Saturday, December 27, 2008

Don't let me die

Both of their battles had been hard fought and even harder won; battles physical, spiritual, mental and emotional had taken their toll on their minds, hearts and bodies. Rysa held Valente in her arms, cradling his battered and broken body while the world burned around them. His plate armor was scarred and bent, his life’s blood seeping from the seams to soak the blue and white carpet under their knees.

She had lost him five years before when her father had discovered they were lovers, her heir to the throne of Etana and he the son of a fish monger. The King had burst into Rysa’s room, his guards ripping him from her arms and taking him away into the darkness. She hadn’t seen him since that night.

For five years she had played the good daughter, courting the men her father pushed her way in an attempt to pacify him, while focusing all her energy on finding Valente and honing her magical skills. She snuck into the darkest corners of Etana, talked to the seediest scoundrels and villains, and paid them all for information that may lead her to him.

In the beginning many saw her as an easy mark, a pampered Princess who could easily be ransomed back to the King for a quick bit of gold, but those who underestimated her ended up dead. It wasn’t long before she had a reputation of swiftly meting out retribution on those who betrayed her, and the lowest echelon of miscreant no longer dared cross her.

As the years passed her magic grew, filling her tall frame until she vibrated with it, releasing it with her mind and letting it blossom into a the hammer of destruction she intended it to be. She had gathered enough information about Valente’s whereabouts to know where she would most likely find him, and she was ready to set her carefully detailed plan into motion.

She dressed in her finest gown; the filmy white layers of silk encasing her body like spun air, and her silver crown perched atop her head like an exotic bird’s crest. Her pale hair hung loose, and flowed like satin to her hips, shimmering frosted water as she walked into the throne room.

Her father looked up when she entered; waiving away the advisor he had been speaking with a casual flick of his fingers. “Daughter,” he said, leaning back and resting his arms along the carved frame of his throne.

“Father,” she replied, dipping in a small curtsey. “May I speak with you in private?”

“Of course,” The King raised one hand and again flicked his fingers in a shoo-ing motion, and Rysa watched in silence as the dozen people who had been milling around the room, filed out through the finely carved doors. “Now Daughter, what is it?”

Rysa was silent a moment, closing her blue eyes and focusing her mind on gathering her power. Looking up she locked gazes with her father, the man who swore he loved her and yet had torn out her heart the day he had taken Valente away, and she knew the look she gave him wasn’t friendly. The King flinched.

“Rysa?” he said, his voice carrying a current of confusion.

“Never again father,” she began, the low volume of her voice belying the sharp tone,

“Never again will you control me, and never again will you hurt those I love.”

The King stood slowly, his face wary as he descended the dais and moved toward her,

“Daughter, I act in your best interest –“

“Lies!” Rysa’s voice snapped like a whip, and blue lightning crackled along its waves, stopping the King in his tracks.

“Is this about that boy?” The King asked, and his disgusted tone launched Rysa across the room, her long fingers clutching his soft throat, her nails drawing blood.

“Valente! His name is Valente, and you will do well to remember that, Father, as he is the reason I am going to kill you.”

The King smiled, a sinister curving of the lips that made Rysa’s skin go cold. “Do you really believe that I have been completely unaware of your nocturnal excursions into Etana? Do you think me so dim that I wouldn’t know who you talk to, and I know what they tell you?” Rysa’s grip tightened and her father clutched at her wrist. “I am not as simple as you may think, Daughter. The information you have is outdated. Three weeks ago I ordered the fish monger spawn that defiled you be brought here for execution; after all if I simply told you he’d been killed, you’d have thought me a liar; better you see for yourself.”

Rysa felt her power waiver in the wake of this news, and it felt as though her heart stopped. Sounds of fighting filtered through the walls and distracted her enough for her father to reach for his sword, his beefy fingers barely on the weapon before the door splintered into the room.

A tall knight stumbled into the room, his armor that of the King’s Guard, and Rysa felt her vengeance slipping from her grasp. The Knight staggered forward, one hand clutching his side, while the other dragged a blood-stained broadsword behind him. He stopped six feet away and stared at the King and his daughter, his breathing labored as he reached up and pulled his helmet off, dropping it to the carpeted stone floor.

Rysa’s gaze locked on the green eyes she thought she’d never see again, and her heart gave a hopeful lurch against her sternum. Valente shifted his attention, his green gaze locking with the cold blue of the King’s, and he drew himself up to his full six and a half feet with visible effort.

“I need to thank you, Your Majesty, without your order of execution I never would have escaped from the hell hole you sent me to,” he said, and without another moment’s hesitation he lunged forward, piercing the King’s chest with his sword. Rysa gripped the hilt and channeled her stored power into the blade, bringing it to life with blue fire that seared and burned her father from the inside out.

She released her hold on her father’s neck at the same moment the sword slipped from Valente’s fingers and the King fell to the floor, a charred husk that filled the air with the stench of burnt flesh.

Valente staggered and fell to his knees, Rysa catching him in her arms and kneeling on the floor with his armored body weighing on her bones, as the sight of his battered face weighed on her heart. His blood soaked the white of her gown, its heat warming her skin even while her soul felt cold with fear.

He grasped her free hand, squeezing his eyes shut against what she could only imagine was excruciating agony, his voice a pain-filled whisper when he spoke, “Don’t let me die, not now...”

Rysa gathered every last spark of magic that remained in her body, drawing from her very core, and even reaching out into the ether to take more. Reaching up she cradled his head against her breast, lacing her fingers into his black hair that was sticky with blood, and she opened the barrier within herself that kept her magic in check.

The power flowed through her and into him, gently mending him and making him whole, and when he next opened his eyes there was no pain there, only hope fulfilled.

*Artwork by

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I love you so much

"I love you so much."

Those had been the words he'd said to her as they lay panting in each other's arms, his voice muffled against the side of her neck. Their skin was slick with sweat, and by the light of half a dozen candles Grace watched steam rise from Stephen's shoulders in the cool air of the bedroom. His dark hair was tousled and fell into his eyes when he rolled to the side, slipping off her body as easily as he'd slipped inside it.

Reaching up with her long, elegant fingers she traced the line of his profile; over his forehead, down the bridge of his nose, over his parted lips and under his chin. Her touch opened his brilliant green eyes. He turned his head to look at her, and as always, she was absolutely charmed by the sight of his face.

They'd started out as strangers in an elevator. Three hours of conversation in that steel and smoky mirrored cube during a power outage had launched them into each other's arms within the day, like two magnets passing too close to one another. The pull was too strong to resist, and now, a year later, they still fell together like teenagers, impatient to touch.

She watched him, wondering how many times he'd said those exact same words to other people. When he said it to others, did he mean it the same way every single time, or did his level of love vary depending on the woman he was with? Who was worthy of the full dose? What did they have to do to earn it? How could it be lost?

"What are you thinking about?" he asked, pulling the sheet up to cover the bare lines of their bodies.

"Do you love on a scale?" she asked, pillowing her head on one arm.

"What kind of scale might you be interested in trying out?" He was being playful, and she smiled softly at him.

Stephen was always joking with her, teasing and making her laugh; he was her lighter side. She had gotten out of a very long relationship only days before meeting him, and she’d been certain he’d be a rebound fuck and nothing more; one quick romp and that would be that. That one romp had caught her like a fish in a net, wrapping her up in the burning need of addiction, and now she couldn’t imagine being without him, and the her feeling of dependence scared the shit out of her.

“How many other people have you said those words to?” Grace asked, and Stephen’s expression morphed from playful to confused, like dawn becoming day.

“What do you mean?” he asked, his brow furrowed, “I love a great many people, don’t you?”

“I always thought that you loved one person, all the others you were simply very fond of,” she looked worried, as though she was sure she was failing a very important test even while still taking it.

“Is there no one you love?” Stephen asked, trying to understand why the idea of various levels of love was so foreign to her.

“Only you,” her answer was simple and without hesitation, though the lines of her face were showing an increasing level of panic.

He slid closer to her, pulling her into the circle of his arms, and she clung to him like a shipwreck survivor clings to driftwood. Leaning back slightly he looked into her eyes, caressing the silky skin of her cheek, “It’s all right,” his voice was soothing, and her panic began to dissipate like the morning fog, “Love can be learned, I will help teach you.”

Grace buried her face in the curve of his neck, simultaneously anxious and afraid about her impending education. Would she be any good at it? Would she be able to change her deeply rooted understanding of the most complex human emotion? She could only try, and hope that she would make a good student.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

The morning after

This is my attempt to write from a male perspective. Not sure it worked though. :-)

Wyatt's subconscious spun through the thin fog left over from the night before. A strange mix of memories and sensations filtered through the residual beer haze to create an almost morbid mosaic of images, scents and sounds.

He could remember the bar, but only because there was a stuffed jackalope behind the burly bartender, and he'd tricked his best friend into thinking it was a real animal. That farce had won him $10 and another round of drinks. The evening had started as guy's night out, just some time to hang with his buddies, talk about sports and speculate about what the hell women really wanted.

But then she walked in, and it altered the course of the evening.

He wasn't looking for anything long term, he'd been there and done that, and it always ended badly. He just didn't want to make the emotional investment, he wanted only the physical pleasure of sex in a fleeting moment of passion with a virtual stranger, and then he could carry on with his life.

His single-track focus found a railroad switch, and was diverted toward a new station that had long chestnut hair and was wearing a red dress.

The scent of good, strong coffee drew him toward consciousness by his nose, and his eyes fluttered open to stare up at a foreign ceiling. He blinked a few times to clear his vision, scrubbing his hands over his face before stretching his muscles with a groan.

He expected her to be hovering, waiting for him to wake up so she could start talking at him, but she wasn't there. He propped himself up on his elbows, and scanned the large loft apartment, finding her sitting at her small breakfast table with a steaming cup of coffee and the morning paper; completely oblivious to him.

He flipped back the cotton sheets, his skin pale against the navy hue, and rising to his feet he retrieved his underwear from the lamp shade where they had landed the night before. Finger combing his hair he walked toward the kitchen, and she looked up from the business section with a smile.

"Good morning. There's coffee if you're interested," Zoe said, taking a sip of her own before returning to her reading.

Wyatt was confused, and he turned his furrowed brow toward the magical black brew. She didn't want to kiss him? She didn't want to talk about her feelings? She didn't want to know where they went from here? He felt the foundation of his understanding of women shift, and he involuntarily scratched his head in confusion.

Taking his coffee to the table, he sat down across from her, watching her read as he sipped his coffee. She still wasn't talking. She wasn't even looking up at him, and he felt the knot of dread he harbored in his stomach after every one night stand, open like a fist.

"I'm going to hop in the shower, I have some errands to run," she said, laying the paper down and rising to her feet. "I had a great time. I have your number, so I'll call sometime, okay?" she dropped a light kiss on his mouth before turning and disappearing into the bathroom.

He sat for a moment, paralyzed with shock that she'd actually just dismissed him in the nicest way possible. He dressed and headed for the door, the sound of the shower serving as the morning's music, and he smiled as he closed the door behind himself, smiling at the knowing that this was going to be anything but simple.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The duck walks at midnight

They all stood in a tight circle at the back of the barn. It was a small farm, so the circle was small, but it was about to get even smaller. Pig, Horse, Cow, Hen and Goat looked at Duck, who stood in the center of the circle with his beak hanging open.

"What do you mean, they are going to eat me?" he asked, confusion on his feathery face. "They love me."

The others all exchanged glances with each other. "Yes, well they will love you more with a nice gravy," Goat bleated, and the other frowned at her. "What? It's true. We've all seen it before; why coat him with lies about being coated with gravy?"

"Enough!" Horse snapped, stomping her hoof, dust from the straw puffing up into the air.

"Why would he eat me and none of you?" Duck asked, pacing in a nervous circle.

"I carry him to market, and pull his plow." Horse said, twitching her skin to scare off a fly that was annoying her rump.

"I give him milk for butter and cheese. And I've heard him say that with some chocolate my milk is delicious!" Cow explained, blinking her velvety eyes.

"I give him eggs." Hen said, "He eats those instead of me."

"I maintain his pastures, eating the grass down. Plus, I also give milk for cheese, and I've heard him said my cheese is very tasty on Hen's eggs," Goat waggled her stubby tail to punctuate her pride.

"And you Pig? What do you give him that I can't?" Duck asked, his shiny black eyes blinking slowly at the massive swine.

Pig was quiet a moment, his great, floppy ears bobbing on top of his head like flaccid pancakes. "I help him dispose of bothersome neighbors."

Duck needed no further explanation of that statement; he needed only to remember that Pig had huge teeth that could bite through anything, apparently that included bone. Duck shivered.

"Well then, I guess I need to run away. I could live in the wild."

Goat laughed, which earned her another glare from her friends. "Oh please, he's too soft to live in the wild. There's no one there to bring him his food; he wouldn't last a day."

Duck lifted his head and scowled at Goat. "You just watch me, I'm making a break for it tonight and I'll be just fine out there."

"My friends, the duck walks at midnight." Horse said, and they all bowed their head in a moment of silence.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

That's one big pipe

"Come here, I want to show you something." Mike pulled Haley along by her hand, and she walked the walk of the reluctant into the damp cave. She had a bad feeling about this.

The farther from the entrance they got, the more darkness she expected, but it remained light. Looking around she searched for the source of the light, noticing small mushrooms growing from the cracks in the walls that glowed with soft white light. Surely that wasn't enough to light the whole cave, though.

"Look, over there." Mike said, pulling on her hand again, and she stumbled after him.

They stopped on the edge of a large precipice, and peered down into the blackness, like stones facing a well.

"That's one big pipe." Mike said, and Haley rolled her eyes.

"It's not a pipe, it's just a big hole in the ground," she said, wondering how Mike could function on a day to day basis if he couldn't tell the difference between a pipe and a cave.

"What, like the Grand Canyon?"

"Did you really just say that?" she asked, folding her arms over her chest in an attempt to ward off the chill dampness of the cave air.

"Oh come on," Mike said, slapping her on the back with a laugh.

His laughter stopped when she lurched forward, wind milling her arms in an attempt to keep her balance, but the pull of gravity was stronger than she was and she fell over the edge.

Haley hoped for an Alice in Wonderland kind of experience; talking cats, hookah smoking caterpillars and singing flowers would be an awesome ending to this fall, but since she wasn't slowing down, she wasn't banking on such good fortune.

She couldn't help but envision every gruesome possibility of her demise; smashing her head on the rock wall, being impaled on a stalagmite or being eaten by whatever animals made this cave their home. None of these sounded very pleasant, but she hoped for something quick.

What she wasn't expecting was the sudden stab of pain that lanced through her body when it hit freezing cold water. It closed in over her head, giving her an instant headache, and she thrashed her numb limbs. Following her bubbles, she fought her way up, breaking the surface and gasping in lungfuls of bitterly cold air.

She could hear Mike shouting down to her, his voice scared.

"I'm fine, Mike. Just get a rope quick, I'm freezing down here!" she said as she tread water, unaware of the eyes that watched her from the depths.

I keep all my notes right here on the bottom of my shoe

Sabrina opened here eyes, blinking several times to clear her vision and focus on her surroundings. Why do my shoulders hurt? she wondered, before tipping her head back to see her wrists bound around a hook with rough rope, and pulled over her head by the chain from which the hook hung. Ah, that's right.

It all started coming back to her now. She had been sent behind the Iron Curtain to retrieve sensitive data from the commie bastard who'd stolen it, right out from under the nose of the entire US Army. A single operative had a better chance, than if they sent in a whole platoon. That had been their theory. Based on her current predicament, she determined they'd been wrong.

Everything had been going so well. She'd spent a week doing recon just to track the son of a bitch down. Why did he have to steal it in winter? she'd wondered, Moscow is fucking cold! She hated the cold, and it was only the thought of the warm, sandy, tropical beach she was going to escape to when she completed her mission that got her through each bitter night.

At last. There he was. Through the scope on her rifle she watched him eating his week old bread, washing it down with rotgut vodka, his little hands twitching nervously as they fluttered like wounded birds over the small disc that lay on the table beside him.

The bullet left the muzzle with a muffled pop, and she watched it hit its mark, dropping her target like bad habit. He slumped over the table before sliding from his chair onto the floor, the disc glinting at her from the table like the light at the end of the tunnel it was for her, and she couldn't help but smile. Now all she had to do was walk across the street, get the disc, and then wait for her pick up.

Movement through her scope as she started to lower it stopped her, and she peered through it back into the bastard's squat. Who the hell is that?! she wondered as she watched a tall man dressed in black saunter across the room and pick up the disc, turning toward the window and making direct eye contact with her. Lifting the disc he nodded his thanks at her with a smile, and then turned on his heel and headed for the door. Mother fucker!

She dropped the rifle and ran for the fire escape. Jumping from one landing to the next, she let gravity help her descend the outside of the dilapidated brick building, pulling her toward the ground and she hit it running. Man, why do they always run? They'll only die tired!

She laughed at the memory of that thought, and her muscles cried out in pain at the movement, giving her a sharp reminder of the beating she'd taken from the man in black. And now here she was, naked, bleeding and bloody, and looking into his furious green eyes from where she hung by her hands.

"Who sent you?" he asked her for the thousandth time, his fist connecting with her ribs when she remained silent.

"All right, all right!" she said, grimacing against the fresh pain. He paused, moving to stand in front of her, and looking up with impatient eyes. "I'll tell you everything. I have it all here. I keep all my notes right here on the bottom of my shoe." Despite the fact that she was naked, he reflexively looked down at her foot, surprise flashing briefly through his eyes as her foot connected solidly with his nose, driving the nasal bone into his brain.

Grabbing the chain, she pulled herself up until the rope cleared the hook and she dropped to the floor on shaky legs. Getting out of the rope was easy, and as she slipped into the dead man's long black coat and heavy boots, she smiled despite the pain in her face, as she pulled the disc from his pocket and headed out to meet her pick up.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

What do we have here?

Ryan threw one mean bachelor party. Even when he wasn't the Best Man, or in the wedding at all for that matter, his buddies still turned to him to ensure the Groom got a proper send off into marital celibacy.

Last night, though; last night was the piece de resistance. It was his best friend Jason's turn, and Ryan, as the Best Man, pulled out all the stops. The night had started with a limo ride to the airport. Ryan, Jason, Mark and William filed into the private jet, buckling themselves into the wide, leather seats.

The flight from Sacramento to Vegas took barely an hour, and yet between the four of them they managed to kill a bottle of 20 year old Glenfiddich Scotch, and four Cuban stogies bigger than a proud man's penis.

Emerging from the smoke-filled cabin of the plane, they all slid into another limo, oblivious to the staggering heat of the desert air that began to suck the moisture from their skins. At The Bellagio they ate 12 ounce filet mignons, medium rare, and washed it down with the finest red wine the restaurant had to offer.

The Sapphire Club. This is where the evening really began, and all four of them would agree on this point when reminiscing about the events of that night. Dom and Beluga caviar, combined with Courtney, Michelle, Annabelle and Sarah, set things into fast forward. Partway through their fourth bottle of champagne, they staggered back into the limo with their ladies, swearing to each other that Jason's bride, Jenny, would never hear about any of this.

Ryan and Courtney stumbled down the hall of The Bellagio, hands and mouths seeking and finding, not giving a rat's ass what the passersby thought of the spectacle they made. Managing to locate is key card, he struggled to figure out what direction to hold it so that the lock on his door could read it, and the attention Courtney was paying to his groin wasn't making it easy to focus.

At last the door opened and he gave a drunken victory whoop, lifting Courtney and pulling her inside. He'd really out done himself this time. If there was an award for the most legendary bachelor party ever, he should win it, hands down.

Courtney pushed him back onto the bed and his heart raced with anticipation. He reached for her and-

The next thing Ryan knew, he was hot and sweaty, but it didn't feel like the kind of hot and sweaty he should have been. Opening his eyes he stared up at a clear blue sky. Dust swirled around him as cars roared past, and sitting up he looked around and the pile of garbage he was sitting in.

Memories of the previous night's festivities were fuzzy, but the current facts were very clear; he was naked, and was handcuffed to a goat. Just as the thought was going through his mind that yes, that was the best bachelor party in history, a police officer swaggered up, and in Spanish he asked, "What do we have here?"

They couldn't stop laughing at the dog

They couldn't stop laughing at the dog, and Rex smiled his doggy smile, letting his tongue unfurl and hang out as he panted on their knees. Again his boy picked up the yellow ball, which by now was drenched in drool and covered in grass, and hurled it across the yard. It was such a small thing to make his boy happy, just run after the ball and bring it back; such a simple request and so easy to meet.

Rex bolted after the ball, his legs pumping under him as he raced after it, wanting to catch it before it hit the ground, but he hadn't managed that particular trick yet; he wasn't a Greyhound after all. He caught up to the fuzzy ball after only three bounces, picking it up in his mouth as he made a U-turn and headed back toward the house, dropping the wet toy in his boy's lap.

He looked up at the boy with his liquid brown eyes, unabashed love shining from them, and he remembered the first time he saw the boy. He'd come into the pound with his parents, and he took a great deal of time looking into each kennel at the dogs there, trying to find the one that had the something special he was looking for. His parents moved along side him in silence, not rushing him and not offering unsolicited input, he was 13 now and he wanted to make this choice on his own.

He left each kennel with a shake of his head; it wasn't a specific size he was looking for, a particular color or breed, it was something more he was after; something without a name.

Rex had heard the family come in, and was waiting eagerly for them to reach his kennel, hoping they made it that far before choosing their new family member. He'd been put in the farthest cage, and so many people never made it that far before they fell in love with another face, without having ever seen his. He only vaguely remembered his mom, but he remembered being taken away from her when he was only a few months old, along with his siblings, and being brought to this place.

His siblings had all been taken away to homes one by one, until only he was left, and now here he was at six months old with no understanding that he had an impending expiration date. In his ignorance he waited for the family to approach him, and when he and the boy saw each other, something in them both clicked.

"Him," the boy said, pointing at Rex.

The next hour was a whirlwind of excitement, and soon Rex found himself in his family's car with his head stuck out the window so he could smell everything that whizzed by on his way to his new home.

That had been four years ago, and Rex never tired of chasing the ball and bringing it back to his boy. When his boy grew tired of throwing the ball, Rex tucked his three legs under himself, and laid down at his boy's prosthetic feet, closing his eyes with a contented sigh.

Into the light of a distant sun

Kysa clutched the hilt of her sword, her fingers mottled white and red from the pressure of her grip. Her breath came in deep pants; her chest rising and falling like her sword had only moments ago. Her blade dripped with the dragon's blood, bright blue contrasting and complimenting the silver of the steel, and with a sharp twist she dislodged the weapon from between two vertebrae.

Pulling a dagger from her belt she set herself to the task of removing one of the dragon's front teeth, the fang as long as her forearm, and it finally gave with a wet popping sound that echoed through the icy canyon.

Holding the tooth in her left hand she stared down at it, at the deeply scared surface, and the still perfect point; this one was young, and it made number seventeen. Seventeen times she had fought a dragon, and seventeen times she had emerged victorious; she should have felt more pride in her accomplishments, but instead she felt hollow.

Climbing up the fallen dragon's leg, she ascended the cool, scaly body to sit on its back, leaning against the tall spines, and letting the tooth rest in her lap. She couldn't look at the tooth without thinking of Reese, and the way his body had looked after being pierced through the chest by a tooth exactly like the one she held.


Her lover.

She could remember even the smallest detail; the velvety brown of his eyes, his long unkempt chestnut hair, and the way his hands felt on her skin. But the image that always fought its way to the forefront of her mind was that of his broken body, his blood still warm as it saturated her.

That had been the first dragon she'd killed. She didn't know if dragon's had memories. She didn't know if that enormous beast had known why she was killing it. She didn't care.

Its eyes had been filled with green fire, watching her with wide elliptical pupils as she moved warily around it. It had breathed fire on her, and despite the efforts of the best healers, she still bore the scars from the plate armor that she had worn that day; but her soul was scared beyond the skills of even the highest ranking mage.

Staring down the length of the canyon, she squinted into the light of a distant sun, the bright golden rays reflecting off the ice covered walls, and glancing across her empty face like skipped stones; the warmth of the light unable to penetrate her battle-hardened skin.

Sliding down the dead animal's side, her booted feet hit the snow, sending up small flurries around her calves, and she struck out toward the mouth of the canyon. This was the life she was left with; this was the life she had, and this was the life she would lead until a dragon's lucky bite sent her back to Reese.

Let them run

He stared at the horses, all 500 of them, just yearning to run. He knew they wanted to be free; to let go and move as fast as they could. And yet here they were, penned up.

He'd acquired them as part of his inheritance when his father passed away only a month ago. The memories were still fresh in his mind; memories of letting his own ponies run alongside his father's, and the heady combination of speed and adrenaline made the day pass in a blur of color and sound.

They all worked together as a team, pulling and pushing, until they met their rider's demands. There wasn't one that outshined the other, nor one slower than the rest, they worked as a single unit to accomplish their goals.

He'd been only five the first time his father let him pet the horses. After that he'd spent several years training him how to care for them, how to anticipate illness and how to mend injuries. His first ride, at age eight, was exhilarating despite being brief. The horses had dumped him onto the ground after only 15 seconds, and yet he was eager to get back on and try again.

After a few bumps, a handful of broken bones and countless bruises he was given free reign by his father. At age 12 he no longer needed constant supervision and was allowed to take the horses out whenever he liked, providing he gave them a thorough rub down when he brought them home.

At 16 he started winning races. His rise from unknown kid to a well respected professional was as fast as his horses, and both won their fair share of acclaim. People tried to give him new horses, insisting they were better or faster than his own, but he never betrayed his original herd.

And now here he was, holding the last of what his horses thrived on. There was no more food for them to be found, he'd acquired the last of it. How would he feed them all with such a small amount? How could he expect them to run and perform while malnourished?

He had to face the fact that his horses were doomed to die. They wouldn't live forever, as he'd promised them they would. He had to hope they understood that no matter how much he loved them, he couldn't control the global economy; he couldn't create more food for them from thin air, and the earth had no more food to give. She had been drained dry.

With a sigh he remembered something his father had said to him, "It's better to burn out, than fade away." With that memory permeating his mind, he approached his horses, clutching the red plastic container which held the last of their food in his hand.

Tipping the container up, he fed the last $10.00 worth of gasoline into his fire engine red Hayabusa and turned the key. Sure, he'd have to walk them home, but what a final ride they were eager to give him.

Last cigarette

She’d always been in dysfunctional relationships. Giving too much or taking too much, it seemed she could just never find the right balance to live happily ever after. In place of a white picket fence, she had apartment walls that were painted the beige people used when afraid to commit to anything bolder. Dark brown patches stained the ceiling over her bed like the physical manifestation of her despair, as though her pain at the end of each relationship seeped from her sleeping skin to mar the world around her.

How did this happen? Why was she only attracted to destructive tendencies, drifting toward them without a single thought, like a fly’s multi-lensed eyes being transfixed by the blue light that will ultimately be its demise; it just can’t help itself, and neither could she.

The relationships didn’t start out bad, after all she wasn’t so crazy as to not want a little happiness before the misery set in, but those happy moments seem to get shorter and shorter with each try for eternal bliss. Steve was a great kisser, but he tried to control her too much, and it was when he gave her a dog collar as a necklace that she knew it was time to call it quits.

Mike was physically abusive. Susan was emotionally abusive. Scott was simply disinterested; she still wasn’t convinced he knew she’d moved out, and that was over a year ago. It seemed to her that as long as her lovers had a body to bang, it didn’t matter one whit to them who’s spirit inhabited it.

There was one exception to this pattern; one partner that had minimal needs and always gave everything he had. She sat on the floor, leaning back against the wall with her knees drawn up, forearms resting on her bare knees where they peaked through the holes in her jeans.

In her stained fingers she held her lover, rolling and turning him as she admired his brown outfit, and the smooth texture of his skin. Her friends had been telling her for years that this was her worst relationship ever, the most harmful, the most damaging, but they had never know the touch of this lover so how could they know?

She brought him to her lips and touched him with heat, igniting the deepest part of him and she inhaled, breathing him into her. He filled her and she opened to him, allowing him to touch and caress her where other fingers could not reach, could not dream of going, and her eyes fluttered shut and his passion surged into her blood.

She exhaled, letting his white fingers caress her face before dissipating into the air where she knew she’d take him in again later. Another inhale and he filled her again, swirling around inside like a whirling dervish dancing in the blackness of her chest.

She didn’t know that his caresses carried a very high price. She hadn’t realized just how poisonous his affection was, and as he plunged into her system, she didn’t see the destructive power hidden in the folds of his love.

She suddenly felt ill, but couldn’t help turning to her faithful lover for comfort, unaware that this would be her last cigarette until his love stopped her heart.

Water at $35 a pint

Water at $35 a pint. She wondered what had caused the price to drop like that, not that it mattered, she was thrilled to see it under $40. She dug in her pocket and extracted $36, staring at the soda pop tabs that passed for money, though the old folks still called them dollars to remind themselves of better days. Score, now she could splurge and really brush her teeth.
There wasn't enough water anymore to make more soda, so what money was out there was what there was.

Turning on her heel she made her way down the sidewalk, stepping over newspaper covered bodies that were either sleeping or dead. No way to know until the sweepers came through on their weekly tour of the neighborhood.

She cut through an alley, made dark by the towering buildings on either side, as well as the thick smog that filtered the sunlight like cheesecloth. She cursed when her booted foot sank into a pothole. The asphalt slowly began to crumble around her ankle and spread like a spiderweb, ever outward until her own weight sent her through the newly created hole and into a dark pit.

She landed with a grunt, cursing at the pain that radiated up her leg from her newly twisted ankle, and wondering how she would find her scattered money in the blackness. As she sat in the dark contemplating her dilemma her ears filtered a new sound into her mind. It was unlike anything she'd ever heard, like a constant wind blowing between buildings, and she strained to focus on the source of it.

Climbing to her feet she limped toward the sound, her heart racing as it grew louder. She held her hands out in front of her, feeling blindly for a wall, and smiling when she found it with her fingertips. Gliding her hands along the rough surface, her brows knit when the texture changed from stone to metal, and upon further examination she discovered a doorknob.

Turning the knob, the door opened with a stiff groan, like an old man who has sat too long and now needs to use the bathroom. Bright light pierced the blackness and she squinted against it until her eyes adjusted, enabling her to peek around the edge of the door and see what lay beyond.

She couldn't believe her eyes. Frantically pulling on the door she ran through the opening and stopped on a metal platform overlooking a vast lake of crystal clear water being fed by a river that rushed out from the earth. Her breath came in white puffs in the cold air of the lake room and she looked up at the enormous ice stalactites that dripped into the lake, sending overlapping rings across the surface.

A started yip escaped her lips when an automated globe flew into her field of vision, its blue light scanning her from tip to toe until finding her barcode under the cuff of her shirt. Its light went red, and a voice she recognized as the president's filled the room, Warning. Unauthorized entry by non-H2Opia personnel. Neutralize threat.

Her eyes went wide for a moment as the globe's red light turned to cross hairs and a single blast from its laser port struck her in the chest. The impact sent her back through the doorway, and she lay staring blindly at the hole through which she fallen, her money glinting around her.