Monday, December 27, 2010

Round Table: WTF? aka Wherefore, Tangled Fiction?

We're taking a bit of a break from our Tangles for the holiday season.  We'll start up again in the New Year with a full month of Tangles (see the schedule way down at the bottom of this post), but for this week, we're presenting something new, which boasts a surprising degree of organization.

Welcome to our first "WTF" (that's "Wherefore, Tangled Fiction," of course) round table chat!
 
Valerie: sorry I'm late!
Lacey: no prob. I was eating anyway.
Natalie: And she was cursing me for EYES
Valerie: lol yes. I would curse you tooI almost changed to Carly's POV in BETHLEHEM, Lacey, but then I thought that would be crazy hard for Natalie.  I guess she's not quite so considerate.
Lacey: yeah, Natalie is inconsiderate
Natalie: don't tell anyone, but I'm a *comment redacted*
Lacey: >_<
Valerie: this is a secret?
Lacey: lol
Natalie: ahem
Valerie: I like that you typed it with periods like gchat might censor you
Natalie: WELL. Maybe it's just that I trust Lacey's abilities more than you trust mine
Valerie: well...it's no secret that I'm a *comment redacted* too
Lacey: gasp
Natalie: Ok. So. Topic.  Let's talk WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?  One start for each of us, so pick your story!

Pause for discussion of which stories to discuss…

Lacey: Ok.  Can I go first? :D  bounces
Natalie: Yes!
Lacey: Well, with BETHLEHEM, I was thinking Jonah would find a dead girl in the room holding a baby because of Bethlehem, and the star and all that business.
Natalie: I was TOTALLY thinking baby!
Valerie: I thought about a baby, but babies are kind of lame. They bring the energy down with their babyness.
Natalie: Now, there's a tagline: Valerie Kemp, I don’t write babies…
Lacey: And you guys went somewhere totally different with The Regulators too
Natalie: What were your Regulators? (I assume they weren’t gun-slinging cowboys)
Valerie: that was fun, to be able to hint at the regulators without having to define
Lacey: I was picturing them more like a group of people who have taken the neighborhood by force.  The kind who will literally kill and eat you, if you go out during their raids.  I was just picturing the world in total chaos. No government. Just groups of people, but I really like where you guys took it.
Valerie: I really wanted to switch to Carly's POV. I knew why she was there and why she was crying and all that
Lacey: Which was?
Valerie: her grandpa died. and she'd just come back from burning his body
Lacey: Ew.  And ...
Valerie: He was the one who had been taking care of her and built the tunnel and all that.  Well, maybe not burning him. but she had to take him far from where she was so no one would suspect she lived there and also Sam was alive, and with the people that killed her grandpa.  In my mind, lol
Lacey: Ha! So you kept SAM alive! Sam ftw.

Break for extensive comparisons of Sam and Dean Winchester and the revelation that Stefan and Damon Salvator share the same first initials (S&D) and this must be the source of fraternal awesomeness.  Lacey, if you hadn't guessed, is strongly in favor of the S's.

Natalie: Valerie! KISS OF DEATH
Lacey: Yes! That.
Valerie: ha!  Honestly, I have no idea where I came up with that.
Natalie: That cannot be your answer!
Valerie: I thought it would be interesting to have a predicament you couldn't escape.  Like what if everyone wanted to kiss you but kissing you was deadly.  I will tell you that I learned from that that I really should write less.  I went too far, it could've been a short by itself.  I should've left more to you earlier.
Natalie: I was actually thinking about that the other day. That doing less is the hardest thing to do when you're going first.
Valerie: yeah, because once I start an idea, it starts to flesh itself out, and I want to make sure I have a whole set up, but I end up putting in too much set up, but KISS literally came out of nowhere. I was going to do a totally different opening and all of a sudden this once upon a time thing came to me
Natalie: did you know where you wanted it to go?
Valerie: um, yeah. i guess. in the sense that i thought it would be a pretty traditional fairy tale and you two would figure out how to undo the curse and there would be happy kissing.  And I thought she would run into the woods. that was about it.  nothing specific

Another pause for rambling discussion about woodcutters and a brief argument about TRON LEGACY which Natalie couldn't care less about, but Valerie threatens to violence over Lacey's disdain.

Valerie: so WISHES. Natalie?
Lacey: (just interrupting to say my baby is speaking russian right now and its so freaking cute)
Natalie: (don't tell Valerie - she thinks babies are lame)
Valerie: (only the ones used as plot devices)
Natalie: Right. So, first, I was thinking that I wanted to do multiple POVs and then I was thinking that wishing wells are sort of risky things if you think about it and that was about it. I didn't decide what their wishes would be at all. Just that what they put into their wish would be significant.
Lacey: Wishes was a challenge. Having 3 POVs and trying to tie all their wishes together some how.
Valerie: but it was SO HARD for me to come up with the wishes! OMG!
Lacey:  How did you think WISHES would end?
Natalie: I thought that we would end up following the girls through their wishes and there might be an element of self-fulfilling prophecy (as in, if you wish on chewed up bubble gum, you'll probably get chewed up bubble gum in return) and then end back at the well.  But I really didn't flesh it out too far in my mind.
Valerie: i had no clue where it would end. I had no idea what Nina wished for, lol But i thought her wish would come true.  since the others did.  I seriously almost had an anxiety attack though. trying to come up with the wishes and outcomes for three like that.
Natalie: i loved where it went
Valerie: me too!
Lacey: There was a dead boy in a well. We HAD to use that.
Natalie: The way you did actually surprised me. And I loved how you brought it all back around. It had just enough symmetry to not be perfectly symmetrical. I think with endings (having only done two) that it's easy to get caught up in the BIG picture of everything.  I think that's what really worked in WISHES. It started small, got big, and then got small again.
Lacey: Thank you. Had a great set up.
Valerie: same here. i never saw that coming!

So, where did you think these stories would go?

We'll see you in January.  Thank you all for reading!!

*******
JANUARY SCHEDULE:
Jan 3 - 7: NLV
Jan 10 - 14: LNV
Jan 17 - 21: NVL
Jan 24 - 28: VLN
Jan 31 - Feb 4: Individual Shorts by All (Valerie on Monday, Lacey on Wednesday, and Natalie on Friday)

BETHLEHEM photo used with permission by J Moffat of Diamond Art on Flickr
KISS OF DEATH photo via weheartit.com (if it's yours let us know so we can credit you!)
WHAT WISHES ARE MADE OF photo by Robyn's Nest via Fickr Creative Commons

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Only Have Eyes For You (Part 3 of 3)


Behind me Lyla gasped, I felt her fingers tighten on my arm and felt a shiver move between us. I turned to find her clutching her throat with her free hand, her eyes filling with tears. But when she opened her mouth to speak, no sound emerged.

The shadow girl laughed lightly with Lyla’s voice and again sang her chorus.

“Come on,” I said to Lyla. I wanted to get as far from here as possible and fast. I reached out and she put her hand in mine.


THURSDAY LATE MORNING - LYLA

Josh threw a rock over the edge of the cliff. It didn’t make a sound as it landed in the trees below us.

I tugged his sleeve so he’d look at me. “Hey.” My voice was this horrible raspy whisper. I hoped he could read lips. “What is this place?” It wasn’t what I should’ve been asking, but it was better than why is your hair so white?

“It’s the only place I know where they don’t come.” He pulled his hood over his head and drew his knees to his chest.

They?” My skin prickled.

“Yeah. I know its nuts. But I see them everywhere, these shadows. Above the lockers, doorframes. One of them… It took your voice.” Another rock.

A shadow took my voice? Was he serious? No wonder Josh never talked to anyone. He was nuts.

“One of them chose you, and now—”

I shook my head. “Just, stop. Okay. I thought maybe you knew”—No real words came out and I sighed, not having a voice was really annoying— “Just never mind. I gotta go.” I stood, wrapped my arms around myself and turned away from him.

“Lyla, wait!”

“No, Josh! Just leave me alone.” Storming off didn’t have the same effect when you could barely make a sound and it just pissed me off more.

It had to be him. The way he looked at me in English. Sneaking up behind me and slamming my locker shut, making me scream so hard I lost my voice. Josh was a freak, like everyone said. Maybe he’d see now that I wasn’t into this and he’d leave me alone.

I walked home not wanting to go back to school after I’d run off with the class introvert. My parents were both gone for the night and the house was quiet. I went straight to my bed and crawled under the covers.

I dreamed of those crazy green eyes and that pale, pale hair.

THURSDAY EVENING - JOSH

My guilt came back ten fold. All that day I kept hearing her scream over and over in my head. The fearful expression on her face when the Shadow Girl took her voice.

And the way her hand had felt in mine.

Some part of me had thought maybe Lyla was different and maybe I could trust her, but I was wrong. She was no different than any of the others, ignorant and shallow, but still she was in trouble. I knew I was the only person who could help her. If nothing else it would let me sleep at night.

I rounded the corner on her street and a big white house came in to view, the name Nue on the mailbox. The driveway was empty but I knew Lyla would be there. I just hoped I wasn’t too late.

I stepped onto the first slate stone that lead up to the front door when I heard her voice. Lyla’s voice. My back went rigid as cold, shadowy fingers brushed my ankles and swept up the walk. I ran to the door, pounding my fist against it as the shadows slipped underneath.

THURSDAY EVENING - LYLA

A buzzing sound pulled me out from my sleep. The doorbell, I thought, but when I crawled out of bed I realized it was coming from the bathroom. I peeked in the room. It couldn’t be, but it was. My cell buzzed from inside the toilet. Please be Drake. Even a pissed off Drake I would welcome. I looked down at the screen, wavy under water, but unmistakable.

Text from unknown 8:40 PM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU

I slid down against the wall, wrapping my arms around my knees. This wasn’t happening. The phone rang from inside the bowl. I wanted to just ignore it; I knew it had to be Josh. But I couldn’t just let it go. I mean, it shouldn’t be ringing. I snatched the phone out of the water and pressed the talk button.

“I only have eyes for you,” the caller said. The voice was familiar. It was mine.

A silent scream tore at my throat and tears poured down my cheeks. I smashed the phone into the tile floor over and over until it was in a million pieces scattered all around me.

It was totally nuts, but maybe creepy Josh was telling the truth. Something had stolen my voice and what if my voice wasn’t all it wanted? Now I sounded as crazy as he did.

Cold crept up my legs, like I’d stepped into a tub of ice water. I tried to brush my hands down my knees to take the chill away but it wouldn’t stop. It kept climbing. Stop, I thought. Stop! I grabbed the sink and pulled myself up. I caught a flash of green in the mirror.

The face looking back at me was like mine, the same nose and arched eyebrows, except her eyes were green and her pastel hair dripped with wet, inky shadows. The girl in the mirror smiled and I knew what she’d say before she said it.

“I only have eyes for you.”

THURSDAY EVENING - JOSH

I banged on the front door until the neighbor’s porch light came on. Probably just making myself more conspicuous, I pulled my hood over my head and crept around to the back. I was breaking all kinds of personal records today.

The back door was locked, but a window was open. It wouldn’t do me any good to call for Lyla, she couldn’t answer. I should’ve just gone home. I had no real reason to care about her. There was no reason why I couldn’t shake off the warm feeling of her hand in mine.

I climbed up to the window and fell inside. I listened for footsteps, anything, but the house was dead quiet. I made my way down a dark hallway to a door with light underneath. It was her bedroom, it had to be, but she wasn’t there. Her bed was covered with shadows. A trail of them led to another door, a bathroom I guessed.

“Lyla?” I braced myself for anything, pulled off my hood and pushed the door open.

A girl with Lyla’s face, I couldn’t mistake her elegant nose, stood starring at me. Her eyes were the same glassy taxidermy green as the locker-top girl’s. And her hair, as colorless as mine, dripped with shadows. She was Lyla, but she wasn’t. I reached for her hand, needing to feel it in mine to know if she was real.

She took my hand, lacing her fingers through mine just like Lyla had. She smiled at me, and in Lyla’s voice she said, “I only have eyes for you.”

*****
Next week we're taking a break for our collective sanity, but we've prepared something new and exciting to share with you on December 27th! Okay. So, it might not be *new*, but it's colorful in more ways than one. Thank you all for reading! We <3 you.

  Photo by Jaice_Arts at deviantart.com

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Only Have Eyes For You (Part 2 of 3)

I ripped the note off my door and threw it on the floor. My heart thudded in my chest and my hands shook as I tried to work my combination. On the third try I managed to get it unlocked, but just as I pulled the door open, a hand reached over my head and pushed it shut.

I screamed.



TUESDAY - AFTER SCHOOL

I didn’t ever look for them. I didn’t have to. They were just there. Lurking and spying from the tops of lockers and doorframes and other places people don’t ever think to look. They watched with those freaking taxidermized eyes, all the same, all green, and waited for someone to catch their attention. I probably should have been thankful that I never had, if nothing else.

I didn’t know what to call them. Watchers or my personal demons. Whatever they were, I was the lucky one who knew they were there.

I saw the note before she did. It stuck out of Lyla Nue’s locker looking all innocent and normal except for the way shadows smudged along its edges like it’d been dropped in a mud puddle. She wouldn’t see it that way. She’d see a white paper note, plain and simple, and probably think she knew who’d put it there.

For a second, I thought about snatching it. Of the mass of sheep hurrying around me, not one of them would give me trouble. They all worked so hard at avoiding me that I could probably steal five or six iPhones before anyone cared to notice. A note would be easy.

But it wouldn’t matter.

And then it was too late. I saw her come around the corner with two of her chirping friends at her side and that was it. The note was in her hand.

TUESDAY NIGHT

Guilt isn’t something I do, but I couldn’t stop thinking about Lyla and that damn note all night. In all of history, we’d shared a grand total of fourteen point two words and that wasn’t the sort of thing that was supposed to lay the groundwork for irritations like guilt and caring.

I shoved my ear buds down to my eardrums, cranked How to Destroy Angels, and drowned my face inside a feather pillow.

WEDNESDAY – ENGLISH CLASS

Seeing the note on her desk encouraged the guilt I’d been unsuccessful in killing. It bubbled up inside me like I was a shaken soda and I sat in my desk and waited for her to arrive.

When she did, I thought that I’d never really looked at her before. She was pretty, but not in the plastic veneered, Paris Hilton way that most of the girls worked so hard for. Maybe because she’d always been surrounded by those girls, I’d assumed she was one and never looked twice. But Lyla was pretty in a simple, unbleached way. She wore make-up that didn’t look like finger paint and her nose was long and wide and commanded all of my attention. She probably hated it, but I thought it was striking and elegant.

She twisted in her seat and I caught her eyes. They were full of surprise and irritation and the sort of deep brown I associate with the perfect cup of coffee – with just a hint of cream to take the edge off. I expected her to turn away quickly, to rid herself of the mistake of making eye contact with the freak in the corner, but she didn’t.

I looked past her to the note, trying to decide if she knew yet that it wasn’t totally innocuous. But Mr. Lawrence took that moment to demonstrate his capacity for being a douche and she looked away.

WEDNESDAY – AFTER SCHOOL

I waited down the hall from her locker. The note stood out from everything. Not only was it crumpled and dirty, but the shadows dripped from it like long, dark loogies. Again, I wanted to go and snatch it away. It wouldn’t do an ounce of good, now that one of them had latched on to her, but I wanted to keep her from finding it. It was a useless urge. I had no reason to care about Lyla.

I turned, started walking away, but got to the end of the hall and turned back around.

She was at her locker, far enough away to just be one more body in the throng, but not so far that I couldn’t see her face as she balled the note in her hand. She knew and she was afraid.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT

I couldn’t get the image of Lyla’s face out of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking of the way her neck tensed and her lips tightened when she unfolded the note.

All night, I dreamed of green eyes and Lyla’s fearful expression.

THURSDAY MORNING

The wind was sharp and cold in my face on the walk to school. I lowered my eyes to the sidewalk in front of me, heard the blare of the first period bell weasel its way through the wind, and gave up on trying not to think of Lyla.

My entire life had been one long game of Keep Away between me and the locker-top shadows. I’d worked hard at learning their hiding places and then staying very far away from them. And I’d worked just as hard at never noticing what they were up to, which suddenly seemed like a very dumb practice. I couldn’t stand willful ignorance in others, but somehow I’d made a freaking epic allowance for myself.

By the time I got to school, I was loaded with purpose and energy. Finding her alone, at her locker, in an empty hallway seemed like the only lucky break I was likely to get.

Dark shadows leaked through the vent of her locker and I knew something unpleasant lay inside it. With more confidence than I’d ever exercised in public, I pushed my hood back and reached over her shoulder to shut the locker door and keep whatever was inside, inside.

When she screamed, shadows shimmered above us. I looked up, straight into a pair of those glassy, green eyes and the washed out face of a girl. She grinned and reached down with fingers dripping in shadows to cover Lyla’s mouth.

I didn’t think. I just pulled her away, but not before shadows left pale smudges on her skin and drained the color from her lips.

The girl of shadows drifted back to the top of the locker and with a transparent grin, she sang, “I only have eyes for you.”

Behind me Lyla gasped, I felt her fingers tighten on my arm and felt a shiver move between us. I turned to find her clutching her throat with her free hand, her eyes filling with tears. But when she opened her mouth to speak, no sound emerged.

The shadow girl laughed lightly with Lyla’s voice and again sang her chorus.

“Come on,” I said to Lyla. I wanted to get as far from here as possible and fast. I reached out and she put her hand in mine.


*****
Come back Friday to see Lacey's conclusion!

Photo by Jaice_Arts at deviantart.com

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Only Have Eyes For You (Part 1 of 3)

TUESDAY - AFTER SCHOOL

The note stuck out of the vent in my locker like a tiny Christmas present. That’s what it felt like, too. An early present from Drake. I pulled the paper out. It was carefully folded into a perfect square with one letter of my name in each corner. L-Y-L-A. The fold was so intricate it took forever to get it undone. But when I did, I was rewarded with six little words that made my heart flutter: I only have eyes for you.

