Pain: it’s a paradox
What do yoy do when you cannot cry? When you're choking and drowning in tears but not a drop comes out. When you want to scream but the sound is trapped. When you're chained to a cold, hard fear; but do not know where the chains strat or where they end.
I'm walking through this tangled mess blinded by its force, to smile, when I want to scream, "leave me alone!" Putting on an act, because I do not know what to do. Not knowing how to answer this darkness, or how to turn on the light, I'm lost. But I have not idea as to why? Or where to start?
The tears finally come but it came because I smiled too much that my heart feels as if it has been through the shredder over and over again.
I want to stay here in this darkness, to feel this pain again and over, all the time. But I hate myself for thinking that.
You may ask why I am speaking in a paradox?
Well that is because; Pain is addictive, you want to let go and hold on tight all at once.
Fast Moving Dreams
Paige doesn’t have to see in the dimly lit truck to know the purple vein in Big Daddy’s forehead is pulsing, that his hands clench the steering wheel and his lips twitch as he prepares to unleash a barrage of shaming words. The speedometer glows white, faintly illuminating Big Daddy in his stiff new overalls. Fifty, sixty, seventy miles per hour, too fast for the clunky red pickup that whines to keep up with Big Daddy’s rage. Paige crouches against the passenger door.
They are headed to the bus station. Big Daddy had shoved Paige in the truck and said he was putting her on the next Greyhound leaving town. Said he wanted her gone for good. Said this is tough love, which makes his chest heavy, but there is no other way.
Big Daddy drives in fuming silence at first. Then the yelling starts, builds to high speed like the truck, madder and faster as Big Daddy fumes. Paige only hears some of the words. She learned long ago to put an invisible helmet over her ears, and to pretend she is invisible too.
Paige has heard most of these words before. Addict. Weren’t raised this way. Piece of shit boyfriend. Trash. Hurting Abby. Stealing, from me! Me! He bangs his fists on the steering wheel. Ought to call the cops. But no! You’d be back like a damn feral cat. Getting you the hell away from Abby.
Paige winces at the mention of Abby. She hadn’t gotten to say goodbye to her little girl. But surely Big Daddy won’t really make her leave. Back like a damn feral cat made her cringe too. She is his daughter, not some stray animal.
Surely, Paige thinks, this will end like when she was a teenager and Big Daddy caught her skipping school with Danny. Big Daddy drove around yelling until his throat hurt, then ground her and refused to speak to her for days. Mother had treated her like a sick, wounded creature, bringing soup and crackers on a tray to her room for dinners, until Big Daddy got worn out being mad and let life settle to normal.
The mean words continue now though, like a stream of consciousness. She hates Big Daddy because he doesn’t understand her. His words make her want to go away, to find a place with Danny again. Danny will get her from the bus stop if Big Daddy follows through. Big Daddy’s eyes are on the road. She plucks a strand of long brown hair from her head and presses the tip to her lips.
“Stop it Paige!” Big Daddy yells and snatches the thin strand. How did he see that? Paige wonders. The butterflies wake up and flap, flap, flap in Paige’s stomach. She’d always called worries and nerves the butterflies. Mother calls them that too. Paige smiles remembering how Abby thought they were real butterflies, black monarchs and orange and yellow painted ladies flying around in your stomach like on a bloody summer day in a garden.
Big Daddy couldn’t make her leave Abby. A wave of nausea washes through Paige and tears well. She doesn’t know what to do with Abby. Her sister, Melissa the perfect, thinks Paige is a terrible mother, but Paige loves her daughter. That’s all you need, right? But she can’t have Danny and the drugs, and be a mother, responsible and all. Danny and the drugs always call her back. The heroin, the meth had chosen her, but no one understands.
Paige rolls down the passenger window for air to tamp the nausea and to let Big Daddy’s words dissipate into the night rather than hover around her all hot and moist in the cab. She looks out into the Knoxville sky, lit with billboards, and beyond that a faint sprinkling of stars. The rain-scented mountain air helps her breathe, refreshes her face, and whips her hair.
Big Daddy pulls off I-40 at North Central and eases down Magnolia to the Greyhound station. He parks the truck, which ticks to cool down as they sit in silence.
“Next bus leaving,” he says. Big Daddy looks straight out the windshield into the night. “Don’t care where it’s going.”
Paige wipes her runny nose with the back of her hand, opens the passenger door, picks up her backpack and sling purse from the floor, and steps outside. She stares at her father, who sits in the harsh glare of the overhead cab light. His eyes look sad, but unrelenting. His lips press together in a firmness that says Paige can’t come home.
“It’s cruel to kick out your own flesh and blood,” Paige says, spitting the words. ’What kind of father does that?” She waits for Big Daddy to say “I know. I can’t do it,” and order her back inside the truck. Instead, Big Daddy sighs and gets out of the vehicle, slams the door hard.
“This is your own doing, Paige,” he says. “You’re 25 and still acting 15. You’re killing me, taking years off my life.”
Goosebumps pop on Paige’s skinny arms and legs. The June night suddenly feels too cold for blue-jean shorts and a tank top.
“Daddy,” she says. Her voice cracks. “Please don’t. I can’t leave Abby. And where will I go?” Paige shivers as she talks. He’s really doing this, she thinks.
“You’ve already left Abby,” Big Daddy says. “You aren’t there for her at all. It’s the rest of us -- me, your mother, and Melissa who tend to Abby.” His voice is soft but firm. A thick moment of silence passes as they glare at each other across the expanse of the truck bed, the parking lot light drawing gnats toward their faces.
“You can’t force me to go!” Paige stomps her foot. “That’s child abuse. You could be arrested.”
“Twenty-five is not a child, Paige. Don’t threaten me,” Big Daddy says, his voice strangely calm now.
“I hate you,” Paige hisses at him. “I hate you for this.”
“Well, I don’t hate you. But I don’t know what to do with you,” Big Daddy says. “A man shouldn’t have to put a private lock on his bedroom door to keep his child from stealing cash from his wallet, or rummaging through the closet for the guns.”
His lips twitch as though he might cry. He waves away a swarm of gnats. “I can’t have you stealing from me, coming home high, and then disappearing for weeks without a thought for Abby. And as for your mother, you’ve caused her to age way beyond her years.
“Mama’s not my fault,” Paige yells.
“I’m sorry, honey, but we are done. I hope you learn something from this, grow up and get your life together. Until that happens, you’re on your own.”
Paige squares her jaw, tightens her lips, and slams shut the passenger door, trembling mad inside. Well screw him, she thinks. He never loved her. No decent father would throw his daughter on the streets. He loves Melissa, the smart one. Sorry she can’t be Melissa.
Paige walks fast into the station, hating Big Daddy for crossing this line, hating Melissa. She keeps her head down. Her heart pounds. Big Daddy follows her, purchases a one-way ticket on the next Greyhound headed to Denver, Colorado. Paige has never been there, but she knows it is far away. Too far to easily get back home.
Paige snatches the ticket and walks to the far end of the station, takes a seat in a blue plastic chair attached to a row of blue plastic chairs. She doesn’t look back, determined not to give Big Daddy the satisfaction. Big Daddy clunks coins in a vending machine for a Coke and sits a distance away, sipping the drink.
Paige decides that when he leaves, she’ll cash in the ticket and take a cab to Danny’s house, or find a motel for the night. But Big Daddy doesn’t go anywhere. Paige has no choice but to board the bus and leave everything she knows behind.
Banging and yelling upstairs wakes Abby from a fitful sleep. Abby’s grandfather, Big Daddy, thunders across the ceiling. Abby pats the bed, but no one is there. Overhead, Big Daddy shouts words with “God” in them, words you aren’t supposed to say. Brave Abby wants to barge her eight-year-old-self upstairs and scream “stop!” Scared Abby jams her head under the pillow, a soft shield that does little to mute the noise.
A pale glow spills over the stairs that line the far wall and lead to the main level of the house. Aunt Melissa, who Abby calls Meme, climbs down slowly with a flashlight, one hand spread across her pregnant belly. She unlocks the desk drawer, counts out dollars, and stuffs them in her short’s pockets.
“Why’s Big Daddy mad?” Abby whispers.
“Can’t talk, Abby. Go to sleep. He’s not mad at you.” Meme takes the steps back up two at a time.
More angry stomps. A cabinet door slams. Abby sniffles against her pillow. She knows this has something to do with Mama. She pulls her fists under her chin and curls in a ball. Jinx sits on the bed and pats Abby’s back. Aunt Meme says Jinx is imaginary, but she seems real to Abby with her short orange-red hair and green eyes, always saying things that make Abby feel better.
“It’s probably nothing,” Jinx says. “He gets mad over nothing.”
Big Daddy’s old truck revs, squeals in the gravel driveway. Then, silence. Damp, dark basement air stirs like a spooky presence. The house sounds extra quiet after the commotion.
Meme walks back down the steps and Jinx disappears. Jinx doesn’t like Meme. The bed squeaks with Meme’s weight even though she’s skinny as a stick everywhere except her pregnant belly. Meme pulls Abby close and strokes her hair. Meme is so sweet -- sometimes.
“What’s going on?” Abby whispers.
Meme lights a cigarette. The match flares, sizzles. The tip of her Salem flits like a firefly around her tight-set mouth.
“I’m going to tell you the truth Abby, like I always do.” She pulls the chain on the driftwood lamp Big Daddy made. Abby takes a deep breath and waits. Meme doesn’t always tell the truth.
“You know how your mama sometimes makes bad decisions?”
“Because of the Polar Bear?”
“Well yes. The bi-polar. That’s part of the problem.”
Abby sits up and moves closer. Meme puts her arm around Abby’s shoulders. This is what Abby calls the “time before the knowing,” the few seconds when she is aware there is bad news, usually about Mama, but the words haven’t yet spilled into the air to become real.
I want to slow down time, Abby thinks. Stay here, where Meme loves me and I don’t know about the bad thing, whatever Mama did this time. She thinks of the merry-go-round at school, where you can dig in your heels, pull with your arms and slow down, go almost still.
Meme sighs and shakes the foot of her crossed leg, dangling a flip-flop. Abby knows she is hesitating because she’s thinking how to phrase things, how to make whatever happened hit Abby’s heart like a soap bubble instead of a brick.
“Your mama made another bad decision.” Meme takes a deep inhale on her cigarette and turns her head to the side, exhaling a stream of smoke. “I don’t how she got so over her head, if she quit taking her meds, or is on something else, or what. You can never tell with Paige.”
Smoke ghosts elongate like spooky eaves-droppers waiting to hear what Meme says before floating up and out the crack in the window. “You know how mad Big Daddy gets sometimes, right?”
“Go on and tell. What did she do?” Abby hears the dread in her voice, the dragging of vowels that Meme hates.
“It doesn’t matter what she did, and you don’t need to worry over it. Big Daddy kicked her out for good. He’s driving her to the bus station and putting her on the next Greyhound, no matter where it’s headed. He wants her out of our lives. Those were his exact words.”
“Out of our lives?” Abby asks. “No! You can’t kick people out of a family! She’s Mama!” Abby’s throat feels suddenly sore and her eyes swell with tears. The panic butterflies pummel her chest, beating their little wings as hard as they can.
“He sure can and he is.” Meme sits her Salem Light on the table and pulls her brown hair into a ponytail with a rubber band, then picks the cigarette back up.
“I gave her a little money, enough for a place to stay until she gets on her feet. She’s got her meds, and I told her I’d forward next month’s pills when she lands somewhere. She’ll be okay. Thank God she’s gone though. We are all going to be better off. ”
Abby jumps off the bed, furious at Meme and Big Daddy for wanting Mama gone. How can anyone’s mama be out of a girl’s life? She digs in her clothes pile for something besides the Hello Kitty pajamas she’s wearing.
Grandma Lovey will understand and take Abby to the bus station; maybe she can go away with her mother or at least say “goodbye.” She doesn’t want to live in Big Daddy and Lovey’s house with Meme and not Mama.
“I’m going too!” Abby tells Meme. “She’s my mama! I don’t want her out of my life. I’m not glad she’s gone. Hey Jinx,” Abby yells, “help me pack. Lovey will take us to the bus.”
Meme rolls her eyes and taps cigarette ash in the base of the driftwood lamp.
“For the last time Abby, grow up. Jinx is not real.”
“I’m eight!” Abby shouts but isn’t sure if she means she is grown up, or that she is just eight and has a right to believe in magical things and to have her mama with her. Somehow, she thinks, she means both things.
“She’s a made-up friend. And besides, you aren’t going anywhere,” Meme sighs. Her voice turns softer.
“I know you don’t understand and want Paige to stay, but she’s already on a bus by now. I know you love your mama, but you’ll understand someday why she’s not good for you. Besides you’re safer here and starting third grade soon!”
Abby turns her face from Meme’s eager smile about school. The other kids have moms who bring cupcakes on their birthdays and drive on field trips. School is where Abby learned that all moms and daughters don’t live in their grandparents’ homes, sleep in their mother’s childhood bedroom, or in the basement with an aunt. Most live with their moms and dads in their own house or apartment, and visit their grandparents on Christmas. Warm tears hit Abby’s cheeks, her nose runs, and her heart throbs like in the fast-moving dreams, even though she’s standing still in an ankle-deep heap of unfolded clothes.
Abby imagines her mama riding to the bus station, arms crossed, glaring out the window, mad at Big Daddy for throwing her out. Where will she go? Abby wonders. Her home is here, in the canopy room she shares with Abby, in Big Daddy and Lovey’s house, 537 Juno Drive in Knoxville, Tennessee, the address she had to memorize in first grade. Nowhere else can be home! She must have panic butterflies real bad, Abby thinks, and bursts into a fresh round of tears.
She wonders what Mama said to Big Daddy on the way to the bus station. Did she say “Tell Abby I love her? I’ll be back for her?” She might not be the kind of mama everyone else has, but she’s Abby’s mama, and cupcakes or not, Abby needs her to be the one person in the world who loves her most.
With Mama gone, who will sleep with Abby in the canopy bed upstairs? Who will flip through Glamour magazines with her and Jinx and tell them who the stars are? Because Mama understands about Jinx and doesn’t tell Abby to grow up. Who will wake Abby in the middle of the night to raid the freezer, giggling and shushing each other as they eat chocolate ice cream by the blue light of the open door? Who will love Abby most of all?
And what about Dell the Giant? With Mama gone, will he leave too? A few days ago he brought Abby star-shaped sunglasses and a coloring book from Goodwill, where he works. He’s Mama’s friend, but he’s so sweet and nice to Abby. She doesn’t want to lose Dell, too! She’s known him all her life. She once asked her mother if Dell was her father. Paige had made a snorting laugh and said “don’t be ridiculous.”
“Hey,” Meme lifts Abby’s chin with her pointing finger. “You want your mama to be safe, don’t you? She’s safer away. You’re safer here. You don’t want to travel away on a bus, do you?”
“No.” Abby lets the pair of shorts she dug from the clothes pile drop from her fingertips, then falls back on the bed. “But I already miss her,” Abby says. “I miss her so bad.”
“Don’t pout,” Meme says. “You’re loved plenty.” She pauses, then in a rush grabs Abby’s hand.
“Feel this,” she says. Meme places Abby’s palm on the skin of her big belly. It’s a private place, underneath the waistband of her elastic stretch shorts. Meme’s belly is hard as rock. Two faint kicks press into Abby’s palm. Boom, Boom. They feel like heartbeats. Abby’s lips curl into a smile and her hand trembles against Meme’s warm skin.
She can’t be angry with Meme, now that her aunt has let her touch the thin-stretched skin of her stomach, let her feel the kicks. Abby has never touched another person’s belly like this. It feels private, a personal thing she wasn’t part of before but now is.
Her heart beats quicken. She leaves her hand there, hoping for more kicks, hoping Meme will embrace her again, will stroke her hair and tell her not to worry about Mama, that she’ll talk Big Daddy into letting Mama come back and everything will be okay. Another kick tickles Abby’s palm.
“That’s your cousin,” Meme says. “You will be sort of like a big sister.”
“Yea,” Abby smiles. “Sort of like you and Mama.
“Well,” Meme says. “Hopefully not.”
Paige drags her backpack up the steep steps of the bus, clutching her sling purse close to her chest. About a fourth of the seats are filled with hunched over men and women. The smell of sweat and mold fills the air. No one says anything to her and she is glad. A withered-looking woman nods and smiles but Paige ignores her.
Where did these sad people come from, Paige wonders? Where are they going? A lyric to an oldie’s song Big Daddy plays sticks in her head. “All the lonely people, where do they all belong….” She finds an empty row of seats near the front and plops down, curls into a fetal position, and pulls her iPhone from her purse.
