eFiction Magazine July Issue

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Editor Managing Editors Essie Holton, Stasey Norstrom Readers Ryan Dorill, Robert Turner

Doug Lance

eFiction is a monthly fiction publication. The editors only accept manuscripts online. To review our guidelines and submit a manuscript, please visit http://eFictionMag.com/Submissions. Correspondence may be sent to Editor@eFictionMag.com. eFiction is available for free in PDF or EPUB format. Subscriptions for the Kindle edition are $1.99 / month and individual issues are $3.99. Visit us online at www.efictionmag.com. ASIN: B004UD88K2 Copyright Š 2011 eFiction Publishing

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Contents Short Stories Ozark Pixies

Madison Woods

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A Bad Zombie Flick

Nathanial Chambers 14

Little Sisters Myra King

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A Wingding and a Prayer

Pam Hawley

36

Save & Go

Ryan Dorrill

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The Letter SL Berg

60

Poetry My Winter Debbie Montaner

72

Contributors 88

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Serial Fiction Blood Binds Tonya Moore

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Episode XIII Book Reviews Fission Chips Essie Holton

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by MCM In the House of Five Dragons

Essie Holton

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by E.D. Lindquist and Aron Christensen The Mystery Box

Essie Holton

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Essie Holton

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Essie Holton

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by Eva Pohler The Virus Coder’s Girl by MCM

Who Is He To You? Monique D Mensah

Day of Days Joshua Willey

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by Sam Shepard

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Ozark Pixies Madison Woods

“Tell me you didn’t just say what I think you said.” He didn’t want to hear that I’d found one. I’d been trying to explain that I’d been seeing something—unusual—since we moved here, but he wouldn’t listen. He just told me I was seeing things, that my imagination was overactive. After he suggested I see a doctor, I quit telling him about it. But today on the way home from work, I finally got one. Those little creatures old folks spoke of but no one had ever seen. Pixies. Only she was dead and badly mangled so she didn’t look much like anything at all. It was definitely one, though. I could tell from the hair and the tiny bird-beak upper lip. Would have been a cute little thing, nothing at all like what I’d heard them say. “Okay, but I found one and you just don’t want to admit it,” I said. When I scooped up the handful of brown cloth and black fuzz, she moved ever so slightly. A furtive glance toward my husband confirmed that he had not seen what happened. He’d already turned to go inside, probably to veg out with the television, and he wouldn’t have cared anyway. Well, you just missed your chance, buddy. I quietly tucked the pixie into my pocket and went over to the barn

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and up into the hay loft. When I laid it on top of one of the bales of alfalfa, she moved again, so I took off my jacket and laid her on top of that instead. Apparently I hadn’t killed her after all. She sighed. Earlier today, she was staring at the underside of an umbel of flowers on the side of the road. She jumped up toward the flower, I swerved and skid to a sliding stop in the gravel, and she got stuck in my car’s grill. My intention wasn’t so much to kill her as it was to just make her stay there so I could get a good look. And maybe finally prove to someone else that I was not going insane. After I finished straightening out her dress and unfurling her tiny curled up legs, she finally opened her eyes. The first thing she did was grimace and shut them tight again. I leaned in for a closer look. She opened her eyes and mouth wide, exposing rows of needle sharp teeth and made a loud shriek. Definitely not cute anymore. Propelled by some force other than wings, as she had none of those, she slammed into the side of my head and clamped those needleteeth down onto my earlobe. I yelled so loud I didn’t hear Russell slam open the door to the barn and run up the ladder. “What’s wrong? Hornets?” he asked. While looking around cautiously, he approached to see what the source of my distress might be. “Get her off!” I pointed toward my ear and his face wrinkled

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into a look of disbelief. He reached for the pixie and tugged, but she wouldn’t let go. “Hold on,” he said. “I’ll squeeze the jaws and it’ll let go.” He was laughing so hard he could hardly speak. I wondered what had gotten into him. “It’s not funny. You see it now, though, don’t you?” He just laughed and disconnected the damn thing from my ear. He threw it onto my jacket and I saw a blue-belly skitter down and run behind the stack of bales. “What the hell are you doing up here? A little old for putting lizards on your ears, aren’t you, Norma?” “No way—I swear. It wasn’t a lizard. I’m telling you, it was a pixie, and she had a mouthful of teeth like a mole.” He wasn’t listening anymore, just shaking his head walking toward the ladder. “If you don’t get over this, I’m going to have to call in the white coats, girl. Let it go.” I followed, still numb from shock. “Russell, I promise,—” “Let it go.” He started down the ladder and paused a second once his head cleared the opening in the floor. After exhaling loudly, he climbed the rest of the way down. Once I heard the barn door shut behind him, I turned my attention to finding the pixie.

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Where was the little beast? “I know you’re in here. Come out. Now,” I said. She had to be in the hay stack somewhere. Just as I was getting ready to move the first bale out of the way, she materialized on the top of my jacket wearing a smug look on her wrinkled little face. “Why did you do that? He already thinks I’m nuts, but you could have set the record straight,” I said. She spoke and her voice was squeaky and unpleasant on my ears. “You saved my life, and for that I’m now indebted to you, but only you can see me for what I am.” Wait a minute…did she not remember that I was the one who nearly killed her? “Okay…” I said and eyed her with suspicion. “What does it mean that you’re ‘indebted’ to me? And why the hell won’t you let anyone else see you?” That was the whole reason I’d taken her. My ear was throbbing because of her bite and I wondered if pixies carried diseases of any sort I needed to know about. I rubbed my ear and squinted at her. “You shouldn’t even see me, but for whatever anomaly gave you sight, you can. And now I’m going to have to follow your stinking ass around until I see a chance to save your life. Don’t think I’m happy about it, either,” she said and flew onto my shoulder. “I’m going to sit right here, if you don’t mind.” I had reactively put my hands back up over my ears, afraid she

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was going to bite me again, but she reassured me she wouldn’t. “Can’t I just go put you back where I found you?” I asked. She weighed no more than a dried leaf. After some thoughtful headscratching, she answered. “Noooooo…. I don’t think you can. But I would like to go outside, if you don’t mind. I need to pull some roots,” she said. Rather than go back into my pocket, she stayed on my shoulder while I climbed down the ladder. Once outside she directed me to the back of the barn where more of the Queen Anne’s lace was growing. She hopped down onto the ground and began rustling through the weeds until I heard her make a screeching noise I think was delight. Pixie delight. “Here,” she said and came out front of my feet heaving a root she’d just pulled from the ground. It was white and looked like a small carrot. She smiled wide exposing all her rows of teeth. I picked it up and dusted off the clinging dirt. It smelled like a carrot, too. “What is it?” She dusted her hands together and wiped them on her dress. “Have you ever tried wild carrots?” she asked. I shook my head. “Smells like a carrot, doesn’t it?” she nodded toward the root I held. “Taste it.” So I did. Her smile broadened the more I chewed, but I couldn’t see what she found so appealing about that root. Finally, I handed it back to her.

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“I don’t really like it. Kind of bland and fibrous, to me,” I said. She just smiled and flew back onto my shoulder and sat down, swinging her bare feet in rhythm to my steps. “How do you feel?” she asked. Since she’d asked, I did feel something strange, but it wasn’t worth mentioning. My feet were tingling a little bit. I still had to feed the horses, so I started toward the stalls. Just then my ankles gave out and I fell to the ground. She stood in front of me with her arms folded across her chest while I massaged my ankle and tried to figure out what had happened. It was the satisfied smirk on her face that made me suspect her. “Do you know something I don’t?” I asked her. She doubled over and laughed hard.“I know lots of things you don’t,” she replied. “Why?” The tingle turned to numbness in my ankles and then spread to my knees. I was sure I wouldn’t be able to stand at all. My suspicion was turning to dread. Maybe the little demon’s bite was toxic. “What’s wrong with me? Did you poison me?” “Maybe,” she said. My ear was still throbbing a little. I felt it to see if it was still bleeding or swollen. She grimaced. “My teeth didn’t poison you, if that’s what you think,” she said. “But that carrot you ate was no carrot.” My upper thighs turned leaden and the tingle crept to my hips.

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First an area would tingle and then turn numb, moving steadily upwards. Sweat beaded on my forehead. “Russell!” I screamed. Behind the barn where I’d fallen was out of hearing range from the house, though, and I knew he wouldn’t come. The numbness moved to my waist. I couldn’t drag myself toward the house because I couldn’t make myself lean forward. “What do you mean – what is going on with me?” She hopped onto my foot. “It wasn’t carrot. It was hemlock. And in about two or three minutes, your diaphragm will go numb. Know what that means?” “Just quit talking and help me. Please!” She stooped down and eyed me, waggling her head from side to side. “Yes. I guess if I give you the antidote, it would be considered a life-saving measure. Do you agree? If I do, it’ll release me from my bond to you,” she said. Scratching her head, she talked more or less to herself. “If I let her die, I’d be released from her, but then I’d be indebted to her next-of-kin and I’d still not get to go home. But then again, she did try to kill me. It was only after that which she’d saved me. Maybe I’m not so indebted to begin with…” While she paced back and forth I could hear my own heartbeat measuring out the precious few minutes left of my own life. “What is your name,” I asked her. She looked at me, surprised. “Esmeralda.”

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“Esmeralda, I promise. If you give me the antidote, I’ll never hurt you or your kind again. I’m sorry for hitting you with my car. I didn’t mean to kill you, didn’t mean to hurt you. I just wanted to get a closer look,” I said. The tingle started above my navel. She fumbled around in her tiny pocket and brought out a few dirty seeds. After blowing those off she crept up my chest to stand on my shoulder. I was trying to slow my heart rate down in the hopes it would slow the poison’s progression, so I stayed focused on my breathing and ignored her. For as long as it took to hover in front of my mouth and place the seeds inside, she lingered. Then she was gone. I knew there was no remedy for hemlock. But she knew things I didn’t.

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A Bad Zombie Flick Nathanial Chambers

The infernal beeping of my alarm wakes me instantly. Sitting up and slamming the clock into the off position, I rub the sleep from my eyes. I feel drained, as if I haven’t slept at all. I cannot seem to remember the last few days. Checking the date on my cell phone, I decide I must have slept wrong because the date is as it should be, one day past yesterday. Shaking it off, I step out of bed and allow my feet to greet the cold floor of my suburban condo, but in the back of my mind I know something is off. My morning routine is exceedingly boring and mundane, but today is piling on the queer. Having made my breakfast and grabbing my orange juice, I stroll out into the yard for my paper. Before I am close enough to pick it up, I can see the off-white sheets of paper decorated in black ink. Today though, the lines of ink make only an outline for blank squares where there should be text or pictures. I step toward the paper, but before I pick it up I suspiciously peer around the neighborhood. I see Ms. Walters across the way, cup of java in hand and dressed in a robe not completely different than my own, bending over, attaining her own paper, and strolling back into her home on North Rutledge Road. They must have had an issue with

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the printing press, I decide, if Ms. Walters’ paper is of the norm. I will have to call about that paper boy not giving a damn. He must have noticed the screw-up. Content with the explanation I had formed, I strut back into my small abode to get ready for work. My breakfast, while delicious, is just not the same without my paper. I will have to get a new copy when I stop for my morning cup of coffee. There is something great about wearing a suit to work, it makes one feel important, makes me feel important anyway. That is just how I feel as my leisurely gait takes me to my green boat of an American sedan. I am new blood at my job as a stock broker. Even though my work day is hectic and stressful, I take pride in what I do. I enjoy what I do. This old Buick really does need to go. I am going to upgrade as soon as I get my first raise. Thoroughly pleased with myself and my new decision, I throw the old piece of crap into reverse and hit the gas, only looking in my rear-view just in time. A stout black SUV narrowly avoids getting T-boned by me. Rolling down my window to yell a passing apology to the driver of the behemoth, I come to the conclusion that my time is being wasted. He didn’t slow down or even swerve to avoid my car, though it had come within a hairsbreadth of smashing into his investment. Something indeed was different about today. Again, not letting myself get too down or distracted, I put the incident temporarily out of my mind, finish pulling out my drive, and head through suburbia. It takes me only a minute or two to enter town

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from where I live—one reason I picked my condo was its proximity to my office—and I soon enter traffic. The SUV is approaching the red stoplight ahead.I switch lanes, curious to see who the driver is. As I pull up beside him and take in his middle-aged, near balding head, he doesn’t even glance my way. Something else strange is how straight all of the ten other cars are stopped at this traffic light. I have never seen such precision before. Each of them is perfectly in line with the vehicle in front of it and all have seemingly the exact same distance between them. My car is the only one displaying any notion of randomness or indifference. The bald driver next to me sips from an on-the-go coffee cup and begins to move forward; everyone moves forward as in sync as when stopped. Except, of course, for anyone behind me. It’s as if the cars around me are on guided rails. This day is getting more and more strange. On the way to my coffee shop, there is no change to the oddness of today’s adventures. I don’t hear a single horn honking, pedestrian yelling, or anything else for that matter. The cars behind, opposite, and to the sides of me all display the same thing, nothing amiss. Vehicles pass through intersections in perfect parallel lines, never wavering in distance or speed. No one I pass has made eye contact with me. You know when someone passes you, or you pass someone, and as it happens your eyes lock for a brief moment? Not once. The aligned procession of cars fills the drive through at the coffee shop, and those parked are slipped evenly between yellow lines.