I tried not to sigh like the hopeless romantic I am, but I couldn’t resist. He’d spent time on this. He cared. It wasn’t the same as saying “I’m sorry I totally flirted with Ashley right in front of you,” but it was better in its own way. I looked around the hall for Drake but he was nowhere to be found.

TUESDAY NIGHT

I went back and forth in my mind over whether to call or text Drake and say that I felt the same way. It just seemed too weird to call him and actually say “I only have eyes for you, too.” Even if he did say it first. I decided on a simple text, just like the note he left me.

Text sent to Drake 8:15 PM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU.

Text from Drake 8:27 PM: OK STALKER!


Not exactly the response I was looking for but I couldn’t really expect him to be romantic all the time, right?

Text sent to Drake 8:33 PM: TAKES ONE TO KNOW ONE! :p

WEDNESDAY - LUNCH

I was watching Drake and Jason throw food at each other when my cell phone buzzed. One new text.

Text from unknown 12:22 PM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU.

The skin at the back of my neck crawled. I stared at the phone, and then at Drake, who was completely oblivious. His cell phone rested on the table where it had been since he set it there at the beginning of lunch. He hadn’t touched it.

I glanced discreetly around the cafeteria, but no one was looking at me or watching for my reaction. That didn't change the fact that it felt like someone was.

WEDNESDAY - ENGLISH CLASS

The little square of paper was already on my desk when I entered the room. I could see my name spelled out in the corners just like the note I got yesterday. I sat in my seat and pushed the note up to the edge of the desk. I didn’t want to open it. It wasn’t romantic anymore.

There were only a couple kids in class already. None of them were paying any attention to me except for Josh, the weird kid who always wore the hood on his hoodie up. Even when it was hot out, which was like, almost always since we’re in the freaking desert. No one even knew what his hair looked like. Or if he even had hair at all.

When I twisted around in my front row seat to look around the room, Josh met my eyes for the first time ever. I was so surprised that I froze. I felt my pen slip out of my hand but I didn’t move to pick it up. His eyes were intense, and green. I could tell that even from all the way across the room. When I kept eye contact with him, he raised one eyebrow and slowly tilted his head to the side like, WTF? I knew I looked like a freak but I couldn’t stop staring. His eyes looked past me to the note on my desk and suddenly I couldn’t get the thought out of my mind that he knew exactly what was inside that folded square of paper.

“Lyla, will you be joining us today?” Mr. Lawrence’s voice was tired, annoyed. He snapped me out of my trance, or whatever it was.

“Sorry,” I said, and bent to pick up my pen. My face was hot and I wondered if the whole class could tell I’d been staring at creepy Josh. I hoped no one told Drake. I didn’t want him to get the wrong idea.

WEDNESDAY - AFTER SCHOOL

The note I threw in the trash after English class poked out of the vent in my locker, taunting me. I knew it was the same note because I’d scribbled out my name before dropping it in the wastebasket still folded. I looked around as discreetly as I could, trying to see if Josh, or whoever had left it, was watching me but the hallway was full of the usual get-me-the-hell-out-of-this-place end of the day rush and no one noticed me or the sick joke sticking out of my locker. I yanked it out and went through the complicated unfolding process. The same six words stared back at me: I only have eyes for you. My heart didn’t flutter this time. It was my stomach that clenched up tight, and the hairs on the back of my neck that stood on end.

Someone was watching me, for real. I could feel it.

LATE WEDNESDAY NIGHT / EARLY THURSDAY MORNING

The eyes were everywhere. They pressed in on me from the darkness. I got up and covered the windows with blankets, shut the closet door, and hid underneath my comforter but I could still feel them. They brushed against my skin like probing hands.

My phone lit up every five minutes.

Text from unknown 1:15 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU
Text from unknown 1:20 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU
Text from unknown 1:25 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU
Text from unknown 1:30 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU
Text from unknown 1:35 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU
Text from unknown 1:40 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU

Text sent to unknown 1:41 AM: STOP IT! IT’S NOT FUNNY!

Text from unknown 1:45 AM: I ONLY HAVE EYES FOR YOU


I turned it off, but it vibrated anyway and that was enough to get me out of bed. I grabbed the possessed phone and ran to the bathroom. I hoped those eyes were watching as I dropped it into the toilet.

I finally fell into a fitful sleep, buried underneath a mountain of covers. And all night, I dreamed of green eyes watching me.

THURSDAY MORNING

I was late to school, and the halls were empty by the time I got there. Even in my exhaustion, I could see the paper stuck to my locker door from all the way down the hall. The note I’d crumpled up and thrown into the bottom of my locker was taped to the outside.

I ripped the note off my door and threw it on the floor. My heart thudded in my chest and my hands shook as I tried to work my combination. On the third try I managed to get it unlocked, but just as I pulled the door open, a hand reached over my head and pushed it shut.

I screamed.

*****
Come back Wednesday to see where Natalie takes the story!

Photo by Jaice_Arts at deviantart.com

Friday, December 10, 2010

Bethlehem (Part 3 of 3)

Carly squeezes my hand and I realize I have to break Sam’s number one rule. I have to trust her.

“Now!” She shouts and then with surprising strength, she yanks me into the dark.


This isn’t the first time I’ve had to run for my life, but it’s the first time I’ve feared for it.

Metal, scraping over cement over metal, screams in my ears. There is only movement and that horrible sound as we race through the black. The pressure of Carly’s hand is firm and the only reason I know she’s still with me, guiding me over unfamiliar ground. I close my eyes and follow her lead. Her pace shows no sign of uncertainty, and we run as though the air itself snaps at our heels with jagged, steal jaws.

“Know your exits,” Sam had said. “Never get boxed in.”

That’s exactly what I’d done when I walked into Carly’s room. I hadn’t even thought to spot a back way out but it must’ve been tucked behind stacks of boxes. Now, I’m lost in the bowels of this building with my only chance at staying safe and getting back out again a girl I met moments before. Nothing about this situation bodes well and Sam’s voice is a berating shout in my head.

After what must have been minutes, Carly tugs me out of my sprint and into a slow jog. I open my eyes and find that we’re in a long corridor washed in a stale, gray light. The floor is dusted in ash and snow that’s fallen through the places where high windows used to be. Just ahead of us is a staircase leading to the ground level and somewhere far behind us, the sound of Regulators tearing through the building is sharp and unending.

“But we were inside,” I say.  My voice sounds rough and small. I’ve never been so close to one of them before and my throat aches when I speak.

“That doesn’t matter anymore,” Carly says, her voice is fractured and falls on me like shards of glass. She’s trying not to look at me, but I can see her eyes shine even in this dim light. “Don’t you pay attention?"

I don’t answer because the truth is, I haven’t. Not since Sam died. My focus has been on getting enough to burn, enough to eat, and staying as low as possible because that’s how you survive. That’s how you stay safe.

Carly rakes one arm over her eyes and turns to me. “They’re cleansing this block. Maybe every block for all I know, but definitely this one.”

All we’ve ever had, and the only thing that’s ever been more real than a night with nothing to burn, are the rules. Theirs and ours. Theirs were simple; the scavenging times were scrawled across buildings in bright yellow paint as if we should be as grateful for them as we are for the sun.

Ours were really Sam’s tactics and strategies, but we’d tested them until they became undeniable and true. “Four things, Jonah,” he’d said more often than I could count. “We can’t trust anyone but each other, sympathy gets you dead, don’t get trapped, and stay put as often as you can. That’s how you stay safe.”

“What did we do?” I ask.

“What does that matter? Probably nothing. They’re out to finish us off and it doesn’t matter why. What matters is that we get out of here and fast.” She stops, crouches down with her back against the wall to tighten the laces of her boots. Her eyes never stop moving. “Are you coming?”

I don’t owe her anything, but the question makes me uneasy. The little apartment Sam and I shared is the only home I’ve ever known. Bethlehem is the only home I’ve ever known. I might have dreamed of finding a place with more to burn and something to eat besides rats and what little we could grow in our rooftop pots, but always in my plan there was time to prepare.

Sam would tell me no. Sam would tell me to go home and keep my head down until it all blew over.

“Jonah,” she says. It’s my name, but it sounds different coming from her. Sharper, maybe, or awake.

Echoing down the corridor are sounds of the Regulators’ search. They’re getting closer again, but another sound has joined their harsh melody and it drops from the high windows in rigid beats. Another team of Regulators is in the street. Not too near, by the sound of it, but I’ve never heard so many at one time.

Carly’s whole body is tensed and ready to move. Her eyes watch me, wide and dark and full of something I can’t name, but that I remember from before that last winter when the world went dark. It’s a look that matters.

“Where will we go?” I ask. “And how will we know it’s safe?”

She tucks her bottom lip between her teeth, drags it through pulling all the color from her lip into her mouth. Already, it’s a familiar gesture. “Anywhere but here. And,” she says with a shrug of her small shoulders, “we won’t.”

