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Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
I didn't have enough time to complete the last chapter. Once again, you've done a fine job carrying your plot, and keeping your prose tight. I've made a few comments on word changes etc.
I think you could have added a bit more to the 'in the room encounter'. It would give you a few more sentences to build sympathy/development for Joan.
I also made a comment on a POV shift I though confusing.

I liked the attachment of vids. As an 'old dude', I never considered myself 'hip' LOL. So I was surprised to see 'Prayer in C'. I really like that vid; her voice is so gravely. I guess being a fan of Keisa, Sofi Tukker, Jain, and Childish Gambino make me cooler than I thought ROFL.

BTW...have I already mentioned the Novel Workshop? I am old after all...i forget stuff.


When Joan got outside, Roland held the door to the limo open for her. Once they were both inside, he cut to the chase. "What's your price for Mokuba?"

"Oh gee. Looks like I might have to sacrifice some time with my other guys for this, so fifty dollars an hour Mondays through Thursdays, one hundred dollars Fridays through Sundays."

"That's all?"

"I did say discount, didn't I?"

"It's true that Mokuba is less . . . demanding. All right, I'm not going to be in California much longer, so log your time through the Clockify app and I'll check in with Mokuba periodically to make sure you're reporting accurately."

"That's fair."

"Now for tonight, do you consent to an HIV test, body scan, and bag search?"

"I guess, sure."

Roland donned a pair of latex gloves. "Please hold out your finger." She did so and Roland swabbed it with alcohol, pricked it, collected a tiny blood sample, and placed a drop in the sample well of a test strip followed by two drops of another liquid. He then set it aside in a holder that appeared specifically designed for it. "Hold still." Roland waited for a stoplight and then passed a handheld scanner from Joan's feet to her neck. He scrutinized the image. "That's a copper IUD, right?"

"Right."

"Good. We can skip the morning after pill."

Joan shifted in her seat. "Wait, is he going to want bareback? Because I don't do that."

"No. He insists on these, actually." Roland handed her a sealed box of a dozen premium condoms, then began digging through her purse. He checked every pocket and opened every makeup container. He pulled out a miniature pocket knife and a sewing kit. "May I hold on to these for now?"

"Yeah, that's fine."

Roland did the same search with her backpack, finding nothing of interest. He put everything back where he found it and glanced at the test strip. "It's negative." He folded his hands and gave Joan a concentrated stare. "When you arrive in the suite, I suggest you shower thoroughly. Mr. Kaiba likes clean women."

"OK."

"Mr. Kaiba will be working on his laptop. Do not disturb him until he calls for you."

"OK."

"Mr. Kaiba has a three-bedroom suite. I will show you which bedroom to occupy. After he is done with you, you may choose to sleep in that room or request a ride home by contacting me."

"OK."

"Is there anything you would like to ask me now?" <need a dialog tag to ID speaker>

"What does he like, I guess?"

"Women." Roland's mirrored glasses offered no hints.

"Oh. Uh . . . I mean does he like kissing and stuff?"

"Do you charge extra for kissing?"

"No."

"Frankly I don't know, but brush your teeth regardless. He's complained about breath before."

"Well, does he like the woman to take charge or be submissive?"

"I don't know and I don't want to know."

"Oh." Joan spent the rest of the ride trying to get more information <but> out of him to no avail.

The limo pulled up to a Hyatt Regency building that dwarfed everything around it. A banner reading "Welcome to the Silicon Valley Game Developers Summit" stretched across the entire entrance. Roland again held the door for her but let her handle her own bags. Joan stared up at a huge modern abstract chandelier as they passed through the lobby. They rode an elevator to the top floor and Roland quietly opened the door to an executive parlor. He showed Joan which bedroom to use and then left her to her own devices.

Joan dropped her purse on a bedside table and texted Marc and Michael her location. She then brought her backpack into the adjoining bathroom and brushed her teeth before hopping into the shower. Still naked, she brushed some serum into her hair and blow-dried it, then went back to the bedroom to dig some makeup out of her purse. Just as her hand made contact with the zipper, she felt a hand on her hip.

"Hello, whore." Kaiba's breath caressed her ear. "What was a slut like you doing in my brother's office?" His leather-clad pelvis pressed against her rear and his hand slid over her stomach while the other cupped a breast.

Joan responded to his touch, grinding back against him. "My boyfriend was showing me off."

"Boyfriend? You mean your pimp."

"Only if you insist on putting it that way." Joan turned to face him and gazed into eyes a clearer blue than that of the bay outside the window.

"I insist." He traced her jaw with a finger as she bit her lip. "I'd rather believe I hired a man more industrious than I initially gave him credit for over a fool who'd let someone like you out of his sight."

"He's going to call me later to make sure I'm all right."

"That's cute." Kaiba shoved Joan backwards and pinned her to the bed. "What if you don't answer?"

Joan struggled a little but remained calm, analyzing his body, conserving her energy. She mimicked the danger in Kaiba's tone. "He'll break down this door and drive a blade through your skull."

Kaiba issued a short laugh. "What makes you think he'll make it past hotel security, let alone Roland?"

Joan fell still and let fear dance in her eyes, but not on account of the CEO looming over her. Marc could trace his lineage back to emperors, conquerors, and headhunters. She spotted triumph creeping over Seto's features and swiftly flipped him onto his back. Joan leaned over Seto, long wavy hair forming a curtain beside her face. "What makes you think that will be a problem for him?" <We were dealing with Kaiba, now Seto...confused. Also, she 'let' fear dance in her eyes, a nice touch by the way, seems to imply she has control over fear showing in her eyes whereas I would think fear in your eyes would be involuntary. Maybe 'let' is not the best word in this case.>
Speechless, Seto gazed up at her. The delicate, unadorned lashes. The cushiony, bare lips. Innocence and insolence interfacing seamlessly. He finally whispered, "Show me how you fuck him."

Joan cradled his cheek in her hand and dropped her lips to meet his. The first kiss was gentle and warm, the second fierce and scorching. She slid both hands under his black silk shirt while she nibbled and teased what was left of his sanity.

Chapter 7: The Morning After

Seto woke to panicked knocking and an arm draped over his torso. "Mr. Kaiba! Are you all right?" Roland's voice boomed through the bedroom door.

"I'm fine," Seto yelled back.

Joan rolled away from him and pressed a pillow over her exposed ear.

Seto glanced at the hotel's bedside clock. Shit. His alarm was on his phone, which he had left in the bedroom he'd intended to sleep in. <This bit of intel doesn't fit the prior sentence. I think it needs more or to be cut

"Sir, your speech starts in five minutes."

Seto thought fast. "Have Mokuba stall."

"Yes, sir."

Seto stumbled into the adjoining bathroom. He urinated and ran a wet cloth over his face, then realized his comb and toothbrush were in another bathroom. On his way to the opposite end of the suite, he looked down at Joan's sleeping form and said softly, "What have you done to me, whore?"

Seto dressed and performed a facial hygiene routine. His and Joan's mingled sweat would have to stay, for now.

Roland remained silent on the elevator ride down, leaving Seto alone with his thoughts. Last night came back to him in bits and pieces. Exploding mere seconds after donning the first condom. Her insisting that she was worth more than that and getting him worked up again. Hearing Marc's voice on speakerphone had driven him to a new level of madness. It reminded him that, although he'd paid the woman in bed with him, she wasn't under his control. It was an endless series of re-matches, summoning the dragon between his legs and unleashing white lightning. Every release was accompanied by a caveat of denial. She'd had better. Three out of four virgins could last longer than he could, and when he asked about her sample size, she merely smirked as if it had been two thousand. <Not sure what this meansHe lasted considerably longer in subsequent bouts, but it was never enough for her.

Seto had begun to question whether the other prostitutes were merely stroking his ego when they told him how big he was, how good he tasted. She gave him none of that. He hadn't intended to fall asleep with her, had intended to remind her of her place, ditching her like the others. However, he'd been so exhausted by the end of it that he'd collapsed and shut his eyes, just for a moment, and then Roland was pounding on the door.

As Seto stepped into the Hyatt's Grand Banquet Hall, he instantly regretted volunteering to kick off the Silicon Valley Game Developers Summit with a keynote address. Fifteen hundred representatives of over seven hundred game companies from all over the world sat breakfasting as Mokuba expounded on the importance of having a vibrant and diverse office culture.

<You've got a pretty jarring POV shift here moving from Seto to Mokuba. I had to reread the next couple paragraphs to figure out who was who. I'd recommend sticking in Seto's POV, or doing the transition differently.>
Mokuba saw Seto come in but continued to talk until the story he was weaving reached its natural conclusion. Seto leaned against the back wall, using every precious minute to collect his scattered thoughts. "And now I proudly present to you the man who started it all, the patriarch of Domino City, the master of dragons, the CEO of Kaiba Corporation and my older brother: Seto Kaiba!"

The room burst out clapping and Seto strutted up the center aisle, his white trench coat swishing with his stride. As he approached the stage, he exchanged nods with Mokuba. Once behind the podium, however, his planned speech no longer made sense to him. As he gazed upon the sea of faces, a new understanding coalesced in his mind.

"I'd like to . . . thank Mokuba for all his innovative ideas and invaluable insight in managing Super Kaiba Megacorp. He's been on the front lines since day one proving to me that taking risks pays off. Making connections with strange and eccentric people pays off. That's what we're here to do these next two weeks. Introduce yourself to people who intimidate you. Listen to people you think are beneath you. They might surprise you by flipping the script on you. Now, on behalf of the organizers of this event, I welcome you all to the Silicon Valley Game Developers Summit!"

Applause and cheering followed Seto off the stage. Mokuba ran to Seto and hugged him. Surprised but pleased, Seto wrapped his arms around his younger brother.

Mokuba wanted to thank Seto for the show of faith, for letting him not only run the show but for being supportive after the chips were on the table, but Mokuba wasn't supposed to be on that stage in the first place. Instead, he said, "Seto, what happened?"

"That whore happened."

"Oh yeah, that one . . . Seto?"

"Yes?"

"You um, kinda smell." <LOL>

Chapter 8: Dumpster Dice Monsters

By the time Seto got back to the suite for a proper shower, Joan was no longer there. "Roland, where is my whore?"

"She walked to the Millbrae transit center, sir."

"She what?" Seto didn't know how close the train station was to the Hyatt, but as far as he knew, no whores simply walked out of Kaiba Manor back in Japan.

"She said not to bother with the limo."

"Book her again."

"Yes, sir." Roland had not been blind to his boss' transformation. For one thing, he'd never known Seto to sleep in, much less in the same bed as a whore. Seto didn't want them to get clingy. He'd occasionally ask for "one of the good ones" to be brought to his mansion in Japan, but he never had anyone in particular in mind. Roland kept a list of those who seemed to put Seto in a good mood for such occasions.

When Seto returned to the suite for the evening, he was disappointed to find no prostitute but also too exhausted to chastise Roland about it. He dropped off to sleep immediately after ensuring that his alarm was set properly.

Tuesday morning greeted Seto with delayed onset muscle soreness. Pain tore through his limbs as he showered, reminding him how he'd slacked off on his exercise routine for the past several months in order to spend more time working. Seto endured the day's Summit activities and once again turned in for an early night. <'Pain tore' and 'muscle soreness' don't mesh well. I'd change one or the other>

By Wednesday, Seto still felt some lingering soreness, but most of it had passed. Moments after he seated himself for breakfast in the banquet hall, a man with riotous black hair and emerald green eyes bordered by heavy eyeliner plunked his loaded plate and glass of orange juice down on the white tablecloth. He then plopped into the seat next to Seto. "Hey man, remember me? It's been a few years," the newcomer opened

Seto examined the face and drew a blank until a dangling six-sided die caught his attention. "Devlin. Dumpster Dice Monsters, was it?"

"That's Dungeon Dice Monsters," Duke Devlin corrected.

"Whatever." Seto chewed a piece of salty ham and washed it down with a swig of water. He knew he had to increase his protein intake before he could keep up with her, but the Hyatt's buffet selection paled in comparison to the filet mignon with foie gras sauce that his personal chef, who had been granted vacation time during his trip, prepared.

Duke waved a potato-laden fork. "What's with the attitude, man? After that speech, everyone was saying you'd changed, but it looks like all you did was learn how to lie."

Seto sighed. "Old habits die hard. What do you want, Devlin?"

"Since you put it so nicely, I rented out the hottest night club in Oakland tonight. It's going to be a mixer for game devs only. My personal assistant is compiling the guest list, but after that compelling speech, I wanted to reach out to you personally."

"How touching," Seto said flatly. "Roland, what does my schedule look like tonight?"

"Open, sir," Roland replied.<where did he come from?>

Seto whipped around to face his bodyguard. "You were supposed to book that whore," he hissed.

"I did, for tomorrow night. It was her earliest opening."

Duke snickered.

"What's so funny?" Seto demanded.

"Tell me Kaiba , have you ever once picked up a normal babe? You know, through your own charm?"

"You mean a gold digger? No thanks. I'd rather get what I want from a woman than play months of mind games over an unfulfilled promise of sex."

"I've never had that problem. I don't think you have it in you," <move this dialog tag to between dialog sentences. IMO>Duke goaded.

Seto glared but remained silent. Duke could boast all he wanted, but Seto suspected that Duke had wasted time on more than a few broads.

"You know what? I just realized there are going to be too many guys at this party. I'll have my personal assistant dig around for some local chicks. Maybe pick up some hot Twitch streamers. You'll see. The place will be hopping!"

"Fine, I'll check it out, but I'm not picking up any gold diggers."

Duke smiled. "Great! See you there." He patted Seto on the back, picked up his plate and glass of orange juice, and then proceeded on to the next high-profile game developer he spotted.

Author's Note: I put together a little Youtube playlist for this if you happen to enjoy listening to music while you read. I listened to a playlist of 197 popular clubbing songs from 2015 and narrowed it down to four songs. My playlist is called ProstituteChapter9 – all one word. If it doesn't pop up for you on Youtube or you'd prefer to use a different platform, here's the list in order. I'm not sure if your reading speed will match up perfectly to what I have in mind for each song, but enjoy anyway:

3LAU - How You Love Me

Rudimental - Waiting All Night

Gorgon City - Ready For Your Love

Lilly Wood & The Prick and Robin Schulz - Prayer In C


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
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Review of Little Things  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: E | (5.0)
What a sweet short, and told so very well. You've done an excellent job in spacing comments, internal thoughts, actions, and dialog, and your descriptions are quite nice.
I've made few nitpicky comments. I hope some of them help.



“What ‘cha up to, Peg-a-belle?” Peg’s father crouched beside her in the sand. His six-year-old daughter barely looked up from her task.

“Sandcastle,” she replied.

Her father raised one eyebrow and tried not to laugh. “It’s a… what’s this?” He pointed to the water-filled pit his daughter had dug out of the center of a rounded mound of sand.

“It’s the well.” She reached into the hole, cupped water and sand in her hands and let it drizzle over the sides of her construction. As the water ran away and sank back into the sand, it left deposits of mud in daubs and dribbles that stood up like coral spires. “These are the towers.”

“I see.” He nodded seriously and she glared up at him.

“It’s not a regular sand castle,” she said with some heat in her voice. “It’s MINE. And I like it.”

“I like it, too,” her father chuckled. “I like it because it’s yours and it’s different.”

<Lake water> Water from the lake behind them washed up over their toes and Peg looked at it in concern. “There’s no tide in the lake, right? Lakes don’t get tides.”

With a sheepish smile, her father stroked her unruly strawberry <curls/bangs/locks>hair away from her face. “I wish that was the case, baby. Lake Superior does get tides. They aren’t as big as ocean tides, but it’s a large enough lake for the moon to pull on it.”

“Tell the moon to stop.” Peg plunged her hands into the well again, sloshing water up against the sides. Sand wore away quickly with the motion and one of the walls began to cave in. “No!” Peg tried to push the castle’s crumbling wall up with one hand. More sand fell into the well, washing away another side. “Daddy! Help me!”

Her father sighed and put his hands into the hole. “Honey, why don’t you start over farther away from the water? Besides, you need to come back to the blanket for more sunblock. You’re turning into a lobster.”

“I need the water, though,” Peg protested, angry tears <trickled> starting to trickle down her face. “For the towers. It doesn’t work with dry sand. I tried.” She rubbed her face with the back of one hand, leaving a gritty streak of mud on her cheeks.

“Blanket,” he sighed. “Sunblock. And then I’ll help you make some building plans, alright?” Sniffling, Peg stumbled away from her ruined castle and climbed the dune to where her mother was sitting sensibly under a massive beach umbrella and reading a paperback book.

“What’s the matter?” her mother asked and put her book down on the pages to hold her spot. Peg’s father made an irritated sound and glared at her until she put a bookmark in it and laid it flat on the blanket again. “Sorry, mister big-shot-librarian,” she huffed playfully, then reached her arms out for Peg. “Whassa-matta, baby?”

Peg all but threw herself into her mother’s embrace and started to cry harder. Her father crouched nearby and said, “Structural integrity issues. The well washed away the castle walls.”

“Mmm.” Peg’s mother nodded seriously as she rubbed her weeping daughter’s back. “Well, let’s get the architect into something more sun-resistant and maybe have some lunch. Peanut butter and jelly or cold grilled cheese?”

“Cheese,” sniffled Peg. Her mother reached for the Igloo cooler and retrieved a can of soda and two triangles of cheese sandwich in a plastic baggie. She started to eat the sandwich slowly while her father located the sunblock and started rubbing it onto her bare shoulders and back. “Why won’t it stay up? Our well doesn’t collapse.”

“The land we dug our well into isn’t as sandy as the beach,” her mother explained, stroking her hair back. She added a streak of sunblock over her daughter’s forehead and down her nose. “Don’t forget her ears,” she added to her husband.<who's putting on the sunscreen?>

“Nope.” He rubbed thumbs and forefingers over Peg’s ears. “Or her neck. Last time she got burned under her chin from the reflection.”

“We all did,” chuckled Peg’s mother. “We rolled in aloe vera for days after that.”

“Any ideas for improving the castle?” Peg’s father asked her, then kissed to the top of her head.

“I need seaweed,” she muttered, eyes half-closed as she chewed her grilled cheese.

“I don’t think there’s any seaweed in freshwater lakes.”

Peg looked up with a concentrated look on her face,<if you could describe instead of tell,it would be better> then stuffed the rest of her sandwich into her mouth and sprinted back down to the water’s edge. “Peg?” cried her mother in surprise.

She floundered into the water until she was covered over her waist and then dunked down. “So much for thirty minutes,” her father sighed and ran down to the water after her. He plunged in just as Peg popped back up to the surface, her hands covered in thick, greenish slime.

“Seaweed!” she cried in delight, holding it out to him.

“Okay,” he replied, eyeing the slime warily. “I think it’s algae but I’m not going to quibble semantics. What are you going to do with it?”

“Bring me a bucket,” Peg replied, looking back into the water and moving her foot around. “Help me collect more, Daddy. There’s lots here.” Her father cleared his throat sternly and Peg blushed, peeking up at him. “Please?”

“That’s better.” Instead of wading back to the beach, he yelled, “Kim! Can you bring us the bucket?”

“Why?” Peg’s mother called back.

“Seaweed!”

With a long-suffering sigh, <she> Peg’s mother got up from the blanket and picked up the small beach bucket. She joined them in the cold lake water and handed the bucket to her husband. “There’s no seaweed in Lake Superior, right?” she whispered.

“It’s algae. Close enough for what I think she wants to do.”

Peg began slopping handfuls of slimy green algae into the bucket, her face alight with excitement. “This isn’t going to work,” her mother whispered.

Her husband looked at her quizzically. “So? She’s six, Kim. If you can’t build castles, make better mudholes.”

Together, they followed their daughter back to the shore and watched as she started enthusiastically digging another hole just at the edge of the highest waves. When the walls started to topple back into the hole again, Peg grabbed a handful of the slime and pressed it against the collapsing wall, then packed more wet sand over the patch. After almost half an hour of this, the algae-packed walls did indeed stop collapsing immediately and Peg moved her attention to building the castle’s mounds and towers again. “I can’t believe that worked,” whispered her mother.

“It won’t stand for a million years,” her father chuckled, “but I’m impressed. Good job, kiddo. Where’d you learn to do that?”

“School,” Peg replied without looking up. “The Indians made bricks of mud and straw, then baked them so they got hard. I can’t bake these but I can make the mud thicker.”

“I’m getting the camera,” her father grinned and kissed his wife’s cheek. “Our kid’s a genius.”

Her mother chuckled and dropped into a squat to study the walls her daughter was building. “I’m really proud of you,” she said and <Period> Peg looked up, her <eyes wide> expression surprised.

“Why? It’s just a sandcastle.”

Her mother held out her arms and Peg came to snuggle against her chest. “You had a problem and you figured out something to try to fix it. You weren’t afraid to try something new. That’s hard for a lot of people.” She kissed the little girl’s forehead. “You should build things when you get bigger.”

“I build things now,” snorted Peg <period and new paragraph>and she squirmed out of her mother’s arms as her father returned with the camera.

“I’m mean big things.”

Peg shrugged as she continued drizzling muddy water over the sides of her castle. “Maybe when I’m big I’ll make big things. Right now, little things are more fun.” She looked up and grinned at her father when he clicked the <camera's> shutter on the camera. “I just want my little things to last.”

“I think you’ll figure out how to make that happen with no problem,” her father said and kissed her forehead. <he crouched in the sand beside her><Now> Can you show me <again> how to make those layered walls again?


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
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Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
Hello Rakitan,
I'm here to review your short, Kaiba's Prostitute. First let me say that I'm not a professional, nor a trained editor. These are just the opinions of a hack, so take my comments with a grain of salt. Also, I always give 4 stars. It's no reflection on how good or bad I thought the piece was, more of a rubber stamp to make everyone happy.
Hopefully, you'll find something useful in this review. Since I'm not a professional, all I can do is edit as I would my own work. So, if any of my comments sound harsh, believe me, it's not something I've not been told before or discovered myself.

First off, the good. You're way ahead of the game in terms of story flow. Action, thought, reaction. You do a good job laying out the event, character's internal thoughts, and reaction. This can sometimes be the most difficult thing for a writer to master, so kudos as to handling that well. I think your dialog is also a strong point, though I'd suggest more contractions. People, in conversation, rarely say things like 'do not' or 'can not' when they'd just say 'don't' or 'can't' for example.

Now the bad. There's a lot of confusion in this story. Both with events as well as descriptions. The good thing is that that can be fixed. I understand this is fan fiction, but there needs to be some basic description of events and background so a casual reader won't get lost.

Your descriptions are lacking. I'd say this is the weak spot of the story. You've got several spots where you bring characters into a room without giving the reader any idea where or what they're doing.

This is one of the hardest things to accomplish as a writer. Maybe THE hardest thing. In your head, everything's clear. You know the motivation, what the room looks like, why John Snow is carrying a wolf-headed sword. But unless you tell your reader, they'll have no clue.
Don't think too much about this on your first draft. But when you come back to your story, things like this should be in the forefront of your mind. Constantly ask yourself, does the reader know where we're at? Do they know what this room looks like, or what the monster smells like? Feels like.

Which reminds me of another point. Where you have descriptions, you've done a decent job with them. But there are five senses, not just one. Use them! Smell and sound are easiest to work in, but if you REALLY want to catch your audience's attention throw in touch and taste!

Okay, that's about it. I stopped at chapter 3 as it looked like most of my comments would be similar to the ones above and this is a fairly long piece.

You've definitely got something to work with here, it just needs a little more description and polish.

Keep on writin',

J




Author's Note: My goal is to present both polyamory and sex work in a positive light despite the fact that we live in a world where most people see both in a negative light.

This is fan fiction designed to tease and please Seto Kaiba fans. However, it is also based on personal experience, starting from a day in my life where I could have met Seto Kaiba if he was a real person. I've changed names and other details, of course, but the point is that I've been through some pretty amazing things thus far in life, and this fuels much of my inspiration.

Extended summary: Prior to the Silicon Valley Game Developers Summit, Seto Kaiba visits his brother's side venture on May Day and goes on a power trip, threatening to fire Mokuba's best employees and calling the art director's girlfriend a whore. Who will win the ultimate battle for control? Sex-positive story. Polyamory too. OC x Seto and more!

Chapter 1: Introductions

Joan stepped off Caltrain <confusion:What, who, or where is a 'Coltrain'? Need to make that clear> with her phone in hand, waiting for the next communication from her boyfriend. It was their fifth date and he had invited her to meet him at work, telling her to wear something cute. Not one for frills and ruffles, Joan opted for a knee-length navy blue dress with a white floral pattern. The neckline plunged low enough to attract attention without being dangerous.

Joan didn’t have to wait long for Marc. The tall, Filipino descendant of Genghis Khan <this paused me. How does being Filipino make him a descendent of Genghis Khan? Probably leave that bit out IMO> strode towards her on the platform, a prince of this urban jungle. Although a mere fraction of a centimeter shorter than him, Joan fell into his arms a quivering lump of woman, the excitement and tension from the past three weeks of not seeing him overtaking her. Her head pressed against his firm shoulder as she <stedied Active vs passive> tried to steady herself.

“Calm down. I’m here now. We’ll have the whole weekend together,” Marc said as he stroked Joan’s arms.

After the trembling subsided, she lifted her head and kissed him for as long as he would allow. He laughed, pushed her off him gently, and escorted her through the town as she worried about office etiquette.<I marked this for cut as I thought it a bit confusing and it doesn't seem to add to the plot

“We’re having a May Day party,” Marc explained as if this was all she needed to know.
<there's nothing here for the reader to attach to this explaination. Are there decorations or something that we need to know about? Why is he presenting this excuse? From the reader's perspective, that's not clear>

They entered a recessed door at the base of a three-story Victorian building and ascended a dark, narrow staircase. After passing a room with six <people> adults playing on their phones around a boardroom table, they entered a gigantic office with an open floor plan. Six rows of white desks with white computer monitors gave Joan a pang of agoraphobia, recalling an internship she’d endured five years ago. She took a deep breath and reassured herself that she worked from home now.

Marc led Joan through the maze of desks to the only other familiar face in the room: his wife Laura. Laura’s middle-aged features were smoothed by flawless makeup and an impeccably clean-cut Italian stood beside her chair. Joan tried to get a good look without staring too hard.

Marc kissed Laura and Joan exchanged nods with her. “Matteo has a theory on Dark Magician Girl,” Laura said.

“She’s a serial monogamist,” Matteo explained. “She grows stronger with every Dark Magician or Magician of Black Chaos in the graveyard. Shame they have to be in the graveyard and not on the field.”
<For a reader without a background in your fanfiction, these lines are quite confusing. Keep in mind that most fiction, even fan fiction need to be able to largely stand alone without too much help from prior material>

“Ouch!” Marc commented.

“I know, right?” Laura added.
<Point: It's been often suggested to stick with 'said' for dialog tags except in limited cases. 'Said' is pretty much invisible to the reader where as other tags may stop the flow>

“OK, well I’m going to show Joan around a bit,” Marc said before guiding her to a different aisle of desks.

A huge touch-screen monitor set at a nearly horizontal angle dominated Marc’s workspace. Marc gestured to some images tacked to the wall. “Those are the skins we haven’t released yet. The animators are still working on them.”
<Skins for what? And some readers might not know what skins are>

Joan looked from the big red devil on the wall to a dull training blade on Marc’s desk. He picked it up and handed it to her, a knowing twinkle in his eye. Joan admired the dents and scratches, wondering how many hours he had spent with the thing.

