Category Archives: action

In the night

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spilled red

IN THE NIGHT

Mark convulsed in the mudded pit and dissolved. Spasms had wracked his form as he wormed his way along the rain-drenched ground. He did not sense the sharp drop that brought him to his end. Yes, I watched his final journey. I stood at the lip of the pit, watched his death, and walked home.
 
Why did I watch? Why didn’t I do anything? I had done something. His ending began with me.
 
You look startled. Why? You know Mark and I were never friendly towards the other. He stabbed me in the back as many times I stabbed him. Staying away from each other was the prudent thing to do, we both knew that. We even laughed together one evening over that thought, sipping our glasses of red. The bar was thriving that night.
 
Some weren’t after we finished with them. Yes, I know, Mark and I, rivals, blah blah blah. The hunt drew us together now and then, generally by sheer coincidence. At least, that is what I had always thought.
 
It turned out that Mark had planned every encounter. I have to give him his due: his skill in lying far surpassed mine. When I found the truth, I was a tad humbled. Mark’s lying was at mastery level. I worked hard to take mine to his level.
 
Why did he do it? Why did he hate me that severely? Old story. It was always a game of one-upmanship between us. Always. Mark would not accept that I could exceed him in any way. It was no more than a game of egos, until, it wasn’t.
 
It all started with Claire. He wanted her. She chose me. Once her bloodied body was discovered, nothing between us would ever be the same game again. I’d take from him. He’d indulge in returning the favor. We were living in a harsh cycle. The drawn blood between us had been notorious.
 
Yes, yes. That was centuries ago. So?
 
Why now, you ask? What brought our mutual loathing to an end now?
 
Mark and I have always been scrutinizing each other. Weaknesses praised and used to our advantage. This became our goal: seeking knowledge to use to the other’s detriment. Who won or lost these challenges was of no concern, then.
 
It came to my attention that Mark had studied me far deeper all along. It came to me in whispers along the way. Sycophants whose loyalties drifted between Mark and me. I ignored most of them as pure gossip. I knew I spun my tales to unsettle Mark.
 
Until most recently, I believed we were on even ground.
 
What? Of course, I was wrong! Yes, yes, always headstrong, blah blah.
 
Mark’s planning had reached a summit. It was due to begin this very evening. Ha! He had rallied many to his side. I thought we were equally loathed. Again, I was wrong, but…there will be a reckoning.
 
His plan: attack and obliterate everything, and everyone, that I possess. Every single element that is mine. I may not have a heart, but Marks’s scheme was that threat one step too far. I confronted him on this.
 
Of course, he denied it all. What else would one expect?
 
No matter: he would never take what was mine again. 
 
That night’s storm was tearing up the sky. That was pure coincidence, convenient on my part.
 
I had reached out to him. He responded, and met me that night outside of a long-standing bar we both favored. Accusations and denials tore into the night sky. Sharp words turned to sharper claws.
We did grave damage to each other, of course.
 
On a muddied slope, Mark lost his balance. Miniscule, but I took my advantage. I was getting the best of Mark. Deep in the forest at this point, Mark went down to the earth, glaring my way. I imagine that he felt this was our usual. Spar, hurt the other to that point, He hadn’t prepared for me to take this to a true Endinig.
 
I did. I fought dirtier than usual, slashing his in violence I had not known I was capable of. Panting, Mark began to sidle away. I pulled out a weapon we had both sworn would never enter our conflicts. Embedded with Elder rune, I weighed the silver blessed dagger in my left hand. Mark screamed as the dagger plunged through his hide with ease. 
 
Yes, more than once. Many more times.
 
You would have laughed at the look on Mark’s face as he passed on.
 
I did. It was exquisite.
 
No? You’d instead it was my face, my death?
 
Ah, friend, I’m not sure I believe your poo-pooing. That will be another discussion between us. Yes?
 
On your central question of “Why?” Really? After all these years we have left behind us, you feel the need to ask, “Why?”
 
Claire. It was still about Claire. For me, always, it has always been about Claire.
 
Drink up. Your glass of red is cooling off.
 
Good. Good. Now, let us discuss one last thing.
 
Why did you join Mark’s plot against me?
 
Hmmm?

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Looking for a new online writer’s group to satisfy your passion?

I am the organizer and host of two separate groups:

  1. RevitalWriters: Critique. Done. Write.
    1. For the more serious writers needs support on their WIP and honing their craft.
    2. RevitalWriters will be a weekly cohort.
    3. Visit MeetUp to RSVP RevitalWriters. (click the link)
    4. Fridays at 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm. EST
  2. Daydreamers Writing Club
      1. Your weekend retreat for writing and join others like you: a passion to write.
      2. Sessions run Saturday mornings, 10:00 am to Noon, EST
      3. Visit our MeetUp page to join this community: Daydreamers Writing Club

     

Both groups welcome writers of any genre or style.

We hope to see you.

Nightmare Reflection: 2020 AtoZ Blog Challenge

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Reflection #atozchallenge 2020

 

NIGHTMARE REFLECTIONS

NIGHTMARES FROM AN UNBLEACHED SOUL

The AtoZ Blog Challenge 2020

Writing In Captivity

The AtoZ is a challenge. I take that seriously. Since 2011, my first foray into this, I have changed gears from year to year. I like stretching beyond my comfort zones. Some of it has been well taken in both Stats and comments. Others, like this year, not so much.

I am pleased with what I chose to do:  write 26 Lyrical Poems under the theme title. Write every day in April, except Sundays. I have written poetry before, many well received by the readers. But, I write in that style intermittently.

This was truly a challenging April.

If you’ve followed from April 1st  with Awakenings to Zealous O’er the Seas, you’ve experienced my venting, wistfulness, wishing, observations, and anger through my words. Some I rhymed on purpose, some I just let the words loose.

Every single poem was written with a genre of music or musician’s styling playing in my head. I did not intend to appropriate any specific song; it’s the overall mood they convey and are masters of. I’ve written songs before, but I have no knowledge of musical notation and I don’t play a musical instrument. I hear it inside and then turn to someone to collaborate with. From humming it out, setting the beats (as I see them), hearing it played,  gets me going. Seeing how the meter is off from one (or many) line(s) starts my rewrite of the lyrics if needed. Tweaking the piece, scrapping whole verses, you know: first to finished draft.

The music that drifted around me as I wrote the poem daily (I don’t pre-write) is varied:

  1. Big Band/Crooners; Folk music; Rap (as I understand it); Sea Shanties; Rock; Heavy/Thrash Metal; Alt Rock & Alt-Country; Punk; Romantic-ish; Blues; Singer/Songwriter.
  2. Artists:  Tom Waits; Leonard Cohen; The Kinks; Joni Mitchel; Peter Gabriel; Kate Bush; Sousie and the Banshees; Alestorm; Dean Martin; St. Vincent; later Beatles; Beck; The Clash; The Cure; and others that my mind can’t latch onto right now.

Nightmares from an Unbleached Soul

Why Nightmares from an Unbleached Soul? What does that mean, to you? What do you think it means to me? I asked that question near the end of the month and got one response.