She calls Danny’s number for the tenth time, then texts Melissa, who doesn’t respond either. The soft hug Melissa gave her when she handed Paige the $400 must have meant nothing. And Danny, saying he loved her all those nights. That was bullshit too. If any of them loved her they wouldn’t have let this happen. She’s truly on her own with nothing but Melissa’s money, a baggie of heroine she took from Danny’s stash last time she was at the trailer and a handful of Adderall.
Alone. No place to sleep, no Abby to snuggle with when she needs a hug. She could get murdered out here. How would Big Daddy like that? How would he feel about tough love then?
She pictures in her mind police officers knocking on the door at home, bringing the news that the dead body of Paige Anne Marsh was discovered in Denver, Colorado. Lovey and Abby would cry hysterically and blame Big Daddy. They would never speak to him again and he would die alone and sad. The panic butterflies kick in.
“I’m in trouble,” Paige says to herself. “I’m in serious trouble.”
Her lips twitch as she thinks of the white powder in her purse. So glad she lifted it off Danny when she did. Paige digs in her purse for her straw, draws the purse close to her face, and snorts just enough heroin to help her cope, calm her down, and make her feel better. God, she needs it more than ever. It’s the only thing she can count on.
The bus pulls out of the terminal just as the sun begins to rise and Paige’s high kicks in. She’s on an adventure now, awake and alert, watching the pink dawn, a new day opening, through the wide bus window. It feels a little like she’s at a theater.
Under the bridge, homeless men and women mill about, which makes Paige uneasy so she looks away. This part of town feels grey and lonely, deserted except for a couple entering a coffee house and a lone homeless man curled under an awning.
The Sun Sphere stands tall above the town, its big golden ball like another world in the sky, an unreachable world. A World’s Fair World that dinky Knoxville hosted before Paige was born. The university, just a few blocks over, Melissa’s old territory, would be quiet this time of morning.
“Glad I’m leaving this stupid town,” Paige mumbles.
The bus hisses and sighs like a live beast, then pulls onto the downtown streets. They hit I-40 West toward Nashville and pick up speed, then pass the exit for Pellissippi State, where Paige had once considered enrolling for a business degree. That imagined life wouldn’t happen.
But something new will happen, something exciting, she thinks. Big Daddy isn’t yelling at her. Danny’s brother can’t track her down for the money she owes. Abby will be okay with Melissa and Lovey. She’s free now, free of her old life and off to a new one where she doesn’t owe money and can become anyone she wants. She feels light, dandelion fluff in the wind. Off to wherever the breeze takes her.
Paige would love a cigarette, but a sign up front says “no smoking,” and she doesn’t want to call attention to herself. So she adjusts her backpack against the window, rests her head on it, and falls asleep thinking of dandelions, but her dreams take a darker turn.
A tabby mama cat in an alley scavenges trash cans for food. It’s a pretty cat, orange and black and white. But it turns rabid with a rat in its teeth and chunks of hair missing. She knows it’s a dream but she desperately wants the pretty cat back, the smooth-haired tabby with the gentle purr. She can’t steer her dream that way. The rabid cat slinks closer, drops the rat on her lap.
Paige wakes nervous and fretful, her neck sore from sleeping against the bus frame, her mouth cotton dry. A sour odor wafts from her armpits. She watches the boring landscape -- fields planted with corn or wheat, dotted with cows, barns and ponds. Her stomach growls.
“Where are we?” she asks the withered lady.
“Past Nashville, headed to St. Louis,” the lady says. “You slept right through that stop.”
I must have slept four or five hours, Paige thinks. Now she longs for St. Louis so she can get something to eat and drink and use a proper restroom.
In St. Louis, the bus screeches to a halt and swings open its doors. A big, lumbering man in overalls boards. He reminds Paige of Big Daddy because of the overalls, but this man is taller and his overalls are threadbare and washed to a faint blue, not starched and stiff like Big Daddy’s.
His beard and hair are bushy and mostly gray, but strands of reddish-orange show through. The man catches Paige’s eye, but she quickly looks down and calls Danny again. Her shoulders shake as she chokes back sobs because Danny still isn’t answering and she is a long way from home.
“You all right, darling?” The big man touches her shoulder.
“Leave me alone.” She flinches at the touch, stays hidden behind the waterfall of hair.
“Headed clear to Denver?”
“I said leave me alone.”
“My name’s Jonah. Long trip to Denver. Travelers can use friends.”
Paige shakes her head, still looking down, hair swinging back and forth and hiding her face. She doesn’t want to look at anyone right now. She wants this old, smelly man to leave her alone. Who knows, he could be a rapist. He claims the seats across the aisle and a couple rows back.
“Creep,” Paige mutters as she stands and steps outside. The air is thick and toxic with bus fumes. Inside she purchases two bottled waters from a vending machine and gulps one down, then plunks in quarters for cheese and crackers, a tube of Pringles and a pack of Salem Lights.
She could stay in St. Louis, she thinks. Not return to the bus and the chatty old man. But her backpack is there, and Colorado is supposed to be pretty with all the mountains. Maybe she could get approved for medical marijuana. She smokes a cigarette and reminds herself it’s an adventure.
TITLE: Fast Moving Dreams
GENRE: Adult Literary Novel
WORD COUNT: 56,000 for full novel. This is the first three chapters.
SYNOPSIS: Paige is kicked out of her family home, where she had been living with her little girl. She goes to Denver and meets a homeless preacher and a Jamacian woman who help her set up life in a camper at Camp Timberlake, an old state park that is now a homeless shelter. Three years pass. Abby, now 11, gets clues to her mother's whereabouts and sets out on a trip cross country with an old friend and her grandmother to find Paige and bring her home.
Within an hour, most of the adults were on their way to Janelle’s place. It was the only house that sat on a hilltop, and was situated in such a way that you could see it from anywhere in town. From our window, they looked like ants running up a mound, racing against time before curfew started. I settled on my couch just under the window, and began watching television. It wasn’t long before my eyes got heavy and I found myself drifting off.
Minutes later I was thrust out of my restful state by a tremendous boom, followed by a ground shift below my feet. Turning to the window, a bright light swallowed everything in front of me. I could no longer see Janelles’s place. It's time, I thought to myself. But it's too soon. Outside was dead silent and the light was still too bright to see past it. I have to go underground now. My parents would surely be coming back soon and they would want me to get to safety. I grabbed my little brother and raced to the entrance below our basement stairs. Two smaller booms could be heard in the distance. I got inside, closing the door behind me but not sealing it yet. I felt cool air coming from the pipes above-maybe this is the clean air system the scientist was taking about. Maybe they had to start it early.
For over an hour I waited for my parents to come. When they didn't, I made my way back up the stairs. It was so quiet. Running towards the window, I expected to see swarms of people leaving Janelle’s place to get home. Nothing could have prepared me for the view from my window.
The once lavish house on the hill had been reduced to a smoldering patch of land, like it was vaporized and only the burn marks remained. The homes and small farms that once lined the streets leading up the hill were flattened or had disappeared completely. Debris was scattered as far as the most distant aster fields.
Am I dreaming? Where did everyone go? What is going on? Is this what was supposed to happen with the meteor? I had no one to answer my questions and lacked the mental capacity to even begin to try to understand any of it. Turning with my back towards the window, I sat awkwardly on the edge of the couch. I was overcome with shock, unable to move, I could barely breathe. A small cry broke the nothingness around me. My brother!! Dashing down the stairs, and into the shelter I sealed the door behind me. Resting on the cot, I held Cody in front of me. Are we the only one’s left in this world?
To continue reading, visit: www.jennymena.wixsite.com/mywords/remembering-asterville
Remembering Asterville by Jenny Mena
Short Story Fiction
Full story word count: 4959
Synopsis: A remote town is informed of potential meteor with possible radiation risk. They are advised to build shelters and soon live underground for five years. Something goes terribly wrong before anyone can get to safety. A few lone survivors discover that all is not what it seems and what really happened runs much deeper than they could have ever imagined.
When originally creating this story, I had to limit the word count to under 5000. After finishing it, I realized it was well over 8000, and had to omit many details regarding the setting and character development. This piece has a lot of room to expand and I believe the original story could become something much bigger-which would make for a good fit for anyone trying to pick up a great idea.
I began writing when I was in third grade. My teacher at the time took an interest in my work and really motivated me to pursue it. As life would have it, my writing began dwindling to almost nothing other than reports and research papers. In college, I studied many subjects, and picked up Associates Degrees in Liberal Studies, Communication Studies and General Science, then later received my Vocational Nursing Diploma and License. After more than five years of nursing, I began studying law independently, which I thoroughly enjoyed and plan to eventually make a career out of. I recently left my native state of California after 41 years, and found myself in Nevada. For whatever reason, call it boredom if you will, being here has rekindled my writing and now I am fully immersed in it- much as I should have always done. It is extremely therapeutic and truly brings me joy.
As long as I could remember I have been a creative writer of mostly poetry. Just this year, I began challenging myself by writing in different lengths and genres, and I try to submit my work to just about any contests or challenges that I can find. Remembering Asterville was my very first semi-Sci-Fi piece I ever even attempted, and I was surprised to find how much I really enjoyed it. I am quite proud to say that I have finally finished creating my online writing portfolio, Jennymena.Wixsite.com/mywords. It has taken months, maybe even years, but it is there finally, and I continue to add to it.
There is a great deal of my personality within my work. Although it is hard to find if you don't know what to look for. I am very easy going, open minded, and have a bit of a witty approach to my sense of humor. My blog, "Attitude Your Change" is very telling of the type of person I am, as I openly include some of my beliefs, motivations, loves, and pains as well. Other than writing, I love cooking, being outside, working hard (seriously!) and spending time with my son and partner. My eventual goal is book writing, but in the mean time, I am really enjoying the process of expanding and improving my writing.
Thank you for reading!
Association of Helpful People
"Association of Helpful People"
One day Stan opened a door and saw a bald man in a long quilted black coat who was standing on the threshold. The man introduced himself as a representative of the Association of Useful People. Stan heard about them, about an organization that introduces people to the norms and laws of modern society...
- I am authorized to be assigned to you for a period of one month, as a leading specialist in my field. The man paused abruptly, tilting his head to the side.
There were more and more questions, and Stan flared up:
- By whom are you authorized? What industry?
- Hot temper is good, it will play an excellent role in political conflicts, but this is not about that now, - the friendly intonation has not changed despite the cries of Stan, the specialist continued, - in the modern world it is very dangerous to be detached, lead a reclusive life, ignore the information life. You have completely dropped out of society, and I am here to help you. Three years ago, Helpful People units were created in every city for people like you who are not in the digital world or who do not have the skills to live in it. Such as you are not able to know the joy of social contacts through a virtual network and lose friends right and left. How long ago have you been invited to parties? Or take a walk?
Stan bit his lip.
- I see, for a long time. I was informed...
- And what do you offer me?
- I am your monthly life consultant. You have to do everything I say, and I return your friends, fans and fame.
age range - 18 - 100,
word count - 5 texts around 2800-3000 words
author name - Victoriia,
dystopia is really interesting for nowdays and I love to write,
"The Norm" - a world in which people try to equalize all the bad by sacrificing the good. If a disabled person is born in a family, his fate is shared by the second child, so that the love of the parents goes equally to everyone. A little girl is looking forward to the birth of her brother, not suspecting what trials may await her.
"Interdiction" - farce of the future, where in the era of enlightened beauty, naturalness becomes a curiosity and losing it is equated with death.
"Аbuser" - The woman tells her story about how she came across an inappropriate male attitude towards herself, but already in the course of the story it turns out that it was her behavior that prompted all subsequent events.
"Family Institute" - society lives according to the law of morality - in order to get married you need to go through a long procedure, but in order to terminate it - even longer. A man is tired of living with his wife and his divorce proceedings are nearing an end as he decides to give him a second chance.
target audience - all people who have hight education
My bio - ukrainian writer (Russian language), private teacher
platform - for ukrainian auditory https://g.co/kgs/2MZ1qU
education - master of philology
experience - wrote 2 books (1 has already been published and in sale from 2020 (sold more than 3000)) the second book is going to be published this year, also have education in literature (courses in different printed editions)
The Silent Sentinel
There is a saying that, "A friend in need is a friend indeed."
In the heart of Emerald City, Halloween was an annual tradition. Despite tales of witches kidnapping children and other superstitions, the city's residents never ceased the celebration. They donned masks and costumes to escape their everyday identities during the occasion.
October 2022 was no exception, the entry to the month brought an extra layer of both excitement and mystery to the city's atmosphere.
A young passionate girl stood out among all in this city; where everyone seemed to have a penchant for peering into others' lives.
She had an unassuming yet captivating appearance. Her curly hair framed her face in loose waves, cascading gently to her shoulders. Her hazel eyes held a quiet, thoughtful depth, reflecting both her inner strength and the longing in her heart. She possessed an understated beauty, which, when paired with her genuine smile, was suppose to draw people in but rather it drew them away.
Mary's life was distinct from others, primarily because she lacked friends, despite the routine and predictability of urban living.
Sixteen years prior, Mary and her single mother had settled in the city, where rumors painted her mother as a witch, casting unfounded accusations about her father's identity.
"Mary's mother must have conceived her from sleeping with wizards," gossip echoed through the streets of Emerald City.
This left Mary in a profoundly lonely state. She felt isolated, with no friends to confide in, except for her mother, who, too, sought refuge in solitude.
Her mother, burdened by the weight of societal judgment, often shut herself indoors, unable to bear the stigmatization she encountered whenever she went outside.
"I curse my past!" Mary's mother cried out in her room.
"You and your unborn baby will never find happiness, unless your child finds the affection of true love." the Queen of Elmor yelled at pregnant Julia.
This spell cast on Julia was a punishment for getting intimate with the King who had died a month ago.
Being a maid servant at the Elmor palace, it was barbaric for her to bear the King's child.
"You have to leave now!" Julia's silent friend spoke for the first time after she had given birth. It came like a nightmare to her. But she listened and packed her things, leaving Elmor for good with little Mary.
Back to the present, Mary's life grew darker day by day. Her workplace, a quaint coffee shop, offered her little respite from the loneliness she endured.
Her colleagues showed no genuine interest in her as a person, leaving her to navigate the chilly atmosphere of indifference.
She yearned for a world where she could be free from the cruel whispers and pointed fingers. She dreamed of a time when her mother would step out of the darkness and join her in the light, where the burden of stigmatization could be cast aside.
She wanted a dream come true, that would fill her home with much happiness like it happened in novels.
Despite the challenges she faced, there was an air of resilience about her that shone through in her every expression.
There was one peculiar aspect of Mary's life that set her apart from others-the presence of a constant companion that filled the empty spaces in her heart.
A companion whom Julia introduced to her when she was five years old.
Mary explored the streets and alleys of Emerald City, always accompanied by her silent and loyal friend, who would appear at her feet. While this might not have been particularly unusual in itself, what set this companion apart was its unwavering loyalty.
No matter how fast she walked or how far she went, it was always right there, mirroring her every move.
Mary often marveled at the consistency of Lily, as she named her.
In a universe where everything seemed to be constantly changing and evolving, Lily was always there for her, providing her with a sense of security and comfort.
Days passed steadily, akin to a hidden river beneath the city's surface, carrying with them both dreams and destinies, along with the mounting anticipation for Halloween. It was just a week until the main day. For Mary, one Tuesday afternoon ushered her in a change she had never expected.
It was the return of the city's familiar face that set the wheels of transformation in motion. Surprisingly, it was the first time Mary laid her eyes on him. She became acquainted with his appearance through the murmurs of the girls in the city, who couldn't stop talking about how infatuated they were with him.
The son of her employer had come back from Canada to join in the Halloween festivities.
As she observed him from behind the counter at the coffee shop which was decorated with Halloween designs and pumpkins, she couldn't help but fall in love with his calm demeanor.
"He's so handsome and looks composed," she muttered to herself, unable to tear her eyes away from him.
Her heart skipped a beat as James walked toward her, running his hand through his hair.
"Hey, what's your name?" he asked, his attractive blue eyes locking onto hers.
His voice was a sweet melody that filled Mary's ears, and her heart raced at the unexpected attention. It was not just any notice; it came from James Harper, the new, coolest guy in the city.
"Look, he's talking to her," one of the workers at the coffee shop whispered to another, pointing at Mary and James.
"She wants to bring him bad luck," the other worker replied.
"You two, quit gossiping and get to work," the on-duty worker exclaimed.
Meanwhile, Mary struggled to find her voice to respond to James.
"I'm, I'm Mary," she stammered, looking down at the floor.
James tenderly tilted her chin, his touch intensifying the rapid beat of her heart, as a sudden gust of wind swept through the entire city.
