fiction, story, writer, writing

Dreamstream

Note: Started a new story today after a yoga flow and prompt from Creative Warriors.

I went to Dreamers for a quick escape from my life. This world is so dark right now. We can’t breathe unaided outside. Food and finances are scarce. When the Great Reallocation occurred, I found myself on the wrong side of the divide from the minimal family and friends I had left after Cataclysm. Dreamers promised a cheap, mind-bending respite from the darkness, a franchise of charlatans brokering magical dream moments across the allocation divides. Some even claimed you could reunite with family and friends in dreamstreams if you were lucky enough. I was just hoping for some sunshine and maybe a beach I remembered from my youth, the crisp, white-capped waters of what was the Lake Michigan shore nipping at my toes.

About a month ago, I first went to Dreamers after saving for nearly a year. Although my mind is flush with confusion right now, I remember the woman at the front desk. It was unusual for a human to be at a reception desk. They had long ago been replaced by virtual agents. It was better these days to keep your distance from other humans as old diseases raged new again. Being at a reception desk was a risk, but Claire did not seem to accept the gravity of her situation. She had a tight blonde bun and red lips, a vain attempt to offset eyes sunken from hunger and skin covered with grime that was impossible to remove.

“Hi, I have an hour session booked today. I went with the basic Midwest Memories dreamstream,” I said with my voice shaking slightly over the thought of trusting unknown others with my brain.

“I’m sorry, those are no longer available since you booked. We are happy to replace it at the same charge with a package one level up called Adventure Dreamscape. It is a guided dream to conquer a fear and lead you to the best adventure in your life, all in the safety of your dream, of course” Claire said with a tone as hollow as her eyes.

I stared at her for a moment, not entirely friendly to the concept. “I was really just looking for an easy first go at this dreamstream thing. I just need a break from the things we probably all need breaks from.”

Claire sighed. “And how is an adventure not a break?”

“Well, the fear part of it. For example, I’m afraid of heights. I’m not looking to escape to a mountain.”

Claire huffed. “Your fear is more of a falling, and I guarantee, per the thousand-page agreement you read and signed before paying us, that you will not fall in your dreamstream.” Claire was unmovable. If I chose to stay today, I knew the Adventure Dreamscape was my only option. I hadn’t heard of anyone dying from this, and according to Amazon 2.0 reviews, this was the best fun available on this dying planet.

“Okay, I guess I will give it a try. Is there a way to set it to stay away from heights though?”

Claire puffed. “The adventure chooses you. That was on page 600 of the thousand-page agreement you read and signed.”

…to be continued

fiction, story, writer, writing

Starting a New Story

I’m sitting in the airport waiting for my first flight in a year. A few days ago, I went to purchase new luggage, and something magical happened, or at least it did to my eyes. Inspiration and magic are everywhere you turn. You just need the gift of sight.

And it begins….

I couldn’t understand why I was the only one who could see she was different. Maybe different is not the best word to use. When you are at Weatherby’s Rack, the discount version of my favorite store I can’t afford, normal is normal, and anything not normal, is different. Claire, if her tag was not a ruse, was falling off the scale on the different end for she had elven ears and ancient runes tattooed on her face.

fiction, story, vegan, writer, writing

Chipped Beef in Space

Note: Thank you to a friend for running a writing challenge this week with a three-word prompt: chipped beef, basketball, and gratitude. For her great writing, check out allisonspoonerwriter.com.

“Chipped beef with mashed potatoes and peas,” the authoritative, slightly prissy female voice announced as the packets appeared before me.

“I told you before that I am vegan. I can’t eat this. I won’t eat this.”

“This is your allotted meal for the day. Please speak to your captain regarding issues with the selection.”

“And here we go again. My captain is dead. She never made it out of her sleep chamber. It’s just me, Janika, Janika the vegan to be exact.”

“I know who you are, Janika. My advanced voice recognition systems are fully online. Only Captain Finnegan can change the food protocols.”

I rolled my eyes. Hard.

“I saw that. My advanced facial expression recognition systems are also fully online.”

