Benny Tells Lies

“I met Michael Jackson before he died,” Benny said, embellishing the story. He had seen the King of Pop on a corner and waved at him. “He was super nice and let me listen to his new song. He did the moonwalk for me and they interviewed me for a national paper. It was cool.”

Maya nodded. “Cool,” she remarked.

Benny sighed. Nothing he said ever impressed Maya and he so wanted to impress her. She was gorgeous with her rich russet skin and large grass green eyes. Her hair was in long braids down her back and she had dressed conservatively today in a harvest gold dress with a floral print. Her expression wasn’t pretty, however. She looked irritated. He had no idea why. He’d tried telling her about his stint with Nirvana in the 90s and she hadn’t even acknowledged him. Sure Kurt hadn’t let him play guitar on stage, but he had done a soundcheck once when the sound guy was in the john. He had regaled her with tale after embellished tale making himself seem whimsical, intelligent, caring, and just plain amazing. Still, she never fell into his arms. She never loved him.

“Why don’t you like me, Maya?”

“Ben,” Maya said, her tone saying she was annoyed and about to disappear back to her desk. She was only talking to him now because the coffee hadn’t finished brewing and Maya loved her coffee. Benny knew that and had taken the last of the coffee, so she would get one from the fresh pot and maybe stick around and talk to him for a moment. “You’re full of garbage. You haven’t told me one true thing in the five years we’ve known each other.”

“That is so-I always tell you the truth,” Benny argued. Well, he did tell her kernels of truth. He just liked to add icing on top to make them better and more impressive so she would be impressed.

Maya rolled her eyes. “Tell me one true thing right now. No lies, no embellishments. Just pure, unadulterated truth.”

Benny frowned. “I always tell you the truth.”

She poured herself a cup of coffee before it was done percolating. Benny stood there listening as the coffee awkwardly pinged against the bottom of the maker. Coffee was spreading from the base to the table as she poured. She eyed him the entire time, daring him to call her out for making the mess.

“Admit you took the last of the coffee so you could terrorize me with one of your garbage stories, and maybe I’ll thinking about downgrading my hatred of you, to a rich dislike.” Maya dared him as she reached for the creamer. She had to reach past him because he had moved it farther away so she would have to reach past him. He had put new cologne on. He was convinced if she got a proper whiff of it, she would like it, and in return him. She leaned back and sneezed.

Benny worried the cozy on his paper cup. “I knew you wouldn’t want to drink the dregs.”

“Hm,” Maya said. He was blocking her way out of the room. “But you didn’t start the new pot. You waited for me to start the new pot. Yeah, think I’m going to stick to a deep-seated hatred of you if it’s all the same.”

“No Maya,” Benny protested. “Come on! I like you. Why won’t you give me a chance?”

“Because you tell lies, Benny,” Maya answered. “You tell lies and you make my life more complicated and annoying just to tell me these stupid lies. You never stood a chance, Ben.”

“But-but,” Benny sputtered. “I once saw Death eating a fudge pop!” he blurted.

“Eat a fudge pop, Benny,” Maya said in a nasty tone. “Talk to me again and I’ll call HR.”

“But that wasn’t a lie! Maya! That was true! I did! A woman had a heart attack at an ice cream truck and he took her fudge pop!” Benny chased after Maya.

Maya went to HR. Benny was outside holding his box of supplies by the end of the day. That night found him sitting on the Trenton Bridge looking down at the murky, polluted waters. A man in a black tracksuit walked up to him.

“Hey,” Benny called out to the stranger. “Do you like hoagies?”

“Sure,” the man in the tracksuit replied, slowing to a stop. “Why? Do you have one? I gotta tell you, I haven’t had a single thing to eat in forever. I can barely remember what it was…”

“No, well, I don’t have one on me. I was just going to say, I invented them. So, you can thank me for that,” Benny said, trying to perfect his breezy tone. There was something unsettling about the man in front of him. He had a shock of brown hair, nice features for a guy but his skin was a sick milk color. “I mean, you don’t have to thank me…”

The man leaned against the bridge’s rail and eyed Benny up and down. “Hoagie inventor, huh? Worked at the naval yard then…? Or are you just lying, Benny?”

“I-I no, I did work at there and it was after this guy Hogan, Irish guy and we…” he trailed off as the man stared.

His expression was a mixture of disappointment and disgust. “Seriously, Benny?”

“What-?”

“You want your last conversation ever to be about some urban myth about how hoagies got their name? Ugh, why do I even bother!” the man rolled his eyes and snapped his fingers, “Oh wow! I remember now. The last thing I ate and it was years ago now, was a fudge pop!”

End.

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Uniquely Alone

Kahlen had heard the rumor in the bathroom from a siren who was telling a Fae girl with mossy hair. A thrill had run through her. Being undead wasn’t as exciting as the movies made it out to be and tonight was supposed to change that. She was going to embrace the weirdness, and get a piercing, or a tattoo or dance with a stranger. She bounced around in the drink line. She was also going to get a drink, an alcoholic drink, for the first time.

“There’s a unicorn her tonight,” Kahlen told the tall brown haired man next to her, excited.

He had the bright sheen to his pale skin that indicated he was either Fae or Incubi. He had been shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip with her for the last five minutes as they jostled for position at the bar. His warmth had seeped into her cold skin, making her feel a bit connected to him in a way she was forgetting after her time undead. His blood would be amazing if she could convince him to donate some. Not that blood donation was the reason he was here. It was a piercing/tattooing event for the Others, the ones that couldn’t go to a human place because of blood colors, skin tones or otherworldly features. It was also a massive party, complete with open bar, loud music, and flashing lights.

“Pfft, that’s ridiculous,” he said and turned to face her. “What are you new?” he asked.

Kahlen would have blushed if her heart still pumped. “Yeah, this is my first supernatural anything.”

Grinning brightly he ordered for both of them, politely asking her preferred blood type. He ordered a drink for sylvans. He tipped the satyr and handed her a glass. Bold, he took her by the elbow. She let him lead her away from the bar and back to one of the corner booths. The music was loud and electronic. Once they slid into the booth, it was tolerable. He lifted his glass and they clinked. Kahlen watched him take a sip of the syrupy looking green drink. It was probably light on the alcohol and heavy on the chlorophyll. He definitely had to be Fae. His eyes were a rich walnut instead of the normal grassy green but she hadn’t met many wood nymphs or Fae or anything before tonight.

“How long since?” he asked and waved at her.

“A year,” Kahlen responded. “Woke up on the football field.”

Grimacing in sympathy, he took another sip and explained why he asked. It was considered rude to ask a vampire how they died. Kahlen had learned that the hard way when she had come across her first old vampire. Her wrist still hurt from the break. “Everyone here knows about unicorn blood,” he murmured, leaning in close in case anyone was close enough to listen. “I didn’t want you to embarrass yourself.”

Kahlen reached out a hand to shake his formally. He gripped her hand with his warm one and let loose with a toothy grin. “Kahlen Jenson,” she introduced herself.

