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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Rescue - 7/31

David hauled on the soaked rope. The sailboat on the other end thudded into the damp dock. He tied what he hoped was the right kind of knot on to the cleat. Once secure, he let the frayed end droop over the edge where a rising surf tugged the strands underwater.

From beneath his raincoat's mustard colored hood, David surveyed his work. The rest of the line of boats had been moored, even though the water level by now nearly submerged the dock to which they were tied. The floating buoys bobbed vigorously in the open water. Pelting rain pounding on his head, creating a echo within his hood and a shattered appearance to the bay. The frothy peaks of the usually placid surface whacked into the dock and sprayed his already dripping face.

Thunder rumbled overhead, vibrating the soaked planks. Counting, he discovered, was beside the point. A flash of lightening struck even before the drum roll finished passing through the clouds.

Down the beach the rumbling continued and another shattering snap tore through the air.


He rose from his chilled crouch and sought out the source of the call through the pelting sheets. The sunny raincoat sparkled on the wet sad, arms waving as if a canary hoping to take flight.

"Get inside," he shouted but the wind blew in his face, casting his concern out into open water.

He hunched his broad shoulders and plodded in his flapping flip flops. Droplets flung against his bare calves and he shuddered, wishing, not for the first time, that he had managed to find more than a raincoat to sling over his swim trunks and tee shirt. Against his chest, his whistle thudded, adding what would no doubt be a nice welt to commemorate the hurricane.


Sand squished under his rubber soles and threatened to suck the flimsy shoes off of his feet as he hurried toward the fluttering canary.

"Sarah," he said, gaining close enough to make out the camper's face, "you need to get inside."

"But the tent. There's a tree on the tent!"

David's large hands landed on the young girl's shoulders. She felt as frail as a bird. Her lips, colored like a bruise, trembled like the rest of her and redoubled as a gust shrouded them in another wall of water and wind.

"What are you talking about?"

She grabbed onto him, needing both hands to circle his forearm and tugged with all her might. Her concern more than her effort had him at a trot.

Sarah guided him across the beach. They both flinched as another round of thunder and lightning blasted over head. They neared the row of pine and scrawny oaks separating the shore from the water and the smell of smoke added its own encouragement to their pace.

She pointed her twig like arm by way of explanation.

The weight of a split oak crumpled the tent, condensing the dome into a plastic stack of playing cards and a struggling blob.

Her wide eyes flew to his face as a curse ripped through his lips.

"Sorry," David said, giving her an apologetic tap on her head. It might have seemed more genuine if he had actually meant it or if he hadn't had to shout over the downpour. "Where are the other counselors?"

"I don't know. Becky's inside though with Timmy and the rest."

David managed to stop the second curse from pouring out. He thought he could hear screams from inside and worried cries. It might have been the wind and slapping waves but he didn't care.

"I want you to go over there, by the trunk and stay put ok?" Sarah nodded vigorously but her grip remained latched onto his arm.

"What are you going to do?"

David's mind raced with the same question. He put on a reassuring grin and pried her fingers free. "I'm going to get help. You have to go first alright? Tell them I'm coming."

Sarah nodded again and transferred her clutching hands to her rain coat. She scampered to the trunk, cowering in the angle the bark made with the muddy ground.

David wheeled around, searching for an answer in the rain. Up the slope to his right huddled other brightly colored tents and then sturdier cabins, to his left, churning water and thrashing sailboats, canoes and kayaks. His usual post on the story high white stand sat hunched and dejected while the storage hut tucked into the edge of the beach cowered in the drooping arms of soaked branches.

Behind him, the cries and Sarah's shouts of encouragement spurred him on. Nearly bent in two, he raced over to the storage hut. The keys dangled from the same rope around his neck as his whistle and his chilled fingers struggled with the icy metal the lock. The arching bolt sprung free and he yanked the door open.

Emergency floats, ropes, life rings and an assortment of crates toting cherry crosses stared back at him. Flinging open the white boxes, he dripped onto gauze and rolls of bandages. Heavy drops thudded onto the hygienic plastic wrappers containing tweezers and scissors.

He cursed at the puny scissors. He tucked a smaller kit under his arm even as he sought a better solution. The axe on the back wall caught his attention. It wasn’t much deadlier than the rejected scissors, he thought, but it would have to do.

He tore the axe out of its stand and ran back into the storm.

Sarah hopped aside as he neared, her eyes drawn to the sharp and deadly curve.

"Take this," he said, thrusting the kit at her. She pulled it close to her chest and took a few more steps down the trunk.


"David? It’s getting hard to breath in here…"

His hands tightened around the axe handle at the strain in her voice. A few tentative whimpers from the campers with her were muffled by the tent.

