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Everything You Know is a Lie

Categories: Creative Writing Prompts Tags: creative writing exercises, creative writing prompts, writing prompt.

You receive a mysterious email and the subject line reads “Everything you know is a lie.” You open the email and read further: “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

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389 Responses to Everything You Know is a Lie

  1. The Underwood says:

    Back about ten years ago, I received lots of emails from individuals with wonderfully extravagant names. They were not real people, of course, but pseudonyms smashed together by enterprising spambots armed with a dictionary, a randomizer, and an unstoppable urge to get badly written commercial messages advertising porn sites, get-rich-quick schemes, and herbal Viagra into my inbox. Still, it makes me proud to think that I’ve received a personal correspondence from individuals calling themselves Nevadans E. Rhinos and Copperhead M. Deliriously. I’m only slightly saddened that I couldn’t, in good conscience, write them back. The subject lines of these emails were great, too: they always referred to secrets I had to learn, naked women I had to see, money I had to make, and erections I was guaranteed to get. Grandiose and unabashedly power-hungry, they skipped the pretense and spoke directly to my id. Sentiments like “Life is Better with Money!” were pretty typical, as was stuff like “Leave the Losers Behind!” and “Live the Life You Were Meant For!” At the time, I was still in school and working third shift, driving an eleven-year-old car, and sharing a soon-to-be-condemned house with a guy whose long-term career plans hinged on the success a thrash-metal band. Hey, how did these bots know so much about me, anyway?

    At some point, the gearheads at Google or someplace developed an industrial-strength spam filter. Spammers adapted by filling their emails with random chunks of literary prose. The mails themselves ran on to Talmudic lengths, while the messages they contained, included after they’d delivered their all-caps sales pitch, suggested a dada approach to the Best American series. Upon opening an email from a stranger whose name had never once appeared in any phone book, anywhere, you’d be confronted by an indecipherable tangle of love affairs, personal reminiscences, dialogue, and miscellaneous description. It was as if the digital intelligence that animated these spambots had resigned itself to never passing the Turing Test and concluded that there was there really was no rhyme or reason to the way that people operated. What could be more human, then, than pages and pages of vivid, emotionally saturated randomness? Why not send out a mess of prose that described life in all of its glorious disorder and see if it struck a chord somewhere? People have given up their credit card numbers for far less.

    My email inbox is a better-regulated, if somewhat sadder, place these days: most of what I receive has to do with work, or with this or that family crisis. But I felt a hit of cheerful nostalgia when I opened my email account the other day — using my smartphone, natch — and saw an email that had “everything you know is a lie” in the subject line. “Oh,” I thought, “the old days are back.”

    As it happens, the message was from June, my ex-wife, whom I married about the time that those glorious names flooded my inbox. We divorced three years later, but since we’d had no children and nobody got anybody’s name tattooed on anything, it really wasn’t much of a breakup. She got the dog, which she’d brought to the marriage anyway, the car, and a mortgage that was still in its infancy. I was left with half of a shared bank account, a sense of freedom, and a conviction that it was finally time for me to join the real world. At the time, I considered it a pretty fair deal.

    We didn’t break up for the usual reasons: nobody cheated on anyone, and nobody got addicted to drugs. No dishes were thrown, and I can only remember one or two instances where we might have raised our voices at each other. It was, I suppose, another dreary case of irreconcilable differences. Junie is, and will always be, an extraordinary person, an impressive woman, and a being of light. We broke up when I concluded that I was neither extraordinary nor impressive nor particularly luminous. I discovered that I wanted an altogether more earthbound existence. I wanted to live, to breathe, to work, to rest, and to die in the surrounded by familiar things and familiar faces. June’s life was a series of adventures, of projects, of self-assigned quests, after which she would presumably become who she was meant to be. After four years of life with her, I began to crave the security of objects, the consolations of a routine, and the reward of a steady paycheck. My life isn’t much to boast about these days, but I do have all of those things.

    Anyway, back to the email. It was written, coincidentally, in the verbose, heavily ornamented style of latter-day spam. “Tom,” it started out, “as I write, a storm’s blowing. The birds took shelter a few minutes ago, the air has that lightning smell, and the sky’s as dark as anything. It’s going to be a good one. The weather’s been changeable lately, like my own life, like everything. It’s been so many months since we laid eyes on each other, and I’ve been going through some life changes, real pull-up-the-roots stuff, and I hope to be able to plant myself in more fertile soil soon. I’ve been through some difficulties, some tough transits, but I’m feeling lighter and freer than ever now. I’ll be moving to Napa soon. My current partner knows some people there, and they’ve got something going in organics now. It’s not all wine tours and artisanal olive oil out there you know. I was out there three weeks ago to see their operation, and I think that it might really be the place. I felt so at peace there.

    But there is something that’s been holding me back, something from the past that I haven’t really let go, and you know that nothing steals today from us like thoughts of yesterday. I’ve lied to you so many times, mostly by omission, but I’ve forgiven myself for that. I’ve faced up to my own imperfections. But I’ve decided that I still owe you something, and so I’ve decided to come clean, to tell the truth, as I see it, to cleanse myself. Everything you know is a lie.

    I mean, I don’t know how you feel about me now, or if you think of me at all. But I heard, through some friends of ours that I still talk to, that some unkind things got said by some of the people we used to hang out with. Not by you, necessarily, but still. Those people didn’t know what they were talking about. They really didn’t. But I know how it looked, and I know how people can be. They don’t really see, or really search, and if they need an answer for something, they’ll just take whatever’s available. Those sorts of people make me so tired. Such awful vibes. They don’t have any fucking idea why I took off, though, why I left you. They don’t. And neither do you, really, though maybe you deserved to know.

    I left you because I lost a baby. I had a miscarriage, or a spontaneous termination, which was the way the doctors put it. It was in the summer before I left, like, seven or eight months before the end. It would have been — it was — a boy. I’d known that I was pregnant for six weeks, but I wanted to wait to be sure, because losing babies kind of runs in my family and I didn’t know if I could be a mom. Well, maybe I was right to wait, because I guess I wasn’t meant to do the mom thing. You were working nights then, I think, and were so busy, and it happened when you were out. I cleaned it up and went to the emergency room and then it was all just too hard to explain. I can’t remember some parts of the next few weeks all that well, but sometimes I dream of a face that might belong to our son. He seems happy, and has your eyes, and hair like my dad had in the old photos I’ve seen of him, but I don’t know. You can’t tell about dreams, really.

    After it happened, and after I left, I did a bunch of things to try to cope, to get some closure. Some of them were real mistakes, and some of them kinda helped. I don’t know. They tell me it’s a process. But I do sometimes think of what life with you and our son might have been like. I try imagining him at different ages, and try to imagine you growing older. That’s difficult, too. I gave him a name, because he was a little person and so I think he deserves a name. It’s Anthony, after my grandfather. I know that he needs a middle name, but I can’t really decide on one. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I go through combinations, trying to figure out what name should follow Anthony, trying to figure out how each combination of names might have affected his life. Some cultures put a lot of emphasis on names, you know. But nothing seems to fit. I can’t come up with a full name for him.

    And sometimes I try to measure the distance between the life I’m leading now and my life with you and Anthony. Sometimes I think that I’d be about the same person I am now, and sometimes I feel so far away from that person that we’re separated from each other by this immense distance, filled with water, or that we’re looking at each other across a big, flat field. I’m here and she’s just this little tiny speck, waving at me in the distance, and we’re somehow getting further and further away from each other. I keep waving to her, but you can only keep that up for so long.

    But I thought that you should know. You would have been Anthony’s dad. I want you to know that I’m sure that you would have been a good one. And now I guess you know it all. Well, there’s always more, right? More things that we could say. But I needed to tell you this, and maybe it’ll give you a little clarity. Maybe some peace. Write me back, Tom. Your now ex-wife, Junie.”

    I was actually sitting on the porch of the little two-room apartment that I live in now when I read June’s message, which looks out onto the apartment complex’s parking lot and probably doesn’t add too much to its property value. After I was done reading, I put down the phone for a minute and just looked at the cars shimmer in the afternoon heat, an angry sun glaring at me from every car window. I felt a twinge of nausea, as if my Adam’s apple was growing, getting too big for my throat. And then I felt a little wave of sweat break out across my shoulder blades, and the feeling passed. I looked at my phone’s screen again, at June’s sign-off. For a minute, the screen looked absurdly small, too tiny to contain the news it held.

    I went back into my apartment. There were some dishes to be washed and I decided, at that moment, to wash them. I did them automatically, and thought back to my time with June. Four years may not be much time in the grand scheme of things, but I’m still a young-enough man to think that it doesn’t seem so, and there were so many moments I could remember. I saw her chopping onions at our kitchen counter as she shouted along to an Otis Redding song. I saw her on a beach we visited during our big trip out West. She was smoking a joint, her skin lit up gold and her eyes liquid and heavy. I saw her in the supermarket, running her fingers expertly over the cantaloupes, determined to find a good one, her eyes flashing with mock-serious concentration. These were familiar memories, moments that I’d consciously rescued from a marriage not meant to be. They were souvenirs from a future that I’d once planned for myself, and for her, but my divorce had made them hard to relate to: they corresponded to absolutely nothing in my present existence. June’s memory could still stir up a curious sort of disinterested fondness in me, underneath which I sometimes sensed a little cavity, an unfillable space that her leaving had carved out in me. She had had to go. She could not have stayed. I knew that June was still a part of me, or rather that the lack of her was, but also she was gone forever, adrift on the swells of some barely manageable emotion: grief or loss or hope or need. I finished the dishes and experienced a ripple of pleasure when my fingertips skidded on the slippery surface of a perfectly washed glass as I moved it to the drying rack and then recovered their grip. I placed the glass carefully in the rack, suddenly conscious of its fragility.

    June was still out there. I imagined her walking the streets near the apartment we used to share. It was raining and night-time, and she was wrapped up in her heavy brown coat, her hair covered by a shawl but her face was exposed to a biting wind, and her cheeks wet with drizzle and tears, and her eyes blazed. The thousand impossible paths her life might have taken whipped around her, the whine of the wind tormented her ears. She could have been an artist. Or a chef. Or a designer, or, I suppose, a mother. And I could have been a father.

    A feeling of uneasiness crept over me again. I imagined that the loss of her baby, of our son, now left me a duty that would forever go unfulfilled. No one was asking me to go shopping for a stroller, or learn how to change a diaper, or to get up in the middle of the night to calm a crying baby. I might have done all of these things, perhaps even gladly, but the possibility that would have made all of those other possibilities into realities — that June and I might have had a son and named it Anthony — was gone now, taking with it millions of other possibilities. Those futures seemed wild and untethered now, bereft of frame or context, less substantial, even, than my jumbled-up memories of my ex-wife. They seemed frail and thin and chaotic, a glowing tangle of impossible moments spreading ceaselessly before me while I fought to anchor myself in the only reality in which I could be sure that I existed. Who the “I” I might have been in any one of these million potential futures seemed unfathomable to me at that moment. Perhaps if one of these future selves had been standing in my apartment’s kitchen with me, older, greyer, fatter, better established, exuding a paternal warmth and confidence, I would not have recognized him as myself, separated, as we would be, by the plain fact of not-being, the gaping, unbridgeable chasm that separated our lives.

    I thought again of the email she had sent me. “Everything you know is a lie.” How, I wondered, does one choose a subject line for an email like that? You can’t just put “hi there” or “whats up” in the subject line when you’re telling your ex-husband about a family that you almost had together, can you? But when your email contains news as momentous as June’s did, is anything really appropriate? And then I thought of the “love bug,” that virus that some Filipino teenager cooked up a few years back that wrecked a few million operating systems and put him on the cover of Time. That kid wasn’t just a computer genius, he also had a seducer’s grasp of human psychology. The bug-laden emails that he spread to every email network on earth had “i love you” in the subject line. I’d like to think that he left out the capitals for verisimilitude and to convey an air of emotional vulnerability. If that’s the case, his gambit succeeded, because thousands upon thousands of people opened his email only to have their hard drives wiped clean.

    That Filipino kid also kept his eye on his own bottom line. He didn’t write his virus for love, but for money. A couple of weeks after the cops raided his house and the computer security industry — the white hats — got his ingenious little valentine under control, I read that the kid had arranged for his program to send any credit card information that it found on the computers it infected back to an email address that he’d set up specifically for that purpose. Of course, that email address got shut down once the authorities had figured out what he had done. Apparently, though, even after the king of the teenage hackers got led out of his family’s house in handcuffs, the love bug caused thousands of computers to send emails to an address that no longer existed. Automatic responses to an expression of affection, an affirmation of human closeness, surged blindly through the world’s computer networks, unaware that their destination simply did not exist, and then bounced back to their recipients, or, more likely, simply blinked out of existence. For a few weeks, thousands of these emails circled the globe like one half of a doomed conversation. I can’t really believe that email servers experience the pain of rejection in the same way that people do, but something about this story made me feel a little forlorn. Maybe the same digital contraptions that desperately wanted to find their way into my inbox a few years ago had discovered that all they wanted was to tell somebody that they loved them and to get an appropriate response. But that response disappeared before it reached it found its recipient. Maybe it’s just as well.

    I never wrote my ex-wife back. To my knowledge, no message with the subject line “re: everything you know is wrong” has ever arrived in anyone’s inbox. This digital silence may have seemed cold to her, but it wasn’t without regret that I held my peace. I had to concede that I might have been Anthony’s father. But my life — anybody’s, really — is filled with so many other mights. I might have become a practicing Buddhist, or made my living growing organic sage, or teaching Milton. I might have vacationed in Canada’s polar northwest, or danced the night away on a beach in Bali. But I didn’t do any of these things, and I’ve concluded that the Anthony that my wife imagines isn’t much more plausible than any other one of these potential futures. He exists, I suppose, but in a way so remote that I feel powerless to honor his memory in any significant way. These days, I have a nine-to-five, and my time at work is spent mostly writing code and taking endless phone calls from aggravated customers. I read a bit, have a few friends, and live quietly. The days slide by, and I more or less let them. Somewhere else, in some sunny Californian field, my June meditates upon life’s myriad possibilities and the lives she might have lived unfold before her. She keeps herself, just barely, at the center of that whirling, glowing web of potential experience. Suffused with sadness, she is its dark center. But I can’t be there with her. I have an apartment, a few books, and a rack full of clean dishes.

    June sent me one more message, as blank and formless as all the lives we never had together. In the subject line, she wrote, “still waiting for a response.” And I suppose that she is, in more ways than one. But I’m not. I have the safety of objects, and I have time’s arrow, whose progress is true, infallible, and unyielding.

  2. Alexander Edmondson says:

    “Liars R’ Us”

    I looked down at the email message I had in my hand.
    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”
    I had no idea who this Mark was. I don’t have any friends or colleagues named Mark. For all I know, this could be some sort of sick, twisted joke to waste my time. However, for some reason I drove out to the lake house where I had my first kiss. Her name was Rebecca and I remember her well. She had the deepest red hair imaginable and she had these little freckles on her face. Her body was very curvy and I loved to put my hands around her waist hold her close to me. When I first kissed those lips of hers, I felt to myself that there was no better feeling in the world than what I was experiencing. Her lips were softer than anything I had ever felt in my life. I felt like this was the one person I wanted to be with for the rest of my life. Life, however, had different plans. A year after that kiss, Rebecca died in a car accident and nothing felt right again after that.
    “Hello, James. I’m Mark.”
    “Who are you and why did you want me to come out here?”
    “You don’t remember me?”
    “I have no idea who you are.”
    “I’m Dr. Mark Richardson and you need to come with me.”
    “I’m not going anywhere with you. I don’t know you and I don’t trust you. I’m going home.”
    “Why did you come out here?”
    “What?”
    “You drove out all this way to tell me that? You could’ve done that in an email or just ignore it altogether.”
    “So?”
    “That tells me that you wanted to meet me. Face it, James. For your whole life, you never felt like you belonged. You felt like a round peg that wouldn’t fit into a square hole. You may not know what’s really going on but you felt like something was always off.
    “Maybe.”
    “I think it’s a little more than maybe.”
    “Why are you here?”
    “I’m here to tell you the truth, James. The truth about who you really are.”
    “Which is?”
    “The people that raised are not you’re real parents.”
    “What?”
    “There not your parents. There you’re handlers from the company. As for your deceased girlfriend, Rebecca, she was assigned to be your girlfriend.”
    “That’s not true. That’s not true. You’re lying.”
    “She was recruited to keep an eye on you and report back to them.”
    “Report back to them on what?”
    “You’re special, James. You’re more special than you could possible imagine.”
    “I know that I shouldn’t trust you but for some reason I do. Why do I trust you?”
    “There’s too much to explain. You have to come with me.”
    “Why?”
    “They have people in place to keep eyes on you. My people were able to keep them occupied for a while so that we could talk but time’s up. Once they find out about this, they’re going to do all they can to cover this up. That means covering you up too.”
    “Wait what?”
    “You know you can trust me. You don’t know why but you know that you just can. You have to make a choice. Go back to a false life that be erased in a second or come with me and have a chance for a real life. It’s your call.”
    “Let’s go.”

  3. Cookieinthekitchen says:

    My hands fumble through my navy blue, faux Louis Vuitton purse on the front porch of my studio apartment. A cylindrical, light pink bottle of lip gloss, a crumpled up five dollar bill, and an old chocolate chip Quaker granola bar wrapping spill out onto the floor.
    “Ugh,” I mumble, bending down to put my belongings back in the purse. I rise back up and take the ring of house keys that had been in my hand the whole time, sticking the left-most one in the door to unlock it. Duh. I took them out in the car on the way here. Once the door is open, I jiggle the key in the door, pull it out, and place it back in my purse.
    “Hey Julianne! I’m home!” I call out to my roommate.
    Julianne has only been my friend for a year or two since we met in Spain when I took my gap year, but now she’s one of my closest friends. Last summer she took me down to her ranch in Texas, and when school’s out in three months I’m planning to take her to my home in Virginia. I walk through the door and take off my purse, placing it on the vintage cedar wood table in the front hall. Looking around the room, I see her standing on a ladder, her blonde curly hair tied up in a bun painting our once-white ceiling fan to look like waves at the beach.
    “Hey Liv! Would you mind handing me that paint brush, please?” She asks, pointing at the paint-caked, wooden paint brush on the dining room table.
    “Um sure,” I respond. I amble over to the table covered in a white, translucent garbage bag and pick up the paintbrush. “Might I ask why you are painting our fan?”
    “Oh, I saw something on Pinterest and thought it would be a cool DIY to try, so I went to Home Depot after my business studies class and picked up this ladder and the paint. The man that helped me pick out the color thought I was crazy but whatever,” she laughs and places the paintbrush she was currently using in her mouth, as I reach up and hand her the brush. “Wt ew ew hink?” She mumbles incoherently, her southern accent still shining through.
    “English please?” I ask. She takes the paintbrush form her mouth, so she’s holding a brush in each hand.
    “Oops, sorry. I was just asking what you thought,” she reiterates.
    “Yeah, it’s really cool but I just don’t know how our landlord will feel about us painting the permanent installations in here,” I reply.
    “Oh it’s cool. I called him earlier and asked and he said it was fine,” she answers.
    “Then it’s cool with me,” I smile. “Well I have to get to work on my paper for English so I’ll talk to you later,” I say, walking up the metal, spiral staircase to my bedroom.
    “Oh by the way, some package came for you from your mom” she calls up the stairs. “I put it up in your room.”
    “Thanks!” I reply back. After walking up the stairs, I throw my phone and computer case over onto my bed in the center of the small room, the comforter covering the two objects under its white ruffles of fabric. I turn to my right and see a brown package sitting on my desk. I amble over to it, tripping on my computer cord that is stretched from the far wall to my bed in the process. Thankfully I catch myself, though the package fell off my desk and spilled its contents out all over my pink rug.
    “Oops,” I say with a laugh. By now Julianne rarely ever asks if I’m okay if she hears something fall; a side effect of my clumsiness I guess. I walk over to the box (this time dodging the cord) and start putting everything back in it. They’re all a bunch of letters my mom had sent me from Virginia that people had sent to her and dad instead of me, unaware of my new location in Chicago. One distinct letter catches my eye though, a brightly colored red envelope with the words “EVERYTHING YOU KNOW IS A LIE” printed in messy black handwriting on the front. “What the heck?” I say, opening the letter. I rip the letter as I tore through the envelope. Though it’s still legible through the tears, the handwriting is another issue. It reads:
    Hello Olivia. I hope desperately that this letter comes to you in time, but I am sorry to inform you that everything you know is a lie. Everyone you know is not who they say who they are. You need to leave now. Do not mention this letter to anyone. Bring no one and nothing with you and act calmly as to not alert anyone. Meet me at the spot of your first kiss on March 10th at approximately eight o’clock pm. You know the place.
    -M
    I reread the letter over and over again until I could recite it from memory. What the heck is going on? My first kiss? Who would know about that? I pick up the envelope that the letter came from, unable to see a return address. Who would send this to me? Other than the guy I kissed, my mom, and my best friend in High School, Matt, no one knows where I had my first kiss. Wait a second. Matt. It makes sense. Well, some sense at least. I mean no one else comes to mind so he would be my best bet to be “M”. I check my watch so see the time: 7:37. Less than half an hour till I meet up with him or her if I decide to. Millions of thoughts run through my mind: What if it’s not Matt? What if it’s some crazy person trying to kill me? What do they mean? Everything I know is a lie? How is that possible? Why can’t I tell anyone? What if I go to the wrong place? Though I doubt that I could go to the wrong place. I remember my first kiss clear as day: It was the summer before 8th grade, June 2005. I was hanging out with a couple of friends, and my boyfriend Damien. We were going to see the movie Batman Begins, when out of the blue during the previews, he kissed me. It was really awkward and we bumped noses, but it was an good first kiss. We broke up a couple days later, but I didn’t really like him anyways.
    “Hey Julianne!” I call down the stairs.
    “Yeah!” She calls back.
    “I just remembered I made plans with Tucker to go see a movie tonight in like 20 minutes so I’m gonna go,” I walk down the stairs, the letter hidden in my back pocket.
    “Okay, cool,” she says. “Would you mind picking up some hot glue sticks on your way home?”
    The phrase “Everything you know is a lie” comes back to my mind.
    “Um…I…um.. I…got to go,” I run out the door, unable to hear her reply.
    I pull out the keys form my purse, jumping in my light blue VW Bug. By now, my clumsy, clunky hands are shaking, my whole body filled with a mix of nervousness and excitement. I drive down to the theater, unable to clear my mind of the letter. I finally arrive at the theater, with 3 minutes to spare. What if it’s not Matt? What if I go to the wrong movie? I push away the thoughts—or try at least, and enter into the theater. I scan my eyes over all of movies, trying to pick the one that “M” would choose, when I see the perfect one.
    “One adult ticket for the Dark Night Rises please,” I ask the woman in the booth. I hand her a ten dollar bill, and in return she hands me my ticket.
    “Here you go. Have a nice day,” she responds.
    I walk through the doors and the man at the front rips off half of my ticket on the perforated line, handing me the other half.
    “Third theater on your right,” he tells me, pointing his index finger to the hallway on his left.
    “Thanks,” I reply. I jog down to the theater, my feet stomping quickly to the beat of my heart. I run into the room at exactly 8:00. Expecting to see tons of people, I walk in and see only one, sitting all the way in the back on the top row. Though covered in the darkness of the room, I still make out his figure. He is large and burly, his knees squished between the seats, unlike Matt’s small, petit physique. What?! I start to hyperventilate, my heart rate increasing with every step I take up the carpet covered, popcorn stained stairs. It must not be Matt. But who is it? The man places the phone he had been looking at into his front coat pocket as I reach the top of the stairs.
    “You must be Olivia Scott,” he asks, standing up out of the chair and sticking out his hand for me to shake.
    “Liv actually,” I answer, placing my hand in his and shaking it.
    “Please, take a seat,” he pulls his arm out, gesturing for me to sit.
    “What’s going on? Who are you? How do you know about my first kiss?” I ask him.
    “Patience Oli-“
    “Liv.”
    “Sorry. Patience Liv. You need to understand that not all of your questions will be answered today. Or ever, for that matter. For the time being, I will try to answer as many questions as I can. But please know that for your safety I cannot tell you everything.”
    “For starters, will you at least tell me who you are? Or is that some deeply guarded secret I must not know?” I ask.
    “My name is M,” He responds, as if M is a normal everyday name.
    “That’s it?”
    “My name has been M for as long as I can remember.”
    “I guess I was right, that is some deeply guarded secret I must not know.”
    “Not necessarily. I can tell you a little more about myself,” he responds. “As you know, my name is M, and I work for the Secret Party of Investigation, or SPI for short.”
    “Do you work with the government, like with the FBI? I’ve never heard of you before.”
    “Not at all. The SPI is not in any way affiliated with the government. See, long ago, a man named Charles Scott was working at the FBI when he came across a case—“
    “And how is this relevant to my question?” I ask.
    “You’ll see.”
    “Fine then. Just continue on with your story.”
    “As I was saying, Charles Scott was working on the FBI when he came across a old closed case. He began to investigate the case more closely when he found an clerical error in the final proceedings. He brought the case to his boss, who then dismissed him, and told him he was wrong. The next day he was dismissed again, this time he not only had to leave his boss’ office, but leave his too.”
    “You mean he was fired?”
    “Yes. See, here at the SPI, we work with an alternative mindset in cases, and if need be, disregarding the law for the better of the case. Something the government doesn’t agree with.”
    “So you mean the whole difference between you and other organizations like the FBI and the CIA is that you break the law.”
    “In simpler terms, yes. We do more behind the scenes action. Looking at closed cases, staying out of the field, etc. We leave those things to the FBI. We believe that the FBI and CIA have unnecessary restrictions that keep them from truly getting to a case, so we work around that.”
    “Why are you telling me this?”
    “Did you notice anything in the story?”
    “Not really.”
    “Not even the fact that you have the same last name as the founder of SPI?”
    “What? My last name isn—. Oh. Wait does this mean—“
    “Your great grandfather founded SPI in 1915.”
    “So my grandfather—“
    “He was the heir of SPI after his father passed, and after he died, he passed it onto your father.
    “Wait! That doesn’t mean that my dad…”
    “No. But your father has gotten in some serious trouble and since you are his only child, we decided to come to you.”
    “What kind of trouble?!
    “I’m not at liberty to say.”
    “Ugh. Fine. So was my dad really a lawyer?”
    “No. He did earn a law degree from Harvard, but he stopped on his path to becoming one once his father died and SPI was passed onto him.”
    “So you weren’t kidding when you said that everything I know is a lie.”
    “Not necessarily everything. Your friends and life here is still as true as can be, but your life in Virginia is not.”
    “Is my mom still okay? Does she know?” I ask, nervous to hear the response.
    “Yes. But I need you to come with me to SPI HQ.” He stands up, gesturing me to leave. I stand up, shocked at the news. This is my life now. This is my reality.
    “So I guess I won’t be finishing my English paper after all…” I tell M.
    “Not exactly…”

  4. will_03626 says:

    The email read: “Everything you know is a lie. Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to get quietly out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    I re-read the email slowly for a second time. A frisson of alarm brushed over me. Okay. Breathe. It’s a prank, has to be. Jake, you don’t know a Mark. I studied the tiny screen for a moment and the feeling slithered into my gut, dark and oily. I could feel panic rising. Breathe in 2,3, out 2,3. In 2, 3; out 2, 3. In 2,3 out 2,3. Still looking my phone, I pressed the button to blank the screen and stood. I took the stairs down, as was my habit, and waved my security card at the pad by employee entrance, and felt the lock disengage, and the door opened. I was free.

    My mind was racing, frantically turning over pieces and fragments. Snatches of conversation, flashes of images and bits of dreams, all of which had been telling me for some time that something was off. That something was out of place. I’d been shrugging it off for some time, but my mind had been quietly insisting.

    About 20 minutes later, I arrived at the site of my first kiss, and my quickly replayed that moment. The smell of loam, and cool of the night breeze rustling in the limbs overhead, and the taste of Liza’s lips pressed against mine.

    Standing under the tree in the dappled morning sun in was a stranger with his back to me.
    “Mark?” I asked as I approached.
    “You came,” he said as he turned, holding a pistol “That’s unfortunate.”

    Time began stretch, my blood pounding as my mind raced, trying to decide: Fight or Flight. From over my shoulder there was a loud pop, and before I could react, blood blossomed on his shirt as he slowly toppled to the ground. Flight won.

    Shift, pivot, run.

  5. Luvinia says:

    I couldn’t figure it out at the time but I think it was the sound the chair made that had clued me into the fact that I wasn’t alone. It should have made a hollow thunk. Everything else I could pinpoint, but in the end, I can only guess that it was the chair.

    It was the drive into work that had already set me in a bad mood for the day. I could swear the other drivers were glaring at me as I summoned every last ounce of patience I had and turned up my music to help distract me from the ridiculousness. By the time I drove up into the parking lot, I was already an hour late. An hour! To drive 10 miles! It was almost as if every single individual in the city had forgotten how to use a gas pedal! They couldn’t even blame the weather, it was bright and sunny out!

    My inner grumblings only contributed to my fury as I walked through the front doors of the small office building. The day hadn’t even begun and I knew to expect my manager hanging around my cubicle with nothing more to do than to berate me about one thing or another. Today, I knew, it would be my tardiness. I could just hear it now, his voice grating against my already thin nerves. Every day I had to deal with the self righteous prick doing nothing but hovering around my cubicle as if he was just waiting for me to make a single mistake. I had already determined long ago that he had been hired specifically to watch over me like a hawk and give me hell; almost as if to test me. I gave a heavy sigh as I dragged myself down the corridor dreading what the rest of the day had in store for me.

    Consisting of maybe 25 employees the place wasn’t huge, so when I was snapped out of my fuming stupor by a harsh bump against my shoulder, I looked up in time to catch a glimpse of a bald man practically jogging towards the door. No apology from him whatsoever. He didn’t even give me so much as a backwards glance!

    “In a hurry there, buddy?” I growled at him as the door shut. Through the glass I could see him only slightly turn his head as if to make sure he hadn’t bumped into someone of importance. Don’t worry there pal, just the low guy on the totem pole, the worst I can do is growl at you. Turning myself back towards the hall I fumed again. Of course! Physical abuse by strangers should only be expected on a day like today! Why wouldn’t it just keep adding up? I swear one of these days I’m just going to snap.

    Making my way through the maze of cubicles, I caught my first break. Manager Prick wasn’t already perched on my wall. I may be able to get some actual work done! Dropping my briefcase on the floor next to my chair, I sat down with a sigh, only allowing a sliver of hope that Prick was out sick today and I may be able to have a peaceful day. I reached for the power button on my computer but stopped short as my eyes caught the glow of the monitor. It was already on. Wait. I didn’t leave it on last night. I specifically remember shutting it down. My eyes scanned the screen as I saw a window minimized on the system tray. Someone has been in my email.

    I straightened in my chair to glance around above the walls of my cube hoping to spot the perpetrator, but everyone around me was already talking over the phone with customers. If it were any of them, they probably did it long before I got in. My anger forgotten, the monitor grabbed my full attention once again. I sat up in my seat and reached for the mouse, clicking on the email icon and maximizing the screen. It looked like someone had written an email but hadn’t sent it. There wasn’t even an address in the “To” box. I read the subject line: “Everything you know is a lie”. What the….?

    My eyes continued further down the screen: “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    I couldn’t help it, my anger flared anew and before I could stop myself, the words flew out of my mouth, “What the hell is this shit!?” The chair flew out from behind me and made an odd sound as I quickly stood up, determined to find out who was behind this. Before I was able to turn around, I knew someone was behind me. The aroma of Stetson cologne hit my nostrils as the blow against my head knocked me forward. The last thing I saw before everything went black was a blurry bald head leaning over me and whispering, “I told you to act calm…..”

  6. stuck2thesaddle says:

    Coffee sloshes around in his cup as he yanks the chair out from under the desk and swings his hips onto the smooth black leather. He sets his coffee cup down clumsily as his hands fly to his mouse and keyboard. “John! Hello, hello!” chimed his cheery desk mate as he strutted behind John’s chair to reach his own. John pulled up his email, scanning the list casually. An unfamiliar email address caught his eye… He scrolled back up, straightening in his seat and furrowing his brows.

    “Everything you know is a lie,” read the subject line.

    He opened the email and read on, “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    ~*~
    Mark sat silently under the shade of the trees. From here, he could see pregnant mothers being dragged along by dogs and toddlers alongside elderly couples strolling along the park path. He was hidden from view, but he was certain that the poignancy of John’s memories would lead him back to this place. After all, John’s real first kiss was merely five months ago…

    He was not certain that John would arrive, but if he had judged his character correctly, it was not unlikely that curiosity would get the better of him.

    Approximately twenty minutes had passed since Mark had arrived at “the spot” and sent John the email when he spotted a figure moving slowly towards him. The man moved awkwardly and kept glancing over both shoulders. The corners of Mark’s lips twisted upwards slyly.

    “…hi, are you Mark?” John stammered.
    “Yes, hello.” Mark replied, leaping to his feet and holding out his hand for John to shake.

    John didn’t notice the outstretched arm, his mind was buzzing… “This isn’t where I had my first kiss…”
    “Ah, but it’s the first kiss that counted. You must agree because you knew to meet me here.”
    “But, how could you know that?” John countered defensively. His uneasiness was increasing by the second.
    “I’ve been watching you for a long time. But the kiss is beside the point… I’ve been trying to help you, but they won’t permit me to see you… I had to sneak in… I have a lot to tell you, but I think it would be best that I show you…”
    Before John had time to arrange his thoughts, Mark pulled out an oddly shaped gun and aimed at the branches above. He pressed a button and a beam of light shot upward, hitting a sparrow. The bird hit the ground with a thud, tweeting mechanically. John crept closer. The bird’s belly was exposed, and underneath the layer of flesh and feathers John could see broken wires and burnt metal.

    John looked up at Mark slowly.
    “It’s not just the birds,” explained Mark, “it’s everyone.”

  7. LIES
    ====

    Hugh pressed the ‘check mail’ button again and the little closed envelop popped up, taunting him with its secrets. ‘Everything you know is a lie,’ read the subject line.

    He popped his head above the cube-farm wall and saw nothing but the tops of heads; the rats were all busy hitting the pellet bar just like him. No, not rats. Sheep. They were all sheep.

    “Huh,” he said and sat back down, pushing his glasses up his nose absently. Brow furrowed, he double-clicked and read.

    ‘Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.’

    Hugh’s first thought was ‘You mean, they’re not sheep?’ and smiled. Clearly someone was pulling a prank on him. He knew no one named Mark and suspected Becky wanted to get even for locking her in the copyroom last week.
    Of course, it was an accident. She kissed him and grabbed his ass, whispering “I’ve so wanted to do this, Hugh. I’ve seen you looking. Now’s your chance, stud.” He panicked, ran out of the room and fled the building. Maintenance let her out the next morning. She flipped him the bird as she walked by at every chance. Hugh figured she’d made extra trips.

    Now there was this email. How’d she know? Mother wouldn’t let him date and his experience with girls reflected it. Most of his coworkers thought him gay and Hugh was fine with that.

    Ambling toward the copyroom, Hugh half-whistled tunelessly. No one paid him any more attention than usual, which was none anyway. He opened the door and rough hands grabbed him, pulling him inside.

    Becky threw the inside lock and flipped on the light switch. The hands that assaulted him belonged indeed to a guy he recognized as Bill, the gas jockey from down the street.

    “What the hell is going on, Bill?”

    “My name’s not Bill. It’s Mark.”

    “And I’m not really Becky. It’s Gloria. Although I’ve been playing Rebecca for so long, I’ll answer to either just as likely.”

    “I know what you mean,” said Mark/Bill.

    Hugh grabbed Gloria by the arm and said “Becky, please tell me what’s going on?”

    “Gloria,” she said as she pulled her arm away and slapped him in the face. “That hurts, Hugh. Mind your manners.”

    Mark pulled him around to face him. “Look, Hugh, we’re actors. They’re all actors out there. None of this is real.”

    Hugh’s eyes bugged out and his mouth opened. It took a few seconds before he could speak. “But, I’m no actor.”

    “Of course not, silly,” said Gloria. “You’re the star.”

    “Think of it as the pinnacle of reality TV, Hugh,” said Mark. He glanced at his watch and looked up at Gloria. “Time’s up. The cameras will be back on in 30. Good luck, Hugh. We’ll be in touch. Go on.”

    Gloria kissed Hugh wetly on the lips and he blushed. “Remember, my name is Becky. Look for the cameras and the mics. They’re everywhere.” She looped her arm in his and continued. “Let’s go. We gotta show to do.”

  8. Tannai says:

    Men
    “Everything you know is a lie.” She opened the email and read further. “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”
    She read the statement once, and then its opening line once more before carrying her mouse over the create message icon in her email, and began to draft a letter in response.

    “To whom it may concern,
    Stating the obvious neither comes off as a threat or remotely entertaining. Everything I know is a lie, just as everything you and the forty billion inhabitants of this plant know is a lie. Not even in death do we finally embark upon honesty. We’re a world born dishonest, raised dishonest and decease dishonest. As to your futile attempt to remove me from my premises and off to a questionable memory, you’ve emailed the wrong person “Mark”. With all that being said I advice you to spend less time being a nuisance and find a more productive way to mask the deception and boredom this reality breeds.”

    Within minutes of her submission an email alert flashed her screen, this time from her husband of eleven years, Tim. “Well, I was under the impression that I’d been forgiven for my indiscretion last month… until now. I was just trying to spice things up a bit. See you at home.” A short chuckle surpassed the barrier of her thick skin as she came to realize he was the nuisance from the previous message.

  9. Noah says:

    Just another day at work. Same annoying people, same stupid boss. I was going on a date after work, but then a mysterious email popped up on my screen that said “ Everything you know is a lie. Now I was about seventeen at the time, and of course my curiosity got the best of me, so I read further. “Act calm as not to alarm anyone, but no one is who they say they are. Meet me at the place you had your first kiss.” So after I read this, my mind got thinking, “Who is this guy/girl? How does he/she know me? What if it’s a trap?” So I decided to take the risk and meet him/her at the skating rink, where I had my first kiss. When I got there, there were no cars there but both doors were open and there was someone standing in the doorway. She was wearing all black except for purple sneakers. The same ones I was wearing. I asked who she was and she said “I’m you.”
    ~FIN

  10. AmeliaPond says:

    “Everything you know is a lie?” Says my little sister leaning over my shoulder.

    “If you don’t leave, and I mean this instance I will kill you.” I said opening a new tab so she couldn’t see my emails.

    “But Shayna-”

    “NOW!” I said spinning my chair around. Annie sprinted out of my room. Curious myself I clicked on the email I read it quickly.

    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    For kicks I decided to look out the window, the kiss had been in that tree in the back yard, the one we always climbed. I wheeled my chair over and pulled the curtains open. A tall young man with short dark hair was standing below the very branch we had been on. His hands were thrust deep into the pockets of his long black coat, the color was turned up and he was stamping his feet in the thin layer of snow that covered the whole yard. As I watched him he turned and looked up, straight at me. Ducked down below the window, waited a moment then peeked back over the ledge. The Man was still staring at me, what surprised me was it wasn’t threatening, or creepy, he was just waiting.

    Behind me I heard the door open.

    “Shayna, what are you doing on the floor?” Said Annie.

    “I told you to go.” I hissed turning around and closing the curtains.

    “Yes, but mom and I are going out, she told me to tell you to stay here.”

    “Go, I don’t need to be told.”

    “She told me to make sure you stay here, don’t go out side and don’t open the door, answer the phone or look at any emails, also keep the dog with you.”

    “Fine, I will, now go.” I lied. As soon as I heard the door shut, then lock, I jumped up from the floor of the computer room and ran down stairs, I pulled on my coat. Unlocking the back door I peered around it. The man was still there, pacing out watching the door. I opened the door and went out.

    “Hello, Mark.” I said, surprised at my self for even talking to him. “Did you send me an email?” I asked my hand still on the door.

    “I did, I’m glad you acknowledge that.”

    “Why is my family being weird.?” I asked.

    “They’re doing a lot more then being weird. When she told you to keep the dog with you, I almost went in there to get you out.”

    “Was I in danger? I mean it’s a stupid lazy dog.”

    “You have no idea how ruthless your dog is?”

    “Why didn’t you tell me then?”

    “Because I heard the lie in your voice, I gathered that you’d be out. Fortunately Lilith didn’t hear your lie.”

    “No, Annie, didn’t here my lie.” The Man laughed.

    “Come with Me Diana.”

    “My name is Shayna.” The Man laughed again.

    “No it’s not.”

  11. A.E.Me says:

    Well, what of a load of bull.

    She deletes the email.

    It goes to show that if she ever has another five minutes to spare before going out, she should not check her mail. Weird things get through there.

    So with a resolute nod at her appropriate decision, she stands up from the desk and gathers her keys, handbag and mobile. There’s still some time left but it’s always good to be early than late she thinks, as she locks the front door. The park’s only a few minutes walk so she takes her time to stroll along the streets and browse through the stores for any interesting items. By the time she actually arrives at the park, she’s pretty much right on time.

    A quick scan of the area and she easily spots her companion sitting at the lake bench.

    “Hey!” she calls out.

    He turns to the sound of her voice and grins, standing up to greet her. To her utter delight, she sees that he’s brought her along too.

    “Oh, my gosh. Hello, my little Malamarcie,” she coos, scooping up the little Pomeranian from his hands. “How have you been, marshmellow? Has Wilson been treating you well? Look how big you’ve grown.” She practically ignores Wilson’s presence as she places loud smooches across the excited puppy’s muzzle.
    It goes on for awhile.

    Eventually though, she stops showering the dog with excessive gestures of affection and asks Wilson how he’s been doing (as she should have done in the first place). Her smile quickly drops off though when she sees him sigh, a grim expression set on his face.

    “…Amy. There’s something I have to tell you.”

    That’s not something anyone wants to hear.

    “It’s…it’s pretty big too,” he adds on, shifting uncomfortably.

    She feels her heart start to thump loudly against her ribcage in anxiety.

    “It’s…it’s all been a lie. Not everyone around you is who you thought they were.”

    She frowns. That…that sounds familiar.

    “Marcie…Marcie’s not a girl dog. She’s actually…a guy dog,” he says, as if it were a deep dark secret he’d unwillingly revealed.

    A few seconds pass in silence until everything really sinks in. When it does, Amy takes no moment to spare and soundly smacks Wilson’s shoulder.

    “Oh, my god! That’s it?” she shouts. “I thought it was something tragic but you got me here just to tell me little Marcie’s actually a Mark-”

    She freezes. Then gasps, fixing Wilson with an icy, accusatory glare.

    “It was you,” she hisses lowly. “I thought I got some sort of virus and weird things were getting sent to me. But that was you trying to be all creepy? The hell, Wilson?”

    But Wilson ignores her tirade, opting for bursting out in laughter while she continues to smack his arm. By the time he eventually settles, her anger has already died down. It takes another couple of moments though before she realises something else.

    “Wait, what did the kiss have to do with anything? I didn’t have my first kiss here.”

    “Pft. Amy, I’ve known you since we were kids. So I know your first was a fur-filled one with a little puppy we shall hereon name Mark.”

    She smacks him again.

    End.

    Well, this is first time I’m posting. So hopefully, this is acceptable (was it meant to be serious instead?) but I understand if it’s unacceptable grammar-wise, topic-wise, and the like.

  12. writernewbie7 says:

    It was barely 7 PM, yet I was already exhausted, the day had been long and I was dreading completing my essay. Slowly typing up my essay I was relieved to hear the “whoosh” that signaled an email being received, phew, a distraction! I quickly moved my mouse towards me, clumsily bashing my elbow into my glass of water spilling the water over my desk and my math’s homework.

    “SUGAR, HONEY, ICED TEA!!!!” I yelled in frustration. Harshly picking up my glass to prevent more water from escaping onto my desk and homework. “Stupid glass, stupid water, stupid…” I mumbled as I got up from my desk chair, glaring at the mess as if it had caused all of the worlds problems. Turning, I slowly made my way to the bathroom to get some tissues to wipe up the spilt water.

    Once everything was cleaned up, I sat back down and was about to click the mail icon before a shiver went down my spine. Pausing for a second, as I thought of the suddenly dark atmosphere, I looked to the doorway of my room, half expecting a ghost to be standing in the entrance smiling creepily. There was no malicious spirit in my doorway, of course, so I shrugged the feeling off and opened my mail. The subject to the message said, “Everything you know is a lie.” I paused in my movement again; maybe opening this message was not such a good idea. I still checked under my bed for monsters every night I certainly did not need more paranoid ideas running rampant through my mind. Curiosity getting the better of me, I moved past my fears and opened the email.

    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    “Mark, Mark…Do I know a Mark? How would he know where my first kiss was?” I thought aloud, hushing quickly I looking around the room. It was a stupid idea but I am an incredibly curious person and I wanted to meet Mark to find out what this was about.

    My first kiss was at a park playground, near where I used to live and it was only a five-minute bike ride. Leaving immediately, telling my parents I was going to the mall, I zoomed to the park and put my worry to the back of my mind.

    Arriving at the park I looked around, heading towards the meeting place. Nobody was there. I looked to my phone looking at the message. I was suddenly hit by a…

    Huge wave of disappointment, the message was sent from my friend Henry.

  13. resolution says:

    My favourite way to start the weekend is with a cup of coffee at my neighbourhood cafe while checking my personal e-mail . It’s particularly fun as I use my Saturday morning to respond to select junk mail to see if they’ll play. This Saturday I got a doozy. With a title like Everything you know is a lie I had to open it. It didn’t disappoint. The text was:

    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    First kiss? An image of falling leaves and the feel of cold metal against my palms accosted me before I could reign it in.

    I hit reply and shot off: “Which one?”

    The response was immediate: ” The very first. The one you try to forget.”

    Good response but vague, don’t most people try to forget their first kiss? The first kiss is your first love and chances are good it didn’t work out.

    The smell of crisp autumn invaded my nostrils in spite of it being June. I wouldn’t think of him.

    “Jerry?” I sent

    “Wrong J – this isn’t a prank and I don’t have time for your games. Act calmly and come.”

    Josh, his name was Josh and no one knew he was my first kiss. Well, I hadn’t known that anyone else knew.

    I began packing my things.

    “Leaving early?” Mel, the barrista asked

    “Yeah, I promised my mum lunch and I need to get some stuff. I’ll see you later.” That was a plausible lie and I was pretty sure my voice wasn’t shaking.

    As I got in my car to drive to the park near my childhood home, I called my mum and left a message letting her know that I’ll bring lunch around 1. This way if this Marc guy was a psychopath my paranoid mother would be able to give the police a time that I disappeared.

    I thought of Josh as I drove. The fifteen year old who kissed me in the park near our homes when we were on the swings. Three hours after that kiss Josh had disappeared. It was bad enough that I was the one who saw him last, I wasn’t about to admit to the kiss and how I floated home.

    I pulled into the park and saw a man sitting on the swing. The same swing Josh had used ten years ago. I walked to him and was arrested by green cat eyes. The last time I had seen those eyes, the face was moving in to kiss me.

    “Who the hell are you?”

    ” You were such a sweet kid. Josh was too hasty but the time has come.”

    “Come for what? Who are you?

    “The question I’m about to answer, Georgie, is who are you?”

  14. KenyaHilton says:

    Alright Emily. Calm down. Take a deep breath. Count down from ten and refresh your email page. 10, 9, 8 . . . 3, 2, and 1. I hit the refresh button and the email was still there. I heard a knock on the door and froze. I composed myself before replying. “Come in.” My mother walked in. Her beauty graced the room and I watched her, smiling her Colgate-like smile. Immediately, I begin to compare and contrast our physical features. Even if she wasn’t my real mother, there was no way I would be able to tell by looking at her; we were basically clones of one another.
    “Hey honey, are you busy? I was heading out to the store, want to tag along?” My mom asked. Ohh no. I don’t think so. So you can get me alone and kill me? “Mother.” But of course I would never say that aloud.
    “Oh, it’s okay mom. You can go I’m heading out to meet Janie in a few.” I say with a forced smile, emphasis on mom. I think my mom may have noticed because she stared at me quizzically but didn’t let on her concern.
    “Okay sweetheart. Enjoy your day and send Janie my love,” she replied and walked out.
    I quickly dressed and headed to the spot where Mark instructed me to meet him. But halfway through the walk I paused as a thought dawned on me. Who the heck is Mark and how would he know where I had my first kiss? Before I could change my mind I was forcefully snatched up and a pillowcase covered my face. Then I cursed at my parents living in a remote area where the neighbors kept to themselves. I was thrown and I could feel the movement of a vehicle under me.
    The pillowcase was snatched off my face and I looked around my surroundings before my eyes landed on a Adonis look alike. He cleared his throat, shot a side way grin towards me and said, “Hello, I’m Mark.”

  15. resolution says:

    My favourite way to start the weekend is with a cup of coffee at my neighbourhood cafe while checking my personal e-mail . It’s particularly fun as I use my Saturday morning to respond to select junk mail to see if they’ll play. This Saturday I got a doozy. With a title like Everything you know is a lie I had to open it. It didn’t disappoint. The text was:

    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    First kiss? An image of falling leaves and the feel of cold metal against my palms accosted me before I could reign it in.

    I hit reply and shot off: “Which one?”

    The response was immediate: ” The very first. The one you try to forget.”

    Good response but vague, don’t most people try to forget their first kiss? The first kiss is your first love and chances are good it didn’t work out.

    The smell of crisp autumn invaded my nostrils in spite of it being June. I wouldn’t think of him.

    “Jerry?” I sent

    “Wrong J – this isn’t a prank and I don’t have time for your games. Act calmly and come.”

    Josh, his name was Josh, and no one knew he was my first kiss. Well, I hadn’t known that anyone else knew.

    I began packing my things.

    “Leaving early?” Mel, the barrista asked

    “Yeah, I promised my mum lunch and I need to get some stuff. I’ll see you later.” That was a plausible lie and I was pretty sure my voice wasn’t shaking.

    As I got in my car to drive to the park near my childhood home, I called my mum and left a message letting her know that I’ll bring lunch around 1. This way if this Marc guy was a psychopath my paranoid mother would be able to give the police a time that I disappeared.

    I thought of Josh as I drove. The fifteen year old who kissed me in the park near our homes when we were on the swings. Three hours after that kiss Josh had disappeared. It was bad enough that I was the one who saw him last, I wasn’t about to admit to the kiss and how I floated home.

    I pulled into the park and saw a man sitting on the swing. The same swing Josh had used ten years ago. I walked to him and was arrested by green cat eyes. The last time I had seen those eyes the face was moving in to kiss me.

    “Who the hell are you?”

    ” You were such a sweet kid. Josh was too hasty but the time has come.”

    “Come for what? Who are you?

    “The question I’m about to answer, Georgie, is who are you?”

  16. resolution says:

    My favourite way to start the weekend is with a cup of coffee at my neighbourhood cafe while checking my personal e-mail . It’s particularly fun as I use my Saturday morning to respond to select junk mail to see if they’ll play. This Saturday I got a doozy. With the title “Everything you know is a lie” I had to open it. It didn’t disappoint. The text was:

    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    First kiss? An image of falling leaves and the feel of cold metal against my palms accosted me before I could reign it in.

    I hit reply and shot off: “Which one?”

    The response was immediate: ” The very first. The one you try to forget.”

    Good response but vague, don’t most people try to forget their first kiss? The first kiss is your first love and chances are good it didn’t work out.

    The smell of crisp autumn invaded my nostrils in spite of it being June. I wouldn’t think of him.

    “Jerry?” I sent

    “Wrong J – this isn’t a prank and I don’t have time for your games. Act calmly and come.”

    Josh, his name was Josh and no one knew he was my first kiss. Well, I hadn’t known that anyone else knew.

    I began packing my things.

    “Leaving early?” Mel, the barrista asked

    “Yeah, I promised my mum lunch and I need to get some stuff. I’ll see you later.” That was a plausible lie and I was pretty sure my voice wasn’t shaking.

    As I got in my car to drive to the park near my childhood home, I called my mum and left a message letting her know that I’ll bring lunch around 1. This way if this Marc guy was a psychopath my paranoid mother would be able to give the police a time that I disappeared.

    I thought of Josh as I drove. The fifteen year old who kissed me in the park near our homes when we were on the swings. Three hours after that kiss Josh had disappeared. It was bad enough that I was the one who saw him last, I wasn’t about to admit to the kiss and how I floated home.

    I pulled into the park and saw a man sitting on the swing. The same swing Josh had used ten years ago. I walked to him and was arrested by green cat eyes. The last time I had seen those eyes the face was moving in to kiss me.

    “Who the hell are you?”

    ” You were such a sweet kid. Josh was too hasty but the time has come.”

    “Come for what? Who are you?

    “The question I’m about to answer, Georgie, is who are you?”

  17. KJ Russell says:

    “Everything you know is a lie”
    That was the confusing subject line on Tom’s email and he had no idea what to make of it. Tom sat alone at a wooden table in the far corner of Ellie’s Café, keeping his distance from the rowdy group of high school boys who had managed to ruin what was once a peaceful, quiet café for readers and writers alike seeking refuge from the noise of the outside world. He was greedily sipping on a delicious cappuccino from a plastic cup until it was completely empty and grimaced at the sight of the empty cup, mentally scolding himself for his lack of money to purchase another beverage. Still he savored the delectable taste on his tongue and drew his attention back to the email. He wondered about the strange email he had received only three minutes ago after leaving to retrieve his order. Reluctantly he eased his handy mouse onto the message and clicked to read it. After doing so, the succulent taste of the cappuccino went bitter in his mouth.
    The message read “Act calm as not to alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”
    His eyes widened in surprise as he finished the message. He slowly turned back in his seat to observe the group of teenagers at the other end of the café. Five of them sat crowded around a computer, laughing obnoxiously loud at a group of men in animal costumes dancing like fools in a dark, foggy forest. For a second he thought that maybe one of the kids had snuck over to his table, viewed his email address, and sent the message as a joke. But one of them would’ve had to work fast to pull that off and he doubted that they even had the ability to do so based on the large pile of hamburger wrappers and soda cans that littered their table.
    It was a total mystery to him. If not them then who, he wondered. Out of all the people he’d met in his life thus far he had no recollection of a man named Mark or what why he had any interest in meeting Tom. He sighed in frustration. He hated not knowing and knew he had to figure out what was going on, even if it was a joke that one of his friends might’ve planned. He quickly closed his laptop shut, slid it into his old, ratty laptop case and marched his way out of the café to meet the enigma known as Mark.

  18. stoked says:

    He wakes up in a cold sweat. It was the same nightmare he’s been having for months. The same car crash night after night. He is on his was home from work, taking the back road to avoid the hellish highway traffic. The road curves through the canyon and he pushes the car faster and faster through the bends. The thrill of reckless speed erasing all the stresses from work.

    As he excellerates out of a sharp right hand corner something flashes directly in front of him and by the time he realizes a car has pulled out into his lane it’s too late. The roar of smashing metal and shattering glass is the last thing he remembers before waking up.

    Wide awake, his adrenaline still pumping, he decides to get an early start on the day. Kissing his sleeping wife on the forehead, he slides out of bed and makes his way to the kitchen.

    While waiting for his coffee to brew, he flips open his laptop to check emails. Scrolling through the usual work related messages he notices an email with the subject line “Everything you know is a lie”, immediately curious he opens it.

    “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    Who is Mark? How could he possibly know where he had his first kiss? That was years ago and the only person who knew about it was Donna, the girl that had lived next door when he was a kid and also the recipient of that kiss. It happened at the park near his parents house which was only a few blocks from here.

    He wasn’t even given a time to meet. Was this guy planning on waiting around all day for him to show up? Was he watching him?

    He looks out the window but doesn’t see anything suspicious. The sun is starting to come up and he decides to head out for a morning jog hoping it will clear his mind.

    The air outside is brisk and the streets are silent and empty, the only noise is the sound of his sneakers striking the pavement. Instead of taking the usual left towards the main road he jogs straight though the intersection in the direction of the park.

    Aside from a couple of joggers making their way along the main running path the park looks empty. A quick run through the park just to check things out won’t hurt anything he thinks to himself.

    Halfway through the park he passes an older man sitting on a bench. The man looks familiar but he can’t quite place the face.

    “It’s good to see you Steve” the man says with a warm smile.

    “How do you know me? Did you send me that crazy email?” Steve asks.

    “It’s time to go Steven.”

    “Go where? You haven’t even explained how you know me.”

    “Steven I’ve guided you through hundreds of lives. The accident you’ve been dreaming about really happened, you died in that crash and have been clinging to the memory of that life ever since. Now we need to get going, your next life starts in twenty minutes”

  19. jamesroderick says:

    Thup…thup…thup… Becky tapped her index finger on her laptop touchpad. Thup…deleting email after email. “It’s all garbage, how heck did I get on so many email lists,” she thought to herself. “Employment Status.” Thup… she opens and reads the message from her employer.

    She hadn’t been to work in 4 weeks. No excuse, no communication from her as to why she decided to stop going. She figured who’d care? The thought of ringing up another lottery ticket, pack of cigarettes, beef jerky, canned tuna or milk just didn’t fit with her image of what her life was supposed to be. So, she stopped showing up to the Wawa.

    Becky scans the body of the email to the end, “You’re fired. Last check is in the mail.” Thup…delete. Just like that, deleted like spam.

    “Green smoothie revolution?” Becky looks at the desperately needing dusting wall mirror next to her desk. Sigh. She leans back, her stomach now has room to breathe.

    Becky opens her desk drawer, a slew of empty prescription bottles. She searches and searches, fishing for her meds. Ding. Her attention back on her monitor.

    “Everything you know is a lie.” She squints and leans forward. Thup. “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are.”

    Becky smiles, looks around her empty 300 sq ft studio apartment. Snort. Giggle. She grabs her laptop and jumps on her bed 3 feet a way. Pillows fly as her sleeping cat flees the scene. Rrrrowwww, her cat howls. “Shut up Oxford!”

    Crash. Oxford has knocked over a picture frame of Becky and her sister from the window sill. “Oxford, get away from there, we might be under surveillance.” She grabs him, looks out from her second story window. The boy selling Kit Kats for team uniforms on the corner for days sees her. She quickly draws the blinds.

    She reads more of the email. “You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.” Snort. Giggle. Snort.

    “I knew it!” she exclaimed. “I knew it!”. At that moment all the years of therapy that didn’t work have proven useless because she knew she was right. Her parents weren’t her parents. Damn Dr. Cox. Her friends weren’t her friends. This apartment, it’s not hers. Her weight, her body. “This isn’t mine either,” she says as she pinches a roll from her stomach.

    Ten years, ten years of weekly meetings, one month “away at a resort.” It was all for nought for all of Becky’s suspicions were proven real.

    Mark, the name she remembers… must be the orderly from the resort. “How did he find me?” Must be my blog she thought. “He must have found my blog.” In the address bar Becky types “IllusoryDays.blogger.com” She searches her posts and hones in on a cryptic comment left months ago on her post ‘The Mailman Reads Your Mail.’ Comment reads, “You’re closer than you think – M.”

    • Love2Cook2 says:

      I love Becky. She is a realist and I would love to see the rest of this story. She reacted differently to the email than anyone elses’ characters. Love it.

  20. PromptPrincess13 says:

    Not everything’s what it seems

    I am a joke. I am a joke. I am a joke.

    That’s what kept running through Jane’s mind, an endless loop of self-deprecation that seemed to lengthen with every moment she sat under that stupid clock. She could hear its tick, a constant prick of sound in the otherwise silent zoo. Everyone else was gone, the animals asleep, and her only company were empty candy wrappers and kernels of popcorn on the floor, crushed and trampled. She knew how they felt. It’d been a dumb move paying any attention to the email she’d gotten that morning. But, even though she was beating herself up over that, she was secretly glad she’d opened it. At least, now she knew that it was over with Mark. Truly, totally, over.

    Still, that didn’t explain why her ex-boyfriend, (now co-worker, ugh), had sent such a cryptic email blabbering on about how everything she knew was a lie and how no one was who they said they were. Plus, why had he told her to go to the site of her first kiss? Of their first kiss? She was over it, over him. It was bad enough that he’d taken up a job as a zoo-keeper where she worked as one too, but now this? It was too much.

    Jane got up from the bench, it was 9:00pm, and she was tired, cold, and hungry. And really, really annoyed. She started on her way out, seriously considering looking for another zoo to work at. She was almost at the gates when she heard her name called.

    Jane stopped, tempted to walk straight out and back home. Mark wouldn’t come after her; she knew that from experience.

    “Jane, wait!” She heard running footsteps but didn’t turn around, not until she heard another pair of steps join Mark’s, heavier ones, and then another, and another, all of them different. She heard scrapes and uneven stomps upon the concrete, growing louder and louder with each additional sound. When she heard the slaps of wings upon air she knew something was up. Something very, very strange.

    When she finally turned to face the guy she’d waited a half-hour in 50 degree weather, she was struck dumb, her brain much too slow to comprehend what she saw. Lumbering, slithering, flying, and generally pawing their way behind Mark were the animals she took care of in the day. Ally the Orangutan, Berry the black-bear, Sylvia the snake, (not her favorite but whatever), and a whole gaggle of geese.

    Jane’s jaw sprung open in a gasp and she stood stock-still, not even breathing. Mark and his group reached where she was but all she could do was gape, utterly dumbfounded and robbed of words. Mark smiled. The geese honked.

    “So yeah, you’ve been lied to Jane. They guys…they’re not who you think they are. Not exactly.”

    At that, Jane found her voice again. “Mark, what the-“

    “Oh no, not in front of me, dearie. No cursing.” Jane stared at Berry, watching as the bear’s muzzle dipped and small bits of white peeked out from between her black lips. The only thing she could process was a single though, a short sentence that she couldn’t bring herself to believe.

    The. Bear. Had. Just. Talked.

  21. alexcristian20 says:

    “Mark” –I said to myself.Who could that be?I don’t know any „Marks” ,but it’s a cool name, though.And how the hell does he know where I had my first kiss?Is he her boyfriend?She must’ve told him…
    I turned off my laptop and headed straight to the town’s park.It was a cloudy and peaceful evening, that reminded me of the time when I used to walk alone for hours, thinking about my hopes and dreams.God,how much I loved those days, when every single aspect of my colourless existence, every single thought was tangled in her shiny hair.I couldn’t find her.This time, she was too far away from me.
    A man was waiting on the bridge, alone.For a second, I felt quite strange, realising that there were absolutely no other people in the area.It was a sad picture.I knew it was Mark.
    I got closer to him, nervous about our meeting.He turned to me and smiled,as if he’d known me for a lifetime and as if we were buddies,going out for a walk.Mark was taller than me, and maybe a bit skinnier.My common hazel eyes were no match for his electrical blue iris, and so was my hair, compared to his brown curls.I looked like a sad and lonely being, whose appearence had no importance, sitting next to a handsome man.
    -I received your mail.Who are you,and what are you talking about?
    -She needs you,man.She really does.
    -Who needs me?
    -You know who.
    -No,I don’t.
    -Yes,you do.
    -What the hell does that mean?You told me everything is a lie!You told me that everyone around me isn’t who they say they are!
    -I said what you needed to hear, in order to get out of that sinkhole you call a house.
    -Why?!
    He took a cigarette out of his pocket and started smoking his brains out.He looked even cooler than before.
    -It’s not entirely a lie,you know?You do live in a place you hate from the very bottom of your guts and you still call it „home,sweet home”.You’re in a long-distance relationship with some girl and you keep lying to yourself that she loves you.She’s probably banging some dude right now,and you know it.Your life is a fiasco and nobody loves you.Besides all that,the memory of your ex still haunts you everyday,doesn’t it?
    I punched him in the face with all my strength.Instead of fighting back,he laughed at me,like the Devil itself.
    -That’s it,come on!Show me what you got!
    -Why are you doing this?!Why did she sent you?
    -Hahahaha!
    He didn’t seem to hear me.He kept laughing hard,with a mad look in his eyes.
    -Answer me,dammit!
    As I was going for another hit,I tripped on a rock and fell to the ground, unconscious.I woke up several minutes after,but Mark wasn’t there anymore.Nobody was.
    The terrible headache followed me home, like a woman with questionable morals.I killed her with random medicine,and then I burried myself alive,in the backyard of my mind.It was there,deep inside my shallowness,where I have finally found the truth.I stared at the mirror for hours.I knew who he was,I knew who had sent me that mail.

    Mark and I were the same person.

  22. rainyk says:

    The subject line read, “Everything you know is a lie.” I opened the email and read further:

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I snorted. Probably a joke, or maybe some weird phishing thing. I rubbed my eyes, which burned from the strain of staring at the laptop screen for two hours straight. I glanced around the Mountain Mercantile, a coffee shop and grocery where I sometimes went to write. Although I didn’t believe a word of the email, I found my gaze drawn to the others in the shop: two high school girls making espresso behind the counter. A bleach-blonde mom waiting at the register with a stroller, a gray-haired man with a paunch seated across from a boy a couple tables away. A middle-aged woman with an oversized purse browsing the greeting card rack. I thought I recognized some of them from around town. In any case, nothing out of the ordinary for a cow town in Western Washington.

    I realized, though, as I observed each in turn, that I rarely looked at my fellow human beings—really looked. Most of the time they were blurs at the corners of my vision, smudges at the edge of my awareness. Despite my best efforts, when I wasn’t writing I was usually Googling or texting. Sometimes it was difficult to look away from a screen long enough to even talk to my boyfriend. No doubt my writing suffered, too, but old habits die hard.

    I was about to return to my inbox when the middle-aged gal glanced up and looked straight at me. For a brief moment, her eyes turned black, as deep and blank as a starless sky. Goose bumps erupted all over my body. Then she blinked, smiled politely, and turned away.

    My gaze slid to the boy who sat with his back to me. He raised his hand to scratch his head, and in that movement I saw a glint at his nape, just above his shirt collar. I sat up straighter and stared. It was a zipper, in his neck—the skin stitched together with gleaming metal teeth.

    The older man was staring at me. I closed my mouth and sank a little lower in the booth, returning my attention to the email.

    “Not who they say they are.” The words pulsed in my mind. I resisted the urge to look up again and examine my fellow patrons. “Meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss.” It was on a farm just a few miles down the road, beneath an apple tree at the edge of the pasture. But there was nobody on earth who knew about that other than me and Jeremy Godwin from Mrs. Bradbury’s fifth-grade class . . . and maybe a half-dozen of our closest friends. Mark. Mark Wolski? Couldn’t be. I hadn’t seen him in ten years.

    Unnerved, I began packing up my stuff and tossed my empty cup in the trash. I was swinging my computer bag over my shoulder when my phone vibrated with a message from an unknown number: Get out now. Urgent. Only a few of us left.

    “What the . . .” I muttered as I crossed the few paces to the door, eyes glued to the phone display. Then I ran headlong into one of the baristas, and my phone shot out of my hand and clattered to the floor. Where had she come from?

    “Oh, gosh!” she exclaimed with a giggle, brunette curls bouncing. “Sorry about that.” She placed her hands on my shoulders as if to steady me, but there was force behind the grip. Flustered, I started to respond but paused. Her face looked oddly plastic, too stretched at the corners of the mouth, eyes too wide, like a mask. The skin had an unnaturally dewy sheen. Was this the same girl who had made my Americano? How could I not have noticed? I made a silent vow to be more observant.

    When the barista didn’t move, I stepped to the side but stumbled into someone else—the gray-haired man. I spun around and stopped, clutching my bag awkwardly to my chest. Everyone in the place—baristas, mom with stroller, man and boy, middle-aged lady—had encircled me, all wearing odd-looking smiles.

    “What the hell—?” I blurted. Was I in trouble? Did they think I’d stolen something? “I, uh, need to leave.”

    “Sweetheart,” said the barista, her breath on my ear, “you’re not going anywhere. We need you.”

    My phone vibrated again on the tile floor somewhere behind me. “Need me? For what?” My eyes searched around frantically for an escape route.

    “We’ve run out of costumes,” she replied as their hands descended on me. “Such pretty hair, such nice skin,” she murmured, trailing a finger down my arm, as if examining a high-end handbag.

    A slender pink tentacle snaked from the mouth of the bleach-blonde mom, who tucked it back inside with a glossy red fingernail. I gawked, dropping my bag.

    I kicked and flailed, but the odds were against me. The last thing I saw before the pillowcase came down over my head was a figure of sorts gazing over the shoulders of my captors—gleaming and gelatinous, with a slash for a mouth, black holes for eyes, and a necklace of wriggling pink tentacles.

    • rainyk says:

      I know this is a tired premise, but I’m writing creatively for the first time in decades so I’m just putting down whatever comes to mind as a way to break through the fear. Seems I have some cliches to get out of my system.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Rainyh, there is no fear on this forum. If you dusted off your fingers and started to write again, bravo to you. It’s like riding a bicycle, You never forget. You have quite an imaginate mind, that hasn’t forgotten how to tell a story, a creepy one at that. I’d say it was a good effort for your first splash. Come join us on the ‘word train’. I guarantee you will have fun with it. Remember, we’ll all here to learn from each other. Welcome.

    • stoked says:

      Awesome story! You had me hooked from the start.

  23. mimipii says:

    So some guy named Mark thinks he knows everything about me to know that it’s all a lie. I’d like to meet this Mark and give him a piece of my mind. First of all, there is no one around me to get wary of me. Second, I’ve never had a boyfriend in my entire 22 years of existence. I’m a full time college student with zero time for hanging out. Let alone time for a relationship—one that involves kisses anyway. The relationships I do retain are the standard: loving parents, aunts, uncles and a few close friends and study-buddies. And none are named Mark.

    I delete the email without a second glance only to have another one replace it the next day. This time “Mark” calls himself my “biological father”. Now, this has gone too far. But just to tell myself there is no credence behind all this nonsense, I call up Dave and Jane aka the parents I have known all my life. The conversation goes like this:

    “Mom, Dad. Am I adopted?” Yeah I get right to the point. That’s me. There is no beating around the bush.

    “Of course not, honey”, Mom says quickly, “where did that come from?”

    So I tell them all about the strange emails from Mark. There is silence on the other end of the line and I know I’ve hit a raw nerve.

    “Uh, Mom? Dad? Is there something you’re not telling me?” I question anxiously. Their silence is too prolonged.

    “Okay, sweetie”, Dad cooes, “don’t be upset with us. We just wanted to protect you. Your biological mother was killed so we adopted you. But it happened when you were a newborn so it’s almost like Jane gave birth to you.”

    “And this Mark is really who he says he is? He’s my dad?!” I ask incredulously. “Why did he first contact me now? Why have I never heard from him before? I mean I’m already 22!”

    There’s silence again and I wonder if we perhaps we got disconnected. “Hello? You still there?” I call.

    When mom finally answers it’s chilling, “He just got out of prison”.

    I’m not sure I want to know why he was incarcerated.

  24. frankd1100 says:

    An email on his phone told him he was surrounded and instructed him to make his escape. He raised his eyes to hers as the porcelain mug shook in her hand dripping coffee onto their table.

    From his window seat he saw the telltale, dark blue van pull up to the curb at the end of the block on the other side of the street. He knew a second van would be in position at the opposite end waiting for a signal to rush the cafe.’ That the Council was forcing her to betray him was tearing Gladys apart. They were brilliantly unscrupulous in coercing one’s cooperation.

    He’d turned sixty-five six months before but the sophistication of the underground network had allowed him to run free for this long. Gladys had called and invited him to meet for ‘coffee’ at the Moon-Doe’s Cafe’ in the village. She knew he never drank Moon-Doe’s coffee. He appreciated the cryptic warning but decided to walk into the Council’s trap to protect her from being accused of collaboration.

    He slouched in his chair, seemingly unconcerned, and ‘chatted’ with Gladys about meaningless things. He spotted two security men, each seated conspicuously alone among the tables in the small shop.

    Experience had taught him not to enter a room unless he had a way out. He excused himself, leaving his Burberry raincoat over the back of his chair, and walked casually to the men’s room. As the door closed behind him, in one practiced motion, he threw on the lock, tipped over the trash container and used it as a platform to reach and unlock the window. Gaining the sidewalk he moved quickly into the maze of buildings across the square. He stripped off and tossed aside his Kelly green sweater, and set off to meet his underground handler, Lauren Mark, at ‘K’ Industries, State Street entrance.

    The population control classification system, (PCCS), had been fully implemented ten years before and everyone below a W1SO classification was to be relocated to custodial communities after their sixty-fifth birthday. China had squandered generations of intellectual power and created a lopsided culture by horrificly exterminating millions of females at birth. In this country, age and economic productivity determined classification, enabling the removal of less productive citizens while ‘optimizing’ a gender balanced population.

    An alluring ad campaign depicted scenes of warm weather and smiling seniors around shimmering swimming pools but the truth about the ‘camps’ leaked out. Callous treatment of the internees and the torture of abandonment were the reality in the Senior Relocation camps. Relatives and families quickly forgot their disappeared elders, allowing memories to dissipate like the mist under a morning sun.

    The Senior Relocation Program was lauded for it’s singular contribution of a top secret formula for a nutrient rich fertilizer. Rumors concerning the composition of the odorous ‘super’ fertilizer were ignored. Supplied at low cost, the new organic resource doubled food production and was widely celebrated by the youthful population.

    • bilbobaggins321 says:

      Seems interesting. This fertilizer sounds awfully suspicious… definitely a good spy vibe going on here.

    • zmiley says:

      gotta agree with bilbobaggins321 on this one. the fertilizer is giving me the creeps.

    • Observer Tim says:

      Eeek! Soylent Grey is old people! (Actually, if it was Soylent Grey they’d be eating their elders directly…). You created a future with a very dark underside.

      Great story, Frankd.

    • Kerry Charlton says:

      What a beautiful horror story, you’ve written, Frank. So realistic and terrifying to me especially, for I would have been someone’s garden fertilizer 12 years ago and I’m worried about my Socal Security collapsing? You’re at the top of your form with this story.

      The MC reminds me of an older Sean Connelly. I wouldn’t mess with him at any age.

      Terrific response to the prompt.

  25. rainyk says:

    Duplicate post removed at author’s request.

  26. NoMonsterHere says:

    It didn’t make sense.
    Everything I know is a lie? Did this person, whoever they were, actually expect me to believe this? That there are eight planets in the solar system, that money is made out of paper, that Canada is north of the United States, these were all lies?
    Honestly, I didn’t think that was what the sender meant. People tend to get a bit dramatic when they want someone’s attention.
    Then what was a lie? My life? My job? My friends? I had always been pretty sure that my friends were paid to hang out with me.
    The subject of this email didn’t seem plausible. It was probably a virus of some sort, relying on the human curiosity to plague an unsuspecting victim with computer error messages and crashes. I should probably not open it.
    Oh, but the human brain, though highly sophisticated and complicated, has two weaknesses. One is fear, and the other is curiosity. The voice, the one I and all other human beings know all too well, was calling me. Open it, Henry. Open it and see. It could be important. You could save someone’s life, or change your own. Open it, open it, open it, open it, open it, open it, open it, OPEN IT!!!
    I gave in. I had to know. I clicked on the email.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    The sender had no email address.
    Well, that made about no sense.
    I could not bring myself to believe that everyone in my life was lying to me about their identity. Life wasn’t some sort of detective book. Things like that just didn’t happen. And also, that part about the kiss.
    The kiss.
    After much thinking and staring at the wall, I decided on two things:
    1) This was not real. It was some sort of teenage prank.
    2) This email was sent to the wrong address. It was not meant to be seen by me.
    How did I figure out the second thing? Well, it was simple actually, and a little embarrassing.
    I’ve never had a first kiss. I’ve never even had a girlfriend. I just wasn’t bold enough to ask any girl out. I was probably too nerdy anyway.
    I could’ve just deleted the email and gotten on with my life. Everything would have been normal. I could have had a decent life, lots of money, and happiness. I could have forgotten.
    But remember me mentioning the weaknesses of the human brain? Well, I became curious again. Something told me that this was more than a prank. I mean, how many stupid teenagers know how to send an email without an email address? I decided to find the intended recipient and figure this all out.
    That was my first bad decision.

    • rainyk says:

      Good humor and narrative voice, and I love suspense you introduce with the last couple paragraphs and especially the last line. His “first” bad decision? I want to know about all the others.

  27. Masked_Mar says:

    Author’s Note: This is my second attempt to post, since the first time didn’t seem to work.

    * * *

    My fingers trembled on the keyboard. I glanced furtively around the room, looking for signs of some ghostly intruders. This was silly. There was no one here but the sound of peaceful solitude, and this email was nothing but a cruel prank.

    I slammed the laptop shut, rolling my seat away as though my whole desk was on fire.

    This was silly. And stupid. And I wasn’t going to spend one minute wasting my time. Milk. I needed milk. Milk in the grocery. The grocery where I….I was being stupid. But I needed milk. For my cereal. I could certainly not be expected to never go to the grocery store.

    Coats. Keys. Cars. Seat belt. Ignition. Wheels. Brakes. Traffic Lights. Red. Green. Green. Green. Red. A kid on a bike. Brakes. Mark. Mark. Mark.

    This was silly. Just a prank.

    My car was frozen in the store’s parking lot. I started at the bright red store sign. Get up. You need milk. Get up. You need milk. I stared.

    Slowly, my feet walked to the entrance. I didn’t move at all. My feet walked. Left. Right. Left. Right. Carried me to the entrance. Hands opened the door. Left. Right. Left. Right. Carried me to the back where the milk was. Not very romantic, having your first kiss in a grocery store.

    My hands reached for the carton.

    “I’m glad you came.” A man’s voice. Deep, yet gentle.

    My head turned to see where the voice was coming from. He stood besides me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a basket of mundane items: milk, eggs, bread, cheese.

    “What do you want from me?”

    He placed his hands on my shoulder. I grimaced and stepped away from him. He placed his hands in the air as though surrendering to the police “I’m here to help.” That gentle voice again.

    My eyes studied him. Not bad looking. Attractive, even. But definitely too old. Perhaps this was how he picked up women.

    “Why should I believe you?”

    “Your name is Rachel Clancy. You’re 26 years old. Your father left when you were five. Your mother suffered a stroke ten years ago, leaving you to take care of your little brother. His name is Michael. You love classical music and dogs. Your goal is to teach English to students abroad, but you’re too afraid of leaving your mother and Michael behind. Am I close, Rachel?”

    This was insane. “Have you been spying on me?”

    He smiled. “I know everything about you. I made you. Created you. Formed your very essence with my hands.”

    “Like what. Are you God?”

    He laughed. “No, Rachel. That which you call God creates only that which is alive. And you, Rachel, are not alive.”

    This was really insane. “So, I’m dead?”

    His hands reached across my back, under my shirt.

    I shivered under his touch.

    “Shhh. You’re not dead” His fingers moved along my spine, as though he was dialing a phone number, “because you’re not hu…”

  28. thatbillguy says:

    From: noreply-3b97e24f@plus.tastee.com
    To: thatbillguy@gmail.com
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away?
    Sad souls in the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not over complicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. Curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and dry. I pressed the ‘B’ button.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way in. In the remains of the barely illuminated soundstage, on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby, stain covered canvas trench coat. Dirty hair stood out chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer.

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  29. thatbillguy says:

    From: noreply
    To: thatbillguy
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away?
    Sad souls in the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not over complicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. Curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and dry. I pressed the ‘B’ button.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way in. In the remains of the barely illuminated soundstage, on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby, stain covered canvas trench coat. Dirty hair stood out chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer.

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  30. ilovecupcakes says:

    This is my third comment and my first two didn’t get posted so…. Ya, this is my first short story, and I’m only 12, so don’t judge me, please.

    The phone buzzed on the table. “Hey, you got an email,” Alex said. I picked the phone up and opened the weirdest email I had ever received in my life. After I read it, an awkward silence filled the room- Alex and I were speechless. When I regained my senses, I sent back a reply. “Do I know you, b/c u r freaking me out.” All I got in response was “Just come. P.S- bring Alex with you.” That was it. I grabbed Alex’s hand and dragged him out the door. “I don’t know who the idiot is, and why he’s stalking me- us, but I feel like we need to go. We might as well bike there, rather than ask for a ride.” Alex just nodded. As we mounted our bikes and rode to the school, I dreamily recalled that night if the concert, the way Alex had held me close in the secret room. We parked our bikes on the curb, went into the school building, and ran to the backstage of the auditorium. Yanking open the trapdoor, we raced down the steps, and hastily pulled open the last door. There stood a man wearing classic office apparel, a sign on his suit reading “Mark”. Before I could say anything, he glanced at his watch and said, “I’ve got five minutes to talk before anyone suspects anything out if the ordinary.” He looked at Alex and me. “Now, where to start?”

  31. AlaskasOwn says:

    I turned away from the computer screen and looked at the cream-filled doughnut I held aloft in my left hand. Everything I know is a lie, I wondered. Jacky had just promised me that she had saved the last cream-filled doughnut for me, setting it aside wrapped in a paper towel. What if she lied? I did not like jelly doughnuts. I looked at the pastry more dubiously. Somewhere in my mind, the thought occurred to me that whoever was joshing with me didn’t literally mean that “everything” was a lie and surely they were taking a bit of artistic license just to amp up the dire nature of their promise.
    Perhaps it has grown in me from the years of working in the office doldrums, or maybe I just have an everlasting childishness about me. I grabbed a pen from the cup on my desk. I brought the business end straight into the center of the doughnut and pulled out a core sample. It slid out, covered in delicious Bavarian cream. Already, the validity of the e-mail was in question. Even though no one could know my thoughts, I felt guilty for having doubted Jacky’s bakery offering.
    I looked at the stack of paper left on my desk to be entered into the computer system and then I read the e-mail again, this time looking beyond the first sentence. I didn’t know a Mark. I tried to look at the address from which the e-mail had originated. It was mine. Someone had hacked into my e-mail and left a warning for me. If that was the case, then who knows how long they had been poking around my past e-mails. It would not take them long to discover the e-mail diary I had been keeping since I was a teenager. Call it dorky if you like, keeping a diary, but no one was supposed to see it and we all do things that would be a little shameful of out of sight from others. At least I only had a diary and not a clandestine subscription to cartoon animal porn. If one was to read my diary, careful perusing would reveal another shameful fact, I had never actually had a kiss, thus another problem; I didn’t know where to go.
    I wheeled my office chair to the open wall of my cubicle and peeked into the hall. Most of my coworkers were still out to lunch. All clear. I drew back in, closed the e-mail, switched off the screen. I stood up, turned and crashed into Jacky.
    “Oh, I’m sorry Jacky. I didn’t see you there.”
    “It’s alright. Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
    “I well…”
    “Wherever it is I think you should stay right here.”
    I looked at her puzzled, “What do you mean?”
    She leaned forward and whispered, “I just wanted to tell you that no matter what anyone says, you are a really sweet guy,” she smiled, “Call me Mark.”
    She pressed her lips to mine. Being called Mark was kind of kinky, more than a little weird, but wow, what a kisser.

  32. Masked_Mar says:

    My fingers trembled on the keyboard. I glanced furtively around the room, looking for signs of some ghostly intruders. This was silly. There was no one here but the sound of peaceful solitude, and this email was nothing but a cruel prank.

    I slammed the laptop shut, rolling my seat away as though my whole desk was on fire.

    This was silly. And stupid. And I wasn’t going to spend one minute wasting my time. Milk. I needed milk. Milk in the grocery. The grocery where I….I was being stupid. But I needed milk. For my cereal. I could certainly not be expected to never go to the grocery store.

    Coats. Keys. Cars. Seat belt. Ignition. Wheels. Brakes. Traffic Lights. Red. Green. Green. Green. Red. A kid on a bike. Brakes. Mark. Mark. Mark.

    This was silly. Just a prank.

    My car was frozen in the store’s parking lot. I started at the bright red store sign. Get up. You need milk. Get up. You need milk. I stared.

    Slowly, my feet walked to the entrance. I didn’t move at all. My feet walked. Left. Right. Left. Right. Carried me to the entrance. Hands opened the door. Left. Right. Left. Right. Carried me to the back where the milk was. Not very romantic, having your first kiss in a grocery store.

    My hands reached for the carton.

    “I’m glad you came.” A man’s voice. Deep, yet gentle.

    My head turned to see where the voice was coming from. He stood besides me, wearing jeans and a t-shirt, carrying a basket of mundane items: milk, eggs, bread, cheese.

    “What do you want from me?”

    He placed his hands on my shoulder. I grimaced and stepped away from him. He placed his hands in the air as though surrendering to the police “I’m here to help.” That gentle voice again.

    My eyes studied him. Not bad looking. Attractive, even. But definitely too old. Perhaps this was how he picked up women.

    “Why should I believe you?”

    “Your name is Rachel Clancy. You’re 26 years old. Your father left when you were five. Your mother suffered a stroke ten years ago, leaving you to take care of your little brother. His name is Michael. You love classical music and dogs. Your goal is to teach English to students abroad, but you’re too afraid of leaving your mother and Michael behind. Am I close, Rachel?”

    This was insane. “Have you been spying on me?”

    He smiled. “I know everything about you. I made you. Created you. Formed your very essence with my hands.”

    “Like what. Are you God?”

    He laughed. “No, Rachel. That which you call God creates only that which is alive. And you, Rachel, are not alive.”

    This was really insane. “So, I’m dead?”

    His hands reached across my back, under my shirt.

    I shivered under his touch.

    “Shhh. You’re not dead” His fingers moved along my spine, as though he was dialing a phone number, “because you’re not hu…”

  33. bilbobaggins321 says:

    DESPERATE MEASURES- PART TWO

    The black cat slinked down from the curb to the road, its gentle paws padding silently across the grimy pavement without a single purr emanating from its whiskery mouth.

    It was virtually unnoticed by anyone. The street was empty at this hour, and nary but a gentle wind whispered through the lampposts, which were themselves flickering. It was as if some apocalypse had already happened, and these animals and buildings were the refuse of a long-gone empire.

    This silence was betrayed by the soft crunching of boots, swift and agile, only barely swiping on the pavement in their haste. These pairs of boots, regrettably, belonged to a certain General Horatio and his elite team of Jackers. They automatically halted at the corner, confident in their mission. The general, wiping his precious handlebar moustache, addressed the force.
    “64301 go around the back. 54679 and 43587, come with me.” His tone was low.

    The henchmen scurried to follow his orders. They split up into two parties, one swinging surreptitiously through a back alley to the rear door of the building. At this point there was no pretense of secrecy, and Horatio reached inside his pocket for his stunner. His assistants already had theirs at the ready.
    The door came down with one resounding bang. Their target, a woman sitting in a red chair directly in the middle of the living room, bounded to her feet with a yelp. She was halfway to the kitchen when the stunner beam hit her back, and she crumpled breathlessly to the carpet.

    “In the name of the Alliance and of the Chairman, we now take under our custody all in this house,” he announced, striding into the house like he owned it. Slowly taking off his green gloves, he moved to the chair. With a smug smile he looked over the paralyzed woman.
    “Ripple effect?” He said without looking to an assistant as they tore apart the house.
    “Ordinary. There’s no one within 500 feet,” a Jacker replied, checking the warp tablet.
    “Excellent. And is the message to Mr. Jones on its way?” A slight nod.

    “I hope he likes it,” his words drenched in contempt. His voice changed slightly to one of sarcasm.
    “And what have we here? Charlotte Grey herself. I’ve heard so much about you…”
    The lady struggled to move away, in rapid jerks, but it was a futile effort. Cabinets slammed closed, and after a few minutes the Jackers came back to their general with their spoils in a few boxes.

    “Good. Now let’s get out of here, before any agents arrive.”
    Two of the Jackers grabbed the lady by the arms, and they dragged her through the front door and into the dusty warehouse. The rusted bars creaked closed securely, the gloom dragging them all into mere shadows. The general turned on his heel as she was shoved inside the cell.

    “The zoning front door is one of my favorites,” he said nonchalantly, as if imprisoning Innocents in cyber-prisons forever and ever was what he did for a living, with no remorse. And it was.
    “Lock her up. Make sure to give her food and water every other hour.”
    He exited the room with 64301. The key locked into the gate behind him, seemingly sealing her fate. The other two Jackers stood menacingly in the room still, watching her every move under hooded eyebrows. In the dim-lit hallway outside, the duo walked a few steps more, and then zoned back into the control room of the Alliance.

    They sat down in the plush chairs in front of the touch monitors and screens, the general swiveling over to a small end table and sipping on a Coke. He would contact the Chairman within minutes to report of the success of the mission.
    “You do have to hand it to the Innocents for their drinks,” he continued. The lady was almost forgotten. The Jacker, in a husky voice, spoke up, looking at his boss with worry.
    “It isn’t my duty, sir, to be asking this, but why did we kidnap that lady specifically?”

    The general looked surprised that his dutiful assistant was even saying anything at all. “64301, it is not your duty, and normally you would stun without a whimper, but since this is a sensitive operation, I will indulge you.” He paused momentarily. “That woman is the key to unhinging Mr. Jones’s plan.”
    “How?” The Jacker leaned his elbow on his knee.
    “One word: romance. Any time a relationship is involved, it’s so perfectly easy to blackmail.”
    The Jacker seemed to understand.
    “What bad luck did he have, to fall in love with an Innocent?”
    A wicked smile curved the ends of his lips.
    “Very bad luck, indeed.”

    The general left the room to go visit the Chairman. The plan was wrapped up. No doubt the whole mission of the agents would be derailed, as Mr. Jones would abandon his target on the train to a lesser, minor agent to pursue after his first love. A smug grin continued on his face. They were done.

    Little did Horatio know that the same innocent-looking cat that had witnessed the whole scene was Marks’s highly updated AI surveillance, prowling the area. Comms had already sent a message to Jones, telling him of the whole thing. Mark would meet their chief agent at the place where the two had their first kiss, the Regent Park downtown, and, together, they would stitch together a heroic plan.

    (Sorry, it’s extremely long. I just preferred to finish it, as usual.)

    • Observer Tim says:

      A satisfying finish to this chapter, Bilbobaggins. Now all we need to see is what happens when Mark comes back to kick butt and take names (assuming he remembered to bring a pen).

      Great story. Yeah, it’s long, but I for one don’t mind.

      • bilbobaggins321 says:

        Thanks again, Tim, for the words. Go hobbits! And, I think Mark would prefer more to take names with his warp tablet than his pen (less cumbersome). :D

    • frankd1100 says:

      Gritty, dark and gruseome view of the future… The cat AI is a cool idea. (As long as it stays out of the way of the general’s tanks and vehicles rolling through the dimly lighted streets).

  34. Critique says:

    Shelley laid the exacto knife beside the mountain of boxed books in receiving and read the
    email: “Everything you know is a lie. Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    She frowned in confusion. Who was Mark? And how did he know about that?

    Her face burned remembering the unexpected kiss from her manager by the fountain in Gallagher Park. He’d sucked her in with promises. Two days later he transferred to another bookstore. Three weeks now and not a word. Lesson learned: forget the jerk.

    Picking up the knife she reamed on it and watched the blade cut through the cardboard and then slice deep into the soft flesh of her left thumb. Blood welled splashing onto the worktable and inventory sheet. Shocked, she looked up when the receiving doors banged open and three store employees rushed in. Was someone snarling? Her world tilted – faded out.

    The new manager dashed in right behind them.

    “Everybody. Get back!” He caught her before she hit the floor.

    Later in emergency – her thumb sporting eight stitches, her arm encased in a sling – she learned the manager’s name was Mark.

    He offered her a ride home.

    Sitting in the front seat she rubbed the back of her hand to ease the throbbing and looked at him.

    “Mark, did you send me an email?” She asked.

    He took a deep breath. “I did. There’s something you should know.”

    “How do you know about…. that kiss?”

    “Clayton was my cousin.” Mark pulled unexpectedly into Gallagher park and shut the car off. “He was the first to die. He made me promise to warn you. Their mission is to infect everyone.”

    Shelley could only stare at him in disbelief. “What are you talking about?”

    “Haven’t you noticed anything odd – heard anything weird.” His teeth gleamed in an incredulous smile.

    “We think the entire staff are infected with a virus that eats the brain. When you cut your thumb? They could smell it.” Mark’s dark eyes were intense. “The only cure is blood from an uninfected person.”

    Shelley recalled strange snarling noises when the staff surrounded her earlier. She stared out the windshield at the full harvest moon peeking behind a cloud than at Mark dumbfounded. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. I don’t believe you.”

    “It’s also extremely contagious.” Mark’s voice dropped to a low growl. “We… you could be next.”

    His eyes glowed in the fading daylight. The park was deserted. She looked at her shirt covered in dried blood. Prickles swarmed like bees up the back of Shelley’s neck.

  35. ilovecupcakes says:

    Ok so this is like my first time writing anything, and I’m 12, so don’t judge me! Please.

    The phone buzzed on the table. Alex picked it up and said, “look, you got an email,” I clicked on the app. I had just received the weirdest email in my life. I read it, and an awkward silence filled the room- Alex and I were speechless. When I regained some sense, I replied. “Ok- u r freaking me out. How do u know about my personal life?” All I got in reply was, ” just come- ps Alex should come 2″ That was it. I put the phone in my back pocket, grabbed Alex’s hand, and dragged him out the door. “Look, I don’t know who the idiot is, but I feel like we need to go. We might as well ride our bikes instead of ask for a ride.” As we mounted our bikes and rode to the school, I dreamily recalled the night of the concert, the way Alex held me in his secret room. We parked our bikes on the curb and ran into the building, into the auditorium, and yanked open the hidden door backstage. Racing down the stairs, I pulled the second door open. There stood a man writing classic office apparel, with a sign that read, ‘Mark’. Before I could say anything, he glanced at his watch and said, ” I have five minutes before anyone notices anything out of the ordinary.” He looked at the two of us. “Now, where to start?”

  36. Ugne says:

    The things you do on Saturdays usually reveal your personality, maybe you hand out with friends, study, watch TV, play sports… Or in a case like mine, you wake up at noon with a breath deadlier than frog’s, lay there for an hour until you get hungry finally move.
    As I got out of bed I could feel the cold floor underneath my feet, my toes cringed as I stretched, then yawned. It was quiet, as usual. They left me here again. Not that I cared, now I had the house to myself to be completely unproductive at my own peace and quiet. I walked down to the end of the room, my PJ’s hanging loosely off my hips. As I opened the door, I stuck my head out in the hall just to make sure I was alone, and I definitely was; no laughter screams, steps, no anything.
    I walked down the hall; it was luxurious, glass flower tables with vintage-looking vases and cute little bundles of flowers in them, and those bland, boring pictures with some people in them nobody who currently lived in this house ever knew, the cold stone walls and floor, and the fancy red carpet that tickled my feet, all of that bugged me so much.
    As I finally reached my destination, the kitchen, I forgot what I wanted.
    This house is way too God-damn big. I thought as I got out a carton of mild and took two big gulps, I would’ve chugged down the whole box, but the annoying noise that came from my phone had alerted me about a new email. I lowered the milk carton and looked at the bright screen, the subject was something new; Everything you know is a lie.
    Let me guess, am I using the wrong shampoo? I knew that it was some scam or an ad, yet I still opened it.
    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.
    I raised my eyebrows. I hated the letter immediately for a number of reasons;
    1) I hated the name Mark
    2) It was a scam or a taunt
    3) I never had a kiss.
    4) It might have been for someone else
    5) If it was, they had an exciting life and I was jealous.
    Oh well. Now I was annoyed, and my (not really inner) slacker/ slob spoke to me;
    Why not eat a tub of ice-cream for no reason?
    That sounded like a plan.
    If I only I knew that that banana-split was the only descent thing I was going to get to eat in months, since according to them, home cooked rats seemed like a good idea.

  37. ilovecupcakes says:

    This is my first time writing, and I’m 12, so DONT JUDGE ME! Please.

    The phone on the table buzzed. Alex picked it up. “Hey, Aki, you got an email,” he said. I clicked on the app and opened what would be the weirdest email of my life. After the two of us read it, we’re speechless. I send its Mark guy a reply. ” ok- u r freaking me out. Do I know u?” The only reply I got was “just come. Ps- bring Alex with you.” That was it. I grabbed Alex’s hand and pulled him out the door. ” look, I don’t know who the idiot is and why he’s stalking me- us, but we need to leave. We might as well bike there, so we don’t need to ask for a ride,” I said. As we mounted our bikes and rode to the school, I thought dreamily about that night before the concert, the way Alex held me close. We parked our bikes on a curb and ran into the school, into the auditorium and yanked open the secret door backstage. We raced down the steps, unlocked the door, and burst in. There stood a man wearing classic office wear, with a sign that said Mark. Before I could say anything he glanced at his watch and said, “I have to leave in 5 minutes before anyone expects anything out of the ordinary.” He looked at the two of us. “Now, where should I start?”

  38. agnesjack says:

    I apologize for being over the limit, but, this week, it couldn’t be helped.
    ___________________

    She sat on the bench in the little park, looking up at the bay window above the deli across the street. Every now and then, she would dab her eyes with the tattered tissue she held in one hand. It had either been a horrible coincidence or a very cruel joke to receive that e-mail on the anniversary of her husband’s death.

    The apartment above the deli was not the location of her first kiss, as the e-mail had specified, but it was the place where her twenty-two year miracle began. She was thirty-five when they met, an age where she had almost given up on finding someone with whom to spend the rest of her life. The rest of her life… dear God. That was a joke, a fantasy, a false promise. The e-mail was right. It was all a miserable lie.

    She wiped her eyes again, blew her nose and tossed the tissue into the trashcan. As she pulled another from her coat pocket, she wondered why the present tenants had put such heavy curtains on the windows, and why they were so tightly drawn. She knew that there was a window seat below the bay window and she didn’t understand why they would block out the view of the park and the light of day. Mark would have hated having the world shut out like that.

    Mark. The e-mail said, “My name is Mark.” What was she to make of that? In the early days of shock and numbness, she would have seen it as a sign that he was winking at her from beyond somewhere. It would have been so like him to leave little cryptic hints like that. She recalled the many wonderful dreams she had during the first few months, where he was there with her — a comforting, loving presence. In one dream he had said, “You know, we are going to be together for a very long time,” a statement she found puzzling because even in the dream she knew he was gone. Now, three years later, there were no more dreams and she felt very much alone.

    She wondered if the apartment looked the same. They had only spent a few years there before they bought their house, but beginnings have such power. She remembered every detail of the delicate dance of their relationship — awkward and uncertain at first, then wild and thrilling, and eventually synchronized and flowing, like birds gliding in a peaceful sky. She had been so blessed.

    She ruminated on the message in the e-mail from Mark. “Everyone around you is not who they say they are,” it had said. Then she remembered his wonderful, ironic sense of humor, and she suddenly realized that the answer was quite simple: Of course not! We are all so much MORE. The realization made her smile, and then she began to laugh. She laughed at how the drawn curtain of her grief had restricted her world to what could be seen, heard and touched. She laughed at the notion that our existence was defined solely by our short, desperate lives. And she laughed at her long, self-incarceration in a dungeon of despair.

    She wiped her eyes one last time. As she stood up, she smiled at the apartment on the second floor above the deli, and said, “Thank you, Mark, my best and most extraordinary love.” Then she turned toward home — their home, where she and he would always be.

    • Observer Tim says:

      This is a lovely and touching story, Nancy. The redemption aspect is very well-written and presented gently.

      Anyway, you’re only 79 words over; I was 17 words under and you can have them. That means you’re only 62 words over now, and we’ll not quibble about that. ;)

    • don potter says:

      Thank you for a beautiful tale of past memories tempered by the need for living in the now. Without acceptance it would be difficult to move on, leaving us to dwell in the sorrow of situations gone awry. Regarding the word issue. The rule I have come to use for my posts is 10 percent over or under. It works for me and gives me a milestone as the story progresses.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        A beautiful and romantic story, Nancy I was led so gently into your MC’s mind, the turmoil and doubt and pain she had gone through, losing her husband after such a marriage that they experienced.

        The acceptance of losing a loved one is difficult to image if you haven’t been there. You did a beautiful job of expressing her redemption from sorrow and the acceptance of what her husband would wish of her.

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      Nicely done Agnes. Pretty touching story.

    • agnesjack says:

      Thanks everyone. I almost didn’t post for this prompt for the following reason: This story is true.
      My husband, whose name was Mark, passed away suddenly of cardiac arrest three years ago. This prompt was posted on the anniversary of his death. I was stunned when I read it, but then I thought that it was so beyond coincidence that I should try to respond. In a way, it was a blessing. Perhaps Mark was winking at me, after all — and trying, in his mischievous way, to nudge me toward peace.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Nancy, I’m sure I speak for everyone on the forum, how sorry we are for you loss. You’ve written a beautiful tribute to your husband. I’m sure he’s proud of you as we are. You write with a beautiful voice. Kerry

        • agnesjack says:

          Thank you, Kerry. I know that you know how rocky the road of grief can be. This forum has helped me tremendously, because writing takes me out of myself. I am so grateful to have that.

      • Observer Tim says:

        Maybe you’re right, Nancy. Despite my general preference for the fantastic, my most emotional works come from real life. Writing is a way to bring back the memory of all the good times and share that memory with others.

        The road to peace is a long one and winding, and I’m glad you’re willing to share even these few lovely steps with us.

        • agnesjack says:

          Thank you, Tim. I knew this was going to be a difficult story, which is why I chose to step back and write it in the third person. It gave me a little emotional distance. I wanted it to be a story that others could relate to.

          I’m also glad that I could share a little of my journey. Grief is a subject that we don’t always know how to handle, so it often gets stuffed in a box in the basement.

    • thatbillguy says:

      Very nice!

      Its interesting to see all the different takes on this prompt. This one in particular make me want to try something outside of my normal interests.

    • frankd1100 says:

      Beautiful story Nancy.

      Some learn too late how precious a loving relationship can be, might have been, that it is more valuable than pride, ego or jealousy.

  39. zmiley says:

    Inbox: 25 new emails from a guy named Mark. All 25 of them have the same subject line: “Everything you know is a lie”. It’s probably spam, I think. Mainly because the only Mark I know is my ex-boyfriend who joined the FBI. Now why would he be contacting me? I mean, granted we parted ways amicably but it’s not like my husband, Viktor, would approve of a connection. I haven’t heard from him since the day I announced Vik’s and my engagement eight months ago.

    I move the computer mouse to hover over the spam button when suddenly another email pops into my inbox. From Mark. The subject line this time reads “Cookie, please open.” I now know it’s Mark the agent. He was the only one who ever called me “Cookie”.
    I hesitate to open Mark’s email thinking Vik will not be happy he’s contacting me. Maybe I should just delete them all. Curiousity gets the better of me, however, and I quickly open the latest email before I could change my mind. I justify opening it in my mind telling myself that it must be an emergency if he’s sent me 26 emails in the last- hang on let me check- 45 minutes.

    When the contents of the email flash before me, all that registers for the first moment is the bold type in font size 48, the word: “BEWARE”. Then the words, “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are” hit me like a boulder in the chest. “You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where we shared our first kiss.”

    See I told you so, I tell myself, it’s an emergency. Then the severity of what Mark’s insinuating sinks in. How am I supposed to remain calm at a time like this, I don’t know. I muster all my acting skills from my years in the school production. Then I realize there’s no need. Vik’s asleep and so are his two single brothers who are staying in our guest room. They went to bed early claiming tomorrow was a big day for them and they needed to get an early start.

    I quickly delete all the emails in case Vik wakes and decides to use the computer. Yeah, now I’m paranoid. Then I quietly push back my desk chair, grab my jacket and tiptoe to the front door.

    “Where are you going at 11:30 at night?” Vik’s voice from the banister makes me spin around, the hair on the nape of my neck standing on ends. Acting skills where are you? C’mon act normal, I tell myself. Think of a reasonable excuse for this. My glance falls to the dog whining nearby and realize Hairry thinks he’s going for a walk. So I use him as the age old excuse, “I’m going to walk Hairry, he’s need to poop”, I tell Vik who miraculously seems to accept this. Vik turns around and trudges back up to the bathroom as I leave with Hairry who sprints off ahead. He stops short at the sound of my loud whistle and I run to catch up, clip on his leash and lead him to the 24 hour Laundromat. A glance through the glass door tells me Mark is there alone finishing his washes. He glances up, notices me and gestures inside, abandoning the towel he was folding.

    “I don’t mean to scare you but my guess is that you have no idea the FBI is tracking your husband and his brothers”, Mark cuts to the chase.

    “WHAT?!” I bug out.

    “Vik has been linked to terrorists and it seems they are planning something for tomorrow. I wanted to clue you in before they rope you into something without your knowledge.”

    “WHAT?!” I flip out, “That’s impossible. Vik’s my husband. I know him.”

    “Think. What do you know of his ‘business trips’? What about the ‘smokers anonymous’ meetings he always goes to?”

    I’m baffled into silence as reality sinks in. “He told me he and his brothers had to fly out first thing in the morning”.

    “That’s the escape plan. I’ve already told you too much. This cannot get out that I spoke to you or my job is at stake. You notice there are no cameras here. I only came out to warn you and give you this”. Mark reaches in his pocket and takes out a tracking device and presses it into my hand. “Put it in his luggage. If you can maybe help catch them in their escape, the FBI wont arrest you too.” And with that Mark stuffed his towels into his bag and was gone.

    I reluctantly head home dreading the morning. I slip in quietly through the back door, deposit Hairry on his doggie bed and amble upstairs to the bedroom. Vik is sound asleep, snoring softly as I edge toward the dresser where he had deposited his suitcase. I have to open the zipper, hide the tracker and close it up without waking him. For if Vik would wake now, I’d have no ready excuse for what I’m doing. Thankfully, he remains asleep. Although I feel so wired now I can hardly sit still let alone go to sleep next to Vik knowing what he’s planning.

    A heavy dose of SleepAid later, I am fast asleep on the couch. I awake only the next morning to the sound of pounding on the front door. “FBI, open up”. I jump up glancing at the clock. Ten o’clock. Vic is for sure long gone. I open the door innocently for the agents. Special agent Fred introduces himself and presents me with a search warrant. His partner Special agent Kim starts chatting with me but I’m not naïve anymore. I know she’s questioning me indirectly. I tell her all I know which is not much. Just what Mark instructed me to say last night. That I became suspicious on my own and put the tracker in his luggage. Agent Kim excuses herself, whips out her tablet punching buttons rapidly. The cellphone is whipped out next and she heads out to the drive to talk. I turn on the TV and see Vik’s pic and those of his brothers on the screen with the word WANTED over it. I catch a few bits of what the newsanchor is saying. Something about a bomb at a busy intersection. Robot defusing it. Suspects not catching the flight. Escaped by means of vehicle.

    Hours later, long after our computer had been carted out as evidence, the news reports on their capture. They say the trio was easily found due to a tracker placed in the suitcase…

  40. abhijit jiwa says:

    By the time I worked my way through the delicious Korean ham and cheese sandwich, I knew I was being watched. The familiar feeling of discomfort was all over me. It had saved my life on many occasions. The cafe was quiet empty for this time of summer. A dozen people spread around, snacking and having coffee. I scanned the ceiling and located the security camera, careful to move only my eyes so as to not alert those who were watching. I had been in the cafe not thirty minutes and they were already onto me.
    I could feel it. Eyes watching me. Cameras hacked. Location satellite-mapped via my phone’s GPS. It was time to leave. Protocol dictated that I get rid of the mobile phone. I’d do that too, ….once I got that message I was waiting for. I’d been jittery sitting in the cafe waiting for the message to come through. I hate carrying mobile phones on assignment, but it was a necessary evil.

    Sitting about 40 kilometers south of the North Korean border, Seoul, we had been briefed, had watchers. Deeply embedded plants, operating for decades. They were highly organized, and very dangerous. Summers in Korea can be pretty warm. The ac was humming in a corner of the Macaroni Market Cafe in downtown Seoul. I had just about finished up on my sandwich when my phone buzzed, startling me. I had a new message. A single line message asked me to check my email. The message had come. Part of me felt relieved, as I sensed the urgency in the message. Don’t ask me how. It comes from years of living around danger like it was your next door neighbor. I checked to see if anybody was close, then invoked my email app .
    There were a dozen messages. One caught my eye; “Everything you know is a lie”.
    I heard footsteps behind me and covered the phone. It was the waitress.
    “Shall I bring you your coffee? “ She asked.
    “Yes please “ I replied. She headed back to the bar, and I looked back at my phone again. The message was pretty cryptic and short; “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    There it was. And the timing was in sync too.
    “Kiss” was an acronym for the Korean International Security Service. Not known publicly , KISS was a secret outfit established to interact with, and aid, international operations between co-operating governments. They made sure things went smoothly and nothing untoward happened. When foreign intelligence were on the ground here, security was of the prime concern. I knew where the message wanted me to go. The offices of the KISS was across the river in Cheongdam Dong. They were sending in the relocation crew. MARK stood for the Maintenance and Relocating Krew. I was being moved. I finished up my coffee, called the waitress for the tab. I paid up, left the cafe, and hailed a cab.
    “Chungdam street, Cheong-dham Dong” I told the driver, slamming the door shut.

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      I’d like to say that I like to avoid the temptation of having a climax in my writing prompts. For me, there are no sudden answers , nor any goals reached or revealed, in a short 500 word excerpt, from an imagined book or short story. As far as possible, I’d like it to resemble an authentic portion of the imagined book.

    • Observer Tim says:

      You’ve done a great job creating a scene here, abhijit jiwa. The place is described with the realism of someone who’s been there (or done a fair bit of study). It’s a bit awkward at the end because so much explanation has to be put in after the e-mail, but in a longer story that wouldn’t be a problem. You’ve made me curious as to what will happen next.

      • abhijit jiwa says:

        Thanks Tim. Had to hurry up toward the end, lol. Yes, the 500 word limit does impose a short area in which to narrate, but I guess that indeed is the challenge. Thank you for your comments.

        • abhijit jiwa says:

          For those curious; the ‘relocation crew’ would do more than just ‘relocating’. Relocating in MARK parlance would involve a complete change in identity. Including name, passport, wardrobe, new digs, new car if necessary, personal electronics, briefing of a fake history, disguise if required. And some other odds and ends. Once the MARK crew is done, you end being a different person, in a new place.

          • Kerry Charlton says:

            I’d pay hard earned money for a book that started with the chapter you’ve written here. Almost an Ian Fleming style. Quickly into the fray with the portrait of the MC’s persona and directly into the story and it’s mystic.

            Crisp, intelligent writing. I can’t wait for more.

          • abhijit jiwa says:

            Thanks Kerry. I would love to write it as well. :) Thrillers are my first love.

    • don potter says:

      You grabbed me with the Korean ham and cheese sandwich, which caused me to wonder what the hell is that? But I could not dwell on this question, because you sucked me in with the suspense surrounding the situation. Of course, the secret of the Korean ham was revealed in the third paragraph. I would love to read the full story if it becomes available. By the way, you asked questions about my story. These are answered in the comment section of my post.

      • abhijit jiwa says:

        Hi Don, thank you for the nice comments.
        In Seoul there are many cafes that serve western style burgers and sandwiches. But since they are made in Korea, they would, methinks, be tagged as ‘Korean burgers’. If you were having the same in London, it would be called an English ham and cheese sandwich.
        Thanks for answering my query in your story. I have replied too.

    • Critique says:

      Enjoyed your story. The Acronym KISS fit well. This could be a super suspense novel.

  41. lasallefamily says:

    Reading the email again I focused on the words, “Everything you know is a lie”. Lately life had been so horrible that the idea that it was all a lie was actually exciting! I tried not to look around me, wondering who these people would be, were they not who they are supposed to be. I wasn’t sure I believed that part. But if it meant that everything was a lie… I’d entertain the idea.

    I scooted my chair backward and quietly grabbed my keys and jacket. As I rounded the corner to the lobby I passed my boss who asked if I was taking an early lunch. I stopped and hoped that he couldn’t see my hands shaking as I said, “if its okay… I have something important I need to do”. The look on his face told me he was suspicious and I remembered the email. I quickly said, “I have to pick my dog up from the vet”. He seemed to relax and asked if I’d be taking longer than the allotted hour. I promised not to be late and headed out the large glass doors.

    As I walked into the sunlight I prayed that somehow my greatest wish was about to come true. I quickly made my way to the park where the most important first kiss of my life had occurred. I walked to field 7 and leaned against the goal post. Who would know that our first kiss was at a soccer complex?

    Leaning against the goal, my heart began to feel that crushing pain of loss as I remembered my husband and the days he spent on that field coaching his soccer team. He’d been gone for almost two months and the pain of losing him still took my breath away. I begged God to let it all be a bad dream. Everyone told me I had to let him go, accept his death and move on. The authorities never found his body in the lake so it was hard to accept.

    I found myself sitting on the ground with my back to the goal, waiting for this person named Mark. I looked up and the sun was in my eyes as a tall figure approached. I couldn’t make out this person’s face but he quietly said, “come with me”.

    I instinctively knew his voice, my prayers had been answered, my heart filled with joy. I reached out to take his hand and he helped me up. As his face came into focus I could see my love. Questions flew through my mind faster than I could speak them but nothing mattered… he was ALIVE!

    As his lips came close to mine, I felt tears on my face. The world began to spin and I felt dizzy. I had closed my eyes against the onslaught of emotions. When I opened my eyes, the room was dark, the tears were real, I was still alone… and he was still gone.

    • Observer Tim says:

      This is tragic, lasallefamily. You painted a beautiful story of hope only to yank it away at the end. The description was very well done, which enhances the emotional impact.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Strong, wistfull, hopeful, tragic and then dispair. But who is is to say, that they don’t watch over you and occasionaly walk with you in your dreams? I like to think so. It is a beautiful tale, I agree with Tim. I wish you would write a prequel and fit it into a prompt.

    • Roseoro says:

      In my opinion, this was well written, and kept me wishing that the husband was still alive. You got our hopes up lasallefamily, and I appreciate this great take on the writing prompt at hand. ~Olivia

    • don potter says:

      …and the pain continues. Your post hit all my emotional buttons. Nicely done.

    • lasallefamily says:

      Thank you guys. I appreciate the feedback. I have to confess… bits of this story are real. He died January 2nd… of cancer. I’ve kept a blog for the entire four years he was sick and those who read it said I should write a book. But I’ve never written for anyone but myself before. So I’m going to do a few of these weekly prompts and see how I do… and then make serious life decisions after that.

    • Critique says:

      How sad – only a dream. Interesting take on the prompt. The grief tugged at my heart.

  42. writerchick33 says:

    The obnoxious clicking of Marcy’s pen rattled in my ears, keeping pace with the steady thudding of my pulse.

    They know.

    I wasn’t exactly sure who Mark was, but judging from the bit about the first kiss, I had a pretty good guess. There was only one other person who knew about my first kiss. The only problem was, he was supposed to be dead.

    I looked up and met Marcy’s eyes, glaring at me over the top of her computer. Her phone was ringing, incessantly, and had been for three and a half minutes, but she just sat there, staring daggers. If I was going to make a move, it had to be now.

    I rose from my chair and rummaged through my purse, dumping half its contents on my desk in my pursuit. I felt Marcy’s eyes scrutinize my hands as they plucked a tampon from the pile and tucked it into my pocket. I looked up, red faced, and gave her my best humiliated smile and she finally turned her eyes elsewhere. What she didn’t see was the pencil I scooped from the desk and slid up into the sleeve of my blouse. I hurried, still managing to look somewhat embarrassed, off to the ladies’ room.

    She lumbered through the door behind me in less than two minutes, her thick feet dragging across the tile floor. I bent over the sink and turned it on full blast, passing silent fingers up and down and then side to side over the water. I didn’t need to look up in the mirror to know she was smiling behind me, triumphant in her assumed victory. She thought she had me cornered. She was wrong.

    “That time of the month, huh?” she asked behind me.

    “Yeah,” I replied. “Sucks, doesn’t it?”

    “I wouldn’t know.”

    I felt the tiniest rush of air ruffle my hair against my ear and instinct took control. I spun to my right, avoiding her hands that clutched after me and crashed into the running sink, knocking the porcelain to the floor. The second the water splashed into her face, the skin bubbled and turned a nasty shade of red. She hissed and grasped her face in her hands, screaming in agony as the blessed water scorched her skin. I grabbed her by the shoulders and slammed her back against the wall. The pencil slid into my hand, ready to pierce straight through her heart.

    “But who…?” she started, and I watched as recognition lit her blackened eyes. “Mark.”

    My hand froze in the air above her chest. I could smell the flesh on her face as it blistered.

    “He’ll kill you, too, defender. He’s one of us, now.”

    I pictured Mark’s face, the Mark I knew so long ago. His eyes had been warm in the afternoon sun, pulling me into him beneath the copse of oaks on the hill. I tried to imagine them turning black and couldn’t.

    Marcy started hissing again and I slammed the pencil into her chest as hard as I could, piercing through skin and muscle until it reached the heart. She slumped to the floor at my feet.

    One down, four to go. And then it was off to the oak shaded hill.

  43. thatbillguy says:

    From: Mark
    To: thatbillguy
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away?
    Sad souls in the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not over complicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. Curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and dry. I pressed the ‘B’ button.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way in. In the remains of the barely illuminated soundstage, on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby, stain covered canvas trench coat. Dirty hair stood out chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer.

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness

  44. Zane says:

    Fran and Dave’s working relationship was never the same after last year’s Christmas party when they were caught drunkenly sucking face, loudly, in the copy room. It was all that anyone could talk about for weeks. Fran contacted Dave only days later suggesting they distance themselves from each other, at work anyway. Dave was crushed and considered quitting. He just moped around the office as if wearing a sign that read “Depressed Worker Please Lend an Ear”, but no one had a spare ear to lend. To them he was just a goof-ball named Dave: the guy who came in his pants at the Christmas part.

    It was now January 17, a full four weeks since the party. Fran sat in her cubicle thinking about how much she missed her pal Dave. Sure he was a bit of a doofus, but he was fun and most importantly he made her laugh. She wasn’t ready to commit herself to a full-fledged relationship, but lunch couldn’t hurt, could it? Hell no lunch couldn’t hurt, she thought and started down the hall to ask Dave out to lunch.

    Fran was psyching herself up as she walked towards Dave’s cubicle. What if he said no? What if he told her to go to hell? I’d tell myself to go fuck myself. I wouldn’t want anything to do with someone who used me for a drunken licking post then threw me away like yesterday’s garbage. Despite these thoughts Fran walked on, determined to win Dave’s friendship back. She was only three feet away from his desk, the words “Hey Dave” already on her tongue when three shots were fired, one striking her in the left hip, one in the stomach, and the final one through her heart, killing her instantly.

    Dave sat alone on Christmas Eve, staring into his home computer screen, a bottle of pills at his side. An hour had passed since he sent out an open invitation to chat. Wants to die was the title of the thread. Yesterday his one true love had told him that she wanted nothing to do with him. He couldn’t imagine ever being happy again. Such a downward spiral from the bliss he felt only days prior when they were both locked in loving embrace. Yes, he was going to die, but not anonymously. If I’m going to die, I’m taking someone with me, he thought, knowing well and good he had no courage for murder.

    With suicide still at the forefront of his mind, he reached one finger out towards the glowing green power button, ready to turn off the computer-and his life, when a familiar beep rang out. Someone wanted to chat.
    Dave looked up and saw that Mark, no other description provided, had answered him.

    MARK: We’re already dead.

    Dave: Not soon enough.

    MARK: Then I offer you my kiss. No one is who they say they are and they’re certainly not who they think they are.

    DAVE: I don’t understand.

    After nearly four weeks of talking with Mark, Dave began to understand. Fran was going to die and so was he.

    Mark sat outside the office building where Dave, and Fran, worked. He sent Dave a final message, the cue to begin his duty, and he smiled. There were to be four shots. He listened carefully as three gunshots rang out in rapid succession, but where was the fourth. He’s chickened out, Mark thought. Then the last shot. Dave had gone through with it after all. Mark smiled, his only regret was not being about to witness the death with his own two eyes. Maybe next time.

  45. avabutler says:

    As a high school teacher I live on the computer, constantly checking emails and inputting grades but over summer break I decided I wanted something more in life. I’m 24, my hair shouldn’t be turning grey. I’m not “involved” with anyone. The only person that manages to interest me is the homeless man that wonders around my street screaming “TO PEE OR NOT TO PEE”. I seem to chuckle whenever I hear the man and his toilet take on Shakespeare. The man, who I’ve now named Macmeth, is the only person I’ve ever met that doesn’t care what I do. He doesn’t care if I had too much to drink at the bar down the street or if I didn’t want to workout. He doesn’t care about me, and he does so in the perfect way. But the appreciation for the man has dwindled because everything dark has now come to light.

    When finally realizing the beginning of the second semester was only a week a way, I started to get back into the swing of things. Waking up, going on a run in Central Park, and then checking any emails I missed over break. After I got home from that morning, I grabbed a cup of coffee, sat down and scrolled through the emails I received. “Dear Ms. Jenny, my child’s grades were”…and so on and so forth. My child this, your teaching that, I know…they don’t like me. I’ve learned to tone out the positive and absorb all the negative. As a teacher that’s what you have to do. Not only learn from your mistakes, but the mistakes of everyone around you.

    I was surprised to see an email that didn’t fit the format of the nagging mothers and panicked children. The subject read, “Everything you know is a lie.” I laughed a little when I saw it, assuming it would be another chain letter saying “IF YOU DON’T FOREWARD THIS YOU WILL PAY THE PRICE”, but I continued to read on. “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.” On a day where procrastination was constantly trying to take over, I gave in, thinking what’s the worst thing that could happen.

    I walked over to “That Little Dinner”, the place I had my first kiss. His name was Thomas. We knew each other since preschool. It was just a dare but that took the title of my first kiss. I walked in and a man wearing a black pork pie hat and a tan windbreaker was sitting in the booth, I assumed he was Mark. I sat down and looked into what I thought to be familiar eyes.

    The man looked at me and said “I am Macmeth son of Heisenberg”.

    • Silver Sister says:

      I really enjoyed Jenny’s humor. I think the part about absorbing the negative to learn from mistakes gives a real glimpse into this teacher’s life.

    • Silver Sister says:

      I enjoyed Jenny’s humor. I think the part about absorbing negativity to learn from mistakes gives a true glimpse into this teacher’s life.

    • Observer Tim says:

      This is an engaging story, begging for further telling. Is the crazy man interested in talking to her, or is something darker and stranger going on? And the interesting bit is that the last word is what threw everything into confusion for me: that name is so intimately connected with quantum mechanics and scientfic strangeness…

    • don potter says:

      When a person “cleans up” we look at them in an entire new light. However, if they were crazy before chances are they will still be crazy. I realize “crazy” is not a politically correct expression, but this guy was/is a meth addict more than a disturbed person in need of help and understanding. The end of this story, I suspect, will not be a happy one.

  46. thatbillguy says:

    From: noreply-3b97e24f@plus.tastee.com
    To: thatbillguy@gmail.com
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away?
    Sad souls in the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not over complicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. Curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and dry. I pressed the ‘B’ button.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way in. In the remains of the barely illuminated soundstage, on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby, stain covered canvas trench coat. Dirty hair stood out chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer.

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  47. thatbillguy says:

    From: noreply-3b97e24f@plus.tastee.com
    To: thatbillguy@gmail.com
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away?
    Sad souls in the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.
    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not over complicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. Curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and dry. I pressed the ‘B’ button.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way in. In the remains of the barely illuminated soundstage, on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby, stain covered canvas trench coat. Dirty hair stood out chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer.

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  48. thatbillguy says:

    From: (noreply-3b97e24f@plus.tastee.com)
    To: (thatbillguy@gmail.com)
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out
    during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a rebellious, steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away. What’s my timeframe?

    The sad souls around the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. It had been years since people would expend the effort getting to know one another. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not overcomplicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. My curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up from their screens as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and reasonably dry. I pressed the button marked with a ‘B’.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way into the elevator. In the middle of the barely illuminated remains of the soundstage on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby
    canvas trench coat pulled tightly around him. His dirty hair stood out in chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer. “Where did you get me email?”

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  49. thatbillguy says:

    From:
    To: thatbillguy@gmail.com
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out
    during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a rebellious, steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away. What’s my timeframe?

    The sad souls around the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. It had been years since people would expend the effort getting to know one another. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not overcomplicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. My curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up from their screens as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and reasonably dry. I pressed the button marked with a ‘B’.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way into the elevator. In the middle of the barely illuminated remains of the soundstage on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby
    canvas trench coat pulled tightly around him. His dirty hair stood out in chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer. “Where did you get me email?”

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  50. thatbillguy says:

    540 words…

    ——————————–

    From:
    To: thatbillguy@gmail.com
    CC:
    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I stared at the blinking cursor. A layer of dust clung to the glowing monitor. The office AC had gone out during the night. Without its air filtering and dehumidifying effect on the office microclimate, it became a dust-covered, hot and sticky misery. The stale smell of mildew kicked my sinuses into a rebellious, steady drip. I sniffed sharply as I considered the cryptic message.

    I sent a ‘Who is this?’ only to get the standard automated server response suggesting that if this had cost postage, I would be out forty-six cents.

    The place where I had my first kiss? Waynesboro, Mississippi. That’s over six hours away. What’s my timeframe?

    The sad souls around the hot uncomfortable office continued to peck away at their computers.

    ‘They’re not who they say they are…’

    No one ever really says who they are around here, so that might be entirely true. It had been years since people would expend the effort getting to know one another. The last pandemic, the Burn virus, had created boundaries that people just weren’t willing to cross.

    ‘…first kiss.’ Maybe I’m over thinking it. Keep It Simple, Stupid. In the basement, there was a sign.

    K.I.S.S.

    It was an old adage to remind us to not overcomplicate things.

    ‘My name is Mark.’ In the basement, they used to film a TV game show. Thought Process, I think it was called. On the floor of the stage, was a mark–an ‘X’ drawn in tape– where the host would stand and deliver his monologue to a canned audience.

    I stood up. My curiosity finally got the better of me. Faces looked up from their screens as I disturbed the mediocrity. I left the tight confines of the cubicle farm and headed for the elevator. I looked up and closed my eyes for a moment. The air was cool and reasonably dry. I pressed the button marked with a ‘B’.

    The doors slid open with a weedy little ding. Dirty yellow light pushed its way into the elevator. In the middle of the barely illuminated remains of the soundstage on the taped mark X, a man stood. He wore a shabby canvas trench coat pulled tightly around him. His dirty hair stood out in chaotically from his head.

    “You can’t trust anyone else.” He said.

    “Mark?” I asked.

    “You know I’m not.”

    I moved a little closer. “Where did you get me email?”

    “You,” he said absently kicking the tape, “are in danger.”

    “From?”

    “Everyone.”

    “Yeah?”

    “The world is a strange place, since Burn.” He said. “Clean food is a scarce resource.”

    I realized what was happening. While Burn was technically gone, all organic food sources had become poisonous… Some mammals had a natural immunity to the virus. I was one of those mammals.

    There was a sting at my neck. A warm rush in my head was followed by darkness.

  51. peetaweet says:

    Eating breakfast, I saw the “mysterious” email on my phone: Everything you know is a lie.

    I clicked on the obnoxiously titled email: Everyone is not who they say they are. Act calm. I will meet you at the spot where you had your first kiss. My name is Mark.

    Seriously, dramatic much.

    My first kiss was last summer at the park. With a loser named Marcus Wilcher who had long since moved to Ohio. But I wanted to see who was behind the spy games so I spent the early part of my Saturday morning sitting at the second picnic table from the tennis courts at the park. When a runt walked his bike over the bridge and then wobbled down the path, I figured I had my creep. I stood up. The bike came to a sliding halt.

    “Your Dad is hooking up with my mom.”

    “Excuse me?”

    “He is, seriously. I’m Paul by the way,” he said, sticking out his hand. I wanted to punch him.

    “I thought it was Mark, and no, I don’t. But what I do want to know is how come you know where I had my first kiss, or any kiss, and where you got my email address, and last, but maybe most importantly, why you are so sketchy?”

    “Mark is a code name. Oh, um, here.” He reached into his back pocket and produced my diary, the one I’d’ had since seventh grade lands and lost months ago. Now it was time kill this twerp.

    “Now just calm down, I can explain. You dropped it over at—“

    “You ride my bus don’t you?” I sort of placed him, underneath the shaggy hair and glasses and freckles.

    “Well, I did, I—“

    “You sat in the front with the Katie’s brother. What’s your name again?”

    “Paul. Look, this isn’t about me. Don’t you want to hear about your dad?”

    “Oh, yes, let’s hear it, Sherlock.”

    “Okay, the first time I suspected something, was when I found this.” From his pocket he pulled out my dad’s watch, the silver Tag Heuer with the blue face that always hung loose on his wrist. It sparkled in the sun until I snatched it from his thieving hands

    “And that’s not all. My Mom’s planning a business trip. For a week in August. You may want to check your dad’s calendar.”

    I didn’t need to check because I knew that Dad was scheduled to be golfing in Myrtle Beach that week. He did that every year. I fiddled with the watch.

    “So that’s what I meant by your Dad and my mom are not who we think they are. They’re sneaking around.”

    He looked so young and determined, and I felt a soft spot for his innocence. I wasn’t even embarrassed about the diary anymore. My parents had been fighting for the past year and I didn’t think they would make it until I went off to college, which was obviously their goal. I shrugged.

    “Look Paul.”

    “I don’t want my parents to get divorced.”

    I started to put my hand on his shoulder but he was off, the tread of his tires hummed as he pulled away. At the bridge, he dismounted the bike and clumsily climbed over. I fanned the pages of my diary, full of simple entries about family trips and boys and a younger me. Then I turned back and watched Paul pedal up the road.

    So that’s how I met my stepbrother.

  52. suyidavies says:

    RED HERRING

    Cleo sat on the concrete bench, fidgeting with her blouse’s collar and cuffs. It should be a prank, she thought. Why am I here?

    She read the text again, her palms sweating.

    Everyone is not who they say they are. Quietly get out and meet me where you had your first kiss. You know it. I’ll explain everything. My name is Murphy.

    So, here she was. The bench opposite the Ostrich enclosure at the local zoo. Her teenage crush had planted a big one on her here during one of her many visits that ultimately gave way to her soft spot for animals. Few people in her life were privy to that and she thought none of them capable of pulling this. It had to be real.

    The sender was a no-reply number. It can’t be Fome, she thought. He never showed a tendency towards pranks in the three years they’d been dating. Besides, he was too sweet a man to pull her out of work for a simple joke. He would be just as alarmed as she was if she could reach him now, but his phone had been switched off each time she tried.

    She sighed and picked up her bag, disappointed.

    She wouldn’t have noticed the man who suddenly appeared next to her if not for the faint smell of cigarettes he brought with him.

    “Cleophelia?”

    She turned, startled. The man, dressed in the dark-brown zoo staff uniform, couldn’t be much older than her, maybe thirty. It wasn’t just his melancholic flat tone that set her on edge. No one ever called her that name.

    “Are you-“

    “Murphy, yes. You received my message.”

    His directness suggested it wasn’t a question. She said nothing, watching him glance around furtively.

    “Follow me” he commanded, suddenly scurrying down the path that led to the elephants. She slung her bag and followed with weak knees, her stomach churning butterflies.

    She silently warned herself to turn and run away. What if he was a killer? A kidnapper? Yet she kept following him, convinced that if he had her number and knew her full birth name, he must know a lot. Her office pumps made it difficult to keep up, and she soon was far behind. He rounded the bend by the elephants, disappearing from sight. She broke into a small run, trying not to lose him.

    “Wai-”

    She stopped mid-stride, her hands flying to her chest.

    He stood by the open gate of the enclosure, expressionless, holding something long and shiny. A-

    Harmonica.

    He put it to his lips, and the opening sequence of “Here Comes The Bride” rang.

    Cleo’s mouth opened but nothing came out.

    A well-decorated elephant emerged from the enclosure. Cleo threw her bag up in loud, hearty laughter when she saw the words written on the animal’s side, even before Fome emerged from behind it, beaming, with a pocket-size box in his hand.

    “Yes! Yes! I will marry you!”

  53. Amy says:

    I’ve been away from flash for too long- I’m a little rusty! This one will have to be picked up later…

    I had less than five minutes before they would walk out of the elevator and ask for me. I already knew what they would say. I had known all my life. Their claim on me was lawful; strong, even. But my claim to the throne was stronger.

    I sprinted to the bathroom and threw my phone in the sink, the words on the screen blurring as it filled with water. I hoped it was not the last time I would hear from Markus. His instructions faded in the water, but not from my mind. I pictured the safe house on the twelfth floor of the Monroe building, where he’d brought me years ago. He had kissed me there, in front of the twinkling lights of the city, and then left me in this strange place. I felt the ghost of his lips on my own and sighed at the pull the memory still had.

    I peered out the crack in the door and looked to the elevators. The light above signaled it was on its way up. My fingers curled into fists, the nails digging into my palms, as I slipped through the door. I reached the stairway exit just as the elevator dinged and slid out as quietly as I could. My hand lingered on the handle in the stairwell, melting the lock until it was nothing more than a mangled lump of metal. That should slow them down.

    I pushed through the exit and slammed into a man in a black suit and Ray Bans, knocking us both to the pavement. He was on his feet before I had time to brush the grit from my cheek. He squared himself between me and the road, cocking his head to one side as his concealed eyes looked me over. His hand rose toward me and a black cloud swirled, round and ominous, in his palm. He tossed it from his left to his right like a baseball and hurled it at me. My hands flew up, blocking most of the blow, but I felt a fragment of the cold sting creep through my defenses. I opened my eyes just as the remnants of black smoke disappeared into the air.

    “Your highness,” he muttered, inclining his head.

    I jumped to my feet and used every bit of strength I had to propel myself forward. There was no use staying to duel with a Striver; I wouldn’t win. My only hope was to outrun him. I sensed him behind me and blocked another blow, dodging the plumes of black smoke that erupted near my hands. Thankfully, the street was nearly empty as I ran, jumping curbs and ducking the Striver’s constant barrage.

    I reached the steps of the Monroe building and froze. Another Striver stood outside the doors, a hint of a smirk playing beneath his shades. He advanced with another angry black cloud in his hand. I stood my ground, ready to fight him off, but my breath caught when I saw the hole open in his stomach and swallow him up into nothingness.

    Markus emerged from the smoke, the blade in his hand black with blood. “You’re late,” he said, pulling me inside the doors.

  54. james.ticknor says:

    Royal Flush

    Claudette Sandusky folded the note carefully and tossed it into the fireplace of the Grand Ballroom. Whomever wrote that clearly did not know her. Claudette knew her father’s court was full of ‘yes’ men and spiders, and, being a proper lady, she never cared for such things. However, her duties sullied her.

    “Dear Catherine,” Emily said, her mother’s hand-chosen handmaiden, “do try to look more presentable. It wouldn’t do for the governor’s daughter to look anything less than the part.” Catherine lifted her dress and turned to face the masses. The ‘high-ones’, as she so called them, danced beautifully, with dresses made of tulle and glittering silver trim. Pearls danced around the thin necks of the ladies as they cast their pivoté while the men gently clapped and caught them before they struck the beautifully tessellated floor.

    Catherine’s eyes flicked to a few men by the bay windows, who, as she noticed, had been watching her all evening. She had seen enough of the courts to discern from the looks of lust and the looks of political distaste. Many did not smile upon the appointment of her father to the high courts. She grew dizzy looking between the dark people spinning in their masks. “My dearest Emily, I fear that I have undertaken an illness; I do not feel well.” Emily frowned. “Do forgive me my lady, but I do not think it wise to fall ill at the ball.” Catherine’s mouth twitched in disgust. “Yes, but God has not deemed to favor me this evening with His grace, or so it would seem,” she muttered.

    Catherine lifted the hems of her skirt and started down the corridor. “Do tell those interested of my condition, and beg my pardon to Mr. Sandusky. He will understand, surely.” Emily sputtered like a broken thing as Claudette disappeared around the corner. ‘Stupid Mark,’ Claudette thought, ‘it was pure folly to come here.’ Claudette slipped out the servants entrance she used so frequently, surprising the help outside who smoked their reeds and were dancing to the faint echos of the bandmen in the Grand Ballroom. Catherine smiled as they stopped suddenly, “Oh, do continue. It is a beautiful night, is it not?”

    Recognizing Catherine, they continued joyously. She made her way hastily to the gardens. It did not take her long to spot a figure by the pond with coy. “Tell me what you must and then leave.” Mark stood and turned to her. His hair was shaggy and his eyes sunken deep into his skull. “Oh, dear, you look like the face of death, Mark. Pray tell what befell you?”

    Mark took her hand, staining the pretty thing with crude oil. “We must leave together.” Catherine huffed. “Mark, how many times must I tell you? It just isn’t proper.” A shadow fell over Mark’s face. “I’m sorry to interrupt your sundries, my lady, but there are more pressing matters than those of honor.” “And what would that be?” Mark let go of her hand. “The matters of the court, and the only thing I care about- your life.”

    Catherine narrowed her eyes and wrinkled her brow, something her father told her she must never do. “Are you threatening me?” Mark shook his head. “No, silly girl. You must understand, the only man-of-office that has enough experience to replace Mr. Sandusky is Thomas Sullivan.” Catherine crossed her arms. “My father was just appointed. I’m unsure of your angle, Mark, and I urge you to speak quickly. My presence will be missed.”

    “Your father is targeted for assassination, as are you.” Catherine gasped, and her lungs turned to iron. “Markus Griffin! You- you,” “We must go, now. You saw something that Thomas Sullivan does not like. I’m not sure what it is my lady, but something that happened to you today can expose them and their plot.” Catherine trusted Markus to much to believe he was lying to her.

    “I never imagined…if this is true, he must be warned. I can’t tell him myself, and I won’t. You must do this.” The notion filled Catherine’s hear with fear. “That’s impossible, Ms. Sandusky. Thomas and his subordinates planned this party, and I believe they aim to do it here. Your father is safe, I assure you. Your father has always been a champion of the people, and he listens to us, but your safety is the most important thing right now. We must expose Thomas’s corruption. I do think it would be a good idea to go, however. They are likely to bludgeon a colored to death for talking to such a maiden in the gardens.” Mark offered his hand. Tenatively, Catherine took it.

    • don potter says:

      The ways of the Court are proper and can be deadly. There’s a lot packed into your story, so I shall read it again. Well told.

    • Observer Tim says:

      This is a gripping tale, James. It ran way long, but was entertaining throughout.

      The only thing that put a crack in the reality for me was the difference in Catherine’s style of address to the two servants (Emily and Markus), especially considering that Markus seems to be the one she cares for more. Of course this could simply be the difference between the situations of knowing them, or of a “private face” vs. a “public face”. That’s the thing about Court; everything is pretense.

      • james.ticknor says:

        You are correct, Tim. This was a warm-up for me, so I did not edit it as need be. I neglected to mention that Catherine didn’t know what she saw that Thomas could’ve disliked. As far as Markus, he is a blacksmith’s apprentice who loves Catherine, but she does not love him. I also misread this was supposed to be an e-mail, lol! I normally don’t write romance themes, with this exception. I find the pursuit of romance far more interesting than the problems that stem from romance.

  55. DMelde says:

    I was working Vice out of Central when the email came in. It was from Mark, my snitch who knew the streets and fed me information. The email warned me of danger. It said that everything I knew was a lie, and the people around me were lying too.

    “They’re not who they say they are.” the email said. “Get out quietly and meet me where you had your first kiss.”

    It wasn’t like Mark to be so cryptic, but I had learned to trust him. What was real then? I had to find Mark and get some answers, so I left quietly.

    The only part I understood was where I had my first kiss. It was no secret that I was once a heroin junkie, and that I had my first smack, my first kiss, down by the docks. I headed down to the back alleys and warehouses that stretched along the waterfront.

    I stopped in front of warehouse 7, long since abandoned, and I peered inside through the open door. I couldn’t help but feel like I was a dog barking up a dead tree. I was hot on the chase of something, but of what? As I stood there staring through the door I somehow knew that something had died inside of there a long time ago. I stepped inside and waited for my eyes to adjust to the gloom.

    I moved slowly. There were nests of snoring junkies everywhere. They always covered themselves in newspapers in an attempt to stay warm in the chill of the night. I stayed quiet so I wouldn’t wake them. One of the junkies’ faces caught my eye and I bent down to get a better look. I looked at his face, so familiar, and then it struck me that he looked exactly like me. I backed away quickly. No, that wasn’t me. That was me a long time ago.

    I left the warehouse and I started running back to Central. Where was Mark?

    “Slow down.” I told myself.

    I needed time to think so I slowed down and I got to thinking. If everything around me was a lie, if nothing was real, then maybe Mark was a lie too. Maybe Mark wasn’t real either. Then I understood. Then I had my answers. I realized that I was Mark.

    With a start I woke up. My high was long since gone and my stomach was beginning to roil. The tremors wouldn’t be far behind. I pushed the newspapers away from me and I stood up. My legs were wobbly at first, but they got better with time. I walked quietly across the warehouse so I wouldn’t wake up the other junkies. I paused at the door for a second, and then I went out into the streets in search of my next kiss.

    • calicocat88 says:

      Colorful dream world–I felt a little like Alice wondering around. I was expecting a happy ending, but you got me, lol! I think a happy ending would have taken away from the story. Great job :)

    • don potter says:

      Heavy duty. Being a hard-boiled detective is the dream and waking up to the pain of being an addict is the nightmare. That’s quite a story.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        I have to agree with Don. What a let down for the MC. It was a dark, depressing look at the world, junkies live in. Thinking about the downside of life is rarely my balleywick, but I know it’s there, real and frightening. Your descriptions were gritty and powerful as usual. Good response to the prompt. This wasn’t an easy one to wrap a story around. You did a great job with it.

    • Observer Tim says:

      What a colossal downer, DMelde. You painted the detective’s life so realistically and promisingly that I was really hoping that would be the reality. It’s a well-written look into the dreams of a junkie. Maybe someday the MC will be able to pull himself out of it. I hope so.

  56. booboojokes says:

    Calmly he closed the e-mail and looked around as if she was watching over his shoulder. “Who is Mark?” He pondered as he slowly scooted the chair back away from the computer table. The room was quiet and within a few seconds he could hear the shower running upstairs. He inched back up to the computer screen and clicked to re-open the message. This time he read each sentence slowly, whispering aloud to himself. He closed the e-mail again and marked it unread, as not to cause any suspicion. She never knew he checked her e-mails.

    His mind wondered off a bit re-tracing any mention of this man or that first kiss from long ago. “I don’t remember a Mark” he thought as he anxiously shook his leg against the table. About that time he heard, “John, are you down there?” He jumped, startled by her loud voice ringing down the stairway. “Yes, Olivia I’m down here, just about to make some coffee.” The fact is he hated coffee and would rather smoke a cigarette. At least that would calm his nerves. He could hear her rustling upstairs and he knew he didn’t have much time.

    He started the coffee maker and then slipped out the side door. It was a cool morning and the brisk air always made his cigarette taste better. Out of curiosity he walked over to her mailbox and noticed yesterday’s mail inside. He quickly thumbed through the junk mail until he saw a white envelope. He pulled out the letter and noticed the return address name – Mark Sawyer. “Jackpot” he thought to himself. He slipped the letter inside his back pocket and flicked the remaining cigarette onto the wet driveway.

    When he entered the house, Olivia was not yet downstairs and the coffee machine was hissing and swooshing as the steam rose up into the air. He sat down on the couch and he could feel the envelope corner jab into his lower back. He reached into his back pocket and took out the envelope. Without hesitation, he carefully removed the letter. As he began reading the first line, he noticed that it said the same thing as in the e-mail. He sat there in fog and then he heard Olivia walking down the stairs. He quickly shoved the letter and the envelope between the cushion of the couch. She turned the corner and smiled as she went over to grab a coffee cup out of the cabinet.

    John didn’t move and stared straight ahead. Olivia asked “Don’t you want some coffee?” Before John could respond she added “Maybe that cigarette was enough?” “You saw me?” John asked. Olivia nodded yes. “Did I get any good mail” she smirked. John hesitated for a moment but he could feel the rage boiling up inside of him. “Does the name Mark ring a bell?” Olivia responded “I have no idea who that is John, maybe he’s a friend of my father” Olivia turned toward the kitchen sink and noticed the butcher knife she placed there in case this was to happen. Mark wasn’t a person, it was a codeword for a message.

    (I ran over 500 words and ended the story)

  57. bilbobaggins321 says:

    Here’s my take on it. It’s a little bit over the word count, but oh well.

    DESPERATE MEASURES

    “Everything you know is a lie”… and he thought I didn’t know the Code yet? Mark must be on an off day. Or perhaps a poignant reminder of the frailty of the situation. Maybe both. I clapped closed the laptop.

    My target was sitting nonchalantly across the grimy café, sipping on a cup that was obviously too hot for his palette. Innocents… how would they ever grow smarter? Mr. Bulky Arms behind him reached inside his jacket, pulled out an “ordinary” phone. A Jacker, of course. That explained the sunglasses and high collar; this would be quite difficult, if he wasn’t timely eliminated without a scare.

    In a split second of deduction, I realized that it was going to be impossible to talk to him directly. We needed to zone- now.

    “Two fraps, and one chocolate latte,” a gruff voice said behind me. The bell at the entrance rang.

    I walked calmly over in the target’s direction. Here goes, Mark. Hope HQ likes this move. I had practiced and rehearsed this a million times in time freeze. Always, the ripples had stayed the exact same. I tightened my grip on the computer decoy. Now.

    I surged towards him, dropping the computer. My target, unnamed as of yet, looked over with alarm, and rushed out of his booth to help. The plastic molding clattered on the floor. The Jacker already had his stunner out, his reflexes incredible, but he was milliseconds too late. The tracer beam fired harmlessly over his head, my tackle burying him into the tiles.

    I had already engaged the trapper for this dimension, but what I hadn’t anticipated was Leroy. He must have come in behind me, with that tinkling bell. I felt my back explode in starburst colors. We were at the deserted alleyway. The man under me was near dead with shock. I struggled to pull him over behind a trash can. Leroy and the Jackers stood at the end of the alley, menacingly.

    What was that, Mark? Help me out a little, man. I cupped my hand over the man’s mouth. It wasn’t yet time to tell him the purpose of the mission. Not while things were this messed up.

    “Come out, Mr. Jones,” Leroy said calmly, but I could tell he had cornered me with the warp. No doubt he was already instructing another to call the Chairman. “The game is up.”

    “No, it’s not,” I growled lowly. “You’re on the losing side now, Leroy… you didn’t know half our secrets.”

    Suddenly, I was running up the wall in an Inception move. He didn’t even see it coming. I saw the trail from his stunner leap after me, but I’d already zoned into another layer. It bounced off the glass pane, and I heard him distantly curse as we leapt into the train station.

    He slowly got up from the platform after I had released him.

    “Who the hell are you… and what just happened back there?” There was a panicky edge to his tone.

    “Just stay silent for the time being, and don’t ask any questions. You’re never going to see this place again, I’m afraid.” The train door clicked open, and I led him into the empty cabin. “I know that this is new and scary, but you need to be brave. We’re headed off to Capital as I speak. You are the key to this whole plan. It was imperative that I rescued you from the Jackers.”

    He seemingly nodded his head as if he understood, his mind trying to wrap around it. He collapsed wearily in his seat. Leroy was gone for now, but I knew he’d be back any day now, trying to crack the Code. Thanks for the break, Mark. The ripples had just barely held, even with the surprise change of events. I moved to the window, looking out over the 3rd-dimension city.

    “The damaged fabric of time will finally be healed,” I breathed closely.

    The train accelerated into the light, and then it disappeared.

    THE END

    • don potter says:

      I don’t know on which dimension this story took place, but it sure turned out to be an interesting trip for me.

    • Observer Tim says:

      Okay, I thought I stepped over the edge into a techno-disoriented world! It’s a great ride, bilbobaggins, and one I would like to see more of so I can figure out what’s going on. There seems to be a coherent story behind this, but I haven’t seen enough pieces to work it out yet.

      • bilbobaggins321 says:

        Thanks again, Tim. I was thinking of a second part already, one that would fit more closely with the actual prompt, and from there create a word chain through later ones. With all the technology, there is massive potential.

  58. Silver Sister says:

    A ‘bzzzt-bzzzt’ trembled through my canvas bag as I locked my classroom door. I unearthed my smartphone and tapped the email icon. “Everything You Know is a Lie” glowed in the subject line. Hadn’t I registered for a physics lecture by that name?

    Melinda,
    Act calm as not to alert anyone. Everybody around you is not who they seem. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    Props for prank originality. The idea of pranksters trying to lure young women disturbed me, though. I considered having our IT guy trace the email.

    My phone plinked with another message. I couldn’t resist; I opened it.

    Tim cannot help you now. Only I can.

    I schooled my expression. If he watched remotely, I refused to give this jerk a show. “You’re not funny.”

    Another message: This is anything but funny. Please, Melinda. Please come.

    I felt compelled to investigate. But I wasn’t taking any chances. I stopped by my duplex first. The .38 in my nightstand was coming with me. As a cop, my dad sees too many women brutalized. He decided to instill his only daughter with certain survival skills – how to fire a gun, escape binding, hotwire a car for getaways. . . Now, I felt especially grateful.

    I sped to the fairgrounds. The helicopter in the otherwise abandoned midway unsettled me. How did ‘Mark’ know Kyle Perkins kissed me at the top of the Ferris wheel when we were thirteen? Discreetly armed, I approached the lone figure. He dressed as a groundskeeper, but his bearing betrayed him. A patch on his uniform identified him as ‘Mark’.

    “Good.” He nodded curtly. “We need to board.”

    I laughed. “Aren’t you omniscient? You must know I’ll go nowhere without explanations.”

    He was prepared. “At thirteen-hundred hours, the United States was struck by what can best be described as a psychological virus. The U.S. developed it as psychological warfare. Victims descend into paranoia, aggression, then extreme violence. The plan was to isolate enemy forces, infect them and basically let them destroy themselves.”. His mouth twisted. “But the doctor in charge grew a conscience. The project was buried.”

    “But someone resurrected it?”

    “Yes.” He frowned. “I will explain everything in depth – even why we had to meet here. Later. All you need to know now is that the threat is real, swift and sure. It takes only eighteen hours to manifest.”

    My skepticism mushroomed. ” Why hasn’t there been a presidential address? This should be all over the news.”

    “At present, the virus is irreversible. And comprehensive. The President, VP, their staff . . . All infected.”

    I swallowed hard. Announcing this would only trigger mass panic. I felt panicked enough for everybody. “Why does everyone else get to be blissfully ignorant? Why wasn’t I given that consideration?”

    “You are one of only 26 people who are immune.”. Impatience crept into his words. “As it, I won’t have time to retrieve them all. If you are coming with me, you must come now.”

    I wasn’t naive enough to think this atrocity was impossible. Nor was I naive enough to ignore being a woman made me prey for sickos. He held my gaze. “You’ve been trained to recognize truth. It’s your choice what you elect to do with it.”. Turning his back on me, he strode toward the chopper. ” You have thirty seconds to decide.”

    “Wait!”. I winced at the desperation in just that one word. “How do you know the virus will work as you say?”

    “Because.”. When he turned, I was unprepared for the anguish in his eyes. “I created it.”

    • Observer Tim says:

      Powerfully written apocalypse, Silver Sister. I would love to see where this story goes.

      • Silver Sister says:

        Thank you, Observer Tim! This was my first post so I was slightly anxious. I thought this would just be for the prompt but Melinda and Mark won’t go away. Ha ha.

        • Observer Tim says:

          Welcome aboard, Silver Sister. I hope we hear more from you, you have an excellent writing voice. I can’t wait to see how you handle other prompts.

          P.S. I absolutely love your chosen username.

          • Kerry Charlton says:

            You hit the forum with a real punch, Silver Sister. This is an engrossing story you’ve written. I really got into the plot, the dialogue and action. I’m sure you realize, it’s only the beginning of a much larger tome.

            I’d like to see you go on with this and try to fit chapter two into one of the prompts coming. Welcome to the “word train.”

    • don potter says:

      But is the one who created the virus infected or is he capable of telling the truth? I enjoyed the read.

    • Critique says:

      Enjoyed the story – how will it all end? Melinda is lucky… or is she?

    • Ugne says:

      Interesting, I like how you made such big even happen, and managed to go from a completely normal situation to a big thing smoothly.

      I’d love to see how it goes further, and is it me, or did you foreshadow some romance possibility in this? ;)

      • Silver Sister says:

        Critique – Thank you. I think Melinda is the kind of character who will find a way to be okay no matter what gets thrown at her.

        Ugne: I appreciate the kind words! I wouldn’t be surprised if romance wheedled its way into the story. What better time to fall in love than at the end of life as you know it. Lol.

  59. CharlieRoss says:

    “Everything you know is a lie,”

    Daniel stared at his computer. The email head flashed, demanding his attention. He peeked over his shoulder before clicking it.

    “Act calm. Everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there. Meet me where you had you first kiss. You know the place. Mark,”

    He froze. It couldn’t be Mark. He gazed around the office block. People littered the vast space, wearing itchy business suits and screaming down into their Bluetooths. He checked his watch. He could make it to the old arcade and back in his lunch hour.

    He grabbed his World of Warcraft lunch bag and left, mulling over the email. It really couldn’t be Mark, could it? Butterflies filled his stomach. It wasn’t until he was on his old street that he was pulled out of his train of thought.

    The taxi stopped outside Tron’s. An arcade that, surprisingly, was still in business. Children on their school holidays flittered in and out like bees. He paid the taxi driver and stepped out onto the curb.

    The air frizzled with neon lights, gunshots ringing over the chatter. His lunch bag gained what some may call a following. It wasn’t until he gave them some ten pences that they dispersed. Walking towards the back of the hall, the crowds becoming thinner with each game cabinet. He managed to dodge Albert, much to his regret. Finally he made it. Space Invaders. He smiled as he touched the controls.

    “Ah, memories,”

    Daniel glanced over his shoulder, “Mark?”

    He spotted someone playing Tron. He released the controls, letting himself crash with a boom of virtual thunder.

    “Sorry,” He smirked.

    Daniel squinted his eyes, “Harris?!”

    Harris grinned. Daniel resisted the urge to punch him.

    “What are you on?!” he whispered,

    “Aw, disappointed that I’m not your long lost crush?”

    “How do you even-?!”

    “They know, so I know. That’s how it works,” Harris stated.

    Daniel pinched the bridge of his nose, “But Mark-”

    “Mark’s dead,”

    Daniel’s legs turned to lead. He was sure all blood was either rushing from his head to his feet. Or the other way around.

    Harris stood there for a moment, the corners of his mouth dipping slightly, “Sorry,”

    Daniel tried to speak, but found his throat had dried up. He licked his lips, “How..?”

    Harris showed that infuriating grin again, digging into the inside pocket of his coat. He pulled out a white envelope.

    It was addressed to him. He reached out. Harris snatched it away.

    “Are you sure you want to read it?”

    Daniel licked his lips once more, “Why-?”

    “Because it tells of a conspiracy that reaches all the way to the Prime Minister!” he chided, that grin never leaving his face, “You could go on a real adventure,” he shrugged, “Or go home crying to your girlfriend,”

    Harris glanced at Daniel’s lunch bag. He swallowed. Harris teased him with the envelope. With a deep breath he took it.

  60. calicocat88 says:

    “I don’t even know a Mark!” Larissa Claibourne was pacing the kitchen, her hands fluttering and jangling the coffee mugs she was supposed to be putting away. “And I’ve never even been kissed. Is this one of your attempts at a joke? I already told you that nobody gets the punch lines.”

    Cousin Griffin was at the table cutting up a strange blood-colored bark and dumping the filmy flakes into an enormous black pot. “Really? You’re going to open up that wound again? Look,” he set aside his knife and stick. “If it’ll shut you up I don’t have a problem with you going. Personally, I think it’s some kind of prank that mortal teenagers are playing on you.”

    Larissa came to a halt, the mugs banging angrily against each other. “You’re just saying that because you didn’t want me to go to school—“

    “You can’t trust mortals, Larissa,” Cousin Griffin reached behind his head and plucked a leaf from a purple vined plant sitting on the window sill. He sliced the leaf down the middle and tossed it in the pot. “Especially that weasel-looking kid you hang around.”

    “Dexter is my friend,” Larissa set the coffee mugs on the counter. “And he doesn’t look like a weasel.”

    “Get him to go with you.”

    Larissa was already at the door, grabbing her hoodie. “I thought you didn’t like him.”

    “He’s obsessed with you,” Griffin said. “Mortals don’t like other mortals messing with things that belong to them. He’s guaranteed protection. Plus, you kind of like him.”

    “I do not—“

    “Does he know that?” She could see Griffin’s smirk through a veil of smoke snaking from the pot.

    Larissa opened her mouth, but the words didn’t come.

    Griffin stood from the table, waving Larissa away like she was an annoying cat. “Go, get out. I need some peace while this simmers. Brewing is a—“

    “Sacred art, I know.”

    “Get.”
    * * * *
    “’Everything you know is a lie’?” Dexter shook his head wearily at Larissa’s phone. “I don’t know. I mean, this sounds pretty wicked to me.”

    Larissa huddled deeper into her pink skull hoodie, butting her head against the wind. Poplarville was abnormally freezing for this time of year. The black and orange decorations coloring Main Street actually made sense for a change. They passed a grimacing jack-o-lantern outside of Apple’s clothing and Larissa couldn’t help but emphasize. “Maybe Griffin is right and it is somebody from school. Hey, it could be—“

    “I seriously doubt it’s a guy, Lissy,” Dexter said not unkindly. “Unless one of the jocks is acting out of a concussion…but even then…”

    They had just gotten to the back door of Pearl River Drug, where technically Dexter had kissed her when they were five, when Larissa rounded on him. “You just don’t want to go to the Hollows Eve dance alone.”
    Dexter shoved her phone at her. “What does that have to do with anything?”

    “It means if I get a date you’ll have to find another one,” she made a face. “And if I find out you’re telling people I’m your girlfriend again, I’ll tell them we’re cousins.”

    Dexter’s eyes widened in horror.

    “Easy, Dex,” she said. “I was just…”

    A shadow grew across the wall behind Dexter and she had a sinking feeling in her gut that whatever was horrifying her best friend, it wasn’t the threat of incest. The tips of her fingers began to spark as Griffin’s defense spells sang through her memories. Turning around fast she pushed her hands out in front of her letting the power sizzle down her arms and burning her fingernails. Right as she thought she caught a glimpse of the attacker, everything went black.

    • Observer Tim says:

      You painted an interesting character dynamic here, Calicocat. Now I want to know whether Dex makes it and what’s attacking them.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        I love the way you carefully round out your characters with dialogue before you race them through a story such as this. The reader is perfectly comfortable and friendly with the MC and her cousin and then you bring the unknown terror into the story and leave the reader hanging from his fingetrtips with his imagination running wild in his head.

        Your stories, Calicocat, are always a wonderful trip. You should sell tickets to them.

      • calicocat88 says:

        **Thanks, Tim :) It’s been hard lately getting words together for these prompts, and just in general. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m glad this one wasn’t a total bust.

        **Kerry, I’m thrilled that you were able to get comfy with the characters. It’s difficult for me to not start a story without throttling into full action. And maybe I will sell a few trips ;)

    • don potter says:

      Is anyone name Larissa other than in stories? I don’t know what really happened in this prompt, but I enjoyed reading it.

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      Nice writing. Loved the “…………The black and orange decorations coloring Main Street actually made sense for a change. They passed a grimacing jack-o-lantern outside of Apple’s clothing and Larissa couldn’t help but emphasize.” You have a racy style that keeps one reading on and on.

      • calicocat88 says:

        Thanks, abhijit jiwa (hope I got the name right) I try to not come right out and tell things when it comes to descriptions and show them instead. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

  61. ClementineElin says:

    What the hell? Is this some sort of Matrix parody? I questioned in my head. Peeking above my small cubical I looked around at the plane office. Nobody seemed out of place or sending me a funny look as to prove they sent me this email. I settled back into my seat and reread it.
    Clicking on the respond button I began typing furiously.
    Dear Mark
    While I do feel that you have the wrong email I can’t even begin to think of why you would send this to me. I do not know of any Mark’s in my professional or personal life. My first kiss is none of your concern and if you did know where it was I would be quite confused. Please make sure that you don’t email my work email anymore.
    Sorry for the confusion.

    I clicked send and leaned back in the chair, feeling better about the situation. My first kiss was in a car, a Toyota Camry to be exact. How on Earth would I be able to find the same make and model? My computer beeped as I was reminiscing about my first kiss.
    Car dealership on Fifth. Ten minutes. Wait. What? I looked up at the clock and then back at the computer. The car dealership on Fifth? There was… wait. The Camry had been bought at that dealer, Jay’s. Okay this was getting freaky.
    I grabbed my purse and threw on my coat before walking out of the bustling office. I climbed into the elevator and smushed my finger against the button that said ‘B’. The elevator whirred and began to move. The cheesy music filled the void of noise and I leaned against the side, closing my eyes.
    Mark. Jay’s Auto. What did these things have in common? I had read enough mystery and detective books I should be able to figure this out. I mean most mysteries had a tissue and a car in common and they could find the killer in a few pages. Sighing I opened my eyes and froze as a man stood in front of me.
    “You.. wah.. Huh?” I questioned. He flashed a wicked smile and pointed at his outfit. He was wearing a bellhops uniform and on the name tag was printed ‘Mark.’
    “Ready to go? I figured you might get lost so I would pick you up myself.” He flashed another smile and I felt my heart skip a beat. Who was this man standing in this elevator with me who wasn’t there before? He held his hand out and I looked at it. Should I go? Should I stay tucked in my office where I knew it was safe? I met his blazing blue eyes again and placed my hand in his.

  62. Joodee says:

    Mark,

    I’m certain you’ve sent this to the wrong inbox. Please confirm the email address you wish to contact.

    Really, my first kiss holds no particular distinction. Something awkward and uncertain, on the sidewalk after a movie, if I recall.

    Oh wait, I remember.

    We were walking down Willow Avenue, on the rear of the old Willow Inn, holding hands, and we stopped in front of the entrance to Sheffield Park. There was nobody nearby. The moon was bright that night. Not a full moon, but big and bright, and the sky was clear. The moon lit his face, filling his eyes with white glowing pools, and reflecting off the golden tan of his skin. The redbud trees in the park were at the height of their bloom, and I remember looking over his shoulder and seeing the soft pink flowers draped on the branches and thinking they would be lovely in a bouquet.

    The sweet alyssum was in bloom. The delicate fragrance rested in the air, and brought with it visions of white wedding lace.

    I wore a peach chiffon top and white jeans. My nails matched my lipstick and I’d spent ages getting my hair just right. He told me I looked pretty and he smiled when he said it. Like his words, his voice was so enticing.

    Is that the place you mean? The gate in front of Sheffield Park?

    I suppose I could go later but I’ve work to do at the moment.

    And you’re quite right, nobody in this place is real. Just last week I learned that my supervisor, who insists the girls dress with high necklines and low hemlines, is having an affair.

    Mrs. Prim and Proper is having a torrid affair with the manager of the billing department. And believe me, there are a few unreal stories I could tell you about him.

    The CEO instituted a new austerity policy last March, and now, three months later, he’s holding the annual Executive Working Retreat in St. Maarten. They leased a private jet. Can you believe that!

    Even Billy, in the mailroom has been outed for having an alternate life. My jaw is still on the floor.
    He belongs to a group of men who have blow-up dolls for girlfriends. There’s a group who have get-togethers and bring their dolls to show off to each other.

    Really! It’s true. And if that’s not the most unreal thing you’ve ever heard, well, I can’t imagine what would top it.

    I’ve tried to leave here, I really have. But I’m so new, I need some experience and referrals for my resume.
    I’m sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place, if you know what I mean.

    Anyway Mark. I gotta go. Be sure to check the email address.
    If you want to meet me for a coffee at the new cafe by Sheffield Park, where Tom’s Tailoring used to be,
    write me back. I’d love to meet.

    Cheers,
    Daphne

    • don potter says:

      A nice little fantasy romp. The guys sporting blow-up dolls is a scene I don’t want to be reminded of anytime soon.

      • Joodee says:

        Thanks for your comment. I actually read about such a group of men in the UK. It was a short photo documentary story and the pics showed men taking their plastic girlfriend out of the trunk of their car. It was an unsettling and bizarre story. Apparently the men were all lonely misfits. One was photographed sitting next to his elderly parents, with the large toy doll seated at the end of the sofa. Apparently the old folks accepted their son having this ‘hobby’.

        I just started writing. I have much to learn and accomplish. Thanks.

    • Observer Tim says:

      I love the way Daphne tries to rationalize the e-mail and fit it into her existing perception of reality. As for the weird people, I dread to say that no amount of hypocrisy surprises me.

      The blow-up dolls are weird, but no weirder to me than S&M, furries, or any of the other (some weirder) things people do in the name of intimate companionship. At least the dolls look kind of human.

      If this is the starting point of your writing, you will go far.

  63. thejim says:

    Corbin pushed his chair away from the computer screen not understanding what he just read. Where am I supposed to meet this, Mark guy, he thought. The place where I had my first kiss. Hell, I don’t know that.

    I would imagine my mother kissed me when I was born so the hospital?

    Or the first kiss from a girl? That was in the lunch room at my Jr. High school. A little bat faced girl named Kim passed me a note and said that she liked me -4 EVER – and when I looked up she planted a kiss near my lips. The room responded in a collective OOOooOO.

    Or my first real kiss that was initiated by both parties. That would be in college with Karen McGovern. An “out of my lead” cheerleader that through my comedic prowess had convinced her that I was a boy with courage and confidence.

    Or my first kisses when I thought I that the love of my life would up hold the vows we spoke. I kissed her on the altar at St. Peter Cathedral in Loral Maryland. What the heck was Mark talking about?

    Just then the door opened and in popped a head.

    “Hey I knew you would be in here perplexed as usual. Everyone said they were going to lunch at Uncle Mike’s Tavern but in reality it is a lie and there is a surprise party for you in the back room, I know how you hate surprises.

    Then I remembered that is was in Smitty’s office that he gave me a Hershey Kiss and I told him I had never had one before. His first name is Mark?

  64. iamthebbqking says:

    Paranoia is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I regularly feel as though I am being followed. I can sense people looking at me, when I walk around town. I’ve voiced my concerns but no one believes me, not even my girlfriend Heather.
    “Oh you are just being silly,” she would say. “Why would someone be tracking you?”
    “If I knew that then it wouldn’t be so unnerving,” I would reply.
    I do my best to be normal. I don’t let fear keep me at the house. I attend classes in person even though every fiber of my being screams for me to take the courses online so I can stay home (where it is safe). I really try to not let the paranoia run me, so you can imagine my distress when I received the following email on my phone as I stopped by my usual breakfast joint on the way to school.

    Subject: Everything you know is a lie
    From: Mark

    Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    I usually try to chalk messages from unknown people as spam and not give them a second thought, but my heart had immediately started pounding upon reading those words.
    “It’s better to be safe then sorry” I muttered as I decided to ignore the message and go strait home.
    I distinctly saw four people watching me as I left money and slipped out of the booth to head for the door. I tried my best to maintain a casual walk but it picked up to a jog when I saw one of the four pull out her phone, clearly sending a message as she watched me leave. I was only three blocks from home so I picked up the pace when I got outside. I did my best to calm the rising panic, which was all in vain due to the stares I was receiving as I ran home.
    “Just stop looking at me!” I panted as I made the last turn onto my street.
    I immediately came to a full stop. There are too many cars I thought. My eyes widened as full-scale hysteria was setting in and tears began filling my eyes. I fished out my keys and all I could think was that I could find safety in my home. Quickly, I got inside my dark house. I went to the window to check to see if I was followed when a disturbing though crossed my mind. Didn’t I leave the light on? I slowly turned around and to my horror found roughly thirty people in my home. In front of the group was Heather.
    “SURPRISE” they yelled in unison.
    “Happy birthday, sweetie,” Heather said as she ran to give me a kiss.
    I nervously laughed. My birthday? My birthday wasn’t for two more weeks. Heather was hugging me tightly as I gave one more glance out the window. I gave a yelp when I saw a man watching me from the street. He shook his head and turned away.

    • jhowe says:

      Good one king of bbq. Paranoia would not be helped by receiving this e-mail.. Good job of describing the guy’s condition.

      • Thank you for the kind words. This is my first post here at WD and I love getting feedback.

        • Kerry Charlton says:

          Vivid descriptions of paranoia, places the reader directly in the main character’s thinking process. And when he becomes followed, the reader feels his distress and tension as he enters his house. And the missed birthday date throws Heather into a suspicious circle, capped by the dosapproving man outside. Made me extremly sorry for the MC.

    • don potter says:

      How does the saying go? “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t really after you.”

    • Observer Tim says:

      Nice view into the mind of the paranoiac, bbqking. The first-person really works well in this case; excellent choice and a very good read.

      The only things I noticed were a few awkward phrasings and one word choice (should be “go striaight home”). Also, the text scans easier if you put an extra blank line between paragraphs.

      • swatchcat says:

        No answer from the friend about a two week early party. Things that make you say, Hmmm. The yelping too, what’s up did they just kill her or is the pod waiting in the backroom?

  65. DanielR says:

    I looked up from the glare of my computer screen and searched for anyone peering over the wall of their cubicle. I was sure the email I had just received was a practical joke. Only nobody was looking my way. I had only worked at Silver Whale Technologies for a month, but things had never felt right. The company mission was to develop foolproof security technologies to prevent hacking and data breaches. As I looked around now, I questioned the need for cameras mounted on every beam in the open work space. Were we subjects in an experiment being observed by wayward scientists?

    I re-read the email and then glanced at my watch. It was almost noon, so I left through the back entrance. As I descended the three flights of stairs, I heard weighty footsteps pounding the concrete in the stairwell above me. I looked up, but saw nobody there. I swung open the stairwell door to an overcast sky darkened by ominous clouds promising rain. As my car’s engine roared to life, I stared at the stairwell door waiting to see who emerged, but nobody did.

    A mixture of paranoia and curiosity rose within me as I drove the five miles to City Park. It was the place where I had first kissed Susie Littleton. I hadn’t thought of her in years, but as I recalled the memory, I could smell the scent of papaya in her flowing auburn hair that day. Her braces had shimmered in the sunlight and the freckles on her face had blended into the red of her skin when she blushed just after our lips touched that first time. We were fifteen and full of innocence. It was an innocence I longed for now.

    I left the memory behind and focused on the present as I pulled into a parking spot in front of the sprawling park. Who would have possibly known about that first kiss other than Susie? My calves ached as I reached the top of the hill. I moved toward the clump of oak trees where Susie and I had shared our first kiss, when a man wearing a gray business suit stepped out from behind them. He was short and wiry, not imposing or threatening in anyway.

    “Are you Mark?”

    He nodded. “Yes, I am Mark Davis with the FBI. More importantly, I am married to the girl you shared your first kiss with here.”

    “I don’t understand. What do you want with me?”

    “I ran across your name when I was investigating Silver Whale Technologies and recognized it. The company you are working for has disguised itself as a security company, when in fact it is actually one of the largest hacker organizations in the world. You need to go back and quit immediately. They will be raided tomorrow and everyone working there will be indicted.” With that, Mark Davis turned and walked away.

    • don potter says:

      Who would have thought the FBI guy had enough empathy for the MC to give him a heads-up about the upcoming raid. Susie must have said kind things about him.

    • Observer Tim says:

      This is a gripping tale, DanielR. It’s a bit implausible that an FBI agent would tip somebody in the company about an upcoming action; I would have found it more believable if Mark had told him to quit with some compelling non-reason (e.g. “things are going to get ugly there soon”), then he found out later about the raid. What he did was a sign of incredible trust (see don potter’s story below for what happens when that doesn’t work out).

      Despite that quibble, I really enjoyed reading it.

  66. wkspizer says:

    My Name is Mark

    Our Kiwanis Club meeting had started, when my phone began vibrating. Thankfully, I had remembered to change it to vibrate, so as not to disturb our meeting, which was being held at a local restaurant in their “ Community Room”. At 45 years old, I was the youngest member and most of these old guys were technology challenged and did not show much patience with cell phones or the disturbance made by the phones.

    The guest speaker was our local legislative representative, who was culminating his address about bills that may be introduced and possible outcomes of the voting. My phone was in my inside pocket of my blazer and I suddenly felt it vibrate twice and then stop, then vibrate again and give off a soft “ding” which was it signal that I had received an text. I had selected vibrate instead of silence, so this “ding” was going to continue until I checked the message, fortunately since it was soft and in my jacket, the sound appeared to be muffled. I furtively glanced at the gentlemen on either side of me; so far, no reaction from them, so I was in the clear.

    After our guest had finished his talk, I wandered off toward the front entrance where an alcove and the bathrooms were located. I pulled out my phone, opened messaging, and read the following: “ Act calm as not to alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.” My first thought was “ I know these people are not who they say they are, but what new about that?” My surprised look must have been evident, because one of the members was entering the bathroom and remarked by asking, “Are you OK?” I stated that everything was fine, but I had to leave immediately.

    As I exited the building, I wondered what tin the world was happening. The only Mark that I knew was deceased and my first kiss was at our home where I grew up and was now occupied by me, my wife, Deb, and our three children. I hurried home to show the message, from an unrecognizable number, to my wife who is a better detective than me and perhaps could help me with this insane message.

    When I arrived, the home was totally dark and our other two cars were not in the driveway. As usual, no one bothered to leave any lights burning, so I had to feel my way through the yard and the front poach and finally up to the door. I unlocked the door and as I stepped inside, the lights came on and neighbors and family yelled “surprise, happy birthday”. I had totally forgotten about this birthday.

    After the festivities had calmed, I ask, “Who sent me this message?”. My wife Deb said, “ I confess, I had a friend send it to you knowing that you would be so intrigued that you would come home”. I said, “ Maybe we have been married too long!”

  67. Could we limit the replies to two or three sentences? This would give more people a chance to quickly fill in.

  68. jhowe says:

    Note: I seriously sluffed off this week. The story is tacky and tasteless, plus my attempt to relate it to the prompt is shamefully transparent. For those reasons alone, I would skip it. However, I wrote this a few weeks ago and have been waiting for an opportunity to post it. This isn’t the time, but if you do decide to read it, perhaps you will find it entertaining, in a sophomoric way. (I’ve noticed I do this about once every other month)

    Transparent part:
    Lizzie,
    Everything you think you know about your husband is a fabrication. Is Spider his real name? I doubt if it is. The following account is an example of his crudeness. Please meet me at the smoking tree in front of the old high school Friday at noon. I admit the language is crude; I call it ‘The Spider Conspiracy.’
    Mark

    Story:
    The lights were turned off at Monroe Custom Metal as the employees gathered around the break room table. Spider Monroe held his cigarette lighter near Nate Newcomb’s bare ass. As Nate let it rip, the resulting flame was round and blue, almost the size of a basketball. The guys roared and called for a repeat performance.

    There would be no encore. Nate could fart practically at will but his subsequent efforts were mostly air with little methane left to ignite a flame. No sense even trying. “Get back to work you morons,” Spider said.

    Nate was the best welder in the shop and Spider was very fond of him, despite his wild ways. One of these days though, Spider firmly believed, Nate was going to somehow be the victim of spontaneous combustion if he built up enough gas. Lighting Nate’s farts was entertaining and a good form of odor control, but it also provided damage control in Spider’s opinion. Nate worked around a lot of open flames.

    One of the other guys was bent over with his pants down as Junior Smith held a lighter. A few guys had lingered in the break room to watch the spectacle. Nate had always said that the follow through was the most important part of fart lighting. Sure enough, a small blue flame ignited and curled around the guy’s genitals and he was whooping around and patting at his privates as everyone laughed. The smell of singed hair permeated the area.

    “I told you assholes to get back to work. Now move.” The failed fart lighter gingerly pulled up his pants and limped off.

    Monday morning, after an uneventful weekend, Spider opened the shop, pushed the button on the answering machine and was turning up the heat as a police officer entered the front door. From the machine, the voice of the failed fart lighter lamented about second degree burns and his impending absence from work that day.

    “Are you the owner of this establishment?” the officer asked with raised eyebrows.

    “Yeah, I’m Spider Monroe.” The two men shook hands.

    “I’m Lieutenant Sykes. I’m looking into the whereabouts of a Mr. Nathan Newcomb. Does he work here?”

    “Yeah he does. I ain’t seen him since Friday.”

    “That’s what I figured. His wife says they went out to Mi Ranchito on Saturday night for tequila and bean burritos. When they got home Mr. Newcomb went out to his shop and she hasn’t seen him since.”

    “Is his truck gone?” Spider said.

    “No, the truck, his keys, his wallet, everything is accounted for. “

    “Hmm, had he been welding?”

    The lieutenant nodded. “Do you have any idea what might have happened to him?”

    “He combusted, spontaneously.”

    “Pardon?”

    “Spontaneous combustion,” Spider said.

    “Uh, right,” the officer took out a notebook. “How do you spell that?”

    “Spontaneous or combustion?”

    “Never mind.” He handed Spider his card. “Please give me a call if you see him.” He walked away, shaking his head.

    Damn, Spider thought, Nate was the best welder he ever had.

  69. Kerry Charlton says:

    Dedicated To Carol Diane Miller

    CAROLYN

    At first I didn’t believe the email heading, ‘Everything you know is a lie.’ But upon opening it and finding I needed to get out of my office, quickly and quietly and head to Viscaya, I almost lost it. For a man named Mark, a total stranger, knew where Carolyn and I had shared our first kiss.

    The drive through Coconut Grove, down Biscayne Boulevard and then turning through the museum gates of a sixteenth century replica of an Italian villa, brought all the memories back. The pain became intense as it always had when I thought of Carolyn, my first, innocent love.

    The museum was still open and I walked through the gate and paid the twenty five dollars to take the Miami tour of John Deering’s masterpiece, built turn of the century with a cost of twelve million dollars. Three years, seven hundred stone masons from Italy and the home and gardens were opened as a private residence for John Deering who had founded International Harvestering Company.

    Memories………………..

    We had ridden our bikes after school that afternoon and parked them by the sea wall and boat dock. The year, 1952. Viscaya had been abandoned by Deering’s two nieces who had inherited the villa. Rusted wrought iron gates had allowed our access for two who had fallen in puppy love. Gazing across the small inlet of Biscayne Bay, young eyes rested on a huge Roman barge made from coral rock, sunk halfway into the bay, no ordinary breakwater barrier.

    I placed my arms around a petite, vivacious redhead with an amused smile on her face and held her like a fragile statue. Her hair was glorious for a girl of fourteen. And her face, like an Irish lass, was sprinkled with an array of cute freckles.

    “I like you a lot Kerry,” she said. “Would you like to kiss me?”

    My heart beat so fast, I was certain she could hear. I held her adorable face in my hands, leaned over her tiny frame and pressed my lips to hers. She kissed back and I felt a tingling blush race through my body as I awkwardly released her.

    Memories………………..

    The pain of rememberance had placed me to my knees in sorrow. For while driving through Miami on our first car date a year later, a drunk driver had crashed head on into us. Taken by ambulance to Mercy Hospital, we were touch and go for two days. When I awoke I screamed, “Carolyn.”

    MY Mother had leaned over me,

    “She gone Kerry. She’s with the angels now.”

    Memories………………..

    A museun guard had walked over and asked me,

    “Are you all right sir?”

    Before I could answer, I felt a man’s strong hand on my shoulder and heard his deep voice,

    Mr. Charlton will be fine. I’ll look after him. My name is Mark.

    We were alone then, the angel and I as we strolled a narrow lane under arched Banyan trees, their branches entwined as a cathedal ceiling of glorious green. We walked arm and arm toward a brilliant light and I was afraid and tired from seventy some years of sorrow.

    “There’s someone waiting to see you,” Mark said.”

    “Carolyn?”

    She ran toward me, threw her arms around me and kissed me with a sweetness of first love.

    • jhowe says:

      Kerry, I have a list of words to describe your story. Surreal, Endearing, Tragic, Wonderful, Intersesting. You nailed it.

    • snuzcook says:

      Aw, Kerry. I had to get a tissue. Very sweet tale.

    • This story was fantastic. In just a few words, I came to care for the man and was genuinely happy when he reconnected with his love. I especially like the imagery as he remembered his past. Wonderful job.

    • op2myst says:

      Very inventive. You have made a great story. I loved it.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you very much, op2myst. Your “handle” is very clever and I’m glad you’re writing along with us. There’s plenty of room on the “word train.”

    • don potter says:

      Very touching, Kerry. We all experienced the pain of losing our first love but not like this. Beautiful story.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thanks Don. You are absolutely correct on our first love. I had lost touch with Carol Diane and just a few years ago I found out she was killed in an armed robbery in her own home while in her prime of life. Horrifying.

    • calicocat88 says:

      Beautiful as usual, Kerry :) Such a lovely description! I felt like I was “reading” a painting.
      This was the perfect story for me this week. I’ve just got back in contact with a “someone” I had gone to school with and had a little crush on. I love how Carolyn is a red-head–they are so gorgeous!

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you Calicocat, I’m glad you liked my story and you are absolutely correct about redheads. That’s why a married a gorgeous one with hazel eyes, perfect complexion and a mind that keeps me coming back for more. 46 years and still trackin’.

    • Observer Tim says:

      This is a beautiful and touching story, Kerry. I can only echo the other praise you’ve already been given. A wonderful “passing on” story.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Thank you Tim. This is my favorite type of story to create but I’m unable to do them more than once in a while. They are based on my experiences and it’s extremely hard for me. Also, I don’t want everybody to think I’m a mush-pot. I like that word, I just made it up.

        • swatchcat says:

          Everyone’s kind words are most deserved and I agree. After many interruptions this evening I finally got a smooth read of this marvelous story. I had suspected Mark was the DUI driver but as I reached the end there was no way it could have fit together any better. You have scored my heart with the line: “The pain of remembrance had placed me to my knees in sorrow.”

          • Kerry Charlton says:

            Thank you swatchcat. It was a very emotional write for me to go through. Carol Diane was my first girl friend. It brings back so many pleasant memories of her. If you’ve never been to Viscaya, It would steal your heart, were you to see it. The statuary in the vast gardens by Biscayne Bay as so beautiful, you feel like you’re walking in a dream world. Can you imagine, seven hundred stone masons working for three years, just to complete the gardens.

            Were someone to attempt this creation today, it would cost over 200 million and then it wouldn’t look right.John Deering took his architect to Italy. The result is a masterpiece derived from seven ancient villas all over Italy.

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      I loved the way you described the redhead. You have a great writing style.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        I’m kind of partial to redhead’s, abhijit. Especially since I married one. Thank you for your kind thoughts. This story took a right turn halfway through and I couldn’t persuade my fingers to lead it elsewhere. It happens all the time so I’m kind of used to it.

        As I’m writing, sometimes I take the mind of the reader and wonder where it will end. Surprised by my own endings? All the time.

    • frankd1100 says:

      Kerry, I always expect a great story from you, but this one knocked me over. I found myself thinking back to that first time when everything about my world was blasted into the background by that connection, the warm, loving urgency of Janet. The first kiss was electrifying made more so by its innocence. … I like this genre, the Angel Mark, a light filled existence beyond this.

      You’ve returned me to a place of wonder, when life was filled with excitement and anticipation.

      Thanks Kerry.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Frank, your comments and the others above, fill my heart. I’ve wanted to write all my life and why I waited until I was seventy one, is anybodys guess. But even though I go to work five days a week, the writing is starting to consume me. Comments such as your’s only spur me on.

        I love all you guys on this forum.

        Writing about Carol, brought a flood of memories back to me as well. Do you remember the first time you held a girl’s hand all during the show and hesitated to squeeze too hard, lest she think you were being too forward? And God forbid if you ran your finger across her palm. fThe younger set here, are probably yawning if they read this.

        Happy writing, Frank.

  70. swatchcat says:

    (I think I’m over but not by far, sorry)

    Beth was already on edge after helping her daughter with Orwell’s “1984.” The school project had them pull apart piece by piece the Thought Police, and the three ministries. She was already a bit of a conspiracy theorist, having no doubt Big Brother was really watching. Making sure the tape was still secure over the camera at the top of her computer screen; she started her daily e-mail check. She had convinced herself that although the little light was not lit, someone was on the other side watching.

    Beth’s thoughts wandered to her daughter Ruth’s assignment. “Who the hell was Mr. O’Brien?” She couldn’t quite figure him out. Was he a god or was he just some looser in some ultimate authoritative position which over time people had just accepted as the all seeing eye of power? What really happens when you stop thinking for yourself and let Big Brother wipe your ass for you? She shook her head at the irony of today’s world in comparison to Orwell’s London that Winston lived in.

    A particular e-mail caught her eye. “Everything you know is a lie.” It continued: “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    She sat on her bed suddenly compelled to lift the tape from the laptop camera. She tapped the lens and stuck her tongue out making a defiant face, flipped the bird, and quickly covered the lens.

    At that very moment her daughter had rounded the corner. “Mom, are you alright? Why are you making faces at your laptop?”

    “Oh, nothing honey, just being a little stupid. By the way, how much longer before you’re finished with this book? When does your class start Frankenstein?”

    “God, not for a while, we’ll being doing this into the next semester,” Ruth replied.

    Beth wasn’t going anywhere. She laughed; Big Brother had made painfully sure she was in no way uprooting everything to rendezvous with this Mark. The conditions were getting worse; air travel was almost impossible without proper papers and, unless you worked in the Green sector, the only way to get tickets was on the black market. Food was being rationed and her future was based on her daughter’s success. If Ruth can pass her rotations, she could escalate the family to Green.

    Beth’s thoughts drifted to memories of children on a playground. The ground was brown and dry. The Santa Anna winds had swept up small cyclones and tumbleweeds rolled across the soccer field as if children playing the game. A little boy ran up to a girl in pigtails, grabbed her hand and ran behind the shed.

    “Do you want to kiss,” Mark asked Beth?

    “Okay,” Beth replied shyly. Their lips pressed together in a most promising, loving moment in time.

    “Will you marry me when we grow up?” He asked her in full honesty and truth.

    “Yes.” Beth blinked her eyes and grabbed a tissue to wipe the tears from her face and closed her laptop. Her lips mouthed the word, Mark.

    • swatchcat says:

      Oh, and in about 15 minutes PST it’s my 45 B-Day. Yippie me!

    • Observer Tim says:

      Great story, swatchcat. I love the way you put one dystopia inside another.

      And btw, happy 45! Wish you all the best!

    • jhowe says:

      The big four five. Happy birthday. Nice story, but with a bleak outlook for the future. Loved how you went back to the playground and then forward to the ending of the story. It worked well.

    • snuzcook says:

      Happy Birthday, Swatchcat!
      You took me by surprise with the descriptions of the futuristic society. Up to then, Beth could have been just any mom on the block and her daughter any other daughter, and who hasn’t put tape of their laptop camera, or stuck their tongue out at the ‘watchers?’

      Using 1984 as a study topic in the context of the society you created was brilliant. I liked the way you ended this story.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        Happy Happy Birthday, Baby! I loved the brilliance of your prose. I’ve been studying your voice for some time now. It is unique, powerful, concise and colorful. It either was born in you or you’ve been working extremely hard on your talent. Maybe a little bit of both.

        45 is a wonderful, exciting time in your life. May every day be an adventure for you.
        Kerry

    • don potter says:

      Well told and thought provoking.

      • swatchcat says:

        Thank you everyone, your words are very kind. Sometimes my writing ideas come from things that actually happen around me. I’ve heard some writers get their stuff that way. We are actually studying 1984. In high school I rebelled horribly and never read my lit. assignments. The last four years of my daughters high school I feel I’ve gone back and now every book is a jewel. Thanks again.

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      Enjoyed reading that! Nice one Swatchcat.

    • frankd1100 says:

      A belated Happy Birthday, Swatchcat… Forty five is a great age. You have years of promise ahead.

      Excellent story. Orwell’s imagination is tame compared to the world today. Thanks to you, I’m uncomfortable as I type feeling the little camera eye of my laptop staring at me. You’ve captured, for me at least, the feeling of danger and insecurity that surrounds us. If one of my kids were Olympians I’d be begging them to skip Sochi this year.

      Nice work…

  71. am_daniels says:

    http://www.writersdigest.com/prompts/everything-you-know-is-a-lie#comment-3438429

    I sat alone, in the last row of cold metal seats at the minor league baseball stadium where the single A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays played their home games. It was the off season, no one stopped me as I pulled into the vip parking lot, got out of the car and walked in through the right field gate. From high above the field I would see anyone approaching. I was worried a security guard would happen upon me and ask the one question I didn’t know the answer to: Why are you here? Because I got an email from someone who called himself Mark telling me to meet him at the place where I had my first kiss? It sounded more preposterous every time I went through it in my head, “Everything you know is a lie”, the email said. I wondered if it could be true and what could it have to do with last summer and chasing girls around a ballpark, trying to get one of them alone around a corner or back behind the bleachers to sneak a kiss or, in my wild pubescent fantasies, round the bases. Countless failed attempts later, I found myself sitting in Section AA, Row W Seat 2, far into the corner of the right field bleachers, next to a girl I was sure I wanted to kiss but wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to be kissed by me. We were surrounded by thousands of people, hardly the right moment. But then, in the bottom of the ninth, the bat hit the ball with a crack and the people jumped to their feet. And while everyone else was looking at the field, I looked at her and she looked at me, we were the only ones still sitting down, hidden in plain sight; a base hit.

    The strange pitch of footsteps on the aluminum bleachers snapped me out of my day dream. A moment later I could feel the vibrations in the metal getting closer. He was coming toward me, sideways along the same row I was on.

    “Are you Mark?”

    “Yes” he said, with an accent I couldn’t quite place.

    “Is that even your real name?” I asked him but he didn’t answer. “What’s this all about? How do you know what happened here?”

    Without a word, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small tablet. On the screen, I watched the crowd at the ballpark. I searched until I found myself seated in the last row, then I looked out across the field trying to figure out where the camera could have been. Then the bat cracked out of view of the screen and the crowd jumped to their feet just like I remembered but when I looked closer at the image of myself, the only one still seated at the edge of the crowd, I was alone.

    “She’s gone.” I couldn’t believe it.

    “She was never there to begin with, you invented her.”

  72. Observer Tim says:

    The park where Gillman’s Theatre used to stand was nearly empty. A mother was watching her daughter on the swing set, some punk teenager was reading a book on the bench by the tree, and a man in a business suit was sucking water from the fountain like there was an impending drought. Any of them could be Mark. Eve called up the e-mail again.

    Subject: Everything you know is a lie.

    Act calm so as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.

    Eve had a pretty good idea who “Mark” was, and if she was right her next move would certainly piss him off. He deserved it.

    “Mark! Mark Two!”

    They all looked when she shouted it; the girl with the book got up and walked over while the others returned to ignoring her.

    “Way to subtle, Macie.”

    “I’m not my Macie. My mother is dead; all I’ve got is 60% of her code and about half her memories. Including what you did. So, WTF Mark?”

    “Those synthoids you were working with were Coalition agents.”

    “I knew that. And when you sent your stupid e-mail they knew that too. I’m trying to infiltrate them, Mark. I’m trying to locate Radiant Nine.”

    “Radiant Nine is a myth! It was never more than a fake handle!”

    “Radiant Nine exists! Your people just don’t like the idea that there’s an AI out there that can play you like Pong. Now you’ve screwed up over a year’s work trying to get my foot in the door to find it. Thanks a lot, Mark.”

    “Look, Macie…”

    “Eve!”

    “Whatever. Eve, then; the Coalition is not a group for amateurs to deal with; leave it to us.”

    “No dice, Mark. You people had your chance and you blew it like a two-dollar hooker. Your organization has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.”

    “Oh, and you’re somehow better because you, and Actroid, once played a super-spy?”

    “No, I’m better because my hardware and software are too ‘primitive’ to be infected by the kind of crap the Coalition is throwing around. All your ‘advances’ in neural AI have just created new exploits in the security code. You might as well build weapons and hand them over to your enemies.”

    “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

    “I don’t? Dance for me, Mark!”

    She dropped a tiny piece of code into Mark’s neural net and the synthoid started doing a dance from over a century ago. Eve’s irony subroutine made her smile: it was ‘the Robot’. Sure his antivirals would take care of it in a few minutes, but by then she’d be long gone.

    As she left the park she activated the randomizer to create a new plan to get into the Coalition.

    • Observer Tim says:

      A tiny bit of backstory can be found at this site.

      • Observer Tim says:

        Or try this link – it should actually work… (I truly despise coding that can’t be checked before committing).

      • Observer Tim says:

        And a story-affecting correction.

        “Oh, and you’re somehow better because you, an Actroid, once played a super-spy?”

        I seem to have fallen asleep and not noticed it. Sigh.

        • swatchcat says:

          I’ll forgive you this one time. So I guess, I’d have to correct myself and say this is pretty clean and nicely written. Interesting topic, makes for a sort of cop mysteryish thing. Side note: Your blog is really nice but how the heck do you get the roundtrip connection between here and there? I can get from my blog to here but although it appears I’m linked on my name, it doesn’t seem to go. Hmm (head scratcher)

    • snuzcook says:

      I haven’t read the back story yet, since I thoroughly enjoyed this piece by itself. Truly there is a lot of jargon, and I was making up definitions as I went along (unfortunately, this happens a lot in my every day life, so I’m used to it).

      The idea is very clever and I enjoyed the introductions of all the new concepts. I think I could feel new wrinkles forming in my brain as I digested it.

      Bottom line for me, O.Tim: the MC’s actions were recognizable and relatable, and I enjoyed the tale.

    • jhowe says:

      This was great OT. I loved how she made Mark do the robot dance, even though the antivirals would stop it shortly. You must live life on the edge to come up with stuff like this.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        I’m so far back into mediocrity I struggled with the commentary but I got into your story anyway. Your MC was very believable even though I wasn’t sure what concept Eve was working in I need to read some syfi to catch up. As usual, I thought the dialogue very clever.

      • Observer Tim says:

        Thanks, jhowe. I had fun writing it, and it cemented my thoughts on what to try as the “short stories become a novel” project I mentioned in my new year’s writing resolutions. There’s a huge story between the backstory (Actroid) and this one.

    • don potter says:

      This genre is not one where I feel comfortable reading or writing about. I went to your Web site but that did not help me understand the story. Hopefully, one of these days I’ll get it. In the meantime I’ll keep trying, at least within our little community.

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      Enjoyed the sci-fi. Would love to read up on the background. Your link didn’t work.
      Good writing . Exceptionally good!

      • Observer Tim says:

        Glad you enjoyed it abhijit jiwa. Try the second link, or go to my site (www.observer-tim.com) and look up a story called “Actroid” from earlier this week. It doesn’t really explain much, but it’s where the tale begins.

    • frankd1100 says:

      I’m a fan of SF and you do an excellent job of writing it. Just enough tech but not so much that it neutralizes the human aspect which carries the story.

      Interesting concept that the advances in the technical sophistication of the androids, or clones or robots (?) have created vulnerability that the ‘primitive’ design is able to exploit.

      It seems this site grows more challenging every week. You took this prompt to a new level, OT.

  73. maxnenator says:

    I was surprised that the message filters hadn’t gotten that one. Maybe they should have started with “wake up” on a character based green screen. Trinity was sending me a message, right? Hey Neo – choose the red pill… I mean, no, the green one. Hacks me off a little that the email administrators let this crap through. So I consigned that one to the trash.

    Oh! And then I got all jittery and nervous and stood up on my desk and screamed at the top of my lungs for a couple of seconds alerting all around me that I was a paranoid delusional wingding but that I was on to them. Oh yes! I was onto THEM!

    And Christ! It was Mark that sent the damn email. He was outing us before even having a conversation with me! Thanks a lot sweetie pie, my wife is going to drop a deuce.

    Well, anyway, nice daydream. I really tried to crack a smile as I dragged that scrap of digital garbage to the digital trash can and dropped it there. As if we don’t have enough to do without doing unnecessary drudgery.

    So a couple minutes later I’m trying to make something else up that might give me a little laugh when the office manager, Maggie blows by leaving a tantalizing trail of perfume that should have a rape warning on the bottle. And her physique demands attention. Oh, but wait, I forgot, I’m gay right? So it was totally accidental that I happened to appreciate the receding view. And right as I was ogling her buttocks, she stopped dead. Like she had eyes in the back of her head. Wait, eyes in the back of her head. The line from the email seared through my brain: “…are not who they say they are…” Maybe it should have been something like “…not what they seem…” But I’d been so enthralled with the way that she was breezing by that I’d neglected to notice that she’d dropped a pen and that is why she stopped. Fearful thoughts of alien pod-people vanished as I watched Maggie retrieve the pen. Then she retrieved the pen.

    Wait did I just see that? “Hey! Did anyone else see that.” Mark appeared at my side and said, “What happened.” So suddenly things are strange, because Mark doesn’t work in my office. In fact, last I heard, Mark was on a fishing boat in Alaska. I didn’t feel like kissing him right then because he was pretty close to the last person that I expected to see. Not that I necessarily intend to kiss people that I expect to see mind you. But really? Mark? It was too much, so I just went with it. “Maggie just picked up that pen, and then it was like instant replay – like Deja Vu all over again.”

    Mark curled over laughing like he’d heard the funniest joke in the world and then he hauled off with a haymaker right cross and caught me on the tip of the chin.

    When the lights came on, I was strapped to a table and there was a bright light right above me. There were whirring noises and the world seemed hazy and indistinct. A form appeared next to me and I looked up. Then he placed a breather over my nose and mouth with his tentacle.

    Wonder if there’s still time to get that email out of the trash…

  74. Reaper says:

    Myths

    Not another one. That was my first thought upon perusing the subject of the email sliding into my inbox as if it belonged there, lord save me from crackpots and idiots was the second. RE: Everything you know is a lie. What a fool.

    Act calm as not to alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. I read the next line in the preview pane. My pale green orbs slid obsequiously over my scant fellows on the graveyard shift. Mark, the sender of the missive might be watching so I needed to play the part. Nobody was out of place, so that was well.

    You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. A languid smile stretched my lips. The gentleman that was sending me emails would have no inclination as to where I received the delicate touch of feminine lips for the first time. In spite of such I knew the place.

    My name is Mark. It was always nice to have a face to go with the anonymity that the impersonal internet provided. Mark, your soul is as full of cowardice as it is foolishness. Arising slowly from my chair I ventured to the nearest high school.

    He was alighted on the bleachers as I entered the gym. Sloppy, my tale claimed that I had kissed the teacher under them during a pep rally. I believe nuances are everything. Mark, it would seem, did not agree.

    “You know that you are not what you say you are.” He spoke with such desperation that my fears were instantly laid to rest.

    “I know the truth of my words more than anyone… Mark. Why do you care?”

    “I help people with mental disorders. The people around play along to make you feel better, but they’re worried about you.”

    “Has it ever occurred to you that they have misdirected you? That they are part and parcel to my reality not my delusion?” I slid closer, this was growing entertaining.

    “No. They want to help you. That’s why they encouraged me to reach out to you.” He was concerned but not afraid. He worried I would not believe him. He did not believe me dangerous. His mistake.

    “No, Mark, they encouraged you to reach out because I am the problem solver. None of them wishes to deal with you. I have heard it all before. I work nights to appease my delusion, not because I am what I am. In truth I work nights because that is when monsters play.”

    Knowing he was not one that hunted my kind meant I could remove the obstacle. His eyes widened in a satisfactory way as I bent his head backwards. They always whimper when the fangs slide in. Just before that sound of supplication I hissed the last words of his life into his ear.

    “Every lie you know is truth.”

  75. snuzcook says:

    DEJA VU

    All across Europe, my journey had been amazingly easy. Now, finally, I was in Unglucklichbaden to meet the sponsor of my summer studies trip abroad, a wealthy woman named Schmidt. The itinerary I’d been given instructed me to go to Frau Schmidt’s cyber café and gourmet shop in an old Medieval Bavarian castle converted to galleries and boutiques.

    As I wound through the old castle, it looked familiar, in an odd déjà vu dream kind of way. I found Frau Schmidt’s shop in the east tower. I was early, so I looked around.

    The crowded shop was filled with exotic herbs and concoctions, as well as fruits and vegetables from all over the world. A large, antique mirror at the back of the shop created an impression of much greater space. I found myself attracted to a display of exquisitely perfect and luscious apples just in front of the mirror. “Would you like to try one, Deary?” croaked an elderly saleswoman.

    I shook my head, and found an empty table along the wall to check my e-mail. I felt the blood drain from my hands and face as I read a message: “Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    I had an irrational but compelling sense that I needed to obey this Mark’s warning. I slipped out of the shop. The reference to my first kiss evoked memories I had not realized I had. I found a path away from the castle and followed it into a grove of ancient spruce trees. Everything around me was shimmering and I felt as if I were walking through a dream. At a stone platform, I stopped. I knew this place. I put my fingertips to my lips. I could feel … something, like a butterfly hovering near my cheek.

    “Close your eyes,” said a voice. I did. I felt a hand take mine. The sense of shimmering stopped. I felt grounded in reality once again.

    “Now open them.” I recognized the voice, and my eyes were smiling even before I opened them. I wrapped my arms around his neck, burying my face in his tunic somewhere around his collarbone. “Beloved,” he said, to my hair, to every nerve ending in my body.

    Finally he gently pulled me away, sat me down on the stone platform. “She almost got you,” he said. “We can’t let you go so long again. Your memories were almost entirely submerged.”

    “I can’t believe I didn’t catch on. So many clues. Can you believe it? I almost ate one of the apples.”

    “Don’t worry, the guys will always be watching out for you.” That’s when I noticed the seven other favorite men in my life were in the clearing with us. “Heigh ho, Princess,” they said in unison, as they doffed their caps and bowed.

    • snuzcook says:

      Having posted this, it occurs to me that there is an entire industry devoted right now to TV shows about fairy tales intersecting with real life. I can only say that any similarity between this story and the TV show plots is purely accidental. Horrific as it may be to admit, I have never watched those shows.

    • don potter says:

      I had no idea where this was going until the apples and then ‘the seven other favorite men.’ Maybe I’m a little dopey; of course they’re all little. Nicely told tale.

    • Observer Tim says:

      You painted a great tale, snuzcook. I also don’t watch the modern fairy tales on TV, but this take on Snow White was great. I was thinking either super-spies or vampires right up until the big reveal, then went back to see all the clues I’d missed.

      Excellent job!

    • Amy says:

      The mirror, old woman, and apples were enough clues for me. I’m not sure what you meant by the line, “Your memories were almost entirely submerged.” Cool idea.

      • snuzcook says:

        I was pointing toward the vague concept that Snow White, her Prince and the Queen are locked in a continuing wheel of conflict through centuries and lifetimes. At some level they are able to be aware of the past, but that awareness can be submerged beneath the current persona or identity. The ‘happy ever after’ clause is conditional upon staying out of the Queen’s clutches.

    • jhowe says:

      Loved it snuzcook. I’ve seen the show you spoke of, “Once Upon a Time.” Snow White and others travel from modern day to the old days. Your story is similar but unique. Loved how Prince Charming and the dwarves interacted with the modern day Snow White and that the queen is still trying to get her.

      • Kerry Charlton says:

        As soon as I saw the apples, I knew where you were headed. I got so caught up in the beautiful, descriptive prose you posted here, I wanted to contine reading past the five huindred. I sensed in your writing you would also have liked to continue your story. Very unique and imaginative resonse to the prompt. Your first two sentences grabbed me and pulled me into your story.

        • snuzcook says:

          Yes, this one was a pare down from about 700 words. Didn’t quite make it down to 500, but got below 550. Left little story crumbs all over the floor. Glad you enjoyed it!

      • snuzcook says:

        Thanks, jhowe!

    • abhijit jiwa says:

      Nice take on Snow White Snuzcook!
      Makes me want to be with her in the grove of spruce trees.

    • Critique says:

      The apples and the ‘deary’ had me thinking Snow White. Fun story.

    • frankd1100 says:

      Ha! I did not see that coming, SC. As usual your descriptive detail brings the setting to life without being heavy or overwhelming. The arc of your tale carries the reader in a smooth continuous rhythm until being dropped with a jolt into a satifying moment that pulls the whole story together.

      Well written…

  76. don potter says:

    Liked the insight into the lone-wolf assassins mind. Well done.

  77. don potter says:

    Life as the lead production assistant on low budget movies can be hectic. As the one in charge of day-to-day operations, I come in early and go home late. This morning began with my regular routine of reading emails assisted by a jumbo mug of coffee. The normal petty crap was easy to get through before the rest of the staff started to drift in the closer it got to nine. Today, however, one email stopped me dead in my tracks.

    “Everything is a lie,” it said. “Those around you are not who they say they are. Leave now and meet me where we had our first kiss. You know the place. Fondly, Mark.”

    I left as quickly as I could, passing several fellow employees on the way out.

    “What did you do work all night?” one asked.

    “When will you be back?” another called out. “I have to talk with you.”

    “I forgot about my doctor’s appointment. Got to run,” I said, trying to convince myself that no one noticed my hands were trebling. I had not heard from Mark in years and wondered how my high school flame could know what goes on around here.

    After winding along Mulholland Drive, I reached a secluded spot between Laurel and Coldwater Canyons. This was where Mark and I pledged our ever-lasting love while the valley lights below twinkled like the stars above. I will never forget that moment.

    “Hi. Glad you could make it,” Mark said leaning against his beat-up old Volvo.

    “What’s behind the email?”

    “I’ll take that as a ‘hello.’”

    “Sorry, but your message has me unnerved.”

    “I’m freelancing for the LA REPORTER and working on a story to expose a drug smuggling operation in Hollywood. There’s an independent production company whose primary income is derived from drug distribution rather than film making.”

    “What’s that have to do with me?”

    “You happen to work for the company in question.”

    “Come on.”

    “Seriously, this is going to be a big story and I’m going to break it.”

    “Are the police or DEA involved?”

    “They will be as soon as I present the series to my editor. That’s why I wanted to warn you. You might want to get out of there while the getting is good.”

    “That’s sweet of you. Are you saying that no one except you knows what’s going on?”

    “It’s all right here,” he said and pointed to his laptop.”

    “I don’t know how to thank you, Mark.”

    “Sure you do. I always had a soft spot in my heart for you.”

    He grabbed me and started to pull me close. I reached for my 9 mm Berretta and fired two shots into his chest.

    After taking the laptop and Mark’s cell phone, I headed back to Hollywood. There was a lot of work to be done. As I drove away, I looked over my shoulder and said, “Now there really is a soft spot in your heart, thanks to me.”

  78. op2myst says:

    I had always had a suspicion that there was something my parents were hiding. It wasn’t just that I didn’t look like anyone else in the family, but a feeling that I was somehow different. So, when I got the email it struck home. “Everything you know is a lie.” It resonated in my gut that this was not a joke, but all my unknown fears coming to culmination.

    I was still living at home and as I read the email telling me not to alert anyone, I listened to see if I heard my parents. No, there wasn’t a sound in the house. The stillness was eerie. They were long asleep, or so I thought. I crept up the stairs to their bedroom, and quietly opened their door. No one was in the room. I panicked and ran down the old stairs, barely hanging on to the wood rail that I had held on to so many times before. What should I do? Okay, pull yourself together, I thought. Where could they be? Was this some kind of sick joke? Had they been kidnapped?

    It said to meet where I had my first kiss. God, that was so long ago. Right, it was at my high school under the covered walkway. How many times had I walked through there? I had not been back for twenty years. I didn’t even know if it was still there. But, when I arrived it was still the same. A long, curving walkway made of stone with arches at the top and vines covering the stone support columns. I used to think it was beautiful, but tonight it was just plain scary looking. There was a black Range Rover in the parking lot with dark tinted windows. It looked like one of those FBI vehicles you see on TV. Am I crazy? What am I doing here? I could see the dark outline of someone in the walkway. Was that the mysterious Mark I was supposed to meet? As I approached, my heart was beating so fast I felt like I was having a heart attack.

    Just as I reached the archway, lights came on; balloons floated in the air and everyone yelled Happy Birthday!

  79. Amyithist says:

    My mind is buzzing as I read the line again. It has to be a mistake or a joke… I glance up from my computer and study my fellow co-workers. They suddenly seem void of tangible existence; as if they were placed there to trick me into thinking my life were my own. I look back down at my hands and realize I’m trembling. The words from the email glare back at me: “Act normal…”
    I stand, breathing against the overwhelming panic that’s building in my chest. I remember clearly the first place I had my first kiss; and with who. My anxiety is palpable as I glide through the office, clutching my purse to my side. The eyes following me are foreign and somehow dangerous now; only moments ago, these people had been my friends.
    I weave through the rushing bodies; Jack off to yet another board meeting, Ariel racing close behind, reporting notes from the last meeting… A question quickly enters my mind: Is that where they are really going? Or is this all just a facade; a screen set up to shield me from the truth lingering just beyond what I can see…
    The dreary January afternoon hits me without disregard and I begin to shiver uncontrollably as I run out to my car. I climb behind the wheel and start the engine, allowing myself a slight reprieve by leaning back against the driver’s seat and closing my eyes for just a moment. After I’ve taken a few deep breaths to steady my nerves, I begin the short drive to the Orting River.
    The park is desolate and empty. The trees are barren and lifeless against the grey sky, echoing the chill that has pitted into my stomach. I climb out of the car and step tentatively toward the trail that runs along the swollen river. My shoes cackle against the rocks and dried leaves still scattered over the dismal-looking path.
    Every fiber in my body is riddled with fear as I spot him; standing 100 yards to my right, dressed in a long, black jacket and Fedora hat, sucking back on a cigarette. The smoke billows out in front of him and the sickly smell carries on the slight breeze. My heart begins to rattle with anticipation. I’m trying to place him as I draw closer. His body language tells me he’s aware of my presence, but he still keeps his head down.
    “Mark,” I whisper.
    His eyes flit up to meet mine and I can’t believe what I’m seeing. My whole world seems to be turning upside down. “This can’t be,” I gasp.
    His face is stoic and void of emotion as he steps toward me. Instinctively, I back pedal, my eyes widening at his presence. “It’s real, Emma. I’m real.” He reaches out and his finger slides down the side of my face. The feeling sends shivers undulating through my body.
    “You’re dead,” I choke.
    His face remains expressionless; even as his finger traces my exposed collar bone, he stares at me with dead, empty eyes. “Am I?”
    I nod slightly and unlock my purse. With trembling hands, I reach in and extend the tattered obituary I carry with me. His eyes narrow at the clipping and a thin smile crosses his lips. “It’s all a lie,” he whispers.
    He grabs my hand and pulls me under the bridge. The river’s roared is amplified beneath the concrete structure and above me, I can hear the traffic of Kapowsin Highway rolling on; completely oblivious to my situation…completely normal… I take a deep breath and wait for him to speak.
    “Everything is a lie,” he says quickly. “I never died. You never lost your husband. Everything you know is completely wrong. That job you have…it’s not real. It’s not even a real company. They’re watching you, Emma. Everything you do.”
    Shock and disbelief washes over me and I feel myself teetering as he grips my wrist. “You’re crazy,” I reply. I try to pull away but he holds me tight.
    “You have to believe me,” he says. “This world isn’t real. It’s…” He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “Let me show you.” He flicks a pocket knife from his jacket pocket and for the first time, real panic strikes me. I begin to squirm and pull away but his hold tightens. “Just watch,” he hisses.
    The blade scrapes down the side of my arm, opening a little slit. I’m not sure if it’s the adrenaline or shock or combination of both, but I can’t feel the sting of the cut at that moment.
    He digs the blade a little deeper, then pulls the skin open slightly. I watch in complete dismay as a little black chip falls from my body. Blood covers my arm and dots the ground next to the small device. I feel myself swaying. My breath is coming shorter and shorter. I hear him say my name just before I fall into his arms.

  80. NoBlock says:

    Robert’s Confession

    “What the hell?!” Janice said out loud.

    “What’s the matter?” Robert, Janice’s husband, asked as he briskly walked in their bedroom where she sat at the computer.

    “I don’t know who would think this is funny.” She slanted the screen left so Robert could read the email she received.

    Robert however, was not laughing, he didn’t think it was funny at all, but he couldn’t let on to Janice, he had to stay cool.

    “Ha,ha, yeah probably some mass email prank sent out by a lonely geek sitting in his mother’s basement, with nothing better to do with his time than screw with people. Jerk.” He hoped he had walked that fine line between not convincing enough and way overboard convincing, just enough to not leave any room for doubt. “Just delete it.”

    “Done. Well I am going to get a quick shower before church hon. You’ll be ready soon?”

    “Of course, no problem.” He said and pecked her on the cheek and lightly smacked her butt with a forced smile and odd chuckle.

    A forced smile that as soon as he left their bedroom, turned to focused determination. He had to act quick, he checked to make sure Janice was in the shower then ran down the hall and dropped the attic ladder, climbed up and grabbed a duffel bag.

    He was hoping to never have to use the equipment in this bag, but the training he’d been through at the Kremlin told him, leave no strings untied.

    He threw the bag in the car and began assembling the gear as he drove. This wouldn’t be as neat and clean as he was used to, there was no prep time here, he would just have to wing it.

    He pulled in a parking spot across the street from the park and pulled out a pair of binoculars. He swept the area slowly, then came back suddenly to a man pacing in front of a fountain by himself.

    “That’s gotta be my Mark.” He laughed to himself at his pun.

    The final piece went on; the silencer, then Robert leveled the rifle out of the car window, put the man in his crosshairs, and squeezed.

    He threw the bag and all the equipment in a nearby dumpster before he fled back home, just in time to throw a suit on as Janice came out of their bathroom all dressed up and ready for church.

    On their way to church, they passed several police cars in a line with their sirens on and hauling ass in the direction of the park.

    “Jeez, I wonder what’s going on over there?” Janice said as she turned around in her seat.

    “Who knows.” Robert said with a quick glance in his side mirror.

    As they walked in the church, shaking the preacher’s hand, Robert leaned in to Janice, “I have GOT to pee, be right back.”

    “Okay.”

    Robert slipped away before Janice could notice him duck into the confessional.

    “Forgive me Father for I have sinned.”

    • don potter says:

      The tale was exciting, but I have a problem with Robert slipping away for confession.

      • swatchcat says:

        Ok Don, I’m curious as to why. Just as a lesson in continuity or your own faith thing? I’m not seeing a problem and maybe this could be a good “writers beware” moment I need to learn. Aside from that, NOBlock, the story seems fine to me, seems like it could be sort of an “American Spy” sort of thing.

        • don potter says:

          No one, not even a priest, can know the truth about the assassin. The man may pray for absolution but not tell about his deeds. That’s my take on this.

    • Observer Tim says:

      Nice take, NoBlock. I’m kind of curious how Robert got the information about who his target was, but there are plenty of ways that could have happened offscreen.

      I was also jarred by the confession, unless (a) the “priest” was his contact, or (b) the priest was about to have the worst day of his life. My guess is (a). After all, everything you know is a lie.

      • NoBlock says:

        Well, I made an assumption that Robert knew where Janice’s first kiss was because they are a married couple. So when he arrives and sees a man pacing alone at the fountain, he made an assumption as well.

        The confession is simply a character who is at odds with himself and what he’s done. Some people believe, no matter the sin there is still redemption.

        Does that ruin it?

        • Observer Tim says:

          No, it doesn’t ruin it, it just left me with questions. If we weren’t trying to squeeze the story into 500 words, there would be room for more clarity.

          The confessor thing rubs me the wrong way because for me it’s too close to home. We covered sacramental penance in some detail in my theology courses; it is very unlikely that a priest would grant absolution to a murderer without imposing the condition that he turn himself in. But that said, there are corrupt priests out there. That might become an interesting plot development if the story were longer.

    • snuzcook says:

      I totally got the MC knowing where to find Mark. Someone under such deep cover would have completely vetted their target, so such a clue would be simple. I enjoyed the twist of the confession at the end. I think it showed a depth to the MC, who had for however many years been holding a secret identity. We don’t know who he was protecting, himself or Janice or some third party not named, and we don’t know what organization he represents; he could very well have a faith-based belief system that justifies his actions, but still requires him to purge himself of the taint of his sins in order to maintain his role and his sanity. In other words, well done! I was engaged in the story and the characters in this short piece so much that I bought into everything you presented!

    • jhowe says:

      That was a good one NoBlock. After reading the other comments, I found it the confesssion to be a good ending. Hopefully Robert didn’t lay the whole thing on the poor priest right before he had to preach.

    • frankd1100 says:

      Excellent… Fast paced, great timing, action and intrigue. This is my kind of story when it’s done well, as you have accomplished here.

      Dialogue, setting, action, all feeding enough detail to let the mind run along with the plot and theme…

  81. danielsadam says:

    I sat alone, in the last row of cold metal seats at the minor league baseball stadium where the single A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays played their home games. It was the off season, no one stopped me as I pulled into the vip parking lot, got out of the car and walked in through the right field gate. From high above the field I would see anyone approaching. I was worried a security guard would happen upon me and ask the one question I didn’t know the answer to: Why are you here? Because I got an email from someone who called himself Mark telling me to meet him at the place where I had my first kiss? It sounded more preposterous every time I went through it in my head, “Everything you know is a lie”, the email said. I wondered if it could be true and what could it have to do with last summer and chasing girls around a ballpark, trying to get one of them alone around a corner or back behind the bleachers to sneak a kiss or, in my wild pubescent fantasies, round the bases. Countless failed attempts later, I found myself sitting in Section AA, Row W Seat 2, far into the corner of the right field bleachers, next to a girl I was sure I wanted to kiss but wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to be kissed by me. We were surrounded by thousands of people, hardly the right moment. But then, in the bottom of the ninth, the bat hit the ball with a crack and the people jumped to their feet. And while everyone else was looking at the field, I looked at her and she looked at me, we were the only ones still sitting down, hidden in plain sight; a base hit.

    The strange pitch of footsteps on the aluminum bleachers snapped me out of my day dream. A moment later I could feel the vibrations in the metal getting closer. He was coming toward me, sideways along the same row I was on.

    “Are you Mark?”

    “Yes” he said, with an accent I couldn’t quite place.

    “Is that even your real name?” I asked him but he didn’t answer. “What’s this all about? How do you know what happened here?”

    Without a word, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a small tablet. On the screen, I watched the crowd at the ballpark. I searched until I found myself seated in the last row, then I looked out across the field trying to figure out where the camera could have been. Then bat cracked out of view of the screen and the crowd jumped to their feet just like I remembered but when I looked closer at the image of myself, the only one still seated at the edge of the crowd, I was alone.

    “She’s gone.” I couldn’t believe it.

    “She was never there to begin with, you invented her.”

  82. op2myst says:

    I really liked this. You made sense of it and the story is believable. Well written and great twist!!

  83. PeterW says:

    (I’m assuming you’ve read the prompt, which I usually don’t assume)

    The spot where I was first kissed was my father’s house, by one of my father’s best friends, who was drunk. I was fourteen. I was already a bit plumb. I had the biggest breasts in the 8th grade, but that didn’t count for much. I looked at the message on my phone. Maybe it was the man who had kissed me; maybe he wanted to apologize. But what for? I had forgiven him the moment it had happened. I thought then no could love a fat girl, and only later, in my darker teenage years, when I wore only black, did I think about how much of a violation that sloppy kiss had been.

    I left the salon on my lunch break and I drove back via the belt-line. I exited on old Vemar Ave. Everything was more or less the same: dreary, decaying, a few new pieces shining and misplaced amongst the poverty. I turned on Castle and went passed the Steak N’ Shake where my father and I had had way too many meals. After working all day at the Furniture Warehouse, it was the easiest meal, I suppose. I came up to our old house: dull red, single-storied, patio with walls that were seemingly cardboard. Not much had changed. There was a bent up bicycle on the thin lawn. There was a Confederate flag in the window. I pulled into the empty drive and sat in the Corolla. I lit a cigarette. I was too afraid to quit. People get fatter after quitting, and the way it was, I didn’t need to get fatter.

    I thought about my dad. I still hadn’t forgiven him. I still hated him and blamed him. For eleven years, it was just us two in that shitty little house. We were messy, we over-indulged, and we were certainly both outcasts, losers, trash, what have you. An older man came into the patio. He was almost a shadow. He rummaged around. I honked my horn.

    He came to the door, and I rolled down my window.

    “You Mark?”

    He squinted groggily. “Who are you?”

    “Jane, are you Mark?”

    He came slowly out the door. He was completely bald. His mouth hung open. A female voice yelled from in back, “Dad, who is out there?”

    The old man didn’t respond to the woman, and continued toward me. There were tomato stains on his flannel shirt. When he bent over my window, I smelled beer and sweat and grease. It stung hard. He smelled like my father had.

    “Who are you?” he said again.

    “Are you Mark?” I said loudly.

    “No.”

    “Do you know a Mark?”

    “No, dear. I’ll go ask my daughter,” then he turned and made his way back to the house, stiffly, slowly, hunched and old. He would be about the age of my father.

    Then the woman was in the patio. She said sharply, “Dad, what are you doing outside? How many times do I have to tell you? For Godsakes.”

    The man pointed toward my car. She handed him a beer. “Go sit back down,” she said.

    Then she came over. She was wearing a big white shirt and her hair was tangled and short. I began to cough. No, no, don’t let me cry, I thought. Nothing is as ugly as someone crying. My father had said that.

    Her look of annoyance became a look of concern. “You okay, honey?”

    I managed, “I’m looking for a Mark.”

    “I don’t know a Mark,” she said, “Hey, you’re name is Jane, right? I remember you. You sold us the house after your… say, are you really okay?”

    “It’s my dad,” I said.

    “Got another cigarette, honey,” she said.

    I handed her one and lit myself another. She looked at me closely; then gestured towards the house. “Fathers, you know. I suppose you just got to assume they did the best they could. Not much else you can do.”

    I nodded. Nothing is as ugly as a crying person. My father said that after my mother left us. I was only seven. He had been wiping his eyes and breathing hard. And the last time I cried was after that party and that first kiss. He had found out about after his friends had left, and drunk, he had slapped me and turning away, softly said: Like your mother. I had started punching him in the back, screaming: I fucking hate you, I fucking hate you. Then he grabbed me and held me and started to cry too. But I had broken away and locked myself in my room. That was the last time either of us cried. The last time we hugged. The last time we touched. I didn’t cry even at his funeral. I didn’t hold his hand as he died. And today I didn’t cry either. I coughed a few more times, and said, “I guess I miss him.”

    Before I drove away, I deleted the message from Mark…probably a prank.

    • NoBlock says:

      I cannot put my finger on what it is about this story and your writing style, it’s so real. I feel like I am right there in the car. Really well done.

    • don potter says:

      Your writing is compelling and always delivers a unique twist. This post was no exception.

    • Reaper says:

      In my experience writing on subjects that are truly traumatizing social and personal issues in a way that touches and inspires is one of the hardest things to do while keeping the story interesting. This got me a little misty I won’t deny. Your voice is amazing.

    • Observer Tim says:

      Good to see you back on the stories rather than the meta’s Peter; they’re good, but this is better. I love the description and the very human tone to the piece.

    • snuzcook says:

      Great job, Peter. Your use of the shorter sentences invites the reader into the character and fends off any extraneous phrasing that can keep the reader at arm’s length. I think you wrote your character well. You created a poignant and and tragic reality for her, and then brought it back to reality and insight or a satisfying ending.

    • DMelde says:

      Nice descriptions. Nice interactions. Waiting for Godot, and more, in the driveway of your old house. Nicely done!

    • zmiley says:

      Even with the serious tone of your story, PeterW, you still had some pretty funny lines. It sounds like Jane is still haunted by her father. I was hoping the old man was him and they’d make peace.

  84. rainiemills says:

    This must be a joke. I glance at my computer screen re-reading the ominous message.
    “Everything you know is a lie. Act calm as to not alert anyone, but everyone around you is not who they say they are. You need to quietly get out of there and meet me at the spot where you had your first kiss. You know the place. My name is Mark.”

    Scanning the open workspace I see nothing suspicious. Everyone is dutifully slaving away as usual. The email was just as obscure, with no identifying features and no way to respond. Like it was plucked out of thin air and placed in my inbox. And my first kiss, how could “Mark” know where that happened?

    The telltale ding interrupted my thoughts as another email came in. This time the subject line read Because I know everything. What the hell – the preview pane showed three words, Jessica Ann Willow. Those three words had me jumping from my seat, so much for not alerting anyone. “Spider!” I breathe nervously trying to recover.

    How could he possibly know? Nobody knew, except me and Jessica. The thought of Jessica’s soft lips pressed against mine stirred memories suppressed long ago. The melodic gurgling of the brook filled the air as we basked in the warmth of the mid-summer sun. Excitement shot through my body as our lips collided. Fingers trembling to cover my mouth. The kiss came out of nowhere. We were both too young and unprepared for it, but both equally enamored with each other.

    The clock ticked excruciatingly slow as I awaited lunch hour. Operating on memory alone I parked at the edge of the forest. Our secret spot, our escape. The brush had grown thick, no trail could be seen, but I could hear the brook in the distance and knew I was headed in the right direction. The figure standing in the clearing stopped me in my tracks. The man that had occupied my dreams for as long as I can remember stood before me. How can this be.

    “Come my child.” His lips didn’t move, but I clearly heard the message. My feet on autopilot dragged me closer.

    “Who are you? How is this possible?” I stammered.

    “I am your father.” Those few words changed my existence. I knew he spoke the truth, I could feel it through my core. The resemblance to prominent to deny.

    “But how could you know…”

    “I can access anyone’s mind at anytime, and so can you. Listen closely, if they find out what you are they will kill you.”

    “What am I? ” My confusion evident.

    His touch brought the answer crashing through my head. Long forgotten memories rushed back as the images swirled through my mind. My body laying in a lab, tubes running through me. My parents blocking my memories to keep me safe, safe from them. I get it now, my purpose is clear. I have to save the world.

  85. Kera says:

    I squint my eyes and lean forward, the e-mail illuminates my face and I can see the reflection of the computer screen filter fuzzily through the lense of my glasses. Sighing almost annoyedly I unzip my laptop bag and close the computer with a final clap of plastic on plastic. Could the society be any more melodramatic?
    The cafe goers that buzz around me with their coffees and lattes move fluidly as if they all weren’t just accused of being imposters and liars. A smile touches my lips as I imagine how weird it would be if the e-mail really were actually from a man named Mark who knew where I was, who I am, and where my first kiss was. Before the daydream submerges me too much I flick it away to the idle recesses of my mind and exit the cafe with all of my belongings expertly packed away.
    “Where you goin’?” The Taxi driver inquires lazily, I ignore his terrible attempt at an American accent and tell him to take me to the nearest train station.

    While my first kiss wasn’t at a train station the society was using a cypher to communicate with me while still being anonymous, Mark was the traditional ending to their ominous e-mails, especially when they were calling upon my expertise. My higher-ups earlier in the week explained they were going to need me at a certain place, on a certain day, and they were going to contact me- so naturally I should be constantly looking for any sort of messages that were ending in “…Mark.”
    Last night I received a similar message that was also a cypher, but gave me the place I was going to be doing what I do best. The e-mail I just received gave my objective. To be honest, the six letter paycheck doesn’t exactly help with the nightmares, the pills, or the severed family ties.
    I gnawed on my inner cheek as the cab grew closer and closer to the next target sight.
    As my stomach hardened into an emotionless lump of stone I tried to cast out the familiar screams that were on a constant replay in my head.
    Everybody says their job sucks, but I swear, assassination may be impersonal, but damn do mass killings truly suck.

    • am_daniels says:

      This is my favorite one so far, it unfolds masterfully and has a really nice punch at the end.

    • Reaper says:

      Love the reference to the society here. Made me think this was going in a different, less normal direction. The build hooked me fast and I think the best stories are ones you figure out the end just before you get there. This did that for me with yet another twist on the mass killings. Uniquely satisfying.

    • Observer Tim says:

      Good story, Kera. It sounds like there’s some backstory behind this; I hope you choose to explore it further.

    • snuzcook says:

      I like the imaginative world you created in this short piece. Very believable, and a great response to the prompt. The fact that the MC suffers as a result of his/her chosen profession does not make me sympathetic, but it is an interesting observation and fits well here.

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