Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Entry #55

Fresh Air
by Navatha Rakeesh

It had just stopped raining. The clouds started to clear out and the sun was about to set. Nina strolled her way through the pavement and approached the edge of the road. Scattered earthworms lay everywhere on the pavement, most of them half crushed by the pedestrians, rest just glad to be alive. She got on to a pathway leading into the woodlands. First, it was just a few trees but then it was getting quite dense. She kept strolling until she abruptly reached a small clearing and stopped in her tracks to observe the surroundings. Mystified by the bunch of pine trees that rose around her, she dreamily pulled a twig out of a fallen branch and made random impressions on the ground. Her lips broke into a smile. Sun rays were beaming through the canopy and penetrating their last chances into the rain drops that discreetly remained on the grass. Birds were hustling back to their nests. The smell of moist earth lingered still very fresh in the air. Nina wished this moment would not seize.

"Hope you all enjoyed the transformation to the most serene place in your mind. Now you can all open your eyes!” With the instructor’s voice, Nina came back to reality of 50 other people squatted on their yoga mats around her. A deep breathing exercise later, she made her way out to the tube station and into the humdrums of her daily life.

Entry #54

Chasing The Sun
by Sarah Hina

There is a cathedral I return to.

Not the slim province of angels and resurrections, where long-lashed girls bow their heads in time to the salty scriptures. I’m talking about the long nave of recollection, where you and I spent a haloed youth wandering, and briefly touching, with fevers of words for trails, a brown hand my constant guide. Where a loamy scent led us past dead leaves and deader logs, into the quiet fix of the forest, the sacred altar. You touched my hair there, once.

This promise of the mind I retain like a yellowing photograph, smudged about its edges. Chewed on by time’s chemical mouth, yet preserved in this tinny memory, this (almost) blackness.

Yet now you come. The stained glass unloosening, shards reassembling. You told me on the phone that marriage is a dead end, the final purgatory to sense and sensibility. Your wife believes in miracles. You only believed in me, you said, and laughed to cover. You were never embarrassed, before.

I would like to believe in you. I would like for you to touch my hair again. But faith is a frothy, youthful affair, and you are as elusive to me now as that white god they sing to on Sundays. I love that old photograph, you see. I love pressing its terrible stillness against my sepia-stained heart. I cannot risk its loss. You will not see me at the train station tomorrow.

My hair, darling Richard, is gone gray.

Entry #53

Just Over the Ridge
by Josh Vogt

They’re looking for me again. My body, that is. For three weeks, dogs have snuffled by on the far side of the ridge. I’ve heard my name called and the rustle of feet kicking up the brush. I guess my picture has even been shown on television by now. I’m more popular in death than I ever was in life.

The helicopter searchlight falls twenty feet shy from where it would pick up a red scrap of shirt. The glint of a backpack zipper. A pink and white tennis shoe.

I watch the light, willing it to shift over here. Just knowing that my remains have been spotted would give me the closure I need to move on.

Then the beam whisks away, and this section is X-ed off on the map with a black, permanent marker.

Nobody calls my name anymore.

But I’m still here.

Entry #52

The Golden Head
by Lois Palmer

“There!” June pointed to the small clearing. “See the dogs’ head?”

“All I see is a pile of debris shining in the sun. I’ve tried to tell you the story of the sacred dog is just a urban tail started by the Ferengis to separate tourists from their money.” John started back the way they had come.

She grabbed his arm. “Please, John, I know this is it. The old man said you would find it where the sun paints a sign. See a nose, eyes, and ears? The sun casts its shadows just right. He said the story of the sacred dog head is true. The man saw it when he was a small boy.”

“What he saw was after the cacao leaf. How much did he talk you out of?”

“Nothing, just a pack of cigarettes. Please, help me pull the debris away.”

“All right, if you promise if there’s nothing, you’ll stop this foolish hunt. You’ve spent a fortune on this folly already.”

“It’s my money, but I promise if we find nothing, I’ll not ask you to go again. I’ll find someone else.

They pulled all the accumulated brush until they came to the forest floor, with a scattering of small rocks

Let’s go, June, there’s nothing.” John took her shoulders and walked her back the way they had come.

June turned for a last look. I’ll be back. I know you’re there.

They didn’t see the golden, dog head emerge from the forest floor.

Entry #51

by Angel

Claudette was so convinced that the dragon was close, she could all but hear it breathing.

Yet the longer she stared into the mottled light and shadow between the trees, the less she could actually see… the small clearing made by the fallen tree was so brilliantly lit by the sun it was blinding- stark contrast to the forest beyond. She slowly stood up to stretch her legs and back. She’d been hunkered down on the round for hours and her feet had gone to sleep! As she painstakingly rose and stretched her arms over her head, trying to make as little sound as possible, the hairs on the back of her arms and neck tingled and stood straight up. She froze in mid-stretch and tried to look around her by moving only her eyes. It had felt like someone (something) had… exhaled on the top of her head…

Deciding she must be imagining things, Claudette gradually lowered herself to the ground again. As she sipped coffee long since cold through a straw so as not to make a noise, she realized she’d been sitting on the damp, leaf covered forest floor for almost 6 hours and she’d seen nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe she’d heard the villagers wrong. Maybe she was in the wrong place. Claudette got up and dusted herself off, deciding to try again tomorrow.

Rothar watched the human female walk away through the trees… he could never get over just how blind humans really were…

Entry #50

Just Words
by Nicky Schmidt

The air trembled…. A hundred tiny feet skittered through the undergrowth as a single beam cut through the darkness… far above an angel’s voice sang…

“Marcie! Whaddayadoin’? … I spoke to you woman! Whaddyadoin’?”

She rubbed her temples. He never understood – never would.

Words meant nothing to him – they fled from him. He shunned them.

“Marcie! Dammit woman, I’m speakin’ to you! You at that damn ‘puter? Writing them stories again? Dumb bitch! That crap won’t put food on our table. Stuff you dream up’s rubbish. Nobody’d pay good money for that.”

The air trembled…

“Get me a beer, woman!”

She stood in one fluid movement… slid open the drawer, her fingers searching for the flashlight.

She padded to the kitchen, yanked open the fridge. The can was icy in her grip. She passed the draining board… her hand ran over it - found what it was looking for.

“Marcie! Oh... there y’are.”

She tossed the can at him… flicked the light switch.

Darkness engulfed the room.

“Whatcha do that for, crazy bitch?”

Her finger pushed the button on the flashlight… shone it in his face.

“Put the light on!”

She glided towards him, the single beam trained on his face - slicing through the darkness.

Bemusement flickered in his eyes.

Her movement was swift, sharp. He barely had time to cry out. His gaze fluttered down to his shirt front.

He stared up at her…


“Sssh, Ralphie,” she whispered. “Can you hear the angel singing?"

Entry #49

The Most Curious Day in the Jungle
by Nothingman

The tall tree shook its branch to wake the little bird sleeping calmly in its nest.

“Fly off bird,” said the tree “better fly off, I have to take a walk today.”

“Where are you going tree uncle?” said the bird, “Why do you have to walk?”

“Family matters, sweety.” said the tree in a voice so full of sadness that the bird collected its wings and at once flew off the branch. The tree looked at the bird go and started to pull its roots out of the jungle floor.

Silken rays of sunlight fell lightly on the jungle floor but even they could not make the gloom disappear.

“What happened here?” asked a ray of light to a spider spinning its web on a tree trunk.

“The yellow beast happened.” said the spider and went back to spinning its web, waiting for lunch, but with a sad heart and no appetite.

The other trees had already gathered at the site of the ruin, aftermath of the trail of the yellow metal beast.

The thin tree looked at the destruction all around him, his brothers reduced to thin reeds after a night of storm, those who stood by him in sunshine and in rain, now fallen. All the trees gathered around him and looked up to him for advice on what to do next.

“Gather forces,” said the tall tree. “Tonight, we attack.”

Entry #48

Movies on the Wall
by L.I. Brarian

The photograph faded after many years of hanging in just the wrong spot in Grandma’s living room, but when Barbie gripped the frame to lift it from the hook, the trees reclaimed their definition and the sunbeam broke through the leafy canopy as brightly as it had the day the photo was captured. “This is wrong”, Barbie sighed, “it belongs here”. Her eyes drifted around the room, outlines of old furniture newly removed scarring the floor, vestiges of Grandma slowly being swept out the front door.

The television had rarely been watched in this bungalow. Grandma watched Mass and the news, but not much else. Chores came first, done early, and the rest of the day was hers to bake, visit, or play cards with friends. “Keep your brain and body busy, it is good for you”, she would say, usually just before finding a task to help a lounging grandchild experience the wisdom of her mantra. But she always gave herself time to get lost in this picture, a birthday gift given years ago to brighten her warm but Spartan home. “The trees tell stories if you let them”, she would say. If you were lucky, Grandma would tell you the story she saw growing from the picture, always something different, no two stories the same.

Barbie lifted the photo from the hook, blew the dust from the frame and smiled. TV is overrated, she thought. Time to start writing. The trees tell stories if you let them.

Entry #47

My First Love
by Amin Motin

It was strange, viewing the clearing in the forest where I first found love. I’ve often wondered if it had changed since then.

13 summers ago – how short a span of time that seems. And yet how remote. But the memory of that summer was as fresh as the grass in the meadow.

Gabrielle had been every boy’s dream in school, so when she agreed to go on a date with me I was in shock. I only suggested a walk in the forest because my family were poor and I had no money. Gabrielle thought it was very romantic.

That first time we went she gently slipped her hand into mine. Floating on gossamer I squeezed, gently, and smiled at her.