"I'm going to get you out ok?"


"Just poke at the tent, show me where you are." David locked onto the jabs on the pine green plastic. "Get everyone together ok? I'm going to chop the trunk and roll it off of you."

"Al…Alright." Mounds moved under the tent. The rain filled pools that had collected slopped down the sides.

"It's going to be ok," he heard her murmur.

David squared himself to the trunk, raised the axe above his head and hoped she was right.

All Grown-up - 7/29

Christy set down her mug and forced her fingers to release the ceramic handle.

It's just a phase, she told herself.

Her shoulders slumped beneath her terrycloth bathrobe as the words landed like heavy weights. Her free hand cupped her rounded belly.

Down the hall she heard the faucet shut off. A set of whacks accompanied Daniel's vigorous shake of his toothbrush.

Christy slid the squat cow-print patterned sugar bowl from its spot on the marble counter. She pulled a trio of packets from the sunny deck crammed inside. One at a time she shook, ripped, and then dumped the contents into her empty cup.

The slam of the closet door in the distant bedroom preceded the clacking of hangers as Daniel yanked clothes free.


Christy balled up the third empty packet. "Yes?"

"Have you seen that blue tie?"

"The skinny one?"


"You gave that to Goodwill."

"I wouldn't have done that. I like that tie."

You didn't three months ago, Christy thought. But then she hadn't been showing three months ago.
She sighed.

"That's the last time I saw it."

She listened to their dresser drawers being thrust open and slammed shut, one after the other. She tossed away the empty packets and made her way to the refrigerator with an ample sway. Her fuzzy slippers hushed against the checkered tiles.

She caught her reflection between the postcards, grocery list and calendar on the silver door. Her mirror image seemed to be holding a scream behind clenched teeth. With a shake of her head, she pulled open the fridge and found a jug of milk.

She jumped as she closed the door and found Daniel waiting to enter.

She blinked at the clipped goatee crafted out of his recently bloomed beard.

Perhaps, she thought, he had interpreted: your beard is scratchy, to mean only his mutton chops.

"Sorry," he said as he continued passed her with his long, swift strides.

"Um...Did you find a tie?"

He jerked open the pantry and ducked inside. "Yeah," he said, his voice muffled by the cardboard and cans. He pulled back out with a rustle of foil and a Pop-Tart nearing his mouth. "Like it?"

Christy glanced at the Pepto-Bismol knotted around his neck. The harsh contrast to his sky blue shirt and white sports coat gave her more of a belly quiver than the goatee. "I thought you gave that one away too."

"No!" Daniel said before downing the other half of the cold pastry.

"Isn't it…kind of old? You wore it in college."

"It's retro, hon'."

The milk in her hand felt suddenly heavy. Christy nodded and moved back to her waiting mug.

"Don't you have that client meeting today?"

Daniel shrugged and inspected the pantry's contents while munching the last bit of frosting. "Yeah, but I think I'm going to head out with the guys afterwards."

Christy rested the cap firmly on the counter and stared through the glass cabinet in front of her. "Randle and the rest?"

"Yeah, those guys."

"What are you going to do?"

"Probably go skating again."

Her weighty sigh fogged the cabinet's surface. Behind her the pantry door slammed shut.

"What's with that?"

She turned and found Daniel staring at her, arms crossed like a petulant child.

"I just think it's kind of weird."

"What's weird?"

Christy matched his posture although her arms ended up folding higher on her chest in order to avoid her belly. "Randle is what, just out of school? And you haven't been skating for almost a decade."

"You think I'm too old to be hanging out with them?" He thrust a finger at her nose.

"It's not that, Danny." She tried to force the tension out of her body as she rubbed at her temples. "I just don't know what's come over you recently. The clothes, the car, the yard, all this with Randle and..." She winced.

"And what?"

"It doesn't matter." She waved him off and turned back to her mug. She hoped he couldn't see the heat rising on her cheeks.

"It's Andrea isn't it?"

Christy held her breath.

"Come on. She's Randle's girl friend, you know that."

"Right," Christy said. She spilled more milk than she intended into her cup.

"Listen, I know you don't get along with them, but I do. They're fun. They're different."

"Right," she said again, reaching for the box of tea bags.

"Are you even going to look at me?"

She set the chamomile packet onto the counter and took a deep breath. She spun slowly and inhaled again before she looked up into his face. Daniel put his box of retrieved granola bars on the counter next to her and wrapped his hands around her shoulders. They felt like a desperate man's grasp around a bridge railing.

"You think I'd do something like that? With her?"

