January 5 – January 18, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “A Fresh Start”

This post is for STORIES related to the Contest theme: “A Fresh Start.”

The link to the LinkedIn Comment Thread can be found here.


This post is for STORIES related to the Contest theme: “A Fresh Start.”

And that’s it! The rest is up to you dear writer.

Critiques, comments and feedback are encouraged on the LinkedIn Comment Thread; non story comments here will be deleted.

The point of these friendly contests is to hone our craft and create successful stories within a predefined set of limitations. There is no monetary compensation.

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Please Note: comments may be considered “published” in regards to other contest requirements.

All stories are fall under general copyright laws. No part may be reproduced without the express consent of the respective author.

Story Submission Rules:
  1. One story per author. You may post more than one but only the first story will qualify for voting.
  2. Stories must be in English, unpublished and your own work.
  3. Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be less than 1500 words.

Voting starts Wednesday morning at 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT/ 4:00am AEDT (Thursday) and ends the same time on Thursday / 4:00am AEDT (Friday).

  • You may vote only once.
  • You cannot vote for yourself.

***the next writing prompt will be chosen by Carrie Zylka per the Writing Prompt Roster.

To be included in the “writing prompt roster”, you must have submitted two stories in the last sixty days. The roster is alphabetical and can be found here.

See How to Participate for complete rules and disclaimers.


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9 thoughts on “January 5 – January 18, 2017 Flash Fiction Contest “A Fresh Start”

  • January 6, 2017 at 7:30 am
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    Badges of Honour

    Khalifah Shalib rubbed the badge on his left breast with his sleeve, creating an illustrious shine. He stood in front of the body-length mirror and gently placed the cap on his head, hesitantly pushing it down. is dark eyes scanned his exposed skin, the red-brown ochre of his people, blending seamlessly with the deep blue of the starched uniform.

    Could he really be doing this? Nerves rushed over him like a wave breaking on the shore and he could feel his arms go limp instantly, his breathing coming in short rasps as a single bead of sweat ran down the side of his head. He closed his eyes and whispered a foreign prayer, the words seemingly soothing his beating heart, grounding him in the moment and centring his being. When he opened his eyes, he was more focused, in control of his mind and body.

    “Come on, Khali … I mean, Robert. Shit, you should have this by now. Come on Robert, you’ve got this.” His voice carried a hint of an accent that no one would be able to place, the words delivered in near-perfect English. He stared into his eyes. “I am Robert Smith.”

    Arms reached over his shoulders and he fell back into her, his wife’s wiry frame bearing the brunt of his weight. Despite her size, she held him, such was her strength. She was stronger than them both. He had waited a long time for this, the opportunity for a fresh start, a new beginning, to be in a place without the constant bullets and bombs.

    She kissed his cheek. “I love you,” she said in her native tongue, the words melting him away like ice left in the sun.

    “Honey, we can’t talk like that anymore.”

    She turned him around and cupped his face in her hands. His hands fell to the bulge in her belly. She smiled and rose on her tip toes so she could be level with his eyes. She spoke in English. “I know what we need to do, but in my home, I shall talk how I like.” She kissed him firmly on the lips. “Make us proud.”

    #

    Josh Killman flexed his fingers as he stood in front of his bathroom mirror. He took in short breaths, living the forthcoming day in his mind, forcing the adrenaline through his veins. He pulled his service pistol and pointed it at his reflection.

    “Get on the ground, motherfucker, before I blow your brains out!”

    He stood there, admiring his stance in the mirror. His scruffy, dirty blond hair fought its way out from under the cap, the sleeves on the uniform hid his numerous tattoos. Then, he slowly holstered the weapon and stretched his neck. He repeated the process several times, each time changing the action, descriptor and threat. The result was an array of phrases that ranged from ignorant to downright racist.

    Josh was unperturbed by his shouting. His residence of a lone caravan sat on the outskirts of town in a paddock that no-one seemed to own, or care that he had hauled the bucket of rust to a grinding stop there. Certainly, the police had never bothered to drop by.

    “God damn it, Josh, keep it down, I’m tryin’ to watch the pictures!” A shout rang out from the bedroom, the only private room in the small space.

    “Sorry, Ma!” Josh shouted back, still admiring himself in the mirror. “But can you believe those idiots gave me a badge and a gun?”

    “’Bout time you got off your arse, more like it, and started earnin’ some money,” she yelled.

    “A license to kill,” he said to himself quietly, ignoring his mother’s comments. “Don’t worry about a thing, Ma. I know it’s been tough, but I ain’t gonna screw this one up. We’ll have more money than you can dream of by the end of the day, I guarantee that. And then we can get away from this shithole, away from these people, and I can look after you real proper.”

    He pulled an item from the cupboard and held it in his hands. The key to his future. They will pay well for this.

    #

    Robert stood on the street corner and scanned the skies, a brilliant blue amongst the city spires. The feeling of his wife’s hands on him was still fresh in his mind and her scent still hovered over him, keeping him in that blissful moment, like a pendulum being held from its metronomic arc.

    A hand slapped him on the shoulder and he jumped.

    “Mornin’ there, Bobby,” Josh said. He took in a lung full of smog. “Ah, I just love that smell. You ready?”
    Robert nodded. “And a good morning to you, Joshua. You seem happy this morning. Did you get laid or something?”

    Josh dismissed the question, mainly because he hadn’t. “I just have this feeling, like today’s going to be different.”

    “Different indeed,” Robert thought.

    The pair started their beat, walking their assigned boundary of a few city blocks. Robert took in his strides like he was walking down a church aisle, slow and methodical, pacing the distance. Josh, however, sauntered like he was a sheriff in a western, walking to meet his opponent at high noon.

    “Hey,” Josh said, “Do you ever feel like this is the end of something? Or the beginning of something else? Shit, I don’t mean to sound crazy, but, you know what I’m talking about?”

