Nefertiti Express

Jacob took a long slow pull on his cigar before taking a sip of brandy. He stared out his office window at the giant steam engine outside. It hardly seemed possible that this would be its last run. He turned from the window as his business partner entered the office.

“I’ve some news you will undoubtedly find interesting,” His business partner grinned from ear to ear. “We may be able to keep the trains running after all.”

Jacob rubbed his temples as he turned back toward the window.

“I’ve run the numbers a hundred times, James, but the fact remains, with the war in full swing coal is simply too expensive.” Smoke and steam billowed from the Grey Ghost as it waited for its passengers to load. “She’s beautiful and it pains me greatly to see her fire extinguished forever. I’m sure there will be no shortage of buyers. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if the army itself was interested in her. She’d get the boys deployed in short order.”

“Jacob, what would you say if I told you there may be a chance you could keep the Ghost and remain profitable? In fact you may even make a killing.” James chuckled at his own joke.
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Billy McGee’s Tall Tale

It’s a foggy night. I know, lame, right? I only mention it because it’s a particularly dense fog. The street I’m on has only two lights, adding to the ominous feeling that someone is behind me. There are no foot steps, but I hear a sort of odd breathing. A noisy breath in…pause…loud breath out, over and over. I decide to slow down. I want to know if whatever is behind me in the fog, is trying to catch me or stay well behind. The noisy breathing sounds get closer and closer.

Right about now, you’re wondering if this is the set up for the twist ending. Is the hunted really the hunter? Is this a red herring to throw you off the trail? Nah, it’s legit. I mean, I am a ritualistic killer. Except my victims are usually bottles of scotch. Sometimes, if I’m desperate to feel life slipping through my fingers, I may attack a bottle of vodka. There was one hedonistic night involving tequila, but it’s so gruesome I can’t bring myself to talk about it. Nope, it’s not me doing the hunting this night.
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Wizard’s Last Hope

I grasped my thumb and pulled. It separated at the knuckle with ease.

“Wow!” said Emily with eyes as big as saucers. “That’s brilliant! How’d you do that?”

“It’s simple, watch.” I turned my arm so my palm was facing her then bent my thumb back.

“Now, take your other hand and put your index finger over your other thumb like this. Now when you put them together it looks like a normal thumb. See.”

“You’re so good at tricks. Do you have another one?”

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my lucky coin.

“OK. Now you see it. Abra-ca-dabra! Now you don’t.” The coin disappeared from my hand.

“Bring it back now,” she said giggling.

“Right, let’s see. Abra-ca-dabra!” I flourished my hands and nothing happened. I feigned surprise. “Huh, where could it have gone? It should have worked, I don’t under….” I reached behind the young girl’s ear and pulled back my hand to reveal the coin.

“Amazing!” She clapped and bounced up and down. It was darling. “Can you show me more tricks Master Johan?”

“In due time little one, in due time. For now though what do you say we go and get something to eat and I’ll teach you how to make the cook’s food disappear.”

She pouted and crossed her arms in mock defiance.

“Please, I remember the rules. I won’t tell anyone the secrets, I promise. I’ll do extra chores. Please?”

“Alright fine, but I really am hungry and if we don’t get downstairs soon, Cook will toss out the leftovers, then we’ll both be starved,” I said with pretend anger. “I’ll show you in the kitchen.”

We started down the hall to the stairs when I heard a most terrible noise.

“Emily, go into my study and shut the door. Do it now and don’t open it for any reason. No matter what you hear don’t open the door. I’ll come get you when it’s safe.”

She stood there staring at me in shock and disbelief.

“Run, Now!” I waited until she was inside and the door was shut before running to the main foyer.

The Queen and her man-at-arms stood waiting. They were obviously concerned.

“Master Johan, where is Emily?” the Queen asked.

“In my study. I’m the only one who can open the doors without being reduced to a pile of basic elements.”

“Are you sure?” asked Martin. “I would have bet a year’s wage that the enemy couldn’t have gotten this far and now look. Is your magic what it was?”

“My magic may be in question, but I assure you the study is safe. The wards on that room were placed there centuries ago by the first wizards. In fact my queen, I recommend you adjourn there now yourself. Martin and I can handle things.”

Martin grunted his approval and began to lead our queen upstairs to my study. With the queen and princess safely locked inside Martin turned to me.

“Are you sure of this?”

“Quite. Once Callahan gets here we will surrender the castle to him. I have made arrangements for Emily to live.”

“What of the queen?”

“She will be publicly disgraced and executed as planned. And what of you, are you prepared?”

Martin’s look was one of grim determination.

“I am prepared to die in defense of my queen, if that’s what you mean.” Martin unsheathed his sword and placed it across his chest in salute. “Our families have served this house for two hundred years. I know what must be done. I know righteous vengeance must be felt in the blood of the royal line so we may once again wield the old magic our families once governed. It doesn’t mean I have to like it though. So yes my brother, I am ready to die tonight.”

I clasped Martin’s hand. It seemed an inadequate gesture but it was all we had. The banging began at the front gate.

“Here they come,” said Martin.

The front doors exploded open with the unnatural force of a fetid wind. It blew up the stairs and struck us as if it were a fist. The enemy’s first battalion flooded the hall and charged toward us. Heads exploded as I cast the first volley of spells. Martin charged the remaining horde. He dispatched several of the attackers before falling in battle.

“Enough!” Callahan’s voice bellowed from below. “The wizard lives.” He ogled the castle interior taking inventory as he approached.

“Open the doors wizard and you and the wee girl live. You have ten seconds.”

I had to play it close.

“It will take longer than that, Callahan. You’ve won. I should think a few more minutes wouldn’t kill you.”

I felt my skin part as Callahan’s knife sliced across my cheek.

“Shut your mouth!” He was mere inches from my face. His spittle pelted me as he talked through clenched teeth. “Open the door now or die where you stand. The queen dies out here or in there from starvation. I don’t care, but if you want the little girl to live you’ll open the door now!”

I opened the door to my study for the last time. The queen stood with Emily behind her.

“My queen, I have failed you. Emily will be safe. Callahan has agreed to let me take her in exile.”

“It’s good to show a conquered people some compassion,” said Callahan. “After all, they will soon see their queen hung, drawn and quartered.”

“Master Johan, you have done well. Protect her with your life.” The queen brought the princess from behind her dress and pushed her towards me. “I love you Emily”

“I’ll see you dead before I’m twenty.” Emily stared at Callahan as his smile slowly faded. Vengeance boiled deep within the girl’s blood. I could feel ancient magic awaken in me. Callahan screamed and threw himself at her. I grabbed her young arm and with a loud pop the two of us disappeared from the castle.

The Hunted

I run. The hounds are coming. I can hear them. Hunting. Their feet churn the ground. Nostrils flared to catch my scent. Baying, they come. Snarling, gnashing and blood thirsty, they come.

I flee. And yet they come. I’ve done no wrong. Panic. Why do they chase when all I want is to flee. I’ve done no wrong. Taken no babes. Tasted no blood and yet they come. They have no cause. They have their hate.

I hide. Burying myself underground. I smell the earth. Heady. It smothers me. Damp and oppressive. It shields me from them. Heavy, it envelops me. Gritty, pungent and elemental, it envelops me.

They hunt. I hear them now. Men on horses. Shouting. Their weapons sharp and ready. Ready to strike me dead. Stopped above me. Confused, focused and looking to the hounds for help, and still they come. They know to dig.

They find me. They pull me up. Hold me down. Celebrating. The hounds rip and tear at my flesh. They laugh. I scream. Weapons unsheathed. They look to one another for support. They find me; Weak.

I fight. Roar in primal rage. The price they pay for their hate. Destroyer! I rip the hounds apart. Clawing, I smell the blood. They know not what they have done. I care not what I’ve become. Continued existence my only thought. The men scream. They fall one by one by my feat. I feel their blood flow around my teeth. It’s done.

I run. Run in the night. I run for my life; run for theirs.

I Was A Teenage Romeo

Every year the eighth grade put on a play and every year the whole class looked forward to it. I mean this was the big time. Real theater. Dress rehearsals, after school practices, set design the whole shebang. I remember the auditions. I walked in full of confidence and left looking at my shoes. I thought I totally blew it. My voice cracked twice and I had to read from the script the entire time. I think it was the second longest night of my life. Our teacher posted the casting list on the bulletin board the next day and wouldn’t you know it, I was cast as the lead.

I still remember the first time I tried on my costume. I thought it made my breasts look huge. Which sucks if you’re a twelve year old boy. To make matters worse, Maryanne Kempler, the prettiest girl in class, announced she was moving to California. This was a particular kick in the pants as she was the Juliet to my Romeo.

I sat in the lunch room eating a burger looking at my tits and feeling sorry for myself when I felt a tap on my shoulder.

“Can I sit here?” Donna didn’t wait for me to answer before taking the seat next to me. She smelled like ranch dressing.

“I’m going to play Juliet. We should get together and practice sometime. How about recess?”

I had to make a conscious effort to close my mouth. When she smiled it caused her nose to wrinkle. She stood up and giggled her way back to her friends. I don’t remember much of those recesses. My memory is flashes of forgetting my lines and laughing way to hard about absolutely nothing. The only thing that still stands out is Donna.

We practiced our parts together at recess and dress rehearsals. For me it was, “bla, bla, bla, good night, good night, yadda, yadda, parting… sweet sorrow” then, much to my chagrin, the director would remind me specifically, that we weren’t actually going to kiss. Jerk.

I spent the afternoon before the play trying to stretch my costume so I didn’t look like a fully developed young lady and convincing myself that I really didn’t want to kiss Donna. It didn’t work.

Opening night finally was upon us. The air backstage was electric. We were all excited and nervous as hell at the same time. The boys punched each other and joked loudly while the girls studiously practiced their lines. I made clandestine efforts to flatten my boy boobies one more time. It didn’t work.

The curtain went up and we were on. It went OK. For me it was, “bla, bla, bla, good night, good night, yadda, yadda, parting… sweet sorrow” then, much to my amazement Donna kissed me. I tried to pretend it was nothing, like girls kissed me all the time. Against all odds, I was able to finish the play. I think that was the longest night of my life.

My father took a job out of state that summer. Donna and I tried to keep in touch, but time and distance were too much for our freshman love and we agreed to go our separate ways. For years I labored under the delusion that our paths would cross again. My senior year I kissed Tara Tucker under the bleachers. Then again in my car. Then again and again. Donna’s spell was finally broken and the wonderful world of dating was now open. I had plenty of time to find the love of my life. Maybe it wouldn’t be Tara, or Donna. There was even a weird time in college when I thought it might be Steve. But throughout it all one thing remains constant, I still love ranch dressing.