Writing Prompt: Put Down That Book and Fight Me

Here we go with another writing prompt to get the creative juices flowing. Today’s task is to write a short story beginning with the phrase, Put down that book and fight me. 

If you want to participate, it’s easy. Just start writing 😉 Feel free to share what you write in the comments, or provide a link to your blog so others can see what you’ve come up with.

Have fun! 🙂

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“Put down that book and fight me.”

The old man in his easy chair didn’t look up. “I admire your tenacity, but I truly must finish this chapter.”

“To hell with your chapter. Stand up and defend yourself.”

“Ones defense is not determined by some notion to get up from your reading chair. Now if you don’t mind, I only have a few paragraphs left and you are interrupting my solitude.”

“You can have solitude when you’re dead,” the young assassin exclaimed. To prove his point, he swished his sword back and forth as if he were cutting through the very air. 

The old man ignored him and continued to read. So intent he was on the written word, his killer could have trashed every shelf in the library and he wouldn’t have budged from the comfort of his chair. In this, the newly arrived Intruder would have to take more drastic measures with his intended target.

“I will give you to the count of five to put your book down and fight. After that, I will kill you where you sit.”

Still, the old man read on, as if the assassin’s voice was nothing but the whisp of a memory echoing in the room. He turned to the next page of his book, and continued to take in each word. A slight smile crossed his face in the same way we ourselves might exhibit when reading a particular clever passage in our favorite tome.

The killer, shuffled from one foot to another as he counted. “One…”

He waited a beat. “Two…”

The old man’s eyes glued to the page, as he nodded in satisfaction.

The killer gripped the hilt of the sword tighter. “Three…”

He took one step forward. “Four…”

A breath. He raised his sword, preparing for the deadly swing. 

Crack! An excruciating pain in his ankle. He staggered back on his other foot, looking down unbelieving at the damage. He hadn’t even seen the old man move, and yet his his leg had shot out from him in deadly precision to strike the breaking point of the killer’s ankle. The rest of him had not moved, and in fact still sat in the high backed leather chair engrossed in his book.

“Oh, you are so dead,” the assassin snarled and charged forward, his sword swinging forward in an arc towards the chair. Before he reached it however, it was flipping backwards, the old man still in it, tumbling over twice until the avid reader was buried under it.

The sword had missed its mark and struck only fabric, enraging the killer. With his good foot, he tried to sweep the chair over on its side so he could see the old man, but the chair was too big and he staggered and swayed off balance. Regaining his footing, he thrust the point of the sword through the chair. 

Thunk! The tip of the sword didn’t meet flesh and bone, but the solid wood of the floor. The old man wasn’t under the chair. 

Looking up, he spied him right away. He was standing by the fireplace. In one hand he held a hot poker, just removed from the embers. In the other, the book he had refused to put down. He raised the volume to eye level and began to read again. 

Angered to the point where the broken ankle no longer mattered, the assassin charged, the arc of his sword swishing back and forth in crisscross movements before him. 

Holding the book out at arms length, the old man brought the poker to bear, gray ash flying off its tip. Sword met poker with a clang. The metal vibrated in their hands, but neither dropped their weapon. Instead, they parried back and forth, the old man taking the lead by driving the young killer back, while the would be assassin himself couldn’t believe the elderly gentleman in coattails still had not put down the book, even while fighting.

This distraction was too much to bear, and the old man with one swift twist of the poker, disarmed his attacker. The sword flew across the room, too far away to be retrieved. With a roundhouse movement , he swept the legs out from under his younger opponent. 

The youth landed on his back hard, the breath nearly knocked out of him. The hot poker was inches from his chest as the old man leaned over him. But the victor was not gloating, nor was he even paying attention. On the contrary, he was still reading. 

He nodded his head, smiled, and put his heel upon the young man’s chest to let him know he was not to get up. He snapped the book shut. He took a deep, satisfactory breath and tossed the poker away. Leaning down, he looked in the young man’s nervous eyes.

“The true reader doesn’t allow anyone to interrupt the tale,” he said.

The fallen warrior shook his head. “I can’t believe you beat me,” he whined.

“I was finished with the chapter.”

The old man reached down with his free hand and helped his student to his feet. 

Grigori Chases Nicolai & Liliana

A/N: Ugh, the whole household has been hit with sickness, so it’s been hard to concentrate on my current project Vampire Boys, but in keeping with the vamp theme I thought I would share this piece of writing. This was an attempt to look at my short story “The Last Dark Hour” from a different angle and POV. I’m a bit uncomfortable when not writing in first person so this was a challenge for me. Now if you are familiar with “Last Dark Hour”, it featured two vampire lovers discovered by the caretaker at a cemetery. This piece is intended to take place before seeking refuge in the graveyard. Again, I’m not really sure what is to become of my short story or whether it will continue to expand or not, but this scene came to me and I had to get it out somehow. Hope you enjoy 🙂 

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Benton Meyers was nearly asleep in the driver’s seat when the couple slid silently into the backseat of his cab. He barely heard them; it was only his lazily closing eye that saw the flash of shadow behind him in the seat. Startled enough to bring him to full alert, he turned in his seat to see who would slip into his cab at four am without a word.

The first one he noticed was the girl. Long dark hair framed a pale face, her complexion nearly glowing in the moonlight. Her eyes were a deep brown, in which the longer he looked at her the lighter they seemed to become. Her lips were thin, traces of red lipstick still there, but as she licked her lips, the red disappeared and he thought it could be something different than lipstick. Blood perhaps.

 He next noticed her black dress, the top cut in a low V that revealed the beginning swell of her breasts. His breath caught in his throat as he heard her companion say, “drive.”

Benton tore his gaze from the girl to see the one who had spoken. The other passenger could have passed for the girl’s brother in wardrobe alone. A black suit minus the vest, a ruffled lace shirt with the top buttons missing revealing his bare hairless chest, with remnants of deep scratches in his flesh. His eyes were not dark as hers. His were blue. And the longer Benton looked, the more they seemed to change in a kaleidoscope of color. From deep blue to cyan, to shades of the ocean and then a summer sky, his eyes never stopping in their rotation of change.

 This troubled Benton and made him uncomfortable, as if he knew something was wrong with this couple. Still taking in the man, he noticed his lips were full, and like the girl, carried a trace of red at the corners. His dark hair cropped close to his neck, framed a chiseled face as if he were a Greek statue breathed to life. Even his physique, visible beneath his attire, reminded Benton of the body and build of figures of mythology, causing him to wonder if for a second these people were real, as the girl’s form was just as perfect as his, if not infinitely more pleasant to look at.

“Drive,” the man repeated, this time with a more commanding tone, and Benton heard it echo in his head like a mantra: drive, drive, drive.

“Where to?” he stammered, feeling nervous, for he knew he didn’t have a choice. The voice told him to drive and he would have to do just that.

“Just drive,” the dark stranger commanded. “Straight ahead.”

Benton started the cab and put it in gear. Without glancing back at his passengers, he pulled away from the curb and did as he was told. Straight ahead had been the commandment and thus it would be so.

There was no traffic on the road at this hour, so he pressed the pedal to the floor and gave the cab a little gas. The tires caught pavement and squealed. The stranger issued a new command. “Not so fast. Stay under the speed limit.”

Benton let up on the gas.

“For now,” the stranger added.

The girl glanced behind the cab as if expecting someone to be following them.

“He’s there,” the man whispered to her.

“I don’t see him, Nicolai.”

“He’s there, Lily. Trust me.” He leaned forward in his seat. “Turn left here, cab driver.”

Benton turned the wheel and headed down another street. This street was just as deserted as the others. One could walk down the double yellow line for nearly a mile without seeing any cars in the road. The world seemed to be asleep at this hour.

“Here he comes,” Nicolai whispered, as a shape suddenly careened around the corner behind them. It was big and black, running on all fours. Its long snout sniffed the air and saliva dripped from its jaws. A huge wolf bounding after them at incredible speed, its eyes red and angry.

Lily nearly screamed, but Nicolai grabbed her hand. “He will not touch you, my love,” he said and kissed her lightly on her trembling lips. “Our love will always prevail.”

Lily looked lost in his eyes for a moment, as if she had descended into a pleasant dream at the sound of his voice. To an outsider, she would have seemed as if she had no control of herself like the cab driver. But she did have control. So much control in fact, the hunger for her lover, the love that overwhelmed her, threatened to wash the streets clean with unbridled passion. She was not hypnotized, or not of her own will – she was in love and trusted her soul mate with her life.

“Faster, cab driver,” Nicolai urged, and Benton surged ahead leaving the rabid wolf behind. But not for long. The wolf itself gained speed, pushing itself to the limits of the breed’s normal endurance.

“He’s going to catch us,” Lily said in a worried tone. And as if to prove her point, the wolf gained the cab and pounced onto the trunk. Its claws dug into the metal as if it were cardboard. Looking through the back window at the two passengers, it snarled viciously, a noise coming from its jaws that remarkably sounded like a curse, “Liliana.”

She screamed, and for a brief moment it appeared the wolf grinned. But brief it was. Nicolai had opened the cab door and grabbed Lily’s hand. “Let’s go!”

Yanking on her arm, he pulled her out of the cab and they tumbled into the street like a pair of rag dolls. They rolled on the pavement and in one swift motion regained their ground, the pair coming to a stand in the middle of the street.

Startled over the flight of his passengers, Benton slammed on the brakes. The wolf lost its grip and tumbled across the top of the car to land in the road. The wolf shook its head and snarled at Benton through the glass. Reaching through the driver’s window the beast raked its claws across Benton’s cheek, leaving four bloody gashes.

Benton screamed and tried to scoot across the seat away from the window. The wolf poised itself to strike again but then stopped. This was not its prey. The beast reared up on its hind legs and with its front paw wiped saliva from its cheek. It was a very human gesture. Then it straightened up as much as it could on its back legs and turned to Nicolai and Lily who still stood in the street, rooted to the spot and waiting on the wolf’s next move.

The creature laughed at them. A slow guttural sound that became more human by the second. The deep growl became a distinct human laugh and then the beast spoke to the couple.

“There will never be an escape,” it said. “I will follow you for eternity, tracking you to the end of the earth for my revenge.”

Nicolai stepped in front of Lily in a gesture to protect her. “Your misguided quarrel is with me, Grigori. Leave Liliana alone.”

“Oh, she made her quarrel, bard. Don’t you remember the hot burning ash at the castle that was to be our wedding place? I remember it well, how she sent it flying into my face.”

“The wound seems to have healed.”

“Ah, you know as well as I do that wounds heal, but pride does not. Too many times have you both trampled on my pride.”

“Pride goes before a fall, Grigori.”

He laughed. “We all fell long ago, my once and never friends. And I have chased you across continents to have my vengeance.”

“She never was yours, Grigori. And she never will be.”

“She was mine! And you took her! Bewitched her and turned her against me.”

“You’re wrong. It was you who bewitched us. It’s your own curse that lead into misery.”

The wolf, Grigori, didn’t say another word, but instead fell to all fours and snarled in anger.

Finally Liliana spoke. “You can chase us however you like, you pathetic excuse for a prince. But you will never catch us.”

“Oh my pet, I already have.”

“Then come and get me, dog face,” she spat at him in contempt.

That was enough to make the wolf lose his human voice and revert to his more animal nature. He let at an angry howl and leapt at the two lovers. Before he could bridge the distance and reach them however, they changed. In an instant, where they once stood, now were a multitude of rats. They crawled and skittered across the asphalt going in every direction, a cacophony of vermin on the run.

The wolf stopped, his eyes darting to and fro trying to determine which two rats out of the multitude was his prey. A pair of distinctive larger ones had separated themselves from the group and were heading towards a tree lined sidewalk. Grigori bolted towards them and in a flash had one in each paw.

“I told you there’s no escape,” he growled.

But no sound issued from them. It wasn’t the lovers. He held two ordinary rats in his clutches. He howled in a rage, dropping the two rats and spinning back around. Some of the rodents had escaped while he had pursued the wrong ones, and in anger he slew the remaining rats one by one, his rage growing with each death cry. For he knew Nicolai and Liliana had escaped him again.

2017 Paul D Aronson.

Doll (50 word story)

I really love doing prompts and challenges. Sometimes I just want to push myself to try and write something that is more strict and confined in its guidelines. I’m so used to stretching stories out that when 50 word challenges come along it can be quite daunting. Though the following little story wasn’t brought on by a challenge from another blog or source, I gave myself this one word prompt while working in the basement and coming across the doll illustrating this post. It belonged to my mother and I snapped up a quick shot and fed it through my photo editor. Taking a look at it later, the 50 word story began. Hope you enjoy! Feel free to post your own 50 word story  in the comments if the pic inspires you to write. Have a great Saturday and stay away from dolls, lol….
The old porcelain doll looked at me from the dresser. Her cracked amber eyes seemed to harbor evil and malice. Her tiny mouth sneered. My wife slept peacefully beside me, so I ignored the thing and tried to get some rest too. I didn’t even know we had a doll. 

Re-introducing Vampire Boys Of Summer

It’s been a good five or six months since I’ve worked on my manga/anime inspired YA paranormal novel, Vampire Boys Of Summer, and I seem to have lost where I was going, lol. But hey, this is a story that is begging to be finished or turned into something bigger, so before I kick back into it blindly I thought I would just read through what I have already and create a new edit in the process. I don’t plan on removing any of the Story arc, plot devices, or characters, but my intention here is to flesh out a few scenes I felt were rushed or to add some minor details that may have gotten left out first time around. But most of what I will be doing is related to story mechanics: working on long sentences that would work better broken up, punctuation errors, and hopefully dropping a ton of adverbs which I tend to overuse.

For those who have already invested time in reading the original twenty some chapters I apologize. Your dedication and time and comments were very invaluable as the story evolved, so please don’t feel in my doing this I am disregarding any loyal readers. In the end, I hope I will end up with a better, tighter version of this story, and I also hope you’ll take the time to check out the new edits and let me know what you think. I have updated the prologue and first 9 chapters so far.

To new readers and visitors, the original chapters will remain on the blog while I’m working on this. You can access them through the vampire boys page which can be found under the menu heading Vampire Boys Of Summer. The new edits will also appear there and will be marked as such. If you like teen vampires, manga, or anime, hopefully you’ll find something interesting in the tale as I throw a few twists into vampire lore, add some manga style outrageousness, and just have fun with my characters.

Thanks for reading and keep writing with boldness of pen and spirit,

Paul D Aronson.

Vampire Boys Of Summer Main Page

Nomi (short story under 500 words)

One of my first memories is that of a garden. Not an ordinary garden mind you, but one of many vibrant colors. To my newly opened eyes it was as if the colors of the rainbow had burst forth like rain to paint the flowers that rose from the earthen bed. At first it was like a painter’s palette with no discernible shapes, and then as my eyes came into focus things became clearer: stems, blossoms, petals, blooms, and a tiny pair of hands reaching for me. She was a child, much like myself, but instead of four tiny paws, she only had two, and they were hairless with claws that were soft flesh. I made a noise as these paws touched me and took me into her embrace. It was a cooing kind of purr that came from within me and it was the only way I knew to articulate I liked this. There was something about being cradled close to her that was soothing.

My eyes found her face and I thought what a beautiful child she was. The sound from her throat and lips was like a lilting song designed to make me feel less afraid. But I wasn’t afraid of her, nor of the garden. Her face almost glowed looking into mine and as her big brown eyes dripped water I realized she was not that small but merely had been behaving that way for my benefit. Now with her watery eyes and pursed lips I saw she was not of innocence as I was, but her short life had been hard and of a sorrow that had not yet left her.

“Has your mother left you, too?” she asked.

I tried to tell her I couldn’t remember, but the only thing that came out was a soft purr that made her smile.

“Purr to you, too,” she said.

I let the girl clutch me to her and I felt an instant sense of companionship between us, as if we were long lost sisters or something.

“What should we name you?” she asked. She put one hand on her chin as if it might help her think. Finally she smiled. “I know. We’ll call you Nomi.” She lifted me up to her face and looked into my eyes. My whiskers twitched. “What do you think of that?” she asked.

“Purr,” I said, giving her a kiss on the nose. It wasn’t exactly a kiss, but more of a tap of my nose against hers, to which she giggled.

“Great! Nomi it is.”

She sat me back down on the ground. I rolled over on my back trying to scratch an itch I couldn’t reach. The girl laughed and lay down on her back in the garden too, mimicking my actions so we looked like two siblings from different mothers playing in the garden of life.
“Nomi” 2017 Paul D Aronson.

Blood Pupil (Hand Over The Girl new edit)

“Hand over the girl.”

I looked at the suit holding the gun and knew he was used to getting what he wanted. I sighed. “Its not going to happen.”

“Are you crazy? We have you outnumbered.”

“And your point is?..”

He looked me dead in the eye. “We can take her by force if we have to.”

“That’s not a good idea.”

He threw his head back. “Ha! And why not?”

“For every action there is a reaction. You are a ripple in the pond. Don’t turn it into a wave.”

“I hated school teachers as a kid. I hate them even worse now, so just give us the girl.”

“You can learn nothing from her. Leave her alone.”

“We just want to talk to her about what she saw.”

I looked at the thugs before me. There were three of them. Either they weren’t that worried over what she saw or they didn’t think they’d have any trouble out of a little girl and her runaway school teacher. “She didn’t see anything. Nobody called the cops. Live and let live.”

The leader of the three shook his head. “I’m sorry, the boss wants to see her just the same. Just to make sure.”

“I can’t let you take her.”

“Come on, teach. Be smart. Don’t make me shoot you.”

The gun in his hand, pointing directly at me, was starting to make me nervous. “You don’t understand.”

“So make me understand and maybe I’ll let you live.”

I noticed the other two suits laughed under their breath. Yeah, I didn’t believe it either.

“She can’t go outside,” I said. “Not yet anyway.”

“What? Is she grounded or something? Teacher, giving her after school lessons in the dark? Ha-ha!”

“No, she just likes it here in the dark.”

“Freaking perv. How many little girls you bring down here in this dark, damp basement?”

“I’m not a perv. I’m her teacher.”

“Not for long, you ain’t. Now, one last time, hand..over…the …girl.”

I sighed. We were never going to get through this unless I did as they asked. I glanced over my shoulder towards the darkness in the corner. Not even shadows invaded that space, but I knew that’s where she was.

“I’m sorry Elena. These men want to talk to you. I tried my best. I guess I’m not much good at being a protector.”

The lead suit grinned. “That’s better, teach. Now get her out of that corner.”

“Elena, it’s alright. You can come out and go with them. But just this one time, okay?”

“That’s right girly, come out and go with us.”

I tried to peer into the dark, wondering if she was coming or not. Nothing moved there, but I knew she waiting for further instruction.

“Remember what I taught you. Never for pleasure, always for survival, okay?”

The thug leader rolled his eyes. “Whatever, teach. Come on girl, we ain’t got all day. Earl, go over there and get her.”

One of the other gangsters, Earl I assume, took a quick, purposeful stride towards the corner. “Right, boss. I’m on it….Hey, what’s up with her eyes? Why is she freaking smiling like that…..Aaaaaaaa!”

His screams pierced the silence of the basement. There was a crunching sound as he vanished into the pitch black corner. A guttural growl issued from the dark and Earl’s screams seemed to rise a moment before being replaced by something that sounded like he was drowning. We could hear the gurgling in his throat.

“What the hell? Get her off of him!”

The leader shoved his other gun toting cronie towards the corner. The guy hesitat d, seriously afraid, but knew he had no choice. He bounded into the dark, his gun blazing.

“I told you she wants to stay in the dark,” I said.

The gunfire suddenly stopped. “Oh my god, boss! She has…. Aaaaaa!”

In anger the leader cracked me against the head with the butt of the gun. I knew it would draw blood, but I didn’t go down. I stood my ground as he charged to the rescue of his guys.

“I’m coming , hold on! I’m going to pump you full of lead, you little bitch!”

He came up short, raised his gun at the target he could barely see. He pulled the trigger firing off several rounds until there was nothing but clicks.

“What the shit? What..what the hell are you? I just emptied all my bullets into you!”

He tried to take a step back, all the while his finger still pulling the trigger of the now empty gun. A small hand reached out of the darkness. Long, thin fingers bent at odd angles, as if the bones had all grown out in different directions. They grasped his gun arm, wrapping around his biceps and pulled him back into the horrible dark, where even I could not witness his fate.

“No, get away from me! Why are you looking at me like that? Oh Mary, holy mother of Jesus, is that blood on your teeth? No, no, no!…… AaaaaAAA!”

I took a short step forward. Pulling out my handkerchief, I wiped the blood off my forehead where the gun handle had whacked me.

“Elena, don’t turn them. Survival only, remember?”

I approached the dark corner and held my hand out. There were unsettling noises coming from within. Cracking bones. Hungry slurping. Animalistic growls overshadowing the moans of the dying. There was a final crunch like someone setting a broken leg on the field of battle and then her hand reached out to grasp mine gently. It was a normal child hand. No long, thin fingers bent outwards in opposite ways. And as she emerged from the darkness, her dusty brown hair covering half her face, I smiled.

“That’s a good girl,” I said.

She squinted her dark eyes against the light from the basement bulbs. Small slices of sunlight filtered through boarded up casement windows, and I maneuvered her small frame around them.

“Come on, let’s get you away from the light.”

She held her arms up to me and I picked her up.

“Whoa, you sure are heavy after you’ve had breakfast….”

She lay her head over on my shoulder. I could smell the blood in her hair and on her clothes. Her little arms tightened around me and I thought to myself, one day I was going to miss this. Caring about someone. Protecting the innocent. Perhaps you wouldn’t understand, but she’s my blood pupil, not yours. I dare you to come between us…

2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.

Read the original dialogue only version here: Hand Over The Girl: Dialogue Prompt for Sunday 12 Feb

Halfway House (short story 4K)

When I walk in my building, she is huddled in the back of the hallway, naked. Beaten and discarded, like a rag doll that nobody wants. I spy her right away, there in the darkness in the furthest corner, away from where the other tenants can see her. But I know she’s there. I can even smell her. My senses have become fine tuned over the years and there’s no mistaking the scent of brimstone and a fiery temperament.  I walk over to her and take the sweater off my shoulders, wrapping it around her. She looks up at me with eyes red tinged from the crying. Her pupils seem to implore me to help her. I take her hand and look at the wrist. She has the mark. And she has no one to turn to because of it.

“Mordecai said you’d help,” she barely manages to whisper.

Mordecai, an old friend, always sending me strays. What a guy.

“Come on,” I sigh and lift her up. I help her around to the staircase where I barely manage to navigate her to the third floor, apartment six. We probably look like a pair of junkies stumbling down the hallway. She is weak and her dead weight causes us to shuffle and stumble, but we finally make it into the safety of my apartment.

I sit her on the couch in the living room and go to turn up the thermostat. I casually glance out the window, and that’s when I see them standing in the shadows on the other side of the street. Two men in white-breasted suits. I have often wondered why they dress in such noticeable outfits if they expect not to be seen. But I guess maybe they want you to see them. They want you to be afraid. But I’m not afraid of them. I close the curtains and turn back to my new charge.

I take my sweater back and grab a blanket from the closet, which I promptly wrap around her. I notice her breathing is labored and her skin is quite pale. She’s going to need a doctor soon. The shock is just too great for her. It’s always like this for the new ones. The trauma of real life sets in quickly it seems.

“What’s your name?” I ask her.

“Sky,” she manages to whisper.

“Short name.”

“You wouldn’t be able to pronounce my real name.”

“You’d be surprised. But for now Sky will do. So…. you hungry?”

She looks at me strangely as if I’ve just asked her if her mom’s name is Bill.

“Food?” she asks.

I nod and get up to go to the kitchen. I open up a cabinet. Cans of soup, peaches, apple sauce… yes, that’s it, applesauce. I take a can down and open it. I grab a spoon and carry her very light dinner into the living room for her. She is still on the couch, has hardly moved an inch.

“Here you go.” I hand her the can and spoon. She looks at both as if she doesn’t know which one she wants to eat. Finally, she dips the spoon into the can and brings some of it out. She tastes it cautiously and then swallows it down.

I smile. The new ones always like applesauce. But she eats it too quickly. Soon she begins to cough and choke on the mixture. I pat her on the back and that seems to help a little. But I notice her back is unusually warm. I remove the blanket from her shoulders and take a closer look at her back. She is bleeding, and pretty badly too. I don’t know why I didn’t notice it earlier.

“I’m going to have to get you a doctor.” I pull out my cell and speed dial my friend Carl. He’s a good doctor and doesn’t ask questions.

As I wait for him to pick up the line, the girl drops the can of applesauce and slumps over, sliding off the couch and to the floor.

“Shit,” I exclaim, just as Carl’s voice comes on the line.

“Hello,” his voice says somewhat sleepily though it’s early afternoon.

I get straight to the point. “Carl, I have another one I need you to look at.”

“I’m on the way,” he replies and I hang up on him, already moving to the prone figure of Sky on the floor.

I don’t touch her. I just leave her there in the floor. I don’t even so much as check for a pulse. Healing is not my area of expertise. I am more into the adjustment end of things. I should have an ADJUSTMENT DEPT sign hanging on my door.

The girl shudders, a quick spasm. It startles me and I really want to help, but I know the rules. Wait for the doc. I leave her in the floor and busy myself with the task of preparing the spare bedroom. She is going to need a place to sleep and recuperate.

I finish changing the bed sheets when the knock comes at the door. One knock, then three, and one again. It is the doctor’s code. I go back to the living room and to the front door. When I open it Carl doesn’t say a word in greeting and neither do I. We are beyond such casual formalities.

“That the one?” he asks, looking at the motionless half naked figure on my floor.

“Yeah. She has some serious back lacerations, who knows what else.”

“I’ll need you to make me a cold compress,” he says, as if I’d just told him she has a simple fever. But I do as I’m told and go into the kitchen to prepare what he needs. It doesn’t take me long and soon I’m back in the living room with doctor and patient.

Carl hasn’t wasted much time in the short period I’ve been out of the room. The girl is back on the couch, lying on her stomach and he’s already begun examining her naked, bloody back. I notice her bare skin is of a perfect complexion and unblemished by beauty marks of any kind. The only marks are the wounds just below her shoulder blades. It looks like someone has tried to cut the bones right out of her back.

“Damn,” I exclaim quietly.

Carl looks up at me, a look of worry on his face. “Yeah, this one is pretty bad. It’s been some time since I’ve seen one like this.”

“She must have been out there by herself a long time,” I suggest.

He nods in agreement before returning to his examination. He reaches in his medicine bag and pulls out a small jar. He opens it up and applies a salve like substance to her wounds.

“Generally, this works pretty good,” he explains, “but I think she’s going to need a little more time to heal and rest.” He puts the lid on and closes up the jar, putting it back in his bag. “Are you going to be able to care for her?”

“I don’t know, Carl. This is a halfway house, not a hospital.”

He nods. “Well, if we have to move her we will, but I’d rather she be stabilized and healed before she’s out there with the dogs.”

“She’s already been out there with the dogs,” I reason.

“That’s true, but she didn’t know what the dogs were then. We want her to know what’s out there before we put her out on her own.”

“Okay, I’ll do the best I can. She can stay here however long it takes.”

“You can always call Nicodemus if you need to,” Carl suggests warily. “He’ll take care of her.”

“Nicodemus is a lecher. He would use her and then throw her back out there.”

“True, but she would be out of your hands and not your responsibility.”

“I don’t think I’ll be calling Nicodemus.”

“Good,” he smiles. “Well, I think that’s it for her back wounds there, let’s get her in the bedroom so she can rest.”

I go to the hall closet and get a new blanket, which we lay out beside the couch. Ever so gently we lift and move her onto it. For the most part she is unconscious, but I believe I hear her whisper “no”. I don’t think it is directed towards us though. I imagine she is in the throes of a bad dream. Hell, she doesn’t even know the half of it.

For hours she doesn’t stir in the bed. She just lies there naked, curled up in a fetal position, as if she’s a child resting in the womb. In a way that isn’t too far off the mark. I step in and check on her every so often, but I know she’ll rest for some time. The salve Carl uses seems to heal well enough, but it sometimes makes you sleep for days on end.

My doctor friend waits around for several hours just to make sure she is going to be okay, and then he too leaves. He doesn’t say goodbye. He knows he’ll be hearing from me again soon. No need saying goodbye when you are just going to say hello again.

I watch television as she sleeps. Surfing through the channels I am always surprised there really isn’t anything worth watching. Between “Nobody Has Any Frigging Talent” and reality shows that look remarkably like plastic supermodels masquerading as real people, I am stupefied over what passes as entertainment. If we are going to have reality TV, why not show us the way it truly is? Pre-teen boys shooting their neighbor for those new Nikes he saw him wearing; a young woman prostituting herself because her boyfriend is too lazy to get a real job; a man OD’s when in a drug induced stupor he accidentally shoots an air pocket into his veins. Another young woman shows up naked and bleeding at an apartment complex and no one notices. This is real life, not who is sleeping with who in a fully furnished house none of the occupants had to work their fingers to the bone to afford. This is why I don’t watch TV.

That and the fact the white suits use it to ask for money to further their cause. They think they have us fooled, standing there in their pulpit, quoting scriptures between pleas for donations. They would like us to think the money is for His work, but they aren’t really affiliated with Him at all. It all goes to hunting us down.

I turn it to the religious channel just to see what they have to say today. There is a man preaching. What he says makes sense. Forgiveness. Redemption. All the good stuff, and then a static flare spreads across the screen. The picture goes away replaced by swirling images of bodies entwined. Not in ecstasy but agony. They writhe and twist as if tortured, mouths open trying to scream but nothing comes out. It doesn’t take one of the prophets to tell me it’s a transmission from someone’s perception of hell. Then the screen blanks out again and returns focused on the street outside the apartment. The two white suits who were there earlier are now joined by a third. The third one grins from the TV screen.

“Why don’t you just send her on down, Rachel? We won’t hurt her, promise.”

He reminds me of a used car salesman, or some guy in a bar who looks my way and sees a big flashing neon sign that says TITS AVAILABLE HERE.

“Yeah right, pervert,” I reply.

“You know we’ll get her eventually. We always do,” he says with a lecherous gleam in his eye. “You know as well I do she can’t stay there forever. Eventually you’ll put her out and we’ll be there to get her. You could save yourself some trouble and just put her out now.”

“Why do you want her so bad? Did you run out of altar boys this week?”

“Oh that was funny. Remind me to laugh when I peel the flesh off your bones and…”

“Oh save it for the bleeding choir indivisible, why don’t you?”

Click! I turn off the television. I know this will go nowhere – just insults after insults hurled at each other. And you think the battle of the sexes is bad.

I get up and go to the window. Yes, all three of them are out there leaning against a storefront wall across the street. They all wave as if signaling a long lost friend. I give them the finger. They always hate the “damn you” connotation that applies.

I head for the bedroom to check on my charge and she still sleeps peacefully. She doesn’t even know anyone has been fighting over her. In fact she doesn’t know much at all. I’m going to have to teach her, and fast.

I am distracted by a knock at the door. I know who it is before I even answer it. Nicholas, the boy from the apartment down the hall. He stops by at least once a day whenever I’m home. I think he must watch my door to see if I come and go. Most people would find this creepy, but if you knew the boy you would find it endearing. I mean it’s no secret he has a crush. I saw it in his eyes the first I met him, and though this may sound bad of me, I sometimes use that to my advantage.

I open the door. “Hi Nicky,” I say. He likes the pet name I’ve given him, makes him blush every time.

“Hi Rach,” he grins. His baby blue eyes are wide and innocent. He is much like the girl recuperating in my bed, so far untouched by the madness of the world we live. He’s only sixteen, but his good looks are already a hit with the girls I’m sure. If I was younger and of a different preference I would be tempted to be smitten with him myself. But I have this thing with dating guys. I don’t. Maybe it’s the fact I can always tell what the male of the species is thinking. It kind of takes the mystery out of the evening when you know all they are working for is to find out if you wear panties or thong, or if that’s your natural hair color. Nicky isn’t like that though, thank heavens or whoever. Once, about two weeks ago I caught him thinking of kissing me. I guess that wouldn’t be too unpleasant, but I don’t want him getting anymore attached to me than he already is.

“Hey, I was heading out to the store,” he says. “Can I get you anything?”

“I was thinking of doing that myself, Nicky. Must have read my mind.”

“Cool! We could go together!”

“Well, actually I have company and don’t want to leave them by themselves.”

His smile fades for a minute. I know what he thinks. That I have a man over. But then he grins again. “One of them wild nights, huh?”

“No, it’s not like that,” I laugh. “Just a friend.”

“Ahhh,” he says, giving me a wink. “Well, hey I can pick some stuff up for ya at the store. What do you want?”

“Just some milk and applesauce.”

“I should have known. What do you do with all that applesauce anyway, take a bath in it?”

“Now that’s an idea,” I tease, and for a brief moment I catch an image from his head of me naked in a tub of applesauce. So much for innocence.

I watch Nicky from the window as he heads down the street. I notice the men in white are watching him too. One of them detaches himself from the others and begins to follow the boy discretely. In the old days I would have panicked, thinking they were going to hurt him, but I know better now. They have no real interest in anyone other than those in the halfway house. They know Nick is harmless and no threat to them. Still, they like to keep tabs on people I come in contact with. Maybe they think I will secretly call out for reinforcements.

I turn from the window and go to check out my guest. She has managed to kick off the covers and I gently put them back over her, tucking her in. She stirs lightly and murmurs something that sounds like “Father.”

I touch my hand to her cheek. Her skin is so soft and I find myself wishing to lie beside her. To just curl up next to her and forget the world outside. Would she understand? Or would she recoil in shock or shame, already jaded by this world to believe such intimacy was purely a flawed human thing? My fingers linger on her skin a little longer and I find myself bending over top of her sleeping form, drawing myself down to kiss her cheek.

My thoughts are interrupted by the squeal of tires. No not yet, I think. Please not yet. I forget my impossible dreams of affection and jump to my feet. Returning to the living room I take a look out the window. A car is stopped in the middle of the road. The careless driver almost hit a little old lady pushing a grocery cart across the road. I breathe a sigh of relief. There for a minute I believed it was time’s up for Nicky. One of the hardest parts of being who I am is knowing how someone is going to die. I don’t know when. He could very well live to a ripe old age before it happens, or his end could come tomorrow for all we know. It is a shame that my foresight doesn’t extend far enough out of the shadows to give me all the details.

Nicky arrives with the milk and applesauce fifteen minutes later. I let him in and he stands in the living room as I go to get him some money.

“Whoa, did you spill some ketchup?” he exclaims.

I return with the money and see he is looking at a spot on the couch that I missed while cleaning up after my guest. “Yes, dropped the whole bottle,” I lie.

“I get sloppy with my hamburgers too. Mom won’t even let me eat on the couch anymore.”

I smile and hand him the money for my groceries. He looks at it for a moment, and then hands it back. “You know what? Just keep it,” he says.

“No Nicky, I can’t let you buy my stuff for me. You probably work hard for your allowance.”

“Allowance? Did you know how many rocks I had to sell to get that?”

I know he is playing. He doesn’t do that kind of thing, still I act shocked so he will not know I can read his every thought. “Nicky!”

He grins real big and points his finger at me. “Ha, gotcha!”

“You shouldn’t joke about such things,” I mildly admonish him.

“Yeah I know, but it’s good to see that look on your face every now and then. Hey, could I use your bathroom?”

“Sure go ahead.”

As he heads off down the hall, I take a peek into his own grocery bag. Sodas, bread, his mother’s medicine. I drop the money down in there. He can fuss at me later.

I am cleaning the spot on the couch when he screams. It is not a cry of terror, but one of shocked surprise. I run towards the restroom and come to a complete stop in the hallway. “Oh no,” I whisper.

Nicky is standing there in the bathroom doorway his jaw hanging open. In front of him stands my guest, completely naked. She has obviously awakened and healed enough to start exploring her surroundings. This however is not a good time.

I open the hall closet and pull down a sheet to wrap around her. As I approach them, Nicky turns his eyes from her perfectly alluring form to look at me. “Why didn’t you tell me it was this kind of company?” he stammers.

“Because I knew your tongue would fall out of your head,” I explain, wrapping her in the sheet and steering her back into the bedroom. “Go wait in the living room while I put my sister back to bed. She’s sick.”

“Your sister?”

“Yes, now go in the living room. I’ll only be a minute.”

He grudgingly obeys, and I close the bedroom door behind me, so he won’t try to ogle my guest any further.

“We really need to get you some clothes before you go wandering around too much,” I tell her.

She sits down on the edge of the bed and is looking at me with admiration. “You healed me.”

“No, not me. A friend.”

“You’re not my friend?”

“No, I’m not. I’m just here to help you make the transition.”

“Transition from what?”

“All in good time. You will remember gradually. Until then we have to get you prepared.”

“Prepared for what?”

“Survival.”

I open up the bedroom closet and start rifling through my clothes. “You are a little smaller than me, but hopefully I can find something that won’t swallow you up too much.”

She gets up and comes up behind me. I can feel her breath on my neck. Her close proximity is intoxicating. I hate this. Why does she have to be so beautiful?

“Here, you find something you like,” I stammer. “I have to go explain you to Nicky.”

She is unaware of the effect she has on me. She’ll soon discover she will have that affect on everyone until she learns to hide what she’s been blessed with. These new ones just seem to drip sexuality so much you want to dip them in mud to remove some of that glamour. Problem is I happen to like mud, too.

I leave her to browse my wardrobe while I go to tell Nicky some lie to get him to go home.

“I didn’t know you had a sister,” Nicky says when I tell him she’ll be visiting for a few days. “And she’s hot too!”

“Down boy,” I tell him. “She’s not ready for anyone to be pawing all over her. She had an accident.”

“What happened?”

“She fell.”

“From where?”

“A great height. But I think she’ll be okay.”

“She looks fine to me,” he grins.

“Come on Nicky, please don’t turn out like every other guy I know.”

“I’m sorry, Rach. It’s just ..well…it’s not every day you see a naked girl standing in front of you. It does something to you.”

Tell me about it.

 “Well, she’s not acting like herself. I think the fall dazed her.” I put my hand on his shoulder. “So please behave.”

He sits up straight. I’m not sure if its from what I’ve said or the fact I actually touched him. “No problem,” he says.

“Nicky, you’re going to have to leave us girls to talk, but you can come back tomorrow and visit.”

“Yeah, maybe your sister will be feeling better.”

“Yes, I’m sure she will be.”

He reluctantly gets up, grabs his grocery bag, and walks slowly for the door. He looks almost dejected that he can’t stay. Boys will be boys, I guess.

“Nicky,” I say and he stops. “Thank you for getting my groceries for me.”

This brightens him up a little and he smiles brightly. “Anything for you. Rachel.”

As he leaves, with the door closing behind him, an image comes to me. Nicky hit by a car, his body doing somersaults before crashing down on the vehicle’s windshield. I want to yank back open the door and take him into my arms to protect him somehow. But I know it’s not going to happen today. Still it will happen eventually and that makes me mourn the frailties of mortality.

I feel something stir behind me. My guest has come into the room. “Did he leave?” she asks.

“Yes, he’s gone.”

“He’s going to die, isn’t he?”

“They all do eventually,” I tell her.

“But we don’t?”

“No.”

“Why is that?”

I hesitate for a moment not sure of how much to tell her. “Because we’re angels,” I finally say.

She seems to think on this a moment, and the look on her face tells me she doesn’t find that idea as preposterous as it seems. I know in time she will remember things I would just as soon forget. But for now she appears to accept the one basic truth: We were in heaven, now we’re in hell.

“Halfway House” 2017 Paul D Aronson.