Leap of Faith

leap-of-faithThe dirt beneath my feet is compacted. There are a few pebbles that don’t belong. They scratch at the soles of my track shoes as I work to flick them out of the way. I’ll not permit any imperfection from interfering with my goal. It’s so much more than a number. 8.95 meters. It is the holy grail for long jumpers and I am poised to engrave my name into those record books with my final effort of this competition.

The wind is at my back. The crowd is energized with anticipation. I shake out my calf muscles and swivel my head back and forth to clear the mental cobwebs before beginning my approach for takeoff. I envision a jet fighter accelerating quickly as it is catapulted off the deck of an aircraft carrier. That’s how I have always done it in the past, prepared for accomplishing the unthinkable, used vivid imagery to picture impossibility becoming my new reality.

I begin to trot before working up to a sprint as I reach the white demarcation that serves as the threshold between what has been in the past and what will be in the future. Planting my left foot, I extend my right foot towards the sky at an optimum angle. Not the pristine takeoff I’d been hoping for, but I’m determined. I’m certain, this will be my moment.

I arrange my limbs in a perfectly aerodynamic form. A gentle nudge from the whisper of a breeze blows from behind me. ​Thank you​, I whisper in my thoughts as I approach the spot in the sand that I have imprinted in my mind. There is no special denotation showing where I need to arrive, I just know. Reaching my azimuth, I begin a descent back to earth, my short-lived flight now cleared for landing. I extend my toes and fingers out towards the horizon, watching that coveted spot in the sand pass beneath me.

With a thud, my shoes sink into the sand. I exhale a victorious breath. The measuring tape is extended, but I already know the results. 8.96 meters, a new world record. The crowd erupts in appreciation of my Herculean accomplishment. I’ve done it. I’ve overcome my personal demons. I’ve prevailed against all odds to win the gold medal hanging around my neck. The smile on my face couldn’t be any prouder, even if in reality, I haven’t won a single thing.

The supporting cast of the theatrical production joins me on stage as the final act is completed. The audience provides a standing ovation for my performance. My eyes lock on those of a young boy seated in a wheelchair at the end of the third row, clapping with an enthusiasm that is more infectious and rewarding than the imitation reproduction hanging around my neck.

It’s then that I realize that winning a medal may be the ultimate goal for some. But, for me, inspiring others to reach beyond their personal limits, now that is pure gold.

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Secret Rendezvous

secret-rendezvousReilly had become a little too laissez faire with his correspondence concerning the matter he was trying to keep secret. He used to wipe the history clean from his phone after every message. It was getting too laborious to keep up with it. Besides, Kelli was never the techie type anyway. She could barely navigate the internet, let alone dig through his message log.

“Aren’t you going to check that?” asked Kelli from across the table. They were enjoying a meal at their favorite restaurant in the uptown district. Everything had been perfect up to this point in the evening. A few glasses of merlot, an oak grilled bacon wrapped filet, and a succulent pair of lobster tails shared between the two of them.

Reilly distinctly remembered his instructions not to call or text him at this hour. It was too risky. “Nah, it’s probably just someone phishing for me to come back into the office.”

As the lead prosecutor on the team of lawyers at the firm, Reilly was often called in for advice on lesser cases, but he knew that wasn’t the case this time around. The double chime originating from the phone in his left pocket was different from the single ding for all other senders.  Reilly knew it was her.

The signature chime beckoned again from his pocket. “Excuse me, honey.” Reilly stood up and retreated to the lobby of the restaurant and checked his phone. The message read “Meet me tomorrow, usual spot and time.” The second message had read, “Actually, an hour earlier this time.”

Reilly punched at the keys with aggravation, “Don’t text me anymore tonight. She will pick up on it eventually. Will see you tomorrow.” In haste, Reilly pressed the send button to quell any hint of suspicion from Kelli in his absence. To be safe, he deleted the message thread before quickly returning to his seat.

The message that arrived on Kelli’s phone before Reilly returned was unexpected to say the least. The message itself was disturbing, even more so when she realized the sender was her boyfriend, from the lobby.

As Reilly arrived back at the table, Kelli kept her cool. “Everything okay?”

“Yeah, just as I thought. Someone from work. The nerve of people, right? On our one date night each month.” Reilly seemed irritable over the disruption. Kelli thought that perhaps he was unsettled for the wrong reason.