“Kahlen! Great name! Very modern,” he enthused. He didn’t give her a name in return. That was very Fae. Names had power. She grimaced. She shouldn’t have given him her name. He noticed and winked. “It’s just hard to pronounce,” he remarked and elaborated when she blinked, “My name, it’s difficult to… You can call me…hmm. What name do you like?”

She rolled her eyes. Tilting her head to exam his bright eyes, straight nose, and silly grin, she thought she’d tease him a bit. “How about Fareed?

The humor drained out of him. “Oh, you might be a bit of a seer, Kahlen. Fine, but shorten it to Reed, alright?”

Kahlen placed her hand over his. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

His smile re-appeared and he said arrogantly, “I am unique, that’s true enough. But I’m not alone right now, am I?”

“No,” she replied and giggled as he downed his drink. His eyes seemed to glow silver for a second before fading back to the same walnut brown. “So, unicorn blood?”

“Right, oh, forgotten that already,” he murmured and looked offended when she giggled again. “Yes, right okay. Can’t bleed in public.” He waved his hand around the dance floor where werewolves, Fae, sprites, and vampires were dancing under the undulating lights. “Smells fantastic, amazingly, wonderfully fantastic, and any number of these would rip one apart to get a taste. You can’t have unicorn blood without the unicorn’s permission. It does bad, very bad things to you.”

“What sort of things?” Kahlen asked.

He rolled his eyes and reiterated, “Bad things. Can’t get piercings or tattoos.”

“Because they would bleed,” Kahlen said, puzzling it out.

“Yup and the poor unicorn would get torn apart,” he agreed. “Let’s dance!”

Her strange new friend had pulled her onto the dance floor before she could protest. He didn’t get too close to her. He kept a hold of one of her hands always as if he was afraid she would disappear if he let go. Kahlen had never been to a human rave before she was murdered. She was forever eighteen and she had been sheltered. The press of bodies around them was exciting as heat radiated off of the live things. A few vampires nodded in her direction. Most of them were islands, dotted around the ocean of people, in the water, but not a part of it. She let herself move with Reed. She grabbed his other hand when he was in danger of being pulled away by an aggressive weregirl. He slipped into her arms gratefully, hugging her.

A rich fresh scent assaulted her. It was like a hot fudge sundae, and chips, and pizza, and she felt her mouth start to water. An image of ripping into his throat flashed across her mind’s eye. She jerked back, but he held tight to her. He whispered in her ear. “So what did you come here for? Tattoo? Piercing?”

Kahlen shivered as his breath brought more of his scent to her and warmed her skin. She missed being warm. Wherever he touched, he left a glorious trail of it. Her fangs descended and he spun her out and back. She blinked, pulling back on the need to feed. Reed watched her with a rueful expression. She fought the urge to apologize. She was trying to make a friend, not kill him. Bloodlust wasn’t something she had ever gotten used to in the last year. It always freaked her out and made her buzz with guilt.

“Piercing,” she replied, resisting the urge to inhale.

He let go and disappeared into the crowd. Kahlen searched for him as he bounced away. Left on her own, she became her own island as the crowd continued to dance around her. Had she offended Reed? Maybe. She had been flashing fang and entertaining the idea of having him for dinner. She bit into her lip in frustration. She didn’t have any supernatural friends yet. She had barely had any live ones left after being turned. She saw a Fae disappear into the back booths as a were came out with a large silver hoop in his ear.

She slipped through the crowd like a shark. If Reed wasn’t coming back, she may as well get the piercing she had wanted. Her mother had never let her pierce her ears. Now she was beholden to none, as sires rarely stuck around after turning someone. It would make her look more grown up. It would at least make her fit better into this crowd.

A bored Fae gave her a once over. “Vampires can’t tattoo. Piercing? Let me guess earrings?”

“Yeah,” Kahlen said, affecting the same bored tone as the pretty Fae with her long pink hair in complicated braids.

“Second booth,” the Fae gave her a light shove but sniffed her as she went.

Kahlen frowned, walking backwards to see the Fae leaning toward her, inhaling again. Slipping into the curtained booth backward, she spun to face a tall elegant vampire dressed in royal purple from head to toe. He even had purple latex gloves at his station.

“Ears please,” Kahlen said, unsure what she needed to do.

He sniffed disdainfully as he approached. The vampire sniffed again in earnest. In a blink, Kahlen was pinned to the table under his powerful right hand. Fangs descended and eyes glowing brilliant scarlet, the vampire sniffed again. “You smell…”

“Thanks?”

“Delicious,” he finished.

Uh oh, Kahlen struggled against the steel grip of the bigger and considerably older vampire above her. Did vampires kill and eat younger vampires? Eyes wide, she kicked out, knocking the older vampire off balance. He was back in an instant, claws slashing into her leg as she scrambled off the piercer’s table. The scent of her own blood, bubbling up thick and dark, terrified her. Kahlen tossed the table of surgical instruments into the vampire’s face.

The privacy curtain was ripped open. Reed stood there gasping. “My fault!”

The tall purple vampire spun to face him.

“Me, not her,” he said. “I’m the one you want.”

“You smell,” the vampire said, eyes red but glazed over. “I have to taste you. I have to-”

Reed glowed a brilliant silvery blue. Kahlen watched that light explode out of him and knock the piercer across the room. He collapsed in a heap. Reed knelt down next to her, radiating the scent of pepperoni pizza and a chocolate milkshake. Kahlen’s fangs descended. She hadn’t had anything to drink but blood in a year.

“You’re hurt,” he cried reaching out to her.

“You’re the unicorn,” she said, fighting to keep still.

“The one and only,” he said. “I only came out tonight because I was lonely. I’m the last one. I’ve been the last one for decades.”

Losing a lot of her blood was helping slow her down but her hunger, her hunger was growing. Hissing, she curled in on herself as the pangs in her stomach made thinking harder and harder to do.

Reed touched her arm. She flinched away. He gripped her arm. “Kahlen, I went to get a drink for you, so you wouldn’t be so focused on me, on my blood. You were gone when I got back. I was stupid. My scent was all over you. I masked it, but I touched you, hugged you…

“I-I don’t want to kill you,” Kahlen hissed, trying to block out the tantalizing scent of roast turkey and mashed potatoes that he was sporting now. “So hungry. You smell like Thanksgiving.”

“Oh, well that’s one on me, Thanksgiving? Really?” he asked, eyes glowing silver.

Kahlen nodded, squeezing her eyes shut to fight harder against her own body. “Now leave before…”

“No. It’s fine, I can heal you. My blood can heal you,” Reed said as he snatched a dropped needle off the floor.

“Bad things,” Kahlen grunted.

“Only if I don’t want you to do it. I give you permission, okay? But it might have side effects,” he said as he stabbed his arm multiple times to get his bright pearlescent blood to rise to the surface. “We’ll worry about that after. Trust me…Oh, okay, you be careful.”

Kahlen latched onto his arm and her fangs sank into his skin, popping it and blood sluiced into her mouth. Reed grunted but let her hold on. The blood, oh it tasted exactly like Thanksgiving, mixed with hot chocolate, and mint chocolate ice cream, and every other food she had been craving for ever a year. It was all sliding down into her stomach and filling her body with so much warmth.

“Stop now,” Reed told her.

Kahlen couldn’t. She needed more. She growled in protest.

“Now Kahlen,” he begged.

She tried, she really tried. Her fangs felt like they were hooked, locked into place. A sharp pain lanced through her and finally, she released, sliding bonelessly to the cement floor and into unconsciousness.

“Probably shouldn’t have done that,” Reed’s voice was worried, and weak near her left ear. “I was trying to heal the leg wound, not get myself killed. How would that help us? Hm? Think you drank too much though.”

She opened her eyes. They weren’t in the underground rave anymore. She rolled her shoulders. Kahlen was on a bed, a soft bed. Reed lying next to her stretched out alongside. His hand was in hers. He grinned when her eyes met his.

“Hello!” he exclaimed.

“Hello,” she muttered, her voice dry and scratchy.

“Here,” he sat up and turned away from her. In a second he was back with a cup. It had a bendy straw in it. “Drink, you had a rough night.”

Kahlen sipped. The taste that exploded on her tongue was not blood. The urge to gag rose for an instant but vanished. It was water. It was plain water. Kahlen pushed the cup away. “I can’t drink water!”

“Think you can,” Reed argued, “think you just did. Side effects, remember?”

Kahlen glared at him before scanning the room. She turned away from him and saw the open window. She was sitting in a bright room full of sunshine. She hissed and held up her arm. No smoke, no pain… “What?”

Patiently, Reed grabbed her arm and moved it into a sunbeam. He had a bandage on where she had savaged his arm. Her skin was warming in the light, but not burning. He took the same hand and placed over her chest. Kahlen felt a beat. It was sluggish, but it was a heartbeat.

“Side effects?”  she asked. “What sort of side effects?”

“Healed you,” Reed said smugly.

“Healed?” Kahlen glanced down at her leg, the skin was smooth, if a bit pale and a little shinier like a Fae.

Reed was embarrassed. “I ah, um, gave you permission. My blood has healing properties. I’m not prejudiced. My blood, it ah, it just seems to see vampirism as a disease. So, it cured it. I’m sorry. You’re sort of human again.”

Amazed, Kahlen put both her hands into the sunlight. When it wasn’t enough, she slid off the bed and put her head out the window to stare up at the sun. Clouds obscured it a bit but even they were lovely, all puffy and white in the bright blue summer sky. “You healed me. I’m human.”

“Sort of human,” Reed reiterated. “Close to human, almost human, mostly, almost human.”

Kahlen bounced back onto the bed next to him, giddy. “Fine. I’ll take it, if you promise me I can eat chips again, oh and candy, and ice cream, and a hot fudge sundae with nuts…”

“Sure, but you’ll get a stomach ache. I mean, that’s an awful lot of sugar,” he replied then grinned. “You’re really okay with it? I was sort of afraid you liked being a vampire and I ruined it. Well, I tried to stop you before you drank too much, but you were insistent. Had to hit you with a tray.”

Kahlen grabbed for his bandaged arm. “I’m so sorry! I couldn’t control it. I don’t mind. I wasn’t getting the hang of the ‘creature of the night’ thing anyhow. But what do I do now? My family thinks I’m dead. I was dead. Do I go back to school? Wait, did you say mostly, almost human?”

“Might be a teensy bit unicorn now,” Reed said and held up his fingers to measure out a pinch. “I could help you with that if you want. Show you some stuff, some magic stuff. Only if you want me to do it.”

Kahlen grinned. “Friends?” she asked.

“Yeah, okay,” Reed said, sitting up straight, looking pleased. “I’ve never had a friend before. What do um, friends do?”

“They get pizza.”

“I love pizza,” he told her. “What about your ears? Did you still want to get them pierced?”

“Eventually, think I’m traumatized. Maybe I’ll just get clip-on’s for now.”

“I’m pretty good with a needle,” Reed told her. “Saved you with one, didn’t I?”

“Not a chance,” Kahlen told him.

The End.

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Fudge Pop

Death sat on a rock in the middle of the Delaware River. Inky black robes shed in favor of a black tee, blacker swim trunks and bare feet the color of slightly spoiled milk. Running a hand through his shaggy gray locks, he put a foot in the water and frowned when a school of fish bobbed to the surface, going belly up just for him. He huffed and removed his foot.

A pretty Living Girl sat on the rock beside him. She hadn’t noticed him yet. She was too busy changing the playlist on her phone to something summery and light much like the camisole and short jean shorts she had chosen for the summer heat. Once the light pop sounds matched her tapping toes, she leaned back on her elbows and noticed him. He smiled, showing straight white teeth. She raised dark eyebrows and cautiously smiled back.

Death mimicked the girl’s pose, careful to keep his feet free of the water. He didn’t want to kill everything that lived in the water, drank it, or flew over it by accident. That would be rude. It was frustrating however because it was a nice day with a soft breeze bringing a little relief from the heat but not as much as the cold water would do. Still, a day off was a day off, even if it wasn’t strictly allowed.

Glancing back at his company, he saw the girl holding up a fudge pop. He blinked. She mimed tossing it to him. Nodding eagerly, he reached out his elegantly long and decidedly not too skeletal hands to catch the confection and frowned when he accidentally touched a bird. The bird, a bluejay, dropped stone dead into the water. Distracted, he missed the softball lob and the fudge pop plopped into the water and drifted away lazily in the current. He huffed.

When he turned back to the girl, her eyes were sad. She pulled an earbud loose and called out, “Sorry, that was my last one. Bad luck with that bird. That was weird, right?” she asked.

“Not really,” he murmured and when she frowns he said, “I mean, thanks for trying and all but my life isn’t exactly made for fudge pops if you get my meaning.” He frowned. That was the longest sentence he has ever said to a Living Being.

“I do have a few cookies? Want one? They’re not cold but they are chocolate. I could even hop on over there. Your rock is big enough for two to sunbathe.”

“No!” he shouted. Visions of her warm body turning cold and dropping into the water because she accidentally bumped him, rushed through him, chilling him more effectively than the river could. But now he’s done it because her big eyes flashed with hurt. “No,” he said softly. “I mean that’s fine. I’m fine. Thank you for being kind,” he told her and gave her a brittle smile.

She turned her back and he vanished. It was a stupid idea anyhow. He pulled his list and headed up to Manayunk to take out a few musicians who thought it would be a great idea to play a set in a thunderstorm. Moody, he didn’t bother to loom or menace, he just clapped slowly when one by one the electrocuted idiots dropped to the tarmac, splashing down forever. It was fine. Their music was derivative.

Work continued unabated for twenty years. He didn’t try to take another sunny day off. His milky skin had no melanin to tan and he wasn’t human so he got no benefits from extra vitamin D, and it wasn’t exactly a beneficial thing to do. Still, killing day in and day out got to him. Especially when he had to take out a young kid, or an old dog. Those were the bad ones. Today he had a twofer; Four-year-old boy chasing a fourteen-year-old dog into oncoming traffic. Bummer.

He turned up at Grant and Academy. It was one of the best spots to die in the United States. There were forests in other countries and huge icy patches where he picked off loads of people and sometimes this big ol’ intersection seemed so mundane but it was no less deadly.

He spotted the dog first. It was a Siberian husky with one bright blue eye. His leash was an expandable number that Death was incredibly familiar with and it rubbed on an old wooden telephone pole. The snap startled the dog into the street. Death sighed. Now would come the boy, right on time. The scamp was in jeans and a rainbow tee. Behind the child, came the mother.

Death grimaced and huffed. This was not going to be a fun day. The light changed. The dog barked. The kid yelled. The mother shouted and Death whipped around to see the mother, really see her. He waved a hand and everything froze. Lifting his thick heavy robes up, he approached her.

He unfroze the woman and she stumbled forward. Death did not steady her. She glanced up at him.

“What kind of an idiot gets an extendable leash?” Death shouted.

She raced into the street and tried to grab her frozen scion. Death snorted.

“Everything is frozen. I’ve stopped time.”

“To call me an idiot?” the woman asked.

“No,” he told her firmly.

Something like hope crossed her face. “Are you going to save my Jamie? And Tanner?”

“No,” he repeated. “I’m Death. I can’t just stop killing people because you tried to give me a fudge pop once. That’s not how this works.”

“I gave you-” the woman stared hard at him. “You’re the ‘cute goth’ kid from the river?” she asked and glanced off into the past. “Wait, the ‘cute goth kid from the river’ is DEATH? I don’t believe this.”

Death sputtered and if he had blood in his veins instead of murder, he might have blushed. “Goth? Cute?”

The mother sat down in the street with her child and hugged the frozen thing. Death sighed and went as close as he could without killing her too. She reached out a hand to him. “Do it. I want to die with them.”

“So run out into the street with them,” Death said, indignant, crossing his arms over his chest.

She stares at him with her wide, sad eyes, and he remembers how her smile had felt when directed at him. No one ever loved Death. She hadn’t either, not really, but she had offered him normal human affection. Glancing up at the sky, he lets out a breath and scans the street. There are too many cars for the child to avoid death without intervention, not to mention the dog because if he was saving one the other had to live too, he supposed.

“Please,” the mother said, begging for her own death, unaware that for the moment she had it. That woman had Death as her own. “Please.”

“Fine, but when this is over, I get my fudge pop,” Death grumbled. “And you never, ever, never, ever, ever, tell a single living soul about this.”

“Deal? I’d shake your hand-” she began.

He rolled his eyes. “-and you would drop stone dead,” he reminded her.

Death stretched, cracked his neck, his knuckles, and his back as he surveyed the glowing souls all around him. He would have to trade one for one for the child but the dog…well he could fudge the records on the dog and find some roadkill to make up the deficit.

“Get out of the street,” he advised the mother. She hesitated, of course, she did and he tried not to regret this before he was even done doing it. “Seriously, get out of the street. I’m not going back on our deal.”

She climbed out of the street and stood beside him, careful not to touch. He waved his hand and time moved. The child ran forward after the dog. He closed his eyes and controlled the souls. A biker went left instead of right. A sedan slammed on its brakes just in time to become a barricade as the kid made it to the median where a brave uncontrolled soul stopped the dog and grabbed the kid around the waist. One last thing to do, the swap. Death sighed, reached out and tossed a rock. The rock smashed into the hood of a Kia Soul and that car hopped onto the median and killed a man in a suit, Jericho Sampson who had murdered his first wife. He was probably accidentally saving the second wife but since she wasn’t on today’s list, he wasn’t bothered.

The entire nightmare was over in less than ten seconds. He stepped to the side to avoid any accidental hugs by the grateful mother. But she was clever and had just dropped to the ground in a dead faint. He huffed and vanished.

Twenty-five years later, he approached a grandmother at an ice cream truck. Death tapped her on the shoulder. As her aneurysm burst, he caught the fudge pop before it hit the ground. He grinned down at his friend from the river and winked.

Fin.

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Salt Water Taffy

“So, you come here often?”

I was an idiot. I have no idea how to be suave, so the sentence escaped my mouth in a rush of adrenaline. It was definitely a ‘panic pick up line.’ I am too much of a coward to ever speak to people. I get tongue tied, make a few noises, panic and leave. I’m not stupid. I know she was just people and I’m people too-erm, a person too-but anxiety is crippling.

She stopped shoveling salt water taffy into a box long enough to look up at me with her wide spaced sparkly gray eyes. Those eyes did things to my insides. Everything was suddenly too close and too warm. I had never in my life seen eyes that deep and full of glitter. I’m not poetic. She had glitter eyes.

Stunned, all I could do was stare and I try desperately to remember how to breathe. A large tee covered her from neck to mid-thigh like the tackiest dress. ‘Lifeguard’ in red swam across the shirt and it was soaking wet in spots. She or the short or the shop itself smelled like something had crawled out of the high tide. She was shoeless.

No one seemed to have noticed her but me. They were all blind, probably, because her hair was shockingly pink and down to her t-shirt covered butt. And on top of the bright hair and outward weirdness, she was the most attractive woman I had ever seen.

“It’s Salt Water Taffy Season,” she told me, smiling with bright white teeth, “I love saltwater taffy. Do you like it?”

“I ah, it um get’s stuck in my teeth,” I reply brilliantly.

Her gray eyes flood with worry. “You have to suck on them until they get soft,” she tells me.

“Thanks,” I said and got a soft smile as my reward.

She tossed her hair over one shoulder and went back to trying to fill the box with all the salt water taffy the store had. Once the box was full, her eyes met mine again, calculating. With a wide wink, she stuffed the entire box under her shirt and raced out of the store. The teenager watching the register didn’t give chase. He hardly even looked up from the magazine he had spread over the counter. In an even tone he said, “Hey, you stop.”

I slipped out of the shop a few seconds later so the teenager wouldn’t think I was in on the salt water heist, not that he would care. He was definitely up for employee of the month. Once out in the bright sun, I scanned the crowd for pink. The boardwalk was teeming with children, parents, and couples. Giant stuffed animals trailed from tired parents’ obscuring the view. I walked from one end of the boards to the other before giving up. The thief was gone. The disappointment I felt was a punch to the gut. She was the most interesting person I had spoken to all summer and now she had vanished into the air. I went home.

I tried to give up on her but the Salt Water Taffy Thief stayed with me. Every time I was near a shop or on the boards, I couldn’t resist the urge to hunt for her. Sometimes I thought I would catch a glimpse of her but it was always my imagination. Still, I kept my ear to the ground for any more salt water taffy heists. There were three. A man at the pizza shop told me pounds of the stuff had gone missing. He didn’t know she was the pink haired beauty I had met.

I spent every summer down the shore watching the house for a friend who hated the tourist season but hated the idea of renting more. The house was on the bay with lovely color themed rooms and it was a great way to recharge after teaching ten-year-olds all year. And because I was practically a local, I preferred to go down to the beach after most of the families and the lifeguards had gone home for the day. I would set up my blanket, slather on sunblock and pull out a book to read. A week after I had seen the thief, I did just that.

The lingering heat forced me out into the ocean. I swam out past the breakers and rolled onto my back, only doing what I had to do to stay afloat. Blue sky arched above me with not a single puffy cloud appeared to ruin it. This is how the world should look; serene and blue, not noisy and full of spitballs.

Before I knew it the blue was deepening, darkening. I sat up and started to tread water. The sun had slipped down to the edge of the water and as I watched the sky turned a magnificent crimson tinged in cinnamon before fading into a dark plum. The ocean ate the sun and left me alone. I sighed. It was time to go back to the house.

Except the shore was much farther away than I remembered it being. I rolled my eyes at my own stupidity. I struck out with long strokes. I wasn’t worried. I was a strong swimmer. I was more annoyed that I was going to ruin my peaceful moment with a dash for the beach. A tail slapped the water near me. Startled, I spun to see if it was the soft rounded dorsal fin of a dolphin or the more vertical, straighter of a shark.

The slap happened closer to me. I backed away and continued to head for the shore. The current picked up and at first, I thought it would be a bro and toss me up onto the beach. Instead, it dragged me backward, closer to the tail slapping the water. But the ocean was crueler still and I hadn’t checked to see what the undertow was before swimming out. A large wave crashed over my head and I was dragged under.

I was in inky black unable to tell up from down as the currents buffeted me. Things brushed my legs and arms. My lungs burned. I wanted to exhale. I didn’t. I knew better. What was in my lungs was all I had left. I made a decision to strike out in a direction. I had no idea if it was up or down. The water was numbing my extremities now. The pressure in my ears was building and the things were terrifying. I still didn’t know whose tail had been within slapping distance of me and where it was now.

I chose wrong. The pressure increased. I spun around to try again. Flailing, I was lost in the dark, cold water. My mouth opened and bubbles escaped. Heaviness filled my bones. I was too tired to panic. I stopped fighting.

I shot forward gasping for breath. I flailed and a strong hand gripped mine, squeezing it. Confusion flooded me as sunlight hit my skin and soft blanket met my legs.

“Safe,” a familiar voice told me. She repeated the word until it seeped into my sun-warmed skin.

My saltwater taffy thief sat beside me with her cloud of pink hair. It was damp and curling around her face making her a pink fluffy angel. She was grinning. I smiled back. Surrounded by saltwater taffy wrappers and sitting on my blanket in her bare feet, she fluffed my hair affectionately. She was wearing a lemon yellow muscle tee with a whale on it and nothing else.

“Hi,” I said, dazed.

“You want one,” she asked, holding up a plastic bag full of candy.

My stomach felt like it was full of saltwater. My head hurt and my sinuses burned. I was dry but since I had sat up, water was trickling out of my ears and I could feel sand everywhere and I mean everywhere. Sugar was the last thing I should be putting in my battered body.

“No thanks. I’m not hungry. What happened?”

She sniffed. “You didn’t listen to me. I slapped the water to get you to go away from the bad currents but you swam right into them.”

“You slapped the water? I thought I saw a tail. I thought you were a shark!” I exclaimed to giggles.

“Lucky you, it’s still Salt Water Taffy Season and I was near the beach. I dragged you out.”

Bemused, I thanked her and offered, “You can get salt water taffy all year long. They don’t stop selling it after the tourists leave.”

She shook her head like I was a particularly stupid specimen of the human race. I couldn’t blame her. I felt that way about myself most of the time. “Can’t steal it if there’s no crowd to disappear into. As it is, I’ve hit my last store. I have to be careful and not steal too much. I can’t get caught.”

“Why not buy some?” I asked.

“No money,” she said and her gray eyes brightened, the sparkle swirling. I felt like I could drown in them which was unfortunate after my almost drowning. “I don’t have a job. Jobs are a weird concept. Do you have one?” she asked.

“A job? Yeah, I teach math,” I told her.

She counted out loud as she ate candy and I grinned. I wanted to see her again. I wanted to see her again and again.

“Do you live out here?” I asked.

Bobbing her head, she gathered the wrappers and raced them away to a trash can. In seconds she was back, stretching long pale legs out beside me. The skin was just a bit too pale, almost like the underbelly of a snake or a fish. She took large handfuls of her hair and finger combed it until it behaved. Her body was lean if well-muscled.

“Do you have a home,” I asked.

She glanced out at the water and ignored the question.

“What’s your name?”

No answer came and she bumped my shoulder before standing up. “Stay out of the bad currents.”

“Wait,” I called.

She walked out into the waves. Halfway out, she turned back to wave at me. I waved back.  Seconds later a tail slapped the water.

Three days later I bought all the salt water taffy I could find and left it on the beach.

Fin.

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Espresso

           “Emily, your lover the professor is here,” Amy sang out.

Emily’s popped up from where she was focusing on restocking the teas to see the tall lanky frame of her favorite customer. Today he was in check slacks and brown jacket with actual leather elbow patches, adorable. His brown hair was messy and his briefcase had bits of paper sticking out of it.

“He looks frazzled,” Amy remarked, serving black coffee to grumpy customers.

Emily ignored her. She was busy making her professor a double espresso.

“Jake!” she called and held her breath.

Her professor’s eyes slowly came to life as he smiled brilliantly at her. He took the cup she placed on the counter. Their fingers grazed one another over the cup. Emily’s heart raced.  Normally the tips of his ears would turn pink, he would keep smiling and beat a hasty retreat without saying a word. Emily would hum happily for hours afterward. Brian and Amy would laugh at her insisting she had scared him off but not today.

He opened his mouth to speak. Emily stopped breathing. He worked his jaw a few times and managed a breathy, “Thanks, Emily.”

Emily let out her breath in a whoosh as he slipped out of the coffee shop.

“He spoke!” Amy shouted startling Mrs. Clayton who came in every morning for an English Breakfast. “Hey, Brian! The professor spoke!”

Brian popped out from the kitchen covered in flower. “Emily’s Professor?? What did he say?”

“Thanks, Emily,” Amy repeated.

“He knows her name? It’s only been a year?” Brian said as an alarm went off in the kitchen. “BREAKFAST SANDWICHES ARE UP!”

A ragged cheer came from the line. Emily turned back to Amy. “It’s been a year?”

Amy nodded. Emily sighed. “A whole year?”

 ❤ ❤ ❤

“I talked to her today,” Jake said.

Diane stopped organizing her boss to gawp at him. “Coffee Shop Girl?You did? Did you ask her out?”

Jake flopped into his leather chair. “She uh, called out my name and I ahem, I ah, thanked her for the espresso by her name.”

Diane sighed in desperation. Her boss was a certified genius but he was painfully shy. “At this rate, you’ll be married in one hundred years. How did she react?”

Jake turned a brilliant shade of red. “I sort of… I um…”

“You ran away?”

“Maybe.”

“I love working for you,” she muttered. “But I can’t take this anymore. You go there every day. She makes you a drink; you come here to tell me how much you love her, and then you NEVER ASK HER OUT.”

Jake sighed. “She’s beautiful.”

“Oh, I know,” Diane remarked. “But enough is enough. Either go ask her out after work or I go in the morning and tell her I’m your girlfriend.”

Jake blanched. “What? No, you wouldn’t do that to me.”

“Damn right, I would. I will. You have twenty-four hours.” It was cruel. It was necessary. Jake needed a push.

❤ ❤ ❤

Emily wiped the tables down, humming to herself. Amy had gone to lunch and Emily was glad for the reprieve. Amy hadn’t stopped teasing her about her professor since he had first walked into the coffee shop and ordered his first espresso. Emily had remembered him, his name, and his drink. He hadn’t ever needed to speak. His smiles had been enough. But he had a nice warm baritone and Emily would have loved to hear a full sentence.

Someone cleared their throat behind her. Emily spun to face the customer ready to explain the difference between a macchiato and a cappuccino. Her professor stood there looking extra frazzled. His large dark chocolate eyes brimmed with emotion, although half those emotions seemed related to panic. He tried to speak for a few seconds before he started to retreat. Emily panicked and reached out to catch his arm. His eyes widened, flicking from her face to where she was touching him. He swallowed.

“Emily,” he began in a funny high pitched tone. He coughed and tried again. “Emily, I ah, don’t like espresso.”

“What?”

He grimaced. “No, I did that wrong. Emily, I don’t like espressos, I like you.”

Emily didn’t know what to say. Luckily, once started, her professorcouldn’t be stopped.    “I’ve been coming in here every morning for a year to get a drink from you that I don’t like because I can’t get enough of your smile. So if you don’t feel the need to call the police, wouldyouliketogetadrinkwithme?”

“Yes! She says yes,” Brian shouted from the kitchen.

Jake’s grin was blinding. “Tonight? I know it is short notice. Only I’ve wasted so much time being timid, I don’t know when I’ll get the courage to ask again.”

“Yes, I’m free after six,” Emily told him shyly, still holding onto his arm.

“Okay, great, okay,” Jake stammered. “Great.”

He moved away and right before he broke contact, she said his name softly. When he turned to face him, she reached up and pressed a kiss to his lips. He froze long enough for Emily to panic but before she could pull away his warm, strong arms had looped around her waist, securing her to him. The soft scent of his cologne surrounded her. His lips were warm against hers, as responded to the kiss. Pressing her luck, Emily deepened the kiss, exploring her professor’s mouth. Kissing him was like sinking slowly into a warm bath.

She broke the kiss to see his eyes slowly flutter open, his skin flushed and pupils were blown wide. Emily’s heart was racing. She glanced away. Embarrassed she had kissed him at work. Amy had reappeared and made it worse by clapping.

“So six?” he asked voice squeaky.

Emily nodded and he surged forward to kiss her again. His hands cradled her back and he kissed her with an intensity that sent shivers down her spine and left her fingers and toes tingling. Amy snorted. Emily pulled back, her face flushed.

“I’m sorry I made you drink all those espressos,” Emily told him.

He laughed. “I’m not.”

The End.

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Green Eyes

Eli’s eyes popped open. A skittering sound had dragged him up from the darkness to peer at the leftover glow-in-the-dark stars on his ceiling in confusion. Blinking sleep out of his eyes, he struggled to free himself from tangled bed sheets and ended up slipping off the bed to crash into hardwood floors. Stilling, he listened to the quiet house and the comforting snores of his grandmother down the hall. The woman was a terror. Waking her from her well earned ‘beauty sleep’ would have earned him a tirade. The skittering sound repeated as his phone lit up.

Crawling to the nightstand, kicking his way loose, he snatched his phone off of it and spotted Isaiah’s name. He answered, “Izzy, my grandma is sleeping. Are you trying to get me murdered?”

“Come with me to the beach,” Isaiah said, his rich baritone shaking and breathy in Eli’s ear.

Eli ran a hand over his face. “I’m already grounded for going to the movie with you. Izzy, I get in trouble again and we’ll never see each other again.”

“Eli, we’re never going to see each other again, anyway. Not after tonight,” Isaiah replied.

Eli’s blood ran cold. In seconds he was hopping back into last night’s jeans, stumbling to the window and popping it open. Cool salt-laden air hit him in the face. Isaiah stood in the spotlight created by the street light. He had a rucksack and his posture was unnaturally stiff as he waved. Eli pulled on a light jacket while jamming his wallet into the jeans and stepping into his flip flops. He couldn’t risk the stairs, so he shimmied down the oak tree. It wasn’t something he hadn’t done a million times before to spend extra time with Isaiah.

Isaiah caught him when he slipped. Eli reveled in the comfort of Isaiah’s hands on him. He spun in his arms to make it a real hug. Isaiah’s hands gripped him tightly in return. The rich scent of Isaiah’s cologne surrounded him. It was woodsy but also grassy. He took a deep breath but all too soon Isaiah let go. He grabbed Eli’s hand. Eli let Isaiah lead and it reminded him of the first time they had met. Eli had been the leader then because Isaiah had been new in town and so adorably lost. Eli had been lost too. He just hadn’t known it yet.

For several minutes they didn’t speak. Isaiah was quiet by nature, more thoughtful and observant. Eli constantly teased him, calling him a space cadet. Isaiah said he was observing the world and learning its secrets. They raced down the street and crossed over to the sand dunes. Once they were passed the playground and running on open sand, Eli stopped. It was too much. He felt too out of the loop, too surreal, and too alien.

Isaiah tugged but Eli dug his heels. Isaiah’s wide green eyes pleaded with him to move. Unable to resist him, Eli kicked off the flip flops, they weren’t helping his anyhow, and bare feet were faster on sand. He sank into the cold sand and kicked it up as he moved. Isaiah’s hand was sweaty in his. Eli wished he would speak. He trusted Isaiah with his life but Isaiah was the calm, steady one. If he was upset, there was a good reason, and his mind was going a million miles a second trying to figure it all out.

In a large empty stretch of sand where large rocks blocked the view of the town, Isaiah stopped. Eli was in good shape, Isaiah was in better but both boys were out of breath. Panting, they leaned over to catch their breaths. Isaiah stood slowly, scanning the sky, and turning to face Eli. His gaze was intense, full of emotions Eli couldn’t untangle.

“Izzy, please tell me what’s going on,” he begged.

“Last week Mr. Parker noticed. I thought I was okay but then Emma started following me around. She accidentally cut me in class. I knew. Eli, I am so, so sorry but I had to send the signal. I didn’t want to but some people dropped by my house.”

“Noticed what?” Eli asked.

Isaiah gave Eli a fond complicated look and murmured, “What you refuse to see, Eli. When I came to town I couldn’t even figure out clothes. I was so confused. I was… I am… I’m not normal.”

“Yeah right, you’re not normal,” Eli scoffed even as a weird chill raced up his spine. An image of Isaiah needing help with buttons bobbed to the surface and he has tied a tie around his arm, thinking it was a decorative band. Dozens of other memories bobbed up and Eli swayed.

“How not normal?” he asked, “Emma said the same thing to me. She said…”

Izzy puffed out a breath and asked, “What did Emma ask you?”

Eli stood up and regarded the purple black of the night sky. Stars decorated it all like diamond dust. There was no moon to obscure the view. Eli was an astronomy major. The sight calmed him as he cast his mind back to yesterday. Emma Parker from math class had grabbed him in the gym and asked him, “What’s wrong with Isaiah’s eyes?”

Eli tilted his head to stare into Isaiah’s eyes. The same vibrant, grassy green that he loved seemed to glow slightly in the low light. Isaiah turned his head a bit and it was as if they had a sheen. “She said your eyes were like a cat or a dog’s the way they reflect light. She said it wasn’t normal. But she was high. She’s always high.”

“Dilated pupils, Eli,” Isaiah told him. “She could see it. Why can’t you?”

They regarded each other. Eli was chilled by the ocean, the wind, and by the fear, he saw in Isaiah’s eyes.

“When you look at me, what do you see?” he asked and his eyes swirled again with intensity.

Eli frowned. He saw a lean boy, taller than him with muscled arms, natural hair, great big hands good for holding and his lovely green eyes. “I see you, Isaiah.”

Isaiah laughed, a choked and bitter thing dying halfway through. “You do, you really do, don’t you, Elijah?”

“Are you mad at me?” Eli asked.

Isaiah smiled and his eyes glowed a bit brighter. “No, I’m just surprised at how much I love you.”

“That’s stupid. You can’t love me half as much as I love you,” Eli teased.

“No, I bet I can’t,” Isaiah said with a grin. “I just wanted to try.”

His eyes watered. Eli pulled him into a hug. Isaiah’s breath hitched. Eli squeezed, even as icy fear slipped down his spine. Isaiah had just admitted he loved Eli for the first time and it didn’t feel like a happy romantic moment. It felt like an ending. Eli wasn’t sure he could go on like everything was okay if Isaiah left him. Isaiah made his living situation bearable. Isaiah made school tolerable. Isaiah made life better because Isaiah kind of was his life.

“C’mon stop being cryptic. Why are you leaving? Where are you going?” Eli asked, trying to be brave.

“Home,” he whispered.

Isaiah stepped away from Eli and pointed up. Eli was confused. “North?”

“I’m not… I’m,” Isaiah began and trailed off. He took a deep breath and murmured, “human. I’m not human, Elijah. Parker found out. That guy is retired FBI. He knows about all of it, Area 51, the visits, the stuff in Canada. He knows. So he knew who to call and he knew who would believe him. I’m in danger. I can’t stay.”

“Can’t stay? Alien? You’re not serious,” Eli said, denying all the memories that were congealing into a very strange mess with Isaiah at the center with eyestalks.

“El, my eyes glow. My blood is a bit pink…” Isaiah said flatly.

“I thought you were anemic.”

Isaiah grinned. “My skin is cooler than yours. When I got here last year I had no idea what basketball was and I thought baseball was the one with the paddles.”

“I thought you were homeschooled,” Eli said, feeling stupid and fighting against what felt true.

Isaiah touched Eli’s face. “You’re an idiot, sometimes.”

Eli felt heat flood his face. “I just, you were hot,” he replied with a shrug.

Isaiah looked up and grinned. “Well, I thought you were hot, so we’re even. I just, I didn’t want to leave without telling you goodbye,” he choked on the word ‘goodbye’ and Eli felt his heart cracking.

“No,” he protested.

“No?” Izzy replied.

“No goodbyes. I don’t want to be left behind.” Eli knew what he was suggesting.

Isaiah’s eyes were blazing a beautiful, unearthly green now. “What do you want?”

“To be with you,” Eli replied. His glowing eyes were strange and different and Isaiah’s. Who cared if he wasn’t human if he was still Isaiah?

“Who’s being dumb now? We belong together.” Eli told him.

“You can never come back.”

“Don’t care,” Eli told him. “We belong together. Unless,” he trailed off, doubt coursing through him.

“Unless?” Isaiah asked looking nervous.

It had been a really great year. Eli had always been a fringe character with his telescope and lack of friends. He had spent the three summers previous to Isaiah alone, reading. With Isaiah, he had still read but out loud to his new and only friend. Eli wasn’t sure who was more surprised when he was brave enough to kiss Isaiah. He should know Eli couldn’t give him up. But maybe Isaiah didn’t feel the same?

“You don’t want me to go,” Eli responded.

“Oh,” Isaiah breathed, grinning. “I didn’t think you’d want to come. It’s different.”

“Different can be good,” Eli replied. “Besides, I love aliens.”

“All aliens,” Isaiah teased.

Wind raced across the beach and the sky filled with lights. The two boys glanced up as a blueish beam lit up Isaiah. His eyes widened in panic and his hand reached out for Elijah. He took it. Eli was pulled into the circle of light.

“Are you sure?” Isaiah asked.

Eli pressed his lips to Isaiah’s. Isaiah’s arms slipped comfortingly around him, to hold Eli in place as they were taken into the air. It was going to be one hell of an adventure. He just wished he had kept his flip flops on. He couldn’t imagine spaceship floors were any more comfortable than wet cold sand. Not that it mattered as long as they were together, nothing did.

the end.

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Muddy Prints

(Written for my friend Amy B. The character names are her irl children and dogs. She asked me to write a fun story including her dogs and this is the fun result. – K)

“Lash is out,” Ralph whispered, giving his sister, Charlotte a poke. “Wake up Char, c’mon.”

The sky outside the window was silvery gray. Morning was still a long way off and Lash was out. The Siberian husky had a habit of getting into trouble if Gomez, their golden wasn’t there to watch him. Ralph shook his sister again. This time she grumbled a bit before opening her eyes.

“S’morning?” she asked, rubbing at her eyes.

“No, Lash is out,” Ralph repeated. “C’mon. We gotta go get him.”

Charlotte tossed her covers off and slipped into her trainers. Ralph was in PJs, so she didn’t bother with clothes except for her jacket and her tiara. It was sparkly with a pink boa around it and she was convinced it was lucky. Besides, a princess would never be caught out of bed without hers. She pulled the covers farther back to reveal Gomez.

“Wake up, Gomez. We have to go out,” Charlotte told the dog.

Gomez got up and beat both children out of the room. Ralph stuffed a tiny Charmander into his pocket for luck and followed his royal sister. The house was silent except for children and dog out of bed but still, they kept quiet. It would go better for everyone if they caught Lash themselves and got everyone back into bed before breakfast.

Slipping out the back door, they stood and stared at the thick mist creeping up over everything. The trees seemed haunted, the slide seemed even more haunted and worse, there was no sign of Lash. Ralph whistled. Gomez’s floppy ears perked up but there was no answer from the husky.

“C’mon Char, he can’t have got far,” he whispered.

Charlotte adjusted her tiara to give herself a moment to think. “Wait Ralph, Gomez can find Lash. He’s a good tracker. Right?”

Gomez sneezed.

“See? He says he can,” Charlotte insisted.

Ralph started walking. “We don’t have time to mess around.”

Charlotte knelt down next to Gomez. “You are a big, good dog and you can find Lash, can’t you?”

Gomez huffed in her direction. Charlotte pet his head. Ralph rolled his eyes as the big dog sat down. Charlotte gently took hold of Gomez’s ears to get his attention. “There’s a treat in it for you.”

Gomez didn’t budge.

“Okay, two but that’s all I’ve got in my pockets,” Charlotte said, standing up.

Gomez sniffed the air before taking off down the road. The look Charlotte gave Ralph was very annoying. But he followed his sister as she took off running after Gomez. The air smelled wet like rain was coming but Ralph thought it felt too still. He couldn’t hear a single thing rustling. All the animals were asleep still, or gone. He put on a burst of speed to keep up. There was no way he wanted to get left behind when everything was so eerie.

Gomez didn’t stop at the edge of their property but dove headlong into the trees. Charlotte had grabbed his tail to keep him from getting too far ahead. The dog took this with a limited amount of dignity, occasionally stopping to give the human puppy an annoyed eye roll. Charlotte would roll her eyes back and he would be off again.

“We can’t go too far,” Ralph said.

“Can too, if Gomez says so,” Charlotte replied. “We’re already in trouble.”

“What’s a little more?” Ralph replied, snorting as his sister shrugged.

Gomez stopped. He stood stock still and the twilight bleached the yellow out of his coat, making him look for an instant like a stone statue. He stood before a circle of mushrooms, tail low and straight. Ralph pulled Charlotte back before she entered the ring. In the center of it were two large pawprints. Ralph pulled Charlotte back to see where the pawprints entered the circle.

“Lash went that way,” Charlotte said, pointing to the opposite side of the ring.

Ralph shook his head. “No Char, Lash went in this way, but he didn’t come out the other side. There’d be more prints.”

“Dogs don’t just disappear Ralph,” she said and moved forward.

Gomez growled and Charlotte turned to comfort the big dog. Ralph examined the ring from all angles. It was wide enough for a bunch of people to have a picnic inside. It smelled like mushrooms and wet grass. Gomez growled when he touched a mushroom, warning him away.

“Lash is in there,” he told his sister and dog. “It’s a fairy ring.”

Fairies are nice,” Charlotte said. “Like Tinkerbell.”

“Right, are you sure?” Ralph asked Char because he wasn’t convinced.

“Mm-hmm,” she said, bobbing her head. “‘Sides, I’m a princess. They especially like princesses.”

Ralph didn’t know anything about fairies. He liked nice normal things like numbers and video games. Charlotte was good with animals and fairies were a sort of animal. Plus, he trusted Charlotte.  “Okay, but we go together. Hold hands.”

Gomez disagreed. Rumbling, he wouldn’t move, going so far as to sit flat, facing home. Charlotte took Ralph’s hand and led them into the center of the ring. At first, they just stood in the center of the grass but the air shimmered and Lash appeared. Lash barked and crashed into them, knocking them to the grass.

“Down boy!” Charlotte exclaimed while high voices giggled around them.

Ralph got Lash to sit and spotted a boy with dragonfly wings sitting around the dog’s neck. The boy has pointed ears, bright green eyes and wore a pair of jeans and a Minecraft Tee. He also had a tiny gold crown on his head. In the air around them, more fairies were fluttering around the circle. They were all colors and wore normal people clothes.

Charlotte was mesmerized. “Wow!”

“Dance! Play,” a girl fairy commanded.

The circle expanded and they couldn’t see poor Gomez in the grass anymore. Instead, they spotted a square for dancing next to a horseshoe pit. Beyond the pit was a fire where several strange creatures with hooves for feet were roasting marshmallows on sticks. Ralph saw groups of fairies carrying large hoops and dipping them into soap to create giant bubbles.

“Look! That’s why Lash ran in here! Silly dog can’t resist bubbles!” Charlotte squealed as Lash jumped and popped bubbles.

Gales of laughter escaped the fairies. Charlotte jumped and popped a few herself as Ralph watched nervously. This was cool but if they couldn’t see the ring any longer, how could they get back to Gomez? How would they get back home?

“All dance and play to honor the king!” the girl fairy commanded.

A ball landed in his arms. It was small but the right size for kicking, so he kicked it back to a group of tiny gnomes in red or green hats. They beckoned him over. Not wanting to be rude and seeing the girl fairy still hovering, he joined the game.

They played for hours. Charlotte found herself and Lash draped in flower crowns while Ralph was shown how to play ten pins. Fairies were good fun and had loads of sweets on offer. Charlotte ate a fluffy frosted purple cake. Ralph stuck to the weird sour hard candies and Lash ate whatever no one else wanted.

Breathing heavy after another round of horseshoes, the kids sat on the grass and grinned at each other. Fairies started curling up in balls around them. Some snored softly while others quietly talked to one another while drinking dandelion tea. It was clear that the party was coming to an end.

The boy in the crown bowed low before Charlotte. “Your majesty,” he said, “you have honored me. But the party has ended.” He winked. “I love a princess at my parties.”

“Your majesty,” Charlotte said and bowed low. She kicked Ralph in the shins until he bowed too.

The king grinned and disappeared.

The girl fairy who had commanded them to play appeared. Her long pink hair floated in the breeze her glittery dragonfly wings made as she hovered near them. She smiled brightly. With a bow, she waved a wand around the circle. They blinked and spotted Gomez, still sulking in the tall grass.

Lash barked. Gomez flicked an ear. Lash barked again. Gomez hopped up and spun to see the two children and the Siberian Husky. He huffed very disapprovingly at them. Lash licked his ear and set off toward home, not worried at all about the trouble he had caused.

Gomez, with a dignified sniff, herded the children back down the path where the mist was lifting. Charlotte looked at the sky. “How long were we gone, Ralph?”

“Hours,” he replied.

“Still dark,” Charlotte whispered back.

They reached the house and the lights weren’t on. Lash was by the back door, waiting with bright, knowing eyes.

“Could be the next day?” Ralph wondered.

“Mom would have called the police,” Charlotte argued.

“Yeah,” Ralph agreed. “Should we tell them?”

Charlotte grinned at her brother. “No.” To Lash, she said, “Thanks for letting us meet your friends.”

With an eye roll, Lash went inside. Gomez did not follow. He did block the kids way back inside. Charlotte tried to go around the dog but he wouldn’t budge.

“Move! We can’t get in trouble now!” Charlotte growled.

Gomez growled back and nosed her pockets.

“You owe him two treats,” Ralph reminded her.

“He’s going to get us in trouble,” Charlotte replied.

“Not if you feed him,” Ralph said.

“Oh, alright,” Charlotte agreed. “I did promise.”

She handed the dog the treats and he inhaled them before Lash could turn up. Dropping his jaw in a doggy smile, he let the human puppies return to their beds. He joined Charlotte under the covers.

In the morning, they got grounded. Muddy footprints had given them away and parents don’t believe in fairies.

The End.

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