    Robert eyed his shorter partner. He thought about his wife, their new home, a baby on the way, a new identity, a fresh start… a job that would secure their futures. “Yes, I know what you mean,” he said slowly.

    “Look,” Josh stated. “I got to do something today, which might be a little stupid, and, you seem like a good guy, so you probably shouldn’t be around when I do it.” He winked. “Best for both of us, if you know what I mean.”

    They came to a stop on a corner, within the shade of two large buildings.

    “What are you going to do?” Robert asked.

    Josh looked around himself at the people who walked down the street, their attention caught in their own worlds, their conscious captured by their phones. He slowly pulled out a slim bit of plastic and showed it to Robert. “A 1952 Mickey Mantle original,” he said, his voice verging on fever pitch. “Something like this sold a few years back for almost three hundred k! There’s this shop around …”

    Josh’s voice was drowned out by the roar of jet engines. Robert looked skyward at the approaching jet, its size impossibly large amongst city landscape and horrifyingly out of place amongst the concrete and steel.

    Josh turned at the sound and froze. “What the f…?”

    “I’m sorry, Josh.”

    Robert whispered some words as he removed the detonator from his pocket.

    He pressed the button.

    #

    “A second explosion is thought to have been detonated at ground level by this man, police officer Joshua Killman, who has been found to have links to local criminal groups. It is understood his partner, police officer Robert Smith, who was on patrol with Killman at the time, died at the scene, although his body is yet to be recovered. Back to you in the studio.”

  • January 11, 2017 at 12:22 am
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    A FRESH START

    This is the biggest mistake of her life or the best decision she’d ever made. From her bed, Patti stared out the eighth-floor apartment window, her gaze frozen over like an ice storm had stolen all warmth from her body. Her eyes shifted to her best friend, Sandra, who entered balancing a tray of soup, toast, and a glass of water.

    “I know you don’t want to eat, but the doctors say you have to,” Sandra said and laid the tray on the bed beside Patti. “And you need to walk. It’s been two days since your surgery.”

    With a blatant eye roll, Patti observed the bowl of chicken soup. She knew Sandra meant well, but she just wanted to be alone. There was no way to tell Sandra to leave without hurting her feelings. She was one of those rare friends with the soul of a savior and a desire to be helpful.

    “Thanks. You’re the best,” Pattie said, feeding her friends need for acknowledgment.

    Sandra sat on the end of the bed. “We can just walk down the hall. Even if you only make it to the elevators and back, it’s a start.”

    Patti bit into a piece of toast and chewed like it was cardboard. Not a single person from work had contacted her since she left. Not one. After twenty-four years of dedicating eight to twelve hours a day to one company, you would think HR would have at least sent flowers. But then, she didn’t leave on the highest note. She’d burned bridges. What did she expect?

    “Have you heard from that guy? What’s his name… Daryl?” Sandra asked with a huge grin.

    Patti knew her friend was terrified to create an online dating profile and thrived on hearing about Patti’s dating escapades. After connecting four men, Patti hadn’t ventured past the initial coffee shop introduction. Something about each guy had felt wrong, perhaps even somewhat familiar. Since the separation from her husband, just shy of a year ago, she wasn’t sure what she wanted in a relationship. John had been all she’d known. She just knew she didn’t want to be on her own the rest of her life.

    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Curled up in the corner of the sofa, Patti checked her email messages. She and Daryl had moved past the dating site chats to email and talking on the phone. She longed to hear his voice, even though they hadn’t met in person. Tonight was the night she would finally meet the man in the profile pictures flipping burgers, who had captured her heart.

    Everything hinged on that first face-to-face encounter, and she knew it. She was already tired of telling men about herself, then seeing that look that told her she wasn’t what they were looking for. Patti looked at her watch for the third time. She always arrived early. Making an entrance was not her thing. Scrutinizing her dates entrance, was.

    She slipped on her snapper sneakers, which Sandra called pink, and headed to her car. She’d moved beyond trying to impress with stilettos and close-fitting tops. If this guy didn’t like her choice of casual attire, he could eat dirt.

    In the car, Pattie opened the window. Nervousness had triggered an onslaught of hot flashes, and she was thankful for the crisp evening air of early fall. Worried thoughts looped in her mind. What would they talk about? She had spoken with Daryl so many times over the past weeks that all the first date conversations were out in the open. He knew she had recently undergone a hysterectomy and quit her job. She had told him all about her fifteen-year-old son.

    Although she was no longer employed, she and Daryl had one crucial thing in common they could talk endlessly about. Both worked in the printing industry and understood the secret language of vectors and pixels. She just hoped it was enough.

    At Starbucks, she chose a seat on a corner bench by the window, which left a chair to her right for Daryl. She loathed talking across a table at one another. If things went sour, she had no problem fabricating a lie with her son’s needs as the scapegoat. With her chai tea latte in hand, she awaited her suitor. Come on Mr. Burger Flipper, she cheered in her mind.

    She sipped her latte and checked her watch, then looked up into Daryl’s hazel eyes. She almost choked on her beverage and cleared her throat. In his hand was a multi-colored rose and a Crunchie chocolate bar, her favorite.

    Instead of shaking her hand, Daryl slid onto the chair. “Thank heavens you look exactly like your profile picture,” he said and held out the gifts.

    Patti’s lips spread wide, and she graciously accepted his offerings. It seemed bachelor number five was a romantic, a trait she only dreamed of. She tugged the sleeve of her sweater nervously. “As do you.” She blushed. Was that all she could think of to say? How was it she was suddenly tongue-tied?

    “And I know we’ve spoken on the phone, but it’s nice to finally see the face behind the voice.” Daryl leaned on the table, a hand dangerously close to hers.

    Patti’s cheeks grew a deeper shade of red. She was shocked at how awkward she suddenly felt. Was it chemistry? It had been so long since she flirted with a man she wasn’t sure.

