Almost Alive Again


She knew it was a beautiful night. 

The moon was shining through an opening in the clouds, and there was a gentle breeze that felt cool against her body. The light coat of sweat on her neck chilled her in the breeze, and she closed her eyes for a moment to take it in, tilting her head back to let the wind have better access to her skin. The way it cooled her off reminded her of how she could open the freezer and cool off for a moment after coming home from a long run around the park trail. She liked to think it felt like an approach to Heaven after people would pass on. For the good ones, at least.

“Sarah? Oh, good, you’re still here. Hey girl, you forgot your sunglasses,” a voice said to her from the doorway of the bar.

Sarah opened her eyes, and turned toward the door, smiling at her friend.

“Thanks, Jess. What would I do without you?” Sarah asked with a smile. 

“Probably have to get a new job, or find a new roommate,” Jess laughed, “But no worries. I would have brought them home after work anyway. It’s not like anyone could confuse these for being anyone else’s at this place,” Jess said with a wink.

The bar was known as much for its reputation and clientele as it was for its cheap prices and strong drinks. The bikers and older crowd were not necessarily the type that would typically be found wearing bright pink sunglasses, though their fashion sense did often border on ridiculous in other ways. 

Jess handed the sunglasses to her friend, and leaned in and whispered in a quieter voice, “I expect I’ll be getting some kind of reward for my good deed when I get home, yeah? It sure would be nice to… decompress, after such a long day dealing with Tiny Mike and that one crazy lady. I’m still picking up glass from that bottle she threw. So, you know… it would be just wonderful to, oh, I don’t know, get a special massage tonight?” She winked as she whispered the last bit.

Sarah was glad that the clouds had moved to cover most of the moonlight, hiding her face in shadow, though she was certain she was blushing hard enough that she was glowing in the dark. 

“I’ll, um, see what I can arrange.” 

She was never the most suave in the dating world, and definitely did not consider herself to be one empowered with the gift of game.

“God, you are just so fucking sexy when you get all shy like that,” Jess laughed. She leaned in and hugged Sarah, giving her a quick pat on the butt. “I’ll see you in a couple hours. Get home safe.” With a smile and another wink, Jess took a few bouncy steps backward, bit her lip, and turned to walk back into the bar. 

Sarah laughed and said she would get there safely. She looked back up at the moon, and happened to catch the silhouette of a few small birds fly through the air. Yeah, it’s definitely a beautiful night, she thought.

Sarah had never considered herself to be gay, or even bisexual. She’d had nothing but boyfriends in her whole twenty-three years, and didn’t consider the one time she got drunk at her brother’s going away party before he left for college, where she kissed a random girl in a game of Never Have I Ever, to be anything more than youthful stupidity and liquid courage. 

Then came her move to this new town, deciding on a whim that she needed to go out and explore some of life on her own, away from family and the low caliber friendships she had struggled to maintain in the face of her schooling. She didn’t consider herself to be the most promising student in college, but she was proud to have gotten through it and finished with a bachelor’s degree before her brother did. His falling in love with a girl in his first semester and getting her pregnant had done a number on his goals, and he decided to give raising a family a shot. “School will always be there for later,” he’d told her when she spoke with him on the phone after hearing that she’d become an aunt. She was so surprised at his decision, considering he had always been the brightest student, a decent athlete on the high school football team, and always talked about starting a business after college.

However, it had turned out that making her own way through life even with a bachelor’s degree, in this economy, everything was a coin toss. And hers had landed on tails more often than not.

After job hunting for two months, her meager savings from her job as an office assistant were depleting faster than she had anticipated, and her idea of finding a job that would place her squarely in the middle class on the pay scale seemed to be more of a dream than a next step. Her friend and former classmate, Timothy, had moved to this city just after graduating back in their hometown. It was he who had invited her to come up and stay with him while she got on her feet. That was until he secured a new girlfriend, and was keen on moving her in to his apartment. Which meant Sarah would have to go off and make her way with a different home base.

The night Timothy gave her the news, she decided to go spend some of the last of her money at the bar, in hopes that she might come to a drunken epiphany on her next step, or at least obtain a hangover powerful enough to convince her that going back home to her father and stepmother might be a great idea. 

When she arrived at the first bar she had found online within an affordable taxi drive’s distance, she noticed that it was full of college aged young adults around her age. 

With a few dozen hormonal boys surrounding her while she stood at the bar waiting for a bartender to notice her, she could feel the eyes of everyone around her studying her. She did not dress in the same fashion as the rest of the girls, with her business casual slacks and blouse making her look older and more professional than the average young woman in her early 20’s. Such as it was, she did not own many outfits, and most everything she had brought with her was intended to be worn at job interviews. She took a moment to gaze out at the crowd, hoping to find another wallflower she might be able to break the ice with and not have to drink the night away solo.

Sarah had brushed her hair away from her face, and looked back towards the bar, and saw before her a young woman, covered in tattoos and sporting almost a punk-like pixie haircut, glowing bright purple in the lights of the bar. She was standing in front of her behind the bar, with her hands resting on the bartop.

“…Hello? What would you like?”

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t… I wasn’t paying attention. What did you ask?”, Sarah had stumbled over her words. She had never seen a girl that looked like this one, outside of music videos and magazine covers in the grocery store aisles in her hometown.

“What can I get you to drink, hon?”

“Oh, um, can I get a beer, please?”

The girl had stood straight, resting her hands on her hips. “A beer, huh? Wow, let me check.” She looked over her shoulder at the barback, who was carrying an armful of beer bottles, and a mixed drink in his other hand. “Hey Brodie, we got any more beers here?”

Brodie responded without looking her way, “Nope, no beers in this bar!”, laughing as he set the mixed drink on the bar in front of a girl, who used the drink as a photo subject for her social media posts. He handed the beer bottles out to a few taller guys at the end of the bar. “Never seen a beer here in my life.”

The bartender turned back to Sarah. “You’re gonna have to be a little more specific on that request, doll”, she chuckled with a slow wink.

Sarah swallowed hard. Nobody had ever winked at her. She had seen it in movies, but that was always a guy winking to his high school sweetheart or something. Were girls even allowed to wink at each other? 

“Um, I’ll take one of those,” Sarah said, pointing at a green bottle with a gold label.

The bartender whipped out a bar key from her back pocket, grabbing the beer bottle from the counter without even looking at it, and decapped it in one smooth motion, as if she had done so ten thousand times while blindfolded, and handed the bottle over the counter to Sarah.

“So, uh, no offense, but you seem like you’re completely lost. Are you new around here?”

Sarah smiled, and replied “Yes, sort of. I’ve lived here for a couple weeks, but I’ve not really been going out much or anything.”

The bartender looked Sarah up and down, raising an eyebrow with a smile on her face. 

“I guess that’s why you decided to get so dressed up for us then, huh?”

Sarah’s eyes opened wide, as she looked down at her clothes. She responded, “Oh, no, I—I’ve been trying to find a job, and I figured I might as well just be ready for a callback at any time in case I get an interview. I didn’t really bring a lot of clothes with me when I moved here.”

The bartender grinned, and shot her hand forward.

“What’s your name, angel?”

Sarah rubbed her hand on her pants to dry it off, the beer bottle having left it’s condensation on her, and reached out to take the girl’s hand.

“My name is Sarah. What’s yours?”

Shaking her hand gently, and with a bright smile with shining white teeth, the bartender responded, “Name’s Jestine. My friends call me Jess. You can call me anytime though.”

As she let go of Sarah’s hand and walked away, Sarah realized Jestine had left a small piece of paper in her palm. It reminded her of a magic trick. Unfolding the paper, and trying not to get it wet with her slippery fingers from the beer in her other hand, she saw the note, with a phone number, signed ‘Jess’.

Three days later, Sarah had finally worked up the courage to call Jess. More accurately, Timothy had started to help Sarah pack, in order to make room for his new girlfriend’s stuff, and so the phone call was more of a last ditch for help before resigning to the idea of moving back in with her father. 

Jess was the image of hospitability, telling Sarah to come on over with her stuff, that she could stay for as long as she needed. Sarah was wary of whatever ulterior motives Jess could have for allowing a random stranger come stay with her, but her options were, admittedly, in short supply. And besides, she could always tell Timothy where she was going to be staying, and if he didn’t hear from her in a couple days, at least the cops would have a lead on where to start the manhunt.

The same evening, Sarah knocked on the door of the apartment Jess had given her the address to. A moment later, it swung open, revealing Jess and her revealing outfit. Granted, it was a crop top and short shorts, but it showed more skin than what Sarah had expected to see. To say she was shocked would be accurate, but it was how Sarah seemed to lose control over where her eyes were drawn that was more shocking to herself. 

“Roomie!”, shouted Jess, stepping barefoot on to the patio, and grabbing Sarah in a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here! This is going to be so much fun.” She took one of Sarah’s bags, and held the door open for her. “Come on in!”

Over the next two weeks, Sarah became accustomed to Jess’ rambunctious nature and seemingly infinite supply of energy. Sarah would fall asleep on the couch while Jess would stream movies throughout the night, whispering hints at the upcoming jump scares and plot twists. Jess was very kind, and did not ever seem to crowd her, or question her too strongly about her financial situation.

The night had finally come, however, in the middle of the third week, when Jess asked Sarah if she was okay with maybe paying rent at some point, or if she needed some help.

“Oh, no, I can definitely pay rent! I just… I still haven’t found a job, and nobody is calling back like I thought they would,” Sarah said sheepishly.

“Girl, don’t even worry about it! I’ll get you a job at the other bar I work at, and that way we can drive out there together and we can save some money together!”, Jess said excitedly.

“Oh wow, really? That would be so great Jess, thank you! Wow, thank you so much, I never even thought about asking you for help finding a job. You’re so wonderful!”, Sarah said, reaching over and grabbing Jess in a hug. “But… I don’t know a thing about bartending.”

“Don’t mention it, lovely. You’ll do great, and it’ll be fun. And besides, I’m an excellent teacher,”, Jess said. She looked Sarah in the eye, smiled, and leaned in and planted a kiss on Sarah’s lips, before standing up and walking to the kitchen. “Are you hungry for breakfast?”

Sarah was frozen in shock. 

She had never been kissed on the lips so nonchalantly, much less by a beautiful woman, while sober. Her hand reached up to her face, her fingers gently resting on her lips where she’d been kissed, as she looked over at Jess bouncing her way to the kitchen.

Jess reached down to a cabinet drawer, and pulled out a frying pan, placing it on the stove. She walked over to the refrigerator, opened it, looked around and grabbed the milk from the door. As she stood up and closed the refrigerator door, she jumped slightly when she saw Sarah standing right beside her.

“Oh, shit, you scared me,” Jess laughed.

Sarah stood beside Jess, looking her in the eye. Her gaze traveled up to her hair, and back down to her cheeks, her nose, down to her lips. 

Jess’s laughter subsided, and she stood staring at Sarah in a similar way. 

Sarah could feel herself starting to get hot, as sweat started to bead on the back of her neck and under her arms. She had never felt so nervous, and so excited at the same time. She reached one hand out, gently touching Jess’ cheek.

Then she reached in and brought her lips to Jess’ mouth, and kissed her softly, before pulling away. She looked down at the ground, expecting and waiting for an offended rebuttal from Jess, to be chastised for being so forward, for being so gross, for being…

And then she felt Jess’ hand under her chin, raising it back up, and with an enormous smile, welcomed another kiss. This kiss last longer and was both sublimely gentle and urgent at the same time. Pulling away ever so slightly, Sarah whispered with her eyes closed, in a daze, “But… I’m not gay…” in a soft voice.

Jess replied quietly, “Neither am I. Now kiss me again.”

Jess reached out to her side to place the carton of milk on the counter, missed, and let it fall to the floor.

“I’m still not gay,”, Sarah whispered to herself, two months later as she stood on the walkway facing the parking lot of the bar. She had struggled with how to identify herself after the two months of living, sleeping, and working with Jess.

“Not that it would be bad if I was, right? But I’m probably just bi, and that’d be okay too. I can still go get a boyfriend someday, right?” she asked herself. She had always imagined later life to consist of having a husband, maybe a kid or two, and a dog. Definitely a dog, cats just made the whole house stink, she had thought to herself.

Yet, here I am, debating the pros and cons of being considered gay in today’s world, as I walk through the parking lot of the bar where my lover is working, the girl who sleeps with me in bed and wakes me up to do things in the middle of the night that I never imagined doing with another woman. 

“What a weird world,”, she said aloud as she looked to the sky, searching for the moon behind the clouds.

“You’re right about that much.”

Sarah snapped her head back to reality, her eyes trying to focus on where she thought the voice had come from. The parking lot was dark, and it was still too early for the bars to have closed. The parking lot lights were out, there were no bar patrons in the lot sharing drunken stories, and most importantly, no car headlights driving down the nearby road to light the surrounding area.

“Who’s there?”, Sarah asked in a stern voice. 

I’ve got mace in my purse, she thought. I just need to remember how to use the damn thing. Where did I put it, she wondered as her hand rummaged through the bag. She felt the cable from her phone charger, the tampons, the makeup compact, random small coins. Fuck, where is the fucking spray, her mind screamed.

Sarah heard footsteps now coming from a different direction than the voice had come from, more behind her than out in front of her. This time, a different voice broke the silence.

“Don’t scream.”


Back inside the bar, Jestine was winding her body through the crowd of patrons. She loved working at this bar, mostly because it was such a vastly different collection of patrons from her weekend gig at the college bar further inside city limits.

Here, the scent of the leather jackets and vests the bikers wore, the cologne of the older crowd of retired military men, and the occasional pizza or wings the guys would order helped make this place feel just that much more homely and cozy. 

There was a crash of breaking glass further inside the bar, followed by cheering and applause. Jestine stood on her tiptoes in order to gain a better view.

Frank. Why is it always Frank?, Jestine thought to herself as she shook her head.

“Frank, what the fuck are you breaking now?”, she yelled in the drunken man’s direction.

“Oh shit. Sorry Jess, it wasn’t my fault. I was throwing my dart and I missed,” Frank slurred. 

As Jestine walked closer to the crime scene, she found a beer bottle shattered on the floor underneath the dart board hanging on the wall. The small shelf hung on the wall intended to hold the small bucket of darts and extra tips often pulled double duty as a temporary drink holder for dart players. Luckily for the bar, most dart leagues were comprised of players that were at least accurate enough to not hit the shelf three feet away from the board. Most. 

“Hey Jess… I hate to ask, but, um, I hadn’t even had a drink from that one yet. Can I get another one on the house, maybe?” Frank mumbled in desperation.

“Hey, Frank, leave the girl alone, your drunk ass wasn’t even scheduled for tonight,” another member of Frank’s dart league teased, laughing. Frank’s stature changed like a deflating air mattress. 

Jestine was always impressed by how such a massive man could seem so fragile amongst his friends. Although a messy drunk, Frank had always been a positive staple of the bar and the local community in this part of town. Known for being a gentle giant, he had also singlehandedly stopped more than his fair share of drunken bar fights. Often, he only had to step in between the dueling drunkards to sober each party up enough to end things quietly.

Then again, on the rare occasion he came across someone who could not stand to be reasoned with, Frank made easy work of tossing them out of the bar and knocking some sense into them and some teeth out of them.

“It’s okay, Bobby. Frank, you’re lucky you’re my favorite asshole. I’ll get you another on the house, but you’re cleaning that shit up,” Jestine said with a wink as she playfully shoved the bar’s broom and trash can against Frank.

“Aw, you’re the best, Jess,” Frank said with a beaming smile. He wiped the sweat off his brow and moved to clean up the shards of glass and sticky beer label on the floor. 

As Jestine walked back up to the bar, she shouted a few patrons’ names, asking what they wanted. She listened to half a dozen orders and got to work grabbing beers and mixing drinks.

A few hours later, Jestine was turning off the lights to the bar, setting the alarm, and locking the front door. As she stepped on to the front patio of the bar, she stretched her arms above her head and jerked her head from side to side, popping her neck. 

A long night, but damn it if Frank didn’t make up for all that mess with that tip he left, Jestine thought to herself. 

She couldn’t remember ever leaving the bar feeling anything but content with her decision a year ago to come to this bar at the suggestion of a friend to pick up an extra shift. With the minimal drama, the older crowd who, for the most part, were not always trying to get into her pants, and the fact that a lot of the mature crowd had more disposable income than the college kids she typically dealt with, it was a pretty solid gig in her eyes and she had been lucky to get a permanent position here.

If only the drive home wasn’t so damn far at night, I’d probably work here every day, she thought to herself. Oh well, at least I’ve got that gorgeous woman waiting for me at home. That definitely helps make the drive more bearable.

Jestine walked up to her car, checking her phone in her hand as she got closer. No missed calls or texts were awaiting her attention. She got into her car, throwing her backpack on the passenger seat, and began the drive home. Looking at the radio, she noticed the time was closing in on 4:00 AM. 

Dammit, I took longer closing up than I thought, she thought. Sarah is going to be asleep, and I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow to get that massage. And I could definitely use one after tonight.

Jestine chuckled to herself, as she started to rub her neck with her hand. She knew she was lucky; Sarah was a beautiful girl, and was practically Jestine’s opposite. But Jestine really liked how she was so different – she knew she would rarely be surprised by what came out of Sarah’s mouth. She had never dated anyone that was so open minded and intelligent. Most of her previous partners had never lasted more than a couple months, and it was usually a very turbulent ride. 

It would seem that gaslighting was a skillset not constrained to the male sex, in her experience. Even some of the girls that she had enjoyed a few weeks with tended to devolve their arguments to the point of shaming and ridicule at Jestine’s life choices; a far throw from the sweet pillow talk that they would engage in for the first few weeks. 

When Sarah came into Jestine’s life, it was shortly after a breakup that Jestine had dealt with just a few days earlier. She had decided to give one of the guys she had dated a year or so ago a second chance. Within a month, he was back to his old ways of attempting to shame Jestine for the life she had chosen, and for the life goals she had shared with him. She decided to cut it off with him one night at the biker bar, when he had stormed in with an attitude demanding her to apologize for how she had spoken to him in their most recent argument.

Jestine could see in his eyes the vitriol he was ready to send her way after she spoke up and told him to not let the door hit him in the ass on them way out. And he likely would have had a nice tirade, if he hadn’t noticed Frank put his pint glass on the counter beside him. Looking from Jestine, to Frank’s glass, and tilting his head back to look Frank in the face, he quickly lowered his head and glared at Jestine.

“Fuck you, you dumb bitch. I was just trying to save you from wasting your fucking life, and you don’t even realize it. I’m the fuck out,” he shouted on his way out of the bar. The patrons in his way did not move to give him a path, and so he had to sway to and fro on his way out, failing to make a swift exit.

As the door had swung shut slowly behind him as he left, the bar erupted in laughter. 

“Good riddance to bad bullshit,” Tracy had laughed. Tracy was one of the bikers that frequented the bar, and often organized a few rides that would just happen to end their days pulling into the  He pulled out his wallet, silver chain dangling from it, and pulled out a hundred dollar bill. Walking up to the bar, he dropped it into the tip jar, an old whiskey bottle with the label ripped off. A black marker had been used to write on the outside of the bottle, “Save The Trees and Tits”, with a crude drawing of a top-heavy pin-up style woman posing. 

“Let’s all put in and make our girl Jess’ day a little better, what the fuck do ya’ll say?” Tracy shouted to the bar as he shoved his bill into the bottle. The bar patrons shouted their agreement, almost pulling their wallets out simultaneously as if it had been a dance rehearsal practiced for days earlier. 

Jestine had laughed until she cried, coming from around the bar and hugging everyone in the building. Shouts of affirmation and praise for the strong young woman filled the air for the rest of the night. Jestine was able to pay off her credit card with most of the tips, and stowed the rest of the money in the shoebox in her closet for a later rainy day. She loved that bar, in spite of it’s ridiculous name. 

Nonetheless, The Doghouse had become a staple in her daily mental getaway. Looking forward to the crowd, the music, the smells, and the terrible jokes and hilarious stories the people there shared with one another provided a few hours of respite for Jestine. She wasn’t ogled at by young guys just because she had tattoos – in fact, the men at The Doghouse tended to have more ink than even she did, and she considered herself a bit of a collector of ink. The retired soldiers, the bikers, and the outcasts of society that frequented that bar likely had more ink in them than two tattoo parlors probably owned in their inventory. It was starting to become a second home.

As Jestine pulled into her parking spot at the apartment complex, she looked up at her apartment’s balcony. The lights were all off, and the neighborhood was quiet – a small blessing, considering the amount of students that lived in the cheap housing. House parties and drunken kids shouting into the night air in the hopes of stirring people from their sleep were a common occurrence. 

Jestine grabbed her backpack from the seat beside her, got out of the car and closed the door. She took a moment to close her eyes, and inhaled deeply, smelling the dew on the grass and the fresh air. She could smell the slight hint of cigarette smoke emanating from her clothes and hair, but it didn’t bother her. She had quit smoking the previous year, gone cold turkey and been a massive bitch to her friends for a few weeks, but the health benefits were practically instantaneous. She felt lighter, and could take deeper breaths than she remembered. The Doghouse was one of the last few bars that allowed smoking indoors, since it was outside of the city limits. Having grown up stealing or buying cigarettes from older friends, some who had graduated and some who had decided high school just wasn’t for them, she had been smoking since her early teen years. She knew it was a bad habit, but there was never a strong enough reason for her to quit. 

That’s how she felt and would say as much to anyone who made the suggestion for her to quit. She was adamant that there was never a good enough reason to bother with the hassle of going through the withdrawals, and maintained a stubborn mindset about it.

Then her mother got cancer and died within four months from getting the news. Lung cancer. Her mother had smoked since she was a teen as well, back before it was a social stigma and was known to be an early ticket to a premature end.

Jestine finished smoking her last pack on the day of the funeral, and as predicted, went through withdrawals in a bad way. She had gained a few pounds from eating snacks to keep her hands and mouth busy, and was in a tremendously cranky mood for a little over a month. However, when she was finally able to not immediately desire a cigarette first thing in the morning, she took a moment to smile and think of her mother. It was a pain in the ass to have dealt with, but she was starting to not regret the decision.

Walking up the stairs, Jestine felt the cool air blow through the walkway, blowing her hair around her face and rising a chill on her arms. She welcomed the breeze, and was happy to be home. Turning her key and opening the front door, she gently laid her backpack down on the ground beside her entryway table, where a bowl filled with assorted and individually wrapped chocolates sat greeting her. Even though she had gotten over the cigarette cravings, one bad habit that stuck with her was grabbing a chocolate on her way out the door every day. 

Jestine laid her keys on the table gently, trying to be quiet and not cause too much noise with her entry. She was sure Sarah was dead asleep after such a long day and dead to the world, but she didn’t want to chance waking her just due to being careless.

Locking the door behind her, she walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator, reaching in and grabbing a beer from the dwindling six-pack she had in there. A dark amber was her favorite nightcap, and she would often lay in bed with her backlit e-book and read for a while, enjoying the brew and letting sleep take over.

Popping the top off with her bar key, gently taking the cap and placing it on the counter, she looked around the living room. Sarah would often stay up watching scary movies while she would wait for Jestine to finish her shift, and on those nights, Jestine would see the light from the TV shining through the blinds of the window from the parking lot. She had made a habit of creeping up the stairs, quietly turning the key and doorknob, and throwing the front door open and shouting at Sarah. She loved how she would scream in horror, followed usually by a thrown pillow in her direction, before Sarah would crack up laughing and calling her names that could make every person in The Doghouse blush.

Jestine smiled at the memories as she walked over to the couch and grabbed her e-book from the coffee table in front of it. Powering it on, she turned off the kitchen light and gently stepped her way to the bedroom. Pushing the door open as quietly as possible, I need to get some WD-40 for that damn squeaky hinge, Jestine thought to herself. 

She made her way across the room, and placed her e-book and beer bottle down on the nightstand by her bed. She kicked off her shoes, reached down to take her socks off, and tossed them into the laundry basket against the wall at the foot of the bed. She could hear the gentle tap of the plastic basket from her free throw into the darkness. Pumping her fist ever so slightly, she then reached down and undressed from her pants and shirt, letting them fall to the side of the nightstand, and grabbed the corner of her blanket and opened up her side of the bed. Crawling into her bed, she gently arched her arm over to Sarah’s side of the bed to hold her as she kissed her shoulder and back goodnight. 

Jestine’s arm rounded empty space, her palm coming in contact with the sheet on the mattress. It felt cold to the touch. She reached out further, feeling for her partner around the bed. Coming up empty handed, she turned back to her nightstand and fumbled for the switch on her bedside lamp. 

With the lamp flickering on, and the room illuminated in it’s orange glow, Jestine looked around the room, crawling over to the opposite side of the bed and checked the ground in case Sarah had rolled out of bed. Seeing nothing there, she threw her legs over and stepped out of bed, glancing around the room. 

Jestine walked around her small apartment, and found nothing signifying where Sarah could be. She went back to the room, grabbed her phone out of her pants pocket, and checked it’s screen for any missed calls or messages.


“Sarah?”, Jestine asked the emptiness. “Hey babe – are you here?”

Silence returned no answer. 

Jestine’s brow furrowed, as she thought back to when she said goodbye to Sarah earlier that evening. 

She didn’t seem upset with me, did she? Did I say something wrong?, Jestine questioned herself. 

Thinking of previous relationships and their toxic conclusions, her mind went immediately to the dark side of assumptions. Perhaps she had crowded Sarah, or been too forward with her, and she decided to just leave town, or find another place to stay for the night.

Why would she not be home right now? 

Sarah had never been one to stay out late, at least not without Jestine by her side. In fact, it was Jestine who would always initiate their late nights. And with Sarah not having a car, she was typically the one happiest to join in an adventurous night driving down the highway, or visiting house parties and laughing at the social circles they had both been members of.

Jestine pulled her phone out, scrolled down to Sarah’s name, and dialed it. 

She’s going to think I’m annoying as fuck, Jestine grimaced. She didn’t want to take too many chances at pushing Sarah away – it was wonderful having a sane, attractive friend who she felt a bond with, and Jestine tried hard to not let her jaded past affect her conversations or take over her moods with needless worries.

But it’s four in the morning, and she’s not home. She left hours before I did, and she never even texted me. Maybe she got an Uber to take her to pick up food?, Jestine’s mind raced.

The phone rang up until Sarah’s voicemail left it’s greeting, and at the beep, Jestine hung up. She pulled up her messaging app and sent a quick note to Sarah.

Hey babe, just checking in, saw you weren’t home. I hope everything’s alright, let me know if you’re okay. Just missing that sweet booty being next to me in bed!!

With the message being sent and the delivery notification lighting up, Jestine put her phone on the counter. She made sure the ringtone was set to be audible, and turned the volume all the way up. She walked over to her bedroom, and grabbed her beer off of the nightstand and turned off her e-book. Walking back into the living room, she grabbed the TV remote off of the sofa’s arm, and pulled up a streaming channel to search for a romantic comedy to lift her spirits.

Just as she hit the play button on the program, she heard a notification chime from her phone. She gently tossed the remote on to the couch, and walked back to the kitchen. Grabbing her phone off the counter, she opened up her messaging app, and saw a message from a number she didn’t recognize.

UNKNOWN: is this the bartender?

Grand Theft Machiatto

Today, I stopped by Starbucks for the first time in a long time, before heading in to work later. Figured I would get my day off to a good start with a tasty treat.

I ordered something for Jasmine and myself, mine being an iced caramel macchiato, hers being a triple grande almond milk latte (she used to work for Starbucks, she knows what she likes – me, I like my coffee to be a milkshake.)

The barista asks for a name, and I say “Chris”, and pay, then walk back to a table and sit down to play some chess while I wait.

Looking around the shop, I wondered about those people hanging out in there, sitting and working on their laptops, talking to study buddies, eating their cookies… and I started to wonder who of them had names that had been “Starbucked” before.

You know, like when a Brian gets “Bran” or a Tiffany gets “Tiffonie”? I’d never had mine changed up like that, for whatever reason. I’m not jealous, just aware of this fact in a way that makes me self-conscious on an infinitesimal scale.

A few moments later, they call my name, and I get up and walk over to the counter.

I look, and I see only one drink on the counter – an iced caramel macchiato.

Now, I order mine with extra caramel, and upside down (shut up, it tastes better that way). It has a certain visual aesthetic, to boot.

And as I reach out to grab it, I see the tag with the name on it.


And man… I didn’t know what to think.

Was this mine?

Did I just get Equalitied?

Is Christina the best they could do for “Chris”?

Is this how everyone else who’d been Starbucked felt? This is weird. I’ve gotten more than I asked for.

Can you really just swap genders like that with peoples names? It’s not even etymologically correct, is it?

I look around the room to see if any ladies were waiting patiently for their drink, maybe I had cut them off in my walk to the counter?

I look back to the barista, and they don’t even glance at me, as they put down another coffee, this one labeled “Chris”.

omfg, what is happening?

Do I take them both?

If I do, and it’s not mine, is that shoplifting, or just theft? Will they try to stop me? Will I be tackled by a hipster rent-a-cop? They can’t run that fast in skinny jeans anyway, right?

Grand Theft Machiatto is about to kick off, and I have no idea the repercussions of what my actions will be.

My mind racing as I try to compute all that is happening, I look around the shop again.

I mean, this coffee looks exactly like what I ordered. Nobody else is moving to the counter. I’ve been in this store for 5 minutes, tops, and mine is the only name that’s been called.

There’s no empty seat with a book or bag in front of it, I didn’t see anybody go to the bathroom.

I slowly reach out and grab the triple grande almond milk latte as if it were an old friend I hadn’t seen in years… but I also glance over at the upside down caramel macchiato with extra vanilla and caramel, the one that definitely does NOT say the name given to me at birth, as if it were a familiar face I had forgotten the name of.

I look at the other drink harder.

“I swear to god, Christina, if you’re in here, you better say something right now….” I think to myself.

Then, a girl stands up from her table, removing her sunglasses, places them on her table, and walks over in my direction.

“Oh, thank you thank you thank you, this was gonna be so awkward—“ I have the time to internally spout, before she’s standing next to me.

She leans past me, and asks the barista, “Excuse me, what time do you guys close?”


The barista opens his mouth to answer her, but I can’t focus beyond the red in my eyes as I incinerate the back of Girl’s head with my stare.

She walks back to her table, puts her sunglasses on, and picks up her water to take a sip.

How did I miss that water bottle? Ugh.

I look back at the drink on the counter.


It’s iced. Maybe I can extrapolate from the condensation on the sides how long it has been sitting there? It’s about 68° in the shop, that’s a thin plastic cup filled with ice and coffee – what temperature does coffee become coffee at? – it doesn’t have a pool of water around it on the counter… does caramel increase or decrease the half-life of coffee temperature?

I look at the triple grande almond milk latte grasped in my hand – it is warm, hot rather. Duh, that’s how coffee is supposed to feel.

Buy some time to think. Grab the cardboard sleeve. Act like you’ve done this once in your life before.

I reach over to grab a sleeve out of the tray, and look back at the populace in the shop once more.

1, 2… 5 people at that table. Everyone has a drink.

2 people there, two coffees.

That dude is eating a sandwich, doesn’t have a drink, but looks even less like a Christina than I probably do.

3 at that table, but they’re drinking fancy waters.

And then there’s Girl. Ugh, her and her stupid water with her dumb questions about store hours.

Okay, fine, this is it. This coffee is mine, this is my station in life now, I am probably the result of some bet the barista kids made about how many guys they can give girl names to on their coffee.

Whatever, let’s do this. I’m taking it, and I’m just out of here, off to drink my stupid venti iced soy caramel macchiato, upside down with extra vanilla and extra caramel, and I’m going to love it and I don’t even care about what name the sticker claims.

I reach out for another cardboard sleeve for the drink, put the triple grande almond milk latte down on the counter, and reach out for the Christina cup.

And, as I am reaching over the counter to accept my fate, as if to laugh at the ridiculousness of all this, a barista’s hand comes into view, holding a drink.

Instantly, I see, over their thumb, a name.


Before they even have time to get my name out of their mouth – MY name, the name my mother figured was an acceptable noise to make with her mouth in order to get my attention, that name – my hand is wrapping around the base of the cup in the barista’s hand, taking its weight into my palm, and I immediately slide the cardboard sleeve around it, solidifying my ownership over this coffee.

To hell with you and your abandoned drink, Christina, you don’t deserve it if you’re not going to take it as soon as it evacuates the womb of it’s creation, being handled by a coffee artist and delicately placed into your own, never having been spoiled by that disgusting counter over which who knows how many hands and spills have pilfered its virginity…

…I take both drinks, wish the baristas a nice day, and head home, enjoying my delicious coffee mish-mash as I drive off into the sunset.

Lux in Tenebris : Part 1

“First time I’m late to a meeting in my entire goddamn life,” Connor Gregson muttered as he checked the time on the face of the Rolex Submariner watch on his wrist, “and of course it had to be today.”

Connor leaned over to look in the driver’s rear view mirror, raising his chin as he adjusted his tie for the fifth time since they had come to a halt half an hour ago.

“You can’t just get off the highway? Take the emergency lane, I’ll pay you extra.”, he begged the driver of his black car taxi.

“Sorry sir, I can’t do that. Besides, with the size of the wreck up ahead, there’s more than likely going to be an ambulance blocking that lane further up anyway.”, the driver apologized.

Fuck, this can’t be happening, thought Connor.

His hand dug back into his coat pocket, pulling his phone out.

Still no signal.

I can’t believe this shit.

Connor could barely breathe.

The mixture of exhaust in the air, black smoke pouring out of the overturned frame of the truck to his left, his shirt feeling two sizes too small, soaked in sweat.

Oh god, I’m an idiot, I forgot to loosen my tie, he thought to himself as he ran down the side of the highway.

Even his mental voice sounded out of breath.

Connor slowed to a stop, leaned over to place his suitcase on the asphalt, and loosened his tie. He undid a few of the top buttons on his shirt as well, just in case.

Taking off his suit coat, he looked over at the accident scene beside him.

Looks like there’s at least one casualty, he thought as he noticed the sheet covering a body on the ground. It was a small body.

The firefighters were still using the Jaws of Life to rip apart the passenger door of the car that had been flipped into the median. The policemen divided themselves between guiding traffic through the one shoulder of the road that hadn’t been affected by the wreck, and helping the firefighters hold the car steady as the one firefighter stood on top of the frame.

One of the police officers looked over at Connor as he stood with his arms braced against the car, shoving his sunglasses back up on his nose with his forearm.

“Hey man, move along, you can’t be out here. This is a dangerous area right now.”

Connor picked up his suitcase and threw his coat over his arm, waving at the officer. “Yeah buddy, I’m moving along!”

Connor continued running down the side of the highway, seeing the exit to the access road coming up. He took his phone out of his pocket with his free hand, noticing that there was still no signal. The phone still showed the correct time.

He still had fifteen minutes to get to the office.

Bursting through the doorway of the gas station at the foot of the hill, just off the road, Connor scanned the store quickly, turning his head as if it were on a swivel, searching.

“Phone! Where’s your phone?”, he shouted at the unseen station attendant.

From a back room, he heard a whisper of a curse, and the quiet giggle of a young woman. The sound of boxes falling over camouflaged further curses from the young man who stumbled out of the back room into the hallway leading out to the store, fumbling to button his work shirt back up.

“It’s outside, man, out the door to the left, right next to the dumpster”, the young man answered, flipping his long hair out of his eyes. “It’s out of order though,” he added as Connor turned to walk outside. “Some jerkoff ripped the phone thing off by the cable.”

Fuck!”, rasped Connor. He looked down at the kid’s name tag.

“Alright Timothy, you got a phone in that office I can use real quick? I’ll pay you.”, Connor asked.

“Uh, yeah man, but, like… customers aren’t allowed to use that phone, dude.”

“Come on kid, I’ll pay you twenty bucks right now if you let me use it real quick.”

“No way dude, there’s rules and shit, you know? I can’t be letting every dude that–”

“Timothy,” Connor said, taking a deep breath as he struggled to remain calm, “I’m telling you right now, if you don’t let me use that goddamn phone right now, I’m going to tell your boss,” he said as he looked behind Timothy to the back wall showing a framed photo of an elderly woman in the same red and black colored work shirt the boy wore, taking note of the name on the tiny plaque, “I’m going to tell Bridget that you’re banging random chicks in the storage closet. So are you going to let me use your fucking phone, or not?” Connor said, as he placed his suitcase on the counter, slowly draping his coat over the suitcase.

“Shannon, I need you to do me a favor and stall the board members for about twenty minutes, okay?”

Connor sat in the old office chair in the back room of the gas station, the landline telephone feeling sticky and covered in dirt and scotch tape. He could swear it smelled like a mixture of gasoline and rotten food, but the overflowing trash can beneath the desk obviously had never been emptied, so there was no telling where the smell was originating from.

“There was a wreck on the goddamn highway and I’m calling you from– yeah, yeah I know they’re important, okay? I know how serious this meeting is. I’m calling you from a gas station right now, and I’m going to try to get there via taxi or something– no, my phone doesn’t have any signal, I don’t know what the fuck is going on.”

The light in the office turned off, and Connor raised his arm and waved it in the air, trying to activate the motion sensor that must have sat unattended too long.

“Look, Shannon, just stall them if you can and I’ll be there as quick as I can, okay? Send that cute girl from Accounting in there with some water or something if you have to, alright?”

The office sounded quiet on the other line, the commotion from the other employees milling about on Shannon’s end coming to a quick quiet.

“Hello? Shannon. Shannon, can you hear me?”

Connor pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it, wiggled the cord connecting it to the phone, and tried again.

“Shannon, are you there?”

Connor found the sudden silence more worrisome than a dial tone.

“Kid! Hey, Timothy! Your phone in here is dead or something, and your fucking light won’t turn back on. I can’t see shit.”

Connor stepped out of the office, stumbling over boxes in the hallway as he tried to navigate his way using the single ray of daylight peeking through the front door of the store down into the hallway.

“Hey, kid! Where the fuck are you?”, he yelled.

As he made his way into the store area of the building, he looked around at the freezer and the drink refrigerators. Looking back at the counter, he noticed out of the front window that Timothy and a girl were sharing a cigarette as they sat on the stack of pallets that were piled in front of one of the store windows.

Must be that girl I heard earlier in the back room with him, he thought.

Connor made his way over to the drink coolers, opened the door, and bent down to grab one of the larger bottles of water from the bottom. The cooler looked much more dirty and grimy without a working light inside.

Looks like all the lights in here are off, actually, Connor slowly noticed.

Connor twisted the cap off the drink, and took a long swallow, feeling the coolness of the water pour through his body. Letting loose a small sigh, he put the cap back on, and raised the cold bottle to his forehead, relishing it’s cold and wet refreshment against the sweat on his face. He leaned down and grabbed another of the bottles from the cooler.

As Connor walked back to the counter, Timothy noticed him walking around inside. He handed the remainder of his cigarette to his female companion, and turned to head inside.

“Hey, sir, you get everything taken care of?”, he asked.

“Almost. Your phone seems to have died, and the light in the office isn’t turning back on – the motion sensor is probably busted. Look, can I borrow your cell phone? I need to get a taxi, I need to get downtown in the next fifteen minutes.”

“Uh, what do you mean?”, the boy asked.

Now that he was inside and speaking to him, Connor noticed the scent of pot on the boy’s breath.

Great, now I’m going to have to explain how a taxi works to this punk kid, he thought.

“Kid, I just need a taxi to get me–“, he started.

“Naw man, I mean… we don’t have a motion sensor in there. That thing works with, like, a switch thing.”

“Oh, great. Well, let me borrow your cell phone, and then you can go change the light bulb, okay?”

“Oh, uh, yeah man, that’s fine, I guess,” Timothy responded, slowly taking the phone out of his pocket and handing it to Connor. “Uh, you got, like, light bulbs with you and stuff?”

Connor ignored Timothy’s question as he tried to unlock the phone’s black screen.

“Hey, kid, how do you unlock this thing? Does it need your fingerprint or something?”

Timothy took his phone from Connor’s outstretched hand. “Naw man, it’s just… hmm. That’s weird, it’s been on the charger since Carleen got here, it shouldn’t be dead already.”

Connor sighed and grabbed his suitcase and coat from the counter, and walked outside.

“Hey, miss, are you Carleen?”, he asked the girl with the braided hair just outside the door.

“Yeah, who the hell are you?”, Carleen snapped back.

“Look, I just need to borrow a phone, and Tim’s is dead. Would that be alright with you?”, Connor asked, hoping the look on his face was more pitiful looking than he thought it was.

“Yeah, I guess. But you run off, Tim’s got a gun behind the counter, so don’t be a dick, aight?” Carleen said.

“Good deal. I’ll be right here.” Connor answered as the young girl took her phone out from her back pocket.

“What the fuck, mine’s dead too?”, Carleen asked herself as she tried to unlock her phone, pressing the power button down as she tried to turn it back on.

“Hold on, let me go put it on the charger real quick…” she said, as she turned to go inside. Just then, Timothy pushed the door open, almost jumping outside.

“Dude, my phone is broken, man. My charger doesn’t work on it, and none of the chargers on the rack work either…”, Timothy exclaimed.

As Timothy and Carleen began bickering back and forth about who’s fault it was that their phones were broken, Connor suddenly realized how quiet it was outside.

Looking around, he noticed the air conditioner unit on the roof was no longer making the squeaking noise it was when he had arrived, nor was the ice machine that sat to the edge of the building making the high-pitched whine it had been.

But what stood out most to Connor was the fact that he could hear voices coming from the access road behind him, and the highway that loomed up above him.

To be able to hear voices from almost five stories up, all the traffic in town must have stopped at the same time, he thought.

There wasn’t any honking, or music playing. No constant roar of engines passing by, or even the squealing of brakes that needed changing.

To Connor, the thing that stood out the most was not even being able to hear the clicking of the street lights on the corner, their glass faces dark.

Connor began walking with a brisk pace over to the street, heading to the car stalled at the crosswalk, it being the first in the line of cars. Getting the driver’s attention with his hand circling in the air, trying to get them to roll down their window, they unclicked their seatbelt and opened the driver’s door.

Just as Connor was about to beg for a ride downtown, the rotund woman stood with her arm holding her door out, the other arm laying on the roof of the car.

“Hey honey, would you mind helping me push my car out of the way, maybe into that gas station over there? It just died on me all of a sudden, and I don’t know a darn thing about cars.”, the woman asked.

“Oh, uh… no, no I’m sorry, I think, I think all the cars out here are broken down right now,” Connor stuttered as he looked around at all the cars that seemed to be frozen in the streets, “It seems everyone on the road is at a standstill right now.”

As the lady turned to knock on the passenger window of the car beside hers, Connor turned to walk back to the gas station, taking another drink from his water bottle as he looked behind him, up and down the street.

What the hell is going on today?, he wondered.

There was a large man at the gas station, a burly man with a brown hunter’s vest and a red plaid shirt, his sleeves rolled up on his forearms. His dirty jeans looked as if he had been climbing around in a mechanic’s shop all day, his boots dusty but in good shape.

“C’mon kid, what do you mean your machine isn’t working? I just need five bucks of gas on pump three, what the hell’s the matter?”, the big man asked with a surprisingly gentle voice.

Timothy looked up at the big man sheepishly, almost nervous to say his piece again to the intimidating man.

Connor stood just in the doorway of the store, looked at the red gasoline canister in the large man’s hand, and back at the kid. The kid was repeating to the man about how nothing seemed to be working around here, that he couldn’t even call his manager to come fix it. Connor looked out the window, noticing the many people standing around in between the cars, talking to one another, asking what could have happened.

Connor reached up and placed his hand on the man’s large arm, saying quietly, “Sir, I don’t think your vehicle is out of gas. Look around, all the other cars… there’s no way they could all be out of gas at the same time, right?”

The big man turned to look Connor in the eye, looked down at his hand on his arm, and then back out at the window.

“Well I’ll be damned, I didn’t even realize everybody was stopped. I thought my truck had died and I was the one holding everybody up…”, the man said quietly, more to himself than to Connor, as he continued looking out of the window.

“What in hell do you think coulda done that?”, he asked in a southern drawl.

Connor, Timothy, Carleen and the big man – he had introduced himself to the rest as Hobby – all stood by the front counter, talking amongst themselves as to what could have happened.

Connor had given up on trying to flag a taxi down, seeing as there must have been a good half dozen yellow cabs within a block’s radius, all stopped and stalled. Getting downtown on foot would take the better part of a day and a half, maybe more if the whole town had been affected by this mass vehicular breakdown.

Carleen sat with her legs crossed, her back up against the store window, as she listened to the men talk about their theories.

Timothy continued to simply stare at the flame of his lighter, holding a cigarette – a real cigarette this time, Connor noted – between his fingers and flying it through the flame in slow motion.

Connor and Hobby continued their discussion.

“Yep, I was just heading downtown to go pick up my son.”, Hobby explained. “It’s my weekend to have him, and we were gonna go hunting for his first time. I been taking him down to his grandad’s land to sight in the rifle I got him for his birthday last June, and we were gonna go down this time and pack up a few deer, since the buck-to-doe ratio is all screwed up this time of year, y’know?”, Hobby said, taking a moment to spit some of his chaw juice out.

“But there I was, getting off the 10 and trying to get down here to get some gas, and while sitting there with that light turned red, my damn truck died.” Hobby said as he scratched his bearded chin. “Come to think of it, though, I don’t quite remember any of them lights working or not in the first place…”

Connor rolled up the sleeves of his pale blue oxford shirt until they met his elbows, and took another swig of water from the second bottle he had taken from the cooler. The sun was starting to lower, and it was finally cooling off a bit.

“So, Connor, right? You say there ain’t a damn phone around here that works, is that so?”, Hobby asked.

Connor replied, “Yeah, it seems the office phone and the kids’ phones are all dead. My phone wasn’t getting a signal for a bit, and when I looked again, it had died too. I think the power may have gone out in this building too. I don’t know if there’s a backup generator or anything out here–”

“There ain’t.”, piped up Timothy, not looking away from the cigarette in his fingers, the whole thing nearly black from the flame of the lighter.

“Yeah, so, I don’t know what we’re gonna do in the meantime. I figure someone’ll have to come by and…”, Connor let his sentence drift, as his eyes drifted back to the line of cars.

There were a lot of people still sitting in or on their vehicles, some standing by them, others sitting on the ground with their backs to the vehicles.

There must be a couple hundred people out here, Connor thought. And they’re going to need food and water soon.

Connor turned back to the gas station, turning his head to look up and down the street.

“Hey, Timothy. Hey kid, do you know if there’s any other gas stations, or convenience stores in this neighborhood?”, he asked.

Timothy let go of the fuel trigger on his lighter, and looked up at Connor with a confused expression.

“Other gas stations?”

“Yeah kid, are there any other stores like this around here?”, Connor asked, beginning to lose his patience.

“Uh, no, I don’t think so, not any that, like, I can remember. Why?” Timothy slowly asked.

Connor looked back at the line of cars and the masses of people, noticing a few walking down the access road from the bridge of the highway, and a few others walking over to the gas station from the street, about fifty yards out.

“Hey guys, let’s get inside real quick, okay?”, Connor suggested.

“Timothy, listen to me, kid,” Connor said.

“There’s a few hundred people out there right now all sitting in their cars and they’ve been there for a while. There doesn’t seem to be anybody coming this way for the foreseeable future to do anything about this mess, and for all we know, maybe the whole city is at a standstill like this.”, Connor added, looking out the window at the people walking around the cars. He found himself focusing more on the few that were headed towards the gas station.

“Those people are probably all very hot, and they’re going to be thirsty, and obviously some are gonna need to use the bathroom. Once everyone out there sees a few of them walking this way, seeing as this is the only gas station around, the rest of them are going to follow, and things have the potential to get messy very quickly if we don’t stay on top of this, okay?”

Carleen was walking up and down the aisles of the store, looking through the various bags of chips and snacks, finally settling on a bag of cheese-powdered fries. She made her way to the counter, and flashed the bag at Timothy as he nodded his head at her and winked.

“Timothy, listen to me, man. Those people probably don’t all have cash on them, so you’ll probably want to make a big sign that says you’re only taking cash right now, alright? And, uh, Hobby, if you wouldn’t mind hanging out with the kid behind the counter? You might be useful in keeping people on the level if they come in here with an attitude.”

“That’s no problem, mister. I’ve got a bit of door-man experience from the bar back home, it’ll probably be the same thing as that. Are you planning on rationing out water and stuff for those people?”, Hobby asked.

Connor nodded as he replied. “Yeah, there’s nowhere near enough food or drink in here for all the people out there, and without a GPS or anything, it’s going to be a pain in the ass figuring out where the next nearest store is. So let’s just try to help these people out and keep everyone calm the best we can.”

Connor looked over at Timothy, who seemed to actually be paying attention to what was being said. Timothy made eye contact with Connor, and upon catching his eye, he picked up off the counter a sign he had worked on.

POWER OUT – CASH ONLY was written on the cardboard sign.

“Good job kid, now go ahead and put that on the front door. Hobby, would you mind helping me move the drinks from the cooler racks over to the ice chest outside? Might as well use that ice to keep things cool before it all melts.”

Hobby nodded and walked to the back of the store, grabbing an ice chest off the shelf. As he began to move drinks from the cooler racks to the ice chest, the front door opened, just as Timothy was walking back to the counter.

A man popped his head inside, holding the door open with one arm.

“Hey guys – any of ya’ll have a phone I can borrow for a moment?”

As the day went on, dozens of people had made their way to the gas station, most of them looking for a phone to use, or to buy some water and light snacks. Everyone used the bathroom while there.

While most had actually left shortly after learning that the phone was out of order, a handful had stayed behind. There was a group of people standing in a circle to the side of the building, some smoking cigarettes, others talking about what they were doing when everyone’s vehicles suddenly ceased to work.

Some of the children were sitting on the curb of the small sidewalk in front of the store, occasionally walking over to the ice chest and placing their cheeks on the metal doors, enjoying the cool surface against their warm skin.

Connor came back outside with a makeshift tray – one of the flatter drawers from the office desk in the back room – with a few plastic cups of water he had filled from the water fountain inside. He had been surprised to find it still working, but chose not to bother jinxing himself with wondering why it hadn’t been affected by the power outage just yet.

As he walked among the group of people, handing out water to those who seemed on the verge of passing out from the heat, he listened to their conversation.

One young man in a camouflaged military uniform was talking to the group at the moment.

“…and I’m just thinking, it could’ve been what you said – you said your name was Nick, right sir? – it could’ve been what Nick said earlier, an EMP blast.”

Another member of the group spoke up, a lady with a baseball cap on.

“But we didn’t hear no blast at all, everything was normal except for being stuck in traffic – I sure as heck didn’t see no explosion or nothing.”, she said.

The young man in the uniform turned to her.

“Well ma’am, that’s just it – an EMP blast is an electromagnetic pulse blast, it’s not quite the same as a missile blowing up. It’s more like an electronic bomb that, when it goes off, instead of blowing up buildings and roads, it short-circuits electrical items. That might be why nobody’s phones are working, and why all the power seems to be out.”

The ballcap woman spoke up again.

“But what about my car? It runs on gasoline, don’t it?”

The soldier responded, “Well, yes ma’am, but most cars for the last fifty years or so have all got computers inside them. The computer in a car is like the brain, it controls how the vehicle handles fuel, changes gears, even just letting the car turn on. If that computer is fried, which I’m pretty sure all of these are, then the car is just a big paperweight, ma’am.”

The lady furrowed her brow and turned away, taking a sip of water from the plastic cup in her hand.

“Hell, I don’t even know if my insurance covers electromagnetic PMPs…”, she mumbled as she walked away.

Connor watched her walk away, and turned back to the young soldier.

“Hey son, you sound like you have an idea of what’s going on out here, yeah?”

The soldier turned to face Connor, taking off his hat to wipe his forehead.

“Well, no sir, I’m not sure exactly what could’ve caused all this,” he said, placing his hat back on as he turned to face the highway, “but whatever it is, it had to have been something pretty damn big to hit this whole city.”

“Have you received word from the city?”, Connor asked with hope in his voice.

“Who, me? Oh, no sir, I just… I mean, listen for a second, will you? You can’t hear anything from downtown, you see? I mean, hell, I haven’t even seen any birds flying by since earlier this morning – and even commercial airliners, I don’t even remember the last time I saw one today.”, the soldier said.

Connor looked at a few grackles sitting on a fence post, squawking to each other.

Birds. He means jets. He’s probably Air Force, stationed at the base on the south side of town, Connor realized.

Looking at the young soldier’s stripe pattern on his sleeve, and reading his name patch, Connor asked the soldier another question.

“Tech Sergeant Mosco, is it? Were you sent here for any reason, or…”

“Oh, no sir. I was actually caught in traffic right down there, too.” Mosco answered, nodding his head down towards the access road. “I was just coming back from seeing my girl down in Wimberley while on leave, we’re having a baby next month…” his voice drifted off, a smile on his face.

“Anyway, I saw these people walking up to this station, and I decided to join them since my phone and car were both dead, and it seems like we’ve all got a bigger problem on our hands now than any of us realized.”, Mosco continued, the smile gone from his face.

Connor picked up the conversation, asking “Well, Sergeant Mosco–”

“It’s alright sir, you can call me Brady.”

“Alright, Brady, nice to meet you, son. I’m Connor Gregson.”, he said, as he shook the young man’s hand. “I was just talking to the kid that works in this store, his name is Timothy. Now, he seems like a good kid, but I’ve been thinking…” Connor lowered his voice, looking around at the group of people around them, all focusing on their own conversations.

“Actually, come here for a moment, if you don’t mind…”, Connor whispered. The two men walked closer to the outside wall of the store, Mosco looking at Connor with a raised eyebrow.

“What’s on your mind, sir?”

“Call me Connor, that sir shit will get old pretty quick.”, Connor said with a chuckle.

“Sorry sir, just…”

Connor looked over at the young man in the military uniform.

“Ah, yeah. Military, almost forgot for a second.”, Connor said with a wink.

Connor continued, “So I’m looking at all these people on the highway and the streets, and I’m starting to wonder what they’re going to do if, I don’t know, help, or the police, or whatever, don’t show up soon… We’re over here at the only gas station for who knows how far, and there’s not a damn place around here within walking distance that likely has a working phone.”

Brady added, “And my radio isn’t working either. So it isn’t just the cars and cell towers, but it really does seem to be all electronics. Which means that more than likely, even the police stations and the base on the other side of town are affected just as badly.”

Connor nodded. “Exactly. And once everyone starts to realize that there isn’t any way to contact anyone for help, or for anything, there’s going to be a wave of panic that’ll start to wash over everyone.”

Brady placed one hand on his waist, taking his hat off with the other and wiping his brow on his sleeve as he looked out at the lines of vehicles, squinting against the sunlight as he watched the bobbing heads of people walking back and forth between the vehicles.

“Yes sir, I think you might be right. I really don’t know what’ll happen once someone out there decides they want to try and control the situation to their advantage. You ever seen Mad Max?”

The two men laughed a bit, though it came to a quick close as they realized that the fictional Hollywood chaos may not be too far from reality.

Connor took another look at his watch, hesitant to say how much time was left before the sun were to set.

“Brady, I think we’re gonna need to get ourselves sorted for this thing before night falls. Once these people realize how dark this area can get without a streetlight on every corner, they’re bound to show a little bit of panic.”

“I agree.” Brady said. “Um, sir?”

“What’s up?”, Connor asked as he stopped to turn around.

“How is your watch still working?”

Connor brought his bent arm up, showing the Tech Sergeant his watch.

“It’s a Rolex, son. They’ve never used batteries in their watches.”

Brady looked at the watch with wide eyes.

“Wow… dang, sir, I’ve never seen a real Rolex before.”

Connor chuckled. “Don’t be too impressed, Brady. Even with this damn thing, I was still late to my meeting today.”, he said with a wink.

A long line of people had formed in front of the gas station, leading in through the front doors. A large crowd of others waiting to get in line huddled around the gas pumps.

The full moon provided enough light to see decently in the dark night, though a small group of people had broken down one of the pallets from in front of the store window, and created a small campfire a safe distance away from the gas pumps.

Those huddled around the fire sat discussing their ideas and concerns about the sudden event earlier that day, while others in the group under the raised roof of the gas pump area had settled on playing rock-paper-scissors to determine who joined the line next.

Connor stood inside the store with arms crossed, looking out the front window at the group of people, occasionally leaning over to peek over at the campfire spot.

Timothy had surprised him by making an executive decision to stop charging everyone for the food and drinks. He had told Connor that his boss, Bridget, was a good woman and would have been okay with the decision, considering how many people – especially children – had been affected.

In the later hours of the evening, people had come from out of the surrounding neighborhoods to see if they could find more information on what had occurred that day. Many stopped by the station to purchase goods, but as most were without cash, they ended up going back home. A few had decided to stick around, feeling they would be safer in a group.

A fight had broken out just as the sun was setting. An elderly man attempted to take a gallon of water from a woman pushing a stroller with a baby only a few months old in it. Timothy had initially suggested storing all the gallon jugs in back, and had brought it out when he saw she had a baby.

A few others standing in line had stood up for the woman, telling the man to relax and not be so selfish, there was a baby involved. When the old man kicked at the stroller holding the child, the men arguing with him snapped and began attacking him.

Hobby had stepped in, towering over everyone, and seemingly plucked the men off of the old man like pulling apples from a tree branch.

“Sir, we’re going to need to ask you to leave. We don’t have room for people that aren’t gonna be civilized out here.”, he had said.

The old man grumbled, kicking at the dirt as he walked away toward the highway, rubbing his shoulder from where he’d landed after being tackled to the ground.

Connor looked over at Hobby now, seeing him sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store, laughing as he joked and played with the children running around him.

The guy is the epitome of a gentle giant, Connor thought to himself, remembering how intimidating Hobby had appeared when he was asking Timothy for gas earlier that day.

Connor turned to look at the few people still in line within the store, everyone dimly lit by the candles that had been taken off the shelf and dusted off for their new purpose in life. The drawing of the Virgin Mary on the outside of the glass jar housing the candle lit beside Connor caught his eye.

Good to see these Jesus candles getting some use in dark times, Connor thought, chuckling at his own pun.

Over at the counter, Timothy was handing out single bottles of water and soda out to the people one at a time, along with a bag of chips or a candy bar. Carleen had stepped up as well, bringing boxes from the back room to refill those beside Timothy as he pulled the makeshift rations to hand out.

The other half of the front door swung in gently, as Hobby walked into the store, taking a look around before he walked over to Connor.

“The kid’s doing a pretty dang good job, the way he’s organizing all this for everyone.”, Hobby whispered to Connor.

Connor nodded, “Yeah, surprising to see how much a kid can grow when you put him in charge of something, sometimes. Even his little girlfriend is doing a good job. I don’t even think she works here,” he added with a quiet chuckle.

“Hey, you never know, maybe he’s just doing all that so he can make a good impression on the gal.”, Hobby responded with a wink.

“You got any kids, Connor?”

Connor uncrossed his arms, reaching up to scratch the stubble on his cheek.

“I do. A daughter. She’s… god, I think she’s probably twenty… four, now? I haven’t seen her in a long time. Her mother passed away after our divorce a few years ago, and she moved into a house with a few of her friends, last I heard. That was… damn, that was last year already.”, Connor said quietly. He looked up at Hobby, who had a sad smile on his face.

“I mean, it’s not like we don’t talk, we do… I called her this past Christmas, but she sent me a text saying kids don’t talk on the phone anymore, texts are easier.”, Connor chuckled. “Sometimes I wonder what it would’ve been like if I hadn’t–”

Connor was interrupted by the shattering of the window in front of him, the sound of the gunshots echoing in the night air, drowned out by the screams of the people in line.


Fingers Meat Mouth

Author Note: This story contains graphic content.

“Don’t fall asleep, Sarah!”, Brenda yelled.

She pressed her hands down harder against the bloody shirt as she kneeled on the ground beside Sarah.

“Sarah! Talk to me honey, say something!” she yelled louder.

Brenda looked up from Sarah’s face as it continued to grow more pale. Her eyes scanned the interior of the fast food restaurant Sarah’s body lay in the center of.

Lifting one arm up, she reached to the tabletop next to her, grabbing the napkin dispenser off of it. The blood on her hands caused her grip to slip, a loud hollow bang sounding as the empty container hit the ground next to her.

“Shit.”, she muttered, as she looked back to Sarah, whose eyes were fluttering closed.

“Sarah, keep your eyes open honey!”, she continued to yell, shaking Sarah’s body as she pressed down with both hands again.

“Unnngh… what the… hell…”, Sarah groaned as her eyes fluttered open. She looked up at Brenda, a confused look on her face, her brow furrowing.

“Wh-what happened, B?”, she whispered.

Brenda let out a sigh of relief.

“Oh god, oh thank god, you’re awake. Sarah, honey, you just got shot, but you’re gonna be okay baby girl, just hang on, Bobby is getting help right now. Just stay calm–”

“What the fuck, I’m shot? What the fuck B?”, Sarah exclaimed, her eyes shooting wide open as she lifted her head to see Brenda’s hands pressing down on her stomach.

“It’s okay, it’s gonna be alright, you’re gonna be fine Sarah, just lay still, try and keep calm, for fuck’s sake”, Brenda whimpered. She looked up again, searching the restaurant again for something to help stop the bleeding, looking for anyone that might be able to help.

“Wh-where is Bobby, where’s Bobby, wh-where is Bobby?”, Sarah’s voice hoarse, breaking as she began to panic. The pace of her breathing began to intensify, beads of sweat shining on her forehead.

“He’s coming right back, it’s going to be okay baby, we’re going to get you out of here, I promise. Calm down baby girl, just stay with me for a little longer, okay, can you do that for me baby?”, Brenda asked, forcing a smile as she begged her friend.

“Motherfuck, fuck, fuck, FUCK!” Bobby yelled as he ran to the back of the building, already feeling winded. He dug in his pocket for the keys to his car with one hand, the other trying to press the buttons on his phone, the presses not registering, the screen smeared with blood.

“Fuck, I cannot fucking… believe this… oh my god…”The car alarm chirped as he disarmed the system with the key fob on his key ring. Bobby’s hand slipped from the handle of the car door, his hand still slick with blood. Trying again, he jerked the door open and threw his body behind the wheel, trying to find the ignition keyhole with the key as he looked at his phone.

Seeing the screen, he wiped the phone off on his pant leg, reaching awkwardly around the steering column as he blindly fought to get his key in the ignition. He wasn’t familiar with this the cheap phone’s screen layout, cursing as he fought to navigate the dialpad.

The car roared to life just as he hit the send button on the screen. Putting the phone to his ear, he slammed the car door shut, and reached across his body to put the car into gear. The line began to ring.

“Operator.”, said a calm female voice in a mute tone.

“My friend’s been shot!”, Bobby shouted into the phone as his foot pressed down on the gas pedal.

Stephen Belowski had been working at Fingers Meat Mouth for four years.

Working at the fast food joint was a terrible step down in the eye of his ego, after having been fired from his former bank daytime manager position for an interoffice affair with the loan accountant, but he was just happy to have a shift manager position again after two years of unemployment.

“It’s all going to be worth it”, he told himself as he got ready in the mirror every morning.

In just one more year, he would be approved to open his own Fingers Meat Mouth franchise. He had painstakingly saved up every dollar he could over the last four years, and his best friend Chad was willing to loan him the remaining five thousand dollars.

Stephen had taken great pride in his role after being in the position for six months. He knew every employee’s name, and had always made sure to learn something personal of each one, so that he wouldn’t have to be just another fake smiling corporate face – every day, he would ask his employees how their favorite subject in school was going, or how their families were.

He knew this restaurant inside and out, as he always made a point to never ask something of his employees that he hadn’t already learned how to do himself.

Now, Stephen Belowski sat on the ground with his back to the counter, his arms wrapped around his knees, beads of sweat rolling down his head from high up on his bald head ringed with hair.

His glasses were steaming up, and his tie felt much too tight.

He tried to control his breathing, as he wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.

Stephen looked up at the CCTV monitor on the wall near the menu, it’s screen divided into four squares, each showing different camera angles from in and around the building. He saw the girl who had started screaming as her friend was shot beside her in the bottom left corner screen, doing what appeared to be CPR on the girl laying on the ground.

The upper right corner of the monitor showed a dark colored car – he couldn’t tell the color as the CCTV only displayed in black and white – quickly pulling out of a spot by the garbage compactor behind the building.

Stephen lowered his gaze from the monitor to the ground beside him.

Billy Johnson’s lifeless eyes stared up at the ceiling, his mouth hanging open at an unnatural angle. The blood pool around his body had seemed to stop growing, and it made it seem like Billy was floating on the surface of a black pond. The two dark holes in his blue polo shirt only had small rings of blood around them.

Stephen thought it looked strange to have such small holes and such little blood on the front of Billy’s shirt, when there was so much blood on the ground.

He looked at the small revolver laying beside Billy’s hand, it’s silver metal shining a bright contrast against it’s dark liquid backdrop. Billy had taken it out of the holster he carried on his ankle when the robber had turned to look at the patrons of the restaurant.

Billy had done it so quickly that Stephen never had the opportunity to tell him otherwise, to just stay calm, that it would all be over in a moment.

Stephen grimaced with a mixture of horror and sorrow.

He looked down to his right foot, and saw the pool of crimson almost touching the non-slip rubber sole of his shoes, and slowly pulled his leg closer to his chest, wiping away a tear rolling down his face.

“B, it’s g-getting fu-fucking cold in here,” whimpered Sarah, “Can you turn the heater up?”

“Yeah baby girl, it’s turned up, it’ll get warmer in just a minute, okay? Can you do me a favor and sing me a song, your favorite song?”, Brenda asked, her hands growing numb from the pressure she was applying.

“B-b-bitch, y-you know I can’t fu-fucking s-s-sing”, Sarah’s teeth chattered as she snapped at Brenda, almost laughing, until she grimaced in pain.

“I know baby girl, I know, just keep talking to me, okay? Bobby will be back here in a–” Brenda was cut off as the front door to the restaurant slammed open, Bobby almost falling into the room.

Bobby caught his balance, and looked around the restaurant, his outstretched arm holding the black pistol as it sweeped the room.

“B, come on girl, let’s get her up.” Bobby hissed, not making eye contact with either of the girls.

“Bobby, she got shot in the stomach, I don’t think we’re supposed to move her,” Brenda whispered loudly, looking up at Bobby. Her body felt so tired from kneeling in the position as she continued to press down.

“Well shit, it’s either get her the fuck out of here right fucking now, or she’s gonna bleed out waiting for the fucking cops to get here!”, Bobby yelled as he ran around the perimeter of the restaurant, looking out of the windows, expecting lights to start flashing at any moment.

Brenda looked back to Sarah, her eyelids barely hanging open.

“Hey honey, hey, listen to me. We’re going to get you out of here right now, okay? It’s gonna hurt like a motherfucker, but I promise you we’re going to get you taken care of right now, alright?”

Sarah’s eyelids softly fluttered open.

“Y-y-yeah b-bitch, I’m ready whenever y-you are.”, she said quietly as she gave a small smirk.

Brenda looked up to Bobby, holding his gun pointed down as he leaned out towards the window by the front door.

“Bobby, help me get her to the car,” she pleaded.

Bobby ran over to Sarah’s body, knelt down and slid his arm under her shoulders.

“Okay B, get her legs, put your arms under her knees, yeah, like that. Okay, on three, ready?”, Bobby instructed, sliding the pistol in his hand into his jeans near the small of his back.

Stephen Belowski stared at the monitor above him, seeing the young man who had come into his restaurant and demanded everyone’s money and wallets. The black duffel bags the girls had carried with them laid on the ground beside the wounded girl’s body, wallets and personal items sliding out to the floor. The CPR girl shoved the items back into one, picking it up as she grabbed her friends legs and lifted.

Stephen glanced over at Billy’s revolver, and reached out to grab it, his eyes glued to the monitor.

“Eighteen years at a bank,” he whispered to himself, “and not one fucking robbery.”

He clicked open the revolver’s cylinder, checked the rounds, and quietly closed it. Looking over at Billy, he reached over and gently ran his hand down his lifeless face, shutting his eyelids.

“I’m sorry, kid.”, he whispered as he placed his other hand down to brace himself as he got up to one knee.

Stephen stood.

King Nathaniel and the Apple

“But we don’t wanna go to sleep, Princess Pam is about to start!”

“Come on daddy, it’s no fair the other kids get to talk about it all day at school and we never even get to watch it not even once!”

Nathan stood in the doorway of the living room, looking at his daughters sitting on the couch, as they swung their feet back and forth.

“Girls, come on, it’s already past your bedtime, and you have school tomorrow. Look, I promise we’ll go get ice cream after I get home after work tomorrow.”

“But we don’t want ice cream, we need to know what happens to Princess Pam’s pet lulupop!”

Nathan crossed his arms, as he asked his older daughter Michelle, “What in the… baby, what is a lulupop?”

Tabitha crossed her arms over her face as she threw her body back on to the brown couch with a loud sigh of exasperation.

“A lulupop is a pappybon from Princess Pam’s planet, everybody knows that, daddy!”, explained Michelle. She looked down as she pointed to the cartoon image of a creature that resembled a furry starfish on her pajama shirt.

“Oh.”, conceded Nathan. “Okay, well you’re going to have to wait to see what happens to Princess Pam’s lulubon–”


“-sorry, the lulupop mystery will have to wait until tomorrow, honey. Look, how about if you girls get into bed right now, I’ll tell you a bedtime story, like we used to? You girls used to love that.”

Tabitha removed her arms from her face and tapped her cheek with a tiny finger.

“Daddy, we’re big girls now, we don’t listen to bedtime stories. That’s for little babies.”

Nathan fought to hide his smile, as he looked down at his beautiful baby girls.

“You’re right, honey. You’re practically a full grown woman already, but you’re still MY baby girl.”, Nathan said. He uncrossed his arms and leaned over, slowly tip-toeing to the couch.

“But if you don’t get into bed right now, the big daddy monster just… might… EAT YOU!” he growled, with his arms by his chest, his hands curled into makeshift claws.

Both girls screamed and ran down the hallway past Nathan, giggling as they bounded to their room.

As Nathan tucked the girls into their bed, Michelle looked up at him.

“What kind of story are you going to tell us, daddy?”, asked Michelle.

“Is it a fairy tale? I hope it isn’t a fairy tale, those are for babies, remember?”, whined Tabitha.

Nathan chuckled, reaching both arms out to the bed, squeezing the petite feet wiggling under the white blanket. His girls sure had their mother’s attitude and energy.

“Well, I was thinking about that, but… maybe I can tell you an adventure story. Something that is way more fun and exciting than… the lu-lu-pop”, he enunciated slowly, raising his eyebrows as he looked at Tabitha.

Her big grin, showing her tiny teeth and the small gap where her tooth had fallen out just a few days ago, was confirmation enough for him. She unwrapped one hand from her stained yellow teddy bear with it’s missing eye, and stuck her arm out at Nathan, a thumb sticking up from her tiny fist.

Nathan matched her seal of approval with his own thumbs up, winking at his daughter.

“Okay, well… here we go.”

Nathan cleared his throat, leaned forward, and began his story.

“There once was a brave young man, a very handsome man–”

“Was he a prince?”

“No baby, he was just a handsome young man, we’ll call him, Nathaniel. Hold on, don’t spoil the story, just listen to it for a little bit… So there was the handsome young man, laying in his chamber upon his great big bed. It was the softest bed in the whole kingdom.

But then, one morning, a tremendous noise awoke him. It sounded like the howl of a thousand wolves, as if they were all sitting within his chamber!

He opened his eyes, and blindly swung his fists around through the air, searching for the treacherous sound. Suddenly, he found the source of the howling – a tiny black box, glowing like embers with magical symbols on it–”

“What’s an amber daddy?”

“He said ember, stupid. It’s a piece of firewood.”

Daddy! Michelle called me stupid!”

“Michelle, don’t call your sister stupid. Tabby, yes, an ember is a piece of firewood, it glows when it’s hot.”

“Was the black box hot?”

“No, baby, it– just, hold on a moment, let me continue the story, okay?”


“Thank you baby. So, the handsome man, Nathaniel, he found the magic box glowing in the dark room, with the sound of a thousand wolves howling at him. He picked the box up, and he hit it with his very strong hand, and suddenly the sound stopped! Nathaniel looked around his dark room, and back at his bed. It was the best, most comfortable bed in the whole world, did I say that already? And then he looked across the giant bed, and saw his beautiful wife laying sound asleep in their giant bed. She could sleep through a tornado–”

“No daddy, no tornadoes!”

“Oh, sorry baby. I meant, she could sleep through a whole carriage ride. So, Nathaniel sat back down at the edge of the bed to go back to bed, but then he remembered, he had an adventure he had to get to!

So he stood up, and walked over to the hall of his castle. He saw a door that was cracked open, and slowly crept up to it. As he grabbed the handle, he slowly pushed the door open, peeking in without a sound. He made sure the princesses were sound asleep, surrounded by all the most beautiful dolls and dresses money could buy, and closed the door quietly–”

“You said he wasn’t a prince though!”

“Oh, no, he’s… Nathaniel is the king, Michelle. There isn’t a prince in this story, just a king and his queen and his princesses.”

“Oh, okay.”

“Okay, so the king, he walked back down the hall, and then he opened another door. In this room, the light was so bright, the king could barely see! He closed the door behind him, and all was quiet throughout the house. It was a magic door where all the noise inside the room never escaped to wake anyone else up in the castle.

A few minutes later, the king emerged from the room with the bright light, with the smoke from the water dragon he had just defeated billowing out around him. King Nathaniel looked more dashing than ever, as he walked through the house looking for his servants. Unable to find one at that moment, he decided he was hungry, and went to his chicken coop and gathered eggs. Then he walked over to the pig hut, and asked the pigs for some bacon, which they were very kind in providing. Then he walked over to his cow, Bessy–”

Nathan smiled as the girls giggled at the name Bessy.

“Bessy was a big, big blue cow, and she made the best chocolate milk in the whole kingdom. The King had so much food now, and he put it all on the very long table in the enormous dining hall of their big, beautiful castle. After he ate his share, he put the rest of the food in the refrigerator–”

“Did he have a big refrigerator too, daddy?”

“Oh, honey, it was such a big refrigerator, and he had enough food in there to feed the whole kingdom ten times ever! And they had a whole freezer room stuffed to the brim with ice cream and popsicles!”

“Wow!”, exclaimed both girls.

“So, King Nathaniel got his adventure bag ready for the day, and walked out of his castle down the road to the village at the foot of the mountain. When he got there, he found many people walking up and down the street, with carriages everywhere! He continued to walk down the path until he saw an old woman struggling to hang a sign on a hook screwed into the frame of her store.

King Nathaniel was a fine gentlemen indeed, and he ran over to help the old lady hang the sign up. Once it was hung properly, the old woman thanked him. King Nathaniel asked the old woman if she needed any other help around her store. The old woman said yes, she would love the help, as she didn’t have enough servants to help do the work she used to do herself. King Nathaniel asked her what he could do to help, and the old woman told him about how a mean old wizard had come by her store, and had put a bad spell on the outside of her shop overnight.”

“Oh, was it a curse? I bet the mean wizard put a curse on the nice old lady.”, whispered Tabitha.

“Yes, it was a curse, but luckily, the king knew some secret spells of his own that could remove the curse! So he grabbed his adventure bag and went around the back of the building, and saw the giant letters in a magical, foreign language, covering the wall on the back of the nice old woman’s shop. He dug through his bag, and found some magic water, and a magic blanket, and he splashed the magic water all over the spell on the wall. And then he used the magic blanket to wipe all the bad spell off.”

“It came off just like that daddy?”, asked Michelle.

“Just like that, honey!”, exclaimed Nathan, snapping his fingers in the air.

Nathan winced, as his fingers were still sore and quite raw.

“And so, once the bad magic spell was gone, the old woman was very happy, and she promised to tell all the other villagers how kind and helpful King Nathaniel had been for her. To show her gratitude, she went inside her shop and returned with a satchel filled with a jug of milk, and some bread and an apple.”

“Oh, we had an apple for lunch today daddy! It was a great big red one, and it was delicious. I meant to save you a slice, but I got hungry and ate it too…”, Tabitha admitted sheepishly.

Nathan reached over and squeezed her toe gently through the thin cotton, smiling at her.

“It’s okay, my baby. One day there will be so many apples in this house, you’ll feel like a queen yourself.”

“But daddy, we’re your princesses! Mommy is your queen, silly!”, Tabitha laughed.

“You’re right, Tabby. You’re such a smart young girl, I am so proud of you. Now go to sleep like your sister, she’s already snoring.”

“Okay daddy, I’ll try. But Michi snores like a big bear…”, Tabitha whispered with a grin.

“Ha, yeah she does. She gets that from your mommy.”, Nathan whispered with a chuckle as he blew out the old candle sitting on the milk crate beside the bed.

Daddy’s Girl

Over on the east end of town, the local watering hole that went by the name of “Daddy O’s” buzzed with activity. The locale was a small building with a wraparound bar, with a vast outdoor area populated with picnic tables and yard games behind it.

Out front, a crowd of men stood near a biker straddling his motorcycle, hollering as the rear tire spun in place, a plume of smoke and dirt flying through the air.

Over at the bar, standing between a pair of empty stools, Bethany leaned against the bartop. Resting on one elbow, her other hand cradling a beer bottle, her gaze washed over the many people sitting at the tables, seeing the couple at the end of the bar making out, the trio of ladies playing horseshoes, the guitarist and singer at the far end of the lot, singing a country song.

Her gaze settled on the bartender walking out on the floor, gathering empty glasses from tables in one arm, making small talk with the patrons as he walked between the tables. His gray hair came down to his shoulders, his leathery skin dark from days spent in the sun, his bright smile a contrast to his tan.

As Tommy walked back behind the bar with the towering array of glasses cradled in one arm, he looked up and saw Bethany smiling at him.

“I’ll be a damned man if that ain’t my baby girl”, Tommy mentioned more to himself than to her. “Bethy, get the hell over here and give your old man a hug, goddammit.”, he said with a smile.

Bethany righted herself, and walked down the length of the bar towards the passthrough, reaching over to put her beer down on the bar. Tommy handed the tall stack of glasses to the other bartender as he rushed to meet his daughter.

“Hi daddy,” she whimpered as Tommy turned back toward her. He leaned down as he wrapped his thick arms around her, lifting her off the ground in a strong embrace.

“Bethy, what are you doing here? You never come to the bar unless– oh, oh my baby, your eyes’ve been crying. Your makeup is all messed.”, Tommy said quietly, as he lowered her to the floor.

“Alright, what’s the bastards name and where’s he live?”, he asked as he reached under the bar to grab a baseball bat out from the low shelf.

Bethany laughed, “Daddy! I’m fine, I promise. Put the damn bat down, you’re going to scare the new bartender!”

Tommy raised an eyebrow and looked over his shoulder, yelling to the other bartender. “Chester, your sorry ass didn’t charge my daughter for this beer, did you? That shit’s coming out of your tips.”

The young bartender looked up from the glass he was pouring whiskey into, looking back and forth between Tommy and Bethany.

“Oh, ah, shit Tommy, I’m sorry man, I didn’t know she was your kid, man.”

Tommy looked at the whiskey that was overflowing from the glass the young man hadn’t ceased pouring into yet, his face semi-frozen in shock.

“Kid, you lost count. Now that shit’s coming out your tips too, and you’re cleaning the girl’s toilet tonight.”

“Ah shit. Sorry Tommy.”, Chester apologized, wiping down the counter with a white rag as he slid the drink across the bartop to the man standing in front of him.

Tommy turned back to face his daughter, looking her up and down, noticing her dress clothes. His brow furrowed as he asked, “Bethy, did you come from work? You never drink after work. What’s wrong?”

“Nothing, daddy… I just…”, she trailed off.

“Honey, it’s alright, you can tell me anything. You ain’t never gonna be in trouble with me, you know that.”, Tommy reassured her.

“Oh, daddy… I… they…”, Bethany struggled to get the words out.

“They fired me, daddy. For something stupid as hell, I swear, I didn’t even do nothing wrong, it’s just that damn Ms. Galloway, she’s got such a huge stick up her ass and she pisses off at damn near everybody for any little damn thing, and I don’t mean to be mean, but she can go straight to hell, you know, I mean, she just isn’t a nice person, not at all daddy, not one little bit, and I hate her for it…” Bethany’s voice trailed off as she noticed her country accent starting to flare up, as it usually did when she was riled up about something and began to ramble.

She dabbed at the tears welling up in her eyes with a napkin she grabbed off the counter.

“Aw dang, honey, is that it? I’m real sorry honey, I know you really liked working there. I remember your ma calling me when you got the job at that mechanic shop, she wouldn’t shut up about how proud of you she was. I think she really just took a big jolly out of it, trying to remind me how I didn’t have nothing to do with it.” Tommy sighed. “Is that Willy guy still running the place?”

“It’s a mechanical engineering lab, daddy, not a shop. And his name’s Wayne, daddy. Wayne Welding, and yes he is, he’s the CEO, remember? Though I think even he’s more afraid of Ms. Galloway than most of the other employees. She has to be the worst HR lady on the whole damn planet.”

“I ever tell you I went to school with him?”, Tommy asked.

Bethany’s wide eyes answered his question.

“Yep, the two of us, we went to the grade school together, even played on the same damn baseball team.” Tommy pointed to the bat on the shelf under the bar. “Hell, that’s his bat, if I’m lying I’m dying. He gave it to me after he hit his first home run. Said I’d need to study it to learn his secret, the smartass.” Tommy chuckled.

“But yeah, he went off to the college, and I started working here with your grandmama right before…” Tommy’s voice trailed off, his eyes misting at the memory of his mother. He coughed to clear his throat, and looked back at Bethany.

“So tell me honey, what in the hell are you gonna do now? You need some money?”

“No daddy, I’ll be fine. I saved up a lot of the money I made there. Actually, I wanted to talk to you, and I really meant to stop by before, you know, it’s just been real busy lately and… well…” Bethany’s voice trailed off as her attention was captured by the two men yelling at each other in the patio area.

You son of a bitch, I know you were hitting on my wife!”, yelled the tall man in the cowboy hat.

The other man, shorter but obviously in better shape and covered in tattoos, took a step forward to the point his chest was touching the tall man’s.

“You skinny pendejo, I wouldn’t do some shit like that, I fucking work here. I was telling your wife how you knocked her purse on the ground when you were getting up to go back to the bar, now, you calling me a liar, cabrón?”, the short man hissed.

A loud bang echoed across the bar grounds.

The sudden sound silenced the band, and all conversation stopped. The biker turned off his motorcycle, as he swung the kickstand out with his boot. All eyes turned to face the bar.

Tommy raised the baseball bat off the bartop, a deep dent in the wood beneath it.

“Ruben and Taylor, you two sons of bitches BETTER SIT THE FUCK DOWN, RIGHT NOW GODDAMMIT, OR I SWEAR TO THE HIGH JESUS I WILL BREAK YOUR ASSES IN HALF! “, Tommy boomed from behind the bar.

“I’m having a moment with my daughter.”, he said with a quieter voice, as he pointed at Bethany.

Ruben turned his gaze back to Taylor. “Alright, seriously man, it wasn’t a thing.”

“Yeah, no problem man, I… I’m sorry for being a dick.”, Taylor muttered to Ruben as he tipped his cowboy hat.

Tommy’s voice rung out again, “Now you two shake each other’s hands like men, and get back to your friends.”

“De nada, man. You go have a good night with your lady.”, Ruben said as he nodded his head towards Taylor’s wife, still sitting at the table, reaching his hand out to meet Taylor’s with a firm grasp and shake.

Tommy watched the two men part ways as the band resumed playing their song, and the bar slowly sprung back to life. He turned back to his daughter, a big grin on his face.

“See, I only work here because these are the only damn people that ever listen to me.”, he said with a wink.

“Oh daddy, shut up.”, Bethany laughed.

“So what was it you were talking about, honey, about wanting to stop by here before?”, Tommy asked as he put the baseball bat back on the shelf under the bar.

“Well, daddy, a couple days ago at the office, I heard some of the senior manager team, the people in charge, I heard them talking about how they’re gonna be building a new office, a real big factory type of place, and they want to build it out here on this side of town. And I’m pretty sure I heard them say they were going to offer to buy your bar out so they could tear it down and use the property to build their building out here…”, Bethany explained.

Tommy stood with his arms outstretched, one hand placed on the back counter on one side and the other planted on the bar, as he leaned down to hear his daughter explain the plans her former company had for his land.

Once she finished telling him what she had heard, and how much money they were willing to pay him for the lot, he held up a hand to pause her.

“Bethy, my baby girl, you know I love you, and I know how much that money would take care of us both. But honestly, your grandmama and granddaddy built this bar from the ground up on their own, and it’s all I’ve got left of them. And if you think I’m gonna make anything on the damn planet easy for the company that fired my baby girl, well, honey, I thought I raised you better than that.”, Tommy said with another wink.

On Monday morning, Tommy O’connor walked through the front door of the tall downtown building, not making eye contact with the secretary behind the front desk. He pressed the button on the elevator call panel, as the woman stood up from her desk, pulling her headset off.

“Sir, you- you need to sign in before you go up there!”

Tommy turned his head to the woman as the elevator doors parted, and winked at her with a smile, walking into the elevator cabin, holding the baseball bat at his side out of view.

With a furrowed brow and a sigh, Lucy muttered under her breath as she placed her headset back on as she dialed the line for security.

What an asshole.”

Sam’s Birthday (or How To Keep Your Drunk Superhero Buddy From Revealing His Identity)

“Hey, hey bartender! FOUR SHOTS OF TEQUILA!”

Thankfully, I don’t think the bartender heard Sam over the volume of the crowd surrounding the bar and the music pulsing from the speakers.

“Sam, hey dude,” I was practically shouting into his ear, “let’s go outside for a smoke and get some fresh air, yeah?”

“No way dude, we need to do shots, ish my birthday – IT’S MY FUCKING BIRTHDAY BISHES!”, he roared.

The crowd erupted in cheers and raised glasses.

“Happy birthday you drunk fuck!”, shouted a tall kid, his ballcap twisted on his head to the side.

“Hey, watch your fucking language around the ladies, kid!”, Sam shouted, gesturing his arm to the three women sitting at the bar to his left. The woman directly to his left, with her black hair and blue eyes, and the low cut blouse that shimmered in the low light of the bar looked up at Sam, eyebrow raised.

“Sam, SAM, c’mon man, let’s go outside for a minute, this song sucks.”

“Nuh uh, hold on a shecond, lemme shay hi to the ladeesh real quick…”, Sam slurred.

Sam only slurred when he had passed the point of no return. I knew there was no getting out of this night without something happening. Something always happened when Sam got drunk.

“…Shabrina, that’s a beautiful name.”, Sam was saying to the brunette sitting in the middle of the group. She had a very Bohemian style about her, wearing a peasant dress and loads of bracelets. Sam continued, “And yours was… Becky?”

“Stacy.”, corrected the beautiful blonde woman sitting at the left of the other two women. Stacy didn’t seem bothered in the least that Sam hadn’t remembered her name. In fact, she appeared grateful that Sam was even speaking to her. She was wearing business casual attire, apparently coming to the bar straight after work. I didn’t catch the first woman’s name.

“Staaacy, yesh, also a beautiful name.”, Sam said, pointing his finger in the air matter-of-factly. “I once knew a Stacy back home, but she didn’t even compare to you…”

For some reason, Sam was somehow always lucky when it came to talking with the opposite sex, even when he was slurring like a flooded engine.

“…and this ish my best friend in the whole world, Johnny boy. Johnny, shay hi to the hiccup beautiful ladies right here.”, Sam suggested as he threw his monstrous arm over my shoulders.

It felt like a log had been dropped on me, but my knees didn’t buckle as much as they use to when he would do that. Years of carrying this guy out of bars, or having to drag him off the couch after a long night of drinking and playing video games at the apartment had made my legs stronger than when I used to visit the gym back in the day, after getting out of a long relationship and having to find a way to spend my time. So much for splurging on a lifetime membership–

“Your friend’s not much of a talker, Sham.”, giggled the first girl whose name I hadn’t caught, imitating Sam’s slur.

She looked like a Tiffany.

“Oh, he’s a great guy, he jush hash a lot on his hiccup mind right now. We were downtown earlier, and there wash this huge wreck with a bus and an ambulansh–”

“Oh my god, that was just on the news a little while ago! You guys were there?”, exclaimed Sabrina. “But that was just a little while ago, I heard traffic was backed up for miles – our friend Lauren is still stuck in traffic down there. How did you two make it all the way up–”

“Ish because I can fly like a bird, love! Hahaha”, Sam exclaimed.

Oh boy. Here we go.

I tried to change the subject quickly. “Hey Tiffany, so, what do you ladies do around here?”

All three women turned to stare at me. If I had been a bit more sober, I would have imagined they were looking on in disgust. But with the dark lighting and the low cut of their shirts, it was hard to tell exactly what they were thinking.

“Who is Tiffany?”, asked Sabrina.

Oh shit.

“Tiffany? Oh, she’s the bartender, I was gonna ask what they do around here when it’s a slow night like tonight, haha.” I was never the best at thinking quickly on my feet.

Sam broke the following silence. “So thish bus, it’s driving down the road out of control right as Johnny and I, we’re crossing the shtreet, right? And ish bouncing off all the cars in the shtreet, and it gets right to the point ish about to flip over, so I–”

“Oh my god!” exclaimed all three girls.

“Yesh, exactly, ish about to crush everyone croshing the shtreet, and so I run over–”

“Sam, hey Sam, tell them that joke about the a capella group!”

“–I’m running down the shtreet right at the damn thing…”

The ladies eyes were wide, their mouths agape in disbelief.

“…and right ash I… right as… I…”

The ladies’ eyes were darting back and forth from Sam’s outspread arms hanging in mid-air to his mouth, eagerly waiting to hear what happened next.

“…I was running up to the bush… Hey! What do you call an emo a capella group?”

Oh my god, it worked.

The women looked at each other, their mouths slowly closing, brows furrowing as they looked back and forth at one another trying to contemplate what just happened.

“Wait, what?”, asked Not Tiffany.

“What do you call a, ah, an emo a capella group?”

“I don’t know, what do you call an emo a capella group, Sam?”, asked Stacy in a flat tone.

Sam’s arms were still outspread in mid-air, his long hair having come out of it’s small bun during his excitement in retelling the story from tonight. A strand of hair was hanging down his forehead, covering one eye.

Arms still outstretched, he blew a breath of air at his hair to get it out of his eyes, which were wide open in knowing excitement.

SELF HARM-ONY. HAHAHA“, he laughed, just as the music on the jukebox came to a quick close.

The entire crowd of patrons in the bar turned to look at us, myself with my drink having been sloshed and spilled halfway to empty, my other arm massaging my neck where Sam’s arm had been draped for support, and at Sam, with his monstrous build, crazed hair and wild eyes darting back and forth between the women in front of us.

“You asshole. My brother was committed for being a cutter.”, Sabrina spat.

Stacy and Not Tiffany just sat there shaking their heads in disapproval as Sabrina threw a few dollars to the counter. The women all gathered their purses, stood up, and walked right past us towards the door.

Sam’s eyes followed them, as he slowly lowered his arms. He turned his head back to me, and asked “What’s their problem? Is it something I said?”

“No man, you’re good… they just didn’t like the music.”, I reassured him.

As the music kicked back on within the bar, and the patrons began chatting and shouting at each other as they carried on with their drunken banter, Sam and I walked over to a booth to sit down.

“Man, things were going sho well there for a minute, I thought…”, Sam muttered, as he propped his chin up with his hand, letting his eyes begin to droop.

“Hey, Sam. You okay dude? Sam. SAM. Dude, don’t fall asleep!,” I shouted. I hated having to carry the guy outside by myself. “Hey man, stay with me here, alright?”

The jukebox changed songs.

The bartender jumped up from behind the bar on to the bartop, shaking her hips and shooting streams of soda water out into the crowd, as the people raised their glasses and cheered.

“Sam, hey dude, open your eyes man, you’re missing the show.”, I yelled, as I shook the arm propping his head up. “Samson, wake up dude!”, I yelled louder, as I pushed his heavy arm out from under his head.

He caught himself before hitting his head on the table, looking startled and sleepy at the same time. He looked around the bar, noticed the bartender dancing and gave a wide, goofy grin. He looked back at me, and asked “Hey, you ready to go home, J?”

“Yeah man, let’s take a cab this time though, alright? I hate when you grab me and just fly up in to the air like that, man. I told you I get sick of heights.”, I responded.

The jukebox changed songs again as we were getting our jackets on.

“Hey J, you have any smokes on you man? Can I bum one?”, Sam asked.

“Yeah dude, hold up, they’re in my jacket pocket somewhere…”, I answered.

I heard the jukebox music clearer as the crowd lowered it’s volume as they paid attention to the bartender singing along. She had a beautiful voice.

Now that the world isn’t ending
It’s love that I’m sending to you
It isn’t the love of a hero
And that’s why I fear it won’t do

Sam leaned down and whispered to my ear, “Come on dude, let’s boogie, I don’t care how hot that bartender is, I fucking hate Nickelback.”

The Great Empowerment

As soon as the door opened and shut on it’s own, Bill looked up and asked “Invisibility?”

“Yes sir!”, an excited male voice piped.

“Sorry, it’s a hard no. HR complications galore, you understand.”, Bill said apologetically.

The invisible man sighed dejectedly, and uttered “Okay. Thanks anyway.”

Bill continued, “But if you’re interested, there’s a Private Investigator office on the seventh floor, they might be hiring.” The sudden intake of air and the sound of hands clapping in excitement gave away more than Bill had expected to hear.

“Oh, great! Thank you so much!”, said the invisible person. The door opened and shut on it’s own again.

A few moments went by, before Bill looked up towards the wall.

“Still here, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sorry… bad habit.”

It was a small office, with bland walls and one large circular desk in the middle of the room, surround by a dozen chairs. The table appeared to be comically huge in the room, and it was always a pain to try to squeeze between the table and the wall just to get past it – and you could only pass by on the right, or else you would knock the clock off the wall if you went left.

Looking at the clock – it was 3:44PM – Bill sighed. He had been interviewing people all day.

When he was bored, Bill would often retreat into his memories of what it was like before everyone had super powers. He remembered the day everything changed.

It started with a video of a young baby going viral online. The mother had been recording the father trying to change their baby’s first diaper, when suddenly the child shot a stream of pee out right at the father.

As funny as it was, it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary, or special in any particular way.

It was when the baby began laughing at the father as he picked his baby up and held it out at arm’s reach, trying to get the baby over the sink as it was still urinating into the air, that the video changed the world forever.

The mother was chasing the father across the bathroom with her camera, when the father suddenly slipped on a diaper that had fallen out of the diaper bag beside him.

The sudden change in stance as he stumbled caused him to shoot his arms out, instinctively letting go of the young child in his arms, letting the baby free-fall into the air.

As the mother screamed, and the father hit the ground with a large grunt, the mother’s camera had dropped out of her hands as she rushed to catch the baby before it landed on the ground.

The camera just so happened to fall to the ground, facing up and catching on video the first known instance of what would then be referred to as the “Great Empowerment”.

The mother’s instincts and quick reaction led her hands to be where they should have been in order to catch her baby. However, the baby never landed in her arms.

As the mother looked around on the ground, she heard a giggle coming from above her.

The father had crawled to his knees, with a look of disbelief on his face, as he reached over to the mother, as they both looked to the ceiling of the room.

Their baby girl was floating in mid-air, a few feet above them. She looked as if she were swimming through the air, with her arms and legs stretched out, grasping at the air around her.

The mother and father gently stood together, and softly placed their hands around their baby, as the mother clutched her to her chest.

“Did you see that, Phil?”

“Yeah honey, I saw that… is she okay?”

“Yeah, yes, she… she looks fine. She’s smiling, after all. Oh my god… what was that?”

“I don’t know, but, look, don’t tell your mother, okay? She already hates me, she’ll never get over this.”

The video was put online, and despite many suggesting it had been edited, the video quickly became the most viewed video ever uploaded, within a manner of hours. Many debunkers tried everything they could to prove it was a fake, but continued to come up empty-handed.

It had been one week, and thousands of videos had been uploaded by people all trying to show off their new ‘super powers’ which were nothing more than clever video editing and special or practical effects.

And then, that weekend during a pro football game, one of the running backs for the losing team in the Super Bowl tackled an opponent, and the man who had been tackled suddenly burst into flames.

It was an outrageous spectacle to see on TV – the whole world assumed it was just another beer commercial.

But the footage never cut, the commercial never came on. The camera stayed focused on the man as he was screaming and burning alive, being witnessed by forty million people on live TV.

The running back looked on in horror, from the burning man that the rest of the football players were trying to pad the flames out on, to his own hands, seeing them glowing red.

Of course, it had been a decade and a half since that event, and it was no longer noteworthy to hear what someone’s super power was.

Everyone had one, and they were all unique in some way. Of course, the most notable ones quickly became super celebrities, or became actual super heroes. But the truth was, most people’s super powers were not that outstanding, nothing special that could really differentiate them from every other human.

From the mundane to the amazing, from the dangerous to the useful to the beautiful, everyone could do something simply no other human in history could have dreamed of in their wildest imagination.

And yet, here Bill was, sitting in a small office, working for the largest corporation in the country, behind a desk that was too big, hoping to find someone for this all important role sent from upper management to his desk.

“This is important, Bill, you hear me? We need to find someone for this role, and stat.”

Bill’s boss, the President of WAS, Inc., Mr. Ryan Slane, was a commanding presence in his office. The entire top floor was his own suite, with panoramic views of the city on all sides. He stood a foot away from the floor to ceiling window behind his desk, looking out at the people on the streets a thousand feet below.

He put the cigar in his hands to his lips and sucked some of the tobacco smoke in, letting it swirl in his mouth with the flavor of the Cuban plant.

“It’s not exactly something I can trust with just anyone. You’re my most loyal employee. I’ve known you were different from the day I met you. So that’s why I’m putting you in charge of this instead of Susan Delaney, she’s a sweetheart and has never done me wrong in recruiting the best of the best, I mean, hell, she brought you in. But I need this done right, and you’re the only choice where my gut doesn’t clench in hesitation.”

“Thanks Ryan,” Bill said. His hands were in his pockets as he took another step towards the window closest to him. He kept his eyes on the horizon, looking at the snow on the mountain crests just miles away outside the city limits. He had never been skiing.

Ryan continued on with his speech about their desperate need to find someone to fill the “professional hero” role he had just opened up in the office. It was his latest bright idea he believed would be vital to the company in the coming years.

In a world of heroes, how exactly would one fit the role of a professional hero?

Bill inched closer to the window, slowly lowering his eyes to the streets below. The wave of vertigo made him nauseous, which wasn’t helped at all by the scent of the cigar in the room.

Ryan appeared by Bill’s side, looking down toward the same area.

“Like a bunch of ants, aren’t they? Almost like they’ve got no rhyme or reason to anything they do, not caring about where they go,” Ryan muttered.

“I was in Hong Kong just before you came in to my office, looking out of the window just like you are now, and it’s no different. I’ve told you about their food, yeah? Amazing black truffle scrambled eggs at that one place…”

Bill answered, “Capital Café”.

“Yes! Exactly, Capital Café. I love that place. Have you ever been there? You should really go, I don’t know why you never take time off. I’ll even comp you the plane ticket, it’s just…”

Ryan continued, but Bill was focusing on the pedestrians below.

Everyone knew that Hong Kong had an abnormally high concentration of super powers that focused around food. Some people could snap their fingers and instantly heat a dish to the proper temperature, while some had telekinetic power over eggs, allowing them to crack an entire dozen at once without ever even having to touch them.

Bill had never been to Hong Kong. In fact, he had never even left Texas. Ryan was able to travel the entire world thanks to being empowered with teleportation. As far as anyone else knew, he was the only person in the world with that capability.

Bill was deathly afraid of heights, and so he had never even stepped foot on a plane.

For Ryan, the Empowerment allowed him to do market research on the fly, and to make in-person deals with his associates at the drop of a hat. He loved business, and the process of making money. And because of his natural workaholic attitude, his Empowerment was incredibly well paired.

WAS, Inc. was the fastest growing company in history, and it was all Ryan’s doing.

Bill didn’t have a power anywhere near as lavish.

“…anyway, it’s almost four in Australia, so if you’ll excuse me, Bill…”

Bill turned his gaze from the streets below, meeting Ryan’s.

“Yeah, of course, Ryan. Thanks again.” Bill smiled.

Back in the future, Bill, or Thursday at 3:45PM CST Bill, or Bill #15743 – he hadn’t settled on a naming convention for his multiple selves yet – sat at the round table in the tiny room, staring at the young man in the three piece suit sitting across from him.

“So, Kyle, you mentioned you’re able to remove people’s Empowerments, permanently, just by touching them, is that right?”

Charlie and the Pursuit of Actingness

“This guy is falling for you.”

“This guy is falling for you.”

This guy is falling for you.”

Charlie sat on the bus stop bench, repeating the line that had become something of a mantra to him over the past 3 days.

“THIS GUY is falling for you!” he shouted, gesturing his hands out in front of him as if he were catching a child falling from a window. The elderly lady behind the wheel of the minivan stopped at the light in front of him looked over at him, surprised.

“Oh, uh, I’m sorry. It’s a line!”, he yelled over at her, as the traffic light turned green.

“It’s a shitty line, kid!” the lady shouted back, as she drove on.

Charlie sat there, watching her car drive off into the ocean of cars down the road.

“This guy… is falling for you”, he whispered.

After a moment, he thrust one arm out in a wide arc, following the flow of traffic. With his right arm still sticking out, he looked back to his left, seeing an old man with one leg hobbling up on crutches.

“Everyone thinks they’re a fucking comic” the old man said, glaring at Charlie, who was staring at the blank space beneath the old man’s rolled up, tied off pant leg.

“Oh! Oh, no sir, I’m sorry, it was just a line for–”

“Yeah, up yours kid, I can still kick your ass with one leg. Two hits, me kicking your ass, you hitting the ground. The only falling you’re gonna do is fall in love with my boot up your ass. Back in ‘Nam, I used to dodge lead every morning while taking shits bigger than you. You wouldn’t last a goddamn minute over…”

As the old man continued his rant, Charlie slumped in his spot, embarassed, ashamed and confused at his purpose in life. His only solace was in repeating the line in his head, where nobody could misunderstand him.

The bus was 3 minutes late.

When his agent, Lucas Green, had called Charlie up to let him know that there was an audition for a small role in a local film company’s new feature film, Charlie had been so excited, he decided to ride his bike down to Lucas’ office, saving a few minutes and dollars.

“I’ll take it, definitely,” he said as he bounded through the office door, sweating and breathing hard.

In one look over at Lucas, who was calmly lighting the tip of his cigar, he barely had time to realize his mistake.

“Sit down kid, I said it’s just an audition, you haven’t gotten the role yet, Jesus.” Lucas was a salty old man in a young man’s body, jaded by his decade in the southern California ecosystem of dead dreams, broken hopes and the pungent stench of suntan lotion.

“Jesus, did you run down here? You’re sweating so hard I can see that shit getting all over my floor. Whatever, sit on the other chair – no, the other one, that fabric covered one. I didn’t spend a month’s salary on this fucking leather chair for your sweaty ass to get it all moist with your hydration problem.”

“Yeah, sorry Lucas, I just didn’t want to keep you waiting like last time. So what’s the deal, can you share any information about the gig with me yet?”, Charlie rattled off as he tried to catch his breath.

The fabric chair was uncomfortable, missing one arm and flattened over the years by the many hopefuls that had sat here before.

Lucas continued, as he studied the ash at the tip of his cigar, “So, this film studio is brand new, and they’re local, but they’ve just gotten a big dump of local investors involved because their main actor in this film, it’s going to be their first feature length film, the main kid is the son of that lawyer prick, the one on the TV with that crappy commercial-”

“Yeah, the one with that tagline, ‘Why bother praying if I can get them paying?’, Mark Babbott?”, Charlie suggested.

Lucas continued, reaching over to the ash tray on his desk to ash off his cigar.

“…Yeah yeah, that piece of trash. Anyway, his kid, Eric Babbott, is apparently some big YouTube sensation, overnight success and that whole bit, had a stint doing a few interviews on daytime talk shows, whatever. He’s gonna be the star of this studio’s new feature film, and they have a role for his gay best friend.”

“Yeah Lucas, I’m all in, man, I can be totally gay, I love it, just let me know when and where–”

“Shut up and listen, kid, Jesus, I’m fucking busy and I’m trying to brain dump this on you as quick as I can so I can get on my flight in forty-five minutes, okay? So, they have a whole lot of people really interested in getting this film made and put into as many film festivals as possible, where there are going to be a fucking ton of eyes from the industry on it. So it is big, and everyone wants in – think America’s Got Talent big. So they’re going to do a big mass audition, try to knock out as many as they can in one day. So the line they gave out for the actors to practice is ‘This guy is falling for you.’ So get that shit stuck in your head, okay?”

“Definitely Lucas, definitely man. This guy is falling for you. Gay best friend. Got it.”

“Charlie, kid, listen to me here. This shit needs to become your fucking life for the next few days, okay? There’s a lot of people on this, and this could be big for us both. It’ll get you out of that librarian gig you’ve got going on, and can seriously launch you into the fucking atmosphere in this city. You hear me? Don’t fuck this up, kid. You got this.”

It did not bother Charlie that Lucas never seemed to remember what he did for a living. He always referred to it as a librarian job, but Reading Out Loud Allowed was an open-mic slam poetry and improv comedy night that Charlie had started shortly after moving out West.

Working with the various bars and clubs around his neighborhood, it had begun to have a decent following around his neighborhood. It was good practice for testing new character voices out, and paid enough to pay his third of the rent. Sometimes he’d even make enough to cover the cost of an Uber ride somewhere.

He saved the Uber rides for special occasions.

Charlie stood on the corner of the street, glancing up from his phone at the sound of every car driving by.

Today was a special occasion, and so he had decided to splurge from his budget on getting an Uber ride down to the Bay Area Event Center, where the audition was being held.

“Come on Ismael, where the fuck are you? Get your blue Nissan ass out here already.”

The estimated time of arrival for his ride had been 7 minutes. It was 17 minutes in, and the GPS marker on the app had moved about half a block. Even after starting to walk towards the car, the marker seemed to keep the same distance from him.

“This guy is falling for you, you son of a bitch. Where the hell are you?”

Frustrated and nervous, Charlie decided to cancel the ride. He could catch the bus if he sprinted down the block, if he was lucky enough to —

Charlie heard the squeal of the tires on the pavement before he realized the bus stop was in the other direction. Or maybe it was in that direction?

oh I’m somersaulting through the air because I got hit by a car I’m falling this is going to hurt OW sonofabitch what is happening

As his body rolled to a stop, the blue door of the Nissan swung open and the driver jumped out, running over to Charlie.

“Sir, sir – are you okay? Oh my God, I am so sorry, I was looking for my Uber fare and, oh shit, oh my God… sir, are you okay? Can you hear me? Sir. What is your name?”


“Oh, no shit? Hey, that’s my name too, man. Haha, wow, what are the odds of… oh, here, let me help you up.”

“No, no, you’re Ismael.”

“Yeah, I know, and so are you. We just said that. Listen man, I think you might have a concussion. Look, it’d be real cool if we could just not have to call the cops or anything, you know? I wasn’t serious about staring at my phone when I ran over you, because I wasn’t. There was a deer in the street. I couldn’t do nothing, man, it–”

“No, dude, your name is Ismael, my name is Charlie. I’m the one you were supposed to pick up, like 20 minutes ago. What the hell, man?”

“Okay, check this out, so what had happened was, there was this girl jogging down the sidewalk, and she was wearing those yoga pants, you know the ones with the… hey, you know what, how about I just give you a ride and we just call it solid, is that cool with you? No charge man.”

Charlie knew he was under a time crunch, and if he didn’t absolutely have somewhere to be today, he would probably go straight to the hospital. His head really hurt, and his shirt had become torn at some point.

at least I’ve got my shoes still

“Yeah, Ismael, that’s fine man. Let’s just go, let’s leave right now.”

“Sure thing Charlie. Hey, you mind if I stop to pick up some smokes? This whole thing has been super stressful for me, and I’ve got a bad heart, you know? I don’t deal with this kind of stuff very well.”

As Charlie stood last in line, at the end of what seemed to be half the city waiting to get into this event center, he leaned over the shoulder of the girl in front of him, peering down the line of attendees.

Many of the actors were wearing headphones, playing on their phones, taking selfies and polluting social media with dog faces.

Man, it doesn’t seem like anyone is practicing lines or anything. Maybe I over-prepared. Maybe this is going to be easier than I thought–

“Alright everyone, that’s it. Auditions are closed.” said the bouncer at the doorway, a good fifty people between him and Charlie.

Charlie’s heart sunk, as the crowd in front of him started booing and jeering, before slowly dispersing, used to the familiar letdown in this industry.

Charlie turned, and walked back towards the parking lot, letting his hand run against the wall of the event center, thinking about the last few days misadventures.

A door opened behind him, and Charlie heard a few people talking.

As he turned around, he recognized two of the men in the group.

“Mr. Babbott?”, Charlie asked.

The man looked over at Charlie. “Yes?”

“Hello Mr. Babbott, my name is Charlie–”

“Look kid, if you’re here to audition, we’re done for today. These guys have gotta leave, and my son is tired.”

Charlie then noticed the younger man behind Mr. Babbott, dwarfed by his father’s linebacker-esque physique. He was about Charlie’s age, but slightly shorter and with a quiet demeanor.

“Listen, Mr. Babbott, and Eric, I know the auditions are closed, but this means the world to me, and I’ve just… I… it’s been a very weird past few days, and it’s all because of wanting to be here just to tell you–”

“Fine kid, spit it out. Give it your best shot. We’ve gotta roll.”

Charlie took a deep breath, nodding quickly at the lawyer. He looked at the young man beside him, and lifted one hand out towards him.

Gay best friend. Gay best friend. I’m gay, and I’m his best friend. This is it.

He turned his hand over, with his fingers slightly pointing skywards, gesturing at Eric.

“This… guy… is falling… for you.”

Charlie was sure the Earth herself took a sudden quick breath.

Clocks around the world hesitated a moment before they moved to click in the next second.

Somewhere, he knew that someone’s dog decided that, for just a tiny while, Charlie was actually the owner that they really wanted.

Never before had a line been delivered so perfectly, so eloquently timed, so holy in it’s delivery–

“I’m sorry, what was that?”

Mr. Babbott’s booming voice knocked Charlie out of his euphoric self approval.


“Can you say that again?”

“I said,” Charlie started, as he lifted his arm up and gestured toward Eric again, “This… guy… is falling… for–”

“Holy shit.”

They love it.

Mr. Babbott turned to his associate, a young man in casual dress, wearing a fedora and shorts and a Hawaiian shirt. “Tommy, did you hear this?”

That must be the studio producer. He loves it. They love me.

“Mark,” Tommy began, placing one hand over his heart, and throwing the other in the air towards Mr. Babbott, “this guy is falling for you.”

Mr. Babbott and Tommy started laughing, and continued laughing until they could hardly breathe. Mr. Babbott was doubled over, with his hand on Tommy’s shoulder, both of their faces scrunched into a wrinkled mess as they continued with their booming laughter.

Charlie was confused.

I don’t understand. If it’s so funny, how did they go through hundreds of people’s auditions today?

“Sir? Mr. Tommy? Mr. Babbott? What is so funny?”

Eric finally piped in, after having laughed a bit himself, but at a lower caliber than his company, and said “Hey man, it’s Charlie, right? Listen Charlie… we just heard the line we gave out said hundreds of different ways over the past few hours.”

Charlie nodded, and was about to begin apologizing for being so late, when Eric continued.

“Look, Charlie. We just had seven hundred and fifty-two people regurgitate to us the line we gave out the other day, and they all said it in their own special, unique way. We ended up choosing a 67 year old Korean man because he sang the line while playing a ukulele. Whatever, it is what it is. But man… you are literally the only person from today who not only got the line wrong… but damn, man, I think it might actually be better than what we had.”

Charlie’s blood drained from his face.

I got the line wrong. How did I get the line wrong? I’ve said it thousands of times, I’ve written it down hundreds of times. What did I do wrong?

“I… I’m sorry, I don’t understand, Eric. What do you mean I got the line wrong?”, Charlie stammered.

Eric responded, “Charlie, the line was ‘The sky is falling for you’, not ‘this guy is falling for you’.”

Charlie stood right where he was, not moving a single muscle out of fear that the whole world would notice him and his failure.

Oh my god. I’m an idiot.

“Oh, oh, that makes more sense, I guess,” Charlie said quietly.

Mr. Babbott was done laughing, drying the last of his tears with the pocket square of his suit.

“Kid, that was amazing. That was definitely worth listening to that Asian dude playing the tiny guitar for 15 minutes.”

“It’s called a ukulele, dad.”

“Whatever. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, Curtis, right?”

“Oh, uh, it’s Charlie, sir!”, Charlie shouted as he watched the men get into the limousine.

“Lucas, what the hell, man?!” Charlie shouted into the phone.

“Okay kid, you’re right, I screwed up biggo. My bad.” Lucas said.

“Lucas, nobody is ever going to accept me on their set if this gets out. The kid who got the one line of an audition completely not-anywhere-close-whatsoever wrong. And on top of that, they probably thought I was confessing my undying love to Babbott’s kid! What the fuck man?”

“Yeah, you’re probably right. But hey, it’s not like anyone’s gonna bring it up to you at work, right? No talking in the library and all that good shit.”

“Lucas, you suck.” Charlie said as he hung up the phone.

Charlie did go to his regular gig that evening. As he was MC’ing his improv comedy portion of the night, before introducing the highlight of the night, he decided to vent his frustrations out to the crowd.

The audience was laughing immediately, from the misunderstandings between him and the driver, the one legged man, the accidentally-almost-homicidal Ismael, to his reenactment of the ordeal between the lawyer, Eric, and Tommy the director.

At the end of the night, his audience politely applauded the headliners, but then began chanting Charlie’s name, wanting more of his hilarious recounting of events.

When he got home, Charlie called Lucas’ number and patiently awaited the voicemail message.

At the beep, Charlie said one thing.

“Mr. Green, I don’t think I’ll be needing any more acting auditions.”

He hung up the phone, and jumped into bed, his hands folded behind his head as he stared at the ceiling.

“The sky isn’t falling anymore.”

The Pirate and the Boy Who Saved Him

A young pirate captain was on his majestic ship, sailing across the vast ocean. His crew was happy, and they went on sailing for years, pillaging other ships that they would come across, overthrowing other sea captains, and often allowing the crew of the other ships to join theirs.

The pirate captain was happy.

One day, during an epic battle between the pirate crew and one of the biggest ships in the Queen’s Navy, the pirate captain was in a sword fight with three enemy sailors.

He fought like a warrior straight out of a tale, his dual swords slicing through the air and cutting his enemies down with ease.

Suddenly, a young boy came out of one of the barracks, carrying a pistol, and aimed it in the direction of the pirate captain.

Just as the pirate captain slashed at the last man standing before him, he saw the young boy, as well as the pistol aiming in his direction.

The boy fired.

The pirate looked down, and felt no pain.

Suddenly, he heard the thud of a body landing on the ground behind him. He turned around, and saw the Navy captain laying dead on the ground, his sword still in his hand, his outstretched arm above his head, his body frozen in the attempt of his ill-fated attack on the pirate captain.

The pirate captain was safe.

The pirate captain turned back to the boy who had saved his life. He stared at the boy, with his bright blue eyes open wide, giving away the fact that he had never once fired a pistol before, eyes which were partially covered by a lock of hair black as night.

The young pirate captain tipped his three-pointed hat to the boy as he leaned over with a slight bow.

“What’s ye name, me boy”, the pirate captain asked.

“Sebastian, sir”, the boy whispered.

“Aye, well Sebastian, me boy, a t’ousand t’anks and a t’ousand pieces o’ silver me owes ya.”

The pirate captain whistled to one of his crew, and ordered them to leave the young boy on the ship with a small chest filled with silver coins.

Then the pirate crew jumped back onto their majestic ship, and sailed off into the sunset.

Many years went by, and the pirate captain grew old, having lived quite the successful life of a pirate, which was quite rare, as they were constantly hunted by all of society for their ignoble actions.

One day, as the pirate crew was at harbor to resupply their ship, the pirate captain met a beautiful woman who not only failed to judge him, but was rather quite enthralled by his stories from the sea.

As they were sharing a bottle of rum, the pirate captain was reminiscing about his dual sword wielding days, which were no more, after having lost a hand to a stray cannonball many years prior, when the beautiful woman asked if he ever intended to settle down and have a family.

“Aye, me love, t’was always on the back of me mind, but me life has been wrought with adventure and chaos, and the thrills of a nomad pirate captain such as me’self were never too kindly looked upon by the fairer sex…”

The beautiful woman ran her hand across the pirate captain’s beard, caressed his face, and as she leaned over, she whispered “I always wanted to sail the sea… but I fear it was never in my stars, for I get seasick simply by stepping onto a ship. But your tales tell me that you have lived a mighty full life, and I fear I will never cease to dream of you after tonight…”

Then, the beautiful woman gently kissed the pirate captain on his lips.

For what seemed like an eternity, they stayed locked face to face, as the beautiful woman held the pirate captain’s good hand in hers, as he began to shake at the knees, melting at her touch.

As they pulled apart, the pirate captain said, “Bless the gods, me dear, I’ve never in me whole life felt the warm touch of an angel like that… just say the word, and I’ll follow you to the ends of the world and back.”

The night went on, and when it came time to part ways and sail off with his crew, the pirate captain realized that he couldn’t bring himself to go, for he did not want to leave behind the beautiful woman who had taken his breath away, and given in return a warm desire and fullness he had never felt before.

The pirate captain was in love.

He took his hat off, and handed it to his first mate, saying his farewells, wishing his crew the best of luck and long lives, and waved them away until they had sailed out of sight.

Again, many years went by. The pirate married the beautiful woman, they had a small army of children who grew up and set sail on their own adventures, and life went on.

The pirate captain was happy, but grew restless. Time had become a bitter enemy, causing his body to deteriorate even more and his mind to grow cloudy. His feet hurt from walking the solid land, and he missed his majestic ship, and his faithful crew.

His wife saw these things, and tried many times to lift his spirits, but it was fruitless.

The pirate had turned to drown his fears in his bottles of rum, and often could be heard hollering at the gravestones in the town cemetery, battling the ghosts of his past.

The locals had ceased to fear the once powerful and vibrant pirate captain, as he was now just an old shell of his former self.

He had grown fat, had lost most of his hair, and his long flowing beard had grown gray and disheveled. The hook on his hand had been replaced by a wooden knob with a cutout perfect for holding a bottle, and nothing more.

The pirate captain was sad.

Despite all her efforts, the pirate’s wife could not save him from himself. She grew tired and weak from all the fighting, until one day, she had had enough, and decided to leave him.

The pirate captain did not chase after her.

And so life went on, and the long days turned into long months, and the long months turned into longer years. The pirate was lost in a world he did not love, left alone with no friend to share a bottle with, and no enemy to swing a sword at. The pirate captain was alone.

He grew older, and weaker. His swords began to rust, and grew dull. His bottles lay strewn about his home, and his body regretted his heart’s decision.

One day, the pirate decided he would not end this way. He would go out as a pirate should. He would do whatever necessary to right the wrongs, or wrong the rights, in his case.

He would go down to the harbor, and steal a ship, and set sail into the sunset one last time.

Except, he could barely get out of bed. When he finally managed to, barely escaping a broken back in doing so, he barely made it to his door.

With a mighty tug, he opened the door, and what he saw outside his door almost made him fall to the floor.

There was a parade!

The entire town had filled both ends of the street, with children sitting upon their father’s shoulders, and women waving handkerchiefs at the performers in the street.

At first, the pirate was weary, and did not want to be surrounded by all of this joy, for he simply wanted his story to come to an end already, and dammit, these town citizens were getting in his way!

He shuffled along down the road, step by step, often having to put a hand against a wall or a fence post to stop and catch his breath.

His heart was beating a thousand times too fast, and his head ached with all the music being played in the street beside him.

Things began to grow dark in his vision, and sounds grew muffled.

He stopped to sit at a bench, wiping the sweat from his brow with his shirt sleeve. He looked around for a forgotten bottle of rum. Alas, there was none to be found. He saw a young boy running back and forth, peeking between the legs of the adults to catch a glimpse of the parade through the throngs of people watching the festivities.

The old pirate asked the young boy, “hey there, me lad…” The old pirate took a few deep breaths between his words, “would ye mind tellin’ an old man what all this fuss might be about?”

The young boy looked the old pirate up and down, curious why this old man was sitting on a bench not ten feet from the parade, sweating like a dog and panting like a horse.

“It’s the Queen’s Royal Navy, sir! They’re back! It took them 50 years, but they’ve finally killed all the pirates! The seas are free again!”

The old man chuckled at the idea that the sea was ever not free, but then took a sharp breath in as the boy’s words sunk in.

With the last of his strength, he pushed himself off of the bench, and walked to the street, pushing the bystanders aside with a roughness in him that had long been idle.

He looked at the paraders, who upon further inspection, were in battle dress. It was the Queen’s Royal Navy, indeed!

Then, standing on top of a box wagon, the old pirate saw what must have been the man in charge.

The man was middle aged, in peak physical condition, with striking black hair and blue eyes as big as the sea.

But it was what was in the man’s hand, as he waved it back and forth at the crowds, that caught the old pirate’s eye.

It was his old leather three-pointed hat.

This man, he was the one who had killed off the last of the pirates, and in doing so, had obviously killed the old pirate’s former crew, including his last first mate. As the old pirate stood there, wondering how he should feel, knowing that the life he had led and had dreamed of returning to could be no more, the man with the blue eyes turned towards him, looked at him, waving the hat, and continued to turn.

Stopping in mid-wave, the man turned back, and looked at the old pirate dead in his eyes.

The old pirate knew, right then, who this man was. He knew it like he knew the sound of sails flapping in the wind on a cool, cloudless night.

This man, he knew, was Sebastian, the very boy who had not only saved his life, but had felled one of his own crew in order to do so.

This man, who had brought an end to the life the old pirate once cherished, who had ended the lives of so many that had relied on the old pirate, was the one person that had ever saved the old pirate’s life.

The sudden epiphany took a hefty toll on the old pirate’s soul. He felt like he had been struck in the chest with a cannonball.

He almost lost his footing, falling back, reaching his hand out to find the bench behind him, with his wooden hand held to his chest to calm his heart.

It was beating too fast.

The man from the Navy, Sebastian, was running up to the old man, pushing his way through the crowd.

As he arrived at the bench, he looked the old man up and down.

The man, the boy, Sebastian, placed the hat gently on the bench beside the old pirate.

“I know you, old man. I once saved your life, and you repaid me with a ship and a thousand silver pieces. I have led my life in the hopes that I would cross paths with you again…”

The old man looked at the young man, and saw nothing but the young boy from that day so long ago, before him. He had dreamt of crossing paths with the young boy again as well, but his heart was hurting, and not in the heartbroken way he had become so used to over the years, but rather a physical pain, this time. It stopped him from being able to express the words in his lungs.

The boy with the blue eyes continued.

“…I lived every day of my life, and spent every last bit of silver I had because of you, trying to find you. When I ran out of money to fund my own ship and crew, I joined the Queen’s Royal Navy in the hopes that it would bring me to you…” The old pirate wanted nothing more than to reach out to the boy, to pat him on the shoulder, to thank him for finding him and giving him a last good memory to cherish on what was surely to be his last day on this earth. Perhaps he could ask the boy to send him out to sea, as a pirate should always be buried at sea… Sebastian continued.

“For, you see, I did not intend on saving the life of a murderer that day, I did not even intend on leaving that ship alive…

I did not want my last memories to be the vision of you and your despicable crew cutting down my friends, my crew…

…and had I seen my father behind you, with his sword raised and ready to strike you down, I never would have tried to fire that shot into your heart.

And I would have not missed, and killed my own father instead.”

The old pirate’s face grew white, his skin, cold.

The story he had shared countless times to his old crew and the land lovers at the pub, his favorite story of all of them… had all been a lie.

All because this boy was a terrible shot.

He had intended on killing him, and killed his father instead. And while the old pirate knew that his younger self would have reveled in this fact, his older self felt more guilty than he could have ever imagined feeling.

His entire life had been a farce.

He was not the least bit angry at Sebastian, nor did he doubt that he would pay for his actions today, likely at the gallows.

The boy continued.

“And so, here we are, having killed every last pirate sailing the ocean, and the one I have been hunting my entire life has been here in my hometown. Wasting away! A drunk and a fool, with no ship, no treasure, and a rusty pair of swords.”

“His wife left him!”, shouted one of the town members.

Sebastian looked back at the townsman, and looked back at the old pirate with a smug look on his face.

“And the old man had a wife, you say? It figures she would have left him! Who would want to lay by an old and dying pirate like this at night!”

The townspeople laughed and pointed their fingers, with mothers covering their children’s ears, yet standing there with beaming smiles on their faces. Sebastian picked up one of the old pirate’s swords, wielding it slowly and deliberately, feeling it’s weight.

“This must have been a wicked tool of death back in your day, old pirate. But now…”

He rested the tip of the sword on the ground, and gave a swift stomp to the middle of the sword, shattering it in half.

“…but now, it’s a piece of useless scrap. Now, tell me, old pirate, and do be kind, it’s the least you can do before dying on me after I’ve searched for you for so long, and after I’ve asked ALL your friends for your whereabouts…

WHAT, in almighty God’s name, HAPPENED TO YOU to make you such a feeble, weak, pathetic old geezer wasting away as the town drunk on a dirty bench so far from the ocean?

Please, tell me what caused this, and I might let you die quickly.”

The old pirate looked the boy up and down, realizing the boy was a man. A man that any mother would be proud of, and a boy any father would thank the heavens for carrying his name.

The old pirate coughed into his wooden hand, and saw blood which he wiped off onto his pants, and stretched to lean over with his good hand to pick up the hat Sebastian had placed beside him.

It took nearly all the energy he had in him, and as he righted himself, the world was spinning. His arm shot pains throughout his body as he raised his hat and placed it on his head.

He placed his good hand on the bench armrest, and pushed as hard as he could, raising himself from the bench to stand before the boy. A boy who was as tall, no, taller, than he was. But the old pirate had a bad back, and he was hunched over after spending so many years in his bed.

He stretched his back, and stood tall one last time.

He raised his good hand to grab the tip of his hat, and gently tipped it towards the boy, and as he bowed slightly, he could feel his heart pumping the last pulse of blood through his body… his fingers and toes growing cold, his vision growing cloudy, and his head feeling light, he uttered his last few words with every bit of strength that his soul would spare before finally leaving him.

With a smirk so slight, the Heavenly Father could have missed it, he answered the boy’s question.

“Sebastian, my boy…