"Don't be shy," he said with a grin. "I'm just an ordinary guy. My name is James, by the way."
"Yes, I know," Mary replied, her fingers fidgeting with her hair as James smiled at her.
"Nice to meet you then," James said, extending his hand for a handshake.
She grew light-headed immediately she gave in and almost fainted to the floor, but James swiftly caught her in his arms.
Their love story began to unfold amidst the enchantment of Halloween, capturing the city's attention.
Opinions about their union varied greatly.
"I think she must have cast a spell on him," a shopkeeper speculated.
"Their love was clearly made in heaven," a bus driver mused.
"I feel sorry for those who have nothing to do but gossip about other people's lives," a shoemaker remarked.
But James and Mary paid no heed to what others were saying, their love was as vibrant as the city on Halloween nights.
James had succeeded in convincing Julia to step out of her self-imposed isolation, becoming a beacon of hope for both women.
Their life-altering tale was an unforseen one, at least in Mary's eyes. As she gazed at Lily, she said to herself, "I never thought, after several years, to find a companion even stronger than you."
On the central day of Halloween, the rising sun marked a turn in Mary's love story.
"James," she said with a soft smile, "What about us? What about our love?"
James clasped her hands and reassured her, "I promise, Mary, our love is strong enough to withstand any distance. I must return for an emergency, but don't worry, my heart will always be with you."
Mary nodded, her eyes reflecting both love and sorrow.
With days morphing into weeks, and weeks seamlessly flowing into a month, Mary diligently tallied the moments until her reunion with James. Her resolve solidified, and she boldly confronted any negativity that arose from people who still harbored ill feelings towards her and her mother.
She focused on her work, being the senior worker at the coffee shop, and found solace in the knowledge that Lily would follow her, be by her side, no matter how swiftly life unraveled.
"James left me but you're still here for me." she murmured, staring at Lily.
One day, as the sun splashed the sky with shades of orange and pink, a letter arrived. It was a message from James, brimming with love and aching longing.
"Dear Mary," the letter read, "My travels are coming to an end, and I can't wait to hold you in my arms again. I'm coming home, darling."
Tears of joy filled Mary's eyes as she read those words, her heart racing with anticipation.
As the day of James's homecoming drew near, Mary strolled through the city with a revitalized sense of determination, her step notably lighter. She remained in the Halloween spirit, donning a yellow pumpkin-themed t-shirt.
She knew that soon, her love would be by her side once more.
And so, on that day, as James returned, he found Mary waiting for him at the airport, a joyful smile on her face. With Lily standing by her side, it casted its presence as a witness to their togetherness.
James approached Mary, took her hand, and said, "My love, I'm home. I missed you every moment I was away."
Mary replied, her eyes shining with happiness, "And I missed you, James. Welcome home."
James's eyes sparkled with excitement. He clapped his hands together, saying, "Since I couldn't make it for Halloween, the celebration isn't gonna be over for us. We're gonna make ours extra special!
While they held each other in their arms, Mary's devoted friend remained close, a silent sentinel to their reignited love.
The city changed from a hub of rumors and chatter into a place where love overcame judgment. Its pulse became the backdrop to their love story, reminding that amidst life's uncertainties, certain things endure; such as the loyalty of Lily, Mary's shadow.
Mary's tale showcased the enduring strength of love and the insight that in life's journey, be it as a noble or a commoner, affluent or destitute, there will be times when nobody will be there to hear your voice, even the one who once brought joy to your burdened existence. Nevertheless, keep in mind that your shadow remains by your side, no matter how swiftly you move, on any day and at any time.
I'm Reindolf Owusu Ofori
18 years old. I'm from Ghana, West Africa. I completed high school last two months.
I prefer writing mystery and teen fiction books. I currently have one completed book on Wattpad and two ongoing books there. (@reindolfwrites is my
Wattpad username). My books are for 13+ people.
I love to read and write a lot because it takes away my worries.
Ruins of The Hopeless Prologue
The Darkness is nothing more than an essence, you can't find it in our world, or another. The Darkness takes people away, swallowing their souls leaving nothing but a hole in its place. It turns loving communities of people into soldiers of death. The
Darkness is attracted to evil. Seeking it in the hearts of everyone until it finds the perfect person to take over. Once that happens the person is a lost cause, an unstoppable killer, a powerful monster. Many people are plagued with this in our world. You won't see anyone get taken, but their kills will become easier, their bodies will become emptier, and their humanity will get further. You could say they are drowning in the shadows, that they are lost in The Darkness, that they had been taken by the monsters. A curse or a blessing? No one knows. No one speaks of The Darkness, when it comes, it just comes. But in our vastly evil world, it's hard to tell the monsters apart from the ones who slay them. For when you become such an immense evil The
Darkness will not consume you, you will consume it.
Blank faces, empty hearts, and broken souls. People wander around with no hope, no desire, no destiny. All people know to do is wallow in their own pain, but never show weakness. Fight and kill, but never show mercy. There are technologies so perplexing that ancient inventors would have drooled over modern advancements. Ideas and concepts straight out of fantasy books had been made possible, people have everything wrapped around their fingers. Manipulating matter and battling science to make dreams come true. However, it seems that even technology can’t find a way to give people the simplest thing, happiness. What a funny word. Nine simple letters, each one holding the weight of the world. People jot down the days as they pass slowly, "June 16, 2601, June 17, 2601...August 3, 2601..." With less and less motivation to even get up in the morning, the human race can’t go on like this.
They are surrounded by anger and violence. What's left of the human population dreads living. But they stay so that generations after them have the chance to experience life, and hopefully, change it. But amid a war, nothing seems important but staying safe. People in the home states leave to fight among the wardroid machines.
The wardroids are large programmed machines that can help in the war. When they were first made the people were in complete shock, one home state invaded another and wiped them out with it. The home state was quite small, but it was all wrecked. Torn to shreds, all Humans have agility and knowledge, the wardroids are used for security and bombing. But unfortunately, all technology has a way to be broken, even the most advanced ones. Many people die during war, random, innocent strangers.
Most of the new wars are caused by advances, new technology, and even the decreasing population. The last world war ended sixty years ago, it started after the home state of Kilas had control over the last living brown bear. It was once a wild animal that roamed the wild; it was thought to have gone extinct hundreds of years ago. Kilas somehow had control over the bear and used growth halting drugs to keep it alive.
When other home states found out about this they fought because the bear was very valuable. Animals were something people could have only heard about in stories, it was fascinating. People always wonder what it would be like to see animals roaming around. Now we have very limited wildlife but they are all kept illegally and sold for ransom or locked away in labs for research purposes. Throughout all the wars the bears did go extinct.
Since then people have tried to help the environment but there's no use. Even technology can't help this mess. Maybe a hundred years ago if the people had listened and taken the issues seriously the world wouldn’t be in this position.
Four hundred years ago a home state, or country at the time, was building a radioactive chemical bomb, they were secretly working on it in a small lab, and only a selected few knew about it. They were working on it in case a war started, so they could win, the bomb was extremely deadly. When other world leaders got news this was being worked on, it unleashed an era of madness, the bomb exploded and it was worse than people have ever imagined, it wiped out everyone and everything in that area. Fires spread across the entire world. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen, it sent the world into a spiral. Sadly not very many people survived. With the people left on earth, there were no rules no laws and it brought upon se unrest among the people.
Many years passed and the people figured out a way to have some sort of peace for the rest of the population. Since then we have thrived in advancements, creating robotic beasts that no one could imagine.
Leaders hide in their offices and create wars for their people to fight and die in so that their home state will be the best. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Because of this only one thing comes, more war, more darkness.
With much of the world turned into factories, many of all the beautiful wonders the earth once had are all gone. Through the eyes of someone a long time ago they would say humans are vastly dull and washed out. Now it’s normal. Life expectancy has declined substantially. If someone were to live up to fifty it would be a great mystery how they did it. Many of the people alive at the moment have only seen war. When one home state creates a new technology the other one does too. No one ever surrenders. Home states fight to the death. Though they seek a better life, inevitably the fire keeps getting bigger and people's hope keeps getting smaller. There is no escaping this world. We aren't in control of this. No one is. In our hearts we all want peace, but our heads tell us to keep fighting. The head always overpowers. People have tried to bring the world back to what it once was, but they always fail. Violence is all we know of. Wars between the home states, between two of them, three of them. But when the worst comes to worst, world wars. A long time ago they had countries, where people were unified. But when much of the earth was destroyed over the years, people created home states.
The world as we know it goes up in flames, people hide behind our shields, but soon they will completely crumble and everyone will be standing and staring at the hell they have created, years of demolition that created this disorder. People fear that when someone wins. They fear the evil that will come, that is being created.
For now, people keep hiding, drones drop off necessities at people's houses so they don't leave. People build up covers for their houses. Dead bodies fill the streets, at any moment their house and everything in it could be bombed and destroyed. No one is safe here, or anywhere in the world that is still inhabited. People are tired of praying for a world that has given them nothing but pain. Civilians sit in almost complete silence, the screams from the fighting are already too much. The human race doesn't live anymore, it merely exists.
Deep down everyone cares about each other, as the fate of humility lies in their hands, but in the end, people only fight for their own life. When you are faced with death, and darkness, it's like you are staring into a dark abyss, surrounded by nothing, engrossing blackness, it slowly consumes you until you are completely gone, forever. In that time of trepidation, no matter how selfless you may be, you can only see yourself. You can only see your future, the future that could be stolen from you at any time.
One blink and you're gone. We have started to accept death now, we mourn the losses as they are members of society, not real people. People are only familiar with the feeling of numbness, not much else.
People say that they have progressed as a society by creating crazy inventions that people a long time ago would never even thought were possible, but really they fell back into the habits of sick rulers. They might not be called "kings'' or "queens" but they all act the same. The leaders say it's what is best for the people, but the leaders and their selected few sit at the top while everyone else rotates at the bottom. They make rules and laws that are only good for them, they start wars for power, and they ruin the sad remains of our planet. Everyone else gets stuck in the crossfire. Forced to fight in wars, they give up their life, forced to deal with the toxic air. They didn't choose it, they didn't cause it. When the power gets to someone's head there is no stopping it.
When the world is not at war, it is on the brink of war, or it is being taken over by technology. The only hope is one day it gets better, that the world sees light once again, as it did years ago. People hope for future generations to learn to live with technology without being taken over by it. They hope our world lives once again. The Darkness is nothing more than an essence, you can't find it in our world, or another. The Darkness takes people away, swallowing their souls and leaving nothing but a hole in its place. It turns loving communities of people into soldiers of death. The Darkness is attracted to evil. Seeking it in the hearts of everyone until it finds the perfect person to take over. Once that happens the person is a lost cause, an unstoppable killer, a powerful monster. Many people are plagued with this in our world. You won't see anyone get taken, but their kills will become easier, their bodies will become emptier, their humanity will get further. You could say they are drowning in the shadows, that they are lost in the darkness, that they had been taken by the monsters. A curse or a blessing? No one knows.
No one speaks of the darkness, when it comes, it just comes. But in our vastly evil world, it's hard to tell the monsters apart from the ones who slay them. For when you become such an immense evil The Darkness will not consume you, you will consume it.
When the world is not at war, it is at the brink of war, or it is being taken over by technology. The only hope is one day it gets better, that the world sees light once again, as it did years ago. People hope for future generations to learn to live with technology without being taken over by it. They hope our world lives once again.
This is the prologue to my finished manuscript of Ruins of the Hopeless.
A sci-fi type literary fiction novel of 107,000 words.
My name is Alisha Ahuja and I am an aspiring young author. Ruins of the Hopeless follows the theme of a sci-fi novel, yet the story in these chapters is a fusion of my thoughts and raw emotions. The characters are subtle symbols of mental health issues in our society. I spent many hours doing research on human psychology to make sure people could use their life experiences to relate to my story. I am a young writer so many people underestimate my hard work and skill but I have a passion for improving the future of our society. From issues like climate change to societal failure. This story is a tragedy full of adventure.
As for my writing credentials, I have never been formally published. However, I have been writing my whole life and have won several small and local competitions.
I have a very important story to tell and would love the help of a literary group/editor to make this story heard.
I would love to talk more in-depth about Ruins of the Hopeless with someone who is interested. My email is Alishagym@gmail.com.
This is a collection of 30 poems based around the protagonist's twenties and the poems connect to the idea of learning 'to be yourself' with the background noise of depression and existentialism which creeps up every now and then. Along the way there are the ups of love, friendship, travel, new experience, and the background hum, with heartbreak. The overall moral towards the end is an acceptance on 'The Hum' being there but continuing to embrace life and love regardless. I would say the target audience is teenagers/young adults.
My education: Aberystwyth Uni = BA English Literature
University of Kent = MA English and American Literature
AVSE Vietnam = TESOL qualification.
My hometown: Southampton
I have always loved writing poems (even when I was so young to really understand what poems were). I also love music and my written work tends to show a play with sounds, rhythm, and textures of words.
I have attached the collection of 30 poems to this message.
Thank you for reading.
Port Town 3
No name #(number) 5
Drifters 8 - 9
Glammed up ghosts 10
A painting turned upside-down 12
High Tide 13
Daisies and Buttercups in a Jam Jar 13
Dead Tree 15
M etro 19
Hanging up my map to dry 20
Under the weather in Paris 22
The Hum 23 - 24
Blessings and Hard Work 27 - 28
Mui Ne 29
In the rear mirror 30
Slowly, slowly 31
Houses held up like puppets.
Pylon-wire branches spread out;
assuring the land wont drift far out to sea,
or melt into the earth with subsidence.
Cotton-wool-candy-floss caught up in cranes,
wind-whipped, white-wash, wispy, whippy clouds.
Do you remember when we waited in line for 99s?
The sky was busy with boats, the sea so blue. No, I mean...
And I had strawberry syrup dripping down my cone
and a multi-coloured sticky chin.
We watched the boats going out, coming in;
then we joined the rest to say goodbyes.
All the hands were wagging; electric flapping.
Water splashing up against the dock.
The arms propelled the ship.
Gemmed fingers dancing farewells;
the jangle of bangled wrists;
waving in the air, propelling the ship away
to retirement paradises,
Always in the middle this place,
on the edge of a million-gazillion other worlds.
The rumble rattle of engines as I walk along
looking out at the reeds; on search for quiet idleness.
Leaves rustle, tickled by the breeze.
A train passes in-between;
on its way, on its way...
I sit on a bench nearby and hear a cacophony of life amongst the hedges.
with orange light bouncing in and out
of windows' winking eyes;
watching the chalk line,
aeroplane trails in the sky
cut through the blue.
I’d like to strip the day of its hours
and wear it like a dressing gown and slippers.
It’s all the apprehension
preparing for it like a guest;
dusting off each second,
wanting to make a good impression.
Each hour punctuates
while the hands
circulate like a funfair game.
Planning each conceivable circumstance
and how I will navigate it,
and what I will wear,
the words I will say, and how I should, shall, will say them
Today is safe.
Today I still have time to prepare
till the sun goes down and
now we’re on route
on route to saying goodbye
We had been imagining
the feelings of the arrival so much
we felt like visitors to the day
stopping over to leave
practising the self like arpeggios
slipping up on that one note
that one note which rings true
like a fact then the next
slips like a truth which is
like a truth called history and written in books
which are called true
No Name #(number)
listening out for the catch, through the ordered lines
then running into familiar counter-melodies
that hit the gut like surprise meetings with old friends
pushing against the current
you write the soul’s ebb and flow of discovering
break and breakaway, meet again
figuring it out along the way, slipping back,
humble, soft vulnerability of emitting,
rolling out in music and codes interior landscapes
The great, green Giant sleeps all through the day;
beer-bellied, toes outstretched, dipping into the sea.
He lazes beneath the springtime sun, while we sit idly
anticipating possibilities and to-bes.
This dead castle bursts with life,
seagulls, and sandwiches,
and cameras capturing the view
onto something they can hold.
The Giant disappears at night;
merging with the mountains.
Fading into the dark, as the waning moon
creeps up behind and over and above;
dripping reflections to feel a connection
with the earth again.
Lovers wander now, wandering through the flirting streets
which tease with uncertainty, and curtain the
awe-striking depth of the darkness that dumbs their speech
as they 'turn at this corner and just along the promenade..'.
Pushed back by a blast of wind;
numbing hands cold.
Forcing them away from
prolonging a gaze on the Sea's cruel honesty;
knowing they would be driven mad
by endless questions of eternity.
Questions they attempted to drown out with music and dancing
and Tequila shots and the kissing and the music and the dancing...
But now in the air, by this high-tide, they are
'Have you ever seen the petrified forest?'