Another crash travels down the corridor. They’re coming now, it won’t take them long to find us if we stay. Nowhere is safe, I realize. Not when the threat of them is so near and so constant and not when they can make and break the rules without consequence. Believing in safety is what got Sam killed.

I nod and before I can think to stop myself, I’ve pulled her hand into mine. “West,” I say.

The cold star of Bethlehem is the first thing I see when we slip out of the building. It’s only a thin outline of gray wire against gray clouds, but I spot it as easily as if it were lit. With Carly’s hand in mine, we edge along buildings and down narrow alleyways, stopping whenever the slide-scrap of heavy boots grows too near. But she was right, they’re purging the block and though the buildings are loud with Regulators, the streets are empty.

It doesn’t take long before we’ve passed out of our block, out of Bethlehem and the only streets I’ve ever known.

My body is a constant vibration of cold and fear. This time, we aren’t just looking to survive the night. We aren’t just looking to scrape together enough to get us through the next hard freeze or the next long storm. This time, it’s about change.

For the first time, I feel that all of me is alive and that it matters.

*******
Valerie's up next! Check back on Monday for a new story!

Photo used with permission by J Moffat of Diamond Art on Flickr

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Bethlehem (Part 2 of 3)

I take a deep breath, shove open the door, and stop dead.

“Turn away, Jonah.” Sam would say. “Turn away and forget you saw it.” I back out the door, turn away and I almost try to forget. But then I remember that my brother Sam is dead.


The unmistakable click of a gun being cocked makes me freeze. In this dark, empty place, it sounds louder than the Regulators and their tanks. Hollow echoes tell me this space is full of metal doors, all of them closed. There’s nowhere to hide even if I could outrun a bullet.

I remember the time I got tired of sitting in our apartment staring at the walls while Sam was off doing whatever it was that ended up getting him killed, tired of him always telling me what to do. I threatened to leave and go Out West. “I can take care of myself,” I told him. Sam shook his head. “You wouldn’t last a month without me watching your back.”

Just like with everything else, Sam was right. Not even three weeks in and I’m a goner.

I raise my arms up high. “Wait,” I say. I twist my upper body slowly. “No sudden movements,” Sam would say.

“Don’t. Move.” She says.

I stop before I get turned around enough to face her. Her voice is surprisingly strong for someone so small. At least, she looked small from the glimpse I got. I thought she was younger, a little kid, maybe. But she sounds closer to my age, whatever that is. Sam guessed I was probably around seventeen by now. We used to keep track with our dad’s watch that told us the date but it died when I was eleven and Sam was fifteen. I don’t know how long ago that was, but I was seven the night the world went dark.

“I’m just looking for stuff to burn,” I say.

“You lie.” Her voice comes from directly behind my left ear. She moves quick. I never heard a thing, but now her breath tickles the back of my neck. “No one comes down here. You followed me.”

“I didn’t, I swear.” I try to turn to face her again, but she shoves her gun into my back. I switch tactics. “My name’s Jonah. I live in an apartment up the block.” I take a deep breath and turn around slowly. Sam always said eye contact was important whether you’re trying to intimidate someone or get them to trust you. I hear his voice in my head, “People are less likely to shoot you if you’re looking them in the eye.”

She keeps the gun pressed up against me as I turn, but she doesn’t tell me to stop this time. Her eyes are still red-rimmed and wet from the crying she’d been doing when I opened the door. It should make her look vulnerable but it doesn’t. The gun in her hand coupled with her tear-streaked face scream danger. I look into her glossy, dark eyes and speak as clearly and calmly as I can. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

She blinks and takes a step back, pointing the gun at my chest. “I know. You’re going to leave right now and never come back.”

I shake my head. “I can’t do that. I need heat.”

Her lip trembles and she pulls it into her mouth, biting it with her teeth. She squeezes her eyes shut and I hold my breath. This is it. I’m about to be reunited with Sam. It’s actually a relief. No more trying to make it on my own. I straighten up and brace for impact but it never comes. The girl blows out a long breath and lowers the gun.

“Carly,” she says and opens her eyes. She tilts her chin up to me and I see I was right, she is small. The top of her head only comes up to my shoulder. She must’ve been standing on her toes when she was behind me. “My name is Carly,” she says and then points at me with the gun. “Shut the door.”

I grab the handle and pull it closed. When I turn back to her she’s grabbed the lantern from the floor and moved into the far corner. With the light bouncing off the walls now, I see the room isn’t as big as I first thought. Double rows of boxes line one cinder block wall from floor to ceiling, they’re all labeled but it’s too dim to read and I can’t read much anyway. Two thin, narrow mattresses lie along the walls, meeting at the corner. Carly sits down on one and looks at me expectantly. I sit on the other, the lantern between us lights both of our faces.

I try to stare without staring. I’ve never seen a real girl before. Not up close. Only on the billboards that are still up around town, or in pictures in the magazines we found and burned. This girl looks nothing like the smiling, sun-baked girls in the magazines. Her skin is dark, but it’s still pale and I can see her bones through it. She’s all angles and shadows. When she hunches forward, her shoulder blades remind me of the birds that we used to see in Central Park. She’s cleaner than I’ve ever been in winter, when it’s too cold to jump in the river. And her long dark hair is mostly free of tangles. I can’t tell if she’s pretty. I have nothing real to compare her to, but I like the way she looks. She looks like hope. Even with the gun in her lap still pointed at me.

“Where are your people?” She asks.

I shrug. “It’s just me. Where are yours?”

“It’s just me, too.” She shrugs like I did, but a tear slips down her cheek, giving her away. She turns to the wall and swipes at it with her sleeve. “You took a big risk coming here.”

It’s not like I’m stupid. “Reckless,” Sam would say. But I thought that going out by myself for the first time since Sam disappeared – died, I remind myself. He didn’t come back, that means he’s dead. Just like Mom and Dad. I thought the best way to avoid the dangerous ones, was to go somewhere even they were afraid to go. “I figured no one else would ever come down here, so I’d be safe.”

She cocks her head and frowns at me. “No. I mean with everything that’s going on right now. It’s risky to go outside at all.”

“What are you--” Her hand clamps over my mouth, cutting me off. She puts a finger to her lips. A silent shhh.

Her eyes are inches from my face. Huge dark pools that beg me to keep still. To keep us both safe. Her eyes dart to the door and back to my face, telling me to listen. My heart pounds in my ears and at first I can’t tell the normal sounds of an abandoned building open to the wind from something more sinister. But then I hear it. The distinctive slide-scrape sound of the heavy metal suits and boots the Regulators wear. It’s growing louder, coming down the stairs toward us.

“We have to hide,” she whispers. I nod vigorously until she lets go of my mouth.

She grabs the gun and shoves it into the waistband of her pants. It won’t do anything against the Regulators but I feel better knowing she has it.

The Regulators have reached our level. Carly takes my hand and snuffs out the light. Sweat breaks out on my forehead and palms. My whole body is tensed, ready to go on her word. The scrape of the Regulators’ boots is so loud I can’t guess how many are out there. Maybe ten, maybe a thousand. I hear the clang of metal on metal as they pound at the doors around us. Any second they will reach ours and discover it’s unlocked.

Carly squeezes my hand and I realize I have to break Sam’s number one rule. I have to trust her.

“Now!” She shouts and then with surprising strength, she yanks me into the dark.


*******
Come back on Friday for part 3 by Natalie!

Photo used with permission by J Moffat of Diamond Art on flickr

Monday, December 6, 2010

Bethlehem (Part 1 of 3)

The last winter that time recorded started just like today, with a sky so bleak that you couldn’t tell where the earth ended and it began. It was the last winter I spent with my family in this same apartment, staring out this same window watching fat snowflakes fall. The last winter that would ever matter.

But it doesn’t matter today. Today I need food and things to burn. It’s light enough to start looking, but without the sun I can’t even guess the time. The sky is so thick and so gray, the city street so empty and muffled by snow, that it feels like I’m stuck in someplace in between.

My gloves might as well be fingerless, and my sweatshirt needs mended again, but on a day like today, I don’t have time to worry about them. I slide my news-papered feet into my father’s old work boots, tuck what paper I have left inside my shirt, and slip out the back way of our apartment building.

The Regulators set special times for the rest of us to scavenge. But the batteries in my alarm clock died long ago. I can only hope that I’m hitting that time frame. The street is empty, not a good sign, so I stick to the edges, ducking in between rusted cars abandoned on the streets of Manhattan almost a decade ago.

“You never go out after dark, Jonah,” my big brother Sam always said. Sam never could take his own advice, about anything. But he kept me alive for years after our parents died, so I still listen to him.

The bank just up the street was decorated for Christmas that winter. A lot of the houses in our neighborhood were, but the bank always had the best decorations; the gold lighted star on the roof, the giant wreath on the face of the building, and two smaller ones on the doors. The night the lights went out, it was like someone had snuffed the city right off the map. I bet you could see the blackout from outer space. If the Internet didn’t go out with them, Sam and I would’ve checked to see.