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I check my watch. I have a few extra minutes before I need to be at work, so I’ll go in, sit, and read the paper. I park my green ship in one of the few remaining spots next an oversized truck and head inside. The aura of a nice coffee shop has always been pleasant for me. I love the groups of people in them. Some are singles reading a book or perhaps writing one, some are old couples still so much in love after countless years together, and even others are groups of three or four who’ve come to mingle with their friends over coffee and pastries. Today, all of the groups remain quiet. They are all here, the couples, the singles, the groups, but as they sit and sip their morning brew, they waste not a movement. Stoic, perched in chairs with straight backs and rigid bodies, all who are present for this morning ritual do nothing but stare and drink. The line is so long that I’ve barely made it through the door. Yet, I can still make out the eyes of so many of them, blank, even soulless, ever staring, never wavering. Even as they blink, the motion is purely of requirement. I bet they wouldn’t blink if they didn’t have to. The only voices I hear are those of the baristas as they yell to the customers whose drinks have been prepared. The line moves forward. Everyone steps left foot first, and the right is then brought to meet it. It is almost military like, as if we are in some drill and ceremony and there is an audience whose eyes are concentrated on us; we must be perfect. Getting closer to the front of the queue, I recognize the baristas there and decide I will question them on what is happening today, why everyone is acting so strange.

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I feel as though I have stepped into an alternate reality or some bad zombie flick. I am third in line now. I am close enough to see the sweat on the brow of the man behind the counter. And as I watch the man, it occurs to me that he, too, appears off in some way. As I ponder this, the line moves one person, and I am second up now. It is his eyes, they are different from the rest. They are...crazed. He doesn’t smile, but it’s as if his eyes are laughing. Not just laughing, cackling and doing so hysterically. I immediately want to leave, but as I turn to go the short woman, whose head I have just been peering over, steps aside and those insane eyes lock onto mine. Something flashes across his face and his eyes almost stop laughing for a moment. But it is gone in a second, and he asks me what I will have. Matching his stare, the tone behind his simple question hints at a hidden madness within. I am certain I want nothing this man will serve me. “I’ve only just decided I don’t need a coffee today,” I sputter weakly as if trying to convince myself. “I realized that I already had some at the house this morning, silly me. I will just be on my way then,” my voice is becoming more sure footed and steady as I continue on. And with that I spin around and begin to make for the same door through which I had earlier entered. “Nonsense. You waited in line all this time, and you are a regular. I recognize you. Large black, right? So how about I just get you your coffee on the house today and call it an investment for the future,” and

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the money collector’s laugh did seem crazed. As he says these words, as if on cue, a large hulking man pushes through the swinging metal doors that lead into the kitchen and he, too, speaks. “You there, in line, stop that man!” he says this to no one in particular. The line moves, not forward but toward me. I can hear chairs scraping behind me and the shuffling of feet coming in my direction. I see two men at the doors; they appear to be standing guard. Panic seizes me. They are on me in seconds. People are gripping my clothes and pushing me into one of the shop’s wooden chairs. Hands grab my arms and legs holding me there; unable to move from the chair’s uncomfortable seat, I am left to plead that I don’t want anything, to get their hands off me. A woman behind me, who I have seen here before, runs a hand through my hair. She obtains a fistful and jerks back my head so that I am facing the ceiling. I now see that the barista has come from behind his counter with a carafe of java; his crazy eyes watch me and appear almost gleeful. He is smiling now, and it is a most wicked sight. Now terrified, I am struggling with my captors but their hands are too strong. There are too many to fight off. The woman who has my hair reaches with her other hand and forces it in between my teeth, pulling on my jaw until it is opened as wide as it can be. I continue to struggle, to try and bite the woman’s hand but she just pushes harder. She is pushing against my jaw so hard that I feel as though the corners of my mouth will surely rip and continue

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ripping until I have no jaw left connected. The barista lifts the carafe over my head and opens the tap. Near boiling coffee hits my face and neck and goes down my throat. Some of it gags me and I spit up only to choke on it again as more coffee continues to rain down over me. I can feel my flesh as it scalds under the heat, feel the liquid pouring down my chest and burning all the way down my stomach. Unable to breathe, I slowly begin to lose consciousness as my vision becomes blurry. Black specks dance across my eyes, and then there is silent darkness. Opening my eyes I look around me. Did I just blink? Was I asleep? I am at the coffee shop, several people are in line and another several are seated around me. No one takes any notice of me. On the table in front of me is my regular large coffee cup, empty save for a dark ring at the bottom. Then, I feel the hotness of my skin, I take in the stain on my clothes. I must have spilled my coffee! How embarrassing. I check my watch. Just enough time to run home and change before work. Standing up, I feel my brain turn to mush. I feel like I have had enough alcohol to drown a horse and that it didn’t hit me until I just now stood up. Soon though, the dizziness wavers and I am left with a heavy feeling in my head. I tell myself that something is wrong, but the cotton filling my head doesn’t care, doesn’t let me ponder this notion. I fight the dense fog that is trying to take over but there is too much of it, the fight leaves me utterly drained. I find myself outside my car,

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new cup of coffee in hand, opening the door. I cannot remember how I got here. “There is a lot you don’t remember” says the voice in my head, but he is suffocated by the density taking over. I climb into my car and back out of the parking lot, circle the building, and head home to change. The small voice in my head has become nothing more than a whisper. By the time I am merging into traffic on the highway, I am driving in perfect precision with those around me. The distance between my car and the car in front of me does not waver an inch. My speed is exactly the same as everyone else’s. I pull up to the stoplight and stop exactly the correct distance behind the car in front of me. I take a sip of my coffee at the same time as the men in the front, rear and left of me do. The warmth of the liquid filters through me. I listen for the whispering of the warning voice but he says nothing, completely suffocated by the fog.

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Little Sisters Myra King

We’re three little sisters; we’re all nice and new, there’s Mar-gar-et and Ros-lyn Rat and My-ron Eskimo… Myron is a boy’s name, but that’s what it says on my birth certificate: Myron May MacDonald. In a role reversal of A Boy Named Sue, I am a girl named Myron. But when my big sister, Margaret, made up this sister solidarity song, I had no idea of genders or anything outside the fish pond of poverty that was my motherless existence. And when she explained what an Eskimo was, I’d argued that I wasn’t. Until she told me how my feet, when pressed up against her at night in the bed we often shared, were as cold as an igloo. “And your nose isn’t much better,” she’d said, tweaking it. Only six years older than me but wise beyond many adults, Margaret held us together when our father died and we’d ended up in one foster home after another. ‘Why is Rozzie a rat?’ I’d said. ‘She’s nice.’ It was true to a point, the point being how to sharpen the word

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nice. If nice was quiet and shy with a voice to match and rarely heard, then my sister, Roslyn, was nice. Margaret had looked up with a face which showed she was tired of explaining, tired of carrying two little sisters on her back. But all she’d said was, “That way it has better cadence,” and then left it there, hanging, with yet another word I didn’t understand but felt I ought to.

I’ll be ninety tomorrow, ninety candles on my cake, if I choose to have one that is. No one, when they are young, really believes that they’ll get old. Old is for other people who have arrived there somehow, from some parallel universe. Youth plays lip service to old age, as if talking about it will prevent it from happening in the same way one might try and ward off something bad by bringing it to mind, or voice… I want to live till eighty five, that’s enough. I don’t want to get to a hundred, that’s far too old… when I reach retirement I’ll be a recluse with a house full of cats… Some try to demystify it, confront it, but they never really believe in growing old anymore than they do in the death-fairy. But reality has a way of creeping up on you like the dusk. Like a thief in the night—I think that’s from the bible. Something about the second coming and I guess if you want to satirise, old age creeps

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up in seconds, it’s all seconds coming together that makes a life. And what you fit into it. My father, who was a blacksmith, always said life is how you shape it. ‘Myron,’ he would say, ‘you have to make the shoe fit the horse, not the horse fit the shoe.’ And with that metaphor going way over my four-year-old head I would watch, eyes wide, reflecting the flame of the forge, while he banged and fitted and banged and fitted. In between the shaping, the draught horse he was shoeing would drop his hoof with a thud and snort puffs of thin morning breath. No competition for the hissing steam which rose in plumes when father plunged the glowing shoe into the bucket of water. Father would disappear behind that steam. Then the anvil would ring out once again as the next shoe had to be shaped and fitted. Later, Margaret would say I could not have remembered this. I would have been too young, she’d say. But I do remember. She would have been surprised by what I remember. It’s been a month now since I broke my hip and two weeks since the pneumonia set in. Today is the best I’ve felt; last week I wouldn’t have given you a smile for my chances of seeing my ninetieth. But this improvement I know happens sometimes. The patient rallies just

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before they pass away, sending all the relatives into shock: But he looked so well yesterday. He was even sitting up in bed watching TV. Thank goodness I have no one left to mourn me. The nurses are good to me here. I was a nurse once, and I think they respect the fact that I know how the system works and are relieved they don’t have to explain every procedure to me. It’s not much fun being on the other end of it all, though. Much easier being on their side, I tell them. They laugh, prop up my pillows, smooth my sheets and say, “You don’t have to worry about anything, Mrs. Mac.” (Everyone calls me Mrs. Mac, even though I’ve never been married). “You just concentrate on getting better.” And I feel I am improving, my lungs seem to be clearing and my sense of smell has come back, reminding me how much I hate the smell of hospitals. Funny when you think of how I spent fifty years of my life working in them. The last time I was a patient though, was after the fire which killed my father. Margaret and I both had smoke inhalation and were admitted. Rosalyn was fine, she managed to escape the house before it was engulfed by flames or smoke. There is a young girl of about fifteen in the bed opposite to me. She is only just embarking on the realities of life. She had to face the starkest one this morning when the patient in the bed next to hers passed away. Now this girl sits staring at a dinner gone as cold as poor Mrs.

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Claire, the old lady who died. I know when she went, too. It was at two am, the time I cannot sleep. I heard that breath. When you’d been a nurse for as long as I had, you got to know the signs and sounds. I look at the girl until she sees me. “Eat up your dinner,” I say to her stare. “Life goes on. Mrs. Claire was over eighty, she had good innings.” Platitudes, I know, but they are all I can think of at the moment. The girl’s eyes lift into mine. “I didn’t even speak to her,” she whispers. I can barely hear her, but being a little deaf has made me a good lip reader. And then as if trying to make up for the fact she hadn’t spoken to me either, she opens her voice and tells me her name, Amy, and why she is here—placenta previa. When she starts to explain what that is, I tell her, I know. I was a nurse once. Still am, in my mind, but I don’t tell her that. Amy picks up a piece of bread and looks at it as if it’s a foreign object. She takes a nibble, but when she speaks her mouth is empty. “That poor old lady. I heard her moaning through the night. And, Mrs. Mac, they only gave her Panadol.” Her voice is hushed like she is telling me a secret. I lean forward seemingly to join in the conspiracy. “I think she had a stroke,” I say. “There was no way the doctors could have known until they did a scan.” “I know. She was going to have one this afternoon.” Amy looks

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at her watch and takes a shuddering breath. “Now, actually.” I can feel her guilt like a palpable thing. Her reluctance to connect is a dead give away. Perhaps I should offer some words of comfort. In the world of guilt, hers is only a small island. But no less real for that. I fall back on the pillows and push my tray forward a little to stop it from slipping off. I haven’t managed to eat anything, and I feel ashamed of my wastefulness. Even the cutlery is still in its paper wrapper. I can see the ice-cream melting, pooling up the jelly like a miniature green mountain. It’s the end of visiting time. No one has come to our room. If my sisters were alive they would have insisted on being here with me all day. I raise my voice above those fading in the corridor. “Mrs. Claire talked to me yesterday. Just before you were brought in.” Amy nods, and I continue. “She told me how much she hoped her son would visit her, but,” she said, “he’s so busy. And it’s his golfing day and he deserves a break.” Amy’s eyes show a light of hope as if one guilt might negate another, soften it somehow. And I wonder if Mrs. Claire’s son even feels guilty. My guilt has lived with me almost every day of my life. The girl begins to cry. I don’t try and stop her; sometimes tears are what we need. My sister Margaret used to cry every morning at 2:00 AM. Before

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the house fire, I could have slept through a bomb, but Margaret’s crying reset my internal clock and made my sleep as fragile as hers. That’s when she’d sing the song like a lullaby. We’re three little sisters; we’re all nice and new… Father had always wanted boys. I was his last hope. And apart from giving me a boy’s name, he carried it further with the toys he bought me and the games he played. Plastic army soldiers and toy trucks and the killing fields of the garden. “Come with me Myron,” he’d said to me on a Saturday when the wind was messing about with the sulky sun, blowing hot afternoon breath, even though it was only morning. He gave me a bucket and told me to collect all the caterpillars I could find. I was only four years old and these little creatures still held the fascination of life for me; I’d often kept them as pets in jam jars. I hurried around, plucked them from the bushes and the fleshy undersides of plants and wondered what my father could want with them. He was out of my vision and I didn’t see him dig the pit, with its dark sides square and deep. And so, with all the horror of my innocence, I watched as he placed my gathering of caterpillars, their furry coats glowing gold in the sun, in their grave and then, as they tried climbing out, picked

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them off one by one with a slingshot. My protests held no power to stop him. I’d run to Margaret. I knew Roslyn would offer no comfort. That day marked the full stop to any attention from my father. Some things, like female daughters, could not be shaped. A short time after, I found the kitten he’d given me for my birthday, drowned in our little blow-up swimming pool. The one with the fish going nowhere forever around its plastic rim. For the rest of that summer I would not go in that pool no matter how hot it got. After that, Father’s attention turned to my sister Roslyn, but he didn’t try and make her a boy. Later, with the sickening wisdom of hindsight, I knew it was more of a woman he was trying to shape. “They tell me I have to stay in hospital until the baby is born,” Amy says, her voice sounding washed from the crying. “Yes. You could hemorrhage if the placenta detaches itself. Bed rest is best.” Echo words of my nursing days. A little bit of poetic licence, really it’s: Breast is Best. “My boyfriend Trevor,” Amy says, “was coming to see me today, but he didn’t turn up.” I can see now there was more to the crying than her guilt. I wonder how old Trevor could be; this girl barely looks old enough to conceive. I smile at her and she continues, bringing out all the words held

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back in shyness from the day before. Parading them as the future set in hope. She tells me how she really wants this baby and how she would do anything to keep from losing it. Trevor feels the same and she is not so young at sixteen. Her mother was not much older. My gasp at her age brings her head up. “I know I look younger, and I guess it is really young to be having a baby. But I did that course, like, at school with the dolls. You know the ones that are programmed to act like real babies? And Mrs. Mac, I was top of my class. Lots of the other kids’ babies died. Not really of course, but they can tell what you’ve done to them by the data.” I start to tell her it’s a bit different in reality, but I stop my words. She needs encouragement not defeat. I think about my own mother in her last days. The waiting, the hoping, probably for a boy. I wonder if she even had a girl’s name picked out for me. I try to harden myself against her with this thought. But a cold numbness is the closest I get. The doctors wanted my mother to have an abortion. But she couldn’t do it even though the odds were against her carrying full term. Her choice: let me live while she perished. A life for a life. I know I shouldn’t feel guilty but knowing does not make it so. There’s Mar-ga-ret and Ros-lyn Rat and My-ron Eskimo. Father always had work, but there never seemed to be enough

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money. Never enough for shoes or clothes, although always enough for beer and cigarettes. When he was killed in the fire and we lost all our possessions, as few as they were, I didn’t grieve for those or him but for the life I wished I could have had. And the foster homes offered no reprieve; we were never long enough in any one of them to form bonds of attachment. We became known as the Jonas kids. Things always seemed to happen to the families which took us in. Their pets ran away. Their children got sick. Things broke down. Nothing was ever traced directly to us, we three sisters would close up like a pact. But in the end, only the children’s home would take us. I hear arguing in the corridor. A man’s voice pleading, another more authoritative voice stating that visiting times were over. The voices soften. Foot-shuffles and a young man steps through the door carrying a balloon with the words “I love you” shining around it like a banner. He does not see me; I am past the age of notice by a man of such youth. His eyes are for the waif-like girl. ‘Hey Amy, I bought you this.’ The balloon passes between them like an exchange of vows. She takes the string, and before he relinquishes it, they are joined by a hands touch. “This is Mrs. Mac.” The girl indicates with her free hand but the

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boy doesn’t turn around. It’s only when I say, “Pleased to meet you, Trevor,” that he acknowledges me with a half cheek and nod. I leave them to themselves; it is a young person’s world. Although we three little sisters never knew it. But we learned that guilt shapes many faces: the fleeting one of slight regret, the furrowed remorse of survival, or the guilt screwed to hatred as ugly as our childhood. Roslyn was never happy in the foster homes. And as I grew older I learned about her, knew what she was capable of. When I wake, it is to a semi-darkness once so familiar to me on the night shift, the not quite dark, not quite light of the early hours. I think of Margaret waking forever at 2 am, reliving the fire which killed our father and erased our childhood. Took all the remnants of a mother I never knew. Another memory, framed through our bedroom window, of Roslyn running from our house, candle clutched in her hand like a sword. The fire’s glow casting shadows that lengthened down the tracks of my mind. I know Margaret had seen her, she was looking out of the window with me, while the house cracked and burned and pushed seemingly impossible heat against our backs. It was never talked about, and our sister trinity held as strong as faith for all the following years of Margaret’s and Roslyn’s lives. And we never married. I pledged myself to relieve the suffering of

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others while Margaret gave her life to care for Roslyn. I hear myself coughing and then the murmuring voices of comfort. Familiar voices. I sink back in the pillows, close my eyes, listen to those words, our three little sisters song once more played to the tune of my memories and the faltering rhythm of my breath.

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A Wingding and a Prayer Pam Hawley

Every Sunday night at 8 o’clock, Eric lied to Mother. He’d call her after he knew the family dinner was over and the dishes washed. She always started the conversation with something like, “Pastor Reynolds came for dinner tonight. He asked about you. Did you go to church today?” “Of course, Mom,” he would reply crossing his fingers. “How was the sermon?” He could hear the TV in the background, and would imagine his father, sprawled barefoot on the couch, cursing at some football team. “OK. But Mom, you know no one could ever preach like Pastor Reynolds.” That answer popped out of his mouth the first time he’d told the church lie. It had saved him from making up sermon stories full of fire and brimstone or Jesus-loves-me-this-I-knows. In his mother’s mind, the sun rose and set on the mustachioed pastor of their rural church. It made perfect sense to her that any religious solace Eric sought away from home would be lacking. He told himself the weekly lie was an act of kindness. His mother already fretted over him living 200 miles away. She’d never visited,

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but was sure his city apartment was crawling with roaches and surrounded by porn shops, hookers, and crackheads. He didn’t want her fearing for his immortal soul, too, but he hadn’t been to church since he’d taken the job that had required his move to the city. He’d spent twenty years of Sunday mornings sitting with Mom and Dad in the stuffy Methodist church, his butt numb and tingling in the pew as Pastor Reynolds droned on endlessly. Now, he reveled in sleeping in on Sundays. If those lazy mornings cost him weekly little white lies, Eric was willing to pay the price. He didn’t miss watching his neighbors fan themselves with prayer leaflets while Pastor Reynolds shouted for their salvation. What did bother him was that he had forgotten how to pray. He would sit with closed eyes and folded hands listening to the hum of the city below. But his mind and his lips were as empty of words as a desert was of water. It was as if he’d lost his prayer-voice in the constant roar of traffic, the ringing of cell phones, and the cries of street vendors and beggars. The musician who lived next door talked about “creative blocks” when he met Eric in the hallway. Eric figured he must have Prayer Block. Some days, he wondered if he was only wired to pray when surrounded by cornfields and country roads. Other days, he convinced himself that if he’d just go sit in a pew and listen to a hymn or two, he’d remember how to talk to his Maker. But there were as many

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churches in the city as there were bus stops and strip clubs. He wasn’t sure where to start, until he began eavesdropping on the Church Ladies. On most days, the bus he rode home from work was filled with sweaty commuters. Desk warriors in suit jackets buried their noses in their electronic devices while dirt-stained laborers chattered in languages he couldn’t understand. But on Wednesdays, his weekly reports were due, forcing him to stay at the office a little late. On his Wednesday ride home, the workforce was already home having dinner, and the Church Ladies were out in full force. There were three of them. They sat at the front of the bus in the benches with the signs over them that read “By law, you must offer this seat to the elderly or disabled.” They were partial to dark blue dresses and paler blue eye shadow, perhaps because those shades best matched their hair. They shared around Certs and Lifesavers like a drug of choice and kept their hymn books pressed firmly in laps. Eric liked listening to the Church Ladies. They talked of grandchildren, gardening, and husbands they called “Pop” or “The Old Man.” They traded around pictures and crock pot recipes. To him, they were a snapshot of his mother and her friends in twenty years. One day she would have blue hair and gloat over photos of Eric’s sons and daughters. At least, that’s what would happen if a woman besides hawk-eyed, shrill-voiced Angie from accounting ever showed some interest in him.

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So on Wednesdays, he sat near the front of the bus, buried his face in a magazine, and immersed himself in Church Lady chatter. If he glanced up, one of them inevitably offered him a gentle, powderlined smile. It was the day Mabel offered him a Lifesaver that he decided to go with them, to give their sing-alongs, sermons, and fish supper a go. He’d been pretending to read an article on social networking and wishing the bus driver would crank up the air conditioning when Mabel tapped him on the knee and held out the half-eaten roll of candy. “Would you like one, young man?” He smiled and took a lime candy, popping it in his mouth. “Thank you, Ms. Mabel,” he said. “My lands, how did you know my name?” She seemed pleased in spite of her surprise. Eric flushed. “I’ve heard you all talk,” he admitted. “Your friends call you Mabel. Ms. Edna there says you have the best singing voice in your choir.” Eric saw a flush creep over Mabel’s cheeks, darkening her powdery rouge. Ms. Edna patted her bun and nodded approvingly. Even Mitzi, the one who hardly ever spoke, gave him a fleeting and crinkled smile. “You should come hear her yourself sometime, young man. Listen to Mabel sing, and then have a lovely supper. It isn’t always fish, you know. Sometimes we have chicken or beef stew. And there are some young’uns like you there. Mitzi’s granddaughter and several of

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her friends come once a month or so,” Edna finished and eyed him through her bifocals. “Thank you, maybe I will,” said Eric, deciding then and there that he would and not just sometime but that very night. The bus chugged to a stop then and seemed to groan in protest as its doors swung open to the man waiting on the corner. “Oh, Lordy,” Mabel sighed, as he climbed onto the bus. He was short and softly rounded. His eyes were a watery blue, the whites streaked with red. His grey hair stood out in patchy tufts, like the feathers on a newborn bird. Pink scalp peeked through the patches. He was wearing a shirt of the same color blue as Edna’s dress. It was speckled with darker blue flowers and coffee stains. He wore brown knee-length shorts, and the knobby legs that poked out of them seemed far too small and wobbly to support his stomach. His feet were encased in black socks, the right one in a black tennis shoe and the left in a brown loafer. The driver glanced impatiently at the man, waiting for him to drop some change into the receptacle or pull out a bus pass for his fare. Instead, he turned and grinned at the Church Ladies. Edna leaned over Mabel to speak to Eric in a loud whisper. “Don’t look at him, young man. That’s Billy Wingding. He’ll ask you for money. He hasn’t been around for a while, and we thought maybe we were finally clear of him, but I guess God still sees fit to try our patience.”

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Eric laughed in spite of himself. “Billy Wingding? Is that really his name?” “Oh, Sweet Jesus, child, we don’t know. That’s just what everyone’s called him for years and years.” Mabel patted his knee again as if he were a curious child. “Hi, People,” the man they called Wingding yelled. He stood at the beginning of the aisle, shifting nervously from black-shod to brownloafered foot. His voice was childlike and as watery as his eyes. Edna studied the hands she had folded in her lap. Mabel and Mitzi opened their hymn books. No one but Eric looked at Wingding. “Does anyone have some quarters, please?” Wingding continued, cocking his head. “I don’t have all my fare.” “Freak,” someone called from the back of the bus. “Go piss in your hat, asshole,” yelled an even harsher voice. Wingding’s eyed drifted towards the hecklers, and he giggled. The Church Ladies stared at their laps and rustled the pages of their books. The change in Mabel’s purse jingled as she shifted her weight. “But I’m not wearing a hat, and I only need fifty cents,” Wingding said. “Please? I have to go to church.” Eric sighed and rummaged in his pockets, but they were empty. He remembered cleaning them out earlier to grab a Coke and some Cheetos out of the vending machine. He knew he’d find his wallet equally bare. He bought a monthly bus pass himself, and he never carried cash anymore.

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“Go home, Wingding,” Mitzi said firmly. It was the first time she had spoken. She didn’t look up from her lap. “But … I want to go to church,” Wingding replied, louder this time. His voice was becoming a high-pitched whine, and Eric saw spittle bubbling on his bottom lip. He dug deeper into his pocket, hoping a quarter or two had tumbled down deep. No such luck. “Someone give this peckerhead fifty cents so we can get moving,” one of the catcallers in the back yelled. “Sir, you’ll have to pay or get off the bus,” the driver said, in a tired voice that told Eric she’d been through this before. Seeing Eric rummaging, Wingding shuffled past the Church Ladies and halted before him. “Can you help me, sir? I want to go to church,” he said, and clasped his hands together like an excited child. “I’m sorry,” Eric met his gaze. “I really don’t have anything.” Wingding chewed his lip and leaned closer. Eric caught a faint whiff of urine and garlic. “Thank you for checking, Mister.” Wingding said, and touched his hand. Eric forced himself not to cringe. Wingding stepped backwards, and his thigh brushed Mabel’s purse. It shifted again and change rattled. Wingding stared at the purse and then at Mabel, his eyes pleading “Will you help me, Miss?” “Go home, Billy.” Mabel clutched her purse and glared at Wingding. He tottered to the front of the aisle and stood before the driver.

