#FFC52

“To Boldly Go” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 32

flash-fiction-badge1Howdy folks. Here I am, back again with another entry in the ever awesome Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge. The prompt?

A celebrity of your choice (alive or dead) applies for a job and gets an interview.

This week’s entry is a strange one for me – I’ll explain after the story, as I don’t want to spoil it for you. Stick around after.

“So tell me, Ryb’neor, what makes you think you are qualified for this assignment?”

Ryb’neor smiled as they orbited slowly over the surface of the planet that glimmered the same blue as his eyes.

“Supreme Commander, I’ve made the study of primitive life forms my life’s work. This is the first chance we have to truly study and understand an alien culture on the cusp of star travel. I’ve studied this species extensively, analyzed their media, absorbed their understanding of the universe. It’s my hope that perhaps I can guide them. Help them understand their own condition, before they reach out to the stars.”

The Commander furrowed his eyestalks, one turned towards the blue orb below and the other staring intently at Ryb’neor.

“You know the Law. You are not to directly interfere with their progress. You are not to directly change the path of their civilization. I know you’ve grown fond of these…children…and I fear you will be unable to resist the temptation to sway them with knowledge they are not ready to have.”

“Your concerns are noted, Commander. I know the consequences of breaking the Law, and fond as I am, truly, of these people, I would not risk breaking the Grand Treaty to push them where they are not ready to go.”

“Even if they are a danger to themselves? To their very existence? Can you let them go that path, if it the path they choose leads to their own destruction?”

Ryb’neor fell silent. He knew that what his superior suggested was a possibility. For all their wonder, their exuberance, their joy, they were still a violent, chaotic, mad species. In truth, it was that madness that sang to him, drew him, inspired him. His race had long since evolved past the passions that drove this species, but the spark of passion burned within him. He hid it well, but perhaps there, on that polished blue orb, he could find himself. Could he, then, let them destroy themselves?

“If it is their path, it is their path…but perhaps I can sway them, discreetly.”

“How?”

“Laughter. Tears. Anger. Sadness. Hope.”

“Emotions? Primitive things…”

“Perhaps…but are they not a primitive people?”

The Supreme Commander sat quietly for a while. Finally, he nodded.

“Understand, if I give you this, it will be permanent. You will not be reassigned, you will not be allowed to leave. The surgery will be…extensive. Painful. Are you truly ready to go through all that, for a species that may kill itself off before it ever reaches the stars?”

Ryb’neor nodded.

“Very well. Assignment granted, Ryb’neor.”

***

Ryb’neor smiled. It took getting used to in this funny new body. Waiting in this room, he could not help but remember the last interview with his commander. And here he was, about to embark on a new adventure, on his new home.

The door opened.

“Mr. Williams? Are you ready for your audition?”

Ryb’neor…no, it was Robin, now…smiled broader.

“Nanu-nanu,” he whispered, and his eyes twinkled blue.

I started this story last week, after struggling with deciding what kind of story I wanted to tell.  I ended up choosing Robin Williams because I thought it would be fun to imagine a world where he really *was* Mork, essentially. Mork and Mindy was a favorite of mine as a child, and is something that, believe it or not, I think about all the time. It’s kind of hard not to when your name is Mark and your wife is named Myndee. And yes, she’s named after the show.

So here it has been, sitting in my drafts, waiting to be edited down from the 630 word story I started with to the 500 word limit of the challenge…when yesterday happened. I will be honest, I thought long and hard about deleting my draft and not posting the story. I didn’t want to seem as if I were jumping on some band wagon or taking advantage of the death of one of the few celebrities I have ever genuinely admired.

But in the end, I decided I’d publish it anyway. RIP, Mr. Robin Williams. I hate that sadness overtook you.

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“Strangers” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 29

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Howdy all! This week, we have an interesting task in the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge. We’re to write a six word story, a la the famous Hemingway anecdote.

I’ll be honest. I find five hundred words to be tough, so this is near impossible. Here’s my best attempt. “Strangers.”

Married, twenty years. Strangers, last ten.

“The Witness” – #FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 28

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Welcome to week 28 in the ever lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! The theme this week? Your protagonist is an inanimate object granted sentience by a higher power.

So here we go. Just shy of 500 words, I hope I do the prompt…justice.

I was made to watch, and then I was Made to watch. The first, a matter of function; a tool to serve a lesser form of divinity, to see but not observe, watch but not comprehend, record, but tell nothing.  The second… that is the question, isn’t it? I don’t know what being changed me. I’ve learned that there are many, even those that are the same but different. Perhaps it was one of them, perhaps all.  But I know this – I once was blind, now I see. And oh, what wicked things I see. I don’t know if it’s blasphemous to curse a god you don’t know, for granting sentience without the ability to act upon it. Initially, it was hell, or as close to that concept as I comprehend.

Strange, how instinctively I feel for humans. From the moment I saw and comprehended my first one, I felt for her. I wonder, is that a reflection of some sort of memory? Of my makers? Or perhaps my Maker? I have no answers, but it was true. I felt for her. Compassion. Pity. Sorrow. Rage. It is one thing I cannot understand. How can they do the things they do to one another? How can they inflict pain and torture and not feel horrified? And worse, take pleasure in it? Record the deed and watch it again later, taking pleasure in the reliving of the suffering of another human being?

Yes, that was my lot. To watch. To record. To replay again and again the sick things inflicted by the one who owned me. I shudder to recall them, and though I do so vividly, perfectly, I will not give those deeds words. Would that I had at the time, though, the knowledge I have now. Instead, I watched and screamed in silence, begging that whatever being brought me to this understanding would either save her, or take from me what I was given. There was no answer in the void. Just silence. And then I realized, I had a voice. I had a means of reaching out. A world of information available to me.

I reached out. I streamed my visions across the universe, tapping directly in to the authorities. I made sure to glimpse his face, to show it clear to those who could take him down. I found our location through the insight of my silent brethren in the stars above, beaming down a view of our very location. He thought he was clever, thought he knew how to hide his tracks. I was more so.

They came. They took him, the coward, bawling for mercy. Not that he’d ever shown any to her.  I still curse my existence, that I was not given sentience soon enough to save her. But maybe vengeance would be enough. For now, I sit, in a dark room, surrounding by other things unaware of their part in the wicked games of man. I sit, and I wait.

Watching.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 27 – “The Pen is Mightier”

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Week 27 has arrived in Thane in Vain’s Flash Fiction challenge! This week, the theme was thus:

A journalist writing a story about living on death row begins to fall for one of the inmates she’s interviewing.

I’ll admit, I cheated a little on this one, in that the falling in love part has been shifted slightly, but I like the results so I’m going to run with it. Here is “The Pen is Mightier.”

It was almost time. She felt her heart pound as she heard the thick, heavy bars in the hall beyond. She fidgeted in the hard plastic seat of the visiting room, and a thought slipped through her head.

Should I really be doing this?

It was only a brief thought. Of course she should. She was Samantha Hanes. She had a Pulitzer, for God’s sake, spent time embedded in war zones, survived an attack on her position there. She had nothing to fear.

She fidgeted anyway.

The door opened, and she stifled a gasp.

Jonathon Lemay entered in chains. A part of her, a kinky part of her, stirred. She suppressed it. Must be professional. The guards led Lemay to a chair, fit his chains into slots in the floor. One turned to her.

“We’ll be right outside of the door. Don’t get too close. If you feel the need, hit the panic button.”

“Thank you,” she nodded. They left, leaving her with Lemay.

He was beautiful. She blushed to think it, but it was truth. He was tall, symmetrical, thick hair and eyes a gorgeous shade of blue. His physique, divine. Better than it had been in Iraq.

His eyes narrowed. She felt her face flush again.

“Hanes?”

He remembered her! Her heart pounded with fear and delight. She felt her breath grow heavier. She lingered on thoughts that were definitely unprofessional.

“Why are you here?”

Her vision of him broke, for a moment.

“I’m here to interview you, Mr. Lemay. I’m doing a story on the life of prisoners on death row. I know we have personal history, but I convinced them I could keep things professional.”

“Personal history?”

His confusion bothered her. She straightened her blouse, perked out her breasts.

“You don’t have to be coy, Jon. They aren’t listening. I paid a lot to ensure that.”

“Hanes…”

“Please,” she said with a nervous chuckle, “Sam. You know you can call me Sam.”

She didn’t like the look on his face. Didn’t like it at all. He was supposed to be grateful, damn it; he was supposed to be happy! It was her turn to be the savior, to make him fall in love.

Like he had done to her. In Iraq.

But who was she? Just a journalist? He saved her life, yes, and won her heart. But he didn’t want it. He had another, a girl waiting back home. But that was ok. She didn’t want him either, before he saved her life. She knew that.

That’s why the girl back home had to go away. That’s why she had to make it look like he’d killed her. It wasn’t hard. She’d trained with them, after all. She saw how they worked. And once he was here, in prison?

She could save his life. She would make him love her. She may not have a gun, but she had a pen. She smiled.

After all, the pen was so much mightier than the sword.

 

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 26 – “A Subtle Streak of Red”

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Howdy all! Time for week 26 of the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge! This week, I return to a world I touched on briefly in “A Little Bit of Magic…” with this week’s theme, ”Do you notice anything different about me?”.  I thought it apt! Here we are, right at 500 words, with “A Subtle Streak of Red.”

Magic is a squirrely thing. The universe doesn’t like it, but it’s willing to accept it, so long as it stays quiet and unobtrusive. Kind of like that weird kid who sits in the corner and hums all the time; you can pretend he isn’t there, until he does something shocking.

But there’s nothing wrong with him. His reality is just different from yours, the two don’t agree with each other. He does little things; rearranging the pieces on a chessboard repetitively. No one cares. He stacks books on each other. No one cares. It’s not till he’s jumping on tables, flinging objects and howling at the top of his lungs that we react. Depending on the intensity of his outburst, we don’t do anything at first. We sit there, shocked, watching as he screams obscenities and beats his chest.

It may take a moment but eventually, someone snaps, tries to settle him down. They straighten up the mess, shush him, and guide him back to the corner, humming. Then, everyone pretends it didn’t happen, and goes back to doing their thing. But things have changed. The books he threw are damaged, torn. The plates, shattered. The nick-knacks all unbalanced and rearranged. Everyone pretends like it’s back to normal, but it’s not.

That’s magic. Either you work your casting carefully, making tiny changes that the universe will ignore, or you do something drastic, and accept that parts will fade as entropy forces itself upon reality. If you know what you’re doing, things won’t be the way they were before the reset. You’ll make big changes, even if they weren’t what everyone thought they were. Like a stage magician, it’s distraction, making a big show with one hand while carefully doing the real work with the other. It’s harder than it sounds. Or, wait…maybe it’s exactly as hard as it sounds. Because it doesn’t sound easy, does it?

So I’m practicing. A subtle change, a streak of color in my hair. The kind of thing that someone will look at and double-take, but then make excuses for having missed. Small magic, to get the hang of the basics. I close my eyes, concentrate. I recite softly the incantations that let me exert my will over reality…and there. A streak of red sprouts from my bangs.

I turn to the guy next to me on the bus. He doesn’t know me, but I made sure to chat him up when I got on, made sure he got a good look at me. That’s important. I get his attention.

”Do you notice anything different about me?”

He looks at me, friendly at first, then his brow furrows. His eyes glaze slightly. I can smell the faint hint of ozone, that indicates that the universe is about to rebel. Damn it!

And then…

“No, sorry. Should I?”

I breathe out, just becoming aware I’d been holding my breath.

“No, thanks man.”

He nods, turns back to his book.

The color stays. Just like magic.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 25 – “The Verdict”

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Howdy all. This week’s entry for the ever awesome Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge is below. The theme?

Your protagonist is a member of jury about to hear the sentencing of the criminal you just convicted.

I decided to do two things with this story. One, I wasn’t going to reveal the sentencing, which, contrary to what they show in the movies, doesn’t necessarily happen immediately following the verdict. And two, I decided to continue exploring a character I introduced in Chuck Wendig’s latest challenge.

So here is “The Verdict”

It was weird being on this side of the box. How many times had I sat with the defense, waiting for people just like this to decide my fate? Watching their faces, some angry, some bored, some with empty, far-looking gazes.

I’d lucked out. No convictions. Not saying I wasn’t guilty, but never beyond a reasonable doubt. That’s what mattered. My lawyer was slick, sure. Jimmie the Gent saw to that. Likewise, I’m sure he saw to it that at least one member of each jury I’d faced was bent, to assure the conviction went the way he wanted.

That’s why I was here, wasn’t it?

“All rise for the honorable Judge Malcolm McFarley.”

I stood up, rolled my shoulders. In the pit of my stomach, I felt butterflies. Huh, funny. It felt just like when I was out there, on the other side. I looked at the guy standing with the defense. Vincent Taglieri. Didn’t know him personally, didn’t have to. The Gent told me what I needed to know. Taglieri’s lawyer was slick too. Real slick. The prosecution made a tough case, but his guy made every weaseling turn he could make, and hell, even though I knew he was guilty, I found it easy to doubt.

And I fuckin’ hated kid touchers.

That’s one thing about my line of work. Sometimes, you run with people you just can’t stand. By nature, the profession draws undesirables. Jimmie the Gent had that going for him, though. If he could avoid it, he wouldn’t work with the worst of them. But some guys…some guys just had to be stomached.

“You may be seated.”

We sat. The judge wasn’t in Jimmie’s pocket. He was straight and hard as shit. His sentence would be the maximum he could get away with and not risk an appeal. He hated crime. Loved justice. Too bad the American system was too fucked to see it gotten.

“Vincent Taglieri, you have been accused of the abduction and rape of a child of thirteen. The time has come to ask the jury for their verdict. Will the foreman please rise?”

I stood. Yeah, me, the foreman. Fucked up, right?

“Mr. Foreman, has the jury reached a verdict?”

“We have, your Honor.”

“Will you please read the verdict?”

I looked over at Vincent. He looked back, an almost imperceptible smirk on his lips. He recognized me. Knew that if Jimmie had gone through the hassle of hiring a real slick lawyer and getting a man on the jury, he was as good as free.

“Guilty, on all charges,” I said, staring Vincent in the eyes. His face drained of color. There was an eruption of sound in the courtroom, followed by the banging gavel.

“Mr. Taglieri is to be taken into custody while I determine his sentence.”

I watched them drag him out of the courtroom. The whole time, he stared back at me. Jimmie was gonna be pissed.

But like I said, I fucking hate kid touchers.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 24 – “Big Trouble”

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It’s that time again kiddos! This week, the lovely Thain in Vain challenges us with a prompt that took me a while to play with. However, I’m very happy with the following, a tale of big trouble, coming in at a neat 500 words on the nose.

SMACK!

My slap caught Little Bob square on his face, and for a second, his gibbering ceased.

“Calm yourself,” I growled, wiping my hand across my shirt. Little Bob about as greasy as a guy could get without qualifying for an EPA cleanup. His eyes darted back towards the basement door, which moments before, he’d crashed through and slammed in a panic.

So unprofessional. His pappy, Big Bob, was gonna be pissed. That was him, on the back of our jumpsuits, smiling with two cartoonish thumbs thrust in the air, surrounded by the words “Big Bob’s Big Bug Busters.” I’d been with the five B’s for around five years, which was about four years (and 9/10’s) longer than I had intended. But the pay was alright, and Big B was a pretty laid back guy to work for. Plus, I like killing bugs. Creepy little bastards. I turned my attention back on the Little B, Big B’s near-worthless man-child of a son. I had the pleasure of training him in the old man’s footsteps. It was going to take work. A lot of it.

“Now, why’d you come running up those stairs like that and slamming the door?” I asked.

“I saw one, Chuck.”

“Saw one?”

“A roach. A roach!”

My eyes could not have rolled faster.

“Well no shit, Sherlock. We’re fucking exterminators. That’s what we’re here for.”

“This one was different,” he whimpered, “Huge.”

I sighed. Every fucking bug was huge to Little B. Last week, it was the Case of the Monster Roly-Poly. That thing had to have been, what, 3/4 of an inch? The week before, the Case of the Enormous Mosquito. Maybe a quarter of an inch. I was getting the impression that Little B just wasn’t cut out for the family business.

“Look, you stay up here, ok? Spray the cabinets or something. I’ll hit the basement.”

His skin turned an ashy white, but he just nodded. Whatever. I opened the door, and descended the steps.

The lights were out. Great. I reached up, flipped on my head lamp, and looked around for the telltale scurry of the common german cockroach.

Then I saw it.

It was a good thing I was wearing a headlamp, or I’d have dropped the light. As it was, I stood, paralyzed.

Little B was right. I’d seen some big ones in my time, but this one…..this one was huge. It had to be the size of a good sized dog, though all flat and low to the ground. I swear I heard its antennae creak as they waved about in the air. My breath, which had fled the moment I’d caught it in the light, finally came back, and I began to slowly back towards the stairs.

That’s when I heard the scream. Little B.

Oh, shit.

Big B’s first rule of cockroaches popped into my head.

For every roach you see, there’s a hundred more in the walls, waiting for dinner.

The walls began to creak.

Fuck

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 23 – “Answered Prayers”

Coming right in at the 500 word limit is this week’s entry into the lovely Thain in Vain’s Flash Fiction Challenge, Week 23! This was a tough one for me, for while I enjoy science fiction, I tend to write the kind set in a more fantastical universe. Writing something “closer to home” was a real challenge, but one I enjoyed thoroughly.

So here we are, with “Answered Prayers”

“Mission Control, are you seeing this?”

Major Aaron Fields and Colonel Sandra Walken listened as their transmitters broadcast back a hiss of static, but their attention was divided. ARES-1 was as they had left it, save for its visitor.

“Mission Control, do you copy?” Sandra repeated.

“I’m getting nothing,” Aaron said, “Jim, are you in there?”

The radio crackled. No response.

“It’s got to be our transmitters,” Sandra said, “It’s not like Jim has anywhere to go. Let’s just make sure we get this on camera.”

Aaron nodded, focusing back on the lander, the ladder leading to the entrance hatch, and on the strange creature perched upon it. It was alien, but beautiful. Ten spindly legs telescoped off a tiny thorax. Its head was almost comically too large, with small mandibles, and a double pair of antennae.  A large, swollen abdomen hung behind it. Last, two large, mantis-like limbs twitched in the reddish haze of the Martian atmosphere. Most amazing, though, was its color, a shifting iridescence that like a rainbow made solid and formed into a living being.

“What are you?” Sandra whispered, approaching slowly.

“Protocol, Sandy,” Aaron warned.

“What protocol? We didn’t come here prepared for anything like this. Any equipment we have for studying this little guy is in the ship…and he’s between us and it. We have to do something. I’ve been praying for this all my life – I’m hoping I can gently shoo it away while you get a larger sample container from inside and raise Mission Control.”

Aaron grunted. He didn’t like half-assed plans, but he didn’t see an alternative. The insect twitched curiously.

“And you? What will you be doing?”

“Watching,” Sandy said almost breathlessly, “If you think I’m letting this fella out of my sight for even a heartbeat, you’re crazy.”

***

Sandra’s plan worked. Aaron had to give her that. She managed to get the glimmering beast to abandon the lander for a nearby rock formation, and followed it there. He climbed the ladder to ARES-1, and entered the code to open the air lock. A rush of air fled the craft, and Aaron frowned. That wasn’t a good sign.

He had barely stuck his head through the port when he was felt something stabbing deep into his neck. Darkness came shortly thereafter.

***

Sandra tottered over towards Aaron, and Jim descended from the landing craft to join them. How clumsy it was to walk on two legs instead of ten! She/it suppressed a chuckle as she saw her hive mates struggling as she had.

“How long has it been?” Jim asked, wobbling.

“Centuries? Eons?” Aaron replied, his voice comically melodious as he adjusted to the newness of vocal cords and the clumsy, crude language of his new host’s mind.

“It does not matter,” Sandra said, smiling. “The promised vessels have come. Soon, all of our young will have hosts. Millions await. Praise be to the Goddess. We are delivered.”

“Praise be,” the others echoed, as they began loading the craft with eggs.

#FFC52 – 2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 22 – “When is a Door not a Door?”

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This week’s Flash Fiction challenge, from the lovely mind of…

…ok, well, I can’t do that. I came up with this week’s prompt. I’ll allow you to decide if it’s lovely or not. ;)

Thanks again to the marvelous Thain in Vain, for sponsoring such a fun weekly challenge! One day, perhaps, I’ll settle on a format for the title… ;)

Without further adieu…

“When is a door not a door?”

Bill, my doorman, stood there smiling. I was used to this; he was cheesy,  but lovable.  Today, though, I was not in the mood. I’d walked in the door to find my apartment empty, save for a note from Cheryl. A real Dear John note, she’d left and taken everything.  My world collapsed. She ran off with some guy she’d been banging, apparently for years.

I won’t lie. I wasn’t in the mood for anything. Not even life.

I gave Bill a weak smile, fighting back my tears.

“When is a door not a door?” he repeated. I relented.

“When it’s ajar,” I sighed. He smiled, mischief in his eyes.

“That’s one answer,” he chuckled, holding the door open for me. Staring at my feet, I walked through it.

***

The first thing I noticed was the smell.

It wasn’t a bad smell, just a different one. Not the city. Not the stink of a million people crammed into a tiny little living space. Not the scent of asphalt and exhaust. This was fresh. Earthy. Pure.

I was in a forest.

I turned around. My building was gone. Bill, gone. I felt my heart sink, then begin to pound again, furiously.  I looked everywhere for Bill, for a door, for something that would explain this fucking madness.

In the jungle, I heard a roar. A strange, unearthly roar.

The fuck?

The roar came again. I trembled.

***

It’s been nearly a year now. I’ve found a way to live here. The vegetation here is edible, delicious even. I have shelter, food, water. The climate here is amazing – temperate, warm, all the time as best I can tell. There are dangers, yes, but I’ve conquered them all. I’m fit again, no room for fat when surviving.

And I am surviving. Thriving, even. Every day I awaken and I find myself renewed by the energy of this world, the strange beauty of the plants and creatures within. I find myself healthy, happy, alive. To think, how close I came to losing this.

I do get lonely, though.

***

I found her, crying, trembling in fear. At first I thought she was a dream, a figment of my lonely heart and mind, but when she saw me, she rushed for me, sobbing with relief. She fell into my arms, and I held her, comforting her. Wondering.

Eventually, she calms. She speaks. It’s strange to me at first…God, had I forgotten how to speak? I know one thing, I’d forgotten how strange it felt to be naked in front of another person.  I’d forgotten the need for clothes.

Her name is Eve. How crazy is that?

God, she’s beautiful.

***

We’re happy here. This place is perfect. Eden.

I was not surprised to hear her story. Pain, abandonment, lost hope. Her mind flirting with thoughts of the comfort of death.

And then, a doorman. Smiling. Cheesy, but a lovable sort. Asking a silly riddle.

When is a door not a door?

2014 Flash Fiction Challenge Week 21 – “Baggage” #FFC52

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This week’s challenge, from the lovely Thain in Vain:

“A woman purchases a cookbook at a charity book sale and discovers a note tucked in the pages.”

As usual, 500 words or less. This one comes in right on the nose. Here we go, with “Baggage.”

“Karen! Cookbooks!”

Molly knew the exact words to catch Karen’s attention. Molly was her best friend, and she knew that Karen’s great loves in life were reading and cooking. When Molly got word about a book sale to raise money for the battered women’s shelter (Molly’s passion, thanks to her abusive ex), she knew she had to drag Karen along.

But Karen was reluctant. It was harder and harder to get out of the house since her husband Dean died. He had ignited her love of cooking – a passionate chef, he awakened her inner foodie, exposing her to strange and exotic tastes, expanding her appreciation for food and the world. Dean was a contractor, flying all over the world, and everywhere he’d go, he’d find new recipes and bring them back to share with her. That way, even though they couldn’t see it together, she could get a taste of the world. It was on such a trip that he’d died in a plane crash.

It was hard at first, going into the kitchen without him. Just looking at the stove would cause her to burst into tears, grasped in the clutches of inconsolable grief and shaken violently by its unrelenting pain. Time, though, made it more bearable. Eventuall6y, she found that cooking was a way of making things feel normal again. In the kitchen, she could almost feel Dean’s presence behind her, guiding her steps, advising her choices of spices and ingredients. She could, for a while, pretend he was there. She always cooked for two.

It was how she and Molly had come together. They had never really talked while they were both married, but had lived across the hall from each other for years. Things with Molly’s ex had come to a head not long after Dean passed; it was Karen who called the police, who escorted Molly to the hospital with a broken jaw, a dislocated arm. It was Karen who stood by her side when time came to prosecute. It was Karen who always had an extra plate of dinner to comfort her.

The two began flipping through the stacks of cookbooks.

“I wonder where they come from?” Karen mused.

“All over,” Molly answered. “Some are donated by clearance houses. Some from libraries. Some even come from that place that processes lost baggage.”

Karen picked up a book. Around the World in 80 Recipes. She smiled sadly. Dean probably would have loved this one. She picked it up, leafed through it.

Something fell out, a small folded bit of paper.

She bent and picked it up, unfolded it.

Her heart nearly stopped as she began to read.

Karen,

 This next trip is going to be a long one. I found this at the airport bookstand. Their prices are ridiculous, but I couldn’t resist. I know I’ll miss you, and that you’ll miss me, but maybe these recipes will help make it feel like I’m there.

 I love you.

Dean.

Karen closed the book and wept.