“Hungry?” Marc asked.

“A little,” Joan admitted. She put down the blade and followed him.

As they passed another desk, Marc spotted one of his 3D artists manipulating Flame Wingman’s crotch. “Don’t flatten it!” Marc exclaimed.

“I wasn’t. That was just for . . .” they passed a few technical phrases back and forth. It all went over Joan’s head.
<Use those technical terms. Showing vs telling. A sentence of technical terms won't throw off the reader and make Joan's confusion more palpitable. ALSO, make damn sure you use those tech terms correctly. There WILL be readers who know what they mean. You'll impress them with your competence>

“All right,” Marc patted the artist on the shoulder and proceeded to a lounge with a buffet table and a huge banner of a man in a billowing trench coat flourishing a smartphone like<a> some sort of sword. “Arrogant prick,” Marc whispered. “I told my boss that an Amazoness or something would attract more attention, but the CEO wants his face on everything. Seriously, that ensemble would hinder him in a real fight.”

Joan nodded and picked a few morsels off the buffet table. She glanced around for a place to sit, but Marc had other ideas. He led her over to an Asian man with shaggy black hair and deep violet eyes. “What do you think of the banner?” the Asian asked.
<You've got her eating, but nowhere describe where it came from. An easy sentence or two will clear that up>

Joan swallowed. “It makes it look like you’re developing an otome game, which is something I’d play, but you’ve got a . . . what’s it called again?”

“A MOBA based on Duel Monsters,” the Asian stated.

“OK, so yeah, if you’re trying to get a bunch of girls to play the game, he’s hot and all, just . . .” Joan trailed off.

The Asian sighed. “That’s my brother for you.”

Joan froze. “Brother?”

“She has a brother fetish,” Marc supplied.

“I see. Kaiba, Mokuba Kaiba,” he stuck out his hand for Joan to shake. “You’ll probably want to steer clear of my brother. He only fucks prostitutes and won’t get a real girlfriend because he’s afraid of gold diggers.”

“Well, Joan only fucks married men,” Marc said with a grin.

“One of my Michaels isn’t married,” Joan corrected. “I’m steering clear of divorced men, though. Too much baggage.”

Mokuba smiled. “You polyamorous people are complicated. How do you ever agree on anything?”

“Lots of communication, both verbal and nonverbal,” Marc said.

Mokuba’s phone buzzed. “Speak of the devil. I’ll get back to you later, OK?”

“Later,” Marc said. He then led Joan over to a friendly Dutch lady proudly explaining the history of May Day to anyone who would listen.
<How does the reader know she's dutch? >

Chapter 2: That One

Seto stepped out of a limo onto a quaint street lined with intricately detailed three-story buildings. He turned to his suited bodyguard with dark glasses and a thin mustache. “They call this Silicon Valley?”
<Instead of saying 'quaint' try and imaging what 'quaint' would look like and describe it>

Before Roland could reply, Seto was assaulted by a “Big brother!” call from Mokuba.
<Confusion: What does this mean, and who is Mokuba (the bodyguard)?>

“Mokuba, is this some sort of joke?” Seto asked.

Mokuba looked around. “What? This? We got a really great deal on the place, it’s a historic landmark, it’s really close to Caltrain, and just wait until you see the inside.”

Seto grumbled under his breath as he followed Roland and Mokuba up the dark, narrow staircase. <Who's Roland? Where did he come from? Is Roland the bodyguard?> When they reached the top <top of what?>, he was temporarily blinded by the brightly lit office.
<they're stepping into a workspace here. Take a second to describe it>

“Eh? Eh?” Mokuba waved an open palm at the workspace.

“Better,” Seto admitted.

Mokuba introduced the nearest person, a dude with sun-bleached hair wearing a “Monsters of the Duel” sweatshirt. “This is Rob Fletcher, our video content manager. Rob, Seto.”

Rob stuck out a hand for Seto to shake, which he reluctantly took. “Hey bro, amped to finally meet you. How long are you going to be in Cali?”

Seto crossed his arms. “Two weeks.”

Rob shook a wavy lock out of his eyes. “Far out! Hey, you wanna make a guest appearance on our next livestream, bro?”

“No. You’re fired.”

“Whaaa?” Rob’s jaw dangled.

“Nobody gets to call me bro except Mokuba.”

Mokuba pinched the bridge of his nose. “It’s just an American expression, Seto. And I’m not firing him. The fans like him.”

Seto turned his back on Rob and drew closer to Mokuba. “That slang actually attracts gamers?”

“They eat it up!” Mokuba assured. “People play games to relax, and there’s nothing more relaxed than that California surfer vibe.”

“As long as he’s actually boosting sales, you can keep him. Just don’t put me next to that guy in front of a camera.”

“Noted.” Mokuba led Seto over to Laura and Matteo. “This is our narrative designer Laura Aurelio. Laura, Seto.”

“Hey,” Laura gave him a quirky smirk. “How did you like my portrayal of the Shadow Realm in the lore?”

Daggers of ice shot from Seto’s gaze as traumatic memories of ancient Egyptian hooligans with magical 24-karat gold artifacts flashed through his mind. “The what now?”

“You know, since you and Mokuba spent some time in the Shadow Realm and all . . .” her confidence faltered and Matteo put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. “I mean, have you even been reading the lore?”

This time, Seto kept his glare on the object of his scorn while he conferred with his brother. “Mokuba, is there something I need to know about the lore?”

Laura looked away from Seto, her eyes pleading with Mokuba for help. “Don’t worry, Seto. Everyone knows it’s pure fantasy. Laura is just bouncing off some stories I told her.”

“You read every word this woman writes before it gets published?”

“Practically the entire staff does. I always check the final version before it goes out, of course.”

“She so much as tries to slip in any slander and she gets canned, got it?” Seto caught Matteo rolling his eyes. “And pretty boy here can pack up his things and leave now.”

“He doesn’t work for us,” Mokuba said.

“What is it, bring-your-boyfriend-to-work day?” Seto scoffed.

“Actually, kinda. It’s May Day and that’s . . . never mind, but Americans will glom<?> onto any excuse to celebrate. Consider it part of our vibrant and diverse office culture,” Mokuba explained.

“What a sham.” Seto turned on his heel and sauntered into the lounge. He made such a dramatic entrance with his arms crossed and his death glare that everyone in the room fell silent and turned to stare. Seeing his face beside the huge banner, he needed no introduction. Someone started clapping, and it crescendoed <Missuse of this word> into applause until Mokuba showed up. <isn't he standing next to him while giving him a tour?>

“Thanks for giving my brother a warm welcome, everyone. He’s had a long flight and he’s glad to finally meet you all,” Mokuba announced.

Seto ignored the cheers that followed. “Mokuba, why is that banner in here and not outside on display?”

“Oh that? We need to get permission from the city before we can put it up, especially since this is a historic landmark and all. It’s going to take a month to approve our application,” Mokuba lied.

“Then why didn’t you just bribe the city officials or . . .” Seto’s gaze fell on a pair of C-cup breasts pressed against navy blue fabric. The woman they were attached to stood tense but bored at the same time, soaking in every detail of her surroundings but eager to move on to something else. Such women, in his experience, were the most eager and passionate lovers. They didn’t simply go through the motions or lie in bed like a dead fish trying not to ruin their makeup before the next client. Seto reflexively tapped Roland’s chest with the back of his hand. “Get me that one. In the floral dress.”

Ever since an incident involving a broken wine glass and eight stitches followed by expensive scar removal procedures and lawsuit threats from both parties, Seto had Roland screen his prostitutes. “Sir, may I suggest a jaunt to Nevada? The laws here don’t permit-”

“That. One.”

Roland remained stock still.

“Never mind. I’ll get that one myself.” Seto took a step forward but Mokuba caught his arm.

“Seto, no! That’s my art director’s girlfriend, and you already threatened to fire his wife!”

Seto’s eyes gleamed with <a hunter's> the hunger of a hunter. “Really now? Turns out I do know a good whore when I see one.” He jerked his arm out of Mokuba’s grasp and strode past the chattering game developers towards his target.

Chapter 3: The Deal

Marc slid a hand around Joan’s waist and pulled her close. “It’s that look in his eyes,” Marc whispered. “Kaiba’s not here for me.”

Joan barely had time to comprehend before Seto Kaiba stopped mere inches away from her. “How much?”

“For what?” Joan asked.

“A night with you,” Seto clarified.

“Um . . . five hundred dollars?” Joan suggested.

Seto snorted. “Let me guess. That’s the base price and you charge extra for all the bells and whistles. I’ll pay you one hundred . . . thousand . . . yen, no more, for the all-inclusive package.” He enjoyed watching the emotions flicker across her face as she crunched the numbers.

Though Seto’s gaze pounded on the windows to her soul, Joan felt safe encircled by Marc’s powerful arm. “Oh . . . OK. Wait, are you talking tonight? Because I’m already spoken for tonight. Unless you happen to be into threesomes,” she added hopefully.

Seto eyed the athletic art director, who was completely at ease and in fact seemed to be enjoying the show. “How much is he paying you?”

“He’s not. He’s my boyfriend. Can you wait until Sunday evening? I was planning to go home then, but if I can do laundry at Marc’s place, I can take a sick day on Monday.”

“Tsk tsk, lying to your employer,” Seto taunted.

“It’s an expression. My boss will never know, actually. I work from home and stay ahead of schedule so I don’t drop behind if something comes up.”

“Ooooh, smart whore!” Seto’s cock began to harden in his tight leather pants. “If you’ll excuse me, Roland will handle-” he took a step away.

“Hold on!” Marc grinned wickedly upon seeing Seto’s predicament. “You came all this way and you have no words for the art director who worked so hard on your lovely banner? Marc Aurelio.” Marc stuck out his hand to shake.

Seto obliged. “Hello Marc. If you weren’t the only artist who could portray me properly, I’d fire you for bringing a whore to work. By the way, did you know that your girlfriend is a whore?”

Marc’s dark walnut eyes twinkled. “Of course. She told me about this one time a college boy paid her for a blowjob. And I just heard through the grapevine that she got another customer.”

Taken aback by Marc’s positivity, Seto blinked. He’d been trying to make a quick getaway by insulting his subordinate and leaving Marc speechless, but it had oddly backfired. At least that had alleviated his erection. “Good for her. So, I hear your wife has been dicking around in the Shadow Realm.”

“Oh yeah, that. It’s more of a side thought to the game, really. When a player’s life points reach zero, they’re not traditionally dead but rather banished to the Shadow Realm until they respawn. American parents like the sound of that better,” Marc explained.

“Just to be clear, there’s no actual Shadow Realm, right?”

“It’s represented by a blue and purple nebula surrounding the battlefield, but practically speaking, no. No actual Shadow Realm,” Marc confirmed.

“Good. If a man dressed in a towel and heavy gold jewelry shows up trying to poke your forehead with a giant key or some bullshit, have the fucker arrested.”

Marc chuckled. “Oh I’m so doing that for Halloween now.”

“Is that another one of your crazy American holidays?”

“The craziest!”

“Whatever.”

“You should see the Halloween skins we’re planning. The American market is going to eat. it. up.”

“Are you going to put Joey Wheeler in a dog costume?”

“I’ll add it to the list.”

This elicited a little smile from Seto. “Do a good job and you just might get a raise. Same with your whore.”

“My girlfriend, your whore,” Marc corrected.

Joan smiled with her lower lip between her teeth and Seto’s cock pulsed again. “K thanks bye.” Seto rushed back to Mokuba and Roland.

“I’m surprised you didn’t get slapped,” Mokuba said.

“Or punched,” Roland added.

“I told you I know a good whore when I see one. I’m going to the washroom. Roland, I expect to find her in my suite Sunday evening.”

As soon as Seto was out of sight, Roland sighed. “I hate cleaning up after his messes.”

“I think this one will be OK,” Mokuba said.

“Do you happen to know her name?” Roland asked.

“It’s Joan. Don’t know her last name, though.”

“How about her bodyguard?”

“You mean her boyfriend? That’s Marc Aurelio.”

“All right, thanks.” Roland made his way through the crowd to Marc, who was now introducing Joan to one of the programmers. “Mr. Aurelio, may I have a private word with your lovely companion?”

“Popular today, aren’t we?” Marc teased. “Go ahead.”

“Please follow me, madam.” Roland led Joan into a corner of the room. “I’m sorry, Mr. Kaiba neglected to tell me your name. I’m his bodyguard and personal assistant Roland.”

“I’m Joan Saunders.” She offered her hand and Roland shook it.

“Ms. Saunders, have you come to a satisfactory business agreement with Mr. Kaiba?”

“Yep.”

“How much, if I may ask?”

“One hundred thousand yen.”

Roland blinked. “Is that per hour or for the entire evening?”

“The entire evening.”

“To be clear, you’re being paid for your time only. Any action Mr. Kaiba may request of you will be performed only by your own free will or not at all.”

“Understood. You know, if both Kaiba brothers were involved, I’d do it for free.”

Roland frowned. “Don’t let Seto Kaiba hear you say that. He’ll think you’re a gold digger pretending to be an escort.”

“Good to know. In that case, how about I offer Mokuba a discount?”

Roland glanced back at the younger brother, who was discretely observing from afar. “He’s never asked me to arrange such matters for him, but I can pass along the offer.”

“All right, cool.”

“In any case madam, what is your preferred method of payment and contact information?”

Joan gave him her PayPal address and phone number so he could send a car to collect her. Roland shook her hand once again and returned to Mokuba. Seto still hadn’t returned from the washroom.

“So how’d it go?” Mokuba asked.

“She’s . . . offering you a discount,” Roland said.

Mokuba watched the woman smiling and laughing with his art director. She was positively glowing. “Does she offer the girlfriend experience?” he blurted before he could think too hard about it.

“Possibly. I can ask, but first I should check on Seto.”

“Right. One thing, though. If she does, don’t tell me how much it costs. I don’t want to think about how much I’m paying her. As long as it’s a reasonable rate, I’ll trust you to manage it.”

“Understood.” Roland made his way to the washroom and knocked. “Mr. Kaiba, is everything all right in there?”

“About time! Roland, I need a change of pants. Get me some pronto!”

Rather than ask why or argue, Roland called the limo driver immediately. He looked around the hallway to ensure that nobody was listening. “Special request, rush delivery.” Roland then proceeded to give detailed instructions.

Roland ended the call and made his way to the open office. He snatched a blank piece of paper from a printer and a sharpie from a desk. After writing “Out of Order” on the paper, he taped it to the washroom door. He then went out to the curb to wait.

After a little while, Joan and Marc passed him on their way out. They gave him a little wave and continued on their way. Not long after, Laura and her boyfriend Matteo appeared. “Yo! Seto Kaiba your boss?” Laura asked.

“Affirmative,” Roland responded.

“Tell me honestly, is he a little fucked in the head?”

“No comment.”

“Figures.”

Roland remained stoic. “Laura Aurelio, was it? Any connection to Marc Aurelio?”

“Yeah, we’re married. Why?”

“It’s curious seeing you two leave separately and with different people.”

“Well, we’re polyamorous and it’s not like it’s some big secret.”

“Does he work for you?” Roland gestured at Matteo.

Laura stepped closer to the bodyguard, offering challenge. “What the fuck? Are you saying he’s out of my league?”

Roland remained unfazed. “No disrespect intended, madam. Merely making conversation.”

“Then why would you ask such a thing?”

“No comment.”

“Are you Seto Kaiba’s gigolo?”

That elicited a snort from Roland. “No. You’re the first to come to that conclusion.”

Laura grinned. “Methinks he doth protest too much.”

“Think all you want. I’m not at liberty to disclose anything without Mr. Kaiba’s express permission, and one of those few things I’m allowed to say is that he’s not gay.”

“So you mean if he was diagnosed as psychotic and off his meds, that would be a secret too?”

“Mrs. Aurelio, why are you pressing this matter?”

“Merely making conversation,” Laura quipped. “Ciao!”

Roland watched the couple walk away, disappointed to see his entertainment go but also relieved that temptation was gone. Working for Seto Kaiba could drive most people nuts, but the pay was excellent and Roland had been doing it so long now that it was second nature to him. It had put his kids through college, and though his wife stayed back in Japan when he accompanied Seto on business trips, he was looking forward to traveling the world with her during retirement.

Seto’s limo pulled up and the driver handed Roland a discrete briefcase. Roland nodded to the driver as he took it and then made his way back up the narrow staircase.

Chapter 4: Shopping

Joan's weekend with Marc was a whirlwind of grappling in bed, learning to play Monsters of the Duel, posing for sketches, making messes in the kitchen, sending nudes to her other guys, and walking in the sun. He kept her on her toes, breathlessly yet wholly alive. She slept reluctantly but efficiently, her attention focused on the hardness of his body and the strength of his pulse.

After Joan finished her Sunday morning shower, she wore her towel into the bedroom. She looked at Marc as she dropped it, and he was drawn to her like a magnet. Their lips melded as his hands slid over her bare hips. Still holding her, Marc teased, "We're never gonna leave."

As inviting as the prospect sounded, Joan's stomach screamed for the breakfast with friends Marc had promised her. She drew away and dressed quickly, donning the cargo pants and rugged hiking boots she'd planned on for a comfortable journey home.

Marc eyed Joan. "You plan to show up in Seto Kaiba's bedroom like that?"

"Feces! I totally forgot about that. Can I use your washing machine?"

"No need for that. I'll buy you a dress after breakfast. I have one condition, though."

"Oh?"

"Whatever you're wearing the next time I see you, I get to rip it off."

Joan cocked her head, going through her mental closet for an outfit she'd be willing to part with. "Deal." Joan stuffed her dirty clothes into her backpack and they headed out the door.

They walked several blocks arm-in-arm to a café famous for its apple fritters. Five hipsters stood in front of it. Marc walked up to them and introduced Joan to a vegan, a professional cosplayer, an aspiring author, a vlogger, and one of his art students. They were about Joan's age, twenty five, not Marc's forty four. Still, Joan felt awkward around so many strangers who already had close-knit ties between them. She put on a fake smile and pressed her business card into the aspiring author's hand but otherwise let Marc do the talking. Marc bragged about how he met Joan on OKCupid and then proceeded to recount some of his worst dates for comparison. Joan slipped into the role of arm candy, laughing at the right moments and only speaking if a question was directed at her.

Although breakfast was delicious, Joan felt relieved to get away from the table of strangers and stroll through the shopping district with Marc. "You're going to need something that makes you feel unstoppable tonight," Marc said.

Joan pressed her cheek to Marc's bicep. "You are my unstoppable."

"I'm not going to be there. I mean you'll need a dress that makes you feel like a sex goddess."

Several items in store windows caught Joan's eye, but Marc kept guiding her past the shops until they reached the most hoity-toity store in town sporting tuxedos and evening gowns in the window. They spotted the cocktail dress section and walked amongst the racks. Marc shook his head at everything until he pulled out a red halter with a neckline that plunged to the waist.

"Seriously?" Joan said. "I don't have a bra for that at home, much less with me."

"What kind of whore wears a bra?" Marc teased. "Come on, at least let me see you try it on."

Joan sighed and took it to the fitting room, earning a hard stare from the attendant on her way in. She pulled off her hiking boots and cargo pants, then her T-shirt and bra. She then carefully arranged the flimsy fabric of the dress, pulling it up and down in an endless dilemma between covering her nipples or her panties.

"Can I see?" Marc called.

"This isn't going to work. I'm too tall for it," Joan replied.

"Just let me see!"

Joan adjusted the fabric one more time and opened the door. She hunched her back until Marc said, "Stand up straight." She did so and her green polka dot panties popped into view. "OK, yeah, you have a point."

"What is the occasion, if I may ask," the attendant butted in.

"That's classified," Marc said with a saucy wink.

"I see. May I suggest the costume shop on Bargain Boulevard?"

"Oh isn't that cute?" Marc said to Joan. "He thinks he makes more in a month than you make in a day."

"Yeah sure, whatever," Joan said. She knew it was an exaggeration but decided not to contradict him. "I'm getting out of this thing." She shut the door.

"Sir, I'm going to have to ask you to leave the store," the attendant said.

"No problem," Marc agreed. "If you like, I'll even tell my wife how rude you were to me and my girlfriend."

The attendant sneered, "I doubt that. Security!"

Just then, Roland walked by with a stack of black leather pants. His head reflexively turned at the call for security. "Hello Mr. Aurelio. What seems to be the trouble?"

"This gentleman doesn't want customers today," Marc said calmly.

Joan emerged from the fitting room. "Hello Ms. Saunders," Roland greeted.

"Hey, you don't work here!" the attendant shouted.

"Correct. I work for Seto Kaiba," Roland said.

"The fuck you do. Get out now!"

An actual security guard arrived and sized up the two hulking men plus the woman in boots as tough as his. "Gentlemen. Lady. We don't want any trouble here."

Roland flashed a black credit card. "I'm purchasing these. I'm on a tight schedule and don't have time to find them elsewhere."

"Right, uh . . ." the security guard said.

"And I'll escort this little troublemaker out," Marc said as he took Joan by the arm.

Bewildered, Joan went with Marc while Roland went to the checkout counter, the security guard watching their every move.

"It's because I'm brown," Marc said as soon as they got out. "The white virgin boys get jealous."

Joan relaxed. "Gee, all he had to do was ask nicely and I could have helped him with that problem."

"See? That's the attitude you need to keep a cool head in Seto's bed."

They linked hands and continued on to another store, this time looking through breezy summer dresses that allowed for ease of movement. Joan chose a white one with multicolored butterflies but Marc wasn't satisfied. Joan bought the dress for herself and they continued searching through other stores.

Marc spotted a blue one-sleeved dress with glitter embedded in the fabric and had Joan try it on. This time, the stretchy fabric allowed her to move confidently. "I have a bra that would work with this, but it's at home," Joan said.

"Bouncing boobs are more enticing," Marc assured.

"I guess. Look, it's too early for this kind of dress anyway. I'll wear the white one for now and change later."

Marc bought the blue dress and they settled into a noodle shop for lunch. Joan changed in the bathroom, keeping her boots.

While they ate, Marc texted his wife about the situation. "Have you told Michael you're not coming home tonight?"

"Guess I better do that now." Joan pulled out her phone and shot off the message quickly.

"Laura says that Seto is fucked in the head, so watch out," Marc relayed.

"How so?" Joan asked

"That shadow realm stuff Mokuba told her about is a trigger for him. Just be careful and get the fuck out of there if he does anything too freaky."

"OK, I won't let him tie me up, at least not tonight."

"Good ground rule. You know what else? I'm going to call you before I go to bed to make sure you're all right. Are you sleeping with him or do you need to crash on my couch?"

"Not sure yet."

Marc went back to texting. "Laura's offering to sleep on the couch."

"What? No."

"She says that if Seto is a real sicko, you're going to need me more than she will."

"I guess," Joan conceded.

Marc sighed as he read the next text silently. "I'm texting Mokuba."

"Why?"

"Just in case he knows anything we should know, childhood cruelty to animals or the like."

"I'm freaking out a little here," Joan admitted. "I'm having flashbacks to some horror movies my ex showed me."

"Laura's the one freaking out. It's probably because Seto threatened to fire her over the shadow realm stuff. You'll be fine. Too many people know you'll be with him for him to try anything nasty." Marc looked down at his phone again. "Mokuba says the prostitutes in Japan always go home safe . . . but sometimes Roland has to shove a morning after pill down their throats."

"Sheesh! Speaking of Roland, I don't know what time he's picking me up. He has my number but I don't have his."

"Yeah, and Laura wants me all to herself by four." Marc sunk back into his phone.

"I brought books for the train. I can just read," Joan said.

Marc continued poking at his phone. Then his finger froze and his eyes darted rapidly over the text.

"Hey, isn't my generation supposed to be the one obsessed with our phones?" Joan asked.

"Sorry. It's just that my boss is offering to take you to dinner."

Joan's jaw dropped. "I thought he was monogamous."

"Me too. This could get complicated. He . . . he says to negotiate your fees with Roland because Roland works for him too."

"Oh, right."

"He says he wants to experience more American culture, but he doesn't want to actually date an American girl because he plans to go back to Japan eventually. He just wants to pretend for a while."

"That makes things a lot less complicated," Joan said.

"It does." Marc sat back in his chair and stroked his hairless chin. "I guess this makes me your pimp then."

"Lol," Joan said.

"So that's a yes then?"

"Yes to dinner with Mokuba."

"Aw, for a second there I was hoping I could pimp you out to the waiter."

Joan swatted Marc's arm playfully.

Chapter 5: That Stupid Banner

After lunch, Marc and Joan went to a park, where he showed her some stick fighting basics. They were still going through drills when Mokuba arrived. The raven-haired man stood quietly watching until Joan noticed. "Oh, hey!"

"Hey," Mokuba replied.

Marc put away their sticks and wrapped his arms aggressively around Joan's waist as he faced his boss. "Same rules as your brother. My girlfriend. Your whore."

Mokuba rubbed the back of his neck. "I've never actually done this before."

Marc's glare hardened. "Good. You are now experiencing what American teenagers feel when they meet their date's father for the first time."

As this sunk in, a smile spread Mokuba's lips. "All right, good one."

Marc smiled as well and released Joan. "Have fun now!" He waved as he walked off.

Joan watched Marc walk away and focused on preserving the memory of his touch. He never kissed her goodbye, only hello. Turning back to Mokuba, she slung her backpack and purse over one shoulder. "So what's the plan?"

"I was hoping you could tell me that. You're the American," Mokuba said.

Joan eyed the almost-stranger before her. He dressed casually in jeans and a striped shirt, approachable. The best way to make him less of a stranger was to get closer to him. "OK, let's start with a hug. Americans do that a lot."

"OK." The last time Mokuba had hugged even his brother was when he was a little kid. He stepped forward awkwardly and held his arms out.

Joan leaned in and wrapped her arms around his upper back. "You're so rigid. Relax. Smell my hair or something."

Mokuba inhaled and caught a subtle whiff of lavender mingled with fresh pheromones from the light sweat she'd worked up with Marc. "Yeah, that is nice."

Joan gently broke the hug. "See? A hug can tell you a lot about a person."

"What did you learn about me?" Mokuba asked.

Joan couldn't put into words most of what she felt while hugging him, but it was a nice hug once he loosened up. She settled for saying, "That you need more practice. Are you a virgin?"

"Yes. Is that a problem?"

"If you see it as a problem, I can help you fix it, but if you'd rather stay that way, it's not my place to judge."

"So have you had a lot of virgin clients?" Mokuba asked.

"During college, four virgins, but not as clients. You and Seto are only my second and third clients ever."

"Really?" Mokuba's eyes went wide.

Joan slipped her hand into Mokuba's and they began strolling through the park. "It was just a blowjob, but yeah, he paid me, so it counts. What about you, though? Have you ever even had a girlfriend?"

"Kinda, for a little while."

"What happened?"

"She left for college. I think I could have kept her if I'd gone with her, but Seto said it wasn't worth it."

"The college or the woman?"

"Both. Seto wanted me to stick around and run Kaiba Corporation's side ventures, so that's what I did. First I ran some tournaments, then Kaiba Land, then Duel Academy, and now Seto's decided to call our American branch Super Kaiba Megacorp because it's way smaller than our office in Japan and he thinks it's funny." Mokuba's breathing quickened.

"Are you doing all this to please him, or do you actually enjoy the work you do?"

"It's a little of both. If he let me run the show more, I could have more fun with it. Even though this is his first visit to Silicon Valley, he's been bossing me around over the phone. I mean, you saw that stupid banner. Marc had to handle that one personally to get it right, and it was a complete waste of time for him. I can't bring myself to display it on the street, so what's the point?"

Joan stopped walking and drew Mokuba down to a bench, encircling him in a comforting embrace. "You know, it's pretty, so it's not going to scare away anybody. If you put it on the street, you wouldn't have to look at it inside all day. And who says you have to have only one banner anyway? Get Marc to make something you actually like and put that where you can see it on your way into work."

"I guess there's always that, and I'll probably do it after Seto leaves. I'm just tired of having to find sneaky ways of doing what's right for the company. Like our narrative designer Laura. I wanted someone who could really play up the dark history of Duel Monsters and bring it to life, and I knew Seto would hire some stiff if I put out an open call for applications, so I gave Laura a try and it worked out. Then she introduced me to a friend who became our video content manager and he's amazing, but now that Seto's met them, he wants to fire them both."

"Seriously? I mean he kinda threatened Marc too, but . . ." Joan trailed off.

"Marc is practically untouchable. He's a frontrunner in the industry and we stole him from a rival company. Seto had a lot of fun rubbing it in their faces afterwards. I was the one who wined and dined Marc, though."

"Yeah, he told me about how you basically gave him and Laura an all-expenses-paid California vacation before he came to work for you."

"All true." Mokuba leaned back against the bench. "It was actually a lot of fun for me too. It made me feel like I had real friends again."

"Aren't they still your friends now?"

"Kinda, I guess. It's not like we do anything outside of work now, but they make work fun. Like how they invented this game with Kuriboh plushies. Kuribohs are basically these little brown furballs. For every day someone is late or misses work, they get a Kuriboh on their desk. Then they can't get rid of it until someone else is late, so now anybody with Kuribohs shows up extra early."

The practice struck Joan as a public humiliation tactic, but at least it was more benign than the backstabbing she'd experienced at her erstwhile internship. "Why don't you ask Marc and Laura to hang out sometime?"

"It's different now that they actually work for me."

"OK then. There are lots of other ways to meet people: hobby classes and dating websites."

Mokuba sighed. "I know. I just don't want to leave too many people behind when I go back to Japan. I know how it feels to get left behind. I mean, you have someone, more than just one someone, right? So when I go, you'll still have someone."

"So that's why you've hired me?"

"Um, well, yeah. Can we not talk about that, though? I want to pretend."

Joan felt that she had gathered enough information from Mokuba to go on. "In that case, maybe we should start over."

"What do you mean by that?"

Joan stood, walked five paces away, spun five hundred forty degrees, and approached the bench. "Hey there. Have you seen my bicycle by chance? I'm sure I locked it up here an hour ago."

"Uh . . ." Mokuba paused as he got his head in the game. "Sorry. I didn't see any bicycles when I got here."

"Damn. That means I'll have to walk home. It will be dark by the time I get there."

"I could give you a ride home," Mokuba offered.

"No way, really? Let me buy you dinner first then. I'm Joan, by the way." Joan extended a hand.

Mokuba stood and shook it. "I'm Mokuba."

"Cool. What do you like to eat?"

"Burgers and fries."

Joan suppressed a giggle at his stated preference for American food. "I passed a place that looked good earlier. It's not far," Joan gestured north.

"Lead the way!" Mokuba said.

"OK."

Mokuba stood and walked beside her, feeling awkwardness in the swing of an empty hand no longer touching hers. "I know this is stupid, but have we met before?"

Joan shook her head. "Not a chance. I would have remembered eyes like yours."

"Really?"

"I edit novels, and one of my clients wrote a historical fiction story about violet-eyed Klondike Kate. I'd never seen someone with violet eyes and I had to check the internet to see if it was even possible. You're the first one I've met in real life, and your eyes are incredibly captivating."

Mokuba blushed. "Oh. Thank you."

"So, do you live around here?"

The conversation went on like that as they ordered food and stuffed their faces, sticking to surface-level topics. Joan refrained from mentioning her other guys as they got an overview of each other in terms of favorite colors, animals, cities they'd visited, and music.

"I haven't been to a dance since prom," Joan said as they were picking through the last few fries.

"Prom is not even a thing in Japan, but I went to some corporate galas. My guardian made sure I took formal dance lessons, but I never got to, you know, just dance, like to popular music and stuff."

Several times now, Joan had noted the use of the term "guardian" and decided to avoid asking about his parents. That conversation could be saved for a later date. "You know, I've never been clubbing. Most of my friends are too nerdy to do that with me."

"Me neither. That sounds like an adventure."

Joan's phone buzzed. "Hold that thought." It was Roland, asking for her location. Joan texted him back quickly. "That was my, uh, roommate wondering why I'm not home yet. She's on her way to pick me up. I guess you'll have to give me that ride another time."

"How about a ride to and from the club?" Mokuba suggested.

"Perfect."

"How about this Friday?"

"Um . . . my weekends are pretty much booked for the next month." Joan pulled up the planner on her phone. "Would a weekday evening work for you? It would be less crowded then anyway."

"I might wind up with a Kuriboh the morning after, but hey, why not?"

"Wednesday then?"

"Sure."

Joan finalized the note in her planner and looked up to see a limo outside the wall-to-wall windows of the burger joint. "I think that's my ride. I gotta go." She slipped Mokuba a business card with her phone number on it and gave him a peck on the cheek before scampering away.
© Copyright 201


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
4
4
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: ASR | (5.0)
What a wonderful piece. Sharp intro, excellent flow, and a nice storyline. Very well done. If you haven't yet, you should be sending this out to magazines for publication. A very well deserved five stars.

She hadn’t spoken a word in days. Not an utterance had passed her lips—not even to remark on the odor that was spreading a palpable maleficence throughout the entire house. Each breath he took speared his lungs with a gust of sour air.

“You expect me to do it all,” The man spat vitriol as he prepared coffee. Crooked fingers, warped from years of hard labor, violently fished sugar cubes from a stubborn box—a brand that he quite despised. Why did she always insist upon this one? “I work all day. I come home to you sitting around doing nothing. Least you could’ve done after all these years is give me a kid. You can’t even do that. Useless. What are you good for?”

She combated him with an aggressive, stifling silence. Of course. The man clucked his tongue against his teeth and worked a spoon into his drink. One sip confirmed that it tasted exactly the same as it had the day before—like s***.

His joints ached rebelliously upon sliding back into a rickety armchair beside her. Beady eyes stared straight ahead, studying the faded floral wallpaper that framed the kitchen window. His wife had placed it years ago, right after they’d gotten married, effectively sealing their small home with whimsy and zeal. She loved those garden prints. They’d promised that each daughter birthed would be named after a flower. Tulip, Rose, and Daffodil sequentially. And yet, their dreams had hardly flowered to fruition, wilting upon discovering her infertility. His wife was barren. She’d never be able to give him children. Their marriage began to breed a necrosis, deadening them from the inside out, never allowing them to recover. He grew angry; embittered irrevocably by his fate. And his wife? She began to deteriorate beyond his recognition.

The man brought his coffee cup to his chafed lips. The rough taste was more bearable this time than it had been before. He suddenly decided that it was fine.

“You think you have it worse than me?” He growled. Accusatory eyes swiveled in her direction, regarding her with a virulent disdain. “Is that why you sit around sulking all damn day? You think you have it worse? Try working like me every single day. Let’s see--” He croaked, seizing up as a series of sickly coughs shook his thin frame, “Let’s see how you’d handle one day in my shoes!”

The man sniffled, finally recovering with a soft breath. The very least she could do was smile. The sunlight, cold and stark gray as it was, did very little for her complexion. His wife used to be beautiful. Alabaster, prim, and delicate. Now wrinkles carved sunken hollows into her cheeks, molding her face into ghastly shadows. When did she stop taking care of herself? Was it when he stopped calling her beautiful? Was it when he stopped telling her that he loved her? When was the last time that he’d kissed those acrid lips of hers?

He was briefly betrayed by a surge of guilt, and his stomach tightened, cramping painfully as he fought to resurrect his justifications. This was all her fault. Their marriage was a torturous bind founded on lies; held together merely because death had yet to do them part. She sat before him, self-righteous and smug, gloating in her victory. She had trapped him!

“I do everything I can for you! What have you given me in return? Nothing! Absolutely nothing!” Spittle passed his lips in his mad fervor. The man swaggered to a stand, his long torso lingering over her, eyes bulging out of his sockets. “You’re not better than me. You’re not smarter than me. You’re nothing.”

He slammed his coffee onto the table with an ear<-> shattering crack. Fire was running through his veins, quivering through his fingertips, and yet she refused humor him with a response. She was a barren whore. Barren in the body and mind; eternally cruel for reducing him to a frothing, manic mess. He hardly recognized himself! Before he could raise a hand, the man escape<d> through the door, heading to work with his hands curled into white fists.

- - -

“I’ve been fired.”

He slumped defeatedly into his favorite armchair. His wife was, once again, concluding their one-sided interactions with her potent silence. For once he didn’t mind. The buzz of the day had left him worn and endowed with a decent day’s grime. The odor from the morning wasn’t too horrid, and he found himself content with the way the moonlight shimmered against his wife’s silver locks. He vaguely wondered what she’d done to them. They appeared less like broom straw.

“I’ve been told not to return. I’ll have to start looking for work elsewhere.”

Silence. Guilt and regret melded with the day’s lethargy, and he hunched forward, heaving a labored sigh to stave off the intensity. His words and thoughts from earlier in the day had undoubtedly been acerbic. She had not deserved the brunt of his frustrations. The man’s teeth pressed into his lower lip. He reached for her fragile hands, massaging her hard joints, a stray tear streaking a clean path down his dirtied face.

“I love you. I’ll never speak to you like that again. I’ll find work, we’ll start over. And you know what? We’ll get a kitten… and we can name her Tulip.”

His lips pressed to her crevasse of a cheek. Saying no more, the man smiled, finally carrying himself to bed.

- - -


She hadn’t uttered a single word in days—not even to remark on the putrid stench that was slowly but surely driving him insane.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
5
5
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: E | (4.0)
First off, welcome to WDC. You'll find it a place of GREAT opportunity and active members. There's so much to do and see. Contests, stories, poetry, novels, groups. Here you'll find other writers struggling along the path of creativity and self-doubt right along with you. Sometimes it's nice to know you're not alone.
So what would I suggest for a newcomer? Contests and reviews would be my personal recommendation. Contests offer myriad ways to present your stories and most come along with a review as well as some GPs. Which brings me to the second strong point of WDC. Reviews. You can use those contest GPs to request a review, or ask for a freebe. Just look under 'Community' menu item and you have many options for reviews. You can get a free one by 'Request a Review.' Sometimes ppl respond, sometimes they don't . You can also use your GPs to 'buy' a review. Reviewers typically advertise the type of review they do so you can pick how supporting or harsh you want them. For me, I'm a little harder shelled than most and welcome a scathing review. If I didn't need a harsh appraisal, then I'd sit at home and save my stories to my hard drive where they'd never see the light of day.
Like all writers, you'll find that what you thought was perfectly acceptable may not shine so brightly beneath the probing gaze of another. BUT, you obviously are not one of those. As evidenced by your hanging out your story here in the noobs section for everyone to see.

So here we go with the review.
As always, the disclaimer. I'm not a professional editor, nor an expert in writing. What follows are the observations of an avid reader and struggling writer. I hope this review proves useful.

First off, nice job. Great descriptions, easy to follow and (probably realistic) dialog. Period dialog is difficult at best, particularly fantasy, but your characters came across as real ppl. Next, your descriptions were nice as well. Not too much and not too little. The story itself was good although they'll tell you that now-a-days readers like some 'POP' right at the beginning. Current thinking is that if you don't capture them in the first paragraph, they're likely to switch to another story. Not really my opinion, just something I've learned.

Now to my comments. The lions share of comments seem to deal with active v.s passive voice. Easy to recognize but more difficult to fix. You'll soon pick it up. The examples I provided are a good starting point. The other main change were non-necessary words. Ex: We know when someone nods, that they use their head. No need to say 'nodded their head'. Just 'nodded' is fine. There are several instances where words are cut simply because we know, by context, what they are.

So cudos on a great story. I didn't go all the way through with comments (only about halfway) but reading yourself, I'm sure you'll pick up on the same things I noted above.

Final words? Yeah, I've got some suggestions. Grammarly. This is a free tool you can use to pick up grammar errors. I ignored the advice of other writers for months about this product, then finally picked this app up. It's FANTASTIC. Secondly. Get a thesaurus. I use the online version, but some type of thesaurus is ESSENTIAL. In your story, you reference 'horse' fifty times. Besides naming the horse, which might add some more empathy for the characters, there are myriad names to use: steed, beast, stallion, mare, etc,etc. It breaks up the read for the reader. The same goes with those commonly overused words. Walk, look, pull, push, etc. Instead of walking have them stroll, march, plod. Instead of pulling they are drawing, yanking tugging. But beware. Like a little extra spice in your recipe, too much, and you'll ruin the flavor.
Lastly, there are the groups. Look into joining one. They're a great way to meet like-minded people and explore your talent.

Anyway, welcome to WDC and here's a thousand GPs. Have a review on me.



The horses' hooves beat a steady rhythm upon the grass. A kaleidoscope of glaring patterns bounced upon the ground and the few spare trees that dotted the way, as the light of the midsummer sun shone down on the two armored men <riding. Active vs Passibe> who rode side by side. A slight breeze blew across the way, giving the few swallows and blackbirds <dotting A vs P> that dotted the sky a pillow upon which to glide as they sang short bursts of notes.

"Tis a good blessing, that wind," said the blonde man as he moved his face so that the wind could pass through his hair.
('That' and 'had' are great words to search for and terminate. Most times, they're not needed)

"Indeed," said his companion, the darker of the two. "Tis a penance to ride fully armored under a full sun."

"Aye, that is the truth," said the first. "I myself look forward to the changing of the seasons. Autumn, with its chill, is more to my liking."

The darker haired man--Sir Henry of Nottingham--smiled at his companion, a small and rather sad smile. "I hope that we shall see the coming of autumn. Who can tell what the end of this day will witness?"

The blonde knight--Sir Robert of Leigh--returned the smile to Sir Henry but not in kind. His smile was filled with the hope of seeing many, many more autumns come and go. "The end of this day shall see us victorious over the beast," he declared boldly. "We shall have much to tell our fellows this and many nights to come over the fires. <I think this needs to be eliminated or moved up in the sentence>"

Sir Henry gave the ghost of a nod. "I hope so, my friend."

Sir Robert gave another bedeviling smile in answer and then turned to face the future. The two knights rode on in silence, the quiet of the earth pierced only by the clank of the armor they wore and the sounds of the world.(leave out or specify what the sounds are) The swallows and blackbirds continued their dance in the sky, as well as their songs. Occasionally, a hawk would appear to declare his mastery of the air to the smaller birds.<while> Closer to the earth, the sound of deer could be distinctly heard. Several times, Sir Robert saw a doe, escorted by a buck, run in the opposite direction of the horses, away from the woods that loomed before them. Sir Robert took his left hand and took hold of the hilt of his sword that hung by his left side. They were coming nearer. <took used twice here>
<BTW: deer are pretty quiet, i'm not aware of any sound they make. Maybe sound of deer moving throught he brush?>

"You have noticed?" Sir Henry asked him.

"The deer? Aye, I have seen at least three pair race away from the forest. Tis not natural, but, we already know the cause of their fear."

"And I have seen two pair, just as you say, a doe and her mate, though it is too late in the year for mating," Sir Henry said. "Much more, I have seen a family of foxes loping away from the forest and through the open land. I fear that it is worse than what we first believed."

Sir Robert said nothing, only smiled again--a little tighter, to Sir Henry's eye--and urged his steed onward.

At last, the forest loomed before them. The tree trunks twisted and weaved together so that it seemed a wooden wall <rose> was raised before them. Though their foliage was still green, the branches were bound so closely together that the trees took on a blackened and gloomy appearance. In the middle of the forest, and extending as far as the eye could see, was the path, overhung with gloom. The two knights sat upon their horses, small and stunted,<who was small and stunted? The horses? The men? Both?> before the towering mass of the trees. Neither one spoke.

Sir Henry finally broke the silence. "We cannot press on until our mounts have watered and rested. They shall need every scrap of strength which they can muster, as we shall as well. Where did the farmer say was the stream?"

"He said 'twas half a league from the entrance," Sir Robert answered. "He said that the stream would cut across the path, underneath an ancient bridge."

"Then we must make for the stream," replied Sir Henry. "Hopefully the beast will not have defiled it to the extent that we cannot drink, and the trees will offer us some shelter from the midday <heat? sun?>."

The men clicked their tongues and touched the flanks of their horses with the heels of their feet. It required more coaxing now, penetrating the forest. The horses' nostrils flared every now and again, as the wind brought some scent to their attention. Their eyes widened with anxiousness.<IMO needs to be joined with prior sentence>

The two knights gripped the bridles of their steeds tighter as they rode deeper into the gloom. The path on which they rode was still wide enough that they could ride side by side but it was malevolent <word doesn't fit> compared to the easy plain from which they had come. Wells and shallows dotted the path, concealed by tall grasses and the leaves of autumns long dead, eagerly waiting to suck a horses' leg<s> into their maws. Clumps of stones, the bones of some ancient road, jutted out to the surface, transforming the road into some devil serpent, slithering ahead of <the> travelers. Sir Henry felt a chill shake his limbs, though the midsummer heat still surrounded them. The road, which seemed to actually undulate under the sheet of summer haze, the ancient <stones?> road pieces shifting with the movement of the serpent, was a sign of what lay ahead. Now, under the canopy of the forest, even nature would no longer allow them to rest easy in her folds.

Sir Robert's cry brought Sir Henry out of his reverie. "Hark! The stream--it be ahead of us."

A bridge, so old that moss and age had made the once white gleam of the stone into black, arched across the stream which quietly gurgled in its bed. <stream used x3> As softly as possible, the two armored figures descended from their horses<mix in some different words for horses> the, bridles in hand, made their way to the water's edge. The horses nickered nervously, ears pulled back, forcing the knights to exert their strength in pulling them to the stream. At last, the tug of war was won, and the two horses stood by the edge of the water, gingerly lapping the water as it lolled by. Sir Henry and Sir Robert followed suit, each drinking from his own small wooden cup which <they> had nested <nestled?> in their respective saddle bags, ignoring the putrid taste emanating from the water. <IMO add earlier in sentence. Kinda hangin' here>

"Tis an ill day, indeed," Sir Robert finally said, "when even foul water, such as this, seems sweet when compared to the heat of the day."

"Aye," Sir Henry replied. "It makes me wish most fervently for the wells of Nottingham which..."

The horses neighed in terror as the wolves, a full pack, deadly and silent, rushed into view. Sir Robert gave a shout, dropped his cup, and unsheathed his sword towards the approaching beasts. The wolves swarmed over the bridge and the banks of the stream, almost seemingly oblivious to the two armored men, both of whom now held swords in one hand while the other strained to hold the bridles of their horses who know screamed as the wolves bounded to the exterior of the forest.

The wolves' eyes shone red and yellow in the twilight mist <hovering A vs P> that hovered in the forest. Their tongues lolled as the breath came from their lungs, hot and rotten. The ones on the opposite side of the bridge and the bridge itself paid the horses and riders no mind. The others tried to keep up with the rest of the pack but were maddened by the horses. They screamed and reared, trying desperately to trample the wolves that warmed by them. Sir Robert and Sir Henry both fell, caught unbalanced by the horses maneuver. The bridles fell from their hands and the horses, now free, began a mad dance around the wolves, trying to pin them down. The wolves, in response, directed their frantic eyes to these new enemies and began a counterattack. As they struggled to rise in their armor, both knights could tell instantly that some madness possessed them. They did not patiently circle their prey, inching them to an inevitable trap. Rather, they rushed with no rhyme of a pack but as individual wolves. Some snapped at the horses' legs wildly, catching emptiness. Other tried to leap unto the horses' backs, increasing the fear of the horses even more. All the while, more wolves rushed passed them, oblivious to the melee.

Sir Henry and Sir Robert retrieved their swords, from where they had fallen, and rushed into the mad sea of fur and fang. The gleam and smell and breath of steel sent the animals into a greater frenzy and both wolf and horse now turned against man as well as themselves.

From deeper in the forest, came a bellow, reptilian and hateful.

The storm stopped as the roar wrapped around wolves, horses and men. Wolves and horses disappeared towards the plan. Sir Henry looked at his friend. Sir Robert's face was pale, much of the confidence gone. But his eyes were firm. He nodded.

Another roar tore its way through the trees. The two men ran towards it.

The forest almost immediately changed. Where the woodland had been thick and green before, now the trees were black and twisted. The grass was withered and the stones of the ancient road were blackened ash. The further in the knights ran, the sparser became the trees until there were no more trees at all. The two companions found themselves standing in a rough circle of blackened, cracked earth. The air scorched their faces as if they were standing in the middle of a fire. No birds flew in the air above them. No green thing raised its head. And there, in the middle of the circle, wrapped around a huge stone, what might have been the pedestal of some ancient, stone giant, was the dragon.

Sir Robert looked at the beast, his eyes glazing with fascination and revulsion. The beast resembled a huge snake in that its body was long and windy, its muscles rippling as its coils loosed from the rock, its dull red and yellow scales screeching against the stone. Four clawed feet and the rows of bone that sparkled on its back disrupted its snakeish appearance. A frill decorated the back of its head while a row of horns, starting at its snout, ascended up its head. The dragon's eyes were twin emeralds that almost glowed with their own power. Cat-like pupils split each eye down the middle. These pupils narrowed as they focused on the knights. Its mouth opened, teeth gleamed, saliva steamed and sizzled as it left its mouth and the dragon bellowed again at the strangers who had dared defy his rule.

The blast of the roar and the terrible heat of the dragon's breath forced Sir Robert to his knees. His swordless arm came up of its own accord to shield himself from the terrible heat. He could feel blisters start to form on his face. Some dim corner of his brain told him that the dragon had not even spewed out flames yet. He turned and saw Sir Henry, some twenty feet away, also on the ground, both arms across his face. Sir Robert's heart screamed in terror. This was not what they had planned; this was not what he had expected. The beast was too large, too terrible; against its scales, teeth, claws, and fire, his sword may well have been a rose thorn. They had to escape, make for the trees; they would provide some shelter. Then, they could return with an army.

The dragon rattled in its throat. Its eyes shone the brighter with greed. It landed on the ground, cracking the earth with its weight.

They had to escape now.

Sir Robert stood up and pivoted, ready to rush into the trees. It would only take a minute to seize his friend...

His eyes met Sir Henry's. The dark-haired man's face was the eye of a storm. His friend simply looked at him. Sir Henry gave a small smile, lacking optimism but full of peace. Sir Robert nodded in understanding and acceptance. He turned again, facing the dragon. It was closer now, only a hundred yards away. It roared again, shaking the woods.

The blast of Sir Henry's horn, pure and defiant, met the dragon's bellow, the notes fighting the savage sound in the air above. The dragon reared its head, nostrils flared. Above the din of horn and roar, Sir Robert heard Sir Henry's voice, crisp and rich, "For God and the king!"

"For God and the king!" Sir Robert answered. From the corner of his eye, he saw Sir Henry, sword raised, charging toward the beast. Sir Robert matched the strides of his friend, step for step.

The dragon blinked, shocked at the attack. Recovering, it roared another challenge. Its entire body glowed a bright, sickly light before blue and yellow fire erupted from its maw. Sir Henry leaped away from the onrushing death. He felt the edge of it lick his heels for an instant, melting the soles of his armor. Ignoring the pain, he rushed toward the dragon again. The beast was distracted, its attention upon Sir Robert who, somehow, had managed to reach its flank. Sir Henry heard a war cry and then a clang. The dragon roared again, and thrashed its body, coiling for a counter-attack. Sir Henry took the opportunity to drive his sword between two of the beast's scales. The dragon shrieked and wiped around. Its spiked tail whipped forward. Sir Henry saw it for a moment, lithe and lethal as any snake. He dropped down but the spikes of the tail still caught him, swatting him away like a rag doll.

Sir Robert yelled in anger and fear, raised his sword and brought it down again upon the dragon's hide. The dragon's neck looped back and down, jaws clanging. Sir Robert managed to dodge the fangs but the head turned around, the frill extended, the beast began to glow...

"Robby!"

Sir Robert blinked as sword, armor, forest and dragon shimmered and dissipated into the growing twilight. The last few people were making their way to the parking lot and Robby could see Mr. Woodley locking up the park's main building. On the ground, Harry sat up, his dark hair a wild mop on his head.

"Dang it," he said. "We almost had it that time."

Robby looked at the mass of moss and vines that stretched over the patch of rocks where the dragon had been. "I guess we'll have to try again tomorrow."

"Yeah," Harry answered, "We'll have to do better especially with the wolves. Galahad wouldn't have let his horse go."

"Right," Robby agreed. He closed the book's cover on the dragon that glared out from its pages. "See you tomorrow," he said as the two boys raced towards their parents. Behind them, in the fading light, the dragon blinked and smiled.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
6
6
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
A fascinating story with a lot of action. It has the feel of being part of something larger, which I suspect is true. Descriptions are done quite well, and the action flows nicely. I've put in a few comments and personal opinions so take them all with a grain of salt. I'm definately not an expert and make comments from a sense of 'feel' more than anything else. I hope something you find here is of use.

My style is to highlight in blue anything which I've changed, typically ex-ing out the words I didn't like and adding in the new. Or sometimes just taking out words altogether. Some spots will have a comment in <> and blue with the words they apply to highlighted as well. It's not a great system, but it seems to work.


The guerillas said the floating blue orbs came down from gunships hovering just out of sight in the low clouds. The Quarter rats didn’t believe a word of that. They whispered that those orbs were the spirits of Voodoo kings and queens gone by, returned to put the dying city out of its long misery.

It was cold the night the orbs came down, cold enough to freeze the dirty puddles in Jackson Square solid<i'd either get rid of 'dirty' or 'solid' to improve flow. My pref. would be delete solid>. The wind howled over the Elysian Fields seawall and brought in frigid air from the ice fields over the sunken 9th Ward. The streets were silent save for a soft crackle of electricity from the orbs; they were empty save for the lone, bundled-up figure of a man ambling up Chartres Street in the French Quarter. No face was visible. A dirty white slouch hat was pulled low over his goggled eyes. <and a fog> Below that, fogs of exhaled breath emanated from a thick black scarf covering his mouth.

Redshank Lirette knew the meaning of the orbs. He had seen the routers of the Wireheads many times. It would not be long before the transport descended. Jackson Square looked to be a likely landing zone, so Redshank skipped gingerly around the black ice on the cobblestones and entered the black-gated plaza to work his deadly magic.

A toppled statue greeted him, split<use a different word. shattered?> into many parts. There were bits of metal horse here and there, and off to the side<comma> he saw the rider’s upper torso. He was tipping his hat, and wore an expression which may have been resolve, but now looked like the constipated <different word or delete> countenance of a man who was long in dying. This is a good spot, Redshank thought.

When the charges were set, Redshank Lirette walked backwards toward St. Ann Street, letting the firing line leading to the explosives unspool from his detonator, which was an old-fashioned miner’s blasting machine. He ducked into the ruins of a restaurant and climbed to the second story, taping down the line as he went. <then>And he waited.

An hour passed, then two,<period> and in that time Redshank only moved to once in a while <once to> bring a flask of whiskey to his chapped lips. His eyes were continually fixed on the overcast night sky.<comma> Moonlight was still trickling through the clouds. When the light was obscured, he would know that the transport was coming.

Sleep beckoned but he fought it off. Where were they? What was the delay? With less than an hour left before daybreak, Redshank began to think that something had gone wrong. Perhaps he had been discovered. But in that case, why didn’t they simply destroy him with an airstrike?

He was about to head down and defuse the bomb when the moonlight finally <winked> went out. Redshank’s whole body tensed. He curled his hand over the <blasting machine's plunger> plunger of the blasting machine. Reaching low with his other hand, he popped the push button lock of his holster, freeing the old Glock 72 hanging at his waist.

A windowless, matte black monolith of a craft ruptured the clouds. No sound heralded its approach, as its engines ran totally silent. It fell with deliberate steadiness and lighted down on Decatur Street with a resounding crash, crushing one side of the wrought iron fence that encircled the Square.

Redshank Lirette swore. They had landed too far away to be destroyed by his explosives hidden in the wreckage of the toppled statue. At best, he would singe the hull of their ship.

The exit hatch of the transport fell open with a whoosh of pressurized air, and the orbs that floated along Chartres Street became brighter and crackled more loudly. Redshank had a quick decision to make. If he abandoned the mission and fled on foot, he risked leading the enemy back to the other rebels. He had no doubt that the Wireheads would quickly find his explosives. He had been careful not to leave any of his DNA on the firing line or the blasting machine, but even so, the Wireheads had methods of tracking that put a seasoned guerilla like Redshank to shame. And if he followed through with the plan, he might take out some Wireheads – but a whole transport full of others would be waiting just beyond the fireball’s reach. It meant almost certain death.

He turned the options over in his mind as the first of the Wireheads emerged from the hatch and tromped down an unfolding gangplank. They were soldiers, armored and helmeted all in blue – the vanguard, securing the area.

Rifles up, tactical flashlights on, the soldiers swept across the Square. Redshank’s heart pounded in his chest. He watched one of them stop at the statue. The blue helmet dipped in consideration. A blue boot kicked at some rubble, sending it scattering. The Wirehead stared right at Redshank’s firing line – then looked past it, and shone his flashlight at the charred husk of St. Louis Cathedral next door.

Redshank’s head swam alarmingly, and he realized he had not breathed in more than thirty seconds. He took a gulp of air. The Wirehead had missed it! Their implants perfected the senses; they could magnify their vision at will; but underneath the programming, they were still human, and all too capable of error. Not for the first time, Redshank wondered if a powerful loa or two had taken a keen interest in him.

His resolve hardened. His grip on the plunger tightened. In the end, he knew, he had no choice but to light the bastards up. The Wireheads could not be allowed to find the others. His own life meant nothing – the Cause meant everything.

More helmeted soldiers, two or three dozen, poured from the transport. Most wore blue armor, others in yellow and green, denoting officers of higher rank. They set up a perimeter around the transport and stood at rapt attention.

They were followed by a group of civilians richly adorned in colorful robes, the heads of both sexes shaved clean as was the Wirehead custom. The civvies turned on their heels and knelt in supplication as a final figure disembarked – it was a shriveled old man, and the sight of him filled Redshank with sublime terror.

Supreme Admiral Crois was rumored to be over two hundred years old. Even from a distance, Redshank could see that most of his anatomy had been replaced by cybernetics. Both legs and one arm were fully mechanical, and a flat respiratory mask was installed over what had once been his nose. A series of tubes extended from key organs and arteries toward a sleek medical capsule floating behind him <, one> that removed waste and injected vital liquids.

Hope surged in Redshank, banishing his fear. The Commander of the Western Fleet was here, mere feet from a payload of rebel explosives.

Crois moved forward with surprising agility, heading for the cathedral<period>, and the assembled troops fell in step around him.

The column of troops turned to move around the wrecked statue. Redshank put the slightest pressure on the plunger, anticipating the moment. Five more seconds, and Crois would be close enough to vaporize utterly. He began to count down.

Five. Four. It was easily twenty below, but Redshank felt hot, almost feverish, <need another way to say this. Good point sounds rough like this> and sweat poured off him.

Three. Two. The Supreme Admiral was passing the bomb now. One more step, and he would be directly over it.

One.

“Fuck all y’all!” Redshank Lirette cried, and depressed the plunger. Nothing happened.

Misfire!

Panic, red and blinding, took hold as every Wirehead in the Square looked up at Redshank’s hiding place in unison, their ocular arrays whirring to regard him.

A moment later, the mechanized voices of the officers filled the predawn air, barking orders, and Supreme Admiral Crois was whisked away by his guards.

Redshank pushed the plunger down again and again. “Come on come on come on!”

Rifle fire strafed the restaurant, shattering the windows around him. A bullet bit the shoulder of Redshank, propelling him back, away from the blasting machine.

He screamed, a deep animal sound, and pulled himself over broken glass back toward the detonator, lead whizzing inches above him. He could hear the soldiers’ boot heels pounding the staircase. He could not be taken alive, of course. That was inconceivable. “One more time,” he said. One more try before I kill myself. Maybe the loas were with him still, and Crois had not made it back to the ship quite yet.

With a heave, he grabbed the plunger and pumped it up and down with one fluid motion. The inner workings of the blasting machine, frozen nearly solid in the hours of waiting, had finally been warmed by the friction of the pumping.

The explosion was awesome and immediate. Mechanized screams died in burning throats. Flames licked Redshank’s face, and the building shook. Ancient plates fell off ancient walls and shattered. The wrought iron galleries were blazing, and looked like an artful network of red<-> hot pokers.

The first few blue Wirehead soldiers appeared in the stairwell of the second story. The right hand of Redshank Lirette moved in a blur. The Glock cleared leather, and fired thrice from the bloody, glass-strewn floor. The sounds of each shot could not be discerned – it seemed more like a continuous roar of sound to all within earshot. The range was too close for the Wireheads’ armor to protect them. Three of the soldiers stumbled back, the faceplates of their helmets ruined; and as they fell lifeless, blood sprayed in geysers from the smoking holes in their digitally enhanced brains.

Even before the <blues?> blue soldiers had clattered to the floor, an officer in yellow was behind them, firing a <machine pistol> submachine pistol from the hip. Redshank shot him in the belly. The officer grunted and pitched forward, <period> so Redshank shot him again through the top of his helmet.

He heard a loud, fiery hiss behind him, and in turning spotted a score of green soldiers with jetpacks landing on the still-flaming gallery. He fired wildly – if he killed any, he never knew. Two bullets tore through his chest, and his own arterial blood spat up to soak his coat and spatter on his face.

The pain nearly paralyzed him, but he needed to act fast. They could revive him, turn him into a Wirehead, but only if his brain was intact. He was surrounded, and it was the end.

The soldiers in front were past the stairwell and running toward him now, firing mercilessly. Redshank Lirette was shot seven more times in the second it took for him to put the pistol into his mouth.

I love you all, he thought, and squeezed the trigger.

There was a flash then everything stopped.


***


Supreme Admiral Crois regained consciousness in slow, sluggish steps. His neural interface revealed his surroundings sense by sense, first presenting him with a pixelated view of a room he recognized as the executive medical bay of his flagship, the Intelligence. Touch and taste came next, in rapid succession. He felt heavy, cumbersome, pained by cramps. His throat was dry and his tongue felt like sandpaper. Then smell returned, a cloying metallic aroma and a body odor he did not recognize <stung> stinging his nostrils.

My … nostrils? he thought.

The first thing he heard was a voice. “Welcome back, my lord Admiral.”

Dr. Scilda Teeme, the chief medical officer of the Intelligence <this title is a bit long. I'd drop either the med or intel part of it>, was sitting at his bedside. She smiled when their eyes met.

“What has happened?” Crois asked in a voice that was not his own. Had they drugged him? His voice was deep, slow, vaguely accented.

“Try not to speak, my lord,” Dr. Teeme said, the lenses of her ocular arrays adjusting in size. “Allow me to explain. There was an explosion. Your medical capsule was destroyed, and unfortunately<comma> you did not survive. We were, however, able to recover your implant and install it into a new host.”

The Supreme Admiral looked down at his new body. It was taller, stronger and far younger than his old one. “You have done well, Dr. Teeme,” he said.

Teeme beamed. “Thank you, my lord.”

Crois lifted his medical gown and admired his nakedness. His penis was thick and uncircumcised, a welcome change from the half-mechanized, permanently flaccid acorn he had contended with since the mid-21st century. He had an urge to take Dr. Teeme right then and there, but decided against it. A Supreme Admiral could do better.

His tanned hands drifted to several small, newly laser-stitched wounds dotting his chest, stomach, and thighs. “Whose body is this, doctor?”

“I regret to say,” Dr. Teeme said, “that we were forced to work quickly and only with resources that were readily available downside. An implant as old as yours cannot function long without a host, I’m afraid.”

“Answer the question,” Crois said.

“It is the terrorist from New Orleans, my lord. The one who detonated the bomb,” she said, a bead of sweat trickling down her bald head.

“I trust you ensured the terrorist was racially pure before transferring the implant?” Crois asked.

Dr. Teeme hesitated before speaking. “In our genetic analysis, we detected African DNA in the amount of eleven point nine seven perce–“

With a thought, Crois deactivated Teeme’s implant. Her eyes darkened. She slumped, swayed, and then crumpled, thudding to the medical bay floor.

As he watched her die, Crois considered his emotions. He felt no sentiment toward his old body, though it was far purer than the mongrel one he now inhabited. Despite this, he could not help experiencing a profound sense of loss. His implant had preserved his memories and saved his consciousness – or had it? Perhaps it merely copied him. Was he artificial? A proxy Supreme Admiral Crois?

He stood. Grabbing at the wall to steady himself,<and> he made his way to the nearest window. The Intelligence was in orbit over the decaying Earth. Mentally accessing the implants of the ship’s pilots, he saw that they were bound for Huangdi Luna, the imperious palace in the Sea of Tranquility. The Leader himself had requested Crois’s presence. The Leader would not take kindly to the impure host, but the Supreme Admiral did not dare deceive him. His own life meant nothing – the will of the Leader meant everything.



*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
7
7
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Ha, a fine tale, a unique voice, and a fun introduction. But first, a disclaimer. These are the opinions of a rank amateur writer but an avid reader. Therefore, take all comments with a grain of salt. Hopefully, something I put down will be of use.

Now, that being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the voice of this piece; it was something a little different. It's hard to get too many comments in here as the beginning was short. Of those comments, most had to do with the breaking of dialog. IMO there were sections where different thoughts or people were joined with the prior action, and so justified a break.

The other issue I had was with the first couple paragraphs. Not with the paragraphs themselves, but with catching up to the voice of the piece. It took me a while before I realized the narrator's position in this story. I'm not sure how, but IMO some sort of introduction should take place so we know it's the narrator speaking to us. You may laugh, but my first thought, as I began to realize the narrator was speaking, was the beginning of the movie Aladdin. I watched it on youtube just now. Maybe take a look to get an idea of how to 'inform' the reader of the narrator style.

Other then that, I've got no real comments. A couple words I thought needed changin' but all in all a great start.

BTW, the Novel Workshop Group also does Novella's. You should check us out. It's a great way to share reviews with other novelists.

Yea, there is the Venetian in the market square. He is called Regelli, a doctor by trade, as honest as the devil but half as charming. Mark his gaudy Florentine apparel – common folk are drawn to a man dressed thusly.

Look you, here comes his patient now. That is Tarrare, the hero of this tale. That man, there, sitting before the table Regelli has set out. See him? Though he be of middle stature, with a timid look and light ‘havior, there are nonetheless striking deformities about his person.

His teeth are gigantic, visible even when his mouth is closed. His cheeks hang bunched and wrinkled above his thick neck. What little hair he has is soft and very fine; he perspires constantly; see you a foul vapor rising from his body? He wears a baggy shirt, for it secrets the grotesque flap of skin that doth hang from his lugubrious gut.

Now, Tarrare is hungry. Regelli is about to feed him.

The Venetian speaks! The common folk listen! Let us hear his speech. “Gather round, friends, gather round, and witness the curative miracle that is Regellium – patent pending – a tonic of health and appetite known to purge the body of such ailments as plague, incontinence, consumption, maladies of Venus, the English disease, the French disease, and a host of other afflictions and frailties. Mark me! This man suffers from an affliction of the stomach. He tells me he cannot eat without purging, and has lived only on grass and bark for seven years. Brought on by evil southern vapors, no doubt, carried to Christendom aboard ship by the duplicitous Turk<s>.”

<Paragraph break> Jeers from the common folk.

<Paragraph Break> “Indeed!" <Regelli continued, "> The depredations of the Muhammedians know no bounds in these dark times. Fortunately, Dr. Regelli has a cure.”

He produces a bottle of pewter and gives it unto Tarrare, saying, “Now drink thou thy Regellium.” To his audience<comma> he says, “Thou shalt not believe what happens next.”

Tarrare drinks the potion. He sways, seeming<ly> drunk – but it is an act. This Regellium is no cure-all, but a harmless concoction of rotgut and mercury.

“Dudley!” Regelli calls. “Fetch Tarrare’s supper.”

Dudley, that pretty boy there, must be Regelli’s apprentice. He now lays out an enormous feast for Tarrare. Meat, fruit, cakes – it is enough food for three grown men.

To sup: Tarrare’s greatest joy and his greatest vice. It shall kill him in the end, and he knows it.

Nevertheless he eats. The appetite of Tarrare is beyond reproach. Ravening wild beasts cannot match it.

First, he eats a chicken whole, bones and all. Look how he drops those apples down his cavernous gullet, three at a time, and the cakes, lost to that gnashing maw, by Jesu! In moments, the feast is gone, to wit.

Regelli now nods to Dudley, and the apprentice places another feast upon the table, just as huge as the first.

And Tarrare dines with just as much fervor. The audience is disgusted and intrigued in equal measure. <they> Hear the wet smacking of his lips! See how his belly expands visibly as the flap of skin fills with food! Smell his flatulence as it wafts through the square!

“Ecce comedens. It may appear seeming foul, but this binge is perfectly healthy, I assure you. The tonic has unlocked his long-dormant appetite. It contains hemlock to stimulate the godly glands of the body, and pansy to numb the devil’s organs. It also contains the dew of the tobacco plant, which clears evil spirits from the pores of the lung, and washes the blemish of sin clean away from the very soul. Such herbs are found only in the jungles of New Spain, where trees are high as cathedral spires, and strange and wonderful creatures, seen not since the days of Methuselah, await rediscovery.”

<Break> To Tarrare he says, “Are you sated, sirrah?”

Tarrare quethe: “No. I will eat whatever is placed upon this table.”

The peasants jostle forward and the table is covered in raw meat, in flints, in whole fish, in cork, candles, corkscrews and all manner of household objects.

Tarrare eats them all.

An old man in a black jerkin has joined the audience. See him, with the short beard and the curly grey hair. This man I know well, and have visited him many a day, yet he knows me not – for he is an actor and a mummer, and is called the Player King.

He strides forward now, and upon the table slaps a bundle of paper. Tarrare brings it to his mouth.

The Player King: “No, no, my pet. ‘Tis not for eating, but for hearing! Writ in these pages are the lines of a light entertainment, which, in but four hours time, Lord Barrington’s Men shall perform for the pleasure of the town. We are the Player King of the same. What is your name?”

Tarrare: “They call me Tarrare.”

Player King: “Tarrare. Hmm. Have you ever considered a career upon the stage? What we have seen here today is nothing less than raw talent.”

Says Regelli, thinking he is the vocative, “I thank you, man.”

Snaps the Player King, “Not you, you bare pated, thrice-painted fool! I had as lief a woman play my parts as you, you thin-throated, bowel-voided pestilence!”

Regelli, gobsmacked. “I merely thought –“

“Thought what?” The Player King says. “Thought you an actor I would make? Lord Barrington’s Men are actors of quality, damn you! You are a charlatan, a vagabond, a rogue, yea, a rascal and a villain!”

Regelli, stunned into silence – he is justly served.

The Player King, in an instant return to pleasantries: “Tarrare, read you this script. It is called The Most Lamentable Tragedy of the Massacre of the Innocents. You are perfect for the small but vital role as the King of England himself.”

Unsure, Tarrare looks to the Venetian. Smelling blood, the Player King adds: “How much does the doctor pay you per performance?”

“He feeds me,” Tarrare says. See his crooked smile. He is beginning to like this new character, which is well, for we shall see much more of him.

“I shall feed you twice as much, and ten florins a week,” says the Player King.

“Twenty,” says Tarrare.

“Ten. Your accommodations are also provided,” says the Player King.

“Done,” says Tarrare. “I will accept on one condition.”

“And what is that?”

“A cat.”

“A cat?”

“A living cat,” says Tarrare. “A big one.”

The Player King takes his hand. “It shall be done.”

Regelli finds his tongue. “What ho! That’s my freak!”

Tarrare spins around and shoves him bodily to the stones. See the Player King’s furtive smile. Young Dudley runs to help his bruised master.

To all gathered, thus speaks the Player King. You would do <well> to listen well, for his words have great import to our tale. “Farewell, friends! And remember: you shall see Tarrare again in Lord Barrington’s Men’s Massacre of the Innocents, tonight at seven o’clock in the market


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
8
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Review of The Treasure Map  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (5.0)
A cautionary tale about the pitfalls of greed and a peek at the life of the leprechaun. The prose ran smoothly and internal thoughts were great. If there were weakness to the story, I'd say there were two.
Although the lead in was adequate, I'd say it was a little ho-hum. Which being the lead-in, needed a little more pop. The second weakness was the falling section. It was a little confusing. A few more words or another sentence I think would help.
Of course, you're running into the word count ceiling so, as far as the contest goes, I'd change nothing. Maybe a couple suggestions marked in blue but the story sounds good.
When the contest is over I think a couple more sentences in the fall would clear up the story. Also, IMO there's some room to paint the leprechaun's home with a little added terror in terms of description. Not much, maybe a sentence or a word here and there. But again….more words words words.

Good job and good luck.

Samantha Swales pushed through the tourist throng that blocked the sidewalk. She loved her job in D.C., but these summer crowds drove her crazy. Brushing a blonde lock from her face, she glanced around. The midday sun threatened to blister her freckled arms, but a nearby bookshop offered respite. She darted inside. This was no Barnes and Noble; leather-bound volumes filled the shelves. Antiquarian books fascinated her, which was why she'd majored in English Literature at UDC. A display cabinet caught her eye, and she chuckled when she discovered a “treasure map”.

She recognized the Shenandoah River flowing across the yellowed parchment, but an unfamiliar script rendered the annotations incomprehensible. A rainbow stood out from gray mountains near the top.

A bald man hobbled over. “May I assist you, miss?”

“It's beautiful.”

“Indeed. Drawn in 1450 by Patrick O'Hara… that's what it states here in Gaelic.”

“1450?” She checked the price tag. “Surely it's worth more than a hundred bucks?”

“Well, it's a fake.”

“Oh.”

“Wonderful craftsmanship, though. The parchment feels real, the details hand painted.”

She examined the fine brushstrokes forming trees to suggest forests. This would look wonderful on her living room wall. “How do you know it's fake?”

“The date.”

“Of course.” Her cheeks warmed. How could this possibly be pre-Columbian?

“The accuracy of geographical features suggests it was copied from a Victorian survey map. This sentence here claims there's treasure behind the rainbow.”

“You understand Gaelic?”

“No, but I know a lady who does.”

She bit her lip. “However old it is, it sure is pretty.” Tasteful prints adorned every wall of her apartment, but she'd never paid more than twenty dollars. Perhaps it was time she invested in some fine art. “I'll take it.”

The shopkeeper shrugged apologetically and gestured to a label. “Sorry, it's reserved.”

On a whimsy, she said, “I'll pay one twenty.”

The shopkeeper glanced at the door, then at the wall clock. “Well, it was an internet sale, and he promised to come before noon…”

She fluttered her eyelashes. “Pleeease.”

“All right. One twenty for cash.” He slid the map into a protective tube and passed it over.

She smiled; men were such pushovers. As she turned to leave, a really short man entered wearing the green uniform of the National Park Service. “Sorry I'm late.”

“Sir?” said the shopkeeper.

“I'm Thomas O'Hara.”

“Ah.” the shopkeeper glanced at Samantha. “This is awkward.”

“How so?” The newcomer ran a hand through his ginger mop.

“I've sold this lady the map.”

“But I drove all the way from Shenandoah.” The diminutive man approached Samantha. He smelled… woodsy. “You bought it?”

“Why does it mean so much to you?”

“It's a family heirloom.”

“How did it wind up in a bookshop?”

“After my Uncle Mick died, it went missing. Yesterday, I spotted it on Ebay.”

Samantha sighed and made to hand it over. “I suppose it's only fair you should have it.”

“Thank you. It's been in my family for four centuries.”

She snatched back the tube. “Four hundred years?”

“Yes.”

She placed her hands on her hips. How could she have believed his lies? “You must have kissed the Blarney Stone.”

“Pardon?”

She prodded his chest. “This map isn't that old, buddy.”

“Please—”

“Please, nothing. I've watched White Collar. I know a con trick when I see one.”

The man clenched his fists. “You don't want to mess with me.”

Samantha had listened to this jerk long enough. “Back off, Ranger Smith. I don't know how they run things at Jellystone, but around here your knot-tying badge don't mean diddly squat.”

“My name is O'Hara, lady, and I don't take kindly to your attitude.”

“My attitude?” She turned to the shopkeeper. “Telephone the police.”

“Don't bother,” said the man. “I'm outta here.”


***

Samantha took a step back from her living room wall, then stumbled. How much had she had to drink this evening?

“It's a little high on the right,” said Alice.

Ever since her best friend got promoted to junior partner, she'd acted like she could do everything better than Samantha, even if it was just hanging a map.

“Oh, let me.” Alice bustled over, her brunette ponytail bouncing as she walked. After she nudged the frame, the map did look straighter, but Samantha didn't give her the satisfaction of admitting that. Instead she lifted the glass of Bollinger to her lips and savored its sweet flavor. She only got to drink Champagne when her more affluent friend brought a bottle over.

Alice pointed to the rainbow. “Are you going to check it out?”

Samantha collapsed onto the sofa. “The map's fake.”

Her friend sat beside her. “I've never been to Shenandoah, and it would be a great day out.”

“It's a two hour drive.”

“It'd be fun.”

“You're not seriously suggesting a treasure hunt?”

Alice's eyes sparkled. “Where's your sense of adventure?”

Samantha downed her glass. Was that her third or her fourth?

“We should go,” insisted Alice.

Samantha poured herself another, the cool wine dribbling over her fingers as she missed the glass. “There'sh no treasure.”

“Let's go tomorrow.”

“Got Chursh.”

“We can skip.” Alice punched her shoulder. “We'll take confession midweek.”

Samantha examined the red stains on her jeans. Did she drink that last glass or spill it? She'd better have another in case. She giggled. Treasure hunts were <'were' sounds like she's done it before. Maybe 'could be' or 'sounded'?> fun. “Okay.”

“Really.”

“Yesh.”

“Yay! Road trip.”

***

“We're here,” said Alice from the driving <driver's> seat of her BMW sedan.

Samantha's head pounded like the Washington Monument had collapsed onto it, stone by stone. “Who cares?”

Alice smirked like some IRS guy at an audit. “It's a glorious day.”

“Ugh.” She glanced at the gigantic firs. “How on earth did you convince me to do this?”

“You were all up for it last night. Remember how you pinpointed that pond on Google Earth?”

“When was that?”

Alice pulled on the hand brake. “Just before you pulled your panties over your head and declared undying love for Donald Trump.”

“I didn't!”

Alice squeezed her shoulder. “Don't worry. I was joking about Donald Trump.”

“Thank God!” She clambered out of the car, and her pumps squelched into mud. “Great.”

“Told you to wear boots.”

“Didn't think you were serious.” She glanced into the forest. The green canopy cast a gloomy shadow across the ferns and bushes. Alice probably knew the names of each plant. Samantha sighed and reached back into the car for the map.

“Be easier if you took it out that frame?”

“And get it dirty?”

“You should've made a copy.”

Samantha shrugged. If the map was accurate, their destination was only a short distance away. Seeing a trail head, she walked that direction. “Hey, Alice. Do you think there'll be bears?”

“This close to the road? I doubt it.”

She stepped onto the gravel path. “You know this is pointless, right? A thousand people a year must pass that pond. If there was treasure, someone would have found it.”

Alice patted her backpack. “I brought food. A pond in the Blue Ridge Mountains sounds an idyllic spot for a picnic.”

Samantha's stomach churned, and bile rose in her throat. “Oh, great!” The last thing she wanted was to eat.

The path was easy to follow, and the fresh breeze actually invigorated her. Quicker than she'd expected, they walked out from the trees into a clearing. Bright sunbeams illuminated a small waterfall filling a green pool.

“Look!” said Alice. “A rainbow.”

Sure enough, a rainbow arched across the waterfall's spray. “Oh my God.”

“Let's go look.”

Up until this moment, Samantha had assumed the mapmaker never visited this place. Discovering that the rainbow was real squeezed her thoughts into sharper focus. She followed Alice with renewed determination, not minding when the firm path transformed into a boggy trail.

“I think there's a cave behind the fall,” said Alice.

“Don't bears hibernate in caves?”

“In midsummer?”

“Oh, right.” Her cheeks blazed.

The track led behind the sparkling curtain of water. She considered leaving the map behind, but it was inside its frame.

Alice disappeared behind the curtain. “Wow, look at this.”

Samantha joined her and gasped at the huge cavern the waterfall so effectively concealed.

Alice peered into the depths. “We must come back with proper equipment and professional help.”

“What do you mean come back? We've just arrived.”

“It's pitch black in there. If there's a hole in those shadows, we'll fall in.”

“We could walk a little way—”

“I'm not going one step further without a flashlight.” Alice turned to leave.

“We're going now?”

“Unless you want to eat our picnic inside that damp, gloomy cave.” She smiled. “And we should think about who we'll call. There must be a local spelunking club. Bet they'll know all about this cave.”

Samantha followed her friend back out into the sunlight and was struck by a sudden thought. Alice had dragged her out here. Against her expectations, they'd found a rainbow. Could there be treasure? Was Alice getting rid of Samantha so she could claim it for herself?

As they skirted around the pond, this idea nagged at her. Once they reached the trees, she halted. “Wait a second.” She made a show of crossing her legs. “I need to pee.”

“There's a ranger station two miles down the road. They'll have a restroom.”

“I can't wait.”

“Okay.” Alice's eyes flicked toward the map. “Want me to take that for you?”

Samantha gripped the map tighter. “No, I'm good, thanks.”

“All right. Meet me at the car.”

Once Alice had walked out of sight, Samantha jogged back to the cave. She'd just take a quick look.

When she stood in the cave mouth alone, the dark interior appeared more foreboding, but a fanciful image of gold doubloons and sparkly jewels urged her on. Samantha stepped gingerly across the uneven surface. Deeper in, her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom. Alice was overcautious. This wasn't dangerous at all.

The ground disappeared. She tumbled into a dark void. Her stomach lurched. Cool air rushed past. Screaming, Samantha crashed feet first onto a hard surface. Pain shot up her left thigh, and her legs crumpled. She collapsed onto a rough, stone floor.

Dazed, she glanced around, shocked there was light enough to see. Even weirder, she'd fallen into what looked like a room inside an old house. No windows broke the monotony of the rough stone walls; the light came from a fireplace with a river-stone mantle. A black cauldron hung from a hook over the eerie green flames. A garlic smell suggested it may contain soup.

Someone stirred in an armchair facing the fire. A silhouette stood then transformed into a short man in a green uniform. She recognized him.

“Mr. O'Hara?”

“Nice of you to drop in.”

“Please, I'm hurt. Help me.”

“Help you?” He laughed. “I'd wondered how long it would take you.”

Rainbows, treasure, little men—assorted facts and childhood fairy tales came together with a click. “You're a l-l-l—”

“Please don't use the 'l' word! It's offensive. We're not 'wee folks', either. I'm a forest guardian.”

He strolled over and plucked up the map in its shattered frame. “Thank you for returning my prop. They take so long to draw each time.”

“I d-don't understand.”

He grinned, revealing teeth like a saw blade. “I'd like to invite you to brunch.”

As understanding dawned, dampness spread out from her crotch and warmed her inner thighs.

“You see”—he licked his lips—“there's a reason we guardians spread rumors about treasure at the end of rainbows.”


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
9
9
Review of Pop Dolls  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: E | (5.0)
Speaking of great flash fiction. Wow. You should send this off if you haven't already. There are several publishers looking for <= 500 word flash fiction. I believe this is a candidate.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
10
10
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (3.0)
A fun story little story, Buffy the slayer meets Dusk til Dawn. You've got some good dialog going and an interesting story line. Personally, I like paragraph breaks. For me, it makes the read easier, but I understand it can be a matter of personal taste.

I've included a few opinions interlaced in the story. These are marked in blue. Remember, these are opinions of a rank amateur. Use what seems useful and discard the rest.

Good job and keep on writing.

Jean woke up groggily on a Saturday afternoon after a busy night slaying vampires. She was dead tired and was receiving instructions from the voice of God in her head. Apparently, Dracula himself (going by the pseudonym Alucard) <ha>, had shown up and was amassing an army of vampires to control the underworld of vampires and demons. Without anyone to combat this fiend, he would be able to kidnap many young virgins and abuse them as he saw fit.
Locking herself in her bedroom, Jean proceeded to create a magical artifact using her skills as a witch and her instructions from God. With a pentagram drawn on the floor and numerous candles, she was able to create a ward against hypnotism, which God said would be needed to fight Alucard. One of Alucard's joys was using his hypnotic powers to force young girls to give him oral sex before he would bite them.
After clearing her bedroom floor of the things she used to make the artifact, she heard her mother call out to her from the kitchen. Jean went there and was pleased to see a large box on the kitchen table <either leave out this…from the mailman.>f <or ‘from the mail. In the next sentence>
"Jean, this came for you from the mail. What is it?" Jean's mother asked.
"Oh, it's the silver katana I ordered!" Jean said with glee.
"What?! A katana? Why on earth do you need a katana?"
"Well, uh, it's to kill vampires," Jean said with a smile on her face.
Her mother laughed, assuming Jean was making some kind of joke. Luckily, she didn't press Jean with why she would need a katana. She just figured it was another of her daughter's eccentricities, like her dyed hair and black clothing.
Jean also used her powers to create more holy water to load it<drop ‘it’> into the super soaker she had also bought online. These and her other magical talismans, her silver knife, her brass knuckles, and her trusty crossbow completed her<the instead of her?> weaponry that she would use against Alucard and his subordinate vampires.
Before she would go ahead with the plan to kill Alucard, she wanted to get high at least one more time<comma? Not sure> in case she died. She went to an alleyway in back of her house and smoked a joint <of weed not needed…implied>of weed with her neighbor, Nicole. Nicole wore similar clothes as Jean and they both enjoyed smoking weed and occasionally drinking liquor with their mutual friends.
"So Jean, are you going to come with me and some of the guys to the club tonight? My boyfriend, Mark, says he can get us in because he knows the bouncer. If we are lucky, we might be able to get some drinks."
"That sounds great, but I can't. I have a pressing engagement," Jean said with disappointment. She hated how her secret life of slaying vampires ruined her social life and made her feel like she was missing out on life.
"A pressing engagement? Are you hiding something from me? Do you have a boyfriend?"
"I wish. It's just... I told my parents I would go out to dinner with them and a couple of their friends."
"Oh, that sucks," Nicole said.
As Jean continued to smoke weed, God's voice started to get vulgar and derogatory (as usual) and criticized her for not devoting even more of her nights to slaying vampires. There was nothing Jean could do to stop God from being an asshole, so she just sucked it up and told herself that she was doing good for the world and was already heavily invested in slaying vampires.
That night, Jean collected her weaponry and rode her bike to Alucard's location: an eerie warehouse that was in a nearly deserted shipyard. The night was calm and there was an unnatural fog in the air. There were many containers stacked throughout the shipyard and the sound of a freighter could be heard from a far distance away.
Jean rode her bike to the entrance and saw it was being guarded by two young vampires. Jean shot them both dead with her crossbow before they had a chance to react. <how would she do that? A crossbow is a single shot..super slow to reload weapon. Maybe one guard? OR a quarrel and a knife?>
As Jean entered the warehouse, she saw that there were at least twenty vampires in the midst of a bacchanal and vampire orgy. The lead vampire, who looked as pale and emaciated as a corpse, was pleased to see a pretty teenager. The vampire, Alucard, smiled and showed that except for his long fangs he had rotten teeth. His fingernails were long claws and were coated in blood and dirt.
"Well, well, well. Isn't this a surprise? Another girl to force into submission with my irresistible charm," said Alucard.
"Fuck you!" screamed Jean as she fired holy water through her super soaker. Though it was very painful, the holy water wasn't enough to kill the vampires as they collected their wits after being interrupted in their reveries. They began to rush Jean as she fell back outside the warehouse. She pulled out her silver katana and chopped a vampire in half as he exited the warehouse. Another vampire emerged and dodged the deadly katana, but Jean delivered a painful kick to his exposed genitals and finished him by stabbing him through the eye with her silver knife.
Just then, a vampire bat flew out through the door to the warehouse and in flight <comma?>shape shifted back into Alucard once he was able to fly behind Jean. Jean was caught off guard when he landed on her back and pinned her down.
"You little bitch! This is the end for you!"
Alucard proceeded to stare into Jean's eyes; he was fully expecting her to become transfixed and submissive to his very will. However, Jean's amulet protected her and she shocked Alucard by stabbing him through the throat with her silver knife. This infuriated Alucard and he transformed back into a bat and began to fly away.
"Hey! Get back here, asshole!" Jean screamed out as Alucard continued to retreat. She pulled out her crossbow and fired wildly at Alucard but she wasn't able to hit him.
<I guess this is a crossbow a’la. Van Helsing. You might describe it as such to avoid the confusion>
Just then, some of the vampires from the orgy emerged and began to rush Jean. She was distracted by this and defended herself with her katana.
Once she was finished with those vampires, she asked God to tell her where Alucard went. God responded that he was on his way to the very same club that Jean's friends were at. Apparently, the club was run by vampires that would prey on innocent youngsters and feast on their blood. Jean was pissed that her secret life as a vampire slayer would be exposed and she knew this would cause numerous problems <for her not needed…implied>for her. However, she knew it was up to her to protect her friends and that there was no other option but to go there and save the innocents.
Jean got on her bike and rode towards the club, "La Trampa Sangrienta.<ha again>" As she rode, she was worried both for her friends' safety and about how she would ever explain that she was a witch that slays vampires.
As Jean approached the club, she saw that the front door had been locked and that it would need to be unlocked from inside to open. Jean went around to the alleyway on the side of the building and saw an open window that was out of reach from the ground. Jean pushed a dumpster with a closed lid under that window and then climbed on top of it before jumping up into the window.
Jean was then inside a dark room and could hear the sounds of sexual intercourse. Jean used a special amulet that she had created with God's help to light up the dark room with a bright green light. A mischievous vampire was surprised to see the interruption and was helpless as Jean stabbed him with her silver knife. The girl that the vampire was having sex with was also a vampire and she screamed for help as Jean stabbed her too.
A door burst open and two vampires busted into the room to see what the problem was. Jean pulled out her katana and beheaded the first vampire. The second vampire retreated and sounded the alarm that they were under attack <I’d stop the sentence here> to the other vampires in the club.
Jean emerged from the dark room and saw that she was close to the dance floor where vampires were fighting with some human survivors. Jean was pleased to see that her friends and others were surrounded by vampires and that the vampires were prolonging their feast by killing the innocents one at a time.<I’d reword this sentence. She’s probably not happy to see them surrounded but happy they were alive because of the prolonged feeding>
Jean was then spotted by Nicole, who was understandably shocked that her friend was there.
"Jean! What's going on?! Are these vampires?!" Nicole hysterically yelled.
"Get down!" Jean screamed.
Nicole ducked low and Jean fired a crossbow bolt into a vampire that was behind Nicole.
The vampires ignored their human prey and focused their attention on Jean. Jean jumped on top of the bar and started to spray the vampires with holy water from her super soaker as a distraction. As she did this, the human survivors were able to unlock the doors of the club and make their escape. Just then, a vampire jumped onto the bar and rushed Jean. She kicked him in the stomach, then used her fire amulet to light him on fire. She then kicked the burning vampire into the bar shelves that housed the various liquor bottles. This caused a small explosion and spread flames throughout the entire club.
Just then, a vampire bat flew through the room and descended on top of Jean. The bat transformed into Alucard and he shoved her off the bar onto the club's floor. He then jumped from the bar and was going to land on Jean when at the last second she pulled out her katana and impaled him through the stomach. He then retransformed back into a bat and started flying around the room in a panic.
More vampires began to surround Jean, who used a broken wooden table leg as a torch when she exposed it to the flames as they continued to engulf the club. She then threw the torch at a vampire and started to wildly swing her katana. She was able to get all of the vampires (except Alucard) to retreat in fear and then pulled out her silver knife. With a well timed throw, she was able to pin Alucard by the wing to a wall<I’d reverse theh wing and wall. To the wall by a wing>. From his helpless position, Jean pulled out her fire amulet with the intention of lighting Alucard on fire.
However, Alucard transformed back into a man and was able to pull free the silver knife with his free hand. Jean pulled out her katana and swung it in hopes of beheading Alucard. Alucard ducked under the blade and stabbed Jean in the stomach with her own knife. Jean was in a tremendous amount of pain and started bleeding profusely. Before Alucard could stab her again or pin her down to bite her, Jean made one more desperate swing with her katana and was able to behead Alucard.
As Alucard finally went limp and died, Jean started to lose consciousness from her blood loss and sat down with her back to the flaming bar. Because of the smoke from the flames and her blood loss, Jean started to drift into unconsciousness and was fearful.
"God? Am I going to die?"
God didn't have an answer for her and she started to cry thinking that was the end of the line<drop ‘for her’> for her.
When Jean regained consciousness, she was shocked to see that she was in a hospital emergency room.
"Jean! You're awake!" cried out Nicole.
"What? What happened?" stammered out Jean.
"When the flames were engulfing the club, Mark ran in to get you since we hadn't seen you leave <drop yet>yet. You were unconscious and bloody. We called the ambulance and they took you here."
"So it's over?"
God's voice then started to talk to Jean again. He congratulated her on a job well done, but told her that she was going to have a hard time coming up with an explanation for her adventure.
"So Jean, were those freaks in the club, were they vampires?" Nicole asked.
"Yeah..."
"And you killed them?"
"Yeah..."
"So you're just like Buffy?"
"No. I am not like Buffy. I feel like I'm a lot more altruistic than Buffy. She still has friends and family that support her. I'm on my own out there."
"Well, you have my support. Myself and the others from the club will keep your <I’d drop this secret>secret double life a secret."
"That's awesome," Jean said with a smile. "By the way, there's something I must ask of you..."
"What is it?" asked Nicole.
"Do you have any weed?"


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
11
11
Review of Dumb, Stupid Luck  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
Bravo. That was a great tale. One of the best I've read on WDC in a few months. You can really feel the artists emotions flowing through the protagonist. I'd send this off and try to get it published if I were you.

I have a few comment tied up in blue below. They are opinions only. You what you will and chuck the rest.

I've had a hard-on for fast cars for just about as long as I can remember. Some people- and it's not just a man thing, believe me- appreciate a powerful engine the way an art connoisseur appreciates a particularly moving canvass. There's a sly sensuality in the low rumbling of a finely tuned machine; in the barely contained thrum of raw energy eager to meet its potential. Some people don't get it, and that's just fine. I don't get modern art. Different strokes for different folks, right?
<good hook>

I went to my first race when I was twelve years old. One of the guys from our neighborhood had an older brother who was a NASCAR fanatic, and one weekend he took a few of us kids to a truck series competition at the Pocono Speedway. For me it was love at first sight; there's no way to overestimate the impression that afternoon made on my young mind. That day I knew that I would make my living in some aspect of racing; the desire to be around those cars was not to be denied; it pulled at me,<I like this 'physical force' but it needs to be tied in better. As is its doesn't flow> a physical force.

If I was smitten, my best friend Andrew Davis was completely over the fucking moon. Andy was uncharacteristically quiet as we drank in our surroundings that day, but there was no mistaking the longing in his eyes From that afternoon on neither of our lives would ever be the same. Do I regret it? No. I miss my friends dearly, but I don't regret it for a minute.

Andy and I cut our teeth working the ranks of the local amateur racing circuit; learning in the trenches, as it were. There was a lot of cleaning up and grunt work in the beginning, but we worked our asses off and our teammates noticed. By the time we were nineteen Andy was driving for our team; I was his lead mechanic and spotter.

Andy was a finesse driver. He seemed to understand the physics of racing on a subconscious level; no matter the track or the conditions he always seemed to know just how to make the most of any situation. For my part I knew his driving style flat, and always kept the car fine-tuned accordingly.

We made a damn good team, too. Andy finished in the top-five every race that first season- something our team had never accomplished- and he even took the checkered flag twice. Now I don't mean to come off as conceited, but honestly<comma> it was pretty effortless. We knew each other, you know? From the time we were in the first<-> grade playing STAR WARS figures together in his parent's living room after school. We hardly even used the radios; more often than not we could anticipate what the other was thinking.

We improved on our success the following season, finishing top three in all but two races. People were talking. Sponsors who'd laughed at the prospect of backing our team were suddenly lining up to plaster their logos on our car. I can't remember ever having more fun in my life, and I guess I have Andy to thank for that.

The following season<comma> Andy's little brother was offered an opportunity to drive a car sponsored by Circle Fasteners, one of our top competitors. Michael Davis had been with our team for almost three years by that point, and he'd become a damned good mechanic and tire-man. He'd also been racing the go-cart circuit for years- and he was very good.

Andy acted as though the prospect of racing his little brother didn't trouble him, but I could see that it did. Andy liked having his little brother in his corner; he counted on him- hell, we both did. We knew that we'd feel his absence- both in the garage and in the pit.

If Andrew Davis was a finesse driver, his younger brother was a lunatic. Michael Davis drove by the seat of his pants- 'drove it like he stole it' Andy used to say- and he took some terrible risks. He also took top three more often than he didn't that first season-<the prior part of this sentence was a little clunky.> unprecedented for a rookie- and even earned the checkers twice. People took notice.

The rivalry started off of the track, as things like these so often do. People couldn't help but compare the Davis brothers- who was the better driver, the better looking (neither had any problem with the ladies) the more exciting to watch. It was human nature, that's all; and it was mostly in good fun. Eventually<comma> it bled onto the track, though, and that's never good.

I noticed the change in Andy before he realized it in himself. He was growing increasingly reckless, driving far more aggressively than he ever had before- had ever needed to before. Whenever the Davis brothers fought for position the crowds went out of their fucking minds- and I died a little.

To this day local race fans talk about "the fight" as though the Davis brothers had climbed out of their respective cars that Saturday afternoon in August and beaten each other half to death. Of course that's not at all what happened. If I had to seat every person who's told me they were at the track on the day of the "fight", I could fill three race tracks to capacity.

The way it went down was like this: Andy cut pretty close in front of Michael's car coming into the final turn, damn near caused his little brother to wreck. Andy swore to me afterward that he didn't realize how close it had been until it was too late, and I believed him. I still do.

When the race was over Andy had finished third and Michael a very close fourth. The younger Davis leapt from his car and made for his brother; I don't think I've ever seen him so angry.

The 'fight' consisted of a little yelling back and forth, and exactly two shoves- one each. That was it. In the end that was all it took, I suppose- but nobody had any way of knowing that at the time.

The Davis brothers never spoke to one another again on this earth. To this day it makes me sad when I think of it. Right up until the end I remained friends with them both- and as far as I know I was the only one who did. Everyone else chose a side. I wouldn't. Or maybe I couldn't.

The following season our team found itself in the extremely unusual position of being flush for cash. We had taken third overall the previous year- another team first- and earned a modest purse for our troubles. Also<comma> a nice little line of credit had opened thanks to one of our new sponsors. At a team meeting following a barbecue at Andy's place, we all agreed that a new engine was in order. As lead mechanic I'd championed the idea- we'd been rebuilding the same two engines for a few seasons by that point.

We decided on a beauty of a Chevy big-block, and I dropped it in the day it was delivered. Well, we all thought we'd made the right decision- that engine fucking hummed.

I adjusted the car, compensating for the heavier weight of the new block. We tested it that afternoon and Andy came back grinning like a kid on Christmas. He had a few minor suggestions, but all said he was thrilled- and we were poised to finish well in qualifying.

The night before the first race of the season Andy and I went out for a few beers. I made a mistake, I think.

"You're a better driver than Mikey" I said. "Don't race his race; make him race yours."

My oldest friend wheeled on me, nearly knocked over his drink. "This isn't about Michael." He said finally.

I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing.

"Fuck.<comma>" Andy said; more to himself I think, than to me.

I emptied my beer; looked at him.

He slammed his fist on the bar, rattling glasses for three or four feet in either direction.

I peered over my shoulder; wasn't surprised to find half the place glaring in our direction.
<not a problem but an observation. 'direction' finishing up two sentences>

"Why did he have to drive for Circle?"

I shook my head, <no comma>because I didn't want to say that I didn't know.

We called it a night not long after.

My best friend died the next day. He left this world the way he would have wanted to, I think- behind the wheel of an extremely fast car, in a supernova of twisted steel and fire.

It was one of the most horrific things I've ever seen. I remember there was a collective gasp from the crowd as the car came shrieking to a stop; and then silence- a terrible, all-consuming silence. Eventually<comma> there were the sirens; they struggled to penetrate the noiseless dusk; apparitions clawing their way through a dense fog.

My best friend, I soon learned, had been fused to the wreck that used to be our race-car, and so both were confiscated. We didn't care. Personally<comma> I didn't give a shit if I never saw that car again.

I didn't. As fate would have it, though, I did see the engine.

A detective whose name I forget called the garage about two months after the accident. He asked if we wanted any of what was left of our car. I assured him that we did not.

The man on the line had sounded perplexed. "Not even the engine?"

It dawned on me then; the engine had been thrown clean of the wreck. It had landed on the turf and was likely salvageable.

"No, thanks...scrap it." I'd told the officer, on a whim.

Only they didn't scrap it. Maybe the officer, who had seemed like a decent guy, figured I'd regret my decision. Maybe it was just a paperwork mistake. At any rate, that big block Chevy found its way home to us four days later, crated up just like new.

For days I gave that powerful machine a wide berth. To be honest the damned thing gave me the creeps. I knew it was ridiculous to assign it any blame- it was only a machine, after all- but I couldn't help it. Andy had died driving that engine, that was reason enough for me to hate it.

We moved it to a back corner of the garage, where it sat collecting dust and the occasional discarded part or broken tool. It wasn't until Michael started driving for us that anybody paid it any attention.

I wasn't terribly surprised when, about a month after his brother's death, Michael Davis sought me out and asked to drive for our team. It was no favor he was asking- any team would have been thrilled to have him in the driver's seat. I accepted, but on one condition. I told him I would spot for him- if he made an effort to drive with a little more finesse, and a lot less heroics.

If he was surprised by my demand he didn't act it. I remember he hugged me. That night we talked life and racing; we drank beer and we missed Andy.

The next scheduled race was in two weeks and we intended to qualify in the top five. The morning after our conversation we were at the garage talking strategy and making adjustments. It felt almost like old times. In a lot of ways, Michael was very much like his older brother; more so after Andy's accident.

Well, everything was going just as nice as you please until the morning- it was a Thursday, I remember- when Michael inquired as to the mean-looking Chevy engine collecting dust in the back corner of the garage.

I told him. What else could I do? I told him it was the engine that had propelled his big brother to his death. I remember the way he walked over and regarded the chrome beast- he had a look in his eyes that I didn't like at all. He reached out and touched it; caressed it in fact.

Michael Davis would drive that engine; even before he said so I knew it. I could read it in his posture. He would race that engine- for himself and for his brother- and for absolutely no reason at all.

I tried to talk him out of it; you better believe I did. I yelled. I threatened to quit. Mikey just kept telling me was how important this was to him; how I was his only brother now. He actually said that. What could I do? Warriors want to die in battle, the faithful in grace; the Davis brothers, apparently, wanted to die going two hundred miles an hour. And when it came right down to it, who was I to stop them?

My objections noted, I uncrated that engine and- God help me- dropped it into our car. I hate myself for it to this day, though I'm still not sure it wasn't the right thing to do.

Testing proved shitty. The engine ran erratically- that's the way Michael put it. We went over every inch of that beast with a magnifying glass; took most of the damned thing apart. Now I've built engines- and I mean from parts I've machined myself- and I couldn't find anything at all wrong with this one. Not for the life of me.

Michael shrugged it off. Racing that engine had become a damned obsession with him. It went beyond slaying the dragon that had killed his big brother; I wonder to this day if he suspected what I did- that this engine would mean the end of him as well.

On race day I was at the garage two hours before anyone else. If that engine was going to kill another one of my friends, it was not going to be because I missed something. Again I studied every component as though my life depended on it. In a way, I suppose it did.

We qualified like never before that morning. Michael didn't gloat, but he gave me a look that said 'trust me; I'm not Andy.' and I resent him for it to this day.

Race day dawned bright and beautiful; the kind of day that you realize, as you get older, is a gift. The sun shone plentifully and a cool breeze stole through the trees surrounding the track. As start time approached, I could feel myself relaxing. Surely I'd built this whole situation up inside my head- the same way Michael had become obsessed about his brother's engine, I had become frightened of it.

Michael was in a great mood; and he was ready, too- I could see it in his eyes. He meant to win, and damned if I didn't believe that he could. Just before start time we shook heartily and he pulled me into a tight hug.

"Thank you." He said into my sleeve.

I didn't say anything. I squeezed tighter and clapped him on the back.

The drivers started their engines; I felt the familiar pulse and thrum of thirty high-performance engines springing to life. And then the green flag fell and they were off with that mighty roar that always sets my pulse to racing.

It was a short contest; fifty laps- and I knew that we would finish top three. Michael 'drove it like he stole it', as his brother had been fond of saying, and few cars could keep up. What's more, he drove with a bit more finesse I'm happy to say. Maybe he'd even listened to me...

We knew that we had a chance at number one. With three laps remaining, Michael was running on two new tires and nearly a full tank of fuel. If only he could only pass Davey Striker in the number eight car, we had this thing in the bag.

Now you have to understand- we didn't get into this life because we wanted to, Andy and I- and then Michael. We lived to race. It was a vocation- a spiritual experience; the tracks so many open air cathedrals, the growl of the engines our choirs of angels. There was never any real choice, not for us. We would race, and we would race to win- always.

I'd be lying if I told you there wasn't some small part of me that wanted to hold Michael back. I hated that he was driving that engine- the engine that had killed my best friend and then found its way home in order to taunt me. Because make no mistake, that was what I'd come to believe- that that damned engine was taunting me. Crazy, yes; but then crazy is a relative term, isn't it?.

Number eight was holding tight to first place- no matter where Michael attempted to pass there he was, closing the lane. And then in the final stretch it finally happened. Rusty Daniels in the number three car put on a wicked burst of speed, threatening number eight on the inside. Number eight eased to the middle of the track, anticipating Daniel's pass. My headphone radio crackled.

"Outside...?" Michael asked.

I hear him ask that in my mind every day; sometimes in my dreams. I remember looking very carefully; remember thinking it looked tight. Calling him off may have been the right thing to do- God knows I've received enough hate mail telling me as much- but there was no way I could have known. Truth be told, I'd have thrown Andy through that hole; it was tight but not impassable. I never ever took unnecessary risks with either of them- or with any of the drivers I've spotted for that matter- but hell, you sign on for some risk every time you suit up in this business.

I swallowed hard; don't ask me why but I remember that like it was yesterday. I wonder now if maybe I was giving number eight an extra second or two to close the small lane that had opened on the outside.

He didn't.

I held my breath another fraction of a second; let it out. "Go." I said.

He nearly made it. I actually thought that he had- and then number eight's nose brushed Mikey's rear panel. Michael fishtailed; I thought for a second that he was going to get it back under control, but it wasn't meant to be. The car flipped and was hit immediately by Stacey Burns in number ten; I doubt Stacey even had time to touch his brakes.

It was the worst accident I've seen in my career, and I've seen my share. There's no need to recount the details. Michael Davis and Stacey Burns died; instantly I like to think, but how can anyone ever be sure?

I left racing that day and I haven't gone back. For a long time I couldn't help but blame that fucking engine, that Chevy big block we'd all drooled over. It wasn't the engine of course; it was only dumb, stupid luck.

I mourned my friends; I pitied myself. I drank and I grew bitter; I got sober and I stayed bitter. Gradually the anger is fading, but I still mourn my friends. I guess I always will.

Three or four nights a week I dream that I come home from work to find a makeshift wooden cage waiting for me at the end of my driveway. I can hear it calling to me. I pull my car up to the curb in front of my house and kill the engine, but I won't get out; not ever. Because I know what's suspended inside those ribs of two-by-four pine.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
12
12
Review of Silent Night  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | N/A (Review only item.)
Great story Max. And done in under 400 words. Personally, I find flash fiction one of the hardest
to write in, so kudos on a great piece.

The only time I drifted from the story was the transition from outside to inside. I'm not sure if there is a way to put your ghost through the walls or indicate this passage but as I assumed, at first, the MC was corporeal, my mind worked at how he was seeing the candle, which briefly moved me out of the story until if figured he was inside the room and a ghost.

Although sweet, still a little creepy LOL. Which is the point of ghost stories is it not, so again, kudos.

Ummm.....Okay...Well, for some reason I don't see the 'stars' to give you on the review.

If they were here, I'd give you 4 1/2.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
13
13
Review of Marigold  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (5.0)
Ha! What a coincidence. Believe it or not, I'm not reviewing this story due to your fine review of 'Glass Ceiling'. It was a boring Friday afternoon at work and I thought I'd grab something out of 'Please Review.' This story was at the top.

Okay, now that that's out of the way. I've put a few comments inside the story, marked in blue. There aren't very many and they are opinions only. So use what you will.

Other than that, I thought you did a great job. You've got an interesting plot going here and a good hook to lead us further into the next part of the story. I found the writing smooth and easy to follow and of a quality I'd expect to find in a published book. Cudos.

I like the use of 'non-typical' words inside the story. What a great way to expand your vocabulary. I'll have to figure a way to work that in to my regular writing.

Well, keep up the good work and Happy Halloween.

J



Leaning on the garden gate of number thirteen Thornfield Hall Avenue, Marigold Green surveyed Mom's latest catastrophe. Their new home was one of those “semis” the British loved so much, though Marigold couldn't see what was wonderful about sharing a wall with your neighbor. The surrounding jungle of grass suggested nobody had lived in the old stone house in years. A dark shadow appeared at an upstairs window—a blurry face with long tresses. Marigold sighed. Freaking fantastic; the place was haunted.

“Gee, isn't it wonderful,” said Mom in her usual ebullient tone, pushing past and entering the front yard. “We're going to be so happy here.”

Marigold scratched her stubbly scalp. Somehow she didn't share Mom's optimism. She followed her up the cracked tarmac path and inside. Mildew coated the living room walls, and the kitchen stank like moldy bread. The best she could say about the place was that the furniture abandoned by the previous tenants looked usable.

She imagined she was back in L.A.. Entering her senior year, she'd be planning for graduation and prom. Christina would criticize her boring lumberjack shirt and denim jeans, but not refuse when Marigold invited her to the diner after school. She checked her iPhone. No messages.

Mom bounced around the house with wild abandon, the skirts of her floral dress lifting as she spun, her fiery red hair mirroring the effect. One reason Marigold shaved her head every morning was to avoid that ginger scourge. She'd inherited enough curses from Mom's side of the family.

Mom threw windows open, those that weren't jammed, and enthused about original features. She didn't mention the ghost, though. Mom was blind to the supernatural. Good for her!

“Look,” she said, pointing at a lump of iron over the kitchen door. “A lucky horseshoe.” She wandered to the fireplace and pointed at a metal wedge sticking out of the brickwork. “Ooh, a vestigial bracket from the original cooking range.”

Marigold snapped. “Jeez, Mom. Get a grip.”

“Is there something wrong, sweetie?”

She put her hands on her hips. “Do you realize I start back at school next week, and”—she gestured to the surrounding, chaos—“we don't even have the basic necessities to live here.”

Mom's face dropped, and Marigold felt a twinge of guilt when she saw how woebegone she <needs ‘mother/mom’ to distinquish> looked, but she must remain firm. Mom was an artistic type who only <or always?> saw the mystical in the mundane. She was incapable of recognizing that the mundane pays the bills and puts food on the table.

She massaged Mom's shoulder. “We can make this place livable, but we have to start now.” She didn't mention the truce she'd have to make with the ghost. Mom had enough worries without concern over her daughter's mental health.

“Thanks, sweetie.”

Marigold jogged to the car and located the bag of cleaning materials. She decided she would also carry the suitcases and boxes inside before starting to clean. She brought in her special box first, the one containing her dark secret.

Three hours later, the kitchen smelled of pine disinfectant <this sentence begs an ‘and’>. She checked her iPhone again. Still nothing. Five here, so nine in the morning there. Since the school year hadn't started, perhaps Christina was still in bed.

Pushing aside her disappointment, she entered the living room. Mom had scrubbed off the worst of the mildew.

“You're doing a great job, Mom.”

“Why, thank you.”

She walked to the window and surveyed the street. A “To Let” sign outside another semi caught her eye.

“Mom, why did you choose this house?”

“Because of its history.”

She raised an eyebrow. This house was old, but not that old. A hundred years, tops.

Mom turned in a circle. “I see sumptuous oak-paneled walls, Chippendale furniture and tall, stained glass windows.”

“Mom, did you take your medication today?”

“Of course, sweetie.” She covered her mouth with one hand. “Oh, I must sound cuckoo.”

Marigold nodded.

“When I was researching for my book, I came across plans of Thornfield Hall.”

“huh-uh.” <I’m getting lost in who said what. Needs a ‘she said here’. Also is she agreeing or disagreeing? If agreeing then uh-huh …right?>

“Where we're standing is the site of the grand entrance hall where the Rochesters welcomed their guests.” Mom closed her eyes and waved her arms around. “The Rochesters remodeled the hall many times. From here, labyrinthine corridors took windy paths around the Gothic pile.” She opened her eyes. “I've got pictures.”

Marigold forced a smile. “Maybe later.” The irony was Marigold loved history. In fact, one of the A Levels she studied was history, along with English and French. But a manor house destroyed in a fire might mean a whole gaggle of ghosts.

She shook her head. She'd worry about that later. “I'm going to unpack.”

“Oh, okay. I'll order food. Chinese?”

“Not the Sichuan chicken. It gives you heartburn.”

Mom pouted, but nodded.

Marigold scooped up the most important box from the hallway. After climbing upstairs, she entered the smaller of the two bedrooms, the one where she'd seen a ghostly face. The bed wasn't too bad. She turned the mattress to hide the stains, praying there were no bed bugs, then dumped her box on top.

Inside, the first layer appeared innocent enough. She pulled out her letter pad and envelopes and placed them on the bedside table for later use. Next came an admissions prospectus for Newnham College, Cambridge. Though originally she'd been upset when Mom announced plans to relocate to England, Marigold had to admit it made her own dream more attainable.

She sat on the bed and flipped through the brochure. Imagine standing in the hall where Virginia Woolf spoke, reading in the library where Sylvia Plath wrote poems, or eating in the cafeteria where Germaine Greer shocked the principal with her talk of “bras” and “tits”. Marigold smiled and traced the coat of arms on the cover. Newnham was the mother ship.

A woman popped into existence beside the bed. Her face was grotesquely burned, flesh hanging off in strips, one eye missing. The stench of putrid flesh filled the room.

Marigold dropped the brochure. Her heart pounded. “Jeez, lady. Can't you knock.” She wrinkled her nose. “And bathe, for Christ's sake. You stink.” She looked at the ghost.

The ghost's surviving eye widened, and she glanced behind.

“Hey, lady! I'm talking to you.”

“Y-you can see me?”

“Wish I couldn't. I wanna eat some time today.”

The ghost popped out of existence.

“Hey, lady. Come back.”

Typical. First contact, and already Marigold had scared away her new client. She really ought to work on her people skills. Perhaps if she let her hair grow out a little then they might not find her so scary? Nah! If she had to accept their missing body parts, they'd have to take her warts and all. Besides, she'd be back. They always came back.

She recovered the brochure and placed it on the table with her letter pad, then returned her attention to the box and her secret.

Smiling, Marigold lifted out her copy of Silk is for Seduction, held it to her chest and inhaled its papery smell. Though she'd never admit it to her new friends here, she had an obsession with bodice-rippers—Regency romances that erred toward the naughty. Though Austen's novels were fantastic, they didn't cut it in the bedroom department.

She'd shared her dark secret with Christina, of course. See closed her eyes and relived a precious memory. Her last Halloween in L.A. when they went trick or treating. Christina dressed as a witch with the tightest bodice the costume store stocked. Afterward, they returned to Christina's place. Her parents were out. That's when Marigold ripped off Christina's bodice. The costume was ruined but, Jeez, it was worth ever cent of that eighty dollars. The stench of rotten meat brought her back to reality.

She turned. “You're back.”

The ghost stepped backward, toward the window, her translucent form disappearing where sunbeams passed through her body. She hesitated a moment, then whispered, “You really can see me.”

“I said so, didn't I.”

“Nobody ever saw me before.”

“That's just as well. Look at the state of you.”

“I do not understand.”

Marigold sighed. This was one of those ghosts; ones who somehow understood nothing about Limbo. She sat on the bed and patted the space beside her. “Sit.”

The ghost cocked her head, and her jaw fell loose. She looked flustered as she wobbled it back into place, then sheepishly did as requested.

“What's your name?” asked Marigold.

“Bertha.” She straightened. “I am Mrs. Bertha Rochester. How do you do?” She smiled politely, which looked creepy with half her lip burned off.

Used to such formal introductions from ghosts, she said, “I'm Miss Marigold Green, and I'm pleased to meet you, Bertha.” She held out her hand.

Bertha raised a singed eyebrow and stared at the hand.

“Jeez, you really know nothing.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Never mind. I'll start with the basics. Do you realize you can change form?”

“Form?”

“I mean, you don't have to spend eternity looking burnt. You can look how you did before… er… What did happen to you?”

Bertha bit what was left of her lips.

“Promise I won't judge.”

“I burned down the house.”

“You mean Thornfield Hall? You caused that fire?”

“Yes.”

“That was eighteen sixteen, wasn't it?”

Bertha held her jaw and nodded.

“So you burned to death.”

“No. I threw myself from the roof.”

“Ah, that explains it. Suicide. That's why you're in Limbo.”

Bertha scratched her head. A clump of hair fell away, dropped to the floor, and popped out of existence. “Limbo?”

“You're no longer in the physical world, but not yet in the afterlife. You're between, and that's the problem.”

“I see.”

“Listen, Bertha. I'm going to teach you a neat trick.”

“A trick?”

“Yeah. Sort of magic to help you with your appearance.”

“Are you a witch?”

“I've been called worse, but this isn't witchcraft. It's to do with what's in your mind, with what holds you together in Limbo.”

“Very well then. What must I do?”

Marigold leaned toward Bertha. “Say after me: I am Bertha, I am me. I control my destiny.”

Bertha's forehead furrowed, but she whispered, “I am Bertha, I am me. I control my destiny.”

“That's it.” Marigold smiled in encouragement. “But also imagine yourself as you used to be while you say the words, and this time<comma?> really mean them.”

Bertha's one eye focused. “I am Bertha, I am me. I control my destiny.”

The foul odor dissipated to be replaced by a faint scent of roses. Two brown eyes appeared on Bertha's face. Her skin healed and took on a darker tone, and black tresses flowed down the back of her blue dress. A bodice materialized and squeezed her body into a more feminine shape.

Marigold gasped. “You're beautiful!”

Bertha's cheeks flushed, and she glanced away. “Please, don't mock me. I know how I look.”

“What are you talking about?” Images of aristocrats dancing at balls flashed through Marigold's mind. “You're perfect.”

Bertha examined her elegant, bejeweled fingers. “You are mistaken. Can you not see the unhealthy tinge to my skin, the evidence of my curse?”

“You mean your tan?”

“Can you not see I am Creole?”

“You're spicy food?”

“I mean I am impure. My grandmother was Carib.”

“Oh, you're mixed race. Me too.”

Bertha's eyes narrowed as she looked Marigold up and down.

“No, really. Dad's people were half Irish and half Scottish, but Mom's folks descended from the Iroquois.”

“Iroquois?”

“First Nations, what you'd call Indians.”

“Like the Carib.”

“Suppose.”

“Then why are you pale?”

“Lots of blending, I suppose.”

Bertha shuffled closer. “So, we are both Creole.”

Marigold couldn't help but glimpse Bertha's cleavage. She licked her lips, then glanced away, her cheeks heating. If she was getting turned on by dead people, she really needed to get out more.

A floorboard on the landing creaked. The door cracked open. Bertha popped out of existence, and Mom's face appeared. “Sorry to disturb. Were you talking with Christina?”

“No, I was reading aloud,” she lied. Over the years, she'd grown accustomed to hiding her curse from Mom.

Mom entered and frowned. “How long is it since she last called?”

She looked down at her interlinked fingers. “Six days.”

Mom dropped into the space lately vacated by Bertha. “Brr… it's cold in here.” She glanced at the closed window. “I wonder where that icy draft is coming from.

“I don't feel cold.”

“Must be me,” mumbled Mom, then placed a hand on Marigold's shoulder. “I've been meaning to have a girl talk. I keep putting it off because it's difficult, but I don't want to see you hurt.”

Mom stroked Marigold's scalp, her soft fingers soothing where they touched. “Sweetie, it's five thousand miles from here to California. Next year, you want to go to Cambridge for another, what…?”

“Three years.”

“And you've been here a year already. What does Christina want to do next year?”

Her eye began to sting. “Engineering and physics at Caltech.”

“Four years?”

She gripped the edge of the mattress. “I don't want to talk about this right now.”

A banging at the front door drew Mom's attention. “Sounds like the food's here.” She squeezed Marigold's knee. “Come down when you're ready.”

She nodded. As soon as Mom left, she sniffed and wiped a tear from her cheek. Christina wouldn't dump her. She wouldn't!

A fragrance redolent of a flower park in springtime flooded the room, and Bertha reappeared. “I do beg your pardon, but I could not avoid hearing. I am sorry to hear about your friend. Believe me, I understand. When I departed from Spanish Town, I left behind all my friends. I wrote letters, but they took six weeks to reach Jamaica. My friends' replies took the same. We drifted out of touch.”

Marigold's throat tightened, but she refused to cry. “Thanks for your concern, but I'll be fine.”

Bertha sniffed and wiped her nose. “You are stronger than I. After my friends stopped writing, I hid in my room and refused to see anyone for months. I felt so wretched because there was nobody here I could speak with, nobody who truly understood me. Because of my skin, those of my station shunned me, and the servants could not follow the most simple discourse on Wordsworth's poetry or Wollstonecraft's pamphlet.”

“Pamphlet? You don't mean Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman?”

“Why, yes. You are familiar with Miss Wollstonecraft's writings?”

“Yeah. She's awesome.”

Bertha beamed.

“But, let's get back to you,” suggested Marigold. “How did you deal with your isolation?”

“Not very well, I am afraid. My husband sent for the doctor, who was frightfully concerned by my megrims.”

“Megrims?”

“I was melancholy.”

“Oh, depression. Mom's bipolar, too. She has meds for it, but I guess they didn't have those in your days.”

“The physician prescribed opium.”

“Wow! What was that like?”

“I do not remember. In fact, I recall little of the following years except seeing things that were not there and drinking large quantities of gin.”

“Gin?”

“I think it was to keep me… sedate. My husband locked me in an attic room. For my own safety, of course.”

Marigold stood and walked to the window. Here she was feeling sorry for herself because her girlfriend hadn't called in a week, but Bertha had all her friends and relations ripped from her and then was force fed drugs and imprisoned. No wonder she killed herself.

A chill on her scalp drew her attention, and she turned. Bertha snatched back her hand, feigning innocence.

She grinned. “Did you just try to stroke my head?”

Bertha avoided Marigold's gaze. “I am sure I do not know what you are talking about.”

“Okay, have it your way.”

“I do not wish to sound rude, but may I inquire what illness caused you to lose your hair?”

She laughed so hard it turned into a coughing fit. After recovering, she said, “I'm not ill. I shaved it off.”

“You mean you shaved your scalp as men shave their chins?”

“Yeah.”

“But, why?”

She shrugged. “Dunno, really. Some people say it's because I want to look like a boy, but actually I just feel happier this way.”

Bertha colored and glanced away.

“Out with it.”

“Please, do not take offense. When I first saw you, I mistook you for a boy.”

“Happens all the time.”

“Really? I would be most stricken.”

She took in the ghost's hourglass figure. “Somehow I doubt you had that problem.”

“Marigold!” shouted Mom. “Are you coming, or do I have to eat all this myself?”

“I'd better go down before she blows her top.”

“Her head explodes?”

Marigold smiled. “I won't be long. Read a book or something.”

She bounced down the stairs and into the kitchen where Mom was sitting at the table surrounded by foil containers.

“Sichuan chicken! I told you not to get that.”

“Itsh my favorite,” said Mom with her mouth ful.<full>

“Ugh, gross, Mom. And you'll get indigestion.” She took a seat opposite. “Well, don't eat too much.”

“Okay, Mother. I'll be good.”

Marigold grinned and helped herself to rice. The chicken smelled wonderful. She popped a prawn cracker into her mouth, and groaned in pleasure as the savory snack melted on her tongue.

Mom glanced around the room. “Can you hear that?”

“What?”

“Sounds like Katy Perry.”

Marigold stopped chewing and listened. Dark Horse drifted from her jeans pocket. “It's my cell.” She dragged out her iPhone. “Christina.”

“Aren't you going to answer?”

She stood and walked into the living room. “Hi.”

“Hiya, Goldie. How you doin'?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“Didn't you say you were moving this week?”

“Today, actually.”

“How's the new place?”

“Basic, but I think I'll be happy here.”

“Good.”

Marigold perched on the edge of the sofa and bit her lip.

“You still there?” asked Christina.

“Yeah.” She paused a second. “Say, Chris. I've been thinking.”

“What?”

“Five thousand miles is a long way, and I'm not returning to the States anytime soon…”

She heard Christina catch her breath. “Are you breaking up with me?”

Marigold squeezed her eyes shut. Was she really going to do this? “Yeah, Chris, I am.”

“What did I do wrong?”

“Nothing. It's the situation. I'm happy here, and you don't want to leave California. I can't see this working.”

“Have you met another girl?”

An image of Bertha flashed through Marigold's head, but she shook it off. It wasn't as if she could have a physical relationship with a ghost. “No.”

“A boy? That Jordan you mentioned?”

That ridiculous notion tickled Marigold so much she had to giggle.

“It is him!”

“God, no.”

“I knew this was coming. That's why I haven't called much recently. Whenever you talked about your life over there, it was obvious you wanted to stay.”

“Hey, Chris, I'm really sorry.”

“Nah, don't be. Like I said, this is expected.”

Marigold settled back on the sofa. “Well, you were always a lipstick lesbian.”

“What do you mean?”

“You know what I mean. You always liked boys more than you liked girls, and it won't be long before you're knocked up by some jock at Caltech.”

Christina laughed. “Hey, give me some credit. He won't be 'some jock'. He'll be a jock with an SAT of one thousand six hundred.”

Marigold scratched her head. “You want to get knocked up by a moron?”

“God, you're so out of touch. The SAT changed. That's the new maximum.”

She chatted with Christina another fifteen minutes, then the battery icon flashed. “Hey, Chris. My cell's gonna die.”

“No problem. Gotta go, anyway. Keep in touch.”

“Course. You'll always be the first girl whose bodice I ripped.”

“And you'll be the only girl I ever let do that…though it might be interesting to see how it goes with a guy.”

Marigold faked a gasp. “You wanton wench!”

“Don't you know it.”

Marigold smiled, ended the call and walked into the kitchen.

“What did Christina say?”

“She's going straight.”

Mom's eyes widened. “Oh, I'm so sorry, sweetie.”

“Nah, don't be. I dumped her.”

“You what?”

“I split up with her.”

Mom sprang from her seat and placed a hand on Marigold's forehead. “Well, you're not running a temperature.”

“Relax! I thought over what you said, and you were right.”

“Now I'm definitely calling the doctor.”

Marigold turned to the table, which was bare.

“I stowed the leftovers in the ice box,” said Mom. “Want me to heat some up?”

“Nah. I'm not hungry. I'm going upstairs to chill.”

When she entered her room, Bertha was standing by the shelves, examining the book edges. She turned and smiled. She'd lost about five years in age, gained some fat around her cheeks, and her tight bodice was now under considerable strain.

Marigold swallowed. “Er, hey. You're getting the hang of the 'me' thing.”

“Why, thank you, Miss Green.”

As she connected her iPhone to the socket and placed it on the table, she asked, “Did you find anything good to read?”

Bertha pouted. “The titles sound so interesting, but…” She swept her hand across the bookshelf and through every book.”

Marigold covered her forehead with her palm. “My bad. I meant to show you another trick.”

Bertha's face lit up. “You know more magic?”

“It's not magic. You're as much part of God's creation as a tree; you simply need to accept it.”

“I do not follow.”

“Let me show you.” She gestured to the prospectus on the table. “Open that.”

Bertha looked from her to the prospectus and back again. “But I cannot.”

“You only think you can't.”

Bertha eyed the prospectus doubtfully.

“Place your finger on the cover and say, 'I am Bertha, I am me. What I want, you will agree.' Then turn it.”

She sighed, but did as Marigold asked. The cover lifted an inch, then dropped. Bertha jumped back and squealed, “It moved!”

“Of course it did.”

“I can really move things.”

“I know.”

“This is a miracle.”

“All life's a miracle, but most people are blind to it. If you practice you'll be able to open and read any book. I've known ghosts who gained enough confidence to move furniture before they moved on.”

Bertha smiled in wonder, but then her lips dropped into a frown. “What do you mean, 'before they moved on'?”

“It's what ghosts do.”

“But, what does it mean?”

She shrugged and gestured to the sky. “They go up to the next level.”

Bertha covered her heart with one hand. “But I took my own life. I shall descend into the bowels of Hell.”

“Well, no. That's exactly your problem. You're not bad enough for Hell, but you won't allow yourself be raised to Heaven.” She took a deep breath. “Theology isn't my strong point, but it's something to do with God's grace. God, or the Great Spirit, or Allah. Whatever you call Him, He wants you to join Him, but first you have to abnegate your guilt.”

“Abnegate. What does that even mean?”

“It means I've read Divergent too many times, and I really should think of a better way to explain this.”

She sat on the bed. “Basically, it's like your appearance and how you can move things. You can't go to Heaven because you don't think you can go. Once you accept it's God's decision, not yours, it's like, 'Beam me up, Scotty.'”

“How is it you know so much about… Limbo?”

“Because I'm a harbinger.”

“Like a magician?”

“I wish! The only magical thing I can do is see ghosts.”

“What does a harbinger do?”

“It's my job to show lost spirits the way, to help my clients pass on.”

Bertha casually flicked the pages of prospectus. “How did you become a harbinger?”

“Not everyone can do it. You have to be born with the ability and be initiated by a spirit guide.”

Bertha sat beside her. “Please, tell me about it.”

“Picture this. I was six years old, dressed in my Super Girl outfit, playing with my G. I. Joes.”

“G. I. Joes?”

“Dolls.”

“Ah, I owned a beautiful collection, with silk ballgowns and parasols.”

“Yeah, these were pretty similar. <lol>Anyways, there I was, enjoying being a regular kid. Then Grandma Mackenzie walks into my bedroom and shouts at me for making a mess. I literally wet myself.”

“I become upset when Mama chastised me, but I do not recall… wetting myself.”

“We'd buried Grandma Mackenzie two weeks before.”

“Oh. That casts a different light on the situation.”

“You can say that again. So, once I'd stopped screaming, Grandma Mackenzie had me sit cross-legged while she explained what I had become because she'd passed.”

“You inherited your skill from your grandmother?”

“Exactly. My ancestors were clan mothers among the Iroquois with powers that passed down the female line.”

“What about your mother?”

“Have you met Mom? The ancestors' spirits decided to skip a generation.”

“So your grandmother taught you these wonderful tricks.”

“And much more. She was a whole mine of information, not to mention a hoot, until she decided it was time to move on.”

Bertha smiled. “I can see you miss her.”

“You betcha. She helped me cheat in class tests.”

Bertha covered her mouth with one hand. “Miss Marigold Green, you shock me.”

“Hey, I never said I was an angel.”

Bertha turned to the table and put her hand on the letter pad. “You are planning to write a letter? To your friend Christina, perhaps?”

“I've already talked with her today.”

Bertha glanced at the doorway. “She is here?”

“Nah, she's in L.A..”
“I don't understand. How could you talk to her if she is in California?” <Would the ghost know about los angelos…much less the abbreviated slang?>


“How stupid of me. You won't know about cell phones.” She scooped up her iPhone and showed it to Bertha.

Bertha examined the iPhone skeptically. “Your friend is inside a small glass and metal box?”

“Let me demonstrate. I'll call this guy who crushes on me.”

Bertha reached over to grab her arm, and this time Marigold actually felt her icy fingers. “Is that safe, calling on a man who wishes to squash you?”

“That's not what I meant.” She shook her head and grinned. “Just watch.”

She selected the Facetime icon and waited. Within seconds, Jordan's freckled face appeared on the screen.

“Hey, Marigold!” He smiled, and swept back his blond hair. “Great to see you.”

“Hi, Jordan. You all ready for school?”

“Yeah. Can't wait. Hey, how about we get together sometime and talk through that history project?”

“Er… we've just moved house, and there's lots of tidying up to do. Don't think I'll have time.”

“Oh.” Jordan's smiled dropped. “Well, maybe we could catch a movie the following weekend?”

Marigold bit her lip. “I kinda promised Mom I'd go to Haworth with her on a museum trip. You know, the Brontë Parsonage.”

“That's too bad. I'll still see you in history, right?”

“I'll save you a seat.”

He beamed out of the screen. “Great!”

“Gotta go now.”

“See ya!”

She ended the call and turned to Bertha.

Bertha took a step back, staring at the iPhone. “You are a witch. You bewitched a boy and imprisoned him inside your box.”

Marigold laughed. “He's at home. My cell enables me to speak with him over a distance.”

“Oh. That is magic.”

“It's a machine. Everybody has one.”

“So, you can talk to your friend Christina any time you wish.”

Marigold shrugged. “If I wanted.”

Bertha turned to the shelves and touched the end book. It toppled to the floor with a bang.

“Great! Now I've got a poltergeist.”

“Sorry. I shall have to work on that.” Her face clouded, and she glanced away. “Though I suppose I shall not have much time.”

Marigold walked over. “What do you mean?”

A tear rolled down Bertha's cheek. “You have friends you can talk to at any time using your magic box. Now you have explained your role as a harbinger, and that I am your client, you want me to… move on.”

“Hey, no. It's not that I want you to go. It's just that the other place is better.”

“What if I don't want to move on? What if I want to stay and learn more about your world and the magic you have? What if I want to get to know you better?”

Marigold felt an unexpected warm glow in her chest. “I guess I'd kinda like that.”

“You would?”

“Yes. There are questions I'd love to ask about your life and times, and I'd like to get to know you better, Bertha.”

“And I you, Miss Green… Marigold.”

Bertha reached across and ran her finger over Marigold's scalp, which tickled.

“You're getting better at the touching thing.”

Bertha smiled shyly.

Perhaps Mom


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
14
14
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)

Hello, Donkey. A very nice story about a scatterbrained, genius father and his doting daughter, I usually catch surprise endings but this one snuck right up on me. Great job. There was also a paragraph of most excellent description which I tagged. Not saying the description lagged elsewhere, just that it was fantastic at that one spot. Spots where I thought there might have been more description were the shooter and the stage.

This story had good tension through most of the body although it lagged a little at the 50% point. BUT, it was kind of a transistion spot so i think it might be difficult to make it more tense.

I thought the characters were believable and the dialog was solid. I made some comments below, tagged in blue. Keep in mind that except for a comma notation and a couple misspellings, these comments were all subjective opinions. I hope one or two prove useful.

On a separate note. Flashbacks. I'm parroting what I was told on requested review from multiple ppl on 2 stories I wrote which were similar to yours in terms of starting with a flashback. I was told that starting out with a flashback is a big no-no, especially in books sent to agaents. They say in books there shouldn't be flashback for at least 1/3rd of the book or the agent/publisher will reject it out of hand. They said much the same about short stories. The flashback in your story didn't bother me and in my stories, probably like yours, I couldn't think of a way to get around the flashback and not change the effect of the story. Thier reasoning was, you draw a reader in, then the flashback pops them right back out and they have to be drawn in all over. Oh, well. There are always exceptions, I just thought I'd point out that flashback part.

Anyway, a very good story. Are you going to try and send it out for publishing?

My father, Julian, is an amazing man, and if you have the time to stay a while, It'll give me the chance to tell his story.

We hold hands in the front pew of this roomy hall, and it's almost time for him to take the lectern and talk about his invention. I can even see them wheeling it onto the stage. He's nervous I can tell because his palms are cool and clammy to the touch. Three of his science friends <coliques?> are seated on the other side of him for support.

But before he begins his speech, I have to take you back to a few days ago, to when I saw him die.

It's confusing I know, but let me explain.


* * * * * * * * *
We live in a small cottage just outside London. He and my mother named me Migdalia. It means 'tower of strength' or something like that. She's been<either drop the ‘been’ or add been dead how long> dead too, but I didn't know how to save her then. My thirteenth birthday fell on Father's day this year and we celebrated both events at the movies four days ago. It was a wonderful show and were still <I might drop either excited or eating probably excited..because you’ve got two things that are ‘still’ going on> excited and eating from the big bucket of popcorn when shots rang out as we walked through the lobby.

A masked gunman burst through the doors and started firing his pistol around. <Take some time for a little more detail about the gunman. Don’t need much, maybe a sentence about something the character noted.>I didn't quite know what was happening, as I'd never seen a pistol up close <don’t need up close IMO> before, let alone heard real bullets firing. The noise was horrid. I know it sounds childish, but when you've never heard something as loud as bullets firing,<you’ve got bullets twice here. Plus bullet’s don’t actually fire. I’d change this one..maybe ‘gunshots’?> you've got to understand how awful that moment was for me. It's easy to compare the noise with the bellow of a tense balloon surrendering to the prick of a needlepoint. But it went beyond that for me. I actually felt the roar within my chest and the closest thing I can relate to was when I was six years old just after Christmas that year.

Julian gave my mother a set of fancy cooking pots which she tried to suspend over the stove on <wires? Since multiple pots..or maybe it was one pot?>a wire. He told her the wire wasn't strong enough to support the pots, but she hung them up there anyway. An hour hadn't gone by before all of the pots crashed onto the kitchen floor while I was <change ‘was’ to stood, sat, walked. A stronger verb>close-by. I was quite upset at all the commotion, but Julian came to calm me down while mother thought it was rather funny. Those bullets were even louder than the stainless steel pots tumbling onto the kitchen floor, but what they did to my father was even worse than I could've imagined.

The popcorn went flying and Julian was hit twice, once in the web of his hand and once in the midsection. I'll wager the bullet to his belly did the most damage, as I watched him bleed <this is a good spot to add more description of the bleeding…if you want. It think it would add more tension for the reader> in the ambulance from that wound.

**
If you ask me how I did it, I won't be able to tell you truthfully, I just knew I could. Julian was about to die and I stopped it...for the moment. I could see his soul trying to leave his body but I,<pretty sure a speech/thought pause is indicated by 3 dots (…) if that was the intent?> I don't know, I suppose I made it go back in. I had done it once before and I think it had something to do with being enclosed with him in the ambulance. He looked dreadful laying there, with his long legs hanging way past the end of the gurney. His cheeks were sallow and blood pooled like currant jelly on his best shirt. There was blood on me too, but it was most likely his and I did not fancy being an orphan at thirteen years old.

By the time we reached the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, I insisted that I was not taken away from him and the medical staff had to work around me. I heard them say the bullet had gone all the way through, and he began to make his first steps to a temporary recovery. I suppose because the bullet was already out and his vitals stabilized, he was not taken to surgery.

But Julian is still going to die, and I am holding the keys to his life. He needed to be told and I was the only soul who knew what to say.

The public ward smelled of iodine and antiseptic cleaner, which I confess, had a calming effect on me. I stopped my crying, I kissed his cheek and I spoke to my father at his hospital bed.

"Julian, open your eyes, we have to get ready for your speech," I said to him.

"Migdalia Hemmingshire...Precious. What's going on, Love?" He recognized my voice and he used my full name, but his eyes were still shut.

"I know you must not be feeling at your best, but in the morning we must check you out of this hospital. You must show up and speak at the conference to present your work if it's the last thing you do." I deliberately said it like that so he'd ask me more questions.

His eyeballs twitched under his lids for a second before he turned to look at me. "The conference speech Migdalia?...But I've been shot, Precious. Surely there will be more opportunities for your poppa to tell the world what you helped me to invent." His voice was raspy and it didn't sound like Julian at all. He coughed a spell to clear the mucous from his throat.

"No Julian. There is no time. Your present condition is temporary and will only get worse. You simply must trust me on this." It was unfair of me to expect my father to comprehend what truly happened. He looked confused as if I were telling him a prognosis from the doctors, so I tried to share a story we both knew different versions of.

"Do you remember two years ago, when the nursing home Nan Hemingshire stayed in, called us on the Friday morning because she was dying?" <Using the last name in the dialog sounds artificial. Maybe you could call her grandma Nan or GoGo Nan?>

"I do. God rest her soul."

"She knew she was dying, but what do you remember she was most upset about?"

"Something rather silly is what I recall. You must excuse my recollection, having been shot recently and all." I was pleased that a shade of his dry humour surfaced.

"It was silly to us but really important to her. She was upset that she might not be alive to hear the Monday episode of her BBC radio mystery episode. She'd never missed a broadcast for nine years and she shushed us from talking while it played as we visited her."

"Hmm, oh yes. What was that show called again? It was rather a more science fiction drama type. Why are we talking about your Nan now?"

"Do you remember she survived the whole weekend? Do you recall when she died, Julian? Ten thirty-two AM, Monday morning. Two minutes after her radio show ended. I was responsible for that."

"It was a long time ago, Migdalia. You should not blame yourself for her death."

"No, Julian... I am responsible for her extension. Nan really died on that Friday, but I wanted her to listen to her show again so I...I delayed her true death. I'm not sure how I did it, but I made sure the windows were closed and that I never left her for very long."

"You're saying you kept her alive all weekend? But that's simply not possible, Migdalia. No one can do something like that."

"Well, how come I'm able to do just that to you right now?"

"Do what right now?...I don't understand. What do you mean?"



I didn't say anything to him for a while. I just looked at my father and let him figure it out for himself. I felt so awful for this moment, but it was necessary for him to understand. There was a look in his eyes that I'd only seen once before. It was a look a parent has when they believe they're about to lose a child. A frozen stare of desperation that leaves a mouth agape and the eyes even wider. I saw that look not two summer's ago--- we were on the lower level of a double-decker bus in the big city. He wanted to entertain me on an all-day outing in London. The bus was super crowded and all the seats and straps were taken. He hugged a pole while he looked at a bus route map of the city and I was close behind holding on the back of a seat. The bus pulled up to a tube station. loads of people started to get off and they sort of dragged me along with them to the back exit. I called out, 'Daddy' many times. Softly at first, but every single father, sitting or standing, looked to see if their daughter was calling except mine. He was so engrossed in the map until I yelled out his first name.

That was the first time I called him Julian and I haven't called him 'Daddy' since. He hasn't seemed to mind and I think it now rather <this part of the sentence stumbles..I think now and rather need to be moved or re-aranged> makes me sound quite grown up. I had said to myself that perhaps I'd only call him 'Daddy' again in the event of something truly extraordinary. I didn't know why then, I was still calling him 'Julian'.

What could be more extraordinary than your father's death?

That look of dread when he realized his daughter was about to be swept off the bus by a tide of commuters was identical to the look he gave me from his hospital bed. The moment he acknowledged he had died the day before.

"Do you understand now, Julian?" I mopped the sweat from his forehead and from the corner of his left eye. Sweat from the eyes, he called it. Never tears.

"So we won't be together for much longer?"

"No. This is why we have to get out of here and get ready for your big speech. You need to buy a suit and get your materials together. You have to look nice in front of your friends and your enemies."




Although my father <I’d go with either my father or Julian but not both>Julian was a brilliant chemical engineer, he sometimes needed to be pushed in certain areas for his own good. Like how I pushed him to buy a decent suit for the speech. Either way, he's going to need it; I'm sort of practical like that.

My mother, Delores used to take advantage of my father's good nature. Julian loved her very much and would do all that he could to make us happy, but he didn't understand females very well, though. I wanted to tell him that you can't always please us, so just do what makes you happy sometimes, and ignore us the rest of the time.

Mother was employed as a telephone operator for an aluminum factory in Cornwall. She worked odd hours and meals were sort of sporadic. I had to learn how to use those noisy pots my father gave to her as a gift, over time<I’m not understanding this sentence with the pots. Maybe some more explaination>. One winter I caught the flu and couldn't go to school for two days. On the second day, I think she forgot I was at home and she returned with a gentleman guest. I could hear them drinking and clinking glasses and I peeked out to see her clad only in her short white petticoat, dancing for this male guest. He was fat in the face and in the tummy, with a scruffy beard and thick fingers. They went into her bedroom and closed the door. The noises I heard coming from the room I could tell they were no longer dancing.

Then Julian came home early to check on me. He brought me a lolly. I thanked him, but I was afraid of what might happen when he left my room and opened the door to his. My fever was still high, but I wanted to hear clearly how my father was going to bash this gentleman-caller in his bed. I pressed my ear against the oak door of their bedroom, and even with my congested sinus, I could smell the odour of the scruffy man's cologne oozing through the crease. Surely a close cousin of turpentine.

I could not believe my mother convinced Julian, this unkempt, pudgy man, with fingers as thick as a garden hose, was her new tailor. I heard her explain her lack of clothing because she was being measured for a new dress.

I didn't even scamper when I heard the door opening. My father sat on the armchair outside his bedroom, back erect, briefcase by his ankles and waited for them to emerge.

"She's with her new tailor. Just giving them some privacy," he said. "Run along back to your bed and get better, Precious."

I did go back to my room, but not before I witnessed this rotund gentleman caller leave my mother's room with her own personal inch-tape draped around his neck.

He was no more a tailor than my father was astute. And my father was miles from astute.


Over the next five months, my mother left the house, mostly on Sunday afternoons, with the pretense of being 'measured for a new dress'. She kept saying her measurements were changing as she was becoming slimmer.

And indeed she was. When she died of the cancer during that summer, all of the dresses in her wardrobe fit loosely, and none of her new ones, if they ever existed, could be found.

I did not know how to save her then. Perhaps if her spirit longed for some benevolent event within reach I could have tried.

But there was none... and I did not.



My brilliant father Julian<another dbl usage of father and Julian.> was an awkward chap in some ways. Perhaps because he was tall and lanky, limb coordination was something he was not blessed with. He dressed in a haphazard manner and this is as kind as I can say. Apart from his constant white sneakers and blue threadbare, dress trousers, his shirts were selected with a blind grasp, seldom appropriate for the occasion.

But where he was sparse in the coordination department, he more than made up for it in his vision. It was the beautiful way he saw things in three-dimensional space that blended together perfectly.

Soon after mother died he made his best attempts to entertain and distract me in my grief. He did not know my mother did no such things in his absence. I didn't dare tell him the truth because I loved the time he carved out for me.

<this ‘third occasion is throwing me off. Did I miss the prior occasions? If I didn’t I think this needs some background or more explaination>
The third occasion we played 'princess jewelers', it was on the floor of our drawing room in front of the settee. We decided to make a tiara and broach for the new debutante, Migdalia of Hemmingshire.



"Which bag shall we open tonight, Princess. The red, green and crystal bead-bag or the yellow, blue and orange bead-bag?"

"The red, green and crystal bead-bag, kind Sir," I sang with all of the glee a little girl was allowed to have.

What happened next changed everything.

Julian tugged and tore at the plastic wrapping in all of the wrong places and the coloured beads exploded from the clear sack along with a shower of laughter. Beads were everywhere; on the rug, in my hair, even between the creases of the settee cushions.

But they also fell into an empty candle holder sitting on the coffee table. His laughter died away before mine, as he stared and stared at the alignment of the coloured beads inside that clear candle holder. All I saw were pretty beads in a tube, but he saw an arrangement of elements repeating itself in a way that made him more excited than I'd ever seen.

I was not too upset that my tiara and broach were not made that evening because we danced the most awkward, uncoordinated waltz in history. I had to stand on his shoe tips to keep from being trod on. I did not know then the cause for his celebration but I was happy for my father's happiness.



After a few days<comma> when he'd drawn out the molecule on paper <comma>he said it possibly could be the strongest material ever produced, and it might just be the key to constructing a tower to space where people can travel to the heavens by elevators tethered to earth.

I had no knowledge of such things, but I grew to understand this new thing Julian obsessed over was enormous indeed. He was out of work at the time and he asked a chap named Angus, one of his science engineering friends at South<1 too many ‘h’>Hampton University, to listen to his short presentation.


All day at school, while he visited the University, I prayed for luck to hug my awkward, brilliant father.

I met him in the Croydon markets that afternoon. He appeared in the distance with his shoulders square and a smile renting his lips.



"How did it go today, Julian?"

"Smashing. Angus loved it. He thought it was brilliant. And get this... of all the coincidences in the world. He said he came up with the exact idea two days ago. Isn't that bloody crazy?"

"Wait, you mean he, out-of-the-blue, had the same brilliant invention as you just two days ago? Did he show you his work?"

"No, but I gave him a copy of mine to see how close they were. He offered me a temporary job as a lab assistant."

I remember the rain just starting to fall when he told me of his day's success. I scowled at him from under the canopy of a cobbler's stall, but he decided not to take shelter from the cloud burst and saunter about in the downpour. I did not want to be disrespectful to Julian in his numb bliss, but I had to vent in some way among the simpler farmer's market folk. So when he asked me what homework assignments I had for the night I replied with glib.

"Gullible's Travels."



It didn't take long for Angus and his friends to show their true intentions when they started to promote the research as their own. I urged him not to trust them so much, but Julian's good nature was trampled on for the umpteenth time.

There is just so much a little girl can do before she intrudes into the affairs of her father.

Research papers were being authored by my father's colleagues with scant mention of Julian's contribution and soon the day came when his association with the team was to be terminated. Julian was crushed but he pretended not to bother, trying to save face for me not to worry.

Then three months ago, a request came from Angus to help with the patent application. There were problems they could not solve. I did something that night that frightened me and I know it must have terrified him.

I told him if he helped those s***s with the patent application, without insisting his name be the sole inventor, that I would hold my breath forever. Julian thought I was being too petulant and pressed ahead. When I passed out in front of him as my lips turned blue, I got a nasty gash when my head hit the ground. I got a bad gash <just used gash..last sentence>over my eyebrow, but he must have had three deaths. It was unfair but I used my medical condition to make him promise to present his original work at a big conference and challenge the patent claim held by his greedy friends. They stood to be publicly shamed by the university and their peers, but sometimes Julian needed to be coaxed in the right direction.




We made it home the next day after self-discharging from the hospital against doctor's advice. The coppers had already questioned us so we left. We traveled by taxi wearing his hospital gown and his threadbare blue dress pants. The staff was not happy, but we were... and that's all that mattered.

We had two days to get ready; one to practice the speech and the other to buy the suit. I wasn't sure if I could keep him alive for much longer, as his soul was much different than Nan's.

He must have been starving that morning as he went directly to the fridge and drank orange juice straight from the half-full plastic jug.

"How are you feeling mentally, Julian? You need to be sharp and have your wits about you for when you're up on stage."

"Migdalia let me show you how sharp your father is. While we were in the ambulance to the hospital, I figured out why I drink straight from the plastic jug when it's only half-full?

"I wasn't aware you did that. Is that even true?"

"It's true and it drove your mother 'round the bend. Look, when it's full, the whole jug is the same cool temperature as the juice, including the hollow handle. That's when I pour it into a glass. But when the level is below the handle, my brain seemed to re-wire to drink straight from the jug because I also love the feeling of the cold juice flowing through the hollow handle and my grip. I don't know why that came to me in the ambulance."

I decided then, Julian was brilliantly Renaissance and also weird. But he was my kind of weird.


I was oddly happy that night. Although my father was technically dead, I'd never felt more alive with him than that day. He also let me use a swear word without getting upset. I called Angus and his university friends, 'the s***s' earlier, and he let it go.

I felt rather grown up.

I watched him write the speech from undercover<under the covers or undercover as in hidden? Maybe it’s a regional thing> on the settee. I knew he was unaware that I saw him 'sweat from his eyes' and mop the tears up from his manuscript.

"Julian, can you really build a tower from Earth to Heaven?" I remember asking just before I nodded off.

"Yes, I can, Precious. Do you know why? Because I am going to rename my invention the Migdalia Molecule. Everything makes sense to me now."

When I woke up he was gone and did not return to our cottage for quite some time. When I asked where he had gone he said he couldn't have gone far as he depended on me to get to the next day.




The next day, which was also yesterday, we both got a late start from the cottage we lived in. Even as we waited for the bus, Julian still did not feel he needed to be dressed well. He had always been very frugal with the money he saved and a new suit seemed like an unnecessary expense. I managed a persuasion by reminding him of the temporary nature of his existence and that he might not even have to change clothing between his lecture and his own funeral.

"This is kind of a touchy subject, Julian, but since we will not be together for much longer what do you suggest I do with the business of living? Do you have insurance?"

"Yes I do, Precious. She's called Aunt Iris and she lives in Stratford. You can stay with her and let out the cottage. That should keep you until your 'A' level exams. I wrote a letter to you last night that will explain everything." <not a great insurance policy LOL Although I’m sure the patent rights for nano-tubes would fall to her and she would be a very very wealthy young lady.>

The bus came and we rode in silence for the most part. When our stop came up he simply crooked his neck and we stepped off the back stairs right into a men's clothing store. It reeked of foul cologne and It didn't take long before a sales assistant approached with a smile.

A pudgy chap with a scruffy beard, an inch-tape draped around his neck and fingers as thick as a garden hose, shook my father's hand.

Even if a brick-laden lorry had been barreling towards me, I could not have been moved from where I stood.


My mother's lover was actually a real tailor.


And here he was shaking my father's hand welcoming him into his store. The man certainly did not show any inkling of recognition, as I suspect he only saw him once in the bedroom many months ago. But did Julian know who this man was? They parted temporarily and Julian went to a rack of suits.

"What colour suit did we decide on, Migdalia?" He slid wooden hangers along a rail looking for his size.

"Black." I was distracted by the presence of my mother's former lover wondering what she might have seen in him.

There was a mirror fastened to a wood panel that separated the suit racks, and Julian and I stared transfixed into each other's faces. He had no reason to stare at me for such an extended period, but I could not read precisely what his expression meant. His eyebrows were elevated and furrowed his forehead, his lips threatened a smirk, but his eyes never flinched the entire gaze.

"Do you like this one, Precious?" He asked eventually.

"Yes, Julian, it's nice."

He went to a dressing room in the far corner while the overweight store owner stood outside, rocking on his heels and gripping the tape measure around his neck. I could see my father's long arms flailing over the partition while he changed into the black suit. When he finished, my dead mother's lover eased in to assess the fit.

They had not been in there for more than half a minute before the store owner coughed or sneezed or made some other inappropriate noises that stopped as quickly as they started. Julian stepped out of the dressing room and went straight to the cashier. "I'll take this and wear it away with me. Please bag my old clothes," he told the attendant.

When the transaction was over the pudgy gent had still not come out of the dressing room. Julian walked past me with the same expression in the mirror except there was now a definite smirk on his lips. I craned my neck and saw the upturned shoes of the fat tailor, sticking out from under the closed curtain, laying on the floor.

I suspect Julian did recognize him after all. The bashing had come nearly three years in the lag.

Riding back on the bus I rested my head against his shoulder and admired my father in his new black suit. It did not matter to me that he still wore his white soft shoes with his new dress trousers. There was nothing more that could be said or done, but it did not stop me from smiling through the journey; that short bus trip home... and the longer one we try to live each day.

<imo I think this next line should have been worked into the paragraph above. It seems to hang left by itself>
Being outside, it was harder to keep his soul contained. It had become so restless and I was rather tired. I loved my awkward father tremendously and I was going to miss Julian very much.


* * * * * * * * * * *



And so, here we sit in the front row, hand in hand. His introduction is over and he readies himself to claim what is rightfully his. I've become so fatigued holding his hand and his spirit, in order for him to be here. It's a lot more work than I anticipated.


On stage he makes a gesture to a short tubular model on wheels, representing his invention and he begins.

"Ladies and gentlemen, my daughter Migdalia was an amazing person and if you have the time to stay a while I'd like to tell her story. Even though she's no longer with us I've felt her cool touch around me for the past three days coaxing me to continue our quest which we've been on together. I am aware of when she's holding my hand as she now knows I like the cooling sensation through my grip. A father should never have to bury his daughter but it's fitting that we will do so in this tube made from the material she helped to discover. Her soul will be able to travel back and forth on the tower she will make possible."

Wait, Daddy...What?

"There are three 's***s' here pretending to be friends of mine. But one of you, I know, shot her in the theater on Sunday. I know that bullet was meant for me but through her spirit, no one will stop me from my presentation tomorrow. We will see who shows up there, and God help you when I figure out who killed my little girl."

"She helped me yesterday to choose this one and only black suit I'm wearing and in the process taught me how to slay the demons that crouch in my life."

Wait, Daddy...What? I'm the one who died...?

"I know, Precious, you were confused as to who was really dead over the past few days but I was afraid if I let you know the truth, you'd leave me sooner. Goodbye, my Precious. Thank you for being so grown up when I was not."

"Wait for me at the end of the tower."


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
15
15
Review of Lefu  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (4.0)
I saw you in the Fantasy & Horror newsletter.
Fun story. Good vocabulary. Keep up the good work.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
16
16
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: E | (4.0)
Hello Jorga, I saw your short in the newbies section and thought I'd give it a read. Please be aware that the following comments are those of a fellow new writer. Take what you will and grind the rest beneath your angry boot heel.

This is a very nice, poignant story with a lot of feeling, good descriptions, and a nice pace. I liked the emotional descriptions of all the relatives. It gave me that feeling of visiting my wife's family.

I've marked a couple specific comments in blue in the body of your story. However, my main criticism would be the paragraphing, or lack thereof. Personally, and i think many readers feel the same, I dislike reading huge chunky blocks of text. It quickly becomes unwieldy and hard on the eyes. If this story were properly paragraphed it would earn another half star in my opinion.

As to WDC, welcome. I suggest you take advantage of the contests as a fun way to motivate yourself to write. If you are writing a book there is the Novel Workshop. A great group of ppl who are helping edit each others work. For tools, you should check out 'Grammarly'. It's a free download that attaches to your editor (on line that is) and does a fantastic job of picking out misspellings, grammar mistakes, that kind of thing.

Anyway, great story and keep up the good work.

As always, critical reviews of my own work are always welcome.

J




I can’t recall why we went to Aunt Nan’s that day, but I’m sure it was an important event; not Christmas because Christmas was always at Bee-Bop’s; and besides, there was no snow on the ground. It had to be some occasion because we just didn’t go to Aunt Nan’s without a reason. Maybe it was someone’s birthday. Most likely it was early spring because the air had the kind of crispness to it that scratched at my throat when I inhaled. And Aunt Viv had me bundled up as if we were on an Alaskan expedition. Of course that I was bundled wasn’t unusual. Aunt Viv’s area of expertise was making sure I had enough clothes on to fill a small closet. Never mind I couldn’t move. We were early as usual. Uncle Ralph’s area of expertise. Everything laid out to the letter, all “T’s” crossed and “I’s” dotted, never late!
We were in the breezeway, between the kitchen and garage. Aunt Viv peeling the layers off me I had just thirty minutes before dutifully put on. The smell in the breezeway was not exactly welcoming. Damp cement, mixed with leather, horse blankets and livestock fodder fed the earthy, musty smell. Oily garage smells crept in from the left; rich kitchen smells crept out from the right, and all the smells seemed to follow me into the house. I always had mixed up emotions about going to Aunt Nan’s. It was too small. Too small for her own family. With all the aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmas it became a sea of people, scrunching past one another, looking for a vacant perch, and a ponderous line outside the bathroom door. The bathroom had a lingering odor also, of what I now know to be a very high iron content in the water. As a child I assumed it had something to do with raising boys, who never did inside chores and were known to be slobs. But Aunt Nan’s boys were all that made being there tolerable. She had four. Danny who was too young -- too young for me to play with; was a big momma’s baby, so I didn’t want to play with him anyway. David was just two years older than me and I suppose my favorite. He always invited me to go places even though I was a girl, and he didn’t treat me like a girl. He taught me how to ride in the back pasture, in spite of the trouble we would catch if Aunt Viv or Uncle Ralph found out. Maybe I had a crush on him. Chuck was a teenager, an Eagle Scout and would take David and me down to the Tastee Freeze; that is until he found a girlfriend. Aunt Nan’s oldest, Jaime Lee was married and more like a fun uncle, unlike the ones seated around me on the worn gold velvet davenport where I waited. Patiently I sat waiting,<waiting used twice close together> while the stout aunts bustled around the kitchen, scooting past each other with their wide hips. Preparing the food, laying out huge bowls of fried chicken and uncovering Jell-O salads packed with so much fruit and chunky stuff it couldn’t wiggle. Patiently I sat half listening to the balding uncles smoking their filterless Camels in a blue cloud and discussing the union strike at the John Deere plant. Patiently, while more family arrived and was greeted and hugged and kissed, I waited. Patiently waiting for David or Chuck to show their face so I could sneak out from under the watchful eye of the adults, with them.
The phone rang. Although I could only hear one side of the conversation I could tell from the inflection of her voice it was a special call.
“Vivian, Go get on the extension, it’s Mary Louise.”
Mom?
Why was she calling me here?
How did she know I was here?
Why didn’t she ask for me?
<Thoughts…in itallics?>
Finally . . .
“Abby, it’s your mother, dear, come to the phone.”
“Hi . . . Moma . . .”
It was wonderful news. Daddy and she were getting back together — again. I felt the lump ascending in my throat and I choked on it. I couldn’t talk. I handed the phone off to someone and ran to David and Chuck’s bedroom. I closed the door softly so not as to draw any more attention than I already had. I turned my back to the door so if anyone entered they couldn’t see my crying. And there I stood. Rigid. Afraid to move. Afraid. I stood staring out the window at Stardust and Starlight in the meadow, the twin palominos grazing so tenderly. As I stood staring, I concentrated on crying as quietly as possible. I could already hear the hushed voices outside the door.
“I’m sure she is okay Vivian —she just needs some time.”
“Poor Abagail.”
“She has been through so much.”
“I know and now Mary is uprooting her again.”
“How can she?”
Oh, deliver me from those shrouded noises. I guess I had heard them all my life. I don’t know that I can bear them even one more time. Don’t they know I can grasp the difference between love and pity. Don’t they know I love her; she’s my Mother.
Momma and Daddy had married when I was two. It had been Grandpa that decided I should continue to live with Grandma and him till they were ready to begin a family of their own. Grandpa died shortly after. Living with Grandma was effortless. She and I got on very well. She was unruffled and I understood the necessity for good behavior because of her maturity. I was eight and starting second grade when I moved to New Orleans to live with my parents and my new baby sister, Zeke. She was nick-named for an uncle on Daddy’s side, and she was so very cute. Living with Momma and Daddy was an adventure in the least. <adventure ‘in’ the least doesn’t sound right. ‘at’ the least?>Daddy was a truck driver and gone most of the time. Momma worked nights and we spent a lot of time at the sitter’s. When we were all home together, it was a roller coaster. Steak and wine or beans and Koolaid. We could be having so much fun; and the next moment the voices would begin to rise and rise. I learned to take Zeke and go to our bedroom and I would sing right into her ear while cupping my hand around the other ear. Just loud enough so she couldn’t hear what was going on in the next room but quiet enough so they couldn’t hear me sing. At the beginning of the fourth grade, they split up not for a week but permanently. I was sent to live with Aunt Vivian and Uncle Ralph. Zeke, still a kind of baby, was sent to Aunt Donna and Uncle Kennard.
Aunt Viv and Uncle Ralph were remarkable. They were childless and somehow it seemed as though they needed me desperately. Uncle Ralph was an accountant, the town treasurer, a deacon in the First Presbyterian Church and a 32nd degree Mason. He wore ties and starched white shirts. He was balding, smelled of hair tonic, Old Spice and tobacco, and he was all the things that appeared right and normal. Aunt Viv was his perfect mate. Harriet Nelson only overly plump, with a little too much rouge on her cheeks and lipstick on her teeth. She wore bright floral house dresses and her breath was of stale coffee. She doted and baked. She sewed, quilted, ironed and gardened. And she doted some more. They were routine. They were overly protective and frugal. They listened to Lawrence Welk and farm-to-market reports, mowed neighbor's yards and carried food to shut-ins. I know they loved me. Because they were childless, because I was motherless, because I was family. They were safe.
Still standing at the bedroom window, my tears dwindled to quick short gasps for air, I had not noticed the palominos leave the meadow. The wallpaper had replaced my gaze; repeating patterns of cowboys on horseback and racing covered wagons in dull shades of brown. A cowboy with his arm arched in the air riding a bucking bronco followed by a covered wagon pulled by four stout horses with their manes and tails streaming behind them. Where were they running to or what were they running from? Soaked in heartache and my attention on the racing cowboys, I didn’t notice Chuck had entered the room. He laid a warm and comforting hand on my shoulder. I started. I began my uncontrollable crying again. How long had I been standing there? Did they send him in? Listen to all that clamor; everyone had arrived. How can I face all my family, when they knew what I had been crying about? How do they know when I’m not sure? Without saying a word, he told me it was okay to cry. When I was settled he guided me out of the room, sheltering me from the sidelong fretting gawks, out of the house and we escaped to the back


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
17
17
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (3.0)
Thanks for the opportunity to read your work. Please take these comments as the suggestions of a novice writer trying to help. Use what you will and crush the rest beneath your angry boot heel.

You've definitely got a start here, and a place to go from. If your intent is to write a book I would suggest you write all the way through and edit after instead of trying to get each chapter right before moveing on. Steven King's advice...which I accepted gratefully. (Personally, I liked his book own how to write. I recommend it).
Anyway, you did alot of showing and not alot of telling. That would be my biggest criticism. This is true EXCEPT in the last 1/3 of the chapter. Then you start engaging the reader. You have interplay between the characters. Thoughts and description intermixed with dialog.THATS what you need throughout.

Anyway. Good start. I've put my comments such as they are.
Keep writing and keep reading.

As always, critical reviews of my own work are always appreciated.

pm. Time to wake up. I've got a hell of a lot to do today.

Shifting out of the blankets feet somehow make their way to the floor. A warm floor. It's nearly 110 outside and at this point there's a prevailing heat that's somehow seeped through the tight gaps and cracks and found its way to the heart of my air conditioned apartment.


Stumbling through my sleep I catch a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror and run my fingers through a mess of blonde. Mascara and the glimmer of eyeshadow cling to odd parts of my face. A warm wet washcloth wipes away all traces of last night, leaving behind a reflection I'm much more used to.

Shower. Coffee. Bagel. Three texts from a 702 number that I don't text back to. Heat strikes me <like a …something I think would help> as soon as I step out of the door, it makes the walk across the parking lot feel like an expedition through the Sahara <maybe some description of smells..sweat..dry wind>. My car races to the government building where they process the licenses. I still can't believe I need a license for what I do, they finger print me and everything. the clerks speak to me in serious tones and I pretend that I'm signing up for some sort of life threatening mission, my face expressionless and still as they snap my photo. The lady gives me a funny look as she hands me all the paperwork, I give her the brightest smile before exclaiming "thanks!" and walking off with the documentation I need for another year of employment.
<this paragraph is full of ‘telling’ and ripe for description, activity, immersion. Don’t tell us about the walk through the DMV show us. The dialog with the crazy license lady. Standing too close to the guy who’s been working in the heat for days and forgot the objective of showers. That kind of stuff will draw the reader in AND will add nicely to your word count>

A year of employment. I never thought I'd be still working after a year. Hell, I didn't think I would still be in this city after six months, but the nights catch up to me, and months have flown by.

I readjust the shades poised precariously on top of my head back over my eyes before setting out for the car again.<again is a rarely needed word> This time headed out for my soon to be new apartment building to sign a lease. I blow a red light or two trying to make sure I get there right at five, just as they asked, they still make me sit and wait as soon as I get there. I suppose this is all to be expected, I've been playing their game for a while now. It used to be that there was so much housing available places would advertise new amenities and price discounts trying to raise interest and make their property stick out, now you wait, you play their games, you beg for a place to allow you to move in and pay a high price for it if they do.

There are three other people in this room, all avoiding eye contact, immersed in their phones. I do the same. Safe in a screened sanctuary I flip through headlines to pass the time. "Nebraska farmers sue the state, lack of subsidies causes halt in production" "18 killed in suicide bombing in Madrid" "Strange lights reported over Buffalo, NY unlicensed drone use suspected" "New technology in 3D printing may change the pizza industry" I pause my finger on the last one, only to be disappointed when the article pops up. It's more gimmicky than anything, stating that they may have the technology soon to make something that sort of resembles what they're talking about. More of the same. I am saved from flashing advertisement trying to convince me of how much money I would save by switching to an insurance companies that covers loses due to food borne illnesses by a young girl in oversized glasses calling my name.
<how about descriptions of the room? The ppl? Maybe one of them bumps her head in acknowledgement. Or a finger wave is met with a smirk of disqust? What’s the room look like?>

I pick up my things and start walking towards the office but the assistant takes three steps to the right to perfectly block my path. She stands there, slightly swaying, with her hands balling up the fabric of her skirt at the sides.

"I'm sorry, it looks like they won't be able to accept your application at this time"

The words sink like a stone in my stomach. "You've already accepted my application, I'm here to put down my deposit." It come out a little more curtly than I had anticipated, my tongue shoots up to press against the top of my mouth.

"I'm sorry. They told me to tell you you're welcome to apply again at a later time"

I'm sure I am. It was $100 just for the initial application. Non reimbursable of course. Legs and arms are stiff, rigid as I make my way home. Pulling into my parking spot is my cue. In one swift move I pound my dashboard and pull my knees up to become a ball of self pity sitting in my drivers seat. Completely screwed. It took me months to find this place. Half my stuff was already boxed up. My landlord expects me to be moved out in ten days. Completely screwed. This becomes a mantra that repeats itself on a loop inside my head. Maybe they haven't rented my place out yet. Maybe I can stay. I doubt it. Back to throwing money at a crappy hotel till I can find a place. A cry of frustration burst out of me but at the same time movement catches my attention to the left. I didn't hear the car pull up next to me but it's driver was staring right at me. <me used twice in close proximity>

Perfect. My body moves to slide as far down in my seat as possible. I wonder how long he has been there? Wait. I really don't want to know. I can feel the heat on my cheeks as the color rushes to them. Then, the softest knocking against my door.
<she doesn’t see him walk up? If not why. If so describe the man, his expression, etc>

I look up through my slightly spread fingertips to see hazel eyes on an attractive face <Looking down on me not needed> looking down on me. He looks like he just got home from a busy day at work, a very official looking shirt slightly unbuttoned on top, I can see a small coffee stain on one of his rolled up sleeves. His slightly messy dark brown hair looks like he's spent a good deal of time today running his hands through it.

"Hello...are you okay?"

How embarrassing. Straightening up in my chair <seat?> I brush the tears off my cheek and do my best to clear my face of its previous emotions. He looks like a nice guy, I haven't seen him around before. Perhaps he's new. His face has slight bags under his eyes, the kind you get from stress or lack of sleep.

"Sorry. Yeah, It's fine, I mean I'm fine." I can't help but cringe at my own awkwardness.

"You didn't look fine a second ago." A half smile breaks across his face.

"Ha," his smile is a bit disarming, "yeah, I'm just kinda frustrated. I'll get over it." Turning from the window I busy myself shutting off the engine avoiding eye contact. I glance over to see he's moved from my door to half sitting half leaning on his car parked right beside mine. I take my time grabbing my things and <this sentence is rough with the two ‘my’s> opening the door. I catch him looking off at no where, his mind far off in some unimaginable place. <point of view shift. Try and keep your 3rd person POV if possible> He lets out a very controlled force of air, a specific sigh it sounds like he's done a million times before, this one's aimed in my direction.

"I need a drink," he says as such a declaration and a flash of amusement courses through me as I watch him run his hands through his hair in exasperation, "seems like you could use one too." Another half smile, "Care to join me?"

My lips start to form the word "no" before I stop myself. Why not? I don't know him. My red flags are always there in the background, ready to not trust. He seems harmless though, nice even. Today has been such a disappointment, it doesn't seem possible for it to get worse. Sure. Yes. I want to.

"Sure."

A full smile. Something lights up in his eyes that wasn't there before. I watch him stand up, look around, and spot the bar a block <away> a way. "Is that place any good? I don't really know the area yet."

"Not sure, I've never been there," I don't want to see his excitement drop so I quickly add, "I've heard good things."

"Great! Uh..." He glances back at what looks like a computer bag and lunch box spread across his passenger seat, "let me take care of a few things. Do you want to meet over there? Let's shoot for half an hour or so."

"Works for me." I turn to lock up my <Civic> civic.

"My name's Michael, I didn't introduce myself before."

"Jessica" I smile before turning to walk away, "I'll see you there."

"Great. See you."

I glance back over my shoulder to see him moving some things around in his car. A flutter of excitement moves through me as I walk up the stairs to my place. My place. My heart sinks a little as the feeling of despair fights for its place at the front of my mind. I throw my purse on the tile floor and collapse on my couch as soon as I walk through the door.

What a headache. I can't stay upset. Scratch that. I certainly can stay upset, but it'll do me no good. A solution. There's always a solution, but right now a better solution is have a drink with the cute neighbor and get this as far from my mind as possible.

I wonder what's happened in his day to put him in such a mood. There was a definite tenseness around him. Could be anything I suppose. The clock in the corner catches my attention and I <try not to use passive verb like ‘make my way’ eliminate them with extreme prejudice. Instead: sauntered, shuffled, strode, marched..you get the idea> make my way over to the closet to pick something to change into.

After rummaging through my endless piles of clothes for a good ten minutes I settle on zipping up a bright yellow sundress I bought a few weeks ago but never got around to wearing.<describe please> I almost immediately regret my decision. Smooth skin transforms into frown lines in my reflection as nervous mixed feelings wash over me. It looks good, but that makes it look like I tried to look good. I don't want him to read into it. What if he takes it for over excitement? Desperation? Men are so difficult in the real world and I wonder for a moment what I was thinking by saying yes. I tend to over think these things like a game of chess that only I'm playing, only problem is I don't tend to win.

My door shudders as I close it harder than I meant to.<what door?> I'm over thinking it by even thinking about it that way at all.<that sentence was confusing> I'm sure he just wants someone to complain to about his day. I can feel heat <from the weather? The emotions? >on my cheeks as I head down the stairs and I mentally chastise myself for letting my vanity make such quick assumptions about his intentions.

The sign for Platform looms in front of me. It's one of those places that looks like it's trying way too hard to be relevant with mild atmosphere lights and a falsely luxurious exterior that's about as high class as a plastic chandler. True Vegas style.
<You’ve got her at the club I Imagine but don’t have a progression. Also , the club name was not mentioned earlier. At some point you probably want to mention the club name. Maybe she saw if from the car. Or he mentioned the name? She read it when she walked up? What does the sigh look like?>

It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim illumination coming from oversized hipster lightbulbs hanging above the tables. <where are they? What kind? Anyone else here? What’s it smell like?> The dining room is nearly empty and after a sweeping look over at the bar it appears my new neighbor is nowhere to be seen. Figures. The bartender <a young, good looking kid with too large gauges >gives me an inviting smile between wiping down dirty glasses, <What’s your pleasure? He asks. I order a glass of wine and drop into a seat> so I have a seat and order a glass of wine. A cool sip of Pino Grigio sends a familiar sense of calm through me. The taste is sweeter here and I can't remember the last time I had a drink outside of work. It's a lovely feeling to pay for my own drink and not have to pretend to be overly grateful.

I can feel a wave of hot air pass over me from where I'm sitting by the door. I turn to see my neighbor squinting at the dining room and watch as his eyes turn to catch mine. Their expression is slightly flustered and apologetic.

"Sorry I'm late, damn cat." He mutters the last bit as he takes a seat on the bar stool next to mine. "Apparently he hates my new place, he made a run for it as soon as I opened the door. Have you been sitting <sitting not needed> here for long?"

"Nope. I just started settling in. Here," I hand him the drink menu that I realize I'm still holding, <period>" <caps What’s> what's your cats name?"

"Terrance,<period>" <caps>he glances over the menu and flips it over to the beer selection, "<caps>he kinda looks like Garfield, only fatter." The bartender looks at him expectantly <Give me a Guiness>” and he orders a Guinness.

"Terrance?" I flash him an amused grin.

"I didn't name him," he returns with a half smile, "he's kind of a relic from a past life of mine." He moves to almost physically shake off the direction the conversation is moving, "So, I've been imagining what in the world caused the panic attack I witnessed in the parking lot, but I'm at a loss."

"It wasn't a panic attack."

"Oh?" His eyebrows raise expectantly, a smirk hides somewhere in his calm face.

"I told you, I was just,..frustrated." I can see he's waiting for more of an answer, instead I take a strategic sip of wine.

His expression lingers, unphased by my obvious attempt to shake him off. "And what," his body leans toward me ever so slightly, "was so frustrating?"
<now we’re talking. You’ve got active descriptions going on>
"Life."

The smallest of chuckles. He raises the glass of foamy beer newly placed in front of him and gives me a pointed look before taking a long sip.

"Your day wasn't so easy either."

"What makes you say that?"

I return his pointed look.

He rolls his eyes as he turns his head away from me for another frothy sip.

I let a moment of silence pass through us before trying to satisfy more of the curiosity building inside of me. "You're not a gambler, you're not an alcoholic...so what made you move to Vegas?"

"How do you know I'm not a gambler or an alcoholic?"

"Because you're not."

A muttered sound of amusement. "Good point." He lets out what's quickly becoming his signature sigh in my mind and takes a moment before answering. "I was relocated for work. Not my ideal destination, but it was worth the sacrifice. Some things you just can't miss out on. I wasn't expecting it to be so <caps>god damn hot though."

"What do you do?"

I can see a shift in his careless demeanor, "Just some government work, I'm a geneticist actually, it's mostly staring at screens all day. Nothing too interesting." He says this last bit quickly, a forced casual tone.

"That actually sounds fascinating." Though I want him to go on I can't help but be fascinated by him more than anything. Cute and intelligent. A nice mix.
<two actually ies>

"I guess."

"What does a geneticist do in Las Vegas though? I'm imagining you running around genetically modifying tigers not to eat Sigfreid or something." I flash him a ridiculous grin, letting myself fall into unabashed flirting.

He leans closer to me in mock seriousness, "It's completely confidential," and turns to grab a food menu but not before giving me a sly wink. "Are you hungry at all? I'm starving?"

We take a few moments flipping through the heavily stylized pages of the menus. I settle on a light cranberry salad with candied pecans, a club sandwich for him. Michael insists on paying for our food since he was too late to buy my first drink. He orders me another glass of wine as well, and some sort of whisky for himself.

"Is it my turn to ask you the obligatory question of what do you do for work?"

Ugh. His hazel eyes are so playful I can't help but smile even though I had dreaded the inevitability of his question. "I suppose so. I'm a dancer."

"That's awesome! What kind of act? You're not in Cirque de Soleil are you?"

"Kinda like Cirque, but with a little more champagne, and a little less clothing." I can visibly see the understanding appearing on his face. "I'm a stripper. Well, entertainer is what they legally call it here if you want to get technical."

He bursts out laughing and awkwardly trickles off his amusement as he realizes I'm not joining him in the fun.

"You're serious?"

The question is uncomfortable when anyone asks my occupation, reactions are different and I never know what to expect. There is a terrible prejudice about women in my field which I can't help to acknowledge might be there for a good reason when I talk to some of my co-workers. I hate being automatically categorized with them. I hate when people suddenly look at me like I have some sort of addiction I'm hiding or cripplingly unresolved daddy issues. I can feel the need to explain myself welling up inside me, but I hold back and instead respond with a cool, confident "what?," as if I can't fathom why he would react in such a way.

"I just," he takes a moment to clear his face and regain his casual composure before letting out a softer laugh "I just didn't expect that. I guess this is the place for it after all. You don't seem like the type. Then again I don't know what the type is really-"

"Don't worry about it," I cut him off playfully, "I get that all the time." His genuine surprise is so endearing it cuts through my own personal discomfort. "I always tell people I'm really more of a therapist than anything, you'd be surprised how many people just want a shoulder to cry on. It's the easiest job out there."

"Damn...I couldn't get out there and...shake it for the world to see. That's something."

"I love what I do. Everybody wants to feel loved, feel special, it's part of the human condition. I give them the attention they long for."

His cocky half smile reappears on his face, "What a saint."

I give him a humble, mother Teresa-ish, nod. I do love it. The glamour and excitement is as intoxicating as the beverage in my hand. I feel a pressure inside of me releasing. I find that my occupation elicits one of two responses, in varying degrees which ever way, either disgust or excitement. This situations appears to be the lather.

I take on a few of his questions before changing the conversation to safer ground. We sit there long after the platters of food are placed in front of us and removed. Shooting the s***. Talking about everything and nothing. It's fun the way meeting anyone new is, with an added excitement of mutual attraction. There's a certain pleasant feeling that comes from discovering the small mysteries of someone you've never talked to before. I learn he's from Washington, but has spent the last few years in New York. He learns that I'm a middle child, that I love sudoku. Simple things lead to deeper matters. I learn he's fresh out of a four year relationship, he learns I haven't talked to my family for years.

Michaels smiles start getting interrupted by yawns, the three drinks on top of whatever he went through at his work today seems to be taking a toll.

"It's late." I hate cutting it off, I could easily stay and talk the night through but sleep surrounds him. It's a Wednesday, he must have work tomorrow. We exchange numbers. He tries to walk me back to my apartment but I shoot him down. I want to avoid any lingering at the door, as cute as he is I'd rather not get into it. Not tonight. Another night maybe.

Instead I head to my patio to spend the rest of the night alone. With my new liquid confidence my earlier frustrations seem far more manageable. Hotels will be fine to stay in till I secure a new place. It won't be that bad, but not what I wanted. I settle into my chair to watch the chaotic city that's become my home. The neon of the strip creates a unique brightness <brightness is a dull word for such a unique city> of the sky, filled with airplanes and helicopters passing over<wouldn’t they be beneath?> the distant stars. One light in particular catches my eye, faster and brighter than the others, it zips through the night then suddenly begins to descend<make these sentences shorter to build tension> down, down, till its light disappears behind the mountain side.


*Gold* My review has been submitted for consideration in "Good Deeds Get CASH!.
18
18
Review of Lost and Found  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (4.0)
What follows are just the opinions of a novice writer. Take what you will and grind the rest beneath your angry boot heel.

I liked the story. Especially the tension building section. Flash fiction is IMO one of the hardest to write and you did a good job.
Below are my thoughts on specific sections of the story.

Good job, and keep on writing.

As always, critical reviews of my own work are always greatly appreciated.

The bike lay in the middle of the bridleway. Discarded; chain rusted, front wheel askew. The owner was nowhere in sight.
It hadn’t been there an hour before <the word ‘before’ seems out of place here or maybe ‘hour’>when Jo had walked past on her way to the reservoir. The path, as it always was on a weekday, had been free of people. No one seemed to walk for pleasure anymore...not unless they had dogs and, even then, they seemed to avoid this place. It’s why she liked it. That, and the way that nature was creeping over the ruined walls and seats of what had once been a carefully tended route. A small park was tucked away under the viaduct but, beyond that, the trees and moss consumed the valley with their earthy <I don’t know if a wooded park would have a ‘stench’ That’s normally a bad odor. Maybe scent? Odor?> stench. Nature was taking back what had once been stolen from it.

The clock of a nearby church tower struck: eleven mournful chimes that echoed around the dense woodland.

Jo hesitated. Should she pick the bike up and rest it against a tree? Was the owner nearby, distracted by something? Or was this one of those social experiments she’d read about: was she being filmed to see what she’d do?

It was a lady’s bike, she noted. The crossbar at an angle, and a wide seat with springs underneath. The frame was blue, a deep blue like the depths of the ocean. The paint was chipped in places, the exposed steel dulled to red with rust.

Why was it here?

A dull thud came out of the gloom to her right. Her breath caught. Her feet started to move of their own accord: towards the noise with a magnetic pull of curiosity. She crept off the path, towards the soft gurgle of the stream. Her stomach muscles tightened, her arms tensed. This is stupid, she thought. You don’t know who’s out here.

Not for years had she been aware of her own vulnerability. A single woman, not five foot three. Her legs were strong from walking but her hands and forearms were weak, crippled from years of touch-typing. Now, she sensed danger but her feet continued to take her towards it. This was madness.

A blackbird screamed out a sudden cry.<’screamed out a cry’ doesn’t sound quite right> It flapped past in a blur of darkness. Blue Tits shouted in excited trills up in the canopy above. A warning.
<nice short sentences to build tension…good>

Jo reached the stream near an old bridge. It was covered in moss and ebony-coloured slime. She stood on it, and looked at the water flowing past. There was nothing more to see, not beyond the trees, the water, and the muddy banks. Perhaps the thud had been a twig falling, or some woodland creature? She let out a sigh, and tucked a stray blond hair behind her ear.

The bike had been abandoned. Perhaps it had been stolen, and the thief discarded it once they’d become bored. Perhaps the rusty chain had seized and the owner had dumped it and walked away.

Jo stood on the bridge for a moment longer. The faint smell of wild watercress filled the air with a peppery flavour but then she began to notice another smell. A more metallic scent that she vaguely recognized<spelling> It seemed to be getting stronger..

It reminded her of when her mother used to take her to a butcher’s shop as a child: where perfect halves of pigs were hung up on metal hooks, and white jellied tripe had been displayed in trays next to glistening red cuts of beef. The hairs on the back of Jo’s neck bristled.

She turned back towards the way she had come.
Then she saw it. Off to her left. Pale against the darkness of the ferns. A woman lay naked, her limbs crooked as though broken. A red gash like a gaping hole in a silent ‘oh’ under her chin. Blood oozed out in a slow trickle where it had once been a gush. Worse, there was a glistening red around the woman’s abdomen. Intestines, Jo realised, as though someone was in the middle of butchering an animal. Blood soaked into the ground: a careless offering to nature.

A bloodied saw rested against a tree. She had disturbed him.

She noticed the woman’s eyes last. Ice blue, staring behind Jo’s shoulder.

Cold filled Jo’s body. Her heart hammered in her ears. Every muscle ached for flight.

There was the sound of a twig breaking. She turned. Too late.

The last thing she saw was the bright flash of steel heading towards her throat……
<I had someone reviewing one of my stories that ended with the same type of last sentence you have. His thought, and one I can agree with, was that leaving that last sentence off makes the story scarier. It leaves the reader filling in the blanks and making the ending more terrifying than a sentence which tells the ending…just a thought>


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Review of Paranoia  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
That was a fun Halloween story. One of my favorite holidays. I thought the flow was good and the tension built nicely. My only comment would be about this line:
She ran her finger over the smooth black plastic of the handle
It would seem that if she were running a finger over something and feeling safer it would be over the blade. But if she was feeling safer because of the handle then she would be fingering or gripping it. Anyway, great story and my 2 cents.


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Review of Mexican Standoff  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: ASR | (3.0)
Note that these are just my opinions and nothing more. Provided by a novice writer struggling to get better. Take what you will and crush the rest beneath your angry boot heel.

First off, let me say that IMO flash fiction is one of the hardest to do. That being said, you have the basis of a really great story. The turn at the end is quite unexpected and the body is good enough that some cleanup would warrant an excellent story.

There are definitely some issues with commas. I would suggest reviewing all of them and checking with comma usage documents about proper usage. I had/have much trouble with the pesky comma. I made use of youtube (among others) as a resource for punctuation learning.

I think that in flash fiction and short stories that having multiple Point of Views (POV) is going to be quite a challenge. Setting your sights on one POV, I think, would help the story. Your main character can express the thoughts and feelings of the other by showing what they are doing, their expressions..etc.

Also, watch out for word repetition. Unless artistically intended the recurrence of 'restrained' i found slowed me down on the reading.

Great start. As I said before, I think you've got the great beginning of a wonderful flash fiction story.



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Review of THE HORSES  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Great story. Very hard with flash fiction. Congrats on the win.
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Review by John Yossarian
Rated: E | (3.0)
You have some chapters. Looks like you're writing a book. How about check you the Novel workshop group? You can get some reviews on your work while at the same time getting tips from others going through the process of writing and publishing a book.
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Review of A Fly in the Soup  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (3.0)
As always, these are my opinions and should be considered as such.
This is a very unusual, nightmarish story. Stories like this definitely have a reading audience. You have the potential for a very good story with a little polish.

I think the use of 'naturally'as often as you did took away from the story. I can see where you are using it with artistic intent, but it looses it's punch with so much repetition.

I noted at one point that 'he said again' but it was the first time he said anything..so the again wasn't needed.

However, I think the main weakness of the story was too much telling and not enough showing. You've got great opportunity to describe these horrible bodies, but you 'tell' about them instead of showing. For example, the guy in the tub. Instead of telling us he bled out, let the reader figure it out, and tell us that the tub was plugged and the blood was up to his thighs, and a rivulet of blood was still running down his chin...something along those lines.

Keep on writing and good work.
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Review by John Yossarian
Rated: E | (3.5)
Keep in mind this review is my opinion and should be considered as such..just an opinion.

This is a good second chapter to your book. The slow introduction to the new world environment and a couple of the future players progresses nicely.

I do think that you should give this chapter a good once or twice over for typos and grammar. I noticed two in the first paragraph, and others along the way:
"grown should be groan" and "was(nt) in the crevasse"

Also, I think you could trim many adjectives.
As S.King said: The road to hell is paved with adjectives.

Good job and keep on writin'.
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Review of Finding Meat  
Review by John Yossarian
Rated: 13+ | (3.5)
Keep in mind these are my opinions, and should be considered as such..opinions.

Yes, this was indeed a classic story. I liked your flow and original perspective on the zombie mall attack.

Some brief ideas:
I think that if you added a name to your central character it would strengthen the story.

In the sentence having "to take small bite of his hand" i didn't think this added anything to the sentence, just made it kinda klunky.

Also, the last part, where she is captured and taken away. That part was kinda out of left field. If it was a lead in to a bigger story I can see it, but I thought the story would be just as good ending with her squirming in the garbage.

Good job and keep on writing.
As always, critical reviews of my own work are greatly appreciated.


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