    Daryl’s fingers grazed the top of her hand. “How about we blow this place and go share a bottle of wine?”

    “I’d love that.” Patti stood then realized how over-eager she may appear. What was she doing? She didn’t know this guy and wasn’t about to get in a car with a strange man. Fear, it seemed, had stepped to the forefront. Now, what was she going to do?

    Daryl opened the door, and Patti stepped outside. “There’s a restaurant two doors down. Does that work for you?”

    Patti breathed a silent sigh of relief. There was. Why didn’t she think of that? “That would be great.”

    They walked in silence a few steps, then Daryl stopped. Patti’s heart skipped a beat. Somethings wrong. He’s changed his mind.

    He took one of her hands in his and stepped close. Patti held her breath. “Thanks for meeting me tonight. I’ve been a wreck all day thinking about meeting you in person. My boss even sent me home early. Said I was too distracted.”

    “You told your boss you had a date?” Patti said dumbfounded. She would never have such a conversation with a superior. Her private life was just that, private.

    “Yeah. He’s a great guy.”

    “Wish I could say the same about my old boss.”

    With Patti’s hand still in Daryl’s, they continued on their way to the restaurant.

    “The weirdest thing happened today,” Daryl said.

    “Yeah? What was that?”

    “My daughter saw your profile picture.”

    “Stephanie, right?” Pattie crossed her fingers that she had remembered Daryl’s twelve-year-old daughter’s name. She was terrible with names.

    “Yeah.”

    “Did she tell you to run for the hills?” Patti giggled.

    Daryl squeezed her hand. “Actually, the exact opposite. She told me I was dressed like an old man and then chose this outfit.”

    Patti stopped and faced Daryl, her lips pressed into a tight line and pretended to examine his choice of clothes. “I approve. Stephanie has good taste.”

    “Whew.” Daryl playfully wiped his brow. “Thought I was done for.”

    “You’d have to be wearing Crocks to send me running,” Patti giggled.

    “Crocks! Oh heavens, no. Stephanie would have my head if I owned a pair.”

    This time, Patti took Daryl’s hand as they made their way to their next destination. The fear that had threatened her earlier had all but dissipated. She liked the feel of his hand in hers, his casual choice of clothes, and his arm that brushed against hers while they walked. Perhaps, she thought, this could be my fresh start.

  • January 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm
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    A Chance to Help

    Dean Hardage

    Robert “Homerun” Addison was a killer. Not an assassin, not a hired gun, just a killer. He took money for what he did but he would have killed without it. It was the only thing that ever managed to break through the dense undergrowth of indifference in his psyche. He’d gotten the nickname “Homerun” for his preferred method of killing. He would use an aluminum baseball bat and strike his victims just below the small bump on the back of the skull. He’d gotten so good at it that it usually only took one blow to finish the job, a ‘home run’.

    He’d pursued his passion and vocation untroubled for many years until one night. He’d done his job, cleaned up, and gone back to his hotel room. He’d walked in the door and the lights went out, someone striking expertly and rendering him unconscious. When he regained consciousness he was in a small, featureless room with a bunk, desk, toilet, and nothing else. He was dressed in a gray jumpsuit and cloth slippers. Someone had finally caught him.

    The door to the small room slid open and a man dressed in a suit walked in. Homerun could see that there were several men behind the visitor so any attempt to escape was likely to be futile. He sat quietly, waiting for his visitor to speak.

    “Mr. Addison, isn’t it?”

    “That’s me, Homerun Addison.”

    “Mr. Addison, you’ve been sent here for rehabilitation.”

    “Rehabilitation? This isn’t a prison?”

    “No, it’s a treatment center where those who have caused harm are given the opportunity to help.”

    Homerun pondered for a minute. If he could convince these do-gooders that he was sorry and no longer a threat, they might let down their guard and give him a chance to get away. He kept his expression completely neutral.

    “So, what do I do?”

    “That will be up to the committee, but you will be given a chance to help.”

    That was the end of that conversation but there were many more. He was required to see photos of the family members of his victims, to hear about the damage he’d done to those families, the pain, and the loss, even the deaths he’d been indirectly responsible for when some had given up hope and taken their own lives. None of this affected him, but he pretended at length to feel remorse, feigned sorrow for what he’d done. His keepers seemed satisfied with his progress.

    One day he was ushered into the room he’d been lectured in, read to in, seen the pictures of his victims’ families in but there was a new person waiting for him. The man in the crisp, black suit had an air of authority and Homerun thought this might be his chance.

    “Mr. Addison?”

    “That’s me.”

    “My name is Hendrix. It’s my job to evaluate our guests and determine the best course of action once their program is complete.”

    “Are you saying I’m done?”

    “Yes, Mr. Addison. We feel you’ve made all the progress you can and it’s time to move along.”

    “Move along?”

    “Yes, Mr. Addison. It’s time for you to leave our facility.”

    Homerun could barely believe what he was hearing. Was this guy about to just let him go free and clear?

    “If you’ll come with me we’ll get you processed out.”

    Hendrix escorted Homerun from the room and down a hall he had never been in. Hendrix stopped at a door near the end of the corridor.

    “Right through here, Mr. Addison.”

    Hendrix held his access card to the sensor and the door slid open soundlessly. The inside was dark and Homerun paused at the threshold.

    “What’s going on here?” he asked, suddenly suspicious.

    “You’re getting your chance to help.”

    A sudden, powerful shove from Hendrix propelled Homerun through the door. There was no floor and the killer got a single flash of shiny, spinning blades before he hit.

    The truck arrived at the small community farm with the donated supplies and the driver helped unload them. The owner of the property came up and thanked him for his help.

    “Oh, this one is special,” the driver said and took a smaller bag of fertilizer from the cab of the truck. It was in an unmarked bag with the word ‘Homerun’ handwritten on the side.

    The old farmer lifted an eyebrow inquisitively. The driver just handed the bag to the older man.