Most of the Christmas lights have been stripped off the walls and used for ropes and things over the years, but the gold lighted star on the roof still stands. It’s why Sam called our block Bethlehem.

I squat behind an old Escalade and listen. “Never stop in the same spot twice, if you can help it. Change it up,” Sam had said. And I do. I close my eyes because I can hear better when I can’t see. The wind swirls past me on both sides, and a piece of sheet metal clangs in the distance. I must’ve hit the right time frame. The Regulators don’t even try to be quiet when it’s their turn.

The soft crunch of my own footfalls in the snow is all I hear as I make my way down the sidewalk. I peek inside the cars and busses, but I know there’s nothing to find. They’ve all been picked clean. Even the bus seats have been removed over the years. But there’s still places to look. Places nobody looks because nobody wants to know what’s in there. Basements. Boiler rooms. Places where the sun never shines.

Up ahead I can make out the gray silhouette of the building I’m headed for. I don’t know what it’s called, or what it was. I was too young to know when the city was alive, and after it died, nobody cared to tell me. But it looks like an old storage building. I’ve been in it a few times with Sam, trying to pick or break through locks to get to whatever might be behind the pull-down metal doors. We might’ve had a screw driver and a flashlight at one time, but I don’t have those now. Still if I’m going to survive this winter in Bethlehem, I need to get inside those doors.

The front doors are broken, no glass left in them at all. I step through the frame, hoping for warmth inside, but I’m not so disappointed when I don’t find it. It’s open in the front room with all the windows broken out. The place I need to go has no windows.

I pass rows of looted lockers, stripped bare by scavengers, most likely The Regulators. All the furniture and clothing, toys, anything that would burn is long gone. My footsteps echo down the lonely hall. I try to catch a glimpse of sunlight outside as I pass an open window, but the sky is still gray. The streets are still empty. No Regulators, but no other scavengers either. It’s unusual, but it doesn’t matter. I’m here already and I need heat. I could probably go another two or three days without food if I have to, but not heat.

I make my way to the staircase that leads down to the basement to the more private lockers. Lockers that had probably cost three times as much to rent as the ones already looted. And these lockers are left untouched.

I pull open the door. The screech of the rusted hinges is amplified by the emptiness of the building and I jump back and duck behind a broken metal chair. Nobody comes after me, but my heart beats its self into my throat. I open the door and look down into blackness. No time to chicken out now. I have to go down there.

I take the stairs in twos until I reach the bottom and I stand there in total darkness, waiting for my eyes to adjust. I can just make out the outline of a door, like it’s just barely lit from the inside, but I know only more dark awaits. I feel along it for a handle. I keep telling myself there will be nothing down here. This part of the building is practically sealed. Nobody in Bethlehem has been brave enough to try and loot in the dark.

I take a deep breath, shove open the door, and stop dead.

“Turn away, Jonah.” Sam would say. “Turn away and forget you saw it.” I back out the door, turn away and I almost try to forget. But then I remember that my brother Sam is dead.

*******
Come back on Wednesday for part 2 by Valerie!

Photo used with permission by J Moffat of Diamond Art on flickr

Friday, December 3, 2010

Last Winter

I forgot how cold winter can be. The air feels like a thousand tiny pinpricks on my face as I follow Brant down the path between our houses.

“Come on, Avis,” he shouts at me over his shoulder. His breath is a thick white cloud against the night sky. “California hasn’t made you soft already, has it?”

“Ha. Ha.” I stick my tongue out at him and think how he’s got it backwards. He was the one that made me soft. California has made me strong.

It’s been months since anyone called me Avis. In Valencia, I’m That-New-Girl-Avery. As in, “You’re that new girl, Avery, right?” I like being new. When you’re new, people listen when you talk. They find you interesting. You can be anyone you want when no one knows who you were.

Out there, I’m not Avis, the geeky trumpet player. I’m Avery, the mysterious, artsy girl so brave she chose to move across the country for her senior year.

I slip-slide my way to the back of the house. Brant waits at the edge of his backyard, where the land drops off. He watches me fight my way through the snow, amused. The grin that used to melt my heart isn’t enough to keep me warm and I’m glad. It took the California sun to show me there are things that shine brighter than Brant.

I focus on the crunch of my boots as they sink calf deep in the snow. I make my own footprints instead of using Brant’s. I want to take it all in. I’ve never paid attention to the scent of winter before, but I do now. It’s bitter and sharp and thick with pine.

When I reach the ridge, I look down at the pristine slope waiting for us. The perfect sledding hill, if only it didn’t end ten feet from the road. Across the street below, the Johnsons have put up their annual Christmas display. The whole house glows with a rainbow of colored dots. Even from up here I can read the glitter-covered letters that spell out WINTER WONDERLAND.

Brant has his hands behind his head, enjoying the view. “I can’t imagine living somewhere that doesn’t have winter.”

“Yeah,” I say. Not because I agree, but because I can’t picture him living anywhere but right here. He fits in this tiny town in a way that I never will.

Brant turns to me. Snowflakes stick to his eyelashes and the earflaps of the corny hat he always wears. I want to brush them away, but I don’t. “Ready?” He scrunches up his face like he’s not sure I can handle it.

I give him my best badass stare. “I was born ready.”

He laughs, but his eyes pierce mine when he reaches out and takes my hand. It’s the same look he had when I answered the door tonight. Like he’s searching for something he expected to see.

Butterflies flit around in my stomach and I shoot them down. It’s not supposed to be like this. I force a smile, breathe in the crisp air. “On the count of three?”

He squints at me for a second, but then he nods, back to normal. “On three.”

I get the same rush I have every time. I want to fly down this hill. He squeezes my hand for courage even though neither of us need it anymore, and I squeeze back. In this moment, we’re me-and-Brant at six, or ten, or any age before things got complicated.

Back when we still had all the time in the world.

We count together. “One. Two. THREE!”

I can’t hold in the squeal of joy when we break into a run, giving ourselves over to gravity. All my layers strip away in the wind until I’m the old me. The girl who ran screaming and giggling down hills with her best friend and didn’t care what anyone else thought. The girl who believed love could conquer all.

It’s over too soon. We land in a tangled heap at the bottom. I can’t remember snow in my face ever feeling this good. I grab a handful and shove it in Brant’s face so he can feel it too. And then we’re at war, flinging snowball after snowball at each other. Running and falling and laughing until we’re breathless.

Brant holds up his hands in surrender. “Truce.”

The cold air burns my throat but I gulp it down and shake my head yes. Truce.

We walk together to the only patch of snow we haven’t destroyed. Brant stretches his arms out and I move next to him and do the same. When we’re side by side and fingertip to fingertip, we fall back into the untouched snow. Icy powder slips down the neck of my jacket but I hardly notice. We go into a flapping frenzy, trying to outdo each other with the biggest, best snow angel. And then finally, we stop, exhausted but exhilerated, and let the stillness of the night settle over us.

I want to freeze this moment. To etch every detail into not just my memory, but my bones.

The blinking colors of the Christmas lights turn the sky into a kaleidoscope. Flakes so fat they don’t even look real float down. The neighborhood is hushed under its blanket of snow and if I stare straight up it’s like being inside a snow globe. Just me and Brant in our own private winter wonderland.

Before I left, living in this town made me feel trapped. Like there was this better world on the other side of the glass, but I couldn’t reach it. Now, being inside those same glass walls feels sacred. My time here is fragile and rare and I know I can’t stay.

I hear the rustle of Brant’s hat against the snow as he shifts his head to face me.

“Hey, Avis.” He sounds different, soft.

I want to look at him, but I’m afraid of what I might see. “Yeah?”

“Are you happy out there?”

I am Avery, I think. I am funny and interesting and brave. I am who I’m supposed to be. “Yeah,” I say to the clouds. “I think I am.”

When I don’t meet his gaze, he turns back to the sky. “Good.”

I picture what we must look like from above. Two fallen angels in the snow, our innocence long gone. But even as I try to paint the image in my mind, I see it all spinning away from me. Everything. Graduation. College. Life. Brant on the inside of the glass, me locked out. This last winter already drifting out of reach. And all I can do is lie here and watch me-and-Brant become the past.

Brant taps my foot with his, his voice hoarse. “I miss you.”

The whole world is silent.

I want to tell him he’s too late. He should’ve missed me all the summers I went to band camp, or the times I went to visit my dad. But it’s too late for that, too. “You’ll get over it.”

The wind picks up, swirling the snow around and making me shiver. The stars listen to us breathe. In and out, side by side, our breaths more ragged than they should be by now.

“I know.” He lets out one long sigh. “That’s what makes it so sad.”


*****
Come back Monday when we get together for an all new tangled short started by Lacey!

Photo via weheartit

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Prophet

This is my curse: I will tell you your future, but you won’t believe me.

***

My apartment was tiny, which was why the trainer’s sharp knock sounded like a volcano erupting through my front door.

He was short and round and gruff, and he made no attempts at polite introductions. “You’re that prophet chick, yeah?” His voice was no surprise, shattered and coarse.

I had never been addressed so informally as a temple prophet, but it didn’t bother me anymore. No purpose was served in trying to be friendly and I much preferred speed over formality these days.

I nodded and told him my fee, which was low enough to be acceptable and high enough to keep me fed.

He pulled his tongue over his teeth, sucking them as he considered my offer. “Right,” he said at last. “You see this boy here? I want to know if he’ll win.”

Following his quick jerk of a gesture, I saw that a boy slouched against the wall not too far down my hall. He wore a dark green hoodie that hung loosely around him. I didn’t need to be a seer to know what strength lay just beneath the dark folds.

I held out my hand to him and after a moment, he pushed away from the wall and took it. Heavy calluses coated the skin of his palms and the pads of his fingers. These were warriors hands, but the little smile he flashed me held nothing of the battle rage inside it.

“I’m Troy,” he said. His eyes were an endless mosaic of emerald and earth.

“Kassandra,” I said and though I tried not to smile, I felt the edges of my lips rise.

With my eyes closed, I listened and his future came to me on the back of a snake’s whisper. I heard them speak of blood and death and pain, but also of victory.

“He will win,” I said to the trainer and saw in his frown that he would not believe me. But when my prophecy came to pass, he would remember and he would tell his friends and they would come seeking my council. It was always this way.

I took his money and I closed the door.

***

I didn’t expect to see him again, but I was glad to find Troy at my door on the day after his match. His smile was small and uncertain beneath black and purple bruises. They made a strangely beautiful pair on his face.

He’d won, of course, and his victory had been replayed on all the major channels. Arena matches always made good news, but his was exceptional because he was seventeen and unlikely.

“Wondering who your new trainer might be?” I asked. The news channels had also covered the trainer’s lack of confidence in such an excellent fighter with glee. He’d lost everything betting on the other guy. Troy was in the market and probably drowning in prestigious offers.

He grinned as much as his bruises allowed. “Not exactly. I was wondering if you’d like to get dinner with me.” His eyes narrowed suddenly. “Or did you know that already?”

I couldn’t help but laugh. I couldn’t remember the last time someone knocked on my door without asking for the future.

“It doesn’t work quite like that,” I answered honestly. Somewhere behind me, wind chimes sang lightly from my little third story balcony. The breeze that teased the song from them tickled my chin and I said, “Yes, I would love to.”

***

“Be quiet and wait here.” I pulled a comb through my hair and straightened the creases of my dress.

“You won’t even know I’m here,” he said, kissing the palm of my hand and falling back on the bed.

The woman at my door was small with age. All of her seemed to bed toward the ground, her mouth was a sour, orange peel of a pout. She thrust out her fist full of cash with a little grunt.

“I must know,” she said in a voice that had lost all consistency and was as flimsy as maple syrup. “Will my granddaughter survive the trip?”

I took her hand and waited for the snakes in my ears to share their secrets. They spoke of darkness and elation and of an illness too great to defeat.

“No,” I said. “Please, believe me, she will not survive.”

***

The news of her death came two weeks later. I sat on the couch with my legs draped across Troy’s lap. The air was thick with the scent of rosemary and roast chicken because Troy had decided we should try being domestic for the evening.

But the little girl had gone with her father on the hike to the top of Mount Atlas and had mistakenly eaten the poison berry that grows in those cold woods. The reporter called it a tragedy before cutting to footage of the grandmother with the orange peel mouth sobbing into a kerchief.

“Why don’t they believe you?” Troy asked sounding distressed.

I gave the only answer I could, knowing that no matter how he might love me, it would be the same for him as it had been for my mother and my father and my two sisters. “They can’t.”

***

“Tell me my future, Kay,” Troy said into my ear. He tugged the lobe through his teeth and planted a kiss on my neck.

I laughed and turned in his arms so that my nose brushed over his. Tracing the three grooved scars that traveled down his left cheek, I frowned at the knowledge that he would once again enter the arena, this time to face a man twice his age and size.

“You know I won’t.” I said. “No futures.”

He brought his hands to my cheeks. “I will believe you. I promise.”

I still refused, but as he slept that night, I wove my fingers through his and listened to the snakes in my ears. They told me that he would make a choice, that in the end he would chose to let his opponent live and this would be his death.

And I wept knowing that he would die because he was kind, and I wept because I would make him break his promise to me.

When he woke, I said, “Troy, you must let him live in the end. Don’t kill him,” knowing that he would be unable to do as I said because of my curse and instead, he would kill the man who would have killed him.

He smelled like leather and soap when he leaned down to kiss me with a smile on his lips. “As you say, my lady prophet.”

***

The stands were filled to the top. I sat in the middle of them, my heart louder than all the screaming spectators could ever be.

The fight was brutal and long, which always pleased the arena keepers. Soon, blood shone on the dusty ground and on the metal of swords and shields. The smell of popcorn in the air made me sick.

And then Troy had knocked his opponent to the ground. Dust hung in the air around his feet as he crouched over the man to see if he lived. I waited to see his sword rise for the killing blow, but he lifted his gaze instead and found me in the middle of a thousand raging fans. It seemed that he smiled then, with his mosaic eyes on mine, and then he stood.

The world was a lion’s roar when I realized he’d kept his promise.

The world was a distant hum when I realized what that meant.

And the world was silent when the sword split his skin and slid into his heart.


***
Check back on Friday for fiction from Valerie!

Photo courtesy of Foreign Roads via Flickr Creative Commons

Monday, November 29, 2010

Vampires And Almost First Kisses

Jack stands beside me, mouth open, eyes wide, as we stare down into an empty trunk. The heat of the exhaust burns my leg through my jeans, but I can’t move away from it. The trunk is empty.

“Where the hell’d it go?” Jack asks.

I shake my head. “How’d it get out?”

Jacky slams the trunk closed and turns around to lean against it. I do the same. The cicadas buzz so loud out here at night it’s impossible to hear anything else, so there’s no point being on guard. Besides, not even Jack can outrun a pissed off vampire. After being knocked over the head with a tire iron, wrapped in silver chains, and thrown in a trunk, I’m sure I’d be pretty pissed too. Vampires aren’t known for their happy-go-lucky attitudes.

“What do you wanna do?” I ask.

“I guess we go home.”

“We can’t go home without finishing a job, Jacky. You know that.”

He shrugs. “Who has to know?”

He’s right. Mama would kill us if she knew I was on a vamp hunt, on account I’m only supposed to be doing ghosts and only one hunt a week, so we didn’t tell her about it. And this was a side job; Jacky didn’t get the order from Mac, his boss with bounty hunting and at the garage, so he doesn’t know either. It’s probably not the smartest thing to do, going out without telling anyone in case something happens, like a vampire goes missing from your trunk. But Jack needed the money to fix the Chevelle, and the pay was right.

I steal a glance at Jack and watch him fish a pack of camel cigarettes from the pocket of his flannel shirt. I could tell myself I’m just along for the ride, but I’ve never been much of a liar. Jack taps out a cigarette and leans forward to light it. His dark hair falls over his eyes. I have to fight the urge to brush it back so I can see his eyes.

“So we goin’ home or you feel like lookin’ for it?” He blows out a puff of smoke, rubs his fingers over his sideburns.

“What about the client?”

He shrugs. “I’ll handle it.”

Mama isn’t home and she thinks I’m at Amanda’s house. I don’t want to go home and be bored and alone. And Jacky could really use the money to fix up the car. It feels wrong to back out now. “Let’s just go find it. Not like we had any other plans for tonight.”

“Fine by me,” he says, tossing his cigarette to the ground. “It can’t be too far. Split up?”
I want more than anything to prove myself to Jack, but splitting up on a vamp hunt? Especially one who is bound to be madder than hornets and was smart enough to get out of a locked trunk? “I think we should stick together on this one,” I say.

“Yeah, probably right. Damn things are hard enough to catch the first time.” Jack takes his Colt out of the glove compartment, double checks to make sure it’s loaded with the silver bullets with crosses etched into them, and then he grabs the bottle of holy water from the duffle bag in back of the car. He tosses it at me along with my stake--cow oak, Daddy made it for me.
“Get the chain too?”

“Good idea,” he says smiling at me. I turn away so he doesn’t see the blush on my cheeks. Once we’re both fully loaded, we head down the dirt road, leaving the Chevelle behind. Hunting is always done best on foot. If we get too far ahead, we’ll go back and move the car farther up the road. It takes a lot of time, but the car is too loud to find anything. And if we leave it too far back? Vampires are very fast.

Out of all the monsters we hunt, vampires are my least favorite. Fast, strong, and on top of that, they’ve got God-only-knows how many years of intelligence and experience. The perfect predator.

“Any theories on how it got out?” Jack asks.

“Um.” I rack my brain for something smart to say. I’m no expert on any of the Darks, Jacky is. He usually knows everything, but he’s asking me what I think. “They’re strong. It could’ve just broken the lock and we didn’t notice.”

“The lock looked fine to me.”

“Oh.” I ramble off a few other theories, just to have something to say. Then all of a sudden Jacky stops at a wall of trees. He sniffs at the air.

