Just One Kiss

Just One Kiss

A Story By Mandy White

The day her brother tore his own head off and didn’t die, was the day Johanna first suspected that all was not right with the world.

Charlie seemed to be experiencing some sort of inner struggle: muttering to himself and pacing in circles, stopping from time to time to cover his ears and shake his head vigorously. They were in the kitchen, and Johanna had just finished brewing a pot of coffee. Charlie reached toward the cupboard above, like he was going to take out a mug. Instead of opening the cupboard, he placed his hand on the back of his neck, then turned to face Johanna.“Must feed,” he said. He grabbed his head and pulled, bending his neck forward at an impossible angle. “Must… feeeed!” he grunted, twisting and pulling until Johanna swore his neck had stretched an extra six inches.

“Charlie! Stop that! What are you doing?”

“UNGH!” Charlie replied, and with a mighty tug, he pulled his head from his body. Instead of spurting blood the way a recently decapitated body should, his neck began to heal before her eyes, transforming from torn flesh into some kind of elongated sucking appendage. The ‘lips’ of the sucker smacked together toward Johanna as if blowing her a sloppy kiss, then it gurgled,

“Fleebb.”

The Charlie-thing turned its head upside down. The sucker groped around, lips opening and closing until it found the severed end of the neck. The sucker attached itself to the neck and made a sound like a Shop-Vac cleaning up vomit as it slurped the contents out of the skull. Charlie’s face sagged like a deflated balloon.

Johanna screamed.

The sucker detached from the withered head and reached toward the sound of Johanna’s voice, smacking the empty air in front of it.

“Mup. Grackle. Pleebbb. Fleeg,” the monster said, dropping the head on the floor and taking a step in Johanna’s direction.

She stumbled backward, tripping over a chair. Charlie’s body turned toward the sound, tentacle searching, lips opening and closing. Johanna fled out the front door and ran down the street without looking back.

When she finally stopped to catch her breath, she dared to look over her shoulder and saw with relief that nothing was chasing her. Panting, she leaned against a nearby fence.

Now what? Where to go?

Mom!

She needed to tell her mother what had happened. Salon La Vie, where her mother was a stylist, was about six blocks away. Johanna checked the time on her cell phone. It was 2:00. Mom was on shift for another two hours. There was plenty of time to get there and warn her, and then they could pick up her younger sister Zoe from school together. She had lost one sibling already; she intended to make sure the rest of her family was safe.

Johanna broke into a jog, grateful for the gym membership she had gotten as a Christmas gift. She covered the six blocks easily and before long she dashed through the glass doors of Salon La Vie. The neon lights, gleaming chrome and mirrors and pounding techno music – it was like entering an ammonia-scented nightclub.

Johanna looked down the long line of stylist’s stations and did not see her mother.

“Can I help y’all?” the redhead behind the counter chirped. A nametag pinned to her overstuffed leopard print blouse identified her as Trixie.

“I’m Jillian Sykes’ daughter. Is she here?”

“Oh, hi, honey! You’re Jillie’s girl! So nice to meet y’all.” Trixie flashed Johanna a too-wide grin that made her look like a horse wearing purple lip-gloss. “I’m so sorry, sweetpea, but y’all missed your Mama. She left during her lunch hour.”

“She did? I thought she was working until four.”

“Naw, not today, sugar. She booked a half-day today. Had to pick her daughter up from school early. Somethin’ ‘bout the kid havin’ a karate tournament.” Red looked up at the ceiling and batted her false, mascara-caked eyelashes. Johanna suspected this was the woman’s ‘thoughtful’ look. “Can y’all imagine that?” she mused. “A lil-ol gal like that goin’ all Jackie Chan-like?”

“Sure,” Johanna said. “Zoe enjoys it, and she’s damn good at it.”

“Oh! I’m so sorry sugar! I didn’t mean nothin’ by it! It’s just, y’know, where I come from, little girls are raised to be ladies, and let the men do the ass-kicking.”

Trixie was still muttering something about fine Southern ladies when Johanna dashed out the door.

“Thank you,” she called over her shoulder, but was pretty sure Trixie from Dixie hadn’t heard.

Eleven-year-old Zoe usually took the school bus home, but today was Friday. Zoe had a karate meet at another school. Zoe was excused for the afternoon so they’d have time to make the half-hour drive to Palsson Middle School.

She fished her cell phone out of her pocket and called her mother.

Mom answered her phone on the second ring.

“Mom?”

“Oh, there you are. I was wondering where you’d gotten to.”

“Mom, listen! Stay where you are! Whatever you do, don’t go home! Tell me where you are and I’ll come and meet you.”

“But I’m already home, silly. We just got here.”

“What? Where’s Zoe?”

“She’s right here. Is something wrong?”

“Yes! Listen, Mom, you and Zoe need to get out of there right now. Charlie is… not himself. He’s dangerous.”

“He seemed fine to me a few minutes ago. Did you two have an argument or something? Why don’t you come home and we’ll talk about it?”

Johanna hung up.

Her mother was home, and so was Zoe. What did it mean? She paced back and forth, undecided. Should she go home? Her mother had said Charlie was fine. That couldn’t be true – the horror Johanna had seen in her kitchen was no hallucination. Or was it? No! she knew what she had seen. This was no hallucination… right?

What would she find if she went home? Would Charlie behave like his normal nineteen-year-old self? If she went home, would she see what she saw on any normal day? Her mother would be checking email before making dinner and Zoe would be playing Call of Duty on her Xbox, shouting curses at her friends through her headset. Or would she walk back into the same horror show she had left, with headless Charlie waiting to suck her brains out? Maybe Charlie had already killed Mom and Zoe and then set a trap for her.

But that sounded like Mom! I was talking to Mom! Wasn’t I?

Trap or not, she had to find out for sure. Gritting her teeth, Johanna set off in the direction of home.

* * *

Johanna slipped in through the back door, listening for signs of anything unusual. The kitchen was spotless and filled with the delicious aroma of something – pork chops, or perhaps her mother? – roasting in the oven. Charlie’s head was nowhere in sight, and neither was Charlie. The chair she had knocked over when she tripped sat neatly in its place at the kitchen table. She took a step forward and the floor creaked under her feet.

“Is that you, Jo?” her mom called from the other room.

“Y-yeah, Mom. It’s me. Everything all right?”

Her mother appeared in the doorway.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t it be? Everything’s fine. Where have you been?”

“I just went for a run.”

“In that?” Her mother frowned.

Johanna looked down at herself, remembering for the first time that she was still wearing her waitress uniform. She had just finished her shift at Maddy’s Diner when the Charlie incident occurred and she hadn’t gotten around to changing clothes yet.

“I ran back to work because I forgot my phone there.” She congratulated herself silently for her quick thinking. “That’s why I called you on the way home,” Johanna added.

“Called me?”

Panic coursed through Johanna’s body.

“Yes, I called you.”

“Oh.” Her mother laughed lightly. “Of course you did. How silly of me.”

“Do you remember what we were talking about?”

“Why?” Her mother’s eyes narrowed.

“Um, just… because I wanted to continue the conversation where we left off. Do you recall where that was? There was a lot of traffic nearby, and I’m not sure I heard everything you said.”

Her mother turned her back, reaching toward the oven. “I don’t have time right now. We’ll talk later. I need to feed…”

“W-what?” Johanna began to back away.

“I need to feed you all so I have time to get ready. I have a date tonight. Be a dear and call your brother and sister for dinner.”

Johanna found Zoe in her room, submerged in the world of virtual war games. Her karate gi was tossed in a corner, orange belt crumpled on top. Zoe couldn’t hear Johanna with the headset on, so she tapped her on the shoulder.

“What?” she shouted. Zoe always shouted when she had the headset on because she had no idea how loud she sounded.

Dinnertime.”

“’Kay!”

Heart thumping, she crept down the hall toward Charlie’s bedroom. The door was slightly ajar. The eerie absence of Charlie’s music was unnerving. The family members were so used to his ear-splitting playlist that it had become a natural part of their home environment.

She could hear the sound of Charlie’s TV, which he rarely watched.

She tapped lightly on the door.

“Charlie?” she whispered.

“Yes?”

“Um… it’s time to eat.”

“Eat.” His voice sounded cold and distant, but nothing like the garbling freak-show she had run from earlier.

Johanna pushed the door open slightly, just to have a peek. Charlie was seated on the end of his bed, head intact, back straight and arms at his sides. He was just… sitting. Staring straight ahead at the TV. It looked like he was watching old black-and-white movie with a lot of sappy romantic stuff. So totally un-Charlie, yet he seemed fixated on the screen.

“Charlie?” she asked timidly.

“Yes?”

Johanna couldn’t remember Charlie ever saying, ‘yes’. It was always, ‘yeah’, or ‘yep’, or ‘what’. He was the informal type.

“What are you doing?”

“Doing,” he repeated. He seemed to think for a moment, then said, “Watching TV.”

“Right.”

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” he said.

“Um… okay,” she said, backing away from the door.

This was not Charlie. It looked like him. It sounded like him, but didn’t act like him. This was some kind of replica. It was as she had feared. Her brother was gone.

What about her mother? And Zoe? They seemed normal, but for how long?

Dinner was unremarkable. Baked pork chops with mashed potatoes and gravy from a can. Their mother had hastily served the food before rushing off to get ready for her date. Apparently her mystery man had made dinner reservations at someplace fancy.

Charlie ate in silence, the fork in his hand transferring the food from plate to mouth with a jerky, mechanical motion, like a robot arm in a factory. His eyes never left his plate.

Zoe was her usual boisterous self, chattering about her karate meet, her friends and the afternoon’s most memorable moments in the world of virtual war on Xbox. Charlie fixed his youngest sister with a blank look as she prattled on. Zoe asked him to pass the salt and pepper, then asked a second time and he ignored her request.

“Charlie? Hey, Earth to Charlie! Can you pass me the salt and pepper sometime this century? What’s wrong, you stoned or something?”

Johanna forced a mouthful of potatoes down, heart thudding in her throat, expecting Charlie to rip Zoe’s head off.

Charlie didn’t answer. He just continued to eat.

He must feed, Johanna thought.

“What do you think, Jo?” Zoe asked, reaching across the table to retrieve the salt and pepper herself.

“About what?”

“You think Charlie’s been smoking the wacky tobacky, or what?”

“Oh, you don’t wanna know what I think,” Johanna said truthfully.

Their mother hurried into the kitchen, high heels click-clicking on the tiles. She looked gorgeous – made up like a magazine model, in true beautician form, without a hair out of place. She wore a sexy black cocktail dress with spaghetti straps and a fringed hem that fell at an angle just past her knees.

Zoe whistled. “Whoa, Mom! Looking hot!”

“Who’s your date, Mom?” Johanna asked, relieved for the distraction from Charlie’s creepy silence.

“Mr. Kramer, Ashley’s father, remember him?”

“Yeah, kind of.”

“Well anyway, he asked me out today and I simply couldn’t say no.”

“So, what… you like him?”

“Well, yes, I suppose I do. I mean, I never gave him a second look before. He just wasn’t my type. Plus, he’s divorced with partial custody, so you know what a can of worms that can be. It’s not like he’s super good looking or anything, you know… typical accountant, geek-type. Today at the karate meet he was different. He wasn’t wearing his glasses – must’ve gotten contacts or something, but wow, it was like I never really saw him before. And he’s never said more than two words to me before. But today…” she sighed and clasped her hands over her chest. “Today, he was sitting next to me and the things he said… wow. Romantic doesn’t even begin to describe it.”

“Really?” Johanna was listening now.

“Yes. Honey, he was like one of those old-time actors from those classic romantic movies, like Clark Gable or someone.”

“Old movies?” That was an odd coincidence.

“Yeah, that’s the only way I can describe the way he spoke. Men just don’t talk that way today. I wonder why his wife left him.”

“Maybe he left her.”

“Yeah,” her mother seemed to brighten at the idea. “I’ll bet that was it. It was probably her fault. Her loss for letting such a gem get away.” She peeked out the window at the sound of a vehicle. “Oh, he’s here! Gotta run!” She blew them a kiss. “Behave yourselves!”

As the door closed, Charlie called after her, “We’ll always have Paris!”

Johanna questioned herself yet again. Maybe what she thought she had seen (and was seeing) was nothing but her imagination. Perhaps the stress of working too many 5am shifts in a row with horny truckers grabbing her ass had finally gotten to her. Sleep deprivation did strange things to the mind. Maybe she would benefit from a little wacky tobacky and a nice long nap.

She reconsidered her original plan of grabbing Zoe and running. Maybe she should wait and see before doing anything rash.

* * *

The next morning, Johanna slipped out the door at 4:30 am to work her breakfast shift at Maddy’s. The house was dark and quiet when she left, and she took extra care not to wake the rest of the family. Mom had gotten home late from her date with What’s-His-Name and would no doubt be sleeping in. Zoe would probably be up early to get her fill of cereal and Saturday morning cartoons before joining her friends in another online bloodbath. Charlie… well, who knew what Charlie would do anymore, but typically he never surfaced before noon unless he had to work. Today was Saturday, so normally Charlie would be at work by the time Johanna returned home. With any luck, she wouldn’t see him at all that day.

Customers were already assembling in the parking lot, waiting for the diner to open when Johanna arrived. She brewed two pots of coffee, checked with the cook to make sure he was ready, then opened the doors a few minutes early. Mornings were their busiest time, with truck drivers making up most of the clientele. Opening those few minutes early often resulted in extra tips for Johanna; most of their customers were on tight schedules.

Tables filled and a hint of oil and diesel tickled the nostrils beneath the morning’s warm aromas of bacon and coffee. Johanna flitted from table to table, a stack of menus under one arm, coffee pot in the other and order pad in her apron pocket. She chatted and joked with the customers as she worked, most of whom were middle-aged, barrel-bellied men dressed in plaid. The customers were pleasant and polite, but as the morning wore on, Johanna couldn’t shake a niggling feeling that something wasn’t right. Something was missing.

When Tammy, the other waitress came on shift, Johanna took the opportunity for a short break before the second breakfast rush began. She poured herself a cup of coffee and leaned back against the waitress station to rest. She scanned the room, trying to pinpoint what was missing. All of the regulars were there. Joe Senior and Joe Junior, a father/son trucker team known to the diner community as Joe and Junior. There were Smitty, Billy and Fungus occupying their usual corner booth. A businessman-type Johanna didn’t recognize sat alone, reading the newspaper while he ate. Two of her least favorite customers, Merle and Ed, had positioned themselves at a table in the center of the room, in the optimal location for maximum waitress-groping, but no attempt at groping had been made yet. In fact, Merle had even attempted to recite poetry to her as she refilled his coffee cup.

Bingo!

She hadn’t been grabbed, spanked or propositioned once all morning. The off-color jokes and curse words that normally punctuated the mumble of morning chatter were absent. Johanna found the men’s uncharacteristic good behavior unsettling, to say the least.

Fungus, a.k.a. “The Growth”, vacated the corner booth when his companions left and moved to sit at the counter. His tendency to linger for hours drinking copious amounts of coffee had earned him his nickname, which he happened to like.

He often joked, “They call me Fungus because I’ll grow on you and make you sick.”

Tammy leaned over the counter, smiling and giving Fungus a nice view of the two growths inside her blouse. Tammy normally avoided the small bearded diner fixture, making no effort to hide her distaste. Watching her flirt with him was even more disturbing to Johanna than truck drivers not cussing.

Coffee break over, Johanna picked up a menu and made her way to a new customer seated in her section. He was overweight, balding and sweating profusely. He declined her offer of coffee and stared down at the table in front of him, dripping beads of sweat on the unopened menu she had placed in front of him. She wondered if he was on the verge of a heart attack or something.

“Can I get you something to drink?” she offered.

He shook his head. “No. Hungry.”

“I’ll give you a few minutes to decide, then. Our special is a three-cheese omelette.”

“Must… feed.” He groaned and held his head in his hands as if experiencing a migraine.

Johanna backed slowly away. “No. No. Not this again,” she whimpered.

She ducked behind the counter and grabbed Tammy’s arm, yanking her away from Fungus, who was spouting some bullshit about a woman like her needing to be kissed by someone who knew how.

“Sorry to interrupt your – whatever that was – but Tammy, look! Have you ever seen anything like this before?” She pointed at the sweaty guy.

“Sure. Seen it lots of times. Guy with a hangover.” She snapped her chewing gum. “What’s the big deal?”

“Just watch for a second. I think he’s going to do something… crazy.”

Tammy sighed and stood with her arms crossed, waiting for something spectacular to happen.

“He looks like he’s gonna barf,” she observed. “If he does, it’s your mess. Not my section.

Oh great! Johanna thought. That was just what she needed – a puker. Tammy was right; they saw a lot of hung over people on the morning shift. Pukers weren’t uncommon.

“FEED!” the man shouted suddenly.

To Johanna’s surprise, none of the male customers so much as blinked at the outburst.

Tammy laughed. “I’d say that’s your cue. Sounds like he’s ready to order.”

“No!” Johanna grabbed her co-worker’s arm. “Watch!”

Seeing a man remove his own head and suck out the skull was no less shocking the second time, though for Tammy it was a first. She ran and locked herself in the restroom, where she screamed and screamed.

Johanna ducked down and hid behind the counter where only Fungus could see her. He seemed unaffected by her behavior.

“Did it hurt when you fell from Heaven?” he asked her. “’Cause you’re an angel.”

“Fungus, what the hell?

“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine,” Fungus said.

“Are you seeing this?” Johanna pointed toward the man, who was busy draining the contents of his skull with his alien appendage.

Fungus glanced at the skull-sucker. “Oh, him?” he laughed, with a wave of dismissal. “He’s just lost his head a little. Don’t worry, he’ll pull himself together.”

“Have I gone insane?” Johanna wondered aloud. She surveyed the room. “Have you all gone insane?” she shouted. “What the fuck is going on here?”

The skull-sucker paused for a moment and reached its sucker in Johanna’s direction, probing the air with its lips and making kissing noises at her.

“Fleebie. Fleeble. Mup,” it said.

“See, Jo?” Fungus said. “He just needs a little kiss and he’ll be good as new. Better, even.” He leaned forward over the counter, eyes magnified behind his Coke-bottle glasses. “For that matter,” he added, “why don’t you lay a little sugar on me, sweetheart? Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time.”

“Fuck off, Fungus!” Johanna backed away from the counter, distancing herself from the creepy little man, to whom she felt inexplicably drawn all of a sudden.

The skull-sucker resumed sucking. Its loud slurping noises could be heard even over Tammy’s continued screaming.

Johanna ducked into the kitchen, where she found Maddy, the diner’s owner and namesake, making out with Kevin the cook. Maddy’s uniform was unbuttoned and her large belly protruded from the front of her dress.

“Oh! You guys! That is all kinds of wrong!” she blurted. Maddy was in her sixties; literally old enough to be twenty-year-old Kevin’s grandmother!

Johanna grabbed her purse and jacket. “Maddy, I’m leaving. Something important just came up. You might want to find Tammy a Valium or something. She may have lost a nut or two.”

“Mmmnn,” Maddy replied, not taking her lips from Kevin’s acne-pocked face.

Normally the entire scene would have made Johanna vomit in her mouth a little, but as of late, she’d seen things a lot worse. Still, something looked a bit off, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. Maddy, already a plump woman, seemed… plumper than usual, as if she had suddenly gained a lot of weight. She shrugged it off as her own lack of attention to such details. After all, she had never seen Maddy nude before.

Ick. She shook her head, unable to unsee what she’d just seen.

When Johanna returned to the dining room, the skull-sucker was wearing his head once again. The tentacle-thing hung from his mouth. She watched, horrified, as the appendage retracted into his now sweat-free head, bearing an absurd resemblance to a softening penis. Johanna dashed out the door without waiting for the tentacle to finish shrinking. She had a hunch what might be causing these men to behave oddly, and wondered what happened to women who were duped into kissing them.

Maddy! Wait – never mind Maddy. What about Mom? Did she kiss that guy last night?

Johanna raced home to find out.

* * *

Dr Renee Garcia sat in her office, poring over a stack of patients’ files, searching for a commonality between all of them. Besides the obvious one, that was. All of the patients were female, and all of them were pregnant. That in itself wasn’t unusual, given that Dr. Garcia was a gynecologist. Nor was the fact that the pregnancies were unexpected; those things happened all the time. It was the fact that all of the patients in the files on her desk should not, could not possibly be pregnant. This went beyond the failure of birth control methods; these women were physically incapable of conceiving, and yet they had. Some were far too old; others lacked the physical means, having had hysterectomies. Some of those surgeries Dr. Garcia had performed herself, so there was no doubt in her mind that the procedures had indeed been performed.

Some were married; some were not. A couple of them were lesbians who had never been intimate with a man.

So, how?

Something her last patient had said stuck in her mind. She hadn’t dated anyone in more than a year, then a man had asked her out, sweeping her off her feet with romantic talk.

Dr. Garcia had heard similar things from other patients. Husbands transformed overnight from drunken sports nuts to sweet-talking Casanovas. Shy men who had never so much as spoken to a woman were suddenly wooing and charming the female sex like Hollywood movie stars.

This case was just like the others. A woman, pregnant, with no logical explanation as to why. Her 46-year-old patient and long time friend had undergone a hysterectomy nine years earlier, after experiencing complications following the birth of her third child. She swore that she hadn’t been intimate with a man in more than a year. As a doctor, Renee had heard that line many times, from pregnant teens still in denial, from married women unwilling to admit that their due dates did not fall within a credible range.

But this patient was different. She had known Jillian since high school and delivered all three of her children. Jill had no reason to lie to her.

Renee studied the ultrasound images she had received that day. Some were from patients in those same files. In all cases, the technicians had been baffled at what they found. The woman looked visibly pregnant – belly distended as if in the second or third trimester, but the ultrasound produced no image. Just an opaque black mass where the uterus should have been. But in many of the cases, no uterus had been present to begin with.

She picked up the phone and pressed the button to connect to her partner’s extension. Maybe Dr. Gupta was still in her office. She was curious as to whether she had noticed anything unusual in her patients.

While she waited for her to pick up, someone knocked on her office door.

“You in there, Renee?”

“Yes. Come in Lila.”

“I was wondering if you’d like to grab some lunch,” Lila said.

“I was just trying to call you, actually.”

“Great minds think alike.”

“No, it wasn’t about that. I wanted to ask you about something.

“And?” Lila queried, sidling up to Renee’s desk to see what she was looking at.

“I was wondering if you’d come across anything unusual lately. With your patients.”

“Like what?”

“Umm. Pregnancies. Where there shouldn’t be any. Unusual ultrasound results.”

“Nothing comes to mind.” She paused to think for a moment, then shook her head. “Everything ok?”

“Sure. Just thinking out loud. Thanks. As a matter of fact, I could use a bite to eat.”

The bell jingled in the reception area.

“That’s odd,” Lila said. “I could’ve sworn Doris locked the front doors.”

The clinic was closed from eleven to twelve for lunch, and their receptionist, Doris, had already left.

“I’ll check it out,” Lila said. She left the room and returned moments later escorted by two burly men in black suits. They held her at gunpoint.

Renee held up her hands. “We don’t have much cash on the premises, but it’s all yours. Please don’t hurt us. We don’t have any drugs here.”

“Dr. Garcia, Dr. Gupta, you’ll need to come with us. Please do not discuss with anyone anything you may have seen, or we’ll be forced to kill you.”

“What?” Renee quavered. “Who are you people?”

“Homeland Security.”

“Renee, I think we’d better go with them.”

“You don’t have a choice, Dr. Gupta.”

Renee and Lila led the way out of the clinic. A long, glossy black vehicle resembling an armored truck was parked at the curb.

“Can I lock up?” Renee asked.

“That won’t be necessary. Get in. And remember. No talking to anyone.”

A door swung open on the side of the vehicle and one of the black-suited goons helped them inside while the other made his way to the driver’s side and took a seat behind the wheel.

Large tinted windows covered the sides and back of the vehicle. Renee realized they were one-way glass; she could see out, but hadn’t been able to see inside the bus. They were on a bus. Rows of seats held other men and women, most of whom they recognized. Doctors, lab technicians, nurses, all of them medical staff to some degree. Even Doris, their receptionist, sat alone in a seat, wide-eyed and terrified.

Goon #2 spoke into his headset. “All sealed up back here. Move out and detonate.”

A loud boom shook the vehicle as it drove away. Renee knew even before she saw the flames and cloud of debris hurtling skyward that her clinic was no more.

* * *

Johanna arrived home to find the house empty. Her mother had to work that day, but not until noon. Johanna’s breakfast shift ended at eleven on weekends – plenty of time for her to take over care of Zoe while her mother worked. It was only 9am, so where were Mom and Zoe? Charlie was presumably at work by now, but Johanna really had no desire to see her brother now that he had transformed into one of those skull-sucking freaks, whatever they were.

On the kitchen table, she found a note from her mother:

Jo,

I had to go to the doctor, and this was the only time Renee could see me. Zoe is at Arlene’s. If you get home before I do, could you please pick her up?

A doctor appointment? On a Saturday morning? Johanna knew the clinic was open Saturdays, but her mother usually made appointments on her days off. She worked afternoons at the salon to coordinate her schedule with Johanna’s.

Was her mother sick? A cold chill gripped Johanna’s guts. Was Mom hiding something from her?

She went next door and rang Arlene’s doorbell. Zoe answered.

“’Bout frickin’ time! Spring me outta this hellhole. It’s boring as shit in here. No Xbox, no internet. She just watches those stupid reality shows all day.

“Zoe! Language!” Johanna scolded.

“Pfft. Like you care. I learned it from you.”

“Thanks Arlene!” Johanna called.

“Anytime, sweetie,” Arlene rasped, a cloud of cigarette smoke billowing around her head. She remained glued to her usual spot on the couch, the cushion of which had probably formed a permanent impression of her ample butt.

“I don’t know why Mom made me stay with her. I can take care of myself just fine. Doesn’t she know cigarette smoke is bad for kids?”

“I guess she had no other choice. Her appointment was before I got home.”

“So? I coulda’ stayed home with Charlie.”

Johanna grabbed Zoe’s arm just before she reached the front door of their house. “What? Charlie’s home?”

“Yeah.”

“But I thought he had to work today. He always works on Saturday.”

“Well, he ain’t working today. Look, his car’s still there.”

Charlie’s green Honda Accord sat in the driveway. Johanna had parked in the alley and gone in the back door, so she hadn’t seen it until now.

“Zoe, have you noticed anything… strange about Charlie lately?”

“Not really. I mean, he’s always been kind of a weirdo, right?”

“I’m not talking about Goth music or facial piercings. I mean, he’s been acting weirder than usual. Like, quiet and polite or something.”

Zoe shrugged. “I dunno, maybe. What’s the big deal?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“Whatevs. Can I go play Black Ops now?”

“Sure.”

Zoe ran inside and made a beeline for her bedroom. Johanna cringed when Zoe’s door whammed shut, shaking the entire house.

Johanna tiptoed down the hall to Charlie’s room. The door was ajar. She peeked in. The room was empty.

She searched the rest of the house, room by room. She even checked the basement, attic and closets, but Charlie was nowhere to be found. It appeared Charlie had gone out, presumably to work, and left his car at home. Maybe it had broken down and he’d gotten a ride from someone.

Now that Charlie was part of the tentacle brigade, Johanna half hoped he’d never return. At least not until this mess, whatever it was, was sorted out.

She poured a glass of orange juice and sat down at the kitchen table. She needed to have a long talk with her mother – about Charlie, the men at work, her mother’s date – and she wanted to know the reason for the impromptu doctor appointment.

Johanna’s cell phone buzzed. She picked it up. It was a text message from her mom:

I’m going 2 b late. Renee sent me to the hosp for an ultrasound.

Mom, are u ok?

Yes I’m fine. Just a routine checkup. I’m going to work right after.

You sure?

Yes!

I’m home and got Zoe with me.

Off work early?

Yep.

Problem?

Yes and no. I’ll xplain l8er.

Ok.

Johanna contemplated how she was going to explain to her mother the things she had seen. Men did inexplicable things all the time, but tearing their own heads off and making kissy faces with tentacle-lips was definitely a new one.

A piercing scream from Zoe’s room jolted her out of her reverie.

Johanna jumped up and bolted toward Zoe’s closed door.

“Get off me you fucking freak! What the hell’s wrong with you?” Zoe yelled. A thud followed, then Zoe’s door opened and she burst out of the room, crashing into Johanna.

“What’s wrong?”

Zoe pointed back toward her room. “That fucktard was hiding in my closet! And then he tried to kiss me! Ewwwww!”

Charlie lay sprawled on the floor of Zoe’s room.

“What happened to him?”

“I kicked his ass, that’s what. And he deserved it, that creep!”

“Thank god for karate,” Johanna said, grabbing Zoe’s hand. “Come on, we’re getting out of here.” She pulled her sister out the back door and together they ran to Johanna’s car.

“Where we goin’?”

“I don’t know. I think we need to find Mom.”

“Where’s she?”

“She said she was going to the hospital for some tests. She has to go to work after that, so let’s meet her there. We can hang out in the mall until the salon opens.”

“Can I go to the arcade?”

“Sure. Just don’t kiss any strange men.”

“Don’t be a sicko!” Zoe made a gagging noise.

* * *

Jill drove down the winding road, looking at the sleepy little town below. Like many hospitals, theirs was situated on high ground, atop what in this case, was the only hill in an otherwise flat landscape. Over the years it had become known as ‘Hospital Hill’. Her brow furrowed as she replayed in her mind what the ultrasound technician had told her.

“Your last period was when?”

“2005. Sorry, but I can’t remember the exact month, not that it matters.”

“Yes. Hysterectomy. That’s what it says here.”

The technician turned away to rattle some notes into her keyboard, then continued with the scan, muttering, “Same as before. Strange.” She laid the scanner on her instrument tray and handed Jill a box of tissues to clean the gel from her abdomen.

“Am I done?”

“Yes. You can get dressed now.”

“Is everything okay?”

“I’m not allowed to discuss it with you. You’ll have to see your doctor, but what I can tell you is that she may send you back for another scan. Our equipment has been malfunctioning lately, and I wasn’t able to get the images she wanted.”

Jill was pretty sure it was her own equipment that was malfunctioning, not the hospital’s. It was impossible, yet she had all the symptoms of pregnancy. Judging from the size of her belly, which had literally grown overnight, she appeared six to seven months along.

Having no uterus to support the pregnancy theory, there had to be another explanation, and all of the possibilities terrified Jill. Visions of tumors, massive blood clots, liver disease, kidney failure and other horrors swam in her mind. She needed to talk to Renee, and wondered if her friend and physician was still at the clinic.

A bright flash lit up the sky over the town. The unmistakable mushroom cloud of a large explosion rose directly above the area in which Renee’s clinic was located.

Jill slammed on the brakes. No. It couldn’t be. It had to be a different street. She found the white spire of the church, then counted the streets from there to the explosion site. One. Two. Three. Magnolia Street, where the clinic was located, was three blocks from the church in the direction of the main road leading out of town.

She fished her phone out of her purse and called the clinic. No answer. She tried Renee’s cell phone and got no answer there either. She had to know. She put the car in gear and made her way down the slope toward the cloud of smoke. As she drew nearer the clinic, bits of debris littered the street and she stopped the car to avoid losing a tire to broken glass and twisted metal. She walked the final block feeling as though the shards of glass crunching beneath her shoes were actually eggshells that needed to be delicately tread upon to maintain the illusion that everything was all right. When she reached the site of the explosion, her worst fears were confirmed. Where Renee’s clinic had been not more than an hour ago was a smoking black hole, with dirty red flames licking around the edges.

“No! No, no, no,” she whispered, shaking her head.

Maybe Renee wasn’t there… maybe she had gone to lunch early. Then Jill saw her friend’s car, still parked in her reserved space in front of the clinic. What had been a shiny silver Lexus an hour ago was now a blackened hulk sitting on four flaming tires.

A sob caught in her throat at the realization that her friend was gone. “Renee…”

She needed to go home.

She needed to collect her children and make sure all were accounted for, then gather them close until they found out what was going on. Was it a terrorist attack? An act of war?

She texted Johanna:

I’m coming home. R u there yet?

NO! Whatever you do, don’t go home!

Why?

Zoe and I are at the mall waiting for you. Just get over here and I’ll explain. Do NOT go home!

What about Charlie?

Fuck Charlie. Just get here ASAP!

Jill took a last tearful look at the burning clinic before rushing to her car. Sirens rose around her as she sped away toward the mall, passing the first of the fire trucks to reach the scene.

* * *

Johanna had never been so relieved to see her mother. She gave her a huge hug.

“You didn’t go home, did you?”

“No, I came straight here, like you said. Where’s Zoe?”

Johanna nodded toward the arcade. “About halfway through a roll of quarters, I’d guess.” Her mother looked shaken up. “Are you ok? What’s with the hospital stuff?”

“I-I don’t know. I just don’t know what’s going on.” Jill burst into tears. She opened her jacket to reveal her swollen belly.

Johanna gaped. “Mom, are you… pregnant?”

“Of course not!”

“Then what did the doctor say? Surely Renee has some explanation for… whatever this is.”

“No, that’s what I’m afraid of. Not that I’m sick, or… something. Jo, Renee is dead. Her clinic just blew up. I saw it from Hospital Hill.”

“What? Who blows up a clinic?” Johanna asked, although she knew. Anti-abortionists blew up clinics all the time. Overzealous drug addicts, looking to loot the place, but underestimating the power of a fertilizer bomb was another likely possibility, given the clinic’s rural setting.

Johanna pulled Jill into her arms and let her sob into her shoulder. Mascara smeared all over the shoulder of her pink waitress uniform, but Jo didn’t care. She was about 90% certain she would not be going back to work at Maddy’s again after what she’d witnessed that morning. She led her mother to a bench and sat down with her, wondering how in the blue hell she was going to tell her about Charlie, and the other men.

An explosion rocked the building, accompanied by the sound of shattering glass and the screech of metal on metal.

Terrorist attack! Was the first thought to flash through Johanna’s mind and from the look of alarm on her mother’s face, she could tell that she was thinking the same thing.

“Zoe!” Jill shouted, bolting for the arcade to protect her youngest daughter.

Johanna moved tentatively in the direction of the blast. When she rounded the corner, she saw with relief that it hadn’t been an explosion at all, just an automobile crash. A large shiny black vehicle was wedged into a secondary mall entrance, near the food court. It was stuck tight, like the driver had tried to drive into the mall, then only managed to fit the cab of the vehicle through the opening.

The passenger door opened and a soldier jumped out. Her fatigues were splattered with blood.

Johanna ran to her. “Are you okay?”

“Oh, I’m fine,” she said, “but he’s had better days.” She nodded toward the truck. Through the open door Johanna could see the silhouette of the driver, slumped against the steering wheel.

“What happened?”

“Sonofabitch tried to kiss me, so I blew his brains out.”

“What the fuck?”

“I’ll explain later. Right now I need to get these passengers out.”

The woman slid underneath the vehicle and unlocked something. “Help me with this, will you?”

Johanna crawled on her hands and knees, then flipped onto her back and scooted over to where the soldier was struggling to open a sliding panel.

“Wedge your feet here and push, on three.”

Johanna did as she was told and together they managed to force the panel open. The soldier drew her sidearm and aimed it into the opening.

“Stand down, Agent Stone. It’s Sergeant Wells. I’m entering the rear of the bus now. Everyone okay in there?”

Several voices murmured the affirmative.

“Sergeant Josie Wells, U.S. Army. Please move away from the emergency door. I’m coming in now.”

The soldier stood, then crawled up into the back of what appeared to be a large bus, from Johanna’s point of view.

“Any injuries?” Josie inquired. More murmurs. “Ok, we are going to exit through this panel in an orderly fashion. We have had to make an emergency stop, but you are safe and have nothing to fear. Who’s going first?”

Johanna slid out from under the bus to make way for the passengers. She heard a ripping sound and felt her uniform tear away from one shoulder.

“Shitballs!” she muttered. Maddy made her waitresses pay a deposit for their uniforms, which was as good as gone now that this one was damaged. Then she remembered that she probably wouldn’t be working at the diner anymore, so it didn’t matter.

The men and women emerged from beneath the bus. Johanna offered a hand to help any who looked like they needed it. Most were familiar faces; in a small town like Esther, Oklahoma it was next to impossible not to have seen each resident at least once.

Her mother arrived, dragging Zoe, who looked none too pleased at having been kidnapped from the arcade. When she saw the bus, her eyes widened and she stopped resisting.

“Wow! Cool! How many casualties? Are there like dead bodies and guts everywhere in there?”

“Sorry to disappoint you, but no. Just one. The driver.”

“Oh my! Should we get help for him?” Jill asked.

Johanna shook her head. “He’s beyond help. He came down with a bad case of bullet through the head.”

“Whoa…” Zoe stared in awe, leaning toward the bus in hopes of getting a glimpse of the driver.

A scuffle could be heard inside the bus, then Sergeant Wells spoke again, in a sharp, commanding tone.

“Agent Stone, I need you to stand down now! Step away from the woman! Sir! Stop!”

Three shots rang out in rapid succession, followed by screams from inside the bus and more from the group gathered outside.

“Ladies and gentlemen! Calm down! Please exit the bus one at a time. Do not panic. Move in an orderly fashion!”

The rest of the passengers emerged more quickly than the first group. Sergeant Wells brought up the rear. Johanna noticed more blood on her uniform than before. Some of the passengers had blood on them as well.

Jill let out a small scream, dropping Zoe’s hand to run into the final group of passengers. She threw her arms around a blood-splattered woman.

“Oh my God, Renee! Are you all right? Are you hurt? Jill sobbed, dabbing at her face with the sleeve of her blouse.

Johanna hadn’t even recognized Dr. Garcia underneath the red mess covering her face.

“I’m fine,” Renee said, hugging Jill back. “I’m not injured. It’s not my blood, it’s…” she choked back a sob, unable to finish the sentence.

“I thought you were dead. I thought I saw your clinic blow up.”

“It did.”

“But how?”

Renee shook her head, glancing over at Sergeant Wells. “I don’t know. I just don’t know.”

Johanna marched over to the fountain, where Wells was washing the blood from her face.

“What’s going on? What is all this?”

“It’s top secret.”

“Really.” Johanna crossed her arms defiantly. “Does your secret have anything to do with men eating their own heads?”

Wells sighed. “I guess it doesn’t matter at this point. The mission has been compromised and I’ve just killed two superiors.”

“Let me guess. They tried to get kissy-face?”

“Affirmative.”

“Don’t these people deserve an explanation?”

“And how do you suppose we do that without creating panic?”

“I think we’re long past panic, Sergeant.”

“I guess so.”

A small crowd had begun to form and questions rose around them like the humming of insects. Wells held her hand up, silencing the crowd.

“I’ll tell you what I know, but you must agree to remain calm regardless of what you may hear or see in the next few hours.”

People slumped on benches, leaned against mall furnishings or slid to the floor as Josie began to speak.

* * *

Nobody knew exactly when or where it began, and its origin was still unclear. It was believed to be an alien pathogen, although biological terrorism hadn’t been ruled out yet. Only men were affected, and the method of transmission was also unclear. The only thing certain was what happened afterward.

An estimated 72 hours after coming in contact with the pathogen, the victim would begin to exhibit strange behavior, namely removing his own head and consuming the contents. A tentacle-like appendage grew in place of the head. After the head was empty it was worn as a helmet of sorts, concealing the alien’s identity and allowing it to blend into the population.

The thing was, the aliens didn’t know enough about human civilization to assimilate effectively. To gain information about their enemy, they resorted to humankind’s foremost source of entertainment: movies.

Their mission: To invade Earth.

Their means of invasion: Eliminate the men, who they saw as the primary threat, then take their places and impregnate the females with their own kind. Impregnation was accomplished by implanting an egg in the female’s abdomen, via the tentacle.

A single kiss was all it took.

The aliens mimicked what they saw in movies, quoting Bogart and Gable and other classic leading men in a cheesy attempt to woo the women into relinquishing a kiss and sealing the fate of humankind.

* * *

The small crowd was silent for several minutes after Josie finished speaking.

Finally, Renee spoke.

“Am I to understand that only men are vulnerable to… whatever this is, and women are immune?”

“Provided they don’t kiss any of the men, yes.”

“And so those pregnancies I’ve seen… the unexplained ones. They are a result of that?”

Jill covered her mouth and stifled a sob, tears spilling out of her eyes. Johanna put an arm around her.

“Yes, Doctor.”

Renee waved an arm toward the wrecked bus. “And what is the purpose of this?”

“Homeland Security’s feeble attempt to keep the situation secret. Too many doctors were seeing strange pregnancies and starting to ask questions. They’ve sent out teams to round up medical personnel and destroy medical records.”

“By blowing up clinics? That’s insane!”

“That’s America.” The soldier shrugged. “Other teams are out there right now, collecting all women who are visibly pregnant.” She glanced at Jill. “Once impregnated, the egg, or whatever it is, grows rapidly, becoming visible overnight.”

“What happens when it… hatches?” Jill asked.

Josie looked down at her boots and shook her head.

“No!” Johanna shouted.

“I’m sorry. They have been trying to study it, to find some kind of antidote, but so far none of the female subjects have survived.”

“What about the men?” Johanna asked.

“We are under orders to eliminate any men who exhibit romantic behavior.”

A nervous laugh rippled through the males in the group.

“So guys, what that means is, be sure to act like men and don’t try to get romantic with any women or you might get shot. Sorry.”

* * *

SIX MONTHS LATER

Sentry duty was long and tedious, much like her previous job at Maddy’s Diner. Johanna paced to stave off the numbness creeping into her toes. It wasn’t easy finding footwear that fit anymore, since all the stores had been looted long ago. She’d had to resort to a pair of mismatched high-heeled boots from a display window because they were the only ones left in her size. On the run from a particularly tenacious Fleeb doing a poor imitation of Pepe Le Pew at the time, she’d had no time to shop around. The irony of a shoe shortage in a world ruled by women never escaped her for a moment.

A lot had changed in the past few months, though it seemed like years had passed since the day she witnessed her brother’s self-decapitation in the kitchen. She was still working at Maddy’s, but her job description these days was different, as was the diner itself.

Maddy was long gone, having exploded giving birth to an alien embryo after being impregnated by Kevin the fry cook. On the day Johanna lost her mother in likewise fashion, she swore revenge on the invaders.

Armed with assault rifles, Johanna and Zoe went on a grief-stricken rampage, shooting every man in sight, infected or not. Johanna had to admit, the kid was a good shot. All those hours spent playing Call of Duty had paid off. Zoe was well-equipped to survive in the world in which she would grow up.

A surge of female warriors rose, following Johanna’s lead. An unlikely army of women from all walks of life – bank tellers, beauticians, school teachers and more – history’s most fashionably dressed infantry waged war on mankind. At first they were met with considerable resistance from the real military, but as more women took up arms and more men morphed into kiss-crazy babbling Fleebs, a global shift of power took place.

Maddy’s diner was now an outpost, due to its location on the interstate at the edge of town. The sign inviting travelers to come in and eat lay in a heap of rubble after being blown up with a grenade launched at a fuel truck driven by a Fleeb. ‘Fleeb’ was what they called the infected men, after the sound they made through their proboscis.

Pockets of resistance still remained. The men had gone underground, and for good reason, because males were shot on sight, Fleeb or not. The object was, blast all men, take no prisoners. However, some women were still suckers for… suckers, and pregnancies still occurred from time to time. Some of the men tried cross-dressing as a disguise, but most did a lousy job of it and were easy to pick out. Nonetheless, all who entered Estrogenesis, Oklahoma had to check in at one of the outposts, where they would be transported to the hospital for blood work and a doctor’s examination to confirm their gender.

What would become of the human species once all men were eliminated? That was the question on many minds. Sperm banks held a possible solution. Once the threat was contained, women could become pregnant again in hopes of repopulating the species.

Would male children born into the new world be immune to the Fleeb pathogen, or would they, too become infected? Nobody knew. If the Fleeb was there to stay, the only solution was to eliminate the male offspring and keep the females. As an Amazonian society, humankind’s time on Earth was destined to expire once the last sperm was gone.

Copyright © 2014 Mandy White

This story is featured in the WPaD Anthology Goin’ Extinct. 

Coming Soon...

Who can come up with a dozen different ways to end the world? We can!
This apocalyptic collection of short stories explores numerous ways in which life as we know it could end. From the traditional nuclear apocalypse to cosmic events, zombies, mysterious alien substances, evil corporations and even… coffee. These stories will shock, entertain and tug at your heart strings. For your post-apocalyptic reading list, ‘Goin’ Extinct’ is a must-have.

Including stories and poetry from: Mandy White (Author), David W. Stone (Author), Diana Garcia (Author), Marla Todd (Author), Nathan Tackett (Author), J. Harrison Kemp (Author), David Hunter (Author), Michael Haberfelner (Author), Jade M. Phillips (Author), Gina McKnight (Author), Mike Cooley (Author), , Chris Da Cruz (Author), S.E. Springle (Author)

Table of Contents

  • Existence is No Longer Profitable ~ David Hunter
  • Zoila’s Zombie ~ Jade M. Phillips
  • Battle of the Bean ~ Mandy White
  • ~ His Beating Heart ~ Poetry by Marla Todd
  • Zombie Days ~ Marla Todd
  • Skeet Beecham’s Confessions from the End of the World ~ J. Harrison Kemp
  • ~ The Quell ~ Poetry by Diana Garcia
  • Quietus ~ Diana Garcia
  • Purple ~ David W. Stone
  • It’s All Over on Elm Street ~ David Hunter
  • Dead Matter ~ Mike Cooley
  • ~ Electrical Chaos ~ Poetry by Sara Jane
  • Survival of the Fittest ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • The Last Summer Storm ~ Val Fox
  • Captain Sandy and the Airship at the End of the World ~ Marla Todd
  • Insectisorium ~ David W. Stone
  • ~ Untitled poetry by S.E. Springle
  • Finding Tennesee ~ Gina McKnight
  • Never Mind the Humans, Here’s the Rodents ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • Lullaby ~ Nathan Tackett
  • ~ The Great Flood ~ Poetry by Chris Da Cruz
  • Just One Kiss ~ Mandy White

Enough of the official description…

The first time I read this book I laughed out loud – not because it was funny but because it is SO GOOD.

WPaD is the acronym for Writers, Poets and Deviants. We are a diverse group of writers who came together on the Internet to support and encourage each other.Our collaborative works are charity fundraisers, with a percentage of royalties being donated to Multiple Sclerosis in support of members of our group who live with MS.

WPaD books are available worldwide in paperback and ebook editions.

Find WPaD Publications on Facebook for updates on our upcoming projects Or follow us on Twitter: @wpadpublication

Cover art by Jason Kemp.

To purchase on Amazon CLICK HERE.

To purchase on B&N CLICK HERE.

 

Short Story Sunday: Ode to a Greek God

This is one of my favorites, and my schedule and brain are both full today.  Some of you might have read this one before.

 

vm_on the water

Ode to a Greek God

A story by Marla Todd

 

I’ve been 6000 years at the top of my game. I knew it was too good to last.

I’m having breakfast on my deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean with the perfect amount of salty warm breeze drifting over me. A beautiful redheaded woman is still in my bed and I can still feel the warmth of her skin against mine. Fortunately she’ll be gone in an hour.

Anyway, I’m having coffee and some amazing cheese and apple pastries my son dropped off this morning. I’m also checking out a box Pan had dropped off with the pastries. That’s my son Pan, the famous happy-go-lucky satyr who dances through the woods making merry. That’s over. He settled down about 150 years ago with a wood nymph named Gloria and they’ve been keeping domestic bliss ever since. I never thought I’d see the day. Anyway, they were cleaning out some closets and found some stuff I’d swiped a few years ago. Thirty-four years ago to be exact.

It looked like I’d gone into the backpack of a college girl. I’d been in college mode that year for a change of pace. I was young, buffed and blue eyed and a killer smile. Female heads all turned in my direction.

In the box was a silver hair clip in the shape of a flowering tree branch, a delicate sexy lacy cream-colored underwire bra size 32C, a sea shell and a folded up piece of college ruled notebook paper. I unfolded the paper and read the words that would change my life.

It was a poem. It was in a round girlish script written in blue felt tip pen. No name identified the writer. I started to read, expecting the usually silly girlish babble about the meaning of life, teen angst and the horrible nature of never being understood. What I read was something else entirely.

As I stood upon the steps,

Halfway between the land and sea

The messenger god Hermes

Came to me,

Swift footed and bright

But somewhat overtaken

By his cousin Dionysus’ last visit

He brought me a message

And I read it through his blue eyes

“I bring you myself” he said.

No answer came from my lips

Except a kiss,

Which spoke very clear.

Oh happy was I,

When hand in hand

Under the stars we ran

For my mythical Hermes

Turned into a man

I took a gulp of coffee and stared at the poem. A poem about me? People had written poems about me, of course, but this was personal. It was a poem about ME, not a god of tales and lore but about ME, Hermes. It was about ME.

This girl knew me. I mean she KNEW me. She knew who I was. How? I never let on to any mortal to who or what I am. Never.

She wrote me a poem. It wasn’t a great poem. It wasn’t even a good poem. It wasn’t epic. But by my father Zeus, it was tender and sweet, full of the promise of love. It was happy. It was from her heart. A heart that considered me more than just a good body and maybe a great fuck, if I did indeed fuck her. I know I must have kissed her. I must have made love to her, because a girl who wrote the poem would never just fuck a guy. She’d have made love to me in a way I should have remembered, but damn it I couldn’t remember a thing.

A kiss. I tried to recall it. Such a kiss I should have remembered. It should have burned on my lips. It should have taken my immortal breath away. I sat going through all of the dusty file drawers in my brain trying to remember, but NOTHING came to mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I am usually NOT the romantic type. I love women but I refuse to be the kind of guy or god who is going to turn into a jellied mass of so much romantic bullshit over just any female. Or am I? My stomach knotted up. My head spun. My heart started to beat fast. I thought I was going to throw up.

By the way, I am Hermes, the messenger God. I go by a lot of names but my friends and family and people who worship me call me Hermes. The Romans called me Mercury, but that is a completely different story, one I’d like not to bring up right at this moment.

So I close my eyes and THINK. 34 years. I’m trying to get a face. A location. Who the hell wrote that poem? There was a ski trip to Aspen and another to Tahoe. An uneventful week in Miami brought back no memories. Of course there were trips to Greece and Paris. The summer was spent in San Francisco and a little north of there was the beach house. Fall brought on New York and Boston. I was in Vermont for the holidays with my family (I know what you’re thinking and yes, we do get together for the holidays just like any other large dysfunctional family).

I heard a car start and looked back to the side of the house. The redhead drove away in her red BMW. I wouldn’t see her again. She got what she wanted and was happy. Fine with me.

Up the drive walks my cousin Dionysus, who happens to be staying at my brother Apollo’s place next door. There again, he was the PARTY GOD. Now he turned into Mr. Bottle Shock. Always going up to Napa, Sonoma, Amador or jetting over to France, Australia, and all corners of the Earth for wine tastings. The guy has been going on about Lodi wines lately so much that I wanted to smack him until I tried them. He was right; it was the nectar of the God’s. But really – Lodi? Have you been to Lodi? Despite all of that he’s still my best friend.

He read the poem. “Halfway between the land and the sea. She was at the beach house you dork.”

“Do you remember her?”

“Yes I remember her.”

“Who was she?”

“Miranda. Quiet girl with the pretty blue-green eyes. She was cute enough.”

“I’m trying but I don’t have a face yet.”

Dionysus poured himself a cup of coffee, added about a gallon of milk to it and half a cup of sugar before sitting down. “She drove a beat up old MG Midget. You talked cars. She was impressed by your Porsche. The two of you hung out all weekend making small talk. Saturday night you went for a walk on the beach and she had sex with you. You thought she was sweet. Remember, she was getting ready to go off to UCLA for the fall. You told her you were going to Harvard.”

Pictures, smells, sound and feelings started to flood my brain.

“She’d been there for several weekends. We always ended up talking on the porch.” I said as images started to come back into my brain.

“Right. She liked you a lot but she didn’t come out and hunt you like the other chicks always did. It wasn’t until that last weekend that you acted on it.”

I remembered. She was a cute, somewhat pretty 17 year old girl with long brown hair and aqua marine eyes. At a party she wouldn’t have been the girl all the guys were after, but I noticed her. Well, she noticed me first. She started out talking to me about cars. From cars we talked about the tides and the ocean and movies and music and school. She wanted to travel to Nepal and spend time in Europe. Most of her friends were moving on to different colleges but she seemed all right with it. Her mind was set towards the future. I liked her company but she didn’t indicate at all that she wanted true love or a lasting relationship.

We’d walked on the beach. I’d made a few jokes and she’d laughed. She said a few things that were so funny it surprised me. I kissed her and a few hours later we made love by the base of a cliff in a private isolated area of the beach. She didn’t howl at the moon or put on a show. She wasn’t a virgin either.

Miranda let me take the lead but followed with quiet perfection. She lost herself quietly in the moment (which by the way lasted a good hour) and in me and didn’t ask for more. She could kiss too and had an amazing body. What more could a young man want?

We walked back to the house with all of our friends and she never said a word about it. The next morning she gave me her number and said, “Call me”, knowing full well the chances of me doing that were slim to none.

I never called her back.

Now I sat alone in my anguished romantic hell. She’d written a poem that morning and I’d stolen it along with a few other items to remember my lovely weekend. The god of thieves had taken a token of love she dared not share with me and for 34 years I had no idea what she’d written on that piece of folded up note paper.

“Where is she now?” I asked Dionysius, knowing if he didn’t know he’d find out.

He pulled out a large wine glass; the big kind used for reds and filled it with water.

“Take a look Hermes. But you might not like what you find. I guarantee you that one like her isn’t sitting around pining for the boy who got away.”

Images and information started to swirl in the glass. And I guarantee you, it sounds primitive, but you get a lot better information in a wine glass than you’ll ever get on Google.

Miranda had earned a doctorate degree in Genetics from UCLA and an MBA from Stanford. She was currently the Director of Development for a biotech firm in Northern California. The husband was an advocate for foster youth and has been a public defender for 20 years. They’d produced two lovely children, one of each. 11 year old girl and 13 year old boy. Both in swim club, good students, get along, popular, no problems. Lots’ of friends with kids, vacations and barbeques. Her home is in a fairly upscale neighborhood but not too pretentious. They go wine tasting a lot and like to cook. My kind of mortals if you don’t mind me saying. The husband even built sort of a wine cellar in the basement. She also likes to build garden sculptures but the visuals were blurred.

“Like whirly gigs?” I asked, thinking of pink flamingos with wildly spinning wings and little figures of men chopping wood. The idea was too weird to digest.

“Kinetic yes, but more large found items, tiles, wood, paint.” Answered my cousin.

“Like the Watt Towers?”

“Not that extreme. More like something out of Sunset Magazine. Understated with a touch of rustic charm.”

Enough of the garden shit. “What’s the relationship like with the husband? What is he? Some middle-aged Viagra popper?”

Dion gave me a smile, like the kind you’d give someone who just said something incredibly stupid. “Hermes, I’m surprise in you. The husband doesn’t need Viagra. He functions quite well on his own.”

“I didn’t need to know that. Did she ever write HIM a poem?”

“The husband? No. You’re the only one she has ever written about.”

“Does she still write anything?”

“She just finished a novel. It’s a mystery romance sort of deal.”

“Can you get me a copy?”

“Sure. I’ll call her up tonight and ask her to email it to me.” He said with a slight touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“Am I in it?” I asked too urgently, hoping the answer would be a definite YES.

“I have no idea but I seriously doubt it.”

“Is she looking to publish it?”

“As we speak. This is her dream Herm. She wants to be published before her kids get into high school so she can be home more with them.”

How could any woman with such a romantic soul, who wrote a poem to a god end up where she was I wondered? “What the fuck is she doing in Biotech?” I asked my cousin.

Dionysus shrugged. “A growing and diverse field with fulfilling opportunities to make the world a better place. She loves it but after 25 years of it she is ready to move on, maybe be a consultant but her family is everything to her.”

I looked into the glass again and saw her as she is now. The brown hair was a little shorter falling slightly below her shoulders, now lighter with blonde highlights. She was dressed stylishly in one of those cute little sweater sets all the women are wearing with a slim skirt and flats with bows. She wore bows on her shoes, a fact that turned my body to so much more jelly. I remember she always wore some bit of fluff or frill along with her Levis and rag wool sweaters. The aqua marine eyes sparkled with little signs of aging. She laughed out loud filling the room with joy. How could someone be so happy working in a science lab? How could someone be so happy without me?

The glass told me that she is known for her humor and mirth. I hardly saw any of it 34 years ago. How could I have been so blind?

To make matters worse was the fact that she was lovely. Fifty one years of lovely female bliss aged to perfection – like the most exquisite and complex wine ever made. She was something to be savored. She was something to be lingered over and enjoyed slowly with great appreciation. I wanted her so bad I ached.

I’m not the kind of guy, or god for that matter, who turns himself into an animal (like dear old dad) to trick a woman. I’m not going to do anything to hurt or use a woman. If a woman wants to use me, then fine, I’ll let her, but that doesn’t make me a bad guy. But I guess I was the perfect asshole to Dr. Miranda Wilkenson Hobbs. She wrote me a poem and I never called her.

I looked up at my cousin. “What was it like before she met the perfect husband?

He shrugged. “She traveled a bit. Worked a lot. Dated a lot. Had a couple of serious relationships but nothing she couldn’t walk away from. She met her husband 16 years ago at a party.”

“Did she write him a poem?” I asked.

“No. Nothing.”

“Nothing. Any hang ups with old boyfriends?”

“None. She’s still friends with a few. They’re all married with kids. Nothing unusual. She didn’t write them any poetry either.”

I conjured up an image of the husband in the glass. Average to nice looking middle-aged man. Full head of black hair, sparkling bright blue eyes, slightly crooked nose but with one of those warm and fuzzy charm filled smiles that women love. Nice slightly better than average guy who could in no way compare to me. No way. Not enough for her to write him poetry. Asshole bastard.

During the following weeks I pulled strings and called in favors that sent Miranda’s book right into the waiting hands of Bryan Woods, literary agent extraordinaire. By the way, Bryan Woods was the name I went by when I spent those weekends at the beach house 34 years ago.

When she received my call I couldn’t believe how good it was to hear that lovely voice. Why of course she could meet me. Where? I made arrangements in San Francisco. She’d have to drive to the big city which was A) always a treat for her and, B) a few hours from her home and away any distractions, C) a most romantic spot for seduction.

It was a beautiful day in the city with clear skies and a high of 68 degrees F. I wore gray Armani and my Rolex Daytona (yellow gold), and of course a Hermes tie. The blonde highlights in my hair were perfect and natural. The smile was a zillion watts. The eyes sparkled blue as a Maxfield Parrish sky.

I picked a restaurant with impeccable service and food, an excellent wine list and a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Exactly at noon Miranda showed up. She scanned the room and saw me with a slight hint of recognition. She’d dressed carefully with thought as women do. A flattering and pretty pink tweed suit over a pink silk blouse with high t-strap shoes that was so classic and sexy I nearly laughed out loud with joy.

She smiled and took my outstretched hand. I took her back to our table. There was the usual required small talk about the drive over, the weather, etc etc etc.

We ordered wine and food. I told her how impressed I was with her book. By the way, I was impressed. The woman could write a story. We spoke of publishing and possible options and contracts. I told her I could see a movie deal coming out of all of it. No lies there. After a flurry of animated conversation we suddenly stopped.

Then she looked at me with slightly squinted eyes and asked “Have we met before?”

I said “The beach house.”

“Oh my goodness. That is you.” She said looking slightly embarrassed.

“We made love on the beach.”

She glanced down unable to meet my eyes for a moment then took a sip of wine and looked up at me again. “We were just kids. Wow that was a long time ago. Small world. Um, it’s good to see you again. You’ve obviously done well for yourself”.

“So have you dear Miranda.” I put the piece of notepaper with the poem in front of her. “Read it.”

She read it but her reaction wasn’t what I thought it would be.

“Where did you get this?” she demanded.

“I took it from your backpack.”

“It wasn’t yours to take.”

“You wrote it about me.”

“Just because we…Bryan, this was private. You betrayed my trust in the absolute worst way.”

“It’s Hermes.”

“It wasn’t yours to take.”

“I’m Hermes. My real name is Hermes, not Bryan. On some level you had to know. Tell me you knew.”

It was as if she didn’t hear a word I said. “Yes, it was about you but the poem was mine,” she said. “You were not supposed to see it.” She was clearly upset, not in a crying angry way but in a calm and collected rage.

“How did you know?” I asked calmly trying to sooth and comfort her.

“Because you shrugged it of the next day like nothing ever happened. I really liked you a lot but oh well. Shit happens.”

I took her hand. “But it did happen Miranda. You and me. You wrote a poem about us.”

“Guess what? It happened a long time ago. I’m not that girl anymore.” She said obviously not following my lead as she pulled her hand away from mine.

“Obviously. How did you know that I am Hermes?”

“You were cute and light on your feet. You made me think of Hermes. Jeeze Bryan. Is that why I’m here? If this isn’t about my book…”

I put my hand on hers again. “I didn’t mean to upset you. But yes, Miranda, I am the messenger god Hermes. Hear me out. I only use the name Bryan Woods when I mix with mortals. Your poem touched me to the very soul and to my bones in a way that nothing else has ever touched me. Nobody has ever written anything so personal to me or about me before. I’m sorry I over looked you. I am sorry I never called back. I’m sorry that it has taken so long for me to tell you that I love you.”

“I should go.” She said trying to pull her hand away and starting to stand up.

“No” I said still holding her hand as I transported her to another time and place.

I took her to a beach. The air was cool and breezy not too cold. She wore a sweeping filmy dress of lavender and white that highlighted her curves. Her hair was slightly blown by an ocean breeze. She was bare footed. I wore a romantic poet’s shirt, sleeves rolled up, half way open to show my spectacular chest.

Against the cliff was a bed piled high with romantic white on white pillows and flowing curtains off of high bedposts. Pink garlands of fresh roses wound around the bedposts. It was one of her dream sort of things.

Miranda looked around 360 at her surroundings, completely ignoring me. Her eyes squinted at the sight of the bed. She turned to me with a total lack of expression on her lovely face except for an angry fire in her aqua marine eyes.

I put my arm around her waist and pulled her close then buried my face in her hair. “It’s been too long”. I said.

She pushed herself away. “What the hell is going on? Did you put something in my drink?”

“I told you I’m Hermes. You’re in my world now.” I said.

I grabbed her wrists. I would have her and she would submit and enjoy ever bit of it and then be glad that she was mine. Or so I thought. She twisted to get away and stomped on my foot. We lost balance and went down to the sand. I was still holding her wrists as I landed on top of her. I could have taken her then and there as I lay between her legs, but I didn’t. Not with Miranda.

“Let’s move it to the bed.” I said gently, my lips meeting hers.

“No, I’m not going to do this. Please. Don’t make me do this.” Tears welled in her eyes. I felt a knot in my stomach and then a wave of nausea swept over me. I rolled over onto my back letting her go. The day was not going as planned.

She got up and walked down the beach a ways then stopped dead in her tracks. She stared at the surf. The sea serpents were out there wrestling. They’re as big as humpback whales with all the teeth, big eyes and claws one expects from them. She froze, and then looked back at me.

“Sea serpents.” I said catching up with her. “Listen Miranda, I’m really sorry. Yes, I’m an arrogant son of a bitch. When I read the poem I thought just for a moment that, no it was more than a moment. Nobody has ever cared like that.”

She didn’t hear a word I said as she stood transfixed on the sea serpents. They roared and crashed into each other in kitten-like play. Green, blue and gold scales sparkled in the sunlight.

I put my arm around her shoulders. “Pretty magnificent creatures aren’t they?”

“Will they come after us?”

“No. They pretty much stay to themselves.”

“This is amazing. Are they real?”

I turned her around and looked into her face. “Yes, they’re as real as I am.” Taking her face in my hands I kissed her. She didn’t fight me, but didn’t exactly jump in my arms either.

“We’re at that point between the earth and the sea.” I kissed her again. She stepped back and crossed her arms. This was going to be more difficult than I thought.

“You’re Hermes, the god Hermes.”

“Yes. I am Hermes.”

“You’re real.”

“I am.”

I expected her to kiss me or something now that she realized who and what I was. She turned away from me and looked at the sea serpents again then looked back at me.

“I wish my kids could see this.”

“My children always loved it when I took them to see the sea serpents. They still do.” I said suddenly thinking that I’d done well by my children and their mothers. In these modern times we’d be a typical blended family. Go figure. Miranda didn’t say anything but kept looking out to the sea.

“This could all be part of your life Miranda. Few mortals ever see this. I’m willing to make you part of this.”

“I can’t.”

“You’d give up immortality?”

She gave me a look that would have killed any red blooded mortal. I watched her take off again down the beach.

I suddenly understood that she’d never love me in the way I wanted her too. Honestly I did. Of course understanding and acceptance are two different things. I ran after her and caught her by the arm spinning her around to face me.

“Miranda stop.” I said trying to reason with her.

“What about my book?” She demanded.

“What about it?” I spat back at her.

“Did you like it or were you just saying that to get me here?”

“It could be a best seller.”

She glared at me. “I won’t sleep with you to get it published.”

I was slightly offended but saw her point. “That isn’t good business Miranda, you should know that. Your book is good enough to publish without sex.”

“I know it is. But as my agent can you get me a good deal and top posting on Amazon and book and posters in the window of Barnes and Noble? Can you get me on the best seller lists? Can you get me an interview with the New York Times and NPR?”

“I’m your agent now?” I asked.

“Yes, I mean don’t you want to be?” She asked looking at me like I was stupid or something.

“What about your biotech job?”

“I’ll keep working until the royalty checks start coming in,” she snapped.

I put my hand on her shoulder, ever so gently. “I’ll get you a six figure advance. You can quit your job tomorrow if you want.”

Her face softened. I could feel her shoulders relaxing. “Really? You’d do that?”

“Of course I would. I’ll be your agent but you have to do something for me.” If I couldn’t have her love, I’d get something almost as good out of her.

She squinted her eyes up at me. “What?”

“You have to write about me.”

“Poetry?”

“Books. The modern adventures of an ancient god.”

“I can do that.”

“I’ll have the contracts drawn up. I believe you’ll like the terms.”

“I’m sure I will.”

“One day I will make love to you again.”

She finally smiled. “Don’t count on it.”

“Let’s go back.” I closed my eyes and when they were open we were back in San Francisco. The restaurant (which by the way I own) was empty of any other customers and fresh blackberry pie and fresh made vanilla ice cream was on the table along with coffee. The sun was starting to set over the San Francisco Bay. We talked about our lives and our kids for about another hour or two. It was so easy with the elder Miranda.

“You’re going to get caught in some pretty nasty traffic.” I told her in my most concerned and caring voice. “You can stay the night here with me.”

“It’s ok,” she said,”I have a couple of audio books in the car.”

I walked her out to her car, a blue 2010 Mustang convertible. I should have known she’d still have a convertible.

I didn’t want to let her go. “Miranda, I’m sorry I was a jerk. I didn’t know how you felt about me. Another time and place and we could have…”

She put her finger to her lips as if telling a child to be quiet. “Listen, Bryan, I mean Hermes, I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you imagined it but I have a good feeling about this, about us. I really do and we’ll make a good partnership and maybe even become friends. I take that back. We will become friends. Okay?”

Friends usually means the kiss of death in a relationship but not this one.

“You’ll write about me.” I said, not as a question.

“I will write about you Hermes.” She put her hand on my waist, stood on her toes and kissed me. “I will write wonderful things about you that everyone will want to read.”

I opened the car door for her. “I’ll fax over the contracts in the morning. Drive safe Miranda.”

Late into the wee hours of the morning I sat on the balcony overlooking the Bay and thought of her kiss that lingered on my lips. The messenger god Hermes had indeed turned into a man.

 

Sea Monster

 

Short Story Sunday: A Night at the Crest

This has been published here before so consider it an encore edition story. Enjoy. Say nice things. Send it to your favorite literary agent.

Vampire Maman Short Story Sunday Presents:

A Night at the Crest

A Story from Marla Todd

Dallas Andrews was performing at the old Crest Theater in Sacramento. Jonathan Ward’s soon to be ex-girlfriend Beth told him that this guy was hot. Andrews could actually communicate with the dead. Dallas Andrews said angels walked among them. He claimed to see angels all around him 24/7.

Andrews was the darling of the clairvoyant, medium, mysticism, aura generating followers of spiritual awakening. He had been featured on most major network and cable television stations. He did radio shows, graced the covers of magazines and now was packing in full houses on a nation wide tour. He followed in the footsteps of Casey and Nostradamus. His book was on the best selling nonfiction lists.

Jonathan had tried to talk Beth out of it. He told her the guy was a fake. He told her that all of these guys were fakes, but she insisted. She told him it would be fun and enlightening.

“It would be fun and enlightening to stay home and watch The Wizard of OZ.” he replied, but she wasn’t going to budge.

Jonathan Ward, founder and editor of the West Coast Review, was 5’10 with broad shoulders on his medium build. He was in good shape for someone his age, which appeared to be somewhere in his mid 40’s. According to his drivers license he was 46. His sandy brown hair had soft grey streaks at the temples. His eyes were framed with long thick lashes. His prominent nose was straight and narrow, but it fit with his oval face. He was good looking enough to get noticed by women but not enough to stand out in a crowd, unless one noticed his almost unnerving pale ice blue eyes. He had almost a perpetual and too quick of a smile. “Always amused” is how he was often described.

His companion Beth McAllister was knock down drop dead gorgeous and she knew it. Aside from her occasional bizarre and childish fascinations with freaks like Dallas Andrews, she was also brilliant. Well, most of the time.

Beth chattered away as they entered the lobby of the Crest Theater. Her stiletto heels clicked on the floor. Jonathan always thought of it as her mating call. He slid his hand down over her perfect behind. She promptly slapped it away. “Who do you want to contact?” she asked.

“Judy Garland and Billie Burke.”

“No, it has to be somebody you knew.”

“There are no dead people I want to talk to.”

“Maybe Dallas can contact your parents or your brother.” She said gently.

“They have unlisted numbers”

“You aren’t funny.”

“Bitch.” he whispered then kissed her on the mouth and led her to their seats.

As they made their way through the crowd his eyes met a well-dressed, slightly handsome, thirtyish man in the lobby. Jonathan was sure it was a plant; someone sent by Andrews to listen in to the conversations in the lobby. “My brother was blown to bits in Afghanistan. Pass that one on to your boss.” The man looked calm but Jonathan knew he’d unnerved him.

The restored art deco movie palace was the perfect place for the grand show of bullshit he would witness tonight. The lights dimmed. A woman in a long green dress played a traditional Irish harp on the corner of the stage. At the other corner was a plainly dressed woman signing for the deaf.

“I bet there isn’t one deaf person in this theater.” He said to Beth. She rolled her eyes at him and squeezed his hand. The lights came up on the stage. The crowd cheered. Jonathan sat back with his arms crossed, glaring at the stage.

Dallas Andrews walked causally onto the stage dressed in a white silk shirt, cream colored tie and matching cream colored dress slacks finished off with tan Italian loafers with tassels. He was in his mid-to-late thirties with wavy dark hair and boyish good looks. He smiled sweetly at the audience showing off perfect dimples, practically glowing with goodness and concern.

“How innocent, how angelic, how phony” thought Jonathan.

The audience clapped until Andrews blushed on command and told them to stop. Jonathan glanced at Beth. She was transfixed. He had lost her, to Dallas Andrews, at least for the next hour.

The man in white told his story with all the passion of the finest bard or worst televangelist, depending on one’s point of view. It was all bullshit about dead friends and relatives who’d ended up with tragically only to “speak” to Dallas through his new found gift.

Dallas ended his touching life story with “We can all be at peace with those we love who have passed over. I knew at that time I had to help others to find that peace and end the pain and worry.

It is a selfish thing that we expect the dead to contact us. It isn’t easy for them. But I’m trying to make it easier, as their go between. I channel. I am the messenger. I am merely a vessel to bring the message of love from the other side.”

Jonathan said nothing as the audience sat transfixed. He jotted a few notes then put his pen away. The night might not be a complete waste of time if the timing was right.

Andrews proceeded to ask questions of tearful audience members who wished to hear from departed loved ones.

“I’m hearing from Mary, Martha? I also see black and white. A nun. A policeman.” Andrews said in the most gentle and concerned voice.

“I can’t fucking believe this.” Jonathan swore under his breath. The people around him glared. He ignored them.

They heard from a dead son killed in a car accident, a recently departed grandmother, a young wife who died from cancer, a career Army officer killed in Iraq. Jonathan’s heart broke for those who came looking for answers and the hope of any small comfort. He took notes while Beth wiped tears from her face.

After about 90 minutes Andrews opened up for questions and answers. When called on, Jonathan stood up with his usual amused smile. “Be nice” Beth whispered.

Dallas Andrews saw a familiar face. He knew who the middle-aged man in the expensive black suit and distracting ice blue eyes was. Then he noticed the incredibly beautiful brunette sitting next to him. Dallas smiled sweetly at Beth, catching her off guard. She smiled back then blushed. With any luck he’d she’d be at the reception afterwards and after that in his suite at the Hyatt Regency across the street.

“Yes, you had a question.”

Jonathan addressed the clairvoyant. “You actually see angels? Show me who the angels in this room are?”

Dallas smiled and nodded “You won’t be able to see them. They are spirits who reveal themselves to me, but they are here, all around us. Open your heart and you’ll feel their presence.”

Jonathan didn’t like the answer “Tell me Mr. Andrews, are your angels from heaven or are they from someplace else? It’s often hard to tell the difference.”

The room hushed. Dallas Andrews was obviously annoyed by this man. “I sense you have a troubled soul.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” Jonathan replied in disgust.

Andrews gave a sympathetic smile and help out his hands, palms up. “Let me try to help you find out where your demons come from.” His voice was soothing as if talking to a troubled teen.

Jonathan almost laughed. “Oh you’re good. You’re very good. Mr. Andrews, where I come from we have words for people like you. A few that come to mind are liar, con man, cheat, and oh yes, more importantly sinner.”

“What is your name?” asked Andrews trying to keep his composure.

“You know perfectly well who I am.” thought Jonathan. He smiled at the man on stage. “Jonathan Ward, West Coast Review.”

Dallas Andrews pointed at Jonathan then put his finger to his chin. He smiled again. “I thought I recognized you. You’ve seen with your own eyes, heard with your own ears the news I’ve brought to these people tonight. Mr. Ward, humor me for a moment. Think of someone you’ve lost. Your parents were from Alaska. They died in a plane crash, you and your siblings survived. Would you like a message from your parents?” he asked raising an eyebrow at Jonathan.

Beth took Jonathan’s hand. He gave it a quick squeeze and let go. Parents my ass. “Why should my dead mother contact you, a stranger, when she could contact me directly?” he asked.

Dallas toned down his voice. He turned up the gentleness and compassion. “You block out the passage for her to travel with your negativity.”

Jonathan only glared. “You found the information about my mom from the bio on my web site. You’ve been following my stories for the past year.”

“You must have great pain in your heart” replied Dallas in a comforting voice, as he put his own hand over his heart.

“How do you know my mother is really dead or even has a soul?” Jonathan shot back sarcastically.

“I speak with the angels.”

“Really? You not only see, but you also speak with angels? That is truly amazing.”

“It is a gift, a blessing.”

“It’s a lie.” said Jonathan calmly as Beth sunk lower in her seat.

Dallas Andrews smiled sadly “Ladies and Gentlemen, this reaction is common from skeptics. There are angels all around us.”

“Show me.”

“There’s one right next to you.”

Jonathan ignored the comment. “Dallas, do you believe in God?”

“Of course.”

“Do you believe in hell?”

“I believe in the intrinsic goodness of all mankind. So, no, Mr. Ward, I don’t believe in hell.”

“You will Dallas, believe me you will.”

Dallas lifted his chin in defiance. “Is that a threat?”

“No Dallas, it isn’t a threat. It’s a statement of fact.” Jonathan said cooly.

“What in your opinion is hell, Jonathan?” asked Dallas slowly and deliberately as if he was ready to pull out the big guns.

“I’ll give you a tour,” Jonathan thought to himself. He wasn’t going to take the bait. “I’ve seen enough. Good night Dallas. Don’t forget to check out next week’s issue of the West Cost Review for the end of this riveting story.” Grabbing Beth’s hand, he started to make his way to the back of the theater. Beth stopped and turned back.

“Just like Lot’s wife.” He whispered in her ear.

She pulled her hand away and hissed “Asshole.” He stopped by the exit door and faced the stage.

Dallas Andrews had already started to have a violent seizure. Then he started to scream and fell to his knees holding his head in his hands. Soon he’d feel pain like he’d never felt before. It was an ugly way to end the evening, but the man had to be stopped. Jonathan couldn’t kill, but he could do an amazing amount of damage to the living. Maybe, with any luck, Dallas Andrews would get the message and change his ways.

Jonathan smiled slightly and narrowed his eyes “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Amen.” He said quietly to nobody in particular.

Beth looked at him with wide eyes.

He scowled at her “What? Don’t look at me like a frightened cat. I told you he was a fake.”

“Jon, we can’t just leave.”

“Sure we can. There isn’t anything we can do here except be in the way.” He took out his phone and dialed 911. “My name is Jonathan Ward. I’m at the Crest Theater on K Street. Sacramento. Dallas Andrews is having some sort of attack. Horrible convulsions. Oh my gosh, I think he passed out. Please, he needs help. I’m not sure…there’s a doctor or someone up on stage with him now.” He paused “Yes…you’ve had other calls…help is on the way. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Beth stood in shock. “Oh no, oh no.” she whispered, her eyes still on the stage.

“Let’s go darling.” Jonathan told her grabbing her arm like a vice and practically dragging her out of the theater. She passed a few of her wide-eyed friends, but he didn’t let her stop. She’d be blabbering all night to them about poor Andrews. He wondered how someone as smart as Beth could be so gullible and stupid when it came to crap like this.

They walked across the Capitol Park to his car. Beth was livid.

“We should have stayed. I bet you made him have an aneurism with your stupid questions. I can’t believe how rude and mean spirited you were to him. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” She tried to stop him but he kept walking.

He gave her a disgusted look. “I was rude and mean spirited? At least I was telling the truth.”

“No, if he dies it will be your fault.”

“How will it be my fault? Should I have asked for his medical history before I asked him any questions?”

She grabbed his arm. “Aren’t you concerned at all?”

He stopped and pushed her hand away. “Tell me why I should be concerned with a fraud like Andrews? Enlighten me?”

Beth was livid. “Dallas isn’t a fraud. What I saw tonight was real.”

This was going nowhere. Jonathan changed his tone. He ran his hands down her arms and gently took her hands. “Dear sweet Bethany. It wasn’t real.”

“You never respect anything I say or feel.” She cried trying to pull her hands away. “What about his visions from his cousin and dead girlfriend? He couldn’t have been making that up.”

Jonathan held on tight. “His cousin Joyce died when he was two years old. Andrews had seen her once. And there was no girlfriend Patty. She was a girl in his dorm who died of leukemia. They knew each other but they never went out.”

“He might have loved her. He might have cared for her.”

“No Beth, the guy is a liar and a fraud.”

“You don’t know that.”

““Listen to me. Remember the first time you saw the trunk that belonged to May Woosley, in the Sacramento History Museum? You were on a field trip with your nephew’s 4th grade class.”

Beth blinked, her voice turned shrill. “What are you talking about?”

“Let me jog your memory. May died in 1879. She was just a little girl. On the advice of a clairvoyant, like Andrews, her mother sealed a trunk full of May’s belongings in the wall of their home. Mrs. Woosley spent the rest of her life searching for a message from her daughter because she’d listened to the words of a con-artist rather than listening to her own heart for healing. The trunk wasn’t found again until 1979. When you saw it in the museum you cried. You went home and cried all night for the little girl and her family.”

“How did you…that was 5 years ago, before I even met you. I never told you about that.”

“You didn’t have to. Beth, don’t you see. You knew Mrs. Woosley was lied to. Dallas Andrews lies to people too.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. She backed away. “How do you know these things? You always know things.”

“I observe and I guess a lot.” He wiped the tear away and kissed her. “See, you aren’t as tough and shallow as you pretend to be.”

The fog had rolled leaving the night air with zero visibility. He took her hands and wrapped the car keys around them. “You’re driving.”

She took the keys knowing full well that he was practically blind on clear night and completely blind in the night fog.

“Could you even see Dallas Andrews on the stage.”

“I could see enough. Let’s go.”

“If you could have seen his face.”

“I saw his face clear enough to know every single thing he said was a lie.”

She adjusted the seat and glanced over at him. “You’re such an asshole.”

“Just drive.”

“Where are we going?”

“Your house.” Her house was closer and he wouldn’t have to drive her home in the morning.

“You expect me to let you…”

“I love you Beth. Nothing, including your faith in a charlatan like Dallas Andrews, is going to change that. Not now, not ever.” He took her hand and whispered, “You are my soul. And despite the fact that you drive me absolutely crazy, I need you.”

Another tear rolled down her cheek as she drove in silence.

When they got back to her house and made love to her like she was the last woman on earth. She asked him again about the long thin scars on his back. He told her for the 100th time that he didn’t remember how it happened. It was during the plane crash when his parents died way up in the Alaskan wilderness, hundreds of miles from anyone. So final. So tragic. It made for a good story, even thought it wasn’t true.

Beth’s amazing body was as fake as the con man he’d just put down. Beautiful store bought breasts, a dazzling smile of the best veneers money could buy, cheek implants and a slightly smaller and straighter nose than nature had given her, violet colored contacts covering her hazel eyes, the trendiest hair colorist in town, a sprayed on tan, artificial nails and a toned body thanks to grueling sessions with a sadistic personal trainer named Bruce. Jonathan thought wistfully that there was an entire generation of American men who had never felt a real female breast.

The sad thing was that at 38 Beth would have been lovely without most of the work. At least her heart was real, despite her tendency to be shallow and superficial.

He knew he scared her. The only reason she kept him around was for the great sex and his political connections. What a joke – there were no real “best” connections in Sacramento or anywhere else for that matter.

Jonathan knew the best people to know where those brilliant folks who stayed away from the media limelight, away from the cultural and political wanna-bees. He often thought, “Give me the rocket scientist next door over those who claimed they partied with Arnold and Jerry, or knew the more influential elected officials and developers at the state capitol. Give me my own friends; the mom who writes historic romance novels, the high school science teacher, the master gardener and the emergency room doctor. These were the people who really know what it is like to be alive and human.”

The next morning the fog had been replaced by a grey drizzle of rain. He left Beth’s in his silver Jaguar XJR, heading off to the airport to pick up Lorna. A few years his senior, she was a golden haired, blue eyed living Barbie doll. She lived in Malibu with a view of the ocean. Tapped into the spiritual rhythm of the ocean, she fit right into the affluent new age lifestyles of her neighbors. They had to be some of the most entertaining and shallow people he’d ever met.

“Where’s the hybrid?” asked Lorna

“Dropped it off for new tires.” He thought of Lorna and her unrelenting social conscience – knew he should have driven the hybrid, then shrugged it off. This weekend he wanted style not substance. In a few hours all the substance he could ever want was going to be shoved down his throat.

“What are you listening to?” she asked in disgust when he started up the car.

“Metallica.”

She turned it off. “Have you heard today’s news yet?”

“No. I’m clearing my mind today. No radio. No TV. No newspapers. No Internet. No phone.”

“Tell me what happened last night?”

“Beth broke up with me. She said I was too intense. I recall she used also used the words weird, asshole and insensitive. Lots of tears so I think there’s a good chance she’ll take me back.”

Lorna grabbed his wrist like a vice. “What happened with Dallas Andrews?”

“Let go, do you want me to wreck the car? Where did you hear about Andrews?”

“NPR, Morning Edition. CNN. Fox. LA Times.”

“Was my name mentioned?”

“They said that in the process of being interrogated by you, Andrews had a violent seizure. He is now is now seeing visions of hell and keeps mentioning your name.”

He changed the CD to Vavaldi’s Four Seasons “Funny guy that Andrews. I heard the story on the way to the airport. Didn’t realize Dallas Andrews was so popular.” He said giving Lorna a wink. “Grab my phone, it’s in the glove box. Check my messages.”

Lorna’s beautiful mouth turned into a slight smile as she listened to the messages. Jonathan thought it was almost a snarl. “You have 22 messages. The first three are from your office, CNN and Beth. She’s hysterical. The rest seem to be people wanting to talk to you about Andrews.” They headed down Hwy 50 towards the hills. “What are we going to do with you Jonathan?” she asked rubbing his neck with her left hand.

“Don’t do anything with me” he answered quietly. “Just let me do my job.”

They went up the hill towards Sutter Creek, to Ruth’s Ranch as he always called it, for the annual, get our heads screwed back on, clear our brains, find peace, drink a lot of great wine and solve all our problems retreat. He was looking forward to it. The past few months had been a major drain on his mental and emotional resources.

He loved the drive through the rolling oak forested hills. He spent every weekend he could with his cousin Ruth. But this weekend might be rough. He was going to ask his family about his latest job offer. This was his dream job. He’d all but signed the contract. Everyone would be there to give him their own jaded opinions. Most wouldn’t be too thrilled.

He looked over at beautiful golden Lorna dozing in the seat next to him. She was his older sister, his mentor, the one who kept him grounded. He imagined her with a halo and beautiful wings spread out in shining glory. Then he wondered if she was sleeping with her new best friend, a plastic surgeon named, Dennis O’Brian. Denny, as she called the man was nice enough, but suddenly Jonathan felt like he wanted to beat the crap out of the guy if he ever touched Lorna. Then he’d torture him and flay off his skin leaving him a quivering mass of, well, whatever. He had to stop being so protective of his sisters.

Jonathan’s mind skipped back Dallas Andrews. He felt sick to his stomach. It had been unpleasant business, but somebody had to do it. After all it wasn’t easy being angel.

Copyright Ó 2013 Marla Todd

Goin’ Extinct: Tales From the Edge of Oblivion

Goin’ Extinct: Tales From the Edge of Oblivion [Kindle Edition]

Coming Soon...

I’m proud to announce…PUBLISHED TODAY for your reading enjoyment –

Who can come up with a dozen different ways to end the world? We can!
This apocalyptic collection of short stories explores numerous ways in which life as we know it could end. From the traditional nuclear apocalypse to cosmic events, zombies, mysterious alien substances, evil corporations and even… coffee. These stories will shock, entertain and tug at your heart strings. For your post-apocalyptic reading list, ‘Goin’ Extinct’ is a must-have.

 

Including stories and poetry from: Mandy White (Author), David W. Stone (Author), Diana Garcia (Author), Marla Todd (Author), Nathan Tackett (Author), J. Harrison Kemp (Author), David Hunter (Author), Michael Haberfelner (Author), Jade M. Phillips (Author), Gina McKnight (Author), Mike Cooley (Author), , Chris Da Cruz (Author), S.E. Springle (Author)

 

Table of Contents

  • Existence is No Longer Profitable ~ David Hunter
  • Zoila’s Zombie ~ Jade M. Phillips
  • Battle of the Bean ~ Mandy White
  • ~ His Beating Heart ~ Poetry by Marla Todd
  • Zombie Days ~ Marla Todd
  • Skeet Beecham’s Confessions from the End of the World ~ J. Harrison Kemp
  • ~ The Quell ~ Poetry by Diana Garcia
  • Quietus ~ Diana Garcia
  • Purple ~ David W. Stone
  • It’s All Over on Elm Street ~ David Hunter
  • Dead Matter ~ Mike Cooley
  • ~ Electrical Chaos ~ Poetry by Sara Jane
  • Survival of the Fittest ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • The Last Summer Storm ~ Val Fox
  • Captain Sandy and the Airship at the End of the World ~ Marla Todd
  • Insectisorium ~ David W. Stone
  • ~ Untitled poetry by S.E. Springle
  • Finding Tennesee ~ Gina McKnight
  • Never Mind the Humans, Here’s the Rodents ~ Michael Haberfelner
  • Lullaby ~ Nathan Tackett
  • ~ The Great Flood ~ Poetry by Chris Da Cruz
  • Just One Kiss ~ Mandy White

 

 

Enough of the official description…

The first time I read this book I laughed out loud – not because it was funny but because it is SO GOOD.

 

WPaD is the acronym for Writers, Poets and Deviants. We are a diverse group of writers who came together on the Internet to support and encourage each other.Our collaborative works are charity fundraisers, with a percentage of royalties being donated to Multiple Sclerosis in support of members of our group who live with MS.

 

Books by WPaD:

  • Nocturnal Desires: Erotic Tales for the Sensual Soul
  • Creepies: Twisted Tales From Beneath the Bed
  • Passion’s Prisms: Tales of Love and Romance
  • Dragons and Dreams: A Fantasy Anthology
  • Tinsel Tales: A Holiday Treasury
  • Silk She Is: Poetry of Daniel E. Tanzo
  • Goin’ Extinct: Tales From the Edge of Oblivion

*Coming in 2015: Creepies 2: Things That Go Bump in the Closet

WPaD books are available worldwide in paperback and ebook editions

Find WPaD Publications on Facebook for updates on our upcoming projects Or follow us on Twitter: @wpadpublication

 

Add Goin’ Extinct to your summer reading list today. You’ll thank me for it later. Also check out the other books from the WPaD group.

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Dragons and Dreams

Dragons and Dreams

 

Coming Soon...

 

 

Ode to a Greek God

Sometimes the unexpected comes your way, be it in a memory or a lost object found. You think you can go back and take what is yours… but you never know what might happen.

This was posted here a while back but it is one of my favorites so I’m posting it again. A special “guest” author.

~ Juliette

Ode to a Greek God

A story by Marla Todd

I’ve been 6000 years at the top of my game. I knew it was too good to last.

I’m having breakfast on my deck overlooking the Pacific Ocean with the perfect amount of salty warm breeze drifting over me.  A beautiful redheaded woman is still in my bed and I can still feel the warmth of her skin against mine. Fortunately she’ll be gone in an hour.

Anyway, I’m having coffee and some amazing cheese and apple pastries my son dropped off this morning.  I’m also checking out a box Pan had dropped off with the pastries. That’s my son Pan, the famous happy-go-lucky satyr who dances through the woods making merry. That’s over. He settled down about 150 years ago with a wood nymph named Gloria and they’ve been keeping domestic bliss ever since. I never thought I’d see the day. Anyway, they were cleaning out some closets and found some stuff I’d swiped a few years ago. Thirty-four years ago to be exact.

It looked like I’d gone into the backpack of a college girl. I’d been in college mode that year for a change of pace. I was young, buffed and blue eyed and a killer smile. Female heads all turned in my direction.

In the box was a silver hair clip in the shape of a flowering tree branch, a delicate sexy lacy cream-colored underwire bra size 32C, a sea shell and a folded up piece of college ruled notebook paper. I unfolded the paper and read the words that would change my life.

It was a poem. It was in a round girlish script written in blue felt tip pen. No name identified the writer. I started to read, expecting the usually silly girlish babble about the meaning of life, teen angst and the horrible nature of never being understood.  What I read was something else entirely.

As I stood upon the steps,

Halfway between the land and sea

The messenger god Hermes

Came to me,

Swift footed and bright

But somewhat overtaken

By his cousin Dionysus’ last visit

He brought me a message

And I read it through his blue eyes

“I bring you myself” he said.

No answer came from my lips

Except a kiss,

Which spoke very clear.

Oh happy was I,

When hand in hand

Under the stars we ran

For my mythical Hermes

Turned into a man

I took a gulp of coffee and stared at the poem.  A poem about me? People had written poems about me, of course, but this was personal.  It was a poem about ME, not a god of tales and lore but about ME, Hermes. It was about ME.

This girl knew me.  I mean she KNEW me. She knew who I was. How? I never let on to any mortal to who or what I am. Never.

She wrote me a poem. It wasn’t a great poem. It wasn’t even a good poem. It wasn’t epic. But by my father Zeus, it was tender and sweet, full of the promise of love. It was happy. It was from her heart. A heart that considered me more than just a good body and maybe a great fuck, if I did indeed fuck her. I know I must have kissed her. I must have made love to her, because a girl who wrote the poem would never just fuck a guy.  She’d have made love to me in a way I should have remembered, but damn it I couldn’t remember a thing.

A kiss. I tried to recall it. Such a kiss I should have remembered. It should have burned on my lips. It should have taken my immortal breath away. I sat going through all of the dusty file drawers in my brain trying to remember, but NOTHING came to mind.

Don’t get me wrong. I am usually NOT the romantic type. I love women but I refuse to be the kind of guy or god who is going to turn into a jellied mass of so much romantic bullshit over just any female. Or am I? My stomach knotted up. My head spun. My heart started to beat fast. I thought I was going to throw up.

By the way, I am Hermes, the messenger God. I go by a lot of names but my friends and family and people who worship me call me Hermes. The Romans called me Mercury, but that is a completely different story, one I’d like not to bring up right at this moment.

So I close my eyes and THINK.  34 years. I’m trying to get a face. A location. Who the hell wrote that poem? There was a ski trip to Aspen and another to Tahoe.  An uneventful week in Miami brought back no memories. Of course there were trips to Greece and Paris.  The summer was spent in San Francisco and a little north of there was the beach house. Fall brought on New York and Boston. I was in Vermont for the holidays with my family (I know what you’re thinking and yes, we do get together for the holidays just like any other large dysfunctional family).

I heard a car start and looked back to the side of the house. The redhead drove away in her red BMW. I wouldn’t see her again. She got what she wanted and was happy. Fine with me.

Up the drive walks my cousin Dionysus, who happens to be staying at my brother Apollo’s place next door. There again, he was the PARTY GOD. Now he turned into Mr. Bottle Shock. Always going up to Napa, Sonoma, Amador or jetting over to France, Australia, and all corners of the Earth for wine tastings. The guy has been going on about Lodi wines lately so much that I wanted to smack him until I tried them. He was right; it was the nectar of the God’s. But really – Lodi? Have you been to Lodi? Despite all of that he’s still my best friend.

He read the poem. “Halfway between the land and the sea. She was at the beach house you dork.”

“Do you remember her?”

“Yes I remember her.”

“Who was she?”

“Miranda. Quiet girl with the pretty blue-green eyes. She was cute enough.”

“I’m trying but I don’t have a face yet.”

Dionysus poured himself a cup of coffee, added about a gallon of milk to it and half a cup of sugar before sitting down. “She drove a beat up old MG Midget. You talked cars. She was impressed by your Porsche. The two of you hung out all weekend making small talk. Saturday night you went for a walk on the beach and she had sex with you. You thought she was sweet. Remember, she was getting ready to go off to UCLA for the fall. You told her you were going to Harvard.”

Pictures, smells, sound and feelings started to flood my brain.

“She’d been there for several weekends. We always ended up talking on the porch.” I said as images started to come back into my brain.

“Right. She liked you a lot but she didn’t come out and hunt you like the other chicks always did. It wasn’t until that last weekend that you acted on it.”

I remembered.  She was a cute, somewhat pretty 17 year old girl with long brown hair and aqua marine eyes. At a party she wouldn’t have been the girl all the guys were after, but I noticed her. Well, she noticed me first.  She started out talking to me about cars. From cars we talked about the tides and the ocean and movies and music and school. She wanted to travel to Nepal and spend time in Europe. Most of her friends were moving on to different colleges but she seemed all right with it.  Her mind was set towards the future. I liked her company but she didn’t indicate at all that she wanted true love or a lasting relationship.

We’d walked on the beach. I’d made a few jokes and she’d laughed. She said a few things that were so funny it surprised me. I kissed her and a few hours later we made love by the base of a cliff in a private isolated area of the beach. She didn’t howl at the moon or put on a show. She wasn’t a virgin either.

Miranda let me take the lead but followed with quiet perfection. She lost herself quietly in the moment (which by the way lasted a good hour) and in me and didn’t ask for more. She could kiss too and had an amazing body. What more could a young man want?

We walked back to the house with all of our friends and she never said a word about it. The next morning she gave me her number and said, “Call me”, knowing full well the chances of me doing that were slim to none.

I never called her back.

Now I sat alone in my anguished romantic hell.  She’d written a poem that morning and I’d stolen it along with a few other items to remember my lovely weekend. The god of thieves had taken a token of love she dared not share with me and for 34 years I had no idea what she’d written on that piece of folded up note paper.

“Where is she now?” I asked Dionysius, knowing if he didn’t know he’d find out.

He pulled out a large wine glass; the big kind used for reds and filled it with water.

“Take a look Hermes. But you might not like what you find. I guarantee you that one like her isn’t sitting around pining for the boy who got away.”

Images and information started to swirl in the glass. And I guarantee you, it sounds primitive, but you get a lot better information in a wine glass than you’ll ever get on Google.

Miranda had earned a doctorate degree in Genetics from UCLA and an MBA from Stanford. She was currently the Director of Development for a biotech firm in Northern California. The husband was an advocate for foster youth and has been a public defender for 20 years. They’d produced two lovely children, one of each. 11 year old girl and 13 year old boy. Both in swim club, good students, get along, popular, no problems. Lots’ of friends with kids, vacations and barbeques. Her home is in a fairly upscale neighborhood but not too pretentious. They go wine tasting a lot and like to cook. My kind of mortals if you don’t mind me saying. The husband even built sort of a wine cellar in the basement. She also likes to build garden sculptures but the visuals were blurred.

“Like whirly gigs?” I asked, thinking of pink flamingos with wildly spinning wings and little figures of men chopping wood. The idea was too weird to digest.

“Kinetic yes, but more large found items, tiles, wood, paint.” Answered my cousin.

“Like the Watt Towers?”

“Not that extreme. More like something out of Sunset Magazine. Understated with a touch of rustic charm.”

Enough of the garden shit. “What’s the relationship like with the husband? What is he? Some middle-aged Viagra popper?”

Dion gave me a smile, like the kind you’d give someone who just said something incredibly stupid. “Hermes, I’m surprise in you. The husband doesn’t need Viagra. He functions quite well on his own.”

“I didn’t need to know that. Did she ever write HIM a poem?”

“The husband? No. You’re the only one she has ever written about.”

“Does she still write anything?”

“She just finished a novel. It’s a mystery romance sort of deal.”

“Can you get me a copy?”

“Sure. I’ll call her up tonight and ask her to email it to me.” He said with a slight touch of sarcasm in his voice.

“Am I in it?” I asked too urgently, hoping the answer would be a definite YES.

“I have no idea but I seriously doubt it.”

“Is she looking to publish it?”

“As we speak. This is her dream Herm. She wants to be published before her kids get into high school so she can be home more with them.”

How could any woman with such a romantic soul, who wrote a poem to a god end up where she was I wondered? “What the fuck is she doing in Biotech?” I asked my cousin.

Dionysus shrugged. “A growing and diverse field with fulfilling opportunities to make the world a better place. She loves it but after 25 years of it she is ready to move on, maybe be a consultant but her family is everything to her.”

I looked into the glass again and saw her as she is now. The brown hair was a little shorter falling slightly below her shoulders, now lighter with blonde highlights. She was dressed stylishly in one of those cute little sweater sets all the women are wearing with a slim skirt and flats with bows. She wore bows on her shoes, a fact that turned my body to so much more jelly. I remember she always wore some bit of fluff or frill along with her Levis and rag wool sweaters. The aqua marine eyes sparkled with little signs of aging. She laughed out loud filling the room with joy. How could someone be so happy working in a science lab? How could someone be so happy without me?

The glass told me that she is known for her humor and mirth. I hardly saw any of it 34 years ago. How could I have been so blind?

To make matters worse was the fact that she was lovely. Fifty one years of lovely female bliss aged to perfection – like the most exquisite and complex wine ever made. She was something to be savored. She was something to be lingered over and enjoyed slowly with great appreciation. I wanted her so bad I ached.

I’m not the kind of guy, or god for that matter, who turns himself into an animal (like dear old dad) to trick a woman. I’m not going to do anything to hurt or use a woman. If a woman wants to use me, then fine, I’ll let her, but that doesn’t make me a bad guy. But I guess I was the perfect asshole to Dr. Miranda Wilkenson Hobbs. She wrote me a poem and I never called her.

I looked up at my cousin. “What was it like before she met the perfect husband?

He shrugged. “She traveled a bit. Worked a lot. Dated a lot. Had a couple of serious relationships but nothing she couldn’t walk away from. She met her husband 16 years ago at a party.”

“Did she write him a poem?” I asked.

“No. Nothing.”

“Nothing.  Any hang ups with old boyfriends?”

“None. She’s still friends with a few. They’re all married with kids. Nothing unusual. She didn’t write them any poetry either.”

I conjured up an image of the husband in the glass. Average to nice looking middle-aged man. Full head of black hair, sparkling bright blue eyes, slightly crooked nose but with one of those warm and fuzzy charm filled smiles that women love.  Nice slightly better than average guy who could in no way compare to me. No way. Not enough for her to write him poetry. Asshole bastard.

During the following weeks I pulled strings and called in favors that sent Miranda’s book right into the waiting hands of Bryan Woods, literary agent extraordinaire. By the way, Bryan Woods was the name I went by when I spent those weekends at the beach house 34 years ago.

When she received my call I couldn’t believe how good it was to hear that lovely voice.  Why of course she could meet me. Where? I made arrangements in San Francisco. She’d have to drive to the big city which was A) always a treat for her and, B) a few hours from her home and away any distractions, C) a most romantic spot for seduction.

It was a beautiful day in the city with clear skies and a high of 68 degrees F.  I wore gray Armani and my Rolex Daytona (yellow gold), and of course a Hermes tie.  The blonde highlights in my hair were perfect and natural. The smile was a zillion watts. The eyes sparkled blue as a Maxfield Parrish sky.

I picked a restaurant with impeccable service and food, an excellent wine list and a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Exactly at noon Miranda showed up. She scanned the room and saw me with a slight hint of recognition.  She’d dressed carefully with thought as women do. A flattering and pretty pink tweed suit over a pink silk blouse with high t-strap shoes that was so classic and sexy I nearly laughed out loud with joy.

She smiled and took my outstretched hand. I took her back to our table. There was the usual required small talk about the drive over, the weather, etc etc etc.

We ordered wine and food. I told her how impressed I was with her book. By the way, I was impressed. The woman could write a story. We spoke of publishing and possible options and contracts. I told her I could see a movie deal coming out of all of it. No lies there. After a flurry of animated conversation we suddenly stopped.

Then she looked at me with slightly squinted eyes and asked “Have we met before?”

I said “The beach house.”

“Oh my goodness. That is you.” She said looking slightly embarrassed.

“We made love on the beach.”

She glanced down unable to meet my eyes for a moment then took a sip of wine and looked up at me again. “We were just kids. Wow that was a long time ago. Small world. Um, it’s good to see you again. You’ve obviously done well for yourself”.

“So have you dear Miranda.”  I put the piece of notepaper with the poem in front of her. “Read it.”

She read it but her reaction wasn’t what I thought it would be.

“Where did you get this?” she demanded.

“I took it from your backpack.”

“It wasn’t yours to take.”

“You wrote it about me.”

“Just because we…Bryan, this was private. You betrayed my trust in the absolute worst way.”

“It’s Hermes.”

“It wasn’t yours to take.”

“I’m Hermes. My real name is Hermes, not Bryan.  On some level you had to know. Tell me you knew.”

It was as if she didn’t hear a word I said. “Yes, it was about you but the poem was mine,” she said.  “You were not supposed to see it.” She was clearly upset, not in a crying angry way but in a calm and collected rage.

“How did you know?” I asked calmly trying to sooth and comfort her.

“Because you shrugged it of the next day like nothing ever happened. I really liked you a lot but oh well. Shit happens.”

I took her hand. “But it did happen Miranda. You and me. You wrote a poem about us.”

“Guess what?  It happened a long time ago. I’m not that girl anymore.” She said obviously not following my lead as she pulled her hand away from mine.

“Obviously. How did you know that I am Hermes?”

“You were cute and light on your feet. You made me think of Hermes. Jeeze Bryan. Is that why I’m here? If this isn’t about my book…”

I put my hand on hers again. “I didn’t mean to upset you. But yes, Miranda, I am the messenger god Hermes. Hear me out.  I only use the name Bryan Woods when I mix with mortals. Your poem touched me to the very soul and to my bones in a way that nothing else has ever touched me. Nobody has ever written anything so personal to me or about me before. I’m sorry I over looked you. I am sorry I never called back. I’m sorry that it has taken so long for me to tell you that I love you.”

“I should go.” She said trying to pull her hand away and starting to stand up.

“No” I said still holding her hand as I transported her to another time and place.

I took her to a beach. The air was cool and breezy not too cold. She wore a sweeping filmy dress of lavender and white that highlighted her curves. Her hair was slightly blown by an ocean breeze. She was bare footed. I wore a romantic poet’s shirt, sleeves rolled up, half way open to show my spectacular chest.

Against the cliff was a bed piled high with romantic white on white pillows and flowing curtains off of high bedposts. Pink garlands of fresh roses wound around the bedposts. It was one of her dream sort of things.

Miranda looked around 360 at her surroundings, completely ignoring me. Her eyes squinted at the sight of the bed.  She turned to me with a total lack of expression on her lovely face except for an angry fire in her aqua marine eyes.

I put my arm around her waist and pulled her close then buried my face in her hair. “It’s been too long”. I said.

She pushed herself away. “What the hell is going on? Did you put something in my drink?”

“I told you I’m Hermes. You’re in my world now.” I said.

I grabbed her wrists. I would have her and she would submit and enjoy ever bit of it and then be glad that she was mine. Or so I thought. She twisted to get away and stomped on my foot. We lost balance and went down to the sand. I was still holding her wrists as I landed on top of her. I could have taken her then and there as I lay between her legs, but I didn’t. Not with Miranda.

“Let’s move it to the bed.” I said gently, my lips meeting hers.

“No, I’m not going to do this. Please. Don’t make me do this.” Tears welled in her eyes. I felt a knot in my stomach and then a wave of nausea swept over me.  I rolled over onto my back letting her go. The day was not going as planned.

She got up and walked down the beach a ways then stopped dead in her tracks. She stared at the surf. The sea serpents were out there wrestling. They’re as big as humpback whales with all the teeth, big eyes and claws one expects from them. She froze, and then looked back at me.

“Sea serpents.” I said catching up with her. “Listen Miranda, I’m really sorry. Yes, I’m an arrogant son of a bitch. When I read the poem I thought just for a moment that, no it was more than a moment.  Nobody has ever cared like that.”

She didn’t hear a word I said as she stood transfixed on the sea serpents. They roared and crashed into each other in kitten-like play. Green, blue and gold scales sparkled in the sunlight.

I put my arm around her shoulders. “Pretty magnificent creatures aren’t they?”

“Will they come after us?”

“No. They pretty much stay to themselves.”

“This is amazing.  Are they real?”

I turned her around and looked into her face. “Yes, they’re as real as I am.” Taking her face in my hands I kissed her. She didn’t fight me, but didn’t exactly jump in my arms either.

“We’re at that point between the earth and the sea.” I kissed her again. She stepped back and crossed her arms. This was going to be more difficult than I thought.

“You’re Hermes, the god Hermes.”

“Yes. I am Hermes.”

“You’re real.”

“I am.”

I expected her to kiss me or something now that she realized who and what I was. She turned away from me and looked at the sea serpents again then looked back at me.

“I wish my kids could see this.”

“My children always loved it when I took them to see the sea serpents. They still do.” I said suddenly thinking that I’d done well by my children and their mothers. In these modern times we’d be a typical blended family. Go figure. Miranda didn’t say anything but kept looking out to the sea.

“This could all be part of your life Miranda. Few mortals ever see this. I’m willing to make you part of this.”

“I can’t.”

“You’d give up immortality?”

She gave me a look that would have killed any red blooded mortal. I watched her take off again down the beach.

I suddenly understood that she’d never love me in the way I wanted her too. Honestly I did. Of course understanding and acceptance are two different things.  I ran after her and caught her by the arm spinning her around to face me.

“Miranda stop.” I said trying to reason with her.

“What about my book?” She demanded.

“What about it?” I spat back at her.

“Did you like it or were you just saying that to get me here?”

“It could be a best seller.”

She glared at me. “I won’t sleep with you to get it published.”

I was slightly offended but saw her point. “That isn’t good business Miranda, you should know that. Your book is good enough to publish without sex.”

“I know it is. But as my agent can you get me a good deal and top posting on Amazon and book and posters in the window of Barnes and Noble? Can you get me on the best seller lists? Can you get me an interview with the New York Times and NPR?”

“I’m your agent now?” I asked.

“Yes, I mean don’t you want to be?” She asked looking at me like I was stupid or something.

“What about your biotech job?”

“I’ll keep working until the royalty checks start coming in,” she snapped.

I put my hand on her shoulder, ever so gently. “I’ll get you a six figure advance. You can quit your job tomorrow if you want.”

Her face softened. I could feel her shoulders relaxing. “Really? You’d do that?”

“Of course I would. I’ll be your agent but you have to do something for me.” If I couldn’t have her love, I’d get something almost as good out of her.

She squinted her eyes up at me. “What?”

“You have to write about me.”

“Poetry?”

“Books. The modern adventures of an ancient god.”

“I can do that.”

“I’ll have the contracts drawn up. I believe you’ll like the terms.”

“I’m sure I will.”

“One day I will make love to you again.”

She finally smiled. “Don’t count on it.”

“Let’s go back.” I closed my eyes and when they were open we were back in San Francisco. The restaurant (which by the way I own) was empty of any other customers and fresh blackberry pie and fresh made vanilla ice cream was on the table along with coffee. The sun was starting to set over the San Francisco Bay. We talked about our lives and our kids for about another hour or two. It was so easy with the elder Miranda.

“You’re going to get caught in some pretty nasty traffic.” I told her in my most concerned and caring voice. “You can stay the night here with me.”

“It’s ok,” she said,”I have a couple of audio books in the car.”

I walked her out to her car, a blue 2010 Mustang convertible. I should have known she’d still have a convertible.

I didn’t want to let her go. “Miranda, I’m sorry I was a jerk. I didn’t know how you felt about me. Another time and place and we could have…”

She put her finger to her lips as if telling a child to be quiet. “Listen, Bryan, I mean Hermes, I’m sorry it didn’t work out the way you imagined it but I have a good feeling about this, about us. I really do and we’ll make a good partnership and maybe even become friends. I take that back. We will become friends. Okay?”

Friends usually means the kiss of death in a relationship but not this one.

“You’ll write about me.” I said, not as a question.

“I will write about you Hermes.” She put her hand on my waist, stood on her toes and kissed me. “I will write wonderful things about you that everyone will want to read.”

I opened the car door for her. “I’ll fax over the contracts in the morning. Drive safe Miranda.”

Late into the wee hours of the morning I sat on the balcony overlooking the Bay and thought of her kiss that lingered on my lips.  The messenger god Hermes had indeed turned into a man.

Tangled Tales
Tangled Tales
~ Thanks for stopping by,
Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Tales of Love and Romance (to warm you up on a cold winter night)

A hot book for cold winter nights. The ultimate in romance!

A hot book for cold winter nights. The ultimate in romance!

There are those times when you just want to escape from the day and wrap yourself in romance.

Romance for a Good Cause

Aside from writing this blog I also write short stories for the WPaD group – Writers, Poets and Deviants. This month we’re going to offer my favorite “Passions Prisms” for only $0.99 (electronic download.) The price is cheap but these are anything but cheap romance stories.

A portion of royalties will be donated to Multiple Sclerosis research in support of a fellow writer who lives with MS.

VM_Tellias and Eleora

– A Greek god seeks out a woman he once seduced…
– A tragic letter from 1910 chronicles a young woman’s quest to find her lost love…
– A terminally ill teen finds forbidden love with Native boy.
– A historian travels to the past and finds herself in the arms of Benedict Arnold.

Enjoy these stories and many more in this passion-filled collection of short stories and poetry from the writers of WPaD.

Love can be many things.
For some, it’s sweet and sensual. For others, it’s tragic and painful.
Just as a prism transforms a beam of light into all colors of the rainbow, love blooms to its full potential, taking on a different shade with every heart through which it passes.
The stories and poetry in this book are as diverse as their composers. You will find a bit of everything in here, from tenderness, sensuality and magic to the inevitable darker sides of romance – pain, tragedy and deceit.

Passion’s Prisms is our salute to romance, presented for your enjoyment.

Authors of Passion’s Prisms:
Mandy White, J. Harrison Kemp, David W. Stone, Daniel E. Tanzo, Diana Garcia, Marla Todd, A.K. Wallace, Marie Frankson, David Hunter, Robert Betz, Michael Haberfelner, Suzanne Parlee, Anand Matthew, Juliette Kings.

The stories and poetry in this book are as diverse as their composers. You will find a bit of everything in here, from tenderness, sensuality and magic to the inevitable darker sides of romance – pain, tragedy and deceit.

From historic romance, fantasy and contemporary stories, plus some like you’ve never imagined, there is something for everyone in this classic anthology.

We are WPaD (Writers, Poets and Deviants), a group of writers from all over the world who have come together to collaborate on a series of themed charity anthologies.

Passion’s Prisms is our salute to romance, presented for your enjoyment.

DOWNLOAD FOR ONLY $0.99 during the month of FEBRUARY.

http://www.amazon.com/Passions-Prisms-Tales-Love-Romance/dp/1482504804/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1391269883&sr=8-1&keywords=passions+prisms+WPaD

Note: This isn’t just some “girlie romance.” The stories are written by both male and female authors. There is something for everyone (guys like this book too)

Second note: The WPaD group has asked all readers to please leave a nice review with Amazon if you like this book. Thanks. J.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman