2 Seconds…

2 Seconds Cover
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Two Seconds… 

 

 

 

T-Minus 5.4×10¹² seconds

 

Near the core of the stellar object in a later age called Sol, eight-hundred billion tons of hydrogen reacted in the pressure and the heat fused the nuclei to create helium and gamma rays. The high energy photons created began the random walk to the surface. Absorbed and re-emitted at a lower energy each time, the photons made the slow walk to the surface of the sun.

In the times before the creations of humankind orbited the earth, flew the sky or rolled along roads. Long before any human ever walked along a river and pressed their footprint into the mud along a shoreline. The energy packets as gamma rays began the travel through the dense core of the star that would become known as Sol.

 

T-Minus 4,162,752,000 Seconds

 

Late one night in the year 1880, a woman moaned in pain. midwives walked about as the birth pains continued. William Harley paced outside the door. Few times he dared to pull on the handle to peek inside, then had his life threatened by the women inside.

One of the three men that stood watch with the soon-to-be father, Rev. Frances Knight patted William on the shoulder. “Will be over soon, by the sound of it. The babe is almost here.”

“It was a good Christmas, this will top the holidays.”

Robert Valance joked, “She’ll never let you back in the bedchambers Will, less than twelve years and five children. She will do you such harm as to make a new chapter in the Good Book.”

Frances laughed. “I doubt that, Robert, she is a good church woman.”

The sound of a baby’s cries announced the arrival of a new life to the men outside the door.

“Congratulations William.” Francis smiled. A moment more…

The door opened and interrupted the Reverend as a woman stepped out with the newborn.

“It’s a boy.”

William smiled wide. “William Sylvester will be his name. I have named him after myself and Mary’s father.”

As the boy-child grew, he met another young man with a curious mind and an active imagination with the talent to design and build what he had in his mind.

Inventions of fish-line winders were always in the young Arthur’s mind. They loved to fish and laugh, the two boys were best of friends always. Even the times they argued, it would always end in respect and laughter as they shared their lives and secrets between each other.

One spring afternoon, Author and William ran out to watch a man rode up and down the street on a noisy contraption, a “motor cycle” he called it. The excitement grew in their souls and sounds of the two-wheeled infernal machine inspired the boys with a passion for things to come.

In years of college that came, the younger William impressed his professors and teachers of his knack with the mechanical talent above many of his peers. The dream from what he had seen with his best friend, Arthur, still lived in his heart.

Together the boys grew into intelligent and courageous men who started a company that would inspire heroes and villains alike on the way to become legend.

 

T-Minus 3,437,424,000 Seconds

 

Harley-Davidson Motorcycles was born of little more than a handshake, and a gentleman’s honor between two best friends, then business partners. To this end, they achieved both respect and honors of those that worked for them through the years, two world wars and into the future.

In the war with Pancho Villa, the military purchased some of the boys’ (Now grown to men.) Machines. A colonel who rode with his troops was very impressed by possible uses of the motor-powered bikes to get messages from one site to another in a hurry.

World War I — the Great War, came to the fore. The military with its long memory ordered thousands, and by the close of the war, numbered more than fifteen-thousand of William and Arthur’s motorcycles with the new V-twin arranged engines.

Life improved as the employees respected the owners and the employees worked the best that they could to build products that they would want to own themselves.

World War II, the war that followed the War-To-End-All-Wars and the government called upon Harley-Davidson once again to produce the legend they had before.

William and Arthur were more than capable and happy to oblige. They increased the power of the V-twin time and again, the iron horse was no longer on rails, but rubber tires and now could be ridden.

However, William did not live to see the end of the war. A conflict that both saddened him and made his company famous.

After a long hard year of contract negotiations and sure that they filled all their obligations. William played golf to relax after a very stressful day that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. William never returned, his time ended with sudden cardiac arrest.

William Harley was 1,996,444,800 seconds old.

 

T-Minus 2,175,984,000 seconds.

 

The company’s reputation spread as the power of the engines grew and the nickname of “Hog” that had begun as a race team now became a common reference to the large motorcycles.

Discharged soldiers found that the freedom of the road was ever more pleasant with the powerful and dependable motorcycle from the once best of friends that dreamed of machines were best of friends as business partners. Harley-Davidson Motorcycles were the most desired of all the big machines by a generation that had lived through horrors of death and destruction unmatched in history.

 

T-Minus 1,923,696,000 seconds

 

For years, after Bill passed away from a heart attack, Arthur had stayed the course of his motorcycle company on the same business track as he, William and the rest of the Davidson crew chosen years before, together. Bill lived to honor his best friend and increased the depth and breadth of the company that they had started so long ago.

Five days after Christmas 1950, Arthur and his wife, Clara, left the house in the car. Ice on the roads had melted, in the shadows of trees, water refroze into a surface smoother than glass. While Arthur was a careful driver, not so the driver of the pickup truck that slid around the corner on the icy pavement and hit them, driver side headlight to driver side headlight at less than twenty-five miles-per-hour. Arthur’s car careened off the road and came to rest against a tree. Hard interior surfaces with sharp corners did more damage to the human occupants than the impact of the accident and the unexpected death of Arthur Davidson was felt throughout the motorcycle community.

Arthur was 2,201,904,000 seconds old.

In 2008, Harley-Davidson produced motorcycle number 1HD1DJV131Y 584344, the skills of the company were not wasted on the powerful machine. It was perfect only when the thirty-year veteran inspector, David Oliver “Papa DOK” Kraig deemed it so. On the computerized display, the power curves that the engine put out were not just within limits, but perfect.

After a brake check and this newest of additions to the H-D family received the pronouncement “Perfect” by Chris “Eliminator” Thanatos. A six-foot four-inch frame that was always in a dark mood, he was without mercy as he placed a red-tag of rejection on any product that was marginal in test limits. A strict personal need and a meticulous eye for flaws made for many employees on the assembly line to flinch. When it came to this OCD employee’s inspections – It was perfect or it never saw the light of day.

One-hundred-percent pass score, one of the names that the employees labeled this new iron horse “P.H.” or “Perfect Hog”.

Shipped with care out west. It sat on the sales lot until a young man who William would have been proud of sat astride it and smiled. Russell Fletcher’s dark eyes looked over the chrome that William and Arthur’s old company had given birth to.

Before the hour was up, Russell was on the road with his prized new possession.

A life of glory on the most glorious machine of the year, Russell laughed every night he rode.

And Russell rode a lot.

 

T-Minus 2,775,168,000 Seconds

 

LucilleMay Adler born to George and Ethel grew up in Chicago on the poorest side of town. George was a warehouseman and had never had much time for his family. A heavy drinker by the time that Lucy was in her mid-teens. He died when he drove into a tree on his way home. Ejected from the car, the intoxicated father struck his head on the hard ground and died right there from his injuries.

Lucy and her mother moved to California where her aunt Lewellyn suggested where she became involved with a young man who went to school. He impressed Lucy with his clear blue eyes and aspirations. The young man often would take Lucy on rides in the country as they sat with picnics under his favorite trees along the Marin headlands.

He tried to farm crops, but Joshua Sprecks failed and was now stuck with the land in hills of the southern bay area, they struggled for years until a builder made an offer to buy some land so a home could be built.

Joshua paused, pondered, then refused the offer. Instead, he spoke with an employee who helped him and in turn they looked into construction of three houses which sold for a large profit.

In the years that followed, Joshua found he had talents in the business of home and subdivision design. With a good relationship with the local inspectors, Joshua Sprecks made life comfortable for his family. He chose schools that the children would attend as father blazed the trail and returned to school himself. Joshua graduated and, in time, became an architect of some renown in the area.

Soon after the first of Lucy’s four children were born. Lucy developed an addiction to Valium, a common problem first decade’s prescription of the drug. Most of the women in her church were very much addicted to the Valium class of medications, and an active trade developed within the group as the hoarders would sell among the women that needed it at the moment.

One springtime afternoon, everyone had arrived at home from school with chores finished. The day was warm and beautiful and a wonderful time for the young. Joshua Junior promised he would be careful, Lucy’s smiled and allowed her eldest son to take the family car and drive his younger brother and two sisters to the store for sodas. Joshua Junior was always very careful at the wheel of the car, Lucy was always careful to teach him of his responsibilities. Lessons that he took to heart, always.

However, the drunk driver that collided with them had no such guidance.

The light in Lucy’s eyes dimmed as she never quite recovered after they buried four of her five children. The sole survivor of the accident that took the lives of all the children was the youngest who had to stay home to do homework.

Josh Sr. took the next offer of his three-hundred-acre ranch and bought land in the Lake Tahoe area away from the metropolitan growth around their orchards. It seemed unfair to Joshua Sprecks who had no wish to stay in the area where his children died at the hands of a man who paid just a month’s worth of salary in fines.

 

T-Minus 1,608,336,000 Seconds

 

Russell Fletcher, born to James “Fletch” Fletcher and his wife, Mitsu, in Tokyo, Japan.

A young life that started with his father’s business in full operation. Fletch had a knack to turn companies on the verge of failure into successful enterprises and would then sell them. All his life, he was a fixer.

Russell learned much under his father’s tutelage. After he Graduated college, the young Fletcher started a business of food delivery to community elders after he had cooked for his grandparents in the last few years of their lives. The growth in the food system was explosive, soon outpaced Russell’s ability to hire new employees and get them trained.

Russell became known to have his father’s golden touch. He developed a skill to negotiate a fair price on services for the company, he expanded into other communities and got concessions of tax credits for the good will he had created in the company as his “Wheels of Hope” brought smiles to those that could not go to the stores and buy food items.

In the end-of-year holidays, Russell’s company delivered Christmas dinners to lists of families, food donated by local businesses, drivers dressed as elves and Russell made his mark on how business ran in the state. It was his personality and his father’s lessons that taught other companies to conduct themselves and not be ruthless.

Never could he teach the political parties the same lesson, in time even Russell gave up on politicians with back-room deals.

He turned his back on the games that are politics. He found that his amount of goodwill was ignored in large part and he began to feel the weight of taxes that politicians crafted for his style of business and stringent rules that became law that governed his delivery vehicles.

After a legal challenge, and a judge who found that such restrictions unconstitutional, Russell sold his stake in the company he had founded a few years before and moved on and started a new company that excelled in performance once again.

Freedom became his greatest business, taught inner-city kids and kept them from prisons. Once again he built a business with the power of goodwill that spread beyond his dreams and expectations.

Still, he felt he needed more. In the world of success and parties, there was one problem.

He was alone.

 

T-Minus 1,545,264,000 Seconds

 

Lluvia “Lulu” was born to Roberto and Delores De Soto while the most intense storm of the season thundered outside. Descended from Hernandez De Soto, she inherited a soul for exploration.

Never one to back down from a challenge she met each one with a quick wit and a laugh. Beauty sparkled in her eyes as she looked upon the world. As a child she would be found in trees she climbed – much to the chagrin of mother Delores who tried to teach this girl how to behave like a girl.

But with Lulu, it was all futile.

Once when teased by the boys, Roberto heard screams of fury and knew, Lulu was beyond angry. The father of eight put down his tools, and walked around the house. There, Roberto found that his Lulu of the sonrisas, pushed beyond her limit of temper by her brothers.

She had her four brothers treed.

Roberto laughed in spite of himself.

The four older brothers had pelted Lulu with fruit as she had come home from school in her new dress that her Mama made.

The result:

A temper that never broke without reason, this day did. Fury, like the tornadoes that could scour the earth clean of soil and asphalt across the middle of America, she had bloodied the nose of one brother and all had climbed the tree they had picked fruit from.

Lulu had pushed the ladder onto its side and now carried an ax to where her brothers sat trapped. The girl with the pretty smile, had tears and murder in her eyes.

The elder De Soto called Lulu over and calmed her. Mother De Soto would be furious when she got into the house, Lulu cried on her papa’s arms.

“Mi bebé, I shall take care of that now, your brothers will pay that penalty. Just do not cut down this tree, please? It produces fruit for our crops and it would be years before a new one I would plant to reach a productive age.”

In the weeks that followed, Lulu laughed as the brothers learned how to sew and created for her and her three sisters dresses that matched. Sewn to the microscopic standards of Delores De Soto, it took the four boys a year to get it right.

The brothers received brutal teases from their friends that lasted longer than the year that they learned to sew “Like a girl”.

In years to come, Carlos, the middle brother, became a well-known clothier and influential designer of fashion as he grew up. He incorporated with his name on a high rise in New York at the age of 630,720,000 seconds, his name was soon a desired label.

 

T-minus 950,354,000 seconds.

 

Lulu entered college, the first of the De Soto siblings, with some challenges in her grades she did not get into the colleges she wished for. She learned to learn at the local college, she met a girl who would become one of her closest friends. CarlaAnn was a dreamer, planner and rule-bender. A girl who was fun to do things with.

Together they got in occasional trouble but never serious enough for the police to ever press charges. Just once did the girls have to sit in the police station and wait for their parents to come pick them up.

CarlaAnn laughed as she whispered to Lulu.

“That was awesome!”

Lulu laughed, A month grounded? They had set off the fire alarm at the hotel and people ran out in various stages of undress. It was so worth it.

Lulu and Carla began a business together of rodeo outfits until CarlaAnn met Jack, an older boy who CarlaAnn was in love with, who convinced her to buy Lulu out and expanded the business into motorcycle competition instead of just rodeo outfits. CarlaAnn allowed Jack to run the company with CarlaAnn and Lulu became sales representatives.

Lulu met with many of the race teams and promoted her friend’s company.

After several months Jack became the head of the company and would direct all day-to-day operations. Sometimes it seemed the company shorted Lulu or would be very late to pay Lulu her salary, but CarlaAnn just made excuses. As weeks went by, CarlaAnn  lost her ability to people in the eyes, even more so her best friend, Lulu.

Then it began. A slight discoloration of CarlaAnn’s face that could not be covered by make-up would worry Lulu, but her best friend would never let on what happened.

Then CarlaAnn began to slip rolls of hundred-dollar bills into Lulu’s purse and whisper.

“Don’t tell Jack. Please.”

At one rodeo, Lulu sat with a horse owner while they talked about equipment that his company sought to purchase. Barrels, saddles. Many saddle-makers had lined up when the rumor (started by Lulu herself to test the waters) that CarlaAnn’s company moved into distribution of more equipment at a reasonable price.

Lulu met Russell at one autumn car show.

She met with a horse owner, Harold Stepkin, invited a handsome young man and introduced him to Lulu. With ebony eyes that sparkled with humor, an exotic look and a brilliant mind, Russell Fletcher attracted Lulu right away. In turn, when he looked at her, the world went silent.

Dark of eye and quick of wit. She enthralled him in an instant.

Well on her way to make an impact in alternate power sources for big vehicles. She promoted her best friend’s company then lost the subject while she talked with him.

Two weeks later Russell bought Lulu dinner and they talked long hours after the sun set. The restaurant closed around them and they left with the employees.

In the months that followed, Jack’s mismanagement took a toll on CarlaAnn. No longer did the two women travel together or were known as the party girls to known to sell needed equipment.

Lulu was paid in full by CarlaAnn’s company while Jack failed to make other payments required by the government. Instead Jake spent money on other dubious activities.

Quietly, Lulu returned the rolls of hundred-dollar bills from the accumulated pile to CarlaAnn after Jack went to prison and CarlaAnn’s acquittal. The court found Jack had used the resources of the company and had a role in corrupt activities in the local community.

After CarlaAnn’s business dissolved, Lulu and Russell were never apart more than an afternoon in the years that followed.

The spring that followed, Lulu’s father, Roberto passed away hours after he watched his bebé marry the boy with almond eyes and an honest heart. The bittersweet day would be remembered by both families for generations.

Seven years later, Mama Delores married a green-eyed Celt with quick wit and a voice like distant thunder.

While they settled in, children were born to the newlyweds while they started their next generation. Russell moved his growing family to the high desert area south of Reno. They loved to visit, but not live in, the snows of Tahoe to the west. He took Lulu often to ride around the jewel the mountains.

 

T-Minus 14,400 seconds

 

One summers day, on his beloved Harley-Davidson, Mister and Missus Fletcher enjoyed the weather that midsummer offered. The neighbors watched the children as they spent their anniversary on the back of an iron horse and freedom in their hearts.

At the dwarf-yellow star that humans now call Sol, photon packets that spent the last thousand-centuries in the slow random walk from the core of the sun was now a lot less energetic.

Photons, randomized now into what had become known as visible light began to move faster as the hot gasses thinned enough to allow the photons to reach speeds associated with light. Ten-percent, then twenty, fifty-percent of the speed of light in a vacuum the EM radiation began to move to the universal speed limit.

 

T-minus 10,800 seconds.

 

On earth, the eighty-cubic inch V-twin engine rumbled in good tune. A header pipe that Russell had plumbed into a high-efficiency muffler improved the fuel consumption, gave more power— and less noise— was the song of freedom for the couple that rode on the full-dressed motorcycle.

The sounds of the wind, the intercom they used to talk with while they wore their helmets. All the details that represented their closeness.

It also gave Lulu, the beautiful wife, teacher and mother, a titan in a tiny body, reason to hold onto the man that she called “Husband”.

Not that she ever needed a reason to hold him, it was a perk while she rode on the back of their favorite steed.

The midnight-blue of the paint glittered with faint scratches that were long earned with thousands of laps around the blue mountain lake.

Russell once estimated they had driven the circumference of the earth on the mountain roads that circumnavigated the twenty-two-mile long lake. It was a trip the happy-camper couple made often. They slept on the shores of the lake in the many campgrounds maintained by the Federal and State Agencies.

The sky was blue with broken clouds, the chill of the mountain air tickled the hearts of the couple that escaped life’s grind and pain of the wife-come-teacher and the businessman-husband that was their work week.

They wound their way through the forest as they followed the black strip of asphalt and the dashed lines, Russell told a joke about a mason and his union, who got stonewalled.

Lulu laughed into the intercom like a dutiful wife while she rolled her eyes at the stupid joke.

Lunch at their favorite stop, “Ian’s”, seafood grilled over an open fire, the perfect break for the mid-day meal. They sat on a balcony and overlooked lake waters so clear, that it could give cause a fear of heights if one looked down to the bottom of the jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

An hour and a quarter of fresh bread, fish, grilled red baby potatoes and wine by Ian Mehretu, the owner and cook in the tiny, lakeside eatery.

Russell paid the bill and the two walked out of the restaurant and held hands as they headed to where Harrison the Hog waited for them with the patience of machines.

Helmets on, the intercom plugged in, the big engine rumbled to life and the day held fewer clouds in the sky as they merged into traffic of the high-mountain community main road.

They had a long trip ahead of them to their favorite mountain lookout and then back home.

 

T-Minus 500 Seconds

 

Energy.

It boils and seethes on the surface of Sol, the gas heated by the high energy photons that kept the plasma illuminated with the glow of unimaginable heat from the core of the sun. Energy generated a hundred-thousand years before this day, radiated out towards the surface of the sun in the slow, random walk, and transferred heat to the material along the way.

On the surface of the sun, photons were freed from the surface traveled unfettered through space at lights natural speed. A blue, green and white marble that orbited Sol was just a small speck at this distance as the photons sped away from the star that had given them birth. The electromagnetic packets of energy reached three-hundred thousand kilometers-per-second an instant after they passed through the photosphere.

While the photons traveled towards the single planet in the system known to harbor life and a couple rumbled down the road on their motorcycle, Lucy Sprecks got into her car. She was now 2,840,122,800 seconds old. Joshua, her brilliant star of her life, had passed away years before. And at this time of her life, Lucy just went and donated time to charity work and her church.

To share her love of the good book became the one reason she left the house these days. Her own child visited on rare occasions, busy with his own life.

Long passed her addictions of prescription medications, Lucy now drank her bottle of wine each lunch time and she looked forward to today’s lunch with her friends. Edna supplied more wine than any of the Society of Lady Druids.

Lucy was certain she would convert the heart of Edna to the true path of Christian religion. Then a sudden memory!

“I forgot my bible!” Sighed Lucy. She pulled over and double checked in her oversized purse. It was not there, nor was the passage she had copied out for Edna to read. She needed to turn around and go back home. She loved her big car, the Mercedes made her feel safe, but it was difficult to perform tight maneuvers with Lucy just able to look over the dashboard of the powerful German-built car.

In space, waves of EM radiation, the photons given birth tens of thousands of years before, now closed the distance at the cosmic speed limit and sped to their destination on earth.

 

T-Minus 300 Seconds

 

They rode along at the speed limit, Russell and Lulu talked about lunch at the North shore of the lake, Ian had done an extra good job this time.

Russell had his open-faced helmet on so the conversation was easier for him. Lulu wore a full face helmet with a stout chin guard with a gem-light just above the eye line. The light allowed Lulu to read map sections taped to the back of his helmet at night. Lulu’s helmet was very expensive and lightweight, made from such materials that would make a NASA test pilot envious.

They laughed together at a joke, they passed a state patrol car that sat on the side the of the road, the officer inside did paperwork of a recent citation. Russell, like everyone else on that section of road, checked his speed at that moment. Lulu laughed at her husband, he was just at the speed limit anyway, and yet he still backed off the throttle a little.

“No need to slow down old man!” A Jab in the side with her thumb. “You drive like a grampa anyway!” Her voice clear in the electronic mini-earbud built into the helmet that then in turn connected to the motorcycle’s audio system.

Two miles ahead, Lucy found her bible. She had tucked it into her blouse pocket. She did not have to make the ten-mile trip back home and be late for lunch after all! Now, Edna would not have wait to have her soul saved.

Or at least Lucy would try to save Edna’s soul –again.

Lucy pulled over and let the big trucks pass. The next place to turn was another three-miles, this spot would be good enough for a U-turn if she just did it quick.

Traffic was a pestilence as Lucy waited, she remembered the days when her husband would drive them in their old car – then itself was a jewel, a Kaiser Darrin, sporty, windy with the top down and it was the most expensive purchase Joshua made.

She brought herself back from distraction of the thought as the wine was waited for her in large enough amounts to improve the day for even the dour Katarina Kurk, the German woman who was face-hurt-from-laughter funny when she had a half-bottle of wine in her.

Katarina, once an actress and comedian in her old country, she had retired first to California, then to the Nevada side of the lake. She hated everyone that were not her friends, it would take her several meet-ups to warm up to any person.

Katarina would not even crack a smile, even when she watched reruns of Abbott and Costello on the newest television she could afford. Although the woman had long retired, she would buy new household items every-other year. None of the furniture in her house was more than two years old. Kat never batted an eye for spills on her sofa or chairs, she just replaced it.

Rumor was that her most loved furniture remained in a house in Los Angeles for when she wanted to entertain her old friends in Hollywood.

Here, in the high-mountains, she was a party animal from the old-school ways. Able to drink many men under the table.

Few tried, most were frightened of Kat, she was a happy drunk, but her temper flared like a volcanic blast if she was ever annoyed. Katarina was famous in the local community as a senior who beat a would-be armed robber that raided a grocery store while she shopped. One of the two ruffians held a machete in her face and she proceeded to cudgel the young man unconscious with a stick of dry salami. His partner ran up to assist, Kat used the same salami stick to crush the second guy’s testicles with a blow that security cameras recorded that the shop owner released online.

A late night talk-show host invited Katarina to sit and talk, which led to more movie offers, most of which she turned down.

And then, there was the rogue-ish secretary that worked for Katarina.

Tall, rugged, the ginger-haired assistant played winemaster when the ladies met, and had arms that both Edna and Lucy loved to touch. He never complained and always kept their glasses and bottles fresh and full.

If ever he complained about sexual harrassment, Kat never said.

The women’s coffee klatch was Lucy’s favorite time of the week.

All five of them.

And then Sunday, too!

It was a great day, Lucy thought and smiled.

 

 T-Minus 60 Seconds

 

Lucy became impatient, traffic lined up and unbroken for a few minutes — too many. She was impatient and irritable. Not for the first time she swore at the numbers of people around the lake that Joshua loved, and died in while he fished. She longed for the days where you could drive for an hour and not see a single soul.

A break in the traffic in the opposite direction showed itself. Lucy would take it. Traffic came at her from in front, she timed the arrival of no cars in the direction she wanted to go.

In space, the photons crossed the orbit of Venus, sped on at the speed of light on the way to Earth. Many of the photons would be absorbed by dust, debris and even reflected away by satellites before they entered the atmosphere of the sole planet to have been absolute in the discovery of life on its surface.

One-thousand one-hundred meters away from Lucy and her new Mercedes that all the women were jealous of, Russell and Lulu laughed over the intercom when she slid her hands under his jacket and over the chest she knew so well and always enjoyed her husband’s body, and any chance she could touch him? She would.

Even more so if it was an inappropriate time and place, she enjoyed his reactions ever the more.

As a wife, she would walk arm in arm with her husband, often with her hand in his back pocket just so she could squeeze anytime her hand had a need.

As a mother, she loved her children more than life itself. Lulu was known to run over rattlesnakes with her truck if there were any in the areas of the hundred-acre desert backyard that served as the children’s playground.

Russell had his own fun with the girl of the dark eyes and black hair that moved in with him, took his last name and gave him children that he loved most in this world.

Even more than his big v-twin motorcycle that he bought before they were married. It was the ride, he felt, that Lulu fell in love with him for.

Lulu had other ideas, most involved how Russell’s jeans fit around his hips.

But whatever the causes of the two soul mates to find each other, neighbors and family knew it was a love affair of legends.

Just a thousand yards ahead, LucyMay clenched her teeth in frustration, she hated traffic. Unable to admit that to drive the car had become more difficult for her, she would argue with everyone and anyone over the subject that her mind was as sharp as ever. Which was true, but age diminished her reflexes.

It was times like this that she never thought about the size and speed of highway traffic. She felt that her car was the speediest and safest on the road for a hundred miles in any direction.

An intersection on the highway almost nine-hundred yards away, a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles waited to turn and merge with the flow of traffic. Riders waved at the couple and Russell waved back in the common show of solidarity of two-wheeled riders have everywhere.

Destiny awaited the players who were in play.

In space, from the photon point of view, the earth separated from a bluish speck to two specks of the moon and earth.

 

T-Minus 15 Seconds

 

“Next time we come, let’s stay the night at the village?” Lulu asked. Russell knew the place she and nodded. A bed and breakfast house with a claw-footed tub in the room. A huge fireplace with wood stacked by the workers and an expansive view of the lake.

A hot tub on the balcony to watch the sunset over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the perfect spot to spend time away and to themselves.

The memory of days past at that lakeview room made him smile.

In space, photons left the orbit of Venus behind and approached the orbit of the moon. At this distance, the moon little more than a bright spot near the blue disk of the earth, but the definition of the shape and distance became apparent as time ticked by.

Four-hundred meters ahead, a quarter-mile away, Lucy Sprecks, irritated and frustrated with the traffic, moved her right foot off the brake and moved it to the gas pedal, while she did the trick that her husband showed her years before, to use the left foot on the brake for a quick dash if she needed.

Lucy had picked up a few tricks over the years, she was an expert driver, no matter what the Motor Vehicle Nazi’s said. She had driven more years than the testers had been on this earth. She was not about to listen to the young’uns about changes in rules that had worked for years.

Seat belts! Heaven’s sakes. She never had seat belts as a child and she lived. But now, even that kind State Patrolman who talked to her at length, even if it seemed that he and his girlfriend partner camped out at the corner down from her gated driveway. He would pull her over before she even got to the stop sign down at the end of the street and lecture her.

Once again, she would put the seatbelt on. Even the cute little girl that carried more equipment than Lucy felt was needed, lectured her on a few occasions when her man-partner was not there.

“Are you two married?” Lucy asked once, “You should be, you make a cute couple.” She added when the young lady answered “No.”

One late afternoon after Lucy got another lecture from Officer Karen, Lucy sat at the stop sign an extra hundred feet down the street with the police car right behind her when a man from the place she had fled long ago with Joshua after the death of her children, had a seizure at the wheel when he entered the intersection that Lucy waited at.

He drifted over the line, the pickup truck with the big camper on the back went through the intersection and hit Lucy head-on as she sat still.

With airbags and seatbelts, Lucy walked away from the wreck with no more than a skinned nose.

Ran was more like it! The smoke from the airbags made her think that the car was on fire, her knees hurt, but she would have walked barefoot over children’s toy blocks rather than to burn to death.

Ever since that day, she had panicked and froze when she was startled. She even became unable to watch the news when it showed car crashes on the TV.

Ten times the moon’s distance away, photons closed the distance to the earth and moon had separated into two points of light, the brightest points at this distance, other than the sun almost one AU behind.

On the back of big motorcycle, Lulu talked into the microphone of plans with the children and a weekend on the lake with the entire family as they cruised along.

“Ugh!” A complaint from Russell interrupted Lulu, Russell suffered a direct hit by a butterfly to his shoulder that spread to his chest and cheek. He would need a shower.

Lulu offered to help, after the children went to bed, the tip of her finger played with the back of his neck, below the helmet.

Nevada Douglas County Fire Department Station 2315, Engineer Hank Kettleman stood up and looked at the Captain.

“That will not leak again this summer. All new parts.” Hank smiled as he pulled off the rubber-nitrile gloves and threw them into the can in the corner.

Captain Thomas nodded and looked down the drive as it opened out onto the highway, the sounds of a deep rumble, like an earthquake, but constant and it grew louder by the moment.

A group of motorcycles, Robert Thomas owned his fair share of iron horses and would never miss an opportunity to watch a club ride by.

As Bob watched the highway, he noted a late-model Mercedes to the right of the fog-line with its turn flasher on, but it was not in a turn lane, nor was there an intersection.

Bob had seen this before, a triple-fatality accident a few years before, teenagers in an old VW Bus pulled an illegal U-turn in the highway after a missed corner, the broad-side impact from the delivery truck split the teen’s car in half and spilled bodies out onto the pavement.

Two died at the scene, and the third, the driver, willed himself to death a few days later. No amount of medicine would save the soul who felt such guilt for the death of his own brother and girlfriend.

The length of a football field away, Russell and Lulu enjoyed their conversation while they drove the hour’s ride home with plans about dinner and a shower later.

The fun kind of shower, between two lovers. It was Saturday night, after all!

 

T-Minus 5 Seconds

 

Photons were less than four-times the distance from the moon as the moon was from the Earth. Raced at full speed in space, the fates guided the energy packets that were visible light.

On the highway, Russell had thoughts of dinner on the back patio of burgers that he would cook on the wood-fired grill outside. The smell of smoke was light in the air from the wildfires seventy-miles away mixed with pine scent of the forest filled the senses as they rode on the thunder-voiced Hog.

While on the motorcycle that Russell had named after an adventurous water-bird “Gertrude”, Lulu’s arms around him, she looked around at the mountains that gave her such joy to be among trees that dwarfed everything alive. She could see the bare stone above north shore where an avalanche stripped the mountainside clear of vegetation down to bare rock decades before and had not yet recovered.

