I rush into the first stall in the old white tiled toilet and collapse to my knees. Holding on to the bowl with both hands I feel my suit pants sop up wetness from the floor, that I think could be pee. I throw-up beer and rum. I make my way to the old chipped hand-basin and hold on. The Boy Scouts law flashes through my mind. Loyal: A Scout is true to his family and friends. I look down at my watch and it’s only forty-five minutes to closing time. I must tell my mates no pussy will ever come between us again. I stagger back through the pub and stand with me mates at the bar, but the words just won’t come. I try to put my foot on the brass-rail, but someone keeps moving it. I feel alone in the crowd and shake my head, trying to clear my alcoholic brain.
“Christ! Drink up. It’s almost last call.” I say, trying to reconnect with me mates.
“That’s right Mr. Wills and it’s your turn to buy, so get us anov’ver round.” Dave says finishing his beer in one gulp.
Suddenly, the incessant chatter in the now-packed bar drops to a whisper. I then follow everyone’s eyes towards the front door. To my horror, there stands Kurt Reichmann, the German gang leader from school. I sober up instantly.
Behind Reichmann there is a solid wall of the grizzliest cutthroats and villains that I have ever seen. Reichmann is even bigger and uglier than I remember. His neck is over half the width of his massive hunched shoulders. Even though he has the posture of an ape he is still head and shoulders above everyone else in the pub. This six-foot six, over three-hundred-pound monster still has not seen me.
“‘Er… boys!” I whisper, “Don’t look now, but Kurt Reichmann just came through the door.” I look down as I speak, hoping that the floor will open and swallow me up.
“Holy shit!” Dave says, almost without moving his lips. “What the fuck is ‘e doing ‘ere? I ‘fought ‘is local pub’s The Bell.”
“It is,” Danny whispers. “and if ‘e’s ‘ere, there’s ‘gonna be trouble.”
Ed is looking around the bar. “Why the bloody ‘ell didn’t they build a back door to this fucking place? Cause I ‘fink it’s way past me bedtime.”
Danny starts to look around as if he would suddenly find Ed’s missing back door.
“Which one of ‘yah ASSHOLES,” Reichmann bellows into the now silent bar, “put the finger on Billy ‘ere, to the bleeding Coppers?”
Billy Ratner is the one-legged hulk on crutches standing almost as tall as Reichmann, to his left. There are many stories about how he lost his leg, but no one knows for sure. Billy always plays the poor helpless cripple especially when questioned by the police about pub fights. “ ’ave a ‘eart Constable,” Billy would answer. “ ‘ow can a poor one-leg cripple, the likes of me, be involved in a fight?” The truth is, when standing wedged into a corner, Billy is a vicious fighter who swings his heavy wooden crutches and inflicts very nasty injuries. Everyone knows that to turn him in would be a death sentence.
Reichmann’s beady eyes scan the bar, unfortunately, he picks me out of the crowd.
“I don’t believe me bleeding eyes! If it ain’t the ‘eadmaster’s pet, Alan bloody Wills, the ‘ ’ead Boy. ‘Ya’re the type of bleeder what would turn Billy into the Rozzers?
I shout back to him. “School’s a long time ago Kurt. I ain’t been in Walthamstow for donkey’s years. We moved away you know.” I try not to sound nervous despite the giant butterflies beating the hell out of my stomach.
“There’s ‘ya pencil-neck, sissy mates? They always squealed on me gang in school.”
I yell back. “No, Kurt, we’ve all gone our separate ways now. This is the first time we’ve all been together for ages. Like a reunion, ‘ya know?”
“So, what about that little weasel next to ‘ya! Who’s ‘e?”
I turn to the stranger next to me. He is less than average height, but on closer inspection he looks very muscular. Plus he seems self-assured, with a determined look in his eyes. I had never seen him before.
“Dun’no who he is, Kurt. ‘Ain’t with us.”
“Ma name’s Scotty. I’m from Glasgow!”
“A bloody Jock!” Reichmann says in a very demeaning tone. “Maybe we’ll ‘ave ‘ya do a ‘ighland bloody fling or play ‘ya bagpipes.”
You can hear a pin drop as Reichmann takes a couple of steps forward.
I look up at the ceiling and say a silent prayer. God don’t let this little Jock defy Reichmann. You of all people know that Scots have a reputation of being hardheads.
“Get outta me way you big oafs!” A woman’s voice shouts from the front door.
Again, I look up at the ceiling. Excuse me God, you sent a woman? I ask silently
As she pushes her way through his gang, we can see that she is wearing the navy-blue Salvation Army uniform. This poor little gray-haired dove surely doesn’t realize that she is landing in the middle of a potential battlefield.
“I’ve never heard this den of iniquity so quiet. What’s going on?” she asks.
“None of ‘ya fucking business,” Reichmann growls.
“‘Ya watch ‘ya filthy tongue, ‘ya big moose.” she says, facing Reichmann.
“Look lady, do’ya mind! We’re in the middle of a bloody inquisition. So why don’t ‘ya go on ‘ya merry way and push God at the next boozer down the road?”
“God’s work is far more important than whatever mischief you’re about.” She says, then she shakes her tambourine then holds it out in front of Reichmann. “A donation please?”
“Get the fuck out of here, ‘ya fucking bible junky, before me gang throws ‘ya’re ass out,” Reichmann pushes her to one side with a swat of his left hand. She falls back held up by a couple of gang members.
She takes the few steps to be back in front of him “You might bully little people, mister, but you can’t bully God!” Again, she thrusts her tambourine at him, this time, it hits his bulbous belly.
The crowd lets out an “Oh” then waits for the inevitable.
“Look lady, I’m Kurt Reichmann. I’m sure you’ve ‘eard of me.”
“No, can’t say I have. I’m Gladys Little, glad to meet ‘ya! Now, how about a little something for the Lord’s work?” Again, she shakes the tambourine, then taps it twice on Reichmann’s obese belly.
An “Ooooo” goes through the bar.
“That does it, lady. You just pushed ‘ya luck too bloody far! OK, boys, throw this old bible-bashing-bitch out in the street.”
Four of his thugs pick up this poor little Salvation Army lady by her arms and legs.
With one exception, none of the pub patrons lift a finger to save her. The wiry Scot leaps to within a couple of feet of Reichmann.
“You’ll have ‘ya men unhand the wee lass, Mr. Reichmann!”
“You must be off ‘ya ‘ead,” Reichmann chuckles. “One of ‘ya …” he points to his gang. “This ‘ere little Scot’s fly, what just landed ‘ere, needs swatting!”
“Do nee move! Not a one of ‘ya, or I’ll be forced to put a bad hurt on ‘ya boss.” The Scot’s eyes narrow as he stares up at Reichmann’s massive head.
“You! Ya’re going to ‘urt me?” Reichmann laughs heartily with his hands holding his big stomach. His gang follows suit and breaks into roars of laughter.
Without a word, the Scot jumps into the air, and with a loud thud his forehead smashes Reichmann’s forehead, much the same way a football player powerfully heads the ball. The giant falls like a rock to the floor, knocked out cold. The four thugs instantly drop the Salvation Army lady on to the floor and join the other gang members around Reichmann. Slowly he comes to. Shaking his head, he shouts, “Get that little bastard!”
The Scot’s courage must have touched all the local lads the way it inspired me. Without a word we all leap on Reichmann’s gang and the onslaught begins. All around me I hear the painful sound of fists pounding flesh. I block a punch from a gang member, grab his hair and smash his nose on to my up-thrusting knee. His blood splatters over my trousers and he hits the floor holding his face. Out of the corner of my eye I see Dave jump clear as a wooden table is over-turned by one of Reichmann’s thugs. Dave then demolishes a wooden chair across his head, and he is out for the count. Blood splatters everywhere; bottles fly through the air and smash against walls. I see Danny duck a punch then raise his head and poked his fingers into the gang-members eyes, and the thug screams out in pain. Looking around for Ed, I block another punch. The public bar is filled with fighters, with fists missing and connecting, heads ducking and weaving. I then see Ed hiding under a table, I smile, maybe he is the smart one, I think.
“Scotty, look out!” I yell. “Reichmann has a blade.” With the precision of a goalkeeper, he kicks up, and the knife flies from Reichmann’s hand up into the air, Miraculously, Scotty catches it and lunges at Reichmann, ripping open a gash the full length of his right inner arm. Blood squirts all over fighters next to him.
“Christ! ‘e’s cut me bad,” Reichmann screams. Holding his wounded arm to his chest blood covers his huge belly. He makes for the door, closely followed by his gang.
The four of us lift Scotty, our hero, on our shoulders high above the battered and bruised crowd. The cheers are deafening, as we step carefully over debris in what looks like a war zone, and circle the public bar holding Scotty high, to the cheers of the crowd
All the locals help clean up the mess and we pass the hat around to pay for the damage. In return the Governor buys everyone a beer. Dave, Danny, Ed, Scotty and me close The White Swan with the much-needed last beer at the bar. Scotty, we discover, is a famous football player. He is in London to play in the England v Scotland cup match. He had come to Walthamstow to meet an old army mate at The Swan.
“Laddies, us Scots have mighty hard heads in more ways than one, as your Mr. Reichmann can surely attest!” Are his parting words as he walks toward the front door, to the cheers of us all. Just then Scotty’s army friend comes through the door, and asks “Scotty why are they cheering you?”
“Auk, I just straightened out the David and Goliath story with these Londoners. They did’nee know that David was a Scots soccer player.”
During Sunday lunchtime, at the Swan, we learn that due to police warrants Reichmann was unable to go to the hospital Friday night. Many eyewitnesses swore they saw him sew the long knife wound to his inner arm himself, using an ordinary needle and thread from a sewing kit, which luckily a woman outside the pub had in her handbag.
By Alan Wills
Select all writings of Alan Wills
Select biography of Alan Wills
The Cursed Earth stretched out for thousands of kilometers. It witnessed the rise and fall of the living. Many thought of it as cursed for the multitude of plagues, mutants and other problems that inhabited the wide berth of land. One human living in it thought it cursed because no longer could it grow green things. One day, maybe, long after her, it would turn green again.
Nately ‘Nat’ Emmett stood atop a rock formation that was also her home. Upon closer inspection one might discover that it was a marooned ship buried in rock. She held binoculars against her eyes scanning the view around her. The nearby valley village of Idrian, over twenty kilometers away, looked quiet from her vantage. She rotated towards the great western wall of Mega City One, standing as a seamless sentinel of civilization on the far horizon. Something in the foreground caught her attention. She changed her focus and spotted some dust clouds and glints of metal amongst the dust. She pulled the binocs closer. Someone was being attacked. If she left now, she might be able to help them. Ask questions later, if alive. At the very least, she could check on the situation.
She disappeared into the ship. Moments later she came out of the base and uncovered a motor cycle. She wore light dusty desert robes. A weapon lay on her thigh and a rifle hung from a strap on her back. She pulled a helmet over her light brown hair and started the engine. It started quietly and off she went.
As she approached the location, she stopped short and went in on foot. There was enough rock for cover. She surveyed the area for henchmen on look-out. All clear. Five members of the Red Rock Gang and another figure were down in the open space surrounding a Judge. Nat’s eyes squinted against the light. A Mega City One Judge in her valley. The gang had dragged him from his bike. He had already been shot. The Judge had killed one of their gang. As Nat found a safer better vantage point, they shot him again before she had her rifle ready. A body lay in the back of their truck. They started beating and kicking the Judge. She heard someone yell above the other screams. Would a Judge sentence her for killing his assailants?
