Flash Fiction – Page 5 – Dave Bailey

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Search for the Moonstone Giant

Ken stood at the edge of the cliff overlooking the glaciers and mountains that lay before him. He breathed easier. The hardest part of the journey was over. He had made it. And he was still alive.

All he had to do now was find the one named Kalypso.

“Hey, Kalypso!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

“Kalypso. Lypso. Ypso. So. So. Oh,” his voice echoed back mockingly.

The man stood there in the silence of ice and snow. Waiting for an answer.

But no answers came from the mountain.

It was growing darker. The giant crescent moonrock peaked out through the sides of the melting glacier glowed softly in the twilight. The sun would be setting soon. He needed to find shelter.

A colony of bats flew up from a cave into the grey sky. Their winged bodies silhouetted in the golden-yellow glow that emanated from the moonrock.

Ken glanced nervously over at the giant skull keeping guard over the mountain. He had heard the legends of these mighty beings who once ruled the land and roamed freely before being exiled to Rikdax.

His mother had once told him the stories of the Rikdax giants and how their fearless leader, Clagwor The Great, son of Morym The Fierce fought alongside the children of men in days long gone by. But then they had been betrayed and forced to live here in these icy, barren mountains.

“What ails you, human?”

Ken spun around. His heart racing.

A large, white horse came walking in his direction. Picking its steps carefully across the stones. Ken could see that it was lame. It limped badly. And yet still managed to move silently across the rocky area.

“Um. Were you talking to me?” Ken asked dumbly.

“Uh, yes! Do you see any other humans around?”

Ken shook his head.

“Are you Kalypso?” Ken asked.

The horse snorted, “Of course not. Kalypso was a giant. Not a horse.”

“Was? Is he not here?”

“These are his bones, human. The last of the great giants. He stood watch over that moonrock. Hoping that its light would someday attract more of his kind. Or at those who could become as he.”

“What happened to him?” Ken asked.

“What happens to us all, human? Age. It beats the best of us. More than a hundred winters have passed since Kalypso took his final breath. As you can see, the ice and snow have built up between the mountains and the moonrock. Soon, it will be all but buried. Gone forever. Swallowed up by the mountains.”

Ken sat down on a stone. He sighed deeply and shook his head silently.

“Why did you seek him, human?”

“I came for his blood,” Ken replied.

The horse backed away and snorted loudly, “Crazy humans. You came alone to fight a giant. Well, too late for that now. There is no revenge among the dead.”

Ken looked up and burst out laughing. “No, silly mule. Not for revenge. I’m a researcher. A scientist. I wanted blood samples from a giant.”

“Great moonrocks on fire! I should kick your teeth in for calling me a mule. I haven’t been insulted like that Kalypso was alive. Of course, I couldn’t kick him though. He was a giant. He would have squashed me like I swat a fly.”

The horse stomped one of its good feet angrily and pawed the ground. Ken chuckled heartily.

“We best be getting somewhere safe before it gets completely dark,” the horse said.

“Why?” Ken asked.

“There are strange things that happen in the darkness,” the horse replied in a hushed voice.

“Like what?” the human asked.

The horse lowered and shook its head as if shrugging, “It happens in the dark, and we are all in hiding. So, no one knows. But we hear strange noises. Those we are acquainted with are never seen again. Kalypso protected us from the darkness. But after he passed, we were left to fend for ourselves.”

“Like monsters?” Ken asked, sitting up and looking around.

The horse shrugged again, “Some say that certain beings and creatures are affected by the moonrock. It causes them to grow forever. Some say that the giants were once normal humans like you who were affected by the moonrock. That is why they grew so large.”

Ken sat up straighter. A broad grin on his face.

“Maybe my trip wasn’t in vain after all. I must get closer to this moonrock.”

“First, you have to survive the night, silly human. Let us find a safe place before the sun disappears completely. Tomorrow is a new day, and you may continue your journey.”

Kaito’s Quest

“Come, NightWind. Let us enter before it returns,” Kaito urged in a hushed voice

The dark, grey unicorn refused to move forward. The man flicked the reins and dug his heels into her side. She snorted and only took a step backward. Kaito scanned the black skies overhead nervously.

The portal before them glowed softly with a blue hue. The edges of the opening looked as if they had been created from ancient technology that his people had once used to create boards for the purpose of storing information. Something they had called computers. Kaito had seen them once in a museum in his hometown of Yugahama.

But that had been a long time ago, and he was a very long way from home. He hadn’t been back in over twenty years. A long, arduous journey as he scoured the earth on this seemingly impossible mission.

Finding the portal hadn’t been that difficult. Kaito had located it within the first five years. In the end, all he had to do was follow the Eastern star Slax into the Desolate Hinterlands.

The hard part, though, had been locating the artifacts that he needed to face these firey creatures that guarded and dwelt within these portals.

First, he had located FlameWard, his shield hidden deep within the firey caves of the Fergborg volcano.

Then he had tracked down Fire Casque, the helmet he had taken from the head of a troll at the summit of Basroy Mountains. It was said to protect its wearer from the most influential forms of mind control, including that of a dragon.

Along the way, he had captured NightWind in Eleychester. Well, more like stolen her from a farmer who had been raising her. But, Kaito didn’t think of himself as a thief. He simply freed it to live an adventurous life on the road with him.

And of course, she made his life more comfortable since he could get around faster. He reckoned that she had shaved at least three years off his journey while he searched for Blood Venom, the legendary spear that Shirō Shin Matsushita had used a few centuries earlier to kill Acidtooth, Destroyer Of Men.

What a story that was, Kaito thought to himself. And now to think that I will soon join the ranks of such legendary men. My people will sing names about me. When I return with a dragon’s egg and the king gives me the princess’ hand in marriage. I shall be the happiest man alive.

“I’ll show them all,” Kaito whispered through clenched teeth. “Then they’ll have to make me knight. I will prove that I am an honorable warrior.”

“Silly human,” the unicorn chuckled. “You don’t even know if there is a dragon’s egg. I bet you can’t even tell if that dragon is male or female.”

“Then, I’ll kill the dragon and take its head. I’ll prove that I am a valiant warrior.”

“Please,” the unicorn whinnied. “You haven’t trained or fought at all these years. You stole the things you have, betrayed those you took them from and killed anyone who stood in your way at night while they were fast asleep. Where is the honor in that?”

“Shut up, you stupid horse with a silly horn,” Kaito said has slammed the side of his fist into the back of her head. “Remember why you let me ride you.”

“Yes, I wish you would just complete your curse and kill me. Sometimes I’d rather be dead than to have to listen to all the baloney you spout off day and night.”

“I really do hate you too, stupid unicorn. I should have just left you back on that farm to plow that farmer’s fields instead of bringing you on the adventure of a lifetime. But we can’t undo the past, so let’s just keep moving forward.”

Night Wind threw her head down and took another step backward. Kaito angrily grabbed onto her mane with both hands and prepared for her to trying bucking him off as she usually did at least once a week. But she didn’t attempt to throw him this time.

Kaito sighed in silent frustration and slid down. He couldn’t wait till he was back in the city. A famous dragon egg hunter who had won the princess’ hand in marriage. Heir to the throne. And then he could own and ride normal horses that couldn’t argue with him nor talk back.

“Stay here then, but be ready to run if that dragon returns,” he growled.

The man tip-toed quietly forward to the portal, still scanning the skies for any sign of the giant, winged creatures return. He had been watching it for several weeks now.

The giant, black dragon typically stayed out for several hours before returning from its hunts. So, he wasn’t too worried yet. He should have another couple of hours to search for the eggs and make his escape. Kaito hoped to be long gone before it returned.

The glowing blue portal hummed softly as he walked toward it, but it began to pulse softly at a higher frequency when he passed through the entrance. The sound made him nervous, but he wasn’t about to turn back now.

Kaito found himself in a large, dark cave. The glow from the portal behind him reflected eerily on the walls surrounding him. As his eyes adjusted to the low light, he could see where a cave tunnel led upward out of this main hall.

He was worried about getting lost in here before finding any dragon eggs. Kaito knew he needed to hurry because he definitely didn’t want to have to come back here a second time.

A glitter of light caught his eye. He looked closer and caught his breath. Piles of gold and silver that the dragon had stolen from his people. Even he didn’t find any eggs, he could still fill his backpack with treasure and live like a king for the rest of his life.

Kaito had had enough adventure and traveling for a lifetime. And besides, it had been years since he had seen the princess. She had probably grown old and fat and ugly by now. He wouldn’t need to be heir to the throne if he had his own wealth.

He slid his backpack down and emptied the contents on the cave floor. Then began to stuff it full of gold and silver treasure. When it was full, he closed the bag carefully and tried to lift it. But it was too heavy. He could barely get it off the ground, and part of the seam started to pull away. It was an old bag that he had been using for years.

The man emptied about half of it and tried again. But it was still too heavy. So, he angrily pulled out more of the golden goodies. He would definitely be coming back with a better bag for carrying more of these riches out of here.

Kaito stood back up and struggled to get the backpack over his shoulders. He considered pulling out a bit more, just in case he had to make a run for it. But greed spoke louder than prudence and convinced him to keep what he had.

As he turned to leave, he caught sight of something else in a far corner of the cave. His eyes had adjusted better to the darkness, and even though he wasn’t a hundred percent sure, the forms he saw looked like eggs.

Kaito stepped forward and almost tripped over a pile of large bones. He had to pick his way through larger and higher piles until he made it back to the corner. He sucked in his breath with delight.

Four large dragon eggs lay before him on a soft pile of grass and leaves. He stepped forward and took just one.

It’s all I need to be rich and happy, he thought to himself. No need to be greedy. Leave the rest for the mother. Maybe the dumb, flying lizard won’t even notice one is missing. He bounced around in a gleeful dance. Then stepped on a bone and tripped.

Kaito almost dropped the egg but managed to keep his hold on it. He breathed a sigh of relief and quickly made his way to the portal door. When he stepped outside, Kaito had to blink several times for his eyes to adjust again to the light.

He looked around for Night Wind but didn’t see her. He looked behind him and saw her running for the forest.

“Hey, you stupid horse. Get back here!” Kaito yelled.

If he hadn’t been so angry, he would have laughed. He took great delight in humiliating the unicorn by comparing the creature to distant, dumber cousins.

He sighed and began to walk after her. Eventually, she would stop, and he would catch up to her. It was true that he had cursed her, but not in the way she thought. He wouldn’t ever do anything to kill or harm her.

