Happyish Ending

Sharon’s note: I got this idea from a discussion in the chat of an AutoCrit video. The line was “He said I’d gotten stronger. I agreed, so I punched him in the face.” I wanted to build on that idea, so here it is. Warning: Author took an idea and ran with it.

Something they never mention about world changing fantastical adventures is how much you hurt afterwards. I’d spent the last month training with my brand new magical sword, but no amount of hacking at dummies and sparing partners can prepare you for an hour long slog through a goblin horde. And then there was the smell. My arms burned and I reeked of blood. And other things. Best not to think about the other things.

Everyone was checking out the Goblin Kings treasure, and I just wanted to sit down. I couldn’t even sit on the recently vacated throne because Prince Come-With-Me-To-Save-My-Kingdom had planted his royal butt on it. He wasn’t covered in goblin guts. Why wasn’t he covered in goblin guts? And where had he been during that entire fight? I didn’t remember seeing him. Oh, well. It didn’t matter. I just wanted to sit down.

I plopped down on a convenient piece of floor a little ways away from everyone else and dropped my sword next to me. It desperately wanted cleaning, but I figured it could wait. It wasn’t like I had to worry about keeping it in pristine shape. I was a waitress from Austin. I didn’t need a magic sword. Assuming I decided to go back. Did I have to go back? There wasn’t any particular reason I needed to. I didn’t have any family to speak of. I didn’t have any close friends. Work had probably replaced me the day after I disappeared into Prince Fancy-Pant’s portal. No one had ever said anything about me having to go home.

I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes. It had been a rough couple of months. Even with everything that had happened, I still couldn’t justify to myself why I’d followed the man who looked like a renaissance fair runaway through the glowing portal in my bedroom. The best I could come up with was ‘because he’d told me to’. He’d called me the chosen one. I’d never been chosen for anything before. I’d never really mattered before. God, that me was a long ways away.

Since I’d been the girl who’d had no direction and just done whatever anyone said to do, I’d jumped into a magic land, ridden a flying horse, accidentally killed a wizard, journeyed across said land to an undead elven sword smith, faced a legendary test of fear and self-realization, won the right to wield a magic sword, spent a month training with an epic hero to learn to use the magic sword, carved my way through a goblin army, and slain their evil king.

I almost felt bad about the wizard, but he was the one who tried to make me his ‘prophesy bride’. What he meant by that, I would never know, but I gained a talking horse out of the ordeal. Horus hadn’t been able to follow me into the tunnels, but had promised to be waiting outside. I don’t know what I would have done without Horus. The horse was wise beyond belief and had helped talk me through a lot of my issues. Reynard, my instructor, was also somewhere around. Despite his insistence that it was his time, he had not perished in the push to the throne room. He was another reason I was still alive. Even with a magic sword that enhanced my skills and prowess, a girl needed a little training.

“His highness would like to speak to you.” I opened my eyes to see Illia standing before me. Her slight old form was bowed, whether from exhaustion or respect, I couldn’t tell. It had been a long day for her too and, though most of this was the old seer’s fault, I couldn’t be mad at her. She made the prophesy, but she didn’t choose what it said. Besides, things hadn’t turned out all bad. In some ways, this was better. I’d had a purpose. An identity. Now that the prophesy was fulfilled, I wasn’t sure what to do, but I felt more optimistic about the future than I had in a long time.

With a groan and various popping noises, I used the wall to get up. When I bent over to pick up my sword, my back screamed at me and I groaned. Illia didn’t say anything, but she stared at me with a disapproving eyebrow raised. She was always saying that the young had no room to complain, and it was a kindness on her part that she wasn’t mocking me. Either that or she was too tiered.

The prince was still sitting on the throne, directing his people to remove the treasure. Always one to keep his eye on financials, was Prince East. He was handsome and clever, and when He’d showed up in my apartment, I’d been duly impressed. After all, he had whisked me away to a world of fantasy, so we were bound to fall in love, right? Yeah, that didn’t happen. East was elitist, vain, overbearing, sexist, and just really unpleasant. It had taken me a depressingly long time to realize it, but he didn’t care for me. Even after that sank through my thick skull, it took going through my trial of self-realization and confronting why all my relationships, romantic or otherwise, had failed to understand that I didn’t want him.

The prince grinned at me from his brand-new throne, all pleased like he had just defeated an army to claim it. I tapped the flat of my sword on my leg, a habit I’d picked up from my tutor, and waited for him to tell me what he wanted. East stood, arrogantly sauntered over, and put his hand on my shoulders.