The next day, Kelli feigned sleep before sneaking out to tail Reilly on his route to work. If he was cheating on her, she would catch him red-handed. She had no reason to doubt him, but that message, it was damning.

Kelli watched from across the parking lot as Reilly rapped his knuckles on the door of room 312, peering left and right down the corridor with a suspicious look on his face. The brunette who answered the door let him inside. It wasn’t even three minutes before Reilly emerged from the room, got in his car, and drove away.

Kelli peeled across the road, came to a screeching halt in front of the hotel, and waited. When the brunette emerged, attaché in hand, Kelli confronted her.

“Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Do I know you? I’m sorry, I think you have the wrong person.”

“No, I’m pretty sure I don’t since my boyfriend just walked out of this room. You obviously know he’s already committed, or so I thought, based on the messages you two have been sending each other.”

The woman sighed with remorse as she realized their little secret was out of the bag. “You don’t understand, I …”

“I understand perfectly well, you promiscuous bitch. I should level you right here, right now, before I go give that deceitful excuse for a man a little piece of my mind.”

“You’d better think twice before doing anything else.” The woman reached into her attaché and withdrew her business card. “Here,” she sighed as she handed it over to Kelli. “My name is Gina Stewart. I was hired by your husband, yes. I flew in from the other coast because he heard I was the best. To custom design your engagement ring. It was supposed to be a secret.”

“I’m sorry, I mean, I didn’t mean to …” Kelli stuttered, looking for words that would help her backtrack, to rescind the occurrence of the previous two minutes. There were no words to excuse or conceal her jealous rage.

“Don’t worry,” Gina said. “Just know that you have a good man. There aren’t many guys who would go through as much as he has. Reilly obviously thinks the world of you.”

Kelli couldn’t help but feel the guilty weight pressing down upon her shoulders. The surprise that was forthcoming from her future fiancée was replaced by surprise at her own indignant temper.

She bit the inside of her cheek, looking for the courage to ask the unthinkable. “Please. Don’t …”

“I won’t say anything,” smirked Gina. “If your future husband is entitled to a secret, I suppose you are too. This little one will be ours.”

Bewitched

bewitchedIt seemed like the perfect idea. And it turned out to be, if only for a different reason than I originally thought. We were new to the area. I’d accepted a job offer in the city. It would be a new start for us. Emma had begrudgingly left her well-defined social circles and vegetable garden from the rural town in exchange for an apartment in the uptown district. It was a difficult transition for her, and subsequently me, but we were becoming more comfortable. With the cooling temperatures and the leaves transitioning to a vibrant orange, it was easy to slip into the autumn holiday spirit.

“Let’s have a party,” she’d said. “We can have your co-workers over. Maybe a few of our new neighbors.”

It was a good idea. I fully embraced it. But, I decided to take Emma’s idea and add a little flare to it.

“Sure, but how about we spice things up a bit, make it a costume party? It’s almost Halloween, after all.”

“Great idea! I’ll go as a witch. You can be my cowboy.” I picked up on her suggestive cue.

“Well, those two don’t mesh, but I’m game.” I whipped up an imaginary lasso, reeled Emma in, and adorned her lips with a passionate kiss. It was set, a costume party, the day before Halloween.

Witches are a common sight around Halloween. And our party was no exception. Although I didn’t fault Emma for her lack of originality, it was clear that my colleagues, our new neighbors, were short on creativity as well. There must have been two dozen witches. It was like an enchantress convention. There were enough broomsticks in our living room to outfit an entire Quidditch match.

Emma spared no expense to make a good impression, hoping to establish a new set of friends in this culturally diverse city. The hors d’oeuvres and punch, lightly spiked, were also accompanied by festive decorations and music to set the mood.

About midway through the evening, I sidled over to Emma, and slipped my arm around her waist. “How you doin’ gorgeous?” The look of surprise on my face was reflected back at me when she turned around. It wasn’t Emma. It was Gina. I think that was her name. I had just met her. My new boss’s wife. I backtracked quickly, but safely. We both chuckled at my gaffe, and it was certainly an effective ice breaker.

It wasn’t until later that I learned Gina wasn’t the only witch whose identity was mistaken that evening.

As quickly as he approached Emma, the man had slipped back into the crowd of people. She couldn’t be sure who it was, but Emma would never forget what he had whispered in her ear, and that our future here in the city was already tainted.

“I found the spot. Behind the nightstand in the bedroom. I already have the first number of the combination figured out. We’ll have to work on the other two another time.”

