Category Archives: Rhiannon Matlock

To Die Horribly by Rhiannon Matlock

From Nicole Beck… Thanks for always being inspiring.

She caught a whiff of bleach and she couldn’t help it – she started looking for any blood that may have been overlooked……

She’d been over this scene a dozen times. Had been back even more times. There was something off, something she knew she was missing.

She didn’t believe in that psychic power or sixth sense bullshit, but she did trust instinct. She racked her mind. Had they already released the house? That would be the only legit reason for the bleach. A cleaner scrubbing the place down and making it usable for the vulture real estate agent jokers who just wouldn’t stop pestering the police to restore the rights to the property back to them.

The thing was, she wasn’t a cop. There was no way she would know for sure when or even if the department had let it go. No, her insight into the cause behind that bleach was insufficient but one thing she did know for certain; it wasn’t there the last time she’d been. Softly she moved from room to room, sniffing with every step to try and
locate the source. It wasn’t coming from the room where the murder took place and besides, it was too faint to be a cleaning crew. They doused it when they came, sanitizing everything. Probably in some vain attempt to scrub the awful images they came to see on a regular basis.

She wasn’t the type to have nightmares about such things though. Blood, bones, entrails. She’d spilled or broken or pulled her fair share so the sight of any or all of it wasn’t off putting. It was who she was hunting currently that was starting to piss her off. The
bleach was the first misstep they took. Whoever it was had come back to clean something up, something they deemed important enough to risk returning for.

She smiled; this was the beginning of the end for them.

A few moments later, the scent became stronger. The bedroom. She followed the trail until she reached the closet and tossed open the door. The smell was almost overpowering as she knelt down and turned her phone towards the floor. Covering her mouth with her sleeve, she squinted against the acidic fumes and looked for anything that they
might have missed. The light was faint and barely penetrated the darkness but finally she found something. Wedged between the shoddily installed floorboards and the wall was a small, pink barrette. She didn’t need to inspect it to know who it belonged to. Anger flashed through her as she picked it up and shoved it into her pocket. Yes, those bastards were going to die and they were going to die horribly.

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Baby Shoes by Rhiannon Matlock

From Soldie; thank you for my story starter!

For Sale: baby shoes never worn…..

As I looked at the ad for the third time that afternoon, I couldn’t
help but wonder as to why it was there. My imagination was running
wild and not all of the possibilities were good. In fact the more I
thought about it, the more horrifying the results of my thoughts. The
words were just too simple and oddly stirred something in me. What it
was I couldn’t quite place but there was a bell ringing softly at the
back of my mind. I bit my lip. Should I do it? My fingers hovered over
the keyboard and then all at once they were typing away, responding
even faster than my mind could keep up with. I got to the end of the
sentence and reread.

Hi, my name is Nicole. I’m interested in purchasing your baby shoes.
Is there a good time to come by?

Again I hesitated. This was nuts. What was I doing? I didn’t need the
shoes. I certainly wasn’t a baby and not only was I too old to have
one but so were all of my friends. Of its own accord my finger moved
to the enter key and enabled the send button. A near silent whoosh
stole across the quiet of the room and confirmed that my message had
been sent.

I shook my head and got up. It was Craigslist and I wasn’t expecting
anything anytime soon. As I walked to the kitchen to get a drink, a
message pinged on my phone. After pouring a couple fingers of brandy,
I pulled out my iphone from my back pocket and opened the email app.
To my utter astonishment, a message from the Craiglister scraweled
across the top line of my phone. For some reason, a creeping sensation
of dread rolled across my body and then settled heavily in my belly.
Who answered that fast? Had they been waiting all morning for someone
to post? Surely I couldn’t be the only one who had sent something in.
I had the image of someone sitting impatiently at their computer, just
waiting for some poor sucker to respond. I should just hit delete and
move on with my life but something in me once again motivated me to
engage. With shaky fingers, I tapped the emailed as I downed my drink
and a second later the message appeared. The glass in my hand fell
from my grip shattering even as my eyes racked over and over the worst
two words I’d ever seen in my entire life:
YOU’RE NEXT

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Just a Number by Rhiannon Matlock

For Paul Player. I hope you enjoy it.

A sharp spray pelted the boards as she skidded to a stop, swung open the heavy door, and stepped off the ice…..

It had been a short practice. It should have been much longer, but the idiot had cut it short. Her new coach was long on speech and short on action. She wasn’t sure exactly why she’d gone with him. Actually that was untrue. There was a very, very good reason why. It was just wasn’t something she liked to dwell on. His skin was pale, his teeth crooked in only the way the English can have and yet pull off with their cocky British accents to distract you. She wondered if anyone ever noticed how much they got away with on that tiny island simply because they said ridiculous words like “bonnet” and “boot” in an almost musical way. The sound should bring a smile to her face, but unfortunately, it had only been acting as a stark reminder of what it wasn’t.

A sigh escaped her before she realized it, and she forced her attention back to the present. She needed to think about anything else.

The locker room was musty and the showers almost certainly carried some sort of fungus between the black cracks. There wasn’t much money put into a two bit arena in the middle of Minnesota. Especially in the summer when everyone wanted to be as far from ice as possible.

Throwing a towel down on the bench, she plopped her skinny butt on the rough fabric and sucked in a long breath before leaning down to the laces. The booth creaked as she pulled on the thick, worn leather and then, with a grit of her teeth, finally let her foot loose.

Sitting up, her eyes inadvertently closed as her toes sighed in happiness while her ankles whined as they swelled. In truth, it was much like her career at this point. She still loved to skate, but it was becoming painful to continue on.

“You should soak that before it gets too big.”

The voice was gruff and shocking in its unexpectedness. Joy jumped a little and then forced herself to sit perfectly still. Maybe she was dreaming that voice. Lord knew she had done so so many times before.

“Joy,” he said, his voice soft and questioning.

Her heart speed up even as her mind shut down. No, this was not happening to her. Not now. Not again.

“I-”

Her eyes flipped open, and she found him instantly. He stopped talking as they took each other in.

He hadn’t changed she noted with frustration. Brown hair cut short with only the barest hint of gray along the sides. A slight fan of wrinkles sprouting from the sides of his eyes and warm blue eyes that looked like windows to the sky. God, she hated that her pulse kicked up a notch just staring at him.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, her voice as cold as the ice she’d just left.

His hands rubbed against his jeans. A sure sign that he was nervous. She didn’t care. That was her mantra now. Don’t care about anything or anyone. It was simple and easy to remember.

“If you have nothing to say, the door is right behind you,” she said, leaning down again to take off the other skate which she realized was housing a throbbing foot.

Just another thing to add to the long list of things she could blame him for. She mumbled her exasperation at him under her breath.

“Don’t grumble,” he chastised. “It’s unladylike.”

It was like a punch to the gut as she sat up straight as an arrow and fixed him with a hateful stare.

“You are not my father. You never were so fuck off.”

He wiped his hands again and his brows were furrowed fiercely on his face

“Jesus Christ, Ethan, just spit it out already. I’m not getting any younger here.”

“No you’re not,” he said with a loud sigh and raked his hands through his hair, “and that’s part of the problem right there.”

She bit back the words that wanted to leap out of her mouth, knowing they would only provoke an old argument. She nearly sneered at the last thought and returned to her boot. Let him stew in whatever was his problem, she thought as she attacked her laces with vigor.

“Well that’s not really a problem, is it?” he continued and started to pace. “Aging actually works for you.”

“That should be on a Hallmark card somewhere,” she mumbled but he didn’t seem to notice or mind that time.

“I mean, it’s not that I want you to be old. Not that you are old. You’re still only 21 for fuck’s sake!”

That got her attention. Pulling off the boot, she tossed it aside and sat back to look at him again. He was practically wearing a hole in the concrete.

“Ethan,” she called out, her tone still short.

He stopped abruptly and looked at her, almost as if just realizing she was there. His cheeks flushed a little and heavens above it looked attractive on a man who was approaching middle age. Who was she kidding? Everything about him was attractive to her.

“What are you doing here?” she asked again, enunciating slowly and hoping he got the point that she was not happy about the fact.

Maybe then he would go away and stop torturing her. If only she could be so lucky.

He looked at her hard then. Not around her, not through her, not gazing only at the surface of her but really at her.

“I love you,” he blurted out.

Her mouth dropped a little, and by the modestly shocked expression on his face, she was certain he didn’t mean it. He shook his head and moved towards her.

“I mean it,” he added, quickly surmising her conclusion.

She stepped back. The cold floor reminding her harshly just where she was and with that, why she was there.

“No, you don’t.”

“I don’t think you can tell me what I feel,” he said, his lips slightly quirked upwards.

She slapped him.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

His cheek flared red even with his tanned skin trying desperately to hide it. His jaw flexed, but he kept staring at her.

“Sorry to borrow the line,” he said softly, “but it fit.”

“No, it doesn’t. You told me it doesn’t matter. That what I’m feeling doesn’t matter so, to borrow your words: it’s time you leave.”

“Joy,” he said, dragging her name out slowly as his eyes crinkled even before his mouth followed suit.

She always said he smiled with his eyes.

“I love you,” he repeated.

“I’m too young,” she shot back.

“True. I really don’t get why you love me at all.”

“I don’t. When you’re 60, I’ll only be 39.”

His smile widened, “You’ve been thinking about it haven’t you?”

“You’re a bastard.”

He nodded, “I am and I’m entirely too old to still be getting this so wrong.”

Her eyes narrowed, “Are you going to finally answer my question and tell me why you’re here?”

“Ditch your new coach,” he said, flipping his head toward the arena. “Take me back.”

“You want a job?”

“Among other things. You really are a handful.”

“And you really aren’t in any position to be so cheeky.”

“But I can get there. Can’t I?”

All playfulness was dropped out of his tone as he looked at her again with nothing but serious eyes. He lifted a hand and cautiously reached for her face, brushing his fingers lightly against her cheek.

“I really want to get there,” he murmured, “in case I wasn’t being obvious enough.”

She sucked in a short breath, her blood pumping so hard that it was nearly drowning out her hearing. She didn’t need that faculty to see the love pouring from him however. Tears welled in the corners of her eyes and she melted against him. His arms instantly wrapped her up and held her tight. She really shouldn’t be that easy but this was what she wanted all along and he just felt so good.

“Is that a yes?” he asked.

“I thought I was being obvious by throwing myself at you. Again,” she added the last part almost ruefully.

His body relaxed as he chuckled lightly and dropped a kiss against the top of her head.

“Then you better lace up again kid because your practice isn’t over.”

She smiled and for the first time in nearly a year, she felt content. It’s funny how sometimes you don’t realize you’re missing it until it’s right there in front of your face.  “You’re a slave driver,” she commented dryly.

“Who loves you.”

“You can repeat that as many times as you want, by the way.”

“Good because I plan on doing it for a long, long time to come.”

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Crochet Felon by Rhiannon Matlock

Matlock Reeves

That wasn’t the first time crocheting had resulted in a felony….

It’s not what you think. Well, I’m not sure what you could think with that opening line. They aren’t exactly a string of words that one would normally hear, but the truth of the matter is that it has happened all too often to me.

Time was like a blanket, woven together with thousands of threads interlocking and affecting each other until there was nothing but a whole. It was a lesson that my father and all of my ancestors had learned since they were practically born. It was an important lesson if one was to be a protector of such a precious thing as Time.

As I sat in my cell, I contemplated how I’d gotten into this particular situation. Maybe the solution of getting out of it would present itself.

I’d been minding my own business when that leggy, almost Amazonian woman walked into my office. She had dark hair and red lips. An instantly winning combo in my book. Looking back on it, I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew that coming in. Probably.

It was likely how she’d gotten me to agree to look for her son. She told me that Ester, her friend from church, had mentioned how great of a detective I was. Flattery got you everywhere with me. Especially from beautiful brunettes.

I sighed. Yup, she had my number from the beginning. Little did I realize at the time that her son was not her son. She handed me a picture of a young man walking a rather large golden retriever. Perhaps I should’ve questioned why the photo only had a side shot of the man’s face or why the picture seemed to highlight the canine more, but I was enamoured and easily persuaded.

I’d gone through the regular channels, hacking systems and checking facial recognition and records, but there was not a trace of the boy. Nothing that even showed he was ever born. It raised all sorts of flags and instead of asking the right questions, I’d gone to the basement and pulled out my needles. After much research and a little badgering, I discovered the exact spot in which the photo was taken and committed the ultimate crime.

Wincing, I recalled my stupidity. Over five thousand years ago, an Ancient One had come to Earth. The species of Man at the time was not quite the same as the one of today, with more intelligence and even more cruelty. The Ancient One sought to tame the savageness by teaching Man the secrets of the universe.

Despite the warnings about using these secrets for gain, Man did what we did best; we lied. Pretending to listen, we learned and we practiced until we thought we knew more than the Ancient One and in our stupidity sought to get rid of our teacher. Instead of victory, Earth was nearly shattered. Few survived, but devastated by the destruction, the Ancient One decided it was time to leave. Unfortunately, some things could not be undone and the survivors were sworn to not only keep the secrets but to guard them for the rest of eternity. Some thought it a privilege but I rather thought it was a punishment and probably a benefiting one. I mean, to know how to rule the universe and not be able to wield the power? Could there be anything more cruel? That is, if the stories were to be believed.

I was one of those who were inclined to disbelieve. I mean, come on. How freaking ridiculous! But there was one thing from all that gibberish that I’d found useful. The threads of time. It was a mite too on the nose for me but spot on. I’d found them during one of the ceremonies and had helped myself to a few yards of it.

On a dare, I’d stitched a few of the threads and threw myself back almost thirty years ago when my father had met my mother. The scene was awkward and thankfully I’d been ripped out from the past by my father within a few seconds. I’d set off some kind of magical alarm and unfortunately my dear old dad wasn’t keen on my discovery. In fact, he’d been rather irate. My ass had never before or since ever been so red. Too bad I didn’t learn from my lessons.

It was why, not more than four hours ago, I’d been standing in the middle of the sidewalk on Madison Avenue looking like a complete freak as I pulled out a shiny ball of golden yarn. Tucking the threads in my pocket and then hooking a strand on one of the needles, I began to weave.  Slowly the threads began to glow and strand by strand the events of the past started to connect.

Before my eyes, yesterday and the days before that rolled across my vision like a movie reel being played backwards. It took a little bit before I finally spotted the man I was looking for. Cars that looked at least fifty years old and buildings that weren’t quite as worn as they were today came together next, and I realized that I was back in the 1950s. There was no way this man was my client’s son.

The dog began to yelp, causing the man to turn. He spotted something off in the distance and his face turned a ghastly shade of white.

Before I could see anything else, the vision went up in a puff of smoke and I felt as if I was being yanked through a wind tunnel as the movie reel that was time zipped by at lightning speed.

All too quickly, I was back in the present, looking at the outraged face of my father. Some things really never did change.

“Thomas Morgan Smith!,” he roared and I was certain half of New York City stopped to give me a pitying look.

“Hey dad,” I drew out innocently, “What brings you-”

“Don’t you dare,” he bite out and slapped cuffs on me.

From experience, I knew there was no getting out of them. And now here I was, sitting in a jail cell, waiting for sentencing and all I could think of was that look on that poor sucker’s face. What had caused it? What had he seen? It wasn’t good, and though I really didn’t have any feelings towards the man one way or another, I didn’t feel right about leaving things as they were.

Getting up from my seat, I started to pace. Should I?

There was really no question about it. I had to know why the trouble to find this guy and what had happened.

Something was telling me that this story was not finished. Not by a long shot.

I had to get back there. Only problem was how? Well I knew how. It would require a death sentence and a lot of mischief. I had the latter and seemed to court the first more often than I should.

Sticking my hands in my pockets, I felt something in the corner of my left compartment. A coin. I pulled it out and started. It was a placement coin. Something that could transport me wherever I wanted to go.

How did that get there? Did I bring it and forget it? Not likely. And why hadn’t it been seized already? I could sort of explain the last question. My dad had been a little too upset to do a proper search of me. Then again, he was nothing if not a stickler for protocol, no matter how pissed he got. I actually think it helped calm him down.

Did he… did he slip it to me? It was a laughable thought, but at that moment, I heard voices in the hall and knew my time was limited. Now was the occasion for action. Answers would come later. Taking the coin between my two fingers, I snapped it in half with considerable effort, and a moment later, I was whisked to the porch of a charming, if unremarkable, house.

It was completely foreign to me, and for a moment, I considered the coin was broken. As I wondered where in the hell I was, the front door creaked open and I was staring down the barrel of a gleaming .38 revolver and into the face of the beautiful brunette who had hired me.

“So, Thomas,” she said with a seductive smirk, “Are you ready to start your real task now?”

Oh boy, here I go again.

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My Final Worry by Rhiannon Matlock

For Brandy, thank you for the starter, I hope you enjoy the story.

It was just for one night…

…and it didn’t matter how much skin I was going to take off in the process. My little sister had taken the abuse for me but that was going to end here. Tonight. The ground was coming up fast; I had maybe a hundred yards before it was either splat or I was going to just skim the surface of that patch of death below. I’d read about Hell in the old books. Some distant, undefined place where the Devil resided. No matter how bad it was, it had nothing on the hot, dark blaze that I was headed for. It burned at over 300 degrees and was so fiery that it turned to ash everything and anything it came into contact with. As a result, it was black as sin and as wide as the ocean. The Pilots called it the Last Land because it was the last thing that the first explorers saw and the patch of stars that no one ever went to unless they wanted to kill themselves or if they wanted to win a bet. Racing headlong at the oblivion and then turning at the last second was a great way to make a lot of money in a hurry if you had the guts for it as rich people with nothing better to do paid a lot of money to see some idiot turn themselves into cinder.

I licked my lips. Anticipation growing as I set the final course correction, grabbed the steering column for lack of something else to do, and waited. This was the worst part. Too much time allowed for too much thought. This was where I would at last prove whether I was as horrible as I always knew I was or whether I had some part of me that deserved redemption and there was only one way to find out.

Liquid eased from my hairline and slid down my face, burning a trail as if to remind me of my sins. I wasn’t religious but I knew that there were forces beyond me that had set this up. No one gets away with hiding for as long as I have and not have to pay for it. I re-gripped the control stick between my legs, tightening my fingers inside my gloves. My moment of truth was here and I had doubts. I wanted to cry at the knowledge. Why? Why was I born such a coward?

At that moment a loud, clanging ring rattled throughout the tin can I was in. A call was coming through. Of all the fucking things to be working, it had to be the one thing that did. The gods seemed to have heard my question and were prepared to answer it.

I smashed my hand against the controllers, sparking a few circuits that I probably needed but the ringing continued. I wasn’t being let off that easy. Still I wasn’t planning on taking it. Let it continue until I burned up in the ash below. The gods had another plan.

“Hello?” came a shaky, female voice.

The voice was muffled as it came through the ancient voice box but I’d know it anywhere. It was my sister. My breath caught in my dry throat and settled harshly against my lungs.

“Brother?” she called out again, a little more desperate this time. “Are you there?”

There was silence that followed as she waited for me to reply. I couldn’t though. Talking to her would only get her hurt.

“God dammit, Bastian, answer me. I know you’re there. I can hear you breathing.”

It was a lie. Of sorts. She couldn’t technically hear me over so shitty a connection as ours, but we were twins and we’d always had a special bond.

“Bastian, please,” she pleaded and I could hear the grief in her voice.

Tears came to my eyes and I couldn’t fight it.

“Talk to me,” she said quietly.

She must’ve sensed my deteriorating resolve because she added one of her patented “please’s” that I could never turn from.

“Hey,” I said, my voice thick even to my own ears.

“Hey,” she replied and the relief was evident. “Where are you?”

I didn’t answer that and my silence must’ve been enough because I could feel her anger before she said anything and it was enormous.

“You fucking idiot! What the hell are you doing?” she yelled and her voice reverberated off of everything including the inside of my skull.

“I had to,” I croaked out.

“No, no you didn’t. You turn your ass right around and you get back here. Do you understand me?”

I snorted, “You, know for a younger sister, you are really bossy.”

My attempt at levity was not well met.

“I swear to the Gods, Sebastian Reynolds, I will hunt you into every life you have after this if you don’t turn around right this minute.”

I looked down at the controls. Not that I had any plans to follow her order, but I needed an excuse and I found one.

“I can’t,” I stated simply.

“Yes, you can. I know you can.”

“Dials are going wild, sis; I have no more control.”

“You could fly a horse underwater if you needed to, brother, so don’t give me that bullshit.”

I sighed and let go of the stick, sitting back in the shitty seat and letting my head fall back against the cracked and beaten head rest. It reminded me of myself.

“I’m not turning back, Belly,” I said quietly and looked at my final destination with a sense of certainty.

The ground was coming up far too quickly now and I knew that I had maybe ten minutes left before I entered the gravitational pull of the piece of rock in front of me and had next to no possibility of survival.

I should be panicking, but instead I all I could feel was this odd sort of peace. It was here. My end was finally here. I could finally leave it all behind and I didn’t have to keep fighting it. I’d cause no more pain.

“You never caused me pain, brother,” she said suddenly, hearing my thoughts as clear as if they were her own.

Her voice was thick again, anger leaving her and a new wave of desperation rolled over me. I knew it was hers but it didn’t deter me. I was going to save her.

The closer I got, the hotter the tin can I was in was getting. The dials were going crazy now, swinging wildly out of control. Just like me. I was so out of control that I’d willing put myself in this situation, but what choice did I have? It was either this or let that bastard continue and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

The anticipation lifted the rhythm of my heart to a thicker, quicker beat. I could feel my blood pulsing, vibrating my body. It would seem that as I finally wanted things to speed up they only slowed down. I knew I had less than five minutes now but it felt like ages. The black mass of earth was becoming more and more defined. It was coming. My retribution

I licked my lips in anticipation. Maybe the scales would finally be balanced.

“Bas,” she said tearfully through the line, “this isn’t how you can save me.”

“Yes it is,” I said, my own tears spraining back to my eyes.

It was always thus with us.

“No, Bas, what am I going to do without you?”

“Live a good life,” I said harshly though it wasn’t directed at her.

“No,” she said and I could almost see her shaking her head, “No. You honestly think that he’s just going to let me go when you hit that inferno?”

I didn’t answer. My thought process hadn’t extended that far. All I’d see what the blood covering her body and the ultimatum I’d been given. Race one final time and instead of pulling out at the last second like everyone who was watching was betting on, I was to go down in a blaze of glory. Only it was no kind of glory that I’d ever wanted for myself save only that it would finally free my sister. My craft jerked violently and then started to rattle wildly. I’d touched the outer rim of the gravity. There was no turning back now.

“He’s a monster, Bas,” she insisted roughly. “There will be no one to enforce your stupid agreement with him with you gone.”

That was true. No, I shook my head. I couldn’t listen to her any more or she would dissuade me. I gripped the controller again. Don’t lose faith, don’t lose faith, I chanted over and over again in my head.

“Brother!” she screamed and it took everything in me not to turn the stick.

“I have to do this, Bel,” I said hoarsely. “He will kill you if I don’t.”

“No, he won’t. I’m his star. He won’t touch me.”

I snorted, “Do you think it was a fluke that you got through to me?”

She clearly hadn’t thought about that.

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“This is a test. He wants me to suffer in every way possible, Bel, but there is a bomb in your room right now and it’s timed so that it will go off a few seconds after I’m to hit the blaze.”

She was quiet for a second.

“If you pull out, I blow,” she finished for me quietly.

I nodded though there was no one to see it.

“He just wanted to hear me plead with you.”

“Yeah, Bel. Don’t you see? This is the only way.”

An overwhelming sense of sadness mixed with hatred swelled throughout my body.

“Bel,” I said quietly.

“Yeah?”

She tried to answer evenly, but I could hear the hitch in her voice.

“I love you and I’m so sorry.”

“You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“Yes, I do.”

“No Bas. No. You don’t.”

I tried to shake my head but the rattling was so bad now that I didn’t know if the bobbing of my chin was of my volition or not.

“It’s because of me-”

“Shhhhh,” she said quietly. “We’ve all made mistakes. I slept with the bastard, not you.”

“Yeah, true, that was pretty stupid,” I said, though the tears were falling freely at this point.

A strangled laugh came out of her and it mirrored my sentiments. I had less than a minute now and the fact that I would never see or talk to her again was finally hitting me. That single bit of data was more horrifying and more detrimental to my final resolve than any other thing she could’ve said.

There was a sniffle through the line. She was crying and she’d heard everything that I’d just thought. After everything I was putting even my last worry on her.

“Don’t you dare do that,” she said.

“Do what?” I asked limply.

“Blame yourself for caring about me.”

I wiped the tears from my cheeks and took a long, cleansing breath. I was seconds from my end.

I was about to respond but the nose of my ship hit the blaze and whatever shielding I had was ripped away in a second. The tin can was now an inferno and I had no time left.

“I love you Bel,” I said softly.

“I know you do big brother. Hey Bel?”

My ship was quickly falling into the fiery pit and my body had suddenly burst into blame and started to burn hotter than the hell I’d been sentenced to. I screamed and I felt panic overwhelm me. She was still connected to me in my mind.

No, Bel, get out of my head. She didn’t need to see this.

Bas, she called out wildly.

Go, Bel.

        I will find you again. I promise.

It was the last thing I heard before I combusted; the final scream caught inside my death trap.

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Inferno by Rhiannon Matlock

This is a little something I cooked up.

The fire burned hot.

So hot I felt it singeing the depths of my lungs with every breath I tried to draw in. I felt like I was choking on the plume of smoke that surely was escaping from within me and I tried to wriggle free but something kept me restrained. I couldn’t figure out why but everything inside me was in flames and not a small kitchen fire but a wild forest conflagration. It seemed like I was locked in an inferno, the blaze inching closer and closer, getting hotter and hotter. Sweat beaded and dropped from my head and back. I felt those capricious, searing fingers of flame reach out and lick me, singeing away my hair and flesh. I started to scream from the pain and my heart beat faster and faster, making the pain worse.

Terror rose up like bile. I sought out anything that could tell me where I was and what was going on but I found nothing aside from the raging heat building to unbearable intensity all over and inside of me. Coherent, logical thought was not possible with the agonizing heat torturing every cell of my body. I was frantic; I had to get out. Out of my body, out of this place, just out.

There was a prick against my skin and a few moments later an icy sensation spread throughout my body. Swiftly it spread and as it worked its way through my system, bringing the heat down to manageable levels as it traveled, I slowly became aware of something else besides the fire.

My name was the first thing I heard but in my current state, I wasn’t sure if I was just dreaming. It was quiet then and I thought I was going to fall off into limbo again but moment by moment consciousness started to prevail, pulling me from the bliss of the abyss back to the real world. All the aches and pains aches incumbent with that state rushed in all at once and I wanted to vomit. God, my head was killing me.

“Ms. Davenport?”

The voice cut in like a badly dubbed sound track and I tried to not listen to it. I just wanted to curl up into a ball and go to sleep.

“Ms. Davenport,” he called again though more loudly this time.

His voice was so grating. Couldn’t he just shut up for a second? I heard a shuffle of feet and realized I might’ve said that aloud. With a groan, I opened my eyes and found Agent Jones standing not far from where I sat. Oh fuck.

“Surprised to see me, Ms. Davenport?” he said in a slightly taunting voice.

Despite the pounding in my head and the still present heat in my body, I had an urge to fight back.

“You mean surprised to find out you like holding a woman against her will? No not really. I’m guessing most of your dates go this way.”

He clenched his jaw and slapped my face. The sting exploded across my cheek and it hurt worse than any slap I’d gotten in the past. Then again, I didn’t usually get cuffed by a man.

“Wow, didn’t realize you hit like a girl,” I said when I got my senses back.

I don’t know why I was insulting him but it felt good. He didn’t seem to like it though as he drew back and punched me. It hurt twice as bad as the slap. I heard the patter of feet scrambling and then next I felt a couple of hands on my face, tenderly touching my flesh. I blinked and saw the face of the doctor from the hospital. The one who’d released me. What was his name? It was hard to think through the increasing pain of the burn but eventually his name came to me. Doctor Franklin. That son of a bitch.

Without even thinking, I shoved my forehead into his face, landing a hard and successful crunch against his nose. He screamed and backed away. Again I had no idea why I did it. It would seem I was acting on every little impulse at the moment. Suddenly I felt dizzy and the world tottered a bit before my eyes.

“It’s the drug,” a new voice said and I recognized it instantly.

McCall. He also said he was with the Agency but I wasn’t entirely positive about that one.

“What did you give me?” I asked as I worked to right my world.

“Penzatine.”

“Never heard of it,” I said and my sight finally stabilized.

I found McCall sitting in the open chair in front of me. He shrugged.

“Not surprising. It’s something we developed,” he said as he took out a package of mints from his suit pocket and popped one in his mouth. “The problem with hallucinogens though is you never know where they are going to take you.”

“Good to know,” I muttered.

“I’m sorry about the arrangement you find yourself in. It is necessary though,” he said.

I glared at him but he sat forward, elbows on his knees, and looked at me with something resembling remorse. I knew it was a lie.

“I’m going to be candid with you, Ms. Davenport,” he stated.

“That’s a novel concept,” I replied but he ignored it.

“We have a problem. We need the information you have about John. It’s imperative that we get him back and you are our strongest link. Over the last few hours, we’ve tried several things to get you to tell us but your system is metabolizing them too quickly.”

“That’s a damn shame,” I said.

“It is,” he agreed quickly, “because according to the doctor, you don’t have much more time. The serum that is dripping into your blood is slowing down the effects of the virus you have but there’s nothing else we can do at this point.”

He said it like he was talking about a cavity that he couldn’t fill rather than my life. It was as once disquieting and irritating.

“Now, both of the things that I’ve just told you are irreversible facts but there is something that you do still have some power over,” he said and looked at me pointedly.

“Let me guess: this is where I ask you to spare me the pain of what you’re going to do to me if I don’t talk fast right?”

“You are quite clever but it is not so much of what I’m going to do to you as what I’m going to let happen to you.”

I didn’t say anything. Didn’t really see much of a point in talking right then but my mind was working like a nascar driver to figure a way out. McCall must’ve sensed this.

“Escape is not your best option because without that IV, you’d beg me to kill you.”

Still I said nothing and he sighed before he gave a little nod to the doctor and all at once the drip stopped. At first nothing happened and I started to feel a little smug.

“Don’t worry, it’ll come. In the mean time I think I’ll introduce you to someone,” he said and turned to the Doctor.

“How far along is patient 421?” he asked.

The doctor squirmed, “Almost there.”

“Good. Bring him.”

If the Doc was going to protest, it was eliminated with one look from McCall. A smile split Jones’s face, making him look like a jack o’ lantern as Franklin disappeared. Arrogant ass. A tingly sensation started at the base of my wrist and started to spread outward. It was hard to feel through the ever increasing heat in my body but the ascent up my veins was relentless and increasing. I wanted to believe that it was a good sign but I had a feeling it was really, really bad.

There was absolute silence until I heard the screams. They were horrific. I kept my face a picture of composure though as I didn’t want to give McCall the satisfaction. A door opened and the next moment Franklin carted in a man bound to a wheel chair.

McCall got up and pulled his seat away, indicating to put the man in front of me. The tortured soul was aware of none of this as he was in the thralls of mind numbing pain that I could relate to all too well. Red welts lined his bare chest and arms. Sores bubbled under his skin and looked they were going to rupture. He was bursting forward against his bonds with a viciousness that was literally sawing into his hands and feet. He didn’t seem to care though as his flushed face alternately gritted and then screamed. McCall and Jones did nothing but watch and my heart kicked up several notches as I watched the savageness before me.

I tried wrestling with all my might against my bonds. I don’t know what I would’ve done if I’d gotten out of them but that poor man didn’t deserve what was happening to him. Sweat poured off of him and slid over the sores along his body, making them sizzle. At the same time I felt the tingle in my own body start to turn from an itch to a burn.

The man’s face jutted forward then, eyes bugged and teeth bared as he let out one final, terrifying scream and the bubbles along his skin burst. I shut my eyes, anger coursed through me. I didn’t need to see his final state to know that it was gruesome and that it was to be my own fate soon enough.

The next time I opened my eyes, the man was carted away and McCall was seated in front of me again. A rolling heat swept my body, kicking up my core temperature and I felt sweat start to collect along my brow. The fire from before was returning. I started to panic.

“You fucking bastard,” I hissed.

“Perhaps I am,” he said, “but there is a reason for everything I do.”

“You mean beyond madness? You’re insane, no matter how you look at it.”

He tapped a finger against his knee. He was starting to get irritated.

“I’ve never once lied to you,” he said. “I will watch you go through that entire process right up until your last breath if you don’t tell me what I want to know.”

“Go to hell.”

“Come on, you’re no martyr. Your sense of self preservation is too good for that.”

“Fuck you.”

Jones stepped around McCall and punched me. Against the fever starting to ignite within me, it felt like a branding iron. Anger swelled in me, intensifying the burn.

“Heightened emotional states only accelerates the process. I’d try to calm down if I were you,” McCall clarified.

I wanted to tell him to go to hell but I realized that I’d already said that. The notion I had nothing but cliches to throw at him suddenly struck me as funny and I found myself laughing. It hurt, making tender muscles stretch even more and aches burrow in deeper but I couldn’t for the life of me stop.

I felt like I was going insane. Considering what was probably happening to my brain cells at the moment, it wasn’t beyond comprehension. At some point, I looked up and saw both Jones and McCall with frustrated looks on their faces. It made me laugh even more.

“Stop it,” Jones said, clearly disconcerted as he stepped toward me again.

My glee wouldn’t abate and neither would the sizzle that was starting to cook me.

“Or what?” I asked between breaths. “You’ll torture me? You’ll throw me in some dark hole and watch me die. Oh wait, you’ve done that already haven’t you, you motherfuckers.”

Jones shot forward and grabbed me by the hair, yanking my head so far back that I saw the ceiling clearly. He was hovering over me, trying his best to look as menacing as possible but he only looked ridiculous to me and made me cackle harder. He didn’t seem to take kindly to my response as he punched me in the face. Blood pooled in the back of my throat and I spit it out in his face. He staggered back, surprised and I took one look at his expression, then burst out laughing again.

“Go ahead and kill me you piece of shit,” I said. “I don’t really care.”

Jones looked like he was going to when McCall called out.

“Stop.”

McCall looked at me curiously and Jones propped me up again. My laughter subsided as I watched the look in McCall’s eye turn from troubled to satisfied.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” he asked but it was more of a statement. “You don’t really care if you die or not. But there is someone you would trouble yourself over, isn’t there?”

And just like that any remaining glee I had was tarnished to hostility.

“I wouldn’t think along those lines if I were you,” I said with deadly calm.

“I can do it. Get the Olivers down here before you perish,” he clarified.

I leaned forward, “You do that and I will kill you.”

Jones snorted but McCall had no amusement in his eyes as he leaned forward.

“I’ve no doubt of your belief in your words but have no doubt about mine either. I will sit them down in front of you, inject each of them and let you watch them. Considering Mrs. Oliver’s pregnancy, that really could be quite terrible.”

He continued to talk but I heard nothing more as hostility turned to hate and hate to wrath. It was blinding and exploding, amping up the burn inside of me like coals set afire but even the searing pain of the burn took back seat as my emotions raged and I quite literally ignited.

Heat poured out of me and I felt the plastic of the zip tie burn itself into my skin while I screamed and yanked against them. They finally melted away as I reached up and latched my hand against McCall’s face. Flesh boiled under my touch and he screamed, ripping himself away from me too quickly for my taste.

Jones came for me again but this time I reached out with both hands and grabbed his wrists. They singed under my grasp and he crumbled in pain to the ground. I leaned down to the blackened face of McCall.

“Touch my friends and I will burn every inch of your body,” I seethed.

Though I would’ve loved to stick around and see his expression, it wasn’t necessary. I got up and raced to the door. The electronic buttons melted under my fingers which was unfortunate but the wiring short circuited which caused the door to swoosh open. I ran as fast as I could, deathly heat at my heels and nothing but escape on my mind.

Two guards came out of somewhere but I shoved them aside. Up the stairs and around the halls I went until I finally found an emergency exit door and slammed through it. The cold air did nothing against my searing flesh, making my flight bittersweet. I don’t know how long I went for but it didn’t seem like much before my over-expended body just could not handle it. I dropped to the ground, the pavement scrapping against my hands and knees, tearing at me and causing me to scream in agony.

The sounds of dozens of feet stampeding towards me broke into my awareness and I knew I was done for but I couldn’t find the decency to care. A vague whimpering noise filtered in then and I knew it was coming from me as heat spread to my lungs. With nothing but death to look forward to, I looked back to see why I hadn’t been picked up yet. I knew that I didn’t have much longer but still I wanted to see. I expected to see Agents scrambling out from their hideout and rushing towards me like ants.

Instead I saw a half dozen men on the ground and the man I’d dubbed Silver standing over them. His white, wavy hair was sticking out in all directions and he was bathed in a warm light that made it seemed like he was glowing. As if sensing that I was looking at him, he turned toward me and I thought he almost looked like an angel.

A smile cracked my face. I wondered what he would think about me calling him heavenly. Before I knew it, he hunched down over me, the light around him increasing as it reached out and encased me. I wanted to reach up and touch his face to see if he was real or if this was just another hallucination but I was falling back into darkness faster and faster. My eyes closed and a second later, there was a loud boom but it barely registered as I sank into oblivion, certain I’d never wake up again.

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Is That Cheese? – Rhiannon Matlock

To my friend Erika Lance for such a great line!

 

She couldn’t tell if that was cheese or a dead body. She hated both but possibly cheese was worse.

 

The former was a rancid smell that got on her hands and clothes and just never seemed to leave. The latter, however, was something she could deal with easily, especially since it was a Thursday night and the stars so to speak were aligned.

Stepping over the burned threshold of the house that had been cindered, she took another whiff. The fire was old so the lingering scent of ash was faint, not enough to block that putrid, gamy smell drifting along the stale air. As she got closer to it, she had the sense that it was a dead body she would be encountering rather than the cheese.

This was possibly the best news. Aside from the stench factor, she’d been hired to find someone and it had been a bit of a bitch up to this point. False leads and trails obfuscated had made the task harder than usual. Either that or she was really off her game.

Rather than let her mind drift into that particular minefield, she sniffed the air again and moved laterally in the direction her nose lead her. Broken wood crackled under foot as she carefully made her way over the debris and a soft wind gentled through the battered structure, lifting her hair and stifling the oppressive heat if only for a moment. The sweat gathering on her forehead and back cooled for a quick spell before the humidity zapped it dry once more. Normally she didn’t mind the heat, preferred it in fact but not today. Not when it made what she was about to do nearly impossible. Her foot touched something rather solid then and she stopped abruptly. The light streaming in from the broken windows should’ve helped her to see better but in her case it was rather blindly. Waving her hands around in front of her, she knelt down slowly until they caught the edges of what felt like a jean jacket.

What the person was doing with any kind of coat in July in Florida she didn’t know, but it wasn’t her concern at the moment. It was the something that the person she’d been hired to find had been wearing when they went missing.

She had to keep thinking of this as just a person she was looking for rather than a kid as otherwise she’d lose focus. With deliberate pats, she sized the small body up and then paused when she got to the neck. Her heart started beating faster and her palms started to feel clammy. The knot that had been forming since she’d seen the picture of the little boy on TV two nights ago tightened. She had little doubt that she was where she needed to be and the thought was making her sick.

Cuts had lined the small figure, evident even through his clothes and she’d bet that there were bruises lining the arms and torso she’d just felt. Not for the first time, she was glad for the fuzz created in her vision by the white light. Some things people should never see.

Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to continue. She had to be certain it was him before she took her next step. With attentive but definite strokes, she mapped the face of the prone body and confirmed that Jacob Hallsby had been found and that he was dead.

Her hands jerked back as if burned and she leaned to the side, what little remaining in her stomach being hurled with abandon as she retched. It wasn’t that she could feel what he felt in the final moments or that she could even ascertain what had happened to him precisely. Others had those gifts but not her.

No, her problem at discovering this little boy lay in a completely other arena.

When there was nothing left to dispel, her stomach still heaved uncontrollably for several moments and her body shook visibly. Finally, she started to calm and thankfully, the sun had started on its descent. Even the slight change in brightness allowed her to see better. Wiping her mouth clear, she reached up and donned her sunglasses. Seeing obscured her other senses so when she tracked, she allowed herself to be as blind as she could be.

Blinking a few times, the white and red spots began to clear and she started to get a clear picture of the scene. The last thing she wanted to do was see Jacob’s face but she forced herself to. It was time for her to do what she came to do and she couldn’t do that unless she looked into his eyes.

His face was small and pointed, almost like an elf’s and the jacket he wore was twice his size, making him appear even more slight than he already was. His lids were closed and his mouth was ajar as if he was surprised. She felt her body begin to tremble again in anger and grief as she assessed him with her eyes now. This one was never going to be easy, not after what she’d recently experienced but it was perhaps because of what happened that she’d pushed herself so hard to find him.

As if commanded, her hand reached for him again, only this time she went straight for his eyes. Lifting his lids she forcefully pushed aside her own fears at what she was about to do, took off her glasses and leaned over him so that she could look directly into his eyes.

Pale blue orbs stared up at her. There was the tiniest of sparks still there, buried deep, deep within. She took a deep breath and then started humming.

Sight faded again as the sound bled from her into the thick, heavy air. Words were unnecessary as soulful, passionate resonance came from her heart, the tendrils wrapping around the energies in the room and weaving what someone long ago so aptly named a calling spell. The song continued for several minutes and Cassie poured everything into it, her emotions running too high at this point to hold anything back. The nudge she felt came quicker than she was expecting. Letting the song finish, her vision began to crystallize once again and the spark she’d seen earlier was ignited.

Looking up, she saw the incorporeal form she was hoping for. A small smile lifted the corners of mouth as she leaned back on her haunches and stared.

“Hello Jacob,” she said in an almost mothering tone. “Welcome back.”

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