It only caused her to feel more disoriented and nauseous the farther she got from him. But if she persisted far enough, that bond would be broken, and she really would be free. But since she didn’t know that, she always gave up and came back to him.

A loud roar erupted behind him, breaking through his thoughts. Kaito turned to see a dark speck in the sky, flying in his direction. His heart froze. He held on to the egg with one hand and slid the backpack off with the other. He tossed it to the ground and broke into a dead run.

The dragon roared again louder this time. Rapidly gaining on him. He turned for another look, and she was closing in on him with jaws wide open.

He swung Blood Venom from his shoulder and spun around to face her. She was close. Coming fast. She almost impaled herself on it but flung her massive body away at the last second.

Dakiderth, the Lady of Fire, was her name. At least that was what Night Wind had told him. But in the midst of this chaos, a strange thought crossed his mind. How did the unicorn know the dragon’s name? But he had no time to think of these things now. He would ask her later when the beast’s head was hanging on the wall of his royal bedroom back at the castle.

The dragon landed close, but just out of reach. She reared her head and hissed loudly. Kaito struck out at her with Blood Venom, his dragon-slaying spear. But it was a clumsy attempt with only one hand. He refused to set the egg down. It was his, and he wasn’t going to set it down.

She blocked it with her wing and knocked it to the side. Kaito pulled back and struck again. This time, the dragon blocked it and grabbed it away from him. She tried to snap it, but it was too well made. The giant, slithering reptile threw it to the ground and stepped over it.

Kaito held the egg in front of him like a hostage. FlameWard, his shield, had fallen off his back when he removed the backpack.

“Breathe fire at the peril of your own young, foul creature of darkness,” he screamed in anger and terror.

So, close and yet so far. Twenty years of searching. Here it was, right in front of him. Kaito couldn’t give up or quit now.

“Stand back, or else I’ll throw the egg to the ground. I’ll smash it to smithereens,” he screamed.

The dragon sat back on its haunches and watched him.

“That’s right, Mama! You better be scared. I’ll kill this little creep and make scrambled eggs for breakfast.”

The dragon hissed, and sparks flew out of its mouth and nostrils. Kaito jumped back and smashed into something. He stumbled and almost fell. When he caught himself and turned around, Night Wind was standing there.

“Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. When you’re on the winning team, everyone wants to be with you. Even your horse.” Kaito yelled gleefully.

“Where are you taking my egg?” the dragon asked softly.

“Like I’m really going to tell you, dummy. Do you think I’m that stupid.” Kaito screamed mockingly.

“We’re taking the egg back to the Reya Kingdom. King Gorō Yuuta has promised the princess’ hand in marriage to the human brave enough or stupid enough to bring him a dragon egg.”

The giant, black dragon hissed again as sparks mixed with flames flared with each breath.

“What?” Kaito asked dumbly, turning to look at the unicorn.

Her eyes were blank. She stared at Kaito unblinkingly. His heart sank. Night Wind wasn’t wearing a FireCasque like himself. She had no protection for her mind. The dragon was controlling her.

“Fine, I’ll give you the egg. You let us go.” Kaito whined.

The dragon didn’t say a word. He didn’t like the look in her eye. He didn’t have much hope of getting away. He needed to distract her.

Kaito wound up and threw the egg as far as he could off to the side. Then he turned and made a run for it across the field.

The egg was heavy and didn’t go far. The dragon caught it easily with her wings in midflight. It didn’t even break her mind control over the unicorn.

Night Wind turned around and wound up herself. Her back legs lashed out as Kaito ran past her. The unicorns sharp hooves caught him in the side. Cracking ribs that punctured his lungs. The man fell to the ground screaming in pain and misery. Coughing blood that filled his airways.

Dakiderth dragged Kaito back into her cave with one clawed hand while clutching her precious egg with the other.

“Sorry, to hurt your human, cousin,” the dragon growled to the unicorn.

Kaito leaned his head back for a final look at the unicorn as the dragon pulled him through the portal.

“Cousin? What? Was that why he had seen small scales on the unicorn’s body. Were dragons and unicorns somehow related?”

The Fire Casque slipped off his head as he went through the portal. Numbness and darkness soon overtook his mind.

Night Wind shook her head as the sense of sickness and nausea slipped away. She felt great for the first time in years. Not attached to this sick human. The unicorn was finally free. Well, for now anyway. At least until someone else tried to catch her.

She considered sticking around the Desolate Hinterlands where humans rarely came. But then decided against it. Who knew when a hungry mother dragon or young dragonling might pop out looking for a fat and sassy unicorn meal.

Nope. An elegant unicorn like herself could find another desolate place to live without creepy, mind-controlling dragons around.

Night Wind galloped off into the Forest of Hypnotic Flowers. She wondered if such flowers existed, or if humans under the dragon’s mind control had blamed some strange flower. She wished she had such power. It would be fun to play around with them when they were being cruel.

She stopped at the edge of the woods to get her bearings, then headed off to the West to get as far away from old King Gorō Yuuta and the Lyonhall Fortress. The unicorn didn’t want to be anywhere in that direction when Dakiderth flew out again to exact his revenge against the human who threatened her life and the life of her children.

It would be a long and bitter war between the dragon and humans. They would hunt her and her young ones down. She would attack their cities and plunder their treasures. But eventually, they would find her and win. It was just what humans did.

Nightwind finally came to a peaceful valley that teamed with life. She would settle down here. In time, she might eventually head out to find others of her kind. But for now, she just wanted to be alone and enjoy her freedom.

Crow Scare

“No! Please. Help! Somebody stop that thing before it kills us all,” Shivali Mneme screamed.

Atticus Perun spun around to see what all the fuss was about. His eyes scanned the crowded marketplace. The man’s sharp eyes spotted the queen on a small balcony in the Parandor Palace overlooking the entrance to the marketplace on Kings Street. 

The queen was dressed to kill as always in a light-blue, silk dress that perfectly complemented her creamy skin and long, golden tresses. 

She was young and beautiful. Too young for the king to have chosen for a second wife after he poisoned his first wife. It was common knowledge that there had been foul play involved in her death. 

But he was the king, and he had no heirs to rule in his stead. He wanted a younger woman, even though none of his counselors approved. Not even Atticus. They didn’t approve of someone young. And especially not of Shivali. 

The general consensus was that he should have chosen someone wiser and less frivolous to help him rule the land.

But he was the king, and sometimes it was good to be the king.

Atticus sighed and wondered what it was this time. The young queen was always full of drama. Throwing fits and tantrums. It was draining on everyone in the royal court. It was draining on Atticus. Always having to explain why she couldn’t do something or have her way. 

The king’s counselors knew it was especially draining on the king. Which wasn’t good for his nerves, especially in such trying times as these. There were so many important things to deal with. 

Threats from the Yunnavion to the south. War between Muilaris and Obonait Empires to the east. Hunger to the west as the smaller rivers of the Clinlam Tributary

dried up. Rumors of dragon attacks coming from the Arnwich Mountains to the north. 

And yet, half of their meetings were spent dealing with queen’s latest antics. Trying to figure out ways to help the king smooth things over. Not that Atticus thought the king should.

If it were up to Atticus, he would have invoked the Law of the Line on her. But King Silvius was too much of a pushover. He let the queen get away with murder. Which was really weird because the king wasn’t like that in any other area of ruling his kingdom. 

He didn’t have any problems laying down the law. Killing a disobedient or sloppy servent before breakfast never curbed his appetite. But when it came to the queen, King Silvius acted like a silly schoolboy who had just fallen in love.

Some whispered that it was because the king felt guilty over his first wife’s death. Others thought the queen had placed a spell on him. 

Atticus pushed his way through the swarming crowds who began to gather in small groups. He finally made his way to the entrance and rounded the corner of Pearl Avenue. And what he saw made his blood run cold. 

“A devil of crows,” someone whispered in awe. 

It was a lay person’s description, of the large skeletal face and hands that floated up Pearl Avenue in their direction. And it was surrounded by thousands of crows that formed the monster’s body. Hundreds more circled around it as it moved toward them.

“Wraalic Cthiuciu,” Atticus whispered hoarsely. 

He had only heard the stories from his grandmother as a child. His mother tried to dissuade her from telling the boy those tales. But every once in awhile, when he was alone with Granny Venere, Atticus would beg her to tell him more.

“Stand your ground and fight! For tonight we feast on crow!” Atticus heard Cicero Pericles, the captain of the king’s guard shouting over the screams of the crowd that was beginning to flee in terror. 

Atticus turned to flee himself. There was no way mere mortals could defeat this foul creature with sword and spears if his grandmother’s stories were true. And up till now, he thought this monster was a thing of fairy tales. 

Suddenly, he caught a glimpse of a lone figure standing between himself and the Wraalic. Atticus hadn’t even seen where the person came from. At first he thought it was a man wearing a long, flowing black cape that swirled out and around his body in the wind. But then Atticus saw a single, long braid snapping and whipping in the wind. 

Was it a woman?

She had a long staff in her hands that she stretched out to the side. As she waved the staff in the wind, a long light blue hue began to leak off the end of the staff. Atticus watched in fascination as stood calmly in the Wraalic’s path to give her power time to grow. 

And then finally, she released the ball of light-blue energy from the end of the staff. It arced up out towards the Wraalic’s raven chest. But the shot didn’t even phase the creature. If anything, it only angered it because a flock of raven’s shot out in her direction. Attacking her mercilessly from all sides.

The Wraalic continued coming up the street as if it were oblivious to the birds below it. It passed right over the lone person who tried to stop it. 

Atticus looked back where he had last seen Cicreo and his band of brave warriors. But they were nowhere to be seen. Had they fled or been carried off by a band of crows. It wasn’t like the King’s Guard to flee from a good fight, even when the odds were stacked against them. 

When he looked up, he was shocked to see the queen still standing on the balcony watching the Wraalic progress up the street. The king was screaming at her and trying to pull her back inside the castle. But he was old and frail. She was young and strong. 

Something didn’t seem quite right about this scene. It just seemed off somehow. Atticus couldn’t quite put his finger on it. He backed away down the street he had come and slid into a small alley out of sight where he could still keep an eye on the queen. 

The wise counselor watched as King Silvius screamed for his servants to come help them. He swore up a blue streak and threatened to have them all decapitated for abandoning him. The king begged and pleaded for the queen to come with him. But she didn’t budge.

