Saturday, December 23, 2017


Have you ever just stopped to look up at the sky and wondered until your eyes blurred and your breath caught in your throat? I do that. I do that all the time. I dream in color and think deep about things that probably don’t matter but that is how I am wired. I suppose it is kind of crazy but when you look me in the eyes and tell me the truth I think I am looking into your soul and that anything can happen and my insides start to swirl around like galaxies in outer space or perhaps like the blender when we make milkshakes and our arms brush and I can smell the milk and the ice cream and chocolate. And it is liquidly and beautifully foamy and I cannot stand how good the coldness feels running down my throat. But sometimes that same feeling of feeling content and in a perfect place washes over me as I walk and look across the world in retrospect and just slowly my heart beings to tell me “YES." This is perfect. And I smile and start to laugh silently to myself as my heart is warm and my stomach squiggles around like a caterpillar on a branch. And my eyes water from happiness and I know that I am here for a reason and purpose and I can scream to God that I have found my place in this world and I am so happy and all glory goes to Him and Him alone. And then when I stare into the soul which is cliché but it is what it is I just know that there must be something more than this. I can’t go through life thinking it is all a waste and that this is where it ends. The moon is bright and my heart sings with the stars that look down softly at me and I know that there is more to this piece of the story. This chapter isn’t over and maybe it can only end in two places but I know it won’t be a waste by the time it is over. I feel like grabbing your hand and running off. Maybe take a road trip across the plains and stare at grass and corn and pretend we are in another world. Or look at the wide open expanse and dream among the clouds as we pretend they are different animals or shapes or food that we want to reach out and grab hold of and stuff our face with until we feel our stomachs groaning in horror at the taste. Or maybe we could catch a plane and go anywhere in the world and just explore and live in a culture we do not understand. And maybe we will see something interesting and maybe we will learn something new and just live life to its fullest. And perhaps we will take a train and feel like we have time traveled to the past and this is the only way to travel across the continents. And then we can feel like real explorers.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

A List of Proposal Ideas

  • Take a long walk through a corn maze and kiss her between the ears before getting down on one knee.
  • Visit a zoo and ask in front of an extra cool animal exhibit. (Maybe the polar bears with the underwater view? Or giraffes or lions or literally anything cool and not in the dark.)
  • Take her stargazing and compare your love to the night sky.
  • Show up at her doorstep and say you're looking for someone to share in an adventure. 
  • Carve out a book and give it to her so when she opens it, the ring is visible. (Bonus if the page the ring is on is a reference to marriage/proposal/love but not by Jonathan Swift.)
  • Have a picnic in a secluded forest clearing surrounded by nature. After you eat (because food is important), ask.
  • Buy a bunch of balloons and released all of them except the one the ring is attached to.
  • Carry her to the top of a volcano/mountain and declare your love in front of the fiery depths. (Note: make sure you're not being followed by agangly creature who likes rings and/or don't drop the ring into the fire unless you're determined to defeat a dark lord who has threatened to enslave all of humanity.)
  • Plant a letterbox just for her and have her follow the clues.
  • Create a map for buried treasure and find X marks the spot, which obviously is you on one knee with a ring.
  • Write a letter and send it by owl so in case she never received her Hogwarts letter, she at least has that.
  • Ride a roller coaster and hold up a sign when the camera flashes. (Or put it on a t-shirt underneath your plaid shirt or jacket and open up your shirt so she doesn't see it.)
  • Solve a murder and text her, "Marry me, if convenient." Wait a minute and then send a second text that says, "If not convenient, marry me anyways."
  • Buy her a dog and attach the ring to the collar. (And hope she bothers to look at the collar instead of just hug/pet/kiss the dog a thousand times.)
  • Take a long walk on a beach and "find" a message in a vintage bottle. As she reads, get down on one knee.
  • Cut off her hand and ask her to join the Dark Side and rule the galaxy with you.
  • Make her waffles and write "Will you marry me?" with whipped cream.
  • Jump off a waterfall in Hawaii together and when you both survive, ask her. 
  • Rescue her from a tower and offer to sacrifice your life for her by cutting off her hair. 
Or you know...

Take her for a long walk through a forest that recently exploded with the colors of autumn and let her waste time as she takes pictures of books with the leaves for bookstagram. Stop by a lovely, little, algae-covered pond and have a picnic with a Star Wars blanket. Eat pizza waffles and Cheetos and homemade cookies while you chat about the gorgeous weather and the bugs on the leaves and the birds in the trees and the books she brought with her just in case. Always bring a book or two.

Then go on another long walk that includes a planked bridge through a swampy area, a dreamy path across a stream, and a steep hill through leaves and trees and dirt and sky. Find a man-made outlook placed on the edge of a cliff and take a moment to look out across the forest that looks like it's on fire. Turn to her, with the perfect ray of sunshine coming in between the tree branches. Tell her you're looking for someone to share in an adventure. Giver her a moment to breathe as she realizes you just quoted The Hobbit. Tell her that you don't want just anybody for this adventure, only her. Tell her how much you love her, whether with words or with that beaming smile stretching across your face and sinking deep into your eyes. Pull out a little box and get down on your knee, brushing against all that beautiful nature of leaves and dirt. Ask her to to marry you and wait for her to find her voice to say yes.

In four months, I get to marry my slimy frog.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

October Writing Challenge #31: Hollow

Whoa. I did it. I wrote every single day for a month, and I posted it on my blog. I wrote a total of 27,568 words this month and that wasn't without a specific word count goal in mind. That's amazing. Now, I have to do it all over again, but almost double that word count, in order to win NaNoWriMo. Here we go!

Day #31: Hollow

Word count: 646

Owen frowned and held the egg up to his ear. Something… was off. The five eggs, four of which still lay cuddled in the nest, had the correct speckles and coloring to be dragon eggs. But they were lighter than normal.

“What is it?” Evie asked. Owen jumped; he’d forgotten she was standing behind him, waiting for him to turn around in excitement and announce they hadn’t found just one dragon egg but five.

He craned his neck to look at her and shrugged. “Something doesn’t feel right about this. Something…”

He tapped the shell and felt his heart sink. His shoulders slumped and he let out a sigh. The eggs were light because they were hollow.

He twirled the egg around in his hands and searched for something that would indicate why the egg was hollow.

Dragons didn’t lay hollow eggs, of course. That would be pointless. When they laid eggs, the eggs were usually heavy due to the forming baby dragon inside. But if something attacked the nest and stole the contents of the egg, well…

Sure enough, Owen’s finger passed over a small pinprick hole on the surface of the egg. It was no bigger than a hair, and most people would pass over it without a second glance. But Owen had been trained to search for such inconsistencies, especially when it came to eggs.

There were many creatures in the wild that liked to snatch eggs or steal their contents for a meal. There was one in particular that had a razor-thin needle jutting from its clawed fingers that liked to insert into eggs and suck the contents dry. Vampire hedgehogs.

They were similar to regular hedgehogs with their spiny backs and squishy snouts, but unlike regular hedgehogs, they had their vampiric claw they used to eat eggs. Instead of busting eggs open with their mouths and making a mess of their meal, they slid the needle-like claw into the egg, sucked up the contents, and waddled off into the woods without a mess.

It was a cruel trick, Owen had observed, for a mother dragon to return to the nest and realize one of her babies was gone, despite the egg still being in the vicinity. Sometimes the dragon didn’t notice until the other eggs had hatched and it would nudge the empty egg in dismay. Usually, the mother dragon abandoned the egg once the others had hatched and began to grow out of the nest.

Hollow eggs, like the ones before him, were popular for poachers to find and then sell for decorations or custom attired. Owen had seen his fair share of dragon eggs on hats, as jewelry, even as a belt buckle adornment. It made him sad to see the eggs intact, the baby dragons never seeing the world.

“I’m sorry, Evie,” Owen finally said after inspecting each one to find the same kind of hole on all five eggs. “These eggs are empty.”

The small intake of breath between her lips sent a shudder through Owen.

“Empty?” Her voice was so full of surprised innocence, reminding Owen how little of the world she knew. “How can they be empty?”

He turned toward her, one egg in hand, and held it up. “Give me your hand.”

She hesitated, and his face flushed. This constant tension between them left Owen feeling out of sorts, but now didn’t seem like the time to let it bother him. Finally, she lifted her hand and he gently led her fingers over the surface of the egg, stopping when they reached the hole. Evie took the egg and ran her fingers over the surface. She marveled at the small incision, which had destroyed the life of five baby dragons.

“Oh,” Evie said.

Owen turned away from her, tears wetting his eyes as his heart felt like it was breaking apart in his chest like the breaking of an egg.

Monday, October 30, 2017

October Writing Challenge #30: Alone

I like to think of J.J. has a blend between Rey from The Force Awakens and Eleven from Stranger Things. She has power inside of her she's still trying to discover and a past she can't quite remember. She was given her powers for a purpose, but she's also learning to make her powers her own. I'm excited to see where her story takes me, whenever I decide to write it.

Day 30: Alone

Word count: 649

“Hello?” J.J. called. She pounded her fists against the mirrored window. It had to be a one-way mirror. The dimensions of the room, the type of tiling on the floor, the smoothness of the walls--it all screamed interrogation room. Someone had to be on the other side watching, listening.

“Is anybody there?” Her voice felt hoarse from yelling, but she couldn’t quit. If she quit, they might go away.

She smacked her palm against the glass. “Max?”

Even she thought her tone sounded mournful, despite the niggling at her mind that it was all a lie. That was the idea, after all. Play off the pity he felt for her. It had to be pity, she thought. Why else would the smartest person she’d ever meant care so much for her? Why would he take the time to show her around the Institute, teach her how to fight and embrace her powers? Why would he take her to the roof to stargaze or breathe fresh air?

“Max, if you’re listening, please…” Her voice cracked. The warning in her brain rose; more lying. “Please help me. I don’t want to stay here. I’m-I’m scared.”

Her internal lie detector was buzzing out of control, but no one would be able to tell from the outside. It was all in her head. She wasn’t scared. She felt content, actually. No more security guard eyeballing her every step, no professors correcting her faults, no students competing with her, breathing down her neck, pretending to be her friend.

In here, her thoughts were her own. In here, she could only wonder at who watched her. In here, it she was alone.

And before the Institute, before the crazy kids who begged her to join them, before Max, she had wanted to always be alone. Avoid the kids at school, try not to anger the foster parents, stay in her room and read books and play video games. Alone was safe. Alone meant no one was looking, no one was judging, no one cared.

J.J. went to the opposite wall from the mirror and sat down with her back against the smooth drywall, knees pulled to her chest. She looked down at her hands. Her knuckles were still tender from her last bout of boxing, several days ago. She clenched her fingers into fists until her nails bit into her palms. The raw power that ran her veins still frightened her.

Glimpses of the faces, the people, who had faced the wrath of this power flashed through her mind. Bloody, bruised, battered. She had done that.

If she hadn’t seen the footage, the pictures, she might not have believed it. But Max had been right; she was dangerous. Not just because of the power inside her, but what that power was meant to do. What she was meant to do.

It was better for her to be alone. Isolated from the world, from other people. Then she couldn’t hurt them. Then she could be safe from herself.

She leaned her head back against the wall, closing her eyes, her fists curled into her lap. Content washed over her. If this was her fate, so be it. Trapped in a room, no bigger than a storage closet, with nothing but a table and a chair. She would survive, as she always did. One day at a time, alone and safe.

She ignored the prick at her thoughts that detected a lie. This was no lie. It couldn’t be. It was only truth.

The door creaked on its hinges as it opened, and J.J. opened her eyes. Relief flooded through her, despite all the convincing she’d done that being alone was for the best. Because when she looked up into Max’s brown eyes, his brow furrowed in a deep sadness that never seemed to go away, she realized she didn’t want to be alone.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

October Writing Challenge #29: Ghostly

This whole month of writing has been kind of weird because most of the prompts are Halloween themed, or at least spooky, ghost-y themed. I don't usually write spooky or scary stories. So it's been interesting to take a word or phrase that is normally associated with Halloween or spooky and make it fit what I write--fantasy, science-fiction, etc.

Day 29: Ghostly

Word count: 432

He appeared from the shadows, a figure all in gray, and strode toward her. The dim lighting from the street lamp cast his shadow across the rain puddles that marred the alleyway.

“Who are you?” J.J. asked. The question lingered in the air, echoing around her. The sound made her ears tingle. Something was wrong.

The man didn’t reply; he just continued to walk, each step moving him forward in a strange, wavering rhythm. There one second, several steps forward the next. As if he could teleport a little at a time or skip through the air like a ghost.

“Who?” she began again, but then the man was in front of her and moving through her. She jumped back to get out of his way, but he had passed--right through her--and continued to walk.

“Wha-what?” The word bounced from wall to wall, disappearing into the rain-clouded night. J.J. turned on foot, realizing just then that she wore no shoes, and raced after the man. “Wait!”

Her bare feet slapped the wet pavement, sending shudders across her toes and heels. But she didn’t stop.

