Short Story Friday–Monday Edition ☠️

Behind the Scenes at the Theater

by

Johi Jenkins

September 20, 2019

Words: loneliness, applaud, beg, jogging, memorize, admit, solitude, converse, eternity, marsh

October is just around the corner and all the coffee shops have already busted out all the fall flavors. Outside the air stirs, still warm but with the occasional chilly draft. The fall equinox is only a few days away. Alex is excited for the change and ready to let go of this dreadful summer haze.

The summer had been awful. Loneliness had been his constant companion; he’d been unemployed; a small-town wannabe actor freshly moved to the big city looking for acting work. He’d had a hell of a rough time, unable to join in with the rest of the city as everyone cherished those precious few weeks of perfect weather.

But then, right at the end of summer, last week, things finally improved: he got a job. Not just any job. He was finally invited to join one the most successful theater companies in the city, Elysium Theatre, and a role in their current award-winning production, The Last Victim.

Today is his first day. During his interview he already decided he loved the company. He’d met most of the actors and the stage crew, although of course he didn’t even lay eyes on the main actors. The big shots were just way too important and busy to ever hang out with the main company. They hardly come out to rehearsals, Alex learned to his disappointment, although he wasn’t surprised. He had especially wanted to meet Ben Morgan, the lead actor in the play, who had been Alex’s inspiration to become an actor, and his motivation to join this particular theater company. But Alex is thrilled nonetheless—he might not even see him, but he’s going to be in a freaking play with his hero!

Alex is the first one in. He came jogging from his studio apartment; he was too excited to sit still. He didn’t know what time everyone comes in to the rehearsals, so he chose to arrive an hour early, to be safe. Inside the designated auditorium, some lights are on but there’s no one around. He sits on a chair in the front row.

“Hello,” he hears a voice above him.

He looks up and sees—Ben Morgan? Holy crap!

“Hi, Mr. Morgan,” he stammers.

“Please, dude. Call me Ben.” Ben descends a metal ladder that’s propped against the lighting platform above the stage where he had apparently been, doing who knows what in solitude. About halfway down he jumps off and lands with uncanny grace on the stage. He sits on the ledge, right across from Alex’s chair.

“Right. Ben. I’m Alex. I’m new. I’m playing the banker, the smallest part, I know, barely two lines, but just the fact that I’m in this company, wow, I’m so excited and humbled. And to have my one scene be with you—well, the young version of Caleb, that’s, well, just, incredible.” Wow. Halfway through that logorrhea Alex knew he should stop talking, but he was so nervous that he just kept babbling on. He takes a breath to steady himself because he feels like he wants to talk some more to apologize, or to explain himself, or just to fill the silence, but he decides it might just be best to never speak again.

Ben is looking at him strangely. In his eyes there is a mixture of pity and humor. “Well, Alex, nice to meet you. But let me correct you, so you don’t go around spreading false statements.”

“Huh? What do y—”

“The banker. He’s not the smallest part. He may have only two lines, but he’s one of the most important characters in the story. He’s the pivotal person in Caleb’s life; the one who changes the course of Caleb’s whole life, when he says those two lines.”

Speechless, Alex can’t reply with words other than reciting the lines he’d already memorized, in a half whisper. “ ‘Young man, I’ve been watching you. I believe I know someone who might be quite excited to meet you.’ ”

“Aha.” Ben holds his index finger up and displays a dazzling smile. “And who did the banker mean by someone?”

“The benefactor. Mr. Lawrence.”

“Yes. And Lawrence changed Caleb’s life,” Ben reminds him. “Had it not been for the banker, Caleb wouldn’t have met Lawrence, and he wouldn’t have risen to where he did.”

“I guess,” Alex stammers.

Ben cocks his head to the side as if considering the young nobody before him. “Did you know that The Last Victim is based on a real-life story?”

“No, I didn’t,” Alex has to admit.

“My character, Caleb, is based on a young man who lived in the 50’s. His name was Charles, and he was an orphan. Just like in the play, Charles struggled in life, had many afflictions; and on one particularly bad day, having almost given up hope, he met the banker. The banker saw past the unfortunate circumstances that plagued Charles and saw only his beauty. He introduced him to his wealthy acquaintance, believing this acquaintance would be interested in Charles. And he was right. The wealthy friend took an instant liking to Charles and became his benefactor. We all know what happens next.” Ben pauses for effect, then he narrows his eyes and smiles that knowing smile of his. “But here is where the play differs drastically from the real story. In the play, Caleb goes back to his hometown as a wealthy man, and he purges the men who spurned him as an orphan, right? But in real life, Charles went back to his hometown, alright… but he killed those men.”

“What?” Alex’s face puckers in disbelief. “Just for mocking him?” In the play, one of the things young Caleb struggles with is being bullied by a few older boys that he works with. Later after he’s rich, he has them convicted and put in jail.

“They did more than mock him,” Ben explains. “They beat him up so bad, he couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t even beg for his life. They left him for dead in the marsh where they worked. But he lived, he healed, and he persisted. He quit that job, went to a bank to borrow money to start a business. He met the banker. His life changed. And later when he was powerful, he went back and got his revenge.”

“Is that true?” Alex asks, unease creeping up his spine. “And he killed them?”

“Yes,” is Ben’s smart reply.

“But how did he do it?” Alex doesn’t really want to believe the supposed real version of the story, so his words are partially laced with disbelief. He doesn’t know where Ben is going with this, but it sounds like the guy wants to tell this story, so might as well ask him.

“I mean, how did he manage it? There were three of them and one of him.”

“There were eight of them and one of him.” Ben drops that in a deadpan voice. “In real life,” he adds.

Alex begins to get a weird vibe. Is Ben messing with him, or what? “So he paid people to do it, or…?”

“Alex, what the popular version of the story which we act out every night fails to mention is… the so-called benefactor, Lawrence, who in real life was named Lehmann, was actually a powerful vampire who fell in love with his intended victim, the little orphan boy that his banker friend brought to him as a gift. The vampire bestowed the gift of immortality on the young Charles. Not right away. Lehmann saw young Charles as a little pet; well, a pet that you have an intimate relationship with. But after some time he turned him into a vampire. And just like Caleb returns to his hometown as an adult in the play, Charles returned as an adult, albeit a vampire one, and had fun getting his revenge.”