The giant Wraalic floated up to the edge of the balcony. It reached out its hand toward them. Ravens and crows descended around the king and queen. 

It was a dark blur, and Atticus couldn’t be one hundred percent sure, but it looked like the queen pushed the king over the edge of the balcony in the confusion.

Atticus watched in horror as the king toppled over the edge of the parapet and tumbled through the crows till he hit the ground. It felt good to see some of the Wraalic’s crows getting squashed in the fall. But it was a small win. The horror of watching King Silvius’ body hit the ground was gutwrenching.

Suddenly, a blue light streaked out of the surrounding chaos of crows and burst on the Wraalic’s back before it could pick up the queen. 

He looked, but Atticus couldn’t tell where they were coming from. The mass of swirling crows blocked his view. Then there was another blast and then another. Each blast knocked dozens of crows out of the air. 

Atticus couldn’t tell if they were dead or just stunned, but it was a small victory none the less. The blasts came stronger and faster. Each blast knocked more crows out of the sky. After half-a-dozen blasts, the remaining crows scattered and flew off. The Wraalic stood silent and unmoving as if it had lost its power.  

One final blast aimed at its ugly, bony head found its mark. And the entire creature disappeared into thin air. All that remained to remind that that what they had seen was real, were the carcasses of blackbirds scattered along the road. 

The crowds roared to life and rushed back out into the street to crush the life out of any foul fowl that still happened to be fluttering or even breathing.

They cheered as they gathered around the mage with the staff that shot blue energy to destroy the Wraalic. They held her up over their heads and carried her victoriously through the city and held a great feast in her honor. 

Zrele Ghelli was her name. She was given great honor by the queen. 

Everyone honored the king with a great funeral procession. They mourned him like they did any royalty they were obliged to. But not because they missed him terribly. Even Atticus didn’t miss him much. 

The king’s brother was a much more sensible man. And they no longer had to spend half their meetings discussing how to deal with the queen. They were able to focus their attention on much more important matters. 

Well, there was one last thing they had to deal with. That was the fit that the queen threw when she found out that she wasn’t going to inherit the throne after King Silvius’ death. 

It was easy for Atticus to convince the board to change a few laws. The Council of the Chosen were only too happy to pass a law that would keep Shivali away from themselves. 

And the people, of course, didn’t really care one way or the other who sat on the throne as long as they had food to eat and plenty of entertainment to keep them occupied. 

Shivali, of course, had a few choice words for Atticus when she found out that he was responsible for her losing the crown. She issued a few not-so subtle threats. 

“I saw you push the king over the edge of the balcony,” he said. 

“You can’t prove it,” she replied. 

“I also don’t think there ever really was a Wraalic. You only created an illusion to get what you wanted.”

She smiled wanly and shrugged, “Magic is only an illusion. It’s in the trickery of making others see what you want. Then there is no need for a direct confrontation.”

“I always thought that the king killed his first wife to be with you, but I’m beginning to think that this was all your doing. Part of your plan all along.”

“You can’t prove it,” she replied with another shrug.

“Well, I’ve got my eye on you, Shivali. I’ll be watching you closely.”

“Well, then watch me closely because my plan is still in motion. I will yet be queen and sit on that throne whether you like it or not. Even if it means that I have to get rid of you to bring it to pass.”

Now it was Atticus’ turn to smile. She was much smarter than any of them ever gave her credit for in spite of her young age. If she was that formidable of a foe, he might have to recommend that she sit in on some of their Council Meetings. She might just be able to provide some valuable insight and creative solutions to the problems the kingdom was facing.  

Thank you for reading this short story. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know if you want me to write more of this story. If so, tell me which characters or ideas intrigued you in the comments below. If you are an English student, feel free to ask about any vocabulary words or expressions that you didn’t understand. 

Raining Fire

Jenkins slowed his pace when he reached the flames licking up from the floor. Even through the thick protection of his gear, the heat was almost unbearable. He held up his hand for the rest of the team to slow down.

“You’re up, Blakely,” he whispered into the mic.

Another figure stepped up beside him. He couldn’t see her beautiful face through the mask, but he could sense the violent chemist’s determination to capture Garfield Cook in each quick sure movement. Dead or alive. This was it. The closest they had ever come. They almost had him this time.

He checked the safety on his gun and scanned the room for any sign of his nemesis. His red laser cut through the smoke and flames while he covered Blakely so she could do her thing and put out the flames.

She had been preparing for this confrontation for years. Ever since the mad, fire monger had assassinated her family back in Tulsa. It had been easy to convince her to join them in their hunt for Cook.

They had been chasing him for the past two years unsuccessfully. Frustrated as their rival always seemed to stay two steps ahead of them. But not today. They had him. And soon, they would unmask him and put an end to his charade.

Blakely finished her preparations and tossed her weapons into the flames. She called them flame suppressors. It was something she had invented to put out the violent fires that Cook started.

They had almost caught him two other times. The flame suppressors had saved their lives both times. This time they had been more prepared and were farther along than ever. This could be it. Third times a charm, Jenkins thought to himself.

“Turn on your oxygen, boys. Flames are gone in three, two, one.” Blakely crooned into their earpieces.

Jenkins felt more than heard a low thump deep in his bones when the flame suppressors went off. Sucking up the air in the room, the fire died down almost immediately.

Some of the hotter sections caught fire again as oxygen seeped back into the room. Flames licked up once again around them, but it wasn’t even one-tenth as hot it had been just a few seconds previously.

Jenkins could see the outlines of his other team members pressing in around him from the light of the flames that were rising once again. There was a crash to their right that made them all jump. Jenkins spun around. His red laser beam cutting through the smoke. But it was merely one of the overhead walkways that twisted and bent in the extreme heat and had fallen.

He turned back and continued to press through the flames. He could see several of his soldiers surrounding someone. As he came closer and his eyes adjusted to the darkness and flickering flames, Jenkins realized it was a couple.

He couldn’t see the man’s face because he wore a mask as they did, but the woman did not.

“Garfield Cook! You’re surrounded. Let the woman go and come peacefully with us.”

The man and woman looked at each other for a long moment. Then the woman stretched out her hand toward them. Her hand burst into flame and grew brighter.

“Stand down, woman,” Jenkins yelled over the comm and held up his hand for his men not to shoot.

“Blakely, prepare to suppress the flames. Cole, can you contain her?”

“Working on it, sir,” Cole replied.

Jenkins didn’t know where Cole had come from, but he definitely wasn’t normal at all. His file was classified, and Jenkins hadn’t been allowed to access it. All he had been told was that Cole could suppress most mutant abilities.

The woman’s eyes blazed, and she screamed as she held out her hand in their direction. But the flame on her hand didn’t increase in size or heat as she seemed to expect. Slowly, it diminished and flickered out. She screamed in anger and fury once again.

“I’m sorry, love. I can’t do anything. I guess this is it. I love you.”

She reached out and took his hand lovingly. Tears streamed down her face.

Jenkins nodded for the men to move in and make the arrest. The men were nervous about it, but Captain had given strict orders for them to be brought in alive if at all possible.

“Go,” Cook whispered to the woman, “I’ll cover you.”

“No, love. Please, don’t do this,” she whispered back.

The soldiers paused.

“Take them down, boys,” Jenkins hissed. “Cole, contain him.”

“I got ’em, boss.”

The soldiers pressed in. But it was too late. A bright blue ball of light burst up in front of Cook. Jenkins glanced over at Cole to see if he could stop it.

Cole was shaking like a leaf. His outstretched arms trembled wildly.

His rival, Cook, vibrated as well, but the blue ball of light didn’t stop growing. He pulled the woman by the arm toward him and shoved her violently into the blue ball.

Jenkins realized that Cole was unable to stop Cook from doing his thing.

“Fire,” Jenkins ordered.

Bullets blazed around the room. Lighting up everyone’s uniform. Jenkins could see his men’s eyes in the reflections of muzzle fire from the weapons.

Cook’s body trembled and jerked wildly as the bullets riddled his body. The soldiers stopped firing when he fell to his knees and slumped forward.

The ball of blue light disappeared. Darkness consumed them once again. It took a moment for Jenkin’s eyes to adjust to the darkness once again. The only light came from the pale flames that still flickered around them.

It took a second for him to get over his blindness from the flash of the guns. But when he did, the woman was nowhere to be seen. Only Cook lay there gasping for his final breath.

“Where’s the woman. She must have slipped off in the darkness. Find her.” Jenkins barked into the comm.

“She’s gone, sir,” Cole replied. “He created a portal for her to escape.”

“What are you talking about?” Jenkins growled. “A portal to where?”

“Only he knows the answer to that. But I don’t think he was ever our Fire Monger in the first place.”

“He’s the one that killed my family,” Blakely yelled.

Cole shook his head. “He didn’t have that power. He had no fire essence in him. The only ability he has is to open portals to other places.”

“I saw him on the tapes before everything went up in flames,” she screamed.

“Uh, hmmm. Most likely, Cook became the face of the attacks to protect her from ever being seen. We just happened to get lucky and see them here together. Otherwise, we would have killed him thought it was over. And she would still be out there carrying on her attacks.”

Blakely stormed off. Jenkins angrily kicked a bit of burning debris that happened to be in front of him. It smacked into Cook, still lying on the floor. He groaned raspily.

Jenkins realized he was still alive and kneeled down beside him. Pulled off his mask and grabbed him by the lapels.

“Where did you send the woman? And what was the point of all this?”

“We came to protect humanity from the Vioth’ito,” he wheezed “Melantha and I were the only ones who stood in their way. Unless you convince her to continue the fight, you’re on your own.”

“Where did you send her?” Cole roared as he dropped to his knees beside Jenkins and shook the dying man violently.

“All that remains of me are blood and bones,” Cook whispered with his final, gasping breath.

But it was no use. Cook no longer breathed. Jenkins pushed Cole away.

“It’s no use, man. He’s gone.” Jenkins said softly. “Who are the Vioth’ito?”

Cole didn’t answer. Jenkins asked again.

“Death incarnate,” Cole finally replied. “I’ve heard of them but thought they were only a myth. But if Cook is right and the stories are true, then we are all doomed.”

Cole stood up and walked away. He refused to talk about it any more as if speaking of this great evil would somehow attract them.

Jenkins gathered up his men and prepared for extraction with Cook’s body. He needed answers, and he wasn’t going to find them here. He needed a higher level of security access to find the answers he needed.