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“I’ll pay you tomorrow, if you’ll take me to church,” he said. “Yeah, after he steals a few coins from the collection plate,” huffed the now not-so-silent Mitzi. “You know I can’t do that, sir,” the bus driver sighed. “Get the hell off the bus so we can move!” This cry came from a heavyset woman in the back, who was holding a crying baby in her arms. Wingding turned to face them one more time. His eyes were filled with tears, and Eric winced at the runner of snot dripping from his nose. Wingding clenched his fists and his lip trembled. “But. I. Have. To. Go. To. Church.” Eric couldn’t take it anymore. “Can’t you help him, Ms. Mabel?” The blue haired lady gave him a sharp look. “Good Lord, of course not, young man! We don’t need the likes of him at Shady Acres Methodist. He’s come before, and he touches everything on the supper buffet with his dirty fingers and takes nickels from the collection plate!” “Sir, if you don’t leave I’m afraid I’ll have to call the police,” the driver said sternly. “See ya, asshole,” another back-sitter jeered. Tears leaked down Wingding’s cheeks now, and his lip glistened with spittle. He swiped at his face with his arm. “You’re all going to hell,” he screamed, then stumbled off the bus. “Thank you, Jesus,” Edna whispered as they pulled away from

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the curb, leaving Wingding standing there with clenched fists and a mix of tears and snot running down his chin. Eric stayed seated when the Church Ladies climbed off the bus at the corner stop beside Shady Acres Methodist. He could still taste the sickly-sweet lime Lifesaver Mabel had given him. After that day, he stayed at work even later on Wednesdays, making sure he missed the bus that went to the 7 pm service and church supper. Eventually, he became friends with Jeff, a web designer who sat in the cubicle across from Eric’s. They watched sports together on weekends and hit local happy hours a few days a week after work. He was still lying to his mother on Sundays, and he still couldn’t pray. But neither his lies nor the way the same lips that delivered them seemed glued shut when he tried to say a prayer bothered him much anymore. He was still vaguely homesick, but once he had a few beers in him, pub burgers were almost as good as Mom’s cooking. It just happened to be another Wednesday when he saw Wingding again. He and Jeff had stopped in a dive a few blocks from the office. A lot of local warehousemen and laborers gathered there after their shifts. Eric and Jeff seemed to be the only white collar types who drank here, but the regulars treated them well enough and the bar was quickly becoming one of their favorite haunts. The air smelled of stale cigarettes even though smoking inside had long been banned. Curses and good-natured insults floated across the room.

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They were on their fourth beers, and a big basket of wings sat between them. Eric’s fingers were sticky and his stomach sloshed with chicken, hot sauce, and beer. The bartender was new, and she kept smiling at him. She had the whitest teeth and the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. “Hey, Wingding, where the hell ya been?” someone called behind him. He recognized the voice of Brian, a hulk of a man with a lightning-bolt shaped scar on his right cheek. Brian was a pseudo-bouncer, a regular drinker who got a few free shots now and then for quieting down any troublemakers. Eric turned in his seat and saw the man from the bus shuffling into the bar wearing the same coffee-stained blue shirt. Today, he had on matching white tennis shoes, but one sock was brown and the other grey. “Hi Bri,” Wingding crooned, offering his childlike smile. “I been stayin’ at my cousin’s. He lets me sleep in his basement as long as I don’t come upstairs when he’s got his girlfriend over. There’s a bed down there and even a little TV. I watch baseball and the church shows.” “Glad to hear it, my man,” Brian replied. Another man clapped Wingding lightly on the back. “Can I have a beer?” Wingding asked, cocking his head like a parrot as he spoke to the bartender. “You’ll have to pay for it,” said she of the white teeth and green

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eyes, but her smile was warm. “I can pay tomorrow,” he began. “My cousin gives me five dollars when I cut the grass …” “I got this, Bill,” the man beside Brian cut in. He was wearing a wife-beater and had a tattoo of a fanged wolf on his shoulder. “Why don’t you sit and take a load off?” “Thank you. I’ll be right back. First, I gotta poop,” Wingding exclaimed gleefully, and ducked into the men’s room amidst chuckles and friendly jabs. “Don’t anyone plan on going in there for a while,” Brian called loudly, and was met with more laughter. The bartender crinkled her perfect little nose as she set a Budweiser beside the vacant stool next to Brian. “Don’t worry, sugar,” the Wolfman in the wife-beater drawled. “I got your tip from Billy covered, too.” “Why would you do that?” she asked. Her tone wasn’t snide, just curious. “Because,” Brian interrupted without missing a beat, “Where the hell else is a guy like Wingding gonna go?” Wolfman nodded in agreement. The two of them clanked their beers together and drank deeply. With a smile, Eric looked down at their basket of wings. He remembered one of Pastor Reynold’s sermons, something about “giving us your weak and your weary.” The sermon had ended with reminders that those who didn’t love Jesus were on the fast track to hell.

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Across the bar, the men’s room toilet flushed loudly, and Wingding emerged still tugging up his shorts. Brian beckoned him over and patted the stool, and Wolfman handed him his beer. The emerald-eyed bartender saw Eric watching them and flashed him a smile. Brian and Wolfman listened attentively as Wingding showed them how to make a bird out of a bar napkin. Wolfman even tried the trick himself. Eric didn’t fold his hands, close his eyes, or move his lips. But he prayed just the same.

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Save & Go Ryan Dorrill

Harold pressed his nose to the cold glass of the convenience store window and stared longingly at the twinkling street lights outside. Flurries were drifting down from somewhere high in the troposphere, and they seemed to give a majesty to the evening that he was neither accustomed to nor inclined to associate himself with. The entire city was abuzz with life; bustling crowds of holiday shoppers had descended to roam the pine-scented shops and watch the Christmas lights go up. But unlike them, Harold was tethered to the counter of the Save-And-Go. Snow or no snow, someone had to guard the smoothie machine and sell donuts to the consumerist hordes. “Hey Harold!” a cheery voice called from over his shoulder. “Stand there any longer and your tongue will freeze to the window.” Harold put on a smile and peeled himself away from the view to face the fluorescent reality of the store. “My face is still intact, thanks,” he said. “I was just watching for the milk delivery truck.” Josh, his boss, gave him a skeptical look and tapped his watch. “Not tonight,” he smiled, “the milk delivery comes on Saturdays.” “Oh, right,” Harold gave a shrug, “I forgot. All of these days seem to blur together,” he said, “like the scenes in an overexposed

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photograph.” Josh gave a curt laugh. “Keep talking like that and it’s going to be a long month,” he said, wagging his finger. “Business is going to pick up over the holidays, but most of your coworkers are out of town.” Harold tapped his fingers on the plastic wood of the counter and restrained the urge to groan. He knew where this was going. “Well, I’ll be here on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, as usual.” “Of course,” Josh said, snapping his fingers and squeezing his eyes shut. He was dancing around the subject, Harold could tell, and strategizing as he listened to the Sinatra pouring out of the speakers overhead. Harold averted his eyes, compulsively clicking the receipt-signing pen open and closed. “You know,” Josh said, winding up and putting his hand on Harold’s shoulder, “if you could use some extra hours for the holidays, the store would love to have you.” No. No. Harold closed his eyes and bit his tongue, but he couldn’t think of a reply and somehow the words came rolling out: “Sure, I guess.” Harold turned his head and sighed. This would probably mean working on Christmas Eve. Somewhere inside of him, part of his soul collapsed like an arthritic grandma on a hot city street. “Thataboy!” Josh said, thumping him on the shoulder and shaking Harold like a limp mop. “You’re awesome, Har!”

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“You know,” Harold said, rubbing his shoulder. “you have unusually strong arms for such a skinny guy.” Josh laughed and thumped him on the shoulder again. “You should come to the gym with me sometime!” This was a request Harold had more practice at refusing. “No thanks, man,” he said, patting his flat stomach. “I’m skinny enough as it is.” “Suit yourself,” Josh said. He winked at Harold and turned to leave. Harold gave a sigh of relief, but Josh turned back at the last second. “Hey Har, while it’s slow would you mind restocking the shelves?” “No problem,” he said, elongating the ‘O’. Of course he didn’t mind doing all the work. He grabbed a cart and rolled it to the back room grabbing haphazard bags of potato chips and candy bars, along with a whole array of bottled sodas and tea. Josh hadn’t mentioned the drinks yet, but he would. Oh yes, that was guaranteed. He rolled back to the floor and found a lone customer roaming the aisles: a skinny teenaged girl with flyaway hair and a serpentine green scarf. She ignored Harold, despite the rattling of his cart, and danced around a shelf of pixie sticks and bubble gum. She was kind of cute, in an Ellen Page sort of way, Harold concluded. He rolled the cart down an adjacent aisle, certain that he’d make it to the soda cases without even attracting a glance from the girl, yet

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some inexplicable whim struck her and she skipped directly into his path like a gazelle into a freight truck on the African Savanna. The rolling field of liquid sugar cane and processed potato barely grazed her knee, but it was enough to send the cart careening into a candy display. The resulting collision knocked half a dozen of his bottles to the floor and destroyed an entire shelf of gummy bears in an iced-tea cascade of biblical proportions. “Whoa, sorry,” she gasped, gaping at the mess. “It’s nothing,” Harold replied, rolling his eyes and surveying the devastation. The gummy casualties number in the hundreds, maybe more. “Are you sure you don’t need some help or something?” the girl said, tugging on the draw string of her hoodie. “Sure, I guess,” Harold mumbled and knelt down to pick the intact sodas away from the mess, his heart beating. “Is that a yes or a no?” He sighed; it was pretty much impossible not to imagine the girl making the situation worse. “Never mind. Don’t worry about it.” “Ok...” She shrugged and wandered off. Harold quickly got to work, but behind him someone cleared their throat. He turned and glanced over his shoulder, expecting Josh to demand an explanation, but it was just a customer standing at the register: a guy in the leather jacket leaning on the counter and waiting

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to be checked out. Exercising his benign judgment, Harold saved a lone squadron of gummy bears from the disaster and perched them atop one of the shelves. Then, he jogged over to the counter and rang up the guy’s items. It was important to keep one’s priorities straight on the job, and small acts of individuality were the only thing that helped him keep his sanity. Hrrnhrmnnnn.The customer cleared his throat again. Harold looked up into a pair of bloodshot eyes and noticed several details about the man’s appearance: his hair was long and tangled, his leather jacket was worn and cracked, and his face was covered in a shaggy mustache that curled around into a pair of enormous sideburns. As he looked at Harold, one eye seemed vaguely out of focus. “Can I help you?” Harold asked, tentatively. The man raised a finger to reply and licked his hairy upper lip but couldn’t seem to get the words out. He thumped his hand on the counter instead, his body quivering. Harold backed away from the counter, rolling his eyes. He had experience dealing with these types—the man had probably been having drugged-out convenience store adventures for going on thirty years, so Harold would rather summon Josh right away than wait for something to go down. He turned to leave, but the man finally spoke. “Cigarettes,” the man mumbled, his chin now resting against his chest. “We don’t carry...” Harold started.

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“Cigarettes!” the man shouted. The Sinatra pumping quietly out of the speakers seemed distant and faraway, the store a silent wasteland. “We don’t sell any,” Harold said, backing up another step and bumping into the wall. The man’s eyes widened and his gaze drifted shakily to the windows and the snow falling outside. “How... how come you ain’t got no cigarettes?” “We hate tobacco farmers,” Harold gibed, exasperated as he turned to leave the store and summon Josh. The man lunged over the counter and his hand caught Harold’s shoulder. “Smokes,” the man reiterated, his face shaped as if blowing smoke rings into Harold’s face. The whiff of breath smelled of whiskey. “We don’t have any goddamned cigarettes,” Harold said, losing his temper and smacking the man’s arm away. The man’s eyes widened and his lip trembled as he surveyed his own arm like some sort of alien artifact. Harold spun and tried again to leave, but the man pushed him from behind and sent Harold tumbling over his own backpack. He fell to the floor behind the counter, his elbow hitting the wall and erupting with pain. Behind him, the man grunted and moved off into the store mumbling. Harold gave a quick sigh of relief—he was still alive - and tried to haul himself to his feet, but when he put weight on his right arm, the elbow gave way and collapsed. Taking a deep breath and leaning back against the wall, he tried to think reasonably. The best thing to

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do now would be to call the police. There was a phone nearby on the counter, but Harold concluded that the one in the back office was probably a better choice. He started to get to his feet and froze. “Hey man, hands off,” the girl with the green scarf said. “Bitch,” the man growled. Harold’s mind raced. He dove for the phone cord and dragged it off the counter to where he was hiding. He held his arm out to catch it, but his heart was beating and his arms were shaking. The phone smacked his arm and clattered to the floor, its receiver shattering into five pieces. Harold froze. “Get off me, man!” the girl shouted again. Harold cringed; he didn’t want to get shivved, but it was too much to just sit there and listen. Grabbing a broom with his left hand, he unsteadily hauled himself to the counter. The red-eyed man was standing in the middle of the central aisle, his back to Harold as he faced the girl. She had her arms crossed and her eyebrows raised. Overhead, the music stopped. The playlist must have come to an end. Harold gripped the broom in hand like a medieval broad sword and steadied himself. If he lunged just right... “None uh these people round here,” the man started, stumbling forward and clutching the girl’s arm. “None uh them...” Harold’s pulse was racing. His mouth had run dry and his right

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arm felt as if it might break off at the elbow, but he had to do something. He started off from behind the counter and raised the broom to swing, but before he could, the girl went crazy. “Get the fuck off of me!” she screamed, pushing the guy back into a shelf of potato chips. The man’s bloodshot eyes looked as startled as Harold felt. She stomped up a step closer and pointed at the man’s face and then out the door. “Seriously. Get the hell out of here old man!” The man’s lip trembled and he pushed himself to his feet, crushing potato chips and corn curls under his palms. Harold’s mouth dropped open as he awaited the flash of a fist, or a knife, but the man got to his feet and stumbled past, straight out the door. “Some people,” the girl said, shaking her head. “Are you alright?” “Uh, yeah, I guess” Harold said, shaking his head and limping back to the counter. “Fine.” “You shouldn’t let guys like that push you around,” she said carrying a pack of gummy worms to the counter as if nothing had happened. “He’s just a drugged-out creep.” Harold laughed curtly and rang her up. “Hey,” he said, as she walked out the door. “Huh?” she turned, her hair wafting in the draft out of the heating ducts. “Nevermind,” Harold said, shaking his head and rubbing his elbow. “See you later.” She waved and left.

