It had been far too long since I sorted through the box labeled in purple crayon: ‘Sage Riley’s belongings’. As I pulled it out from under my side of the bed – the left – with ease, anxiety crept in; the anticipation for what I’d find there almost unbearable. The word fragile was misspelled on the opposite side of the box, this time in orange rather than purple. A carefully planned route was finally depicted on a map in my right hand. Setting it aside, I intended to find…….

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‘What’s the stud in the side of your head?’ she asked, reaching up and holding it lightly between the pad of her thumb and forefinger, her ivory skin brushing his temple and dishevelled tawny hair.

‘Wetware,’ he said, his dark colt-like eyes on her.

They were sitting at a table only a row back from the front of the bar, and outside cars and pedestrians still meandered past along the narrow road, the earthy smell of rain blowing in and mixing with the oak and a Miles Davis record. He was in his mid-twenties – restless, but quietly confident; she a few years older – poised and enigmatic.

‘I’ve never meet anyone with one before. I’ve seen……..

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Beth has been my best friend forever.

You know what it’s like when you have a very best friend. It’s like she’s the only one in the whole world who really, really gets you.

You know what she’s thinking and she knows what you’re thinking, even when no one has said a single word.

It’s like she’s a part of you……

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  The water was cold. I mean really cold. The kind of swirling shock that freezes blood and stabs right through your brain. It is a closed fist that keeps squeezing until it glacial nails dig into itself, crushing whatever it holds. Unfortunately those cold waters held me. And I was drowning.

  The world around me was…..

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I am woken up by the usual sound of my husband’s bodily functions emanating from the en suite. I find it strangely comforting and fleetingly wonder if it would work as a design concept for an alarm clock. I mean surely I’m not alone; there must be millions of women waking up to the familiar sounds every day. I suppose it’s the human equivalent of a cock crowing.

Keeping my eyes tightly shut I hear him coming back into the room. If I can just make it five more minutes then he will be off downstairs and I will be spared from the morning grope.

How is it best to feign sleep? I mean I should probably throw in a little snort or a snore, maybe thrash around a bit and perfect some rapid eye movement. Instead I lie here like a frozen statue, tense and in tune to every last bodily function that he makes.

I can sense him approaching my side of the bed, the one that I have occupied for the last twenty years of our marriage. Strange how territorial we all get over a certain side. Even when we go on holiday we adopt the same procedures, it becomes “My Side.”

Now he is hovering beside me and I run my tongue around my teeth trying to dispel my morning breath. What if he wants a session before work? I wonder if I could fit it in before the school run.

I feel a gentle tap on my arm and he whispers, “Sophie, are you awake?”

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  Dust and sand scatter across this foreign land as a caravan of covered wagons rolls through, attempting to outrun the night. The territory known as the Badlands is a place where phrases such as good and luck are more foreign than the immigrants stowed away inside the wagons.

  Moonlight struggles to peek through the lining of one of the covered wagons, a ray of hope to those seeking refuge in this new land. Breathing fresh air is a luxury that they do not have at this moment. They are packed in tight like sardines, unable to find comfort. The situation seems to worsen as a foul stench litters the air from within one of the wagons. Cries of hunger and pain echo within. Mothers try desperately to ease the suffering of young ones as their whimpering pleas keep the weary from a night’s rest.

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  He felt the blade scrape against vertebrae and sensed warm, sticky blood shoot out of the man’s neck, and up and over his arm, soaking his shirt and the ground beyond them. He pulled out the blade and continued to viciously stab and hack, letting out all his frustration, the years of suppressed rage now releasing itself into this one violent act, until eventually he fell to the side, both mentally and physically exhausted.

  His victim had stopped moving after the first two or three thrusts of the blade, but Charlie had continued stabbing anyway, desperate to finish this nightmare once and for all.

  After a few moments he noticed that it was very quiet, the only sounds he could hear being his own heavy breathing and the occasional hoot of an owl deep inside the woods as it searched for food in it’s nocturnal hunting.

   Charlie could not tell at first if his father was actually dead. He could not yet understand what it was that he had done……….

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  Something was wrong–deadly wrong.

  Confused, with a line of sweat beading his forehead, Phillip McKenzie stared at his PC screen with the motherboard connected directly to the server. He wasn’t sure exactly what the problem was, only that the damn game was getting out of control. The characters wouldn’t do as programmed and holographic glitches were everywhere. This was added stress he did not need. He had six hours to fix the problem before the game was released online, and he already had over a hundred thousand paid customers with sales going to boom in the next few hours. If he couldn’t deliver by eight tonight that would be the end of Cam-Games Inc. He would lose everything, and he wasn’t about to be a loser for the adult half of his life.

  The screen went blue.

 “Fuck!” In frustration his fist thumped the computer table, sending a vibration through the thin desktop screen.

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“Whis…per?”

He sang the word into my ear, soft and taunting.

I groaned. “Miles, cut it out, okay?”

He slid in closer behind me, his knee, his hip, nudging up against mine. His finger teased a delicate curlicue on my shoulder, little figures of eight, and he gave a soft laugh that tickled my neck. “Whiss…perrr…”

I pulled away, yanking the covers. “Jesus, Miles! I’m trying to sleep, and you’re creeping me out! Knock it off!”

He rolled on to his back. “Sorry.”

But he was smiling. I could hear it in his voice. He was lying there wide awake, grinning into the darkness.

He folded his arms across his chest. His fingers drummed. “I can’t sleep.”

“I noticed.”

“This is going to work. I can feel it.”

“Mmmph.”

“I’ve got to get the whole thing straight in my head, her whole story.” His voice was hushed, but his excitement brimmed as if he was going to talk all night. “She’s like the girl in that book you gave me–the creepy girl who poisoned her family. With the sugar, right? I can’t remember the name. Mary Cat?”

The words recited themselves in my head. ‘Merricat, Merricat, would you like a cup of tea? Oh, no, Constance, you’ll poison me.’ “Shirley Jackson,” I answered automatically, “We Have Always Lived in the Castle.”

 

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  My D-Day was November 16th, 2011. That was the day I was diagnosed with an incurable illness. After a year and a half of knocking down every doctor’s door I could manage I finally had my diagnosis. I don’t know what’s worse, the not knowing or the knowing. I cried, more so out of relief that I finally found a wonderful doctor who specializes in the disease. My husband held my hand tight and gave me that he usually gives, assuring me it’s all going to be ok. Anyone else in the world can tell me it’s going to be ok. I never believe them. But when my Chrissy does it always puts my mind at ease.

I’m a 36-year-old mother of two boys. No one else in my family or even extended family for that matter has this. I guess I’m the pioneer for it in my family. Lucky me. Well I always to be the leader and not the follower.

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