For six weeks we would visit every day – sometimes spending the whole day together. Gabrielle made my heart soar in a way I could never understand.

I was 12 and Gabrielle was 13, but in many ways I was much wiser than she was. Funny to think that we never even kissed that summer. But then real love has so many other ways to express itself.

It was a difficult thing, seeing the clearing again. The day Gabrielle died I vowed never to come back. But never is such a long time. I was 13 - I thought my heart would never mend.

I place the single rose in the centre of the clearing with my hand-written note.

“Forever, Gabrielle. Forever."

Entry #46

The Call
by Jude Ensaff

My heart beat hard against my chest and the sound of the hounds echoed in the distance. I ran past a tree clipping my shoulder, then dodged another. Sweat trickled down my face and I felt my pulse throb in my neck. But still I ran.

‘Aint no point runnin’ he called. ‘We got you now, Marty.’

I tripped on a felled tree, landed in some thorns. My hands stung and blood dripped as I sprang up and continued my flight. I heard a rifle loading and then a gun shot. And another. Reverberating round. They seemed to be coming from every direction.

A man whooped aloud. ‘Oh yes, Marty we got ya.’

And another called. ‘We surely do.’

I spun round. A twig broke through the skin on my foot. Fresh blood seeped out.

‘I’m innocent,’ I called. ‘Wasn’t me’

‘Hear that, Hank? He’s innocent.’

Now I could hear their feet and the hounds, panting and breathing, running, closing in on me. Faster and faster.

‘I’m innocent I shrieked,’ as I ran ahead through the thick darkness.

‘That’s what they all say,’ he called.

I struggled past a cluster of branches. My legs ached with exhaustion and my breath caught in my throat. I stopped winded.

That was when I saw it. Up ahead between the trees. A light in the darkness, calling me.

I walked towards it and waited in that warmth. I knew they’d come for me but somehow I felt safe. I knew it was time.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Entry #45

Morgan Toomey
by Mr. Schprock

There is a tradition among backpackers to welcome strangers as friends; social rank and economic class carry little weight in the wilderness. So it happened that when Morgan Toomey appeared at Sean and Pete's campsite near dusk, he was offered a place to sit, food to eat, and the easy fellowship of his new companions.

Morgan accepted their hospitality but contributed little to the conversation. His funny alpine cap with the bright red feather stayed on his head the whole time, and he kept the brim turned down to hide his eyes, which never rested. Coffee gave way to whiskey and the talk grew desultory and light. Sean asked the question of whether the tree falling in the forest made a sound if no one was there to hear it, and Pete countered with the joke about if a man says something his wife doesn't hear, is he still wrong? After they laughed, Morgan cleared his throat and softly asked, "What about a scream? Is it a scream if no one hears?"

Sean and Pete snuck a look at each other. The communication between them was clear: it wouldn't be safe to sleep. They watched Morgan poke the campfire with a stick.

Next morning, the sun fought through the trees and put a spotlight where the camp had been. All traces were gone save for the ashes of the fire and one other thing: several feet away, half trampled into the earth, a single red feather peeked through the dirt.

Entry #44

The Dream
by Adele Lemon

She awoke with the sun's warmth on her face and breathed in the dampness of the earth.

She tried to sit up but couldn't feeling the sharp pain in her ribs. She tried again, but this time rolling over on her side and pushing up with her left arm. The blood had dried to a dark rust on her skin and the forest floor was matted in her hair. A centipede crawled across her shoeless foot. Had this been another time she would have flinched, but not now. Right now, all she could feel was fear and humiliation.

How had she got it so wrong? The evening's events started to flood back and she found it hard to breathe as she remembered. The flirtations at dinner, the suggestion of a moonlight walk. It all seemed so perfect, so innocent. Until the other two arrived.

They circled her and as she turned to him for protection she realised he'd stepped behind her and was twisting her arms. She didn't think she'd had that much to drink, but maybe he'd slipped something in her glass. Soon after it began she must have blacked out.

Now she was alone, sitting on the forest floor in a sunbeam. How could a place of such beauty and warmth be witness to such evil. How could she.....

5:55 AM she is jolted awake with the mornings news. A young girl's body has just been found in the University endowment lands.

Entry #43

Spirit Woods
by Anne Pinckard

Shizue edges the shadows with her toes, peering into the trees. "Who's there?" She strains to hear above the voices of her brother and sisters drifting across the meadow behind her.


"Grandpa!" His voice comes loud enough to recognize this time and she scans the woods until she spots him a few paces away. "What are you doing in there?" Mama told her he was gone, that he would never come back, but he'd been wandering in here all along.


He looks lost, confused, sick. Mama said not to enter the woods, but Shizue had to help him home. It's not safe for him, either. She glances over her shoulder at her siblings, then enters the darkness.

The dust tickles her nose. Ahead, Grandpa's pale form waits for her in the striped light. She remembers his warm, rough fingers pinching her cheeks, the faint smell of iodine lingering on his skin. "It's okay, I'm coming," she says.

He flickers between the trees as she moves closer.


He's sitting in a clearing now, beckoning to her, and she approaches, grinning.

"Shizue, he says in the scratch of dry twigs.

"I missed you." She curls into his lap. He feels cold as moist earth; he smells of pine and mushrooms.

It's not safe in the woods, she wants to say. Mama warned her of spirits inside that lure people away. But suddenly she's so sleepy, and she will rest here a moment, and close her eyes.

Entry #42

Who Knew?
by Elizabeth Dearborn

Reynaldo was my bud from day one. He wasn't Indian like the rest of us in Special Ed. He was Mexican, and his folks followed the apple harvest. He got to ninth grade and never learned to read. So they put him in with us.

He went to the woods out back of the truck stop after his grandmother kicked him out.

"Dude. You gonna be okay?"

"Oh, yeah. They got food 24/7. Phones. Washing machines."

I was sick of all the crap at home, so I moved in with him. We huddled at night to keep warm. Ate nachos at the truck stop. We went to school once in a while just to sell the stuff we ripped off.

One day I saw Reynaldo picking burrs off his bare legs. A minute later I saw fat Cheryl from the rez pulling her jeans on. I waited till she was gone.

"I hear Cheryl's got a disease."

"Yeah, whatever, man." He knew I was jealous. He just didn't know who I was jealous of.

"You going home in the fall?"

"Might stay here. Gonna need a coat and blankets and stuff."

I heard a crunching sound, like breaking twigs. "Shut up. Play dead."

Reynaldo started running, but the black bear was faster. Grabbed him from behind and threw him down. Later, I showed the tribal cop where the bear was, guarding Reynaldo's dead body. Blood and guts everywhere. Who knew he had so much brains?

Entry #41

Beautiful Places
by Stephen Blackmoore

At least he buried her in a beautiful place.

We step off the trail into a grove of pine and walnut, early morning dew covering every surface. Sunlight burns through the canopy like stained glass, yellows and burnished reds. We can't help but be quiet.

"My cathedral," Earl says. His shackles clank, shattering the silence. He tries to lift his arms as if to say hallelujah, but they won't go above his waist.

"You're a sick fuck."

"Marshal Dugan," he says, "I hadn't thought you'd noticed."

There are six of us. Me, three other Marshals, Doc Ferguson, and Earl Breen, rapist and murderer of Shelly Patterson, a college student. Nineteen. Pulled her into a van one night. Walked into my office with a video of what he'd done to her.


"Three trees thataway," Earl says. I can see the mound. Her glasses wedged between two stones, woven pine needles to hold them together. The devil's own macrame.

Doesn't take long, though we're careful. More precious than Tut's tomb.

Also doesn't take long for everything to shatter.

"It's not her," Ferguson says. "A boy. Maybe thirteen. Been here a while, too."

"You sure?"

"Pelvis, skull sutures. It's a boy."

"But this dirt's recent."

"I tend my graves," Earl says.

Plural. Now I know what to look for, I can see them. Tiny shrines. A diary, the glint of a ring, a small framed photo.

"How many?"

Earl answers me with Satan's grin and says nothing.

Entry #40

by Alexander Salas

How I miss the warmness of the sun. I stand here surrounded by colossal trees. Their compact leaves form an umbrella. Inside the thickest of forests, darkness is my home. My banishment for as longs as I walk on God's green earth and only God, in his infinite wisdom, can end my life. His punishment I have learned to accept. His punishment I have grown to loathe.

Hidden in blackness, I stare at the halo. Light enters this timberland only at this point. The treetops construct a perfect circle. This is the most alluring place in my small world.

The ground basks in the glorious sunlight. Greener grass, livelier leaves and a warmer soil enjoy the halo's gift. Jealousy overtakes me as I look. It fills my heart with pure hatred.

Of course, by my own free will I could terminate my so called life. A simple visit under the halo would let the sun finish my cruel existence. It will be painful. And unlike the delightfulness of the sun's rays kissing one's skin on a beautiful summer day, I will burn to death.

I have walked this forest for hundreds of years. And for hundreds of years I have missed the sun. I am tired. The light is just a step away around this tree I stand behind. Frightened, I circle the tree and meet my fate.

Entry #39

Namibian Safari
by Julie Bourbeau

I sit on the inside seat, Salome gets in next. I motion Petrus Antonius toward the seat across the aisle, but he looks confused, and the three of us squeeze into two seats on the bus. I am at a wild game park in Namibia.

Salome dances a little to the music piped in over the loud speakers of the bus, and I join her, displaying less rhythm in my whole body than she has in one smooth head bob. Petrus looks up at us shyly, but he’s embarrassed, and looks out the window again.

I grow tired and stop dancing. Salome points out the window and starts to identify the animals on our safari drive.