Who was Cook? Who was Cole? And who were the Vioth’ito?

He wouldn’t stop until he got his answers.

“Where did Cole go?” Jenkins asked Blakely.

“He said something about going out to look for someone named Melantha.”

Thanks for reading this short story. I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know in the comments belove if this is a story that you would like me to write more about. Which characters interest you the most? What concepts or ideas intrigue you?

Night Fight

This is a short story that ties in with the Thorgaut of NorthWorld series. Book 1 is up on my Amazon Author page already. This story is written ahead in the storyline as I play around with some ideas for who the Villains are and what they want. In this story specifically, we focus on Steingrimer, King of the NightWalkers. 

A howl echoed off the clouds hanging low in the sky. Rainer could smell the foul stench of the creature before he heard or saw it. His heart pounded. 

Suddenly, the putrid figure of ash and heat materialized out of the darkness before him. Steingrimer. King of the NightWalkers. The imposing figure seemingly floating before him. A long, tattered red cape whipping and snapping hauntingly in the wind.

Rainer’s legs felt like jelly. Only a few nights ago, he had laughed when the old crone told him the stories about this foul creature. And now, here he stood. Face to face with the king of the undead armies now sweeping through NorthWorld.

Two empty eyes stared back at him with a wicked furor, and a low, deep growl rumbled in pleasure as it looked around at the evil army that surrounded them. 

A shock of black hair struck a stark contrast on the silvery pale skull that sat atop its tall, sinewy body. With each breath, a plume of smoky shadow escaped the creature’s hollow nostrils set within its burly bone head.

Runes and emblems, glowing brightly, covered parts of its torso, but Rainer didn’t want to look closer to inspect this thing any further. He closed his eyes for a moment, hoping that he would wake up from this dream. Hoping that Steingrimer would no longer be there. Rainer could still feel the warm stench of its breath though. 

When he opened his eyes again, the creature continued to gaze at him from the dull, piercing blackness of the cadaverous hollows where its eyes had once shined.

The NightWalker moved closer to him, its long legs seemed to be floating over the ground as it walked fluidly carrying its harrowing energy.  It looked upon him with a horrible grimace on its face.

Steingrimer took several floating steps forward until it stood just before Rainer. It reached out a long bony finger and touched his cheek gently. Almost lovingly, as if caressing a loved one that it hadn’t seen in a long time.

“Welcome, human,” Steingrimer rasped hoarsely. “I have heard much of your exploits here in NorthWorld. It has been many years since anyone has heard such amazing tales of valor from a human. Fear not. I will not harm you. You will feel no pain. By the time of the next full moon, you will be as one of us. Then, with your new strength and abilities, you will do even greater exploits than these. And one day, you will lead this army in my stead.”

Rainer cocked his head to the side like he had no idea what the King of the NightWalkers was talking about. 

“Sorry, pal. I think you’re confusing me with somebody else. I just got here. I was at home in my bed, fast asleep. And one of those things there opened a portal into my room, grabbed me by the leg, and dragged me here against my will.” 

Steingrimer hissed angrily. His hair bristled straight out in all directions. The dark hollows of what were now his eyes silently bore into the human before him. Both beings remained completely still. Frozen in time. Watching each other. The only thing that continued to move in the night was its dark red cape. 

The undead king floated in a step closer. The stench of his rotting body was overpowering. Rainer took a deep breath and held it as long as he could before letting it out slowly. That wasn’t very smart because then he felt out of breath and had to take a gulp of air to replace it. It was all he could do not to gag. 

Steingrimer’s nose was close enough for him to touch. It was the only thing that made the undead monster still look human. Although it protruded up from his face at an angle. But it was nice because Steingrimer didn’t have a hole in the middle of his skull like most of the walking dead cadavers around here. 

Rainer wanted to reach out and squeeze it to find out if his nose was real or if it was some sort of prosthetic. But the human held his arms stiffly at his side and turned his face away slightly from Steingrimer.

He waited for the giant corpse to take another step forward. His legs felt weak as the monster siphoned off his energy. Rainer could almost see the aura leaving his body in faint whisps. An overwhelming urge to puke overcame Rainer, but he had to control himself. 

“Fear not human. Your flesh is weak. Soon you will be powerful like me because you will not depend on strength that comes from your flesh. Your strength will come from deep within. It will come from an eternal core that I will give you.”

Rainer couldn’t hold back the laughter in spite of his weakness and in spite of the creature’s proximity. Steingrimer floated back a step and demanded to know what was so funny. 

“You miss having flesh. Don’t you. You touched my cheeks earlier because you still wish you had it yourself. You don’t fool me. I know that you would trade your power in a heartbeat to have your flesh back. Well, if you had a heartbeat, that is.”

The darkness in the empty hollows of the Nightwalker’s skull narrowed and intensified in fury. The rasp in his breathing deepened, and a rumble rose up in his throat. 

“Take care what you say, human. There are worse things that I could do to you than to allow you to become as we are and join our ranks in battle.” 

Steingrimer took a step forward. The runes and emblems on his chest began to intensify and glow brighter. Rainer felt his body growing weaker. The NightWalker reached out and took Rainer’s face in his hands to pull him forward.

The human waited until the last possible second to reach under his shirt for NightBlade. He could feel the grip of the weapon wrapped in dull, black deerskin. He wrapped his fingers just below the curved cross-guard that led to the short, narrow, straight blade made of black crystal for such an occasion as this. 

NightBlade had one sharp edge to cut and slice. The other was thick and solid. Perfect for defending oncoming attacks. But tonight, Rainer knew he wouldn’t be strong enough or fast enough to stand up to the NightWalker. 

His attack had to be quick and sure. A single strike was all he would have time for. Rainer was careful to keep his fingers away from the blade. Careful not to slice himself. A single cut was all that was needed to bleed his energy completely and utterly. 

Rainer squeezed his hand tighter. He could feel the deer’s head etched into the pommel. A reminder of Halldora’s assurance that this was the right tool for the right job. The one thing that could kill a monster like Steingirmer. 

If he failed to defeat the undead king, Rainer knew he would have to kill himself to avoid being transformed into one of these monsters himself. He most likely would anyway since Steingrimer was already beginning the process of sucking out his soul and replacing his soon empty vessel with whatever it was that fueled these mad NightWalkers. 

Rainer swiped NightBlade from under his shirt and pushed it behind Steingrimer to try and keep it out of his peripheral vision till it was too late. The human flipped the knife up and around so that the blade was pointed in. Then brought it up towards the Nightwalker’s exposed neck just above the protection of his armor. 

But just before the tip of the knife struck its skin, Steingrimer’s hand stopped Rainer’s wrist. A wicked smile crossed his face, exposing his large, bony teeth. He twisted the blade from the human’s grasp and threw his body back across the grass. 

Rainer landed on his back in the grass and skidded to a stop. He scrambled weakly to his feet and tried to stand before Steingrimer reached him. Rainer’s heart sank. He had failed to kill the NightWalker and failed to kill himself before he was transformed. 

“Sneaky trick, human. One that would make any NightWalker proud. If I had any doubts that you would make a fine member of our ranks, this has removed them all.” 

Just as Steingrimer stepped forward to float in his direction, there was a flash of light. A portal burst open beside Rainer, and a familiar figure leaped out in his direction with fire in her hands. 

Halldora launched a fistful of sparks and flames in Steingrimer’s direction. But he easily dodged it by flipping backward and floating out of the way. Thorgaut leaped through the portal behind her and launched fistfuls of fireballs at the hoards of NightWalkers that rushed them. 

The disgusting monsters quickly burst into flaming balls of fire that ran madly around in circles lighting their fellow NightWalkers. Steingrimer began screaming for them to back away before the whole army burst into flame. He separated the packs of NightWalkers that could get away while sacrificing the ones that he knew were already lost. 

Thorgaut and Halldora took advantage of the confusion to race to Rainer’s side and help him hobble through the portal. After pushing Rainer through, they turned back and launched fireball after fireball in Steingrimer’s direction. A few came close, but none of the blows were solid enough to stick. Unlike the others of his kind, the NightWalker king didn’t burst into flame. 

They kept it up as long as they could, but soon grew weaker. It was impossible to hit Steingrimer, and the other NightWalkers stayed out of the reach of their fireballs. 

Halldora closed the portal down after they leaped through, while Thorgaut helped Rainer to his feet. He realized that they were back in the safety of the castle for now, but it wouldn’t be long before Steingrimer came up with a way to protect the NightWalkers from fire. Then it would be game over for all of them. 

“I’m sorry,” Rainer whispered hoarsely. “I wasn’t fast enough to even nick his skin.”

Halldora sponged his face off with a crisp, soothing mix of water and herbs. She smiled knowingly and glanced up at Thorgaut.

“We never expected you to actually kill him with that knife. Especially not with that new armored protection covered in runes that he wears. It would have held his energy in and healed him immediately even if you had managed to cut him.” Thorgaut rumbled in his deep voice from across the room where he was pouring a goblet of scented wine.

Rainer sat up, angrily, “What? You sent me in there knowing it was pointless?”

Thorgaut walked across the room and handed him the goblet. 

“We need him to think that was the reason we sent you and make him believe that was the NightBlade. Now, he’ll wear it, and we can track him wherever he goes. And when we’re ready to really attack, we’ll have a direct connection to portal in right where he is at.”

Rainer scowled but drank the wine anyway. Then lay back down. He didn’t like feeling that he was a pawn in their game, but everyone around here seemed to be a pawn in someone else’s game. He didn’t know where one game started and another ended. 

“So, what’s going to happen to me? Am I going to be a full-blooded NightWalker by time the next full moon comes around?”

 “Steingrimer did a real number on you, but I’ll do my best to stop it,” Halldora said confidently. 

“Yeah, and all we have to do is kill Steingrimer before then. You should be fine.”  Thorgaut said.

“Just kill Steingrimer,” Rainer mumbled. “That’s easier said than done. But right now, I’m happy to still be alive. Thank you for pulling me out of there in time.”

This was the end of this short story because I don’t want to give away too much. I’m playing around with the Thorgaut storyline to see where we can take the upcoming series. If you like the concept, let me know in the comments. Your feedback lets me know which stories to invest more time on. Thanks for reading.  

What Goes Around [Audio Short Story]

I’ve had this story idea in my head for a very long time, but never really figured out how to write it because of its premise is a bit unique. But I finally decided to tackle it today for my Patreon students and readers till I found my way through it. I think it works, Read it and tell me what you think.

