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31 Days - Day 14

Whispers had followed them all day. School had been an impossible length and a waste. She’d wanted to stay away. He hadn’t. So, she’d attended classes she didn’t give a shit about. On her way into her second to last class a hand plucked at her sleeve and she turned to see Jory. He pulled her away from the door and towards the exit.


“Enough. You’ve done enough, Marcelina. Come on.”

Relief flooded through her as they slipped from the school. The cameras would have seen them, but neither cared. It wouldn’t matter. Not after today. Everyone had said it would be today.

They walked back to his house, hands clasped and neither speaking. His parents worked so they had the house to themselves. After ransacking the kitchen, they wound up in his bedroom. Another contest of wills then, but Marcelina won and they had frenzied, desperate sex in the silence of the house.

“We have time,” he pointed out when they were done and laid together in a jumble of sweaty limbs.

“Next time. I- I just needed that.”

He kissed her cheek with a grin.

Marcelina clung to him and hated the way she sobbed. A vow this morning not to do this exact thing had not kept it from happening. It would end today. Everything would. She didn’t want it to happen. It wasn’t fair.

Jory stroked her back and let her cry. With her face buried against his chest she could let him think she didn’t know he cried. He probably didn’t worry about such things.

“Eww. You’re wiping your nose on my chest.”

“I am not!”

Marcelina shoved away from him and he laughed. So, as he watched she did wipe her nose on his pillow. That done, she jerked it out from under his head and hit him with it. He grabbed for her and they tumbled off the bed together. The carpet did not protect them from the floor underneath.

“We can still run.”

He shook his head. He was right, but a tiny part of her still hated his denial of her offer. Jory stood and began to get dressed.

“Come on. I want to go somewhere.”

“I thought we were staying here?”

“Please, Marcelina?”

As if he had to ask. As if she would deny him anything. Except a life. She’d signed his death warrant. Guilt gnawed at her so she dressed and followed him from the house. She’d thought they’d go farther, but he only led her back to their old clubhouse. He climbed up first.

Which was good because when her head popped up through the trapdoor she froze with a gasp. The first thing to start working again was her nose. At least a hundred flowers were scattered on the floor and in buckets and vases along the walls. Two small lanterns lit the space and he’d hung red fabric on the walls. On their small table sat a collection of comic books.

Her fingers threatened to give free so she hauled herself up the rest of the way. Once she’d closed the trapdoor, Jory walked across the carpet of flowers towards her. More tears came as he took her hands in his.

“Marcelina, I know it won’t mean anything to anyone else, but it would mean the world to me if you would marry me. Now. Here. I’m not afraid of what’s to come.”

She was terrified. He squeezed her fingers and she nodded. They crossed the flowers and he knelt down at the table. She followed. In the back of her mind she wondered how, despite him always doing whatever crazy ideas she had, she always followed him for the important things. A smile broke the hold her tears had when she saw the stacks of Claw comics.

Jory laid his hand atop them and she followed suit. They joined their other hands together and she couldn’t help but laugh.

“Marcelina. My Marcelina. Quit laughing.” His eyes narrowed and she tried to be quiet. A giggle escaped at the end, but she managed. “Don’t be scared, Marcelina. I’m with you. I am always with you. Marcelina Beatrycze Couch, I love you and I’m yours.”

Dehydration was a real possibility if she couldn’t get her tears under control. Jory was silent as she struggled to get some control over her voice. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to find anything to say.

“Jory. I- It’s not fair. You had time to prepare!” He smirked, but also squeezed her fingers. It wouldn’t matter what she said. She only had to say something. “I love you. I always have. Nothing will keep us apart. Jory Daveth Couch, I love you and I’m yours.”

They didn’t rush this time. She would die any day now, but this memory would see her through whatever hell she was sent to in life and death. The rest of the afternoon they read old comics and made love. If death hadn’t hung over their heads it would have been perfect.

Towards evening they finally dressed again and climbed down, pockets stuffed with flowers. The neighborhood was quiet, everyone knew now. The announcement had reached even into their cocoon. Jory held her hand tight as they walked to the street and sat on the curb.

Marcelina thought about going home, but her mama would know. Siemowit had better take care of her now. There was no use going home and arguing with her brother. Instead, she laid her head on Jory’s shoulder and they sat to wait for the government van driving down the street.

Behind it a black car followed. Marcelina stood and pulled Jory up when the car stopped. She would not face him sitting down. He would not know how scared she felt.

“Marcelina Mencher.”

“Couch. I am Marcelina Couch.”

The man from the car smiled at her. His attention turned to Jory and he inclined his head. Jory did nothing.

“Mr. Couch. You may go inside. Your name did not appear.”


Marcelina squeezed his hand tighter. He could go. He would live. Only, she knew he wouldn’t. If the man from the car thought to break them he was an idiot. She knew he was an idiot. And cruel.

Jory would follow Marcelina to their deaths.

And Marcelina would find a way to kill the President Dictator before she died. 



31 Days - Day 13


Marcelina closed her chemistry book and let it fall with a soft thud to the floor. Studying was a waste and she had no idea why Jory insisted on continuing the charade. Any day now conscription would be called and none of their education would matter. Bullet sponges didn’t need to know anything but how to bleed.

Jory did not take the hint. Not even when she sighed. So, she slid down onto her back and rested her head in his lap. Eyes closed, she felt his fingers in her hair as she heard the page turn. Pages. As in books. So old fashioned.

“Read that last part to me?”

She liked listening to him even when she couldn’t understand what he said. He may as well have been speaking ancient Sumerian. Once, tipsy on stolen wine, she’d said she could listen to him recite the phone book. The next time they were alone in their old clubhouse he’d sat on her and read from the phone directory.

“Jory?” she asked three pages later.

“Almost done with this section.”

“I’m naked under my clothes.”

“Scandalous!” He set his book down. His hand left her hair and slid to her shoulder. “Marcelina?”


“So am I.”

She hadn’t planned on this. Not truly.

Not exactly.

No more than she’d planned on this every time they’d been alone for the last year and a half. Something had always happened. Interruptions were common, but tonight they shouldn’t have to worry. She’d snuck out and they’d double checked that their meager lamp light couldn’t be seen through the curtains hung over the open windows. To study undisturbed.

“Are you sure?”

Marcelina sat up and rested on her knees beside him. He watched as she began to unbutton her shirt. In the dim light he might have missed her blush, but she doubted it from the way he grinned at her.

“Have you done this before?” She hated to ask. Because if he had she didn’t know what she’d do.

“No.” He grinned at her again. “Well, the one time with Charlotte, but she doesn’t count.”

“You!” Marcelina pushed him to the sleeping bags under them and pinned his arms down. It wasn’t hard because he laughed. She started laughing when he pulled a hand free and began to tickle her.

She kissed him before she lost all her breath from laughing. The next kiss, or maybe the one after, took his breath away. She stopped keeping track afterwards.

After their awkward fumblings, they curled up around each other as the chill night air began to seep into their bodies. Marcelina was surprised she hadn’t noticed the cold before. Then Jory slid against her as he pulled an old army blanket over them and she remembered why she hadn’t noticed the cold.

“That was way better than with Charlotte.”

“Shut up.”

“I didn’t kiss her.”


“When we were nine. I never kissed Charlotte. She said I could. She wanted me to. I never did.”

“Then why did you say what you did? About her saying I would cry.”

The day had left an impression. Not only because of her black eye. Marcelina shivered when his fingers traced her spine.

“Because she did say it. She said even if I didn’t kiss her she’d say I did and you would cry.”

“I really don’t like Charlotte.”

“The feeling is mutual. She’s always been jealous.”


“Because I never wanted her.”


Jory’s lips quieted hers. She didn’t mind. Nor did she mind when his mouth left hers to explore other places.

“It’s always been you, Marcelina. Ever since you puked on my shoes in kindergarten.”

Only Jory could say that and not ruin the mood. So, she found a way to thank him for being perfect. Twice.



31 Days - Day 12


There were twelve people in front of her. Two of them were family. Marcelina stared at the booths along the back wall and wished Jory were here. His family’s number had been so much lower they were done and gone by now. The line shifted forward and she shuffled along the wood floor.

Siemowit had pressed his uniform the night before and stood at the front of their family. As if he were taking tata’s place. Marcelina’s eyes narrowed as she focused her gaze on his back. Laser eyes, she thought. If she had laser eyes she could burn holes in his uniform. Set the whole thing on fire. Not only would he be miserable, but they would have to evacuate.

The line moved again and Marcelina took her mama’s hand. It felt so frail. Ever since tata had died last year her mama had begun to shrink in on herself. She tried not to think about it because she could not think about it without crying. The last thing she wanted to do, especially here and now, was to cry.

Too close now. Siemowit would be next in line. The family ahead of them went to the booths and slid the sheer, plastic curtains closed. The curtains were new. His idea. Because everyone should take pride in what they did. Why hide the glorious process?

Marcelina’s stomach fluttered. This morning she’d forced herself to eat breakfast and instantly regretted it. Siemowit’s preening and puffing had not helped. There was a lot of that from him in part because Marcelina had not been bothering him. Her mama no longer had the strength to deal with their arguing.

Siemowit confused Marcelina’s filial concern with capitulation. Someday, she told Jory, Siemowit would know she had not allowed him to win. Jory worried, but he worried about everything she said. Again she wished he were here. She would be less nervous.

The family in front of them stepped from their booths and walked towards the exit. The small cubicle between them and the door would allow them to speak directly to him. Well, listen to his message. Marcelina did not think he would speak to everyone. Or anyone.

Siemowit took mama’s hand and helped her to the booth. Marcelina found herself glaring at him once more. He only helped mama because it left Marcelina on her own. Well, if he thought she couldn’t do it he was wrong.

Her feet resisted and Siemowit was closing mama’s curtain and stepping into his own booth by the time Marcelina reached hers. The curtain rings rattled as her fingers shook. Once it was closed she turned to the flat screen.

It took her five tries to enter her social security number. The screen was too bright and the noise from the people waiting behind her made her nervous. As words flashed by her eyes she felt her stomach turn over. More words and her whole body began to tremble.

“Press your palm against the glass.” The mechanical voice was followed by a beeping noise. She did not know if it would stop beeping.

Siemowit’s words from breakfast left her stomach churning. On and on about how proud she should be to get to vote. Her first vote and for the new president. Wouldn’t he be thankful?

No, she’d wanted to say. He wouldn’t care. Why would he? There were no names on the ballot screen. Only a place to lay her palm so her vote would be counted for the president.

Marcelina clutched her stomach as her head throbbed. All she had to do was lift her hand and it would be over. Not hard. Everyone else had done it. Siemowit and mama were done now and waiting for her. Except, her hand would not lift. Instead, it clutched her stomach as this morning’s sausage and porridge threatened to remove themselves.


Siemowit would smirk forever.

She couldn’t be sick. She wouldn’t be sick. Eyes squeezed closed now she lifted her hand and touched the panel with the tips of her fingers. The instant she felt the cool glass the room spun.

Unable to stop herself, Marcelina threw up her breakfast on the ballot screen. The beeping stopped. So, there was a comfort in that fact. The curtain rings shook as the plastic was pulled back. Marcelina stumbled back and closed her eyes again. Everyone stared at her. Well, why wouldn’t they? Maybe they would chalk it up to excitement? Her first vote.

It was not excitement. It was horror. Why did she have to vote? She couldn’t do it for him. The man who’d promised her death. The man who was the reason she knew she had one, two years at most before conscription and death. Her eyes opened to slits and she wondered why it was so bright. Marcelina backed away, but was stopped by a wall of flesh.

She turned and looked up into the blank stare of a guard. He grabbed her wrist and she would have sworn she heard bones crackle. A handheld ballot screen was there suddenly and he slapped her hand against it. A green light flashed and before she was sick again he whipped it out of the way and left.

Tears stung her eyes. A hand closed over her shoulder and she was pulled around to face a furious looking Siemowit. Behind him was mama. She said nothing. Not even when Siemowit hauled her across the room to the exit. He shoved her into the cubicle and slammed the door.

“Hello, Marcelina.”

She said nothing.

“Thank you for your vote.”

Still nothing.

“I have not forgotten my promise, Miss Mencher. I will collect you for conscription. No matter my uniform.”

Marcelina lost the last of her breakfast and quite possibly dinner.

The screen went black and she fumbled for the door. Let Siemowit see their mama home. He wanted to be the good son. Let him start trying. She would go clean up and be gone before they were home.




31 Days - Day 11

The music was too loud and the lights were too bright. The combination did not leave Marcelina wanting to dance. Instead, it made her want to retreat. All of the doors out of the gym were watched. Volunteer parents here to make sure their darlings did not do anything unapproved of at the dance. She hadn’t wanted to come tonight.

Wouldn’t have come, but Jory had bought tickets and said he wanted to take his girlfriend. He’d never called her that before. They’d been friends for ten years. Sure, the last year or so they’d been friends who kissed, but neither had ever said that word. So, Marcelina had dug in the attic for one of her babcia’s old dresses. Before she’d gotten old, her babcia had been beautiful. Marcelina felt a twinge of jealousy every time she saw the old photos of her.

Painstaking alterations, bandaged fingers, and two frantic calls to Natalia had left her with the result she wore. Compared to everyone else the simple red dress with gold lace trim around the collar was old and dull. She knew this, because several people told her. Charlotte had sneered from across the room, but Marcelina had only laughed. Charlotte may have hated what she wore, but she mostly hated Marcelina for a different reason.

The reason sat next to her in a black suit. He’d been by her side all evening. They had tried to dance once, but dissolved into laughter. Neither of them were very good despite the mandatory lessons in school. They’d tried to talk, but it was too loud. So, they sat next to each other and occasionally spelled something out in sign language. At least the bright light made that possible.

She wanted to kiss him, but that was Not Allowed. They held hands and sat with their chairs touching. Once, he’d put his arm around her, but a chaperone had stopped that as soon as they were noticed. Their hands, clasped together, rested on his leg. His leg rested against hers. It was enough for now.

At first she’d thought the trembling came from the bass turned up too loud. Then she watched the tables rattle. Before she could say anything, Jory was on his feet. She stood as well. It was that or release his hand.

The sirens went off.

Kids screamed.

Marcelina and Jory both rolled their eyes and tugged each other towards the exit. Perfect. There was a twinge, a small one, at the thought. The sirens meant something bad, but it also got them out of this terrible dance. The building was chaos as kids forgot their drills and parents tried to herd them outside.

Someone screamed.

Someone else fainted. Or, at least pretended to faint.

Marcelina and Jory ducked around the corner and raced towards the stairs at the end of the hall. They should be going outside with the others, but instead they raced down darkened halls towards the stairs to the roof. Even the red blink of cameras was missing so it had to be serious.

The door flew open with a bang that was sure to be missed in the chaos. They closed it with more care. Having already planned to be up here their stuff was carefully tucked between two soot stained chimney stacks.

“What is it?”

Jory shook his head and pointed.

Planes flew overhead and in the distance there was a crimson burst of light followed by another tremor. Jory’s arms wrapped around her and Marcelina hated he would feel her shaking. She should be stronger.

“It’s the factories. Did your father?”

“Tata worked late.”

He would hear the whisper. Over the explosion of sound as the factory disappeared into a collapsed wreck of flames and concrete he heard her words. When her knees gave out he helped her down to the roof and she worried about the stains it would leave on her dress. The dress she would burn anyway.

Jory held her as she rocked back and forth, crying because she knew. Her tata was gone. It was only her and mama now. Siemowit did not count in the least.

“I have to go home.”

The words were a death sentence. She knew it. He knew it. All of their plans were for tonight. If they didn’t go tonight there was little chance they could pull it off.

“You should still go.” Marcelina grabbed Jory’s arms and stared at him. “Go, Jory. If you’re ok…I’ll be ok.”

“You know I’m not going without you.”

“I know. Because you’re dumb.”

“No, you’re dumb.”

“I love you.”

“Yea, well, I love you too. Even if you’re dumb.”

She couldn’t, quite, smile, but the tears stopped. Even though she’d said it, she couldn’t quite bring herself to move just yet. Jory sat with her and they watched helicopters fly by and ignored the announcements from circling cars for everyone to stay in their homes. Nothing to fear.

In a way, the announcement was correct. What else did she have to fear? Marcelina stood and headed for the edge of the roof. Onto the ground she tossed their bags.

“Want me to go first?” Jory asked as he joined her at the edge of tarpaper and brick.

“You only want to be able to look up my dress.”

Even in the dark his fair, freckled skin visibly blushed. She felt magnanimous in her freedom from fear. Marcelina pressed against him and listened to his breathing change. Not tonight. If this hadn’t happened, maybe, but not tonight.

As if he sensed her thought he pulled away after a short kiss. Marcelina sat on the edge of the roof and watched him swing his legs over. He climbed down and when he was halfway to the ground she began to work her way down the wall as well.

They walked home, ignoring the main roads, and holding hands as sirens and warnings continued to go off around them. 



31 Days - Day 10

No one ever came up into the attic. Except when they brought boxes up here and hurried to leave. Thick dust covered everything, but Marcelina didn’t mind. The fact no one came up here was what mattered. No longer short enough to walk, she’d crouched down to make it to the far corner.

Once there she’d checked the fort for signs of tampering. If Siemowit knew they came up here he’d tattle. Everything looked ok under the stacked boxes and old sheets strung across them. The sheets helped protect the sleeping bags and snacks from dust. They also made the little space stuffier in the summer, but it was winter now and the extra protection from the drafty window would be nice.

“You know, I was in our attic once,” Jory said after they were inside the fort.

Marcelina shoved a pillow under her butt before she sat on the sleeping bag. Jory dug out the box of snacks, most donated by him, and joined her. When they were kids they could share the pillow. They could still share the scratchy blanket they wrapped around their shoulders.

“There was nothing in there.”

Marcelina listened to the quiet crinkle of a candy wrapper as he opened it. Having never been in his attic she would take his word. After he tore the candy in half and she had her own sweet, sticky piece, she spoke.

“What do you do when someone dies?”

“I don’t know.”

“We box them up and pretend like we don’t miss them.”

He kissed her. It was hard to feel the weight of sadness when they kissed. They had definitely gotten better since their first. Although, sometimes it was still awkward and they’d end up giggling. Like the first time they’d used their tongues. They’d not kissed again for weeks after that time.

“Do you ever open them?”


“Do you want to open some?”

He’d never asked before. They’d been sneaking up here for years, but this had never come up. Maybe he wondered what stuff of hers they’d store after she was dead. She would miss him when she died in a few years. Not enough time.

“I- I don’t know.”

“If you want, we can.” Chocolate, sticky fingers entwined. “Or we could kiss some more.”

“Or both.”

“You never want to decide, Marcelina.”

“I want to do everything.” Because she only had a few years.

They wiped their fingers off on a ratty towel and crawled from the fort. Herbert’s stuff was up close to the trapdoor. At first, she thought of going there, but the pain was still so fresh. Instead, she squeezed through carefully labeled boxes to reach dziadzio’s stuff. His name was on the box and she traced the faded, markered letters with her thumb.

After she settled onto her butt she pulled the top box into her lap. Jory sat beside her and before she opened it she kissed his cheek. He grinned at her and her heart stopped. Once, she’d mentioned him to her mother and something must have given her away because she had a three-hour lecture on how she was too young for anything and better not be doing anything. Marcelina had told Jory the next day between fumbling, innocent kisses and he’d laughed and grinned at her that way.

“What are these?”

“His journals.”

Jory leafed through one before setting it down with a caution he used for her sake.

“It’s in Polish.”

“Well, duh, dumbee. He was Polish.”

“So are you, but you write in English.”

“Yea, but I read Polish too.”

“So, what’d he say?”

“I’m not telling.”

Marcelina lifted the book up and read the first page. Jory’s fingers thrummed with impatience on the dusty floor. Behind the journal she hid a smile.

“Jory!” His name was a squeal as he tackled her and began to tickle her as he held her on the floor.

“Tell me.”

“No,” she laughed. Her fingers loosened on the book and it fell to the floor. Before she could grab it he kissed her again. This was different than earlier because she felt him, warm and familiar, atop her. If he tried anything… He wouldn’t. But if he did.

“Read it, Marcelina,” he said when his face hovered over hers.

Normally, she would watch him talk. His lips smiled when talking about almost anything and she loved the freckles that danced across his cheeks. This time, in the dust and dim light, she watched the way their hair looked when it touched. She loved his red hair and had less affection for her own heavy, black locks.

“Now?” she asked. “Read it now?”

“No. Read it later and then you can tell me what you want to share.”

“Then what will we do now?”

“Comic quiz.”

Marcelina laughed and shoved him off her. It was that or kiss him again and she knew, somehow, that it would be dangerous to kiss him now. Her mother wasn’t entirely wrong when she said they were too young. For now. Marcelina had promised herself she would not be like Natalia and wait until it was too late.

“And when you lose?” she asked as they dusted each other off and replaced the box. The journal she carried back to the fort.

“Ha! I won’t lose.”

“When you lose,” Marcelina repeated with a smirk, “You have to come to the reservoir with me tomorrow.”

Jory laughed and threw himself onto his stomach in their fort as he reached for his stack of comics. He would lose. He always lost. Sometimes she worried he’d let her win, but the one time she’d asked, years ago, he’d punched her. Losing to a girl, he’d said, was better than cheating. 



31 Days - Day 9


The invitation had never come, but Marcelina had expected the lack of arrival. Jory had warned her in advance. Although, she hadn’t told her parents. Instead, she’d shuffled around the house and whimpered whenever she looked at the calendar. Three hours of sighs, slammed doors, and sniffling earned her freedom.

Marcelina grabbed her bike and pedaled as fast as her recent growth spurt allowed. Every time her legs came up, her knees hit the handlebars. By the time she was halfway to the Super Funtime Land her knees were bruised. The jarring, endless loop of laughing clowns hurt her head already and she only caught the faintest whiff of noise.

How had Jory’s parents decided this was the place to bring him? He turned thirteen today, not six. Probably Charlotte’s mother’s idea. Her parents had become such good friends with his. It made her stomach flutter like the time she’d eaten bad fish when she thought of the time they spent together. Which was why, when she put her hand in her pocket, she was comforted by the crinkle of paper.

“He likes me.”

Sometimes, when she was lying in bed and she missed everyone and was frozen in fear she would say those words. Her. Not as a substitute to Zuza because he’d never known her. Not as someone second best. Her heart beat faster than the hurried bike ride would account for now. The inescapable truth was, if she had to live without Jory, she wouldn’t. How could she? It was a heavy truth to bear at thirteen, but she bore it alone.

She stashed her bike in the bushes and crept towards the parking lot. Her and Jory had been doing this for years so she sat and waited until she saw a large group leaving. Kids tore off wristbands and tossed them into the return bags near the exits. As they milled she stood and paced her steps evenly.

At the bag she glanced around and then drove her hand into it as fast as she could. A handful of wristbands came with her and she retreated to the bushes where her bike was hidden. Out of the dozen or so she’d snatched only one would work. Strapped to her wrist she dropped the others on the ground near the bag.

The group was piling into cars so she raced up to the entrance.

“Welcome to Super Funtime Land, the best place in the whole country. We give thanks to our supreme President.”

Ugh. Marcelina glanced behind her and then back at the bored looking girl in uniform.

“I’m so, so sorry! I left my inhaler inside. Please. Can I run in and get it? They’re leaving in a minute.”

The girl glanced down at Marcelina’s wristband and shrugged.

It was always this easy. Not that she blamed them. If she had to listen to the screeching of spoiled kids underwritten by maniacal, mechanical clown laughter she’d not care either. Marcelina rushed, drawing in great gulps of air as she went. The trick was to pull off the delicate balance of, “I need to breathe better” versus “I need medical attention.”

There were small signs indicating parties and after searching she found Jory’s. She couldn’t get in to the party, but she could lurk nearby. Normally, impatience would win, but this was Jory and his birthday. For him she’d do almost anything.


Did her smile seem too large? Marcelina couldn’t help it. Jory peeked out of a door marked employees only. He waved his hand and she darted over to squeeze between him and the doorframe. Despite her mother’s constant reminders, she was too young she’d begun to feel something when her and Jory touched. Not that they touch touched. Neither of them wanted that from the each other.

Even in the dim light she could see his worried expression. The grin normally ready for her was nowhere to be seen. Something was wrong. Very wrong.

Marcelina didn’t think, only moved, and Jory was in her arms and she hugged her best friend until he squeaked. It didn’t work. Until he squirmed away she made no move to let him go.

“What is it?”

“It’s my mom.”

“Is she ok?” Marcelina did not like Jory’s mom. The feeling was mutual. Although, Marcelina had cause and his mom did not.

“She’s pregnant.”

Marcelina shook her head. No. No, no, no, no. It couldn’t be. This time he reached for her and they stood in the dim supply closet, clinging to each other, as the world moved on outside the door.

“Some government man came a couple months ago, I guess. Said they could get something if they had another kid.”

“It’s my fault.”

“What? Don’t be dumb, Marcelina.”

“It is! It’s my fault. Jory, I am so sorry. It’s my fault. All mine.”

“Ugh. Don’t be dumb, Marcelina.”

“You said that.” The words were mumbled and tear streaked, but they both managed a smile.

“It’s because of Herbert, isn’t it?”

She managed a nod. He hugged her tighter. What could she say? Marcelina rarely lost her words. Her family said she had too many. Once, when she was thought to be in bed, she heard her mother complain she had all her dziadzio’s words as well. It had made her happy to hear it.

“Marcelina, it’s ok. Just because we can be conscripted doesn’t mean we will be.”

“You’re wrong.”

“You don’t know.”

“That man. He said he’d come for me. I was ok with it. I mean, I’m scared. So scared. But, I thought it would just be me and so what? You’re the only one who’ll miss me.”

Jory did not, she noted, argue the point.

“I was ok. Because you would remember me. And not be with Charlotte because I would come back as an upiór and you would be miserable!”


“Shut up!”

“Make me!”

So, she did. Marcelina had no practical knowledge of kissing. The contact of her lips against his made her palms sweaty. It could also have been nerves. Had he kissed other girls? Would he find her woefully inadequate and laugh?

She did not know the answer to the first question, but he did not laugh. Not even when her thin pressed lips pulled away from his surprised ones.

“Happy birthday,” she whispered.

“Was that my present?”

Marcelina noted how his fingers had laced with hers. Now then, was the time to do it. Either speak or be a coward. She would not be a coward. Never.

“My dziadzio met my babcia when they were thirteen. He said he knew right away. Before he even kissed her, he knew she was the one.”

Jory stared at her, but his fingers tightened in the tangled digits of their two hands.

“I love you Jory Daveth Couch. I love you and I will not let them hurt you.”

This time, he kissed her. It was still awkward so she thought he’d not much more experience than her, if any. None of that mattered.

“I love you, Marcelina Beatrycze Mencher.”

That mattered. 



31 Days - Day 8

“Happy birthday to you.”

“Happy birthday to you.”

“Happy birthday, Marcelina.”

She only half listened to the singing. The singing was only important because it would be followed by the sekacz. Her mother only made it on her birthday because she said it was too much trouble. Marcelina was fine with getting it once a year, but she wished it weren’t when she had to share with so many.

Not that she’d invited a lot of people. Jory was here, of course, and a few kids she could stand. No Charlotte. Not that Charlotte would have accepted the invitation. Well, she might have since Jory was here.

As the birthday girl she was given the first piece of sekacz. Marcelina did not wait for the others before she ate hers. As the birthday girl, she could do what she wanted. No matter what Siemowit had said earlier.

He was a lost cause. Whatever they’d put in the water (all the urban legends said it was true) he’d drank twice what he needed. Siemowit lived and breathed the government these days and always told her she should be more thankful.

Thankful for Herbert’s death. Thankful that her own was only a few years away. Thankful for nothing. She’s growled and only the knowledge her parents would cancel her party kept her first from connecting with his face. He’d known it and retreated to some meeting or other.

An excellent birthday gift, she thought.


Marcelina looked up and saw Jory across from her in the grass. The rest of her guests had been left on their own the whole, short party. They’d seemed to accept her abandonment of them.

Jory held out his sekacz. He grinned as her eyes widened. She looked down at the cake and shook her head.

“Aww. Come on. Happy birthday and all.”

“I should say no.”

“But you won’t.”

In response, she took the plate. Jory laughed and scooted closer so their knees touched. It worked to shield her from her mother’s scolding for eating her guest’s cake. In thanks, she broke off a piece and held it out to him. He grinned again before he leaned even closer and plucked the cake from her fingers.

“What would Charlotte say?” she teased. “She’s always telling everyone you’re her boyfriend.” At twelve, her mother had informed her, she was too young to use that word. Which was fine by Marcelina. Jory was her best friend. She wouldn’t be a girl like Charlotte.

“Charlotte’s a pain,” Jory moaned. “She’s always bugging me. I mean, she’s ok, I guess, but she’s always bugging me.”

“You said that.”

“Always. Bugging. Meeeeeeee.”

“Quit it!”

Marcelina flung the last bite of cake right at Jory, but he ducked.

“You wasted cake!”

“I did not!”

“You did! So I am not giving you a birthday present.”

“Fine. I didn’t want one.”


“Marcelina! Come here! It is time to say goodbye.”


Jory leapt to his feet and held out his hands. Marcelina let him help her up. He pulled his hands away and ran off, but he left a scrap of paper behind. Marcelina shoved it into her pocket.

There was no chance to look at it until she was getting ready for bed.

Happy birthday, Marcelina. You’re the best. Charlotte is stupid. I will always like you first.

She had a year to try to top his present, but she had no idea how she would manage.




31 Days - Day 7

The thunderstorm had been a welcome reprieve from the heat of the day. It had also ruined the outing. Children ran screaming for the bus as if a single drop of rain would sizzle through them. Marcelina thought it all amusing.

“Babies,” she said.

Despite the dress her mother had shoved her into before school, Marcelina had climbed her favorite tree in the park. With the thunderstorm she knew she should get down, but she didn’t want to go back to school. Every day, more and more, she hated the grey brick building. Grey brick and blinking red lights. Because the cameras had increased. They were everywhere.

“You should get down.”

Jory sat on the branch under hers. His grin made her smile. She didn’t let him see the whole smile because he might misinterpret the smugness. Well, he might see it. There was no way to interpret it wrong.

Charlotte had wanted him to go paddling on the lake with her and her friends, but he’d stayed with Marcelina. Charlotte, wavy hair and perfectly pressed pink dress, had flounced away. Likely she was on the bus, squealing about her hair.

“I want to see the storm.”



“I’m coming up.”

Marcelina scooted out farther on the branch to let Jory get up beside her. He reached for her hand and they swung their legs together as they watched the clouds move swiftly across the sky. It was hard to see with the leaves. If they were higher they could see better, but she knew.

Knew that if she suggested it he would insist they climb down. He was always looking out for her. It was why she tried not to worry about Charlotte all the time. Jory was hers. He had been since kindergarten. Even their parents could not keep them apart.

Only one thing would.

Conscription was only six, seven at most, years away. Jory would not have to worry. His family knew the right people. Plus, he was an only child. No family could have their only child taken. Marcelina’s only hope was Siemowit. If he had some fall from grace and wound up with the ground troops she would be safe.

Except, she wouldn’t. The captain still haunted her. He wouldn’t care about the rules.

Marcelina looked down as the tree swayed in a heavy gust of wind. There was one way to avoid it. If it worked.

Jory squeezed her hand and she looked up to see him grinning. 

“I have something for you.”

He pulled his hand away from her and reached into his pocket. Marcelina’s breath caught as he rocked forward. If he fell…

Except, he didn’t. Thankfully. Because then she would have fallen with him. Jory was her best friend and she would go anywhere with him.


He held his fist out and she opened her hand so he could lay something in the flat of her palm. As soon as his hand moved she looked down. The wind gusted and the tree shook, but Jory grabbed her hand before she could drop the present.

“No way,” she breathed. This was impossible. Even Jory’s family wasn’t this well off.


“I told you I had friends other than you, dork.”

Marcelina, heedless of the potential fall and subsequent death, lunged for her best friend and hugged him. Worried about dropping the gift, she pulled away long enough to drape it around her neck. It was the best gift ever.

“You are the best friend ever. Even if you hang out with Charlotte.”

Jory groaned and reached into the neck of his t-shirt. Marcelina expected him to pull out a different pendant. Instead, to match the one she wore, he had a Claw symbol etched on a silver coin. The ads said they’d only made a thousand of them and he’d gotten two!

“I love you, Jory Couch. I always will.”

“Yea, well, I love you too, Marcelina. But don’t be weird about it.” He was quiet as the rain shifted direction. “And don’t tell Charlotte.”

Marcelina laughed.




31 Days - Day 6

The gray dress was too tight across the shoulders. Shiny black shoes pinched at her feet. Worst of all, she wasn’t allowed to cover her face so her runny nose, hopelessly red and snotty, was visible to all. It was embarrassing. Embarrassing and too true. She did not want anyone to see her like this, but her mother had refused to allow her a veil.

Marcelina sat at the front of the church with the rest of her family. Herbert was being given a state funeral. They’d unlocked the church for the day, but it was ugly inside. Gone were the stained glass windows she’d viewed only in secret pictures her babcia had shown her. The rich, shiny wooden pews were replaced with utilitarian metal benches. She hated it.

Marcelina ran the scratchy, gray wool sleeve of her dress across her nose. Siemowit elbowed her afterwards, but she ignored him. He did not understand because he would never be conscripted. No, now that he was thirteen he’d enlisted in the Presidential Honor Core. They never fought. Only paraded around in special uniforms and turned in dissenters. Dziadzio would be embarrassed. Because he was dead, Marcelina was furious for him.

The state appointed speaker droned on. None of his words mattered. Herbert had been killed in a fight that didn’t matter. The same man who had come to take him away had shown up with the news. All so he could smirk at Marcelina. On the way out, he’d reminded her of his promise to come take her. Her family had mistaken her locking herself in her room as grief. It had been terror.

Marcelina rubbed at her eyes and stood up.

“Sit down,” her father whispered.

“I have to pee.”

Siemowit’s eyes narrowed as he squared his back. If he tried to take her to the toilet she would pinch him. Luckily for him, he only glared as she slid down the bench and hurried down the center aisle. Who was she bothering? No one was here but them.

Three wrong turns later she found the bathrooms on the lower level of the church. Marcelina locked the door and sat on the floor. With her knees to her chest she rocked back and forth as she tumbled into the hole in her heart. Why couldn’t it have been Siemowit? She would not have begrudged Zuza him. How dare she get Herbert?

The basement was quiet other than a rattle of pipes. She screamed. Hiccupped sobs broke through her screams and she stood up and walked to the mirror.

She looked ugly. Nose dripping, mouth hanging open, and eyes too red to be human. She hated the way she looked now so she slammed her fist into the glass. The tinkling shatter of glass as it hit the sink and the floor made her feel better. Even the pain from her split knuckles didn’t hurt.

“That was not wise.”

Marcelina spun around, but no one was there. Nothing in here would protect her. She walked to the closed stall door and kicked it open. No one was there.

“The kitchen.”

Should she go? Well, she wasn’t a coward. Maybe she was too old to believe she was a comic book hero, The Claw outstripped Ranger One in her esteem these days, but she was no coward. Marcelina found thin, harsh toilet paper to wrap her cut knuckles and watched as the blood seeped through.

Her feet led her down the hall despite her never having been here before. A pinging noise accompanied the scent of tea and she hurried to see what awaited her. It could be her death, but at this point she was indifferent to the idea.

“No one’s going to die. Although, it was a near thing.” The voice belonged to a woman. Marcelina stared at her, knowing it was rude. The woman’s face was covered in scar tissue and she was missing one eye. The scars ran down her neck, she noticed, and left her wondering if they were all over.

“They are. I was burned. It was supposed to be until I was dead, but I managed to crawl out.”

Marcelina shivered. “The government did it, didn’t they?”

“He did say you were astute. Of course, you’re also angry right now, aren’t you?”

“I hate them all.”

“Excellent. Our mutual friend will be pleased.”


“Ah, not so astute.”

Marcelina scowled and clenched her hands.

The scarred woman poured tea into a battered tin cup. She poured a second cup and added sugar to them both. Marcelina, wary and still annoyed, crept closer and sat at the counter. The tea received a sniff, but she didn’t think anything was wrong, so she drank it.

“I am surprised your little friend is not with you.”

“Jory is not little!” Who else would she mean? “And he couldn’t. Family only. Just my parents and me.” A sip of tea was followed by a slurred, “And Siemowit. He’s a jerk.”

The cup was caught before it fell from her unresponsive hand. Marcelina tried to stand, but tumbled back off her stool. The scarred woman caught her as easily as the cup. Sleep whispered to her and as Marcelina succumbed she felt the toilet paper being picked off her knuckles. It made them bleed again.

When she woke up she was lying on the floor of the bathroom. Her knuckles bled no longer, but she rubbed at her eyes to try to clear her head. A knock on the door had her sit up too quickly and she yelled as the top of her head hit the bottom of the sink. One hand rubbed her head as she stumbled to the door.

“We have to go,” Siemowit said as soon as the door opened. His mouth fell open and he stepped back.

“I don’t look that bad.”

“What did you do?”

“Shut up, butthead.”

Marcelina shoved past him to head back to their parents.




31 Days - Day 5

Marcelina stood at the corner of the building and tapped her foot back against the cornerstone as she waited. Right around the corner, the red blinking of the camera taunted her. It told her she could not step onto the playground. Not yet. The time had not come yet.

It was not her fault she’d finished her test and grown bored. Why should she be forced to sit and read some stupid book when she could be outside on the first nice day since they returned to school after the President’s Winter Celebration? If she stayed where she was, she would be ok until the bell rang.

Once the bell rang, she would be able to talk to Jory. She had to talk to Jory. After what she’d heard this morning he needed to be spoken to so she could learn the truth. If what Samantha had said was true…

Marcelina did not know what she’d do if what she’d heard was the truth.

A bell rang inside and she heard feet marching to the door. Soon she could slip in with the rest of them and it would be fine. Once she did that she could find Jory. The eldest students, by grace of being the eldest, came out first. Marcelina shrank back as she saw Siemowit. He would tattle. It was his last year here and he was intent on making it miserable for her.

Once Jory’s class appeared she slid closer to the stairs. His feet touched the playground and she grabbed his hand and pulled him backwards. They were probably ok here. The stairs would block the camera on the door.

“What’s the deal?”

Marcelina thought he sounded guilty. Maybe he even looked guilty. She didn’t know guilt on someone else.

“Samantha said you kissed Charlotte this morning in the library.”

“Samantha is an idiot.”

“So is Charlotte, but you kissed her. Didn’t you? How could you?”

“What’s the big deal?”

“Why did you do it?”

“I never said I did.”

Marcelina blinked because Jory looked watery when she stared at him.

“Charlotte was right.”

“About being stupid?”

Jory scowled at her and she ran her hand across her eyes, surprised to find them wet.

“No, she said you would cry when she found out.”

Marcelina’s lips pressed together. She shoved Jory backwards and then stood right in front of him. His eyes grew wide.

“I did not cry.”

“Did to.”

She watched as her arm shot out and her first connected with his mouth. Her first thought was she should apologize. Her second thought was that if he told, she could be kicked out of school. Not that she minded. However, her parents would be furious.

So busy contemplating the future, Marcelina forgot the present. Jory’s punch hit her in the chin and she was embarrassed at the noise she made. Not that it stopped her from shoving him. By the time they were pulled apart they both had bloody lips.

Jory had lost a tooth.

Marcelina had a black eye.

Both of their parents forbid them to ever say a word to one another again.

That night, they both downloaded sign language lessons from the internet.




31 Days - Day 4

The power had been out for a week.

As the entire neighborhood sat in darkness they listened to the thunder of great guns overhead. A news report shortly before the televisions died had said the enemies from the west had come to tear land away from the rightful owners. Marcelina disbelieved the news in general. How had they even gotten this far?

The soldiers had come around and informed everyone there were to be no lights. No communication devices were to be used. Nothing. Marcelina was bored. She could not even do homework without light. Everyone sat huddled in the living room as if being together was better. Unsure why dying together was preferred to alone she’d retreated to her room. Besides, no one had been by her dziadzio when he’d died.

Marcelina did not want to think about him. It made her sad. He was in heaven now, with Zuza. By now he probably loved her more because she’d been perfect.

Her head shook and she quietly shoved her desk against her door. The wind gusted against the heavy curtains when she opened the window. A quiet squeak seemed too loud in the oppressive silence of the night. Marcelina slipped out into the shadows and closed her window almost all the way. No one should notice.

Jory would be home. Everyone was home. No one was allowed out on the street, but she didn’t need to use the street to get to him. They had a secret pathway between yards to get to each other.

Once safely in his fenced backyard she crept towards the house and threw a toy soldier at his window. That done, she retreated to the clubhouse in the tree. They had been stockpiling snacks for months so could have a quiet party together. Too dark to read comics, unfortunately. Climbing the ladder was always easy and she hopped onto the wooden floor with a grin.

Marcelina froze.

She was not alone.


Nothing, but she saw a shadow move in the corner. Her brain screamed at her to leave. What if this was an enemy soldier? What if she was going to be killed?

“Not Jory. Come away from the exit.”

The voice was older, male, and one she’d never heard. Marcelina had heard all the tales about what the enemy did to those they captured. She was sure they were fake. Positive, in fact. Except, well, she was alone and it was dark and no one knew where she was now. For all she knew, Jory’s whole family was dead already.

“If you hurt Jory, I will kill you.” The words were out before she could stop them. Marcelina closed her eyes, expecting a bullet now. Instead, she received a laugh. A warm laugh that brushed away the cold chill seeped into her body from fear.

“I’m not trying to hurt anyone. What’s your name?”

Marcelina thought she heard someone at the bottom of the tree. Was Jory on his way up? Should she warn him?

“What’s yours?”

“You first.”

“I’m The Claw.”

More laughter had her edging closer to the shadows in the corner. Jory would be safe up here. If that was him. Maybe it was soldiers.

“The Claw, a pleasure. You seem so much bigger in the comics.”

“I won’t hurt you,” Marcelina promised solemnly. Over the years she’d begun to develop a sympathy for the supposed villain. “I’m not even really a bad guy. People say that. It’s not true.”

“People say that about me as well.”

Marcelina watched as the shadows lightened and she saw whom she talked with tonight.

“Holy dirtbag! You’re one of them!”

“One of whom?”

“Traitors. Enemies of the people.”

Jory had arrived. Marcelina darted back and grabbed his hand before he might run off and tattle. He gave a half-hearted tug to get away.

“Yes, that’s what the news calls us. When they even acknowledge we exist.”

“The news lies.”

No one responded to this truth so Marcelina decided everyone else knew as well as her. She couldn’t have argued anyway. The creature, man, slithered forward.

Instead of feet he had a tail. Like a snake. His eyes glowed yellow in the darkness and there was no skin or hair on his whole body. Only scales. Even on his heavy arms. Marcelina wondered what he felt like so she released Jory’s hand despite his quiet protest.

Marcelina marched forward and reached out. Her fingers ran along his arm and he grinned. He was much bigger this close. What she’d thought was hair was more like a cobra’s hood. He spread it out and she jumped pack.

“I would never attack The Claw,” he said. “Professional courtesy.”

Even in the darkness, she was sure he saw her grin.

“Marcelina,” Jory hissed. From behind he grabbed her hand and pulled her back. “You leave her be!”

“Yes, I should be leaving. I wouldn’t want to endanger you.”

“We can help you.”

“Marcelina, no!”

“I am not Marcelina! I am The Claw.”

“If he’s caught and we’re with him, they’ll kill us. And our families.”

Her enthusiasm drained away at his words. Jory was right. The government wouldn’t mind killing children. Then it would hold the parents responsible and they would die as well. Or worse.

“He is right.” The serpent-man said. He slithered closer and Marcelina took his hand. He grinned, she thought, and pulled his hand free to touch her forehead. He had scales even on his fingers. Jory stiffened when the serpent-man touched his forehead, but he didn’t back away.

“Be careful, children.”

“You too,” Marcelina whispered.

They watched him slither, climb down the ladder and once he was on the ground Jory pulled her back and into the clubhouse. He shook, but so did she. They clung to each other the rest of the night even though they both knew they’d be in trouble come morning.




31 Days - Day 3

Marcelina kicked the front door.

She sighed as loud as she was able.

She kicked the door again.

Someone was home. She heard people talking. The doorbell was not to be used. Her parents had made that clear after last summer when her and Jory had rung it in a never ending cacophony of annoying jingles. Still, she’d been out here for at least an hour. Maybe longer!

So, she rang the bell.

No one came to the door.

She rang it again.

On the fifth ring the front door swung open. Herbert stood there, shaking and pale. Something was wrong.

“Herbie, is it ok?”

He stood blocking the door, but she was slender and slid right past him. He grabbed the back of her hoodie and she jerked backwards. If he was keeping her away she wanted to know why. So, she slid her arms free and he was left holding her backpack and hoodie as she raced further into the house.


She heard him running after her, but she ignored him. The voices, the weeping, it was all coming from her parents’ room. Siemowit’s bedroom door was open a crack and he peeked out when she thudded past. Well, he would do as he’s told!

Marcelina skidded to a stop in her parents’ room and saw her Tata and Mama on their bed. They held each other and wept. For the first time, she didn’t want to know what was wrong.

“Marcelina, come away.” Natalia was behind her. She was not family. Why was she here if something was wrong?

“No. Tata? What is it? Is it dziadzio? Did he die?” Her dziadzio had been in the hospital for two weeks now. Her parents had explained he was very old and would go to Heaven soon. Where Zuza would be waiting for him. Because Zuza got everything Marcelina wanted.

“Please, Marcelina,” her mama said.

“What is it?”

“Marcelina!” Her tata only used that tone when it was truly bad so Marcelina backed out of the doorway. She darted past Natalia and shoved open Siemowit’s door. Her brother would know something. More importantly, she could make him tell her. She’d caught him with their dziadzio’s private magazines.

“I’m not saying a word.”

Siemowit sat on his bed leafing through a comic book. Ranger One was on the cover, but so was Angel. Marcelina hated when Angel was in the comics. She was not nice. Not like the villains. The villains were supposed to be not nice, but Angel was supposed to be a good guy and she was not.

“You will to!”



“Get out.”

Normally, Marcelina would never have listened to him, but he didn’t sound mad or bossy. He sounded scared. She’d never heard him scared.

Marcelina fled to her room.

Under her mattress her phone buzzed. Her family didn’t know she had one. Jory had given her his old one. His family had more money. They’d not even cared! Her family would be mad.

“Hello?” she whispered.

“Marcelina? Are you ok? I’ve been calling. Is Herbert ok?”

“Herbert? He’s fine. Why wouldn’t he be? What’s going on?” Her voice rose in worried anger, but she dropped it down to whisper, “What’s wrong with Herbert?”

“No one told you?”

“No one tells me anything.”

“The government, Marcelina. They will be coming for him. The government has said all seniors in high school will be picked up for conscription.”

Marcelina dropped the phone on the floor and raced from her room. She found Herbert sitting on the couch with Natalia trying not to weep. Shoving his girlfriend aside she climbed into her brother’s lap.


“Marcelina, go to your room.”

“No! Herbert, they can’t take you! I won’t let them!”

He gently pushed her from his lap. She glared at him, but spun around. Without a word she raced to her room. Jory was still on the phone.

“Will you come over and help me protect him?”

“Marcelina, I don’t think that’s a good idea. It’s the government. They’ll be mad. My parents say we have to do as they say.”

“Fine! I’ll do it myself!”

In her mind she flung the phone across the room. It shattered. She felt better. What she actually did was hang up and hide the phone again. Maybe it would feel better to break it, but if she couldn’t stop the soldiers she would want Jory again. When she was not mad at his being a coward.

The costume almost didn’t fit. It was a year old, but she would never get rid of it. Marcelina locked her bedroom door before she took it out. Looking in the mirror she righted her hat and put on her goggles. The cape only hit her mid-calf. She’d grown a lot, especially over the last summer.

“I am The Claw,” she whispered to herself.

Then she climbed out of her window and walked around the house to the front door. The plastic sword sat in her lap and she swiped her plastic, glitter covered claw through the hair. No one would take Herbert. She’d promised dziadzio she would never let anyone come for her family.

She’d promised.

Down the street she saw the trucks come. White trucks with the government symbol painted on them in bright red and blue. Marcelina stood as they drew closer. There were three, but the other two stopped at either end of the street. They would go along, one side and the other, and take people. She would not let it happen! Not here.

Two soldiers walked up the cracked sidewalk towards her porch.

“We are here for Herbert Mencher,” the shorter one said.

“He is not here. You go away.”

The sword in her hand felt light, but it didn’t matter. She had her claw and her sword. She swiped them both in front of her.

The taller soldier stepped closer to her, but she didn’t back up.

“We are here for Herbert Mencher,” he said more quietly. A perfectly reasonable voice.

She saw his insignia. A captain. Why was a captain here? There had been conscriptions not long after she’d started school. She remembered them, but only as something for others to worry over. Her dziadzio had taught her to read rank. None of them had been above corporal.

They must have known The Claw would be here.

“I am The Claw and this house is under my protection.”

“Is it now, Marcelina?”

How did he know her name? The shine in his blue eyes made her knees tremble. She would not back down. The Claw would not!

“I am not Marcelina! She is not here. I am The Claw and you will not take Herbert Mencher! Not even Siemowit and he’s an idiot!”

The short soldier rolled his eyes and pushed past her to ring the bell.

Marcelina screamed and whacked him with her sword. It broke against his armor. So, she raised her claw to swipe at him, but the taller soldier grabbed her as the door opened. Despite her shrieks he would not let her go.

Her red and silver boots kicked back against him, but he only laughed.

Herbert stood in the door and Marcelina screamed. They could not take him. Not her brother. Only, they didn’t say anything. He didn’t say anything. Her parents clutched each other in the living room. Natalia sat crumbled in the chair, sobbing silently. Siemowit was nowhere to be seen.

Someone had to stop them.

The tall soldier’s arms tightened around her until she couldn’t scream because she had no breath.

“I could kill you. No one would stop me.” His voice wasn’t angry. It was nothing. Marcelina quieted her screams.

“I’ll come for you personally when you’re old enough to be conscripted.” The promise made her shiver. He dropped her and she fell to the concrete as Herbert was marched away.

No one came from the house for her. They left her there to stand and walk inside. They were scared. She was angry.

Marcelina walked around the house instead to climb back in her window. She locked it and pushed her desk against the door. Her family was awful.

The phone buzzed.


“Jory. I will never let them take you.”

“Marcelina? My parents said the soldiers said there was trouble at your place.”

“The Claw did what Ranger One would not. She defended her home. Jory? I am going to grow up and get bigger and stronger and I will do what I promised my dziadzio.”


“I won’t always be seven years old, Jory Chance. And I will never ever forget today ever.”



31 Days - Day 2


“No! I’m not going!”

“Now, Marcelina. Don’t be that way. You have been talking of nothing but this party for weeks.”

“A month,” Herbert said. “At least.”

“That is enough, Herbert. You are not helping. Now, Marcelina, go put on your costume.”

“Mama! I will not wear that costume. I will not be a princess! Natalia made my costume! I am going to be The Claw! She’s from our favorite show.”

“Marcelina, no. That is no costume for a girl. The character, he is a villain.”

“I know, Mama!” Marcelina rolled her eyes at her mother. As if she didn’t know The Claw was the villain on her favorite show. She watched it at Jory’s house every week since her own mama said no. “Jory is going to be Ranger One and we’re going to fight and everyone is super excited to watch!”

Herbert snickered. Natalia shook her head. They were in high school and she adored them. Unlike Siemowit who was still in elementary school like her and was an idiot. Her mother continued to hold the box with the princess costume. It was not hers. It was Zuza’s.

“If you do not go as a princess you cannot go. Do you want to disappoint your friends?”

Marcelina screamed.

Every word her dziadzio had ever whispered to her came out of her mouth with a roar. Oh, he would be in trouble, but mama was his daughter so how much trouble could it be? Her mama would have none of it and she marched to Marcelina and slapped her on the face.

“You are a rude daughter. Go to your room. You will go nowhere. No party and no trick or treating.”

“I hate you!” Marcelina screamed. “I hate you so much! I won’t ever be a stupid princess and I won’t ever be Zuza!”

Her mama dropped the costume to the clean carpet and clapped her hands over her mouth. Marcelina knew she’d gone too far. She’d never even said Zuza’s name. No one said her name when Marcelina was in the room. As she watched, her mama fled the living room to her bedroom. Marcelina stared, nose running and cheeks wet. All of her rage drained out and left her feet leaden. As if all of her childlike regret rooted her in place.

“Herbert?” she whispered.

He shook his head and stood to follow their mother. Natalia pulled her phone from her pocket and pretended to be busy. With nowhere else to go, she ran from the house. Natalia called after her, but she kept running because Natalia was not even family.


It was cold outside and Marcelina had no coat or shoes. At least, she thought as she shivered in Jory’s backyard, there was no snow. All the lights were on so she detoured towards the tree at the back of the yard. She would go to the clubhouse. They had candy and a couple of Jory’s tata’s old Army blankets.

Grabbing the rope ladder was difficult as her fingers didn’t want to bend. She blew on them and shoved them under her armpits. Babcia said it was not ladylike, but it worked. Once her fingers would grasp the rope she climbed up.

The clubhouse was cold and the first thing she did was find the blankets and wrap them tight around her body. Marcelina sat by the treasure box and dug out the last of the cookies from last week. They would still be good and she was hungry. She’d deliberately not eaten much at dinner to save room for goodies at the party. Now she wished she’d eaten more of the stew her mama had made.


Jory whispered from under the tree. She didn’t respond, but tossed the last of her cookie down to the ground. Red hair and a worried grin popped up through the hole. He climbed up into the clubhouse and she opened the blankets for him to join her.

“I brought cider. I can’t stay long.”

He was warm and Marcelina clutched the thermos which was warmer. She could almost feel her toes and everything. From his pockets he pulled out a couple of crumbled brownies.

“Thank you. I’m sorry I can’t come.”

“Your mom called. She was mad.”

“She wanted me to be Zuza for Halloween.”

Jory was the only one she’d ever talked to about her dead sister. Her family refused. Well, her dziadzio would, but he always sounded so sad she did not. He had lost too many people. She knew because when he’d been drinking he would tell her tales. When he did that she would sit in his lap and hold his hand and promise she would grow up and be strong and protect everyone.

Dziadzio would laugh and say she was too little. Marcelina would promise to get bigger. The promise grew with every repetition. Now, she knew, she had to grow up and protect everyone. The words wrapped around her entire self. It was what she would be and no one would stop her.

“I have to go back. Your mom told my mom to tell you to get home now. But you don’t have to go. Stay here and I’ll bring you food again.”

They hugged before Jory scurried away. He would be back. He was her best friend and she knew he would help her someday. They would protect the world. And she would have a costume! Even better than The Claw’s! 



31 Days - Day 1

“Couch. Jory Couch.”

The teacher’s voice grated through the high pitched laughter in the room. Twenty heads swiveled around to the stern man in the bad suit. A narrow-faced, freckled boy with ginger hair raised his hand. Marcelina, seated at a table in front of him, twisted around to identify this boy. He caught her staring and stuck out his tongue.


The teacher’s voice droned on and Marcelina snuck a peek down at the new crayons in her lap. How she wanted to draw! When would they get to the drawing part?

“Mencher! Marcelina Mencher, raise your hand now!”

Marcelina shrank down in her chair. That tone of voice was familiar. Even if the person using it was not known. Her hand rose with a trembling slowness she knew, even at five, gave her away.

“You must pay attention, Marcelina.”

She nodded her head meekly. Everyone was staring. Most importantly, her new crayons were scattered on the floor. The colors, still bright, were no longer warming. Would she be allowed to pick them up? Rather than ask, she slid down in her chair and onto the floor under her table. The teacher said something, but she ignored him. Her other brother, Siemowit, had proclaimed from the lofty heights of third grade that kindergarten was for babies. Marcelina had hit him with her small fist and proclaimed herself no baby.

Then she’d been sent to bed with no piernik.

Once the crayons were in her hands she looked at the shoes of her classmates. Everyone had new shoes. They shone with the proclamation that no one had worn them before. New feet, new laces or buckles, and no scuff marks. Marcelina slid her own secondhand shoes off.

It was not as if they’d been used much, but that was why she hated them so. The shoes had been Zuza’s. Zuza, who had died two years ago when she was Marcelina’s age. Sometimes she still heard her parents crying when they thought her asleep. Her brothers pretended they were not sad, but everyone was sad.

Marcelina was the last. The youngest. But now, sometimes, she felt like she’d be doing everything twice. Because her parents would not think to themselves, “Today is Marcelina’s first day of school.” No, they would think, “Zuza’s first day would have been two years ago. Today is for her as well as Marcelina. Because Marcelina must live for her sister as well.”

It was a disturbing thought for a girl of five. Especially since, if pressed, she could not put it into words. Only feelings. It felt as if she must live for two. Be both daughters of the Mencher family.

The shoes were a constant reminder so she kicked them away. Her legs were strong and so the shoes skidded across the thin carpet and landed under another table. Against another foot. Marcelina was caught when a ginger-haired boy ducked his head down and grinned at her.

Because she could not talk, hiding as she was, she didn’t put the grin into words. Not the way her oldest brother would talk about his girlfriend’s smile or hair. Or other things when he also thought her asleep. It made her stomach feel funny, the boy’s grin, and so she grinned back.

Her eyes grew wide when he tugged off his shoes. He slid out of his chair and landed softly on his butt. Marcelina clapped a hand over her mouth to quiet her giggle. His shoes was kicked across the carpet. Not as well. She had to stretch her arm out to reach them.

He wore tennis shoes. They were white and she stroked the new footwear in wonder. Someday, in the far future it seemed, she would get shoes of her own. Not Zuza’s. When she looked up from the shoe he mimed putting it on.

Did he want to trade? But, he had boy shoes! And her shoes, scuffed Mary Janes of brown, were girl shoes. He slid her first shoe onto his foot. She tried his on with a bounced excitement. They fit! So, she slid his other shoe on. He was wearing hers! Marcelina had to keep from laughing.

She did.

He did not.

Strong fingers closed around her arm and Marcelina squeaked. The teacher, Mr. Vilhjalmsson, pulled her up to her feet. Jory stood as well and she thought that brave.

“Miss Mencher, what were you doing?”

“I dropped my crayons.”

“Jory has girl shoes! Jory has girl shoes!” The chorus was picked up by the class before Mr. Vilhjalmsson stopped them with a clap of his hands. Marcelina rubbed her arm where he’d held her. It didn’t hurt. It was the thought of being caught.

Would her parents be called? They would be disappointed. Zuza would not have been caught. She would have been a good student. Marcelina began to sob, unable to stop the overwhelming sense of failure she’d created in her head. Zuza would be looking down from Heaven. Mad. Upset that Marcelina could go to school and fail when she could not go and thrive.

The kids fell quiet, teasing forgotten as Marcelina held their attention. Twenty heads watched as Marcelina threw up her breakfast while still sobbing. Then the shrieking began and everyone raced away from her.

Everyone except Mr. Vilhjalmsson.

And Jory, but he only stared raptly at his brand new tennis shoes. No longer white. 



Story Seven - Virtual Max

We have reached the end of my Nanowrimo prep. Some people might be plotting their project. Me? I write seven stories in seven days. Because, well, I'm sometimes an odd duck. *quack*

This story was a lot of fun. A little background. Over the summer I entered  Avon Romance's FanLit contest. A whole lot of other awesome writers did. Some of whom still talk to me. I know, weird right? Oh, by the way, you can preorder the winning chapters here in an awesome novella and I recommend that you do because A Duke to Remember will be memorable. ;)

So, I was despairing over my final chapter in the contest and beloved husband Shawn said, "You should do X." Which I thought was awesome, but not the sort of thing anyone would expect or be looking for so I filed it away. Now we're here. In my random seven stories week. I pulled this out. Enjoy! 


The dress was the finest she could ever recall wearing. Oh, she’d had lovely dresses in the past, but nothing like this. Nothing so clearly designed, from the least stitch to the imported lace edging the short sleeves, to draw a man’s attention. A particular man. A certain man she longed for more than anything.

No one knew that she did not wear the dress for the man who would be announced as her intended at tonight’s ball. They would assume. Her hair had been swept up and secured by a strand of pearls that matched the length around her neck. The style was loose enough to incite whispers that it hinted at being unfurled. For her betrothed, of course.

Let them think what they wished. She had no desire to give herself away. Enough was enough. Tonight, she would take what she wanted. With that in mind, she searched out the remains of the perfume she’d worn all those years ago. There was not a lot left, but he would remember the instant he caught a whiff of it.

She could hear the party downstairs. All of the people her parents had invited were waiting for her to descend. To descend in a dazzling manner and leave their mouths hung open by the pure vision of loveliness she presented. Her fingers brushed away her maid’s hand as she tried to adjust the bodice of her dress. If one more adjustment was made it would ruin the look she envisioned.  

“I believe I am ready.”

Her maid said nothing, but hurried to open the door. Slippered feet made no noise as she made her way to the ballroom. The guests fell quiet and she appreciated their attention. One arm on the rail, she flowed down the stairs and was greeted by the man she wasn’t here for tonight. Even if he was her fiancé.

“You look lovely,” he said as he offered his arm. She took and allowed him lead her across the room to her parents. His murmured appreciations for her appearance were received as her due. Of course she was lovely and of course no one else present could compare. How could they when she was cloaked in the surety of her love for one man? Physical accoutrements mattered little to her, aware as she was of the love one man bore her. Well, two men, but one would have to learn to live with dissatisfaction.

A few yards separated her from her parents when he approached. Her fiancé’s hand on her arm tightened, but she shook it off. He would be angry, disappointed, but he would live. In front of her stood her future. She knew by the flare of his nostrils when he caught her scent. He would know she wore it for him.

“Felicity,” Maxwell said in that low baritone that made her insides go weak.

“Maxwell,” she replied. Her voice gone breathless from the nearness of his body to hers. Too near for propriety’s sake, but she cared not for propriety tonight.

Her fiancé faded into the background where he belonged. He would know he had lost. The greatest prize he might have won had been within his grasp, but she’d chosen another. Her own prize. As Max led her out onto the dance floor a waltz began and she smiled.

“I thought I would have to come find you upstairs.” Max’s voice made her shiver. It made her wish he had come upstairs to find her. As they spun around the floor he tugged her closer. Too close not to be whispered about, but she no longer cared about such things. As a future duchess she could do as she pleased.

“Perhaps I should slip away,” she offered. “And let you come find me. Like when we played hide and seek as children.”

Their steps stuttered as they were both caught up in the idea of such activities, and what they might lead to once they were alone in the dark. His smile grew as he let his gaze slide downward. She knew what he saw and drew in a deep breath to hold his attention.

“Shouldn’t some announcement be made?” he asked. “It would hardly be proper to slip away at your engagement party. To another man.” For a moment, surely she imagined it, he sounded upset. Even disappointed, but that couldn’t be right. Since he returned he’d been amenable to all her ideas. Everything he’d done had been for her.

“If we make an announcement, we’ll never be able to slip away.” She drew her lips together in a pout as her lashes fluttered.

Max grinned as the music stopped. He swept her into his arms and brought his mouth to hers in a kiss that left her clinging to his broad shoulders.

“Never underestimate me, my dear,” he said once he released her from the heat building up between them. “Come, let us make our announcement and accept our congratulations. Later, I shall show you how a duke and his duchess takes their leave.”


Elizabeth felt weird as she watched Felicity’s program finish up. The worst part of the job was the end. The client was somewhere between fantasy and reality and often, more often than not, awoke disoriented and annoyed at being brought back. Felicity was an especially trying case and she worried over the talk they must have once the sensors and tubes finished disconnecting from her body. A glass of water sat on the table next to Felicity’s chair and Elizabeth watched her empty it before speaking.

“That was amazing. So much better than the other time.”

Elizabeth smiled, hopeful this would be easier than she’d anticipated.

“Can I do it again?”

“We need to talk first. Please, come sit at the table.” Felicity took her time, stretching and adjusting her clothes and hair. Elizabeth did not roll her eyes as the cameras in the room would record it and she would be reprimanded. She sat in her usual chair and pulled up Felicity’s account on her tablet.

“What was different? I’d swear the duke character was real.”

“Excellent,” Elizabeth said. “We’ve been experimenting with a new interface. One that can merge two experiences into one.”

“Wait,” Felicity said before Elizabeth could explain further. “You mean there was someone else there? Oh, fuck no. The duke, my Maxwell? He was some…lab rat? How dare you!”

Felicity surged to her feet. Elizabeth’s hand hovered over the security icon on her screen, but Fee made no move towards her.

“If I may remind you of the contract you signed,” Elizabeth told her calmly. “In it, you agreed to experimental sessions. In return, we allow you three free sessions a month. We’ve broken no laws, Fee.”

“I cannot believe this! Maxwell. My Max. He wasn’t mine at all. Who did it? Oh, holies. It wasn’t you was it? That’s…ewww. That’s disgusting.”

Elizabeth tried not to take offense. It wasn’t as if she were able to portray a masculine image well. She also couldn’t distance herself from what she knew of the person. Fee was terrible. She never would have been able to portray any affection. Being called disgusting still hurt.

“That had better not happen again.”

Worked up to a full tirade, Felicity was silenced by the door sliding open. Elizabeth glanced away from the man entering.

“Oh, gross. Was this him? This - ”

“That is enough, Felicity!” Now Elizabeth pushed the security icon on her tablet. Once the two men in grey suits slid in past Max she turned her attention back to the client. “Please escort Ms Stratford out of the building. She is on a 30 day suspension and will require three mandatory psych sessions before being allowed to return.”

Felicity shrieked, but before she could do anything the security men were on either side of her. When one touched her she shook off his hand and stalked out. Max had stood, quiet, through the whole thing.

“Max?” Elizabeth asked once they were alone. “Are you ok?”

Poor Max. He was the best programmer they had here. He worked too hard and rarely socialized. Elizabeth knew he’d formed a crush on Fee. Which was why she’d tried to discourage him from this experiment, but he’d pulled rank. Kindly, but still, she knew when a person pulled rank.

“I’m fine, Elizabeth.”

He was lying. Elizabeth had the job she did because she was good at reading people. His shoulders had a droop not normally evident and he made sure not to meet her eyes.

“Do you want to talk?”

“No, I should go make notes. Will you send me the interview?”

“Are you sure?” Elizabeth forced her feet to stay. Well, if Max was silly for crushing on an idiot client like Felicity what did that make her? A fool, surely, for working with Max for three years and never asking him out.

“Send me the interview,” Max repeated. Once she’d nodded he left.

Elizabeth left the room and went back to her small office. Felicity’s case file needed updating and she would need to find a replacement for her in the beta program. Once her suspension was up she would be allowed back to the business, but she was out of the beta program. Thankfully, she could couch the ban in words corporate would accept. Only she needed to know the ban was because of what Fee had done to Max.


Maxwell was thankful he had his own office. What had he been thinking? His fingers typed his report, but his brain berated him.

What had he been thinking? He’d already asked himself that.

“What was I thinking?” he asked his equipment. The words echoed in his lab and again he thought of decorating it. The last programmer in here had left snarky inspiration posters hanging and Max hadn’t bothered removing them. They were amusing.

He should put the whole incident out of his mind, he thought.  He still believed the programming was sound. The algorithms to link people might need work. Although, likely it would be best to make sure no one could meet the person they were paired with in the illusion. Max typed his report on autopilot and considered whom to recruit to help with the softer bits of the program. So many of the psychs they hired were annoying. No brains. All empathic intelligence and too flighty to help with code.

“Elizabeth.” He whispered her name before he cursed because his fingers had typed the wrong thing. He liked Elizabeth. They were friends, or so Max thought. Only, lately he’d been more aware of her than normal. She’d cut her hair and he’d noticed the way the shorter curls framed her face. Last week she’d changed her eye color and all day he’d stared at the sky out his window and wondered why it was such a pale blue in comparison to Elizabeth’s eyes.

He shook his head. Part of why he’d gotten involved with Felicity’s illusions was to try to put Liz, she’d said to call her Liz once, from his mind. The experiment had been a failure. As was this report. He deleted it and put thoughts of all women from his mind.

A knock at his door interrupted him as he put together a list of potential partners for this job. “What?” he mumbled as he hit the button to open the door.

Had he conjured her? Liz stood in the hallway, street clothes on, and he found himself struck dumb. Short skirt, his brain screamed. Bare legs. Oh, dear. Was that cleavage? Max stared. He cursed himself for an idiot. Then he stood, and then he instantly thought better of it and sat.

“Max?” She stood in the doorway. “I’m sorry. I’m interrupting.”

“No,” Max said and stood again, body under control. “No, please. Come in. I was going to send you a message.”

“Oh?” she asked. and were her cheeks darkening? Heels clicked as she stepped into his office and the door slid closed behind her. “I wanted to be sure you were ok. After, you know, Felicity and all.”

“What? Oh, yes. Being called gross.”

“She called me disgusting,” Liz offered.

“You’re not.”

“I know,” Liz said with a smile. “And you’re not gross.”

“Are you sure?” Max teased. He was on his feet still so they moved, drew him around his desk and closer to her. Liz didn’t speak as he stepped closer. “Is that the only reason you came by?” he asked.

Elizabeth shook her head.

“Why else?"

"Felicity is a bitch and I like you. I don’t want you hurt by someone like that.” Her head tilted and she took his hand in hers. “Or anyone. Am I out of line, Maxwell?”

With corporate policy. She could be in trouble for initiating non-platonic contact, if he wanted her to be in trouble.

“Not if you have dinner with me.”

Now they were even. He could be in trouble for coercing her to fraternize outside of the office.

“Well, I don’t want to be in trouble,” Elizabeth said. Her eyes were still the same shade of blue that put the sky to shame. “Tonight?”

“Why wait?” Maxwell asked. Then, despite all the corporate training screaming at him to stop, he kissed her.



Story Six - Bereavement

Day Six is courtesy of the beloved husband. It is also short. Shorter than yesterday even. Yesterday was super short for me! Still, I like this and a bit of creepy right before Halloween is good. 

Tomorrow's idea is also originally based off hubby's suggestion. It is not creepy. 



The last piece was always the hardest. Chris would string the process along, only in part to avoid arousing suspicion. The small black box tucked under his arm was all that remained of his beloved Annie. He stroked the top and thought of the hours of fun he’d had with the delicate, pale hands inside. How he’d treasured the time he'd spent with them. 

Chris did not believe in casual relationships. Anyone that accused him of such dalliances would receive some gentle correction. His beloved Annie, for instance, lasted for weeks. He knew every piece of her as well as his own body. He’d saved her hands for last because he’d enjoyed the feel of them against his cheek each night when he went to bed.  

Crisp autumn air invigorated him. Too long spent inside. Annie had made such a mess and he wanted things properly cleaned when he found his new pet. Now, with the crunch of leaves underfoot and the soft scent of decay in his nostrils, he could put the drudgery behind him. The gate had been oiled recently so when he pushed it open to enter the tiny, public pet cemetery it hardly made a sound. This was good. A place of reverence shouldn’t be marred by jarring metal cries.  

He enjoyed the quiet sobs of those who came here to bury their beloved pets. His tears filled his body, but he never allowed them to fall. Disgraceful, for a man of his stature to cry in public. Not that Chris didn’t weep over the loss of his pets - he certainly did. They were as dear to him as his own sister. His green eyes drifted towards the back of the cemetery. His beloved Kirsten. Sometimes he still knelt to visit with her. The same way she would kneel beside him every night as they said their prayers together. 

His little spade was tucked into a backpack and he pulled it out before he knelt in the spot he’d reserved for little Annie. Petite Annie. The dirt was crusted with a delicate covering of ice. Not so cold yet he couldn’t still dig, though. Soon the kind hearted people who managed the cemetery would begin calling him to assist with the digging. Then he'd join a small group of volunteers that would do the hard work in the winter, pre-digging holes for those not strong enough to do it themselves. Chris liked the work. He liked knowing he saved the best spots for his pets.  

“Excuse me?”  

His spade froze in midair at the sound of the voice. Chris looked up into a pair of beautiful eyes. Brown and warm exactly like his Annie's. His lips tilted up, forming the hesitant, tenuous sort of smile one offered in a place like this. How beautiful she looked with her golden hair.  


“I’m so sorry to bother you. I can’t find my shovel. Do you think I might borrow yours when you’re done?” She had an accent. A curious one he couldn’t quite place, but he thought maybe back East.  

“Of course. I was done. If you need help I would be happy to assist.” Chris stood and held out the spade. Delicate Annie lay at his feet and he resisted the urge to kick her into the hole. What use mourning when there were new possibilities on the horizon?  

“Oh, thank you. My husband- Well, he was called out of town unexpectedly. He was supposed to do this.” Her eyes were wet and he reached into his jacket to pull out a handkerchief. She smiled as she took it. “I like this. A handkerchief. Thank you.” 

Chris knelt back down without speaking. Too much talk could scare off a new pet. So, as much as he wanted to bury Annie and be done with her, he took his time. The box was placed precisely in the small hole. He bowed his head and said his final prayers for Annie. Sweet Annie. She’d been skittish in the beginning too, but then she’d settled down. So sweet when he was done with her. An urge to peek inside the box welled up inside him, but he buried it quickly with a few quick spades full of dirt. He tamped the dirt down over the box with his hands and Annie was gone.   

The past buried, he stood and brushed the dirt from his hands and knees. He glanced around to see if brown eyed woman was still there. She was, struggling with the dirt. Chris was quiet because he knew to be quiet. The frost dusted ground crunched in the silence of the morning. Best to make some noise.  

“Do you need help?” 

She looked up from the ground and he watched her dab at her eyes again with his handkerchief. Wasn’t she perfect? A shiny blonde coat of hair just like his Annie. Her eyes, too, just like Annie’s. Annie, who’d been delicate and perfect like his Kirsten. All of his pets had to be like Kirsten. His perfect sister. His first pet. Chris stepped back from her. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to intrude.” 

“No! I mean, it’s not. An intrusion. I’ve had Logan since high school. We went through college together. And, as I said, my husband…well, he was going to do this. Please, help would be nice.” 

Chris knelt on the ground, not too close, and held out his hand. She wore gloves, but he felt the firmness of her fingers as she gave him the little spade. Under his coat he shivered at the nearness of her. How he longed to take her home, but he knew better. He couldn’t truss up a wild animal and carry her home. She had to be trained to trust and then she would follow him home. And she would. His body sang with the knowledge that perfect Annie had bestowed a final gift on him. She had led him to her replacement. 

“I’m Chris,” he offered as he dug. 

“Nice to meet you, Chris. I’m Mia.”




Story Five - The Scarlet Ibis

Here's a little snippet of a story born from an idea for a superhero book I had a long time ago. I'm not sure the superhero book will ever get written, but I like this story. It's much shorter than the others. It's also a little rougher because I didn't get the chance to pass it off to my beloved alpha reader who is smart and amazing and wonderful. Be jealous! I have the best husband. ;) He's also an excellent writer in his own right. 

The Scarlet Ibis


Are you really leaving me a voicemail? I’m not going to check this. No one leaves voicemail. Hang up. Text me. Welcome to the new century.

“Very funny, Tabs. If you’d answer my texts I wouldn’t be forced to resort to anachronisms. Use your phone to look that word up. Would you please cut this shit out and come by?”



HOLY SHIT, TABS! R U OK?!?!?!?!?!?!?!


I was impressed my phone had survived the incident. That’s what the media called it. Only, you know, with caps. The Incident. (Remember to link to Incident Wiki here. Too tired to fuck with right now.) Kind of wish my phone hadn’t survived. I could pretend not to remember phone numbers and not have to talk to people who hadn’t wanted to talk to me in months or years. (Thinking of you here, Mom, if you read this.)

Three months of military hospitals and weird tests and hourly reminders not to talk to anyone about what had occurred had totally gotten old. Doctor Taft gave me this POS laptop to send emails on. Only, I didn’t have full net access. No sending things or posting things without them being vetted. I can read all I want. I can watch some stuff. Nothing about The Incident.

Fuck it. It wasn’t a damned incident like a dam breaking or train wreck. No, it had been an attack by this group of weird people in costumes. COSTUMES! Halloween costumes of some weird throwback group from a comic or anime or something. I don’t know. I know it ruined Homecoming. Normally I wouldn’t give a damn, but I’d lined up a date. And turned 21. Most importantly, my date had made it clear she was happy to help with the whole virginity issue I had. (Should I delete this? Dunno. Whatever. No getting laid now. Not with…)

“Miss Puckett?”

I slammed the lid down on the laptop. Not like I had real privacy, but I guess the illusion made me feel better.


“The weathers cooperating. Did you still want to walk in the park?”

Someone had finally decided it would be ok to let me get out of the room. There may have been some coercion involved. What else could I do? I’d been stuck inside for most of the last three months. I shoved away the nurse’s help to get out of bed and glowered as she pushed the wheelchair forward.

“There are rules, Miss Puckett.”

“So many fucking rules. Any word on when my government will stop holding me illegally and let me go home?” The nurse didn’t speak as she draped a blanket over my lap. “So many fucking constitutional violations.” No one seemed to care.

She wheeled me down grey corridors to a grey and white world. The only color I missed out here was the blue sky. Instead I saw a lovely shade of grey and the white clouds bunching up on it really popped.

“Do you think it will start snowing?” I asked, doing my best to sound calm. Calm and bored. The nurse crouched down and adjusted my blanket again. I slapped her hand away and in that instant of contact I felt two things. The first was a small scrap of paper pressed into my palm. The second was a quick sting. My hand jerked back and she winked at me before standing.

“I’ll be back in a minute.”

She left me there and I watched the sky. Did I want to see what she’d done? Did I want to read the note? Eventually I looked down at the note in my hand and nearly fell from my stupid wheelchair. Red ink. Red ink and green paper and I saw color for the first time in three months.

My hand curved protectively around the paper. No one had better bother me now. I thought, maybe, my eyes were better, but when I dared look away from the arresting sight of color I saw the grey world all around me once more.

12:05 AM. We know what you can do. Come to the back gate. I’ll be waiting.

“Miss Puckett? Is everything ok?”

No, everything wasn’t fucking ok. My hands shook as I tucked them under the blanket. I couldn’t stop my tears. Color. Even if only on a single scrap of paper. My entire world had been the same room, the same greyscale for so long I couldn’t handle it. The nurse wheeled me back inside as my body shook with suppressed sobs.

“You have to get ahold of yourself, Miss Puckett. I can’t keep the doctors from noticing. Can you?”

As if I were not the queen of cool? I used the blanket to wipe my eyes. I know they were still red, but I could blame that on the cold. In the room, the nurse helped me to bed and took the note from my hand. My fingers had still gripped it protectively, but she pried them loose. Once in bed, she kissed my forehead. Weird. Well, human contact was a nice thing I supposed.


By ten I could barely wait. My foot twitched under the heavy blankets and the wires hooking me to machines swayed in the air. I saw the nurse again twice. Both times when I should have been given the medicine to settle me down. She did it under the watchful eye of an armed guard, but I could feel she gave me something different.

I pretended sleep for every bed check. The rhythm of the floor was well known to me by now. I could tell by the sound of their feet who was on duty. So, I knew when midnight came. Final bed check until the next dose of medicine at two. I heard the duty nurse tell someone else, the guard, that I appeared restless. My limbs twitched, I couldn’t stop them.

At first, I feared she’d decide to give me a sedative. Not holding my breath became a problem and would she decide my forced breathing was fake? I didn’t relax until she left. I opened one eye and peered at the clock on the wall.

12:03. How long would it take to reach the back gate? Did I even know where to go to get to the gate? Did I have to follow the fence? Fuck.

“Fuck it,” I whispered to the cameras.

The IV, wires, electrodes collapsed as my body stopped being attached to them. I struggled to separate from the bed as the alarms went off. Cautious steps took me to the window and I heard more alarms going off. The wall tickled as I went through it. Should I try to get to the ground? Would anyone see me?

Lowering myself would take time so I walked through the air. It felt like walking along the bottom of a lake. Pushing through something, softness underfoot, a little disorienting. From this height, at least, I could see the gate. Nighttime was the same color grey as the day, a few shades darker, I supposed. Light flashed on the road near the unused back gate. I sank down to the ground, letting the slight tug of the Earth pull me home.

“Impressive, Miss Puckett.”

The nurse. She wasn’t dressed in scrubs this time. Her costume, under a long coat, reminded me of the ridiculous outfits worn by those at The Incident. My recognition must have been caught even without my having a solid body.

“Miss Puckett, I assure you, we don’t want to hurt you. We only want you to come hear us out.” She glanced over my shoulder. The alarms were as loud as they’d been all along, but it seemed they held a new urgency to their tone. “If you’d rather continue to be a prisoner then return to the hospital.”

“You made me like this,” I hissed.

“I wasn’t there. Miss Puckett. Natalie, just because Emperor Duncan takes care-“


“Ah, fuck. Natalie, either come with me and learn both sides or go back.”

“You let me see color.” I looked over my shoulder. Movement in the dark couldn’t be hidden from me.

“We can do more than that, Natalie.”

“I don’t want to go back to being some hospital experiment.”

“I give you my word, Natalie. You’ll be free to go whenever you want.”

“What’s your word worth?”

More footsteps in the dark. I could hear two trucks as well.

“Natalie, I’m the Scarlet Ibis and I always keep my word.”

Oh, motherdamnedfucker. The Scarlet Ibis was enemy number one. Everyone knew of her and that she wanted to bring down the Emperor. Her bounty was massive. I could live however I wanted if I turned her in.

“No, you could spend the rest of your life here. Studied until they learned what they could and dissected once they were done.” And, apparently the rumors about her being a mind reader were true. “Yes or no, Natalie?”

Maybe so long trapped in a hospital bed made me weak. Tricked. But…there she stood. So much color on her and I wanted to see more than grey. She knew when I made my decision. I watched her throw off the coat she wore and wanted to weep at the assault on my eyes. Scarlet feathers ran down her head to her back where wings spread.

I threw myself into the sky after her.




Story Four - The Wondrous Cabinet of Resplendent Perspicacity

Welcome to day four of my short story experiment. One thing I am learning from this is I am not so good at the short story. I want to use ALL THE WORDS. This one will definitely get a rewrite and be turned into a novel. Because the whole time I was writing I couldn't stop adding little bits in my head. So, definitely. 

WCRP is a magician's trick handed down in a family. The cabinet is...picky about the volunteers it will select. The short story is a low grade urban fantasy type deal. The novel is certain to wind up paranormal romance. 

The Wondrous Cabinet  of Resplendent Perspicacity



Agnessa tugged at the collar of her coat. A ruffle of wings stilled her and she moved more slowly through the crowd of people. The house lights went down as she found her seat in the middle of the crowd. A single spotlight came up on the stage and the murmuring grew to a swell before it died. Purple smoke burst in the air along the front of the stage and when it cleared Ruslan appeared.

The audience applauded, a couple of drunk frat boys even cheered. Excessively. A little smoke and a trapdoor did not deserve cheering. The cheering would be earned later. Ruslan bowed and looked around on the stage. His strong voice carried without the aid of a microphone. His exaggerated accent made Agnessa smile. They’d been born in the U.S., but in the show they both used Russian accents learned from their grandparents.  

“Where is she? Agnessa? I do apologize, ladies and gentlemen. My sister, she is never on time. Most likely doing her hair.” He shrugged, but only so the women in the audience noticed the cut of his white shirt. He always rolled up the sleeves to show off his tattoos. Market research had shown women adored men with tattoos. Close cut beard, black hair, black eyes; Ruslan was hot. Or so all of Agnessa’s friends used to say. Since they were twins she shared his good looks. Other than the beard. Her parents had not approved of her tattoos, but she thought it added to their look.

She swore she could hear women swooning. The house lights came up and she stood with slow precision. One arm raised and covered her eyes.

“Agnessa! You are late!” Ruslan scolded her and she leveled a gaze at him to draw out his smile for the audience. “Come! We are starting the show!”

Agnessa snapped her fingers and the house lights went down. The spotlight almost missed her and she scolded their cousin in her head. Bats flew into the room and there were several shrieks as they scattered. Agnessa grinned as the spotlight landed on Ruslan once more. She slid into her spot as the spotlight split. The timing, off again, made her consider threats against Yuri.  

“So sorry, Ruslan,” Agnessa said before kissing her brother’s cheek. They didn’t speak often when on stage. Part of their shtick involved the so-called twin bond. Years of practice had left them very believable. Agnessa and Ruslan had been performing the same tricks since they were ten. Oh, the flash changed, but the tricks were the same. Twenty years in two days. Agnessa tried to forget how close to thirty she was and, instead, focused on the black cat trying to claw her leg as she worked it into the trick.

Part of it could be attributed to nerves. She could feel the finale in her blood. Ruslan felt it as well. Which was why they’d been doing this since they were ten. The show had chosen them. At least, the final trick had chosen them. In much the same way she chose the final volunteers for their shows. The main difference being her and Ruslan had walked out of the cabinet.

Her hands always shook at this point. Ruslan knew of the affliction and he always tiered the tricks down toward the end of the show. After the penultimate trick she carried off the shows’ bits and pieces before wheeling out the final trick.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Ruslan said as he stroked his mustache. “I am not sure. Perhaps. Yes, Agnessa, this is not a good night for the trick. I do not believe the stars have aligned like planned.”

The crowd booed and cajoled. The frat boys screamed and the women didn’t quite toss their underthings onto the stage, but it was close. Agnessa still shuddered whenever she was teased about the garish, latex bra she’d been hit in the face with one night. The hotel had barely enough hot water to cover the shower she’d taken. The cabinet, now on stage, received the attention of the spotlights instead of her and Ruslan. They exchanged a look, the same one as always. Excitement lit their black eyes even as the small frown they shared showed a wearier resignation.

In the old days, they were told, this trick had been easier. Before everyone could be tracked so easily. Agnessa walked off the stage into the audience. She turned Ruslan out, letting the cabinet flow through her. The act, done for so long, took no effort. Agnessa thought she could pick out the volunteer without the cabinet’s help, but she didn’t want to accept responsibility for that moral choice. She wasn’t ready.

On stage, Ruslan told the tales. In the audience, Agnessa closed in on the target. She stood within two tables of the man who practically screamed, “Take me! I deserve it! Take me!” Once she’d stopped, Ruslan ended the stories.

“And now, beloved audience. I will need tonight’s special volunteer. Is it you? Do you want to enter the wondrous cabinet and see the magic for yourself? Stand up, right now, if you think you should be the one.” Ruslan’s voice spread over the crowd like a seductive wave. Even Agnessa felt the lure tossed into the sea of potential, but she knew of the hook hidden within. The chosen one stood within seconds of Ruslan’s command. So did a dozen others.

“Agnessa, dear sister, we must narrow this down. So many willing volunteers. Truly, an audience for the ages!” Ruslan stepped to the cabinet and opened the top door. It was as garish inside as out. Stars, moons, strange occult and alchemical symbols with no meaning had been lovingly stroked into the wood for generations.

Agnessa watched as several people sat back down. Slowly, with a palpable disappointment to their actions. Her choice, the magic’s choice, sat down abruptly. Soon no one stood and the room waited in silence but for loud, frat laughter. None of them had volunteered. Agnessa’s leather boots clicked across the tiled floor, a meandering path to bring her closer to the man who shone. Ruslan saw her signal and gave his own. Yes, this man, the cabinet’s choice for tonight.

“You, sir,” she whispered. “You sat so fast. Undeserving, you thought, of the gifts of the cabinet and its magic. But it’s not true. You deserve it.” He moved as if in a trance, limbs slowly pulling themselves inward before his legs launched him from the chair in a flurry of need.

“Ah, such a generous soul!” Ruslan said and the audience applauded. “For his generosity, my sister and I shall donate one thousand dollars from tonight’s show to the charity of his choice. What say you, brave volunteer?”

“Children, yes?” Agnessa said to him as she took his sweaty, thin palm in her fingers. “You would donate to the children. You’re so helpful to them.”

“Yes,” the man said. “I love the children.”

“Of course you do,” Agnessa replied as she helped make his way languidly onto the stage.

“Ladies, gentlemen, those of you trapped in between,” Ruslan said to laughter and catcalls. “You must give a loud cheer for our volunteer. Call down the attention of angels to witness this most dangerous trick! We must stand with our friend here as he discovers the wonders of the cabinet.”

Agnessa hated this part. She helped the man into the cabinet as it shared the knowledge of what would be done. More importantly, why it would be done. Ruslan, who always had a better poker face, let her turn away from the crowd at this point in the trick. The upper door, still open, allowed her a final sight of the man inside. As the fear in his eyes caused his breathing to quicken and his body to rock back and forth, she whispered, “Rot in hell.”

The door closed. She and Ruslan began to chant as they spun the box. It rattled as it turned. The screams of the man inside did not carry past the stage. The audience cheered and the small trickle of blood leaking between the doors was only seen as part of the trick. Not the volunteer’s judgment by something, if not better, then greater.

Ruslan opened the cabinet and the audience burst into applause at the sight of the black cat within. Agnessa disliked the cat beyond belief and the feeling was mutual. Of course, when Ruslan reached in, the cat began to purr. Agnessa had wanted a rat, but Ruslan said it would never work. Rats, in his opinion, were too small.

All of these thoughts rushed through her mind as the swell of thunderous applause washed over them. Ruslan set the cat atop the box where it began to lick itself. He took Agnessa’s hand and they bowed before exiting the stage. The house lights stayed down, the spotlight on the cabinet. Then, the lights all died and when they came back up the cabinet had vanished as well.


“Yuri, I swear to the gods if you miss your cues because you’re sexting that moron in Scottsdale I will tell her your syphilis has advanced to the stage where your penis fell off.” Agnessa lifted the cage cover and checked on her bats. They were eating. The smallest, Fury, she’d named him, came over and nuzzled her thumb. Grinning, she dropped the cover down. Bats, so much better than cats. “I should get my back piece finished. Did you find a decent artist in town?”

“There’s nothing decent in this town,” Ruslan complained as he shucked off his clothes and stomped towards the shower in their tiny dressing room.

Agnessa reached over without looking and jerked Yuri’s phone from his hands.

“Hey!” he complained. As she began to type a sob inducing message about Yuri’s recent death due to an overdose of ED drugs, someone knocked on the door. Agnessa let Yuri answer it, he was the stagehand, and ducked behind the screen to change. The door closed as she tugged off her second boot. Stage costume removed, she breathed more easily before unpinning her hair. Maybe this time she would cut it off and the show be damned. Ruslan kept his hair short.

Black and purple waves fell down her back once the last of the pins were out. She refused to shower in the dressing room. The one time she’d considered it the walls had been questionably stained. Worn jeans were tugged on before she looked around for her shirt. Not there. “Fucking Yuri,” she muttered as she heard the door open.

“Yuri, you useless mother fu-“ Thinking it only her cousin she’d left the screen’s privacy in her jeans and bra. Yuri was there, but he had another man with him. Forcing herself not to stammer and dive for cover she crossed the room and reached around the stranger, cop she believed, to grab her shirt.

She caught a whiff of soap when she stood close to him and her body surprised her with urges she knew were a bad idea to indulge with law enforcement. Fool me once, and all.

“Excuse me,” she said, accent fallen back into place. Standing less than a foot in front of him she tugged her tank top on with precise movements to drag the moment out. “That’s better.” It wasn’t. The rush of the show always left her turned on. She’d already picked out a mark for the evening, but if the cops were here she could forget it.  Her brain whispered suggestions involving the cop in front of her. Her brain started by suggesting they go somewhere private and lose their clothes.

“Agnessa Popov?” he said and she cursed his lack of interest in her. “I need to speak to you and your brother.” Perhaps Ruslan would get a rise from him. Cops were always easier to deal with if they were attracted to at least one of them.

“My brother is in the shower. Would you like a drink? Yuri, fetch us some tea. Surely this second rate theater can provide tea?”

Yuri grumbled, but left. The cop was his type to a T. Short blonde hair with hints of red, no beard, blue eyes behind glasses. Agnessa dropped into the lone easy chair in the room. The cop watched her, more amused than transfixed, damn his pretty eyes.

“What can we do for you, officer?”

“Detective. Detective Metz.” Ah, German. A shame. Her family carried grudges at least five generations. Yuri or Ruslan would share the news if she dallied with a German. Well, at least Yuri would have to keep his hands off him as well.

“Detective Metz. Were your parents’ prescient?”

“Cute, Miss Popov. Do you know an Everett Beach?” He had a notebook. How…quaint. Agnessa watched his fingers grip a pen and imagined them on her body. Hopefully, Ruslan would be out soon and help her crawl out of the gutter she wallowed in. “Miss Popov?”

“Agnessa.” Cursing the man in front of her and the way he made her voice drop lower, inviting him to step closer, she kicked her feet onto the ottoman to keep him away. “Please, you must call me Agnessa.”

This time he looked at her. The subtle widening of his eyes and the way his fingers tightened on his pen let her know how well he saw her. Really, shouldn’t they bury decades of bad blood? As surrogates for their ancestors’ homes. Before she could suggest such a thing Ruslan came out of the bathroom.

“Oh, I wasn’t aware we had company.” Ruslan toweled off damp hair dressed in nothing but a pair of tight leather pants. He clearly had a mark for the evening as well.

“Ruslan,” Agnessa said, “This is Detective Metz.” Her brother had heard him already as he’d used his stage accent when speaking.

“Prescient parents?” Ruslan asked her with a wink.

“I didn’t come here for the stage show.” Detective Metz sounded annoyed. Agnessa kicked the ottoman across the crappy carpet towards her brother as Metz watched. Ruslan sat and she looked back at the cop.

“We can get you tickets to tomorrow’s show. For you and your wife.” Dammit. She was fishing. Ruslan would be as aware of this as her. Agnessa closed her eyes and took control of her brain functions back from her groin. It took longer than she’d have liked.

“Everett Beach,” Metz repeated. His lips pressed into a firm line and the way his cheek twitched she thought he might be biting back a rude comment. He handed Ruslan and photo and Agnessa’s lingering lustful thoughts died as she felt her brother’s concern.

“Ah, the volunteer,” he said. Bare shoulders shrugged as he looked at Agnessa. “Did you learn the man’s name?”

“We never do,” she reminded her brother.

Metz brought the photo to Agnessa and she breathed in the scent of his soap again. Look at the photo, she told herself. Not him. Her eyes flickered to the photo and back up to Metz. She caught him staring down the front of her tank top. Her body responded predictably. More importantly, she thought, his did as well. If only her brother were not in the room. Family. They were such a pain.

“Miss Popov?” Metz sounded interested.

“Agnessa!” Ruslan sounded annoyed.

Well, he had her annoyed. With him. For not leaving. Agnessa shook her head and looked at the photo again. Same slimy fellow.

“He was our volunteer, yes. The stars fated his visit to the cabinet. What has happened?”

“He’s not been seen since he stepped into your little cabinet.” Metz stepped away from her as he spoke and she mourned the loss while being thankful for it at the same time. “I need you to talk me through the trick.”

“Impossible!” Ruslan stood and threw his towel on the vanity. “It is a family secret. The Popovs have performed the Wondrous Cabinet of Resplendent Perspicacity since before your people marched into our country.”

“My people?” Metz asked.

The hostility in the room could lead to someone in handcuffs so Agnessa stood. “Nonsense,” she told her brother with a warning look. “Let me walk the detective through it.”

“Yes, let him examine the inside as well as he’d like.” The threat in his tone couldn’t be missed. Agnessa’s eyes narrowed at her brother.

“Detective Metz, come with me. Ruslan, Yuri should be fetching tea. Do be sure he hasn’t found some poor waitress instead.” Shaking her head, she laid her hand on Metz’s arm. “Yuri does like to pester. Please, come with me. It’s next door.”


The cabinet stood in the dimly lit storage room next door. Once they’d finished, Yuri would load it up for the night. They did not leave it stored. Ever. Not since their mother had thought it safe. Six people. They still feared going back to Little Rock. Some organizations had long memories. Agnessa and Ruslan had been the first to venture to Atlanta since their great grandmother. None of which mattered.

“The trick does not work in here,” Agnessa offered. Despite misgivings she opened the bottom door of the cabinet. Crouching down she showed the lever on the side. “You see? The bottom opens and then the person inside climbs down. The theater has someone waiting to escort them out.” Agnessa looked up at Metz and smiled with a shrug. “I do not know the name of the person. Why do you care?”

Metz looked at the cabinet. Now. She would have sworn on her father’s good name he had been looking down her shirt again. He stepped closer to her and the magic.

“Everett Beach is the owner of Beach Tech, the single largest employer in the city.” His words came out sluggish and Agnessa’s inside twisted.

“Metz?” she whispered as she stood to get between him and the box. “Detective? We should go talk somewhere else.”

“Let me see the inside.”

“No,” Agnessa said. “Let’s go back to the stage or the dressing room. Hell, we can go back to your car and get naked.” Ah, he had enough control to feel lust. A shame his eyes never left the cabinet. The door. If she could close the lower door it would help. Agnessa didn’t know why the cabinet called to him, but she fought the urge to let him inside.

“I need to see the inside,” Metz said. He still clutched his pen and notebook.


“I don’t know."

Are you a bad man?” Agnessa knew it shouldn’t matter to her. She didn’t know him. Sexual attraction didn’t convey any moral superiority. “Metz? Beach was an evil man. The things he did…Please. Let’s go somewhere else.”

Metz reached around her and touched the edge of the cabinet where the gold trim gave off an alluring sparkle. Agnessa dug her nails into her palms and continued to fight the temptation of opening the cabinet. The box wanted him.

“You can’t stop it.” Ruslan slipped into the room and closed the door. “You know you can’t stop it, Agnessa. You have to let him in.”

“No.” Agnessa, trapped between Metz and the cabinet, looked at her brother. “We can’t risk it. Two people who will be missed? It’s too risky. For us.”

“Is it that? Or is it you’ve been fooled again?”

Her brother always had been an ass. Agnessa wanted to wail and he only stared at her in silence. She knew he thought Portland would repeat itself tonight. Now she wished Ruslan had not shown up, but deep down she’d known he would. The cabinet flowed through him as well as her.

“Fine,” she said. “Metz? Step back. Detective? Do you want to see the inside?”

“Yes,” Metz answered. His attention shifted from the cabinet to her. “Show me.”

So, she shoved him back and, tears blurring her vision, opened the top door as well. No audience meant no reason to do anything as he stepped inside. Ruslan tried to close the doors, but Agnessa stopped him.

“Aggie, this isn’t a good idea.”

“I want to see.”


“Leave if you don’t like it.”

Metz screamed and they traded a worried glance. The audience normally dimmed the sounds.

“Go tell Yuri to distract anyone curious.”

Ruslan didn’t want to leave, but Agnessa was seven minutes older. Before he left he drew her against his body and kissed the top of her head. “Aggie.”

“Go. Yuri’s not smart enough to do this on his own.”

He left and she locked the door behind him. Inside the cabinet, Metz stood still, holding his notebook and pen. Agnessa feared what would happen, but nothing did. Nothing visible. The sadness this brought could not be denied, even if she could not determine the reasons for her emotion. Lifting her tank top, she scrubbed at her eyes.

“Miss Popov?”

Agnessa stood, unsure of how much time had passed. Metz stumbled from the cabinet and she barely managed to steady him before they both fell. What had happened? Metz’s fingers dug into her bare arms after his notebook dropped.

“I- Miss Popov?”

“Agnessa.” What had happened? She had to call her mother. Find out what in the hell happened. “Detective Metz?”

He jerked away from her and picked up his notebook from the floor. His pen had rolled under the cabinet and he didn’t approach the box to retrieve it.

“I need to get a warrant for Beach’s house.”

“Detective, we should talk.”

Metz shook his head and headed for the door. Agnessa should have stopped him, but found herself unable to do anything. Ruslan found her standing in the empty room. He closed the doors to the cabinet and moved her out of the way as he opened the loading bay and wheeled the cabinet out with Yuri’s help.

Ruslan led her to the truck and had her sit between him and Yuri.

“Where are we going?” Agnessa frowned as they drove to the highway onramp. “Yuri? Turn around.”

“Mom said to come home,” Ruslan told her.

“We can’t leave things that way. We don’t know what happened.”

Ruslan shrugged. “It’s not our job to understand the decisions of the cabinet.”

“Fuck that.”

Not that she had a choice. They would go home. The first thing she planned to do at home involved scissors and her hair. The second thing involved her resignation from the act. Let Yuri prance around in skimpy outfits and deal with the cabinet. All lies, but comforting ones on the long drive. If they made it home was up to the cabinet. Agnessa was unsure if she’d rather go home or to another show.

Either way, she worried over poor Detective Metz. She’d probably never know what happened  to him.



Story Three - Godlike

Today's story comes from an idea donated by Kevin @smilingworg. He's the lone dude in a sea of chicks in our FanLit FB group. He's super cool with our occasional tangents into pics of hot guys for inspiration. This story feels rushed. Probably because these are all rushed. Maybe I just noticed more in this. 

Godlike tells the take of two members of the Civil Corp studying a culture on a planet at the edge of the solar system. They find something unexpected. That's it. No tantalizing tease. Get to reading! It's half the size of yesterday's!



The Delta have accepted us as traders from across the mountains. I have arranged a meeting with their religious leaders for tomorrow. Beth has remained at the camp near the river to continue the illusion of our origins. See attached video for analysis. I believe Doctor Shepherd will find the second hour of particular interest.

2nd Lieutenant Eleanor White



Everett, I’m concerned about Beth. Will you please let me know more about what happened on ITM IV. How can I keep history from repeating if I don’t have a text to study?




Eleanor’s finger hovered over the send key.

“What’s taking so long?”

She hit send and then turned in the chair to smile at Beth. “Nothing. I attached the wrong video feed at first. Must be tired.”

Beth, too cute for her own good, dropped into Eleanor’s lap and kissed her cheek. “You’re a terrible liar, sweetheart. Are you talking behind my back again? Haven’t I been very good?” She peered at the screen, but there was nothing to see.

Soft, warm, tempting Beth. Eleanor hadn’t tried too hard to resist her as they’d traveled the week from their ship to get to the landing site. It had been nice having someone in her bed, cramped as it was to share. Unfortunately, Beth was now under the impression she had soft, warm, tempting adorable hooks into Eleanor. She did not, although Eleanor hadn’t explained to Beth how she felt.

Everyone assumed since Eleanor was from 6XP III she was some sort of sexually repressed teenager looking for any excuse to take her pants off. Hard to blame people since the majority of the colony was made up of a slightly odd religious sect. Eleanor was not a member and she enjoyed a good roll in the bunk as much as the next person. However, her hormones would not stop her from doing her duty.

Beth, not getting the reaction she wanted, left Eleanor’s lap.

“Why did you come back? Is something wrong? If one of the Crisolim Deltas shows up at the empty camp, we could lose this opportunity.” Eleanor would not let that happen. Although she suspected Captain James wanted her to or he would have given her someone other than Beth to work with on the project.

“Relax. I just had to get something. I got my period.” Eleanor wrinkled her nose at Beth’s words. Why she wouldn’t get implanted for the trip she did not know. “I’ll head back. I can wait for you if you’d rather?”

Eleanor stared at her monitor and wondered if it had been long enough for the captain to read her report. Would he answer tonight? She stood up and went to where Beth rooted around in the bathroom. She hugged the other woman from behind and shook her head.

“You go on back without me. If Captain James doesn’t answer in the next half hour, I’ll make my way back. You should get your rest. Big day tomorrow.”

Beth added a few items to a small canvas bag before she kissed Eleanor’s cheek and left the small transport ship. Once the door was secured, Eleanor sat back at her station and waited. As the minutes drifted past, she began to suspect the Captain had nothing to share.

Thoughts of returning were creeping into her brain when her monitor lit up. Eleanor hit the accept button and then began to swear. No one was about so she swore louder and more vociferously. She’d been posted to four exploratory vessels manned by the military. If she took away nothing else from her time in the Civil Corp, she’d at least absorbed a veritable unending lexicon of swears.

After reading the report she deleted it. Then she ran the sweep program she’d acquired before this trip. If it ran as it was supposed to there’d be no trace of the messages between her and the Captain. Eleanor locked everything down and then began the trek back to the camp.


The following morning Eleanor washed up while Beth prepared their meal. Beth had training in primitive living. She was a natural at it, which explained why she kept getting assignments despite, well, the file had been thorough. Details of her last assignment were classified and grim. Eleanor tried to shake the knowledge off as she sat down across from Beth at their small, makeshift table.

“Didn’t you sleep well?” Beth asked as she ladled eggs. Eleanor didn’t ask where the eggs came from. She’d already learned not to ask such questions.

“Tired is all,” Eleanor said as she forced herself to eat. There was no telling what they would be required to eat with the Deltas. Crisolim, she reminded herself. They called themselves Crisolim and she should know that as a trader. A rustling in the underbrush alerted them to the arrival of their targets and Eleanor was thankful to leave the last of her breakfast on the table.

Beth was already on her feet and bowing to the men and women who entered their camp. Their language was harsh sounding until the implant kicked in to translate. Eleanor hated the first minute when the link rushed to trigger the secondary language implant. If only she had the linguistic aptitude Beth had, she wouldn’t need to worry about implants and translations. Eleanor shoved the thoughts aside and rose to join her co-worker.

“I am most sorry,” the scout said. “Strange portents in the night have led our elders to declare the village off limits for the next three nights.” He glanced at his companions. “They say our holy father had a vision. Of water.”

Eleanor tried to remember what little mythology she’d learned about the green skinned people they were here to study. Their stories, she thought, claimed they came from water. They did have secondary gills and webbed feet. Ridiculous fears of mythological monsters would put their mission behind schedule and Eleanor wanted to finish on time.

“I would love to go!”

Wait. What? Eleanor looked over to see Beth grinning.


The other woman turned and then hurried over to talk.

“Sincel said we can go on their hunt. It beats sitting here all day.”

“When can we see the priest?” Eleanor asked. She’d seen the videos of their hunts, which were replete with blood and shrieking. She could see little reason to actually attend one.  

Sincel broke off from the others and approached Eleanor and Beth. “The priest is unavailable. He has said he might not be available for some time. Most sincere apologies. We know you were eager to have him auger.”

“Well, we have a few more days,” Beth said with a wide smile.


Three hours later, bored of pretending to be a trader, Eleanor headed for the village. The tiny drones in her satchel would give her eyes on the people. Pretending to be something was fine, but it was good to remember what you were. Eleanor was a lieutenant in the Civil Corp with five degrees and a wealth of experience packed into her thirty odd years. Let Beth play the primitive.

Before reaching the village, Eleanor stepped off the path. She unslung her satchel and pulled out the drones. They were no bigger than some of the local flying bugs she’d observed. She selected three to deploy for now. If they were not enough she had another four she could send out. Her footsteps sounded loud in the underbrush and the scent of the village mingling with the woods made it impossible to tell if anyone was near.

Once the drones were laid out on the ground she activated the remote. She’d decided to run enough drones that the larger screen they’d brought along would be needed. The last thing she wanted was to miss something because the smaller screen was split too far. The brief whirring as the drones powered up sounded too loud, probably because her movements had quieted the woods’ inhabitants.

She sat in the dirt at the edge of a large bramble and picked at the berries hanging there as she controlled the drones’ programming. The villagers fed her the same berries yesterday, so she didn’t hesitate to pop them into her mouth now. They tasted like honeysuckle and orange and Eleanor wondered if they could take a cutting back for the ships’ hydroponics.

The drone sent to the temple was the one of most interest. Eleanor had the others set to record and would comb through them later. The temple, one of the few structures made of stone, had plenty of open windows through which the drone could access the interior. She pulled another drone from her bag and programmed it to find Beth. There was a chance she’d notice, but Eleanor could brush off any upset feelings with an easy excuse. Beth would, she was sure, believe she was worried for her safety.

The screen went black and Eleanor bit back a curse. Pulling up the interface she typed rapidly on the glass, but she kept getting the same error message.

“Tsk, Eleanor. I said no.”

Her hand stung and she looked down to see a single drop of blood welling up from a tiny puncture wound.

“What?” she managed to say before she collapsed.


There was a party inside Eleanor’s skull. Not the sedate, wine and quiet conversation type she preferred, but a loud, graduate students on a week-long bender type. Her tongue felt too big and she groaned as the taste of dust filled her mouth. She opened her eyes and found herself laying on a stone floor. When she tried to brush her hair out of her eyes, she discovered her hands were bound behind her back.

“Dammit,” a male voice said out of her line of sight. It sounded vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place it. She wiggled her hands felt a flash of worry when she couldn’t feel the emergency beacon around her wrist. How had the Deltas known to take it? Eleanor managed to sit up and then slowly levered herself to her feet. Her head throbbed and the room threatened to spin, but she fixed her eyes on a single point on the wall.

“Oh, good. You’re up!”

Eleanor spun around and nearly toppled. The only thing that stopped her was the stone wall she slumped against. The temple wall, she was sure.

“Second Lieutenant Eleanor White. A pleasure to meet you. Again.”

As her eyes made a reluctant switch from the wall to her captor, she tried to clear her mind. The man standing in the room with her was tall, but the large gut and short limbs he possessed presented the illusion of a much shorter man. She wondered if that bothered him, but decided to save that question for later.

“I don’t recall meeting you,” she responded. He didn’t look familiar. Most of the men she knew had shorter hair, but plenty had begun to go grey.

“Well, it was a long time ago. And you were only a child I suppose. Or was it your mother? You look like your mother.” The man drew closer, control pad in one hand. “What’s the access code? I wish I’d had one of these sooner. This is going to be most helpful.”

“Look, I don’t know what the fuck you’re doing, but who in the everlasting pit of Hades are you?” Eleanor had always liked the ring of Hades over Hell. Two glorious syllables instead of one. Multisyllabic words in curses were typically better.

“The access code, lieutenant. If you won’t volunteer it, I fear I’ll be forced to be drastic in my efforts to persuade you to be more forthcoming.”

Eleanor looked away from him and wished she’d paid more attention in her self-defense classes.

“Not drastic with you, Eleanor,” he reassured her. “Your partner is currently surrounded by men, who will slaughter her at my command.” His words were dispassionate, but she suspected he was trying to be the sneering villain.

She wished she had access to her control panel. The drones had surely captured his likeness and facial recognition would tell her all she needed to know. Unfortunately, he had her equipment.

“Very well, but please make a note in your report, should you live to make one, that it was you who got Sergeant Annabeth D’Aramitz killed.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Eleanor demanded.

He didn’t answer.

Eleanor slumped down to the ground as he left the room. Taking the controls with him. Alone in the room, she ran through every curse she knew. By the time she was repeating herself she felt the last of the drug wear off. Her hands were still bound too tight to get free.


The sun was almost down when Eleanor heard movement again. Once more she leveraged herself to her feet and stood with her back to the wall. When the man entered he wasn’t holding her drone controls. Instead, he held a pistol. Military issue. Eleanor bit back a whimper. More of it made sense now. He had to be a deserter. Plenty of soldiers “went over the fence” during those dark days when the Unger had appeared to be winning. Out here, at the edge of the habitable solar system, he could have easily gone undetected.

“Come along, lieutenant. Time to remind these savages who controls the power of the gods.” He waved the gun and Eleanor shook her head.

“Show them my corpse.”

“I’ve already shown them the corpse of your lover. Tsk, lieutenant. Fraternization is expressly forbidden.”

“Fuck you.” Eleanor was a little surprised at the vitriol she felt. She hadn’t even been particularly fond of Beth. This man, though. For this man, she would give up her doctorates to get her hands free so that she could introduce him to some of the more violent atrocities practiced by other cultures she’d studied to gain them.

He sighed, his eyes drifting upwards towards whatever heavens he pretended to believe in. His soft leather boots shuffled across the floor as he approached her. The gun moved from one hand to the other so he could grab her shoulder. Eleanor, not worried about dignity any longer, screamed and kicked as he hauled her from the room.


The village was lit with torches. A sharp contrast to the artificial lights inside the temple. Eleanor coughed when her killer shoved her to the ground. He watched as she struggled to her feet, his lips tilted in a smirk. Her chin came up and she stared into his eyes as he raised the gun. Everyone had warned her the Civil Corp could be as dangerous as military service. There had always been a chance she’d die by violence. When she and Beth didn’t return, soldiers would be sent to investigate. Contaminating the culture would no longer be a concern. Her killer would face justice.


Dozens of eyes turned away from Eleanor’s death scene. Annoyance, sharp and surprising, caused her to suck in a deep breath and then cough.


Even Eleanor couldn’t watch her death any longer. Eyes squinting into the darkness she could barely make out the people who walked towards her. She recognized one of them as Beth and smiled.

“I cannot leave you alone,” Beth said without a single look at the man holding the gun. “I said I would be right back.”

“Why is she alive?” the priest screamed to the hunting party behind Beth.

“Because I helped them recognize a false prophet.”

Eleanor groaned as Beth lifted a light over her head. She recognized the emergency light from the ship. It glowed blue and Beth looked different in its illumination. Not human, but not quite like a Delta.

A shot rang out and the light died.

“Nice shot,” Eleanor said. The words were out before she could stop herself. It had been an impressive shot. More impressive than the next. Eleanor may have been biased as the next shot hit her. Staggering back, she tried not to fall, but her knees buckled under her. As she collapsed she heard a shout and then another. Something was going on and she wished she had the drones to record it.


“Wake up, sunshine!”

Eleanor groaned and wrinkled her nose. It smelled like a hospital. Oh, the astringent smell was because she was in a hospital.


“Aww. I like when you call me Beth better.”

“Soft,” Eleanor slurred. Beth’s hand was on her arm. “Warm,” she added.

“Tempting?” Beth asked with a grin.

Eleanor knew she grinned because she’d finally managed to lift her eyelids. They fought the act, gravity wanting to bring their heavy weight back down to her face.

“We’re heroes, you know,” Beth said. “You and me. Medals all around.” Beth was careful, but she climbed into the bed. She lay on her side and tucked herself against Eleanor’s. “I thought he’d killed you.”

“M’hard to kill,” Eleanor said. What was going on? Would the corpsman explain? “What’re you doing?”

“Oh. I thought- You were just…sorry.” Beth slid from the bed. Eleanor missed the feel of her.

“What’s going on?”

“Don’t you remember?” Beth asked. From a chair. A shame. Eleanor had just begun to appreciate her next to her. “You said- I mean, you were hurt, but as they carried you to the ship and before the Eerie put you out.”


“The emergency A.I. protocol. It’s what we called it in training.”

“Oh. Know the term.” Eleanor used leaden limbs to pull herself into a seated position. “What did I say?” Anesthesia did strange things to her brain. “Why are you blushing?”

Had she ever seen Beth blush?

“You said you liked me. And…other stuff.”

“Oh.” Well, what was she supposed to say now? “The anesthesia…”

Beth stood before she said, “No, I get it. It’s fine.”


Beth stopped and groaned. “Actually, it’s captain. I’m Intel.”

Eleanor’s head pounded worse. Why had Intel been sent with her? What did they suspect of her?

“I’m loyal,” she whispered.

Beth hurried back to her side and took her hand. Eleanor felt her fingers lace with the other woman’s and felt an easing of the tension in her shoulders. Beth, slow enough she could have been stopped, perched on the edge of the bed.

“We had weird power signatures pinging. I was sent to investigate. No one doubts you, Eleanor. We were paired since they figured you were used to dealing with us weird cult members.”

Before Eleanor could ask what she meant the computer pinged. Beth left her and the A.I. sent Eleanor back to sleep. That was fine. She didn’t want to think about anything right now anyway. There would be answers enough when they returned to the ship.

With any luck, by then, she’d know what to say to Beth.



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Story Two - Sealed with a Kiss

Day two's story departs the sci fi realm and veers into new territory. Kyle, a fisherman, meets Donnan when he's seventeen. He has no idea what Donnan is, other than hot. He runs into him several times until, now in his thirties, he fishes Donnan from the sea. In true selkie form, Donnan isn't a forever sort of guy, but when he's in trouble Kyle's the man to help him out. What does Kyle get out of being the "nice" guy? Well, read and find out. 

Sealed with a Kiss


Three sets of hands grasped the line. Three, where only two should be. Kyle stared into the murky water and tried to see who had been caught. The third set of hands on the line didn’t worry him yet. Once they’d hauled the survivor aboard he would determine who had left their assigned post.

Sodden clothes weighed down the person struggling to keep their head above water. Keith reached down over the edge of the boat and grabbed a piece of a coat. He nearly lost his grip when he saw the face.

“Donnan,” he whispered and then yelled, “Haul harder, men!

How Donnan had come to be here, incapacitated in the water, was a story he would dearly love to hear. For now, he and the rest of the rescue boat, had to get him aboard and seek other survivors.

The storms had come three days ago and Kyle, and any other fisherman willing to risk his boat, had been out trying to help those lost in the waves. His men were exhausted, but they kept going back out. Donnan fell to the deck and Kyle knelt beside him. When he felt for a pulse he breathed a sigh of relief. Donnan was breathing and his eyes fluttered open. The shock in his dark eyes was easily read. Kyle was sure when he’d seen Donnan in the water he’d had the same look.

“Kyle,” the man said before he closed his eyes again.

“Get him below deck,” Kyle shouted. He wanted to do it. Every nerve screamed to take Donnan into his arms and carry him to his bed, but he had work to do. So, he let his crew take him away. “Back to work!” Kyle yelled. “We’ll make one more sweep and then head in for the night.”

He wasn’t going back in because of Donnan, he told himself. He was as exhausted as his men and without rest, another ship would have to be sent out to rescue them.

They found no one else and Kyle wearily steered the ship for port. She would be as grateful to get in as the rest of them. The Moby Dick was old, but she’d settled into her new name when he’d bought her from his uncle ten years ago. His parents had been appalled, but they’d been appalled since he announced at seventeen that instead of coming home or returning to college, he was staying in Scotland to be a fisherman.

Rubbing tired eyes, Kyle radioed in to port to say he was coming in. Then there was nothing else to do but watch the waves and the lights of the other ships – and not think of the man below deck.


“You know they expect you to turn tail and run,” Uncle Neil had said as they drove away from the airport.

“Yea, well, I don’t run so easily,” Kyle had said as he bumped along in the old truck away from civilization. “And I’d rather spend the summer working than listening to endless lectures on why I should have applied to more colleges or taken the whole thing more seriously.”

At seventeen, Kyle may not have known what he wanted to do, but he was sure it didn’t involve college. Four more years of school had seemed a nightmare. He’d applied to his parents’ alma maters, but with no real sincerity. After paying for three other kids to go to school he thought they’d appreciate not writing more checks.

“They said you had some trouble at home.”

Kyle tried not to blush, but all he could do was hope his uncle was too busy watching the road to notice. Had his parents really told Neil about his breakup with Will? Why would they do that?

“Look, I’ll tell you what I told them. I don’t care where you stick your prick so long as it doesn’t get in the way of work. You cause trouble with the rest of the crew and I’ll toss your ass into the sea.” The words were blunt, as was his demeanor, and it took Kyle a minute to be sure he understood them all, but he was thankful for them. Kyle wasn’t here looking for that. He was here to work and forget about Will.

“Tell me about the job,” Kyle said as they stopped to wait for a flock, herd, group of sheep to cross. He wasn’t sure what they were called, but he stopped thinking about it as Neil began to speak. Kyle did his best to remember everything he was told. He didn’t want to go home over the summer.


“Don’t you want another beer?” Selma asked as Kyle stood up from the sand.

Kyle shook his head and stumbled away from the light of the bonfire. He tugged his coat closer around his frame as the sea carried in the cold wind. It would be colder away from the fire, but three beers had gone to his head, unused to drinking as he was, and he wanted to get away in case he was sick. The stars spun, but only a little, and Kyle wandered farther off.

Being from Kansas, he hadn’t seen much of the ocean before this summer. The cold, Atlantic water was a source of endless fascination. Three weeks here and already his heart ached at the thought of returning to his landlocked home. Kyle sat down and watched the waves as the clouds allowed the moon to play peekaboo with him.

“There’s a sight I don’t see often.”

Kyle broke the skin on his lip as his teeth fought to keep him from moaning. He’d never heard a voice like that one. Seven words, whispered under the hidden moon, and his body was ready for anything.

“Cat got your tongue?”

Kyle’s head swiveled up and stared at, well, god-like was so overused. The man was probably a few years older than Kyle and he wasn’t wearing a shirt. Kyle suspected he did not work out at the gym even if his body hinted at such activities. There was something wilder about him. Like he wouldn’t be caught dead in such an establishment.

“No,” Kyle stammered. “I’m Kyle.” Smooth, he thought.

“Donnan,” the other man said as he dropped to the sand beside Kyle. He was too close and Kyle tugged his coat down further to, hopefully, cover his body’s embarrassing reaction. “You hurt your lip.”

Donnan’s hand lifted and this time there was no stopping Kyle’s moan. Rough, damp fingers brushed over his lower lip and Kyle leaned in to the touch. Dark eyes watched with humor as Kyle lifted his hand to run through Donnan’s long, black hair.

“Kyle,” Donnan whispered as he pushed his thumb between Kyle’s lips. “Do you want to stay here with me for the night? Only the night.”

Kyle, seventeen and away from home, surrounded nearly all the time and unable to see to any needs didn’t need to think about it. Not tonight with the warm haze of beer coursing through him and the waves tempting him to abandon. He pulled Donnan’s head towards his and the other man toppled him down into the sand. The cold was forgotten, but as Kyle lost himself in Donnan’s encouraging touches he never stopped hearing the waves hitting the hard packed sand.



Kyle shook himself and focused on Selma. Now his first mate and best friend, she was the only one he’d told about his meetings with Donnan. Unlike his siblings, long abandoned in the States, Selma was his sister.

“Hey, you want me to spell you? We’re about thirty minutes out. You could go get some rest.” Selma’s grin was huge even though her red hair hung in limp, exhausted curls around her cute face. Thank goodness, Kyle thought, for cold clothes. He shook his head, but she squeezed into the cockpit with him. “Go on.”

He should say no, but he didn’t. Instead, he hurried out into rain whose temperature struggled to hover above freezing. In the galley he grabbed a couple cups of bad coffee and carried them to his cabin. He didn’t question how he knew where Donnan was. He’d been able to find him since their first meeting.


“The name’s terrible,” Selma said as she set her glass on the bar. “You’ll not be hiding anything with it.”

Kyle grinned, whisky glass almost empty, as he waved down the bartender for another.

“I think by now everyone knows,” he pointed out. It’d been ten years since he’d shown up in the village. Ten years of first working for his uncle, and then working to buy his uncle’s boat. Today he’d made the last payment and the newly christened Moby Dick was his, free and clear. His uncle Neil didn’t believe in banks and had insisted Kyle work off the price of the ship. Years of scrimping and living off meals mooched from friends had been worth it. His parents still pointed out he could sell the boat and go to school, though, which was why he didn’t call them often. Occasional emails kept their relationship as civil as it was.

The door opened as fresh drinks were set in front of them and Kyle caught the scent of the sea. He turned, but saw no one new inside. Why the scent of the sea should have caught his attention now, when the whole village smelled of the sea, was unclear. He slid his full drink to Selma and finished his other.

“Be right back.”

It wasn’t a hunch; he would tell Selma later when she weaseled all the embarrassing details from him. It was more like, he knew. If he went outside, then he’d see him. If he saw him he’d touch him. The thought sped up Kyle’s steps and he raced down the street to the beach.

“There you are.” That voice. Older now, his body under a little more control, Kyle didn’t make a sound. He was still instantly, embarrassingly instantly, hard. Kyle found Donnan in the tall grass at the edge of the beach and sank down to his knees beside him.

“Sometimes,” Kyle confessed as he ran a hand down Donnan’s bare chest, “I thought I’d dreamed you.”

“No, Kyle,” Donnan said before he gasped. Kyle’s fingertips were under the waistband of Donnan’s pants. “No alcohol fumes conjured me up. Only the sea, washing me ashore for an evening.”

“Then may the Lord bless the sea and the bounty she provides,” Kyle murmured as his fingers worked to free the sea’s gift to him. Donnan’s laugh made his whole body shiver and he didn’t need to coax Kyle’s body atop his. Nor did he have to work hard to get Kyle’s clothes off.

Much later, when the salt scented wind sent Kyle burrowing up against Donnan, he asked, “You’re not from here, are you?”

Kyle was too embarrassed to admit how he’d kept an eye out for him. Ten years and whenever the sea scent was too strong he looked around. How many nights had he spent sitting on the beach with only a bottle for company instead of the man he sought?

Fingers stroked down Kyle’s back as Donnan kissed his shoulder. “You’re a smart one, you are,” he teased. “Do you want a story then? Until you’ve recovered?”

“Oh, I’m sufficiently recovered,” Kyle said, falling for Donnan’s words too easily. His words and the feel of his fingers creeping lower down his back.


“Come to warm my poor drowned body then?” Donnan asked as Kyle stepped into his cabin and closed the door. There was little room to move around, but Donnan reclined on the bed, a thin blanket pulled up to his waist.

“Coffee,” Kyle stuttered despite his age. A man in his thirties should not be so affected by a bare chest. Even the perfect one in his bed. He’d forgotten the way the light dusting of hair grew thicker the farther down his eyes traveled. Kyle jerked his gaze away.

“It’s not coffee needed to warm either of us,” Donnan teased. His body shifted on the bed and the blanket slid down another inch.

“Coffee,” Kyle said again, more firmly. “Selkie.”