“Ah, Annabella!” He grinned widely.

I sighed and hopelessly tried one more time. “It’s Annabelle. There’s an ‘e’ not an ‘a’ at the end. I’ve been telling you that for two months. Please, please get it right just once.”

“Right. Right. Sorry.” His mouth scrunched to one side. He didn’t like being corrected. Screw him. “Were you hurt during the battle? Do you need to see the healer?”

My eyebrows shot up. That was unexpected. “No. I’m fine. The magic sword did its job. Um, thanks for asking.”

“Excellent!” He turned on his heel and stalked back to the throne. “As soon as the wagons are loaded with my spoils, we’ll return home.”

I swallowed hard, ignoring the bit about his spoils in favor of what I was actually concerned about. “What about me? Do I have to go home?”

East frowned. “What are you talking about? You’re coming back to the palace with me.”

I breathed out. “I thought you were going to send me back.”

“Why would you think that?” He laughed, and I narrowed my eyes at him. “It’s not possible.”

“What?” I stepped forward, hand clenching around the sword in my hand. “You said, when you dragged me into this, that you would get me home when this was done.”

He shrugged. “I needed you to come with me. Do you want to go back?”

“I don’t know, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that you lied to me.” I clenched my teeth to keep from yelling.

“Well, it’s moot now, so you’ll need to get over it.” He waved his hand, like he was shooing a fly.

“Now go clean up. I want to leave as soon as possible. These tunnels stink.”

“And what am I supposed to do when we get back to your palace?” Did this idiot not get that I was holding a sword? We were about four feet apart and none of the soldiers were particularly close. I could lop his head off and no one could stop me.

“You’ll take your place as my champion. You earned it, after all. I’ll have to get married to a woman of my station, but I, uh, wouldn’t mind giving you another position by my side as well.” He stopped watching people shovel gold around to leer at me. “I know you’ve harbored a passion for me since we met. While I didn’t return the feeling initially, you’ve grown so much stronger, Annabella, and I find that . . . Attractive.”

I couldn’t breathe. The world was narrowing in my absolute rage. How dare he? No. No. I knew who I was, and him being an complete moron didn’t change anything. I took one deep breath, then another. He was right about one thing. I was so much stronger than I used to be. Pasting the biggest smile on my face that I could, I took two steps forward, and Prince Can’t-Read-The-Room looked so damn smug.

I swung my arm and my fist smashed into his face. East’s head jerked backwards and cracked into the back of the throne. My knuckles stung, but my heart was soaring. Before anyone could stop me, I turned on my heel and stalked away. I grabbed a couple of handfuls of gold and gems on my way out and shoved them in my pockets.

As I dodged into the tunnel I thought would lead me out, Reynard and Illia joined me. My instructor grinned at me. “So, what are your plans, girl?”

“You think I have any idea?” God, I was already tiered, and everything hurt. Hustling back through the tunnels, stepping over goblin bodies while figuring out what to do now that I had committed basically treason was something akin to torture.

“We could start a mercenary band,” Illia said around panting, but I didn’t slow down for her.

Reynard nodded. “That would work. We could recruit a few of the stray goblins that survived the battle.”

I nearly stumbled over a goblin corpse as my head snapped to look at him. “You think they’d join with us after this?”

He shrugged. “They followed the Goblin King, and I heard he killed his own people all the time.”

“Fine. Fine!” We emerged from the tunnels into blinding daylight. I went to find my magic talking horse while I held my magic sword, so I could find some goblins to join a mercenary company, so I could make a living in my new magical world. It was absurd, but a smile crept onto my face. Absurd, but exhilarating. Stupid me, I was looking forward to it.

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Good Boy Pt 4

Sharon’s note: In most romance, werewolf alphas are pictured as broody power-tripping jerks. I’m not a huge fan of the dark and troubled romance option at the best of time. I like a guy who can make me laugh. Besides, true alphas are caretakers. Warning: Author is really tiered of the same old romantic interest.

Every Saturday morning, Sam had informed me, he and his brood invaded the park across from my Dad’s house. He’d invited me along, which worked great, because Baskerville seriously needed to go for a walk. The fat old hound was wheezing after only a few yards, so going on a jog with him was out of the question.

Sam was sitting at a picnic table, helping a little boy tie his shoe. “You gotta learn to do this yourself, you know.”

“Nah, I’m gonna get a pair of cowboy boots.” The boy hooked his thumbs into the band of his shorts and stuck out his chest. “They’re going to look super cool.”