Will they tell stories of us too?
Life is so short and now is certain, well...
as certain as certain could be known for certain so..'
So, after meditating on the existence of existence,
they find refuge in the optimistic light of the stars.
Warmth for the spirit from the deep, dark, cold depth of the darkness;
'Because the night is so very young.
Look, there are still stars in the sky...'
Venus is inconsistent; an evening and a morning star.
And, oh, is that Orion's belt?
Lying on the floor, in the morning, after a night of philosophy.
Shapes in the air.
A floating, flowing, fluidity;
Such substance in something
Just as magical as
They had watched
By the pier.
Danced in the darkening sky.
That erratic black cloud;
Morphing, flowing, conjuring...
Forming new dimensions
While the glowing sun
Poised on the edge of the world
Into the sea,
On the clouds.
Two figures are
Stood by the window,
Looking out and
The crystal dust drift
Within the flow of the wind.
A giant ghost's display of ballet;
Spinning, twisting, turning...
Leaning on each other
In the darkness,
The skies' cold ashes
In the night,
Under the rays of the artificial
Soon the train will leave the station,
Get further and further away...
Settling in the west for longer than a day.
Swallowed by the horizon.
Physics in the way.
She will freeze her face
Borrowing a stoic's smile,
Safely held together,
Until within the veil
Of the warm taxi home,
Glammed up ghosts
Some may say our future lies
in our stars.
Connect the dots;
and you will get a summary
of your future days.
But these echoes of light
Were hardly there to see it.
Maybe they laugh at us
when we open up our horoscopes.
Maybe we should watch the
Yet despite all this,
I love their stubbornness;
Holding up the dark like pins.
They keep on shining
Even when the party ended
Thousands of light years ago.
They are the lively ones at the bar,
singing and dancing...
Even when the music has stopped
and they're turning off the lights.
breathing the turquoise like lavender,
and sipping the blue summer.
bitter cold clouds glide and morph lava lather,
floating whispers cut by sweet pineapple sunshine.
soon, a moment, now
rhythms ripple the sky like skipping stones
we jump the music like puddles
splashing in the frequencies.
cobalt bass rumbles the earth hungry,
pumps the air with springing spirals
pushing and pulling the senses,
reverberating through cells.
heavy mud humming, stomping
echoes through our atoms dizzy;
balancing tuned body to innate electricity
the fizz of circulating lemonade energy.
we jump the music like puddles
splashing in the frequencies.
strawberry melodies spilling ribbons,
dolphin leaps of the spaces inbetween beats,
lines of colours overlapping,
colliding, mixing, merging, blending
in with the forest.
washing over souls the life fire sparkles
like a clear water cleansing harmonies,
sound waves crashing against inertia.
phosphorescent glow of re-charged love
for the world, for being, animation
flowing through burnt smoky ashes
of sapphire charcoal skies;
dimmed radiation of chlorophyll emerald days.
the smell of salt, dry bark, fluffy carbon mists,
trembling lights softening the eyes'
grip on outlines, loosening lies.
watching the cycles of patterns
tumbling colours through a mill rotating,
and the silence of listening
when the music comes to an end.
A painting turned upside-down
Dark mountains and
blending into cave
marks on the wall.
A funeral? But
warmth and belonging
and a community
of travel, hope, legacy.
Footprints on the ground.
It’s high time, high tide
we push the boats out
a stone ’ s throw away
my arm gets stronger
gets further and further
Daisies and Buttercups in a Jam Jar.
'The flowers are wilting away...
If keep watering them, will they stay alive?'
'No, dear, they've been picked from the ground.'
'Was I picked from the ground?'
'So, if you kept watering me, will I ...'
I’d left the tea brewing a little too long.
It was still where I’d left it on the kitchen side;
the mug tainted round the edge,
strong and cold.
Not so much because I am thirsty
but because it preoccupies my mind
and it soothes
despite its bitterness.
We talk about the summer
although it’s bleak today.
You tell me how many birds
were on the table outside.
You tell me about the flowers you’ve planted.
You know there’s not so much to be said
but you always know what to say.
And when again the air becomes a vacuum
and cruel thoughts tumble from my mind and
drop through me like pebbles
causing ripples like in a well in cold darkness;
my voice knotted in my chest and ripples in the eyes.
You remind me of the summer,
of the river, and the birds,
and open up a packet of biscuits.
The dead tree never stands lonely.
At the top the silhouettes
of birds come and go,
nesting in the nooks.
Branches sticking out like
Indecisive fingers, pointing enigmatic directions.
It’s trunk is covered with thick, green ivy
asserting a kind of dignity, uniform.
Keeping it warm in the harsh winters
and concealing the weathered, bare bark in the summer
while everything else expands outwards;
in colour, full bloom.
The dead tree stands in the middle of it all.
For the moment, standing steady,
I would never describe this dead tree as lifeless.
Though it was not a time of religious musing,
it was an escape from the spirit bruising
of the telescreens and jingles,
the buzz of invisible,
the noise of the motorways.
We could natter in the pub,
on a Pilgrimage, of sorts;
to sort, to find a beginning.
Or at least to open a book up
somewhere near the start.
Euphoria of returning to
the old seaside cocoon.
The place of change and shift
of heart and mind,
and tide which
pushed the town
The next day we looked out at the promenade
in pieces like an emptied out jigsaw box
but cheered for postponed exams
so we could cherish important things,
like a night out at the Pier, and long talks.
finding it’s still
just the same
as the train parts
through the hills
to the dead end
that began it all.
Perhaps I should be more decisive...
Make up my mind like a bed
Choose my moves through my own devices
and not rely on the intervention of higher forces,
or guardian spirits to pilot my choices,
or sit uncomfortably on fences
waiting for the fates to push me either side.
It is reassuring to know it's an age old phenomenon.
That even our ancestors were predisposed to
rock to and fro in fevers of doubt and indecision.
That our ancestors would dabble in-between conscientious visions;
caught in anxious possibilities and cautious projections.
The hidden threads of back and forth thought
all forgotten by hindsight's way of portraying
a seamless fluidity to the embroidery of life.
I shall be me and make myself my own.
I have so much to create and do,
and I can’t distract myself with dreaming,
though loneliness can sting the stomach
and at times everything feels stuck,
or a grey numbness hums in my heart,
or I'll be surrounded by people I can't be true with.
Therefore journey free as a gypsy
and carve a life to fascinate.
To focus on building worlds.
To never waste the ability
to polish perceptions into beauty,
and breathe peace into hostility.
the metro is a dream machine,
lights pulse through dark windows;
colours stretch, tangle,
till they break, phase, fade out.
those high pitched squeals,
squeaks of wheels, wind tunnel
rush and hum of pushing against time.
gliding underground, electric eel,
growls like a metal dragon,
tail bending around corners,
weaving the bends,
hisses like a snake.
jumping out in the half second
before it exhales to a stop.
Hanging up my map to dry
After a long day of
getting lost in the rain;
turning wrong instead of right,
wrong instead of left;
somehow always seeing that same
cafe over and over and over again.
Cold hands grip the corners.
Pacing round this grey city,
glancing at street signs inconspicuously;
pretending not to be new.
The blues pull on the resolutions
till they’re broken by the spring
sunshine which finds
all the things January lost.
An emergency macaroon
on a boulevard, in March,
Because my sugar levels dropping,
mind foggy, dopamine high crashing;
because legs aching, hands shaking; I can’t unknot
the multi-coloured tangles this evening;
Because you never said in so many words.
There is cloud cover
with chance of rain, but you know there
will be rain because you have a headache.
You can tell but you can’t say.
Under the Weather in Paris
There will be times
when you eat
from a saucepan
banana and peanut butter
with a teaspoon
with a cup of milk
standing by the radiator
the room isn’t warm enough
and you can’t sleep for thoughts
and you were too tired to leave
but now too hungry to sleep.
I carry Aberystwyth
in the threads of my coat,
in the scuffs on my boots;
the sea salt, sand swept
into the fibres.
And now I stand here
in Jardin du Luxembourg,
thinking about the bench
by the well,
I sat on looking out to sea,
watching the starlings dance,
while considering the possibility
of perhaps, one-day, maybe
living in Paris.
Here by the Beat Hotel near
the St Michel in a cafe with wine
I feel the hum turn to sizzle and
sparkle and overfill into my eyes
too much till they are brimming with
hope that could spill onto the table
and my heart is swelling with a
optimism and I feel it spilling
over I worry I will laugh crazy
for no reason but to release
all the glowing light inside which
is feeling far too obvious for everyone
they will think I am drunk but I have
only had a sip but this conversation is
several glasses of something of energy
of fermented anger and worries
and anxieties about the world
turned into wine and we
sip the sentences we sip the
sentences and eyes clink glances
in holistic belief and hope it
is so much but you
say we are free we
are freer than this ramekin
which once held peanuts which
we nibbled between drink
and thought and you say you
can’t believe you are talking of
Sartre here and it is cliché
but the words
ripple like a song we know we
forget but when it plays
we forget we forgot and always
know we need to hear it again
we wish we could record the
feeling the sights the words the
way you say the words so
that we are filled with childlike
possibility when life weighs us
to stare at our feet.
I feel hope I am trying to let
my heart sizzle without the
heat getting too high and eyes steam
up like windows condensation I
am not crying I am just happy and
hopeful and everything is beautiful but
if it sizzles too much my body
shakes fidgets I am not crazy I
just love this universe I am
also scared of it all if I sizzle too
much my heart I will my heart
will I will burn out but if I drop
from this high I feel cold and stone
dead numbness which also scares
me when it makes me careless and
not look attentively when crossing the
roads or feel my body hum in a
muted tone hum like a grey
vibration inside barely moving
I knew it was going to rain.
Still, I rushed out for a walk just before
as if in a hurry to meet a good friend.
I didn’t take my coat with me;
I let my arms meander in the warm air
as if detached from myself,
as if I were taking my arms for a walk.
Then it came down;
large droplets globular rolling over the top of my hands.
This is all the same, more of the same,
the same stuff that pours out the taps.
There was a thrill and disobedience to it.
The smell of summer steams up from the earth;
it felt like being a kid on holiday
not caring if you got drenched
as you would be swimming in the sea.
The language falls
into the space between us,
leaving no shared sounds,
no words to grasp or give.
You can’t exchange this currency.
You speak no legal tender.
They repeat the words you say.
Looking around they shake their head
apologetically. You smile, embarrassed.
This we both understand. They smile,
Cast your eyes down, and up, down
you walk in opposite directions.
Blessings and Hard Work
The fish panic,
Flipping their tails
Sucking in their
First gulps of air.
This is their livelihood;
Hoisting up the lines,
Gathering in the net,
Praying to the ocean
For a lucky catch.
Daylight pushing upwards;
The smell of sage, sandalwood,
travels in the wind.
Before they open the bar
she lights the incense,
Places it down ritualistically,
Beside the sweets, fruit, the lunar money
Which lie on the mahogany shrine.
Beside the statue of buddha
frozen in a prosperous optimism.
The thoughts count to her ancestors
Wishes whispered into the smoke
She places a mango in the bowl
Sends her blessings to the invisible
Mechanics and interveners,
While those disco lights flicker
Luminating the dark corner.
We lazed and shared our dreams at Ong Dia,
In the sand, watching the magic luminosity
In the dark, the city of fishing boats
Glowing over the water.
While the industrious, worked patiently
We romanticised those lights
As a galaxy, and cast out our hopes
Like bait for luck to swallow.
I rode to the sand dunes;
Emptied out egg timers.
Evening clouds have pink linings
Burning. Positive discoveries beyond
Every element alive.
I didn’t plan for you
The fantasy of this reality
is in the eloquent interruption
of concertina happenstance.
In the rear mirror
Behind peach skies
Ahead lilac grey
flimsy half moon.
Concentrate on the road ahead,
steady, keep stead;
balance, not too elated
yet don’t relish in your lows.
Losing your reference to speed
when you slow.
Afraid if you go too fast
you’ll let go.
Enjoying the thrill of direction.
Motor neurons, motor way.
Instant thoughts and meandering feelings.
Muscle memory, eyes, reaction, breathe, motion;
Thanking the technology as you go.
The art is both being and looking forward.
The hum of the engine is always there,
but this is what makes you drive.
Here you are in your little box
while the world is spinning slowly;
So slowly, you can’t even feel it
but the sun never goes down, not really.
Deathly Loneliness Attacks
I throw away all of my severed bonds that lay by my feet
I learned that no matter how many tears I cry,
Nobody gives a damn apparently
Making me want to say goodbye
Cracks run through my heart
The person who always stood by me disappear
What do I do now?
Without meaning to, I drag down whoever is near
I’ll always be like this
Even if I hold my knees and scream
I already know
In the end, it won’t change a thing
Even if I try to lament
Saying, “Something's not quite right”
In the end I do what I always do
I walk away with no answer in sight
Everything ends up being nothing
To all the things I turned away
I always did the same thing, without learning from my mistakes,
I say, ‘’What a pain’’
Again my heart gets attacked by the thing called ‘’loneliness’’
It hurts so bad deep down inside
The powerlessness of “loneliness” begins to sink in
The punishment for curling up all those times when I cried
Even if the moon shines upon it
Even if the night swallows it
It won’t disappear, it won’t disappear
With my inexperienced hands I tried to protect it
With my clumsy hands, I tried to fix what I shouldn’t have done
Before I notice it, Loneliness began to turn on me
My heart just won’t heal the scars
I cry a tiny plea
My heart shatters after hearing a kind voice
Please don’t treat me so kindly or I will cry inside
I hide myself away in the shadows,
I hope for someone to find me, the tears don’t subside
This loneliness is deadly
Making it impossible to speak out my true feelings
I hide away my emotions
But yet it ends up revealing
I hate myself, I hate myself
These words end up repeating in my mind
I don’t want to either die nor live
Ah, a penalty game called “Life” begins to rewind
Forced into loneliness
I’m already done
Please don’t treat me so nicely
I’m not someone you should waste your kindness on
Title: Deathly Loneliness Attacks
Age Range: 10+
Word Count: 353
Author Name (Profile Name): Iroha
I think that my piece is fit, because it contains all the emotions that I felt, and pain. I know that some people can relate to the pain I suffered, so this poem is written to reach out to others. I'm very young for my age, and I think that, it's really amazing how far my experiences in life brought me to come this far. Some people say that young people have to enjoy their youth as best as they can, and that it's impossible that youngsters suffered pain like they have. Well, they're wrong. I suffered a lot, been traumatized so many times, and I can hardly trust others because of the betryal, gossip, and backstabbing things I've saw and went through. I just want the people who thinks, "It's alright to die, no one cares about me," let me tell you, that's not true. I overcame that phase because I heard there are good cotton candy in Japan, and if I can find a goal in life to live for, so can you.
I'm a introvert when I'm alone, but when I'm with the people I love, I'm somewhat between a extrovert and a introvert. Life is not always fun, and it never will be; it's up to you to create the fun in life is what I think.
CHAPTER 1: Not in Kansas Anymore
"Ow." Dylan Engstrom opened his eyes and found himself on a hard metal surface. "What … the hell?"
The last thing he remembered was sitting at his desk, sipping a cup of coffee, and preparing to join his buddies for a few hours of mayhem in Grand Theft Auto Online. At some point after that, everything had simply … faded out.
I'm dreaming. That's gotta be it.
He rolled over, stood, and fought off a wave of dizziness. He staggered, rubbed his hands over his face, took a few breaths, and waited for his vision to clear. When it did, he took a slow look around and realized he was in a chamber the size of a gymnasium, with metal walls, ceiling, and floor. No windows. Several doors at the far end. And filled with … aliens? Or something.
Sure, why the hell not? Since this is a dream, I might as well just roll with it.
One a few feet to his left looked like a bipedal, wingless dragon, easily ten feet tall, with muscular arms and powerful thighs and small but noticeable breasts under a tunic that appeared to be made from the skin of an animal. She glanced around quickly, confusion and fear in her reptilian eyes, and he guessed she had also awakened moments ago.
Huh. Doesn't make sense for reptiles to have boobs. But then, I guess an alien wouldn't have an exact correlation to life forms on Earth. He chuckled. More likely it's teenage hormones causing me to dream about tits. I can barely stop thinking about 'em when I'm awake.
Past the dragon was what appeared to be an orc, of all things. Also female, dressed in leather and furs, like a barbarian, sporting huge muscles but somehow managing to still look feminine. Her burgundy hair was tied into a long ponytail with a few locks hanging past either side of her face. Her dark green skin looked kind of leathery, and her face … well, she certainly wouldn't have won any beauty contests even without the two big, parallel scars running from her forehead down and across her right cheek.