She aimed, took a breath, released it and fired three rounds. She hit the legs of the gang members. Three members went down in screams. The remaining members stopped and looked around. They didn’t know exactly where the shots came from. The Judge immediately looked for his gun. Nat looked to the rock around her, listening for movement. She was safe. The Judge started crawling. The gang members hurried to get their members to their truck. Two of them turned to finish off the Judge. They aimed their weapons. Nat aimed for their weapons and fired. The guns shattered in the mutie’s hands. She hoped they wouldn’t come calling for a doctor. That would be awkward. They looked in her general direction. They moved again and Nat aimed for the ground around their feet. They ran back to their truck swearing and drove off in a plume of dust.
The Judge crawled to his bike and passed out. Nat waited a minute before moving, scanning the area with her binocs. Gritting her teeth, she moved down off the rocks and quickly walked to the area with the judge. The dirt thirstily drank up the blood. Whether human, alien, or mutant it made no difference. Shell casings and a hat lay in the dirt.
She looked up at the Judge resting near his bike, gun loosely held in his fingers. His dented helmet firmly in place. She swung her weapon across her back and placed her hands, palms forward, in the air. He didn’t move. She could see him bleeding on his torso and right thigh and it looked like a possible broken shin bone. She approached the bike carefully. When nothing happened she carefully reached out to feel for a pulse under the helmet. Weak and thready. She looked at the wounds. She pulled a small bottle out of her pack and sprayed it into each wound. The Judge could still feel that.
She looked at the badge. Dredd. Her eyes went wide. She studied the bloodied mouth. She rocked back on her heels calculating.
“Judge Dredd! Can you hear me? Judge Dredd?” she asked. He mumbled something. Gritting her teeth she slapped him.
“Is help coming for you?”
“Negative,…solo mission,” barely came out of him. She nodded, thinking.
“Will your bike help or follow us? I can help you but you are coming with me.” Dredd made a sound in his throat. Nat took a deep breath and pulled out some clean cloth from her hip pack and stuffed them into his various wounds. She unsnapped the shoulder pieces and put them on the side. She tried to lift him and up and check for exit wounds and those as well. His shin felt swollen,
but she had no splints handy. She studied the bike.
“Law Master? Can you respond to me?” she asked. Nat moved Dredd to his back and tied his legs together. She had a herculean task ahead of her. She needed to make a pallet. She ran to her bike and rode it over to him. She pulled out something that looked like a bag with poles from one of her bike packs and started to unfold and lock it. She placed it next to the Judge. She pulled on his hips to create distance between his head and the bike. Nat feared the bike would shock her and time was critical for the Judge, if she could help him. She stood between him and the bike. With her foot on the pallet she leaned forward and placed her arms under this armpits, lifted and heaved him over to the pallet. She did the same with his hips and legs, meanwhile repeating over and over, “Sorree.” While clipping him onto the pallet and then to her bike, she addressed the Law Master.
“I’m going to save Judge Dredd’s life, if no one from the city is coming. I’m taking him to where I live, so I can remove the bullets and repair the damage. Follow me, track, me…if you can. I will hide you as well.” With a towel, she picked up his Lawgiver, wrapped it and put it in her bike pack. Finished with everything, she got on her bike and slowly drove off. She looked at Dredd to make sure he wasn’t worse. Halfway home, she noticed the bike was indeed following and the pallet left nice clean lines in the dust. The rest of the way, she planned how to get him up into the ship. Thankfully she was not completely alone. The ship’s AI touched her consciousness. “Yes, I need help getting him ready. – No! I can’t trust the trainee. – Alone, with you. Keep me alerted,” she said to the presence. They worked out the details before she arrived.
She lay on the floor of the infirmary, panting at the ceiling. Dragging ninety-three kilograms of dead weight up through rocks and up through a hatch onto the med bed made her dizzy. She pulled a few muscles too. To no one but herself she said, “If the waiting doesn’t kill him…GET UP! Get up. Get up. Get up!” She sat up. Safe inside the ship that was her home, she rose unevenly, stumbled to a sink and kit. She spoke out loud often. No one had taught her to be ashamed to think out loud but then again there weren’t many people in her daily life. “What would he think of that?”she asked the air. “No, not you,” she said to the AI. She stripped off her desert clothes and cleaned up, sterilizing as best she could and to herself said, “I need a chair.”
She stood over Dredd checking his pulse. From the time she stopped his bleeding in the desert, to the time she stood over him ready to operate, not more than 30 minutes had passed, but it felt so much longer. Nat had removed the helmet, studied those most private of facial features and attached the anesthesia. Dredd’s clothes lay neatly folded on a table nearby. With the help of the AI, wound by wound Nat, methodically removed bullets, stopped bleeders, closed and treated the wounds. Then she examined the leg and splint it. She placed several blankets over Dredd’s body. She cleaned up all the rags and instruments. His pulse and breathing were steady.
She desperately wanted to lie down. Instead, she made her way back outside to see how big a trail she left with the bike and the litter. The winds had kicked up and little of her passing could be seen. A storm approached. She should really take out the bike to get a better look but she was too tired to trust what could happen. Turning back to the ship, she talked to the AI as she re-entered, “Stay alert. I’m going to sleep. Wake me if I need to check on the Judge. – Thanks.” She fumbled her way up to the main room. She paused to look at the Judge and went on through the nearby hatch, locked the door in the open position and collapsed in her bunk.
After several hours, Nat woke and struggled to get out of her bunk. It seemed every muscle group complained. She got up and checked on the Judge. Steady readings. Good. She went back to bed.
Dredd dreamed disjointed images of past and current enemies and the job. Standing on a corner watching citizens pass by, he became aware of pain. The citizens turned to climb all over him and bury him. The pain seemed all over his body. In the quasi drugged state of his consciousness, he opened his eyes. His helmet? Where is it? He could barely move his neck. He looked down. His right leg was uncovered and a woman had her hands on his leg! He couldn’t think the next question before she turned brown eyes to him mouthing words he couldn’t hear as he slipped back into sleep.
Dredd surfaced from his nightmares slowly. Something was in his hand. It was not his gun. He squeezed and it squeezed back. An alarm went off in his head. He felt the pain afresh as he tried to move. He opened his eyes. Again, No Helmet! A woman sat there holding his hand. He looked at her hand around his and back at her. She let go before he could shake it off. Like a whisper it felt as if with her release the pain felt worse. She spoke in clear tones.
“Do you know what happened to you?” she asked softly. Her eyes were guarded but kind.
“I was ambushed,” he said. She nodded.
“What’s your name?” she asked then added, “It helps me assess how you’re doing.”
“Dredd,” he said.
“My name is Nately Emmett. Many call me Nat,” she shrugged before she added, “You were ambushed by the Red Rock Gang, alien mutie combo. By the time I arrived you had killed one of them. You had been shot several times and have a fractured right shin.” She stopped and looked away. She licked her lips.
“What happened?” he asked. The Judge in him moved back into position. There was fear in her eyes.
“Things are different here in the Cursed Earth…I lucked out spotting you and them. I got my rifle and bike and rode over. I wounded 4 of them. I would have killed them so that I could save you. I don’t know if what I did deserves a sentence from Mega City’s toughest Judge. I saw a Judge in need. I didn’t want to go to jail. I didn’t want a Judge killed. I didn’t know who you were,” she paused at her babbling. His silence unnerved her. She couldn’t read him at all. She stopped talking. She pulled a small flashlight out of a pocket, put it back. Mentally, as a defense, she put on her doctor hat. “I have more…um, Let me check you out this morning.”
“You sustained three bullet wounds and one fracture,” she said. She gently removed the bandages and checked for infection as she kept talking. “It was a tough call. I didn’t know if the city would send help for you.” She noticed a slight shake of his head. She rolled him over on this side to check the bandages on the exit wounds.
“I got out the bullets. Disinfected the wounds and put a splint on your leg. You’ve been in and out for two and a half days, mostly out. So far, no fever and you appear to be healing quickly,” she said. She finished looking at his thigh bandage. She looked back at him and pulled out the small flashlight.
“Now, look at my finger as I shine this light in your eyes. Follow my finger.” She looked intently at his pupil dilation as she move her finger and light. His eyes tracked with her finger perfectly and pupils were dilating fine. “Good.” She moved to his feet and uncovered them. “It was a challenge to get you up here so I’m checking everything.” She ran her thumb up the arch. “Do you feel that?” she asked.
“Yes,” he said. She switched to the other foot.
Nat let out a deep sigh she didn’t realize she had been holding. “You’re doing well. I don’t have Mega City med services to speed this up. I heavily recommend 5 more days of rest before testing the stitches and the leg. I know you don’t want to be here, but I want to you to make it back,” she said.
“Where is my uniform?” he asked gruffly.
Embarrassed suddenly, she pointed to another table but told him when he couldn’t turn to see them. He slowly turned and saw them. They were mostly cleaned and folded neatly. She moved closer to that table.
“I repaired most of the damage,” she said. “I tried to salvage them. I’m sorry for any indignity my actions may have caused,” she said as she fidgeted with her flashlight. She couldn’t look at him. Silence stretched out between them, the first of many.
“Would you have preferred I left you out there to die? Did I make a mistake?” She mustered the courage to look over at him.
“There seem to be some – extenuating circumstances.” It was not a verdict but kept it open ended. He watched her accept it and added, “You fixed me. Thank you.”
Dredd tried to sit up but he felt a dagger of pain and felt a moment of dizziness. He sorely missed the Justice Med Bays. He felt her next to him. She pulled him up with effort and quickly put a roll of blankets behind him and made sure it didn’t rub the exit wound.
“Good enough for now?”
“I can leave you for a while now. Do you object?”
“We’ll talk again later. Ask me any question you want,” she said. She pointed to a switch for the light that he could reach. She moved to a bag on the floor and pulled out a book. Dredd wondered who this woman was.
“Your bike makes me nervous. I wanted to find one of your law books I suspect you always carry with you, but I didn’t dare. Here is a law book that my father had from his days. It is well worn,” she said. She held the book, caressed it for a moment. She handed it to him with both hands. His face softened ever so slightly and snapped back. He wondered at her statement and accepted the offering.
Nat nodded and left the room silently. Off in what sounded like a great distance, he heard a door and then a motor start and fade away. He studied his infirmary living space. It looked like a ship. Writing on the walls, key pads and doors looked unfamiliar, so he made a mental note to find out what galactic language later in Mega City One.
He looked at the law book in his hands. The copyright was twenty years previous. Her father’s law book? Emmett? The name was unfamiliar. Inside the book cover was the written name, Wilson. He repeated the name in his mind. He would look into that when he had the chance. The pages were worn. It could be a good review of historical precedence. He read until he fell asleep.
Nat had high hopes for this Judge. She wanted or needed, depending on how she felt, to go to MC1, as she called it, for further medical training and more. She hoped that Judge Dredd would agree to take her back with him. She approached the small village of Idrian. A few locals saw her and they exchanged waves. She intended her visit to be short. She had to find her assistant in training. Together they would check on a few neighbors and she wanted to talk to the mayor. She intended to let them know of her plans and talk them into the long range goals she had for them. They might not be so happy about it. She told herself it was for them that she was doing this. She had a lot of ideas.
When Nat returned to her ship, buried in the red rocks of the valley, Dredd was fast asleep. In her bunk room which also doubled as the kitchen and all purpose room, Nat prepared another meal and some soup. She plated the food and sat down in Dredd’s direct eye line, if he woke up. After eating, she made a tisane, in her room.
“Emmett?” he asked from the other room.
“Yes, Dredd. I’m here,” she said. It never occurred to her to use his first name. She walked into his field of vision. “Do you need anything?”
“Hungry?” There was a pause.
“Yes,” he said, more like confirmation to himself.
“Good sign.” She helped him sit further up. She brought a tray with the soup and tea and placed it on the small table near him. She sat at the table across the room. A pile of books at her shoulder. “Sorry, it’s all liquid for now. It’s best for your guts.”
Dredd smelled the food and cautiously tasted it. No worse than anything Walter had prepared and possibly better.
“You’re not a mutant. Why do you live here?” he asked.