She chased him, even as if moved further and further away. Every five steps of hers was only one of his. The alley ended up ahead, a chain-link fence blocking the way. J.J. came to a halt, her feet skidding against broken pavement, as the man walked through the fence, just like he had walked through her.

A ghost? She wondered. Willa would tell her that ghosts weren’t real; that she was only seeing someone with abilities. But here and now, in the middle of the city--it was impossible. Brett would tell her the man was most certainly a ghost. Then she’d probably chase after him, no matter the cost. Kal would just laugh. He’d tip his head back, eyes half-closed, mouth open wide to show his perfectly straight teeth, and he’d laugh.

Wait, J.J. thought. Willa? Kal? Brett? Those were her friends. But where were they? Where was she?

She glanced around, rain splattering her face with fat, cold droplets. She was in the city. In an alleyway. A familiar alleyway. Why wasn’t she at the Institute?

She couldn’t remember, yet she knew this place. The alleyway with the chain-linked fence and broken asphalt. The walls with the graffiti splattered brick and the rusty fire escapes zigzagging up the buildings. She remembered the dented trash cans and the plastic bags fluttering in the wind.She had been here before. A long time ago.

That man, she thought, was not the ghost.

She was.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

October Writing Challenge #28: In the Cemetery

To be honest, this writing challenge has been exhausting. I'm glad I've stuck with it thus far, but I'm looking toward November 1 with relief. Although, that does mean NaNoWriMo begins, and I have decided to attempt it, despite not having a story in mind yet. But I'm ready to write a single story, not snippets or drabbles. I want something with a beginning, middle, and end. Something with more development and more connection. We'll see what happens after that.

Day 28: In the Cemetery
Word count: 379

In the cemetery, there is a grave where grass no longer grows. The headstone that pokes above the ground is faded with age. Cracks drizzle down the sides of the stone, like bolts of lightning skittering down the horizon. The once pristine engravings are but scratches across the limestone surface.

It is at this particular gravestone, where the grass does not grow, where a perfect square of dirt covers the ground, that the girl in the blue dress sits.

It is on clear days and dark nights when the girl can be seen. She sits on the dirt, facing the headstone, her hair braided carefully into two down her back. Her blue dress is bright, matching the clear sky and the ribbons in her hair. She wears black, buckled shoes with lacy white socks. She does not turn. She does not move. She does not even breathe.

She just sits in the cemetery, staring at the grave, as if trying to read the words that faded long ago.
On dreary days, she cannot be found, but the dirt around the grave never dampens. It always stays dry and fresh with the perfect imprint of two shoes. On clear nights, she does not dwell at the grave, though one might see her walking about the cemetery, searching, always searching, for something that can never be found.

But on the dark nights, when the moon is shrouded by cloud or wane, she can be heard humming to herself a sad, little song. On clear days, she does not utter a sound, but only sits in stillness and silence.

The stories about the girl at the grave vary. Some say she used to live near the graveyard, before it expanded, and that the spot was a favorite of hers. Where she played with her dolls or read her favorite books. Others think she appeared only after the grave was dug, that her own body lay beneath the ground, separated permanently from her spirit that wanders the cemetery, trying to find rest.

But there are others who know the truth of the girl. Of why she wears a blue dress. Of why she only hums on dark nights. Of why she cannot be found on dreary days.

But those people cannot be found.

Friday, October 27, 2017

October Writing Challenge #27: Battle

This piece is shorter, but I was trying to capture a certain atmosphere, leaning more toward prose poetry than fiction. I don't know if it worked.

Day 27: Battle

Word count: 265

Stars rise as empires fall. A battle cry rises over the horizon of a new dawn. Red streaks the sky in rippling banners, stamped with the golden crests of dragon and lion. Soldiers sit atop horses decorated in gilded plates and braided reins. Their armor glints in the morning sunrise, a shine across their enemy’s gaze. Hundreds upon thousands line the plains at a standstill. They wait for the moment. The clap of thunder as hooves clatter upon barren ground, the whistle of arrows rising above the cloud streaked sky, the clink of swords slicing out of their sheaths, hungry for blood.

Across the chambers of the grassy field, a second army awaits. Their leather strapped chests and limbs crouch in anticipation. Their hands grip wooden bows, their heels grip stone. Knives line the folds of their uniforms, sharpened to a razor apex. Hunkered down in holes and crevices of a rocky fortress, they too wait for the moment. The bellow of horns signaling an approach, the cries for cover against raining arrows, the sounds of shields bracing for impact, ready for blood.

The battle awaits in a breath, a whisper. A hush sweeps over the battlefield. In that stillness is reason for fight, for king, for country, for family, for future. In that quiet there is acknowledgment of what is to happen. Of prayers offered in faith and forgiveness. In that tranquility there is a surge of hope, rising toward the brightened heavens, from both sides of the line.

That hope, collides, clashes together.

And the moment of battle begins with a resounding heartbeat

Thursday, October 26, 2017

October Writing Challenge #26: Ghost child

The more I write about Ursula, the more I like her. I have plans for her, so many plans. It's going to be grand.

Day 26: Ghost Child

Word count: 572

“Who are you?” Ursula asked the boy, who stood in the corner of her room and stared at her with pale blue eyes.

His ashen skin contrasted with his black hair, making Ursula think of her brother. If she had seen him from the back, she might have mistaken him for a shorter version of Ivan. He held himself tightly, as if he might break apart if he’d uncurl his fingers from one another or move his elbows away from his body. Maybe he would.

She’d seen enough weird things in her life to know that the world didn’t make sense. And it wasn’t just the magic and monsters and whole shebang. She’d heard stories from other kids at school. Stories that didn’t make sense, that didn’t line up. Not even with what she’d been taught.

For the first six years of school, the children in Ursula’s family were homeschooled. They were taught magic alongside the regular studies, like math and English, social studies and science. When they reached the age where they understood how to keep a secret, to not discuss the magical community with everybody in the world, they were enrolled in public school. It was a way to balance their lives, their mother had explained. They would have to live in both worlds--the magic and the ordinary--so they would need to learn how to balance. They had to remember who they could speak to about the Witches’ Brew hair salon and who cared about the price of gas on Main Street. They had to know how both worlds worked.

But here, now, Ursula didn’t understand. The boy had appeared out of nowhere. A dark corner one moment, a shadowed by cowing another. Even in the magical community, young children didn’t appear in people’s rooms without warning. The house was protected; even the most powerful of magic users couldn’t teleport inside the house, unless welcomed first.

Yet the boy had.

“Hey,” Ursula said. “I’m not-I’m not going to hurt you. I just…” She stepped forward, hunching her shoulders so she appeared shorter than normal, less threatening. “I just need to know who you are.”

