Emma Isaac

Intruder

Waves of red swept over my eyelids. I sat up quickly, pulled from my slumber. A scuffle of feet pounded down the stairs away from my bed. 

I jumped up and tried to remember where I was. What was going on? I looked around my darkened room. There was someone here. Someone was in my house. My alarm clock gleamed 3:01 across the blackness. Grabbing the slugger that leaned against the book holder, I ran out of the room. 

I knew this dwelling very well by now. 

Creeping down the stairs, my gaze darted from corner to corner, looking for any sign of movement. I cocked the slugger back ready to hit someone to kingdom come. 

No movement. 

My bare toes hit the wooden floor beyond the stairs as I inched toward the telephone. I should’ve called the authorities upstairs, but I hadn’t been thinking clearly. 

From the corner of my eye, a small dark figure slinked along the wall space toward the vehicle room. 

I needed to get to that phone, but instead I ran after the dark figure. “Who are you? What do you want?”

The figure took an abrupt turn at the cleaning room.

Clenching the wood tighter in my grip, I pulled it back ready to hit. 

The intruder must have sensed the blow coming because a tiny squeak came from her as she dropped the portable light.

I stopped. “What’re you doing in my house?” 

She backed up into the room. “P-please.” 

I eased up on my grip and flipped the switch on the wall. The light reflected off her dirt covered face. Her appearance startled me and I pulled slugger back again, waiting for her to make one move. 

She was one of them. They were all supposed to be in the penitentiary. How had she gotten out? 

“I-I-I thought my house was empty.” She held her filthy hands out in front of her.

“This is my house and it’s not empty! And you are intruding on my property.” 

Her innocent eyes filled with fluid. That was their defense mechanism. “ I just wanted to come home. I’m sorry. Please, don’t turn me in.” 

“It’s the law. We can’t simply let you beasts loose on the streets.” To my surprise, she didn’t lunge at me like I’d heard on the news. Maybe this one was planning a sneak attack. I had to call the authorities. “Stay here!”

“No. Please. I’ll go.” The mess of dark thread sprouting from her head quivered in response to her shaking body. How could they deal with such a disgusting growth? I would have those strings permanently removed. 

“You can’t leave. You have to be taken in. Safety comes first. It’s the law!” Slamming the bathroom door, I waited to see if she would come after me. She didn’t. 

I moved quick toward the telephone listening for the squeaky hinge to warn me of movement, but all I could hear was the beat of my heart.

I picked up the telephone and sighed. 

Why hadn’t she tried to kill me? All we knew about them was that they were vicious. This one didn’t seem to be violent. We’d been told that they would kill us without batting an eye. But this one seemed so afraid and harmless. 

I walked back toward the door and opened. She sat inside the large water basin, but why? 

Streaks ran from her eyes, cutting through the sludge on her face, revealing her creamy tone. That was a defense mechanism? It didn’t seem to be working on me. 

Curiosity got the best of me. “What kind of weapon is that?”

Her eyes widened as she held her hands up. “I don’t have any weapons.”

What a liar! “The fluid in your eyes. Is it poisonous or is it some kind of gaseous compound that exudes mind warping chemicals?”

She wiped the fluid and examined it. “It’s just water.”

Liar! “That’s what you want me to think.”

“I promise. It’s not a weapon. I’m scared and I cry when I’m scared.” Another drop of the liquid drained out of her eye.

“It makes sense that you would try to kill me with your venomous eye chemicals when you’re afraid.”

Then she did something completely unexpected. Her lips drew up, displaying her flesh eating teeth as she made an uplifting sound that pushed her breath out, rhythmically. “I don’t have any venom in my body.”

I stared at her. “You don’t really expect me to believe that, do you?”

She pushed her shoulders up. “I don’t know how to make you believe me. You can touch them if you want.” 

What a repulsive suggestion! She wanted me to put my antenna directly in the chemical. That was ridiculous. I looked at the telephone and pushed talk. 

She stood up quickly, making me jump back. “No. I can’t go back there! Please. Please.”  

More of that stuff drained down her face and hit her orange smock. There appeared to be no reaction. If the chemical was deadly, wouldn’t it burn through the cloth? That’s what the authorities had told us on the news. 

I clicked the phone off and took step toward her. “Why isn’t the fluid burning your smock?”

She looked down. “Because it’s only water. I can’t burn anything. Crying from our eyes is what we do when we are sad or scared. I’m such a wuss. I always cry when I’m scared.”

Could she be telling the truth? Had we been mistaken about the fluid? Maybe it was only water. 

I extended my antenna to touch her face and the girl proved her point. The fluid was only water.

 

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Shellshock

Smoky gray flakes floated down from the sky. I blinked hard trying to shield the face of my little brother who clung tight to my waist. 

“What do you see, Jess?” He tried to look up.

My hold tightened around his thick hair. “Don’t look, Sammie.”

A boom bellowed and the ground shook underneath us. 

He shuddered against me. 

“Get out of here now!” An old man screamed in the crowd. “They’ll kill us all! Save yourselves!”

Like an alarm, his words startled the crowd out of their shocked stupor as they all began running in different directions. 

A woman screaming at the top of her lungs pummeled directly into a little girl who stood alone crying for her mommy. The screaming woman didn’t even turn around to see if the child was injured. I loosened up on my brother and grabbed his empty hand, his other still held tight around my waist. 

“We have to help her,” I pulled him toward the little girl, pushing herself up from the woman’s tackle. Blood trickled out of a red gash that ran from her hair line down the side of her face. It didn’t look too deep, but there was no way to tell in the chaos. 

A man, not looking where he was going, ran straight into me, breaking my hold with Sammie. 

“Get out of my way,” He pushed me to the ground, stepping on my leg. 

A small yelp escaped my lips as I searched for Sammie. He’d also been pushed to the ground close by. Relieved to see that he was okay, I crawled to him. He wrapped his hands around my neck nearly cutting off my airway. 

The little girl screamed behind us. We turned to see that she had been knocked to the ground again. This time we ran to the child.

“It’s okay,” I assured her. “I’m going to help you. What’s your name?” 

Frightened hazelnut eyes stared up at me. “Matty.”

A steady stream of blood ran down her neck, absorbing into the hemline of her pink shirt. Whoever hit her the second time caused the wound on her face to deepen.

Another boom bludgeoned through the crowd. 

Matty ran to my legs and hugged me close. 

The last explosion had been closer, but we still had to get to safety. Searching the crowd around for her mother was a difficult task even though it was thinning.  Not one person was yelling for their child or looked confused about where they were headed. I swallowed hard as I realized she’d been left behind.

 Searching the street for a place to hide, I spotted a small convenient store that waited patiently on the corner, about a half block away. 

“We’re going to run over there.” I pointed the store out to the kids. They both nodded. 

With their hands tight in mine we took off. Matty’s short legs weren’t on our side, but I had to hand it to her, she didn’t trip. 

I tried the front door, but it was locked. I pounded against the glass hoping that the owner would help us once he saw the girl. No one came.  

It would be a crime to break into the store. I studied the once packed street and now only saw a small dog whining and sniffing at a lamp post. 

I looked down at the kids who stared up at me with wide eyes. My father always told me that when you have to make a bad decision make sure you do it for the right reasons. 

A heavy piece of broken cement lay near the gutter. I wondered if I’d be strong enough to pick it up, but I shook my head. 

Can’t isn’t part of my vocabulary, I told myself. 

I grabbed it with both hands and heaved it through the glass. The shatter made me look around, anxious. The street was still deserted. 

Knocking shards out of the way, I ushered the children into the store. 

“Hello?” I yelled. “Anyone here?” 

No one answered. 

“Sit behind the counter. I’ll be right back,” I told the kids. 

My feet moved faster than they ever had as I checked the store for life. It was empty. I don’t know why, but that made me feel better. I ran to the first aid section of the store and grabbed supplies for Matty.

The kids sat silent on the rubber mat behind the counter. 

“Are you two okay?” I asked.

Sammie’s ten year old face had drained of all color. “I don’t know.”

“I want my mommy.” Matty started crying.

“I know, sweetie. I’m Jess and this is Sammy,” I pointed to my brother. “We’re going to find your Mommy, but first we have to put some bandaids on your face, okay.”

The girl touched her forehead with her hand and looked at her fingers. She started sobbing harder. I shouldn’t have said anything. Until now she hadn’t known that her face was cut, and I’d probably just made her aware of the pain. 

 

Boom! 

 

I threw myself over the kids. The explosion shattered every window in the store throwing splinters of glass and dust across our shaking bodies. We had to get out of here. The next one could be right on top of us. 

Matty screamed underneath my embrace.  

Sitting down next to her, I cuddled her to my chest. Ashes and dust snowed through the broken windows. 

“It’s going to be okay, Matty.” Sammie rubbed her knee. “My sister just wants to fix your boo-boo, okay?” 

I gave him a smile. “Yeah, and after we get you all cleaned up we’re going to see if we can find your Mommy.”

Our words calmed her cries and she let me examine her injury. The cut was jagged and deep, which made me worry about infection. That freaking woman had done this to her and not even checked to see if she was okay. What kind of person would do that?

With a dust-covered candy bar, I persuaded Matty to go with me to the restroom to clean her face and wound. My brother helped me disinfect and bandage it. By the time we were done, the little girl was sucking her thumb and humming a song. 

The sun seemedto set sooner than expected, which must’ve been from the dense smoke. There had to be fires everywhere.

I’d left my phone in my car two streets over and I’d cursed myself for it over and over. I looked around for a phone in the store. A cheap plastic phone sat near the cash register, but no dial tone came through. I took the children into the small office where a television sat on the desk. I flipped it on and it worked. Thank goodness.

 

*****

 

“We are coming to you live from downtown Houston.” A male voice said. “We’ve just been informed that the attack is coming from an unknown source outside Earth’s atmosphere. Everyone is advised to stay inside. Do not leave the safety of the structure you are in. Find the safest room and bunker down. We will keep you informed throughout the night for further instruction.” 

From the helicopter perspective the camera man zoomed in on three multilevel buildings collapsing simultaneously. Men, women, and children were screaming and running down rubble filled streets toward more destruction. 

Sammie and I had seen an overpass full of vehicles explode earlier. Cars and people were hurdled into the air. We’d been only three cars away from the point of impact before we were forced to run from my car. Random body parts were scattered across the streets, but there was really nowhere to go. Nowhere was safe.

“Steve? Did we lose him?” The screen flashed back to a station anchor woman, her face held a horrified expression. “And we now take you to the President who wishes to address the nation.”

The president stood meek behind a podium. “Today we are faced with a horrifying reality. Many have speculated that there is life beyond Earth, and today it has become truth. Instead of presenting themselves with dignity, our visitors have decided to destroy us. Sources say that they intend to terminate all human life as we know it.  Our military is ready and prepared for sky and ground attacks. NASA has just confirmed they have  begun to implement a plan of defense beyond Earth’s atmosphere. 

“Do not lose faith. We will survive. Earth is our planet and we will do whatever it takes to keep you safe.  It is more important that you stay alive. If you have a working phone nearby, use it. If not, stay indoors and find a safe area to protect you and your loved—“ 

 

Boom! 

 

The television screen went blank.

 
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Skin

Ten fingers, ten toes. That is what every parent hopes for when they see their baby for the first time. Is that what they all get? Not all, but most. When my daughter was born we hoped to see her turn out like the rest of us. The same human genetics that we have cultivated for the last five hundred years. Cole was different. She resembled nothing familiar, but everything we tried so long to change. 

Huge steps in science had given us the opportunity to modify our physical appearance while in the womb. Colorful skin was coveted in society by so many. Myself and my partner were blue skinned. Deep discussions between him and I resulted in the decision that our baby would carry our modified genetics without fetus status checks. And, boy, were we wrong. We had hoped for purple or blue skin with orange eyes and a full head of hair. Cole came out with pale skin that was horrifying. Her eyes were dark brown and she was bald.

My mother of birth disowned me the very moment that she laid eyes on Cole, saying that I was a disgrace on her lineage and that she never wanted to speak to me again. My partner who helped me to sign the birth ordinance left my side and never came back. When I returned home with Cole, all of my partner’s belongings were already gone. 

In Carthage, Cole had been labeled a historical oddity and a violation of discord. Creating such a violation reminded all scientists and doctors of the ugliness that we once were. This ugliness caused wars. Although we do not know what it meant, the term racism was used constantly in our history pamphlets to describe the past cause of war. The colors that Cole displayed in her outside appearance was considered to be a slap in the face to all who laid eyes upon her. 