“Not a mutant?” she mused, “Hmm. I’ll tell you my story while you eat. My parents left Mega City One, I’ve shortened it to MC1, before Cal built the wall. My father, Thomas Wilson, went through the Law Academy but quit shortly after being a judge. He didn’t wall off his emotions. I don’t know how he made it through the academy. He fell in love with my mother, Breeze Emmett. She was a teacher, I think, or wanted to be. She had studied medicine. I had passed the assessment. I entered the academy and then I was out here in the Cursed Earth. They never explained. I’ve never known why. I don’t know if they ever regretted that decision.
“We went as far as this valley…They survived about 4 years, then they were killed by slavers because they got in the way. Close friends protected me at that time. I don’t know if what I was told is the truth but I had no recourse. One day wandering alone, taking stupid risks,” she grimaced, “I found this ship. I think he’s been here for a long long time. I say ‘he’ because of my preference. The AI is a high functioning intelligence….The AI actually installed an implant,”she pointed to her head, “..longer story. He talks to me through the implant. We have helped each other – stay sane…surrogate parent….I moved in here when I thought I was old enough and slowly I’ve been repairing the systems and studying,” she took a breath and paused before continuing, “I started to help the villagers with broken bones and sickness, with his help. He scans the surrounding area, alerting me when I need to go on the offensive. We’ve stayed safe. For now.”
“You operated,” he said. She nodded.
“Yes and he helped with what I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve read a lot of law and medicine books over the years.” They talked. Most of the talking done by Nat until they both grew tired.
They sat there silently for a few moments. Nat looked inside wondering about answering his initial question. She had tried to leave. There had been life threatening attempts.
“I’ve stayed here for several reasons,” she said. Her gaze lost some of her focus. “Let’s call it a night,” said Nat. She yawned and stretched.
“I would love to know more about MC1 and your day to day life, your job,” she said as she eased him back down.
“Tomorrow,” he said.
“Of course,” she said.
She continued to make eye contact with him. He always had his helmet on and so no one could make eye contact. They were intimidated by it. He was the face of the Law. He longed to put it back on. Longed to see again through polarized filters and the HUD. He felt her still in the room. Little noises gave away her activities. He processed all the information she had provided about herself, the ship and the valley. She had dedicated herself to their care and protection. Admirable and very likely foolish without support of the Law. If her story proved to be true, it was a miracle she was still alive. Her days were likely shorter than his. He admitted an inkling of respect for her and gratitude for saving his life and then filed it away.
As these thoughts flowed through his mind, he relaxed and went to sleep. Across the room Nat finished putting away the books. She watched until his face relaxed. She moved closer. His chin the most prominent feature and his mouth relaxed into a more natural downward line leaving fuller lips then suspected. Care and frown lines around his eyes smoothed out. He wasn’t conventionally handsome but he wasn’t ugly. He had a good face. She moved her hand up to block half his face with her hand. Soon enough, she knew that would be all she would ever see again.
“G’night Dredd,” she whispered. She lightly touched his hand and left the room.
Nat woke up and laid in her bunk half asleep. She heard sounds – grunting – and adrenaline flooded her body. She bolted out of bed with a weapon in her hand, scanning the room. Memory flooded back. Judge Joseph Dredd lay in her care in the next room. Rubbing her face, she walked into the infirmary room. He had managed to sit halfway up and put the blankets behind him. He looked at her.
“Dredd,” she said. The gun was still in her hand. She put it behind her back.
“Emmett” he said. She changed topics.
“Ready for some food?”
“Yes.” Nat went back to her multipurpose room, changed her clothes and prepared food. She brought it out.
“Dredd, yesterday, I answered maybe all your questions. May I ask – please tell me about your daily life. What’s it like to be a judge? Is that OK to talk about?” she asked as she placed the food down for him and moved to sit at a nearby table. Dredd checked the page of the law book and laid it down carefully. He picked up the soup and tasted it.
“Being a street judge in a dying city is hard work. Violence, aliens, invasions, and weird situations all come into play. We are called in to handle all sorts of cases,” he said and drank some soup.
“Maybe tell me about an average day,” she said.
“No day is average but I think I understand your meaning,” he said. Dredd proceeded to tell her a play by play detailed account of a day and the multiple calls he answered and assisted. Nat listened attentively filling in gaps with memories of childhood. She heard his selflessness, dedication, his leadership, his rigid will and zealotry for the law and his care for the greater good of the city. She also heard and felt what he denied himself. Her eyes slowly brimmed with tears. Dredd noticed and stopped.
“Nately – You’re an empath,” he said. The authority and insight floored Nat.
“I was a frequent disappointment to my father. He wanted me to be what he failed to be but passed it on to me,” she said, thinking out loud. She felt uncomfortable. “It seems to me, with the life I’ve had so far, that a judge needs to be a machine. Some of the Regs make more sense to me now…but I didn’t realize how lonely and painful it can be. I shouldn’t be surprised. I–I don’t know how you do it.”
“Fifteen years of training. Some judges crack under the pressure. Some take the long walk. Judges die every day,” his voice more gruff. “The Law is life. The law is everything. We should study it daily and be focused on the law all day. There is little time for else.”
“So many laws. How can a good citizen keep track?” she asked.
“Ignorance is no excuse,” he said.
“I’ve lived in the lawless cursed earth for 10 years. All the people out here have done something,” she said. She moved her hands as if to brush away a fly and said, “I talk too much. I – I need to check on a few things. I’ll be back.” She walked out of the infirmary. She walked through the ship. And stopped near the top hatch. She stood there several long minutes thinking things through.
Nat stood in her room looking into the infirmary. She stared at the helmet. She sensed he wanted it. Didn’t know why he didn’t demand it. She walked into the room over to the helmet. Dredd looked up from his book and watched her. She picked up the uniform and helmet and turned to him.
“The world is a cruel place and so it seems the law can be as well. I want to ask you something else,” she paused as she handed him his clothes of office, “Let me know if you need assistance.”
She looked him in the eye for the last time expecting to find cold assessment and saw something else, perhaps approval or relief that he had his uniform. With his hands full and without much thought on her end, she reached over and kissed him. Being a Judge, he didn’t kiss back. It was as if she kissed a warm rock.
Nat quickly disappeared through the infirmary hatch into her room. Once in that room, she jumped up and down, not in excitement but more like she had just burned her hand on the stove. I am going to jail, she told her herself. Why’d she do it? There were lots of reasons. He is a healthy male. He is from the city. He is a Judge. He is her patient. Am I falling for my patient she asked herself. That’s just wrong she told herself and moaned. She sat in her bunk waiting to hear anything. Now, she didn’t want to face him. Fifteen minutes went by and she edged closer to the door. She swallowed.
“How’s it going?” she asked.
“I can’t cover my right leg,” he said. Nat went to a small box with alien writing and pulled 2 pieces of cloth from it. Nat stepped into the infirmary. The helmet glanced at her with only his chin available. She moved over to his leg and changed the splint to the unassuming cloth. The wound looked clean and the leg was healing fast. She slipped the cloth around his foot and up his shin until it felt firm against the bone.
“How does that feel?” she asked.
“Like a glove,” he said.
“I’m sorry Judge. I shouldn’t have kissed you. In the city, no doubt, there would have been a sentence,” she said as she worked.
“Six months in the Iso Cubes,” he said.
Nat accepted that with a sigh. There could be mercy. She fixed the suit around the high tech splint. She moved closer to his torso. He grasped her forearm.
“Nately, you’ve done the near impossible in this place. I’ll allow it, this one time, as a warning. Do it again, once inside the City, six months in the Iso Cubes,” he said. Nat looked at him with big eyes. “How much time for an impulsive hug?” she asked. He let go of her hand and she backed up having sensed his annoyance.
“Don’t make it a habit. You haven’t earned familiarity yet and a judge cannot love anything but the law. Attachments are distractions and we cannot afford them; therefore, they are against the law,” he said. “It can also be dangerous for you.” She nodded. This was the most she had talked to anyone in ages other than the AI. She felt ashamed and slightly confused.
“It sounds so lonely,” she said quietly, not looking at him and then added as she looked at him, “You look ready to go,” she said.
“Not without the rest of it,” he said. She smiled.
“Try to stand up,” she said. She watched as he sat all the way up and tentatively put his weight on his right leg. Nat put a small glass jar with a lid on the table next to the law book.
“Inside is a salve to put on the wounds to keep them clean. I think from here on you can do that without me,” she said.
“Judge, can I go back with you? I was hoping I could go to school, get real training and come back here. Can I get training?” she asked. She pulled another piece cloth out of her pocket. She picked up his knife and handed it to him.
“What are you doing?” he asked. Nate held up the piece of black fabric as tightly as she could between her hands.
“Please. Stab the middle of this,” she said. He hesitated and thrust the knife forward. “Again,” she said. Dredd attempted to pierce it again. Without her saying, he tried harder driving Nat a few steps back. She handed the cloth to him. He looked at it closely.
“That’s all I have of that. I and the AI have been working on a formula to recreate it. I want to work on the formula and make enough of it and wear it back here….and offer it to the justice department.” Her demeanor changed. She looked at him with passionate determination.
“Nately, I’ve had every intention of taking you back to Mega City One,” he said. He expected an emotional response and another attempt to hug him. She looked at him and nodded. Good, he thought.
“Thank you,” she said. She put the cloth away. She left him to himself. She went into her room and started to think about what she could take that would be hard to replace. She didn’t know if she would be gone a year, 5 years or forever. She also kept in mind that she’d probably be riding with the judge on his bike rather than hers. No room for sentiment, only necessity.
Dredd dismissed the frustration he felt. The Med Teks could have healed his leg in ten minutes. Remarkably, it didn’t feel as bad as he knew it could. He limped around the infirmary testing any limits and pushing himself. The wounds still hurt but he didn’t notice them as much. He had had worse before when he was younger. He looked into the hatch opposite the one Nat walked through. Then he checked out her multipurpose room. She watched him out of the corner of her eye as she packed and organized things. She used this activity to think and plan.
The rest of the day went quietly. The One window Dredd found was dirty and it looked like a sand storm was moving through the area. Storms could be minutes or hours…perhaps days. He frowned.
The next morning, Joseph Dredd dreamed again. He sat in a classroom. Rico sat next to him. They laughed. Joseph frowned at the laugh. “Joseph.” He heard his name called. “Joseph.” A woman’s soft voice. He turned from his brother’s face to the sound. His eyes opened and looked into Nat’s brown eyes close to him.
“Nothing’s wrong. The Storm has blown over. Willing to go topside with me? Fifteen tight steps going up and a top-side hatch,” she said.
“I’d like to get my bearings,” he said. He forced himself to sit up. He could smell that the same food cooking. His boots had been moved and waited for him. Wincing, he leaned over and put them on. The right leg proved a little tricky but once the boot was on it felt better. Standing on it felt rough but doable. He hated the pain but pain taught lessons. Pain humbled the proud. Pain pointed to strength. Pain distracted.
Nat waited for him in her hatchway and nodded her head to follow. She led him through a few more hatches then to the stairs that spiraled up to an outer hatch. Nat went up the steps to the top. These 15 steps reminded him of limitations. Each one gave him more determination to put them behind him. She opened the hatch and covered her face from the dust, sand, and pebbles falling in. Dredd paused behind her. Nat took a short ladder and hooked it up under the opening. Halfway up the ladder she put her arm out and pulled herself up through the hatch. Who needs grace, she thought. She turned around to watch Dredd pull himself up through the hatch and straighten up. Nat put the binocs to her eyes and looked toward the village. Figures were out and about. She watched them for a moment to see if she could tell what they were doing. Dredd scanned the horizon and found the western wall with no problem. His HUD helped him judge the distance left to go. He scanned the rest and stood next to her looking towards the village.
“You see the village?” she asked.
“Yeah,” he said.
“So far this year we have about 60 residents. Right now they aren’t too happy that I’m leaving. Fear I won’t come back. And not happy with the assistant I left down there either,” she said. She turned to look at the wall. We lost our advantage for today. Traveling in the dark on bikes is dangerous -” she stopped herself. “Look who I’m talking to…sorree,” she asked.
“I’m ready. Are you?” he asked her.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” she said. Another moment of silence in the dusty breezes.
“Golden reds and browns, wind sun and moon my companions, haunted by green things,”she whispered. She looked through the binocs again. He looked at her. Dredd looked at the orange, gold and red tones of rock and sand. The sky hung over them in an odd shade of blue. Had he ever looked before? It didn’t matter.
“You’re a poet too,” he said. Whether a declarative or a dismissal, that statement made her blush.
“Yeah. Maybe. We should go. You’ll be easy to spot if someone is looking, so we shouldn’t stand here any longer,”she said. She made her way to the hatch. “You first.” Dredd squatted and swung himself down with a grunt. Nat put the binocs on her back and sat in the hatch and swung her legs over to the ladder and lowered herself down. She unhooked the ladder and closed the hatch. Next she took him down to the bottom of the ship and out the hatch to check on the Law Master. He didn’t see his bike at first but a similar shape. Nat pulled off the cover. Remarkable. It totally disguised the bike, he thought.
Dredd proceeded to check functions and talk to Mack, his Law Master computer. Nat left him so she could survey and watch for dust trails and talk with the AI. “I don’t know how long I’ll be – maybe. Could be a year or 5…I..I don’t know. Life is unpredictable. I will miss you too. No. Don’t trust them and neither should you,” she said to the ship. When Dredd was ready, he found Nat looking over her bike inside the ship.
They went back to the infirmary. Dredd propped up his leg and checked the circulation of his foot. Nat went to her room to prepare under the guise of giving him space and herself time to say goodbye. No matter the pain, Dredd had supplies in his bike. He would take Nat with him. He’d give her the chance to do what she wanted. The rest would be up to her. He calculated the journey ahead. In time they ate, talked of what to expect at the gate, the city, the Council of 5, and went to sleep.
By Jennfier Packard
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Jennifer Packard grew up in Baltimore, Maryland. She received a BA in Liberal Arts, an MFA in Film and Television Production and an MA in Second and Foreign Language Education.
She has lived in Maryland, Southern California, Southern Florida, British Columbia and Washington State, and Southern California once again. She is an adult education teacher and has served the community as a volunteer along the way.
Jennifer enjoys nature and macro photography. She writes science fiction, cosmic horror, various pieces of flash fiction and the occasional Judge Dredd, British comic book lawman, fan fiction. She makes the occasional water color or illustration. She is currently a member of the California Writer’s Club.
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At the table over tonight’s dinner, I put my hands on my growing belly. I sigh and lean back in my chair.
My husband Marty looks up from his crab salad. “Well, it’s only about a month more, isn’t it?”
“Yep.” I nod and smile at him, happy to be having a child.
“I do hope it’s a boy,” he says. “What do you think?”
“I do, too, if that’s what you hope for.”
Marty leans back in his chair, looking satisfied and takes a bite of the salad.
My mind wanders, considering the future. I’m not sure how I would do with a little girl. All my life I was surrounded by boys—father and two brothers Gary and Tim, doing their boy things–whooping it up, going to ball games, fighting to see who was the strongest. Mom and I were not a match for them. It seemed that whenever a decision was to be made, one of the boys or Dad made it. My mother held back, tentative as she usually was, and the the boys had their way as if it were promised them at birth.
I learned to do as my mother did–to take the back seat, to say “no thank you” when offered the last piece of cake, to go to a ball game instead of to the city for shopping. The boys always held sway. They learned to express themselves, take chances, abandon caution, and assert their position. Mom was on the side of acquiescence, of keeping the peace. In those days I followed in her footsteps as the only way I knew for a girl like me.
In summertime we took our vacations in the Rocky Mountains, an hour’s drive from our home. We loved the brisk mountain air, the aroma of the pines and the clear blue skies. The year I turned thirteen we rented a cabin next to a rushing stream in Estes Park. My dad loved to fish and often came home with a enough for a good trout dinner.
“Come on, guys, we’re going fishing,” said Dad, waving his hand to include me.
I looked at Mom and she nodded. “Go ahead. You all have fun!”
Dad, my brothers and I took off in the station wagon and made a stop at the bait shop. “Fish are biting this year,” they told us. We bought live worms and shiny lures designed especially for trout.
“We’re all set,” said Dad. “Let’s catch us a good dinner!”
Dad found a flat spot alongside a rushing stream where we stopped and unloaded our fishing gear. My brothers and I prepared our rods with the bright trout lures and worms and chose our positions along the stream.
I planted myself on the bank and watched the glistening water as it rushed over the boulders. When I threw my fishing line out over the water, it wavered in the breeze, then settled down into the current. I watched and waited. When there were no nibbles, I tried again and again.
Finally I felt a tug, saw the pole dip, and my father called out, “You got one! Pull it up! Pull it up!” Dad rushed over to track every movement of my line. I held tight and pulled the line just enough to make sure the fish was hooked for good.
“Bring him in! Bring him in!” Dad shouted.
I gripped the pole and reeled in the line till I could see the fish come out of the water. It writhed on my line, my hook in its mouth, its rainbow scales shining.
“Good girl,” my father said, beaming and puffing up as if he had caught the trout himself. The boys each caught one, too, but I smiled to myself; mine was the biggest one. At the end of our day, we proudly showed off our catch to Mother. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed like it was the first time she ever saw such a catch, and we basked in the glory of our successful expedition.
Mother and I were left to clean the fish and fry it over the old stove while Dad read the local paper and the boys took up their comic books.
Mother laid out the three fish on the cutting board. “Oh, these fish are beautiful,” she said, “and this one is so big!”
“That’s the one I caught,” I tell her with a note of pride. I waited for her to ooh and aah some more, but she just shook her head. “Here, slice them open. Be careful of the knife.”
I sliced each fish along the bones and cleaned all of them, while my face burned in shame. Should I not be bragging about my catch?
I handed the cleaned fish to my mother and she fried them up on the iron stovetop. At dinner we sat around the small kitchen table and Mom set down a plate of freshly fried fish in the center next to the potato salad.
Dad set his cowboy hat aside and looked at Mother, grinning. “A fine catch, wouldn’t you say, Helen?”
“A fine catch indeed,” she said, beaming across the table at my brothers. They drank it all in, each nodding and taking another bite.
Nobody mentioned my part in the expedition, so I kept my sense of satisfaction to myself. That’s the way it should be. A girl has got to learn what it is to coexist with the boys, to balance herself on the tightrope between pleasing them and holding her own. Hanging tight and not falling.
Now at the table I glance at my husband, rub my belly again and lean in. “Marty,” I say, a bit louder than necessary, “if we have a girl, she’s going to keep up with you boys.”
He looks at me a little puzzled, then nods and takes a swallow of wine. “What’s for dessert?”
By Gail Field
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You Know Dave
My best friend is dying. There’s nothing I can do to change that. You know Dave; he’s your father, your brother, or the man who walks his dog past your house at 8am. As they say in Dave’s state, Ohio “he’s good people.” One day Dave will be you.
My Dave is a lot older than me. Forget that eighty-seven years young crap. Eighty-seven is old. Medicine can extend a life so that one can exist, but it is a long way from making ones octogenarian years a culmination of a life of joy. The smart ones find joy from a diminishing life menu, a cup of coffee, birdsong and if they are really lucky holding the hand of a wife or partner who loves them.
My Dave is not that smart or lucky. He spent too many years “going to” rather than doing. Too many years single rather than nakedly standing in front of another soul and saying know me and allow me to know you. When we first met one of the joys of David was that he had done so many more things than me, been so many more places and had experienced things I’d only read about. He’d met people that death prevents me from meeting in this lifetime.
We met at college believe it or not. I a complete newbie to America, not knowing anyone and coming from a village that still had cobblestones and a stocks in its center. He would take me for groceries once a week in his car and then we’d have dinner. His stories dazzled me but as the years went on and I had graduated, had children and sadly gotten divorced it became ever more apparent that his “life” was in the past. There was no present; there was no future and each day the sun rose and set twenty years earlier for him. His self-imposed isolation accrues interest with each year.
Ironically this blind spot in him did not obscure his vision of others. He was the one that taught me that the present doesn’t have to repeat the past. It is written by the choices that one makes right now. For that and many other things, I’ll always be grateful to him.
Our thirty-year friendship will not reach thirty-one years. It might, but I doubt it. System by system his body is shutting down and pain erodes his spirit. On a daily basis, I try to give him dignity when time and ever-stronger medicines are taking it way from him. Today I’ll do the life needs of cutting his nails, pulling his pants up and down and making him a tasty meal, I’ll clean his apartment and sort out his paperwork. Those are existing things. If we’re lucky and he’s up to it, we’ll go for a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway, we’ll have a glass of wine somewhere he’s never been before which his doctors would probably frown upon, but which he’ll enjoy, and I’ll introduce him to the wonders of ITunes. Those are living things.
After I’ve finished looking after him, it’s home to my rascals ages 2, 6 and 13. Never is the circle of life more apparent than when you are loving and caring for such extreme ends of the lifespan.
Today is your day. The clock is ticking, and there are no refunds. Be it your professional or personal life make the most of what you’ve got and give your Dave, a call. I know he’d appreciate it.
By Michael Jeremy Savage
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I am probably the only person you have ever met who has fallen down a manhole in Spain, been bitten by a penguin & peed on by a tiger. The fact is I’ve always had a sense of wonder, a taste for adventure & a great interest in the world around me. I succeed not by being inherently brilliant but by my love of a challenge & never giving up until I have accomplished the objective in front of me.
I’m fascinated how technology is changing the way we communicate, establishing new communities & forging new pathways and possibilities in entertainment, business, entrepreneurship, media & politics. Of particular interest to me, are scalable projects that ride the wave that the confluence of You Tube, wearable tech, smart phones & tablets is creating.
I was named one of the top 100 producers in the U.S.A. & awarded a Google scholarship in 2018. I’m not afraid to say I’m still in awe of Skype , & despite every day not being a bed of roses I always count my blessings.
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If Maria Cortez hears the word “gorgeous” again, someone’s getting it in the nuts. Never been kissed and never will. She hides behind grandma glasses and unflattering makeup, but not even clothes that cover every inch of skin, besides her hands and face, can save her from the curse of beauty.
Maria sits in an executive suite with the feel of a teenager’s bedroom. A half-built Lego battle cruiser and robotic components clutter the elegant decor. Science fiction posters wallpaper the room. Near the door, a couple of dozen ants tunnel through space-age gel, in an ant habitat lit up like an alien world.
At the rear of the room is an enormous oak desk. Alvin Renquist presides in the seat of power. He is all teeth, a shark eater. If greed is good, he’s a saint. Six chairs surround the desk, for those who might seek an audience with him.
Maria wonders why James picked Renquist to buy the company. He acts like he owns the place, but he doesn’t yet. “The purchase closes today. Why haven’t your funds hit escrow?”
Renquist slips into the adjoining seat. “I want you as interim CEO, under my guidance.”
Maria eyes him suspiciously. “If I’m CEO, what about James?”
“I’ll make you the face of the company.” Renquist slides his hand onto her thigh.
She retreats a seat closer to the door. “Answer my questions.”
Renquist pursues and sits next to her.
Maria’s leg quivers.
He reaches towards her thigh again but pauses.
“Of course, a makeover!” Renquist undresses her with his eyes, imagining every hidden contour. “Take off those glasses. Add some makeup. Put on a big smile. I can see it now. Billboards. TV. You’ll be everywhere.” The words slither from his mouth as he tries to caress her cheek.
Renquist grazes her face before she swats his hand away.
Maria tries to stay professional and composed, but her whole body shudders. Is it fear, or rage, that stirs within her? She fends off his advances and stands. “Stop! Let’s pretend we have a safe word, and I used it.”
He closes in.
Maria won’t be a victim. She takes a karate stance.
Renquist withdraws, with his hands raised. “Fine. Grab James, and we’ll sort this all out.”
She flings the door open and strides outside. Tiny helicopters, inflatable sharks, and small drones buzz around an unremarkable cubicle farm. Nerf Darts whiz by Maria’s head. A six-inch helicopter crashes to the carpet. She smirks, but her apprehension remains.
James Wong advances down the aisle with a cardboard tower shield and homemade lightsaber. Software developers shoot him with Nerf guns. Their projectiles bounce off his tower shield.
More creative supernova than businessman, it’s moments like these where Maria isn’t the only one to see his inner child.
When he sees Maria, James drops his tower shield and sprints towards her. “Do you remember our first hit app?” He clicks a button on the hilt of his sword and thrusts. Fart sounds change pitch as he swings his weapon.
“May the fart be with you, always,” James says. Maria and James chuckle together. “From fart app to billion-dollar company. We did it. Today is the best day of my life.” James fist pumps.
Her smile crumples. “The buyer wants to see us.”
The intercom turns on with a hiss. “James Wong to my office now.” Over the speakers, Renquist’s voice sounds like an angry school principal.
James puts down his lightsaber. “Why does the Eye of Sauron have to summon me every time I’m having fun?” He grins. “At least it’s good news.”
The employees scatter. Cubicle airspace clears. The programmers put away their toys, slink into their Aeron chairs, and return to work.
Distress fills Maria with every step. It’s like a roller coaster rising farther and farther into the sky.
James seems too preoccupied with his perfect day to notice. He struts into the executive suite.
Maria follows closely.
Two burly bodyguards flank Renquist.
James checks his bank on his phone. “What is your bidding my…” He points to his empty bank account on the phone. “Oh wait, you’re not my master.”
Renquist rips an Aliens movie poster off the wall. James lunges at Renquist, but the security guards intervene.
“Every time you make a movie reference, I destroy a poster.” Renquist rips the poster into strips, and then into oversized confetti.
“This isn’t your office.” James takes a deep breath. “Not until the money clears.”
Renquist squints at the ant habitat. “Everything will be clear in a minute, but first, what kind of freak has ants in his office?”
James says, “Ants are my reminder that with determination and teamwork, anything is possible. As many as a million ants can work together in a colony. Imagine if humans could accomplish—”
“I didn’t ask for the whole Wikipedia entry.” Renquist shakes his head.
Maria retreats to the back of the room. She can feel her roller coaster about to plunge.
“Well James, I’ve got good news. You’re fired.” Renquist throws up poster confetti.
James does a double take. “I think I misheard you.”
“I didn’t say the good news was for you,” Renquist says. “I’m taking Adaptive Unlimited in a new direction, without you.”
“You said you wanted me, along with my company!”
“I lied. I tend to do that.”
James puffs out his chest. “You’ll never find a replacement who knows this company as well as I do.”
“I already have.” Renquist smiles.
James looks at Maria. How could she? Shock. Fear. Betrayal. “Maria? Maria.”
There’s an eon of silence.
Maria bolts from the room without a word. The door slams behind her.
She zips into the adjoining office and dashes straight to her desk. Monitor on. Keys clack. Live surveillance of the executive suite displays on the monitor. Maria listens, as she pulls a dusty box from the bottom of her cabinet. She opens the box and smiles at the provocative clothes and boots inside.
James pleads, in the other room. “This company is my life. I sleep more in the office than I do at home. Don’t do this!”
“You couldn’t even lead a Boy Scout troop. You’ve only muddled this far because Maria covers for you.”
Maria monitors events in the next room as she undresses. She flings her conservative outfit on the floor one item at a time.
“I built this company one crazy idea after another, a whole trainload of them,” James says. “Maria follows me. She’s the caboose on the crazy train.”
“Is that what you think?” Maria grumbles at her screen and scrunches her nose in anger.
“If you, Maria, or anybody, doesn’t want to ride the crazy train, this is your stop.” James points to the door.
Maria slinks into knee-high boots with stiletto heels. It’s the first step of a sensual self-makeover. She puts on her power suit. Form-fitted leatherette pants and a scandalous front-zip black bustier hug every curve. Her personality shifts, molts, leaving her old self on the ground. Confident. Powerful. Invincible.
James says, “I’m not selling!”
“Just hand over your $150 million cancellation fee, and you can have your company back,” Renquist teases.
“Fine. When does our $1.2 billion arrive?”
Renquist says, “The money’s never coming. You didn’t catch the resale clause. I can resell your company to another buyer before the purchase completes, extending the contract. Profits and control in the meantime go to the seller.”
“Right, and I’m the seller.”
“Wrong. During a resale, I’m redefined as the seller. So, your company will go through one resale after another, for years, decades, if it’s worth the trouble. I get the profits and control. You get nothing. Where did you get your lawyer? A park bench?”
“You reassigned variables on me,” James murmurs. He slumps to his knees like a deflated tire.
Maria springs up and pounds the table. She gets self-conscious, worried they might hear her in the next room. She scrutinizes the screen for a reaction to the noise.
He spreads out the fingers in his hand and stares at them, as he imagines all that cash slipping away. “Nuked from orbit. Game over.”
“That sounds like movie talk to me. Were you born in a theater or something? Talk normal.” Renquist rips an Avatar movie poster off the wall. He tears through it like an impatient child unwrapping a present.
Renquist circles James, a predator finishing off his prey.
Maria roots for him, riveted to the monitor. “Fight him, James. Don’t let him do this to you. To us.”
Renquist leans towards James. “Crazy smart works for startups, but not in Corporate America. You should know your place on the org chart. If I say wear a pink dress, or eat out of a dog bowl, that’s what you do. You don’t respect the chart. You don’t belong on it. That’s why security is gathering your toys as we speak.”
The bodyguards snicker and high five. Their body language suggests they no longer consider James a threat.
Renquist grabs his briefcase from under the desk. He opens it and removes a can of Raid Ant and Roach Spray.
Maria pulls a mirror from her desk. She fixes her makeup and applies ruby lipstick with deliberation as war paint.
James eyes the spray can. He pushes off the floor to lunge at Renquist. The guards tackle James before he reaches his target. Renquist steps over James, approaches the ant habitat, and flips open the lid. James watches helplessly on the ground, pinned underneath 500 pounds of hired muscle.
“You’re an ant, and I’m top of the food chain.” Renquist sprays into the ant habitat. The deadly liquid flows down the gel tunnels. Chemical odors waft through the air. The ants scamper no more.
Renquist crouches down towards James. “I’d say you were a worthy adversary, but even I have a limit on how many lies I can tell in a day.” He gets back up and motions to his guards. “I want people talking about it for weeks. Remove him.”
Each guard grabs an arm and drags James backward, beyond the edge of her monitor. Maria can no longer see him. She rushes to her doorway, just in time to see him dragged into the hallway.
James glares at Maria. He fixates on her lipstick and snickers. “You’re going to pay for your betrayal.” He tries to kick free, but only kicks metal filing cabinets along the hallway.
Bystanders peek their heads out of their cubes like gophers to catch the spectacle.
The guards yank James around the corner, out of sight.
Maria creeps back into her office. She pulls three external solid-state drives from under the desk. She covers them with bubble wrap and slips them into pre-addressed packages. Maria peers out to check if Renquist has his door closed. Confirmed.
Thelma, the company’s only executive assistant, sits at the reception desk across from the executive suite.
Maria slips Thelma the packages and nods.
Thelma nods back. She pushes the intercom button. “Maria Cortez is here to see you.”
“Thanks, Thelma, buzz her in,” Renquist says.
The door opens. Maria slinks in, fully transformed from drab female to sex goddess. She’s on the prowl for big game.
Renquist forgets who she is for a moment. The whole day is forgotten. He focuses on her.
“How’s this for a makeover?” she purrs. “I hope you brought a pill. I might need a full four hours.”
All the blood rushes from his brain. If he were any more brain dead, he’d require life support.
She saunters to his desk, one sensual step after another.
He fumbles for the intercom key. “Cancel all my meetings. I don’t want to be disturbed.”
“Is this seat taken?” Maria asks innocently, as she slides onto his lap. Her hand explores the contours of his chest. He gently inhales the scent of her perfume. His smile barely fits on his face.
She yanks at his tie and whispers. “Do you like it rough?”
He nods vigorously.
She chokes him with the necktie.
He turns red. A gasp. Panic. Renquist slams the table with his flailing right arm.
Maria loosens the tie. With a soft caress, she lulls him back to the fantasy.
Thelma buzzes the intercom. “Are you alright, Mr. Renquist?”
“Disregard any disturbances. It’s going to get noisy.”
“Understood.” Thelma sighs, with disgust. “Since I have you, the 11 o’clock mailman is here if you—”
“I don’t want to be disturbed. That includes you, the mailman, and everyone else. I don’t care if your hair is on fire. Don’t bother me.” Renquist disconnects the intercom.
“Nibble on my ear. Lick me like a dog.” He sticks out his tongue to the max and pants.
She strokes his ear and pats him on the head. “Good doggy.”
Maria rises off his lap and pulls him up. He attempts to embrace her, but she backpedals. The desk blocks her retreat.
Renquist shoves everything off the desk. His water pitcher shatters, creating a puddle. “I hope the carpet isn’t the only thing that’s wet.”
It’s too much. It’s all Maria can do to stifle a snort of contempt. She turns away and rolls her eyes. She turns back to Renquist and smiles seductively.
He heaves Maria into the air and plops her on the table. He leans in for a kiss. Maria shakes her finger no and points to the floor.
Renquist throws off his suit jacket, kneels down, and imitates a dog begging for food.
She tips him over onto his back. He loosens the top buttons on his shirt.
Hostility seeps through her facade. “I’m sorry about earlier. I must have forgotten to take off my ‘please fuck me’ sign.”
Renquist looks confused. He laughs nervously and unbuttons down to his navel, slower with each button.
Maria jabs Renquist playfully in the thigh with the toe of her boots. She circles him counterclockwise and kicks as she goes along as if tenderizing meat.
His face reflects a battle between a libido clinging to a fantasy and his brain attempting a reboot.
Sexy ends, anger starts. In an instant, fire in Maria’s eyes. “You want to fuck me? Am I meat, for you to devour? Did you think I was yours? I’m not for you. I have feelings. I. Am. A. Person.”
Her words hit him like an instant cold shower. He’s back. “You’re too hot to be a person.”
The assault escalates. Repeated blows crush his ribs. Crunch.
Renquist groans in pain. He scoots across the floor to flee. “I’ve never hit a woman, but there’s always a first time!”
“Security!” They aren’t coming. He eyeballs the intercom. Disconnected. He fishes his cell phone from his left pants pocket.
Maria punts the phone from his hand. It flies across the room and hits the wall. Shards break off, but it’s intact. She feigns an attack.
He cowers and holds hands up defensively.
“For months, I made vids of every dirty thing you’ve done in this office.” Maria towers over him with a cocky smile. “I’ll ask you for a favor someday. You pay up. I destroy everything. Until then, you owe me one.”
Renquist rises to his feet. “The only thing I owe you is an unmarked grave!”
Maria does a roundhouse kick to his head. Her right stiletto heel slices his cheek. The heel breaks on impact but remains attached to the shoe. She wobbles, then regains balance. “I’d better not get hurt. If this evidence gets out, they’ll bury you next to me.”
Renquist breathes heavily through gritted teeth. He clenches his fist and strains every muscle to hold back. Blood trickles down his cheek.
Maria stumbles out the door, with one high heel dangling. She leaves a small trail of bloody heel prints. After a few yards, Maria groans and intentionally breaks off the other heel. Maria lumbers away on her tiptoes. The heels flop with each step.
Select all writings of P.G. Sundling
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I was born in Los Angeles, and other than a few years in Colorado, I’ve lived here my whole life. As an honorary member of Toastmasters, I gave my first speech on dinosaurs, at the age of seven.
I’ve loved role-playing games since my childhood. In Dungeons and Dragons, I was drawn to the role of dungeon master because I liked being the storyteller. I created and destroyed many worlds.
I graduated from UCLA with an Aerospace Engineering degree in 1992.
From working in IT at UCLA to coding on billion-dollar e-commerce systems for multiple Fortune 500 entertainment companies, I’ve worked in technology for almost a quarter century. I was a programmer in a small team that got awarded P.C. Magazine’s Editor’s Choice for Best Virtual Desktop. I write novels and code software in Los Angeles.
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“No way!” I said, louder than I intended. “You and Frank went all the way?” My sixteen-year-old best friend, Nancy, had just admitted to having first-time sex with her boyfriend.
“Shhh,” she said, closing her bedroom door.
“What was it like?” I whispered, too stunned to wait for confirmation.
It was l965. Sex talk was whispered only to close girlfriends and, even then, only when there were no adults within earshot. The dirty deed, as one friend called it, was a forbidden act reserved for married couples only—unless you were male, then the boys will be boys rule applied.
Growing up in the gender-specific fifties and sixties defined my father as head of the household and the breadwinner who disappeared into the workforce Monday through Friday. My apron-wearing mother wiped noses, cleaned house, cooked meals, polished our shoes, and shared with me her hard-earned words of wisdom including, “you just make men think they’re the boss, honey.” My brothers rode bikes with a playing card attached to the spokes, owned Bee-bee guns, played Little League, and gathered on the school playground during recess for a game of marbles. My sisters and I cut-out paper dolls, ironed my father’s handkerchiefs, watched our brothers play Little League, and wore dresses to school. Girls wearing jeans or any other form of long pants were against the rules, no matter how cold it might be. I knew to address the parents of my friends as Mr. or Mrs. and if I accidentally let a ‘bad’ (curse) word slip out, I was on the receiving end of a stinging lip-thump via my mother’s thumb and index finger.
My expected teen-role during this era was to earn an “A” in Home Economics (I got a “C”), wear a panty girdle (a sixties version of a chastity belt), and to slap boys if they got “fresh.” All of which played an important role in establishing one’s reputation as a good girl. For my teenage brothers, it was auto shop, bullying bookworms (nerds), and getting a girl to “first base” (breast fondling). These conquests earned them admiration and locker-room bragging rights as a bad boy.
My sex education came by way of my mother (sorta) when I was thirteen. She lay soaking under the bubbles in the bathtub while I sat on the closed lid of the toilet. Privacy was hard to come by when you lived in a house with five children, your parents, and one bathroom.
“Do you know how women get pregnant?” my mother asked.
“Yes,” I responded, avoiding eye contact by pretending to admire my freshly painted toenails.
“Do you have any questions?” She asked, putting me in the position of having to decide whether or not I could say words like penis, sexual intercourse, and vagina and not provoke a lip-thump.
“No,” I said, thankful my older brother (when we were eleven and ten) had already explained what going all the way meant…sorta.
“You know how Aunt Norma got pregnant,” my brother had asked, smug over his knowing and my not knowing. “Uncle Harold put his you know what in Aunt Norma’s po-po. So if you want one baby, you do it once; if you want twins you do it twice.” I now knew this explanation wasn’t exactly right-on, but for the moment it was close enough.
After a long silence, my mother put a strong emphasis on the word ‘free’ when she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You know what they say, why buy the cow when the milk’s free?” I assured her I understood with a silent nod and made my exit. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The True Romance magazines my mother kept hidden under her bed took my sex education to the next level and later it was my friend Nancy who, as I mentioned at the start, had first-hand experience. Nancy’s response to my “what was it like?” had been, “Awful. It hurt.” I was mortified. In all of my mother’s romance magazines, there had been vivid descriptions of bliss and dizzying ecstasy. I made a silent vow to join a convent.
“I’m never going to go all the way,” I told my mother, after sharing Nancy’s experience with her.
“It’s only awful if you go all the way in the back seat of a car,” she said, but I didn’t change my mind about becoming a nun until she followed it up with, “and it doesn’t hurt, if you’re married.” I was so relieved!
Because the subject matter was considered taboo, sex education for most of my friends was limited to each other and school rumors. French kissing or occupying a toilet seat after a boy (if it was still warm) was thought to be a pregnancy risk while drinking a can of Mountain Dew before partaking in the dirty deed was a sure-fire means of birth control.
Pregnant teens were considered a bad influence on the other girls so until they gave birth, home-schooling was their only educational choice. When the once popular Nancy left her newborn in the care of her parents and returned to school, she was snubbed by the same girls she had been friends with for years. They feared boys would see them as an easy target if they maintained their friendship with a bad girl. Sadly, they were correct. High school mindset was that any girl who went all the way would thereafter always be ready, willing, and able with anyone, anytime, any place; and so would her friends. When I questioned my mother about the injustice of this ostracism, she said, “The only difference between Nancy and the rest of those girls is she got caught, and they didn’t. If you’re truly her friend, you’ll stand by her.”
When Nancy attempted to re-enroll in her favorite basketball class, she was informed she wouldn’t be able to participate in Physical Education (PE) because she’d had a baby. “It’s too dangerous physically,” Coach said. In spite of her love for the sport, she pretended she didn’t care and worked hard to complete the rest of her required coursework. When graduation day came, I put on my cap and gown and went to ceremonies without her. The school principal had called and informed her parents she was a half unit short of meeting graduation requirements. The missing half unit was for PE.
Years later I convinced Nancy to return to the high school to find out what she needed in order to get her diploma. Without it, her finding much-needed employment was next to impossible. When the new principal reviewed her file and saw she was lacking a half-unit for a PE class, he signed off on her coursework and handed her the diploma. Her bad girl status had no doubt been the underlying reason she was barred from graduation ceremonies.
“Not fair,” I said to my mother. I was furious. Hiring an attorney and suing for discrimination wasn’t an option back then and even if it had of been, it wouldn’t have undone what was already done. Mother’s hard-earned words of wisdom were limited to, “Life isn’t easy. Which is why you shouldn’t be either.”
By the time I entered my twenties, men’s hair grew longer and women’s skirts grew shorter. Then communes popped up and free love challenged the earlier and stricter codes of sexual behavior—the sexual revolution had begun.
Though my sex education in the early sixties was limited to romance magazines, my best friend’s perils, and my mother’s metaphors I will forever be thankful for all three. Without them not only would I not have learned how friendship is only a word—until you give it meaning, but I would have missed seeing the consequences of giving in to hormones at too young of an age. Worst of all, my sex education would have been limited to my older brother’s knowledge and the sexual tittle-tattle of my high school friends…OMG!
By Kathi Hiatt
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I am a retired California State University, Chico administrator with an earned degree in Social & Behavioral Sciences. I have authored two non-fiction paperbacks and one children’s picture book.
Additionally, I am the recipient of The Butte Literacy Council’s 2015 and 2016 Literacy Fiction Awards, and the CWC Sacramento 2018 Short Story Award. More of my works are published in the North State Writer’s 2017 and 2018 Anthologies, and the 2017 and 2018 CWC-California Writers Literary Review.
I currently serve as President of the CWC-North State Writers and reside in a small mountain community with my husband, three Bassett Hounds, and a blind and deaf Australian Shepherd.
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I’m bigger than my sister.
She’s much smaller than me.
I do things that she can’t do,
And sometimes she pesters me.
I’m older than my sister,
She’s much younger than me.
I’m taller too – I can do,
A very much more than she.
I can jump so much higher,
I can even tie my shoe.
I can also write my name,
That’s more than she can do.
But still I love my sister,
And she sure looks up to me.
Soon she’ll grow, and then she’ll know
Well, almost as much as me!
I’m not so big or little,
I fit right in the middle.
Like the cream in a cookie,
I’m as sweet as I can be!
I sure don’t like to be teased.
Sometimes I really feel squeezed,
So then I push up up up,
And I push down, down and down,
Because I’m in the middle.
Too many times I do hear,
“You’re too small for this, my dear.”
“You’re too big for that, my dear.”
And they always do compare!
Now I ask you, is that fair?
Really, truly, I’m just me,
That is all I want to be.
So please just let me be me,
Then I promise you’ll see,
How special I really am!
By Sylvia Molesko
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A retired Elementary School teacher, member of CalRTA and CWC, wrote memoir, Memories Revisited, now writes mainly poetry. Working on a Children’s Picture Book, in poetry.
Select all writings of Sylvia Molesko
Description: The third installment of “The Legend of V” series: Psycho Star Showdown! Join V, his brothers Z and D, his best friends Griff and Azilez, and new Omoh sapien friend Vizor on a journey to the Space Garden, a series of asteroids connected by a black hole in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. They will unravel the secrets of the government-hidden Project Mutant, a research experiment disguised as the first manned space expedition designed to give humans supernatural abilities.
Absolute monarch, huh? That’s impressive, and she barely looks older than any of us. Maybe I should be studying royalty to be like her one day. I mean, this queen seems way better at her job than the king. I wonder how she became queen this young. That’s probably a touchy subject though, as typically, the queen’s mother has to die for that to happen. Better not ask ‘till the time’s right… if it’ll ever be right.
“Come along, everyone. I will give you a PROPER tour of Castle Kusondela.” The queen glares at King Veniss. He just puts his hands behind his head as if he’s on a hammock. “This way, please. Veniss, follow. I’ll teach you how to properly give tours of the castle again.” She guides her hand to where she came from. All of us follow up. “Be sure to follow only where I go. This castle has a peculiar… how should I put this… glitch.”
“What do you mean by that?” Azilez asks making sure her brush is still in her back pocket.
“It’s one of the consequences of being powered by a black hole. You see, occasionally, a dark blue-lit room will randomly appear in which there is nothing but a podium and a cassette tape. If you ever see this while in the castle, run back to the door in which you came. Otherwise, the black hole will consume you.”
“WHAT? That’s a big glitch.” Azilez’s heart skips a beat.
“Do not worry, for I can sense when this will happen because of my uncanny ability to manipulate light at will.”
“Wait, so that fireworks show when you greeted us wasn’t the staff’s doing? That was you?” Griff asks.
“Yes.” He shows approval and nods. “Now then, let me see…” She places her left hand on one of the diamond-shaped carpet doors. “This room is not glitched. Enter.”
“She’s so poised.” Azilez whispers to Vizor.
“So it would seem.” Vizor agrees, except he forgets to whisper.
“So it would seem… what?” Queen Neona slowly turns her head. “Umm…” Vizor freezes from the chills Neona sends down his spine. “Hahaha! Do not fret. I’m simply joking.” Huh. I didn’t expect that from
her. Who knew a monarch so commanding could have a decent sense of humor too? “Come, please. I insist.” She guides us with her hand once more.
Inside the almost opaque room, there seems to be a giant computer monitor with a few hundred smaller monitors surrounding it. At each small monitor, there is an employee with a bright yellow jumpsuit on with an orange biker helmet. The big computer screen seems to be depicting a radar map.
“What is this place?” I ask.
“Our military head. This is Star Security’s headquarters. You may have noticed the lack of anything other than houses outside of the castle.”
“Yeah, we did.” I reply.
“Well, that is because everything in our society is run through this castle. The black hole powers the castle, and the castle powers the houses and the people
within them. This proves to be an effective system because nothing in this universe can counteract a black hole. Not even light. It is the ultimate energy source.”
“How advanced!” Vizor is suddenly fascinated with the potential technology in the room.
– Hold on, Vizor. Griff interrupts. – This is the military headquarters, right? They might know about Project Mutant, and I’d say right now is the best time to ask.
– Keen senses, Griff. Thanks. “Excuse me, Queen Neona?”
“What troubles you, err… what are your names? Forgive me for not asking.” She bows.
“No trouble. My name is Vizor.” “I’m Azilez!”
“D. I love the flowers outside.” “Griff.”
“Hey! Aren’t you going to introduce us too, Griff?” His backpack moves by itself. He grabs the straps with both hands to make sure the backpack doesn’t fly off his shoulders.
“My, my. What do we have here?” The queen tilts her head.
“Uh… nothing, nothing!” Griff quickly shakes his hands.
“Are you certain? I’m positive I heard a sound emitting from your sack.” “All in your imagination!” Griff smiles. – Wisdom! Tell Speedy to shut up!
I don’t want the queen knowing about you five.
– Why is that? I see no harm in it.
– Just do it, please. Sorry I snapped. I just sort of panicked. – Very well. Murmur… murmur
“Oh okay. Sorry.” The Speed Prophecy actually whispers.
“All right then. If there is nothing of interest in the sack, I shall introduce you to our commander. Rod! Front and center.”
“Huff… puff… huff… puff. Yes, ma’am! Reporting for duty.” Rod salutes the queen. He’s wearing a different uniform from everyone else in the room. This consists of a dark green military jacket, probably to contrast the rest of the soldiers, a cap with a bright yellow star in the middle, and black cargo pants. He also has extremely long, silver hair that goes out in ten different directions. Now that’s a wild hairstyle, and that’s coming from me.
“Calm.” The queen raises her left hand. Rod slams his hand to his side. “What is the command, your majesty?”
“Nothing of dire importance. Merely to introduce yourself to our guests.” “Right away, ma’am! Hello everyone. I am Commander Rod, head of Star
Security. Are you enjoying your tour of the castle so far?” “Yes! Yes! Yes!” D jumps.
– Okay. My powers are broken. Griff concludes.
–Why do you say that? I ask.
– You can very clearly see that this commander is in a good mood, right?
– My powers are telling me that he has crippling depression.
– If I were you, I’d just ignore your powers here.
“So, commander. What do you generally protect your people from? I doubt
you get many visitors, being this close to a black hole.” Azilez asks. “Excellent question, miss. Our primary threat is our neighbors in the
“The Phantom Pipeline?” D asks.
“Yes. It is a world filled to the brim with derpy-looking gray ghosts. Lately,
many of them have been invading our territory, so it’s my job to lead the fight to drive them away.”
“Teehee. He said derpy.” Azilez chuckles.
“No seriously. That’s the most accurate description I can give those things. I have a picture of one. I can show you.” He reaches into his jacket pocket and finds a crumpled picture. He straightens it out and blows on it to make it more visible. “They all look the same by the way.” Would you look at that? He’s right. This ghost is a rounded trapezoid that has four droplet-like figures coming from the bottom of it. It kinda looks like snot that just won’t fall out of a nose. It also just has two big white circles for eyes and no mouth.
“I think it looks cute.” Azilez holds her brush in both hands.
“That’s really the only thing you can say about it?” Vizor rolls his eyes. “Where do they come from?” D asks.
“The Phantom Pipeline.” Rod replies.
“Oh no. I meant to say where is the way to the Phantom Pipeline? How do
they get here?”
“Ah! Excellent question. If I knew, I’d be at their territory. That’s actually
what we’re working on right now.”
“So that’s what the radar map is for?” I ask.
“Bingo, kid.” Rod puts his hands on his hips. “Your majesty. Might I ask
that I return to my position immediately?”
“Permission granted, commander.”
“Thank you, your majesty!” He salutes her once more and pants back to his
post at the main computer.
“I believe you have seen and heard everything the headquarters has to offer.
Shall we depart?”
“Please!” D tugs on her dress. The queen smiles in return. She taps D’s
wrist with her staff, signaling him to stop tugging.
“So where are we now?” I ask. It looks like some sort of factory. 100-foot- tall steel supporters erupt from the ground to the ceiling. The temperature in here
is colder than the foyer and Star Security’s headquarters. I eye some laborers in loose white suits that seem to be packaging that tough orange fluid I saw everyone drinking earlier.
“This is the Manufacturing Operative.” Queen Neona responds. “All items that my people require are made in this room.”
“This factory doesn’t seem too big considering it makes everything for your people.” Griff points out. “How much do your people need exactly?”
“Well,” the queen adjusts her posture, “in terms of food, hardly anything. Syrusima is all they need to thrive.”
“Seee-rooo-sym-uh?” Vizor tries pronouncing that, syllable by syllable.
“Your people only eat one thing for their whole lives?” Azilez looks like she’s seen a ghost. “I’d rather suffer purgatory!”
“Hahaha! You amuse me, Azilez.” The queen lets out a child’s laugh. “But in all seriousness, Syrusima contains all the nutritional value my people need. And it can be mass-produced. Not a soul in the Space Garden has gone hungry ever since my team came up with this concoction.”
“We should tell the people back home about this. It’ll solve world hunger!” Griff gets excited.
“I’m afraid not.” Neona’s face dips. “The ingredient for this to be made can only be found in the Ophoozi Flower. These flowers can only grow here in the Space Garden and their properties arise from a combination of the black hole powering Castle Kusondela and the meteorites they grow on. I’m sorry, but getting Syrusima to the humans on Earth would be an impossibility.”
“Aw…” Griff’s internal light bulb turns off.
The queen then shows us what other types of products they make in the Manufacturing Operative, from furniture, to clothes, and even to the houses that the people here live in. Then we reach the magnetic section.
“What are those?” I ask, pointing.
“Ah yeah! Dude, check this out.” Veniss finally speaks. He runs up to one of the scientists and snatches a “U”-shaped magnet. He flicks the switch on the arc of the magnet, and it turns on. Everything in the room starts to get pulled in by its magnetic pulse.
“Veniss! Turn it off, this instant!” Neona snaps at him.
“’K, geez, sis.” He flicks the switch in the other direction and we all stop. “You’re no fun at all sometimes.”
“That’s because I actually know how to take my job seriously!” Neona barks. Veniss squints but doesn’t stop smiling.
“What just happened?” D’s eyes widen.
“That is our latest project. Infusing the properties of a black hole inside a magnet. Although, the magnet cannot consume objects, it can attract anything to it.”
“That’d be an amazing weapon in battle.” Vizor points out. “Let all of your enemies come to one area then drop this on them to ensure they can’t move. Finally, annihilate all of them at once with a large explosive.”
“It seems someone is well versed in the field of battle.” Neona smirks. “Yes, it can be used that way. Though, they are difficult to make. That is one of the few we have created so far out of a few thousand attempts.”
“What do you do with the ones that don’t work?” D asks.
“Well, a few years ago, we collected all the defects in a pod and sent it to the Asteroid Belt of your solar system.”
Wait a second. Magnets in the Asteroid Belt? I’ve heard that before! “I think your magnets may have formed sentient life forms, your majesty.”
“What causes you to think that, V?” She crosses her arms.
“About two months ago, while on an adventure, Griff and I stumbled upon a race of floating magnets in the Asteroid Belt on a small, magnetic planet called Zapzoid. Their planet was destroyed by artificial means, but the remains were
taken near San Francisco and built upon. It became its own city called Zaptropolis.”
“Good heavens! Are you certain they’re magnets? And are you certain they are sentient?”
“100 percent yes to both of those questions, your majesty.”
“Then it seems I must send a team to investigate. Thank you for the information.”
“Not a problem.”
“Anyway, it is best we not get too distracted from the tour. Come, there is more to see.”
Next, we go through a door that leads us above a place that has the architecture of a theatre, but the structure of a courthouse. A shiny, wooden witness stand, a marble tile floor with a picture of the sun on it, two wooden attorney benches, and a protruded judge’s chair. We can see that a trial is going on but can’t hear anything because of a thick, glass dome in front of us.
“What you are seeing now is the work of the Absolute Court. This is where criminals, both domestic and foreign, are tried for the crimes they are accused of, as it is the only court in the Space Garden.”
“What’s going on in there now?” Vizor asks.
“I suppose it’s… a foreign case. It seems the Phantom Pipeline is still a problem here. When you leave the castle today, I will have the king escort you to your quarters to ensure safety.”
“How nice of you! Thanks!” Azilez claps her hands together.
“Since the trial is currently in session, we cannot observe for long, so come. We wouldn’t want to distract them, would we?”
“No, miss!” D tries his best to sound official.
“And this is the end of the tour.” Neona opens the final door. “This is my private quarters.”
“How extravagant! How big are those Corinthian columns? What type of canvas is that painting of you made of? What is…” Azilez can’t contain her questions.
“I see you like my choice in design, Azilez?” The queen detects. “ABSOLUTELY! I could study this room for days.”
“Calm down, tiger. We should let the queen get back to her business. She is
a QUEEN after all.” Griff holds Azilez’s shoulder.
“Y’know? You’re right. Bye, your majesty!”
“Please, call me Neona. No need for such formalities.”
“Okay! Bye Neona.”
“Thanks for the tour. It was awesome!” D tugs her dress again.
“Not a problem, little D.” She bends down and taps his forehead with his
staff. D giggles and runs back to me. “Veniss!” “’Sup?”
“Please escort our guests to their quarters.” She reaches for her bedside drawer, takes out some sticky notes, tears one off, and clicks a pen open. She scribbles some directions then thrusts the scrap of paper into Veniss’s hands.
“You got it, sis.”
“Excellent. Now if you’d excuse me, I have some military matters to attend to.”
By Varak Kaloustian
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Varak Kaloustian is eighteen years old in his freshman year of college. He lives in Los Angeles, California with his mom, dad, and two brothers. He likes to play basketball, travel, cook, manage his YouTube channel for Yu-Gi-Oh!, and spend time with his friends and family.
Varak began writing at seven years old. He loved writing comic books and illustrating them. During this time, he tried writing a book four times and failed each time. However, during the sixth grade, he was given an assignment to write for a half hour every week. This allowed him to practice the writing process, and while the story he wrote was not good, he now knew he enjoyed the writing process. So after sixth grade, he started over and wrote The Solar System’s Prophecies, which was published in 2015 during his freshman year of high school and the first in his The Legend of V series. Two years later, he published Triangle Corruption, the sequel. The Solar System’s Prophecies is now mandatory summer reading at Laurel Hall School, Varak’s alma mater. Varak’s third book is now in development.
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I confess I sometimes want to forget you. Do you also?
I was twenty-five years old; you were forty when we met. Every year that has since passed, your place in my life has changed, and what I felt with you thirty years ago has metamorphosed from exhilaration to an undefined irreplaceable comfort.
I often set the clock aside and think of that night when we were swept away.
It’s eleven o’clock in California, and I write this letter in the belief it will never see the light of day. No one except you knows of the existence of our love. I still have the coral necklace you gave me and wear it when I am blue.
Do you remember you asked me why I loved you? I didn’t know the answer then but I know now. I loved you because of your gypsy ways, your estrangement from society. I loved you because you doubted everything. They said you were a beast, reckless, outrageous. I found you only generous and loving.
The setting sun had set the sea alight when you told me you had a family. I had one too, but I fell short. I did not want to sign you off, so I let you think I was free to love you. The glint of gold in the earring you wore in your left ear mesmerized me. You were aware how handsome I found you with your dark flowing hair, your brooding eyes.
We made love under the stars on that lonely island, and the passion of a lifetime seemed compressed into those few hours. We forgot who we were and let the tides sweep us away.