"I don't know anymore Danny. It's like you've become a different person."

"What are you talking about?"

Now or never, she thought and then the words began tumbling like clothes in a dryer.

"You're wearing clothes that could have starred in Miami Vice because you think they're trendy. There's the whole beard thing. And you don't stop, ever. First it's replanting the garden and then rebuilding the garage. It’s like you’ll do anything to not be in the house. And now all this with the skate boarding." She shook her head. "Danny you're wearing torn jeans and hanging out with people barely out of their teens. And you can't tell me she hasn't made a pass at you. I've seen her do it."

"You're being ridiculous, honey.' He squeezed her shoulders and planted a kiss on her hairline.

Christy winced and pulled back from the sharp pokes on her scalp. "This is not my hormones talking, Daniel."

He dipped down to be at eye level. "I just need to shake things up a bit. Before everything gets so...serious."

"This is what we both wanted."

"I know." His eyes drooped onto the floor. "I just don't want to feel so old already."

Christy closed her eyes and leaned into his chest. She tried not to assign any half heartedness to his careful embrace. He was avoiding squeezing her too hard, she reasoned.

"We're both going to be late."

She sighed and wished she didn't feel like he was fleeing. She managed a smile as he pulled away. Her hands grasped onto the dangling ends of her robe's belt.

Daniel gave her a broader grin, his eyes searching for the granola box. "I'll see you when I get home, but don't wait up."

Christy nodded and let her eyes fall to her slippers. His kiss found her cheek, accompanied by itchy short hairs but she kept her eyes downcast as he left the kitchen. She didn't look up until he locked the front door behind him and by then, her tears were warping the doorway into a swimmy, impenetrable haze.

Redesign - 7/27

Jim's arms strained under the fat stack of binders. He shifted the ponderous weight onto his hip and snapped a set of knocks onto the meeting room door.

"Come on in, Jim."

Blowing out a sigh, he found the door handle and threw his shoulder into the door.

Ivan leaned over a table already strewn with blueprints, furniture designs and swatches. He scribbled on the yellow legal pad at his elbow. "Are those all of the contracts?" he asked without looking up from the sharp ink edges.

Jim straightened and stumbled forward. "All of the contracts, yes sir." He managed to reach the table before toppling under the weight of the binders. "Ow," he shook out his squished fingers.

"Good because this just isn't going to work."

A rustle of blueprints drew Jim's attention away from reestablishing the circulation in his arms.

"What's your opinion of this?" Ivan reordered the gray-blue designs and tapped an unclicked pen onto the etched arrangement of cubicles.


"Might be too small."

"Too small, definitely," said Jim with a nod. He mimicked Ivan's lean over the skewed pages.

"Definitely, but there's only so much room on the floor and we need all twelve spaces."

"The spaces might not have to be arranged quite like that.”

Ivan frowned. "What do you mean?"

"Well," Jim tugged at his collar. "What if they weren't set in a line? Weren't boxes?"

"Not boxes?"

"Instead of boxes, maybe..." Jim gathered another legal pad and abandoned pen and made a few sketches. "Something like this."

Ivan tucked his pen into his shirt pocket and rested his hands on his hips. "That's circular."

"Well..." Jim laid down the pen and braced his hands on the edge of the table. "More rect - "

With a wave of his hand, Ivan cut him off and picked up the long pad and Jim’s pen. He added a few lines to further define the walls and then drew ringed numbers at each possible desk area. "That's the space of eight where the designers had six. We'd have four free..."

Jim shrugged and kept his mouth closed.

"This might work..." Ivan continued. He plopped Jim's sketches back onto the table and leaned over the blue prints once more. Drawing over the desk and chair designs, Ivan overlapped the computer generated floor plan.

"You're original plan might be - ."

"" Ivan thrust his finger enthusiastically at the furniture etches. "The desks would fit and the chairs too. Then cabinets in each corner." Ivan's bearded face broke with a broad smile. "No one would have to go heading off to the storage room for recent files anymore."

"Might save time..."

"And meetings could occur right in the cube space." Ivan scanned the cluttered room. "This could be set up permanently for clients."

Jim followed the sweeping glance. "Might be able to make two."

"Two rooms?" Ivan rubbed at his fuzzy chin. "With those extra cubicle walls, right."

Ivan glanced at his watch. "I'm going to give Hexler's a call tomorrow and see if they can work up some diagrams of this. Better than trying to renegotiate those contracts." He swung his jacket off the back of the chair at his side. "You can get all of this out of here before you go right?"

Jim managed to swallow down a contrary retort. "Of course."


Ivan headed for the exit. Jim rubbed his hands and then his biceps as he surveyed the papers and notebooks. Behind him the door hinges squealed.