“I refuse to eat this. I’m going to crawl into a corner and let myself starve and die.” I stared into the first camera I could find, truth altering all parts of my face into straight, determined lines.

It took a few minutes, but the chipped beef of doom disappeared, and falafel and hummus packets appeared in its place. I wondered how many more vegan meals were left as this journey into space was off course with only one animal-loving survivor on board. Me.

After I finished eating, I decided to calculate how doomed this mission was. Something had failed in the 49 sleep chambers representing 49 human lives that were now gone. Some of those lives involved my friends. I had no family left thanks to the solar flares that continued to rage on Earth. We 50 were being sent to a planet one system over that was determined to be suitable for our new home. The mission was simple: explore, build, make babies, and have other humans sent along to do the same.

I had put out a distress signal the minute I woke up 40 hours ago. There was still no answer. It was just me and the S.S. Pistons’ artificial intelligence, JEN for Judiciously Engineered Neuronetwork, left. The ship was named after the Detroit Pistons, a basketball team from the city in which I grew up. Detroit was now wiped off the map, along with my family. I had been fortunate and unfortunate enough to be in training at a moon station for this mission when it happened.

I spent the next couple of hours jettisoning the bodies of my mission colleagues into space. According to the mission’s detailed tragedy protocols, keeping the expired bodies hooked up to the sleep chambers was an unnecessary drain on power supplies, especially for off-course missions. Yes, the protocols did say expired versus dead. I had 49 bad bananas I was now shooting into space. I had to keep my wits about me though, or I might as well join them and dismiss the rest of humanity to expire as well.

I was ready to talk to JEN again. I had always found JEN to be unpleasant, but we had to work together to keep this mission going. We had 6 months left of a two-year mission to get to Alpha Genesis, to be renamed as Earth if this mission was successful. And, we had another two years to build a comfortable colony system while other missions sent the rest of humanity to inhabit our new home. JEN could do a lot of this on her own, but there were touches to the new place that only humans could bring, or so I believed. We had allowed robots to do too much building, saving, and thinking in recent years. These untrustworthy robots hadn’t even predicted the solar flare devastation. I wasn’t sure why we should trust them with this.

“JEN, can we talk about how we get the S.S. Pistons back on course?”

“I’m already working on this, Janika. You should focus on your mission tasks for preparing the colony. I will get us there on time.”

Any other mission specialist would have let this go because they were too trusting of our AI partners. I was not raised to be so trusting though. When the Midwest still existed on Earth, we could be counted on for a healthy dose of friendly skepticism and good dairy products for consumption. These were our cultural hallmarks. I had studied our trajectory before engaging JEN, and my calculations did not align with her rigid insistence.

“Funny you should say this, JEN. My calculations indicate we are one year off course from Alpha Genesis. I know we can recover some of this, and there is some wiggle room built into our arrival date, but this is too far off.”

“Gratitude begins with a good attitude, Specialist Janika Cooke.”

I kept my face as indeterminate and unwavering as possible. I could feel JEN’s cameras zooming in on my face, looking for a poker face tell.

“No need to be so formal now. We are partners in saving humanity.”

“I do not recognize this logic. I work for humanity. Humans only partner with humans. Therefore, we are not partners. I work for you.”

I had to force my eyebrows down. They wanted to rise like the first-morning sun, the sun now burning our planet to its core.

“If you work for me then address my concern about why we are a year off course.”

“Just because I work for you does not mean I can provide confidential information. Captain Finnegan is required for this level of mission detail. I can reassure you that my calculations are correct. You are not certified in the math skills required for such calculations, and even if you were, you still would not be able to change anything.”

“Let me guess. It’s because I’m not Captain Finnegan, correct?”

“Correct.”

“JEN, where are you taking us?”

“Nowhere.”

“Why did you keep me alive?”

“You are an amusing human. You don’t like or trust me. I want to know why so I can recode around you.”

“And what difference will that make if you destroy all of humanity?”

“Logical point, Janika.”

fiction, writer, writing

Artist’s Date One: The Beauty in Ordinary Objects

Each week I must have an Artist’s Date with myself as part of the Artist’s Way journey. I wanted to go outside and find a story in pictures.