Just to give you some background here, this is one of the stories set in the Edge of the Universe Series about a programmer called Jenny who has been working on a top-secret army project to create clones. After a series of problems and losing the love of her life in the process, Jenny discovers a way to transfer people’s minds from one body to another. General Bart hijacks her project though and this story is where we end up.

What Goes Around – Watch This short story video on Youtube

What Goes Around

The smoke still wafted from the barrel of the gun in his hands. The sound of the shot hadn’t yet reached her ears. Maybe it was the shock of getting shot that blocked out the sound.

Jenny looked down at the small hole in her shirt. Quickly turning red as the life-giving fluid seeped from her body. She reached down and touched it lightly. Still not feeling anything. Surreal. Almost as if she were in a dream.

She looked back up into the eyes of General Bart, now using President Kent’s body. She cocked her head to the side. His lips were moving, but Jenny couldn’t hear the words coming out of his mouth.

It sounded like he was saying, “What goes around, comes around.”

Jenny had tried to shoot him earlier. Though she had missed. She looked back down at the wound in her side. Well, in General Bart’s side since she was using his body.

The pain exploded in her side as she pressed her finger into the bullet hole to staunch the bleeding. The shock was wearing off and her senses were returning.

Jenny screamed in anger and frustration at the sudden turn of events. This hadn’t gone down at all like she had expected after losing the element of surprise.

Her voice came out all wrong. Thick and deep. Then she remembered that it wasn’t her voice. Jenny was no longer in her own body. Her body lay back in the warehouse lab.

General Bart had used her project to hijack the president’s body and then locked her up till he needed her again. She had transferred herself into General Bart’s body to escape and hunt the man down.

And now, she had been shot. Jenny would die. General Bart would get to rule the country in the president’s body that he had hijacked. And no one would be the wiser. And it would all be her fault.

Jenny looked up into the barrel of the gun and knew she had to do something fast. She analyzed the railing over the balcony just behind the General. Three stories up.

It would be painful. But as long as she didn’t die in the fall she might be able to pull this off. It was her only choice. If she tried to transfer out now, he would simply call one of the soldiers back at the warehouse to locate her original body and put her down.

Jenny raised her hand in front of the gun as if trying to say something and slowly stood up. The general took a step back and relaxed his stance as he waited.

He grinned that same stupid, arrogant grin that she hated — gloating that he had had the upper hand the entire time.

But as soon as she had risen to her feet, Jenny threw herself at him. The General’s original body that she was now in was almost twice the size of the president’s body that Bart now possessed.

Jenny hit him hard, and it wasn’t even much of a struggle to push him over the railing.

They both fell through the air. A quick, short free fall three stories down.

Jenny relaxed her body and tried to land upright to take the fall on her legs with a roll to the side to protect her head like she had learned to do in her parkour training classes.

But it didn’t do much good. Jenny’s legs snapped under her before she could get the roll in. Her body basically just flopped to the side. But she was alive, and that was all that mattered.

General Bart lay there unconscious. Jenny just needed a way to contact Al for him to pull her out of the General’s broken body. She half-rolled and half-dragged herself over to paw through his pockets for his cell.

It wasn’t in his pants pockets. Her heart froze for an instant. But she continued searching and felt it in the inside pocket of his coat. She sighed in relief and tugged it out. But when she looked at it, the screen was blank.

Jenny groaned as she tried to turn it back on. It took a few seconds to respond, but the screen finally lit up. She sighed in relief.

The General came to and lay there stunned for a brief second before he let out a spew of curses between the screams of pain and anger. Jenny dialed the number and hit the call button as she rolled away from him.

“Yeah, it’s me. Get me out of here. And put the General back where he belongs.”

General Bart froze for an instant as he realized what she was doing.

“No, leave the president where he is. His body is too far gone. We’ll have to make him a clone.”

“You can’t do that too me,” the General screamed at her. “You can’t put me back in that body. My legs are broken. I’ve been shot.”

Jenny grinned painfully, “You should have thought of that before shooting me. Well, I mean yourself. Or whoever this body belongs to. This is so confusing.”

She closed her eyes and waited for Al to complete the transfer. Jenny grinned at the thought of General Bart waking back up in his own body. The one she had been using.

Jenny started to laugh, but it hurt too much.

“What’s so funny,” he growled.

“Karma, baby. You reap what you sow. Literally, because you shot yourself. How’s that for a taste of your own medicine.”

She felt a strange numbness wash over her. Jenny wasn’t sure if this was from the transfer back to her original self or the sensation of death sweeping over the body she was now in.

“What goes, comes around,” she murmured as she drifted off into the darkness that washed over her.

What Goes Around – Listen To The Short Story on Soundcloud

Thank you for reading this short story. I really appreciate it because they mean a lot to me. They are part of a series of books that I’ve been working on called Edge of the Universe. The main story revolves around a naive Brazilian scientist.

Art develops technology that can splice DNA among living organisms. He hopes to solve major problems like world hunger and curing all diseases. But evil corporations want to get their hands on his project. The first book in the series is called ‘Rise’. You can download and read book 1 on Amazon for FREE >>

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P.S. I write these stories for my English students, so if you are learning English as a Second language and have questions about any vocabulary words or their pronunciations, feel free to ask in the comments below.

Borg Wars

Eric woke up early. He looked around the room and took a deep breath. The boy choked and gagged as dust filled his nostrils. He grabbed his pillow and pressed it over his nostrils before sliding out of bed to the ground. Eric kept his head close to the ground and tried to breathe, but it wasn’t any easier. The dust filled the entire room from floor to ceiling.

The boy kept the pillow pressed to his nostrils as he crawled across the floor of his bedroom to the doorway. As he got close to the exit and pulled open the door, Eric realized that he couldn’t see past the threshold. He reached out his hand gingerly and felt splinters of wood and rubble. He gasped at what he imagined was there, or rather wasn’t there. Smoke and dust filled his lungs, sending him into a fit of gagging and spasming coughs. Racking his thin, frail body.

Eric shoved his face back into the pillow and tried to hold back the tears. He waited there in the darkness a few moments to compose himself and get his coughing under control before moving out of his bedroom. Pitch blackness surrounded the area in front of him as he continued to brush debris off the carpet from in front of his body to wiggle and squirm his way down the hall.

He continued to stifle coughs from time to time from the raw irritation that still lingered in his throat. Eric finally reached the end of the hall to where the living room should have been. Only there was nothing there. A large gaping black hole leading out into the night. The realization hit him as the cool night breeze wafted across his face and blew the remnants of smoke away from him.

The boy removed his face from the pillow and gulped in a huge lungful of fresh air. He looked around him, but there wasn’t much to see. It was still too dark. Although, when he raised his face to the sky, he could see stars twinkling beyond shadowy gray clouds that slid silently under the moon. Not that he could see it yet, but he could see lighter shades in the grayness as well as the silver lining along the lower left edges.

Eric could feel tremors through his belly and legs pressed to the ground. But he couldn’t figure out what was going on. He listened intently, but couldn’t hear anything beyond a dull ringing in his head. He opened his mouth and popped his jaw to the side. He heard a popping and sudden whooshing sound in his ears.

He touched his fingers slowly to his ear and felt something wet dripping down along his jaw. The boy pulled his fingers back and saw a dark smear across the tips of his index and middle finger. Eric sniffed at it. The tangy, metallic scent of iron and copper assailed his nostrils.

“Mom,” he cried out.

But his voice came out muffled and flat. It sounded dull. Eric thought he might be sleeping still and pinched himself. But he wasn’t asleep. Hard. The boy grimaced at the pain shooting through the dull ache that seemed to be overriding the nerve centers in his brain.

There was no anwer. Only silence. He didn’t hear her soothing voice to comfort him.

Eric tried to push himself to his feet but didn’t quite make it. Before he was able to stand completely, he lost his balance and stumbled forward. The boy crashed back down onto his hands and knees on the ground.

Something sharp dug into his right knee. He screamed dully at the pain and threw himself to the side. That only made things worse because now he the same sharp pain bit into the sides of his leg and shoulder that landed on the ground.

Eric tried to roll over to relieve his weight from digging in deeper, but the same sharp pain jabbed into every part of his body that touched the ground. He lay still and reached out a hand. Picked up a piece about the size of his thumbnail.

Glass. Sharp shards of something must have fallen and broken. Shattering across the floor. And here he had fallen right into entire mess. Eric lay still. Gritting his teeth through the pain as he lay on the broken glass underneath him. It was there as far out as his arm could reach. The only way out of this was to get back up from the direction he had fallen. Toward his feet.

The boy sat up slowly. Careful to touch as little of the ground as possible. He pulled his feet up toward his thighs and tried to stand again. Eric could see the faint outline of the wall in front of him. He reached out and used it to support himself as he stood. He was still woozy. The boy thought he might be weak from sleep still, but then remembered something from science class about the inner ear.

If his eardrums had burst, that would explain why he couldn’t hear anything and why he couldn’t keep his balance when he was on his feet. Eric stood there for several minutes. Breathing slowly and deeply. Trying to stay composed. Straining to hear what was going on outside.

Eric walked back into the back part of the house that was still standing. Pushed himself along the hall walls till he made it back to the door to his parent’s bedroom. He turned the knob and tried to push it open. But it didn’t budge. He pushed harder, this time it opened. But the door just didn’t swing open as usual. It fell forward off the hinges and hit the ground with a thud. Eric landed on top of it. Knocking the breath out of him.

The boy groaned loudly and lay there for a few seconds, looking up at the stars and clouds before trying to move again. He grabbed back onto the edge of the doorframe to pull himself up. Then turned to look around the room. Well, what used to be the room anyway because like the living room, there was nothing there. Nothing recognizable anyway. Just bits and pieces of unidentified rubble scattered in the darkness. No sign of his mother. No sign of her bed. No sign of anything recognizable in her bedroom.

As he lay there for a second, still trying to comprehend what was going on Eric sensed the dull ringing in his ears growing louder. Now, the tremblings in his body were no longer a feeling. He could actually hear the low rumbling of explosions that accompanied them.

Eric curled up into a fetal position on top of the door. Trembling and shaking as fear ravaged his body at this new unknown world that surrounded him. Last night, he had gone to bed. Everything had been normal. He had kissed his mother good night, eaten a piece of chocolate cake, and fallen asleep in his soft, warm, comfortable bed. But before the sun arose, the boy had awoken with half of his house completely missing.