“Go…” the boy whispered, eyes growing wider.

“Go?” she asked. “Ghost?”

It had crossed her mind, especially after the incident with the Ghost Boys, as she had lovingly dubbed the four boys who had appeared on the street outside her window once. They had taken her on a wild adventure that she had carefully recorded in her journal, including pictures. Of course, they ghost boys hadn’t shown up in the pictures. But it still warmed her heart to think of them.

That this child could be a ghost, though, concerned her. Ghost children usually had a problem, which is why they wandered the earth, not finding rest. They could be harder to deal with because they usually didn’t understand what was happening to them; they didn’t realize they had died.

“Ghost,” the boy repeated. Then, he lifted a hand into the air, one finger pointing toward Ursula. His arm shook, his mouth quivered.

“Are you a ghost?” she asked.

But the boy shook his head. “Ghost.”

She realized that he wasn’t pointing at her, couldn’t be. She wasn’t a ghost after all. But instead, he was pointing at something behind her.

Chills ran down Ursula’s spine, but she didn’t let that show. She didn’t want to scare this kid, ghost or not.

Instead, Ursula turned around.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

October Writing Challenge #25: Cables

Today has been a real struggle, and the prompts didn't help. I have no idea what this is.

Day 25: Cables

Word count: 706

Cables jut from his torso, connecting in long, looping lines to the machine next to the chair he sits in. His head is slumped forehead, his bangs covering his eyes, but I would still know the shape of that body anywhere. The broadness of his shoulders, the hands that look dainty but could just as easily squeeze your neck or snap it.

Blood pools around each cable, stuck between the metal and the skin it cuts into. He’s wearing a standard gray t-shirt and sweatpants to match. His feet are bare, which makes my job slightly more difficult.

I move through the room, past computer monitors that light up with blinking cursors, green text, and lines that make me wonder what the machine in the corner is recording. Other than him, the room is empty of people. They must have already left when the warning bell rang, or they are on their way to get him. Either way, I don’t have much time.

My breath catches when I step up to him, the blood on his clothes, the tension in his forearms, much more vivid up close. But I have a job to do, and I won’t let this stop me.

He doesn’t move as I began to pull the cables from his body. The metal tips leave small slits, no bigger than a hair, on his chest and stomach, his back and shoulders. Each time I pull one out, a the machine beeps until it is rattling and raging with beeps.

Another warning. Another reason to flee.

I pull him to his feet, where he sways for a moment. I’m afraid he won’t wake up, but then his head lifts, his hair falling back to his open eyes.


His voice is a whisper, a finger plucking against my heart.

Instead of responding, I drag his arm over my shoulder and began to lead him away from the chair and out of the room. His chest heaves against my side, breathing in and out sharply, hurriedly as he move. I wonder if he’s been strapped to that machine the entire time he’s been gone. I wonder how weak he must be and what will happen if we run into someone else. I can’t defend both of us with a single gun and cartridge, which is shoved beneath my waistband in a hurry after the last incident.
We zigzag down corridors and hallways, each one lit with strobing red lights that pulse with the warning bell. I ignore it all, focusing on the map I memorized in my head. Turn left here, go straight there, make two rights, and…

I see a silhouette up ahead and pull up. He groans next to me, blood dribbling from a broken cut on his lip. So they weren’t just putting him under tests; they beat him too.

Like they beat all of us.

“Come on,” I say, gritting my teeth and tugging him down another corridor, this one free of people. Our detour delays us, but only by a few minutes. The timer of the bomb pricks in my mind, counting down with every minute, every second we wander these halls.

I never thought I’d be back here, of all places. Never thought I’d return of my own free will. But for him, I’d do almost anything. Even face my nightmares.

At least, I see the door ahead. Troops, my troops, are up and moving, helping people out, loading trucks and driving away. Everyone knows the bombs are in place, about to detonate at any moment and send our worst fears into kingdom come.

I hurry us along, despite his moans, and we reach the doorway. The bright white of sun and snow greets us, and I let out a sigh.

As my boots step outside, rubber meeting stone cold gravel, the bombs go off. The building booms as metal and plaster and concrete rain down on us. I scream and push him forward, into the sunlight, into the safety.

I see one of my officers reach to steady him. As the building collapses around me, I see one last glimpse of him and those brown eyes. Then I shut my eyes and let the building swallow me whole.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

October Writing Challenge #24: Trance

I didn't like any of today's prompts, so I chose the one I thought I could do the best. It didn't really turn out like I originally thought, mainly because I got lazy and decided to finish it off. Still, I think I learned something about darling Olan (and how their family works) while I was at it.

Day 24: Trance

Word count: 739

Olan closed the door to his dorm room and scrambled to turn the lock. He leaned against the faux wooden surface, breathing heavily. What in the blazes was happening to him?

He’d gone on a stroll around campus, maybe to swing by Maddy’s dorm and see if she wanted to grab ice cream or pizza (or both, he could have gone with both after eating what the cafeteria called food), when out of nowhere he saw the zombies again.

Were they stalking him? Did zombies stalk?

He always thought zombies just ravaged the land, taking whatever came across its path or following the scent of beating hearts and thrumming brains. He never took them to be intelligent or to have a liking for a particular person. But this was the third day in a row he’d seen them nearby. And it wasn’t that they were just hanging around campus--where no one else apparently noticed them??--but they were watching him with their dark, dead eyes and drooling mouths.

If Maddy hadn’t seen them also, he would have thought he was losing his mind.

But she had been with him walking to class yesterday when he noticed them lingering by the Quad. And they’d been coming out of the library when she saw them standing in the back of the parking lot, all in a row, facing them like they were either ready to march to war or waiting for the firing squad.
It was creepy. And Olan couldn’t take any more stress.

He pulled out his phone and typed in the number for his parents’ house. If no one on campus could do anything about these dead dudes, maybe his dad could. They could send a team or someone to come investigate. Supernatural creatures weren’t supposed to be roaming college campuses.

A familiar voice picked up. Angelica.

“Hello. Angelica speaking. How can I help you?”

“Angelica!” Olan screeched into the phone.

“Geez, Olan,” Angelica said in her lazy tone. “You don’t have to scream.”

“Sorry,” he said. He began to pace back and forth in the space between his bed and his dresser, which really amounted to about four steps each direction. “I’m a bit unsettled.”

“I’d say.”

“Shut up. Where’s Dad?”

There was a pause and a muffled sound. “Hey, no! Stop that. Don’t. Just don’t touch anything. Hold on.”

Another pause. “What did you ask? Where’s Dad?”

Olan paused, his eyes going to the window. He had positioned his desk underneath it, so he’d be able to look out across the Quad while he studied. The Quad was dark, only lit up by the few streetlamps littered on both paths of sidewalk. “Yeah.”

“Ummm…” He thought he heard Angelica walking, or at least moving from wherever she had picked up the phone. “I don’t think he’s here. Let me ask Mom.”

Another pause. Then, “Mom!”

Olan heard the faint voice of his mother reply, but he didn’t understand her words.

“Where’s Dad? It’s Olan.”

Another reply, but Olan was focused on something outside the window. Was it--it was! Three zombies stood just outside the circle of light from the lamp straight across from his window. He could see their hunched forms, breathless shadows.

His heart began to hammer in his ears. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t be happening.

It had to be a dream. Or a prank. Did someone know about his connection to the magical community? Were they trying to make him do something? He’d agree to just about anything to make those goons stop following him and scaring the jitters right out of him.

“He’s not here,” Angelica said into the phone. “Do you want me to take a message?”

A white shape fluttered across the Quad, toward the three zombies. Olan blinked, hardly believing what he saw.

It was Maddy, wearing a white dress. She walked stiffly, her arms at her sides, her head titled to the left. He could see her face, and her eyes were closed. She didn’t open them the entire time she walked.

What in the blazes?

“Olan?” Angelica’s voice was a buzz against his eardrum. “Olan, are you still there? What’s going on?”

Olan put down the phone, Angelica’s voice still coming from the speaker. He set it on the desk and leaned toward the window, watching.

Maddy walked right up to the zombies, trance-like and ghostly. And then they grabbed her.

Olan screamed.

Monday, October 23, 2017

October Writing Challenge #23: Mr. Bones

This prompt is actually one that caught my eye when I was first looking for writing challenges. I've been waiting all month to write something, and oh my goodness, this was so fun to write. I love all my 'modern magic' story ideas, but Ursula's story (*cough* series *cough*) is growing one me. She may or may not be my favorite to write at the moment. (Though, Ivan continues to impress me as well; I'm learning at lot about who he is as well.)

Day 23: Mr. Bones

Word count: 1250

The dusty, old sign above the dusty, old shop read, in engraved letters, “Mr. Bones’ Emporium.”  A faded image of a funny little skeleton with a top hat and cane was painted beneath the letters.

Ivan quirked an eyebrow at his younger sister, Ursula. “At least it doesn’t look like a place where we’ll get murdered.”

Ursula sighed and rolled her eyes. As much as she dearly loved her brother, he could be quite irritating and perplexing all at once. “What are you talking about?”

Ivan nodded his head toward the shop. “It doesn’t look like a place where we will be immediately murdered. You know, with the whole ‘Mr. Bones’ thing?”

Ursula crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. “I don’t get it.”

He sighed and stretched out his neck so he looked like a turtle popping out of its shell. “‘Mr. Bones’ Emporium’? It sounded so ominous on the paper. This is the place, right?”

Ursula nodded, but for proof, she pulled out the thin piece of parchment that had a few lines of curling, inked written across it and handed it to him.

November the 24th, 1 o’clock
Mr. Bones’ Emporium, off Main St. and Thorn Rd.
I have a job for you.

There was no indication who had written the note. It had been left on Ursula’s windowsill, as many of their clients did. Ever since she and Ivan had started a side business of looking into the bizarre and weird after the incident with the ghost boys and the puddle monster, they’ve received requests from this or that person who had this or that problem. Most were simple jobs. A goblin trapped in a chimney, a mischievous sprite stealing from a garden, werewolves at the gate, etc. But this request had been new.

For one, it didn’t tell them who had sent it. It also didn’t state why they needed their assistance. Ivan would have been perfectly content to ignore it and stay at home to play his outer space video games, but Ursula’s interest had been piqued. Mr. Bones’ Emporium, off Main Street and Thorn Road? She’d been downtown numerous times, passing by almost every shop, mapping the whole district and learning every tip and trick of the shops. She knew the best place to put color in her hair (the Witches’ Brew off Vine St.), who served the best donuts early in the morning (the bakery near Victorious Ave.), and how to effectively and efficiently avoid someone else on the street she didn’t want to talk to (which was almost everyone).

But she’d never heard of Mr. Bones’ Emporium. She’d never past this shop before with its translucent windows that were framed with carved, wooden bones and its brick and mortar exterior. She’d never seen that sign hanging above the door, and she most certainly had never laid eyes on such a door. Skulls, obviously fake and made from wood carvings, outlined the arched doorway like it was the entrance to the catacombs in Rome.

She wasn’t even sure she’d heard of Thorn Road before today.

“We should go inside,” Ursula said. Ivan was still staring at the paper as if willing it to magically change.

Ursula marched toward the door, her calf-length black boots felt sturdy between her feet and the stone street. She heard Ivan huff out a dramatic sigh and follow, his sneakers squeaky every time he put his left heel down.

She made a mental note to buy him a better pair of shoes for Christmas. He could use a good pair of sturdy boots, and maybe he’d stop clinging to his worn out pair of Converse. He was almost as bad as Evie about shoes.

Without hesitation or forethought, Ursula pushed against the door and stepped into the shop.
It was dim, which didn’t at all surprise her. The air smelled musty, like a basement or an old section of the library. And there were bones everywhere.

All shapes and sizes, rows upon rows of them on shelves and in glass cases. Some were assembled, forming skeletons of animals Ursula only thought existed in fairy tales. Others were random pieces that were harder to identify, despite having small white tags attached to each one with string.

She heard Ivan gasp against the back of her head, and before he could comment under his breath--and her hair--she called out, “Hello? Mr. Bones?”

“Ursula!” Ivan snapped, grabbing her shoulders and whirling her around to face him. She stared up at her brother, whose pale eyes seemed to gleam in the dim room.

“What?” she asked, completely unperturbed.

“What are you doing? You’re going to call out for him?” Ivan hissed. Ursula shrugged and brushed his hands off her shoulders.

“What else are we supposed to do? Wait for him to rise from the grave and steal our bones?” Ursula said, rolling her eyes.

“That sounds like a splendid idea,” a deep voice said from behind. Ivan’s face gaped, his mouth opening wide, his eyes growing rounder, the skin on his cheeks stretching taunt.

Ursula turned to see a rather tall, skinny man wearing a black suit standing behind them. If he didn’t have flesh on his body, he might look like a skeleton himself. His cheeks were gaunt, his eyes sunken into their sockets. His body was so thin that Ursula briefly wondered how easy it might be to snap his limbs in half. He had long fingers that were clasped in front of him.

“Mr. Bones?” she asked, ignoring the slight tremble in her voice. It wasn’t everyday that a person met a living, breathing skeleton or whatever he might be.

The man nodded. “As wonderful as it might be to, how did you put it? Rise from the grave and steal your bones, I am far too busy to steal from the living. Too messy and time consuming.”

Ivan let out a squeak, and Ursula almost reached up to cup a hand over his mouth. Maybe she should start her own supernatural phenomena investigation agency on her own. Sometimes Ivan could be a real baby about stuff. Yet he was the one obsessed with the deep, dark dangers of outer space. How did he expect to become an astronaut and face the void of the universe if he couldn’t stop himself from screaming like a five year-old girl anytime they investigated, well, anything?

“And what,” Ursula said, feeling more confident the longer she stared at the man, who looked more sad than scary, vulnerable than ominous, “are you busy doing instead?”

The man smiled. It wasn’t necessary creepy, but it definitely was pleasant. His face seemed to silently groan at the movement, doing everything it could not to budge from his sad, stone-faced expression. “Stealing from the dead, of course.”

Of course, Ursula thought.

Realizing this conversation was going nowhere, she stepped further into the shop, well out of the way of the doorway where Ivan stood huddled. She almost couldn’t believe he was the older one.

“And what can we do to help you?” Ursula held up the parchment with its fancy handwriting, which she had snatched back from Ivan when he was quivering at the door.

Mr. Bones rubbed his hands together and then motioned toward a staircase that presumably led down. Down to where, Ursula didn’t know.

“Let me show you,” Mr. Bones said.

And Ursula followed him down the steps, not bothering to look back to see if Ivan was following.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

October Writing Challenge #22: Fading Sunset

The Super Hero Novel, as I've loving dubbed this idea, has been in my head for a long time. Every time I think I'm ready to write it, I can't quite figure out what to do with it. This story is one of my options for NaNoWriMo this year, but I haven't really been feeling it until now. This scene has made me wonder if it's finally time to dive into it.

Day 22: Fading Sunset

Word count: 1,547

“Hey, come with me,” Kal said as Brett and Willa disappeared around the corner. I gave him a funny look, but his eager blue eyes piqued my curiosity. He grabbed my hand and tugged me toward a closed door with “roof access” painted across its metal surface in peeling, red letters.

“Where are we--” I started as he opened the door and led me inside. Metal stairs wound upwards in a spiral like something you’d see in an old lighthouse. A single light bulb shone at the top, casting a dim glow into the shaft.

“Trust me,” he said, a wry smile crossing his face. I most certainly did not trust him. But I followed him up the stairs anyways, careful to keep my eyes on each step and my hand on the rail.

At the top, he opened a hatch that revealed the sky. We climbed through and I sucked in a deep breath.

We were at the top of the Institute’s highest building. The facility’s buildings, the surrounding forest, the practice fields--it was all laid out before us like a sandbox. I could even seen the ever elusive parking lot, which held more cars than I expected at this time of day. Did people seriously drive here to work every single day, guarding the government’s most top secret branch that trained super-powered kids?

Beyond the lake, which I still hadn’t been allowed to go near, the sun was setting in the sky. Its light cast long streaks of orange and yellow, pink and blue, across the gray. It was beautiful, and not just because I hadn’t actually seen the sky in several weeks.

“Are we allowed out here?” I asked, turning to Kal.

He stood near the edge of the roof, eyes closed, arms stretched out to either side. I was afraid he was going to jump, so I sprang forward and grabbed his arm. He laughed and opened his eyes, and I saw the smirk reflected there. I let go.

“Come on, J.J. Relax a little. Have some fun,” he said.

I didn’t know how I could relax when only weeks ago I learned one of my parents was a famous superhero, something I thought only existed in comic books. I didn’t know how I could have some fun when early today I learned there was so much mystery shrouding my birth and my early years that the Institute couldn’t risk training me, or letting me leave the facility.

Until further notice, they had said.

But here I was. On top of their tallest building with a boy that had the most gorgeous blue eyes and a jawline that would make an arena full of adolescent girls swoon.

He took my hands in his, turning so his entire body faced. I didn’t need a twitch in my eye to tell me that my heartbeat was spiking and that my mouth had gone dry. What did Kal want anyways? He couldn’t possibly like me. We all knew who he was hopelessly in love with, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

But still, I couldn’t ignore the thrill that shuddered through me as he grasped my hands and lifted me into the air.

Yes, lifted me into the air.

I knew Kal could fly. He’d practically demonstrated all of his abilities the first day I met him. But to see it in action, up close, to feel it affect my own gravitational limitations… that was something else.
My boots left the concrete surface of the roof, and my heart basically plummeted to the ground. I was flying. Flying.

He laughed, no doubt satisfied by the god-awful reaction on my face that probably matched every girl he’d brought to the roof to woo. I wondered if he had ever brought Brett up here, or if she had refused, rolled her eyes, and stalked off to her room to fume. She knew, I was sure, what Kal tried to try on every single girl who walked through the Institute’s doors. I swear I’d seen him trying to flirt with the Director.

“You know,” I said, somehow finding my voice despite the feeling that my lungs were breathless and my throat had become stuck with all the air in the atmosphere. “You should just ask her out.”

Kal’s eyes flinched, and I felt his hands jerk away from me for the briefest of seconds. “What?”

His words weren’t so much a question as a means to ignore what I said.

“Brett,” I continued, feeling confident. I had been right. He knew exactly who I’d been referring to. “You should just ask her out. She’ll say yes.”

My boots found the roof again, and Kal let go of my hands in a way that made me think he was trying to shake me off him. I actually didn’t mind. Kal was attractive, he was funny, he was everything most girls would die over. But he wasn’t who I wanted to be standing on a roof watching a sunset with, super powers or not.

“Why would you say that?” he said. He had turned away again, his eyes fixated on the fading sunset. The sky had turned dark above us, the first glimpses of stars visible in the dark blues and blacks of night.

“Because it’s true,” I said. “You know it’s true too. You like her.”

He didn’t protest, but I saw the way his shoulders sagged. “You wouldn’t understand.”

I stepped closer to him, not to be awkward or to draw him back to me. It wasn’t like that. It was to let him know I was there. “Then help me understand. Explain it to me.”

Kal rubbed the back of his neck, the edge of his shirt rising to show his muscled back. I ignored it, concentrating on his jagged hairline. He must have cut it himself using a mirror. I wondered briefly if Brett would be better at doing it for him; if that was something she would do.

“I’ve known Brett for… well, since forever. We’ve always been there for each other. We know each other so well. And I guess,” he fumbled, but I stayed quiet, letting him find the words. “I guess I’m just afraid of changing that. She’s familiar and comfortable. And I don’t want to complicate things.”

I folded my arms over my chest, tapping my fingers on my scrawny biceps. “So instead, you want to ignore it and hope it goes away? What if it doesn’t? What if by taking the next step, things won’t change, but they’ll become better?”

Kal turned to me, his eyes serious. His face no longer twitched with the normal sly humor. “I can’t lose her.”

I glanced away and then back at him. “You are losing her, Kal. Right now, what does she think you’re doing? What does she think you’re doing every time you flirt with another girl, steal another girl away to impress her with the sky? She won’t wait forever. At some point, she’ll give up. Don’t let that happen.”

When did I start giving dating advice? I didn’t know. Willa was the expert when it came to relationships. I hadn’t even kissed anybody before.

Kal’s gaze swiveled away from mine. I could almost see his brain working hard on this decision. Then his eyes snapped to mine and he nodded.

“You’re right. I should stop pretending. It’s just so much easier to do this… than talk to her. She can be so withdrawn, so guarded. I was afraid she would reject me, but…”

“But she won’t,” I said with a small smile. He smiled back, his eyes bright again like a child.

“You’re sure?”

I nodded. “I’m sure. She may be awkward about it at first. She might try to ignore her feelings, but I think she’ll agree.”

Kal’s smile widened. He grabbed my hands, kissing at my fingers until I pulled away, shaking my head.

“Oh, right.” He let out an awkward laugh, which was a strange, strangled sound from him. “Thank you, J.J. I owe you.”

I shrugged, thinking about all the people who owed me. What was one more name to the list?

Then Kal was gone, back down the hatch, down the stairs. For all I know, he was off to Brett’s room this instance to declare his love. I just hoped Brett wouldn’t be too harsh to him. It was about time somebody did something.

I went to the edge of the roof and stared out at the gathering darkness. The sun had all but disappeared behind the trees.

“Looking for stars?” a voice said from behind. I turned, and I felt my heart do a small dance in my chest.

Max stood by the hatch, holding a thermos in one hand with a blanket draped over the other.
“Not particularly,” I said. I looked away, suddenly feeling very aware that he was there and that we were alone.

“Would you like to?” he asked. My eyes met his, and I saw that familiar gleam of amusement. Not the Kal’s sly humor or Willa’s cocky gaiety or even Brett’s witty sarcasm. This was a soft amusement. A comfortable, familiar presence.

Before I could think twice about it, I stepped toward him and replied, “Yes.”

Saturday, October 21, 2017

October Writing Challenge #21: Surge

I finished this just under the wire (no pun intended). I think I need to figure out the logistics of zip-lining before I edit this scene. It definitely could use work. I want that sensation of flying, though, to be realistic for this world I'm building but also to be one of the first things Wyn experiences outside the Nursery. But how did the wire get there? Or the harnesses? It doesn't make sense unless someone else uses it. I'll have to think. Anyways.

Day 21: Surge

Word count: 644

Wyn turned to Pan. “Can my sisters come too?”

Pan’s eyes flickered to the broken window where the two girls peeked out, wide-eyed. She shrugged. “Of course.”

Wyn smiled and waved to his sisters. Michaela waved back, but Jo just stood and stared at him, serious as ever. “Come on! We’ll catch you,” he called to them.

The two sisters exchanged a glance, then Jo began to help Michaela up onto the sill. Her small frame looked even tinier as she stood on the windowsill, her nightgown swishing around her legs. In her arms, she held a worn teddy bear.

“Jump,” Pan called, her voice a whisper against the night. It was like a small chant, a small song that struck a chord inside Wyn. He wanted to jump.

Michaela jumped, arms flailing as she held tightly to her bear’s paw. Pan lunged forward, a streak in the dark, and grasped the girl’s bony wrists, pulling her safely to the roof top. Wyn let out a whoop, and Pan turned to him, a gleam in her eye and finger to her lips. Wyn jerked, his eyes falling to the surrounding wall.

But no guards seemed to be about and the far off floodlights didn’t swivel toward them. Still, they had to be careful. Leaving the Nursery was strictly forbidden.

Jo leapt from the window, and Pan caught her just the same. But whereas Michaela clung to the girl, Jo pulled away, straightening her pajama top. She eyed Pan suspiciously. Wyn shrugged it away. His sister was prone to caution.

“Now what?” Wyn asked. He looked past the wall, toward the two lights that flickered across the wasteland.

Pan smirked. “Now, we fly.”

She led them to a tower on the top of the wall. A long, thin wire was connected to a hook that jutted from the stone a foot above Wyn’s head. It disappeared over the wall and into the darkness of the night.

“How--” Wyn began, but Pan was already moving. She clambered to the top of the tower and pulled down two harnesses connected to pulleys. She positioned on onto the top of the wire.
“Get in,” she said.

Wyn had more questions like how four of them would ride down in two harnesses or how exactly to get into the harness, but the look on Pan’s face made him second guess asking. Instead, he fumbled with the straps until he managed to put the harness on in a way that satisfied Pan.

“Don’t forget to close your eyes,” Pan said. Then she let go of the pulley.

The harness jerked him forward, his feet leaving the stability of the stone wall. And then he was over the edge, plunging into the darkness.

He involuntarily let out a scream that quickly turned into a wild laugh as wind rushed across his cheeks and hair, tugging at his pajamas. The night was a blur of shadows and light that flashed by.
Remembering Pan’s words, he closed his eyes and stretched out his hands. The world fell away, and it was just him and the weightlessness of the air around him. He was flying. Flying!

A surge of energy rushed through him. Any doubts about leaving the stuffy, quarantined rooms of the Nursery vanished the moment he closed his eyes. This was what it meant to live.

He heard a scream above him, no doubt one of his sisters, and he opened his eyes.

The ground was closing in, dark patches of grass and dirt spreading out before him. He jerked his head back and his stomach rolled. The walls of the Nursery rose up like an ominous giant. The lights on the top were only pinpricks. He was outside the wall. He was outside.

And then, the harness jerked to a stop, his feet inches away from a girl with golden eyes.

Friday, October 20, 2017

October Writing Challenge #20: A Wish

Despite having the day off from work and having all day to write this, I didn't. It almost didn't happen. But I like how it turned out in the end, so I guess that's what important.

Day 20: A Wish

Word count: 520

Ursula bit into the cupcake and felt the wish on her lips. She frowned, not sure what to wish for. Her life wasn’t bad. She had parents who loved her, a place to sleep, food in her belly, and four older siblings who cared for her, despite their teasing. She didn’t want for anything.

But the wish was there, pushing against her lips, begging to be released into the air. The cupcake was enchanted, of course. She expected it to be with its shimmering silver sprinkles and the sour-sweet taste.

But wishes could also be fickle things. Sometimes a person wished for something and there was a backlash. It didn’t necessary mean something terrible would happen, but there would be a reaction of some sort. She could wish for longer hair, but it might end up being the color of a ripe strawberry. She could wish for good grades, but she could be caught cheating. Wishes worked within the laws of the world, within the confines of a person’s life. Most wishes couldn’t grant endless riches or the ability to fly.

Those kinds of wishes, which were usually forbidden in the magical community, cost a greater deal than a single wish enhance cupcake. Those wishes had a bigger effect on a person’s life and were rare to find.

Ursula glanced around her room. Various posters of monsters covered the boring white walls. Christmas lights crisscrossed over her ceiling. One wall was covered by a gigantic map of the United States. Colorful lines and symbols covered the states, indicating where monsters had been tracked and discovered.

She sighed, the last bit of frosting melting on her tongue. Once the cupcake was consumed and swallowed, the wish would dissolve. She could either make a wish as she ate or let the wish fly away, unused.

What did she want that she could not have?

Ursula stood and went to the window, staring out at the bleak, autumn day. It had rained all morning, and the ground was damp with puddles. Droplets of rain plopped from the roof overhang onto the windowsill on the other side of the glass.

If anything, the neighborhood she lived in was boring. Nothing ever happened around here. Sure, she could take a short walk down the road and enter the confines of the magical community’s world with its street of shops and other facilities. But here, nothing happened.

No magic. No incidents that had to be covered up by officials. No monster sightings.

Her eyes went to the map on the wall, to the spots etched in red that indicated where a monster had been caught. Those towns had been breached by magic, forcing officials to come in and make a sweep, alter memories and clean up the evidence.

I wish, Ursula thought, for adventure.

She swallowed the last bite of the cupcake and let out another sigh. She felt the wish shiver between her parted lips, hitching a ride onto the sigh. It dissipated in the air.

She glanced out the window, toward the rain-stained streets. And that was when she saw them.

The ghost boys.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

October Writing Challenge #19: Change

Well, hello there new character and story idea. (Maybe?) This was fun. It could use some work. But it was definitely fun to write.

Day 19: Change

Word count: 1,015

Max didn’t usually go looking for trouble. Trouble found him all on its own.

Which is why when he stopped at a gas station after driving all night to make it to his brother’s college graduation ceremony, he was on the lookout for trouble. He was battling a cold that had hit him hard and he was tired from the drive and his stomach was grumbling.

So after filling his car with gas, he entered the gas station store and made his way down an aisle, plucking snacks off the shelves and into his arms. He stopped in front of the small cooler that held a slim variety of drinks. He needed something to gulp down his ibuprofen dosage and something else to keep him awake for the remaining two hour drive.

That’s when he saw them enter.

Two guys--kids, really--in masks. They came through the door, shotguns in hand, and Max internally groaned as he dropped his snacks on the lid of the cooler.

Most people would hunker down and hide, maybe wait for everything to blow over. Two guys with guns at a gas station wasn’t anything to endanger your life over. They’d take the money and leave, and the store manager would call the police. They probably wouldn’t be caught; the store would probably get compensated from an insurance company. And everything would be back to normal in about a week.

But Max was not like most people.

When he was in seventh grade and deep in the throngs of puberty, trying to figure out what all the changes meant, he discovered that he was in fact an alien. The spaceship was hidden in the basement under old tarps. He started experiencing “powers.” And he learned he didn’t bleed red.

No, Max’s blood was blue. When oxygen hit an open vein, it didn’t turn the blood red; it stayed blue. And it was this blue blood that allowed him to interact with technology. He wasn’t sure why, since he didn’t know what planet he originated from and what species he actually was, but he had a theory that his home planet worked like some kind of hive mind. Everybody was connected through the pulses in the brain, which could be likened to a computer program if one broke it down far enough.

In everything, he looked like a normal human, except when he bled. There were slightly anomalies hidden in the folds of his irises, but almost no one noticed they existed. But he was able to hack into almost any computer network or phone in the vicinity, he could mess with power lines and electrical systems, and he had a knack for programming that no one else could rival.

Of course, he wouldn’t brag about it or make it known. He kept his hacking to a minimum, and he only fiddled with the electricity if he felt in the mood to a pull a prank. He used his programming skills most days, but he didn’t go over the top. He lived a normal life.

Except when people with masks and shotguns walked into a gas station after he’d been driving all night and just wanted a drink so he could take medication for his cold.

Because aliens, apparently, could still be infected by the common cold.

During his days as a programmer, he’d learned a few things. One of those things was self-defense and martial arts.

So as the guys in masks lifted this guns toward the gas station attendant, Max slipped his way down the aisle of food. As they made their demands, their voices muffled by their masks, Max launched himself into the air. As the gas station attendant lifted his hands in front of his chest, Max landed a blow on the first masked bandit. The guy crumpled to the floor, and the second swung his gun toward Max.

But Max had already skidded out of the way, grabbing a can of Pringles off the nearest display and whacking it into the second masked bandit’s head. A can of Pringles didn’t do as much damage as Max had hoped, so he dodged the swing of the gun and swiped his feet at the bandit. The second masked bandit hit the ground hard, his gun flying out of his hands.

It spun through the air, and Max caught it, unloaded it, and set the gun on the counter all in the span of three seconds. The masked bandits groaned, and Max nodded to the gas station attendant, who stared wide eyed at Max, his entire body trembling.

Max turned, giving one of the bandits a swift kick in the ribs, and waltzed back down to the cooler. He picked up his snacks--a bag of cheetos, a box of mini donuts, and a KitKat candy bar--grabbed a bottle of water and a Mountain Dew. He returned to the checkout counter, placing his pile on the surface next to the gun. He added the dented can of Pringles, pulled out a twenty dollar bill and laid it flat on the counter.

The gas station attendant continued to stare at him. Max sighed, gathered his snacks and drinks, and walked away, leaving the money on the counter.

“Keep the change,” he said. As he walked out the door, he called over his shoulder, “You probably want to call the police.”

The gas station attendant made a sound somewhere between a squeak and a shriek and jumped for the phone under the counter. Max let the glass door shut behind him with a clang. He balanced his stash in one arm to open his car door, then tossed the food on the passenger seat, which also held a wrinkled plaid shirt and a stack of science-fiction novels.

Max shook out two pills from his bottle of ibuprofen, took a swig of water from the water bottle, and gulped. Then he got into his car, started it up, and drove away.

Ten minutes down the road, he saw the red and blue flashing lights of police cars whirl past him. Some things never changed.