I put a hand to my mouth to hold in my laugh as Sam rolled his eyes and sent the boy on his way. “Is he a relative?”

Sam sighed, then chuckled as I sat down next to him. “Honestly? I’m not really sure. He’s Micheal’s kid, and he might be my cousin.”

“I thought you spent a lot of time with family.” I raised an eyebrow. 

He waved his hand in a circle. “Yeah, but you have to understand, it’s a really extended family, and we tend to adopt people in.”

I shook my head. “It sounds, um, friendly, I guess. My family consists of my dad, and that’s it. I guess you could count my step-mother now, but I don’t really know her.”

“I don’t know what I’d do without my family.” Sam leaned over to pet Baskerville, who had collapsed on his side and whined like he was dying. “They tend to look to me, and can be a pain and sometimes be a little needy, but I love them.”

“Sounds like a lot of work.” I gazed over the dozen or so children playing tag. Double that many adults hung around, chatting, occasionally glancing at us. They weren’t unfriendly looks, but they seemed as interested in Sam and me as his aunt had been.

“Sometimes,” he agreed. “So, I was wondering if you wanted to go to dinner tonight. There’s this really awesome Mexican food place that does tableside guacamole. You like guacamole, right?”

I smiled, pushing the nosy nancies out of my mind. “Yeah, but the most important question is, how is their salsa?”

Sam brightened with a boying enthusiasm that was adorable. “Oh, it’s amazing. When they bring out the chips they bring out three different ones. There’s a green one with tomatillos and this cold one that’s only a little spicy and . . .”

As he went on and on about the virtues of different salsas, my heart melted a little. I loved his energy, and his devotion to people was cute. I didn’t really understand, since I wasn’t the biggest people person, but his way with them almost made me jealous. Finally, he finished expounding on the virtues of salsa and shot me a shy smile.

“So, what do you think? You willing to give me a second date? This one without sucky cake?”

Really, there had to be a law against being that adorable in addition to being hot. “Sure thing.”

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Liminal Spaces Part 4

Sharon’s Note: So, I’ve been watching more horror movies lately, and I realized I had never watched the 1963 version of The Haunting. It’s a great movie, even if the dialog is a little cheesy in places. It’s a great reminder that the greatest horror is in the smallest thing, and dread will get under your skin worse than any jump scare. Warning: Author is trying her hand at new skills.

I squealed at the knock then huffed out a breath while rolling my eyes. “For heaven’s sake, John, just come in!”

“Not John, but I hope the invitation is still open.” A tall girl dressed in shredded black jeans and a black tee-shirt so full of holes I could see her lacy black bra underneath. Her hair was in a long, messy ponytail that was a matte black that came from a cheap bottle. 

“Who are you?” I scrambled to my feet and puffed out my chest like I hadn’t just been scared shitless. 

“My name’s Kathy.” She put her hands in her pockets and scuffed heavy black boots on the floor.

“Maggie.” I reached behind me to pull the radio that John had given me out of my back pocket. My heart was still beating too hard. “What are you doing here? Does John know you’re here?”

“He’s seen me around.” She shrugged and looked at my supplies piled on the floor. “Are you here to check out the haunted asylum too?”

“I’ll say it again, does John know you’re here?” 

“Yeah, he knows I’m here.” She ambled over to the window and stared down at the old lobby. Tension suddenly turned her posture ridged and she took in a sharp breath. 

“What? What?” I hustled over next to her and looked for whatever had spooked her. The room was completely dark, and I couldn’t see anything. 

“Nothing.” She turned to me with a stiff smile. “I thought I saw something move. It’s just jitters. Say, would you like a tour? If you want to soak in some spooky atmosphere, there’s a lot better places than this empty old office.”

“Better than the office of a famous psychotic torture doctor?” I raised an eyebrow, turning so she couldn’t see the radio I clutched behind my back. Kathy was tall, but she was also scrawny. Not only could I call John for help, I bet I could handle her. I shoved the radio back in my pocket.

“Hell yes.” Her smile softened into something a little more genuine. “I can show you where the actual atrocities took place.”

“The hydrotherapy rooms?” I perked up. A lot of the local legends centered around the watery deaths so many of McBride’s victims suffered. 

“Sure, although they’re probably less interesting than you’re imagining.” Kathy motioned me forward as she walked towards the door. “I can show you some of the really scary places, the underground wards.”

“What are those?” I started gathering up my stuff. 

“Oh, they’re super interesting.” She looked in the hall, eyes darting around and the strained smile returned. “Hey, leave the stuff and just grab the flashlight. Come on. Come on!”

“Are you okay?” I asked. She was practically vibrating with excitement, just not the happy kind and when I got close enough she grabbed my wrist.

“I’m fine.” She laughed, and it was just short of manic as she pulled me towards the door. “We just should get going. We’ve got a long night ahead of us, and we need to keep moving.”

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Carnival Girl Pt 6

Sharon’s Note: I find straight romance boring. Romance is a very character driven genre, and if the only movement in a story is ‘the character grows as a person’ then it’s going to lose my attention. Give me a mystery. Give me a monster. Give me complex world building and a magic system I need charts to keep track of. I also hate the current trend that anything that isn’t purely character driven is a lesser form of entertaining, but that’s a different rant. Warning: Author allowing a character to keep her mysteries.

The ferris wheel was empty except for a sleeping woman who was riding it continuously with a napping infant in a carrier on her chest. As Jim and Wendy approached, the operator pointed at the sign that said rides were a ticket a piece. He had dark circles under his eyes and leaned against the booth like he lacked the will to move. 

“You can ride as much as you want, but if you wake up the baby I will kick your asses off, understand?” His words were slightly slurred, sleep deprivation oozing from every pore. 

Wendy considered that for a moment before nodding and handing him the tickets. “That’s fair.”

He moved the cars so that they would be as far away from the woman as possible and they loaded into the car that smelled strongly of rust and bleach. With a slight groan the Ferris wheel started again and slowly drug them out and up. 

“So what are we looking for?” Jim took a deep breath. The air wasn’t exactly clean, but it helped clear the last of whatever he’d smelled in the funhouse from his sinuses.

“Anything weird.” Wendy leaned forward, making the car rock.

The movement made his stomach flip, and he gulped while he fastened his hand to the bar. His voice was a little high as he asked, “Like what?”

“Like that.” She pointed, tracing a line of temporary buildings that the carnival had set up.

“The food court? Is there something wrong with the food?” Jim paled. “Was that funnel cake poisoned?”

“No. It’s the shape of the buildings. Can’t you see it?” When Jim shrugged, she snorted. “It’s the symbol for an ancient night god. Whoever set up the carnival will make a sacrifice at sunset and waken him.”

Jim stared harder at the line of buildings, but still couldn’t see what she was talking about. “What god are they summoning?”

She sighed dramatically. “If you don’t know the symbol, the name won’t mean anything to you.”

He stiffened. “Do you even remember his name? How do you remember the symbol for an ancient night god if you can’t remember anything else?”

Wendy went silent and stared at her feet. Jim watched as her lower lip started to tremble before she whispered, “I don’t get to pick what I remember.”

His stomach sank. It was a scummy thing for him to have said, and he knew it when he’d done it. She’d made him feel stupid, but that wasn’t an excuse. Hesitantly, he put a hand on hers where it rested on the bar. “Sorry.”

Finally, her head lifted and she gave him a slight smile. “It’s a few hours until dark, and they stamp your hand when you leave. If you have a place, we could go hang out there and rest. Nothing is going to happen until tonight anyway.”

“S-sure.” Jim gulped. “We can go back to my house and hang. My dad doesn’t get home from work until like 2 a.m. so we’ll have the place to ourselves.”

She lit up with one of her glorious smiles. “Oh! I could take a shower!”

His stomach flipped. “Yeah. Yeah, sure. You can come to my house. And take a shower.”

The Ferris wheel groaned to a stop as Wendy signaled to the man running it and Jim followed her out of the car like a sleepwalker.

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The Last Halloween

ACTUAL WARNING: Contains discussion of suicide, death, and depression. 

Sharon’s note: So, here’s this year’s entry into our annual Halloween contest. Subject: ghosts. So far it’s one to one, and I won last year’s bout. I’m hoping this one helps me keep the crown. Hope you enjoy!

My heart ached as Maggie picked at the short gray carpet. She hunched down, like she was trying to disappear. The room wasn’t big, but the empty floor and bare white walls made her look tiny.

Two years of hard living, and we didn’t look like twins anymore. She was too thin, bones sharp under the skin, and her hair was lank and unwashed, hanging down her back in a tangled mess. In days gone, she’d been incredibly vain of her hair. To see her neglecting it . . .

“Hey,” I murmured.

Maggie’s eyes flicked up, and the corner of her mouth twitched in a weak smile. “You came.”

“How could I not with a snazzy get up like this.” I gestured at the chalk circle that was ground into the carpet and the five candles that were supposed to be at the corners of a pentagram, but were kind of off. Maggie had admitted that she’d gotten the “spell” from the first page she’d found on the internet, but this year she’d put no care into it. I placed my hand to the very edge of the circle. “Mom’s going to kill you if she finds you messing with her new carpet.”

“Whatever.” She rolled her eyes. “The house still smells like smoke. She’s not selling this pit anytime soon.”

I pointed a finger at her. “Do not call Grandma’s house a pit.”

Maggie looked back at the floor, but that didn’t hide the tears that were starting to brim. She reached her hand across the circle and through my hand. “How is Grandma?”

“She’s wonderful.” Grief over not being able to touch my sister and comfort her constricted a chest I didn’t have anymore. “We’re both wonderful, and you need to stop worrying about us.”

“I can’t help it.” A full-throated sob wracked her body, making her shoulder shake. “I miss you so much. I miss you both so much!”

“I miss you too.” I curled my hand up inside hers and slapped at the floor in frustration. It didn’t hurt. Being dead meant you were beyond physical pain. “But please, Maggie, you have to start taking better care of yourself.”

“Why?” She pulled away to curl her fingers in her hair and pull. Her face contorted, ugly in its agony, as she screamed at the ceiling. “Why bother? What the hell am I supposed to do? “

“You live.” Sweet mercy, I wanted to cry with her. I needed to show her she wasn’t alone. “You go to that therapist you told me you’d see. You go back to college, or you get a job, or you do something, anything, to move on with your life.”

“I want to be with you!” Her howl echoed off the bare walls of my old bedroom, cacophonous in the empty house. “I’m tired of acting like everything’s okay. I’m tired of Mom and Dad pretending like they never had another daughter and never wanting to talk about it. Most of all, I’m tired of people saying that it wasn’t my fault because I wasn’t there when it happened. I wasn’t there. That’s kind of the whole point. If I had been there, either I would have woken up in time to save you, or we would have died together, and I wouldn’t be going through all this.”

“If you try to kill yourself again I swear I will spend the rest of our afterlives hell.” I bared my teeth at her, and panic roiled through me as she laughed.

“You think I care?” Her laughter was a broken, jangling sound. “Besides, I can tell when you’re bluffing.”

I stood in the circle, looking down on her as I snarled. “How about this, then; all that pain that you feel, all that guilt, if you commit suicide, I’m going to feel all that. I will spend eternity knowing you never get the life you should have, because of me. And you know what? I’ll always hate you for that. Just a little bit.”

Maggie froze. She knew I was serious. Her manic energy failed as she crumbled in front of me and curled into a fetal position on the floor. When she spoke again her voice was so small. “How am I supposed to do this? It hurts so much.”

I lay on the ground in the circle and put my hand right next to the line again. Something inside me relaxed when she reached out. “I know you’re sick of hearing it, but you take it one day at a time. You can do this, and get some help. Watching you try to muddle through this on your own is as painful as watching Dad try to fix the plumbing.”

Maggie nearly choked on her laugh. “Yeah. Okay, I’ll get help. I’m not going to stop missing you, though.”

“You’ll barely have time to. We’re going to be together again so fast you’ll say it isn’t fair. Life is too short.” I patted through her hand. “You don’t need to keep calling me back like this. I’m always with you. Promise me that you’ll do whatever it takes to be okay?”

“You know, it’s not as easy as you make it sound.” She began to cry again, but they were quiet, slow tears.

“It’s the hardest thing I’ll ever ask of you,” I agreed.

“I guess I’d better get started on it then, huh?” Her fingers passed through my skin as she tried to touch my cheek. She whispered, “I love you.”

“Love you too. Now please, Maggie, let me go.”

As she nodded slowly and pulled away from me, I had a moment of selfishness as I wanted to tell her to stay. I didn’t. I let her blow out the candles one by one and allowed myself to fade from her sight. She didn’t clean up her mess before she left. Mom really was going to be ticked.

“She still hasn’t figured out that stupid ritual doesn’t do anything.” Grandma walked through the wall into the room. Even if Maggie had still been in the room, she wouldn’t have seen anything. Being visible took work.

“When you’re grieving you overlook a lot. I’m just glad she hasn’t fallen victim to one of those fake mediums or something.” I sighed as I watched her pull out of the driveway through my old window. “Think she’ll be okay?”

“I think so.” Grandma gave me a hard look. “So maybe if she’s ready to move on, so are you? You can’t stay here forever, baby. Besides, I want to go, but I’m not leaving without you.”

I closed my eyes and wrapped my arms around my stomach. “I can’t. I can’t go until I know she’s going to be okay.”

“You are just as clingy as she is.” Grandma put a hand on my shoulder and, ghost on ghost, it didn’t pass through. “At some point you have to decide to let her go it alone. So when is this going to end? Hm?”

I opened my eyes and looked at the shoddily made circle on the floor. “One year. If next Halloween she doesn’t come back, then it proves she doesn’t need me anymore. If she doesn’t come back, I’ll go.”

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Ghosts and Demons

James’s Note: Another Halloween, so we have another competition between Sharon and I. Let us know which ghostly tale you like better. This year I think we’re both aiming for the feels.

My daughter Sarah was crying again as we unloaded boxes into the new house. I didn’t blame her. Moving was always hard when you were five, and she was already heartbroken to begin with. Our dog Max had just died, and she had loved that big galoot more than life. She insisted on carrying around the ridiculous stuffed panda that had been his favorite toy. My wife didn’t really like it, because she didn’t think it was sanitary, but I sure as hell didn’t have the heart to tell her she couldn’t.

Everything went OK for about a week. Sarah started her new school, I started my new job, and my wife got her home office set up to her exacting standards. Sarah was still sad a lot of the time, but she loved exploring the old house. I had just read her a Narnia book and I think she was searching for a wardrobe. She carried that beat up old panda with her on all her little adventures.

The second weekend we spent in the house is when things started to get strange. My wife was complaining about things being moved around in her office, and was about to scold Sarah for it when I pointed out that she always kept the door locked. She can be a little quick to jump to conclusions sometimes.

My first real spook was when I was shaving the next day. I use an old fashioned straight razor and soap brush combo, because I’m just enough of a hipster to think it’s cool, whether it actually gives a better shave or not. As I was halfway through my shave, I watched in horror as my reflection drug the straight razor across his neck, opening a gash from ear to ear, blood spilling down his naked chest. I screamed, threw down the razor, and immediately checked my neck. I didn’t have a scratch, and when I looked back at the reflection, it was normal, but I swear it was smirking at me.

That night as I was telling my wife what happened in bed, the lights began to flicker and our bed began to shake and rock. After a minute or so of admittedly pointless hysterics, I jumped from the bed and went for the door, only to find it refused to budge. I pounded on it, trying to break it down, only to have the shaking and flashing lights suddenly stop, and the door open spilling me into the hallway. Once my wife and I had regained our senses, we rushed to my daughters room to check on her, to find her sleeping peacefully, the ratty old panda bear wrapped in her arms.

We tried to tell ourselves it had been an earthquake, the same way we tried to dismiss everything else we saw. When my wife felt someone’s hands on her body in the shower, she decided that was enough. We decided that night we were going to pack up and go to a hotel, and worry about what to do with this godforsaken house later.

I had the car loaded, and was waiting for my wife and daughter to come downstairs with the last of their clothes. My daughter came tromping down the stairs next to her mom, carrying a pink princess suitcase. We had made it to the door, my hand on the knob, when it suddenly glowed red hot, causing me to jerk back my sizzling hand.

The house turned into chaos. Flames like an inferno leapt from the fireplace, demonic shadows danced on the walls,and the lights exploded. My daughter grabbed onto her mother, and I tried to put myself in front of them as best I could. My daughter had the ear of the panda stuck in her mouth.

The huge mirror over the fireplace ripped itself free of the wall and began to spin and levitate in the middle of the room. A creature that looked like a nightmare of shadows and heat haze began to pull itself out of the glass. I was frozen in place as the monstrosity pulled itself into our world. Suddenly, from behind me, I heard my daughter scream a single word.


The panda radiated light like it had become a second sun. From its otherworldly glow, strode a shining specter of a dog as big as a pony. It looked just like Max, but like he had been when he was young, huge and strong, with no sign of the arthritis that eventually made us have to put him down.

He barked three times, a sub sonic boom you felt in your chest, and leapt at the demon. The creature screamed as the dog’s light touched him and evaporated like smoke. The silence that followed was almost deafening. The fire died in the fireplace, and the door swung open revealing the normal outside world. The ghost dog padded over to me and laid his head on my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around his neck and cried like a baby.

“I’m so sorry, buddy. I wish there had been something I could do for you.” His huge tongue licked my cheek, and I knew it was OK. He understood. My daughter leaped forward to join the family hug, joined shortly by my wife. My daughter gave Max a big kiss on the ear, just as he disappeared into the panda.

In the end, after a lot of arguing between my wife and I, we decided to stay in the house. Whatever had been haunting it seemed to be gone, and besides, it’s not like we didn’t have a protector.

I guess some loves can’t be stopped by little things like death.

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Shift Change

This is another offering by one of our guest authors, Lee McMullen. Some sentiments are universal. 🙂

Tick. And the second hand moves to another number. How can time move slower at the end of a shift? It had been a typical Saturday night shift from 1830 to 0630 Sunday.  The only possible description was boring.

As usual the first couple of hours were slow as Saturday night got its momentum going.  Destiny is a mining camp so the weekends, especially after payday, could get rough and provide business for the local police station.  Being the junior sergeant, I was as usual assigned to the intake desk to process drunk and belligerent miners.

About eleven the street patrols began bringing in the night’s guests and by two thirty all the bars had closed on the last people were brought to the station.  By three all the paperwork was done and the boredom began in earnest. Now with minutes to go the clock seemed frozen at 0625.

Another “Tick”, this can’t be all there is to a police career. I got into this for the excitement and coolness of being a cop.  Last night’s exciting point was seeing a regular drunk projectile vomit more than six feet.

Maybe it was time to look into a transfer to another station or even a new department.  It would have to be more exciting anywhere else.  Possibly I could even apply some of the investigation techniques they taught at the academy as being the proper way to deal with suspects. In retrospect I am sure the instructors never had a drunk vomit on the fingerprint machine causing it to short circuit.

Finally, like the rising of the sun, my relief has entered the building. After she gets her coffee and reads the current notices, she approaches the booking desk. “Tick”, 0630.  I turn over the night’s paperwork and sign out of the log. This night is finally over, and I have two days off before it happens again.

Leaving the station, I looked out of the viewing port to witness Jupiter rising. Europa’s ice surface. Below that ice were the billions of dollars in rare metals that paid for this station and my salary.  But it was still boring.  I’ve decided. I will apply for a transfer to somewhere with more going on for a cop.  Maybe Mars, or even Earth.

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Good Boy pt 3

Sharon’s note: I like writing date scenes. Most date scenes in romance today just talk about how sexually attracted the characters are to one another and forego building chemistry all together. I miss chemistry, gosh darn it. Warning: Author is going for cute.

Sam was waiting for me at one of two tables inside the ‘cafe’. There was more seating outside, but it was mostly occupied by a group of old men smoking cigars and cheering a game of chess like it was a championship boxing match.

A little brass bell above the door jingled as I opened it. The inside of the shop smelled surprisingly good. Brewing coffee melded its aroma with the medley created by so many expensive cigars. The store was divided into thirds, with one counter for each of the products it sold. A skinny older woman with gray hair in a high ponytail and a flannel shirt two sizes too big for her scampered out from behind the coffee counter.

“Oh, oh, you must be Sammy’s date! Oh, it is so good to meet you-”

“Aunt Tam, please.” Sam rose from the table, mortification on his face. 

“It’s fine, sweetie.” She waved him off, and his shoulders dropped in defeat as he shot me apologies with his eyes. When she grabbed my hands, hers were warm and calloused. “I’m Tamera, and I’m so glad to meet you. Sammy’s been talking about this all morning. I’ve never seen him so excited.”

“Well, that’s nice to hear.” I smirked at him over her shoulder. He blushed and looked at the floor, making me want to squee. I returned my attention to Tamera. “I’m Jennefer.”

“Okay, Jennefer, you go have a seat, and I’ll bring out something delicious for you two.” She tapped my nose and pranced behind the coffee counter to a backroom. Shoulders shaking with silent laughter, I went to sit at Sam’s table.

“I am so, so sorry.” He dropped into his chair while rubbing a hand over his face.

“Why? She’s lovely.”

“Aunt Tam is lovely.” He nodded, expression pained. “She’s also pushy as hell.”

“I don’t know, it seems like you need someone running herd on you.” I laughed as he threw up his hands.

“That’s what she always says.” He crossed his arms. “I am a fully capable adult, you know. I have a job. I pay taxes. I do . . . other adult like stuff.”

“You ran up to the door of a woman you didn’t know and asked her out because you thought she was pretty.” I propped my elbows on the table and leaned forward to bat my eyelashes at him.

