long while ago, at the turn of the last century, great beasts came from the mountains into the city of Paris, we called them the ‘loup-garou.’ They ravaged our dear city to try and satiate their unending hunger for our flesh. The people tried for many years to eradicate the beasts but it was to no avail, their numbers grew surreptitiously. One day a young woman was able to find the answer to their swelling pack.

    After a savage attack she lived. She was found just outside the city were the creature had had his fill of her before leaving her to die. Most that were found in this condition, died but it wasn’t so for others. In a few days she began to feel better, even strong. Then one night when the moon shone its full face upon the city, she fled to the surrounding country. There she was transformed into the very thing that almost took her life. The year was 1918, the year I was reborn a ‘loup.’”

    “Pardon, I am old but you mistake me for a buffoon. I cannot believe in a story so ‘incroyable.’ You will have me think that the 20 something year old in front of me is more than a century old? Even if I believe your tale what has this to do with me?”

    She reached over and took my hand in her own. “The letter you received for the meeting in Portovenere. I know who it was from. Your life is in danger.”

    “How so,” I snapped, I was beginning to tire of her babbling and did not like some ‘loony’ woman telling me I was going to die.

    “We have the power to change at will, but if we do so in the light of the sun we are cursed to remain in that form forever, whether it is ‘loup’ or human. Unless, we drink from the flesh of the one who turned us. There is a man stuck in his human form that was turned by one of your ancestors. The dreams you have are not dreams but memories of your ancestors’ rebirth. This man needs your blood to turn back into the beast of the moon. His name is Lucas Olivier.”

    I looked at her incredulously. I laughed deliriously as I stood to leave the car. She made no move to follow and as I was leaving I noticed the moon shimmering on the sea outside. Our chat took more time than I realized. We would be arriving in Genova soon. The train suddenly halted and the lights flickered off. Immediately I quieted my laughter. I looked to see Chloe now standing but still rooted to the spot. Her face was concealed in shadow but her eyes were eerily bright and shone through the darkness. I turned back to leave and as I reached the door a man stepped through.

    “Thank goodness I found you in time.” My face lost all of its color when I recognized the man before me. It was Lucas Olivier. He grabbed my shoulder with inhuman force and commanded me to leave with him. Behind me Chloe screamed, “No Monsieur, you must stay with me!”

    It was Lucas who responded, “You stay away from him. You are too dangerous to be allowed this.”

    Chloe’s voice became husky and her eyes now reflected the light that filtered through the dark car windows. “You will not take this from me you pup!” She came at us swiping with what I can only describe as actual claws. In her attempt to maim Lucas she tore at my face and right shoulder. She brought a nailed finger to her mouth and tasted my blood. It coursed through the veins that looked ready to burst from her skin and her laugh sank deeper in timber until it sounded like a choking bear. “More,” she screamed!

    “Get down!” Lucas yelled as he pushed me into a pair of seats, “She cannot fully change unless she’s had more.” They were the last human words I ever heard him utter. His transformation took no less time than a blink. Then he was on her, a great hairy beast that over-flowed the cabin. His dark fur blotted the light around him and reflected nothing. He was a ferocious black hole trying to reel in a wandering asteroid.

    I wouldn’t stay for the carnage. Now was the time to escape. I was weak and losing a lot of blood but I hurried and left the train from the next car and ran, further than I ever thought I could. Finally I reached Genova and checked myself into a hotel after a small clean-up. I patched myself up as best I could in my room and lay down to sleep. The first night in over two years I was able to, without a rousing nightmare.

    I awoke either hours or days later, I’ll did not know then, but when I did it seemed all a dream except for the fact that I lay in a bed in Genova. I didn’t have a scratch or scar on me. I traveled back to Paris that day and was eventually able to resume my old post. Lucas had ‘left for warmer waters.’ I was no longer the anxious and depressed person that had left Paris that rainy spring morning, although lately my appetite and diet had been taking an even stranger turn. A full moon tonight, food always tasted better when the moon was full. ‘Bon appetite.’
  3. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    nzric - Joie de vivre

    The bullet train pulled into Voie 24 of the Gare de Lyon with the soft metallic echo of new engine brakes. A dim red digital reading flashed discreetly in the corner of my glasses and I took off the tortiseshell frames, folding them into my attache before the annoyingly conscientious commuter guide could zip its electronic way to my vision.

    The train was seven minutes late. Not unusual, especially when one considered the winds and rain battering the Bourgogne. I stood to the side with a crush of other commuters as the doors slid open, the rustle of suitcases and damp umbrellas against overcoats as another few hundred passengers made their way into the industrious chaos of the busiest station in Paris.

    A tall, bespectacled gent in a tan trenchcoat stood in front of me but he took a short step to the side and gestured for me to enter the carriage first. I smiled and gave him a small nod as I passed, skimming my wristphone over the ticket validator strip at the wall. You seldom see old-fashioned manners in Paris anymore and I for one appreciated these simple gestures more than he could know. I have chosen an age of around the late-thirties for the last forty years, any younger and my striking features and chestnut hair draw too much attention of the unwanted kind.

    The Paris-Lyon bullet has that faint pine smell of public transport cleaner, innocuous but ever present. Four years previously I had made the same journey next to a taut, middle-aged American who had chattered constantly for the whole journey. One of his pearls of wisdom was that the green stripes against the grey-blue background on the seats was a “spitting image” of the Rhode Island State tartan, and consequently I have not been able to take the trip since without thinking of the Pawtucket Red Sox and snail salad. C’est la vie.

    I took my seat, taking off my damp black overcoat and folding it onto my attache case on the seat facing me. One most often has an excess of space on the Paris-Lyon leg of the trip so I made myself comfortable, although my starched suit itched constantly. The latest fashion off the Milan catwalk was Post-Gender clothing so legions of suave European woman were spending thousands to wear loose-fitting double-Windsored silk ties or, my current choice, a cherry pinstripe suit over a finely embroidered waistcoat and low-cut blouse. It pays to blend into the crowd, especially for these annual Council jaunts. There are rumours and conspiracy theories about our kind. It is mostly dispelled as fairy tale but it helps not to draw attention to ones-self, especially when approaching Lyon.

    The sudden pelting of rain on the window startled me as the train pulled from the cover of the station, the noise dulled by the thick, triple-glazed windows. I was so immersed in watching the rain that I did not initially notice the bespectacled man take the seat at my elbow. I looked over and he gave me a smile and nod - clearly, I thought, his intentions had not been so noble after all. I ignored him and remained gazing out the window, willing him to take the message and leave. No luck.

    “They say it will rain until Tuesday,” he said in a thick Parisian accent. His voice was rich and weathered and at any other time I would be tempted to enter into conversation to hear the range of his “pitch and timbre”. As they say.

    “hmm” I said, politely ignoring.

    “At times like these,” he continued, “when embarking on a journey with an apparent stranger, it is polite to start with an unobtrusive topic.” He switched to English, “The rain in Spain...”

    I could not help smirking but refused to be drawn into the conversation.

    “The Lady smiles,” he said to nobody in particular, “but is not drawn into easy conversation with strangers. She doesn’t know what she is missing. Conversation, shared experience, stories are the stuff of existence. They fill one with joy, open new doors to experience. How did we use to say Chloe? The stuff of joie de vivre?”

    The words hit me like a thousand bricks. No. A thousand sparks shooting out from my stomach, through to my fingertips, up and out from my scalp. The firework sparks blinded my vision for an instant, then the colours returned richer and clearer.

    I still looked out the window but I was rigid, my eyes lost focus, only able to see the dull pattern of rain lashing the glass outside. I froze, waiting for him to continue but he was silent, eyes drilling a hole into the back of my turned head. His voice, weathered with age but so familiar. Of course.

    Joie de vivre. Thirst for life. My philosophy for, how long? Did I still live the philosophy? More than likely, which would make it eighty years if I still believed in the journey that he and I first spun together in the Lyon catacombs. Cheraul. Who saved my life, who gave me the knowledge to give myself life.

    “Cheraul?” I said, not turning. Of course it was him. I knew it in my soul.

    They had said it was impossible, ‘they’ being Rosalind Franklin, the discoverer of DNA herself, when I broke into her home in 1961 to demand an explanation or at least an acknowledgement of what I saw in the mirror. The ‘possible’ is that frayed telomeres begin to break within our cells, corrupting the DNA. Skin loses its elasticity, cell mutation starts to overcome the immune system, the organs, the lymph nodes. Normal ageing, which is the companion and curse of all species. And ‘impossible’ is a change in the chemical composition of the enterochromaffin cells that then start to create and spread mutated seratonin, re-tying the telomeres, repairing the damaged skin and giving new life to ageing organs.

    Rosalind Franklin had said it was impossible. She had told me I was insane as I stood in her doorway with a knife, begging her to watch the skin of my hand knit together as the endorphins surged through my system and I reversed the path of ageing itself. Maybe I really was insane at the time. I had become lost on the journey without Cheraul and it took years, decades to find my way back on the path to the Council. To realise my condition was a blessing, not a curse.

    And now he was back. In an old man’s guise. I was used to looking past the ravages of time to see the individual underneath, but he had always been so full of life. It was he who initiated me into the philosophy of joie de vivre, constant craving for life for those of us who were born to life without age as long as our lives were rich. But now he had not reversed for how long? Thirty? forty years?

    “Joie de vivre” I whispered silently. A tear crossed my cheek, an insignificant measure against the rivulets on the pane outside.

    “Chloe...?” he said plaintively.

    I was only twenty when we first met. Me a fiery graduate student, full of indignation and spirit. He was the young, handsome tutor with piercing eyes and a dark mane of hair who led the marches through the streets of Lyon, one hand holding a placard and the other always wielding a yellowed Gitane cigarette with a flourish. A few hundred artists and poets crying shame at the might of the Third Reich, cheering as de Gaulle backed Britain in ordering the Nazi force to retreat from Poland. We were worse than naive, but while months crept on and reality crept in and the troops pushed through the Somme and onto Paris in 1940 we were only more convinced our cause was righteous. And as our government fled from Paris with the tail between their legs and the Nazis marched days later under the Arc de Triomphe we were still true and righteous because now our heroes were Cheraul and his heartful slogans, and Jean Moulin with his spirit and sacrifice.

    My cries for justice were met in 1941 by a bullet through my heart at the Parc de la Tete d’Or in Lyon. Cheraul took me in his arms, breaking from the protest to carry me into a dusty alleyway and stroking my hair, saying how much like him I was as I writhed on the chill cobblestones, my flesh knitting together again as the pain and fear and exhilaration surged through me. And over time, as we continued our struggle from the dark tunnels of Lyon and threw our unlikely band of stragglers against the might of the German army it was Cheraul where I drew my strength. Dear Cheraul, whose body could surge back to life and youth from the barrel of an SS pistol or from our passion as we clung to each other in hope and lust and, lastly - after the French police joined us civilians in unison to chase out the last of the Germans from street to street with bottles and stones - lastly, with triumph.

    My skin felt as if it were alive with electricity, my scalp burning keenly as the hormones raced through my system, invigorating my cells. I took my gaze from the window and turned to meet his eyes directly.

    “How dare you.”

    He was choosing to be around eighty, liver spots appearing on his balding pate and jagged wrinkles cutting intricate patterns through his face. Despite this his eyes were ageless, clear and infinite, but he turned them away under the intensity of my glare.

    “You disappear without a trace,” I continued, “without even a note. And then, after seventy years... you...” my voice trailed off. I knew that approach was useless. He had never told me his true age - a thousand would not surprise me - but I had learned early on that seventy years to him was insignificant.

    “I thought I was protecting you...” he started.

    “Protecting?!” I choked. “I joined the Resistance. For you. I took bullets. For you. Tore you from barbed wire under machine gun fire. And you wanted to protect me?!”

    “Those times were different Chloe, we had to fight. Hitler forced the whole world to fight.”

    “And you think I wouldn’t have continued to fight, to go to the ends of the world for you?”

    “That is exactly why I left. Algeria was struggling...”

    “Algeria was a farce,” I spat, trying to keep my tone level in the low drone of the train cabin. “They freed themselves from France after the war and then what? The mullahs took over. And de Gaulle rode back to Paris on his white horse but he betrayed us, set himself up as some dictator...”

    “...Algeria was not your fight,” he continued. “Your fight was for the streets of Paris and Lyon, to claim back your birthright. Which we did.”

    “So Algeria was not my fight but it was yours? Is that what you do? Take your youth, your rush from the wars and struggles of others?”

    “It’s what I...did” he stumbled.

    I was filled with anger, the seventy year betrayal flooding back. But something in his deep eyes stopped me. He had changed over the years. Cheraul, the changeless rock in the storm, had changed. We both knew that our condition was a blessing, but without constant excitement, constant stimulation, we were cursed to age rapidly.

    He moved his hand close to mine on the armrest. “What have you seen?” he asked. It was the tired old query we had used in the Resistance before sharing our latest stories in the tunnels, the question bursting with implication.

    “I... left France before de Gaulle returned,” I started. “de Gaulle, Berlin... Europe was closing in on itself just as America was opening up with JFK, Martin Luthor King Jr.” The memory was as vivid as ever, me a nervous Parisian in the wide expanse of the US, swept up in the emotion of the moment as I stood with hundreds of thousands at the Lincoln Memorial. And as the crowd cheered to ‘I have a dream’, I had felt the firework spark release from my core to replenish my cells and bring back my youth.

    “And then?”

    I shook my head. The experience had soured. The promise of a new world caved from under me as our heroes were, one by one, gunned down and America tore itself at the seams. Vietnam, which I wanted so much to be passionate about but which was not my war. I searched through the Summer of Love for experience, threw myself into the drugs and the sex and the music but while I saw the people around me overcome with their own brand of youthful naivety, all I felt was nihilism. I watched as the young hippies moved out of Haight-Ashbury and the drug dealers moved in, and then I myself moved on.

    “It didn’t last,” I said simply. “I went back into myself. I forgot about the world.”

    Worse, I shunned the world. For the next twenty years I found the exhilaration I needed to survive through nature, and the only thing I knew I could rely on was my own body. I had a brief, ten year fling with Jim Holloway as we toured Colorado. Jim broke new ground in bouldering for the challenge, defying gravity as he carved new paths up sheer slopes. I did it because I knew if I fell and broke my body on the rocks I would only come back younger and stronger than before. I felt the same as I moved to Hawaii in the 1980s, the grainy television coverage fresh in my mind of Julie Moss stumbling and crawling across the finish-line at Ironman Kona as her body shut down. Mere humans pushing themselves far beyond the limits and nearly dying in the process. Just for the experience.

    “But that path still wasn’t enough was it?” Cheraul replied.

    “No.” That was as empty as the slogans I had shouted for a war I never really understood.

    “Why did you make me do it on my own?”

    “That is what all of us have had to do,” he said. “If I had dragged you to Algeria you would have never discovered yourself. You would have become as empty and jaded as I am now.”

    I had to admit he was right. Twenty years of self-absorbtion ended in the same emptiness I had felt back when I heard Martin Luthor King Jr had been gunned down outside a cheap motel. That hero who symbolised everything I had travelled to America to find.

    Cheraul took my hand. I let him.

    “But then you found the spark again,” he continued, looking at my youthful features.

    “Tienanmen Square,” I said and he nodded, knowingly.

    Of course. The Berlin Wall fell the same year, and the Soviet Union, the macabre corruption of the ideals we had shouted on the streets of Lyon, dissolved to nothing in front of our eyes. But it was too immense, too dispersed to fully register. What had cut through to the core of my soul, ignited the spark and set me on the path to youth again was the simple image of a tiny figure, shopping bags in his hands, defying the tanks and the faceless fist of the Chinese army. That man was not one who took life from being near death, but he was willing to risk it all. And that saved me.

    “So where do you get it now?” he asked.

    “Simple things,” I replied. “It takes less now. Smaller things. People who enrich me in some way, new conversations, new places. I travel.”

    “That is how you should do it,” he agreed. “That can keep you going for hundreds of years.”

    “And what happens after that?” We both looked down at our hands at the same time, mine smooth and pink, his hand deeply lined and mottled.

    “I can’t tell you. I started to choose the wrong path. That is why I left. If you had followed the journey with me you would have craved the intensity like an addict. You would have burned yourself out decades ago.”

    “So, what? You have given up?” I retorted, but the challenge was met by a tiny nod of affirmation.

    “I am going to petition the Council to accept my decision. I will start the process to record my knowledge in the Archives before I pass on.”

    Reflexively, I squeezed his hand. For a moment I forgot the years I had blamed and cursed him for leaving me. I searched his face for a trace of the old Cheraul I had given myself to so long ago. As he gazed back I could see the love in his eyes and, as I watched, the lines around his brows started to smooth out, his skin flushed in a healthy sheen.

    But he pulled back, taking his hand from mine and once again leaving the space between us. Two feet and seventy years.

    “No,” he said, “that is not why I came back. You would become my addiction. I can’t ask that.”

    And I could see he was right. And that was the difference between us, something that I could never fully understand because he had saved me from that addiction to intensity that burned the life out of him.

    “Don’t ask me to forgive you.” I said softly, taking his hand again.

    “I would never ask that. But you understand.” His weathered face looked longingly at me.

    “I do Cheraul. I do. And I will give my support to the Council for your decision.”

    “Thank you,” he said. “I know that is much more than I should ask of you.”

    And we sat together, holding hands, motionless for the rest of the journey.
  4. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Leatherworth Featherfist - Queen Bee

    In the dim-lit dressing car there is a cabinet. In the cabinet is a bow-tie. Chloe reaches and opens the cabinet to retrieve her tie. She snaps it onto the small V of her starched-white-shirt under her chin. She turns on her heel in a James Bond fashion and walks out.

    Chloe enters the next car to the sight of a commingled rug of human supines. Each in their own right quite dead. She steps carefully and thoughtfully across the room, and in between her guests, somewhat courteous to their slumber.

    She pauses to examine a fair-skinned woman of maybe twenty-five years. The woman’s hair sits tempestuous and mute, bestrewing the tile behind her spent expression. The dress she wears sweats with blood that streams the grouted gaps. Chloe lifts the woman’s hand and places it to her lips. Platitude averts her emotion, and she recedes to stand and release the young woman’s hand. Her eyes turn forward toward two humongous wooden doors each plated in steel. The doors are chained and bared shut.
    She sees the chains and becomes fearful. She cries out and falls to her knees. She shuts her eyes and cries hard.

    Chloe’s eyes were dry and irritated as she awoke. The sun permeated her window exploring the cavernous exploits of her clogged nose and hit the back of her throat. The moisture particles living in her mouth had left, leaving their dry domains; undermanned and uninhabitable. Chloe tried to summon moisture back into her mouth with an exact imitation of a dog eating peanut-butter; sucking, as if milking the tits of her very atoms. She was shaken by her dream.

    Chloe slowly rose out of bed, and sort of shook. She felt melancholy pressing on her brow. She had a few “H-100” horse pills left, which were given to the French public after World War 10, due to mass post traumatic stress. She inserted one of the pills into her nostril. The pill quickly evaporated and rushed to Chloe’s brain and through her body. “Damn,” she said as she flopped back onto her bed.

    Chloe was on a north bound magnetic-train. She had departed from Lyon five hours prior and was on her way to Paris deux (formerly known as the United Kingdom); one of the many prizes of France’s world domination project, carried out in 2012 during WW8.
    Chloe’s room was a large alabaster mold with no tint whatsoever. There was no independent furniture in the room. All furniture was prefabricated with the design of the room. The room was solid and only rugs, pictures, and toiletry were movable.

    Chloe rose from bed once again and walked to her bathroom. She removed her clothes and leaned back onto a big blue button. The bathroom door slid shut automatically and small pores in the ceiling began to open, resembling thousands of little sphincters. The sphincters began spraying out steam; each sphincter producing its own colored steam. Chloe remained leaning against the blue button as she bathed in the rainbow of moisture. After she finished washing she came off the button, and as she did the door rushed open and the sphincters switched from blowing steam to blowing warm-coconut-scented-air. Chloe dried quickly. It was time for her life serum. She produced a fine syringe from a glass compartment in her purse. Without hesitation she stabbed the thing right into her left thigh. She pushed it in deep because she needed to get to the marrow. She slid the tube and the job was done; “Another two days,” she thought.

    At the ripe old age of one-hundred and three, Chloe still looked as though she was twenty-five. She was beautiful. Chloe knew that if she did not take her serum once every two days she would die; and so would the rest of the damn world. After nuclear fallout in WW8 everyone on the planet became infertile except for a random few; Chloe being one of them. Panic struck and the worlds primary intention changed. If there were to be no children, then who will remain after everyone dies?

    An extremist-scientist under the name of Nathaniel Pence began research on a life sustaining product; something that could inhibit the aging process and thus create an extended opportunity of life for those who could afford it. He was successful. Another radical-scientist by the name of Howard P. Orman suggested that the few fertile humans left on the earth should be used as resources to produce future generations. Orman’s idea was very popular as well; although it was not so simple as he implied.

    Pence and Orman became good friends. Orman, Pence and there administration had announced that all fertile people who come and give there resources will get free life serum for life. They offered the fountain of youth to these people and they ate it up. Orman and Pence had an underground facility resting somewhere just beneath the breast of Paris. The fertile people were brought to the facility for “Resource purposes.”

    As the crowd of fertile people gathered beneath a giant screen awaiting direction, the signal was given and they were flashed with a hot red light and instantly euthanized. Orman’s true plan was to extract the biological information from these fertile people. Though he did not have to kill them to do that, he wanted as much information as he could collect. He used every last piece of tissue to create his masterpiece; A self sustaining clone growth chamber. This chamber had the capability to produce one-hundred-thousand fertile clones a year. The clones were not to be taught anything. They were simply for reproductive services. Chloe was one of those clones.

    Due to the mass controversy of what Orman and Pence had done, the issue had become international. Tension grew between the countries of the world, and greed led to anger, which lead to another war in 2013. It was just another war in an unstable world.

    During the war which was declared WW9, Paris had been bombed. The underground cloning facility caved in and destroyed all of the clones and technology; or so thought Orman and Pence. The two scientists fled Paris and were later shot down as they tried to escape to Antarctica by hot air balloon.

    About a year after the war settled and a temporary peace was proclaimed, a secret team of intellects and scientists attempted to uncover the lost clone facility with little resolve. They did find a few unscathed clone holding tubes but the solution in which the clones were held was contaminated and evidently the clones were dead.

    The scientists pulled to surface twenty different cloning tubes that had no apparent damage; only they contained dead clones. The scientists formed a research team to see if any of the cloning process could be restored even with dead clones. They found that fifteen of the clones were none reactive, four of them began to dissolve from contaminants, and one of them reacted to the restoration process. The original clone died, but branched from her a new clone was created. This clone was the only success. The scientists named the clone “C.H.L.O.E.” These of course were just the initials of the main scientists in the operation (that has never changed).

    Chloe was now close to Paris Deux.

    It was one-hundred and three years since Chloe was released as a full grown clone. Her knowledge was Inserted via micro-plasma-chip and she was an instant college graduate. The information also implanted in her mind was that she was to be a reproducer.

    Chloe Made it to Paris Deux within the next hour. She stepped off the train and faced west. The sun slid down the blue sky wall, and winked away to rest behind the hills.

    Chloe was traveling to Paris Deux to make babies; baby clones. She was the "Queen Bee," according to media articles. Chloe traveled the world giving DNA tissue to scientists who then grew children and sent them to families around the world. The scientists could alter the sex of the child as well as make the child immune to problems caused by incest.
  5. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Vick - Sanctuary

    Her eyelids drooping lazily, she yawns and places her forehead against the cool glass of the window in an effort to rouse herself. She mustn’t fall asleep. She must stay alert. Her eyes snap open and are accosted by the sight of field after field of rotten crops rolling by the window.

    The world is dying.

    Chloe brings the small leather bag on her lap up to her chest and hugs it tightly. She inhales the soft-as-butter fabric deeply. It is homely. It reminds her of sticky summers as a child in Spain. She smiles, absent-mindedly.

    “What are you so happy about?” A gruff man, more beard than face, leans across the gap towards her. Fear closes her throat. “Hey? What the hell are you so happy about?”

    She opens and closes her mouth, gasping for air like a landed trout. He laughs and sits back, slinging one leg over the other.

    Chloe waits a few minutes until she’s almost certain the man has lost interest in her and excuses herself to the bathroom. Under the pallid yellow light she splashes water over her face and closely-cropped hair, keeping her thin lips tightly shut. Drying herself with the back of her sleeve, she appraises her reflection in the cracked mirror.

    “You’re OK,” she reassures herself in a barely audible whisper. “You’re OK.”

    As she does so, Chloe readjusts both her mustache and the ball of socks that she’s wedged in her crotch. She scrutinises every inch of the man that she sees before her and becomes fixated on her eyes for a moment. They’re too feminine still. They’re too becoming. With a sigh, she pulls a pair of nail scissors out of her bag’s front pocket and raises them with a trembling hand to her face. Carefully, acutely aware of the carriage’s sudden lurches, she begins to snip haphazardly at her long eyelashes. It doesn’t take long for her to remove these last visible traitorous trace of her femininity.

    Making her way back through the carriage towards her seat, she discretely surveys her fellow passengers and sees a sweating sea of testosterone. Man. Man. Man. Man. Man. Possible woman. Man. Man. Man. It reminds her of a game that she used to play – she forgets what it was called now.

    ​She sits back in her seat; the man opposite has fallen asleep against the window and a trickle of clear fluid is leaking from the corner of his open mouth. She can feel bile rising in her throat, hot and burning, and takes a deep breath. More than anything, she wants to open the window – to feel a cool breeze across her skin. But Chloe knows better. Out here, in the countryside, there are still risks. Still pockets of infection. Still occasional outbreaks that threaten to wipe the last few like her from the globe. It would be too risky. To smell that sweet air may be to smell the sweet stench of death. She resorts to taking her flat cap off, instead, and, forgetting herself for a moment, crosses her legs. She quickly uncrosses them and spreads them wide, glancing surreptitiously to her right. No one is paying her any attention. She’s just another man on their way to the coast. Another bloke on their way to ‘a better life’. They say Ireland is the place to go. The last untouched region. Where women walk the streets freely, without harassment. Where they don’t live in fear of being given Sanctuary. But where heaven exists, there must be hell and hell lies in wait for anyone for tries to gain entry to the island without the express permission of the government and without undergoing the mandatory 9-month quarantine on arrival. As the barren fields give way to the crumbling houses on Calais, Chloe prays that her contact received her last message. That golden gates await her, rather than a putrid, festering river of souls.

    The train slows and men all around her rise to retrieve their luggage from up ahead. She stays seated until her traveling companion opposite shuffles his way towards the doors. When the carriage is almost empty, she gets to her feet and replaces her hat before making her way along the carriage, too. At the threshold to the platform, she fishes a dirty white handkerchief from her pocket and holds it to her nose and mouth. The platform is heaving with moist, hairy bodies and a low murmur underpins the activity. She scans the faces. They all look the same to her. Tired and angry. A palpable sense of desperation hangs in the air. She is staring into Limbo.

    Unable to see her contact, she decides to step onto the platform and make her way to the area in front of the ticket booths, hoping that he wasn’t allowed onto the platform without a ticket. She can see the yawning doorway of the main station building to her left, flanked by men in the French national uniform. Chloe casts her eyes to the ground as she passes, pulling her hat down tighter and turning her collar up around her neck to try and hide the almost imperceptible, but very there, holes in her earlobes from years of wearing her favourite silver studs.

    ​“Tickets, please. Everyone, tickets out.”

    She hands her ticket to the guard to punch. As he slips the metal device over the paper she holds her breath.

    “Senior citizen?”

    She almost laughs, but stops herself, aware that one thing the testosterone injections could never change was the glass-like womanly tinkling of her giggle.

    “Yes, that’s right.” She lifts her face, taking care to bite down hard to strengthen and square the lines of her jaw.

    “I don’t think so.” His eyes skim her face. Unfortunately, the high feminine cheekbones that made her the envy of her friends when she was younger now make her male persona seem much younger than her 103 years.

    “I am,” Chloe says, straining to keep her tone flat and devoid of panic. “I’m 103.” She takes out her citizen card and presents it to him. Paul Henry. Born 1918. Male. The man takes the card from her. “I’m meeting someone here,” she says as he does. “A guard. You probably know him. He was going to show me around Calais. I’m an old friend of his parents, you see.” The lies tripped off her tongue one by one, but she’s conscious not to say too much. In her experience, the more you say, the more there is to disbelieve; a good liar is a sparing liar.

    “Which guard?”


    “Jacque who?”

    She opens her mouth with a smile, then closes it slowly. She can't remember. The name she had been repeating over and over for the past several hours now had slipped out of the back door of her mind. The man repeats the question.

    “I forget his surname. Alzheimer’s, you see.”

    The guard takes her arm roughly and motioned towards a room just inside the ticket hall. She has no choice but to let him lead her. She knows now that it’s over. He will search her. He will pat her down. He will feel the small sagging lumps of breast tissue underneath her shirt. He will pull​ down her pants. He will smile as a ball of grey socks falls at his feet. She will be sent to the Sanctuary.

    Before the door closes behind her, she takes a deep breath. She lets the sea air fill her lungs to capacity. But it’s not salty, like she expects. Instead the air smells sweet. She takes another breath. She drowns in honey.​
  6. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    nastyjman - Cursed

    Chloe sat alone inside the train cabin. She was calmed by the stillness of the night and the silence in the air. She looked outside the window. The station platform was empty and was free of rubbish. She looked up at sky and found it empty: free of clouds, free of stars and without a moon to lend its light. Nothing caught her eye outside. She focused at her faint reflection, outlined by the window.

    She was young, no older than nineteen. She had blond hair that was unwashed for three days. Her skin was dry, and her lips were chapped. She had no intention to look pretty. It wouldn't matter. It didn’t matter anymore.

    She bit her right knuckle, suppressing the grief that began to swell within her. She closed her eyes, but found herself in a flood of memories. She wanted nothing from it. She strained her eyelids and tightened her lips. She tried her hardest not to see him, not to see Richard anymore. Within the sea of her mind, Richard surfaced. He was smiling and winking at her.

    A tear escaped her eye.

    Chloe felt the train jerk forward. The sudden motion pushed Richard back into the sea (thank goodness). The train was ready to leave, priming its engines and releasing its breaks. Soon, Chloe was in motion, bound for London. She said good-bye to Paris, leaving it for good.

    She turned her head to the rustling doorknob. The sound echoed inside the cabin. Chloe lit up, throwing all her attention to the door. She deluded herself, hoping that Richard would burst through the door. What emerged, however, was a pale man with a green mohawk. The pale man looked at her and noticed her odd expression. He wore a leather jacket peeling from age and attrition. Along with this grungy look, he wore acid-washed jeans and black leather boots. Chloe turned away from him and returned to her reflection.

    Chloe felt odd, and she knew why. She felt the hairs on her arms move towards the pale man. She felt her heart beat faster, ready to burst. A buzzing sound hung inside her ear, but soon faded as the pale man threw himself down on the adjacent seat. Chloe stole a glance at the pale man: he was smirking.

    “Oy,” the pale man said, “ye an angel or a demon?”

    Chloe sighed. She closed her eyes and wished that she could close her ears.

    “Please leave me alone,” said Chloe.

    The pale man felt the same sensation Chloe was experiencing. It excited him, and he wanted to celebrate. The pale man took his backpack around and placed it on the floor. He unzipped it and took out a bottle of whiskey, newly bought and still unopened. He opened the bottle and dropped the cap on the floor. Chloe heard the liquid swishing inside the bottle. The sound imposed itself on her as the pale man offered her the bottle. She looked at it and ignored it.

    “Aye, not the drinking type are ye love? Ye must be an angel then,” the pale man said, drawing the bottle back and taking a drink for himself, “I'm Mort by the way. What's yers?”

    Mort didn't expect an answer, and he didn't get one either. He knew that Chloe was either an angel or a demon with no desire for libations. He knew this because of the “presence” he felt earlier from her.

    Mort himself was a demon. He immigrated to the living realm, curious of the activities of the living and curious of what made the living go to hell. It was a rule that fallen angels or risen demons lose their powers, but not their immortality.

    Mort looked at Chloe, studying her face and looking for a clue to her withdrawal. He didn't have to read minds – reading faces was enough. During his time in hell, Mort had learned how to read faces, and the most familiar to him were pain and agony. Chloe had neither. But it was still familiar; he had seen this expression before from souls who had gone numb from the endless torture. It bothered Mort to see this. Empathy – an emotion he was getting used to – was hard to ignore.

    Another thing that Mort needed to get used to was thinking before talking.

    “Ye look like someone who's lookin' for a reaper,” Mort said.

    Chloe looked at Mort. Her eyes watered, and her tears flowed down her cheeks, forming droplets on her chin. Reapers were the gates, the terminals, for any angel or demon who was tired of living. Reapers were neither from heaven nor hell. They were residents, as well as guardians, of the living realm. Any angel or demon who came to see them would vanish, never to be seen again. Where they went, no one knew. Heaven and hell were closed to these immigrants. But there was one realm left for them – the eternal void.

    “Sorry love. Didn't mean to say it,” said Mort.

    “Is it that obvious?”

    It was. Mort, biting his tongue, thought before he opened his mouth. He turned to the window and pretended to stare at the immense nothingness outside. But there were lights glowing out there – out on the distant plane where towns rested and slept. Mort took a swig from his bottle and realized this: getting plastered on the train wasn't happening tonight – this chick was a buzzkill.

    “I'm sorry,” Chloe said, wiping her tears, “How rude of me. I'm Chloe by the way. And yes, I am a fallen angel.”

    Chloe extended her left hand to Mort. Mort turned to Chloe and received her hand with his.

    “Mort. Just Mort. A risen demon I am.”

    There were no animosities between fallen angels and risen demons. Even if Armageddon came, the fallens and the risens would not take up arms and fight against each another. For now, until there is time, the living realm was paradise.

    “How old are you Mort?” asked Chloe, parting her hand from his.

    “Fifty I'd say. Came here when Jim Morrison died. Always wanted to meet that lad.”

    “Oh Mort, you're still young.”

    Mort didn't look 50; he looked half that age. And even if he were a hundred-years-old, he would still look the same.

    “I was like you,” continued Chloe, “young, restless, hungry for anything new. But we're cursed Mort. Cursed the day we escaped from heaven – or hell.”

    Mort knew about this. He stared at the liquor bottle on his right hand. He took another drink and enjoyed his curse as it flowed smoothly and warmly down his throat. An immigration agent – a demon who had lived in the living realm for 300 years – warned immigrants about the “first bite.” The “first bite” was the curse that immigrants had to endure for eternity. Whatever excited them the most would become their curse – their first bite of what life is. Mort would only endure hangovers and involuntary vomiting for days to come – unless he decided to end it all by seeing a reaper.

    “What's your curse Mort?”

    Mort had a drink inside his mouth, so he couldn't respond verbally. Instead, he brought the bottle up and sloshed the liquid inside.

    Chloe laughed and said, “Lucky bastard. You lucky, lucky bastard.”

    Indeed. Mort was lucky; his curse was liquor and booze. Mort swallowed his drink and didn't take offense for being called a bastard.

    “What curse do ye have love?”

    Chloe swore not to say it anymore. She didn't want to talk about her curse, but had a need to share it before she went away. She took a deep breath as if preparing for a dive.

    “The most vile and the most painful thing god has ever created: Love,” said Chloe.

    Mort remembered a friend, also an angel, who gave him advice. He had told Mort to stay away from Love since it was the deadliest drug an ethereal could get addicted to. And angels were more prone to Love, not because they were goody-goody and pure, but because they were observers and watchers. And after years of observing and watching, some angels would develop “feelings,” which could lead to “falling in love.”

    “I'm tired Mort. Tired of loving – and living,” said Chloe, “Anyone who I fall in love with would leave me or would die eventually. But it's grand to be loved Mort, and to be loved back. To breathe their breath as they lie next to you. To feel their skin against yours. To lock eyes while making love – sex with love – nothing else in the world compares to it.”

    Her eyes welled up.

    “But losing that someone you love,” Chloe continued, “that's the hardest.”

    In her 103 years of living, Chloe had thirteen lovers: eight were men, and five were women. The shortest relationship she had was 15 days long. This one died in a horrible car accident. The longest and the most recent relationship she had was 21 years long. Chloe watched her lover wither away while she remained young. This one died of old age. After that relationship ended, Chloe's will to live ended.

    "Well love there are more fishies out there, aren't they?"

    Chloe shook her head, shaking off the tears from her chin.

    "There's nothing out there,” Chloe said, “No more fishies. No more love. Nothing out there anymore for me."

    Chloe was ready to meet the reaper, ready to become nothing. Mort sat silent and took a sip of his drink.

    “Have a drink love,” said Mort, offering the bottle to Chloe.

    Chloe had never drank whiskey in her life; she either drank wine or beer. Whiskey, gin, vodka or anything more acrid than wine and beer was new to her. And she didn't enjoy drinking. She only drank when offered.

    Chloe reached for the bottle, kissed its mouth and tilted the liquid to her. It ran through her like acid, burning her mouth and stinging her throat. When it reached her stomach, her chest ignited. It soothed her senses and warmed her skin. Still, it tasted like poison.

    Mort giggled and took the bottle away from her. He noticed that Chloe was still a novice at appreciating cheap whiskey. Chloe snickered. She looked at him, suddenly enchanted by him. She caught herself ogling at Mort and stopped. Immediately. She turned back to her reflection on the window, returning to the empty space.

    “Thank you Mort, but I'm sorry. And please leave me be.”

    “Come with me love,” said Mort. His voice was different now: it was firm, nothing like the voice from earlier. “When we reach London, let's ye and me have a drink somewhere and get **** faced, aye? Drown yer sorrows away with whiskey.”

    Mort's idea of love was sex. But even then, he was always too drunk to enjoy sex. For him, sex was nothing to be excited about. Buying a new bottle of booze? Well, that was something to be excited about. But Mort couldn't ignore this “feeling.” This “feeling” made him stare at Chloe like she was the goddess of liquor. It made the hairs on his skin tingle with electricity.

    “I can't,” begged Chloe, “Please Mort. Leave me alone.”

    Mort realized why Love was a dangerous drug: it made Mort do things he had never done before. Inviting a stranger for a drink was a thing he had never done before. Living, thought Mort, was all about new experiences. Wasn't it?

    “Just one drink love. Come with me and have a drink with me. And if ye still feel blue and ready to go, I won't bother ye anymore. What ye say?”

    Chloe wanted to say no. It was happening again. She wanted to stick to her plan: to see a reaper who would set her free from this curse. But Chloe was falling for him, and Mort was falling for her. Soon enough, Chloe and Mort would make love. Mort, like all of Chloe's lovers, would lose his immortality and would become flesh-and-blood. Chloe tried to resist him, struggling to end her cycle of heartbreaks. She opened her mouth and said: “Okay.”
  7. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    TheSpiderJoe - Looks Can Be Deceiving

    Digging into her purse, Chloé felt the tinge of desperation claw at her nerves. This withered old body she currently inhabited was not one she cared for but sadly had to get used to. Passing through the massive amount of junk that had been collected over the years, a pocket watch was in her grasp. The current time send lightning bolts of anxiety through her heart.

    He is late.

    She continued to wait. As if she had any choice. This was business after all. The meeting in Paris be damned if she did not make contact with this individual. It was her only reason to be on this train. Chloé peered out the window and gazed upon the majesty of this foreign land as it continued to pass by at a brilliant speed.

    "Excuse me," a voice called out.

    Chloé turned her frail head towards the origin of the sound. Her attention was nearly absorbed by the vast green countryside. A young man dressed in a tidy grey suit leaned in a bit closer. He figured a women looking that certain age would have difficulty hearing him the first four times he beckoned.

    "What may I do for you sir?" She addressed the steward. Each word poured from her lips with the faintest hint of pain, as if talking were a chore in and of itself.

    "We'll be arriving at our destination shortly. May I offer you a beverage of some kind?"

    Shaking her head, Chloé amply denied his request. "No thank you."

    The steward nodded and moved into to the next car. Seeing him in action made Chloé thankful she purchased a ticket in the premiere section; all of the wonderful personal service amenities without any sort of unfriendly automation to fiddle with. The quiet atmosphere was also a bonus. Other than herself, Chloé only saw one couple sitting on the opposite end of the cabin and they had been fast asleep for the last hour. With a perfect view of the entrance to the next cabin and an adjacent bathroom, she could only think of one thing to describe her feelings.

    This spot is absolutely perfect.

    Suddenly, the door opened. Chloé felt her heart skip a beat. Another young man walked through the door. Unlike the previous gentleman, this one sported a slick black suit, polished blonde hair and a ruggedly chiseled expression that would melt the hearts of any woman not sitting in the body that looked over a century old.

    His eyes peered into the distance, almost as if he were searching for something; or in this case, someone. With the other two passengers in this car visiting dreamland, it became obvious to who he was supposed to meet.

    "Excuse me, are you Ms. Chloé?"

    The old woman cracked a thin smile. "That I am. Are you disappointed?"

    Her cattiness threw him a bit off guard; even if they came from the tired old throat of such a sweet looking lady. "My apologies. I was expecting someone a bit..."


    "I was going to say professional," he joked. The situation was finally moving back into comfortable territory. "My name is Mr. Celtic. I spoke with your associate over the phone."

    After all of this time it took him to arrive the first thing flowing through Chloé's mind was the fact that he picked a horribly obvious fake name. No matter, so goes the nature of the business.

    "Indeed. What do you have to offer me?"

    Mr. Celtic took the seat opposite of Chloé. In his hands, attached to his wrist with a solid titanium chain hung a chrome polished briefcase. It rested in his lap as he relaxed in the plush premiere seat.

    "I must say I'm sorry for arriving late. I couldn't afford to run a deal of this nature in the middle of our departure. As a businesswoman, I'm sure you understand."

    That Chloé did. She kindly nodded. He was definitely cunning which gave him a few extra points back that he lost in creativity. Once the deal was completed, there was no way anyone could sit comfortably with a large sum of money in tow. This kind of deal had to be calculated perfectly. Mr. Celtic thought carefully about his contingencies. Nothing could have been overlooked.

    Actually, dealing with a much older client was far safer than a younger one. Should things get heated, Mr. Celtic didn't want to have to impose a bit of force to protect himself. At least with this woman it would be a very decisive outcome.

    Metal locks snapped into the open position. He turned the briefcase in Chloé's direction and popped open then top half.

    "I believe these need no introduction."

    White radiated brilliantly from within the black chasm of this dwelling. This marvelous piece of jewelry required much more than Mr. Celtic's quaint introduction. Every millimeter of this wondrous beauty seemed to come alive and shout its worth to the heavens above.

    "The necklace of Princess Diana," Chloé humbly whispered. She had never thought her eyes would see something this magnificent and historical in person. There were over 160 diamonds shimmering on the surface and at the base sat five cultured pearls of equal size. Its value goes beyond that of any type of jewelry. This was one of the few things in her possession upon her death nearly a quarter century ago.

    "A very beautiful piece if I do say so myself," Mr. Celtic chimed. His bold personality notwithstanding, Chloé much rather trust the appraisal of a professional jeweler, not a professional thief.

    "It must have been difficult to obtain such a piece," she retorted. Indeed it was. After being purchased in an auction by France's wealthiest philanthropist Mr. Jean Luc Maynard, the piece was suddenly stolen from while on exhibit in one of his museums. Not a trace of evidence could be found and the necklace was thought lost forever. For someone like Mr. Celtic to obtain this piece, he must be very skilled. Another point worth noting.

    He remained silent. Professional to the bitter end it would seem. Enough gawking had transpired. Mr. Celtic shut the case and pulled it back into his defenses. How he obtained this piece of history was unimportant at this time. Business had to take precedent.

    "I assume your associate quoted my price to you?"

    Chloé nodded. "Fifteen million dollars was it?"

    "Twenty," he sharply countered. Maybe she was trying to be shrewd but there was no way Mr. Celtic would ever be conned by such a terribly old woman.

    "My mistake," she replied almost laughing at the silly mistake she just made. Chloé dug into her purse. Both hand shook uncontrollably. She prayed he only saw this as a sign of age and not one of apprehension. The situation required Chloé to remain calm and professional. Showing weakness now could blow everything she had worked for up to this point. Including her reputation.

    From within the deep confines of the purse, Chloé pulled out a small silver key. She gently passed it into Mr. Celtic's awaiting grasp. Taking the key from her caused a slight trace of confusion but not one that wouldn't be resolved with a brief explanation.

    "Above me in the overhead compartment there is a briefcase with your payment. Be a dear and fetch it for me."

    "Not a problem."

    Mr. Celtic eagerly stood up and reached for the item she described. It immediately was within his grasp. For a brief moment, he thought about making a run for it. This old bat wouldn't be able to keep up with him and he'd be twenty million dollars richer without parting with this piece of treasure he nearly died to obtain. Thankfully for her, professional took over his greedy thoughts. After all, the thrill of the hunt was almost as important as the fortune that awaits him.

    Plopping back into his seat, Mr. Celtic jammed the key into the archaic styled briefcase and flung it open. A small village of Euros danced before his very eyes. Using a quick mathematical estimation, all twenty million seemed to be there and accounted for. He was beginning to like this old lady. Her level of professionalism was only bested by her ease of interaction.

    "It looks like we have a deal," he happily stated. After shutting the briefcase and locking it tight, Mr. Celtic pulled out a key of his own and summarily dislodged the titanium chain from his possession. He immediately thought to put in on her lap but manners snapped at him to do otherwise.

    "May I?"

    Chloé calmly patted the empty space adjacent to her seat. "Right here is fine. Thank you so much for your kindness."

    "Not at all ma'am," he replied almost having to hide a slightly brighter expression that had befallen him. She was too damn nice for words. "It was a pleasure doing business with you."

    Once again, she smiled. Even with the endless supply of wrinkles, there was a subtle hint of beauty that had taken over. It didn't matter how underhanded his methods were, seeing a woman light up like that made it all worth it. As did his final payment.

    The train was only a few kilometers short of its destination. As much as he would have loved to continue this wonderful exchange, Mr. Celtic knew it was time to take his leave. He began to stand up when his movements were cut off by the woman's words.

    "One last thing Mr. Celtic," she intervened. Chloé reached into her purse as she stood up and offered a parting gesture of thanks. "Would you oblige an old woman with a short embrace before we depart? Just another way of saying thank you for giving me such happiness."

    In all of his years in the business, Mr. Celtic had heard some strange requests. This one topped them all. Only due to the fact that there wasn't any sign of hatred he could find. Just a sweet old woman looking to end this transaction with a bit of love. He couldn't find a single reason to resist this request.

    They wrapped arms around each other. Mr. Celtic gently squeezed hoping to show a bit of affection without causing her any undo harm. She must have been very happy to obtain this piece. Everyone else in the world tried to get their hands on it which only drove his price up. Having the world's greediest Frenchman keep it to himself was a crime as far as Mr. Celtic was concerned. The one who deserved this treasure had to at least appreciate all the history surrounding it. That certainly wasn't Mr. Maynard but rather, someone like Chloé.

    Still, this woman was different. Out of all of the clients he had ever dealt with, this one was certainly the best. No odd instructions. No unique directions. No fuss. No hassle. And certainly no mess. By far, this was the most perfect transaction he had ever experienced. His happy thoughts took over any sort of situational awareness. Mr. Celtic didn't even feel Chloé's lips reach up to his ear.

    "Mr. Jean Luc sends his regards."

    That name cut right through him. Mr. Celtic opened his mouth to scream as a deep pinch over his heart silenced that command and any other thought permanently. His lifeless body dropped back into seat beneath him. Blood slowly trickled from the wound. Chloé had to hurry; there wasn't any time to waste.

    Digging into her purse, out came a white hand towel. She pressed it against his wound and moved his body towards the edge of the seat. Thankfully Chloé was able to get the shot off under his jacket which aided in this deception. His head now slumped against the window, to anyone else, he would appear to be sleeping. It couldn't have gone better.

    Chloé booked it straight into the bathroom. Time continued to tick away whether she willed it to or not. Ripping off the elderly facial mask allowed relieving breaths to overcome her body. She had sat in that car acting like an old woman for so long she almost started to believe it. Tearing off her clothes was next on the agenda. Clothing from the dawn of the Vietnam era of fashion was hard to come by in this century but the severity of the mission excused the extra expense. Luckily, there was no damage done to the power suit she wore underneath her costume.

    After stuffing the disguise in the garbage bin, Chloé cleaned off any excess latex from her body and began to apply a quick drab of makeup that better complimented a young woman under the age of thirty.

    The train began to slow down. Her destination approached. Chloé quickly exited the bathroom leaving behind any trace of malfeasance. She took hold of both briefcases and watched Mr. Celtic's peaceful expression as he lay in silence; dead to the world.

    Feeling the train grind to a halt quickly unraveled all of Chloé's nerves. She quickly made her way to the nearest exist. The doors opened and she disappeared into the crowd as if she always belonged.

    Inside the train, a young steward approached Mr. Celtic. He tried to wake him up several times to no avail. Oblivious to the events that transpired, the steward pressed his efforts further. A blood soaked towel dropped to the ground and a horrifying scream immediately followed.

    With the past behind her and a crowd of inquisitive onlookers about to build, Chloé fled away from the train station. Her hands immediately grasped the phone within her front pocket and dialed a familiar number. The voice on the other end answered quickly. Promptness was highly desired at this point.

    "Ms. Chloé I presume?"

    "Yes Mr. Jean Luc, I've obtained the package as per your request."

    "Good. And my money?"

    "Every dollar accounted for."

    She knew Jean Luc was very tight with his money even if his fortune stood in the billions. Lending out twenty million Euros was enough of a stretch but putting it in the hands of a complete stranger was even riskier. Lucky for him, Chloé lived up to her tremendous reputation. Especially for a former agent of MI6.

    "I assume you're already in Paris."

    "Correct, we'll be meeting at the designated time."

    He paused for a brief moment, seemingly to check his watch. Less than a minute to go. "Does this mean you are nearby?"

    Chloé stood behind a svelte older gentleman sipping a cup of tea at a corner café. She silenced her phone and tapped him on the shoulder. Jean Luc turned around and stared up and the beauty holding two beloved treasures he couldn't bear to live without.

    "I am continuously impressed," he grinned and offered the seat across the table. Chloé set the briefcases down and sat calmly as Jean Luc continued. "When I needed someone to capture one of the rarest jewels in the entire world, I knew I could only hire the best. Yet upon our first meeting, I wasn't sure that it would be you."

    This part was very true. After hearing a legend of a former government special agent doing mercenary work, Jean Luc had to see it for himself to confirm the rumors. His initial reaction to their first meeting was somewhat disappointing. Besides her looks, Chloé was fairly average and unimposing. Seeing these results thankfully proved him wrong but curiosity still hovered above.

    He took another sip of his tea. "Tell me, what is your secret?"

    There wasn't a single straight answer he could give him without exposing her tactics. If he knew how absolutely nerve wracking it is to kill someone in broad daylight and walk away from it, her reputation would be slandered forever. So instead Chloé casually smiled and said, "Looks can be deceiving."
  8. Gannon

    Gannon Contributor Contributor

    Jan 15, 2007
    Likes Received:
    Manchester, England
    Omega14 - Arriving Late

    The train creaked out of the Gare de Lyon, wheels screeching on the tracks, the carriage swaying gently as it rattled over points. Clear of the main terminal, the engine soon began to pick up speed. The shrill whistle sounded, echoing off the steep walls of the cutting through which the track carved its way.

    Chloe sat back in her seat, glancing around anxiously, wishing, not for the first time, she had taken a seat in the rear carriage. On an aeroplane, the back was the safest place to be, it was said. Perhaps she should have applied the same logic back then, she pondered.

    She cast her mind back to the first time she had made this journey, so full of hope and excitement at the thought of seeing the little one. Every year since, when she had been compelled to board this train time and time again, she had stepped through the door with a heart full of dread.

    October the seventeenth: her one hundred and third birthday. Not that she looked it. Her face had never aged past sixty-nine. Her hair was almost white at the temples and sprinkled with steely grey throughout, but a good deal of it was still the dark brown, almost black, of her youth. She wore no glasses, and her skin, although showing the first few age spots, was still largely smooth, with just the beginnings of a few wrinkles near the corners of her eyes.

    Fifty-three minutes, the journey. She had been travelling this route for thirty-four years and she knew every inch: every bend in the track, every jolt, every rattle and clank of the wheels. Each time she boarded she saw the same faces. They were so familiar to her now, her fellow passengers, that they could almost be thought of as friends, except that she had never spoken to any of them.

    Chloe fingered her wedding ring, twisting it around her finger and thought sadly of Michel, her husband. She wondered how he had fared since, whether he'd been happy, whether he'd met anybody else, whether he was even still alive.

    She looked out of the window at the countryside rushing past. Trees, fields and houses flashed by. Much had changed over the years since that day. New houses had sprung up here and there. Fields and woodlands had given way to tarmac and concrete. So different now to how it had been back then.

    Chloe's gaze returned to the other travellers in the carriage, more familiar to her now than her own family: the woman in the red coat with permed hair, reading a book, bending the cover carefully as if she were afraid to crease the spine; the young man across the aisle, tinny music echoing from the headphones attached to his Walkman, his foot tapping to the rhythm; the overweight businessman in the pinstripe suit, head bowed towards his newspaper, sweat beading on his forehead; the young family further along, with two children giggling and throwing scrunched up balls of paper at each other; the couple - 'the newly-weds' as she called them - who whispered secrets in each other's ears, smiling and holding hands, German voices exclaiming in delight at the scenery around them. Twenty-seven altogether in the carriage. Who knew what lives they were meant to have led, where the future would have taken each of them.

    Chloe closed her eyes and sighed, imagining how Clemence - her fifth granddaughter, and the reason for her being on the train all those years ago – would look now. She'd been on her way to visit the new baby for the first time that day. Clemence was her own daughter's second child and the one Chloe had never thought she would live to see. Against all the odds Chloe had won over the cancer that had threatened to take her from the world aged sixty-seven and had rejoiced at hearing of the birth, coming just six weeks after the news of her own reprieve. "Live life to the full," she was fond of saying to everyone. "You never know what's around the corner." Ironic, she mused.

    She glanced at her watch again, even though she knew she didn't need to. The journey was nearly over for another year.

    The train entered the tunnel. The lights flickered on and off and the children squealed with excitement at being momentarily plunged into darkness. The whistle blew and the sound of the wind roared in through the open windows. The couple leaned into each other, the woman's head resting on her partner's shoulder. The lady in the red coat closed her book and rubbed her eyes. The businessman shuffled uncomfortably in his seat, turned the page of his newspaper and flicked it sharply to straighten it. The young man pulled his Walkman out of his pocket and adjusted the volume slightly, then put his head back and shut his eyes.

    The train's whistle blew long and loud once more and the engine emerged from the tunnel into daylight . . . and then there was nothing.

    An empty track meandered into the distance, the rails glinting in the weak autumn sun filtering through the cloudy sky. Birds chattered in the trees and a gentle wind played with the long grass.

    * * *

    A young woman with a seven year old girl stood on the grassy bank near the mouth of the tunnel, shivering in the cool October breeze. Clemence carried a small posy of pink carnations in one hand, holding tightly onto her daughter with her other.

    "This is where it happened," Clemence said.

    The girl let go of her mother's hand.

    "Can I lay the flowers, maman?" she asked.

    "Of course you can, Chloe," her mother replied.

    Chloe stepped up the bank to the fence that separated them from the railway line and laid the flowers with a solemn reverence that brought a grin to Clemence's face.

    "Do you think Grandmere Chloe will like them?" she asked.

    "They were her favourites."

    "She has the same name as me."

    "You were named after her, ma petite."

    "Tell me the story again, maman," Chloe pestered.

    "Once more, then," Clemence began. "It's been thirty-four years since the great Paris train crash of 1987. The train was nearly an hour out of Paris when it hit a tree that had fallen onto the line just outside this tunnel after a storm. The driver and everyone in the first carriage died that day when the front of the train derailed and rolled down into the valley. Twenty-eight altogether. It was such a tragedy. Your great-grandmother was one of those who lost their lives that day. She'd been on her way to see me when I was just a baby. She died on her sixty-ninth birthday. She would have been a hundred and three today." She paused before the climax: "Some people say that once a year, on the anniversary of the great train crash, you can hear the whistle of the train coming through the tunnel, speeding towards its fate . . ."

    Chloe looked at her mother, a look of uncertainty on her face.

    "That's today, right?" she asked, just a slight waver in her voice.

    "That's right," replied Clemence.

    "But there aren't really any ghosts, are there?" Chloe went on.

    "No, of course not. That part is just a story."

    "Can we go home now?"

    "Yes, ma petite."

    Chloe skipped off down the slope. Clemence paused for a moment and raised her eyes to the sky.
    "Happy birthday, Grandmere Chloe," she whispered, and turned to follow her daughter back towards the car.
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