A BREEDING GROUND FOR FOOLS

Free-to-Read Short Story #3

Author’s Note: Not sure why Word Press doesn’t auto-indent the paragraphs when I copied the doc here, but I’m too lazy to go through the whole “short” story and indent everything. I’m sure you’ll be fine.

Enjoy!

 

A Breeding Ground for Fools

By:

J. Anthony Mylie

“Fucking run!” the woman ordered to the young girl.

“I fucking am!” the girl replied, clearly exhausted.

Their ravenous pursuers were close behind with a shambling, jerking run. They reeked of body odor and infection. The woman and the girl tried their best keep from gagging. If they lost pace they’d be felled upon in seconds and then it would all be over.

It would have all been for nothing.

The woman had to keep one hand on her rifle to steady it and her other hand firmly clasped to the girl’s. The rooftops below their feet were aged and uncared for and, much like the rest of the world, had begun to crumble. They jumped from rooftop to rooftop hoping to outrun the horde at their heels with dexterity, but the bastards were a persistent bunch. They likely hadn’t seen fresh meat in quite awhile.

The woman kept her thoughts clear and wits keen as she sidestepped a collapsed section of the roof.

“We’re almost there!” she affirmed, hoping it would get the girl to push a little harder, “The bridge is just up ahead.”

The begotten masses behind them howled and growled, spit and gurgled, cackled and screamed. They ached for release.

Their sounds never failed to terrify the woman, because she knew all too well what it could lead to.

“Oh shit,” the woman panted, “Big jump ahead, you ready?”

“Do I have a choice?” the girl heaved.

The woman yanked her forward and let go of her hand, knowing they couldn’t make the jump to the next house tangled. With a yell of determination they lept over the gap and came crashing down on the roof, only to have it crumble beneath their feet and send them crashing down into the house below, through insulation and drywall.

Coughing the dust away and trying to catch their breath the woman had the presence of mind to unsling her rifle and aim in through the opening they’d just made.

“You alright?” she asked the girl.

“I-I think so,” she replied, checking herself over.

Numerous shouts and thumps could be heard as their mindless pursuers couldn’t seem to make the jump. They listened as the maddening mass crashed into the side of the house and fell to the ground below.

The girl giggled softly.

“What’s funny?” the woman asked.

“I don’t know,” the girl replied, “Just imagining a bunch of naked people hitting a house and breaking their legs on the ground below.”

“Kinda fucked up, kid,” the woman replied, suppressing the faintest of smirks.

A smirk which faded as soon as one of the bastards made the jump and peered down the hole in the roof at her.

She fired her rifle, sending a bullet right though the gaping maw of the near naked beast then said, “Okay, time to run again!”

“Oh, man,” the girl lamented as they headed for the stairs.

The woman and the girl crashed through the already busted screen door of the house and into the streets. Some of their pursuers, many with broken legs and backs crawled desperately after them from the side of the house where they’d fallen. Others seemed smart enough to find alternative ways to ground level and gave chase once again.

The cacophony of bobbing erections, bouncing testicles, and flopping breasts all made for a most dreadful of symphonies to flee from; mixed in with their slathering spews of excitement at fresh prey.

The street before them seemed clear and she knew the Capilano Suspension Bridge was just up ahead. With adrenaline pumping hard they sprinted as fast as they could through the once quaint North Vancouver suburb; the crazed mass once again on their heels.

“I thought you said we were almost there!” the girl complained through tired breaths.

“We are! See!” the woman point to the sign.

The suspension bridge was just a few feet wide and nearly five-hundred feet long but it still seemed sturdy enough. It wobbled and groaned against the strain as they neared the end and more of their pursuers piled onto the bridge.

The woman snatched up her last grenade from her belt, pulled the pin, released the lever, counted then hurled it into the crowd on the bridge. A second later it exploded sending body parts and gore through the cool afternoon air. The suspension bridge snapped in two just as she and the girl made it to the other side. Dozens, if not a hundred, of the horny and brain dead bastards went plummeting into the river below.

The woman sighed, catching her breath. The girl did the same, but she had a hell of a problem keeping her mouth shut.

“Motherfuckers,” the girl exclaimed, “What the hell is wrong with these people?”

“You really don’t know?” the woman asked, hunched over, hands on her knees.

The girl shook her head.

The woman rolled her eyes in annoyance and stood up straight, “C’mon, let’s get into the hills and make camp.”

***

The woman stoked the fire while the girl tried to make herself comfortable in her sleeping bag, using her backpack as a pillow.

“How old are you?” the woman asked the girl.

“Fourteen,” the girl replied, “Although, I’m starting to question a lot of things I’ve been told lately.”

“Fourteen looks about right, give or take,” the woman told her, “So you were born just after it all happened.”

“What the fuck happened?”

“You know,” the woman raised an eyebrow, “For a girl who grew up in a convent on an isolated mountain you have quite the mouth on you.”

The girl began picking away at the dirt under her fingernails with a small pocket knife, “They had movies. I’d sneak into the only room with a TV at night sometimes and watch them.”

The woman was genuinely intrigued, she hadn’t really seen a movie since the whole world ended, “Oh, like what?”

“The Godfather one, two, and three,” the girl reminisced, “they were awesome. Uh, there were a bunch of old movies. Black and whites. Mostly god stuff. But there were some others too; like Deer Hunter and Saving Private Ryan.”

“My god,” the woman chuckled, feeling like she hadn’t done such a thing in a long time, “awfully violent movies for a bunch of nuns.”

“I think the place was also what used to be called a ‘school?’” the girl said, “Mother Superior once told me they used to teach young people there, showed the future missionaries how horrible the world could be or something.”

The woman somberly looked down at her boots, covered in mud and some dried blood.

“Was the world really like that?” the girl asked.

“All that and worse,” she told her.

“Worse than now?”

The woman paused to think about her answer.

“I don’t know actually,” she said honestly, “World is a lot quieter now. No more debt and bills and slimy politics. No more wars for selfish reasons. No longer obligated to look pretty or shave my legs.”

The woman found herself enjoying laughter again.

“But?” the girl was able to pick up on the woman’s line of thought.

“But there is little peace, little rest,” she relayed, “always surviving. Everyone I’ve ever known…or loved is gone. Seems like we’re all just waiting to die. Humans, I mean.”

There was a long silence between them.

The girl put away her folding pocket knife and sat up in her sleeping bag, “How old are you?”

“Never polite to ask a woman her age?” the woman responded with a smirk, “Old enough.”

“C’mon,” the girl protested, “I told you my age.”

“You’re young,” the woman replied, “It’s different.”

“You come from a weird place,” the girl hugged her knees, “What happened? What are those naked people? Were they around before?”

“The nuns told you nothing?”

“They said that god had judged the world and deemed man unfit. So He destroyed it.”

“I’m sure god, if there ever was one,” the woman scoffed, “had nothing to do with it.”

“So what then?”

The woman took a deep breath and sighed, “The SHADEs virus happened.”

“SHADEs?”

“Sexually Hyper-Active Deficiency Epidemic,” the woman informed, “A sexually transmitted disease…you do know what sex is, don’t you?”

“A sin?” the girl giggled.

The woman laughed, “Might as well be now.”

“So what does this SHADEs-thing do?”

“It attacks the nervous system,” the woman said, “basically erasing all of a person’s memories and rationality, except the need to breed; which is heightened. And fucking spreads the disease. It acts quickly too, near immediate. It had already taken over before we even knew what we were dealing with. Men were carriers…once they raped though…it could spread to anybody.”

“What the fuck?” the girl was disgusted.

“That is an appropriate response,” the woman pursed her lips.

“So all those crazy people that were chasing us…”

“They were going to rape us, yes, it is how the disease propagates.”

“Propagates?”

“Spreads.”

“You use a lot of big words sometimes,” the girl noted.

“Wasn’t always a dirty nomad,” the woman said.

“So what happened to everybody,” the girl skirted the obvious question about the woman’s past, “Mother Superior told me there used to be seven billion people on Earth.”

“Used to be,” the woman affirmed, “Not sure how many now.”

The woman ran her hand through her hair and sighed in sadness, “SHADEs is too violent a strain. It kills the elderly and…the young. The infected are driven to screw anything that moves; no matter the age, gender, or even species.”

“Jesus Christ!”

“Animals seem unaffected by it though,” the woman said.

“Well, that’s comforting,” the girl remarked, “but if all they do is screw, then how are they still alive?”

“They eat…when they get hungry enough,” the woman said, “That’s why most look skeletal. They subsist. But they’re still human. Cold and heat affect them. Which is why I am heading to Alaska.”

“I never really said it,” the girl looked the woman in the eyes, “but thank you for letting me tag along.”

The woman slowly nodded and looked back down at her boots, a safe view devoid of too much connection.

“Couldn’t just leave you there,” the woman told her.

“So after all this time,” the girl continued her interrogation, “how are there still so many?”

“There aren’t,” the woman informed, “Their numbers are decreasing, but humanity is too far gone to rebound any time soon. They can’t breed amongst themselves. SHADEs makes them sterile. Ejaculate just carries the disease and nothing more. They breed by rape. Stay as far away from them as possible, long enough, and they’ll all die out sooner or later.”

“So cold ass Alaska is the plan, then?”

“For me, little lady,” the woman said, “You can hop off this journey whenever you like.”

“Think I’ll stick around if that’s alright.”

“Sure, better start pulling your weight, though.”

***

The woman and the girl were trekking across the crest of a hill which overlooked a small town. The woman was doing reconnaissance, debating whether or not to enter the town for supplies they desperately needed.

“I’m hungry,” the girl noted, not really complaining.

“Me too,” the woman said, “Which is why we are watching this town. Looking for activity, seeing if it is safe-ish.”

A terrified scream woke up the town just as the sun rose above the weed-riddled brick buildings.

The woman dropped to the ground behind a tree, yanking the girl down with her, “Be quiet and stay still.”

From their vantage point they didn’t need binoculars to see what was unfolding; a scene all too familiar to the woman.

The herald of the wake up call was a dirty and bearded man. He was running though the small, two lane streets, weaving in and out of cars and other debris. He was screaming for help. Right behind him were a dozen or so of the infected. Most of them were completely naked while others had tatters of clothing hanging from them in shreds. Each had sores, open wounds and other types of infection marring their bodies; some were signs of other sexually-transmitted diseases in advanced stages. Some were cancerous tumors.

“Are we gonna help him?” the girl whispered, concerned.

“No,” the woman said with finality.

The girl looked at the woman with shock and disbelief, “But you helped me.”

“That was different.”

“How?”

“This is not up for discussion,” the woman’s whisper was harsh.

The girl pursed her lips, relenting to the woman and forced to simply stare at the macabre scene.