Donnan’s dark eyes, always warm and teasing, turned chilly. “You learned something since last we met.” He sat up and Kyle held out one of the cups, the hot splash of coffee on his hand unnoticed.

“It’s been five years,” Kyle said. Donnan didn’t take either cup so he set them down on the small desk normally folded up against the wall.

“Time does pass differently for me.” Donnan said. “We’re headed to the village?”

“Uh, yea,” Kyle said. “Are you really a selkie? I thought for sure I’d say the word and you’d laugh at the dumb American.”

“You’ve been here almost as long as you lived there, Kyle,” Donnan reminded him. The cold in his eyes was vanishing and Kyle stumbled into his gaze when the ship lurched. Donnan laughed and grabbed Kyle’s hand to tug him down onto the bunk. “I’ve done a foolish thing, Kyle. I’ve a need to stay on land for a bit.”

Donnan’s fingers worked the buttons of Kyle’s shirt one at a time. It wasn’t until his sodden shirt was tossed to the floor that Kyle found his voice again. Almost, it abandoned him again, when Donnan’s fingers worked to undo his belt.

“What did you do?”

“And wasn’t I a fool?” Donnan whispered as his hand slid into Kyle’s wet jeans. The damage done by the cold water vanished and Kyle moaned as Donnan’s fingers slipped past his boxers as well. “Dallied with the wrong girl I did and all this time you’ve been waiting for me, Kyle.”

Deep in his brain, Kyle could hear himself thinking, “Holy fuck! He’s really a selkie.”

Kyle pushed Donnan onto his back and tugged the blanket down. “I want to hear all about it,” he said before he kissed along Donnan’s jaw. “But not yet.” Donnan’s laugh turned into a gasp as Kyle’s mouth took his.


“Holy fuck! You fucked a selkie!” Selma was halfway to being more than three sheets to the wind. Kyle was bright red and slumped down in the corner booth across from her. “No wonder you abandoned me last night. Oh, I may have run your tab up a wee bit so don’t have a coronary when you get the bill tonight. Now…dish.”

Kyle looked at his whisky and resolved to stop at one. Who knew how many drinks he’d be paying for from last night? He would be annoyed, but his body still remembered Donnan’s touch and assured him it was worth it.

“Hey, I said dish!”

“You know selkies aren’t real, right?” Kyle asked. “I mean, they’re fairy tales.”

“Dark hair, handsome as all get out, always by the water, and dallies for a night.” Selma lifted a finger with each point and then said, “Check, check, check, check. Tell me about his dick.”

Kyle’s skin, not quite recovered from his earlier blush, turned crimson as he choked on his whisky. Selma waited with an alcohol assisted patience she normally lacked. He should talk to her about her drinking. She’d been doing more of it since Rory had broken up with her. Rory, an ass, had done it over text.

“Hey,” Selma said as she snapped her fingers.

“Selma, I am not going to sit here and talk about Donnan’s dick with you.”

“That good, yea?”

“Fuck yea,” Kyle said with a grin.


“I have to help dock,” Kyle said as he disentangled from the blanket and Donnan. The selkie watched him, naked and not quite sated looking, but Kyle drew on dry clothes and headed up to help.

“Was he still good?” Selma hollered over the wind.

“Oh, shut up!” Kyle said. Selma laughed, but they were too busy to talk. Once the Dick, as Selma liked to call it, was docked Kyle made sure all his hands were safely in their cars before he went back to his cabin. Selma had been hard to get rid of, but a timely call from her husband had worked in his favor. As had the quick text he’d sent to said husband making sure he called.  Once he was alone on the ship he went back to check on Donnan.

“Did you want to come back to my place? It’s not too far.”

Donnan had been dressed, back in his wet clothes, when Kyle made it back to him.

“Will you feed me?” Donnan’s voice made every question an innuendo. No, a promise of lascivious activities. Kyle didn’t bother to try to hide his shiver of desire.

“After you tell me what’s going on I’ll do whatever you want,” Kyle promised.


Kyle’s little house, bought from his uncle along with the boat, was warm. He’d despaired it being such, but the woodstove had been doing its job while he was out. Kyle shed his coat and boots as Donnan, with no modesty, undressed down to a pair of mostly dry boxers.

“Umm. You can borrow anything that might fit.” Kyle went to the kitchen and started a fresh pot of coffee and dug in the fridge for something to heat up. Finding the remains of the other night’s chicken stew he carried the pot to the stove. Donna joined him, not having put anything else on, and sat at the table.

“What’s her name?” he asked.

“Cecilia. And she’s out to here.” Donnan’s hands curved and he extended them way past his stomach. “And she claims the babe is mine.”

“Is it?” Kyle asked as he stirred the stew.

“Could be. She believes so. And so she’s gone and stolen my skin and said she won’t return it until the babe is running around.” Donnan’s voice reminded Kyle of his grandmother’s when she’d spoken at her husband’s funeral. As if there was nothing to live for any longer. “I thought perhaps my father would assist me, but he did not come and the storm caught me by surprise.”

Kyle found a half loaf of bread and cut it to set on the table. Once he had everything ready he sat across from Donnan. Under the table the selkie’s foot ran up his calf. Kyle choked on his coffee before glaring at the other man.

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

“What we’ve always done. Be bound to the earth until I can find my skin and be free.” The wind rattled the old glass windows to add to the mournful tone of Donnan’s words.

On the one hand, Kyle felt bad for him. On the other, well, if he was the father shouldn’t he take care of the kid? Especially since he could be like him.

“Won’t the child be selkie?”

“Ah, there’s the thing,” Donnan said as he quit playing with his uneaten food. “There’s no way to be sure at first. No offense, your food does little to whet my appetite.” His direct gaze aroused the same appetite in Kyle who dropped his spoon into his bowl.

“Then we’ll eat later,” Kyle said. Shoving his chair back he stood and grabbed Donnan’s arm on the way to the small bedroom at the back of the house.


“Why’re you doing this again?” Selma asked as they stood in the lobby to the small hospital two villages over.

Kyle’s eyes darted back and forth as his foot tapped restlessly on the floor.

“Kyle!” Selma’s voice echoed and drew several sharp looks. She ignored them. “Why are you doing this?”

“Because.” Kyle couldn’t explain it. For two days he’d let the crew rest. He wasn’t rested. Donnan had either been loudly lamenting the loss of his skin or distracting himself with Kyle. Not that Kyle had minded the latter. Still, by the third morning he’d readily agreed to Donnan’s too sly suggestion he go check on Cecilia. Kyle had brought Selma along for moral support.

“Excuse me? Are you Kyle?”

Drawn from his thoughts, Kyle looked up to see an older woman with a worn smile. “I’m Mary. Cecilia’s mother. We spoke on the phone.”

Kyle rose and took her hand as she stared at him with open curiosity. Selma faded into the 1970s printed sofa.

“Yes, ma’am. I’m Kyle Sterling. Is Cecilia ok?”

“Oh, yes. She’s fine. Is this your wife?” Kyle turned bright red at the question. Especially since Selma laughed.

“I’m his ride,” Selma said as she stood. “Nice to meet you. Can Kyle see Cecilia?”

Mary hesitated, green eyes clouded and smile disappearing. “Cecilia is quite wore out after the labor. Did I mention on the phone? She went into labor last night.”

Kyle reached for Mary’s hand, unsure why. “Are Cecilia and the baby ok?”

“Babies,” Mary said, distracted. She gave herself a shake before smiling. “But if you say you’re a friend of the babes’ father then perhaps I should let you talk to her. Something has to help.”

Her words left Kyle more worried. Would she do something to Donnan’s skin? What would happen to the selkie if he were bound to the land forever? Kyle was sure it would be nothing good. Selma tagged along as Mary led them to Cecilia’s room. At the door she held Mary back and spoke softly to her, leaving Kyle to go in alone.

“Cecilia?” Kyle said to the petite woman lying in the bed. She looked as if she might be sleeping, but when he said her name again her eyes opened. Her black hair had been cut into short spikes and her eyes were the same green as her mother’s. She was pretty. Kyle could see why Donnan had been tempted even if she didn’t tempt him.

“Go away. I know he sent you.” Cecilia turned her head away, but Kyle only moved closer. “It’s not here. I’m not stupid. It’s somewhere safe and he can have it back when the babes are older.”

“What are their names?” Kyle picked up a chair and set it by the bed. The small noise it made caused Cecilia to look at him.

“Erynna and Clyde. After my gran and my father.”

“Did you know you were having twins?” The look Cecilia gave him was likely only bestowed previously on an idiot. “Sorry,” Kyle mumbled.

“What do you want?”

Before he might answer a nurse knocked at the door. “All done,” she said cheerfully as she and a second nurse brought the babies in. All Kyle could see were still, tiny forms wrapped snugly in blankets.

“Can I hold one?” he found himself asking.

The nurses exchanged a look Kyle didn’t understand before they turned to Cecilia.

“It’s ok,” she answered as she sat up and reached for the babe being handed to her.

Kyle’s hands nearly shook as the nurse placed a baby in them. It – she - made a noise and he tucked back the little hat she wore to see dark hair. She was sleeping and he traced her cheek with his pinkie. A clang from the hall startled him and he tucked her up against his chest. He looked at the door. Erynna stirred and wailed.

“Ah, it’s ok, Erynna,” Kyle whispered. “Just some big oaf. Never you fear. No big oafs here but me and I’ve got you.”

“Do you have your own children?” Cecilia asked and her voice was softer and hostile than before.  

“I’m gay,” Kyle said.

“Oh,” Cecilia said. “Then you’re Donnan’s friend friend.”

Kyle laughed, the sound too loud and making both babies stir. “I suppose I am. Although, well…I’ve no belief he’ll linger. He never has before.”

Kyle had never given it much thought. He enjoyed Donnan, but had never truly missed him. Not since those first years when he’d been a teenager. It was obvious he wasn’t the sticking around type.

“I can take her,” Cecilia offered. Kyle felt his muscles tighten as he held Erynna, but he rose and handed the baby to her mother. “I just need help,” she said as she held both babies. “I was in school. Online, you know? I want to work with computers. I don’t know how I’ll manage. Mom said she’ll help, but it’s just the two of us and she works.”

She was crying. Kyle had almost zero experience with crying women. He patted her shoulder awkwardly.

“My brother comes home in the summers, but he teaches in London and can’t be here all the time,” she continued hopelessly.

“I could help.”

Who said that?

Kyle looked around before he realized he’d said it. He was such a sucker.

“I don’t know you.”

“I know. I just…uhh…” Kyle stepped away from the bed. “Sorry. You don’t know me. I’m sorry. Fuck.”

Cecilia laughed as Kyle dropped into the chair again.

“Tell me about yourself,” Cecilia said as the babies settled down.

So, he did. Beginning with his break-up ages ago with Will and how he’d wound up in Scotland. Cecilia didn’t speak until he’d ended things, abruptly, with fishing Donnan from the sea last night.

“I never wanted kids,” Cecilia said into the room’s silence. “I was going to get my degree and get out of this backwards part of the world. Now I’ll be like my mom and stuck forever. I’ve never been anywhere.”

She was crying again.

Kyle stood and said, “I’ll go get your mom.”

He felt bad about fleeing, but he didn’t know what to say. More than that, he was afraid of what he might say. Because, seeing her lost and those small babies needing so much he’d wanted to offer to take them. Not that he knew a thing about raising children. Or had time. Or space. Or…

“Fuck.” He made it outside before cursing.

Selma found him leaning against her car. All her teasing died when he didn’t rise to it the whole way home.


“Don’t answer it,” Donnan said as the phone rang. The words were compelling. So was the location of Donnan’s hand, but despite that Kyle still rolled off the selkie and grabbed his phone.

He sat up when he saw the number and bit back a groan before answering it as Donnan knelt behind him and began to kiss his neck.

“Is he there?” Cecilia asked.

Kyle bit his tongue as Donnan’s hands slid around to his chest.

“I know he’s there. I’m outside.” She hung up.

Kyle swore, loudly, and stood up on shaking knees. He pulled on his jeans and tossed Donnan his pants. The selkie took his time and Kyle already missed the sight of him. They walked to the front door where Cecilia stood. Behind her, a car was parked with the engine running. The wind had died down, the storm moved on, but it was still cold and Kyle regretted not grabbing a shirt.

“Yea, not surprised I’m interrupting.”

“Do you have it?” Donnan’s voice held a note of longing Kyle had never heard before. “Cecilia, sweetheart. Please.”

Kyle was forgotten as the selkie and the mother of his children stared at each other. He felt like an interloper in his own doorway.

“Do we have a deal?” Cecilia asked.

“Yes,” Donnan said. “Of course. I told you. Let me see it.”

“I don’t have it here. I’m not stupid.”

Kyle recalled hearing similar words in the hospital. Wondering what was going on he reached for a jacket hanging by the door and slipped it on.


“I’ll take you there. After.” She turned and headed for her car. Donnan followed without a look at Kyle. Unsure of what to do, all of his uncertainty died when Cecilia opened the door and pulled out a car seat. She handed it to Donnan before retrieving a second.

A slow understanding dawned and Kyle felt as if the deck were falling out from under him. He was hurtling towards the railing and had no way to catch himself. This wild idea in his head was surely not truth. Only, there they were, hauling two car seats and a couple of bags up the path to the front door.

“I’ll just need them watched for a couple of days,” Cecilia said. Without looking at him. Kyle didn’t move, only stood. He couldn’t move. If he did they would bring the babies inside and be gone. His bones knew the truth. Cecilia and Donnan would drive away and he’d never see either again. What would Mary do? Would she think he’d kidnapped them?

“Kyle, sweetest,” Donnan said and even knowing what he did Kyle still shivered at his name on the selkie’s lips. “Just to let us fetch my skin.”

Did they see the understanding in his gaze? Did they care? Kyle stepped aside. It was too cold for the babies to be outside. No one spoke again. It was quiet but for the screech of gulls and the crunch of tires on gravel as they drove away. Until a wailing drew him inside.

What the fuck was he supposed to do? Kyle pulled out his phone to call Mary and tell her to come get her grandchildren, but as the babies wailed louder he dropped his phone onto the couch. Probably best to do it after they stopped crying.


Clyde was fussy. He always was when they left the Dick. Selma had any number of jokes to make up with that knowledge, but Kyle ignored them. Erynna was quiet, but she was always quiet. The doctor said she was healthy, but Kyle thought he saw some awareness in her that wasn’t entirely human. Would Donnan return for them someday and take them to the sea? Would he let them?

“See you tonight, pops!” Selma hollered as she loaded her kids into the car. The weather had been lovely today and Kyle had taken the crew and their families out for a short trip. He’d done some work on the engine recently and wanted to see how she was running. Tonight he was taking the crew out for a drink. Tradition. His first one where he needed a sitter, but Mary had agreed to come sit with her grandkids while he had a pint or two.

“Let’s get you home and in a bath,” Kyle said after the kids were secured. “So Granny Mary doesn’t think I used you for bait.”

They laughed and he smiled.


Mary knocked at the door as Kyle tried to feed two kids at once. Someday, likely by the time they were holding their own spoons, he’d get the hang of it. He ignored the cranky complaints as he stood and hurried to get the door. Only, it wasn’t Mary. Hello! Kyle willed his body down, but it was hard going. Whomever this stranger was, at least he’d brightened the evening for a moment.

“You lost? You probably missed the turnoff about two miles back.”

“Uh, Kyle?” the red-headed man asked. “I’m Ewan. Umm. Mary’s sorry, but she can’t make it. Her work needed her late. She asked me to come out and cover for her until she can make it.”

Clyde screeched and Kyle glanced over his shoulder. “Look, come in. Who are you? Sorry. Excuse me.”

He hated letting a stranger in, but if he didn’t feed Clyde he was liable to magician himself out of his highchair again. The door closed and he grabbed his phone off the counter to see if Mary had called. No calls.

“I’m sorry. I thought she’d told you I was back. I’m Cecilia’s brother. Home from London for the summer. You, umm, you did know Cecilia had a brother right? You weren’t- That is- Mom said you and her had been casual.”

Kyle stuck his tongue out at Erynna who blinked in response. Kyle shook his head and offered her another spoon of some gross looking concoction she adored. When she smiled so did he. No, Donnan would take her over his dead body.

“Uh, Cecilia and I never dated,” Kyle said as he heard Ewan shuffling behind him.

“Oh. I’d just assumed.”

“Clyde, Erynna this is your uncle Ewan. Say hello.”

“Are they talking?”

Two sets of dark eyes left Kyle to look up at the new body in the room. Erynna blinked, it was her favorite trick, and Clyde leaked food from between pursed lips. Before Clyde could cry Kyle had the spoon ready. He was wise to the boy’s tricks.

“No, not talking. You can have a seat. Listen, no offense, but until I can get ahold of Mary I hope you understand why I’m not keen on leaving my kids alone with you.” His kids. Their parents had left and, as Kyle had suspected, never returned. It had only taken the first night for Kyle to realize he wouldn’t let them go. Mary had been alarmed, but relieved, not to be raising babies at her age. The daughter of his neighbor was paid handsomely to watch them when he was out on the boat, but any other time he was home with them.

“No, I understand. Well, wait. I thought you were the father?”

Kyle laughed until Ewan’s hip brushed against his shoulder as he moved to a chair. Ah, yes, that body. The one he’d been happy to check out at the front door. One thing about being a single parent: He’d been without for too long.

“I’m gay.” May as well kill the comfortable mood now.


“Why would I lie about that?” Kyle twisted around in his seat to see Ewan better and wound up with the spoon he was holding bumping into Erynna’s cheek. She screeched in annoyance. Unfortunately for her, he wasn’t quite as fast as he usually was. Not with the way Ewan was looking at him. HELLO! his body said once more. Kyle silently agreed.

“Listen, let me get them fed and cleaned up and in bed and I can tell you the whole story. Although you won’t believe it.”

“You never know,” Ewan said.

Kyle caught Ewan’s eyes before he let his gaze travel down his body. “No,” he said before standing. “But I think I’d like to someday.”

Ewan blushed.

Kyle grinned.

And Erynna and Clyde stared out the kitchen window as a gust of sea air carried the scent of brine into the room.


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