“Goat,” she says, pointing to a cow.

I give Petrus my notebook and pen. He draws a zebra and his mother. His self portrait towers over them in the sunny scene. There’s more safari on his page than we see in person.

I want elephants, giraffe, every creature to wander around outside our windows. I want the animals to know that these children on the bus haven’t been here before. I want the animals to be the ones dancing in African rhythms.

We drive across nothing, and then the bus slows. There’s something in the great distance. It comes closer. Disposable cameras poise outside the windows.

“Goats,” I finally say to Salome. Cows.

Entry #38

Game for a LARP
by Rachel Green

Harold crouched in the cover afforded by a fallen tree and a dip in the pine strewn earth and smeared mud over his garish paint ball gun. Satisfied that he could blend into the shadows more easily than he could five minutes ago, he took out his binoculars.

A scan of the immediate area concluded, he unwrapped his egg sandwiches and poured lukewarm tea from his thermos. A shimmering at his side revealed the arrival of his friend Jasfoup.

“Why are you lying in muck?” The demon glanced at his soiled suit in disgust.

“Shh!” said Harold, his finger over his lips. “It’s a live role-playing game. Survivors versus zombies.”

“Ugh, zombies.” Jasfoup grimaced. “Which are you?”

“Do I look like a zombie?” Harold paused for a reply and then scowled at the demon’s expression. “I’m a survivor.”

“Ah.” Jasfoup looked over the log. “Is that a zombie?”

Harold followed his gaze to see Simon Peterson walking towards his foxhole, arms outstretched. “Yes,” he said, aiming his gun and firing. Peterson’s head exploded.

Harold went white. “What did you do?” he said. “You’ve killed Peterson.”

“No, you killed him,” the demon said, helping himself to Harold’s tea. “I just changed your gun to a real one. I can’t bear zombies.”

“He wasn’t a real zombie,” said Harold. “It was role-play.”

“He was an accountant,” said the demon through a mouthful of sandwich. “It’s a close call.”

“Good point.” Harold shouldered his new AK47. “So are the rest of his team."

Entry #37

The Truth
by Ann Ostrander

“If it hurts at all, just stop me,” Brian whispered. Even with the thick plaid blanket underneath us, the forest floor felt damp. He fumbled with the condom as I undressed.

We didn’t kiss or touch each other. I wasn’t comfortable with that. Weird, I know. Sex before any of the things my friends did first. Maybe it would come later.

“Are you all right?” Brian asked, positioning himself between my legs. I nodded, wishing I still wore a bra as his eyes darted in that direction.

“If it hurts…” he breathed, while fumbling between my legs, “Make sure to tell me.”

But it didn’t. I felt pressure and his hips pushing against mine. I waited for the pain my mother had told me about with her first time, but there was none. Just another lie to scare me … to keep me ‘pure.’ Mom. I couldn’t think of her now.

I opened my eyes and concentrated on a shaft of light penetrating the canopy. Brian groaned and shook. It’s over. I’m fourteen and it’s happened. He moved his mouth towards mine. I snapped my head to the side.

Still no kissing, Nessa?” he laughed. I smiled and kept my eyes on the light.

Three weeks later and Mom still doesn’t know. She always said she would, but that wasn’t true either. Every time she asks if I’m still being ‘chaste,’ I tell her, “Mom, I haven’t even made out with a boy yet.” At least I’m telling the truth.

Entry #36

Entry #36
by Ayoub Khote

In the shadows around the pool of light, the old wolf lay wait. Eyes the hue of burnished gold watched silently as corded muscle tensed and relaxed under silver grey fur. He had learned the value of patience as he had grown older. Younglings liked to give chase to their prey as he used to, but knowing this particular morsel would be attracted to the light that broke through the canopy above, he had decided his old bones would benefit from a more intelligent hunt. He sat opposite the hole in the ground the rabbit had made a home in, where the light from above would add to the cloak of darkness surrounding him. His wait wasn’t long. The scent of the small animal reached across the intervening space. He fought the impulse to lick his lips, and remained deathly still, muscles tightened as his body prepared to pounce. The brown rabbit emerged from its sanctuary and sniffed the air tentatively, before foraging towards the light. It stopped at the edge of the pool, scanning cautiously. The wolf smiled inwardly; this little beast was a survivor too. The rabbit, deciding it was safe, moved into the circle of light, which seemed to brighten momentarily before becoming a silver flash that ended in darkness. The wolf cleared the light in one leap, and landed silently with the dead rabbit in his jaws. He carried it away to his den, for there were more mouths to feed than just his own.

Entry #35

Miss James
by Canterbury Soul

I have nothing much to say, Peter. I mean, how wonderful could my life be when I was named after a comic character?

You see, my man of old back in Webster was a big fan of this superheroine that has the ability to fly and create auras of different colours with power. I mean, come on, what kind of a weird character is that? And just because I was born a female, he gave me that stupid name, Halo.

Halo? I mean, “HELLO?” How many people had actually heard of this comic character? Nine and a half out of ten people associated my name with this bright circle round the heads of some holy bastards. What did I get?

“Hey! Look at that chick with prick, HALO JESSE JAMES!”

Now I can laugh with you, Peter. But I wasn’t laughing then. I mean, look at my name! A freakish superheroine and a fucking male outlaw combined. Can you blame me for having this little gender identity crisis?

Yes, I was wrong to check her boobs. I mean, I myself had none even when I reached 21, so I asked her if I could see what I had been missing. It was my first time for Pete’s sake (not you). Should he be so mean to me? Was it necessary for him to drag me into the woods and shoot me?

Enough! Don’t wanna cry. Can you open the gates now, Peter? I’d like to see how God looks like.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Entry #34

God Save the Queen
by Jennifer Nugent

The sword sizzled as he unsheathed it, raising it in warning to the men on inching forward on horseback.

“Nicolette, go!” The command came like a guttural growl as though he weren’t a man but a wild animal preparing to defend its young cub from a savage predator.

The snap of fallen tree limbs and the crunch of horse hooves on the brown foliage carpet were the only sounds on that makeshift battlefield. She sat on top of his horse, fear winding its way up her legs like wild ivy growing among the surrounding trees. She didn’t want to leave him behind, but if they captured her, the hope for rebuilding her kingdom would be lost.


As the last heir to the throne of the fallen kingdom of Edenburg, she could trust no one. An embittered former knight with nothing to lose, he was the perfect candidate for delivering her to the protection of the neighboring kingdom of Darfur.

He watched, waiting for her to go, turning back to his opponent in time to deflect an unfamiliar sword swinging towards him. She dug her heels into the horse’s sides and, holding tightly to the beast beneath her, she raced deeper into the forest.

He’d vowed to give his life to protect her. Her heart ached as the cries of men in war and the clanks of metal on metal rang out behind her and she wondered if that would be the day he’d make good on that promise.

Entry #33

Wizard in the Wood
by Stace Dumoski

The sunshine tasted like a kiss, and the wizard – so long trapped in shadow – fell into it, lulled to gentle delirium by its warm caress.

“Hello, my love,” he murmured to the sky, but the voice that answered came from the trees nearby.

“You shouldn’t have come.”

“You shouldn’t have called me.”

She came into the glen, clad in dappled white and leaves for jewelry in her hair. “He’ll kill you this time.”

The wizard, delighting in the pinprick tingling of his toes, the breath stirring in and out of his lungs, and the sharp pain of a rock jabbing him in the rump, could not make himself care. “It won’t be the first time.”

“What if it’s the last?” She sat beside him. Their hands found one another, fingers laced together in a familiar pattern.

“Look!” He pointed at a flower. The tiny blossom pushed its way up from beneath a fallen tree. “Yellow,” he said, because he had forgotten.

She was inclined to nonsense at times like these. “You don’t have to go.”

“Would you stay here with me?”

“Yes,” she lied.

“Then I’ll stay.” Another lie, but generously offered. On a branch overhead, a blackbird chirped a love song.

A tear ran down her cheek. “There’s never enough time!”

“There’s enough for this.” He touched his lips to hers, and her kiss tasted like the sunshine.

Entry #32

Three-Fourths of an Ounce
by Victor B. Monchego, Jr.

The bed felt like a fever dream. It was my bed now, not ours, and in a week or two I would burn it. I kicked away the fort of pillows. I had to bury Stephanie. She wouldn't keep in the car trunk forever.

I washed my face. When I blew my nose and it started to bleed. I stuffed in a plug of tissue. I made Nescafe and I wore yesterday's clothes.

The wheelbarrow was strapped on the Caprice's roof. Stephanie was in the trunk. The gas tank was full.

The day was gray and damp. The windshield was filthy and I was out of washing fluid. My nose kept bleeding and I tossed bloody plugs on the floor.

I drove to Townsend and then up the No. 5 logging road. Stephanie liked this area. She hunted morels up here.

I parked. The tourists were gone. I heard crows but could not spot them. At last, my nose stopped bleeding. I unstrapped the wheelbarrow. I took Stephanie out of the trunk. The dead are heavy. They are supposed to be lighter without their souls.

The plan was to take Stephanie deep into the forest, far from the road. We hiked here last summer.

On a bed of needles, I set Stephanie in a light shaft. Stephanie liked mountains but I prefer the beach. It was time. I kissed her cheek.

Damn, I forgot to bring a shovel.

Entry #31

Somewhere Safe
by Michele Helene

Alex was all wrong. Apparently the woman with grey curly hair was his mother, the gangly teenager his brother and the pooch at his side was the family dog.

“You didn’t just put them somewhere safe.” The boy suddenly screamed. “You had an accident, you nearly died, you were in a coma for weeks, that’s how you lost your memory.”

Alex sat in the armchair gripping the sides, his nails digging into the fabric as if he could extract his memories and then he stood up and walked away. At the door Alex attached a lead to the curious dog and looked at the keys. “Car keys,” a voice in his head piped up. He could drive, he knew.

Alex pulled out the driveway smiling at the woman chasing after the car then looked down tenderly at Pooch.

The song on the car stereo irritated him; its familiarity was sufficiently discordant to tell him that this was not the song he thought he remembered. The white lines in the middle of the road, however, kept no secrets from him and he knew when he had arrived. Pooch leapt out the car pleased by Alex’s choice. They bounded between trees and through brambles until they arrived at a spot where strands of sunlight pierced through the leaves forming a perfect circle.

“Just where I left them!” Laughing Alex picked up a filament of light, closed his eyes and coiled it around him, the true melody of the song filling his head.

Entry #30

Crude Awakenings
by Scott Simpson

Waking to that large crack and the tufts that adorn it, the smell of garbage clouding my sinuses and the tickling of something like ants across the back of my neck…

Cold cement pressing sharply flat against my temple like a brick on my face.

The crack seems real and I pull on what grows near it.

I have fallen far, it seems.

The crack is large from this angle- I see that now. The crack isn’t right, and I need to do something to fix it.

Several parts of me hurt- a lot.

I may have broke an ankle and a wrist.

There are too many now to ignore. The one hand I can use can reach them if I take my finger from the crack. Wiping ants from my neck brings a brief relief from that driving-me-crazy feeling. The tickling is now a gritty, soothing skin on skin.

If I had water, I could surely pee right here.

What is it that she said? “You need to stop trying to “fix” everything. The world is full of broken people. When you try and fix me, you make me feel broken.”

The crack is big enough for my smallest finger. I pick at it. My ankle throbs. My wrist throbs. The world seems sharply cold and is pressed against my temple like a brick on my face.

“Get drunk. I don’t care. I’ll catch a cab home where I don’t expect to see you anymore.”

Is that what happened?

Entry #29

Guide Me Home
by Rob

The blood pools under me, soaking my ragged tunic and turning the dirt into deep red mud.

This isn’t my war. This isn’t my land. This prairie is a sea of grass that drowns me, and I long for the forest like a warm blanket on a cool night.

I had always feared the pain of being stabbed, the tearing of skin and muscle, but that fear was misplaced. The blade slid into my shoulder so easily I thought I’d imagined it.

The pain was just delayed, though, for it came when the blade was pulled out. I felt every inch of it sliding back through the wound, every imperfection of the blade, every notch and scratch in its metal, tugging at the newly exposed flesh. Through that pain, that burning, I could feel battles long past and soldiers long dead. The cold blade screamed against my searing flesh, a silent scream that left my body stiff and trembling.

I see the grove behind my cottage back home. I can feel the beams of warm sunlight shining down through the trees, illuminating the hidden particles of dust floating in the air, like cracks in a wall revealing a glimpse into another world.

A soldier falls with a cry to my right, and the sounds of the surrounding battle come crashing back over me. I lift myself from the ground and feel the hilt of my sword at my fingertips. I will not die here. I will see home again.

Entry #28

Faery Rings and Broken Dreams
by Jaye Wells

I grew up in a faery forest near a stream. My childhood was typical—playing "hide and go faery" with my friends and riding lightning bugs for amusement.

Eventually, I grew bored with forest life. Despite their misgivings, Ma and Pa sent me off to the city with a little money and a warning to avoid stray cats.

The city is a hard place for a young faery. I had my fair share of run-ins with territorial faeries, who didn't appreciate me poaching on the city's few green spaces. Left with no options, I took to living in anemic monkey grass bordering a parking lot.

A faery who called himself "Manroot" eventually took me under his wing. I was too naïve to know the name alone should have scared me off.

Manroot introduced me to the "medicinal" uses of plants. Cannabis, shrooms and poppies became cash crops. We sold our wares in flowerboxes, the faery slums.

Opium became my mistress. I ended up turning tricks to get high, which led to faery porn. Manroot got rich, but all I got a bad case of the weevils in my undercarriage.

After Manroot moved on to younger flesh, my parents got worried and traveled to the city to find me. They found me stoned out of my gourd in a discarded fern by a dumpster.

I'm not proud of the things I've done. Every day, I sit on a rock in the forest clearing, hoping the sun will wash away my sins.

Entry #27

by Jeff Neale

She watches the massive yellow beast as it sits motionless in the darkness. It is a predator, but different from her. It sleeps openly through the night with no need to hide, for it has no natural enemies.

Its presence both angers and frightens her.

Even now, the scent of humans lingers heavily near the beast, for they ride upon its back as it builds its gigantic nest of trees.

With the coming sun the humans will arrive and awaken the beast again. The sky above will darken with clouds of its black foul breath.

It roars in triumph each time its powerful jaws uproot a tree, moving it as effortlessly as she moves a twig in her nest.

She would proudly fight against the destruction of her home, but what weapons has she against such a beast?

She cocks her head and her talons flex on the dark branch beneath her. Her eyes, sharp as a laser, lock in on a slight rustle under the leaves below.

Tonight, while the beast sleeps, she will feed.

Perhaps tomorrow she will take wing high above the shrinking canopy of leaves and search out another place to nest, another place to feed.

It is the way of things, and once more she will adapt. She and her young will thrive. At least for a time. . .until the humans arrive upon another yellow beast.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Entry #25

The Call
by Terry W. Lessig

“Called to a higher purpose.” That’s what the voice in my head says. I’ve heard that voice speak to me all of my short life. It directs me where to go, what to eat, and how to behave. It even put me in the position I’m in now, and through the pain, I still trust it.

I’d seen this happen to others, and always wondered what it would feel like when my time came. I didn’t think it would be so soon, but no matter—it’s far better than the starvation some face each winter. At least I’m being used and not wasted.

The pain is subsiding now. I’m getting cold and I am weakening, but I press on. Just ahead, the dense forest canopy seems to open, and a small patch of the woodland brightens. “Come toward the light,” the familiar voice calls. It sounds warm and friendly. Night falls, and I want to go.

Entry #24

The Final Cut
by Roger Dale Trexler

They came.

The loggers ventured into the forest looking for us.

We heard their saws in the distance, and the screams of our brethren as they died. For centuries, we’ve battled the men with axes in the forest, bringing our limbs crashing down, painfully ripping our own appendages from our bodies, and crushing them. One by one, they came; one by one, they died. Many times, others came looking for their fallen friends and met their death. They gave our soil nourishment and helped us grow in God’s light.

Before man, for eons, we lived in peace. We were born, lived our lives, and died in the quiet of the forest. Eventually, man began running amongst us, hunting the wild game. We did not care; it was not our way and we did not understand it, but we were tolerant. We saw them kill for pleasure. We saw and did not understand. Even then, we knew they had no respect for the other creatures of the forest.

Still, they left us alone.

Until they needed our wood.

We know now that it is only a matter of time before they come in larger numbers and destroy us. It is their way. So, we have decided to destroy ourselves before they can. There is a saying amongst men: “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?”

The answer is Yes.

It screams.

Entry #23

Rhudha-an’s Task
by Apprentice

The clearing’s just where the village elder said it would be.

Light streams into the forest from a rent in the canopy, like a cleft in the roof of a submerged cave.

The glade is the only golden spot in a land of shadow-play.

She gently puts down the package of five seedlings, their roots careful bound in the finest skins and bark.

She’s a tall child of thirteen, with long red hair and skin as pale as thistle-down. They chose her, from all the settlement’s girls, because her lovely locks exactly match the colours of rowan when the year starts to fail.

She knows what to do, the glade must cleared of all fallen debris, which must be burnt, and the cooled embers and ash spread all around. Only then can she use her sharp digging stick, cut from the mother tree, to make slits in the deep loam and plant the five precious saplings. They must be in a circle, exactly thirty one paces apart, and she must chant all the while, “Oh rowan tree, rowan tree give your strength to me.”

Then briars and holly must be cut and gathered to protect the seedlings from deer.

From this day forward she will tend and protect them until they rise up into the sunlight bearing their beautiful and bloody fruit.

Then her blood will flow and she will dance over to the other world.

Entry #22

by Christine Eldin (takoda)


This way.

He’ll find us.

Be quiet and hide.

Is it really worth it?

Hell, yes. Five hundred bucks.

I’ve never stolen Indian stuff before.

Don’t be chicken-shit. This money’s ours.

We’re messing with sacred lands. There’s voodoo here.

Voodoo? Curses? You mean old man Huyanna’s freak talk?

It’s not freak talk. Huyanna says when you die, your spirit becomes a bird or a cloud. You can go anywhere and see everything. But if you make too many mistakes on purpose, you get turned into a tree. Stuck in one place…forever. Let’s put his money back. Before it’s too late.

Easy for you to say. You don’t have to wear hand-me-downs from your brother. Or buy two dollar pants from the Salvation Army. Or eat stupid cheese sandwiches all the time. Once a month, Dad comes home with a block of government cheese. Joey thinks it’s funny, having cheese that big. Dad puts it on the table. Joey climbs up on a chair and bites into it. A bunch of times, so even if you wanna slice it, there’s no clean spot.

You’ll be fourteen next year. Old enough to work.

That’s a forever time away. I’m hungry now.

Okay. Then we’ll find jobs now. Today.

Like what? Can we make money?

Yeah. Lots. Without any stealing.

Help me return this?

How about here?

Looks good.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Entry #21

Taking Stock
by Anthony J. Rapino

“Oh, Jesus, God. Not again.”