After I met you, I tried to read everything which had been written about the lives of the indentured Indians who came to these islands looking for a better life. Did your grandfather know that freedom would come at a price, and growing sugar cane for the white masters, his children and grandchildren would feed this land with their blood? You described your hunger when you stole a chicken and cooked it on a treacherous fire of sticks. The overseer discovered you and beat you until you could no longer sit on the bullock you rode to plow the fields.
Your life had been hard, but you were still full of hope for your children. You had put yourself through night school and found a job, but restlessness like in a chained beast still possessed you.
When I came out on the hotel terrace that night I was with other girls, but you were looking only at me. You recognized me in spite of my western clothes – I was someone from the country of your ancestors. You had never been outside of your island, but you knew there was another world where the free Indians lived.
A week became a fortnight but our hunger refused to be satiated. I knew I had to stop now because if I did not, I was never going to. The day came when I told you I was leaving your island, and I told you about this other life which was going to keep me away from you. You did not reply. You just looked away at the tumultuous sea.
You put the coral necklace you had brought for me around my neck.
I had nothing to give you in return.
I knew you’d never be allowed to come to the mainland. After I left I knew you tried to find me through my unlisted phone, searched for me through the memberships of the medical societies I belonged to, and you wrote to my alma mater whose ivy-covered walls protected me.
I never wanted to meet you again.
I wanted to remember us the way we were when we were swept away.
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My name is Ishrat Husain. I’m a physician and also a fiction writer. I have an MFA and also hold a certificate in creative writing from UCLA. I have written many short stories which have been published in magazines. I have also written two novels which are awaiting publication. I’m sending you a short story called “Swept Away.”
My website is ishrathusainmd.com
Thank you for your attention.
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Ears—the fennec cub was a ball of puppy fur with enormous ears and a long, pointed nose. Cyrene cuddled him to her breast as the little fox squirmed to get free. She nuzzled him with her cheek and got the end of her nose nipped. “Damon, that was bad. What am I going to do with you?” She set him on the moss-covered ground, and he began tugging at the hem of her filmy gown. “Damon, stop that. Now, it’s time for a nap. Be still.” She laid her head on the soft tuft of velvety moss, closed her eyes, and let the sound of gently falling water lull her to sleep. The body of the little animal felt warm against her side.
The harsh scream of a hawk woke her in a panic. Feeling for Damon and not finding him, she leaped to her feet and called his name. The hawk screeched again, and she saw that there was nothing in those wicked talons. She began a frantic search for her precious pet before the sharp-eye raptor spotted him first. Following the stream against the flow of the diaphanous water, she called his name desperately.
“Gaia, have you seen my Damon?” she asked the dryad of the oak grove.
“It’s not my job to keep track of your suitors,” the haughty tree nymph retorted.
“No, Damon is a baby fox that Aeolus gave me at the Dionysia on the full moon last.”
Gaia laughed cruelly. “What sense does it make to give a water nymph a fox? He should have given you an otter.”
Cyrene contorted her elfin face. “Go suck an acorn.”
“Give yourself a thrill, Cyrene, douche with tadpoles.”
“Oh, go back in your knothole.” Cyrene stamped her foot and continued up the stream calling her dear pet’s name.
Near the place where the brook bubbled from the rocks, she spied a blur of reddish brown. The little beast’s ears perked at the sound of his name, and he looked at the willowy girl who ran to catch him. Damon turned and darted into the grotto.
“I’ve got you now,” Cyrene said laughing. She picked her way across the stepping-stones cool and slick beneath her bare feet. The joyful water frolicked from the fountain in the center of the brooding cavern. Little Damon taunted her from the wet stone floor at the back of the smallish hollow. “You can’t get away from me now,” she giggled as she splashed through the last few steps in the pool.
But Damon wasn’t finished with the game. His tiny paws thumped on the damp floor as he vanished behind a boulder. Cyrene sprinted after her playmate. To her dismay, he vanished into the blackness of a hidden chasm there.
“Damon, you come out of there this instant. If I have to come to get you, I’ll bump my head on the low ceiling or fall into some bottomless pit.”
The little fox made no sound.
With a sigh, the girl flipped her golden tresses behind her shoulders and started into the Stygian darkness feeling her way along the humid walls. She focused her mind on her sisters of the stagnant waters. She sent a plea to the fens and marshes, cupped her hands, and opened them to release the faerie light. A bluish ball of cool light danced on her palm. It barely vanquished the gloom but offered enough illumination to spare her cracking her skull on the jagged ceiling.
The flickering orb of light also made Damon’s beady eyes glow. “I see you,” she tittered, and the tiny fox turned again to flee deeper into the inky labyrinth. Cyrene followed by the glow the cold fire, but it rolled from her hand and bounced along the floor. Blue became green. It flared and subsided to blue again with perhaps some orange. In the brief flash of brightness, she saw it—a face, creased and leering. “Oh,” she gasped, “who are you?”
“Are we lost, little girl?” a disembodied voice asked from the darkness.
“I’m looking for my baby fennec, Damon.”
The marsh light twinkled to life and floated around her head. She could see nothing beyond its feeble glow.
“Are we lost, I say?” the voice had an unpleasant edge of mirth.
“I don’t think so. As soon as I catch Damon, I’ll go back the way I came.”
“Did you come this way?” The will-o‘-the-wisp swished sidewise as if thrown by an unseen hand. “Or that way?” The purplish fire blazed in front of her in the opposite direction. At each end of the arc, she saw the gaping maw of a divergent tunnel.
“I don’t think I came from either of those passages.” She felt confused and frightened.
“Are we lost then, little girl?” the voice in the darkness cackled.
“Again, I don’t think so, but if you might help me catch Damon, I’ll be out of your way.”
“If we catch the little beast, we eats it.”
“No,” Cyrene wailed. “He’s hardly got a morsel of flesh on his tiny body.” She tried to capture the shimmering constellation of light. Her hand went right through it. Shadowy palms reached from obscurity, engulfed, and extinguished it. The naiad sent her prayers back to her sisters of the stagnant pools, and again the magic fire kindled in her hands. “Damon, Damon,” she called, and heedless of the scarcely seen menace, resumed her pursuit of the impish canine. Her fen fire flared once more, pulsing yellow and revealing the malign features.
“Your precious tidbit did not come this way, little girl.”
“Well, which way did he go then?” She stood rigid feeling her imperious side return.
“Which way will you go, little girl?”
“Stop calling me little girl. I’ll have you know, I am the daughter of a king.”
“Doesn’t make you any less of a little girl, and now you’re a lost little girl who cannot even find my supper.”
“I’ll not hear any more of this. Damon is simply not edible. And who are you anyway?”
The murky countenance faded into the gloom. Cyrene tried to thrust the globe of light toward it, but the bauble of blue morphed green and pink and tumbled from her tenuous grasp. She followed the feeble source of light if only to stay in its comforting sphere.
A plaintive yip froze her. She swatted at the glowing cluster and succeeded in swishing it in the direction of the sound. Tiny eyes burned in the umbra and the diminutive cub cowered on the cold stone. Scooping him into her arms, she embraced his soggy fur while he squirmed and kissed her chin.
“Ah, we have found our victuals, have we?”
“I have found nothing of the sort, whoever you are,” Cyrene tried to sound bigger than she felt.
“Give us a taste.”
“Don’t be absurd. Damon is safe now, and we’re going home, thank you.”
“We are going home, are we? Do we know where home is?”
“We’ll find our way. You needn’t worry.”
“Did you say you came from this way?” As before, the wraith contained the nebulous swamp light and shone it on the entry of a passageway, then swung it toward another. “Or this way?”
“We came from the way we came. I shall simply retrace my steps.”
“Oh, really?” The cluster of scintillating blue pinpricks swept around her colliding with a blank wall. They slid to the floor and recoalesced. “Did you say you came from that way?”
Cyrene’s bluff wilted. “Which way did I come?”
“Little girl is lost. Now we shall have her precious, and we shall have our dinner.”
“No,” she pleaded. “Which way did I come?”
“Little dog first.”
“He’s not a dog, and you shan’t have him. I’ll find my way.” She attempted to gather the recalcitrant ghost-light. It flowed over her hand while she clutched tiny, wriggling Damon with the other.
Invisible fingers pinched her curvaceous haunch. “Succulent. Perhaps we let the bony beast be and dine on the lost little girl.”
The ghostly thumb and finger made her leap and cry, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with. I shall no more let you eat me than Damon.”
Cackling, the hideous visage thrust toward her face barely perceptible in the meager radiance. “She won’t let us? However, does she plan to stop us?”
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
“We heard that before—daughter of a king. All the more toothsome it sounds.”
Cyrene forced her mind to calm. She let her energy flow with the current sending her will to the fountain that frothed in the grotto spilling gentle water into the brook that was her domain. With her naiad’s will, she bent the course of the obedient fluid. She heard the trickle increased to a torrent, and then to a rapid. The first wave curled around her dainty feet and quickly floated her sheer garment to her thighs. In heartbeats, the surge wafted her on its sacred bosom deeper into the bowels of the earth while sweeping the dreadful mountain nymph with it.
The column of water carrying Cyrene and her beloved, but drenched, fennec pup rose through a rocky chimney while leaving the drowned shell of her nemesis far below. Sweet sunlight warmed her face as the sheltering deluge emerged from the netherworld placing her and her charge gently onto the sandy bottom of a limpid pool. The naiad gracefully unfolded her silky legs, swept her flowing locks from her eyes, and adjusted her transparent gown before taking poor, soaked Damon to the grassy bank where he shook the water from his downy coat. He shivered and supplicated her to take him to her breast. She embraced the fickle little beast that licked her face and once more nipped her nose.
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Scott Skipper is a California fiction writer with a broad range of interests, including history, genealogy, travel, science, and current events. His wry outlook on life infects his novels with biting sarcasm. Political correctness is taboo. His work includes historical fiction, alternative history, novelized biography, science fiction, political satire, and now even a love story. He is a voracious reader and habitual and highly opinionated reviewer. Learn more at www.ScottSkipper.com Follow on Twitter @SSkipperAuthor and Facebook/ScottSkipperAuthor
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When I was young I had a speech and learning disability. At that time, kids with difficulties such as mine were simply thrown into a lower reading group. There was high, medium, low – and then my group.
My fifth grade teacher, Mr. Marshall, saw that the children in the class would laugh at me and exclude me from many of the activities. So, he went out of his way to make me feel special. He chose me as Projector Monitor, which, in the fifth grade was a very prestigious honor. This helped raise my self – esteem and it also raised the respect my classmates had for me.
One day Mr. Marshall took me aside and said, “I know you’re very smart.” Those words meant so much coming from a man who I looked up to. Before then, I had never thought of myself as “smart.” After all, I was the lowest reading group.
My favorite time in class was story time where Mr. Marshall would read and we would sit quietly. I will always remember the day he read the story of a hawk. In the story, you were in the mind of the hawk. I was so intrigued by this, and inspired by the way Mr. Marshall read the words, that I ran to the Library and checked out that book. I used my finger to skim along the words and carefully I pronounced each one. It took me two months to get through it.
After that, I checked out the next book in that series, and it took me one month to read. By the time I finished the entire series, I was reading normally and my speech had greatly improved.
In college I began a tutoring service where I helped children with disabilities similar to my own. I became a professional tutor and even went on to get my M.B.A. and Ph.D.
Several years ago I wrote Mr. Marshall a letter saying, “I want to thank you for changing my life.”
Because of him, I have been ably to help other children, and, about six years ago, I started a Great Books Club where a group of adults gathers monthly to discuss literature. We have read over fifty-two works of fiction, most of which, like Ulysses, the Iliad, and the Odyssey, are classics.
My Earth Angel, Mr. Marshall, inspired me to find confidence within myself. This confidence, throughout the years, has enabled me to share my love of the written word by bringing others into the wonderful world of fiction.
By Michael Reiss
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