    “Put it on the medicinal herbs. We promised him a chance to help.”

    End

  • January 14, 2017 at 10:24 pm
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    TEA TIME

    I met Will in the shop doorway we subsequently shared one winter. He turned up one night with his bundle and stood there, staring down at me. I’d seen off plenty of pretenders to my minimally sheltered spot but there was something about him that I warmed to, if ‘warmed’ is really the right expression, given that nights regularly dipped below zero that winter.

    We’d spend our days begging at the city’s best location, the docks, where tourists going back on their cruise ships would get rid of the coins they wouldn’t be able to use at the next stop. We wouldn’t share the money we got, but the smack we scored was split right down the middle. When we thought we had enough cash, we’d make for our favourite dealers; he preferred an old hippy out on the coast road, while I was loyal to my man in the centre. But we’d always meet later and cook up together, giving the other a dose if one of us had had a bad day with the begging bowl.

    What did I like about him? I suppose it was the easy way he had, never getting agitated, even if a fix was late. It was that self-control which gave me some sense of security in a world that was falling apart. And he had a melancholic air about him that generated … not pity, really, but rather deep empathy in me.

    He was a private person, though; we’d have interesting conversations about the world, but whenever it got around to our pasts, it was one-way traffic. I’d describe my childhood and my adolescent years when I’d gone off the rails, and how this had had nothing to do with my dear parents but everything to do with me and my irresponsibility. He wouldn’t comment but would go glassy-eyed and stare into the distance.

    In the following spring, my parents caught up with me and convinced me to go into re-hab. I was keen, I must admit; in moments of clarity between fixes, I was perfectly aware that the smack would destroy me, sooner rather than later. I was loath to leave Will behind and tried to convince him to join me, but he was having none of it; he’d been on the street longer than me, and it was in his veins as surely as the smack.

    With my parents’ support, and that of an ex of mine, Dotty, who I began to go with again, I turned the corner. It was easier than I’d imagined, in fact, and I was soon out the other side and in gainful employment, working as a helper at the city’s addict support centre. I wangled it so that I could be assigned to the dock area, linking up with Will again. In the months I’d been away, he – or rather the sorry bag of bones he’d become – was much further down the road to oblivion. I gave him all the help I could: blankets, food, a little money when he was too weak to do any begging. And company, which I think he appreciated; I know I did.

    I hadn’t been working his area more than a couple of weeks when I turned up at ‘our’ doorway one evening to find it occupied by a couple I’d never seen before. I asked them where Will was and they told me he’d been found unconscious that morning and taken to hospital.

    Out of the context in which I’d always known him, he looked terribly frail – they’d shaved him and the bright white pillows threw his craggy face into stark, pitiful relief. He smiled weakly when he saw me and raised his hand to take mine. We didn’t talk but I kept hold of his hand, remembering his precious friendship on the street and feeling useless.

    After a while I nodded off, my head resting on the bed. I was awoken some time later by pressure on my hand. I realised Will was saying something. I put my ear near his mouth.

    “Fresh start. Fresh start.”

    He repeated this maybe half a dozen times before falling silent. When I looked, there was a gentle smile on his face and tears in his eyes. And he was dead.

    In all of our conversations Will had never mentioned that he was a believer; I doubted, then, that this final utterance had anything to do with a life hereafter. And I couldn’t believe that he thought he would recover and begin a new life. So I put his final words down to feverish ravings.

    There were just three mourners at his funeral: Dotty and I, and a white-haired old lady in the front pew of the small chapel. After the short service, she approached us.

    “Thank you so much for coming, dears. We’ve never met, have we? I’m William’s gran.”

    She had a familiar, easy quality and I warmed to her instantly, just as I had to Will.

    “You must come back to my house,” she said, a pleading look in her moist eyes. “We can have tea.”

    I looked at Dotty and we nodded simultaneously.

    Mrs Taylor had a lovely little cottage on the outskirts of the city. We sat in the cosy living room with large French windows that gave onto a long back garden, awash with colour from the well-tended bushes and flower beds, green hills rolling beyond. Mrs Taylor excused herself to go to the kitchen. She called through as she busied herself making the tea.

    “William used to come here a lot when he was a child. Because his parents … you know.”

    Dotty and I looked at each other. I shrugged my shoulders; Will had never spoken about his parents.

    Mrs Taylor came back in carrying a tray laden with cups of tea and something else.

    “Apple and blackberry tart, dears? I made it fresh this morning. William’s favourite, it was.”

    .

  • January 16, 2017 at 2:00 am
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    Corpus Delicti.
    © 2017 By Ken Cartisano

    I don’t mind killing people, I just hate leaving a dead body behind: Too much evidence. When there’s no corpse, the police often treat the crime as a missing persons case. If you murder someone and leave the body, now you got a mess on your hands: Police, forensics, detectives, family. People get upset when they see a dead body. I don’t need that kind of attention.

    I was in the middle of a straight-forward jewelry heist, nothing messy or complicated: Spoof the alarms, break some cases, throw the shiny rocks in the bags and go. But on this particular occasion, I interrupted a maintenance guy working the night shift. He was changing a light bulb. Can you imagine? Losing your life over a fucking light bulb? What rotten luck. His name was printed on a cheap iron-on nametag just above his pocket.

    “Hi Steven, my name is Mr. Adams, and this is a Glock 19.” After the introductions, I ushered him into the back room and made him sit on the floor while my guys plundered the store. When they were finished, I sent the crew on without me. One of them mockingly wished Steven well.

    It occurred to me that maybe Steven didn’t have a clue as to what was about to happen, so I said, “You do know I’m gonna kill you, right?”

    He nodded.

    “Ain’t you nervous?”

    “Huh? Yeah, sure. I mean yes sir. Very nervous.”

    “You don’t look nervous.”

    He didn’t respond to my comment and remained silent. I had to admire his courage. Most people would be begging and blubbering by now, pissing in their pants, trying to make a deal. Not this guy. He looked as if he was getting a Tetanus shot.

    I put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. Simple: But nothing happened. Steven’s face looked as blank as if he’d been shot. I popped the magazine out of the gun, fucked with it, and shoved it back into the gun. It was still jammed.

    Normally, I’d get a piece of wire, drapery cord or a shoelace, and strangle the guy. But he was pretty beefy, and I sensed that he’d resist if that was my intention. I didn’t feel like chasing him around the store with a shoelace either.

    I sighed. “Can you keep your mouth shut Steven?”

    “If I need to, yes.” He said.

    “You do.”

    “Then yes,” he said. “Yes I can. I’ll…”

    “Good.” I pointed the pistol at his head and said, “This is for your own good,” then whipped the barrel across the back of his skull. I found his wallet, took his drivers license, then dropped the wallet back on his chest and left.

    Mercy is a quality that does not earn you points in the mob. I knew that my actions would very likely come back to haunt me, and they did.

    The police kept Steven’s adventure out of the press, while they tried to pry more information out of him. But the syndicate has connections—and word got out that I’d let a witness live. Even an optimist like me knew that I’d shown inexplicably bad judgment. The change in my status was gradual, but apparent. My partner became noticeably less diligent about my safety, and I was no longer invited to high level meetings. I was a dead man walking. This despite the fact that Steven never divulged our identities. But that didn’t matter to my bosses. They don’t like leaving anything to chance.

    Over the next couple of months I kept track of Steven, which was easy enough because I knew where he lived. I followed him, found out where he worked and what he did for amusement. Turned out he was an accomplished pool hustler and hung out in a pretty rough tavern down by the waterfront. I began making periodic visits to let him know I was around, watching him. He and I never talked or socialized with each other. Whenever I showed up he would give me a barely discernible nod. Nothing more.

    Eventually, I told my partner Joey to meet me at the tavern. Joey, who arrived early, was unaware of Steven’s identity. The waitress, a young woman named Doris came over and placed a drink on the table. “It’s on the house, Mr. Adams.”

    Doris wasn’t gorgeous, but she had big green eyes with fake lashes that could sweep you off your feet. She wore long, straight, platinum blonde hair and short skirts. She had a gift for charming men into worshiping her without actually touching her. When that didn’t work, she just laughed and walked away.

    I was baffled by the free drink. “What’s this, sweetheart?”

    “Your usual,” she said. “I take care of good customers. I just wish you’d come here more often.”

    My partner Joey slapped me on the arm. “Wow,” he said, “Ain’t you the fuckin’ celebrity.”

    She addressed Joey. “What about you, Mister? Can I get you something?”

    Joey looked her up and down, lingering on her legs. “I’ll have what he’s having, just a little less of it.” Then he winked at her.

    I lifted the drink, swirled it, sniffed it: A half a glass of bourbon, a splash of soda and one ice cube. My usual.

    Joey watched with feigned amusement. “What’s a matter?” He said. “You think the waitress is tryin’ to poison ya?”

    “I don’t know, maybe she is. Here.” I pushed the drink his way and said, “have some.” He reached for the glass too eagerly and I swatted his beefy hand out of the way.

    I raised the glass and downed half of it, as I did, I saw Steven glance at me from across the room. He left some cash on the bar, and headed toward the back door.

    I leaned over and said, “Hey Joey, I’m gonna go take a piss. Wanna hold it for me?”

    He said, “No thanks.” Then added, “Why don’t ya’ piss in ya’ glass, and I’ll go empty it faw ya?”

    I couldn’t help but notice how much my drink already looked like piss, so I finished it off before leaving the table. “It’s not that I don’t trust ya, Joey.” Then I went out the back door to find Steven waiting for me.

    *****

    I was chatting with a half-sloshed patron who’d already lost about a hundred bucks at the pool table when Mr. Adams stepped into the alley. We dropped the pretense of not knowing one another.

    “Did you wanna talk to me, Steven?” He said.

    The drunken pool player mumbled something and drifted toward the back entrance.

    I said, “I think there’s a price on your head, Mr. Adams.”

    “A price! Says who?”

    “I don’t know. No one in particular. I just hear people talking. Nasty types, referring to you in the past tense. Stuff like that.”

    Mr. Adams swore. “Anything else?”

    I thought for a moment. “Yeah, Doris told me to tell you that your partner fixed you your drink before you arrived. He insisted. She said he might’ve put something in it.”

    Adams’ face turned pale, then he grimaced, doubled over in apparent pain and puked. When the spasm passed, he straightened up with his hand in his jacket and I thought he was going to shoot me but he turned and staggered back into the tavern. I followed him in but kept my distance.

    His partner Joey was completely oblivious as Adams approached him from behind. He tapped Joey on the shoulder with his gun and when Joey turned, he shot him in the face, then lurched out the front door. Nobody tried to stop him. Everyone could see there was foam coming out of his mouth.

    For several seconds everyone froze, including me. It was quiet, the gunshot still ringing in my ears. We were all dazed. Suddenly people were tossing money on the tables, grabbing their coats and stampeding toward the exits.

    I sidled up next to Doris as she stood by the cash register in a cloud of perfume. “Am I imagining things,” I whispered, “or did I see you put something in Mr. Adams’ drink?”

    “Yeah,” she whispered back. “Cyanide.”

    “What? What’d you do that for?”

    “Fifty thousand, in small unmarked bills.”

    “Fifty thou—you’re the hit man?”

    She winked. “That’s right honey. I’m sick of this dump. I wanna make a fresh start.”

    ****

    So maybe you’ve figured out that I ain’t really dead.

    Turns out we all needed a fresh start. A couple of tablespoons of bicarbonate mixed with some vinegar in my flask provided the foam effect. Witnesses saw a poisoned mobster commit his last murder, others heard I had a price on my head.

    The next day, me, Steven and Doris all turned up missing, possible victims of mob activity, but they never found our bodies. The only body they ever found was Joey’s, and that makes sense ‘cause he was the only one who died.

    Yours Truly,
    Mr. Adams.

  • January 16, 2017 at 5:47 pm
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    Happy Effing New Year
    By Alice Nelson ©2017

    Everybody’s making resolutions. I’m not, I’m done setting myself up for failure.

    I’ve done it all. The diets, the gym memberships. Read all the Oprah recommended books. New Year, new me is bullshit —it’s the same old me, just 365 days later.

    Change doesn’t come with a slogan —at least not for me.

    It was New Year’s Eve and I decided to spend it at home, alone.

    Now don’t go feeling sorry for me, this was how I wanted it. I couldn’t attend one more party, couldn’t do one more countdown with a room full of drunken and desperate people who thought the calendar turning from one page to the next meant they got a do-over —a new year to be their best selves. I had enough of that. So I bought some junk food, ordered a pizza, and sat down in front of the boob tube. I was going to ring in this New Year with my best bud, Netflix.

    And it was grand. At least for a few hours. However, around 10:30, I heard a loud blast from outside, and a few moments later, the lights went out. ‘Happy fuckin’ New Year to me.’ I thought.

    ****
    Looks like I wasn’t the only one in my apartment building who decided to sit this year out. I stepped into the hallway, thankful the emergency lights were on, and there were 7 or 8 of us who had filed out of our hovels, looking for an answer to the power outage.

    “Sounds like a transformer blew.” It was the guy from 3b, Chris…Carl…some name that started with a C. He looked relatively calm, considering.

    I heard someone call him Elliot. Looks like I need to get to know my neighbors better.

    Elliot, who I thought was Chris or Carl waved me over and asked, “You’re Paisley in 3H, right?”

    He knew my name, and where I lived. That was either flattering or worrisome.

    “Yeah that’s me,” I said.

    “I guess you didn’t want to venture out tonight either, and with this power outage looks like we made the right decision.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “He motioned for me to follow him into his apartment. I was either going to see what he meant, or meet my doom, I wasn’t sure.

    But then I saw it. This wasn’t just a building outage, or even a block outage, the entire city had been swallowed up in darkness. There were a few car head lights coming down the street, but other than that, it looked like we were in outer space. I noticed Elliot staring at me, and it made me nervous.

    “You’re not going to kill me, are you?” I asked. Half joking, half serious.

    Elliot laughed. It was a nice laugh, a friendly one. The kind of laugh a psychotic serial killer wouldn’t possess —or so I hoped anyway.

    “Not unless you want me to.” He said. Now it was my turn to laugh —definitely not a homicidal maniac.

    The others had joined us in Elliot’s apartment, and he graciously said, “No need for us to be alone on a night like this.”

    There were lanterns set up all over Elliot’s place, and I could see that the layout was similar to mine. But he had an extra bedroom, and it looked like he’d done some upgrades that gave it a homier feel than my stale old cookie cutter apartment.

    “Nice place Elliot.” An older gentleman said. “Did you do some remodeling?”

    Elliot nodded. “I did some work a few years back. It’s a hobby of mine.”

    There was a collective head shake, as we all looked around admiring Elliot’s handy work.

    There was another explosion that lit up the sky. Some of us screamed —okay I screamed. But if you had heard this sound, you would’ve been terrified too.

    Then a silence settled over the city. It was more than just quiet, it was as if the explosion sucked the sound out of the universe.

    Elliot tried to lighten the moment. “I’ve got some goodies here if anyone’s hungry.”

    But the older gentleman, I think his name was Lenderman or Linden, was staring out the window. We all could see how scared he was.

    “Don’t worry Mr. Paulson, the city will figure it out and have the power back on in no time.” Elliot told him.

    I was wrong about the old guys name too. Geez, I really needed to get out more.

    A woman tried to comfort Mr. Paulson, and don’t worry I won’t even try to recall her name. She sat with him in the living room, and held his hand.

    “Let’s try our best to enjoy ourselves. I don’t have a lot of food, but I’ll share what I’ve got.” Elliot said.

    “I have some food at my place,” a short woman called out. “I’ll bring it over.”

    “Me too.” Said some guy with red hair.

    Then a tall skinny dude offered up some food, and a girl with a giant tattoo on her back, volunteered something form her place as well.

    “Everyone pair up and go back to your apartments together, this way no one gets lost or hurt.” Look at Elliot, a natural born leader —definitely not a killer or a psycho.

    I paired up with tattoo girl, and brought over all the junk I intended to enjoy by myself. She brought a delicious pasta dish, and some wine. It was a regular potluck, and before long, the mood was quite festive.

    Tall skinny dude was trying to get reception on a portable radio, but there was only static. We were having a pretty good time getting to know each other better, and sharing stories as if we were old friends.

    I was even beginning to relax. It was actually a fun New Year’s Eve party.

    Ah, but I spoke too soon. Seconds after that thought wound its way through my brain and into my consciousness, there was a loud banging on the door.

    We all froze right where we were, it was definitely not the friendly knock of a neighbor. Elliot, the consummate leader, made his way through the group and said, “Who is it?” There wasn’t a hint of fear in his voice. No one answered. Again Elliot asked, “Who is it?”

    There was a rustling sound, followed by hushed voices. Then footsteps moved away from the door, down the hall, and up the stairs to the next floor.

    No doubt looters, looking to take advantage of the outage, and maybe hurt people in the process.

    “Let’s try and stay calm.” Elliot said. “You all can stay here tonight. Strength in numbers, right?”

    Was he some kind of motivational speaker? The dude just seemed to know exactly what to say.

    Even with the reassuring Elliot, I was still a bit freaked out. As if he could sense this, Elliot came over and sat down next to me. “Are you alright Paisley?”

    I was going to say, ‘I’m fine,’ because that’s what I always say when someone asks me if I’m okay. But for some reason, looking at Elliot’s friendly face, I wanted to just vomit up all these feelings I had inside.

    “No, not really.” I said. “Another year, and the same old shit, you know? I don’t even know what I’m doing. I don’t know my neighbors, I stayed home alone, my life’s a mess, the power’s out, and now some people might be looting our apartments while we sit here and—“ I stopped short, embarrassed by my rambling, then I tried to take it all back. “I’m fine, really, I’m okay.” I looked down at the plate in my lap, wanting to disappear into the pasta Alfredo.

    But Elliot was either a sweet sincere man, or an expert bullshitter, because he chuckled a bit and said, “I love your honesty Paisley, especially on a night like this. I feel some of those same things, guess that’s why I decided to lay low tonight too.” He shrugged. “But I’m glad I stayed home, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to ring in the New Year with you.”

    He smiled, it was beautiful. I giggled like an idiot. I don’t know what was coming over me, but I wanted to grab his face and kiss him. Elliot was saved however, by the tall skinny dude who said, “Hey, it’s almost the New Year.”

    We all raised our glasses, and began the countdown.

    Ten, nine.

    “A pretty great night, wasn’t it?” Elliot said

    Eight, seven.

    “Yeah, it was.” I smiled.

    Six, five.

    Elliot placed his hand on my shoulder.

    Four, three.

    Maybe this would be a good year after all, I thought.

    Two, one.

    And it started out very promising indeed, when Elliot kissed me just as the clock struck midnight.

    Happy fucking New Year to me.

  • January 17, 2017 at 10:47 am
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    In Unison by Carrie Zylka Copyright 2017

    Maelic soaked up the heat like a solar panel at noon. He stood just inside the gate, and breathed deep of Fajro’s Sulphur tinged air.

    The Angel stepped through and immediately began coughing. Her human lungs were unaccustomed to the dense, hot air.

    For a moment he almost turned to comfort her. But then his eyes hardened as her rejection flared fresh in his mind’s eye.


    With lightning speed his left hand pinned the radial bone of the wing about to knock into him and wrapped his right hand around her throat, wanting to tighten that grip. Wanting it so very desperately.

    Their faces were inches from each other, a silent observer would have noticed the way their expressions, even in anger, mirrored one another. Wide eyes flashing in fury, lips drawn tight, the promise of violence in their posture.

    The Angel remained perfectly still, knowing he wouldn’t (couldn’t) kill her. His gray eyes caught and held hers and she was surprised when she saw the black ferocity in them lessen.

    She almost panicked, for a fraction of a second she actually did want him. The human woman in her wanted to feel his lips on her, wanted to taste the darkness inside him.

    His chest was heaving as his eyes left hers and trailed down to her lips. He leaned in further, just a fraction, and his nostrils flared as he took in her scent.

    But the Angel inside her roared like a charging lion and tore the human desires away. Her eyes flared with indignation.

    Her lips peeled back. “Get…the…fuck…off…me…” She snarled and the moment was lost.

    Instead, he said nothing, giving her time to grow accustomed to the atmosphere. It had been centuries since he’d been back to his home world. When he had first heard of the Worldbuilders’ plan to close the gates permanently, he made his escape, reveling in the thought of a fresh start on a new world. He managed to navigate four gates before they had sealed them.

    But now he found himself back here, in this world he both loved and hated. A world full of his kind, all vying for dominance. And he; a prince among fire demons.

    Fajro had a perpetual orange glow; streams of lava flowed everywhere, and red volcanoes dotted the horizon, covering everything in ash that stirred like tiny tornadoes when the winds blew. In the distance he could see the elaborate houses carved into the sides of the volcanoes.

    His eyes gazed into the distance, where he knew “home” was. He was almost glad it was too far away to see.

    He heard the rustle behind him, indicating she was looking at her precious map. His anger flared and he turned to her.

    She glanced up from the map, unruffled by his aggressive demeanor. “Yes?” She asked with an eyebrow raised.

    Sudden fury coursed through him and he snatched the map out of her hands. He flung it in the air and with a wave of his hand the map fluttered straight toward a stream of molten lava.

    “No!!” She screamed and dove towards it, saving it just in time.

    Grinning maliciously he caught her by the arm and swung her around. Her body quivered with rage as she faced him. “You almost stranded us here! Without the map I can’t locate the next gate. And without the rune guide I can’t open it even if we do since I never memorized it!!” She hissed in frustration.

    His face fell. The thought of being trapped on his home world both terrified and exhilarated him. She shook loose and turned away, cradling her hand, in obvious pain.

    Realizing she’d burnt her hand saving the map, Maelic wasn’t sure how to react.

    Guilt swept through him and he took a step towards her. He stopped short, what was he going to do? Comfort her? Apologize? He shook his head in derision at his own feelings.

    He looked up at the three suns, descending in unison towards the horizon. They would need shelter before nightfall. Fajro was a dangerous place during the daytime hours, but there were things that lived in the shadows that scared even him and nighttime was their playground.

    “We should find shelter for the night.”

    Squaring her shoulders she glanced at him, resolve hardening her eyes. “The map says the gate is not far. I’d rather push on.”

    “No. We should not chance it during the night. There will be somewhere we can find.”

    “No.” Here voice left no room for argument. “We will keep going. I wish to be done with you as soon as possible and if I have to walk for a week straight through molten lava to make that happen, I will.”

    Anger flashed across his face and he spoke before he could stop himself. “Listen you infernal wench, wouldn’t you rather get there in one piece? Fajro’s nighttime denizens are fiercer than anything you could ever imagine.”

    Her green eyes narrowed and glittered dangerously. “Funny, when I asked you if you knew anything about this world you said you did not.”

    “I lied. Demons do that you know.”

    Before she could retort, a great catlike creature leapt from the rock outcropping behind and above them. It knocked the Angel backwards several meters and she scrambled from falling into the stream of lava.

    Maelic wasted no time, recognizing the fire leopard for what it was. He drew his sword and swung down, and screamed in pain as a mouth full of razor sharp teeth closed around his wrist. Another fire leopard swung its massive neck to the side and Maelic was jerked off his feet.

    The Angel rolled as the leopard pounced, she pushed to her feet and flung her wings wide, but the lava streams created contradictory air patterns and the hot air buffeted at her, causing her to lose her balance. The leopard wasted no time and sprung at her chest, claws screeched against her breastplate as it punctured the armor. She cried out in pain, hot and searing unlike anything she’d ever felt before. She brought her fists together and swung them down on the cat’s head with all her strength, it lost its forward balance and she flipped it onto its back, narrowly missing it’s fangs as it’s jaws snapped at her face.

    Maelic muttered some words. He was on his native world, he was in his prime and he was eager for a fight. The fire magic came screaming to his call. Great black clouds formed around his free hand and he reached out to grab the cat, his thumb found it’s eye socket and it opened its mouth to shriek in pain, freeing his other arm. Its hind legs bunched as its font legs swiped, claws menacing, and Maelic spat out the words to his spell, faster and faster. Sensing its impending doom the cat began writhing as it attempted to escape. But Maelic’s hand was sunk securely in the beast’s skull and it was no match for his strength. He finished the spell and a great burst of black light sped along his arm, down his hand and into its head. The leopard gave a final shudder and collapsed in a heap of fur.

    He turned towards the rock outcroppings and saw more of the cats racing to join the fray. Sparing a glance at the Angel he began rapid firing balls of energy at the animals, knocking them back, killing some, inuring others.

    He felt a sense of triumph as the Angel joined him, she too sending great balls of winter ice at the beasts as they came. They unconsciously shifted so they were back to back, the fire stream allowing some reprieve from that direction and permitting them to cover the three sides.

    Finally the rest of the pride fell back, but not before dozens of their brothers and sisters had fallen to the Angel and the Demon, working in unison.

    Breathing heavily, they both slid down, sitting and leaning against each other. It felt like only moments but they had used their magic to defend themselves for hours. Night had fallen and the only light they had, came from the hot stream a few meters away.

    Maelic squeezed his eyes shut; the adrenaline laced power coursing through him waned, leaving him tired. He could hear from her labored breathing the Angel was still having a hard time with the environment. While his was the more powerful here on his home world, her magic was devastating, but he knew it cost her more to use. He shifted his body, reaching over with his uninjured arm, he pulled her against him. He was pleased when she did not resist. Instead she huddled against him, their shapes fitting perfectly together.

    “Rest.” He whispered, holding her, fiercely protective as he watched for foes until the three suns came up.

  • January 18, 2017 at 12:42 am
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    Now Is The Time

    It started as a low hum, lasted about an hour, then silence.

    The next morning it began again, only this time after an hour instead of silence a rumble began to build.

    My stomach churned like butter. I could even feel the paddles moving the buttery substance about. Would the men from weeks ago remember and keep their promise to me? Could I, a mere servant, and prisoner of the King, save my family?

    Twice a year our city gates are open for outsiders to enter. I first saw the two men from my window, where I am required to stand with the red flag in plain view. Right away something about their dress sent alarms running up and down my spine. These men were from the cave dwellers. The stories about them and the feats they had done, were ones of awe. Wishing to see no harm done to them, I beckon them to come to me.

    “We can not enter the house of ill repute” They replied.

    Promising them nothing more than safety, provisions for food, drink and a moment of rest, they reluctantly agreed. We question each other and found to be seeking the same sort of peace. The night began to fall. I showed them to the roof and told them to stay between the large vegetable trellises. Just as I feared, the knock on the door came; the King’s parasite had arrived to inquire of the strangers in town.

    “Have you seen the two who dress in the skins of the wild animals?“ one of them asked.

    “They were here, but I sent them away. They left through the lower gate. If you hurry, you might catch them. “I said. Returning to my window, I watch the stooges exit the portal in search of the men. I stood at my post as the sun winked its last for the day. There would not be much time before the moon rose high enough to cast its dim light. I had to move fast. As soon as I was sure no one would be looking for me in the dormer, I ran upstairs to retrieve my companions

    “The hour has come for you to wake from your slumber; the time draws near for you to run.”

    My flat backs the wall that surrounds our city, So that I may catch a glimpse of all who enter and they can see by the silks in my porthole if I am open for business. I instruct the men to go by way of the hills; they should use caution for the next three days before journeying homeward.

    “Remember me, and all my household, that I gave you refuge.” I pleaded.

    “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again, and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” one replied.

    Now the dawn once again brings another echoing of disaster about to strike.

    The hum grows, with each march around our walls.

    Now is the time for destruction to befall us. No one has power over the time of their death. For a long time, I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. Pleading for our lives to be spared. Now is the time. May the Lord have mercy on me, my father and mother, my brothers and sisters and all who are our kin.

    The cadence seems to linger on today, compared to the last six days. I hear a crescendo of trumpets. The cries of the people follow. We Hide ourselves in the corners of my quarters. The two oddly dressed men show up to escort us outside the city before the fires begin. The walls all about have fallen, and the citizens are strewn about like dismantled scarecrows. The cave dwellers have spared my family and me this time. Now I am the outsider among them, who spared me. It is their God who has given them this place, without the need of an arrow flung. Their God who directed them to march, to sound the trumpets and to shout.

    Once out beyond the borders, we head for the caves. My troubles have only begun.

  • January 18, 2017 at 10:58 am
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    Thank you writers for participating in this week’s contest.
    Once you have read through the stories visit http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/voting-2017-fresh-start/ to cast your vote Thursday, January 19, 2017 no later than 12:00pm Eastern time.
    REMEMBER – you may not vote for yourself, and you may only vote once.
    Thank you and good luck!

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