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Final Session by JM Paquette

For Patricia Noll

“I like myself because I am who I am.”

I stared at her, waiting for the punchline. When the woman sitting in chair across the desk from me didn’t continue, I realized that she was serious, that this one line would be the sum total of her self-reflection–and thus our session–today.

I decided to push back, just a little bit. They tell us not to do that, especially here as we evaluate the sum total of things, but I couldn’t just leave it at that. It would mean leaving half of my survey questions blank, and though the resulting math would be simple, I didn’t want to score her so low without at least giving her a shot at redemption. “And who would you say you are?”

Her face was blank as she pondered the question. Her lips formed the shape of an automatic response, and I could practically feel her desire to restate her name, but some of the desperation in my soul must have crept onto my face because she paused, lips open in a perfect circle, then cocked her head to the side.

“Who am I?” she repeated, but I knew she was just doing it to stretch out the moment. I waited patiently. I could be patient. That was the goal of these little after-death sessions, after all, to patiently examine the life lived, to quantify the quality of existence, to tally up the sum of a lifetime. The woman leaned back in her chair, head cocked to one side, and I wondered what she had been in life. Her hands still rested on her lap, nails perfectly manicured–definitely not a manual laborer then. I’d seen enough of those hands when I was down in Last Rites, old and weathered fingers and palms of people canny enough to know that this little interview was more than ordinary, that the gaps in their memories meant something more than a little bit of routine confusion. They had known.

The people up on this level, though, they rarely understood what was happening. I asked my questions, and they replied, sometimes this way or sometimes that, and sometimes the math allowed them to move forward, and other times the numbers were just too low to pass, and they went back. Back down there. To try again.

This one could probably use another go-round just to find out her name. I was still waiting, mind wandering, when I caught her peeking at the sheet on my desk, eyes roving down the line of columns to take in the numbers. I’d seen enough savvy people doing math in their head to know the look. She was adding up her score, but why?

I looked her over again, the dull expression she had pulled back on her face, covering the crafty judgement I had seen for just an instant. Was she…playing me?

“Well?” I prompted. I had heard of this–people who knew about the system, people who played the numbers and said the right thing to get where they wanted to go. I’d never met one, though. This would be a great story for the gang after work tonight.

“I am…ordinary,” she said, then looked meaningfully at my hand holding the pen waiting for me to mark her response. I made one hatch mark. “But that’s not a terrible thing,” she added. I made another two hatch marks. “Though I don’t want to stand out too much,” she blurted, and I erased one of the marks. She smiled then, a tiny nod, and then she was silent again. The moment was over.

I glanced at my evaluation. Going back down. But not all the way down. She had managed to score in the perfect sweet spot between completely oblivious to the entire system and completely frustrated because she knew too much. As she faded from my sight, I pulled out a sticky note and jotted down her identification number. She would be fun to Follow.

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Action Heroes by JM Paquette

For Rob Whitt

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I kicked the engine to life and headed in…

Well, that was what should have happened. Apparently, it took more than a simple kick to get a motorcycle running. I looked down at the sleek metal machine between my legs, recalling every action movie I’d ever seen.

First, the hero stands up on the pegs. I straightened my legs. One of the metal prongs my foot was on collapsed beneath me, and I fell, hard onto my crotch. The seat was soft enough, but still, the motion was jarring. Ok, not that peg then.

Keys were probably important, I decided, and started clicking the key back and forth, wishing I had taken the time to learn to read the alien letters before coming to the surface. Back home, safe in my room, surrounded by my books and my films and my music, all of this had seemed so easy.

Simple creatures, really. They could barely break out of their atmosphere.

Not so simple technology, though. I stood up again, this time trying to simultaneously turn the key and stamp on the pedals, wherever they were. I kicked and flipped and jiggled, and suddenly, as if conjured by the fierceness of my thoughts, the motorcycle roared to life. I sat, rotating my wrists and getting into position, hoping the bike wouldn’t shoot forward too quickly.

I wanted to have some kind of control when I rode into town. If this was my grand entrance, it had better be worthwhile. I didn’t want to launch myself over the handlebars like one of the unfortunates on those old video reels I’d spent hours watching.

The bike settled into a steady rhythm once I figured out the handlebar controllers. It was a lot easier watching these things than it was to ride them! No wonder all those videos ended with someone falling off. It took every ounce of concentration I had to keep the thing upright and going forward with me on its back. I’d ridden monsters more easily subdued, but nothing like the magnificent creatures back home lived on this planet. The biggest creature here was an underwater behemoth, hardly worth the challenge to ride.

But even the least tame monster back home paled in comparison to the way the bike skittered and jostled beneath me. I held on tight, sending up one last round of prayers to the deities of my home world before I headed into the first town of my new world.

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Chronomancy Department of the Linguistic Protectorate by JM Paquette

For Zhenya

They knew that they will meet each other, and it will change their life.

I read the line again, my brain struggling to make sense of the timing. “Zahara?” I asked, looking up to my field agent, trying to decide if this was another of her language related mix-ups or if she genuinely meant what she said. My face must have shown my hesitation.

“Don’t make that face at me,” she scolded, her accent impeccable as always. “I can practically hear you thinking.”

“Did you mean that they know they will meet at some point, and the meeting will be life-changing?” I tried to clarify.

Zahara scowled. “No, Miss English Grammar Nazi. I meant what I said. They knew it will happen.”

“Would happen,” I corrected gently.

“No. Will happen. This is not the subjunctive mood. This is a definite thing, not a wish or a hope.” She paused to make sure I was listening, then added, “Nor is it contrary to fact.”

I shook my head. “But how can you be so sure? The future isn’t set. It’s always in motion.” I paused again, then asked, “Isn’t it?”

Zahara was shaking her head in that sad slow way of a person with far superior knowledge as she marveled at my ignorance. “Do you ever even look around?” She gestured at the sign that we both could see through the glass walls of the front office. “You work in the Chronomancy Department of the Linguistic Protectorate.”

I shrugged. “I know. But it’s just a fancy name for what we do.”

She narrowed her eyes at me. “And just what do you think we do here?”

I shrugged again. “It’s just fancy advertising and clever wordplay.” I recited the company motto: “We protect the words of yesterday so they remain for tomorrow.”

Zahara was nodding at me slowly, willing me to grasp some fundamental concept. “And how do you think we do that?”

“You rescue books that are in danger of being destroyed?” I’d always seen Zahara as a glorified librarian, a rescuer of old volumes of forgotten lore. It was a great gig. I’d seen her travel expenses.

“Destroyed by what?” she prompted, not willing to let it go quite yet.

“Time?” I replied, a little bit of snark creeping into my voice.

“For someone so smart, you really are quite dumb,” she finally decided. She reached out to turn my head to see the sign again. “Chronomancy.” She said the word slowly, enunciating each syllable.

“Time,” I repeated.

“Time travel,” she corrected.

I shook my head at her, something inside me bubbling up and then disappearing just as quickly. “Huh?”

“Nevermind,” she grumbled. She pointed to the file I was working on. “Just leave the document as is, ok? They will meet. It is a certainty.” I stared at her, disbelief plain on my face. She rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen it.” She put her hands up in disgust. “Look, we’ve already had this conversation a few times. Each time it seems to get harder for you to understand. Time is wearing thin here.” She looked away from me to something I couldn’t see, then back in my direction, her face sympathetic. “This is why you could never be an agent. Time erodes too quickly around you.” The softness faded from her face. “It’s all we can do to keep the words consistent with you around.”

“But—“ I tried to say something, anything to bring the world back into focus.

She shushed me. “It’s fine. In a few minutes, you won’t remember this at all.” She pursed her lips. “Poor thing.” There was another of those long pauses as I just sat there, staring at her. “Still, better we have you here where we can keep an eye on you than out there wreaking havoc on the space-time continuum like your sister.”

“Sister?” I didn’t have any family.

There was that flash of sympathy again, and I had the feeling that I had seen that look a dozen times before, in that very same way, in this very moment. The world started to fade away, my ears buzzing, eyes cloudy, and then I was back, staring at the file on my desk with eyes blurred with fatigue.

“Zahara?” I asked, turning to my field agent. “I don’t think this is what you mean…”

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French Djinni by JM Paquette

For Barbara Rubin, who left it blank


I stared at the blank piece of paper, wondering if this was some kind of joke. Djinni had an odd sense of humor. It wouldn’t be the first time Soto had played a prank on me. He was really getting anxious for me to use my wishes.

“This isn’t going to work,” I announced to the empty room, knowing that Soto would hear me. He had to. He couldn’t leave me alone until I used my wishes. I looked at the envelope that the blank note had arrived in. It had several postmarks on it, clear signs of a long travel through third world postal services. The handwriting was simple, clear block letters spelling out my name and address, but without any return address in the upper left corner. I lifted the blank piece of paper, holding it up to the light, trying to see what words may have been on the paper at one time.

“Is this some kind of trick?” I asked Soto, waving the paper at the room.  The djinni was here. I knew it. Just because I couldn’t see him didn’t mean anything. It had taken me some time to adjust to my ever present companion, but now I was used to it. I could shower and change without a second thought. If Soto wanted to hang out and watch, so be it. He’d been hanging around, visible and invisible, since Jason had gone missing two years ago. “Is this supposed to be from him?” I demanded.

When the silence wasn’t interrupted by the appearance of my not-so-favorite djinni, I lost my temper. “Dammit, Soto!” I shouted. “Show yourself!”

“Do you wish I would show myself?” The voice was low, accented, and infuriatingly calm.

“No,” I said carefully. “I demand that you show yourself.”

The djinni formed in front of me, the outline of his body dim at first and then darkening into physical form. He frowned at me. “I should never have told you that I have to obey you,” he groaned. “You are intolerable.”

“Me?” I retorted. “I’m not the one resorting to blackmail here.”

The djinni had the decency to look affronted. “I would never!”

“You absolutely would,” I told him, “and you have.”

“How can this be blackmail?” Soto asked, putting his arms behind his back, the motion drawing his shoulders up and out so that he stood at his full not-so-imposing height of five foot five inches. “There are no demands.”

“You don’t need to demand anything,” I snapped. “You know I have to know.”

“If you would only use one of your wishes…” the djinni began.

“Yeah, yeah,” I waved him away, “I would have my Jason back already.”

Soto nodded. “You could.”

“Yes, I could,” I repeated,  emphasizing the word. “Not that I would. No matter what I asked for, you’d find a way to twist it.”

“I would not!” he insisted, but I knew better. I was not the first member of my family to stumble onto a djinni. I was, however, the only one who refused to use her wishes. I was also the only one still left alive.

“We’ve been over this,” I told him. “I will find Jason on my own. I don’t need any wishes.”

“But you have three wishes,” Soto sighed. “I don’t understand why you won’t use them!”

“I would wish you free,” I said.

“And you know that I cannot be freed while I still owe you wishes. You need to spend your first two before that can even be possible.”

“No,” I told him, firm as ever. “I will not take the risk. Even a simple wish from you would kill me.”

“It might not,” he wheedled. “And you could have your Jason back!”

“For a brief moment, maybe. Or in theory. Or in a picture. Or in some other twisted way.”

“I would not twist your wish!” he assured me, but I ignored him. I had grown up with a large family. I had heard the stories of djinni granting wishes–and how it would be different this time, for this uncle, that cousin, this brother, that aunt. It was always the same. Now I had the djinni, and the wishes, and all the need, but I would not, could not, use them.

Better to spend my life searching for Jason the old fashioned way than give in to the djinni’s wishes.

I flashed the envelope at him. “Did this have words on it when it arrived?”

Soto looked at the ground, shuffling his feet.

“I’m serious, Soto. Did this say anything?”

“It is a message,” he hedged. “It didn’t say anything.”

I sighed. “Were there words on this piece of paper?”

He shrugged. “Don’t you wish you knew?”

“No,” I said firmly. “I will find out on my own.” I studied the stamps on the envelope, took a quick picture with my phone, and waited for Google to reveal its secrets.

“Monaco,” I read after a third of a second. I looked up at the squat djinni scowling in my kitchen. “How is your French?”

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The Perfect Bag by JM Paquette

For Briana Jager

“I don’t suggest eating dirt. It doesn’t taste very good.

I know this because the vamp was in the process of shoving my face deep into the dirt of the courtyard. My job definitely has some downsides.

Slay the vampires, they said. It will be fun, they said.

I had been there less than a day before they handed me my own kit: wooden stakes, of course, vials of blessed water, a small silver cross all shoved carefully into a small shoulder bag.

I do love my kit bag. It’s bandolier style, sits on my shoulders, and fits perfectly across my chest, the bag itself nestles comfortably against my hip. And it’s got that old leather smell that stores make you pay extra for back home, so that was a bonus. It even had an extra pocket across the front to keep other sundry items in. I had recently lined that pocket with an iron plate after a vamp nearly skewered me with its claws. The bag makes a decent shield in extremity.

The bag could also be a detriment, though, especially when the vamp gets behind you and uses that strap to toss you around. And right now, the vamp was using the slack in the strap to pull the bag tight, the bulk pressing hard into my shoulder and neck as it pressed my face deeper into the dirt.

I could hear the seams in the old leather bag beginning to groan with the strain.

Oh hell no.

Not my bag. This vamp is not going to break my bag.

I pushed up on both arms with all of my strength, spitting the dirt from my mouth as I used the split second of surprised slack to tug the vamp off balance behind me, slid a stake from the font pouch, and shoved it into the air behind me. The stake met the vamp’s chest with no noise or resistance, and suddenly, an ash cloud swirled around my ears.

I closed my eyes until it I was sure it had faded. Vamp ash turns your eyes bloodshot for days.

I looked down to check my bag. The strap was definitely strained, but gave no sign of immediate failure. I straightened it against my hip, replacing the stake in the front pocket.

Spitting the remains of the dirt from my mouth, I rubbed a fist against my lips, wishing the bag had some room for a napkin or handkerchief.

Maybe it was time for some upgrades.

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The Final Essay by JM Paquette

For Barbara Rubin, who left the story starter line blank…

I stared at the blank document in my hand. The student’s name was in the top left hand corner, as directed by MLA format, followed by my name, the class name, and the date. There was even a title, neatly centered on the next line: Final Essay.

True, MLA did suggest that unique titles are preferred, but other than that, this paper was properly formatted. It was double-spaced with the proper margins. There were even two more pages stapled to it. A quick flip revealed the student’s last name and the page number in the upper right hand corner, but that was all. No other words graced the pages.

Did he really turn in three blank pages for his final essay? I peered closer at the paper. Was the ink in the printer bad? Maybe there were letters there, but in some neglected ink, like yellow or pale pink. I’d gotten my share of blue and red papers, often accompanied by a desperate plea for leniency (“I know it’s not black ink, but my printer ran out, and I thought this was better than not turning anything in!”). I always accepted those papers.   I could read them.

But this one…

Maybe the student’s printer had messed up and he hadn’t noticed? That seemed unlikely. It wasn’t like the paper had been in the middle of other papers, the blankness hidden beneath the words of other assignments.

I held it up to the light, wondering if maybe the words would show up with a lighter background. My officemate noticed the motion, head glancing up to watch me. “Checking for a watermark?” she asked with a grin.

I shook my head. “No.” I put the paper back down. “I just don’t know why he would turn in a blank essay.”

Becky turned her full attention to me, face curious. “A student gave you a blank essay?”

I shrugged, holding the paper up to show her. She looked at it. Then back at me. “I thought you said it was blank.”

I shook the paper at her. “It is.”

Now she looked concerned. “Ummmm….no it isn’t.” She scooted her chair over to take a closer look. “Final Essay,” she read. “William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream reveals the foolishness of love…”

I stared at her, incredulous. I took my glasses off, rubbed my eyes, cleaned the lenses, then put them back on. The blank page still stared back at me.

“He seems cheerful,” she commented, voice heavy with sarcasm, eyes scanning words that I couldn’t see. “Isn’t he too young to be quite so jaded about love?”

“I…” I let the words trail off. “Maybe I just need a break from all this grading,” I said, leaving the paper on the top of the pile on my desk.

“Have some more coffee,” Becky suggested, shoving her chair back to her desk and taking up a perch before her laptop again. Her fingers clicked on the mouse, her other hand deftly inputting scores as she graded her online class.

I was about to stand up and take her advice when a bright light caught my eye. It was coming from my desk. I looked at Becky, who didn’t seem to notice anything amiss. When the glow faded, I scooted closer to my desk, staring at the gold flecked letters that had appeared on the paper. The words looked handwritten in bold strokes, and they still seemed to glow around the edges.

I bent closer to read.

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Author Spotlight: JM Paquette

I thought it would be fun for you the reader to learn a little about each of our authors.

So for June I introduce you to JM Paquette.

JM Paquette writes cheesy vampire romance novels filled with action, adventure, intrigue, and sometimes slightly steamy sex scenes. She enjoys alliteration and puns of all kinds.

Jen has her first full length novel in: Klauden’s Ring.

When Hannah van Kreeosk fled from her father’s castle and all of the expectations of being First Daughter, she thought that finding a willing meal would be the worst of her problems. A natural born vampire, she never expected an attack that would leave her wounded and in need of protection. Traveling with the handsome elven warrior Rory Tallerin proves a tempting way to spend her time. Unfortunately, Hannah’s father isn’t quite done with her, and not everyone in Rory’s little band of survivors is what they appear to be. Between running from goblins and her father’s dedicated magician, the last thing Hannah needs is another knife in her back. The conflict in her heart, however, may prove to be the more troubling wound. When forced to choose between the overwhelming demands of her body and the foolishly sentimental desire in her heart, Hannah must discover her true nature.

She has also contributed several stories in the annual Ink Slinger’s Guild Anthologies found here.

You can follow JM at the below links:

Twitter: @authorjmp

Website: http://www.jmpaquette.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authorjmpaquette

And of course you can always submit a story starter and you might be lucky enough to have JM Paquette be your author!


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