This Man

By S. K. Thomas

He came unexpectedly in the dimly lit darkness. Charming and self-assured he drew me in with his kind and impassioned way. His voice soothed as it left calm in its wake and rippled onto me like a phantom blanket that provided warmth and peace. Hypnotic, as all else faded away.

This man invaded: my mind fixated, my heart left infatuated and my soul infiltrated. Time moved forward and he was there. He found his way into my heart. Nurture and care were experienced through his patience and teaching. His consistent and unwavering strength proved my trust. The role he plays in life left me wanting to be a better person. My head swirled in the gravity the universe left abound around us.

I was not in control and had to get away. I was confused and scared. I hadn’t been looking for anyone, yet he fell in my lap. I didn’t want to wrap him in my problems, but there he was and I couldn’t resist him. He felt like an old friend, yet I didn’t know him at all. I was adamant he wouldn’t capture my heart.

My eyes and ears fell onto reminders of times shared with him. Pictures of yesterday made me smile. This man left me in a dreamy state as I thought of what was. Love for me was gone long ago until he showed what real love could be. I tried to flee, only to question why I would run. He opened my eyes to so much more than I ever thought possible.

Together, submersed in our secrets and truth, we serve a purpose for one another in a metamorphosed existence.

This man, I can think of no other.

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Ghostly Haunts

by Jan King
I was the figure watching to see if you would let go or not. Luckily you didn’t.
Death by your own hand is considered selfish in some ways, although I believe it is also
right for some.
It was right for me. Let me start at the beginning. My name is Amber Green. I had always
been fit. My dog and I used to go on long walks, no they were more like treks. I would pack up
sandwiches, a bottle of water and some treats for Sliver and off we would go into the wilds of
Devon.
I wasn’t young but I looked after myself. Then came the devastating news. I certainly wasn’t
expecting this turn of events. I had been feeling very tired of late and quite listless, not my
normal happy self. So I booked an appointment with my doctor. She suggested a blood test
to eliminate certain diseases.
I had the blood test. The upshot of this was that I had a terminal illness. I sat there in the
doctor consulting room dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to react. What should I ask? All sorts of
questions were whirling in my head. Instead I got up, said thank-you to the doctor and went home.
Sliver greeted me at the door. I started to cry. What will I do with Sliver?
Once I had sat down with a cup of tea and digested this information, I thought where do I go from
here. The internet and google. After many hours of research, I knew that I would have to draw up a
schedule.
This would entail finding a home for Sliver, but not until I couldn’t walk a mile unaided that I would
put my plan into action.
I did let go…. hence my ghostly appearance at this place.Black Eyed Angels Swam With Me

Tonight I will do it

by Fatima

The air feels so nice blowing through my short, dirty-blond hair. It’s a little too cold for me to be out here tonight, but this is my usual routine. Tonight I will do it, I will not hold back this time I will jump. Tonight will be my last night to do this routine. As I grip the bar of the rail tighter, ready to let go, let go of all the disappointments, and the ways I can not change. I look up, and there is one star in the night sky. That same star that is there every night. The star that blinds me a little when I look back at the nothingness below me, black is all I see. That star that lets me know everything will be okay. I leap back over the rail, my bare feet touching the prickly grass on the other side. I put my dirty old chucks on and begin to walk home. When I turn back around to look at that one star that gives me faith, I see a dark figure with long hair blowing in the wind. She turns around and we meet eyes. I turn back around trying to avoid the thought of her seeing me. When I turn back around to see if she is still looking in my direction, she is gone. Was that a part of my imagination? Was I being followed by a ghost, or did that really happen? All these thoughts in my head confusing me, so I run. I run away from, my thoughts, my pain, even myself. I reach home, check the time, 2:54a.m. I crawl through my window. The note I wrote was sitting on my bed, I rip it up as soon as I get in. I slip out of my pink sundress I love so much and put on my pjs. Slide into bed and whisper, ‘happy birthday to me.’

Stranded 

By Barbara Tsipouras

 

I don’t know how I got here, nor where I am. Michael calls it vX1. What a strange name for a place. And when I asked where that is he said, “in my hometown.” But that can’t be. Apart from the landscape, nothing else reminds me of home. Perhaps this is the future. It must be the future.

Everything was nearly perfect when I met Michael. I guess that’s what they call ‘love at first sight’. I hadn’t believed this could ever happen to me. He looked into my eyes and I felt a shiver run down my spine and I knew immediately that he’s someone special. There was this connection between us I had never felt before. Michael was so gentle, so aware of my needs, listened carefully to whatever I had to say, understood my thoughts and feelings better than I did. I secretly planned our future together.