Lulu leaned back, smiled and looked out over the sapphire-blue water of the twenty-two-mile long lake. Water so pure, even as it sat in the lake, open to the sky it would pass any health and any purity tests that a government body could perform. As pure and natural as it could be without chemicals to treat it.

Those that sailed on the waters of the lake were known to have occasional attacks of acrophobia, a fear of heights when they would look over the edge of the boats into the water. Such was the lake called Tahoe.

In some winters, parts the big lake would freeze and then the ice would make large piles on shore when storm winds blew. In summers the big lake was known to have waterspouts that danced on the water that would be featured in local headlines.

Over the lake, Lulu pointed out and began to fumble for her camera, a white-headed raptor circled on the hunt.

*Maybe* She thought. *If I get just a little lucky, I might get a shot of the eagle in a dive to catch a fish.*

Less than two football fields ahead, Lucy turned the wheel of the car as far as it would go and inched forward and began her turn. A big truck rumbled down the highway and blocked part of her view, but it looked clear behind the trailer so she could do her illegal U-turn.

Captain Thomas stood at the end of the ramp to the garage that housed his engine, watched for the thunderous group of Harley’s ride past. A curiosity of who rode through interested him. A few clubs were at constant odds and, on occasion, murdered each other.

Engineer Thomas cussed as he dropped a socket and it rolled under the wheeled tool-box he maintained at the garage for light maintenance of the fire equipment.

A break in the traffic in the direction that Lucy wanted to turn was a treasure that God had sent her and she would take it.

Russell slowed Gertrude the Hog and increased his distance from a semi-truck that had “Eat Organic” in a graphic painted on the back of the trailer and remembered to make a call later in the week on an investment that would boost a local organic farmer’s business.

“Honey, make a note to call Charlene tomorrow? I want to meet with her on a distribution idea.”

Lulu was focused on the eagle as the big bird circled as it searched for its next meal.

“Okay.” She sighed. “I can’t get the picture anyway.” As they approached a wide spot in the road, she saw a sedan on the shoulder of the highway.

Stonn “Hammer” Erikssen rolled on his custom-extreme modified motorcycle. A Harley-Davidson by heritage, but the engine that powered this two-wheeled fury, an engine built by the company named Orca Cycle Dominator, the second largest in the line, more horsepower than many cars generated and an enormous rear tire to put power to the ground kept his soul happy. Third in command of the small group of riders and watched the rider and passenger about a half-mile ahead as they closed on the pair.

From the photon’s point of view, the continents on the earth could be identified. At the universal speed limit, the ETA now?

A little four heartbeats.

 

T-Minus 3 Seconds

 

Twice the distance from the earth as the moon, photons closed the distance to the blue and white sphere that destiny had chosen for them. Of the many photons that left the photosphere of Sol, dust, satellites, Van Allen Belt and the associated quantum debris that flew around the photons that remained, approached the crossroads of fate.

Alongside the highway, Lucy saw the gap in the traffic and took her foot off of the brake of her luxury car and pressed on the throttle and she pulled out across the lanes in an illegal U-turn. It was perfect, a godsend to get on her way.

The big car spoke with its authority and crossed the lanes of traffic…

And stopped! She jammed her foot down onto the brake pedal, and avoided an accident by the narrowest of margins with a car that turned left – she had not seen the turn signal on the old junker driven by an even older man. Then Lucy took her foot off the brake and began forward again more slowly and crossed into the lanes midway and tried to figure out if she still had enough space to merge into the lane of traffic, then when she looked back Lucy realized the headlight of a motorcycle was close.

Too close!

Fire Station 2315 still had the garage doors open, two bays, two type-3 engines stocked with first aid equipment, now warmed up with the vehicle checks. Two full crews did maintenance around the property while Captain Thomas watched the disaster set up.

He didn’t wait.

“Hank! Hit the alert button!” He yelled at the engineer who sat in the driver’s seat. “We have an accident!”

“Where?”

Hank’s eyes followed where the captain’s pointed as his hand moved to the control panel.

“Ohshit.” He said it as one word. His right hand mashed on the siren button without a pause to switch the control button.

A hundred-yards behind, “Hammer” Erikssen saw that the rider in front of him did not seem to react to the big German luxury car that pulled out and stopped in front of him. Even from here, he swore he could see the saucer-wide eyes of the little-old-lady who was supposed to command the rubber and steel cage.

He yelled at the rider and his passenger, but it was futile. No matter how loud he could yell, it was not possible for Russell to hear the big Norwegian.

The entire collection of Norwegian profanities issued forth while Stonn watched helpless what was to come.

Russell turned the throttle up on Gertrude and turned the signal on to prepare a lane change while he checked his mirror and glanced over his shoulder to make sure the lane was clear, he noted a large group of motorcycles in his mirror. He counted at least ten riders as he judged from the headlights. His eyes then moved to his lane to see…

Car!

T-Minus 2 Seconds

 

Photons passed through the atmosphere and interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen, but still straight on to the stalled dark blue car of LucilleMay Sprecks who sat at the wheel of her car, frozen in fear.

Photons struck the paint and chrome of Lucy’s car and redirected by reflection, the photons passed through the air at ninety-thousand kilometers per second slower than in the vacuum of space. Some colors absorbed by the paint and then reflected the color of dark blue to the eyes of a man and woman on a motorcycle that closed the distance.

Engine 2315 self-dispatched, rolled down the driveway, already the crew had dropped their tools and ran towards the engine. The seasonal firefighters did not know the nature of the call, but the Captain was waved and yelled while the siren blared. The Engineer was already on the radio. The two men, from years of experience, knew that an accident was about to occur in seconds and called for paramedic units to be dispatched.

“Copy, medics Code-3 to your location.” Dispatch responded.

The ancient energy traveled the distance between the sudden obstruction and passed through the iris of Russell’s eye in twenty-five nanoseconds — 0.000000025 — struck the light-sensitive membrane in the back of Russell’s eyes. Neural pathways reacted to the absorbed photons and processed it to his occipital lobe in the back of Russell’s cranium.

T-1.9999955 seconds. Photons streaked past Russell’s head and entered the lens of Lulu’s eyes. The nervous system transmitted the image at two-hundred miles-per-hour to the brain of Mrs. Fletcher.

Russell’s brain transmitted the image to the frontal cortex. One-point-six seconds it took to have the one-hundred billion axioms to recognize the threat, the mind of the skilled rider tried to organize a reflex action.

T-1.99925 seconds. Fifty-miles per hour they traveled towards the immobile car. More than seventy-three feet per second — Already they had covered more than a third of an American football field.

T- 1.5 Seconds. Lucy saw the headlight, her eyes processed the motorcycle approach and her mind locked up. All she needed to do to avoid the imminent collision was move her foot to the gas. But in that moment, she did not know what to do. There were no answers for the panicked soul that only wanted a glass of wine and to save the soul of a lady Druid.

Russell’s brain processed information at the speed of three supercomputers.The most intelligent man on earth was not needed to know that the exit routes were:

Head-on traffic in front of the car — rejected. Death was all but certain.

Forest with big trees, bushes and large pointy rocks: – rejected. The outcomes could be as bad.

Hit car — poor choice, but the outcome defaulted while the mind of the man searched for a safe exit to this disaster. He was out of time to evade the disaster. He had to stop.

T- 1.25 seconds. Brakes! The mind yelled. 

T- 1.20 seconds. Brakes! The mind begged. The entire world was silent, Russell’s soul was deaf to all sounds. All the world was mute except the sounds of his scream.

T- 1.1 seconds. BRAKES! The mind commanded. No bumps, no sound of wind. Silence was louder than a rock-concert in a steel warehouse.

T- 0.9 seconds. BRAKES! The mind ordered. The engine was inaudible.

T- 0.8 seconds. A plaintive voice sounded through the earbud of the motorcycles comm system.

“Noooo!” It was Lulu.

T- 0.5 seconds. BRAKES! The foot now responded and jammed down on the rear brake and the hands grabbed for the front brake lever.

T- 0.4 seconds. The brake pads built up pressure. Years of ridership passion of the life, he closed his hand and crushed the front brake lever.

T- 0.15 seconds. The friction pads moved into contact with the rotational mass of the brake disc and began to engage at fifty-one feet away.

In an instant, Russell did calculations in his head, estimated he needed an extra twenty-feet to complete a full emergency stop.

Twenty feet he did not have.

T- 0.10 seconds. Russell tensed up. Impact was imminent. Pressure in rear brake built up enough to stop rotation of the rear tire. Seventy-percent of the weight of the motorcycle shifted to the front tire.

The shock absorbers on the motorcycle compressed as the big bike did a nosedive. On two tires, patches of rubber the size of a hand of a large man tried to stop a half-ton of steel, rubber, human flesh and bone.

The rear tire of the motorcycle began to skid, the tire locked up and rubber melted from friction with the highway, liquefied and vaporized rubber now lubricated the tire which began to yaw to the right, the front tire slowed faster than the rear with the weight of the motorcycle that pressed down and prevented the front from lock-up on the dry pavement. Lulu, as she sat on the back of Gertrude, farthest away from the center mass of the motorcycle and the pendulum. Out of control with the dynamic forces Russell in a valiant but futile effort to stop the inevitable.

Unstoppable, the thousand-pounds of metal, plastic, and bodies careened towards the immobile car, “Crossed up” as Gertrude the motorcycle yawed and slid sideways, they moved with Lulu made prayers, begged that it would be all right.

“Please don’t let it be bad, Lord, please let it be all right.”

It would not be all right.

T- 0.05 seconds. Russell could see over the top of the car, his mind processed information at a phenomenal rate, he could see the road was clear on the far side of the obstruction.

If only… Was his thought.

He could see the eyes of the little old lady, they were wide like a deer in the headlights, with plate-sized pupils.

T- 0.02 seconds. Photons made shadows on the ground that merged as the front tire braked as hard as it could be without the slide like the rear wheel did. Speed reduced rapidly, if someone plotted it on a graph, it would show the line of the deceleration as almost vertical on a second by second scale.

T- 0.01 seconds. Russell could calculate his speed was still greater than…

T- 0.00 seconds. Impact! Blocked photons which made shadows, now just made one shadow as the front tire hit ahead of the rest of the hog.

The force of the collision ripped the big bikes grips from Russell’s hands and his body became a missile, launched by the impact of the vehicles at twelve miles-per-hour, about the speed of a moderate run.

T+ 0.2 seconds. After Russell hit, he bounced and flew over the top of the car and broke the windshield with his helmeted head as he went by and struck his face on the asphalt. The open-faced helmet afforded him little protection, he slid and rolled down the rough road surface. Russell came to a rest on his back. His face hurt, but he was awake.

T+ 5.0 seconds. Russell lay there on his back, took stock of his limbs. Pain didn’t overpower him but there was no question he was hurt. Movement at the periphery of his eyes made him turn his head.

The car was on the move. The car drove away! He could see tail lights grow smaller as he tried to read the license plate from his awkward position.

Then, he saw his best friend’s body.

She was very still.

Too still.

Still as death.

T+ 15.0 seconds.

“Lulu…” He whispered a plea. “Lulu, move.”

She was under the motorcycle, pinned. Still, silent. She lay there with her leg bent in an unnatural way. He tried to crawl on his arms and left a bloody trail back to where his wife, his copilot and his best friend and lover, lay.

Russell’s vision became blurred with agony as the pain set in. Blood dripped off his face where his skin had abraded away by the highway blacktop.

T+ 125.0 seconds.

Feet pounded on approach and a heavy “Thump-thump” of a huge motor pulled up next to him. An enormous chopper with an even larger rider looked down at him through goggles. An 82nd Airborne division tattoo on Hammer’s forearm stood out in odd sharp focus to Russell’s vision.

“We caught her, brother. We caught that old lady before she got very far. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

“Lulu?” Russel moaned. “My wife?”

“Your old lady’s alive, bro. Hurt bad, but alive.”

“Call 9-1-1.” Russel grunted in pain.

“Station is right there, they’re on their way now.” The giant biker told Russell. “They’ll be here in two seconds.”

Two-seconds!

If only he had seen the car just two seconds sooner.

Finis

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Married by Mistake Chapter 58. Thomas Harrison Harte

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Chapter 58. Thomas Harrison Harte 

‟Well, Miss Grant and Miss Grant,” Beyron nodded to Melanie . ‟We will try to find Mr. Harte. And get him out of the system in Singapore. If there is any luck at all, we might be able to have him released to us before the investigation into his situation is complete.”

‟The State Department has limited influence in Singapore, the Singapore government has taken great pride in numbers of convicted drug smugglers for minor amounts of drugs, and has hanged many others. In the event they convict him he for the amount that you describe and what they say they have found, he faces a maximum sentence of a decade in prison, or he could be caned a maximum of two-dozen times. To be honest, they may give him a reduced sentence because of his age and his popularity in that part of the world.” Max said. ‟He might be able to find a legal way out, or have help of someone of influence in the political structure there.”

Max pulled at his earlobe for a few moments in thought.

“Australia has attempted more than once to recover Australian nationals with limited success. Our influence is less than Australia.” He said at last.

‟So he’s punished for my stash.” Tears welled up in Kaylee’s eyes.

‟Yes. And you are sure it is less than two-ounces?”

‟Yes. I stressed out to the max when he was in the hospital.” Kaylee admitted. “I smoked quite a lot of it.”

‟We will make a press release, but your request for a passport to go to Singapore will not happen. The process will be too long for you make reasonable plans to go to Singapore, and my advice on this?” Max coached Kaylee gently. “It is a bad idea in the extreme. Do not attempt to rescue him by confession to the government in a Singapore court that the drugs are yours.”

Max Silverham pondered a minute more. Never a person to comment without deep thought.

‟I have to let your lawyer here say his part and ask the questions. But, I have one now. I look around your apartment, I do not see indications of the financial base to pay the salary that Mister Ferguson, and this master of law that has brought me out of where I belong to come here. Yet, you said you married Mister Harte?”

‟Excuse me, the financial base for the young lady is not relevant to the situation.” Beyron advised. ‟We decline to answer that.”

‟I’m not a judge.” Max said.

‟Just so you remember that.” Beyron said. ‟I am her advisor, not yours, you have your own. But the advice you have given is good advice so far. Just the question is inappropriate in this context.”

‟I withdraw it. I do have further questions on where he stored his aircraft. He flew from one part of the world and landed in their waters? You said he has a float-plane?”

‟Yacht, flying yacht.” Kaylee corrected. ‟Or flying-boat. Sorry, he gave too many corrections on that detail and I picked up the habit, but you have to see it to understand. It is a glorious home.”

‟We have to look into this, this airborne palace might have contaminated our harbor with exotic marine species.” Max sat up and began to write. ‟Where did he have his plane hauled out.” Pause. ‟Yacht.” Pause. “Er… Craft.”

‟A couple miles down the road at Harbor Bay Airport.”

‟Care to join us in an excursion to the airport?” Max Silverham asked. ‟You can show me where he serviced his plane at.”

Kaylee puzzled.

‟Don’t you have staff for that?”

Max smiled.

‟Perhaps you don’t know my rank, or it’s just misstated by Mister Ferguson here. I am the staff. I just rank a little higher and liaise between the civilian and military sides of the same mission, but I am still the staff, I answer to the real politicians.”

A half-hour later, with Kaylee ’s car in the lead, Beyron sat in the front passenger seat the group drove into the car lot of the private plane owners.

‟That hanger there, is where he had the Pacific Wizard serviced and kept when it was out of the water.”

‟You have been here of late?” Maxwell Silverham asked. ‟You mentioned that you came back to look for him?”

‟Yes. But they wouldn’t tell me any information.” Kaylee said with a sag to her shoulders. ‟I couldn’t get them to tell me the time of day. Only the lead tech would to talk to me.”

‟Well, let me see if I can loosen some lips.” Max smiled and his eyes sparkled with determination when they walked towards the office.

‟I don’t know him very well, but I know the type.” Beyron whispered in a conspiratorial voice to the sisters . ‟Loves the hunt.”

With an air of importance, Max stepped up to the counter in the office, flanked by the two uniformed Marines. Max got immediate attention.

‟I will help you, my manager’s indisposed with a potential client.” A petite First-Nation’s woman said.

‟I need access to your records on one Mister Harte, Thomas. When he was here and if he has an address out of the country.”

‟You need to wait, then. I cannot access the history of our clients without cause.”

‟The cause is because I told you.” Max said firmly. ‟Do you know who I am?”

‟No, and I don’t care. You need a few forms filled out first.”

‟Ma’am, I have identification, two marines and I carry the authority of the United States Government. I do not need to fill out forms for this.”

‟Then you don’t need what I have.” She looked at him with black eyes without so much as a blink of fear. ‟Warrant, police, and my faith that you are not some asshat that thinks you can walk in here with two weapons on each hip.” She pointed at the marines.

One marine broke character and gave a small smile for the briefest of moments but never deviated his eyes from the straight forward.

‟Now, you sit down, shut up or leave.” She hissed. ‟White man, black man, marines, you think you can still push my people around. Guess again.”

Then to Kaylee and Melanie, she smiled.

‟What can I do for you ladies?” The eyes softened and she became helpful.

‟We are just here to do some business for Tom Harte, the author? He had his plane here for service. I would like to pay any balance on a bill.” Kaylee presented the shiny black card with her married name engraved on it.

‟Oh!” She looked at the card with Kaylee’s image on it. ‟Just a minute.”

She handed the card back to Kaylee, she nodded, smiled and walked down a hallway then disappeared out of sight.

Two minutes later, she returned.

At first Kaylee noticed the cowboy-hatted male who walked down the hallway and sported a hideous scar on his forearm, recently healed.

Then the familiar smile, a sparkle of an emerald eye, she knew that face. It was one she had kissed more than once and made her heart dance.

It was Thomas Harrison Harte.

Kaylee ‘s once and future husband.

Married by Mistake Chapte 49. The Good-Bye Girl

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Chapter 49. The Good-Bye Girl

Fourteen days at home flew past with a blur.

Kaylee in the meantime recharged, recovered from her shock at Glenn’s immature life choice, was packing for the return to Ocean Bay University.

Her dad made her laugh. She had sat with him on a home-made bean bag chair while she smoked a pipe for the first time with the man she always thought was without a clue about life for the young generation.

The old man had more on the ball than Kaylee ever gave him credit for. She always thought of him as an IT nerd-tech that was only involved with himself.

Instead, dad liked Steampunk music, knew a thousand things she never thought possible of his generation.

Funny, it seemed the older she got, the smarter he was. In fact she viewed her father, Charles Achilles “CAG” Grant, as brilliant, funny, talented and wise.

She didn’t tell him about Tom, however. She started a dozen times and Dad shushed her each time.

‟Your past is in your behind.” He said softly.

‟What?” Kaylee looked up at the man who was the standard she held all other men to. ‟Dad? What?”

‟Sorry, that’s good weed.” He gave a crooked smile. ‟Put your behind in your past, you don’t need to talk about it just now.”

‟You mean that I should put what on my butt?”

‟No.” Dad was trying for a serious moment but giggled. ‟What is done is history. Leave it there for now.”

‟Okay.” Kaylee smiled and took another hit off the pipe. Her parents always dealt with Anders Schroder with his home-grown. It was the best weed in the area.

Mr. Schroder grew enough of the best cannabis to sell to the retail outlets, but little more than that. Fully licensed and inspected, Mr. Schroder kept the businesses going with only enough income to keep his bills paid. The old man just liked the beauty of the plant and wished to make clothes out of the hemp fiber he grew from other species. Often telling Glenn and Kaylee that it was better than cotton.

The weed relaxed her and made the heartache of Glenn seem so much smaller than it was.

*At least I’m not pregnant! Pretty sure.* She laughed to herself.

She began to think of that last time on the plane after she came home.

Tom was weak from spending so much time in the hospital bed, she had grown protective of the soul that thought he was her protector. He cautioned her heart to avoid what Tom said in gentle words, ‟Complicate things”.

Another few days home.

An argument over who’s toe-sock was left out on the porch with her brother ended with mom telling them to go put on their socks.

Kaylee came out wearing hers and Mike, with one bare foot and looking sheepish.

While the kid-brother learned to do his own laundry, at dad’s insistence to prepare him for college. Another requirement of the patriarch of the family.

Dad did not care what each of the children wanted to do, but he did require that they earned the highest degree of education available for that interest.

A strong preference for a doctorate, and no one dared defy dad on this point.

Kaylee worried a lot about trying to earn a doctorate in fine arts, a tall order. But dad was motivational and insistent.

That afternoon, while she packed to return to Ocean Bay U., Glenn pulled up in his car.

Alone.

He walked up to the door, intercepted by Kaylee .

‟Don’t you have a life to attend to? Does Sam know you are here?”

‟Yes, she knows. Our mom’s were talking and she found out you were leaving today, she sent me with this.” Glenn held out a small gift, a compass with an email address taped to it.

“Sam wants to pursue a friendship with you.” Glenn’s voice was almost a whisper.

Kaylee was still unsure, her heart still ached after that day. She had found a kindred spirit in Samantha Schroder, but still envious at the same time.

She took the offered present with a smile that she did not feel in her heart.

‟I know I hurt you, if I say it was an accident, it would be an insult to everyone. But it was not planned, I wanted to stay with you.”

‟Do not tell me that, do not let Sam hear you say that.” Kaylee on the verge of rage shook her finger in his face. ‟You want to work as a member of congress élite and a senator’s aide? You put on a face of a happy husband and proud father. You did this with her without thought or precaution, now you have a child. You had better love that baby, or I swear I will kick you so hard you it will take a year for your breastbone to heal. And you know I can. If you ever break up with Sam, I will use you for my flow-drills. You don’t get a stick, you just have to stand there and take it.”

‟Then I’ll send my dad after you, he’s pissed at you as well.” She added.

‟I can see that. He’s standing in the window, looking at me.” Glenn voice trembled with more than a little fear.

Charles Grant stood in the picture window with his arms crossed, a stare like a cougar lining up for a kill for a full minute then stepped out of sight.

For a single moment of shining terror, Glenn thought the old man was coming out.

‟I’ll keep in touch.” He told Kaylee. ‟Maybe we can get together then.”

‟No.” She shook her head. ‟We have our own lives, lived our own way and our own adventures. Good-bye Glenn. I’m sorry this is how it ended.”

She hugged him awkwardly and walked back to the house and closed the door quietly behind her.

And leaned up against it and caught her breath. It was the single hardest thing she had ever done in her life.

And she was still standing strong.

‟Everything all to rights, sweetheart?” The measured tones of her dad entered her world, the old man was sitting in his chair. Two glasses and a bottle of his favorite fifty-year-old rum sitting on the end-table.

‟Oh. Daddy…”

She sat in his lap for the first time in over a decade, the twenty-something woman left the room while the broken-hearted child wept on her father’s shoulder.

Pouring a splash of rum in each glass, he handed one to his sniffling princess.

‟A toast to accidents. Without them, we’d never know where we are in life and where our strength lies. Some are happy, some are sad, a toast to them all.”

‟A happy accident?” Kaylee said after she took a sip of the spiced amber liquid and coughed. The ethanol burning her throat.

‟Yes, if it was not for an accident, I’d never have met your mom.” Her dad said with a wink.

‟She said she met you standing in line at a store.”

‟Pharmacy, for pain medication.”

‟Same thing.” She sipped more of her dad’s treasured rum.

‟Who do you think gave me the pain.”

‟What?”

‟She worked as a bookkeeper at an office and I was running cable for a network. Wireless networking was unheard of in those days. While I crawled by a desk, she opened a drawer over my head.” He rubbed his head of the memory of it. ‟I broke the drawer when I stood up, scalded myself when a coffee cup on the desk spilled down my back.”

Kaylee broke out laughing.

‟Oh my god. She never told me that.”

‟And I wished he never did either!” Mom hid her face in her hand, she had walked in from the back of the house. ‟I nearly killed your dad with a concussion and wrecked our new computer system at the same time.”

‟The coffee went into the server.” Her dad added. ‟It was awful, blood and coffee everywhere.”

‟It looked like someone got slaughtered by a coffee machine.” Mom admitted.

‟I was talking about my shirt.”

‟I was, too.” Linda laughed.

Parents and offspring talked for over an hour, mom and dad told secrets on each other from the time before children while they shared the bottle of rum until it was all gone.

It was a good end to an otherwise miserable day. With three hours to go, the Grant family took their eldest princess to the airport to return to her life back in Ocean Bay University.

Not for the first time in her life, she was looking forward to seeing her sister.

*Wait until Melanie hears the news of how Glenn really changed his life up, never to return to the house without a wife and child in tow.* She shook her head.

During the drive to the airport, Kaylee spent most of the trip looking out the window of the car to the trees that lined the highway. Lost in thought over the last two-weeks.

She wondered if she could just take double classes and never leave the school. It would take a meeting with her mentor and class coördinator.

The world was rainy when she arrived, but it was a rain of promise and excitement, it washed away her doubts from the summer.

Now, it was just grey and wet.

Married by Mistake Chapter 48. The Family Dinner

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Chapter 48. The Family Dinner

Around the Grant dinner table, Kaylee’s appetite returned and she was enjoying the banter between Dad and her mother with Mike, her high-school kid- (Almost no longer a kid!) brother and his girlfriend, the captain of the debate team and vice-president of the chess club where he had met his current romantic interest.

Baked potatoes piled enough for six people instead of the five that sat around.

Finally, the stress of the missing person was too great for Mike to stand and had to ask after the blessing of the food was complete.

“Where’s Glenn?”

Dad gave a soft cough to draw his son’s attention and made a subtle shake of his head.

“It’s okay dad.” Kaylee nodded. “Glenn is married and his wife is pregnant”

Her brother, taking a drink from his cup, shot soda out his nose. The pain bringing tears to his eyes, covered his face to hide the mess.

“What the…”

“Michael!” Mom was quick.

“What is he thinking?” A quick look at his mom. “I wasn’t going to cuss.”

“Yeah, right. Don’t kid a mom, kid.” She fixed him with a look that ended all conversation on the subject.

“When did he tell you about his marriage?” Dad asked. The look in his eyes matched his icy tone.

“Well, he didn’t. I went to his house to surprise him. He wasn’t home and I met his wife, instead.” Kaylee laughed. “Sam, her name is Samantha, told me they had several classes together and dated a few times. They got married two months ago and she is thirty-two weeks along.”

“Oh! Someone was being naughty and got caught.” Mike’s girlfriend, Carrigan said.

“He is an ass.” Charles growled. “He should have known better. He does know better. The entire family over there should take turns beating him with a switch from that willow tree that Anders planted years ago.”

“Dad, she is a nice girl.”

“He’d be a dead boyfriend if I was her dad. Got her life all turned into mangled code.” Dad’s hand squeezed the steel cup he had poured coffee in until it made eerie noises.

“Honey, relax.” Mom said. “You’ll get your blood pressure up, and if you go to the hospital again, it will be because I have thumped you on your head.”

“Yes ma’am.” Dad chuckled with mock terror and released his favored coffee cup.

“So what will he do, now?” Mike asked. “Is he coming home to stay?”

“No, Sam said that they would move off campus and her family will help with the baby. They are will both finish school and Glenn just has to meet with Congressman Millan about a staff position next summer. They’ll move to the Capital to live there, Glenn will get extra credit and he’ll get his degree early. He has an in with the congressman and he’ll get some help with his school costs.”

“The congressman will buy the school books?” Dad shook his head.

“She said that the congress has a special scholarship program for students that get enough hours in as assistants and interns.”

“Fu…” Dad glanced at Ma who was looking straight ahead without blinking. Daring her husband to finish the profanity at the dinner table. “Foolish spending of our tax money! Poli-sci is not served well by those fu.. fools in the capital.”

The one subject that always drove dad to the point of insanity was any conversation about politics and politicians. Glenn never earned CAG Grant’s respect with his interests in politics and his service to congress.

“He should work in the community to better it for the people here, not run off and make a life in a den of snakes.”

“Dad, he has done a lot of good here, why not be happy for him to go to a place where he can do a lot of good for the entire nation?”

“I don’t care if he can’t take care of where he puts his progeny, I’m worried about where he might guide the nation if he cannot take precautions while he’s having a good time.”

“What does his wife have anything to do with it?” Kaylee was still defensive about Glenn, even if she wanted to stand in line to beat him with the willow switch.

“I don’t care about his romantic life. He could stick it in a knothole of a tree for all I care.” Dad’s eyes sparkled with fury. “I have a daughter, TWO daughters! That if a man cannot be trusted with their lives, protect those that trust him, perhaps he shouldn’t have a job and have a chance to fark things up for everyone, everywhere.”

“Charles Achilles!” Middle name. Almost made Kaylee laugh, Mike did and got the back of his head slapped by mom as she walked to her seat.

“Sorry,” Dad laughed in a guilty way. “But I mean it. Accidents happen, but one can choose the safest action to start with. He didn’t care enough to take responsibility and left it solely up to her. That’s wrong. It takes equal responsible effort on both parts, him and her. So how will he lead? Leaving it up to someone else?”

Kaylee thought about it.

“He married her, at least.” Mike was trying to help.

“He should have prevented her pregnancy to start with. If he loved her and chose to have a baby without getting married, that would be fine by me too.” Dad said.

“Charlie, don’t fib.” Linda laughed.

Looking sideways at his best friend and wife, Dad smiled crookedly.

“I’d still beat him. Yeah.” Dad nodded. “But marrying her right after she found out she was pregnant? That is, to me, rather guilty. I would be fascinated to see the spin they put on it.”

“Dad, Grover Cleveland had a kid before he got married.” Mike countered.

Dad took a deep breath.

“Sorry, I won’t get into a history argument with you and I won’t address something that would go off topic. That was another time, another set of rules.” Dad growled.

“Today, Cleveland would have been in prison, had his life ruined, been dragged through the courts.” Dad made his final word on the long-ago President. “Glenn could have that happen to him. I like the boy, but that was a serious wake-up call to pay more attention to his actions.”

“It’s not like other politicians have had kids.”

“And not one of them will become a leader in congress or the president.” Dad nodded. “The most recent events, it is lucky the women didn’t evicerate the men in public. Glenn must have had that thought when you showed up at his door.”

“He wasn’t home when I got there and he didn’t know I went there to see him or that I sat and made friends with Samantha. When he got back from his errands, I surprised him when he walked in the door.”

Dad laughed. Paused. Then laughed again as the mental image played out in his mind’s eye.

“Oh!” Charles Achilles Grant laughed even harder and gave his son a playful punch in the shoulder. “I would have paid good money to have been there and watched that.”

“No. You wouldn’t have enjoyed it very much. It was a little ugly, and it was going to get much worse for him with Sam later.” Kaylee said softly. “Sam and I had a good long talk. She didn’t know anything about me.”

“Oh. Damn.” Linda said and broke her own rule. She was as profane as anyone, but her rule at the dinner table as a cuss-word free zone was a long-established tradition.

Dad laughed again, crossed his arms and leaned back in his seat, he seemed to enjoy the discomfort he imagined for Glenn.