The infected fell on the man with ravenous lust. He screamed louder as they tore away at his clothes. In seconds his naked body was exposed. They surged upon him with unbridled hyper-sexuality; each one trying to find a place to stick their erections or grind their wet orifices. One of the few women in the group of infected silenced the man’s howls by suffocating his face between her thighs. The other woman so overcome with desperation writhed against the unfortunate man’s flailing extremities, pinning him down hopelessly. The infected male who’d found his release inside the man’s rectum fell away in a twitchy sporadic respite, yet his erection remained firm; and another quickly took his place.

On the hill the girl looked away in revulsion, vomiting the mix of nuts and berries she’d eaten for breakfast barely an hour prior.

“This is the world now, kid,” the woman informed her, “best get used to it.”

A few minutes later the sweaty, undulating mass of sore-riddled infected flopped off the bearded man like bugs after getting too close to a zapper. The bearded man, drenched and filled with all manner of bodily fluids ached and groaned until he lied still for only an instant. He then shot up like a bullet, rabid eyes darting all around, nose sniffing the foul morning air. He stumbled around in place grunting and scoffing. He tore at his clothes until not much remained save for a tiny erection protruding from the slit in his stained, half-torn boxers. The rest of the infected soon recovered and joined their new member as they once again took to wandering the deserted streets.

“Well, this place is shit,” the woman sighed, “C’mon, let’s get outta here.”

“Let’s.”

***

As luck would have it they stumbled upon a small, once family-owned sporting goods store on the outskirts of the town. They had taken great caution infiltrating the backwoods-accented establishment. There weren’t any infected, but there wasn’t much in the way of supplies either.

The girl’s stomach grumbled, “I’d kill for some of Sister Florence’s stew right about now. And that stuff tasted terrible.”

“I think you might have to,” the woman said from across the room.

“Huh?” the girl replied, only half paying attention as she was playing lookout.

“Look,” the woman said.

The girl turned to find the woman triumphantly holding up a compound bow and five arrows with broadheads.

“Screws need a little tightening, but we can fix that,” she said, “If you wanna stick around you’ll need to learn how to hunt.”

“Yay,” the girl said unenthusiastically.

***

The sun was setting and neither had had very much to eat save for their berries and nuts. They retreated once more into the hills and found a nice clearing with a small field of tall, hip height, grass. At one corner of the field they climbed a tree, weary and sluggish, to stake out their hunting spot.

“How long we gotta-” the girl started.

“Shhhh,” the woman interrupted her sharply.

The girl returned her gaze back to the whispering field as a light breeze stirred the brush. The girl felt herself dozing off.

The woman rapped her on the thigh, waking her, then pointed. Out in the field, some twenty yards away a small group of whitetail deer cautiously crept into view. Three of them; two does and a buck barely sprouting its antlers.

“You can make the shot,” the woman whispered to the girl, “ready the bow and nock the arrow like I showed you.”

“Okay,” the girl whispered, doing as taught.

“Wait for them to pause,” the woman instructed, “pick your target, exhale and release, aiming for the spot just behind the shoulder blade.”

The girl had never held a weapon before and certainly hadn’t killed a living creature, save for a few goldfish she had forgotten to feed when she was younger. But she was desperately hungry and the thought of actual meat to munch on made her anxious. The bow string was hard to hold back, let alone keep the arrow steady. She’d started to sweat, and when she felt she could take no more she took her chance of a shot at the lead doe.

And the arrow missed, gliding right over its hind quarters. All three deer raised their tails in alarm, necks ridged and ready to prance.

“Shit,” the woman whispered, her rifle already steadied on her knee.

The woman took her shot.

The two does ran, but the buck kicked the air before meandering in place and dropping down, dead.

“Sorry,” the girl said.

“It’s alright,” the woman told her, “at least you were close. And at least you didn’t shoot yourself…or me.”

They shared a half-hearted smile.

“Should we go get it?” the girl asked, shouldering her bow.

“No,” the woman said, “Always wait after a kill. Make sure it bleeds out and dies. If we went down now its adrenaline might kick in and it’ll run off. And we don’t have the daylight to be tracking a deer through the forest.”

“Okay.”

***

The girl gagged more than once while the woman taught her how to gut their deer. With both their hands bloody and full of gore they each had a leg and dragged the kill far enough away to where the woman was comfortable enough to set up camp.

They quickly made a fire as it grew dark and hung the carcass up in a nearby tree. The woman detailed to the girl each step of the way with skinning the once majestic animal to cutting out edible sections of meant.

“We’ll need to cook as much as possible,” the woman said, “we have no way of preserving it and we need it to last a few days. Take the hide near the fire and let it dry. Might come in handy.”

“How did you learn all this?” the girl asked as she did what she was told.

The woman didn’t reply immediately.

So the girl asked again.

“Someone I was once very close to,” the woman said, not wanting to get into the matter.

“Like a boyfriend?”

After a beat, “Like a friend.”

The girl remained quiet taking the hint that the woman wasn’t in the mood for talking about it, concentrated as she was with her task.

“Take this meat and skewer it on the stick over the fire,” the woman ordered.

“Okay.”

After cutting out as much meat as she could they both had taken to sitting by the fire watching it cook with salivating mouths and glossy eyes.

After eating their fill and packing the rest away in some trash bags the woman had in her backpack they readied their sleeping bags for the night. The woman took to whittling away at the eight-inch long antler spikes she had hacked off the buck.

“What are you doing?” the girl asked.

“You sure ask a lot of questions,” the woman replied, continuing her task.

“I was raised in a convent, what do you expect?”

The woman shot her a sly smirk, then tossed the girl both spikes.

“Here,” the woman said, “can never have too many sharp objects.”

“But I already have a knife,” the girl noted.

“Knives can chip, dull, and corrode. Always good to have back ups.

After examining the spikes for a bit the girl relented, “Thanks.”

“Now let’s get some sleep.”

***

The woman awoke to the girl screaming.

She threw aside her sleeping bag and stood, rifle at the ready as she always slept with it by her side; like the comfort of a stuffed animal.

“Put it down, please,” said the man with the Long Hair as he held the girl by the back of her neck in front of him, “No one needs to get needlessly hurt now, please, put down the rifle.”

The woman begrudgingly did as she was told, her face of stone.

Long Hair made a slight head gesture to the two fellows behind him and they silently followed unspoken orders. The Bald one picked up the woman’s rifle and checked it over like he knew what he was doing. He didn’t. The one with the cowboy Hat pulled her hands behind her back and proceeded to tie them together with some fraying and abrasive synthetic rope. It hurt her flesh, only serving to make her more irritated. She kept her gaze fixated on Long Hair and the small blade he had at the girl’s throat. She felt Hat gently brush her behind with the backs of his fingers when he was done tying her up.

The woman had been in this place before. She knew it as a sad reality of this world all too well. She knew this scenario had only a few ways of ending. Ways she had methods of dealing with. But the girl knew nothing of this. She was, for most intents and purposes, innocent. And the woman’s heart beat faster for her.

“Take our supplies,” the woman offered, knowing it was an empty proposition, “Let us be.”

Bald and Hat chuckled.

“Ma’am,” Long Hair said, “We mean you no harm. But you have to understand that it has been quite a long time since we’ve even seen a woman. One that was normal anyway.”

“Kid’s even rarer,” Bald said, swishing his pursed lips from side to side.

“We are not violent men,” Long Hair politely insisted, “Well, not much more than one has to be in this world.”

“Just humans being human,” the woman said.

“That’s right,” Long Hair replied, “See? You understand.”

“What ever happened to asking like a gentleman?” the woman tried, “Let the girl go. Just me.”

Long Hair sighed, “See all that business just takes too long. And young or not, girl’s gotta learn reality sometime. You have my word that after we’re done we’ll just move along. You can even keep your supplies.”

“I kinda like her gun,” Bald said as he stroked the stock.

“What did I just say?” Long Hair looked at him with building irritation.

“Yessir,” Bald said as he placed the gun against a tree behind him.

The girl’s eyes were wide and frightened and they stared at the woman’s which gave no response. But she saw the woman’s jaw muscles tighten and that her hands seem to be busy behind her.

Long Hair leaned down next to the girl’s right ear, “You’re gonna go into the woods with my friend here, okay? Don’t try anything stupid and no one gets hurt.”

The stench of the man’s hair roiled her stomach.

The girl’s lip quivered, “Okay.”

When Long Hair removed his blade from the girl she dropped to her knees and started to cry.

The woman’s breaths heaved through her nose. The knots behind her drew blood as she shuffled her wrists, but they were loosening. The woman noticed the girl grip something underneath the hem of her sleeping bag and carefully tuck it up the long sleeve of her shirt.

The woman had to fight away a smirk. She knew what the girl was up to.

Bald picked up the girl, offering sickeningly comforting words as he helped her to her feet and began to lead her away from camp.

“This won’t last long,” Long Hair told the woman as he approached her.

“It usually doesn’t,” the woman said sternly.

Hat laughed, “Shit, she sounds like my late wife, may she fuck in peace.”

Long Hair unzipped the woman’s jacket, exposing the tank top she wore underneath. Her breasts heaved.

“Mymymy,” Long Hair whispered, “Too long.”

As he touched her breasts she felt a knot give way in her restraints.

When Long Hair had his fill of her chest he went about undoing her jeans. The button then the zipper.

He stuck his nose against the front of her underpants and inhaled deeply. He cooed like an ailing babe.

The blood-curdling scream of their bald friend echoed through the woods and both Hat and Long Hair shot confused glances in the direction he had gone.

“Go check on him,” Long Hair ordered, “Don’t want another accident like last time.”

“Yes, boss,” Hat said, trudging off.

“Now where were we?” Long Hair asked to no one.

“I was just about to kill you,” the woman told him.

“What?” Long Hair raised an eyebrow.

The woman, hands unbound, took her scathing restraints and wrapped them around Long Hair’s throat, pulling tighter than she had ever thought she could. His screams couldn’t make it past his broken windpipe.

Once his body went limp she tied the rope around his neck in a nice neat bow, like a gift. She ran to her rifle and swooped it up as she went after the girl. She came upon Hat first and shouted at him. Hat turned only to be greeted by a bullet directly between his eyes. The woman continued her stride.

She found the girl just as she had expected to find her; hands covered in the blood of the bald man. The girl was kneeling on the dead leaves of the forest floor. Before her was the dead body of the bald man, blood pooling around his crotch, soaking into his pants, and oozing onto the orange and brown leaves. In the girl’s hand was the buck’s spike, now crimson from her first kill.

The girl simply stared, emotionless, at the reddening foliage.

The woman approached the girl, knelt beside her and, placing a hand on her shoulder, said, “Hey. Are you alright?”

The girl turned to her, tears streaking down her cheeks, and said nothing. Instead she lunged forward and hugged the woman. She was resistant to hug her back, but only for a moment before returning the gesture.

“Shhshsh,” the woman whispered, “It’s alright now.”