Until one day he told me he had to leave and he probably would never return. He told me that he loved me, but that we couldn’t stay together. He talked about his ‘mission’ – whatever that was; he never really explained – said he had to go home. He had got an urgent call. They needed him there. And I? Didn’t I need him? Wasn’t that important to him? I saw that he was hurting as much as I was. He couldn’t even promise to come back. I couldn’t let him go.

After hours of discussing and weeping and halfhearted explanations and more crying he finally said there was a way he could take me with him, but that would mean never to return. I’d have to leave everything behind and never look back. Could I do that? Yes, I could. He meant more than anything to me.

I can’t remember the trip. I just don’t know how I got here. When we arrived I felt dizzy, disoriented. At first I didn’t notice the difference. We seemingly still stood on the same beach, but when we came into town everything was different in a strange way.

Michael’s family welcomed me with open arms and everybody seemed to know who I was. They served us dinner, brown rice with vegetables, without fat, without spices. And only plain water to drink. The breakfast the next day was as tasteless as the dinner, some cereals with milk, but without sugar and no coffee, just herbal tea. When I asked for sugar they said they didn’t have any.

I wanted to call my parents to tell them that I’m with Michael and they don’t have to worry about me, but my battery was dead and nobody could lend me a charger. Nobody has ever seen a smartphone! But they communicate with their houses. They have flat screens on the walls, tell their house who they want to talk to and that’s it. They don’t need to go grocery shopping, they tell their fridge what they need and get it delivered. Life seems to be easier. And safer. There are no locks at the doors, they don’t bother to close the windows when they leave.

But it’s also boring. I wanted to go partying in a club, a pub or at least a cafe, but I was disappointed, no such things in this strange place.

I tried to watch the news to get an idea where I am and what’s going on, but they had only reports about other “dimensions” – what the hell is that? – no wars, no crimes, some politicians discussing issues I didn’t understand, only the weather forecast was somehow familiar.

As long as Michael was with me I was just happy to be with him. Everything else didn’t matter. But yesterday he went on his next ‘mission’. He didn’t answer my questions about where he would go, to do what exactly or when he will be back.

Why doesn’t he trust me? Why doesn’t anybody trust me? I get no answers to all my questions. Everybody is friendly but when I ask where I am, what this place is, if this is the future, if there’s a way back, they just change the subject.

I feel stranded in a place or time I don’t belong to. I’m lonely. Have I made the right decision? Is love enough? What if Michael won’t return?

It’s My Turn

by Barbara Tsipouras

It’s my turn now. I know it. But where to hide? Where to seek help? There’s nowhere I could possibly go and nobody who could possibly help me. It is too late now. I’m deeply involved. He’s here right beside me in my bed.

Two years I waited for him. Two years I missed him, was faithful, always visited, brought him whatever he wanted and when he finally was released I embraced him with all my love and was glad to see him full of energy, ready to re-start life.

I didn’t see how twisted and screwed he was, took him back into my house and my bed, had big dreams.

He hates to be famous for that damned video. Hates being famous for being pummelled. That video was the reason for his suffering in prison. All the abuse.

I thought he had overcome all that. It was over. Nobody recognizes him anymore. The video is long forgotten.

Until he told me.

At first I didn’t take him seriously, thought he was joking. But he was not.

Today I saw it in his eyes, the desire to be finally caught, to be found, to be famous of his own accord. He wants to go back, respected and feared.

Two months have passed. In the beginning he always came home filled with joy, satisfied that he did it again. Seeking approval he told me in detail, how he bought the knife and stuck it into the next old guy passing the street or went to buy a gun and shot the vendor. Or the poor girl he strangled in the park. He was so proud of all these random kills.

I did nothing to stop him. Nor did I leave. I thought it would stop, but it didn’t.

The police never came. Now there is no joy anymore, merely exhaustion. He’s tired, disillusioned.

Nobody besides me knows what he’s done.

His thirst for fame is unbroken. I saw it in his eyes. And I’ll be the victim to send him back to prison as a celebrity. That’s his aim. I’m the target.

Now, after aggressive and passionate sex, appropriate for the last time, he’s lying by my side. Drunk as usual, breathing hard and snoring.

Torn between love, fear and hatred I look at him.

He still has the chance to wake up.

But he won’t.

The Jump

By Paul R.Green

Almost there. Just one more step and it’ll all be over. Just one. All I need do is put one foot in front of the other and this all goes away.

Up here on the roof I can feel every shift in the cold winter air as it swirls around the buildings around and below me, almost as if the capital itself is a living breathing thing and it would only take the slightest of sighs for me to be sucked into its fatal embrace.

It’s obvious now that I should never have listened to her, but she was wearing the blue pinstripe; the one cut to perfection that shows off her every curve. And her perfume; when she leaned in close to make the oh so innocent initial suggestion, coupled with the subtle, yet clearly deliberate, pull of white cotton across her chest, slipped through my already crumbling defences and cut off my brain at the dick.
She said she just wanted to see the jump logs; to see how the system worked, as she was considering transferring out of fieldwork and looking for an alternative that kept her within the department.  And I guess of all the Jump-techs I was the most gullible. Of course at the time, I thought it was because I was the smartest, youngest and most attractive, but we’ve already established who was doing my thinking back then.
Anyway, I waited until I was working a solo shift and showed her the ropes. She was a quick study and pretty soon she was asking questions that I really shouldn’t have answered; but I went along anyway, risking my career for the suggestion of a hint of a promise. I said I was smart, not that I had any common-sense. But that body, that scent, those eyes had a way of making me forget everything else. Of course, with hindsight, she may have just been playing with my mind. Part of me wishes that were true, but if I’m honest, most of me doesn’t. I like to think that my training would be enough to keep her out, but if she’s managed to keep off Topps‘ radar this long then getting into my head shouldn’t have proved too difficult.
As the wind buffets me, the sudden lurch of my body brings me back to the present and the ledge. My train of thought arrives at its inevitable destination and the question I should really be asking before I take this step; am I here of my own volition, or is this a suggestion she’s dropped into my brain. An emergency backup procedure of sorts, designed to tie up any loose ends in the event of an investigation.
How would I know? Who can I ask for help? The very people who could help me are the ones doing the investigating. Asking for help would put me smack in the middle of their sights.
What if I went to her? Have her help me make a jump and cover my tracks, just like I’ve been doing for her these past couple of years. I could jump to one of the more densely populated Ds. One with a decent but lower tech level and minimal psych abilities. But, she’s on assignment again, tracking down an arms dealer on cL14, and I don’t even know when she’ll be back.
I guess there’s only one type of jump I’ll be making and it’s a definite one way trip.
The wind drops and there’s a beautiful moment of stillness as the sun breaks through  the grey clouds. I close my eyes, picturing her as I savour the warmth that spreads across my face, and take a step.

Good Luck Charm

by Alister Davison

The engine stops, and I savour one last breath of conditioned air, drawing it deep into my lungs as if it’s my last.

The way my luck is holding out, that may well be the case.

Got to admit, I thought I’d escaped. Getting to grips with a new routine hadn’t been easy, but it was worth the sweat and tears if it kept me away from prying eyes and meddling hands.

At least they were subtle about it. I’d just entered my apartment building, looking forward to getting started on the pile of books I’d taken from the library, when a figure stepped in front of me, blocking my way to the stairs.

I knew the procedure, it was one to which I’d bore witness many times. I placed the books on top of the mailboxes, turned around and put my hands behind my back. In silence, I was cuffed and gagged, a cloth bag placed over my head. It makes for an uncomfortable car journey, that’s for sure; my arms cramped an hour ago and my fingers have gone numb.

Still, at least I’m alive. For now.

Doors open – one, two, three – allowing stifling air to force itself inside. The car rocks as the other occupants get out. The two goons either side have been keeping me upright, so I fall to my left without their support, lying there like a fish long out of water.

It takes a couple of seconds for them to haul me out like a prize catch. I hit dirt, dusty and dry, the brightness of the day evident even through the hood.

It blinds me when they pull it off. Takes my eyes several seconds to adjust to the crystal blue sky, the Nevada sand crushed and compact, an equally dazzling reflection of the sun from up above. Sweat wicks from every pore, a combination of the oppressive heat and recognition of the brown wing tips a few feet from my face. The immaculate white spats that cover them are a startling contrast to my dusty Converse.

“Get him up.” The voice is soft, almost melodic, but the goons hurry to do as instructed, lifting me up by the armpits. I sway a little on my feet, which are the focus of my gaze as I try to orient myself, almost falling again as they remove the gag, cutting it with a switchblade that sparkles in the sunlight.

I work my jaw, up and down and side to side, but say nothing. There are moments when being discreet will keep a man alive; this is one of them. Instead, I stare down at my trainers.

The spats move closer, but the shadow stretches out to the side, as if it’s shying away from me. “Jimmy the Boy. We meet at last.”

Jimmy the Boy. I’m closing in on thirty and they’re still calling me that, as if I was the same punk kid that tried to pick Big Sal’s pocket all those years ago. Sal gave me a thick ear, then a home, followed by a life. Whenever I think of him, I wonder how he’d have felt about my running away.

I look up at the man who’s had me brought here. Immaculately dressed in designer suit, shirt and tie; even in this heat, there’s not a drop of sweat on him, as if he’s still in New York’s corridors of power. His only concession is a Stetson, which somehow shades his face in a way that makes his dark eyes seem to glow. He swipes a hand across the brim of the hat, cuff links glittering.

“You’ve taken some finding, which has incurred much expense, as well as some slight discomfort to yourself, but our employer deemed it necessary.” He leans closer, mint evident on his breath. “Now here you are.”

In the movies, right now is where the hero would say something cool. Me, it’s all I can do not to piss myself. I’ve heard of this man, who rose quickly in the organisation, graduating from henchman to right-hand in a few years. Guessing why I’ve been brought here, to the middle of nowhere, I look frantically for a shallow grave, but there’s no sign of anything except cooked, hard earth.

“We’re not here to kill you,” he says, as if he’s read my mind. “One more task, James, one that will truly free you from the Organisation, if that is what you wish.”

He reaches into his jacket, taking out two photographs. Only one is handed to me; a picture of a casino, façade covered in glittering lights.

“The Seers?”

Spats moves closer, arm over my shoulder like he’s my best friend. I don’t like contact at the best of times, so it’s an effort not to shrug him off. “I don’t know how you do what you do, son. Maybe it’s luck, maybe it’s some kind of Rain Man voodoo.”

“There’s a pattern in the cards,” I whisper as if I’m imparting a great secret. “Some see it everywhere, in everything, but with me it’s just the cards.”

“I’m only interested in the results.” He’s so close, that minty breath is sickening. “Let me show you this, just in case you’re not fully motivated.”

The second picture is that of a woman and a toddler, at play in a park. Sal’s niece and her son, five years old.

“Call it added incentive.” Spats steps away.

His words are unnecessary; implying the threat has always been enough. There are things words don’t have to say, whereas my acknowledgement will save lives. I may not have seen them for years, but still; family is family.

I look away, see my reflection in a goon’s mirrorshades. Unkempt, tired, not the man I used to be, nor the one I want to be. One last caper, then out. Always tempting – how many times have I told myself just one more? – but now there’s no choice.

“All right. What do you want me to do?”

***

Win. And win big.

That’s my only thought as I stand at the entrance to the Seers Casino. The building’s lit up like a gold Christmas tree, the dancing lights creating a discotheque reflection in my polished shoes.

I straighten my tie, roll my shoulders and shoot my cuffs as I take the deepest breath of my life. This isn’t going to be easy. I’m happy enough in these expensive clothes, wearing them like a knight would a suit of armour, but my lucky tooth and silver pen are back home, and the only routine I’ve been able to go through is the folding of the handkerchief in my jacket pocket.

Three times. First with a triangle of silk tongue poking from the pocket’s mouth. The second fluffs it out, so it blooms like a white rose against the deep navy (my lucky colour). Finally, I fold it square again, place it to form a white stripe across the top of the pocket.

There. I’m ready.

To win, as instructed. Win big, like nobody in the Seers ever has. The place prides itself that nobody’s ever hit the jackpot enough to do it any damage. It’s completely independent from any criminal control; no group takes a skim, no single person is paid to look in another direction from time to time. Clean, when there’s no such thing.

So, I tell myself, I must beat the unbeatable.

Here’s a new thought; if I don’t, people I care about will die.

That’s what’s on my mind as I step through huge sliding doors, catching the eye and the smile of a blonde in a golden bikini, a huge set of tail-feathers rising up behind her. She welcomes me to the Seers Casino; the lingering look we share makes it sound more than a customary greeting, but I’ve been fooled before.

Still, I must admit I can’t help liking what I see. Golden curls, eyes the colour of a summer sky, a brightness to them that puts the glitter and glitz of our surroundings to shame. If they’re truly the mirror to her soul, then I doubt it’s anything short of wonderful. Just as I’m feeling a mental connection, one that almost has me believing in love at first sight, a voice shatters the moment.

“Hey, Kitty! Kitty!”

Her smile slips for a fraction of a second. “It’s Katherine, dammit,” she mutters. Then, all is as before, bar the fat man in a tux with straining seams, shirt collar so tight it’s turning his round head into a purple grape. He’s a heart attack waiting to happen, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what Katherine is wishing for right now.

She opens her mouth, but doesn’t get the chance to speak.

“What was I saying before? You can’t just stand there like a dummy. You’ve got to work it!” He sneers at me, the lascivious tilt of a time-served creep. “Am I right?”

I slip my hands in my pocket. “I was hoping this beautiful lady would accompany me to the tables. I could do with a good luck charm.” It’s no lie; being kidnapped has made this all a rush, my usual tokens foregone in favour of haste.

Katherine smirks, slipping her hand through the gap between my arm and my body. Her perfume is like a sweet narcotic, and her touch, far from unpleasant, sends a spark through me. I feel good, like I could take on the world, even turn around and walk out of here a pauper. With her at my side, I’d be satisfied.

If it wasn’t for the whole death-threat thing, maybe I’d ask her.

We walk between rows of fruit machines, their single arms raised high like worshippers praising the gods of excess. An old woman pumps coins into one of them, while an even older woman hits the jackpot, leaping out of her seat as if she’s been healed by a miracle worker, coins spewing out into a plastic cup.

Katherine leans close to be heard over the noise. “What’s your game?”

Unable to decide if she’s asking me why I’m here or what I’d like to play, I give her answers to both. “Blackjack. I’m here to beat the unbeatable.”

She smirks at this, but I sense humour rather than disdain in her voice. “How does a private table sound?”

“I’m in your capable hands.”

Katherine guides me to the table. The croupier is a man as thin as the cards he deals, his construction all joints and angles. His clothes are expensive, tailored to fit like a glove, which doesn’t do him any favours.

He watches me sit. There’s a wide grin on his face, but still I feel like I’m being interrogated, examined for any tell-tale signs or ticks. There’s a moment of pressure in my forehead, like a flash of toothache, and his grin slips, quickly replaced by a smile as he starts rattling off the house rules.

They’re the same in most of these places, and I know them by heart. Still, I listen, eyes closed to take in every nuance of his voice. Sometimes, it’s the way people talk that give them away as much as a raise of the eyebrow or a rub of the wrist.

“All right,” he announces, opening a fresh deck of cards. “Let’s play.”

***

I’m an hour in, a few thousand up, when I first see it.

Nothing more than a glance, an exchange for only a fraction of a second, but I kick myself for not noticing it sooner.

I’m being played. Hustled at my own game. How, I don’t know, but I suspect this beauty at my side has something to do with it. Too good to be true, and I fell for it. I don’t know who I’m annoyed with more, her or myself. People’s lives are depending on me, and I let myself get distracted by Miss Tailfeathers here.

“I need a break.” I slide out of my chair and stride away, leaving the two of them. Let them stay in cahoots; I can move on, play another game.

Except I’m already deep in this one. The patterns are forming, and I can guess which cards will be next out of the shoe. I can do this. I have to do this, or people will die.

My heart pounds against my ribcage harder than a wrongful arrest. I lean against the wall and close my eyes, but all I can see is Spats’s face in shadow under that hat, eyes aglow as if he’s the devil himself. For all intents and purposes, that’s exactly what he is.

“You need to clam down.” I recognise Katherine’s voice, and the sincere concern within. Opening my eyes, I see she’s handing me a glass of water. “Drink this.”

I take a sniff, making sure it’s not vodka, then pour it down my throat. It cools all the way down to my core, but that fireball of irritation refuses to be put out.

“We need to talk.”

“About what? How you and your friend are taking me for a ride?”

Katherine looks from side to side. I’ve learned to read people, and she’s panicking. Genuinely afraid. “Not here.”

She walks away, not looking over her shoulder to see if I’m following. I do, and we end up at an inconspicuous door with a small keypad above the lock. Katherine closes her eyes, then keys in five digits; a turn of the handle, a wiggle of feathers, and we’re in.

The room is small, the size of an elevator, lit by a panel that glows in the centre of the ceiling. It’s very much empty, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts to descend into some underground lair.

“There’s something you need to know.”

***

If she didn’t look so sincere, I’d laugh. As it is, I summarise.

“So, you’re telling me the reason the Seers always wins is because it’s run by psychics.” Put like that, it sounds simple and rational. The rest of it, though… “And these psychics, you included, are from one of many parallel dimensions.”

Katherine rubs her forehead, eyes on me. “In a nutshell. That’s how I picked up on you, and your desperate need to win. You’re doing this for Sal; even though he’s gone, family is family, right?” She smiles now, and I swear the small room brightens. “Besides, there are some people in here who need to be taught a lesson.”

I’m disappointed. I’d thought, hoped, there’d be more to it than that. Despite my suspicions of betrayal, I still can’t help feel a certain attraction to her. I look down at my feet, saddened when I have no real right to be.

Her hand on my chin, that same frisson at her touch. She lifts, so I have no choice but to look into those summer sky eyes. “When this is all over, how about we stay together for a while, see how well we get along?”

I know how it works, that this could be an idea she’s planting inside my head like a seed, but I also know there’s more to it than that; Katherine is offering me a choice, not an ultimatum. Besides, it’s something I’ve been thinking of from the moment I clapped eyes on her.

I put my hand over hers, relishing the warmth of the contact. “Read my mind,” I say.

I’m expecting the mental equivalent of a burglar raking through drawers, but there’s no discomfort, barely any sensation at all other than a shiver up the spine, like you get when you’re being watched, only now it’s from the inside. She’s never been in here before, never manipulated me.

I push aside the relief to focus on the faith I have in her, myself, in anyone who’s willing to listen and help me save those who have been like a family to me when I deserved nothing. They had faith in me, all those years ago, and now it’s time to return the favour. What goes around comes around, a cycle of karma like the patterns I see when cards are being dealt.

Tears glisten in Katherine’s eyes. I swallow my own emotion; now that she’s not in my head anymore, there’s a void in there, one that didn’t exist until only a moment ago. It’s a mental impact that makes me sway, but she steadies me with her hands on my shoulders.

“It’ll pass.”

I almost don’t want it to, but I nod. “What do we have to do?”

Katherine smiles. “I’ve persuaded you to go back to the table. Given your outburst, you’ll be allowed to win. Not quite as big as you’d like, but big enough to be tempting when he says the three magic words.”

“He loves me?”

“No, but you will be screwed.” The smile becomes a grin. “That’s when I come in.”

***

Katherine was right. I’ve lost a few hands, but overall I’m doing well. Too well to be true, beyond even what I’d been expecting. To say I’m being hustled is an understatement; I’m close enough to a huge prize that I’ve attracted an audience of around a dozen, being willed on by each and every one.

Katherine remains at my side, thoughtful throughout. I catch her and the croupier exchanging looks now and again, but that’s to be expected.

Then, as if from out of nowhere, the croupier delivers the three words that could change my life.

“Double or nothing?”

My crowd ooh and aah, offering me conflicting advice at various volumes.

Have faith, I tell myself as I look at Katherine from the corner of my eye. I sit up, straighten my back, and smile.

“Let’s do it.”

***

The blue and white Mustang roared along the road, Vegas and that old life further behind with every passing second. Occasionally, the car swerved, riding the white line or the outer edge of the Tarmac that cut through the Nevada desert like an infected wound.

The driver looked in the mirror, wiping away the last of the make up with a tissue. She steered with her knees for a moment, placing a long dress over her shoulders and letting it shuck down to her waist. The bikini, she vowed, would be shed once she got to a motel.

Katherine saw the gleam of sun on metal a few minutes later. The Cadillac, exactly where James has said it would be.

Looking at the briefcase on the passenger seat, she felt a pang of regret. It faded as quickly as it had arrived; she’d done what she had to, and lies were inevitable. Such was life.

She slowed, pulling off the road so the trunk of the Mustang faced the other vehicle, drawing to a halt with a plume of dust. Ignition off, the car fell silent and the world felt bigger.

Katherine had predicted no trouble here, but it paid to be careful. Trust no one; that had been her mantra since coming to this Dimension in pursuit of a new life, one that was close around the corner.

No trouble, but it always paid to have a back up plan.

She picked up the case, along with a tyre iron she’d stowed under her seat, and opened the door. The day was a couple of hours old, so the heat was already bordering on the intense. Shoes on, she got out of the car, smoothing the dress down to her knees and cursing the high heels as she negotiated the lumpy terrain, coming to a halt at the back of the Mustang, placing the case on the trunk.

As the Cadillac’s doors swung open, Katherine let her makeshift weapon hang down, knocking it three times against the Mustang’s fender. The sound of metal on metal was reassuring, ringing out like a bell calling the faithful to prayer.

As she’d expected, the two goons came first. Men more muscle than brains, she knew they wouldn’t be the problem. No; any issues she was going to have would be with the owner of the legs that were now swinging out, spat-covered shoes planting themselves into the dust.

Their owner quickly followed, exiting the car in one fluid motion. He adjusted cuffs and tie as he approached, coming to a halt close enough so their conversation couldn’t be overheard.

“This is a surprise,” he said, lifting his head so the shadow of the hat slid from his face.

Katherine smiled as if she meant it. “It’s good to see you again, Monroe,” she lied.

No mental probe followed the untruth. Her former boss was being unusually respectful.

“You look well,” he said.

He did too, but there was no way she was going to be drawn in. Monroe was good – hell, he’d been one of the best until he’d Gone Native – and was well-versed in extracting information from even a brief conversation.

Katherine patted the briefcase, cutting to the chase. “This is what you want.”

“And Jimmy?”

That regret again, a weight on her shoulders, yet blessedly brief once more. “Do you care?”

Monroe lowered his chin, letting the shadow fall like a veil. He said nothing, but took a couple of steps forward, stretching out his arm. “I’ll take the money, Katherine.”

“I’ll need some guarantees first.”

He sighed, that of a teacher whose prize pupil has proved a disappointment. “Must we?”

“We must.”

“Very well. Take a look.”

Katherine met his gaze, pushing her ability into the void of his pupils, then further back into the mansion of his mind. There were many rooms, but Katherine knew exactly where to go. A door was opened and – in an instant – she saw it all.

The images flooded her mind, but she was adept at controlling them, sorting through them to pick out the most important. It was the reason the owners of the Seers had hired her, but now she was using the talent for herself, making it even easier to sift through and find the nuggets, the how and why of everything leading to this moment.

She saw the child, born a year after Monroe first came here almost three decades ago; the boy who had to be given away for fear he’d be killed or kidnapped by his father’s enemies; the ‘orphan’ who somehow made his way back into the fold – fate’s wheel spinning – although it would be another family that took care of him while his father looked on, knowing the truth could never be told; a young man with a gift who would make his father proud and, ultimately, make him play his own son as a pawn in his ambitious game.

Overwhelmed by it all, Katherine staggered, the tyre iron dropping to the ground. She would have fallen along with it if Monroe hadn’t taken hold of her arms, kept her upright. In that moment of weakness, she let her guard down, and a sliver of his own talent slipped through to dip into her mind. A brief invasion, but enough for him to ascertain the truth.

He could have killed her, right there and then, but all he did was laugh. “Clever girl. I’m pleased some of my lessons stayed with you. Who else knows?”

“Just you and I.”

He let her go, clapping his hands with obvious delight. “Bravo. Very well done, indeed.”

Katherine couldn’t believe it. “You’re pleased? After what I’ve done?”

“My dear, I’m pleased because of what you’ve done.” He leaned forward, whispering with minty breath. “I’m sure you’ll be very happy, but let me make a suggestion.”

He did so, and Katherine found a smile.

“Now, I’ll take what’s mine and be on my way.”

Katherine stepped aside, Monroe striding to the case and clicking it open. “Hmm,” he said, “never looks as much as it does in the movies, does it?”

“What will you do with it?”

“This will have done The Seers some damage, as predicted, and I’m sure they’ll be grateful of the added capital.” He grinned, teeth bright. “It’s a foot in the door, if nothing else.”

“And The Seers has been seen to lose. It’s possible to meet their challenge, so more will try.”

Monroe nodded, clicking the case closed. “It’s a shame to lose you, Katherine. I fear your previous employers wasted your talents somewhat.”

He moved to shake her hand, but the move was impossible due to the bundle of notes in it. “That should be enough to get you started.”

Stunned, she could only take the money and watch him walk away.

Monroe paused at the car door, looking at her over his shoulder. “Let’s be sure both our secrets stay hidden, eh?”

***

It took a few minutes for the Cadillac to drive out of sight, after which Katherine popped the trunk.

“We’re good?” James asked as he clambered out.

“Fifty grand good.” She offered him the bottle of water she’d taken from the glove box.

Katherine watched as he guzzled it all, letting some spill down his chin. Yes, she could see his father in him now, that same bright gleam in the eye.

“So where do we go from here?” he asked.

Katherine linked his arm in hers and they walked to the front of the Mustang. “We find a motel and get better acquainted,” she smiled and kissed him on the cheek. “And after that… I’m told Monte Carlo is good this time of year.”

THE END

Famously Infamous

by Mark Barrett

I’m fucking famous.

You might have heard of me: ‘Punk gets Pummelled’? Over eight million hits on YouTube and counting. Pretty good, huh? Popular, yeah? Not really, because I’m the punk.

You’ll have definitely heard of the other guy: Cole Tenner. Cage fighting champion, king of the ring in Vegas and a fucking action hero at the movies. He did great. But you only might have heard of me.

I’m here in High Desert State Prison doing time. Hard time. And, let me tell you, it is really fucking hard time when you’re famous. Yes, I have been in prison before, but back then I was a nobody, a no mark. Now I’m fucking famous. Everybody wants a piece of you when you’re famous, and a fair few guys have had a piece of me since I got myself back in here.

Bitch Tits. Bettini is his real name, but everyone calls him Bitch Tits. Not to his face. He’s a big, fat Italian fuck who is a big thing in organised crime – and not just physically. You work out the rest. Anyway, Bitch Tits thinks it’s funny to re-enact ‘Punk Gets Pummelled’ pretty much every time that I pass him in the yard. My nose barely gets a chance to heal between fractures. Once I tried to fight back, but that time this punk really got pummelled. Broken ribs, the lot. Now I just settle for the nose.

I wouldn’t care, but hardly anybody knew who I was before Bitch Tits did that, and then encouraged everyone to look it up on the Internet. I mean, the Internet in prison! What the fuck is the world coming too? We’re supposed to be being punished and rehabilitated. For Christ’s sake, some of these dumb fucks are in here because of shit they did on the Internet. There’s even guys with Smart Phones in here. I reckon it took about six minutes for every lag in High Desert to see that YouTube clip, and now they all want a piece of me. Why? Because I’m fucking famous.

And it’s not just beatings. I’ve been raped by at least three guys. I say at least three, because it may have been the same guy more than once. They don’t do it because they’re gay, they just do it for the hell of it, or because they’re bored, or just for fun, or whatever other fucked-up reason that unstable, violent, locked-up guys might have for doing anything. There’s a lot of that sort of thing goes on in here – forced and consensual – and it’s hardly ever because they are gay. On the outside they’d be dead against it, homophobic even. Big, tough, heterosexual men who hate fags. Not Samuel ‘Two-Bricks’ Flores, of course, he’s just right out there, queen of all he surveys. Funny, he doesn’t get any hassle about it from the other guys, but if a perfectly straight guy so much as gives a preference for a brand of shower gel then the others rip him apart. Even the ones who have relations in the cells. Weird that. I’ve never really understood it. I mean, if a guy prefers a guy, then what the hell? Live and let love, that’s what I say. And those that say it’s not natural, how? We’re all animals; we’re all natural: so if some of us fancy the same sex as us, then that’s got to be natural, hasn’t it? I’m not into it, and I haven’t enjoyed being on the receiving end, but I’m not against it.

Even the guards are bastards when you’re fucking famous. They treat you like mock royalty, sarcastic bastards. Ask them for anything and it’s, “oh, can’t you sort that out with your friends in Tinsel Town?” Or they’ll take shit out of your cell saying, “it’s a souvenir to prove that I knew the great Punk who got Pummelled.” Right funny fucks those Bugs are.

So, yes. I’m fucking famous. Famous, and four weeks short of my next parole hearing. I’ve been good. Ridiculously good. Even my spat with Bitch Tits didn’t get written up, so I’m bound to get out. Bound to – I’m fucking famous so they wouldn’t dream of keeping me in.

They should keep me in of course, and would do if they knew what I was thinking. But they don’t. You see, I’ve been considering what got me back in here. I know what you’re thinking: “oh, he blames Aiden Cole and he’s going to go after him.” Well, you’re wrong. I don’t blame Cole Tanner. I don’t even blame StrawDolli44 who posted the YouTube clip. I blame myself. Why the fuck did I’d choose the biggest, fittest bastard on that bus to mug? I know why. Pride. I was trying to prove something. And I did prove something. I proved that I’m a nobody and a no mark. But I had already known that, deep down inside. Maybe that’s why I chose the big bastard, because I wanted to be proven right.

Well, I’ve had a taste of fame now, and I like it. So when I get out I’ve thought of a new way to be famous. I’m going to kill nobodies and no marks like me. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big idea to become a serial killer, with intricate plans and subtle leads to frame other people, or some sort of motif to keep the police interested. No. I’m just going to kill people.

The thing is, I know I’m going to get caught. They always do. But when I get caught, I’ll be famous again – on my own terms. Famous as the aggressor, not the victim. So I’m going to plan nothing. Every day I’m just going to wake up and get on with my own shit. And if I feel like killing somebody that day, I’ll just do it. No planning, no messing, no signature or trail. Just go to a shop, buy a knife, walk out onto the street and stick it in some pathetic looking fucker eighteen or twenty times. Nothing fancy. Either that or strangle a valet in a dark car park. Or pretend to be testing a gun for purchase and blow the shopkeeper’s brains all over the wall. Or any number of simple shit like that.

I’ll get away with it for a while, because they are the sort of random, one-off crimes that the cops struggle with. Yes, they’ll get me eventually, but by then I’ll have racked up enough to be famous again. And every single one that I’ve done will be famous with me.

Four weeks. That’s all. Who knows, after four weeks maybe I’ll bump into you just after I’ve bought my KitchenGuru utility knife and, just like Billy the Kid, I’ll make you fucking famous, too.