Noor Anand Chawla wrote:

I think your title alludes to the fact that you lay yourself and perhaps your worst fears, bare to your audience, through these 26 pieces. “Nightmares” refer to your worst fears, and “unbleached soul” refers to the absence of restraint and being absolutely honest about your feelings.
Perhaps my explanation is too simplistic? What do you think?

Noor pretty much nailed it. I feel that nightmares go beyond our sleep. They are all around us. It could be people, situations, personal fears, perceived fears, and hurt that you feel has been done to you, or that you have done to yourself.

Noor also got the “Unbleached Soul” part. I would add to that when we follow the crowd, stop thinking on our own (or made to stop), refuse to look at things from another angle = Bleached. Soul or Mind: interchangeable.

Overall, I am a non-conformist. I despise the statement “We’ve always done it this way!” For me, there is no box for me to think out of. It’s been imposed on me time and again. Not my thing. I’m creative. I don’t always follow mindless rules, inflexible, with no desire to even listen to a different POV. Sometimes I’ve done that: those are the times I get headaches constantly and down more aspirin than I should.

Try Noor’s blog (link above). I think you’ll enjoy her writing.

Overall 

I love the AtoZ Blog Challenge. I’ve come across some amazing writers, and many have become online friends. Their pieces are varied from all types of fiction to creative non-fiction to reviews and more. That’s a big part of why I come back.

As I mentioned above, I like a challenge when writing. This gives me that opportunity with the potential to reach well beyond the people who follow me. I’m not hawking for new followers. The performer side of me wants people to want more, for the readers to take what they will from the piece that can touch them &/or make them think.

I am disappointed, again already mentioned, with my stats and comments this year. This was the smallest audience of all my years participating. I went out on a limb, poured a lot of what’s inside of me (as Noor mentioned), and while getting some amazing feedback I wonder what didn’t connect with others. Normally, I’ve had serialized stories that are long in length. I get that. Long posts are sometimes passed over, especially when you are blog hopping.

If I join in again next year, I have a lot of contemplation ahead of me.

Big thanks to Arlee Bird and all the other hosts who worked on this year’s Atoz Blog Challenge. It is obvious how much work they have put in. It shows in many ways.

Big thanks 2, to all of my readers, commenters, and supporters. Too many to name, but know your interaction is priceless.

Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

missionaccomplished

Zealous O’er the Seas: Nightmares from an Unbleached Mind, AtoZ Blog Challenge

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Z2020

NIGHTMARES FROM AN UNBLEACHED MIND

ZEALOUS O’ER THE SEAS

There was a ship tore o'er the sea
Zealous she was in name and in deed
We caught with ease all of our prey, 
Nary a one gave us a slip
The bounty was always plenty
Filling out hold to the deck.

Fill up our ale mugs and raise them high 
Give our Captain Bones a cheer
Hey!
Stalwart and brave, a rogue to his core
Captain Billy Jack Bones
HEY!

Billy Jack led the Zealous on many a wild chase
She was a fearsome sight to behold
With raised colors most tried to flee
As we came upon them
All the crews fought valiantly
But for them it came to naught

Fill up our ale mugs and raise them high
Give our Captain a cheer
Hey!
Stalwart and brave, a rogue to his core
Captain Billy Jack Bones
HEY!

Billy Jack entranced the women on each pirate isle
From St. Mary's Island came Jaquotte; Clew Bay gave up Sadie
Tortuga brought his Bonny; Ching Shih was from Port royal
At Barataria Bay he fell for Mary Read
His met his fate on New Providence, Anne Bonny

Fill up our ale mugs and raise them high
Give our Captain a cheer
Hey!
Stalwart and brave, a rogue to his core
Captain Billy Jack Bones
HEY!

The six hellions thought they his only bride
Given the news from the massive Black Ghost Ship 
Sailing out aboard the ship, the six brides did plan
To give Billy his comeuppance for once and evermore

Fill up our ale mugs and raise them high
Give our Captain a cheer
Hey!
Stalwart and brave, a rogue to his core
Captain Billy Jack Bones
HEY!

Captain Bones was surrounded, ale wenches four
All headed to his den, for pleasure and more
A blow to his noggin ended that display
Tethered to a mast he awoke to six deadly glares

Each bride flogged our Billy in turn, unmercifully
Anne Bonny approached him at the last, no whip in sight
Proud was our Captain, he stared into her eyes
Anne Bonny aimed her pistol; Billy Jack Bones was gone

So heed this tale when considering to wed
Be extra cautious with who you take to bed
Marriage vows are sacred; Offer no contempt
Or you'll live in agony beyond what was ever dreamt
Fill up our ale mugs and raise them high
Give our Captain some cheers
Hey! Hey!
Stalwart and brave, a rogue to his core
Was Captain Billy Jack Bones
HEY! HEY!

Captain Billy Jack Bones
HEY!

**************************************************************

**The female pirates, the pirate safe havens, the Zealous, are all part of Pirate history.  The HMS Zealous lived on in three different vessels. I moved the female pirates around for this story-song. The pirate havens were real. Plundering was real. 

Everything else was my creation.  Hey Hey!
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Nightmares from an Unbleached Soul theme is at its end. 26 lyrical poems written daily during the month of April (no Sundays). It began on April 1st and ended Thursday, April 30th. There is still one more piece to this year’s AtoZ Blog Challenge: we are asked to write our Reflections on the process, successes, thoughts, and any changes you might like to make. All the blogs that survived this Apri’s challenge will post their Reflections between May 4th to May 16th.

I will post my Reflections on either May 4th or 5th. I’ll let you know.

I hope you find new blogs that draw you in. If you wish to, go to The Master List.

I’ve asked a few questions along the way: what genre of music you think suits the lyrics best? Who or what style of music was in my head when I wrote these? My last one for the end:

  1. Why Nightmares From An Unbleached Soul?  
  2. I’m curious.: How do you interpret it
    1. for yourself?
    2. why do you think I chose that as my theme title?

     

Comments are always welcome.

HEY! HEY!

They Ran

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Photograph by Shari Marshall ©

THEY RAN

Propped up by the blasted wall, seven faced their executioners.

Each of the seven different from the other, facing seven of one kind, their weapons raised.

“This is war,” echoed in seven languages, “and you ran. No excuses. No pleas. No last words, signs, or prayers. Nothing. You ran. Others of your kind died. It would have been the same if you aimed at them yourselves and fired.”

A nod. Of the runners: three fell; one cut in half; one shattered; another fused into the wall; one vaporized.

Seven colored fluids pooled; the only mix allowed beyond the Rim worlds.

*************************************

Author’s Note: The picture above, by Shari Marshall, was a prompt posted on her page, Writing is Communication. The prompt was to use her photo, created your tale on your own blog, then post a link to your story in her comments section.  We each see what we see in the photo. This was my take.

I also did this as a Drabble (100 words exact). Beyond posting a link, and using the photo prompt, you can go anywhere with the photo.

Give it a shot.

Pun intended.

KingCon: Haverstraw Library’s annual comic convention! Saturday, August 3

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I have been honored to be a panelist at a

Modern Speculative Writing Program!!!

Speculative Fiction is a genre of fiction that encompasses works in which the setting is other than the real world, involving supernatural, futuristic, or other imagined elements. It includes Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Magic Realism, and so much more. Speculative fiction writing takes the imagination as far as it can go, and then some.

Located in beautiful Rockland County (less than an hour northwest of NYC), the Haverstraw King’s Daughter’s Public Library is holding their annual comic convention, KingCon. Yes, the pun fits.

Taylor Voght, author and MFA at Manhattanville College, will be our moderator as we delve into what makes Speculative Writing so attractive, contemplate the nature of sequential narration, and share what inspires us to write as we do.  Sitting beside me will be noted authors and editors Michelle Levy and Gerrit Overeem.

This is Haverstraw’s SDCC and NYCC, just without the mile-long lines!!

I hope you can make it. If so, stop by after the panel and say ‘Hi!’

SATURDAY, AUGUST 3, 2019: KingCon!!

Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library
10 W. Ramapo Road
Garnerville, NY 10923

Modern Speculative Writing

1 pm – 1:30 pm, Community Room
For all ages. Speculative fiction requires using your imagination to create entirely new worlds, and it has never been more popular! In this panel, learn from science fiction and fantasy authors Taylor Vogt, Stuart Nager, Michelle Levy, and Gerrit Overeem on how to write your own speculative fiction novel. All attendees will leave with the tools to write their own story!

KingCon2019EventsFlyer

Reflections In A Car Mirror: #AtoZ Blog Challenge 2019

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#AtoZChallenge 2019 Tenth Anniversary Reflections badge

26 Posts

A total of 36,061 Words

A Car In The Woods

Six years of participation. Six years surviving. Six years.

This year kicked my ass.

I’m not someone who outlines these things. Titles, maybe (i.e. the Road Signs year). I get the basic idea, like it enough, think I’ll get some mileage out of it, and go with it, peddle to the metal.

I originally planned to just do individual stories. The only through line connector would be the Narrator (the Present Day voice). My take on The Twilight Zone.But then…

Commenters got invested in the mystery. The clicking sounds. Then the Thunderbird. Finally, Patricia, Debra, and Tim. What started out as a Horror/Mystery series of lightly connecting pieces began to form a larger story. So, commenters, you may take credit for leading me in this direction.

I also began to care and think about the family.

Zeno the mutated frog was planned before I started. This is a real African frog known as the Clawed Foot. It does not have a tongue and makes a clicking sound instead of croaking. It can’t make the usual frog noise. AND: it was (is being?) used in many Biochemical labs as a test subject for a variety of reasons. I had my X post planned out, and the Z post.

Which changed drastically by the time I reached Z.

The Narrator was originally going to remain a mysterious “voice” in the woods, with Z being a more philosophical/paranormal pondering. Once I introduced Eddie, it felt right for him to take on that role. By the very end, and the reason why Monday the 29th’s post was delayed, I was having an intense inner struggle: let Eddie live to fulfill the role I was planning, or let him die and have someone else become the narrator.

Tim was a bit fragile, with all the trauma he went through. Patricia needed, I felt, a happier life. That left Debra, the smart mouthed, arm punching, take no shit Sister.

Eddie vs. Debra. A full day was spent with inner debates, and then a well thought out feedback email came along. Thanks, Melanie. If you are not familiar with Atherton’s Magic Vapour, you really should check it out.

I didn’t want to be predictable, but in the end I guess I was, based on the few comments I had at the end.

The posts were much longer than I should have written. The story took me where the story took me. Blog hoppers don’t always want to invest in long posts. Pop in. Hit the like button. Leave a comment here and there. Not this puppy. The lowest word count of the main story was 887 words (I on April 10th). The longest was the Y post, with 2,936 words. In case you’re wondering, I wrote the Z post’s 1,491 words the same day I wrote Y.

4,427 words. One day. I think I used up all the words in my head. The night was for vegging out.

The Saturday posts were hint drops for things as yet unexplained. Some were straight forward, most needed your thinking cap on to make the connections. I felt I didn’t have to hit the readers on the head with explaining every last detail. Sometimes solving things, or allowing your own mind to wonder, can be a great experience.

As for TB, there are clues scattered here and there about the T-bird. Red Thunderbird-4 was described by one reader as just gobbledygook. It’s the least straight forward of the Saturday posts, but read between the lines and look at the graphic inserts. Add that to the last week of stories and TB’s role.

I want to thank every single person who read, liked, and commented on the day-to-day posts. This is what stirred me on, made me think, and really boosted a confidence that needed a lot of boosting. Congrats to everyone who completed, or attempted, this years Blog Challenge.

Big thanks to all the hosts of 2019’s AtoZ Blog Challenge:

Arlee Bird (founder) @ Tossing it Out
J Lenni Dorner (captain) @ Blog of Author J Lenni Dorner
Zalka Csenge Virág @ The Multicolored Diary

John Holton @ The Sound of One Hand Typing

Jayden R Vincente @ J R Vincente Erotica Writer

Jeremy Hawkins (graphics) @ Hollywood Nuts

Final Words:

Is this story done? Are there questions you still have, threads you feel I didn’t tie together?  Why did I choose the titles for each piece? Thoughts, comments, Agents who you think should read this? I’d love to hear from you.

There’s a car in the woods.

Link To AtoZ Reflections Sheet

And to finish this out, the following are 10 Reasons Why I Hate You

10 Questions To Answer:

  1. What did you love about the challenge this year?
    1. As always, getting my creative juices flowing & finding new blogs to read/follow
  2. What would you change about it?
    1. Group the Master List by categories, as we’re asked to choose where our blog fits in.
  3. What was the best moment for you during this year’s challenge?
    1. The comments of those who really followed my complicated story line.
  4. What is the best comment your blog got during the challenge, and who left the comment?
        1. First Post: “Excellent start, Stu. Almost David Baldacci meets Stephen King. Expertly narrated.” by Varad
        2. Last Post: “Fantastic story. Had me riveted to my seat on every entry. Well done.” by Harvey

       

  5. Will you do the challenge again?
    1. Most likely. Depends where my head is at next April
  6. Was it well organized and were the hosts helpful? (Did you fill out the after survey?)
    1. Survey Says: It’s done. This year, the main AtoZ page was a little hard to navigate. Took too many tries to find things. i.e. Master List
  7. How did you and your blog grow, change, or improve as a result of this challenge? Did you find new blogs out there to enjoy?
    1. The more I write, the better I feel my storytelling gets. Each year has its fans, but I really pushed myself this year, and I think it shows.
  8. Were you on the Master List? (If you did the challenge last year, was it better this time without the daily lists?)
    1. Yep I was. I do with we saw the deletions as previous years. Winnows down searches.
  9. Any suggestions for our future?
    1. Throw us a curve-ball: Start the month with Z, work out way to A. Something.
  10. Any notes to the co-host team? A word of thanks to Jeremy for all his hard work on the graphics?
    1. As always, thank you. The graphics were excellent. Thanks.

 

 

That’s All Folks. Comments are always appreciated. Did you like my April output? Are there things I left open that still leave you puzzled? Who wrote the book of love? Just want to say “Hi Stu!”?

Enjoy

Zeitgeist Auch Weiterhin:#AtoZ Blog Challenge

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A Car In The Woods: Chapter Twenty-One and an Epilogue

2019 AtoZ Blog Challenge

New? This is a serialized work. Please start on A: A Car In The Woods

AtoZ2019Z  ZEITGEIST AUCH WEITERHIN

1970

TB raced down the corridor when we hit bottom. She raced to what I called the Star Trek Med Bay. Just no Bones there to help. Dad directed us to medical beds, which buttons to press, he clicked a few different patterns, and we stood back and watched as the Med Bay took over. Dad made sure Tim’s “pod” was secure before he let his own close and do its own mojo. I still call it Med Bay.

Schatzi had her own chamber. We stopped there before moving on. Dad clicked whatever command he had to give. Schatzi came over for hugs and scratches, and when the door swooshed behind her-Star Trek, again-TB continued.

Just before he went under, Dad told me to look for his journal, giving me explicit directions and making me repeat them back to him and the secondary code I’d need. I don’t click, so that code was important for me. Plan ahead. Another training lesson he drilled into us.

Mom and Will were comforting each other until got the wanderlust. Mom gave him a kiss and asked him just to check back every half hour or so, in case either of them came out of their shiny chrysalis crypts. I called them that before I left to find Dad’s journal. She gave me The Look. I was out of the room pronto.

It was exactly where he told me it would be, and the code worked. Easy-peasy lemon squeezy. I laughed at this Britism that I picked up the previous summer I spent in London. I brought the Journal and all the loose papers it sat on back to Med Bay. Mom was crying, and after a big hug I let her be and sat down on the floor just beside the swoosh door.

I read. I double checked what I had read. The papers were a mish-mosh of memos, letters, orders, and notes all with REDACTED stamps over names, dates, and exact locations. Very frustrating, but I got the picture. Took a bit, but I got it.

Wish I had never read the damn thing.

All the horrible things that were done to their “specimens.” They were looking for that next best weapon, animals first, then dolphins and other sea life, then birds and reptiles. That’s where Zeno emerged from. Damn nuisance is still out there. All the 25 labs worked with different creatures, testing different drugs on them.

But control was an issue. That’s when they went electronic, morphing the surviving into monsters. Schatzi…

Then humans. Super Soldiers. Dad wrote that some of the lab workers called him and the others their Captain America project, but never in hearing distance of their superiors. No sense of humor, he said.

Drugs came first, and relentless. Next body modifications, all starting with what he called The Insert. It got implanted in their chests, a bypass channeled to an arterial vein, and perpetually run by the heart. The clicking sound originally was a sick joke by one of the techs who knew the noise from Zeno bugged the shit out of most of the heads of the lab. That it worked on other levels for the Taken was an added bonus for the BGE-WD. They insisted that all Inserts would be modified to include the feature.

A number of those who already had the implant didn’t make it. Dad never found conclusive numbers.

The revolt that was begun by the Aggressors and finished by Dad and other Taken survivors was brutal. No prisoners. Dad and another Taken tapped into communications with the other labs. Specific clicks were sent out, coded in a way that only other augmented could process them. BGE never had a full translation vocabulary. They thought they did and they died being wrong about that. About a lot of things.

Each Lab’s Taken first took down the lab rats, the scientists, and any military personnel they found. The next mission was to eliminate the Aggressor units. They were a danger to the people above and had been boasting, in each and every lab, what fun they would have topside.

Lab #4 ended up as a bloody mortuary. Both sides died trying to eliminate the other. Four of that labs’ Aggressor’s survived and made it out. TBG-that bastard Gary-thought he had killed my dad, but he didn’t do the job thoroughly.  They all had a healing factor, but they could die. One of Dad’s paper packs talked about Nanoscience. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that. Star Trek thingy again.

When he could, he made it to Medical, hoisted himself in, and, according to the machine’s records, five weeks later he was released. He rummaged all sections of the lab, finding files and more in different places. A lot was missing. He found a shit load of shredded paper in a room full of computers. Most of them were broken during the revolt. The few that worked didn’t offer enough information, and no two of them shared the same data.

Dad went on the hunt for the Aggressors. According to one of Dad’s journal entries, they were compelled to stay within a certain distance from the lab. They did. He got two of them early on, bringing their bodies back to the lab with the help of TB and Schatzi. Doris, the only surviving female Aggressor, took much longer to find. Schatzi took care of her.

TBG came looking for Dad. His mistake. End of his story.

Dad lasted another year. Tim and I got in all the time we could with him, taking turns for our alone time with him. His injuries were too many and too severe. He needed more help than the Med Beds could supply. Mom had visited with him throughout the year, but she always left crying on the lift with TB. TB recorded it, as she recorded everything she was involved in. I found them stored in a side room with thousands of tapes and cassettes. Dad told me where to look.

When he finally passed.

When he finally passed, we buried him in the middle of the lift tunnel. TB had her own codes we knew nothing about. The lift stopped, a couple of clicks, and a side in the wall opened: just the right amount of room for a body. It was coated in some sort of metal, and there was an airflow that Tim found. We all agreed this was best. No random finding. We’d know. That was enough.

I stayed home, almost finishing my degree at a state university. Tim comes down and plays with Schatzi and goes running around with her. They both chase Zeno. Schatzi almost caught that frog a couple of times. Tim swears it looked like they were just playing a game with each other.

He started seeing someone. He won’t tell me or Mom who, yet. We’ll get it out of him, the brat.

Mom and Will are happy together, which is important. She started a training program with Will. He loves it. I join in as much as possible.

At this point, I really don’t know why I’m in school. No subject is catching me. I’m not seeing anyone. I have a few of the old friends who stuck around, but…eh. I’ve reread Dad’s journal so many times I have most of it memorized. Tim and I found some more loose papers around the lab as we explored while Dad slept. I added them to the pile.

I don’t even know why I’m writing all this down in Dad’s journal. He wrote a lot, but it’s a big journal. I knew he wouldn’t mind my scribbling thoughts.

Future me, if you’re reading this someday, maybe you can find a way to let me know something.

What the hell am I supposed to do?

Debs

Epilogue

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Present Day

Hadn’t read the journal in years. Didn’t think I needed to.

Guess I did.

Old me, things were only going to get worse. Still are doing that.

The other Taken? They got their Aggressors one and all.

I know. I checked.

This land is not anywhere near where we were in 1970.

Many of the Taken got angry. Angrier.

Some were caught and made “wards” of the military states.

Others still roam free. Lots of death and destruction.

Around the world.

Tim’s married with kids. Mom and Will are retired. All happy as can be today.

I hunt the Taken. I’ve killed a lot of them.

More need to go.

Almost all of them offered useful intel.

That’s what the hell you were meant to do, past me.

Me behind the wheel of TB, Schatzi hogging the back seat.

We hunt.

There are still cars in the woods.

 

The End

 

Xenopus Laevis: #AtoZ Blog Challenge

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A Car In The Woods:  Final Interlude

2019 AtoZ Blog Challenge

New? This is a serialized work. Please start on A: A Car In The Woods

AtoZ2019X XENOPUS LAEVIS

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TRANSCRIPTION: OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE

On REDACTED, Bio-genetic Exploratory: Weapon Division Oversight Committee 1 listened to testimony from lead scientist, Doctor REDACTED, of Project: REDACTED.  Administration edited scientific reports; claims of misleading additional reports noted. Determination to follow.

TESTIMONIES

Chairman:           Good afternoon, Doctor. The Oversight Committee has requested your presence today to answer some charges brought up by your superiors. You will answer the questions posed to you succinctly. And deviation from a direct answer, obfuscation, or refusal to answer will not be in your best interests. Do you understand?

Chairman:           For the records, we need a verbal assent. Nodding your head is not acceptable. Again, Doctor, do you understand?

Doctor:                 Yes. I fully understand.

Chairman:           Good. Let us proceed. Can you give the committee, in your own words, a brief, and I mean brief, history of Project: REDACTED?

Doctor:                                 Sir, it is all in the report in front of you.

Chairman:           The gentleman will answer the question. In your own words.

Doctor:                 (sound of clearing throat) Um, In July of 1953, my colleagues and I had published our theories on advanced genetic manipulation, an extension of previous experimentation dating back to 1910. We were soon approached by REDACTED and given funding to make our theories concrete. Um, we set up four labs initially in four equidistant facilities across the country. Variations of climate, geographic settings, and, um, other considerations would give us baselines as we went on.

The first success was in Lab #4 located in Upstate REDACTED. This lab worked initially only on amphibian subjects. Lab numbers 1-3’s subjects were, respectfully, um, Mammal, Avian, and Reptilian. I mention Lab #4 specifically as it was here we had our first breakthrough.

We had limited success with local animals. In February of 1954, um, we acquired a shipment of Xenopus Laevis:  the African Clawed Frog.

Chairman:           What was its significance?

Doctor:                 (sound of clearing throat) We realized these were purer specimens. They had no latent toxicity in their systems. Their environment was nowhere near as chemically polluted as ours. There was little to no resistance to our serums. Um. Reactions were extraordinary.

General:               Such as? In laymen terms.

Doctor:                 Um, General. Uh, well, Subject X-1428 grew, sir. General. Where previous subjects did the same, X-1428 surpassed them. She grew at a controlled rate at first, achieving first the size of an adult German shepherd or Labrador.

General:               (after a few moments of silence) And?

Doctor:                 Um, and in the next three months she tripled in size. Its bone structure was solid; vitals were still in an acceptable range. We then, um, started implementing some work from other labs that we wanted to try out. Zeno was the strongest of our subjects, so…

Chairman:           Zeno?

Doctor:                 Sorry, sir. One of our technicians started calling X-1428 by a shortened version of its genus. It stuck.

Chairman:           Go on, please.

Doctor:                 By this time, there were 18 other labs placed around the country. Various subjects. A wide range of testable theories that complimented our beginning theory and expanding on the discoveries. Lab #21 had success with mental manipulations. Lab #14 succeeded in augmentation. And so on. As Zeno was enhanced, the reports stirred the building of the last three Labs.

Um, uh, Lab #25, when it was operational, requested Zeno for additional testing. That’s where it went wrong.

General:               Explain.

Doctor:                 The sedation used for transportation did not work. The dose was too low, it seemed. What was fine for stationary in-lab work fell far short of the jostling of the transport. From reports, the truck used only got 6.7 miles from our Lab. Zeno woke, broke free of her restraints, and destroyed the vehicle.  REDACTED had been thrown from the cab. He witnessed what happened. Too many bones were shattered; the only thing he could do from the hollow he landed in was watch. Um, and later report.

According to REDACTED’s report, Zeno leaped up and down, capsizing and collapsing the frame of her transport. Her clawed front legs had been augmented, um, if you remember, and she ripped through the rest. Um, uh, then…and, um, well, she ate all on board, except for REDACTED. Afterward, she lapped up all the blood. That is why there weren’t any traces. Of blood. Or bodies.

General:               And the noise he reported?

Doctor:                 Um, this species of frog has no tongue. Hence the claws. They grabbed their prey with extremely strong clawed appendages. No long, curling tongue. Oh. Um, they also don’t croak. No tongue. The noise they make is a very annoying clicking sound. Uh, It was the one thing we didn’t miss when Zeno left.

So, um, she escaped. She made a home at the lake in the woods. When she was hungry or disturbed, she hunted.

Chairman:           This is all very disturbing. Were no controls set in place?

Doctor:                 That was why Lab #25 requested her, sir. They were having success with control and further augmentation models. Their goal was to…

General:               (sound of slamming on committee dais) Fine! Enough. We get it. Tell me, Doctor, why in the hell did all of the labs start using humans as test subjects? That was not in any of your mandates. (Pause for answer). Answer me, dammit!

CIC:                       Enough, General. This was a Need To Know situation. Not in your bailiwick. Understood?

General:              Yes, sir. Loud and clear.

Chairman:           (long pause of silence) Doctor. Please continue your original statement. (pause) Now, Doctor.

End:::::::::

Determination: Doctor REDACTED refused to say anything else on this occasion. He was remanded into custody. Further questioning to resume after Oversight Committee members reconvene.

 

Wild In The Woods: #AtoZ Blog Challenge

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A Car In The Woods: Chapter Nineteen

2019 AtoZ Blog Challenge

New? This is a serialized work. Please start on A: A Car In The Woods

AtoZ2019W WILD IN THE WOODS

1963

Eddie was too far away, arriving at the tail end of the incident when there was nothing he could do. Concealing himself behind a thick trunk, he saw Schatzi in TB, her head nodding off. TB activated the knockout gas, having automatically switched off the pheromones. The wind storm created to obscure the descent of the Thunderbird blew out of the bottom of the car as the platform smoothly lowered its cargo. The top plate closed immediately once the clearance was reached. Schatzi was gone. Eddie could only hang his head.

Looking over at the kids, he found Debra consoling Timmy, even though he was mad as spit and crying. He lashed out at her for holding him back. Eddie was amazed: Debra held back. She took it. He had been waiting for his daughter to fight back, bicker with him as they did, and end it with a punch in the arm. Nothing. She did nothing.

Timmy finally wound down. Cried out, he walked around and around, looking for anything that would give him a clue where his dog went. He’d find nothing. Eddie knew that. He felt proud that Timmy wouldn’t just give up without a real try. Deb walked with him, keeping an eye on the position of the sun. She elbowed Timmy and got him to look. A small argument followed. Debra won.

Eddie heard it all. Her points were on target. It was already cold, and the temperature would keep on dropping. The only place she knew out of the wind with some protection was their car. He was reluctant, dragging his feet, looking back as they walked away. He yelled out one last “Schatzi!” before they blended into the woods.

Eddie raced ahead of them. On the way, he looked for and found wood dry enough to light for a fire. Once he got to the ravine, Eddie made a bed of slightly damp wood and then placed the makeshift dry cord near enough to the car, sure one of them would find it.

Going through all the nooks and crannies of the station wagon, Eddie found and strategically placed items the kids would need: three of Schatzi’s thick blankets were shoved behind some of the junk the kids left lying in the back. The biggest one he placed by the back of the rear seats, an easy find. The second one he put under the front seat, with enough sticking out from the back. There was no water in the car. He left his canteen under the second blanket, filling it with the cleanest snow he could find. It wasn’t much, but a full container of water would be needed until help arrived.

In the junk pile, he found some candy bars, bags of nuts, dog treats. Eddie smiled. They knew they weren’t supposed to be eating this in the wagon, but he and Pat were aware that they snuck it aboard when they could. In this case, it was a good thing: it would help them now. Eddie added two food bars he took from the lab before his mission. They never offered anything. It was up to the Taken to get what they thought they needed.

The last thing he left was a small box of long matches. A plain, ordinary box held the matches, nothing to note from where it came from, or when. The glove compartment was crammed full of maps, sunglasses, and other cast-off items. He put the matchbox in there; a few maps placed so it wasn’t easily seen.

Eddie did what he could. He left the ravine, taking the third blanket with him. Scaling a tree near enough to keep an eye, Eddie watched Timmy and Debra come back. They did exactly what he had drilled into their heads: secure the area, search the area, take full stock of things they would need, and improvise the rest. They found the food, the blankets, and the matches. That led to the hunt for wood. Debra found it quickly, and the two of them got a good fire going, using the maps as tinder. They argued a bit. They cried quietly over the loss of Schatzi. Night fell hard with the winds picking up. They both climbed in the back of the station wagon, wrapped themselves in the blankets, and fell asleep with Deb holding Tim, sharing their body heat.

Like him, Debra also generated a lot of body heat. Patricia called her the mini boiler along with her daddy being The Furnace. He smiled at the memory.

During the night, Eddie would creep over. He had stashed more dry wood and added that to keep the fire going. Towards dawn, he came back with green wood and adding a healthy pile on top. The smoke rose high. It was as good an SOS flag he could make.

Leaving the kids, feeling they’d be fine if they were found soon enough, Eddie made his way back to the clearing. The noise filtering through the woods corresponded with his hope: the town was out in full force looking for Timmy and Deb. Climbing up for a better view, he saw a Deputy he didn’t know in the general area. He just wasn’t looking in the right direction.

Duck walking over the thick branch Eddie waited for the Deputy to come within range. As he did, Eddie stood and shook the branch above him, the snow falling in large clumps. The Deputy swung his head around as more snow fell, one large pile hitting him squarely. Eddie wanted to laugh, but he needed the guy to look in the right direction.

He did. Seeing the smoke rising he took out a walkie-talkie and called in what he saw while he ran in the right direction. Eddie stayed long enough to see that the kids were found, and for Patricia run to them and hug them near to death.

It was time to head back into the lab. Hurrying, Eddie hoped he would be in time to put a roadblock in the lab drones doing anything to Schatzi.

He arrived too late.

~~~~~    ~~~~~    ~~~~~

1967

Eddie had left the carnage behind him. He had long ago found a way to control the platform lift without the help of the deceased lab bastard. Waiting for the control system to acknowledge them, Eddie turned to give Girl a scratch on her head. She filled the back seat of TB best with the convertible’s top down. He was revved up, TB purred as she idled, and Girl was jumpy. Eddie had let her smell the old uniform before they got in the car. It was enough to start her off.

Once moving, Eddie began to look forward to the encounter above. Doris needed to be terminated. She was a big part of helping to overthrow their fearless “leaders.” He killed who he had to for survival. Some of the Taken were too far gone, their drug testing and operations going into overdrive: too aggressive; too uncontrollable. The operation for freedom released all the taken.

That’s when things went sideways. Everyone was set free. Everyone. Whoever let the Aggressives out most likely didn’t get very far. The slaughter began with the lab minions. It then moved onto anyone who got in their way. Taken taking out their own.  Doris was part of that group. While the others went about with stone faces, Doris laughed through it all. They ripped through doors, stormed hallways and locked rooms, and a number of them made it to the outside. Including Doris. They scattered, taking up different places in the woods. The controls were still working in many regards. There was just no one left to work the controls.

They had a fifty-mile radius they could roam. One compliance that they did not beat, or maybe even knew, was the limitation on how far they could move about. Lab 4 was the center. A dead center that still held subconscious sway.

That made it easy in some ways to find them and terminate. Too many deaths hit the fifty-mile radius; Eddie felt he was just as guilty at setting them free as the one who did it.

It was his plan to break free of the control. It just got out of hand too fast.

Doris was the last of the Aggressors. Her mind was always slippery. She was a bad choice from day one. The lab wanted more women subjects. They got her. They paid for getting her. Once she was on the outside, she became difficult to find. Eddie almost had her twice, but others got hurt in her wake. She’d escape and hide deeper, in plain sight.

In whatever state she was in at present, Doris acted like Lab 4 was running, and she was still part of it. She transmitted that she had a new one. Female. Smart. Her tone made it clear that she hated that woman. There were no more Taken left down in the Lab except for Eddie and Girl. It was his chance to take her out. She came to him.

It took a little bit of scrounging, but Eddie found the old uniform in the back quarters. Her name and number were all the way under the large pile in the room. Bringing it to Girl, and the growling that followed, sealed the deal.

As they got closer to top, Eddie went into the camera network to see what was there to greet him. He saw the VW Microbus. In front of it, Doris slapped the bound woman, hard. There was no sound in the car system, but Eddie already had enough. They were very close to the ground cover. It started making a slight noise a year ago, and he couldn’t fix it. He was hoping for a total surprise.

Plans change.

Eddie gave Girl the uniform. She was chomping and tearing at it as they got within feet. Girl had always had a hate on for Doris. Something happened between them on one mission. When they came back, Doris found ways to avoid Girl.

As the wind machine clicked on and the rooftop slid away, Eddie leaped out of the Thunderbird. The whirlwind threw up enough to hide him. He raced to the tree line and disappeared, cutting through quickly to come close to the van.

Doris was walking towards the opening at the platform sealed, and the windstorm died down. She had let the woman fall, seemingly forgotten. While Doris approached and called to Girl, Eddie drew out his knife and made his way to the van. Going to knee, he cut the binding on her feet. She had trouble moving them at first but got them kicking for circulation. By the time he cut through the ties around her wrists and was lifting her help, the ruckus behind him grew.

He knew what was going on. Doris came looking for them. He saw the assault rifle she pulled out of the van at the last moment, hiding it behind the woman’s back. It was all a ruse. She hoped to take him by surprise. Having Girl with him changed all that.

A soft voice spoke into the woman’s ear: “Shhh, sweetie. Relax, relax. You’ll be safe now.” She was crying; Eddie rubbed her hands and forearms, helping the circulation move along. Over the growing screaming and fierce barking, Eddie said: “Sweetie, listen. The keys to the VW are on the driver’s seat. Give yourself a few minutes. Your feet and hands will thank you. Leave here. Don’t look back.”

She nodded, and not saying a word she tottered around the van, got in, and drove off.

By this point, Girl was howling, and Doris was a bloody mess by the front of TB. The car’s engine revved a few times and settled down to a chorus of barks and honking.

Eddie walked over and crouched over her body.

“Hi, Doris.”

“You…you…damn, I ought…” she began, then coughed, an expulsion of blood following.

“You aren’t going to be doing much of anything in a moment or so. Yeah, if looks could kill. I get it. I do have one question. Hope you’re up for one.”

She tried to spit at him. She only got dribble.

“What did you do that got Girl hating you so much? Hmm?”

Doris couldn’t lift her arm. She just had enough to give him the bird. Eddie noticed and chuckled. By the time he stood up, she was gone.

Girl was rubbing her face in the grass next to the body, trying to get rid of any blood stains.

TB raced her engine, nice and loud.

“C’mon, Girl. Hop in. We have to go. C’mon. Zeon will be here any second.”

The platform began to lower as the deep clicking sound came from the woods. As the top closed over them, Eddie heard the heavy thump land, clicking away like a bell tower.

~~~~~    ~~~~~    ~~~~~

1968

Eddie followed Gary’s trail. He had to save his son. His left hand was a mess. It was taking its time in healing. Time he did not have.

Debra explained everything she could to her mom and Will. She was still trying to process everything that went down.

Will had brought his gun and a shotgun from the car.

Patricia scouted in front, looking for any trail marks. She found blood droplets that led them on. She was terrified for Timmy, but the anger towards his kidnapper outshone almost anything else.

She’d deal with the idea of Eddie and Schatzi when the time came.

Debra came behind Will, who had been very quiet. She hadn’t told either of them that she had Tim’s gun.

They sped on.

Present Day

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

 

There was a car in the woods.

 

 

Vanishing Obstacles: #AtoZ Blog Challenge

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A Car In The Woods: Chapter Eighteen

2019 AtoZ Blog Challenge

New? This is a serialized work. Please start on A: A Car In The Woods

 

AtoZ2019V VANISHING OBSTRUCTIONS

1963

Eddie found Pat ahead and off to the side. He lay prone on the freezing ground, keeping him out of her sight-lines. She slipped, slid, and fell more than she made any real progress. Pat would get up, shake herself, check her bearings, and continue moving.

“Good,” he thought.

After he came back from Nam, Eddie started a personal training regimen. He was “too antsy to sit still for any length of time” was what he’d say out loud, but inside was a different matter. How could he tell anyone how much he missed his training, staying fit, the focus it all gave him? Nam? Pat knew he had had a rough time there. He couldn’t talk about it. She held back from probing too hard. He appreciated that.

When he started, she watched from the kitchen window. Timmy joined him immediately. Debra always looked like she was going to jump in, but she kept backing off. The two of them sat together on the back porch. She saw Debra’s teenage indecision. One day she just began working out with them, Timmy daring Debra and egging her on. Debra finally joined in. Eddie had his whole family working their asses off. He felt nothing was better than this.

It was obvious to him that she kept the training going. Another chip knocked away in his conditioning. He felt something change. He rose and stealthily followed.

Getting within close distance to the main road, Pat fell again, sliding along the ice and into some of the prickly foliage. Eddie froze. Part of him was pushing to go help her; that part caused him to stand, wanting to rush to her side. The compulsion to stay out of sight and seize the target fought against that.

She disentangled herself in a flurry of curses and “Ow”s. If she turned around, she’d see him. He didn’t want to be seen. He wanted to be seen. Something in his mind shifted. Her back was still towards him. The strain was splitting him apart. Something gave.

“Pat,” came hoarsely to his lips, the name drifting towards her on the icy wind.

He saw her start, stop, throw her arms around herself and picked her way forward. Eddie moved as well, the need to conceal himself howling against the need for her. The force of the two opposing actions locked him up, unable to move in any way. Yet, one path was open.

“Patricia. Sweetie.”

She screamed, then glanced back. Eddie the anguish and fear that radiated off of her just before she took off and ran. He heard her scream “Stop,” saw her glancing behind her as she hurtled through the brush and straight into a tree. Patricia fell to the ground. Eddie waited for her to rise.

The last obstruction in his psyche shattered.

Step by step he approached her position. Crouching down, he checked her pulse, staunched the bleeding across her forehead by using the scarf she had been wearing, and tried to wake her. Eddie realized she needed more immediate help. He would have called for a Medic, if.

Picking her up, they trudged towards the Overlook pass. Eddie held her close to shield her the best he could from the wintery wind. She used to call him The Furnace, emitting so much body heat at night as they lay together in bed. He used that to keep her warm, the best he could while waiting to hear for a car heading in their direction.

Finally, the revving sound of a powerful engine came, getting louder as it got closer. It was still out of sight when Eddie carried Patricia over to a tree by the road and propped her against the trunk. He picked up a rock half the size of his hand, aimed, and threw it at the back paneling of the Sheriff’s Ford Fairlane. It hit.

Eddie faded away, erasing all traces of his being there while he found a spot to conceal himself. He heard the Sheriff get out and slam the car door. Next, some choice words as he walked to the rear of the car, stopping and cursing at the new dent marring his vehicle. The Sheriff called out he was going to get whoever threw that damn rock, turning around with continuing threats.

Until he saw Patricia slumped upright against a tree. Until he noticed a growing spread across her forehead. Reaching her, all of his caterwaulings stopped. Gingerly, Sheriff John got her into the back seat of his Ford. Closing the back door and opening the front, he revved the engine, put the car in Drive, and while he sped down the road he called into the town clinic to be ready.

Eddie waited until they were out of sight.

He needed to find his kids and make sure they were safe.

~~~~~    ~~~~~    ~~~~~

1968

Debra was not used to walking through the woods anymore. When she moved out west hiking was the last thing she wanted to do. She liked cities. Dangers lurked there as well, but the woods brought back too many horrid memories. She just loved her brother enough to fight her fear. Letting him go off on this wild goose chase alone was out of the question.

Tim took the lead, looking for any traces that would show him someone went this way recently. He’d point out a couple of broken branches, later what could have been part of a shoe print, and these would hurry him on. Debra just shook her head but stayed with him as best she could, sometimes having to call him to wait for her.

Tim’s yelp and leaping back to her scared her. He had the biggest smile which was matched by the glint in his eyes.

“There. HA! I told you!”

“What? Hey. Stop you’re hurting me. Let go.”

Tim dropped the arm he had been pulling and pointed just ahead of them. Deb walked around Tim and saw what he was pointing at. She gawked while he preened.

“It’s huge. The animal print is huge.”

“Look, Sis, look. The pads laid out, the shape of the outline. All bigger, yeah, but we know that paw print.”

“Schatzi?”

“Yup! Told you!” Grinning, he punched her in the arm.

The nervous tension laugh they shared helped smooth out their jumbled feelings. Debra was working hard to hold back from crying. When she looked into Tim’s eyes and saw they were filling with moisture, she smiled as they matched tear for tear.

An extremely large series of barks vibrated through them.

“That way,” she yelled. “C’mon, Tim,” she coaxed as she flew past him. Time caught up only seconds later.

Sounds came from straight ahead, some barking, something else mixing in. It would stop, then continue in another direction. Two more times this happened.

Then they heard an animal squeal, followed by a raging “YOU…” Whatever words followed were drowned out by a series of gunfire.

They both yelled “DAD!” at the same time. They had no time to process some of the difference in his voice. They knew it was his, instant acceptance. Instant fear for what they would find.

Neither rushed blindly into the clearing. They had learned well, training with their father, then their mom after he went missing. Splitting apart, remaining in eye contact, they looked around.

Deb saw it first. She got Tim’s attention through hand signals, telling him to stay but to keep watching. He acknowledged, fist moving up and down: yes. Crawling, Debra inched out of her cover and went to the mass before her.

Looking around, seeing that it was an animal of some kind but nothing else, she beckoned Tim over. Still wary, they began to stand. The beast on the ground began to growl and turned its head towards them.

The growling stopped the second Tim, then Debra came into view. The deep thumping of the tail went wild. With a whimper, it got off the ground and went for them.

Tim and Deb wrapped their arms around her as they were slobbered on by Schatzi kisses.

Tim buried his face into the scruff of Schatzi’s neck. Debra only broke away to take a look. She knew their dog, and the whimper meant only one thing: Schatzi was hurt.

While she searched, Debra took in the misshapen mess before her. She had trouble wrapping her head around the fact that this was their beloved shepherd.  Schatzi was bigger in her legs, wider in the shoulders, but there were hard lumps in various parts of her hide. The left side of her head was really out of whack, along her snout and up past her eye. Taking it all in broke her heart a bit; but…Schatzi. They had found Schatzi.

“Hey, Sis. Check her right rear flank. I think that’s blood. Schatz’ isn’t putting much weight on it. She’s leaning to the other side a bit.”

Tim was right. She found a bullet hole midway up Schatzi’s thigh. Tim removed his coat, took off his tee, and flung it to her. Deb grabbed it, called out “Thanks,” and pressed the wadded shirt onto the open wound.

They began to squabble a bit over what to do next, but two bodies crashing through the trees and bramble startled them quiet.

The two men were in constant motion. Punches flew rapidly. Choke holds were broken, one then the other were tossed around, rolling on the ground, all in a blur of violence.

“DAD!” Again, in synchronicity; this time Schatzi’s angry bark mixed in with their yell.

Tim went for the gun in his jacket pocket. Debra dug the flashlight out of hers: any object could be a weapon if used properly. “Lesson learned,” she thought. Schatzi limped-turned, her barks and growls escalating, matching the ferocity of the fighting before them.

Eddie jumped backward, his opponent’s speedy left jab missing his head.

“Kids. Get out of here. Schatzi…” was too much: he let his attention move from his foe. Debra and Tim winced as Eddie was tackled and went down. They saw that both of them were bleeding all over, the blood mixing so much neither was sure who was wounded, nor where it came from.

It was too sudden: the man drove his knees into Eddie’s chest. He leaned down, got a rock, and brought it down on Eddie’s left hand. He stopped at the fourth crushing blow. Reaching down, he brought up an item that was smeared in blood.

David’s combat knife was in Gary’s hands once again. He laughed in a gloating, hysterical way. Gary took it in both hands, raising it above Eddie’s chest.

“You’ve been crusin’ for a bruisin’, Eddie-boy, for way too long.”

Tim brought up the gun, put his finger on the trigger, and took a two-handed grip as he aimed it.

“Get off of my dad. NOW!”

Gary snickered and gave Tim the side-eye.

“Shut up, ankle-biter. You and sister will be next if you don’t back off.” Schatzi growled even more menacingly. “And your little dog, too. Down, Girl. Down.”

Schatzi began to react to the command. Debra was gearing up to rush the man.

Tim fired true.

The knife was knocked out of Gary’s hand. The bullet passed through both palms, luckily missing the knife handle and the possibility of ricocheting. Eddie threw a right-handed punch at Gary’s throat, sending him tumbling off, choking. Eddie got to feet, wobbling a bit, and placed his left hand under the crook of his right arm.

Debra reached her father first. Tim was right behind her. The tight, tight hug he gave them would have lasted forever if it had occurred at another time and place.

Tim was yanked up and backward.  The gun flew out of his hand, landing somewhere behind Debra. Gary had regained the knife when their attention had wavered. He was still choking, and his left eye was swollen shut from a series of punches from earlier in their tussle.

“Call her off,” Gary motioned over to Schatzi. Now, Eddie-boy. That one-two,” he snarled, seeing that Debra tightly held the flashlight. “Time to regroup for another day, Daddy-o. Follow me, and we’ll see how sharp this blade still is.”

Eddie dead-eyed Gary.

Gary held the blade against Tim as he backed them away.

“Yeah, time to regroup. But there ain’t no group anymore. Right? RIGHT? Tell the classy chassis next to you how you slaughtered all of your brothers and sisters.”

Debra stiffened up. She whispered “Dad?”

Under his breath, Eddie answered: “Not now. Understood.”

She nodded affirmatively.

Tim tried to struggle against the knife pressure but was rewarded with the feel of the blade letting some blood flow.

“Easy, brat. Easy. Hey, Eddie, he’s a fighter. Just like you. You want him? Come find me.”

They were gone from sight before Gary’s taunt was half over.

Eddie turned to go after them. Debra didn’t try to stop him. She walked over and gave him the flashlight.

“Get Tim, Dad. Get Tim.”

Eddie nodded. He leaned over and kissed her on her forehead. He was gone in a hobbling flash.

Debra walked over to Schatzi. “You too, Girl. Can you get Time? Can you follow?” Deb asked as she stroked her dog’s face. Schatzi’s tongue, always protruding, licked up over Debra’s face.

“Yuck, you silly dog. Go. Please go find them.”

Hobbling as well, Schatzi took off after them.

She followed across the open clearing, watching the direction Schatzi went. Once out of sight, she remembered something important: Tim’s gun.

Just as she found it and was checking how many bullets were in it, Debra heard her name coming from the other direction.

“Mom! Will! This way. Follow my voice. Hurray. C’mon. Mom!”

Patricia and Will ran into the clearing and right up to Debra, another earth-shattering hug.

“Tim’s been taken, mom. We have to go. Now.”

Patricia knew her daughter. Shaken up or not, she knew there was more. She gave Deb the look.

Debra deflated a bit. She looked at her mom; then her eyes lingered on Will when she said: “Dad’s alive.”

~~~~~    ~~~~~     ~~~~~

Present Day

The taunting hit them all.

Later.

Poor Schatzi.

There was a car in the woods.