Short Stories

Solar Storm

Disaster struck Earth at the beginning of winter. Satiates plummeted, eliminating nearly all forms of communication. The conspiracy theorists blamed aliens or a massive explosion from the sun, and the uncreative blamed Russia and China. However, the tech failures also affected everyone.

The big cities failed first. Many didn’t heed the evacuation warning. Instead, their inhabitants raided the stores. Stealing high-priced electronics, designer clothes, and other ridiculous items. They believed they would restore the power in a few weeks. There was no way the world could run without the internet or cell phones. Once the weeks passed, the looters attacked the few individuals who had snagged nonperishable foods. Eventually, word from the cities went dark. The government closed the borders, leaving them to die in the dead of winter.

I wanted to say I was shocked. But a year before, an alphabet soup agency approached me. It was the agency that didn’t broadcast its existence with a website, but they definitely had the credentials and knew all about me. The agent explained how the government was gathering instructors, high school students, and professionals who knew how to work with their hands. They needed out-of-the-box thinkers who solved problems on the go.

I laughed at the agent standing on my patio. “Sir, I teach TV production. Not sure what you want us to do if the world ends.”

He fidgeted with his suit. Wherever he was from wasn’t as hot and humid as South Florida. “Ma’am, you’re old enough to remember using technology without computers.”

“Okay, that’s rude. I am not that old.” I interrupted him.

“9th grade, your teacher showed you how to edit tape to tape.” He brought out his phone and showed me a picture of my now co-teacher, W.

“And you expect me to remember something that I learned for a week twenty years ago?” I was laughing harder. “Since you know so much about me, you probably know. I’m running off of coffee, little sleep, and can’t remember what I ate for dinner less than 10 hours ago.”

Irritation was clearly written etched into his brow. “Ma’am, you can relearn this skill. You can provide a team of bright minds ready for the challenge. Most of your students are dual-enrolled in biology, construction, ROTC, and automotive. Your students are more qualified to handle a national threat than most.”

“Fucking spooks,” I groaned. “Dude, they are high school students. Are we done with this nonsense? I have a 45-minute drive to work. I now have to do in twenty.”

He stepped out of the way. “We’ve already contacted your principal about the matter. He seemed keen to be a part of the program.”

“Cool, I hope you brought me coffee,” I said, locking the door to my house. “And what about the other teachers? To be honest, they’d be more useful than me.”

He held my car door open. “I have read them into the project. You were our last stop.”

I stood between my car and the sweaty man. ” Look, I spent years trying to work for one of your agencies, and now I’m being ‘read into’ a project. I should tell you to fuck off, but I’m too damn curious.”

“It’s in your blood, ma’am.”

“Then, can I make a request?” I asked as he was about to shut my door.

His jaw clenched. “You’re not really in the position to make them.”

“If you want to use my students for your stupid project. That I’m fairly certain is far more necessary than you’re letting on,” I smiled sweetly at him. “I want you to grab two of my previous students, Dj and Bh.”

“Is that all?” He asked, shutting my door. I nodded quickly, and he walked to his car at the end of the drive.

“What the fuck ever,” I muttered to myself, turning on the radio, only to hear what I was trying to avoid. Traffic on the turnpike, accidents on the local roads, and my commute had just hit over an hour.

Four blacked-out SUVs were parked directly up front when I pulled onto campus. So it seemed the Spook wasn’t lying. I did not know what the government thought we could offer them. We’re a strange school in the country filled with rich kids and those whose parents work their asses off to ensure none stand out. The student body liked to pretend to be country or hood, even though most of their houses cost a million dollars or more.

I signed in at the front office. Nobody joked or made a comment about being a half-hour late.

The front desk receptionist smiled and said, “Mr. W has your students. He’s waiting for you.”

“Well, that doesn’t sound ominous,” I sighed.

“Pretty sure you’re going to be super busy. He had a handcart filled with boxes and all these weird things. I think I saw a dial-up modem hanging out of a box.” She called after me.

Jesus Christ, I thought. Tape-to-tape editing and dial-up internet. What kind of nightmare did I step into? Who did I piss off to be tortured like this?

The campus was oddly quiet. Students weren’t wandering around pretending to go to the bathroom, meeting up with each other for clandestine meetings, or smoking. I saw a few adults in black power suits with earpieces talking to each other across the courtyard. It was strange; I wasn’t used to this. I wasn’t used to being at a high school again, but here I was.

I opened my co-teacher’s door, and instead of greeting all my students, the classroom was empty. I made my way into the control room. The handcart of Doom was empty, and so was the control room. Through the soundproof glass, I could see them all staring at the ancient technology. One student held up a mini DV tape, not understanding how to insert it. Then again, I had just spent the last three years pulling SD cards out because he still couldn’t figure out how to insert that correctly. These spooks were in for a rude awakening if they thought high school students would be their saving grace.

Then the sound came. A crackling followed by a few beeps and then finally a very long tone. It was a thing of nightmares. A sound I thought I would never have to hear again unless it was in somebody’s reel making fun of how old millennials were. Dial-up internet attached to a computer I didn’t even know could turn on.

“Mrs. J.” One of my students burst in from the studio. “Mr. W said these were the same computers you worked on when he had you as a student. How did you guys get any work done? The computer takes 15 minutes to turn on.”

I smiled. “Patience, something you don’t have.”

In the studio, I came face to face with five cameras. I had asked my previous IT person at the middle school I had just left to e-waste them. He had never done it, which was apparently a good thing. Then I saw a beast of a machine hooked up to an old TV.

“Do you remember this?” Mr. W asked.

“You know I don’t.” I waved him over. “Did you apply for some grant or something that was just meant to torture me while giving funding to a program? Is this payback for me being the moody teenager in high school?”

He shook his head. “No, I thought you did. The government is kind of your specialty.”

“I gave up on those guys long ago. Once I figured out what, I didn’t have the grades to be considered a legacy, and apparently, my search history was a little too risky for their taste. I thought being a bloodthirsty writer would be something that would interest them.”

Our students were playing with the technology, trying to figure out how to attach the cameras to the computers. They waited for programs to open, sitting in earnest, watching how tapes were fed to one another. I thought our little ADHD monsters would be bored, but it entranced them. However, I was fighting the urge to backhand the next one, who called me an elder millennial. They weren’t wrong. It was just disrespectful to hear it over and over again.

Before the rang, an announcement came over the loudspeaker. “Tv, biotech, medical, automotive, construction, and JROTC students. Please make your way to the auditorium. All other students, please head to your normal class.”

There was a collective groan from the students. A few cheered because they had not studied for the test they would be missing. But my co-teacher and I looked at each other. Things were going to get interesting.

The spook that blocked my door stood center stage behind the podium. Our principal stood next to him, just as thrilled as the teachers about the assembly. With no authority taking control, the students chatted among each other, only growing louder.

“Hawks,” Principal H spoke clearly into the microphone. “Please give your undivided attention to our guest, Special Agent K.”

“Like Men in Black?” I giggled to myself. I did it at the wrong time because the entire auditorium had gone silent. Agent K shook his head at me while taking his position at the microphone.

“Thank you very much for having me here, Principal H.” The principal didn’t smile or look even halfway enthused about this intrusion. “Your school was one of ten selected for a very special pilot program. We are challenging all the academy students to perform their normal academic test with limited technology.”

The entire student body was in an uproar. Shouts about what they were supposed to do without laptops or cell phones. How were they supposed to compete with everyone entering college without having the same experiences? More than once, I heard someone say that they could not function without being able to Google an answer. This was all cruel and unusual punishment.

Special Agent K tried to regain control of the student body. It took the principal stepping forward and lashing out with unveiled threats about how if they did not participate, they could not go to homecoming or any sports activities and would lose their parking spot. All the teachers laughed. This man in a suit may intimidate the adults; however, he had nothing to threaten these teenagers with. The United States government was in for a real treat.

Six months passed, and all the students had acclimated to their limited technology. We were coming up to winter break, and a few told me how much they enjoyed not being pressured to study for the certification exams. I lost count of how many of them enjoyed the challenge of learning how to create transitions with their film.

“Mrs. J,” a tiny goth girl approached me. “This entire experiment is ridiculous. I don’t know what to do without a computer. I can’t figure out how to make things look good. Everything I do is absolute garbage.”

“Well, Mb, your projects aren’t garbage. You might not be the best editor. You have been able to pick up cameras and work just the same as you always have. And something else that you haven’t thought about is how well you have taken control. You’ve been able to delegate tasks and solve problems that your other classmates cannot. Just because you don’t have a laptop in your face doesn’t mean you aren’t excelling. I think that was the point of the experiment.”

She rolled her eyes at the praise. “Why do they care if we can operate without technology? It’s not like it’s going anywhere. They’ll probably just start embedding chips into our heads, and we won’t even have a piece of technology in front of us. It’ll be inside of us.”

“I’d rather not think about becoming a cyborg, but thank you for the post-apocalyptic depression trip. Are you done taking up my oxygen, or do you need help with something?”

“No, I’m good.” Mb smiled. “I feel better when I bitch. I mean, complain to you.”

“Well, I’m always here to be a soundboard if you need me.” I looked at the clock, and the bell was about to ring. ” All right, monsters, pack up your things. It is time for you all to go to your next class and torture another adult.”

Students picked up their backpacks, dropping pens and pencils in their zipper pouches. Others unlocked the cell phone jail, pulled out their phones, and checked to see who sent the messages while they were busy in class being sequestered from technology. But more and more, my students would forget that their phones were in jail and eventually have to come back to my class and pick them back up before they left for the day.

When we left for Christmas break, everybody had expected to return. But just like COVID, the world came to a stop. Sudden bursts of energy could be seen across the sky on Christmas Day. “The end is here,” the occultists screamed in the streets. “The end is here! Repent, and your soul will be saved.” Teslas weren’t driving. In fact, any car that was made after the 1980s was dead on the road. Planes fell from the skies, and trains simply stopped. Telephone lines were jammed. Cell service was nonexistent, leaving only those with landlines with corded phones to communicate. They dropped news newspapers off in front of every home two days after the event. That was the only way that information was being spread. I’m not entirely sure how they got the information; probably radios and other forms of “ancient technology.”

Then, right before New Year’s Eve, Agent K showed up at my door.

“It’s time to get to work, Mrs. J.” He didn’t wait for me before he headed back to a heavily armored truck that looked straight out of World War II, only with modern upgrades.

I rolled my eyes. “You asshat,” I shouted. “You knew this was coming. What the fuck is wrong with all of you up in Washington?”

“That is why we had contingency plans, ma’am.” He said, holding the door open for me.

I climbed into the back of the truck and was met with the grumpiest group of high school students. The only thing positive about this whole event was it happened in December, and while it may not have been the coldest month for Florida, it sure as hell wasn’t the hottest.

“Mrs. J,” whined a female student with auburn hair. “Is this why they made us do all the stupid work?”

I shook my head. I hadn’t had coffee yet, and I didn’t have an answer for her or the other twenty-something teens searching for answers. I scanned the crowd, looking for my co-teacher. But he was nowhere to be found. The windows were blacked out. Students complained it wasn’t necessary or fair for them not to know where we were going. A few mutter things about how the government didn’t have the right to force them to do anything.

“The government can do what it wants.” snapped Cs, a blonde male whose twin sat next to him.

Ms, the class clam of the two, had his face plastered against the window. “Just like they made the satellites fall from the sky, and they control the weather.”

After what felt like an eternity, we pulled up to a gate. I only knew this because we stopped, and I could hear it being moved over the rumbling of the diesel engine. Everyone got quiet as we crossed over the track, and the gate closed.

“Are they going to kill us?” asked a nervous brunette.

“No, Pt, I don’t think they would have wasted all that time training you just to murder us.” I shrugged. “Then again, this is the government, so who knows?”

The Auburn student sitting next to Pt squealed. “That’s not funny!”

“You’re right, but we know nothing, so let’s not waste our time trying to think what if.” The truck rolled to a stop, and heavy boots were marching up to the back of the truck. “Ag, I think you’re about to get our answer.”

The doors opened, and I knew exactly where I was. “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

The government had transported me and my students to the news station I left for teaching. Standing in front of the glass door were my former boss C and my co-teacher, W. They had worked together during their news career before W took a different direction.

“Not happening,” I muttered, sitting back down.

“If she’s not going, I’m not going,” Ag said, folding her arms across her chest and joining me. Pt nodded and returned to her seat as well.

Agent K walked up to C and W and shook hands. All three men must have been on it from the beginning. I shouldn’t be mad. I knew the station still had ancient tech. They never removed any equipment; many employees still knew how to work with it. I wasn’t one of them, but I guess I was good at wrangling cats.

“Nope, let’s go, ladies. They have coffee here.” I jumped out of the truck and right passed the three conspirators.

I said hi to a few of my former co-workers and ignored those I didn’t know. I walked by my old desk, stole back my blanket, and robbed CD of her coffee cup. If she wasn’t here yet, I knew she would be soon after I poured a cup of dark, caffeine-fueled goodness. I re-entered the newsroom, waiting for the station meeting. JB was still in charge, and I saw him sitting in his office, giving himself the pep talk.

“Thank you, everyone, for coming in to help during this unprecedented time,” he said once all the staff and students gathered.

“We didn’t have a choice,” called out Ms.

I did my best not to snicker, but these people highly underestimated the teens.

“All of you have been trained on the technology to survive the sun blast. While some of you have been working in this field for years, others of you are very green. We will pair up students and professionals together. Those who show they can handle the responsibility will be in the field while the rest of you will work in-house. All jobs are important. They have assigned our station to broadcast the news covering the entire southeast. That means from Key West until wherever singles reach. I believe the last test reached North Carolina, though the single was weak.”

“It was twenty minutes down the road. How is this possible?” I asked WW, a director friend I used to work with.

“I don’t know, but sat trucks are still feeding things in.” He pointed to the least favorite thing I trained him on. “Guess what you get to do?”

“You suck.” I groaned.

Ag and Pt stood next to me. They were equally unamused as I was about the situation we were in. However, I knew these girls would work their asses off with whatever task I handed them. Even though they were responsible enough to go out in the field, I wanted them where I could watch them. I had read about those who were attacking reporters and military officials. I knew the girls’ moms; they scared me more than any spook.

“Mrs. J, nice to see you back,” was the sly remark from C, my former boss. “You ready to pick up that morning shift again?”

“I pick my team, and you guys leave me alone. You know I’m fine.” I smiled at him.

He nodded. “I figured. That’s why I asked for you students specifically.”

“Who is going to watch this? None of the TVs are working?” I asked with genuine curiosity.

“Remember rabbit ears and those brown box TVs?” He asked. “The government has been stockpiling them since the scientists predicted the sun bursts were coming sooner rather than later.”

“You know, you could have called. Give me a heads-up. I could have brought my shit because, let me guess, we’re working hurricane hours, aren’t we?” He just nodded. “So, high school students? You think this was the best option?”

“Why not? College kids are too arrogant, and you know the field is short-staffed. Besides, W has a reputation for what students come out of his program.” C looked over at JB talking with W and was waved over. “Good luck, J. You better wrangle your kids.”

“I hate you,” I hissed under my breath before putting on my happy face.

It took about twenty minutes for me to pick which students would work under me. Most were strong editors, a few were decent at directing, and we could train the rest on how to use a camera. But the thing that I knew all of them could do well was work under pressure. They didn’t break when things went wrong. They may whine, bitch, and moan, but they would complete the task. It wasn’t easy to convince them they needed to go to bed before ten pm so they would be rested for the 2:30 am wake-up call. Even though it was a battle, I knew this group would be the best to work at such ungodly hours.

An old bell alarm rang at 2:15. Even I, the queen of staying asleep after setting fifteen alarms, could sleep through that noise. My team shuffled past the night crew, replacing the first set of zombies. None of the high schoolers looked ready to function.

“Mrs. J,” Ag and Pt whined when I saw them. “There’s no Celsius. They only have coffee.”

“There hasn’t been Celsius for months. Did your moms stockpile it before the burst?” I asked, pouring my cup of go-go juice. They both poured their own cup and dumped an obscene amount of sugar and cream into their coffees. “You realize that’s more of a dessert than coffee, right?”

“So what’s the plan?” Ag asked.

“You’re partnering up with a photographer and reporter, and you’ll be editing or shooting.” I smiled as her mouth dropped open. “And Pt will be in the control room learning how to old school direct.”

“No,” Ag groaned. “That’s not fair.”

Pt laughed. “You have to edit.”

“I shouldn’t have to edit. I edited all your projects for three years.” Ag tried to smack Pt’s cup from her hands. “You should have to edit everything.”

“Is this for a grade?” Pt asked as we left the cafe.

Ag rolled her eyes at Pt. “There aren’t grades anymore. School is over. The world has changed. Forget about grades. We aren’t going to college.”

“First, there are going to be grades.” Ag’s mouth dropped open. “Second, there have been colleges for centuries. Just because the world has shifted doesn’t mean things won’t return to a new normal.”

Both of the girls sighed.

C came in, his hair disheveled, looking like he detested his high school employees. “Look, whoever creates the best news package or directs the best show will earn a prize.”

The girls stopped. He piqued their interest.

“What’s the prize?” Ag asked.

“There is a rumor that electrical rations will go to theme parks.” He told them.

“That’s stupid,” Pt said.

Ag hit her arm. “Shut up. He’s talking about Disney, the happiest place on earth.”

“Disney didn’t win the bid, but Universal did,” C corrected them.

“Whatever, I’m still winning this,” Ag announced to the room.

Three weeks went by. I wish I could say things were interesting, but they weren’t. I swore I would never return vampire hours or work in the news again. But then again, no one ever thought we’d be going through another world-altering catastrophic event again.

The world was the same when it came down to the nuts and bolts of things. People were still robbing each other. They exploited the naïve, and the news cycle kept spinning.. We never had a chance to really breathe. There were press conferences held in our spare newsrooms. Politicians came by at all hours to address the ongoing situation.

At first, the students were star-struck at who walked through our doors. But that quickly faded as life at 3 am became routine. They truly fell into line. I couldn’t imagine that less than a year ago, I would have had to fight tooth and nail for some of these kids to complete a simple editing challenge, but now with little handle holding, they were in lockstep and key with seasoned professionals. It was by far the easiest transition, be it the sassiest and sometimes the whiniest transition I had ever experienced.

I wondered how students from the other academies were fairing. Had their instructors prepared them for a world with “ancient tech?” I had suggested that maybe we should do some fluff pieces on them. But Agent K turned down the idea. No one at the station liked the government having the final say in our news stories. However, they kept the power on. Without them, we’d be like the others in the outside world, where people were getting shot over farmland. It was the wild wild west, and we at least got to pretend it was the 1980s, just with more equality in the control room.

“Mrs. J!” Ag came bounding into the newsroom far too perky at 3 am. “Who won?”

“Who won what?” I asked, trying not to shout at a truck that refused to come into focus.

“The competition! Who’s going to ride roller coasters?!” Pt squealed.

“Oh, my god? Really. I’m trying to do actual work, and you two are making my coffee cold.” Ag stole my cup and came running back with fresh warm happiness. “Thanks, but it’s not up to me. It’s up to C.”

“We were just in his office. He wasn’t there.” Pt flopped down in the chair next to me.

“We’ve been playing the ‘Where’s C Game’ for years. He just vanishes and shows up when you least expect it.” WW told them as he walked out of the control room. “Whoever finds him first will probably be the winner.”

The girls immediately left the newsroom in search of C.

That meant I had about fifteen minutes of peace before there would be shouts from ten students complaining about the results. I finally got the shot from the twins’ truck online, and the moment they were live, I heard my favorite photographer chastity them about how they couldn’t tie each other up with mic cables.

I sighed. I guess some things never changed.

After the morning show, my team gathered in C’s office, waiting for him to announce who had earned a family group passes to Universal. He tried to do his typical ghost routine; however, Ag and Pt had blocked the two exits he liked to use.

C fidgeted with the passes in his hand. “I would like to say you all have done an amazing job. If things were different, I’m not sure I would have thought about having a group of 16 and 17 years running my morning show. However, this has been one of the hardest working group of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. That is why this decision is so hard.”

The girls crept closer to him. Looking like lions ready to kill their prey. C didn’t falter. He had a survived his only child, a girl who graduated from college a few years prior, and her mother. The man was used to being outnumbered by women.

“I have decided the student has taken the most initiative in learning how to operate not only all the cameras in the studio, out in the field and edit, all while driving everyone around her slightly insane, is Ms. Ag.” C handed her the passes while Pt’s mouth hung open. “She has even crossed over into learning more about producing and directing. I’m looking forward to seeing what she does when she puts more energy into her work with this whining.” He winked at her.

Ag jumped around, waving the passes in Pt’s face. “You better watch out, C. I’m going to take your job.”

Short Stories

Rockview: The Seaside Escape

The early evening sun was beating down on the weathered dock, warming my slightly tanned legs. It was only two weeks into summer, and I hadn’t put on more than a swimsuit and cover-up—Chripchrip. The little cricket alarm on my phone sprung to life, informing me it was time to roll over. I silenced it and did as requested, rolling over and soaking up the last of the evening rays. I didn’t want to have a bronze stomach paired with a ghostly booty.

“I see the bad moon a-rising. I see trouble on the way,” the song rang out on my phone. “Hello?”

“You done cooking?” Jackson asked on the other end.

“Oh, come on? Am I that predictable?”

“Sittin’ on the dock of the bay,” he sang, “watchin’ the tide roll away.”

“Okay, Otis Redding, you’ve made your point.” I sighed as clouds covered the sun, leaving me only with a cool breeze coming off the water. “You should stick to drumming. You were off-pitch.”

“You know, I think singing is in my future.” Jackson laughed as he started to hum another classic rock song.

