Category Archives: Alanna J. Rubin

Until Next Time By Alanna J. Rubin

For Lucy – I hope you like flirtatious adventure.

“She saw the gun, covered every so slightly by his sleeve, and looked at what he had his eyes trained on – The royal carriage coming up the drive.”

How rude, Leanna thought to herself. She could not abide being interfered with, so he had to be dealt with. She quietly mumbled some unladylike words to herself as she realized the only way was to give up the advantage of her current position. Her predicament rankled, but she did the only thing she could and jumped down from her concealed perch in the green-leaf covered tree above. The blonde haired man didn’t know what had happened, just that the bright day suddenly went dark as he was hit from behind.

Leanna took consolation in the fact that he’d wake with a headache. “Sweet dreams,” she whispered as she dusted off her black pants and glove clad hands. Leanna didn’t have time to waste, however, as the opulent carriage covered in colors of gold and burgundy continued its steady march toward her. Quickly, she dragged the rather heavy unconscious man behind the low lying bushes. She did not have time to resume her previous position, so instead, began to run alongside the road obscured by the bushes and trees, hoping that her built up momentum would allow her to catch the carriage.

As it began to pass her, she pushed herself forward with a momentary burst of speed, allowing her to latch onto the window sill and golden foot rail of the carriage door. Leanna’s position was a precarious one, and she could feel her hold slipping, when a strong hand grabbed hers and helped her through the window opening. She tumbled inside, not the graceful entrance she had planned, and she silently cursed the fellow who had forced her descent from her hiding place too soon. Her anger at the indignity of the situation was quickly displaced by the happiness she felt when she saw the face of the man who came to her aid, Richard. He was as handsome as ever. Dark stubble darkened his angular chin and the dark blue collar peaking above his gray jacket set off his stormy hazel eyes. Leanna could not have been more delighted and, even though it was not obvious from the disapproving look on his face, she knew the feeling was mutual.

Leanna righted herself and took a seat on the cushioned bench opposite Richard, who remained silent, leaving the conversation to her. “It’s a shame that we find ourselves on opposite sides of the law,” Leanna declared with a small pout. “Otherwise, I’m quite sure we’d be the happiest couple in all of England!”

“Is that so?” Richard replied, attempting to keep a straight face. He hated to admit it, but he found Leanna to be the most irritating and bewitching woman he’d faced in his years of being a detective.  He very much looked forward to their encounters. No one made his pulse race like she did. Richard often wished that they could have a future together, but such thoughts were useless fancy. The law was nothing compared to the other obstacle in their way.

“Mmhmm,” she uttered. The sound came out sultry and the intensity of her stare made the interior of the carriage feel a little too confined.

“Stay right there,” Richard commanded as she began to move to sit on the bench next to him. She looked disappointed and settled back into her seat opposite him.

“You’re hurting my feelings,” she declared with a pout as she leaned forward.

Richard leaned in to meet her gaze, their faces a mere inch apart. “I’m very sorry,” he said as soothingly as possible. Leanna took that as an invitation to caress his face and Richard reveled in the touch of her gentle hands, then cuffed her. The look of surprise when she heard the silver cuffs click around her wrists was priceless. Their interlude had come to an end and he was both sorry and grateful.

Leanna slumped against the back of the seat in defeat. “At least tell me where you’re taking me?” The annoyance was thick in her voice.

“To the palace. You’ve been very busy the past couple of months.”

“You know me. I abhor being idle,” she said nonchalantly.

Richard couldn’t help but laugh, “So you decided to start robbing the royal carriages? You couldn’t have chosen a past time that was a little less inflammatory?”

“I prefer the challenge,” she shrugged.

“You’re the princess for God’s sake! You could do almost anything you wanted.”

“True, but not nearly as fun.” She cast him a mischievous smile that could melt the heart of any man. Richard’s knees felt weak and he was relieved that he was sitting down. “Are you sure we’re going to the palace?” she asked.

“Of course,” he said, but the look in her eye made him question his certainty. Richard pulled back the red velvet curtain to look out the carriage window. “We’re going the wrong way,” he groaned. “How did you…?” he trailed off.

She winked at him as the carriage came to an abrupt halt, causing Richard to lose his balance and fall into her lap. Leanna leaned over him excitedly. “Darling,” she talked softly, “it’s been a pleasure as always.” Their lips were a breath apart and Richard moved to close the gap when she backed away and stated, “I really must be going. I can’t have my brother finding me.” She opened the door and shoved him away so that he fell out of the carriage onto the soggy ground, ruining his gray trousers. Leanna was a vision as she descended from the carriage. Her wavy long dark hair was tied politely back with a burgundy ribbon, her black form fitting pants showing the curves of her body, and the femininity of the frilled white blouse balanced the toughness of the black boots she was wearing. Even informally attired, she looked nothing short of the princess she was.

Richard was slowly taking in her beauty when he noticed that her hands were no longer cuffed. He chastised himself, when he realized that she had picked his pocket during their intimate moment. Leanna approached him, dangling the cuffs in front of her. “Now, my dearest Richard, I must take my leave,” she kissed his cheek and then gently, his lips. He was still reeling from the sensation when he felt the snap of handcuffs across his wrists. He looked down at his hands in disbelief, then back at Leanna. She flirtatiously shrugged her shoulders in response then threw the keys into the woods. “Until next time,” she said seductively as she gently tapped the tip of his nose with her finger then walked away. He watched stunned as she alighted into the basket of the tethered hot air balloon. She blew a kiss at him and waved as she rose up into the clear blue sky, quietly drifting out of sight.

“I look forward to it,” Richard whispered into the wind.

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Walkabout by Alanna J. Rubin

For Darla

3 Storied.

That’s what the business card read and on the back an address. Cali couldn’t even remember where the card came from or how it got in the pocket of her dark purple leather jacket with fur trim.  The strange part was that as soon as she held it in her hand, she felt compelled to go the address. Now she stood in front of a dilapidated building, whose two stories were marred by disuse, its windows broken and walls sprayed with colorful graffiti. Her mind screamed at her to turn around, but her heart told her to move forward, and Cali was never one to listen to reason. Cautiously, she moved through the foreboding entrance way, whose powder black steel and glass door hung precariously by one tarnished brass hinge. The inside of the building looked no better than the outside. Trash was piled in the corners and strewn across the floor, the once white walls speckled black and gray with layers of grime.

Why am I here? She thought, but something was pushing her onward until she came face to face with the gold mirrored door of the elevator. Its surface was caked with dirt, but not enough to completely obscure her reflection, which caught her off guard. In it, she saw her dark denim skinny jeans, black calf high boots, and white turtleneck sweater go out of focus. A floor length silver gown that set off her long dark hair, chocolate eyes, and hugged her curves in all of the right places, replaced them. She squinted in an effort to make the hazy image sharper, but the strain seemed to push it further away until it disappeared, revealing her familiar appearance once more.

Without warning, as if they had a mind of their own, the elevator doors slid apart, beckoning her inside. Once again, the thought of turning back occurred to her, but how could she? Cali always loved a good mystery and here one was begging for her exploration, so she stepped inside, the doors closing behind her immediately, which set her heart racing. The interior of the elevator was lit only by one dim light that was recessed in the ceiling of the car. It was enough to show her a panel of buttons, one of which was labeled with the number of a nonexistent floor. Her stomach tied in knots due to a mixture of nerves and excitement, so with a shaking slender finger, she pushed the button with the number “three” written next to it. The motor screeched to life above her, the long disused cables straining from the effort of pulling the car up the shaft.

Cali’s heart pounded furiously until it was the only sound that filled her ears. That’s when the car abruptly came to a stop, causing her to stumble backward, and the dim light turned off, casting the car into darkness. The absence of light was oppressive and made it difficult for her to breathe. Keep calm, she chanted to herself while she felt around the walls for the buttons, hoping that pushing them would set her free. Cali had frantically pushed all of the buttons she could find when the doors opened of their own accord letting in a blinding light, as if they had opened onto the sun. Cali squinted and strained to see what lay beyond, but to no avail. She looked around, realizing that she couldn’t stay in the elevator and so, stepped forward. Crossing the threshold felt as if she were pushing through water, like crossing some kind of barrier.

Once through, Cali realized that she left behind the stale air of the elevator and breathed in deeply. The air here smelled as sweet as honey. She also found herself in a forest whose trees were as tall as skyscrapers and leaves so green they looked to have been painted. When her eyes adjusted to her new surroundings, a tall muscular man with cobalt blue hair and silver grey eyes stood in front of her. His full pink lips housed a smile that warmed Cali from head to toe.

“Calista,” he whispered, “thank the four winds that you found the beacon,” he said with relief as he pointed at the business card still clutched in her hand. Cali looked at it with surprise as it morphed into a smooth triangular wooden talisman. “You’ve been gone for so long, I was afraid it wasn’t strong enough to bring you back home.” Her lack of response caused the man’s smile to twist into an expression of worry. “Try to remember,” he urged. “You left one year ago for your walkabout among the humans.” Cali’s brow was still furrowed with confusion, so he continued. “You were gone longer than normal. Our memories begin to fade when we’re away from our world for extended periods of time.” Still, he saw no recognition on her face.  With a hint of desperation, he said, “Maybe a change of clothes will help,” and then snapped his fingers.

Her outfit was once again replaced by the silver dress she saw reflected in the elevator doors. It felt warm and familiar against her skin. She approached him, her heart pushing her forward, the soft grass cushioning her bare feet as she walked. Cali studied his every feature, the angles of his jaw, the endearingly crooked bend to his nose, and the beautiful way his dark eyelashes fanned out around his almond shaped eyes. He breathed in sharply as she ran her dainty hand through his thick hair revealing his pointed ears and then moved to caress his cheek. “Micah,” she said softly, recognition lighting her eyes.

Relief flashed across his features as he gently rested his forehead against hers. “Welcome home, my love.”

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The Last Mission by Alanna J. Rubin

For Trish Collins

Just to be safe, I’ll put on my tether first.

It was the first thought that came to mind as I looked over the edge of the cliff, but a quick assessment of my gear revealed that wasn’t a possibility. The height was almost dizzying, so I closed my eyes, willing myself to ignore the very real eight-hundred-foot drop to certain death.

Why here?  I hated heights. It was as if Vallin knew my every weakness.

I couldn’t allow my fear to overwhelm me – not when Nikolai was depending on me to rescue him. Egypt was going to be our last mission. Then we were going to leave the organization and start our life together, but it went south all so quickly.

How did Vallin’s men know we were coming? They were waiting to ambush us as soon as we entered his private art museum. Its walls were lined with famous paintings that had gone missing and hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. Each one hung in a gilded frame, but it wasn’t a painting we were after. It was a deadly device that our intelligence tracked here. Vallin’s men seemed as numerous as the paintings that lined the walls and they wasted no time in attacking.

In the chaos, I lost track of Nikolai and when I saw him next, his unconscious body was being dragged behind three of Vallin’s very large and muscular cronies. There was no way I could take them down. I was outgunned, outnumbered, and outmatched.

My pulse was beginning to quicken at the memory, so I took a deep breath in the hopes that it would center me, but the stagnant searing heat in the air did nothing more than cause my lungs to constrict on contact. So much for that, I thought to myself. There was no comfort to be found in this Godforsaken place. No comfort ever, if Nikolai was lost. Backup was a day away and he couldn’t afford to wait that long.

I was going to have to free climb, so I made sure my long dark hair was tied back securely, then swung my black canvas backpack on and lowered myself over the edge–my breasts and abdomen scraping the rock as I struggled to find my first foot holds. Each move I made was slow and calculating as I didn’t move on until I was sure of my footing. Every nerve was on fire as I made the grueling journey to Vallin’s complex neatly etched into the side of the mountain. If it wasn’t the home of a madman, I could appreciate its beauty, but…

By the time I managed to lower myself on the top floor balcony, I was dripping with sweat. The combination of nerves, heat. and physical strain taking their toll. I knew I couldn’t possibly smell good at this point. On the bright side, maybe Vallin would just hand over Nikolai so he wouldn’t have to smell me anymore than he had to.

Looking around at the golden hued rock that this place was made out of, I had to admit it was beautiful even if a bit devoid of anything resembling a plant. Its starkness, as intimidating as it was, was also awe inspiring, but this wasn’t the time for appreciating the merits of architecture. Quietly, I withdrew the tranquilizer guns from the pack, tucking two into the waistband of my brown leather pants and the third, I held firmly in my right hand. Why tranquilizer guns, you might ask? They’re all I could get my hands on. At least they’d be quiet and the element of surprise was all I had going for me.

Carefully, I walked across the stone floor making sure that my boots didn’t make a sound. Fortunately, the cylindrical pillars that appeared every several feet provided me with some much needed cover. Unfortunately, I hadn’t given much thought beyond getting here and I didn’t have any idea where Nikolai would be held. One of Vallin’s henchmen appeared just as the thought finished forming. It was if the Gods were giving me a gift. Standing still, hidden by the pillar, I waited until the burly man dressed in black pants and black tee-shirt was near enough, then checked him in his throat. Without wasting a second, I kicked him in his stomach while knocking the gun out of his hand. Now defenseless, he was on his knees gasping for air. “Where’s Nikolai?” I asked in a stern whisper, while I steadily pointed the gun between his eyes.

He tried to laugh when he saw the tranquilizer gun aimed at him, but his newly bruised larynx allowed nothing but a rush of air to escape his lips. The realization of his predicament, quickly turned his look of amusement into a grimace. “Tell me,” I ordered, “or I’ll make sure you never hear the sound of your own voice again.”

“Two floors down,” he said hoarsely, “in a cell.” Somehow this man still looked smug, so I shot him in the neck and took an inordinate amount of pleasure seeing the look of surprise on his face as he passed out. For the remainder of my descent, I met no resistance. In fact, there was no one around at all. A bad feeling crawled up my spine, but when I spotted Nikolai in a cell behind two guards, thoughts of caution were thrown to the wind. Without hesitation, I tranq’d the guards who promptly slumped to the ground and ran over to Nikolai. His large form was crumpled on the floor barely conscious—his face covered in bruises, and his dirty blond hair looked black due to the dried blood caked onto the thick strands. I longed to pull him into my arms, but the cage he was in prevented our contact, which brought my attention back to the guards.

The keys were on the second guard I searched. Alarm bells began to sound once more regarding how easy this had been, but I couldn’t be bothered now, not when I was so close. Without another thought, I opened the cell door and went to Nikolai’s side. His green eyes struggled to open at my touch, “Riza,” he whispered and a small smile pulled at the corners of his full lips when he recognized me. Then his roman nose wrinkled as he said with his charming Russian accent, “you need a shower.”

“You don’t smell so sweet yourself,” I chided as I pulled him up and placed his heavy left arm over my shoulders to help support him. “Can you shoot?” I asked and he looked at me through his swollen eyes as if I had three heads. I gestured toward his battered body in my defense then handed him one of the guns that was tucked into the back of my waistband. He looked at the tranquilizer gun now in his hand, a look of surprise flashing across his features then looked at me questioningly. I shrugged in response, while mouthing the question, “What?” But what the glare in my eyes said was, “Don’t start.” He tried to smile, but the bruises prevented it from fully forming, sobering us from the lighthearted moment.

Silently, we made our way through the complex, looking for a way out. After what seemed like a long time, we still encountered no resistance and just as I was beginning to think that this wasn’t a trick, that we truly had taken Vallin and his men by surprise, we rounded the corner, stumbling right into the trap I had been waiting for.

There in front of us stood Vallin dressed in his usual suit of white. In the bright sun, his blond hair seemed to glow, but the unforgiving rays of the sun caused his boyish looking tanned face to age instantly as his wrinkles became evident.  Standing in a line behind him were more of his men all wearing the same outfit as the others, black pants and black t-shirts fashionably accessorized with firearms.

“Did you really think I was going to let the two of you walk out of here?” he asked with a nondescript European accent. Clearly, the question was intended to be rhetorical, but I thought it deserved an answer so I responded, “I was hoping.” He looked at me with a grimace, annoyed that I’d spoken.

“No matter,” he replied. “Both you and the love of your life, Nikolai, will be allowed to walk out of here, if you give me one thing.” He paused, waiting for me to ask the obvious follow-up question. My pulse pounded in my ears and the weight of Nikola’s stocky six-foot-tall body was getting harder for my petite five foot six frame to bear with every passing minute. I looked over at him. His condition made it impossible for us to fight or way out of this, so I asked the question Vallin was waiting for, “And what is that?”

“The access code to the vault,” he said smugly. I felt the color drain from my face. The vault held all the secrets to our society. He could bring every member down; everyone on the planet would be in danger.

“No,” I said firmly.

Vallin sighed, “I was afraid you would say that. Shoot Nikolai,” he ordered coldly.

Nikolai pulled himself up as straight as he could, determined to face the end with dignity, but when I heard the cacophony of hammers being pulled back, I yelled out “Wait!” Fear dripped off of the word.

Vallin raised his hand, a smug look forming on his face, and his men instantly stood down. “Is there something you’d like to say?” he asked.

I thought maybe if I could keep him talking I could prevent him from killing us. Maybe, we could get out of this. “Why kill Nikolai and not me?”

“Simple, we’ve beaten and tortured him and he hasn’t broken. I think this is a much better incentive for you to tell me what I want to know.”

I looked at Nikolai; the thought of losing him was unbearable. He saw the sadness reflected in my eyes, “No, my Angel, you can’t.”

“I’m sorry,” I whispered as I reach for the last gun behind my back, my right hand obscured from Vallin’s view due to the position of Nikolai’s body.

In one quick movement, I drew the gun and Nikolai dropped to the ground hitting the floor hard. We tranq’d as many of Vallin’s men as we could, but somehow he stood in the middle of the confrontation completely fearless. In fact, he was laughing, showing no concern for his safety even though all of his men now lay on the ground soundly sleeping. I turned around to find Nikolai. He was still on the ground, but his clothes were stained with fresh blood.

I ran over to him and moved his head into my lap. He was gone and all I could hear was Vallin’s shrill laughter that made my blood curdle. While I was leaning over Nikolai, tears were streaming down my face and I suddenly felt a blow to the back of my head. The last thought I had as the world faded from view was: at least we died together.

To my surprise, my eyes slowly opened and I had to blink several times to bring the room into focus. When the fog cleared, tears began to well up. Nikolai, the man I had lost moments ago, was bent over me. His green eyes, sparkling with the tears he held back, were even more beautiful than I had remembered. “My Angel,” he said while he caressed my cheek. My first instinct was to throw myself at him, so that he could fold me into his embrace, but the pain I felt all over as I attempted to do just that, kept me right where I was. Which, when looking around, was completely unfamiliar. “Where am I?” I asked, but I was surprised at the sound of my own voice which sounded hoarse from lack of use.

“You’re in Vallin’s laboratory,” Nikolai replied.

“His laboratory,” I repeated confused.

“What’s the last thing you remember from the museum?” he asked.

“That we were ambushed and that you were taken.” With each word spoken, my voice was becoming stronger.

“We were ambushed,” he corroborated, “but,” he continued, “it was you who was taken six months ago.” The news made me feel as if I had been struck over the head. Somehow, I felt more disoriented now than when I had first woken up. “You’ve been hooked up to this machine,” he pointed to a grey monstrosity that pulsed with blue lights next to the gurney I was laying on. “As far as we can tell, it’s some type of advanced form of virtual reality. Vallin was using it to extract information from you.”

“How do you know that?” I asked.

Nikolai helped me sit up so I could see a worse for wear Vallin passed out in the corner of the room. The walls of the room were the color of steel with no decoration. It looked like a cross between a cell, a laboratory, and a computer geek’s dream come true. The fact that I’d mostly likely been kept here for the past six months made me feel uneasy, but a twinge of pleasure came out in the form of a small laugh when my eyes alighted once again on an unconscious Vallin. Even in the real world he wore his ridiculous white suit and I wondered if the color made him feel as if he were in the right.

I tried to stand up, but my legs were weak from having laid here for six months. Nikolai’s strong arms were there to steady me and I took a moment to revel in his touch. With his help, I was able to walk over to Vallin, “He was trying to get information out of me,” I confirmed.

“What information?” Nikolai asked.

“The access code to the vault,” I replied and I could see the alarm on Nikolai’s face. “Don’t worry, I didn’t tell him,” I said quickly to assuage his fears.

“Good. I didn’t think you even knew the access code,” he said. I was confused by his statement. I could have sworn we were told together, but my memory seemed so fuzzy. I leaned in to whisper it in Nikolai’s ear just to be certain, when the steel grey wall behind him seemed to flicker like a monitor does when a cable is loose. I blinked my eyes a few times and the wall, once again, looked normal. A bad feeling started to take root in the pit of my stomach, and I realized that the nightmare wasn’t over yet.

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Death is Only the Begining by Alanna J. Rubin

To Jason: I’m sorry it took so long. I hope you like it!

All right, I remember dying. Again. Well, not like it was the first time, or the tenth, for that matter. But I remember a car accident…and this place looks like it’s never even heard of cars.

There was nothing from here to the horizon that even indicated there was another living soul nearby. After coming back to life so many times over the last few centuries, I had grown used to waking up in strange places. Never had I found myself in the same place that I had died. As if dying and coming back to life wasn’t disorienting enough, but practice has made acclimating easier even if it still took time to recover my memories.

Pulling myself up to a standing position, I cracked my neck. It felt unusually stiff and then I remembered the sharp pain I felt when my neck snapped as my car careened off of the cliff and impacted into the ground. It was a quick way to go, I’d give it that. Far less painful than some, but not one I’d care to repeat. As I remembered the specific how of this death, something else came to mind…the anger I had felt, the desperation, and the surprise when I pressed the brakes on my brand new car and nothing happened. I had been murdered, but I couldn’t remember why.

Hours had passed since I began wandering across the field I had woken up in, and still nothing. Not only could I not remember who it was that would want me dead, but I also began to wonder if I’d ever see civilization. It was beautiful though. The grass seemed greener than normal, the sky so clear and blue, and the air sweet. It reminded me of when I grew up, when the earth and the sky were still pristine, relatively untouched by the march of progress of man. It was eerily familiar.

Everything about this resurrection felt different, felt wrong, and there was a niggling feeling that I couldn’t quite settle upon. Every time it felt close enough to identify, it would recede into an untouchable part of my memory. So I did my best not to focus on it in the hopes that it would come into view on its own. But being all alone, surrounded by nothing but land and air made it difficult to stay distracted and keep my mind blank. I found my thoughts involuntarily drifting back to when I was a young man, to the day I first died. It started out as any other. I donned my cap and made my way to the stables to begin my day’s work. It was a job that I enjoyed immensely. The horses and I had a bond, and I do believe they were as happy to see me as I them and every time I would see the stable come into view I would break out into a smile and run the remaining distance to the entrance. Immediately I would get to work, picking up the pitch fork, so I could muck out the stalls. Granted this was my least favorite part, but if I did it first, I could spend the rest of the day grooming the horses and shining the saddles.

That day in particular, I had hopes of the master giving me permission to ride. He did so once every month as a reward for my hard work. He was a generous man and all of his servants respected him and that day I was going to choose Shade. He was a black horse with white spots, fifteen hands tall, beautiful lines and my favorite. I gave him a sugar cube when I came towards him, which he happily took out of my hand, then I gently patted him on his side as I moved into the stall to clean. It was then that I heard muffled sounds coming from a stall farther down. No one should have been there. It was just after sunrise. Taking a pitchfork firmly in hand, I went to investigate and the sounds grew louder as I approached the stall on the far end. My pulse was racing. Taking a slow breath to gather my courage, I peered into the stall and my eyes grew wide.

The mistress of the house in her fine green velvet dress was carrying on with the master’s friend, Duke Elton. A sound of surprise escaped my lips and they turned towards me. Fear creased the mistress’s brow upon being discovered, but there was something about the Duke’s eyes that was eerie and unsettling. The blacks of his eyes seemed to expand until no white was visible. My breath hitched as I stumbled backwards trying to maintain the distance that the Duke was steadily closing. I moved to position the pitchfork between myself and him then realized I had dropped it in my surprise. The Duke had it now and he pointed the sharp tines in my direction. They began to glow as he chanted something I didn’t understand. Then I felt an excruciating pain pierce my chest. I remember looking down at the pitchfork protruding from my body, still curious as to why it was glowing, but the last thing I remembered as my life faded away was the satisfied smile that sprawled across the Duke’s face.

I hadn’t thought about that day in a long time. It was clear that that moment is what cursed me with my current inability to stay dead. Or was it a gift? I could never decide. But why remember it now? The pain I felt in my feet from the hours of walking broke through my thoughts and I paused to look around and my jaw dropped. In front of me, as if no time had passed, was the stable. It was something I would never forget. Its white walls still a welcoming sight. I ran over to it, ignoring the painful protest coming from my feet, and peered through one of its several windows and there, in the first stall, was Shade. How is this possible? But that question would need to be answered later because the Duke walked in, and I would recognize him anywhere. He carried in his right hand a glass of wine which he sat down on the top of a barrel. He took out a silver blade that glinted in the sun and started chanting. He dragged the blade across his palm causing blood to flow, then let it drip into the cup mixing perfectly with the contents. The mistress of the house, wearing the same green velvet gown I had remembered, entered the stable. “My dear Duke,” she said, “my husband has been looking everywhere for you.”

“Well, you’ve found me,” he replied. “As you can see I was about to enjoy a glass of wine. Would you care to join me?” She looked at him a bit hesitant, but then seemed to think it the polite thing to do, because she said, “Very well.” He handed her the glass he had just spelled and she drank from it. Duke Elton looked quite pleased as he escorted her back to the main house. That niggling feeling in my mind began to eat away at me again, but this time I chased it until it was tangible. Excitement and confusion rushed me when I seized upon the truth. It was the Duke. He murdered me…again. Pieces came flooding back. My running into the Duke at the coffee shop, his unnerving interest in Emily, the love of my long life. I had to get back to her…somehow. I knew with every fiber of my being that she was in grave danger and I was the only one who could save her. In fact, I was on my way to do just that when…I moved to rub my neck once more.

I don’t know how the Duke managed it or if it was his intention, but he had sent me back in time. The question was, how do I get back? I shoved my hands into my pockets frustrated when I felt a piece of paper. Taking it out, I unfolded it. The text was familiar and the paper watermarked with the Duke’s family crest. I wished that I could remember how I got it. I looked at the Latin text more closely and, to my surprise, translated it easily. My memory was still spotty, but clearly I had taken the trouble to learn it. It was the spell that had sent me back in time, I was sure of it. According to the spell, the final thought at the time of death would seal the outcome. As I plunged to my death, I remembered that I was thinking of the first time the Duke killed me and I ended up here.

Every nerve ending seemed to be set on fire as I decided on a plan. I cautiously made my way into the barn remembering that the master of the house always kept a pistol hidden under the floor boards of the farthest stall in case of an emergency. It didn’t do me any good all those years ago, but… I pried up the floor board and removed the weapon, the irony of the situation not lost on me. This is where I died the first time. The gun felt heavier in my hand than I expected, cold and devoid of feeling. It was difficult to get a comfortable grip. Standing on the very spot I had died centuries before, gun in one hand and the spell in the other, I thought to myself, this has to work. I raised the gun to my temple and spoke the spell aloud, letting thoughts of Emily fill my mind. Our first meeting, her brown wavy hair cascading down around her shoulders, the blue of her dress setting her eyes a glow and a smile that could melt the coldest of hearts. As the picture of her enveloped my senses, I felt a sense of calm and certainty take root. I felt a smile spread from ear to ear and I pulled the trigger.

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No Escape by Alanna J. Rubin

For Patricia: Thank you for this great story starter. I hope you enjoy.

If the want to survive crossed my mind, I’d definitely be dead.

That was the trickiest part about being an escape artist. The want to survive made you panic, made you sloppy. I’ve spent years honing my skills. First escaping handcuffs, then shackles. That was kid stuff. It wasn’t long before I moved on to more death defying escapes such as submerging myself in water, my hands and feet locked together. Submersion tricks were always the most dangerous. The loss of concentration could mean too much exhalation, shortening my window for success. Through practice, I’ve schooled my mind to go blank concentrating on my heartbeat, creating an ebb and flow, a rhythm for my mind to focus on so that nothing existed, but the locks.

Tonight, however, was a different type of test. Tonight there was more at stake than my own life if I failed. This evening I walked into my dressing room filled with my costumes and gear. As my usual routine, I sat down at my dressing table, the mirror rimmed with lights and looked at the picture of my little sister. Blonde haired and big green eyes. It was difficult to see the resemblance except in our smile. We both had the same dimple that accentuated our crooked grin that leaned to the right. She was my biggest fan and I wanted to be amazing to make her proud. As I started to gather my hair in a bun, I noticed a letter left on the silver tray on the corner of the table. It was addressed to me in an elegant hand, and when I turned the letter over, it was sealed with red wax. Its surface marked with a crow encircled by a crown. It had a familiar smell that I couldn’t place. Curious, I opened it.

My Dear Eliza,

                I’ve watched you from the crowd for many months. Each time more enthralled than the last. In you I see a kindred spirit, but held back by the bonds of those you hold dear. Tonight I endeavor to set you free so you may reach your fullest potential. Unfettered, your skills will surpass all others. Do not worry, all will become clear when you take the stage tonight.

Sincerely,

Your Admirer

I had received strange fan letters before, but there was something about this one that I found deeply unnerving. I read the letter over and over again in the hopes of discerning who this man might be, but no clue beyond the seal revealed itself and even that held no meaning for me. How did this note end up in my room? No one was allowed to come backstage and leave anything. Quickly, I walked over to my dressing room door, opened it, and called out to the first person I saw. “Susie,” I said loudly so she could hear me over the din. She was dressed in a sequined tutu stretching to prepare for her act. “Yes,” she said, annoyed at my interruption.

“Did you see someone go into my dressing room?” I asked.

“No, what’s happened?” she replied sounding rather disinterested.

“I don’t know, I…” I stopped short as I saw Leroy walk by. He was always backstage making sure the props were handled correctly. If anyone would’ve have seen something, it would be him. I scurried to catch up with him. “Leroy, did you see anyone go into my dressing room?”

“No miss,” he replied. “No one’s been back here.” My face fell, and he continued, “If you don’t mind my asking, are you okay?” I shrugged, feeling a knot form in the pit of my stomach that I couldn’t explain, so I went back into my room and shut the door, leaving Leroy with a dumbfounded look on his face.

I moved back over to the mirror and stared at my reflection, finding it difficult to center myself. “Get a hold of yourself, Eliza. This is nothing. Just a crazy fan.” Breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, I forced my breathing to slow and my mind to calm. I heard a knock on my door then, “Five minutes, Eliza,” called Leroy. I gave myself one last steadying look in the mirror and made my way to the stage. I could hear the crowd murmuring, their excitement imbuing me with a kind of euphoria. Then I was announced and I took to the stage. I loved the feel of the stage lights shining down on me. They kept me warm like an embrace. I bowed as the audience clapped. Like normal, I approached the glass tank. It was a little taller than me, the glass walls sealed together with metal edges. It was water tight. I know because it was already filled with water. As I finished my circle, I stood still beside the tank, so that the audience could see that I’d be completely submerged once I jumped in. Maximillian, my stage assistant, led me up the wrought iron spiral staircase and when we emerged on the platform just above the open tank, he cuffed my wrists in front of my stomach and then chained them to my feet that were cuffed together as well. The metal of the shackles against my skin always felt like a familiar friend, but tonight the coldness of the metal felt constricting.

After pulling on my bindings to prove to the audience they were real, a large round faced clock was moved onto the stage. The timer would start as soon as I jumped in, and as the seconds ticked by, the audience would become more anxious. It always made the reveal more rewarding. A small curtain was drawn across the front of the tank to obscure the crowd from view. Being able to see them would be too distracting and I couldn’t afford that. I closed my eyes, breathed in, then exhaled until there was nothing left in my lungs, took a deep breath, then jumped. The cool water wrapped around helping me to block out thoughts of all else and I got to work. Just as I was about to release the cuffs around my wrists, I heard something. A banging that was unfamiliar. Against my better judgement, I opened my eyes and saw my sister shackled, trapped in a tank next to mine completely submerged in water. Her green eyes were large and pleading for help. I felt the panic rise, which forced a scream to escape my lips, but instead of noise, I lost precious air. I struggled against by bonds without success and the lack of oxygen began to sting, my body screaming out for me to take a breath. I made a conscious effort to ignore it knowing panic would kill us both. Giving my sister one last look that I hoped conveyed that I was coming for her, I closed my eyes and listened to the beat of my heart. Everything else faded away and finally the shackles sank to the bottom.

Realizing I was free, immediately I opened my eyes and kicked to the top of the tank and gasped for breath, the crowd cheering and clapping as I emerged, but taking a bow was the farthest thing from my mind. I jumped down from my tank and dashed over to the other in full view of the crowd. The top of it was sealed shut, blocking my access. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. My sister’s form was now floating, so I did the only thing I could think of. I ran and grabbed the ax that was close at hand, just in case my act ever took a dangerous turn, and swung it with all my might against my sister’s prison. The glass cracked and spidered, so I struck it again and again, when at last, it gave way releasing my sister in a rush of water that poured out across the stage. Quickly, I turned her over on her side banging on her back harder and harder, willing her to live with every slap until water spurted out of her mouth and she began to cough. I clutched her to my chest, tears streaming down my face in relief. The audience applauded thinking it was all part of the act. A little drama to spice things up. I ignored them and looked down at my sister who was now catching her breath. As I moved her hair out of her face, her perfume reached my nose and I paled, that was the scent on the letter. I started to feel dizzy at the knowledge and thought I might faint, when I saw an object next to her glinting in the stage lights amongst the broken glass and water. Somehow it had sobered me. It was a ring. I picked it up and examined it. It was gold and felt heavy in my hand. On it was a crow encircled by a crown. An involuntary chill crawled up my spine as the inscription came into focus, “Your Admirer.”

 

 

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Ravenhook by Alanna J. Rubin

To Sean: Thank you for creating this inspiring story starter. Enjoy!

The first thing you see when you top the hill leading to Ravenhook is the black spire of a lonely tower.

It had been ten years since I last looked upon it. It was once a beacon of light, but the wizard that had once occupied the tower, who protected and guided my people, had perished. Now it only casts a shadow of heavy gloom onto what was once the thriving village that I had called home. The war had taken me away. I felt the call of glory, but I would not have gone if I’d only known. I stretched my wings, tired from the non-stop journey, then wrapped them around me to ward off the chill in the air. I would cross the remaining distance on foot. Though the village looked reasonably intact from afar, the closer I got the more apparent the destruction. Nothing escaped the war after all, I thought to myself.

As I rounded the corner passed what used to be the wine merchant, I realized I had instinctively been taking my route towards home. I grew apprehensive as I dreaded what I might find, but before me stood my home seemingly unharmed and a light shone from within. My wings immediately took their offensive position, extending to their full length behind my back ready to aid me in my attack. I rushed in prepared to take on my opponent, but to my astonishment standing before me was the wizard of Ravenhook. “You’re supposed to be dead,” I blurted out. He stroked his rather pointy chin before replying, “That’s exactly what you and everyone else was supposed to believe if our plan was to succeed. I’ve been waiting for your return for quite some time, Quinn.”

“And why is that?” I asked cautiously. He looked at me with piercing eyes glowing violet with the gift of prophecy and said, “Ravenhook will rise from the ash, the tower a beacon of hope, you will win the war to come…” he trailed off and I felt compelled to direct my gaze towards the tower with the wizard standing beside me. He touched my arm and a vision of its lonely spire faded into the blackness and was replaced with a warm light that chased away the dark and renewed my spirit. I knew then that the real war was only just beginning and I would be ready.

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Never Let Someone See You Flying by Alanna J. Rubin

For Sean: To a fellow creative geek, I think I was channeling Smallville.

The one thing you must never, ever do, is to let someone see you flying.

I’ve heard this advice, or should I say order, over and over again since that day my parents discovered my secret. I knew they meant well by it, scared that if others found out that I could be in danger. “They wouldn’t understand,” they’d say. Being cautious made sense, I supposed. I’d seen enough movies to understand that fear of the unknown was a powerful justifier in causing others harm. So I did my best to keep my secret by sticking to the woods behind my home, hidden from prying eyes.

Never did I feel freer than when I took to the air and after the stress of today, I ran off into the woods and left the ground as soon as I was sure no one could see me. Peace replaced the anger and humiliation of the day as I was cocooned by the warm air, floating where the wind took me as if I were floating on water. Thoughts of her began to fill my mind as I ran through the events of the afternoon. Why I ever thought I stood a chance was beyond me. I was nobody of consequence. Not unpopular, but not popular either. Trask, however, was the star football player and Tegan the head cheerleader. Who could compete with generations of ingrained school pairings? I felt less tranquil the more I thought about it and my carefree floating turned into fast dashes between the trees. The faster I went the more my anger seemed to be left behind. I pushed myself to go faster and faster, deftly dodging the branches in my path.

“Garrett?!” I heard penetrate my thoughts and then I recognized the voice. Tegan. Immediately, I lost my concentration and rammed into a tree branch that I had avoided successfully until now crashing to the ground with a groan. She was by my side in an instant. This was the moment I had dreamed about. Well, not the whole crashing into a branch thing, but Tegan by my side. Now, though, I was afraid to look her in the eyes. Would I find fear? Such a revelation would be devastating. Reluctantly, I looked up to catch her gaze and I was met with awe. Tegan took my hand and squeezed it reassuringly. Suddenly, I felt freer being grounded than I ever had when in flight.

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The Beast by Alanna J. Rubin

To Sean: Thank you again for another great story starter. I still owe you two more!

She stared the beast in the eyes and raised her hand, causing the creature to hesitate just for a moment.

The pause allowed her to set off a blinding light creating the distraction she needed to grab the Grimoire. She hurriedly flipped to the spell as the beast began to recover and stumble towards her. When she found it, Cat willed her breathing to slow and began the incantation. The warehouse lights started to flicker in response to the power being called forth and as the last word was uttered, a force passed through Cat and wrapped itself around the beast. As she stood up, she was grabbed from behind by two men wrenching her arms behind her back. Cat struggled against her captors, but in vain and was forced to watch her spell unfold as a prisoner. Not the victory she had in mind, but she was too distracted from her dangerous predicament by the familiar shape the beast was beginning to take.

Its claws melted into strong masculine hands and its barrel shaped torso into a lithe muscular chest with a tattoo of a raven in flight. It was more like a watercolor painting than harsh lines, beautiful and fierce covering the right side. “This can’t be possible,” she said aloud, but what she already knew was confirmed when the beast’s face took shape. Wes stood before her. She tried to run over to him, but the effort was futile against the strength of the two men holding her in place. Wes recovered quickly however and began to approach and her excitement faded as she was met with a twisted grin and vacant brown eyes. This was Wes’s body, but his soul was lost. Clearly in over her head, Cat wished that she had listened to Finn and didn’t come here alone.

Tears began to well up as Wes closed his hand around her throat and began to squeeze. She tried to struggle from his grasp, “Wes…don’t…please,” she croaked out to no avail when she felt as if her whole body was snapped and yanked. Cat fell to the ground, dizzy and clutched her head. That’s when she realized she was free. “Cat!” Finn called as he came running to her side. “Are you okay?” the panic in his voice was palpable as his hands ran over her body to make sure she was unharmed. Instinctively Cat’s hand went to her throat to rub the aching muscles when a large explosion sounded from behind them. She turned around to see the warehouse up in flames. Finn hadn’t come to rescue her alone. He had brought the entire coven and they destroyed the threat. Cat knew that she should be grateful, that she should want to lose herself in Finn’s arms and the comforting gaze of his green eyes, but all she felt was the renewed grief of losing her husband all over again.

Cat was staring blankly out the window when Finn walked in, but she was too preoccupied with her own thoughts to notice. Finn loudly cleared his throat to get her attention and Cat jumped. “I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“No, I’m sorry. I haven’t been myself since the warehouse. I just keep thinking that Wes was alive all this time. I could have saved him.”

Finn looked at her worriedly. “Don’t,” was all he said.

She looked at him confused, “Don’t what?”

“Blame yourself,” he replied. “There’s nothing you could have done. You saw for yourself that he had no soul and no one can come back from that. It’s impossible.” Cat looked down at the floor. Tears starting to well up. She didn’t want Finn to see her like this. It wasn’t fair to him to watch her grieve for another man. She loved him and didn’t want to cause him pain.

Finn could feel her turmoil and closed the distance between then. Gently he raised her chin so their eyes could meet. Cat saw no anger, no frustration. Only love. He placed a tender kiss on her lips then asked, “Would you like me to come with you to his grave? We could say goodbye together.” Cat nodded, relieved that she wouldn’t have to face this alone.

Finn looked over at Cat and squeezed her hand reassuring her as they approached Wes’s grave. “I’m sorry we couldn’t recover his ashes. There was nothing left after the fire died out.”

She squeezed his hand back, “It’s okay. I didn’t expect there would be. Not with the power of the spell that was cast.” Slowly Wes’s grave came into view and a lump in her throat formed, but it wasn’t from sadness. Cat dropped Finn’s hand and ran over picking up the fresh flowers that were laid on his grave. Finn ran up behind her, “What is it?”

She looked at him, hands shaking. “These flowers… Wes only ever gave these to me. It was a joke. He knew I hated white roses and would leave them for me to find. It was stupid, but it would always make me laugh. I’d forgive him anything after finding them.”

“What are you saying?” asked Finn confused.

Cat answered with determination, “That he’s alive and we can save him.”

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Stuff of Nightmares by Alanna J. Rubin

For Kendra & Erika: Thank you for being the unrelenting pushy bitches that I love. Cheers!

It stared at me with hollow eyes–that metallic face I’ve come to know so well in my nightmares.

Finally, I was able to confront my fear, but it was hard to believe that it was over. For what seemed like months, I’d been plagued by a single dream and last night was no different. I stood in a pitch black room struggling to find a light. Just as the panic started to rise and I felt the fear begin to cripple my ability to reason, I found a flashlight.

As I picked it up, I was filled with a sense of relief which was quickly replaced with the anxiety of what I’d see when I turned it on. But my fear of the oppressive darkness outweighed my fear of what might be waiting for me in the light and I pushed the button with a satisfying click. Without delay, I shined the light around the room desperately trying to find a means of escape and when a door across the room was illuminated, I ran over to it anxious for my freedom. I was about to throw all caution to the wind by pulling it open when I hesitated as my hand rested on the cool metal of the door knob. My chest tightened and I swallowed hard gripping the door knob more tightly as if it were a lifeline in this world of darkness yet a harbinger of what lay beyond.

With a few deep breaths, I rallied my nerves and swiftly pulled the door open and, in front of me, blocking my path was the disembodied face; frightening and yet familiar. Something started tugging at my mind as if I were struggling to grasp a memory dancing along the edges of my consciousness and just as the memory began to surface, I would wake up with a start, sweat dripping from my brow.

Immediately, as I had done when the nightmares started, I drew the face. Putting every fleck of color, every contour, and every imperfection that I could remember down on paper in the hopes that the elusive memory would spring free, but it only seemed to recede farther away into a place I couldn’t access. I had sketch pads full of these drawings each one exactly the same as the last, like it was a message. What was really odd, though, was that I didn’t remember being able to draw until these dreams began. With frustration, I put the sketch pad down when, suddenly, I felt my shoulders shake violently and I began to cough uncontrollably.

In the distance I heard, “Oxygen levels are back to normal,” and then a comfortingly familiar voice say, “Wake up. Wake up, Kira.” The sound of my name broke through the fog that owned my mind and my memories started to come back. I looked out through partially opened eyes, “Merick?” I asked in a raspy voice I hardly recognized. A smile of relief graced my husband’s lips and I experienced a brief sensation of being lifted as I fell back to sleep.

The next time I woke up, I was in the medical bay with Merick standing over me. “What happened?” I asked.

He lovingly smoothed my hair back away from my face, “We picked up the distress call and came as fast as we could. You must have just managed to put yourself into cryo-sleep as the oxygen system went critical. You’ve been asleep for several days. We fixed the CO2 scrubbers and levels were coming back to normal just as I was pulling you out, but your vitals kept spiking. You were giving me quite a scare.” The worry was etched in his brow.

“I’m so sorry,” I said hoping I could take his distress away. Groggily, I sat up, “Did you say days?” He nodded. “But it felt like months,” I said with disbelief.

“That’s the side effect of the dream state induced by the cryo-chamber.”

I looked around the room trying to get my bearings. The sterile medical bay was a stark contrast to the plush apartment in which I thought I had been living. I continued to scan the rest of my surroundings and that’s when I saw it. The confusion on Merick’s face was plain to see as I abruptly got off of the bed and approached the cryo-chamber, which had been my salvation, with caution. Carefully, I reached out and traced the edges of the shape that plagued my dreams. The words “Cryo-Dreams Inc.” were printed beneath their metallic silver logo that had always reminded me of a creepy mask perfectly situated over the face of whoever would be the occupant, like a mask worn in death.

An anxious laugh escaped my lips, “You were the stuff of nightmares after all,” I whispered.

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