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As if on cue, Josh returned to the store, but Harold had made up his mind. “Did I miss anything?” Josh joked, cracking a smile. “The music went off,” Harold shook his head and walked to the counter, leaning the broom against the Tic-Tac display. “And I quit,” he said quietly. “Excuse me, Har?” “I said I quit.” “I thought so,” Josh replied, eyeballing Harold. “Are you messing with me?” “No.”Harold grabbed his bag and jacket from under the counter and turned to go, but stopped. “No,” he said again, “not this time.” The automatic doors parted with a hiss and he passed out into the night, subconsciously searching for signs of a green scarf, but the whirling snowflakes were thick, covering everything.

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The Letter SL Berg

Bill Carlin was preparing to make his tenth trip from the shores of Dover in the UK to Omaha Beach on the Normandy coast of France. He would once again relive that horrible day of June 6, 1944. Every year he rented a small fishing boat to make the voyage. For the past eight years, Bill rented “The Dover Queen” with Captain Huston. They cleared the shore line at approximately 5:00 AM. With Captain Houston at the Helm, Bill stood on deck in front of the wheelhouse. They moved into open waters and through the interwoven channels. As The Queen moved further away from the shore they picked up speed. Bill stood perfectly still, his jacket zipped up to the neck protecting him from the biting wind. He knew that the wind would soon die down, and the warmth of the sun would prevail. That was the moment he always waited for, when he could unzip his jacket and enjoy the warmth of the sun. As if on cue, the winds died down and that warm trace of sunshine crossed his chin. Bill stared straight ahead, his eyes constantly moving from side to side looking for the distant shoreline. He knew it wouldn’t be visible for another two hours, but scanning the horizon was what he did. Time passed quickly; they were now about a half

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hour off shore. This was where the transformation usually took place. Private first class Bill Carlin was sitting in the landing vessel right in front of the helmsman; his buddies were sitting on both sides of him. All the soldiers looked tense, determined, and solemn; they were staring straight ahead in an almost frozen state. The ride was getting bumpy as the LST rode over and through the waves. Bill’s eyes narrowed as land began to become visible. Three short blasts of a whistle alerted the troops to prepare for landing. They checked their equipment and some prayed silent prayers in those moments. Bill touched the upper left pocket of his fatigue jacket; the “Dear John” letter was there. The ramp dropped and the soldiers walked into the water. They kept their rifles raised above their heads to keep them dry. The water was shoulder high on most and some who panicked drowned as others passed by, unable to help. Bullets and worse were hitting all around. Bill put his head down and started to make his way to his left where there were fewer explosions. He had begun to feel the soft sand of the beach under his feet when he saw a soldier to his right go down in a hail of fire. Close by, two other men stepped on a mine and died instantly in the explosion. Bill moved further to his left where he hoped to find cover. As he was walking, he almost tripped over a soldier who was down but alive.“Soldier, pick up that rifle and fire up to that machine

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gun nest on the hill to the left.” He was an officer, one of the few that was still alive, and was yelling orders to Bill and others who could hear him. Bill picked up the Browning Automatic Rifle and began to fire on the Germans. This brought a more concentrated German fire to his position. Suddenly, he felt a burning sensation in his right shoulder and then again in his left thigh. He took cover and yelled for a medic who soon arrived. The medic put some gauze on the shoulder wound and covered it with tape. He looked at the wound to Bill’s left thigh and simply put a piece of tape on it, “That’s just a flesh wound; the shoulder might get you a ticket out of here.” Now that Bill was patched up, he decided he’d better get back to the fire fight. He picked up the BAR, took his position, and began to fire up to the hill where the machine gun fire was coming from. At the same time, he began to crawl toward what appeared to be a path up the hill. He moved slowly up the hill to avoid detection by the Germans at the top. When he got close enough to them, he ripped a hand grenade off his belt, pulled the pin, counted to six, and threw the grenade in their direction. The grenade fell near its mark; Bill put his head down and listened, rata tata rata, boom, and the machine gun stopped firing. He crawled over toward them and looked up just in time to see one of the German soldiers stand up with blood streaming down his cheek. Bill raised his rifle, pointed it at that bleeding soldier, and hesitated for a moment before pulling the trigger. The German

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fell over, his face looking up with the look of fear that comes only with death. Bill lurched forward, vomited, and fell into his own waste. He then shouted an order to himself, “Get the hell out of here.” As he moved through some brush, he heard orders being barked in a foreign language he could only assume was German. He moved closer and saw about a dozen German soldiers climbing into a truck. Bill crawled forward to get an advantage on their position; he was now almost behind them. He pulled out another grenade and lobbed it right into the bed of the truck. The grenade exploded with a loud blast. He heard the screaming of the soldiers who were still alive and conscious. Bill quickly shot those that were left alive and moved on. Bill now began to look for soldiers from his unit. He began to retrace his steps back to the beach but soon found himself on a dirt road. Bill walked cautiously on the side of the road hoping that he was going toward the American beachhead. A horse drawn wagon approached with an elderly farmer holding the reins. The lone occupant of the wagon looked to the side and noticed Bill out of the corner of his eye. He quickly stopped the wagon and motioned for Bill to get into the wagon and to lie flat. He wasn’t sure why, but Bill jumped into the wagon holding his weapon up against his body. The man covered him with a piece of tarpaulin material that was used to cover whatever he normally carried in that wagon. Bill fought off exhaustion, but dozed off for a few minutes

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awakening when the wagon stopped suddenly. He heard voices speaking in French. Bill held the BAR close to him ready to fire if he was uncovered. He could feel somebody standing near the wagon, somebody picked up the tarpaulin. A German soldier was looking at him unsure of what to do. Bill shot the soldier in his moment of indecision and then shot the two others who were running toward the wagon. The farmer was cursing loudly in a state of panic. He was frantically trying to get away from the horrible, bloody scene. Bill covered himself as best he could as the wagon began to move. He fell asleep again and woke up when the wagon stopped. The farmer helped him out of the wagon and led him to a barn. Bill sat down on a bale of hay as the farmer walked out and pulled the door closed behind him. He must have fallen asleep again because he awoke to the sound of more gunfire; he pulled himself up and peeked out of crack in the door. There were soldiers moving toward the barn. Before having a chance to formulate a plan, Bill saw that they were Canadian troops who had landed nearby. He pushed the door open and walked out with his hands raised in the air. A jeep approached Bill; an officer inside identified himself as Major Ashley with a Canadian paratroop unit. Once Bill established who he was and the unit he came from, the Canadian medics began to treat him. He was soon on his way back to a hospital ship that was anchored somewhere near the beach where they had landed. After being taken onto the ship and having his physical wounds treated, Bill

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had a complete mental breakdown; he was sent to a military hospital near London to be treated for mental illness. Shortly thereafter, he was offered a transfer to the US for further care, which he refused. Instead, he asked for asylum for the duration of the war, which he was granted. After the surrender of Germany, he was again offered a transfer to a US Military hospital, which he again refused. Bill spent the next twenty years in a civilian mental hospital in Leeds. When he was discharged from the mental hospital, he decided to live in Leeds where he found a job at a local library. Bill waded into the water and began to walk toward Captain Huston’s boat while the boat was moving closer to him. When he was close enough, he jumped into the boat and he immediately went below to change clothes. He changed into dry clothes and went topside and stood next to Captain Huston as they began the trip back to Dover. “Bill, I certainly appreciate the business, and I don’t mind making the trip to Normandy with you. I just can’t understand why you want to make the same trip every June. I think that you need to move on and forget the past.” “Captain, I really can’t tell you why I keep going back. Sometimes I think that I will remember something, anything that will allow me to close that chapter of my life. But everything remains the same, and I go back to my life in Leeds where I have lived since 1945.” The next year, Bill attempted to contact captain Huston several

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times. He finally learned that the captain had died several months earlier and that his children were trying to sell his boat. At first, Bill thought about hiring another boat and captain for his annual trip, but he soon began to consider another possibility. He could buy the boat from the Huston family, hire a crewman, and make the journey himself every June to recreate that horrific day in 1944. Bill bought the boat and got it ready to sail just in time for his annual foray. He renamed her “Shores of Normandy.� Captain Huston’s family had recommended a captain who would sign on for the voyage and consider a long-term contract. They sailed from Dover at 5:00 am on June 6th, as usual. The conditions were eerily similar to June 6, 1944. It was cool, windy, and dark. The clouds blocked any light from the stars and the moon. As they moved into the open waters of the channel, Bill began to tense up as he usually did at this stage of the voyage. The wind hit his face straight on in the eyes; he closed his eye lids and enjoyed the stinging sensation, knowing that the warmth of the sunlight would soon follow. After two hours of standing still, almost entranced, the wind stopped and sunlight took over. Bill began to scan the horizon for signs of the Normandy shore. He stared ahead into empty space until he finally began to see shadows of distant shores. His whole body tightened up when he heard the whistle that signaled the troops to prepare for landing. Instinctively, he touched the upper left pocket of his fatigue jacket. It was there. I will read it later and try to understand what

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the hell happened. They landed amid the chaos of war, machine gun fire, explosions, and death everywhere. It was always the same. He covered the same ground and he saw the same Germans and American soldiers. Many were dead, and many were wounded. The agony was on all of their faces and the screams of pain were agonizing. One thing was different this time. Bill seemed to know what was going to happen, and he was anticipating each coming event. He felt like he was watching a story unfold rather then being a part of it. Then it was over, and he was on the hospital ship on his way back to England. Back on his boat, “The Shores of Normandy”, he went below to change into dry clothes. First, however, he reached into the pocket where he had the letter. He took it out and sat down to read it as he had so many times before.

May 30, 1944 Dear Bill, Since you left I have been very lonely and unhappy. I miss your company and all the fun that we used to have together. The letters I get from you once a week just aren’t enough for me. Chuck Muncie has been coming around to keep me company and we got to kind of like each other. He won’t be going into the Army (he is 4F) he has a job and he wants to marry me. I think I would like to get a divorce

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and marry him. I am pretty sure you will be able to find someone else when you come home. Regards,

Betsy

Bill read through the letter three more times.I think I need to answer her letter. When Bill arrived at his little apartment in Leeds and threw his things down, he went to his desk and sat down to finally answer Betsy’s letter.

June 8, 1995 Dear Betsy, I received your letter just before I was sent into combat. I didn’t really get a chance to read it completely and answer you. I have been fighting this war long since it ended, but I think I have finally won and can come home. I will leave as soon as I can and I hope to see you soon. Love,

Bill

The next day Bill began to make plans to go back to the United States. He booked passage on a freighter that carried some passengers;

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he wanted to feel like he would have felt had he come home after the war on a troop ship. He packed some clothes, took his discharge papers, his two Purple Hearts, and the Silver Star that he was awarded while he was in the hospital. He also brought his discharge papers from the British mental hospital. As an afterthought, he grabbed a few pictures of himself and his buddies just before they went into combat. These things all came in handy when he boarded the ship since he had no passport. It took Bill a long time to convince the ship’s captain to allow him to board. The ship’s steward did warn him that he might be delayed by the US authorities upon arrival. The trip across the Atlantic took nine days because of bad weather. They arrived in Baltimore on June 18, 1995. Bill was indeed delayed by the customs agents and had to repeat his story many times. In the end, they believed his story and they were convinced that they were in the presence of a genuine American Hero. Bill was given some temporary documents to justify his stay in the United States, and he exchanged his British currency for American dollars. Bill headed to the bus station and purchased a ticket to Topeka Kansas where he and Betsy had lived. In Topeka, a taxi took him to 172 Oak Street; he got out of the cab and told the driver to wait. The house looked almost abandoned and as Bill got closer he realized that the house was empty. He went next door and rang the bell. A woman came to the door and stared at him, “You don’t look like a salesman. Can I help you?”

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“Hi, I am looking for Mrs. Betsy Carlin. She used to live next door.” Bill said. “The only Betsy that lived there was Betsy Muncie. She moved when her husband was killed in the war. I think she had moved into one of those small apartments downtown. You know, Mister, that was a long time ago, how did you know her?” “Well, it’s a long story, but we were married and the war separated us. Thanks for your help.” Bill went downtown and stopped at a three story tenement and started asking questions about Betsy. Finally, someone remembered her and told Bill that Betsy moved to a retirement home off of State Route 219 about ten years earlier. When Bill arrived at the Cedars of Lebanon Retirement Center, he looked around and felt sick. The “home” was run down and shabby, at best. There was an odor from people who didn’t bathe or shower enough. He approached the front desk and asked for Betsy Muncie. “We don’t have a guest here by that name,” the woman behind the desk told him. “Perhaps she is going by her maiden name, Sutton, Betsy Sutton?” Bill asked. “Yes sir, Betsy Sutton is in room 213. Take the elevator at the end of the hall.” Bill stood in the doorway of room 213 and watched Betsy as she slept. She sure didn’t look like the young Betsy Sutton that he had married in 1942.

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Betsy opened her eyes and smiled, “Bill, is that you?” Without waiting for an answer, she continued. “You know, after Chuck was killed, I knew you would come back to me, I just wasn’t sure when.” He walked over to her bedside, bent over and kissed her on the forehead. “Bill, I haven’t heard from you in such a long time, I thought you had been killed, too.” “You knew I went into the army and fought in the war.” “But Bill, that was such a long time ago. Where have you been all these years?” “Yes, it was a long time ago, but I have been fighting a long time. Fighting inside myself. I can’t tell you how many times I have gone back to France and landed in Normandy. I have been living in Leeds so I could leave for Normandy in early June just as I did that first time in 1944. I was wounded twice, you know, but that didn’t stop me. Each time I go, I’m wounded again, I go back to the hospital, and then back to the base in Leeds.” He looked at Betsy and saw that she had nodded off and was now sound asleep. Bill sat down next to her bed and he leaned over, put his head down on his folded hands, and fell asleep too. Bill awoke first and Betsy immediately after. They looked at each other and saw what they once were. “Betsy we should get out of here and find a nice little place like the one we had, where we can live happily together. I don’t have to go back to France anymore, the war is finally over.”

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“Bill, I’m so happy that you came home.” An hour later they walked out of room 213, hand in hand, and left the center. Nurses, attendants, and clerical workers all watched as the two reunited lovers walked out smiling. The onlookers were all cheering and applauding loudly. From a room somewhere in the building, a radio was playing a familiar song, “Casablanca”, the lyrics said it all: It’s still the same old story A fight for love and glory A case of do or die The world will always welcome lovers; as time goes by. Oh yes, the world will always welcome lovers; as time goes by.

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My Winter Debbie Montaner

I met summer in winter, I fell for sunrise at twilight. I found peace in the middle of war. I fasted in midst of a feast. In the fabrics of your world, Your eyes remain the same. Our stages are different, Yet we both perform out of love; We dance to the sound of our souls. Painted or stripped down, Your face is the canvass of my heart. Your heart, the canvass of my life. My summer, My winter.

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Blood Binds Tonya R. Moore Episode XIII Wandering Child – Part 2

Hel pitched forward. Charls caught her by the crook of the elbow just before she lost her balance. He held on to her until she steadied. They’d skipped across space and time, but not in the manner to which she’d become accustomed. There was a certain madness about the method Charls had just employed. It wreaked havoc on her senses, swished her insides all around. She tried to talk but her tongue got all twisted up inside her mouth. Springy grass tickled the bottoms of her bare feet. She couldn’t quite remember how they’d gotten that way. The earth underneath was warm and pulsated like flesh. For some odd reason, she found it unnerving. Her thoughts were jumbled but she was experienced enough to realized that her present state of disorientation wasn’t simply the result of being caught off balance. She sucked in a deep breath, found her voice. “Charls, I appreciate your thoughtfulness but I’d rather you didn’t just arbitrarily go

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mucking about with my nervous system.” Something in the air was making her sick to the marrow. It pressed against her chest. “Undo the bind.” When he didn’t comply immediately, she frowned sideways at him. “Now, please.” Talk about a shock to the system. It all came rushing back. She doubled over as pain tore into her chest, the sense memory of unseen energies tearing into bone, crushing skin and sinew to bits. The moment they’d set foot within the city limits, some unseen force had come crashing down from the sky. She’d have been pulverized and swallowed alive by melee, had Charls not thrown up a barrier and incanted a reversal in the nick of time. He was the only one she knew of who could have executed such a complicated spell so quickly. She shuddered, her belly revolting as she remembered how those people and their surroundings had been mercilessly mangled and flesh and been liquefied, their remains melting down into the ravenous ground. The echoes of their anguished screams lingered in her ears. “Would it have killed you to warn me?” She wheezed. He didn’t answer but the stubborn set of his mouth suggested he figured it served her right. “Good grief, man. You’re such a child sometimes... what is this place?” She swallowed hard, trying to shove the horrible taste of bile back down. “Is this still Ashram?” “To a fashion.” Charls answered. He obviously didn’t intend to elaborate.

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“This is supposed to be the middle of the city.” She prodded. “There were people, buildings, and traffic rushing by seconds ago. They really all got swallowed up, just like that?” He never looked at her. His eyes scanned the warped landscape, in search of something. She didn’t know what. “It was a trap, a spell set to activate upon our arrival.” “That makes sense.” Hel nodded. “If our target wanted us to trace their route back into the city, I suppose that explains the reasoning behind making it so difficult to scry.” Fecund earth stretched out endlessly beyond the limits of Charls’ protective circle. The soil had become loamy and smelled like the promise of summer rain, though mingled with the unmistakable taint of blood, ash, and entrails going stale. It was by far the most awful breed of magic to which she ever borne witness. “Helioselene.” Charls reached into his pouch. “I need you to do something. I need you to not argue with me, for once.” His feeble attempt at humor fell flat. He had that grim look about him again. Something told her that look had nothing to do with what had actually happened. When you love someone for as long as Helioselene had loved Charls, you tend to look beyond their failings. It wasn’t that she could ignore them, exactly. Charls’ faults were as wide and ragged as the Tsavingiri Rift. His propensity for prevarication was nothing new

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and the man carried a deep darkness around inside him that he could never hide from her, even if he tried. She’d recognized this before she fell for him. Long before he’d magically bound her to him, and against her own will at that. Nevertheless, this time was different. Lately, he’d been going to great lengths to keep something hidden from her. It was becoming more than she could tolerate. “Depends on the request,” she replied carefully. He was still intent on hiding the deeper truth of the situation from her, it seemed. He slung a chain of red crystals along a single strand of energy particles. His eyes fell to her blood splattered tunic. He didn’t have to tell her. The fact that he’d only been able to erase her injury and not the evidence of it made it pretty obvious what a close call it had been. “I might not be able to shield you from the next attack,” he said. “You should go back to the lake. Wait for me there.” “You think after all this time. I don’t get what you’re all about?” She watched him go still. “You might be able to fool those three children but not me, Charls.” She took the necklace, wound it about her wrist. “It was pretty obvious we’d be walking into a trap. I didn’t expect it to be quite so terrible though. You know who the pilgrim is, don’t you?” A sonorous and unnaturally hollow voice filled the air around them, an oppressive sermon intoning magical words, casting a blanket of fear and choking obeisance out of every atom within its reach. The re was no free thing in this desolate world, not the howling beasts in

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the wild. Not the slender, windswept trees that suddenly burst forth from the cursed earth and grew tall, piercing the turbulent clouds above. “You know what really irritates me?” The wayfarer continued, unfazed by the chaos stirring up out of the ground around them. “Helioselene. Please...” She ignored his impatient tone. “I should leave you here alone, for the sake of my own safety. Just how stupid do really think I am?” They were suddenly enclosed within the boundaries of a wide, circular wall. A wall of stone, flesh, and bone. This land, its cities, and its people had been used as raw material for some faceless monster’s playground? This was dark, dirty magic and Charls knew it. There was no way he would have been able to evade that attack if he didn’t know it intimately. “This is sick.” She whispered. “This is so... sick.” Charls sighed deeply. He summoned his staff. He raised it up and let it fall to the ground. It started to spin rapidly. It slowed, stopped. He waved it away with a flick of the wrist. It vanished. With that, the circle had moved and with them in it. They were still within the boundaries of the walled space. Charls cast her a downward glance. His frown deepened. Dead ahead there was a singular stone structure, a crudely human-shaped statue. “What is this thing?” Hel asked, entranced. “Do I know it?” She swung back to look at Charls. She contemplated the idol with a trou-

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bled frown. “I feel like there’s something...” “We need to leave. We need to leave now.” Charls reached for her hand but she drifted closer to the edge of the protective circle and toward the ominous statue. Her fingers slipped away. “Why?” She asked, distractedly. “Why do I know it?” “Good question, that,” a new voice declared smoothly. “Wayfarer intuition. Alarming, isn’t it? Go ahead, just tell her.” “Kyle?” Hel whirled about. “Why aren’t you--” She faltered. That was wrong. This wasn’t Kyle, though the young immortal and this newcomer could very well be twins. It would be more accurate to say he was Kyle’s literal opposite. His hair was as white as snow. It cascaded down his back, black streaks in stark contrast to the unnatural white of his skin. Sharp, golden eyes glittered at her from under grossly blackened eyelids. The coat he wore was made of feathers, made him seem like a great bird. The predatory sort, although with a dewy, almost dreamy countenance. He reached out to her—this utterly alien, yet human-like being. He smiled. It made him seem angelic, yet somehow sinful. He was a stranger, and a strange thing, but Hel couldn’t find it in her to deny what her aching heart was telling her. He was hers. In that instance, her entire universe shifted.

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“What the hell, Tallow? When I suggested that you ‘port us away, I meant maybe somewhere across the lake and through the woods.” Baron’s incredulous whisper echoed eerily in whatever dark, dank space in which they’d somehow materialized. A large, empty room from the sounds of it. Amidst the dogged thrumming of some kind of engine, a mournful sound came from far away. A hollow keen like the blow of a whale. “Do you hear that?” She whispered loudly. “And there’s water out there. Water everywhere.” She looked around dazed, back to Tallow. “Are we on a freaking submarine?” “Wait a minute,” Kyle protested. “Tallow didn’t do this.” Tallow stared at Baron long and hard. “At first, I didn’t really know quite what to make of you, but I understand now. You’re an idiot.” She decided. “A complete and utter moron.” “Don’t try to pin your screw-up on me. You did this!” Baron huffed stubbornly. “You did.” “For the fifth time,” Tallow loomed over her, thunderous. “We were transported before I could complete the incantation!” “You guys, arguing about it isn’t going to change the fact that we are where we are.” Kyle groaned tiredly. Some kind of sticky stardust made the ground and surface glittery. It even stained the wall behind Kyle and Tallow. Was it her imagination that it seemed to be slowly spreading? Baron’s head tilted. Her eyes unfocused then brightened.

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She frowned in the general direction of her companions. “What is this god-awful place?” She swallowed hard, trying to get that horrible, briny taste out of her mouth. “How long have we been here?” “Not again.” Kyle moaned. “Forget it, Tallow. Her short term memory’s completely whacked.” “Listen to me,” Tallow got right up in Baron’s face. “We are trapped in this hellish place with no discernible way out. You brought us here. You’re the only one who could have. Try to remember.” She spoke slowly, as if to an idiot. “You must have done something. You were about to be killed.” “No, I wasn’t,” came the immediate denial. “I saw it,” Tallow insisted. “You were in the water. The lake started glowing, and then we were transported.” “I don’t care what you saw,” Baron shook her head. “Granted, I was getting my ass kicked but I wasn’t about to die. If I really was, I would have—” She shook her head. Swallowed convulsively. “My head feels...” Her body trembled. It suddenly occurred to her that the weird stuff smearing the floor and wall wasn’t the only thing glowing. She looked down at her shaking arms. “Well, this is weird. I’m all... glowy.” She grimaced. “Ugh. And wet. This is pretty disgusting.” She looked from the witch to the night-walker. “What’s going on? Why is this happening?” She frowned at the other two suspiciously. “Why is it only happening to me?”

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“We have no idea,” Kyle leaned forward. “Come on, you asked that question a bunch of times already.” Baron blinked. “Did I?” Tallow ran her finger along Baron’s arm. She rubbed luminous the substance between her fingers. “You mean this isn’t normal for you?” “Are you kidding? What part of that seems normal to you?” Baron demanded. “Well, you are an oddity,” the witch reasoned. “No!” Baron bit out. “I don’t ooze bio luminous slime on a daily basis. Something very weird is happening to me, and I’d really appreciate it if you’d get your head out of your ass and help me.” She looked up suddenly. The glittery stuff really was spreading. “Is it just me or...” The sound of whale song reached her ears again. She looked to Tallow again, with a puzzled frown. “Are we on some kind of ship?” “For crying out loud,” Kyle groaned raggedly. “I can’t take much more of this.” Helioselene drifted out of the circle. Greenery sprang up out of the earth there. Vines twisted up and outward winding their way up the trunk of the great trees within the wall. A multitude flowers burst forth, colors sharp, scents maddening. She paid it no heed. “Charls,” Hel’s voice shook. “You need to tell me what’s going on here. You need to tell me now.”