Alex realizes his mouth is hanging open and quickly closes it. Ben is obviously joking, but he sounds so serious, Alex doesn’t know how best to reply. He looks at Ben expecting the face to reveal the butt end of the joke, or some clue as to why he’s hearing this fictional story from one of the most renowned actors in modern theater, but the man remains as serious as if he was retelling a news story from last week. Alex decides to play along. He never dreamed he’d converse like this with Ben Morgan on his first day; might as well roll with it.

“Wow, um. So, how do you know all this?”

“I play Caleb. It’s my job to know his character well, inside and out; what is written in the play, and what is not written.”

“Okay,” Alex says, frustrated with the lack of answers and not exactly knowing how he should react to Ben’s story. “Well, if Charles was a vampire, did he even die, like Caleb?”

The Last Victim is named so in reference to the main character, Caleb. After becoming rich and using his power and influence to get his revenge, his decisions gradually cross into the gray area of questionable judgment. Not being particularly trained in morality or ethics, and being quite young, he chooses to bestow assistance to people or deal punishment as his whims dictate. In the end, one particular bad decision puts the life of another young boy in peril; and Caleb, finally seeing his folly, dies tragically in a fire to save the boy, who reminds him of his former innocent self, in a gallant attempt to redeem himself. Thus, he is his own “last victim”.

“A vampire would’ve survived that fire,” Alex challenges. “He would’ve been fast enough to save the boy and save himself.”

Ben’s expression changes and his voice fills with sorrow. “He did perish in the fire. He started it, and both him and the innocent boy died in it. The boy never made it out. Charles didn’t save him. He watched as the smoke claimed the boy and had no remorse. It was Lehmann who killed Charles, finally realizing he had lost control of his little pet. So you see, Charles didn’t die in the fire like Caleb did in the play, but he equally died because of it.”

Alex, temporarily forgetting this story can’t possibly be real, feels awful for the little boy who didn’t make it out of the fire. The play, despite being a tragedy, is generally liked because this one sweet innocent unnamed kid is saved.

“So it was all a lie?” he demands. “Saving the boy, Caleb’s sacrifice?”

Ben shrugs dejectedly. “The writer didn’t like the ending, so he wrote a different one.”

“Well, he shouldn’t have,” Alex says a bit angrily. “Everyone thinks Caleb was this great tragic hero. They all applaud him, and he was an asshole.”

“He was an asshole, but Lehmann loved him. He had turned Charles into a vampire because he wanted to spend an eternity with him. Lehmann felt guilty, thinking he should’ve taught Charles better, guided him better.” He sighs. “It was Lehmann who wrote the story.”

“Wait, what? Lehmann—Lawrence? He’s the author?” Alex tries to remember the writer’s name. He can think of the playwright, but not the original author.

“Yes.”

“Wait.” The author of a real play and the vampire in a fictional story clashing in his confused brain is too much for Alex at the moment. He covers his eyes with a hand, trying to reassess. Of all the things that don’t make sense, the one question that comes out is, “How do you know all this?”

He asked the same question earlier, but in a whole different frame of mind. Disbelief back then, mostly. This time, he wants to know. This time is different.

This time, Ben replies honestly.

“I’m Lehmann.”

He looks into Alex’s eyes, deep into his soul, it feels like. And Alex immediately knows. It’s all true.

“Would you like to know … more?” Ben Morgan hops off the stage and extends his hand down to Alex.

Alex takes the offered hand.

“I would love to.”

***
The END

 

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Short Story Friday

A New Love Blooms in Old Age

by
Victoria Clapton

 

I walked the dusty path that led to the family cemetery located beneath some spindly old cedar trees on the expansive property of the looming Eirewood Plantation. On my way, I stopped to eat a few of the tart bitter blackberries growing there and pondered on how I’d come to such a quiet place.

The sprawling white Greek Revival sat imposing in the sunlight. The tall, thick columns stood stately, supporting the two story gargantuan house while the rocking chairs on the front porch silently invited someone to relax and rock a spell,taking in the beauty of the Southern landscape. Though I had trekked some distance from the house, I could still see the majesty of the house patiently waiting for something, or maybe someone. It’s empty loneliness bothered me very little. At first sight, I was overcome with the feeling of having always been here, having belonged. Whatever the reason, this home was not alone anymore.

Three weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail requesting my presence at McAllister and McAllister Law Firm to claim an inheritance from an anonymous benefactor.

Upon meeting with them, Misters McAllister and McAllister led me to a polished long cherry table in what must have once been the dining room in the old Victorian house they’d converted into their law firm, and there over tall glasses of ice tea, they informed me that I’d inherited the two hundred year old house and the surrounding land that made up Eirewood Plantation from an absolute stranger. Despite my fervent attempt to refuse such a preposterous gift, the McAllisters presented me with the deed, already in my name, and bid me to have a good day.

Now, I stood somewhere between the hulking house and the graveyard filled with crumbling tombs all sporting the name “O’ Brady”, trying to figure out what I was going to do with this unasked for and unusual gift. Unaffected by my presence, a large, husky squirrel bounced from one oak tree to the next as if rejoicing at my arrival.

For a spring afternoon, it was a bit chilly beneath the shade of the trees, and just like the house, this piece of land had a feeling of waiting. A solitary rusted out shovel discarded by the old stone wall surrounding the graves solidified the feeling of a space frozen in time.

“Welcome to Eirewood, Ms. Endicott.” From behind one of the twisted oaks, stepped a nice-looking gentleman wearing light pants, a blue cutaway coat and holding a top hat that he’d just removed from his head in his hands.His cream colored silk cravat accentuated his dapper look. “I’ve been waiting for you to return.”

Startled by his unannounced presence, I took a step back from him but not before I noticed his uniquely light colored eyes. The color of frozen ice, just barely blue, they were visible even in the dappled afternoon light.

“Thank you. Wait, return? I’m sorry, Sir, but I have never been here,” I insisted then introduced myself. “You may call me Eilene I have recently acquired Eirewood Plantation, so I’ve come to see what it’s all about.”

The man moved closer to me. His handsome looks struck a chord in my heart, a memory I couldn’t quite grasp, even if his clothing and manners were two hundred years out-of-date. Perhaps he was here for one of those reenactments I’d heard about history buffs having. Either way, something about his demeanor drew me towards him. My fingers tingled, itching to reach out and touch this mysterious stranger.

“Eilene,” He said my name slowly as if he was savoring his favorite sound. “Then you may call me Jonathan. I’m Jonathan O’Brady.”

“O’Brady?” I recalled the names on the tombstones just behind Jonathan, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The intensity he watched me with was unnerving and somewhat alluring. There was just something about him, something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. “Jonathan, are you kin to the people who owned this house? Do you know why the previous owners would leave it to me?”

“You kept your promise,” was his reply. “You vowed that you’d return, that not even death could keep us apart.”

My heart sped up as I processed this stranger’s words. “You have me confused with someone else.”

“Oh?” Jonathan offered his hand to me. “Then let me show you, my love.”

I should have ran off, gotten away as fast I could and called the cops on this crazy anachronistic man. Instead, without any hesitation at all, I rested my hand in the crook of his offered arm and allowed him to guide me back into the shaded cemetery. We weaved around graves, one O’Brady after another, until we reached a battered Celtic cross. At the base was the epitaphs and memories of two.

Eilene O’Brady                 Jonathan O’Brady
Born April 30, 1832              Born November 1 1825
Died May 14 1862                  Died May 14 1862
Eternally Yours

Something in my subconscious stirred, awakening memories of someone else’s life, promises made by a woman I was not. I should have fled. I should have gotten away as fast as I could. I didn’t know what this man was trying to pull, but I wanted no part of it.

Then I made the mistake of looking up from the tomb into Jonathan’s love-filled eyes. Within their pale depths, I saw that he, too, had been waiting. Just like the house and this land, he had been waiting for his love from an old age long gone to begin again-new.

♥♥♥

 

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Short Story Friday

The Love of Each Other’s Lives

By

Arbor Barrow

 

Rudy is literally a fish. Rudy wants people to know that because when he implies that he is a metaphorical fish, most people are confused. Rudy is a fish and lives in a saltwater tank at a fancy restaurant on the west side of a big city. He only knows this because he can see a sign outside the tank that says “Welcome to the West Side” and beyond that he can see the tall and pointy skyscrapers of a huge city. In his tank is a miniature version of the city with little cubby holes he can pop out of. Before his time in the tank the little miniature had the name of the city printed on the side, but the salt water of the tank had long since worn it away all that was left were the letters R U D and Y. His name.

Rudy is literally in love with the owner of the restaurant. Rudy wants people to know that because metaphorical love is meant for poetry and Rudy is not a poet. The restaurant owner is a man named Finny. Finny is a part time chef, part time sea captain, and full time love of Rudy’s life. Finny comes to Rudy’s tank and feeds him every morning before the restaurant opens and every evening before the nighttime rush. But most importantly of all Finny tells Rudy stories about the outside world. The last story Finny told Rudy was about the time he was thrown into the “drink” (this is a term that Rudy has come to understand as a place called the ocean which from what he can gather is a very large fish tank somewhere out there in the world) and had to swim back to shore with nothing but his wits and the clothes on his back.

Rudy was born in a tank in a pet store on some other end of the city, the only thing he remembers about the pet store is the ceiling fan above the tank clacking noisily, he doens’t remember his siblings, they all looked the same honestly, and he doesn’t really remember his parents. What he does remember is the moment Finny’s face appeared before his tank and he said to the shop owner, “I want that one.”

Rudy was in love the moment he was lifted out of the tank and his second sight of Finny literally took his breath away. Though, if Rudy was being totally honest with himself, fish can’t breathe out of water so it might have just been a coincidence.

On a particular Tuesday morning, and Rudy only knows it’s Tuesday because his tank is right next to the flip calendar the wait staff use to mark special requests from customers, Finny came with a gift at the same time he came with breakfast. Finny reached down halfway into the tank, where Rudy took great fun in swimming back and forth through Finny’s very long arm hair, and dropped something in an open space in the tank.

The little ceramic piano settled to the bottom and Rudy thought his whole world was about to change again. He loved music. The piano player at the fancy restaurant could always play the most delightful tunes and now he had one of his very own. Rudy swam a couple circles around the tiny piano.

“Oh Finny!” Rudy sang enthusiastically. “You make my world so spinny!”
Fish can’t sing, but don’t tell Rudy that.

Finny grinned down into the tank. The tattoos on his very wrinkled neck stretched happily as he smiled. “Lookie here Rudy, happy birthday! It’s been a year since I got you!”

A year? A year was like forever! Had it really been that long? Rudy desperately wanted to give Finny a hug but was again irritated that he didn’t have legs.

“Alright, Rudy. Behave yourself!” Finny said as the last bit of fish kibble floated down from the surface of the water.

Rudy didn’t know how he could possibly misbehave, he was a fish!

Other than apparently being his birthday, Rudy didn’t expect a Tuesday to be anything more than a normal day, but Rudy and Finny, and most of the city that Rudy had pulled his name from was about to get a very interesting surprise.

+++

Rudy is a small fish, a yellow tang about three inches long, so it should come as no surprise that it was small thing that changed Rudy’s life. It wasn’t the new piano, it wasn’t the little kid who found his tank halfway through the day and decided that a fun game was letting Rudy follow his finger across the surface of the glass (as fun as that was), but instead it was the arrival of a magician. Not one of those run of the mill illusionists, but an actual wand and magic word magician. The guy showed up outside the restaurant and stared at Rudy through the glass. He looked more like a hobo than a magician but when he waved his hand across the glass Rudy was captivated. The man came inside, requested a glass of water and then stood above the tank looking down at Rudy with a thoughtful look on his face. There was glitter coming off his fingers and his wand was a bent metal straw. When the maitre d’ gave the man a cup of water the magician dropped his wand into it and sucked loudly at the straw. His eyes never left Rudy and Rudy didn’t look away either.

“You’ll do,” the magician said and when his cup of water was drained he tapped the metal straw on the glass tank. It was a small event in the scheme of things, a tiny tap on the glass, a little glitter magic falling to the floor beneath his tank. But that’s all it was. The magician left, the restaurant went about its business, and when the restaurant closed for the night Rudy felt the change begin. He started to grow, and at first he didn’t notice but when he was as big as the miniature city in his tank he knew something was wrong. WHen he was so big that the tank broke under him he knew he was in trouble.

Or so he thought. Instead, he found himself on the floor, and he had HANDS. Rudy stared at the hands like they were tumors. They were tumors, fish don’t have hands!
More than that, he was breathing IN THE AIR. Rudy stood up and stared around the closed restaurant. He was as big as a human person now.

There was something wiggling at the back of his mind. An urge to walk out into the street and just destroy everything around him. But that didn’t make sense to him. He was very fond of all the sights and things around him. He didn’t want to destroy anything, especially not this restaurant. It belonged to Finny, the love of his life… FINNY! Rudy looked around the restaurant and tried to get a sense of where Finny might be. He usually only saw Finny in the restaurant but he knew Finny had a home somewhere with his wife and three children.

Rudy didn’t want to break anything more so he found a seat in the restaurant and waited. He would wait for Finny to arrive.

+++

Finny, short for Finnegan, had worked really hard to building his restaurant, his brand, and his life. And he didn’t realize just how lucky he was that a tiny fish named Rudy, his favorite yellow tang, loved him as much as anyone could. When he arrived at his restaurant to open up that Wednesday morning he was startled and shocked to find Rudy’s tank demolished and a tall yellow man sitting in a booth drawing on the back of a menu with some crayons. When the man saw him, he stood and grinned crookedly.

“Finny!” The young man yelled.

“Uh… Who’re you?”

“Rudy,” the man said.

“Rudy,” Finny said, and stared at the man. He was as yellow as his Tang, but he was a MAN. He looked between the destroyed tank and the yellow man. It was impossible. But there was no way he could have gotten in here without breaking anything and the only thing broken was Rudy’s tank.

Finny blinked a few times, then wandered to the back where the security cameras could tell him the real story. And the real story was just as the yellow man said. In the camera he could see Rudy growing and bursting open the tank and slowly transforming into a human-like creature. He turned to see that Rudy the former fish was standing behind him, naked as a jaybird.

Finny sighed and wondered what he had done to deserve this oddity. He pulled out the lost and found and retrieved a sweatshirt and an apron from the kitchen.
“Oh! Clothes! I’ve always wanted clothes! Thank you, Finny.”

“You’re welcome Rudy.” Finny helped Rudy get sort of presentable and started to clean up the mess from the broken fish tank. A shadow crossed the window outside and Finny looked up to see the old hobo from the night before staring into the restaurant. His face was a mask of anger and confusion.

Finny poked his head out of the door. “Can I help you? Do you need another glass of water?”

The man pointed past Finny at Rudy and shook. “You! Where have you been? What have you been doing all night?”

Rudy blinked and then pointed to the table where he had sat all night. “I was drawing a picture for Finny. Who are you? Where were you all night?”

The old man balked. “What… why… I am a chaos magician! You’re supposed to be wrecking chaos!”

Rudy just stared perplexed at the magician. “But that would destroy things. I don’t want to do that. Also, Finny told me to behave, I think that falls into the territory of misbehaving.”

The magician stared at Rudy incredulously. “What is wrong with you!”

Rudy frowned at the old man. “I’m a fish that is now a human person, what isn’t wrong with me?”

The old man made an angry squeak and turned on his heel. He limped down the street and shouted nonsense into the air.

Finny glanced back at Rudy and laughed. “You know, I knew I picked well when I saw you at the pet store. You are a special fish, Rudy.”

“Oh, thank you. I’m sorry about the tank.”

“It’s alright.”

“I don’t have to go back to the pet store do I?”

“No, I don’t think they have a tank big enough for you. Besides I think you deserve to be family.”

“Can we go fishing? Can I meet your family? Your kids?”

“Of course. I think they’d love you just as much as I do.”

Rudy is a literal fish. But he has the heart of a human, and the soul of someone who loves the people who love him. Things could have been different, and for another unfortunate fish in another part of the city they were. Because not a few days later, a huge, hulking puffer fish the size of a barge wrecked up the east side of the city and shouted angrily at everyone “how about I puff you up!”

 

♦The End♦

 

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Short Story Friday

OFFICE INTRIGUE IN THE FUTURE

a short story by Elizabeth Lemons

5 JULY 2019

WORDS TO USE:
time travel, trousers, supervise, identity,
mustard, kitchen, successfully, law, fly, tooth

Picture, if you will, a futuristic hub of legal counseling and representation. It is the year 2050, and our scene begins in a very posh, upscale law office that is located in the Plutonian Upper Galaxy, inside the central super dome which holds inside the prestigious legal firm known as DEWEY, SCREWEM, and HOWE.

If you are equipped with just a bit of imagination and I-GGPS (inter-galactic GPS) for precise time travel expedience, perhaps you can imagine true masters of the Universe as they daily gather around the water cooler-tablet dispenser, wearing the latest in expensive spacesuits, trendily colored in purples, cobalt blues, or mustard golds. They are complete boring-ass clones of one another, there is no speck of personal identity amongst their entire gathering.

The notion of doing one’s own individual “thing” unfortunately died tragically over thirty years ago in an Earthly city called New Orleans when a priestly dude called Dr. John exited human existence and vacated the great Blue Ball, taking with him all his mystical and voodoo-y powers of human exclusiveness. Since earth is no more, he and all other musicians, artists of all types, chefs, and writers (now eternally converted to their astral mo-jo selves) have been sent to daily rule in the Misfit Realm on Planet Funky. Untouched, unbothered and still unaccountable, these artistic Uniques, to this very day, continue to create amongst mellow hippie vibes, bathed forever in the scents of patchouli, surrounded by fresh icedrop sky flowers, and are forever content in a secreted place located remotely far from the Galactic Daily Grind.

So, the unspoken rule of the Undulating Universe these days is to simply fit it and make no intrusive waves of any kind. Unseen and unheard is the accepted best policy. Aloft here in the Galaxy, making fortunes off the misfortunes of others, are each of our attorneys, who dress and accessorize his or her own ensembles with prerequisite “men-in-black” sunglasses which hide emotion and permit planetary apperation. Heartless, blood-sucking attorneys, just the same in today’s time, as in days of old. Only concerned with the bottom line and filling their pockets. These lawful gods and goddesses of destruction daily wake inside their personal pristine monotone and meteoric dwelling pods, and stare into stardust mirrors, purchased illegally, (they “know” someone) on the bootleg market, completely enthralled with how their own “personal flare for justice” will surely successfully save the solar system from foreboding doom that is sure to come. Then, just before they fly from home dome back to another work day, they usually flash a fake smile at themselves as a gold tooth sparkles back at them from the looking glass. “Ding!”

They have forgotten what happened on Earth when their precedents attempted to do the same.

Between the dull-roar hours of 10am and 11am SST (Stardust Standard Time), a daily work meeting convenes in the Conference Room/Kitchen at this place of prestige on weekdays other than Friday. On this particular morning, a Tuesday, several of the lawyers have grabbed a bagel tablet or two, cream cheese tablets, with coffee pastilles, and some of the younger suits chose Taco tablets because Taco Tuesday still remains a thing, even in modern times. It is more than fine to consume a couple of jumbo Margarita tablets for the purpose of washing down the combo pills of chips and salsa. Alcoholism and DUI’s are a thing of the long-ago past, and now a person can consume anything without fear of disease, weight-gain or other stigma. They sit in an oval circle, around a pellucid table, with an actual live view of the Aurora Borealis surrounding them through the crystal-clear outer wall. Many an intended thought has been forever lost in that kaleidoscopic abyss of starry gas and neon colour.

A particular tall attorney whose job it is to supervise the group (some think he resembles the earthly actor known as Will Smith) calls the work meeting to order. Beside him sits his assistant, Atreya. He clears his throat and begins, “Good morning, team. Glad you all found some nourishment. I know you all have a busy day ahead, so we will jump right into things on our agenda.” Felbar gestures towards the pad of notation known by today’s techies as a Warrior Z that lay on the floating invisible table before him.

“Atreya has just completed our evidence room inventory and she has reported back to me that a sensitive object is missing from its secure housing. Is there any reason that one of you might have relocated the evidence ID’ed as item # ERTH-69-VMP for an ongoing case? I can’t imagine what that might be.”

Not a sound can be heard in the room. Felbar continues with a smirk. “OK, alright…or possibly maybe one of you has borrowed it for your own personal naughty role-playing use (he winks) and are now afraid of reprimand should you get caught returning this item?” Non-response continues to prevail, except for the shuffling of one of the attorneys boots on the floor. Each of the legal eagles who sit gathered around the stardeck table begin to look everywhere but at their leader, Felbar. Some fidget, some pretend to be thinking, some look from one lawyer to the next or at their fingernails, desperately trying to guess who is to blame.

After what seems like light years of uncomfortable silence, one of the younger and newest attorneys (normally they ignore her at all cost) raises her left hand up in an acknowledgment wave. “Look, I know I am new here and I admit, I have just begun to take my “better-than-human” conversion meds which I agreed to do upon hiring, and so you may or may not believe me when I tell you about something that I have witnessed. But, I swear, it is absolutely true.” Felbar casts his intense gaze onto the woman who looks both eager and simultaneously scared.

“Do tell”, Felbar encourages her.

“Well, a few weeks ago, I was assigned a pro-bono case with one of the FUNKS, from Planet Funky, the artsy types. It was not a greatly desired case, you know, but I agreed to listen, due, naturally to my inexperience, and also, you know, with being expected to learn and work my way up (you know, without standard pay, as all entry-levels do who are learning the legal ropes),” she stammers.

Felbar interjects, “yes, yes, we know.”

“Well, yes,” Aurora continues, “and so I spent some time one afternoon discussing this rather weak case which, to me, sounded like something unfounded, as if it were from a long-lost memory from Earth. A middle-aged couple came to me, wanting me to somehow help their daughter. They claimed she had been kidnapped, been violated and then, subsequently had a child. Because of this vicious accosting. I know we are to forward any of these old-school crime cases down to Legal Aid for Ancient Grieviances. Rape, kidnapping and children being born outside of ideal two-partner marriages are forbidden here in our modern world, I know this, but, well…as I said, they came here from Planet Funk. And, well, ugh, you know, they still have IDEAS about ways and means from older times on that planet. You know what I am speaking of… Basically, I just listened, recorded their concerns, and told them I would investigate and get back with them.” Aurora is practically out of breath after venting her tale.

Felbar holds his face with the fingers of his right hand as he thoughtfully responds. “And this has to do exactly WHAT with the missing evidence?”

Aurora sighs. “I don’t exactly know.”

Felbar rolls his eyes. “Please don’t waste our time, Aurora.”

“Look, all I can say is they came, and they said they thought a..,um…well, sir, they actually believed that a vampire had taken their daughter, the father was absolutely convinced that this was true. He thought someone had to be protecting this vampire and any others, and was vehement in that he would do whatever he could to stop this from ever happening again to any other young woman, or man, I guess. I suppose, under these horrific circumstances, that any father would. I am not saying this so-called vampire-person took the evidence for sure, but doesn’t it seem like it’s possible he might be the one who did?”

“Alright, Aurora.”, Feldar says soothingly. “Thank you for your …,” he smiled, “insight.” “Since we have no actual proof at this time, let’s table this for now, and move onto the next item on our agen—”

Actual giggles are heard around the table. No one believes that any of the past-known supposed fictional “mythical monsters” have outlived the downfall of Earth. Vampires, werewolves, ghosts, even mermaids have not been seen nor heard of in over half a century and are now, by most intelligent beings, deemed extinct. There have been absolutely no sightings, nor reportings or any reason at all to believe that they have somehow followed humans into the future, into space. It is believed that they all remained and consequently perished long ago on the vast, empty, lifeless, dry and brown tundra…Earth.