Still, there was something about her -- the angles of her cheeks and her wide jaw and chin -- that exuded an air of great strength. But then, he gazed into her yellow eyes as she glanced around. She appeared to be in her forties, but there was far more mileage in those eyes than on her face. They were the eyes of someone who had all but given up on life.
He looked away reluctantly. She may have been as ugly as hell, but goddamn, what a body. He ran a hand through his shoulder-length hair and decided to check out some of the other life forms. His eyes passed over a large number of creatures he couldn't quite get his brain around -- translucent things walking on tentacles, something that resembled a millipede the size of a horse, an eight-foot-tall cross between a pig and an ogre -- and locked on to another female.
He almost laughed at that. Mind always in the gutter, even now.
This one was around six feet tall and might be described as somewhere between chubby and burly. Her eyes glowed white in contrast to her obsidian skin, but aside from that, her face was mostly human. And quite lovely, in fact. A pair of horns curved up from under her wild mane of silver hair, like a ram. She wore a dark blue cloak with a hood hanging over her back, and from what he was able to glimpse, she didn't appear to be wearing anything under it. Each hand had two big fingers and a thumb, just like the orc and the dragon-woman, and her digitigrade legs ended in large hooves.
Not bad at all. He guessed her age to be close to his, or maybe a few years older, and the extra weight was perfectly proportioned.
Huh. Usually, my dreams aren't this detailed. But there's no way this can be real. I'm probably slumped over my desk and drooling on my keyboard. He shrugged to himself again. I just hope I remember all this when I wake up.
His eyes opened a little wider as a realization hit him and he drew in a quick breath.
Shit, I hope I wasn't looking at porn when I fell asleep. If Mom or Dad barges into my room like they always do, I'm hosed.
The alien girl caught him staring at her and smiled, but it was shaky and faded fast.
Well, I can't do anything about it until I wake up. Might as well just see where this goes.
He smiled back before she turned away, and continued examining the people around him. Over to the right was a trio of bipedal creatures that looked like a cross between horses and cows wearing some sort of tribal attire.
Huh. More aliens that kinda-sorta resemble terrestrial animals. How would that even happen?
Past them was a quartet of thirty-foot-long snake people with four arms, wearing only skirts made of glowing multicolored beads roughly where the naughty bits on a human would be.
Dylan's eyes, once again, automatically locked onto the lone female in the group. Her skin was dark brown with a red and black diamond pattern running down her back. Her hands, like the orc and the chunky hooved girl and the rest, had three digits, only hers ended in claws. The top of her head swept back into a curving, three-pointed crest. Her bare chest sported two pairs of breasts. Her face was close enough to human, though covered with scales, and she was actually kind of cute.
Hah. I can't dream about a human with four tits, of course. It's got to be some weird creature. And why would an alien based on a snake have any at all? He realized he was staring and turned away. Again, though, she's an alien, so I guess there's no reason she can't be a mix of mammal and snake. What the hell, you can't go wrong with four of 'em.
He grinned and glanced around again, trying to find other humans. If any were in this chamber, they weren't close enough for him to pick out of the crowd. But his gaze did pass across something that was close enough, at least in size and shape.
The robot stood with her arms crossed over her chest, leaning against the wall behind him, about ten feet away. She had apparently been designed to look like an athletic woman, with a face of flexible metal carrying a friendly -- albeit bewildered -- expression and softly glowing red optics. Her gunmetal body was covered by a pair of cargo pants, boots, a T-shirt, and a long black coat.
Interesting. He wondered if she was anatomically correct.
Before he could check out anyone else, something nudged his shoulder. He turned and found a nine-foot humanoid wearing copper armor and a helmet with an opaque visor. It grasped his shoulder, pointed at one of the doors at the far end of the chamber, and pushed him toward it. He stumbled, regained his balance, and hurried ahead of the whatever-it-was.
In the corner of his eye, another hulking armored figure shoved the orc woman in the same direction. She snarled half-heartedly but headed for the door. She ended up walking alongside Dylan.
"I don't suppose you have any idea how we ended up here or what's going on?" He doubted she would even understand him.
"Nope. I was hoping someone around here could tell me that." Her accent was an odd mixture of Russian and Scottish.
"You speak English. You've met humans before?"
"A fair number of them, yes." She smiled at him, but it was tinged with sadness. "You remind me of one of them, a little. Someone I knew long ago."
"Ah. Decent guy, I hope."
"The best." Her smile grew ever so slightly, and so did the sorrow. "I miss him a great deal."
Dylan wondered what had happened but assumed it was a sensitive matter and didn't pry.
When they reached the door, she sighed and motioned at her clothes. "The one time I put on this old outfit instead of what I usually wear, which includes several guns, and look where I end up. Though I suppose any weapons would've been taken away before I woke up."
The nine-foot goons shoved both of them through the door and onto a large platform. He stumbled and the orc reached out to catch him before he fell. He regained his balance and found himself inches away from her face for a moment, gazing into her eyes, until she looked away and steadied herself. Her face turned a slightly darker green.
Huh. The goon's hand had felt solid enough. And the woman's breath briefly on his lips had been just as real as the three times in his life that he'd gotten this close to a girl. Dylan caught himself blushing and looked away.
He glanced around and noted the others who'd been separated from the main group -- the snake-girl, the three horse-cow people, the burly obsidian girl, the giant bipedal dragon, the robot chick, and about a dozen others. Two of them were human.
Finally! He grinned, but before he could greet them, something else caught his attention.
The goons who'd herded them onto the platform remained behind as the door closed, separating them from Dylan and the others. A bright light washed over everything and his whole body tingled.
Oh, this can't be good.
The light faded and he blinked a few times. His vision cleared and he looked around.
His mouth fell open.
He no longer stood in a room. He and the others were still on a platform, but now it was surrounded by an enormous metal structure made up of sets of stairs, ramps, platforms, and partial walls seemingly placed at random. If he had to give the architecture style a name, it would be … scaffold-chic.
"What the hell is this?" One of the other humans whimpered. "What's going on?"
"Sorcery," a woman's voice came from behind Dylan, barely above a whisper. He turned to find the obsidian-skinned girl glancing around with wide, terrified eyes and trembling.
"No." The orc shook her head. "I've seen enough to know there's no such thing. This is technology, but nothing I'm familiar with."
In the corner of his eye, the snake girl slithered past, put her upper hands on a nearby wall, pulled herself up and leaned over the edge.
"Look at this." Her voice was slightly raspy.
Uh-oh. Dylan walked slowly to the wall, jumped to grasp the top, and pulled himself up.
One of the other humans found a lower wall, leaned over, and drew in a slow breath. "Oh, hell." Her face turned pale.
Dylan glanced at her, frowned, and peered over the edge.
We're in the sky. He couldn't see the ground from here. Below the structure, there was nothing but a sea of red and orange clouds. And off to the right, he could make out two distinct suns, one larger -- closer -- than the other.
Then he realized the metal under his palms felt quite real for something in a dream. In fact, everything around him was as vivid and detailed as everyday life. His dreams were never even remotely like this, at least not the bits he could remember.
What if this is real?
"Oh, fuck me," he muttered.
"Now?" the snake girl said. "Or can it wait?"
"What?" He turned and caught a glimpse of her smirking at him before lowering herself back to the ground. He shook his head and dropped back to the floor.
"This is not a good tactical position," the orc said, flicking her eyes over the structure. "We're out in the open. We should move to an area that's less exposed to …"
Movement in the corner of his eye drew his attention. Hers, too. She snapped her head around to scowl in the same direction before he finished turning. More of the armored, helmeted, blank-visored guys appeared from behind several walls on the far side of the structure. She swept her steely gaze over them and backed up a step. "Find cover."
Dylan squinted, trying to get a clear look at the things the copper-armored goons were carrying.
"They have rifles," the orc said. "Get behind something."
A thin, yellow bolt of energy lanced out from the business end of one of the weapons and crossed the distance between the two groups in an instant.
Behind Dylan, a woman screamed. His pulse jumped and he cried out as he spun around. The human woman staggered backward, bumped into the wall, and collapsed. Her eyes stared straight ahead without seeing anything. Smoke rose from a hole that had been burned through her chest.
"Sarah!" The man rushed to her and fell to his knees. He stared disbelievingly at her, grasped her shoulders, and shook her. "Get up! Come on, baby, please get up!"
A hand grabbed Dylan's arm and he spun around to find the orc woman dragging him away.
"Get to cover!" She shoved him ahead of her just as another beam appeared for a split-second and drilled through the back of the other human's head.
A silvery thing about the size and shape of a hockey puck landed behind Dylan and bounced past him before coming to a stop.
"Grenade!" The orc pushed him again, drew in a deep breath, and yelled, "Run!"
The explosion flung bodies into the air and sent others tumbling across the ground -- more than Grishnag had time to count. She shoved the young human ahead of her and ran until both of them reached a wall. She ducked behind it, grasped his shoulder, and held him down. She turned to see if anyone else had survived the blast and found four bodies bleeding all over the metal surface and another -- one of the equine-bovine people -- teetering over the edge of the platform.
"Jesus Christ," the human moaned, hunching over and tucking his head under his arms. "This can't be happening!"
The snake-woman zipped over to the horse-man just as he rolled over the edge. She dived at him and missed his left ankle by a centimeter. She stared in shock as he plummeted out of sight.
One of the armored attackers appeared, crept up behind her, and aimed its rifle at the back of her head.
Grishnag glanced at the human and said, "Stay here." Remaining in a crouch, she moved one step forward -- and suddenly the robot blurred out from behind one of the other walls and tackled the larger humanoid from behind. Her momentum carried both of them into the wall and slammed the enemy into it with bone-crushing force. She drove her foot into its left knee, folding its leg the wrong way, and clamped her arms around its head as it fell. One quick twist snapped its neck, and she snatched the huge rifle out of the air before the body hit the ground.
The robot opened fire on the armored figures. Grishnag risked a quick peek around the corner just in time to see one of them catch a shot clean through the visor and out the back of the helmet. The others ran for whatever cover they could find.
Nice! Grishnag waited until all of them had ducked behind something, and then she glanced at the robot and said, "Cover me!" She sprinted over to the fallen humanoid while the robot continued firing.
In the corner of her eye, one of them swung its rifle around toward her as she picked up the dead one's weapon. She leaped and rolled, and the shot drilled through the space she'd already vacated. She came up in a crouch and put five shots through her opponent's chest. It slumped over and she lunged forward to grab its rifle, and then she ran back to the human.
He was where she'd left him, curled into a fetal position and rocking back and forth.
Okay, giving him the gun wouldn't be a good idea. She glanced around, found the snake girl, and tossed the gun to her. "Do you know how to use that?"
"I can figure it out." She pointed the rifle away from everyone and pulled the trigger, firing a blast into the floor. She squeaked and twitched, pulled herself together, and rose above the wall to fire at their attackers.
Grishnag took a quick look around for more survivors and found only a horse-woman, the burly woman, and the giant humanoid dragon.
"What is happening to us?" The obsidian-skinned female whimpered, huddled against the wall behind the human. "Why is this happening?"
Grishnag noticed the girl's mouth movements didn't match the words she spoke. Something is translating her speech. What the hell is going on?
"We can worry about that later if we survive the next few minutes." Grishnag popped out from behind cover long enough to shoot another of their attackers.
An enemy shot punched through the wall and searing heat on her right cheek made her lunge to her left.
"I want to wake up," the human moaned. "Why can't I wake up?"
"This isn't a dream." Grishnag gunned down another one. Before she could duck back under cover, a movement caught her eye. She turned and found another grenade spinning through the air toward her. She sucked in a breath to shout a warning to everyone else, but suddenly a beam struck the disc-shaped device in midair. It vanished in a flash and an expanding cloud of shrapnel. Grishnag glanced to the left and found the robot shifting her aim from the blown grenade to another pair of attackers.
Grishnag sighed and looked up at the platforms above them. "We'll be better off if we can get to higher ground. We need to …"
Behind the dragon, another of the armored men stepped into the open and lobbed a grenade. It arched over everyone's head and came down straight toward her. The human looked up, spotted it, and his face turned white.
Grishnag rose to her feet as the grenade reached her, caught it in her right hand, and hurled it straight back to the enemy humanoid. It threw itself to the right but wasn't fast enough. Grishnag turned away from the sudden flash and winced at the sharp bang, but laughed when she saw the body flopping off the edge of the platform.
She only had a moment to celebrate, though. Another humanoid hopped over the top of the wall they'd been using as cover and dropped down in front of the dragon. It raised its rifle, but the dragon swatted it aside, braced her hand on the side of his head, and shoved it into the wall with enough force to leave a dent. The gun fell from its suddenly limp hand.
"Hold on." Grishnag hurried over and searched the pouches and compartments on the body's belt. She found three stubby cylinders she guessed were spare power cells for the guns and a rectangular box that might be a communication device or a control system. After finding nothing else on him, she nodded at the edge of the platform.
The dragon flashed a predatory grin and gave the body a casual toss, sending it plunging through the fiery clouds under the structure. She looked the gun over, glanced at Grishnag, and mimicked her pose, holding the rifle in one hand and propping it on her shoulder.
Grishnag found the rest of the survivors gathering behind her. The robot pointed ahead before popping off a few more shots.
"Clear the road. I'll cover our rear."
Grishnag took the lead and made her way to the nearest ramp. She rounded a corner -- and caught a split-second glimpse at the stock of a rifle before it rammed into the side of her head. When she regained her senses, she found the business end of the rifle inches from her face. She tried to ignore the pain lancing through her head and shifted her eyes from the rifle to the humanoid pointing it at her.
A brown blur came in from the right and plowed into the figure, knocking it off its feet and sending the rifle clattering across the floor. Grishnag pushed herself upright and found the snake-girl coiling her body around the enemy. The serpentoid rolled, twisted, and wrenched her body to the right, flinging the humanoid across the floor to the edge of the platform.
As it tumbled over the edge, it lashed out and clamped onto the end of her tail, dragging her along with it as it fell. All four arms flailed, her claws scraping across the metal, trying to find a handhold.
The human leaped after her and managed to grab her upper-left hand, but the combined weight of her and the goon dragged both of them closer to the edge.
The dragon clamped her talons around the human's right ankle, and that was enough to hold them in place.
The snake grunted and contorted her face, and from her movements, Grishnag guessed she was swinging her tail around, trying to dislodge the enemy.
"Pull her back up." Grishnag picked up her rifle and glancing around for more of their attackers. "One of us will be able to pick it off as soon as it reappears."
"Wait," the snake grunted. She took the human's other hand to hold herself steady, gave her tail another swing, then another, and Grishnag saw the enemy appear momentarily before gravity pulled it back down.
One more swing hurled it into full view -- and a rapid series of bolts from the robot's gun drilled through its head. It loosened its grip on the snake girl's tail. Grishnag and the dragon blasted it several more times before it dropped out of sight for the last time.
The human pulled her away from the edge. When she was no longer dangling above the clouds, she threw all four arms around him and just held him for a moment. He looked startled, but recovered after a few seconds and put his arms around her.
"Thank you," she finally whispered.
"Uh … sure, any time."
"Let's keep moving." Grishnag rubbed the side of her head, winced at the pain, and made sure to keep checking in every direction as she resumed the lead. Everyone followed her up the ramp to the next platform, and then on past two more. The next ramp led to a long, narrow level with waist-high walls. She lowered herself to her left hand and her knees, holding the gun in her right hand, and crawled forward, keeping her body below the top of the wall.
The others followed, crawling along close behind her.
Once she reached the end, she found herself in a larger chamber. Fortunately, this one had a solid wall between them and the attackers' last known position. Everyone stood and rushed across to the door and the huge window at the far end. They paused to look out the window before moving on to the door.
"What is that?" the girl with the glowing eyes whispered.
"Looks like a city," the human muttered.
Grishnag nodded. In front of her sat several kilometers of metal buildings, domes, and spires colored in varying shades of gray with streaks and splotches of brown all over. She cocked her head. Is that rust?
"A … city?" The horse-cow woman shook her head in disbelief.
"Like a village, but larger." Grishnag pointed at the nearest structures. "Those buildings are basically … tents? Huts? I've never met any of your people before, so I don't know what you're familiar with." She shrugged. "People live in some of those, work in others. Theoretically, at least."
"Ah. I think I understand."
"Maybe there's someone here who will help us out." The human glanced around at the others.
"I doubt it," the dragon said. "Would they have brought us within reach of someone willing to help us?"
"I … I guess not." He rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. "So what do we do, now?"
"Most cities have vehicles in them. There's probably something there we can use." Grishnag patted his shoulder and smiled. "So, we keep going until we find a way out." She opened the door. "Let's move."