"Hey, Jim."

Jim's arms dropped as he turned.

Ivan gave him a curt nod. "Great job today."

"Thanks," Jim said as soon as he regained control over his tongue.

Ivan adjusted his jacket collar. "And don't forget those binders," he added, stepping from the office and letting the door swing closed behind him.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Planting season - 7/17

Grandma always said, if you want strawberries, plant strawberries. If you want radishes, plant radishes.

I had planted lemons. A whole orchard of lemons. But not the kind you could make lemonade with. Mine were hard and sour and impossible to squeeze anything good from. They came in the form of a terrible boss, a job I couldn't stand, a dozen empty pints of ice cream care of my last ex and an apartment whose greatest accessory was the neighbor’s heavy metal music at 3 am.

Grandma also liked the one about making the bed you lay in. I wasn't about to lay in this one any longer.

A static call blasted through the cavernous train station's clunky intercom.

"Train 892 service to Richmond, now boarding Track 4."

I sagged back into the hard plastic chair. My arms folded over my purse as my fingers traced the edges of my ticket.

Going back wasn't how this was supposed to have turned out. New York was supposed to have been my start.

The first promising conversation with Mr. Preston rattled through my ears.

Assistant to the Producer had seemed a dream come true. But of course the job description had failed to include the 100 hour weeks, perpetually receiving the blame for everyone else’s terrible decisions and the daily task of wiping up the mess left from clashing egos. I guess I should have seen it coming. Everyone had warned me about how harsh it would be but hindsight is what it is.

I probably could have pressed through if Jeremy hadn’t been, well Jeremy. That soul draining bastard had been one of my worse mistakes. Sure he was cute, with smiles and charm to stretch a mile, but when the world stopped revolving around him, he was as supportive as a limp noodle.

The large board above my head flapped with old fashioned clacks that used to correspond with changing information. Now the digital panels blinked to move the departures up a row.

"Train 933, departing for Toledo, now boarding at Track 5."

I let out a sigh and slung my purse over my shoulder. Standing, I jerked out the handle bars for the two suitcases at my feet. Around me a rush of other travelers headed out towards the tracks or poured into Union Station. Everyone managed to surge at the same rapid pace, like bees milling around a hive.

With a shake of my head I tipped my bags on to their wheels and merged into the flow.

I tried not to imagine my sisters face when I pulled up at her door.

She'd give me one of those maternal hugs she's gotten so used to distributing to her kids. She'd probably have a fresh pie or still warm cookies on the stove and try to stuff me full of each confection. She prescribed to the Mary Poppin's Teaspoon of sugar remedy.

Her guest room, however, was always made up with the puffiest pillows and blankets you could find in the mid-west and scented with lavender.

A lump of homesickness swelled in my stomach. I swallowed down the ache to be protected and cared for, if only for a while. I couldn't stay with Sarah long, but I needed to start somewhere.

It was time to sow something new.

The play's the thing - 7/15 & 7/16

The ring rattled against the kitchen appliances.

"See who it is," said Jerry.

His son, Scott, took a bite of his macaroni and cheese before tipping his chair back to look at the ringing phone.

"Looks like Mrs. Perkins," he mumbled around his pasta.

"We should answer," Mary said quietly as she plucked at her salad.

"Yeah, we should," countered Jerry. He tried in vain to gather Mary's eyes up from her plate, but his wife managed to deftly avoid the staring contest. Her attention remained firmly on dinner while the phone rang on. With a sigh, Jerry rose from the table and picked up the phone.

"Hello?" He turned and found both Scott and his wife watching him.

"Hello...Mr. Johnson?" Mrs. Perkins voice bubbled over the phone like yelps from a small dog.

"Yes," said Jerry. He rolled his eyes and earned a pair of giggles from the duo at the table.

"This is Priscilla Perkins. My daughter Olivia is in Scott's ninth grade class."

"Yes. I remember meeting you at the last open house."

"I hope I'm not disturbing you."

Jerry leaned against the refrigerator’s stainless steel door. "Oh no, we're just finishing dinner."

"Dinner! Oh, you must have had a busy evening."

"No," said Jerry with a shrug, "we usually eat around 7."


Jerry's smile spread at the brief pause in the usual ceaseless banter.

"Did you need something, Mrs. Perkins?"

"Please, call me Priscilla."

"Alright, Priscilla."

"Well, Jerry. I'm calling because of Mr. Armstrong."

"Mr. Armstrong?"

"Yes, the new drama teacher. I've heard he's intent on doing these small, one act plays this year. Ones that the children write!"

"Sounds like fun."