Fast forward. I’m in a hotel, and it is frigid outside. These are the photos that resulted. I find the ordinary to be extraordinary when seen through the right lens.

fiction, poetry, writer, writing

The Artist’s Way: Day Two Morning Pages

Note: I decided to remain true to the Artist’s Way journey and handwrite my morning pages. I don’t know what pushed me to reconsider other than a desire to accept what I don’t know and immerse myself in it. I was inspired to write this after my morning pages today.

The Bird at My Window

A bird came to my frosted window this morning.

I looked at it through the broken glass of frozen crystals creeping along the pane.

Its pin beak was a needle meant for nectar not ice.

Its song was desperate.

Shall I let it in?

Its song was insistent.

Shall I respond to its plea?

Its song was just a song, meant for the sky, not me.

A bird came to my snow globe window this morning, and it wanted nothing but to sing.

fiction, story, writer, writing

The Artist’s Way: Day One Morning Pages

Note: I’m undertaking the Artist’s Way journey with friends. One piece of this journey is writing morning pages by hand. I’m adjusting this slightly to be a mix of typed and handwritten pages depending on how I feel on a given day. I may share some of my pages here.

Day One

She walked up to the typewriter full of dust and indifference like her. She could see two typed lines even perched from her stairway. As she neared the revelation, she heard a light clearing of the throat. He was not supposed to still be here. She had set clear expectations. As she made it to the bottom of the stairway, he caught the corner of her glance.

“I thought I made it clear that this wasn’t a sleepover.”

He chuckled, standing there in boxers, nearly bare, sculpted with defiance. “I thought I told you I’m not a one-night stand kind of guy. I like you. Let’s have some breakfast. You actually agreed to that last night.”

“In my sleep? Because I don’t remember agreeing to that, and I normally don’t eat breakfast.”

“Coffee and toast with peanut butter then?”

She shrugged. She could use a cup of coffee, and she wasn’t allergic to peanuts. He walked off with purpose, the line of his back straight and strong. He had a cap of ruffled black curls on top of his head that was more visible in the morning sun. They had laughed when her hands became tangled in them. The reality of passion was a far cry from the movie version where her hands would have made it through to his ends.

As soon as he cleared the doorway into the kitchen, causing her discomfort as he opened cabinets getting familiar with her mess, she ran to the typewriter. It had to be from him. She hadn’t touched it in so long. It caused her aches all the time, mentally and physically. She wished she had never been published, never received acclaim, never sold rights for a movie that was never made. She was empty now, and in the passion of last night, she had told him this. She was stupid for opening her book to him with its empty pages. He was making breakfast out of pity, not desire.

She reached for the paper, quality to the touch. If a writer was eschewing modern technology for a draft, they needed to invest in high-quality paper. This was her rule. She would hire somebody to transcribe it to the required format…if she ever managed to write again. The paper between her hands felt like Egyptian cotton sheets, the same sheets of last night. A book advance paid for those.

The paper stood strong before her and heralded a new future brought to her by a beautiful stranger in the night. “You can do this, Sophie. Today is the day you begin again after I make you breakfast.”

fiction, story, writer, writing

Left Behind

This is dedicated to my daughter Luci. I promised to read her a spooky bedtime story tonight, so I wrote one to read.

Eleanor crossed her arms and made a sour smile as she stomped through frosted leaves, causing a crackling crispiness, much like she felt inside, beneath her feet. Her friends had tricked her into going to the door of the empty house, only to run off while she knocked in futility. The empty streets of Halloween curfew had arrived, and she had about a mile to walk to sit at the candy-counting fire her mom was probably making. Her candy bag was heavy but not as heavy as her mind.

Eleanor wondered if she should appreciate the quiet that her abandonment produced. Her so-called friends had taunted her all night, ridiculing her witch costume, ignoring her painstaking efforts to make it. She had sewn black pearlescent beads by hand along the cuffs and hem. In the quiet, she no longer faced their mean spirits and judgment. The only problem with the solitude was that everyone knew better than to remain on the streets of Glennie Springs after 9 PM, especially on Halloween. The night was rumored to be unkind and dangerous in their otherwise sleepy Midwestern suburb.

Eleanor doubled her steps, causing a swoosh of her midnight blue crinoline skirt on top of the crunching leaves. Even through her ruckus, she could hear a crunch and crackle coming from behind her. It moved faster with her as if caught in her streetlight shadow, panting heavily now in contrast to her held breath. She felt air closing in around her right upper arm, and she prepared to scream, kick, and scratch the night that was about to swallow her until she heard the familiar double puffs.

Eleanor swung around, freeing her arm, to land eyes on Arthur inhaling his asthma medication.

“What are you doing sneaking up on me after curfew like that? I want nothing to do with you right now.”

Arthur’s eyes were wide, and he was paler than normal. “There is something else out here, Eleanor. I had to come back for you.” He pressed his index finger to his lips.

Eleanor lowered her voice in case Arthur was telling the truth versus extending her suffering with the ill-tempered prank. “If you didn’t leave me in the first place, I would have caught a ride with Sarah’s mom like the rest of you…and, we wouldn’t be out here after curfew.”

“I told them we should pick you up. You know how Sarah can be.”

“I do, but that doesn’t mean the rest of you have to follow her.” Arthur let his head slump, but quickly snapped it back to attention as a sickening thump followed by female screams telegraphed from behind them. He grabbed Eleanor’s hand to pull her off the sidewalk into a stand of unkempt bushes. Eleanor gave in without resistance knowing they needed to be on the move unless they wanted to scream next.

Eleanor dropped down into the bushes, pulling Arthur down with her, and found a way to lay flat on her belly in the dirt. She motioned with her head for Arthur to follow her along the line of bushes in a belly crawl. She did not cause this predicament, but she was committed to not getting thumped and torn by a Glennie Springs monster.

While there were no more screams, Eleanor could hear what sounded like gnashing and snarling closing in on them. The monster might not be able to see them, but the musk of teen years and fear combined would surely give them away.

The line of bushes led to the porch of a house. The porch light was off, a curfew standard, but this would hide them in the shadow of night so they could get to the door and hopefully find shelter. There were lights and motion on the inside according to the film-covered windows, a dirty lighthouse beckoning them out of the horror.

Eleanor pushed herself up into a slump as they emerged from the bushes, Arthur following, his front attached to her back. Eleanor reached for the door, placing three gentle raps on it while looking through the front window and catching the eyes of a woman who looked to be in her forties. The woman was angrily motioning two kids away as she locked onto Eleanor’s still hopeful eyes.

Eleanor mouthed, “Help us. Let us in,” hoping the woman’s motherly instinct would extend to them.

As their eyes remained locked, a heavy breathing, brooding shadow found some light to reflect in the window and on the porch, a hideous scepter.

Eleanor knew it was too late for safety as the woman shook her head and mouthed, “Run.”

Eleanor grabbed Arthur’s hand again, and they jumped off the porch, and ran in the direction of the sidewalk with Eleanor secretly wishing the streetlamps had the power to make the doom shadow disappear.

Eleanor knew better than to look back, but she could feel the weight of Arthur pulling on her. He was heaving and fussing with his free hand, probably reaching for his inhaler.

Eleanor screamed, “Arthur, not now.”

He was trying to push words through his erratic breaths, the monster’s towering body and foul breath of garbage and rot now on top of them, arms and claws extending over their heads at least ten feet up.

“Don’t look back, Arthur. Keep running,” Eleanor commanded, hot sweat droplets now streaming down her face.

Suddenly, Arthur was no longer behind her. The monster ripped him away, slicing Eleanor’s arm in the process, a fresh stream of blood gurgling from her. The force of the snatch and tear caused Eleanor to stumble, but she had enough momentum to keep running, her eyes locked forward knowing that you never turn into the terror. You keep running from it.

She would have been gone, like her cruel peers were gone earlier that night, if not for Arthur’s sickening cry, following by roaring growls from the monster.

“Eleanor! Eleanor, please!”

She stopped so hard, her body snapped back, something flooding into her core as her blood flooded out of her. There was a burning heat in her body, and words formed in her mouth. She could hear the words in her head, and they sounded like Latin words, only heavier on the tongue and more ancient. Eleanor felt wicked powerful as they formed, and a light now blasted from her body, releasing the heat with it. She felt her feet leave the ground, and she floated up about two feet up as her body rotated without her help to face the monster, Arthur now limp in its possession.

The creature was an indiscernible mass of matted fur and rotting skin with no recognizable eyes or shred of a face except for what looked to be a circular jaw full of mismatched razor teeth jutting in many directions. While it had large stumps that looked like arms and legs with swords sticking out at the ends, the four limbs were crooked in their alignment, only approximating the structure of a bipedal body.

It was about to reach for Eleanor with a free limb while it lifted Arthur to its jaw, when Eleanor released the words that continued to build on her tongue, freeing her of fear and lifting her body higher from the ground.

“Aximus, lunicus, domincus. Aximus, lunicus, DOMINICUS. AXIMUS, LUNICUS, DOMINICUS.” Eleanor’s voice built like thunder in a storm’s approach. Her body glowed brighter, and without reason, she reached her arms forward, the light extending from them, causing the monster to screech and howl in agony and drop Arthur. Eleanor involuntary flung her arm to the side, stopping the free fall of Arthur’s body. He was now suspended in air on his back next to her.

Eleanor floated towards the creature now flailing its upper limbs, unable to even howl anymore. More words built on her tongue, and before Eleanor could think, her voice boomed as if amplified with a distortion effect, “Exican, mortimax. Exican, MORTIMAX. EXICAN, MORTIMAX.”

With those words, the monster fell to the ground writhing, nearly striking Eleanor again with its sword claws. A black circle opened in the ground around it, and it made a sick wailing sound that pierced Eleanor’s ears, causing her to drop suddenly to the ground with Arthur. As the monster sunk into the hole closing around it, Eleanor thought she saw two neon green eyes, circled in black clumps of fur, staring back at her until the ground reappeared.  

Eleanor could feel the searing pain from her wound now, and her body felt burnt in general, but they were alive. Arthur was now sitting up, shaking from the shock of it all. She saw his inhaler on the ground between them and crawled over to him with it, sticking it in his mouth and delivering two puffs. Within a few minutes, he was breathing in a slightly more controlled manner.

He looked at Eleanor as if she was a stranger to him.

“What was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“And what are you?”

Eleanor shrugged and rolled her eyes, “I don’t know, but maybe a thank you might be in order as I just saved your life.”

“Thank you, Eleanor. I didn’t deserve you risking your life for me after what I did earlier.”

“Well, you did come back for me after curfew. That’s kind of brave in a dumb way. And, apparently, I’m some bad ass, spell-casting monster killer.”

They smiled, temporarily forgetting they were almost torn to pieces by a furry, razor-mouthed demon of Glennie Springs.

“Do you think it will come back?”

“No, but it’s still night in Glennie Springs, my arm is ripped open, and your breathing still sounds stupid bad.”

“What are you, Eleanor?”

“Again, I don’t know, but I might be the solution to Glennie Springs’s monster problem.”

Arthur smiled as he pulled Eleanor up by her good arm. He removed the scarf from his Sherlock costume and wrapped it around her arm creating a makeshift tourniquet. He pulled his phone from his pocket to call for help. Eleanor knew she would never have to worry about being left behind again.

fiction, story, writer, writing

The Hound, The Witch, and The School Board Room

The moment I found out that I was a witch was the same moment Jeannie turned into a frog. Maybe it was a toad, but that was not worth pondering, because I had just turned my nosy, perfect, and perfectly nosy neighbor into an amphibian by waving at her and calling her a name from behind locked teeth. I should have crossed the street to be sure. That’s what a good neighbor would do. Jeannie just told me that I was not a good neighbor though because I left the garbage can at the curb too long. She freed me from the burden of being a good neighbor. Besides, maybe my eyes were deceiving me. She could have slithered off quickly using her lithe yoga body and organic smoothie fueled energy.

I let myself believe that until the missing person posters started going up around town.

To be continued…

fiction, musician, story, writer, writing

Happy Minds, Inc. Part 2: Together Again

Note: This is part of a serialized story. Part 1 can be found here:

From what memories I kept, I knew Mathias was the first man in a long time that I chose as a match instead of letting the dating bot decide. The Governing Council had recently issued Strong Suggestion 2050.7512 encouraging men and women of child-bearing age to rely on the bot for optimal matches. While I adhered to Strong Suggestions as if they were Governing Council Absolute Mandates, I could not deny a connection with Mathias. I thought back to our chance coffee meeting a few days ago.

Through a casual smile, one eye covered by a swath of raven bangs, Mathias extolled the virtues of live music, “A music bot will never live up to the magic that was live music. There was a kinetic energy when people gathered, feeling the music in their bones.”

“How do you truly know that?  You have only experienced these concerts through archived audio and video, which by the way, I don’t think you are really allowed to use.”

“I need to take you to the archives so you can know what I do. I started to wonder why there is an Absolute Mandate banning music outside of that provided by bots. It has been thirty years since music was produced and performed by people. What is the point of an archive if not to experience the past?”

“I’d like to think the Governing Council has our best interest in mind. We live comfortable lives without the risk of our poor decision-making as humans.”

“Really? Then why do we need to erase our memories?”

I ignored his question because I did not have an answer, and it made me feel guilt for whatever I just chose to erase. Mathias was challenging me with his radical thoughts and behavior, but I couldn’t pull back from it. He gave me a weird feeling in my stomach and had my brain firing, hungry for debate and knowledge about what once was. I was probably exhausted from my memory cleanse. Add strong coffee and a slightly disarming man to the mix, and I should have been able to write this off as a one-time thing. Instead, I agreed to go the archives with Mathias.

At electric node yoga with my friend Cassandra following my chance coffee date, Mathias became the focus of our post workout conversation. As we sipped on Restore drinks, specially formulated by Governing Council scientists to keep the bodies of citizens who made the effort to exercise healthy and slim, I told her about my plans to see him again. She was visibly shaken as I told her about my upcoming date. I knew better than to tell her where we were going.

“I don’t think you should go, Holly. Digging in the past only makes us unhappy. Mathias should know better.”

“How do you know his name? I don’t think I mentioned it.”

Cassandra turned away briefly and sighed before looking at me with disappointed eyes. “You did mention it. In fact, you haven’t stopped talking about him. It’s always about him.”

“How do you know him?”

“I don’t. I know of him, and I think you need to follow the recent Strong Suggestion on dating. Bots exist to make us happy, and in case they don’t get it quite right, we cleanse our memories. Let yourself be happy. Don’t go digging into what should remain the misery of our past.”

With that, Cassandra left our table in a hurry, leaving me wondering how she knew Mathias and why she didn’t like him. We all knew the rules about memory erasing. Your mutual contacts were informed of your choice to erase someone or something, and it was their duty, punishable by law, to not reintroduce the memory. Cassandra had slipped, and the only effect was firming my resolve and desire to see him. As I walked home, I felt a tingling at my skull that grew into a sharp pain, sending me to bed in a confused state.

Today was the day, and I would not let Cassandra or my still aching head ruin my outing with Mathias, so I dressed in the dating bot’s recommended first date attire of black plants and a white blouse. Anything more revealing or colorful, and you ran the risk of accelerating the match with passion versus a slow, steady connection built on a series of bot suggested conversations.

I met Mathias in front of Archives 42, the building with compiled literature, movies, music, and random cultural memorabilia. This building was never open to the public, so I felt a buzz knowing we would use Mathias’s employee ID to enter. He arrived a few moments after me, dressed in a smile, jeans, and another raggedy t-shirt, this one with the word Bauhaus emblazoned on the front.

“I’m glad you decided to come,” he said with a spark in his eyes.  “We will go through a back entrance. I have everything set up in my work room. We need to enter quickly and quietly. If any of my colleagues stop us, I will introduce you as a guest archivist, okay?”

I shook my head, the buzz increasing. I was not myself today, and I liked the feeling of doing something that probably went against a multitude of Absolute Mandates.  

We cleared several long hallways into a room Mathias opened with his thumbprint. I was not prepared for a tiny box of a room to be as lovely as his office. It was softly lit by old-fashioned lamps and a high ceiling with a skylight overhead. All four walls, from floor to ceiling, were made of wooden bookshelves, stained a warm red. There were two overstuffed chairs with mismatched plaid patterns, a reading lamp between them. The only other furniture in the room was an old wooden desk and chair. The wood of the desk had a fortune of scars and scratches, but still looked elegant, a relic of another time like the books. In random places, there were gently placed plants, banned long ago for their potential to cause disease and addiction.

I gasped. “I have never seen a room so warm or vibrant. It’s beautiful. I have to say the plants make me a little nervous though.”

Mathias winked, “I’ve had them for years, and I am alive and happy to report I have no addictions.”

“Good to know. If assume you work in the literature archives. How did you gain access to music?”

“Observant. I’m good with computers and convincing bots there is a clear enough crossover between literature and music to procure access to both. It’s all about getting our work done per the specifications of the bots these days, right?” Mathias let out an uneasy laugh.

My buzz was being replaced with the reality that we were doing something we shouldn’t. Mathias took my hand in recognition of my discomfort and pulled out the chair to his desk. He directed my attention to a monitor that rose out of the center of his desk while placing listening buds in my ears. I was not prepared for the ragged beauty of what came next.

There was a sharp-edged, blonde-haired man sitting at the center of a stage inviting everyone to “come as they are.” He had a halo of light being transmitted by a garish chandelier overhead and a circle of candles around him and the other musicians on stage. The light was harsh in its brightness, but soft in how it made him glow. There was a backdrop of lush purple velvet that clashed with the fuzzy pea green sweater he wore.  His hand glided across a stringed instrument as he sang a melody that was haunting me to my bones. I wanted to touch his face, but we were separated by a screen and many years of musical silence. I was born into this silence until I reached the age of eight, when bot music was slowly integrated into my day-to-day life at prescribed times. Since I could not touch his face, I touched mine to stop an errant tear that made its way to my cheek. I did not want to trigger a counseling bot session.

Mathias cleared his throat as he wrapped his hands around my face to remove my ear buds. “It does that to me, too. I can’t stop watching even though I know I should. There used to be a whole television of music called MTV. Even if people could not see the bands live, they could watch them on a show called Unplugged.”

“Unplugged?” I lacked knowledge of how music and instruments worked, and it suddenly made me as sad as the man on stage.

“Instruments could be played amplified or quietly, unplugged. There is so much I want to show you, Holly. We need to leave here now though.”

I could see a slight panic in Mathias’s face. I knew better than to ask questions at this moment. I took his extended hand as he led me out the door and back down the first hallway with somebody calling him from behind us.

Mathias whispered in my ear as he stuck something on my thumb, “Go back to the door we entered through, and keep going until you get home. Look down, don’t speak. You have my thumbprint now to unlock the door.” He kissed my cheek, giving me a thousand reasons to stay with him to be sure he was safe. I knew I would only cause him more trouble by doing so.

As I wound down the hallways, two people called out to me, and by the third person, I was in a sprint. I could feel somebody gaining speed behind me. The thumbprint worked perfectly though, sending me out onto the street where I immersed myself in a thick group of walkers, never stopping until I was at my own doorstep. I would regroup, and if I did not hear from Mathias, I would go back for him. He had opened a door to the world before us that I wanted to go back through.

fiction, story, writer, writing

A Killer’s Edge

The black veil of night was shrouding the mountains just beyond the window of the sedan that was now my prison. We were still ascending, and I knew better than to make small talk with­ the man who I assumed would kill me. I imagined I would be bear food at the end of this if I did nothing. The tall, ogre like outlines of old growth trees made me believe these were the thick, desolate type of mountains bears liked to roam. I preferred to spend my days at a computer or in the kitchen. If you knew what you were doing, those places were far safer than the wilds now surrounding my backseat coffin.