In dad’s opinion, some of life’s lessons are moments best savored.

“I do not wish ill on your Glenn.” Father Grant said in a soft tone of wisdom. “But I think the knowledge bumps that his wife will inflict will show what the man is made of — If he survives.”

Dad pondered a moment. “It might even do him some good in the end.”

Married by Mistake Chapter 47. Kaylee Simone

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Chapter 47. Kaylee Simone

The sound of crunching under the studded tires as Charles Achilles ‟CAG” Grant wheeled into the driveway with his four-wheel-drive Porsche. Dad was not a flashy man, but he enjoyed the German engineered cars since he was a boy, when he got his first ‟Poor man’s Porsche” in the form of a 1958 Karmann Ghia that he had upgraded many times before his regrettable lack of judgement of selling his baby.

It took him many years, but at long last he rediscovered his old car as it sat in a workshop behind the house where the owner had disassembled it to the last bolt and kept a meticulous online blog of each step he took while he rebuilt the ancient car to his personal specifications.

Including a potent computer system that ran most of the car’s systems.

Charles Grant parked his Cayenne in the garage, a tired smile crossed his face. Much as he would have loved to pick up his eldest princess from the airport, the early drive home pleased him and allowed him to miss much of the rush traffic.

He walked to the house, the call of nature driving his stride and he made a beeline to the bathroom after he entered the side-entry to his home. The hour plus drive tended to make him sleepy, so a travel-mug of coffee from the office kept him awake, but also kicked his kidneys into high gear while his foot got heavier on the throttle.

Opening the door after he finished, Charles breathed out the sigh that someone makes after one empties a desperate, absolutely full bladder.

‟Linda? Where’s Kaylee ?” Papa Grant asked after he made a circuit of the first floor of the two-story home.

‟She took my car to go surprise Glenn. She won’t be back for a few more minutes. I told her dinnertime was, well, now in a few minutes.”

‟Your car is in the garage and locked.”

‟Really? I saw her leave, I never saw her come back.”

‟Something’s wrong, then.” Cag said.

‟Oh. Uh-oh.” Mama Grant put down the pan she was cooking in. ‟Charlie, watch my butter crescents. It is a new recipe I have for the new café, we are going to go with a revamped menu.”

‟I can…”

‟There are some things a mom can do that dad’s can’t when it comes to daughters.” Linda kissed him. ‟You are the best dad to walk the earth, but as good as you are. I am still the mom.”

‟Yes, dear.” Dad made a sad smile, a bit put out.

‟Keep saying that, you might get lucky tonight.”

‟Oh! Yes, dear!” He laughed. This was not so bad as he knew this is one serious mom when it came to her daughters.

She found her eldest princess in the back under the gazebo on the porch swing that Charles had put up years before. It became Kaylee’s favorite art place. She had drawn dozens, if not hundreds of watercolor, pastels and charcoal images in the times since.

She had even shared times of smoking weed with her daughter after the princess turned eighteen. Admitting to nothing before her coming of age.

Linda sat next to Kaylee in silence, waited and watched the clouds for fifteen minutes.

‟Glenn is married.” Kaylee said quietly. A sniffle was her only tell of the tears spent on the way home.

‟That explains a lot.” Mom said. ‟It was like his mom fell of the face of the earth since Glenn arrived home. She was not calling me or stopping by. Now I know why.” Linda frowned nodded. “They have kept it under wraps, no one has talked about seeing anyone new in town.”

‟He has a baby coming.”

‟Oh, damn.” Linda boggled and put her arms around her eldest daughter. “He never told you?”

‟He didn’t have to. She answered the door because he wasn’t home yet.” Kaylee said softly.

‟Oh crap.” Mom covered her mouth in shock. “Oh crap, what an introduction!”

‟It was awkward, but she is nice and, well, big pregnant.” Kaylee ’s eyes glistened with tears. The rain had returned with sprinkles, the drops sounded a soft staccato of rhythm on the awning and grass around them. ‟Then she invited me in for coffee and we had a long talk. She is due in six-weeks.”

‟She wasn’t a nasty to you or strut like a tramp? I’ll have a word with Glenn’s mom.”

‟No. In fact, she was very nice.” Kaylee shook her head. ‟She brews a strong cup of coffee and is delightful to talk to. She told me how she and Glenn had been on and off. Then she forgot her pills on a trip and went a month without them.”

‟Well, that was not very smart.” Mom shook her head and spoke in tones of support.

‟No, especially while with Glenn, he is irresponsible.” Kaylee laughed sadly. ‟She didn’t say that, but I don’t need a treehouse to fall on me.”

‟She and Glenn have a much closer lifestyle than he and I do.” Kaylee ’s voice nearly a whisper. ‟They share many more interests, majors and friends. I have more in common with Tom Harte.”

Mom slowly stroked her daughter’s hair as her eldest leaned on her shoulder and wept quietly. The broken heart of a child leaking out on the blouse of the grown mother.

‟What if you go back and spend time with that cartoonist?”

‟Novelist.” Kaylee said. ‟Mom, I could use a bowl about now.”

‟Well, your dad has been busy. You just need to go to the tree over there. That bird house built into the side of the tree?”

Kaylee stood and went to beautiful, meticulous crafted miniature A-frame and pulled on it.

‟No. Honey. Push it into the tree.”

She pressed with the flat of her hand on a post of the porch, populated with pine cone trolls, the house slid in on polished metal rails, exposing twin finger-holes.

She smiled at the craftsmanship and pulled out when instructed to do so by her mom, the trunk of the tree opened with a drawer, custom fitted with a glass pipe set and four slots for the stash.

‟Oh my gawd!” Kaylee laughed. ‟When did he do this?

‟The tree splintered in a storm, dad did a lot of work, taking off branches and fixing the trunk with glues and screws. But he made a treasure box to fit in the trunk and saved the tree in the process, it still grows.” Linda looked at the big coastal sequoia.

‟These are not a pirate’s treasure.” Kaylee told her mom as she looked over the uncovered storage compartments.”

‟Pick one of the pipes, you will find those are all treasures.” Mom grinned. “Hand carved snakewood, that white one is a dragon-claw, there are two small water pipes.”

The two women laughed and smoked while they remained safe and dry under the covered swing while the storm clouds brought more rain.

‟You know, mom.” Kaylee felt better after a few minutes. ‟It’s a good thing you are cooking dinner. I think I am going to have a good appetite.”

Mom gasped.

‟My DINNER!” Jumping up with a string of profanities. ‟I left your dad in charge. He’ll try and help out. The last time, he turned a simple spaghetti dinner into a seven course disaster!”

Kaylee laughed and laughed while her mom ran. Mom was so funny when she smoked.

Of course it had nothing to do with Kaylee smoking, but that also made her laugh, too. Locking up the weatherproof stash box, Kaylee followed after her mother and joined her inside the house for a rescued dinner.

Her dad was an accomplished cook and yes, sometimes he did get carried away.

This made Kaylee laugh again as she made her way to the house in her mother’s wake, the pain of Glenn no longer a wound that made her weep.

*Mom’s are great.*

Married by Mistake Chapter 46. A Husband’s Terror

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Chapter 46. A Husband’s Terror

The familiar car pulled into his driveway and Glenn finished his chores around town at the request of his mother. After he took the silver platter to the Grant’s house and tackled by Kaylee who nearly gave him a heart attack. He did not look forward to the conversation about his sudden life change that he invited no one to attend.

Sam and he dated on and off. Two months after they had a weekend trip to Canada, Sam began to get sick at every smell there could be.

Eggs, she got sick.

Soup. Any flavor. She got sick.

Pasta. (Pasta!?) Sick.

Toast. (Well, smoke, he did not clean his toaster.) Sick.

So Glenn went with his ill friend with benefits to the doctor, sudden movements sometimes made her nauseated, so he drove.

The doctor smiled and sat down with them, explained that the hyperemesis gravidarum would pass after a few weeks and in the interim they would put her in a hospital and give her some IV fluids and keep her hydrated.

Glenn had to ask the doctor to define the of the name of this arcane illness. His mind refused to accept what the doctor tried to say.

In a moment, the doctor congratulated the couple. It was no virus, it was morning sickness, Sam was pregnant.

Glenn could not believe it at first. He could only see his career  fall into a smokey ruin like his toaster.

Samantha was also a poli-sci major and after hours of tears, they decided to get married. Neither one of them needed to have a scandal.

In his panic he had forgotten his home town while he was in the big-city. He had fixed a flaw in his life.

“So I’m a flaw?”  Sam became furious. No one called her a flaw, she threatened to tell everyone that he would leave her when she needed him most.

It evolved into a scream fest and rash words exchanged. They did not see each other during that week or part of the next. Two-weeks later, while they attended a study group together and sat across the table in awkward silence while they studied with the group.

Glenn finally brought her a glass of water and some saltines, seeing that she was pale and had developed a sheen of sweat on her forehead.

This singular awareness and his effort to keep her nausea under control had gone a long way to get Sam to smile at him again.

By the end of the homework jam session, people got up and went back to their apartments and lives.

Except for Glenn Schroder and Samantha Walshe who talked far into the night and they married in secret the next day in a civil ceremony. Shortly after that, they went off to Washington State and had a small ceremony for her family.

In those panic filled days, the childhood promise he had with Kaylee evaporated.  He forgot the depth and breadth of the years invested and he did not remember any moments of paper cigar rings and motorcycles.

He began to think about his childhood sweetheart about a week after he had done the deed with Sam, when she was changing her name to Schroder while he stood there.

Glenn practiced and readied for weeks to have a long talk and try to keep things on the down-low with Kaylee. Then when she showed up early at her mom’s house and surprised him, all practiced words left him.

But! He told himself, life changes and he and Kaylee readied for each other to have separate lives.

He walked up the steps to his parent’s house unaware of the new car parked on the street. Glenn’s focus consumed with all his thoughts that raced in circles in his mind. He wanted to make things smooth with his best friend, who he had replaced with a new, pregnant wife. When he would get to talk to Kaylee, he would make it sound reasonable that they stay close friends.

*Yeah! That was the way. If I could do what the Senator Mumy did in Washington, who talked his wife out of a divorce and still kept his girlfriend.* He smiled. 

And no one knew but for Glenn who ran errands for them. And the girlfriend began to come on to Glenn.

*Senators and Congressmen shared a lively trade in girlfriends and boyfriends. Congress members would grow tired of their trysts with one and move onto the next. The women in Congress are as bad or worse than the men in Congress.*

The one thing that Glenn looked forward to, have enough petty cash to keep an apartment in D.C. on the side.

He nodded. *This is one thing I have it dialed in, I know Kaylee and I can pull strings with her.* 

He opened the door and stepped through, he had weathered the worst part of the storms, but with any luck? He would still come out with a little fun with a bong and Kaylee and Sam would never have to know about the local party-girl he had on the side.

Then he stopped at a sight that made his heart drop into the pit of his stomach.

In all the world’s history, the things would fill a man with terror and fear for his life.

The Great Chicago Fire…

Terror of being consumed by a wall of flames.

The Great Quake of 1909…

Terror of the very ground that shook without reason.

The Stupid Husband Bust…

Terror? Terror is to stand in the doorway while your girlfriend and pregnant wife sipped coffee, looked at you and invite you to sit.

In the kitchen.

Near knives and other sharp objects.

And boiling hot liquid.

That is terror.

Married by Mistake Chapter 40. This Girl Loves Her Sharp Dressed Man

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Chapter 40. This Girl Loves Her Sharp Dressed Man

Smiling, Kaylee climbed out of the pool and padded around on the concrete walk, the water glistened on her bare skin. She spread out a towel and Stretched in the sun at Tom’s side, while he soaked his feet in the pool.

Sitting next to his left, she touched his bandaged arm.

‟You got this damp. We will need to change it before you get dressed and we go out.” She observed. Her skin puckered in the breeze that blew over the open area on the roof of the penthouse.

She helped Tom to his feet and they walked down the stairs to the breakfast nook where the bag with bandages sat.

Slowly unwrapping the arm, exposing the ugly suture line, Kaylee smiled softly.

‟The color is better than when we got to the hospital. How does it feel.” She stroked his hand with her fingers.

*She is caregiver who is breathtakingly beautiful, shy as a hammer and cares for me, a partner who can’t swim with her.* He moved his fingers. “It doesn’t hurt at all, at the moment.”

‟It is not leaking at all right now. The bandages are still clean underneath.”

Tom looked away, he did not want to look at it since the doctor cut off the bandages, the bluish color at the hospital had alarmed and frightened the author of books. In his head, he got too close to losing the arm.

‟That’s good. Just make sure its clean and cover it up, I don’t want to look at it at all, it makes me a little… Well, a lot… worried.”

Kissing his fingers, she looked in his eyes.

‟You feel that?”

‟Yes. How could I not?”

‟Sensation for soft touch is normal.” She smiled. Then biting his thumb lightly. ‟Feel that.”

‟Oh, yeah.” He gasped and his eyes got big. ‟This is a tease?”

‟You’ll never know.” She slowly wrapped his arm with a roll bandage wearing a slight smile.

‟What do you mean? “I’ll never know”.”

Her creative muse of art and sensation awoke, she stood up, reached in the bag and took out a blood-red short-sleeve silk cocktail-dress and pulled it over her head, laughing at Tom’s eyes.

‟Like I said, you will never know.”

‟Do you have anything in that for me?” Tom grinned. “Is this part of the surprise?”

‟Well, now. She turned on her phone and ordered a black tuxedo. We have the obvious out-of-the-way. I had the tux set up for my call.” She took his hand and pulled him to his feet.

‟Follow me.” She took him by the hand, pulling Tom out of the kitchen chair.

‟Where are we…”

‟Shush and follow my lead, brat.”

‟Brat?”

‟Hush. Close your eyes.” She pulled him firmly. “We have something to fix before you get dressed. Follow.”

Playfully resisting, he followed her slowly across the suite, a pause as she picked up a bag tickled his imagination of what was about to happen.

Pushing him to a large, padded cushion, it took Tom a moment to realize he was sitting on a bed.

A big bed.

Tom bounced a bit, but no spring, it settled. Memory foam.

It was comfortable and somewhat firm. The bed felt large, king-sized.

A sound of a small ratchet echoed in his dark world, she had picked up something.

‟What…” He felt a metallic clamp on his right thumb.

‟Move to the head of the bed, lay down and let me lift your hands up over your head, so they are above your heart a little.”

Stretching out on the bed, he found a pillow, and she laughed lightly at his efforts. She knelt next to him and gently guided his wounded arm over his head.

The clicks of a ratchet sound and sensations of a clamp on his other thumb through the slats of the headboard alarmed him and he tugged at his arms.

He was trapped.

‟Kaylee ?” His eyes opened wide.

‟You will call me Mistress.”

Tom started to laugh and found that he had a most definite bound and helpless sensation, his hands held in place by the thumb-cuffs.

For the first time in his adult life, he was afraid of a woman in the bedroom.

Thomas Harte, writer of steam-pirate stories, survivor of near disasters and surgery gave a nervous giggle.

“Be gentle?” he whispered.

Kaylee gave the most wicked laugh she could muster.

For twenty-minutes while they waited for his tuxedo to arrive, she taught him the reason about why she was not an ex-wife.

Kaylee was pulling her dress back over her head when the doorbell rang and she left to answer it.

“Um. Thumbs?” Tom’s voice came out as a whine.

“Don’t go away.” Kaylee laughed when she left the room.

*Like I have a choice.* He tugged at the thumb-cuff. He could hear her talking with another woman at the door. *It sounds like she just gave my number to Erika.*

She returned to the bedroom with a black tuxedo, carefully hanging it on the bar in the closet.

“Now mister.” She turned to the helpless non-husband. “We dress you, cuz there isn’t any date I like better than have my men dressed in formal clothes. Tonight, you wear a stick-pin, cufflinks, and there are gloves, a hat and a cane at the door.”

“A hat?”
“Silk shirt, hat, cane, gloves. Mister, then you’ll be one sharp dressed man.” She waved two brand-new mirror-shined black dress shoes for him to wear.

When they finished getting him dressed to the nines, they stood in front of the doors of the elevator.

She could not take her eyes from him and was humming a tune.

When the doors closed behind them, she whispered-sang in his ear while holding his hand and stepped off the elevator car to the stares of the staff women at the lobby desk.

“Every girl is crazy about a sharp dressed man.” And kissed him on the earlobe. “I love you in your tux and black tie.”

*I love you, too.* Floated through his mind.

Married by Mistake Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

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Chapter 39. Suite and Shower

Tom knew how to get to the hotel and told Kaylee not to follow the GPS.

‟That thing is taking you around the long way. I don’t know that route, and through a neighborhood?! That’s nuts. Take the next left, go to the highway on-ramp. Three exits, and left. It’s easy to find.”

‟You have been there before?” She said, after slowing for a slightly wobbly street person who walked across the street in the middle of the block and waved thanks at her.

‟He should know better,” She growled at the scraggly man. ‟That is a good way to die and that would just screw up my day.”

‟Well, deep breath. We have a nice room waiting for us.”

‟It’s just a room.”

‟You used the married name? My name?”

‟Well, yeah.” She nodded. ”I used the card you gave me.”

She thought a moment.

‟I suppose I should give it back to you.”

‟No, keep it. Let it expire in three years and use it for emergencies, getting married, paying rent.” Tom smiled. ‟Especially if you buy books. My books.”

‟Drumming up business, are you?” Kaylee laughed.

‟Well, that would be self-defeating. My, money buying my book? Then I’d pay commission, there is no profit in that.” Tom chuckled. ‟Consider it a gift if you buy one.”

‟I’d buy a bunch and give them away, try to drum up business for you.” Kaylee winked as she merged on to the highway.

A small smile crossed his lips, then a far away look settled in his eyes and Tom looked out the window and remained quiet for a few minutes.

‟I’ll miss you.” She said softly. ‟I know you are unhappy.”

‟You know me pretty well, already.” He said in a soft voice and turned back to look out the window. ‟You will go back to school this fall, probably with an engagement ring. Melanie will stop coming to my movies, she will stop buying books and hold a grudge. The world will end and I’ll drown my sorrows in an overdose of rum and painkillers and fly the Pacific Wizard to a bad landing on the ocean with no survivors.”

‟What? Tom!”

‟Kidding, just poking at the pity-pot for a moment.” Tom gave a crooked smile. But there was some truth that glinted in his eyes. A sadness that he didn’t cover up quickly enough for Kaylee to miss.

It was a horrid sadness of soul, a soul that she cared for.

‟On the subject of the hotel, have you been there before?” She changed the subject back.

‟A time or two for book-signings. They wanted me to play, too. I have a minor weakness for blackjack. I win more than I lose, as well. The casino is always interested in winning back some that I have taken from their tables. Roulette is good, too, but I lose more there.”

‟I like dollar machines.” She smiled. “I might ask you for a few rolls”

‟I bet.” Tom laughed at his own joke.

Kaylee gave him a sideways look.

‟That was terrible.” She said with a crooked smile shaking her head.

‟Made you grin.”

Guiding the electric SUV to a parking slot, she overshot the painted line of the parking stall and began to struggle slightly getting it straight.

Outside, a woman got out of her small hybrid and started to berate them though the glass of the Tesla.

‟You people need to get over your small penis envy! That car is an abomination, sucking down more gas than you are worth! This is what will wreck the world for us all in twenty years! Selfish, stupid whore.”

Kaylee got a look in her eye that Tom had seen once before.

He had seen the look when she stomped a man twice her size nearly to death, and this look was just the same, but this time, he saw it up close along with the white knuckles of the warrior woman.

‟NO! No, Kay! No!” He grabbed at her hand.

‟Lady, go into the casino where you belong. You no clue what you are talking about.” Kaylee’s temper was a nuclear furnace. 

‟I do, you drive that gas-pig around and the rest of us pay for the global warming filth that you create, that movie showed it to us. Inconvenient isn’t it? You drive gas guzzler’s with all your careless abuse of fossil fuels.”

‟Lady,” Kaylee hissed. ‟You get in your fossil-fueled car, take your attitude and get the hell away from my husband…” Kaylee choked. ‟And me.”

‟My car is an all green hybrid. I get fifty-miles per gallon, how much does your pig get?”

‟I can’t tell you, it doesn’t take gas.”

‟Diesel! Foul, nasty, penis envy…”

‟It does not use any kind of oil. No diesel, no gas, no propane.” Tom said.

‟What?” The woman pronounced it ‟wut” and blinked in confusion.

‟It’s all electric, no hybrid. It gets an electric equivalent of over two-hundred miles per gallon.” Kaylee clenched her fists. She was an artist about to paint her version of Dante’s Inferno on this woman. ‟So. Kiss-off.”

Taken aback, the woman shook her head.

‟You lie. There is no such thing.” She looked at the back of the Model X.

‟No tailpipe, witch.” Kaylee called over her shoulder while they left her looking at the dark windowed car with the electric-car tag hanging on the mirror.

“I was this close,” Kaylee held up her thumb and forefinger. “She was about to have a problem.”

“Yeah, I know, she is still looking over the Tesla.” Tom laughed as they walked across the parking lot.

They made their way into the casino and to the check-in desk.

The clerk did not bother to look up when Kaylee stepped up to the counter.

‟Reservation for Harte.”

‟One moment please.”

Another voice from around the corner.

‟Harte? Kaylee and Thomas Harte?”

‟Yes.” Kaylee nodded.

‟Steve, go over there, I have this.” It was a dapper woman with a the air of Captain Watson, all professional.

‟What? Why?”

‟Remember I said of the VIP coming in?”

‟Oh.” And moved off.

‟I apologize for that. I was watching for your limo to come in.”

‟We came by rental car. Miss…?”

‟I have this Kaylee .”

‟Erika, thank you for watching, but we are in a rental car this time. Might go driving later.”

‟Very good. Do you need the rental returned for you and we will arrange a limo for your use later, on the house.” Erika said.

‟That would be most excellent.” Tom nodded. ‟My usual company I use here?”

‟Desert Limo? I’m sorry, but they are out of business.”

‟Oh? Since when?”

‟About three weeks ago, IRS came in and shut them down, the tax-man took out a lot of limo companies. There are only two in town now. A few gypsy limos, but the two that stayed operating for the moment is Deviance Limousine and Gemini Limousine are still in business. Until the IRS gets to them.”

‟Why is the IRS involved?”

‟They are cleaning house around here. It is causing trouble for everyone.”

‟I can understand. In any event, we will be changing and heading out in a bit.”

‟A limo will be on standby for you, Mister Harte. A moment’s notice will be all that is all we will need.”

‟Very good, as you can see, I have a small problem with my arm. Could I get a porter?”

‟Right away.” Erika said, dialing a number. ‟Where are your bags now?”

‟Black Tesla rental, in the electric only parking stall.” Kaylee said.

‟Very good,” Erika nodded to a young man who was standing within earshot, who walked up and took the key from Kaylee and headed out to the car.

‟Your bags will be up at your suite momentarily.”

‟Thank you, Erika. We will wait for the bags in our room.”

‟I will trust you will find the lodgings to your pleasure. You have a panoramic view, the gaming table on the floor is available at any time. You also have access to our private gaming area as you see fit. And as always, this will be comp. Your VIP code was not entered when the clerk took the call, so I will deduct the reservation charges now.”

‟Thank you.”

‟Mister Harte? This way, please.” It was an impeccably dressed man with a Mid-Atlantic accent wearing a name tag Gene Childs, Hotel Manager.

‟Tom. Please, call me Tom.” He smiled. ‟I ask you that every time I arrive.

‟Yes, sir. Tom.” The manager smiled. ‟It’s an old habit.”

Riding the elevator up, Kaylee looked over in front of Tom and tapped his hand.

‟We are going to the top?”

‟Yes, ma’am. This is Mister… er… Tom’s regular place when he stays. I can say that Tom does not bring his family members here often, we are always pleased to serve you in any wishes you might have.”

‟Tom’s family…” She thought for a moment and looked down.

The doors opened, there was no hallway. They stepped out directly into a frosted glass foyer with a wooden door.

‟The normal full security precautions, four-inch-thick glass and polycarbonate panels with electronic privacy. It converts from clear to frost with a press of a button on the remote control and at several panels around the room. The door is all but breach proof. The whole floor is a panic room.” Gene walked around and pointed the features. ‟Limited access to the elevator, staff and the key-holder for this floor only.”

‟Thank you, Gene.” Tom said as the elevator chimed and the young man walked in with their bags.

‟Of course, please call me directly if there is anything you need. Twenty-four hours.” Gene said as he handed Tom his card. ‟The number on the back is my direct line.”

‟Thank you, again.” Tom smiled.

Two hotel staff members stepped inside the elevator and the doors slid silently shut.

‟I thought they would never leave!” Kaylee said. ‟I’m *family*?”

‟He was being circumspect. He could have gone the other way and asked if you were a working girl.”

‟That’s just wrong to assume.”

‟Agreed. But you must admit, we are an odd couple. You are young, beautiful and vibrant. I’m OFU.”

‟Oh-Eff-You?”

‟Old, fat and ugly.” He said as he walked to the door and pressed the button on the key and unlocked the door to the suite.

She kicked Tom in the backside.

‟You stop that.” She started to make a growl then gasped. ‟Shut-up! This is not our room? Oh-my-gawd!”

The walls moved on command when Tom tapped the buttons on the remote control.

Three hundred-sixty degree views of Las Vegas and the surrounding mountains took her breath away.

‟Tom, I swear, I only wanted to get a nice room. I didn’t book a penthouse.”

‟You forget my name carries some influence. They may have thought you were just some any Kaylee Harte, and I wager they mulled that over, and did not clue on it.”

‟How many times have you been here?”

‟A few, I don’t count. Usually, I stay on the Pacific Wizard.” Tom said as he sat down in a sculpted leather chair that looked out over the landscape.

‟Is the bar open?”

‟Everything is. You heard Erika said that it was comp.” Tom said, grunting slightly as he moved his wounded arm to a comfortable position.”

‟Wow. Macallen whiskey!” Kaylee balked. “What? This one is thirty-years!”

‟They should have the full spectrum.” Tom nodded, looking out the window.

‟Holy crap! Do you know how much this is? I saw some in the locked case at the Tower of Liquor in Ocean Bay.” She turned it around in her hand slowly. ‟And I can open it?”

‟If you want. But if you open it, you better drink it. That is about three-hundred dollars you have in your hand.” He said as he kicked his shoes off.

‟I’m going to put it back, I have never held anything that expensive in a bottle.” She poked around in the refrigerator. “I can’t read this except for chocolate.”

“Oh, that would be the old world Luxemburg or German-made chocolates.” He chuckled. “Impossible to say, wonderful on the tongue. Except I don’t like chocolate.”

Kaylee laughed at that. 

‟What are you up to, hun?” She asked while he pulled off his shirt.

‟Thinking about jumping into the pool.” Tom said.

‟There’s a pool?” She turned around, nearly dropping a full bottle of Pyrate Rum, with ‟Cask Special” on the label.

‟Let’s go swimming!”

‟You didn’t bring a suit. Remember?”

‟Skinny dip!” She yelled as she ran through the suite peeling off clothes. ”After that I am going to have a cuddle with you until you cry for a mommy!”

Tom watched her jump in the penthouse pool, her skin shimmered in the ripples of the clear pool water. He didn’t laugh, in fact, it saddened him on a deep level. Until a little while ago, she was his wife.

This troubled him on so many levels, he was not sure he could count them all.

But he was going to have one last night of love with a twenty-two-year-old art student and martial arts master with the moves of a gymnast.

‟You know, you’ll need a shower after this. This is a salt pool.”

‟I’ll give you a body shampoo, before we go to bed.” She yelled from the far end of the pool while he sat in the shallow end, with his arm perched above the water.

Tom chuckled, that was a plus. He had spots he could not reach.

It was a lesson about how important each of his hands were.

*A serious lesson.* He pulled at his earlobe with his good hand while he watched the young woman swim in the private pool forty stories in the air.

Married by Mistake Chapter 29. Georgia off His Mind

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Chapter 29. Georgia Off His Mind

Lettie sat in the driver’s seat of the limousine, and explained that Kaikane was off the clock, by state law.

They rode in the limo quietly for a few minutes, while Tom looked out the window.

Finally he spoke.

‟First time I have ever fired someone.” He pulled at his earlobe as he thought. “Georgia has been with me for three years as an agent, she was assistant to Fred Granger for seven years before that.”

‟Why not call Fred and talk with him about being your agent.”

‟That’d be a long distance call.” Tom gave a wistful smile. ‟He passed away a few years ago. That’s how Georgia got my account. Originally, she called me her “minimal account” and rarely took my calls. She wanted little to do with me and getting events scheduled was difficult at best.”

‟Then the first of the children’s books were finally published at a startup Aussie book publisher and put in limited circulation in the south. They didn’t sell well in the first few months. Then Christmas hit.” Tom chuckled with the memory of it. “Someone’s grandmother or dad or maybe even a child picked one up in Melbourne and after that they vanished off shelves like bread-crumbs to ducks.”

“It was a good Christmas right at that point. The stats began to pick up before Thanksgiving.” He smiled.

“A second printing went forward and it sold out in less than a week. I had the second book written and it sat in Georgia’s email for so long that the system purged the email. I had to send a second file and she said she never got it. I found it in her junk file folder when I helped her with a few files.” Tom smiled wryly. ‟I’m kind of adept at computer networks.”

‟She had me listed as junk and spam until the first check arrived with more than two figures on it.” Tom stroked Kaylee ’s hand as he walked her through his memories. “The first few checks were less than a c-note. The next? I think it was around two-grand, then she said I got lucky and not to get used to it.”

“But,” Tom laughed out loud. “The next book sold out again, same with the fourth and fifth. I suggested that we make a set, she resisted and I insisted.” Tom’s confession to the relationship was one of strain. ‟The sales were geometric, I expanded my scope of subjects — against her advice — and Steamland the movie is one of that results.”

“One subject I like to write about is steampunk. The other is the children’s books. So, it is time for her to depart,” Tom had a look of a beaten dog who had just been freed. “I didn’t realize I was so far under her control. I’ve assumed it was a kind of partnership and I was just one of many clients.”

‟Honey, you might be only one of a group, but she is the one that got you to this point. Good or bad.” Kaylee stroked a stray hair out of his face. ‟The reason I reacted, I didn’t know book agents got paid so well. I mean, she spends a few minutes a day on your business and you pay her thousands.”

“Well, she takes her cut, then pays me. She cashes the check.”

Kaylee thought a minute with her mouth hanging open. 

“No, that is so not a good idea. She gets a check, cashes it and then pays you?‟ She tried to process this upside down information. “AND! If you sold more stories? She could make millions from you by only a few minutes work per day and you’d never know it. Who is to say she is not skimming more than she’s allowed? I’m saying she could be ripping you off.”

‟I don’t think that it works like that.”

‟Maybe not, business is not my major. Art is. But I can balance a checkbook. You should have a cap on the commission you pay, in my opinion.”

‟Like keep it below ten-percent?”

‟Like keep it to a flat fee. If an agent makes a quarter-million dollars a year from you, you could be their only client, exclusively.”

‟Well,” Tom slipped back into thought. “That’s all well and good, but honestly. You don’t know the business.”

‟No, I don’t.” Kaylee admitted with grumble under her breath. *That irritates me for him, and I’m irritated at him, too! He is paying out a huge amount of money and he is okay with it.* ‟Do you know how the business works?”

‟Not really. I have had a tax accountant handle that. Two years ago he suggested change agents or renegotiate the contract, anyway.” Tom said and shook his head. ‟That means I have to hire a lawyer or some such and I am not sure I want to deal with those people after my last run-in with them.”

‟I think you should call someone from all the friends you have made. Doctor Manga might even know a few good experts.” Kaylee the wife said in a thoughtful tone.

Tom pondered a moment as Lettie piloted the limo through the Bay Area traffic.

‟Lettie is driving, she owns the limo business here in the state.” Tom said. “Sometimes I talk to her, she has a lot of friends in Los Angeles that are attorneys. She has an uncle who is a judge in Sacramento.”

‟I have talked with Lettie, she has wisdom.” Kaylee smiled.

‟She has learned a lot from her contacts.” Tom nodded. ‟She was one of those that said it was time to change from Georgia a few months ago.”

‟She’s right.” Kaylee stroked his arm. ‟Tom, you can get like an advance before you finish. I have heard of that.”

‟Well, I figure it would come in time. It is not free money, it comes out of the back-end of royalties.”

‟Well, that comes to a lawyer then.” Kaylee nodded.

‟Right.” Tom nodded as they pulled into the parking area of the hanger. ‟Oh, it looks like they have finished working on the Dragon.”

“I had to ask someone to clean up where you got cut, honey.” Kaylee said. The term of endearment coming out without her meaning to say it. “You left quite a mess, it had all dried and turned black and glass. No one had gotten the idea to clean up where you bled. You lost a lot of blood.”

“Yikes, that had to be nasty, good idea for getting that clean-up ordered.”

Another limousine sat parked near the Sea Dragon, the tall Hawai’an Kaikane stood there with his arms crossed, waiting for them to arrive.

“I called ahead to help us get Tom settled in.” Lettie smiled. “Kaikane can help Tom get up the steps and into the plane, the more bodies to help, the better.”

“I can walk.” Tom protested weakly.

“She’s right.” Kaylee poked at her husband. “Right now, I bet my grandmother could push you down.”

“She’s right. You are in need of help this time, Tom. Just go with it.” Lettie nodded, standing by her sister of soul and spirit.

Tom was a little woozy still, getting out of limo and moved unsteadily to the jet with Kaikane helping Tom walk. For the first time, Kaylee noticed that Kaikane’s hands. Long fingers and finely boned like a musicians, but exerting a grip on Tom’s shoulders, he was not about to let Tom fall to the ground.

Sitting Tom at his desk, on the arm-rest of the seat, Kaikane let Tom lay his arm gently on the padded support.

‟Brudda, this works for you? You let me know what you need. You have done me well, and I always take care of ohana.”

From the door, Lettie leaned in and smiled.

‟Is this the spot where you got hurt?” Lettie asked, Kaylee nodding.

“It was hideous, there was blood caked on the floor and broken glass everywhere.” Kaylee pointed out the new flooring and carpet was.

“Well, at least he is home where he belongs.” Lettie nodded.

“He can get some work done.” Kaikane agreed. “Mister Tom, you are keeping my little sister eight-years-old at home in Kōloa, is excited with all the books. She tells me to call you ohana and if you come to the islands you must stop by for meals. So keep on writing, you have one fan that would miss it if you stopped.”

Tom grimaced as he tried to wiggle fingers.

‟No matter what, the fingers hurt and it will be a challenge to write.” Tom groaned.

‟I have access to voice to text, if you like.” Lettie said. ‟I used to date the coder for that program. He is still sweet on me, I bet I can get you his latest code.”

‟Maybe, I don’t work like that. I get lost in the sound of my voice, I like to pause my fingers. Even backspace is my best friend and gives me time to review what I was writing.” Tom smiled. “I sound like an idiot when dictating.”

‟I can type for you anytime, Brah. I have to type my papers all the time.” Kaikane said. ‟Plus you have your lady here to help you.”

Kaylee laughed.

*For a loner who traveled so much in his jet to avoid people, he draws a lot of attention from friends that will do things for him.* Kaylee laughed. *It is hard to think that Tom thinks of himself as unfriendly with so many friends that would go out of their way to help him out.*

Kaikane and Lettie bid their farewells, her black limousine followed by Kaikane’s blue limousine disappeared out the big doors of the hangar.

Kaylee closed the door of the big plane and sat down. Alone for the first time in weeks with the sparkling green-eyes that occupied such a large chunk of her summer.

‟Tom, do you want any pain-medication now? The discharge instructions read that you should take them as needed, but no more than every four-hours.”

‟No,” He sounded tired. ‟I’m okay for now. Just glad being home. But, you know what I would like? PIZZA!”

Kaylee laughed.

*They say hospital food was never as good as the real world. But this stay,* she noted, *The hospital food was not just good, but great. Chef-restaurant great. And then he goes and orders pizza for the entire floor, eight nurses stations, eight pizza’s each. I do not feel like arguing with him about his food choices. And now Tom wants a pizza, again. A San Francisco pizza from the Italian district.*

She started looking up pizza on her phone.

After she ordered the pizza delivery, Kaylee hung up the phone and turned, looking him in the eye.

‟Tom, I have to talk to you.”

‟Uh-oh. That sounds like THE TALK.”

‟Yeah. I guess I can talk about it now.” She sat and held his good hand, taking a deep breath.

She began to talk to her husband about annulment papers.

Married by Mistake Chapter 28. Early Release

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Chapter 28. Early Release

Back at the hospital, Kaikane opened the door for Kaylee , she talked with him one more minute before returning to her life, he gave her the breakdown of the famous Hawai’ian word that is commonly used.

“Ha is spirit, of breath and life. It is the divine breath that allows us all to seek our center. So, aloha Barb. Malama pono- take good care of yourself.” Kaikane smiled. “And you take care of Tom, he will take good care of you.”

A hug from the hot Hawaiian and she entered through the automatic doors and signed in as security Lt. Honey Stevens waved at her and buzzed Kaylee through.

The ride up the elevator was uneventful, rounds were over and the medical professionals, a few with MD on name tags some with RN, one with “Phlebotomist II”, color-coded tubes, tape and small square gauze pads filled the small, wheeled cart that he pushed.

She arrived at the floor where ICU housed Tom. Kaylee stepped out of the elevator, her mind on Kaikane’s words.

‟Passion of the heart, it is rare. It is like a wave on the water, sometimes you must hang-ten to keep on it. If you fall off, you get wiped out.” He smiled, saying the words of wisdom of his peers. “You have to wait and measure each one to find the perfect match to you, then ride the best one you can.”

She puzzled over that, in a way she kind of understood. It might make more sense to a surfer when she saw a group at the nurses station.

As she walked by, Kaylee caught snippets of conversation that included Tom’s name.

‟We want the story, who is this mystery woman who Thomas Harte was with? Did she cut him? Was it her?”

She pushed her way through and met Tom, finding him as he sat in a wheelchair with flowers and cards piled on top of him.

‟Why hello! They are discharging me! I’m out.” Tom looked cheerful.”I’m going home.”

Kaylee smiled wider than she had in days. It was a night…

*Ugh! This night is about be even worse, I have to tell him that I signed and mailed off the papers.*

Then Georgia stepped out from behind the door with more of Tom’s get-well cards in her hand.

‟Ah, Kaylee. I thought you might have left and went home.” She glared at Kaylee . ‟Business keeps going, but you would not be aware of that. You cannot even balance your own books, it seems. You were two-months behind on rent before you met Tom, failing a class and you couldn’t even finish the finals. I would venture a guess that you didn’t even have a job or a prospect for one when you met Tom.”

‟Now wait a minute. You dare…”

Georgia’s face split into a malicious smile.

‟Did you or did you not have yourself in a compromising position, nude with a professor? How many times has this gone on before you blew the whistle?” Georgia pressed the point harder when Kaylee’s shocked look told volumes. Her money well spent on the P.I. ‟I wonder if the professor will make his case for entrapment. Probably so. Then he will sue because he will never work in education again because of you.”

‟Georgia.” It was Tom as he rolled back towards them in the wheelchair, pushed by a nurse. ‟Is there a problem?”

‟No problem.” Georgia answered. ‟Just some girl talk. About gold in the area and the women prospectors that dig for it.”

‟Okay,” Tom missed the reference. “Well, there is a lot of stories around this area.” Tom nodded and smiled, oblivious to the shocked look that Kaylee had on her face.

The trio, plus nurse pushing the wheelchair, moved towards the elevators that Kaylee had just exited a few moments before.

‟Georgia, I have the next edition you need. We still have a week to edit it anyway, the adventure is a bit longer than previous. Nearly doubled the word-count. I am quite pleased with it, Kaylee here has helped by being my muse.” Tom smiled and kissed Kaylee’s hand.

‟Tom.” Georgia said softly. ‟We need to keep you on a regular schedule. The book signing I had set up for you had gotten postponed because of this little side-track into the hospital. You need to get back into the swing of things. I am sure your wife here would be interested in you continuing your career and keep an income to supply her with the attentions you have given her.”

Kaylee was at the brink of breaking, the thought of painting this woman as spider in her next work art . Georgia was certainly creepy enough, the older woman pulled on threads to make Kaylee flinch.

Kaylee spoke up.

“I need to speak with Tom, alone and we are returning to the Sea Dragon to have time alone and talk about some important items.”

‟I need the manuscript, Mrs. Harte.”

‟Georgia, I have it sent to your email just now.” Tom said with no room for argument. ‟This is why I have put this on the database so I can get access to it with my tablet.” He said holding the flat glass and plastic collection of electronics that bore a strong resemblance to a large mobile-phone.

‟With this, I have played a game called ‟Ingress” from my room.” Tom said with a laugh. “On the way home, drive slow, I want to do some gaming along the way.”

Kaylee and Georgia looked at each other for a moment, the animosity between them momentarily forgotten as the collective shrug between the women joined the rolling of the eyes.

*Boys and toys.* Made Kaylee smile inside. *It is nice to know that some parts of life never change.*

Then Kaylee became interested in the stories he described the city. He used it as a reason to walk the City by the Bay.

“You have the look of someone who has important news to talk about.”

She poured out her heart to him in a gush, at first, she was ready to get angry at him. She was sure that Tom would be defensive, even if she did what he told her to.

It he sounded as if he found a way in his heart to still be friends with her, even after she told him that she signed the papers and sent them off to the courts in Nevada.

They would be together at least one more night together before Georgia the Agent got her wish to have Kaylee out of Tom’s life and be his wife no more.

Tom told Kaylee the wicked witch of the children’s books had her investigated.

*Investigated!* She shook her head, trying to remember if she saw any kind of cloak and dagger person around her.

“Really, Georgia did this?” Forced out of her shock and asked the unbelievable.

Startled out of her world of indecision, sex and growing affection for Tom, with the words of Georgia insinuated that the only reason Kaylee married him was only for his money.

*Could it be true?* She doubted herself.

Could she have only stayed with him because of the glorious life that he lavished on her?

She didn’t care about what could have been, she was going home to Glenn.

Tom was awesome, but he was not what she had planned.

She was lost for a few minutes in her deepest thoughts. When she came to the here and now, Tom’s voice cut through her emotional storm with his own irritated voice.

‟… So we went for a day flight in the Sea Dragon. So, Georgia, she is not digging for gold. I made first contact, you can call off your investigation, I know more about her than you think.” Tom finished as Kaylee came back from an inward look on her own heart.

‟Tom, she is distracting you from your work.” Georgia said as she followed Tom and the nurse out the door of the elevator. ‟No offense Miss Grant, but Tom, there is no way you could be writing with her walking around naked in your winged-yacht.

‟I don’t walk around naked on his, whatever you called it.” Kaylee growled. Her right fist clenching, she could punch the woman in the sternum so hard she could separate it from the cartilage that attached it to her ribs. It would crackle and pop for the rest of her life, even after it healed.

*Control!* She had control.

‟Do you really want to go there, Miss Grant?”

‟Georgia, it is Missus. She is my wife.”

This made Kaylee cringe. She had signed the papers, Tom should have known that would have happened when she left last night. He gave her step-by-step directions on what to do.

‟Tom, you prove to me that you can write with her doing who-knows-what when you are alone for what reasons…”

‟Hello, I’m right here.” Kaylee looked at the agent.

‟She only knows.” Georgia shot a look at Kaylee . ‟You stay out of this. You are the cause for all this.”

‟Georgia, I have sold a few hundred-million dollars worth of books…”

‟One hundred-ninety eight million last year, after expenses.”

‟Yeah, and you get fifteen-percent of that.”

‟Whoa!” Kaylee ‘s eyes boggled. ‟Fifteen PERCENT? Of almost two-hundred million dollars in a year? Almost three-hundred thousand dollars for one client?”

Turning to Georgia, no longer looking belittled and beat down. She was now convinced where Georgia stood.

‟You called ME a gold-digger? And you suck over a quarter-million dollars a year just from Tom?” Kaylee was angry, verging on fury. Her knuckles were white, her fists were hard a stone. ‟You… You… hypocrite!”

‟Kaylee , just a moment.” Tom said. ‟Please let me finish.”

‟Georgia, you have been with me for a decade. Each year has been better than the last, but for as long as we have been together, you have been always pushing. You have chased off nearly every woman I have tried to start a relationship with, only Kaylee has remained. But you force me to choose, now. We must seek our separate lives from now on.”

‟You… I am fired?”

‟That is a bit harsh, but accurate.” Tom nodded. ‟It’s just time we parted, I hope amicably.”

“Tom…” but it was over.

Thomas Harte fired her.

Married by Mistake Chapter 26. Papers

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Chapter 26. Papers

Kaylee left the medical center after they settled Tom back his room. He had been in a bit of pain as the nurses bathed him and gave medications to help him sleep.

She walked across the macadam surface of the airport to the hangar where the Flying Sea Dragon sat, she could barely keep from sobbing the trip from the hospital.

It hurt so much to even think of those papers that sat somewhere inside the plane, waiting.

She rode in silence in a taxi she caught at random to the airport, she did not want to ride with anyone who knew Tom, knew of Tom or had even heard about his books.

She had a serious need to sit and drink wine and smoke a bowl with her sister and talk.

She missed the afternoons with Melanie like they had in their teens. They had barely graduated from high school, but as the best of friends and the worst of enemies, they would be in a furious scream-fest fight for minutes, then would be the best of friends as they settled down for a toke.

But no outsider dare make either of them cry.

Woe be unto the person that faced the wrath of the Grant sisters. It would make for an epic bad day when both sisters would turn on the offending person with fury that only sisters, family, and those of the same heart and soul have.

As they grew older, and although they took different classes and their lives were on different paths, they became closer still.

Opening the door of the big jet, she looked down at the broken glass that still lay on the floor.

And blood! Everywhere, large black clots that cemented fibers of the carpet into a mat with choking copper-smell. It surprised her the amount that soaked into the carpet on the floor. A body-trail in the glass where he crawled to the door and yelled for help at the plane’s technicans and engineers.

She stepped past the gore and glass that almost ended Tom’s life and perhaps did end his life as a writer.

She sat at the chair and looked where the papers in the manila envelope waited, filed in the cubby-hole that Tom told her about.

She thought of Melanie and all the fights they had while she sat in the Flying Sea Dragon and held the annulment papers in her hands.

*Tom said I just had to sign on the lines in the document and mail it with…*

With…

She slumped in the chair and a wept.

*It’s strange, this is just what I wanted four-weeks ago! Now I have a serious temptation to put it in the washing machine, somewhere on the plane. Except, damn, I’m not sure where it is, hidden behind some cabinet door.* Kaylee took a heavy breath, *I’m not sure if this is wise.*

Her hands trembled when she found the place to sign in the back of the document.

She slipped the papers into the manilla envelope they were paper-clipped to, she closed and sealed the package and walked out the door of the big flying yacht.

*The Flying Sea Dragon is not as big as the Pacific Wizard is inside, it’s more cluttered with furniture, bulky items to make it feel close. Still, a comfortable plane to live in.*

*A flying yacht.* She reminded herself as she walked across the airport to the main offices.

She nearly didn’t get to mail it, the woman behind the counter almost gave it back because of Kaylee ’s facial expressions and the slumped-sad way she carried herself.

“Miss, I don’t know what you have in this, and it’s not my place to say. But do you really want to send this?” She looked as if she might have known Ben Franklin when she started for the post-office. Not a trace of color in the great-grandmotherly hair.

With the postage stamped on the envelope, the woman gave Kaylee one more look, a last chance to change her mind, then slowly it into the slot behind her and it was in the US mail with a required a signature on delivery at the court.

Once the clerk of the court received and signed for the papers, in the eyes of the government, it never happened.

It would be as if she was never married.

While Kaylee walked out to the sidewalk she dialed the number on the business card that the Chauffeur Kaikane had given her and told her to call anytime she needed a ride. This time it would be to the hospital. She would tell Tom that she signed the papers, but she was not sure about how she felt.

After breaking the line with Kaikane and his peaceful voice, she hit speed-dial and called Melanie .

‟KAY!” Melanie was always excited to hear from her sister. ‟Where are you?”

‟San Francisco. Tom has had a good run of luck with the doctors since his accident.”

‟You need to come home quick as you can. Glenn is here and he has asked for you, he said it’s important.” Melanie said in a conspiratorial tone. ‟I think he is going to ask the question.”

‟Oh.” Her heart finished the phrase. *Damn.*

‟You don’t sound excited.” Melanie became quiet, shocked at the response. “This is what you have waited for since you were kids.”

‟I just signed the papers and sent them off to Nevada. I stop being married and never was according to the state once the papers arrive.”

‟Oh sis. But this is what you want, right?”

‟I don’t know. Tom needs me.” Kaylee was quiet as she waited for the limo. “You should see his eyes. Mellie, he is a good man, he cares for so many things and he’s in pain because of me.”

‟But he was alone before he met you, and it’s only been a month.” Melanie said helpfully. ‟And you said he nearly crashed the plane with you in it.”

‟He showed the wine country off to me from the plane.” She was defensive all of a sudden. “Melanie , it was beautiful, right up until we hit the birds, scared me so bad I think I nearly peed myself.”

At the other end, her best friend and sister laughed, knowing Kaylee the way she did, for her to say something like that was funny.

They talked as sisters do over the phone. Switching to video chat while she waited for the contract limousine to pick her up.

‟Why don’t you take a cab?” Melanie asked as Kaylee sat on a bench and waited in the shade of a tree.

‟No. If this is my last limo ride I don’t have to pay for, I want to enjoy it as much as I can. Besides, there is a hot Hawaiian that drives it. You’d love him. Surfer type, intelligent as any professor, knows more about sensemilla than a DEA cop.”

Melanie laughed so hard she snorted, then held her hand over the lens while she composed herself.

‟Stringbean? You know I can still hear you.” Kaylee took her turn of laughter, using the nickname that they worked out as children. This only made Melanie laugh that much harder.

Melanie Grant was the only person in the world that could make Kaylee laugh when things were at their darkest.

Kaylee hated her for that…

Which made her laugh all the harder, she loved her sister more than anyone else in her generation. They were, after all…

Sisters.

Married by Mistake Chapter 25. Month’s End

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Chapter 25. Month’s End

Kaylee walked slowly with Tom as while she pushed him in a wheelchair towards the ‟Garden of Healing”.

Reaching the trees, native redwoods that bounded the half-acre garden full of native coastal plants.

The garden grew rich with beautiful colors of life, a peaceful location in the middle of the huge facility of intense emotions where hearts and souls healed from having their bodies repaired from different trauma and illness.

The couple enjoyed the sunlight until they came to the natural ten-century old Cathedral Tree where Kaylee parked Tom in his wheelchair, talked and held hands like the lovers they had become.

The Cathedral Tree, a half-circle of redwood trees that grew in a large open area on the campus of the medical center. Kaylee smiled at the smells that reminded her of home. She could feel the power of the Earth that lived here. In the middle of the healing professionals, medicine and sterile atmosphere, the Gods of Old, of life and sky sat in watchful gaze over the modern lives that began, ended and healed in the nearby structures of doctors, nurses and patients.

Except for one stubborn area of his arm, Tom’s condition improved faster than predicted, he impressed the team of surgeons, one suggested that part of the healing was the hand holding by the young wife had a positive effect.

“Attitude accounts for much of the recovery.” A journeyman surgeon said during an exam of Tom’s arm while waiting for Doctor Tribbing.

Fortune had it that the wound made by the glass in the tissues was smoother than even they could do with their surgical steel scalpels. Even obsidian or diamond bladed edged instruments could not have performed a cleaner, smooth-edged incision.

The wound, they said after surgery, was perfect for them to repair. Flesh and even the ends of the bone that were cloven so smoothly that the ends matched up precisely.

The only failure was the annoying lack of healing in one deep area in his arm. A drainage kept coming from the tubes they put in to help his wounds to keep fluid from building up.

Tom had stopped eating for fear of gaining weight and lost weight, despite the IV that ran into his arm constantly. Kaylee nagged him to eat, and when he did, he would only eat the most minute of portions.

Once again she could not help but think of more than three weeks ago. The summer was an adventure in ways she had never dreamed.

They sat in the filtered sun of the Cathedral Tree. The perfume from the tree made Kaylee think of camps and a campfire, she took deep breaths and images of fire-roasted cornbread, and foil-wrapped baked potatoes danced in her head. She could feel the power of the earth coming from the ancient species of tree dance with her muse.

Even obnoxious, bored children that made noise and were under the constant shush of nurses and parents, whispered in the natural wood enclave saved by some genius architect. Such was the power of the Cathedral Tree.

Small crosses with names – people who committed to each other here –  tucked in the small areas between the trunks of the trees. Momento’s of weddings and thanks for the peaceful place in the middle of a medical center.

It promised of a time she looked forward to when the hospital released Tom and they would spend an evening on the beach.

In the quiet of the shade, Tom had slipped into a soft sleep, caused by the residual effects of heavy medications. She sat and held his hand, waiting for him to drift awake again when they would talk more. A conversation between the husband and wife, lovers and friends that could continue after a nap as if it never stopped.

In this quiet moment, Kaylee ’s phone chimed an alert to a text message. As she read her phone, it was a class synopsis that her education mentor suggested for the upcoming year.

Scrolling through the pages, the mentor reduced her class schedule. The math showed she had enough extra credit she had done the year before. She could do one less class this year, two less in her senior year if her grades qualified.

*I might do post-grad credits before I graduate! I like extra credits.*

‟Kaylee ?” Tom was awake! ‟Damn, how long have I been sleeping?”

‟Tom! How do you feel?” It was her standard question. The arm would sometimes cause him in agony. Then she smiled and gave him a synopsis. “Oh. Today or total? You woke up for a half-hour this morning, but you have been pretty groggy the last seven days. They don’t want you to move the tendons just yet.”

‟It has been a week?.” Tom had lost time during his stay. It was a regular start to all his conversations of late.

‟Yeah, a lot has happened and everything has been on hold.”

‟Let me get my mind around this. I’m still fuzzy.”

The drugs they shot Tom up with during the last week faded quickly in the sunlight and redwood perfumed air.

*The nurse had said this would happen when they discontinued his medications that kept him from moving much.* She smiled.

Even in his induced sleep, he was incredibly uncomfortable. A stomach sleeper and the doctor wanted him to keep the arm above his heart.

‟We need the annulment papers signed. We can file them tomorrow or the next day. I’ll have Robin, my lawyer, do it. You just need to sign the papers, they are on the Flying Sea Dragon.” Tom said quietly. His voice much improved since the first night when the nurse said it was a side-effect of having a tube pushed past his vocal cords.

‟What about your signature?” She frowned. This moment took a sudden turn to the sad-side.

‟I signed the papers weeks ago, a night you were crying in your sleep.” Tom said quietly, a shot of pain ran across his face. ‟You whispered Glenn’s name in that dream.”

‟Omy god, I’m so sorry.” Kaylee doubted that the pain was from his arm.

‟Don’t be. You said from the beginning, we weren’t supposed to be married. And really, you did not have to come here, either. You are a good person, but I am almost twice your age, I have all I have, but I lack one thing.” Tom moved a bit and groaned in pain and whispered a profanity. ” A future.”

Tom looked up at the big tree and gave a big sigh.

‟Like this young tree, your future is still bright and lays ahead of you with your Glenn. Get the papers and walk them over to the offices at the airport. Send them registered mail so it’s a required signature. That way it is the soonest it will be over, and you won’t have to return from your days back home to here and deal with this mess.”

‟Tom, I…” She couldn’t talk, her throat had tightened up like a knot. It was what she had wanted all month, why was it that it seemed to hurt, now that the time was here.

When this mess started she wept for the loss of her single-ness.

She loved with him.

She had fought with him.

She raced to his side in his time of need.

She spoke with the doctor about him and his arm when they thought that they may have to amputate.

She had fought for him with that witchy-woman who would demand he write while he recovered from having his arm, his future, hung by a thread of flesh.

She still felt like he told her to abandon him.

‟Tom, I…” Damn, there goes that knot in her heart again. ‟I will stay until they send you home, there are days I can catch up.”

‟You have to sign up for the classes, I’ll be discharged to attend Doctor Manga’s installation and make a speech. I can do that with only one arm.”

‟Tom, Honey, maybe you and I can get together after you get back from, Cambridge is where it is?”

‟That would be nice, but when I get back from Cambridge I’ll head to other places for a while.”

‟You think you might move?”

‟I am never in one place for long, you know that.”

‟Well, I thought. I mean, I just assumed that you stayed there.”

‟No, I was in Ocean Bay to meet with Dr. Manga and make a few donations and write. I would have been long-gone if we never met.” Tom groaned as he shifted in the wheelchair. “I just couldn’t fly away.”

‟And how do you plan to fly with that arm.” Kaylee was a little taken aback at her effect on his life. She and Tom worked well as a team and she kind of wanted him to grieve. It stung her that he had planned on moving on already. ‟You should be with someone to help you heal.”

‟I’ll hire a nurse, if need. But I think I am okay with flying on a wide-body jet in first-class. I can even buy tickets for four seats so I can spread out.”

This was all twisted, she was about to get what she wanted and he acted all matter-of-fact about how he would return to the world that he lived in.

*It feels like he woke up only to stab my heart.* Her heart and soul had a hard time with this.

*No. This,* she made a choice, *Is an opportunity. My life can get back on track, I’ve had an adventure. Me and Melanie can share this and still be friends with Tom. I can still go live my life as I meant it to be.*

But why did she feel as if she was about to lose a piece of her heart. If Tom wasn’t so badly hurt, she’d break his arm.

*And I can do it, too.*

*Ugh!* She clenched her teeth.

Even if it was right, this was so wrong.

*So damned wrong.*

Married by Mistake Chapter 23. Realization

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Chapter 23. Realization

She sat in the window seat while Tom slept. It was a strange emotion. She felt empowered, Kaylee looked out the window while Tom slept. He was unaware of the conflict that had just happened between her and the publisher, she needed to tell him that his agent came in and she chased the woman and her broom out of the hospital.

Kaylee ’s heart raced with the adrenalin rush of the collision between her and the business woman who drove Tom to write while in bed and at all waking hours.

Between the machines that beeped and sterile smells, she realized that Tom would not come home from the hospital in time to sign the annulment, she would be married when she went home in the next two weeks.

*Maybe.* She shook her head. *Drat!*

*Why is it, it seems that the world wants me with Tom?* She bit her nails for a moment. Falling back on a bad habit. *In my dreams, I’ve always painted a life with Glenn, I imagined it with all the glitter and hues of happiness. A life of birds, forests, even nights were adventures. Now it is going to pieces faster than I can think, this past three weeks has been fun, but it has been a blur. I don’t know what else to do.*

She ran the memories through her head like a movie, looking for something that she had done right for a change.

All of the memories ended in a rough landing in a river, then Tom’s injury while he carried a large piece of glass out of the plane, alone like a foolish human male when service crews surrounded him after she left and went back to Ocean Bay. It became apparent that he was fortunate that people were there. If he had been alone?

*I could be his widow.* She blocked that out. *I don’t want to think about that.*

As soon as she found about his accident, she felt compelled to come be by his side, to answer questions and sign papers and protect him, this man who lived his life as a bachelor-hermit and would-be-hero.

She laughed even though she felt tears in hear heart. He was a hero.

All from that Friday. That one day that was the domino that caused other pieces to fall in a pattern that now made her focus on how she walked through her life.

Cut tires on her car, those could not be avoided and if it were not for Tom, her tires would still be flat. Then the attack on the beach later that same day.

*Then! OMG! That professor!* If ever she wanted to have a list of people she wanted to break, he was number one.

Kaylee longed for some peace and quiet.

*I just want to paint and have time to sculpt. This is a summer that tops all summers, even when I hitchhiked across Europe and lived in those hostels when I could afford it.*

That was a summer of adventure and excitement that she had sought out, this summer, all the adventure and craziness came at her.

Now, she sat in a hospital room with someone who was her husband with a serious injury, a man she did not know just a few weeks before.

And she was protective of him.

*Like a wife.*

That word again. Wife.

It haunted her, maybe even make her re-think her use of pharmaceuticals and mixing them all to party with people. Sometimes she did not know who she partied with.

She needed to finish college, that much was certain, two years left to go, plus grad school if dad would pay… At least part… of it.

Melanie , her sister and confidant would to go to school at the same time and their parents were always on the verge of not paying the bills. Tuition for school was expensive with the costs of two apartments, they groaned under the costs while running their businesses.

But as a wife, this would have consequences that she could not even dream of. Tom might help, he was that kind of person. But even if his hair was not gray, he was still older than she would normally date.

Covering her eyes in a flash of almost-laughing.

*Date? I’m was married to the man.*

He could even be a wife-beater like the tabloids said.

*No.* She shook her head. *If anything he is the most kind, gentle and generous person that ever tapped a keyboard. Tom is a man who someone could care about.*

He was someone who walked alone after the death of his family, some would say the his experiences broke him, but Tom healed with the writing children books and the novels of passion for the adults.

If anything Tom had, it was heart.

And a good one at that. Kaylee smiled softly to herself.

Slowly stroking his hand, Randy the Nurse came in and checked the pump next to Tom’s bed.

“Tom’s temperature has gone up a little, the Doctor has ordered an antibiotic in his IV pump.” Randy said it as if he it tickled him to do his job. “We got the pizza by the way, everyone did! It was amazing to see so many deliveries at the same time. Tom, thank you.”

Tom, heavily dosed a half-hour earlier mumbled then drifted away again into his narcotic dream world.