"Oh no no no. I know you and your family are new to Livingstone, so I can understand your confusion. You see every year the freshman class does a musical."

"Really," said Jerry. He pushed himself off the refrigerator and plopped back down into chair. Mary gave him a pointed look as he picked up his fork but her reprimand was softened by the curling smile on her lips.

"So you see," continued Mrs. Perkins, "It's tradition to have a musical and Mr. Armstrong needs to be set right. I'm starting a petition to have the children do the Music Man instead. My Olivia would be perfect for the female lead. You saw her in Cinderella last year didn't you?"

"Oh, yes, Olivia was very...good." Jerry's mouth curdled as if he had swallowed a lemon.

"Yes, she was marvelous. I'm sure your Scott would fit into one of the Music Man's smaller roles just wonderfully."


"That's why I'm gathering the names of supporters to keep Mr. Armstrong from implementing such a terrible ordeal. I plan to take the list to the next PTA meeting in order to remedy this ridiculous situation. I'm sure you can see where I'm coming from, Jerry."


"Can I count on your support?"

"Um...well...I guess I'd be in favor of whatever would be best for the children."

The pause on the other end of the line was palatable. "I'm sure you'd agree that a standard, traditional musical would be just that."

"Perhaps, but sometimes shaking things up can be interesting. I mean isn't that why they hired Armstrong to begin with?"


"But you know," Jerry let out a nervous cough as Priscilla Perkin's tone dropped a dangerous octave. "Really, whatever the majority decides would be great. The play's the thing and all that." He gave a nervous laugh.

"Of course,” Priscilla said tersely. “How about Mary?"

Jerry let out a relieved breath. "Well, perhaps you should talk to her yourself."

Mary shot a glare over her salad.

"That would be marvelous. Is she available?"

"Oh she's waiting here with baited breath."


"Hold on one moment, Mrs. Perkins."


Jerry dropped the phone from his ear and cupped his hand around the receiver.

"Your turn," he said to Mary.

"I'll do the dishes."

Jerry shook his head.




He extended the receiver. "Take this off my hands and I'll do all three."

Mary stared at the receiver. Scott's laughter earned him a quieting stare from both of his parents. He drowned his humor in a long gulp of milk.

Mary held out her hand and Jerry deposited the phone in her outstretched palm like a dirty diaper. She blew out a long breath and raised it to her ear.

"Hello, Mrs. Perkins."

"Mary! Wonderful to speak with you. Has Jerry filled you in on the matter yet?"

"I've caught a bit - "

"Then you must agree. You of all people should understand the need for a traditional musical program. Mr. Armstrong needs to be stopped. Can I add your name to my petition?"

"Actually, I rather liked the notion of the smaller plays."

Mary swallowed as Jerry winced around a mouthful of pasta.

"I would have thought, Mrs. Johnson, that with your background and as editor of the theatrical reviews in the Post, you would understand the value of such a program."

"I do, I do," Mary said slowly as if talking down a suicide jumper from the tenth story. "I thought the smaller pieces might provide more opportunities for the children, for your Olivia for example."

Priscilla Perkins paused. "Do tell..."

"Well, everyone's done the Music Man. Having that on any of the children's college resumes would be wonderful, but what about staring in two or three plays within the time it takes to produce one?"

"Olivia could have multiple leading parts..."

"Possibly..." Priscilla for once fell silent. Mary surged on into the void.

"And they would be doing original works, plays never done before. Acting in parts that they can define and sculpt. I think that would be a wonderful challenge and one earning a bit more respect then tapping to the same old tune."

"True..." murmured Priscilla. Mary could hear the other woman's mind spinning across the line.

"So, I'm actually in support of Mr. Armstrong's idea. It's avant-garde and something many of the more artistic venues are working with these days."

"Is that so?"

"Oh, yes. Just look at the dockets in the downtown theaters for the fall. They're all smaller, in house pieces."

"Of course," Priscilla said in quick agreement then her voice wavered. "But the musical..."

Mary set her fork beside her plate and rubbed her temples with her free fingers.
"Depending on how this goes, maybe they could do it in the spring?"

"Oh the spring. You are brilliant Mary."

"Ah..." Mary blinked at the sudden compliment.

"These smaller pieces can go off in the fall. Olivia can star in, oh, who knows how many." Priscilla twittered on and Mary had the distinct impression she was no longer needed in the conversation. "Should Mr. Armstrong's notion go well, he can repeat the process or I'll have even more support for the musical. This will just be marvelous, don't you agree?"

"Well...yes I guess I do."

"Excellent! I'm so glad I can count on your support Mary. I do hope you can turn Jerry on to our cause."

