Archive for: February, 2013

CAPTIVE OF THE COUNT (A Philip Marvel Adventure) By Frank Hagelberg

Feb 24 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Philip was missing.

Philip is missing, flashed through the head of his mother. Philip, Philip! – no answer. He had been missing before, sometimes for hours until he was found sleeping tucked away under blankets in improbable places. This time it was different. He had been seen last by Julia running into the garden. Earlier, he had been at the breakfast table, taken his medication and entertained the family with some Spiderman escapades and other curiosities of the Marvel Universe. Was he playing a prank and waiting to be discovered under the bed or behind the shower curtain? Every corner of the house and garden had been searched without any luck. Still everyone expected to hear any moment the familiar hoarse but booming little voice shouting Made you look for me !.

Philip’s mother was about to call for help when Ellen motioned her to put down the phone, nodding at a small object. It was the box that contained the tablets which Philip’s doctor had prescribed for him yesterday. Ellen pointed at the small print at the front of the box which read: Attention! Do not take, if you live in Johnson City, Tennessee, and your initials are P.H.. Else, you risk experiencing shortness of breath and/or displacement in space and time.

‘Now we know’, said Ellen in a matter-of-fact voice.

‘He may be meeting with his beloved dinosaurs as we are speaking’, suggested Julia.

 

All was pitch black. This must be a dream, thought Philip. A moment back he had been at the playground in the neighbor’s garden, pitting Spiderman against the Incredible Hulk, and glimpsing into the rich light of a warm late fall morning. Am I blinking? As far as blinks go, this is a long one. And why is it so cold all of a sudden?

Philip’s eyes started to adjust to the dark. He perceived the faint silhouette of what seemed to be large pine tree. The ground felt soft under his feet. It could be a lawn – had he fallen asleep in some park by day and was waking up now in the middle of the night? Not that he could remember. Suddenly he stepped on some gravel. ‘This is a path through the park’ thought Philip and moved on. The hooting of a tawny owl reminded him of his last trip to Rocky Springs, the old abandoned village in the woods, when, in the midst of the moldered ruins, he and his family lost their sense of time. They had to feel their way back to the parking lot in the darkness of a new moon night, and surrounded by the muffled concert of a late-October forest alive with strange and fearsome noises of uncertain origin.

Philip paused for a moment, startled by another, much stranger sound that made his hair stand on ends. Was this a noise or was it a voice? He seemed to hear his own name, called by an ever so faintly audible, far-away and somewhat shrill, high-pitched organ that faded out slowly. Was someone trying to rescue him? Or was there an evil demon mocking him in his state of confusion and helplessness? Philip listened again. All was quiet.

 

The police had arrived, and an officer took notes. ‘You are sure he’s not at the neighbors?’ ‘He is not’, sobbed Philip’s mom. His father ran frantically up and down, waving his hands in the air.

‘Does he have a hiding place in the attic?’, the officer asked.

‘That’s where we looked first. It’s – his medication!’ The officer looked confused.

‘Does he have an invisibility problem? Those can be nasty.’

‘He’s often heard, but not seen’, volunteered Julia.’ Now there’s no trace of him either way.’

When Philip’s mom produced the pillbox, Ellen came from the office. ‘I did some internet search on Fugalin’, she said. ‘Some problems with SSTTS have been reported which stands for Sudden Spatio-Temporal Translation Symptom. A husband claims he saw his wife dissolve into nothingness from one moment to the other while they were having dinner together. A minute before, she had taken Fugalin. The neighborhood was scanned for two weeks with sniffing dogs and infrared detection devices. No success. Two months later, a postcard arrived from Saudi-Arabia. It turned out that the vanished wife had been transported in an instant from Johnson City to a suburb of Medinah. Unfortunately, she also had been boosted one week into the future. To send mail not only into to another continent, but also into the past had required a major intervention from the side of the Arabian government. The displaced woman moved back to Johnson City, but remained separated by one week from her spouse, until finally, she materialized again at the breakfast table of her home. The whole affair had some effect on her mental health. Her confused account of her journey back in time involved a small green being and the transportation in an egg-shaped spaceship.’

‘It must have been a Martian’, Julia added.

 

A faint sweeping noise seemed to grow in strength. Philip felt his heart pounding. A gust of icy wind joined the uncanny sound to give him a sensation of some shapeless but terrifying menace in rapid approach. He started running when suddenly he was stopped by a hundred cold hands pushing him back. Falling down he realized that he had run into a bush wet with morning dew. He looked up and saw a bizarre flickering motion sharply cut out against the dark sky and still darker than the sky. ‘Black lightning’, flushed through his head. Inadvertently, he expected thunder, but there was just the whirl of the icy wind, for a moment intensified to a roar, but then receding.

Philip took a deep breath. He got up and ran along the walkway as fast as he could. It slowly started to dawn, and the grey light of the early morning made appear solitary stone statues that looked at him with empty yet threatening eyes. Then he saw, to his great relief, a wide open gate straight ahead of him. There was a way out of this garden of terrors, after all. He ran through the gate but found to his horror that he was unable to escape, as he was pulled back into the park by what seemed to be an invisible rubber band. The more he struggled to get away, the greater his distance from the gate behind him, the stronger the mysterious force that held him captive. Philip understood: he was imprisoned in the park.

He looked around. A spacious landscape with old trees, some them fallen, with ponds and hedges stretched out before him under the cloudy sky of a late fall morning. The lawn was unkempt. Paths overgrown with weed and moss created an impression of neglect or abandon. ‘This would be a good time to wake up’, thought Philip. ’Besides, the school bus must come any moment’. But he felt as awake and alert as ever. In front of him was the statue of an imposing warrior who leaned on his cote of arms showing the head of a dragon freshly cut off from its body, and still bleeding. Philip shivered when all of a sudden he heard a clear high-pitched voice calling his name. From the back of the statue emerged a little green man with a smile on his face and strikingly handsome features.

‘May I introduce myself? I’m the Credible Hulk’ – ‘The Credible Hulk?’

If anyone knew the ins and outs of Marvel Universe, it was Philip. Well, the creature’s skin was hulk-green, for sure, but that was about the only thing the curious little fellow shared with the infamous supervillain.

‘Wait a moment’, said Philip, Are you a distant relative of the Incredible Hulk?’

‘Don’t even mention that brute’, said the elf.’ How come everyone knows about that dark spot of the Marvel Universe, and nobody knows about me? Does anger count so much than happiness?’

Philip got interested. The little man winked him an eye. ‘Most of the time, I’m just a person like everyone else. But sometimes I cross a threshold of exuberant joy, and then I become the Credible Hulk. I shrink and turn green and grow supernatural powers to support the weak and help the afflicted and to perform random acts of kindness. I pride myself of being one of the good forces of the Marvel Universe. I’m specialized on people who get lost in space and time. Whenever I turn green I check my computer account for new cases of this awful misfortune, and this is how I found you earlier today.

‘Lost in space and time?’, wondered Philip.

‘Yes, its your new medication, a very unpleasant side effect. I deal all the time with these cases. Once every week somebody vanishes in some outlandish place in the past or future. Luckily, when this happens, Marvel Universe receives an electromagnetic signal with the information about the victims whereabouts in space and time, the so-called displacement echo. Once I catch it, I use my special gift to move the involuntary traveler back to his home and into his present. I’ll have you out of here in some hours. Well, maybe days..’

‘Where am I, and what time is this?’

‘ This place is Transylvania, and the year is 2010.’

‘So I’m ten years old all of a sudden? I always wanted to travel to Transylvania to do research on the…on the… Say – could it be that we are on the premises of a Transylvanian count?’

‘Well, yes. I know what you think. But it’s not true that they are vampires. At the end of the eighties, the last Romanian vampire was caught and slain after he had terrorized the whole country for decades. Now all Transylvanian counts are regular tax-paying citizens of Romania.

‘That’s all fine. But how do we get away from here?.’

‘ My time-space capsule is waiting at the southeast side of this park. It’s a quarter of an hour walk.’

‘ You think, we can get out of this park? I tried to leave but there was some strange force holding me back. It was like being tied to the gate by a rubber band you can neither touch nor see.’

‘I know what you are talking about. We may indeed have a small problem here. This is how vampires… I mean how Transylvanian counts use to screen off their properties. I tried myself to leave this place, but..’

‘Are you telling me that you couldn’t get out either?’

‘Precisely. Yesterday night, after my landing, I started to search for you but didn’t find you anywhere. So I thought that you might have left the park, and I wanted to do the same, when I found that something was holding me back. Then I tried to use my capsule, but it seemed to be tied to the ground by the same force that keeps us from passing through the gates. I’m afraid the whole place is surrounded by an invisible shield that lets you in and then holds you captive.

‘So we are trapped?’

‘Yes.’

There followed an uneasy silence.

‘Don’t worry. Let’s first have breakfast in my capsule, and then we’ll see a bit more clearly’.

They walked over the lawn which was fresh with morning dew. In a distance the contours of an enormous castle appeared, sharply edged into the grey morning sky. It was surrounded by a gloomy ring of dark pine trees, and its massive windowless walls were almost entirely black. A mighty central tower, topped by a circle of jagged embrasures was like an exclamation mark giving emphasis to the somber message that this bastion was prepared to brave the siege of any invader, however powerful.

‘That castle won’t be an easy price’, observed Philip.

‘No need to take it over by force. We’ll just knock at the entrance gate, introduce ourselves politely as two space-time travelers wanting to return home and ask for the count. We’ll suggest to him to suspend his invisible shield so we can travel home. As easy as that.’