CHAPTER 2: Waking Up Dead
"So," the male said after they'd been traveling through the city streets for a while, "we've faced death together, but we don't even know each other's names."
The muscular green woman chuckled. "I'm Grishnag."
"Pleased to meet you, Dylan."
"And I'm Nishara." She slithered closer to him, smiled, put her upper hands on his shoulders, and touched her forehead briefly to his.
"Uh, hi." He smiled but clearly wasn't sure what else to say or do.
The tall reptile woman bowed, first to him, then to the rest. "Ayastal."
"I am Zilaka," the furry one with hooves, muzzle, and horns said.
"My name's Cora," the machine-woman said, turning to keep watch for more of the helmeted people.
"Syala," the thick one with glowing eyes and hooves murmured.
"Okay." Grishnag stopped at the next street corner and glanced around. "We haven't seen anyone else here. This part of the city appears empty." She sighed. "I hope the rest isn't empty as well."
"The buildings are rusting away." Cora stopped at a wall and looked it over, but was careful not to touch anything. "Looks like it hasn't been occupied in a long time."
"Probably just used for training exercises or something like that," Grishnag said. "Or whatever it is they're doing with us."
"I don't suppose any of you have seen a place like this before?" Dylan mumbled.
Everyone shook their heads.
"I've seen metal buildings before," Ayastal said, "but none like these. When I was a child, there was a settlement of 'sky-people' not far from where my tribe lived. Buildings made of metal, but the …" She took a moment to find the right word. "The shapes were different."
"You're familiar with other worlds, then?"
"No. My people are aware of those who came from the sky, but none of us have been there. Well, until now. When I was a child, I would often sneak away from home and spend most of the day simply watching their flying machines." Ayastal smiled. "I've always wanted to ride one of those machines into the sky."
"Well, you may get your chance yet," Grishnag said as they continued on their way. "If we can find our way out of here."
"Maybe if we investigate some of the buildings," Dylan said. "If there's a computer in one of 'em that's hooked up to the inter -- uh, a global network, if this planet has one, we might be able to find a map."
"I haven't detected any wireless networks." Cora shook her head. "I'm not picking up any power sources, either."
"Damn. We should keep moving, then." Grishnag sighed and walked on.
The rest followed her, glancing around every few seconds to be sure no one was pursuing them. Nishara wasn't sure how much time passed as they made their way across the empty city, everyone remaining silent as they took random turns every now and then, until she'd lost any sense of the direction from which they had come.
Not that there was anything back that way except death if the metal people were still pursuing them.
Finally, they emerged onto an enormous platform, easily bigger than her clan's largest encampment back home. And on it sat large metal structures of varying sizes and shapes. They looked different from the buildings they'd passed by earlier, resting on sets of large things that looked like feet, or in some cases, wheels.
"Flying machines?" Ayastal cocked her head and smiled slightly.
"Looks like it." Dylan turned to Grishnag and Cora. "Any of these look familiar?"
"Some are similar to technology I'm used to." Grishnag walked slowly past one, brushing her hand over the lettering on its side. "But not exactly. I don't recognize any of the insignia or the names."
"Huh," Dylan muttered, stopping to stare at the letters painted on one flying machine's side. "These are all in English. Hell of a coincidence."
"I'm seeing these in my native language." Grishnag moved on to the next ship. "I noticed during the battle that when some of you spoke, your mouth movements didn't match what you were saying, and the same is probably happening for all of you when I speak. Something has been translating us, and I assume the same thing is happening with the writing on these ships."
"Ah. I was wondering how we could understand each other." Nishara slid past Dylan and stopped to examine the ships beyond the one he stood beside. "I don't understand how it's done, though."
"Were you all unconscious when you were brought here?" Dylan glanced around at each of them. "Did you fall asleep back home and then wake up in that huge room where we met?"
Everyone else nodded or murmured an affirmative response. Dylan suddenly looked uneasy.
"I bet they implanted something in us. Hardware that interfaces with our brains and translates what we see and hear." He shivered. "And if that's what they did, then what else did they do to us while we were asleep?"
Syala shuddered and her lower lip quivered. Nishara slithered over to her and put her left arms around her.
Cora looked unsettled for a moment, and then she pulled herself together and marched across the platform. "We'll have to worry about that after we get out of here. We need to take one of these ships, assuming any of them are still functional. A shuttle wouldn't do us much good. Too short-range. We'll need a ship that has a hyperspace vortex generator in case there are no jumpgates nearby."
"But isn't the ability to understand other languages a benefit?" Syala patted Nishara's hand and walked alongside her. "Why would they give us an advantage if they simply want to kill us?"
"For the challenge," Grishnag said, her eyes opening wider at the realization. "They're hunting us for sport."
Dylan grimaced. "Why'd you have to put that idea in my head?"
"Sorry, but it just fits. They give us a way to communicate and work together when they could've just shot us dead. So, they're either hunting us, or this is a test. Evaluating specimens to decide which planet to invade, possibly."
"That's even worse."
"Yeah." Grishnag sighed and moved on to the next ship.
"Whatever the reason they brought us here," Ayastal said, "they paid a terrible price for it. I didn't take the time to make an exact count, but I believe we reduced them by at least half."
"Assuming they haven't brought in reinforcements." Cora walked over to a sleek, black ship that looked like a saucer that had been stretched out to twice its original length.
Zilaka crossed her arms tightly over her chest. "This is a nightmare. It has to be."
"That's what I thought at first." Dylan walked around the front of another ship, shook his head at the buckled strut that had once held it up, and moved on. "It's too detailed and too linear to be a dream. And it just feels too real."
"Even if it were a dream or hallucination," Cora said, "we can't afford to assume it's not real with those assholes trying to kill us."
"Yeah, guess we don't have much choice. We have to keep playing along, just in case." Dylan turned to look at another ship -- and one of those yellow beams came out of nowhere and pierced his chest. A startled look crossed his face, then was replaced by a grimace of pain as he collapsed.
Everyone stared in shock.
"Dylan?" Nishara whispered. Her hearts pounded.
Grishnag and Cora were the first to recover. They threw themselves behind the nearest ship and tried to find where the bolt had come from without exposing themselves to more.
Ayastal pulled Syala and Zilaka behind another ship. Syala stared at Dylan's body and burst into tears.
"Damn it," Grishnag snarled. "He was just a kid."
"What the hell?" Cora aimed her weapon in the distance, but couldn't find a target. "I should've been able to detect them. Why couldn't I detect them?"
Nishara sucked in a deep breath and screamed, "Dylan!" She slid over to him, hoping he was only wounded as she rolled him over.
His eyes stared blankly into the sky and smoke curled up from the hole in his chest.
Still, she put her upper hands on his shoulders and shook him gently. "Dylan! You can't …"
"I'm sorry, Nishara," Grishnag said. "He's gone. Get under cover."
Nishara wiped the tears from her eyes and lifted her head to glare at the place from which the shot had come. She could make out movement among the metal structures in the distance.
Ayastal turned suddenly to face something behind everyone. More of those damned beams drilled into her chest. Her legs buckled and she slumped over on top of Syala.
Nishara turned to find a dozen more metal men charging them. She drew in another breath and let it out in a shriek that caused everyone around her to stop in their tracks for a moment, even the murdering bastards who had taken poor Dylan from them. She raised her weapon, surged forward, and pulled the trigger. The nearest of their enemies stumbled backward and fell, smoke pouring from all the holes she'd blasted through his torso.
A series of flashes came from the others' weapons and sudden, searing pains lanced through her chest as if white-hot knives were being plunged into her. Before she even understood what had happened, she found herself sprawled face down on the metal ground, unable to move, barely able to breathe.
"M … monsters," she whimpered before blackness engulfed her.
"What the --" Dylan flailed, gasped, and clutched his chest. Before he realized he was on a raised platform, he lost his balance, fell off, dropped several feet, and landed face down. Groaning, he pushed himself up slowly and looked around. "What the hell?"
More platforms filled the room, almost like metal beds.
No. More like autopsy tables. A shiver rippled through him.
All the tables were occupied by the alien women who'd surrounded him just before …
Just before I died. He glanced down at the front of his shirt, but couldn't find the hole that had been burned through him. The shirt hadn't been repaired -- it was exactly as it had been before that fatal shot.
Just to be sure, he lifted his shirt and slid his hand over his chest. There was no sign of a wound.
How am I alive? He leaned on the platform and tried to take deep breaths and slow his pounding heart. He looked around again and a chill rushed through him.
They're not breathing. He held his breath for a moment, trying not to let a sudden burst of tears out. The only familiar faces in this goddamn place, and they were all dead.
But he wasn't. Why?
Suddenly, Ayastal inhaled. She twitched and lurched upright, glanced around, and her eyes locked on to him.
"What …? How …?"
"I don't know." He ran a shaky hand through his hair. "Did you, uh … ?"
"Die? Yes." Ayastal shuddered. Even though her face wasn't human at all, Dylan could still read her confusion and fear in her wide eyes, twitchy movements, and rapid breathing. Maybe some things were universal. "I felt my heart stop! And yet …"
"Here we are. I know. I think …"
Nishara suddenly sucked in a deep breath and screamed. She convulsed and rolled off the platform.
Dylan let out a quick scream of his own and backed away from her, but pulled himself together and approached her slowly. "N … Nishara?"
She glanced around frantically, found him, and stared. "Dylan?" Her voice was barely a whisper.
"Yeah, it's me."
"Yeah, I noticed that. So did Ayastal." He motioned at the dragon woman, and Nishara glanced over her shoulder. Ayastal nodded at her. Nishara stared, took a few breaths, looked as if she were about to say something, then she turned back to Dylan.
"As did I." Nishara stared down at herself and ran her hands slowly over her chest. "The wounds are gone."
"Mine, too." He lifted his shirt. "See?"
She slithered up to him, stared for a moment, then reached out hesitantly and touched his chest. Her skin was softer and warmer than he'd expected. She moved her hand slowly over his chest for several more seconds, looked up and met his gaze, and finally pulled him into a tight embrace.
"I don't know. Maybe whoever brought us here is able to heal wounds like these." Or maybe we're clones and the originals really are dead. He didn't mention that one to either of them, not just because he would've had to explain what clones were.
"But why?" Tears trickled from Nishara's eyes and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. "Why are they doing this to us?"
"I wish I knew." He pulled the bottom edge of his shirt out to wipe away her tears. "I wish I knew how to even begin to find out."
She put her upper-left hand over his, held it to her cheek, raised her lower-left hand to his cheek, and stroked it softly. She gazed into his eyes for a moment, and then she leaned forward slowly and kissed him.
What the hell? Though it caught him by surprise, it was also quite nice, so he let it continue as long as Nishara wanted. When she finally pulled back from him, her face turned slightly darker, and she couldn't look him in the eye again.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled.
"I'm not." He smiled.
Ayastal managed a chuckle, though she was still visibly unsettled. She stood and ran a hand over her chest as if still looking for her wounds, and finally glanced around at the other bodies.
"Since the rest of us are here, I think we can assume they were killed, as well, and will wake up soon."
"Yeah. Well, I hope they will." Dylan turned slowly, looking around at the others, but kept his left arm around Nishara. "I wonder which one of them died next."
"I wouldn't know." Ayastal's muzzle quirked slightly into what might've been an attempt at a smile. "I was unable to observe anything, being dead at the time, myself."
"Right. Heh." Dylan managed a shaky smile and waited silently to see if anyone else woke up.
The others woke one by one. Dylan, Nishara, and Ayastal took turns explaining what had happened -- or what they thought happened. Cora and Grishnag understood instantly, but Syala and Zilaka took a bit longer.
"We died," Syala whimpered. She remained on her platform, pulled her knees up to her chest, wrapped her arms around them, and rocked slowly. "How can we be alive if we died?"
"Whoever's doing this to us," Grishnag said, "if they're able to abduct us and bring us who knows how many light-years to this place, then repairing fatal wounds might be child's play for them."
"So, this is what our lives will be from now on?" Tears trickled down Syala's cheeks again. "Dying, waking up here, and being killed again? Over and over, perhaps forever?"
"I don't know." Dylan walked over to her, and Nishara joined him. At the same time, they each put an arm around Syala. "But that means we might have a chance to get out of here. As long as we survive, there's hope. Right?"
Syala didn't answer. After staring at nothing in particular for more than a full minute, she put her arms around him and cried into his shirt. He glanced at Nishara, who smiled and nodded. He embraced Syala and rubbed her back slowly.
"And maybe not," Grishnag finally said. "Maybe they'll leave us alone for a while."
A door at the end of the room slid open and two of those damned nine-foot humanoids entered.
"Fuck," Grishnag snapped.
"Jinxed it," Cora muttered, and Grishnag sighed.
Everyone stood and faced them except Syala. She gripped the front of Dylan's shirt, twisting the fabric in her clenched fists as if terrified he was about to move away from her. He and Nishara remained by her side.
A third humanoid followed the first two, pushing a large cart. They stopped in front of Dylan and the females, and the two in front stepped aside. The third pointed into the cart.
Grishnag peeked into the cart. "Guns. They're arming us, this time?"
"Oh, shit," Dylan moaned. "What the hell are we gonna be facing?"
"Doesn't matter." Grishnag shook her head and backed away from the cart. "I'm not fighting for someone else's entertainment."
The humanoid pointed into the cart again. Grishnag growled.
"Fuck you. I'm not playing your games."
The one on the right turned its blank faceplate toward her and raised its left hand, pointing its palm at her.
She hunched over suddenly, clutched her head, and screamed. Everyone else gasped, and Syala clamped a hand over her mouth and began crying again.
Grishnag stumbled to the right, toppled over, curled up on the floor, and continued screaming.
"Stop it!" Dylan pried himself away from Syala and rushed over to Grishnag. The goon on the left pointed its palm at him. He ignored it, reached out to touch Grishnag's shoulder, but hesitated. He glared at the humanoid on the right and shouted, "Stop it! We'll do whatever you want, just stop!"
Both figures lowered their hands back to their sides. Grishnag suddenly went limp, still holding her head and weeping, but no longer screaming. She rolled onto her back, sobbed, and tried to pull herself together.
"Fucking monsters," Nishara practically hissed before slithering over to help Grishnag sit up.
Dylan clasped Grishnag's right hand in both of his and just held it while she took deep breaths and regained control of herself. Finally, she gazed into Dylan's eyes, reached out and caressed his cheek. Then her eyes widened and she pulled her hand back as if shocked by her own actions.
Okay, what is it with me and alien women, anyway? Have I turned into Captain Kirk or something?
"You gonna be okay?" Cora leaned over to touch Grishnag's shoulder.
Grishnag shuddered before answering. "Eventually." She pushed herself back to her feet and staggered over to the cart. "Fine. I'll go along with whatever insanity you've got planned." Glaring at the helmeted humanoid in front of her, she picked up one of the huge, long-barreled rifles. Then she snarled, "How do you know I won't kill you with it?"
The armored alien stared blankly at her. She held its "gaze" for a long moment and finally sighed and turned away. Her shoulders sagged ever so slightly.
Dylan sighed and picked up one of the guns. He thought it over for a few seconds and then turned to the humanoid on the right. "This is for hurting my friend."
He aimed his gun square at the bastard's chest and pulled the trigger.
Trembling, he sagged and stared at the gun. "Fuckin' hell!"
Grishnag patted his shoulder, smiled shakily, propped the gun on her shoulder, and strode out the door.
"I can't do this," Syala mumbled.
"You saw what will happen if you don't." Nishara hugged her and rubbed her back, then took her hand and led her to the cart.
"We'll be right there with you," Dylan said. "We'll all get through this together."
Zilaka nodded, patted Syala's back, and picked up one of the guns. Holding it uncertainly, she sighed and clopped past the guards.
Dylan smiled one more time at Syala, took a step past the humanoid who'd tortured Grishnag -- then he spun around and slammed the stock of his rifle into the bastard's visor. The impact knocked the alien off its feet and sprawled it on the floor.
Holy shit, that actually worked?
The other guards stepped toward him and pointed their hands at him. He propped the rifle on his shoulder and glared at them.
"What?" he snapped. When he made no further moves against them, they stepped back but kept their palms aimed at him. He realized suddenly how close he'd just come to being subjected to the same punishment that had been inflicted on Grishnag, but tried to cover up his fear by pushing past the guards and grumbling, "Get the fuck out of my way."
As he turned the corner to follow Grishnag, he caught a glimpse of Syala staring at him with an awestruck grin -- then picking up one of the guns and marching after him.
He caught up with Grishnag at the end of the corridor, which widened out and ended with what looked like a hangar door. The sounds of boots and hooves approaching from behind told him the rest of the women had armed themselves and joined him and Grishnag.
"I just realized something," Zilaka said, obviously struggling to keep her voice steady. "There were many others sent with us onto the first battlefield, but we're the only ones who woke up in that room back there."
"The others were killed almost immediately." A troubled look crossed Cora's face. "Maybe they were rejected."
All the confidence Dylan had just built up drained away as her meaning sank in over the next few seconds.
"Wonderful." Grishnag turned back to the door. "Well, let's get this over with."
CHAPTER 3: Wheels of Fire
"Huh. That's not what I expected." Dylan turned around slowly and took in their surroundings. He and the alien females stood in the middle of a street with a set of vehicles in front of them. Wheeled vehicles, but none of them familiar to him. Each was about the size of a four-door sedan but ranged from sleek lozenge shapes to something that looked like a cross between a sports car and a SWAT tank.
The city itself was unlike anything Dylan had seen on Earth, but it reminded him of any number of futuristic cityscapes in movies, video games, and TV shows. Lots of gleaming metal, concrete, glass, bridges, overpasses, and skyscrapers. In the distance, vehicles zipped around and equally sci-fi aircraft traced paths across the sky here and there.
I wonder if we're still on the same planet as the place we were killed a while ago? The sky was tinted red instead of the familiar blue and the air felt different -- thinner, with a sharp odor of overheated wiring filling his nose with every breath. If the assholes who abducted us can teleport us to other planets, what fucking chance do we have of ever escaping?
"I know how this works," Syala clopped over to one of the cars, her mouth hanging open and her glowing eyes opening wide. "I've never seen any of these before, never even imagined such things, but I know how to drive them."
"So do I." Ayastal leaned over the nearest car, placed her hand on its roof, and peered in through the windshield. "The knowledge just appeared in my mind. But I can't fit into any of these."
"How is this happening?" Syala drew in several ragged breaths and glanced around until her terrified gaze locked onto Dylan. "How do I suddenly know things I could never have even dreamed of before?"
"I don't know." He hurried over to her and held her hands. "Maybe we'll find out sooner or later, or maybe we'll never know. Right now, all that matters is that we get through this."
She took a few more breaths, pulled herself together, and nodded.
Cora walked over to them and rested a hand on each of their shoulders. "Whoever is doing this, we can't let them break us. Don't give them the satisfaction."
Syala nodded again, smiled, closed her eyes for a moment, and sucked in another long, slow breath to help calm herself.
"I also know what we must do," Zilaka muttered, turning to stare in shock at the others. "Just like the cars -- I didn't know a moment ago, and now I do."
"Same here." Dylan nodded slowly. "There's a package we have to pick up and take somewhere."
"And there will be someone trying to stop us." Nishara turned to gaze out over the city and shivered. "Someone trying to kill us."
"Again." Grishnag sighed. "No matter why our captors are doing this -- to test us, or just for their entertainment -- I don't want to submit to it."
"You know what'll happen if we don't." Dylan tried to give her a reassuring smile, but couldn't hold it for more than a second. "The longer we survive, the more time we have to figure out what's going on and how to stop it."
"True enough." A smile tugged at the corner of Grishnag's mouth. "Well, I guess we should get on with it."
Nishara cupped Dylan's face in her upper hands and held his hands with her lower ones.
"For luck." She leaned in and kissed him.
Uh … wow. He let the kiss continue until she pulled back, gazed into his eyes, and smiled. He stroked her cheek and she gave his hands and shoulders a gentle squeeze before turning to slither over to one of the cars.
Another hand brushed his arm. He turned to the left and found Syala leaning toward him. He met her halfway, thinking she wanted to say something to him without the others overhearing.
Instead, she slid her right hand behind his neck, pulled him closer, and kissed him.
Huh? His heart began to pound, but he went along with it. When Syala finally pulled back, she smiled and glanced away.
"For luck," she mumbled.
"Thanks." His face turned hot and he glanced around and caught Grishnag grinning and chuckling in the corner of his eye. He cleared his throat and tugged on his shirt collar. "So. Uh. Anybody else want a good-luck kiss?"
After everyone flicked a few glances at each other, Cora shrugged and walked over to him.
"What the hell. I don't believe it'll tilt the odds in our favor, but I'm all for finding a moment of pleasure in this nightmare we're all in." She pressed her cool metal lips gently against his and the faint smell of mechanical lubricants and polish filled his nose. Neither the kiss nor the scent was at all unpleasant.
When they parted, the other females approached him. Before he could get his brain around what was happening, each of them kissed him. In the corner of his eye, he found several of them kissing each other.
Okay, this is getting weird. The only possibility he could think of was that maybe humans were the only species that had any sexual hangups, and it simply didn't occur to any of these females to think there was anything strange about this. Hah. Getting weird. Good one.
Finally, Grishnag was the only one who hadn't kissed him or any of the others. She shrugged and put her arms around him.
"I suppose I shouldn't buck the trend," she said softly, chuckling. Her breath brushed across his lips and his heartbeat revved up again. "It has been a while since I've done this, so maybe it's about time, anyway."
Their mouths met and he closed his eyes and lost himself in the moment. It was a little odd, with those big fangs sticking up from her lower teeth, but no more so than any of the others.
When they parted, they gazed into each other's eyes for a moment, smiled, and then Grishnag walked off to choose a vehicle. She picked one of the sporty-SWAT tank-looking things, opened the door, and settled into the seat. Her eyes flicked over its control panel and she pushed a button. The engine started -- not the familiar sound of the car engines Dylan had heard all his life, but more of a throbbing hum.
The others chose their cars, except Ayastal. Grishnag glanced over at her, smiled, and pointed a thumb at the roof of her vehicle.
"This one looks sturdy enough for you to ride on top. You won't have any protection, but at least you'll be able to participate. I mean, if you want."
"Thank you. After seeing what they did to you when you refused to play their games, I'm probably better off not appearing to be uncooperative." Ayastal crouched on top of the car, braced her feet on the rear end, and found handholds on the roof.
Dylan picked another hotrod-tank, got in, and glanced around. All the controls were on the dashboard, including the brakes and accelerator. At least that meant Nishara could drive one despite having no legs. He glanced over at her in time to watch her try to enter one of the lozenge-shaped cars. She ducked in through the driver's side door, pulled back out, entered again, extracted herself again. She grumbled something, opened the back door, slid in and between the front seats, took her position awkwardly at the controls, and pulled the rest of her body in.
Syala closed the back door for her.
"Thank you." Nishara spent the next few moments trying to coil her body around the interior and find a comfortable position.
Dylan started his engine as Syala and Zilaka picked out their cars.
Grishnag's voice came from a speaker in the dashboard. "Okay. Let's do this."
"Almost there." Grishnag glanced at the mini-map on her dashboard and noted the position of the waypoint. She returned her attention to the road ahead and slowed as they passed through a gate and entered an area filled with what appeared to be warehouses.
As they approached the waypoint, a dozen red blips appeared around it. Grishnag noted their positions on her mini-map and grumbled.
"Well, here we go." Dylan's voice quivered slightly.
Before Grishnag could offer any reassuring words, she eased around the corner of a large, rectangular building and found a dozen males and females of varying species spinning toward her and snapping their guns up.
"What the hell?" Dylan said. "I was expecting more of the goons we fought last time."
"So was I." Grishnag steered toward the nearest three and accelerated. "No matter. Just focus on getting through this."
"R-right." Dylan's vehicle surged forward, plowed into two of the "enemies," and sent them tumbling across the pavement.
"Nice." Grishnag flashed a feral grin. "Ayastal, you may want to …"
"Dismounting." The huge reptile woman leaped off the top of Grishnag's vehicle and slammed into a pair of humans who'd opened fire a split-second before. The impact flattened them and she made sure they stayed put with a solid punch to each of their faces. She rolled off them, crouched, and sprang over the head of a pig-ogre as he tried to target her. She hit the ground, rolled forward, and came to a halt with her legs braced under her, ready to launch at another enemy.
The pig-ogre whipped his rifle around and lined up a shot at her chest.
Dylan's tank-car shot into view. He turned sharply to the left and the car skidded. The rear end swung around and slammed into the pig-ogre like a bat knocking a baseball out of the park. He rocketed into the side of a parked cargo truck, crumpled to the ground, and came to a stop with his neck twisted at an unnatural angle.
"Nice moves, kid," Grishnag said with an arched eyebrow.
"Thanks. I just now realized this reminds me of a game I played a lot back home. This was one of the moves I used on opposing players."
"This reminds you of a game?" Nishara steered her car around the back of a nearby warehouse and flinched as four enemies concentrated their fire on her.
"Yeah, a video game. It's a -- actually, never mind. I'll try to explain it later." Dylan whipped his car to the right and shoved his rifle through his open window. He pulled the trigger and perforated the human and three bovine males. They twitched and collapsed, fingers convulsing on their triggers and firing random shots until the life finished draining from them.
"Video games," Cora muttered. "I'm familiar with them. They're sort of like simulations."
"Yeah, kind of. You okay, Nishara?"
"For now." Nishara changed course again and accelerated. "I'm near the … whatever we're here to take. I'm going for it."
"I'll cover you," Dylan said.
"As will I," Syala added.
"Simulations. Hmm." Cora veered off to join the other three.
"What?" Grishnag caught up with them, glanced at the waypoint, and followed them toward a building that appeared to be an aircraft hangar.
"Just a suspicion I have. I don't want to distract everyone with it now."
"Sounds good." Dylan mowed down another opponent with his car and continued on to the hangar. "You can tell us after we finish this. Or the next time we wake up dead." He chuckled.
Hah. He has my kind of sense of humor. Grishnag grinned and parked in front of the hangar's massive open door. "Make a barricade with your vehicles while Nishara picks up the package."
Dylan backed his car up until his rear bumper nudged her front. The others followed suit, keeping their driver-side doors facing into the hangar. Everyone except Nishara jumped out and aimed their guns at the remaining enemies, using their vehicles as cover. Nishara extracted herself from her car and surged forward, slithering deeper into the building so fast she became a blur.
Dylan and Syala charged after her, flicking their wide eyes all around the interior, searching for more enemies.
Grishnag glanced at the mini-map on her dashboard. Only three enemies remained … until ten more red blips appeared at the edge of the map and approached her team's position with alarming speed. Grishnag snarled. "More enemies incoming."
"That's what I was afraid of," Dylan grumbled. "It works the same way in that game I mentioned. No matter how many bad guys we take out, more keep teleporting in."
"It's hopeless," Syala whimpered.
"No, it's not." Grishnag drilled a beam through the forehead of each of the three approaching them. "It'll end when we complete our task."
"Yeah." Dylan tried to smile at Syala. "Maybe then we'll get to sit out the next round of fighting. Y'know, as a reward."
Grishnag glanced at her mini-map again. The new red blips were almost on top of her and the others. She frowned, realizing a hissing sound had been growing louder over the last few moments.
That's inside the hangar. But … She gasped and raised her gun to aim at the ceiling.
"They're above us!"
Thumps of multiple feet hitting the roof echoed through the cavernous room.
Cora spun and snapped her gun up toward the ceiling. "I see their heat signatures." She opened fire, burning dozens of holes through the metal. Several voices cried out, and then a guttural roar overwhelmed them. More thumps echoed from the ceiling, the sound of bodies rolling down the angled roof.
"I've got the pilots," Ayastal snarled before opening fire.
The hissing sound revved, sputtered, and turned into a rattling whine. A stubby aircraft with two huge, ducted fans spun into view, a dozen holes melted through the canopy and a mixture of red and yellow blood splattered all over the cockpit. The aircraft continued its spin, tipped to the left, and crashed into the ground. It continued sliding and shedding parts, finally rolled over and ground to a stop upside-down.
"Good work, Ayastal," Grishnag said.
A deafening, sharp bang of a grenade slammed into the side of the building, almost drowning out a truncated scream. Grishnag staggered, shook her head, and a cold sensation rose up in her chest. "Ayastal?"
Nishara, Dylan, and Syala stopped in their tracks. Nishara fumbled and nearly dropped the brick-shaped, crystalline object in her hands.
"Ayastal!" Grishnag rushed to the rear of her car, peeked around the doorway, and found her sprawled on the ground with her chest blasted open.
Past her, two more large vehicles rumbled toward the hangar.
Grishnag winced and turned away. She met the others' gazes and shook her head.
Syala sobbed and covered her mouth with her hand.
"She'll be okay," Dylan whispered, reaching out to rub her back.
"How do we know?"
"She'll probably wake up in the same room we found ourselves in after the first time we were killed."
"He's right." Grishnag took a deep breath and waved a hand around the inside of the hangar. "Take a quick look around. Maybe we can find something useful. Bigger guns, or armor."
"On it." Cora rushed over to the wall to inspect the shelves and crates.
Nishara handed the golden crystal brick to Dylan. "Take this. You seem to know what you're doing."
Grishnag glanced over her shoulder at the mini-map on her dashboard. A new waypoint had appeared at the northern edge.
"We have a new destination."
"Good." Dylan carried the faintly glowing crystal back to his car. "Let's get the hell out of here."
"Oh, look what we have here." Cora had just opened one of the metal crates in a corner behind a shuttle and grinned at what she'd found. "Grenades, sticky bombs, and rocket launchers."
"I don't know what those are," Zilaka muttered, "but if they keep us alive, I'll be happy with them."
"They should definitely give us a chance." Cora passed the grenades and sticky bombs to the others, grabbed two rocket launchers, and handed one to Grishnag. "You seem to know how to use stuff like this more than the others. I think we'll have a better chance of holding the goons off while the others escape."
Dylan whipped his head around to stare at her and Grishnag.
"Don't worry." Cora strode toward the space between the door frame and Grishnag's car. "I'm planning on both of us catching up with you. Now, get moving."
Dylan sighed, nodded, and started his engine. Syala, Zilaka, and Nishara returned to their vehicles.
Cora peeked around the corner, found the two vehicles still fifty meters away but approaching rapidly, and nodded at Grishnag. Cora lined up a shot on the nearer van and fired. A fist-size rocket streaked toward her target. The second van veered off and accelerated, while three people bailed out of the first. Cora's rocket struck the front of the van, ripped it apart in a split-second, and the shrapnel shredded the three who'd tried to escape.
Grishnag stepped around Cora and took her own shot while Cora reloaded. The van swerved, but couldn't avoid the rocket. Shrapnel and body parts scattered in every direction. Grishnag smirked, turned toward her car, and stopped suddenly.
"Cora told you to take off."
Cora turned and found the others waiting with their engines running. "Yeah. What she said."
"We're not leaving you here." Syala aimed a stern stare at her, couldn't hold it, and faced forward again. "We finish this together."
Cora almost rolled her optics, canceled the action, and ran to her vehicle. "Fine. Let's all get the hell out of here before anyone else starts shooting at us."
"Dylan," Grishnag said as she climbed into her car, "we'll surround you and escort you to the next waypoint. Stay in the center."
"I'll do my best." He gripped the controls and waited.
"I'll take the lead. Cora, bring up the rear." Grishnag moved her car into position.
Four red, car-shaped icons appeared on Cora's mini-map, approaching rapidly from the rear. She leaned out the window, glanced around, and zoomed in on a distant motion.
"Guys, we've got more --"
"I see them on my map," Syala said, almost whimpering. "Let's go!"
Cora grabbed her rocket launcher, climbed through her window, and perched her ass on the lower edge. She lined up a shot and squeezed the trigger. The rocket streaked away and she zoomed in to watch the impact.
One of the four vans exploded and the shockwave knocked two others off course.
What the hell was that? Cora pulled the last few seconds from her optics' buffer and replayed it in slow motion. Parts of the van flickered and broke into tiny cube shapes for a split second as it exploded, as did the air around the shockwave. She scowled and lined up another shot. Voxels. Damn, I was right.
"Dylan, what?" Her proximity sensors picked up a sudden movement to her left before he could respond. She snapped her head around in time to catch a glimpse of a rocket before it drilled into the side of her car.
The roar of the explosion overwhelmed her auditory sensors and the flash overloaded her optics for a few seconds. When her sight returned, the entire world was spinning around her -- until the pavement slammed into her back. She glanced around, found parts of her legs and other debris scattered all around her, and her internal sensors detected various lubricants and other fluids spraying out of what was left of her torso.
"Cora!" Dylan shrieked again.
"Keep going! I'll do what I can from here." She found her rifle several meters away and dragged herself toward it while running a diagnostic. Primary systems failing, main power cell breached and heading for a critical overload. Whatever I do, I have to do it soon.
"Go!" She clamped onto the rifle and tried to line up a shot on the approaching vans, but her targeting system was offline. "I'll see you all on the next go-around."
