Great Hites Prompt 70

This weeks prompt comes from me and is:

“Shoes that are too small.”

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday September 8th. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to greathites at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


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Great Hites 67

This week we have stories by:

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Eric M.
Marla J. Mercer
Norval Joe
and
Mick Bordet <——— This week's WinnerWinner


Duck Headed Cane
Eric M.

He had come about an hour and a half before, and knocked on my door. He was obviously not rich, but he definitely did not look like he was selling magazines or anything either, so I opened the door. The first thing I noticed was his cane. It was apparently hand made out of a dark wood. It was not just some affectation either, judging from its well-worn appearance. The head was a duck, all shiny and made of brass, but it did not look like it had ever been polished. I would guess he had used it every day since he had gotten it. His clothes looked the same way. His khaki pants were worn but not shoddy, and his loafers were neither in fashion nor out of fashion. He told me his name, which did not ring a bell for me, but somehow he seemed really familiar. He asked politely if we could talk some place private. I did a quick check of him and judged him not to be a threat to me or my family, and suggested Lew’s. Lew’s is a corner bar about five years away from becoming a dive; just my kind of place. It was never full or loud like a kid’s bar, but it had enough people around to prevent a robbery or God knows what.
I sat with the stranger at the bar for maybe half an hour exchanging pleasantries. I was doing my best not to let on that what he had told me at the door was the biggest bombshell to be dropped on me in my life. Well, I guess the second beer loosened my tongue enough, because that’s about when I really got to talking. I found the more I talked, the more I had to say. I wanted the stranger to be able to relate to me for my own reasons, so I tried to pick words precisely.
So this is how it went, as much as I can remember, anyway.
I began by saying, “I had half expected the moment to come, but not like it did with you knocking at my door. You see, as an adoptee, much of one’s own life is a mystery. It’s not that I did not accept what I have always known as my family. My Mom is my Mom; just as she has always been, and Dad is still the same man I have known to be my father my whole life. But I had to expand . . . or, to say it better, augment my vocabulary. There was no epiphany type of moment, but instead I felt a subtle shift. It is like when you see in nature a rare, pure, sublime moment, like a perfect sunrise, or when you witness a hawk swoop in on a rabbit. A person is changed by these moments, whether we realize it or not.”
I watched him to see if my words were affecting him, and he sat silently looking me straight in the eye. I continued.
“I had assumed my biological family was dead, or had no interest in me. I do not say this in a self-pitying way, nor did I feel that there was a void that needed to be filled. It was quite the opposite, actually. My life was always a full one, and the only family I had known raised me with love and structure. My folks split when I was a teenager, and while I did not understand it, I accepted it and moved on. I did vow that once I did find a mate, it would stick. And it has so far, and it will so long as we can help it.”
He nodded, either approvingly, or maybe just to show he was still with me.
“When my brothers would do something stupid, I would think that I could not possibly be related in blood, but all siblings do that, right? I mean, I did not wish it to be true, though in reality, it was. Maybe there was a difference due to genetics, but I am pretty convinced that most genetic traits given by nature can be drawn over by the brushstrokes of nurture. You can still see them underneath, but only if you really look hard. I don’t mean that if you have heart problems in your background that love will overcome them or any such sentimentality. What I mean is that I may be predisposed to something, say addictions. I may be more likely to get addicted to something, because there is the blood of addicts in my blood, but I may be raised in a house of moderation. Aren’t I more likely to be a more moderate person because of the way I was raised? That’s the question, isn’t it? Can I escape my heritage? Or, can I take my heritage; my genetic predispositions if you will, and build upon them or away from them as I choose? Can I use that greatest gift of freewill to create my existence, rather than be bound by blood?”
I paused to gauge his reaction; to make sure I was not offending him, or hitting a nerve or anything. He said simply, “I do understand that. Are we predestined to follow our bloodlines?” When he said that, I knew he was still paying attention. I pressed on.
“At any rate, like I said, I had assumed my biological family was dead. It was not a spiteful assumption, but I suppose it could have been a defensive thing psychologically, you know? The other option was that they wanted nothing to do with me. Even that possibility did not affect me that I have ever been aware of. I did not feel unwanted, anyway, since, as I said, my first . . . uh . . . sorry, second family never left a doubt that I was fully part of it.
I learned that I have two sisters, and a half-brother somewhere. I talked to the woman who gave birth to me. I call her “Mama” now. I still call my Mom, well, Mom. That is all I have ever known her as. I think that she may have been a large part of the reason I never searched for my birth parents. Not because I thought she would object at all. She made sure I always was aware that I was adopted, and never said a bad thing about them. I didn’t really ask, because perhaps to ask was to entertain the notion that I was, indeed, different from my family. I just wanted what we all want; to be a member of a loving family.”
He looked deep in thought for a bit, and then asked me, “Have you always felt like you were loved?” I wondered if he was a shrink or something, but it seemed an earnest question, so I answered him equally earnestly. “Definitely.”
He smiled at this, which I thought was odd. There was not a hint of malice, nor did I get any sense he was putting me on. I related to him how with a little prodding from my wife, we discovered my biological mother,
“I remember the call I made to Mama as if I just hung up. Let me back up a little bit first though. My wife and I had been seriously starting to think about having a family for a while. She started asking more in depth questions about my medical history, but I had no answers. I knew I was adopted in a private adoption, but that was the extent of my knowledge. She asked me if it was ok to put my information in a profile on an adoption website, and since I expected nothing to happen, I humored her and said to go for it. Three years went by, and nothing came of it. Then, the wife was surfing the net and came across my profile. She asked if she could update it, and I said sure. That was a Sunday.
Long story short, by Wednesday evening, a ‘search angel’ had picked up the trail and sent me an email with a name and phone number. Some time later – my wife said I stared at the screen for a few hours – the gears were turning, you know? Could this be my mother? Was it some kind of scam preying on adoptees? I said that if anyone asked for money, I would cease then and there. But no requests for money ever came. I went to bed that night, figuring that perhaps I would call in a week or two.”
The stranger leaned in, literally on the edge of his seat.
“That morning, I woke up like a shot, knowing that I had to call that second. I did not dream of it or any storybook stuff, but I just had to call. Suddenly I needed this like I needed to eat. I called work and without giving too many details, told them what I was doing. Then I took a deep breath and dialed the number. The phone rang a while, and I was about to hang up, when a tired-sounding voice came on and said hello. I can’t explain how I felt. It was like I could not breathe as I explained to the southern sounding woman why I was calling, how I got her number, and any other details I could think of. She listened to me without saying anything. When I was done, she said, ‘I am sorry dear, I did not have a boy child then. I apologized for bothering her, and as we were hanging up, she said, ‘wait a minute. What year did you say you were born?’ I told her again, and she said, ‘I thought you had said another date. I did have a boy-child then, and I did give him up for adoption.’ Thoughts of a scam were creeping back into my mind. Years of living tend to make a bit of a skeptic out of a person, don’t they? So my guard was up, but I listened.
This woman’s next words were the kicker. They sealed the deal, and I knew then and there that this was not a scam. She spoke with such deep sadness, joy, and sweetness all at once as she softly said, ‘I have waited thirty-six years for this call.’ You see, she did not have to do the math, or count up from the year I was born. She knew the numbers as if she had spent each moment thinking of it. Actually, that is not truly how it felt to me. It felt as if the waiting was an integral part of her; the same way a person knows how many fingers he has without even looking at them. It was that kind of knowledge. You understand what I am getting at there?”
He looked at his hand – the one that he used on the cane like it was brand new and nodded knowingly. Then there was a long pause as the two of us took in everything. Actually, I was all talked out, pretty much. I would never have thought I would pour everything out to a complete stranger the way I did, and I told him so. We both stood up knowing we would not likely meet again, and we shook grateful hands.
He gave me a last once-over and said, “It has been a pleasure to meet you, and to hear how well you have done for yourself. I now know that I made the right choice. I certainly understand what you said about your mother not having to count years. I never have either. Please know that it was the most torturous decision I have ever made, but now I see it was worth it. Take care, son.”
He walked out without his cane, and I am pretty sure he meant to. I am looking at it now as I write.


SITTING DUCK
by
Marla J. Mercer

Delores Hartley was seated on the couch, eating chocolates and reading one of her movie magazines. As she studied a photo of George Clooney, Delores patted her new blonde wig. The woman at the beauty shop had assured Delores that the wig made her look at least twenty years younger. Though it had been an expensive purchase, Delores had not hesitated to buy it. Her 59th birthday loomed on the horizon, and anything that could knock two-decades off her looks, seemed a bargain at any price.

Her husband, of course, had not agreed. “How many wigs does one woman need?” Carl had snapped at her when he saw the bill. “You only have one head. If you can’t stop buying everything you see, we’re going to end up in the poor house.”

Delores continued to study the picture of George Clooney. Hugging a velvet throw pillow to her chest, she slowly drifted into a wonderful daydream in which she had won a free prize to have lunch with Mister Clooney at a fabulous Hollywood restaurant.

Across the room, the doorbell rang, jarring Delores from her reverie. Startled, she struggled to her feet and smoothed the wrinkles from her blouse and slacks. She hurried to the mirror above the bureau and checked her makeup. An article in one of her magazines had mentioned that many leading ladies, including Julia Roberts and Sharon Stone, were once again wearing red lipstick. Delores had naturally followed suit and purchased several tubes of a shade called Very Cherry. Admiring the brightness of the color, she puckered her lips and made little kissing noises at her reflection.

The door bell rang again. Satisfied that her face was in order, Delores took off her reading glasses, placed them on the bureau, and headed for the door.

“Who is it?” she called.

“Gordon Gable. Ducks Unlimited.” The man’s voice sounded deep and resonant.

Delores reached the front door and stood on tiptoes to peer through the security peephole. A tall man in a suit stood on the front porch of her double-unit mobile home. He was holding a suitcase in one hand, and a cane in the other. He had pepper-gray hair and a dapper moustache. Distinguished was the word that came to Delores’s mind. Her heart skipped a beat.

“Who?” she repeated.

“Gordon Gable, regional representative for Ducks Unlimited.” He put down the suitcase and reached into the breast pocket of his jacket. “Here’s my badge.” He held a plastic card in front of the peephole for a brief second and then quickly returned the ID to his pocket.

“If I may have a moment of your time,” Gordon continued. “I’d like to show you our Fall catalog and tell you about some of the incredible specials we are offering this month.”

Delores’ feet were starting to ache from supporting her considerable weight on tiptoes. Her gold slippers, while quite stylish, offered nothing in the way of arch support. Wanting to get a better look at the caller, Delores unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door a few inches. Though it hardly seemed possible, the man on the front porch was even more handsome than she had first surmised through the peephole. She caught a whiff of his cologne and found it mildly intoxicating.

Gordon smiled at the sight of her and gave a little nod. “Good morning, Ma’am. Gordon Gable at your service. And you how are you doing on this beautiful sunny day with nary a cloud in the sky?”

Delores continued to stare. Unlike her husband, Carl, who wore old T-shirts and ratty pants and had no fashion sense whatsoever, Gordon Gable was positively debonair. His suit was neatly pressed. His shoes were shined to a high gloss. His hair was impeccable. And that cane—Delores had never met a man who carried a cane, let alone one whose handle was in the exotic shape of duck’s head. He looks just like a movie star, thought Delores.

“I’m doing just fine, thank you,” she replied in her sweetest voice. “What did you say the name of your company was?”

“Duck’s Unlimited,” Gordon replied. With his free hand, he gave one tip of his moustache a little twirl.

“I’ve never of heard of it,” said Delores. “Is it new?”

“New to your area, ma’am, but we’ve been doing business on the Eastern Seaboard for more than forty years. We specialize in ornamental ducks of all types. By any chance, have you ever summered in the Hamptons?”

Delores was at a loss for words. She nervously patted her wig. “No. I-I can’t say that I have,” she replied. “My husband and I don’t travel all that much.”

“Well, if you ever find yourself invited to the home of one of the big-money families who vacation in the Hamptons,” said Gordon, “you would discover a great many items from our catalog on display both inside and outside their mansion. Our products may be moderately priced, but they’re quite popular with the rich and famous. We count among our clients a long list of celebrities.”

“Celebrities?” Delores felt a rush of excitement. “Like who?”

“I’m not allowed to reveal the actual names of our clients,” said Gordon. “But let me just ask you this. Have you ever heard of Barbra Streisand?”

“Why, yes!” replied Delores. “Who hasn’t?”

“Well, she is but one of many, Missus . . . Missus. . .”

“Hartley. Delores Hartley.” She opened the door a little wider.

Gordon smiled and looked at her approvingly. “Missus Hartley, I can tell by your lovely appearance and pleasant manner that you are a very special woman—a woman of intelligence and refinement—a woman who can not be bamboozled by false compliments and a flashy sales pitch. So, I’m not even going to try. I know you’re too smart for that.”

Delores felt her cheeks flush with color. She looked coyly at her hands. “Well, if you say so.”

“Oh, I do,” said Gordon with conviction. “For example, not ten minutes ago, one of your neighbors here in the mobile home park paid full price for a beautiful yard display of a proud mother mallard with three ducklings in tow. Whereas in your case, I know you would never pay full price. You would force me to bargain—to sweeten the pot, so to speak. So let me just cut right to the chase and make you an offer. Missus Hartley, if you place an order this morning for that exact same item, I will throw in an additional three ducklings at absolutely no extra cost to you. That’s six ducklings for the price of three—a savings of over twenty-dollars.”

“Twenty dollars?” said Delores.

“Yes, ma’am. And I’ll tell you something else. We are currently running a thirty-percent-off sale on our entire line of bathroom ducks, including our winged soap dishes and our popular hollow-backs, which hold a standard box of facial tissue. Now here is an offer, I did not share with your less astute neighbor.” Gordon leaned in a little closer and spoke in a low, conspiratorial voice. “If you were to buy any two bathroom items, I will give you a complimentary duck nightlight, which comes with built-in darkness sensor. The light turns on all by itself. It’s completely automatic.”

Delores deeply inhaled the scent of his cologne. “Oh my,” said Delores. She patted her wig again.

“I have samples in my briefcase, and I’d be more than happy to help you determine the best color scheme for your bathroom” added Gordon. “Teal blue is our most popular shade, though Peking white is a close second.” He paused. “Missus Hartley, may I take the liberty of calling you by your given name? My great-uncle, Clark—Clark Gable— once told me that a gentleman should always ask permission before using a lady’s first name.”

Delores was dumbfounded. “Clark Gable is your uncle?” Even as she asked, she knew it must be true. She could clearly see the resemblance now, and the voice was so similar.

“My great-uncle,” Gordon gently corrected, “on my father’s side. As a child, I had the great pleasure of spending many a long hour with Uncle Clark, and I can tell you that he had a real eye for quality. I have no doubt that if he were alive today, he would be one of Ducks Unlimited’s biggest customers. Wouldn’t you like me to come inside and show you some of the many fabulous items from our Fall catalog?”

Delores hesitated. “I’d love to see them; I really would. It’s just . . . it’s just that I’m not sure if my husband is all that fond of ducks, and Carl tends to be a bit tight with his wallet.”

“I understand.” Gordon nodded sagely. “Which is why I am certain that your husband would be more than pleased with any purchase you made from our catalog. These are hard economic times, Delores. We all want a beautiful home, but who among of us can afford to spend a fortune on new furniture and carpeting? Thanks to Ducks Unlimited, though, you and your husband can completely revitalize your décor for practically nothing.”

Delores cocked her head to one side. “You mean like a makeover?”

“That is exactly what I mean,” Gordon replied. “A complete makeover for mere pennies. It’s all about the little touches—the tasteful accessories. In the same way that a beautiful scarf or a stylish belt can brighten up a tired-looking outfit, our line of duck products can bring a new and exciting look to your mobile home at a modest, affordable price. Let me ask you this? Are you completely happy with your current decorating scheme? Or are you ready for a something new, something chic?”

Delores glanced over her shoulder at the living room. Her furniture looked suddenly old and shabby. She frowned.

“Here’s what I see in your future,” said Gordon. “I see you throwing a party for your friends here at the mobile-home park. You’re wearing a beautiful gown, and basking in the glow as your guests shower you with compliments on your ceramic-duck lamps, your duck coasters, throw pillows, ashtrays, wall decorations—the whole nine yards.” He paused. “Sadly, I do see a friend or two sulking in the corner, too consumed with jealousy to offer praise. But that is their problem, Delores, not yours.”

In her mind’s eye, Delores savored the scene for a few long moments before finally asking, “Do you really sell a lamp that’s shaped like a duck?”

“We must certainly do. In fact, we carry three different styles—sitting, standing, and mid-flight. It’s your choice. You can mix and match. Did I mention that just for allowing me into your home for a short presentation, you will receive a free digital duck-watch that comes with a five-year money-back guarantee?”

Delores chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip. Faded red smudges of Very Cherry rubbed onto her front teeth. She wondered if Gordon had ever gone to Hollywood to visit his uncle. She’d never met anyone who had actually been there.

“Well, I guess it wouldn’t hurt to have a little peek at the catalog,” said Delores. “I get the digital watch even if I don’t buy anything, right?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. The watch is absolutely free.”

“Then come on in and make yourself comfortable.” Delores opened the front door all the way and gestured for him to enter.

Gordon picked up his suitcase, tucked his cane beneath his arm and gave a little bow. “After you, young lady.”

With a girlish giggle, Delores patted her wig and headed for the living room.

Creative Commons License
Sitting Duck by Marla J. Mercer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


The Odd Job.
By: Norval Joe

The blistering July sun beat down on Austin’s head. He took off his old ball cap and rubbed his sweaty hair. He didn’t know how long he would have to wait outside the apartment door. As far as he could tell, there was no one inside. Supposedly that wasn’t his concern. If he waited lon enough, they would answer.
He looked at his watch for the hundredth time and counted back the minutes. He had been here for almost 15 minutes now.
“Quack quack,” he said, tapping the cane’s duck head handle on the door again. He turned the cane handle toward himself, its little duck beak on level with his own large nose. “Quack, quack,” he said again, this time tapping the duck’s beak on his nose.
He had been standing on his street corner swinging the large Pizza Palace sign when a car pulled up to him. A man got out of the passenger side and walked around the front of the car to speak with Austin. He was a small man with a dark complexion, not African , Indian, or Mexican, but dark. He had no hair on his head, but made up for it with eye brows, like giant furry caterpillars crawling across his forehead. He spoke without accent. “You’re doing an admirable job, here, young man. You have a skill with that sign, unparalleled by any other sign waver in town. I was just telling my driver this very morning, ‘I wouldn’t think of eating pizza at any restaurant, other than the Pizza Palace. The sign wavers for Chicago Pub Pizza and Little Nero’s are pitifully inept, when compared with the flare and panache displayed by the the Pizza Palace boy,’ er, young man, rather.”
Austin felt proud, initially, by the praise lavished upon him by this stranger, but soon became uncomfortable and embarrassed by the excessive compliments. He didn’t know what panache was, and wasn’t sure if the man wasn’t belittling him.
However, when he showed Austin the one hundred dollar bill, his only concerns were how to get it and how he would spend it.
“It is a simple task that I ask,” the little man said. “I need to pass a message to a friend that I am no longer able to visit. I miss my old companion and wish to return this token of affection that was bestowed on me, so many years ago.” He held out a short wooden cane with a brass ducks head for a handle. “When will you be done with you work for the day,” he asked Austin.
“Ummm. I’m done now, come to think of it.” Austin said. All he could truly think of was getting the hundred dollars for such a simple task. He would have to wave his sign for hours to earn that much. He tried to do the math. $5 per hour for four hours would be twenty. And two days each week would be, 40. He couldn’t get past that amount, because he had never been given that much before.
“Ok, what do you want me to do with the cane? Just give it to someone?” Austin asked, somewhat confused.
“That’s right, young man. Deliver the cane to this address, written here on this slip of paper. When you have completed such a simple task, I will give you the $100 bill.” The little man finished with a single nod, blinked his eyes rapidly and asked, “Is it a deal?”
Austin didn’t think long before he said, “Sure. I can do that.” He held out his hand for the cane.
The man didn’t give him the cane, instead he said, “Come, I will give you a ride. It is quite a distance from here, and I wouldn’t think of making you walk on a hot day like this.”
Austin rode in the spacious back seat of the luxury car. The windows were tinted completely black, and were almost as difficult to see through from the inside as they were from out.
Austin walked most places; to the grocery store, the post office and to the Pizza Palace. Everything he needed was close by, except for Walmart. If he needed clothes or an item, other than food, he took the bus to Walmart. It was on the other side of town, and took almost two hours to get there by the busses circuitous route. He would make a day of it, starting early on Saturday morning. After he did his shopping, he would walk across the parking lot to Burger King and get a Whopper with cheese and a Dr. Pepper. He would get back home in just enough time to walk to the Pizza Palace and pick up his sign. His boss wasn’t terribly concerned about what time Austin got to work as long as he was on the corner with his sign during the dinner rush.
This job was more difficult than he had imagined. It was hot on the porch and he had been waiting so long now. At least on his street corning there was a large tree that shaded him when the afternoon was at its hottest. He looked around for a tree, that was close, so that he could sit in the shade, waiting for the little man’s friends to return.
He was at the bottom step from the porch, headed for a neighbors yard, when a car pulled into the driveway. The owner of this car hadn’t done nearly as well as the man who had given him the cane. Their car wasn’t new and shiny, but old, battered and rusted. Inside the car, sat a couple, older than the first man. They spoke together while they looked in Austin’s direction.
He saw the couple look at him, so he raised the cane in the air and waved it at them, smiling. He expected them to get out of the car, come and take the cane and thank him gratefully for returning it to them. Instead, the woman spoke to the man. She shook her head while he yelled at her. He fired up the car, gunned the engine and roared out of the driveway, squealing tires as he rounded the corner at the end of the block.
Austin was distraught. He sat on the bottom step, no longer aware of the sun beating down on him. How was he to get the can to the little mans friends now? He hadn’t pondered long when the black luxury car pulled to the curb. The little man stepped out and approached Austin. “You still have the cane, what on earth happened? I saw my old friends driving away down the street. Do you offend them?”
“No, I…” Austin began, but the older man cut him off.
“Never mind. I’ve lost my opportunity now, nothing can be done about it. You tried, and you failed.” he said and took the cane from Austin.
He was nearly back to his car when Austin asked, “where is my money?”
The little man spun around. “Your money? Don’t be absurd. The agreement was that you give my cane to my old freiend, and would give you the money. But you failed me. You’ve wasted my time. Why, I should charge you for the time I’ve lost. But, no. You did what you could. Here in enough to get home by bus.” He pushed some crumpled dollar bills into Austins hands.
Austin stood on the sidewalk, stunned, as the older man got into the car and drove away.
The man turned to his driver and smiled, “That went better than I could have hoped for.”

Hide and Seek
by: Mick Bordet

“Excuse me, Sir,” said Mrs. Shaw, “the gentleman with the duck-headed cane is at the door asking to see you. He still won’t tell me his name, I’m afraid.”
“That’s all right, Mrs Shaw, I don’t think he ever will. Please show him in,” said Sir Iain Pleasance.
“Very well, Sir,” she said, leaving the office and returning a minute later, leading the un-named guest into the dark, wood-panelled room..
“Thank you, Mrs. Shaw,” said Sir Iain, taking a seat behing the large mahogany pedestal desk positioned at the centre of the far wall.
“Good afternoon, Sir Iain,” said the man as the elderly housekeeper left the room, closing the heavy oak door behind her. “I see you are still living the life of luxury afforded by your early years.”
“You do know that I have retired, don’t you?” Sir Iain said, ignoring the comment and folding his arms.
“I had heard as much, though you do know that there is no such thing as retirement in our line of work,” the man said, sauntering over to the single window in the room to gaze out across the street outside. He didn’t look at his host, as he expected no answer.
“Well now, I don’t believe you’ve ever told me exactly what your line of work is, but my days as a detective are mere memories and newspaper clippings now.”
“I was referring to your previous occupation, actually, Sir Iain. The univited guest to many’s a society gathering, the steathly redistribution of wealth and the midnight outings dressed in black: in a word, the thief,” the man said, turning to face Sir Iain, waiting for the response.
“Must we perfom this dance on every occasion you visit? You accuse me of a number of outrageous burglaries over the years of my youth when, I do admit, I was a man of leisure due to my inheritance. I respond that your claims are both preposterous and insulting, to which you assure me you have ample evidence that could be released to the relevant authorities. You then dangle some investigation in front of me that you know I would take on without any need for threats, veiled or otherwise, and for that you promise me a substantial sum of recompense for its successful completion. You bring the proceedings to an end by flourishing some last veiled threat of violence to back it all up,” Sir Ian said.
The man rested his weight with both hands leaning on the head of his cane and smiled, “That is a fairly accurate summary of our normal conversations. Familiarity with the process puts you at your ease; you know what to expect.”
“Ah, but you have surely forgotten one key piece of our last little chat: the one that left me stuck in the Amazon jungle for three months? I told you then that it would be the last piece of work I carried out for you.”
“No, not forgotten, Sir Iain; far from it, in fact. That is why we have held back from approaching you about this matter for as long as we have. I think you will want to take this case on as a matter of professional pride, both as a detective and as the most successful cat burglar London has known, at least in my lifetime. Indeed, I don’t believe threats will even be necessary on this occasion,” said the man. He gave a sickly-grin that displayed his broken and bent, nicotine-stained teeth and raised his thick, forest-like eyebrows.
“You almost disappoint me by taking away the stick and leaving only the carrot. What could possibly tempt me back to a life of raiding rubbish bins, all-night surveillance and endless hours of research?”
The man nodded. He had set the bait, now he had only to let Sir Iain take the hook and the rest would sort itself out, he thought.
“Sir Iain,” he said, pausing a moment for effect, “we have two problems. The first is an operative we believe to be a spy working directly to the SS in Berlin. We have reports that she has been seen in London and Washington, but the latest come from Glasgow. This gives us reason to believe she may be plotting some action against the shipyards, most likely gathering intelligence to pass back for bombing runs or submarine attacks.”
“Okay, so far so very uninspiring. I see nothing significant compared to most other cases you have brought to me,” said Sir Iain, “what is the second problem?”
“That’s where we think you’ll be interested. We don’t necessarily want to stop her, capture or even kill her, but we do need to know if she is a threat and if there is any possibility of being able to feed her dummy information to cover our own covert plans in the future. You are the eleventh person we have asked to follow her and find her base of operations and what her mission is.”
“It’s nice to come at the top of your list,” Sir Iain quipped.
“Your feelings were made perfectly clear on your last engagement, Sir Iain, so we have tried to put this meeting off. It was not anticipated that it would even be required, as we do now have an experienced team that are fully trained in covert operations, hidden surveillance and tracking. At least, we did. They are all either dead, missing or have no memory of their mission or its outcome. Ten men, some of the best in the country, all dispatched by a single woman in one way or another. We don’t know how or why, but we need to find her and learn her plan,” the man said. He had done his part, said his piece. He sat in the chair opposite Sir Iain and waited for the response.
The retired gentleman gave a long sigh and stood up, walked over to his drinks cabinet and poured himself a glass of dark, peaty whisky from an ornately-cut crystal decanter. He returned to his seat without offering a drink to his guest, took a slow, measured sip and held out his free hand to the visitor. The man pulled a beige folder from the inside of his thick, dark-grey coat and handed it to Sir Iain, who lay it on the desk in front of him and opened it out.
“Is this it? Where is the rest of the dossier?” he asked, looking in surprise at the two items within the folder.
“That is all we have, I’m afraid. The photograph is a little blurry, as you can see, but we have had some difficulty in obtaining visual evidence: film becomes overexposed or sections of the picture are missing in most of the surveillance we undertook. The paper lists all recorded sightings of her. As you can see, the majority of them are around the Partick area and of them, in many cases she was seen walking from the Clyde towards the North.”
“And you’ve never tracked her to her destination?”
“Not for lack of trying, Sir Iain. On most occasions she was lost in the crowd or stepped behind cover and was not seen again. It would seem that the men who managed to stay on her trail were the ones who didn’t make it back to report their findings,” answered the man.
Sir Iain read through each entry in the list, placing them in his mind within the locations he knew in that particular part of Glasgow. He scrutinised the photograph again, but could find nothing unusual about the woman, apart from perhaps being a little taller than most of the other women in the background.
“It will be triple my usual fee,” said Sir Iain, “and I will require copies of the full reports and all of the photographs, no matter how blurred they might be.”
“Very well, I’ll get them sent over to you this afternoon,” said the man, rising from the chair and heading towards the door.

# # #

It seemed, from the detailed reports of the surveillance of the woman, that she was an expert. Sir Iain wasn’t quite sure whether it was in burglary, hunting, spying or just hiding, but the descriptions given made it sound as though she had almost disappeared into thin air on more than one occasion. Though it appeared that she was a dangerous prey to track, he had developed a solid admiration for her skills and was looking forward to getting started. Until then, he had one more piece of research to undertake in order to build an understanding of this elusive lady.
One thing was certain; Ducky, as he had called the man since he first agreed to their occasional professional relationship almost ten years previously, was hiding something. That was not unusual, for the man with no name, who would not divulge who he worked for or even why he needed certain individuals tracked down. This time, Sir Iain’s gut instinct was that there were key facts being twisted to ensure his assistance. He couldn’t pin down whether it was the whole undercover spy story, the way she had given ten trained men, experts in surveillance and stealthy tracking, the slip so easily or the strange blurs visible on most of the pictures that had been taken of her.
That last peculiarity was one he could follow-up and so, armed with the pouch containing all the pictures his temporary employer had provided, Sir Iain had made the trip to Liverpool Street Station from his home in Highgate. From there it was a short walk down Broad Street until he arrived at the photographer’s studio, located in a narrow alley.. He knew of nobody more skilled in photographic manipulation than the owner, Fred Mains. Several cases he had worked on before his retirement could not have been completed without Fred’s eye for detail and ability to enlarge and adjust the content of photographs. He had found an individual face in a picture within a crowded theatre on one occasion and brightened an almost black image to a range of greys that let him pick out a wanted man on another.
“‘Allo Squire, how you doing today. I ain’t seen you round ‘ere for months,” said Fred no sooner than Sir Iain had stepped through the door.
“No, I’m a man of leisure now, retired almost a year ago, in fact,” he answered.
“Ah, a lucky man, indeed. So, what brings you here today, then? A portrait to celebrate the next stage of your life, perhaps?”
“No, it’s nothing like that, Fred. I’m not sure what I’m looking for, to be honest, but I wonder if you could take a look at these for me and tell me what you think?” said Sir Iain, pulling out the photographs and laying them out on the table.
The photographer switched on an adjustable lamp with an intense light that he brought down to the surface of the table and, in conjunction with a magnifying glass, started working his way through the pictures. One by one he scrutinised them, nodding occasionally to himself before moving onto the next.
“Most unusual, squire, I must say. They don’t seem to have been over-exposed, though at first glance it looks that way, and the prints haven’t been damaged or altered in any way I’m familiar with, yet there are definitely bits with missing detail. I would go so far as to say that I’ve never seen anything like it before. Except… Hang on just a minute, Squire, if you would,” he said, excitement clear in his voice. He sped to the back of the studio and rifled through a set of drawers before pulling out a collection of photographs and setting them down on the table.
“These look rather old,” said Sir Iain.
“They’re pictures my old dad took, back when he was working in Dundee. His boss in them days did the photos of the Tay Bridge disaster, all the broken tracks and the damage to the structure. I still remember when he came home that night. Drained, he was, from the things he’d seen: a terrible accident, just terrible. Anyway, here’s the one I was looking for. See that bit there? There’s your blur, your over-exposure, or whatever the Hell it is. I’ve always put it down to something on the camera, but the exact same thing is on your pictures and not always in the same place. I can’t explain it, Squire. What you’ve got there is the same as this picture, but why it is, I couldn’t tell you.”
Sir Iain looked at the picture from the previous century. It showed a view of some of the girders that had toppled into the river, sending over seventy train passengers to their deaths, trapped in carriages under the dark waters of the Tay. On close inspection, he recognised the same same blurred markings behind the debris.
“Have you got any more with the same marks?” he asked.
“No, Squire, I don’t think so, at least, not as noticable as that one. I never had much call to look that closely, though. Help yourself.”
Sir Iain started flicking through the photographs, looking for a repeat of the marks he was familiar with. What he found instead was more unexpected than he could have anticipated. It was a portrait of a woman holding a young child. He let out a gasp and returned to the pile of pictures he had brought with him, looking for the original image Ducky had left him, the one that showed her face, blurred though it was. Placed side-by-side, they appeared to be pictures of the same woman.
“When was this taken?” he asked.
Fred turned the picture over and read a series of numbers stamped on the rear of the photograph.
“1861, according to this,” he said.
“Right, well I guess this isn’t the same woman, then. Perhaps the old picture is of this one’s mother; the resemblance is striking. Hold on. Look at that scar. It’s not as clear on the later picture, but it is definitely there in both of them. These must be, what, over seventy years apart and yet it looks like the same woman, with little sign of aging apart from a grey hair or two. Thank you Fred, I have what I needed. Here you go,” Sir Ian said, handing the photographer a ten pound note.
“Thank you, Squire, very generous of you. You be sure to come back for that portrait, now.”
Sir Iain left the studio and headed home. He was ready to pack his things to make the trip to Glasgow, feeling that he knew more about this woman that he was supposed to, a position he liked to occupy when dealing with anybody as manipulative and devious as the man with the duck-headed cane.

# # #

For the first two weeks of his stay in Glasgow, he found no trace of the woman. Keeping to the area bounded by Crow Road, Byres Road and the Clyde that the previous reports had mentioned, he walked a different meandering route every day, starting to recognise the faces of many of the local people. He stopped to spend time in cafes most afternoons, chatting to women out walking with prams, old men meeting friends on the way to the bowling club and even children returning home from school. If he couldn’t find her straight away, in his experience the next best thing was to start to integrate with the local community, to make contacts that could help him locate his target.
When he did eventually spot her, he followed from as far away as he could so that she wouldn’t be aware of him, but lost sight of her near the university. In the following week he saw and followed her three times, each time losing her due to the distance between them. On every occasion, he had taken a note of the time and location, but there was no pattern to her appearances; though they were all in the same half square mile of the city, every time she was travelling in a different direction. Either she had an eclectic lifestyle, visiting people all over the city, or she was deliberately using different routes every day and Sir Iain was almost certain that it was the latter.
There followed a week when he didn’t see her at all, though he did have a conversation with a newspaper-seller outside the factory on Norval Street who mentioned that she always bought a paper from him at some point during the day when she was around. According to him, she had said that she worked at the university and often travelled abroad, going away for weeks or months at a time. If she truly was a spy, as Ducky had claimed, that wasn’t a bad cover story, Sir Iain thought. A day spent visiting every department at the university soon confirmed that she had never worked there in any position, from professor to cleaner.
He decided that the time had come to follow her in earnest. The next time he saw her, he kept much closer, determined not to fall for whatever tricks she had pulled on the men previously sent to follow her. At some point she must have seen him, for after ten minutes of walking she gave him the slip, entering a small shop from which she did not reappear. There was no sign of her inside and, according to the girl serving behind the counter, no way for any customer to leave the shop without going back through the main door or using the back door beside her. She assured him that nobody had even attempted to leave in that manner. The same game of hide and seek was played out over the week on another two occasions. He was becoming frustrated by it, the fact that she had noticed his presence despite all efforts to remain out of sight and that he hadn’t even managed to get close enough to ask the questions he had for her. Not that he was supposed to be talking to her at all, but whilst she was, without doubt, covering something up, it didn’t feel to him as though it was anything to do with spying.
His next approach was to sit with a map and revisit, on paper, the scenes of her sightings. He covered a street map of the area in markings, but it revealed nothing to him, as had been the case weeks before when he had been planning his routes. A thought struck him, at that point, and he picked out the positions on the map where he had followed her from. To those he marked the routes she took before disappearing in each case, at which point a pattern, albeit a very vague one, began to appear. All three routes radiated out away from a central point. He used a pen to draw lines extending from the routes and they all crossed within about a hundred yards of the subway station at Merkland Street.
“Well, just because she’s walking around this area, doesn’t mean she actually lives here,” he said to himself.
With a central point to focus on, he spent more time around the station over the following days, familiarising himself with every nook and cranny, every side-street, alleyway, manhole and staircase in the area. He planned routes for moving from one place to the next without being seen. It was like preparing a magic show, setting up the sleight of hand, making the most of natural distractions and ensuring he could sink into the shadows at the slightest indication of her detecting him. Now he understood why Ducky needed him, it was his skill as a cat burglar that would make the difference here.
He found a suitable vantage point from which he could watch a substantial portion of the area around the station and settled down to wait. Two days later she appeared, walking from the South towards him, her gait smooth, but precise, flowing from step-to-step like a tiger. He sat, hidden, waiting for a sideways glance or pause in her stride that might indicate she had seen him, ready to slide out of view in the blink of an eye in the same way, he thought, that she had done to him. She walked straight past him, heading directly towards a wall behind the station, moving so quickly that he gripped his hands tight in anticipation that she would collide with it. Instead, a blank space appeared in the wall, seemingly from nowhere, and she stepped into it. A second later and the wall had returned to its former state as though nothing had happened. He jumped up and ran over to the wall, running his hands over it, searching for the hidden doorway, but there was nothing. It didn’t matter, he knew her point of entry now to wherever it was she was going. He waited for two days for her to reappear, to try and find out more about her, wandering around the area, always keeping his eye on that wall. Exhaustion drove him to admit defeat in the end and he returned to his temporary lodgings on Great Western Road. Once there he called in what he had discovered.
“Thank you, Sir Iain, that has been a most valuable endeavour. You may return home. I will make arrangements for your account to be credited with your agreed fee. Thank you,” the man on the end of the phone said, then hung up.
He would have liked to have asked him about the woman and her ability to defy the onslaught of time, but he knew well enough not to ask questions. The man, Ducky, had a lot of money to throw around, the sort of money that only comes with a degree of power. Sir Iain knew that power of that nature could make people disappear. He was intrigued by the woman, but his taste for adventure did not extend as far as winding up people that could dispose of him without a thought. He never heard from the man again.

# # #

The team of men had been working on breaking through the wall for days with no success. Their tools either broke or simly wore down; whatever the wall was made of, it was no normal brick. Over night, the man with the duck-headed cane would sit outside it and wait, hoping that the woman would appear and reveal her secrets. He knew she had many, probably more that he could even comprehend. After weeks had gone by with no breakthrough and no sign of the woman, the decision had finally been taken. The explosives had been laid, sunk into the ground beside the wall. The crew of men working on the wall kept their distance, waiting behind shelter about twenty yeards away. The man had told one of them to sound the alarm at the appropriate time. He looked at his watch.
“3, 2, 1,” he counted down. The alarm sounded, the plaintive wail of the air raid siren, echoing around the tennements. “Give it a minute or two, ” he whispered to himself, “this has got to seem real.”
He took to cover, about one hundred yards away from the wall and waited, watching the lights go out across the city in front of him and listening to people running for shelter from the planes they thought were approaching.
The explosives expert had assured him that the blast would be small and that the destructive force would be directed towards the wall and the ground below. “It would be safe to stand within ten yards of it when it goes off”, he had said, “but we’ll leave twenty to be extra safe.”
When the explosion was triggered, not one of them was left alive. The radius of the blast was over fifty yards, more than five times what had been expected. The man wandered over to the smoking pit that was left behind and looked in. It looked like a volcano had erupted in the street, with debris lying everywhere and a crater at least thirty yards from one side to the other.
“Idiots,” he said, though none were left alive to hear him, “they must have used too much. Whatever was in there is gone now.”
He shook his head and sighed.
The man with the duck-headed cane turned and walked away, into the darkness.

Great Hites Prompt 69

This weeks prompt comes from me and is:

“An old beat up car.”

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday September 1st. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to greathites at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


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Great Hites 66

This week we have stories by:

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Marla J. Mercer <——— This week's WinnerWinner
Mick Bordet
Norval Joe
and
Zach Ricks

STAR SHADES
by
Marla J. Mercer

Brady awakened precisely one minute before the alarm on his digital watch was set to ring. Quickly, he sat up and looked around his small studio apartment. Sparsely furnished and nearly devoid of personal possessions, the room had the feel of a monk’s quarters. Though Brady had lived in the apartment for almost four years, no one had ever visited, nor did anyone in the building know him by name. Brady didn’t mind. Soon, he would be back on his home planet. On his home planet, he had many friends.
Brady reached for his wristwatch on the night stand and turned off the alarm just as it started to sound. Slipping the watch onto his wrist, he checked the time. It was 6:45 A.M. In exactly ninety minutes, the spaceship would land in the park, and he would leave earth forever. Humming softly, he stood and made the bed.
Sticking to his usual morning routine, Brady shaved, showered, and brushed his teeth. He took a little extra time with his hair today, carefully combing a number of thin strands over his bald spot. With studied deliberateness he went to the closet and removed the items he had been instructed to wear on his journey—a plaid shirt, khaki pants, and his best pair of loafers.
When he had finished dressing, Brady walked to his desk and picked up a pair of sunglasses. With gray-tinted lenses and thick black frames, the glasses looked perfectly ordinary. They were, however, anything but ordinary. They were star shades. Only Brady knew their secret. He had no idea how they actually worked; the technology was beyond his comprehension. All he knew was that each morning when he put on the sunglasses, they allowed him to receive telepathic instructions from his home planet.
Anxious to hear what the final communication would be on this—his last day on earth—
Brady put on the glasses. He fiddled with them until they rested comfortably on his nose and ears. Then, he waited.
“Agent Brady.” The voice rang out crystal clear in Brady’s brain. “Your transport has entered earth’s solar system and will be arriving at the park at the prearranged time. Please be ready and waiting at the designated coordinates near the koi pond. Once the ship is fully uncloaked, you will have approximately sixty seconds to board.
“As this will be our last transmission, you are instructed to destroy the star shades upon sign off. And may I say, Agent Brady, we all eagerly await your return. End transmission.”
Barely able to control his joy, Brady took off the sunglasses. Without a moment’s hesitation, he tossed them on the ground and tromped on them until the lenses were shattered, and the frames lay twisted and broken. Whatever the daily orders from home, Brady always followed them to the letter. It was his duty, his mission.
For the past seven years, ever since he had first found the sunglasses on the park bench by the koi pond, Brady had received thousands of instructions. Sometimes he was told to walk backwards down staircases, or to avoid eye contact with a specific person at his place of work, or to only eat foods whose names contained three vowels. Brady always obeyed without question.
Now, as he walked to the kitchenette and fixed himself a piece of toast, Brady wondered if it might be all right if he brought one his carvings with him on the trip. It would be nice to have a small memento, a keepsake to commemorate his time on earth. Since he had received no instructions about it one way or the other, Brady supposed it would probably be okay. After all, the carvings only weighed a few ounces each.
Quickly finishing his toast, Brady opened the cupboard beneath the sink. Smiling, he removed a cafeteria tray bearing an odd assortment of miniature spaceships that he had whittled from bars of Ivory soap. He cocked his head to one side, proudly admiring his handiwork. Carving the tiny white ships had been his only diversion. He didn’t own a computer, or a television, or even a radio, lest their vibrations somehow interfere with the power of the star shades.
Brady gently fingered the delicate white spaceships. After several moments of deliberation, he picked one of his favorites and wrapped it in a paper towel. Carefully, he placed his treasure in a brown lunch bag and folded it shut. He checked his watch. It was 7:15—time to leave.
Brown bag in hand, Brady left his apartment and walked two blocks to the bus stop. It was a clear day, and the air was already growing warm. At 7:32, two minutes late, the Number Three bus arrived. Brady climbed aboard and made his way down the aisle to an empty seat near the back. The bus smelled vaguely of sweat. With a hiss of the compressed-air brakes, the lumbering vehicle pulled from the curb and began its slow but steady progress through the morning commuter traffic. At each stop, Brady checked his watch.
By the time passengers began boarding on Madison Street it was 7:43. The bus was now running a full three minutes behind schedule. Though annoyed by the driver’s apparent disregard for promptness, Brady wasn’t worried. He had, after all, allowed for a full twenty-minute margin of error in his timetable.
At last, the bus got under way again and began to pick up speed. Halfway down the block, there was a loud screech of brakes. The bus jolted to an abrupt stop. Brady was hurled forward. His forehead smacked against the metal handrail mounted on the seat in front him. A split second later, the momentum shifted, and his head snapped backwards in a whiplash motion. Stunned, he touched his forehead. He could already feel a lump beginning to form. A thin but steady trickle of blood dripped from his nostrils and formed an ever-widening stain on his plaid shirt. Through his dizziness, Brady tried to focus his eyes but saw only a blur of colors and shapes spinning around him.
“What happened?” cried a man across the aisle.
“We’ve hit someone!” a woman shrieked. “An old man. I saw him. He jumped right in front the bus!”
As the words sank in, Brady felt a wave a horror sweep through him. If what the woman said was true, the police would arrive soon. They would want statements from everyone. There would be ambulances and medical personnel. It might be hours before he was allowed to leave the scene. Grasping the handrail in front him, Brady struggled unsteadily to his feet. He had to get off of the bus—get off now while he still had a chance to escape.
Clutching the brown lunch bag, Brady stepped into the aisle. He glanced around and saw other injured passengers. A number of people had moved toward the front of the bus and were looking out the large windshield. Weaving slowly from one seat to another, Brady headed for the side exit. Four teenage boys stood in the aisle blocking his path.
“Out of the way!” shouted Brady. He waved his arms wildly.
Startled by Brady’s bloodied face and threatening expression, the boys backed away and let him pass. Brady reached the side-exit stairwell and fumbled down the metal steps. The pneumatic, split-entrance doors at the bottom were closed. He pressed the oval panel marked OPEN. Nothing happened. He pushed on it again and again. The doors remained closed.
“Let me out!” screamed Brady. He clawed frantically at the rubber gaskets where the two doors met, trying to pry them open. They wouldn’t budge.
A crowd had begun to gather on the sidewalk. Curious onlookers peered at Brady through the tinted glass panels on the exit doors. He heard sirens in the distance.
“Let me out! I have to get out! Help me!” he screamed, beating on the doors.
A large man in a black t-shirt and dirty jeans pushed his way to the front of the throng. He wedged his thick fingers between the slit in the doors and pulled. Slowly, the doors parted. Bloody and dazed, Brady lost his balance and stumbled from the bus. The big man grabbed hold of Brady and kept him from falling.
“You don’t look so good, buddy,” said the man. “You’d better sit down on the curb and wait ‘til an ambulance gets here.”
“No!” protested Brady. He pushed the man aside. “I have to get to the park.” He lunged into the throng of spectators.
The crowd parted, recoiling at the sight of him. Then, in a flurry of sirens and flashing lights, a fire truck and two police cars entered the Madison Street intersection and headed for the bus. In response, the horde of people on the sidewalk closed ranks and pressed forward to get a better look at the action. Brady slipped away unnoticed.
With a tight hold on the brown bag, he tottered unsteadily down the sidewalk, hoping to put as much distance between himself and the bus as possible. The street was now clogged with cars. Traffic was at a standstill. Brady kept close to the storefronts, using his free hand to shield his face from the curious glances of the pedestrians streaming past him. His head had begun to throb, and there was a high-pitched whistling sound in his ears.
When Brady reached the next intersection he glanced at the street sign. “Lawson Street,” he said aloud. “I’m at Lawson Street.” Though it was difficult to concentrate, he forced himself to calculate the distance between Lawson Street and the park.
“Six blocks,” he murmured. He looked at his watch. The small green digits on the L.E.D. display appeared fuzzy and blurred. Squinting, he finally brought the numbers into focus. It was 7: 56. He still had time. He could make it if he hurried.
Brady tried to run, but his knees buckled, and he nearly fell. Righting himself, he began a slow half-jogging/half-walking gait. His headache seemed to be growing worse with each footfall upon the hard pavement. Block by-laborious-block the pain intensified. He was vaguely aware of people on the sidewalk staring at him in alarm. A few of them even tried to speak to him, but he couldn’t hear what they were saying. Their voices were muted by the high-pitched whine that filled his ears.
When Brady reached Tyler Street, two blocks from the park, he stopped and glanced at his watch. The numbers danced and swam. He could make no sense of them at all. Brady pressed on, willing his legs to move.
“I can make it,” he murmured. “I can make it.”
Then he saw it: the park. Just one more block. With a final burst of adrenaline, he compelled his exploding lungs to breathe deeper, his body to move faster. Reeling, he lurched past the entry gate and staggered down the cement pathway until he reached the koi pond. As he sank into the bench near the water’s edge, he was overcome by vertigo. He leaned forward and vomited blood.
When he was through retching, Brady wiped his lips. Frothy red spittle foamed at the corners of his mouth. He tried to look at his watch, but both of his arms had gone suddenly numb. He couldn’t feel them at all. Nor could he move them. He watched helplessly as his grip gave way, and the lunch bag he had been carrying slipped from his grasp. The bag fell open, its precious cargo spilling onto the grass below the bench.
“No!” whimpered Brady.
His body began to convulse. He slumped forward. Paralyzed and dying, Brady crumbled to the ground. He landed with his neck oddly contorted and his face just inches from the miniature soap carving that had fallen free from its wrapping.
Brady gasped and stared in awe at the huge spaceship that dominated his entire field of vision. Never had he seen anything so magnificent, so beautiful. Smooth and white, the giant craft looked as if it has been carved from pure alabaster stone. Tears of joy trailed down Brady’s cheeks. He had done it. He had arrived on time. It was 8:15, and Agent Brady was going home.

Creative Commons License
Star Shades by Marla J. Mercer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

Breakfast Hat
by Mick Bordet

He stumbled around the bins lining the backstreet that had served as his home for the last three days, looking for the scraps of food that would form his breakfast and thanking his fellow man for being a creature of excess and wastefulness. Living the green lifestyle and recycling everything was all very well, but right now he was glad that the idea had yet to catch on in New York or at least this part of the city. Digging through other people’s rubbish was not his idea of fun, but it certainly beat starving to death as a pastime. So far his morning’s work had provided five cartons of various fruit juice dregs that combined to make a pleasant drink, half a loaf of bread that was turning stale, but was still perfectly edible when topped with the scrapings from a selection of jam jars, half a doughnut, a woolly hat and a pair of sunglasses. There was plenty more food available, but half-eaten Chinese takeaways and congealed spaghetti were more than even he could stomach at 6am.
The hat was a great find, much more in keeping with the New York look than his own flat cap. Following fashion was never something he could have been accused of, but there was a time and a place for standing out and making a statement. This wasn’t it. Now all he sought was to be average, to fit the profile of everybody else living on the streets, doing away with distinguishing features and embracing the mundane.
He sat down in a doorway to eat the food he had collected, then slid the hat on and donned the dark glasses. Together with the threadbare suit he had found discarded in a skip the day before, they served to completely change his appearance. That was his plan, for the short term at least: fade into the background of the city, another nameless, homeless statistic that nobody would come looking for.


The Teacher
By: Norval Joe

The sun rose on the silent city streets. A man walked through patches of new grass encouraged by recent rains. In places the dense growth of weeds completely obscured the transition from gutter to sidewalk. Apartments and office complexes, their empty windows like the multi faceted eyes of dead dragonflies, towered above the man casting the deep, narrow, canyons into shadowed darkness.
He walked past shop windows, their displays fallen to dust. The doors were unlocked and the windows unbroken. The death came so quickly. No one bothered to lock doors as the employees and customers died suddenly where they worked and shopped. The few that lived were too disoriented, too distraught, or too afraid to loot or vandalize.
He asked himself, as he did each time he came to the city, “how many died?” He couldn’t answer himself. There was only a handful that found their way from the city to the outskirts, where there was open air, away from the stench of rotting bodies. There had been hundreds of thousands who lived and worked in the city. In a day a few dozen were left alive.
The dogs thrived for a time. Eating their masters and the corpses of the other animals susceptible to the plague. Horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, were all gone. Only dogs and cats were unaffected. Mixed breed packs of dogs roamed the city streets consuming whatever they found, and eventually, when all the rotting meat was gone, they consumed one another.

“Robin, I’m going into the city. I need to get a few things,” the man said to his wife. “I should be to the outskirts by daybreak. In and out before mid-day.”
“I know I shouldn’t worry. But, I do every time you leave. It’s only midnight, can’t you wait a few hours before you go,” she asked?
“No.” He looked at the door, anxious to be on his way, yet hesitant to leave her alone. “The light will only be good for a few hours at the store, and I want to take full advantage of every minute.”
“I know, Sean,” she said and smiled. “Just be careful. Keep an eye behind you. On my one trip to the city, I felt like someone was watching me. Like ghosts of all those dead people, standing around the corners or looking out of the windows.”
“You know I’m not superstitious. But I will be cautious. And I’ll be back by tomorrow at sunset.” He kissed her, and she kissed him back passionately.
When they separated, she said, “now, there is something for you to remember me by. There will be another waiting for you when you get back.” She watched him shoulder his backpack.
As he reached the door he took the Ray Ban Wayfarers from his pocket and put them on. “You’re not going to wear those now are you? It’s pitch black out there. How will you see where you’re going?”
“You know I have to, once I leave the house. Besides, I know the way. It’s a straight shot on level road for most of the way. I can see what I need.” He hugged her, kissed her again, and left.

Sean entered the ‘House of Music’ and went straight to the Steinway Grand. It was close enough to the front of the store to take advantage of the light from outdoors, but not so close that extreme temperature changes, outside, would cause irreparable damage to the instrument. He removed the quilted cover that protected the piano from dust and moisture. He played scales and finger exercises listening to each note. He wouldn’t need to tune it as he did at his last visit in the early spring.
When his fingers were warmed up, he played many of his favorite songs from memory. He spent a precious half hour improvising on some blues and jazz numbers he had put together. The notes were rich and resonant, unlike the pianos out in the villages.
Sean was a master pianist. He traveled from village to village each day. He taught lessons to young, aspiring, pianists during the day and performed in the assembly halls at night.

He thought a about recent lesson he had taught in one on the villages. A girl, Sarah, about ten years old struggled to play a sonata by Bach. She slammed her fists down on the keys and exclaimed, “Why can’t I play something more fun. It’s easier to play the modern stuff, and I don’t like this old garbage.” Sean took the music book from in front of her, closed it and put it in his back pack.
“Your lesson is over for today.” Sean said, closing his pack and replacing the Ray Bans in front his eyes. “Perhaps next week when I return, you will have earned more respect for this instrument. When the death came, not many remained that played the piano. The people sought their entertainment, and their music, through electronic media. Fortunately, one man still had the skill to play the piano. He trained my master, as I am teaching you. If you master the skills, you will receive the glasses as I have.”
He walked to the door of the assembly hall and stopped, his hand on the door knob, and continued, “However, if you don’t learn more respect for the instrument, your opportunity to earn the glasses will have ended. There are few pianos left in this region, and I am the only one who can fix them. Treat it kindly,” he said and left.

When the death had come, those that survived used the cars and the fuel to leave the cities. They moved to the farms and built villages where they could support one another. In a short time all the accessible fuel was gone, and after a generation, even the solar components were failing and irreplaceable. Generations later their only available fuel was corn alcohol, which they used sparingly to cook their food, and light their lamps.
Their history and learning had been recorded on digital media. No one thought to begin transcribing the information to written form until the last of the generators failed and the electricity turned off permanently. The music store was the only place within walking distance of Sean’s territory that had a supply of written music.
Sean searched the shelves of the store until he found sheet music to a piano concerto he had not yet learned. He practiced it until the sun crossed over the street outside and passed behind the buildings opposite the music store. The room darkened with the shadows outside. Eventually the light became too dim inside the store for him to read the music.
He placed the sheet music in his backpack, and replace the quilted cover on the Steinway.
He found an upright piano of a size similar to those used in the villages and removed several of the wires. Nearly five generations had passed since the death came, and the old pianos were always in need of repair. He placed the wires in his backpack and left the store.
He retraced his route back out of town. He stopped suddenly when he heard a sound from behind him. The empty city was a continuous chorus of whispers and sighing whistles as the wind wound through the empty streets. The scuffling sound of feet in the dirt of the sidewalk was so foreign to the desolate city as to be a shout in a silent room.
Sean spun about, expecting to find a pack of dogs in pursuit. Instead he found himself face to face with a boy, perhaps in his early teens. The boy stepped forward a long belt knife in his hand. “Gimme your glasses,” he said to the pianist.
Sean snorted a short laugh, “You know I can’t do that. You have to prove yourself first. What village do you live in. I don’t think I have ever seen you at any of the lessons.”
“We don’t live in a village,” he said.
“We,” Sean thought? He looked around himself and was astounded to find that a group of not less than ten boys had formed a half circle behind him, each with a knife equally as large as the boy to his front.
“Come with me. I will prove myself, and you will have to give me the Ray Bans,” the boy said, turned and headed toward an alley.
Sean followed him along a maze of turns through the city blocks until they came upon an ancient hotel. Its front double doors stood open. They climbed dark stairwells the full height of the building’s twenty stories. The boys climbed effortlessly, but stopped periodically for Sean to catch his breath. They waited patiently after one of the older boys commented, “You can’t expect a flat-lander to be able to climb stairs like us who’ve lived here all our lives.”
They arrived at the top level and passed through the door on the landing. The man stepped through first, followed by the boys and entered a large, open, receiving area of the penthouse apartment. The room was lit by multiple skylights that gave the room a brightness unequaled to any room Sean had been in. The skylights stood open, allowing a breeze to cool the apartment. There were people of all ages involved in various activities, from merely talking with one another, to making clothing, and preparing food.
The boy lead him across the communal area to a passageway and eventually to a large bedroom. A large skylight covered most of the ceiling to light this room as well. The only furniture in the room was a bed and an upright grand piano. A withered old man lay in the bed and shook uncontrollably as if from a palsy. The boy walked to the bedside and kiss the man on the head. To Sean’s astonishment, the old man wore Wayfarers, identical to his own. The boy who had lead Sean to the bedroom spoke to the man in the bed. “Grand father, this is the man I told you about. He came to the music store, again. I told him to give me his glasses and he told me no.” The boy seethed with barely controlled anger.
The grand father patted the boy’s back with his shaking hand. He leaned forward and spoke to the boy in a rough whisper. “Play for him, my son.” He collapsed back onto his large pillow as if exhausted from the effort of speaking.
The boy sneered at the Sean and walked to the piano. He cracked his knuckles and began to play. He recognized most of what the boy played as late twentieth century jazz. He had a flare for improvisation and transposed the pieces he played through a variety of keys, altering chord progressions and building on others. Sean smiled. The boy was truly gifted.
After a quarter hour performance, the boy stopped and looked to his grandfather. The old man was smiling and nodding his head weakly. Sean said nothing but took the sheet music from his backpack. He opened it and placed it in front of the boy on the piano. “Ok,” Sean said, “play that.”
“What is this,” the boy asked? “It looks like ants smashed on a paper. What am I supposed to do with it,” he asked, the redness of embarrassment spread across his cheeks.
“I will show you,” Sean said and motioned the boy off the piano bench. He played the piano concerto with the dynamics and emotion of a master; of one who had earned the glasses.
When Sean completed the concerto, he stood and looked at the old man. Tears trickled from beneath his sunglasses. He motioned Sean to come to him. He reached his wavering hands up to the younger man and pulled him forward by the shoulders.
The boy could hear his Grand Fathers hoarse whisper, “Take the boy. Teach him. If he can learn, as you have played, give him these.” With that, the old man removed the Wayfarers from his own face, folded them carefully, and slipped them into Sean’s shirt pocket.
As night fell, Sean lead the young man out of the city toward the villages.

Private Eyes
By: Zach Ricks

Hank’s eyes flew open a moment before the alarm went off. A slim arm slapped the clock off and grabbed the glasses from the table in one smooth motion. As he brought them up to his face, still prone on the bare mattress, he paused. How long had it been since he’d cleaned them? He glanced toward the door – toward the hallway that led to the small shared bathroom in the tiny hotel. He shook his head, and placed the dark glasses on his nose. Then he sat up and reached for his pants – hung over the footboard. You couldn’t be too careful. Hank knew his reputation for bad timing.
After all, it was richly deserved.
Pants cinched around his slim waist with the worn, cracking, brown leather belt, he silently pulled the door ajar and listened without removing the chain. Not that it would provide much protection if there was someone waiting for him, but it would give him enough time to draw the Glock 26 at the small of his back.
The hall was clear, and it was a step and a half to the bathroom. Hank pushed the door shut, and drew the chain. He stepped quickly into the dark hallway, feeling a surge of adrenalin as he spotted a huddled shape at the other end of the hall. But it was just Charlie. He shook his head, and stepped into the cold light of the bathroom. Oddly enough, it was clean – one of the reasons Hank stayed here.
Locking the door behind him, he went to the mirror, and pulled off the glasses to clean them with a square of tissue. He purposely avoided looking at himself as he did so. But as he put the glasses back on his twice-broken nose, he got a brief glimpse of silver and a glowing electric blue in the mirror, and shuddered a little.
He had, as always, been in the right place at the wrong time. Kidnapping, eight years prior. Tech genius Boyd Samson’s twelve-year-old son had been snatched from the steps of his little private school. Hank and John had tracked the kidnappers to a little house on the outskirts of town, close to the highway… close to the river. It didn’t bode well. They’d waited for two of the men to leave – off to get groceries, booze, who knew what. That left one of the men in the house. They’d called in the license plate, and left it to the regulars to pick up the two in the car, and gone for the house.
Hank didn’t know how they’d known they were coming, nor did he know how the fourth man had entered the house without their seeing him, but John had taken a slug to the back of the head, and Hank had been knocked unconscious as he dove for his friend.
He’d woken with his hands tied behind his back, and the sight of the knife tip headed for his eyes. First one, then the other. He’d screamed and screamed. Screamed so loud and long he hadn’t heard the regulars charging up the stairs and into the room – had only barely heard the shot that had ended the case.
Samson visited Hank in his hospital room, all gushing thanks, as any father would have been. But this wasn’t just any father. And he had a particular offer of help that Hank just couldn’t say no to.
They were the first of their kind, shining surgical steel and cobalt blue electrical glow. When Samson’s firm demonstrated that not only could the electrical signals be interpreted by the brain, but stored for later playback… and used in evidence… the brass had kept him in major crimes for three months, then moved him to internal affairs when he’d witnessed a Senator’s son strung out on who knew what, drawing a weapon on the police and firing wildly.
He’d been a hero before the transfer. But people started clamming up around him. Conversations died as he entered a room. And to add insult to injury, Samson had released his production model – electronic eyes virtually identical to the human eyes they replaced. Something well beyond the means of a mere cop, and Samson’s people weren’t taking his calls any more. Not after that Senator had made it clear that Hank Torrance was persona non grata.
When detectives started getting the eyes as a matter of course – subsidized by the taxpayer, but his own requests had been denied repeatedly as an “uncovered cosmetic procedure”, Hank had finally seen the writing on the wall and left the force to work as a private investigator.
He shook his head to clear the memories, and ran fingers through his thick hair. Who knew what the city would bring to his office this morning, but Hank had a feeling it was the right place to be, even it would be the wrong time to be there.

Great Hites Bonus Episode – Abigail By :Guy David

Iridescent Angel, Part III: Abigail


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The morning light crept in through the half open window and awoke Abigail up. She stretched and yawned then started on her feet in alarm. The room looked oddly familiar, but for a moment she couldn’t remember where she was. It looked homely enough and she decided to wash her face and try to awake herself further that way. She was in a small bedroom with two adjacent doors. She tried one of them and found herself in a small bathroom. It had a mirror with a basin attached to it at the bottom. She approached the basin, intent on washing her face when she caught her own reflection in the mirror and cried out in surprise. While she had celebrated her 48th birthday not so long ago, her mirror reflection looked early 20’s. It all started coming back to her, passing the wall, being shot by her husband and awaking in this strange place with her daughter, shaped like an angel, watching over her. She remembered drifting in and out of sleep while her body was being mended at the Rejuv center. Was she still at the center? She washed her face and entered the bedroom again. This time she tried the other door.

As she went out of the room, she could hear a woman singing, her voice angelic. She climbed down some steps into a living room. Her daughter, Ebony was there, talking with another woman. Both where naked, glowing and had wings. “Don’t you ever wear cloths?” she asked Ebony in spite of herself. Ebony just chuckled and said “the wings make it a little difficult, anyway, there is no strict dress code here.” The other woman looked at her, curious. “This is Lindsay” said Ebony, “she saved me when one of the elders from the reservation tried to kill me 8 years ago. We’ve been friends ever since.” Abigail looked at her for a second, then she said “I just looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. Can you explain to me how come I look about 20 years younger?” It was Lindsay who spoke this time. “This is what we do in Rejuv. We keep people young and take care of their injuries. You wouldn’t believe what people do to themselves during gaming.” “Gaming?” asked Abigail, baffled. “This world is very different from the one we grew up in.” Said Ebony, “People who get themselves hurt can get themselves fixed in places like the Rejuv center. It’s amazing what we can do here.” “Eight years and you’re still amazed.” said Lindsay, smiling.

“I can hear the singing of angels” said Abigail, “Where is it coming from?” Ebony and Lindsay laughed out loud at this. “This is not an angel singing. It’s just a singer I happen to like. We can have any music play here. Here, would you like some classical music?” As she said that, the music suddenly changed. Abigail could hear the sound of throbbing violins and cheering trumpets. “How did you change the music?” she asked. “I just used my in-head-interface to tell the music playing device what I wanted.” Said Ebony. “In-head-interface?” asked Abigail. “You have allot to learn.” Said Ebony, “Our world is the world of technology. By kipping ourselves away from the world in our little reservation, we kept ourselves from all of the advantages of a modern world. Here we have longevity, we have ways to manipulate reality, to communicate better with each other. I can send my thoughts to someone on the other side of this planet, just by using my in-head-interface, a device that is installed in my head and acts as a communication and control center. This is only scratching the surface of what we can do here.”

“Are you hungry?” asked Ebony. A thin fog appeared in the middle of the room, quickly shaping itself into the shape of a table, laden with all sorts of goods. “You see” said Lindsay, “we can create anything we want, seemingly out of thin air.” Abigail stared at the table and the goods in amazement. “It’s the same technology the reservation walls are made off” said Ebony. Abigail looked at her, looked at Lindsay, then she nodded and started to speak slowly. “I understand now.” She said, “why we are being kept in the reservation by our leaders. You have been monitoring our people, but you haven’t noticed what was really going on. The few have taken hold of the holy scriptures and are using them to control the many. Most of the people living in the reservation would leave it in the blink of an eye if they knew what was really going on here. I believe the reservation should be discontinued. The walls between our worlds should be no more. It is time our people joined the here and now.”

Great Hites Bonus Prompt

In an attempt to really confuse you, we are doing a Great Hites musical episode. Because this is something a little different, you have more time than normal and this will not replace any of the normal prompts.

Here is the deal. Get us a song, lyrics music and recording if you can, by August 31 on the subject of “Wiener Dogs.” You know Dachshunds! Yeah those funny short little dogs.

The song must be an original and as always we will creative commons license it so you will retain all rights to republish it / preform it anywhere or way you like.

if you need some research material here are a couple of sites I found with a quick google search:


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http://www.thedachshundnetwork.com/doxtypes.htm
http://www.officialdachshundguide.com/Dachshund_Types/index.php
http://www.akc.org/breeds/dachshund/index.cfm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dachshunds

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&body=1 – Check out the rules 2 – paste the text of you story below 3 – Attach your audio that’s it”>Submit

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Great Hites Prompt 68

This weeks prompt comes from me and is:

“Pick up your local paper, choose an interesting news item. Tell us about it and then write a story based on that news item.”

Example: 89 year old Civil War widow (The last one known to be still alive) finds out that she can collect her late husband’s retirement benefits.

Have fun with this one.

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday August 25. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to greathites at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


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&body=1 – Check out the rules 2 – paste the text of you story below 3 – Attach your audio that’s it”>Submit

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Great Hites # 65

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This week have stories by:
Norval Joe <——— This week's WinnerWinner
Eldon KR
And
Jeff Hite

Download Great Hites 65 m4a format

A Dog With Dry Skin
By: Eldon KR

I don’t know why I didn’t see it coming. In all honesty I should have, and I normally would have. But I had been with her for so long that I really didn’t expect any of this. I had an addon for Firefox that would always reload the tabs that were last viewed when the browser was launched again. Occasionally I’d see things like price checks on plane tickets, rental cars, things like that. I never really thought anything of it. She told me she was leaving me in November. I was blindsided. Everything seemed like we were doing great. She didn’t actually end up leaving to go back to Texas until the second week of December.

Our last goodbye and everything leading up to it was fueled by nothing more than pity on her part. I mean, when two years of your life is getting back on a plane for home because she didn’t know what she wanted out of her life, you’re not exactly doing backflips are you? But I knew that she was leaving for a month before she actually did, so there was plenty of time for the “I’m never going to see you again” weirdness. Except for the fact that for most of this time she led me to believe that I could fix whatever was wrong and that she’d be back. There was also the “I can’t believe you’ve done this to me I wish you were dead” screaming after I found out that she’d been using everything I owned to cheat on me with some guy I knew down the road for that month she was getting ready to leave. The guy that I’d known since the first day I move up here, the guy I went on odd jobs with in the summer.

Every time I was out in Indy to see my friend, or in class, or somewhere around town they were together. Every time I was at home, she had to go get cigarettes. Or she just felt like going for a drive, or to Walmart. There was even one time when he was at the house and she said she had to take him over to Eric’s house to do some work. At ten o’clock at night. Yeah, the guy how had me spend most of the summer painting his garage and doing work on his house, let the kid use his spare bedroom as a bachelor pad because I was at the house. And she didn’t feel the need to tell me any of this was going on until she thought that she caught something.

I’d like to take this time to reiterate that I should have been able to put all the pieces together. And I know what you’re thinking, if we were already broken up with me why did it matter? Well, it mattered to me because I was led to believe that she’d come back, and that she needed a break, and her sister was about to have a baby and she needed to be there. Oh shut up, it was a really hard time for me and I was going to hold onto any small glimmer of hope that I could like a drowning man to an inner tube. Anyway, it mattered to me because this whole time this was going on, she was being sneaky about it. We were still sharing a room, and a bed. We were still sleeping together. Sometimes she still told me she loved me. I felt wronged.

I played Celldweller on the way to the airport in Indianapolis. It was a band I’d discovered that she actually liked. And the soundtrack would provide no awkward small talk, and no awkward silences. I dropped her off at the airport. She kissed me and told me she loved me. She said if I could find work and get the money that I could fly to Texas to kidnap her and bring her back to Indiana. All I could do was hold back my tears and tell her that I loved her too. It wasn’t until I got back on the highway that I started crying, and screaming, and punching my steering wheel.

My friend in Indy knew t his would be a tough time for me and said I could hang out with him and his wife for a few days and we could get drunk, talk about zombies, and play video games. I’ve never been too terribly good with directions in a place I’m not at often. I find one easy to memorize route to get to some place and I stick to that route. If there was another place I needed to learn how to get to in Indianapolis it was usually just a different variation on that one route that I’d have to memorize. So it didn’t take me long to get lost trying to get to his house on the way back from the airport. That and it’s really easy to miss an exit on the highway at night when you’re crying. I’m not down with all the macho manly man crap. If I’m hurting on an emotional level then dammit, I’m going to cry.

Moving on, I called my friend told him I was lost. He gave me directions to get to his work from where I was because it was easy to get to his house from where he worked. Well, yet again I made a wrong turn and got all turned around and lost again. So he told me to pull off the road and wait for him in the parking lot of a near by White Castle until he got off work. I was sitting in this parking lot for about four maybe five hours. To keep myself awake to decrease my chances of being robbed I spent that time listening to the first book of the Archangel podcast. The sun was starting to come up and I see my friends car enter the parking lot and he engaged in an impromptu game of bumper tag to make sure I was awake before he parked his car. We sat in the restaurant and he ate while I talked. I followed him back to his house, got some sleep, and we spent the next few days pickling our livers and playing Gears of War, good therapy in my book.

The next week of December rolled by and I still wasn’t used to being alone. It was the week of Christmas, my grandmother got me a membership to The Smithsonian, still not sure what privileges that entitles me to, but the magazine is pretty good. Christmas day came around, I day day and not morning because nobody wakes up before noon at this house without a legitimate need to. I walked into the living room and there was a cardboard box on the floor. I asked my mom what was in it, she tells me to lift up the box and see what was under it.

As I approached the box I heard a muffled bark from beneath the cardboard. Excited I lifted up the box and was shocked at what I saw. My mother had gotten me one of those robot dogs that you’d find in the toy aisle at Walmart. I was slightly annoyed by this, as it appeared to be a gag. I’d gotten a robot dog, instead of an actual puppy. I’d wanted one since I moved up here and I was finally living in a place that had a yard, instead of an apartment, or a dorm, or in a car. I went along with it anyway seeing as it was Christmas, and a gag gift was better than no gift at all. I didn’t get used to sleeping alone, and having a whole bed to myself until recently. Yeah, I had to brave through the cold winter nights alone. But now I had a dog with dry skin to keep me company.

Creative Commons License
A Dog With Dry Skin by Eldon KR is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

“Once in a life time”
By: Norval Joe

He started his car, looked in the side view mirror out of habit, and remembered that it had been gone for weeks. He had many opportunities to replace it since the day the screws had loosened enough for the mirror to drop off. He hadn’t replaced it. He just didn’t want to make the effort; take the time.
He took a cursory glance over his shoulder at the oncoming traffic and gunned his engine. He shot into traffic, ignored the honks and hand gestures of the other drivers and headed for home.
“Mark. I’m amazed you’re not dead yet; or at least had your car totaled. That guy in the Jaguar only missed you buy inches. You must have been born under a lucky star, or have a guardian angel following you around,” a man said from the passenger seat.
Mark took off his red ball cap and smoothed his thinning blonde hair and wondered if it was time to start using a scalp treatment, or if he should just get a wig. I’d probably look like that dipstick, Donald Trump. What a moron, he thought.
“I’m smarter than that Colby. I’m smarter than all of them and faster, too. I stand on the road side for eight hours every day with as sign, telling these idiots when to stop and when to go. I know them all. See these jerks?” Mark motioned at the cars in the traffic around them with a wave of his arm. “I know which exactly ones are going to get out of my way, and which won’t. I can tell in an instant.”
“What ever. I think you must be too mean to hit. You give off some kind of negative energy that pushes people away, like a force field. These cars couldn’t hit you if they tried. They would just bounce off your protective buffer.” Colby laughed.
Mark looked at his passenger, observed his sheepish grin and red face, and asked, “if you’re so smart why aren’t you being blown out the window by my evil hate ray? You’re no different than the rest of these pathetic losers. I’m even concentrating on you, focusing my energy. Can you feel my hate? You’re still sitting there,” he said, acid dripping from his lips along with the words.
Colby laughed again and settled down in his seat. He made a show of holding onto the hand rests. “I need the ride, of course. And from what I’ve seen these last two years, the safest place on this road, is right here where I’m sitting. Besides, you may hate me, but you love it when I give you money for gas.”
“You know what?” Colby continued. “I think there is more to it. It’s like a cosmic yin and yang thing. I’m a nice guy. I thrive on being nice to people, even to people who are mean or rude to me. And you need me too. You need someone to be condescending and abusive too, because you’re mean.”
Colby turned in his seat and looked closely at the driver. “Some times I wonder if you are really as hateful as you seem, or if it is just an act you put on. How old were you when you became so hateful? Were you like, a bully, in grammar school? Steal kids lunch money? Kick the dog?” Colby shook his head and looked around to see how close they were to home.
Mark got a half grin on his face and said, “not really. I didn’t need to kick that flea ridden mutt. I could beat him up just by looking at him. Maybe you are right about the force field. I could just walk into a room where he was sleeping and he would wake up with a jerk and be on his feet in an instant, ready to bolt. He wouldn’t run at first, just stare at me, poised to flee. I would glare back and squint. It wouldn’t take long and his nerve would break. He would be off in a shot, a cloud of flakey skin following him in his wake.”
He let Colby out in front of a suburban house, the manicured lawn neatly edged, pansies and anemones in the planters that lined the walkway to front door. Mark raced off almost before Colby could shut the door completely.
He mulled over the things his passenger had said. It wasn’t the first time that co-workers on the road crew had joked about what a miserable cuss Mark was. “You don’t really need personality to hold a stop sign,” one guy had said as he stood right next to Mark. It had never bothered him before, in fact he had taken some great pride in his ability to offend. Something about the conversation this afternoon had unsettled him. It left him with an uneasy flutter behind his heart, like there was a moth in there, trapped between old shirts squeezed into a dusty, dark, closet.
He walked into his apartment and collapsed into a recliner, pulled the lever back that lifted the foot rest, and began to look for the TV remote. “Have you seen the remote?” He shouted at the hallway to the bedroom. “Maggie, have you seen the remote for the TV?”
“You’re probably sitting on it,” a slender, middle aged woman in pink surgical scrubs said as she walked through the sitting room to the kitchen. “Did you think to look before you sat down?”
A moment later Maggie walked back out of the kitchen with two glasses of coke and handed one to Mark.
“What’s wrong with you?” She sneered. “No insult or sarcasm?”
He sat, staring at the TV, though it remained off. He said nothing.
“Mark, what is it? Are you sick? Is it your heart?” She sounded concerned.
“No. I’m not sick. I don’t know what it is. Colby and I were talking on the way home today. And it made me think. I’m still thinking, and it hurts my head,” he said to Maggie, finally looking at her. “I’ve been mean and hateful most of my life. He asked my when I became that way.”
Maggie sat on the arm of the recliner, leaned on Mikes shoulder and kissed him on his temple. She said soothingly, “you’re not so mean. I know how you really are, inside.”
“Do you? I mean, you think you do, but, how do you know? Maggie, I hate everybody. People piss me off all day long. Everyone I meet is stupid. Colby reminded me of a dog we had when I was a kid. That dog was scared to death of me. But, why?” He moved to the edge of the recliner and turned to look at Maggie. “I was eight years old. I’d never hit the dog. I never even shouted at the pitiful creature. It knew, though, when I looked at it; it knew that I hated it.”
Mark stood up and leaned forward, his arms held out to his sides, emphatically. “I was eight years old and I hated a dog! What happened to me that made me such a cold, spiteful, condescending and mean child?”
He sat back down. He didn’t look for the remote. Though Maggie tried to engage him in conversation he didn’t speak. He only sat, staring blankly at the dark screen of the TV.
She finally said, “well, Sunshine, I’m going to bed. If you come to some earth shattering conclusion, don’t wake me up.”

In the morning Maggie awoke to find that she was still alone in the bed. She walked into the sitting room and said, “so, you never came in last night, did you solve any of the worlds problems?” She looked around, but Mark wasn’t in the apartment.
It was past noon, when Mark finally returned. Maggie was speechless. Under one arm he carried an overweight black dachshund. It was so old that its entire muzzle was grey. In the other hand he carried a sack with dog food, a bowl, and a bottle of moisturizing shampoo for dogs.

The World as We Know it?
By: Jeff Hite

It was not long after we started having the large cooking fires that the started coming. They came in ones and twos but they came for the smells of meat, the cooked and uncooked alike. It was not for companionship or the scratches behind the ears that they came. They came for the food, and stayed because we didn’t drive them away. We didn’t drive them away because we discovered that if they slept near the fire, the would hear the bigger and more dangerous animals long before we did. They would not bite us so long as we fed them and did not abuse them and so they stayed.
And so the story goes, but that is not the whole story or even the most important one. I am here to tell you that there are more important parts of that story that most people don’t know, but that they should. So sit like the good dog that I know you are and listen as I tell you.
In the beginning there was water. Water and nothing else, but water was not enough. With nothing else water was not happy, because water is only happy when it has something to crash against, some thing to slosh around in or being lapped up by a long warm tongue. So God created the land. The land was good, it made the water happier, now it had something to slosh around in and something to crash in waves against. So for a very long time that was all their was, water and land, and the two of them were very happy together.
But water was happy because it had the land, and it had creatures to swim through it as only can happen in water. Land could not have these creatures because the needed something to swim in and land was too hard. The creatures lived in and on and through water, and this made the water very happy. Almost as happy as it could be.
Land, however, was lonely in the middle where the water did not touch, it longed to be touched by paws that would trot along its surfaces warmed by the sun above. It wanted creatures that could scratch those places near water, but that water could not get to. It wanted to be home for those creatures at night. But it could not have the creatures of the sea, because they did not have paws to run on, or fur to keep them warm at night when the sun went and hid. They did not have claws that would scratch those places that needed to be scratched. So the land was lonely. Finally the land asked God for creatures of it’s own. God decided that this was a good idea and so He put great monstrous beast on the land, and this made the land happy.
But the creatures that God had put on the land, were huge, and they tore into the lands back, were land only wanted to be scratched. Their feet fell with great pounding that cause the land great pain. They were all together too big, and made too much noise for the lands liking. So that when the great ball of fire fell from the sky and landed in the water, he was sorry to see his friends hurt so, and was pained first by the great heat and then by the great cold that followed, but he was happy to see the great creatures go.
God then put smaller creatures on the land, at first they were too small, and then he made some larger ones again, but none of them had what the land was looking for. Land needed creatures that could roam it’s middle parts, scratching it where it needed to be scratched, digging small holes to get out those annoyingly shaped things buried in it, tickle it with shaggy fur as they rolled around on their backs, and most of all eat those things that no one else would even look at. And so God created dogs.
Dogs were perfect for what land needed. They Roamed the middle parts, dug and scratched and, rolled and ate. And did just want the land needed to make it happy. And Land for it’s part did what it could to make the dogs happy. It provided food, and shelter in the little hollowed out places. It didn’t let the Rabbit dig too deep, just deep enough that a good dog could flush them out and chase after them as they ran. Land gave them places to romp and play as much as it could, and as many smells as any dog could manage. And land and the dogs where happy.
God had of course created other creatures that land liked as well, but none that it liked as well as dogs. One of those was man. Man was good to the land, it hunted the too large beasts that still stomped on and dug at the land. They collected berries and tilled soil that needed to be turned like a shirt that sticks to your back. They harvested trees that had grown with their roots too deep in the land. They were not perfect of course not like dogs, because the lit fires that if not attended would burn and to hot or in large areas and this hurt the land. But, for the most part land did not mind the humans.
As much as dogs love land, for all that it gave him, them they were curious about these new creatures. And they had developed a problem that land could not help them with. So as man hunted, they followed them and ate things that they dropped, some good and some bad. But as man learned the secrets of fire, that no other creature on land or in the water had mastered, dogs were even more curious. These creatures could make the darkness of night disappear, and it was warm. Dogs loved to b e warm, especially when they slept. So they crept closer.
Man then learned to cook the food that they took in their kill. And dogs loved the smell of the roasting meat. Meat that was raw as good, but nothing beat the flavor for meat that was fat and dripping, even if it was cooled by the time dogs would get to it. So the dogs crept closer.
Dogs other problem was the skin on their backs. It was hard to scratch, and it always itched. Because land loved them it offered rough patches of ground and rocks for the dog to rub against. This was good for both of them, since it also tickled the land that made it happy. But dogs were lazy, and when they were not chasing rabbits or following humans for their food they wanted to be sleeping, or lying with their tongues hanging out just resting. They did not want to be bothered with rolling around on the ground to scratch their backs.
So when one night a dog snuck into a mans firelight to steal a bit of food that one of the children had dropped, it happened. The dog crept to the edge of the fire light and waited. Waited until there was no one around. Then moved in for the bit of meat. It started to pick it up and run when it saw a bone, also left on the ground. Now any good dog could not resist a good bone to chew on, but this one still had meat on it and so the temptation was double. The dog gobbled the meat and moved to the bone. It was too big for it to carry back in the darkness and so he almost ran away, but the meat on the bone was too much for him. He sat down and gnawed on it, only a little at first making as little noise as possible. The Meat was delicious, and still warm from the fire, but not too hot. He could not help himself so he lay down and chewed in earnest now.
He was so taken by the taste of the meat that he did not hear or see the child as it snuck up behind him. At first he was so surprised by the touch that he jumped to his feet and growled. But the child backed away. They watched each other for a long time. The whole time the smell of the meat on the bone tempted the dog. So after what felt like a very long time the dog began to chew on the bone again, and again the child touched his back. He stood this time but did not growl, and the child continued to rub it’s hands over the dogs back. And it was glorious. The bone was wonderful but the child was scratching the dry skin on the dogs back. He could eat and be scratched.
And that is how it started. So I guess it was the scratch that drew the dog to us after all, and why it stayed. But if you ever see a dog rolling around outside, it is not because a human won’t scratch it’s back, but because dogs remember their first master the land, and how it liked to be tickled.

Great Hites Prompt 67

This weeks prompt comes from fun 80’s movies and is:

“A man with a duck headed cane is at the door.”

All Stories for this prompt are due by Midnight Tuesday Aug 18th. Email the text of the story and a recording if you would like me to include it in the podcast to greathites at gmail dot com.

good luck. And don’t forget to come out to the site and vote for your Favorite stories this week. Remember to tell all your friends to come out and join in the fun.


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Great Hites # 64

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This week have stories by:
Norval Joe <——— This week's WinnerWinner
Eric Moseman
Jeff Hite

Things that we talked about:
Werewolfnews Thank you for the mention
Geek Survival Guide Thank you for all the attention we hope you come back soon Rick
100 word stories weekly contest This week’s prompt for them is the walls shuttered.

“Run for Cover”
By Norval Joe

Shirley came out of her room and headed for the front door.
“Shirley, where do you think you’re going?” Her mother asked.
She rolled her eyes, crossed her arms across her chest, and huffed, “To the party. You know that. You already said that I could go.”
“Yes. I know I did say you could go. But not dressed like that. Did you forget to put something on? Or did you leave it off on purpose?”
“Everyone dresses like this. If I don’t then everyone will think I’m stupid.” It was her mothers turn to roll her eyes, fold her arms and huff.
“Everyone will think you care about how you look. Look at you. You have pieces hanging out where everyone will see them. This look says, ‘I don’t care who I am.'”
Shirley looked down at herself. “How can you say I don’t care who I am? All my parts look good. They’re new and clean. Well, most of them are new, but they’re all clean.”
“Yes, they are clean, but they are hanging out! What would you think if I walked around with my parts hanging out, or your father?”
“Mother! Yuck! Don’t be disgusting. At your age, I’m sure your wires are faded. I wouldn’t go topless if mine were faded.”
Her mother palmed her blush sensor, to achieve the proper appearance of offence. “Well. Be that as it may. When you let a young man under your chest plate he can touch some delicate sensors. That will change them forever, and they will never feel the same. It can be a beautiful thing with the right man.
“If you let too many in, or treat it casually, that special feeling will dull and you probably won’t be able to find it again with anyone.
“Going out like you are gives the boys the wrong idea. That you’re willing to put out without commitment. When a young man starts messing with your circuits with out commitment, someone is going to get shorted out. And let me promise you something, it won’t be him. He won’t even remember it in the morning.”
“Oh, mother, you are so old fashioned. None of my friends think I’m loose. They wouldn’t take advantage of me.” Shirley countered again, but her voice betrayed a hint of doubt.
“Shirley, I’m sorry, you can’t tell me that. When those boys get all wound up and their heat sinks can’t dissipate fast enough, it will be your cpu that gets crashed. Please, go back up stairs and put a chest plate on. Try that pretty new one, with the vertical air vents. You’ll have just as much fun at the party. Your friends will respect you, and you’ll have respect for yourself in the morning.” Shirley’s mother put her arm around her shoulder and squeezed. “I love you, baby girl.”
“Oh, Mother. Don’t call me that. I’m too old.” Shirley said. Regardless, she went back up stairs and found the chest plate that her mother had suggested.

The next morning at the breakfast table, Shirley’s mother asked, “How was the party, dear? We’re you terribly embarrassed?”
“No. Of course not. There were others that were just as covered up as I was. We did talk a lot about parents being uptight and controlling.” Shirley smiled and turned her sarcasm filter down 25 percent.
“Oh, and you were right. Some of the boys did get kind of overheated. One guy. What a jerk. His cooling fan was stuck, or something, because he confused a bottle of soda for spray lube. After he dumped it on a bunch of us that were sitting at a network hub, I was glad I had the chest plate on. Three of the girls who were, um, over exposed, got shorted and had to be taken to maintenance for cleaning and reprogramming. That had to hurt.”
Shirley’s mother looked down at her where she sat. “You know, that was an unexpected coincidence. That type of thing wasn’t the worst that could happen.”
“I know mom,” Shirley said as she stood. “I hate to say that you are right, but I would have felt uncomfortably out of place last night, with my parts hanging out. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the party at all for the constant worry of what people were looking at, and how did they perceive me. How did they judge me. Fact is, it was safer, and just plain easier, keeping covered.”

A Girl Discovers Modesty Is Not Such A Bad Thing After All
By Eric Moseman

“You are such a prude, Terry,” said Samantha, and a chorus of giggles from the other girls burst forth. “Do you see anyone else wearing jeans and a sweater here?” she asked, with an emphasis on the word “see.” The word somehow conveyed sarcasm, superiority, repulsion, and friendship all at the same time, and could only be used by an actress with years of acting school and practice, or by almost any teenage girl in America.

Samantha had on her favorite shorts. The word “PINK” was written across the back, complete with stars for emphasis. The shorts themselves were a purple color found nowhere in nature, but more likely in a sunset on some alien world. In Sam’s own words, they were, “so short, but not too short.” She had often explained to Terry that they were so short boys could not help but notice, but not too short that she could not wear them to school. In Terry’s mind, they left nearly nothing to the imagination. She would not even wear them as pajamas. “Maybe I am a prude,” thought Terry.

Izzy, who swore she would kill anyone who ever called her Isadore, and Olivia decided this would be the perfect time to try her relatively new verbal tool sarcasm. “Izzy, I wish I had a sweater like that, except maybe a more putrid shade of green.” Izzy, not usually one to catch on to these little jabs quickly, did so this time. “Oh, I know Liv, putrid goes with any color or pattern.” The words dripped with sarcasm, but somehow Terry knew that they were only in fun. She chimed in, “I just happen to have two putrid sweaters you could borrow when school is back in. One is baby poop brown – just your color . . . Isadore.” There was that emphasis again. More laughter erupted into the air, along with sing-song “Isadore,” and “Eww . . . school!” for good measure.

There were about a dozen girls on this summer camping trip, ranging in age from twelve to fifteen. Sam and Olivia, the de facto leaders of the crowd, had somehow convinced the adult chaperones to set up their camp far away, “like a hundred yards far, if not farther” as Samantha had bluntly put it. The park itself was safe, and they set the girls up far enough away from other campers so as not to offend the more faint of heart, but close enough to the girls that major catastrophes, such as a fashion disaster, could be prevented. Samantha’s father James wondered amusedly what a group of young girls in the wild might be called. “Gaggle” was close, but not quite. “Herd” connoted a large, stupid group of dull animals, and these girls, as most, were certainly not stupid, and anything but dull. He finally settled on a “murder” of teenage girls; especially fitting since the hard ground would be murder on his aging back. He chuckled at his heights of cleverness. This was the third such trek since it became warm enough that one could not see her breath in the air.

Olivia, consulting with her co-leader, said, “Sam, we should grab more wood before it gets dark.” Samantha quickly agreed, saying simply, “K. Let’s go dudes.” The crew assembled, the late afternoon sun glinting off earrings, bangles, sparkle nail polish, and Super Lickable Shiny Lip Gloss. Terry had but one ring, a claddagh ring given to her by her grandmother. She felt somehow underdressed when compared to the others, despite being nearly completely covered in her jeans and sweater. Marching in a few smaller groups, the girls set out on their mission.

Calls of “Eww, look at this gnarly bug!” “Spider! Get it off!” and “lookout for quicksand” could be heard amidst giggles and snapping twigs. Sam called out, “Hey, Prudie, there’s a huge dead tree over here! Come help me!” Knowing “Prudie” referred to her, Terry rolled her eyes and ambled over, and the rest of the girls followed suit. A shriek rang out as fifteen-year-old Hannah found the skeleton of a dead raccoon. “OMIGOD! look at this thing!” Hannah cried with equal parts horror and wonder. “Ugh. What would a stupid dog be doing out here?” queried Izzy. “It’s not a dog, brainless, the tail is still there! HELLO! Raccoon!” Olivia used that emphasis again, learning its uses were virtually limitless. The tree had apparently fallen some years ago, as there was considerable growth from beneath it.

After the absolute horror of the carcass, the girls refocused on the task at hand, breaking larger branches off the tree. Isadore began wielding a stick as a machete, “Yah!” she shouted as she carved out a path through the dense greenery that the dead tree allowed to grow. She was waist deep in shrubbery, and playing Indiana Jones now. The girls were beginning to head back with varying armloads of firewood, much with the shrubbery still clinging.

Terry, Olivia, and Izzy dropped their respective piles near the fire, as did the rest of the girls. The near-constant chatter ebbed and flowed like waves on a beach. Most of the conversation revolved around boys, that most curious of creatures; gross and cool, stupid and funny, as boys could be. Often the girls talked in hushed tones about what they had done with boys. Some of the girls had done things Terry did not even know about.

James and a couple of the other parents swung around to camp Jabber Jaw, as James had taken to calling it, to be sure the girls were ok, make s’mores, and tell some ghost stories. The s’mores were accompanied with muffled squeals of delight, and the stories were punctuated with screams of thrilled terror. Slowly, the girls began to nod off, and the low chatter subsided. Most of the girls were asleep, but Terry, Isadore, and Liv still found more to talk about. Olivia’s last words before nodding off were, “the outdoors make me itch.” Izzy yawned and agreed, “me too. Goodnight dudes.” Terry’s breathing had already leveled off, signaling her voyage into dreamland.

The following day, Sunday, was loosely planned by the adults, and was filled with hiking, stories, and general fun. James would stop at various points, informing his less than enthusiastic charges of the significance of a historical site, or the medicinal qualities of a plant. He wondered, out loud this time, how girls’ eyes could stay attached inside their heads despite being rolled so often toward the sky. He marveled too, at how any of these girls were able to simultaneously hike, talk, chew gum, and text on their phones all at once. By the evening, it was time to head home, so the weary girls piled into the various waiting vehicles to be shuttled home. The convoy home was uneventful, aside from too many bathroom and food stops for James’ liking.

The phone rang early Monday morning, and despite being soundly asleep, Terry leapt up to get it, but was beaten by her mother. She listened to her mother’s end of the conversation without much interest until her mother’s face turned grave. “Oh dear!” said Madeline. Then, “You have got to be kidding me!” Terry’s attention was fully on her mother and she heard, “every single one of the girls?! Really? well, no Terry has not shown any signs, but I will check her over thoroughly.” The thought of being checked over thoroughly made Terry’s skin crawl. What was it? Did they all have ticks? Or worse, maybe some disease from being so close to the dead raccoon? Oh . . . My . . . God! Whatever it was, Terry had to know this instant. Terry looked expectantly at her mother as she heard, “ok Jen, I will. Thanks for letting us know so quickly.”

“Honey, did you and the girls go anywhere without the adults?” asked Madeline gently. The gentle tone made things even worse, as far as Terry was concerned. The last time her Mom used it had been when the goldfish died. She had been seven then. Terry was frantic inside now, but said, “not that I can think of Mom. Why?” “Well, it seems that every single one of the girls on the trip have the rash, and I suppose it could be a coincidence, but how could they all have gotten it . . .” Terry tried to break in, “Mom” but Madeline was rolling now, “But not one of the adults has even a small rash, . . .”

“Mom! Stop! What rash? What is going on?” She was almost shouting now.

“Oh, honey, I am sorry. I guess I got carried away. It seems that the other girls all have a case of poison ivy. Can you think of anywhere you were where you may have come into contact with it?”

Terry careened from near-hysteria to hoots of laughter so suddenly her mother almost got vertigo. The laughter started as a soundless gasp, and escalated immediately to a full on belly laugh. Tears of relief and joyfulness streamed down Terry’s face. Now it was Madeline’s turn to break in. “Terry Jean Thomas, what on Earth is the matter with you? Stop this instant before I call the loony bin for a pick up.”

“Oh Mom,” Terry blurted out, “don’t you see? All the other girls were wearing their so short, but not too short shorts and tank tops, and they were calling me Prudie, like they always do, because of my sweater, and then we went and got firewood . . .” she paused to breathe, and the thought of Izzy’s butt covered in a rash made her snort and start laughing uncontrollably again. “And there was a dead raccoon, and a bunch of bushes by the tree, and . . .” Now Madeline was beginning to get the picture, and she began to laugh as well. Within seconds, the two were in the throes of a mother and daughter laugh fest, with no sign of slowing.

“Poor Olivia,” the older Thomas girl said mockingly, “you know how sensitive her skin is!” This sent them both back over the edge again, bringing forth gales of unadulterated laughter.

The two laughed for some time, until they both hurt. Then they embraced each other, hugging tightly. As they held on, a thought came happily into Terry’s mind.

“Maybe Prudie is OK after all.”

The Price of Friendship Part 6
By Norval Joe

Mrs. Walker ran the video forward, again, but in slow motion. Chad walked onto the screen and began to speak with someone. It was unclear who it was he spoke to. There was a hazy spot in front of him that flashed static a few times. When the haziness cleared, Chads friends approached. They spoke together for a few minutes and all walked away.
“Hmm. I might have guessed.” Mrs. Walker said and looked at Amy’s dad, who was nodding his head.
She reversed the video again, past the point where Chad first walked in. The teacher entered some commands on the keyboard and recorded the portion where Chad talked with the hazy patch. She copied the recorded piece to a usb mini drive and plugged in into a laptop that was set up next to the other key board. Mrs. Walker started a program on the laptop and opened the file on the mini drive.
“Oh, mom, that’s the game player that Derrick gave me,” he said pointing to the small black box, sitting next to the lap top that Mrs. Walker was working on.
She looked up. A smile lighted the teacher’s normally stony face. “Yes. I have something to show you about that, in a moment. But first, let’s see what this video will reveal.”
She typed some commands on the keyboard and waited while the video processed. In the middle of the lap top’s screen was a grey box with a count down timer in it. When the timer reached zero, Chad image appeared. He stood under the security camera in the library. Every few seconds the image refreshed as time elapsed slowly in the video. Suddenly, standing next to Chad on the screen, was a tall, pale, dark haired boy.
“That’s him,” Chad shouted, then looked sheepish at making such an exclamation in the small room.
“Thank you, Chad. He doesn’t look familiar to me. How about you, Ted? Miriam? No, I didn’t think so. Well, let me load his image and run some checks.”
She drug the cursor across the screen and blocked Derricks image to include his head and shoulders. She copied it and opened another program on the laptop. She pasted Derricks image into an empty box and clicked the ‘run’ button.
The picture of Derrick blurred as image after image of other people were overlaid on it in rapid succession. Measurements and calculations continuously ran across the bottom of the screen . When the overlays stopped, a red progress bar moved across the bottom of the screen. When it reached 100%, Derricks face disappeared, and the words, ‘no exact match’ appeared in large letters across the screen.
“Of course, they wouldn’t send an known operative. Especially, since there aren’t many the right age. I’ll look for a family match.” Mrs. Walker said and entered a few new commands.
A table appeared quickly on the screen. At the bottom of the table it said, 95% probability match, Rossanour family genetics.
“Hmmm.” Was all the old teacher said. She looked at Chad, and then at his mother. She wore the calculating look, that often warned the children in her class she was about to make a biting acidic observation at someone’s expense. Instead, she turned back to the laptop. She opened the previous screen where Derrick and Chad both stood. She blocked Chad’s head and shoulders, copied it and pasted it into the second program, as she had done with Derrick’s image. Mrs. Walker went straight to the family genetics query.
The program ran its routine of overlaying images on Chad’s. A table appeared on the screen. Mrs. Walker’s face showed her trademarked smugness. She said, “Just as I suspected.”
The table read, eyes, 100%, nose, 98%, mouth, 100%, ears, 97%, overall, 98% probability match, Lorantelle family genetics.
“You know, it figures.” She said looking at the Sniders.
She looked piercingly at Chad’s mother, “Mrs. Baker, where is Chads father?”
She folder her hands carefully in her lap, sighed and looked the older woman in the eye. “I don’t know. Right when Chad was born, Steven, my husband, became moody. He was irritable all the time. At first, I tried talking with him about it, but it would just make him more angry. At the drop of a hat he would blow up and storm around the house ranting. It was difficult to follow what it was that made him so angry. After a while, I stopped asking.
“He started sleeping in another room on the nights that he came home from work. One day, he didn’t come home at all. He didn’t call or anything. I never saw him again. I assumed that he had just walked out on me. I never thought that I should call the police until months later when I went to legal services to find out how to get a divorce. They asked me for a copy of the missing persons report. I told them that I had left it at home, and that I would bring it in the following week. I was so embarrassed that I never went back.”
She closed her eyes and shook her head. “I was so bitter back then about the neglect and isolation. I had just had a baby. It never occurred to me that something may have actually happened to him.”
“Did you ever meet his family?” Mrs. Snider asked.
“No. He told me that he was an only child and that his parents were gone. We never spoke much about it. If I pressed him too much about it, he would get cagey and irritable.”
Mrs. Walker had listened quietly while Chad’s mother spoke. She dabbed at he eyes with a tissue and said, “My Jack was a Lorantelle as well. I miss him still. Well, anyway, your husband disappeared, what, thirteen years ago?”
“Yes, he did. But what has this got to do with Chad?” his mother asked.
“Right, this changes what we know. What we need to do is unchanged. Amy has some special responsibilities that she is destined to carry out. It doesn’t surprise me that the Rossanours are trying to interfere.” Mr. Snider said.
“Oh, dear. This isn’t good.” Mrs. Walker said. She got to her feet and held out the small black box for the others to see.
Everyone looked blankly back at her. She said, “If I understand this correctly, you have maybe 30 minutes to find the gateway and cross before it closes. When it closes, we may never find the right gate again. Chad, what do you have in your backpack?”
He listed the things he found in his backpack, “Umm, my phone, a sweatshirt, a notebook and some pens and pencils. Why?”
Mrs. Walker said with a serious, uncompromising look in her eyes, “Because you need to go now, and it would be best to take something with you to eat. You’re likely to get hungry.
Chads mother stepped forward, “Go? Where do you think he is going?”
“Mom, I have to go. It’s my fault that Derrick was able to take Amy,” Chad said, adrenaline making his voice shaky.
His mother shook her head, and her voice had a note of pleading to it, “No, Mr. Snider said that it wasn’t your fault. Besides Derrick tricked you, you don’t need to feel responsible.”
“I realize I don’t know what I’m getting into, but I know this, Amy is my friend. I would trust her. I know that if she told me that I needed to jump out of the window and fly to the moon, I would, and I could. She wouldn’t ask me to do something if it wasn’t necessary.
“But she’s not here,” Chad continued, “so I have to trust her parents. I do trust them, Mom. Because of you.”
“Me,” she said. She had a shocked look on her face.
“Yes. You taught me to be honest and always tell the truth. You wouldn’t expect anything of me without expecting it of yourself. I have to believe that Amy’s parents are the same way, knowing Amy,” said and held his gaze firmly locked on his mothers eyes. She stared back sternly, at first, and then softened. She looked at the ground at her feet.
She embraced him suddenly. “Chad. You don’t even know where you will be going, or how you will get back.”
She stepped back, but held onto his shoulders, “You must come back, as quickly as possible.”
“Come with me,” Mrs. Walker said and lead them down the hallway to the teachers lounge. They rummaged through the cupboards and refrigerator and found several granola bars, packages of top ramen, and some bottles of water. They loaded them all into the backpack.
At the front door, Mrs. Baker confronted Amy’s father. “So how does he find your daughter, and how does he get back.”
Time was short. Amy’s father must felt it, he spoke rapidly, “Chad, here is as much as I know. This box is a key to get you through the first transition. It may get you through more, but you may need to find more keys along the way. You will have to make several transitions before you are able to return. Each transition is like a dimension.
“The world you are going to is very similar to this one. The people there have passed back and forth from this world for more than a thousand years.
“I’m sorry there isn’t time to tell you more.
“This box that Derrick left. We don’t know if he left it by mistake, or if he left it on purpose. It may help you learn vital information, and if may give you away. Until you find someone to teach you more about it, use it sparingly.
“Once you cross over, people who are working with use will know that you are there. They should already know that Amy is there. They will search you out to aid you. Just be careful about whom you give your trust, because it will be very hard to tell friend from foe,” Amy’s dad said.
“Mom, here’s Mikes phone. You may need it,” Chad said and started to hand the phone to his mother.
“No, Chad, hold onto it. Like I said, the worlds are very similar. You may be able to use it there, or contact us here. Now, get down to the ball field. Wait only a minute, and if I have not caught up with you, find the gateway. I need to check one thing quickly,” Mr Snider said, looking at the teacher.
“But how will I find the gateway? I’ve already run the length of the nature trail,” Chad asked.
“Hold the key in front of you. It should make the gate clear. You didn’t have it with you last time. Now go,” he said and watched them run off.
He turned to Mrs. Walker, “Dolores, I may need to cross through in another direction. Keep a watch over Chads mother. Draw from the fund to help her our financially, as much as she will let you. Both she and her son are taking a huge risk here. Also, find out what unit her older son is in, and make sure that we keep him alive. We may need him as a back up. He is as much Lorantelle as Chad is.”
The old woman nodded, as Mr. Snider ran after the boy and his mother, and said to herself, “Well. We have the Lorantelle involved. That gives me hope.”

The Keys to Happiness Part 5
By: Jeff Hite

Marie stood on the surface of the planet and marveled at all that had been accomplished. She Knew that in the time since end of the last century and now, an entire civilization had grown up on what would have been a lifeless frozen planet. They still wore EV suits outside of the domes but, they did not have to carry their own air supply, just a purification unit, which made trips like this much easier.
She looked up at the Icarus mirrors that shined down on the little ice ball of a planet as the bumped along and marveled at how they were able to capture so much of the sun’s energy and redirect it down to the planet. Europa , it turned out, was not only the solar system’s only other life giving planet, but also the best one of settlement by humans because of the water and small rocky outcroppings. It served humans further by providing if not the most efficient fuel, fuel none the less they they con continue to venture toward the outer planets and beyond.
Churchill had not wanted her to come with him to the surface, fearing that what they might meet down here would be dangerous. It was odd, he even though he was used to being alone, how much he seemed to have enjoyed her company, and how very protective of her he had become. But, so far it had not been the danger of whatever it was that they were looking for that bothered her. It had been the culture. Despite the very forward nature of their technology, the culture seemed to be backwards. The men all wore, dark suits, that covered nearly every inch of skin, and any time they were outside of a home or workspace wore hats, almost as if this where centuries before. The women were worse. The most, immodest of them wore ankle length skits and sleeves that came to their wrists. the more conservative of them, continued this trend, but added head scarves and some of them even wore veils, that if they didn’t exactly hide their faces obscured their features.
“I don’t understand it, an out post of humanity, with the height of human technology, and the cover themselves up as if this was the nineteen hundreds.” She had railed when the customs agent had insisted that she dress more appropriately when they arrived.
“Marie, they are human, but they are not earthlings not it the strictest scene, they have developed customs that are different than those of earth. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want to.”
“No, I won’t be left behind, like some little woman.”
“Alright then, is it really such a hardship to dress differently?”
“You try getting this skirt into EV suit, she said lifting it up almost to her knees. The custom agent had turned his head out of politeness at this outburst, but it had annoyed her even more. “What is wrong, you have never seen a knee cap?”
“Marie please. They just have different traditions here. You have to remember that they have been here for two generations already, they have been seperated from those of earth for that long.” It seemed entirely wrong to her, but he did have a point, they had been seperated from earth for long enough for traditions that might have come from a need to keep warm, to have become a habit, but it did seem more than a little backwards.
It turned out that the EV suits had been designed or redesigned to accomdate the more modest attire, and that they were very comforatble.
The man that they were looking for lived in a dome of the edge of the Icarus zone, he had paid for the location himself, and never came into the main station. They could take car most of the way, but there was a rock outcropping that they would have to cover on foot. The ride took the better part of three hour, even with the cars considerable speed, the Icarus zone covered nearly a third of one hemisphere.
“Are you sure you want to come with me,” Churchhill asked as they stepped out of the car? “I mean he is not expecting us and we really have no idea what to expect with him.”
“I am sure, besides what am I going to do sit here in the car and wait for you,” She said trying not to sound like a petulant child? “I will come with you, besides I have come all this way, I want to know what it is as well.”
They walked the rest of the way in silence. There were no traps no alarms or any sentries, at least none that they could see. The dome was about a hundred meters from the outcropping with nothing between it and them. If someone was inside watching them, they would have plenty of time to observe the visitors as they came.
But, nothing happened. When they approached the airlock, its outer doors opened and allowed them access. There was no to code pad on the inside to disallow access to anyone, only the controls to the airlock. They closed the outer doors and cycled the system on, and started to strip out of their EV suits.
“Churchill, are you alright?”
“What, oh umm yeah I’m alright.”
“What is it?”
“This is very odd. There is no security at all.” He said as he hung he suit on the peg for it built into the wall. She noticed his hand shaking
“That is because I have never needed any.” Came a small voice, as the inner door slid open.
The three of them stood there starring at one another for a long while and no one spoke. Suddenly, Marie realized that the man on the other side of the still closed inner screen was starring at her, If she had been on the moon or Mars when she took the EV suit she would have been wearing next to nothing. and she was for the first time glad of the modest dress.
“What are you starring at,” She asked finally? After a very long moment he seemed to find his voice.
“I was expecting him. But you, I was not expecting. I have never needed any security, out here, I never expected that a woman would come looking for me, although I don’t know why.” He was older than both of them combined and so was the small pistol he held in his hand, but it looked deadly just the same with nothing between it and then but the flimsy screen. “Please, don’t make any sudden moves, these things,” he said raising this pistol slightly, “are particularly messy and can do a great deal of damage to one of these domes. Finish hanging up your suits and come in side, one at at time.”
They did as he asked in silence. When they were both inside and the doors to the airlock were shut, he lower the weapon a bit and smiled uneasily.
“Look we mean you no harm.”
“I know about you Churchill. I have known about you for years, it is her that I am worried about.”
“Me, I don’t mean you any harm either.”
“Who are you?” he demanded, “I was only able to get your name and home of record for the incoming manifest. You are not an agent, because then I would not have been able to get that much.”
“Sir, please I meet her on Earth station four a few months ago when I was looking for her brother.”
“Her brother, he said confused.”
“Yes, he was the station biochemist that you consulted about fifteen years ago.” His brow wrinkled in concentration, for a few moments and Marie felt a drop sweat slide down her back. In years she had not been this nervous. She knew that her life hung on what a man that she barely knew said about her, on the little bit that he knew about her. And suddenly she wished that she had been more forcefully about them getting to know each other instead of respecting his privacy. “John Wallace, you consulted him fifteen years ago about a filter problem that you were having,” Churchill said as the mans face seemed to harden a bit more.
“Wallace, yes I remember but that his not his sister. Her name was O’Keefe.”
“My Married name, I have not gone by Wallace in years. I have been O’Keefe since I was 17.” At the mention of her age his face seemed to soften a bit, and he put the gun down.
“That would explain why I found no mention of your maiden name, I only searched back until you were of age.”
“I was married young. It was right before he was shipped of to fight in the Mars conflict.” She said breathing deeply for the first time.
“That still does not explain why you are hear.”
“I tracked down her brother, and I waited for him on the station, but he was dead. She was bringing his remains to be spread in space, and to take care of his affairs.”
“My brother had always wanted to travel the outter solar system, and since Churchill was coming out here, I accopanied him,” She finished. “I needed someone and Churchill didn’t mind me tagging long.” Now that she said it, it sounded like an incredibly flimsy excuse. The old man seemed to be thinking the same thing because his hand tightened on the gun again. But finally he seemed to relax a bit.
“Why are you here?” There was a long silence as they tried to figure out who he was talking to and how to answer the question.
“Well it it obvious that you have not used it.” She blurted out.
“What?” both men said in unison
“Well you are not happy so it is obivious that you have not used what ever it is that you have.” They all stood in stunned silence for.
“Then you don’t know what it is do you.” He asked, this time he put the gun down on the table and stepped around to greet them.