Friday, October 29, 2010

Tess: A Fiction Friday Series III

This week's writing prompt for Write Anything's [Fiction] Friday: In most parts of the world, Halloween is celebrated – in some form or another – this weekend. Your challenge this week is to write a horror scene ( or something horrific) using a wet noodle, a styrofoam cup and a feather. I'm continuing Tess's story again this week. Catch up by reading "Very Mild Superpowers" and "The Hunter."

Tess: A Fiction Friday Series III
The Return


Tess turned her head instinctively. Even though she'd been living as Tess for almost five years, she found herself reacting when she heard her real name. It was a habit she hadn't been able to break.

Across the crowd of children in khakis and plaid skirts she saw her childhood best friend, Amy. Amy waved her arms. Tess smiled back, keeping an eye on the line of cars crawling along the drive in front on St. Mary's Episcopal School. Tess looked down at her own pleated skirt, white stockings, and mary janes.

I remember this. A sinking feeling came over her as she tried to shake the cobwebs from her mind. She looked up in time to see the big, white truck pull to the head of the line.

She heard her name again.

"Kadie. Over here." The man in the truck was calling through an open window. He had kind, dark eyes and a reassuring smile. He propped his arm on the back of the bench seat and leaned toward the passenger side window. Kadie took a step back.

"It's okay. Your mom sent me."

Kadie hesitated for a second before convincing herself that this must be Roger, or was it Robert, her mom's current boyfriend of the month.

The details were vivid in her mind. She had relived this day, this moment, this decision countless times. She remembered the crisp autumn air, the yellow leaves crunching under her shoes, the wary look on Amy's face as she waved good-bye, and the blue jay feather that blew under the truck as she opened the door. She remembered the man's smooth voice and the rough feel of his hand against her cheek.

"Thirsty?" He handed her a styrofoam cup. Kadie took a sip of the tepid water.

"Don't be shy. Drink up, Kadie."

She wasn't thirsty, but she gulped down the water, sitting the empty cup back in the cupholder. The man pulled the lever on the steering wheel and pressed on the gas. Kadie's stomach tightened and she dug her nails into the sticky, vinyl seat.

"You don't remember me, Kadie. You were too little when your mom took you away."

Kadie tried to focus on the yellow line stretching out in front of the truck's hood. She was afraid to look at the man, knowing deep down that climbing into his truck had been a mistake.

"Look how much you've grown."

He grazed his knuckle over her cheek, ran his hand across the shoulder of her white cotton dress shirt, pausing to finger the ruffle at her sleeve, before running his calloused palm down her arm. He took her hand in his, covering it completely. Kadie looked down at his tanned skin, unconsciously counting the dark, course hairs on the back of his hand. She watched as goose bumps rose on her own arms. She smelled the distinctive scent of Old Spice cologne and tasted salt in her mouth. She struggled to keep her heavy eyelids from closing. The trees lining the quaint suburban street became orangish blurs as the truck rushed past.

"Who are you?" Kadie managed to squeak out the words as she struggled to hold back a sob.

"I'm your daddy, sweetie. Your real dad."

Tears trickled down her cheeks and the world around her began to spin. She remembered his hand on her thigh and seeing two boys taking turns on a tire swing in front of one of the big, brick houses. A shower of reddish leaves covered the road.



Tess opened her eyes and immediately felt an ache in her wrist. She sat up slowly, letting the dank smell of mildew wash over her. She recognized the damp cinderblock walls, the thin cot, and the bars lining one side of the small room.

"Kadie. You're awake. You should eat something."

She recognized Jane's voice and saw the shadow of a thin woman beyond the bars. Tess let her eyes adjust to the dim lighting and rose from the cot. She started across the cold, concrete floor. Something pulled at her left leg. Tess looked down to see her leg shackled to a rusty chain.

She crossed the room, dragging the heavy chain behind her. Jane held out a tin plate. Tess could see a large black bruise across Jane's cheek. The woman had changed little in the last five years. She was still bone thin with stringy brown hair matted around her shoulders. She moved with a skittish demeanor, making stiff movements in her worn house shoes and a threadbare cotton dress. Tess noticed a wet noodle clinging to the hair around her face.

Tess reached for the plate. Jane looked down, refusing to meet her eye. Tess could see the familiar sadness in the woman's face, but she also saw relief. Jane cared about her, but she cared more about the reprieve Tess's return would bring her.

"You should never have left."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tess: A Fiction Friday Series II

This week's Fiction Friday prompt: Include this theme in your story… After a long night, a hunter sees something he/she cannot believe.
I decided to continue my story from last week. You may remember Tess from last week's story. If you'd like to catch up you can read more about her here.

Tess: A Fiction Friday Series II
The Hunter

Tess climbed the steps to her building. In the early dawn she could hear the squealing machinery of the garbage truck as it crawled down 3rd Avenue. The sun was beginning to rise, painting a veil of pink over the East Village. She loved watching the city wake up, but this morning all she cared about was yanking these heels off her blistered feet. She fished her keys from her handbag and hurried inside.

Once in the lobby she braced herself against the wall, slipped off the offending shoes, and winced as the blood rushed back into her toes. Tess walked flat-footed to the elevator, relishing the cold tile floor beneath her soles. She pressed the up arrow and waited.

“Not bad for a Thursday.”

Tess spun around. Her eyes widened and she had to push down the urge to run. A shot of adrenaline rushed through her body and she could hear the sound of her pulse racing, a thunderous roar in her ears. She hadn’t noticed anyone following her, but now she saw him. A man’s figure in the shadow of the foyer. Who could know? Who could have seen her? How much did he know?

The man stepped from the shadow into the lobby. Tess let out a breath when she recognized her neighbor, Jim. She willed herself to keep it together. Just another college student returning from a long night.

“Not bad at all.”
“Busy night?” Jim looked down at the shoes dangling from her right hand.
“You could say that. On the prowl.” Tess tossed her head, flicking her hair over her shoulder. She pasted on a coy grin. Jim returned the smile.
“You wild woman.” He gave Tess a quick smack on the ass as he veered toward the stairwell.
Tess feigned shock and then devolved into giggles. She kept the smile until she heard the stairwell door click.

The elevator dinged and the door slid open. Tess climbed inside and pressed the number 16. She could still feel the sting of Jim’s hand on her ass. She closed her eyes and visualized the blood dripping down her last conquest’s chest. The thick fluid had rippled over his cut abs, soaked into his thin cotton boxers, letting the limp lump beneath show through. She could feel the edges of her mouth curve into a grin.

The elevator stopped with a jolt. Tess shook off the sinking feeling in her stomach and exited. She walked the hall to her apartment. She turned her key in the knob only to find that the door wasn’t locked. The feeling of being followed returned. Tess felt the fear creep back into her veins. She reached into her handbag and curled her fingers around the knife. It was still slick with blood and she struggled to gain a tight grip.

Tess turned the knob and pushed the door open. She closed it behind her before reaching for the light switch. In the dark she searched the shadows. Nothing. She flipped the switch. The apartment flooded with light. Nothing. Her heart continued to pound.

“Found you.”

The familiar voice came from behind her. It was right in her ear. She couldn't believe he was here, that he'd actually found her. Tess felt the cold, steel blade against her neck and the warm, muscular body against her back. The smell of old spice and cigarettes. She started to gag. The knife dug into her skin and she choked back the vomit, swallowing hard.

“Drop the knife, sweetie.”

Tess obeyed. She let the blood-coated knife fall to the floor. He loosened his grip and pushed her forward out of the doorway and into the main room. He pulled the knife back and shoved her hard. Tess felt a sharp pain in her arm as she tried to catch herself against the ivory chair. Her hose slipped on the hardwood floor and she lost her balance, leaving a smeared bloody handprint on the pristine upholstery. One of her heels landed next to her. The other skidded across the tile before crashing against the baseboards beneath the kitchen sink.

The intruder walked towards her, still brandishing his knife. Tess scrambled. She pressed her back against the side of the chair and pulled her legs up to her chest. Tears began to stream down her face, leaving black rivulets on her pale skin. Watching her cower, he stopped to pick up her handbag.

“Let’s see.” He dug in the bag. He pushed aside the tube of lipstick. He pulled out the pill bottle, gave it a quick look, shook his head, and then replaced it. “Here it is.” Finding her ID case, he tore at the plastic card until it came free.

“Tess Masterson is it? So we’re still posing as a college student?” He frisbeed her NYU Student ID. It glided across the floor, coming to rest next to Tess’s toes. She looked down at the card and noticed the tears in her hose. A run had started at her big toenail and was forming a thinning vee up the top of her foot towards her ankle.

“All these years bouncing from school to school. Think you might of learned something? The big city made it a little harder this go around, with so many lost souls to sift through. But here we are again.”

Tess forced herself to look him in the eye. They were the same empty, dark pools. The last five years had managed to deepen the creases across his forehead and lengthen the crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes. His dark brown hair was sprinkled with glints of grey and he had put on a few pounds.

He dropped her handbag and reached into his coat pocket. Tess couldn’t shake the familiar paralyzing fear as he pulled out a syringe. He uncapped the needle, crossed the few feet between them, and squatted down in front of her.

“Please, Daddy, no,” she said as the world turned to blackness.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Poetic Subjects

This Pillow Book entry is inspired by The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, translated and edited by Ivan Morris. Sei Shōnagon was a courtesan in 10th century Japan who kept a diary of the goings-on at court and concealed it in her wooden pillow. She made lists under various categories of specific, often quirky things.

From The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon
     The capital city. Arrowroot. Water-bur. Colts. Bamboo grass. The
     round-leaved violet. Club moss. Flat river-boats. Teh mandarin duck.
     The scattered chigaya reed. Lawns. The green vine. The pear tree. The

Poetic Subjects
A wisp of clouds, unrequited love, a feeling one is afraid to lose, an early bloom surprises one on a morning walk, a passionate embrace, snow-covered fields, a home that once may have been warm and inviting but now crumbles under the weight of decay, a thing that is rustic and old, facing one's fears, I once had a dream and before I did not recognize the fear that lay just below my skin, gnawing at my soul, preventing me from soaring.

The Pink Evening Sky

A warm sun whispers
to your heart. Lie
down on the lingering
wind. Clutch sleep
in a dream. Your bed
is the pink evening sky.


His touch haunts
me. Between desire
and adore, a clutch
or an ache, in the embrace
of night, the lingering
caress of trusting souls.


Escape the lusty 
Candle of day under 
her mate, the drunken 
moon. The dropping 
of hearts in wild 
darkness. The telling
of dreamy hunger, 
in sacred fire 
burning, flickers, 
as morning devours 
her night.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tess: A Fiction Friday Series I

This week's [Fiction] Friday prompt from Write Anything: What is your Character's Very Mild Superpower? They even provided a song for inspiration.

Tess: A Fiction Friday Series I
Very Mild Superpowers

“I told you I have a knack for these things.” Tess eyed the thick band of white elastic showing beneath Trey’s unfastened pants. “I pegged you for briefs the second you walked into the bar.”
“I’m amazed. When exactly did you discover this superpower?”

Tess tossed her blonde hair over her left shoulder. She tapped the toe of her stilletto on the sticky, wet pavement. She wasn’t surprised to find the alley behind the bar empty. She looked toward 2nd street. Nothing but the overflowing dumpster and some scattered pallets. She spun around to check the other direction. All clear. Just a flickering street lamp and several festering puddles. Along the alley walls the once red bricks had become tarnished with soot and grime. She turned back to see Trey fumbling with the button at his fly.

“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Tess stepped through the putrid water at her feet forcing Trey back against the brick wall. She leaned into him. “Why don’t you let me help with that? Looks like you’re having a bit of trouble.”

A half smile appeared on his face. His eyes were starting to glaze over and his movements were becoming stilted.

“Alrigh’ baby,” he slurred.

Tess smiled. She slid her hands down his chest, snaked her hand into his pants, and pulled the zipper down. Trey let out a quiet moan. This was always her favorite part. His eyes rolled back in his head. Tess leaned into him, pressing her body the full length of his. His body began to sag against hers and she had to use all her strength to ease him down to the ground. She straightened her legs and stepped back.

She stood over him, his legs sprawled out across the dirty asphalt and his arms hanging useless at his sides. One hand lay halfway covered in the water. Tess watched as a soggy cigarette butt circled his fingers and came to rest in the hollow between his thumb and forefinger. His eyelids closed and his head rolled sideways. It rested awkwardly on his shoulder and a strand of drool seeped from the corner of his mouth.

Tess opened her handbag. Finding anything in there was always a chore and the dim orange light of the street lamps wasn’t helping. She pushed the pill bottle aside, fumbled with a few pens and a tube of lipstick, and finally grasped the  knife at the bottom of the bag. She squatted down in front of him, feeling a draft as her skirt rode up the back of her thighs. Chill bumps came up on her bare arms and a shiver ran the length of her spine.

She didn’t take the time to unknot his tie. Instead she loosened it a bit and threw it over his shoulder. She deftly unbuttoned his stylish dress shirt and yanked it open. Tess ran the knife over his pale skin, tracing the limp muscles across his chest, leaving thin tracks of bloods. She used the tip of the knife to draw the outline of a heart in the center of his chest. It reminded her of the valentine Billy Thomas had given her in fifth grade. A clumsy heart cut from red construction paper. The words Be Mine scrawled across the front.

Tess gripped the knife in both hands, reared back, and plunged it into his chest. Blood sprayed across her face. She blinked until a droplet freed itself from her eyelashes. She pulled the knife out and watched the blood gush from the wound. She looked up at his motionless face, his smooth jaw, square chin, and high cheekbones. She ran the back of her hand over his cheek admiring the freshly-shaven skin. She used her thumb to wipe a spot of blood from his strong brow.

Tess stood up, her legs cramping a bit from holding the same position. She wrapped the bloody knife in a tissue before sliding it back into her handbag. She yanked down on her skirt and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Stepping over his sprawled leg, Tess took a cleansing breath and followed the alley out to 2nd Street.

Want to read more about Tess? You can follow her story in these posts:  The Hunter, The Return, and Jane.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Villa di Pratolino

Apennine by Giambologna (1579)
Fiction Friday Challenge #176: Your Main Character is a time traveler. He/She arrives at a destination but not all is as expected….
I've been working on the collaborative project for CYOA  so I decided to just pull in the mythology/technology and write a little offshoot story that can stand somewhat alone, but still ties in to the overall project. This innovative project has been an exciting challenge. You can learn more about the project by checking out the CYOA front page.

Villa di Pratolino

Florence, Italy. 2010

Jane waited for her head to stop spinning and the world around her to come into focus. When it did she could see the orange-red sunrise reflected in the Arno. In the distance the dome of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore rose above the Piazza del Duomo. Jane wished she could watch from her perch on the bridge as the sunrise splashed over the city and the streets began to fill with the activity of the day, but she had come here for a purpose.

Jane spotted a row of bikes lining the Lungarno Torrigiani. She didn’t have time for a rental so one of these would have to do. She followed the bridge and walked the row of flashy motorcycles. She eyed a simple black Triumph Bonneville 800 that looked to be in good condition. Jane fished the masterkey out of her bag. It was the one piece of tech she never left behind. It was an ingenious invention made to look like a keyless entry device. She turned the dial to bike, typed in the make and model, flipped out the metal piece, and watched as the metal molded itself into a key.

Jane took a quick glance at the empty street before climbing onto the bike. She kicked up the stand, inserted the key, deployed the choke knob, and pressed the start button. The bike hummed under her small frame. She pushed her messenger bag around to rest on her back and tightened the strap. She looked down at her wrist and let out a deep breath. She only had forty minutes to make it out of Florence and navigate the winding roadways to Vaglia. Jane pulled on the helmet, which the owner had been kind enough to leave behind, and began her ride North.

Jane took her post as Time Warden of Southern Europe very seriously. Her post included the years spanning the 19th through the 22nd Century, but she spent most of her time in the 2130s Thessaloniki, Greece at her flat in the Olympiados area. She loved the interesting mix of the thriving city interspersed with the ancient ruins that had been preserved throughout time. Having the latest technology at her fingertips was just a bonus.

Jane had received the communication from Johnathon just as she was freshening up for a night out clubbing with her girlfriends. It sounded urgent: a rift in the continuum 10 Oct 2010 8:03, Villa di Pratolino, Vaglia, Tuscany, Italy. Monitoring the continuum in her assigned time and area was Jane’s top priority. She had immediately looked to her augmentor, a device which allowed her to monitor the flow of time, navigate a jump, and communicate with other wardens. She hadn’t seen anything when she had checked that morning, but now Jane saw the ripple that Johnathon was warning her about.

It had been a long, long time since she had heard anything from Johnathon. He was once one of the most esteemed wardens, but after he left his post there had been little information about him. Johnathon had mentored several of the best Time Wardens, including Jane’s mentor, Selene. Selene refused to talk about him, but lately Jane had heard murmurings that he was in pursuit of some grand scheme. The little bits of information she had gleaned warned her that he was a danger. There was a rumor that he had been murdering Time Wardens to hide his activities in certain eras. Jane had a hard time believing that someone Selene trusted could stoop to such heinous activities. Surely if it were true he would have been stopped by now. There were measures in place after all. All she could worry about now was the threat of a ripple in her zone. She had quickly found a fold in the continuum that would send her closest to Johnathon’s coordinates and made the jump.

Jane pulled the bike into the Villa di Pratolino. She was a little windblown and her body was still vibrating from the long ride. She left the bike and began to traverse the gardens looking for anything out of the ordinary. Everything seemed normal. It was still early and just past the tourist season so Jane was alone in the expanse of drying foliage. Many of the leaves had already started to turn and a few had fallen to the grass below creating a scant covering of orange, red and brown. As she was admiring the lush scenery Jane felt the hair on her arms raise. The tension in the air was faint, but it was enough to alert her that another warden was nearby.

Jane closed her eyes and concentrated. She could sense the pull coming from the east. She opened her eyes and saw the colossal statue of Appennino as it brooded over the grotto. Approaching the sculpture she felt the waves of pressure grow stronger, causing her hands to shake and her stomach to turn. She fought the side effects of being in close proximity to another warden, knowing that it was her responsibility to maintain the continuum. Then she saw him. Even though it had been ages since she’d seen him, Johnathon was unmistakable with his sandy, red-tinged hair and muscular frame. She watched as he paused at the edge of the statue, skirted the foot of the bearded giant and disappeared into the centuries-old trees behind it.

Jane hurried across the grassy expanse, climbed the guard rail, and made her way up the sculpture to the spot she had seen Johnathon pause. She looked down. There was an innocuous-looking black briefcase sitting at the edge of the statue. Confused, she checked her wrist again. 8:02. She didn’t have time to deal with Johnathon’s game of cat and mouse. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen soon. She peered around the edge and searched the trees for him. She saw a movement in the branches and could still feel his presence. The feeling of her stomach turning was distracting. She could feel the pounding of her pulse in her temples and was fighting the urge to get as far away from Johnathon as possible.

That’s when she heard it over the trickle of water flowing into the grotto. A faint beeping noise. She looked around for the source. It was the briefcase. Jane’s heart began to race. She quickly picked her way across the base of the sculpture. She rounded the huge foot and stumbled down into the grass. She looked out into the trees and saw Johnathon. He flashed her a smile and winked before disappearing into the forest.

Jane turned back toward the sculpture. She heard a loud blast followed by deafening silence. Her body was propelled through the air. She slammed against a tree and felt a sharp pain in her left shoulder. When she looked over she could see a jagged branch piercing through her upper arm, pinning her in place. Unable to move, she watched as Giambologna’s masterpiece came crashing down on her in a mass of brick and stone.                  

Friday, October 1, 2010


This week's [Fiction] Friday prompt: Lonely in Paradise


“Isn’t there somewhere you’re supposed to be?”

Gabe heard the voice again. He looked around. He couldn’t think of anywhere he was supposed to be. He couldn’t think of much at all. He was captivated by what he saw around him. To his left, a field of blood-red poppies spilled from the forest. Above him the gold-orange blooms of crossvine clutched at the branches of a mesquite, its clawlike tendrils gripping the rugged bark. Trying to focus, he started recalling the names of the trees around him: bayberry, silver leaf maple, loblolly, witchhazel, black cherry . . . 

Gabe plucked a leaf from the cherry. He examined it closely. It was elliptical in shape, with very fine teeth; glossy and dark green above, pale green beneath, with tufts of brown hairs along the center ribbing. He was certain it was a cherry, but he’d never seen one grow quite so tall. He folded the leaf in half and pulled the two sides apart. A nervous action. He let the pieces fall to the moss-covered ground. 

He turned to look back across the rolling field of poppies. Across the field a range of snow-topped mountains jutted up against the horizon. The white tips glared in the bright light. Gabe guessed it must be close to noon, although he couldn’t find the sun beneath the forest canopy. He was tempted to stroll into the field and get a better view of the cloudless blue sky, but he opted instead for the shade of the trees and what looked like a footpath that led deeper into the woods. 

As Gabe followed the trail he tried to remember how he had managed to find this place. How did he end up in these woods? Where had he been going? And where was it he was supposed to be? It was useless. There was only this place. Nothing before. Nothing after. Finding the stress of memory too overwhelming, he focused on the trees again. A massive pecan stood before him, the oval nuts littering the grass at his feet. He marveled that its branches seemed to disappear into the sky. The path veered left around its wide trunk.

As he ventured further into the forest, Gabe noticed the diminishing light. The canopy was blocking out the day, creating a dim cavern of greens and browns. Only the infrequent ray of light managed to pierce the darkening woodland. Gabe watched as one of these points widened. It was a little over a hundred yards off the trail to his right. He watched, mesmerized by the glinting specks of dust and the floating pollen as they hovered in the growing ray.

As the light spread, he saw a figure. It seemed to congeal out of nothingness. A woman. She was standing, surrounded by the glow. A gust of wind came up behind him, catching the white blooms of a pear tree, swirling them around him before carrying them across the undergrowth to where the woman stood. Her long, blonde hair flowed out behind her as the blooms took up a playful dance in the sunbeam.

Compelled, Gabe followed the path of the pear blooms, stumbling through a patch of overgrown hawthorns. He hurried through the undergrowth, pushing back branches with his bare hands, smashing down the switch grass that managed to grow beneath the thick cover. He felt desperate. Gabe sped to a jogging pace. It was all he could manage over the terrain. He noticed a sharp rock jutting up from the soil and leapt just in time narrowly avoiding a fall. He pushed his way through a growth of blackberries, letting the vines scrape against his jeans, holding his arms up to avoid the thorns. 

He was only a few feet from the woman. Close enough, he thought, to reach into the expanding light. As he stepped out of the copse of vines a creeper shot out, wrapping its thorny branch around his ankle. His leg caught up in the tangle, Gabe stumbled. He threw his hands out in front of him and came crashing to the forest floor only inches from the light, which now seemed to be shrinking. The woman stood, blank-faced with wide empty eyes. 

Gabe scrambled to free himself from the grip of the vine. He pulled at the snaking branch, oblivious to the thorns as they tore into his fingertips. He yanked at the green tendrils, too vibrant to snap. Realizing the vine’s grip was impossible to break he quickly slid off his shoe and sock. He gripped the vine and slowly worked it over his heel and down the length of his foot until he was free. 

His skin was covered in the purple stain of blackberry juice mixed with the crimson of his own blood. Long scrapes trailed across his ankle and down his foot, dark red creases lined with raised white ridges. Gabe heard a shot ring out through the forest. He closed his eyes and when he opened them the forest was gone. He was alone in the dark. A light flashed across him and he looked down at his hands to find them covered in thick, sticky blood. The darkness closed in again and he felt a searing pain in his chest. He brought his hands up to slake the pain. Another flash showed him his chest. His hands rested on an exposed rib, surrounded by torn, raw flesh. He opened his mouth to scream, but the sound was muffled by a gooey liquid pouring from his throat. As the light passed, he closed his eyes again and fell to his knees. 

Gabe slowly opened his eyes. The forest had returned. He looked down to where his hands clutched at his chest. There was nothing there. No scrapes from the thorns. No purple stains. No blood. Gabe remembered the woman in the light. He climbed to his feet and spun around. The large ray had shrunk to a slender pinpoint. The woman stood, her back turned to Gabe. He was close enough now to reach her. 

Gabe put his hand on the woman’s shoulder. She slowly turned around. Her clear complexion giving off its own light in the darkened forest. As she turned Gabe saw the other half of her face. It was a mangled twisting of blood and flesh. Parts of her skull were visible and an eye hung loose from its socket. The long, blonde hair was matted with the sticky blood and chunks of brain matter dangled from the strands. 

“Help me,” the woman said. Her voice was a raspy whisper.

Gabe watched, paralyzed, as the pinprick of light went out. The woman reached out her arms as her body dissipated into the blackness of the forest. 

“Isn’t there somewhere you’re supposed to be?”

Gabe heard the voice again. He looked around. He realized he was in a thick, dark forest. He could see the faint glow of sunlight in the distance, shining down on a footpath. Gabe began to make his way through the undergrowth, desperately trying to remember where it was he should be. The strain of it soon became too much. Instead he concentrated on the foliage. There was a growth of hawthorns at his feet that led up to a large mesquite. He picked up a fallen leaf and examined it. Redbud, he thought. A break in the canopy cast a brilliant white light on the forest floor. Gabe looked around him for the redbud tree, knowing it must be close.