“Are we getting dinner still?” My stomach growled. I unintentionally skipped every meal basking in the sun, enjoying my vacation.

“Just waiting on you.”

“Cassie, you know I’m not leaving until you’ve showered, blow-dried your hair, did your makeup, picked out what you want to wear, and changed three times. And before you say anything, ” Jackson chuckled, his keys rattling, letting me know that he was already on his way to the truck. “Yes, my dear, you’re that predictable. Yes, I’ve made reservations. And yes, I’ll be there in 45 minutes. So get moving.”

I laid there for about five more minutes before picking up my book and heading towards the house, walking the worn-out grass path that led away from the dock to my front porch. The roof was about ten years old, but it was still holding. Secretly, I hoped a hurricane would do enough damage so the insurance would pay for it, but knowing my luck, that wouldn’t happen until after I replaced it. The windows probably leaked more ac than it kept in but survived more storms than any new builds down the road. Since they hadn’t broken yet, I figured we were safe. Especially since I knew we’d never ride out a storm this close to the ocean. The pillars that lined my porch’s facade were begging to be repainted and were next on my list of realistic things to do right after I addressed the squeaky screen door.

The house was old, two hundred fifty years old, built by my great grandparents when they left the cape seeking warmer waters. It passed onto my grandfather, who added an attached garage When automobiles came into fashion, and then went to my dad, who used it as a vacation house. Dad said he wanted it to be filled with grandbabies, laughs, and happy memories, not just as a hidden sanctuary from the world. Instead of waiting to die as his fathers had before him, he gifted me the house for my 30th birthday this past spring.

However, an old house does not mean old plumbing. Jackson and I updated everything we could afford during winter break, which meant a tankless water heater and a massive shower head. Jackson thought I was ridiculous for wanting something that both of us could fit under at the same time. I just wanted to feel like I was drowning in Hell’s waterfall when I washed away the day’s stink.

I didn’t pick the showerhead for us to share. I loved the idea of being wholly encapsulated in a water column that blocked out the outside world. Besides, the cascading waterfall was the only thing that could penetrate my thick curls. The saltwater always wound them too tight, and most dainty showers might as well have been throwing water at me with a Dixie cup.

As I was humming Bad Moon Rising, I heard something downstairs.

Not again, I thought. Last time some creeper came to the door uninvited Jackson… I didn’t want to think about it. Unattended, the shampoo was running into my eyes, wiping it from my face. I listened again, but all I heard was the constant cascade of running water.

“Fuckers,” I muttered to myself as I washed out the last bit of shampoo. “You don’t have to break my front door.”

I groaned and pulled my towels from the rack. I couldn’t find my tablet, which I usually kept close. With my hair wrapped up in one of the towels and using the other to dry myself, I glanced over at the alarm clock on our nightstand. Jackson was still 10 minutes out. Though always punctual, Jackson was never early. I peeked out my bathroom window, but I didn’t see his black GMC Sierra at the end of the drive. I grabbed my phone off the counter, annoyed that I never downloaded the security camera apps.

“Hey babe, where are you?” I asked when he finally picked up the phone.

“I’m about 10 minutes out. What’s wrong?”

“Can you get here any quicker?” I asked, silently thanking God for the massive mahogany door. Any lesser wood might’ve splintered by now. Immediately I heard his truck pulling off the road and onto the gravel. I looked out the window one more time to be sure. “Somebody’s banging at the door, and all I can see is what looks like an unmarked cop car.”

Jackson sighed, “Did you check the cameras?”

“No, I didn’t check the cameras. I was in the shower and —

“And you left the tablet downstairs?” He sighed. “I told you to download the stupid app.”

“No, it’s in my nightstand,” I corrected him as the security camera notifications rang out behind me. “I would have called you first anyway.”

“Cassie, first you check the cameras, then you call me,” he said, “I’ll cut through the Johnson’s pasture and be there in less than 5.”

Almost in perfect sync with each other, the banging stopped just as Jackson hung up. Whoever was at my door should have left if they were smart.

Annoyed, I marched across the room to fish out my tablet, which was shoved deep inside the nightstand drawer. Twenty-six notifications from the security app awaited me. Of the sixteen cameras arranged around the property, three of them were fixed on the porch. I enlarged the view from the doorbell camera. There were two men at the door, and they looked uncomfortable as hell with their dark blazers and dress shirts buttoned up to their necks.

Jackson was already on the way, and it didn’t look like these two were set on breaking in, so I decided to finish getting ready. With my tablet in hand, I made my way to the bathroom to blow-dry my hair. I didn’t have long. Jackson could drive across water if he thought I was in trouble.

I gave up after a few more passes of the round brush and the dryer on high heat. There was no chance I was beating the Florida heat. It was sweltering outside, and between my damp hair and the humidity, even wearing just a towel felt heavy. I thought for a moment about how I could pull off a swimsuit cover-up as a dress but remembered the last time I did, that I ended up throwing it away. Red wine stains are the devil. Before I could decide on an outfit, I heard the roar of Jackson’s V-8 pulling up to the house.

I checked the clock and laughed. “Three minutes. Good timing, my love.”

I yanked a soft pink Maxi dress off the hanger and matched it with a pair of golden Roman strappy sandals. As Jackson neared the house, he slowed, letting the truck amble toward the two men so they could sweat a little more before they could ask whatever dumb questions they came to ask.

I could see the fire in Jackson’s eyes before he ever slammed the truck door. Men in suits always set him off, and these two were no exception. He never understood why they willingly wore nooses around their necks, though it would be easier for him to hang them from the rafters after he bled them out.

“Can I help you, gentlemen?” Jackson asked, winking at the camera.

The tall one, with a shiny spot on top of his head, fumbled as he tried pulling out his badge. “We’re looking for the owners of the house.”

Jackson read the badge from the edge of his sightline, never breaking eye contact with the sweating agent. “I’m the owner’s husband. What can I do for you?”

“We were under the assumption that a Derek Morris owns it.”

“Don’t know who’s updating your records at Quantico boys, but I got the credit card debt to prove this is our house.” Jackson scratched his lower back, just above the bulge where he kept his Glock holstered on his waist. “Now, if you don’t mind telling me why you’re standing on my front porch giving my wife a show on the security cameras when I know she’s supposed to be getting ready for dinner.”

Damn it.

I closed the app and headed back into the bathroom. The humidity lingered, making my dress stick. I wiped away the fog from the mirror, watching the last of my metallic scales recede into my hairline.

“Finally,” I whispered. With my scales gone, I saw how my skin glowed from today’s sunbathing adventures. I decided to skip makeup and let my sun-kissed face be free. Grabbing my saltwater pearl earrings from the countertop, I headed downstairs just in time to see Jackson come through the door.

“You missed all the fun,” he teased, locking the deadbolt.

“Who were they?”

“If they’re legit,” Jackson said, watching the black sedan drive away. “Feds. I have a feeling their department is classified.”

“Thank you for saving me,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck. “Again.”

He kissed the tip of my nose. Instinctively he wiped his mouth, expecting my makeup on his lips. “You sure you’re ready?”

I crossed my arms over my chest. “Don’t I look ready?”

“Cassie, there were feds outside, and you’re just going to go out there naked?”

“I’m not naked,” I told him, avoiding eye contact. I looked for my purse, but it wasn’t hanging on its hook. I turned around to see if I had left it on the kitchen table. “It’s fine. If I need anything, I have stuff in my purse.”

Jackson sighed. “I wonder about you sometimes.”

“Only sometimes?” I asked as my stomach growled extra loud as if it was threatening him.

“Yeah, sometimes I wonder, and other times I just know.” Jackson laughed as he picked up the towel I had used earlier, revealing my purse underneath. “Cassie, are you okay?” he asked, handing it to me.

“I think so…I don’t know. I feel like my head’s stuck in the clouds more than usual lately. I’ll get better, though.” I smiled up at him. “I promise to be perfectly normal once you feed me.”

“I won’t hold my breath,” Jackson chuckled, nearly falling over as he held the door open for me. “I know who I married.”

Giggling, I walked out onto the porch and toward the truck. “If I weren’t starving, I’d take offense to that.”

We drove along the coast, passing a few farms with fields of cattle resting in the evening sun. The pastures were what I loved most about our town. Because there were acres of land in-between each home, neighbors didn’t bug each other unless they genuinely needed help.

“Did you find out what they wanted before you scared them off?” I asked as I watched the setting sun glisten over the bay.

“They were asking questions about your great-granddaddy. Not entirely sure what the feds would want with a dead man.” Jackson turned left at a four-way stop heading towards the small downtown.

An intricately woven cast-iron archway stretched over the street announcing the town’s name: Rockview. Just to the left was Dolphin Cove Marina, the original landing site of the town’s settlers. Legend had it that a pod of dolphins guided their ships through a storm and safely into the bay, narrowly missing all the rocks hidden by the monstrous, hurricane spun waves.

“You still in the mood for surf and turf?” Jackson asked as we waited for a few overly sun-kissed people–obviously, tourists since the locals stayed tan year-round–to cross the street before we continued down the road.

“Surf and Turf? No, I’ve been craving Franks all week!” I squealed. “I can not wait to sink my teeth into an order of ribs.” I always slathered them with extra BBQ sauce, but tonight, I wanted to drink it from the bottle.

“You going to need a napkin over there?” Jackson asked.

Tourists were everywhere, and I loved it. They brought life– and money– to our sleepy seaside escape. Without the snowbirds, I doubt the town’s quaint architecture of this town would have survived the army of contractors set on turning our brick and limestone buildings into soulless clumps of glass and plaster. Small clothing boutiques and tourist shops that sold cutesy, beachy trinkets were closing up for the evening as restaurants began adding extra tables and chairs onto the sidewalks. Even the food trucks were out tonight hoping to steal away some of the guests who were unwilling to wait for the next available table.

“You might want to call them and let them know we’re going to be late,” Jackson told me, adjusting the rear-view mirror.

“Looks like those feds weren’t done asking questions.” I smiled at him. “At least I’m all dried up.”

“It’s Florida,” he reminded me. “You know what humidity can do to you.”

“Well, what am I supposed to do? Walk around with a fan on my face? Or should we move back north and dry out like the rest of my people?” The hunger was wearing on my nerves. “I can’t help what I am.”

“That’s why you have that make-up. To hide the fact that you’re a fish,” he teased.

I clenched my jaw. “I’m not a fish. I breathe air, thank you very much!”

“Okay, dolphin.”

“Do you want me to eat you?” I asked sharply. “Don’t take any detours. If they want to poke around for information, they can do it while I’m sipping on wine.”

Jackson snickered. “Whatever you say, princess.” I leaned over the center console and punched him in the arm. “Was that supposed to hurt you or me?”

I didn’t answer him. I kept quiet until we pulled into Frank’s parking lot. It was the only restaurant in town with valet parking, and Jackson refused to use it. He drove us around to the back, where the employees parked, and opened the door for me.

“Heaven,” I said, inhaling the sweet and spicy scent of BBQ ribs and brisket wafting from the smokers.

“If there’s a heaven, it probably smells like this.” Jackson peeked inside his uncle’s smoker. Jackson picked up the baster brush and took a swipe with his finger. After a second tasting, I grabbed it from him. “He needs to add more cayenne pepper.”

“He needs to do no such thing,” I said as I licked the brush. “Your uncle creates magic. Don’t you dare go changing anything,” I stuck the brush in my mouth like a tootsie roll pop and sucked the rest of the sauce off of it. Jackson stared at me appalled but slightly turned on and leaned in to lick the sloppy splotches of BBQ from my face and lips.

Before things could get scaly, we entered the busy kitchen, and as usual, not a single person noticed us. The intoxicating aroma of wine, garlic, and boiling onions danced alongside the savory smells of andouille sausage, corn, potatoes, and of course, Old Bay Seasoning.

“If it’s not my favorite little mermaid!” Uncle Frank’s booming voice erupted from the front of the kitchen. “You’re just in time.”

“In time for what?” I asked, trying to avoid getting caught in one of his sweaty bear hugs. I failed. Instead, his monstrous arms wrapped around my thin frame nearly twice.

“I was just about to drop the crabs in the pot. You wanna help?” Uncle Frank asked, releasing me with a kiss on the cheek.

Jackson lingered behind as we walked over to the live crabs. “Hi, Uncle Frank, it’s just me, your own flesh and blood. Your godson and the reason why you even know Cassie.”

Uncle Frank lifted his eyebrows, shoving his hands into the tank. “What’s got him all twisted?”

“Some feds showed up at the house asking questions, and he let them leave alive.” I leaned down to watch a few unbanded crabs take swipes at Uncle Frank.

“That would leave me all sorts of grumpy, especially since they were coming after you.” Uncle Frank chuckled, emerging from the tank with his chest half wet.

I looked at the ground, avoiding eye contact with him. “They might be in your dining room right now.” “What the hell?”

He groaned. “Cassie, why did you bring that rabble into my restaurant? I have to look respectable for the snowbirds.”

“I think as long as your food continues tasting like it does, you could walk around naked, and most wouldn’t mind.” That earned me a deep belly laugh.

“I’d mind.” Jackson sighed. “And I can see them. Sarah sat them at the bad table. That wolf is one smart kid.”

“That’s why I keep her around,” Uncle Frank bragged. “She needs to work on her people skills, but I don’t have to worry about security when she’s here.”

I dropped two crabs into the boiling water. I always felt conflicted about the idea of keeping creatures in captivity. I had no problem hunting for my food. It felt less like murder when whatever I was after had the chance to run away. I felt a little bit better knowing that most people believe that crabs cry when they get dropped in boiling water. It’s not so much they’re sobbing as it’s them cursing me a thousand different painful deaths. Maybe they shouldn’t be so damn tasty.

Elijah, a veteran server, came in and grabbed fresh bread from a basket. As he was about to leave, he made eye contact with me and pointed to his hairline. Shit, my scales! Playing with a boiling pot of water wasn’t such a great idea.

“Um, babe,” I ran over to Jackson, who was watching the two FBI agents through the small round window in the kitchen door. “We have a problem.”

“Yeah, I know, those guys aren’t the feds.” Jackson turned and saw how bad it was. “Holy shit Cassie. Your face. This is why —”

“I know, I know. I fucked up.” I can’t believe I thought I could get away with no makeup.

It was the main thing that kept me from, well, looking like a fish girl who forgot to grow gills. I wanted to scratch my hairline. It was painful to have the scales hidden under my skin for so long. Stupid curiosity was getting the better of me. I wasn’t a cat. I didn’t have nine lives. What the hell was I thinking going out in public without protection?

Jackson pulled me close to his chest, keeping his breathing level. “We’ll figure this out, my love.”

I’m not sure what was going on with me. I had never been triggered by steam before. Usually, it took a full-on shower for even the smallest of my scales to make an appearance. I had never lost control over my body to the point where I murried out in public.

Holding my arms tight against my body, I shivered from the pain of the finlets as they sliced through my dry forearms. “I swear if you stab me with those spikes, you’re going to be angry with yourself for ruining my shirt.”

He was right. I would be mad if I ruined his shirt, again, for the third time this month. Blood wasn’t the problem. I knew how to get blood out of clothes. What I didn’t know was how to sew.

Uncle Frank took one look out the swing door and quickly shuffled us away. “My dear, let’s get you into my office. Easier to clean up any spilled blood.”

“You’re a shitty liar,” I told him with a fake smile. “The feds have vanished, and my guys can’t track them.”

Uncle Frank said flatly, “And I have a restaurant full of paying humans that I’d like to keep happy. So dry up in here before we have more to worry about.”

“You act more like him than you do your dad,” I told Jackson as soon as I knew Uncle Frank was out of earshot.

Jackson shook his head. “You’re just lucky he loves you because anyone else would have been out on their ass.”

“Do you honestly think they were Feds?” I asked as my body started to get control over itself.

“You know the government loves to employ are kind,” Jackson reminded me. “Love, I saw scales on when he whipped the sweat away. There’s a possibility he’s Muir.”

“Fuck,” I whispered. “It’s been over 250 years. They can’t possibly still be holding a grudge.”

“You hold grudges if I don’t take out the trash on time.” He reminded me. “There are countless amounts of Muir that blame your granddaddy for abandoning them in the new world.”

I looked up at the ceiling, trying to fight back the tears. We weren’t immortal, but for centuries we were indestructible, taking to the sea when our bodies needed to heal. But our healing source has become contaminated. It wasn’t something that happened quickly or even done on purpose. It was a by-product of the carousel of progress, as humans and Muir like created new and marvelous things that no one can live without, came new ways to poison us. We didn’t realize what was going on until it was too late.

Jackson folded me in his arms. “Want me to call your dad?”

“No,” I said. “Let’s have dinner first and then call him.”

“Fine, but you can’t stab me at the dinner table,” Jackson said, rubbing his hands on my now recovered arms. “You know how Frank is about getting blood on the furniture.”

We left the office and made our way to Sarah, the hostess. She smiled a toothy smile before leading us to our usual spot on the deck. It was close enough to the water for me to feel the breeze and not to have to worry about the moisture triggering anything.

“Chris will be out in a moment,” she said, dropping off the menus and returning to her stand.

“Why is Chris working tonight?” I asked, opening the menu. I never actually ordered anything from the menu. Uncle Frank usually knew exactly what I wanted and had the cooks making it before the waiter took our drink order. But after the whole Muirring out in the middle of his kitchen, he might have forgotten.

Jackson flipped open the drink menu, scanning the long list of beers. I knew he was searching to see if they finally added red ales to the list. “He’s covering all of Janice’s shifts. Frank said that Janice just stopped showing up, so they sent a few people to check on her. Her place was cleaned out.”

“Hm,” I said more to the menu than to Jackson. “I wonder if she started getting a body count.”

“Well, an Erinyes can only be good for so long.” Jackson folded the menu and looked around. Our server still hadn’t appeared and thankfully, neither had the feds.

“I told her working here would be hard, too many choices to snack on. A bar is the perfect place to find someone breaking their wedding vows.” I looked around at the other couples, wondering who was breaking their marriage vows. “Where’s is Chris?”

We watched as Jessica and Rachel walked by our table. Each of them smiled at us and kept ongoing. I didn’t blame them. Everyone was in the weeds tonight, which is probably why the new guy was so late.

Our usual server, Steve, nearly passed us but stopped. “Why don’t you guys have drinks yet?”

“Because Sarah sat us in Chris’ section.” I sighed.

“Why the fuck would she sit you with Chris? I got to talk to that girl,” Steve shook his head. “She just triple sat him. I think she’s punishing him for gambling way their rent again.”

Steve left the table without taking our order.

“Bring us a bottle of red!” I shouted at him.

Steve stuck his hand in the air to acknowledge me.

“Well, at least it wasn’t the middle finger this time.” I smiled at Jackson.

On the floating dock, a guitarist strummed a relaxing melody. I listened, trying to wash away my mounting fear. I watched couples sway back and forth on the dock bar sipping on drinks, not having a care in the world. I was jealous. I wanted to live in their world where monsters didn’t exist.

“So, Muir feds?” I rolled my eyes. “That’s new.”

“If they are actual feds, we’re fucked. I don’t know where else we can go that’s more off the grid than a town with two stoplights.” Jackson grabbed my hand and kissed it. “Wanna buy a boat and sail away.”

“As much as I loved the idea of disappearing from the whole world. Dad would kill us if we did that.” I laid my head on the table. “Where’s our wine?”

Jackson started to stand up but quickly changed his mind. “Don’t turn around.”

Of course, I turned around.

The tall, not bald federal agent was now impersonating Chris. His shirt was two sizes too small, Chris’s name tag was half hanging on, and the buttons were buttoned unevenly. The man was trying to carry my bottle of wine, but it was obvious he had no serving experience as it nearly fell off the tray twice. Even if I’d never seen Chris before, I knew, even at this distance, this man wasn’t human. Hell, I knew he wasn’t Muir. I don’t know how Jackson overlooked the bulging eyes and wide-set nose. All telltale signs of Salamander folk.

“Ugh,” I made a cat face to hold back the bile, trying to escape from my stomach. “Why do they always smell like the receding tide?”

Jackson laughed at me, but it seemed as though he was unaware of the approaching smell of sulfur and rotten eggs. The closer he got, the more overwhelming the smell became.

“They smell. How do you not smell it?” I asked in a hushed voice.

“You Undine are so weird?” Jackson shrugged.

I stopped as the bottle of wine came into my peripheral. “Where’s Chris?” I hissed as he uncorked the bottle.

“He’s unhurt. My partner gave him a sleeping draft and stashed him in the utility closet. It’ll wear off in less than an hour,” the waiter said. “I know, it was drastic, but we need to talk.”

“About what?” Jackson demanded loud enough to earn the glances of the couple at the table next to us. Their eyes flashed yellow, exposing that they weren’t human, making me worry less about the disruption.

I just hoped Uncle Frank wasn’t going to catch wind of all this.

“My partner and I should have handled this in private but, here we are,” he said, pouring Jackson a glass of wine. “I promise I didn’t poison it.”

Jackson locked eyes with the Salamander. “If you had, it would have been the last thing you did.”

“Sir, killing you would make our journey mute.” The Salamander looked around. “There are factions in the north talking about a Muir and Undine couple. They are saying the offspring’s blood will-.”

“You’re barking up the wrong tree, buddy.” I laughed so hard that I brought more attention to us from all the tables nearby. But the Salamander’s emotions never wavered. “I’m not pregnant.”

“At first, we thought they were speaking of your mother. Since she produced a hire so early in life, but now,” the man leaned in close, smelling me.

Jackson nearly flipped the table, getting out of his chair. Pulling the Salamander away from me, he growled. “Do you have a death wish?”

The Salamander threw hands up in the air, “I had to be sure,” he stammered. “But ma’am, you’re pregnant.”

“Cassie?” Jackson stared at me. “Is he- is there any possibility?”

“I’m still two days away from even thinking that is a possibility.” I stammered. “And even if I were, I have no clue what our child could do for the Salamanders.”

“It’s not just us.” He said, rubbing his throat. “Your child could save the aquatic peoples from all the human pollutants. Its blood is the cure. It’s the reason we left the old world.”

Short Stories

Viral Hysteria

It didn’t take long for the illness to spread. No one was taking it seriously in the way it should have been, and the public had their own ideas on how to combat the spread of the virus. Apparently, everyone on social media thought they knew how to stay safe, and all the medical experts were out to get them. Their wild ideas were only more confirmed as the body count rose, and the ridiculous notion that science didn’t matter was making waves.

“What is the CDC really doing to help us?” a woman shouted into the microphone from behind a bedazzled mask.

​The town hall meeting room reeked of lavender and other conflicting essential oils.​

The middle-aged CDC spokesperson wiped his brow. “I can assure you that they are working as quickly as possible. But with how fast the T13B4 virus mutates, nearly all the vaccines that have been created are obsolete.”​

“Then what’s the point of wasting our money on snake oil?” she said to heavy applause from her town’s people.​

A young doctor named Caroline Avanti leaned into her microphone. “It’s far less snake oil than the shit you have pumping through the vents.” She spoke clearly and precisely at the angry woman. “The problem is, not a single one of you wants to listen to what we have to say. You expect instant results, and that’s not how science works. Half of you will go home tonight and rub some crap under your nose when all you had to do in the beginning was wash your hands, and if you felt the slightest bit ill to stay home so no one would share germs.”​

The bedazzled woman gasped. “I don’t have to take this kind of abuse from the likes of you. You people are probably hiding the cure, and that’s why you’re sitting here unmasked and not living in fear like the rest of us.”

​“Yes, you above all people do need to take this.” Dr. Avanti snapped. “You all have lived such blessed lives that any bit of trouble that may come your way has scared you into a panic. Instead of listening to those who have spent their lives studying and curing viruses, you turn to celebrities and talking heads who are clueless to real answers. This virus would have died out long ago if people just listened and followed directions.”​

Dr. Avanti stared down at the woman until she finally returned to her seat.​

Quickly the town council leader rushed to the podium. “Thank you all for your questions tonight, but we’ve run out of time. If you have any other concerns, please make use of the email address we’ve set up for the virus.”​

The town hall emptied with low murmurs of disgust, but Dr. Avanti did not care. She had enough of the self-righteous upper class Googling the newest holistic remedy.​

The salty-haired CDC official approached Dr. Avanti from behind and cleared his throat. “Excuse me, doctor,” he said curtly. “Next time, would you mind sharing your opinions a little less aggressively?”

​She smiled sweetly. “As soon as they stop Googling about healing crystals.”​

“They are afraid.” The CDC official growled.

​“Of course, they are afraid. Your organization has been silent about the recovery numbers. Cures don’t sell, and fear does.” Caroline growled back. “Maybe if you spent the same amount of time giving the facts of the matter instead of inflating the severity of the situation, people would be less afraid. But then you couldn’t control them, could you?”​

He locked eyes with her. “We don’t want to control anyone.”​

“Could have fooled me.”​

Dr. Avanti left the town hall meeting exhausted. It was her fifth one of the day and twentieth for the county this week. She noticed an unsettling trend that the wealthier the town, the less likely the residents believed their doctors. It was unnerving how people with the best access to medical care avoided it with the same fervor they should have put into following the guidelines on staying healthy.​

She walked a few blocks down the street to her hotel, and like all the others she had stayed at, this one was uncomfortably empty.

​When the virus started to spread, people took advantage of the cheap airlines and cruises, finally booking those long-awaited vacations. But it only took six months for the virus to mutate into a much more virulent strain, and the media unwisely branded it a pandemic. Strands of the virus that could survive in the cold were blending with those from the tropics. It was now a super virus.​

Soon all countries were closing their borders. State lines were guarded by the national guard and staffed with medical professionals who would test all travelers. But it didn’t matter how many people were tested. There were still those who were asymptomatic that would make their way through checkpoints.​

The death count rose nightly but depending on where you looked. The numbers were changing. While certain news outlets would report in the double digits, the CDC kept a tight lid on how many people had lost their lives. Reporters would try to dig and find out if there were any other lining causes to the deaths other than the T13B4 virus, but they would never get a straight answer.​

“Could I get a glass of Johnnie Walker Green?” Caroline asked, taking a seat at the empty bar. “Neat, please.”

​The bartender wore black gloves and a mask with a skull and crossbones on it.​

In the last year, masks had become a fashion statement mirroring a trend that began in Asia years ago. It didn’t matter that, for the most part, they did little to protect the wearer from contracting the virus. The masks gave those who wore them peace of mind.​

The bartender passed the drink through the hole in the plexiglass divider that separated the bartenders from their patrons.​

“Thanks.” She left a tip on her side of the bar.

If he wants it, he can come get it, she thought, sipping her scotch.

​In one year, the world had changed.​

People were more fearful than ever before, making them quick to hate and quick to blame. There was no easy target for them to direct their rage since each region had a different patient zero. It made it hard to fight an enemy you couldn’t see. It was hard to hate the enemy when it didn’t care what you looked like, who you believed in, or how little was in your bank account.

​The local news channels kept an updated ticker running with the regional hospitals’ wait times and availability. Funerals had been replaced with cremation ceremonies. There was no evidence of the virus spreading through the ground and into the water from the dead, but a random Facebook post frightened the public enough that overnight cremation became the status quo.​

Before Caroline crawled into bed, she sprayed the room with perfume, trying to mask the scent of bleach. She finally relaxed when her phone vibrated.​

“Hello, my love,” her husband greeted her. “How’s Pleasantville?”

​“Terrifying. The step-ford wives were out in full force tonight.” She snuggled deep into the blankets. “They want the vaccine, and they don’t care about the side effects. It’s hard to explain to them that more people have recovered from the virus when all they see and hear about are those who die.”​

“You have the data to back it up.” he reminded her gently. “Caroline, you know I’ll support you no matter what you decide to do, but I really think you should publish your findings.”

“I can’t just have numbers. I need someone to talk to the media.” She sighed. “I need to find someone who’s recovered and willing to put their face out there. I don’t know if many people are willing to face that kind of harassment.”​

“If anyone can convince people to talk, it’s you.”​She rolled over and flicked the light off. “I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.”

​“I’ll be there before the plane even lands,” he promised. “Why does this tour of torment feel longer than your last?”

​“This one was longer, 27 days, 6 hours, and 47 minutes longer.” She sighed. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too. Get some sleep. You sound exhausted.”​

“I don’t know if it’s from the press conferences that I’ve been doing or the uptight people I’ve met, but I really miss you, home, and the simplicity of everything.” She barely managed to get it all out between her yawns. “Good night, I love you, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”​

When Caroline’s taxi pulled up to the airport, she could see masks and bleach wipes for sale outside.

​“This is ridiculous,” she muttered as she passed the $30 sale sign.

​Caroline waited in line to check her bag. A few other travelers waited behind her keeping their distance. One benefit from this whole fiasco was the new use of personal space. But the judgmental side-eyed glances and rude comments that people were making under their breath at her unmasked face were enough to ensure that she would never return to this God-forsaken state.​

“Good morning, ma’am. How many bags?” the friendly airline customer service representative asked her with a genuine smile.​

“Just the one.” Caroline placed her bag into the plexiglass box, and a disinfectant spray fumigated her bag before releasing it to the conveyor belt.​

“You’ll be boarding last,” she said, slipping me the ticket with a wink. “I hope you enjoy your flight, Doctor.”​

Caroline glanced down at her ticket, looking for her gate number, when she noticed that the woman had bumped her up to first class. She looked back to wave, but the representative was already helping another traveler.​

The body scanners once used to search for hidden weapons had been altered to check body temperatures. Anyone with a temperature over 99 degrees was not allowed to board. Because of the virus, travelers no longer needed to take off their shoes, and the bins for their personal belongings were stacked and taken to be cleaned every fifteen minutes.

Caroline grabbed her jacket and purses just as an alarm started to blare, and everyone froze as a hazmat team stormed into the terminal. The team walked inside the portable virus prevention box next to a stretcher. Caroline didn’t need to look to know by their lack of urgency that their patient was dead.​

“Why aren’t they wearing their masks?” A woman whispered to the man standing next to them.​

“If they are taking that risk, there is a huge possibility that he didn’t die from the virus,” Caroline said, trying to assure her.​

The woman rolled her eyes. “That’s still irresponsible.”​

The alarm shut off as they passed security and out of the airport.

I can’t get out of here fast enough. She thought as she easily found a seat next to her gate.

​When the plane landed and its passengers disembarked, no one stood up to leave immediately. It had become common knowledge that it would take at least an hour before the plane was disinfected up to industry standards. Caroline watched from the window as the line servicemen loaded the luggage into the belly of the aircraft. Even in the sweltering summer heat, they all wore long sleeves, thick pants, and gloves. She could only see their eyes on some of the men because they wore both a hat and face mask.

Well, at least the seats won’t be sticky. She thought as the cleaners left the plane.​ The flight attendant in charge of calling the rows picked up the mic. “Due to the ongoing battle of the T13B4 virus, we ask you to please only board when called. Any early boarding will result in the aircraft needing to be re-cleaned, causing a much longer delay.”​

Caroline counted how many people were waiting. Twenty-seven, only twenty-seven people were traveling today. This was a large number compared to the rest of the time she traveled this month. Before today the top number was fifteen.​

A click came over the speaker. “The last group we’d like to welcome onto our flight today are our first class and diamond star members.”​

Caroline picked up her purse and walked to the jetway.​

“Excuse me, ma’am, but if you have misplaced your mask, I do have a few extras for no charge.” The attendant offered passive-aggressively.​

“No, thank you,” Caroline smiled back. “I will just have to resist the urge of licking my seat or neighbor no matter how tasty they may look.”​

Caroline’s laugh was lost in the blast of air as she entered the jetway. She waited at the plane’s door for the flight attendant to check her ticket.​

“Sarah,” called the attendant to the other waiting down the aisle. “You can close the door to business and coach. She’s first class.”​

Sarah heaved the heavy door shut and bolted it. As she made her way to the front of the plane, she unzipped the protective plastic wall that kept the first-class seats sterilized.​The flight attendant handed Caroline a glass of champagne and directed her to her seat. “Enjoy the flight.”

Short Stories

The Fae’s Talisman

“Layla, try not to bring attention to yourself,” Jason warned me, swiping his key-card, getting us into the building.

The security to the Dunbar Facility was ridiculous. There were armed officers in front of the building and two officers with rifles standing inside the entrance. They even had one posted next to the most unwelcoming desk I’d ever seen.

“Please place your chin on the plate.” The receptionist smiled, pointing to the eye scanner. “I’ll need your fingerprint and a sample of your blood before we can allow you back into the labs.”

“My blood?” I asked, trying not to blink as the blinding light flashed, scanning my retina.

“The research we do isn’t safe for those with weak immune systems,” she said, pricking the tip of my forefinger with a small cylindrical device. “I’m sure you understand.

“Of course.” I lied.

I knew the blood collection had nothing to do with my well-being. Jason already warned me that they were checking for creatures and fae. Adding new specimens was high on their to-do list just as much as recapturing an old one. I just prayed that the glamour would hold until we got what we came for.

My bones ached as the radiation seeped through me. The body scanner was the hardest thing for me to fool. It took my total concentration to conceal my wings in person and on that blasted screen.

“Ma’am, could you raise your arms higher?” The security guard asked as he waved a coworker over. He pointed to the screen, and the woman looked over the monitor shaking her head.

“Check your cables. There’s nothing wrong with this poor girl beside you making her stand there like a fool.”

The female security guard scolded him. “You’re free to go, ma’am. I’m sorry for the delay.”

I grabbed my oversized purse from the conveyor belt. I had been sure to leave nearly nothing in it besides a book and my cellphone. I didn’t want to give them any excuse to have to go through my bag.

“Girl, you’re magic.” Jason teased as we waited for the elevator.

“I was magic. I’m not sure I have much left after that.” I rested my head on his shoulder. “I haven’t had to project this much glamour in a long time.”

“How long do you think it’ll hold?” He asked as we stepped into the empty lift. “Under thirty for sure.”

“Don’t worry,” Jason said, setting the alarm sub-basements on his watch. “We’ll be out before that.”

The deeper we went into the sub-basements, the woozier I became. I could feel the iron surrounding the elevator. I needed to be outside in the sun, near the sea, to regain my energy. Jason was worried, though he didn’t verbalize it. I knew by how close he held me.

“I’ll manage,” I promised.

“I know, my love,” he kissed the top of my head. “You always do.”

Halogen lights illuminated the nauseatingly sterile hallway of the sub-basement. The white paint glittered, pushing me to the center of the hall. Jason held onto my arm, keeping me grounded so we wouldn’t alert the guards diligently watching us.

“Did they mix salt with the paint?” I asked, nearly tripping over my feet.

“Salt and iron flakes.” He told me quietly. “They want to pin all fae to the ground.”

“They can pin their iron somewhere else,” I said bitterly. “If they’d just leave us alone, we wouldn’t fucking be here.”

Bells were ringing, but they were at a nearly inaudible pitch to me. I didn’t want to think about those who were on the other side of the iron doors. They had been weakened to the point of putty. The guards knew there was no need to worry about anyone fleeing without any natural elements to heal the fae. As a precaution, they still had a daisy chain hanging from each doorknob. It was a blessed side effect I gained after five years of torture from this place.

I wish there were another option on how to get back the amulet. For sixty years, I had avoided recapture only to walk through their doors willingly. Jason’s blood contained enough human DNA to fool Dunbar’s system, but he couldn’t stay at one facility for long. His graceful aging would always raise suspicion.

“What’s this?” I asked, stopping at a bulletin board. There were laminated cards with names printed on them. “Are they tracking families?”

“Layla,” Jason tugged on my arm. “We have to go.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” I did my best not to shout at him. I grabbed three cards off the board and shoved them into my purse.

“This,” he pointed at me. “This reaction right here is why I didn’t tell you.”

I could feel my skin heating up. I couldn’t allow myself to snap, or I’d lose my glamor. “Those families have children. Tell me you’ve warned them.”

“I can tell you that no one has gotten hurt,” he said quietly.

“If we get out of here, I’m killing you.” I fumed. Jason laughed. “Whatever makes you sleep better at night.”

“Yeah, your head on a pike.”

It felt like we walked a mile before getting to the tenth set of doors. I was insulted that there wasn’t a daisy chain waiting, but why would there be? I was on the outside. Keep calm. I told myself as Jason cracked the door open. Dust flew in the dim light. Nothing had been moved since I escaped. A stack of books laid on the nightstand waiting to be cracked open next to a half-empty cup of coffee. My vanity desk was left undisturbed. I was so sure that one of the orderlies would have stolen the silver brushes or pearl earrings I had left behind.

“Please still be here,” I whispered. Opening my velvet-lined jewelry box, I found the rosary that my grandmother, Mimi, had given me at the turn of the century. It was the only thing she brought back from visiting the Vatican. A hand-painted, cracked image of the Virgin Mary looked up at me, and though it had yellowed with age, it was still beautiful. The six sapphire stones, dedicated to the Our Father prayer, held immense power since they were collected from sacred fae grounds. My ancestors found it safer to keep our traditions close by mincing those of whatever religion was prevalent.

Jason stared wide-eyed at me. “Don’t tell me that we’re risking our lives for a necklace. I could have sent someone down to collect it.”

“You know it’s not just a necklace. Mimi protected the talisman from anyone that wasn’t family.” I reminded him, lowering the delicate chain over my head. With the rosary safely on my body, I started to search through the dresser drawers, only finding my dated clothes. “Shit, the album is missing.”

My dresser. The dresser Jason spent the last 150 years of our marriage carving intricate knots work. I learned a long time ago to let go of anger when I lost my possession to those who hunted us. Instinctively Jason slid his hand along the edge of the dresser. With a pop, the side panel eased open. He knelt, shoving his hand into the crevasse, and pulled out a weathered booked. “Not missing, just in a safe place.”

I clutched the album to my chest, pressing the rosary deep into my skin. I could feel the power of the prayer stones radiating through my body. Sealed into the pages were hundreds of years of magical spells only to be unlocked by someone of the Morrison bloodline.

“Oh shit.” My wings unveiled, dropping to the ground. The glamour had worn off faster than I expected. In the hazy mirror, I watched my blonde hair return to its natural rose gold as my blue eyes faded to violet. It was only a matter of time before the glamour masking my blood disappeared, setting off the alarms.

“Jesus Layla,” He threw his jacket over my shoulders. “You need to give me a heads up.”

I spun on my heels, dropping the album into my purse. “I didn’t do it on purpose,” taking in a deep breath, I gagged on the scent of blackberries. “There are too many poisons. I can’t fight them anymore.”

“I don’t think my magic is strong enough for both of us.” Jason looked down the hall and saw the flashing red light. “I don’t see any guards yet. Maybe it’s a false alarm.”

“False alarm? When has that ever happened?” My heart pounded so hard that the rosary vibrated on my chest. “I can’t be trapped. Here again, I’ll die.”

“Layla,” Jason kissed my fingers, drawing me into him. “I need you to think. How did you get out of escape before?”

Escape, escape, he’s right. I’ve done this before.

But that was sixty years ago when this room was just a room with a locked door. Not a max security fairy penitentiary. I needed to get control of myself if I wanted to be of any use. I escaped from this hell hole before, and I would do it again.

I hated when he was right.

Peeking my head out into the empty hall gave me a moment to regroup, even though I could hear the boots stomping towards us.

“We need to get to the stairs,” I told him, giving him back his jacket, stripping off my blouse and pants. “If they close the door while we’re in here, we’ll never get out.”

“What’s going on in that head of yours?” He asked.

I shoved my clothes into my purse and found a lace slip dress hanging in the closet. I quickly dropped it over my head. Digging my fingers into my hair, I shook out my curls, trying to make myself look as chaotic as possible.

Jason craned his head out the door. “Better make it quick love, there are about ten guards headed towards us.”

“Almost done,” I promised, taking off the rosary and draping it over his head.

“This is Mimi’s magic?” Jason asked, touching the talisman. “What’s this thing going to do to me?”

“It’s going to turn you into a guard, and you’ll lead us out of here or die,” I said, flipping through the album, stopping once I found the picture of Mimi wearing the rosary. Hovering my hand over the image, I could hear her incantation. “Hold me close, my dear, and do not fear those who come beyond the grave.”

“Sounds like I’m going to die.” Jason interrupted.

“Hush.” I hissed. “Free thy body, readying the bridge of both our worlds, hail them home with their names. Join the many to one soul.”

Jason methodically moved his fingers around the rosary, touching each bead, calling out a different name of the deceased. “I evoke thee.”

I could hear the bones crunch as his face transformed from oval to round in an odd blend of his dead uncles. A bushy red beard poofed out of his chin. His jet black hair fell to the ground leaving him bald with red peach fuzz. Jason’s ears and nose were a little too big for the size of his head, but thankfully the transformation didn’t alter his height. It would be hard to pass him off as an agent in an ill-fitted suit.

“Oh, you really shouldn’t have picked so many.” I snickered. “At least no one will ever be able to recognize you.”

Jason wasn’t amused. “Alright, crazy, what’s next?”

I flitted over to him, acting as ridiculous as possible. Trying to remember the state of mind I had been in the last time a Dunbar agent drugged me. “Okay, I’m ready,” I said, throwing myself into his arms.

“This is not going to work. We’re going to die.” Jason nearly dropped me, trying to fit both of us through the door. “Can’t you just walk?”

“Can’t walk, drugged,” I reminded him quietly.

A guard with captain stripes led the pack of private mercenaries. “Drop the fairy,” he shouted, pointing his rifle at us.

“Captain Cooper, I have direct orders to bring Ms. Morrison to Director Stevens,” Jason said, lowering me to the ground.

“Ms. Morrison?” Cooper looked over to a corporal furiously typing into a tablet. “Sir-”

Jason interrupted. “Agent Perlman.”

“Captain,” the corporal leaned in, whispering. “There’s no record of Ms. Morrison being reentered into the system.”

“Agent Perlman, it looks like you’ve collected the wrong fae, simple mistake.” Captain Cooper said, slowly walking around me. “The higher-ups don’t usually have the most dated records.”

He used the tip of his rifle to push my hair away from my face. I knew Captain Cooper, only I knew him as a much younger man. Twenty years ago, Dunbar had nearly caught me. Jason and I had just moved to Chicago, hoping the city would help us blend in, but being so deep in the city made me sick.

We decided that leaving during the Fourth of July holiday would have been safer. So many travelers on the road, people camping and drinking, having a blast. No one would have possibly noticed a strange woman with pink hair dancing around a fire. We were wrong. Unknowingly we chose to build our fairy circle next to a group of new Dunbar recruits, and Captain Cooper was an over-eager recruit.

“Hello, Ms. Morrison.” He sneered.

“Goodbye, Captain Cooper.” I snapped my hands up, shooting a ball of light into his face.

“Layla! Warnings, a nudge, just give me something!” Jason yelled at me as we ran towards the stairwell.

I could feel my wings fluttering back to life. “I didn’t know if it was going to work.” And thank God it did. My sparkle fingers were a sorry excuse for what I could have done at full power. But it did the job.

“Get them!” Cooper’s bellow echoed off the walls.

Jason tugged off the rosary and jammed it in my hand. “You’ll be stronger with this.”

“No, they’ll recognize you.” I couldn’t give the talisman back. The damage had already been done.

His jet black hair was returning as he shed the bright red beard. “It’s fine. I was over filing paperwork.”

Jason didn’t file paperwork. Not once in his 200 years has that man ever done the paperwork. Usually, he’d have some other low-blooded Fae as his assistant to take care of his work while he was out in the field.

“Jason Ferris, why am I not surprised you fuck those winged beasts.” Captain Cooper drew his pistol and fired. “I’ll hand you over to the doctors right along with her.”

“We might as well die here once the resistance learns you’ve been burned,” I yelled at him over the screams of the fae banging on their doors, pleading to be freed.

“The resistance can suck my left nut. I’m done doing their dirty work. It’s someone else’s turn to risk their lives for them.” Jason said, ducking from a bullet. “Got any more sparkles left, Tinkerbell?”

I wasn’t sure what I had left. I clutched on tight to the rosary, feeling the stones’ power pulse through me. A loud hum reverberated throughout the hall, pushing the mercenaries back. It was only a few inches, but that was the confirmation that I needed. “I hope they’re thinking happy thoughts.” I smiled before turning to face them. “Captain Cooper, why don’t you let your underlings go, and we can play.”

“Ms. Morrison-”

“Please, call me Layla.” I grabbed the closest daisy chain hanging from a doorknob and flung it at the Captain. He jumped out of the way, leaving two corporals exposed. In a matter of seconds, they were engulfed in a daisy cocoon. “Oh, come now, Captain, you know this is above their pay grade.”

“Don’t taunt the man Layla,” Jason laughed, exposing his pointed teeth. My husband’s glamour faded away, allowing Captain Cooper to see who he had truly been working with for the last decade. “You never know what those filthy humans may do.”

“Captain,” called one of the daisy-chained corporals. “Captain, it’s hard to breathe in here.”

“Bryant, cut them out,” He ordered, narrowing his gaze onto Jason’s gray, leathered wings. “This explains so much. The only way you could’ve outdone me was by being fae. I knew you would never have succeeded on your own merits.”

Jason charged the Captain, tackling him to the ground. The two wrestled on the ground—Jason’s wings slapping Cooper in the face. Cooper caught ahold of Jason’s arm and tried to sink an armbar, but Jason picked him up and slammed him on the ground. “Cooper, a child, could outsmart you. You’re an idiot, just like most of your kind.”

“Yet you’re arrogant enough to attack me.” Cooper sneered. “It’s ten to two. Your odds aren’t any good, freak.”

“You’re the one on the ground, and you’re still talking shit?” Jason kicked him in the ribs. “It could be ten to one. It doesn’t matter. I’m stronger.”

A corporal tried tossing Cooper’s iron cuffs but ended up hitting Jason’s leg.

“Irons don’t work on halflings.” Jason hooked the chain around Cooper’s head. As pulled the chain taut across Cooper’s neck, the corporals scattered. “Sacrifice your men, and they sacrifice you.” Jason taunted him.

“This is ridiculous.” I thought, clutching the talisman tightly in my fist. The glow from the sapphires seeped through my fingers as I circled the two men wrestling. They were oblivious to how close I had gotten to them. With one firm stomp, I sent a crack through the ground separating them.

“Jason?” I shouted. “Are you two done having a pissing contest?”

“You’re free to go, Ms.Morrison,” Cooper, freed from Jason’s grasp, caught ahold of the iron chain. He wrapped it around Jason’s head and schlepped him down the hall. “The docs will have fun with this one.”

“Piece of shit,” I growled, shoving my hand into my purse. I hated that my weakened magic relied on a book, but no way the Captain was taking Jason. A soft glow illuminated from the bag running up my arm. I wove the power between my finger, absorbing it into my body, before sending a burst of energy at the Captain’s chest. “Let go of my husband, you piece of shit.”

Cooper went flying in the air smashing into the ceiling. I let out a small burst of energy as he fell to the ground. He groaned and convulsed as electricity pulsed through his body.

“Did you really have to play with him that much?” I asked, unwrapping the chain.

“I didn’t think he’d be that much of a challenge.” Jason coughed.

“Your cockiness is going to get you killed.”

“Keeping you on your toes.” Jason stole a kiss before helping me up. “Mimi had some power.”

“Shut up.” I laughed at the grinning idiot. “Let’s go.”

He was right. My grandmother’s book was lethal. It felt glorious, radiating with so much power.

“Layla, what are you doing?” Jason asked as I stopped at the base of the stairs.

We were inches from freedom, but I couldn’t leave the rest of the fae locked inside to be tortured. As the talisman took control of me, their whispers had become cries. I was beginning to feel their pain, and I couldn’t let them suffer any longer. “Open,” I commanded the iron doors.

They screeched, dragging themselves open across the dirty, yellowed linoleum floor. The mercenaries that had abandoned Captain Cooper came running from around the corner, weapons drawn.

“We should stay.” I pleaded to Jason.

Howls echoed through the halls bringing the mercenaries to a halt. Their glamour had failed them long ago. Even from the stairs, I would see the years of abuse as their tattered discolored skin shined brightly under the dull fluorescent light. The faes were rabid.

“They’ll be fine.” He said, pulling my arm. “But bring Cooper, I’m not done with him yet.”

“Veni,” I whispered, and the unconscious Captain appeared on the stairs in front of us. “You’re carrying him.”

I tried not to look back as we ascended the stairs, but a blood-curdling cry made my head snap. The floor was painted in blood. A fae with mutilated wings tore an arm from a mercenary.

I ran past Jason. “Yep, they’re good.”

Sirens blared as we charged up three flights of stairs. Jason tested each door, pressing Cooper’s hand to the pad, but none would unlock.

“He’s worthless to walk through their doors willingly Jason said, dropping him to the ground.

“Wrong hand.” Captain Cooper wheezed, sliding this left hand up the wall.

A blast came from down below, shaking the way. A primal cry came from the basement as the carriage spilled into the stairwell.

“What did you do to them?” I shouted at the Captain.

“It wasn’t me, I swear. The scientist didn’t think y’all were human.”

“We aren’t.” I kicked him.

Cooper scrambled, trying to stand. “Take me with you.” Jason grabbed his hand, shoving it on the scanner, turning the red lock green. “Cutting it off would be easier.” “Won’t work,” he said with a labored breath. “It needs to be warm.”

Jason dragged the Captain into the hall while I sealed the door shut. We ran down towards the closet window. It wasn’t far enough away for me to feel safe from the fae that pounded on the door, trying to destroy the thing that stopped them.

Jason grabbed a fire extinguisher and threw it at the window. It barely left a crack.

“Really? It’s a max security prison. I shoved him out of the way. You think a fire extinguisher is going to do it.”

He shrugged. “I had to try it.”

I brought my hands in front of my chest, focusing all the energy t my palms. A shimmering blue ball formed, sending sparks between my fingers. We were too far away for me to trust myself with throwing it. Jason tried to stop me from walking up to the window. Gently placed the bomb on the glass and ran.

The energy ball exploded, shattering the glass and the wall with such a force that it sucked us out with the debris. The ground came quickly. Being only four floors up didn’t give us enough time to unfurl our wings.

Jason pulled from a bush. “You okay, my love?”

Though I was covered with cuts and my wings pierced, we were free. “Never better.” I smiled.

Jason found the disoriented wobbling away caught him. “Trust me. You don’t want to be here when they get out.”

We ran behind the building and to the river. The glamour I had used to mask the boat still held. With a swipe of my hand, the engine roared to life. Almost instantaneously, Jason had the boat untied and shoved us off into the water away from the burning Dunbar Facility.

Short Stories

Daily Devotional

I was alone tonight. Everyone else was too fearful of what lurked in the shadows, but I was told I could be healed if I found the church. The Vatican had even confirmed its powers. The gas lamps did nothing to light the dingy streets allowing the rats to dine freely on curbside trash. This is no place for a lady to be alone. This wasn’t even a place for the damned.

In the distance, I saw faint lights from the church window. People making a pilgrimage and singing hymns were coming from the east. My instincts were telling me to run, but I pressed on. I need the saving grace so I may be at peace again.

I fell in line with the pilgrims trying to sing along. But I don’t know this hymn. Even they were singing in English, I couldn’t follow along. I checked my pocket for my travel pyx. It was there. Breaking away from the group, I needed to find the priest. He had to bless the host the pyx is carrying.

“Excuse me, sir,” I asked when I finally found him in the sacristy.

“Yes, Miss?” He turns to me with wet hands and a cloth hanging over both his wrists.

The priest’s smile startled me. Though his face looks to be thirty, the lines around his mouth give him away.

My hand shook as I handed him the pyx. I didn’t want him to touch me. My instincts were screaming, burning. However, it was too late. “Could you?”

He opens it. “My dear, there is nothing in here for me to bless.”

“No, no, no, no.” I panicked. “This was all for naught. I could have died. It has to be here.”

The filth that filled the streets lingered at the church gates. I heard them calling for me.

“There’s no need to fret. We have plenty of the body for you to take.” He closed the pyx in my hand.

I almost dropped it. The inlaid cross started burning into my hand. “But I can’t. I need the ones the Benedictine sisters have made.” The music rose from the sanctuary. Mass was about to begin, and I was going to be left without salvation. I knew without it. I would succumb to those waiting and wailing.

“We will be offering the blood tonight.” He pointed to the tray, waiting for the altar assistants to take it.

“Guess I’ll be a vampire tonight,” I manage to say before he leaves the room.

Somehow through the thick heat, I shiver. With every single word spoken, my third eye feels like it’s about to rip open. “Not here,” I prayed. “Not now.”

The pilgrims were lining up for their blessing, each one with his mouth opened hungrily, waiting for the host to be slipped onto his tongue. My crossed arms confuse the assistant. She furrowed her brow when I refused it. The priest waves me over to the bloodline, the stares that I receive from the pilgrims burn into me.

He offers me the cup, and I drink. With closed eyes, my nerves still, and the peace I’ve been searching for is finally near. When I open them, all I can see is the priest wearing the most devilish grin. What have I done?

Waking up in my bed, I’m unable to move. People whispered all around me, I felt the covers shift, but it was not of my doing. I was experiencing sleep paralysis. A hand slides under the sheet and grips my toes. I manage to kick it away, finally free of the paralysis. The whispering stops. A flurry and a haze surrounded me. It won’t allow me to see who has violated my sleep.

By five am. I fall back into a deep slumber. Months have gone by, and I have been separated from my friends. They have allowed me to watch the news, unknowingly allowed me to keep track of my own case. My friends had told the police where I had gone, but no one would listen to them. The church was a pillar community, the police said, the church had nothing to do with my disappearance. I was a troubled soul. I would fade away with the rest of the street riffraff.

“Girl!” A middle-aged woman snaps at me. “You have work to do.”

I turned the T.V. off and went back to the nursery. I was still trying to assemble a strange cradle for the child I was carrying. The instructions were clear: ensure the base is secured and slip the cover over the ends; If correct, the hammock bed will support the newborn’s head. I tried six different times before throwing the thing against the wall. Just to spite me, it landed upright. The woman returned and boxed my ears for the outburst. I couldn’t understand what she said, so she grabbed me by the collar and dragged me with her. “Wait here,” she ordered, going into another room.

The door clicked shut. Down the hall, I can see there is no one at the front door. Now was my chance to run. I took it.

A girl in the orchard stops picking her apples as I fly past her. “He’ll be devastated,” she calls after me. “You were his favorite””

Through a meadow and a thicket, I make my way to freedom. I clambered under a barbed wire fence and into the woods. Mud was caked onto my face, and blood leaked from ragged holes left by thorns, but I couldn’t stop to tend to anything. I heard a road in the distance. Hidden behind a tree, I waited until I saw a car come by. However, it didn’t stop. I doubted it even saw me at the speed it was going. I could feel a panic attack coming. I couldn’t succumb to it now. Not when freedom is so close. I saw a blue car coming, and I stepped out in front of it. The headlights flashed at me to get out of the road, but I didn’t move. It slammed on the brakes, and the people inside were jostled around. Steam rises from the burning engine below the hood.

“Holy shit,” the driver yells as he gets out of the car. “Alex?”

“Brian?” I collapse onto the road.

I woke up in the back seat with a strange girl staring at me. Chris and Brian were in the front seat. They kept checking in on me. My mind was groggy when I tried to listen, but it took a while before I could make out any words. The first clear thing I heard was the stranger asking. “Is this the girl that ran away from the convent”

“I was never in a fucking convent” I leaned against the door, trying to put as much distance between us as possible.

She searches through her phone and holds up the picture to me. “We have to take her back.”

“Bagel,” I addressed Brian by his nickname, “who is she?”

“Who’s Bagel?” The stranger asks, disgusted by the nickname.

“You’re obviously new here, so shut the fuck up.” I was starting to experience sharp, knife-like pains in my womb. “What were you guys doing here?”

“The police wouldn’t come near this place,” Chris answered. “So when they stopped looking, we took a chance.”

I leaned over in between the front seats and hugged both their heads. Tears ran down my cheeks, but I knew I wasn’t free yet. The way this girl was glaring at me made me want to punch her in the face and kick her out of the moving car.

“Do you have my things?” I ask them.

“We only found your purse,” Brian told me, looking in the rearview mirror. “It’s in the trunk.”

“Seriously, you both are amazing.”

We drive for an hour before I yell at them to stop.

“There’s nothing here,” the girl said. “We should keep going.”

“No. I want to go to that church” I pointed to the west.

She sucks air through her teeth. “I thought you didn’t come from a convent.”

“Listen, bitch. If I hear one more thing from you, I’ll smash your head in with the seat belt.”

She kept quiet as we pulled into the parking lot. I rummaged through the trunk and found my purse under Chris and Brian’s sports coats which I retrieved, handing to each of them.

“You two are ridiculous” I laughed as they put them on.

They were both wearing board shorts and branded t-shirts. “We make it look good.” Brain says, striking a pose with his sunglasses.

“I can’t find it,” I said, throwing my purse back in the car. “Those fuckers took my rosary,”

“Can you go in without it?” asked Chris leading the way.

“I have to.”

We enter the church, and immediately I’m filled with dread. We were ushered into a glass room above the altar where the priest was talking to the congregation. He looks up and greets me with a wicked smile. The women and men in the room stare as I cross myself with holy water. It hissed.

There are stairs in the front of the room leading into the dark. As I start to ascend them, I know it’s not safe. I know it’s where nightmares are held.

Short Stories

Don’t Tread On Me

The thunder cracked as the lightning illuminated the night sky. The storm was right over us, and if this dry lightning kept up, we would for sure be facing a brushfire. That was something we didn’t need at the moment. The town was already short on water and whatever was left to burn were our crops. We need as many of those oranges as possible. The dust bowl was killing the states, and parts of the midwest were still at war with Washington. No one felt safe leaving their own state anymore. I wasn’t sure what was worse, the border taxes or the thieves waiting for the poor soul crossing. If you asked me, they were one and the same.

“SarahMae, you get back in here.” Jackson’s voice, though just on the other side of the porch, was barely audible. “You’re askin’ for trouble out there.”

“There’s nothing these walls can do if a tornado hits,” I yelled at him as the screen door slammed shut behind me.

Don’t for one second think he was saying any of those words out of compassion. This was his farm, and he was letting me stay here until I worked off my debt. I was no use to him dead.

“Why you gotta let it slam like that? Door ain’t cheap,” he said, checking the door frame.

“Why can’t you speak the proper English your mama taught you? You’re no hillbilly bumpkin, Jackson Tolle.” I had had enough.

“No need to bring the dead into this.” He was standing toe to toe with me. He hadn’t showered yet and still smelled fresh of the horses’ he had been ushering into the barn just before the storm broke. “Would you rather still be out there on that chain gang where the rest of your friends were dropping dead from the heat?”

“Is there anything else you need tonight, Mr. Tolle?” I didn’t give him a chance to answer. I wasn’t going to waste my last minutes on Earth with him. The low rumbles of a train charging towards us sent me diving into the hall closet. The closest train tracks were ten miles away.

The twisted metal sounded like a cat being murdered played through busted speakers. I bolted the closest door shut. If we dug to a safe level, we would hit the water table, and with how high the tide had risen, I’m surprised that we even had dry land to stand on.

“SarahMae! Let me in.”

Jackson’s panicked cries made me want to leave him out there just a moment longer. But the moment ended quickly as soon as I heard something break through the front door. I yanked him in before he was impaled.

“SarahMae Adams, your mother is rolling over in her grave from your little stunt.” If it weren’t for his sun-bleached hair illuminating through the crack in the door, I wouldn’t have known where he stood.

“I thought we weren’t invoking the dead?” I bumped into a broom and stepped into a mop bucket full of water. “You said you emptied it.”

Jackson didn’t say a word. The storm had stopped, and we could hear the horses over the soft wind.

The generator’s hum eventually lulled me off to sleep, and for that, I was thankful. I lost count of how many times I woke up throughout the night. My nightmares wouldn’t leave me alone. Stephanie and Mary Jane would stare at me with their starved, hollowed eyes.

Jackson couldn’t save all of us, and he only had loyalty to me, but they didn’t care. They cursed my name the moment the judge announced I made bail. I couldn’t look at them as I left. It was my fault we got caught.

There was a soft knock at my door the moment the sun graced the horizon. “Pancakes and coffee is waiting for you.”

Taking a long deep breath, my nose was easily fooled into thinking what filled my cup was coffee. But no one had had coffee in over a decade. I made a face as I sipped the black tar. I was sixteen the last time the full body aromas tickled my tongue.

This imposter still made me gag.

“Oh, come on, it ain’t half bad after you doctor it up,” he added three sugar cubes.

“Those aren’t synthetic.” I inspected one of the frosty white cubes.

“And they never will be.” He took it and gently placed it back into the silver bowl.

“Who’s able to grow sugar cane?”

“Eat up.” He shoveled the last of his pancake into his mouth. “The horses are out of hay. Mr. Jenson is expecting you.”

The Jenson’s farm was fifty miles south away if the storm hadn’t washed out the bridge. I filled the jeep’s gas tank and the spare gas can just in case. There were no gas stations until ten miles north of the farm. I pulled my goggles over my eyes and secured the scarf over my mouth to keep the dust out. They stopped paving the roads twenty years ago. Apparently, it was a waste of resources.

I think the government was broke, and the midwest was right to still be at war. They got hit the worst when the times started to change. The trees were planted three hundred years ago to prevent another dust bowl from happening again were gone. No one thought replacing the soil guardians was a priority.

I would have driven clear past the Jenson’s farm if sight the directions hadn’t been ingrained into me since childhood. The faded welcome sign only hung by one set of its’ chains. It was a sad sight.

No one came from the house as I parked behind the barn. I grabbed a square bale of hay and almost toppled over. It landed vitriolically and nearly matched me at 5’6. God only knows why they were twice the average weight.

“Hey! Wait a minute.” Hank called from the garage. “Why can’t you ever ask for some help.”

“Thought y’all might still be at church.”

“Good thing I’m here, damn near killed yourself.” He hoisted the bale into the jeep with a clunk. “Hank, what are in those?”

“Nothin’ to worry your pretty little head about.” He smiled as he let go of the last bale.

“Is it something I could get killed over?” Jackson, what are you getting me into, I thought.

“Ain’t that just about everything nowadays.” Hank laughed. He waved goodbye as I drove away from my grandfather’s old pony farm. I choked on my tears, remembering when the bank came. He was sick and dying, and they wouldn’t even let an old man die in the home he built with his own two hands. I was too busy cursing the bank’s names that I didn’t notice the flashing red and blue lights behind me. The sirens clicked on and off, alerting me he wanted me to pull over.

“Shit,” I sputtered when I saw who was getting out of the patrol car.

“Ah, SarahMae.” The roided out office gripped the top of my jeep, pulling himself disgustingly too close to me. “What brings you so far from home?”

“Officer Jenkins, you’ve seemed to have pulled me over outside your jurisdiction.” His breath smelled of mints and cheap booze.

“You ain’t no native,” he whispered into my ear. “Their laws can’t protect you.”

“Yeah, but this can just fine.” I pressed the end of my short barrel shotgun into his chest. “Now, I’ll be on my way, thank you very much.”

Jenkins put his hands up in the air and back away. In the rearview mirror, I watched him throw a kiss at me.

Jackson pulled the gate open, eyeing the bales as I passed. “Go around back.”

I wiped the dust from my face. The windshield and windows were removed months ago as the A.C. finally went. Blues eyes stared back at me in the water. Jenkins’ ignorant self still didn’t understand that I was adopted by the authority defectors but was born natives, but that didn’t matter. The more we died out, the further and further the authorities pushed onto the ancestral lands.

“Any trouble?” Jackson asked, loosening the straps.

“Just Jenkins pushing further into the territory.” I cut the binding and let the hay fall around the wooden crates.

“We don’t need him pushing around here right now. There’s too much at risk.” He took the crowbar from me and started to pry open the first box.

“He’s getting ballsier, basically climbed into,” I lost my train of thought at the sight of neatly stacked saplings. “What are those?”

“Blueberries.” Jackson gently lifted one from the group. He whispered as if anything too loud would destroy them.

“Are those my seeds?” I was shaking. “Jackson, are those mine?” I wanted to hug him as he nodded his head, yes, but I didn’t want to crush the sapling. “Everything was worth it. I can’t believe it. I have to tell the others.”

“You can’t.”

The way he said it made my heart drop. “What aren’t you telling me?”

He wouldn’t make direct eye contact. “They moved Stephanie to max in Louisiana, and Mary Jane killed herself last month.”
I picked up a few saplings from the crate and walked into the greenhouse. I was numb with the loss of Mary Jane. When I saw her in the courtroom last, she was skin and bones. The authorities weren’t taking kindly to her defiance. They kept on the chains twice as long as the others while withholding water and food. I’m not surprised that she took her own life. She was never was one to be controlled.

But Stephanie in a max control prison was frightening. If you stepped out of line, you would get lashings directly on the skin. I heard of prison guards were getting off on the sound of skin breaking. I didn’t want to think about what they would do to her. The authorities coveted green eyes, and Stephanie’s were the greenest I’d ever seen. She probably wouldn’t make it past check-in before being assaulted.

Quietly I filled three pots with enriched soil and gently packed it around the roots. I let my fingers rest for a moment listening to the plants’ song. Mother always thought I was ridiculous listening to them. “They have nothing new to tell you, daughter.” She would say this about the old trees. But only if she listened. If more people had listened, we wouldn’t be where we are now. I ignored the door being shut behind me.

“Sarah, I’m,”

“You could have done something,” I said, throwing the spade down.

“What did you want me to do? Bring them here?” He took the filled bucket from me. “They were thieves. You were the only one with any sort of a moral compass.”

“They were my friends,” I said bitterly. “You just met them. Tell me one thing about them that wasn’t in their folder.” He waited.

I smacked him as hard as I could. “You don’t know what we went through to get these. We all faced the death penalty.”
Jackson began to walk out the door and stopped. “Sarah, you’re here. You’re the only one who wasn’t tried for treason. Think about it.” “I never asked you to save me.”

Jackson left me alone in the greenhouse with three crates of saplings that were supposed to be extinct. I wanted to hate him for setting me free and leaving my friends to die. But we had known the risk of proving the government was hiding plants that would help save our race. We were naive to think we wouldn’t be tried for treason.

The authorities lawyers’ twisted our mission, claiming we were trying to sabotage the genetic coding of the natives’ crops. We were portrayed in the media as turncoats to our people. I never could understand how they created the evidence they presented to the jury.

“Are you sure that these aren’t fairytales?” Stephanie asked me as we looked over the fo abandoned University of Florida’s blueprints.

“Read for yourself. They created fruits to grow in our soils.” I showed her my old textbook, and they scanned the few pages. “So you in?”

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Mary Jane asked.

Stephanie didn’t think it was as funny. “Jail time and possibly death.”

“We’ve finally will have proof that the authorities are purposely killing us. Our plants didn’t just die off. We were creating new plants, ones that could work with our changing worlds. We aren’t weak, we change, and we adapt.” I stomped my foot. “Give me liberty or give me death.”

“It’ll probably be death,” Mary Jane shrugged her shoulders. “Why pretend it wasn’t going to happen anyway? I like having control of my own fate.”

“Science, you sure about this?” Stephanie questioned me. “Do you think there will be anything left there? They closed the school a hundred and fifty years ago.”

“We can’t know until we get there.” I gave her my hand. “You in?”

Stephanie clipped the chain link fence with the bolt cutters. We picked an area covered with vegetation but still close to the botany labs. Once we climbed through, we saw fresh tracks from the guards’ vehicles. “So much for being abandoned.” Mary Jane quipped.

“Be careful. We don’t know how many they have patrolling the area.” I ignored my own advice and darted across the field into the unlit hallway. “Leave it to the scientist to think she’s in charge, they,” Stephanie said to Mary Jane as they both ran to join me.

Horse whinnies brought me back to the greenhouse. The sun was beginning to set, and I was lying on the floor. I didn’t remember falling, but it wouldn’t be the first time I passed out from the heat. I walked out to find our three horses staring at me. Frosty, the white pony, pushed me towards the house. It was a bit unnerving as they followed me and watched me climb the steps. Monty, our black Friesian horse, tried to follow me, cracking a step. I tried to shoo him off, but he was stubborn.

“Monty is breaking the steps again.” I could hear the clanking of pots and pans in the kitchen. “Jackson?”

“In here.” He sounded much further away than the two towards the kitchen.

I saw his butt sticking out of the cabinet, throwing out all the Tupperware. “I do hope you plan on cleaning this up.”

“Not the time SarahMae.” Jackson pressed on the floorboard of the cabinet and fell in.

I rushed in half, expecting the rest of the cabinet to collapse onto him. But instead, I found Jackson standing completely upright and dusting himself off. “What the hell? Don’t you ever pull that kind of stunt again.”

“Will you just come down here?” He caught me at my waist as I slipped down the opening.

“What is this place?”

“My grandfather built it when they were hiding authority defectors.” Jackson watched me walk away. “He kept half our family down here.”

“It’s not our family.”

“As much as you hate it, you’re still my wife, and they are still our family. It has always been that way since before we were born.”

He let me explore and find our bassinet. “I couldn’t get rid of it.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.” Faint lavender letters spelled out what was to be our daughter’s name, Charlotte. “Do you think everything would have been different?”

“The only thing that would have been different is I would have brought our daughter to visit you in jail. I would have to explain to her that mommy isn’t always this mean do daddy, but she’s just in a bad place.” He pulled me into a hug. “I miss you, Sarah. Can we please stop this?”

I collapsed into his large frame. It had been too long since I allowed him near me. I kept him at bay during the search, with fewer chances of him getting in trouble if we were caught. But somewhere down the line, I thought I didn’t need him any longer.

He pulled some of my auburn hair up to his nose and smiled. “You smell like dirt.”

“I was never was a dainty one.” Sirens from our driveway broke us apart. “The plants!”

“You stay here.” He stole a kiss just before climbing out. “To whoever it is, they’ll just be sticks in the dirt.”

“Why are they here?”

Not even once during my case did the authorities ever step foot onto our property. The authorities were known to wipe out any home or family that they felt would stand in the way of progress. I planted my foot in their way years ago. Jackson slipped the floor back over the cabinet opening. The Tupperware was quickly thrown in to cover the cracks. I should have known something was going to happen. Jackson hadn’t been that affectionate toward me for months before I ever served him the papers.

“Where’s your wife, Tolle?” Jenkins’ voice penetrated the floor.

“You know better than that, Rick.” Jackson quickly shrugged off my existence. “She does her own thing.”

“She pulled a gun on me.” I heard him spit on my floors. “I should have taken her in then and there.”

I wish I had blown a hole into his chest when I had the chance. Why not add murder to my list of felonies.

“SarahMae is a wild one. I’d give you that. But I wouldn’t have the faintest idea where she would find a gun.”

“Now you listen to me,” Jenkins’ got louder.

“I don’t know what you two are trying to pull, but it’s not going to go on much longer. Soon your kinds numbers will be so low the government will finally stop pretending you need your own lands. Once that day comes, I’ll be the first kickin’ down your door.”

“I thank you kindly for the warning Jenkins, but it’d be best I remind you that I don’t need a gun to kill you.” I heard Jackson’s footsteps leave the kitchen. “Now, if you don’t mind, get the fuck out of my house.”

The blueberry bushes were starting to flower. We were leaving a window open to allow butterflies and bees to come in and pollinate the plants naturally. I measured each plant and documented the growth. It had been over a century since blueberries had been grown.

“You can’t eat the flowers.” Jackson reminded me for the umpteenth time.

“I know that. I was just hoping they would smell different.”

But the tiny white flowers didn’t really smell like anything at all. I flipped through the botany book until I found the chapter about fruit gestation periods; as I read, I got excited. It should only be a few more days until I got to pop one of those delicious berries into my mouth.

“Have you heard anything from Jenkins?” I asked.

“He was probably just blowing smoke.” I laughed.

“Maybe I scared him off.”

“Oh, that must be it,” he snorted. “SarahMae scared off the big bad authority officer.”

“He could have finally realized that I was a native and nothin’ like him.”

Jackson’s face twisted into something ugly. “I pray not. That man is a psychopath. The only reason he’s lettin’ you live is that he believes you to be a product of the authority.”

“But I look nothin’ like them.” I checked my reflection to make sure nothing had suddenly changed. “I don’t have sandpaper skin or tipped ears.”

He laughed at my vanity. “Of course, you look nothing like those space invaders.”

I let the sounds around me sink in. “Do you hear them?” I let one of the blueberry bushes’ roots climb onto my finger.

“I’m not sure if anyone can hear them like you.” He was watching me the same way he did when we were first married.

“Come here,” I placed his hand near an exposed root.

The root wrapped around Jackson’s finger. He stiffened up, and his eyes widened.

“What do you hear?”

He closed his eyes and relaxed. “It sounds like it’s singing.”

“I knew you could do it!” I jumped up and kissed his cheek. “Maybe the grands’ weren’t half-mad when they put us together.”

The greenhouse was rhythmic hums of the blueberry bushes. Even with the slightest introduction to the extinct plant, Nature already seemed to be righting herself.

Jackson absently mumbled to himself. I strained to hear. “What did you say?”

“Control the food, control the masses.” She snapped back to life. “It’s much easier to control us when we’re weak and malnourished.”

Jackson inspected the little plant further. “But it’s been a century since they started to attack our people. You’d think with how advanced the human race had become; we would have adapted with the changes.”

“They gave up hope,” I sighed. “Remember the stories Grandda would tell us?”

“We were living in peace after generations of war. Those who survived the fall out became intuned with what was left of the Earth and made it their mission to the right the wrongs they had done to her.”

“It wasn’t some utopia.” I corrected him.

“But nothing like the fallout.”

“That’s why the authorities were able to come in and take over. We weren’t able to defend ourselves any longer.” I went outside to watch the storm brewing. “They were like a tornado. No matter what protection we thought was had, they were stronger.”

“They aren’t stronger than us.” Jackson tried to catch one of the horses that were beginning to panic. “Ever since you got out, these storms have been coming mighty fierce.”

Lighting twisted through the skies. Thankfully there were no signs of tornados. It was strange to run indoors from the rain. Rain was so rare. I remember that young and old alike would stay out and let the water falling from the sky kiss our skin.

“Would you mind?” Jackson shouted, soaking wet and staring at the horses. All three of them stood watching me. “You’re doin’ something to them.”

“I ain’t doin shit to them.” But it didn’t matter what I said. They followed me into the barn without even saying a word. “They’ve been weird ever since we brought home those bushes.”

Cooper, our dapple, blocked the door. I tried to push her in, but she released a pathic whiny.

“Well, if you don’t like being wet, you shouldn’t have left the barn.”

The horse shook her head and kicked her front hoof towards the greenhouse. I looked, but I didn’t see anything to make her upset. The storm clouds were lingering, and the wind was whipping us all something fierce. Jackson was finally able to usher her inside with some leaves from our orange tree.

A hot towel pulled straight from the dryer felt wonderful wrapping around me. The thunder boomed outside, rattling me straight to the bone.

“SarahMae, what did Grandda tell you about yourself?” He sounded like a man with the world hanging heavy on him. “I know you’re parents weren’t well informed.”

“Could’ya be vaguer?”

Jackson smacked his forehead. “Do you know what makes you special?”

“There ain’t nothing special about me, Jackson Tolle.” I spat at him. “If that were the case, my birth parents wouldn’t have died.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic. You’re not superman.”

“Than what is it? What makes me so different?”

Jackson pointed to the window. Inside the greenhouse, you could see the shadow of the giant bushes. Bees, butterflies, and ladybugs fought the winds flying in and out of the windows. “Because you’re going to save us.”

I walked out into the storm and wiped away the rain, half-expecting mud to be already covering my eyes. But there was nothing. I saw low creeping grass emerging from the greenhouse making its way towards the orange groves through the heavy rain.

Laying in my bed, I twisted into a small ball. Grandda’s whispers filled me with the most horrible thoughts. When the authorities first came to Earth, no one ever thought we would have been persecuted. The natives had welcomed them, giving the natives a chance to no longer take responsibility for their folies. The authorities gave them that freedom while covertly destroying what we had saved after the fallout.

Jackson slowly turned my doorknob. I must have woken him calling out in my sleep. My mother always worried that my nightmares were memories from my infancy. She spent her life studying the effects of war on the infant’s mind. I’m pretty sure that’s what made her adopt outside of her species. But these weren’t my dreams. There was no possible way to have these imagines ingrained in me from lying in the center of my crib. Maybe just the sound of the shelling brought to mind acts of war that we’re taught in school. Grandda would say my soul predated the authority, which would cause my mother to roll her eyes. She never believed in the afterlife.

“You don’t have to stand there.” I patted my bed.

He was freaking me out, hovering in the doorway. Rolling over, I made room for him thinking he would bring me some comfort to my overactive mind. I hadn’t shared my bed with him for so long I didn’t remember the bed shifting so much.

“Why can’t you sleep?” I asked.

He didn’t answer me, and I knew he wasn’t asleep. Jackson would toss and turn worse than me before eventually drifting off. Maybe he was a brat since my back was to him. When he brushed a strand of hair from my face, his fingertip hurt my skin.

“You better start wearin’ gloves. Your hands are gettin’ as rough as the authorities.” “What’s wrong with that?” Growled behind me.

“Get out!” I tried to turn over, but Jenkins’ was pinning me down.

“Just relax SarahMae, it’ll hurt less.” Jenkins free hand ripped the covers off of me. My screams were muffled as he shoved my face into the pillow. I kicked him as hard as I could, but it didn’t phase him. Yanking my hair caused my body to arch into him. I squeezed my legs shut. I was going to fight him any way I could.

“Now, now. Are you wanting me to tear you?” He ran his fingers over my lips. His skin tore whatever hair I had away from my body.

“You’re so soft.” He sucked on his fingers before shoving them inside me. “There’s a good girl.”

I couldn’t breathe. Jenkins had wrapped his other hand so tightly around my neck that I was praying to blackout. I felt blood trickling down my legs. The shattering of my sliding glass door awoke me back to hell. Monty charged in, ripping Jenkins off of me. 

“Sarah are -” Jackson stopped as Monty stomped my assailant’s head.

Short Stories

Blind Date

“You’re a fairy,” he said.

I almost choked on my water. Was this guy serious? The look on his face and the fact that he was waiting for me to respond answered that question. This was officially the last internet date I was ever going on.

“What makes you say that?” I could have easily said no, but what would have been the fun in that?

He stared at me for a moment longer while he cut his meat. “Your hair is too perfect, and your skin glistens in the moonlight.”

I laughed behind my napkin. “Thank you. I’m not sure that the three hours of work I up into my hair should be what qualifies me as a fairy.”

“Also, you don’t wear any iron,” he said with a mouth full of well-done steak. Yep. He was officially nuts. “Would you excuse me for a moment?”

How could this guy be that much off his rocker? I could still hear him gnawing on the leather as I made my way to the bathroom. I was praying the bathroom would be a multi-stall so I could hide all the way in the back while making a phone call. That way, I wouldn’t have to worry about Mr. Fairy Hunter pressing himself against the door and listening.

The women’s door was the first in the hall. Why is this the one time that the emergency door is nowhere to be found? It would have been the perfect chance to slip right out and not have to go back to the crazy man.

I opened the door to find a perfectly pristine single bathroom. This would never happen if I really had to go. I pressed myself as far away from the door as possible and called my roommate.

“So, how’s the hot professor?” Sarah chirped.

“Awful. This guy is a lunatic.” The doorknob wiggled. “Someone’s in here!”

“I’m sorry, but your date is asking if you are alright.” The sixteen-year-old hostess yelled through the locked door, clearly embarrassed.

Sarah gasped. “Oh no, he didn’t!”

I think the hostess heard my palm smack against my forehead through the door. “Tell him I’ll be out shortly.”

“I’m so sorry.” She said again before running down the hall.

I flushed the empty toilet. “You heard that, right?”

“Dude, he is batshit.” She was so excited at my lousy date that I could hear her bouncing around on our couch.

“Sarah. He asked me if I was a fairy.” I knew from her laughing she was now rolling around on the floor. “It’s not funny. He was serious.”

“Okay, okay.” She was choking back tears. “So, where am I picking you up from?”

“Cafe Chardonnay.” I just realized how stupid I had been. I had a total stranger pick me up from my house, and now he knows where I live. My father will chew me out the moment he gets wind of this.

Sarah started to salivate. “Oh, Caroline, please bring me your leftovers.”

If I hadn’t had heard her car keys rattle, I would have been pissed by her request. But she was less than ten minutes away, and I didn’t want to give her any reason to be late or leave me stranded. “No can do. I’m feigning food poisoning.”

I dabbed some water across my hairline to make it look as though I’ve been sweating. I was already super pale, so I didn’t know how to make myself look any sicker besides having dead eyes. I slowly made my way to the table. I didn’t need to fake being sick anymore. Just as I saw him, my stomach started to churn. For a moment, I thought I might throw up.

“There you are. I was starting to worry about you, Caroline.” He held out my chair for me.

Why did he have to be crazy? He was polite, and, up until now, he was able to hold a decent conversation. Sitting across from him was easy since he was mildly attractive. He was about 5’10 with small shoulders, he kept saying how he lifted weights during our skype conversation, but it seems he missed his upper body. But what annoyed me throughout dinner was his hair. I guess you can only do so much with so little hair. I would have loved to say he had a nice smile because that was the first thing that made me like his profile. But in person, when he introduced himself, there was something about his smile that just gave me the creeps.

“Yep, here I am,” I said in my wooziest voice.

“Are you alright? Here sit down.” He tried to force me into the chair.

I’m not sure how I was still standing. He was surprisingly strong. “Elliott, I hate to do this, but I have to go.”

He was alarmed and whispered, “Is it because I know?”

“No, no, not that.” I stopped myself from knocking him in the head. How could a thirty-five-year-old man believe in fairies? “It’s that I don’t feel well, and I’m not a fairy.”

Before he could protest, I was already heading to the door. I didn’t look back. I couldn’t. Even though he was strange, I felt bad for upsetting him. I wasn’t sure what was worse, getting stood up or having your date walk out on you. The bath I ran for myself did nothing for me. I couldn’t get the last look Elliott gave me out of my head. It was a mix of betrayal and disbelief. I knew I shouldn’t have looked back, but Sarah wouldn’t stop staring at him.

“Hot beverage?” Sarah asking knocking on my door.

“Sure, whatcha got,” But I knew that Sarah didn’t believe in pills, so this was going to be interesting. “Because anything that would knock me out right now would be highly appreciated.”

“I promise it tastes better than it smells.” She handed over the smelly concoction. “It’s just honey, tea, and some herbs.”

“Thanks.” I tried to drink what smelled like old gym sock juices, but no matter how much I wanted to avoid it, I knew it would help me sleep. “Make sure you lock the windows.”

Sarah whined, “But it’s so nice out.”

“You’re the one who wanted to live on the first floor.” I almost shut the door before saying, “Thanks again for saving me.”

She smiled. “Now, you just owe me dinner.”

The following day was rough. I felt worse than I should have. Maybe Sarah’s tea didn’t mix well with my one glass of wine. Or perhaps it was the weird dreams. Whatever it was, I was taking it out on my toast.

Zombie Sarah came out with rollers still in her hair and only one eye of makeup done. She headed straight to the coffee pot.

“You look like shit,” I said. She gave me the stink eye. “Yeah, thanks to you and your late-night visitor.”

That unnerved me. I thought when I heard Elliott’s voice last night. It was in my dream. “No one was here. I passed out after I finished your magic juice.”

The zombie left as Sarah bolted to the front door. She stepped out and almost onto a vase of a dozen long stem roses. It was 6:30 in the morning, and there wasn’t anyone around who delivered flowers that early. Sarah picked up the card and read it. “I think you’re going to need a gun and a restraining order,” she said, handing me the card. Written on the back of a picture of me from earlier in the week was:

You’re the most beautiful dreamer.

– E

“Do you have anyone you can stay with?” I wasn’t going to subject her to my stalker.

“You know I’ve been saving up my vacation time. I might as well use it now.” Sarah dumped the water and roses into our bushes. “At least the vase is pretty.”

It was almost nine before the police arrived. They would have been called earlier if I hadn’t had called my dad first. The ex-marine, now judge, did not take kindly to his baby girl being stalked. After an hour of arguing, I agreed to let him send Greg to pick me up.

“I trust him with my life.” He said when I finally gave in.

“Alright, Dad, have him here as soon as he can.” I needed to come home for a visit, but not like this. “I should be ready to come home by then.”

“Caroline, you’ll be breaking your lease.” He said flatly. “I’ll cover everything for your and Sarah’s new place.”

“Thanks, Dad.” I can’t say I wasn’t used to him making these decisions.

I had spent my life moving with him because of the Marines and a few more times because some crazy people found out where he lived and wanted to kill him. Sarah started packing as the police knocked on our door. After a few questions, they asked me for Elliott’s picture. I tried to pull up his dating profile, but it was gone. When I logged into my email, I saw I had a new Facebook notification. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Do you agree with this relationship change?
The cops wrote down all his information before asking me about last night.

“What exactly did you hear?”

“I couldn’t really tell you< ‘I hated not having more to give them.

“I can tell you what happened.” Sarah came out of her room. “It was three in the morning, and I heard whisperings outside.”

“One voice or two?” The officer asked.

“Well, I thought it was Caroline, but I know now it wasn’t. So, I’m really hoping it was only one, or that’s going to make this even stranger.” Sarah shuttered. “I heard footsteps going past my window and to the patio. Someone rattled the door, but thank god for that stick.”

“Florida security at its finest,” the female officer joked. “Was there anything else?”

“No, I couldn’t really make out what he was saying.” Sarah was holding my hand. I was shaking.

The cops left after a nice long chat on internet dating safety. They told me they were placing an undercover officer to watch my door till Greg and I left. I didn’t hear a knock till eleven. There was a small part of me dreading looking through the peephole. Thankfully there was only one green eye smashed up against it.

“You got to move,” I called to him.

He stepped back, and I had to give the cop getting out of his car a thumbs up.

“Sargent Macoy, you’re looking well.” I bit down on my lip to keep myself from laughing.

“Alright, smart ass, get your stuff.” He looked at my four large duffle bags and sighed. “Moving?”

“Yep, you know, dad. The first sign of trouble I have to hide,” I shrugged.

Greg tossed one on each shoulder. “Well, maybe if you weren’t so small, he wouldn’t have to.”

“Because I can really help that.” I picked up a set of picture frames and followed him out the door. “I can still outrun you.”

We finished loading the truck before Sarah emerged from her room. “So that’s Greg?”

“Yep.” I wasn’t going to rehash everything with her when I had to spend four hours in a car with the person who broke my heart.

Greg came out of my room, wiping his brow. “Do you need to be packed anything else before the movers come?”

“Nope, everything that matters is in the truck.”

“Or about to be,” Sarah whispered.

I hugged Sarah goodbye. I knew we would be seeing each other in about two weeks, but this was the first time we would be apart since freshman year of college. With both of us being only children, we bonded to each other. She always said I was the sister she never had, and the same was true for me. The road trip was going to be a long one of corn, cows, and no talking. I’m not sure what possessed my father to send Greg, but the father knows best, right? Guess he forgot about the months of torment I went through after Greg sent me a Dear John letter while he was in Afghanistan.

“What’s up, little one?” He broke my train of thought.

My cheek was moist. Damn it. “Nothing. Just exhausted.”

I could feel his eyes on me and knew he was refraining from calling me out on my lie. “So tell me about your stalker. How did you meet him?”

After telling my dad and the cops the story, it just fell out. “We met online, talked on Skype for a week, and I gave him my number.”

“After only a week?” He was judging me.

If I had been driving, I would have hit the breaks. “Oh, because that is worse than a guy three years older than me grabbing my phone and putting his number in it?”

“We were in class together.” He didn’t like being compared to Elliott. “It’s not like I was some stranger.”

“Right.” I stared back out the window. “We talked for hours for a few nights and sent a bunch of texts. He seemed so normal. It was nice to talk to someone like that again, you know?”

“I don’t.” He wasn’t looking at me. He kept his eye squared on the road, both hands white-knuckled on the wheel.

“That was your choice, remember?” I can’t believe we were doing this now. I’ve graduated from college and buried those feelings long ago.

“Caroline, we were young.” The wipers went across the windshield, wiping off the rain.
He was still a man of little words.

“Yet here we are, years later, and you are still rescuing me from the bad guys.”

I don’t know how long we sat in silence because I fell asleep. I only woke when I heard the truck’s tires going over the gravel drive. All I needed next was to hear the howls of the foxhounds, and I would know I was home. My dad’s call was louder than the three dogs.


I was a bit groggy still from the ride, but I tried to muster up the same excitement. “Hi, Daddy.”

Greg was already pulling my duffle bags from the truck bed. As I gathered my pillow and blanket, I noticed he had hidden something on his dash in front of his speedometer. The thing looked like it had been to hell and back, but I knew exactly what it was. I was surprised to see he kept it.

“Greg?” I stopped him before he grabbed another bag. I held up the bulldog that was now missing a leg. “Why did you keep it?”

He snatched it back and carefully placed it back in its spot. “You need to talk to your father.”

I didn’t move from that spot. I watched them both unload the truck before stopping to shake hands and talk a bit more. What had my father done? “Have you been to see your mother?” Dad asked as he poured me a glass of wine.

“I figured we could go together after dinner.” I liked going with dad to visit mom’s grave. He gave me the strength to talk to the cold stone.

It wasn’t till he brought out my favorite dessert did I finally ask him. “Why did you send Greg?”

“Like I said, I trust him with my life.” He served me a slice of warm apple pie.

“Even after how he broke up with me?” I watched my father, a judge who has dealt with murders and child molestation cases, become speechless. “Dad, what did you do?”

“He was going to propose, but you were only eighteen,” he stated. “You had so much going for you. I wasn’t going to let you waste your life being a military wife.”

“Are you saying mom wasted her life on you?” I couldn’t believe this. I had grown up hearing him say that serving was the greatest honor of his life.

“No, but you aren’t your mother.” His tone signaled he wanted to end the conversation.

“I think you wanted to keep me close, and you knew with me moving around with Greg that wouldn’t happen. Me leaving would have been harder than you’d like to admit.” I waited for him to stop me. “I’m going for a run.”

Pick me up. I texted Greg.

I laced my shoes as I heard my dad talking to Greg downstairs. Thankfully, there wasn’t any yelling between the two of them. I pulled up the zipper on my jacket before skipping down the stairs. I was going to plant a giant kiss right on his lips just to piss off my dad. But when I hit the landing, the voice I heard wasn’t Greg.

“Young man, I don’t want to tell you again.” My dad was blocking Elliott from getting inside. “Get off my property before I let the dogs out on you.”

This couldn’t be happening. I didn’t see any cars following us on our way up. How did he know who my dad was and where he lived? I never told him anything that personal.

My phone vibrated. It was Greg. I did my best to make it up the stairs without making a sound. “He’s here,” I whispered into the phone.

“Caroline, hide. If you can, lock yourself in the attic.” He sounded like he had thought this through before.

“You know I hate the attic.” But I ran and pulled the steps down.

I could see Greg’s truck pull into view as a gunshot went off.

“No, no, no.” I forced myself to stay upstairs. I had to keep from pacing. There was someone beneath me. No one called my name, so I knew it was the fairy hunter.

I heard the front door slam open, but it was too late. Elliott was pulling down the attic cord. The waving string probably gave away my hiding spot. I balanced myself on the window frame. If he came too close, I was going to jump.

“Don’t worry, little fairy. I’m not going to hurt you.” Elliott was holding a net in his hands.

“I’m not a fairy, you fucking creep!” I couldn’t hold back. He had ruined my life and shot my father. In what world was I not going to be afraid of him?

​Elliott ran with the net, ready to ensnare me. I shoved the window open and let the frigid December air kiss my face as I fell. I quickly tucked my legs to my chest, allowing my body to rotate. I only had a few moments to have my head and arms ready to brace for the impact of the water.

“She flies!” I heard Elliott shriek from the darkness above.

The police sirens were muffled under the water. I looked up and saw Greg smiling at me through the ripples. “I knew you’d figure it out,” he said, pulling me from the water.

“Guess all those years of diving really paid off.” I shook a bit as we walked. “My dad?”

“He’s alive. I stopped the bleeding in his arm, but he’s going to need surgery.” He took off his jacket and wrapped it around my shoulders. “Doesn’t he know that you’re a mermaid, not a fairy?”

A police officer called me over. “Ms. Crommett, we would like to take your statement now, if you don’t mind.”

I passed Elliott, locked away in the car and shouting at me. The officers shook their heads, embarrassed for him since he didn’t have the sense to be on his own. My dad groaned as they lifted him into the ambulance.

“You okay?” I asked.

“Oh, this? It’s nothing.” He hurt his arm when he tried to laugh. “I told you I trusted him with my life.”

“So you did. I could have gone my whole life without knowing that.”

They shut the doors after I hugged him goodbye. There wasn’t much to go over with the authorities. I wasn’t sure how Elliott found my father’s house, and I didn’t care enough to find out. If I never saw him again, life would be grand, but the officer had already told me I’d probably have to be at this trial.

“I promise there is no need for you to stay, officer.” Greg stood next to me, holding my hand.

“I’m in good hands.”

“Are you sure? Because I don’t need Judge Crommett coming after me if anything were to happen to you.” Officer Stevens shook Greg’s hand.

Greg laughed at the look he was given. “Don’t worry, Mike. Things have been smoothed out.”

The police officers drove off, finally giving me the chance to change into something warm.

Greg called from the bathroom door. “Do you want to stay here or go to my place?”

As much as I would have loved to cuddle with him in my childhood bed like we did in high school, my house was giving me the creeps. “Yours.”

Greg picked me up the moment I came out of the bathroom. Our noses touched before he finally kissed me. “You know I never wanted to write you that letter.”

I smiled. “You never did seem like the Dear John type.”

With my arms wrapped around his neck, he carried me down the stairs. We went out through the back door instead of the front. The cleaning crew was coming in the morning, making it even better that we weren’t staying here tonight.

We picked up pizza and talked the entire night. It was as if the past six years had never happened. When we finally made it to bed, my phone vibrated. I ignored it since it was just Sarah checking in.

“Why did you join the military?” I had always wondered this.

“When your dad said I wasn’t good enough for you, he was right.” Greg turned the light off and kissed my forehead. “I was in college, but I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself other than be with you. So, I took a chance hoping one day your father would change his mind.” There was a pride in his voice that I had heard a million times over with my father.

“Thank you,” I said, snuggling closer to him.

“For what?” he asked.

“For being you.” I drifted off to sleep fairly quickly after that. It was wonderful to have no dreams or fears that some lunatic was going to break into your home.

When I woke the next day, I picked up my phone. There were three messages.

I’m done with surgery. I don’t care what they say. I need out of here. My dad was never one to handle hospitals well.

Dad -9:45 am

The other came from Sarah. However, I was already asleep by then.

Hey, how are things with you and lover boy?

Sarah – 2 am

Greg stirred next to me. He had already gone for a run, showered, and climbed back into bed. I couldn’t wait for her to really meet him.

The last message. The one I got right before I went to bed, I had to look at the time stamp four more times to be sure it said 10:00 p.m. But how could that be? The police picked up Elliott at 8:45. He should be rotting in jail right now. I opened the message to see a picture of Greg and me carrying out our pizza. The text read

You’ll pay for this.

– E

“What do you mean he made bail?” I stuttered into the phone. “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“He must have had his lawyer on speed dial because he met us at the station,” Officer Stevens informed me.

I couldn’t stop pacing the waiting room. “This is just bullshit. What am I supposed to do? Should I just sit around and wait for Stalky McStalker to show up at my door again?”

Officer Stevens let out a sigh. “Will you take the security detail now?”

“Fine.” I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of having a bodyguard again. At least it’s not going to frighten off Greg like it does with other guys. “Who’s it going to be?”

“Does it matter?” he asked sarcastically.

“Has it ever?” Greg took the phone from me before I could come up with something worse.

“Your dad wants to see you,” he said before walking off.

The door to the recovery room swayed open, exposing me to an overly sunny room. My dad, lying in his bed, looked older than I expected.

“Hi, Daddy.” He could still make me feel like I was five years old.

“Hey, Baby Girl.” He smiled.

“How’s your arm?” I sat on the edge of the bed. I wasn’t sure how to bring up anything from the past few hours.

“Greg is taking you to get a gun.” It was good to see the bullet didn’t stop him from giving orders.

“Are you kidding?” It wasn’t so much that guns bothered me. It was the noise they made. “You know how I feel about those things.”

“Caroline, there’s no arguing. It’s happening.” His stern look bore right through me.

“Fine. But I’m getting a dog.” Dogs have been the subject of our never-ending fight since mom died.

“No small yappers.” He sipped his water. “You need something big and loud to scare people away.”

“You know that chihuahuas bite more people than any other dog?” I retorted.

“Did you know that I could kick one across a football field?”

“You wouldn’t dare. You would succumb to its cuteness.” It was fun to banter like nothing was wrong. “How much longer till you’re a free man?”

“They want to see how the surgery went. There’s a possibility for another one. “He spoke as if he was getting his hair cut.

“Why don’t you get out of here? There’s no reason for you to be moping around this place. It’s already depressing enough.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said sarcastically before tackling him into a bear hug.

As I was walking out the door, I noticed his reason for suddenly shooing me away. I said, “Hello,” as a nurse in her early fifties shuffled past me and took my place next to my father’s bed. I gave my dad the eye, and all he said was, “Bye, honey.”

As I left the room, I could hear his deep laugh behind me.

“I wonder if that’s Janet?” Greg asked, startling me. “Sorry. Thought you knew I was back.”

“It’s okay.” I relaxed my fists. “Who’s Janet?”

“A recent divorcee with no kids who just loves a man in uniform,” he repeated, doing his best impression of my father.

It was weirding me out how much Greg had changed. “How much time have you been spending with him?”

“How about that puppy?” he asked.

I squinted at him. What were those two plotting? “Aren’t you supposed to get me a gun?”

“That was your father’s idea. Besides, I just got you back, and I’d really love to keep you alive.” He didn’t even brace himself when I swatted at him. “I have enough guns for the both of us.”

Greg seemed to have the dog situation planned out way more than I did. The only dogs I had ever been around were my dad’s hunting dogs. I bet if he kept them in the house instead of the kennel out back, they would have eaten Elliott, and this whole mess would be settled.

Greg flicked his blinker on. “Mike is meeting us at the at the pound.”

“That’s my undercover cop?” I laughed. “What kind of b.s. is that? It’s just going to be high school all over again.”

“Who better to guard you than Officer Stevens? He already knows your house and every bit of your insanity.” Greg turned into the parking lot just as Mike was stepping out of his black Mustang.

“You finally ready to get that dog of yours?” He greeted me with a hug. These were going to be the strangest few months leading up to Elliott’s arraignment.

“Oh, you know it. How did you get this detail? Isn’t it under your pay grade?”

“Nah. Babysitting the Honorable Judge Crommett’s little angel will probably be the most dangerous job I’ve held.” At least that’s what I thought he said. Most of it was drowned out by the loud barking.

I hated coming to these places. I wanted to bring home every animal in there. We walked down three rows of dogs, petting them and handing out treats as we went, but we couldn’t pick one.
Greg loved all the bully breeds, and there were so many to choose from. I walked past a dog jumping so high that he was banging into the roof of his cage. Past the jumping bean was a smallish dog resting in her bed. She was the only dog that hadn’t jumped up or barked at the gate. Her tag said she was a two-year-old beagle-chihuahua mix named Daisy. I put my hand up to the gate and called her name.

“She’s too small,” Greg told me as the black and white pup approached me and licked my hand.

“She might be better than a giant dog. Smaller ones bond quicker, and most places around here only allow the little ones in.” Mike stopped Greg from saying anything else. “Besides, what’s stopping you from getting your own dog?”

I got an attendant to bring Daisy out to the play area, hoping she would wake up a bit. The moment I saw her prancing next to her caretaker, I fell in love. Not once did she pull on the leash and, the moment she was unleashed, her nose went to the ground sniffing everything she could.

I squealed in delight. “Yep. She’s mine.”

I bent down, and, once Daisy got a good sniff of my hands and face, she planted herself next to me as if she approved of me as well. Greg found a tennis ball and threw it across the pen, but Daisy paused and looked up at me instead of chasing after it. It wasn’t until I gave her a “Go get it!” did she take off after the ball. Her sudden burst of energy surprised us all.

“Why is she here?” I asked the attendant.

“Her owner was killed in a drunk-driving accident, and her next of kin didn’t want her.” The woman could have tried sounding more heartbroken forty-eight-hour, but I was already sold.

“Can I take her home tonight?” I asked.

“There’s usually a forty-eight-hour hold-”

I interrupted her as I pulled out my father’s credit card. “What if I made a sizeable donation?”

She folded her fingers around the card. “I’m sure we could work something out.”

I felt victorious sitting on the couch with Daisy using my leg as her pillow. Mike had pulled out Elliott’s case file, and we were going over everything again. He was bent on proving that Elliott knew me from somewhere else besides the dating site.

“So, until you created the profile, you had never seen or heard of Elliott Hawking before?” Mike asked for the fifth time.

“Oh my god, no!” I said too loudly. Daisy scowled at me. “Sorry.”

Mike called out. “Greg, you need to feed her. She’s getting moody.”

“Like I told the other officer, Elliott was a former Calc professor at USF, and he was trying to get picked up by Lynn, which is why he moved down south.” I watched as Mike’s face scrunched up. “What?”

“When did you go to U.F. again?” he asked.

“I graduated in 2012, a little late since I traveled too much.” I was trying to think back, but nothing stood out to me.

“Caroline, he has no records for teaching anywhere other than U.F. How did they look over this?” Mike was pissed. He was punching numbers into his phone as he left the room.

My dad’s hounds started barking in their kennel. Greg had just fed them, so they weren’t hungry. Then Daisy started to growl, and the fur on her back stood on end. I looked around, but both Greg and Mike were missing. Daisy ran to the front door snarling. I thought for a second that the guys were playing a trick on me, and then something slammed into the front door rattling the living room window. I screamed and scrambled for Daisy. She started barking furiously as we ran from the room.

The dining room curtains were drawn open, and the glowing over head lamp illumatning inside made it impossible to see who was out in the dark. A howl came from the other side of the house. How many were out there?

Greg found me crouched under the table with Daisy guarding me. She snapped at him as he tried to reach for me.

“I’m not the bad guy,” he told her.

Greg pulled us from under the table. We heard Mike yell “Stop!” outside the window. Without warning, three shots went off. I heard tires squealing as they kicked up gravel from the driveway.

Greg pressed himself against the wall nearest to the window. “Mike, you alright?”

“I’m fine, but you guys are going to want to see this!” Mike yelled from the porch. “And use the side door. The front door is now a crime scene.” The flashing red and blue police lights reflected off a pool of blood on the porch where an officer, now covered in blood, was standing. He was holding a severed deer’s head that he had just removed from the front door. It was impaled there with a machete.

“Why is the head wrapped in iron?” He asked me.

I rolled my eyes. “Because fairies are supposed to be hurt by iron.”

I kept looking at the floor of the doorway. My father’s blood, from the day before, was now replaced by fresh deer blood. Another officer told me the kennel was encircled with blood as well.

“Caroline, we’re going to put you into protective custody.” Captain Reilly told me.

I nodded. I was numb. Mike said he had seen four guys jump into the cab, and he shot at five others who all came scrambling from different directions. They hopped into the back of a truck before it went peeling off. The captain handed me a note he found impaled on the deer’s head.

He gave me a skeptical glance. “Have you had any contact with Mr. Hawking?”

“No.” I unfolded the note to read. Burn the fairy. “This is bullshit.”

I didn’t speak on the car ride to the police station. I wasn’t allowed to ride with Mike or Greg because they were being questioned. Mike’s own unit was questioning him! He was on the phone with the station when everything went down. I felt all eyes on me as I walked to Captain Reilly’s office.

“Is there a reason why my case wasn’t being taken seriously?” I demanded.

“We didn’t see Mr. Hawking as a threat any longer. He was on house arrest and hadn’t even stepped foot outside the front door.” He gestured towards his computer monitor.

“I don’t know what that is. Look, he called me a fairy on our date. He left me flowers at my apartment with a picture he took of ME SLEEPING! And you are the one who gave me that burn the fairy note. I don’t know how many people you think consider me to be a fairy, but he’s the only one on my list.” I stared at my father’s so-called friend. “For crying out loud, he shot a judge!”

“Caroline, I don’t think you understand how connected Mr. Hawking is.”

“Enlighten me.” There was no way the captain was going to cover his ass.

“His half-brother is Congressman Bradford, and once Judge Haver heard that, she let him go.” He sounded defeated. “But that wasn’t till after she revoked his passport and put him on house arrest.”

“Are you even bringing him in?” I didn’t care who he knew. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life fearing some weirdos who thought I was a fairy. I wished I was a fairy, if even for a moment, so I could at least make them disappear.

“He should be here any minute. We sent a patrol car to pick him up when your alarm system went off.” He quickly dialed a number on his cell phone and stepped away from his desk.

I watched him pace. In the quiet of his office, I could hear the phone ringing through the receiver. Whoever he was calling kept him waiting, and he would not make eye contact with me until he got someone on the other line.

“What do you mean he isn’t there?” he shouted. “His tracker still shows him at home!” No doubt, Elliot was just at my father’s house. This was the one time in my life where “I told you so” wasn’t a victory.

“Find him.” He hung up the phone.

I crossed my arms. “Yeah, if ya could go and let Greg and Mike out of custody, that would be great. Seeing as they are the only people I trust to be able actually to handle this problem.”

“There’s no need for the attitude, Caroline,” he chided.

“There’s a reason for that and more, Carl. You guys have completely botched this whole thing. Not only has a man who is stalking me been set free, but he is also the same man that shot my father. At this point, you should consider yourself lucky that I haven’t called the media to tell them about the Congressman’s whack-job brother. I’m going to be pressing charges against that bitch, Haver. She flops for anyone who can help her move up in the world.” I slammed his door behind me.

It didn’t take me long to find Greg. He was sitting alone on a bench holding Daisy. He tried his best not to let his frustration show, but he never really knew how to get rid of his scowl.

“You alright?” he asked.

I let my shoulders drop. I had used the last bit of my facade on the captain. “As I’ll ever be.” I looked around and saw that Mike’s desk was empty. “Are they really still questioning him?”

“Nah, he’s in the media room. The officer that brought in Elliott said we had to listen to what his dashcam caught. Mike was just making sure there was nothing that would upset you.”

He stood and took my hand. I expected it to feel strange walking down the hall holding his hand again. I spent so many months after our breakup trying to figure out what went wrong. It was nice to know now that it was nothing between us. I wanted to be mad at my father, but he was right. We were too young to understand anything. I was happy that I had finished college. I might have done it sooner if I didn’t spend my first semester as an emotional mess.

Greg looked down at me. “Where you at, little one?’

I squeezed myself tight against his arm. “Just thinking about how great of a man you’ve become.”

“Are you saying that I wasn’t?” he teased.

“You were going down a questionable path.” I stuck my tongue out at him.

He held the door open to a windowless room. Mike was glowing from the monitor’s light. He unfolded his arms when he noticed us come in. “How this guy made bail is beyond me,” he said, shaking his head.

“Easy. Judge Haver found out that Elliott’s half-brother happens to be Congressman Bradford.” I couldn’t wait to take that woman down.

“You’re shitting me. That bible thumper shares blood with this nutjob?” Greg was stunned.

It was hard to believe the junior Congressman from the great state of Florida would even want to tarnish his name by helping out Elliott. He was already in deep water for failing to get the government to help with the last hurricane relief. He was also caught on tape right after the disaster, saying he was happy that Lake Okeechobee’s levees failed washing away welfare dependents. He really didn’t need a gun-toting lunatic messing up what his P.R. team had already repaired.

Mike pulled out a chair for me to sit in. “Ready?”

“I don’t think I ever will be, so why not?” God, this chair felt like it was kept in a freezer.

The tech started the tape from the beginning. I watched myself walk by the front of the car. I hadn’t realized I had blood on me before. Most of what Elliott was yelling about made no sense till Officer Jeffreys got in the car.

“Mind calming down back there?” Officer Jeffreys asked.

Elliot lowered his voice. “You are ruining everything.”

“And what is that?” Jeffreys asked.

“The balance of the universe. We must sacrifice her before the harvest moon, or the gods will be furious.” Elliott spoke with conviction4

Jeffreys raised his voice. “Now, why would you want to go and sacrifice Ms. Crommett? Believe you me, there ain’t nothing magical about that girl. I’ve known that poor thing my whole life, and if she were what you think she is, she would have saved her mama years ago.”

“That’s just it. That bullet wasn’t meant for her mother. It was meant for Caroline. The order has been haunting her entire life.” Elliott was foaming at the mouth, being able to share his mission. “You see, changelings have been poisoning this world for centuries.”

“I do believe you were read your rights, and one was to remain silent. I suggest you do so.” Jeffreys had never been known for his patience. “Her mother was killed during a mugging. Your kind ain’t going to take credit for an already horrific act.”

“You know how I know she’s a fairy?” He wasn’t listening.

“No, and nor do I care to learn.”

“I’ve seen her fly.” Elliott sounded wicked.

“Son, she didn’t fly out of that window. She is a trained driver.”

“Not just tonight, but I have followed her. I’ve seen her fly from buildings. Her wings were glowing against the night sky.” Elliott stopped talking after that.

The police cruiser slowly rolled into the station’s parking lot. Jeffreys turned off the car and, with that, the video went black.

I stared at the computer, waiting for more. I wanted to hug Jeffreys for letting the madman rattle on, but it still didn’t tell us where I could have known him from.

“What did he actually teach?” I asked Mike.

“I double-checked your schedules with what he taught, and there was only one class that ever crossed.” He read the file. “He was a lab T.A. for your Anthropology class.”

“We had a lab? No wonder I got a C.” I thought back to the lecture. I tried to remember if there was anyone out of place. “Oh my god.”

“What?” they both asked.

“He was the annoying guy who stood in the back of the class during the test. He would clear his throat like forty times a class.” I was getting angry thinking about the sound.

“Did you ever speak to him?” Greg asked.

I shook my head. “Never. I couldn’t even stand to be near him. I would move if he were behind me since he reeked of cigarettes. Usually, he spent most of the class outside chain-smoking. And the only time he did say something to me was a smart-ass remark about how I was late to class. That was after I was stuck in the rain.”

“Can you explain why he thought he saw you fly?” Mike was a full-on cop.

“I did a few short movies for some film majors,” I asked the tech to pull up the online video. “They had me covered in LED lights, and I would free run across a few buildings.”

We watched as I hid behind bushes and snuck up on people while they walked down a dark hallway. At night I ran across the top of a parking garage and jumped to the closest building. I would do flips if space allowed me, or I would quickly run up walls. The lights on my black clothing would randomly change colors. If Elliott had seen this video, I could understand why he would confuse me with a ninja, but not a fairy.

“See, there’s nothing,” I said as the video finished.

Right before the tech closed the screen, something popped up at the end of the video.
“Caroline, what’s that?” Greg asked.

Someone had tagged me in the free-running video recently. The tag attached my name to about fifty other videos that I had never uploaded. Some were of me walking around school, while another was my first retail job during my freshman year of college. We pulled all fifty of them up. It was scary watching my life unknowingly documented.

The last video was of a group of friends and me at the Renaissance festival. We were blissfully unaware of the camera as we drunkenly danced around the maypole. We had peasant dresses on and flowers in our hair. As I spun around the pole, my blatantly fake wings glistened in the sun as a voice could be heard saying,“caught ya”

I didn’t know if I was more creeped out or angry after watching everything. “So, about that gun training. When can we start? because I’m shooting the next guy who points a camera at me”

“Let’s just start with you not cowering every time one goes off” Greg should have laughed. He always had before.

Short Stories

Seven Days

My phone beeped with an incoming message. Damn it. I thought I put it on vibrate. Oh well, I don’t think it was loud enough to wake anyone up. I grabbed my purse and threw it over my shoulder. One last glimpse in the mirror, and I was out the window. The cool nighttime breeze felt great after sweating it out in my parents’ greenhouse temperatures.

“Really, Allie? You had to sneak out of the house?” Jordan was leaning on his motorcycle. All I could see was the red light on the end of his cigarette.

“I thought it would be fun. Like old times.” I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him. “Really, Jordan? Smoking?”

“They don’t let us drink in the desert.” He put it out and popped in a piece of gum. “We going?”

I clung to his waist, squeezing as tight as possible. There was no way I would be separated from him during his leave, not even once. We had seven days before he had to spend another six months overseas, which meant six more months of wondering if something awful was going to happen every day.


The sun started to rise over the ocean when we stopped for our break. I stretched my legs and took a deep breath. After such a long, harsh summer, I welcomed the December cold. The ocean breeze quickly wiped away the smell of the road, but nothing could get the smell of jet fuel out of his flight jacket. I didn’t care. After five years, the smell was comforting.

It was hard to believe how much Jordan had stashed in his pack. He pulled out a blanket and a small set of speakers that he attached to his phone. I poured us coffee, watching steam roll off the top.

“Only five more hours.” I looked at him. Jordan was always somewhere else when he was on leave. I knew he didn’t like leaving his team behind, but he needed to get away. Even a lifer needed a break.

He wrapped his strong arms around me. With such a simple gesture, I knew I was safe. It wasn’t easy to be strong when he was gone, but I knew I had to be. He had some of the best men out there watching his back. He brushed away a strand of hair that escaped my ponytail. Even with my eyes closed, I knew he wore the faintest smile as he kissed my forehead. He was back with me.

“Babe. How’s your ass?” He was ever the romantic.

“I never knew how uncomfortable your motorcycle was till I spent two hours on it.” I sighed as he rubbed just the right spot. God, he was amazing. “I could be ready to head out in five minutes unless you want to make it twenty?”


The Florida keys welcomed us with a salty chill wiping away any other thought I had in mind. Jordan pulled the bike over, and we watched the sunset. He leaned back, resting his head on my chest, and closed his eyes. Brushing my fingers over his fuzzy head, I saw the rise and fall of his chest finally start to deepen. Relax, love, relax.

That first night in bed was bliss. We spent most of the time talking, trying to bring his mind to peace. I thought our eyes would never close. But once he tucked me into our blanket cocoon, I drifted right to sleep with our breathing in sync.​

The sunlight caught my ring. Three years later, it sparkled just as brightly as it did the day he gave it to me. Jordan reached under the covers and drew me into him. I sighed at the heat of his breath against my skin. It was bittersweet, only five days remaining until he went back to his sandy mistress.

“Do you think our parents are here yet?” For that question, I got the stink eye.

“Six months with me gone from your bed, and that’s the first thing you think of?” He asked, kissing my words away.


After a day of lounging around the resort, it was finally time to get away. The bar crawl began, only this time, friends and family were tagging along. Everyone wanted to spend time with Jordan.

The boys all thought it would be fun to wander into the nudist bar, The Garden of Eden, while still slightly sober. That was not something I would even attempt while there was still sun.

It was an easy choice for the girls to go into Kermit’s Key Lime shop since we knew the guys would bitch about it. They already gave Jordan hell for a joint bachelor/ bachelorette party.

“Ally, look how perfect this is.” Jordan’s older sister Kayla held up a picture frame that said Married in the Keys. It even had little dog tags hanging from the edge.

There was no arguing. Kayla bought it. Just as the transaction finished, they could hear the guys laughing outside. That didn’t take them very long. Kurt had found a set of drinking boobs, and somehow Chase had figured out a way to secure them to their heads.

“Come on, Jay! We have to see the sunset.” Kayla said, pulling on his arm. The girl became bossy when she drank.


Hammocks freckled the entire resort. There was a group of them close to where the wedding would be held.

“I’ll take this sand any day over the shit back over there.” Jordan let his legs hang over the side of the hammock with his toes dragging in the sand.

“You know how to make that happen.” I wasn’t looking for a fight, but I couldn’t help but say it. “What would I do here, Ally? I blow shit up for a living.” His voice got harsh.

“I’m not sure. But I heard of these pirates that go around blowing up old buildings and things no one wants anymore. I think they are called demolition men.” I stuck my tongue out at him then licked the side of his face.

“You’ll pay for that.” He started tickling me. How he ever thought there was enough room for his 6’3”, 200-plus pounds and my barely 5’3”, 110 pounds to even breathe was beyond me. We both fell out of the hammock, but he was the first to hit the ground. It was nice of him to break my fall.


Jordan thought he was sneaky when he slipped from the bed, but it was never an easy task since I constantly tangled my limbs around him.

“Where are you going?” My voice came out in a whisper. I was surprised I got anything out at all, being half asleep still.

“It’s bad luck for the groom to see the bride on their wedding day.” He kissed me and walked out the door.

“That’s only in the wedding dress.” It didn’t matter that I yelled after him. The door was already shut.

It wasn’t long before my Mom, and the rest of the women in my family came rushing through the door. I pulled the covers over my head. I was excited, but it was only eight-thirty in the morning. “One more hour, please.” I pulled the covers over my head.

“We waited till Jordan left. Didn’t want to interrupt anything.” My Mom gave me a giant hug. “Time to get pretty, missy.”

“Why are you still in bed?” squeaked my ten-year-old cousin. She told me on the phone how happy she was to be the flower girl, even though she thought she was way too old to be one. “Ally, aren’t you excited?”

“Of course, Chelsea. I just wanted to spend a little more time with Jordan.” I finally felt my mood lighten up. Today was my wedding day—no time to sulk. I could do that after he left by sharing my feelings with Ben and Jerry’s. The photographer came in and snapped a picture. Luckily for her and the wedding album, I was already dressed.

“I wonder what the other photographer is doing with the men,” I thought. “Guess the truth will come out when I get the pictures.”

Everyone was so happy I had to keep from laughing. I was truly blessed to have such a great family, and soon I’d have a sister, too.

“Do you have your vows?” Always the stage mom, my mother worried about everything, but thank God she did. I’m sure I would have left something back at home like the marriage license – you know, something that wasn’t that important.

As it drew near seven, an infestation of butterflies found a new home in my stomach. I could see from the bridal suite that the guests were arriving, and I swear I caught a glimpse of Jordan, but I wasn’t sure. All his friends wore their dress blues. When my dad came to the door, I started tearing up. After three years of being engaged and two years of dating, we were finally going to do it. I never thought this would actually happen, but here we were.

I was watching my bridesmaids walk down the aisle when my dad squeezed my hand.

“If you want to run, I wouldn’t blame ya.” I laughed at him. “Being married is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do for the past thirty years.”

“Daddy? I thought being married to Mom was the easiest thing in the world.” Thank God he made me laugh because I felt like glass ready to break.

The music started, and it was our turn. I’m not sure if I was walking or the vibrations from me shaking moved us down the aisle. But seeing Jordan seemed to ease my nerves. When he took my hand from my father, he leaned in and almost kissed me. Everyone started laughing. I was so happy he was the one who did something silly because I thought for sure I was going to trip and fall. There was still time, though. We had to walk back.

Once the laughter settled down, the priest started the ceremony. When he asked if anyone thought we shouldn’t be married, the whole bridal party raised their hands.

“Be right back,” Kayla said as she ran back into the resort.

“What’s going on?” I meant for it to be louder than a whisper, but I almost fainted.

Soon Kayla came running back. Everyone turned around in their seats, trying to see what she was carrying when a sharp bark came from under her shawl. I couldn’t believe it. Lilly? She actually snuck Lilly into the resort. Kayla had joked about this a million times, but I never thought she would do it. I wonder where she had kept the dog this whole week. Jordan headed butted our little westie as she covered his face with kisses.

“What are they going to do now? Kick us out?” Kayla put Lilly on the ground next to us. “Okay, now you can continue.”

I was crying so hard I could barely focus on what the priest was saying.

“The couple has prepared their own vows.” He looked towards Jordan. “Jordan, would you like to start?”

Jordan nodded and stuck his hand in his coat pocket. He smiled at me as he searched his pant pockets. I was starting to get worried. I remember giving him his vows the night before. I even stuck them in his jacket pocket. But with a wink, he bent down and took the roll of paper from Lilly’s collar.

“Allison, from the moment I met you, you got under my skin. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get rid of you.” He stopped and took a breath. He was shaking. “But after all the times…”

He stopped. All the men in uniform looked at each other. The ground started to shake, and within seconds the roar of jets came overhead. The Keys were used to having jets, but these jets weren’t ours. Before they were out of sight, what looked like small duffel bags fell from each plane.

The war had finally come to us. We waited for the explosions to hit. The first one hit out in the ocean while the other two rocked somewhere nearby. The wedding party looked to Jordan and the rest of the groomsmen. The priest waited a moment. The skies were clear, and the guests were distressed. He cleared his throat.

“Shall we continue?” Jordan held my hand tighter than I had ever felt. I could feel his pulse in his fingers. I knew the one thing that always kept him sane was knowing I was safe. I was no longer safe. No one was.


Jordan’s cell phone rang for the twenty-eighth time. It was them. They wanted him back. It wasn’t going to happen. I still had forty-eight hours left with him. When the first call came, Jordan reminded me why we chose this spot. There was spotty reception. He had told his commanding officer that and told the hotel to lose any messages that might come in.

“Do you think the guys have answered their call?” I asked, swaying in the hammock.

“No. They are under strict orders. Forty-eight hours of drunkenness.” Jordan jumped out of his hammock. “We’re going on a boat ride.

“Are you crazy? They were just bombing the waters yesterday!” But there was no arguing. I could see the motley crew already assembling. Dolphins played in our wake, and the birds dove into the clear blue waters. The salty air stuck to my skin as we charged to our destination. The men kept their eyes on the sky, but they doubted the planes would be back. Jordan had overstocked the boat before we left. I couldn’t imagine seven people needing so much food for a day trip.

“Do you trust me?” Jordan asked when we were alone.

I took off his sunglasses and looked him in the eyes. “Has the heat gotten to you? Because I’m pretty sure I made that clear not even twenty-four hours ago.”

“Good.” That was all he said till we made it to the atoll.

Each member of Jordan’s flight crew had a giant sack slung over their shoulders. It was probably beer and other provisions needed to have fun on a deserted island. Kayla grabbed Lilly from the cabin. Seemed my dog wasn’t one for water.

“What are we doing here?” Kayla asked.

“Getting away from it all,” Kurt replied. But he didn’t look back. He was already heading down a worn path.

“Do you know where we are?” Kayla asked me after letting Lilly hop down.

“I’ve kind of learned not to ask your brother where we are going. But I couldn’t help but think how things were looking a bit strange. It’s better left as a surprise.”

The place was supposed to be deserted, but the path we were walking on was cleared out. Flowering bushes were planted throughout that didn’t belong. I looked to the shore one last time. Kurt had landed our boat so precise, and there were cleats buried in the sand from a leftover dock. What were these boys up to?

Kayla shook her head. “You two are really made for each other.”

A few hours later, I realized this wasn’t going to be a short walk. My sandals were not meant to be worn beyond a trek from a parking lot to the sand. I had had enough. I jumped on Jordan’s back and bit his ear.

“Ah! What was that for?” He flipped me over his shoulder like a rag doll.

“Where are we going?” I stopped the group.

“We’re almost there.” He looked down at my feet. The pedicure from the wedding was worn off from our trek. “Do you want a piggyback?”

“How do you know where we’re going? I swear we’ve passed the same tree a few times already,” asked Chase’s wife. I almost felt bad for forgetting her name.

Kayla seemed to have the same feeling towards her as I did. “We’ve been going in a straight line. How could we have possibly passed the same tree? Maybe the same type of tree, but not the exact same one.”

“Are you sure? Because -” She was cut off by a sharp crunching sound coming from ahead of us on the path. The men dropped their bags. I wasn’t sure what they were going to do. I was still on Jordan’s back, and no one had a gun. At least, no one was supposed to have any guns. This was a gun-free vacation.

“Shit.” That was all I could say as Lilly ran off.

Lilly’s barking at least let me know she was alive. I caught my breath when I saw a man come down the path. It could have been a million times worse. He could have done horrible things to make Lilly stop. But instead, he marched right up to us with my savage west highland terrier at his heels. I was expecting the men to be ready to fight, but they were just excited.

“Jackson! Finally!” Chase embraced the man in a tight hug.

“Who is that?” I whispered.

“Someone who is going to make this easier.” Jordan walked over and shook his hand.

Jackson led the way. I couldn’t believe where he was taking us. I felt like I was in a movie by the time we crawled through a tunnel hidden behind a waterfall. I thought we had seen everything when we finally made our way to his home. But we hadn’t. There was a well-built two-story house waiting for us.

It helped that he was a former Army ranger who used to work construction before abandoning all normality.

“Do you own this island?” asked Carla. I’m not sure how I remembered her name at that moment, but I wanted to shout it so I wouldn’t forget.

“No one can own this land. I tried to buy it, but they told me the sea would swallow it in five years.” Jackson gave Kayla a wink. “Ten years later, it’s still here, and so am I.”

The solar panels on the roof powered everything. Mind you, there were only a few fans and a charger for his satellite phone. He had a wood-burning stove that must have been a few hundred years old. It seemed that Jackson lived in the Swiss Family Robinson’s house but on the ground.


When I woke up, Jordan was gone. He wasn’t far. I could hear him faintly talking with the other men. I stayed in bed, enjoying the sea breeze while trying to forget. Trying to forget that he was leaving for war again, but he might be stateside this time.

The smell of coffee pulled me from the bed. What time was it, I wondered. I knew the sun was up, but out here, that didn’t mean anything. It easily could have been 6 am. Being here was like camping, but with fewer bugs.

“So, it’s settled.” I heard Cameron say as I opened the door.

Please don’t squeak. I prayed as I shut the door behind me. I tip-toed down the hall to find Bea and Kayla sitting on the floor out of sight. Kayla yanked me down.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

Bea held up her finger. Kurt was talking, but it was hard to hear him over the damn birds.

“If they stay here, they will be safe. We won’t have to worry about the invasion, and we can work.” Kurt was trying to convince himself this was a good plan.

“They will be safe here. No one knows about the atoll,” Jackson said as he started filling his friend’s cup with coffee into everyone’s cup.

My stomach growled. With the look from Bea and Kayla, I could only hope that the men didn’t hear it.

“They’ve used empty islands before as holdouts. You found some yourself.” Jordan twisted in his chair.

I couldn’t believe that they were about to leave us here without even consulting us. And to make matters worse, Jordan didn’t even seem sold on the deal. This didn’t sound like him. He was methodical in every step of our life. Why would he even think this was a good idea? I had had enough. If they wanted us to play survivor, I was going to be a part of the conversation. I pushed past the two spies and into the kitchen before the men had time to think. I tapped my foot, waiting for one of them to let me in on my extended vacation.

“Hey, Babe.” Jordan never said that unless he was in trouble.

“What’s going to happen to our family?” I knew they were leaving soon. They had their stuff packed by the door. I’ve seen it one too many times to let any time pass.

“They’ll be in the mountains with my family.” Kurt had family in the Blue Ridge mountains.

“I don’t think the Germans or the Russians would be that crazy to go that high up. The hillbillies might destroy them before our family would ever have to worry.” I tried to smile through it. I didn’t like to think of my Mom being so far away from me with no way of knowing if she was safe.

“You’ll have the satellite phones, Allie.” I knew there was a reason why I married him besides his good looks.

“Fine. We’ll stay. But I better hear from you every chance you get.” I kissed him like every other time he left. Not a goodbye kiss, but a see you soon but not soon enough kiss.

Short Stories

Road Trip

In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea. But with the top down and wind blowing through their hair, there was no better start to the weekend. Gwen cranked the music louder to muffle Olivia’s singing.

“What? It’s not that bad.” Olivia continued belting out lyrics. “Well, shake it up, baby… (shake it up, baby).”

“Twist and shout… (twist and shout),” Gwen couldn’t resist joining in. Olivia’s positivity was infectious. “How much longer do we have?”

Olivia looked down at her phone and brought up the map. The blue line traced the path to their weekend. “Without traffic, I’d say less than an hour till we hit the first Key.”

“Yessssss!” Gwen stomped her feet, stuck a hand out of the Jeep, and shouted, “Freedom!”

“I know. We’ve put this off for too long.” Olivia shook out her hair. It was a poor attempt to stop it from smacking her in the face. “Gwen, we need gas.”

“No, we don’t. I filled up ten minutes ago.” She looked at the gauge just to be sure. It was early, but there was no doubt in her mind that she could have just stuck in the pump and forgotten to do anything.

“Uh, yeah, you do.” Olivia pointed over to the military convoy pulling off to the gas station.

“Ten bucks they’re Navy.”

“Oh, you’re so on.” Gwen let off the gas and pulled behind the trucks.

What could be wrong with a little flirting? Both girls were single and on vacation. The sun started to rise. They welcomed warmth that the early morning was missing. The girls traded their sweaters for sunglasses and finally found hair ties at the bottom of their beach bag. Gwen took the final sip of her coffee and was glad to have a reason to go inside and spark up a conversation.
The coffee smelled fresh, which was rare for a turnpike rest stop. Olivia raided the chips, trying not to stare at the two men browsing the candy bars. Gwen couldn’t believe how her best friend could go from a shy, reserved librarian to acting like a boy-crazed sixteen-year-old.

“Shit.” Gwen let the coffee overflow burning her hand. She stuck the burnt part into her mouth and went looking for ice.

“Don’t put ice on it.” The warning came from a deep voice behind her. Gwen froze, thinking her mishap had gone unnoticed. The last thing she wanted was for a cute guy to see her sucking on her hand after burning herself. “It’ll blister quicker. Try warm water or soy sauce.”

She released her hand and winced. “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind next time I try to cook.”

“Or pour coffee?” He smirked.

“Aren’t we a smart ass?” She thought. But he was helpful, and those green eyes made it easy to forget the burn. He looked around the convenience store before asking. “You two making this trip by yourselves?”

“Yeah. We’re big girls. I think we can handle it.” Gwen couldn’t help but grin. He was gorgeous. “Why do you think otherwise, Mister… Cifone?”

“Commander.” He was cocky, but he was good at it. “Of course I do. There are pirates in these parts. Why else do you think they are calling the Navy down here.”

Gwen laughed at him. “Well, if my ship gets boarded and plundered, I’ll be sure to call out for you.”

“I’m sure you’d be what they’re plundering.” He couldn’t keep a straight face. “We’re all on leave if you ladies are making it all the way down to the tip. We’d sure love for you to join us.”

“That could be fun.” Gwen stuck out her hand. “I’m Gwen.” He looked at her hand and saw it was still red.

He gently took it in his and kissed it. “I’m Lance.”

“Oh, no, he didn’t!” Olivia blurted from the cash rep.

Olivia watched the two exchange numbers. Gwen had to drag Olivia from the convenience store. When they got in the car, Gwen handed Olivia a ten. Olivia was able to keep silent until they hit 80.

She finally blurted out, “Please tell me what I witnessed was real.” Her mouth hung wide open.

“You might want to close your mouth,” Gwen said, trying to change the subject. “You could swallow a bug.”

“No, really? Did a guy named Lance really just kiss a girl named Gwen on her hand?” For the twenty years they had known each other, Olivia had made this her life goal. “You have to marry him!”

“You’re crazy. And no matter what story you read, she never marries Lancelot.” She saw Olivia’s smile fade. “Don’t I have to find Arthur first?”

“No, because everyone knows that Lancelot is the better looking of the two.” Olivia yawned and laid her chair back. “Hopefully, one of his round table members is just as hot.”

Olivia slept the rest of the way to Key West and missed out on the few times Gwen pulled over to take pictures of houses on stilts. The seven-mile bridge gave way to open skies and blue waters that made Gwen want to pull over and jump into the ocean. There would be time for that during the week.

Gwen tried to wake Olivia when they went through Sugarloaf key, but the girl continued sleeping. Even sleeping through her own photo shoot with a Key deer. One came right up to the parked Jeep and sniffed Olivia’s dangling hand.

The Jeep chugged down the road past places that could have been anywhere but the keys. They passed through where the townies lived and into postcard Key West. Those fancy postcards only told part of the story. It was refreshing to see normality in a vacation spot. Bright colors blinded Olivia as she opened her eyes.

“We’re here?” She sounded a bit surprised.

“Of course we are. What did you think I was doing while you were playing sleeping beauty?” As Gwen pulled into the driveway of the bed and breakfast, her phone buzzed.

“Ah! Let me read.” Olivia snatched it up before Gwen could react. “Hi, beautiful. Us sailors are getting settled in. Why don’t you and your friend meet us for lunch?”

“So I’m guessing he has a friend or two for you,” Gwen said, yanking her phone back. “No more reading my messages.”

“Yeah, like that is ever going to happen.” Olivia rolled her eyes. She started shoving all her stuff she threw around the Jeep into her overnight bag.

Two queen beds with white and baby blue quilts and matching towel animals awaited them behind the door. Gwen claimed the bed closest to the sliding glass door.

“Olivia, you have to see this.” Both girls gasped at the view. Their room was only a few drunken skips away from the ocean. The sand and blue water were just what they needed to recharge.

Gwen was delighted with her last-minute hotel choice. “How cute is this?”

“Are you sure the animals aren’t going to miss you while you’re gone?” Olivia was already out of her sweatpants and shirt and into a bikini with a bright pink cover-up.

“There are other caretakers for the otters.” Gwen hadn’t even thought about changing. She was perfectly content with stepping out on the balcony and taking a nice nap on the hammock. “Pretty sure I’ll miss them more.”

“Not if you’re distracted.” Olivia waved Gwen’s phone in front of her. “How did you? Seriously are you a magician?” Gwen was sure she had her cell in her back pocket.

“You dropped it when you put your bag down. And since when have you cared about me touching your phone? What are you hiding?” She lifted her right brow, half expecting Gwen to dive for the phone. But there was nothing more than a shrug from her.

“If you want to ruin your surprise go right away. But don’t come crying to me saying how you couldn’t wait.” It was easy to bait Olivia. The two had known each other for twenty-three out of their twenty-seven years of life. “Go ahead. Look if you must.”

Olivia stood with her mouth open, looking at the phone, not knowing what to do. She blinked a few times, waiting to see if Gwen was lying. But there was nothing. Moving faster than she expected herself to, she snatched a business card off the desk and ran into the bathroom with the card and phone. Gwen rushed over and pounded on the door, but there was nothing she could do about it now.

When Olivia finally returned from the bathroom, she had a massive smirk on her face. Gwen knew that look all too well. “What did you do?”

“Oh, nothing. Just you might want to put on something cute. The knights of the round table are heading this way.” Olivia stumbled over her bag she had carelessly tossed down when she came in. Luckily, there was a wall to catch her.

“Hmm. I don’t think you’ll be needing a drink anytime soon. You can’t even walk soberly.” Gwen found the cooler that Olivia had for some reason stuffed in the closet. She pulled out orange juice and cheap champagne. “Or I’ll just pretend you didn’t smack your head on the wall.”

The doorbell rang just as Olivia finished cleaning up the giant box of makeup; she toted everywhere. It didn’t need to be so large. She only used eye shadow. Everything could have easily been stored in a small bag that fits inside her purse. But every time Gwen brought it up to her, she always said the same thing; “I like to keep my options open.”

Commander Lance Cifone was the first to come through the door. He was no longer in uniform, just board shorts, and a fitted tee. Behind him, another hunk of the same height, though slightly less build. His blonde hair was rebelling against the standard Navy cut.

“It’s good to see you so soon.” Gwen did her best not to give Olivia a death stare, but it was hard when the girl was pretending to be little Miss innocent.

Lance leaned in and kissed her cheek. “Olivia’s text seemed so eager to get us here. I didn’t want to disappoint.”

“What? No?” Olivia’s face flushed. “That was all, Gwen.”

“Well then,” He winked at Gwen. “I better send Charlie back because I thought I was fulfilling a specific order.”

“No need.” Olivia shut the door quickly behind him. “I’m sure he wouldn’t want to go back to base while on leave. If he did, I’d just feel horrible.”

Gwen loved when Olivia’s plans backfired on her. “So what do you Navy boys do besides get drunk and tan yourselves?”

“We take pretty girls on boat rides.” Lance nodded towards the ocean. The girls grabbed a few towels and the cooler they had packed already. Charlie came through with a packed lunch for the four of them.

“So the Navy is like grown-up boy scouts? Always prepared?” Olivia said, earning the stink eye from Gwen. “What?”

Charlie led the way from the hotel to the boat. Olivia watched as Gwen and Lance talked. There was something about him that made her worry. Gwen glanced at her, and Olivia beckoned her back with a finger.

“Hey, anything wrong?” Gwen wanted to know why her bouncy friend had done a 180.

“Are we really going on the boat with them? I mean, we just met them.” Olivia whispered. “What if they are like serial killers or something?”

Gwen fought back a sigh. “Well, I was going to wait to tell you, but this isn’t my first time meeting Lance.”

“What?” Olivia stopped in her tracks.

“And you’re just telling me now?”

“Well, I was going to tell you on the way down. But I thought this was more fun.” Gwen felt bad for holding back from Olivia. She was her best friend, but she had to be sure there was something there before she even thought about telling the Drama Queen anything. “Look, when we get out on the water, I promise you’ll get the whole story.”

Olivia waited a moment before she caught up with them. Gwen bounded through the sand and caught Lance’s hand. He leaned in and gave her a quick kiss. Olivia wanted to be happy for them, but knowing her best friend had kept a secret left her bitter. Olivia shook her hands and feet, letting the anger flow out of her.

“Is she okay?” Lance asked.

“She’ll be fine in a moment. That’s her angry dance.” Gwen let Lance help her into the boat.

Olivia, with the temper tantrum she had just thrown, felt even more stupid standing there with the picnic basket. She wouldn’t blame Charlie if he backed out now. Damn it, Lance. Charlie is perfect. How could she stay mad at her best friend when she picked the perfect guy for her? “Hey, wait for me!”

The water was glassy perfection allowing a clear view of the colorful fish that swam around the anchored boat. The two couples grabbed their snorkeling gear and decided to explore the nearby reef. Olivia could not believe how she almost ruined the day.

Beautiful colored parrotfish munched away on the reef while a school of Sergeant Major fish swam quickly over them. The sun was at high noon, and Gwen and Olivia started to burn. Unlike the two Naval officers, they did not have tanned skin. At the bottom of the small stepladder swam a giant, dark fish. Olivia froze. Everyone surfaced as Olivia started panicking and swimming away from the boat. Charlie stopped Olivia from trying to swimming miles back to shore.

“Where are you going?”

“That thing is going to eat me!” The words squeaked out of her.

“Olivia, seriously?” Gwen couldn’t believe her. They had gone over flashcards of fish that looked dangerous and which weren’t, just for this reason.

“It’s Goliath grouper.” Olivia just stared at her. It seemed the flashcards hadn’t worked.

“It’s also called a Jew Fish.” Gwen saw the gears in Olivia’s head start to put things together. “It’s not going to eat you.”

“Well, it looks like it can swallow me whole.” She put her mask on and slowly started to swim back to the boat. Charlie held her hand the whole way.

“Gwen, you need help with that?” Lance took the sunscreen from her and started to rub it on her back. “I mean unless you were going for the tiger stripe look.”

“I thought that’s what you liked.” She shivered from the cold spray.

“So, are you going to tell me or what?” Olivia had her giant beach hat on and huge dark sunglasses. She looked like a movie star from the 1960s.

Gwen thought about holding out a little longer, but Olivia looked as though she was about to explode. “Remember about six months ago when I had to go to Tampa?”

“Yeah, it was to be a guest speaker. OH MY GOD! Was he a student?” The question was a strange mix of happiness and why.

“What? No. Lance asked me to come to speak about training animals for the Navy.” Gwen honestly didn’t know what went on in Olivia’s head sometimes. “He took me to dinner both nights. I was out there saying it was for rapport or something, but after dinner, let me know that it wasn’t.”

“So you held out for six months?” The alcohol was finally hitting her, and she wasn’t as mad as she was this morning.

“I couldn’t tell you. You have been talking forever about me meeting a Lancelot. I thought this would be more fun.” Gwen left her sitting on the bow.

The men had disappeared into the cabin. She was glad that Lance hadn’t heard how Olivia was probably already planning their wedding and demise in her head. It was much cooler below deck.

“What’s that?” She pointed to the map.

“We’re just trying to find an island the guys keep talking about,” Charlie answered.

“What’s so special about it? Aren’t there a bunch of little ones all over the place?” Gwen cuddled up to Lance. It was nice to be next to him.

“Some of the guys say it’s haunted. I call bullshit, but Charlie wants to check it out.” Lance absent-mindedly started to scratch Gwen’s back. “But there are other things I’d much rather be doing with you.”

Gwen eyed him. First time in months, she could actually touch him, but now, all she wanted to do was kick him. He brought Charlie along to distract Olivia, not invite them both out on the romantic boating trip he had promised her. They were already out here together, no way she could ditch her best friend now. “I’m sure one little adventure wouldn’t hurt.”

“We’re going on an adventure?” Olivia peeked in. She had an irrational fear of boat cabins.

“Yeah, we’re going to go ghost hunting.” Gwen watched her friend’s face go white.

Where had her best friend gone? Who was this scaredy-cat standing before her? “You alright? If I remember correctly, you dragged me throughout New Orleans hunting ghosts.”

“Yeah, but that was on land. With land surrounding us. What if the boat breaks? Or a ghost lets out all our gas? Or what if we get separated?”

“Don’t worry, Olivia, remember you’re with the grown-up boy scouts,” Charlie said, taking a small dig at her as he brought up lunch.

It was another three hours before they saw anything. Gwen started to wonder if they were going to end up in the Bahamas or maybe even Cuba. “Are you sure that the island even exists?” she asked. “

We’re going to get stranded out at sea and have to catch a shark to pull us back to shore, aren’t we?” Everyone looked at Olivia. “What? It could happen.”

“What has she been drinking?” Lance whispered into Gwen’s ear.

“Not really sure, but I think I want some.” Just as she finished saying, they spotted land on the horizon.

Olivia waved at the hazy land. “Why, hello ghost island.”

When they pulled up to the dock, it was worn and covered with barnacles. They saw that someone had recently been here. There was a fresh rope neatly piled up. They all gave each other an uneasy look. They weren’t leaving without exploring first. Olivia clutched the rail. “Gwen, I think we might want to sit this out.”

“What’s gotten into you?” Gwen pulled her onto the dock. “You’re the one who always drags me to these kinds of places.”

“Yeah, but they aren’t three hours away from civilization.” Olivia’s eyes darted around the island, searching for a reason to make Gwen stay in the boat.

It was an overgrown mess. Palmetto branches cut their legs. There were no houses for the ghosts to haunt. At least none that the four had run into yet. Birds of paradise sang to their intruders from flowering trees. Spiderwebs hung just above their heads, forcing the men to crouch in a few places.

Gwen looked back at her friend, who was still on high alert. “See nothing to be scared of.”

“You’re right,” she said as a rabbit hopped past the group and back into the bushes. “All that’s here are cute little animals.”

“Hey, what’s that over there?” Charlie asked, pointing at a chain-link fence that was covered in vines. The barbed wire on the top looked too new for how overgrown everything on the island was.

“Okay, guys, let’s go back.” Olivia was trembling.

Lance wanted to push on, but Gwen was starting to catch a bit of Olivia’s fear. “A quick look, and we’ll turn back, I promise.”

The group walked along the fence. The vines and overgrowth were starting to look all too perfect. It was clear that it was to mask the fence from the shore. Gwen doubted that whoever put up the fence thought people would wander this deep into the woods.

“Oh, there is definitely someone here,” Gwen said, pointing to a small, spinning radar dish.

“What is that?” Olivia asked.

“It could be several things,” said Lance. He squeezed Gwen’s hand, which was resting on his shoulder. “We can go back.”

“Are you crazy?” Gwen said. “We just found something. Let’s go.” She moved quicker down the fence.

“Gwen!” Olivia squealed. “Please! Let’s go back.”

Gwen kept walking. She had never complained when Olivia would drag her to historical places that were supposed to be haunted. Now that they finally found a real place that could truly be haunted, Olivia wanted to turn back. It made no sense. Just ahead was a roadway leading to whatever was hidden behind the fence. On either side of the solid-looking gate were guard towers with their windows smashed in. They didn’t see any guards.

“Did you call in our coordinates?” Charlie asked. Lance shook his head. He took one look at the wielded gate and grabbed Gwen. “We need to leave. Now.”

“What? It’s just a closed base. Why are you so freaked out?” She got out of his grip and marched up to the door just to the side of the gate and tugged at it. “Look. The door still opens.” Gwen ducked inside before anyone could stop her.

“Your girl is going to get us killed.” Charlie followed after Lance.

There were two buildings inside. Lance and Charlie knew this was a research facility. Lance had met Gwen on a base that was basically its twin. Expect this one had chains on the doors and bars over the windows.

“She’s over there.” Olivia pointed to where she saw a figure in the distance.

“Over there?” Lance asked. “There was no way Gwen could have run off that quickly. We were right behind her.”

Olivia tried to shake off her fear. “Well, Charlie, I think we found your ghost.”

“Lance!” Gwen’s cry came from another direction.

The three ran towards it. Lance and Charlie both pulled guns from their pockets. Olivia just looked at them. “Why do you have guns?”

“Boys scouts, always prepared, right?” But Lance’s voice was shaking.

Gwen came running from around the building. Olivia had never seen her move so quickly. Moans echoed through the empty space.

“Where the fuck did you bring us?” Gwen said as she ran past them.

“Those aren’t ghosts. Those are fucking zombies!” Olivia shouted. She didn’t understand why Lance and Charlie were just standing there. “Shoot them!”

Charlie picked up Olivia and ran. No one stopped running until they were back at the boat. In the cabin, Lance made Gwen strip down to be sure she wasn’t scratched or bitten. “Did you know about this place?” Gwen couldn’t hold back her anger.

“You know I didn’t.” Lance kept his distance. She had already pulled away once, and maybe space was what she needed.

Gwen paced the small cabin. “Human testing wasn’t supposed to start for another five years.”

Lance stopped her. “Gwen, what are you talking about?”

“Don’t act like you don’t know.” She pushed him off of her. “Why do you think I was there?”

“Because you were an expert in animal training. Why else would you have been there?” Lance didn’t know what she was talking about. He trained dolphins to salvage things from wrecks, and until now, he thought Gwen trained otters and other animals to do the same thing.

Gwen muttered to herself. “The super soldier project. They were testing it on the animals first.”

Lance held his breath. He didn’t want to alarm the two upstairs. If they were doing the testings on humans here, there should be no problem. He’d bring Charlie and a few other guys back and take care of the mess. The zombies were contained. It would be an easy clean-up. As Lance started to relax, so did Gwen. Everything would be alright.

The boat had been moving for some time before Gwen and Lance made their way out of the cabin.

“Everything alright?” Lance asked, popping open a beer.

“We’re good,” Charlie said, accepting a beer.

Olivia sat down next to Gwen and whispered. “Did anyone shut the door?”

Short Stories

Molly’s Unicorn

I waited for my parents to fall asleep. I never really knew if they were truly asleep. My dad was a strange sleeper. The slightest sound would wake him, but a loud noise he’d ignore. I guess he thought if you were breaking in and smashing around, you weren’t actually breaking in. That or the cat had caused too many false alarms in the past. With my mom, all I had to do was wait for her light to go off. Sometimes it didn’t, which meant she fell asleep reading.

I had to be careful when I slipped through the window. I didn’t mind the house being brick until moments like these. Mom would ask questions if I had scratches on my hands or snags on my clothes. She didn’t notice the obvious things, but she did see mom things. I made sure the window was shut tightly. After a successful jailbreak, that was all I needed to have the alarm start chirping and wake dad.

“Molly?” Jonathan asked from his window. “Where are you going?”

I was so close to getting out of there. “I am just going to watch the stars.”

Jonathan craned his neck from his window to see the clear night. “Can I come?”

I shook my head. “Next time.”

“You’re meeting a boy, aren’t you?” He asked in the most disappointing way a ten-year-old could.

“No, I’m not.” I lied.

“Where do you go?” Jonathan could get anything from me. He had the most enormous brown eyes and the sweetest smile, but he was hiding something. Behind his smile was pain. He always seemed lonely to me, so leaving him pulled at me more than it would, my friends.

I had to make him feel better. “Your birthday is next week, right?”

He shrugged.

“Well, you’ll be eleven, and that’s when I started going on adventures.” It was nice to see him smile. “We’ll go on your birthday. Promise.”

Jonathan shoved his pinkie at me. “Promise?

We twisted pinkies and kissed our thumbs. No one could break a pinkie promise, at least not me. “I have to go. Turn the music down, or dad will hear your Gameboy.” I darted past my parents’ window. Mom’s light was on, but it was three in the morning. She was asleep. I could see the back gate.

Our neighborhood was built in the sixties when people knew who lived next door to each other. Everyone had a back gate. It led to a strip of land, almost like a hallway of the backyards. You could walk through it at one end of the block and eventually end up in your backyard. But no one used them anymore since everyone had put up tall wooden fences.

I flipped the handle on the metal post. Thankfully there were no squeaks. A cool rush of air breezed past me. I was ready to leave this place. The hot summer heat had done a number on me this year. My hair stayed frizzy no matter how many times I flattened it. The only good thing about this Florida weather was the humidity since I never had to worry about my skin going dry.

I looked back to see if Jonathan was watching. His light was off. Mom’s light was still on. Everything seemed so normal and peaceful. I needed this more than anyone in the house could know. I needed the adventure to keep my spirits up. I needed to be the person I felt I really was. I was more than a sixteen-year-old girl who got straight A’s. I was more than the mousy girl who never caused any trouble. Or the drama geek who spent every day after school in the theater even when my lines aren’t being read because I wanted help out behind the scenes, too.

I was a rider—a hunter. I ran with the fastest of warriors trying to protect what was left of their lands. No one believed me. Mother told me I had a wicked imagination and I should write my stories down. Teachers started to question my grasp on reality. But here, on this threshold, I was more.

A puff of impatient hot breath told me it was time to move on. I crossed over, leaving my simple suburban life behind. I could feel the spiraled markings grow across my chest and spread down my arms all the way to the tips of my fingers. My tank top morphed into a tight leather vest, and my leggings, which mother swore would make me sweat in this Florida heat, extended down to my bare feet, encasing them with beaded moccasins. I heard Whisper stomp his foot, and I turned. He shook his head, and a piece of gray hair fell over his horn. I ran from my gate and jumped on his back, trusting that wherever we would go, it was going to be an adventure that no one would believe.

The wind tangled my hair into knots that would take days to brush out. Whisper waves around trees as I ducked under the low-lying branches, he was on a mission tonight, and nothing was going to stop him. We ran past the clear lake where rainbow fish swan. There was no stopping at the apple orchards that grew the sweetest tasting fruits I had ever tasted. No, this time, we were passing every bit of the forest I have ever been through. We were headed to Avalon.