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“Helioselene!” Charls hissed. “Don’t—” “You wouldn’t be trying to tell me I can’t touch my own son, would you?” She snapped. Garret’s fingers encircled her slender arms briefly, but long enough to send an uneasy shudder running down her spine. Cold clamped around her heart, squeezed so hard she could barely remember how to breathe. “The pilgrim. Charls did you...” She whirled. “Is this what you—?” “There’s a lot you really don’t understand,” he began. “Make me understand!” She bit out impatiently. “Start with why all this time, you made me believe our son was...” Something inside of her shattered, fell to pieces. Her trembling hand clamped over her mouth. Her eyes darted over to look at Garret’s face again. She touched the pale one’s cheek. “Garret.” His head tilted. He smiled. “Mother?” His eyes—bright and curious, darted from the wizard to the wayfarer. He seemed vaguely amused. That troubling fact barely registered. “Helioselene,” Charls urged again. She saw the fear in his eyes, genuine and raw. “He is dangerous. He is cruel and he will hurt you.” She shook her head. “You’re dangerous. You’re cruel.” She couldn’t even feel them, the tears that started raining down. “You’re the one who hurt me, Charls. Only you.” Charls’ staff reappeared. “I’m sorry,” he said baldly. “You think it’s that simple?” Hel demanded. “A paltry excuse

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for an apology and what? All sins forgiven? You haven’t even begun explaining yourself.” “That would be a bit much, wouldn’t it?” He held out his staff. “No, Helioselene. I’m sorry for this.” He turned the tip of his staff toward her. She balked. “You wouldn’t.” Never, not in all the years had he turned his power on her. Not like this. “Oh,” Charls smiled humorlessly. “You know me better than that.” The brunt of his spell knocked her flat before his words could even register. The writhing and screaming began as energy pulsed through her entire being. It ended almost as abruptly as it had begun. She lay there on the ground, unmoving. “Wow.” Garret laughed lowly. “I didn’t think you had it in you.” “You were wrong.” Charls answered grimly. “You tend to be wrong about a lot of things.” The predatory one chuckled. “Never did see eye to eye, you and I.” His smile reached his eyes this time and warmed his countenance, making him seem obscenely childlike. “Wish I could have seen the look on your face when you realized this place wasn’t where you’d left it. You should have realized you couldn’t keep me there forever. How do you like the new décor?” Hel moaned. She stirred. She stood. Charls let out a tense breath when Zehi’s crimson irises zeroed in on him. “That,” the said dragon

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stonily, “was a very crude thing to do.” “Get Helioselene out of here.” Charls ordered. Zehi’s gaze hardened. “You know I only accede to the wayfarer’s will.” Charls’ mouth tightened into a grim line. “Have a look around. Do think now is really the time to indulge her? If she dies here, you die with her.” Untrue,” Zehi returned coldly. “In fact—” “Interesting,” Garret drifted closer. “Who are you?” He demanded, eagerly curious. “What are you?” Zehi moved well out of reach. He eyed Garret, recognition dawning. The dragon’s attention flicked back to Charls. “I have little desire to witness the wayfarer’s death today.” Charls nodded. “Thought you might.” “Are you my brother?” Garret persisted. Zehi ignored him. “You’ve run out of time, Selestine. Settle this quickly, otherwise, the Tsavingiri Principality will intercede.” “Easier said than done,” Charls muttered as Helioselene, bound as she was, vanished in an explosive flash. “Surprisingly resilient,” Garret mused flippantly,“that woman.” “She’s your mother.” Charls censured. “Not that I expect you to care.” He called his staff back to him, broke the circle in one sweeping motion. “This sick game you’ve been playing needs to end here. It needs to end now.”

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Baron stared down at the backpack she’d just ‘ported into the vessel. “So, we can’t spell cast or ‘port out but we can ‘port stuff in.” She looked up with a hopeful grin. “That’s good, right?” “How exactly is that good?” Tallow demanded, irritated to no end. Baron paused mid-rummage through the pack. “If I can ‘port things in, then I can also ‘port people in.” “Wait a sec,” Kyle, who’d only been barely paying attention perked up. “How the hell—exactly, would trapping more people here make any sense whatsoever?” “Oh, Kyle. You poor, pessimistic soul.” The glittery substance had completely carpeted the ground and walls by then. Not that the dark would have kept him from seeing the triumphant look she shot him. “I know all kinds of people. Granted, they’re mostly weirdos,” she shrugged. “But at least one of them happens to be a really clever scientist with a real hard-on for things like ships and the like.” She tossed him a brown packet. “If anyone can figure a way out of here, it’s him. He’s a bit of an asshole though, so you might have to put up with some bullshit and such.” “Okay...” He frowned down at the packet in his hand. “What is this?” “A blood based nutrient.” She pointed. “You have to squeeze the red dot on that end to deactivate the preservative.” She tossed a silver packet to Tallow. “For you and me, something a little less icky.”

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“You just happened to have these things lying around in that storehouse you told us about?” The witch was dubious. “How strangely convenient.” “Yup,” Baron nodded, unfazed. “My last gig was Executioner for the Council of Ancients--” “Your last job was to kill people?” Kyle was incredulous. “You never mentioned--” “Entities, Kyle. Very, very bad entities.” She said. “You’d have to do some pretty horrendous things to get on the Council’s hit list, you know. Anyway, I was teamed up with these two vampires, Joss and Shelby, right? Two of my best friends, by the way but god, they’re dumb—well, Joss is stupid and Shelby is... Shelby.” She shrugged. “Once I actually started working with them, it became clear pretty quickly that it was smart to always be prepared for stuff like this.” “No way,” Kyle snorted. “I think bad luck just follows you.” He grinned. “Stuff like this seems to be happening more often with you around.” “It’s true,” Tallow chimed in. “That sister of yours claimed to be a god. Maybe you’re a God of Misfortune.” “Mean bitches,” Baron grumbled on a mouthful of granola. “Both of you.” She tossed her empty nutrient packet back into the backpack and stood. “This might take me a little while. I haven’t tried calling anyone to me since... well, never mind that.”

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It didn’t take very long at all. Mere seconds, really. She wobbled, toppling backward. There was a spark and there he was—Baron’s hapless helper. The lanky man was barefoot, shirt completed unbuttoned and presently messing with his fly. Whether he’d been in the process of dressing or undressing, Tallow wasn’t sure. He straightened abruptly. A very deep, very animal growl filled the cavernous room. “This is why I keep telling Jonathan that it’s impossible to teach manners to an idiot without violence.” The newcomer turned. An irritated pair of golden eyes gleamed down at the hapless trio. “Maybe I should do your father a favor and knock some sense into you.” “Don’t just start bitching at me the second you get here, Sasha.” Baron scowled right back up at him. “I brought you here because we need your help.” “Yeah? He responded with a wolfish show of teeth. “How exactly are you planning on making it worth my while?”

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Contributors Madison Woods draws inspiration for writing, photography and other creative endeavors from the remote Ozarks of northwest Arkansas, . She loves listening to the secrets revealed in whippoorwill calls in spring, frog and cicada song in summer, coyote quartets on full moonlit nights in fall, and in the rumbles of snow thunder during dead of winter. Her publishing credits include a short story inclusion in Cthulhurotica’s first anthology (Dagan Books) and a variety of nonfiction herbal articles. She posts daily to her blog at http://madisonwoods.wordpress.com and sporadically to her herbal/Ozark musing blog at http://ancientearthwisdom.com. You can also find her on Twitter @madison_woods. Madison finds her writing hard to classify as one single genre, but is a mixture of paranormal, romance, thriller and horror with strong fantasy leanings. She has one novel, Symbiosis, under edit and the next one (part of a non-sequential series) started in first draft. Nathanial Chambers is a novice writer from Petersburg, IL. Currently he is stationed in Afghanistan and has decided to actively pursue creative writing as his craft.

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Myra King is an Australian writer living on the coast of South Australia. She has written a number of prize winning short stories, including a first place in the UK-based Global Short Story Competition, and has a short story collection published by Ginninderra Press. In 2010 her short story, The Black Horse, was shortlisted for the US Glass Woman Prize. Among other publications her work has appeared in Little Episodes, Orbis (UK) Melbourne University Press (AUS) Battered Suitcase, Admit 2 and Heron’s Nest (US). She has upcoming work in Fast Forward Press and The Valley Review. Pam Hawley is a writer and higher education administrator. After years of writing and publishing a variety of articles on topics ranging from career development to ferrets, she is diving back into her first love: fiction. She has completed several short stories and is hard at work on her first novel. Pam earned a Bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in journalism from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she currently works as the associate registrar for systems development. When not working or writing, she enjoys reading, hiking and hanging out with her partner Lee, their cat Sly and their ferret Vin Weasel. She can also often be found at Hawley’s Pub in Baltimore, where during football season everyone loves to hate her for being a Steelers fan. You can learn more about Pam by visiting her blog at http://hawleyville.wordpress.com.

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Ryan Dorrill studied English and Physics at UMBC and has made a hobby of writing strange stories. He hopes to never work in retail again, though the book discounts were nice. SL Berg writes for pleasure and profit as his second career. Thus far he has written two novels and one, Escape to Live, was published in 2008.

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Book Reviews Fission Chips by MCM reviewed by Essie Holton When I read the blurb for Fission Chips from 1889 Labs, I expected a serious PI story with a lot of tension. (I don’t know what I was thinking!) What I ended up with was hilarity and ridiculous pseudo-tension. These were not bad things, but they were not on my list of expectations. Gare Marx is having one hell of a first day. He and his partner are trying to open their own PI firm, but nothing seems to be going right, and they haven’t even opened for the day, yet. Marx is battling with a worker who is putting his and his partner’s names on the outside of the office. When Marx loses this first battle, he runs downstairs to try and yell at the man on his way out of the building. He never gets his chance, but he does manage to run into (yes, literally) a woman with three large, hot coffees. Guess who she is, yep, his new secretary. Things go downhill for Marx from here. His partner, the only person in this operation with detective experience, Matt Richardson, is no where to be found, and Marx’s day just keeps getting weirder and weirder. He encounters mob bosses, police who want to arrest

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him for murder, a tiny Asian woman who kicks his ass repeatedly, an ewok, and a mischievous dog, among other crazy things. He also gets beaten up periodically throughout the day. This book didn’t get the reader thinking any deep, profound thoughts, but it was good for a laugh. The only drawback that I found to the entire book, and this is purely personal, is the heavy use of comments regarding all things ‘retarded’ and even one regarding a ‘severely autistic person’. I do realize that the main character is meant to be a class one jackass, so I understand the use of these terms, but that doesn’t mean I like, or approve of it. Unfortunately, by making these jokes, it only perpetuates the stereotype and makes it harder for those individuals with disabilities. Now, I will get off of my soapbox. I’m going to end this review with my favorite line in the entire book: “It’s like a fucking Hallmark moment. From the Fight Club aisle. I’m all teary, honest.”

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In the House of Five Dragons by E.D. Lindquist and Aron Christensen reviewed by Essie Holton Fantasy novels aren’t generally my ‘thing’, but when given the choice between fantasy and sci-fi, I decided that fantasy was the way to go. I think I chose well, although I’m going to have to read more by Lindquist and Christensen just to be certain. The only way I can describe this novel is to call it epic. I haven’t read anything this gripping, and time consuming, in months. Unfortunately, I got busy and finishing this book took longer than I care to admit. The first three-quarters of the book took me days, however, that last twenty-five percent flew by in one night, keeping me up until 3:30 am. (I was not pleased when my alarm went off a few, short hours later.) Honestly, I had a hard time getting into the book, but I believe that this was because of the genre of the book, not the book itself. As I said earlier, fantasy novels aren’t always my ‘thing’. However, after finishing it, I was ready to go back to the beginning and read through it again (something I’ll do later) and see what I missed the first time around. The book opens with a man stumbling through the wilderness trying to find his way home. The first problem that he faces is he can’t remember where home is or the right words to describe it. The story then goes to two people, but not people, two beings, talking about this man and wondering if he will make it in time, if he will remember.

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Already, I was confused. I don’t like to be confused, so frustration quickly followed. On a basic level, the book has two worlds, Terra and Alterra. Terra being the human world, and Alterra being a world formed of thoughts, emotions, and curiosities. I found the Alterran world harder to wrap my head around in the beginning of the book, but I think I wasn’t supposed to understand until the main character, Rikard, also began to remember. Terra was changed thirty years ago at the battle of Njorn Pass, when Captain Rikard Mazrem, a VEIL knight, made a blood pact with the Alterrans to save his men in a battle they were sure to lose. Rikard disappeared from the field and was believed dead for thirty years. After the battle, life began to change, and a huge empire was built. Flash forward thirty years to Rikard’s return; nothing is as it seems, and nothing is as he remembers. With an unusual, but eventually helpful, talent, Rikard is soon able to begin changing life within the empire, restoring honor and helping the masses. Where is The House of Five Dragons? It is an underground criminal organization that has spent years infiltrating the honorable ranks of VEIL knights and other positions within the empire. Their goal was to control the heir to the throne, Rikard’s son, so they could one day control the entire empire. When Rikard returns, The House decides to switch their focus and try to control him with the help of

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a caretaker, Thainna, since he is now likely to be the next emperor in place of his son. There are others who are not pleased with these developments and form plans of their own to keep Rikard from getting the throne. These characters must, however, be very careful not to draw suspicion upon themselves because of the new ability that Rikard has gained after spending so much time in the Alterran world. Once the stage was set for the story, there was never a dull moment. I found myself disappointed when the story shifted from one character focus or plot line to another, only to be sucked in to what was going on with those particular characters and then mildly disappointed again when the focus shifted once more. This continued on and on throughout the story. Needless to say, I was never truly disappointed, especially not when secrets were finally revealed. The authors so clearly developed the Terra world and characters that after a few chapters I felt like I was walking through the town with them. Thainna, the main character, is a complex, good-natured girl who had to make the best of the life that she was born into and even managed to remain good as a lowly thief in a large criminal organization. Her love of her brother and bettering her community drove everything that she did, even when it was a detriment to herself. As a mother and sister, Thainna was not a hard person to understand. She simply loved her brother so much that no matter what the price, she would pay it to make sure that he was taken care of. She

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believed so fully in him, that everything she had was put into buying him the throne of The House of Five Dragons. Growing up, I certainly would have done anything in my power to protect my brothers and sister, even lying, cheating, and stealing. Now, as a parent, I would go farther than one could ever imagine to protect my children. I know where Thainna is coming from; if put in her place, I would have made her decisions, no question about it. Rikard Mazrem, the other main character, is a simple, honorable family man who was put into a situation where he had to make a decision or perish. When he made his decision, he became a hero. Rikard never wanted to be a hero and never considered himself one. He simply wanted to return home to his family and continue his life. When he realized that life was not how he left it (after all, thirty years had passed) he decided that honor needed to be restored to the VEIL Knights. Rikard was a hero, and in his return, proved once again what a hero is. Many of the ebooks that I read and review have numerous grammatical and punctuation mistakes. Comma placement and periods are a serious source of frustration for me as a reader. Noticing these mistakes detracts from my reading experience tremendously. I find it hard to enjoy a book that the author hasn’t taken time to completely proofread and learn the proper use of the punctuation they are relying upon. That being said, In the House of Five Dragons had the least mistakes of any book that I’ve read and reviewed, along with Hungry

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for You by A.M. Harte. Until the last few chapters, I can’t recall finding any mistakes in the book. I didn’t keep track, but I would be surprised if there were more than three or four issues in the entire book. This is a book that I highly recommend, and I already have a copy of my next read by E.D. Lindquist and Aron Christensen.

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The Mystery Box by Eva Pohler reviewed by Essie Holton Yvette has her entire life in order. She has a husband, three kids, a dog, and a good relationship with her parents. Her biggest gripe is a mean neighbor full of complaints about Yvette’s barking dog. Cruella de Vil, as she is called, soon becomes a mystery to Yvette after a box is accidently delivered to Yvette’s house. After some time, and UPS repeatedly failing to pick it up, Yvette opens the box to see if the contents can be useful. This is when she learns that the box was meant to be delivered to Cruella. In going to Cruella’s house, Yvette is sucked into a horrifying tale that led her neighbor to become the reclusive, crazy woman that she is now. While staying behind from Spring Break vacation, Yvette learns not only her neighbor’s story but secrets about her own life. Nothing is as it seems in her life, and she soon becomes reunited with family that she never knew she had. Yvette learns that Cruella, also known as Mona, is in hiding from a once college professor turned lover, and eventually, captor. Mona made the first move to ruin her life when she left her long time fiancée in college to pursue her philosophy teacher, Ahmed. Ahmed turned out to be a crazy man working part time for the Taliban. He also claimed to be a scientist and focused his research on reasons people commit suicide. He captured people, typically women, to perform his

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experiments on. Over just a few days, Yvette learns more about her family, where she came from, and the twin she never knew she had. She also learns about a large inheritance from a family member which raises more questions. It also leads her to wonder if she is being taken advantage of and manipulated as Mona once was; if her tale is true. The Mystery Box was a real thriller, with a bulk of the action happening through the story Mona tells Yvette each afternoon. This didn’t detract from the flow of the story, only added a layer of mystery. Having the narration switch from Yvette thinking and talking to listening through Mona kept me on my toes and paying attention to what was going on more than I would have if there had been one narrator. It also allowed the reader to see where the character ended up without knowing their story until it slowly unfolded before their eyes. In the beginning, the puzzle was simple; there was a box and Mona’s story. It seemed fairly straightforward. Slowly more pieces were added and it seemed as though these pieces couldn’t possibly be part of the same puzzle, just the stories of two people who happened to meet. Slowly, the reader was able to see the connections forming, no matter how unbelievable and unlikely. I began to think about how I would feel if my entire world was tipped upside down the way Yvette’s was. Would I allow myself to possibly be conned simply because I wanted to believe, wanted some-

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thing to be true? Could I turn my back on the possibility that I was being taken advantage of just to make myself happy? Would I ever truly be happy with this scenario? Truth be told, I probably would— allow it, not be happy. I would probably give a person the benefit of the doubt simply because I could never scam someone else. I know it happens, but after getting to know someone, after trusting them, I just don’t see how they could follow through with such an awful plan. I also found it odd that Yvette stays home from a family vacation to learn more about Mona. My first thought was, doesn’t her husband mind? Wouldn’t he be a little suspicious? I know I would be. I then saw the connection, whether the author intended it or not. Mona stayed behind from a Spring Break vacation with her fiancée. This is when her life took a turn in the wrong direction. Then, Yvette stays behind from a Spring Break vacation, and although her life didn’t turn in such a direction, it did turn. Yvette seems to take everything that she learns about her family in perfect stride. I’m not sure that I would be so cool-headed if my life, and all of the beliefs about my family, were turned completely around. Even when Yvette learns a new fact, only to later learn that it isn’t completely true, she doesn’t lose her composure, she simply accepts it and moves on. She says that she is upset, but her actions are rarely frantic or irrational the way mine would be if I were truly upset and freaking out. The ending to the story didn’t tie up all of the questions that I had

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about the plot. It also didn’t leave them untouched upon. The author simply left the reader to make their own determination about what happened. The fact is, the main character isn’t quite sure about motives by the end, so neither is the reader. This was a source of frustration for me. After investing time into a story, I like to know the outcome, not guess upon it for days to come. I’d like to believe that authors use this as a way to make a sequel. Unfortunately, this story doesn’t seem to leave room for much of a follow-up. Eva Pohler appears to be an excellent story teller, and Magpies in Winter has been bumped up on my TBR list.

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The Virus Coder’s Girl by MCM reviewed by Essie Holton I received The Virus Coder’s Girl from 1889 Labs for review. I was initially drawn to this book simply by the title and, yes, the cover art. Being married to a computer programmer, I’m always intrigued to read about programming, hacking, virus creation, and the like. This is a story about Greg, an IT guy who is targeted by his boss to become a hacker and virus creator. Just before being offered this amazing promotion, which Greg is under qualified and under educated for, he had fallen for a woman named Ilana at a company party. Upon receiving news of this undeserved opportunity, Greg is told to stay away from Ilana at all costs because she is one of her boss’s favorite girls. Greg assumes that he knows what this means and decides that staying away from Ilana is in his best interest. As time goes on, Greg becomes good at his job, but it is not what it seems. He becomes overworked during the months following his promotion, and appears to also become paranoid. However, knowing the reach of his boss, his paranoia may be justified. I really enjoyed the premise of this story, but unfortunately, I cannot say too much about it without giving away the ending. I can however, recommend it to readers, even if you aren’t into the hacker/ techie scene. You don’t need an in depth knowledge of computers to understand, follow along, and enjoy this book.

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The idea that Greg thought that he was programming one thing, and in reality he was programming something altogether different made no sense to me, until I had it explained. He was using prewritten code, or tools, and putting these blocks of code together like a puzzle for a desire effect. The effect that he was striving to create actually did something similar but in a different medium. This is a very simplified explanation of the way Greg built his viruses. The author’s use of pop culture buzzwords makes the story seem more dated than it should after only a couple years. A reference to the once overly popular Digg website made me, as a Redditor, cringe. I quickly checked the publication date to find that yes, Digg was the ‘top dog’ when the story was written. Also, in the beginning scene, Greg is wearing a t-shirt with the word ‘pwned’ written across the chest. While this colloquialism is still relevant, it will eventually fade and be replaced with something equally confusing for outsiders. The story itself is intriguing and well written, and if I’d had the uninterrupted time to read the story from start to finish in one sitting, I certainly would have. I did manage to sneak read throughout the day and finish the story before bedtime. For now, I’m looking forward to my next MCM read.

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Who Is He To You? by Monique D Mensah reviewed by Essie Holton An abusive father. A boyfriend with split personalities. An unloving husband. A man who had a horrible upbringing. A father who loved his daughter in all the wrong ways. A man who ruins the lives of all the women he touches. Simone is a young teenage girl who appears to have the perfect life. Her parents love and adore her, she has enough money to go to the best school, is undeniably beautiful, and has brains. She also has a father who is unable to stop himself from hurting her. Though he claims to love his little girl, he sneaks into her bedroom night after night and rapes her. Ryan is a strong, independent woman able to take care of herself. When she meets a man and he begins flaking after a few months of dating, she begins to lose it. After he starts missing dates, forgetting to call, and eventually begins to verbally and emotionally tear her down, Ryan becomes as addicted to her little yellow pill as she is to him. He continually strings her along with empty promises of marriage, and she continues to follow. Jessica is a woman who never dares to stand up to her husband. She tries desperately to please him with all that she has, but it never seems to be enough. Her husband doesn’t respect her and has told her that when he is ready, he will leave her and will take everything

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they have. Jessica puts up with him because he “rescued” her from a terrible life of poverty and “built” her into the refined woman that she is now. She feels that she is nothing without her bastard husband. What happens when the lives of these three women collide? Murder. Each chapter of this book was told through the medium of the different characters. The story starts with an introduction to Simone, moving then to Ryan, and finally, Jessica. The hardest part of this book to read was Simone talking about her father and how she loved him despite the abuse. She believed that he was a good man and truly loved her. She told herself that he simply could not help himself. The hardest after Simone was reading through the eyes of her father and seeing how he felt about his daughter and his troubled past. Jessica and Ryan were equally frustrating to read because they had a choice. Neither of these woman had to stay. They didn’t have to face the abuse of the man they were with. They simply felt compelled, for different reasons, to stay while they were continually cut down and mistreated. Woman go through this each day, and the men in their lives get away with it because they have systematically beaten their wives and girlfriends down until they believe that they don’t deserve better. The author managed to show exactly how each woman had forged a connection with the man in her life and how she didn’t think she is strong enough to break free of him.

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The author does a good job at keeping the connection between the women hidden until she is ready for the reader to understand where the plot is headed. I never, at any point, felt that I didn’t have enough information, I simply felt that I didn’t have all of the facts yet, and that in time the plot would unfold. I spent time throughout the book guessing at the connection, but was surprised in the end. The author’s writing style was well crafted, giving each character their own voice. Even without chapter headers, I could quickly have known which character’s life was being described simply by the author’s voice. A problem I found was some dialogue was difficult to understand, especially when teenagers or children were speaking. I felt the author overused urban vernacular and small sections of dialogue were nearly impossible for me to understand. This story stuck with me long after I was done reading the book. I found myself wondering about the plot, not that it didn’t make sense, just pondering the situations and events that led to the conclusion. How would I have handled a husband like Jessica’s or a boyfriend like Ryan’s. Most troubling of all was, what would I do if my daughter was in Simone’s position. I came to no hard conclusions, but I am pretty certain that I wouldn’t follow the same paths that these characters took. I feel that I would make mistakes along the way, but they wouldn’t be the same mistakes that these women made. Monique Mensah is definitely on my list of authors to read again.

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Day out of Days by Sam Shepard reviewed by Joshua Willey Sam Shepard is really famous, really cool, and really American. He defined the postmodern cowboy more than Cormac McCarthy, Denis Johnson, Larry McMurtry, and Steve McQueen combined. His brand of rugged yet complicated masculinity is equally at home in Echo Park and El Paso, discussing farriers and noir films. In the literary world, Shepard is known primarily as a playwright, prolific and decorated, though a broader public most likely knows him as an actor whose played Chuck Yeager and Frank James. Day out of Days, his third collection of shorts (stories, flash fiction, prose poems, errata of various types), is the kind of volume only a literary celebrity could get into print. Unlike his two earlier collections Cruising Paradise and The Great Dream of Heaven, much of what is between the covers of Days is far from fully formed. It is unfocused and very, very loose. This is a double edged sword. On the one hand, we don’t enjoy the level of craftsmanship of which Shepard is obviously highly capable. These pieces seem, at times, even lazy, as though he got too tired or drunk to finish them properly and sent them off to his agent without a second thought. But on the other hand, the book gives us rare insight into the world of a great American writer. Days is very intimate and personal. I’m not sure if Shepard’s guard is ever up but it’s definitely down here, the playwright has invited us back-

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stage, and if you share any of his romantic obsessions with America, it’s fascinating, and moving. There is deep belief in the magic of place in Days. Driving from one town to another, for no reason, and with no particular result, is an act very attractive to Shepard and one to which he devotes considerable ink. Nothing happens, but there is great philosophical weight placed on this nothingness. The characters are often rootless, wandering, or burdened by nostalgia. Much of the book reads like a list. Shepard doesn’t tire of sharing with us “the thing in itself.” He doesn’t need to incorporate objects into a broader narrative arc, he doesn’t need to spoon feed us reasons why said object is significant, he just needs to recognize that it is, or more often than not, was. I’ve not met a woman who is a big Sam Shepard fan, and I felt a deeper understanding of why as I read Days. His women are beautiful, complex, edgy, but they are never at the center of the action. His men are kinetic, aggressive, his women passive, and such gender dynamics are likely too traditional to admire for many readers. N+1’s recent publication What Was the Hipster cited nostalgia as a fundamental hipster mode. Shepard shares this attribute. He is drawn to nostalgia and seems unconcerned with its objects. Rather, it is the way nostalgia washes a scene which captivates him. He’s a scholar of the American West and its history. It’s easy to read Days as an effort to grasp at the shadows of a golden age gone by, one with plenty of structural parallels to childhood, another of N+1’s hipster

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keywords. But I don’t find the collection to be a requiem for the wild west or adolescence, if anything it is a requiem for the requiem, a celebration of the act of remembering and recording. We can sense the satori of concentration behind his pen as we read, and thus, no matter how dark his subjects (and they get very dark), the ending is automatically happy because someone was there to write it down.

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