A lawyer called Taurean speaks with a bemused tone. “Where would they be hiding, the bloodsuckers? Here we have no cemeteries, certainly no coffins! We have no haunted houses, we have no blood banks any more. This is laughable, just so archaic!” No sympathy appears from anyone towards the possibility of Aurora’s sincere supposition.

“But, wait! Please listen, Sir! Even I know what # ERTH-69-VMP is! It is a vampire hunting box, a kit complete with holy water and stakes! Who else would want it, for that matter, how in the world would this client who came to see me even KNOW about this kit’s survival? If these and other creatures don’t exist, sir, then why in the stars would we have retained such an exhibit as evidence? Sir, why are you not taking this seriously? We need to call in experts, we need to try to find this father, before he snaps! He might remove his monitoring collar and attempt to capture this violator all on his own! What if he IS right? And what if he has decided to take things into his own hands, to hunt and kill? Sir, what if there really IS a vampire situation in the current Plutonian Galaxy?” Aurora practically shouts in her enthusiasm to help solve the case of the missing evidence.

Feldar, always the fearless leader, looks at Aurora, He slowly makes visual eye contact with each of his look-alike attorneys still sitting around the floating table. They express nothing, reveal nothing, and basically are just drones of protocol, now filled up and sanctified with salsa and coffee. Feldar turns to his ever-by-his-side assistant Atreya and he asks, “tell us, Atreya, exactly why do you think the missing item that was contained in this forever hidden-away trove has our Aurora so unhinged with fear?”

He looks at Atreya, then he turns his eyes towards the room full of attorneys, whose eyes were now like lasers, glowing a bright red. Feldar charmingly smiles. It is at that precise moment two very prominent, sharp fangs are revealed from inside Feldar’s mouth. You can hear the clicking..first from Atreya’s mouth, then from each lawyer as each of their fangs dropped and popped and who now hungrily stare at this tender young solicitor.

Aurora faints.

And thus, another daily gathering of the Inter-Galactic Plutonian Upper Galaxy law firm known as DEWEY, SCREWEM and HOWE dismisses their morning legal duties and proceeds to convene into their favorite activity of the day. What some people might call a Power Lunch.

THE END

 

Monsters & Angels: The Series

Halloween is in the Air!

 

A lone soldier on night watch. A single bullet through the heart. Every light in Paris flickers—the city’s thundering silent scream.
When Commander Raimond Banitierre was assassinated, French Revolutionaries lost their gallant leader. After a villain’s offer of eternal life condemned him to slavery, Raimond rebelled again, driving his vampire comrades to freedom.
Raimond escapes to Savannah, Georgia where his dream of becoming a doctor comes true. During his trial-by-fire residency on the Civil War’s battlefields, he discovers his true calling—the power to preserve memories and dignity in the face of death. His chance meeting with a beguiling mortal nurse ignites passionate nights and a long overdue crack in the door to paradise.
Vicious flames and an unholy miscalculation deliver Raimond back to the depths of hell. Being arrested for treason makes him wish for death and the arrival of Prince Draven Norman appears to be the final nail in Raimond’s coffin. Will the prince’s eccentric judgement grant Raimond a true reprieve? Is Draven’s invitation to join New Orleans mystical royalty an extension of his own treachery, or the next step in Raimond’s miraculous journey?
Has the legendary Crescent City found a spirit noble enough to protect her future?

♦♦♦♦♦

 

Fledgling nurse Sorcha Alden knew she had the skills to save lives, but she never dreamed that her own life would be the one in danger.

Driven by tragedy to honor her family name, Sorcha embarks on a journey that takes her from the bleak but familiar streets of New York, through the sultry and seductive city of New Orleans, and into the brutal jungles of Nepal. Forging friendships and carrying on her mother’s mission of healing was her dream. Plunging into a love affair with the mysterious Dr. Ashayle, could have been a fairytale.

Being murdered and waking up as a blood-thirsty monster—became her living nightmare.

Torn away from a life that had just begun, Sorcha returns to New Orleans as a newborn vampire, forced to start over in a cutthroat underworld of devilry and decadence. Complicated politics, bitter rivals and jealous ancestors stand between her and the promises she’s still determined to keep.

In a realm where the boundary between good and evil is as murky as the Mississippi River and immortal does not mean invincible, will Sorcha ever risk her shattered heart and love again? Can the magical harmony of the Crescent City give her enough courage to fulfill her eternal destiny?

Sorcha’s final word will make your jaw drop!

 

AnneMarieAndrus.com

 

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Short Story Friday

Big Time Deals in the Big City

By Arbor Winter Barrow

 

Devina Gershwin knew every corner of the big city of Kestavan. It was a city the size of a small ocean and filled with just as many people as fish. Devi had been raised from birth in the slums on the outskirts near the deep, thick jungles of the rest of the planet. Kestavan was the only human habitable spot on the planet, everything else was ruled by the native species of wolflike packs that roamed the jungles. Large energy fields drew a line between the city and the jungle and neither mixed.

The spaceport at the center of the city was the heart of the tiny civilization in the middle of the galactic nowhere. The skyscrapers that had been raised around the spaceport turned the city center into a crown and the people who lived there were just denizens of a palace that churned around it.

The king of this place, the dealer of hands, of fate, and everything in between was named Gev Horrton. Gev Horrton was the oft-unseen king of this tiny patch of land, no one, especially as low class as Devi would ever get to meet him. Except under one condition. Every year on the summer solstice a city-wide card tournament took place and this year Devi was going all the way to the top. If she won every tournament from the lowest to the highest she would get the honor, if you could call it that, of playing against the king himself. That’s what she was going for, that was the challenge that was ahead of her. She was determined and driven to change her lot in life and she had the skills to do it now.

It had taken her nearly ten years to save up for the entry fee and the last bit came from the sale of all her worldly possessions. Her favorite speeder bike, her computer, her communicator, all of it was gone now. She had moved out of her apartment the day before the rent was due, and slept in the subway station that night. In the morning she had gotten up and taken the subway to the Central Office where entrants could apply for the tournament. In three short days she was going to the largest casino in Kestavan to crawl her way to the top.

Devi refused to be complacent anymore. This place was seen as a safe haven for every sort of crime and criminal and she had been raised as one of its pawns. Gev Horrton and his cronies had a tight grip on the city populace and anyone who dared try to change or question the tiny aspects of their society.

It wasn’t uncommon for feuds to end with one side ending up outside the energy field only to be eaten or killed by the native wildlife or just left to starve to death as little of the native plantlife was edible for humans. Her own family had gotten on the bad side of one of Horrton’s men and they had died out in the jungles. She had been left to fend for herself and if it weren’t for the kindness of a few strangers she would have died years ago.

She had a plan and that plan involved going all the way to the top and changing things from the top down. The populace was unhappy, but so few of them knew what to do about it. Devi had learned the hard way how to wheel and deal from the inside of the slums and the darkest corners of the city. She knew exactly the path she would have to take to get to the top, she had the play the game and had to make them believe that she was part of the game.

With her tournament entry fee placed Devi had only a handful of credits left.

Even with her skills and the amount she could make in one game it had still taken ten years to save up for the entry fee. It was a tournament for the super rich and a slumkid like her had a one in a billion chance at getting in.

This was the year, and in three days she was going to the top.

***

Devi spent her last credits on a nice, sleeveless suit and a nice meal. She was going to win in style and with a full belly. Nothing could crush her confidence. The day of the tournament she showed up to the entrance, flashed her entry chip and took her place among the other entrants.

Rithcards was the most popular and hardest card game in the galaxy. There were over a thousand cards in each deck and nearly as many ways to win the game. Each suit was four cards and the combinations you made from your hand over the course of the game determined the point values. Devi was good at it. She had been playing since her mother taught her as a child and she had learned to count cards before she had learned the names of the constellations in the sky.

She had supported herself for all of her 22 years by playing small games in the dark backrooms of the city. Even though gambling was far from illegal and most crime was given a pass, some of the games she had played were so high-risk Gev Horrton himself would have come down hard on the people playing. Devi had won just enough games to fill her pockets and keep a roof over her head but not enough to draw attention to herself. A master rithcard player would be easily noticed in this city and she wasn’t ready to make her name known until the day of the tournament.

The tournament bracket lit up the ceiling of the main room and Devi found her name easily at the bottom of the lists. She was an unknown and that was fine with her. A loud chime echoed across the room. “Places everyone!” A woman said over a loudspeaker and the room filled with the initial conversations and card shuffling.

Devi looked at her first opponents and breathed a sigh of relief. As much confidence as she had in her abilities as a rithcard player she could see the green gills on these people. They had the money to get themselves into the tournament, but not the skill. She would defeat them easily, but at the same time she didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself too quickly. There was a chance that if she displayed too much skill too early on that the tournament heads would find a way to eliminate her from the game permanently.

The tournament had five rounds, of seven games each, and for the first round the tournament room had over 1000 tables with 5 people each. In the fourth round, the winners with the highest skill points over the course of the tournament would be in the fifth and final round. The winner of the tournament would get to play one-on-one with Gev Horrton himself.

Here’s what you need to know about Devi’s skill, she was a thinker, she was a skilled card counter, and capable of figuring out the micro-expressions of the players around her.

The first round she didn’t wipe the floor with her opponents but let them think she was struggling along with the rest of them.

The second round she was in a whole other world of competition, these people actually had money and skill. But all the same, she hid her abilities. WIth the second round Gev Horrton’s men were watching her and every other player. One of these people, the best of the people, would be the one to go against Horrton. It was their job to look for possible opponents that might actually be a threat to Gev Horrton. She nearly lost as many times as she won, she let herself float in the middle of the pack, letting others take the limelight and yet others to crash and burn. As the fifth and final round began Devi didn’t let an ounce of fear mar her confidence.

In the fifth round, all her opponents were long time players, skilled, and probably nearly at the same level of criminal renown as Gev Horrton himself. It wasn’t uncommon for an unknown like herself to rise in the levels, but it happened rarely and with every round she won, she saw the attention wavering in her direction.

One of her opponents in the final round suddenly stood up and threw up all over the table. The woman was staring at her drink like it had betrayed her. Devi was suddenly aware of the fact that Horrton’s men had been the ones bringing the drinks. This woman had done little to hide her very significant skill and therefore was now being taken out of the game for it. She was eliminated from the game as she fell to the ground and started having a seizure.

Devi grasped her cards and breathed deeply.

And she triumphed. She won the tournament by what most would call the breadth of a hair. Devi had played the game. But she hadn’t won yet. They weren’t worried about her, they weren’t even concerned that some unknown player that had apparently lucked her way to the top. They all assumed that she would be defeated by Gev Horrton. That was their mistake, that was Horrton’s mistake.

They began the one-on-one, and Devi paid little attention to the crowd that milled around watching them. She knew some of their faces from having played against them, and others she didn’t. She put all her focus on Gev Horrton. He walked down the aisle of tables waving at everyone like the king he thought he was. She knew the moment before he sat down what his tells were, she knew the moment he was given his cards, what weaknesses he would have, she knew when they put down their first suit of cards just what she needed to do to win.

They played seven games. She won some, she lost others. And as he did, in the final game, in all his arrogance and hubris Gev Horrton pulled his gold plated owners chip out of his jacket and placed it on the table.

“If you win this round, you win it all,” he said. The move was supposed to make his opponents nervous, to make them make mistakes, and to push too hard. Devi had watched all the games on the GalaxNet in the past 15 years and knew this tactic so well.

“I have a philosophy, Mr. Horrton.” Devi said, looking at her cards. Her face betrayed none of the emotions she felt roiling in her gut. She would only have one chance at this.

“And what’s that, Miz Gershwin.”

“Devi, please,” Devi said amiably.

“Devi it is then.” Gev Horrton nodded his head.

“Power without compassion is the heart of a dying star.” Devi placed one card down face up and began the flip the next. “Eventually the equilibrium breaks and the star goes nova.”She didn’t break eye contact with Gev and saw his face begin to pale. She placed a finger on her last card and turned it over.

“A system that is so unbalanced cannot be sustained. And your system is now mine.”

The four cards on the table were one of the most unlikely combinations in the game, and also the most valuable. She had won by a landslide and the open-mouthed horror on Gev’s face was so sickly satisfying.

“Impossible! No! You’ve cheated!”

Devi raised her hands and wiggled her fingers. She had intentionally worn a sleeveless shirt that day so as to prevent any worry of cheating.

Gev looked at his secretary but the man was as ashen faced as Gev was. Gev had arrogantly walked himself into a corner and Devi had trapped him.

“Impossible!” Gev said and shot to his feet. He yanked at the gun on his secretary’s belt and pointed it at Devi. “You won’t get away with this!”

Devi slowly lifted herself to her feet and let a smile twist her mouth. It was not a kind smile. “I have won fair and square, Mr. Horrton. You agreed to this, and I think they are ready for a change.” Devi nodded at the men and women who made up Gev Horton’s cohort of bodyguards. She knew all their faces, all their names. They had all been children like her, torn from their families because of Gev’s tyranny, thrown to the literal and metaphorical wolves. It had taken ten years to save up for the tournament and ten years to recruit and maneuver over 300 men and women into the service of Gev Horrton. She had done more than won a card game and the city, she had won the hearts of its people. Two of the bodyguards were holding a vid camera and the feed was broadcasting across the city. Horrton had been in his castle and on his throne for so long he had lost touch with the elements that had gotten him there, and Devi had taken full advantage of that.

Gev’s hand shook and the gun trembled. His finger was dangerously close to the trigger. Devi just continued to smile at him and reached over the table where he had placed the city control chip. The gold glinted and the cool metal felt heavy in her hands.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re taken care of for the rest of your life somewhere where you can’t hurt anyone else.”

***

“Devi of pack Gershwin,” the wolf-like creature said and stood on its hind legs. The Veskers towered around her but Devi wasn’t afraid. She had been friends with these people from a very young age when they had saved her from the treacherous jungle where her family had perished.

“I have done as I promised. The city is yours,” Devi said and held up the gold chip.

The Vesker leader was named Kissk. He had been no more than a pup when he had found her as a child and brought her to his people. She had befriended them all and grew to love them as her own family.

“No, Devi of pack Gershwin. It is yours. We are a simple people. Now that we know of the worlds beyond the stars we too would like to become part of this society. Some of us will return to the jungles to live out our lives, but others, like myself will integrate into this society and make it ours from the inside out.” Kissk waved a paw at the Veskers behind him and they howled in agreement.

In the years since Kestevan had been built one of Gev Horrton’s primary suppression tactics had been on the sentient species of the Veskers. If the United Planetary Society had found out that this man had built a city on planet belonging to a civilization of pre-spaceflight peoples they would have sent an army to stop him and liberate the planet. Anyone who found out about the sentience of the Veskers or tried to send information off-planet was killed before any information they had could reach the responsible people.

“You will be our liaison, you will be our teacher, and you will be the leader of this city until such time that one of us understands it enough to take over. This is your oath?”

“This is my oath,” Devi said and grinned up at Kissk.

Devi waved at them to follow her and the pack of Veskers trailed after her past the opening in the shield wall and into the city.

The End

 

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Short Story Friday

New Orleans Tripping

by

Christian Terry

 

A snore awoke George as he rolled over on the cold concrete ground in an New Orleans alley. The sweet after taste of raspberry pie that he had many hours ago lingered in his dried mouth. His head throbbed. The chirping birds and the rising sun signaling the new day didn’t make it any better. “Ugh,” He groaned as he turned on his side. “What did she slip me?” He asked to the man that awoke him perched on the wall in front of him.

Instead of getting an answer the man gave him a shrug and drank out of a wrinkly brown paper bag before falling asleep. George peeled himself off of the ground to his feet then made himself leave the alleyway. Once he left he had found himself in the middle of a busy street corner where a multitude of people marched down the streets and sidewalks. While gathering his bearings a gang of musicians rushed behind him.

Each of them carrying instruments from saxophones to snare drums. This concerned George as he cleared his throat. “Can I help y’all?” He asked. The band immediately began to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” causing a scene in the center of the very busy street. George was aghast at the scene. People never did things like this in Atlanta, only in New Orleans.

He looked at his watch, it was just seven thirty in the morning. Way too early for this, he thought. George took off into the middle of the street dodging several cars as he weaved through the traffic. He made it across the street and continued to run until he could not hear any music behind him. George ducked around the corner of a building to catch his breath. At this moment he saw the flashing lights of a neon sign that read twenty four hour fortune teller. This was familiar, he thought as he brushed through the wooden door.

A very pale woman that sat behind a purple clothed round table jumped to her feet. ” Oh no, no,no, you need to leave right now!” She yelled as George looked on in confusion. In the distance a microwave timer chimed.

“Excuse me ma’am, I think I was in here last night and you put something in my drink. You said it was a magic elixir. After I drank it I awoke on a side street with a bum. I think you owe me an apology.” He said.

The woman’s eyes almost bulged out of her head. “An apology?” She screeched. “You owe me one!”

“How so?”

“Sir you barged in here yelling, ‘Who Dat?’, went into my kitchen and ate almost all of my raspberry pie by hand without cutting it. Asked me for a healing elixir. When I said I didn’t know what you were talking about you took the bottle of vinegar that sat on my counter and drank from it. Then you broke the bottle on my floor and began to dance with the band you had following behind you.” The fortune teller said almost in a single breath.

“Impossible.” George said to himself.

The woman handed him her smartphone where there was video of George clear as day doing what she had depicted in high definition video. Guilt had struck him. It was all coming back to him. George had hired a band to follow him around the French Quarter. It just cost a total of a hundred bucks to have an mini parade at the courthouse. Two hundred for the police escort which he didn’t think he needed. At the time it was the best hundred bucks he could spend. He must’ve been really wasted that he couldn’t recognize his own actions on the video. “Did…did I choose to leave?” He asked.

“No, I showed you my baseball bat and threatened to call the cops, you took off like an Olympic sprinter.” The pale lady said.

A doorbell rang and the marching band appeared, surrounded the two, and began to play. George flashed the store’s matriarch an awkward smile.


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