I backed deeper into dad’s half-collapsed toolshed and prayed Augie would stop counting long enough to turn around. My body screamed for oxygen, but my asthmatic lungs refused to comply. The man stepped with me, keeping the pistol inches from my head. Blood oozed from a gash across his neck.  Bright and red, just like the blood on the bag of money Augie and I found on the tracks. I knew we should have left it, but money was tight and that bag had a lot of it.

“Ain’t nobody coming after this money, Wyatt,” said Augie. “There’s way too much blood.”

A crooked grin split the man’s face. “I guess my name is Ain’t Nobody, kid.” His raspy voice sounded like the chain smoking guy at the station.

Augie’s voice shook. “Please don’t hurt my brother, mister. Take the money. We won’t tell. I swear.”

A flicker of sadness crossed the man’s face. “Just pack it up.” He pulled out a bottle. “Slow breaths, Wyatt. Drink this.”

I swallowed the liquid he poured into my mouth without thinking. It burned my throat, but by the time Augie packed up all the cash, my molasses filled lungs had cleared. The man took the bloodstained bag from Augie and tossed a thick wad of twenties on the ground.

“For your troubles.” He tousled my hair and smiled. “Slow easy breaths and a shot of whiskey, Wyatt. Worked for my brother every time. Remember, if anyone asks, Ain’t Nobody been here.”

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“Don’t just stand there! Go after him.”

Concerned tourists gathered around the old woman. Purse snatching isn’t on my list of things to witness while vacationing, but hey, I’m a cop. I looked up the flight of marble stairs. The punk that grabbed her bag must have been part monkey. If I tried running him down I’d be clutching my chest like the old lady. I was a lot older than monkey kid and my daily donuts hung around my waist like banana custard. Good think I didn’t need to.

“Don’t worry. He’ll be right down,” I said. “Those upper steps are slick.”

No one noticed my fingers wiggle as I helped the woman stand. A thin glaze of ice formed on the steps. Not an easy feat to do in Southern California. But hey, I’m talented.

Just my luck, monkey kid must have been part cat. He stumbled on the ice, then leaped past. I muttered an oath. At least I had one more ace up my sleeve. My little friend popped up to the top of the stairs just as the kid reached the uppermost step. By little I mean huge. Anyone but me saw Clyde as heat rising in the distance…Unless, of course, you ran into him.

Monkey kid shrieked, then tumbled backwards down the steps. I couldn’t help but smile. Any mention of what he saw would be attributed to the huge crack on his skull. Score one for me and Clyde.

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Tears stained her face as she slipped from the car. A loud snore made her jump and cringe. Last night’s beating marred her face. He never let her stop here, the one place that made her happy. If he woke….She didn’t breathe until she was sure he still slept.

Bright yellow flowers stretched as far as she could see. They called to her, singing, swaying in the sun; a peaceful contrast to her turbulent life. She pushed through thick stems to take a picture.

Flower heads pressed against her. Their bright yellow faces bent and swiveled like no plant should. Sweet perfume filled her nostrils. Fear and pain vanished. Sunshine kissed her lips. When she opened her eyes thousands of yellow faces beamed at her as she hovered above the field. She smiled back. What a beautiful place to rest. No pain. No tension. Far from his reach.

A patrol spotted her car later that day with her husband still passed out in his seat. Searchers followed a wide trail to the center of the field where they found her battered body under a blanket of flowers. Amongst the bruises a peaceful smile graced her face.

Denials were useless. The officers were as moved by her husband’s tears as he had been to hers. Those same fists that had hit her so brutally shook when they cuffed him. They hauled him away, far from the beauty he denied her. Forever locked in shadows while she soared free.

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A. L. Kaplan Wins Flash Fiction Challenge

A L Kaplan is the readers’ choice in this week’s Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge with her story, New World.

The winning entry is rewarded with a special feature on their site today and will be published as an e-book at year end with the other 2014 winners.

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Cheloniidae’s Revenge

“Observe only. Don’t interfere.”

Those words rung in my head as another baby sea turtle lost its race to the ocean. I bit back the bile in my throat. Waves of seagulls had descended this peaceful beach at dawn, feasting on newly hatched turtles. If it weren’t for the professor and my fellow students behind me, I would have scooped up hatchlings until my arms were full.

Instead I stood frozen in place. My eyes burned with unshed tears. Poachers we were allowed to stop, but these squawking demons were off limits. One single baby flopped toward the crashing waves. Hope rose in my heart only to be dashed as it was snatched into the air inches from the water. Not a single turtle had made it to the water.

My eyes clouded over and it felt as though fire burned through my veins. This had to stop. It had to end. Energy twisted inside me, then surged through my bare feet into the sand.

The gull’s frenzied pitch changed tone within seconds. What had been a turtle massacre changed to a seagull stampede. The flock swooped away from the beach. Their voices seemed to cry out in unison: “Flee! Flee! Flee!”

Behind me I heard panicked exclamations from the others. I didn’t need to look to know what chased the gulls, but I turned anyway. A smile split my face as a giant flying sea turtle snapped up seagulls in midair. This circle of life was biting back.

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“Goodness, Charles. You nearly broke the door slamming it open like that.”

“To hell with the door. We have to leave. They found us.”

Are you certain? It’s been years. Surely they’ve given up by now.

Well, they haven’t. Damned robotic hawk’s been watching me plow for weeks. I was just too stupid to realize it until now. Where’s Peter?”

“Oh, God. Not now. He’s out with Suzy.

“Again? He spends more time with her than us these days.”

“He’s in love, Charles. They’re in love. I’ll text him to come home.”

Are you insane? They sent a robotic bird to spy on us, Margaret. Hacking a phone is child’s play to them. Pack our things. I’ll get Peter’s. We’ll pop to the theater for him.

What about Suzy? He won’t leave her behind.

“Bad enough we have to look over our shoulders all the time, and with Peter’s abilities, it’s his fate as well. That’s no life for a country girl like Suzy.

Don’t you think that’s her choice?

We don’t have time for this.

Make time. Peter plans to marry her, with or without your approval.

And if she freaks out when we tell her about us, about our magic?

We do a memory spell and leave. But it won’t come to that. Suzy is stronger than you think. I think she has latent spell abilities.

If they find out they’ll make her life hell. Damn techies. Wish they’d leave us mages alone. Let’s go welcome the girl to the family.

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The Ghosts of Northgate

Sweat dripped down my back despite the freezing temperature outside. I glanced at the frost covered window. Only inside felt like Hell’s furnace. And maybe it was. I stared in terrified fascination as flames danced across the cafeteria of the Northgate Sanitarium. Each human-shaped bonfire acted out a well-rehearsed script in a macabre ballet. One figure beat another with a rubber pipe. Another arched in spasm as electricity coursed through its body. A parody of a doctor drilled into a patient’s scull, clearly without anesthesia. Figures grappled and screamed a chorus that had probably started long before the place was shut down in the early 1950s.

The doctors here called it experimental treatment of the criminally insane. Most people called what it was: Power hungry sadists loose in a playground, all with the approval of the state prison system. God only knows how many people suffered in this place.

But that was old news. There had been rumors about disappearances in the past few weeks. When I decided to spent the night in this crumbling old building, I expected to find kids playing tricks or a new street gang pumping its muscles. Either of them would have made great stories, maybe even gotten me an early promotion at the Northgate Observer. If I wrote about this, my career as a journalist would end before it began.

Notebook forgotten, all I could do was watch the horror unfold and pray I survived the night – with my sanity.

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