Jump to content


Popular Content

Showing content with the highest reputation on 09/18/2016 in all areas

  1. 10 points
    In case you haven't guessed it yet, Renee is still away . If she isn't back soon we might have to send out a search party. Both Cia and I are exhausted with picking up her slack So here is what happened this past week. Monday, we usually would have a story featured in the Featured Story blog. This week, Cia gave us some insight though a review by Aditus on Mikesboy's poetry for NaPoWriMo. This appeared to be a great success as there is 2 pages of comments left for the feature. It is good to see some of our Poets getting the recognition they truly deserve. On Wednesday, Renee shared with us in the Premium Promo, a story by Layla entitled Desolation Angels. We received a excerpt from this interesting story. If you want to read it, make sure to pop by the blog to find out how to get this great story plus many more if you sign up for a Premium Membership. All the details are in the blog. Thursday was a big day for a big announcement. A.J. and The Author Promotion Team announced to the site that Valkyrie was our newest Signature Author!! Valkyrie has amassed a large amount of stories as well as been a frequent contributor on site as an editor, reviewer, and winner of Last Post Wins . Make sure to pop into the blog or her topic in the Signature forum to congratulate this deserving person. Friday, Cia finished the week up by throwing down the gauntlet to see if they were any takers to this weeks Writing Prompts. This week #530 had a first line of "Pull over, I'm going to be sick" . #540 had a tag of The Flood. Lastly Cia feature Sasha Distan's return to the prompts with giving us a glimpse of prompt #526 entitled East-Jesus-Nowhere. Anthology Announcements: ***NOTE: All Deadlines are for submission to the Anthology Proof Team 2016 Fall Anthology: Blindsided / The Forgotten - Due October 28th, 2016 All Pre-2016 Anthology Themes - Due December 14, 2016 2017 Spring Anthology: Jagged Edges / Unintended Consequences - Due April 28th, 2016 Premium Updates: Journey's End by M.A. Church; Book 2 of The Harvest *Premium* Signature Updates: Jabberwocky by CassieQ; Book 3 of Not The Sun Left Without Words by Comicality Leopards Leap by Graeme; Book 3 of The Lilydale Leopards Mental Games by Bill W Mine! by Cia Shelter by Comicality; Book 1 of Shelter Weightless by Cynus; Book 2 of Less is More Promising Updates: Caesura by aditus; Book 2 of The King's Mate Falling Apart by craftingmom Headstall's Reflections by Headstall Morningstar: The Malaise by Headstall One Hundred and Fifty-Five Sonnets by AC Benus; Book 5 of Verse Don't forget.... Read, Write, and Review!
  2. 9 points
    Thought I should mention, the first draft I posted I had Valkyrie winning LBO instead of LPW Then I realized I don't have permission to give away LBO
  3. 6 points
    Have to thank you all again and Adi especially for the review and featuring Napowrimo. Was such a surprise!
  4. 3 points
  5. 2 points
    Emmett is a Canadian polar bear who loves his job, gets on great with his panda room mate, and gets to have excellent sex with his new boyfriend. So when the panda's cousin moves in with them, it shouldn't bother him, but Emmett isn't so much in control of his imagination as he used to be.
  6. 2 points

    From the album: Stuff

    Four new kitties... 'Penguin' on the right
  7. 2 points
  8. 1 point
    Every day after school, young Zack runs home after his last class, hoping to avoid his abusive father's rage and avoid anymore physical and emotional bruises at home. It isn't until he meets a beautiful stranger at school that he begins to wonder whether or not he's worth anything at all. Can he live in one world and fantasize about the other? Or will he have to choose?
  9. 1 point

    From the album: Stuff

    Me at 48
  10. 1 point
    How in the world did I miss this announcement!!!! I know I missed getting on a few days lately, but really, to miss this! So sorry I'm late, good thing for the weekly updates! CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!
  11. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 10 Jason relaxed back into the deck chair, savoring the cool breeze coming off the lake. He had enjoyed his day at the lake: swimming, using the jet ski, hanging out with his friends from senior year, and eating burgers fresh from the grill. It had been the great end to the summer that Alicia, his hostess, had promised. Now, however, as twilight fell, he was getting the urge to leave. It was a good hour and half drive back to his family’s farm, some of it through narrow twisting lanes, and he didn’t want to attempt it when too tired. Besides, the rest of the crew was, by this point, increasingly rowdy and well on their way to being drunk. ‘It’s no fun being the only sober person in a house full of drunk people,' Jason thought as he sipped his second and final beer of the day. In the past, though he wasn’t a big drinker, he would have been at least tipsy by this point, planning to crash in the boys' bunk room on the second floor of the lake house. But things had changed; Jason had come to lay the blame for the debacle with Shane at the end of Spring Quarter solely at the feet of a certain Mr. Jack Daniels, and Jason had vowed to never get out of control on booze again. It had been a difficult vow to keep on some of his social outings, including this one, but for Jason, the feeling of being in control was much more important than the pleasant buzz from cheap beer or whiskey. Besides, today he had a particular reason to make sure he remained firmly in charge of his actions: Thomas McAlpin was at the party, and Thomas McAlpin made him nervous.. Jason’s problem wasn’t that he didn’t like Thomas. Quite the reverse; they weren’t close friends, but Jason had spent some time hanging out with Thomas during his final year at Springfield High. Though Thomas was a year younger, they were both on the football team. And Thomas was something of a local celebrity; hanging out with him was a boost to anyone’s popularity. Besides, he had a sweet ride and plenty of spending money. Thomas was the son of a Senator, a staunch conservative, who was also quite wealthy from long standing family interests in timber, a huge farm, and natural gas deposits. Since his rise from state legislator to national office, Senator McAlpin and his significantly younger second wife spent most of their time in Washington when they weren’t on the campaign fundraising circuit. Thomas was occasionally called upon to perform his duty as perfect son during important events, campaign commercials, and photo ops, but the Senator felt it read better to his constituents for his son to go to public school and live in the district rather than be labeled a spoiled rich kid attending an exclusive boarding school. Senator McAlpin had hired some distant relatives, a couple in their fifties who had no children of their own to look after Thomas and manage the house and grounds. Thomas, naturally charismatic and charming, soon had “Cousin” Betty Jane and “Cousin” Cotton eating out of the palm of his hands. Their lax supervision, combined with his incredibly generous allowance and the fancy sports car he had received for his 16th birthday, meant that Thomas managed to have quite a bit of fun, even if he was stuck in rural north Louisiana. As long as he didn’t get into any real trouble or make the mistake of attracting his dad’s attention, his caretakers cheerfully overlooked his missing of curfews and throwing of frequent parties. As long as his grades remained decent, and his father received word that Thomas was regularly attending church services on Sunday morning and evening, he considered his son was performing his duty. "After all,” Betty Jane and Cotton agreed, “with the way his parents treat him, he’s practically an orphan. He deserves to have a little fun.” Most of the citizens of Springfield agreed. In many ways, Thomas was a poor little rich boy, and though he occasionally ran wild, there didn’t seem to be any real harm in him. He may have been spoiled, but he had a ready smile for everybody and could talk to anyone easily. And he had no problem in sharing his generous allowance with others. In addition, he had a real talent for sports, especially football. Many people were able to overlook the faults of a boy who could score touchdowns. And his father, though respected in the area for his conservative values, wasn’t well liked, so everybody looked the other way when they spotted Thomas getting someone to buy him beer at the liquor store or ignored the rumors that he would sleep with anything on two legs. Besides, most people really thought the last rumor was exaggerated. It was verifiable, as far as verifying something like that could be done, that Thomas had fooled around with something like three quarters of the cheer leading squad. But surely, the rumor that Thomas wouldn’t let a little something like his partner having a dick stop him from having fun was taking things too far. The rumor that Thomas was bi….most people didn’t really buy that. Even after someone bluntly asked him during a drunken game of Truth or Dare: “Are you bi?” “No,” Thomas said proudly, his dark brown eyes twinkling and his grin showing gleaming white against his deep tan. “I’m pansexual….or maybe omnisexual…like Deadpool. I need to Google the difference so I can decide the right term.” That response had, as Thomas had planned, brought a chorus of laughs. Of course, some of the other guys laughing knew that the answer was actually true. Though none would have dared breath a word of it. If Thomas had fooled around with most of the girls on the cheer leading team, he had also played around with a few of the guys on the football team. One of them was Jason. It had only happened a couple of times, and it hadn’t been anything serious. A bit of fumbling in the locker room when the two had been the last players there. A bit of horsing around while drinking beer and star gazing deep in the pastures behind Thomas’s house. Jason had enjoyed it, but Thomas pressed for more, and Jason wasn’t prepared for that. Helping a buddy out with a little jacking off was one thing, but a blow job? That was just too gay. But still, Jason remembered how good Thomas had felt, his lean hard muscles pressed against his own, Thomas’s rough hands so different from the feel of a girl’s... At any rate, their last encounter had been a long time ago, and Jason hadn’t seen Thomas since graduation last spring. Thomas, who himself had graduated this past May, had spent the summer touring Europe with some youth group. Thomas and Jason spoke briefly at the party earlier in the day; Thomas, in his first social appearance in months, had rounds to make and couldn’t talk long. Jason, however, recognized the look of lust in Thomas’s eye when the younger male appraised him. “Wow,” Thomas said in his easy drawl. “You’ve been working out, dude. You look great.” And he put his hand on Thomas’s bicep; just for a moment, but long enough that Jason felt a surge of warmth from the touch, a surge that seemed to connect straight to his groin. He stepped back. “Well,” Jason said. “Not much else to do around here. I’m going to get a Coke.” He hurried away from Thomas, flushed. ‘No more,’ Jason told himself, ‘I’m not doing this again.’ Jason made sure to avoid Thomas the rest of the day, but he would occasionally notice the dark haired boy gazing at him, the same lust in his eyes. Thomas made sure only Jason noticed the looks in his direction. Thomas was too discreet to risk being caught staring by others. He didn’t mind rumors; rumors, even the most salacious kind, can enhance a reputation. Actually being caught ogling another guy; however, that was a horse of a different color. That was social suicide, not mention what would happen if his father found out. Thomas shuddered at that that thought. So, with effort, Thomas controlled himself. But ‘damn,’ he thought to himself when Jason took off his shirt before jumping in the lake, 'that boy looks good. I need to get him alone.’ Now, at twilight, Thomas finally got his opportunity to get Jason alone. He, like Jason, hadn’t been drinking much in order to be as alert as possible, unwilling to miss an opportunity for a little fun by being too buzzed to seize his chance. Thomas believed in seizing chances. “Carpe Diem, mutherfuckers!” was his motto. So when the older chestnut haired boy snagged a beer from an ice chest and headed alone away from the increasingly raucous crowd on the deck to the boat house farther down the shore, Thomas noticed and followed. From earlier visits, Jason knew that off the loft of the boathouse was a balcony, sheltered and out of view of the main house, that had a great view of the lake. He was growing tired and ready to leave, but wanted a brief bit of quiet to savor the lake, enjoy his second beer, and indulge in some quiet thinking before his drive. With a sigh of contentment, Jason eased back into one the chairs on the small balcony and watched the sun slip below the trees just visible on the far side of the lake. There were no other houses nearby, so no signs of civilization spoiled the vista. ‘This is the life,’ thought Jason sipping his beer, lost in thought of the coming fall semester. Jason was so wrapped up in those thoughts that he failed to notice the door opening to his retreat or even hear the soft fall of Thomas’s feet as the black haired boy walked toward him. At Thomas’s soft whisper of greeting, Jason started, spilling most of his beer. “Sorry,” Thomas giggled at Jason’s shocked, wide eyed expression. “I didn’t mean to sneak up on you, I swear.” “Damn, you scared me,” Jason replied, ineffectively wiping at the spilled beer on his shirt with a hand. “Sorry,” Thomas repeated, dropping into the chair next to Jason’s. “It’s no big deal. I was still kind of wet from swimming, and I have a dry t-shirt in the car.” Jason, without thinking, pulled the shirt over his head. He didn’t mind the spill, but he didn’t want to wear something reeking of a beer. When Thomas saw Jason’s naked torso emerging, he involuntarily gasped at the taut, tanned muscles. Hearing the noise and guessing the reason for it, Jason tensed and became wary. “You know,” Jason said, “I should probably get going.” “You’re not crashing here tonight?” asked Thomas, disappointed. “No, I have to work early tomorrow,” Jason said, standing. Thomas stood, too, and before the other boy could move around the chairs, stepped closer to Jason. Thomas pressed his hands to Jason’s hard, muscular chest. “Surely you can stay a little longer,” Thomas whispered. He could feel Jason trembling. Thomas slowly reached one hand lower, toward Jason’s groin. Suddenly, Thomas felt Jason’s hand in an iron grip around his wrist, stopping him from achieving his goal. Jason stepped back, still holding Thomas’s wrist. “Look,” Jason said, “I’m not doing that any more.” “Come on,” Thomas whispered in his deep, soft voice. He didn’t try to pull his arm from Jason’s grip. He stepped back toward Jason, closing the gap between them once more. “You know you liked it. And just think, I’m going to be at Tech this fall, too. We can keep the fun going.” “No,” said Jason firmly, dropping Thomas’s wrist, so he could put both hands on the younger boy’s chest and push him back. “That’s all done.” “Fine,” said Thomas with a pout, flopping back into the deck chair. “Seems a waste though.” Thomas looked so disappointed, that Jason, oddly flattered by the attempted seduction, paused on his way to the door. After all, Thomas was a lot of fun to hang around when he wasn’t being a horndog. Jason walked back over the other chair and sat down. “Look,” Jason said, “I’m done with that, but there’s no reason we can’t still be friends, right?” “Friends with benefits?” Thomas asked hopefully. “No,” Jason laughed at his persistence, “at least not those kinds of benefits.” “Okay,” Thomas said, admitting defeat. ‘Still’, he thought, looking at the other guy, ‘I bet once we get to college I can convince him otherwise.’ They chatted for a bit, Jason answering Thomas's questions about university life. Discussing the dorms and life with roommates, Shane was mentioned. Thomas remembered seeing pictures of him on Jason's Facebook. “What about your cute blond friend? The one you room with. Think he might want a new friend? With benefits?” Thomas was joking, so he was unprepared for the anger that flashed across Jason’s face, visible even in the fading light. “You want to be friends with me, fine. We can be friends. But stay the fuck away from Shane.” Jason snarled. As he spoke, he rose and left, slamming the door behind him. Thomas sat there with a stunned look on his face. ‘What the hell just happened…..oh my god,’ he thought, a smile curving over his face. ‘Jason’s jealous of little blondie. Hmmmmmmm this fall ought to be fun,’ he thought. Thomas pulled out his phone, and quickly located Shane's own Facebook account through Jason's. Shane hadn't posted much this summer, but a quick scan of his photo albums was enough to reassure Thomas that Shane was indeed as cute as he remembered. Furthermore, his posts indicated he was almost certainly a fine, upstanding, young gentleman. And Thomas loved nothing more than corrupting a good little boy, especially one as cute as this. 'Yes, indeed,' Thomas thought as he settled back into his chair and watched the final rays of the dying sun, thinking of himself, Shane, and Jason in various pleasing configurations. 'This fall is going to be something else.'
  12. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 4 Jason sat across from Mr. Pamchenko, who had now donned sunglasses and was looking out of one the side windows. The man was wearing a dark grey suit that Jason, even with his limited knowledge of style and fashion could recognize as custom. There is no way an off the rack suit, no matter how expensive or how carefully altered could fit that lean, broad shouldered physique quite so perfectly. The finely woven suit fabric gleamed slightly in the soft light that filtered through the tinted windows. Jason tried to gauge the other man’s age. At least early 40s, maybe a bit more. Pamchenko’s tanned skin was smooth except for lines around those remarkable lines, but something….maybe it was the silver wings at his temples, maybe just the air of having seen it all hinted that he was older than that. But one thing was certain about Pamchenko; he was unspeaking. As the limo sped smoothly through the New Orleans traffic, Jason felt his own tensions rising as he sat in the silent car. In less than 24 hours, his dull, safe, carefully crafted life had turned into pure melodrama. As much as Jason was happy that he had encountered Shane again, as happy as he was to know that his actions had been forgiven, Jason wished he had never left his home last night, never gone to the damned bar in the first place. He felt guilty about that thought--without Jason’s card in Shane’s pocket, identification would have taken much longer, possibly negatively affecting Shane’s recovery. But still, Jason thought, I wish this was all happening without me. He fidgeted in his seat as the other man sat silently, patiently waiting for their unknown destination. Jason tried to wait him out, to also sit coolly silent, but he finally broke. “Where are we going?” Jason said in a voice that, to his disgust, wavered slightly. The elegant head turned to face Jason. “To Diabolique.” At Jason’s blank look, Pamchenko continued. “It’s one of my restaurants. It doesn’t open for several more hours, so we can talk privately there. In addition, I am in need of nourishment.” With that explanation, Pamchenko turned back to staring out of the window, clearly done with discussion. Jason, now even more uneasy, sighed, settled back into his plush pearl grey leather seat, and worried about the messages undoubtedly blowing up the phone he had left back in his Toyota. After less than a week in his new city, Jason didn’t really know his way around, but as the limo slid smoothly into an exit leading away from the interstate and into a cluster of high rises, he knew they were entering the central business district, also known as the warehouse district for the number of a old warehouses that had been converted into condos, businesses, bars, and restaurants. The limo stopped in front of of these converted warehouses, this one made of ancient, crumbling red brick. Before Jason could move, the driver, a large, very muscular man in a black suit tailored almost as impeccably as the one worn by Mr. Pamchenko, had lept from his seat and was opening the door for his passengers to exit. Pamchenko motioned for Jason to leave first, and the younger man crawled awkwardly out. Once Pamchenko had also exited, the driver moved to the massive black stained door ahead and held it open. Again, the older man motioned for Jason to precede him and murmured a “Thank you, Ramon” as he himself passed his driver. Jason paused inside the dimly light entrance. The walls were of the same ancient brick as the outside, though here they had patches of paint clinging; a large, dark, ornately carved chest sat to the left, topped by an enormous mirror in an elaborate gold leaf frame. The mirror was obviously antique, with the glass itself being watery and pitted. It dimly reflected the mass of white orchids in the large Oriental bowl in front of it as well as the life-size portrait on the opposite wall. Jason noticed the portrait’s reflection and started. No...it couldn't be….he thought. Jason turned to examine it. A full length portrait, almost life size---large enough, with the frame, to take up almost the whole wall. It was a man with dark hair and beard in a long red dressing gown. The scarlet silk of the robe gleamed against the dark background, and the figure was certainly Mephistophelian enough to fit the decor of a restaurant named Diabolique, but that wasn’t what had arrested Jason’s attention. “Is that….” Jason paused, “a John Singer Sargent?” His mind reeled. He knew little of art, but he knew a work by that well known artist would have an astronomical price tag. “Very good,” Pamchenko purred in a surprised voice. “A distressingly few number of patrons have recognized the artist.” “I….I….remember him from Art Appreciation,” Jason stammered, stunned. He looked at Pamchenko again. Who was this guy? An elegant woman walked toward them, the skirt of her black silk dress flowing around her. “Mr. Pamchenko,” she said, smiling and making sure to include Jason in that smile. “We’ve prepared a table for you in the back.” She turned and walked through a quietly elegant dining room toward a narrow hallway that passed to the right of the enormous paneled bar. In a small niche at the end of the passageway, a table sat topped with snowy linen. Though capable of seating more, only two chairs were placed at it. She pulled a seat out for Jason, who sat meekly as she placed a large napkin on his lap. What the fuck was all this? he thought, barely noticing as Pamchenko, now also seated, quietly conferred with the woman in black. Ramon did not join them, but stood back a distance in the hallway. As Jason waited for whatever would happen next, he examined the room in which he sat. The ceiling, covered in patinated gold leaf was a groined vault, and an antique gilded lantern hung from the apex. The plaster walls were covered in a beautiful, highly detailed mural, painted in Venetian style (again Jason thanked his guardian angel that he had paid attention in Art Appreciation and listened to Shane’s endless dorm room discussions about art and artists), depicting masked revellers in 18th century costume frollicing in celebration. Closer examination revealed that the setting was not Venice, but the French Quarter, and that a disturbingly large percentage of the masks seemed to sprout horns and display demonic visages. Pamchenko noticed Jason’s gaze. “Shane painted the mural,” he said, his accent somehow more pronounced when he spoke Shane’s name. “Shane did that? Wow. I mean, I knew he had talent….but I had no idea.” Jason continued to examine the painted figures, now when even more interest. “Sadly, I don’t think even Shane is aware of just how talented he is.” Jason was startled at the warmth in this cold man’s voice as he spoke of the injured man, and he turned his gaze to look at Pamchenko. Before Jason could speak, the woman had returned with a rolling cart. It contained an ice bucket with a bottle of wine, a bottle of mineral water, a decanter of amber liquid, a platter of assorted meats, cheeses, and fruit, a basket of bread, and the necessary dishes etc. In an extraordinarily short span of time, she had efficiently transferred everything to the table and left. “Before we begin,” Pamchenko said, “I need something to quench my thirst.” He reached for the decanter, pouring some of the amber liquid into a cut crystal tumblr. “And you? Bourbon?” Pamchenko motioned with the decanter he still held, “Or would you prefer wine or water?” Jason usually stuck to beer, but not only was he too embarrassed to ask for something so plebian in such a luxurious setting, he felt the need for something stronger. He had the feeling this was going to be, despite the beauty of the environment and the polite manners of his host, an unpleasant experience. “Bourbon,” he said. Jason picked up the heavy crystal tumbler and took a tentative sip of the liquor; unexpectedly its smooth heat warmed and fortified him. Pamchenko motioned toward the platter of food. “Please, help yourself,” he said. Jason wasn’t hungry, but he took a few pieces of cheese. When he tasted it was as delicious as he expected, but it took effort to force himself to continue to chew and swallow. However, he had the distinct feeling that refusing to partake would offend his host, and Jason found himself very reluctant to do that. After Pamchenko himself ate a few morsels, he motioned for Ramon to come into the room. “Now that we’ve refreshed ourselves, Mr. Reid, I think it’s time to talk.” Pamchenko paused before continuing. “This is what I know. I know that Shane left Le Coq at 2:00 am. I know he spoke to you briefly before heading toward Esplanade Ave. and, presumably, his apartment. I know that at approximately 5:20 am he was thrown out of a van onto City Park Avenue.” Pamchenko ignored the gasp that Jason uttered at hearing about the van for the first time. “During those missing hours he was raped and beaten. I want to know by whom and why.” “What….” Jason sputtered, trying to process this new information. Jesus, just when the situation seemed as horrible as it could possibly be, it became even more awful. Jason put down his tumbler and buried his face in his hands for a moment. He raised his head and stared at Pamchenko “What are you saying? They raped him and then threw him out of a van like a dog they didn’t want?” “Yes,” Pamchenko said softly in a terrible voice. Jason shivered at the expression in those ice blue eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” Jason still couldn’t quite comprehend it all. “How could they? How could they do that to Shane?” Sorrow and impotent rage thickened his voice. “Whoever did this…they need to be found…...they need to pay for this…. I want them to suffer. they need to ....” He dashed at the tears welling in his eyes as he trailed off, overwhelmed. “Mr. Reid,” Pamchenko’s voice was cold steel. “You need not concern yourself with that. I can assure you that I will find who did this, and I can further assure you that those responsible will pay. They will suffer; they will suffer very much indeed.” Pamchenko smiled slightly. It was horrifying. Jason shuddered at that smile and the tone those words were spoken in, and a small part of him, a very small part, felt pity for the unknown assailants. “But for now,” Pamchenko continued, “Mr. Reid, I need to know if you can shed anymore light upon the events of last evening.” And with the ice blue eyes searching the hazel ones across the table, Pamchenko began his interrogation of Jason. In later years, Jason was never able to think of the following hours without a sense of dread. The fear that clutched his heart and turned his bowels watery as that frightening creature of ebony and ice asked him question after question about last night, about his movements, about what he had witnessed,. And all the time Pamchenko’s blue eyes were searching Jason’s own eyes, searching Jason’s face, searching Jason’s very being for any deviation in his story, for any slip up, for any hint that he could somehow be involved in Shane’s abduction. And if Jason’s attention slipped from Pamchenko even for a second, it was only to focus on the large form of Ramon blocking the only exit from the space. After an eternity, though, Pamchenko seemed satisfied of Jason’s innocence. Jason sat slumped and shivering, sipping his whiskey, watching Pamchenko talking in low tones to Ramon, who nodded and left the room. As he left, the large man closed the portieres that turned the alcove into an entirely private room. “More?” Pamchenko asked Jason, indicating the decanter of bourbon. Jason hesitated, but nodded in the affirmative, hoping the liquor would help calm him. “Thank you,” Pamchenko continued, “for your cooperation. Shane is…” here the man hesitated, “....very special to me, and while I doubted you were involved, I wanted to assure myself of that. I am always very suspicious of coincidence.” Jason sat silently, still terrified, watching the man across the table like a mouse watching a cat. “So now that business is taken care of,” Pamchenko said, pouring himself a second glass of bourbon, “I have one more question. What are your intentions toward Shane?” “What….what…” Jason stared, even more confused. “What do you mean my intentions?” “Well, I know your name, Jason Elliot Reid of 3865 Lafreniere Ave. I know that you graduated with a 3.3 average from Louisiana Tech University this spring and accepted a job at Turner Construction Corp. that begins in 12 weeks. I know that even though you apparently frequent gay bars, you have a fiancee, a Miss Denise Patterson, who is working on her Master's degree in Elementary Education at LSU.” Jason stared dumbfounded, his drink forgotten, as the other man recited these facts. “I know that you first met Shane your sophomore year of high school when your parents Theodore and Barbara Reid moved to Holly Grove, Louisiana. I know that you and Shane roomed together your freshman year of college. I know that Shane tried to commit suicide after you publicly outed him.” The pale eyes bored into Jason. “But what I don’t know, yet, is why after 4 years you are now trying to return to Shane’s life. I don’t know why after 4 years, you had this sudden urge to apologize. I don’t know why, after 4 years of ignoring Shane’s existence, you are so anxious to visit him in the hospital.” Again, Pamchenko smiled that horrifying smile. “But you will tell me why, won’t you?”