Easy Money

easy-moneyIt was the same recurring nightmare, losing my job. Turns out reality was much worse than even my dreams could imagine. They use terms like streamline as a guise for the real message. We don’t want you anymore. Torn between feelings of resentment, anger, and self-pity, I found myself here, sitting in a bathroom stall at a theme park, far from home, on a frivolous vacation after the reduction in force.

It didn’t feel like a prudent decision at the time, but that would change. The scent of grilled filet wafted from the swanky French restaurant. That used to be my world, but overpriced hamburgers it was for me now. Tipsy from my one indulgence, a nightly margarita, everything changed.

After the fireworks show, I was staggering towards the exit when I bumped into her. I assumed her since it was a ladies wallet at my feet. Picking it up, I looked to return it to its rightful owner, but the throng of tourists was moving too quickly. So, I did what anyone would do who’d just lost their job. I tucked it under my shirt and disappeared to safety, my new business office, the bathroom stall.

One hundred dollars cash. I dumped everything else in the trash. It was so easy. Enticing and addictive, I returned the following evening, accidentally bumping into unsuspecting guests. All retained their possessions, until the middle-aged man netted my second score. When the leather bi-fold tumbled from his pocket, I scooped it up nonchalantly and returned to my office.

Fifty bucks. Not a windfall, but still easy money. I eased into a routine. I could clear around five hundred dollars an evening. I’d reached my quota for the night. One more, I thought greedily. I could see my target approaching. He looked loaded, dressed in designer clothes, sipping a glass of wine. The subtle bump while feigning attention towards my phone produced his wallet.

One last time, I scurried to my office. No bills. Just a slip of paper. Busted. The knock on the stall door was followed by, “Police, open up.” My latest victim displayed a police shield as I sat there, trapped in the stall.

“Five hundred dollars,” he said. My dumbfounded expression led him to elaborate. “Five hundred dollars, and I’ll pretend I didn’t see this.” It was my entire take for the night. But, I’d rather eat another overpriced hamburger over whatever they served in the local prison. I handed over the wad of bills, watching the officer disappear. I flushed the toilet beneath me. Somehow, it felt appropriate.


Clark had seen the man, countless times, entering the same stall. He shouldn’t have continued to dump the excess contents in the same trash can. That was his downfall. He didn’t expect the fake shield to work, but it was worth a try. The upscale clothes and glass of wine was worth the investment. As he rifled through the stack of twenties, Clark smirked. Not bad for a janitor. Easy money.

Opening Night

opening-night“Michaela, curtain in five,” came the voice from behind the door. Callie stared at her reflection in the mirror with a tense look on her face. She could hear the reprimanding tones in any utterance of her given name, one she hadn’t heard in years.

Michaela Ambrose. The family lineage dictated by her surname meant one thing. She would be a lawyer, just like her father and grandfather before him. Her brother had accepted his fate graciously. Callie was the black sheep, obstinate and unyielding to the ploys of her shepherding parents.


Callie hadn’t known what she wanted to do with her life. She was only a junior in high school. Why should she be pressured into a decision so early? These arguments fell on deaf ears until Callie became a reclusive and rebellious teenager.

“Michaela, put something appropriate on. We need to leave in five minutes,” scolded her mother.

Another evening at the theater. Just great, thought Callie. More pompous and high falutin snobs, overdressed, and clapping ceremoniously at all the proper moments. It was all so fake. She hated everything about it. Callie knew she’d be forced to dress accordingly. It didn’t stop her from pressing her parents’ buttons. It was the tiny bit of control she seemed to have in her life.

It was about midway through the second act. Callie was disinterested, arms folded, scowl on her face. The actress was dancing delicately across the stage, belting out the signature note of her solo performance, when it happened. Whether it was the glint of bright lights off the reflective brooch in the front row, or simply a lack of concentration, she faltered.

The voice of the actress cracked as she fell to her knees, just a moment of imperfection. As quickly as she stumbled, the actress regained her poise. The collective inhalations from the crowd, however, were deafening. It was such a powerful misstep that even Callie found herself with a need to catch her breath. While everyone else had gasped in dismay, Callie had been drawn into her performance for the first time that evening.

Everything always felt so contrived about these productions. Now this? This was real. It showed the imperfections in humanity. There was a sense of authenticity and vulnerability in failure. Although Callie wouldn’t wish this type of misfortune on anyone, she had to admit that she felt fortunate that it occurred that evening. For the first time in her life, she could identify with someone. With something bigger than herself. The standing ovation awarded by the crowd at the completion of the performance was consolatory in nature. For Callie, however, it was genuine.


That actress had ruined Callie’s life. In her parent’s eyes, at least. The spark ignited on that evening so many years ago, however, allowed Callie to reclaim ownership of her young life. Michaela. She whispered the name to herself. The apprehensive face in the mirror morphed into a grin. It was opening night, in more than one way.

Exposure

exposure“C’mon mom,” urged the young boy. “It’s only five bucks. I’ll pay for it with my allowance.”

Alister’s mom threw him a suggestive glance. “You mean the allowance that will buy me my next coffee because the grass is still three inches high?”

The eclectic items on display at the estate sale were spread before them. She redirected her gaze to the man behind the table. “Three dollars.” It’s part question, part statement. He nods in affirmation. As she hands over the three bills, Alister’s mom addresses her son, “No pictures until the grass is cut.”

On the ride home, Alister examined the camera. “How does it work, and what’s this door? Is it for batteries?”

“It’s for the film. It’s how people took pictures before the digital revolution.” She could see the curiosity and sense of adventure radiating from Alister. “I know where to get some. You’ll have twenty-four exposures so use them wisely.”

Alister’s mom looked out the window as her son darted across the yard. Her three dollar investment was paying off huge dividends. The grass was being cut, and Alister was excited about something.

“Done!” shouted Alister as he burst into the kitchen.

“Wash up.” Five minutes later, he was hunched over the counter with a damp head, watching his mom load the film. She explained how to take a picture and advance the film.

As he flung the worn strap around his neck, Alister bolted towards the door. “Stay in the yard,” shouted his mom. “Yep,” he called back as he closed the door and disappeared into a new universe of possibilities.

The mailbox. A dandelion. An ant meandering across the sidewalk. He burned through the roll in ten minutes. “How do I download these?” he asked. That’s when she had to explain the process of developing, and patience. The ensuing two days moved at a snail’s pace for Alister.

He ripped open the envelope like it held a million dollars. He sifted through the photos with admiration.

“It’ll be a treasure trove for you, your first photos.” His mom smiled as Alister carried the collection to his room. Arranging them in chronological order, sliding each one into a sleeve, Alister noticed something. A small number was superimposed on the corner of each photograph. Must be something with this ancient technology, Alister thought.

“Where is it?” whispered the secretive man as he rifled through the items on the table with no display of respect. “The camera, where is it?”

“Don’t know,” came the voice from his partner as he searched the boxes below the table.

The elderly man behind the table, the one who didn’t speak, uttered a minimum number of words in a foreign accent. “Sold to young boy and mom. Three dollars. I did good job, that piece of junk.” He smiled with pride.

“Dammit!” The man pounded his fist on the table in disgust. The map to Montezuma’s Treasure had eluded their grasp, like dandelion petals floating on the breeze, yet again.

Deception

deception-skullI don an inconspicuous outfit, khakis and a white oxford shirt. Passing through the security gates of the museum, I smile courteously and retrieve a map. I don’t need one. I know exactly where I’m going. I’ve gone over this plan in my mind numerous times. Timing and attention are critical for success.

Left, two rights, up a staircase, around the corner into the atrium, and through the northwest corridor. It had become my mantra. I whisper it quietly now as I meticulously follow the directions. I glance at my watch. Right on time, perfect. There were more direct routes, but this one had been chosen for a reason. The museum’s placement of cameras left gaps in coverage that I could exploit.

Sitting on the platform, the skull was left unguarded, even though it shouldn’t have been. It was the oldest known cranium found to date, estimated to be a descendant of the famed Lucy. I ease up to the velvet divider separating her from me. Millions of years separated our existence on Earth. I wonder if she’d ever conceived something so mischievous in her lifetime?

One last scan before I spring into action. The stairway located on the eastern wall is my escape route. Ready, set, go. Deliberately, but not hastily, I hop the divider, grab the skull, and begin sprinting towards the door. Dodging left, then right, with the prize safely tucked away, I’m a running back, avoiding linebackers looking to tackle me.

“Stop!” the security guard shouts, and I know who his words are intended for. The museum alarm system is enabled, just as I push open the stairwell door. Still on schedule.