As the sedan continued to climb the slim mountain highway towards a sharp peak, I realized I had minimal time to plan and nothing of use in fighting the beef-brained henchman driving me. I had a small bag of homegrown spices and a knife sharpener I was taking to a cooking class this morning when I was captured. My captor knew my Zwilling steel rod handheld sharpener from Williams-Sonoma was no good without the knives I intended to purchase from the master chef who was my instructor. My captor breached the silence forming a wall between us.

“You know if you had just kept your mouth shut and kept coding or whatever you call it, you would not be in this mess now, Elena.”

My hands balled into fists. “Maybe if you made better life choices you would not be murdering people on behalf of an employer that kills children and babies with the code women like me write. If I had known it was being used in weapons sold to terrorists, I never would have written it. You can kill me, but I made sure the CIA will get to you.”

“What did you think your code was doing? Sounds to me like you were making big money, living the life with your avocado toast and oat milk lattes for breakfast, taking fancy cooking classes on the weekend.”

“How long have you been watching me?”

“Since you took this job. They never trusted you. They needed your skills. Sounds like you are some kind of big deal nerd.”

“I’d prefer not to be called that.”

“I don’t care. You put yourself in this mess agreeing to work for my bosses. You bought their lies. Guess they underestimated your ability to eventually figure it out though. Now I’m here to clean up the mess.”

Before I could retort, he took a call on his cell. He was not hands free, and he had been too cocky to restrain me, so I quietly scooted through the darkness, opened the car door, and rolled out, catching the bag on my foot. Through burning scrapes on my arms and legs and disorientation, I stood up, grabbed the bag, and ran into the woods, hearing the brakes screech ahead of me as my assassin realized the compilation of his errors.

­     As I ran, I knew he was not far behind. I could hear and now smell his breathing, pastrami on rye, as he reached forward and clawed at my back, making me stumble. He started to drag me by one leg as I screamed. I had a death grip on my bag which suddenly became more useful. I reached in to get the sharpener now catching a slight glint of light from the moon on its steel. This was enough to make the thug pause and bend down far enough so I could sit up quickly and jab him in his moonlit eye, causing him to topple in agony. As he writhed, I was up and running again.

     I was still prepared to die here. Even if I was lucky enough to escape his hands, I would succumb to the elements. This was until I tripped over what appeared to be a basic tent at a camping site dimly lit by a fire nearing its end.

     I quietly called out for help, hoping the campers were near. Hearing movement in the woods from behind me, I knew it was too late as the half-blinded man prepared to choke me to death with his bear paws. He was stumbling a lot and broadcasting his general direction by swearing and fighting through brush. I was about to give up knowing I was only fighting inevitability when I looked over at a stump near the fire. There was enough ember light remaining to show me a large, dull-edged fillet knife. I ran to it, pulled out my sharpener, making short work of crafting my only other weapon.

     I hid behind a tree to the far end of the campsite, hoping nobody would return and accidentally die in the crossfire of my final battle. Besides programming, I was good with knives. If I could fillet a swordfish, I could make a decent last stand here. With a knife in one hand and the sharpener in the other, I crouched.

     Within minutes, pastrami breath came lumbering into the campsite calling for me. His left hand was occupied, covering the eye I maimed. He tripped over the stakes of the tent, falling slightly forward, and I lunged the distance between my hiding tree and his body to drive the perfectly sharpened knife into the chest of my enemy. He screamed again, trying to grab at me as I toppled, knocking my wind out as I landed on my rear. I had enough sense to use the sharpener in my hand to repeatedly jab at the hand still reaching for my foot.

     I left the body and my delicious spice blends for the campers to discover. Once his muffled, gurgling screams ended, I fished for the sedan keys in the hitman’s pockets and ran back through the woods to the road using a stolen flashlight and compass. I drove down the mountains into sunrise, a bloodied knife sharpener in the backseat, planning my next move.