STORY THREAD; Feb 18 to Mar 2, 2016 Flash Fiction Contest: “Desert/We Covered Lots of Territory That Day” Prompt

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This post is for STORIES related to the Last Paragraph Prompt: “Desert”

Prompt: we covered lots of territory that day” must be written somewhere in the story, the placement can be anywhere but it must be the exact wording.

Required Element: The word “Desert” must appear in the last paragraph.

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Stories must fit into a single comment box and must be under 1000 words.

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21 thoughts on “STORY THREAD; Feb 18 to Mar 2, 2016 Flash Fiction Contest: “Desert/We Covered Lots of Territory That Day” Prompt

  • February 19, 2016 at 5:15 am
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    I Never Really Loved You

    (998 words)

    “I never really loved you.”

    After 14 years of marriage and 3 children, it wasn’t what I expected to hear. Maybe: “I’ve changed”, or “we’ve grown apart”, or “I don’t love you any more”. But: “I never loved you”?

    “I’ve only come to realise it recently,” Emma continued. “I think I always depended on you, rather than loved you. And now, with my new job, and just, well, growing up, I find I don’t depend on you anymore and …”

    She sighed, almost reaching for a tissue. “And – the love just isn’t there. It hasn’t been easy for me, these past few months. I’ve struggled with this, so much.”

    Events in the past few months began to fall into place. The dark, silent moods that had us all walking on eggshells. Staying very late at work, not coming home in time to help put the children to bed – what had she been doing?

    I asked the obvious question. “Is there someone – ”

    “No. Definitely no. You must be sure of that.”

    She reached across and put her hand across the back of mine, gave it a gentle squeeze.

    “No. It’s me, not you,” she said, reassuring.

    I believed her, but I wasn’t reassured. Somehow I felt it would have been better if there had been something else. A change of affection would be better than simply being unloved, or maybe unlovable.

    “Sometimes,” she said, “I wasn’t at the faculty.”

    I knew that, of course. “Where did you go?”

    “Just walking. Or sitting by the river, and thinking. Thinking, ‘I can’t go through with this’, or ‘I can’t go on living like this’, going round and round in circles. Wishing my life would just end.”

    “And that would be better than living with me, with us?”

    She looked down at the table, turned her coffee cup around in her hands. Lifted her head as if to talk, and looked down again. Then spoke firmly, as if there were words rehearsed, something that had to be said.

    “We were married so young. We were both only 21, just leaving college. And I feel the life I could have had – you snatched it away from me. I wasn’t ready to be a mother, for any of this family life. This just isn’t what I want.”

    “But it was 5 years before we had Joanna!” I protested. “We had all those years of messing around and having fun. It wasn’t like we jumped straight into a settled married life.”

    “Exactly.”

    Exactly?

    “Five wasted years. What could I have been doing if I hadn’t been with you? Where would I be now?”

    “And maybe who would you be with?” I suggested.

    “It’s not about that,” she insisted. “It’s about me. It’s about who I am, who I could be.”

    We covered lots of territory that day, that night, that month. And the next. Mostly going in circles. For others, we pretended everything was fine. She glowed in company, as ever, reserving a special gloom for when we two were alone. I was complicit in this charade.

    At last she talked to her sister, who urged counselling. Individual, marriage, family therapy – but Emma wanted none of it. She simply wanted her torment to end, and I was the only person who could grant her that.

    And it was me who had to move out. We lived in a house that came with her job at the college. I could move back to our old house when our tenants there left at the end of term, she said.

    After a long evening of talking about the practicalities of separation, I said, “This is nuts. What would you say if I said I don’t agree?”

    “If you say that, I feel as though a door is being shut on my life, and I’ll be trapped in darkness forever.”

    I took a deep breath, and thought for a while. “There’s not a lot I can say to that.”

    That was the moment I accepted the end of ‘us’. As I did so, relief unexpectedly washed through me. It would be difficult for everyone, for the children, for the wider family, for friends. But there is a relief in bowing to the inevitable. And whatever else I was responsible for, I didn’t want to be responsible for shutting Emma in darkness and locking the door.

    I left my job so I would be there for the kids, the eldest still only 8. I hated handing them over on a Friday to spend weekends with Emma. But it became a routine, and as time went on she wanted to share the caring more, and that was good.

    The years passed. We had other partners. I still struggled with being, in my own mind, unlovable.

    Then I heard from my daughter that her mother said she had always loved me and always would. Just that love changes over time. I remembered the box of love letters we had written to each other before we were married. Emma had tied them with red ribbon, and put them in a scented box. They came with me when I left, and I found them in the attic. Had it all been a pretence?

    I found it no longer mattered.

    After another fourteen years – strange, the symmetry – I found new love. I asked Emma for a divorce. She told me she was happy for me. She said she had never thought about a divorce, imagined that somehow we would always be connected. And then she cried.

    I remarried, and I am happy. Children and step-children are all grown up, now making their own way in the world, writing their lives as we rewrite ours.

    We have covered a lot of territory in life, with more to cover. Each mile we go is a mile not travelled in other directions. And I wonder, had we stayed circling endlessly in the desert of a loveless marriage, what opportunities for happiness and new adventure would we have missed?

  • February 20, 2016 at 10:39 pm
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    THREE

    For three consecutive nights, Seth woke with a start. That in itself might have worried him because he was generally a sound sleeper, but the thing that scared him on the second night, and terrified him on the third, was the time that it happened: 1:11.

    On all three occasions, he found himself staring at the digital alarm clock, the three red 1s glowing diabolically in the gloom. On the third night, he was so shaken that he got up, went to the study and switched on the computer.

    A brief search told him that he had no reason to be terrified: seeing the numbers repeatedly was a good thing, apparently. He learned that 111 was a so-called ‘Angel Number’, a gateway of energy that could turn your thoughts and dreams into reality. Seth wasn’t by nature a spiritual, religious or superstitious person, but there was no denying the evidence of his own eyes and body: he’d woken up at exactly the same time each night, and not just any old time.

    The next morning Seth went about his daily routine but with a heightened sense that something had changed in what had, up to now, been a humdrum life. He felt empowered somehow and made a conscious effort to think of positive things that would make his life better.

    What did he want exactly? Well, things that he didn’t have. Money, obviously, and friends. And maybe a good woman. No, why be so conservative? He wanted a LOT of money, FAMOUS friends, and a woman who looked like Penelope Cruz.

    On the bus to work – he was a clerk at a factory – he repeated in his mind a kind of chant: CASH, CHUMS, CRUZ; CASH, CHUMS, CRUZ. He was beginning to convince himself that the world would simply hand him this free pass to happiness.

    He didn’t expect it to start paying off so quickly, though. When he got off the bus he noticed something on the pavement next to a fence: a gold coin! He bent down as if to tie his shoelace and scooped it up; it was an old sovereign. He was about to get up when he noticed where the coin had been lying. The fence had most of the railings missing, and he was staring at a 1:11 made of the railings that remained. It was the final piece of proof he needed that something strangely wonderful was happening to him.

    Seth pocketed the sovereign and headed for the nearest lottery shop. He was late for work but maybe he wouldn’t be needing that job for much longer. In the shop, he completed a coupon, changing two of his usual favourite numbers for 1 and 11. The draw was for that evening.

    As soon as he got home after work he turned the television on. He sat on the sofa clutching his coupon and repeating over and over again the chant he’d created. When the lottery show was over, he remained staring at the screen, numb and speechless. He’d won, and not the 10 euros he’d been winning every few months. No, the jackpot: 111 million euros.

    The next few weeks were a maelstrom of activity for Seth. Naturally he gave up his job, he bought himself a new apartment in town and an Aston Martin, he joined the golf club and through the people he met there, he became a member of an exclusive club in the city. He was invited to the most fashionable of parties and got to know some of the most famous personalities of sport, stage and screen. At one such party he met her.

    The first thing he noticed was her slim body and her exquisite neck, partially obscured by long dark hair, hanging down her back in a plait. She was talking to two men who were hanging on her every word. Seth manoeuvred himself so that he could see her face. She had dark brown, almost black eyes, a bold but elegant nose and full lips; she was perfect. Seth got closer and could hear her slightly hoarse, infinitely sensual voice; she had a distinct Middle-Eastern accent.

    “Oh yes. We covered lots of territory that day,” she said. The story was obviously over because she excused herself and moved away, possibly to get herself another drink. She turned to say something else to the men but carried on moving and bumped into Seth, knocking his glass of wine down the front of his shirt.

    “I’m so sorry! Here, let me.” The woman grabbed a serviette from a nearby table and started to dab at the red stain.

    “No, please. Don’t worry.” Seth held her wrist gently to stop her. Their eyes met. “My name’s Seth.”

    “Taraab.” Her smile was warm and gentle, her eyes fathomless. Seth was in love.

    Three months later they were married. The wedding was held at a desert oasis in Taraab’s country, the honeymoon to be a trip into the desert with camels and guides. After two days, they found themselves in the heart of the scorched land, and that was where the guides left them, taking all their valuables and leaving them with only the clothes on their backs.

    They made an attempt to retrace their steps, but the heat was relentless and they knew there was no hope. They lay on the sand, Seth trying to shade Taraab against the ferocious rays of the sun; she would be the first to go. Seth began mumbling a new chant: “SAVE OUR SOULS; SAVE OUR SOULS.”

    He felt himself drifting towards oblivion but something shook him back into awareness. He lifted his head and gazed into the distance. Riding towards them were three figures on camels, elongated by the red desert shimmer, one slightly separated from the other two.

    .

  • February 23, 2016 at 5:39 am
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    “Dolly, Dolly!” She muttered into its ear.” We covered lots of territory that day, together. You and I. You and I.” She grasped the long, blond plaits of the doll with its vacant cornflower blue eyes and shook the doll hard. Then she rocked back and forth on the thin mattress of the bed.

    There was an overwhelming urge to smack its china head down hard on the cement floor, but she knew it would shatter; so thought better of it. It was however something to talk too. Sadly it did not talk back, being only a doll. That is until today.
    Teresa felt fear amidst the anger that consumed her lately. The anger was like an animal that gnawed at her insides.

    She had learnt somewhere once, about the Spartans. Sparta was an Ancient Greek state that was renowned for the prowess and toughness of its fighting forces. The civilian population were equally tough as blazes. She remembered her Ancient History teacher, Mr. Stubbs – a short dumpling with a fringe of greasy hair above his ears, bald head, his fat fingers dusted with chalk reminded her of Turkish delight bars, except for the black hairs spouting along their length – which he waved expressively at the class as he trotted up and down the dais – his chunky thighs squishing together as he paced, his rotund belly spilling over and threatening to displace the garish tie which he tucked into his straining belt. Stubby was full of stories about the toughness of the Spartans.
    “And she told her son, ‘HERE is your SHIELD. Here is your SWORD. Come back carrying them or on them.’
    Teresa tried to imagine someone moving along on a shield. She had it almost figured out when Stubs pounced.
    ‘So how did the Spartans ensure survival of the fittest?’ His Turkish delight fingers weaved and directed their attention to ….’Teresa Lemon. Would you enlighten us?’ Teresa twirled a plait around her forefinger. The class turned and waited.
    ‘They bathed the babies in wine, not water. Any babies with defects were left to die on the mountainside. She felt tears at the thought prick the back of her eyes and threaten to overspill.
    ‘And?’ The Turkish delight fingers waved, spreading chalk dusting through the sunlight beaming from the classroom windows.
    ‘Boys started military school at seven until twenty.’ She shook her head at the thought.
    ‘Aha? Anyone else with pearls of wisdom to drop before the SWINE?’ Stubby chuckled madly at this clichéd off repeated joke. He was the only one laughing. The class was silent in its observance of school protocols. No disrespect intended. He twirled and snatched a piece of chalk to continue his summary of Spartan training for the military notes on the board.

    Everyone dutifully copied out the notes.
    “Boys were encouraged to survive by any means what so ever. Even stealing was considered appropriate, but if caught they were severely punished. They were often flogged almost to death in order to prove their toughness.
    The role of women in Spartan life”

    After underlining the headline, Stubby stopped and turned to face the class.

    Teresa had gone back to day dreaming and doodling. She had liked a story about a fox best. Some youth had stolen this fox. He was nearly caught. He allowed it to gnaw his entrails out rather than admit that it was hidden inside his tunic. He dropped dead in front of the interrogator. His toughness became another legend of Spartan toughness. She was deep into a reflection on the pain the boy must have felt. The boy whose disciplined nature allowed him to transcend the pain of having his entrails eaten out, while standing to attention before his interrogator; she could not decide whether he was worthy of admiration or quite irresponsible and therefore despicably stupid.

    A finger waved in front of her nose.

    ‘Miss Lemon. Have you something to add?’

    Teresa thought quickly.

    ‘The fox would have had to be hungry?’

    The class tittered in expectation. Stubbs’s jowls drooped further than one would have believed possible.

    ‘Miss Lemon?’ His nose twitched and his tone became menacing. ‘How do foxes connect to infanticide.’

    ‘Ahah.’ Teresa wisely stated. ‘It must have been difficult to leave a defective child on the hillside.’ She paused for a moment. ‘Knowing the foxes would come. Possibly to eat the baby. How could they leave them alive?’
    The class lost all semblance of order. She remembered that day now.

    Locked in the cell with its pale blue walls, she thought she saw the doll’s eyes move sideways.

    ‘Why did you do it?’ She looked wildly towards the door of the cell. Then she heard it again. ‘Why?’
    She did not look at the doll when she finally answered it.
    ‘You talk?’

    ‘Yes. Why did you do it?”

    She breathed slowly and deep. A desert of years without intimacy had emptied her soul.
    ‘I did not want her to suffer. I wanted to end her suffering.’ The doll’s blue eyes blinked twice. Then it spoke.
    ‘But that was not your decision to make. Was it?’ Teresa felt the tears begin to fall again. ‘Yes. I know now. You were her first doll. She loved you.’
    ‘I know.’ It whispered at her as it began to grow smiling all the while. Its teeth became enormously sharp and the blue eyes reddened as it reached for her throat which she inclined towards the doll’s hungry maw.
    She was glad she had not attempted to smack its head. It could have made her ending far more painful.

  • February 23, 2016 at 12:48 pm
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    Vector

    By Dean Hardage ©2016

    Survey Vessel Vector, Log Entry four two, ten days after planet fall, summary entry. After ascertaining that the environment was safe for us to move about in we deployed, set up base camp, and began the survey. The foliage had that ‘familiar but somehow different’ quality that we experienced on every world but Earth. Despite being similar, something that looked like pine or an oak would invariably have some difference, subtle or glaring, that gave it away as alien even if it was only a subconscious feeling. We’d learned to deal with in our own way as we spend weeks and months surveying new planets and determining if they were suitable for colonization. At first glance Beta Crucis 3 had looked ideal. We were so very wrong.

    We covered lots of territory that day as we had the previous 3, pausing for a second day beside a small but pristine and beautiful lake. We refilled out water containers and rested up to continue our outward spiral pattern the next day. What we discovered that next morning made sure that didn’t happen. I was drinking a cup of coffee that had come from your freeze-dried supplies and thinking how good fresh coffee would taste when we got back to base in a couple of months. I was standing on the shore of the lake when I realized that the vaguely alien impression was more pronounced and couldn’t figure out why.

    “Captain?”

    It was our biologist/botanist/cartographer Allen Serra who was approaching with a worried look on his face.

    “What’s wrong, Allen?”

    The young man held up a small branch from one of the local trees. Even as I watched, the leaves slowly dissolved before my eyes, crumbling into a fine, dry dust. The effect visibly lasted about five minutes but I noticed that the thin, willow like bark was also dissolving albeit more slowly.

    “What the hell is causing that?”

    “I have no idea, sir. No one has shown any kind of ill effect but something that can do this, well, let’s just say I’m a little afraid.”

    “Tell everyone to get packed up. We’re heading back to the ship right now.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    It didn’t take long. Survey teams travel light and we know how to move rapidly when the situation calls for it. I took us back along the route we had already travelled, our knowledge of the landscape and trails making the return trip much quicker than the trip out. As we got closer to base camp we say the same conditions but they were much more advanced. One of our camp sites had been completely denuded of vegetation, even the native grass dissolved to leave a thin coat of fine dust covering bare soil. I’d ordered anti-contamination procedures by then and team members all wore air filter hoods that protected them from inhaling anything in the air and their hands were covered with antibiotic imbedded gloves meant to stop any living pathogen.

    There was no slowing or stopping to record or examine. This was purely a speed march to get out of a contaminated environment as quickly as possible and we covered the same distance in one day it had taken them five the first time. The team was exhausted by the time we got back to base and into the safety of our landing vessel. Allen and the medical officer immediately began to try and determine what was happening and how best to insure it didn’t harm any of the crew. It took a lot less time than I expected.

    “We figured it out, sir. We’re in no danger.”

    “How can you be sure?”

    “Because we’re the source of what’s killing everything.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “It seems that what we perceive and plant life here has more in common with what we would consider animal life, fauna instead of flora. It seems that the mites that live in our skin find it delicious. They consume the plant until it’s gone and then starve unless they are deposited on a fresh one or back to a human body.”

    “Are you joking?”

    “Wish I was, Captain. As it is, we may have irreversibly damaged the ecology of this place. A little wind, any kind of air movement and the destruction spreads.”

    I made the decision instantly.

    “Prepare for immediate departure and notify the rest of the team.”

    Allen went to carry out my orders and within a half-hour we were lifting off. As we rose and more of the planet became visible beneath us we saw huge brown circles where the surface had been covered in lush vegetation when we were landing. It might have been my imagination but they seemed to expand as I watched.

    “Ironic, isn’t it.”

    “What’s that, Captain?”

    “What do you call the agent that carries a pathogen into an organism?”

    Allen was silent. He looked down at the once verdant world, slowly becoming a desert for a moment before he answered. “A vector.”

  • February 23, 2016 at 1:58 pm
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    FAR AWAY…

    She watched him struggle to stand from his chair where they were seated in the middle of the room as he walked to his familiar place near the window. He sat there, with his elbows resting on the windowsill, staring. Jake Mass was huge. When he walked through a doorway, his head tilted forward slightly every time he went from room-to-room. She remembered actually wiping a bit of blood from the top of his head when he forgot to duck before one of their meetings.

    “I’ll see you tomorrow Jake?” she whispered. She knew she wasn’t going to get an answer, but felt obligated to at least make an attempt at getting a response. “I’ll be here at 10 in the morning, okay?” Jake didn’t move a muscle; he just sat there and stared.

    That night, just as she finished supper, her phone rang.

    “You gotta get over here fast. He’s freaking out. He keeps yelling m and m,” shouted a voice over the phone. “Hurry.”

    Miranda Murphy just completed ten years of service as a counselor with the Bloomberg Sanitarium with a celebratory cake and coffee with her boss and co-workers. There were many times she wondered why she remained a long as she did for all these years when other employment opportunities offered her better pay and shorter hours. She slipped on her coat and ran out the door.

    When she arrived at the sanitarium, the room where Jake slept was a mess.

    “My goodness, what happened?” she questioned. “And why do you have Jake all strapped up? Take them off, now,” she demanded.

    “Aahh, you take ‘em off,” stuttered one of the guards. “It took nine of us to tie him up. Damn, he went berserk.”

    Miranda stood over Jake and looked into his eyes. She could sense fear.

    “Jake, it’s me, m and m,” resting her hand on his face. “It’s okay Jake. No one’s going to hurt you.”

    She watched the lines on his forehead become smooth; his breathing settled.

    “I’m going to take these straps off, okay Jake?” as she struggled with the buckles. “Everything will be okay.”

    After the straps were removed, she took Jake into their meeting room while the janitors cleaned up his room.

    “What happened, Jake,” she asked.

    They don’t know me like you do,” he mumbled. “I wanna go home.”

    “Jake, I’ll tell you what, okay?” she asked. “Why don’t you finished that story you were telling me today. I want to hear more. Can you tell me?”

    “You mean the one with my family and me? That one?” he replied.

    “Yeah, Jake. That one.”

    “Well, we covered lots of territory that day from one mountain to the next,” he began. “I was tryin’ to teach my missus Dottie how to hunt. Well, she didn’t like rifles much, but Rufus and Jiggy, my boys, oh they sure as heck like trackin’ down the big game. They mostly liked hunting for elk, but they sure enjoyed bagging a moose, especially just before winter. Yes, them two, we ate very, very nice whenever they went hunting. Ya’ know, they always talked about how nice it would be to shoot a wild animal in some far away country, like a wild boar in Africa, or whadda ya call them animals, wilden beasts?”

    “You mean wildebeasts,” corrected Miranda.

    “Yeah, yeah, them wildebeasts. I’d often tell my family ‘One day we might make it there. One day.’ And then it happened.” His eyes dropped to the table.

    “What happened?” questioned Miranda, careful not to change her expression. “Tell me Jake. What happened?”

    He lifted his head slowly and looked at her; his eyes filling with tears.

    “Well,” he began. “We wuz walkin’ on a trail that had split into two. I took the bottom trail and Dottie and the boys took the other. I was mad at the boys because they shot at a bear. They didn’t kill it, they just wounded it. I told them not to shoot it but they didn’t listen. For you city slickers, if you wound a bear, if you didn’t kill it, he’s gonna be real mean, real mad, and he’s going to come after you. So, I told my family we had to track it down and put an end to its suffering.

    “Ah, Jake. Sorry to interrupt, but do you want something to drink?”

    “That’ll be nice.”

    “Suddenly, from the corner of my eyes,” he began after drinking his water. “I could see this bear come charging out of the bush, running full speed toward them. But they just stood there and stared. I yelled at them: ‘Shoot ‘em, shoot ‘em, but they were frozen, scared shitless. By the time I got there, it was too late. That mad ‘ol bear sure made a mess outta them. I shot that mean bugger right there, right in the head, but it was too late.” Jake shuddered, then began to cry.

    Miranda got up and walked around the table. She placed her arms around his shoulders and comforted him.

    “You know, maybe if we hadn’t gone so far out into the mountains, well, maybe things might have been different,” he said as tears dripped onto the table. “But, there was not a damn thing I could do. I dragged that bear offa Dottie and tried my best to stop the bleeding. Ohhh,” he cried in anguish. “There was blood everywhere. Rufus and Jiggy were layin’ there, moaning, calling out for me. I was tryin’ my best, running here and there, tryin’ to stop the bleeding, but I just couldn’t make it stop.”

    “What did you do next?”

    “Well, I’ll tell ya’. I did the only thing anyone in their right mind wouldda done. I put a bullet in each of their heads. I was too far away,” he cried. “Now, I’ll never be able to take them to the desert, to Africa, to shoot them wilden beasts.”

    She didn’t have the heart to correct him.

  • February 23, 2016 at 6:48 pm
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    PTSD

    by Travis Keys

    The day my first child was born was the same day I killed a man for the first time. I didn’t see either—Daniel being born or the man dying, but I heard both their cries.

    Nine months later, I’m startled awake. It takes me a moment to realize that it’s Daniel’s cries and not that man’s that I’m hearing.

    That man. That specter who had appeared in a broken window overlooking where I was crouched—disoriented, gun trembling in my hands, certain that I was about to die; when, just that morning, I’d heard my son’s birthing cries over a satellite phone.

    I see the sand jump from where the bullet strikes near my foot. I snatch my protruding limb back behind the burned out car and wipe the sweat from my face. I wait until the second bullet whizzes by and then I react.

    That’s what you’re trained to do when someone shoots at you—you react. I can still hear my drill sergeant yelling at the side of my face with his Southern drawl, spit be damned, “You’re dead, Private Fitzgerald. You. Are. Dead. Son. You can’t just sit there. You have to react!”

    I stand up from my crouch, sight, and fire in the direction that the bullets came from. That’s when the bullets stop and the cries start. I duck back behind the car and listen. The man cries out for God. How do I know he cried out to God when I didn’t understand his language? Well, I figure if I was crouching there praying to God, alive, then he had to be crying out to God, lying there, dying.

    The cries end as abruptly as they had begun. Silence would have been welcomed, but I was breathing too loud—we had covered a lot of ground that day. I grab my radio with my free hand and talk into it as loudly as I dare.

    “Wellbrook. Wellbrook. This is Corporal Fitzgerald. Over.”

    Daniel has blue eyes like his mother. He doesn’t notice the slight tremble in my hand as I feed him his bottle. He doesn’t know that I killed a man and that I regret it every day of my life.

    “You did what you had to do,” is what Camila, my wife, tells me.

    That’s what everyone tells me. In a way they’re right. It was either him or me, but that doesn’t stop me from hearing his cries.

    I lay Daniel back in his crib and get ready for work. The Marines don’t care that I could live the rest of my life and willingly never touch another gun. There’s the mission to consider. There’s no time to deal with one man trying to cope with taking the life of another man. That’s the business of war—if more of their people die than yours, you win. Someone wins. That man lost. I lost. We all lose something.

    That night, back on base, I lie in my cot with a cold rag over my eyes trying to forget the events of the day, that is, until Sergeant Wellbrook strolls in my tent eating an apple and sits on the dirt floor with his back resting against my cot.

    I take the rag off my face and roll over to face away from him indicating that I don’t want to talk, but Wellbrook has never been one to take a hint. He chews his apple slowly; smacking his lips like it’s the most delicious thing he has ever eaten.

    “Are there any more apples?” I ask him when I realize he isn’t going anywhere.

    “There’s plenty. You know that, Fitz,” he says before taking another bite.

    “Then why are you eating it like it’s the last one?”

    “Because there’s life in apples,” he says thoughtfully.

    I don’t want to hear Wellbrook’s shit tonight but I know if I don’t hear him out he’ll never leave, so I humor him.

    “What do you mean by that?”

    “Just what I said. There’s life in apples. I eat one every night that I make it back here to Club Med.”

    “Why?”

    “Why?” he asks incredulously. “Aren’t you Catholic or Jewish or some shit?”

    “Catholic. But what does have to do with apples?”

    He sighs like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “Eve ate an apple from the Tree of Life, didn’t she?”

    I sigh in return. “No one knows what type of fruit it was, Wellbrook, and it was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.”

    He’s silent for a long moment. I look over my shoulder to see if he’s still there. He is, and he’s staring at his half eaten apple.

    “Let’s just say it was an apple and it was The Tree of Life,” he says.

    “Okay.”

    “That’s why I eat an apple every night.”

    “But eating that apple is why Eve had to die, Wellbrook,” I mumble.

    “Not that day she didn’t,” he replies matter-of-factly.

    “What’s your point?”

    “No point,” he says. I hear him stand up and walk towards the tent flap. “Fitz,” he says.

    I roll over to look at him. I hold up my hands just in time to catch the object flying through the air at me—it’s an apple.

    Wellbrook salutes sharply then saunters out.

    I stare at the empty entranceway for a while then I take a bite of the apple.

    I give Camila a kiss as I’m about to leave the house for work. She gives me my lunch with one hand and hands me an apple with the other one. We both look at it and smile.

    I know there isn’t magic in eating apples, but out there, in the desert, you do what you have to do to cope with the dying, the guilt of not dying, and trying to live. Back home is no different, I suppose. I take a bite of the fruit and walk out of the door.

  • February 24, 2016 at 1:28 am
    Permalink

    Wise Guys. — By Ken Cartisano – 2016 (Revitalized.)

    We were on our way to Vegas and we covered lots of territory that day, unfortunately, too much of it was on foot. After two hours of trudging towards a low ridge, we finally reached the top and could see what lay beyond. I sighed, then cursed under my breath.

    “Look,” Joey said. “Farm land. I think we’re home free.”

    I looked at my big, stupid partner and said. “You’re an imbecile. Did you know that?”

    “No, I’m serious,” he said. “Look at that. That’s farm land. There’s probably a town just on the other side of those…” We both squinted at a wavy shimmering mirage in the distance. “What are those—mountains?”

    “How the fuck should I know, Joey.”

    “Well how far could it be?”

    “A million miles?” I said, wasting my sarcasm.

    “Naw,” he said. “The horizon is only twenty miles away. That’s like…”

    “The horizon,” I said. “That’s the fucking horizon, you imbecile.”

    He exuded patience. “Why are you so pissed off? What did I do?”

    “What did you do?” I wanted to shoot him. “What did you do?” It was hard to imagine any wheels turning behind that big stupid face of his.

    “I gave you 40 bucks and told you to fill up the tank, Joey. So what do you do?”

    “Come on Saulie, don’t be like that. I said I was sorry.”

    “You get 10 dollars worth, a quarter of a tank,” I said.

    He looked away, avoiding my gaze.

    “We left the last gas station with 10 dollars worth of gas in the tank, Joey. Then you tell me you know a shortcut. Christ! You might as well have put a gun to our heads and pulled the trigger.”

    “I don’t have a gun, Saulie.” He shielded his eyes from the sun.

    I pulled my gun out and waved it in his face. “That’s because you’re too stupid to have a gun, Joey.”

    “I don’t need a gun, Saulie. I got these.” He smiled as he balled up his massive fists.

    I snorted in disgust and jammed the gun back into its holster.

    “Hey,” he said. “I’ve got an idea.” He pulled a pen-knife out of his pocket. “I could signal a passing plane. You know, reflect the sun off the blade into the eyes of one of the pilots.”

    I looked up at the clear blue New Mexico sky. There were two contrails, a jet at the front of each one: Tiny specks in the sky. I looked at Joey. “You do realize that those planes are more than 30,000 feet up, right?”

    “Yeah? So?”

    “Well,” I said, “Do you really think you’ll catch the attention of a pilot flying 6 miles up with a two-inch pen knife?”

    “You’re awfully negative, Saulie. That’s why you don’t get anywhere in life.” He said this with a straight face.

    “Oh really?” I said. “How can you say I don’t get anywhere in life? Look around.” I spun slowly in place with my arms outstretched. “How can you say I don’t get anywhere, Joey? I’m in the middle of nowhere, sweating my balls off with you—my partner, the genius.”

    I was parched. I opened another button on my shirt and started walking forward, toward the ‘farm land’. It’s not that I was ever afraid of dying. I just expected it to be quick, painless, like an unexpected bullet to the back of the head: Baking to death in the desert? That wasn’t something I’d ever figured on.

    The ‘big green field of dreams’ turned out to be an endless expanse of small black lava rocks. It looked green from a distance because sparse shoots of thin grass pushed their way through the rocks at regular intervals, struggling to survive in this environmentally challenging landscape. But for the grass, we might as well have been on the moon.

    After a minute or two of picking our way over the impossible terrain, I said, “Hey stupid.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Since you only got ten dollars worth of gas, what did you do with the other 30 bucks?”

    “I spent it,” he said.

    “On what?” I didn’t care. I was just making idle conversation with an idiot.

    “I bought some minutes for my phone,” Joey said.

    I stopped. He stopped. We stared at each other.

    “Do you have your phone with you?” I couldn’t believe I was asking. What a stupid question. The sun was baking my brain and the lack of moisture had reduced it to the size of my partner’s.

    “Yeah, sure. Why?”

    “Wait a minute,” I said. “We’re walking through the fucking desert, and you’ve got a cell phone in your pocket? What are you—a fucking moron?”

    “Well,” he said, “yeah. According to you, anyway.”

    I still couldn’t believe it. “Let me see it, Joey.”

    He just stood there, dumbfounded, like he couldn’t believe I would doubt his word.

    “Let me see it Joey. Now.” I held my hand out, curling my fingers impatiently.

    He reached in his pocket and pulled out a gun, pointed it at my forehead and said, “Sorry Saulie, bosses orders.” Then he pulled the trigger.

    Nothing happened. He looked surprised. “Oops,” he said, “I think I left the safety on.”

    Before his tiny brain could activate another muscle in his gigantic body, I pulled my gun and shot him in the chest, twice. He still looked surprised. Then he fell backwards like a tree.

    “So—the boss wants me dead,” I said to his inert corpse. “Interesting.” I reached into his pocket and retrieved the phone. I already had a plan. Step one: Get the fuck out of this desert. Step two: Arrange a little meeting with the boss.

  • February 24, 2016 at 5:34 pm
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    Sand fell from my hands. It poured in streams of rusty red splendor. Even in the early morning it forming a pool of hot at my feet. My eyes were closed.

    “I remember meeting you here, so very long ago.” Words that burned from my soul. “My love, I remember you saving me here in the Badlands. You saved me from running into the wild with gray horses dancing just beyond my reach. I got too close to the edge and slipped on the white and red clay. I would have died if you hadn’t pulled me from the edge. We rode horses named Widowmaker and Nagger”

    I stepped closer to the rail, one hand sliding past the other, then grasping it with all my strength. I remembered.

    “I stood just over there, trying to take the perfect picture. My mind always thought that each picture would turn out perfectly. You stood behind me, holding your arms out to catch me as if I were a small child. I handed you the camera, held my arms out to you to spin and dance in the dawn light. Why didn’t you dance with me?” A moment of regret passed.

    We’d married young, but we had not known we were in love until much later. We were lonely spirits, lying to the world around us. Our passion was that of a nova, trying to make sense of a world whose bigger picture was a beer commercial touted with a manly man smoking a cancer stick. We feared the dark back then. It was dark now.

    “I remember pulling into Medora. I let you make the hotel arrangements. You were so confused. The clerk wanted to know if you wanted tickets to the show. Do you remember? How we laughed to find the entire town went to the show.” I wished you were with me.

    The wind stirred my stream of sand, motioning me to move along. I’d spent years of my life following rivers, forests, oceans. We’d covered lots of territory that day and many more we had together.

    I called you. “There are three funnel clouds spinning just south of us headed at the house. Honey, I’m heading to the basement now. If anything happens to me, I love you. I have to go, I have less than five minutes. I love you, remember that.” Hanging up was the hardest thing I had ever done. Sand fell from the memories. The red was a haze in front of my eyes. The computer blasts the warmth of this February and the spin of the clouds with hail just South of me.

    I close my eyes. I think of the sand. I think of the harbor in San Francisco where you saved my life yet again. I think of the arrow of Minnesota where I tried to tumble over Goose Hallow Falls. Sand pours through my memories as lightening strikes near the house. Weather, I’ve always known weather. I feel it in my soul. I’ve never felt terror like this. More rumbles. I hope you knew I loved you.

    Shaking I remember, “Think of the sand, the warmth. Think of the water. Rain to rock to sand to river.” I hold my breath. The storms are moving at 60 miles an hour, temperature rising 25 degrees in an hour. A shaking like an earthquake begins and the thunder strikes again and again. The lights go out.

  • February 25, 2016 at 10:05 pm
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    The Adventures of Honku-Ponku
    A hina- Lolu Fairy Tale

    Honku-Ponku was a very rich man, but still he was not satisfied with his riches. His sole aim in life was to be the richest man in the world. He daily prayed to Hinky-Pinky, the goddess of wealth, always during lunch hours and that way saved money on the meals. After 11 years of his daily prayers, she appeared and spoke to him in Persian which he knew, “If you follow the instructions written in this note, you are going to be the richest man in all the 21 planets. But there are going to be horrendous hurdles to achieve your goal.”

    He read the note at night when no one was around and was amazed that it was in the Swahili language. So, for 2 years he learned Swahili, as he did no want anyone to know the contents of the note.

    As per the note, he was to cross a sea, to reach the spot where there was nothing else but gold. He bought 10 ships and marched with his 149 trusted men. When he reached near the sea, it turned into a desert in 49 seconds. He returned back.

    He bought 157 camels and marched towards thee desert. And this time, to his dismay the desert turned into a mountainous area exactly in 49 seconds. He came back.

    After much contemplation, he bought 515 monkeys which included 261 she monkeys and trained them for 5 years for his expedition to bring back the gold. He went there again with his full force and now nothing changed. It took him 3 years to cross the mountains to reach where there was vast amount of gold for him.

    After numerous trips, which took him 17 years, he and his men stopped only when that land was bereft of any gold. To his good luck, he found a huge herd of blue elephants. He bought all the sugarcane from the surrounding area and fed them to the elephants which they relish. He told the leader of the heard,” I will give you sugarcane of the best quality and the fodder of your choice in plenty, if you carry the gold to my village.”
    He raised his trunk in salutation, “We will. We will.” And then, he danced in delight, the other elephants clapped in tandem.

    On the way, Honku treated them very well. Such was the enthusiasm of the elephants that they covered the entire distance of 560 miles in just 3 days He feasted the elephant as per his promise as he knew that they can be very revengeful and have a sharp memory.

    Honku was not a mean fellow; he generously distributed 5% of all his gold to his faithful men. All of them became rich.

    Period

    Lilly-Pilly-Milly, the goddess of creation and recreation listened to Honku’s prayers to bestow him with daughters only, as he was convinced that the sons will try to grab his money. He knew it from his own experience as a son.

    In about n seven years, his 27 wives gave birth to 167 daughters. Honku had foresight, he had already opened a maternity hospital to save money on the medical expense, it rather added to his income. His wives always had to stay in the general war; from that angle he was a socialist.

    But, he could not suppress the basic instinct of a woman to crave for a son. Moreover, his wives were bored with giving birth to girls only, year after year. The wives prayed to Lily-Pilly-Milly by fasting at night and bathing in the nearby sacred river for 27 days with their clothes on. Seven of them, who were not so good looking, remained faithful to Honku and continued producing daughters for him.

    After another 15 years, Honku became the father of 467 children. As he had feared, when his sons grew up, they started stealing his money; soon, the daughters too followed their brothers, as they did not want to lag behind. Little did they know that their father had kept plenty of money in the Swiss banks for his financial security? He was too smart for all of them; he married no more

    Honku was born many centuries B.C. ago and he is still alive.

  • February 26, 2016 at 7:08 am
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    Decision time
    “I’m sorry Mum, the last thing I want to do is to hurt you and Dad, but I can’t go to university and still live at home. I have decided; I am going to Sheffield. It’s not open to debate. I sent the letter off last week and they replied, I have a place.”
    This rare display of independence was unusual for Karen.

    “But darling, why on earth can’t you go to Bristol? It’s right on our doorstep, and Daddy may even agree to you sharing a flat with your friends.”

    Later that evening, sitting in a bar with her best friend, Amy, Karen sipped her spritzer morosely.
    “It’s like being in prison,” she moaned. “I know they mean well but everything I do is questioned, and God forbid, if I ever brought a boyfriend home. He’d get the third degree from Dad.”
    Amy, whose parents had divorced when she was tiny, put her arm around Karen.
    “Look love, you’ve got to do what’s right for you; Bristol is useless unless you want to study law. Go there and you’ll end up rich but miserable. Come on! You only live once.”
    “Well, I told Mum. I’m going to Sheffield, and that’s that. Dad had all the arguments set out, but I was one step ahead. We covered a lot of territory that day, they even tried emotional blackmail as a last resort.
    It had certainly been an ordeal; Bill Longford pulled out all the stops.
    “If you go to Bristol you’ll be nearer to home, you can live here with us and it will save everybody a lot of money.”
    Emily, knowing how tight money was at the moment, felt torn
    .
    “ All your friends are here, you won’t know anyone in Sheffield,”

    “I can make new friends.”

    “You will find that more difficult than you think, my girl,”

    And finally, Dad’s coup de gras.

    “Besides, Sheffield is up North!”

    Mum chipped in. “There is a lot of sense in what your father is saying, darling.”

    Karen had replied furiously, “Whose side are you on?”

    This rare determination and rebellion from Karen is unlike her, all her life she has obeyed her parents.
    Bill and Eva Longford had lost their first child long before Karen was born. Karen never knew her sister, but her influence had coloured all her growing up years.
    Karen had dreams; from an early age she had been able to conjure up stories. She could see people in her mind, she could visualise hundreds of scenes and situations for her characters. Her people came alive. A career in the sterile world of legal chambers would stifle her, she felt this on a deep level – it was instinctive. Her sister would understand. For years Karen had conversed with her dead sister. Obviously her parents knew nothing about this, whenever there was a disagreement with Dad or a problem that seemed to have no solution Karen would take her self off to her room and run the problem past her sister. Invariably it would either be solved or lose its potency. This time the decision was a big one. Karen’s future versus her parents expectations.
    “Look, Kate, what would you do? Sheffield caters for writers, but Bristol specialises in law. What am I to do?”
    In her mind, Kate spoke.

    “The way I see it, there’s no contest. Don’t let Mum and Dad sway you, there are times when you must stand up for what you know is best for you; they’ll get used to it. Follow your dream.”

    And so it was that Karen left for Sheffield University. It was a revelation! Coming from a structured background, the freedom to express herself and the way everyone was at liberty to air their opinions and ideas overwhelmed her. The constant buzz of creative minds, the acceptance by her peers and the sense of camaraderie empowered her. In her first year Karen learned to express her ideas without fear of ridicule, and to accept the vision and ideas of her colleagues. She learned to think independently. A whole new renaissance stretched out before her, an affirmation that she had chosen the right path.
    Graduation day came, and with it the realisation that she had chosen well. Mum and Dad had at last accepted the fact that their daughter had a mind of her own. Thinking back to the difficulties in letting her go, it had not been an easy ride, but seeing her walk up on the stage to accept her degree certificate they felt a glow of pride.

  • February 26, 2016 at 7:26 am
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    ‘Go West young man.’

    Every day gets harder for Lisa to hold together the fragments of her life. Will there be normality for Jamie, her and their two little ones?
    She remembers her younger brother. At seventeen he had listened to advice and headed west. Leaving most of his demons east of the desert had enabled him to start a new life and make good.

    ‘Jamie?’
    No response.
    The new norm.
    Lisa reaches out and runs her fingers through his curly hair.
    Nothing.
    Her young husband slumps in the lounge chair, morose.

    No job.
    No prospects of work.
    No dignity.
    Shattered dreams cutting his sensitive heart to shreds.
    He cringes when his mates ask him about jobs.
    Lisa’s optimism and incessant ideas annoy him.
    ‘How can she love me? I have failed her and the children. My friends despise me.’ He feels humiliated and shamed, keeping these thoughts concealed.

    Lisa notices that nothing excites him any longer.
    It is tough. She is young.
    Instinctively she looks over at the children.
    Their baby son gurgles and smiles at his two year old sister. They play on, oblivious to the dark cloud that has descended upon their parents’ lives.

    Again last week comes to mind.
    She spares Jamie her secret thoughts and fears.
    ‘I am going to drown myself,’ Jamie had muttered on Tuesday morning, stepped out and was gone; all day.
    Later that evening he returned, brooding and withdrawn.
    No offer of explanation.

    ‘Let’s go west Jamie.’ She ventures.
    To her surprise Jamie agrees.

    Little money.

    Driving an old bomb car they take their two little ones on a 3000 kilometre journey west, traversing the desert that divides east and west of this great land just as effectively as oceans divide countries.
    On arrival they offer their desperate selves to the mercy of the west.

    The west is good to them.

    At the end of two years the bomb car is traded for a more reliable model, partly paid for in egg and bacon burgers to the young lad who frequented their cafe.

    The children grow and flourish; brown as berries from days spent out in the long summer sun.

    A baby is conceived and then lost before it even has a chance to grow fingers and toes – heartbreak.

    Resilience is learned in the face of hardship and hard work.

    They are embraced by relatives that adopt them into their hearts and lives.

    Laughter returns.

    Most importantly they learn how to please customers, how to make tasty hamburgers, bacon and egg sandwiches…
    A neat weekly profit is the reward.

    Wilderness of choices:
    – Probabilities
    – Consequences
    – Outcomes.

    The business sells for a neat profit.
    It has served them well and now they are at another crossroads.

    ‘Katie will be starting school next year Jamie.’ Lisa kisses his cheek.
    ‘So heart wrenching to leave our west relatives.’

    Back east Lisa’s grandmother has been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
    A very close aunty is ill with a blood disorder.

    ‘The tug of family is very strong Jamie. This great desert divide is teaching me the importance of family.’

    ‘It is not going to be easy to face my demons back there.’ Uncertainty flickers across Jamie’s face.
    ‘There’s your mentally ill step mother.’

    ‘The west has taught us many good things Jamie and we face the future together.’

    Jamie feels his heart swell with love for Lisa.

    Returning east.

    The car and trailer are packed full.

    Heart wrenching goodbyes.
    Relatives cling and then tear and rip as they pull apart and drive away.
    A three day journey lies ahead.

    ‘Are we nearly there?’ comes a little voice from the back seat.
    Lisa checks the time. They left forty eight minutes ago.
    Hmmmm…

    The first day covers farmland, bush and scrub, the last vestiges of their life in the west.

    Mid afternoon brings its first surprise. Out of the tall, dry roadside grass springs a young man frantically waving them down. Instinctively Jamie touches the brakes.

    ‘Strange Jamie; keep going. This is the middle of nowhere.’

    Their rear view mirrors show a following car stop and give the man a lift.

    They worry.

    All through the afternoon they will pass and wave; occasionally stop on the roadside and we will pass.

    Wave and pass.

    Nightfall brings them to the edge of the desert.
    They agree to keep share driving.
    No sign of their fellow travellers.

    Desert swallows them, placing the west out of their grasp.

    Peaceful; the children grow drowsy and sleep.

    Moon light.
    Mobs of kangaroos.

    ‘Roo!’ Lisa; self appointed kangaroo spotter.

    Night turns to brilliant sunrise.
    Vast, treeless desert.
    Blue bush.
    Soaring eagles.
    Powerful impact.

    ‘God’s own country out here hey Jamie?’

    Long, straight ribbon of asphalt points them eastward.

    ‘We covered lots of territory that day we agreed to go west young man.’ Lisa pats Jamie’s knee.
    They smile in the knowledge it has turned their life around.

    Passing another road train, another car with a wave afforded to one fellow driver from another.

    Roadhouse stops.

    ‘No sign of the car with the hitchhiker.’

    Early on day three the desert is behind them.

    Later they enter the first major town in the east.

    Roadhouse restaurant. They order and get seated.

    In walk four Federal Police.

    ‘Mr Edwards?’

    They gulp, looking at each other. ‘That’s our surname!’

    As Jamie rises in shocked response he sees them pounce on a young man, handcuff him and march him out.
    An unfinished meal remains on that table. Mr Edwards’s companion pushes back his chair and heads toward them, visibly shaken.

    ‘He had a great sob story. I believed him, bought his meal and paid for a share room in this motel for tonight.’

    Creepy.

    They discuss and share their immense relief that nothing untoward happened in the desert.

    They feel extra lucky to have safely reached the east.

    Now to find a place they can call their home.

  • February 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm
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    Bad Boy!

    “Bad Boy! Lout! Scumbag! Devil!” The neighbours, from our council owned housing complex swatted the air as if I was a fly as they branded me with those insults.

    “Damien has got no dad!” Children chorused and giggled with me chasing after them.

    “I’ve got a dad. He ran away from me and my mum because of that woman.” My stomach squirmed.

    “That father of yours did a runner because he is useless like you. Always, tinkering with that crap of his, leaving grease and diesel on the road. Never taught you anything good, did he?” Their parents whacked my head when they caught up with me.
    “Go away, joyrider, We don’t want our children near you.” Some mothers, pulled, twisted their children’s ears and dragged them away whenever I played with them.
    “Poor people!” I backchatted. “You’re envious because we have a car and you don’t.”

    My father taught me about cars. ‘Pass me the spanner or the screwdriver or the motor oil or the antifreeze…” I helped him and wanted to be like him. I caught the bug for tinkering with vehicles.

    When I was nine years old, he just left and we never saw him again.
    I went off the rails. I stole Mrs Itch’s car keys and drove the car out of the school compound. Then I broke into cars parked on the road, used a screw driver to turn the ignition on and went for a spin around the housing estate.

    “6 months at The Juvenile Reformatory Centre, with two hours of counselling every week.” The judge shook her head, clicked her tongue, narrowed her eyes and sentenced me. Glancing at my mother she blamed, “People have children and do not know how to bring them up.”
    My mother, a wreck of nerves at those hearings, would stuff her mouth with her fists, her cheeks bursting like red tomatoes and held her tears in. She was my rock and stood by me whatever.
    After my time of penitence, the same judge ordered the school to take me back so that I could finish my education.

    I suddenly grew up. But, the mud stuck. “Where is the Justice? This country has gone to the dogs.” People will say loud enough for me to hear. “Whose car would this animal break into next?”

    “I’m nearly 15. Call me Damien. I don’t do cars anymore.” I begged people to accept me.
    “Damien, the devil.” They spat and turned their backs on me.

    “Nasty people!” I repeated under my breath. That was what my mother thought of them.
    My mother worked her knuckles out on overtime in her cleaning job so that I could go on that overseas study trip in Spain.

    We travelled to Barcelona and toured the landmarks. Mrs Itch and the other teachers escorted us, taught us as we travelled along. They kept their beady eye on me and anytime my eyes strayed on the cars, parked on the road, they issued me with a warning, “Don’t you dare think about it!” I winced as their fingers almost touched my nose and poked my eye.

    On the day before last, we travelled down South to the only desert in Europe, The Tobernas Desert/ The Badlands, for an experience and study of the arid golden sandy lands, canyons and rocky mountains. I was taken by the breathtaking views, beauty of the place. There was no vehicles to distract me. We visited a small pocket of local people who lived in a traditional way with reef roofed or launa (powdered slate) houses just like the rough life humans must have lived some thousands of years ago, and areas where the Spaghetti Western films were made.

    The temperature rose to 48 degrees centigrade and we were sweating and drying at the same time. Our water supply ran very low and the air con on the coach was struggling to keep us cool. We laid our head on our seats withering with the heat as the coach rocked us to snooze.
    All of a sudden a violent movement threw us off our seats. The coach swayed,, careered, and skidded.

    Mrs Itch stumbled to the driver and screamed with her eyes growing wild, “He’s collapsed! He’s de-ad!” She shook the elderly man and he slumped to one side.

    Everybody was screaming and crying. I did not. I shot into action, leaped over the seats, pulled and tipped the driver to the floor, grasped the steering wheel and jumped into the driver’s seat. I was in my element. I visualised Clint Eastwood as he mastered his wild horses on those ravines, gutters and canyons. The 15 tons monster of a coach surrendered to my capture and steadied itself as I brought it into second gear. We made it on safe territory and cruised along the deserted roads.

    Mrs Itch was holding on to her heart with her eyes raised upwards, chanting some prayers. “Good lad!” I heard her say. We covered lots of territory that day. Just as we came into some civilization, her mobile phone bleeped, signalling that she got connection. She spluttered her distressed call.

    I became a celebrity, swamped by radio and television presenters, and newspapers journalists. Mrs Itch had a mental derangement, “This beautiful child, my hero, got us out of this sizzling desert,” She was praising and cuddling me. Amused, I scratched my head and screwed my face.
    “Without his thoughtfulness and skills 50 schoolchildren and 3 teachers would have been dinner for the vultures.”She told the crowd that gathered.

    “How do you see your future, Damien, after this experience in Tobernas Desert?” The journalist pushed the microphone to my mouth.
    “To any film makers out there. I would love to take Clint Eastwood’s place for the remake of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” I winked at the camera and pointed a finger at myself.

  • February 28, 2016 at 9:40 am
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    Family Man
    By Alice Nelson ©2016 (Revised)

    “I gave up on politics back in ’69, so the first I hearda this was when you came by last month. Me and my Betsy moved out here to the desert in ’72, and never looked back. We liked livin’ off the grid. It’s harder to do nowadays with the internet and all, but we still managed to keep our privacy.”

    “You’re a legend in these parts Mr. Randolph, which is why we wanted to do a story about you before…you know.”

    “You mean, before the government come and take my home?” Nathan Randolph wiped his nose with a handkerchief. “It mighta been harder if my Betsy was still alive, but I’m old, and she’s gone; it won’t be hard to say goodbye.”

    “How did you and your wife start taking in runaways?”

    “Oh, it wadn’t nothin’ we thought of, it just kinda happened. We couldn’t have no kids of our own, and at first Betsy put all that love she woulda gave to kids, on me, then her animals.”

    He smiled thinking about his wife.

    “She had cows, goats, dogs, and cats; you name a animal and Betsy would take it in and love on it. One day when one a them ornery goats ran away, she took the truck and went lookin’ for it. She didn’t come back with no goat, but this young boy named was Asher. I was shocked but she said to me, ‘Nate, Ash here ain’’t got no place to go, so I told him he could have dinner and stay here for a while.” Nate laughed thinking back on that day.

    “Started as simple as that, next thing you know, we took in a whole load a kids who didn’t have no home.”

    “Your wife sounded like a wonderful woman.”

    Mr. Randolph said, “Oh yes, she was the best person I ever knew; made me a better man that’s fer sure. At the height of it all we had as much as 20 kids here, all helpin out with the chores, and with all them animals, we needed as much help as we could get. She loved all them kids as if they was her own, and there was only one who she couldn’t reach. Evil that boy was, like the Devil himself resided inside. She tried, but he didn’t want no help. He was the only one we ever asked to leave.”

    “You mean Haydon Moore?”

    “Well, you done did your homework, didn’t ya?” Nate asked. “Yes old Haydon, he come with four other boys including Larry, a quiet kid that Haydon used to pick on something terrible. Larry didn’t speak much; we found out later that his momma was a prostitute, and left him with his grandma. When she died, no one could find his momma, and he ended up on the streets with Haydon and his gang.”

    “So, tell me about this, because this was the story that made the community aware of what you both were doing, right?”

    “Right, before this we was on our own, took care a these kids with the money we made offa stuff we made and sold. Afterwards, we got donations from a lotta kind folks around here.”

    “So what happened Mr. Randolph?”

    “Well like I say, Haydon picked on Larry somethin’ terrible, and Betsy would step in anytime it got real bad. Soon, Larry started followin’ her around, like a lost puppy.” Nate chuckled. “He would get up at dawn with her and help out with the chores. They got real close after a while —my Betsy loved him so. Haydon had it out for that boy, we never figured out why. Larry didn’t know, or didn’t wanna say. After we asked Haydon to leave that boy had the nerve to tell my Betsy that she’d be sorry. Well I got out my 12 guage and told him if I see him anywhere near my place I’d shoot first and ask questions after.”

    Nate wiped his nose with his hanky again.

    “One mornin’ we woke up and Larry wasn’t waitin’ for Betsy in the chicken coop like he had been. She thought he mighta overslept, but he wadn’t in his bed neither. We looked everywhere for him, covered a lot of territory that day, but we never did find him.”

    “Then What?” The reporter prodded.

    “A few weeks later, Betsy was out searchin’ for that damned goat again, she come back home in tears, I ain’t never seen her so upset. She told me she found Larry’s body near an old mine shaft a few miles past the old highway. He was beat up and stabbed. We didn’t know it was Haydon until the Sheriff arrested that demon for some armed robbery he committed.”

    Nate paused, then continued.

    “I don’t think Betsy ever fully recovered. Larry was the closest thing she had to a son, his death killed a little bit a her too. Donations came in by the truck load after that story hit the news, and we kept helpin’ kids until Betsy got sick, some 5 years back. She was so sad when we had to close our doors. And when she died, nearly everyone a them kids she helped came to her funeral. Touched my heart more than I can say.”

    “Now what?”

    “Oh, it ain’t been the same since she died. I’m ready to leave it, I got some good memories to take with me.”

    “Is it true you’ll be living with Ash Thompson, one of the first kids you took in?

    “Yep, he asked me to come and live with him and his family, said we was the only parents he ever had.” Nate smiled.

    “Nice talkin’ to ya sir, glad I could tell you about my Betsy before I go and be with her again. I miss her so much, and so do them kids. She was the best thing about livin’ out here in the desert.

  • February 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm
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    The Old Age

    Dipak has no memories of his Mom. She died when he was only thirty months old. His Dad never remarried, instead his life revolved around grooming Dipak, his education, and happiness. Dad taught him to be courteous, respectful and other good habits. One of them, to brush every day after dinner. Dipak examined himself in the mirror while brushing. The hairs on his temples have grayed. His undershirt swelled around his abdomen, he could further inspect his slack biceps.

    Once upon a time, his 5’10” structure seemed chiseled out by a sculptor. That was several years ago. In his early fifties now, he had no time for physical exercises. Life conquered by a craving, money and more money. Business meetings, saving for their only daughter, Renu’s, higher education and marriage, insurance, installments for their Audi and the farm house.

    Later, he sat on the bed glued to his computer, going through his the important presentation that would give him a chance to further impress the CEO.
    Maya walked into the room and sat on the stool in front of the dressing table combing her silky hair. Dipak observed her face in the mirror. Maya has remained as beautiful as she was when Dipak met her. Dipak was madly in love with her but Maya’s parents were demanding. Only after Dipak got his Management degree and got placed in a big corporate house did they agree to their marriage.
    “Dipak, is this the presentation you were talking about?”
    “Yes, darling.”
    “How much raise do you expect this time? And our Mauritius trip?”
    “My efforts have increased company profits, I’ve my fingers crossed.”

    Maya walked to the bed and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him, “I am so proud of you.’
    “I feel bad for you,” she said resting her head on his shoulders.
    “Why?” Dipak said as he felt Maya’s softness touch his elbow, her hand softly rubbing his back.
    “You have to do all your necessary office work on the bed, you deserve a home office.”
    “How can I work in the living room while Renu is watching her favorite TV show?”
    “Exactly, the living room can’t be your office.”
    “I can’t afford to buy a bigger apartment darling,”
    “That old man will see us all dead before he dies,” Maya gasped.
    “Please, darling! He has been a caring father, a good father in law and grandfather,” Dipak lamented.
    “Yes at eighty he looks stronger than all of us. My parents could never spend a night with me because we don’t have an extra room to let them sleep.”
    “Plan a weekend in our farm house that way they can spend the night with us and we will have a vacation.”
    “We have been doing that for the last five years!” Maya moved aside swiftly and sat at the edge of the bed.
    “What do you want me to do?”
    “There are many old age homes.”

    *******
    For the next few weeks, Maya kept influencing Dipak, “After marriage all husbands forget their vows. Before marriage you said, I will do anything for you, now I don’t matter to you at all.”
    Dipak was on the horns of the dilemma, of a dutiful son, and the peace, tranquility of a married life.

    After a week of deliberation, he selected to make Maya happy but noticed no response on his Dad’s face.
    One weekend, Dipak left with Dad for the Old age home. He wanted to stay there for a day or two to understand Dad was comfortable in the new place.
    *******

    After two days Maya was upset to see Dipak return with Dad.
    “Did he not like the place?” Maya asked.
    “No. I could not be selfish and desert him.”
    “I understand nothing,” Maya exclaimed.
    Dipak explained what happened, “We covered lots of territories that day yet I could not find the exact route. Seeing me struggle Dad showed me the way to get there, I asked him if he had been there before, he did not answer.”
    The place was covered in lush greenery and spread over some acres of land with a temple at the entrance. It housed an Old age home, a home for the abandoned children, a school, and a small hospital. I took a stroll around the property and returned to find Dad talking to the old priest.

    Later I asked the priest, “Do you know my Dad?”
    “Sure. I know you too my son.” the priest smiled between his white beard.
    “How? I have never been here before?” I was puzzled.
    “Years ago, your Dad and mom came here to spend time with the children. One day, someone left you crying on the stairs of this temple. Your parents decided to adopt you. You can check the records in the office.”
    I found my limbs wiggling, I was dumping the person who wholeheartedly gave me everything.

    Later in the temple, I saw a man touch Dad’s feet and sat on the floor in front of his chair and talked to him presenting highest respect. When I got closer Dad pointed at me and said, “There comes my son.”
    The man turned around, and I got the shock of my life, it was my CEO, who I have been trying to impress so hard.
    “Dipak you never told me you are my Guru’s son,” my CEO said.
    “I didn’t know you knew my Dad, Sir,” I fumbled.
    “I wouldn’t have made it this far if your Dad had not helped me continue with my education.”
    Dipak’s eyes filled with tears, his voice choked.

    “I was mean, Dad will stay here forever, I won’t complain ever, I promise,” she sobbed
    Dipak looked at Maya’s regretful face, “We should all go there for our next weekend.”
    “All of us, we three, Dad and my parents,” Maya responded hugging Dipak tight.

  • February 28, 2016 at 5:52 pm
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    Road Trek

    Maggie and Sam stood at the car looking at their empty house for the last time. They sold their furniture, large appliances, and most of the contents. The car was stuffed with what they had left. “Don’t cry, Mom.”

    “I’m sorry. I can’t help myself. I’m going to miss it here.”

    “I will too.”

    Maggie wiped her eyes and composed herself. She turned towards Sam. “I wish I could have made a better life for us. I feel like such a failure.”

    Sam replied, “You’re not. You couldn’t afford the house because of your layoff. I know how hard you tried to get another job. At least you had your part time one.”

    Maggie said, “I did, but it wasn’t enough.”

    Sam added, “Dad’s medical expenses wiped you out too.”

    Maggie nodded. “You did a great job helping me take care of him. I’m sorry you had to grow up so fast.” Her eyes teared up again.

    So did Sam’s. “I miss him.”

    “Me too.” Maggie looked at her watch. “We should get going now. If we time it right, we’ll get in and out of the city at a good time.”

    Sam asked, “Are you okay to drive?”

    Maggie replied, “I am. Let’s play a CD to cheer us up.”

    “B-52s?”

    “Sounds good. I’ll get started. You put it in.”

    Maggie drove away. Sam played the CD. It was a good day for traveling. The sun was out, and the sky was blue. Sam asked, “How long are we going to live with Uncle Todd?”

    Maggie replied, “He said we could stay permanently if we want to. He can’t wait to see us again. Especially under happier circumstances. Your uncle is a great brother to me. I might take him up on his offer, but I hope to eventually get a job out there that will support us. It would be nice to have a place of our own. We’ll see. Let’s take it one day at a time.”

    Sam received a text and answered it. “Jerome wishes us luck.”

    Maggie said, “Sam, I’m sorry you had to leave your friends.”

    “Don’t worry. I’ll be okay. I make friends easily, and I’ll keep in touch with the ones I have now.”

    During their hours on the road, the landscape changed. Green rolling hills became cornfields. Cornfields became farmland. There were many cities and towns to see. They got off at an exit that had a restaurant sign. They pulled into the parking lot of a diner that had a retro look to it. On the inside it seemed like they went back in time to the 70s. Small jukeboxes were lined up at the windows. They sat in a booth. Maggie looked at the song selections and dug in her purse for quarters. She picked a song and had Sam pick another.

    A waitress with a name tag that said Jean came up to the table and handed them each a menu. “Would you like to start with something to drink?”

    Maggie replied, “I’ll have a cup of coffee.”

    Jean smiled at Sam. “I’ll have a Coke.”

    Maggie looked out the window and watched the cars and trucks go by. Jean returned with their drinks and took their orders. When the food came, they thanked her and silently ate. Maggie left a tip on the table, paid at the register, and thanked Jean again on the way out. They got back on the road and drove until dusk. Maggie got off at an exit that showed a campground. “I wish we could afford motels. Then there wouldn’t be so much unpacking and packing of the camping stuff.”

    “I don’t mind. I like camping.”

    “I do too. I guess I shouldn’t complain about the work involved.”

    They signed in at the office, pitched their tent, and took a walk to the rec hall. They played ping pong and video games before heading back to the tent to go to sleep. In the morning they packed up the tent and took a quick swim in the pool before heading back on the road.

    Sam asked, “Can we go to McDonald’s for breakfast?”

    Maggie replied, “That depends on if we find one.”

    “I saw a sign. It’s down the road.”

    “You’re so observant!”

    As they left McDonald’s, Maggie said, “We’re going to hold off on restaurants after this for a while. We need to use up the food we have left from the house.”

    They spent two more days on the road. The landscape continued to change. As they neared their destination, it changed dramatically. They turned onto Todd’s road and into his driveway feeling like they were on another planet.

    Maggie got out of the car and hugged her brother. Todd then shook Sam’s hand and asked, “How was your trip?”

    Sam responded, “It was good. The first day was the best. We got an early start and spent the whole day on the road. We found some good scenic areas to stop and stretch. Late in the day we went to an old style diner with jukeboxes at the windows. After dinner we drove until dusk. We covered lots of territory that day. We stayed at a nice campground. Then we drove for two more days. The second night we had to sleep in the car at a truck stop because of a thunderstorm. The last night we stayed at another campground.”

    Sam looked at the new sites. He noticed the difference in the trees. The ground was covered in sand, unlike the dirt he was used to at home. He admired the mountains in the distance and opened his eyes wide when he spotted a jackrabbit hop by. Todd said, “It feels like another world out here in the desert. I think you’re going to like Arizona.”

  • February 29, 2016 at 1:44 am
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    Fool’s Gold (Revised)

    Visiting the desert was a great idea, I thought. Those pyramids were majestic, and who knew I could find my fortune here. I enjoyed my tour and made some good friends.
    I met them at the multi- cuisine restaurant and we tried some Burmese delicacies which we enjoyed. I knew I would have to take to crunches, and go to the gym, once I reached home. The food was too liberal with oil. But I didn’t regret it. Then as I walked out of the restaurant, I saw three Saville Row guys with their majestic height and aura.

    Only to be disillusioned. All that glitters is definitely not gold. As I walked past they said things that made my ears burn, and I turned and gave them a piece of my mind. They laughed at me and said, “Madam you’re very liberal with your cuss words. Maybe you would care to join us. We’ll give you the time of your life.”

    Then as I walked toward the market, a jeep swerved toward me, I jumped to the side, but a hand stretched and yanked me in. Furious; I wondered who would dare to do this. I looked at my captors and turned out to be the same guys. I screamed and screamed for help. They tied my mouth and I struggled, tears bursting out in pain and fear.

    ***
    I felt faint and knew with just a little water left, I wouldn’t survive. I had got into this mess through my own fault. My badmouthing them led to my being kidnapped, my mouth was tied, though surprisingly my hands were tied loose by chance. They thought I wouldn’t dare escape.
    How stupid could they be?

    They looked so sophisticated with their power dressing and powerful personalities, but underneath they were like most men with just one thing on their minds!

    Men who treated women like chattel existed everywhere, even today.

    I was lucky, I thought as I waited for a chance to escape, when they went to order food. They would offer me some, I knew, but I would have made my getaway by then.

    They hadn’t realised that I escaped for quite a while, since no one was following me.
    I kept myself close to a Bedouin group, hiding among their voluminous robes; not knowing where they were going, but guessed there would be water and food.
    I craved for water to bathe in.

    ***
    I thought back, where I had left the vehicle propping the back seat up as if I was sleeping, and they must have believed it, as I ran through alleys and streets and finally stopped where the yellow-red sands welcomed me and that’s where I met the group. The scorching sun got me tired and mental and physical exhaustion took over me. I was about to faint, when I heard a vehicle coming.

    It was a merchant from the upper villages. We covered a lot of territory that day before we reached his home. His wife took care of me. “People are good everywhere,” I thought. But I wouldn’t have trusted the man, only he reminded me of my dad. First she asked me to take a bath, and I did gladly rubbing off the dirt with a rough scrub. I still felt unclean. I slept in a room and the merchant’s bolted the room gesticulated at me, as if saying, “I am here for you, don’t worry.” I smiled tremulously.

    The next day the merchant asked me, speaking broken English, where I was going. I told him that I was looking for a job, and he said that if I was ready to do hard work, he had a job at his jewellery shop. I agreed and I started work, without losing sight of my goal.

    Maureen was a good friend of mine and knew she would be worried, so I sent her a postcard after I accepted what happened to me was not my fault. The blazing sun and cold nights were contrasts that fascinated me. We faced storms where sand rolled everywhere into our faces, nose, ears and clothes. But nothing was worse than the storm within me.

    One day out of the blue, Maureen came to see me; aghast at my travails. She looked at me and exclaimed, “Amanda, you’re coming home with me.”

    “I can’t.”

    “Why?” Then she asked me, “Amanda, don’t you miss home?”

    “I do Maureen, I miss everybody, but I have to seek revenge from those who raped me, I will get it someday.” Maureen smiled wryly and left a few days later.

    I believed the desert would give me justice as it had given me pain.

  • March 1, 2016 at 1:24 am
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    Cold dead (revised)
    © Emmanuel Malho, 2016

    It all started a week ago. Jesse, a mid-20 thin redhead with more freckles on her face than anyone could count, heard a little boy crying. She found him in a dark alley, and she went to see what was going on with him. He was sitting on the ground, his head to his knees, sobbing quietly. Jesse put her hand on his shoulder. Then something happened. Jesse placed her hand on his shoulder, as soon as she touched him the temperature around her plummeted and it grew dark. The boy stopped sobbing. With eyes still closed, he turned his head up. When he opened them, Jesse was paralyzed. She saw the shadows falling from his eyes. The shadows were covering the little boy’s pale face, dripping. The boy’s chest grew darker by the second. Through a gaping hole in his chest, Jesse could see a black, rotten heart inside. She tried to move her hand, but the muscles wouldn’t respond. She moved her eyes from her hand to his heart again. It looked like it would collapse in any second. She looked at him, unable to figure out what to do. The boy opened his mouth and no sound came out. Darkness struck her eyes in a split second.

    A flash of light blinded her, causing her to squeeze her eyes shut against the glare. As it started to fade, Jesse blinked several times as her eyes adjusted to the gloom of the forest she now found herself in. In the distance, she could see the end of the road. She heard someone light a fire. She looked around but she couldn’t see a thing. Jesse felt a pain in her chest. Something was changing. She couldn’t breathe. Her chest was aching. She put her hand to her chest. It was bruised. Pressing a little too hard, her hand broke through the skin. She looked at her chest and started to panic. Two lines of fire lit up next to her, one on each side, as if they were indicating a rising path up to the sky. She couldn’t see where the flames went after the trees. She tried to get out of the trail of fire, preparing to jump over it. As she moved closer, the flames grew so high she couldn’t bear the heat. She followed the trail with her eyes. “There’s only one way up…” she thought.

    That’s when she saw a beautiful woman wearing the most exquisite wedding dress she had ever seen. The woman opened her arms as Jesse went up the trail of fire, hypnotized.

    “Come on to the other side… We will drag you from where you are… To where you belong”, the bride said to Jesse.

    As Jesse moved forward, streams of darkness came out of nowhere and stood between them. The darkness enveloped her and suddenly she was back at the entrance of the dark alley. She couldn’t process what had just happened. She put her hand on her chest again. It was there; intact, no gaping hole. What did the bride mean with “where you belong”? She couldn’t shake the feeling that the faces of the little boy and the bride were familiar. She had seen their faces somewhere. And Jesse was not one to forget a face.

    The following days, Jesse felt bruised. She went for a check-up, everything was OK. Except for that tainted, dark skin on the hand that had touched the little boy. Jesse avoiding crossing the street of that dark alley ever since. “Maybe I should head there to see if I can discover something”, she thought to herself. Her cell phone rang, snapping her out of the trance-like state she went into every time she thought about what happened that night. The name Larry King was on her phone. It was her boss, from the newspaper.

    “Hello Mr. King.”

    “Jesse, are you OK? How did that check-up go?” Larry asked, with a clearly preoccupied tone in his voice.

    “Everything was OK… Thanks for checking. How are things in the office?” Jesse asked back, casually.

    “That’s the second reason why I’m calling you right now. There’s a new lead on the double-murder you’ve been investigating. Remember the other day? We covered lots of territory that day looking for a source. It worked. Be in the Desert Inn Alley at noon.”

    Jesse checked her watch. 11:00.

    “I’m on my way. See you later.”

    She turned on her tablet and she couldn’t believe her eyes. Double-murder? Some man goes insane and kills his bride to be (in her wedding dress) and their 5 years old son. The bride… She was shocked to recognize the face of the bride. Mary Ann Johnson Smith. And the little boy, Thomas Smith. The husband and father; Anderson Smith broke his wife’s neck, and then shot the little boy in the chest with a shotgun. Exiting the bus, she stood in the mouth of the alley for a moment. She feared the events of that night, she feared they would repeat themselves.
    She jumped as a voice from the shadows spoke:

    “You’re here about the murders aren’t you?” A man sat against the wall, a hood concealing his face.

    “Yes, I…“ She didn’t finish her sentence. He leaned forward, pulling back the hood revealing horrible rope burns on his neck. As he smiled, darkness surrounded Jesse again. The trail of fire lit up again. There were the three of them, at the end of the trail. They signaled her to approach.

    Jesse couldn’t think straight. Yet again, she was hypnotized. As she drew closer, she fought against the mental chains,

    “I’ll burn before you bury me!” She screamed. And, while they screamed for her to stop, she approached the flames. “Fire, the universal cleanser”, she thought triumphantly as she stepped into the flames.

    The flames burned wild. Desert Inn Alley was no more. There was just light.

  • March 1, 2016 at 7:01 pm
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    The Graduation Present
    By: Randall Lemon
    (996 words)

    Kelli and Jordan had attended the same small high school in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Patterson Preparatory Academy. It was a school designed to prepare young ladies to attend prestigious universities.

    Their education both prepared and protected the pair. Their parents paid extravagantly for that privilege. As a result the two had led a pampered but extremely sheltered life up until now. Both applied to and were accepted by Stanford University’s pre-law program.

    That is why, only two days after graduation, the two found themselves being ushered into the conference room at Jordan’s father’s law firm: Markley, Coates and Schmidt. Sitting at the head of the conference table was Jordan’s dad and senior partner at the firm, Mason Coates II. Next to Mason, sat Kelli’s mother and father, Patricia and Allen Weiner. The Weiners owned the largest chain of furniture stores in California.

    “Sit down girls. I’ve spoken with Kelli’s parents and we are agreed that because you performed so excellently at Patterson, we wanted to give you a little graduation gift.”

    Both girls waited expectantly for him to continue. Instead, it was Kelli’s mother, Pat, who spoke up.

    “We’ve purchased a brand new Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro and hired Sarah Atkinson one of the best guides in the state to drive you to all the different places you want to go to for the next month. It’s nice looking enough to take you to the best clubs and restaurant in Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s also tough enough to take you up narrow trails in the San Gabriel Mountains. You can tour the redwood forests of Big Sur, tan on the beaches of Malibu and visit the dusty missions dotted up and down the state. Sarah can help you find the best camping sites in northern California and the best parking sites in San Diego.”

    What Patricia failed to mention to the two girls was that Sarah had also been hired to be their chaperon and keep them out of trouble. She had been cautioned by the three parents to suggest beautiful but safe places the girls would like to see. Sarah was directed to contact Mason every night after the girls turned in. She was to tell him where they were headed the next day and what they intended to do. Mason pressed a button on the intercom and a tanned woman entered the conference room.

    “Hi girls, I’m Sarah. If the trip sounds like fun to you, I can pick the two of you up tomorrow morning and off we go. What do you say?”

    The girls were thrilled and left to pack. The parents gave each girl an ample amount of money for the month and each had their credit cards for emergency.

    Once the girls had packed their belongings into the hardy Toyota, Sarah turned to them, “Where will it be girls? What’s first on our list of adventures?”

    Kelli and Jordan had called each other the night before and decided to start at the bottom of the state and work their way up, so off to San Diego the three intrepid adventurers drove, straight down the Pacific Coast Highway. A little over six hours later, the group arrived in San Diego.

    “I phoned ahead and got us reservations at a nice hotel located right near Balboa Park. Tomorrow, we’ll take in the beaches, San Diego Zoo and Sea World. You two can decide where you want to go next after that.”

    After San Diego, they headed north. They saw San Clemente and Orange County. They couldn’t pass up Orange County’s most famous tourist location, Disneyland and actually spent two days at the park. Next, they visited LA. They toured the movie studios and shopped in Beverly Hills. The girls seemed a little too interested in the clubs and nightlife of LA so Sarah thought she would give them a little nudge.

    “A week has already passed out of your month and we haven’t really gone very far except for the very first day. We covered lots of territory that day but not much since. Your parents purchased this great car so you could “rough it” in comfort but so far its tires have only seen city streets. What say tomorrow we drive up to Big Sur and then head east into the Mojave?”

    “We’re game for anything, Sarah,” responded Jordan.

    Big Sur was great but when they entered the Mojave things took a turn for the worst. They stopped in Death Valley to do some rock climbing and take some photos but while Sarah was framing them in her camera, a scorpion stung her. They tried to rush back to where they had parked the car but by the time they reached it, an angry red streak was already moving up her inner leg and she was becoming quite woozy. The girls found the first aid kit but really had no idea how to use it to help Sarah. Kelli tried her cell phone but found to her dismay that she had no reception out here. They loaded Sarah into the back of the vehicle and Jordan took the wheel heading back toward civilization. Unfortunately within thirty minutes, the Toyota ran over something and blew out a tire. Neither of the girls knew how to change a flat and by now, Sarah was unconscious.

    The girls hopped out of the car and stared anxiously up and down the highway and were finally rewarded by the sight of a rusty old van heading toward them. It pulled over to the side of the road and four scruffy young men got out. Jordan started feeling less anxious immediately; surely between the four strapping men, they could change the tire and help get Sarah to a hospital.

    A state trooper found the Toyota along the side of the road the next day, but the three girls who had traveled inside it were never seen again, just three more victims of the desert.

  • March 1, 2016 at 8:38 pm
    Permalink

    The Half Hearted Protestors

    The two seventeen year olds, Adhu and Ra, felt overwhelmed to be part of the mob. It wasn’t their fault that they were there. Their peer group was the force behind their forced participation.

    In their village, Jharsa, Haryana, every young boy was expected to prove his manliness as early as he can. Girls were a different matter altogether. They were born to work – whether at parents’ homes or that of their husbands’. And Adhu and Ra were forced to prove their manliness prematurely. But there was no question of protestation.

    Adhu and Ra were lobbed into one of the many lorries that moved the protestors from most of the districts of Haryana to the capital of India – Delhi. Adhu didn’t like the crowd, the mob, the look of the big city. Ra was more controlled and assured Adhu but he could not find comfort in anything Ra was saying. Adhu remembered being woken up at the ungodly hour of two that morning by the local bad character – Lathi Ram. Lathi literally means a baton. He was nicknamed such because he never parted with his beating stick with which he bullied weaklings in the village. Adhu and Ra were his favourite beating boys to keep the stick in ship-shape most of the time.

    Lathi Ram, with Ra dragging his feet behind him, slapped Adhu on his back as he lay sleeping in the courtyard of his house. Within no time, Lathi Ram pulled Adhu to standing position and dragged both of them to the village square where the convoy of the lorries was ready to leave. All were stuffed with the males in the village.

    None of them dared question Lathi Ram as to why they were being herded into the vehicles and where they would be taken. The womenfolk hid behind the front doors of their houses soothing crying infants in their arms.

    Lathi Ram announced loudly before boarding the jeep at the head of the caravan, “We have some score to settle in Delhi. Don’t wait for us.” And with that he jumped in behind the wheel and the caravan moved out of the village.

    On the highway, their caravan merged with one already snaking out to Delhi. Lathi Ram stopped his jeep a few feet off the road and went to the local leader, folded his hands, bowed down to his waist and wished the local leader – Jakhar ji – with respect, “Dear brother, I have brought the men from my village. We are at your service.” Jakhar ji nodded and said, “Lets follow the trucks,” pointing to the convoy. “See me later.”

    At the toll gate near the Delhi border, Lathi Ram hoped to meet the boss of the local leader. He alighted from the jeep and went to Jakhar ji, who was standing with his hands folded, bowed down to the waist and talking in respectful tones with the local MLA. Lathi Ram stood at a distance so as not to offend the MLA but tried hard to overhear their conversation.

    Jakhar ji, “Sir, we have total 200 lorries packed with men from the villages. At your command, we move.” Though Jakhar ji wished to know the reason for the exodus to Delhi, he didn’t dare ask the MLA, lest his ignorance be bared.

    MLA, in reply, grunted, “Only 200 lorries? Not enough. Bring more men. I promised 10000 men.” Jakhar ji hung his head in shame and quickly looked up at Lathi Ram in anger and lashed out, “Didn’t you hear our worshipful leader? Go and bring more men. Dont show me your face till then.”

    Stuffed among farting men, Adhu and Ra sat squashed with their heads on their bent knees. Ra assured him yet again.

    Adhu,” But where are we going and why?”

    Ra spotted his old neighbour, Yadav Ji and asked him, “Tau (Uncle), where are we going and why?”

    Tau, “Son, I dont know.”

    Soon, they saw Lathi Ram reversing and passing their truck by. As his jeep slowed down, Ra shouted, “Brother, where are we going and why?”

    Already raging for having received a dressing down from Jakhar ji, Lathi Ram jumped out of the jeep, came to the truck where Ra was. He leapt up and gave Ra a tight slap and shouted, “Tu ke cheej hai? What are you? A hero? Just shut up and sit your ass down. Or I will skin it,” saying which he lunged back to his jeep and roared away.

    The next two hours passed in utter desolation. Every time, Adhu slipped on to the shoulder of his neighbour, he would be slapped awake. Ra, sitting on the other side, nursed his swollen jaw.

    As the new day dawned, the convoy reached Jantar Mantar – the designated area for strikes and protests – in Delhi. Someone piped in, “This is no distance at all. We covered lots of territory that day two months ago when we went to Chandigarh to create ruckus.”

    Adhu looked around to see who spoke but he couldn’t for all around them the huge mob was protesting, shouting slogans – ”we want reservation, give us our right”. They demanded job reservations based on the community they belong to rather than on merit.

    Soon, the chaos gave way to a full-blown battle with armed forces – employed to keep the mob in control – who released tear gas and opened powerful jets of water on the mobsters.

    Gunshots were heard – though empty shells aimed in the air – they created the much needed stir and the mob started to scatter. Adhu and Ra, who were till then crushed from all sides by burly men, suddenly found themselves standing alone facing the firing squad. Shivering in their wet clothes, Adhu and Ra looked like scare crows in the middle of a desert.

  • March 2, 2016 at 1:51 am
    Permalink

    Fool’s Gold (Revised)

    Visiting the desert was a great idea, I thought. Those pyramids were majestic, and who knew I could find my fortune here. I enjoyed my tour and made some good friends.
    I met them at the multi- cuisine restaurant and we tried some Burmese delicacies which we enjoyed. I knew I would have to take to crunches, and go to the gym, once I reached home. The food was too liberal with oil. But I didn’t regret it. Then as I walked out of the restaurant, I saw three Saville Row guys with their majestic height and aura.

    Only to be disillusioned. All that glitters is definitely not gold. As I walked past they said things that made my ears burn, and I turned and gave them a piece of my mind. They laughed at me and said, “Madam you’re very liberal with your cuss words. Maybe you would care to join us. We’ll give you the time of your life.”

    Then as I walked toward the market, a jeep swerved toward me, I jumped to the side, but a hand stretched and yanked me in. Furious; I wondered who would dare to do this. I looked at my captors and turned out to be the same guys. I screamed and screamed for help. They tied my mouth and I struggled, tears bursting out in pain and fear.

    ***
    I felt faint and knew with just a little water left, I wouldn’t survive. I had got into this mess through my own fault. My badmouthing them led to my being kidnapped, my mouth was tied, though surprisingly my hands were tied loose by chance. They thought I wouldn’t dare escape.

    How stupid could they be?

    They looked so sophisticated with their power dressing and powerful personalities, but underneath they were like most men with just one thing on their minds!

    Men who treated women like chattel existed everywhere, even today.

    I was lucky, I thought as I waited for a chance to escape, when they went to order food. They would offer me some, I knew, but I would have made my getaway by then.

    They hadn’t realised that I escaped for quite a while, since no one was following me.
    I kept myself close to a Bedouin group, hiding among their voluminous robes; not knowing where they were going, but guessed there would be water and food.
    I craved for water to bathe in.

    ***
    I thought back, where I had left the vehicle propping the back seat up as if I was sleeping, and they must have believed it, as I ran through alleys and streets and finally stopped where the yellow-red sands welcomed me and that’s where I met the group. The scorching sun got me tired and mental and physical exhaustion took over me. I was about to faint, when I heard a vehicle coming.

    It was a merchant from the upper villages. We covered a lot of territory that day before we reached his home. His wife took care of me. “People are good everywhere,” I thought. But I wouldn’t have trusted the man, only he reminded me of my dad. First she asked me to take a bath, and I did gladly rubbing off the dirt with a rough scrub. I still felt unclean. I slept in a room and the merchant’s bolted the room gesticulated at me, as if saying, “I am here for you, don’t worry.” I smiled tremulously.
    The next day the merchant asked me, speaking broken English, where I was going. I told him that I was looking for a job, and he said that if I was ready to do hard work, he had a job at his jewellery shop. I agreed and I started work, without losing sight of my goal.

    Maureen was a good friend of mine and knew she would be worried, so I sent her a postcard after I accepted what happened to me was not my fault. The blazing sun and cold nights were contrasts that fascinated me. We faced storms where sand rolled everywhere into our faces, nose, ears and clothes. But nothing was worse than the storm within me.

    One day out of the blue, Maureen came to see me; aghast at my travails. She looked at me and exclaimed, “Amanda, you’re coming home with me.”

    “I can’t.”

    “Why?” Then she asked me, “don’t you miss home?”

    “I do Maureen, I miss everybody, but I have to seek revenge from those who raped me, I will get it someday.”

    Maureen smiled wryly, hugged me, and left a few days later.

    I believed the desert would give me justice as it had given me pain.

    ‘Several weeks later, I saw one of my attackers passing on a camel in his Arab robes. He didn’t notice me as I followed him to his house. I touched the handle of the knife hidden in my basket, with anticipation. His time would come—soon.’

    One down…and I smiled – a wicked expression on my face…

  • March 2, 2016 at 11:26 am
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    THIS STORY THREAD IS NOW CLOSED.
    Thanks to everyone who participated, and for those who would like to enter next week’s contest, check back here tomorrow after 9am PST to find the links for the new story thread.

    Now it’s Voting Time!!

    We have a revised system for voting, so please DO NOT email us your choices. Instead click the link below, and you will be taken to a page with drop down menus. Make your choices, hit the “Submit” button, and like magic, Carrie or Alice will receive your votes.

    http://fiction.wwocz.net/blog/voting-for-feb-18-to-mar-2-2016-flash-fiction-contest-desertwe-covered-lots-of-territory-that-day-prompt/

    Please submit your 1st – 5th place vote (In order), for this week’s Writers Hangout Short Story Contest no later than 9:00am PDT / 12:00pm EST / 10:30pm IST / 5:00pm WET/GMT on Thursday/ 4:00am AEDT (Friday).
    Results will be posted later that day.
    REMEMBER IF YOU DO NOT VOTE, YOUR STORY WILL NOT QUALIFY.
    Please note: your email address will never be disclosed, shared or sold, but may be used for administrative purposes.
    Good Luck Writers!

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