The woman looked off into the forest, forever wary of her surroundings, but trying to digest the moment. It had been a long time since she had held someone like this; a time in her life she had forgotten or, rather, tried not to think about. Those memories were too sweet for this world.

 

A PATHETIC HOPE

Free-to-Read Short Story #2

Author’s Note: Not sure why Word Press doesn’t auto-indent the paragraphs when I copied the doc here, but I’m too lazy to go through the whole “short” story and indent everything. I’m sure you’ll be fine. 

Enjoy!

 

A Pathetic Hope

By:

J. Anthony Mylie


Hal was all too familiar with the shame he felt the instant his ejaculate left his dick and toppled onto his hand. He’d been whacking off to the same porn star for over ten years. On and off though; his tastes in quick orgasm material varied rather greatly, but he always returned to her. Her name was Nico. He knew it wasn’t her real name. His delusions of grandeur actually had nothing to do with her, personally.

It was who she reminded him of.

Natalie Bailey.

His first love.

The first girl to even kiss him. It should be noted that his first kiss didn’t land upon his timid lips until he was seventeen. He was an awkward teen, an awkward kid. Fuck, he was even an awkward adult. He wasn’t particularly proud of most of his nearly thirty years on Earth, but he was most proud of the boyfriend he found himself able to be when he was with her. Not a day went by where he didn’t think about her. He wondered so often where she had gone.

He sighed as he penguin waddled, pants around his ankles, from his desk chair to the bathroom to clean up his white mess. He washed it all down the drain in the sink, noting the delightful scent of the lilac soap. It made the dismay of seeing his wasted seed spiral down the sink, clinging desperately to the chromed edges of the drain, ever so slightly less disappointing.

He caught his own gaze in the mirror and hung there for a moment contemplating what he was doing with his life. Working a blue collar electrician gig for a shitty union, living single in a bland and uninteresting apartment. His apartment was clean. It was organized. It may have been the only thing he was moderately proud of since Natalie.

How pathetic, he thought.

No amount of online dating was able to land him a relationship that lasted longer than a few weeks. His twenties were peppered with too many, “It’s not you, it’s me” breakups. Only one girl had the gumption to honestly tell him that he was boring.

Boring.

Fucking boring, he fumed internally.

He was far from an angry guy. He never lashed out and would never harm a fly, but sometimes when random old and embarrassing memories from his past accosted his content reverie he’d grit his teeth and want to punch the closest wall or door. He knew a fair bit about replacing drywall and doors so why not take one out? He was boring. He just didn’t have it in him to do anything about anything.

When the rare occasions of desperation came knocking he’d look Natalie up on Facebook.

Her profile hadn’t been updated in almost six years.

He couldn’t wrap his head around it. She was a mecca when it came to social media. Live Journals, Dead Journals, instagram, and twitter. All of them gone or ceased. He tried contacting her a few times, spaced out over years, but she never replied or accepted his friend requests.

After washing up he had the urge to check on her again. He pulled his pants back up, zipped and buttoned them; looking less shameful and more like a human-being. Typing her name into Facebook once more he saw the same now ageless face he’d seen for the past six years. Her smile was bright, perpetually bright, and every perfect white tooth was visible. She had big, luscious lips. Lips he could still taste if he thought hard enough. The electric blue of his laptop screen didn’t do her beauty justice. It was a crime to cage such beauty behind megapixels and diodes. The more he looked at her the more he wondered what she ever saw in a boring, middle of the road guy like him.

They had had one year.

One solid, perfect year together.

Until her military father had gotten a job transfer and off they went. She was gone from his life. Distance and first loves do not good bed fellows make. They parted in tears, real tears. He could still taste their sorrow and regret.

“What the fuck?” he said out loud to himself in frustration.

He knew he was better than this, that he should move on. He knew he wasn’t a terrible looking guy, perhaps he just needed a hobby. Perhaps he just needed some excitement in his life that went beyond playing video games. He knew he wasn’t much different than most guys.

Better than most, he reassured himself.

So he shut his laptop screen, sending his beloved into darkness.

***

Several months passed.

He took up rowing and got himself into relatively decent shape. He started feeling better.

See? This was all ya needed, he’d say to the open lake.

He even had a girlfriend.

Her name was Cecilia and she was quite lovely. Once again he was feeling like he was playing out of his league. But he decided to stop letting that get to him. It was the evening of their three month anniversary and they were going out to dinner at a fancy restaurant; Cecilia liked to do things in quarters. So he brought his kayak into dock at the rowing club and had a smile on his face, thinking of the joy of the evening to come.

He hefted his racing shell up onto the roof rack of his station wagon and wondered what else about his life he could change; given the stride he had been hitting. He mused about becoming a cop. His electrician job had been wearing thin. He needed more excitement. And he figured that since he was in better shape that perhaps he could take the tests, see if he at least had what it took to make the academy.

***

“Hello?” she said with the sweetest tone and tight smile, “Hal Hope? Where’d you go?”

He snapped back to attention, realizing that he had been daydreaming.

“Sorry,” he smiled back at Cecilia, “Lost in thought, ya know.”
“Whatcha thinkin’ about?” she asked him, all cute and imploring.

He sighed, looking down at his hands, buying time to think of an answer that didn’t revolve around the truth; he was thinking of Natalie. He didn’t know why, hadn’t thought of her for quite some time. He assumed it was because their first date had been in a similar restaurant.

When he looked back up to meet his girlfriend’s gaze his heart nearly stopped.

Natalie was looking back at him from across the table, her face paler than he had ever seen it. She looked scared.

Then he blinked and Cecilia’s inquiring eyes met his once more. He coughed himself back to reality and tried to hide his grief.

“I was thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he told her, uncertain of the words as he spoke them, “Thought about becoming a cop, maybe.”

“That’s cool,” she seemed not entirely interested, “Don’t like being an electrician?”

“I think I want my life to mean something,” he replied, still trying to shrug off the unease of seeing Natalie’s face, “I mean, I want to do something important. Something like that.”

Their dinner together spiraled into blandness; talking about the weather and each others day at work and family drama. He was sure it was likely his fault as he couldn’t extricate his thoughts from Natalie. Seeing her face so graven gave him the chills. Cecilia had to repeat herself more than she obviously liked. He apologized, of course, but they were empty.

***

More months passed.

He didn’t see Natalie while he was awake again like he had at the restaurant. Instead she took to haunting his dreams on occasion. In them she always looked helpless and empty. Not at all the girl he remembered. What irked him even more was that she looked like she had aged. His memories of her ceased when they were seventeen, right before she moved away. Sure, he had poured over her Facebook pics, but those ended when she was about twenty-four. She’d be thirty now, like him, and in his restless dreams she looked it, older even.

Needless to say his relationship with Cecilia suffered. He was less joyful, less open. He sunk back into his boring old self. With one exception; he made it into the police academy. Cecilia wasn’t as happy as he was hoping. She told him she couldn’t be with someone who risked their life everyday and that it would cause her too much stress. He understood, but at that point he was sure she just looking for an out.

So he let her go. Just like all the rest he just let everything slide off his back. She was a presence in his life next to nothing more than a moderately fond memory. He didn’t mind being alone. He was content enough with his own company. It was usually more peaceful, never the constant need to be something to somebody or entertain them. Sure saved him a hell of a lot of money too. Relationships were hard work, so it seemed, and he was wondering whether or not he had the energy for them.

Except for Natalie.

She was always the exception. For them everything just was. It was smooth, it was joyful. There were no lies or pretenses. Neither needed to drag the other along. No, they held one another up and he knew he had been searching for that feeling ever since. Although, when his musings as a thirty year old man reminiscing about a teenage “love” became too deep he pulled himself out abruptly and verged on hating himself. They were teenagers then. What did teenagers know of love? It all sounded so stupid the older he got.

But it was Natalie.

***

He washed out of the Police Academy a couple of months later.

All of it a pathetic hope set asunder by his own worst enemy: himself.

His bad dreams about Natalie had twisted into full on nightmares. And they happened nearly every night. He had barely slept and thought he was going insane. No matter what he was doing he’d feel this intense fear and loss for her. She haunted him even though she never spoke a word in his nightmares. It wasn’t long before his studies suffered and his aptitude waned. He’d be late to classes or near incompetent in the ones he made. His superiors were more than pleased with his physical tests and his firearms training; which, surprising even himself, he excelled at. So he was given the the choice to turn it all around or leave.

And pathetic Hal left.

He quit just when he was inches from the finish line, just like always.

Ashamed of himself he returned to his meager apartment, down trodden and mildly pissed off. He thought of calling Cecilia, hoping for a good pity fuck, but decided against it. He was disillusioned about what he wanted. But getting his rocks off seemed like a serviceable idea so he plopped himself in front of his trusty laptop and began rifling his way through some of the safer porn streaming sites; fighting every instinct to seek out the porn star that reminded him so much of Natalie. He’d already seen all her vids, which wasn’t many. No, he was already hard so he found a passable skinny brunette to assuage his fucked up life for a moment.

After shooting his load he cleaned up then passed out on his bed for a nap. The idea of sleep had begun to worry him as Natalie always seemed to show up no matter what he was dreaming about. He wasn’t out more than a few minutes when she slipped into his rapid eye movement.

In his dream he was standing in a blurry hallway, it could have been one from his old high school, but he wasn’t be sure. Sun and light seemed to fill the hallway and he was sure he could hear bells or wind chimes. Then the light went away and the blurry walls and floor he stood upon turned dark green and dank and rusty. He heard screams, but couldn’t discern whether they were pleasurable or painful or both. Without taking a step he seemed to move forward through the hallway. He came to a heavy metal door with a peephole in it and just as he was about to peer through it a ghostly image of Natalie soundlessly screaming burst in front of him. And like the blinking of eyes she was gone.

And he was awake.

He was sweating and utterly exhausted like he was back running track or sparring at the academy. He missed the self-defense courses. He liked those the most, it was one of the only areas he hadn’t suffered in; a means to let out his aggression and bewilderment over his nightmares. He pondered taking up martial arts classes, but knew the pathetic old Hal would just give up on that too.

Then he got an idea.

He strode to his computer and rifled through Natalie’s defunct Facebook page. He clicked on the pages of two of her friends that were tagged in a few pictures. Both of their pages were current. They lived in opposite corners of the States, but he thought why not give it a go?

So he politely messaged both of them; detailing that he was an old friend of Natalie’s from high school and was just wondering about what happened to her page.

Feeling like he accomplished something he sat back and waited.

Days passed.

Nothing.

Oh, both girls had read his message, Facebook shows you that, but neither chose to respond.

Infuriating.

He chalked it up to maybe he came across as creepy, but there was nothing he could do about that now so he let the matter drop and never followed up. Instead he had another idea. If his nightmares were ever going to end he needed some kind of closure, at the very least to find out she had gotten married and changed her name or joined some off the grid hippie commune or something. Warily, he checked obituaries around the date her last photo was posted to her Facebook and in the area in New Jersey where she went college.

His search turned up nothing.

So he checked missing persons.

Still nothing.

With a growl of aggravation he shot up from his desk chair and stormed into the kitchen to get a drink. Nursing a hearty beer he sat back down and fumed as he pondered.

Her parents.

It had been awhile and he couldn’t recall their first names. He really only knew them as Mr. and Mrs. Bailey. So he looked up the town records for the owners of the house Natalie used to live in. It was all easier than he had thought. He found records of the current owner and the owners prior; which, much to his elation, were Natalie’s parents. Rebecca T. Bailey and Hoban R. Bailey.

With feverish determination his fingers pecked away at the keys. It wasn’t long before he found them. Her father’s unique first name whittled down the list rather quickly.

He lived Iowa.

Hal, sighing with slight sadness, “Damn.”

He found their divorce records.

There were too many “Rebecca T. Baileys” for him to root through. He was sad because they had always seemed like a happy couple. Very loving and affectionate. And always kind to him when he’d be over for dinner.

So her father became his main focus.

With a phone number on the screen before him he typed it into his cell phone and paused only for a moment before pressing the green call button.

And it rang.

And rang.

And rang.

Hal twitched with anticipation. His teeth clenched tight, “C’mon.”

Then it picked up.

“Yeah,” was all the gruff voice at the end of the line offered.

Hal’s voice was caught in his throat. He knew it was her father. Even with just one word, he knew.

“What the fuck do you want?” the haggard Hoban said, “I ain’t buying nothing.”

“Mr. Bailey,” Hal quickly replied, “It’s me, Hal Hope.”

“Who?”

Hal was a little taken aback that Hoban didn’t recall him.

“Hal Hope,” he said again, “I was a friend of Natalie’s way back in the day. In high school.”

Hoban sighed deeply, “Yeah…why are you calling?”

“Well,” Hal berated himself for not prepping this conversation in his head beforehand, “I was wondering if you knew of a way I could get in contact with Natalie? Can’t seem to find her anywhere. Kinda just wanted to catch up, you know.”

“Is this some kind of joke, you little shit?” Hogan growled.

Hal’s heart skipped, “Joke? No, sir…I just wanted to reconnect with her, been a long time-”

“She’s dead you ignorant twit. What the fuck is wrong with you?”

Hal was sure his heart completely stopped. And his lungs ceased to function. As did his eyes and limbs. The ear pressed tightly to the top of his cell phone was the only working part of him.

“At least she…might as well be,” Hoban finished.

Hal struggled out, “S-Sir? I’m so sorry, I don’t understand.”

Hoban sighed deeply again; Hal was sure this man simply didn’t want to talk about the matter.

“She went missing,” he finally got out, “Almost seven years ago.”

Hal’s body relaxed some. He dreaded every moment of the conversation, but was finding some sort of questionable hope deep inside himself. The feeling made him restless.

“Sir, I’m…I’m so sorry. I didn’t know,” Hal was on the verge of tears, his voice made that clear, “I really didn’t.”

There was a moment of silence between them, dead air on the line; neither sure of where their chat was heading.

“Do you mind if I ask where?” Hal carefully implored.

“What’s it matter, kid?” Hoban replied.

“It matters to me,” Hal said, but kind of wished he hadn’t. Just slipped out.

“Now I remember you,” Hoban said, “Cute kid. Why are you scratching at old wounds?”

Hal wasn’t sure how to respond, certainly wasn’t going to tell him he’d been dreaming about his daughter. Then the penny dropped in Hal’s restless mind. Natalie’s painful expressions, her haunting him. He deliriously began to think he was connected to her and that she was, indeed, alive and that he was the only one that could find her.

His heart quickened. Vigor filling his veins, purpose flooding his muscles.

“I didn’t mean to hurt you, sir,” Hal replied, “I just wanted to talk to my old friend again. Natalie was…one of the best people I ever knew.”

“She was…” Hoban was despondent.

More silence. Neither seemed able to hang up or extricate themselves from the receiver.

“She went missing while on a cruise with two of her girlfriends,” Hoban begrudgingly let out, “They docked in Curacao and…”

Hal’s heart was breaking for the man. When Hal knew him he was broad, tall, and strong. Over the phone Hal imagined him a weak, drained, and tattered shadow of his former self.

“She disappeared,” Hoban seemed on the verge of weeping, “without a trace…just…gone.”

“My god,” Hal whispered, hoping Hoban would continue, but resisted any prodding of his own.

“We searched and searched,” Hoban continued, “I called in every military and government favor I could, but…we had nothing. We tried for years. Years. And got nowhere.”

Hal’s sigh was the only response he could give.

“I’m done, kid,” Hoban told him, “I’ve got nothing else. Get on with your life. Do something useful. No need to be calling old drunks.”

Hal didn’t really realize it until Hoban had said it, but he could hear the slight slur in his voice. The man had seen the bottom of at least one bottle.

“I will, sir,” Hal told him, “of that I can assure you.”

Hoban hung up the phone.

Hal clicked off his cell and rested the top rim of it against his lower lip; his mind racing with what he needed to do next.

There was much to do and sleep was not an option.

***

Hal was only slightly aware that he might be crazy.

Or going crazy.

It didn’t really matter as he was already on the plane and had booked the cruise. He’d dipped into almost all of his savings; he wasn’t really sure what he was doing or how long he might be gone. He did, however, have an idea of where to begin and what it might take to do what he was meant to do. He may have washed out of the police academy but he certainly learned a lot and had grown much.

As the world he knew passed below he wondered about reality; tried to put it all into perspective in his head. He’d always felt some connection to Natalie, something stronger that he could never put into words. He wasn’t really a believer in a god and the supernatural so what was happening to him frazzled his brain. His nightmares were too intense, vivid, and consistent to be the mere wayward firing of neurons; a resting brain trying to make sense of all its information.

And why now? After all this time? He pondered.

If she had gone missing so long ago then why did he suddenly have visions of her now?

He shook off the questions. They would only hinder his search for her. He may not have all the answers to the strange adventure he was embarking upon, but somewhere inside he knew he wasn’t going insane and that he had to find her.

He had to save her.

***

Curacao was hot and sunny, but the humidity was low. When Hal disembarked from the cruise ship he arrived as any tourist would; however, he would not be getting back on the cruise ship with the rest of them to finish the scheduled cruise. Sure, he could’ve flown directly to Curacao, saved a bit of money, but he felt he needed to follow Natalie’s exact course before she disappeared. He didn’t know why, but he hoped it would tighten the connection he shared with her.

It had been almost a week since he had talked to Hoban on the phone. Since then he had gleaned some information about the investigation into her disappearance from local and international news articles online. Some of which had included interviews with her two friends who had been with her. He now knew why neither of them had responded to his inquiry; the investigation and the questions they had endured had wrung them emotionally dry.

He sympathized with them as he had barely slept a wink since starting this excursion of his. He felt drained and wiry. His first stop was the hotel Natalie and her friends had stayed at and the same room with the same bed they had slept in. Laying on that bed had been approached with much trepidation. It was the closest he had felt to her in over a decade.

He closed his eyes and breathed deep into the pillow.

It smelled of lemon detergent.

He wasn’t really sure what he was expecting to smell, but as he drifted off to the first real sleep he’d had in a week he hoped she’d haunt him again and tell him the next step in finding her.

***

And she didn’t fail him.

She never failed him.

In the haze of dreams he saw the neon name of a business. As he strode down a dirty, muddy road at night the name of the business came into focus through its red smoke; beckoning him.

Club Praag

***

Hal awoke after the restless slumber, but it was more rest than he had had so he felt a little better. The coffee in Curacao did wonders for his attention. He sat at a jazz cafe’ adjacent to an alley which harbored the back door Club Praag. It wasn’t on Google maps so he had resorted to asking around. It took a few tries and some less than approving looks before he’d gotten the directions. English was common for most residents, but the native Dutch dialect of Papiamentu was prevalent. Standard Dutch and Spanish were also spoken and sadly Hal spoke neither.

Either way he had found Club Praag.

It seemed to be a night-only kind of place. And given its drab location he was sure the business was shady. Pulling his eyes from the turned-off neon sign he took a moment to take in the world and culture around him. It was a beautiful little island; diverse and colorful. The live jazz music that jammed away behind him was a delightful mix of local flavor and classic jazz.

He knew Natalie had sat at this very cafe’.

There was nothing about it in the reports he’d read or in his dreams, but he knew because she loved jazz. She loved it more than anything. He could sense the pieces falling into place. She was here and Club Praag was close by.

So Hal waited.

He waited and watched and kept his caffeine intake constant.

As sunset took the island he heard muffled thumping music emanating from Club Praag. People of every sort, locals and tourists started to enter it. Positioned around the block were hype-men passing out fliers for the club and trying to sling the schtick to get people inside.

Hal knew Natalie must have gotten wrangled into going inside so he got up from the table he’d been sitting at and meandered to the entrance. Being an obviously white tourist he was waved inside and greeted with much elation. He dressed like he had money, which wasn’t entirely a lie. He was carrying enough cash and coin on him to hopefully buy him into whatever he needed. He had the terrifying suspicion Natalie was stuck somewhere in the sex trafficking ring which surrounded the Caribbean. He assumed he’d need money to find an American girl.

Prostitution was legal and controlled on Curacao. He doubted very much they kept Natalie here on the island; her father would have likely found her back when. So he was prepared to pay his way to wherever she might be.

Once inside the music assaulted his senses. It was the same terrible club techno beats played in most places he had visited during his younger years. He hated it. It was too loud. Could hardly be called music, but he suffered it because he knew he needed to.

An overly enthusiastic native and obvious employee came up to him all smiles and fake joy and put his arm around him.

“My friend! My friend!” he jostled him as he lead him through the club, “American?”

“Yeah!” Hal feigned his own grin, yelling above the music.

“I am Bob and I can get you whatever you want, my friend,” Bob told him.

“Bob?” Hal had to chuckle.

“Never mind that, sir,” Bob laughed, “So what can I do for you, huh?”

“I don’t know, Bob,” Hal faked, “This is my first time here, loving this place.”

“Well, if it’s booze you want, we got that,” Bob elongated, “You want some other things we got that too.”

“Other things?”

Bob held up his index finger signaling him to hold on as he lead him into a back room that was much quieter than the booming club they’d just bumped shoulders getting through. He lead him into a room with many private booths and near naked male and female dancers on tables. The space was open and classier and cleaner. Hal stole glances at the patrons in the booths; mostly white men in their thirties and forties and higher. Many already drunk. Hal surmised Bob saw in him what he wanted him to see.

Money.

Bob took Hal to an empty booth and sat next to him. A lingerie clad native girl in high heels sat on the table before them. Bob signaled for her to get up and start dancing and she did as commanded.

“She’s beautiful ain’t she, my friend?” Bob asked him.

“Very,” Hal noted.

Bob signaled to a waitress across the room to come over. He shouted something in the native tongue then went back to smiling at Hal.

“So, what is your name?”

“Hal,” he replied.

“Hal?” Bob replied questionably, “Funny name.”

“What about ‘Bob?’” Hal prodded him with a chuckle.

Bob waved it off, “So, my friend Hal, what brings you to our lovely bit of paradise?”

“I hear it is a fun place to be,” he replied.

“That it is,” Bob affirmed.

The waitress approached.

“What do you want?” Bob asked Hal.

“Do you have bourbon?”

“Do we have bourbon?!” Bob laughed, “Of course we do!”

He ordered to her in Papiamentu and she left.

“So is there anything else Bob can do for you, sir?” Bob asked.

“I don’t know? Is there anything you can do?”

“Well, you know women are legal here in Curacao, my friend,” Bob pointed out, “Whatever you want, man.”

Bob was staring at him, stone faced.

“You have anything more…American?” Hal asked.

Bob raised an eyebrow, curious, “Come all the way from America only to look for American?”

“Sometimes it isn’t about the color of skin, Bob,” Hal remarked slyly, “It’s about the situation…if you get my meaning.”

Just then the waitress came over with his bourbon and what looked like vodka for Bob. Hal pulled his wallet from his zipper-sealed back pocket and paid her likely much more money than the glass was worth. It was a show for Bob and Hal knew that this was where he needed to be and what he needed to do. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bob eying all the money he had before tucking it back safely in his zipper pocket.

“Hal, my friend, I think you and I can do business,” Bob told him with a snakely grin.

***

“Bob” had left Hal alone for a spell with the lovely girl dancing for him on the table. She looked tired and possibly drugged. Hal’s heart ached for her and the life he imagined she wanted for herself. But there was nothing he could do for her. He had his own mission. But this whole culture of women made him ill. He sipped his bourbon and focused himself. All of this was too terribly real; where he was, what he was doing, and where it was leading.

He was, indeed, scared.

But he had hope.

This has to be real, it just has to be, he thought.

Bob returned and waved him out of the booth.

“If you’re willing to pay,” Bob told him, “I can take you somewhere…special.”

Hal nodded, “I’m willing.”

Bob nodded. His fake smile had given way to one of a man ready to do serious business.

“Follow me, Hal,” Bob ordered with an elongation to his name.

***

Club Praag was near the coast. Bob had lead him from the club to a small dock on a shaky pilings. One flickering floodlight illuminated the boat they got into. It was a simple gray pontoon boat with an outboard motor bolted to the rear. And Hal wasn’t the only passenger. Three other men, all quite affluent seeming judging by their watches, were present, each with their own escort. He hopped in next to them and shut himself out. He wasn’t in the mood to do more talking than he had to.

Bob sat next to him while another guy started the engine and they disembarked. He pulled a little plastic bag from the breast pocket of his faded and sweat-stained Hawaiian shirt.

“You need to take this,” Bob told him.

Hal noticed all the other escorts offering the same thing to their customers.

“What is it?” Hal asked.

“Just a little something to take the edge off, man,” Bob had that shit-eating smile again.

“I don’t do drugs, Bob, but thanks,” Hal said.

“You either do it or I push you overboard,” Bob said, smile nowhere to be found.

Hal nodded and popped the one little blue pill. He assumed it was some kind of ecstasy; something to buzz their clients just enough so they wouldn’t recall wherever they were being taken. But Hal had a little trick. Something he had been able to do since he was little kid when he didn’t want to take the godawful vitamins his mom forced on him each morning.

“Lemme see,” Bob ordered him to open his mouth.

Hal did as commanded, exposing a completely empty mouth.

“Good. Trust me, my friend, you’ll enjoy it,” Bob’s smile returned.

Hal was just annoyed he kept calling him “friend.”

He turned away from Bob and looked out towards the horizon; seeing the full moon in the clear sky light up the water. Far off Hal could see a tiny red light.

After feeling comfortable enough he stealthily coughed whatever the pill was up into his mouth and into his hand, then casually dropped it into the sea. He kept careful watch on the other men, making sure to mimic their reactions to the drug. They seemed to get a little woozy, but maintained a state of exposed enjoyment as they began swapping stories about who they were and where they were from.

Hal kept to himself; acting like the drug made him a bit woozier than them. He noted the escorts paying close attention to their clients as they talked about themselves, like they were taking mental notes. Possibly trying to weed out any cops or the like.

Hal had never acted before. But he’d played a hopeless, pathetic, good for nothing long enough to know the role he needed to fit for these men to take him seriously.

He was just a wallet with a cock.

That simple.

***

He wasn’t sure how long they had been on the shitty boat but he was glad to be off it. In a state of mild sea sickness and fear he found himself pondering just how many times over the last week he wasn’t sure of something. Whether it was time or person or place.

He wasn’t sure.

But after being lead up the beach into a dilapidated building that looked like an old school…

He was sure.

He was sure because he had seen that damned green hallway in his nightmares. And it now stretched out before him; real as the floor beneath his feet.

“I need some air,” he told Bob, “Just a sec, seasick.”

Bob put a hand on his shoulder and lead him back outside onto the cracked stone steps. He took some deep breaths and gathered himself, bracing against the metal railing.

He wasn’t a praying a man, but somewhere in the back of his mind he was asking someone, somewhere, for the strength to do and to be what he needed to be; hoping beyond hope that she was alive and in this place.

His mind cleared and his composure returned as he scratched the peeling green paint on the railing.

Bob wiped his brow for him, “C’mon, Hal, good time ahead, huh?”

“Yeah,” Hal chuckled, “Thanks.”

When Hal turned back towards the building he was all business. He felt different. His mode of being was different. He noticed the two guards at the door, each armed with AK-47s or some knock off.

He counted, One, two.

Bob was in front of him, leading, and he noticed the protrusion in the small of his back, likely a small pistol.

Three.

Hal’s police mentality training was taking over. He breathed carefully.

“So, what type do you like?” Bob asked.

“Skinny,” Hal recalled every detail of Natalie, “Pale. Short. I’ll pay extra if she has freckles.”

Hal laughed, playing into their game.

Bob laughed with him, “My friend, I think I have one you might like.”

They passed by two more guards on either side of the hallway. Desks with notepads full of scribblings on them next to either guard. Hal noted that both had Uzis slung over their shoulders.

Four. Five.

Five men, four heavily armed.

He kept his breathing controlled. He was stepping into the hornets nest completely unprepared, but not without chance; he reassured himself of this.

Remember your training, he told himself.

He heard the muffled moans of pleasure from behind the closed doors of a number of the rooms. His imagination threatened to run rampant with ghastly ideas of what to whom horrible things were happening to. If he could burn this whole building to the ground and set the victims free he would. His hands shook with rage and continually boiled with what penetrated his ears.

Crying.

His stomach roiled again when he realized the crying was that of children. He wasn’t sure how many, but he was sure this place had raped innocence long ago.

He told himself to stay on mission. He was here for her. Once he got her free he’d find a way to take care of the rest.

Somehow.

“Here we are,” Bob stopped him, “She’s clean, guaranteed. One hour. One thousand florin.”

He recognized the door and peephole he had never been able to peer through in his nightmares.

For a moment he thought he was dreaming and hoped he’d wake up back home, warm in his bed.

Wasting his pathetic life away.

But then Bob opened the door and he saw her.

There she was.

The object of all his dreams and nightmares coalesced in a beaten and bruised Natalie Bailey on a stained and tattered bed.

“You got it,” Hal fished out the money from his wallet and handed it to Bob.

Bob counted and smelled it.

“Have fun,” he told him, “Don’t hurt her too much or it’ll cost you. Kill her and it’ll cost everything.”

Jesus Christ.

“Yessir,” Hal closed the door behind him.

***

He stood there staring at her unconscious form, clothed in only a simple white nightgown, for what seemed like an eternity. The love he lost so long ago. Still, somewhere underneath the bruises, the scars, and needle holes in her arms, he found her undeniably gorgeous. Somehow in some supernatural way she had led him here. Something beyond his own comprehension, but it didn’t matter because she was right in front of him.

The room reeked of sweat, sex, and semen. It was the worst hell he could possibly imagine something so beautiful being caged in.

Then her eyes fluttered open and she looked at him, peering through the dimness of the room.

And his heart skipped a beat; just like it did the first time he’d met her.

She stared at him for a long while, like she was waiting for him to move, but he couldn’t. His breath caught in his lungs.

“H-Hal?” she struggled out a whisper.

Hearing her sweet voice say his name brought tears to his eyes. He rushed to the bed and brought his hands to her face.

She moved to embrace him, but the handcuffs which held her crucified against the metal headboard rattled in defiance.

“Hal,” her voice was strained like she hadn’t spoken in ages, “How did you…?”

Her voice trailed off.

So he kissed her. It was the only way to answer her question at that moment.

“I’m getting you out of here,” he told her.

He learned how to pick handcuffs but he needed a kind of pin to do it. He got up from the bed and searched the nightstand and found nothing except for lube and sex toys. His stomach lurched once again, fighting away what had been done to her. His gaze scattered the room and found it to be devoid of almost anything.

Almost.

He peered upward to think and saw the lone hanging light bulb and the string dangling from the pull chain. On the end of it dangled a paperclip.

Perfect.

He took the paperclip, partially unbent it and went to work on the cuffs. Once he got them off he held her wrists between them both; his thumbs caressing the soft of her wrists near the scars the cuffs had made over the years.

“Natalie,” he whispered, “I’m so sorry.”

She only breathed a whimper in reply, tears running down her faded freckled cheeks.

Wiping them away he said, “There will be time for tears later. Right now I need you to be the tough pain in the ass you always were and get up and trust me. Can you do that?”

She scoffed a weak smile and lightly nodded.

“Okay,” he told her, “People are going to die. Stay behind me, do not let go of my shirt. Are you ready?”

Her bottom lip quivered, ready to cry again, but she nodded and he helped her off the bed.

He took her to the wall next to the door he had come in from.

“Wait here,” he said.

He opened the door and poked his head out into the hallway and spotted Bob.

“Hey,” he called to him, “I think something is wrong with her.”

Bob rolled his eyes and walked over in a huff.

“This one was always a problem,” he exclaimed as he walked inside.

With his back exposed to Hal he moved quickly; snatching the pistol from the small of Bob’s back and knocking him over the head with it. Bob collapsed to the floor clutching his bleeding head right before Hal landed a final kick to the confused man’s face; knocking him out cold.

Hal checked the clip inside the Glock 9mm to affirm that it was full and ready to fire. He thumbed the safety off and looked to Natalie. She was hunched against the wall, looking sternly down at a man she obviously had deep disdain for.

He walked over to her, put his back to her and placed her hand on his left shoulder.

“Here’s where we move fast, Nat,” he said, “focus on me, stay with me. Okay?”

“Uh-huh,” was all she said.

He took a deep breath, “Alright, here we go.”

He rounded the doorway and entered the hallway, pistol up at the two guards brandishing Uzis.Surprise on his side and without wasting time he fired off two rounds into each as he walked quickly towards them. One was dead and the other tried desperately to aim his gun at him, but a third shot took him down. Hal worked quickly picking up one of the Uzis and readying it.

An instant later the two guards from outside came charging in AK’s firing.

Hal flipped the nearest desk over, papers scattering, and ducked down behind it, Natalie right with him. He propped the Uzi over the desk and unloaded the whole clip at the approaching guards, knowing he wouldn’t likely hit them, then he stood up just long enough to drop the Uzi, double hand the Glock and take both of them out. Several of the doors around them started to open up, confused men pulling up their pants shambling out into the hallway.

Hal had no time for them or their victims. He made sure Natalie was right with him and ran down the hallway. He scooped up one of the AK’s as he bound through the double doors. Gunfire rang out to his left, chipping away the the stone steps and metal railing. He pulled Natalie back and ducked them both down behind the cover of the recessed entrance way.

His heart was racing. He had never killed anyone before, let alone four, possibly five people. But a protective rage was driving him and he dared not stop. His training was ever present and certainly thought of taking another crack at the academy if he could. But that all stood on pins and needles. The weight of his pathetic life massaged his shoulders, letting him know his ineptness and that he was prone to not finishing anything he had ever started.

Natalie was stone quiet but her breathing was heavy.

“We’re almost out of this, Nat,” he comforted as uncertain gunfire peppered the area around them, “Stay strong, baby.”

He hadn’t called her “baby” in over a decade. But it still felt as natural as the days they were together.

I have to finish this, he thought hard, even if I die, I must finish this one last thing.

He heard the shouts coming ever closer. He tried to discern the number of men, pathetically hoping it was only two or three, but he wasn’t that well trained.

He could see the boat they had arrived in down by the dock, bobbing, beckoning in the water. He ran the numbers through his head. Three other escorts with the men that he came with. And the boatman made four. Neither had had any visible firearms so he hoped all they had were pistols.

However many there were they kept shouting at him in their native tongue. He pocketed the Glock then aimed the AK towards their general direction and fired a few rounds, enough to peer up at his surroundings quickly. Floodlights on the roof of the old school illuminated enough of the beach for him to see them taking cover behind a few trees.

“Get ready,” he told her.

He again randomly fired the AK in their general direction, keeping them at bay, then slung it and pulled the Glock as he took Natalie’s hand and ran for the boat. Shots cracked the night air towards them and he blindly fired back at them.

Reaching the dock they jumped in the boat and he unslung the AK and fired what was left at their pursuers. An instant later he had the motor going and found that Natalie had already pulled the ropes that held the boat to the dock.

“Alright!” he exclaimed as he pressed the throttle forward and the boat took off. More shots cracked and he pulled Natalie down to keep her safe.

A bullet caught him in the shoulder, lurching him forward, blood splattering across Natalie’s already stained nightgown. His hand let off of the throttle and the boat lulled.

He screamed and returned fire with his one good arm, then dropped the Glock in the water as it went empty. He cranked the throttle once again and they were off into the darkness and the unknown sea.

***

Hal didn’t let off of the throttle. Adrenaline pumping though his veins kept his hand fixed to it. But his other arm was coated in blood from the leaking wound. He could tell the bullet had gone straight through, leaving a nasty exit wound. The pain seemed so far off though as he hardly felt a thing. His attention was elsewhere. He saw lights in the distance of what he could only assume was Curacao so headed towards them. The rest of his attention was on Natalie. She could hardly pry her gaze from the fading lights of the island they left behind.

She stared at it with such sorrow.

“We’ll find a way to help them,” he told her, “I’m not sure how, but I won’t let them be lost.”

She didn’t acknowledge his words, still staring back.

“Nat?”

She broke into a deep and penetrating sob; for what he could only imagine.

He could see a glossiness to her eyes, he wondered if the drugs they had her hooked on were wearing off, or what the mixture of adrenaline might be doing to her body.

“Baby?”

Then she looked to him.

And in her eyes he saw clarity.

“Hal!” she screamed with joy and melancholy as she wrapped her arms around him.

He winced, the pain in his shoulder coming around.

“Oh my god, you’re bleeding,” she remarked.

“’I ain’t got time to bleed,’” he said all gruff then broke out laughing, “Always wanted to say that.”

She began tearing away at the bottom hem of her nightgown. Once she had a long enough strip she wrapped it around his shoulder and tied it tight.

He winced again.

The adrenaline was wearing off and pain was making itself nice and cozy.

“Am I dreaming?” she asked.

“I have been asking myself that same damn question for too long,” he remarked.

She kissed his shoulder when she was done wrapping it. It was something she used to do when they were together and like magic the pain was gone; well, he fancied it was.

He took his hand off the throttle for a moment to take his cell phone out of his pocket; thankful beyond belief that it wasn’t broken and still had life. He thumbed the only contact he needed.

The phone rang.

And rang.

And rang.

Hoban finally picked up.

Epilogue

The whole ordeal made international news. Hoban made sure of that. He used whatever pull he had left with his ties to the military to get Hal and Natalie home safely. The Curacao government was more cooperative than any of them could have hoped for; asserting that they had been trying to take down that illegal ring for years. They offered the protection needed until Hal and Natalie were escorted out of the country. In exchange for his freedom Hal gave up the general location of the island and it wasn’t long before it was liberated. Hal had murdered four men, “Bob” had survived, but those overseeing the case chalked it up to self-defense and let him go, given the circumstances.

Hoban flew to Curacao personally so he could hold his daughter again and never once left her side the entire time.

***

Once back home Hal was labeled a “hero” and he was more than a little uncomfortable with the title. He was just an ordinary man and he just wanted an ordinary life; which is what he told everyone. Natalie was reunited with her mother and her friends once all the press died down. Tears of joy seemed to continually flow in a ceaseless stream. Hal was welcomed there through it all and no one would have it any other way. He felt complete. Like he had done something with his life. And he had no idea what he was going to do next.

Natalie went to therapy twice a week, sometimes more. It took her a long time to come to terms with what happened to her. And the detox from all the drugs was especially brutal. But she eventually found herself again.

***

After a few months he had moved to Iowa to be close to Natalie and her family. Not long after that they began dating again, but it didn’t really feel like dating to either of them. It felt like their lives were permanently intertwined and they were just going through the motions; picking up where they’d left off. He joined the police academy and graduated, becoming the cop he had wanted to be.

Offers to join the FBI came soon after.

Gone were the nightmares and haunting visions. In there place were sweet dreams and restful nights sleep; from which he’d awake to Natalie by his side. He told her everything and never once did she call him crazy. Over time it seemed that both could read the others thoughts on occasion, but they chalked it up to their closeness.

Marriage was always on his mind and when he graduated Quantico he popped the question.

“Yes!” was her only answer.

***

One night he dreamed of a little girl, blond haired and green eyed. She was running. Running from him. Rather from the person whose eyes he was seeing through. Dark, moonlit woods all around as he chased his prey. He could hear her scream into the night as he fell onto her and began to brutalize her.

Then he woke up.

And Natalie woke up right beside him.

“Did you just…?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he told her, told her everything, “Saw a little girl, running…”

“Blond hair and green eyes?” Natalie said with trepidation.

Hal looked at her concerned, “Yes.”

They didn’t think too much on it until they saw the news that morning that a little girl had gone missing. When her school photo appeared on the screen both of them ceased the breakfast they had been making, Natalie dropping one of the dishes, ceramic shards littering their kitchen floor.

It was her, they knew, plain as day.

And the nightmares had begun again.

For both of them.

TERMINAL

Free-to-Read Short Story #1

Enjoy!

 

TERMINAL

By:

J. Anthony Mylie

Terminal Log 001 – I am far more excited than I am frightened. Although, it would seem everyone who loves me feels nothing but sadness. Guess I can’t blame them. But I can only acknowledge their feelings, not empathize with them. I’ll never be a parent. I won’t know what it is like to bear a child. But I also won’t know what it is like to lose one. Probably for the best on my part. Never did care for them. Guess that makes me different. Then again, I’ve always been different. That’s why I’m here, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t know exactly when my little space ship will return to Earth, depends on how long I live, but it is my hope that my parents and brother and nieces will still be alive when that happens. They tell me space is a fickle and dangerous place and that anything could happen. Either way, no matter how long it takes…I hope someone remembers me. Because, in the end, isn’t that the only true immortality we’ll ever have? As long as someone keeps on talking.

Houston just relayed that they’re almost ready for launch and that my pretty (bald) head looks good on the only camera in this tiny ship. My good friend Dr. Hillard tells me I should get all of the specifics out of the way in the first log. That way when these logs return to Earth they can compile them into a cohesive book or something. I don’t know these things, I’m not an author, but here goes, little keyboard (my only friend for the next…however long it takes for the cancer in my brain to kill me.)

My name is Helena Ashmore Reeves. I’m 36 years old…and I am dying. (Editors of the future, feel free to copy, cut, and paste that line to the top if you prefer. Such a cheery opener). Where was I? Oh, yes. I am, indeed, dying. Shame, given how beautiful I am (was), but I digress (ego, huge). I have a tiny, pesky tumor in the center of my brain. Chemo didn’t work (miss my flowing red hair) and they can’t operate.

Joy.

But. I am a fighter. And I refuse to go quietly. No, world, I am going to go out with such a bang it’ll have astrophysicists of the future studying my stuff for years.

Hopefully.

Oh, we’re down to three minutes until to launch! Which reminds me that I guess I better tell you what I’m doing.

I’m being launched into space, destination: anywhere but here…and maybe even farther.

If I live that long, that is.

The first working prototype of an Electromagnetic Propulsion Drive (EM Drive for short) is attached to my ship. The whole crew of scientists and engineers on the ground think this baby could reach the moon in just 4 hours and Mars in just 70 days! They also speculated that I could reach Pluto in around 18 months…I shall attempt to laugh in the face of terminal death.

Any who, I commissioned this little adventure, you see. I’m wealthy (was). But fat lot of good it did me. Best doctors in the world couldn’t help me. However, since I was a little girl I always wanted to see the stars. And this is why I am sitting here on board the Tyson (Named for Neil deGrasse Tyson. Don’t know him? Google him up, he’s the man). This one woman vessel of mine is going to take me farther into space than any human has ever dared to go…or could go.

And I am going to keep going. Keep burning til all the lights are burnt out.

Wish me luck.

Terminal Log 002 – Wow. Words can’t hardly begin to describe this feeling. I’m weightless! Had to buckle myself into this chair to type.

Kinda neat.

Suppose I need to remain somewhat professional as these words will be read by many one day…again, hopefully.

I am off and into space!

Approaching the moon as I type. And judging by my on board clock and watch it would seem their calculations were correct. Approaching the three hour mark and the moon is about an hour away.

Again. Kinda neat.

It is so surreal. I can look out the windows (there are 4. One in the front, one on either side, and this little dome thingy on the top that basically fits just my head so I can peer about a full 360 degrees) and see the Earth getting farther and farther away and everything else getting closer and closer. Out here the Earth looks so peaceful. You can’t see the crime or the poverty. Or the wars. Ugh, how many astronauts in history have said something in far more eloquent terms? Like I said, not a writer. Nor a poet.

No, from out here…if there is a god, I could understand why he’d take a step back and say, “It was good.”

But as it slowly fades away…I do feel a sense of loss. I am still human, you know. I’ll never see another person again. I’ll never be able to talk to anyone again. I should note that there are no audio relays on this trip. The only thing I can send back to Houston is my location and astronomical data. Once I was out of the atmosphere my short range radio was useless. They wanted to outfit more communication methods, so I could speak to them or my family, but I politely declined. I wanted total isolation. I wanted to be alone, without any chance of a second thought of returning. Don’t ask me why. ‘Cause you can’t.

I chuckled just now, but it is a laugh you’ll never hear.

Terminal Log 003 – Just passed the moon. Not too close as I didn’t want this ship to get caught in its gravitational pull. Suppose I should make a note of saying that this trip is completely automated. It was calculated and planned mathematically with the utmost precision. I essentially don’t have to do a thing. There are controls available to me, but I dare not touch them. The slightest change in anything could drastically change my trip; or worse, end it prematurely. I want to see my death coming and burning up in a planet’s atmosphere is not how I want to go out.

I did, however, take the simulation courses for this vessel as a “just in case.” Space, as I previously noted, is capricious, full of chaos and randomness. So if anything were to happen I am fairly confident that I could pilot the Tyson back on course.

I even have a space suit. Not sure why they gave me one. What am I going to do outside? Better to have and not need than need and not have, I suppose.

By now some of you are likely wondering about my health. I am feeling okay. Sickness takes me sometimes as the chemo is still wearing off. There is a tiny airlock on board, about the size of a basketball, which I can use to get rid of waste and what not; like used packages from my food bags…and vomit bags. That’s right, from here on out all my food is basically in paste form. Used appropriately it should last me about 2 years…which is about double what I am expected to live. The Tyson is programmed to monitor my heartbeat…when I flat line…it sets a course back to Earth. My meds are in roughly the same supply, all in pill form. Dr. Hillard tells me they should ease some of my discomfort and hopefully slow the growth of the tumor. I guess we’ll find out together, trusty keyboard.

The toilet is quite small as well, obviously. Having to strap myself into that to evacuate certain things is odd. To say the least.

Probably my biggest sorrow, though, and you might think me vain, is no shower. Ugh, I’m really going to miss showers. Like dreadfully miss them. So, sadly, it is sponge baths from here on out. Then again there really isn’t much of a way to get dirty in here is there?

I have a supply of fresh water, something also to be used with great discretion. But as a back up there is a filtration system for my urine. Yeah, you read that right. If I have to I can drink my own pee.

Yay!

But right now.

It is all worth it.

The views from my little windows. I am seeing the solar system now as no human ever has. I’ve already gone farther than anyone. Hopefully Guinness will dedicate a whole page in their books just for me!

So, this is my little home.

This tiny, cramped bathroom/kitchen/ pilot’s console careening through the black.

This is my coffin.

Terminal Log 011 – 30 days out. One whole month. If it weren’t for my tablet full of 20TB of music, movies, and books I’d likely already be insane; talking to myself and whatnot.

Aren’t I kind of already doing that?

I’ve entered dead space.

Not much worth seeing here until I reach Mars. It is almost haunting actually; to be this alone and cut off from everything. All those alien and monster movies start playing through your head and you just have to wonder.

Sometimes when I wake up it takes me a moment to realize where I am. The stars outside my window are like the night sky from home; obviously it’s vastly different out here, were I an astronomer I’d be able to tell the difference, but I am not. No, to me they’re just pin holes in a veil of perpetual night. I keep imagining the sounds of crickets and other wildlife; like on the camping trips I used to go on when I was little. But it is just silence.

Well, almost.

There is the hum of the ship’s engines and the occasional blips and bleeps from the data analyzing systems. Sometimes I’ll play some of the sound files on my tablet. I’ve got oceans and wildlife stuff on here. Puts me to sleep real quick. One of the astronauts who trained me recommended I add such sounds to my library and I’m glad he did. He was kinda cute.

God, I miss sex.

No.

No. Not going to get into that on here. I won’t delete it, but some things should remain personal.

Terminal Log 018 – I’ve been sleeping a lot. Obviously not much to do in here. Never slept so much in my life. Feels really good actually. There is no night and day in here, obviously, and I even stopped looking at the clock and my watch. Time doesn’t matter anymore; Earthly time, anyway.

Funny.

Time, the clock, seemed to run my entire life before. Wake up, coffee, shower, workworkwork, home, dinner, maybe a bit of TV, then bed. All meticulously timed and all kept in sequence. You’ll find most people who gained wealth knew best that “time is money.”

So what is sleep?

Wasted time?

But out here my only job is to live and witness, catalog. Can’t make money doing that. And there seems to be a freeing quality to that; once all the tropes of life are stripped away. And it is just you, alone, in a box for the rest of your life, with only your thoughts to mend you.

My hair has begun to grow back.

I’d add a smiley face here, but that would be unprofessional. My meds seem to be working quite well, coupled with copious amounts of rest I really am feeling better than I was. Dr. Hillard said this would happen. The occasional headache serves as the reminder of my imminent demise, though. But until then I breathe, I think, I watch and I listen. This universe is mine now and I am the first human-being to embrace it.

The zero gravity has been hard to get used to. For about an hour or so between sleep cycles I bounce myself around the small cabin, gingerly working my legs and arms. My muscles and any fat I have to admit that I had have begun to wither away.

Wither.

Such a depressing word.

I’ve shrunk.

Yes, I like that better.

Without any real food to eat or gravity to press against, my body has slimmed. I can see it now, ladies and gents, the new fad diet! Zero-G! In just a few short weeks you’ll be catwalk ready.

Insert smiley laughing here.

Terminal Log 021 – Something odd happened. The Tyson shook. Not much, but enough to rouse me from sleep.

All system read outs seem normal and I can’t see anything other than distant stars and planets outside…and yet the ship shook.

Rattled, I guess would better describe it.

Weird.

Terminal Log 029 – Mars.

The dullness of the dead space was worth it. I am the first human-being to lay their actual, physical eyes on the red planet from such a short distance and without any telescopic aid. I am the closest a human-being has ever come to being a Martian.

I’ll admit that there is a temptation to land. Being cooped up in the Tyson for almost seventy days has been…hard. There are moments when I scream, like when my meds can’t seem to overcome the headache. And I’ll scream and scream.

Until one time I stopped and realized I’d screamed enough. It wasn’t helping and no one could hear me. If a human screams in the middle of nowhere and no one is around to hear it, are they actually screaming?

I laugh a little as I continue to postulate the meaning behind my ramblings.

Either way, what I am trying to say is that I spent my entire life detesting loud noises. Detesting shouts and babies crying and loud mechanical thrums and horns; I think I may have caged my own voice and frustrations within myself. I never allowed myself to get so angry that I’d scream and shout and yell. For one it made you look crazy to anyone around you and two…it just seemed too dramatic.

That was until I let myself loose. I screamed and screamed, hollered and yelled, even lambasted all the people in my life that hurt me or aggravated me. I let it all out to the Tyson, his walls absorbing my frustrations.

My life is frustration. Plagued by work and very little love and respite. Now to be dying. Dying all alone with the wonders of stardust creation drifting around me. My lust for money got me here. Pangs of regret poke their ugly heads in every now and then; like why didn’t I just take the ship around the moon or something, fly a little through space, have my fill, then go back and die with my family by my bedside?

Because I’m arrogant.

I’m stubborn.

I’m a terrible person who didn’t allow her parents to properly mourn the death of their daughter or spread her ashes on the family farm.

I have a lot of regrets.

I am still human.

But none of that matters now. After the screaming was done and now, as I sit here all strapped in typing, I feel I have finally let those parts of me go. The layers a person builds around them have been peeled away and all that is left is me.

Me and my consciousness.

Even the body is pointless.

Nothing left to do but live and experience. Watch and wonder.

The red planet is falling away from me now, off to rotate its perpetual orbit. I am back into dead space.

I am back into myself.

I think I’ll watch a movie. Perhaps something cheery and upbeat.

Any suggestions?

Terminal Log 050 – The Tyson rattled again. Waking me up from a deep sleep this time. I don’t know what it is or why it is happening. Been a long time since it last happened, but I haven’t forgotten.

When I woke up, for a split second, I thought I saw a light coming in from one of the windows, but it was likely just my imagination.

Or aliens.

Could be aliens.

Maybe I really am starting to lose it.

All work and no play.

All work and no play.

All work and no play.

All work and no play.

All work and no play.

Just kidding.

Terminal Log 056 – Something is wrong.

Something is very wrong.

I awoke and looked at the location read outs and…I am not where I should be.

I am much further.

The Tyson has somehow bypassed the asteroid belt, Jupiter and Saturn and Uranus; like it picked up speed.

Which is impossible. The engine can’t do that.

I didn’t slip into a coma or anything, the clock and my watch confirm that, and yet…here I am.

Approaching Neptune.

Fucking Neptune.

There is a smile on my face, make no mistake.

But I am also scared.

I think and I think. Trying to make sense of all this. Trying against insanity and impossibility.

The headaches are getting worse. More frequent and lasting longer. The pills are helping, but barely.

It is even harder for me to admit that it is likely the tumor; growing and pushing on things it shouldn’t. Maybe I am blacking out or seeing things, but I can’t be. I am clear and conscious right now as I type this.

Aren’t I?

Does this mean I am going to die soon. Some stroke or aneurism?

I don’t think I am ready.

Not yet.

Okay, other possibilities.

A wormhole?

I was briefed on such a thing, but no scientist has ever observed one, they’re only a theory. A plausible theory, but unconfirmed none the less.

How else could I have gotten this far so fast.

What will happen when I go to sleep again?

Terminal Log 057 – Pluto.

It is Pluto.

I woke up just moments ago and Pluto is right outside my starboard window. It is impossible, yet there it is. Charts confirm it. The loneliest rock in the whole solar system. We must be at a point in its orbit where it is farthest from the sun as the dwarf planet has no atmosphere. Just a an icy ball of nitrogen spinning slowly in the black.

I am not going crazy.

Let me write that again.

I AM NOT GOING CRAZY.

I had to reiterate that as what I am about to type to you is going to seem beyond possibility and reality.

There’s is a soft blue light coming from the planet. Not the planet itself, but from somewhere inside it. I can see a few small craters dotting its surface and from them a light shines forth.

I don’t know what to make of it. Nothing in any of the pictures or studies I’ve looked up can give me an answer.

But that isn’t the only weird thing.

The Tyson has stopped moving.

All systems are normal and operational and yet it won’t keep flying. I am simply static in what I can only imagine is Pluto’s gravitational pull. But it isn’t drawing me closer. Like the planet is purposefully keeping me at a distance.

I am not going crazy.

Don’t think I can say that enough.

I turned on the Tyson’s manual controls and tried to fly away but I went nowhere. The engines hummed and the ship turned, but we didn’t move.

It is like something is keeping me here. Or brought me here.

I am not going crazy.

Terminal Log 058 – It has been days. I’ve been drifting around Pluto for days. What’s even odder is that my headaches are gone, they’ve stopped completely.

The lights are still coming from the craters on the surface. Sometimes they blink softly. It is so strange. Out of curiosity I checked to see it if was some sort of Morse code but it wasn’t. I checked binary and it wasn’t that either.

What do I do?

What is all this?

I’m scared, but curious.

On the verge of death what’s the point of being scared anymore?

Terminal Log 059 – Fuck it, right? If this is my final destination I might as well make it the most amazing experience any human has ever endeavored since man set foot on the moon.

I have that space suit.

And I’ve decided that I don’t want to die in this ship. It will not be my coffin.

I don’t know what the light is and I don’t know how I got here or why the Tyson is staying here.

But I am leaving.

I’ve already put on the suit, I’m going to leave the Tyson and hope beyond hope that I can reach Pluto’s surface. With a little luck, when I depart, the ship will register my lack of heartbeat and assume that I died and make its return trip back to Earth; should Pluto allow it. If it reaches its final destination then the whole world will finally be able to read my words and know my story.

Mom, Dad.

I love you both. So very much. I couldn’t have asked for better parents, stronger parents. Thank you for always believing in me and pushing me to achieve greatness.

For I think I now have.

I left a lock of my hair, which grew back wonderfully, here on the Tyson. Keep it or bury it, which ever brings you the closure you need. It will now be the only evidence of me that I ever existed.

Little brother.

You were a pain in the ass growing up, but you made us all so proud with how you turned your life around. I hope your life is long and prosperous.

I love you.

I love you all so much.

Make no mistake that my leaving meant any less. I left for me. I left so that at least one human consciousness could experience a life beyond the Earth.

And it has.

Now it must find the answer to the mysterious light at the end of it all.

There is so much more to life than just work and money. I hope that the people who read my words find a peace and freedom within themselves to enjoy their lives and their finite existence. This one life is all we have.

Don’t waste it all by trying to fit in to whatever society wants you to be.

Be yourself.

Find yourself.

I had to journey millions of miles into space alone to find me. Hopefully none of you will have to do the same. Walk into the nearest forest alone and scream it all out for no one to hear but yourself.

Then walk back to the world and let them know you are alive and ready to face anything.

This is my last log.

These are my last words.

I hope they are good enough to define a human life.

I hope.

The light beckons.

Goodbye.

END LOG…PRESS ‘ENTER’

The Quiet Friendships of Men

I can’t attest to the female side of this little blurb, but if any women have any similar relationships please comment! As it is this will detail my experience.

We all have friends. People we hold dearer to our hearts than others, but friends all the same. We have Facebook friends whom we only know really through the bounds of a computer screen.

Then their are friends whom we don’t really even know at all, not even their name. Sometimes barely a sentence passed between them. For example: Going to work roughly every morning I stop at a local gas station to pick up coffee or a sandwich or whathaveyou and I see generally the same faces 4-5 days a week there. Mostly men, other blue-collars all off to similar jobs around the area pulling manual labor gigs to support themselves and their families. Judging each other by our attire we can all assume we’re in the same line of work. Most of us have never spoken to one another, but we are all friendly with one another. Sometimes greeting with a smile or a wave, holding the door open or letting one go ahead of us in line to check out. Our entire relationship built upon minimal, but meaningful, interactions.

The same seems to be true of men who regular bars (I don’t, so I’m pulling from the experience of others). Men seem to have this capacity to exchange relationship with other men by simple gestures and glances. Neither party ever seeks out to deepen the bond but is instead content to let it be…whatever IT is. And I find it rather fascinating.

These are the quiet friendships of men.

Been a Little Bit.

My Apologies for being away for a spell. Busy life. I wish writing for a living were my only living, but it isn’t. Like many writers I have to hold down a “regular” job to pay my bills. So if you fit into that category know you’re not alone. Still working on some annoyances with the website and getting three free-to-read short stories up there. Either way, moving forward – always forward.

Learn to be humble.

No matter where you are in the writing world (published, unpublished, self-published) never exalt yourself as better or more proficient than any other writer. Leave that crap and drama to smarmy reviewers 😉

One of my favorite authors was given some “tips” (to put it kindly) on how to be a better writer…by an otherwise lesser known writer. And this causes some friction, obviously. And it is undue and unnecessary. The writing world can be vulturous enough without writers digging at one another. Run your race, write your way. Every writer is different because every person is different. If you have a superiority complex…stop that shit.

That being said there is always a place for constructive criticism. In the right context and if people are open to it. Never force your critique on other writers. Their work is sometimes personal and you wouldn’t want someone lambasting your personal work either.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, is exempt from mistakes or improvement. But we don’t need to be rude about it.

 

Love.

Love comes in so many forms. Anyone who tells you otherwise has only experienced their own kind of love in their small, little universe. No one can tell you what love is, not really. We can describe aspects of it, situational circumstances where we’ve crossed paths with it. We can convey hopes of love that we desire to feel in relation to ourselves, but love is far grander yet far more unique than all of it.

You cannot love two people exactly the same. It simply is not possible; like a parent who has multiple children. They don’t love one more than the other, they love each with a special uniqueness their relationship brings out of them. The same is true with all of our relationships. Every relationship and friendship has its own set of emotions and histories attached, thus no two are ever the same. They can be similar, sure, but never the same.

So when you talk about love with others or write about love in your stories remember that all love is different for everyone. Your idea of love may very be different than someone else’s…so if you don’t have something nice to say about it, don’t pretend to know all the answers.

Finding Your Groove

If you’re just beginning your foray into writing anything then you have no doubt noticed that you have to dedicate more time than you previously thought. And what you’re writing now is not homework for a class and your writing should never be treated as such. The moment your material becomes more detrimental to you as a person and your life is the moment you need to stop writing it.

So you need to find your groove, so to speak, when it comes to what circumstances under which you write the best, fastest, and cleanest. What music, if any, aids your creative process? Is there something you like to drink while writing? Writer on an empty stomach or a full one? Night or day? Outside or inside? Smoking or non-smoking?

The options are fucking endless. So don’t limit yourself. Experiment with what works best for you. You can try what other writers do, for sure, but don’t see their methods as the end all to great composition. You are different than them and something else may whet your pallet a little better. I suggest turning away from a regimented routine or sorts, don’t box yourself into anything. Rather, set an allotment of hours (yes, hours) of your day to not necessarily write, but also, think about your work, dabble in research, and jot down anything that comes to mind. Should the spark of putting words on the screen jolt you then, by all means, type them immediately, but don’t set out right away to hurling out a story like your just trying to pass Creative Writing 101 and you don’t want to be on your professor’s shit list.

Writers write, like I have said and will repeat over and over, but we also sit and think and read; all of which makes its way into what we write.

You have all the time in the world. Take it….unless of course a publisher and/or agent is breathing down your neck for that manuscript they already advanced you for and you should have turned in six months ago….then get your ass in gear because you’re a working writer now.

Time Travel

The concept of time travel has heralded the imaginations of just about everybody…ever. If not the actual means of time travel who hasn’t ever said that they wish they could go back and change something; whether in their past or in society’s past? Or bound into the future and see where life goes.

I am a time travel “enthusiast.” I love its concept and I love thinking about all the little nuances involved in the effects of traveling through time…hence my novels.

There are books far more in depth on the matter so I won’t get into them here, google that for yourself if you’d like. But when you’re writing a fiction piece have fun with the concept because your options are almost endless. You don’t need to adhere to convention ’cause there isn’t one. We can’t really time travel and I don’t think we’ll really be able to. At least not into the past. There are space-time means (see the movie Interstellar) that are like time travel, but the average grounded Earthling will not be able to actually time travel. SO that leaves you open to craft fun and imaginative stories and locales.

I recommend going to places that are “out of time.” Such as old buildings or towns or cities that have retained that look and feel of times gone by. And there are ways to immerse yourself in the feelings of the past. A budding writer should learn how to disassociate themselves from their life and their situation so as to best convey whatever work and characters they are creating. One place I enjoy is Mackinac Island in Michigan. And the Grand Hotel on that island. No cars (save for emergency vehicles) are allowed on the island. You either walk, ride a bike, or take a horse and carriage. Very cool. And the grand hotel, constructed a hundred years ago has kept much of the feel of that old world to it. It is easy to get lost in history like that and I urge you all do so whenever you can.

Book vs. Movie

This will not be a “the book was better than the film” type post. I’ll keep something like that for later, because, well, that statement isn’t always the case.

Anywho: writing a book versus writing a movie. Manuscript versus screenplay. Anybody who writes anything or likely reads anything probably knows that those two formats are written completely differently. When writing a book you have practically free reign to do and be as you please. Writing a film script is much more restrictive. And I don’t mean that negatively. BTW script & screenplay are the same thing.

A script is very basic in description of forward momentum. Again, not in a bad way, but as a means of trimming the fat and attempting to convey what a viewer will see on screen but in the written form. Meaning it goes something like this: Open scene, setting, action, dialogue (with optional emotional suggestion to actor), action, dialogue, dialogue, action, end scene.

Unlike a book there are few flashy words and embellishments in a script. If it was a miraculously sunny day given long stretch of dreary grey skies it would look something like this on the script page: EXT. DAY

And that is almost all you need at the top of the page. Of course you could do more, but it isn’t needed unless the position of the sun has bearing on the plot of the film. Also in a screenplay you don’t have much in the way of “feelings.” Your written characters convey everything about them in their dialogue and what the actors put on their faces. Nowhere on a script page should you write anything about how a character is feeling or introspectively feeling unless it is in a dialogue frame or in voice over (V.O.) if that fits into your script’s story.

Sooooo, why did I write this? Eh, sort of like a part 1 of a series of things I learned long ago when I began writing scripts before novels. And at the same time having talked to some young writers who weren’t sure about what area of writing that appealed to them.

Anyway, until next time!