Skipping steps three at a time, I traverse the two stories with ease. Reaching the ground floor, I push open the exit door. The alarm is already going off. No harm in triggering another one. Placing the skull on the floor, I dart out of the darkened stairwell and into the sunlight. The backpack is waiting for me there.

I pick it up and make my way to the pub around the corner. I emerge from its restroom a new man, dressed in shorts, t-shirt, and sunglasses. I blend in with every other tourist as I sling the backpack over my shoulder.

The guards will be flummoxed when they discover the skull, still safely inside the walls of the museum. I’m sure it won’t make any sense to them. No matter. By the time they discover the handful of missing gold doubloons, the ones my partner has pilfered amid the chaos, we will have already collected our millions on the black market.

“Hey, stop,” comes the officer’s voice from behind me. Something isn’t quite right. Our plan has been compromised. It’s in this moment, however, that I realize it never was our plan. It was his plan. The plan for deception, as it turns out, was twofold. For the security guards, yes. But his first point of deception was yours truly. Damn, mission accomplished.

Last Chance

last-chanceDevon had two secrets. One he wanted to reveal. The other one he wanted to keep hidden, for his eyes only, just in case. His battle had been a long road with unexpected twists and turns. The clinking of two bottles triggered an uncontrollable response. One that involved a trip to the convenience store that was all too convenient. Sometimes it was a six-pack, other times a forty ounce aluminum can.

Rita had given him one last chance. Clean up your act, or I’m gone. Devon had been with too many women to count. It felt as though his addiction to women matched that of the bottle. Rita was different. She was the one. Not the one that he would marry. Not yet, at least. But, she was the one who’d persuaded him to come clean.

He’d been on the straight and narrow for two months, nary a waver from his resolve. For himself. But more so, for Rita. To prove that he was good enough. Devon had been planning a weekend on the coast, just he and Rita. Complete seclusion. No fanfare, no exotic clubs. Definitely no clubs. Just a quiet weekend at the small B&B, a chance to reconnect.

Previously littered with stray bottles and signs of weakness, his house was now clean. Devon’s place had been scrubbed of any memories that might lead him back down the path towards temptation. It felt good. Real good. It’d been two weeks since he’d seen Rita, and for the first time, his intoxicating desire to see another human being surpassed that of the liquid variety.

“Hi,” Devon smiled longingly. He greeted Rita, looking at her cautious expression through the screen door.

“Can I come in?” Devon had been caught daydreaming.

“Sure, come in.” He opened the door and led her into the living room, his hand on the small of her back. Sitting down, Devon said, “I have something to share with you.” He smiled as he thought about the pleasant surprise about to be revealed.

Just then, the parakeet, perched in his cage, began to whistle. It was the jingle to Devon’s libation of choice. Almost. Whether it was subliminal influence or plain bad luck, it was almost identical to the tune on the B&B website, the one he had been whistling for the past week in anticipation of this very moment.

“Seriously?” Rita scoffed. She marched into the kitchen, pulled open the drawer, and moved aside the wilting romaine lettuce. She returned to the doorway, beer bottle in hand, the wrong secret now revealed.

“Wait, it’s not what you think,” uttered Devon.

“We’re through. Don’t bother.” She tossed the bottle, with the intent of having it shatter on the floor. Devon snagged it from midair. He held it, staring at it, as he listened to the screen door slam. The counter clockwise twist, followed by the upward tilt was refreshing and necessary. He knew that he had it hidden away for a good reason, just in case.

Butterfly Effect

butterfly-effectI can hear everything, but I see nothing. I want to move, but I can’t. I feel as though I am restrained and yet I don’t sense anything binding me. I turn my head left and right to ascertain my surroundings, but it is pointless. For a different reason than I think. My brain is instructing the muscles in my neck to exercise, to move such that my head will swivel. But, the message is never received. There is some gap in the communication between mind and body, and I don’t like it.

Footsteps, mumbling voices, and the distant sound of cars passing on a street. It’s as if my sense of hearing is working just fine, although slightly muddled, but my sight is failing me. I can sense my chest moving up and down, Slowly, but surely. It is some indication that I am, in fact, alive.

And even though I cannot see the world around me, a movie begins to play inside my head. It’s one of those times when you wish you could grab some paper and jot down what you are seeing and feeling. This would make an incredible story. Usually, I would just chalk it up to laziness. I’ll remember it later and write it down then. But, this time is different. I want to write down these thoughts, capture these images, desperately. But, I can’t. That gap in communication between brain and body is affecting the muscles in my arms, hands, and fingers just like it is affecting my head.