"Shit," Dylan moaned before accelerating away.
The others hesitated another few seconds but finally followed him.
The remaining three vans reached Cora.
Fuck it. She rolled onto her back, jammed her rifle's barrel against her exposed power cell, and pulled the trigger. Fortunately, the detonation tore her body apart too quickly for her sensors to detect any damage.
The blast was enormous -- far bigger than anything Nishara had ever experienced. It deafened her and shook her vehicle. Both hearts pounded as she glanced over her shoulder and found parts of Cora's body and two of the vans raining down. The remaining van swerved around the debris and continued its pursuit.
"No," Dylan groaned.
"Take it easy," Grishnag said, clearly straining to remain calm, herself. "She'll be okay. She's probably in that same room we woke up in before, with Ayastal."
"I hope so." Dylan took a deep breath. "Alright. Let's get this over with." He accelerated.
Six more blips appeared on Nishara's mini-map, directly ahead. "No …"
"Where are they coming from?" Syala's voice quivered.
"Stay focused," Grishnag said.
A beam from one of the van's occupants drilled Nishara's rear window, the passenger-side headrest, and the windshield. She flinched and her hearts beat even faster.
Must try something. Must do something before we're all killed again. She took several deep breaths. "I … I have an idea."
She twisted her tail into position, gripped her weapon, and slid through her window. She kept her lower-left hand on the controls, kept the accelerator pressed down with the tip of her tail, and held on to the roof with her upper-left hand. With her two right hands, she raised the gun awkwardly and tried to aim it at the approaching van.
A male that appeared to be Zilaka's species leaned out one of the van's windows with his own rifle.
Nishara clamped her mouth shut to prevent a horrified whimper from escaping and fired her weapon. Half of her shots struck the ground or pierced empty air, but the rest punched into the front of the van.
The male fired and a familiar searing pain lanced through Nishara's upper-right shoulder. The gun almost slipped from her hands, but she managed to keep her grip on it and continue shooting.
Finally, one of her beams drilled through the van's windshield and vaporized part of the driver's head. He flopped over and the van swerved off to the right and crashed into a stack of red metal barrels. Nishara shifted her aim to the barrels without understanding how she knew what was about to happen, and continued firing. Whatever was in the barrels ignited violently, and engulfed the van in flames.
Nishara sighed, faced forward, and grimaced at the pain spreading out from her wounded shoulder.
Grishnag veered off to a curving ramp leading to an overpass that wove among dozens of gleaming metal skyscrapers. The rest followed her. Wincing and trying not to cry out, Nishara steered her vehicle in the same direction.
Three more enemy vans appeared directly ahead, swerving through the oncoming traffic.
"Damn it," Grishnag snarled. "Too many innocent people are in the way."
"There's nothing we can do about that," Dylan said with a sigh. "We'll just have to do the best we can to avoid hitting any of them."
A human leaned out of the lead van and began firing. Nishara groaned, shifted her grip on her weapon, and returned fire.
A beam pierced her upper-left arm and another hit her chest, just below her lower heart. She screamed and dropped her gun.
"Nishara!" Syala shrieked. "Oh, no!"
Another shot burned through Nishara's abdomen, and yet another drilled her upper heart. She flailed, screamed again, and her car began to turn sideways and skid.
"No!" Dylan bellowed.
Nishara caught a glimpse of a hail of enemy shots slamming through his windshield and multiple bursts of red blood filling the inside of his car, and suddenly she turned cold inside.
"No …" She coughed as everything around her began to fade away. "Dyl … Dylan …"
Her car struck the divider between lanes and rolled. The last thing Nishara saw was the road rushing up toward her, and the last things she felt were her body twisting and the car crushing her beneath it.
Title: Game Over
Genre: Science Fiction
Age range: adult
Word count: 80,000 words
Author: Fred T. Kerns
Why the book is a good fit: I tend to write the kinds of stories I wish I could find on bookshelves. As TMG has an eye toward innovation, my work would bring them something new and fresh to pass along to the world. TMG also works with a range of genres and my novels and stories are primarily science fiction but also include elements of action, humor, and an often hopeful vision of the future despite the villainous characters standing in the heroes' way.
The Hook: On this planet, "fun and games" is a matter of life and death.
Synopsis: Dylan Engstrom wakes up in a strange place and is thrown into a series of combat scenarios with a handful of aliens. Together, they must figure out what's going on and how to escape before they're all killed. And killed again. And again. And again ...
Target audience: Readers who enjoy action, adventure, humor, spaceships, aliens, and fun characters in a story that leans toward the harder end of the SF scale.
Bio: Sci-fi writer, semi-competent gamer (on a good day), and a huge geek. Born in a small town in Oregon, lived on the Oregon coast until 2013, then moved to Tucson, Arizona, and has lived there ever since.
Platform: My blog has links to most of the stuff I'm up to: https://fredtkerns.blogspot.com/
Education: High school diploma, followed by life in general
Experience: Started writing and submitting short stories at 17 and have never stopped writing since then. I've finished five novels and have another in-progress, and have written a number of shorter works and ongoing serialized stories.
Personality/writing style: Usually pretty mellow. Able to roll with the punches thanks to life being a very long stretch of bad luck. Able to face each setback by immediately going to work on possible solutions almost like a reflex. Writing style tends to be to-the-point with characters who are often a little off-kilter. I've been told that I'm particularly good at writing action scenes. I also like to research specific scientific concepts to attempt to get them right (for instance, hull breaches in my writing won't result in an endless rush of venting air) without bogging the story down with details regarding physics and whatnot.
Likes/hobbies: Writing, video games, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. Have been a lifelong fan of Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars, and others. More recent like/influences include the Mass Effect series, Babylon 5, Star Trek Online, Red vs. Blue, gen:LOCK, among others.
Hometown: Tucson, AZ
Wicked Wolverines - Chapter 1 excerpt
Being friends with a narcissist for over ten years has made me realize that language barriers exist within languages too. Not that I could tell Charlie that--she wouldn't understand what a language barrier is.
Let me lay it out for you. I think 70% of conversations occur in my mind and the other 30% in real time. I project what other people are thinking without saying, to the point where I have visceral reactions to situations that haven't actually happened. I'll highlight it for you using the following scenario.
Charlie: age 27, blonde, about 5' 10", athletic build, dim-witted, kind, remarkably in awe of ordinary things
Me: age 26, brunette, 5' 0", cynical about everything
Place: Coffee shop - this is where I imagine adult interactions outside of college take place.
For the sake of the scenario you may imagine the two women on adjacent treadmills at the gym, or at a bar, or at a bookstore, etc. I'm going with a coffee shop. Charlie got an oreo frappuccino with whip (calories don't stick to her) and I got a skinny latte no whip. These details are trivial.
"...or are they, loba?" Sorry, Alejandro loves to pop in. You can decide whether the details are trivial or not.
Time: Tuesday 6:00 p.m.
"Jen, you know I never want that sonofabitch back, but..." Charlie said, as she took a perfunctory sip of her oreo frap. Her downturned lips revealed her displeasure, and mid-sentence she stood up and marched back up to the counter with her disappointing frap in hand. I watched as she berated the poor barista, and thought,
"But you do want that sonofabitch back." Once she was satisfied with the espresso to whip to oreo ratio in her frappuccino, she returned to the table with her glorified milkshake and a complimentary chocolate croissant, her expression smug. She took a long draw of her perfect beverage, sighed contentedly, dabbed at the corner of her mouth with a napkin, and placed her hands on her lap.
"So, as I was saying, I’m glad the sonofabitch is gone, but living alone is an absolute nightmare! The house creeks at night, and I've been sleeping with a super sharp pencil under my pillow just in case..." She planted her hands on the table on either side of her drink, and began to look around wildly, her eyes dashing from one corner of the room to the other.
"In case what?" I stifled a laugh at her manic expression, and took a measured sip of my latte to hide my smirk. She drew her hands up on either side of her face to make sure that no one could read her lips.
"In case someone tries to break in and murder-rape me!"
"Oh I see...what the hell is a pencil going to do? No one will murder you in freaking Ann Arbor! A kitchen knife would be a better solution. No doubt, you’re afraid of rolling over in your sleep the wrong way, and getting stabbed in the neck or something. Ha." I nodded my head. Recognizing where this conversation was headed, I wracked my brain for a way to disrupt her from the ultimate proposition. Nothing came.
"Yeah, so I was thinking since you're living alone...in your shitty little apartment that smells like polygamy and cat piss." The chocolate croissant, which Charlie had nestled at the edge of the table with no intention of eating, appeared at my fingertips. Charlie caught my eye as she finished nudging the delicious treat my way, and tilted her head toward me with a smile. Blueberry scones were her baked good of choice; I should have known.
Absentmindedly, I broke off a small piece of the croissant, and let the chocolate dissolve on my tongue before giving her the cue to continue.
"Mmhmm...Please don't ask me. I can't say no." I took another bite of the croissant, and another, as Charlie propped her elbows on the table and laced her fingers together. The proposal was coming.
"And I'm sure you're pretty lonely too. You've never had an adult relationship in the time I've known you, your cat died from boredom and neglect (you probably didn't feed him for weeks while you were off on a series of romantic trysts), and your mother never visits since she moved to New Mexico with some devilish but not handsome Latino man."
"I get it! Sometimes I guess, I was thinking of getting another cat." I glanced down at the empty plate, and licked my thumb to sop up the rest of the remaining chocolate. Attractive, I know. Anything to avoid eye contact with Charlie, plus it’s chocolate!
"I don't know if that's a good idea. You remember what happened to Toby. That would be nice. Get another cat and move in with me!" There it was, hanging out there like a dead raccoon on the barn door. Suddenly, my throat constricted, and I couldn’t get enough air. I breathed in shallow, unsatisfying breaths –four in and four out like they teach you therapy, but not long enough to slow my heart rate and not deep enough from my diaphragm to make me feel grounded –for a moment before responding.
"You've been alone for two months, suck it up! I've been alone my whole life. Let me think about it." Sensing my hesitancy, she leaned across the table to hold my hands, and looked up at me, eyes glinting.
"Please Jen, you know I'm the only one in the universe who can put up with you. Also, if you get a haircut or a boyfriend before me, I will throw a fit until you apologize and give you the silent treatment for weeks." I wrestled free from her hands, and crossed my arms across my chest. Not to refuse, but to comfort myself.
"Man, we are in our mid 20’s! Can’t we be done with the petty bullshit? Alright, fine."
"You mean it?" Her smile widened, and she feigned clapping. There was no turning back. I tightened my lips into a straight line, and shrugged my shoulders, deciding that it was easier to yield than argue.
"Sure. No, this is a terrible idea.” Charlie ignored my reluctance, pulled out her iPhone, and started generating plans. Her first decision as Zeus to my Hades was to hire movers for me "as a thank you." You may think, “Jen you’re such a pessimist, that’s quite a friendly gesture!” In reality though, this courtesy was the first of many ways she’d exercise control over me in the coming months.
I'm not going to lie. That conversation, at least the part not in italics, went on two months ago. I spent the next month enjoying what was left of my lease, and dreading moving day. Every weekend, I laid in bed, memorizing the lilac and fuchsia colored paisley wallpaper on the accent wall in my room, periodically trembling at the thought of scraping it off and repainting with bland Chantilly lace. The last weekend before the move, I took a picture of the pattern, created a background for my phone, and spent an afternoon removing the print. As I watched the putty knife peel back the layers of my life, I felt a cavity start to form in my chest. The wallpaper did not come off easily, and tore into thin, jagged strips as I worked. When I realized there was no salvaging it, I was indifferent; I surrendered. At least I’d have the memory of freedom.
Title: Wicked Wolverines
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Age Range: Adults, target ages 20-39
Word Count: ≈100,000 words
Author Name: Jessica Highfield
Why my project is a good fit: My project offers an innovative take on the structure and character development of traditional romantic narratives. Additionally this novel centers on issues that broadly appeal to women including love, anxiety, depression, self-acceptance, and self-actualization.
The Hook: Jen is a cynical, reclusive, intelligent substance abuse counselor in her mid-20s who has crippling anxiety particularly about conflict and relationships. Charming Charlie is her best friend, an effortlessly beautiful, blonde, Zumba instructor who has always gotten everything that she wants. That is, until her longterm boyfriend leaves her without any real marketable skills and a house she can't afford. Charlie asks Jen to move in with her, and although Jen realizes that they are completely incompatible roommates, she agrees to avoid an uncomfortable argument. Shortly after moving in with one another, these incompatibilities become glaringly obvious, and Jen turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms to survive (which includes somewhat unintentionally casting a legit spell on Charlie!). Through a series of real and imaginary events, Jen and Charlie simultaneously fall in love with the same man, Jack Barker, a devilishly handsome UM grad and dance instructor. Jen must learn to accept herself and face conflict in order to become the main character in her own life.
Synopsis: Jennifer Kelly and Charming Charlie became unlikely best friends in high school when the effortlessly popular and talented Charlie decided to make the socially inept Jen her pet project. As adults both attend University of Michigan where Charlie pursues her goal of becoming a trophy wife, while Jen becomes a successful substance abuse counselor. When Charlie gives her longterm boyfriend, the Chemical Engineer, the marriage ultimatum, he flees. Charlie realizes that she is not able to afford the lifestyle she's accustomed to, and asks Jen to move in with her. Crippled by anxiety over the conflict that would inevitably ensue if she refused, Jen agrees. Charlie is a woman who gets what she wants.
Jen and Charlie's lifestyles and ideas on morality are incompatible, particularly when it comes to love. Very shortly after moving in together, Charlie comes home early from an evening out to find Jen shamelessly having sex with a Starbuck's barista she'd met that evening. They argue about Jen's depravity and lack of self-respect, and Charlie insists that Jen sanitize the kitchen the following day. Jen, who has made a habit of creating imaginary characters to help her cope with her anxiety and her ineptitude with real life relationships, calls on her character Katerina (a Scottish witch) to cast a spell on Charlie. This exercise proves to be cathartic, and Jen goes on with life not thinking too much about it. However, as the events that follow unfold, Jen realizes that her "imaginary" spell may not be so imaginary after all, and it may have backfired!
The lonely Charlie decides to start online dating, and goes out with a bunch of duds before meeting Jack Barker at her dance studio. She was teaching a Zumba class, and one shake of her tush was all it took to entice this devilishly handsome, womanizing, alcoholic in denial. When Charlie brings Barker home for the first time, Jen recognizes him immediately as an obstinate client she saw in her office recently who refused to admit that he had been referred to her legitimately by law enforcement. He is charming, crass, self-absorbed --everything that Jen loves about male love interests in books/movies, but is dangerous and toxic in real life. Despite Barker's insistence that he and Charlie maintain an open relationship, Charlie develops a plan to trap him, which involves Jen playing her wing-woman. Unfortunately, getting closer to Jack, only causes Jen to fall deeply in love with him. At Shakespeare in the Park, after Charlie storms off in a huff, Jack confesses his feelings for Jen who is at once delighted and terrified by how her body comes alive when they kiss. Although Charlie is self-absorbed, and an awful friend in Jen's eyes, Jen's guilt and the characters that she creates to manifest her anxiety, convince her to turn Jack down.
Shortly thereafter, Jen leaves on a trip to Florida for a conference where she meets Tom. She is distrusting at first, but once they save a pilot whale from breeching together, she is hooked! Tom happens to also be from Ann Arbor, and Jen returns from the trip really feeling the feels for this guy. He seems perfect! She even agrees to go on a double date with Charlie and Barker. At the date, Barker displays some possessive behavior, which raises red flags for Charlie. Charlie decides to enact the final step in her plan to trap Barker which includes giving him the "boyfriend" ultimatum at the upcoming benefit at her dance studio. Jen goes along with the plan despite having some lingering feelings for Barker. To Charlie's disappointment, Jack refuses her proposition, and it becomes clear that he has true feelings for Jen and had been using Charlie all along to get a job at her dance studio. Jen realizes that her spell to ruin Charlie's life has come to fruition, and she is regretful, but not so regretful that she doesn't dump Tom (who was dating another girl as it turns out), and pursue Jack. Jen's relationship with Jack is fraught with problems, but by accepting herself, Jen chooses to end one toxic relationship and enter another that brings her joy despite the struggles.
Target Audience: Women, ages 20-39
Author Bio: I am a 30 year old woman from southeast Michigan. I am a newly emerging author, with an interest in writing realistic fiction and portraying the extraordinary and often humorous aspects of seemingly ordinary characters and situations. I have a BA from University of Michigan in English and Spanish, as well as an MA in Educational Studies. I have spent the last six years teaching English and Spanish courses to high school students, and have a passion for helping students find humor and express themselves in writing.