Philip didn’t respond. He quietly questioned some of the assumptions made by his optimistic companion. They stopped at a green egg-shaped object the size of a small car.

‘My capsule’, nodded the Credible Hulk an invited Philip to crawl in. It felt quite cozy, and Philip felt instantly better. From a back compartment, the captain of the space-time ship produced two cups of cocoa, various cheese sandwiches, and large quantities of cereal.

‘May I ask who you are when you are not the Credible Hulk?’

‘Then my name is Jacob, and I live in Johnson City, Tennessee.’

‘In Johnson City! That’s where I am from.’

‘I know’, winked the Hulk.

‘Now comes a surprise’, he said. ‘What has six letters, three of them g’s? Eggnog!’ The warm eggnog felt marvelous and immediately restored Philip’s vital spirits.

‘What are we waiting for ?’, he cried. ‘Let’s go and talk to the master of the mansion.’

 

Two iron dragonheads grew out of the huge entrance gate, each of them holding a heavy iron ring in its snout. Philip felt slightly weak in his knees, and a swarm of butterflies was fluttering in his stomach. Was this the best time of the day to bother the count? Maybe it was to early, and he was not done with his morning paper? Maybe the news were bad, making it prudent to shift the visit to the afternoon when their impact had faded out? While Philip pondered these matters, he was struck by a thundering sound, shattering into a hundred echoes. The Credible Hulk had used one of the knockers. Philip’s impulse was to run away while it was still time.

All remained quiet inside. ‘This is a large place’, said the Credible Hulk. ‘Whoever lives here doesn’t bother to walk half a mile to the door to welcome some stranger. They want visitors to come in and make themselves a home’. To Philip’s horror, he started to pull on the iron knocker with all his force. And indeed, the entrance was unlocked. They both cringed under the bloodcurdling screech of the door in its hinges when it slowly opened.

The two intruders entered a hall that would have dwarfed the largest grizzly bear on his hind legs. The rusty armors of medieval knights gazed at them, enormous antlers graced the walls, with long threads of cobweb hanging from prong to prong.

‘Do you think it’s a good idea to go on?’, whispered Philip. ‘Maybe we should leave a written note and go back to the capsule’.

‘I’ve dealt with similar cases before. Once you’ve got going, you must go on.’

‘Maybe nobody lives here?’ Although, considering the overall situation of the visitors, this could not be seriously wished for, at that moment it appeared to Philip as the more desirable option.

They walked on a creaking floor through a dark and chilly hallway. The Credible Hulk had the courage to shout, but his ‘Hello?’ came out rather like a shy question than a confident call for assistance. Going up a stately staircase, they found themselves watched by the eyes of grim-faced noblemen looking at them from wall portraits. ‘Don’t pay attention’, said the Credible Hulk and nudged Philip swiftly by the large picture of what seemed to be a medieval knight in full armor, but with his helmet removed. A dreadful, yet fascinating figure stared at the onlookers. Although the whole appearance gave the impression of strength, the haggard face betrayed a gravely ill person, with pale yellowish skin stretched thinly over sharply defined cheek bones. The mouth was half-open and revealed strangely non-human, small and sharp rodent teeth. But the most ghastly feature of the portrait were the knight’s bloodshot eyes which seemed to throw daggers at them. It was as if the painter had captured his model in a sudden fit of rage, a rage so intense that the wooden rectangle of the frame appeared too weak to contain it. A title was engraved in the lower edge of the frame, it read” Bloodimir III.

‘He wants to jump at us’, cried Philip.

‘Just go on’, urged the Credible Hulk, and the two started to run upwards.

‘His eyes are following us!’ Philip was terrified.

There could be little doubt. The eyes of the awful ancestor had moved with the visitors and were shooting blood-red arrows at their present place, the head of the stairway. They both were arrested. ‘It’s an illusion’, decided the Hulk. ‘Those ancient painters had their ways to make their portraits seem alive. Nothing to worry about. Let’s see what lies ahead.’

They went on exploring the second floor. Cracked and unpolished windows opened the view at a stern and bleak landscape. Beyond the park, dark pine forests stretched in all directions of the compass, merging at the horizon into a mountain range whose sharply cut, bizarre profile resembled staggering rows of shark teeth.

They looked into various apartments, among them an old dusty library. All seemed to be uninhabited and untouched by any effort at maintenance. ‘Not much of a chance to find anyone up here’, the Hulk sighed.

‘I think we should leave this place now’, proposed Philip.

‘And what then? Running against the invisible wall? I won’t leave this cuddly home until we’ve tried everything. I have retrieved victims of space-time displacement from the interior of Egyptian pyramids in the late Ptolemaic era, from a desert island, from an air-filled shell twenty-thousand leagues under the sea, and once I rescued an elderly woman of Detroit from a planet full of meat-eating dinosaurs. There’s no reason why I should not get you back from Transylvania.’

They both did not enjoy the thought of going down the staircase. ‘Run by the unsavory fellow and look the other way’, commanded the Hulk. From the lowest step, Philip glimpsed at the portrait and shuddered.

 

Exploring the spacious entrance hall, they found themselves at the head of a narrow spiral staircase. ‘Maybe we will meet the count in his wine cellar.’ ‘Or his torture chamber.’ Philip was skeptical.

The air became stale and damp as they climbed down the winding steps. They found themselves in a dimly lit aisle the end of which was illuminated by an eerie bluish light. Walking closer, they realized that the source of mysterious glow was a room whose door was cracked open. They were not prepared for what they saw when glancing into the room. The light came from about twenty large computer screens mounted on cubicles that were arranged in a rectangular pattern. In each cubicle a person was working; they all sat on low, uncomfortable stools, crouching over their keyboards and turning their backs to the visitors. The spooky scene was completely silent.

They slipped inside with great reluctance. The Hulk cleared his throat. Nobody moved. Courageously, the Hulk tapped the shoulder of one of the ghostly workers. He showed no reaction but remained completely still, his eyes glued to the screen. Repeated and intensified tapping, even a slight shaking of his shoulder did not yield any more of a response. Philip gazed at his screen. It showed a mind-boggling jumble of numbers and symbols, of spiraling curves and warped surfaces entangled with each other in bewildering twists and turns. Philip got dizzy and had to look away. Then he heard the voice of the Hulk, announcing: ‘Ladies and gentlemen! Could I have your attention for a moment? We are two space-time travelers stranded at this place and in dire need of help. It seems that we encounter a slight problem when we try to leave, related to some force that confines us to the castle and its environment. Would somebody be so kind to advise us how we could find our way out?’ Not a single head turned.

‘Are they alive?’, whispered Philip. They were operating their keyboards but appeared to be in a deep trance, unaware of the world around them.

The Hulk gave a nod towards the door, and both left the odd laboratory. ‘Not too sociable, these guys’, he said.

‘This might be a center for crazy scientists’, Philip surmised.

‘Well, the good news is that we are not totally alone in this castle. We found some human beings; with a bit of luck we’ll go on meeting some humans that speak to us.’

Philip felt a firm grip around his wrist. Like out of nowhere, a figure had emerged. Someone pushed Philip and the Hulk gently into a dark corner, put his finger at his lips und gave them a sign to crouch down. ‘Get out of here! Try everything you can to get out!’, he urged them with a muted but agitated voice. ‘Find some way out of these walls before it gets dark!’

Philip and the Hulk looked at him with amazement.

‘Let me introduce myself: My name is Hong Xing, and I’m…I’m a…well, an assistant of the lord of this castle, Count Zappendustra. I won’t have the time to give a lot of explanation. The heart of the matter is this: You are trapped on the estate of the last Transylvanian vampire. He comes alive when the sun goes down and sleeps during the day, but he monitors almost everything here with hidden cameras, and if I don’t return to my workplace within five minutes, he will get suspicious. So I’ll have to be brief. We all have to work on problems of theoretical physics, day and night, except for some short breaks. The count enslaves and abuses whomever he can catch on his territory as a research assistant. His victims are assigned grueling scientific tasks that drain out of them the very essence of their lives until they become as soulless and mechanical as the computers that they are forced to work without end. Just last week one of us died of complications due to an unsolvable problem.’

‘How dreadful!’, said Philip.

‘Do everything you can to avoid becoming the research assistants number twenty-one and twenty-two. Possibly, the count already senses your presence around here. I won’t pretend I can give you any sensible advice. You must get away, but don’t ask me how. If I knew, I would be off and not slowly go crazy under this drudgery.’

‘What about the invisible shield around this place?’ The Hulk stayed perfectly calm and reasonable.

‘What about it? It’s there, and it serves its purpose, disastrously. It’s the work of the count’s worst enemy, Dr. Hexapus, who was caught in these walls for some time as the very first research assistant. It didn’t take long till the count that he had captured an ingenious mad scientist. But it was too late – Dr. Hexapus left one night and sealed the whole property with the shield that you came to experience. It’s perfectly impenetrable from inside. Even the count cannot pass through it.’

‘The count is trapped too?’

‘I have to leave..’ Hong started to tremble.’Yes, he is trapped too.’

‘Can anything break the spell?’

‘No..yes..’, hasted Hong with a flat, panting voice. ‘Impaling doesn’t do anything. We tried that three times, and he survived with not as much as a scratch. I really have to go now, or I feel his wrath tonight. Yes, in theory, there’s a way to end this calamity. But no chance it will ever happen: The count has to laugh- he has to give a deep, heartfelt, happy laugh. Then he turns into a normal person, the shield collapses, and we all are free. Don’t get your hopes up. No one can even imagine him laughing. That evil grin on his face when he spots an error in our calculations is what comes closest. One of us had the unlucky idea to confront him with a cross. He had a fit of vicious, unhealthy laughter and wore the cross as an ornament for a week or so – I must go.’

He vanished as suddenly as he had appeared.

‘Quick’, said the Hulk. ‘We have no time to spare.’

They raced up the spiral staircase and ran to the entrance door, trying to make as little noise as possible.

The door was shut. They joined their forces and pushed with all their might. ‘Locked!’

‘Perhaps we can slip through a window?’

‘They are all barred.’

‘Let’s go into that library!’, said Philip. ‘There must be a floor plan. Some map that shows hidden exit ways.’

‘Good idea.’

The grisly portrait on the staircase wall gleamed ferociously, as if it had awaited their return. They scurried up the steps and entered the library.

The size of the collection was quite impressive, with each of the many shelves densely packed and bending under the load of heavy volumes. Some books, covered with dust and cobwebs, had probably not been touched in a generation. Among them was a history of the house of Zappendustra in ten thick folios. Other parts of the library were clearly in use. Philip noticed that all issues of the magazines ‘Nature’, ‘Science’, and ‘Physical Review’ were present, modern textbooks of physics and mathematics were placed beside a comprehensive encyclopedia of alchemy. One large volume, studded with reading marks, had been taken from the shelves.

‘The great book of vampire jokes’, read Philip

‘He is trying to laugh’, murmured the Hulk.

Philip skimmed through the pages. ‘What tourist attraction does Dracula never leave out when he visits New York? The Vampire State building.’

‘Reasonably funny’, said the Hulk ‘But it wouldn’t make anyone shake with a bout of redeeming, life-changing laughter.’

‘How can you tell that a vampire is lazy?’

‘He uses leeches. I knew that one. It’s quite alright. Fine for a chuckle among vampires. But not a spell-breaker either.’

Philip immersed himself into a series of dignified historical volumes, entitled ‘The Lives and Deeds of the Great Vampires from Nosferatu to Donald Rumsfeld’ that exerted its eerie fascination on him. The Hulk delved into a monograph on fluorescence spectroscopy.

‘Look at this!’ Philip pointed at an open book that lay on the top of a huge writing desk. The pages were covered with handwriting in black ink, all letters high and slender, and leaning towards the left at a meticulously measured angle. Philip read out loud: ‘Monday, the 30th of October 2010  –  this must be his diary!’. ‘Another year has nearly passed.’, continued the Hulk. ‘I feel his presence. Tomorrow he will strike. Will I be strong enough? Is it all an illusion? I think of last year and I see in my mind the giant condor that circled my towers all day but never descended on me. Will you fly away again, Dr. Hexapus? Or will you dare to face me this time? Will you return to dust under the force of my spells? Or will I perish forever?’

‘He is preparing to meet his fate at the hands of his worst enemy. Did not the prisoner who talked to us…’

‘Hong Xing.’

‘Yes, did not Hong Xing mention the mighty wizard Dr. Hexapus?’

‘Of course. He was the one who sealed the estate of the count.’

‘And it looks like the count is expecting him to return..’

‘On Halloween.’

‘But that’s today!’

They heard steps. The sound of slowly but firmly approaching steps echoed in the long hollow of the hallway.

‘The count!’, cried Philip with a muffled voice.

‘Or the magician.’

‘What shall we do? Hide behind bookshelves?’

‘If it’s the magician’, whispered the Hulk, ’we could join his cause. Three is better than one. Maybe he’ll feel stronger together with us.’

‘Will he really? He may be a pretty unsociable character.’

‘Well..’ A sudden breeze blew open the library door. The full length of the hallway extended before Philip and the Hulk. There was nobody.

‘No one. How is that possible?’

‘And look: somebody lighted torches all along the hallway.’ The steps continued, growing slowly fainter.

‘The spook is starting. This is like being trapped in the castle of a bloodthirsty Transylvanian count on Halloween night.’

‘Good comparison’, agreed Philip.

‘It’s safe to assume that the count will enter his library. We are not safe here. Let’s try to hide somewhere in the cellar.’

They tiptoed noiselessly along the corridor, tightly pressed against the wall which was but dimly lit by the flickering torches. The staircase came in sight.

‘The portrait!’, exclaimed the Hulk.

Where the portrait had been was now an empty frame.

‘He isn’t any more part of the picture.’

‘He can’t be far away. Let’s stay up here. We’ll be easy prey for him on the staircase.’ Philip’s heart was pounding.

‘The must be rooms with fireplaces. Maybe we can escape through a chimney.’

The Hulk glimpsed through a door left ajar that led into a spacious chamber. ‘Look, there’s an open window!’

They both had the same idea. Would it be possible to leave the castle through the window and to climb down clinging to the ivy that covered the outside walls?

A gush of icy wind blew into their faces. The shutters clattered. The view out of the window into the black nothing of the Transylvanian night was rather uninviting. The castle walls were high, steep and bare.

‘Not all that much ivy to hold on to.’

‘It wouldn’t have been the solution’, the Hulk added. ‘Ivy has a way of turning brittle around this time of the year. A trained wallclimber once warned me of ivy..’

What was that? A sharp swishing sound emerged from the darkness, and for an instant the contours of an enormous wing appeared. Instinctively, the friends ducked for cover and cowered under the window sill.

‘Did you see that wing?’

‘It wasn’t the wing of a big raptor. There were no feathers.’

‘No. It was skin stretched over thin, spidery bones. Like the wing of a ..’

‘Bat.’

‘Yes, of course. A bat. That’s the way of vampires. They transform themselves into giant bloodsucking bats.’

Suddenly, Philip remembered his unsettling early morning encounter with a strange flying entity in the park. He shuddered at the thought that it had been none other than the count whose rage at the invasion of his property he would have felt in unimaginably awful ways had he been noticed.

‘So he will..’

‘He will return through the window into this room when his evening flight is over.’

‘Then let’s find a hiding place! Quick!’

The swishing of the wings became louder. A shapeless mass, black against the black sky, was moving towards the castle at great speed. For a second, the friends were paralyzed with fear. Then the Hulk cried:

‘The curtain! Behind the curtain!’

A second window in the chamber was covered with heavy draperies, reaching down to the floor. Philip and the Hulk arrived at their hiding place in a long jump and remained completely still, not daring too breathe.

They had found their den not a moment too early. Unable too see through the thick cloth, they were startled by a loud thumping noise, like that of a massive bird landing on a smooth surface.

Then there were steps. The same steps that had frightened them earlier, only much closer and approaching inexorably. The sound of a deep snarling voice made them tremble.

‘Dr. Hexapus, I presume? I came to acknowledge your great talent, now you give me reason to admire your genius. I was wrong. You darted sideways, once more.. I imagined you coming in the form of a poisonous fog enveloping the castle, or as an ugly albino. Now you mock me by hiding behind a curtain, as a plain mortal might do. Very humorous. Well, I’m not in the joking spirit tonight my friend. I’m set to fight it out with you tonight, once and for all. Are you?’

The curtain was pulled back in a brash move.

The friends looked into an entirely frightful face with yellowish teeth and brown–grey thinning hair. A tall emaciated figure, wearing a blood-red pullover, gazed at them with gleaming eyes through a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles.

‘Sir..’, stammered the Hulk, ’Sir count…Mylord… we are lost in space and time. We come as friends and mean no harm. We landed on your..your beautiful estate by accident…I mean, no bad accident, more a lucky coincidence, we enjoy our stay..so far. ..it’s charming, quite a little paradise..’. The Hulk rambled uncontrollably and started to sweat, then pulled himself together and finished bravely: ‘Sir, we hope for your help and hospitality.’

The count raised his eyebrows. He looked from the speaker to Philip who had turned as green as the Hulk. He made a step backwards and stared at the two shaking little boys who held hands. He moved his head slowly to one side and squinted. His lower jaw dropped and then started to tremble. The count emitted a sequence of unnatural gurgling cough-like sounds, increasing in frequency, and then – started to laugh. Surprise, relief and amusement lay mixed in this laughter which began as a thin trickle, disbelieving and unsure of itself, and than grew in firmness and confidence until it became a rumbling, rolling, thundering cannonade. It was a manifestation of a mighty force that had been dormant for decades and now erupted into a feast of salvation and self-assertion.

‘I’m laughing’, snorted the count, ‘I’m laughing and you made it happen! The spell is broken, the spook is over!’ He danced up and down the room in happy exuberance and skipped in a circle. From somewhere, bells were ringing. ‘Glorious!’, cried the count,’Oh, glorious, glorious’. Philip and the Hulk looked at each other, shrugging their shoulders in bewilderment. Then they found themselves hugged over and over.

Suddenly, the count looked like a boy contriving a prank. He put a finger to his lips, winked an eye at the friends and motioned them to follow him quietly. He led them down into the entrance hall and further down the spiral staircase that still seemed creepy to them in spite of the transformation they just had witnessed.

They entered the computer room where the twenty research associates sat in complete silence, each one in his own cubicle. Nobody had noticed the entrance of the count and his followers. Prowling, the count approached the cubicle closest to the door and looked at the computer screen which showed an ongoing game of solitaire. It was the place of Hong Xing. The count rubbed his hands together, then grabbed the associate harshly by the left shoulder. ‘Hong Xing!’ In a sudden shock, his victim shot up from his seat, staring speechlessly at the count. ‘Just refresh my memory. Did I assign to you playing solitaire as your task for today?’, said the count slowly, relishing every syllable. ‘No, Sir’. Hong Xing looked down. ‘But what do I find you doing here with the valuable time I’m granting you?’

‘Playing solitude, Sir.’

‘Which leaves me no alternative..’

Hong Xing sobbed.

‘..than to..’

Hong Xing sobbed more.

‘..relieve you from all your duties and set you free! And all the others as well. Let’s celebrate, my friends!’

And celebrating they did.

The next day was spent with some repair work to ready the Hulk’s space-time capsule for the flight back into the Tennessee present. The count proved to be a kind and efficient helper. In return, Philip and the Hulk assisted him shipping all his blood reserves to the local hospital. The friends spent one more night in the castle. The count let them sleep in the imperial suite of the castle. He tucked them in and told them a good night tale. ‘Put a vampire in the story!’, said Philip. The count did, with a giggle.

The next morning, he received an offer for a faculty position at the Transylvania State University. He was invited to become the chair of the department for Physics and Vampirology. He accepted at once. Later, he waved good-bye to the friends, when their capsule lifted off into the Transylvanian sky, unhindered by the magic shield that existed no longer.

 

Philip woke up and rubbed his eyes. It was not morning anymore. ‘I must have slept for quite a while’, he thought. ‘And what a dream! The castle, the count..It’s a pity, in a way, that those things only happen in dreams or in movies.’

 

He felt a piece of sturdy cardboard stuck in a pocket of his shorts. It was a postcard, showing a fearsome, grey medieval castle at sunset. He read:

‘My dear Philip! I understand that you have to go on with your life and return to your home. We will not meet again, because you live in your present, and I in mine, and that you should be stranded again in the future of Transylvania is not all too likely. But I will never forget what you and your friend did as you delivered me from my misery by making me laugh, and I will never think of you without a smile. I know, you will keep me in mind too, and you will remember the most magical defense against the vampires that you will meet in your later life. No impaling may help against them, no drowning and no thwarting with the cross. There may be no remedy but walking into the walls that keep them confined and bursting these walls from inside by the force of laughter. Your Professor Dr. Zappendustra.’

Philip looked up, confused. Then he heard the voices of his parents and his sisters.

 

Bio: Frank Hagelberg is a computational physicist at East Tennessee State University. Born, raised and trained in Germany, he moved to America in 1990 and taught at SUNY Albany and Jackson State University prior to his present position. He is married and has three children: Ellen, Julia and – Philip. His interests are music, literature, philosophy as well as theoretical and applied vampirology.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rainfall By Adam L. Wilson

Feb 17 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

The rain fell swiftly, asking no questions on its way down.  Bloated droplets raced to the soggy earth below.  The sky was gray and swollen with storm clouds that appeared to roll through the sky like giant grey and black caterpillars.  The rain and thunder denied all other lesser sounds, and lighting cut bright gashes in the colorless sky.

The storm made Little Lydia Banks even sadder.  “Little” was what her daddy had once called her, even though she had never liked the nickname.  She wasn’t that little after all.  She was five.  She missed being called that now.

Lydia could either stay inside where there was nothing to do but watch her mommy pack her things and cry, or sit on the porch and look for frogs hopping in the rain.  She hated seeing her mommy cry.  Lydia stood on the steps of the drooping porch of her house, sullenly watching frogs leaping over rain puddles, and wishing she could hop away too.

Somewhere in the world it’s not raining, she thought as she watched the rain stream off her porch.  Maybe…China.  I wish I was there.  She sighed and watched a stray leaf spin round and round in a puddle.

“Me and mommy will be leaving soon, but I bet we’re not going to China,” she said aloud.  In fact, she knew they were going to stay with Aunt Shelly.  The thought of being so far away from her daddy made her sad.

One time when she was younger she had asked where the rain came from, and her daddy had told her a Big Man up in heaven was crying.  Lydia had asked if he was so big, why couldn’t she see him?

Her daddy had told her it was because she was so little, his Little Lydia.  Lydia had not found this amusing.  When she had learned to write her name, she had showed it to her daddy and said “See Daddy?  L-Y-D-I-A spells LYDIA.  NOT Little.”

He had burst out laughing and hugged her, saying how proud he was of his Little Lydia.  She had laughed too even though she knew she was just Lydia.

“Lydia,” her mother called, “get your things in the truck.”  Stephanie Banks appeared in the doorway, her long blond hair hanging limply down to her shoulders.  Lydia always thought her mother was beautiful, like the fairies she pictured when her daddy used to read her stories, but now she was like a princess who had lost her prince, sad and lonely.

“OK, mommy,” she said.  “But the Big Man is crying a lot today.”

            ***

 Michael Banks hated the rain.  He hadn’t always disliked the rain.  In fact, he had enjoyed sitting on his porch with his wife and daughter, watching the empty fields around them soak with lakes of water.  Today though, the rain only served to remind him that his wife and daughter were gone.  He couldn’t remember how long it had been since they had left.  His head was cloudy more often than not now, and he almost felt like he wasn’t really there.  He knew he was seeing through a pain-choked veil.  He sat on the porch, drinking a cold beer, and wondered where his family had gone.

They had lived in this house surrounded by farmland for the past six years.  Michael was a mechanic, but he had a green thumb.  He had loved planting and tending his vegetable garden, and Lydia had liked helping him harvest the fruits and vegetables.  His wife had often cooked wonderful dishes from the bounty of his work, and she had been working in the garden herself more lately.

Michael’s father had owned an Auto Repair shop, and Michael used to help him by doing small jobs when he was a child.  He eventually worked his way up to bigger and more complicated jobs as a teenager, and discovered he had a natural talent as a mechanic.  He also enjoyed the work.  Machines were simple things once you understood how they operated, and he found peace in fixing people’s vehicles.  Michael’s dad had seen that love, and had deeded the repair shop to Michael.  When his dad died, Michael found that being an owner was a different beast than the one he knew.  He had hired a shop manager two months later, when he could stand the paperwork no more, and gone back to working as a mechanic.  Michael’s dad used to tell Michael that his destiny was in his last name, and that one day he would have a bank full of money, but Michael wasn’t concerned with money.

What do you think now, Pop?  Michael thought, closing his eyes and listening to the soft plop plop of the rain.  The normally soothing sound was giving him a headache.  I’ve lost everything, he thought.  I’d settle for just holding Stephanie or touching Little’s pretty soft hair again.  But his wife had left him, and taken Lydia without one word to him.  His little girl.  Michael put his hand over his throbbing forehead.  He had thought things were going well.

Michael got up from the porch step and went inside, the door creaking on the way.  The entry all that had once held framed pictures of his family along its entire length seemed to stare at him with a blank face.  There was some furniture left, but all of Steph’s and Little’s personal things were gone.  What the house lacked in objects it made up for in memories.

He walked through the empty living room where he and Steph had often sat together, watching TV or talking until they were both too tired to stay up any longer.  Where did you go, babe?  He walked into Little’s room, seeing her stripped bed and thinking about the stories he read to her.  Then he saw the giraffe painted in yellow and black and brown, and that destroyed the wall within him.  Tears slipped down his cheeks, and he pushed the ghosts of his memory aside turned away from the empty room.

He walked to the old-fashioned refrigerator in the kitchen and pulled out another beer.  Beer was the only thing left in the fridge.  There was not even any butter. What made you leave? he wondered. Was it the drinking?  Michael was not a drunk, but there were a few times he had drank too much and made an ass out of himself.  Stephanie didn’t drink, and he knew she disapproved of his drinking spells.  He had even gotten into a fight a couple of weeks ago at a local bar.

Michael was embarrassed to remember that.  He couldn’t remember Stephanie’s reaction when he had told her about it, but he was sure she had not been happy.  He took a long swig of beer, tipping the can back and spilling cold beer down his chin.  He didn’t mind.  It reminded him that he was alive.

What did I do wrong?  The beer dulled the pain of his headache slightly, but once Michael started to think again, it came back with reinforcements.

Michael had been working long hours at the shop lately because one his mechanics had broken his arm.  He hadn’t seen much of his family the past month, but still, Stephanie had given him no sign.  He wondered if she had found another man, one who was more ambitious than he.

“I’m sorry,” he said out loud, not sure what he was apologizing for.  His eyes filled with tears, and collapsed on the tile floor in a sobbing heap.  Beside him, the beer poured its contents into the cold floor.

***

 Stephanie stood in the center of the living room, thinking of all the movies they had seen in this room.  They had laughed together at stupid comedies and she had screamed at the scary movies Michael insisted they watched.  That was over now.

The room was mostly bare, as she had instructed the movers to take all the things she thought would not remind her of Michael too much.  They had done their job swiftly.  There wasn’t much to move.  There was never much when it came to her and Michael.  Their relationship had been simple. It had been more complicated towards the end, with Michael working late and drinking often.  His long hours left little time for her and Lydia.  All I wanted was you, Michael.  Just you and me and… Little.  Her eyes misted over at that thought.  Little was his name for her.  Stephanie gathered her courage and decided to go back for one last look at their bedroom.

She stopped at the door, looking in and seeing a different time. A time when she and Michael had laid in bed in the most secret part of the morning, making plans and telling each other about their dreams.  She almost started crying again, but managed to control herself.  She had cried so much lately.  She walked out of the room and down the hall to Lydia’s room.

The sky blue paint that Michael had painted Lydia’s room was beginning to peel.  He had even tried to paint a giraffe on the wall after he and Stephanie had taken her to the zoo and she had showed a particular affection for the long-necked animal.

She almost changed her mind about leaving the house when she saw the sloppy rendition of the giraffe at the zoo that Michael had worked so diligently on.  No, I can’t go on living this way.  For me and Lydia.  We deserve better, she thought.  We deserve-

***

A new life.  Was that what she had wanted? Michael thought, still sprawled out on the floor.  “I wanted to spend more time with you.  I wanted to buy you nice clothes and give you everything you wanted.  I just didn’t know you wanted more than I gave,” he said.  He got off the kitchen floor and stepped around his spilled beer.  He paced around the kitchen a while, because he could no longer sit.

When he and Stephanie had met, she had been 19 while he was 22.  She had been enrolled in the community college a few miles from her parents’ house, even though she had received scholarships for bigger and better colleges.  She had wanted to stay close to take care of her mother, who had Alzheimer’s. Her father had passed away when she was just 12.

She had driven into his life in a 1967 Volkswagen Bug.   She brought it in to his father’s shop for repair, and was speaking with him at the counter.  She had turned innocently, probably just checking out her surroundings while his father was writing up paper work, and their had eyes met.  It was only for an instant, a flash of undefinable time, but he had felt a shock go through him.  He had never suspected that true beauty, the kind that lives inside a person, could be communicated through one’s eyes until then.

She had turned back to him a few seconds later when his dad pointed at him, and she had smiled at him.  If the look was a shock, that smile was a Tesla coil full of unspent electricity.  Six months from that day, they were married and living in the house he was in now. They had Lydia a year after that.  Stephanie’s mom had held Lydia the day she was born, and clarity seemed to return to her when she looked upon the baby.  She had said she’d never seen anything so little and perfect.  She had died a month later.

Stephanie had never gone back to college, even at Michael’s insistence that he would do anything to help her get there.  She had been a bright veterinary student, but she kept telling Michael that taking care of Lydia for the first few years of her life was the best thing she could do for the world.

Michael wondered how long she had been secretly plotting to leave him, and take his daughter away.

Since that day at the hospital Lydia had been daddy’s little girl.  Even though it was Stephanie that spent most of the day with her when she was a baby, her first word had still been Da-Da.  Michael sometimes came home late in the evening exhausted from working long shifts and smelling of motor oil.  He still managed to find time to read Lydia a story or play a game with her when she got older.  Sometimes when he was off of work they would go in the city to the zoo or take a picnic by a lake that was a few miles from their house.  Lydia was as beautiful as her mother.  She had the same sunflower blond hair and the same warm blue eyes that radiated compassion and kindness.  She was his Little Lydia.

Why?  Why would Stephanie take Lydia away from him?  He knew that she wasn’t as happy as she should be, but he would have never suspected this.

***

“Mommy, do we have to go?”  Lydia asked.

Stephanie looked down at her Lydia, her perfect Lydia that looked so much like her father.   “Yes, baby.  It’s almost time now leave.  Did you make sure you got everything?”

Lydia nodded.

“Good then.  Go put the rest of your stuff in the truck and we’ll be ready.”

“But what about daddy?”   Lydia asked, her voice breaking.

“Oh, Lydia.”  Stephanie scooped the girl up in her arms and held her close.  They cried together.  We have to let him go.”

 ***

 Michael was done with crying.  He was furious.  His fists curled and uncurled as he thought about what his wife had done to him.  Six years of marriage.  Six years gone down the drain, he thought as he passed the kitchen.  He wasn’t going to let it end this way.  He had worked to get everything he had in life, and he would work to get his wife and child back.

“Stephanie!” he screamed, and flung open the front door. He stomped over the porch and down the steps, ignoring the rain.   He had to find his family.  He would track them down and win his wife and daughter back.  He wouldn’t do this.  He wouldn’t let her-

He stopped, facing the front door.  His blood froze as he looked at the closed door.

“What the hell,” he wondered out loud.  He tentatively pushed the door open again and stepped through.  He walked cautiously to the steps, stealing glances over his shoulder.  He stepped down on the first one with no problem.   He walked the last four faster and his foot was just about to touch the ground and-

The front door looked him in the face again.  Now he was scared.  He opened the door and ran through, leaping over the steps landing-

on the floor in the entry hall.  He lay there, not understanding.

He looked at his shoes, which should have been wet from the rain.  They were dry.  He was breathing fast now, almost panting.  What’s going on? he thought.

He stood up and backed down the hall, unconsciously seeking the comfort of his bedroom.  When he got there, he saw a scrap of newspaper lying on the bed.  Michael glanced at the photograph on the paper in bewilderment, and began to read.

 ***

 Stephanie stood on the porch, staring at the truck.  Then she made a decision.  She opened the front door and marched to her bedroom.  She reached in her pocket and threw the newspaper article down on the bed.  It had been read many times, and it was faded and thin.  Stephanie felt better at once.  It was time to let go.

She walked back to the porch, and found Lydia waiting for her.  The rain had almost died.  “Mommy,” she asked, looking up at her, “do you think daddy is crying with the Big Man in heaven?”

Stephanie watched the sun peek out from behind the grey clouds.  “No, honey.  I bet he’s smiling at us right now.”

“But don’t you think he misses us?”  Lydia asked.

Stephanie bent down to Lydia’s height. “I bet he does, but remember how he used to tell us that rain was God’s tears?”

Lydia nodded, her eyes brightening.

“Well there’s no reason for your daddy to cry because god cries all those tears for him.  Your daddy is in heaven now, and one day we’ll see him again.”

Lydia, apparently satisfied with this explanation, ran off to the waiting truck.  Stephanie stood on the porch and wondered how Michael really felt right now.

            ***

 Michael finished reading the story, and sat in stunned silence.  The article said that he had died almost a month ago.  It said that a fight had broken out in a bar, and several men were beating up an old man.  Michael had tried to help the old man, but one the other men had stabbed him.  An ambulance was called, but the roads were wet from a thunderstorm and Michael had died before the EMTs arrived.

Michael sat and stared out into the distance.  He remembered now. It was coming back to him slowly, like a garbled television transmission.  He remembered lying there, feeling his life’s blood running out on the hard wood floor, and thinking about Stephanie and Lydia.  He had focused on them so completely, that he had felt no pain.  He had been smiling when the EMTs tried to revive him.

They’re gone now, he thought, but I’m the one who left them.  He closed his eyes, but there were no tears this time.  He loved them so much that he had been the one unable to let go.  He walked back to the porch, slowly this time.  He paused before the steps.  He knew if he walked down them this time, he would not be stopped.  He wasn’t sure where he would go, but he knew he had to let go.  He closed his eyes, and walked down the stairs.  “Goodbye, Stephanie.  Goodbye Little.  I love you,” he whispered, taking his final step.  He thought he heard them whisper back.

“Goodbye, Michael,” Stephanie whispered to the house.  “I’ll always love you.  Always.”

“Look, mommy!”  Lydia called from the truck.  “I see a rainbow!”

Sure enough, a rainbow was beginning to form over the fields.  Stephanie looked at its brilliant colors and thought that she had never seen a more beautiful rainbow.  It was so bright, and the colors so intense.  She smiled, and said “Thank you Michael.”  A moment later the rainbow was gone, and the rain begin to fall again.

 

 

***

Author Bio

Adam L. Wilson is a strange man.  He is marked strange not by his appearance or behavior, but by his motivations and methods.  You see, Adam is a writer, but he doesn’t want anyone to know it.  That isn’t entirely true, of course, but before you can believe any of this, ask yourself if I am known to you as a reliable narrator.  No?  Good.

Allow me to explain.  Adam is married, and has had five wonderful spawns before he has reached his 30th birthday.  He has dreamed of being a writer for years, but monetary and familial obligations have obscured his view of this dream.  Instead, he has toiled away at occupations that have held little to no meaning to him, all for the sake of his family.  Oh, and pizza.  Adam really loves pizza.

So after nearly10 years of this all but financially pointless labor, the writing fever began to burn his ass too much to ignore.  So what did he do?  He began writing.  In secret.  It’s not that he doesn’t want to be discovered as a modern day Faulkner, and be wealthy and famous, but there is an important reason why he doesn’t want to be known yet.  You see, he hasn’t told his wife of his writing ambition.  His wife, nor anyone else in the world, save for a few paltry editors he guiltily submitted his writing to during down time at his office job.  Not only that, but he wants to continue to hone his craft before he tries to make a mad dash to the publication feeding frenzy.

Unfortunately, sometimes a story will break out from his tight, almost maniacal grip and make a desperate effort to reach some hungry editor, and Adam sustains a wild hope that that hungry editor will find his story delectable and bite bite bite.  Here is one of those stories.  I hope you enjoy it.  I certainly did.  Just try not to let anyone know you read it, ok?

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TO KAFKA, WITH LOVE by Carl Barker

Feb 10 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

That well known adage, that girls mature much faster than boys, was wishful thinking to fourteen year old Milena during the first few months of her romance with Brody. Several years her senior, Brody had a decidedly evolved opinion of what a serious relationship entailed. At first, everything had been relatively simple. Each night just after dusk, away from the watchful gaze of her curtain-twitching foster parents, Brody would mount the ageing birch tree beneath her bedroom and come crawling through Milena’s window to spend the evening in her company.

Their relationship had started in much the same way as any other inexperienced teenage courtship might. A handful of wanton glances across a busy classroom and that obligatory initial conversation, familiar to many as consisting of such uninspired phrases as “Hey, what’s new with you” and “That’s pretty cool.” This simplistic ritual had in turn paved the way to their first awkward kiss and the warm fuzzy feeling and dizzying head-rush which had followed and drawn the two of them together. The fact that Milena’s never seen guardians had expressly forbidden her from seeing boys in any shape or form on more than one occasion had done little to dissuade Brody from the object of his desires and as she watched him ascend to her window night after night, the cerulean blue of his eyes catching softly in the streetlights, Milena had been unable to stop herself from falling in love with him.