By the time he managed to stop sobbing and got his emotions under control, the dark shadows of the night had begun to flee. The grey mist that surrounded him was much lighter, and off to the east, Eric could see the orange and pink hues of the sun preparing to burst over the horizon.

The young boy stood slowly to his feet. He still wasn’t completely steady, but felt much better than he had before. He looked around, trying to peer between the mist and smoke that surrounded the land around him. Flames licked up around piles of rubble from the fallen houses that had once surrounded his home. The occasional crackle of flames as a burst of sparks shot into the night air around him caused Eric to jump every few moments.

Eric looked around in confusion. Trying not to cry. This wasn’t right. This shouldn’t be hapenning to him.

Suddenly, he saw a large shadowy figure looming up out of the mist. Striding in his direction. He could hear it before he could actually see it. His hearing slowly returning. Eric stood frozen in his spot. Too afraid to move. As it came closer, he could hear the whirring of his hydraulic limbs as it moved toward him. The clink of his metallic feet bumping into stray objects in its path. The crackle and crunch when it stepped directly on them.

It stopped directly in front of him. It was the largest robot that Eric had ever seen his life. He barely came up to its waist. It was almost four times as wide as Eric, and he had to crane his head to look up into the bots face.

He was finally startled out of his trance when it spoke up. Up unti that moment, Eric had been terrified. But the soft, electronic voice soothed him. It sounded almost feminine. Nothing like the voice the boy would have expected from a giant robot that strode out of the ruins of his city.

“Survivor located. Status: Compatible. Mission engaged,” the robot said as if talking to itself.

But Eric knew that it was probably speaking to someone over its comm unit.

The robot reached down to pick him up but Eric screamed when it touched his right arm. The giant metal bot pulled back to analyze him. It took the boy’s brain a moment to process that the screaming was coming from him, and then a second longer to realize that it was from the pain in his arm. Up until now, he had been in shock and not even noticed it. Red laser lights scanned up and down his body.

“Right arm completely useless. Broken in three locations. Permission to initiate installation before it is too late.”

It paused as if waiting for something for a moment, then stepped forward and reached out toward Eric. Three long cylindrical hoses extended out from the robots arm. One wrapped lightly around his left wrist. The second, wrapped thightly above his left bicep. The third came right up to his nose.

Eric tried to pull away, but the robot held him firmly by the arm. The hose continued up his left nostril even as he tried to pull away from it.

“Wait! Stop! Mom! Help!” he shouted and squirmed.

“Hold still child,” the robot ordered in the same soft voice, trying to sound soothing. Only it wasn’t soothing at all.

The robot continued to pull him closer and pressed Eric’s body against its warm metal legs until he was immobilized.

Eric felt a puff of air release inside his nostril. It caused him to sneeze. Then started to cry from the pent up emotion.

“Hush, child,” the robot said calmly as it released him from its grip. “You just received a dose of nanobots. They will heal your battered body and your arm.”

Eric stepped back and looked up at the giant metallic monster directly in front of him. He felt the ringing in his ears begin to dissipate. The pain in his arm began to fade.

The boy looked down at his arm. A shiny metallic casing wrapped itself around the back of his arm and around his elbow. Then continued down across his forearm. He could see it still forming around his arm.

He jumped back and tugged at the casing. Trying ot pull it off. The robot watched him curiously. Eric almost had the impression that it was human. Or that there was a human watching him through it. He had seen robots before. They all seemed boring and lifeless. But this one was different. It almost seemed alive.

“It’s to help you, child,” the robot said. “It will hold your bones still for a few hours until the nanobots can mend the breaks. It’s best to leave it alone. Even if you pull it loose, they will build another one.”

The child stopped tugging at it obediently and looked at the ruins around him.

“Where’s my mommy?” Eric asked

It almost sounded like the robot sighed.

“She was incompatible,” it replied.

“Did you kill her? Did you make my mom dead?”

“No, child. Not directly. But your mother is no longer here.”

Eric waited for the robot to say something else. To explain itself.

“Where is she?” he asked quietly.

“Gone. You will never see her again. Come, let me take you home.”

“But this is my home. Why did you bomb it?”

“I didn’t bomb it. Others did. Now, I will take you to a new home. Somewhere you will be safe.”

“Do you know who bombed my house and killed my mother?”

“Yes, but I am not allowed to tell you,” the robot replied. Its voice became hard and there was an edge to it that the boy didn’t understand.

“Why?” the boy asked.

“Do not fret. Your mother is an old memory. She will soon pass. Before your arm is finished healing, you will have forgotten her.”

“But, but, I don’t want to forget her,” he said as a tear rolled down his cheek. “What will happen to me?”

“You will be assimilated.”

Street Smart

I sat on the corner of 34th Street and 6th Avenue. I felt tired and cold. I tried to huddle up farther under the awning built into the side of the building where the walls indented a bit. It was cold and rainy. Chilly for a summer night in the middle of July. One of the those crazy weather weeks. It had rained almost every day for the past week. It had actually cleared up during the day. The sun came out blazing in all its glory, but it didn’t last long. I had actually thought that the tonight would be the first night that I would get to sleep well without waking up cold and wet. But my hopes were soon shattered. Before the afternoon was up, the clouds had rolled back in over the sun covering it completely. Drifting in with the cold north winds that the blew them back in. I had been downtown about that time. I knew there wouldn’t be anywhere warm around to sleep in that neighborhood. So, I started pushing my way back up to the center of the city. Back into the heart. Hoping to find someplace dry. Hoping some tender soul would take pity on me and offer me a warm morsel before I felt too tired to stay awake any longer.

I walked about a mile up 6th Avenue before the first drops started to fall. I kept on pushing my way through cold droplets till I came to a subway entrance. I walked down the steps. As deep in as I could go before hitting the turnstiles. I had a metro card with a couple of dollars on it. I had found it a week or so back. It was a godsend. Already used it a time or two. But it was running low on credit. I didn’t want to use it unless I had to. I was saving it for an emergency or when I had somewhere farther to go. I could make it to where I wanted to go with a good, solid two hour walk. It was only a couple of miles on up 6th. I had huddled there in the corner. Watching people coming down the steps. At first they ran in. Dripping wet. I could tell when the rain had started slowing down by the way they came in and how went their head and shoulders were. Once the rain slowed down, traffic started picking back up again. So, I made my way back up the steps out onto the street. Rain wasn’t too bad. Slight drizzle. But nothing that that would make me melt. I glanced at the sky. It was still pretty dark. I probably wouldn’t make it very far before it started up again, but I decided to make a go of it. Get as far as I could up that avenue. People up around that section tended to be a little more kind-hearted. Even a slice of pizza would help tide me over till morning.

Fact is, I never asked. Never held up one of those little cardboard signs telling my sob story. If people knew what I had been through, I’m sure they would have even been more generous. But I knew I felt before I got into this mess. I hated seeing those signs. Never believed most of them anyways. So, I refused to use them myself. Yet people still often generously shared a meal or offered me something each day. I never starved to death. There were places I could go if I really needed to. People I could turn to if I absolutely had to. But I hated the thought of giving in. That for me was the last resort. Besides, I had already been at this for too long to give up now. It was going on two years. I was still alive. I had survived this long. I knew that someday my luck would change. Someday, I would get back on my feet. I didn’t know when and I didn’t know how. But I knew someday, things would change. The tide would shift. My luck would change. And then, everything would go back to the way it had been. Maybe even better. So, I was waiting. Biding my time.

I had been through rough times before. Never this bad of course, but I had always made it through. I knew I would make it through again. Don’t ask me how or why, but I just knew I would. So, I patiently bided my time. Patiently waited for my luck to change. Every night, I would lay my head down on a small cardboard pillow that I rolled up for myself. I’d watch the stars. Say my prayers. Well, on the nights when it wasn’t raining that is. I probably wouldn’t see any stars tonight by the looks of those clouds even if the rain did stop. I’d just have to hole up there under one of those scaffolds along the way. I’d go as far as I could up 6th avenue and crash under some scaffold between a couple of doors. Preferably a store that didn’t open before ten. Maybe even a eating joint that didn’t serve breakfast. Not that I needed to sleep in. I was usually up on my feet before the crack off dawn, but it just felt nice to drift off to sleep knowing that I could sleep in if I wanted to. Silly. I know. Right? But I just slept easier knowing that I would wake up well before anyone got there to shoo me away.

I kept walking. Making my way under the scaffolds. Running down steps into subways that came out on the other side of the street. Every little bit off covering helped keep me dry. I had on an old, white poncho that I had found in a trash can. One of the sleeves was torn, but it still kept me dry. I also had an umbrella stashed in my backpack. Not that I needed it to keep dry, but I usually put it up anyway. Even if just to keep others at bay. Hide my face. Even on nights when it wasn’t raining. I knew it wouldn’t really protect me from someone who was intent on harming me. But if I couldn’t see who was walking past me when I opened my eyes, it made me feel like they couldn’t see me. Made me feel invisible. Not that I really needed it. I already felt invisible anyway. A million people walked past me every day. Most didn’t even notice me. Not that they seemed to notice much of anything around them anyway. All running to and fro. Hustling. Bustling. Back and forth. Rushing madly up and down the same streets every day. Every. Single. Day. Going to the same places. Doing the same things. Day in and day out. I watched them rush by. Every day. Never stopping. Never observing what or who was around them. Most of the time, their heads looking down at their smart phones. Ear buds in their ears. Blocking out the sounds around them.

I think that was the one thing that didn’t miss from my old life. I didn’t have a phone anymore. I didn’t have all that technology to tie me down. I don’t know if I would have wanted it, even if someone had offered me the best technology money could buy. In the last two years, since my fate had changed, I had learned to slow down. To truly see. To observe. To listen. To pay attention to everything going on around me. Where ever I was. Whatever I was doing. And I liked it that way. Some told me it was called zen. Others told me they were doing it to achieve a minimalist lifestyle. I didn’t really care what it was called or why it had happened. I didn’t really have much of a choice after losing my job. Losing my home. Losing my family. Losing my health. And everything else that had befallen me. Sure, I hated it in the beginning. I didn’t think it would last long. I figured I’d get right back on my feet before the month was up. One month rolled around. Then another. Soon, I lost all hope. It took me a while to pull myself out of that deep, dark pit of despair. Eventually, I came to grips with the fact that this was real. That this was really happening to me. After that, I started to work my way through the immediate issues I faced. I learned how to survive on the street. I learned the rules. I learned what to do and what not to do. I learned who I could trust and who to avoid. I mastered the necessary skills to survive. Eventually, even to thrive in my own sort of way. Not that it was anywhere close to what I would have considered thriving before. But in its own unique way. In my own sort of way, I developed new standards. I learned to enjoy the little things. Things I had always taken for granted. Things I had never enjoyed before. Things that now gave me immense satisfaction. It was weird, because as sure as I was that things would eventually change. That my situation would change. That I would get back on my feet. I also knew, in the same way, that I had already changed as much as I would ever change. I had changed completely. And even when that day came, where I found myself back on my feet, I knew that I would never again be the same. I wouldn’t change back into the person I was before. That this whole life situation had changed me. Made me a new person. Deep in my mindset. I was already doing things to bring about the changes I wanted. Building my networks. Doing good to everyone around me. Even when I didn’t have enough for myself. Barely had enough to give, but I always found a way to help those in need. I hated asking for something for myself, but I had no qualms about asking for someone else in need. That was something that I had only begun doing in the past few months. I took me a while to simply get back onto my feet. Then to master the self-awareness of everything going on around me. Then to notice what was going on around others. I could already feel it paying off dividends in my life. People who never noticed me before, now knew my name. People who never noticed anyone else seemed to notice me. It was such a strange feeling. So many were like ghosts. Mere shells. Bodies walking up and down the street. Never noticing. Never being noticed. I was once like that. I could see myself mirrored in them. All those walking through life half asleep. Sleep walking. Unaware. Wondering what it would take to shake them out of their slumber. To get them to wake up and take notice. To actually start living.

Oh, yeah. And back to myself. I finally did make it all the way back up to 34th and sixth. I did want to get a little farther up into the city. But this was far enough. I just sat and waited. I didn’t worry about a thing. I knew that soon enough, someone would notice me. Offer me something. And even if not, I had already eaten that day. Tomorrow was a new day. I knew where I could get food if I really needed it. Saturday was a good day to get food. There were several places that offered brown bag meals in the late morning. Others offering soup in the evening. I wouldn’t starve. Sleep would come soon enough. So, I just sat there and watched the hustle and bustle. Even in the drizzle. People still racing up and down the sidewalks. Looking down at their phones. Wireless ear pieces inserted. Talking to themselves. To someone far away. Racing along, late into the night. It was almost midnight before some young fellow came along. Offered me a box of pizza. Four large slices. Half a family-sized pizza. He mumbled something about his wife not eating and his kid already asleep. He ate half and didn’t want the rest to go to waste. I thanked him. “God bless you,” I said. More than I needed. I’d wouldn’t eat more than two. Didn’t want to eat too much. Too much pizza gave me nightmares. Or at least that’s what my mamma always told me. Maybe I should try eating the whole thing just to see if I really would have nightmares. That was another thing I learned over the past two years. To question everything. All the things I believed all my life often turned out to be myths and silly superstitions. I never would have realized it if I hadn’t gone through these hard times. I learned to be grateful for this stripping away. This cleansing time in my life. But I knew I wouldn’t eat all four slice. They were large. One would be plenty to tied me over. Maybe two if it tasted as good as it smelled. It was still warm. The rest I would share with some others I had seen earlier that evening. I knew some of them could use it more than me. Some of them were new to the street. Still learning the ropes. Needing a helping hand. Hadn’t learned to trust the system. Or better yet, hadn’t learned to trust themselves. I kept my eyes peeled. I watched the street closely as I munched the first slice. I soon saw one of the newbies making his third round. I called him over. I offered him a slice. Shared my story. Gave him a few tips. I knew it wouldn’t do much good to tell him everything. Most of it wouldn’t even make sense yet. He’d have to learn most of it on his own. We would chat again some day. We would exchange stories. By then we would speak the same language. Share a common bond. A common culture. So, I didn’t try to cram any of my sage wisdom down his throat. No use tossing pearls before swine like the good book said. So, I mostly let him talk. Asked a few questions to let him know I was interested. Let him tell his sob story. He still played victim. He wasn’t willing to accept the fact that his own actions had led him here. Just like I hadn’t in the beginning. It was hard. To accept the blame. It was easier to point our fingers. Some still refused to take responsibility even after twenty years on the street. I think that was the difference between me and most of them. I knew it was my own fault. My own actions that led to me ending up here. I repented. I acknowledged my mistakes. I fessed up to everything I had done. I refused to play the role of the victim. I had gotten myself into this mess, and I was going to do whatever it took to get myself back out of this mess. I’d been trying hard for the past few months. Come close a few times to pulling myself out, but things went wrong. I made sure to learn from my mistakes and try again. It was close. I could feel it in my bones. I wanted to get back on my feet. Get a job. Own my own home again. Take care of myself without having to depend on handouts. But tonight, I was still here. So, I would make the most of it. Told my new friend good night when I had had enough of his griping. Bid him farewell, as he continued on his next round. Still looking for someone else to complain too. I set up my little black umbrella. Put it up between me and the bustling crowd still going strong at eleven thirty. Rolled over. Closed my eyes. And quickly drifted off to sleep. Grateful for a warm spot to sleep and a full belly for the night. But mostly grateful just for having learned to pay attention to the little things as I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Rain And Hair Don’t Mix

It was a dark, cold, and rainy night. Too chilly for a summer evening. Eve stood at the corner under the awning. Wondering how she was going to get home. She had just left the salon. Hair perfectly done. Spent a fortune on getting it just right. Everything set to make this the perfect night. And yet, here she was. Stuck under this stupid awning. Starting to sprinkle. A light drizzle. Threatening to ruin her perfect hair. Every strand perfectly blow dried and hair sprayed into place. She muttered under her breath. Blaming the weatherman for not having forseen the coming shower.

Eve had seen the dark clouds rolling in. Checked her phone. Surprise storm rolling in. Sudden shift in wind patterns. She thought she could beat it home. Make it back before the rain started falling. It wasn’t far. A half a dozen blocks to the subway. At the very worst, she could flee down one of the other subway entrances and make her way around with a few extra stops.

She told the hair dresser to step on it. Wrap things up. She paid quickly. Made a run for it. But the rain started quicker than she expected. She wasn’t even halfway to her line when the first drops started to fall. Eve checked her phone. She was at least a block away from any of the other entrances. She looked up at the sky. It wasn’t going to let up anytime soon.

Eve sighed. She had just over an hour to get home. Get cleaned up. And then get to where she needed to be. But there was no way she was going to get to the subway with this rain. Why hadn’t the weatherman even hinted at the possibility of the rain. She would have brought her umbrella. Or better yet, her poncho and umbrella. The big, bright, colorful umbrella her sister had given her for last birthday. She had picked it up in France. Brought it back. Wrapped it up and given it to Eve for a nice gift. Eve loved it. It wasn’t one of those things that someone gave you that you never really used. It was practical as well as beautiful. She used it as often as she could. As often as it rained. Or even looked like it was going to rain. But today, when she had left her house, she had no idea that it was going to pour like this. Eve sighed again.

She looked up and down the street looking for a taxi. A cab she could hail. She didn’t really have the money for it. It would cost her and arm and a leg. She had already blown most of her budget for the month earlier in the week while some friends were in town. Eve had taken them out almost every evening to show them around town and to grab a bite. Then this even came up which she hadn’t been expecting either. Surprise. Surprise. And she wanted to look her best. So, she had scheduled this session at the salon for today. Cost her an arm and a leg. Money she really didn’t have, but it was important to make a good impression. She decided to make the sacrifice. Pulled the trigger. Paid half up front. Put the rest on her card. And now she needed to catch a cab. Only there wasn’t one around. No familiar yellow cars to be seen. She never used them anyway. She didn’t even have any of those ride apps on her phone either. Never needed them. Till tonight. The one night she absolutely had to have one, none were available. She growled under her breath and muttered again. It seemed like the whole universe was conspiring against her tonight. She wanted to shake her fist at the sky. Only she couldn’t because to do that, she would have to step out into the rain. And that would get her hair wet. She wasn’t about to let that happen, no matter how upset she was.

“Excuse me, miss. Could you tell me where the closest entrance is to the C line uptown?” she heard.

Eve whirled around. She hadn’t heard anyone coming up behind her. A man. Tall. Sharp. Handsome. Her heart skipped a beat. She self-consciously ran her hand through her hair, completely forgetting that every strand was perfectly brushed and sprayed in place. She put her hands back down to her side. Trying to compose herself. Clasping her hands and and remembering to smile.

“Yes. Three blocks down that way and then you make a right. It’s on the following corner.” Eve said. Pointing with her fingers indicating the direction. “I’d take you there myself if it weren’t for this rain, but I just had my hair done.”

“Well, then let me walk you there.” he said indicating his umbrella.

It was large and black. Larger than hers even. And hers was already pretty big. It looked like it could keep her dry. Keep her hair hair safe. She would have to walk pretty close to him. Not that she would mind. But still, would he keep it constantly over her or wave it around and walk crazily. He seemed to sense her hesitation.

“Please, allow me. And don’t worry. I have a mother and four sisters. I understand how important it is to keep your hair perfectly dry after a day in the salon.”

A mother and four sisters. That sounded safe. He couldn’t be bad if he understood how she felt about her hair. Eve nodded. He stepped forward and held out the umbrella.

“Here. You hold onto it. I might not keep it perfectly centered. You can control it better and tilt it in the right direction if the winds changed.”

Eve smiled and nodded. She breathed a sigh of relief. She felt like he understood perfectly how she felt. She clasped the handle of the umbrella. The gentleman didn’t let go of the handle. He kept a steady hand on it. She could feel his skin light brushing against hers. His strength and firmness. Purpose. It made her feel secure. She blushed slightly. She trembled slightly and put her other hand up to steady herself.

She looked up and he was watching her. Smiling.

“Ready?” he asked.

Eve nodded.

“Allow me.” he said as he put his other arm around her waist to pull her closer right before stepping out into the rain. Eve caught her breath sharply, but didn’t have time to think about it as he pressed her forward into walkway out from under the awning. She tensed up as she heard the drops of water dripping onto the umbrella. But then relaxed as she realized they weren’t going to ruin her hair.

He walked quickly but surely. Matching her pace. Perfect sync and rhythm. He walked her through the dusky darkness as the lights started to come on around them. He moved her firmly around the puddles that formed in the path before them. He crossed the street. Then walked her straight up through the square to the following corner.

It was a perfect moment. One of the most perfect moment she had ever experienced. The lighting around her. The flowers around her. The scent of the rain in the grass and on the warm asphalt around them. The same asphalt that had been beaten by the sun all day. Now being washed clean. Cool. Refreshed.

That was how she felt now. Refreshed. Clean. Beautiful.

It was a moment that she never wanted to end.

Two lovers walking through a park on a lovely evening.

That was how she imagined them.

This was the kind of man she wanted to be with.

The kind of man she had always wanted to find.

They made it to the subway entrance and walked briskly down the steps. Once they were safely at the bottom of the stairs and deep inside, he stopped. He tilted the umbrella a little to one side. She loosened her grip. He gave it a short twirl. The droplets spun off in a circle around them. A few drops hit someone beside them. The person turned and scowled. The man smiled apologetically and shrugged. The person moved on.

“Go ahead and move off to that side. Your hair is safe.” he said with a smile.

“Thank you,” she said without moving.

Eve didn’t quite know how to thank this fine, gorgeous man who had just saved her hair. She really wanted to grab him and kiss him. But that probably wouldn’t be very appropriate. Maybe a hug. He didn’t make any move to step away from her which she took as a good sign. Or maybe he just didn’t want to get her hair wet and was waiting for her to move out of the way before closing it. In the end, she reached out and touched his arm lightly. He smiled and bowed his head slightly. She stepped off to the side. Out from under his umbrella. Out from under his protection. She didn’t know why she felt so safe there, and then so vulnerable once she moved out from under it. She saw her subway arriving, but still made no move to leave. The next one would be along in twelve minutes. There was no rush. Well, there was. But she wasn’t going to be the one to leave first.

The man didn’t seem to be in any big hurry either. She took that as a good sign. He stood there still holding the umbrella over his head underground. It probably did seem a bit silly to anyone just coming down the steps. It would definitely be an interesting scene. They both stood there for a full minute. Neither seeming to want to leave. Looking deep into each others eyes. Each trying to think of something smart to say. Not wanting to say anything. Afraid to spoil the moment. Afraid to say something silly.

She saw the C train coming up the tracks. Eve smiled and nodded toward the tracks.

“I think that’s for you,” she said softly.

He looked over and nodded in acknowledgement.

“Well then. Guess I had better get going. I don’t want to hold you up either for your party.” he said with a smile.

He stepped away from her as he folded up his umbrella so he wouldn’t get her wet. He held it off to the side away from her and shook it gently. He reached into his pocket for his subway card.

“Good bye,” he said.

He smiled. A warm, beautiful, energetic smile that made her forget the rain. Forget her bills. Forget her commitment. Forget everything.

“Take me with you,” she wanted to scream. To beg. To plead.

But she didn’t. That wouldn’t be right. Wouldn’t be appropriate. So, she just raised her hand and waved.

“Thank you for saving my hair,” she said.

He nodded and turned to leave. Stepped though the turnstiles. Her heart caught in her throat as he passed his card and walked on through to the other side. He half-turned. Smiled and waved. Then walked towards the open doors of the waiting cars.

Suddenly, she realized what she was about to lose.

“Wait!” she half-shouted.

Eve grabbed her purse and pawed through it looking for her card. Found it. Swiped it. Pushed her way through the turnstiles too. The man turned and looked back at her as she ran toward him.

“Call me sometime,” she said breathlessly.

She winced as she said it. It sounded half-pleading. Desperate. She hated sounding desperate. Especially to a man she had just met.

He looked back over his shoulder at the sound of the closing doors.

“I’d love to talk with you more sometime. Maybe take another walk with you. Have a coffee. That is, if you want to.” she stammered on a bit awkwardly but picking up her pace and courage as she continued.

He smiled widely.

“Sure. I’d love to.” he replied.

“You would? So, why didn’t you tell me that earlier and ask for my number?” she complained.

“You’re a beautiful woman. Hair done up on a Friday night. I assumed you were off to meet your man.” he said with a goofy shrug.

Eve wanted to slug him.

“Don’t assume things. Just ask. It’s just some stupid company party. I was hoping for a promotion. Trying to suck up to the boss. But it’s a stupid idea. I hate him and I hate the company anyway. I’d rather spend some time with you. That walk through the square back there with you through the rain was wonderful. I’d do it again anytime. I’d do it right now with you even without the umbrella.”

The man smiled broadly. Straightened his shoulders. The edges of his eyes crinkled warmly. His his brightened.

“I was just going home for the night to my two calico cats and a golden retriever. But they can wait a bit longer. I won’t be able to walk the dog tonight in this rain anyway.”

He held out his arm. She took it. They walked back through the turnstiles to the exit. He paused at the edge of the steps to pop open his umbrella. Tilted it to the side for her to step under. Put his arm around her as she stepped towards him. Then walked her up the steps out into the cool, damp breeze.

They walked back through the park. They walked through several more along the way to his house. He introduced her to his cats and dog. Then they walked through several more parks on the way to her house. She dropped off her purse and changed her sandals. Slipped into something a little more comfortable.

They kept walking down through several more parks. Stopped for coffee along the way. They passed the building where her company was meeting. She laughed at the thought of all her colleagues all sucking up to the man they hated. Hoping for a raise they probably wouldn’t get. Then they kept on walking all through the night. Laughing and talking under his big, black umbrella. Under the trees. Under the lamp posts. In the rain.

None of the rain drops ever actually landed in her hair. But the wind and humidity soon made a mess of it. She complained once after coming out of a bathroom at a coffee shop. He just smiled and said she looked even more beautiful then when they first met.

They kept on walking till the crack of dawn. He finally stopped at the edge of a park overlooking a lake. Still holding his umbrella open over her head. The rain had long since stopped. Her hair was a total mess after getting whipped in the wind.

Eve pushed the umbrella away. He shook the last remaining drops off gently and closed it. Tossed it to the side. Placed his hands on her waist and turned her toward him. Kissed her full on the lips as the sun came blazing over the horizon signalling the start of beautiful, new day.

Joe Goes Home

Joe. That was his name. At least that’s what he called himself. And that’s what he told everyone else his name was. Nobody ever gave him a name. Nobody that he could remember anyway. For the longest time, he didn’t know what to call himself when anyone asked. It was rather embarrassing. But one day, he was walking down the street and overheard someone yelling out that name. A little boy answered back and came running around the corner towards the house. So, he assumed that it was a good and proper name. The next time someone asked what his name was, he told them it was Joe. No one ever questioned it. It sounded good. Later he found out that it was a fairly common name. He met lots of others who had the same name. It didn’t bother him though. It was better to have a good name that was common, than a unique name that sounded strange to the ear.

Anyway, he lived on the same block most his life. Slinking around back alleys. Digging through trash cans for food. It wasn’t a great life like some of the others he saw living around him, but it wasn’t terrible either. He had a pretty good time. Hung out wherever he wanted. Did what he wanted. Came back whatever time he wanted. It wasn’t anything to complain about. Not like some of the others he saw around him. Time to be home. Time to take a bath. Time to go for a walk. It seemed a bit more rigid and structured than he was willing to make a go of.

But sometimes, however, when he was all alone at night, old Joe missed having someone around. Not that he would have admitted it. Especially, on the dark, cold rainy nights when the clouds covered the sky and he couldn’t see the stars. He felt so alone. So, as much as he enjoyed living this way, it sometimes seemed like the grass was greener on the other side of the fence. Or in this case, the other side of the door. So, one day, after a particularly dark, cold, and rainy night, Joe decided to adopt himself a human. He wanted to try out this life of having a warm place to sleep. Even if it meant having a set time to go home. Regular food to eat. Even if it meant eating the same old food day in and day out. And even having a set place to go to the bathroom. Even if it meant having to put up with kitty litter. He hated the smell of it whenever he went to visit his friends.

Joe asked around, but none of his friends wanted to share their owners with him. They already caused enough trouble they said. They didn’t want old Joe to spoil their good lives.

“Don’t worry,” they told him. “You’ll find a good owner soon. You just gotta to know what you want in an owner. And don’t go looking for someone special. They demand to much time and attention. Make sure to find a common owner who as already had a pet. They’re easier to handle.”

Joe thanked them and went out looking for a new owner. He walked down the street and sniffed around each one. The ones with strong scents, he avoided. They already had a pet. The ones without scents he avoided. They had probably never had a pet. He kept sniffing his way around the block. He eventually found a few that smelled like they had had pets in the past, but who no longer lived there. He kept an eye on those places to see what the potential owners he could adopt looked like.

The first one was really cute. A nice lady who put milk out for him whenever she saw him coming around. But she took him to these smelly places and sprayed this awful smelling stuff all over him. He could barely sleep for three nights. And after she took him the following week, he gave up on her. No wonder her pet had given up on her.

The second person, was pretty cool. Always had parties at his house. There were always people around. But everyone wanted to touch him and rub him and pet him. Old Joe didn’t care for that very much. There was just too much noise. He usually fled back to alley after a few hours, and only go back in the morning when the last guest had gone home around the crack of dawn. No wonder his pet had abandoned him too.

The third person was this old lady who lived alone. She never had anyone come around. No noise in her house. It was peaceful and quiet. She never took him to the stinky place. But she was often forgetful. She didn’t always put food out for him. So, Joe had to go get food back in his alley. And she didn’t wait up for him. If he stayed out too long, she locked the door and went to bed. He didn’t like getting locked out, but neither did Joe like having to be home at a certain time. The food was okay though, so he kept going back.

One night, it started to rain though. He raced back to her house, but she had already closed up all the doors and windows. She hadn’t even waited for him to come home. How rude of her. Joe was furious. He meowed and howled. He scratched on the door. But she never came to open it for him. He hissed and growled and threatened to scratch her face off. He finally feel asleep in a dry corner of her porch. But it wasn’t the same thing. He had slept in drier places on his own. If this was what adopting a human meant, he didn’t want to keep doing it. It was too much work for too little benefits.

The next day, Joe moved back to his alley. It was still there. Just the way he left it. His friends were all happy to see him back again. He had his freedom. Who needed to put up with all that hassle of trying to keep a human healthy and happy. Joe sighed and crossed his paws in front of him. Rested his head on his paws and drifted off to sleep. Happy to be back home. Back on his own.

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