Martin Raft sat up and rubbed his eyes, bringing the blurry surroundings to a crisp finish. His girlfriend, Naomi, would have called it a real plasma-quality day.

Plasma-quality, because the forest was clear and bright. Day, because Raft had blacked out through the night again.

The sun, though filtered through most of the trees, fell unaffected on a small clearing ahead. Raft saw something past some fallen branches.

“Don’t do it, Marty,” he mumbled. “You don’t have to look.” But he knew better. He had to take stock. Keep an accurate count, for judgment.

He stood and stepped forward. “Why can’t life go back to the way it used to be?”

He answered himself in place of Naomi. “Because used to be isn’t a place I can visit.”

Naomi of course couldn’t answer, because she was also a used to be. Raft had made sure of that.

He reached into his pocket and retrieved a small notepad. He flipped past pages filled with scribbled notes: Young boy: ~13. Infected, deported. Woman: late 40’s. Infected, deported. Naomi: Infected. Deported.

Infected, because that’s what those sick fuck officials called it. Deported, because Raft needed his own euphemism to counter the government’s.

In the clearing, the sun’s rays dropped over his shoulders like a blanket.

Raft took stock.

Man: late 30’s. Infected. Deported.

Woman: early 20’s. Raft paused. Something moved. He bent, put a shaking hand out, and then withdrew.

“Oh, God.”

He wrote, Pregnant. Infected.

“Not again.”

Entry #20

by Fred Brown

The call came at ten. He was angry again, screaming profane reasons he should hunt her and her boyfriend down and kill them, but at least he had agreed to return her car. His drunken threats used to make her call the cops. But after eight years of marriage and thirteen restraining orders, she filed for divorce instead of picking up the phone. The final papers were two months away, but she had already moved on.

The plan was for him to drop the car in the parking lot at Wal-Mart. He’d have it there by noon, and she’d ask someone from work drive her by to get it. He knew who she’d ask…slut.

She and her boyfriend stopped by the house first to let the dog out and grab the car keys. They were in the woods behind the house, watching the dog paw at the light and shadows when they heard him ready his gun. She begged the way she had for years; the boyfriend ran.

Later, the boyfriend told police he was running for help, hoping his girlfriend would follow him. Halfway to the house he heard the shots and ran back to the woods to find her face down in the dirt—five bullet holes in her back. The report got filed, and he was a hero on the local news.

He mourned in public, waited six weeks as arranged, and then made the call. Her husband answered.

Entry #19

Entry #19
Hide and Seek
by Vesper

I’m hiding.

I burrowed in the warm moss, covered myself with drying leaves and branches. No barking yet, only the quiet hum of the forest. The castle’s in a far-off world.

Mother’s visiting again, with all her pomp, her smells of vervain and lavender, her syrupy voice.

I had to flee, even knowing that Nanny would chastise me if they brought me back. Better the whipping, than the ordeal of Mother’s false concern. I cringe at the memory of her silky fingers, lifting my chin to examine my crooked face; of cold tears rolling on her rosy cheeks – perfect crystals on exquisite porcelain; of her disgusting pity, suffocating, menacing.

Last time she visited, she and Nanny shared again those dreadful whispers about the asylum.

I’m older now and won’t be fooled by the contorted dolls they gave me anymore, by the hunchback servants, playing a tragicomedy for the hideous dwarf that I am. I know what that place is. I’d rather run away than let them lock me there.

Only Sara knows about this glade. She has to get my message. I can subsist several days here, hoping they’ll give up in the end. That, annoyed, she’ll return to her perfect world. That I’ll depart.

My secret friend, the circus girl, will come to take me to her mates as we’ve agreed, and if she’s late, no matter; the earth is warm, the sunshine filtering through the soft leaves, soothing. I’ll sleep the wait away, dream with the trees.

Entry #18

A Break in the March
by Mike Martinez

We have been walking three abreast for days. It was impossible to bring the horses, so we marched into the wood with just our armor and a few pack animals. This has been a fool’s errand from the beginning. We have no idea what the beast looks like or how it comes and goes. All anyone ever knows about it is the sound it makes before it descends on its victims and consumes them.

“The only way we know how to track the thing is by its leavings. If I never see another severed head or half chewed arm again I’ll be happy.”

“Captain, we should just go home, the men are spreading wild rumors that the creature has devoured every known village already.”

“Regardless, the General and his scouts should be returning shortly with our next marching orders. Eat your dinner sergeant, and no more repeating rumors. This glen is the only place I’ve seen sun for days, who knows if we’ll see its like again on this march.”

Presently, the quite of the woods and the restfulness of the sun was shattered by an unearthly shriek. As the men stopped and gaped in the direction of the sound. A huge winged shadow passed above them. As if in a taunt the head of the general was dropped at the sergeant’s feet.

“What do we do now Captain?”

“Same as before, we finish our meal and press on. We have still another score to settle now.”

Entry #17

The Farmer and His Boy
by Joseph Ryan

He was a strong boy with broad shoulders but he was not so smart, and even though he was old, his father still called him a boy, and so did the men he worked with.

He had gone to war and the sergeant had called him a stupid fool many times, but when he left war the sergeant said he was brave and gave him his own medal and told him that brave men were often called stupid.

He was the only one on the farm when his father became sick and he nursed his father every day for a year, until his father grew thin and too weak to drink or eat, and then he cried by the river and buried his father under the tree next to his mother, who had died very young and who he had never known.

The day he had died he had felt pains in his chest all morning, but he still went outside to work, and when the pain became worse he made his way to the old tree over the river and he sat under it beside his father’s and mother’s grave, and he looked up for the birds, but he could not see a bird and when he passed, he was alone with only a light rain around him.

Entry #16

Weekend Getaway
by Hoodie

Though the top of her sleeping bag was closed so tightly that only her nose could poke through, the incessant buzzing still assaulted her. Every blink stung her smoke-offended eyes as her hips wandered from one rock to another in search of comfort.

“At least it stopped raining,” came the muffled voice of her husband.

“Yeah, just in time for the family reunion of every mosquito in North America. Real romantic, hon.” Contempt oozed from each word like marshmallow from a smore.

Something large and winged hit the tent with an angry thud and she shuddered, rubbing her stocking feet together for warmth. Hair clung to her neck, sticky from her recycled breath.

“This bag smells like gym socks and wet dog.”

Her husband paused. “Sounds kinky.”

The fierce roll of her eyes went unseen. “You’re retarded,” she said, ramming him with both feet.

He shimmied closer to her. “You know, these bags zip together. We could-”

“Not a chance,” she replied flatly. He shimmied away.

Her breath amplified in the ensuing silence as leaves rustled overhead. She watched imaginary lights dancing on her eyelids.

She’d thought Nature Boy was asleep when she heard him curse softly. “Dammit.”


“I gotta go.”

A smile tickled her mouth. “Which?”


Envisioning him crouched and exposed among the ravenous insects, she chuckled.

“Where’d you pack the TP?” he groaned.

Wicked laughter filled the tent. Maybe this dumb trip wasn’t a total loss after all.

“I thought you packed it.”

Entry #15

The Amber Pillar
by Eduardo A. Márquez Castro

He begins his travels with a brisk walk. The air around flutters its swishing perfection—visible and clear. It’s a dismissible thing, this feeling of confusion upon the presence of its very word.

There is not much to behold while walking it, step by step. The colors are already assimilative to his eyes. He’s been in their presence for enough time. “A stone should be here,” the man whispers. “A stone pillar—amber. Alone—forlorn.” He remains in place, staring longingly at the spot where the pillar was to be. “Whatever happened to it, to its meaning? It was a word, I’m sure. It started with the same letter, I believe. Prism. Is it not so? Is it not the will of all beings to stare at the Prism? What is its importance, then, if it’s not here? It pains me to be in the presence of nothing. Nothing when it should be everything. My very breath seems to long it. See? Its colors flicker as I speak. There’s a story to be beheld. There is a most comfortable silence to be broken as truth seeps through the ages. This is the White Wall, where purity rests. Where it leads I cannot know, but these lights are more than enough reason for me to live with hope. Now I live among the lights that oppress shadow. It is not Heaven, it is the idea of it. It is not Heaven, it is the mold. It’s a vision. It’s a truth.”

Entry #14

Prisoner Of War
by Sandra Seamans

The skittering of forest creatures through the dank, rotting leaves above, sends shivers through Amy's weary body, waking her from a restless sleep. The sun is sweeping high in the sky, pouring it's warmth down into the dry well where she sits, waiting for the final bite of the ax. She watches as a daddy-long-legs meanders across her thigh. He doesn’t talk, but at least she’s not alone.

For three days the logger has kept her trapped deep inside the rotting bowels of the woods, occasionally tossing scraps of food and water down into her cage. The sound of chainsaws grinding and timber falling the only hint that she's not alone.

She relishes the warmth of the sun on her clammy skin. The fragrant smell of freedom riding on sunbeams tickles her nose, giving her a fragile glint of hope. Amy tries once again to claw her way up the flagstone walls of the well toward the light. Her strength waning, her hand touches the solid earth of escape.

The woodsman is standing there, on the brink of her freedom, laughing at the tree-hugger who’s lost her final battle to save the stand of virgin timber his crew is skidding out of the woods. His spiked climbing boots tear holes in her shimmering hopes, as he reaches down and pulls her free of the well. Her screams of despair go unheard amid the cries of “Timber”.

Entry #13

by SzélsõFa

The forest proved dense, not because of much undergrowth – for it was a pine forest. A dark one. Hail fastened his clutch on the sword. No sign of enemies, though. Not yet.

Hail knew this forest all too well to not allow himself being careless and wonder around like a blindfolded lover, with a lady in his dreams…

Hail no longer had pictures of ladies waving listlessly from a balcony in his mind.

Win this time. Defeat *him* this time. Get through the forest without getting hurt this time. THEN can you dream about ladies.

And Hail knew the way through too much. Perhaps this road was the only thing he knew almost everything about. Behold, the path bends beyond that giant grey rock. Okay, clear. What, no footmarks? There should be some marks just around here. I remember. This is the place I was defeated last time. I died. But now, I am stronger and I have something else in my sack. Purchased at the last level.

Hail wheeled his eyes to no avail. Where are they? Hidden there, aren’t you?


Ouch, the back of my head. Forward with that precious weapon! Aim and shoot!


Finally, the light. Oh, how soothing it is! I’m out this time. I am saved.


With motionless eyes staring right into the lamp’s halo, here lay Hail, calm and reassured. The horrid visions of *him* and the enchanted forest have gone. Forever? His mind was not to tell anymore.

Entry #12

by Herschel Cozine

They want to cut them down. The old trees near

The edge of town. Along the old county road.

I climbed them as a boy, shared them with birds,

And squirrels. Sat in their shade.

It was a better time.

But that was long ago. Today they’re old,

And sick. A threat, we’re told.

I smile at this. Not from amusement,

But from a sense of irony.

For most of those who sit in judgment

Are old as well. The mayor walks with help,

And has a shaking hand that makes his signature

A feeble, palsied image of a name.

I more suspect the trees stand in the way

Of progress. Such a useful word.

The trees, old though they are, stand firm.

Dying, to be sure. But with a dignity

That is, or should be envied by us all.

Children never climb them anymore,

And that is sad. Trees were meant to climb.

Still, there are those who seek their shade,

On sultry days. Including, if you will,

The very men who call to cut them down.

More irony.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Entry #11

And They Stayed
by Sharon Poppen

"Creaton, the cloaking shield is up."

"Thank you, Gabrel. Now, move us from this moon." Creaton’s pilot navigated their two-man, ship toward the blue-green planet. “This is the last colony to observe before returning to Hevana. The data needs to be accurately recorded for analysis."

"So sad. Few colonies planted eons ago have survived and those that have are still quite primitive."

"It is sad," lamented Creaton.

The terrain became visible. "Gathering data, " Gabrel reported. “Creaton, look!"

"I see, Gabrel!"

"Colonies! Thousands!"

"Drop lower. I must see the inhabitants." Creaton directed.

"They've thrived, multiplied."

"Indeed, Gabrel. Look, they've learned to fly. They’ve conquered water."

"They’ve done well. Would they remember us?"

"No. When they were placed here, they agreed to lose thousands of years from their lives due to the heavy atmosphere."

"Creaton, look up the names of the two original settlers."

"I don’t need to. I remember them. It was Aidaim and Eeve."

"They’ve done well. How did you get them to stay?"

"I took them down to this beautiful planet. I told them to taste the ocean surging onto the coastal rocks through the fog. Feel the breeze swirling through forests and meadows planting a future. Smell the desert taking a rare drink of rain. Watch the sun flash a goodnight. Listen to their night creatures call to the moon."

"And they stayed?"

"Yes, they stayed."

"May I do those things, Creaton?"

"Maybe someday, somewhere, but this is their world." Creaton smiled. "Home, Gabrel. I am pleased."

Entry #10

Joyce Kilmer Was Wrong
by Barry Baldwin

The trees you see were not not made by God but Vladimir Petrosian, 'mad' (he still worshipped Trofim Lysenko, Stalin's pet geneticist) Russia scientist, for Salvatore Totti, mid-echelon gangster anxious to accelerate to the top of New York's criminal industry.

A mutual Can't Refuse deal was instantly struck. Totti grub-staked the penniless Petrosian to a comfortable laboratory and living on his Connecticut estate in return for vow of silence and exclusive dibs on the promised invention.

After several months, the Eureka message came. Totti's sidekick broke all speed records from Manhattan to rurality. The waiting Petrosian feverishly led them down to the orchard and pointed at the clump of lurid-leaved trees, simultaneously seductive and sinister in the moonlight. Totti grabbed one, scrutinised it, seized an axe providentially abandoned there by his gardener and went to work, strewing Petrosian's bloody remains among the branches.

"What the hell, boss? The guy promised you a money tree, He delivered, didn't he?"

Indeed he had. Trouble was, there isn't much call for Russian currency in the Land of the Free.

Entry #9

A Sign
by Dee Laine

When was the last time she slept? Was it 20 or 21 days? But before it happened? That would make it 14 days. Just a mere 14 days without any real sleep. No excuse. What the hell was wrong with her? How could she have been so stupid? STUPID!

The trees wizzed by as she drove down Highway 2. Flipping Highway 2. Flipping trees. If she crashed into one, that would end it wouldn’t it? Just keep the foot on the pedal and turn the wheel to the left. Or right. Didn’t matter.

Cora rolled down her window. The hot humid air whipped through her hair. She pressed harder on the gas pedal. Flipping heat. Flipping car. She hated that car. Hated it. And the flipping line at the grocery store. Old ladies with coupons. Stupid coin purses. Stupid price checks.

Cora pulled the car to the side of the road. She looked back at the empty infant seat in the back. Stupid! How could she forget? How? Flipping goddamn heat. Flipping goddamn lines.

It was in the glove box. She pulled it out and walked into the woods. No more. Not one more goddamn day. It felt foreign and heavy in her hands. The brush scraped against her legs and arms. Good. This should hurt. Mosquitoes swarmed and sucked without mercy. Good. This should be uncomfortable. She deserved it.

Cora fell to her knees and shook uncontrollably. A sign. Anything. God almighty, is there forgiveness?

Entry #8

by Anti-Wife

As they danced on the branches the birds filled the air with a soothing melody. The path was covered with dead leaves and branches upon which the tiniest forest creatures dined. It created a soft carpet underfoot. Sunlight filtered through the green canopy illuminating cobwebs and providing interesting shadows. The scent of pine, earth and wildflowers combined to remind her why she always loved coming here as a child.

The woods were tranquil and quiet – a sharp contrast to her nearby home. There was no yelling and screaming here. No one belittled or demeaned her or reminded her of her failures. No one compared her to her perfect sibling or blamed her for the other’s problems.

She escaped the emotional brutality of her youth here. She loved this cool, crisp haven. It was her refuge. On rare visits home, she always came here.

Her mother’s letter surprised her. The instructions were specific. The casket should be wood – not just any wood – mahogany. The pillow should be silk. There should be two days of viewing before the funeral. Burial should be in the old cemetery in the family area. Her perfect sibling would oversee the actual services and more important details.

She noticed the small creature staring at her in the distance as she opened the cardboard box and pulled out the plastic bag. “Lunch,” she said as she scattered the ashes across the decaying tree stump.

As she walked away she thought, “Screw you.”

Entry #7

by A. H. Caffrey

“Where’s Travis?” Josh was hot and annoyed. His fiery red hair stuck in clumps to his dirty, freckled forehead.

From the restless crowd, a girl said, “He’s with his dad… the beach, maybe?”

Josh nodded. “Yeah, that’s right. I forgot. So we’re all here.” At ten, he was the oldest kid in the neighborhood and leader by default. He spat a gnat onto what looked like poison ivy.

“You already know why we’re meeting,” he announced to his comrades who ranged in ages from four to nine. They stood respectfully quiet except for the occasional giggle.

“The adults aren’t doing their jobs.”

Lips murmured in agreement.

Josh scratched the raised scar on his neck.

“They forget to share. They always interrupt. They lie. They don’t play fair. It’s rude and disgusting.”

An eight-year-old boy who perpetually smelled like cigarette smoke snickered, “And I think I saw my mom running with scissors, too!” Titters rose above the thorny bushes. A robin fled her perch.

Josh scowled. “This isn’t funny, Dennis. It’s damn serious.”

The heavy silence returned at the utterance of a curse word.

“But what can we do about it?” Jessica always whined. She annoyed Josh, but he liked the way her flower-scented curls tickled his nose when he stood behind her in the lunch line.

“We have to take over.” Josh paused.

One second. Two.

Something scampered through the underbrush and was smashed by a kindergartener’s pink sandal.

Blood oozed.

No one moved.

“It’s time.”

Entry #6

The Browbridge Brothers
by Wayne Scheer

Eli and Vernon Browbridge rolled Fat Man's body from the trunk of their rusty 1987 Grand Prix into the hole in the ground they had just dug.

Eli, older by a year, spoke first. "Sure makes you think. One day you're hot shit and the next day you're smelling like it."

Vernon nodded, but he wasn't paying much attention to his philosophizing brother. Moonlight slipped through the trees spotlighting the very area where they were digging.

"Vern," Eli interrupted. "Fat Man ain't gonna fit in this hole."

Vernon tried bending Fat Man's legs, hoping that the stiffening appendages might snap off. No luck.

They continued shoveling through tangled roots and dry soil. "We need some rain," Vernon said. "I sure like the way these woods smell in the rain."

"Yeah, it's like everything comes clean. Remember how when we was kids we'd run through the wet woods nekkid? Give Mama a fit."

The brothers Browbridge continued digging until Fat Man fit snuggly into his new home.

"You reckon we should say some kinda prayer, Vern?"

Vernon considered his brother's request. "Wouldn't do no good. Only prayer I know is If-I-Die-Before-I Wake. Too late for that."

Vernon topped off the grave with rotting leaves and tree branches. "I reckon that's as fine a grave as Fat Man deserves.

The two brothers stepped back to admire their work, threw their shovels into the back of their car and drove off to collect their pay.

Entry #5

Entry #5
by Yvonne Heidt

Sweat runs down between her shoulder blades to pool at the small of her back.

“Almost there!” She says under her breath. Although, she isn’t talking to anyone in particular.

Steps are muffled by several layers of autumn seasons crushed beneath her feet. Fallen logs, sharp branches and stickers pull at her in an attempt to keep her back. Intermittent yips and growls shoot through the canopy of trees. Limbs seem to snap and trip her. She walks on.

She thought of all she had walked through in her time. Decades of living in the dark had left her empty. The demon of addiction had robbed her of a good life, barren of joy. Full of despair, shame and guilt. Living with dereliction and death approaching; she battled the odds to come here.

The road out of Hell is long, twisted and torturous. But, she fought. Oh, how she fought!

Tears stream from her eyes, drawing rivulets through the dirt covering her face. Her hair lifts in a gentle breeze. Peace settles in her chest. A genuine smile splits through the pain. She holds her hands to heaven.

Sunlight poured from the sky. Piercing the canopy with warm rays that shot to the earth. A single butterfly floated in graceful circles in the halo of light. A solitary tree in the center of the circle was lit from within, blazing with impossible shades of green. It was here. She knew she could find it.


Entry #4

by Victor J. Banis

Enough heat, a burned body melts. This one was missing hands, feet, most of its flesh.

That odd tootling sound, like a flute, led us right to him. "Some kind of bird, maybe," I'd said when we first heard it.

"No bird I can think of," the ranger said. "A faun?"

"A deer?"

"Faun. With a U. Never heard of them?"

"A woods fairy, right?"

"A satyr, Sheriff. What about Pan? Surely you've heard of him, haven't you?"

He grinned over his shoulder at me. We were following a ragged trail, looking for a missing camper. "The king of the forest. The god of fear."

"Oh, sure," I said, nodding.

It was about then that we caught the smell. We pushed our way through some dense brush into the clearing.

"Jesus," I said, staring at the charred remains. "What could have caused a fire that intense? Clear up here?" I knelt down. "Look, hoof prints. A deer, or…"

"Or a satyr?"

"No, I…" I started to turn toward him and saw his feet—only, not feet now, but hooves, and shaggy hocks.

He was still human from the waist up, though. "Welcome to my forest," he said, his smile sardonic.

I grabbed for my gun, but he did something with his eyes. Just like that, my clothes were ablaze, my hair, everything. I rolled on the ground, shrieking.

"Fear," he said, "as in panic." His laugh was like the bleating of a goat.

Entry #3

Brambles in the Lavender Darkness
by John Weagly

Brambles are prickly shrubs of the rose family. There are no roses here, just moist, dark odors, a few shafts of sunlight and tall trees, some fallen to the forest floor.

I’m not a violent man. Gretchen and I were married for three years and I never hurt her in the first year or the second. But in the third year she started nagging me, goading me, hounding me and I lost my temper a time or two. The last time she pushed me too far. I’m not a violent man, but I do have my limits.

There are no roses here, in the darkest corner of the woods. But I gave Gretchen a dozen roses on our first date and for every anniversary thereafter. Since this is where she rests, where only I and no one else can find her, to me, these will always be brambles.

Entry #2

by SF Johnston

I ain’t the smartest guy in the world. But I know when I’ve seen enough of these goddamn trees.

So when Blake brings us to town from the logging camp, I stomp the leaves off my steel-toes and run straight into Clancy’s, where I get half drunk and full-on horny. That’s when I up and kiss Darlene Cuthbert on the mouth.

It’s that red dress of hers, and what with Blake gone off to piss.

Of course, my luck being what it is, Blake comes back just as Darlene’s slapping my face. He calls Shawn over, who says something about dickheads, and next thing I’m hogtied in the back of Blake’s pickup.

Back in the goddamn trees. Christ, that was fast.

Shawn laughs every time we take a bump and I come down hard. We skid up to the camp and Blake is seriously irate. I was just fooling around, man. Come on, buddy.

Blake says talking shit in the woods is one thing. He drags me off the flatbed and I fall into the dirt, whereupon Shawn kicks me in the head.

Things go dark.

I hear chainsaws when I come around. Frankly, it makes me nervous, tied here as I am to this fucking tree.

But it’s just my brains, buzzing. I’m alone.

Man, Darlene sure looked good in that dress. But what’ve they got me looking at now?

I ain’t the smartest guy in the world. But I know when I’ve seen enough of these goddamn trees.

Entry #1

by Katherine Napier

The playful streaks of light in the distance let him know the faeries were here, so he stopped to observe. He saw two sitting in the trees to his left, and then he realized he was standing just above his goal. There, discretely looking like a tree stump, was the door to the goblins lair.

He slid his dagger from its sheath and crept down to the door. Claw marks on the left made it clear the direction it opened and as he pulled, the smell was there, the smell that was on his mother, his father, his sister. The smell of death and rot and saliva. He slid inside and let his eyes adjust to torchlight.

The cave opened up to a larger area and he stood at the edge of it, listening. He heard snorts and growls coming from the right, so he slid along the wall in that direction, just enough to catch a glimpse. There were two normal and one small, sitting around a bowl of meat with great focus. He was upon them in an instant, plunging the dagger deep into the biggest of them, then sliding it out for the next. The next largest hesitated, turned towards the smaller one, and that’s when he slit its throat.

Unbelievable pain shot up his left leg. The last one was biting him, and it made a sickening sound when he smashed it with his right foot.

Clawing sounds, and the cave door slams.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

"Halo" Short Fiction Contest

I hope you all are having a great summer!

Before back-to-school time sneaks up on us, I thought I'd coax you off the beach and away from the pool to brush up on your writing skills.

I know, I know. You'd rather take a nap. But this just might be worth it!

Using the photograph above for inspiration, compose a short fiction piece of no more than 250 words in any genre or style. Send your entry to me by email at jevanswriter at yahoo dot com before 11:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 1st (Eastern Time, United States). I'd prefer attachments formatted in Microsoft Word or Word Perfect, but if you have something more exotic, you can paste the text into the body of an email. Each entry will be posted and indexed.

To make things interesting, I'm offering the following prizes (not to mention bragging rights):

  • 1st Place: $25 Amazon gift certificate, 8 x 10 print of the "Halo" photograph (inscribed by Jason Evans)
  • 2nd Place: $20 Amazon gift certificate
  • 3rd Place: $15 Amazon gift certificate
  • 4th Place: $10 Amazon gift certificate
  • 5th Place: $5 Amazon gift certificate
  • Readers' Choice Award $15 Amazon Gift certificate, 8 x 10 print of the "Halo" photograph (inscribed by Jason Evans)

But this is about more than prizes. I hope you take advantage of the opportunity to meet and interact with your fellow writers. Our different perspectives, styles, and skills become clear when we all start at the same place. It's a great opportunity to learn from each other.

  1. 250 words maximum.
  2. Titles are optional, but encouraged. Titles do not count toward your word count.
  3. One entry per person.
  4. Any genre or style is welcome. If you choose to submit poetry, you must have narrative movement within the poem if you wish to compete with the prose pieces for the prizes.
  5. The copyright remains with you, the author; however, you grant me worldwide first electronic publishing rights to post your entry on this blog.
  6. Judging will be conducted by me, Jason Evans. For an explanation of judging and helpful hints, see A Note on Judging.
  7. Please provide a name for your byline. If you have a website or a blog, I'd be happy to link your site to your byline. If you don't have a website or blog, feel free to include a short bio. A bio does not count towards your word count.
  8. At the close of the contest, I will give the date and time for the announcement of winners.
  9. After the winners are announced, I will post what I liked most about each entry in the comments. Also, if you send a request to me by email, I would be happy to offer any constructive comments I might have. Constructive comments will be by private email only.
  10. The Readers' Choice Award is awarded by vote of the contest participants. The entry with the highest number of votes wins. The rules for this portion of the contest will be posted after the entry period closes.
  11. Public critiques in comments are encouraged, but must remain respectful. I reserve the right to delete comments and ban participants who do not abide by the collegial spirit of Clarity of Night contests.
  12. For prior contests and their results, see the links on the sidebar.

Welcome to my sixth contest! The entry period is now open.

(Click HERE for the contest underway.)

A Note About Judging

I thought I'd take a moment to explain the judging process.

The system I developed for scoring entries is called PETS Voice. I award up to 10 points for each of the following elements: pacing, entertainment value, technical use of language, and storytelling. I then award up to 5 points for uniqueness of voice for a grand total of 45 points possible.

The impact of the system is that I score writing technique (35 possible points) higher than the underlying story (10 possible points). This weighting means that a decent story expertly written is going to place higher than a great story with writing problems.

I have a specific reason for taking this approach. In my view, stories are everywhere, but the skill to make a story come alive on the page is far more rare. Transport me into your world with the first line and keep me there to the end. Don't let me wriggle out of your grasp.

Based on past contests, around 20% of the entries will have very strong writing with a couple getting perfect scores of 45. I set this top group aside and read them a second time. This stage is where the better story (in my view) will win. This stage is subjective.

If you want to win, get yourself into that top 20% with great writing. Only then try to wow me with your story. Depth and complexity of character in 250 words are always impressive. So are clever plots that feel complete in the small space allotted.

Common problems to avoid:
* Telling instead of showing.
* Over-description.
* Adjective/adverb overload.

Good luck, and above all, have fun!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Eight Things Meme Reloaded

I did an eight things meme a little while back, and have recently been tagged again by Angelique, Lisa, and Joanne. Since I'm opening the newest contest tomorrow, I thought I'd better get right on this one.

Here are eight random facts about me:

  1. I don't understand how walking around outside can dirty white sneakers so quickly. We might be better off with dirt-colored sneakers.

  2. If I had the freedom, I would revert to the sleep cycle of a teenager--going to bed in the wee hours of the morning and sleeping away the first part of the day.

  3. I distrust parents, myself included.

  4. My favorite color is green, unless it's black. Even though I know black is the absence of all color, I think of it more how it works with paint--you pour all the colors together to make black.

  5. Most of my youth was part of the crowd (in the sense of two's company, three's a crowd). When I finally had a best friend in high school, I had to compete with his job bagging groceries, buffing his father's muscle car, and his perpetual lack of originality.

  6. Seeing my father interact with people made me uncomfortable around those whose every thought is transparent to the world. In reaction, I'm quiet, still, and watchful.

  7. I once captured a katydid and carried it off a crowded train to Chicago. It was such a dreadfully foreign place for a night insect. When I placed it in a flower box up on street level, I think I wanted to do something that no one had done for me.

  8. I almost always sneeze twice.

Would anyone like to be tagged? I'm not sure who to single out.

Check back tomorrow for the "Halo" Short Fiction Contest.

Monday, July 23, 2007

High Summer Forest

(Fagopyrum esculentum)

Honeybees, absent for years, wrestle again among the white blooms.

Woodland foodplot
(Approx. 1/4 acre)

They wave in the meadow knitting seed for the harvest moon.

Smooth Chanterelle
(Cantharellus lateritius)

Orange jewels push among last year's leaves.

While she whispers my presence to what moves in the trees.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Some evenings, the light would thin, and I searched for you.

Some evenings, I dreamed you died before me. Perhaps that's not so strange.

But over time, I learned.

You can't step beyond the Earth's rotation. You must take hold. Shadows are different than their makers, and stones never shed the cold.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Westinghoused," Part 6

(In the late 1800’s, the battle between two competing electric technologies, AC and DC currents, turned brutal. For Thomas Edison, it was a life and death struggle. This is a fictionalized version of true events in history. If you're just joining us, you can start at Part 1.)

Auburn Prison
Auburn, New York

August 6, 1890

His feet crunched on the rounded stones of the lake shore.

In the pure morning light, he bent to examine them. Some were bricks pounded smooth, and pieces of minerals speckled the deep red clay. Others stones he held up. They drank the light with a milky translucence.

Lake waves tipped onto shore while he collected. The water was shivery and clear.

After a while, his mother called him. The rest of the family were waiting.

On the stiff, grey blanket of his cot, a plate of chicken, potatoes, and fresh green beans went cold. He nibbled a few crumbs of the breading. It tasted good, even though it was breakfast time. It wasn't so different from his mother's food that day by the lake in Germany.

What was the name of the lake? He couldn't remember.

Lake Erie had stones like that. Its waters were vast. Smoke from Buffalo's factories disappeared far on the red horizon.

Footsteps entered the long hall. They stepped in unison.

Long strides.

Despite his nausea, he didn't have the energy to push away the plate. Time was cresting, ready to wave-roll over him in a white torrent. He fought, trying to drag against the motion, but it wouldn't stop. It wouldn't stop.

Two guards stood. The middle one unlocked the cell.

No one spoke.

A shadow of himself considered fighting, but he was far too tired.

Warmth matted the hair on the top of his head, and they shaved him while he dozed.

Someone was speaking. Maybe a prayer. He toweled himself clean and combed the ragged ring of hair remaining.

He walked, joining the strides in the long hallway, and the grip of the guards lifted him.

On to Part 7.
Back to Part 5.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Kill Him!

I thought I'd share with you a little Warhol-esque moment for my younger daughter. You know, the 15 minutes of fame thing.

This weekend, my wife took the kids to a Harry Potter conference. She was a staff volunteer and planner and did a lot of great work to make it memorable for everyone. The CBS national news was there, and they interviewed some folks about the upcoming release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This clip is part of the coverage CBS aired Saturday night.

My daughter is a tough cookie for one so young. She gets right to the point. She's the one who says, "I hope Harry kills Voldemort."

(After this, she only has 14 minutes and 57 seconds of fame left.)

Most folks just say they hope Harry lives, but she wants him to kill the bastard! Oh well, I did say she's tough. I'm sure arguing with daddy lawyer doesn't help. We never let each other win.

I used my time alone this weekend to hammer on novel revisions. I'm happy to say I made it through 70 pages.

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It will be time for Beta readers soon. Then, the fun of submission begins!

Friday, July 13, 2007


You feel it when it comes. A hush of stillness drifts into your life, the waters calm, then the direction of all motion shifts.

Slow at first, it builds. Confusion yields to power. The power yields to focus.

The current flows, and you dare to ride again.

Today I took part in a retirement celebration for a health care executive who served his hospital for thirty years. There were light moments and wonderful pictures through the years, but underneath, the tide was changing.

Do you feel the tides rush at your feet? Do you see the distortions pulled in the sand?

Hear the roar of the tides. It's a blessing clothed in a curse.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

"Westinghoused," Part 5

(In the late 1800’s, the battle between two competing electric technologies, AC and DC currents, turned brutal. For Thomas Edison, it was a life and death struggle. This is a fictionalized version of true events in history. Just joining us? Go back to Part 1.)

George Westinghouse

Late July, 1890
Auburn Prison, Auburn, New York

Harold Brown's chair leaned back on two legs. The tips of his shoes were lit by a stream of midday sun. "I wish I could've seen old Georgie Westinghouse's face," he said.

Bradley, Mr. Brown's lab clerk, sipped soda from a bottle. "Not me. I hear he breaks things when he's angry."

Brown took another bite of his lunch and grinned just thinking about it. "Cochran put on a good show, didn't he? But he wasted his time. People don't understand the principles of electricity. Living and dead. They understand that."

"Mr. Edison did good," Bradley said.

"Yes. He certainly did. That man could sell ice cubes to an Eskimo."

Bradley watched Mr. Brown's face and tried to figure out his thoughts. Socializing with him made Bradley nervous. Working was easier. At least then, Mr. Brown told him what to do, and he just did it.

Brown laid his sandwich on his lap. "We'll be ready for show time soon. Of course, I'm sure Mr. Kemmler wouldn't mind if we took our time."

"What if the courts stay the execution again?"

"Impossible. I'll give Westinghouse credit for running it up to the Supreme Court, but now, it's over. Only the Governor can save him, and he's set to sign his Death Warrant."

Bradley crumpled his little brown bag.

"Hello boys."

He turned. The long sweep of Charlotte's dress was lit in the same sunlight. She was the Warden's typist.

Mr. Brown brightened. "Hello. I suppose you've been sent by prison administration to check up on our progress?"

She shook her head. "The Warden is away, and the Deputy Warden has fallen asleep at his desk."

"Sounds like a dreadfully relaxed day," Mr. Brown said.

"It's lonely," she said.

The two airborne legs of Mr. Brown's chair returned to the ground. "Well, then you've certainly come to the right place."

Her shoes clipped into the room. "So how is it going?"

Mr. Brown looked over the heavy framed execution chair. "We're nearly finished with testing small currents. Everything seems good. We won't be able to test operational currents yet, however."

"Oh? Why?"

"Well," Mr. Brown said, "the main problem is that ole Georgie Westinghouse would not let us have one of his alternating current generators. Every sales agent in the country was warned about us. If someone sells us one, they will be excommunicated from the Westinghouse Company. Also, promptly sued, I imagine."

"What are you going to do? You have to be ready by next week."

"Ah, but Bradley here outsmarted him again, didn't you?" Mr. Brown said.

Charlotte's gaze pounced. He looked down at his hands and nodded.

"Tell her how you did it," Mr. Brown said. "Go on."

Charlotte leaned against the execution chair. She was waiting.

"W, we set up a straw man in Brazil."

"An intermediary buyer," Mr. Brown said.

"Right," Bradley said, "exactly. We used him to buy a used Westinghouse generator."

"They don't watch those so well."

"Right. Anyway. Right away, we put it on a ship back to New York City. It'll be there by tomorrow afternoon."

"Ingenious," Charlotte said. She looked over the craftsmanship of the metal banding. The ominous wires and connections. "So, it's safe now, right?"

"Yes, perfectly safe," Mr. Brown said. "It's a toothless lion without the generator."

She grinned a sly grin and curved her back down into the chair. Bradley blinked wide eyes.

"Strap me in," she said.

Bradley froze, but Mr. Brown was already moving to oblige her.

He stood over her and read her expression. Something in his eyes connected with Charlotte's.

She was serious.

He folded the loose leather straps into the buckle. Latch holes pressed circles into her flushed skin.

"Too tight?" Mr. Brown said.

She shook her head. "Tighter."

He bore down, and she struggled a little to test the hold.

Mr. Brown moved to the left wrist, then knelt down at the ankle restraints. Some of Charlotte's hair had fallen in front of her face. Her chest rose and fell in a deep, quick rhythm.

She looked up. Above her head, the cranial electrode array dangled. "Put the helmet thing on me too," she said. "I want to feel everything. I want to feel what it'll be like."

Bradley looked to the open doorway. What if someone came in?

Mr. Brown lowered the device. "There will be sponges," he said, "soaked with saline solution." He fastened the chin strap. "There will be a hood too, but we don't have it yet."

Her hair was matted by the electrode cap. Her blue eyes fixed straight ahead.

Bradley watched her.

She closed her eyes.

Then, something changed.

"Get me out," she said.

On to Part 6.
Back to Part 4.