I begin to sense movement, as if I am somehow becoming a puppet in my own movie, my strings being tugged to play out my part. I begin to dance around the set, seemingly unrelated objects passing by me. It is all so surreal – a notebook, a paper airplane, an acoustic guitar – they must mean something, but what?

And then, I can feel the fluttering wings of a butterfly alight on my nose. My real nose, not my puppet nose. And light begins to filter back into my consciousness. What was once a dark room begins to become an expansive space filled with daylight.

The voices around me become more audible. A sense of clarity and understanding washes over me. “Are you okay sir? What is your name?” The first thing I see as the light returns is Joseph, at least that’s what his name tag states. The paramedics are stabilizing me, strapping me down to a board, deeming my body physically immobile.

The connection between my brain and body has begun to function once again. As I swivel my head to look left, I see the mangled twist of metal that used to be my car. And I finally realize, there is so much more to do. I look beyond the wreckage to catch a fleeting glimpse of what looks like a butterfly just beginning to disappear from view. And I whisper to it in the faintest voice possible, “Thank you.”

House Call

house-callAuthor’s Note: This is the first part of a fifteen part short story that I have been working on developing in the suspense/thriller genre at the Amazon WriteOn community. All fifteen parts have now been published and may be read in their entirety at House Call. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey, taking the time to read and comment. Stay inspired.

Sunday, March 15, 2015 – 3:13 am

It wasn’t until the second ring that Chris realized the phone call was not originating in his dream, but was instead coming from the cell phone on the nightstand beside his bed.

“Hello?” He spoke groggily into the phone without checking who was calling at this unthinkable hour. The voice responding to his salutation was indiscernible, but the man’s tone left no room for misinterpretation.

“There is a car waiting for you outside your house. Get inside. You don’t want to ignore this.”

The announcement was followed by the silence of a dead line. Whoever was on the other end did not feel the need to confirm that his message was received. Angela had always been a light sleeper. So, it wasn’t a surprise when she rolled over and wondered why her husband was hunched over, sitting on the edge of their bed.

“Everything okay, honey?” The pale light of the moon filtering through the cloudy window was not enough to show the disconcerting look on his face.

“Yeah, I gotta go in though. There was a bad accident, some sort of emergency operation needed.” He never lied to his wife. He never even considered it. But, for some reason, his gut was telling him to do so this time around. He was actually quite surprised how easy it was, despite the gnawing criticism from his conscience.

Looking over at the ice blue numbers displayed on his alarm clock, Chris felt an involuntary shiver run over the entire length of his body, head to toes, as the last digit transformed from a four into a five. 3:15 AM. His birthday was March 15th, which ironically, was today.

Chris pulled on his pants laying over the wooden chair, buckled his worn leather belt, buttoned his oxford shirt, and slipped on his glasses. With the palm of his hand, he cleared away a small peep hole through the condensation on the inside of the window. The dark four door sedan sitting in front of his house was emitting exhaust from its tail pipe, but its lights remained extinguished. He gathered his keys and wallet, the short passage of time allowing his logical mind to process the events of the previous two minutes.

He cycled through the history on his cell phone. The number he had just been called from was listed as Private – Unknown. As an accomplished surgeon, Chris had to leave the comfortable warmth of his wife’s body in bed too many times to count. But, he would never depart before giving her a tender kiss on the forehead. Whether it was due to the mental distraction or an intentional choice, he slipped from the bedroom quietly on this occasion.

Chris sneaked out the side door through the garage. Walking past the matching luxury sport coupes in the driveway, his black and Angela’s red, he noticed the out of state plates on the sedan still polluting the air in front of his house. Something didn’t feel right.

And then, something really didn’t feel right as the pain originating from the back of his head intensified, followed by a slow and steady constriction of the light filtering through his pupils. The blackness in the physical realm was quickly followed by a void in the mental realm as Chris succumbed to the darkness washing over him.

Resting comfortably with her head on the feathery pillow, Angela stared at the shadows on the wall, with something between a grin and smirk etched on her face. Upon hearing the car door shut, she reached under the mattress, retrieved the prepaid cell phone, and pressed the redial button. Just like him to lie to me, she thought. With angry adrenaline coursing through her veins, the sadistic tone in her voice could not be veiled as she initiated the conversation. “What’s next?”