He pointed a finger at me with a wide grin. “I’ll have you know that was very mature. I didn’t run away, or pull your hair or anything.”

“Well, congrats on moving past kindergarten moves. Most guys never manage it.”

“Here we are! Two extra chocolaty iced mochas and two slices of my extra moist devil’s food chocolate cake with salted caramel frosting.” Tamera’s voice was sing song as she pushed her way through the back door with a loaded tray.

“Aunt Tam!” Sam jumped to his feet. “Let me get that for you.”

“Can your chivalry and sit down,” she barked. Sam dropped his but into the seat. Tamera grumbled as she put our food on the table, all while trying not to smile. “Cocky kid. I’ve been waiting tables and carrying crap heavier than him since before he was born. Thinks he needs to help the little old lady. I’ll show him who needs help. Now you two enjoy. I’ll be back to check on you in a little bit.”

She winked at me as she retreated into the back. My stomach hurt I was laughing so hard. 

Sam crossed his arms and tried to look broody. “I feel compelled to point out she’s not actually my aunt.”

“No?” I took a sip of my coffee. Extra chocolate indeed. It was just short of pudding consistency.

“She’s a friend of my dads.” He looked thoughtful. “I have a very large family. Most of us aren’t related, but we’re really close.”

“That’s cool.” I took a bite of cake. It was a good thing the frosting had a little salt, otherwise it would be too sweet to eat. “Your aunt doesn’t mess around when it comes to sweets, does she?”

He tried the cake and gagged. “No, no she does not.”

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Carnival Girl Pt 5

Sharon’s Note: Character development is tricky. You have to try to balance story progression versus character progression, and you don’t want to leave either one behind. In romance, it’s kind of weird because the character development is the main story, and anything else happening is b plot. You still can’t abandon it, but it shifts the balance somewhat of what you focus on. It’s different to write, but fun. Warning: Sweet moment.

As they left the haunted house they were immediately accosted by a balding, wiry man with a camera. He waved it in their faces. “Hey, you guys want a picture? Only five tickets.”

Jim was about to tell the guy no, when Wendy draped an arm over his shoulder. “I’m going to kiss your cheek for the picture, okay?”

“Uh, yeah, s- sure,” he stammered. The photographer grinned wickedly, knowing exactly why Jim was staring at the camera in panic while Wendy’s lips pressed lightly right in front of his ear. 

The camera clicked several times, then Wendy turned to the photographer. “So where’s the picture?”

“There’s a booth right near the exit. You can pick it up there in about an hour.” He winked at Jim. “Make sure you don’t forget it. Looks like a good memory to keep.”

Wendy sighed and her shoulders dropped. “Didn’t they invent cameras that gave you the picture right away? Wasn’t that a thing that happened?”

“They gotta have time to print out the picture.” The photographer shifted uncomfortably as she stared at him, her face crumbling to confusion and her breath starting to get quick and ragged.

She whipped around to Jim, tears starting to form and her lip beginning to tremble. “But that was a thing? I remembering that correctly, right?”

“Yeah, yeah that was totally a thing. It’s just not what they’re doing here.” He took her hands, his own panic brimming at the thought of her crying. The photographer took the opportunity to scamper away. Jim stroked her hair, feeling its soft strands mixed with the stiff edge of ribbons and coarse twine. “Wow, um, you, you really have trouble remembering things, don’t you?”

“You thought I was lying?” She pulled one hand away to wipe at her eyes.

“I thought you were exaggerating, you know, playing it up for laughs.” He looked around till he found an unoccupied bench and pulled them both to it. “Were you like, in an accident or something?”

Wendy shrugged, petting his hand for comfort like it was a small animal. “I don’t know. I can’t remember that either.”

“Do you have any friends or family who could, you know, help?”

She shook her head. “If I do, I don’t remember them either. All I have is this . . . compulsion. I go around, looking for things and . . . I fix them. It may not have always been like that, but that’s how it is now.”

“I, uh, don’t know how to help.” Jim stared at the hand that petted his. It had freckles on the back of it.

“Help me focus.” She touched his chin, raising it so he had to look at her. “Be here with me and talk to me and be my friend. I need someone to remember for me and point me in the right direction. I need you.”

A smile crept onto his face against his will. “Well, you know, we’re, um, not far from the ferris wheel, if you still want to go.”

Like a sunrise, joy broke over her face. “The ferris wheel, that’s right! See, I need you around.”

Wendy bound to her feet, dragging Jim with her.

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