Letter to 2016

2016Dear 2016,

I’m starting out this letter in an entirely cliché way and I hope you do not mind. How are you doing?  I know I would be feeling pretty depressed if I was in your shoes. I can imagine it’s very hard to take the brunt of all the anger and hatred for what has happened on your watch. I know it isn’t entirely your fault but not everybody sees it that way.

With that being said let me say that despite all the negatives I personally don’t hate you. Without you I wouldn’t be engaged to a man I love very much. Without you I wouldn’t have learned to manage my chronic illness. While I’m not entirely healed I am doing much better than I had been. You’ve brought me through an entire year at a job I love and allowed me to meet some amazing people along the way that will stay in my heart for the rest of my life. There have been plenty of awe inspiring TV shows and movies that were introduced this past year along with teasers for new fantastic ones to come. Not to mention that the Cubs actually won the world series and for awhile the majority of the USA was united.

You haven’t been without your fair share of bittersweet surprises either, however. Jake and I closed on a house this year and a few days later a lady drove through the front bedroom window of that new home. Nobody was hurt, by the grace of God, but I now have a story to tell my future kids that will knock their socks off. Not only that but we had an absolute shocker of an election this year that left people asking, “Why?”

Along with the surprises, you’ve also taught me things. I’ve learned to be  more comfortable with silence. I’ve learned patience with the monotony of life that sometimes occurs when building foundations for fantastic things later. You’ve taught me that God can always surprise me with plot twists and shake up my carefully planned ideas. An even stronger lesson learned has been that it is possible to be loved by that special fella, family, and unexpected friends.

So, in summary, this is actually a love letter. 2016, you really did it. You blew me away with all you had to offer. Of course I’m not happy with all the despair that you brought with you but I can say it made me appreciate the joys. The losses will be something we all grieve but when we heal it will be time to rebuild. Hopefully, 2017 will be a time of building new things and growing in strength.

Go in peace 2016.

Sincerely,

Emilee

Screened-in Porch

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Me getting a picture taken in front of the screened-in front porch before leaving for church camp.

As April approaches I’ve been feeling nostalgic. My family and I moved into my late Great Grandmother’s house in Kentucky in 2002. It was different than any other place and I had lived before and for the first time we were in a house and not an apartment. With this new development we now had a place that had an actual front porch and a screened-in one to boot.

That was my favorite place to be when it rained.

My favorite part about April is the rain. On early mornings I’d go out onto that screened-in porch and let the it fill my senses. As the drops would pelt the earth all the smells of everything blooming filled the air and the sounds of water falling was like music. It was beautiful to watch as it cleansed everything and when I ventured out into it I just wanted to let it wash over me until I began to shiver. Generally, however, the point of the screened-in porch was so I would be able to enjoy the rain without getting soaked so, usually I would end up sitting on the creaky old green porch swing, painted yellow after a few years, and gently sway back and forth.

That porch went through so many transformations. I remember one year for Halloween we had an old organ out there that didn’t work. We put a stuffed animal alligator as long as a surfboard on the seat wearing a black cape and played a Phantom of the Opera-esque soundtrack from a CD player as trick-or-treaters came by. Throughout the year the porch was usually filled with creaky metal lawn furniture you were afraid to sit on because it began rusting in different places and harboring spiders. For one of the many years my mom taught an art class, she had it at home and on nice days we would draw on that front porch.

It’s been almost 8 years since we’ve lived in that house. I’ve moved twice since then and as much as I love my little apartment I do miss having a front porch I can go out to. Things move so fast nowadays I sometimes imagine a place I can go out to in the country that has a screened-in front porch so when April showers come I can forget my cares and enjoy the simplicity of a rainy afternoon.

Creations of Faith

Hannah's story

The world had decided a long time ago that if you couldn’t produce something naturally that it could be created in a lab, or that if it wasn’t enjoyable in its original state, it could be redefined. While this was an optimistic attitude to have towards obstacles and injustice it became a double-edged sword. Long gone were the days of peaceful protests or simple disagreements. Interactions among human kind had become so delicate that one conversation could send someone into a murderous rage. Those that chose to not participate in the fights ended up locked in their homes ordering food for delivery and peering into their phones as if their salvation was contained inside. Instead of salvation, their minds were only being fed with what they wanted to hear and all other voices of hope were swiped into the abyss of deleted and blocked content.

 

Despite the state of the world, there was one doctor that hadn’t lost hope yet. He had discovered that faith could be grown in a lab and raised in home in the surrounding area. He garnered followers in secret to help improve his creations and train them up to be warriors of hope in a lost world. With his discoveries he was able to create a child that grew into an adult exponentially fast while maintaining their childlike acceptance of others and keeping their endless joy. When Amana was created nobody foresaw the unexpected complications that would be involved. As an infant, instead of crying when in pain, she politely told her doctors what was ailing her. She was able to reason in her own head what was acceptable to be upset over and what wasn’t. As a toddler she didn’t seem to argue and fuss like the other kids her age. Her sense of humor was highly developed and her play instincts very refined. These skills enabled her to get along wonderfully with her caretakers but children her own age generally shunned her out of fear or jealousy. She was developing a lot stronger than any of the other previous creations.

 

When she became an adult, which instead of 18 years, it took only a 4 years, she was registered to be sent away to a secret training base in Chicago. Despite the relatively short span of time she had lived with her caretakers, she had already become attached.

 

As she prepared herself to leave Gurdie came up to Amana and wrapped her muscled forearms around the slim girl. “We’ll miss you.” Her other caretaker Ben nodded in agreement.

 

“I’ll miss you both too.” Amana sighed as she leaned back to look at Gurdie. The woman’s eyes were filling with tears. “Aw, Gurdie. It’ll be fine. I was made to leave.”

 

Her caretaker began to bawl and Ben reached out to pat her on the back. You wouldn’t know it by their behavior but the two had been married for 20 years. Ben still seemed uncomfortable with his wife’s emotional spells though and Amana never understood that. With an unsurpassable amount of warmth the girl wrapped her arms around the distraught woman again and held her until the crying stopped.

 

“I love you.” The two said in unison. They broke apart and smiled at one another.

 

“Stay brave.” Ben reminded Amana.

 

“I will.” Amana had faith that everything would all work out. That’s why she was made. To have faith.

 

Since starting the program they had built an underground train system that took each creation from one facility to another in only a few hours. Amana boarded the train along with other beings like her. She made an executive decision to sit next to a girl with long black hair, dark eyes, and black clothing. She was wired to be attracted to people that needed her and the dark girl sitting alone appeared to need some kind of company.

 

“Mind if I sit?”

 

“Just don’t talk.” The girl said.

 

“That’s fine.” Amana smiled. “In case of emergencies though, what’s your name?”

 

“Willa.”

 

“My name is Amana. What were you created for?”

 

“Nothing and I said no talking.”

 

Amana tried not to be offended but she had been perfectly nice to this girl. She had a hard time reconciling the fact that she wanted to lash out and be angry but she knew that wasn’t right. Living her life simply by feelings was not how she was raised.

 

“I understand.” Amana smiled to conceal how upset she was and buried her face in a book. She was only pretending to read though. Her ears were tuned to all the conversations going on around her. It was a small group of about twenty and all of them seemed far more interested in forming friendships than Willa. It was unfortunate that Amana had sat next to the one girl raised in a cynical environment. She had heard her caretakers whisper about the cynical ones that had to be redesigned and sent back to training for a second time because they were unable to stay hopeful. Maybe Willa was disappointed she had failed. Amana kept silent for almost an entire hour then said, “Everybody is created for something. Maybe you just haven’t figured it out yet.”

 

“Bet you were designed to blow sunshine up…”

 

Before Willa could finish the train began slowing down. Amana felt no fear but she was very aware that this wasn’t supposed to happen. They were still in the tunnel. She was the first to stand up and rush to the front of their train car. The engine car no longer had any light shining out of the windows. Other creations elbowed their way next to her to see what was going on.

 

“I’m going to go check it out.” Amana said.

 

“Did we break down?” A man who looked barely young enough to be one of the chosen approached Amana and followed her concerned gaze.

 

“Not for good.” She replied with certainty. “Maybe this is part of the training.”

 

“I doubt it. This is the second time I’ve been on this train and this has never happened.” Amana hadn’t seen a lot in her lifetime yet but with the environment she had been raised in she had never seen somebody with so much despair in their eyes.

 

“I’m going in. In case of emergencies what’s your name?” Amana asked the man.

 

“Eilif.” He said.

 

“Thanks, Eilif. I’ll be back.” Amana had at her side Spirit. It was a sword she was given to defend against all types of attacks. The worst of the threats were Shadow People.

 

“What’s your name?” Eilif asked.

 

“Amana.” She smiled and raised her voice, “Everybody, don’t worry! I’m going to check out the engine car. Stay calm.” Everybody obeyed and sat back in their seats to continue talking and laughing. She slid out the exit onto the platform and pulled a small flashlight from her pant’s pocket to focus the beam on the platform across from her.

 

“You’re not going alone.” Eilif had followed and behind him was an angry looking Willa. “If this is a test should we don’t want to fail again.”

 

Amana smiled really big. The trio stepped across from car to car and opened up the door to the engine compartment. The automatic console glowed dimly and pulsated as if trying to communicate in Morse code that it was dying. Eilif went straight for the monitors to check for loose plugs or frayed wires. Willa gazed around with a lost expression and Amana flew around the room running her flashlight beam over everything, searching for a clue as to why the train was no longer moving.

 

Amana thought that this was the first trial of many to come but the real test of her faith came as a complete shock. As the trio searched for the answer to the failed engine they heard the sound of cracking walls and felt the earth shift. The ground started with swallowing the caboose first and greedily devouring the second and third car. They could barely see as they barreled out the door while dirt and pebbles rained down from the ceiling on their heads. Amana led the way with her flashlight as they raced through the tunnel. She glanced back to see the rest of the train fall into darkness.

 

Adrenaline pumping and her heart pounding in her ears made it hard for her to feel mournful the loss of 17 other creations designed to bring hope to the world but she did say a prayer as she ran. As they rounded a corner her flashlight crossed over an opening in the wall. She motioned to the others to follow. Her feet found the stairs that lead to the possibility of freedom. Dirt rained down on them in earnest and in the distance more crashing could be heard as the entire underground railroad system collapsed in on itself. Suddenly, Amana’s head slammed against a wooden door locked with a padlock.

 

“Why did you stop?!” Willa shrieked.

 

“It’s locked.” Amana declared.

 

Without hesitation she pulled Spirit from its sheath and used the thin tip of the blade to break open the lock. With surprising strength she pushed open the doors and immediately felt cold drops of rain pitter patter on her face. They were in a forest with trees that were being bowed down by the wind. Amana sheathed the sword and marched north towards an opening in the trees. It was only a few minutes until they found themselves entering a school playground. The skies above were filled with black clouds tinged with burgundy because of the twilight and far on the horizon lightning flickered followed by quietly grumbling thunder. When the wind began picking up and the rain beat down faster, Amana grasped the elbows of her companions.

 

It was nearly an hour the group walked down sidewalk after sidewalk to try and find a business or government building to seek shelter from the torrential downpour. When they reached the end of the storm, night had fallen but the light of the moon was enough to be able to see and there were a line of city lights in the distance.

 

Willa shivered uncontrollably. “We’re never going to make it to Chicago.”

 

“Never is an exaggeration.” Amana said cheerfully.

 

“It’s going to take a long time.” Eilif ran his hands through his wet mop head of hair.

 

“You won’t pass training with that attitude. Nobody likes a grump.” Amana said this to encourage but it only served to bring the mood down further.

 

“So we’re not important unless we’re happy all the time?” Willa demanded.

 

“I didn’t say that.” Amana said quickly. Willa’s bad mood was starting to wear on Amana. “You’re going to get through training. You know, we should find someplace to rest for the night.”

 

“We have to be careful. Some hotels demand that everybody be scanned first.” Eilif warned.

 

“Scanned?” Amana asked.

 

“They can tell when you’ve been grown in a lab. Some cities are hostile towards our kind.”

 

“Why would they be? We’re bringing hope.” Amana turned on her heel and continued her hike to the unfamiliar city. Willa and Eilif followed with a healthy amount of skepticism.

 

This city was no Chicago but there were a few 12 story buildings here and there. At the late hour the roads were quiet except for one green Toyota Camry headed for the outskirts of town and a stray dog in a back alley looking for leftovers. The trio walked down Main Street a mile before reaching a strip that had a 24 hour Walgreen’s, a Denny’s, and the only Best Western for miles.

 

“I’m hungry.” Willa whined.

 

“I could eat.” Eilif chimed in.

 

“It looks like the Denny’s is open.” Amana conceded.

 

The three of them entered the air conditioned restaurant shivering and dripping water all over the floor. Soft classic rock played on the radio. The restaurant appeared deserted. In a few seconds a door slammed at the back of the place and a small, flustered woman with a neck tattoo of a rattlesnake and several missing teeth hurried to greet the guests. Around her neck hung a turquoise e-cig and her fake pink fingernails tapped it absentmindedly.

 

“How many?” She asked.

 

“Three.” Eilif said, stepping forward.

 

“Booth or table.”

 

“Booth.” Willa interjected.

 

Like a shot the woman marched her little legs to the back of the restaurant where a freshly cleaned booth sat. Amana sat on one side and Willa and Eilif sat across from her. The waitress, who’s name was Pam, took their drink orders and left.

 

The weight of everything suddenly hit Amana like an oncoming car. Her fellow creations had all been killed in a strange accident and she had no idea how far the training center was from where they were at. The problem was that since it was at a hidden location they couldn’t ask for directions.

 

“How far do you think Chicago is from here?” Amana asked Eilif and Willa.
“I’d say it’s still a good 9 hours away.” Eilif said.

 

“I’ll be back.” Willa stood up and made a beeline for the restroom.

 

“She doesn’t seem like she’s doing well.” Eilif said when she was out of earshot.

 

“This is your second time and you seem to be composed.” Amana grasped a strand of her beautiful hair and twirled it thoughtfully.

 

“I’ve accepted my fate either way. I get to either be an advocate for a lie or be terminated telling the truth.”

 

“Here, babe.” Pam set down Eilif’s water with a smile and placed Amana’s down without even looking at her. “Here.”

 

“Thanks.” The two said in unison.

 

“Do, you need more time to make up your mind?” Amana timidly picked up a menu and Eilif nodded. “I’ll give you a few minutes.”

 

When Pam was gone Amana slapped down her menu and said, “You don’t believe that do you?”

 

“I do.” He raised a critical eyebrow.

 

“Hope has gone into hiding. We have to bring it out into the open. I was told that we might even have to wage war against the Shadow People to save the world from despair. I’m not scared to fight for what I believe.” She picked up the menu again and flipped through it.

 

“I’m not afraid to fight either but I have no motivation to fight. I know that I was only created to carry a specific message. It just happens to be a message I don’t agree with anymore.” He shrugged.

 

“Why?”

 

He was quiet for a moment then sighed. “When they sent me to training I was hopeful. It’s very easy to lose that hope when one of your trainers murders an entire group of trainees for no reason. I remember looking into the darkness in this man’s eyes and I could feel nothing but fear. I managed to escape but they sent me back to be reconditioned because I had been “corrupted”. Being reconditioned only healed the physical damage caused by the traumatic experience but it didn’t erase the memories.” As he recounted this story he zipped up his jacket and shoved his hands in the pockets. “After losing everybody I knew and barely surviving I don’t have a lot of faith anymore.”

 

“Me neither.” Willa quipped. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Nothing important. I said I don’t have a lot of hope for this world.” Eilif shrugged.

 

“Why did they send you back?” Amana asked Willa.

 

The dark eyed girl sipped at her Pepsi and looked deep in thought. “I had a caretaker that barely passed her evaluation to become a trainer. There were certain qualities she had that went unnoticed until later. She taught me all the secret things she knew.” Willa laughed a short bark like laugh and continued drinking.

 

“Like what?”

 

“You all ready?” It was Pam again and she already had her pad of paper and a pen ready to go.

 

They all ordered and when the waitress was gone Willa said, “She was a witch or so she said.”

 

“A witch?” Amana asked.

 

“She communicated with the Shadow People and commanded them to do what she wanted. I think she was crazy because I never saw her successfully do anything like that.” Willa laughed again.

 

Amana shifted the conversation in an attempt to lighten the mood. The three discussed plans for how to get to Chicago and what they would do for the night. They all agreed that they would make any final decisions after they had slept a whole night.

 

When they received their food they ate in silence. For Amana it was her first meal she had ever had out in the real world. She had no idea why she hadn’t been introduced to a cheese quesadilla before this. It was heavenly.

 

“How can people despair when there are foods like this?” Amana closed her eyes.

 

For the first time Eilif laughed. “You’re something.”

 

They finished their late-night meal, paid, and walked back out into the night. Thankfully the hotel didn’t have any scanners. There was a pale man with huge black eyebrows that shaded his dark green eyes. He looked like he had just left his coffin for some fresh air. His lips were dark enough they appeared black. Amana attempted to engage him in conversation but he refused to play along. He asked all the standard questions and soon they had a room.

 

“Don’t hesitate to call if you need anything.” He said pointedly.

 

“Thank you, sir.” Amana said.

 

Their room was on the ground level not too far from the pool or, to Eilif’s delight, the vending machine. There were two full sized beds, ugly carpets with an odd leafy design, and high ceilings. Willa and Amana shared a bed and Eilif sprawled out on the one closest to the window as he muttered something about being hot natured.

 

They all fell asleep quickly but Amana woke up suddenly a few hours later when she realized Willa was no longer next to her. Gray light played behind the filmy white curtains. Her pillows were on the floor. Eilif was snoring. Amana tried to climb out of her bed but found Spirit still attached to her belt. After a bit of maneuvering she got up and slipped on her shoes.

 

Amana headed towards the lobby to where she expected the strange girl to be. Her intuition led her to the door to the pool room that was ajar. Her suspicions were confirmed when she saw the top of the water rippling.

 

“Willa?” Amana called as she approached the water’s edge.

 

The sight before her was startling. The girl was sitting Indian style at the very bottom of the pool, no bubbles rising to the surface. An inky black substance was streaming out of the tips of her fingers, toes, and hair. Amana circled the spot to try and get a look at her face. The girl’s eyes, which were already dark, were now completely black along with her lips and the veins on her neck.

 

Amana held in a scream as she hurried to rouse Eilif. When she was back in the hotel room she flipped on the side table lamp and shook him fiercely.

 

“Eilif. Eilif. Eilif!!” He opened his eyes wide and searched Amana’s face. In a moment he registered that something was wrong. “Follow me!” He did wordlessly. They both reached the pool’s edge and Willa was still there like a spider hiding in its web. “Is she a Shadow?”

 

“No…” Eilif shook his head. “She’s poisoned by them.”

 

As he said this Willa was slowly rising out of the water. She climbed out and the floor around her became stained with blackness. Her eyes still were soulless and she smiled.

 

“There’s no more hope.” Willa hissed. “This whole city is already lost in darkness.”

 

“No.” Amana grasped the hilt of Spirit.

 

“Even if you kill me they’ll still overtake you.”

 

For the first time in her existence Amana felt fear. It gripped her and she couldn’t move. She was afraid it was going to swallow her up and she’d never feel hopeful ever again. Through the open doorway more dark eyed and pale figures gathered in the room. The only lights were steadily dimming. Eilif also had a sword but he was struggling with the same fear as Amana.

 

“Willa…” Amana pleaded. “You’re meant for more than this.”

 

“If I had been like you, yes. Even if I was you though, the darkness is too much fun to resist.” Her barking laugh echoed around the room. “My skills are needed here. I’m important.”

 

The shadows surrounded her and gathered together to create something altogether different. Willa was suspended in the middle of the darkness like somebody hung from a noose. Eilif and Amana were paralyzed but the man from the front counter was not. The thin, gangly figure glided by the two of them and stood in front of Willa and her shadow army. She smiled wickedly and the whole congregation of shadows dove into him along with Willa.

 

Amana screamed and lunged forward with her sword but Eilif stopped her. “Amana, look.” Eilif pointed and she could see that all the shadows in the entire room were disappearing and not even affecting the man.

 

When every shadow was gone the man turned around. His eyes were still very dark and he looked sickly pale but otherwise unaffected. “Come with me. Quickly.” The pair followed him as he exited the pool room and proceeded down the hall to the stairs.

 

Amana began bombarding him with questions. “Where? Are you okay? What happened to Willa? What is your name?” He stopped short and spun around. “In case of emergencies…of course.”

 

“I’m Dr. Richard Diamond.”

 

“You’re…you invented the technology that created us.” Eilif’s eyes widened. “You don’t look nearly as old as I thought you’d be.”

 

“I stay out of the sun.” The doctor said dryly. He opened the door leading to the basement.

 

“How did you get rid of the Shadow People?” Amana asked.

 

“They are attracted to darkness.” Richard said. He was now facing a stainless steel door that was padlocked. Richard reached in his pocket for the key. When it was unlocked it opened up into a tunnel. “I happen to have a lot of darkness.”

 

“How can we trust you?” Eilif demanded.

 

“He just saved our lives.” Amana said.

 

“You trust everybody. What about Willa?”

 

Amana felt anger rising up in her chest. “I’d rather trust people than have to make my own way alone in this world.”

 

“I don’t trust anybody.” Eilif grumbled.

 

“You trust me though.” She insisted.

 

“We have to go now.” The doctor interjected.

 

Eilif had no argument against what Amana had said so he resigned himself to the fact that even though his gut was telling him what a bad idea this was, Amana’s faith encouraged him to press on. As they reached the end of the tunnel it became wider and led to a doorway. They opened the door and stepped up into a space that was simply a white sphere. It was like what Amana imagined the inside of a pearl might look like only much bigger.

 

“Keep the door open.” The doctor commanded.

 

“What is this place?” Eilif asked.

 

“A place the shadows can’t exist.” Richard sat Indian style in the middle of the floor and gestured for Amana and Eilif to do the same. They did as they were asked. “People are finding out about my creations.”

 

“Isn’t that good?” Amana asked.

 

He shook his head. “It’s having the opposite effect. People are stubborn and refuse to see any different than what they know. I have even found myself losing hope.” He looked directly into Amana’s innocent eyes. “You’re the first I’ve seen that has given me hope for the future. When I first discovered that I could grow beings with the capacity to have faith like a child but the strong spirit of an adult, I imagined somebody like my daughter. You remind me of her.”

 

“I met your daughter.” Eilif said.

 

The doctor nodded solemnly. “I thought you were there. You have the same look in your eyes that I see in my own.”

 

“She was killed?” Amana asked. The doctor nodded and Amana covered her mouth with her hand to conceal a sharp gasp. A single tear rolled down her cheek.

 

“Don’t mourn what’s already happened. What I need you to do is go to the training place in Chicago and touch base with my associates there.” He handed Eilif a small stack of paper with a business card on top that had an address on it. “As far as I’m concerned you both can bring people out of the darkness.”

 

“How will they know to trust us?” Eilif asked.

 

“That card right there. I am the only one with the authority to give them away.” Suddenly he cried out in pain and grasped at his chest. “I can’t hold the shadows back much longer. Seal me inside this room and do as I told you.”

 

“Will you be okay?” Amana grasped the sides of her creator’s face.

 

“No.” He said. “They will destroy me from the inside out.”

 

She cried for the first time since she had been created and a fleeting look of compassion crossed Doctor Diamond’s face. It was quickly taken over by the darkness from the shadows. Eilif grasped her arm and dragged her out the door. He shut it firmly and locked the deadbolt.

 

They hurried back the way they came. It felt very surreal finding themselves in the hotel once again. It was fully daytime now and a few people milled around the halls as if nothing had happened. At the front counter was a cheery 21 year old girl with a pink bow in her hair. They tried to check out but according to “Casey” —as her nametag read—they hadn’t even checked in yet.

 

As they walked out into the light of day they felt the burden of responsibility while simultaneously feeling light with a sense of purpose. Eilif looked at the business card in his hand.

 

“What else did he give you?” Amana asked.

 

He lifted up the card to reveal two Greyhound bus tickets underneath. He glanced up and on the street corner was a bus stop. Bus #7 trundled up to the curb and opened their doors. Eilif slid his hand into Amana’s and the two boarded the bus to Chicago.

Rae of Sunshine in the Moonlight

rae    Tracing a long, red-tipped fingernail along the rim of her champagne glass, Victoria observed the room like a cat watching a field full of sparrows. The lights were low and round tables clothed in white were decked out with sparkling silverware. Men in three piece suits wooed women in slinky evening gowns. A stage at the front of the room held a four-man band and a tall ruler-thin woman singing sultry love songs and trying to pretend she had curves. The glamour in the room was overwhelming but Lady Victoria knew she was outshining them all. She had killed three men to design this new body she was showcasing.

“You look ravishing.” Her second in command whispered to her from across the table. Today he was sporting the disguise of a college professor. Red hair poked out in all directions from his head and his glasses lay crooked on his nose. Despite the disheveled appearance his brown suit was tailored and his purple tie was clipped together with a gold pin designed to look like a feather. Propped up against the table his wizard staff was disguised as a walking cane.

“You’re sexy yourself, doll. You should look like this all time.” She winked at him as she played with her curly black tresses.

“I’m too young for you.” He grinned boyishly.

“Not today, Jayne.” Her eyes narrowed.

“The only thing I have going for me is my age. Don’t discount that I’m only 345 years old while you’re nearing…”

She put a finger to her crimson lips to hush him. They were only going to be in WWII era England for 10 more minutes. Their window for action was limited. The crooning singer held out the final note to “I Won’t Be Your Side Lady No More” and the crowd clapped enthusiastically. She ducked down slightly and waved. Her lip poked out in a pout as she blew kisses to her adoring fans and left the stage.

Victoria eyed the man near the front of the stage. His belly was large and his cufflinks were made with 14 karat gold and rubies. She had an eye for pretty things and these pretty things happened to be exactly what she needed. The man stood to walk to the bar and she signaled Jayne to begin his part of the plan.

“Could I have everybody’s attention?” Jayne climbed up onto the stage and leaned into the microphone. “I am a mere college professor at Cambridge but I have always wanted to be a singer…”

With that, Victoria stood from her seat and swept over to the bar. “Mr. Burkhardt?”

The man looked up from his Brandy and said, “I am he.”

“I was told I should talk to you about jobs in the area.”

“What’s a pretty woman like you needing a job? Finding a desperate man would be far easier.” He laughed a loud belly laugh that almost could be heard over Jayne’s horrible singing. No matter his wizard magic he never seemed to make time to fix his singing.

“You didn’t let me finish, sweetie.” She touched his sleeve and briefly ran a finger over the cufflink. “My brother is looking for work.”

“I see.” He chuckled and took another sip of Brandy. “Would you be gracious enough to hang on my arm for a dinner or two? I have some business to conduct and I need a…sophisticated woman like yourself to convince my buyers that I am a real gentleman with honest business aspirations.”

“So, you’re not an honest man?”

“That’s what my wife says.”

Time was running out and Victoria could see that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere fast. She spoke a few choice words under her breath and waved her hand over the man’s heart. A look of shock crossed his face and all the blood drained from his skin. The Brandy glass dropped from his hand and he began convulsing. She took the cufflinks from his sleeves and slipped them down the front of her dress. She gave Jayne a knowing look and slipped out the front door.

Jayne could be heard awkwardly finishing his song. When he was done the crowd applauded politely as he hobbled off the stage with his cane. He met up with his master outside and they joined hands. The pair were swept up in a whirl of color and returned to the year 3072 on the planet Arlister. They were now in her castle in the same spot that they had left.

Victoria stood in front of her full length mirror and ran her hands along her new curves. “I love me. I think I’ll stay like this for another century.”

“I’m going back to being myself, my lady.” Jayne’s cane grew into a 6 foot tall gnarled staff, his suit lengthened to a long brown robe, and his hair disappeared entirely leaving behind a perfectly round bald head, sharp nose, and sky blue eyes. He still remained tall and lanky but much older looking.

“Awww…” She crooned. “Homely again.”

“Thanks.” He said, saracstically.

“I must go see.” She said abruptly. By “see” she meant look into the future. She was born with the gift of sight but it had to be assisted by use of a crystal ball. She made her way down to her private chambers and out into her enclosed sun room. Outside the room were beds of roses and high stone walls.

She put her hands on the smooth glass of the smoky orb. She never would admit it to a soul but fear gathered in her heart whenever she had an opportunity to see. As she looked, familiar images flashed through her mind. She saw a tall, imposing building with bars on every window. The thorns on roses. A man she wanted to forget. A girl with golden hair dying.

Victoria let go of the orb shrieking. Things still weren’t changed.

“Jayne!!” Her wrath fueled her steps as she marched back into the castle where Jayne was settled in a chair reading old wizard scrolls. With a strength that wasn’t her own she grabbed him by the neck and flung him on the floor. “You snake! Things haven’t changed.”

“We haven’t built anything yet, your majesty.” He stammered. “Until it’s built the future won’t be accurate.”

“How can I know that for sure?”

“Trust me!” Jayne said desperately.

“Why can’t we build it now?”

“The moon must be full.”

“Mother, what’s wrong?” In the doorway stood the girl with golden hair. Her eyes were bright unlike in the vision. Even so she still was very thin.

“Dearest.” Victoria left her second command lying on the floor to cup her daughter’s face in her new hands.

“Is this a new look?” Her daughter asked cheerfully. “You’re beautiful”

“I’m trying out something new.” She said forcing a smile. Her daughter looked exactly like she had in earlier years. That was some 600 years ago.

“Nice. Is Jayne okay?” She asked looking at the disgruntled wizard.

“He’s fine. We’re just talking.”

“Oh, good. Well, I’ll go back downstairs. I still have lessons but I heard your voice and wanted to see you.” She hugged her mother and then skipped downstairs.

Queen Victoria turned on Jayne and snapped, “How can we keep her contained that night?”

“We have the cage.”

“Jayne, this better work.” She wasn’t worried about others getting hurt but if anybody hurt her Rae they would be killed.

***

The next day she spent most of her time lounging on her throne, demanding that Jayne entertain her, sharing meals with her daughter, and pranking the tutor. The mother daughter pair hid behind the library door poised and ready with a bucket of water balloons. For a time Victoria felt young and innocent again. Nothing could compare to the feeling of being a woman with no baggage or no concern for maintaining her powerful image. For a time she was simply a mother having fun with her daughter.

“He’s coming.” Rae giggled.

As the tutor rounded the corner the two sprung into action and assaulted him with water balloons.

“This is why you’re failing math.” The tutor said dryly as his removed his glasses for cleaning.

“This is why you’re failing fun!” Rae shot back. Suddenly, the girl’s face shifted from jovial to afraid. Her eyes swam with the beginning of tears.

“You feel sorry now don’t you?” The tutor said smugly.

“Leave, Gus.” The Queen commanded.

“Of course, your majesty.”

When Gus was out of sight, she demanded, “What is it?”

“I thought of something. It was like a dream or a nightmare.”

Victoria felt her heart fall. “What was it?”

“I saw daddy.” She whispered. “Then I saw you…but a wolf had killed you.” A sob escaped her throat and she collapsed into her mother’s arms. “Why did I think that?”

Victoria didn’t speak at first. She was almost sure her daughter had inherited the sight and it made her wonder if time travelling would be possible too. It was obvious she was more like her father but this new development made things a whole lot more complicated.

“Shh…” She held her daughter close. “I’m not going anywhere.” Rae cried for awhile as her mother rocked her back and forth. When she had cried her heart out she allowed her mother to lead her to her room to rest. Victoria handed her daughter a bright red pill. “This will calm you down, sweetie.”

The girl took the pill obediently and lay in bed. She closed her eyes and very soon she was asleep. It would be nighttime soon and she would have to be contained. When Victoria was sure Rae was asleep, the Queen lifted her out of the bed and carried her downstairs where the cage was located. Inside the cage was an old ragged mattress and nothing else. The girl was placed delicately on it like it was made of silk and locked in.

“You ready, Your Majesty?” Jayne asked somberly.

“You start. I have to attend to something.” Her eyes grew dark and she was gone in whirlwind.

She appeared in front of a tall, imposing building with bars on every window. The sun was setting. She would have to act quickly. Her steps were slow and deliberate with her gaze trained on the door. The guards asked no questions as she entered the prison. They were familiar with Her Majesty.

She knew the prison cell as well as she knew her own bedroom. The man inside it was curled on a mattress in the corner. His hair unkempt and lying in black tangled mess down his back. His face was just as scraggly, facial hair nearly concealing sea blue eyes. He was very thin but had surprisingly muscular arms. His clothes were in strips barely hanging on his body but when he saw the Queen he straightened up and attempted to make himself presentable.

“Vickie, sweetheart.” He said in a husky whisper. “Is that you? You look beautiful.”

“Cut the crap. I will murder you.”

“Better make it quick. My time is coming.”

“I’m not afraid of you, Gray.”

“Of course not, Ms. Queen of this world.”

“You will treat me with respect.” She hissed.

“I can be a ruddy beast. I’m sorry.” He scratched his head.

“That’s an understatement with all the people you’ve killed.”

“I’m sure you’ve killed more.”

She smiled mischievously. “I killed three men to look like this.”

“Oh, of course. I admire you for your lack of remorse, love.” He winked at her.

“You know how to make a woman feel sexy.” She twirled her hair.

“Is that why you’re here? You’ve killed all your admirers and now you don’t have enough compliments to sustain you?” Gray prowled around the back of the cell as if protecting his small patch of territory.

“No, it’s your daughter.”

Gray’s eyes narrowed and he crossed his arms. “My daughter is it now? Your daughter you mean. You won’t let me see her.”

“You know why. You’re dangerous.”

“So, is she.” He grinned revealing his pearly white teeth. His canines were and entire quarter of an inch longer than any of his other teeth and it made him look menacing. “And you, m’dear.”

“She has the sight.”

“Well, congratulations!”

“She had a vision with you in it. You murdered me.” Queen Victoria moved in close and peered into her ex-husband’s face. More lines had formed at the corner of his eyes since the last time she had really looked at him. His expression was unfathomable. “I won’t let you. I lived for centuries perfectly happy until meeting you. I will outlive you.”

“You love me.” He stared at her lips for a second and then looked into her eyes.

“No kisses, you hobo.”

“Our little Rae of sunshine wouldn’t have been born without me.”

“That’s the only thing you’ve been good for.” She snapped.

The light had gone now leaving only the lantern near the prison cell door. Outside the moon rose bright and full in the night sky.

“You waited too long.” He growled. A shudder rippled through his whole body and he bent down on all fours. The transformation began at his feet as they ripped out of his threadbare shoes. The hair on his head seemed to extend down the length of his body and his clothes fell to the floor in a heap. Gray’s body stretched and widened until the wolf inside manifested itself on the outside. The only thing that remained was his eyes which looked at Queen Victoria hungrily.

“You look better as a wolf.” Victoria muttered.

She backed away from the dangerous creature and pulled a revolver from a holster around her thigh. She had one silver bullets inside. The werewolf continued to growl and never took its eyes off her. It paced back and forth, his huge claws clicking on the concrete.

It leapt at her and the shot rang out. Before it could reach her the bullet penetrated the creature’s heart and it lay on the floor motionless. Victoria never gave him a second look as she left in the whirlwind. She was back in the room with the cage. It was much darker now. The cage was empty and Jayne was gone.

“Where is sheeeeee?!” The Queen screamed.

Her cries were answered with howling. She followed the sounds to the upstairs entrance hall. Guards lay strewn about on the floor bleeding out. This didn’t concern her though. She had to find her daughter. Jayne would regret letting Rae escape.

“Your majesty.” Jayne appeared. “Rae is outside roaming the village.”

“She’s not safe, you idiot!” She smacked him and it echoed around the hall like a gun shot. “You were supposed to be making the devince to cure her. We don’t have much longer!”

The wizard rubbed his face in disbelief and stood. He pulled from his pocket what looked like a pistol with a pencil thin barrel. Surrounding the barrel were the cufflinks melted down into gem studded rings. Circling the handle was a clear empty tube.

“I just have to fill this with mercury.” Jayne said as he rushed down the stairs.

Victoria followed. As much as she trusted him this was her daughter and alchemy was her specialty. She zeroed in on him in the laboratory and ripped the device from his hands. He looked aghast but she didn’t care. When the tube was filled with mercury she waved her hands over the device.

“Magic within, Tame the wolf. Magic within, Stay the beast. When the moon is full, Keep the peace. Put it to rest, For all eternity. Magic, Make the curse cease.” The pistol glowed and warmed briefly then cooled.

The Queen gathered her courage and strode up the stairs, through the entrance hall, and outside as Jayne followed behind. Screams rang out in the village below and she could hear the familiar howls of her daughter. The moon looked close enough to touch as it lit up the night sky. She used to love the moon and all its majesty but that was before it became the cause of all her pain.

In the middle of the village square, in the softly splashing fountain, was a thin gray wolf. Her jowls dripped with innocent blood and her eyes flashed red. A growl started deep in her belly as she eyed the queen like a stranger. Victoria raised the pistol with a steady right hand and aimed for the wolf’s heart. The shot sounded like the wind whistling through a cavern as it soared towards her daughter. It hit its mark and the wolf figure collapsed into the water.

The Queen and Jayne approached the fountain. The hair shrunk until it disappeared entirely. The claws receded and the snout faded into the familiar button nose. Besides this quality, the rest of her daughter was noticeably changed. In front of the queen was an aging woman in tattered clothes. It was still her Rae but without the immortal werewolf inside, her true age showed itself on the outside.

Victoria picked her up and said to Jayne, “I’m thinking we should go back and kill King Henry VIII. We need to get my daughter a new body.”

The Voice

the voice            “You’re safe here.” Every syllable was coated in a balm that soothed the ears and calmed the soul. The heart of the child in the masked woman’s arms slowed down to a normal rate and their eyes shut. This is what complete trust looked like. The building that surrounded them was on fire and coming down quickly.

Traveling at the speed of sound she carried the child up and out of the building leaving behind dark blue streaks in her wake. The two quickly broke through a door hanging off of its hinge out into the night. A woman crying in desperation found her empty arms filled with the body of her sleeping child. The streaks of blue were there briefly and disappeared as quickly as they came.

The undercover hero was heading home. She still had a blanket to finish knitting for her best friend’s baby shower and the season finale of Psych to watch. She managed to sneak back into her apartment without being seen in her pink and green get-up she had just designed. No matter how fast she was able to run, the problem of her identity being discovered was still a very present problem that could endanger her children. Not HER children biologically but the ones she watched over at her day job. The last thing she wanted was for people that wanted her dead to take it out on her children.

She ended the evening holding onto a finished baby blanket for support as she bawled her eyes out during the Psych season finale. After blowing her nose and changing into her PJs she made a cup of chamomile tea to soothe her throat. Her voice was the most important thing and she took great care of it since she was young. The doctor had said, after the unusual case of throat cancer she contracted as a child, that she would never speak again. Despite this assessment the experimental radiation treatment she was given ended up not only healing her but endowing her with miraculous super human abilities. Even so she still had a certain amount of fear that her voice would be lost again.

The next day started out very average. The traffic made her wish she could use her super human abilities to get to work faster. Sadly, the only time she ever got to use her abilities without having to wear a mask was at naptime. People assumed she just had a “way with children” but it was so much more than that.

When she finally arrived at work she ended up clocking in five minutes late.

“You’re late, Leesie!” Her supervisor Faith teased as she whipped by with two giant thermoses of coffee.

“Five minutes, Faith. Five!” Leesie shot back.

“Being late doesn’t create winners.” She giggled.

It floored Leesie how somebody could be so fun and condescending at the same time. Some days work was the most peaceful place on Earth and other days…

The screaming began promptly as she entered her classroom. The room was full of kids ranging from 2-5 years old and two of them were already fighting over a toy.

“Keegan! Justice!” Leesie clapped her hands to get their attention.

They looked at her but in that brief moment of distraction Keegan pulled at the toy harder and was victorious. He shouted gleefully and ran away. Justice sat down on the floor and started to cry. Leesie sat down next to the heart-broken girl and began to sing softly. The tears slowed and gave way to hiccups. Justice grabbed Leesie’s hand and struggled to keep her eyes open.

“You’re okay, girly.” Leesie stroked the girl’s long blond hair. Grabbing a nearby teddy bear she handed it to the girl and stood up to go take care of Keegan. He didn’t get to enjoy peaceful singing but instead was instructed to give the toy back, apologize, and sit in the corner for 10 minutes. He didn’t like it one bit but did as he was told.

Immediately after this issue was resolved another child began shrieking and the whole cycle began all over again. Leesie could tell it was going to be a long day. She almost wished she was back in that burning building.

When the workday mercifully ended she was out the door as fast as humanly possible. Hand on her car door she heard a shout from behind her. She turned around and saw Thomas practically bouncing down the sidewalk. He was very slim with curly strawberry blond hair and playful blue eyes. He originally was from England but decided to take his college education to the states while working as the maintenance man at the daycare. Leesie had always thought he was a dreamboat but currently she was already seeing someone who had the biggest heart for children next to her own.

Slightly out of breath Tom said, “So, there are some minor repairs needed in your room.”

“I heard.”

“Oh?” Tom cocked his head to the side in adorable confusion.

“Yes, Tom. You already told me.” Leesie laughed.

“I did?” Tom had been a bit scatterbrained ever since she met him so this was quite normal. “And I mentioned you would be in Sally’s room?”

“Yes.”

“Did I also tell you that I want to take you to dinner?”

“Yes, Tom, multiple times. I can’t…Jared and I are…”

“That’s right. Of course. I forgot.” Tom ducked his head sheepishly. “My offer stands in case…”

“Get out of here!” Leesie laughed and shooed him.

“Gotcha! You have jolly fun. Don’t tell me how it goes. My heart will break.” He winked as he backed away. His long gangly legs backed into the fence surrounding the daycare playground and he went toppling into the wood chips. As if nothing had happened he leapt to his feet and continued backing up. “I’m okay. Bye!” He waved.

Leesie rolled her eyes as she climbed into her car. If he been more forward with her months ago she would’ve said yes. As it stood she was going to dinner with Jared and she didn’t want to ruin that.

When she arrived at home she dressed in a nervous rush and was ready to leave an hour early. It was the longest hour of her life as she waited patiently for Jared to pick her up. They were most likely going to a very classy dinner because he had more than enough money to put Oprah to shame. Money wasn’t the selling point for her though. Most women envied her for catching such a wealthy man but for her it was the fact that he cared so much about kids and how he used his money to help the unfortunate. He was known as a philanthropist in town and not only that but he was easy on the eyes.

When he knocked on her door, the hour had not properly prepared her for his appearance. He was extremely tall with shoulder length chocolate brown hair, greenish gray small eyes, and a clean-shaven square jaw line. What completed the picture were his strong hands holding a single white rose attached to a body wearing a tailored silky black suit like a gift wrapped birthday present. Her favorite flowers were really Gerber daisies but it was the thought that counted.

“For you, my lady.” He smiled and like a gunshot to the chest, Leesie’s heart stopped. For the first time in her life the super natural abilities she had over her voice were no more and all she could do was take the rose, mouth slightly open and tears forming in her eyes. “I’d say you like it?”

“Yes!” She managed to finally say.

“Good.” Jared held out his elbow for her to take and said, “Your carriage awaits!”

She tentatively grasped his arm and he led her outside where he had a limo waiting for them.

“Shut up!” She exclaimed.

“I will not.” Jared laughed as he opened the door for her.

The pair loaded up into the limo. As they rode to the restaurant Jared talked a lot to help calm her nerves. He could tell she wasn’t used to this kind of glamour but he had never wanted his wealth to cause discomfort but to be properly enjoyed. She warmed up as time went on and by the time they were at the restaurant she had full control over her voice.

“So, I saw your press conference video.” Leesie started. “You mentioned programs to help under privileged children grow in a healthy environment and have the same opportunities as you had when you were growing up. What was that about? I was interested.”

“Well, we have a lot of kids in this city that come from single parent households or are victims of drug addicted parents. I want those children to have opportunities to still be successful in school and other areas of life that normally are barred from them by their life circumstances.” He smiled, mysteriously. “And that, Leesie, is all I can tell you for now.”

“Okay. Okay.” She said laughingly. “I won’t press you.”

“I bet you understand first-hand why this is such a big thing for me.”

“I do. We have a lot of kids that struggle with issues at home because of the parenting or lack of parenting.” She sighed.

“I’ll change that.”

Leesie couldn’t believe she was on a date with such a motivated and interesting man. She had only met him a few months ago at a benefit for her work and only last week did he ask her out on a date. Part of her wondered, if they made this a “thing”, how she would break the news to him about her moonlighting as a superhero.

The evening ended with the pair of them taking a jaunt in the park to look at the Christmas lights. Even though it was July, this park looked like Christmas year round. Jared boldly grasped her hand as they walked up a slight incline and her heart skipped a beat.

When they were done they walked back to the limo. They arrived at her home and Jared walked her to the door.

“I had a great time.” She said.

“It was great.” Jared agreed. “I forgot to say, you look beautiful today.”

She blushed. “Thanks.”

“Goodnight.”

“Night…”

He leaned down and kissed her on the forehead. With that he was gone, taking the Christmas spirit she had felt along with him.

The next morning she woke up humming. Despite feeling a little sad that Jared hadn’t texted her since last night, she still knew that she was quite the lucky girl. As she sang she started a pot of coffee, pre-heated the oven for muffin making, and turned on the news on TV.

“This is not the first series of disappearances reported.” The news anchor said solemnly. “Children all over the tri-state area are going missing left and right. Currently the police have no leads. May God be with the families of these children.”

Leesie had stopped singing and almost could physically feel her heart breaking. She tried to stay abreast of crimes happening around the city and especially ones involving children but this had happened so suddenly. She was going to have to listen to her police scanner on the way to work. Her brother had bought her one last Christmas but little did he know it was one of the most useful gifts she had ever received.

She quickly discovered as she listened to the scanner that the police were planning a stakeout in the evening at a probable location for the next kidnapping. That probable location was her work. Sadly, the employees on second shift weren’t very motivated and it was a distinct possibility that if a child was going to get kidnapped it would be on that shift. Last time Leesie had worked second shift all the women were texting their boyfriends and watching Netflix while children were trying to drink Windex.

With that in mind she determined that she would have to be around later to be a security blanket if things went badly. It would be another night for The Voice to make an appearance.

“Leesie?” It was Tom. He was peering at her with an odd twisted expression from the top of a ladder. “You know you’re in the other classroom today, right?”

Her thoughts had distracted her so extensively that she had wandered into her usual room forgetting entirely that it would be under construction. Bits of drywall littered the floor and squares of the carpet had been ripped out. There were even a few patches that had nails pointing straight up, ready to accidently step on.

“Yeah, of course. Sorry, Tom.” She said apologetically and smiled up at him. He was such a geek.

“Just making sure you’re safe.” He winked. “How was dinner with the man of the hour?”

“It was nice.” Leesie said.

“Just nice? Did he astound you with a live Russian circus or buy you a pony?”

“Stop it!” She laughed and left the room.

“You know you love me!” He called after her.

“Yeah right!” She retorted just as Faith was walking by. Her eyebrows were raised in mild amusement. “What?” Leesie suddenly took on a defensive position.

“Just looking.” Faith said, judgment in every syllable. “How was your date with…Jared? Or was it with Tom? I can’t tell.”

“Jared.” Leesie replied. “And Tom is just being friendly.”

Faith still remained obstinately skeptical but Leesie tried not to let it distract her.

The rest of the day passed by calmly which left Leesie feeling even more unnerved. Of course a potential kidnapping would happen on a day that the kids were happy. An hour before the end of her shift Tom popped his head into her room. All the kids were asleep and Sally was busy face-timing her boyfriend of two weeks.

“Lady, would you like to see your room?” He asked, grinning from ear to ear.

“Let me make sure Sally is okay for a second.” Leesie glanced at Sally and saw the girl shooing her out. “Should be fine for a minute.” Leesie conceded.

The pair walked down the hallway and into her room. He had switched out the hopelessly stained pieces of carpet for new ones, patched up the drywall and repainted. It made everything look much cleaner but overall the changes weren’t terribly drastic.

Tom was obviously proud of it so she matched his cheeriness and said as sincerely as she knew how, “Woooowww. Great job, Tom.”

“Thank you.”

Suddenly, they heard a shattering sound from the other room. Both smiles evaporated and the two rushed back to Sally’s room. The door was shut and Leesie tried the handle: it was locked.

She rattled the handle again. “Sally!”

“Here, let me.” Tom said, grabbing his huge ring of keys and riffling through them quickly. When he found the correct key he pushed it into the keyhole, turned, and flung open the door.

Sally was bound and gagged in the rocking chair and all the beds were empty. The window to the far right of the room was broken and the curtains blew around mournfully. Leesie made a beeline to the window and looked out into the falling darkness and saw nothing. Tom was untying Sally who was shaking violently. When he removed the gag she was chattering nonsensically.

“I’ll call the police.” Tom said but Leesie was already gone.

It didn’t seem likely that they had gotten very far and with her speed she would be able to catch up anyway. When she saw taillights in the distance of a rather large SUV she went with her gut. As she neared the vehicle she prepped herself to jump. Silently but quickly she leapt up on top of the SUV undetected. She grasped the black rails that were typically used to strap in luggage. The inside of the SUV was oddly quiet. No screaming children and she wondered if her hunch was right. The vehicle drove a normal speed all the way to the docks. She pressed herself down low enough where she wasn’t immediately noticeable in the dark.

The driver put the vehicle in park and turned off the engine. The door cracked open and out stepped a familiar tall man with long hair.

“Jared…” Leesie gasped.

The passenger door opened and Faith stepped out making Leesie’s head spin with fury and amazement. The pair opened the back set of doors and out stepped her children. They all weren’t speaking but weren’t bound and gagged as she expected. The children were being led to a small little boat tied to the dock. With their backs to her she slipped to the ground and started singing quietly. As she walked she allowed her voice to swell until it echoed around the docks in an ethereal way. Her voice filled the air like sweet perfume and dripped into the ears of all that heard her. Faith’s knees buckled and she dropped into the dirt.

Jared whipped around and his eyes locked with Leesie. His face shifted from surprise to anger to caring. The last expression seemed as fake as the gold buttons on his suit jacket.

“You sing beautifully.” He said simply. The children continued to walk to the boat as he spoke. “So, you’re her.”

She stopped singing and said, “You’re him.”

“What do you mean?”

“Is kidnapping part of your plan to improve children’s lives?” Her voice cracked.

“It isn’t kidnapping. I’m taking them to a better place.”

Leesie glanced at the kids now dutifully sitting in the boat waiting for their captain.

“I liked you.”

“You don’t have to stop. You can be a part of this if you like. I know you want to help these kids too.”

“I don’t agree with taking them away from their families! That’s not right.” Leesie’s hands balled into fists and her arms shook with anger.

“Their parents aren’t fit to take care of them.”

“You aren’t a replacement for their real family. You aren’t god! I work at a daycare not only because I love children but I know that for a few hours a day I can make a difference in the lives of those children but I will never be a replacement for their real family.” Her eyes flashed and she stood her ground.

“Well, I suppose a second date won’t be happening then.” With a flourish Jared placed his middle finger on his temple and energy resonated out from his body and into the air. It threw her backwards and her skull cracked against the front bumper of the SUV.

She was seeing stars but pulled herself to a standing position. She rushed forward and drove her fist into his stomach. He fell back but immediately proceeded to use his mind to lift her into the air. She shrieked and fell onto the ground. Singing shrilly kept her grounded and Jared held his head as pain coursed through his entire body from the top of his head down his spine.

He roared and grasped his hands around her neck. The sound caught in her throat and she gasped for air. Reaching in her back pocket she grabbed at her key ring where she kept her pepper spray and pocket knife. In one quick movement she sprayed his eyes and stabbed his side with the knife. He cried out in pain and collapsed to the ground. She scanned the dirt frantically for a rock or another heavy object. An unusually large bottle lay nearby. She grabbed it by the neck and slammed it down over Jared’s head. It shattered as he fell unconscious to the dirt.

Suddenly, two police cars came screeching around the corner and pulled up next to the SUV. Four cops leapt out and surrounded the scene. Out from the back of one of the cars Tom popped his head out and smiled.

***

            It had been a week since the kidnapping and things had eased into a normal routine again. However, today it was different. Leesie walked into work with a smile on her face and took her place as the new supervisor of the daycare. Faith was now serving time in prison and Jared had been exiled to a place that was the only location reinforced enough to contain him. All the children were back and happily playing.

As for Tom…“Leesie…” He sang as he popped his head out from her old room. “You excited?”

“A little, yeah.” She said sheepishly.

“I got great plans for us tonight.” He said. “But first…” He revealed from behind his back a bouquet of handpicked Gerber daisies. Her heart did summersaults as she took her favorite flowers and held them up to her nose, delight lighting up her face. “They aren’t as beautiful as you.” He said, his eyes dancing.

Things were beautiful and she couldn’t be happier.

The Adventures of Captain Severin

sunset at Friday After 5The loved but respected captain of the ship Maker’s Nomad could feel the deep hunger for gold as she gazed across the stillness of the ocean. Perhaps it was because the sun setting on the horizon cast golden light on nearly everything or maybe she was finally becoming bored of the heart shaped locket she had worn around her neck for six months straight. Work was scarce and scraping the bottom of the financial barrel was making the crew anxious. Eventually, she would be asked to give up her prize. She clasped it tightly at the thought. No matter how much she longed for a new pretty thing to gaze at on lonely nights, she still loved the way the heart fit perfectly in her hand and was deep enough to hide a shot of whiskey.

“Captain Severin I…” The familiar voice of her second in command trailed off as he watched her standing in quiet contemplation. Ben knew if he startled her it might mean his head swiftly leaving his body and rolling down to galley. This was a ridiculous worry, however, because she had ears like a hawk and was familiar enough with the unusual cadence in his speech to not reach for her sword.

“What is it, Ben?” She asked, letting the locket hang from her neck once again and giving him a sideways glance.

“There is a storm brewin’ up ahead. We need you at the helm.” Ben’s dark mustache quivered and she followed his gaze as he pointed a stubby finger to the west. Angry clouds were gathering and pulsating with lightening. The thunder that accompanied it was faint but nonetheless menacing.

“Got it.” Her heart pounded in her ears and excitement rushed through her veins. This was the most action they’d had in weeks next to the cook getting hopelessly drunk and vomiting all over Ben.

The rest of the crew rushed out from all the corners of the vessel prepared to do as commanded. The Captain shouted out orders and immediately everybody was bracing themselves for the storm. Captain Severin took her place at the helm, her long curly hair blowing in the sudden gusts of wind and appearing copper in the fading light of day.

The storm swallowed up the ship into its unforgiving arms and tossed it about. Sheets of ice cold rain drenched the deck and, save for a few brave candles, lightening was the only source of illumination to navigate by. Keeping the ship afloat was proving to be difficult. Shouts from the crew were barely heard as the thunder cracked above.

She had faced more fiercesome storms than this one however, something felt different within this storm than any other she had experienced. The darkness inside was unparalleled and the thunder much louder to where she felt like she was already submerged in the water. She prayed silently that she would have the strength to continue steering and that the crew would have the endurance to make it through the night.

Hours like this passed and it was all she could do to not let go and run to help the rest of the crew. At one point she heard Ben cry out in pain somewhere below deck and Great Beard in the crows nest almost toppled out onto a sail. After hours of chaos the clouds broke and the rising sun was revealed. The thunder grumbled one last time like a child being sent to their room and the storm was behind them. From Captain Severin’s vantage point the crew was all present. Everyone looked like sewer rats after the all night shower but hopefully that would take care of signature smell some of the men carried around with them.

“Anybody dead?” She demanded, still keeping her hands firmly planted on the steering wheel.

“I wish I was.” Digger Graves said from somewhere behind Ben.

The Captain expected him to speak up first. He always had something to complain about which caused most of the crew to not like him.

“We wish you were too.” Ben shot back. The crew laughed and Digger marched off down to the galley where he could complain to the barrels of apples instead.

The Captain, feeling that the ship was moving safely across the waters without her assisting it, approached Ben and said, “Make sure everybody is accounted for. I’ll check below deck.” He nodded to acknowledge he understood. She cupped a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the face with her steely blue eyes. “Take it easy on Digger.” He nodded again.

Despite being the only woman on board the Maker’s Nomad she garnered more than enough respect to simply make a request and it be carried out. No ifs, ands, or buts. Her knee high leather boots made muffled clunks on the stairs as she went below deck. The sight that greeted her at the bottom was Digger sitting on a barrel sharpening his cutlass. His legs were unusually long and skinny in comparison to his barrel-chested torso. His curly dark black hair was plastered to his head and his dark eyes sparkled like an ink well.

“Digger, you better be getting ready to slice up some potatoes for the cook and not preparing for a fight.” Captain Severin said.

“Where does he get off making a fool of me in front of the crew, huh?”

“It was a joke. You know how Ben is. He doesn’t ever make good jokes.” It was true. Ben had never been popular among the crew but he really wanted to be, even at the expense of somebody else.

“We just went through hell. I’m lucky to be alive and he doesn’t care!”

“We’re all lucky to be alive. No need to start a fight now that we’re in the clear.”

“Yes, Captain.”

She pivoted on her heel and proceeded to check the barracks. They were empty save for the cook, who appeared to have slept through the whole storm. An empty bottle of whiskey lay by his head. Captain Severin could almost taste it on her tongue. She shook her head fiercely and left the area. Last time she started drinking she couldn’t stop. She felt alone. People got hurt.

“Captain!” Ben came barreling down the stairs shouting. “We have a castaway.”

Her eyes widened and she sprinted past the flustered second in command to go topside. There was a drenched figure laid out on the deck surrounded by the curious crew. The crowd parted so she was able to get a closer look. His eyes were closed but he was definitely breathing. His clothing was similar to that of the northern countries. He was naturally built for strength and not speed which was the only reason he survived the storm.

“We found him clinging to some driftwood out in the water.” Ben informed her. “I think he’s a trained fighter from the north.”

The newcomer started to stir and the Captain reacted quickly. The fighter awoke from his sleep with a sword at his throat.

“Am I still asleep?” The man asked, as he took in his surroundings. He held his gaze with the Captain as he said, “I only ever see pretty women holding swords in my dreams.”

Some of the crew chuckled behind their hands at the sound of this and Captain Severin snapped, “If you had a sword you could live your dream all the time.”

“I could never be as pretty as you.”

The Captain pressed her sword into his skin drawing a drop of blood. “If you try and flatter me again I will slit your throat.”

A look of shock and amusement crossed the man’s face and he laughed nervously. “I’m sorry.”

“Respect the Captain.” Ben growled.

“Captain?” Another look of shock overtook the man’s face.

“I’m Captain Severin. Do you want to be a body without a head?”

“No.”

“I personally think you’d look better.” She sheathed her sword and crossed her arms.

The newcomer sat up and slowly stood. He was a head taller than her and almost twice as wide. His dark brown hair was held back in a wet ponytail and his eyes were green like the sea. The Captain sensed she’d lose in a fight against him but for now he seemed harmless and still a little off balance from his struggle through the storm.

“What’s your name?” She demanded.

“Jakob.”

“What brings you out this way?”

“Is, ‘To see your lovely face’ the wrong answer?” Captain Severin touched the hilt of her sword again. “Okay, okay, okay. I understand.”

After an unusually silent moment the Captain cleared her throat, “Everyone, get back to work. Ben, make sure the cook is awake to make the meal.” The crew grumbled but did as they were told. When everyone was out of earshot the Captain slowly approached Jakob and looked him dead in the eyes. “You ready to talk?”

“Have you heard of the Island of Vis Vires?”

The Captain’s eyes widened. “I haven’t heard anybody but my mother talk about that place. It’s a story.”

“I’ve trained since I was eleven years old to be a fighter. I’ve learned everything I can and am unmatched in my hometown, but I won’t be unstoppable until I find the Acerbus Stone. It removes fear and only leaves room for strength.” His eyes were sparkling with excitement.

“It’s a legend. It’s a story you tell kids to make them believe fear can be destroyed. It can’t.”

“There’s gold too.”

The Captain could feel the hunger in her soul at the sound of this. She tried to appear uninterested as she asked, “Gold?”

“I know the operation you’re running here.” Jakob mirrored her posture by crossing his arms as well and whispered, “You’re pirates.”

“I think you just like the thought of being headless.”

“You know you’re interested.”

“Let’s pretend I am. How far is it?”

“About a day’s journey north.”

She rolled the idea around in her head. His face was honest. She felt she could trust him. “My ship. My rules” She said finally.

“Of course.”

“You will do everything I say.”

“Okay.”

“You get your stone and we’ll take the gold.”

“That’s fine.”

“If you break any of these agreements I’ll break your neck, got it?”

“Got it.”

She held out her hand to shake and he grasped it tightly. “Pleasure doing business with you. Now, like a pretty girl, I want you to go help the cook in the galley make breakfast. I doubt he’s sober.”

A white smile lit up Jakob’s face and he said, “Yes, Captain.”

This made her very agitated. He seemed to find her amusing and she didn’t like it. He seemed glad to do everything she ordered him to do and found reasons to constantly ask for more jobs. If he wasn’t careful he would push her into drinking again. At the meal Jakob was singing songs while passing around the rolls. She wasn’t used to not being the center of attention and this made her even angrier. The crew was warming up to Jakob already and the day had just started. The cook drunkenly sang along with every tune at mealtimes and Great Beard had been caught on multiple occasions asking Jakob the best way to fight somebody if they are standing over you with a cutlass. The final straw was when she found Ben comparing muscle tone with the newcomer.

“Ben, where are you supposed to be?” Captain Severin asked, hands clasped behind her back.

In mid-flex the second in command looked dumfounded. “I haven’t a clue.”

“Those muscles might better serve their purpose if you were steering instead.”

“But you always…”

“Go!”

“Yes, Captain.”

When Ben was gone Jakob said, “Need me to do anything?”

“I need you to stop distracting the crew.”

“The conditions are perfect for sailing right now. The crew is bored. I’m just keeping things interesting.”

“You’re keeping them from their jobs.”

“Are you always this uptight?”

“I’m not uptight.”

If truth be told though she had been a lot more uptight since she had stopped drinking. Everybody on the Maker’s Nomad had grown to love her and knew that having fun was always something they did on slow days. But she was very possessive of her domain and Jakob was taking over and she hadn’t had a good drink in weeks.

As evening fell, the crew settled around the table for dinner. Captain Severin took her place at the head of the table and grabbed a handful of rolls. Everybody began chattering amongst themselves. She was pleased that there were no interruptions but as soon as this thought entered her head a single note rang out from the dusty piano in the corner. There sat the cook with Jakob leaning against the wall. The cook played like he was sober and Jakob sang like he was drunk. The crew clapped and cheered as the song told a story of a beautiful lady that couldn’t decide between two lovers.

Jakob looked over and saw that the Captain wasn’t joining in with the fun but instead cramming a bunch of food in her mouth so she could quickly escape to her quarters for the evening. As if by magic, the fighter produced a glass filled with a clear nasty smelling liquid and demanded she drink.

Still with a chunk of bread in her mouth she gulped down the entire glass. It burned its way down her throat and the smell seared through her nostrils like peppermint. She swallowed the roll and followed that with a sip of the red wine to chase away the horrible aftertaste. It wasn’t immediate, but after awhile the familiar giddy feeling came washing over her and any thoughts of turning in early for the night were forgotten. The crew remembered what it was like to have fun again and Jakob slowly disappeared into the background as Captain Severin took her proper place center stage to sing along as the cook accompanied her.

When crew members began falling asleep at the dinner table Digger said, “Well, I’m not cleaning any of this.” and proceeded to the barracks.

Everybody turned in for the night and barely noticed as Jakob went to the front of the ship, climbed into the lifeboat, and fell asleep.

The next morning the crew was woken up by Great Beard shouting, “Land ho’! Land ho’!”

The Captain dressed quickly and made her way to the front of the ship in time to catch Jakob climbing back on board from where he had been sleeping. “I didn’t tell you, you could sleep there.” She said, trying to keep up appearances by still being angry. After how much fun they all had last night it was difficult.

“Digger said he wanted me to keep him company last night but I refused.” Jakob said.

This brought a smile to the Captain’s face and Jakob basked in his victory.

“Does that look about right?” She asked, pointing at the piece of land about a half a mile away.

“Looks like how I imagined it. Very rocky.” Jakob stated, nodding his head.

The island looked fierce and only a small percentage of it was dotted with trees. The rest of it was a maze of caves and boulders. The excitement built as the crew all gathered on deck to see the miracle of dry land for themselves. Being at sea had its perks but nothing could replace that elation they all felt when they knew they’d be on solid ground soon.

When they were close enough to land Ben dropped the anchor and the crew, minus the cook, climbed in the lifeboat loaded down with some food, their weapons, and empty sacks for carrying the booty. After rowing several yards the boat gently bumped the shore and Ben obediently tied it to a stable rock jutting out over the water. The rest of the crew climbed out and Captain Severin shoved her way up front to lead the search. Jakob was not that far behind. The climbing was very involved and Digger immediately started complaining about being the one to carry all the food supplies on such rocky terrain.

After several hours the ground began to dip down into a rocky valley. In the center of this valley was a wall of stone and to the far right of this wall there was a cleft.

“Ben, do you have the torches?” The Captain asked.

Ben nodded and began preparing them to light. She took the first lit torch and sidled through the cleft into the darkness below. It almost felt like walking down a shallow flight of stairs. After a few feet the cleft opened up into a cave that echoed with the sound of distant running water. Anxiety flitted in and out of her mind and she tentatively walked deeper into the cave.

“It’s clear from what I can see.” She announced.

Jakob struggled through the gap but eventually was able to squeeze through, the rest of the crew in tow. They delved deeper and as they did the sound of water became louder. About a quarter of a mile down the cave took a left turn down another type of staircase. As she reached the bottom she found the source of the sound. Bubbling up from the dirt floor was water gushing over piles of stones and into a pond. In the center was a perfectly smooth black stone the size of a coconut sitting on top of a more glorious sight still: gold.

“It’s the Acerbus Stone.” Jakob whispered.

Captain Severin didn’t hear him. Her eyes were fixated on the gold. She knelt down by the pool’s edge and reached in. Her fingers ran over the cold coins in reverence. As soon as the crew saw the prize, whoops of joy echoed all around the room and everybody raced for their share. It was a free for all as the pirates took the loot and stuffed it in burlap sacks.

The Acerbus Stone was shoved aside in favor of the more beautiful treasures but before it became completely lost in the shuffle Jakob pulled the stone from the water and backed away from everyone. Suddenly, the blackness of the stone seeped onto his hands and began covering his whole body. Nobody turned to look until he cried out as the shadows pulled at his skin. The stone was white now and glowing brightly. The fears inside his heart were being pulled from him and being fed back into the stone. In the room fear became a tangible substance. It filled the air and the stone seemed to swell as the blackness was swallowed up. It continued to grow at an alarming rate.

“Calm down!” Captain Severin commanded but nobody was listening.

Digger was already running up through the cave with his bag of gold and all the food. He slipped past Jakob just before the stone grew big enough to block the exit. The Captain didn’t want to let the fear overtake her but she had never faced it in this manner before. Since she was a young girl she was afraid of so many things, but at this point in her life she was a leader and fear wasn’t a luxury she could afford. Fear, like anything else, was a choice and even in its physical form, could be defeated by taking action.

She grasped Ben’s hand and began to dance. She sang the song from last night at the top of her lungs. Ben joined in and the fact that he was tone deaf didn’t even matter. As the singing echoed around the space the Acerbus Stone shrunk. The stone was still pulsating and Captain Severin could tell it was still waiting for more fear to capture. A quivering Jakob still stood at its mercy, his sea green eyes now black. The rest of the crew started to sing and dance. The Captain approached Jakob and opened the locket around her neck to pull out the hidden shot of whiskey. She uncorked it and poured the liquid into his mouth.

“Sing.” She commanded. “Loosen up a bit.”

His voice quivered but he sang as he was told. Color returned to his eyes and the Acerbus Stone shuddered one last time as the rest of the blackness cleared from his skin. It fell to the ground and the fear in the room entirely dissipated. As it did his voice strengthened and his smile returned. He placed the stone back in the pool of water and the pirates made their way out of the cave with their treasure, still singing.

Chasing Wind

IMG_2959“But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless–like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere.”-Ecclesiastes 2:11

Some days my heart refuses to be content. Like an unruly child my emotions fire every which way and I am left feeling like all I want is somebody to tell me how special I am then provide me with a detailed map of what I am supposed to do next in my life. I want some sign from above that rocks my very soul and plants my feet firmly in truth. I want to be filled with a sense of urgency and the vision to see where I must go. Instead, I am left with apathy and a puzzle box filled with discarded, jumbled-up pieces of hopes and dreams. My soul hungers for more and yet I feed it only the bare minimum. This spiritual anorexia is to keep me from feeling pain because how can you hurt when you are blissfully unaware? “The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief. To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.” (Ecclesiastes 1:18 NLT) Wisdom opens up my eyes and by extension my heart. This delicate part of me feels as though it cannot take anymore pain but starving it keeps me from feeling anything at all. I continue to drift in a haze of ignorance.

And yet…

God, You lay before me blessing after blessing and I am left feeling so completely undeserving. My behavior has not warranted being rewarded with such extraordinary love. All You want is for me to set aside my pride and my fear. You want me to embrace knowledge and embrace the gift of compassion You gave me. If my heart bleeds for those that suffer how much more has Your heart bled for me as I have flailed between belief and unbelief? You allowed Your son’s blood to be spilled for me. How can I even repay that? If You were simply a man I knew that had given up his son’s life for me, I would have no idea how to even make things right.

That is the flawed logic in my thinking: I cannot make things right.

Your grace needs to be enough. That is the only way to make things right: taking our broken hearts to You to be mended is all You want. We are enough as long as our belief is real and our hearts are genuine. Lord, let me simply collapse in Your arms and rest. I am exhausted from chasing the wind and all I want to do is chase You. Enable me to overcome the severe case of apathy I have let dwell in my heart and reignite my passion. The world needs compassionate people on fire for the Creator of all things.

“‘Go out and stand before me on the mountain,’ the Lord told him. And as Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain. It was such a terrible blast that the rocks were torn loose, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.”-1 Kings 19:11-12

Dear You,

100_1104Are you sitting comfortably? Comfort is important before we begin to talk. I’m pretty comfortable in my thick charcoal gray sweater and grasping a penguin mug filled to the brim with hot coffee. How do you like your coffee? I was told once that how a person enjoys their coffee says a lot about them. Me? I usually mix in three spoons of sugar and a couple drizzles of creamer in mine. If I can get my hands on some Bailey’s Irish Cream I might put a shot of that in but that’s only on special occasions.

Anyway, 2014 was pretty rough from what you’ve told me. I’ve been with you from the start. My heart got wrapped up in that pain of yours and all I wanted to do was curl you up in my arms and rock you back and forth until the pain was just a dull ache in your soul. I can’t do that though. In school I was told that any problems the client is experiencing must be understood but not felt. We were also told not to use contractions so I hope you understand that I cannot use them anymore from this point on.

So, how are things? I know you have lost a lot. Just remember that the loss you are feeling will pass. There are grander things ahead. When something is taken from your life it is making room for better things.

What do you stand for? What makes you come alive? It is impossible to live life to the fullest when your feet are not firmly planted in assurance of who you are and what you stand for. Have you forgotten the things that brought joy to your heart? Never forget. That is the quickest way to fall into depression. Do not rely on people for happiness. Only God can give you that joy that never ends. He gives you those passions that start a fire in your heart. Find ways to use that fire to change the world. When you use those gifts the worries in your heart become smaller. Reach out to others instead of retreating inside and tearing yourself apart.

Why do you lie to yourself? Why do you allow the negative thoughts to swirl in your mind like a hurricane? I wish you could see what I see. Not only do you shine but you have so many uniquely beautiful qualities. People will love you when you choose to see the beauty within. Yes…acknowledge the faults but move forward from the mistakes.

Who has not screwed up in their life? Everybody has at one point in time. So you are not any less worthy than anybody else of love or respect, happiness or fulfillment. Everybody needs to talk about things and everybody goes through valleys at times. While you are going through the valley do not forget that it will not last forever and eventually things will start going up.

So…how do you feel? We will do this again around the same time next week. Until then call me if you need me.

Starstruck

mysterious rainThe loneliness dripped down the rails of the four-story fire escape like a slow acting poison. Wind came in bursts that chilled to the core and made people wish it would just snow already. It was so dark outside that the small gas station next door looked like a star in the middle of a vast universe of miserable dampness and the occasional speeding comet-like car.

The delicate hands of Martha Grey held tightly to a foam cup of steaming hot coffee, her eyes glued to the television where lottery numbers were being chosen at random. The booth she occupied was obnoxiously orange and the table looked as though it hadn’t been wiped down after a long day of business. All the other seats were empty and the black and white checkered floor gleamed after just being mopped. Martha made no moves to even drink the coffee in front of her. To an outsider she appeared as though she was so focused on awaiting confirmation that she had struck it rich but the locals knew why she was there.

In the back of the store a woman named Benita Garrett sang loudly along to the radio as she did every night around midnight. Her demeanor was suited for the nightshift. She never seemed to care that people thought she was dressed like it was Halloween 365 days a year. Martha’s lips moved silently as if she were trying to sing along but nobody could compete with Benita’s volume.

“Chick!” Benita said popping her head around the corner. “You win the lotto yet, girly?” Martha shook her head. “I’m just playin’. I know you don’t do nothin’ like that.” Today she was not only wearing cat ears but a floor length orange and black striped tail. “Don’t stop bein’ cute.” With a smile as big as the Cheshire cat she went back to singing loudly and cleaning up the store.

Martha sighed and ran her fingers through her hair. Benita was the only person that had ever described her as “cute”. Her hands and feet were very small and delicate but her frame was very sturdy. Her hair was so blond it appeared white and fell in tendrils down her back in a tangled mess. Her green eyes tore themselves away from the screen to glance outside. Her eyes had become so used to the light that trying to see anything outside was laughable. The darkness was all consuming. Even though it couldn’t be seen, the rain was certainly noisy enough to be heard as it started pouring down.

“Is this seat taken?” The familiar voice rode through the silence like a warm breeze.

Startled, Martha knocked over her coffee all across the table. Her eyes locked themselves on the eyes of the gentleman before her in what could only be described as complete and utter disbelief. Wordlessly the man went to go get some paper towels from the restroom. He returned with a wad of them and the girl seemed far too nervous under the circumstances to help. This hadn’t been the first time they had met but she was acting as though it was.

“You’re here.” She breathed as he mopped up her mess.

“Did you not expect me today?” He said, seeming amused. He had a thick head of deep red hair and very pale skin. His eyes were deeply blue and they danced mischievously.

“It’s been…weeks.” She whispered.

“I was detained.” He said simply, the smile never leaving his face.

“I’ve missed you.”

He threw the soggy paper towels in the trash can and said, “I’ve missed you too.” He held out his hand and said, “Ready?”

“Yeah.” Her eyes lit up and she grabbed his hand and they ventured out the front door.

As they were making their way out Benita said, “Y’all have fun now!”

The rain was misting now and the moon had decided to come out from behind the clouds to light up things a little bit more. The pair walked to the apartments next door from the gas station and began making their way up the damp fire escape. They climbed onto the roof and the man walked to the very middle, eyes fixed on the moon. Martha followed. Her hands were visibly quivering.

He grasped both of her hands and rested her forehead on hers. “Why are you shaking?”

“I didn’t think you were ever coming back. After last time…” She trailed off hoping to never finish that thought.

“I always come back.” His brows furrowed with deep concern.

“Not always. Last night I couldn’t sleep because the nightmares plagued my thoughts.”

“What do you mean?”

“I had done something bad and I don’t know what it was but you ran. I was caught and taken away and you did nothing about it. All I remember was being afraid and you were nowhere…” The tears forming in her eyes couldn’t be seen as rain fell down but the tremor in her voice gave her away.

“You’re upset at me over a dream?” He let go of her hands and turned away. The wind had started up whistling around the corners of the roof. A few fearful trees shivered as the rain picked up.

“It was so real, Foster.” She insisted.

“That doesn’t mean that will actually happen.” He said. “I came to see you because I missed you. I didn’t want to argue.” Foster closed the distance between them and wrapped his arms around her.

“I didn’t either but when you’re gone for so long and…” Suddenly Foster snapped his head around and listened intently. His grip around Martha tightened. “Foster, what is it?” Martha was trembling more fiercely now.

He let go of her and raced to the edge of the roof. He peered down below “They’re here…how did…?” He whipped around and grabbed her arm.

Hearts racing the pair sped down the fire escape. Halfway down Martha lost her grip and slipped onto her back. She shrieked as the middle of her back nailed the edge of a cold metal step and her left shoe dropped down into the gravel below.

Foster strung together a few exclamatory choice words that were lost in the wind as he scooped her up with adrenaline fueled strength. Red and blue lights were flashing in the darkness and a muffled radio could be heard.

“Are the police…” Martha started but Foster shushed her as the raced to a non-descript compact car parked under a nearby tree.

Slipping Martha inside, Foster shut the passenger door and hopped in the other side. He started the vehicle with a vengeance and pealed out of the gravel parking lot. The dashboard was lit with blue light and the seats reeked distinctly of cigarettes and dirt.

When they were safely a mile down the road Martha calmed down enough to buckle her seatbelt and say, “You don’t smoke. Why the smell?”

“This is a borrowed vehicle.” Foster said simply, turning on his left turn signal and careening through the intersection on a red light. Nobody was on the roads this late but the lack of respect to traffic laws was visibly unsettling Martha.

“Can we slow down?”

“Not yet.”

“Why? What’s going on?”

“I’ll tell you later.” He grumbled.

“You say that, then I lose you.”

“You don’t need me.” He said rubbed his thumb on her knuckles and kissed them.

“You mean you don’t need ME.”

“I want you.” He said quietly.

“But you can take me or leave me.” Sadness filled the car like the heavy shadow of another person.

“That’s not it.”

They turned down a gravel driveway that sipped in through a line of leafless trees that sat hunched over like old crippled hags. Small bits of gravel were knocked up into the under carriage and clanked around while limbs from the trees scratched at the windows as if asking to be let inside. One light could be seen when they reached the end of the drive. It was attached to the side of a small abandoned looking white farmhouse.

Foster turned off the vehicle and looked at Martha with a grim smile. “This is where I’m staying for now. Nobody knows this is here.

“Okay.” She opened her car door and proceeded to slowly walk up to the front porch.

Foster pocketed the keys and rushed after her. In one motion he scooped her up in his arms and rushed up the steps. Setting her down gently he unlocked the front door. Martha stepped into the musty foyer. The wooden floors chilled her shoeless foot and Foster turned on the lights to reveal a sad looking red rug and wood floors painted a deep red. In certain places the red had been chipped away revealing the light brown of the wood.

When the door was shut behind them Martha gazed around at the crown molding and said, “So, why are you…”

He cupped her chin in his hand and kissed her. Momentarily, all fear dissipated.

When they broke apart he said, “May we never need each other. We’re not two halves that create a whole. We’re two strong whole people that create something powerful.”

“I want you to need me. If you don’t need me why do I exist? When you leave I feel like my life is put on hold indefinitely. There are other guys. Good guys. They won’t stop talking to me and I’m not sure what to tell them. What are we?” She demanded. Foster didn’t speak and looked down at his shoes. “Is this…going anywhere?”

“Follow me.” He led her by the hand through the hallway and into the small red kitchen. Even the oven was red and countertops were all corkboard colored and sprinkled with crumbs from 2 weeks of meals. The floors were checkered white and lime green and a screen door that had duct-tape over the cracks in the glass gave a view out into a vast cotton field lit only by the moon and a distant floodlight on another property. “Sit down.” He gestured at the dining room table covered in papers. She sat away from the spot where the half eaten bagel sat on a paper plate. Foster rummaged in one of the drawers next to the sink and after a minute, pulled out a photograph. “Do you remember this?”

Martha looked at the photo. It was three people. Foster was jumping into the photo from the right with a toothy grin. On the far left stood a man with thick black eyebrows that made him look angry and a forced smile. He had his arm around a woman with pitch black hair and thick framed glasses. She was wearing a pink sweater that clashed with the entire scene in the photo. It appeared as though they were at a bowling alley.

“Is that…me?” Martha asked, fear clouding her eyes.

“Yes.”

“I don’t remember this. I had black hair? And who is that?” She pointed to the man with the black eyebrows.

“That was your husband.”

Martha’s lips moved wordlessly and the photo dropped from her fingers. Her face turned paper white and she looked like she was about to pass out. Finally she said, “Was? I-I-I never married.”

“You did. I was the best man.”

“Am I still married?”

“No.”

“Why?”

Foster bent down, grasped both her cold hands, and said gently, “Til death do us part.”

“He’s dead?”

“Yes.”

She pulled her hands from his grasp and stood up and marched to the sink. She bent over it as if she was about to throw up. “Why don’t I remember?”

“Do you remember why you moved here?”

“I’ve always lived here. You know that.” She said through a sob.

“No, you haven’t.”

“Yes I have! Don’t lie to me!”

“I wouldn’t lie to you.” He opened the same drawer and pulled out a birth certificate. The name one it read “Kimberly Martha Waters, Born: May 23, 1988”.

“That’s not my name.”

“It’s your birth certificate. I know it is.”

“How?!” She shrieked, at this point becoming hysterical. She was wringing her hands and pacing around the kitchen desperately searching for a means to escape. The thunder was closer now and the clouds began lighting up like the white hot embers of a furnace: steady but intense.

“You have a whole other life you left behind. You let yourself forget. The day it happened you decided to psychologically check out. It took me months to find you after you ran away. The psychologist said it’s called fugue state.”

She tugged at her hair as if hoping it would all pull out. The intense concentration could be read on her face as she was processing all this new information. “Why can’t I remember all this? You’re telling me but I don’t believe you.”

One by one he pulled from the kitchen drawer a driver’s license, a social security card, a deed to a house, a college schedule, a nametag from Jack in the Box. “So, Gray was my married name?”

“Yes.”

“My husband’s name was Adam Robert Gray?”

“Yeah…” Foster sighed.

“How long were we married?”

“A year.”

“How’d he…die?”

With the increasing noise of the storm there wasn’t a sound as a man with heavy black eyebrows crept down the hall to the kitchen. Foster was refusing to answer Martha/Kimberly and before he could find his voice to respond the mysterious gentlemen walked into the light.

“Found you at last, Kim.” His voice was like deep like a cello and she knew he was the same man as in her nightmares.

To be continued…

The Ringmaster-Blogtober Day 7

rawrSometimes I’ll get on these thought trains where I begin to question the very fabric of my life. This ends up being very confusing because when you begin to question foundational things, the rest of life swirls in a jumbled mess in your head. Perhaps if I dropped everything to become a trapeze artist at the circus my life would be much less jumbled. I would only need to focus on not falling and dressing positively stunning. I would also have to remember to write letters to the special people in my life everyday and tell them how much I miss them. However, after a few weeks of this I would begin to miss everybody too much my heart would ache. Also, the working conditions would be awful: I’d be working with a bunch of clowns.

I’m quickly learning that running away to the circus isn’t a viable option for a life career or even as an escape from reality. Leotards and sequins don’t become me and real life is already enough like a three ring circus. One ring represents work/school where the lion tamers stand holding off big cats with a chair and a whip. The second ring contains my personal time and a magician sits there making it almost impossible for me to find any of my teas or even a bubble bath. The final ring represents my social life and all you can see are miniature cars honking obnoxiously loud horns. There are clowns inside or Shriners but either way, it’s the most fun ring of them all. Above, in my fancy red sequined leotard and feather hat, I try to walk among all three without falling. I’m terrified of falling. I forget so easily that the Ringmaster has tied a safety net beneath me in case I do fall. However, the Fire Eaters continue to get too close to the netting with their flame and sometimes a gust of wind will blow the net ever so slightly out from under me and my heart leaps in my throat.

I’m so easily distracted by all the noise. In each ring lives are being lived and things are happening. I’m surrounded by so much beauty and so much sadness. My eyes take everything in and all I can do is be overwhelmed. I might miss something or get abruptly knocked off course. What then? The last time I fell, the Ringmaster used his ladder to climb all the way up to the net. I couldn’t look at him. I had practiced and shouldn’t have made such a silly mistake. Despite this, he had grabbed my hands, helped me down, and back up to the tightrope. This time I’m trying to keep my focus straight ahead so I don’t lose my footing but if I do I know that no matter how far away he seems, the Ringmaster will pick me back up again.

Ever wondered what dragons do in their spare time? This dragon just recently started a blog and you should check it out!