"I'll see what I can do."

"Wonderful, wonderful. I'll look forward to discussing the details with you at the next PTA meeting then."

"Won-der-ful," Mary managed through clenched teeth.

"Until then!"

Tickets - 7/14

The line inched forward.

Neil adjusted the straps on his frayed backpack again. His eyes swept once more over the crowd. He licked his lips as he failed to find the face he sought. Instead, behind him swarmed a legion of other tourists, bent on the same destination.

Conversations in dozens of languages bubbled beneath the iron legs of the most distinctive monument in Paris. A man in a bright blue beret hawked souvenir's down the curving ropes corralling the three snaking lines. Neil caught the clink of the miniature Eiffel Towers on the ring the beret wearing fellow waved above his head. Another balding man wore a tray full of bottled water. In the summer heat, his condensating offerings were more fruitful than the pocket sized icons. Other souvenir or beverage sellers meandered through the crowd. Here and there a few Euro's changed hands.

Neil didn't linger on the transactions. His eyes flittered from one baseball cap to the next.

"Move up..." said the portly, red faced man standing behind him. The neon green polo shirt stretched over his ample stomach and strained to stay tucked into his bulging khaki shorts.

Neil blinked at him then followed the man's pointed finger. The line had moved another foot.

"Sorry..." Neil said, stepping up into the gap.

The rotund tourist gave a grunt and wiped his meaty hand over his sweating forehead.

"That fool needs to pay attention..." he grumbled to the blonde woman decked in a white, studded track suit at his side. She seemed intent on dotting her lips with crimson lipstick and only nodded.

Neil ignored them both and stuck his hands into his jeans to avoid fumbling with his straps again. His foot tapped on the stones and he blew out a terse breath.

Hurry up, he silently urged.

The line surged forward like molasses. Without prodding this time, Neil managed to keep up. The large square booth at the southern leg of the Tower loomed before him. He counted the heads between himself and the ticket counter.


He glanced over to his right, beneath the Tower where the other two lines for the elevators wound. A scarlet cap caught his attention and his arched up on his toes. The lean face beneath the brim sported light stubble on a square chin.

Neil sighed. He turned towards the park, stretching out on the other side.

A few more souvenir sellers lurked near the cool shade offered by the lines of manicured trees. On the trim grass sat a few picnickers and others taking a break from the heat and vacation induced activity.

"Oh, that smells good," said the lipstick toting woman.

Neil swiveled his head and a broad grin bloomed on his face.

"There you are."

Beth's bright face beamed beneath her worn scarlet cap. "Take these," she said offering over a paper sack containing a pair of long, savory smelling baguettes and a small box in a plastic bag.

Neil stuffed the baguettes into the crook of his arm and his hand dipped to take the container.

"Ouch..." He tossed the box like a hot potato as the warmth hit his fingers. "What is it?"

Beth ducked under the rope and took the back the plastic bag. "A snack."

"It smells marvelous," said the blond behind them. "Doesn't that smell good Harold?"

The portly Harold grunted in agreement. "Told you we should have gotten lunch first."

"Well who knew how long this line was going to be!"

Neil and Beth shared a small smile and rolled their eyes as they moved forward in the wake of the growing argument.

"I thought you were just going to the rest room."

Beth shrugged and popped open the container. A saccharine cloud wafted into the air and wound tantalizing tendrils around Neil's nose. His mouth watered.


"Wine and honey soaked peaches..." Beth corrected.

"You are an angel." He leaned down to plant a kiss on her cheek.

She batted him away as she closed back up the box.

"This means you're paying for the tickets."

Walk in the Woods - 7/9

The thick moss on the forest floor soaked in their footsteps.

"Are you sure this is the right way?" Tina spoke in a whisper, as if her own small voice would shatter the stillness of the dense forest.

Jake shrugged and tried to keep his eyes focused forward. "This is what they said to do. Avoid the path. Enter at the boulder. Head straight west." He shifted the bundle in his arms so the bulging sack lay over his other narrow shoulder. Tina's nimble fingers found his elbow but he didn't shake away his little sister's touch this time.

"I know but it's so...dark."

"And if we don't hurry, it'll only get darker." Jake increased his pace. Tina managed to keep up with a rapid rise in her step.

Around them the branches drooped with thick strands of musky moss. The rising canopy arched overhead. Hand sized leaves blotted out the faint traces of blue sky streaked with feather thin clouds and ribbons of peach and orange as the sun dropped towards the horizon. As the light faded, the shadows of the trunks grew deeper and cast long pillars of darkness across the terrain.

Jake slowed their pace after Tina caught her foot on a third jut of root. She huddled now next to his arm and he tried to ignore her trembling.

"It won't be much longer," he said quietly, unsure if he was speaking to himself or his cowering sibling.

"What about..."

"Those are just stories, Tina." Her fingers clung to his elbow.


"But nothing." He shifted the bag to the other side and knocked Tina's grasp off his arm. "There's no one here but us and soon we'll be on the other side, at Aunt Jeana's where it's warm and safe."

Tina scurried at his side. In the fading light he caught the sight of her pout. If she was angry at him however, Jake knew she was less likely to be afraid.

A gust of wind passed above their heads, stirring the branches and dousing them in a rain of dried leaves. Jake brushed the clinging strands out of his hair while Tina plucked them from her dress. The wide leaves coated the spongy floor and crunched under their steps.

"Ow -" she muttered as her foot caught in another root and sent her to her knees.

Jake sighed and turned to wait for her.

She gathered herself back off the debris littered ground and dusted her palms on the front of her skirt.

"Ow..." she said again. She drew her palm up towards her face.

"What is it?"

"Just a cut, I think." She shifted, allowing the fading light to fall upon her hand.
Blood glistened in a pool around the sharp thorn sunk into her flesh and a single drop dripped towards the mossy ground.


"What? Not like I did it on purpose."

"Yeah, well..." Jake set his bundle on to the ground and glanced at the growing shadows encircling them before taking his sister's hand. He grabbed the thorn in between his fingers and gave it a tug. Tina drew in a quick inhale then bit down on her lower lip to keep from crying out.

"One more..." He gave the small prong a quick jerk. Tina gave a slight whimper as it ripped free.

Jake pulled his dirty handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it onto her hand.
"All done." He tucked the bloodied thorn into the folds of the cloth before pressing Tina's fingers down to keep the pressure on the wound.

"Do you think they'll notice?"

Jake rolled his eyes and tried to sport a smirk on his face. "Who?"


He turned away from her wide eyes and pale face, putting his concentration into heaving their bundle back onto his shoulder. "There's no one here, Tina."

"They're supposed to be able to smell it...smell blood...smell if you're hurt."

Jake shook his head and reoriented himself with the line of trees before him. A faint silhouette of trunks spread out between them and the distant haven of city lights like a marching army. The wind cut through the trees again, sending a chill down Jake's spine.

It was the wind, he argued to himself, causing the nervous shiver in his shoulders.

"Come on."

He stomped on through the debris, passing by one tree then the next, keeping them in line so their path overland maintained a westward trek. Tina scampered after him. Her wounded hand found the crook of his elbow again as they melted into the depths of the forest.

Behind them the first dark creature skittered silently along their path. It paused where the first droplet of Tina's blood had smacked onto the ground and lowered its elongated muzzle. The leaves stirred under an inaudible snort. The head snapped up, glistening onyx eyes following the trail of crushed leaves and bent branches from Jake and Tina's journey. Others padded to the creatures side, gathering as one unified pack before they dashed off in silent pursuit.

Familiar Face - 7/3

Gracie streaked into the warm light of the kitchen. Behind her the screen door bashed against its frame and closed upon the humid and star speckled night.


"What?" Sandra, Gracie's mother, looked up from the soap and dish filled sink.

"I saw him. I saw him again!" At her mother's soaked elbow, Gracie bounced on her bare toes. Her pale round face held wide blue eyes. A scraggly set of bangs hung over her forehead while more tendrils sprang from her ponytail. Her hands found the edge of the counter and her fingers gripped the faux marble to stay in place. She barely had to tilt her head up any more to look into her mother's face.

Sandra however, turned back onto the bubbles. "Gracie," she began after a deep breath. "I told you not to run around outside after dark..."

"I know but...Really...He was by the bushes."

"And last time he was by the dumpster." Sandra set a half soaped glass into the dish rack before turning to her daughter. "Where is he going to be tomorrow?"

"Mom..." The bounce in Gracie's toes died. Her shoulders sagged under the stern maternal glare. "I saw him..."

Sandra's glower softened. "Sweetie...there's no one out here except us." She dried her hands on a kitchen towel dotted with faded polka-dots and took her daughter’s shoulders in both damp palms. "I know this is a strange place, but we’re in the middle of the woods. There's no one else around, not even your Dad ok?"

Gracie's eyes fell to the linoleum floor. Her fingers twined around each other and absorbed her attention. She didn't see the soft shake of her mother's head but felt the tight squeeze on her upper arms and the peck on the top of her hair.

"Do me a favor?"

Gracie nodded her bent head and tried not to feel like she was five years old again.

"Go tell your brother's to head downstairs. It's nearly time for bed..."


Sandra folded her arms and cocked her eye brow. "Either that or you can help finish the dishes."

Gracie rolled her eyes but nodded. She trundled off towards the porch where the echo of checker pieces on cardboard hovered.

Alex and Mikey were both on their knees, leaning over the bench in order to gain the most advantageous position over the black and red squares. The twins shared the same shaggy mop of curls and stubbed noses as well as matching tans on their bare backs. Their pajama bottoms sported competing superheroes and drooped over their dangling bare feet.

Gracie pulled out the chair at the head of the table and plopped down into the cushioned seat. She rested her chin in her hands as she perused the battle.

Mikey dominated the field. Along the board’s edge stood an army of Alex's red pieces. With a waggle of his fingers, Mikey went in for the kill. He jumped his double deckered black token over two more of Mikey's to land back in the middle of the board.

"You suck..." Alex said, sagging down onto the creaking bench. He mimicked Gracie's petulant stance with his cheeks bubbling over his fists.

"You suck," countered Mikey as he began counting his pieces. "Want to play again?"

"No..." grumbled Alex.

"Gracie? Want to play?"

"Mom wants us to go downstairs," she said, deftly avoiding the game.

The two boys threw their attention into sorting their tokens and preparing for another game.

"She's going to yell at you..."

The threat washed over the two twins like an absent breeze.

"Come on..." Gracie reached for the board and received dual slaps on her outstretched hand. She gave them both a halfhearted glare for the minor inflictions and shook her head. "Your funeral."

"You're just scared," murmured Alex as he carefully placed his pieces back in the center of the black squares.

"Chicken..." clucked Mikey.

Gracie's glare bloomed like charcoal after a shot of lighter fluid.

"Am not," she snapped.

The twins looked over the board at one another and giggled.

"You both suck..." She heaved out of the chair, chucked two of the checker pieces across the room and stormed towards the living room and the basement stairs.

"Gracie..." the two wined in tandem.

She ignored them as she strode down the porch and passed through another screen door.

"Heading for bed?" Gracie's step-father, Daryl, his face awash in the glow of his laptop monitor peered over the rim, his fingers pausing on the keyboard.

"I'm going downstairs." She stopped in her tracks and pointed back towards the porch where the yelps had died back down into the plunks of checker warfare. "Mom said the boys had to go to but they won't listen."

Daryl set his laptop on the wooden side table. "I'll go see what they're up to..." he said, rising out of the plush leather chair. "Unless you want me to go downstairs with you...?"

"Daryl..." Gracie's head flopped at an exasperated angle.

"Alright." He raised both hands in defeat. "I know you're a big girl. I just had to ask. You might be all grown up but I still don't want the boogie men to come get you."

"You don't believe me either..."

The humor in Daryl's face dropped quickly into a thin lipped and serious expression. "It's not that, Gracie."

"Yeah right..."

"Come on, be fair. Who was the one tromping around with you yesterday by the dumpster?"

She rolled her eyes and turned towards the basement doorway once more.

"'Night," she grumbled.

"Night, Gracie."

She threw open the door as Daryl headed to the porch. A dark pit opened up before her and sent a rush of cooler air into her face. Gracie's hand fumbled before her until she found the dangling string. With a yank, the small exposed bulb illuminated the steep descent.

She took the wooden steps with heavy treads until her feet landed on the soft evergreen floor to floor carpet. Her hand clung to the railing as she stopped in the pool of light. Her heart raced as she searched each of the shadows and the row of windows leading to the side door with its own small glass frame. Nothing moved in the angular lines of the bunk bed and her own pull out couch. Crumpled luggage lay in quiet mounds but remained frozen.

Gracie let out a small sigh as a round of laughter bubbled down from the stairwell behind her.

Certain she was the butt of the joke, she shot a glare up the stairs.

Her hand found the corresponding string and with a tug, turned out the single light.

She'd show them who was afraid.

Shadows leapt to their full height but Gracie set her jaw against the growing fear.
The few days of experience enabled her to pad over to the unmade pull out bed without banging her knees against the debris of suitcases or stubbing her toes on an errant shoe.

She slid underneath the cool covers. Her head hit the soft pillows with a thud. She stared up at the crossbeams streaking above her head. The moonlight trickling in from the windows made the alternating plaster in the ceiling glow. Her imagination started making shapes out of the shadows, fingers out of the straight lines, and creatures in the woods beyond the windows. With a creak of old springs she rolled onto her side and clamped her eyes shut. Her jaw tightened as she forced the tears not drip free.

At her back, the all too familiar face she had already seen by the dumpster and bushes, pressed silently against the panes.