“It’s in here.”

“You sure?”

He nods. “I’ve been out here before. Lot’s of times. It smells different.”
“You come way out here? For what?” My lips snap shut as soon as I ask. None of my business what he does when he’s not working, much as I want it to be.
He shrugs. “It’s quiet.”

I listen, expecting to hear the cicadas, but there’s nothing. No sounds from the main road. No bugs. No owls. Nothing but heavy quiet. Jack hears things ten times louder than normal people, so I get his need for quiet. “It’s nice.” Well, except for the vampire somewhere in the dark.
“Yeah, and look at that.”

I follow his gaze up to the sky. It’s the most velvety blue, with more stars than I’ve ever seen. “Wow.”

Jack laughs and nudges my shoulder. I smile at him, close my eyes and breathe him in; cigarettes, cologne, and something else. Something unique to Jack that I can only describe as woodsy. His fingers find mine and lock together. He squeezes my hand. “You ready to go in?”

“Yeah.” I try to let go of his hand, even though I really don’t want to, and take the first step into the dark woods, but he pulls me back.

“Wait. Hey, Charlie?”

“Yeah, Jack?”

“There’s somethin’ I been wantin’ to do. And I know now ain’t the best time but--” He looks up at the sky, so full of stars, “--before we go in there.” He brings his free hand up to touch my hair. His thumb brushes my cheek and I suck in a breath. “I wanted to thank you. For comin’ out here with me tonight, even though you didn’t have to. And for, you know, huntin’ it twice.” He chews on his lip, brings his face a little closer to mine.

I draw a breath, steeling myself. This is it. He’s finally going to make a move. He leans in closer. I can just imagine how his lips will feel on mine. I’ve imagined it thousands of times.

A twig snaps. Jack’s shoulders stiffen and his head flips up, looking over me. “Aw, sh—”The vampire sails into him sending them both flying into the trees.

“Jack!” I chase after them, cursing the whole way. Stupid vampires.

The vampire throws him into a tree, splinters of wood go flying, and then he pins Jack up against it. “I’ve never tasted a werewolf before,” he says. “I’ve always thought you guys had more hair.”

Jack shoves him back. But the vampire is up and after him again before he can get himself away from the tree. They wrestle, the vampire hissing and Jacky growling. Then the vampire shoves Jack up against another tree.

“I’m a hairless. It’s a new breed,” Jack says to the vampire, but his eyes are on me. He sees me sneaking up from behind the vamp. We both know the damn thing could hear me miles away, but the big bad wolf never expects much from little red.

The vampire laughs. He throws his head back, mouth open, in that annoying way they all do right before they bite. I take that split second to pull my stake from its holster and drive it into his back. He screeches, then falls dead at my feet, shriveling up into the old, moldy corpse he should be.

Jack brushes some wood splinters and tree bark from his shoulders. “Damn thing almost bit me.”
“Now you know I wouldn’t allow that.” Especially after it interrupted what I hope was our almost first kiss. I really hate vampires.

“Nice work,” he says, pulling out my stake and wiping it off on his jeans. “Let’s get this to the client and collect.”

“Yeah.” I kick the corpse.

Jack, only slightly out of breath, eyes glistening with adrenaline, grabs it by the ankle and starts dragging it back toward the car, forgetting all about what almost happened. I could tell myself I’m glad the vampire turned up so that Jacky and me could get paid for finding it. But I’ve never been much of a liar.

*******
Check back Wednesday for another full short by Natalie!

Photo by {peace&love♥} on flickr

Monday, November 22, 2010

We Break for Turkeys

In honor of the day of baked birds and cranberries, we are taking a break this week because - let's face it - it's hard to write in a food coma.  We will be back the week of November 29th with individual short stories from each of us.  And we'll have a fresh batch of tangles coming in December! 

Our schedule will look a little something like this with fewer question marks:

Nov. 29 - Dec. 3: Individual Shorts - LNV
Dec. 6 - 10: LVN
Dec. 13 - 17: VNL
Dec. 20 - 24: WE BREAK FOR ELVES
Dec. 27 - 31: Something clever? Individual shorts? Witty conversation? A post dedicated to the number of words you can spell with LVN?

Also!  A quick reminder that you can find all of the pieces of our various stories neatly cobbled together in our Tangles Past Archive.  The link for this is also in our nav bar (above) for quick and easy access because we love you.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  We'll see you on the flip side!


Friday, November 19, 2010

Kiss Of Death (Part 3 of 3)


Johnathan’s lips brushed her nose, then her cheek. As his kisses neared her mouth, a pounding at the door startled them both. Johnathan motioned for Rosemina to be still.

“Woodsman! Open your door, by order of the Queen!”


Rosemina was at once frightened and relieved. The guard at the door was surely here to escort her to the gallows, yet he had very likely saved the Woodsman from meeting the Prince’s fate. Rosemina stepped away from Johnathan, covering her traitorous lips with one hand. How could she have thought to kiss him when he had been so kind?
“Woodsman!” The guard shouted again.

"Cover your face," he spoke softly to Rosemina and gestured to the bed where a small pile of blankets sat folded at the foot. "All will be well. I promise you."

“Wait,” she begged as the guard again pounded on the door. It was not only her face that would belie the truth of her identity, but the satin and velvet of her garments. With her hands moving as quickly as her heart, Rosemina wrapped herself from head to toe in the gray and brown blankets of homespun and wool.

Just as she lowered a thin piece of gray wool over her face, the Woodsman opened the door, for fear the guard would burn his meager home to ashes.  As the guard pushed Johnathan aside to enter, Rosemina could see through the fibers before her eyes that the Queen had again ordered his helmet sealed at the neck. Her kisses would be no defense against this man. It would take the magic of the Queen’s sorcerers to unbind that metal.

“Please,” Johnathan opened his hands before him. Empty as they were, Rosemina now knew they saw the world as clearly as did her own eyes. “Forgive me, good sir, my wife is ill and tired and wishes no visitors. What is it the Queen desires of a humble Woodsman and his wife?”

Rosemina found it difficult not to gasp and fidget as Johnathan spoke. Again she thought of the Prince and his beautiful smile as he said the word ‘wife.’ Only a few moments after, he was dead.

The guard loomed very near Rosemina. She could see as little of his face as he could of hers, but she was certain he scowled behind the metal shield. Much as she wanted to, she did not move lest her wrappings fall away and reveal the riches hidden beneath them.

“Your wife, you say?” When the guard spoke, his breath was strong and sour through the grate. Rosemina stifled a cough and wondered that more people weren’t killed by kisses. Surely a mouth that rotten was every bit as poisonous as her own lips. “What’s wrong with her face?”

“As I said, she is quite ill. The – light. It’s too much for her eyes.” The pause was a small one, but noticeable and Rosemina coughed in the hopes of convincing the guard of her illness. But it was not enough and the guard demanded she remove her shawl and turn her face to him.

It took very little imagination to know the guard’s lips curled back over his rotten teeth as Rosemina slowly removed the cloth from her head. “Now, prove she’s your wife,” the guard said and Rosemina shivered. “Kiss her.”

“No,” she whispered as Johnathan took her face in his hands, but he whispered over her lips that all would be well. But Rosemina was not convinced. No man in his right mind would have moved to kiss her so quickly. There was no doubt in her mind that Johnathan had been compelled.

His lips fell on hers before she could draw another breath to protest and even as the warmth of them soothed her, she felt that this kiss was no different from all of the others. Again she cast her wish to the sky, Let there be one soul whose life would not end with her kiss. Let that soul be his, but even as she did, she remembered the smell of roses and despaired.

If she could have made that kiss last a lifetime, she would have, for his lips were sweet as honey. But Johnathan, who was perhaps more aware of the guard’s gaze than Rosemina, pulled his lips from hers. It was done, her fate and his sealed with a kiss. She would either die today or a Woodsman’s wife.

Rosemina drew a deep breath, looked into Johnathan’s clouded eyes, and again dared to hope.

*****
Thank you for reading!  Remember, if you'd like to read the full story, check out our archive.  We'll be taking one week off for Thanksgiving, but starting Nov. 29th, come back for individual short stories by each of us!
Photo via weheartit.com - if this is your photo let us know so we can credit you!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kiss Of Death (Part 2 of 3)

The Prince gave Rosemina’s hand a reassuring squeeze and she turned to him just in time to see his face go slack. “My lord?”

Without a word, the Prince collapsed dead at her feet.


A stunned silence befell the spectators. Rosemina stood frozen, gazing down at the Prince’s body, willing him to wake. Surely, he was playing a trick. He had been protected by the kingdom’s finest physicians and most powerful sorcerers. If anyone were to break her curse, it would be him.

When the Prince didn’t rouse, the Queen ordered her men to arrest Rosemina. But Rosemina was light on her feet, and the men were clad in heavy armor. She pushed her way through the crowd and headed into the forest. She ran as fast and far as she was able, until she came upon a small clearing where she fell to her knees and wept.

“Hello,” said a voice from the shadows of the wood. The figure of a young man came toward her. Rosemina shied away, not wanting to meet the eyes of anyone, let alone another man. “Don’t be frightened,” he said. “My name is Johnathan.” The man held out his hand.

“My name is…Magnaline.” Rosemina pulled her hood up over her head and tried to shield her face. She knew that if he were to see her, he too would be compelled to kiss her. She would not send another innocent man to his death. “Don’t look at me. Please.”

Johnathan laughed. “I wouldn’t dare,” he said as he stepped out of the shadows. Johnathan was plain but handsome. His well-groomed hair fell over his ears in light brown waves, but the feature that stood out to her most were his eyes, cloudy grey and unfocused.

“You’re blind?”

“Yes, but even I know that you’ve been weeping. I don’t live very far. If you’d like, I could offer you a meal and a place to sleep, and return you safely to your home in the morning. ”

Rosemina knew, as horrible as it were, that if this man proved to be untrustworthy she needed only to kiss him. Having nowhere else to go, and not much light left in the day, she accepted his offer and followed him to a quaint little cottage nestled deep within the forest.

Johnathan prepared a small meal for the two and readied his own bed with clean linens for Rosemina. He hadn’t asked why Rosemina had been crying or where she had come from, but she felt after the kindness he’d shown her, that he deserved to know her story. “My name isn’t Magnaline,” she said.

“Oh?”

Rosemina detected the amusement in his voice. “You know who I am, don’t you?”

“I’ve heard tell of a girl so beautiful that no man can resist her kiss.”

“And you’ve heard of what becomes of such men?”

“I have. And I know that this girl was summoned by the Prince only this morning. One can only assume the lady’s curse remains unbroken?”

A wave of sadness overcame Rosemina at the mention of the young Prince.

“Rosemina?” Johnathan reached across the table and caressed her cheek. “May I?”

“Yes,” she whispered. Johnathan moved his hand down her chin. He felt her jaw, her nose, her brow. “You are beautiful,” he said. A tear fell from her cheek onto his thumb. “Come.” Johnathan stood and pulled her to her feet.

“No,” she said. “You mustn’t.”

He smiled. “I cannot be compelled to kiss you, Rosemina.” He held out his hand. “Perhaps I could be the one to break this curse.”

Rosemina hesitated. If she took his hand, he would pull her to him. He would kiss her, she was certain. She wanted more than anything to break her curse, and he was a man who could not be lured by her beauty. A man who could kiss her of his own free will. But if it didn’t work, could she watch him die at her hand?

“I promise you, it will be worth it,” he said. “For the both of us.”

So distraught and full of longing, Rosemina made her wish again, Let there be one soul whose life would not end with her kiss. Let that soul be his. She stepped closer to Johnathan and took his hand.

He wrapped his arms around her. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to hope. Johnathan’s lips brushed her nose, then her cheek. As his kisses neared her mouth, a pounding at the door startled them both. Johnathan motioned for Rosemina to be still.

“Woodsman! Open your door, by order of the Queen!”

*****
Come back Friday for the conclusion by Natalie!
Photo via weheartit.com - if this is your photo let us know so we can credit you!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Kiss Of Death (Part 1 of 3)

Rosemina first encountered her curse at age five when the neighbor boy chased her behind the rosebushes, pressed his sticky, candy-covered lips against hers and promptly fell down dead. To this day the taste of chocolate and the scent of roses are synonymous with death in Rosemina’s mind.

Rosemina’s beauty was exquisite. So lovely was she, that every boy who laid eyes upon her felt compelled to kiss her. And so it was many years, and many ill-fated kisses, before Rosemina and the rest of the village came to understand it was not merely misfortune that caused all of her suitors to die. It was Rosemina.

You see, her lips were poisonous.

The town leaders held a meeting and it was decided that Rosemina must be confined to her house whenever possible. At those times when it was necessary she venture out, her lips must always be covered, lest any boy unable to control his urges be killed.

Rosemina’s father built a cottage in the forest at the very edge of town and there she spent her days, shunned and alone.

The years passed and Rosemina grew both lovelier and lonelier. On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, Rosemina made a wish on a falling star. Let there be one soul whose life would not end with her kiss. One soul she could love and be loved by.

The next morning Rosemina woke to a vigorous pounding on the cottage door. Her father’s shouts brought her into the front room where he struggled with men in full armor. “You will not take her! I forbid it!”

“What is this, Father?”

At the sound of her voice, which was almost as lovely as she, the men released her father. They swayed at the sight of Rosemina and she was glad to see that as a precaution, their helmets had been sealed shut.

Rosemina listened with budding hope as her father explained that the King’s son had heard tales of her beauty and wanted to be the one to break her curse himself. She did not hear the edge of fear in her father’s voice, only the news that her wish had come true. For, surely, if anyone could break her curse, it would be a prince.

Rosemina was dizzy with happiness, an emotion so unfamiliar that she stumbled more than walked her way to the awaiting carriage. She barely noticed the way the King’s men avoided her once she was safely locked inside. Rosemina found it far more exciting to watch the world go by knowing that this time, it was she leaving it behind.

It was only when they arrived at the castle, with its great outdoor stage and crowd of spectators, that Rosemina became nervous. Before she had a chance to dwell on her fears, she was yanked from the carriage by more hands than she had ever felt at one time.

The Queen’s ladies oohed and ahhed over her as they pulled her along stone corridors, stripped her of her “filthy rags” and shoved her in the deepest, warmest bath she had ever felt. She had a moment, before the scrubbing began, to think that if heaven were anything like this, being put to death would be just fine.

When Rosemina was dressed in so much finery she could hardly stand upright, the Queen paid her a visit. Rosemina felt her cheeks go warm under the older woman’s gaze. The Queen made a slow circle around Rosemina, piercing her with a glare. “Do you intend to murder my son?”

Rosemina gasped at the Queen’s directness, but held her head high when she replied. “No, your Highness.”

The Queen cocked her head, her voice a touch warmer this time. “This curse, what do you know of it? Who cursed you?”

“I know nothing, your Highness. I believe I was born this way.”

The Queen pursed her lips and glowered at Rosemina. “Hear my words, girl. Our wisest physicians and most powerful sorcerers have prepared protective potions and talismans for the Prince, but if you bring death to this castle, it’s your head I’ll have.”

Rosemina drew in a shaky breath. “Yes, your Highness.”

“Cover her,” said the Queen to her ladies. She left the room as a velvet hood came down over Rosemina’s face, shrouding her in darkness.

As she was lead to the outdoor stage, Rosemina reminded herself that in the old stories, it was always the Prince’s kiss that broke the curse. Soon she would be free. No longer the town pariah, but a princess.

Rosemina knew she’d reached the stage when she heard the murmur of the crowd. The velvet hood was pulled gently from her head and the audience gasped. She found herself looking into the astonished eyes of the Prince.

His face broke into a wide grin. “You’re even more beautiful than the stories said.”

Rosemina tingled with pride. For the first time in her life, she was glad to be beautiful. Glad that someone wanted to kiss her. “As are you, your Highness.”

The Prince’s eyes widened with surprise and then he laughed. “I think I’m going to enjoy having you as my wife.”

Rosemina’s cheeks ached from smiling. Her years of suffering had been worthwhile if only to bring her to this moment.

The Prince held up his hand and the crowd silenced. “Now, let’s take care of that curse, shall we?”

Rosemina nodded, no longer caring if she appeared too eager. The Prince cupped her face in his hands and leaned forward. His lips were soft and warm and gentle as they touched hers. She sank into them, certain that this was what kissing was supposed to feel like. All too soon, the Prince pulled away. She opened her eyes and he grinned with pride. The crowd erupted in cheers.

Rosemina laughed with joy and relief when the Prince reached for her hand and held it aloft in victory. She looked back at the King and Queen who smiled from their thrones.

The Prince gave Rosemina’s hand a reassuring squeeze and she turned to him just in time to see his face go slack. “My lord?”

Without a word, the Prince collapsed dead at her feet.


*****
Come back Wednesday for Part 2 written by Lacey!
Photo via weheartit.com - if this is your photo let us know so we can credit you!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

This post brought to you by the letter 'T'

We have an announcement to make.

*ahem*

We have heard from a few readers that they prefer waiting until Friday to read the full story all in one go and we think this is pretty keen and have been brainstorming on how to make this easier. And we've done it. Prepare yourselves.

We have created an archive of Tangled Fiction Fulls.

Impressive, right? Once the story has been posted in full, we'll be compiling all of the pieces into a single document and loading them into the archive.

Quick side note - you'll notice that we have installed IntenseDebate in order to thread comments, so please use that feature! It will let you comment as a guest, create an IntenseDebate profile, or sign-in with your Twitter or Facebook account.

The Tangled Trio now has two completed shorts up and and I have to say our latest is my favorite so far. Seeing where Valerie and Lacey took this one was exhilarating. You can find it here: What Wishes Are Made Of.

Thanks for reading, everyone!

*Photo by hamadryades via Flickr Creative Commons (This is a vision of our future...we have room to grow!)

  © Blogger template Shush by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP