A to Z 2017–Y is for YOLO

This story isn’t my usual fare, but I like how it came out.

Y is for YOLO

“You only live once,” they said. “You’re thirteen… you can do this! It’s just like going off the high dive at the pool.”

I really didn’t want to do it, but I let them talk me into it. That was my first mistake.

I climbed the cliff with my sister and her boyfriend. Del. What kind of a stupid name is Del? Frances Arthur Delacroix. Ha. I guess if that was my name, I’d go by Del too.

Anyway, so Del and Barbara showed me the path. It took about 15 minutes, and I was hot and sweaty by the time we got up there. My legs were covered with nasty yellow-brown dirt.

I stood there breathing hard at the top of the hill overlooking the lake. I could see Trev and Sandy and the whole group down there swimming.

I wished I’d stayed down there swimming, too.

Instead, I was up there with Barb and the goon. And they wanted me to jump off a freakin’ cliff. Great.

The water looks greener from above than it does when you’re in it. Somebody told me once it’s because there’s a lot of copper in the dirt. So my sister’s creton was really kind of egging me on to jump into a pool of pennies from up high.

I kind of thought I could do it. Just get it over with. But once I was up there my heart started racing. Not just from climbing the hill, either. I was shaking all over. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. My knees locked up.

Overwhelming terror. That’s what it was.

“I changed my mind,” I told Barb. “I don’t want to do this.”

It was the muscle-bound maniac who answered me. “Don’t be a baby,” he said. “Nothing bad can happen. I’ve done this a thousand times.” He turned to Barbara. “Is she always so chicken-shit?”

“Shut up, Del.” At least she had my back. For a minute. Sort of. “Listen, Teena, if you don’t want to, fine. But if you don’t, you’re just going to beat yourself up over it. Once you do it, you’ll wonder what you were even afraid of. Seriously.”

I don’t know if I thought she was right. I don’t know if I could think at all right then, I was that scared. But I also didn’t want my sister to think I was a wuss. My friends either. They’d apparently noticed that we were up there, now, and they were all staring up at us.

Waiting for a show.

I took half a step closer to the edge, then another half a step. I got close enough that I could look straight down at the water. It really didn’t look as far as I thought.

The green was darkest right below the cliff. Deeper water there. Deep enough that you couldn’t hit bottom by accident when you jumped. That was good.

I edged a little closer again. My heart was still pounding, but my breathing wasn’t so bad now. I thought maybe I really could do it.

As I stood there, right on the edge of everything, Del started to say something. I don’t know what. He stepped closer to me and something shifted. Loose dirt. I took a half step backwards, but my feet were slipping.

Then there I was, out in the middle of the air.

I think I yelled. Not sure. I couldn’t hear anything over the pounding in my ears.

I couldn’t see anything, either, except the blue sky above me.

I hit the water, back first. All the wind rushed out of me.

The heat from the sun gave way to the icy fingers of the cold water as it wrapped around me.

And now I’m here, watching my friends pulling me out of the water. Barb and Del are running back down the hill.

You only live once, they’d said.

I need to decide whether to prove them wrong.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–X is for Xeric

The less-popular letters of the alphabet always provide interesting challenges. For my personal theme of water, X can only stand for xeric.

adjective: xeric

  1. (of an environment or habitat) containing little moisture; very dry.

X is for Xeric

Doctor Jefferson Molesworth frowned at the intern he had been delivered. He had little use for wet-behind-the-ears college students with near zero experience. “Just don’t touch anything,” he said. “The artificial biome has to be maintained at optimal conditions.”

“It’s so hot,” complained Shaun. “I feel like I’m already shriveling up.” Although they were walking outside a glass wall over 4 inches thick, heat radiated at them like a furnace.

“Of course it’s hot. We’re looking at replicating the conditions near Dallol, Ethiopia. It’s one of the hottest, driest places on this whole damn planet.”

“Like Death Valley…”

“Sure. If Death Valley had sulfuric pools of boiling volcanic gasses. Hot both above and below.”

Shaun continued to shadow the scientist he’d been assigned to for several more minutes. Finally he asked, “Why did you request a biology intern? My specialty isn’t microorganisms or hostile environments. I’m not sure how I can help you here?”

Jefferson stopped and turned on the trainee. “I’m not the one who requested you.” He harrumphed and resumed going over the checklist on his board.

Just when Shaun was about to ask another question, Jefferson continued. “We have been asked by a government agency to do some testing on a possible life form that they can’t identify.”

“Insects? In the thermal pools?”

“Not insects. And they weren’t found in Dallol.”

“But then, why…”

“It is believed to be an exo organism. Xeric in nature.”

“Off world? Cool! But still, why an intern? Usually they don’t let us within a mile of the really ground breaking stuff.”

Jefferson shook his head without looking at the younger man. “Like I said, I didn’t pick you.”

They continued to skirt the outer rim of the artificial environment until Dr. Molesworth stopped suddenly and pointed. Shaun followed his gesture and had to resist the urge to press in nose to the glass to try to see better. “I don’t see anything,” he said.

“Just wait.”

“But I… Oh!” He still managed not to press his face to the glass, but he did lay his hand on it as he saw a thing—the thing—move. “What in the world?”

“Not our world,” Jefferson reminded him.

Shaun nodded and continued to stare. “If I didn’t see it move…”

“Exactly. It looks like a hundred other rocks. But it isn’t. Not even close.”

Shaun sucked in air as if a realization had suddenly dawned on him. “And I’m going to study it?”

Jefferson didn’t respond. Instead he asked, “Do you think you can handle 114 degrees for a few minutes?”

“You mean, I get to go in there?”

The excitement in the intern’s voice made Jefferson realize exactly why this particular intern had been sent. He guided the student to the hatch, a sealed airlock that would prevent contamination of the habitat.

After Shaun changed into specialized, biodegradable, paper-like clothing, he walked into the hatch, waited for the outer door to seal, and entered the biome. He carried nothing with him but a stainless steel tank of purified water.

“Don’t worry,” Jefferson said into a microphone. “It doesn’t move fast at all.”

Shaun made his way back to the rock-like creature and began speaking his observations. “It’s slightly smaller than my hand. Maybe 5 inches long. The surface appears almost porous—similar to coral.”

He unscrewed the cap from the water tank and gently poured its contents—roughly 4 cups of water—in a circle around the creature, just as he had been instructed.

Without warning, tendrils shot out from beneath the creature into the water, drying the ground almost instantaneously.

“The creature is highly sensitized to the presence of water,” Shaun said, his voice wavering. “It’s … oh my god! It’s growing! Only… NO!”

The creature, still expanding in size, sent out tendrils that sank into Shaun, drying him to dust just as rapidly as they had dried out the sand.

Dr. Molesworth instinctively stepped backwards, throwing his arms up as the thing suddenly exploded into hundreds of duplicates, each piece roughly the size of the first. Each one moved slowly, perhaps, Molesworth speculated, searching for water in this Xeric biome.

“Interesting.” He spoke into the microphone so the computer would record his observation. “We may have discovered the means of reproduction.”

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–W is for Well Water

W is for Well Water

It had always been William’s job. He was the one who got the water. It was Aurinda’s job, now. Two buckets after breakfast, two more after supper. Extra on wash days or anytime mama said.

She shuffled her feet as she walked, creating a cloud of dust that she could taste. Aurinda didn’t want to fetch the water, but somebody had to. It wouldn’t be William. Not anymore.

Since she was only nine, plus a girl, mama said she didn’t have to carry two buckets at once. That was good. She didn’t think she could even lift two buckets, leastwise not without spilling. One would be hard enough. She knew it would take longer to do one at a time. Didn’t matter. You do what you got to do.

As she walked toward the well in the town square, she hesitated. This was her first time here without her big brother, but you do what you got to do.

With her bucket hooked on the rope, she realized she couldn’t reach the crank to unwind it. She tugged down on the bucket and found the rope uncoiled easily, causing the crank handle to spin.

A splash told her she’d hit the water, but then a howling started up and made her scream. Was it coming from the well? It surely sound like it was. Tingles ran up her spine and she nearly felt like crying.

She realized what it must be, then, and fear turned to anger. “Jace McCall,” she shouted down the well. “You stop this instant. That ain’t a bit funny.”

“Aurinda May?” She spun at the voice. “Aurinda, who you shouting at?” Her eyes grew wide as Jace and his brother Thomas crossed the square from their father’s shop.

Her eyes fell back on the well and she backed away. If that wasn’t Jace…

“Auri? What’s the matter?”

The moan sounded again, louder and more distinct.

Thomas, who wouldn’t be nine until the end of summer, ran away shrieking. “It’s a ghost! A ghost down the well!” The shop door jangled as he hurried inside.

Jace moved more slowly, but also backed away from the well. “Auri, I think we need to go.”

“I told my mama I’d fetch the water,” she said. “I’m big enough. I gotta fetch the water.”

“But William….” His words trailed off as he stared at the well.

A thought suddenly occurred to Aurinda. She took a deep breath, straightened her back, and walked toward the watering place.

“No, Auri! Don’t” Jace sputtered as she climbed to the edge of the well wall and took hold of the crank. He moved toward her. She thought he’d try to pull her down. She was afraid he’d accidentally push her in.

“I gotta get the water!” she screamed, tears now pouring down her cheeks. The call from the well seemed quieter now. More distant.

Turning the crank was easier than she expected, especially from her perch on the wall. But for some reason she wasn’t surprised.

When the bucket was pulled all the way up, she secured the crank while Jace unhooked the pail for her. He placed it on the cobbles and stared at her.

“Why’d you do that, Auri? Scared me near to death.” He kicked at the stones beneath his feet. “I thought that was William—that he would pull you right down where he’d gone.”

Aurinda smiled then—first time since her brother fell down the well. “I think it really was him,” she said. “But he’d never hurt me, so I knew he must be here to help.” She picked up the bucket and started back toward her house. “Mama needs this water. You to what you got to do.”

 

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–V is for Vortex

April is both fun and busy around here. Not only is it the time of the annual A to Z Challenge, it is also the time for a regularly scheduled blog hop that I participate in. Today’s post is doing double duty! So when you’re done reading this story, consider checking out other stories in the StoryTime Blog Hop. Links are included below. I guarantee you’ll find something to love.

V is for Vortex

It isn’t fair, Darya thought. Her Aunt Ebba and Uncle Wade? They never understood, never believed in her dreams. And now? Now they were taking the word of that horrible shark, Ms. Talulah, over their own family.

So she left. Despite the storms brewing. Maybe because of them.

It was simple enough to slip out. Everyone seemed to be burrowing in as everything darkened around them. Nobody paid Darya any attention at all.

Isn’t that the way it always is? She thought. Nobody even notices me except to tell me what to do.

Without thought, Darya first headed back toward the clam bake where she’d been earlier. Perhaps her friends would still be there. Or maybe she’d get a reading from that old stranger— the one telling stories that made the little ones squeal. She noticed him giving fortunes to a few—some who might not have wanted anyone to see.

Her hopes for a sympathetic ear were dashed back at the community’s center. Everyone was gone. Everything had been packed up before the storm. And now, with the storm starting in earnest, she felt pulled and tugged by the swirling around her.

I need to get somewhere safe. I need…

Darya couldn’t finish her thought as, suddenly, she was spun around and sucked straight up off the sand by a powerful vortex.

Pitched and turned by the storm, she found herself tossed into the atmosphere.

In the clouds, she thought. Surely this is a dream.

As if to verify a dream state, she saw the old fortune-teller whirl past, flipping cards and tossing shells. Just her luck.

Then she saw nasty Ms. Talulah, her teeth gleaming through a false smile.

And her own family. Aunt Ebba’s worry was so clear it fairly pulsed across her skin.

It was a mistake. She knew already, she shouldn’t have left. And now she wondered if she’d ever make it home.

Darya wailed and started to weep until, abruptly, the storm stopped.

She looked up to find that she had been deposited, not back at her own home, but on a sandy beach. The ocean water was just out of reach beyond some rocks.

Maybe, if I try…

Before she could move, a gangly-looking surface-dweller approached.

“Hey guys, check it out! This octopus must have gotten thrown up on the beach by that water spout we saw.”

More humans surrounded her. She had no where to go.

“Poor thing,” one of them said. “We should help get her back to the ocean.”

“Yeah,” said the first, scooping her up with gentle hands. “There’s no place like home.”

(With my deepest apologies to Frank Baum and The Wizard of Oz.)

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

Links

perpetualbloghop

I hope you’ll take the time to read the other stories in this Hop. These are some great writers and wonderful people. And if you like what you read, I hope you’ll consider joining their lists too. The world is a richer place when there are more stories to tell.
* * YOU ARE HERE * * V is for Vortex by Elizabeth McCleary
Deep Dive by Juneta Key
Bugs by Gina Fabio
Secret by J. Q. Rose
Journal of Anah by J Lenni Dorner
The Vineyard at Mar Mozambique by Karen Lynn
Stealing Space by Barbara Lund
The Day I was Clever by Katharina Gerlach
Never kid a kidder by Angela Wooldridge
The Color Of… by Chris Makowski
Nightmare by Erica Damon
Pick Up Lines by Bill Bush
The Scorpius Gate by Sandra Fikes

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A to Z 2017–U is for Uncorked

Another one that’s complete in itself, but which may suggest something longer. I definitely need to keep all these as story starters and prompts!

U is for Uncorked

“Fill the bottles. Hurry!” Haden held a large earthen jar beneath the water. When it was filled, Haden lifted it out and pressed a wide cork into the neck.

“To what end, Haden?” Mendae let her frustration bubble to the surface just as air bubbled out of the wine jug. “All we have is the spring. The Magistrate expects better than water served at his daughter’s joining.” She crossed her arms and glared at her husband. He was a good man, but she had always been the brains of their business.

Haden grinned that grin that Mendae could never resist. “The ceremony isn’t for 3 days yet. Sending bottles of water that look like wine will buy us time to deliver what was promised. Trust me.”

Mendae chuckled and shook her head. “I don’t know where you’ll find the impossible,” she said. “But maybe it will buy us time to get away before the Magistrate has our heads. I hear the South of Endanak is lovely if you can avoid the Gentou.”

“When did you get to be so cute and smart?” Haden leaned in to steal a kiss from his wife.

“Hush, you, and fill the bottles. The courier will be here before sundown.”

* * *

“How could I have known they would make us come with them?” Haden whispered, but his voice held a double-measure of pleading.

Mendae glowered at him as the wagon they were in rolled through the city. At least they were finally off the ill-kept road that led to their haebit. “I don’t know why I let you turn my mind. This time, though…,” she sighed a deep and weary sigh. “I don’t know how we get out of water this deep. We may as well be inside one of those bottles with the cork set tight.”

Haden scooched closer to his wife and dropped his voice even lower. “I have a plan,” he said.

“Oh? And it is…?”

“Remember the cleric that came last month?”

“The one rambling about Ventor the wine god?”

“Exactly!” He had the temerity to look pleased with himself.

“You want to blame water in the wine bottles on the cleric?” Mendae was confused.

“Of course not. I want to plead with Ventor to assist his humble servants!”

Mendae blinked, disbelief causing her eyebrows to climb.

“The cleric did say he was a very good god,” Haden continued. “Surely he will have mercy on those who only want a little of his wares.”

* * *

Mendae still couldn’t believe she’d let Haden talk her into this, but she shrugged off the self reproach. After all, what real choice did she have? They had convinced their escort that the bottles needed to be handled carefully and properly dressed. They were left alone in the storehouse with the alleged wine, but the door had been locked from the outside.

Haden had placed the jugs in a circle on the smooth stone floor. To center the energy of Ventor, he claimed before he started praying.

“Ventor, great one. Have mercy on your servants. Convert this finest spring water into your finest vintage. Your wine will draw the Magistrate and his masses unto you….”

Mendae was praying too, but only that their deaths would be quick and painless.

Both fell silent and stood when the door opened. The Magistrate approached, flanked by his personal escort of guardsmen and servants.

Mendae dropped a curtsey as her husband took one knee. “Your Loftiness,” they muttered together.

He motioned with one gloved hand, and one of his entourage lifted a bottle from the circle. “Open it,” he demanded. “I must ensure that their wares are fit for my daughter.”

Mendae squeezed her eyes shut and waited as Haden resumed muttered, anxious prayers beneath his breath.

At the sound of the poured liquid, the Magistrate sucked in a breath. Now, thought Mendae, the end will surely be quick.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” said the ruler. “I’d been told it would be a pale wine.”

She opened her eyes and stared at the glass of ruby-colored liquid he sipped from. “Outstanding! Best I’ve ever had,” he said. “Thank you.”

The Magistrate turned and strode away as Mendae collapsed in relieved tears on the floor.

“Well, imagine that,” said Haden. “I guess Ventor likes me after all.”

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–T is for Tempest

This is one I will almost definitely need to revisit later. It hints at something that could easily become a full-length fantasy saga, and I want to know more of the story!

T is for Tempest

Tempest ran through the forest. She was getting soaked, but the storm gave her the opportunity she needed to escape. She just couldn’t stay in that place a minute longer.

In the chaos of the preparations, all the girls had been hurried into basements and lockrooms. They said it was for their protection. But nothing they could ever do would make her feel safe within those walls. She would rather take her chances with the storm itself.

When the wind blew a branch through a window, the guardian had handed her the keys and told her to see that the younger ones were safe. She did as she was told—those children were as safe as she could make them. Then she told them she was going to help the guardians and left.
Left completely. Not just the young ones, but the center itself.

Now she ran with no plan to get away from that prison. She didn’t know how long it would be before her absence was noted. She wanted to be as far gone as she could before that happened.

Branches and other debris blocked her progress as she ducked between trees. Even before the rain started, winds had shaken the normally still forest. Some obstacles she jumped or climbed over. Others forced her off the path and deeper into the woods. Between the storm and the trees, Tempest soon found herself quite lost.

Still, she continued on. She would rather die in the storm than serve the false truths of The Order.

WOULD YOU?

Tempest stopped abruptly, looking around in panic. Had they found her?

Seeing nothing, she started on her way again. Though she preferred the storm to submission, she still wanted to find someplace dry and secure.

TEMPEST

She stopped again, listening.

WOULD YOU INDEED DIE IN THE STORM?

“If I had to,” she said, again searching the trees trying to find the source of the voice. “I would rather die than go back.”

ARE THEY NOT GOOD? HAVE THEY NOT CARED FOR YOU?

Tempest thought. “They clothed me. Sheltered me. But they teach lies.” She paused. Tempest had long felt a truth within her own heart, but had never spoken it aloud. “Their own doctrine says that lying is wrong. So, no. They are not good.”

The voice, sounding from all directions at once, laughed with surprising levity.

AND IF YOUR OWN DOGMATIC BELIEF IS WRONG? WHAT THEN?

She stopped looking then and stood as if staring down an enemy. “I would rather follow a truth that I feel and later learn that I’m wrong, than follow a lie that feels dead to discover that it is true after all.”

THEN COME, TEMPEST. COME FIND SHELTER AND TRUTH.

She knew it was true. Felt it in her heart and her bones. And she knew that if she continued this way, she would find a cave—an earthen shrine to the one that spoke her name.

Tempest started walking and knew the owner of that voice was with her. “Who are you?” she asked. “Who calls me?”

I AM THE GOD OF STORMS. MY FOLLOWERS CALL ME TEMPEST.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–S is for Surf

S is for Surf

Neville paddled his arms as the small wave pushed him toward shore. He wasn’t sure he was cut out for surfing, but he was in California visiting his American cousin, and apparently this was what his cousin did best.

So, here he was. In the Pacific Ocean. In the sun, for Pete’s sake. One thing he was sure of, he was going to have a sunburn before they were done here. The L.A. branch of the Atwater clan was a sight more sun-roasted than the Blackpool branch. Both lived near the beach, but their beaches were a far and away different places.

As his board ground ashore on the sand, Brad ran to meet him. “Careful of the fiberglass, dude. You can wreck a good board that way.” He chuckled in what Neville thought was an unpleasant way. “Lucky this isn’t a good board, I guess. The rentals are perfect for tourists and newbies.”

“Still,” said Neville, “I don’t want to cause any damage. Maybe I should give up. I don’t think I’m quite getting the hang of this surfing business.”

“Nah, bra! You’ll be catching waves like a pro in no time.” Brad smacked him on an already sun-tender shoulder making Neville wince. “Paddle out to the real waves with me this time. I bet you can get on your feet. It’s actually easier when you’re on a bigger wave. The faster you go, the more stable you are.”

“I’m not certain…”

“Nah, dude. You’ll be fine.” Brad grabbed his own board and splashed into the ocean. “What are you afraid of? Sea monsters?” He laughed as he laid belly-first on his board and started paddling.

Neville felt he had no choice but to follow suit.

Several arduous minutes of paddling later, Neville was approaching the spot where his cousin sat on his board, beyond the breakers, waiting for him.

“That took a while. Gotta bulk up those skinny arms, man. Now, see if you can get your board turned around and I’ll show you… dude. What are you looking at?”

Neville didn’t answer. He couldn’t answer. Instead he pointed to the thing that was a few hundred feet farther out than they were, but moving fast enough under the surface of the water to create a wake they could see.

“Shark! Dude, get back to the beach!” Brad yanked his cousin sideways to help him orient, and then started paddling.

Neville tried to paddle toward shore, but found he was terrified to put his arms in the water. What if one of those things ripped it off? The rational part of his brain knew he was panicking, but he couldn’t make his body work properly.

As he watched, helpless, a large dark mass passed him, took hold of his cousin, and retreated back to the depths from where it came.

  *  *  *

Beneath the waves, two pairs of black eyes danced over their meal.

“Dude, why’d you go after this one? The other one was just sitting there.”

Teeth gleamed in what was almost a smile. “See how nice and brown this one is? The other one was obviously under cooked!”

 

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–R is for Run

R is for Run

Marcus looked up as the sun slipped behind dark clouds. “Uh oh. Guys, I gotta go. My mom will kill me if I get caught in the rain.”

After a brief round of, “see you later, man,” and one, “I’ll call you after dinner,” Marcus started home. He wasn’t too concerned. The forecast this morning said it shouldn’t start raining until after eight and it wasn’t even five yet. Still, the forecast wasn’t always right, and those clouds looked pretty bad.

As he walked up Juniper Lane, one block over from the park, he slowed just a little. I really couldn’t hurt anything to take a couple extra minutes just in case Mary Braxton was in front of her house. Right? He had plenty of time to get home.

He passed Mary’s house—the one on the corner with the red front door and dark green shutters—but didn’t see her. Well, it’s not like he’d planned it. Just hoped. Oh well.

But as he crossed Maple to the next block over, he heard his name.

“Hi, Marcus!” He turned to see her head poking over the top of her backyard fence.

He doubled back. “Hey, Mary!” He fought to keep a stupid grin off his face. She was definitely the prettiest girl in the seventh grade.

As he neared her house again her head dropped down and she came out the gate. “So,” she said, “what did you get on the social studies quiz? I only got 82. Forgot to study the bicameral houses stuff and got their powers mixed up. Oh, hey. Are you going to the dance next week? Jennifer asked me to spend the night that night afterwards, but I thought maybe we could all hang out together since you’re probably hanging with Dave and he’s kind of Jennifer’s boyfriend. I definitely caught them kissing after school the other day. Oh my god her mom would totally flip if she knew. Their family is super strict.”

As Mary rambled on, Marcus allowed the stupid grin to take over. She wanted to go to the dance with him! “Wow,” he said. “Yeah, Dave and I will probably hang…” Marcus cut off abruptly as thunder rumbled overhead. “Crap! I really have to go.” He started walking away, backwards. “Talk to you during lunch tomorrow?” He didn’t wait for an answer before he turned and started running toward home.

It was only two more blocks to his house, but he hadn’t realized how dark it had gotten while he was talking to Mary. This was definitely going to be a bad storm… and definitely bad for him if he didn’t get home quick.

The wind whipped the trees and he ran faster.

He turned up Elm Avenue just as the first fat raindrops fell from the sky. “Crap!” he yelled again as he made a beeline for his house… third one on the right with the green roof and grey trim.

It was already too late. The clouds opened up and soaked him to the skin almost instantly.

He pulled open the front door and stood dripping in the entry as his mother came around the corner holding a towel. “I told you not to get caught in the rain,” she said. “You know what happens.”

“I know,” he said as he dried his face and hair. “But believe me, I ran!”

She took the towel from his hands. “I can see that. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get your face back on.”

“Sorry,” he said, looking up from the towel in her hand.

 

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–Q is for Quality Control

Q is for Quality Control

“Thank you, sir. Now, please show me to your inventory storage.”

Del shuffled his feet, trying to think of a way to avoid taking the quality assessment officer into the store room. His boss didn’t like anyone in the back room—especially not someone with the power to shut down their high-end bottled water sales.

But the man with the plain white shirt and narrow black tie simply stared at him. There was nothing else he could do.

“Right,” Del said. “The storeroom.” He took a deep breath and opened the door leading to the back area of the business. The inspector followed closely behind.

“As you can see, everything is exactly as it should be.” Del stopped with a voila gesture.

The man with the clipboard ignored him, instead turning toward the palates of bottled water. “These seem to be properly stacked for safety.” He made marks on a form. “How quickly is inventory turned over?”

Del thought for a minute. “I think about every three days? I can have the manager send an inventory report when—”

“Fine, fine. And your containers. Are they sterilized here, or do they come that way?”

“They, umm… they come that way.” Del usually didn’t deal with inventory. His job was sales. But people from the government showed up when they showed up. He had no choice but to do what was asked the best that he could.

The man turned toward him. “Now,” he said, “the filtration? I assume that happens on site?”

“It does,” Del said.

“And where is that equipment?”

Del paused again. But really, he had no choice. Did he?

“Well, the filling is here.” He led the inspector to a bank of faucets along the far wall and turned one on. Crystal clear water ran into a drain.

“Are your filters under this cabinet?” He opened it only to find cleaning equipment for the bottle filling station. “Oh. That’s not it.” He looked around again. “Ah… this door, then. I assume this room has your pumps and filters?”

As the man reached for the doorknob, Del tried to divert him a final time. “Really, if you could come back when…”

“Surprise inspections cannot be diverted, as you know. Quality control is far to serious an issue. Now, I’ll just take a quick look.”

The quality assessment officer opened the door and stepped through. “Lights?”

Del reached a hand through the opening and flipped a switch then flattened himself against the wall outside the filtration room.

Their non-standard, proprietary filtration system roared to life. Del was pretty sure the inspector’s white shirt wouldn’t still be white.

The bells at the front of the store jangled.

“Del? I’m back from district. Why aren’t you…” The manager’s voice trailed off as he walked into the storeroom and saw the look on Del’s face. “Why is the door open? Who….”

“Surprise inspection from Quality Assessment.”

“Oh,” said his manager. He and Del stared at each other for a moment. “Well, at least we won’t have to feed her this week.”

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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A to Z 2017–P is for Pontoon

P is for Pontoon

“You can’t cross the river here. You have to take the pontoon!” An old man ran down the bank waving his arms. “It’s not safe, I tell you! Not safe!”

Jem looked up from where she was crouched at the water’s edge. “I’m not crossing,” she said. “Just looking at these fish. Their changing color pattern isn’t like anything I’ve ever seen. Do you know what they are?”

The old man stopped abruptly, the concern on his face giving way to fear for a moment before a clearly artificial smile took over. If Jem hadn’t been looking right at him she might have missed it. “Never you mind about those fish. Just go see the pontoon man. He’ll get you where you need to go. He’s right down by Milford Gate.” He gestured haphazardly. “Now you get going.”

Before Jem had the opportunity to repeat that she wasn’t planning to cross, the old man turned and hurried away even faster than he’d approached her.

Despite not having any travel plans, she figured it couldn’t hurt to talk to the pontoon man. At least he would probably know more about these unusual fish.

She figured it had been roughly half a sun-hand of walking when she saw the dock with a large, flat raft moored at it’s side. “Sun day,” she called aloud as she approached. “Sun day, pontoon man.”

A young man, more a boy really, stood from a low seat just off the dock. “And day of the sun to you as well, lady. Do you require passage?”

“Actually,” said Jem, “I was just curious. There are fish in the river unlike any I’ve seen. I thought maybe you could—“

He sat back down with a thud. “I’ll not talk about the Gillers,” he said. His head turned away from her as his eyes seemed to scan the waterline.

“But I—“

“You just move along, lady. I’ll not take you on this pontoon today. Not now.” He sounded resolute.

Certain she would get nothing more satisfactory from him, Jem turned back toward the town. Once the pontoon dock was out of view, she angled back toward the river, farther downstream this time. She’d not be put off by the fools in this town who wouldn’t even tell her about the fish.

“Acting disgusted that I’d even ask. As if I was the one being rude.” She shook her head, muttering to herself. “Wasn’t I only curious? Wasn’t I just interested in their silly fish? You’d think I’d asked how to unlock the bank, or the magistrate’s favorite color. They are the ones with no manners. Not me.”

Her diatribe tapered off as she reached the edge of the river once again. Deft fingers dipped into her waist pouch and removed a small coil of nearly invisible string and a tiny, shiny hook. She would simply catch one of the odd fish for herself and just take it with her. Jem was certain her father would be able to identify it.

She had no bait, but the fish were plentiful enough and she knew a coax that should put one on her hook in just moments.

Braced on a rock at the water’s edge, she dangled the hook just above the water’s surface before dropping it in.

Daughter of men. A voice bubbled around Jem. We accept your servitude. Welcome to the realm of the Gillers.

 

Copyright Notice: Please note that I fully assert my right to be associated as the author of this story, and while it is complete, it may not be finished. This story may be subject to alteration at the author’s discretion. Please do not copy, quote, or post this story or excerpts anywhere in any format. You are, however, free to share the link with anyone who might be interested.

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