Now that they had been seeing each other regularly for several months, their initial inept fumblings had progressed into a more assured form of mutual stimulation and it was becoming clear that Brody wanted more from their relationship.

It wasn’t that Milena didn’t want to give him what he wanted. On the contrary, she often yearned to have the courage to go that extra step with Brody and surrender to him that part of her which he craved most. But each time things Brody had grown more fervent with his affection, she had found herself overcome by a mixture of childish embarrassment and nerves and had asked him to stop.

“Is it because you don’t want to be with me?” he frequently asked of her in these moments, exasperation plain on his face. “You do love me don’t you?”

Terrified that he might leave her and find somebody else, Milena had done her best to give voice to her insecurities and told him that she didn’t want him to feel it was a rejection. She explained rather timidly that she didn’t feel ready yet, either mentally or physically, to handle the impending tidal wave of emotions that taking their relationship to the next level might bring. Brody had done his best to be patient and quiet the whirling maelstrom of his adolescent hormones, but in the last few weeks she had noticed his frustrations with her reluctance grow. So it was with a sense of overwhelming relief that Milena awoke one morning from uneasy dreams to discover that the peculiar physical changes which her mother had long-since warned her of had finally begun to occur.

The clustered spots of dried blood on her pillow brought with them a strange indelicate excitement, fluttering within Milena’s chest like a caged butterfly. Tracing the blood to her fingers, she saw that her cuticles had cracked open in several places, the torn layers of skin having given rise to the slow ebb of scarlet which adorned her bed-linen. Cautiously probing at these patches of ragged flesh, she found that the surface had become soft and syrupy, such that she was able to rend her nails from her fingers like plucking ice cubes from water.

Surprised by the apparent lack of tenderness around, Milena discovered that the rest of her hands had undergone further innocuous change during the night. Fourth and fifth knuckles, now suddenly developed in the lower half of each finger, appeared as bulbous fleshy protuberances not in keeping with her previous physiognomy. Flexing her newly elongated digits into an inverse arch, Milena experienced an abrupt spasm of pleasure at the raw-boned staccato trill which played across her joints. Taking hold of several nearby items on her bedside table, she marvelled at the altered sensation which came from grasping each object in turn and spent several minutes exploring her tactile re-education.

The room itself was filled with the sickly sweet odour of rotting flowers, despite the absence of any overdue vase or display, and taking stock of the clammy interior of her bedclothes, Milena discovered that a remnant brown fluid adorned much of her skin, giving rise to this new and unique scent. The sensation of warm damp across her young body was not entirely displeasing and she found that she enjoyed the easy comfort with which her limbs were now able to stretch.

Laying the palms of her hands upon the wall Milena discovered the odd cohesive properties which a fresh layer of tiny hooked hairs brought to her skin. Following several abortive attempts to gain adhesion to the coarse surface of the wallpaper, she was finally able to secure herself about the light-switch fitting and clambered gingerly upwards until she had attained a height of almost two feet above the floor, before tumbling down onto the thick carpet in a fit of elated giggles. Roused by this disturbance, Milena’s foster parents surged into her room and, finding their young ward rolling about the carpet, scolded her unchecked revelry and instructed her to make preparations for school.

Ignoring the half-muttered disapprovals of her forthright step-parents scuttling away down the stairs, Milena sat upon her bed and thought momentarily of her real mother, wondering what she might have thought of her only daughter’s first steps into adulthood.

Her mother’s departure had been sufficiently early on in Milena’s life that only fragments of memory remained, lodged in the interstitial cracks of her subconscious such that she struggled to recall the hazy image of her face. Her step-parents had often described the errant woman as being nothing more than a common painted lady, casually abandoning her offspring to their frugal care and flying away a long time ago. They spared no subtlety as to the nature of the lewd trade which she had plied upon darkened city streets to pay her way, yet to Milena she was still the only true family that she had ever known. Even now, her mother’s mysterious overnight disappearance remained a source of unbridled frustration and sorrow to the poor girl, often crying herself to sleep at night and pining for the touch of a mother she could never know.

Three nights after these first changes occurred, Brody came again to Milena’s window, drawn like a moth to her light. She expected him to be happy at the commencement of the first stage of her ‘becoming’, and was surprised by the fog of confusion which descended around him as she revealed the extent of her physical alterations.

By this point, the formation of further hardened knots of bone and cartilage had spread throughout Milena’s body and in places, these joints and intersections had widened, gleaming a waxy pallid white beneath her skin, signalling the steady growth of new limb segments. Her underdeveloped body had taken on the elongated shape of one whose ship has left the familiar harbour of childhood, but is not yet skippered into the secure port of maturity. As she sat cross-legged on the bed opposite Brody, uncomfortably folded into a haphazard mass of irksome limbs, she stared at the panic blossoming in those wild blue eyes of his.

That he still wanted her was certain. The musky scent he continually gave off, which she could now at last detect, told her so. Yet the indecision in his gaze spoke of an uncertainty at what she was experiencing. Not understanding her own physical reactions yet, she reached out for him and frowned when he pulled back from her touch in apprehension.

“No,” he muttered, voice wavering slightly as he spoke. “I don’t want to right now.”

The thin film of brown secretion which continued to ooze steadily from her pores had given Milena’s skin a dull earthy tint and subtle aroma which, judging by the bulge of Brody’s stiffened member in his jeans, was having the desired effect. Despite her sexual immaturity, she could feel his desire, and the discord of his indecision frustrated her immensely.

Milena slumped back against her headboard, limbs folded, feeling slowly hardening bristles rise anxiously along her forearms as she stared at her boyfriend.

“Why do you not want me?” she pleaded, only to be met by a bewildering look of male insecurity from Brody as he turned to crawl back out through the window in silence, unsure of how to voice his impotent trepidation.

Milena did not leave the house for a whole week after that night. Her foster parents (far better equipped than Brody to understand the changes which she was going through) wisely gave her wide berth, quickly scurrying out of sight beneath the furniture on the few occasions that she had alighted from her room to the ground floor in search of ripened fruit or honey.

They occasionally balled rotten food up into small parcels of nourishment, leaving them outside her door as peace offerings of a sort, letting her know that they stood ready to aid with her development, should she require their counsel.

Despite this though, Milena felt entirely alone. Segregated by both Brody’s rejection and her continually evolving appearance, she brooded constantly within the tropical sanctity of her bedroom. With the thermostat turned up full, she slept fitfully, huddled against the sweat-soaked walls, occasionally waking to find a multitude of further bony outcroppings sprouting across the surface of her body and gradually becoming fused into a chitinous outer carapace. Holed up inside the thick skin of her isolation and surrounded by her own excremental frass, Milena pictured Brody’s face over and over in her mind as he climbed out her window that night – stealing one last look back at that which he no longer understand and had become afraid of. She did not know whether he would return again and as her newly acquired layers of coarsened body hair fell away to form the beginnings of a cocoon around her crouching form, Milena felt as though she were forlornly shedding her connection to Brody as well.

Sunlight on the fifth day found her chrysalis complete, hoisted up and anchored to the ceiling of her bedroom by a thick silk-laden cremaster. She hung there in silent hibernation, suspended over so many discarded dolls and storybooks, her expulsion from childhood now complete as she awaited the day of her emergence into womanhood.

Brody returned to the house two days later, not quite knowing what to expect as he clambered up the smooth surface of the birch tree towards Milena’s window. The same heady mixture of fear and desire that had sent him fleeing into the night the previous week still burned a caustic streak of doubt through his veins, yet he found himself unable to resist the siren call of Milena’s evolution.

A sticky wall of humidity greeted him inside her bedroom and clung possessively to his breath as he stared up at the strange shell anchored firmly to the ceiling. The cocoon was an uneven mass of swollen growth, resembling a nest of tightly clenched and overlapping fists. A dirty tortoiseshell brown in colour, it possessed a mild phosphorescence, which drew the boy nearer to gaze up at it in wonder. Without realising what he was doing, Brody found himself tentatively reaching out a hand to lay trembling palm flat against the surface of the chrysalis. Something stirred briefly within and he felt an odd reassurance intermingled with terror, somehow understanding that Milena was safely concealed within. He longed to be able to penetrate that hardened outer shell and entwine himself in Milena’s moistened flesh. The thought increased his frustration, excess testosterone swirling through his bloodstream like some stampeding feral beast. Balling his hands tightly at his sides, he skulked about the room dejectedly, finally slumping into an uncomfortable hunched position against the dresser.

Despite a sense of underlying revulsion, he found his eyes continually drawn back to the bloated and malformed shape above. Desire, fuelled by the remnant haze of Milena’s boorish scent, laid siege to his pubescent senses and Brody could barely contain himself from tearing the cocoon down and forcing his way violently inside. As the day wore on, he became more and more restless until finally, as the clock in the hallway chimed six, he rose stiffly from the floor and gently laid his hands once more against the crusted shell in farewell, before climbing back out the window.

The next night he returned, drawn by the powerful biochemically fuelled urge to mate which had so overridden his mind and reduced him to the role of eager supplicant. Unable to consummate his sexual need, the boy’s frustration first rose exponentially, then boiled ineffectually over via his own hand, until it finally retreated deep beneath his psyche and curled itself into a hardened ball of unrequited lust.

As Milena’s body continued its steady alteration deep within her thickened membrane, so too did Brody’s urgent hunger metamorphose into something more akin to longing. He found himself consumed more by the thought of taking Milena tenderly in his arms and loving her, then by throwing her down upon the rug and mounting her like a trophy.

On the third night of his vigil, the boy was even moved to fetch books of poetry, poached from his father’s extensive library, and read softly to Milena in the cloying darkness. He did not know if she could hear him within her crusted shell or not, but he persevered anyway, drawing some degree of comfort from the act till his eyelids became heavy.

As the first sticky strands of dawn began to adhere to the walls, Brody rose wearily from slumber, prose-laden pages concealing his stiffened lap. Glancing up at Milena’s chrysalis, he found himself sleepily wondering what form of mate would finally emerge to him from within that hardened casing. Would Milena’s new shape take flight about the room and sail out into the sunlight on shimmering wings of fritillary gold and brown? Or would she crawl forth upon a thousand spindly legs to view him through myriad compound eyes and smile? Brody shivered despite the sweltering heat, unable to do anything but obey the fervour which sat at his core.

The very next night, he enacted the same routine over again, waking in the darkness sometime after midnight, roused by the scuttle of feet. Thinking at first that Milena’s transformation was complete, Brody glanced up into the gloom with anticipation. Seeing that the cocoon above remained intact though, he realised to his horror that the sound had come from elsewhere. Diving into the sanctity of the wardrobe, he set about burying himself beneath an exuvia of discarded clothes just as the bedroom door was pushed open, throwing a thin beam of sickly light across the surface of the bed.

The sight of Milena’s foster-parents scurrying into the room turned Brody’s stomach, for they were unpleasant multi-legged things with bulging eyes like flies. Brody’s terror filled his throat as he watched these two oversized humanoid beetles climb the walls onto the ceiling and proceed to the point from which their ward was suspended. With one hand clamped firmly over his mouth to prevent a scream emerging, Brody watched wide-eyed as the two creatures descended the girdle onto Milena’s swollen cocoon and began to pick industriously at it with their pincers. Flecks of desiccated, superfluous chitin littered the floor as Milena’s custodians enacted the task of maintenance over their charge, occasionally communicating with each other in a series of high-pitched clicks and squeaks, which seemed to bizarrely wrap around the spaces in conversation which words should have occupied.

Once this thin layer of excess material was stripped away, the two creatures secreted some form of translucent mucus upon the chrysalis, evidently intended to strengthen and repair the outer surface as it ran down the sides. The stench of the fluid was overpowering and Brody was forced to stuff crumpled garments into his nose and mouth to prevent himself from gagging.

Their duties soon completed, the drones vacated the nest, the bedroom door clicking quietly shut behind them as they left. Frozen in slow horror, Brody could not bring himself to move from the interior of the wardrobe. He stared, without blinking, at Milena’s slowly spiralling chrysalis, hanging in the air like an over-sized comma, until eventually his eyes began to water and he burst into silent tears. Trapped in a hapless web of his own inescapable hormones he lay there paralyzed until the dawn returned once more and the first signs of new life appeared within the now translucent shell.

Throughout her gestation period, Milena had been only partially aware of Brody’s continued presence. Encapsulated as she was in her own private universe, she had still been able to sense, on some rudimentary level, the heady cloud of pheromones which accompanied his frequent intrusions into her bedchamber. His proximity remained a comfort, as she marvelled at each and every stage of her accelerated transformation.

Strange sensations began in her abdomen, spreading outward to every part of her body until she felt truly alive with the possibilities of alteration. In tandem with these physical manifestations, Milena felt the workings of her mind also begin to change over time, adopting strange exotic pathways which excited her. An understanding of her rapidly evolving body brought with it an emergent confidence which she had never known, and with the time now come for her to complete her pupation, she suddenly knew more than anything else what it was that she wanted.

Brody lay dozing fitfully in a tightly coiled ball on the floor when she first began to penetrate the outer shell of her chrysalis. The cracking noise of her exit roused him from slumber and Milena took great pleasure in the lustful gaze which poured from his eyes as she emerged naked into womanhood and stood before him on the bed.

Almost a foot taller than before, Milena smiled down on her erstwhile suitor as monarch, carefully flexing every aspect of her supple new body. Brody’s hungry eyes played over the beautiful mottled ringlets adorning her teneral skin and she smiled with pleasure as he fixated upon the peacock eyes of her exquisitely patterned breasts, stepping nervously closer to the bed.

Pulling him up onto the duvet and quickly helping him shed his outer garments, Milena dragged him confidently down towards her and took the boy as her lover. Despite her instinctual dislike for being pinned down, she allowed Brody to eagerly mount her and fulfil his adolescent desires.

Wrapped in the throes of passion, she slid her proboscis across the skin of his back and drank deeply from his sweat, enjoying the salty taste of his flesh as though it were nectar. What inexperience he showed, the boy endeavoured to make up for with enthusiasm and Milena found herself wishing for longer than a mere five days to explore this final, overtly sensual portion of her life-cycle.

Sensing Brody nearing climax, she wrapped her muscled hindlegs around his midriff, squeezing tightly as he bucked and thrashed wildly against her. She felt a sense of completion wash over her as the boy finally exploded into her, filling her with his fertile seed and collapsing against her chest. Gasping with pleasure, Milena leant forward with widening jaws and hungrily bit off her lover’s head, enjoying the way his decapitated body became even more vigorous in its last passionate death spasms. Allowing the lifeless body to slide onto the floor she lay back in exhaustion and smiled happily to herself, feeling new life already beginning to grow inside her.

She was going to be a mother.

Bio

My fiction has previously appeared in magazines such as Dark Horizons and Midnight Street, as well as various anthologies. I maintain a web presence at www.holeinthepage.co.uk.

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Last Call By Ray Charbonneau

Feb 03 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

Roy trudged through Jefferson Station, heading toward the Look-in Glass.  He was still wearing his stained overalls after another long day at the air plant, but the day’s first drink had already waited long enough.

Back when Roy starting working infrastructure maintenance, Jefferson Station was Luna City.  30 years later Luna City sprawled across thousands of hectares and down hundreds of meters.  Roy owned a nice little cube deep in Heinlein Village but he still returned to Jefferson Station almost every night to wind down after work.

Roy turned as a tubecar pulled into the station.  He smiled when he saw Judy climb out onto the platform.  Roy waved, then picked up his pace so he reached the bar module just ahead of Judy.  Roy opened the door, bowed and swept an arm toward the inside, saying “Your kingdom awaits!”

Judy’s lip curled up in a half-smile.  She nodded the beginning of a curtsey to thank Roy for holding the door and then she went inside.

The Look-in Glass was one of the oldest modules in Jefferson Station.  Repeated washings with harsh cleansers had taken the shine from the plasteel walls even before Luna City was large enough to allow living space to be dedicated to frivolities like a bar.  The years of spilled drinks and bloody bar fights that followed left a patina that was impossible to wash away.

Judy fit right in.  Her face, like the food services uniform she wore, was no longer crisp and fresh, marking her as another veteran of many nights spent in this bar or others like it.

It was still early, so most of the seats were empty.  As Judy’s tired eyes scanned the bar, she saw Neil’s familiar shape at one end, staring vacantly at the vid hanging in the corner.  The blue-grey light from the screen barely registered in the starkly lit room as it played across the creases on his upturned face.

Judy made her way across the stained wooden floor to the stool next to Neil.  “Hey there,” she said as she settled into place.  “I knew you’d be here for the last call.”

“Hey Judy,” said Neil.  He twisted on his seat to look at Roy, who’d followed Judy in after closing the door behind them.  “What’s up?”

“Some people might be too sad to come in the night their home-away-from-home closes for good,” said Roy as he sat down on the other side of Judy.  “Not Neil.  How long you been here today?”

“Well, Timmy opened up at two like he always does, but I was a little late.  He had time to get the door unlocked and the vid on before I showed.”  Neil turned and called down the bar, “Timmy, how’s about you bring us a round.”

The bartender popped open three beers and set them on the bar.  Neil asked him, “What’s the corporation gonna do with all the leftover booze? Free drinks after hours tonight?”

Tim raised an eyebrow, amused by the idea.  “You think those cheap bastards are gonna give anything away?  The booze stays with the bar.  Hell, I gotta come in tomorrow and do one last inventory before I go.”

“Well, a job’s a job,” said Roy.  “You think the new guys will take you on?”

“Doubt it,” said Tim, leaning back and relaxing with his elbows on the cash register shelf.  “Once they rip out the plasteel and rehab the mod the place is going upscale and that’s not my style.  Besides, my cousin’s on the contract and he says they’ve got 3-4 months of work ahead of them before the new place opens up.  They’re waiting until the hotel pods are installed and the entire Jefferson project is finished.  I can’t wait that long before I look for another job.”

“Does your cousin know the new managers?” said Judy.  “Think they might be using live cooks and waitresses?  I’m so sick of cafeteria drones and “it’s Thursday, dial up meal 47B”.

“Yours ain’t the kind of ‘experience’ they’re looking for in a nice place, Judy,” said Neil.

“Vac you, Neil.  I don’t need your crap today, even if you did finally buy a round.”

“Yeah, rockhead,” said Roy.  “Can you dial it back a notch for one night.  This sucks enough as it is.”

“Whatever,” Neil muttered as he turned and huddled over his beer.  “Sorry.  Just trying to have a little fun.”

“So what are you guys gonna do once this place closes?” asked Tim.  “You’re gonna have to find another place to hang out.”

“One thing this town has is plenty of bars,” said Roy.  “We’ll find some place.  But we’ll miss your smiling face.  Where’ve you been looking?”

“I stopped in Smitty’s last week.  He might have some hours for me.  I’d only be working weekdays to start, but it’s something.  Still, it’ll be tough without the weekend tip money.”

“Smitty’s?”  Roy grimaced.  “Last time I was in there, it looked like a geriatric ward.  There was one couple making out in the corner, they must have been 75.  Yecch!”

Judy laughed.  “You should go there more often Roy.  It’ll be good for you.  Lets you know how you look to the girls who are still in their 20’s.  Maybe you’ll start to act your age.”

Roy smirked as he sat up straight and ran his fingers through his hair, pushing it back from his widow’s peak.  “I’m not old!  I’m distinguished!”

“Nearly extinguished, I’d say,” snickered Neil.

“Didn’t we tell you to shut up?” said Roy.  Then he laughed too.  “Maybe I should start going to Smitty’s.  Then I’d be the young guy there.  I’d have all the women chasing me for once.”

“I can’t go back to Smitty’s, not for a while,” said Neil.  “I got in a fight with Paul Andersen there and Smitty banned me.”

“Paul Andersen?” said Judy.  “You must have got your ass kicked!”

“Well, yeah,” said Neil.  “I was drunk.”

“You would have to be drunk to get in a fight with Andersen, you moron,” said Roy.  “You’re lucky he didn’t kill you.”

“Were you hitting on his sister again?  She told you to leave her alone,” said Judy.

“I wasn’t hitting on her.  I just wanted to talk for a minute.  But then Paulie started pushing me around, and things got out of hand.”

“That happens a lot, doesn’t it?” Tim said.  He turned to Judy and asked, “What about you?  What do you think you’ll be doing after this place closes?”

Judy looked down at her bottle and slid a fingernail along the edge of the embossed “Moonshine Lager” logo.  “I don’t know.  I was thinking that maybe I might find something else to do other than hang out in bars.”

“What else is there?” asked Neil.

“Jeez, Neil.  Not everybody gets drunk every night,” said Roy.  “Hell, even I got my alley-pin night on Tuesdays and I still get out and go crater skiing with the guys most weeks.”

“Yeah, there’s no beer there,” said Neil.  “At least not until you get back into pressure.”  He nudged Judy with his elbow.  “Right?”

Judy turned to Roy and smiled, ignoring Neil.  For a guy who was always in a bar, Roy wasn’t bad.  He never hit on her, or at least he wasn’t obnoxious about it, even when they were drunk.  That made him a gentleman, sort of.  “OK, you’re not totally pathetic.  But I’m not the sporty type.  When I came up here, women worked until they got pregnant and raised kids.  Girls these days, I see them out soaring and cratering and whatever, but I’m too old and tired to start running around like that.”

Roy smiled back at Judy.  She wasn’t bad looking, considering.  Not like those hags at Smitty’s.  “You aren’t that old,” he said.  “We’ve got guys older than both of us on the alley-pin team.”

“I went to one of your games once, remember?” said Judy.  She put her hand on Roy’s shoulder and gave him a friendly shove.  “That fat blocker kept kicking pins in my direction so he could come over and hit on me.  I coulda just stayed in the bar for that.”

“If you’re not gonna drink, and you’re not gonna play sports, then what’re you gonna do?” asked Tim.  “Sit home and watch vid?”  He shrugged.  “You might as well be married.”

“I wouldn’t mind, if I found the right guy,” Judy told Tim.  “Not like that asshole I married before.  There’s gotta be somebody out there I could live with without going crazy.  But I don’t think I’m gonna find him hanging out in bars.  People our age whose lives revolve around going out drinking at night aren’t exactly winners.  Nothing against you guys, of course,” she added quickly, looking over at Roy.  “After all, I’m here too.”  She wondered what Roy thought about marriage, then wondered why she’d never really thought about that before.

“No problem,” said Tim.  “I know what you mean.  I’ve gotta serve ‘em.  Right, Roy?”

“You guys talking to me or about me?” Roy grinned.  Then the grin faded as he tried to remember the last time he’d gone anywhere that didn’t have beer.  “Either way, you might have something going.  I don’t know about you but for me, seems like every day it gets harder to get up in the morning.  Maybe I’m drinking too much, or maybe I’m just getting old.”

“Maybe you just need a better reason to get up,” said Judy.  “Or a reason to go to bed earlier,” she said.  She flashed a coy smile, then ducked her head and picked her beer up abruptly to cover her embarrassment with a sip.  Judy hoped she wasn’t blushing.

Roy smiled back at Judy, then his eyes drifted away from her, distracted by the idea that she might be flirting with him.  He swiveled to stare at the mirror behind the bar, wondering.  They’d known each other for years.  Judy never pissed him off, and most people did at some point.  Take Neil, for instance.  But he never really thought of her as dating material.  Maybe that was a mistake.  “People do all sorts of things at night,” he told his reflection slowly.  “They go to tri-vids or concerts or they go out dancing.  The trick is to have someone to do it with.”

Tim looked at Judy, then back at Roy.  “You gotta meet your somebody somehow.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone waving from the other end of the bar.  He headed that way, saying, “It’s been known to happen in bars,” over his shoulder as he left to serve the other customers.

“I haven’t got lucky for ages,” complained Neil.  He sat up, then forced out a long belch.  “I don’t know why.”

Roy looked down and traced a damp ring on the top of the bar with his finger.  What if Judy was flirting with him?  Was that so bad?  What if she wasn’t?  Roy picked at the grease under his fingernails.  It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been wrong about a woman.  He decided to keep it cool.  “I was thinking I might like to go see that new Mel Glover tri-vid one of these nights,” he said to no one in particular.  “Do you like Mel Glover?”

“He’s great!  Remember Mad Manhattan, that tri-vid with the skirts fighting the blue facepaint gang?  I felt like I never left New York.  Who cares if he said a few things about Premier Schulty?” said Neil.  “He probably just had a few too many.  We’ve all been there – I know I have.”

Roy grimaced at Neil and then turned to Judy.  “What do you think?”

Now it was Judy’s turn to gaze off at the mirror.  Was Roy was asking her if she wanted to go on a date?  She snuck a peek at his reflection.  He didn’t look bad – a little thick around the middle, but he reminded her of a dissolute version of that lasgunner from “Ragnar’s Rangers”.  Her view turned to her own reflection, and she had to acknowledge that she wasn’t the size 8 she used to be on Earth either.

She enjoyed hanging out with him.  It might be fun to spend more time with him outside of the bar.  But what if he didn’t actually want to go out?  She didn’t want the guys thinking she was desperate.   They’d laugh.  And when they went to that alley-pin game, he’d let the blocker harass her.  She decided it was best to play it safe and keep things vague.  “I dunno.  I guess he’s OK.  Isn’t his last tri-vid about some puppet?  That sounds a little silly.  And I don’t think it got good reviews.”

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” said Roy.  He frowned and wondered if he had been mistaken.  Why did women have to be so cryptic?   “Still, it might be amusing.  It’s not like a night at the vid hall would keep me from anything important.”

“Might be fun,” said Judy.  She hesitated.  Did Roy want to go out, or did he just want to see the tri-vid?  Maybe if she threw out other options, he’d know she was open to the idea.  “You ever go to an aerial?” she asked.  “I went to see Catspaw once when my sister came up from Earth.  It was a lot of fun, with all the live singing and costumes, and the aerobatics were amazing!”

Roy wondered what that had to do with going to a tri-vid.  “Aren’t aerial tickets sort of expensive?” he asked.  It looked like Judy wasn’t really interested in dating.  That was too bad, but at least he hadn’t made a fool out of himself.

Judy shrugged.  She decided Roy didn’t seem very interested after all.  At least she hadn’t embarrassed herself.  “Well, they usually cost more than a tri-vid, I guess.  I only went the one time.”  She took one last shot.  “But it might be fun to try again.”

Roy picked up his beer.  “One of these days, maybe you should.”  The beer wasn’t quite empty, so he drained it in one long, slow swallow.  The warm dregs tasted a little sour, matching his mood.  “I’m feeling a little tired tonight,” he said as he set the bottle down.  “Guess I’ll go home early.”  Looking down the bar, he called, “So long, Tim.  See you Monday at Smitty’s?”

“Sure,” Tim called back.

“And you guys?” Roy asked, carefully careless.

“I suppose so,” said Judy.  “Typical Monday night, and we gotta go somewhere, right?”

“I suppose so.”  Roy shrugged as he got up and headed for the door.

Judy twisted in her stool to watch Roy leave.  Neil took a glance over his shoulder, then he turned back and said, “Guess it’s just you and me, Judy.  Want another round?”

The door closed.  Judy turned back to Neil.  “I don’t think so. I’m a little tired myself.  I think I’ll be leaving too.”

“Ah don’t go.  It’s our last night.”

“Bye, Neil.”  She got up and waved toward the other end of the bar.  “Bye Tim.”

“Ah, it figures,” Neil muttered.  “For once I buy the first round and look what happens.”  He looked up at Tim, walking toward him with an open beer.  “Was it something I said?”

Ray Charbonneau lives in Arlington, MA with his wife and their two cats.  You can often find Ray and Ruth out on the streets running, but Felix and Phoebe stay inside.  Ray is the author of the books “Chasing the Runner’s High” and “R is for Running”.  His stories have appeared in both national dead-tree publications and landfill-saving electronic formats. Find out more at www.y42k.com.

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