After our first doctor visit, the council asked me to not go out in public with my child. I tried to obey, but there were times that I needed items and every person refused to help me. I was forced to go out in the late hours. I covered her up and would go to the shop. Even though he would not look at her, the late night attendant took pity on me and never said anything about Cole being out in public. This went on for three years until one day Cole learned how to unlock doors. While I was in the bathing room for just a moment, she slid out the front door and ran down the hallway to the main eatery of Carthage.  

In my towel, I ran down the hallway whispering her name in hopes that no one had seen her yet. That was the last time I had hoped for anything ever again. When I arrived all the people in the eatery were screaming and poking forks and knives at Cole like she was a wild beast. She laughed and danced at their barbarous gestures. As I picked her up their ravenous stares went to my face. Later, I was visited by the council for the final time. They decided it was time to end her monstrosity once and for all.

It was supposed to happen early the next morning. They instructed me to bring her to the infirmary at 05:00. I was informed that the process would be quick and painless. No discussion was permitted. The decision was final.

As the councilmen left I found two bags and stuffed all I could into them. There was no way that I would be able to take care of Cole without some essentials. My items were obsolete in comparison with hers. So I packed only my bare necessities, which gave me more space for her needs. Finishing up, I dressed Cole in her warmest clothes and draped her favorite blankie over her. I hummed a lullaby as I stared at the tiny ticking clock on the nightstand. I would leave at midnight.

At 11:30 I planned to sneak to the store and purchase all the necessary needs to survive outside. I could only hope that the attendant would turn his head again at my appearance. Over the years we had built a silent peaceful relationship and he knew when to expect me. Some days I questioned if he stayed open longer than necessary as he awaited my arrival. 

I forced all the bags into the lower compartment of Cole’s buggy, which was quite small. Items it held now bulged out in awkward spots. This buggy would save me from carrying everything. It had been a gift from a friend before Cole was born. Now the only time I used it was in the wee hours of the night. With Cole asleep in the buggy, I inched down the hallway, being extra careful.

“Good evening, Mr. Stale.” I said. 

He looked over a pamphlet that he read behind the counter. “G’night Ma’am. Can I help you find anything?” He squinted as he absorbed my exasperation and the bulging contents of the buggy. 

“Yes,” my voice quivered, “I do need a little help.” I had never asked him for any help. 

His yellow eyebrows rose as he stood up. “What can I help you with?” He stared very hard at the blanket that draped over my child.

My whisper broke his stare, “Mr. Stale, I am not sure how you feel about me and my child. And frankly, it does not matter. I know you have children so I beg of you to help me save mine.”

He stiffened at my request.

I had to be more convincing. “I do not need much from you except some of your expertise. I need to be able to survive on the outside. Do you have any products that may help me? I will transfer all of my credits to you and I promise to never disturb you or this place again.”

“Well, now, I wouldn’t say that you disturb me.” He grunted.

“So you will help me?” My heart jumped in my chest. 

“I can get you started, but you are going to have a heck of a time staying alive out there.” He pointed toward the outside.

“I know, but I have no other choice.” My eyes darted to the blanket.

Without giving me a reply, he went into the stock room, a sinking sense of suspicion hit my gut. He could be reporting me right now. I started to turn Cole’s buggy toward the door to make my escape.

“Hold on now,” his footsteps were quick.

“I am so sorry,” I walked faster toward the exit. “I promise to never return. Please, just don’t tell anyone.”

“I had to get you a better bag.” A clang thudded against the steel floor behind me. “There’s no way you can carry everything you need in that push cart.”

I turned to see him holding up a strange back pack with a metal bar support. 

“It’s not much to look at, but we used to use these to journey up large mountains.” He held it up to me. I tried to picture a mountain, but was only able to bring up thoughts of pamphlet drawings. 

“Oh, thank you so much,” I huffed. “I thought you were turning me in.” 

“Wouldn’t think of it,” he smiled.

I returned the smile. “How does it work?” I walked over to him and examined the backpack.

When we were done, the bag was as full as I could handle. Maybe a little too full. I figured that some of the food and water would be consumed rather quickly so I tried to cram as much as I could inside the bag. Mr. Stale’s generosity stunned me. He knew there was no way that I had enough credits to cover the expense of my purchase, but he still insisted I take more and more. Saying goodbye to him, the only person who helped me in hard times brought tears to my eyes.

“Don’t trust anybody,” He instructed. “And remember, follow your gut and use the gun. It will keep you alive. 

“Thank you so much, Mr. Stale. You just saved our lives.” 

He smiled and showed me to the door. With a glance in both directions, he waved that I could go now. Being stealthy with a fifty pound pack and a buggy is nearly impossible, but I did my best to walk with finesse toward the exit of Carthage. They did not hold you hostage here but there would be a watcher near the door. It was considered absurd to try to leave. Leaving Carthage equals death.

As I walked closer to the exit I noticed that the watcher on night duty was asleep with a large gun in his hand. By the drool on his cheek, I suspected that he had been sleeping for some time now. In a ginger motion, I stepped to the door ID panel and waved my ID in front of it. There was only one other time I had done this and it was a distant memory now. Like before, the door glided to the left. The desolate land beyond the door sent a shudder down my spine. 

I looked down at my blanket covered baby. If I stayed, my beautiful baby would be killed in only hours. I took a step, rolling the buggy’s wheels across the threshold. A puff of air pushed my hair off my shoulder. It contained a sweet scent but I did not know what it was. A cough from behind me made my feet shuffle forward without glancing back. 

“Do not come back,” A hard shove against my backpack nearly knocked me over as the door glided shut behind me. 

 
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Core

Groaning in the wind, the dead tree resisted, just as it had countless times before. 

Marow, a moss covered stone, called out to the tree whom he had never spoken. “Why don’t you give in to the wind today, my friend? She is trying to lend you a hand and tell you it is time.”  

“Eight hundred and forty nine moons have passed since my last child drifted from my arms,” the tree sighed as another heavy gust blew against him. “I know not why you believe I have grown weaker since that moment. Alas, I know different. I have only one hundred eighty more moons to wait before the sun begins to add to its shine. And I will breed my marvelous children once again.” 

His answer surprised Marow. For he did not understand why the withered tree wanted to continue wishing for the impossible after he was long past the point of no return. 

“Why do you wish to continue battling for life when there is none left in you? I have seen many trees come and go in my time. You, my friend, are the most stubborn of them all.” Steam rolled off Marow’s moss. “I can no longer witness your suffering. It is time to let go and move on.” 

“Sweet, sweet, Marow.” A bough shook in the light breeze. “Know you nothing about the strength of my core? For within this wrinkled bark magic is stirring. For many days, I did sulk, saddened by my plight. Then something special happened and I knew that there was something lacking. Desire. And now my desire has been answered as I have focused on the expansion of my life span. Today the sap pumps through me like never before and I now know my children will return.” 

Curious, Marow asked, “What special event made you realize this foolishness you speak of?” 

In a soft tone the tree said, “Your desire to live has dwindled for many moons and it is clear your time is done. For your desire to move on has become a potent magic seeping into the green life around you, killing everything it touches. Your desire to die has conjured in me the desire to live.”

“What ridiculous things you say! For the moss on my back keeps me warm, dark or light, weathering with me through every fight.”

“Think what you may, my dear Marow. The moss may be still green, but it is leathered. It has been beaten down by your magic. For it let go before my last child passed.”

“You crazy old tree!” Enraged, Marow shook. A large chunk of his moss tumbled to the ground and indeed, it was dry to the core. 

The tree stretched, digging its roots deeper the soil. 


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The Red Shed

Beads of filth and sweat rolled down my temples as I clenched my left eye shut to peer through the wooden slats. With only a half inch of space I could almost see the front door in the middle of the deck. The three steps were visible, but I still couldn’t hear anything except my own breath. The sun was beginning to set, which would soon bring the cool night and sometimes I could even see one or two stars. The middle of the day was always the hardest. Mostly because the stuffy heat of the shed made my head spin. 

Daddy liked to put me in the shed. He said that it keeps me out of trouble. He would always say, ‘Becky, you don’ wan’ them thieves comin’ and takin’ you way from me, now do you?’ 

I told him that I didn’t like to always be in the the shed, but he said it’s the best way to keep me safe. It’s not that bad when dusk begins to take over the sky. Sometimes Daddy will let me out for a spell and when I’m real good he lets me sleep on the bed.

My stomach rumbled. I hope that Daddy will let me eat tonight. I was lucky to eat breakfast yesterday, but the hunger pains were setting in again. They always did. 

I sat down on the floor of dirt, spreading a gush of dust particles to dance in the sun light that still shined through the shed’s boards. A squeak of the screen door traveled through the slats. Pushing my nose to the wall, I could see Daddy. My tummy grumbled again.

He stumbled out the door and let it slam. I held my breath as I saw his heavy body tumble down the three stairs in front of the house, settling on the ground in a cloud of dust. A bowl of food hit the ground, toppling over into the ravenous dirt. My tummy grumbled at the sight. 

Daddy liked to drink that brown stuff and he acted funny when he did it. He wasn’t able to walk straight and he’d stumble around yelling at blank walls that would never talk back. 

Momma used to tell me, ”He’s a good man, Becky, he is. But sometimes a good man can get lost.”

I never knew what that meant. Momma died two years ago. I found her in the corn. She was lying by the windmill. I can remember the blood. Lots of blood. The policeman told me that it was an accident and that she fell down real hard on her head, but I think that she was just real sad. Momma never smiled or laughed like other mommas did. Momma cried a lot. She tried to hide it, but I always knew. 

There were times that I’d see her reading those letters she’d kept in a box under the floor. She didn’t think I was watching, but I watched her, always. Her long wavy hair was the color of the beach and it glistened when the sun hit it just right. I missed Momma. She never used to put me in the shed, and Daddy was nice when Momma was alive. Except for when he was drinking the brown stuff. 

Daddy lay still in front of the ancient steps, but I didn’t stare at Daddy. I couldn’t take my eyes off the bowl. It was the bowl that momma would fill with warm oatmeal every morning. After setting the bowl on the table, she’d kiss my head and tell me how much she loved me. I missed Momma. 

The food in the bowl looked like Daddy’s usual. He made beans. Lots and lots of beans. Brown sauce laid to rest on his arm telling me that I would starve tonight. 

Groaning, I pushed myself away from the shed walls. I curled up in my favorite corner of the red shed. I’d have to make it through another night and day without eating. 

 
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Rooted

The nights are long as I stretch out my neck. When the great lights of the sky shine bright I do my best to extend to touch them. As I reach out as far as I can, sometimes, it almost seems that I will be able to caress them, but before I can I must say goodbye as the night lightens to a beautiful pink. Some have told me that my skin is the color of the sky, but I only see the yellow reflections from my view. 

Morning dew turns to a smokey mist and disipates into the wind that briskly kisses my face. It is my favorite part of the day. The fuming ball then rolls in the sky and all over me forever. I bake in the heat and I begin to curl up wishing for a drop of moisture to fall upon my face, but there is none. 

Some of us sing to the hot ball hoping that he will go to sleep soon. Sometimes our singing has brought great gifts of white and grey blankets that protect us from his boiling grasp. There have been great waves of gifts when the blankets show sacrifice by giving us their tears. Some say that the blankets are sad because of how many of us are dying each day, but I believe the tears are a gracious response to our beautiful voices. 

When the fuming ball decides to rest, night comes. Anticipation makes me wiggle as I await the coming of the multitudes of bright lights. For it is my most favorite part of the night. 

 
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The Alley

Clammy coldness wrapped around me as I made my way further down the alley. Something wasn’t right. The air became heavier in my lungs and the silence was deafening. Where were they? Had I come to the right place? Henry and Tiff were probably hiding behind one of the dumpsters down this treacherous path.

“Come on you guys. This isn’t funny.” A person scuttling past the end of the alley made me jump and look back. They didn’t notice me. 

Maybe I would be able to get them to come out if I acted like I knew they were hiding. “I hear you guys back there. Let’s go this place is giving me the heebee jeebees.”

Nothing happened.

Wrapping my arms tight to my waist I ventured further into the darkness. Scuffles to my right sent icy shivers down my already tense body. I saw a homeless woman in the shadows. The white of her eyes was I could make out against her grimy skin. 

“You shouldn’t be down here.” She said with a crusty voice.

“I’m looking for my friends. You haven’t seen them, have you?” I tightened my grip around my waist. 

“No one has been down here tonight. And if you know what’s good for you I think you should get out of here.” Her eyes darted to something behind me. “Go. Get out of here now!”

A deep clang against the dumpster resounded behind me. I spun around as a dark figure approached me.

“Do you like to have fun, little girl?” A deep voice asked.

I turned and ran back toward the street. Heavy footsteps thudded against the ground behind me. 

I ran harder than I’d ever run in my life. I didn’t even know if I was breathing or not. And I didn’t care. My legs sprinted toward the dim street ahead. The footsteps grew closer behind me. How was he faster than me? There was no way this was just an old man. My track record proved I could outrun any normal person on the street. 

“Get back here!” He bellowed without huffing or puffing.

Every cell in my body was determined to get the hell out of here. I was only a couple strides away from the opening as I felt the tug on my jacket. My feet lifted off the ground as he pulled me back toward him. His hand gained a better grip on my shoulders and turned me around. Flailing left and right, I kicked and screamed like a pro. His hands were really strong. Like Hulk strong. He grabbed my wrists.

“You didn’t think you were going to get away that easily did you? I want to have some fun tonight and I think you do too.” His face was only inches from mine. 

No wrinkles or dirt scarred his white face. Hell, he looked like he could have been getting ready to go to the club. His teeth were gleaming white and his hair was gelled to perfection. 

“What do you want?” I screamed as I yanked my body back and forth hoping to get loose. 

“I just want to take you to a party. You like parties don’t you? Of course you do. Everyone likes a rockin’ party.” 

“No. I don’t want to go to a party. What I want is for you to let me go.” My foot slammed down on his. 

His dark eyebrows lowered as his fingertips dug into my wrists. “Be nice now. I don’t want to have to do something that I’d regret.” 

Working the little bit of saliva in my mouth, I spit on him. With my mouth dry mouth from running I had little to work with, the wetness barely made it to his neck.

A huge smile crossed his face as he nodded slowly. “Oh, yeah, you and I are going to have a lot of fun.”

Voices and far off footsteps echoed from down the street. 

“Help me!” I screamed as loud as I could. 

He put both of my wrists in one hand and covered my mouth, his cheap cologne enveloping our breathing space. 

“Don’t be a bad girl, or I’ll have to hurt you.” He warned. 

The skin from his palm grazed my teeth. Taking the bait, I bit down hard. A strong metallic flavor hit my tongue.

He yelped, pulling his hand from my teeth. "You little tramp."

His bloody hand took a fistful of my hair. I screamed as I grasped his hand to loosen the tension in fear of him ripping hair from my scalp. It didn't help much.

"You'll never get away with this," Blood spewed from my lips.

A deep laugh barked from his lungs. He wrenched my head back, lowering his cheek to rest against mine. "I beg to differ, little tramp. This is your lucky night. You have just nominated yourself for the first class seat to hell. But don't worry I'll make sure you have the time of your life."

My stomach curdled at the thought of what this guy thought a good time was.

"Oh, is the tramp speechless now?"

I tried to move but his hold on my hair was too painful. I screamed for help again and everything went black. 

 
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Master Of Claws

Howie, a young padawan, about the age of fourteen wrestled with his little brother Nate who was only six. Nate like to play with Howie because he had all the good toys that Nate was not allowed to touch. The only time he was allowed to touch Howie’s toys was when they were playing together. 

“Hiyah!” Nate kicked and spun in the air. He plummeted to the ground and laughed. 

“No, Nate. You are supposed to do it this way,” Howie did a spin kick so fast that his shoe flew off hitting Nate in the stomach.

Nate shook off the shoe punch and tried to make his spin kick as good as Howie’s. 

“Watch this Howie,” the little boy ran and tried to push his feet off the ground, but instead his legs wound around one another. His little body fell to the ground once again.

Howie broke out laughing. “Ha ha ha. You have to be one with the force, young padawan.” 

“Na uh, I can do it because I am the Master of Claws.” Nate burst out. He didn’t know what the Master of Claws actually did, but he liked the way that it sounded scary and beast like. 

“Oh, forgive me young Master of Claws.” Howie lightly placed his hands on his chest and bowed slowly.

“Bow to me my servants.” Nate roared in his deepest voice.

“I’m not your servant!” Howie stood straight and put up his fists. “I will fight you if you try to entrap me to be your servant.” 

Nate picked up Howie’s favorite sword that Mom bought at the medieval festival last year. “You’ll meet your end if you don’t follow the Master of all.”

Howie laughed. “You mean the Master of Claws, Nate.” 

Nate pushed the handle of the sword against his sternum pointing the wooden blade at his brother. “The Master of Claws is the Master of all, servant.” Nate’s lips slid back showing his teeth as his nose and eyes scrunched up into his best mean face. 

 “You’ll never catch me, Master of whatever.” Howie ran toward the house.

“I’m gonna get you. The Master of Claws can walk through walls.” Nate ran after Howie with the sword in hand. 

Howie dodged Nate as their feet found the patio. Running around the table and chairs, Howie dove toward the door and turned the handle. Given his moment of desire, Nate let the wooded sword come down on Howie’s arm that now pushed the door open. 

“Ooooww!” Howie yelled. “I’m telling Mom!”

Sword still in hand, the Master of Claws turned back into Nate. “No, no, no. I’m sorry, Howie. I didn’t mean to. Are you okay?”

“Look at what you did.” Howie stuck his arm out to Nate displaying a elongated reddened mark on his forearm. “That’s gonna bruise, Nate. I’m lucky that you didn’t have a real sword or you would’ve cut my arm off.” He walked inside to tell.

Nate sat on an old patio chair and waited. 

“Nate! Get your butt in here, now!” With his head hung low, Nate slowly set down the sword that he would not be allowed to touch for a very long time. 

He stared longingly at the sword for one last moment before, “Nate, get in here now!”

His feet scurried toward the door, “Coming Mom.”

 
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The Door

Her finger ran up and down the phone cord while she waited for him to call. Travis called every night at this time and they would usually talk for as long as they wanted. Colleen’s finger continued to run up and down on the cord. She picked up the receiver to make sure it still had a dial tone. Uuuuuuuuu, the dial tone came through loud and clear. He was five minutes late. What could be keeping him?

“Colleen, what do you think about the blue dress?” her little sister said from the hallway. 

“I don’t know. Are you wearing it?” She asked. 

“Yeah. Can I show you?” Sandy replied. 

The door knob turned, but the door did not open. 

“Are you gonna show me or what?” Colleen asked. 

“I can’t get in.” Her sister returned. 

The phone rang, making Colleen jump. 

Colleen picked up the phone from its cradle. “Hello?” 

Low, deep breaths came thought the receiver. 

“Travis? Is that you? Stop playing games.” No answer came and the breath became raspy.

“Colleen, I can’t open the door. I think it’s stuck.” Sandy turned the knob and bounced off the door from the other side, but it did not budge. 

“Look, I don’t know who this is, but don’t call here again.” She smashed the phone down. “Don’t break the door! I’m coming.” 

Another thump came through the door. 

“I said stop! You’re going to break it,” Colleen turned the knob with ease. She pulled on the door but nothing happened. Her eyes scanned the inside of the door searching for any sort of oddity. There was none. The white door just stood there looking the same as it always had. 

“Sandy, try it again.” Colleen instructed. 

Nothing.

“Sandy, are you still there?” This time she yelled through the door jam.

Nothing.

The phone rang again, startling her. Colleen ran over to the phone and practically yanked it off the cord. 

“Travis Whitmore, you’d better have a good excuse for making me wait,” She said into the mouthpiece. 

A low voice breathed into her ear. She could hear a whimper in the background, then muffled moans of fear.

“Who is this?” She wanted to believe this was a prank.

“Don’t you ever hang up on me.” A scratchy voice retorted.

“I’m calling the police,” Colleen’s hand shook as she hung up the phone making the phone rattle against its cradle. 

A hollow knock rumbled at the door.

“Sandy?” her voice came out in spurts of terror.

Nothing.

With her hand on the knob again she pressed her ear to the wood. She could hear two voices whimpering and screaming, but they were muffled by something. She rotated the brass knob and pulled. This time it opened. Slowly the door creaked opened, but Colleen’s fear held the door in front her as a blockade. Afraid of what she might see, her face moved slightly to give her a better look.

What was once the hallway was gone. Behind the door were two people lying still in the bottom of a deep brown hole. Rain trickled into the hole as she examined the sight. The two people were laying on their sides facing one another. Both were bound by duck tape around their legs and hands. Colleen found their faces and saw that it was her sister in a silky blue dress and Travis in his pajamas. Red liquid ran from their chests. Was that blood? 

Terror rushed through Colleen as she turned to get the phone, but now someone stood in her way. A large man in a thick black robe. 

“I told you to never hang up on me.” It spoke.

Shooting pain hit her in the heart. She looked down to see a black knife grip hanging out of her chest. The hand of the stranger pushed her backwards causing her to fall into the hole with her boyfriend and sister. 

The door creaked shut as she took her last breath.  

 
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