Chocolate, gooey caramel. My mouth almost waters. If only I could still taste that luscious candy, but the reanimated can’t do that. It wouldn’t be bad if I got out more. I mean, Grandma is great and all. She brought me back to half-life after I was killed. It’s just not the same without other kids to play with. Halloween is the only day I can go outside without freaking the living. Believe me, you don’t want the pitchfork and torch brigade chasing you.

“Trick or Treat.” I hold out my sack with the other children.

A lady hands me a handful of candy. “Great Costume.”

I thank her and hurry toward the next house. Two little girls sob at the curb. Halloween should be fun, not sad.

“Are you ok?”

The bunny points a gloved paw at three disappearing teens. Her ears bounce with each sniffle. “They…took… our…candy.”

I hate bullies. “Here, take mine.”

Big, round, adoring eyes look up at me. Being undead has its perks. I track the thieves faster than a bloodhound.

“That candy isn’t yours.”

They laugh and tower around me. “Get lost or get pounded, squirt.”

“Squirt, is it.” I take a deep breath and squirt them with inky old blood.

A moment of stunned silence, then they clench their fists. I point down. They stare as skeletal hands reach up and pull them into the ground. Half-buried, they shriek and struggle.

“Don’t steal, especially from little kids on Halloween. I’ll be watching.”

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Shredded wood bobbles in the water near my oasis of dry land. Cousin Jack’s name blazes across what’s left of his johnboat. My heart sinks. He was supposed to meet me here, rescue me from that demented prison.

“You didn’t really think this little prison break would work, did you, Bobby?” says Warden Carson. “We’ve had this place staked out all week.”

I spin around. The warden drags Jack’s mangled body from behind the ancient cypress and dumps it on the ground. One of the warden’s hounds sits next to him, Jack’s severed arm clenched in its mouth. I’ve had first-hand experience with that hell hound and its friends. Scabs and old burns still decorate my body.

Tears sting my eyes, but there’s no time to grieve. Turning a blind eye before got me sent away on trumped up charges. Carson had to be stopped. My bare feet press into the island’s soft mud. I was raised in this swamp, know things the warden doesn’t. I reach for the swamp’s pulse, the life that most people don’t notice. Energy surges. The hairs stand up on my arms.

“Help,” I whisper. “I beseech you.”

Carson laughs. “Ain’t no one here to help you now, Bobby.”

But there is. The cypress groans, bends as if struck by a sharp wind. Two moss covered branches swoop down on the warden and his pet. A scream—then nothing. I fall to my knees. A mossy hand touches my bowed head, fills me with its power.

“Thank you, mighty S’serpyc, spirit of the trees.”

My new path lies back at the prison. This time there is no hesitation.

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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.

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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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