  13. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 2 After Shane left, Jason stood there for a bit, shell shocked. The kiss had been brief, just the merest press of Shane’s lips to Jason, yet his world had been shaken. He had kissed Shane once before, but had forced himself to forget how perfect it had felt. He couldn't do that again. This time he knew he wouldn't be able to repress his feelings for the other man. Jason knew that if he had even the slightest chance of making Shane some part of his life, on what ever terms Shane agreed to, he would have to take it. And Jason knew that it would mean the end to the status quo, to the carefully and painfully built facade he had created over many years. He also knew that there was no way to carry on the same as before, especially with Denise. Jason turned back toward the bar, deciding on one more drink. There was no way he could sleep, and his empty, box littered apartment held no charms for him. He ordered another beer from the same bartender who asked if he had managed to talk to Shane. Jason, not wanting to talk about their conversation, answered brusquely in the affirmative, quickly paid his tab, and took his beer to a quiet corner to mull over the problem of Denise. He knew he didn’t love her, but he had managed to avoid thinking about that, focusing on the positives. They were good together on paper, he knew. She was the sister of his best friend, Brad, a fellow engineering student. They had become roommates after Shane had left the dorm, and Brad had gradually penetrated the shell Jason built around himself after the disastrous end to his friendship with Shane. Jason had never returned to being the carefree guy he had been before, but Brad had been able to occasionally coax him out of their room or the library for some fun. Brad had taken Jason home with him for a summer weekend, where he had met Denise, who was home from the out of state college she attended. She was blond and pretty and uncomplicated, and had clearly taken a fancy to him. Before Jason really knew it, he was spending lots of weekends at home with Brad, taking Denise on double dates with Brad and his high school sweetheart who still lived in their hometown. Jason liked her well enough, and it just seemed the easiest thing to go along with it. The last thing he wanted was complications; life had gotten too complicated once before, ending in disaster, and he wanted to avoid that again. Besides, their dating made so many people happy---Brad, Denise, Jason’s parents, everybody it seemed. And if he weren’t so happy, what did it really matter? So they continued date. And one day, Jason realized that everyone, including Denise was expecting a proposal. He knew he wanted a normal life, a wife and kids and a good job...the whole cliched American Dream. Why not her? His parents were thrilled with her; Denise was a good, wholesome girl, an education major. She was quite religious, raised by strict parents, and Jason was secretly relieved that she insisted on saving sex for after marriage. It just made things easier. Besides, it all seemed so far away, since she wanted to wait until after she completed her education, including a Masters’ degree, before getting married. He hadn’t cheated on her; Jason took his engagement seriously, and except for the two trips to the gay bars, he hadn’t done anything with a guy since a bit of fooling around his senior year of high school. He had slept with a few girls in high school and had dated a bit in his first year or so of college, but it had never been particularly fulfilling. So in the past few years, he had chosen celibacy except for the occasional make out sessions with Denise, and she insisted on a “no hands below the waist” rule. Sometimes he worried about his sexual performance after marriage, but always managed to put those thoughts away, reminding himself that it was still a long way away. But now, thinking of Shane's kiss, he couldn’t put them away. Because that quick kiss had sent shivers down his spine. That quick kiss had made him realize what he had been missing, what he had never had with Denise, with any girl, with anyone else but Shane. That quick kiss made him want more. It made him want Shane, but Jason, being honest with himself for once, wasn’t sure if he was willing to pay the price of pursuing a relationship with Shane (assuming, and Jason realized it was a very big assumption, Shane was willing to agree to try). Still restless after the beer, and unwilling to go home even though it was very, very late, almost 3am, Jason realized he hadn’t eaten since lunch. He had been too nervous about his trip to Le Coq (stupid name for a bar, he thought) to eat dinner, and he hoped that putting some food in his stomach might help him. He Googled late night restaurants, and settled on a diner on Bourbon, the Clover Grill. At the time of the morning, the place was almost empty. An endless cup of hot coffee and a burger did help his mood a bit, but even after hours in the brightly diner, sipping on coffee and listening to the increasingly random jukebox selections, Jason was still confused about everything. What he wanted, what he was willing to risk, what he was willing to do. Around 6am, about the time exhaustion was starting to set in and he was planning to call a cab to take him home, Jason’s phone rang. It was a local number, but one he didn’t recognize. It must be Shane he thought, a bit surprised. Jason had been hoping to hear from his former friend, but certainly not this soon. He hesitated before answering, uncertain, confused thoughts twirling through his mind, but in the end, Jason couldn’t risk Shane’s feeling rejected if he didn’t get an answer. “Hello,” he said, uncertainly. “Is this Jason Reid?” an unfamiliar female voice asked. “Yes. Who’s this?” “I’m with the Lakeside Hospital. A patient with no I.D. has been brought in, but we found a card with your name and number in his pocket. Is there any chance you might be able to identify him?” A sick feeling rolled through Jason, and the bottom dropped out his stomach. It was with great difficulty that he managed to not throw up. “Oh my God,” he said. “Does he have red hair and a beard? And a big tattoo on his right arm?” The woman on the other end paused, and Jason heard a sound like rustling paper. “Please be a mistake,” he kept whispering to himself, “Please be a mistake….” “Yes,” she said. “That matches the description of the patient.” “I’ll be right there. What’s the address?” Jason paid his bill, cursing the time it took to run his card, but while the server was finishing the transaction, the short order cook was calling a cab for Jason. In what seemed like hours, but was only a few minutes, Jason was on his way to the hospital. Awful thoughts were running through his head; he had been so stunned that he hadn’t asked why Shane was taken to the hospital, or even if he was still alive. Worst case scenarios kept running through his mind, and he gritted his teeth at every red light and stop sign. When they finally made it to the hospital entrance, Jason threw a wad of cash at the driver with barely a glance and ran inside. Once inside, he found admittance and the woman who had called. “Is he okay? The guy you brought in. Is he okay?” he yelled. “Sir, calm down. I know you’re upset, but you need to calm down.” With every ounce of effort he possessed, Jason willed himself to breathe deeply and focus. “I’m sorry. Is he okay?” he said. “Are you a family member?” she asked. “No. I’m……” he paused, “a friend.” “I’m really sorry,” her face reflected that she was speaking the truth, “I can’t discuss his case with you since you’re not related. But…” she quickly added seeing Jason’s fallen face, “but he is still alive. He’s in ICU. He's in a coma. He….” here she lowered her voice, and looked around as if to make sure no one could hear her, “was attacked...beaten. They think he will make it.” “Jesus.” Jason lowered his face to his hands. “Sir,” the gentle voice came again. “I want to help him. I need you to give me his name and information please.” Jason looked up. “Of course. Sorry. His name is Shane. Shane O’Neal. With an “ea”” he added. “Next of kin?” “His mother died when he was in high school. His grandmother, too.” The woman looked up, with a questioning look. “Car accident,” Jason said. “His other grandparents died before he was born. No siblings, and I think his parents were only children too. I don’t remember him mentioning any aunts or uncles. He had a couple of older cousins. Third cousins I think.” “That’s a shame,” she said. “Father? Is he still alive?” "Ummm…..I actually don’t know. He has to be in his late sixties. He was in his 40s when Shane was born. Last I knew of him was 4 years ago. He had a farm up in North Louisiana. Carroll Parish. I think his first name was Joseph. I know he remarried.” “Well, at least we have something to go on. We’ll try to contact Mr. O’Neal or his wife.” “Birth date?” “November 29…” he thought for a moment, “1991.” The questions continued, and he answered as many as he could, which was a distressingly small amount. Just as he was finishing, two men walked over to him. One was in his early 30s, about 6 feet tall, not fat, but with a bit of a belly. He was cleanly shaven with dark hair in a neat, conservative cut. His partner was older, Hispanic, approximately the same size, but with longer, shaggy black hair and a goatee. “Mr. Reid?” the Latino asked. “Yes.” “I’m Detective Rodriguez and this is Detective Venturi. Are you finished here? We need to ask you some questions.” Jason looked at the admissions nurse, who indicated they were done. Feeling surreal, as if he had wandered into an episode of Law and Order, Jason followed the two detectives into a small room. “We understand that you are the name on the card found in the victim’s pocket. Is that right?” asked Venturi. “Yes.” “Do you know how he got your card?” Venturi continued, as Rodriguez made notes. “I gave it to him.” “What is the victim’s name?” “Shane O’Neal. With an “ea” not “ei”.” “Thanks. Do you know his address?” “No.” “How do you know the victim?” It was starting to annoy Jason that they kept calling Shane “the victim.” “Shane,” he emphasized the name, “and I were friends in high school and roomed together in college for a while.” “When was the last time you saw him?” “Tonight.” The detectives exchanged looks. “What time?” Rodriquez interjected. “I first saw him around midnight, then I actually talked to him after his shift around 2am. Look,” Jason interrupted. “What happened to him. The nurse just told me he got beaten. What happened? How bad is it?” “Hey kid, I know you’re upset,” Venturi said while Rodriguez gave him a dark look. “But what we’re trying to do is find out what did happen. I can tell you,” he continued as Rodriguez turned his glare to his partner, “he was beat up, and really bad. He’s still unconscious, which is why we’re talking to you instead of him. So, to get back to it,” Venturi paused and looked at the notebook in his partner’s hand. You said something about a shift. You saw him at work, then? Where?” Jason, paused, squirming. The last thing he wanted to do was talk to these two about a gay bar. After a moment, while the detectives looked at him expectantly he sighed, and said. “He was dancing at Le Coq. That’s where I saw him. After he finished, I talked to him for maybe 5 minutes right outside. Then he walked off down the street. Toward Esplanade.” “Le Coq? On Burgundy, right?” Jason nodded. “Anyone see this conversation?” Venturi continued. “There was doorman taking covers. I’m pretty sure he saw us. Anyway, after Shane left I went back in and ordered another beer.” :”Would the bartender remember you?” Shit, Jason realized in horror. They think I’m a fucking suspect. Jesus Christ, could this get any worse? “I think so. We talked for a bit.” “How did you pay?” “Credit card. Wait a minute,” Jason dug in his pants, pulling out the receipt. He handed it to Venturi, who examined it carefully before passing it to Rodriguez who also examined it, and made some careful notations. “I recommend you kept hold of that,” Rodriguez said, passing it back to Jason. “Is that what you were wearing when you saw the victim at Le Coq?” “Yes.” “Do you think the bartender will remember it?” Jason looked down. He was wearing a button up shirt with the sleeves rolled up and khaki cargo shorts. Hardly a memorable outfit. He shrugged in answer. “Before tonight, when was the last time you saw the victim?” Venturi asked. “Shane,” Jason said. “His name is Shane.” Again, an exchanged look and a notation. “Before tonight, when was the last time you saw Shane?” Venturi, repeated the question emphasizing the name. “4 years ago.” Jason caught a look of surprise from Venturi. “We had a…..” he paused and thought carefully before finishing “falling out at the end of fall quarter our sophomore year. Shane ended up dropping out that spring and just left. I didn’t know how to reach him.” “Did you go to Le Coq to find him?” Rodriguez asked. “NO!” Jason said, far too loud. He collected himself and continued. “No, like I said, I haven’t seen him in four years. I didn’t even know he lived in New Orleans. I just moved here a few days ago. Last night, I just decided to go out. I don’t really know why I went to Le Coq, I just ended up there. I was really surprised to see him.” Rodriguez gave him a little smirk as if to let Jason know that the Detective knew exactly why people like Jason went to that particular bar. Jason tried to ignore him. “When did you leave Le Coq?” "About 3.” “Where did you go after?” “I was hungry, so I went to Clover Grill.” “ How long did you stay there?” “I was actually there when the hospital called me.” Again, the detectives exchanged looks. Venturi spoke. “You stayed there for almost three hours? Why?” “I had a lot of my mind. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep, and I didn’t want to go home.” “Do you think the staff will remember you?” “Yeah. Of course. They calmed me down. I was freaking out when the call came about Shane. The cook even called the cab for me.” “Do you have a receipt?” This time Jason, didn’t answer, just automatically dug for the receipt. Again it was examined, and Rodriguez made notations. “You took a cab here? Do you remember which company?” Venturi asked. “United, I think. The guy at Clover will know. He told me it’s the one he uses.” “Can I see your hands,” Rodriguez asked. Jason shot him a puzzled look, but stretched his hands out toward the detective, who carefully examined them, turning them over, before making more notes. “Look, kid,” Rodriguez, said, finally closing his notebook and looking at Venturi, who nodded at his partner, “We’ll have to check this all out, but there ain’t a snowball’s chance in hell you’re our perp. Whoever it was beat that kid,” apparently anyone under 30 qualified as a kid, Jason thought, “worked him over pretty bad. Ain’t no way he didn’t get blood on himself and came away without bruising his own knuckles pretty bad. Still,” here he dug in a pocket and produced a card, “keep in touch, especially if you decide to head out of town. Or if you remember anything that you think might help.” They got up to leave. With the relief of knowing he wasn’t a suspect, Jason relaxed. Suddenly, something occurred to him. “Wait,” he said. The pair of older men stopped and turned, looking at him with surprise. “I don’t know if this means anything or not, but something did happen a little weird at the bar.” Rodriguez retrieved the notebook, flipped it open and said, “Shoot.” “Well, when Shane was leaving the floor to change, some guy grabbed him. I was too far away to hear what he said, but whatever it was, it pissed off Shane. He hit the guy, then one of the bouncers hustled him out.” “Probably nothing,” Venturi said, “but still…..What did the guy look like?” “I didn’t get a good look at him. I only saw him from behind. He was taller than Shane by a couple of inches…..I remember him leaning down to whisper in his ear.” Jason closed his eyes trying to concentrate. “He was white. About average weight. Not too big, not skinny. He had a cap on, but he had brown hair…..sorry that’s all I remember.” “Do you remember which bouncer?” “Bald. Big black beard. Lots of tattoos. Kind of scary looking.” The detectives looked at each other. “Barry,” they both said at the same time and laughed. They saw Jason’s surprise, and Rodriguez explained, “In this line of work, you eventually learn all the bouncers. That’s where a lot of the good info is. Anyway, kid, sorry about your friend.” He looked Jason in the eye, and Venturi put his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I promise you we will do our best to find the creep who did this.” After they left, Jason found the admittance nurse and tried to find out more about Shane. “I really don’t know anything,” she said. “Look,” she paused and pulled up a schedule on her computer. “ICU visiting hours start tomorrow at 1. My friend Laurie is working then. I’ll let her know to look for you. Maybe she can tell you something.” Jason started to protest, but she stopped him. “Look, honey, quite frankly you look like shit. There is nothing more you can do for your friend right now. Go home, get some sleep, and come back at one. That’s an order.” Recognizing the wisdom, in her words, Jason left. A quick Google search later, he was in a cab headed toward his apartment. It was almost 8am. Reaching home, he took a quick shower, remembering to turn on his alarm clock and to turn off his phone before falling into bed to catch a few hours of sleep. At 12:00, the alarm blared, startling him. He ruefully remembered how hard it had been to train himself to wake to one after having gotten used to Shane’s shaking him awake every morning. Thinking of Shane brought back the memory of all that had happened, and he was in a somber mood as he made coffee and a sandwich before heading back to the hospital. When he reached the car, he remembered he had turned his phone off earlier, and wasn’t surprised to see a flurry of texts and missed calls from Denise. She usually called him a couple of times a day and didn’t like it when he was out of pocket. He thought about ignoring her, but realized that would only make it worse when she finally got in touch with her. Oh God, he thought as he dialed her, if this is bad, how bad is breaking up with her going to be? She answered immediately. “I’ve been trying to get you all morning. Where were you? Why was your phone off?” “I turned it off to get some sleep. I was up all night and had to go the hospital first thing this afternoon.” “Hospital? Oh my goodness, are you alright? Do I need to come down? Oh my goodness.” Jesus he thought, Jason, you really are stupid. Why did you mention the hospital? He said, “Calm down it wasn’t me. One of my friends got attacked in the French Quarter, and he had my card in his pocket. He’s….,” Jason swallowed hard thinking about Shane, “he was unconscious and didn’t have I.D., so the hospital called me.” “You had me so worried. I’m sorry about your friend, but thank goodness it wasn’t you.” They spoke for a minute about various things, but before Jason could get of the phone, she said, “What friend was it? I didn’t think you knew anybody in New Orleans.” Briefly, Jason thought about lying, but he was tired of lying, and too tired, period, to come up with a story on the spur of the moment. “It was Shane. My roommate before Brad. I happened to run into him the French Quarter.” “Shane?” Denise said, “The gay guy? Well, in that case I can’t say I’m surprised he got beaten up. You know those people and their lifestyle. I’m surprised he’s still alive; I assumed he had already gotten AIDS. At any rate he’s not your concern.” Jason was stunned. He knew Denise and her family were deeply religious and conservative, and he quite frankly knew they held a dim view of gays. He had certainly avoided the topics of gay rights and same sex marriage around them, but he was still taken aback by her vitriol. “Denise,” he said, trying to keep his tone even, “whether or not Shane is gay, he was, and is, a friend, and deserves some compassion.” “I didn’t make the rules,” she said, “God did. ‘The wages of sin are death.’” He snapped. “Do you even hear yourself? My friend,” he emphasized the word friend. “is in a fucking coma after being fucking beaten, almost to death. And you can’t find any compassion for him? And you call yourself a Christian. Are you fucking kidding me?” “You do not talk to me that way. Do you understand me?” she screamed. “It’s not my fault some queer’s choices caught up to him. I will not allow that kind of….” Jason cut her off. “Go fuck yourself,” he said, hitting the end button. Almost immediately the phone rang, but he quickly turned it off and flung it into the passenger seat.
