L. Ann Marie
I shield with him and we hear Jess yell. “Hold the shield, Aiyana, she cut her hand, she’s fine.”
“Roger.” I am always amazed at how he sees everything so fast. When his gun goes off I jump holding my breath. This is not what I expected of training. As a matter of fact, this is what I was afraid of. Helping from the reservation is much safer than bullets flying anywhere close to me. I am not yet trained for all of this.
“Clear, Ops.” His voice sounds like he is growling. I look at his face, but he does not look mad as he is holstering his gun.
Two motorcycles come flying into the parking lot and stop very close to me causing me to step back. I am not accustomed to how fast they ride and stop, and right now I am angry that they forced me to step back. I do not back down. Ever. I give the riders a look that they ignore. One goes right into the building. Since I want to make sure Dakota’s woman, Jess, is okay I follow.
The Lab is set up with four workstations, there are tables and counters all along the back wall, hologram boards, like Christian showed me at the Security building, are everywhere. Robotic body parts are all over the tables and counters, a laser or something shows the outline of a man, in a 3D graph form, slowly spinning in the center of the room. The Prince guy talks softly to Jess then pulls his helmet off and looks at her hand. I think I should look at her hand, but he is gorgeous with dark hair and the lightest blue eyes I have ever seen.
He looks at me and I am stunned for a second. “Can you get the first aid kit by the door?” He is watching me, thinking I look like a picture he has seen.
I nod and pull my eyes from him looking toward the door. Taking a breath, I try to clear my head and move for the box with the red cross on it. This is not a kit, it is a whole damn box and by its weight — I’d say it is a full box. “I heard you yell, but Christian said you were fine. Are you okay, Jess?” I hand Jared the case. I like his name. Jared Baxter that works in his own building like this one, but it has all kinds of moving parts and motorcycles in it. I wonder what he does, but do not have time to look right now. I focus on Jess, seeing her mind is at ease.
She is always smiling. “I’m fine or as Dakota says, I will be fine. I didn’t know what was going on and grabbed a piece of metal on my way to the safe room. Christian told me to get in there and hide, so I was running and the metal hit the door jamb cutting my hand. It’s no biggie.”
Jared is looking at her hand. “You need stitches.” He looks closer moving to wipe up the blood that is oozing out of it.
‘I am three out, Aiyana. I will take Jessica to the clinic,’ Dakota says in my head. Why does he not want me to heal her?
I wait until Jared stops talking. “Dakota will take you to the clinic, he will be here in two minutes.”
Jared lifts his head giving me a funny look. “Who are you?”
Jess wraps some tape on the gauze he is holding. “I’m good, Jared. This is Aiyana from the reservation. I’m surprised you haven’t met, she likes cliff diving as much as I do, she’s always with us when she can make it.”
I laugh at her ‘cliff diving’, it is really just a bluff.
“I remember when you were just a tiny, puffy ball of fur, fitting snugly in my hands,” Nivie Emerson said, leaning down and whispering to her tortoiseshell cat, Minerva, or Mini, for short.
Mini’s tiny stature, punctuated by her rabbit-like fur, endeared her to Nivie and her husband, Alex. The two-inch nub Mini had instead of a tail was an added bonus. Whenever Nivie or Alex lay down, Mini would leap up on them and begin kneading, or “making biscuits.” Didn’t matter where, or when; Mini was flexible. Nivie said Mini was so advanced in her skill, she could be employed at a fast food restaurant. Mini’s habit of walking on her humans’ hair, as well as directly upon sensitive anatomical areas, appeared almost deliberate. As a kitten, Mini enjoyed climbing up Nivie’s jeans like a mountaineer and loved to pour her tiny body into boxes that, at first glance, appeared to be too small, but she made it work.
Over the years, her meows morphed from a sweet kitten mew to a throaty warbled moan that seemed especially earsplitting in the early morning hours. Nivie and Alex almost lost their breath from laughing so hard when their laser pointer “chase” took Mini’s attention to points on the wall previously unnoticed.
Nivie met Mini as an undergrad. Their strong bond cemented when Mini had been the mascot of the women’s softball team. Although she never played any sports, Nivie eagerly agreed to house the team’s stray kitten for a few nights when asked by a team member. Those “few nights” turned into weeks and she became more and more attached to Mini, despite the dorm’s strict no-pet policy. Nivie eventually used her passion, charm, and humor to convince the team that Minerva was hers.
She and Mini were constant companions, surviving school, assorted jobs, relocations, and boyfriends. Five years ago, when Nivie married Alex, Mini initially was not a fan of these new living arrangements. Hissing was constant until one night when Nivie was away at a teaching conference. Mini unceremoniously climbed onto Alex’s lap as he watched TV, silently acknowledging that she had accepted him. He could stay.
Twenty years had passed since college, and now Nivie and Alex were stroking a lifeless Mini on the sterile, cold veterinarian’s examining table.
“I’m so sorry,” Dr. Tamika Carmichael, their beloved veterinarian, whispered. “Mini was such a sweet kitty.”
They had both dreaded this inevitable day. But, from the time she was a kitten, Nivie made a pact with Minerva: when the time came, Nivie would not let her suffer. Unfortunately, the suffering she had spared Minerva had now been transferred to her and Alex.
Dr. Carmichael brought out a clay paw print imprint keepsake kit. Gently pressing Mini’s front paw into the clay, she wiped off Mini’s paw and handed the circular tin holder to Nivie.
“I’ll give you two some privacy. Take as much time as you need,” Dr. Carmichael said, tip-toeing out of the room. “Please let me know if there is anything I can do.”
Alex put his arm around his wife as she reached down for the bag of Minerva’s toys, still clutching the paw print tin. “Here’s your milk ring, sweetie. And, your mouse.” Her voice cracked when she gently placed them in front of Mini’s open eyes and still face. Nivie tenderly kissed the top of Mini’s head as she pushed her own shoulder-length reddish-brown hair to the side. Due to her short stature, Nivie didn’t need to bend too far over the examining table. Taking a pair of scissors and gently cutting a few swatches of Mini’s fur, Nivie placed the strands in a Ziploc baggie. She slowly zipped it shut, illustrating the chapter of her life she was now closing.
After discussing all the options, they decided Mini would be cremated. They left her with Dr. Carmichael and Mini’s ashes would be returned to them.
On a sunny, late spring day, walking silently out to their Toyota Prius, Alex put his arm around his wife again. “So, that’s it? Years of love, and then, she’s gone? Just like that?” Nivie asked, her green eyes filling up with tears. “This is it. Mini’s really gone.” She paused and shook her head, handing the Ziploc bag to Alex. “I need to go to The Gardens.”
Alex stopped. “All right, Love. Do you want company?”
“Thanks. But, I think I need to go by myself.”
He wiped his eyes. “I understand,” he said, kissing the top of his wife’s head.
Thomas W Devine
Matt Couper and his spotter, Freddy Terrell, were in position by the time the sun rose over the Tigris floodplain. As soon as sufficient light spread, Matt took his AW sniper rifle out of its soft transit-case. The weapon was sturdy but lightweight, a L96 bolt-action model with an aluminium chassis extending the entire length of the stock.
Having settled prone in the dust, Matt edged the stainless steel barrel out in front of him, lowered its bipod stand, and set the weapon in the narrow gap between two boulders. A metre or more high, the rocks afforded him cover from the rural village below. At the rear, he had to rely on minimising his movements and being partly cloaked by his camouflage uniform. It bore no military insignia but had discrete Baxters Security (UK) Ltd logos sewn on the shoulders of the shirt.
Though Matt and Freddy were foreigners, they were reasonably safe unless insurgents undertook a sweep of the wider area. If a sweep occurred, and the insurgents arrived in sufficient numbers, the mission could prove fatal. It was, however, a risk both men knew they were well compensated for in the eyes of their employer, and one they were prepared to take as part of the job. For both men, nothing compared to the adrenalin-driven challenge of slipping into enemy territory, accomplishing a mission, and returning unscathed; ideally, with ‘one shot, one kill’ efficiency.
Their support on the mission was a light armoured vehicle (LAV), manned by a crew of three British soldiers, which sat concealed from the roadside a kilometre outside the village. The Brits had dropped the two Baxters employees off in the dark to make their way stealthily on foot through croplands. Both were expert at orienteering and each had the use of night-vision goggles.
In planning the mission, using recent aerial photography, the two men had settled on taking up a position on the crest of a dome-shaped knoll (bereft of trees or bushes) less than six hundred metres from the near edge of the village.
Matt glanced to his right. Freddy had taken up a similarly concealed position and was studying the surrounding countryside through high-powered binoculars. A semiautomatic assault rifle was strapped on his back. Like Matt, he was wearing camouflage trousers and, over his breathable Ubac shirt, a Molle webbing vest.
They didn’t need to converse about setting up for the job; each man was an expert. If their wait became prolonged, and though Matt was the superior marksman, they would periodically exchange positions and roles to avoid fatigue. Matt had trained in the New Zealand Army after graduating from high school and had undertaken one term of enlistment, though he’d failed to qualify for the SAS (special air service). Freddy was ex-British Army, and had been in the British-commanded Multi-National Division – South East, seeing action in the Iraq Invasion of 2003.
Ben Burgess Jr.
It was two in the morning. The loud ringing of the phone on my nightstand amplified the pounding throb of my hangover. I felt like shit. I yawned, stretched, and knocked the phone off the receiver.
I fumbled with it in the dark before I groggily answered, “Hello?”
“Nick? Nick!” Vickie yelled.
“Wake up and get to Central General…now! I’m about to have this baby!” she wailed.
That woke me up.
I stuttered, “Wh-What? It’s a month early.”
“I’m aware of that, Nick. I need you to get your ass here now.”
“I’m on my way.”
“Did you hear me? You need to get here right fucking now.”
I rubbed my hand over my face.
“Calm down. I said I’m coming.”
“I’m not kidding, Nick. Uniondale is twenty minutes away. If you’re not here within the hour, as soon as I have this baby, I’m
signing it over to the state.”
“Don’t do that. I’ll be there. I already told you I’ll take care of us—all of us. I’m leaving now.”
She hung up.
Lawrence G. Taylor
A Day in the Life of Mr Charlie Cheddar
London. Summer, in the late ’60s
TODAY IS GOING to be an important day, so important that I wouldn’t be turning up for work, which is quite unusual for me. For I seldom stay away from my monotonous assignments, due quite frankly to the financial burden of having chosen to reside in this highly expensive city. My tasks are that of a low-ranking clerk, at one of Her Majesty’s North London Post Offices. And surely I will be missed, for I’m a good white-collar worker. At least that’s what my boss, Mr Armstrong, once or twice implied. It will be quite a busy day, for today is Saturday.
Before Big Ben strikes nine, I’ll have to summon up the courage to inform Mr Armstrong from my landlady’s telephone that I will not be coming in today. The pretext will be an ‘acute stomach ache’. About my absence, Mr Armstrong may not be happy, but I should be able to stand my ground, for I believe he holds me in high esteem: reliable, hardworking and trustworthy.
Mind you, Mr Armstrong isn’t someone easily fooled. It requires a well-performed act of insincerity to mislead him. Mr Armstrong is very rigid in his demeanours and is feared by us who work under his command. He’s a retired sergeant in Her Majesty’s Army, fought in the World War II, and is quite proud of his war effort against ‘them Jerries’. Soon his pension days will be upon him, and much to the delight of most of my colleagues.
This early morning of July already shows promising signs of bright weather. And with some hope, the day will be a turning point in my life. A certain event, planned to take place later on this supposedly blessed day, is expected to transform my lonely and unhappy life into one that will be cheerful and friendly.
Trustingly, it will no longer be an isolated existence, consisting of my mother’s letters of spiritual support, supportive of my ups but mostly downs in this vast, cold (in every sense) metropolis,
There was a sharp slap followed by a cry. The sound of an animal echoed in my ears and my soul and my empty womb and didn’t fade.
‘4lb 3oz. Girl. Write it in the Statement Book, then take it away.’
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS LATER: ROSE
Someone took her by the arm, forcing her to sit down. Breath warmed her cheek. She was icy all over. She could see nothing, nothing except one word written in the diary.
Suddenly pain, starting at her cheek and spreading through her head. Again, and again. Each slap beat that word deeper into her unconscious.
Rose Haldane fell off the edge of the world.