Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Taken

Below is my submission for this month's short story theme. I doubt this will end up being a short story in the long run, so here is the very beginning of what will likely be a full-length YA novel. Enjoy!

Our entire community was witnessing the argument going on in the middle of the commons. Just like everyone else in the room, my eyes shot back and forth between my mom and George Matthews. The room was dark, only the fire creating any sort of light, the warm glow of it bouncing off the rocky walls. They stood near the fire pit in the center of the space, yelling at each other, debating their sides. Again. Everyone in Safe Haven hoped that the outcome was different than it had been every other time this disagreement had surfaced. Well, that is, everyone except for me.
“Absolutely not,” Mom spat. “It is out of the question.”
What were they arguing about? Me.
My dad, with his short brown hair and wire-frame glasses, stood next to Mom in his trademark faded plaid button-up shirt and khakis. Arms folded and eyes narrowed on George, he’d managed to bite his tongue so far, but I could see how hard it was for him to rein in his temper. Each time this argument had broken out, I’d felt sick to my stomach. Thankfully my parents always won.
George, with his graying hair and his round, burly figure, copied my dad’s stance. Only instead of looking at my dad, he was staring angrily at my mom. She had a small frame, the only bit of fat on her was in her cheeks, and by the looks of her you wouldn’t think she’d pack much of a punch. But out of my parents, she was the force to be reckoned with. “MaryAnn, you’ve got to think of us as a whole, not just that she’s your daughter,” George said.
“I don’t care.” Mom shook her head, her brown curls bouncing around her face. She kept her arms folded, practically shooting daggers at George even though she was only five foot four. My parents and Mr. Matthews had never seen eye to eye, and I could see in her expression that she didn’t want to hear another word out of his mouth. Though I got the feeling that was the general consensus. “I won’t force her into this.”
“We need our numbers replenished. She’s old enough.” George tightened his folded arms. As if that would prove his point.
“She’s sixteen,” Mom gaped.
“Only for a few more days,” George argued. “She’d be nearly eighteen by the time any children were born, and that’s even if she becomes pregnant right away.”
I could actually feel everyone’s eyes fall on me. Mr. Matthews and my parents weren’t the center of attention anymore.
George, and a few of our other leaders, had been pushing for me to start ‘breeding’ for the last six months. Like I was some sort of horse. Sometimes I felt like one. Being the only girl that was of a fertile age, I was a precious commodity. Mom had birthed child after child, but with the harsh living conditions of the caves, I was the only one to make it. There was one other girl. One. And she was six years old. Her mom, Lilly, had passed away after giving birth to her younger brother, Nathan.
I was actually grateful my mom couldn’t get pregnant anymore. I didn’t want her to die like all the other women had. The men in Safe Haven’s society had been adamant that they keep breeding to regenerate our numbers. But a woman can only take so much, and comforts that they’d used to have like pain medicine had run out a long time ago. For me, it was a relief that Mom couldn’t have any more children. It meant that she’d stay alive. What did scare me, though, is that that duty now fell to me. Our leaders had been pushing harder and harder over the last six months, hinting that I was of age to begin bearing children. And with any hope, daughters. That was what everyone wanted more than anything. More women meant bearing more children which meant a bigger increase in our ranks.
“I’m not suggesting that she… lay with any of the older men,” George said, and then he cleared his throat at a few of the boys who snickered. He eyed my parents. “We have young men, closer to her age. That would do just as well.”
“Oh, and that should make her feel better about it?” Mom asked. Her face had started turning red. I could see the look in her eye, the one I’d seen plenty of times while growing up. It usually accompanied me being grounded or even spanked. It was terrifying. And right now it was focused on George. “You know damn well I’d never let someone older even think about touching her. The fact that you’re trying to force my daughter to have sex with every guy here is the problem.”
A few more male snickers sounded around the room, most of which came from the teenage boys I had classes with, and a few that were a few years older. I blushed and tried to ignore them.
“We need daughters,” George insisted.
“And you think that forcing my daughter to bear child after child just to die from exhaustion is the answer?”
“It’s better than your suggestion,” he growled.
I personally liked my mom’s suggestion of looking for other people, other survivors. Close to eighteen years ago, the human race was attacked by forces no one had seen coming. Somehow the sadistic monsters that had raided us did so without anyone knowing—at least until it was too late. None of us knew if the attacks happened all over the world, or if it was just on our continent. There was really know way to know. My parents, along with the elders in our community narrowly escaped the monsters’ grasps. Especially my mom. She’d been taken by one, but my dad refused to let her go. He’d hunted down the monster that had snatched her and rescued my mom before it’d had a chance to kill her. They’d gone on the run, seeking shelter anywhere they could. My dad had known they’d need to get far away from the cities since they were the most targeted, and they’d driven until their car ran out of gas. And that was when George found them. He and a few other survivors had brought them to the caves, which has served as our hideout ever since.
“Why are you so certain that we’re the only ones?” Mom asked, turning to an argument they’d had on more than one occasion with the elders. Neither of my parents agreed with the others that so few humans survived the raid. As for me, I had no idea. We’d never seen anyone else, and we’d sent men out plenty of times. Of course, they hadn’t gone out looking for other people, they went out scavenging for supplies: clothes, school books, food, and anything else we needed.
Mark Bellows rose from his seat in response to my mom’s question and stood next to George, squaring off against my parents. “Because we’d have seen someone by now. MaryAnn, you know as well as any of us that we need more people if we want the human race to survive. We need more numbers, which means we need more children.”
“Are you so willing to give up your daughter in ten years?” Mom asked him, her eyes focused on his.
Mark’s face fell. He looked quickly at little Natalie who was sitting next to Nathan. They were watching the argument like everyone else, though they were probably still too young to understand what it was all about. Looking back at my parents, he nodded. “I would convince Natalie that it would be the right thing.”
“And you wouldn’t mind her being raped by every man here?”
Mark’s jaw tightened. He said nothing more.
Mom knew she’d gotten him. I could see it in her smirk. “That’s what I thought.”
“It wouldn’t be rape,” George said, jumping back into the conversation.
My dad’s eyes burned with anger this time. “What else would you call it?”
George rolled his eyes. It was something he did when he thought people were being unreasonable. It didn’t matter what anyone thought of his ideas, since apparently he was always ‘right.’ His eyes landed on me.
“Don’t even think about talking to her,” Dad growled. “You won’t force her into anything.”
“You know we’ll leave if you try,” Mom added.
“And where would you go!” George yelled, facing them again. My parents had hit a nerve. They always did when they mentioned leaving the sanctuary of the caves. “Oh right,” he continued. “You’d find other survivors. Except there aren’t any!” His face was red as he pointed at Mom. “And you’d take the only possible way for us to procreate just to save her from something she probably wants.”
Now he said it. I felt all eyes on me again. The looks were heated, begging me to say that I wanted to sleep with every guy in the caves. I wanted to stand up and punch George in his fat face, but instead I avoided their stares by averting my eyes and focusing on the ground. It only lasted a few seconds before my gaze was drawn back to my parents and Mr. Matthews.
If looks could kill, George would have been incinerated from the glare he received from my mom. As it was, he brushed it off the way he did everything else, and Mom stepped away from him. She sat next to me and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “See? You’re doing it now. You’re making her uncomfortable.”
“These are facts, MaryAnn,” George said, slightly calmer than before. He focused on me then, his anger draining. “Right Emalee? We can’t let our race die off, can we? Don’t you want to help save us all?”
He thought he had the facts? Here was a fact: I didn’t have any feelings towards the guys at Safe Haven. I’d been the odd one out growing up. Every boy my age had teased me beyond belief. Anytime I looked at any of them, I saw brothers instead of…well, boyfriends. It felt wrong to want anything with any of them. I could see the same feelings reflecting back at me in some of their eyes. Others, I could tell they wanted more. That was teenage hormones at work for you, and apparently some of the guys had an extra dose. It was those guys that made this all the worse.
“Emalee?” George asked again.
I shook my head and focused on him once more. “I…I don’t know,” I said quietly.
His jaw tightened. “You don’t know?” He hadn’t phrased it like a question, and that scared me even more. George’s gaze danced around the common area, his eyes barely glancing at each person. After a few seconds of silent calculation, his voice boomed throughout the room. “Everyone return here after dinner tomorrow. Anyone not seated in this room by 7:00 forfeits their rights.” His gaze landed on me as fear coursed through my body.
Their rights to what?

If you would like to continue reading, please click here for Part 2.
Copyright © 2014 Katalyn Sage
Also available on WattPad.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Another Way

8 minutes fifteen seconds

“Plenty of time,” she thought as she sprinted across the black runway, keeping to the shadows.  The engines whined as she drew closer, the heat of the jet increasing with each step.  Throwing herself the last few feet, she clutched the strut of the landing gear with all the strength she could muster.  The brakes released, nearly jerking her arms from their sockets with the sudden acceleration.  Bouncing wildly on the rough ground, she clung to the cold metal that supported the fifty five ton bird.  Wind tore at her clothes, whipping her hair around her face. 

What was she doing here?  She had never been the type to go against the grain.  That was dangerous.  She wasn’t dangerous.  She was obedient: a critical thinker, but obedient.  She stayed within the confines of the law.  But this was so far outside the confines of the law that she couldn’t believe she’d had the courage to follow through with her plan.  Sneaking in to the cargo bay of a moving plane to disarm a bomb she helped design was not something she ever imagined doing.  But it was too late to turn back now.  Either she continued or she died.  With white knuckles, she inched her way to the small opening in the belly of the plane.

Gravity pulled at her as the plane lifted off the ground.  Airborne, she raced to get inside before the gear folded up.  Her strength quickly failed her.  Being a scientist, she wasn’t the most physically active.  With one final surge, she pulled her body into the cargo area.  She collapsed on the freezing floor of the hold.  Shaking from the adrenaline she rarely experienced, she lay prostrate, attempting to recover. 

Seconds later, a mechanical noise echoed in the near empty space.  Metal screeched as hydraulics pulled the landing gear up for flight.  Rolling once, twice, she stopped a safe distance away, watching the doors close under the wheels.  The howling wind died.  

She checked her watch.  6 minutes twenty two seconds—time to get to work.  Worming out of the straps, she rummaged through the backpack she managed to keep on her back while she boarded.  She pulled a headlamp over her head and scanned the cargo bay.  The light fell on the dreaded device she’d come to destroy.  It was the only cargo the plane carried.    

Hurrying over to it, she unscrewed the control panel, bypassing the alarm system.  That was her contribution to the device.  She didn’t know much about weapons, but she could keep anyone out of anything.  Anyone except for her. 

Setting it aside, she pulled out the wires her panel had protected.  It had been tricky getting the design plans for the wiring of the device, but she found a way.  The only boy who had ever shown interest in her led the team that wired the device.  Distracting him with uncharacteristic flirtations, she memorized the project design.

Shouting voices louder than the constant roar of the engines reached her ears.  It was the first sign that she wasn’t alone.  Coming from the cabin, they escalated in volume.  She couldn’t decipher the words, but if she could hear them in the cargo hold, they were screams. 

Turning her eyes back to her work, she lifted the wire cutters to a lone red wire.  She knew it was the right wire.  The design plans were ingrained in her memory, but with her life on the line, she was unable to control the doubt that ran through her.  Breathing deeply, she lined up the tool and closed her eyes to sever it. 

Shots rang out from the cabin above.  The plane turned sharply, throwing her into the wall of the cargo bay.  The heavy explosive strained against the rope holding it down.  Something was wrong.  Or at least different.  The original flight had been wrong.  It was wrong what the bomb was supposed to be used for. 

The air pressure suddenly changed in the cargo hold.  Steps echoed on the rungs of a metal ladder.  Diving behind a support beam on the wall of the plane, she turned off her light and held her breath.  The bright beam of a flash light swept the room.  It stopped on the weapon.  More specifically, it stopped on the control panel that now lay open and in disarray after her work on it.  It shone on her backpack and the tools she used to prevent the Council from committing more atrocities.

“Someone’s tampered with the bomb!” 

Boots pounded down the ladder.  By her count, there were now at least four of them in the cargo hold with her.  There was no place to run, no way to escape.  She could only wait to be found.

“Search the place.”

She didn’t have the courage to reveal herself.  She cowered farther into the metal beam.  Lights bounced all over the bay until one after another they all found her.  She kept her eyes on the ground.

“Who are you?” one asked.  “What are you doing down here?”

Still pressing herself into the support beam, she spoke to the floor.  “I’m called J.  I was…”  Chancing a quick glance up, she saw they all held guns in their hands, all pointed at her.  She threw her eyes back to the floor.  “…I was disarming the weapon.”

No one responded to her answer.  She looked up again to see if she had spoken loud enough.  They were looking from one to another, their guns hanging at their sides. 

“You what?”

She watched them this time.  “I was disarming the weapon before I heard gun shots and the plane turned, throwing me over here.  I don’t want all of those people to die.  It’s not right.”

Disbelief kept them silent.  Finding his voice, the leader approached her.  “J, is it?”

“That’s right.”

“You say you don’t want those people to die?”

“That’s right.”

“But you’re an insider.  What does it matter to you?”

It was obvious they weren’t from the inside.  “It’s not right to kill those people.  It’s not their fault they’re in the situation they are.  It’s the Council’s fault.  The Council wants to be at the top of society, but that means someone has to be on bottom.  Just because they’re poor and uneducated doesn’t mean they aren’t people too, with families and feelings, hopes and dreams.  It’s just not right.  So I’m disarming it and wherever it lands, there will be some damage, but it won’t kill everyone within a two hundred mile radius.”

Somehow the disbelief and awe on his face intensified.  “Have you ever been to the Dredges?”


“Surely you have someone you love out there.”

“No.  I’ve never been out there.  I was born in the city and haven’t ever left.”

A smile replaced his amazement.  “How did you get on here?”

“The landing gear.”  She didn’t know what he was smiling about, but she wished he would get on with whatever he planned to do to her.  An alarm beeped on her watch.  Four minutes to detonation.  

“I’m Tavin.”

Apparently they weren't going to kill her right away.  “What are you doing here?" she ventured.  "How did you get on the plane?”

His posture relaxed, a signal to the guys around him to do the same.  “We boarded from another plane a few minutes ago.”

And she thought her boarding was dangerous.

He continued.  “We have different plans for the bomb.  Daniel, check it.”

One of the guys, a scrawny boy, went to the control panel of the bomb.  He moved some wires around, mumbling to himself as he did so.  “Everything is still good.”

Tavin’s eyes never left hers.  “Looks like you didn’t have time to disarm it.”

She shook her head.  “One more wire to cut…”

“Look,” Tavin said, walking toward her.  “You aren’t like any of the people I’ve met from the city.  You’re smart, educated, yet compassionate.  I’ve never seen that.  Most of the compassion has been educated out of your kind.  “I don’t know your reason for trying to save the Dredges, but we need people like you.  There’s a movement to depose the Council.  You don’t seem to be in line with their philosophy.  Why don’t you join us?”

She knew what she had been doing was traitorous, but hearing that there was an organization that sought to eliminate the Council and all it stood for was alarming.  “What are you going to do with the bomb?”

One of the guys behind Tavin spoke up.  “Don’t tell her.”

“What does it matter?  Either she joins us or she dies.  Who is she going to tell?”  Tavin turned to her.  “We’ve changed course.  The plan is to drop it on the people who built it.  We’re dropping it on Lab 27.”

That was her lab.  That was where she worked.  That was where she contributed to the construction of the bomb.  That was where she heard the plans for it.  And that was where she made her own plans to destroy what she had created.  But she had friends there.  It wasn’t their fault they had been commissioned to make the bomb.  It wasn’t their choice where it would be used.  That was the Council’s fault.  She was opposed to senseless killing, whether the targets were poor or wealthy, uneducated or scholarly.

Considering what he said about her options though, she kept her thoughts to herself.  “Why don’t you drop it on the Council instead?”

“Ha!  Do you know where they stay when they’re not oppressing the people with damning laws?”

Of course she didn’t.  No one knew that.  “Why use the bomb at all then?  Isn’t there another way?”

A teenager behind Tavin spoke up.  “If we can kill the people who built it, they won’t build any more, will they?”

She saw their logic, but it didn’t make it right.  She could see she would lose this argument though.  “How long until we’re in position?”

“Let’s go ask the pilot.”

Two of them led her up while two more followed her.  She hadn’t given them an answer yet.  She was still their prisoner. 

The cabin was small and confined compared to the spacious cargo area.  The light nearly blinded her as she emerged from the black hold.  To her right, bodies lay strewn on the ground.  The pilots were dead, bullet holes in the center of their lifeless heads.  She turned away from the sight. 

Led to the cockpit, J saw teenagers the same age as the rest manning the controls.  “Time to target?” Tavin asked.

“ETA two minutes.  We’ve set course and auto-pilot is engaged.  Let’s suit up and get out of here before the fireworks start.”  The new captain got up out of his seat and rummaged in a duffel bag on the floor.  He pulled out a parachute pack and moved on out of the cockpit.

“That’s the exit strategy?” J asked incredulous.

Tavin smiled at her.  “Yeah, but we only brought enough for ourselves.  If you’re with us, I’ll strap you in to mine and we’ll jump together.”

She didn’t agree with them, but there wasn’t time to disagree.  If she stayed alive, maybe she could make a difference, do things differently.  “I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

He shook his head. 

She sighed.  “Strap me in.”

Grabbing one of the parachutes, he walked back to the cabin door, placing a hand on the small of her back to guide her.  Once secure to the pack, he turned her around and pulled her back to his chest.  His hands moved around her body, touching her where she never let another soul touch her.  She tried to feel violated, but her mind was elsewhere.  She had another plan for the bomb.  

Putting his lips to her ear, he asked, “Are you ready?”

Before she could answer, the cabin door flew open.  Her body was sucked out of the cabin along with everyone else.  Tavin wrapped his arms around her.  “It’s all right.”

She breathed twice, opened her eyes, and watched the plane fly away from their falling bodies.  Touching a button on her watch, she detonated the bomb.  The plane exploded into thousands of pieces.  The blast pressed super-heated air against their bodies.  She knew they would survive though.  

“It’s not all right,” she shouted.  “There has to be another way.”

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Man's Best Friend

We are each writing a short story this month to change things up a bit. I wrote this story about two years ago when I gave myself a challenge to write a "children's" story one afternoon, while also mourning the loss of my own beloved dog. I love this story. It is far from perfect and I want to someday make it better. For now, it will do. It is my Ode to Dogs, if you will. Because dogs are awesome.

The Lewis’s loved their giant dog Boomer. He was raised right along with their three children, Jesse, Olivia, and Andy. They grew up playing fetch, lying against his long shaggy coat in the summer sunshine, being pulled on sleds in the winter time, and getting the occasional horse-y ride on his back. As the kids grew older, so did Boomer, but he aged much quicker than them. He had a hard time keeping up with their fast paced lives. When the youngest, Andy, turned 10, the Lewis’s decided to get a new puppy to keep Boomer company during the day while they were away with their bustling lives.

Skippy was small and adorable, and he had a small tuft of wiry fur that stood straight up in the middle of his head that made the whole family laugh. Skippy’s enthusiasm for everything was contagious, but as with all puppies, he had a lot to learn. Boomer knew it was his job to teach Skippy the ways of the Lewis family and how to be a true dog.

“Now listen here little one,” said Boomer, laying in the shade of the big oak tree out back, as Skippy ran circles around him, biting at tufts of Boomer’s fur. “You are a part of this family now, you need to learn to act like a real dog should.”
This brought Skippy to a halt, he cocked his head to the side and said, “But I AM acting like a real dog.”
Boomer chuckled, “Yes, you are, but sometimes it is easy to get caught up in having fun and forget our duties to our family.”
Skippy rolled onto his back with all four feet sticking in the air, “They love when I do this! Plus, then they scratch my belly.”
Boomer chuckled again. “Its loyalty and devotion that will get you an even better reward than a belly rub.”
“Pah! What do you know old man? All you do is sit at their feet and lay in the shade. I can run, and jump and fetch faster than you. Plus, I’m cute. They love me!”
Boomer just nodded his head, “Careful, cuteness only gets you so far, little one. You will see in time.”
Skippy bounded off to chase a butterfly.

As the weeks went on, Skippy’s cuteness did wear thin. Especially on Mama Lewis’s patience when she would come home to a kitchen full of garbage from a tipped over trashcan. Or when Papa Lewis would get mad at Skippy for jumping and begging at the table for a scrap. Or when Jesse stepped in a wet spot in the middle of the night. Or when Skippy stole a pair of underwear from Olivia’s room and brought it out in front of all her friends. Or when Andy found his favorite action figure chewed to bits. 

Skippy found himself banned to the crate when he wasn’t “behaving”, which was no fun at all. “No!” or “bad dog!” were the only words he seemed to hear these days. How could this be? HE was the cute one. HE was the entertaining one. HE was much more fun than big ol’ boring Boomer. Forlornly, he watched from his crate, as the family lovingly doted on Boomer. 
During dinner Boomer would sit at Papa Lewis’s feet and do nothing, but every now and then Papa Lewis would sneak him a piece of meat when Mama Lewis wasn’t watching. Mama Lewis would be baking in the kitchen and despite all of her reprimands to Papa and the kids, she would sneak him a piece of cheese when no one else was around. Jesse, the oldest boy, would throw a baseball in the back yard for Boomer to fetch. Even though he was slow, he always brought it back and earned himself a long belly rub for only one fetch! Skippy would have just chased the ball and torn it to pieces, because that was definitely more fun. 
Olivia came home from school crying one day. Skippy wanted to play and jump on her to tell her how excited he was to see her, but after she pushed him away four times and finally yelled, “GO AWAY SKIPPY!” He gave up and went to find something else to do. A few minutes later, he went back to see if she had changed her mind; because what was more fun than playing with him? Skippy found Olivia hugging Boomer tightly as she poured out her problems of the day. Boomer sat silently listening, as his heavy coat soaked up her tears and he licked her hand in soft comfort. Skippy loved playing with Andy, but sometimes Skippy got too excited while running around and he would bite at Andy’s shoes. That usually meant a brief stay in the crate. Everyday, whether it was a blizzard or the sweltering summer heat, Boomer met Andy at the bus stop and walked home with him. After a particularly rough day of having to be in the crate from chewing up the remote, Skippy went to find Boomer in his usual resting place in the shade of the big oak tree in the back yard. 

“Boomer, why do you always leave so early just to walk home with Andy? It takes almost your whole afternoon just to walk there and back. And you seem so tired afterward.”
Boomer slowly shifted from lying on his side, up onto his chest so he could face Skippy. “Well, Andy is very small for his age, and a few years ago, some bigger kids would tease him and make fun of him. So now I walk everyday to the bus stop and then we walk home together. The bullies don’t bother him, at least not while I am around.”
Skippy nodded. “Oh. What about the other day, when Olivia was so sad, you just sat there and let her cry. I thought she would be happy if she would just go outside and play with me, but she got mad at me instead.”
“The boy Olivia had a crush on, asked another girl to the school dance, she was heartbroken. Now, to you and me, that seems silly, but to her, it was a really big deal. To her, it was like when you get sent to your crate while the family eats dinner.” Skippy's eyes widened, knowing the exact feeling. 
Boomer continued, “It is our job as her dog to comfort her, and at that moment, playing was not the solution. She just wanted someone to listen and to love her.” 
Skippy sat silently thinking. Boomer adjusted his legs and proceeded, “Jesse on the other hand, he likes to go out and do something to get his mind off homework and college applications, but he doesn’t like it when you take off with the ball and ruin it.” Skippy sheepishly looked down. “You are such a good dog Boomer. I want to be a good dog just like you, I really do. Sometimes, I just can’t help it though, I like to have fun.”
“You are a good dog, and you will learn. I promise you, little one, the more you love your family; the more they will love you back. They don’t call us man’s best friend because we play all the time. It is because we learn to loyally love and serve our masters and they give us the love and attention we need. Sometimes we have to sacrifice what is most precious to us, in order make them happy, but that is what we are here for, to take care of them.” Boomer rolled back over onto his side, “Now, I am going to get some more rest before I have to leave for Andy.”  He instantly started snoring.

Skippy spent the rest of the day thinking a lot about what it meant to be man’s best friend and following Boomer’s example. He wanted to prove to Boomer and the family that he could be a good dog. He went to find Boomer to tell him the good news. Boomer had to be back from getting Andy by now. He checked the backyard under the tree, and when he couldn’t find him there, he checked the garage, the kitchen, the study, and every other room in the house, but Boomer was nowhere to be found and something didn’t feel right.

Skippy found Jesse sitting at the kitchen table with his head in his hands. Skippy could tell he was sad, so he softly whimpered to get his attention and gently pawed at his leg. Jesse looked down with red eyes. “Oh buddy,” he said as he knelt down to pet Skippy. “They took him to the vet, he is gonna be okay. He was so brave and Andy is safe.” Skippy knew Jesse was talking about Boomer and he knew what the vet meant. The vet meant you were either sick, or you were going to get poked with needles. Skippy mustered all his strength to be still and let Jesse hold and hug him. He even licked Jesse's hand to show him he was trying.
Suddenly the phone rang and Jesse ran to answer it. Skippy couldn’t tell what was said, but Jesse grabbed his keys and rushed out of the house. Hours lingered on and on and on. It grew dark outside while Skippy just sat at home waiting for everyone’s return. He drifted off to sleep and the next thing he knew the back door was opening. Even though he was overjoyed with excitement to finally see the family, he could tell from their bowed heads, sniffling, and red, puffy eyes, that this was no time for excitement. Andy was the last to come through the door clutched to Mama Lewis’s side. He had a scrape on his head and some bandages on his arms, but otherwise seemed okay. Skippy stood in the doorway looking into the garage waiting for Boomer to come up the steps. Skippy’s tail wagged in excitement to finally tell Boomer about how well he had done earlier when Jesse was sad. But Boomer wasn’t there. The garage was empty. Then something slowly dawned on him, Boomer wasn’t coming home. He didn’t know how he knew, and he didn’t know why, but he just did. His tail slowly stopped wagging and he turned to look at the family. They were all holding each other and crying. He felt a deep sorrow in the loss of his friend and teacher, but he had a job to do now, this was his family and they needed to be comforted. He made his way over to the family and let them hold him tight and let their tears stain his fur. This is what being a good dog is all about.

The next day, the Lewis’s had a memorial service for Boomer in the shade under the oak tree. Skippy learned that while Boomer was walking home with Andy, a car turned the corner too sharply and Boomer jumped in front of the car so it would not hit Andy. In his attempt to protect Andy, Boomer’s injuries were too much for his old body and he couldn’t recover. Skippy listened patiently, while the family shared fond memories of the big shaggy dog. They told stories of his bravery, loyalty and silliness. They even told stories of when Boomer was young and ripped up a whole sprinkling system in the back yard. Skippy couldn’t help but wag his tail; Boomer hadn’t always been perfect, but he had loved his family, and they had loved him back. Skippy finally understood what it meant to be Man’s Best Friend, but more importantly he felt what it was like to be a part of a family.

Copyright Hannah Wardle 2014

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Death Watcher

This month our theme is short stories. I hope you enjoy this impromptu one I wrote titled Death Watcher and please forgive the "rawness" of it. If I had more time to polish it I would, but I'm editing my book and need to focus on that. P.S. this is why I don't write short stories. Pretty sure I'll have to continue this in novel form someday.

I hate old people. I know that sounds heartless, but I do. It has nothing to do with the fact that sometimes they have little to no teeth, say whatever they want because they can get away with it, or have a funny smell to them. It's simply just because they're so close to dying. But if you saw the things I did, you'd hate them too.

I stood outside my house, keys raised to the lock of my car, hand frozen in midair. I was already late for first period, but when I stepped out into the warm morning air of late spring, the chill hit me like a ton of bricks. I knew where it'd be immediately. I've been waiting for it to appear across the street for months now, ever since Mr. Henley had his stroke. I tried not to look at it as I walked quickly to my car, but I fumbled with the keys and felt its eyes on me. I glanced over and there it was, in the form of Mrs. Henley.

Of course, I knew Mr. Henley would have a good one; he's the nicest man on the planet. Still, seeing Mrs. Henley in her blue, flower print dress and white cardigan looking as happy as she did when she was alive, it gave me the creeps. I shook my head and opened the car, jumping in and peeling out of the driveway. I made the fifteen-minute drive in seven minutes and wondered as I sprinted toward the building how long Mrs. Henley would be around before she took him. I hope not too long.


"What took you forever to get here?" Jake whispered as I sank into the seat next to him. Our Biology teacher, Miss Jentze, stood facing the white board, already well into her normal desk-snoozing lecture.

"Just a rough morning," I mumbled back. He turned in his chair to look at me and I fiddled with the zipper of my jacket. His deep blue eyes were penetrating as he scrutinized me. It felt strange to have him look me over in a non-romantic way, since that's how I was used to him looking at me. But we were just friends now, I had to remember that.

"You don't look so good, is everything okay?" No.


“Come on, I can tell you’re lying.” He flashed a knowing smile that reminded me he knew me better than anyone at school. “What’s up?”

The desire to tell him what I saw this morning, and more times than I could possibly keep track of, was overwhelming. Ever since I can remember I’ve seen the death creatures and no one, not even my parents knew about it. I tried to explain it to them once, but when they sent me to a psychiatrist who scolding me for making things up to get attention, I stopped trying and kept my secret to myself.

But sitting there, looking into Jake’s kind eyes and feeling the comfort of his easygoing personality, I wanted to tell him. This wasn’t the first time either, but I always seemed to talk myself out of it. I knew the weight from carrying this burden would be much more bearable if I just had someone else to talk about it with.

A deep shiver ran through my body and I pulled my jacket tighter around me. The cold I felt from this morning was still fresh in my mind and I saw Mrs. Henley again, standing on the porch of her house, watching me with her eerily perceptive eyes. How could I explain that to someone without immediately drawing attention to my mental stability?

“Trenton hid my car keys,” I said, lamely blaming my little brother, again, for my tardiness. Jake started to say something else when a shadow fell over my desk.

"If you're going to be late to my class, Raelynn, you could at least make more of an effort to not disrupt it further," Miss Jentze said. My cheeks flamed red and I shot Jake a look of annoyance since he was the one doing most of the talking. But, of course, the star basketball player wouldn’t get in trouble. Coach Jensen would get involved and Miss Jentze, for all her other faults, was smart enough to avoid that.

“Now, since you’re in such a talkative mood, would you mind explaining to the class what the basic function of the Mitochondria is?”

“I have no idea,” I told her as heat crept up the sides of my face.

“I thought not. If you don’t mind, I’d like to get back to teaching the class about cells. This time without chatter.” She leveled me a glare over her rectangle spectacles and I shrank down in my seat. Could this day get any worse? She turned her back on me and Jake leaned over the isle toward my desk and put his hand on the edge of my seat.

“This isn’t over. I want to know what’s really going on,” he whispered. I tried to push him back to his own desk, but he refused to budge. I noticed more than one girl giving me a dirty look. Jake and I were supposed to be over, but he wasn’t making it very easy for either of us right now.

“Fine,” I hissed at him. “But not till after school.” He smiled like he won a big game or something and leaned back just as Mrs. Jentze turned toward us again. An innocent smile was perfectly in place. Could he be any more obnoxious?

I faced forward and pretended to pay attention, all the while trying to think of a way out of my promise. I had dated Jake for an entire year without giving away my curse and now just because he asked nicely I was supposed to tell him? I don’t think so.


“Hey, what are you doing a week from Friday?” Mandi asked as I approached our lockers to change books. I had pretty much all but ran out of first period to avoid any more questions from Jake.

“I’m guessing something with you,” I replied. That was sort of a given considering she was my best friend and we spent every weekend together now that I was single again. Still weird.

“Right you are! And...about ten other girls. We’re having a slumber party!” she squealed as though this news was supposed to make me go into high-pitched fits of giggles and lots of bouncing. Instead I just stared at her.

“Come on, Rae. It will be fun, I promise. We won’t even leave the house this time.” She tugged on my arm as she said this. Something she always did when she really wanted to convince me to do something I always regretted later.

I’ve been to exactly two of Mandi’s slumber parties and both times we were almost charged for trespassing or some other form of “disturbing the peace”. I wasn’t about to agree to another night of law breaking until I knew all the facts.

“Who are the ten other girls?”

“Stephanie, Tyra, Nikki,” she ticked off on her fingers. “The Kensington twins, Jenny…Stacie, Marianne, Holly, and Anna,” she finished and smiled at me as if to say, 'See, none of them are troublemakers.' Which didn’t mean they wouldn’t show up later.

“Alright, I’ll think about it.”

“Yay! This time will be different, you’ll see. Just a normal stay up all night eating junk food and watching movies sleepover.”

I smiled and left for class, wondering if she really meant what she said. Just because she was my best friend didn’t mean I trusted her enough to not get me into trouble. I had to graduate with a clean record and move away to college. Preferably somewhere that didn’t have a high death rate…

The rest of the day was one of the slowest I ever sat through and I practically leapt out of my chair when the bell rang, signaling the end of the school day. 

I was halfway to my car when I heard Jake call out my name and remembered I was supposed to be explaining my weird behavior from this morning to him. I swallowed hard and turned to face him. He’d been standing with his basketball friends, but now headed for me in his usual confident stride.

I had to stop myself from smiling like an idiot as he approached me. He wasn’t mine and he wasn’t here to flirt. He was just the type of person that made sure his friends were okay. And that’s what I was. A friend. Was that the second time today I had to remind myself of that?

“What’s up?” I asked, feigning ignorance. He gave me a sharp look.

“You know exactly what’s up, now spit it out. Is McKenna giving you a hard time again?” he asked. I cringed at the reminder of my run-in with the student body president. Tall, with long, dark hair, glacier blue eyes, and a perfect body, she felt like my opposite in so many ways. I was on the shorter side, with blonde hair, brown eyes, and a more athletic body. Not a size zero.

It also hadn’t helped that Jake took her on a date last weekend and she bragged about how far they went, knowing I was on the other side of the locker room. Not that I believed her about what they did on their date, I knew Jake better than that. Still, I had maybe, accidentally, okay on purpose knocked her clothes from the bench to the dirty, wet floor and she kind of freaked out on me.

“No, it’s not McKenna. I just…” Come on think of something.

“I can tell you’re trying to come up with a lie so you may as well stop it right now. Why can’t you tell me what’s going on?” His concern was throwing me off, I mean, he’s the one who broke up with me. I started to turn my head so I could think clearly, when I caught sight of something across the street from the school.

A large man, with muscular, tattooed arms sat on his porch with a drink in one hand and something that resembled a cigarette in his other. His eyes seemed unfocused and distant and I was certain he was heavily impaired. But he wasn’t what caught my attention. It was what stood behind him. The same moment I realized what I was looking at I felt the cold slam into me and knock the air from my lungs.

I’ve only seen the really bad creatures twice in my life, and both times it was at a distance. But it was enough to haunt my nightmares for years after and I knew this time would be so much worse. Standing at least six and a half feet tall, it wore a black hooded cloak, its grey, bumpy skin only showing on the talon-like hands and sunk in face. It had a menacing smile that reveled sharp, wicked teeth and red eyes that glowed like a warning. As if sensing my gaze, it turned to look straight at me, and those dark, evil eyes pierced through my soul.

This man must have done some really awful things in his life, and he was about to die. The only thing waiting for him when he did was that foul, sadistic creature. Even from this far away I could feel the pure evil pouring out of it. I was frozen in place, unable to stop staring at it. I didn't even realize Jake was still there until he shook me by the shoulders, snapping my gaze from the monster.

“Rae, what is going on? Do you know that man? Did he hurt you?” He was full on panicking now and I tried desperately to pull myself together so I could calm him down.

“N-No. I don’t know him. I…I have to go, my parents are waiting for me.” My voice shook and I sounded on the verge of tears, but I couldn’t stay here another minute with that thing watching me. Before I could move though, the man stood up and stumbled to his car. I knew he was too drunk or high or both to get where he was going safely. The creature’s smile widened and it turned to the man in eager anticipation.

I felt my stomach lurch and at the same time wondered if I could make it across the street in time to stop the man from driving away. I knew he most likely wasn’t the best person, but no one deserved that. All my life I watched these creatures coming and going and never once had the urge to stop their "collection". But this was different. That man wasn't just going to die, he would be tortured with fear when he moved on.

Suddenly my world spun and I felt Jake’s strong arms around my waist, catching me just before I collapsed. He lifted my arm over his shoulder and half walked, half carried me to my car. He slipped my keys from my backpack and opened the door, setting me gently inside. Dizzy and nauseous I tried to concentrate. I had to do something.

Click here for Section 2!

*Copyright Jayne L. Bowden*