Viewing blog entries in category: Short Stories - Page 2

  • Cogito
    (This is a short story I am putting together around a character I created for one or the RPGs on the site. I wanted to give a glimpse of him to those who weren't around when the RPG was taking place)

    The Killing Jar

    Mack Grundy smiled. No one saw the smile, so no one was chilled by it. Down here, among the dregs of a dozen worlds, he was the Hammer of God, chosen to break them and render them harmless.

    He was looking forward to breaking the new prisoner. Not yet positively identified, the small, pale man was brought in three hours ago, rounded up near the smoking ruins of a government installation that had been invaded by a small band of mercenaries.

    Manacled and with a full tranquilizer load in him, he should have been a rag doll with a pulse. But as two of his guards stepped away so the remaining two could shove him through the narrow doorway into his cell, he attacked. One guard went down, his kneecap shattered by a snap kick, and the other was soon gasping for breath with the prisoner’s manacles around his throat. The remaining two guards rushed him with neural prods. One fell, his larynx crushed by a well-placed kick, but the fourth guard managed to immobilize the prisoner with the prod as the second guard collapsed to the floor, unconscious.

    Mack checked the new prisoner’s video monitor, but the view was obscured. He had half expected this, so he stepped silently to the steel door of the cell with the neural prod ready. Snapping the view panel’s cover aside, he jammed the prod against the opening and pressed the trigger, and smiled grimly as he heard a muffled gasp and the sound of a body landing hard on the floor. Only then did Mack look through the opening.

    The prisoner was small and wiry, with a pale face marked with several scars that looked like burn marks. Beside him was a small stun gun he must have taken from one of the guards during last night’s struggle. Clearly he had prepared to ambush whoever opened the view panel. But he has never dealt with me, thought Mack.

    He opened the cell door and stepped inside. He picked up the stunner, and covered the prisoner with it as he checked the camera. Although it was recessed behind an electrified wire grid, the prisoner had manager to cover the lens with his own feces.

    Mack kicked the prisoner hard, and was surprised to see him curl up in pain. He should still have been immobilized by the charge from the prod. The prisoner began to try to stand, so Mack swung the stunner. A bright red gash appeared across the bridge of his nose and crossing his right eyebrow, and the prisoner collapsed to the floor. Mack left the cell and slammed the steel door behind him. He left orders that no one was to enter the cell for any reason without Mack standing by.

    Jared struggled to stay conscious, and lost. Beneath the searing pain that invaded even his unconscious mind floated a clear memory.

    He was surrounded by brown dust and leathery plants under an unrelenting sun’s glare, poking the dry dirt with a stick. Around him, the occasional hot breath of the desert breeze made the spiny brown plants shiver with a dry hiss.

    The dirt erupted at the tip of a stick, and a twig-like grey scorpion fled, seeking a new hiding place. Jared snatched it up by the tail, just below the wicked-looking sting, and examined his catch. It tried to grab his finger with its pincers, but was unable to reach any vulnerable skin.

    Jared lifted the cover from the glass jar next to him, dropped the scorpion inside, and covered it again. He wrinkled his nose at the fumes from the wet blotter at the bottom of the jar, and watched as the scorpion’s frantic movements slowed, then ceased.

    Then Jared’s dream shifted to the nightmare that visited him every time he closed his eyes to sleep.

    (to be continued)
  • Cogito
    This is a revision of my winning entry in Short Story Competition 22, the theme of which was a Chase.

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

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

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

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

    This was not the Rissa Swan he thought he knew, had admired and flirted with. Surprisingly, her attempt to kill him dampened his attraction toward her. She had also killed three workers in the transport bay, and had been breaking into one of the cargo lockers when he arrived.

    Rissa had always been passionately outspoken in condemning her notorious father, Colby Swan, who was widely believed to be in control of most of the organized criminal activity in this region of the Belt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Virgil recognized the voice of Colby Swan. The top man decided to kill me himself, he realized, and an icy fear flooded though him.

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

    Virgil did not expect this. He didn’t for a moment believe that Swan would let him go free. But what was it that Swan thought he had? What had Rissa been trying to steal?

    Someone else must have finished what Rissa had begun, he realized. And Virgil was left to take the fall.

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

    Virgil turned the scout’s sensors back toward Icarus. The pursuing craft was shaped like a squat cone, with the apex pointed toward him. He could see the glow from the three fusion engines mounted on the base of the cone. Swan must be pushing the engines hot to reach him as quickly as possible. Virgil estimated that Swan would begin his deceleration within two hours, and catch up with him in four, maybe five hours. He scanned ahead, and found a large, jagged wedge of frozen ice and rock, but his heart sank when he realized it would take him seven hours to reach it. Finally, he saw another, smaller mountain only three hours away. The scans indicated that it was approximately eight kilometers along the longest dimension, a slab of frozen methane, ammonia, and water ice studded with rocks, and riddled with crevasses and deep pits. He altered course toward it and set to work modifying a mining sled for his purposes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The comet lurched sharply under the scout ship, and Virgil rebounded painfully from the bulkhead. He caught hold of the flight seat and steadied himself. Outside the viewport, he was floating free of the frozen asteroid surrounded by tumbling comet debris, and a bright sphere of expanding ice crystals swept by him. The scout ship had suffered some minor damage, but nothing critical. As he started the repairs, he speculated on what had happened.

    Virgil had concealed the scout vessel in a crevasse nearly three kilometers from the sled. He had hoped that Swan, who had never mined the belt, would land with the engines still hot. With any luck, he’d have melted the surface, which would then have refrozen around the engine cluster, trapping the ship on the surface. Starting the engines might have damaged them in the confined space, but nothing short of a full power launch could have caused a catastrophic failure. The comet fragment itself had been fractured into three major pieces and numerous smaller fragments. Virgil could not identify any debris from Swan’s ship.

    Soon the repairs were complete, and Virgil pointed the scout back toward Icarus and brought the ion engines back on line. As he began his flight back toward a home the had thought he would never see again, Virgil harbored fond thoughts toward whomever had outwitted both Swans and walked off with the stolen goods.
  • Cogito
    This was my non-winning entry in the Short Story Competition for A day in the life of the Grim Reaper.

    He had a feeling in his bones that this would be one of those days. There were no fiery letters in the sky, nor whispers from the hollow dark; but a degree of prescience was part of the job description.

    Unfolding himself from the comfort of his cold, dank crypt, he wrapped himself in one of his identical hooded black cloaks, and selected a scythe from the stand next to the entrance. He paused, and exchanged the scythe for one indistinguishable from the first. Then he swung the marble doors silently open and glided out into the crisp morning air.

    The Reaper stretched one bony arm skyward, and a scroll materialized in his grasp. He unrolled it and read a dozen or so names scrawled in dark red script. it was not a long list, by any means, and yet he could not shake off a sense of foreboding.

    He slid silently out of the graveyard into the city streets. Early morning commuters bustled by, somehow managing to step around him even though they showed no sign they even noticed him – which they did not, with one exception.

    A large woman in her thirties, puffing and red-faced, paused at the crosswalk and pressed the button for the crossing signal. She leaned against the signal post, wheezing heavily, and looked straight at the Reaper. The color drained from her face, and she crumpled to the sidewalk and lay still. The Reaper consulted the scroll, and the name Mildred Stevenson faded to grey and blew away into the breeze. Cardiac cases were always the easiest, especially when combined with emphysema.

    By noontime, the list had shrunk to three names. The next one was Louis McLeary, age 67. The feeling of dread the Reaper had felt all day peaked sharply. This one would be trouble!

    The Reaper drifted toward the First Federal Bank downtown, guided by the sense that always pointed the way to the next soul to cross over. Gliding smoothly into the lobby, he spotted Louis standing in line for the next teller. His dark blue coverall’s were spotted with engine grease, and he held a dirty denim cap in the same hand as a smudged check.

    As the Reaper watched, a short, nervous man wearing oversized sunglasses produced a revolver from his jacket before he could point it, the guard by the door shouted, “Freeze!” Louis jumped at the sound and dropped his cap. As he bent to pick it up, the robber fired the gun, and the bullet passed through the space where Louis had been standing. At the same instant, the guard fired two shots at the gunman, who fell to the floor screaming. The teller at the window looked down in surprise at the crimson rose blossoming in her chest, then crumpled behind the counter.

    The Reaper looked at the scroll. The name of the gunman, William Kazinsky, turned grey and whirled away in a dusty cloud. But a new name, Lynne Bartholomew, appeared in black with a red border – Untimely Demise.

    When the Reaper looked up, Louis McLeary was staring at him with his jaw hanging like the door of an open letterbox. In an instant, he was scrambling toward the door, the cap and the check lying forgotten on the bank floor. The Reaper followed.

    Louis looked back with terror in his eyes, and darted across the street. Horns blared and tires squealed, With a resounding crash, a crosstown bus slammed into a fuel truck, and a fireball erupted. Six more black scrawls appeared on the Reaper’s list, followed seconds later by a seventh and eighth. Louis darted through an alley, and headed toward an elementary school.

    “Wait!” the Reaper called in dismay. This would not do at all! The adult Untimelies were bad enough, but should the same thing happen at a school! Louis stopped and turned at the sound of the echoing sepulchral voice, terror lighting his eyes. Before he could turn and resume his flight, the Reaper called out again, “I’ll make a deal with you.”

    Louis stood his ground, trembling. “What kind of deal?”

    The Reaper glided up to him. “You’ve already upset the Balance today. Before it gets any worse, I’m prepared to let you go.”

    Louis looked suspiciously at the tall shrouded figure before him. “What’s the catch?”

    “You have to leave this town, and abandon your name. No one must know you have outlived your time.” The Reaper waited, as Louis considered.

    “I suppose that’s fair. I really don’t want to die.”

    The Reaper leaned forward. “This is only a respite. Next time we meet, you will have to cross over.”

    Louis nodded slowly. “Thank you. I suppose we have to shake on it, huh?” He looked nervous. “By the way, you don’t really cut people down with that thing, do you?” Louis pointed a shaking finger at the crooked scythe.

    The Reaper laughed with a sound like pebbles sliding down a windy slope. He lifted the scythe behind him and ran the tip up and down his spine. “It gets those hard to reach places.”

    Louis chuckled in relief, and took the Reaper’s bony hand in his own. He shook it vigorously, and the Reaper rattled all over like castanets. “We have a deal, then. My friends call me Lucky.”

    Of course they do, the Reaper thought wryly, as he turned and slid off to deal with the final appointment of the day.
  • Cogito
    Neverending

    Nothing lasts forever. Stars are born of coalescing dust and gases, compressed under their own weight until they burst into nuclear brilliance. They blaze for millions, billions, or even trillions of years, and then they burn low and die, or explode in a last blast of glory. Even the universe itself has a beginning, and will someday wind down like a worn out clock.

    His lifetime is as evanescent as a wing beat of a gnat by comparison. He was born in what men call the dawn of civilization, and has seen nations rise and fall, and be forgotten. But he has no delusions of immortality. No one lives forever.

    The stars slowly rotated within the viewport as he watched from the bed. He was resting, but not sleepy. He loved the stark beauty of the naked brilliant points in the absolute blackness of open space. Their stark purity spoke to him of simplicity and patience.

    Beside him, Sarah stirred. She rolled over and slid a warm arm around him, pulling him close. He kissed her eyelids, and she squeezed him and sighed contentedly. “I love you, Tom Gordon.”

    He smiled, and hugged her in return. “And I love you, Sarah Vandermeer. Sorry I woke you.”

    She chuckled and leaned close. A lock of her dark hair brushed across Tom’s forehead. “Are you now?” She kissed him, and lazily dragged her nails down his chest. “Show me how sorry,” she whispered.

    Research Station 6 drifted around the Sun, almost in Earth’s orbit, in the stable L5 Lagrange point. There it could conduct studies away from the gravity well of any planetary mass. It consisted of a central spindle protruding from a roughly brick-shaped block, with a cylindrical shell rotating around the end of the spindle farthest from the block. Three thick hollow spokes joined the shell to the spindle in a thick coupling hub. Perpendicular to the spindle, a long, narrow boom extended from the “bottom” of the block to the fusion power plant. The rotating cylindrical shell contained the living quarters and other facilities requiring gravity. The block housed a pair of docking bays, several zero-g labs, and the operations center. Several small craft too large for the docking bays were moored to structures mounted around the block.

    The Hermes project was conducting research that many hoped would lead to a workable hyperdrive theory, the long sought Holy Grail of interstellar travel. Hermes owed its existence to Dr. Sarah Vandermeer, the mathematician and theoretical physicist whom many considered on a par with Einstein. Thomas was equally sure the comparison was overly generous to old Albert.

    Thomas was a supervising technician on Hermes. The position was chosen, like his name, to keep him out of public notice. But his insatiable curiosity drove him to be on hand for what he was sure would be a crucial moment in history, greater than any he had yet experienced.

    He was not brilliant, but had over the centuries accumulated a vast body of knowledge. He had loved hundreds of women, and every one different and special. But Sarah was more unique, more special to him than any before. Not only was she brilliant and beautiful, she shared his sense of wonder at the complex variety of the Universe.

    That was why he decided it was time to break one of his longest standing self-imposed rules.

    The next morning, Sarah woke before the station lighting rose to daytime levels. She cleaned up and dressed for the day, and Tom was still asleep. She sat and studied his face, peaceful in sleep. A stray lock of his sandy hair had fallen across one eye. She was again struck by how smooth and symmetric his face was.

    Nearly a year ago, Sarah arrived at the station for the first time. The tech team had arrived several weeks earlier to begin setting up the labs and the computers, so she called a meeting with the Lead Technician. When she entered the tiny conference room, he actually stood up and pulled out her chair for her. As they went over the equipment roster and planned the next phase, she couldn’t help but notice the intensity of his pale blue eyes, and the grace and economy of his movements. He was highly competent, and she came to depend on him not only to keep the experimental schedule, but also to plan the experiments. Hers were the theories, but he had a knack for devising astute ways to test the predictions. As they became closer professionally, a more personal bond developed as well.

    She became aware that Tom had awakened, and was looking back at her with amusement as she was lost in her thoughts.

    Tom watched the blush spread from her strong cheekbones. Sarah’s features were strong rather than soft, yet the sum effect was an intensity that complemented the brilliant intellect within. Her green eyes were always keenly aware and lively. Sarah was lean and athletic, and always moved as if in a hurry. Tom often teased her for bumping into corners that didn’t move out of her way quickly enough.

    Sarah stood up and turned to hide the blush. “I’m glad you decided to finally wake up. We have a full schedule today.”

    “Good morning to you too,” he teased. You go on ahead. I’ll catch up in a few.” He remembered his decision from last night. “Dinner’s in my quarters tonight.”

    She turned and raised an eyebrow. “What’s the occasion?”

    He stood and put his arm around her. “We need an occasion? We always come to your quarters. I can cook too, you know.”

    She smiled, and slipped out of reach. “Ok, then, don’t tell me. Tonight then. Nineteen hundred ok?” He nodded and she was out the door.

    Sarah pressed the call button on the keypad, and heard the chime sound on the other side of the door. The door opened, releasing a savory aroma,, and Tom welcomed her in with a tender kiss. Sarah entered, and saw a candlelit table set for two. She looked at him, the question clear in her eyes.

    “I do have a surprise,” he replied, “but not until after dinner.”

    She opened her mouth in protest, but he smiled and placed a lobster shao mai between her parted lips. They dined at a leisurely pace, and he watched her curiosity grow along with her impatience. Finally, he sat beside her on the sofa. She could contain her curiosity no longer.

    “You’ve been holding out all evening. What’s the big surprise?”

    “It’s something I’ve wanted to share for as long as I’ve known you. But you’ll have to promise that no matter what, this stays between us, always.”

    She nodded uncertainly, then again, decisively. “No matter what. I promise.”

    He looked down and took a deep breath. “I’m older than I look, Sarah. A lot older.”

    She watched him and waited. He talked about growing up in a nomadic tribe, becoming a man when he speared his first boar, and his shock at waking up intact after being mauled by a raging bear. He spoke of savage hordes, and of farms and villages. He spoke of lords and kings and shifting borders, and she listened silently. Then they both sat in silence. Then she asked questions. They talked throughout the night, then exhausted, slept side by side all morning. She woke to find him watching her intently. He held her gaze silently for a long minute. Finally he spoke.

    “You’re taking this pretty calmly.”

    “I honestly don’t know what to say, or think,” she began, and paused. “I believe you, but I can’t explain why. It all fits, somehow. But it’s a lot to absorb.” Another long pause, and she stood. “I don’t even know if I should call you Tom. It’s just a made up name.”

    Tom held up his hand. “No. That is my name, in this chapter of my life. “ He saw doubt in her eyes. “Look, If a woman takes a new name when she marries, it’s her real name all the same.” He gazed intently into her eyes. “Sarah, Thomas Gordon is who I am.”

    She returned his look. “So, why me? You’ve kept your secret for millennia, Am I the only one you’ve ever told?”

    Thomas shook his head. “No, not the first. I told people the truth when I was younger, in the first couple centuries. They either laughed and called me a liar and a fool, or lashed out in fear, and I swore never to tell anyone again. But I decided I needed to tell you the truth. I felt you would understand.”

    She smiled. “That’s one hell of a compliment, Tom. And one hell of a burden, too. I won’t let you down.” She sighed. “But Tom, give me some time for this to settle in, please?”

    “Of course.” He kissed her, and she left. He sat silently for a while, then left the cabin to meet with the rest of the tech team.

    (Continued in part 2)
  • Cogito
    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.")
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