Randy leaned over to Kaylee .

“Would you like a slice of pizza? Mister Harte is sleeping, I’ll slip you some before he wakes up.”

“Pissa?” A mumbled voice from the bed. “I sshmeell peet- sa.”

“Shhh, Tom.” Kaylee whispered to his ear. “You need to rest.”

“Oh bull! Someone has pizza!” he was more awake now. “You are sneaky, I thought you were nice.”

“I have a permanent spot on Santa’s naughty list.”

Tom laughed, then moaned.

“Please, no jokes, it hurts when I laugh.”

Kaylee took her turn to laugh and left to get a slice of pizza.

“How long did it take to get here?” Tom asked Randy as the nurse tinkered around the room, setting up the IV pump on a strange-looking pole with wheels. Resembling a metal spider at the bottom with the eight-wheeled suspension that held up the chrome-plated T-topped pole.

“It took a little while, the pizza store called to verify that it was really you. A couple of hours after that, it took five delivery guys nearly an hour to bring it all in. They had to make ten trips!”

“More than 30 minutes, it’s free.” Tom tried to laugh, and groaned in pain again as he moved his wounded arm.

“I don’t think this counts.” Randy laughed as he went about his job.

“Can Tom have a slice of pizza?” Kaylee asked as she came back into the room.

“Yes, no problem about that, he has technically been eating since yesterday.” Randy nodded, a bit of marinara sauce on his upper lip, while he chewed. “Technically, I’m not supposed to eat outside of the back-room, but the Doctor insisted that we get this piggyback set up.”

“I’d buy him a pizza, too. Say, what is his office’s address?” Tom asked.

“They are closed by now, try it tomorrow if you like.” Randy said. “I”ll be back, I have to go to attend to another room.”

“Hey, naughty girl, would you give me a bite or three of that pizza slice?” Tom smiled, he was getting stronger, despite the drugs.

Not for the first time, as Kaylee chewed her pizza slice, Tom made her smile.

Naughty girl?

When the doctor released him, she would show him a new definition of naughty.

Married by Mistake Chapter 22. Treatment Course

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Chapter 22. Treatment Course

Richard Tribbing, MD, Microsurgeon, specialist in the field that saved both Tom’s life, his professional life and his arm walked in with the team of doctors who all worked to answer their calling as microsurgeons while they made their afternoon rounds.

Looking at Kaylee , he smiled as he and the seven other doctors and fellows entered and filled the room.

Describing the injuries,commenting that the wound was ‟Large shard of glass left the wound clean as if a large scalpel had cut through the soft-tissues leaving the wound with no appreciable tearing or avulsion mid-shaft radius. The weight of the glass was sufficient to cut through the bone without deflection. There were eight-slivers of glass removed during the procedure. Imaging did not reveal any other glass in the arm.”

Kaylee sat and listened, twice she tried to leave as the surgical team made notes, questioned, and spoke in terms that sounded like Greek to her.

Doctor Tribbing chuckled when they spoke later and she referred to the conversations.

‟So how long do you think it will be before he comes home?” Kaylee asked. ‟We live on a flying yacht, there is not much room for putting a hospital bed in the plane, he told me last week he has a deadline to finish writing for.”

‟Well, he won’t be going home until the danger of… ” The Doctor paused and pulled at his chin. “How should I put this? If anything should go sideways against any of our plans to get him home and whole and functioning.”

‟How long?”

‟Depending on how his healing responds, probably two to three weeks, we have not had any problems thus far so maybe on the shorter side of that.”

‟Three weeks.” Kaylee said quietly, thanked Doctor Tribbing and sat next to the sleeping Tom and held his hand again while the Doctor left the room to continue his business.

‟Kaylee ?” It was Randy the nurse at the door. ‟There is someone who wants to see you in the waiting room.”

‟Me? Okay.” This puzzled her as no one of her friends or family knew she was at the hospital with Tom.

Kaylee walked out to the waiting room where sat a middle-aged woman with a quick eye who sat ramrod straight. She was the only one in the room.

‟I am Kaylee .”

‟You? You are Tom’s new wife?” She looked down and bit her lip in a grimace. ‟I am Georgia Hershey, Tom’s agent. I am the one that gets him published and I have been with him for the last decade. I don’t know you.”

She looked as if someone had spit on her.

“How did a young… lady… as yourself marry to Tom? That is so classic. How did you meet?” It was a near accusation tone of voice, followed with a sigh. “No no..never mind. I am here to check on him, there is an installment on the series due on the Weedy Sea Dragon, but you won’t know about that I’m sure. But I will ask anyway. Do you know if he has finished it?”

‟First, I am Tom’s wife. Second, I have heard about you and how you have pushed him to write, I’m not sure of his view of you gnawing on him to get things done.” Kaylee felt something inside of her, an anger that she last felt when she broke a man’s arm. “He has told me that you said it was due at the end of the month, but the contract I’ve read specifies no such deadline. It reads simply ‟As finished.” And third, he has one completed in the last month, I have read it and it is complete but unedited. It will get to you when it he finishes the edit.”

‟And I know that Leonard the Leafy SeaDragon is a series, your attempt to misdirect me is offensive.” Kaylee kept even voice, hiding her mounting rage.

‟I would like to see him.” Ms. Hershey said, matching Kaylee ’s tone.

‟The answer is no. He needs rest, he will contact you when he is ready and not before. He has endured a horrid injury and still might lose his arm. His access is limited while he is on polypharmecutical therapy and external fixation to hold the bones in the normal anatomic positions. ” Kaylee had to clench her fist on her drawing hand until the knuckles cracked. She chose her words with care to show the woman that she was not a simple girl. “You go back to your office, and tell the truth to who ever needs to hear it, Tom has been injured and is now with family in the intensive care department of the finest institution that can be found.” Kaylee felt heat building in her chest. “So you go back to your office or whatever crack you crawled out of and he will send it in.”

‟Well.” Ms. Hershey backed up a step. ‟Tell him to call when it is convenient, but please make it soon.”

The agent walked out amid scattered applause.

An RN smiled at Kaylee as she walked past.

‟That was awesome, she called when you and Tom were asleep, then came in and was treating us like trash. It was good to see her taken down a few notches.” The name badge said ‟Trish” on it. ‟She demanded entry. Then she told us she was Tom’s closest thing to family.” Trish frowned with the memory of the event. “We told her that security would escort her out.”

‟We got married earlier this month. Kind of a surprise for both of us.”

‟What does he write? You said something about a dragon?”

‟That’s a children’s book, he has written stories that have made it to the movies. ‟ Kaylee took a deep breath, she was suddenly cold, not realizing she had started to perspire during the confrontation. ‟His movie, Steamland that is in the theaters now.”

‟Oh? Oh WOW! I have seen that twice! It is a great movie, he wrote that?” Trish’s eyes widened.

‟Yup, he’s the author.”

‟Missus Harte, anything you need. No one will get in without your say-so.” Randy said from the door as he let both women in. Kaylee felt a bit like royalty after that. The young woman with an iron will who took no crap from anyone.

Kaylee smiled, returning to Tom’s side feeling accomplished. She had done something that she felt was worthy of the title of “Mrs. Tom”.

Married by Mistake Chapter 19. At The Hospital

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Chapter 19. At the Hospital

The trip by air to the north state was the fastest she had ever traveled, they were there in less than an hour when the Captain announced they were descending.

A quick touchdown in the sports car of the heavens and they taxied to the private area, coming to a complete stop in less time than Tom could get the Flying Sea Dragon out of the sky. The little business jet was faster in all categories, compared to the yacht that she had been on. But nowhere near as comfortable.

After the jets engines wound down, Kaylee stepped forward to the door when Captain Watson opened the door.

“There is a limo waiting for you Mrs. Harte.”

“Where are we?”

“Hayward Airport. This is the closest I can get you with the traffic tonight. The limo will take you directly to the hospital. Tom is in room 3418, it’s here on this paper. He might still be in surgery, I don’t know.”

“Thank you.” Kaylee answered taking the yellow notepad paper from Captain Watson.

The limo rocketed along at a fast walk as the chauffeur navigated through stop and go traffic in the Maze to cross the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.

“Oh crap, someone’s grandma just past us with her walker! What is the hold up?” Kaylee called up through the open window.

The driver, Kaikane, laughed, then spoke with a pronounced Hawaiian accent.

“It is another one of those things about the local traffic in the Maze. You would do well by opening one of the bottles in the back, the green ones are good. They don’t taste like much to me, but they would put you in a mood. The one that says Absinthe.”

“Oh, hell no.” Kaylee laughed. “I have been on that stuff before, then I woke up two towns away with people who still think my name is Stacy. Absinthe is wicked magic in a bottle.”

“You should move to my home.” Kaikane laughed. “We have a drink, okolehao, that can do that, but you cannot be that far from where you live.”

Kaylee laughed at the tall Hawaiian, built like a giant “V”, she wondered if he tailored his driver’s uniform to show his build off or if it was a trick of how the jacket was cut.

They drove through the toll booths without stopping, the lane was a cash free lane, no fee collector occupied the booth. Kaikane lifted his foot off the pedal a little and rolled past the sensors at the perfect speed.

“Just like surfing.” Kaikane said, looking over his shoulder. “You do it right, it is easy.”

“Eyes on the road!” Kaylee gave a squeaky nervous laughed. The dark hair of the islander barely hung to his collar, except for islanders with shaved heads, his hair was shorter than of any Hawaiian she had ever met.

The white limousine was not stretched as she had seen others, and it was a solid ride, unlike her own rattle-trap of a car. She named her old girl, “Spot”, a car that would continue making spooky noises after hitting a bump for several dozen yards down a street. Her friends would say that the only reason it held together was habit.  

The expert hands of the college age chauffeur guided them to the main entrance of the medical center.

“Here we are Missus Harte.” Kaikane opened the door for Kaylee and handed her a business card. “Take this, I have his room number written on the back of my card. Good luck, Missus! I hope Tom is doing well.”

“Doesn’t anyone call him “Mister”?” She asked. “And when did you find out about what room he was in?”

“Oh no! He won’t allow it. If you are formal to him, he won’t consider you worthy of his business, Tom is quite insistent on that.” Kaikane smiled. “And I have an earphone, I wrote it down while sitting in traffic.”

“Oh my.” Kaylee pulled at her ear. She had learned more about Tom in the last few days than she had in the last three weeks sitting in his lap.

“Call the number anytime you need me back Missus…”

“Kaylee , please. If you call him Tom, you call me Kaylee .”

“Yes, ma’am. Kaylee .” His eyes sparkled with that calm soul that some people have. Kaylee wondered if it had to do something with the beauty of his home that gave him that ineffable contentment that showed in his actions.

Bidding him farewell, Kaylee walked through the sliding glass doors and to the information desk.

She had to be with Tom, even if she was not positive why this was important.

*I am his wife, it is in the rules somewhere. I am a good person too.* Kaylee laughed to herself.

And that made all the difference. Except it felt more than a duty, she was fond of him in different ways, with each passing day, she found another facet she adored of this man who she called “husband”.

The man who loved his solitude, but touched lives everywhere he went. Everyone called him by his first name, and for a man who even described himself in misanthropic terms and, except for tabloids, everyone liked him.

A lot.

The doors of the huge hospital opened to a small foyer that led to a security desk and a locked door.

“I’m here to see Tom Harte?” She asked the buzz-cut middle-aged man behind the thick glass who eyed her up and down.

“Open your purse please?” He had not even looked at the screen when he typed the name she gave him- he kept his eyes locked on her while he typed out everything.

Satisfied for whatever inspection that he performed when he shined an intense palm-sized light into her purse through the glass.

“Through the door, third elevator doors to the right side of the hallway, thirty-forth floor.” The directions were well rehearsed and spoken with a too-bored voice.

The door buzzed open and she walked down the hallway. The hallway at this time of day reminded her of the… What did the driver call it? What was the driver’s name? Kai, something, Kaikane. He called it “the Maze” on the approach to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The Maze had a little brother and she was in the middle of it.

Nearly losing count of elevators, Kaylee stopped, recounted behind her and found she was spot on at the correct elevator doors.

“First floor.” An electronic generated voice of a woman intoned.

Kaylee stepped into the elevator car with five other people.

“… Finally after all that, surgery went well, we re-established circulation with a Gore-Tex graft with good return of…” A young woman with an intense gaze told her fellow surgeon. She sounded exhausted as if she had been in surgery for a long time.

The male companion, touched her on the shoulder and the speaking woman looked at Kaylee and smiled, but spoke no more. The conversation continued as soon as the elevator doors opened on the tenth floor and they stepped out.

Finally with people getting on, and exiting, Kaylee arrived at the thirty-forth floor.

She immediately saw the sign she needed to direct her to her destination.

ICU.

Holding her breath, she picked up the phone next to the door.

“Here for Thomas Harte.” Her voice squeaked.

The door lock buzzed and she walked in to a new world.

What? Ohmygod Awesome! Oh, wait… nope.

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It is a dream, a fantasy in the wildest dreams that someone who has “made it” and with great talent that might look into Amazon, bookshelves of a library, or watches (or one of their employees watches) the titles and blog sites for new and good stories to produce.

To this end when you have that moment of receiving an email from someone with a name of James Cameron, Ron Howard, Stephen Spielberg, you get excited for a moment.

Such like happened to me. I got the notice on my phone while loading groceries into my 17-year-old, squeaky, leaky, quarter-million-mile (PLUS) Dodge that wears the edges of tires out faster than the rest of the tire (Front end needs to be rebuilt) and puffs smoke when climbing some steep hills, I did not read it, just who sent it.

At first the name did not register until I drove to the street when the light bulb lit.

“Oh!” When recognition of the name hit, it nearly hurt.

By the time I got home, I had already repaved the driveway (The only 4wd driveway in the neighborhood. A removed tree’s roots have collapsed and caused a cave-in on one side of the concrete)  bought a new car (Tesla, Model S or Model X) and – nearly – forgot to bring the groceries in on a day so hot that it could melt the stripes off a tabby-cat.

Even the birds were panting on the wires. (Beaks open, tongues sticking out, no chirping) Heh.

So, dancing like a child on Xmas eve, or putting on his (or her) costume on October 29th in anticipation to find such good things waiting for them….

I opened the email on my laptop…stupid thing boots soooo slow. “Faster faster!  Dag-nab you!” I am so getting a new one to replace this 10-year-old lappy, with dead pixels and broken hinge (thank you dogs, who knocked it off the table while chasing each other).

So! At last! Email open! Downloading… 120 Likes on WordPress! Normally open those all (good for my fragile ego. I still get questioned by Mrs Dash if it will ever amount to anything) but I need to open the famous named one and print it out to hand to Mrs D and show her that I have achieved attention of someone never dreamed of.

Then only to have the heart fall. Checking the source of the email, yes, it is a famous name… but not their fault that parents named them the same first name as the famous movie maker/producer/director.

Seriously, not even the correct gender.

I am so pleased with myself I did not brag to Mrs Dash I had someone of notoriety then have to eat those words. She would have gotten: 1. A laugh. 2. Grounded me from writing as it is non-productive 3. sent me out to do more gardening or yard-work.

*sigh*

I think I will shoot my bow at the tiny bottle caps I have out in the yard that dance, spin and swing on strings. I seem to have better skills doing that than writing a proper work of fiction.

But no. then I cannot feed my core need to tell stories, to answer the voices that live in different worlds and want out. To have you all laugh, nod and maybe weep at the words I post here. Even if it is a mix of horror, sci-fi, historical fiction, romance and adventure (Not in the same story– yet anyway). To have you like what I have posted tickle my heart.

Anyway.  To the Ronnie Howards, the Georgia Lucas’, the Jamie Camerons and the Stephanie Spielbergs thank you for your compliments, keep them coming.

And If I answer with an odd excitement, just realize I am not always the sharpest tool in the box (Akin to a rolling-pin?) and I’ll get the clue by the next email.

But dreams are good.

Laughing at myself,

Dash

Smart Bomb Chapter 8. Smart Car

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Chapter 8. Smart Car

The internal clock ticked to the appointed time. An electron gate opened and subsystems became active.

The moment he opened his eyes, wisps of a ghostly sensation filled only one of his memory banks. This was oddly, the information corrupted and failed to retrieve. His memory banks were the best that could be obtained at the time of his construction a year ago.

Struggling with it for one-tenthousandth of a second to an android is a lifetime – he sat up, the dent in the memory foam of the mattress where he remained motionless on all night.

Permanently lubricated joins moved without effort, but the flesh that covered the frame was stiff and felt cold.

Sensors the size of a human skin-cell indicated pressure points and stiff areas of limited circulation of the artificial fluid it used for blood.

Blood.

It was an artificial fluid to mask his lack of humanity in the event he suffered an injury. If something lacerated his flesh, he would bleed dark red that would turn blue-black over a time while it became tacky then hard.

Water soluble, it coud be washed away, but, it would never pass any lab analysis.

Yes, it carried glucose and oxygen in an approximation of real blood, but no red cells were in the fluid. A wound would receive care by the android, not a human that might not understand the red fluid under the microscope.

Pulling the pack on, leaving the keycard in the room as instructed by the woman at the counter, he left, walking towards the used-car lot the android observed the day before.

Out of sight of any eyes, once again shifted size and apparent gender.

Pulling to body shape to maximum, the android appeared as a small female with large breasts, as dictated by known American tastes in the decadent music videos and the rampant pornography that the media pours out in the early evening hours.

The android had not logged in to any of the televisions, however one of the circuits that the core processor established to record the sins of the American south indicated that the programming had flaws, the android concluded.

The core processors deteremed a need to observe the television programs that the general American culture watched and record accurate information. Information that conflicted what the religious leader taught. Conflicting with the Leader was also a sin and should be burned from the face of the earth.

Only those programs that showed approved versions of history and prayer programming would be allowed.

First, to start with the leaders of the country, the force and type of the explosion would remove all trace of the bomb, with the added level of contamination of radioactive debris for thousands of years, America would be crippled by their smallest President’s namesake.

Then the jihad of the most righteous would take over and the Kafirs that occupied all the lands and Mecca would be wiped out next. The idolatry of the prophet would be removed.

The Commandments given to him by Michael the Archangel in his dreams, the leader passed on to the creator of the android, there is only one Most Righteous to follow on earth and it was He who walked in Russia alone. Blessed above all, the leader said he was.

Gabriel, it was taught, is not an Archangel, any lessons taught by Gabriel were false.

The little pissant that was a carpenter who got his own nails driven through his arms and suspended from a cross got what he deserved.

Only D’urs’l was the one and true savior.

This coding in the android’s database instructed the automaton to follow the teachings of the holy one.

Confusion edged in on the corners of his programming. Each patch of code that recorded kindness, conflict, wrongs or rights , adjusted accordingly.

Programmed the android might be, the recognition of error in observation to programming required corrections to fit the circumstances.

Alternatively if the core processors did not alter the programming to fit the situation, the mission would come to an end as the covert nature of the android would be compromised.

Now, the mission to travel on foot changed due to weather. Snow was coming early, it required the android to modify the untraceable mode of travel or the mission would be exposed.

Arriving at the used car lot, the salesman watched the backpack wearing woman of dark skin and a size-forty chest that poked out past her the shoulder-straps of her backpack.

Her pants were slightly oversized, cinched by a belt that barely held her drawers up over the nice swell of her hips. She walked around looking over an ancient SmartCar that suffered badly from generic paint, rust and appeal.

It was the cheapest car on the lot, he could not give it away it seemed.

“I will take this car.” She said as she looked inside the non-descript transportation.

“Well, we have some paperwork to do.” He smiled at the little lady. “I’m big Peter Prichet, you can call me Pete.”

“Thank you Mister Prichet, I have cash. I would like to buy this and be on my way.”

“Well,” Big Peter pulled at his ear. “There is some paperwork to fill out.”

Holding out the roll of paper money, she peeled off enough bills to make a layer visible from the side, matching the asking price.

“This would be sufficient?” She smiled at him.

“We still need to fill out papers, but we might work something out if you are in a hurry.” Peter winked. The woman was obviously running from someone, she had saved a roll of money on the sly, and now was making her escape, and as such, she would be vulnerable.

He could make this worth his while.

The android had other plans. No paperwork filled out and a single punch ended the discussions while Peter lay on the floor holding his groin.

“Anyone comes looking for me, you never saw me. I have recorded the monetary exchange on my phone (The android did not have one, a total bluff- learned from playing poker with the Bonsells while discussing religion.) and I will forward it to your wife that you have hanging on the wall there.” She pointed at the family picture of him, his children and his wife. A wonderful wife, but a ferocious lioness when crossed. 

She took his personal device and hacked it in a blink of an eye. Leaving his personal information displayed as she left in the modified SmartCar.

All electric, the battery pack listed itself as seventy-percent charged, a modified drive system someone planned to make the car a long distance champ, but failed.

Still, after a two-hour drive, the car was making noise for a charge. Batteries were less than five-percent and needing of a deep charge. Plugging it in to an independent solar charger left over from the early days of the electronic revolution, it was not part of the worldnet. Charging was free as an elderly child of a hippy rebelled against the corporate society by charging cars and trucks for no charge.

This was another lesson, with help from the old man who went by the name of “Hummingbird” Johnson, he charged the small car with a lecture on how America lost its way with people dependant on oil energy.

Internal conflict at that moment. The gift of energy, yet the man railed against the importing of oil from the seat of civilization.

Except that from the point of view of the slow trip from Florida, charging stations were abundant, fuel depots that dispensed oils were not.

However, the android calculated the charges of the electric power stations owned by Standard Excellent Electric Motivation Systems “SEEMS” charged equivalent amounts of credit per unit of energy.

A calculated ratio, the population might feel the electric company that “Filled up” their electric automotive machines, uncovered that the per-mile cost of energy worked out to the same or higher than if they drove an oil-burning vehicle.

A definition: Greed.

In certain ways the ancient flower child of the twentieth-century was as right as he was wrong.

Business would make as much money from the people who worked as it could.

And yet?

And yet the people of devote religion, some non-religious, others, like Mister Hummingbird, swore that god was in the leaf of the pipe he smoked that “helped with the appetite”.

Errors in programming were again addressed that night as the android stopped again at an inexpensive, hotel after a mile walk. Arriving to look like a tall, broad, bushy-bearded biker-stereotype with tattoos that took some effort to place in obvious locations on the forearms and hands.

Signing his name on the register as “Snake” in generic block lettering.

The android retired to the rented room.

Sitting on the edge of the bed, he re-shaped to the standard shape of a slim, human, a shape that drew less energy to maintain.

The android had found a few dark sides to the Americans, but few could be listed yet as evil.

Laying on the bed, the android began the required patching of the database.

America, not a cesspool or an evil place.

America, not a place where no streets had paving of gold.

It was a place where people lived, laughed, and lived lives, and in some cases, close to the Supreme Creator.

The android turned off the lights in the room with the remote control and closed the optic sensors that were eyes.

Setting the time before sunrise, he powered down, seeking that edge of programming that danced around the low energy gates of the memory banks.

Humans would have called them dreams.

Excerpt: Children of Fury, Chapter 20. Old School Medicine

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(Setup: Beli O’Danu, shot with an arrow and is bleeding to death. The knowledge of the Draoithe (Irish Druid) are what stands between him and death.)

20. Old School Medicine

Donal continued to help his old friend down the path to the river. Conn with his father’s arm around his neck helped to partly carry and partly drag the elder O’Danu to where the two men directed.

“Here! Put me down, here.” Beli grunted painfully, as they came to a clearing.

Beli’s shirt was sticky with clotted blood and matted with a paste of moss and herbs he had smeared on his own chest. Putting the poultice where the arrow protruded, the herbs had slowed the bleeding.

“Conn, collect some wide-flat rocks and build a small fire.” Said Donal as he went down to the riverside and began selecting plants with a critical eye. “Clean and heat the rocks over the fire until the water cooks off.” The High-Priest directed while he searched for those plants needed to save his friend’s life.

Beli wheezed out orders to Conn on what rocks to look for. Donal returned with an armful of roots, twigs and herbs with fleshy leaves, setting them down on the ground, he began to wash his hands in the clear water of the stream, cleaning the mud off his fingers.

Conn collected several large, flat rocks, about the size of his two spread hands, he cleaned them well with clean water and placed them near the pile of twigs and leaves.

While Donal was sweating from his exertions of grinding the leaves and the moisture from the herbs had mixed with the bark that he had collected in a small mortar and pestle into a smooth dough like texture. Time was short and his friend’s life hung in the balance. The longer they took, the weaker Beli was getting.

Conn started the fire with the use of flints, gently blew on the ember that he had been able to spark. With the growing fire. Conn began to wash two stones near the stream, cleaning the stones with a soapwort rub, then washed with water until it was clear. Then, with the fire burning hotly, Conn put the two stones near the flames to dry.

Conn’s father-in-law made himself as comfortable as possible, kneeling near the fire, putting a collection of bark and herbs on one of the rocks that had a concave surface, then began to press the medicines together with a small well used silver rolling-pin.

As Donal pressed the juices from the succulent greens he had just picked, chosen with an expert eye, Conn watched closely as the elder Draoi crushed and mixed the ingredients with the experience that would let him watch for the proper texture and color of ingredients.

Placing more herbs, Donal continued to grind the organic bits together on the hot rock, the mixture sizzled and put off a strong smoke that made him blink and cough.

“It is better at an alter, the smoke does not drift into my face so I can use it for bandages and not choke or blind me.” Donal coughed again. His voice quavered slightly and he cleared his throat, getting back to his task.

Conn suspected, however, that not all the tears were from the smoke.

Conn helped Donal by slowly pouring water over the tops of the rocks with a small silver cup that the elder Draoi handed him. While Donal tore a leaf apart and began to mix it with water, heating it until it bubbled.

Donal touched a branch taken from a willow tree to the mixture, the thick, hot viscous liquor coated it cooled on the smoothed carved twig.

Beli, who had been watching this turned his eyes down the path, Gael, Conn’s mother and teacher walked towards them from the ocean where they had taken refuge from the advancing armies of Parliament.

Several of the women burst out in tears at the sight of the wounded Beli laying on his back, only to have the Gael silence them with a wave of her hand.

“Time now is not for tears! Now is the time to repair and save a life. We need the finest, clean linen that anyone has.”

Gael invoked her title as a High Priestess, the Ard-Draoi. The Baker family who were Druid Priests and Priestesses of the Scots, the name of Baker had a huge influence wherever they walked and Gael was not to trifle with when it came to her knowledge of the Draoithe.

From within a pouch she carried at all times, Gael produced smaller bags of salts and knelt by Donal who looked up and nodded. Taking several small bags laid them next to the fresh herbs that Donal had collected.

Niamh, Conn’s mother-in-law and High Priestess in her own right, directed the women to gather strips of clothing to prepare for dressings. Setting down her own bag of collected medicinal herbs that exceeded Gael’s in the form of infection control herbs.

Niamh took a handful of linen from Anne MacNamara, who had grabbed anything she could while running from the advancing troops. The clothing was the best she had, giving it up to the priestess who had the intense look and a sense of urgency not seen before. Anne was not about to cross Niamh the healer.

Walking with the armful of dresses, Niamh stopped and pulled up some roots of a nearby plant. At the stream, tearing strips out of the clothing that Anne had given her, Niamh began to wash the makeshift bandages in the clear water of the river while she ordered the other women to build a fire nearby.

Gael nodded to herself as she directed what kinds of plants to use for the fire. The three Draoi worked together with intensity to save the life of their friend and mate, for what was about to come was the hardest and most difficult part for them to do.

Beating the strips furiously with a stick over one of the rocks that Conn had gathered, the plants and cloth formed a thick lather that Niamh instructed the helping women, including her friend Gael to rinse out in the flowing clear water for some minutes until all the water flowed clear of the strips. One after another Gael and Niamh inspected the linen strips carefully. Those that passed inspection were hung to dry in the smoke of the slow fire that they built using bundles of incense gathered by the remaining women and children. The smoke of the herbs, they explained, prevented infection later.

These treated linens Gael handed Conn, instructing her son to hold them by the corners and not to interrupt her while she was explaining how to do what he needed to do.

Detached from the activities that would save his life, Beli laughed silently, no matter how old her son was, he was still Gael’s child and would follow her directions.

Conn, used to giving orders and being in charge  bowed to his mothers sharp tongue and the father-in-law’s orders of what to do and how to do it.

As Beli lay on the ground, weakly moving his hands as if to guide the operation. A dozen of the villagers that had found refuge among the bluffs of the shore worked furiously to gather herbs under the directions of Donal and the Priestesses. Few had time to stand and watch, praying for the injured elder while they foraged for the needed herbs. So many had died that day, no one wanted to watch another one of their own also pass at the hands of the Parliament’s Agents.

“By the stones!” Beli wheezed out, his agitation growing with the pain. “This is beginning to seriously hurt!”

“It is going to hurt more before it gets better old friend, “Donal knelt next to Beli, “this might have been easier if I had the Spoon of Diokles with me, but that all burned with the village.”

Beli tried to interrupt but Donal shushed him.

“Yes, I have the Saultis Ominus nearly ready. Yes, our wives have the dressings nearly dry over the fire and clear of bad airs. Yes, we have the proper herbs.” Donal pressed a finger to the wounded man’s lips. “Shut up and rest.” There was no appeal to Donal’s command.

Then Donal’s tone softened as he touched his friend on the shoulder.

“Beli, to take this spike out of your chest will be difficult and the wound is deep.”

“I have made it this far,” Beli looked slowly around at the mountains and then the sky. “I’m ready to do this. This is hurting more with each breath. But I am not coughing up blood, my fingers are not white at the nails, if it has caused a hole where the blood flows, it is plugging it up now. When you pull it out, it will unplug the hole like a bung from a barrel. Then I would be dead before you could stop the bleeding.” Beli wheezed painfully.

“Beli,” Donal said softly.

“I know…” Grimacing against the pain he interrupted as he grabbed at his old friend’s chest, “I cannot live with this in and every moment it is in me, the more damage and the more pain it causes. It must come out, one way or another. It is good that it is you, you have the best knowledge to do this. You have pulled these out of men before during battles.”

Donal nodded, mixing the dried and powdered herbal potion with the smallest amount of water to mix a paste on the cleaned linens. Conn brought some powdered leaf over on the warm rock with the willow branch, now cut by Gael who carefully heated the twig over the fire until it turned color, she was careful as not to burn the wood as it would be ruined, and Gael did not have time to prepare a new branch.

Taking the remaining uncooked paste, Donal smeared the pungent mixture over his hands. Donal who wrinkled his nose at the smell.

“It tingles my hands and burns my nose — Aye, it is a strong mix. This will either cure you or kill you old friend!”

“Where is my bite rag?” Beli groaned. “Be good and sure it has the medicine in it.”

Conn brought the linen pouches that they made up for the procedure. One, moist but light in weight and green, the other that was heavier but dry and colored tan. Careful to kneel next to his mother as he held them out to Gael on a cleaned rock, who took the light one and handed the larger, heavier tan wrap to Donal who set it along on the edge of the heated rock.

Donal nodded at Gael and Beli, everything was ready.

“Put it in your mouth. Beli, bite down a few times.”. Gael gave no room for debate as she looked down at her husband, holding the thumb sized green rag to his lips.

“I know what to do!” Said Beli, with his voice muffled by the green linen bag.

“Shush and chew, husband.” She kissed his forehead. “Before I thump you.” The threat was without weight of malice. The only emotion she let be obvious, sharp she might be, he was the love of her life.

Donal looked at Conn, “I will need you to pack the wound with the flat of the willow-branch there. Scoop up the powder and dump it in and around the hole after I remove the spike until the bleeding stops or there is a pile over it. If he bleeds too much, your father will not stand a chance. But I venture an opinion that it has missed his vitals.”

One last breath Donal braced himself, wrapping his hand around the iron neck of the arrow-bolt, he held it for a moment, looking into the eyes of his friend and son-in-law’s father. Beli had become quiet. He had a familiar, dreamy look on his face and an odd glazed look in his eye that showed that he was already in an induced sleep.

“No pulsations from the shaft, this is a promising sign. Okay, straight out and easy.” Donal said quietly.

“Niamh, Conn hold on to his arms. Gael, keep him calm.” Drawing a deep breath, he looked at his old friend. “Beli, see you on the other side my brother.”

A gentle pull and Beli became wide-eyed with a grunt as the pain exploded through him. Gripping the green grass underneath him tightly.

“Keegan! Keegan! Tá brón orm! Fill ar ais go dom mo garmhac! Tar ar ais chugam!*” Beli screamed.

(*Keegan! Keegan! I am sorry! Return to me my grandson! Come back to me!)

Gael, kneeling at Beli’s head squeezed red juice from a cloth with bark and berries into her husband’s mouth, the extra plant extract calming him further. Taking care that Beli would not stop breathing under the narcotic effects of the herbal medicines, the effects were rapid and predictable.

Donal kept pulling, not letting up and not letting go for worry that it would do more damage as it returned to its resting place. But, if he pulled too hard it would cause a suction that could kill his patient.

Moments passed and the shaft did not move. Then slowly as Donal applied a little more pull on the arrow, it began to back out. Imperceptibly at first as sweat beaded on Donal’s forehead, then the arrow shaft started to move steadily backwards out of the chest of his best friend and family member.

It was out the length of a fingernail. Dried blood on the shaft was the marker how deep it had been.

“Pour some powder around the base of the shaft.” Donal told Conn.

“Keep him from moving his head as much, he flexes his muscles here and in his back when he moves. It is making it difficult and more painful.” Donal admonished Gael as he kept the tension on the shaft.

Width of a finger out.

The dart began to slide out of the wound more easily, the tapered shaft, Donal thanked the Gods it was not a broad head. Built with socket-fitted tip on the wooden arrow.  They forged the tip to penetrate armor and then wedge in the metal skin with the wood fibers, made for piercing armor and disabling but it was not efficient at killing.

Wisdom held that it took more men of the enemy to remove the wounded from the field of battle than to tend the dead. Those that were left then would have the archers come down and the killing would be done with knife, sword or ax on the battlefield.

Two fingers width of arrow withdrawn.

“More powder, get the cloth ready to staunch the bleeding.” A small trickle of blood was visible. Donal had one hand on the patients chest, pushing while the other hand pulled on the iron neck of the arrowhead.

With a wet sucking sound, the needle sharp arrowhead came out of Beli’s chest.

“Now, pour some powder in the hole and cover it up with the cloth and press firmly, until I tell you to stop.” Donal told Conn, “Not TO hard! Don’t break your father’s ribs. He won’t like that.”

His hand firmly over the hole and watching the blood soak into the cloth as he pressed directly on the wound, Conn was now sure that the old man was going to live. Donal carefully put down the blood-slicked spike. It was well made, fortune was with them, no barbs or splinters anywhere on the edges and no bleeding salts had been on the shaft. Donal did not cause more damage with the removal. The arrow did all the insult to the body at the moment when it entered his chest.

Turning back, “You can take your hand away,” Donal covered Conn’s hands and smiled. “apprentice, you have done well! You teach us how to build ships, we will teach you, yet, about herbs, medicines and how to heal.” Donal said as he dressed the wound with the bandages prepared by the women.

Conn chuckled, it had been a long time since anyone dared call him an apprentice, but here? Here he was well outside of his normal circles. Looking at his mother, she smiled at him, making him feel young again.

“You did well, Conn.” Croaked Beli, “Don’t you agree, Gael?”

“Shush, you old shoe.” Gael looked down at him. “You made me a near widow, when you are fit I will make you fear me more than death, enough to step away from any arrow. I will not do this again with you! I’ll find me a handsome young man and toss you out!”

Tears were in her eyes as she spoke, there was no conviction in the words. He might be an old shoe, but he was hers and she took care of all her belongings. She was the queen of collecting in the family and her family was her prize collection, Conn her only child and Beli her only mate. They taught and treated together many children and people, every day it was another family that needed to help a child born into the world or a negotiation between clans. Gael’s family was her soul.

Donal opened a pouch withdrew a couple of stones, setting one aside, then another.

“No, wrong effect. This one is wrong, too. There! This one.” Then with a skilled touch, Donal began to grind a small chip into a powder.

Conn looked and recognized a few of the stones in the pouch, many he did not.

“Bloodstone, feldspar, rubháid bairestone. What is this?”

“That, my son, is ‘Sruthfola’, it can cause severe bleeding. Only used in scant amounts to keep blood thin to promote healing on some injuries.” Beli whispered, “Or stuck into someone to cause them bleed for a long, long time without stopping.”

Conn looked at his father, he was still glassy-eyed from the herbal cloth that Gael pushed into his mouth, but he was still awake and able to talk.

“Dittany, is a plant that stops bleeding and promotes healing. I’ll be well enough in a day.” Moaned Beli, his voice a bit stronger now.

“NO! Beli! I will thump you!” Growled Gael, pulling her husband of so many seasons down to his back by an ear. “You will heal and rest.”

“She’s right. No herb or magic can take the place of healing. Magic can fix the problem, but the body must go back in balance.” Donal said to Beli, he would not dare oppose Gael now in any case.

“Then catch up with my son. He is walking with that look in his eye again. He is thinking of something.”

Flee

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Flee

Fracking.

That’s what they called it, but whatever the title it might have, it was a disturbance in places long hidden from the light.

Humans dug deeply into the earth, disturbing the ancient bedrock. Minor quakes rattled places that humans had yet to explore.

Perhaps they should not. For there are places in the earth that were buried so deep as to be forgotten.

They should remain forgotten.

But not this day.

All that remained for those still standing, with all their maps and explorations, was

Flee 2nd cover

1. Brisbane

The red haired Yank drew his bow and sighted over the arrow at the horror that approached him from forty-paces away.

Taking a deep breath, he let it out slowly.

Thirty paces and closing, its breath wheezed audibly in decaying lungs. This was a fresh-dead human that could walk faster than the other undead.

Twenty paces.

His focus was a laser point as he aimed, he pushed fear of approaching death down into a small compartment in his soul.

He waited, measuring.

Fifteen paces.

The eyes of this once-human had not yet become milky. Its vision was nearly equal to the living. The Archer took a deep breath and let it out slowly, at one time this was a handsome youth.

Five paces.

Archer shot the arrow into the left eye of the walking nightmare, it stiffened and fell over backwards.

“Why do you shoot them in the eye like that?” Alexander Frobisher asked.

RCMP when he was working, he was a Sergeant and a leader of the Emergency Response Team in his section, now he was not so sure since the fall of society.

“Bone is thinner there, with luck it’ll punch through hole that the optic nerve passes. It’s less stress on my arrows and I hate trying to build new ones. I have tried build wood arrows, but I failed. Wood arrows are a challenge, even starting as dowels.” Archer said. “But, I’m learning. Each time I work one, I’m better. We need to figure out how to build these in case we cannot find any high tech arrows in stores someday.” The Archer pulled out a straight dowel of a wood that Frobisher could not recognize. It was fletched and had a tip made from a silver spoon he had pounded into shape with a discovered hammer, but was no arrow that Archer was willing to shoot. “Ah well, let’s take the food to the group. ” Archer said, as he pulled his arrow out of the head of the nightmare that had been walking at him— it was an odd moment of black-humor that struck his mind as Frobisher watched.

A dead-dead person.

“Stay close to the flat of the buildings, away from the bushes.” The Sergeant said as they headed out. His own weapon at the ready, made of a cricket bat and the front chain-wheel of a bicycle. An effective battle-ax with a spiked edge.

The Archer carried a bow that he had found in a house. A simple recurve bow, he shot with an instinctive skill. Always in the eye of his target with devastating effect, they always went down in a mundane, quiet fall.

You could say that they were longtime friends if you met them on the street. But they had only met three weeks prior when the world fell into ruin.

Funny how such bonds are forged in the crucible of chaos.

Chaos.

It began in the land of Oz.

In Darwin, the first news of it hit the television. A virus the newscasters said.

A jetliner had declared an emergency, crash-landed, breaking into two large sections. The walking cadavers emerged from the debris, quickly overwhelming the emergency crews and security forces.

The Archer figured out the secret with head shots. Gunfire attracted attention and mobbed those that used such weapons. The silent arrows made a path without attention.

The shuffling dead did not know or communicate when an arrow had stilled one of their own.

The pair made their way to the bank that the group had held up in. Hiding behind a blast-resistant wall, the group was a mix of people who followed the Archer after he walked down the boulevard, creating a hail of death that cleared a path through the Edgar Allan Poe nightmares pounding on the walls of their tourist coach.

Andrea St. George the tour guide and her driver Jameson Curtis were the first to join the Yank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight, an attorney from the United States that worked for the ACLU, Zac Wood from Scotland, a student ambassador, joined the group on another of the Yankee’s forays at a bus depot. Now they stood behind the cage where they could pull the safe door shut if they needed to, while Andrea held a single-shot rifle ready.

The Archer and Sergeant Frobisher tapped on the doors to be let into the bank.

Rachel “Stormy” Knight of the ACLU opened the door, holding a shotgun she had discovered in the bank. The men stepped in while the sharp eye of the lawyer watched the street.

Behind Stormy stood, with a pump shotgun taken from an abandoned police cruiser, Gallisa “Gail” Blachere, Ph.D, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, Ed.D had a barely controlled rage in her eye, welcomed the two explorers back

“Mighty hunters bring food!” The Archer laughed and opened his bag of canned goods. “Sorry there are no fresh foods.”

Stale biscuits and beer were common in the second bag that the Canadian carried. Two jars of Vegemite he set on the counter.

“You have taste for a Yank!” Andrea laughed and picked it up. “A bit of heaven on earth you have here.”

“Maybe. I bet Al has done better with the beer and biscuits.” The Archer said. “Eat up, we need to move out as soon as we finish. There is a police station down the road with a gated fence. “

“Why do we need to move?” Zac asked.

“The bank is too soft of a target.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “A police station is more easily protected I’d say, it’s safer.”

Praise the lord and pass a biscuit.” Archer said. 

#

Chapter 2. Eating Well


“We need to move before sunset. Tomorrow we need to head down to the marina.” The archer said. “I’d say if we head south, we will head into the mess at Darwin. Sydney is the best way out of this hole.”

Aw, you don’t like my BrissVegas?” Andrea laughed.

The archer chuckled while accepting a biscuit from Andrea, who was instructing the Yankee on how to eat the Vegemite and bread before he continued.

“The boats down at the marina will allow us to sail with safety.” The archer said softly as he choked on the Aussie treat. “Damned lucky for beer.” He gasped out.

You Yanks have no taste.” Andrea laughed. “I told you to take a bite, not pop the whole muffin in your mouth. It will pull your tongue out by its root and beat you over the head with the bloody end.”

“I do have a taste, I like beer.” He winked. “And it was bite sized after all! This is saltier than ocean water.”

“We will need to fight our way to the marina.” Al interrupted. “It’s a long ways there to run and the how those creatures move about, we need more ammunition.”

“Guns equal attention.” Stormy said. “I watched it happen when they first attacked the police roadblock. Shooting our way there isn’t viable.”

The chance that saved your ass in that bus.” The archer said as he stood. “These… zombies… were going after the cops and their guns, that kept them away, they were inside the terminal going after the officers that were making so much noise. Those that were injured, turned. The others won’t be awarded medals for bravery, but they lived by running, it was FUBAR.”

FUBAR?” Zac asked. “What’s FUBAR?”

Fucked up beyond all repair.” The archer said.

Or reason.” Al injected.

Or recovery.” Gail added.

Nodding and chuckling, the archer continued. “I needed to choose, clear the coach or the cops out. I opted for the civilians, it was a tough call. But… Cops took an oath, you folks did not.”

His lowered his voice to almost a whisper describing the scene, looking at a bit of plastic on his finger.

It was a nightmare. I took down thirty of them beasts before they knew I was there. Before they knew anything, I had recovered enough arrows to cover the difference. That’s when I yelled through the door.”

Well. Let’s dash over to the police station. It’s six blocks away, but in the right direction of the marina.” Al said putting his hand on the archer’s shoulder.

Let’s walk, no tripping.” Andrea said softly, kissing the crimson-haired Yank on the cheek. “Archer, I’m glad you made the choice.”

#

3. Stepping Out

 

The door of the bank opened quietly, there were few creatures in the street, not one of them alerted to the humans.

“Okay, quiet, cover each other’s back. I’m first, Stormy to my right, Andrea and Zac in the middle, cover sides and up. Gail, Al, you have the rear and up. Keep them from dropping in on us from fire-escapes or windows.” Archer said as he placed an arrow on his bow.

“Why is the Mountie not first?” Gail asked.

“I shoot faster with my rig than he can until he gets practice.”

Al loaded up a vertical crossbow, holding it so that anywhere he looked, the arrow aimed naturally.

When they stepped out into the street, a single shabby ex-human shambled towards them from where they were going. The Archer loosed his arrow and it fell to the ground as they walked quietly towards the police station. No other of the animated dead that patrolled the area

The Archer paused as they walked past the body and pulled the arrow out of the head of the horror-come-archery target.

The Archer kept his place on point as they headed to the station, an arrow nocked, his bow ready to draw in a heartbeat if a need arose. and carefully moved forward to the gate of the fortress-like structure. It stood ajar and opened silently on high security hinges.

They dragged the body of a large Rottweiler by its thick harness, Al cried when he saw it wore a badge. The head of a half-eaten corpse of the police dog blocked the spring-loaded gate from fully closing. Toothmarks on the badge where something had chewed, obliterating the badge number. Torn bodies lay about, decaying in the concrete courtyard. The K-9 cop did not die gently, as evidenced of a furious fight by the bodies in the courtyard.

“Never thought a dog could tear limbs off of a body.” Jameson said.

“Canine officer. They teach them well and they require robust intelligence with these dogs.” Al said softly, tracing his index finger over the mutilated badge.

A bullet-proof glass and steel enclosed observation area inside the building controlled the gate.

Sergeant Frobisher, quickly figured out how to operate the lock and secured all the exits with a control panel.

“Excellent.” Al said. “Now we can relax.”

“No, now we need to check all the cells and rooms.” The Archer said. “I’m not sleeping without clearing this place from top to bottom.”

“You need to sleep, no matter what.” Andrea told The Archer. “When was the last down-time for you?”

“It has been a day or so.” The Archer nodded. “We will rest when the building’s secure.”

“Al and Zac stay here. Stormy, Gale and Jameson upstairs. Andrea and I will search below.” Archer said.

The Sergeant nodded.

“Here,” The Sergeant reached over into a locker as the groups were getting ready to leave. “I found these radios. Keep them on this channel I selected. Radio checks every five-minutes, everything is voice activated, so I will hear you the moment there’s a sound louder than a deep breath. As the Archer said, no rest until this entire building is cleared.”

Archer taped an LED torch (as the label on it said) to the side of his bow and he adjusted the beam to fill a room with the glow from the diminutive light. Andrea stood next to him loading a police shotgun liberated from a gun-rack they found. She had used a key she found in a drawer and was quite proud of her discovery that allowed all the other firearms in the station available to the others.

“Right, ready.”  Andrea said as she racked the riot gun and chambered a shell. “Buckshot and slugs. That’s what this girl is made of.”

For good measure, the Aussie filled her pockets and a bandolier with shotshells she had found while digging around the observation port. Al pointed it was not police issue.

But Andrea could not care less.

#

4. Revelation

 

The door was ajar to the training room, only tables and chairs.

Vampire Skull Northern Ondode/Nosferatu

Image of Ondode/Nosferatu type Vampire Skull.

But they were not alone.

Movement…

Weapons turned the same time and Andrea hissed at the Archer.

Stop walking.”

It was a shadow that did not fill with light — then it was gone.

Something hissed at Andrea, avoiding the lights as it moved.

It went under the corner of a table, knocking over chairs.

“Come out!” Andrea sounded braver than the Archer felt.

The shadow charged as Andrea pulled the trigger and drove the serpent-like shadow backwards for a moment, an arrow buried its tip into the head of the shadow causing a shriek of anger, a desk erupted into splinters and sawdust as a dozen pellets tore apart the pressed wood construction whilst Andrea tracked the shrieking creature that moved like a cat on crack cocaine and too much espresso.

Clawed hands gripped the arrow and pulled the shaft out of the right eye socket, the eye reforming as it did.

The Archer’s earpeice buzzed. “REPORT! Who is shooting?”

“Sorry, busy!” Archer answered as Andrea rocked the room again with her scattergun.

Archer blinked to clear his eyes from the dust fell from the ceiling. He shot an arrow at the wrong shadow and it stuck out in a stupid angle that made him shake his head while nocking another shaft to the string, tracking the correct shadow – the one with teeth.

“Call back later!” Andrea yelled into in her mic. “We’re killing shit!”

The shadow was too close this time, charging like a cat as she racked in another shell. An arrow intercepted the creature, penetrating it in the left eye and knocked the attacker off-balance.

The shotgun fired again, destroying its face and the arrow. The black creature did a back-flip, knocking over a video projector that shattered on the floor. The creature landed on all fours and its face unbelieveably rebuilt as it launched at Andrea again as a winged quadruped.

Andrea kicked a table against the wall and pinned the attacker — It was no zombie, but suddenly bi-pedal. Still, its features could not yet be determined beyond fangs and cat-like eyes— struggling against the wall, pinned in an awkward way.

However it was immensely strong and changing shapes, wriggling from behind the heavy desk that Andrea held against it.

Point-blank range, she fired another load into the inhuman face. The shotgun blowing a hole in the wall behind the attacker the size of her fists. But she might as well have spit on it for all she had done with the gunpowder and lead.

Gristle and meat, black blood and bone splattered on the wall, and then just… jumped… back to the struggling body. Then a tickle of wind and a swishing sound at her ear and would later be angry with Archer over how close the arrow was that flew past her head.

The angry shriek and gnashing of teeth stopped as the creature choked, clawing at a wooden arrow stuck in its chest, then collapsed into a pile of bones and ash.

“Wh-wh-w… ” The Archer, already nocked another arrow. “The.. Son of a… Holy… Shiiii…Fuuu… what… HELL!” His eyes as large as a car’s headlight as he searched for the best profanity.

“F’k’n oath!” She said, nodding with the Yankee. Still tracking what was left of the attacker with the pool of light that was the aim-point of the twelve-gauge.

Thundering footsteps down the hall announced that Al and company were coming as backup.

No sneaking up on a bloke with that crowd.” Andrea said to Archer as the Al kicked the door open and entered with a shotgun at the ready, followed by Stormy and Gail each with submachine guns, lasers crisscrossing, looking for a target.

You shouldn’t talk, that thing is LOUD.”

“What the hell was going on down here? Could you keep the room at least in one piece?” the Canadian Cop surveying the room and the holes in the sheetrock.

The Archer picked up a skull off the floor and walked out of the room. The skull had too many fangs in its mouth as he looked it over in the lighted hallway, then he handed it to Al.

“This is what attacked us.” Archer said. “I believe we woke it up.”

“It’s so light.” The flesh crumbled under his fingers leaving polished bone if he rubbed firmly. “It’s so dry.” Sharp teeth glinted in the harsh hallway’s light.

“Not when I first shot it. It crumbled and dried up in seconds when I hit it with my wood-shafted arrow.” Archer reported.

“Aluminum arrows had no effect.” Andrea nodded. “Neither did the buckshot from the riot gun.”

“Wood-shafted arrow? What are you talking about?” Al asked. “What the hell?”

Andrea and The Archer looked at each other and laughed.

“My words precisely.” Archer said. “We are fighting something besides a virus I would say.”

“What does that mean?” Gale asked. “You’re talking in riddles.”

“It means,” Archer said, “that skull you hold, goes into a consecrated cemetery. One blessed by someone of the cloth, toss that in a hole of a cemetery and it won’t rise again.”

“Rise? A-a-again?” It was Zac.

“That,” The Archer pointed to the skull. “is a vampire, a Dracula-like creature, I would wager. It kept changing shape while we fought it.”

“BULL!” Jameson yelled. “The news explicitly said it was a virus!  We are not fighting something so profoundly… so profound…. so… F’k’ng WRONG!  NO! You are not telling me that it’s a lie! An explicit, bald-faced LIE? THIS IS JUST A…

“Jameson! CALM DOWN” Gail slapped the coach driver so hard he fell over.

“Coincidence.”  The downed man moaned out.

There is nothing in real-life as vampires!” Zac said, echoing Jameson’s disbelief. “That is only in movies.”

There are no zombies, either. But we have seen otherwise, haven’t we?”

Is it dead?” Jameson pleaded.

No.” Gail said. “If Archer is right and the legends hold true, it is in a hibernation state, drip some blood into the skull and it will wake up. That is why we need to separate the head from the body and buried at a blessed cemetery.”

Blessed cemetery? Aren’t they all?” Jameson asked. Coming back to grips with himself. “I’m sorry about that.  Vampires terrified me as a child.”

No.” Stormy said. “Some even have consecrated and unconsecrated ground within a single graveyard. We need to choose where to bury that skull carefully.”

“Should we put garlic in it?” Zac asked.

“You brought back some garlic powder and garlic salt with the last shopping spree you and the Canadian did.”

“Stuff it, bag it and bury it.” Sergeant Frobisher said. “But where?”

“There is a church up the way.” Andrea pulled at her ear. “I don’t recall the kind of church. Catholic maybe, but I am not positive.”

“Catholic, Jewish,” Archer shrugged. “Could be a Shaolin temple for all I care, so long as it involves holy ground.”

“Let’s make it done.” Al ordered.

2 Dracul Skulls ("Noble" caste, Possibly "Royal" Ref. Van Helsing, Et al, "Identification of skulls" Copyleft 1901 Royal Underground press.) in 2 views.  Left skull buried in bag of garlic under unknown church, skul

#

 

 

 

5. Debriefing


The group walked into the cafeteria , Zac was carrying the skull, carefully turning it over in his hand as they all sat down..

Archer poured himself a coffee in a styrene cup from a stack he had found in a cabinet, handing one to Andrea and to Al.

So what happened down there?” Al asked.

Archer took a tentative sip of the steaming black water while Andrea spoke.

“We entered the classroom and I would hazard a guess that it was asleep and we surprised it. It wasn’t even aware we were in the building.” Andrea said to Al as she sat with the others in what was once a cafeteria.

“If Andrea had not seen it and fired first, I’m not sure we would have survived. It came straight at her and my aim was not on. I shot the wrong shadow.”

Stormy found some herbal tea in a cabinet, saying it would be better for Archer, she took away his coffee.

You sure I can’t have the coffee?”

Stormy gave Archer an icy look and shook her head. “I’m worried about your caffeine intake.”

“I was lucky, it happened to come over the table where I was pointing the riotgun, I pulled the trigger when it startled me.” Andrea said.

Al chuckled and turned to the Archer.

“How did you decide to shoot it with that arrow you made from a dowel? I know you carry that one you keep fooling around with. What made you think of that?”

“Well, I wasn’t sure, but if I was wrong, we were in for a hell of a fight. But, one way to destroy a vampire is to run it through the heart with a stake.”

“Okay,” Al pulled at his ear. “What you are getting at?”

“Okay, wooden stake in the chest. Can it be thrown? Could it be larger? A spear? Wooden shafted and driven through the chest?”

“Um, yes, it follows.”

“Okay then what is the difference between an arrow and a spear? A javelin and an arrow? Size? So, I used that wooden arrow that I have been working on.”

“You thought that during the fight?”

“Well,” Archer chuckled, “A significant deal more than that, but I’m being succinct about it.”

“Heh, my friend, if you think that fast after you drink your coffee, don’t you ever quit.”

Everyone except Stormy chuckled, who failed to appreciate the humor in Archer living on caffeine.

#

6. A Good Night


“Okay, we are cleared, top to bottom. Windows are secured, we have a room for us to sleep in. Who will take the first watch?” Al asked.

The Archer raised his hand.

“I’ll take the night half.”

“No.” Stormy, Gale and Andrea made a harmony of the word.

“Sorry, you need some sleep.” Gale said.

“Besides, you reek.” Andrea pointed out. “If I wake up and you are standing there, I will shoot your Yankee arse for one of those walking dead.”

“Okay, shower. Then I will do the watch.”

“No,” Stormy Knight argued. “Is it true that you have not slept at all? Then you need to sleep.”

Archer shook his head.

“Okay, just lay down for awhile. Rest.”

“Oh, all right. I’ll relax and recuperate for a bit. Al could you do first watch?”

“Naw, right now I need some shut-eye for a couple hours. I’m beat. I’ll volunteer Jameson. He’s slept quite well the last few nights.”

Jameson cleared his throat.

“Archer never woke anyone for the next watch, he did the whole shift!”

“No matter.” Andrea said. “You have first watch. Archer has a night off.”

The Archer shook his head slightly and winked at Jameson.

“YOU!” Stormy pointed a finger at the Yank. “Gingersnap, off to the showers with you. The men’s side has a shower system. I looked it over when checking out for any nasties that might be lurking there. You wash up and then lay down.”

“Your clothes, too, deposit them outside the door of the showers. There is a laundry . We’ll need to wash all our clothes.”

Heh.” The Archer said without trying to hide the humor. “Lawyers will always take the shirt off your back.”

The look from the attorney of the United States was enough to for the fearless Archer to move quickly at her command.

Archer spoke loudly as he walked down the stairs, “Clean mind, clean body; pick one.”

Anyone else want to cross swords? I will send them to the showers, too.”

Gail raised her hand. “With him?”

Andrea laughed and raised her hand. “Community shower?”

Oh hush. I’m first in that case.” Stormy laughed. “I like the redhead.”

We all do.” Andrea and Gail said in chorus.

#

7. Morning’s Early Light


Stormy nudged Andrea before dawn.

“Mm- mmph.” It was Andrea’s wittiest conversation she could have before morning coffee— her “Cuppa”.

Looking around Andrea nudged Gail.

“Wh’.” Was the best that the petite, muscular blond woman could verbalize as she stirred out of the best nighttime hibernation in a long while. She sat up, rubbing her eyes.

“The Archer is gone. Jameson is asleep.” Stormy said, matter

“Jameson!” Andrea threw a pillow at the coach driver with uncanny accuracy. “When did you come in?”

“Not long after Archer finished his shower. All you shelia’s went to bed, Al was asleep, he was up and said he was my relief and you were okay with it.”

In the control room, Al and the Archer were talking.

“ARCHER!” The women yelled as they came down the hallway.

“Uh-oh. Busted.” The Canadian chuckled. “You violated curfew.”

“Better to apologize than to ask permission.” Archer winked.

“You’re supposed to be sleeping.” Rachel said.

“You said to rest, and I did. I rested for an hour but could not catch any luck on sleep, so I came up here so that I would not disturb anyone.”

Stormy grumbled like distant thunder with lightning flashing her eyes, living up to her nickname.

“Men and children, the only difference are their sizes.” She said to Andrea.

Andrea laughed, looking at the two men that continued to gaze out the window at the outside world.

“What are you blokes looking at?” Andrea asked.

“Well,” Al said and looked out the window. “Birds.”

“Listen.” The Archer opened the heavy, armored-glass door to the outside courtyard.

The sounds of birds singing in the early morning light.

“I have not heard that in over a month. Birds stopped singing when all this happened.” Andrea said as she walked to the door listening to the music of nature’s composition for the first time in a long while. “What’s changed?”

“I’ve been standing watch for the last four hours. ” Archer said, Stormy sighed at this news with fire in her eyes. “There has been not a single shuffler meander by. Not one.”

“Are they gone?”

“I couldn’t know about that, just that I have not seen them from the observation area. The only change is that we destroyed that vampire yesterday. After Al and Jameson ran down the street and took it into a church. We can rest assured it is not in control of anything at the moment.”

“Control?” Jameson yawned as he stumbled in. “Y’all disturbed m’ sleep.”

“I’ll do more than just disturbing your sleep.” Gale was dangerous sounding. “I should kick your arse down the hallway and back for not finishing your shift.”

After my run down to the church there and all.” Jameson said, sounding a little more awake.

Shut it!” Gail said, then turning to the Canadian. “Taking it into a church killed it?”

Zac, Jameson and I took it down the road to the church— Catholic by the by— and when Jameson dropped it into a baptismal tub full of water. It bubbled and then burst into a flame, it was quite impressive.” Al said. “You’d think we dropped it into a vat of acid and gasoline, eh. It was quite exciting for a moment.”

“Yes, I would venture a guess that that did it.” The Archer continued. “I’m not positive, just a theory. Now that it is lighter, there are bodies are visible, lying all around out there. Those bodies— over there and there — we didn’t shoot them. It looks like they collapsed suddenly, what ever it is that energizes them was abruptly cut off.”

“The vampire?” Stormy’s asked. “Are you saying the vampire controlled these zombie creatures?”

“That is what I’m supposing.”

“So you think it was controlling them.” Gale asked.

“I cannot say that for sure. It could just be motivational. A bit like saying ‘rise up and walk’ and then just let them shuffle around, aimlessly. No direction, just setting them loose to put pressure on the humans.” Archer shrugged. “It is a hypothesis based on the scantest of information.”

“So.” Stormy’s logical side took over. “You are saying that it is not a virus?”

“In the way it appears as of now. The jury is still out. If you excuse the term.” The Archer winked. “It could be a sort of, I do not know, a sort of control that is passed on by senescence – death. You become dead, your systems are inert and are open to control. A frog’s leg, for example, can move even though the frog is dead or even if the leg is amputated. That could explain why those shufflers out there are not something to be reasoned with. There is no mind. Just a power control.”

“That kind of power is unknown, nothing I have ever heard of can do that.” Gale said. “And it is spread by contact with the zombies, not vampires. That makes no sense.”

“Yes, and true.” The Archer answered, nodding. “But it is all I have for now. Bigger brains than mine will need to think it over. One more reason to find a military center where they may have a fortress and are holding out against this. This started in Darwin, Sydney is the largest city, it should have a military base somewhere around the water.”

“Yes,” Jameson nodded. “There is a naval base on Garden Island there.

“Perfect. An island is easily protected!” Al said. “That’s our destination.”

The Archer nodded. “Agreed.”

“No, it is not what you are thinking. It’s an island, but has been connected to the mainland by bridges. Like your Manhattan island, for example.”

“Still.” The Archer said slowly. “It is a base, it will be defended, I hope, and a place we can dock a boat to without walking across land with those flesh-eaters hunting fresh meat.”

“Okay, then prepare to leave. Pack light. We leave at sunrise.” Al said.

Archer agreed.

Archer.” Zac said sleepily. “You were in the showers when we came back. I wanted to give this to you, but I was asleep before you were finished. The mum’s would not let me stay up.” Zac pointed at the women as he held up an exotic shape of limbs and string.

Where did you find that?” Archer’s eyes widened.

I found this in a shop, it was in a glass case. The Sergeant said you would like this.” Zac smiled.

Thank you,” Archer smiled as he ran his fingers over the four limbs of the bow. “You have any idea what you have here?”

A bow. It is unusual, I have never seen one like it.” Zac said, his eyes glittering with glee that the face of the redhead lit up with a rare smile. “I never saw one with forked arms before.”

This is a Penobscot style bow, it is custom made by White Wolf in the United States. Look at this here. It is called a Wind Warrior. And here? This is the number of the bow, the boyer’s name and the draw it has. This one goes up to seventy-pounds. I don’t think I have heard of one that went that high before, the name etched into it here “Midnight”. I don’t know if that is the color or the name of the bow.”

Name?” Zac asked.

A few shooters named their bows. I was one, but I’m considered a bit eclectic. My favorite bow was the Gertrude. But this one is my favorite now, she is beautiful.”

She?” Andrea laughed lightly.

Beauty, thy name is woman.” Archer said, looking again at the four-limbed bow as he held it up to the light. “The name of the bow is Midnight. Thank you, Zac, this is a wonderful gift.”

Oh! You could use your nickname with it and call it Midnight Thunder!” Zac was pleased with his thoughts on the subject.

Archer chuckled and looked down. “Maybe. We’ll see.”

“Now if someone can point out the direction to my clothes, I have gotten chafed wearing this prisoner’s jumpsuit. It rides up a bit.” The Yank said, changing the subject.

Quiet snickers could be heard as he disappeared with Stormy down the hallway towards the laundry room, pulling at the prisoner garb uncomfortably.

I keep getting a danged wedgie.”

#

8. Recognition

The Archer came back out after he pulled on his pants and socks. His shoulders were a testament to the skills he had with a bow as he carried a dark-gray polo shirt over his right shoulder.

He sat down by the armored glass and looked out, pulling on heavy black boots.

“Any changes outside?”

“None.” Al said as he surveyed with a pair of binoculars he had found. “It has been quiet, what can be seen, however, there is some movement six intersections distant heading away from the water, but I don’t have a view down towards the marina, it could be a Grateful Dead party down there for all I know.”

The redheaded Yank chuckled grimly and started to pull the polo shirt on over his head.

“Archer?” Stormy asked. “The tattoo you have on your chest? I recall seeing it before. I needed to think about it for a moment, but I remember you.”

“My tattoo?” He touched his chest. The Celtic heart with the black lightning bolt across it had been there so long, he had forgotten about it.

“You are T.H. Harte. The U.S. Olympic Archer that took the team to the finals, they said your form was all wrong, but it kept working for you. I helped sponsor you. My firm bought you equipment and some bows. Three of them if I remember.”

“He is… you are Thunder Harte?” Al blinked, looking from Stormy to the Archer. “He wrote a few books and is the host of the outdoor channel’s show “Against all odds”. Wow!”

Archer looked down and gave a heavy sigh. The sound of a man haunted by ghosts and tortured by a shattered soul.

“Yes, yes, and yes, I was Thunder Harte. But I cannot use that name anymore. I’m no longer that man.”

“You have a family. Your son is supposed to be one of the youngest to ever qualify for the U.S. Olympic Archery team.” Rachel said. “There was a legal challenge about minors in the sport.”

“Yes, I opposed him being pushed to be an archer on the team by the media. Their attitude was beyond the pale and I filed the suit for an invasion of privacy. It was his choice and his choice alone.”

“You keep talking about him in the past tense.” Al pointed out, his three-decades of police skills coming to the fore.

“Yeah,” Archer said softly, as if he did and did not want to talk about it. It was a wound that still made his soul bleed and began to pour out of him as if he could not stop his words. “We were overrun by those shuffling nightmares. So, my wife and son took shelter in a quiet, dark house and I drew off the mob by using fire bombs and a shotgun. There was a minor problem, and then my son came out to help, the courage of a pre-teen. ” Archer sighed. “They caught him and began to drag him off. My wife ran out with a stick to beat them away and they grabbed her too.”

He choked and his knuckles turned white as he squeezed the edge of the desk, the veins stood out in his forearms and neck. A man about to scream in agony.

I was a half-block away, semi-auto shotgun was stovepipe-jammed and I had the bow and four jars of turpentine.” The deep sound of a heart breaking sob came out of the one they called Archer. “It took too long to clear the jam, the shotgun wouldn’t cycle so I could clear a path. Then I finally cleared the jam and needed to eject another shell before I could jump back in the fight. But I was too late.”

He took another deep sigh as he pulled himself together.

“I shot them both.” He said quietly, almost inaudibly. “It was the best I could do. They were both bloodied already and I believed it was a virus at the time.”

“You didn’t know about the vampires.” Rachel said, showing her less stormy side.

“No. I could have saved them.” Archer drew a breath and looked out the window. “I failed them. I killed my family and there is no deeper Hell than what I’m in. I couldn’t even bury them.”

“I’m no longer a Harte.” He said in a strangled voice, anguish showed his face as he covered his eyes as if to blind himself to a vision remembered. “I have no name. Just… Archer. It is well enough of a name.”

You will need to forgive yourself, you will need time to find your way.” Gail said, putting a hand gently on his shoulder. “You need to put this behind you, the world has nearly come to an end.”

Forgive?” Archer shook his head. “No. I should live with this forever. There is no forgiveness for what I did.”

From his quiver, he pulled a plastic baggy that contained locks of hair.

“I cut some hair from their heads after I drove the zombies back. The blond is his and this, ” He reached in the bag and touched a lock of red hair. “Is from my wife.

Compared to my hair, she is more of an orange color, but she was a warrior from the north of Glasgow. By the time I got to her, they had bitten and severely tore her up, but she had given better than she taken. There were bodies with their heads stove in all around her.” Archer stroked both locks of hair as if there was some magic in them. Magic that he could not unlock, but refused to let go.

He rolled the plastic baggy up and put it back into a pocket in his quiver and closed the flap.

“Let’s hunt up something with working radios that won’t draw a crowd.” Gail said softly, taking her hand from Archer’s shoulder and stroking his hair. “Down by the marina, we can put to sea, zombies are not able to sneak up or mob us. I would bet the long dead ones would sink anyway.”

“Let’s pack up.” Archer said. Anything to draw attention away from him.

They were ready in moments and formed up under the watchful eye of Al.

The group headed out in the practiced cover pattern that Sergeant Frobisher had taught them to do.

#

9. Out On The Docks

For the first block where birds sang, streets were eerily empty of the walking horrors as they headed to the marina. The death of the vampire seemed to have a chilling effect on the animated dead. Decaying and partly mummified bodies lay everywhere. The presence of ravens feeding on the dead was oddly reassuring to the group. Where the dead walked, birds were absent and silent. Everyone considered the ravens to be a good sign.

The closer they approached the marina, the air seemed to change. Like a heaviness in the atmosphere they had not noticed before, it suffocated the mood of the armed human centipede. They had started their walk to the marina in the best spirits they had been in days, but the farther they walked, the more melancholy the group became. It was as if the soul of the land they walked on was dying.

Moments later, another group of tattered, half-rotted bodies appeared from around the corner of a cross-street and began to approach the heavily armed group.

I thought we killed the vampire.” Zac said in a frightened whisper.

There must be more than one.” Al answered quietly as he walked backwards, protecting the rear of the group as he scanned back and forth with his vertical limbed crossbow. “There ain’t any of those shufflers following us.”

A range? Like with a cell phone?” Archer asked.

By deduction there is more than one kind of vampire.” Stormy said, keeping her sound suppressed weapon against her shoulder. “Some more powerful than others. Foot-soldiers, like Renfield in the classic horror novel. You might have some vampires that would be the generals, they would… maybe… channel the power to the lower caste. Then the zombies are the shock troops that are unstoppable.”

Stormy?” Archer asked.

Yes, love?”

You are giving me a panic attack, please talk about something else, something nicer, like how lions eat baby zebra.”

You killed one vampire already.” Stormy nudged Archer with her hip.

You weren’t down there with the Yank and me.” Andrea said. “That was a serious piss-fight brewing.”

They began to use the arrows to take down the mob of horror that was approaching as they headed to the marina in a controlled pace. Sound suppressed, special weapons did their jobs brilliantly, but the tinkling of spent brass on the ground rang loudly in the silent area that no bird song could reach their ears or any winged life flew. Even the insects had abdicated flight in the area.

As they approached the marina, Archer pointed out a large ketch with sails rolled up on the booms, well tied up. It would be easy to prepare the boat for departure.

Al jimmied a lock of a barred gate that stood as a silent sentinel across the dock. It opened with a loud shriek of partly rusted hinges and closed with the sound of a steel drum full of marbles.

Looking back over the way they had come, several of the animated dead had heard and were drifting in towards the marina as if they were not sure where the sound came from, wandering aimlessly with ever more gathering in the street between the buildings.

Okay, it’s safe.” Gail said. “They are not coming at us directly. We need to walk carefully on the dock to keep the noise down, or we will bring all of Brissy down on us.”

Walking down the dock to the sail-yacht, a large man with a side-by-side shotgun stepped out into the open deck of a tour-boat.

“Hey!” He yelled.

Archer and Al stopped and drew their bows. Andrea, Zac and Stormy pointed their own weapons at the armed man, Zac’s shotgun now loaded with sharpened dowels.

“Ahoy.” Called Archer. “We are seeking safety only. We are not looting. Just need to listen to a radio and find a way to travel south.”

“You are under quarantine. Don’t c’me closer, you are no going to pass on dat virus to me.” He shouted.

“We are alive and breathing, when was the last time you saw one aim weapons at you and hold a conversation?”

The skipper paused.

Archer took advantage of the pause and spoke again.

“There is no virus. All this? It’s vampires— They are using the zombies as war dogs.”

“Bah! There are no such things as vampires!”

“There are no such things as the dead zombies that walk, either! But there they are!” Archer pointed at the bodies that ambled up and down the street. Still milling about trying to find the source of the sound that the gate had made.

The skipper swore under his breath.

“C’me ab’ard befer any of doze still walkin’ sees ya. Git below.” He lowered his shotgun. “I didn’ wanna to shoot an’way. I’m down to whut gravel, nails and bolt-heads I c’n scrape up off teh ground. I has lots o’ powder, but nothin’ fer shootin’, I has ta make do with scraps. Bloody awful whut it is.”

The group sat down around the inside of the cruiser. It was medium sized, but well appointed.

“I chartered until two months ago. The damned demon-things put an end ta dat overnight. I usually walk ta town ta live, but dis is my home now. Dis is de Maribeth an’ welcome ab’ard. She don’ run, though. The engine is farked fer awhile, I ordered a new fuel pump and have been waited fer it fer six weeks before dis all started. I don’ think I’ll be gettin’ it in now.”

“What if you took parts from the other boats around.” Andrea asked.

“I dun’ thin’ the other owners would appreciate it, besides, tha’s stealin and what good would I be if’n I were in jail? They’d bust me for sure an’ take me boat.” The skipper nodded. “By da way, me name’s Roberts. Abraham John Roberts. I’m cap’n of this vessel, whut’s left of ‘er an’way.”

“There are no police to arrest you. And the owners of the boats around here are gone. You are not stealing. You’re salvaging.” Archer said slowly.

Captain Roberts looked at Al, then Archer, then to the ladies for a moment.

“Whut are we waiting fer.” He chuckled. “Damn, I is getting old, I could ha’ been salvagin’ all dis time!”

“We would like to listen to the radio, too. Everywhere on the land most power is out and no radio is working on land.” Rachel said.

“Aye, we can do dat. Marine radio and I has a world short-wave radio set built in. Digital radio is available, too.” The Captain said. “I ha’ no listened to it much. I worry that de sound would bring them, so’s I just walk in ta town ta de stores, avoidin’ them ta hunt up food.”

The women turned it on low and sat drinking the Captain’s coffee. Andrea offering “a cuppa” every few minutes. Captain Roberts told stories of how the world changed from the south up north to the marina. How the changes came from tourists to the biters that came later.

“We get the parts in the morning. This will be hell of a better watch than being here alone.”

“Then we put into Sydney or some other town with an enclave or sanctuary?” Al asked.

“Aye, we can.” Captain Roberts answered. “But fer ta-night? We DRINK!”

“Here here!” Andrea laughed.

Archer, atypically quiet, just sat at the top of the steps. Dusk was more than two hours away.

“Once it’s gone dark, w’ pull all da tarps over de glass and git below. I keep lights ta minimum. I ha’ LED lights that adjust low.” Captain said. Then coughed. “We needs fuel, too, for such a trip. We will need to take on at least three-thousand liters of fuel or we run a chance o’ rowin’ b’fore we get ta where we wants ta be.”

“Hey, what if we just take a boat?” Al asked. “There is a whole fleet of vessels out there that have no one to claim them.”

The Captain stopped talking for a moment.

“Well, I don’ know de other boats as well, but it’ll sure’n satisfy a few cravin’s. We kin upgrade. I never thought about takin’ another boat. Hum…”

Unpacking the maps from the Maribella, the group now including the Captain walked down the moorings assessing each yacht. Finally settling on the Calliope. A luxurious world-class sixty-meter yacht that showed full on all six tanks. Checking the staterooms confirmed the crew was alone on the yacht.

The Calliope, secured and they moved slowly to the unplug the yacht’s power cables from the end of the marina.

“The radio is broadcasting that the area north of Sydney is under quarantine, they are blocking all roads.” Rachel said as the Captain had started the engines warmed them up.

“Here comes the farewell party.” the Sergeant shouted. Shuffling dead were attracted to the sounds of the vessel powering up.

“Dey’ll hold up at de gate.” The Captain said.

“Yeah… no. They have pulled the gate down already.” The Archer said, the sounds of rending metal attracting more walking horror. “Captain, we need to leave.”

The redheaded Yank looked back out the window at the failed gate. “As in now.”

“As in… We has ta get de fark outta here,” Captain Roberts said.

“Agreed,” The Al said. “Forget leaving on the turn of the tide. Let us just cast off now.”

Bloody hell! If yer’n not cast off now, just cut lines. Theys not organized, theys keep fallin’ off into the water, but I won’ ‘ave any o’ ya out dere as bait.”

Casting off, the sixty-meter yacht pulled away from the dock slowly. The motion was not missed by others on the edge of town. The dead, under control of their masters began to walk down towards the marina stopping only at the edge of water.

“Set a course,” The Captain ordered. “Use dat GPS dere, and indicate Sydney.”

Archer gave a rare smile to Stormy, putting down an arrow from his bow, Midnight.

You were going to make a stand?” Stormy frowned.

Stand? Hell no. I was going to shoot that transformer on the pole over there and drop the power line into the water. I’m sure we would be safe, but anything standing in the wet areas would have an exciting moment or three.” Archer winked.

Wi’ one o’ da li’l sticks?” The Captain asked. “F’k’n’ Bullshit.”

Captain.” Al said. “With all due respect, that man could do it. I have seen him do things a hundred paces away with those “li’l sticks” that should be impossible.”

The Captain shook his head land laughed.

Den I’s glad ta has yer on my side, Yank.”

#

10. Ocean and Freedom

The Calliope gathered speed, passing ten-knots and they turned south. Following the shore with the land on the right, they sailed into the gathering darkness.

Captain Roberts sat back and sighed.

“We are clear. Radar shows us with no traffic near and sonar shows that the water depth is increasing nicely. We are in the channel.” The Captain nodded. “Now… I have something to celebrate our escape.”

Hopping off his seat Captain A. J. Roberts opened up a trunk he had lugged from Maribella without a word on what he had inside.

Bottles and bottles of exotic liquors. The largest of which he pulled up.

“RHUM!” He laughed. “All the way from the Caribbean! I bet you have not seen the likes.”

The Archer laughed.

“Actually,” Archer said softly to Rachel, “I have been drinking that brand for years.

Rachel laughed. “I have a bottle of that in my house now.”

The drinking went on for some minutes, The Archer was working on his second cup over ice to the Captains third. The two were seemingly getting into a race.

Suddenly the radio crackled and the Captain choked on his fourth cup of the dark liquor.

“Emergency channel is working! Huzzah!” He grabbed the microphone and called.

“Emergency caller, this is the Calliope out of Brisbane bound for Sydney. Go ahead with your traffic.”

“This is Royal Australian Navy Destroyer Guardsman. Reverse your direction return the way you came.”

“Negative, Guardsman, we are out of Brisbane, all on board are healthy and are seeking asylum from the chaos of the area.”

“Calliope, this is your last warning, the quarantine has been extended to Brisbane, come about now and return to your point of departure.”

“Guardsman, we have women and children on board, we cannot return. Do you wish to condemn them to deal with the collapse of government there?”

“This is Captain Monroe of the RAS Guardsman. Calliope, please reverse your course, I do not wish to fire upon you. Heave to and prepare to be boarded.”

“We are making our way to Sydney. Board us there.” The Captain Roberts replied to Captain Monroe.

“Heave to, or we will fire.”

“Captain.” The Archer was looking out a window. “We have a problem.”

In the air, a heavily armed helicopter suddenly lit up with navigation lights in the failing twilight of the coming evening. Already airborne, missile pods were visible on the sides of the rotary-winged gunship.

Captain Roberts looked out.

“Oh f’kn’ bloody brass nuts.” The Captain said loudly. “If you folks believe in a hell, you might wish to call ‘em an’ ask if they have exchange programs, it is about to become worse than that here. Guardsman is a Hobart Class ship, that there bird be one o’ its hammers.”

“What are those?” Stormy asked as two, then four pinpoint lights seem to move towards them from a mile out.

“Archer?” Andrea asked, pointing out at what Stormy saw.

Incoming! They’ve opened fire!” The Archer yelled. He reached down to his quiver and pulled out a rolled up plastic bag. Holding two locks of hair close to his heart, he watched the missiles track towards them at unimaginable speed.

“I”m sorry.” He whispered to the last remains of his family as he dropped the baggie over the rail of the yacht. “I’m so sorry I failed.”

OUT! Abandon ship!” Al was like a bull shoving everyone he could reach towards the railing. The only time in his life he used his hand to hand training to shove a group.

“Abort! ABORT! Do not fire! ABORT! ABORTABORT! We are…” The Captain screamed into the microphone.

It was his last conscious thought as the missiles impacted into the bridge of the Calliope. High explosive warheads sent shockwaves through the vessel. Air heated to thousands of degrees shattered doors and bulkheads as the yacht disappeared in a fireball of continuing weapons fire as the helicopters their weapons repeatedly.

Only after the Calliope’s shattered, burning hull slipped beneath the surface of the water the gunships returned to base on shore.

The haze and smoke slowly dissipated as the killing machine moved off, returning to the carrier.

There would be no rescue boats launched as the Guardsman followed orders and turned away back to its patrol.

#

Epilogue


Radio transmission on shore after the military radar had detected the contact:

Captain Michael Monroe made his report to the base. “Contact made. Illegal threat neutralized. No spread of infection or contamination. End of report.”

Rear Admiral Shyldon Gillette, Commander of the Royal Australian Border Protection Command read the electronic report out loud and turned towards a shadow in the corner with red eyes glimmering in the dark.

“The secret remains safe, my Lord, the operation will be able to continue to relocate the human blood sources into the feeding reservations.”

“Excellent. Keep the fear up. Any human that finds clues to the real source of the undead slaves, kill them. The living cannot know what is happening until the whole of the world is under our control.” The lips of Lord Maldark’s ghostly face barely moved to create a voice that sounded like it came from the depths of a muddy tomb. “Tell the lower caste to increase the numbers of the risen and to drive herds of the food towards the reservations, do not give them a chance to contemplate their position in the food-chain. That is key to our success.”

Yes, my Lord.”

The face that appeared to float in the shadow twisted unnaturally into a grin, long fangs glittered like glass in the subdued light, but the admiral was under the ancient one’s control now and was no longer afraid as he was the first night.

That night, over a month ago.

Out on the water near the sunken Calliope, a plastic sandwich bag floated on the water stuffed with two gently cut locks and five hastily pulled blood-red strands of hair sealed inside.

Together the hairs drifted towards the land of Oz in the prevailing current with wreckage from the destroyed yacht.

A bow floated on the wreckage, an unusual penobscot bow made of exotic woods. The bow lay on a raft of floatation devices, hastily lashed together, clear of the water with a quiver of arrows as the land grew closer with each passing moment.

<Finis?>

2 Seconds… T-Minus 2 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 2 Seconds

Passing through the atmosphere, photons interacted with the oxygen and nitrogen, but still straight on to the stalled dark blue car of LucilleMay Sprecks who was frozen in fear.

Photons struck the paint and chrome of Lucy’s car. Instantly redirected by reflection, the photons passed through the air at ninety-thousand kilometers per second slower than in a pure vacuüm. Some colors absorbed by the paint and then reflected the remaining color of dark blue.

Engine 2315 self-dispatched, rolled down the driveway, already the crew had dropped paintbrushes and rakes, running towards the engine. The seasonal firefighters did not know the nature of the call, but the Captain was waving frantically. The Engineer already on the radio. The two men, from years of experience, knew of the impending accident was just seconds from happening and called for a dispatch of a paramedic unit.

“Copy, medics Code-3 to your location.” Dispatch responded.

The photons traveled the distance between the sudden obstruction and passed through the iris of Russell’s eye in twenty-five nanoseconds — 0.000000025 — striking the light-sensitive membrane in the back of Russell’s eyes. Neural pathways reacted to the absorbed photons and processed it to his occipital lobe, in the back of Russell’s head.

T-1.9999955 seconds. Photons streaked past Russell’s head and entered the lens of Lulu’s eyes. The nervous system transmitted the image at two-hundred miles-per-hour to the brain of Mrs. Fletcher.

Russell’s brain transmitted the image to the frontal cortex. One-point-six seconds it took to have the one-hundred billion axioms to recognize the threat, the mind of the skilled rider tried to organize a reflex action.

T-1.99925 seconds. Fifty-miles per hour they traveled towards the immobile car. More than seventy-three feet per second — Already they had covered more than a third of a football field.

T- 1.5 Seconds. Lucy saw the collision coming, her eyes processing the closing motorcycle and her mind locked up. All she needed to do to avoid the impending collision was move her foot to the gas-pedal. But in that moment, she did not know what to do. There were no answers for the panicked soul that only wanted a glass of wine and to save the soul of a lady Druid.

Russell’s brain processed information at the speed of three supercomputers.The most intelligent man on earth was not needed to know that the exit routes were:

Oncoming traffic in front of the stopped car — rejected as death was all but certain.

Forest with big trees, bushes and large pointy rocks: – rejected. The outcome would be equally bad.

Hit car — poor choice, but the debate was moot with the outcome defaulted while the mind of the man searched for safe exit to this disaster. He was out of time for evasive maneuvers.

T- 1.25 seconds. BRAKES! The mind screamed! Russell took a deep breath.

T- 1.20 seconds. BRAKES! The mind begged. The entire world was silent, his soul was deaf to all sounds. All the world was mute.

T- 1.1 seconds. BRAKES! The mind commanded. No bumps, no sound of wind. Silence was louder than a rock-concert in a steel warehouse.

T- 0.9 seconds. BRAKES! The mind ordered. The engine was inaudible.

T- 0.8 seconds. A pleading voice sounded through the earbud of the motorcycles comm system.

“NOoooooo!” It was Lulu.

T- 0.5 seconds. BRAKES! The foot finally responded and jammed down on the rear brake and the hands grabbed for the front brake lever.

T- 0.4 seconds. The brake pads built up pressure. Years of riding, he closed his hand into a fist and crushed the front brake lever.

T- 0.15 seconds. The friction pads moved into contact with the rotating mass of the brake disc and began to engage at fifty-one feet away.

In an instant, Russell did calculations in his head, estimating he needed an extra twenty feet to fully perform an emergency stop.

Twenty feet he did not have.

T- 0.10 seconds. Russell tensed up. Impact was imminent. Pressure in rear brake built up enough to stop rotation of the rear tire. Seventy-percent of the weight of the motorcycle shifted to the front tire.

The shock absorbers on the motorcycle compressed as the big bike did a nosedive. On two tires, patches of rubber the size of a hand of a large man tried to stop a half-ton of steel, rubber and human flesh and bone.

The rear tire of the motorcycle began to skid, the tire locked up and melting from friction with the highway, liquid rubber now lubricating the tire which began to yaw to the right, the front tire slowing faster than the rear. Lulu, sat farthest away from the center mass of the motorcycle and adding more weight to the pendulum. Out of control with the dynamic forces Russell valiantly struggled to stop the inevitable.

Unstoppable, moving towards the immobile car, “Crossed up” as Gertrude the motorcycle yawed and slid sideways, they moved with Lulu making prayers, begging that it would be all right.

“Please don’t let it be bad, Lord, please let it be all right.”

It would not be all right.

T- 0.05 seconds. Russell could see over the top of the car, his mind processed information at a phenomenal rate, he could see the road was clear on the far side of the obstruction.

If only… Was his sole thought.

He could see the eyes of the little old lady, they were wide like a deer in the headlights, with plate-sized pupils.

T- 0.02 seconds. Photons made shadows on the ground. Shadows that merged as the front tire was bound down as tightly as it could be without locking up as the rear brake did. Speed was dropping rapidly, if it was on a graph, it would show the line of the deceleration as nearly vertical on a second by second chart.

T- 0.01 seconds. Russell could calculate his speed was still greater than…

T- 0.00 seconds. Impact! The photons that made shadows, now only made one as the front tire hit slightly ahead of the rest of the hog.

The force of the energy ripped the big bike’s grips from Russell’s hands. The husband’s body became a missile of kinetic energy launched by the impact of the vehicles.

Russell hit, bounced and flew over the top of the car, breaking the windshield with his helmeted head as he went by and landed partly on his face. The open-faced helmet affording him little protection, sliding and rolling down the asphalt. Russell came to a rest on his back. His face hurt, but he was awake.

T+ 0.50 seconds. Russell laid there, taking stock of his limbs. Pain was not overpowering but there was no question he was hurt. Movement at the periphery of his eyes made him turn his head.

The car was on the move. The little old lady was leaving! He could see her tail lights getting smaller as he tried to read the license plate from his awkward position.

Then, he saw his best friend’s body.

She was alarmingly still. Still as death.

T+ 1.5 seconds.

“Lulu…” He whispered a plea. “Lulu, move.”

She lay on the ground, partly under the motorcycle. Unmoving, silent. She lay there with her leg bent in way that was unnatural. He tried to crawl on his arms, leaving a bloody trail back to where his wife, his copilot and his best friend and lover, lay. Russell’s vision became blurred with agony as the pain set in. Blood dripped off his face where the road abraded his skin away with the rough black top.

T+ 5.0 seconds. Pounding of feet and a heavy “Thump-thump” of a huge motor pulling up next to him. An enormous chopper with an even larger rider looking down at him through goggles. A tattoo of the 82nd Airborne division on his forearm oddly was in focus to Russell’s eyes.

“We caught her, brother. We caught that old lady before she got very far. Hang in there, help is on the way.”

“Lulu?” Russel moaned. “My wife?”

“Your old lady’s alive, bro. Hurt bad, but alive.”

“Call 9-1-1.”

“Station is right there, they are coming now.” The giant biker told Russell with a slight Norwegian accent. “They’ll be here in two seconds.”

Two seconds, if only he had seen the car two seconds sooner.

FINIS

2 Seconds… T-Minus 5 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 5 Seconds

 

Photons were less than four-times the distance from the moon as the moon was from the Earth. Racing at full speed with nothing in the way, the fates guided the energies that now were visible light.

On the highway, Russell had a passing thought of dinner on the back patio of burgers that he would cook on the wood-fired grill outside. The smell of smoke was light in the air from the wildfires seventy-miles away mixing with pine scent of the forest filled the senses as they rode on the rumbling Hog.

Riding on the back of the motorcycle that Russell had named after an adventurous water-bird “Gertrude”, her arms around him, and looking around at the mountains that gave her such joy to be among trees that dwarfed any other living thing and Lulu could see the bare stone above north shore where an avalanche stripped the mountainside clear of vegetation down to bare rock decades before and had not yet recovered.

Smiling, she leaned back, the wife and mother looked out to the right, over the sapphire-blue water of the twenty-two mile long lake. Water so naturally pure, even as it sat in the lake, open to the sky it would pass any health and any purity tests that a government body could do. Naturally soft water, pure as it could be.

Those that sailed on the waters of the lake were known to have occasional attacks of acrophobia, a fear of heights, when they would look over the edge of the boats rails into the water. Such was the lake called Tahoe.

In some winters, the big lake would partly freeze and ice would pile up on the shore in large piles when the wind blew hard. Summers it was known to have waterspouts that danced on the big lake and often made local headlines.

Over the lake, Lulu pointed out and began to fumble for her camera, a bald eagle circled, the big fishing raptor was on the hunt.

*Maybe* She thought. *If I get just a little lucky, I might get a shot of the eagle diving for a fish.*

Less than two football fields ahead, Lucy turned her steering wheel as far as it would go and inched forward into the beginning of her turn. A big truck rumbled down the highway, partly blocking her view, but it looked clear behind the trailer to do her illegal U-turn.

Captain Thomas stood at the end of the ramp to the garage that held his engine, waiting for the rumbling group of Harley’s go past. A curiosity of who would be riding through, interested him. A few clubs were at constant odds and, on occasion, murdered each other.

Engineer Thomas cussed as he dropped a socket and it rolled under the rolling tool-box he maintained at the garage for light maintenance of the fire apparatus.

A break in the traffic in the direction that Lucy wanted to turn was a treasure that God had sent her and she was going to take it.

Russell, dropped back from closing on a semi-truck that had “Eat Organic” in a graphic painted on the back of the trailer. Remembering to make a call later in the week on an investment that would boost a local organic farmer’s business.

“Honey, make a note to call Charlene tomorrow? I want to get a meeting with her on a distribution idea.”

Lulu focused on the eagle as the big bird circled, searching for its next meal.

“Okay.” She felt frustration in her heart at the uncooperative raptor. “I was not getting that picture anyway.” As they approached a wide spot in the road, she saw a sedan sitting on the shoulder of the highway.

Stonn “Hammer” Erikssen rolled on his heavily modified motorcycle. A Harley-Davidson by heritage, but the engine that powered this two-wheeled fury, an Orca engine, the second largest in the line, more horsepower than many cars generated kept his soul happy. Third in command of the small group of riders, they were closing on a rider and passenger about a half-mile ahead.

From the photon’s point of view, the continents on the earth could be identified. At the universal speed limit, the ETA now?

A little over three heartbeats.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 15 Seconds

Standard

T-Minus 15 Seconds

 

“Next time we come, let’s stay the night at the village?” Lulu asked. Russell knew the place she was referring to. A bed and breakfast house with a claw-footed tub in the room. A huge fireplace with wood stacked by the workers and an expansive view of the lake.

A hot tub on the balcony to watch the sunset over the crest of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It was the perfect spot to spend time away and to themselves.

The very thought of it made him smile.

In space, photons were leaving the orbit of Venus behind and approaching the orbit of the moon. A this distance, the moon would be barely more than a bright spot on the edge of the Earth’s blue disk,  the shape and distance became clear as the seconds ticked by.

Four-hundred meters ahead, a quarter-mile away, Lucy Sprecks, irritated and frustrated with the traffic, moved her right foot off the brake, moving it to the gas pedal, while doing the trick that her husband showed her years before, to use the left foot on the brake, letting her have a quicker dash if she needed.

Lucy had picked up a few tricks over the years, she was an expert driver, no matter what the Motor Vehicle Nazi’s said. She had more years driving than the testers had been on this earth. She was not about to listen to the young’uns about changes in rules that had worked for years.

Seat belts! Heaven’s sakes. She never had seat belts as a child and she lived. But now, even that kindly State Patrolman who talked to her at length, even if it seemed that he and his girlfriend partner camped out at the corner down from her gated driveway. He would pull her over before she even got to the stop sign down at the end of the street and lecture her.

Once again, she would put it on at his goading. Even the cute little girl who carried more equipment than Lucy felt the officer needed, lectured her on a few occasions when her man-partner was not there.

“Are you two married?” Lucy asked once, “You should be, you make a cute couple.” She added when the young lady answered “No.”

One late afternoon after Lucy got another lecture from Officer Karen, Lucy sat at the stop sign an extra hundred feet down the street with the police car right behind her when a man from the place she had fled long ago with Joshua after the death of her children, had a seizure at the wheel while coming to the intersection that Lucy waited at.

Drifting over the line, the pickup truck with the big camper on the back went through the intersection without slowing down and hit Lucy head-on as she sat still.

With air-bags and seatbelts, Lucy walked away from collision with nothing more than a skinned nose.

And she walked quickly! The smoke from the airbags made her think that the car was on fire, her knees hurt, but she would have walked barefoot over chilren’s toy blocks rather than to burn to death.

Ever since that day, she had panic reactions when something came at her from any direction. She even became unable to watch the news when it showed car crashes on the TV.

Ten times the orbit of the moon away, photons closed the distance to the earth and moon had separated into two points of light, the brightest points at this distance, other than the sun that was falling behind.

On the back of a rumbling Harley-Davidson, Lulu talked into the microphone of plans with the children and a weekend on the lake with the entire family as they cruised along.

A spluttering sound and a complaint from Russell interrupted Lulu, Russell suffered a direct hit by a butterfly to his shoulder that spread to his chest and cheek. He would need a shower.

Lulu offered to help, after the children when to bed, the tip of her finger playing with the back of his neck, below the helmet.

Nevada Douglas County Fire Department Station 2315, Engineer Hank Kettleman stood up and looked at the Captain.

“That will not leak again this summer. All new parts.” Hank smiled, pulling off nitrile gloves and throwing them into the can in the corner.

Captain Thomas nodded and looked down the drive as it opened out on to the highway, the sounds of a deep rumble, like an earthquake, but constant and growing louder.

A group of motorcycles, Robert Thomas owned his fair share of iron horses and would never miss an opportunity to watch a club ride by.

As Bob watched the highway, he noted a late-model Mercedes sitting to the right of the fog-line with its turn signal on, but it was not in a turning lane, nor was there an intersection.

Bob had seen this before, a triple-fatality accident a few years before, teenagers in an old VW Bus pulled an illegal U-turn in the highway after a missed corner, the broad-side impact from the delivery truck split the teen’s car in half, spilling bodies out on to the pavement.

Two died at the scene, and the third, the driver, gave up and willed himself to death a few days later. No amount of medicine would save the soul who felt responsible for the death of his own brother and girlfriend.

The length of a football field away, Russell and Lulu enjoyed their conversation while they drove the hour’s ride home with plans about dinner and a shower later.

It was Saturday night, after all!

2 Seconds… T-Minus 60 Seconds

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T-Minus 60 Seconds

Lucy was getting impatient, traffic lined up and unbroken for a few minutes — too many. She was getting impatient and irritable. Not for the first time she swore at the numbers of people around the lake that Joshua loved, and ultimately died in while fishing. She longed for the days where you could drive for an hour and not see a single soul.

A break in the traffic in the opposite direction showed itself. Lucy was going to take it. Coming at her from in front, she timed the arrival of no cars in the direction she wanted to go.

Space – Photons crossed the orbit of Venus, speeding on the way to Earth. Many of the photons would be absorbed by dust, debris and even reflected away by satellites before entering into the atmosphere of the only planet to have been absolute in the discovery of life on its surface.

One-thousand one-hundred meters away from Lucy and her new Mercedes that all the women were jealous of, Russell and Lulu laughed over the intercom when she slid her hands under his jacket, running her hands over the chest she knew so well and always enjoyed her husband’s body and any chance she could touch him, she would.

Especially if it was an inappropriate time and place, she enjoyed his reactions ever the more.

As a wife, she would walk arm in arm with her husband, often with her hand in his back pocket just so she could squeeze anytime her hand had a need.

As a mother, she loved her children more than life itself. Lulu was known to run over rattlesnakes with her truck if there were any in the areas of the hundred-acre desert backyard that served as the children’s playground.

Russell had his own fun with the girl of the dark eyes and black hair that moved in with him, taking his last name and giving him children that he loved most in this world.

Even more than his big v-twin motorcycle that he bought before he married Lulu. It was the ride, he felt, that Lulu fell in love with him for.

Lulu had other ideas, mostly on how Russell’s jeans fit around his hips.

But what ever the causes of the two soul mates to find each other, neighbors and family knew it was a love affair of legends.

Just a thousand yards ahead, LucyMay clenched her teeth in frustration, she hated traffic. Unwilling to admit that driving was becoming more difficult for her, she would argue with everyone and anyone over the subject that her mind was as acute as it ever was. Which was true, but her body suffered from greatly diminished reflexes.

It was times like this that she never thought about the size and speed of oncoming traffic. She felt that her car was the speediest and safest on the road for a hundred miles in any direction.

An intersection on the highway nearly nine-hundred yards away, a dozen Harley-Davidson motorcycles waited to turn and merge with the flow of traffic. Riders waved at the couple and Russell waved back in the common show of solidarity of two-wheeled riders have everywhere.

Destiny awaited the players who were in play.

In space, from the photon point of view, the earth separated from a blueish speck to two specks of the moon and earth.

Time: T-Minus 35 Seconds.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 300 Seconds

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T-Minus 300 Seconds

Riding along at the speed limit, Russell and Lulu talked of having lunch at the North shore of the lake, Ian had done an extra good job this time.

Russell had his open-faced helmet on so the conversation was easier for him. Lulu wore a full face helmet with a stout chin guard with a gem-light just above the eye line. The light allowed Lulu to read map sections at night when she would tape to the back of Russell’s helmet. A very expensive and light-weight helmet, made from such materials that a fighter pilot or NASA would be envious of.

Laughing at a joke, they passed a state patrol car that sat on the side the of the road, the officer inside doing paperwork of a recent citation. Russell like everyone else on that section of road checked their speed at that moment. Lulu laughed at her husband, he was just doing the speed limit anyway, and yet he still backed off the throttle slightly.

“No need to slow down old man!” Jabbing him in the side with her thumb. “You drive like a grampa anyway!” Her voice clear in the electronic mini-earphone built into the helmet that then in turn connected to the motorcycle’s audio system.

Two miles ahead, Lucy found her bible. She had tucked it into her blouse pocket. She did not have to make the ten-mile trip back home and be late for lunch after all! Now, Edna would not have wait to have her soul saved.

Or at least Lucy would TRY to save Edna’s soul –again.

Pulling over, Lucy let the big trucks pass. The next place to turn was another three-miles, this spot would be good enough for a U-turn if she just did it quick.

Traffic was a pestilence as Lucy waited, she remembered the days when her husband would drive them in their old car – then itself was a jewel, a Darrin. Sporty, windy with the top down and it was the most expensive thing that Joshua bought. She brought herself back from the distracting thought as the wine was waiting for her in large enough amounts to improve the day for even the dour Katarina Kurk, the German woman who was hysterically funny when she had a half-bottle of wine in her.

Katarina, once an actress and comedian in her old country, Kat had retired to California, then to the Nevada side of the lake. Hating everyone that was not her friends, it would take her many meetings to warm up to any one person.

Katarina would not even crack a smile, even with watching reruns of Abbott and Costello on the newest television she could afford. Although the woman had long retired, she had a habit of buying new household items every-other year. Nothing in her house was more than two years old. Kat never batted an eye for spills on her sofa or chairs, she just would replace everything.

Rumor had it that her most loved furniture remained in a house in Los Angeles for when she wanted to entertain her old friends in Hollywood.

Here, in the high-mountains, she was a party animal from the old-school ways. Able to out-drink many men.

Few tried, most felt a great fear of Kat, she was a giggly drunk, but her temper flared like a volcanic blast if she was ever pushed. Katarina was famous locally for beating a would-be armed robber that raided a grocery store where she was shopping. One of the pair put a machete in her face and she proceeded to beat the young man unconscious with a stick of dry salami. His partner ran up to assist, Kat used the same salami stick to crush the other bad guy’s testicles with a blow that security cameras recorded that the shop owner released online.

A late night talk-show host invited Katarina to sit and talk, leading to more movie offers, most of which she turned down.

And then, there was the rogue-ish secretary that worked for Katarina.

Tall, rugged, the redheaded assistant played winemaster when the women met, and had arms that both Edna and Lucy loved to touch. He never complained and always kept their glasses and bottles fresh and full.

If ever he complained about sexual harassment, Kat never said.

The women’s coffee klatch was Lucy’s favorite time of the week.

All five of them.

And then Sunday, too!

It was a great day, Lucy thought and smiled.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 500 Seconds

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T-Minus 500 Seconds

Energy.

It boils and seethes on the surface of Sol, the solid calcium ferrite surface heated by the energy of the high energy photons that kept the oceans if neon plasma lit with the glow of seething heat from the core of the sun. Energy generated a hundred-thousand years before this day, slowly making way outward in the slow, random walk, transferring heat to the surrounding material along the way.

On the surface of the sun, photons finally freed from the surface traveled through space at full speed. A blue/green and white marble that orbited Sol was just a small speck at this distance as the photons sped away from the star that had given them birth. The electromagnetic packets of energy quickly reached full speed of nearly three-hundred thousand kilometers-per-second after passing through the photosphere.

While the photons sped their way towards the only planet with life and a loving couple on the back of a rumbling motorcycle, Lucy Sprecks got into her car. She was now approaching ninety-years of age. Joshua, her shining star of her life, had passed away years before. These days, Lucy just went and donated time to charity work and her church.

Sharing the love of the good book became the only reason she left the house these days. Her own child rarely visited, busy with his own life.

Long passed her addictions of prescription medications, Lucy now drank her bottle of wine each lunch time and was looking forward to today’s lunch with her friends. Edna supplied more wine than any of the Society of Lady Druids.

Lucy was certain she would convert the heart of Edna to the true path of Christian religion. Then a sudden memory!

“I forgot my bible!” Sighed Lucy. She pulled over and double checked in her oversized purse. It was not there, nor was the passage she had copied out for Edna to read. She neededd to turn around and go back home. She loved her big car, the Mercedes made her feel safe, but it was difficult to do tight maneuvers with Lucy barely able to look over the steering wheel of the powerful turbo-diesel German-built car.

In space, waves of EM radiation, the photons given birth tens of thousands of years before, now closed the distance at the cosmic speed limit speeding to the destination on earth.

2 Seconds… T-Minus 14,400 Seconds

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T-Minus 14,400 seconds

 

One summers day, on his beloved Harley-Davidson, Mister and Missus Fletcher enjoyed the weather of the midsummer’s offering. The neighbors watched the children as they spent their anniversary on the back of an iron horse and freedom in their hearts.

At the dwarf-yellow star that human now call Sol, photon packets that spent the last thousand-centuries in the random walk from the core of the sun had now lost much of their energies.

Frequencies, randomized now into what had become known as visible light began to move faster as the compressed and glowing hot gasses reduced to a density to allow the photons to reach speeds commonly associated with light. Ten percent, then twenty, fifty-percent of the speed of light moves in a vacuum, the EM radiation began to move.

T-minus 10,800 seconds.

On earth, the eighty-cubic inch V-twin engine rumbled in good tune. A header pipe that Russell had routed into a high-efficiency muffler improved the fuel consumption while giving more power— and less noise— was the song of freedom for the couple that rode on the full-dressed motorcycle.

The sounds of the wind, the intercom they used to talk with while wearing their helmets. All the details that represented their closeness.

It also gave Lulu, the beautiful wife, teacher and mother, a titan in a tiny body, reason to hold on to the man that she called “Husband”.

Not that she ever needed a reason to hold him close, it was just a perk of riding on the back of their favorite steed.

The midnight-blue of the paint glittered with faint scratches that were long earned with thousands of laps around the blue of the mountain lake.

Russell once estimated they had driven around the earth’s circumference, just on the mountain roads that circumnavigated the twenty-two mile long lake. It was a trip the happy-camper couple made often. Camping along the shores of the lake in the many campgrounds maintained by the Federal and State Agencies.

The sky was blue with broken clouds, the chill of the mountain air tickled the souls of the couple that escaped the daily grind and pain of the wife-come-teacher and the business-creator and owner husband that was their work week.

Winding their way through the forest, following the black strip of asphalt and the dashed lines, Russell told a joke about a mason and his union, but the mason got stonewalled.

Lulu laughed into the intercom like a dutiful wife, but rolled her eyes and shook her head at the stupid joke.

Lunch at their favorite stop, “Ian’s”, seafood grilled over an open fire, the perfect break for the mid-day meal, sitting on a balcony, overlooking lake waters so clear, that it could give cause for acrophobia- a fear of heights, looking down through the water to the bottom of the jewel of the Sierra Nevada.

An hour and a quarter of fresh bread, fish, grilled red baby potatoes and wine by Ian Mehretu, the owner and cook in the tiny, lakeside eatery.

Russell paid the bill and the two walked out of the restaurant holding hands as they headed to where Harrison the Hog waited for them with a machine’s patience.

Helmets on, the intercom plugged in, the big engine rumbled to life and the day held fewer clouds in the sky as they merged into traffic of the high-mountain community main road.

They had a long trip ahead of them to their favorite mountain lookout and then back home.

Time was T-Minus 6,300 seconds.

Dear Universe: Letters from Dad Chapter 3. Fire Camp Epsilon

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Chapter 3. Fire Camp Epsilon

Five years ago:

In the fire camp, designated Epsilon for being the forth in a series, Lieutenant O’Danu dug in his foot-locker for the pen he just dropped. Profanity colored the air around him as he cherished the pen that his wife and daughter had given him.

He had started writing his daughter letters years before. Before she was born even, and had kept at it every time he went out on spike.

Spike, that word that often meant overtime, but also time away from his family.

His own father had said it, often.

‟Family is everything. Spend all the time you can with them, hold their hands. No parenting is worse than bad parenting. Children do not come with wisdom, it is up to you, my son, to teach your own children what is respect to others, teach them inner peace so they may shine with the O’Danu name.”

Lt. O’Danu smiled. The old man had the voice of black clad science fiction villain, sans the wheezing, but the looks of a British super-spy from Scotland.

And he heard his father’s voice daily in his head.

Today, they had off, twenty-four hours on the line, then twelve to twenty-four hours off. The rules in this verdant part of the world were somewhat different from in his home jurisdiction, but he did not mind in the slightest.

His team was the best there was, they had put out fires in the most rugged places on earth, climbed, hiked, cut with the most primitive tools in history.

The ax, rake, hoe and shovel.

Now they were at the bottom of the world, fighting a fire caused by— what he did not know or care — and it was their job to protect the dozen villages and the huge nature reserve.

 Lt. Dennis O’Danu Shook his head at that thought. The nature reserve had more scratchy, bitey things that had toxins in them that would drop a firefighter in his footsteps if it were not for locals that accompanied the fire teams to warn them. Hot Shots, Strike Teams, Fire Crews, whatever the label that their respective departments put on them, whether it was federal, state, royal or even a few private agencies, they were all professionals working towards one final goal. Well, except for the Her Royal Princess’s Fire Control teams, they worked towards promised medals of heroism.

For the rest of the firefighters? All they wanted, was to go home.

In this nation where cats were bigger than motorcycles and serpents deadlier than a wife’s angry glare, they all held on to the brotherhood of the service while they broke their tools and sweat in their effort in this fire that covered nearly four-hundred square miles.

Nomex with the colors of his team, gold and green, the Iron Canyon Kings were a storied and experienced direct attack fire handcrew. No assignments they failed, should they need to hike in, fly in or take a boat to deploy and cut vegetation down to bare mineral soil, they did their job and went home.

And they performed such tasks with speed that no one could better for a twelve-member crew.

At last!

A shine, there between to tightly folded shirts, the hint of gold-colored metal. He stored his badge away in the side panel, so that was not it.

Reaching down, his fingers closed around the shaft of the fat ballpoint pen, a gift for Father’s Day. It was one that he kept with him, in his journals, always.

Sitting down, he had an hour before he had to sleep, he was sure he could get a page of a letter written to each of his girls at home.

‟Dear Family…”

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 18. A New Life

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18. A New Life

After finishing his education of the different laws of the different Celt tribes, Kane had made friends with the Parisii tribe, but the growing land that would be one of the largest metropolitan areas in the future, for now it was a small place to trade.

Still, raw materials from the inland areas were good for trade. Kane and Bronwyn had a good name as tinkerers and artisans of the crafts. Anything from a copper pot to bronze and gold torcs for the neck and upper arm.

Kane had figured out how to tie knots in the metals, gold being the easiest to braid into popular shapes. Still, he knew how to work the metals carefully.

Bronwyn had patience to inlay gold wire after both she and Kane had carved a pattern that they had worked out.

Often in intricate patterns, it was the High Priests of the different religions that spoke of how life was that inspired them. However bringing the Celtic knot to life was a trick. Not many of the High Priests agreed on the beauty.

But the concept of the tree of life, this intrigued Kane and discussed in many nights with Bronwyn as they carved, first in clay, then wood and finally in bronze and gold, an inlaying of gold in bronze or copper in bronze was often highly sought after. In trade, the artisans that they were, received different items in trade.

Often they took ingots of raw metals, frequent was a trade for meats and grains.

Coins were always accepted, of course, but when a young man wanted to buy something to woo a beautiful young woman or impress her family, a cow or other farm animal would be taken in trade.

Bronwyn, more romantic than Kane, would not be above making a beautiful ring out of bronze or brass in a moment’s notice, with the promise to work with the boy to create something even more beautiful out of anything he might like and torcs were common.

The occasional master of captured slaves would take a shine to one and buy gold collars with a certain gem he possessed.

Those owners of slaves tended to get charged fully without breaks on value for the trinkets. Bronwyn had a particular distaste for slavery any kind.

Slavery will exist for several thousand more years in many shapes, my angel.” Kane would say softly to Bronwyn in the nights where they lay in each other’s arms. “They will have not achieved complete eradication of it until well into the twenty-fifth century.”

It’s not right, still. No matter the age.” She said dangerously.

Do not make history, we have to avoid being too well-known.” He said softly.

Still, it doesn’t make it right.”

No, it doesn’t, but there exists a great many flaws that humankind must overcome. One thing at a time.”

I can’t wait.”

The day wore on until they arrived at home. Kane again began packing trinkets, but this time were more for children. Dolls, wheeled pull toys that looked like animals.

Stroking his head as he bent over yet another bag, she smiled at his loading.

Who do you pack for?”

Well, we are moving in a fortnight, aren’t we? Back to where we started for a few more years. Plus, I pass out gifts at this time of year, and it is fast approaching. Harvest will begin in a fortnight in most areas. I have a boy who is nine-summers old now and I have a promise to fulfill.”

And you don’t want to break a promise to a child.”

No, never. A grownup gives a promise to a child, as sure as your hair grows, you better keep it. They have the souls are most accepting and will make this world a place far better than it could be.”

And you say not to make history.”

Oh hush. There are other ways to affect for the positive.” Her husband said. “I will wage war my way. Let others try to figure out how to undo a child’s smile when I finish.”

Kane, you have to stop this life in time and we have to move away.” Bronwyn stroked his ear and kissed her mate carefully.

Time. He cursed it and welcomed it. They were closing a decade together on the blue planet and he regretted not one moment with her.

Although, time to time, he watched her look at children with a faraway look that women get. She had all the drives of a young human woman, with no chance to produce something that was part of their union. They were a team, forever and always, but by command, they were not allowed to have children.

Her voice brought him out of his thoughts.

Where do you think we should restart our lives as artists and young couple?” She was looking at herself in a silvered bronze-backed mirror.

Unlike other women everywhere, she strove to make herself look older, but vanity prevented her from striving too hard. Using hardwood ash now and again, she would put in white streak that would look like she had hair of an older woman.

He was finally packed and stood up.

I am thinking of the middle-sea where Egypt is building pyramids for about another three-hundred years.” Kane pulled at his chin. “Perhaps Athens. I hate to leave this area, the best copper is on the island of our first home.”

Let us live there on the other side of the island, towards the east. In time, there will rise an empire that will overwhelm this area of Celtica and rename it. They will invade the islands and the Emperor Hadrian will build a wall. If we stay on the island, they will not invade.”

Sitting down in a chair of finely crafted leather and polished wood, he rubbed his forehead thinking.

Perhaps. Or…maybe… before the empire arises, we move close and disappear in the crowds and be artisans. Or we can move to Athens as I said, and get the trading in there first. Then we can join that fellow that turns water into wine goes about teaching.”
Kane winked and held up his forefinger. “Now there is a person to invite to parties!”

KANE! Is that all you think of?”

No, most times I try to think of you, naked.” He winked at his wife.

KANE!” Bronwyn laughed as she sat in his lap. “You are so bad.”

That night, they slept together, skin to skin after hours of their bodies joining in as many positions as they could think of. Kane dreamed a recurring dream. This night was different, his old name came to the fore of his mind. Worries of having to end this life and start a new one brought on the dreams that a change of place to live in secret once again would be opposed by the one that put him in this world of humans.

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 17. Highwaymen

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17. Highwaymen

The wagon rumbled back to the coastal village with Kane and Bronwyn riding in silence.

Weeks of trading and occasional party in their honor had left them fatigued. With hours of travel-time still left in their journey, they were far from talkative. Already on the road for several hours, Bronwyn was sleeping on Kane’s shoulder when he pulled up the horses.

We are not alone.” He whispered to the groggy but waking wife.

An old man stood along the side of the road near a body of a man sprawled on the ground. The older gent was familiar to them, but he was not who they thought he was.

Greetings slime-devil. It has been nine-years since you violated the oath of demons.” The black-eyes looked into Kane’s green.

Well.” Kane said carefully. “Greetings Abraxas. Perhaps you have not been aware of my mate here. This is my wife, the Angel Bronwyn.”

All of the upper ranks are aware of your betrayal and punishment. Up to now, it has been easy, the Masters have plotted against one and another and you were forgotten for a time. And you have saved me from obliteration on three occasions. Once from the Dark Lord himself, you stood up for me and defended the actions that I took.” Looking at the human couple the demon pointed at prostrate form at his feet. “This man here was a lookout for soldiers that are up ahead. They will shoot you full of arrows and take her along with all your goods and wagon.”

We will head another way then. Why warn me, if you would explain once more?” Kane asked.

I owe you three times over, this makes up for one.”

Watch out!” Bronwyn yelled as an arrow hissed out of the wood and hit the old man.

A scream like no other animal sounded out of the old man as the armed warriors emerged from behind the trees of the forest, weapons drawn.

Three more arrows hit the man as he stepped backwards, then transformed into a part-snake and part-human and began to attack the robber-warriors. The sounds were such that the horses spooked. Kane struggled with the panicked animals then spoke words to calm them.

A pull on the silver mouth-bits aimed them at a route past the battling unearthly creature and the robbers. Once the equine minds got the image of safe passage, Kane was nearly out of control as they wasted not one ounce of energy to put distance between the battling humans and the noisy, spitting giant human-snake that caught and ate the highwaymen one at a time. 

Two-minutes of full gallop he pulled back on the reins, making calming noises and stopped the wagon.

Owe you? He Owed you for saving him?” Bronwyn’s voice was air-chilling. “When did you save him? What did you do?”

It was a simple matter of witnessing that he did the right thing. It was your Lord that flooded the world. Abraxas arranged for the ark. He brought along every species of the mosquito.”

“That’s awful.” Bronwyn laughed. 

And yet, you laugh.” Kane said with a smile, wincing slightly as his wife punched him playfully in the shoulder.

 

Dark Heart, Pure Soul Chapter 15. A Brush With Breitheamh (Brehon) Law

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15. A Brush with Breitheamh (Brehon) Law

Tinktinktink..Tinktink. Bronwyn’s small hammer made musical notes on the tiny anvil that her husband and best friend made for her out of the finest bronze. She worked her gold carefully into the decoration that she had carefully chiseled into the back of an unfinished bronze mirror. Kane would polish the mirror after she finished inlaying the gold.

TINKTINKTINK…

She was looking forward to when Kane would return. He was trading for more gold and some gems he had heard were available in raw form at the harbor. He had been gone seven days now and the fine work she had left to do in the little shop would bring them enough trade to keep the tuathe they lived in comfortable enough for a year.

In the last two years after joining the family, they had become accepted with laughter and hugs. Such was their ways of dealing with the humans. At first, Kane kept his distance, but the love of the people and kindness towards wandering strangers impressed the ex-demon.

Kane developed a habit of staying up late with the men and women, telling tall tales of adventure and heroic acts. Little did they know that the stories told were only slightly modified to fit into their world. The concept of flying machines holding entire families and horseless powered chariots were quite beyond the concept of the average person, so stories told of land and sea based adventures where dragons lived and giants grew. Stories that made people laugh, cringe in fear, cry and laugh again as they fell in love with the characters that were in the stories.

Kane for all his disdain for humanity in the beginning, enjoyed the attention he got with his skills of telling of things that were and things to come.

With the skills in artistry and the stories told, they rose in the hierarchy of the tuath and became well-known as skilled artisans and hospitable hosts.

It was late in the afternoon in the outbuilding while Bronwyn tinkered on her designs when two strangers walked out of the oaken forest.

She smelled them before they walked around the wall of the shop. Looking up, she saw they were just standing there, taking in the displayed shiny things that she had made, they were not of the area, indeed looked like men of the northeast. Cruthin or Ulaid perhaps.

We are hungry.” Said the larger of the two men. They had not bathed in some time – they reeked.

“Do you have food? Our hunts have been without success. We have not seen a deer since we left our fine. Give us food and the comfort of your company, when we have our fill, we will go on our way.”

I will feed you and give you water and wine, but the company I hold is mine to choose.”

You WILL!” Shouted the smaller man as he grabbed her by the hair and yanked on the copper-hair.

She grabbed at the hand and pinned it to her head then, twisting around, pinned the man’s arm and smashed his face, with a bang, to the finely carved table, causing dust to fly up off the flat surface and the legs to bounce on the floor. An old move, but so very effective when used against those that were overconfident. Bronwyn did not even wonder about the attack, she just responded with ages old skill.

A back kick to the knee of the other, larger hunter who shrieked in pain and dropped to the floor. Gasped twice for air, then growled with anger while his friend begged for mercy while Bronwyn bent the arm backwards to the breaking point. 

The larger hunter pulled a dagger made from an antler spike,  leaping on to Bronwyn’s back, sticking the sharpened spike into her shoulder.  Bronwyn screamed in agony and let go of the smaller hunter who pulled away and rejoined his and his partner’s attack

Then… Rage.

She felt it. In her heart, it burned like a bonfire. Men who would come and would take that which was not theirs, who felt that her body was theirs to do as they pleased, caught off guard by the burning fury of a soul rescued from ashes.

It was an intense rage like she had not felt in a long time and never on this plane of existence. She wanted these takers, thieves and those who would pillage because they felt that they could.

Then.

The sound of a gong echoed in the small shop as Kane use the head of the large man as a bell clapper against a copper pan he had picked up and swung like a club.

The smaller man was a little more difficult, attacking Kane with his fists, trying to beat the human-demon into the ground. Each punch aimed and thrown to hurt was only batted away with the red-metal pan.

The sound of a bell gonged through the shop again.

The smaller hunter’s knees buckled and he fell forward face-down on the floor of the shop.

Looking at Bronwyn, Kane shrugged holding up the heavy copper skillet.

Frying pans. Who would have thought?”

Brought before the Breitheamh, which was less than a day’s ride from the community of the clan. The men stated they were Cruithni and what they had done. In their tribe, lone women were always available to men who were traveling or hunting. Never had they seen a woman who would fight back or refuse a request of favors.

A Breitheamh, (pronounced Brehon), a skilled judge of the law, agreed upon by the Tuathe Ri. Found that the penalty of the attack was the income of four deer, however how long it took them to hunt, dress and cure the deer meat.

Bronwyn’s wounds healed far faster than the time it took the men to satisfy the words of the Breitheamh, which were also upheld by the Queen of the Tuath.

Messengers ran to the other houses of law of the clans and took messages of findings on the attack by the hunters and their punishment of working off their fines to the community.

No prisons, the theory being that everyone works for the community. In other societies where the rise of the warrior class gave birth to taking life or spending one’s life in jail, the punished worked for the good of the community.

This pleased Kane.

He began to study the laws of the land. This ancient place in history seemed to have a better view of life. All life was precious, all freedoms honored.

He began to speak to the Society of Draoi, the Druids of Hibernia for admission to school of Breitheamh law.

Kane, late of being Hell’s demon of chaos, was becoming a representative for order.

Later that month after he had chosen this path, then thought of the irony of it, he laughed at himself for the first time in many ages. 

If ever there was good humor in a situation, this was it. The Demon of Anarchy and Chaos, studying to act as the champion and warrior of law. 

Kane laughed again.