  14. 1 point
    Saturday, 31 August 2013 - continued “Why? What did I do?” “Nothing bad, CJ. Trust me, it’s all good. Tom’s kinda emotional right now, mates. Just wanted to warn you. He had a friendly e-mail from his ex-wife. She mentioned Tom’s parents returned to Boston early this morning, and quickly organized a family meeting. They complained about not being allowed to visit their son, who they thought was dying, by some snot-nosed little fag. She said if a teenager was able to stand up to Frank Kennedy, maybe it was time she and her sons did the same. She asked Tom to e-mail her when he was up to talking on the phone. He did so immediately. He’s waiting for a call from her, countin’ on a miracle.” “STOP TALKING ABOUT ME, I CAN HEAR YOU…” Tom Kennedy’s booming voice startled CJ, his dads, and JP. “Bloody hell, I thought he’d dozed off. Come on, mates, let’s get in there and talk about him in front of him.” JP led them inside the room with a big smile on his face; his husband screaming at them was a good sign. The cop must be feeling better. “Hi, Uncle Tom. You doing okay?” The detective spread his arms out, motioning for CJ to come to him. “I will be as soon as you get your skinny ass over here and give me a hug.” “Skinny ass? Hell if that boy’s skinny. You should see how much our grocery bill has risen since―ouch! What you spank my butt for?” Brett asked, surprised by his husband’s move. “Stop bitching about the food bill, Jarhead.” César’s reply was accompanied by another slap to the marine’s ass. “You eat just as much as the kid does.” “If the two of you can’t afford to feed him, send him over to us. JP and I would be happy to have him.” “Hello… can we stop talking about me as if I wasn’t here? Why do y’all keep doing this with me?” “Listen, CJ. I wanted to tell you if you’re a snot-nosed little fag, like my father called you, I sincerely hope my kids turn out to be the same. I am so proud of you, I don’t really have the words to express it.” There was a tenderness in the detective’s voice which spoke of a deep affection for the boy; moistness was noticeable in his eyes. “I’ve seen you deal with rejection by part of your family, and bounce back stronger and more determined to be your own man. You’ve adapted to a new environment, and become an integral part of a group of older men who all respect you.” CJ fidgeted, he seemed unable to focus his gaze on anyone or anything. His fathers sat smiling, nodding their heads in assent. Clearly, they were glad someone other than them was acknowledging the type of man their son was turning out to be. “You came to the aid of a stranger, a young man being picked on. You tried to reason with the bully, and ended up having to defend yourself when he attacked you. In the process of trashing that asshole, you showed everyone being gay doesn’t give anyone the right to walk all over us. That many of us are able, and willing, to defend ourselves. You’ve impressed politicians, military officers, and world famous athletes. I heard how you stood up for me last night.” “But I did nothing, Uncle Tom.” The boy was blushing, gazing at his hand being held by the detective, still avoiding looking at anyone. “Bullshit! I was told in great detail how you stood up for me in a respectful way, until once again you were threatened. And then, without violence, you beat down a self-righteous Catholic priest. And if that wasn’t enough, you put a couple of old, bigoted idiots, who don’t know the first thing about love or respect for others, in their place.” The injured man held CJ’s hand in his own a little tighter; the gentle squeezing motions visible to all in the room. “You did the right thing not allowing my parents near me. Them leaving after finding out I wasn’t going to die, is proof they had no real concern for me. I am so glad you’ve come into our lives. I look forward to having you as my friend for many years to come. I love you, son.” Sunday, 1 September 2013 “You did good, CJ. Dontcha worry, Bubba, I ain’t going to embarrass your ass again. But sheeet, I ain’t never seen Tommy John get so fucking emotional. When I walked back in the room it was like… I don’t know what the hell it was! ” After a light breakfast at home, and a short two mile jog with his dads, CJ sat next to Dr. Matt Calhoun at Farmers Fisher Bakers, on the Georgetown Waterfront. The teen and his two dads, having no plans for the day other than visiting their friends at the hospital, had called Doc and asked him to join them for brunch. They’d walked to the restaurant, stopping by Doc’s place on the way, to pick him up. “Thanks, Uncle Matt, but can we please talk about something else?” The late summer day didn’t carry with it the oppressive heat and humidity which had plagued the previous three months. Walking around didn’t leave one sweaty and sticky. Autumn was on the way and CJ looked forward to seeing the leaves change color. It would be the first time experiencing a real change in seasons since he had returned to the United States from Germany. “I have an idea for a different conversation topic.” Brett nudged CJ in the ribs, getting his son’s attention. “Let’s tell Doc about our lunchtime chat yesterday. You know, about you getting a tattoo, and about being distracted by your spotter at the gym.” The four men were sitting outdoors, enjoying the weather, with a great view of the Potomac River flowing on the other side of the concrete dock. They were all dressed alike: deck shoes or sneakers, shorts and polo shirts for the adults, a t-shirt for CJ. This one was dark teal; ‘carhartt’ was written across the chest in white, followed by the company logo in light orange. “Shut up, Papa. Don’t you dare!” “I swear, Doc, I think my fifteen-year-old son is more mature than my husband the Marine Corps Captain!” César shook his head; a look of resigned suffering accompanied the gesture. “I’ll let that one pass for now, CJ. But I want details later on. How’s this for a different conversation? Hell if I ain’t had a call from Cristina Pereira yesterday night.” “Chip’s daughter? You shitting me!” Brett had been fooling around with CJ, poking each other, giggling, acting as if they were little kids. At Doc’s comment his head snapped up, surprise on his face. “I sure as hell ain’t, Jarhead.” It was César, not CJ this time, who brought the conversation around to the meal. “You guys wanna get some food before we hear about the call? And I’m ready for an adult beverage.” “Yeah, Dad, let’s go get food. I’m starving.” From having previously eaten at the restaurant, CJ knew their brunch layout was great―one of the best he’d experienced in DC. Reading up on the place, he’d learned it was owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union. It used lots of fresh seasonal ingredients, and the sustainability practices had earned it a certification as a green restaurant. Plus, he thought it looked real cool. Doc and César loaded their plates with grilled vegetables, scrambled egg whites, and yogurt topped with granola. Brett went for the pork tacos, the guacamole, and the sushi being passed around by servers. CJ piled up two plates: breakfast jambalaya, ham, bacon, french toast, cheesy grits, and before he was done eating, he’d also accepted Eggs Benedict from the traveling trays. “So, the girl tells me Chip called her and her brother this last Friday, and asked them to join him for lunch on Saturday. Neither was aware of the break-up, or that their father had accepted a transfer to a PNC branch in Tampa.” “WHAT? He left Washington without saying a word to anyone?” César asked, staring at Doc. CJ and Brett were both too busy eating. “Y’all ain’t even heard the best part yet. While eating, his son asked why we’d broken up, and Chip admitted to cheating on me. Seems Chipper didn’t cozy up to that very well. According to his sister: he stood up, loudly told his dad he was an asshole, walked to the curb, and jumped in a cab headed home. What’s up with all these teenagers being so self-righteous? Here I thought they had no maturity, their brains having been fried extra crispy by silly reality TV shows and video games.” “Hey, watch it, Uncle Matt. How old is this Chipper guy anyway?” CJ had to swallow a large piece of his french toast, washing it down with a sip from his glass of milk, before being able to speak. “Same as you, Bubba. And I was just messing with you ‘bout the fried brains. Cristina is a bit older. She’s eighteen and about to start her freshman year at NYU. She asked me to let her know next time I went up to the city. Said both she and her brother wanted to see me and spend some time with me.” “Damn, Doc, I don’t know what to say. Maybe the kids turned out okay in spite of any defective paternal genetic material which may have been passed to them at conception.” César looked at CJ and winked at him before finishing his comment. “It happens, you know? Look at CJ, he takes after my side of the family. Sounds as if they want to maintain some sort of relationship with you.” “Wait a minute here, Dad. Did you just brag about yourself? And did you just call Chip a… a jerk? Using all kinds of fancy words? You can’t talk in code around me anymore, old man.” CJ decided to say jerk instead of asshole. There was a young girl at the table next to theirs, paying close attention to everything he did and said. “Also, didn’t Uncle Tommy tell me he had a son my age? And now I find out Chip does too? Damn, I’d love to meet those two guys. Just imagine how much fun y’all would have with the three of us around you all the time!” “May the force be with us. Unfortunately, none of us have ever met Potus’ kids―they live in Boston. There may be a better chance to meet Chipper. It sounds like he likes Doc here better than he does his own father.” Brett pushed his plate slightly away from him, folded his napkin and placed it on the table, before leaning back in his chair, contentment written on his face. “Guys, let’s plan a trip up soon.” César was aware CJ had not traveled much outside Florida; he was interested in showing his son other parts of the country. “The four of us can head up for a weekend, I know there’s plenty of room at the apartment. We can catch a show, do a little shopping, and maybe sightsee some too. That was good food. I don’t know where you put it all, Brett. CJ we already know has a hollow leg.” “What have I told you about your lame jokes, Dad? Anyway, I’ve never been to New York. I’d love to go. And I’ve never seen this apartment you guys have been talking about all summer long.” CJ was excited about the possibility of traveling up to the big city. “Columbus Day weekend I’ll be in Chicago visiting the family, so we can’t go then. And Thanksgiving we’ll be in Miami. How about Veterans Day? Christmas? Maybe January? I haven't seen snow in a while either.” “That could be a fun time, let’s talk about it later. And I’d love to see Sean again if it’s ok with you, Doc. I ended up liking the man.” “That’d be fine with me, Emperor. He and I still need to talk, I may head up on my own for a couple of days in the next few weeks.” Feeling lazy after their meal, the guys hailed a taxi for the ride over to George Washington University Hospital. ● ● ● They popped into the Tomassi room, surprising Adriano and the twins. The kids immediately swarmed over CJ, insisting on showing him their drawings. Doc checked Adrian’s monitor readouts, did a quick exam, and promised he’d be going home the next day. The twins had returned to their house with their grandparents the previous evening. They were back at the hospital soon after finishing breakfast; they wanted to be with their dad. The death of their mother had not yet entirely registered in their young minds. Adriano explained to them that God wanted their mommy to do some special work, so she’d gone up to heaven to help him. Part of her new job would be to watch over the three of them, since she would no longer be living at their house. Quiet sobs were soon followed by desolate crying, with plenty of tears also being shed by the father. The children repeated over and over they didn’t want their mommy to go away. After tiring themselves out, they dozed off in their father’s bed. Adriano prayed the explanation would hold for a bit. He knew it wouldn’t be long, before they had to discuss their mother’s absence again. “Hey, Mom, would you and Dad please take the twins for a little walk? I’d like ten minutes alone with these guys.” “Come on, kids, let’s go check out the rest of the floor while our dads have a grown-up talk.” CJ picked up Emmanuel, ready to step outside with the little ones. “Please stay, CJ. You should be part of this conversation. You kids be good for Nana and Popo, okay?” “’Kay, Daddy.” Both kids said, as each held onto a grandparent while leaving the room. “Guys, Danno came by last night, and we spent some time discussing my future. I know my parents will try to convince me otherwise, but I’d like to stay in DC, if possible. I’ll continue to receive my salary for the next thirty days. Short term disability insurance will kick in and take care of most of our needs. I have plenty of savings to cover any shortage, so we’ll be fine.” “Sounds like you’ll be okay, Adriano.” “I think so, Brett. There’ll eventually be auto and life insurance payouts from the accidents, which should provide a good amount of money, most of which I plan to put aside for the kids’ future. When King was here yesterday, he told me the trucking company will most likely jump through hoops to keep me from suing. Their insurance company will probably offer me some sort of settlement, since their driver was clearly at fault. I asked him to represent me when that comes up. I don’t wanna deal with those people.” “That’s a smart move on your part. I’ve had clients in situations similar to yours, the other side often tries to get you to sign off on something right away, while your mind is on other things. King can be your attorney and handle the legal side. I’d be happy to serve as your accountant. If you need any financial advice you let me know.” “I’ll definitely need help handling the money; you’ll be hearing from me. Financially, we’ll be comfortable, if not better off than before. But the money won’t make the pain go away. I’m bottling up a lot of emotions right now because of the kids. I know I’ll have to deal with the loss, sooner or later, but it’ll have to wait. The twins are my priority now more than ever.” “You have family and a group of friends who’ll stand by you, and offer a hand whenever you need help. All you have to do is ask. Brett, CJ, and I will be expecting you to do so.” “That’s true, with people like you and Brett around, I think I can get through this. I want to express my gratitude to the three of you for your generous offer. The boss passed along your message. I’m not really sure I know how to thank you.” “You just did, wouldn’t you say so, Jarhead?” “Yup. Just remember: we have the resources, we consider you family, if anything comes up, even if it’s on a temporary basis, you give us a call.” ● ● ● “Good afternoon, Detective. How are you feeling today?” The cheerful greeting was uttered by Doc as he strolled into Tom Kennedy’s hospital room, closely followed by César, Brett, and CJ. “And a good afternoon to you too, Dr. Calhoun. What’s up with the formality, Doc? New bedside manner? You gonna start being nice to your patients now? Hey, guys.” A light and airy tone with an undercurrent of happiness in the cop’s voice, was quite a change from the sluggish, sometimes slurred speech heard the previous day. “Fuck you, copper. My bedside manner’s just fine. How the heck are you, Bubba?” Doc pulled a pair of glasses from the pocket of his white lab coat, and looked at the clear bag hanging by his friend’s bedside, connected to his arm by a fine plastic tube. “Feeling great, Doc. Fit as a fiddle. That’s for a man with a giant bruise on the chest, and a plugged hole in the leg.” “Any headaches, or pain?” “Nope, neither. But from what I understand that bag you were just looking at has been carrying some happy juice.” “Yeah, that it has. But each time the bag has been changed, the amount of painkiller has been reduced. Right now it’s just enough to take the edge off, and it’ll be completely gone by tonight. If you’re pain free in the morning, and you remain that way for twenty-four hours, you get to go home on Tuesday, Wednesday at the latest. There’s no sign of infection in the area of the wound, that’s always a concern after surgery. But you have to be honest, Bubba. If you get even the slightest headache you have to let the nurse know.” “Sir, yes sir. I promise.” “Good, then I’ll leave these three ruffians here and go check up on a couple more patients. Guys, y’all have a nice visit, I’ll come back when I get done. Thanks for a great meal!” “We’ll make sure he stays out of trouble, Doc!” “Yeah right, Jarhead.” “Damn, it’s good to see you guys and not be all drugged up. Park your asses down, we’ve got lots to tell. Wanna start it off, JP?” The detective’s husband had reclaimed his spot on the bed’s edge he had vacated when the visitors arrived. “What’s up, Uncle JP?” CJ sat at the foot of the cop’s bed while his dads took the two chairs in the room. “Did you guys watch the news on TV this morning?” JP absently ran his hand around the spot where the bullet had entered his mate’s thigh as he spoke. “Nah. We went for a run this morning, then the rents and I met Uncle Matt for brunch, before coming to the hospital.” “The ABC station came on earlier with one of those breaking news crawlers under the image. It kept repeating ‘Suspected shooter of Detective Thomas Kennedy has been found dead’.” That made all three visitors sit up and pay attention. “They eventually broke in with a live report. When the news anchor was shown on the screen, there was a picture behind him of a good looking, African-American guy with a tattoo of a tear drop below his left eye.” “What’s the tattoo mean? asked CJ. “Tom told me it’s a well-known gang symbol, mate. Most of the time it means the person with it has killed someone.” “Shit! What else did they say?” “According to the reporter, the description given by eyewitnesses to the shooting matched the man found. He said at the time they only had a gang related name for the guy, Indio. The teardrop tattoo, reinforced the likelihood of gang affiliation.” JP lowered his voice slightly, as if he was sharing a secret. “The man was found a few blocks away from where Tom was gunned down, behind a dumpster. He’d been shot several times in the chest.” “Any ideas on who shot him?” Typical of a fifteen-year-old boy, once he’d known his uncle would be okay, CJ’s fascination with guns, shootings, cops, and criminals bubbled to the surface. “Nothing so far. We know a few reporters have called the hospital trying to speak with Tom. All have been told he’s unavailable. Some asked to speak with the officer’s husband. They were told I wasn’t available either.” “So that’s the first piece of good news we have. The motherfucker who shot me is gone. No need for drawn out court shenanigans and lots of taxpayer money wasted. My thanks to whomever took him out.” “Probably one of your brothers-in-blue, Uncle Tommy.” “Hush, CJ. No need to start any rumors. And you need to stop watching so much Law and Order on TV. Here’s the next piece of good news: my ex-wife called after you guys left yesterday. We had a very long and pleasant chat.” The man’s facial expression changed along with the topic of conversation; it appeared softer, more relaxed as he left behind the subject of his shooter. “Damn good news, Potus. This could be the opening you’ve always hoped for.” “That it is, César. My kids weren’t at the family meeting my father called when he returned to Boston. They’d left early on Friday to spend the weekend at the Vineyard with friends. So they weren’t exposed to the vitriol my dad―and most likely my brothers―spouted, about the events down here. The ex promised to give them as honest a recounting as possible, mentioning what happened to me, what my parents and the priest wanted to do, and how CJ stopped them. She said it would be up to them, but if they wanted to call me when they returned to the city, she wouldn’t object.” Tom finished as tears had started dripping down his face, he quickly dissolved into sobs. JP handed his husband the small box of tissues supplied by the hospital, while the three visitors remained silent. “That… is… sick!” CJ had to break the emotionally charged moment. He wasn’t one to deal well with extended melodrama. “We were just talking about this at lunch when Uncle Matt told us Chip’s daughter had called him and he mentioned there’s also a son. Turns out that kid, your son, and I are the same age. Wouldn’t it be great if we all got to hang out together? That would be freaking insane!” “Bite your tongue, CJ. I just turned thirty, I’m too young to start getting gray hairs.” Brett ran his hand over the short blond stubble on his head. Freshly cut into his usual high-and-tight, noticing any gray there would have been next to impossible. “So far all I’ve heard is good stuff, Potus.” César and the cop had been friends for a long time, he was happy the man was getting some good breaks. “You’ll be going home soon, the asswipe who shot you is out of the picture, and the wall your father erected between you and your sons has a crack in it.” “Yeah, and that crack’s there thanks to your son. Listen, guys, JP and I have a proposal for the three of you. Wanna tell them, honey?” “What’s up?” Brett asked with curiosity in his voice. “Mates, like most cop’s spouses, I always carry the fear something bad will happen when Tommy leaves home in the morning. This weekend it happened, and we got lucky it wasn’t worse. Once his thinking got clearer yesterday, we started talking about trying not to put things off in the future, ‘cause we never know what may happen when he straps that gun on every day.” “Hey, I could just as well get hit by a bus on my way to school.” CJ chimed in. “That’s true, mate. The shooting just made us more aware we shouldn’t put things off unless there’s a good reason. Like there’s no good reason we shouldn’t spend Christmas in Australia. Tommy’s never been to Oz, he met mum and dad once when they came to visit, and he met Spencer this summer. The rest of my family, and it’s a big one, have never seen his ugly mug in person.” “Watch it, buster!” “So… we’re going to spend two weeks in New South Wales at the end of the year. We’d like to have the three of you come with us. You guys are as much a part of our family as any of the people down there.” “YES! Fucking A. That sounds awesome. I wanna go surfing when we’re down there. Can we go to Manly Beach? The place has to be full of hot guys.” The exuberance of youth made them all chuckle. CJ had clearly shown where his interest lay: sports and men. “Down, surfer boy. Don’t you think Papa and I have a say in this matter?” “But, Daaad…” “But dad nothing. You think you can take the time off, Jarhead? “I’m sure the Colonel will give me leave whenever I ask for it. What about you?” “Even though it’s a busy time for me, it shouldn’t be a problem. I haven't taken much time off all year and my billable hours are very high.” “Great! Well what are we waiting for? Let’s start planning! It’ll be sooo cool to spend New Year’s Eve in Australia.” The fifteen-year-old teenager made an appearance once again. The rapid fire comments conveying the excitement he felt. “Oh shit, I need a passport, don’t I? I wonder if mine’s still good.” “Get me some valid passports, I’ll take care of the visas once I go back to the embassy next week. Find out if you guys can take the time off and we’ll figure out the exact days after you do.” Rising from his spot on the bed, JP ran a hand over Tom’s head, smoothing out his husband’s short hair. “I’m starving, mates. Anyone want something from the cafeteria? I’m going to get me a sandwich.” “Take Brett and César with you, honey. I want to chat with CJ for a few minutes in private. Oh, and bring me a couple of donuts and a cup of coffee, please? “Fucking stereotypes always have some truth to them.” Brett’s quip made them all smile. “Shut up, Jarhead. Anything for you, CJ? “Just a bottle of water?” “Be back in a bit if we can keep my husband―the big, bad marine―out of trouble.” “Asshole!” replied Brett to César. “Matilda, let’s waltz out of here.” JP rolled his eyes at Brett’s reference to the well-known Aussie tune. “Have I told you how much I love your dads, CJ?” Detective Kennedy asked the question as he patted the spot on the side of the bed his husband had been sitting on, inviting CJ to move there. “After your confrontation with my parents, I felt you needed to hear more about my background so you could completely understand why I’m estranged from them.” “You know I was born in Boston, dad was a cop and very strict with all us children. Mom took care of the house and her men, cooked, and helped keep us on top of our schoolwork. Any free time she had, she spent in church. In high school, I was an average student but I was a great football player, made All-State my senior year. Even back then, I was more interested in my teammates than in the cheerleaders, but I knew I had to keep those feelings to myself. I dated some but never for long.” “I think things have changed a lot since then, Uncle Tommy. Today you could probably do whatever you wanted. Especially if you were so big other guys couldn’t pick on you.” “Maybe so, but I’d still have to deal with the family. And being big didn’t guarantee I’d be safe, if a group of guys got together and tried to hurt me. You better remember that part.” “I know, just had that conversation again with the ‘rents this weekend.” “Anyway, I graduated with no idea of what I wanted to do, so I enlisted in the Army. Four years surrounded by men, in an environment with testosterone constantly in the air, wasn’t a picnic. I kept to myself, did my job, and survived. Returning to Boston, I started seeing a girl I’d dated before leaving. I was picking up odd jobs here and there, I still had no idea what I wanted to do. Two years later I got married to her, and right afterwards entered the Police Academy. Ten months later, Bradley was born. He’s the same age as you, will turn sixteen next month. Paddy came along when his brother was a two-year-old toddler.” “I hope I get to meet them sometime…” “I hope so too, CJ. Anyway, I was still fighting my attraction to men. The following years saw me slip into depression. I could no longer—” The ringing telephone interrupted Tom Kennedy mid-sentence. “I got it, Uncle Tommy.” CJ picked up the phone so the injured cop wouldn’t have to stretch for it. “Hello? Detective Kennedy’s room.” CJ scrunched up his face as he listened to the caller. “This is CJ, I’m the detective’s nephew. Who’s calling?” The boy’s face lit up in surprise hearing the response to his question. “No shit? Dude! He’s really gonna flip! Hang on.” CJ held the handset out to the injured cop, “Uncle Tom, it’s your son Bradley… for you.”
  15. 1 point
    Mr. Brightside Chapter 1 May, 2015 “What am I doing here?” Jason thought as he stood in line waiting to pay his cover to get into the bar. Everything about the young man proclaimed his nervousness about being seen in front of this particular establishment, from his eyes nervously darting around to the baseball cap he had pulled down as low as possible in a transparent attempt to disguise himself. “Jesus, this is a mistake. I should be at home unpacking. What if someone sees me?” ran the almost constant refrain in his head. The idea of being seen going into a gay bar, especially one known for the mostly naked boys dancing on the bar, terrified him, but he knew that the chance of being recognized was almost non existent. He only knew a handful of people in New Orleans, and those were his brand new boss and the one or two future co-workers he had met when he had interviewed with the engineering firm this spring. None of these had seemed like the partying type, and Jason doubted they would have remembered him that well anyway. And it was another three months until his contract officially began. As for his fiancee, (he winced when he thought of Denise), she was an hour and a half away at LSU, already buried in work for the master’s program she was pursuing. Besides, the thought of that prim, staunchly Baptist girl strolling casually along one of the lesser known streets of the French Quarter at midnight was almost enough to make him smile. Almost. As the line finally started moving toward the doorman taking the $5 cover, Jason knew he had to make his decision. Go or stay. “What am I doing here?” he thought again as he reached the door, handing over his money and his right wrist to be stamped. But, if he were honest with himself, which he rarely was, he would admit he knew exactly what he was doing here. After a rocky first couple of years of college, he had settled in and managed to earn his mechanical engineering degree with a respectable, if not brilliant, GPA, though it had taken longer than the traditional 4 years. But he had taken advantage of his extra time in college to work on several successful academic projects and several summer internships. This additional practical experience had led to multiple job offers. The moment he realized one of the jobs was in New Orleans, he knew that was the one he would take. Oh, there were lots of reasons it was a logical decision---while not the highest paid, the salary would go far in New Orleans, it was only an hour and a half or so to LSU where Denise had decided to attend graduate school so they could see each other often, and since the firm was a national one, there was the likelihood for promotion and transference to another city after Denise graduated and they married. She had made it clear that she had no intention of living permanently in that “Den of Iniquity.” And she had not been exactly excited that he had used his signing bonus to move to the city 12 weeks before his job’s start date. Jason’s official reasons for moving there so early were about wanting time to find a great place, getting settled before what was certain to be an intense working schedule, etc., had sounded hollow, even to himself. Denise may have been sheltered and naive, but she wasn’t dumb. She was right to suspect the reasons he gave for spending the summer in New Orleans were bogus, though Jason was sure she really didn’t know why he wanted to move there. He wanted to move there because of an afternoon in May a couple of years earlier. ******************************************** He had been attending a student conference there with some friends, and they had spent one free day exploring the quarter, eating burgers at Port of Call, singing along with the piano players at Pat O’Brien’s, shopping in the French Market. Eventually, they had passed by the group of gay bars clustered at St. Ann and Bourbon. By this point, all had partaken of specialty drinks and daiquiris at their various stops and, none being big drinkers, they were a bit tipsy. One of them, in fact, had headed back to the hotel for a nap, and the others were no longer paying much attention to their surroundings or each other, distracted by the sights and sounds of the Quarter. Jason had fallen to the back of the group, and while the others had moved on down Bourbon St., lured by the giant hand grenade mascot advertising the drink of the same name, Jason’s eye had been caught by the taut and tanned flesh of the guy dancing on the bar at the Pub. Almost automatically, he dropped even further back from his group, and drunkenly confident that they weren’t watching, he had stepped inside the bar. He had only been inside one other gay bar, a very small one in Monroe a couple of years earlier. It had taken months to get up the courage to go inside; and once in, he had been so paranoid about being seen and recognized that he had fled after only a few minutes, vowing never to go in another gay bar. And then there had been that thing with Shane… He had actually shaken his head, refusing to think about that. After all Shane was gone and that was all over. What was here now was this bar, filled with men, some of them really good looking, especially the guys dancing on the bar. He had ordered another beer and had sat at the bar sipping it. It was so surreal to be here in a place where you didn’t have to hide your looks at other guys, where could run your hands over another guy’s smooth body if you were willing to slip a dollar in his briefs that were, in fact, very brief indeed. Add the music, the laughter, relaxed atmosphere, in a small way it felt a bit, to Jason, like coming home. He felt something in him relaxing; it was then that he felt his phone vibrating, signalling a text. “Hey dude, where are you? We’re headed back up Bourbon.” He freaked, knocking over his beer as he fled, desperately hoping that he could get out of the bar before his friends saw him. He did manage to do that, and by the time he caught up with them, he had calmed down and had devised a cover story involving a t-shirt shop. He trembled inside, though, at how close he had come to being caught. And it was the following summer that he had asked Denise to marry him. But he never forgot those fleeting moments of joy and freedom he had experienced in the bar. ********************************************************************************* As he stepped inside the door, Jason did feel a bit of a let down. The atmosphere here was very different than at the Pub that long ago sunny afternoon. Instead of freedom and happiness, here in a much seedier bar at midnight, there was an undercurrent of hunger and desperation. Still, he was here, there were hot men on the bar, and lots of cute guys around, so he decided to stay, at least for one beer. Competition for seats at the bar, especially near the dancers was fierce, so Jason took his drink and moved from the main bar area to the smaller room at the back. It wasn’t crowded, only a handful of guys sat on the banquette that wrapped two of the walls. One or two other guys milled around by a small platform where another man danced. He was very different from the the tanned muscle boys on the bar, and Jason felt his gaze being drawn to the dancer. He was pale, very pale, his spotlit flesh almost glowing against the dark walls. He had unnaturally red hair in a retro cut, longer and pomaded on top, cut short on the sides and back with a neat beard dyed to match. A beautifully detailed tattoo of some sort of bird drawn in brilliant colors wound up his upper right arm, with the wings stretching across his chest and back. Even from a distance, Jason could see how beautifully designed the bird was, which he realized must be a phoenix from the flames woven into the design. The tattoo seemed very familiar somehow, but Jason knew he had never seen one quite like it. The dancer wore black bikini briefs and black biker boots, their darkness calling even more attention to his perfect blue white skin. Aside from that, his only other adornments were wide black leather cuffs on each wrist. While he was obviously in good shape, his body wasn’t the muscled gym built body of the other dancers---the muscles that moved and shifted under his smooth skin were the lean muscles of a dancer or a yoga student. And while the two other dancers engaged with and flirted with the crowd, this one was dancing with his eyes closed, seemingly lost in the music. Jason moved closer to him; somehow it seemed important to him to be near this man to know what color those eyes would be when he opened them. There was just something about this guy that drew him. “Of course,” thought Jason cynically, “that’s why they hire guys like this, to lure people in.” Still, he stood close and waited. The dancer’s eyes opened, swept unseeing across the room, and closed again as the song changed. His eyes had only been open for a moment, but Jason had seen them clearly. And now he was terrified. They had been as beautiful as he hoped for---deeply colored, half way between blue and green. He knew that they would shift depending on what shirt the dancer wore, sometimes a glowing cobalt against a bright blue shirt, sometimes as aqua as a blue topaz, sometimes almost a hunter green. Jason knew this because he had seen those eyes seemingly change as their owner tried on various outfits. Jason knew that because those eyes belonged to Shane. Shaken, he moved away before Shane could open those eyes again and recognize him. He quickly downed his beer, and resisting the urge to flee out of the door, he fought his way to the bar and bought another one. Going back to the back room, he found a spot far enough away to be out of Shane's eye line, but close enough to study him. No wonder the tattoo had seemed familiar; Shane had spent hours doodling the same sorts of stylized designs in notebooks and sketch pads. Jason had urged his pal to major in art, but Shane’s father wouldn’t hear of it, and Shane had bowed to his pressure, settling for a business degree. Jason couldn’t believe that he hadn’t recognized his former best friend and roommate, but it had been 4 years since he had seen Shane, and he looked very different. When he and Shane had still been friends, Shane had loved the outdoors and spent hours outside, resulting in a perpetual tan and white streaks in his dirty blond hair. Jason had liked to tease him, calling him a redneck surfer since Shane had grown up on a small town farm. In any case, Shane’s longish blond hair was gone, and if his paleness was any indication, it had been a long while since he had spent significant time outdoors. But still, Jason thought, even with the beard, and the dye, and everything, he should have recognized Shane. The strong nose, the curved pink lips (enticingly framed by that beard), the curve of his brow bone….all these were the same. There had been a time Jason had known, or at least, thought he knew, Shane as well as he had known himself, both inside and out. But, he remembered sadly, that hadn’t actually been the case. Besides, beyond the physical changes, there was something different about Shane. He couldn’t comprehend Shane as a go go boy. He had been so modest that even after he and Jason had lived together for over a year, Shane had still dressed in the bathroom. The idea of Shane dancing in public in his underwear was mind boggling. In any case, this was the first time in four years Jason had been in the same place as Shane, and he wasn’t going to waste his opportunity. Jason had accepted sometime ago that he was, in many ways, a coward, and approaching Shane after all that had happened scared the shit out of him, but Jason had to find a way. As he nursed his beer, mulling over what exactly to do, the music ended, and Shane stepped down from the box. As he made his way through the room to a side door, a taller man stepped toward him, grabbing his shoulder to stop him. Shane scowled, but paused as the guy whispered in his ear. Shane jerked his shoulder away with an angry look and continued on his way. The guy grabbed him again, this time also grabbing Shane’s crotch. Jason tensed in anger, and moved toward them automatically. Before he could move more than a step or two, Shane had wrenched free and slapped the creep across the face. It was a hard slap, and the noise carried over the music. Before the other man could react, a bouncer was there, grabbing the dude and pushing him, none too gently toward the exit. Stunned, Jason stood there not knowing what to do. He was trying to comprehend his Shane (a guy so gentle he refused to kill spiders, scooping them up on magazines to let them loose outside) hitting someone, even if they deserved it. Hell, one time Shane had almost given Jason whiplash when he had slammed on the brakes in order to avoid hitting a turtle, then getting out and moving it from the road and into a ditch, ignoring the angry driver behind them. Shane had definitely changed, and it was Jason’s fault. Shane had finally made it across the bar and into a side door. Jason moved to the bar for a bottle of water and to wait for Shane to emerge. The bartender had noticed Jason’s interest in the dancer, and leaned forward as he gave Jason his water. “He’s something special, isn’t he?” the bartender said, motioning toward the door with his head. “Shane?” Jason said, startled out of the thoughts he had been lost in. “You know his real name?” the bartender said, equally startled. “Real name?” Jason asked. “Yeah I know Shane…..from college. I haven’t seen him in a long time though. But what do you mean ‘real name’?” “Oh most of the guys who dance here have a stage name. It adds a little mystique, keeps some distance from the clients, too.” “That makes sense.” Curious, Jason asked, “What’s Shane’s stage name?” “Kieran. But, like I said, he’s special. Different from the others.” “I need to talk to him. When does he get off?” "Actually, his shift just ended. That’s the changing room.” The bartender again nodded toward the side door. “He should be out in a minute.” “Thanks,” said Jason. “I need some air. I’ll wait for him outside.” He headed out the door. Even this early into the summer, the air was heavy and sultry. Jason leaned against the rough brick of the bar, trying to think of what to say. How do you apologize to somebody for ruining their life? He fought the urge to leave, to run back to his apartment, but he owned it to Shane to act like a man for once in his life instead of a goddamn coward. He stood there for what seemed like hours, no longer caring if someone saw him here. His entire being focused on how he would approach his former friend. Jason was so lost in thought, he almost missed the figure in black that passed him, but he roused himself before Shane had reached the end of the block. “Shane,” he called rushing toward the other man. Shane, now dressed in a sleeveless black tee and slim black jeans, paused and turned around, looking surprised. In the darkness it took him a moment to recognize who had called his name, since Jason was the last person he had ever expected to see again, especially here. “What are you doing here?” Shane asked. His voice was lower and huskier than Jason remembered, and he had lost the nasal twang of his hometown accent. “I just moved to town. I graduated this spring and got a job here with an engineering firm.” Jason felt relief flood through him. He hadn’t actually expected Shane to stop and talk to him….he had thought the redhead (it felt strange to think of Shane like that) to run away, avoiding him, like he had the last time Jason had tried to approach him. “You got your engineering degree? I knew you could. I always knew you could do it.” At Shane’s words, Jason felt tears welling up inside him. So many people, including his parents, had tried to talk him out of majoring in engineering. Though his high school grades had been decent, math had always been difficult for him, a struggle. But Shane had encouraged him to go for his dream, had tutored him when he could, had cheerfully gotten up at 6am every morning to wake up Jason who slept through alarms. And Jason had repaid that belief and help with betrayal. The fact that Shane could be excited for him wounded Jason more than words of reproach ever could. And just like that, Jason was sobbing on the street like a child lost. With no hesitation, Shane walked up to the crying man and took him in his arms. Jason stood there crying, tears that he had bottled up for years. He felt Shane’s arms around him, strong arms, arms that he hadn’t felt in years. He felt Shane’s warmth and smelled his scent, spicy and woody and delicious. Through his sobs, Jason kept repeating, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry…” “Sssshhhhh. It’s alright, It doesn’t matter now anyway.” Shane comforted him. “I forgive you. I forgave you a long time ago. It’s alright.” Finally, Jason pulled away, drained, the tears no longer falling. Shane smiled wryly at his tear stained face and pulled out a neatly folded bandana from his back pocket. “Here,” he said. “Wipe your face. It’s clean.” Jason took it. It smelled like Shane, and Jason inhaled the fragrance as he dried his eyes. He offered it back, but Shane said, “Keep it. I have others. It really was good to see you, and I’m very happy for you, but it’s late, and I need to get going.” He turned to go. “Please, “ Jason said. “Can I see you again?” He fished in his pocket, and found a business card. “This has my cell number on it. Call me? Please?” he said with a pleading look on his face. Shane sighed and took the card, handling it gingerly like it was a sharp object. “I’m not sure that would be a good idea. I’m not the same person you knew. I’ve changed.” He looked directly into Jason’s eyes, who shivered. Shane’s eyes were old, and sad, and looked as if they had seen things no one should ever see. Jason tried to keep it light. “I can see that,” he said, nodding to the tattoo. Reluctantly, Shane laughed slightly. “I meant more than just a bottle of dye and a couple of tattoos.” Heat flooded through Jason. He had only noticed the phoenix tattoo. That meant any other ones would have been on the small patch of skin hidden by the tiny black briefs. His mind reeled as his considered the possibilities. He stepped closer, moving directly in front of Shane. “Please,” was all he said. “Alright,” Shane sighed again, putting the card into his jeans’ pocket. He turned away again as if to go, but suddenly he turned around and grabbed Jason’s face in his two hand. “Oh well, I never did have much sense,” he said, and then kissed Jason; It was a soft kiss, and quick, and before Jason could process it fully, Shane was gone, his black figure already melted into the shadows.
  16. 1 point
    “Damn! That was incredible, Draak.” “Don’t pull out, Neo. I like feeling you inside me. Maybe we can stay like this for the entire week we have the Atlantis?” “I think we’ll need to take a break now and then, hot stuff.” “I liked it when you kicked it into high gear near the end. Did you notice what a mess I made of the sheets below me?” “Yeah, and I also noticed you’re not only a moaner but also a firebug. Does it happen every time you get fucked? Do you always shoot flames when you shoot?”
  17. 1 point
    “What do you think of the Flyer, guys?” “This is sick, Vasili! Fucking vampire didn’t spare expenses when he outfitted this baby. I have as much access here as I do back in Halifax, this is incredible.” “Figures you’d go gaga over the tech, Neo. What about you, Genni? Any comments?” “Nothing new to add, Vasili. Remember I’ve been on it before.” “That’s right, you were part of the team who designed and supervised our enhancements.” “We didn’t do much, boss. Improved radar and communications equipment, some safety improvements, and a modified cargo area so we could fit the missile launcher. Plus any other weapons we might need. But this is Fer’s virgin flight; what do you think babe?” “Like, what’s there not to like about a loaded Gulfstream G650? This is what makes us pilots have wet dreams. I’m pissed I didn’t get to fly it, boss. Why do we have a crew of wolves? There are plenty of us dolphins who can handle this puppy.” “The Full Moon Flyer is legally owned by the tribe, Fer. Sharing the plane and the boat is based on a handshake between Chief Mahigan and me. To cover our part of the expenses, we charter the plane, pay for its use and also pay the tribe for personnel to operate it. You couldn’t fly and also take part in the operation anyway.” “When are we getting the details of it? And why am I part of it? Is the Chief Medical Officer of the tribe truly needed?” “You might be, Epo. We have no idea of what condition any kids we rescue will be in; I want you around to look at them. Plus, you can use the exercise of the operation. Your wife was telling me you’re getting chubby.” “Fuck you, boss.” “No thanks. Anyway, we’re stopping in the Netherlands to meet up with the dragons. Then flying to Poland while they continue to Finland on their own. After the initial raids, we’ll head to Denmark while the Flyer continues on to Iceland. After the last part of the mission is completed, we’ll fly from Reykjavik home to Nova Scotia.” “Fine, but I want a chance to handle the plane at some point.” “Just talk to the wolves once we get home, Fer. They want as many wolves and dolphins as possible qualified to fly it. Neo, you and your dragon boy were in charge of planning; let’s hear what else you have for us.” “My digging confirmed there are two factions involved. They have split most of Europe amongst themselves and are frequently at odds with each other. The two principals are ex-KGB friends of Putin. One lives in London and the other one in Geneva.” “Are we going after them?” “The dragons will handle that, Fer. They insisted they had the right to do so. Their home cities are where most of their financial resources are located. I think they have some money back in Russia, but I didn’t want to hack into the banks there for fear of raising a red flag.” “Are you planning on diverting those funds the way you did with the blood suckers accounts?” “I’m gonna try, Genni, but it’s not our primary objective. We’re hoping phase one of our operation will cause enough confusion it’ll raise the level of animosity between the factions. The goal is to start a family feud which leads to them taking out as many of each other’s troops as possible. The second part of our plans will go into effect then. I’ve also set up some routines to move most of their money out of their accounts but there’s no way of knowing how much will be there at the time. “I’m ready, guys.” Chama’s voice in my ear startled me. It was the middle of the night, the streets in this commercial district of Helsinki were deathly quiet, and I had the comm unit’s volume set too high. That was the signal Litrik and I were waiting for. “Draak, Chama and I will shift now and take care of the guards. You’ll have about fifteen minutes from the time you see the flames.” The three of us were about to raid the Russian mafia’s headquarters in the Finnish capital. Once the alarms went off or the authorities were notified of a fire, we calculated a quarter of an hour before the first responders arrived. In that time, I had to complete my assignment and disappear from the area. “That’s a go, let’s fuck ‘em up.” My fellow dragons needed a few minutes to strip, remove their communication equipment, and store it in the specially designed bag that would be secured to their leg. It would remain there through the shift from human and back. It’s not fun to shift, fly somewhere, shift back, and find yourself naked with no clothing around. A bright flare up in the rear of the empty building next to our target started the countdown. The warehouse the Russians used housed their prostitution operations, we had no idea how many children were inside, and therefore couldn’t set the place itself on fire. No way were we taking the risk of directly harming innocents already victimized by the ruthless mobsters. The flapping of wings drew my sight upwards, and I caught a glimpse of a man-sized flying being circling the targeted building, and spouting flames every few meters. Chama was sticking to the smallest possible size as a dragon to facilitate maneuvering between the structures; he was burning out all the security cameras we had detected. A side door opened up and two men ran out carrying what appeared to be AKM automatic rifles. Litrik was waiting for them and spouted a hot enough flame to burn them alive. Their agonized death scream was short lived but strident and jarring; it hopefully served to induce fear in the remaining guard inside. Our intelligence gathering indicated there were three guards left in the building after their operations closed down each night. I could hear sirens in the distance; five minutes had elapsed since the initial flames. My eyes were fixed on the window above the main door on the second floor. It opened and the barrel of a gun appeared slowly followed by a head. Chama was perched on the edge of the roof waiting. The guard didn’t stand a chance, the flame was so intense his face melted away in seconds. The skin vaporized, and the muscles broke down until the bone structure was exposed. My turn, if we were wrong about there being three guards I could be in trouble. I ran up the three steps to the front door, attached the ribbon of explosive putty around the lock, pressed the electronic timer attached to the detonator, and ran back to my previous spot behind a truck parked on the street. The explosion was not very loud, but the bright flash and the rising smoke meant I could kick the door in. Stepping into a small reception area, I dropped the package I was carrying on top of the desk in the room. A similar one was being delivered to the apartment of a reporter within the hour. Both contained an assortment of documents summarizing the business carried on within the premises, the names of local members of the organization, and that of its head. I listed details about his life in England and any connection to Putin we’d been able to dig up. Two of my cousins where in London, ready to execute the man if he tried to flee. If he stayed put, his life would be spared for a few more days. I had less than five minutes to get upstairs where we suspected their business offices were. Slamming my shoulder into the door marked PORTAAT I ran into the stairwell and headed upstairs taking the steps two at a time. Jackpot! Two doors leading from the landing, one marked TOIMISTO and the other one AULA. I kicked in the one for the office, and was happy to see blood and charred remains by the window facing the street in front. Stripping while searching the desk with a top off the line Apple computer on it, I started to shove my clothes into my rucksack. Forcing the desk drawers open, I got lucky. A small clear container, labeled in Cyrillic, held a handful of memory sticks that went into my bag. I could hear the sirens getting closer. Approaching the window, the flashing lights of the responding authorities could be seen approaching the entrance to the industrial park. No time to check on the children, I had to believe they would be rescued by the fire and police officers. I clambered out the window, perched on the ledge, and began my transformation. My cranium elongated, my eyes shifted to each side of my head, my nose disappeared; two breathing holes remained above my mouth now filled with razor sharp teeth. As my entire body was quickly covered in armor-like scales, my hands and feet turned into claws, a third set of limbs grew out of either side of my abdomen, and a set of wings sprouted out of my back. The membrane between the bones dried and the wings rested on either side of my body, ready to propel me into the air. A thick tail, covered in hardened spikes, extruded from my body. It would serve as a stabilizing limb and as a weapon in battle. My external appearance was not the sole change; existing internal structures reconfigured themselves, and new ones developed. Stomach gases bubbled and were stored in one of the new specialized organs, ready to serve as fuel for my flames. A gestation chamber grew within me with a birthing channel extending to what used to be my belly button. As dragons, we could supply either sperm or egg. When one of us became pregnant, we returned to our human shape as a female, and remained that way until after birth. The newborn could end up with two moms, two dads, or one of each; they would both still be the biological parents. The transformation complete, I used my hind legs to push off the ledge. I spread my wings, and with a motion bred into my kind, used the membrane-covered limbs to propel me above the building’s roofline, disappearing into the night. I would fly towards the Baltic Sea, heading to Klaipeda, Lithuania. Tomorrow night, the dolphins would raid a location in Gdansk, Poland before joining us. Once together, a decision would be made concerning further raids. “Hey, Neo…” “Draak! Give me a minute and I’ll be finished here, handsome.” “We’re about to take off and the pilots want us strapped in. Can I sit with you? “I’d like that. I’d also like to spend some time alone with you at some point.” “You did promise me a ride on your yacht, and I intend on holding you to that promise, Neo.” “Hell, yeah. I hope you realize I’m interested in more than cruising around on a boat. Maybe a little exploration of your body? I’m bi but I think for you I could forget about women entirely.” “I’m flattered. Being blunt, I’d love to get naked with you. But we need to talk about a few things beforehand. Including the fact my lifespan is at least ten times yours. Now, about our current operation…” “The initial raid in Helsinki sent a lot of Russians scurrying. My team back in Halifax was able to trace calls from the people we had already identified, which led to more members of the groups we targeted. The evidence left behind for the authorities and leaked to the media pointed to the rival faction as responsible. The guy in Geneva, whose organization ran the Finnish operation, ordered a hit on his counterpart in London that same day.” “Good, I guess our plan worked. I hope they were successful.” “They were. The Brits are reporting the explosion in an exclusive London residential area was the result of a gas leak. It was a hell of a bomb that leveled the house and killed the head guy. Combined with the raid in Gdansk, the underworld is abuzz with rumors about the feud and the ruthlessness of the man in Geneva. He’s still alive.” “Not for long. Litrik will authorize his execution as soon as I report this to him. The ship?” “Has developed mechanical problems and has docked in Malmo, Sweden to disembark all passengers and non-essential crew―read non-Russian―who will be provided alternate transportation to their destinations. The company publicly announced the remaining personnel will steer the ship towards Amsterdam where repairs will be made.” “The fuckers played right into our hands, didn’t they?” “Yup. Halifax intercepted messages indicating the ship was to be sanitized, so no evidence of the illicit operations remained. Part three of our operation is a go.” “Neo?” “Hang on, Vasili. A couple more commands and I’ll pack the phone away.” The Full Moon Flyer had landed at Thisted Airport, in northeastern Denmark, to refuel in the early afternoon. The five of us and the three dragons had slipped out of the plane and traveled the eight kilometers to the coast line where we now stood. The sun was dipping below the horizon and with twilight came the start of our mission’s final phase. “Done.” “Litrik, once we reach deep water, we’ll surface to take breaths every few minutes. Your augmented eyesight will allow you to follow us even in darkness.” “Will do, Vasili. Be careful, my friend.” “Definitely. I’ll breach in front of the boat when we’re in position; it’ll be your signal to light the fuckers up. Let’s go guys. Neo, take the lead.” “Sure, boss.” We planned on swimming out to the ship as dolphins, surround it, and follow for a short while. It was a common sight for dolphins to swim around vessels. Our shifting was a two-stage process as we became mermen before reaching our final shape. The five of us stripped, packed our clothes into a custom built bag which Epo, our medical guy, secured around his waist with his first aid kit. It wasn’t much as we had all worn shorts and t-shirts, our flip-flops we left behind hoping someone would find them and be able to use them. Stepping into the water, our instincts took over. Fingers and toes webbed, while our nails became retractable claws. Our ability to spread our lower limbs diminished as they came close to fusing together. The configuration helps propels us through the water at higher speeds. Genitals shrank into the body while the end of our penises bent into a hook―a convenient way of remaining connected during intercourse while swimming. Any hair on our body disappeared, and our skin became rubbery; it bulged over our spine as the precursor of a dorsal fin formed. A blowhole opened up on the back of our hairless heads. Our face morphed into something between a human and a dolphin: our nose elongated, our eyes spread apart, our ears shrank as new auditory openings appeared below our seeing orbs. Internal organs rearranged with our trachea and esophagus becoming completely separate tracts, preventing water from reaching our lungs when we open our mouths underwater. The blowhole is the only opening into our lungs. As mermen, we could function at sea and on land. “Let’s dive, brothers.” Any conversation while in our mermen shape was carried on mostly with sound waves and very few actual words. At Vasili’s command, we plunged head first into the waters of Vigsø Bugt, and began the second phase of our transformation. The changes to our facial features became more pronounced until all semblance of humanity disappeared. Arms morphed into flippers, our bodies elongated and our lower limbs shrank, morphing into flukes. Although our lung size remained the same, the capacity to absorb and store oxygen increased. We could easily hold our breath for up to seven minutes, and dive deeper than humans. Genni was in charge of this phase of the operation; he took the lead with Fer at his side. Both former military men saw duty in Afghanistan and were no strangers to clandestine operations. They took the lead as we swam in a course designed to intercept the Tsar of the Seas―traveling close to the Danish coast on its way to Amsterdam. Epo was beside me with Vasili at the rear until we sighted the vessel. Our enforcers slowed down and took position at the stern of the ship while the three of us forged ahead swimming beside it. We played at the bow attracting some attention from a handful of the men on board. Our estimates put the remaining contingent somewhere around a dozen men operating the boat, plus however many involved in the illicit activities were still around. Surprising the sailors watching us, Vasili breached with enough strength to reach the bulwarks before falling back to the water and immediately submerging below the bilge. The boss’ acrobatic performance was swiftly followed by a slowdown of the ferryboat as the propeller stopped turning. Winged shapes appeared in the sky, visible as dark blotches against the moonless starry night; our dragons were making their move. Two of them placed themselves amidships on either side while the third flew lazy figure eights above the forecastle, intent on attracting the attention of as many crewmembers as possible. The dragon we knew to be Chama momentarily distracted the crew. For a moment, they forgot about their ship slowing down, and in that instant sealed their fate. With blinding speed, the dragon flew away from the ship before rapidly turning back and heading towards the bridge. As he flew over the bow, his maw opened and a searing tongue of flame spurted out, setting several men afire, and charring the paint on the deck before tilting his body upwards and barely avoiding a collision as he soared back into the night. Vasili surfaced at the ship’s stern, joining Genni and Fer, while Epo and I took up position slightly ahead of them on either side of the boat. We were ready to join the battle as soon as Litrik and Draak cleared the way for us. And hell if they didn’t do just that as I thought of it. Both dragons flew alongside the ship, flaming the deck and in the process turning fleeing Ruskies into crispy nuggets. The nauseating stench of burning flesh permeated the air reaching us as we breached, reaching as high as Vasili previously had. The five of us had aimed ourselves towards the ship as we jumped out of the water and began our reverse transformation. By the time we reached the apex of our climb, we once again had arms and legs. We landed on the deck bending our knees to absorb the force of the impact. There was charred wood everywhere but surprisingly no visible flames, retardant coatings prevented the ship from catching fire. Close up, the stench of burnt flesh and sulphur was almost overwhelming; I had to fight not to retch on the spot. As a large dragon continued to attract the attention of whatever crew remained alive, the sound of small arms fire joined the cacophony of blaring alarms, and men shouting in a language I assumed was Russian. I had been assured the armor-like scales covering the creatures’ bodies made the possibility on a bullet causing them injury a remote one. It would have to be a lucky shot hitting one of the few exposed areas of flesh. The other two dragons had turned back after raking the sides of the ship with their flames, and hovered over the rear deck as we completed our shift in midair and landed on the ship. I’m certain they watched our transformation with as much interest as we now watched them transform into Litrik and Draak. They had landed on the deck right after we had. “Everybody okay?” asked Litrik as small puffs of smoke emerged from his mouth with each breath. We all replied in the affirmative before splitting into two groups, each one moving towards the bridge on either side of the ship. A dragon and an enforcer in each group, Vasili following on the starboard side, while Epo took the port. I remained behind, completed my shift to human, and removed my phone from the waterproof bag I had stored it in before we left land. While tapping away at the screen, sending commands through the satellite link, I watched as each group approached the ship’s control center. The dragons kept watch ready to shift again in an instant if needed as Genni and Fer slammed open the bridge doors, briefly stepped inside, and each brought out a twitching, bleeding human speared on their claws. Looking at the uniforms they wore, I noted the ship was now without a captain or a first officer. The commands I entered on my phone had silenced the sirens. All we could now hear was the waves slapping against the sides of the boat. No shouting, no screaming, and no firearms being discharged could be heard. I saw Chama reduce his size, land on the ship, and transform into a human once again. We had secured the ship’s topside, but who knew what waited for us inside. “That was fun! Can we do it again, Daddy Genni?” “Shut up, Fer. Be a good boy and sit down. Let’s hear what Neo has to say.” “Fine but all that excitement has me horned up. You’re gonna be walking funny by the time I get done with you.” “Children, please! Epo’s straight and not used to hearing you gay boys talk about sex.” “Just ‘cause you’re bi doesn’t mean you can start dissing us, Neo. So fuck you!” “In your dreams, Fer. In your dreams.” “Time for me to put on my Alpha hat. All of you shut the fuck up and can the comedy routine. Epo you go first. Tell me about the children, I was too damn busy with other things and unable to keep track of what you were doing.” “In time, the kids will all be physically fine. All nine found aboard were malnourished and suffering aftereffects from the drugs they had been fed. Most of them were bruised. Some had burn marks, open sores, and fresh lacerations from being whipped. One girl will need reconstructive surgery to her vagina and two boys will require similar procedures to their rectums. None of those three were in need of emergency surgery.” “Fucking animals, wish we could have taken our time and tortured them, I would have enjoyed hearing them scream in pain.” Fer was the most affected by seeing the kids we found on the ship. “No you wouldn’t have, Fer. We’ll all suffer enough with the memories of what we’ve seen. There’s no need for further horrors. Vasili, during our time at sea en route to Iceland I kept them all sedated, while providing nourishment through intravenous lines. I also provided enough antibiotics to kill almost any bug they may have been infected with. All rapid HIV tests were negative.” “That was all the stuff in the duffel bag the dragons dropped off? “It was, Genni. I packed what I thought might be needed to treat between twelve and fifteen patients before we left Halifax. So again, physically they will recover. Emotionally―” “Not worth venturing guesses about, Epo. I promised Litrik we would work with the dragons to provide whatever they need. What do you have for us, Genni?” “I’m confident our involvement will not be discovered by the humans, Vasili. When you breached in front of the ship, as a signal to the dragons, Chama activated the transmitter incorporated into the harness he wore. Neo and his people designed it to use low power signals to disable the ship’s engines by incapacitating their computers. The transmitter also jammed all communications from the boat. Due to the short range of all frequencies involved, I suspect they were not detectable.” “Fer, what’s the current status of the Tsar of the Seas?” “Still docked in Reykjavik, under quarantine by order of the Icelandic Coast Guard. By flying back in time to ensure being on duty when we broadcast our mayday before abandoning the ship, Litrik ended up being in charge of boarding it and supervising its inspection. The kids are all in temporary foster homes while the Icelandic government attempts to determine if any have family they can be returned to. Two of the older boys have said they ran away from orphanages in Russia.” “Are we ready for our closing act, Neo? “Yes, Alpha. As soon as you give me the word, our friends in the media will receive information packages detailing the ship’s ownership, its operations, and pictures of what we found inside. The children’s faces have been completely removed. I expect the Russian government will be very embarrassed, and hundreds of offers will be made to adopt the children without families.” “And the money?” “I was able to divert enough funds to cover all costs of our mission. We’ll also establish a five-million Euro trust for each rescued child. The existence of the trusts won’t be revealed until the kids are reunited with their families or adopted. An anonymous donor has funded them, and Bank Suisse has no idea who the money came from―everything was done electronically.” “Anything left over, Neo?” “Meh, a little change I’ve split evenly between us and the dragons, Vasili.” “Wanna put a figure to our share of the little change, smartass?” “Enough we could buy one of these little jets for ourselves if we wanted to, Boss.”
  18. 1 point
    “My initial bite definitely woke the bastard up. His breaking free of the silver ropes was a shock but it was nothing compared to his shift… …he turned into a fucking merman! An honest to goodness merman, MERDE!” “Hello?” “Vasili, it’s Mahi, I have some bad news.” “Huh?” “Come on. Vasili, wake up. This is serious.” “Hang on, give me a minute. For crying out loud, Mahi, you know what time it is?” “Yes, I do. It’s almost five in the morning and you need to get your ass up. We have a problem.” “Okay, okay, I’m up. It’s almost time for my morning swim anyway. What’s going on?” “The body of one of the guys you sent over washed up on the beach just minutes ago. He was shot several times, but he also had two puncture wounds on the neck.” “Oh fuck. Where is he now? “We moved him into one of the coolers at the fish-house. Two of my guys cleaned him up and wrapped him in canvas until you tell us what to do.” “Okay, good. Give me half an hour and I’ll call you back. I’ll head over with a few of our guys once we can get organized.” “Hey, men. Prota will join us in a minute. He had to take a phone call. What do you have for us, Sesi?” “Not a lot yet, Vasili. I’m so sorry about your man―we’ll get the fuckers involved in this. Our guys who cleaned him and discovered the two puncture wounds on the side of his neck, noticed a smaller hole on his back. With a tiny needle in it. Someone used a tranquilizer dart to knock him out before he was transported aboard the yacht. In spite of the obvious bite by a vampire, the kid’s blood wasn’t drained. Combined with the gunshot wounds, I’m pretty sure he began to shift when first bitten.” “Fuck! That means the blood suckers are most likely aware of our existence now. Néo, any images from the drone? Any new communications from the yacht?” “No images, boss. Our man must have been brought on board while the drone was back at our place getting fresh batteries. Our chief enforcer, Genni, has already arranged for us to have two more drones by this afternoon so we’ll not have lapses in coverage again. We monitored one call from this guy Tepes to someone in New Orleans. He ordered additional muscle, and sent the plane down to pick them up after sunset tonight. The wolves are handling that angle of the operation.” “Mahi?” “I’ll let Mel handle this since he made the arrangements. You’re up kid.” “Okay, Néo was able to track the location called in New Orleans. It’s a large building in the French Quarter of the city. We think it’s one of their safe houses. I contacted my counterpart in the Bayou Pack, and requested assistance. I explained the situation, without mentioning you guys can shift into mermen or dolphins, and he agreed to help. “Their safe house is under surveillance. If the wolves smell any vampires, they have orders to kill them. Wolves are also on the way to Louis Armstrong Airport to await the arrival of the Vermillion jet, establish surveillance, and prevent anyone from boarding after sunset.” “Sorry about the phone call guys, but I’m glad I took it.” “What’s up Próta? “That was the owner of Acoustic Solutions. His daughter was approached by two guys as she left a movie theatre last night. She was told to inform her father he should decide what he valued most, his company or his family.” “Shit! I guess they’re ready to make a move now.” “I think so, Mahi. But I have an idea on how to deal with these assholes. Can we take a break so I can discuss this with Sesi?” “Beta Próta and Beta Sesi reporting for duty, sirs!” “Get over yourselves, assholes. But thanks for trying to lighten the mood, what did the two of you come up with?” “Próta and I made some calls and put some wheels in motion. Since our two companies are the main participants in the joint venture we arranged for a conference call with the owners of our four partners to make them aware of a potential danger to all of us. We talked about the threats and then let them know the consortium was arranging for security details for them and their immediate families. “We asked our Deltas to coordinate the arrangements and insisted a couple of wolves be included in the evening teams. In case vampires appear we know wolves can kill them but we have no knowledge of what mermen could do to them. Próta, wanna take part two? “Sure, Sesi. We asked the owner of Acoustic to call the solicitor in Québec and let him know he was ready to accept their offer but wanted to have the deal finalized over the weekend. He let the lawyer know their offer of one hundred million Euros was acceptable and to make sure the funds were ready for transfer first thing Monday morning. The little shit sounded so happy I thought he would crawl through the phone and kiss our guy. He promised to contact his client and arrange for a transfer of funds to his trust account and asked for an hour to finalize a proposed contract which he would then email. We’re waiting for it any minute now.” “Néo, I’m sure your little wiretap has revealed some information, correct?” “Right you are, Vasili. The solicitor placed a call to the yacht and then an email was sent from the boat to a bank in Marseilles. The transcript of the call and the text of the message are being emailed to you as we speak. I think we need another break until we have the proposed contract and a response from Marseilles.” “So, he called and agreed to sell, at last good news. Maybe I won’t have to return to Marseilles with nothing to show for my efforts. I’m glad the conversation our friends had with his daughter helped him realize our offer was a most generous one. Have you sent him the proposed contract?” “Yes, Prince Tepes. I expect a call from him sometime later today. I may have to fly to Halifax sometime this weekend if we’re to have a closing on Monday morning.” “The company jet will be at your disposal when it returns from New Orleans. Our friends arriving on it have their orders and know where to go―you need not concern yourself with their actions, they’re here as insurance.” “Yes, sir... About the money?” “I’ve just authorized the transfer of one hundred million Euros to your trust account. What have you found out about that abomination we encountered last night?” “Nothing so far, your highness. I contacted individuals in the top twenty population centers in North America. Not one of them has ever heard of mermen shifters. Maybe it was a mutant wolf?” “You’ve been watching too many Marvel movies but maybe you’re right. I hope so for all our sakes.” “Yes! We’ve got the motherfuckers! Mahi, by the end of tonight your pack, and our pod, should have a lot of money in a Cayman Islands bank account and two new toys to play with.” “Damn, Sesi, I’ve never seen you this excited or smiling so broadly. Let’s hear it. You have our undivided attention.” “Thanks, Vasili. Most of the credit goes to your guys. Próta came up with the idea and Néo is playing a big part in operation Blood Bath.” “Oh no, you didn’t! Please tell me you didn’t just say our plan has a corny name as if this was some sort of graphic novel adventure.” “Sorry, Mahi, but Néo came up with the name. We all thought it was funny enough to use. Anyway, the money from Vermillion is now sitting in the solicitor’s trust account and when we give the word Néo will make it disappear. The funds will jump all over the place until an account in the Cayman Islands receives a large transfer.” “How far are we straying from the law, Néo?” “Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies, boss. When the solicitor disappears and leaves behind a note on his computer about how tired he was of working for blood sucking French capitalists, and how he decided to take an early retirement and move out of Canada… well, you get the picture. Someone associated with Vermillion back in France will try to find him but they’ll have no luck. Mel, wanna take over?” “Sure thing. Néo forgot to tell you guys the Vermillion corporate jet received instructions to return to Québec since there would be no passenger pickup in New Orleans. Upon landing they’ll be met by wolves. The pilots will be sent home, and two of our flyboys will bring the plane to Halifax. All necessary paperwork will be electronically filed to show the transfer of the jet to Shiftmates Corporation. It’s a new entity jointly owned by both our companies. Another group of wolves will meet our solicitor friend as he leaves his office tonight. I won’t bother with details but the world will be better off with one less lawyer on it. Genni, your turn.” “My report is brief since I have to run out of here soon. Once the wolves have handled both those matters, Néo will take care of the money, the solicitor’s note, the ownership transfer for the jet, and the ownership transfer to the same company of one luxury yacht currently anchored in the Bay of Fundy. Before sunset, a group of my guys will shift into dolphins, swim to the boat, then shift into mermen, and board our new vessel. We’ll catch the vampires while they’re unable to function, dispose of them, and of any of their human accomplices.” “You guys are shitting us. We end up with lots of money, a corporate jet, and a luxury yacht?” “You got it, boss. Once we’re done, we’ll will get you and Mahi on a Zodiac and out to the Atlantis. Oh yeah, we took the liberty of naming our new canoe.” “Are we ready, men?” “Yes we are, Vasili. You and Mahi just kick back, relax, and get ready to light up the victory cigars when Operation Blood Bath is over. Próta, Néo, and I will take care of everything. We decided having everyone around the table in the sound proof conference room was best. We turned the place into mission control.” “Vasili, I think our boys have been smoking the funny seaweed again. Operation Blood Bath? Mission Control? What the fuck? When do we get started, Néo?” “First step is the solicitor, Mahi. But our teams should start checking in any—” “Mission control, this is building security. We’re waiting for the package to arrive.” “That’s Mel, guys. He’s in charge of snatching the lawyer. Our surveillance has his routine down pat and we almost know when he farts after lunch.” “Mission control here. We copy building security.” “This is airport security, mission control. We’re in position. Toy delivery expected momentarily.” “The guys taking control of the plane will wait until we give them the signal to step in. They’ll take care of the pilots, and then head to Halifax after refueling.” “Mission control this is beach patrol, we’re ready for our swim.” “Genni’ss leading the boarding party himself, we think he—” “Excuse me, Monsieur?” “Oui?” “We have a message for you from Vermillion.” “Who the hell are you? How do you know that name? I’m calling security.” “Oh, I don’t think so, Monsieur…” “Ooops, mission control this is building security. We sort of damaged the package so we’re going to place it in the trunk of our car and take it with us.” “Was that growling I heard?” “Yes it was, Vasili, one of the boys must have gotten excited, shifted, and ripped a throat out. Néo, that’s a go for you.” “On it, Sesi. Just give me a minute and… Okay money has started the trip to the Cayman Islands. Time to upload a note explaining the disappearance of a slime-ball, and to file ownership transfer papers on a small private jet. Money is ours, guys. Let’s get us a plane. Airport Security, you have a green light.” “Got it. Two pilots and a ground operations director coming right up.” “Gentlemen, if we could have a minute.” “Sorry guys, this is private property you’re not allowed in the building.” “I think we are since your boss was kind enough to give us the plane as an early Christmas present.” “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m calling—” “Damn, I can’t believe all three tripped and broke their necks when they fell! Mission Control, we’re loading up the garbage and taxiing to our hangar. Give us an hour to refuel and change the numbers on the plane and we’ll be on our way to Halifax.” “Roger that airport security. You have the necessary documents in case you need them. I’ve already filed a flight plan on your behalf. Be safe, flyboys. Now comes the dangerous part. Beach patrol this is mission control, you’re cleared for a swim in the bay.” “Acknowledge that mission control Keep an eye on the TV. We’ll report as soon as possible. Vaaaaampiiiiires… come out and plaaaaay…” “Bathroom break everyone, we have a little time before they’re ready to board. We have all three drones in place so we can follow the action.” “Here we go men Watch the screen. Damn, that’s a hell of a lot of dolphins surrounding the yacht. How many did you send out?” “Only a dozen, Mahi. Those are mostly wild ones. Genni must have invited them to swim.” “Great cover, Vasili. Wow! Nice breach!” “Take a look at the infrared camera, guys. You can see our men shifting again right underneath the keel. There they go. They’re boarding now. Infrared reveals two individuals inside. No idea how many vampires since they don’t give off heat. “Now it could get dicey, boss. If those two goons pull out guns our guys… Oh shit, one of our guys is down. He’s probably shot… There go the assholes trying to back out of the cabin. They’re headed right toward our guys waiting outside. Yeah! Men overboard it seems. Those two must have decided to go for a swim in order to cool down. I wonder if they’re alive or not. Sesi wanted at least one of them alive so we could interrogate him.” “Right now I’d be happy knowing all the vampires are gone, Néo. Someone to use enhanced interrogation techniques on would just be a bonus. What was that? Quick! Move the drone! Track that column of smoke rising through the cabin’s roof.” “Shit, can’t do it guys; it’s moving too fast.” “Mission control this is the crew of the Atlantis. We have zero casualties, one flesh wound, and two drenched rats. One blood sucker seems to have evaporated. How about we send the tender out and you guys can come and check out our new toy?”
  19. 1 point
    “Hey, Mahi, great to hear from you, buddy. You’ll be here Friday for the Consortium’s quarterly meeting, correct? Staying the weekend with me, you big, bad, horny wolf?” “I sure hope he is. The man drives me nuts in and out of bed. Perfect male specimen, just a smidgen shorter than me, no fat to be seen on his body, and the perfect amount of body hair. Too bad he’s not available on a permanent basis. He’s the one man I could see myself mated to for life.” “Must every other sentence out of your mouth have sexual overtones, Vasilikós Delfíni Allásso̱n? You know I’m a married man with children, Vasili. Yet you keep trying to tarnish my image in front of my tribe. You’re such a dick! But to answer your questions: yes, I’ll be there for lunch and the afternoon meeting on Friday. I’m not planning on returning home until sometime Sunday.” “You damn wolves are all the same, act all prim and proper in public, while in truth you’re just like the rest of us―sex maniacs. I’m looking forward to seeing you, my friend.” “And I’m looking forward to pounding your hot hairy ass as often as I can get it up over those three days. Waking up holding your furry body will also be a treat; always enjoy all that body hair rubbing against my smooth chest.” “So am I, brother. The wife insisted I stay the weekend. Claims I’m in a much better mood after a weekend hanging out with you. She sends her love and wants you to come visit. You haven’t seen the pups in a while.” “He’s in such a good mood after he spends a weekend with me because I have a cock and his wife doesn’t. Chief Mahigan Keme Wisakachek may be the Alpha of the Kessagesit First Nation, but in bed Mahi’s happy to let me be in charge. And those ice blue eyes of his show me how he feels about me every time I put his legs on my shoulders. They are hypnotic.” “Isn’t the oldest one close to puberty, Mahi? Planning anything special for his first shift?” “Yeah, it should happen soon. My guess is it’ll be in about six months. We’ll have a family celebration the night after his first full moon; the larger, more formal party will follow a couple of weeks later. You’ll get an invite.” “If the boy ends up looking as good as the father he’ll be a knockout. I’ll have to bring my boys to the party so they can all get reacquainted. It would rock if our sons ended up having as close a relationship as we do.” “Great, you know I’ll be there.” “Good, and about this weekend―make sure there’s real food on the menu. Seafood’s fine as an appetizer, but I need a big piece of raw meat to keep me happy. See ya Friday.” “I have to remind Vasili his kids will both be expected at my pup’s shifting party. Our kids have not spent as much time together as we did while growing up. I think the demands we place on our young today leave them very little time to just be kids. One day, two of our boys will inherit our leadership positions, and I hope they are as close as my childhood friend and I are. “As Chief of the Kessagesit First Nation I must have a wife and produce pups, it works just fine as I love my mate. I’m not sure I could enter into a permanent relationship with a male, but if I was to, Vasili would be it; he is the most considerate, caring and loving individual I’ve ever met. “The bond between our people has been maintained for over five centuries and it’s now up to us to perpetuate the relationship. The current project between their company and our Moonlight Development Corporation is the twenty-first century version of our ancestors hunting and fishing together.” “You have a minute, Alpha?” “Come in Próta, take a load off. What’s with the monkey suit?” Vasili’s blonde Chief Operating Officer was impeccably dressed in a custom tailored suit that made him look like a movie star. “You look good, man. Betcha a bunch of our female employees and some of our male ones got moist when they saw you walk by.” “I swear, you gay guys define anything and everything in sexual terms. But thank you for the compliment and as long as the wife’s moist when I get home tonight, I’ll be happy. Had to dress up for a meeting with the Minister of Energy about the Bay of Fundy project. I’ll fill you in later. Did you confirm the wolves’ attendance at the meeting?” “I did, Mahi and Sesi will be here, and they’ll both sleep at my place Friday night. Our inner circles will get together for breakfast on Saturday. We’ll be able to spend time together socializing without the humans.” “Depending on how Friday goes, we may need to do more than socialize. I confirmed with the other four members of the consortium, and they’ll all be here. I had a very interesting conversation with the owner of our smallest partner company, Acoustic Solutions, Ltd.” “Was it related to our project?” “I’m not sure, but it may be. He received a letter from a solicitor in Montreal, representing a group of financiers who are interested in making an investment in his company. Or making an outright purchase. He’s agreed to further communications with them. His financial position is the weakest in the group. If he can find additional capital, he may go for it.” “Did you get a copy of the letter?” “Yes, he emailed me a scan of it.” “Give it to Néo; tell him to let the IT people loose on it. Have him coordinate a complete background search on the solicitor. And find a lead to those investors. But tell him to keep it quiet. The interest may be just that. But considering the size of the project, and the number of companies who expressed an interest in it and submitted proposals…” “Got it. We need to know who’s trying to get in bed with us.” “Now who’s defining a situation in sexual terms, straight boy?” “Fuck off! See ya at lunch on Friday.” “Is Néo your new Gamma, Alpha Vasili?” “Yes he is, Sesi. He just became the Chief Information Officer of Trident Enterprises at the beginning of the year. One smart cookie and a big fucker. Played football at MIT and graduated Summa Cum Laude.” “Sounds like someone I’d not want to meet in a dark alley.” “Brilliant comment coming from the big, black dude in the room who has the ability to tear a throat out with his fangs. How do you put up with him as your Beta, Mahi?” “He does all the hard thinking for the pack so I don’t have to break a sweat?” “Smart ass! Próta, would you get the door?” “Hey, rookie, ‘bout time you joined us!” “Hi, Beta, sorry I’m late. Had a long night and then lost track of time during my morning swim.” “Alpha Vasilikos, Alpha Mahigan, my apologies for my tardiness.” “Don’t sweat it, buddy, have a mimosa, it’s still a bit too early for the hard stuff.” “Thank you, Alpha. It’s good to see you again, Alpha Mahi.” “Same here, Néo, I’d like to introduce you to my Beta, Sesakuse Boktusum. Sesi, this is Néos Delfíni Trópos.” “Pleasure to meet you, Beta.” “Likewise, may I suggest we drop the titles? Two Alphas, two Betas, and a Gamma is too much of an alphabet soup. How about keeping it casual when it’s just the inner circles from now on?” “Wow, Mahi, I now see why you keep him around. The man’s a genius.” “Stuff it, Alpha!” “What’s this world coming to when an alpha can’t get any respect? Okay, rookie, let’s get this going―you’re up.” “Cool. After your meeting yesterday with the reps of our partners in the consortium, some of my crew spent the remainder of the day and half the night trying to dig up all the information we could find on the solicitors who sent the letters of inquiries all our partners received. Four different lawyers, all sole practitioners with different addresses, but coincidence was not even a consideration in our view. “Here’s a quick summary of what we are certain of: all four are working under the direction of a small legal firm headquartered in Québec City. We were able to trace transfers of money from the firm to the individual solicitors. A few days before making those transfers, the Québec law firm itself received a large amount of money from Vermillion Industries, a known corporate raider headquartered in Marseilles, France. “We discovered no evidence of previous activity by the French company in North America, but the IT gang is still looking. Some of their prior acquisitions in Europe we looked at have not been friendly. There are some rumors of questionable activities in their practices―we’re still investigating. The ownership of Vermillion is right now a mystery. There’s a convoluted trail of corporations, trusts, and individuals. It’ll take us time to untangle it. “I’m sorry I don’t have more information at this time, but we spent twelve hours poking around while trying to be careful our inquiries could not be detected. Or if they were, they couldn’t be traced to us. We’ll continue working, and try to have additional details by Monday.” “Please, automatically include Mahi in all updates you provide me, okay?” “Yes, Alpha Vasili. Sorry, sir, not used to calling my bosses by their first names” “Get used to it, kid, you’re part of the Inner Circle now.” “Any idea why our four business partners were approached and our companies were not? Could it have anything to do with us being Lunatics?” “I don’t think so, Sesi. We found two other instances of them approaching a consortium. In both, the smaller participants were the ones initially targeted. The larger partners were approached after Vermillion had become part of the group through the acquisition of the lesser companies.” “Thoughts, Próta?” “We sit tight and wait, Mahi. We make our partners aware the letters are part of a concerted effort by one entity and request all four partners initiate further discussions without making any firm commitments. When we get responses, we’ll take any new clues and dig some more. I’d suggest both our IT departments work together and try to intercept all communications between Marseilles and Québec City.” “Sounds good, I’ll have our guy contact you, Néo. But I’d also like you to meet in person. We’ve got a full moon a week from Wednesday, why don’t the three of you come out to Riverside-Albert the weekend after with your families. Our kids can all spend some time playing. We can chill, and enjoy the time away from work. And, Néo? I know you’re single, come alone, I’m sure you’ll be popular with plenty of my guys or gals. Not sure which side you play for.” “Both, Mahi, both!” “Who wants breakfast? We have more mimosas, olive bread, feta omelets, loukaniko, honey-sesame bars. and Greek coffee.” “Shit, fish food again. Haven’t you heard of steak and eggs?” “Be a good wolf and eat your breakfast, Mahi. You can even have extra helpings of sausage. I know how much you love Greek sausage.” “You’re such a dick, Vasili!” “Damn! Your ass is insatiable. How does it feel?” “Sore, loose, and sloppy…” “It should, Mahi, it should. That’s the fifth time I’ve pounded your hole, and filled you up in the last day and a half. You’re fucking voracious. Maybe we should have invited Néo to come back with us from the bar tonight. He would have dumped the pretty tranny he took home for a chance at fucking you!” “Forget it, Vasili. We’ve been through this before. You’re the only man who’s ever fucked me. And you’re the only man who will ever fuck me. I’m my pack’s Alpha and I can’t submit to anyone. A sign of weakness could bring a challenge that would be disrupt tribe. Maybe when we both step down things could change. But until then, I must be content with spending whatever time I am able to with you.” “I just wish―” “I know, I’m neither blind nor stupid. And I love you just as much. I’ve been in love with you for the last twenty years I think. But things are what they are. We both have responsibilities to our people. Neither one of us is about to skirt those. So, for the foreseeable future this is all we can have. You know you’re free to―” “Yes I am, and I’ve never hidden the fact I’ve enjoyed sex with other men. But that’s all it’s been, sex. You’re the only one I’ve ever made love to.” “More venison sausage, Néo? You seem to like them. Hell, you barely ate any biscuits and gravy, chicken fried steak, or ham and cheese omelets. Although I did notice you had extra helpings of fry bread.” “That boy eats enough for two. Considering his size, I guess it’s normal. And based on what I heard about last night, the rest of him’s just as big. Seems both the husband and wife are sore this morning after taking him back to their place when our gathering broke up.” “Thank you, Mahi, I’ve had enough. I’ll have to swim an extra mile tomorrow morning to burn off the calories. Although I’d love to know where you buy the sausages.” “My mate makes them from whatever kill we bring back after any of our runs. I’ll have her set some aside for you next time she makes some, buddy.” “He’s a heck of a nice guy, I’ll make sure he knows he’s welcome to come visit anytime he wants. It’ll help keep some of my pack members very happy in the process.” “Sorry to rush the business but, Sesi and I need to make some calls together before I head back to Halifax. Three of our partners received additional information on a possible relationship with the mysterious investors, while Acoustic Solutions received an outright purchase proposal. We asked the three without an actual offer to request extra time to consider the proposals. Or to ask about specific items. The owner of Acoustic Solutions agreed to reject the offer.” “Our Betas seem to work well together; a blessing considering how different our kinds are, and how previous ones have come to blows in the middle of a joint operation. Vasili and I definitely lucked out.” “Próta counseled Acoustic to reject a second offer. The solicitor sent a third one yesterday. The latest one includes a request to reconsider their decision, and makes veiled threats about the safety of the company’s executives and their family. The existence of wild wolves in the area where their children play was mentioned. It’s something we are concerned about. We took the liberty of informing our Deltas about the new development. The fucking frogs may know about us being shifters.” “Good work, Betas. Vasili and I are happy the two of you are working together well in our first large joint operation since we took over as Alphas.” “The enforcers on both sides need to raise the risk level for our organizations, and become more vigilant. Keeping both groups safe has to be top priority.” “If you’ll excuse us, gentlemen, Sesi and I have work to do.” “Thanks, guys, keep both Vasili and I in the loop.” “This four hour drive between Mahi’s lands in New Brunswick and our headquarters in Halifax sucks. We need to build helipads and get us a chopper. Both our groups have enough retired wingnuts to fly them. Our joint venture’s going to require lots of travel back and forth, and we can definitely afford it. The long travel time will end up being a fifteen or twenty minute flight. “Wish I could have ridden with the kids back to Sambro. They seemed to enjoy themselves. The wolves went out of their way to make us all feel welcome. We need to encourage more interaction. When Mahi’s dad and mine threw us together so many times while growing up, many thought it was a mistake. How could such different beings become close? “And yet here we are, about to start the largest joint project in the history of our people. And unbeknownst to almost everyone, the relationship between us alphas is stronger than a close friendship. All of us benefit from our closeness, and our people will be better off if our youngsters follow in our footsteps. Our differences need not keep us apart. They can actually help our bonds grow stronger.” “Yes, your highness, we followed your instructions faithfully. The four solicitors we hired are not connected in any way. None are aware of who their ultimate employer is. The initial letters of inquiry were sent to the four smaller partners. We’ve had no indication they have communicated with each other about the possible investments. Your prediction they would not want to reveal their potential interest in selling out has proven accurate. “We received requests for further information from all four. In response, the smaller entity was made an offer. The other three were provided with additional details on our potential involvement. We hinted at deep pockets on the part of the interested party. “Our first overture to Acoustic Solutions―the company working on noise and EMF cancellation systems―was rejected. I understand that’s our initial target since the elimination of such systems, although required for environmental protection reasons, will increase the eventual rate of return on your investment. “A subsequent proposition, somewhat more generous than the previous one, was also turned down. Our last communication presented a third offer. Substantially more generous, but still within the parameters you established. It also hinted at the dangers surrounding the project for those involved and their families. We reminded them there are wild wolves roaming the wilderness surrounding the Bay of Fundy. We will monitor the wolf owned company’s activities to determine if they become aware of our intentions. “The two individuals in Martinique you directed us to contact are expected in Canada shortly. I wired the total amount due under their contract yesterday. They’ll be transported to Halifax, Nova Scotia where three of the five consortium partners are headquartered. We have established a safe house to accommodate them, and provide protection during the times they are vulnerable. They will be instructed to begin with fear inducing activities, and not to inflict any physical harm unless so instructed. By the time your yacht anchors in the Bay of Fundy, we should be in the process of pursuing a second joint venture partner. The four small companies could be in our hands by the end of the year. That would leave the large human controlled one to deal with, before we tackle the construction one owned by the wolves. “I understand your need to remain aboard the vessel, and will present myself before you whenever you summon me. You will be safe from the wolves by remaining on the water Prince Tepes.” “Vasili Allásso̱n…” “This is Chief Wisakachek.” “Alphas, this is Néo. {lease activate your scramblers Alert Level One.” “Vasili here, Néo, scrambler activated.” “Same here, Néo, this is Mahi. What’s going on?” “Alphas, we intercepted a satellite call between a vessel in the Gulf of Maine and our solicitor friend in Québec City. They are aware of the wolves’ involvement but believe Trident is controlled by humans. We also have a name behind Vermillion, Prince Vlad Stoker Tepes.” “Shit!” “Fuck!” “You mean …” Greek pork sausages flavored with orange peel, fennel seed, other dried herbs and seeds.
  20. 1 point
    The man crouched low to the damp earth and touched the small indentation. The track was fresh, only minutes old. He rose and continued down the path that was invisible to those less observant. His bare feet made no noise as he stealthily walked forward, trailing his hands along the occasional broken piece of vegetation marking his quarry’s path. He heard a twig snap and stopped, listening intently. After a brief period of silence, he slowly crept forward to a small stand of shrubs and peered through them. He held his spear close, ready to fly at a moment’s notice. He held his breath as he spied the small deer he’d been tracking for hours. The little animal was at a bad angle; if he threw his spear now, he would surely miss. He waited with the patience of a skilled hunter as the creature grazed in the small clearing. The animal turned toward him, providing the perfect opportunity for the hunter to strike. The spear sailed noiselessly through the air and found its mark unerringly. The little deer staggered forward and collapsed. The man was upon the deer in seconds, eviscerating it with a sharpened stone and eating the warm liver and kidneys before other predators could scent the kill and drive him off. The deer was lean, but there was enough meat to last for days. He proceeded to expertly butcher the animal, then stopped abruptly. The ambient noise of the forest had changed. He continued with his task, on even higher alert now, cutting the meat as quickly as he could and placing it on a worn skin. The man jumped up and raised his spear as the bushes directly across the small clearing rustled and parted, allowing another man to enter the tight space. The man was smaller than the hunter and very thin. His right leg dragged behind him, and he looked at the hunter with a mixture of fear and desperation. He was dressed in thin skins, not the thick fur that the temperature demanded, and shivered as he stood in place, hands outstretched in a supplicating manner. The hunter frowned and motioned with his spear as if to throw it; however he retained his grip. The other man tried to duck away, but his lame leg gave out, and he fell with a pained grunt. The hunter decided the smaller man posed no threat and resumed butchering the deer. He could pick the bones if the predators didn’t get him first. A breeze blew through the clearing, causing the smaller man to shiver violently. The hunter’s eyes widened in fear—an emotion he seldom felt—and he backed away from his kill, grabbing his spear. The scent evoked memories of heat and lust and searing pain. He involuntarily raised his hand to the rough, scarred skin on the left side of his face as the unmistakable scent filled his consciousness. Mate! It had been many autumns since the hunter last encountered that smell. He lived with the tribe then. When the other young men hit puberty, they quickly found unbound females and mated with them with abandon. The dark-haired young hunter would watch in fascination as the male’s engorged members slid in and out of the young females. One of the females tried to get him to do the same thing to her, but his body didn’t react the same way as the other males. She quickly grew bored and frustrated with him, leaving to find someone who could satisfy her urges. The tribe’s elders were not pleased with the young man, as soon he was the only unmated male in a tribe with an overabundance of females. He was an excellent hunter, though, and useful to the tribe in other ways, so they allowed him to remain. During the following dry season, the group of hunters had travelled far for a kill. It was worth it, as the meat from the mammoth would last the tribe for weeks. The young hunter had been instrumental in the hunt and delivered the killing blow. The hunters were jubilant and offered him the heart of the beast, which he happily consumed. After the butchering was completed, the group moved to a clearing in the woods to spend the night before heading home. The dark-haired youth grinned cockily as he approached a nearby spring to quench his thirst and bathe. He stopped dead as an unfamiliar scent washed over him, causing a physical reaction he had not previously experienced. The source of the scent was crouched at the edge of the spring, drinking the cool, refreshing water. Even though they had no spoken language, and therefore no word for what he was feeling, the message was clear. Mate! Acting purely on instinct, the young hunter strode over to the man by the pool, his erection leading the way. He knelt next to the man and reached for his dick with one hand as his other caressed the man’s ass, his finger briefly flitting over the most intimate of places. The other man’s eyes widened in shock, and he grabbed a stone, smashing it against the dark-haired hunter’s head. He fell to the ground, unconscious. The young hunter awoke the next morning with a splitting headache. He sat up groggily and felt the blood that crusted his face from the gaping head wound. He crawled to the spring and drank deeply before plunging his head into the cool water, cleaning away the dried blood. He stood up, and after a brief moment of dizziness, managed to make his way to the clearing where the hunters spent the night. There was no trace of them. The young man knew the way home, however, and two days later he arrived at the cluster of caves during the middle of the great feast celebrating the hunters’ return. Silence descended upon the tribe as the young man entered the celebratory circle. The man from the spring grew white upon the sight of the dark-haired youth he was sure he’d killed. Through gestures he indicated to the tribe the events that happened at the spring. When the young hunter didn’t deny them, the tribe leader picked up a branch and set it in the fire. He gestured for the young man to come close. The naïve youth realized too late what the leader had in mind, and his screams echoed throughout the forest as the hot brand seared the side of his face. He ran into the forest and never attempted to return. The hunter turned and ran away from the crippled man in the clearing, heading toward the cave he’d lived in since spring. He entered the small cave cautiously, then lowered his spear when he determined it was clear. He lay down on a pile of furs, burrowing deeply. Sleep eluded him. The scent of the crippled man remained strong and provoked a physical response he hadn’t experienced since that fateful night at the spring. He touched his erection and gasped at the sensations that coursed through his body. He wrapped his hand around it, and the movement caused him to cry out in ecstasy as white fluid spurted all over his hairy chest. He fell asleep with a smile on his face, remembering the other man’s scent and the sensations he’d just experienced. Hours later he sat bolt upright, grabbing his spear. His attention was drawn to the mouth of the cave as he heard a slow scraping sound steadily approaching. He raised the weapon, preparing to throw it when the strong scent hit his nostrils, causing him to pause and then lower it. The man from the clearing hobbled closer, hands outstretched. He set something down on the ground, backed away, sat, and waited. The hunter approached warily. He flicked open the skin with the tip of his spear, finding the meat he’d left behind when he fled the other man’s presence. The scent of the other man overwhelmed the hunter. His body physically responded, but he also felt other emotions he couldn’t make sense of. A low growl drew their attention to the mouth of the cave. A small tiger prowled toward them, drawn by the scent of the meat and the crippled human who would be easy prey. The tiger leapt toward the smaller man. The hunter threw his spear. Through a combination of skill and blind luck, the spear entered through the tiger’s eye, felling it immediately. The hunter was instantly upon it, twisting its thick neck with a sickening crunch. His first thought was of the smaller man cowering on the ground. He knelt by the man’s side and gently touched his shoulder. The fear in the man’s eyes evoked a response foreign to the dark-haired hunter. He would’ve given his life to protect the man with the intoxicating scent. The smaller man let out a soft cry and embraced the larger hunter, burrowing his face into the man’s furry chest. The hunter realized they could no longer stay there. The scent of the slain tiger would attract more predators. He retrieved his sharpened stone and butchered as much meat as he could carry, adding it to the skin containing the venison. He walked over to his pile of furs and handed them to the shivering smaller man, who donned them gratefully. The hunter held out his hand and helped the crippled man to his feet. He bent down and gestured for the other man to get on his back. The hunter’s burdens were heavy, but his heart was light, as he carried his mate, their supplies, and his weapons out of the cave in search of new shelter for them both.
  21. 1 point
    Chapter Sixteen: The Bargain With no distinction between night and day Lanyon had no idea of how long he sat in his cell. It did not matter. All he could think of was the danger Avery was in. Why were they separated? Was he being kept in another cell? He doubted it. Avery was too rare a prize to waste in the brig. He was ruminating on just that when another prisoner was shoved in his cell. “Avery!” The figure remained where he fell. When he reached him he saw it was not Avery but Talon. “Not you again.” “Please… please don’t hurt me.” His eyes were bloodshot and crusted with dried tears. All over him were deep black bruises. He had clearly been tortured. “Naw… you’re not worth the effort.” Stepping away He found himself dragging Talon along. The kid was clinging to him like a suckered squid. “Hey get off me.” “Don’t leave me. I can’t be alone. I can’t.” Lanyon didn’t know why, but he began to suspect that Talon’s injuries had been self inflicted. “Talon, where’s Puggles?” “They took him from me… Please, please don’t leave me alone.” Poor kid. He has had never known a moment left by himself. “I guess I can keep you company for a bit.” Practically dragged to the floor he did what he could to comfort the lad. It took a while but when he was sure Lanyon would not run off he calmed down enough to sleep. “If you weren’t such a brat I might come to like you.” Lanyon combed the knots out of Talon’s hair while he slept. When the cell doors opened again it was Avery who entered. “Ave!” Bolting to his feet Lanyon practically tackled his friend. “What the hell is going on? Are you alright? Let me take a look. If they’ve dared hurt you I’ll…” “I’m fine Lan… As fine as I can be.” “What do you mean?” “Wait.” Avery went over to where Talon was cowering in a corner. Reaching into a pocket he handed him a blue vial. “Here.” Talon consumed its contents in a single gulp. Whatever it contained took effect quickly. The bruises faded and his skin gained back a little of its color. Talon’s trembling muscles relaxed to stillness. “Puggles?” “You will see him soon.” “What did you just give him?” “They call it Blue. I don’t have a clue to what it really is or how it works. Talon mentioned it once but until now I’ve never seen its effects.” Talon chuckled, a wide grin on his face. Lanyon took note of it. “Seems to do more than heal. Probably addictive.” “Yeah… better for us to avoid it completely.” “Have they offered you any?” “Not yet though I don’t know why. From what I understand it’s part of their daily diet.” “I…” Seeing Avery again and safe left Lanyon mute. That did not mean he could not share his sense of relief. He pinned Avery against the nearest wall. He peeled away their clothes. Like a starved man reaching for bread his hand grabbed at Avery’s flesh. If Avery wanted to protest his mouth over his lips silenced him. Just as he reached for Ave’s belt, Avery switched their positions just in time to take the full force of a stun bolt. “Ave!” Avery collapsed into Lan’s arms. He looked for the shooter but he caught only the tail end of the fleeing guard’s cloak. “Why Ave, why?” Carefully he lowered his friend on a cot. The spot where the bolt hit was red but flesh appeared undamaged. “Don’t leave me,” Ave whispered. “Leave you? Not in this life.” Catching a movement in the shadow out of the corner of his eyes. He twisted about to find the slaughtered head of the guard rolling at the foot of the cot. The thrower stood three feet behind him. He was covered head to foot in black armor. Even his face was covered. In both hands he wielded a staff with tipped with two foot blades on either end with a just as long grip in the center. Talon, seeing the head and the staff’s wielder screamed. “Silence!” The man commanded in deeply accented English. Avery pulled Lanyon closer. “Don’t leave me.” “Never,” he whispered back. The man with the staff commanded Lanyon to move away from Avery. “Stand aside Centarii.” “No… you stand aside.” “You dare defy me?” “Where Ave is concerned yes. “The masked man pressed a sword tip against Lanyon’s chest. Even when it cut into his flesh he didn’t budge. When it became clear that he would not back down, the mask man threw the weapon against the opposite wall and screamed in defeat. Tossing his mask aside he went to his knees. “Please Ave, I’ll give you whatever you want. Don’t let this fool stand between us.” Lanyon turned back to face Avery. “What is this?” “The price of your life.” Avery sat up and turned his attention to the Segundo. “He is a part of me. To harm him is to harm us.” “Then I will spare his life.” “No! You will do more than that. He is to remain with me. Remain with us. If you want me to accept you then you must accept him.” Everett clenched his jaw but nodded. Avery wasn’t done with his list of demands. “You will give Puggles back to Talon.” “I will give both to you but I will not give them back to each other.” Avery knew better than to demand more. “If you do these things and find my father I will stay with you until a way home is found.” “And after?” “You will have to decide what matters to you more: me or the Maze.” “You would take me back to your world?” “Only you and no other. I will not let you deliver the horrors of your world to Earth.” “You are asking too much. How can I give up all I have strived for?” “The decision is yours. If ruling the Maze is more important to you than me you must swear you will let us go.” “By the Personas you deal a hard bargain but it is fair. If I value my throne more than I will come to value you than I have no right to keep you.” Everett took Avery’s hands in his. “Will you give me your hand?” “I… I do.” “You have made me the happiest man in the Maze. We’ll have a ceremony at once. I’ll see to everything. The towering Segundo headed out of the cell. “You will not regret this.” Lanyon kept his silence until he was sure Everett was gone. “You might not but I do. What are you think Ave? What about Karl? What about us?” “It is the only way we can survive. Without his protection we will find ourselves the lab rats of the Personas. He is also the only one who can help us find my dad.” “Do you love him? Can you?” “He is a Walker.” Aaron said as if that explained everything. On returning to the Fisher Estate Karl focused his full attention on reading through the companies files on Lordon and Walker Industries. What he found didn’t bode well for him, Ave, or the Dozens. Cal was proving quite skilled in diverting the attention of his father’s old friends in the company. Robert was putty in his hands and willing became one of the Dozens. Soon Robert, also a lawyer would replace his father as Fisher Industries chief legal consol. The same steps were being taken to replace the board with men loyal to Cal. Only when the time was right would Karl take full control. Karl was buried in a stack of files dealing with recent nano research when he felt a pair of hands massage his neck. “Mmmm that feels nice.” “I’m glad.” Cal whispered. “I think you’re due a break.” Reaching around he pulled his husband into his lap. “You might be right. There is so much I need to learn.” “Why not delegate? We have plenty of experts on the payroll.” “When I think of egg heads… hot and sexy doesn’t come in mind.” “They don’t have to be among the Dozen.” “I don’t think I can trust someone who isn’t.” “There are always the Symbiotes.” “I do not think I could stomach doing that to another man.” “Just a suggestion.” As Cal walked away he left of trail of clothes behind him. Greatly tempted to follow Karl turned his gaze on the picture he kept on the desk. It should him and Ave shirtless and in each other’s arms. For Ave it had been an innocent act. For Karl it had always meant much more. Each time he felt his determination weaken he gazed at the photo to remind himself what the true prize was. His commitment to Ave was share by the original Double Dozen but not the newer ones. They only desired tender affections of the originals. That would cause problems one day but not before he had Ave back. “You summoned me master.” Captain Ryan Gains was one of the few of the newer Dozens that he trusted as much as one of the original Dozen. It took a while for him to discover the reason why. But thanks to contacts within the Pentagon he learned that the Captain’s father had been part of the mission that Thad Labatt had led to find Ave’s dad. “Come over here.” Karl slapped his empty lap. The redhead’s lips form a wide grin. “More than happy to.” Karl dropped his pants to his knees, freeing his erect cock. After he gave the captain a good ride they retreated to a spy-proof conference room. “What more have you learned about your father’s mission?” “Not much. Unlike Winters and Labatt, he never came back. According to the debriefing Colonel Labatt made on their return he had been among the men who ended up trapped in the Maze when the Relic gateway had been destroyed. “Who destroyed it and why?” “Your father and Avery’s led a revolt at Walker’s secret base. They intentionally led Walker into the Maze then destroyed the Relic and trap him there.” “Why not kill him?” “I do not know but they must have had a good reason.” “From what I’ve read on Lordon’s records of the Eye Ave’s dad and Travis were both born in the Maze but influenced by polar opposite gateways, the Eye and the Relic. That might be the source of the bond between them. They might not have killed Travis because Ave’ dad wouldn’t let it happen but I’m only guessing.” “Makes sense given your bond to Ave. Most of the Dozen are decedents of those born under the influence of the Relic. Beside’s Ave you’re the only one who’s father was influenced by the Eye who is a member of the original Double Dozens.” “True. We need to know more however.” “Is that the mission you have for me?” “Part of it. It is as you said. I am the only one other original other than Ave who was born under the influence of the Eye. You might not be an original but so where you. Where were you born by the way?” “I assumed it was before my father went on that mission but I can’t say for sure.” “I am however. You were one of those Ave’s father brought back with him. That is why I trust you more than the new Dozens . You were not only influenced by the Eye but by Ave’s dad as well. That is why I am sending you into the Maze. To find Ave and if possible our dads, yours included.” “I am honored by your trust in me. Will I be going alone?” “You can take whoever you want with you. The only condition I have is that they were made a part of the Dozens by no one other than you or me.” Ryan clearly like the idea of that. “That actually sounds fun.” “Consider it a going away party.” “What of Cal?” The Captain was all business again. “He has his uses but there is something about him I do not trust. There’s a streak of jealousy in him I’m uncomfortable with. I will have to deal with it eventually but not before Ave returns.” “If there is a member of the Dozens you cannot trust then that person should be eliminated.” “Are you offering to do the deed?” “If you so order it.” “I might have to but not now. I will have the originals keep a closer eye on him. I am fond of him but Ave comes first.” “You and me both.” He gave Karl a salute. Karl replied with a kiss and a grope. Julian would have put more of his people around the Fisher Estate but that would have drawn too much attention. They were not all that needed given he had the perfect spy he could depend on. It had not been hard to convince Fisher’s chief consul the need to take steps to remove Labatt and his friends as a threat to Cal and the company. Breaking Cal fully from his conditioning was impossible without killing him. Weakening it was possible. It involved the use of emotional altering drugs delivered by nanos. Having Glenn’s son put the drug in his food was easy enough. Even though Rob had quickly been converted afterwards the drug needed only be delivered once. Slowly but surely the drug would weaken his connection to the others. His growing isolation would lead to paranoia. His paranoia would lead to his betraying the Dozens. His betrayal would bring the Dozens back under Julian’s control. Julian’s people were already feeding his fears with stories of Karl’s undying love for Avery. Karl’s own obsession of getting the Winters back only served to aid Julian. When the time was right he would push Cal over the edge. It would be a blood bath. Karl would survive… Cal would not dare harm him. But before the smoke cleared the gestalt Karl had carefully built would be in ruins. He and the survivors could then be dealt with without a fuss. There was only one flaw to the plan. If Karl were to find Avery before Julian could use Cal then no matter how many killed the gestalt would be unbreakable. If only the Board had not forbidden he not harm the two. “Damn you Amanda. You risk ruining everything we’ve work for.”
  22. 1 point
    Cameron - Chapter 20 On Monday morning Cole picked Cameron up just past the crack of dawn at 7am. They needed to be in Portsmouth by 10 and wanted to allow enough time for a pit stop or two and still be there and waiting when Jesse’s bus showed up at the station. Putting the suitcases he and Cole had packed together in the trunk of the car he closed it back down then got into the front passenger seat. He leaned over the seat and gave Cole a good morning kiss, seeing from Cole’s antsy behavior that he was just as excited as him. Cole pulled out of the driveway and they headed for the Interstate, which would take them straight through to Portsmouth. Even though they had allowed for two pit stops they only made one at the rest area in Kennebunk, the one that had a Cinnabon inside. “I tell ya Cameron,” Cole said shaking his head dramatically as they stepped into the building. “These are the best damn cinnamon buns you’ll ever eat!” Always having loved cinnamon buns and definitely wanting to try these, as the whole place smelled like heavenly cinnamon despite the burger king that shared the space, Cameron eagerly looked over the menu as Cole stood beside him already knowing what he wanted, having known since they’d taken off that morning and decided to stop. Deciding on a Pecan bon they placed their orders then sat down in the adjoining dining room, the buns being too big and sticky to attempt to eat while driving. They spent about ten minutes eating, Cameron agreeing whole-heartedly that they were the best Cinnamon buns he’d ever tasted. After taking a bathroom break they got back in the car and back on the highway. They got into Portsmouth at 9:45 only having taken the one pit stop. They found the bus station then drove down a street pulling up to the curb in front of a bookstore which was the designated pick up spot. Cole parked the car so it was faced away from the bus station, as they didn’t want to drive back by it with Jesse in the car. “So what do you think of Portsmouth?” Cole asked knowing Cameron had never been there before. Cameron shrugged not overly impressed. “Crowded, confusing, I don’t like it too much.” Cole chuckled. “For a partier like yourself, I’m surprised you’re such a country boy.” Cameron looked at him and grinned. “You don’t need a city to party, you just need other people. Well most people need other people, for me I think it would be rather boring to party alone but I hear some people do it.” “I think the best party is two people,” Cole paused and put his hand over Cameron’s upper thigh. “No clothes in bed doing whatever comes to mind.” Cameron’s eyes glinted as he smiled over at Cole. “That would make you quite a partier too.” He said fondly thinking back to all the great ‘parties’ they’d had in bed. They didn’t have to wait in the car long before the back door of the car opened and Jesse hopped in the back seat throwing his duffel bag across the seat beside him. He was red faced and breathing heavy, making it obvious he’d run from the second he got off his bus. Since the car was still running, Cole put it in gear and pulled back out onto the street. Cameron turned in the passenger seat and smiled at Jesse, “So no one yelled after you or started chasing you?” Jesse shook his head. “No, in fact I don’t think we have to worry about anyone coming after me.” Cameron cocked his head to one side questioningly. “Why?” “I overheard my dear uncle on the phone with my parents last night. He said if this camp didn’t straighten me out he didn’t want me back. My parents argued with him about it, because he said I wasn’t going to be his responsibility anymore, that they’d have to find a place for me to go.” Jesse sighed and leaned back against the seat taking another deep breath. “So they don’t want me either, honestly I think my disappearance will be a big relief to all of them.” Cameron smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry Jesse that really sucks.” Jesse looked at him like he was insane and laughed. “Are you kidding? This is the best news ever. I don’t always have to be looking over my shoulder, afraid someone is trying to hunt me down and take me back. I was hurt over my family’s reaction at first Cameron but now I just hate them. I don’t ever want to see them again.” Nodding again Cameron could understand how Jesse felt. His family made no big secret of hating him, why should Jesse feel any different about them? He still thought it was incredibly sad though that a family would or could be so hateful. “My aunt took me to the mall yesterday to get supplies for the trip. She got talking about God with someone she met up with from the church, and I know it was risky but I snuck off and made a call to Mike. He’s actually got today off so he said he’d meet us in the center of town. He says the hotel is a bit tricky to find. Oh and more good news. You guys have rooms right at the hotel for four nights, they had a cancellation and he got you a really good deal, some far fetched family discount. Now you don’t have to stay at the flea bag motel.” Cameron and Cole both laughed both had been perfectly happy to just stay at a cheap motel, they weren’t going to Provincetown to spend all day in their room anyway but despite that, the prospect of staying at a big fancy hotel sure did seem more inviting, especially since they’d be in the same place as Jesse and his boyfriend. “Oh and guess what else.” Jesse said his excitement infectious. “I already have a job, least it’s 99 percent certain, it’s not glamorous but I’ll get free room and board and about two hundred dollars a week. Only problem is it will most definitely just be for the summer and I’ll have to find something else come fall.” “Well what’s the job?” Cameron asked. Both Cameron and Cole who was looking at Jesse in the rearview mirror saw his cheeks go red before he answered. “Chamber maid.” “What’s wrong with that?” Cameron asked grinning at how embarrassed Jesse seemed to be about it. Jesse shrugged still looking embarrassed. “I don’t know, but it’s a job and I’m not complaining. Just not bragging.” Jesse chatted pretty much nonstop for the two-hour drive to Province town. All their eyes lit up as they pulled into town and saw rainbow flags hanging all over the place. “This is awesome.” Jesse said leaning forward between the two front seats as their eyes all took in their surroundings. The place was full of restaurants, inns and little shops intermixed with night clubs and bars. “It sure is!” Cole said slowing the car even more so they could take everything in. Not long after he slowed the car Jesse spoke up again. “Park right here, park right here! That’s Mike’s car.” Both Cameron and Cole looked over to where Jesse pointed at an older model red Nissan Sentra. Cole parked the car beside it and they all got out. There wasn’t anyone in the car and Jesse scanned the street looking for Mike. They hadn’t stood by the car more then a minute before they all heard Jesse’s name being called and turned in the direction of the voice. Cameron saw a tall incredibly sexy guy hurrying towards them as Jesse took off at a slow run beside him. He watched as the tall handsome stranger started a run of his own, they met and Jesse was engulfed in the guy’s arms. “Wow he’s really hot!” Cole said looking at Cameron wide eyed. Cameron nodded not taking his eyes off Jesse and Mike totally agreeing with Cole’s opinion. They watched the two hug and kiss, Cameron feeling warm all over, not only that they had obviously missed each other and seemed to love each other very much, but also at the fact they were right out in the open with people walking by and no one was even giving them a second look. He smiled figuring that stuff just didn’t matter here and wished it could be like that everywhere. A few minutes later Jesse and Mike made their way back to them. It was obvious Jesse had been crying during the reunion, he imagined finally being with his boyfriend after all he’d been through in the last year would cause tears in anyone. Like a dream finally coming true. Now he would be with someone that loved him for all and who he was. Not someone that would only love him if he changed a big part of himself. “Guys,” Jesse said once he and Mike were in front of them, as he wiped at his eyes with the hand that wasn’t in Mike’s. “This is Mike.” He said just beaming from ear to ear despite his still misty eyes. Cole chuckled as he shook Mike’s hand. “Yeah we kinda figured, or at least hoped!” Mike laughed as well, a deep gentle laugh as he shook both Cameron and Cole’s hand then pulled Jesse in close to his chest. “Thanks so much guys, I can’t thank you enough for getting him down here safe and sound. I’ve been a nervous wreck all morning just figuring something was bound to go wrong.” “We don’t gotta worry Mike.” Jesse said putting his hand on Mike’s arm that was across his chest. “They don’t want me back.” He said then explained what he’d told Cameron and Cole in the car that morning. Though relieved it was still obvious by the way Mike held Jesse a little tighter that he felt bad Jesse’s family had given up on him. “You guys want something to eat? It’s just about noon and over there.” he pointed across the street to a small café. “Is the best place for lunch around here. After that we can go get you settled in at the hotel.” Cameron and Cole both agreed, as it had been over five hours since their breakfast and the four of them made their way across the street and into the small café, which only held about ten tables but still they managed to find an empty one the four of them would fit at. They hadn’t been seated more than two minutes when a waitress came up, smiled at the four of them and handed each of them a menu. Cameron’s eyes got wider and wider as he looked it over, not seeing any regular old food like an old fashioned hamburger or a couple of plain old hot dogs. All the sandwiches had at least five ingredients most of them with fancy names like hummus and Asiago, stuff he didn’t even know what it really was. Not wanting to look uncultured, though he knew he was, he picked something that at least he knew what three of the ingredients in it were, roast beef, lettuce and onion, he’d just have to hope he liked whatever the hell Romesco sauce and Ciabatta bread were. He figured it better be damn good since it was seven fifty for the sandwich alone. He’d figured on the place being expensive though, all tourist towns were and he’d brought plenty of spending money, still leaving a small amount of savings in his bank. He almost laughed out loud at the thought of old Mr. Harris being proud. The waitress came back a bit later and took their orders and he was relieved he could get a plain soda and didn’t have to order ‘Ginger root tonic’ or some crazy thing like that. He couldn’t help but smile whenever he looked at Jesse and Mike, though Jesse was quite a bit smaller than Mike they made an adorable couple. Mike always seemed to have to be touching Jesse in some way, whether it was a hand on his shoulder or their shoulders rubbing together there was constant physical contact. He’d certainly never seen Jesse smile so big or as much and he was very glad to see his usually solemn friend be so happy. “So how long have you two been together?” Mike asked as they waited for their food to arrive. “A couple months.” Cole spoke up happily as he smiled over at Cameron who smiled back, Cameron thinking if he’d been asked six months ago if he’d ever be in a relationship that long would have probably laughed in the asker’s face. With Cole though he was proud it had been that long and thoroughly planned on it lasting much longer, maybe even forever if he had any say in the matter. “How did you the two of you meet?” Cameron asked as he’d never actually hear the story. Jesse, as good a friend as he was, was really very bad at giving out any detail or even talking a heck of a lot for that matter. Mike put his arm over Jesse’s shoulder and pulled him close taking a moment to kiss his temple before he answered. We met about five years ago, I lived pretty close to where he lived with his parents and we always seemed to meet up at the park at the end of the street I lived on. We didn’t know each other at first but after about the fifth time I saw him there we started hanging out and making plans to meet there pretty much every day.” “Of Course we were just friends at first, for three years actually. But I’d never felt about any other friends the way I felt about Jesse. I could have given or taken hanging out with other friends, but when I couldn’t hang out with Jesse it felt like my world was ending.” Cameron watched Jesse smiling and remembering fondly, seemingly happy to let his boyfriend tell the tale as he sat snuggled under his arm. “Just about two years ago we shared our first kiss in that very park and managed to spend even more time together kissing and eventually moving on to other things.” He chuckled as Jesse blushed at that point. “We talked about everything, just would spend whole days sitting and talking. At first, before his parents found out, we’d stay at each other’s houses over weekends but that all ended when they figured there was more going on than friendship.” “Were your parents okay with it?” Cole asked. Mike shook his head. “No but they didn’t go all out ballistic like Jesse’s. But they were bad enough to ensure I wouldn’t be staying there as soon as I was old enough to leave. I knew I’d be leaving as soon as Jesse was shipped off anyways. I started devising a plan the very day I heard he had to leave. It took a year, a really, really sucky year, but here we are.” Jesse smiled again and nestled his head into Mike’s shoulder putting his arm across his stomach holding on tight like he never wanted to let go. After lunch, which Cameron surprisingly enjoyed, they got back in their cars, this time Jesse in Mike’s car and Cole and Cameron followed them to the hotel where Mike worked. “They are such a cute couple!” Cole said as he drove at about 10 miles per hour through the streets. “Did you see Jesse’s face? Man what a change from how he usually looks, you could almost feel the happiness radiating off him!” Cameron grinned, able to feel the happiness radiating off Cole at that moment. “Course I saw his face. I couldn’t stop looking, that’s a couple that I think is gonna be together forever. To already have stayed together through what they have is amazing.” Cole’s hand tightened on the wheel. “It just pisses me off people would try and destroy a love like that. Can’t they see what a great thing it is?” Cameron sighed and put his hand on Cole’s thigh gently squeezing it. “Let’s not think about them this week. We are on vacation, and Jesse is here and happy now. Let’s not let them even invade our thoughts this week!” Cole looked over at him and smiled. “Totally agree!” They got to the hotel and both looked it over in awe. It looked like a mansion with tall white pillars up the front and a long sweeping front porch that had stone steps leading up to huge double doors. “Wow we are living fancy this week!” Cameron said excitedly, having never seen such a gorgeous building let alone stayed in one. Cole chuckled, feeling just as excited as Cameron sounded. They got out of the car and gathered up their luggage from the trunk then followed Mike and Jesse, who were holding hands, into the hotel. The lobby was huge with a medium blue carpet covering most of it and large beautiful plants everywhere, in amongst the furniture and reception desk. Mike by passed the desk and walked down a long hall. “You don’t have to sign in, I already arranged it since you are staying as my guests. You have to stay in the staff section but believe me the rooms are still damn nice! Only difference is you share a bathroom with one other room. And you gotta make your own bed.” Near the end of the hall they took another turn down another hall and stopped about three doors down. Mike stopped and pulled a key out of his pocket. He unlocked the door and handed the key to Cole who was standing closer to him then Cameron. “It’s all yours.” He said motioning them in. “If you need anything we are just two doors down. But we’d appreciate not being disturbed for at least a couple hours.” A happy grin came across his face as Cameron and Cole nodded knowingly. Mike and Jesse walked off down the hall while Cole and Cameron walked in and checked out their home away from home for the next week. “Twin beds!” Cole said exasperated as he looked over the two beds in dismay. “Well babe we can push them together! They do it in the movies all the time.” They both set to work quickly, making that their first order of business before standing back and admiring the newly arranged room. It was a very nice room. Nicer they imagine than most hotel rooms say at the motel six or Suisse Chalet. They couldn’t imagine how nice the other rooms in the hotel must be. The walls were painted an off white and what looked like the same medium blue carpeting covered the floor. There was a large dresser with a TV on it on the opposite wall as the beds and a closet on the far side with the bathroom door on the other end. On the other side was a large window overlooking a very nice flower garden. “Well Jesse and Mike are having sex, and the thought of us doing the same crossed my mind.” Cole said after they’d done their room exploration. “But I kinda wanna go exploring, we can fuck tonight.” Cameron laughed. “Fuck? You never talk like that.” Cole laughed too. “I know I’m feeling giddy, I LOVE this place! So do you agree about the exploring?” Nodding Cameron took Cole’s hand. “Let’s go have a blast. After grabbing their cameras and making sure they had some spending money on them, they left their room and left the hotel. They spent the whole afternoon walking along the beach and checking out the hundreds of small shops, some of them making them want to go back to the hotel room and fuck as the contents inside was stuff they’d only ever seen online or in magazines before. Both too chicken to actually pick anything up and take it to the check out, they left those stores empty handed but still managed to get back to the hotel room at six with two bags full of non-embarrassing to buy goods mostly gifts for Cameron’s mother and Cole’s aunt. They’d only been back to the room for a few minutes when Mike and Jesse showed up at their door ready to go for dinner. Instead of going to the hotel’s restaurant, they headed out of the hotel again, Cameron hoping it would be a place where he could get a regular old steak and not another fancy schmancy place like they’d gone to at lunch. Jesse, to their surprise, looked even happier than he had earlier and they figured it was probably the much needed sex he’d most definitely gotten that afternoon. After a dinner of plain old, but delicious steak for Cameron and a lobster for Cole they separated from Mike and Jesse again who decided to spend the evening in their room no doubt having more sex. Cameron and Cole headed back to the beach where the sun was getting lower on the horizon. The beach was pretty quiet, only a few other couples could be seen down the beach and none were in direct proximity to where they were. They both sat down in the sand and looked out over the vastness of the deep blue ocean much of it alight with the sun’s setting glow. They sat shoulder to shoulder their hands clasped in Cole’s lap. “It sure doesn’t look this pretty in Maine.” Cameron shook his head. “Did it look this pretty in Virginia?” “We didn’t live on the ocean there; I really don’t ever recall seeing an ocean view sunset in all the time I was growing up there.” Cameron nodded, his gut churning, a question rolling around in his head that he was working up the nerve to ask. As he looked out at the vast blue ocean his nerve grew and he squeezed Cole’s hand a little tighter. “Do you see us together for a long time?” He asked just above a whisper. Cole looked away from the brilliant sunset and smiled at Cameron. “At this point I can’t picture my future without you in it. In fact sitting here I have been picturing us coming back here every year. You know sitting right here on this very beach in this very spot twenty, thirty, even forty years from now. Do you see us together for a long time?” Cameron half shrugged. “I don’t know if I see so much as I really hope it. You make me very happy. I just hope someday I can make you as happy as you make me.” Cole looked back at him quizzically. “What the heck do you mean? You already make me very happy. Do you think you don’t?” Shrugging again Cameron shook his head a bit. “I don’t know, I don’t know how I could really. I don’t feel like I do anything to make you happy.” Cole moved one of his hands and put his arm up over Cameron’s shoulders pulling him close. “You don’t have to do anything Cameron. You being you is what makes me happy. You and me being who we are and clicking together. It’s not about you doing stuff for me or me doing stuff for you. Yeah that sometimes comes along with it, but it’s not that, that will make me happy. It’s just you, who you are that I love.” A warm tingle ignited in Cameron’s heart and slowly spread through his body. Neither of them had used that L word before and hearing it now it was absolutely amazing to him how that one little word could mean so much. “You really do love me?” he asked quietly. Cole squeezed him tighter. “Yes I definitely do love you.” He said confidently. Cameron smiled happily then leaned in and kissed Cole softly yet passionately on the lips. He pulled back just enough to look in Cole’s eyes as the sun set on their faces and smiled. “I love you too Cole.” Cameron never felt so sure of anything else he’d ever said in his life. The End
  23. 1 point
    "You called for me, Velaku?" Mishtar was a strong warrior, his form slim like all bird Carthera but with long, lean muscles cording his body and magnificent black and brown wings held proudly behind him. He was the epitome of our warriors, a Carthera most worthy of respect. He had risen through the ranks quickly after he mated and became the leader for the Falcons at just twenty six, younger than any before him. I had always looked up to him as the Falcon I wanted to be. Today, he was dressed in black jeans and a special leather jerkin that left his wings free to move behind him. He was armed; the attack on my father had the clans on high alert. His chest was crossed by blades and throwing stars to use from his preferred place to attack; flying above his enemies to rain down death from the skies. "My father was murdered by a lynx Carthera working with humans," I said bitterly, my rage burning brighter just from saying the words. I fought to control my anger, digging my new talons into my legs in an attempt to pull me away from the urge to enter hunting mode and kill everyone in my way until my father’s murderers lay dead before me. Mishtar eyed my wings twitching behind me. The snowy white wings arched behind my head and the feathers made a ruffling noise as I fought to keep them folded. “Are these local humans?” Mishtar asked fiercely. “Do you know who betrayed your father? Was it one of the local Lynx clan?” “I’m not sure.” The humans that lived nearby were our allies; we worked with them to improve the life of the Carthera in their society, not against them. In the past we had to hide who we were and live on the fringes in game preserves or hidden eyries. That had all changed in the last generation. Humans and Carthera in our region had found a way to make peace. The thought that some of the men that my father had met with, that he had helped and been helped by in return, were traitors was enough made me sick. That a member of the local Lynx clan would go against my father, the leader of all Carthera in our region, would be even more unthinkable. We were not animals, but we obeyed a hierarchy that was as instinctual as our animal brethren. In nature, a falcon would not defeat a lynx but the benefit of a human brain mixed with the advantage our wings gave us in battle made the Falcon Clan the deadliest of our kind. We could not deny all aspects of our nature even as we became more civilized. Fights for power, position, or for land had always been our way, but things were slowly changing. Obviously someone was trying to stage a coup of some sort to overthrow my father's leadership of the local Carthera clans. There had been signs of something big happening that my father had hid from the Council, the clan leaders that made up his advisors. I knew more than my mother supposed, my father having begun my instruction some time before his death. I thought I was prepared for whatever we faced but I never expected my father to die. I hadn't known about the overwhelming surge of hormones that would hit me when my wings came out though. I had no way of knowing if every newly transformed Falcon felt this way, and I was too afraid to ask. Carthera transform when they mate, during a complex ceremony held in front of the clan. My transformation occurred with no warning, no mating. I was a freak and what if this rage was a sign to others that I was unfit for leadership? I couldn’t let my father’s plans fail. It was hard; I could barely stop the killing rage from overtaking me from moment to moment. I struggled with myself to keep it out of my voice, but I would not fail my father or our people. I would keep it together. I would save my people no matter what the cost was to me personally. "I need you and your wing squad to find them. It won't be easy, this happened far from here, on the outskirts of our territory near south eastern Oregon. Find out who killed my father and bring them to me if you can. I will be satisfied with their deaths but I need much more information than I have. Someone is behind all this, directing the troubles that have been cropping up all over our land. My father told me this before he left. “That . . . that was why he was traveling, trying to find out who was behind the attacks when he was killed!” My voice rose in volume as I stood up, pounding my fist on the desk in front of me. “I want answers. I want retribution. I want their deaths!" I had to stop and calm myself. I was breathing hard as I closed my eyes and bowed my head, fighting the urge to dig my talons into the beautifully carved desk that my father had sat at for so many years but would never sit at again. I heard the sound of a fist striking a strong chest. I looked up, opening my eyes to see Mishtar bowed before me, honoring me even though he was a seasoned warrior and leader of the Falcons and I was nothing but an untrained boy. “Your father trained me himself; I will not let his memory down. I swear the Falcons will not rest until we have the answers you seek.” His face was hard as he swore his oath, a deadly promise. I knew he would avenge my father as I couldn’t even as I struggled with my desire to be the one who led the attack against our enemies. I stared into his eyes, at the promise burning so fiercely, then returned his salute. I watched silently as he walked away. He needed no more orders than I gave him. Mishtar would track down all the intel available and then plan his next moves without any need of more orders for me. I sank down in the chair and thought of all the decisions my father made in this room, all the times he sent men off on dangerous missions. It was hard to trust that Mishtar would know the best way to handle the investigation, but I had to let him do it his own way. My father had ruled over the many groups of Carthera that owed him allegiance and lived in the territory he claimed and protected. He always told me to issues as few orders as possible; the more you told a person what to do and how to do it the more you would have to. I held those treasured bits of advice already shared but knew I had lost the bulk of my father's wisdom with his death. My sorrow swelled and I stood up abruptly, unable to sit at his place any longer. I sought out my mother. The remainder of my evening was spent with her, sharing our memories of my father and tears to lessened the sadness of his passing. The next day would be the formal death ceremony for our clan; all those who lived in our eyrie would attend. There was no reason to delay the ceremony, even though we didn’t have his body, but I wanted to hold off on an enclave of the Carthera leaders to give formal announcement of death. I couldn’t tell them what I didn’t know until I had heard back from Mishtar. So many questions were still unanswered. Full of anger and pain, I didn’t sleep at all that night. *** The fledglings that I had known all my life held back from me at the ceremony. I was no longer one of them, though not much bigger in form yet. My wings seemed larger by comparison to my slim and sleek body than the other youth I stood among. Their unusual coloring, the stark white and red, stood out among the wings of the men of our tribe, most of which were rich browns, yellows, and blacks like our bird cousins. I stood on the edge of the cliff where I had mourned my father alone just two days before and watched the flight of the women of our tribe as they looped and danced in the air celebrating the life that my father lived. The men provided the beat with their feet before launching into the air, swirling and diving among the lighter colors of the women. The youth and younglings kept stomping and joined in with a low chant. Above it all rose the keening call of my mother as she sang the ululating death song of our tribe. She held the final note until all the dancers had set down, her body still hovering above the ground with her head thrown back to the sky. Wings settled as the last note echoed into a deep silence as she finally ended the song to honor my father. She slowly drifted to the ground, crumpling to her knees. I knelt next to her and wrapped her in my arms as her tears silently flowed down her cheeks. One by one the people of our tribe came and touched us, soothing gestures of love and comfort, reminding us we weren't alone, that our nest mate was gone but we remained firmly in the land of the living. We were still connected to our clan. When the last person left, we still sat together rocking with our eyes closed. It was some time later before my mother's tears finally slowed and came to a shuddery halt. I hugged her as tight as I could and she hugged me back in an equally fierce grip before finally before sitting up and wiping her eyes. "Let's go home, Velaku." Keeping our arms around each other, we slowly walked to our house on the center ledge. We spent the day speaking softly of my father again, remembering the love and protection he had shared so freely. I went to bed and fell into a deep slumber, exhausted from lack of sleep and the catharsis of the ceremony. I woke up whimpering in terror. My dream had returned. I didn’t scream this time though; my fear was too great for that. I had been in locked in a pitch black darkness, feeling my body twist and change, and then an agonizing pain in my back and sides. My hands shook and I whimpered as I moved. I hurt even now. What was happening to me? *** The next day gave me an odd feeling of dichotomy. People returned to the normal routine their jobs and their lives even though mine felt like it was destroyed. The fledglings were gathered on the grassy lawn for their Jintue lesson before it was time to leave for class. We had integrated into the public school system some years before I entered grade school and quickly found that our smaller size often made bullies think they could prey on us. But we were Carthera and not weak. From almost the first moment we could walk we were taught Jintue. It was a fighting style specifically suited to our smaller, lighter bodies. We moved fast, attacking and blurring away before returning to hit the next weak point until our larger prey was down. Other Carthera came close to our speed but none truly matched it. Coupled with our wings and talons after we matured, we were a force like no other. The humans quickly came to know this and their children began to respect our fledglings and the bullying mostly stopped. But still we trained. At the same time that the fledglings learned ground maneuvers, the youths trained at flying and weapons under the tutelage of several retired members of the Falcons. They called out instructions and orders to the pairs learning to fly together in loud voices. This was where the Jintue lessons became the basis of the true fighting style of our clans. The youths learned to dive through the air to strike and then dart away; their body, wings, and weapons a harmonious blend that brought death to those who tried to strike or stand against it. Each youth trained with their mate, learned to fight with them, and how to protect each other. It was to this area of the training field I made my way that strange morning, sent away by the fledgling instructor. "Velaku!” An older man with grizzled hair and pale brown wings approached me slowly. Dorvan was a very old friend of my father’s. I trusted him like I trust no other in our clan. "You are here to train?" "Yes. I am . . . uncomfortable in my new form and find myself quickly changing." My pants had been tight this morning and a bit short. My jerkin had no longer closed over my chest and stomach. My muscles were much more defined, if still small. The changes brought about by my transformation were rapidly maturing my body and mind but the effects were not instant. I tugged on my leather jerkin again. "I need to learn to use these too," I said as I pointed at my wings. I didn't know if I should be excited or scared. "I've just the partner for you, Ningaven's mate is ill today. You can partner with her." Ningaven was a friend, though a few years older than me. She had found her mate a few months before. I nodded my agreement as I fit on my wrist and ankle sheaths. They held only dull practice blades since the first thing every youth had to learn was how to fly without falling on their butt. I thought I was prepared for that, but Ningaven and Dorvan taught me differently. Ningaven's high ringing laugh pealed out of her mouth when I first tried to take off. I forgot to close my eyes and the dirt kicked up by my wings blinded me. I scowled and tried again, remembering to close my eyes until I got a set of eye covers. My wings swept down, once, twice, and I lifted into the air. I thought I was secure so I tried to turn around to give her a smug look. My right wing didn't beat properly and I ended up almost on my side in the air. I panicked and my wings fluttered wildly before I crashed back onto the ground to land in a twisted heap. I groaned, ignoring her giggles as I flopped over onto my stomach and gave my tender wings a shake. "Laugh it up, Ningaven." "Oh, I will," she managed to squeeze out in between fits of laughter. She smiled at me. "Don't worry, Tallsin and I both tumbled the first time we tried to fly too." Ningaven managed to stop laughing finally, but her eyes still twinkled in amusement as she grinned at me. "We made the same mistake. You can't hover that low to the ground unless you have a lot more momentum built up. Up higher you have the air currents to glide on; they help keep you from getting too tired or falling straight down when you lose the beat. “C'mon, I'll show you!" She took a few steps away from me, stretching out her wings. I stood up and watched her take off. I could see the muscles in her lean legs flex and bunch before she gave a leap and shot into the air rising upward by powerful thrusts of her gray and black wings. She rose quickly before swooping back down toward me. "What are you waiting for, come on! Fly!" I bent my knees and shoved hard against the earth, leaving its support for the freedom of the skies. This time I kept going until I felt the warm winds buffet me. I was grinning from the excitement of my first real flight. Every fledgling dreamed of the day he found his mate and got his wings. I loved the feeling of flying but felt the lack of a mate as I took a few moments to look at the pairs around me before Ningaven called over to me. "Open up your wings a bit more and catch this updraft." She soared away and I beat my wings up and down, stretching them wide to catch the thrust of a warm updraft send me shooting after her. I quickly caught up to her before she swooped away again, whooping and laughing. I mimicked her movements, my body twisting and dipping along the constantly shifting winds, reaching out and snagging a handful of her jerkin before I darted away. We played tag in the air and I quickly learned how to shift my wings and body to maneuver through the skies. In the air there was a freedom of body that I had never really been able to come close to imagining my daydreaming of mating and transformation. "Alright you two, time to stop playing around. Let's put him through the beginning exercises, Ningaven," Dorvan bellowed from the ground. We stopped our game and hovered obediently about thirty feet up in the air. I was breathing hard but quickly recovered. "Do you remember the first balance exercise from Jintue?" Ningaven asked. "Of course." I held out my hands, palms flat and facing her. Ningaven put her hands against mine and then gave a great beat of her wings to shove against me. I instantly lost contact with her hands, unable to flow backward gracefully with her forward movement. It took a moment of beating my wings quickly to regain control. "Huh, that's a lot harder up here,” I said with a frown. "Try again!" Dorvan called. When the same thing happened he yelled up at us, "Again, again!" until I began to learn to adjust my wings and flow backwards with the force Ningaven exerted without letting our hands lose contact. Soon I was pressing back against her in return, following her as she gave gracefully before coming to a stop, with our hands still resting palm to palm. "Good! Balance is the key when fighting in the air. You can't do the throws and body jabs that you learned for combat on the ground but there is much else to learn," Dorvan said in a pleased voice. He continued to put us through the basic workout I had seen the youths do each day long past the normal time, keeping us working until the sun rose high in the sky. I wasn't going to school where my transformation and hormones would be a dangerous mixed with the humans. Ningaven stayed to train with me, her mate unable to escort her to college. Carthera males were very protective of our females. By the time we were permitted to land I was trembling and panting with exhaustion. I didn't feel too bad about my condition though; Ningaven looked a little worse for the wear too. "Go, eat some lunch and rest. I am sure Tallsin is wondering when you are going to show up, Ningaven. Velaku, come back this afternoon at three; I will be available then for the private instruction you requested." "Bye, Velaku." Ningaven waved at me over her shoulder. She was already walking away to find Tallsin. Newly mated couples did not spend much time apart. “Thanks Ningaven!” I waved back to her and then turned to the exacting instructor who had pushed me so hard all morning. "Thank you Dorvan, I just feel that I need to learn as much as I can as fast as I can." Dorvan clasped me on the shoulder. "I understand. Your father would be very proud of you, I am. Remember, three o'clock. You won’t like what happens if you are late." I nodded, somber at the mention of my father. I would avenge him, no matter how much work I had to do. I had no mate and the Carthera council would not convene for another two months unless I called an emergency session. Nothing else mattered but training and finding his killers.
  24. 1 point
    I lay in my bed, shivering under the covers. I couldn't make a noise, couldn't stop the darkness when it came to smother me. I lay gasping over and over trying to get enough air in my lungs to release a scream. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, but I could feel. The fear, sharp and acrid, was punctuated by a flash of blinding pain. I managed to sit up and scream when then, trembling violently as I huddled against the wall in the darkness. My father rushed into my room and flicked on the light beside my bed. "Velaku, are you okay? What is it, what happened?" I wrapped my arms around his waist and cried into his warm skin. His wings folded around me, brushing gently down my back in sharp contrast to the pain I had felt in my dream. Here was comfort and peace, a warm haven to take away the fear and misery that I dreamed about every few nights. He always came to comfort me; every time I cried out he woke me and held me until I calmed. He asked about the nightmare, but I couldn't speak of what happened to me in the dreams. This time had been the worst one, never before had they been so real. I had felt actual physical sensation and pain rather than just the sense of foreboding and overwhelming fear in the darkness. "Velaku, look at me." My father pulled my chin up to stare into my wet eyes. "This dream holds power over you as long as you allow it. It cannot harm you if you do not let it. Whatever happens it isn’t happening to you, not really. It’s not real." "I know it's not real," I whispered, unable to speak louder with my throat so raw from the violent screaming and tears that clogged it. I continued to tremble and had to fight to speak at all. “I don't know how to stop the fear. I don't understand why it keeps coming, I don’t want to dream like this but it won’t go away." "In time, you will learn why you bear this burden I am sure. The why of things in life are rarely so easily answered. But for right now you have me. I will be here whenever you fear your dreams and together we will try to find a way to beat them. Remember, my wings will always shelter you in times of trouble." I nodded and trembled a little as I rested my small head against his chest. He held me and rocked me for a time before he laid me back down, pulling up the powder blue sheets and my cloud coverlet and kissed my forehead. That was all the reassurance my child mind needed. But still the dreams continued. It wasn’t for several years after that night that my father went to work one day and never returned. My teenage mind didn't grasp the import of the whispers and fearful looks that went on for days. I knew something was wrong when I asked my mother each day where my father was but I had such confidence in his promise that he would always be there for me I accepted her feeble reassurances and shrugged off the vague worry I felt deep inside. Then one night I had another nightmare. It started off with the same lack of sensation but the fear and the pain were more intense than ever. A sense of heat and blood, the taste and smell filled my senses. I felt almost as if I was experiencing the dream in truth. I was somehow aware of my body lying in my bed yet I was unable to wake up. I could feel things, things that felt like they were shifting inside of me. I tried desperately to wake up, used all the will I possessed to stop the dream. I finally lunged upright and gasped before an agonized scream tore from my throat. My mother rushed into my room, the bright light from the living room dazzling my eyes from where I huddled against the wall. When she sat next to me crooning I saw the tears falling down her cheeks. "Where is he, Mother? Where is he?" I needed my father; I needed his wings and his promise of safety. She pulled my head back with both her hands to look into my eyes, the cobalt blue eyes I got from my father. "We got a phone call tonight from the police. They found your father but he was hurt by some bad people. He can't come home to us sweetheart, he was just hurt too bad. But now he's up in the currents soaring the sky forever while he waits for us to join him. He will always watch over you but he can't come back home again." I didn’t understand, not at first. She kept stroking my face as tears slipped down hers to drip on her blouse. I shook my head and frowned as I mouthed her words silently as I tried to make sense of them. I shrieked over and over when it finally sank in that my father would never return to earth, never fold his wings around me and tell me it would all be okay. I tore out of my mother's arms and ran from the house. The cliff was so close and I fell to my knees at the very edge, keening my sorrow and fierce hatred of those who had taken my father from me. I wanted to leap off and join him in the skies though I had no wings; I wanted to hunt those responsible down and rend them to pieces with my blunt, talonless fingers and stop them from ever hurting anyone else. Mostly I wanted the comfort of a father now forever beyond my reach. I could hear my mother singing my hatchling song to try and calm me, but my pain was too much to respond to her as I keened my grief, rocking back and forth with my arms wrapped around my body. Hours later I slumped unconscious at the rim of the ledge, one arm reaching out to the air currents that slipped up the cliff face to caress my hand as I mourned the loss of my father. A sharp pain took me; all of a sudden I was back in the darkness of my dreams. This time I could hear a voice, one that hissed up and down in my mind, a strange chanting wail that pulled at something inside me just like it had earlier. Trapped, my body pinned down in the dream, all I could feel was a burning in my back and hands, a flash of sharp white hot pain that both woke me instantly and stunned me as motionless as I had been held in the dream. I heard a tearing sound and felt my shirt split up the back to hang loosely from my arms. At the end of each finger was a long talon that was curved sharp and deadly. I buried them in the ground, trying to hold on to my sanity. This couldn’t be happening. I tried to stand up, to find my mother. I felt it as wings unfurled from the buds on my back, like a muscle stretching beyond its limit, bowing my body in pain and tearing a new scream from my throat. There was an echo in my mind but I was too focused on the pain to understand that it wasn't coming from me. My mother came running from out of the house toward me but she stopped and stared in shock, one hand over her mouth. I panted, on my knees again with my head resting on my arms on the hard ground as the pain slowly subsided. Hearing my mother gasp, I opened my eyes and saw a great shadow on the ground around me. I looked up into the snowy white that surrounded me. It was my wings, torn from my back years before they should. Not only that, but they were a blinding white with a snow red drop on the tip of each feather. The shock of seeing them was too much on top of everything else and I fainted. I didn’t hear my mother call for help and I didn’t see the stares of the Falcons who came at her call. I roused slightly and twitched as they moved me to my room and laid me down carefully on the bed to wait for the doctor. My mind had decided that my body had enough shocks and it was protecting me. I fell into a deep sleep that held no dreams. It was some time later when I woke up in my bed alone. The sheets were cool under my hot face as I lay there, trying to wrap my mind around what had happened. That was when I heard them, the quiet whispers from the hall. I closed my eyes quickly when my door cracked open. "See, Dr. Pannar, his wings, years early. And the colors!" My mother's voice was almost hysterical. "You say they just burst from his back? What was he doing?" "I told him about Keserem. He was keening on the cliffs, all alone. He wouldn’t let me comfort him." My mother paused and let out a quiet sob that she quickly muffled. "I was so sorry to hear about that Elalera. The loss of your mate is a great sorrow." The doctor’s voice was laced with sadness. Carthera mated for life and to lose what amounted to one’s heart and soul often meant quick death for the surviving mate who couldn’t handle the loss. "But what I need to know is exactly what Velaku doing when his wings came out." I was listening intently, keeping my eyes closed. I had never seen another flier with wings at my age and the shock I had seen in my mother’s eyes and heard in her voice stayed with me. I desperately needed to find out why I was different; the need was as great as my sorrow for my father. I didn’t want to be even more different. "He had fallen asleep at the edge of the ledge. He pushed me away to grieve on his own. He was always closest to his father so I wanted to give him some space. Life is hard for a Carthera boy his age and a mother is not what he truly needs now. I could hear him mumbling in his sleep from the hall but when he screamed I ran to him. His eyes were wild and he didn't seem to really see me. All of a sudden his wings split the back of his shirt and unfurled around him. I was so shocked I couldn't move. Then he passed out." My mother sounded scared and confused, and I longed to comfort her. She was wrong. I did need her, I loved her, but what I wanted was my father. She was right in that; but I wanted to know just then the most was what was so wrong with me. I kept up my act, trying to breathe normally though I doubted with the dim light that they could see my back under the folds of my wings. "I've never seen the wings burst on their own without a ceremony, have you?" she asked. "No. Something very strange is going on here. The wings of a fledgling have to be coaxed out after they meet their mate and blood bond. The pair is always together as they are sung out by their families." The doctor sounded as confused as my mother. "I know. I just don't understand how this happened; it’s not possible. Do you think they could have been brought on by what happened to Keserem?" "I don't know, I just don't. Do you know more of what really happened?" My mother let out a soft sob and pulled away from the doctor; he went to her and they spoke so quietly I couldn’t hear them. I heard the creak of my door shutting and almost shredded my pillow in frustration with my new talons. I knew now why my mother was so shocked over my wings coming out but I needed to hear more about my father too. I slid out of bed and tiptoed over to my door, cracking it open as slowly as I could. I strained to hear the voices in the den. "The police said . . . human hunters with lynx Carthera . . . hit his wing and hunted . . . tore him apart. “It was murder.” I could only hear parts of what she said but it was enough to unleash the fury boiling inside that my wings had made me forget. I shrieked and my wings burst open and spread behind me as I threw my head backward and announced my fury from the swollen cords of my throat. I heard an answering call in my mind but again was so distraught that I didn't think about what it meant. "Velaku!" Dr. Pannar pulled open my door and stared at me in shock. The light fell on my wings and the red drops seemed to throb as my wings rose and fell with each harsh breath. "Your eyes, oh Gods, your eyes." He seemed frightened, stepping backward until he slammed into the wall. "Velaku, you need to listen to me. You must calm down, you must master this rage." I tried to listen to my mother, tried to obey, but it was so hard. I felt the pain of my father's murder burning in my veins as I opened hands now tipped by lethal talons. I was in full hunter mode and my anger surged and burned my veins as if it was acid burning me from the inside. My eyes glowed red as if the fires of righteous wrath burned from them. The image I saw in the mirror shocked me but not enough to loosen the hold the rage had on me. "My son, please, please, stop this." My stare snapped from the doctor standing in my way to my mother trilling my hatchling song, trying to bring calmness and peace to my soul. It lessened the killing rage, but I was still unable to talk, my thoughts only of the revenge I was sworn to visit upon my father’s killers. "Your father would not want this, for you to follow him into death. You must not do this; you are not ready. You must calm yourself.” She stood in the doorway, one hand held up as if that could stop me if I tried to escape. My voice was distorted, harsh with the urge to shriek my fury until all knew that I was on the hunt. My voice was a harsh croak. "My father would not want his killers free to savage more people or clan!" She shook her head. "That is not your call yet. You are still a youngling, no matter how early your wings and talons come. You must wait, bide your time. I will not stand in your way after you reach your maturity and find your mate. If you must act now then call the Falcons. Put them on the hunt." She took a step toward me, hand still out. “You can still act in honor.” I stood rooted to the floor, her calm words bringing sense if not peace to my mind. I resented it even as I knew she was right; I did not even know how to use my wings and claws yet. I shuddered as I pushed down the fiery fury until it was a hard icy ball lodged deep inside. My core was now bathed in the ice of a grim purpose. "My father's people belong to me, the clan belongs to me," I said proudly, furling my wings to lay flat against my back. "Bring me Mishtar. The Falcons will hunt this day!"
  25. 1 point
    I had no way to tell how long I had been out or where we were when I woke up. My mouth tasted awful, a bitter metallic flavor coated my tongue and my head was pounding. My hands were completely encased in cotton and seemed to be fastened together behind my back. My wings ached where I was laying on them and the cuts on my face throbbed. I tried to stay still to hear something from our captors that might give me some idea of where we were but I grunted when we went around a corner and my weight shifted painfully, alerting them to the fact I was awake. The man who had taunted Natham leaned over the seat I was dumped on and smirked at me. “Well, well, look who’s awake.” His eyes were dead and cold and I shivered as I met his slit pupil gaze. Snake. He was one of the Snake clan. I remained silent as I silently promised him his death. He hissed at me and I sneered. Let him underestimate me based on my size. My retribution would be all the sweeter. “Not long now, baby bird. We’ll soon have you exactly where we want you and your clan and your land will be ours. I saw your mother once with your father. She’s a delectable little tidbit. Do you think she’d sing for me while I use her before passing her to our human accomplices?” I could not remain silent. “You stay away from my mother!” I fought against my bonds but I couldn't move them an inch, my struggles earning me only pain in my wrists from the metal cutting into my skin. He gave that little hissing laugh, as if he could feel the pain and relished it. I wanted nothing more than to kill the bastard. His head moved away from my line of sight and I could hear small sounds in the backseat where Natham had been. I thumped my head back against the seat, feeling tears burn in my eyes. The men who had killed my father and tortured my mate were torturing him again and I could do nothing to stop it. I strained against my bonds, not caring when I felt hot fluid begin to drip down my wrists. I was so lost in my hate and self-recrimination that I didn’t even feel the sting of another shot before I was sucked back into unconsciousness by the drug’s insidious pull. *** This time when I woke up we were no longer moving and my arms were no longer bound together behind my back. Instead I was hanging from the ceiling, suspended by thick, cold metal bands that dug into my wrists. My shoulders and elbows screamed in protest from holding all my weight while my feet hung several inches above the floor and my wing tips just brushed the cold concrete floor. I couldn’t move my wings at all; someone had bound them to my body and I was unable to break the restraint. I struggled wildly and finally had to stop from the pain in my already cut wrists. I rested, panting and slumping as far as my bonds allowed me. I heard the sound of footsteps approaching and I brought my head up to glare at one of my captors entering the room. Captive or not, I was the leader of my clan and all the clans in my territory. I would not cower or show weakness! A tall man was coming toward me with a lazy stroll, his eyes gleaming covetously at me, as if he had a new toy and all the time in the world to play with it. He was a cat and I caught the musky scent that accompanied a leopard. His skin was a golden yellow and his eyes were pitch black, reflecting the light like shiny black onyx. Finger long teeth glistened in the harsh fluorescent light when he sneered at me. “The son is not nearly as impressive as the father.” He spoke to someone behind me. It wasn’t until then that I realized I wasn’t alone; realized that my struggles and failure to free myself had been witnessed. The thought made me burn in anger and my fingers curved in the urge to rake my talons down the smug faces of my captors. The man who moved around from behind me was the cat Carthera had originally grabbed me from the mall. He moved toward the other man aggressively but his manner held a hint of subservience. I could tell this new cat, the leopard, was important. The door he had come in was left open and I debated struggling again in an attempt to get free and reach it. It was unlikely I would be able to break the thick metal so trying to escape right then was futile. I decided to conserve my strength and listen to discover whatever I could. As long as they didn’t kill me first I might find out more about these ferals and their operation to take over my territory. With the door open I could hear strange sounds coming from the hall but I was distracted from them when the cat who had grabbed Natham and me from the mall started speaking. “It was simple. The plan went off perfectly,” he said smugly. “Now, I expect to be paid.” “Of course the plan was perfect; it was mine!” the leopard hissed. “If your mercenaries hadn’t failed at the warehouse in the first place none of this would have been necessary. Now I have to finesse the situation to prevent the other clans from banding together even with their leader missing. Your incompetence has made my job that much harder. You will be compensated when his clan gives up their rights to their territory and hands over their accounts, not one second before. Your job is not over yet; there are still the Falcons to be considered. They are fearful opponents!” “I fear nothing!” the mercenary scoffed. “The warriors with Keserem were no trouble.” “You had the advantage in numbers and the police had secured them before they knew anything was up. Don’t get cocky!” the leopard snarled at him. “The Falcon clan has held supremacy over the other clans because they are both smart and ferocious in battle. You would be wise to remember that they may be small but they are not weak.” The man eyed me and the cuts on my face from his claws. “Their leader is,” he said cockily. “A youngling not fully matured? Yeah, big challenge,” The leopard scoffed. “He is not important of himself, other than a good way to torture my wayward son and to get control of his clan. If those Falcons hadn’t raided the center and stolen Natham they both would have died by now and I would have been able to take over the clans days ago.” I was confused; this leopard was Natham’s father? How was that possible when they were different clans? I blanched at the thought of the thought of dying but he was right. As badly starved as Natham was when the Falcons found him, the continued abuse on his body would have killed him in another day or two. Carthera are strong and we heal quickly but that comes at a price. Our bodies need a lot of fuel and most clans are very social and tactile. Sensory deprivation coupled with physical abuse, along with starvation would have killed Natham if my men hadn't found him and brought him to the eyrie. If Natham hadn’t been rescued, I would have died along with my mate, though we never exchanged a blood bond in person. The clans would have fallen into disarray and my father’s territory would have been easy pickings. This Carthera was cowardly, using abuse and torture on someone he claimed as family in order to gain power. I was furious that my father died at his dishonorable hand by trickery and a shriek of fury I could not hold back was smothered by the foul gag they must have shoved in my mouth the last time I was unconscious. The sound was still audible and made them turn their attention to me. “Oh, don’t like that idea do you, little bird?” The leopard and the other cat laughed maliciously. “Don’t worry. You won’t have to worry about that much longer.” I expected them to beat me or continue gloat over my bound body but they didn’t. The leopard stroked his claws across the exposed flesh of my stomach, creating four shallow cuts that welled up with blood. He licked one claw daintily, tasting me. “Hmm, delicious. I always enjoyed a young tender morsel for dinner.” He cleaned his other claws, lapping delicately at them with his rough pink tongue as he savored my blood while watching me. I could feel my eyes open wide and my breath came faster as panic began to set in. I did not want to be eaten! The other cat Carthera watched avidly, his nose practically quivering as he took in the scent of my blood and the stink of my fear and anger. The pink tip of his tongue came out and he quickly licked his lips was he watched the small cuts drip blood that ran in trails to soak into the waistband of my pants. His eyes gleamed and he practically quivered in want as I shuddered. My nose was not as good as other Carthera species but I didn’t need to smell his scent to know that he lusted after me. The bulge in his pants was more than enough. Sick, sadistic bastard. “We’ll be back, little bird. Don’t worry, we won’t leave you all alone here; not for long anyway.” With an evil smirk the leopard stalked from the room, snapping orders to someone as he entered the hall. The mercenary cat was still staring at me as he backed out of the room, pulling the door shut at the last moment. The way his eyes had lingered over where my pants hung on my hips had me worried. Though I was pretty sure being raped would really hurt more than being eaten I didn’t want to experience either. The light in the room shut off and I was plunged into darkness. I could no longer hear any sounds with the thick door closed. I was alone in a cold dark room and hanging painfully from the ceiling. The metal manacles were digging into my wrists and I could feel small trickles of blood running down my arms from my raw wrists as I struggled repeatedly to break loose. I worked at the foul material held in my mouth by a strip of tape, trying to dislodge it or at least compress it so that my jaw wasn’t quite as stretched. I slumped in my bonds, sucking in air through my nose, trying not to lose control over my panic and fear. A small square of light came in a small hole in the door, the only ‘window’ the room had. The dark was so reminiscent of my dreams that it was almost impossible to fight down the panic that urged me to scream. I knew if I started I wouldn’t be able to stop. I couldn’t afford that type of weakness. I focused on the small square of light as if my life depended on it; certainly my sanity did. I wasn’t sure how long I would be kept there or what Natham’s father would do to me but I could imagine all too well. Hours must have passed as I hung there. I dozed off once and jerked when I woke up, fiery pain from the shackles rubbing my raw wrists made me groan into the soaked fabric gag still stuffing my mouth. I could not believe I fell asleep when I was facing certain torture and death. I tried to keep my eyes open and focused on that small light but the demands of my body for sleep were simply too much. Soon my chin hung to my chest and I slipped into my dreams. *** If one’s waking world is nightmarish it only stands to reason that your dreams should be pleasant and full of hope to give you an escape. But that is a child’s view of things. Bad things don’t just happen to bad people and you aren’t going to receive something ‘good’ just because you feel you deserve it. So of course when I could no longer fight my body’s need for sleep I slipped not into pleasant dreams of my family and better times, but into my familiar nightmare. This time it was not all dark; it was more vivid and real, almost as if it were happening to me in person. I could see rough stones and feel the cold of a slab beneath my body. I strained to move but I was trapped, unable to twitch even a finger. A line of pain, sharp and hot, lanced across my back to join other stripes already burning from my shoulders to my knees. I shuddered and realized that I was being whipped, the skin flayed from the back of my body by someone with the precision of a long time torturer. This time words came also, hissing insults and threats, spiteful gloating and hatred spewing from the person whipping me. He grabbed me by my long braid and jerked my head up to spit in my face. It was in that moment I fully realized what this was, what my nightmares had always been. I was within Natham; feeling what he felt as if we shared one body. The fear and pain that had made me scream as a child had always been his, but the reality was so much worse than I had imagined. I hated the fact that he had known a life like this. I was sad for him and furious at the torture my mate had been forced to endure for years. I would not allow this to continue. We were mates, we were supposed to be bonded, no matter what the strange circumstances that had begun our bond. I willed strength into Natham through the dream. I tried to share with him my courage and fortitude. I sent him love and the promise of retribution. I was filled with an icy resolve. I would make these men pay and pay dearly for harming those I loved. I could faintly sense his surprise and then a surge of love came back at me. It held the taint of resignation and a sense of absolute despair that shocked and scared me. I tried to send reassurance but I could feel the spark that made Natham into who he was slowly fading. He had been recovering nicely the last few days but his tormentors had done too good a job on his mind as well as his body. He was on the brink of the death of his soul. I struggled to send him a sense of hope that I barely could feel myself.
This leaderboard is set to New York/GMT-04:00
  • Newsletter

    Want to keep up to date with all our latest news and information?

    Sign Up

Important Information

Our Privacy Policy can be found here. We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue..