A Meeting of Souls – Installment #5

This is the fifth installment of A Meeting of Souls – A Tale from the Wasteland. The read the story from the beginning, start here.

If you enjoy this story and would like to own a copy of your very own, you can purchase it from Amazon/Kindle here and Barnes & Noble/Nook here. The e-book includes a full-color cover and a special, steamy, NSFW bonus chapter at the end of the story that won’t be included on the blog. Every romance needs a “happy ending,” right?

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Chapter Five

It was nearly dark when the truck pulled into a small encampment miles from the City. Zinara had tried to notice landmarks and keep track of which direction they were headed, but the flat, featureless desert stretched out around them as far as she could see. She didn’t even think they were traveling along a road anymore, but the blinding sun and choking dust made it impossible to say for sure. She felt thirsty, sunburnt and miserable, and when no one had tried to rescue them after the first few hours, she struggled not to feel hopeless and to come up with some sort of plan for escape.

An odd assortment of vehicles, tents, and other temporary structures was arranged in a circle, and the truck drove through a small opening, coming to a stop beside the fire pit in the center. The man who’d abducted her and a thin, balding man she’d never seen before came around to the back of the truck and unlocked the cage door. As soon as the door was opened, the men took turns guiding the slaves down out of the cage before fastening a collar around each one’s neck. Some of the slaves cried and shied away, but most went along willingly. A deal was a deal.

One woman stopped and put a hand out as the driver reached up with her collar. “Arnie, is this really necessary?”

“It’s all part of the experience, darlin’.” She rolled her eyes, but let him fasten the collar around her neck. Arnie loved these “slavery tourists,” as he called them. Wealthy, bored (he couldn’t imagine) men and women who wanted a little taste of the “bad” life. The joke was on them.

Zinara watched as Arnie gathered up the other slaves’ leashes and led them into a giant tent near the back of the camp that served as a dormitory and holding area. The other man reached into the cage and grabbed Zinara by the arm, hauling her forward. She clung to the side of the cage, kicking and shouting, but he easily wrenched her toward him, wrapping her in a bear hug. He stepped back from the bumper and dropped her to her knees, knocking the wind out of her. The collar was on her before she could react and when she struggled to her feet to lash out at him again, he yanked the rope attached to her collar, causing her to stumble into him for another crushing bear hug, her feet kicking in front of her.

Zinara struggled to breathe as her feet dangled off the ground. As Arnie reappeared, she kicked out at him with the last of her strength, but he easily batted her legs to the side and stepped in next to her. She wanted to spit at him, but her mouth was too dry, and when she met his gaze she froze. He was looking at her as if she were some pretty wildflower he’d found in a field and was deciding whether to pick it or crush it under his boot and continue walking. Either way, she was going to get damaged.

“You need to relax, darlin’,” he said.

Zinara mustered up the last of her courage and looked him squarely in the eye. “I am not a slave. You kidnapped me and drugged me. I demand that you take me back to the City.”

Arnie smiled and reached up to finger a strand of her hair. “She demands,” he sneered. She tried to pull away, but her captor held her fast.

“This one needs to learn some manners, Bud. Sleepin’ out by the latrines will take some of the fight out of her,” Arnie said. Then, to her: “If you ask real nice, maybe he’ll leave you a blankie.”

Bud snorted and moved to leave, hoisting Zinara higher in his arms. “You bastard, let go of me!” she shouted, kicking and twisting to get free.

“Better gag her as well,” Arnie called to Bud as the sounds of Zinara’s protests faded in the distance. When they were out of earshot, he headed to a battered RV parked nearby and knocked. A man in an old military dress uniform emerged and accepted the stack of papers Arnie proffered, flipping through them with a cursory glance.

“Any trouble?” he asked.

“Nothing we couldn’t handle.” The man arched one eyebrow, waiting for Arnie to continue. “One of the Guards tried to start somethin’, but Bud took care of him.”

The man turned his full attention to him. “‘Took care of him.’ You assaulted one of the Guards?”

“Just a little warnin’ shot. No harm done.” Arnie was clearly nervous now, fidgeting with his coat pockets and shuffling his feet in the dirt.

“Our arrangement with Wasteland City is tenuous. If you have jeopardized our number-one market….” His voice was soft and low, but the menace in it carried easily. He counted out a handful of caps and dropped a pile into Arnie’s hands as he held his gaze for another moment, then went back inside the RV.

“Yessir, thank you,” Arnie squeaked, giving a little half-nod, half-bow to the closing door.

Chapter Six

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A Meeting of Souls – Installment #4

This is the fourth installment of A Meeting of Souls – A Tale from the Wasteland. The read the story from the beginning, start here.

If you enjoy this story and would like to own a copy of your very own, you can purchase it from Amazon/Kindle here and Barnes & Noble/Nook here. The e-book includes a full-color cover and a special, steamy, NSFW bonus chapter at the end of the story that won’t be included on the blog. Every romance needs a “happy ending,” right?

_____

Chapter Four

The acrid odor of truck exhaust woke Zinara up. At first, she couldn’t understand why the world was tilted sideways, but then she realized that she was lying down. She sat up and blinked a few times, grimacing through a skull-crushing headache and dry, cracked lips. A few deep breaths cleared her vision somewhat and she looked around, noticing the other men and women near her for the first time. They were all in a cage in the back of an idling truck, and for a moment, Zinara couldn’t remember how she’d come to be there, but as a smallish man with long, greasy hair leered at her through the chain link, the events of the previous night came back to her.

“Mornin’, sunshine! How’s yer head?”

“Fuck you! Let me out of here, you creep!”

“Sorry, no can do. You signed a contract. You belong to us fer the next year and a day.”

“That’s bullshit and you know it. You kidnapped me!” She gave the cage door an experimental shake, but it was secure.

“No, I’ve got yer contract right here.” He unfolded a grungy square of paper from the pocket of his overcoat and held it up just far enough away that Zinara couldn’t read it. “‘Course, you were pretty wasted last night.”

“You drugged me!”

He licked his lips and stepped closer to the cage, his body practically pressed against hers through the chain link. “You were doin’ all sorts of things last night. It’s a shame you can’t remember ‘em. I do.”

Zinara drew back from the cage in disgust and looked down. Her clothes and boots were gone, replaced with a brightly-colored shawl tied around her waist and another, smaller one around her chest. She shuddered and looked back at the man, who just threw back his head with a barking laugh and then turned his attention to the other slaves in the truck.

“Alright, you know the drill. Let’s go drum up some business.” As he stepped away from the truck’s bumper, Zinara lunged forward, reaching through a gap in the cage door to grab the lapel of his overcoat.

“Unlock this goddamn cage and let me out right now!” she said through gritted teeth, just as she felt the cold, sharp prick of a knifepoint under the curve of her breast.

“I’d let go, if I were you. Damaged goods’ll still sell. We just don’t get as good a price for ‘em.” His face was so close to her she couldn’t read his expression, but when he pressed the knife tip forward slightly for emphasis, she gasped and let him go, pressing her hand under her breast. He slapped the side of the truck as he climbed into the cab, and after a moment it lurched forward, jostling the slaves in the back.

Zinara moved to the back corner of the cage and turned her attention to the others. They were all in various states of undress and they started calling out as the truck wound its way through the City. Some of them seemed genuinely terrified, but most seemed almost bored as they melodramatically reached through the cage and tried to get the attention of the people walking by.

“Where is he taking us?” she asked the woman crouched nearest to her.

“Slaver camp.” A busty woman with elaborate henna decorations on her skin, she looked Zinara up and down as if to size up her competition. “First time? It ain’t that bad, really, if you do what they say and don’t cause no trouble. It’s only a year and a day, and if you’re lucky you’ll get bought by someone who ain’t too mean.”

“You sound like you know what you’re talking about.”

“Yeah, I got bought by a real nice lady last year. We was gettin’ close, too, if you know what I mean, but her husband caught us and beat her to death over it. He was a real jealous type.”

“Oh, my God, is that why you’re back in here?”

“Well, yeah, I wasn’t going to hang around with him, that’s for sure! I’ll take my chances with a new master.” The woman turned her attention back to shaking the cage door and calling out.

As the truck rolled up to the main gate, Zinara looked out from her corner of the cage, trying to come up with a plan. She’d tried calling for help as the truck drove through town, but none of the people they’d passed on the roads seemed to pay much attention to the fact that a truckload of slaves was being hauled through the City, and that scared her. The truck inched forward, clearing the gates, and came to a stop just outside them. Zinara looked at the Guard standing there and her heart leaped. It was him, the Guard she’d noticed before! Would he help her? It was worth a try. She started to call out to him, but hesitated. The tiny knife wound under her breast hinted at what the slaver might do to her if he caught her. She moved to the other side of the cage, nearest the Guard, and kept her eyes focused on him, willing him to notice her. He seemed to feel the pull of her gaze and as their eyes met, the whole world dropped away and a million words passed unspoken between them.

“Help me!” she mouthed, pleading with her eyes.

When he answered her with “I want to help you,” she could’ve cried with relief, but then the truck lurched forward again. He sprang into action, moving to confront the slaver, and she knew she’d soon be rescued, but the sound of gunfire caught her completely off guard, making her yelp and jump. She didn’t realize he’d been shot until the truck sped away from the gates and she saw him lying in the road, struggling to get up. She kept her eyes fixed on him, reaching toward him through the cage until he was no longer in sight.

Chapter Five

A Meeting of Souls – Installment #3

This is the third installment of A Meeting of Souls – A Tale from the Wasteland. The read the story from the beginning, start here.

If you enjoy this story and would like to own a copy of your very own, you can purchase it from Amazon/Kindle here and Barnes & Noble/Nook here. The e-book includes a full-color cover and a special, steamy, NSFW bonus chapter at the end of the story that won’t be included on the blog. Every romance needs a “happy ending,” right?

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Chapter Three

Zinara couldn’t remember when she’d been in deeper shit.

It had been hard, terribly hard, escaping from San Francisco and making her way to Wasteland City. When she’d set out to find it, she wasn’t even sure it really existed other than in half-whispered fairy tales told to frighten small children, but somehow she’d always known that if she could make it there, she’d be better off than staying in the Bay Area hiding from the roving gangs and police patrols.

A combination of luck, skill, and determination led her to the City, where she was surprised by a sense of safety and belonging. Although populated with every variety of thug, criminal, and ne’er-do-well, there was a kind of truce within the walls, insured by the ever-watchful Guards patrolling and manning the gate. One Guard in particular caught her eye when she first arrived. He was tall and well-muscled, with a handsome, chiseled face and a strong jaw. He had an air of calm confidence about him that she found reassuring. Here was a man you could trust to handle any emergency, any situation. Maybe she was being a fangirl, but Zinara just knew, somehow, that she could count on him to help her if she ever needed it.

The little Old World money she had left secured her a room in what passed as a respectable bunkhouse run by the Wasteland Communication Corp., but she soon figured out that caps were the real currency in Wasteland City. As day faded into night, she made her way to the Atomic Cafe in the hopes of picking up work as a dancer. Being slim, agile and still in possession of all of her teeth secured the deal, and she found herself shimmying and gyrating to the pounding rhythm of AHTCK playing on a huge stage nearby while the Cafe’s patrons hooted, catcalled and tossed back their drinks.

As she climbed down from her perch at the end of her shift, she was rewarded with a handful of caps and a bottle of beer from the head bartender. She pocketed the caps and took several long swallows from the bottle—beer was not her drink of choice, but it was cold and wet and exactly what she needed after hours of go-go dancing. She threaded her way through the crowd, sipping the beer and heading back to the bunkhouse, when a rough hand on her arm stopped her just outside the circle of light from the Cafe.

“Hello, darlin’. Leavin’ so soon?”

She turned to face the speaker, shrugging slightly to remove his hand from her arm. He was thin and barely as tall as she was, with long, greasy hair and a leer that set off all the alarms in her head. She swallowed her fear and turned to go.

“I was watchin’ you up there. You’re a real good dancer.” He stepped uncomfortably close and Zinara moved to the side, wanting to keep some distance between them.

“Thanks,” she said, glancing around. She decided that letting him know where she was sleeping was a bad idea and wondered if anyone at the Cafe would help her lose her admirer if she headed back there.

“A pretty girl like you is worth more than a handful of caps. How’d you like to earn some real money?” He’d sidled up next to her again and the stench of his grimy overcoat brought tears to her eyes. She blinked a couple of times to clear her vision and decided to head toward the gates for help. Maybe that Guard she’d seen earlier would be there.

“No, I’m good,” she said as she turned to go, almost losing her balance. Her vision was definitely blurry now and she felt hot and dizzy. She panicked as the man grabbed her by the elbow to keep her from falling. What was wrong with her? As her vision darkened and she lost consciousness she felt the beer bottle slip out of her hand. Her last thought was wondering whether it had been the Cafe bartender or the man who was hoisting her up into his arms who’d drugged her.

Chapter Four

A Meeting of Souls – Installment #2

This is the second installment of A Meeting of Souls – A Tale from the Wasteland. The first installment is here.

If you enjoy this story and would like to own a copy of your very own, you can purchase it from Amazon/Kindle here and Barnes & Noble/Nook here. The e-book includes a full-color cover and a special, steamy, NSFW bonus chapter at the end of the story that won’t be included on the blog. Every romance needs a “happy ending,” right?

_____

Chapter Two

Sickle and Saber trained their weapons on the retreating truck, preparing to fire. Assaulting an Elite Guard was a bannable offense and they were ready to retaliate on Lash’s behalf when a voice boomed out from somewhere atop the wall.

“Hold your fire!” It was the Captain of the Guard. Sickle and Saber complied immediately while two other Guards—Lady Ares and Menace—ran from the gate to Lash’s side, helping him to his feet. He winced and sucked air, trying to catch his breath. His armor had taken the worst of the damage, but he felt like he’d been hit with a sledgehammer and trying to move his arm set off white-hot shards of agony. His neck and jaw had been peppered by metal fragments and were bleeding from small breaks in the skin. He had barely settled onto a bench inside the wall when Chilli descended upon him, fussing and worrying as she started trying to remove his shoulder piece.

“Hold still, honey. Let me see how bad it is,” she said, lifting the armor up, which set off a fresh string of curses. Chilli was a cross between a cook, a nurse, and an aide-de-camp for the Guards. Her history with Lash went back many years, and although their relationship was purely platonic, in some ways it was stronger than a marriage.

“Get off me, Chilli! I’ve got to go after her. Argh! Christ!” he swore again as her fingers probed the huge welt and bruise that was growing on the front of his shoulder.

“I’ll be damned! It didn’t break the skin. That’s some good armor, to take a point-blank shot like that.”

“Goddamn flintlock. Lucky he didn’t hit what he was aiming at.”

“Which was…?”

He winced and touched the bridge of his nose. Chilli shook her head and continued poking and prodding his shoulder as Lash gritted his teeth and pulled away from her. He made it to his feet and was reaching for his armor with his good arm when the Captain dropped in on them—literally—from atop the wall. Dust plumed as he stomped over to them.

“LeSabre! What the hell was that?” The Captain—bearded, and taller than Lash by several inches—was a soldier through and through.

“Sir, I think one of the women was being held against her will. She asked for my help.”

“Of course she did. It’s part of the act. You know that.”

“This was…different, sir. She was sincere.”

“That may be so, but you know the orders: Leave the slavers alone. Let them conduct their business. That comes from well above my pay grade.”

Lash opened his mouth to retort but thought better of it and clenched his jaw instead, turning away with a disgusted snort.

“You got something else to say, Sergeant?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I do. Contracts and arrangements be damned. If this woman is being held against her will, then somebody needs to do something.”

The Captain and Lash faced each other for a long moment, both unwilling to budge, when Lash saw something behind the Captain’s steely, hard-ass expression. It was the look of a man who understood, sympathized even, but was bound by duty to carry out an order he disliked intensely.

“Sergeant LeSabre, you’re relieved,” he announced loudly. “Get off the wall and don’t come back until you get your shit together.” Then, leaning in close so none of the other Guards would hear, he added, “What you do with your time off is your business. Just don’t do anything stupid.” He turned on his heel and walked away.

Pretending to examine Lash’s armor, Chili had overheard the entire conversation. As Lash snatched his gear away from her and stomped off, she trailed behind him.

“Wait! Where are you going?”

“Not now, Chilli.” He tried jogging a few steps toward the barracks, but that set off a fresh wave of pain. He opted for a half walk-half trot, with Chilli right at his heels.

“You are in no condition to go anywhere. Your left arm is going to be useless for the next couple of days and I’m not completely sure you haven’t chipped a bone.”

“F’godsake, it’s a scratch. I don’t have a couple of days. He said they’re leaving in the morning.”

“How are you going to rescue her with a bum wing? If you wind up dead, you’re no good to anybody.”

“What about the cannibals?”

“Not funny.”

They made it back to the barracks and Lash immediately changed out of his guard gear, placing his mohawk in a place of reverence on a shelf. He donned sturdy, well-worn clothing in earth tones and blacks so he would blend in with the desert and with the night, and wrapped a long piece of muslin fabric around his neck. When he was finished, he looked like any other Wasteland wanderer—with the possible exception of the twin bullwhips hanging from his weapons belt. But then, unusual weapons were the rule and not the exception out here.

He stuffed supplies into his saddlebags, ignoring Chilli as she fussed and clucked behind him. She followed him outside to where his motorcycle was parked. “If you do this, the Captain will kick you out of the Guard. He won’t have a choice.”

Although Lash was the Sergeant of the Mounted Guard and the battered 500cc dirt bike was his duty ride, it belonged to him. Taking it wouldn’t cause additional hassle he didn’t need. He fastened the saddlebags to the bike and slid his shotgun into its scabbard on the handlebars. Putting his worn leather jacket on with one hand proved to be the most difficult task; his left arm wasn’t fully immobile but it was almost unbearably painful.

“What will you do if you can’t be a Guard anymore? Where will you go?”

In his frustration he rounded on her, his six-foot frame towering over her much shorter one. “Shut it, Chilli! I’m going to save her. Help me or get the hell out of my way!”

She recoiled at his outburst, and her disapproving expression softened into concern tinged with sadness. She took his jacket from him, pulling it gently up over his arms and shoulders and tugging it closed across his chest before tilting her head back to look up at him.

“Why her?”

He blinked. “What?”

“Why her?” Chilli repeated. “Why risk your life for this one girl you don’t even know?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I just … there was something. Something ….”

She reached one hand up to gently caress his cheek. “You know, you put on this big, tough guy act, but you’re really just an old romantic at heart.” Then, with a sigh, she added, “Go save your girl. Bring her back safe, okay?”

Lash clasped his fingers over hers for a moment and then pulled her hand away from his face with a wry smile. “I will. Nobody else in this godforsaken world can make a decent cup of coffee.” He turned and straddled his motorcycle, working the kickstarter until the bike roared to life. With a furtive wave of his hand, he rode away from the barracks and out the main gate.

Chilli watched until she couldn’t see him anymore, then turned her attention to the preparations for supper, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand.

Chapter Three

A Meeting of Souls – Installment #1

This is the first installment of A Meeting of Souls – A Tale from the Wasteland.

If you enjoy this story and would like to own a copy of your very own, you can purchase it from Amazon/Kindle here and Barnes & Noble/Nook here. The e-book includes a full-color cover and a special, steamy, NSFW bonus chapter at the end of the story that won’t be included on the blog. Every romance needs a “happy ending,” right?

Before we get to the story, some background for my non-Wastelander readers. A few months ago, my dear friend and fellow Wastelander, Curtis, recounted a tale about working the gate as an Elite Guard during Wasteland Weekend and having a moment with one of the ladies in the back of the slaver truck (original Facebook post here). Well, I offered (okay, threatened) to write a story about it, and I’m pleased to announce that, with Curtis’ help, A Meeting of Souls is finished and ready for your reading pleasure. Lash LeSabre, one of Wasteland City’s Elite Guards, doesn’t care for the whole master-and-slave business, but when a shanghaied slave girl asks for his help to escape, he risks everything to rescue her. Will they make it back to the relative safety of Wasteland City before the desperate slavers can recapture their prize?

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A MEETING OF SOULS

by LC Feeney and Curtis Gropp

Electronic edition published 2015 by LC Feeney (LINK)

Copyright © LC Feeney and Curtis Gropp. All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction, in whole or in part in any form, without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embedded in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Authors’ Note: All characters depicted in this work of fiction are 18 years of age or older.

Chapter One

Lash LeSabre scanned the crowd passing through the gates to the City. It had been a long day of guard duty in the brutal heat, and he was looking forward to being off-shift in a couple of hours so he could head back to the barracks, down a bowlful of whatever Chilli had scared up for supper, and nurse some of Paul’s Atomic Piss with his feet up by the fire, weather permitting.

Wasteland City was an outpost in the middle of nowhere, a ramshackle oasis of pseudo-sanity in a world gone mad. An approximately circular walled compound built from the detritus of the Old World, it offered some semblance of civilization for those who needed it. It was a place to gather, to trade, to communicate, to commiserate. The job of the Wasteland City Elite Guard was to maintain order within the City, and to monitor vehicle and foot traffic entering and exiting via its main portal. Like the walled medieval fortresses it resembled, the City featured one main entryway. One entrance was easier to defend.

He was neither the tallest of the guards (that would be Ryno) nor the most muscular (that would be Tank), but at six feet and 200-plus pounds, his skin baked golden brown by the relentless desert sun, Lash cut an impressive figure, particularly in his guard armor. His ceremonial mohawk, made of horsetail and secured with leather straps, added several inches to his already imposing height. Guards were allowed some leeway in terms of duty gear, but the mohawk was the one thing every guard had in common. It was their most recognizable uniform piece—and most coveted. Lash’s armor and weapons were easily replaced, to some degree. The mohawk was earned, and all but irreplaceable.

Today Lash was “on the Gate.” Above him, in the left tower on the flamethrower, Sergeant Sickle stood watch, her steely gaze unwavering. In the right tower, the deceivingly willowy Saber stood ready behind the ballista.

When the slaver truck stopped in the gateway on its way out of the City, Lash kept his expression neutral. He didn’t care for the whole slave business, but his orders were to let them pass unmolested. If people wanted to play slave and master, who was he to judge? The official word was that the slaves had all agreed to the role, and that everything that happened between slaves and masters was consensual and all part of the fun. If that’s how people wanted to spend their caps in the Wastes, more power to them.

The mesh cage on the back of the old military truck held a handful of men and women, all of them lookers. They were really working the slave act, too—some of them huddled in the corner crying, some pleading with passersby to be released, and a few wrenching at the cage door trying to escape. The truck idled directly in front of Lash as it waited for a break in the crowd. The driver was in no hurry since his cargo was attracting plenty of attention, which could only mean more business. Lash had just decided to urge the driver to move along when one of the women caught his attention.

She was beautiful, of course, with a slender neck, pixie-short brunette hair, and big, brown eyes, but that wasn’t what held his gaze. Unlike the other slaves, she was crouched at the corner of the cage nearest him, staring at him, willing him to notice her. When he looked at her, she locked eyes with him and silently mouthed the words, “Help me.”

Lash blinked, searching her face. Was this just part of the act, or was she serious? Her expression was a mix of determination and fear, and staring into her eyes, he suddenly felt something between them. Something more than just physical attraction. What he’d once heard Miłosz of the Mermen call a meeting of souls. In that moment he was compelled to help her, to do something, to act. “I want to help you,” he found himself mouthing back almost involuntarily, and was rewarded with a flash of relief in her eyes, replaced just as quickly with desperation as the truck inched forward, the driver having found his opening in traffic.

“Hold it!” Lash shouted, wrenching his gaze away from the woman. Without a second thought, he strode to the front of the truck, slamming his hand onto the window sill to get the driver’s attention. The driver jumped but recovered quickly, his expression settling into one of practiced nonchalance. His passenger, a balding, wiry man wearing an old military flak vest, angled slightly in his seat to face Lash, his hand dropping to rest on the sidearm holstered at his thigh.

“Where are you taking these—” the word caught in his throat—“slaves?” Lash demanded.

“To the slaver camp, same as always. Why, has one of ‘em caught yer fancy?” The driver gave Lash his best conspiratorial wink and leer, flashing half a mouthful of rotten, tobacco-stained teeth.

Lash wrenched the door open. “Get out and open the cage. One of them has changed her mind.”

“Oh, son, don’t tell me you fell fer that ol’ bit! These kiddies knew exactly what they were gettin’ into when they signed the contract to play, and a deal’s a deal.”

“Deal my ass. Get out of the truck and open the cage. Now.”

“Now look, son, I can’t just be lettin’ slaves go whenever the mood strikes ’em. A contract’s a contract, ya know? But I’ll tell you what, you show me which one’s causing the ruckus and we’ll make you a real good deal on her, eh? We’ll even set her aside fer you until you get off duty. Better hurry, though—we pull up stakes in the morning.”

Lash—so nicknamed for the pair of bullwhips hanging from his belt—stepped back, reached behind his head, and slid a well-worn pump shotgun from the scabbard on his back, leveling it directly at the driver’s chest. “Put your hands where I can see them and get out of the truck. Move!”

By this time a crowd had gathered, curious about the drama at the gates. The driver glanced at his passenger, sighed dramatically, and raised his hands, leaning back to swing his feet out of the truck.

Sickle called out from high atop the tower behind Lash: “Guard, stand down!”

“We’ve got a situation down here,” Lash called back, his eyes never leaving the two men in the truck.

“Stand down! You know the order!”

Although his mind screamed that it was a bad idea, Lash slowly lowered his weapon. As he did, the truck’s passenger came around the cab in one swift movement, a flintlock pistol in his fist. There was a click, a flash, a boom. Lash was already moving, but the ball bearing caught him in the left shoulder, knocking him to the ground. He rolled to his knees and struggled to get up as the truck trundled away, scattering onlookers in its wake. Through the thickening dust he could see the woman, her fingers stretched through the mesh of the cage toward him, and then she was gone.

Chapter Two

#50ThingsList Update – Week 3

This week, I accomplished #17 on my 50 Things list (Set up a regular altar for year-round display/use.) This is one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for longer than I can remember, so it felt really good to check it off the list this week.

I have set up thousands of one-time-use altars over the years, but I’ve never had a regular, permanent household altar. In the past, I was still very much in the closet and worried that someone would see it and figure out what it was, but in more recent years, I just didn’t have a good place for one that I’d see and use every day. When I was putting the 50 Things list together, however, setting up a permanent altar seemed like a perfect project to add to it, so even before the official start of my 50th year, I was already scoping out locations and trying to figure out how to make it work. The solution came, oddly enough, as I started reorganizing my home office last year. As I rearranged furniture, I realized I had many books that needed to be relocated to different parts of the house. Relocating books means reorganizing bookshelves, which led to rearranging the books on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelf in the master bedroom. In the process of all that rearranging, I discovered that I could free up an entire shelf just below eye level right across from my side of the bed, which is the perfect space and location for a permanent altar – one that I see every morning when I wake up and every night as I’m drifting off to sleep.

Another benefit of setting up a permanent altar that I hadn’t anticipated is the ability to sort through, retire, replace and generally weed out 30+ years of accumulated stuff. All my ceremonial and ritual items are currently stored in a giant lidded tub, and setting up a permanent altar meant I needed to decide what would be brought out right away and what could be swapped in/out for different celebrations and ceremonies. There are censers to be cleaned, candle stubs to be recycled, bits of dried flowers to be composted, and long-forgotten treasures hiding in the depths of that tub. I’m looking forward to rediscovering some beloved items as the Wheel turns and to replacing items that no longer serve with more useful ones.

And before you ask, yes, I will post a picture of the new altar as soon as I can figure out how to do it. Sadly, I have reached the age where technology confounds me occasionally, but Liam and Grif are both fairly tech-savvy, so I’m sure between the three of us we will figure it out eventually.

#50ThingsList Update – Week 2

I was able to check two items off my “50 Things To Do In My 50th Year” list since my last post, and I made some progress on two other items as well. Go me!

First, I completed Item #47 (Eat shawarma ala Avengers) on Saturday, June 20th.  I’d never had shawarma before, but after Tony Stark recommended it in the first Avengers movie, I knew I had to try it. Grif mentioned that there was a cafe in Simi Valley that served it, so when I had occasion to have lunch with my good friend C (who lives in the area), all the pieces fell into place. I love it when a plan comes together!

We met at Ali Baba Cafe and I had the beef shawarma sandwich. It was very tasty and reminded me of a gyro sandwich. I would definitely eat there again.

The other item I completed this week is #11 (Go to a tango milonga). Grif and I have been taking Argentine Tango lessons at House of Dance in Ventura for the past few months. They hold a social dance party every Friday evening, and the last Friday of each month is a milonga corta, which is a basically a dance party where they play tangos all evening. Traditionally, one is expected to dance with multiple partners at a milonga corta, but since Grif and I are still rank amateurs when it comes to dancing the tango, we cheated and kept to ourselves. Nobody seemed to mind too much.

We were only there for an hour, because Liam has a parkour class on Friday evenings and we needed to pick him up afterwards, but we were ready to be done by the time we had to leave. Argentine Tango isn’t a terribly strenuous dance, but it is done in a close “salon” embrace (essentially a full body press from the waist up), and warm room plus pretty much non-stop dancing for 45 minutes was plenty of milonga corta for us. I’d just gotten new tango shoes too, so while they fit like a dream and were a real pleasure to dance in, my dogs were barking when it was time to go home.

During our dance lessons, the instructors give us specific steps or combinations of steps to work on, so it was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to string them all together enough to keep dancing for an entire three-minute (or longer!) song. Argentine Tango is unlike any other type of dancing I’ve ever done before, and it is surprisingly complex, at least for me. Grif and I spent most of our time giggling and trying to stay out of the way of the other dancers, but in the end I think we made a huge leap forward in our ability to tango together because we weren’t just following along to preset choreography, we were actually dancing. By the way, if you want to improve your listening and communication skills, either as a couple or as an individual, I highly recommend taking social dance lessons. It has done more for my relationship with Grif than anything else we’ve gone through together.

Grif wasn’t too keen on the idea of attending the milonga corta when I first suggested it, but he seemed to really enjoy himself. I think we’ll be back next month, and we may even get brave and try out some of the other milonga cortas in the area. Woo hoo!

In other news, I made progress on Item #5 (Make 50 items to donate to charity). I’ve been doing charity knitting for years now, and my favorite thing to loom knit is baby hats. I have chosen Emily’s Hats For Hope Initiative to donate to this year, and I’ve completed 32 baby hats so far. Most of them were completed before my birthday, however. Is that cheating?

Finally, I made some progress on Item #34 (Finish will, advanced directive, body donation arrangements, etc.). Are you watching the “Ask a Mortician” series on YouTube? Caitlin Doughty is a delight and I can’t recommend her videos highly enough. Coincidentally, her most recent “Ask a Mortician” video covered the basics of advanced medical directives and other topics along this line, so I took lots of notes and did quite a bit of research this week. Not to be morbid, but 50 is pretty much midlife for me (if I’m lucky), so what better time to take care of the paperwork and get all my final arrangements in place so I can get on with the business of living, yes?

That’s it for this week!

Kicking Off the “50 Things To Do In My 50th Year” Project

Yesterday was my birthday, so it seemed only appropriate to start working on the “50 Things to do in my 50th Year” list.

Actually, I accomplished one of the items on my list on Sunday (6/14/15), which technically is cheating because it didn’t occur between June 15, 2015 and June 14, 2016, but when my dear friend LH invited me to go to Tienda Ho in Santa Barbara (Item #46 on the list), I couldn’t resist. Tienda Ho is a really fun clothing boutique right on State Street that has been there for 30+ years and looks like a cross between the Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise. It has all sorts of colorful, funky, hippie-esque clothing from India, Hawaii and various tropical islands, and their $20 sales racks in the back of the store are legendary! I was able to pick up two blouses thanks to the fortuitous arrival of a Visa gift card from my grandmother (thanks, Nana!), and they are flowy, colorful, and awesome. And yes, I will post pictures as soon as I wear them.

So, yes, I went to Tienda Ho, but no, I technically didn’t go during my 50th year, so I’m going to leave that item on the list for now. Besides, I would love the opportunity/excuse to go back and buy more awesome stuff.

The item I did accomplish yesterday is #18 – Eat at the fondue restaurant in T.O. Grif, Liam and I went to The Melting Pot for dinner last night, mostly because I know a few people who’ve enjoyed it and it sounded like something weird and fun to do when celebrating a milestone birthday. I haven’t eaten fondue since my mother stopped making it in the mid-70s, but I checked out The Melting Pot’s menu beforehand and decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did.

We opted for the four-course menu, which consisted of a cheese fondue with apples, various veggies and bread chunks for dipping, a salad course (no dipping, but very tasty), and entree course with various types of meats and veggies that we cooked at the table in a pot of boiling broth, and a chocolate fondue for dessert with fruit and brownie chunks. OMG!!! It was all delicious and the staff was funny, engaging, informative and helpful as we floundered about asking questions and trying not to drip molten lava droplets on ourselves. I have to admit that I was a bit concerned at the seemingly small amounts of food we seemed to be getting for the price we were paying, but it was more than enough and all very tasty. Liam especially enjoyed the novelty of it and has decided he wants to celebrate his birthday there in August.

All in all, a wonderful way to celebrate the start of a year’s worth of adventures.

 

 

50 Things To Do In My 50th Year

EDIT: Added #46 to the list. Thanks for the reminder, Linda Ellen! 😎

I’m turning 50 in about two weeks. No, I’m not ashamed to admit it and I’m not dreading it, although I am noticing the passage of time a bit more now than I did when I was turning 40.

Since making it to the half-century mark seems like a fairly significant achievement, I decided to celebrate the occasion by making a list of 50 things I’d like to do in my 50th year. The plan is to start working on the list on my birthday (June 15th) and to check off an item every week or so until June 14, 2016. Yes, that’s 52 weeks to finish a 50-item to-do list. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll document my adventures here on the blog, but I’d like to start by posting the entire list. The items are listed in the order they occurred to me, not in the order I hope to accomplish them. Also, some of the items will be easier to accomplish than others, so while I hope to do one per week, I may need to be flexible with my scheduling.

50 THINGS TO DO IN MY 50TH YEAR

1. Visit Scorpion Ranch campground on Santa Rosa Island

2. Visit the Getty Villa

3. Get a power band tattoo

4. Build a really big Lego model

5. Make 50 items to donate to charity (probably baby hats)

6. Sew an article of clothing I can wear out of the house

7. Have an indulgent spa day

8. Get a massage

9. Pet a giraffe

10. Buy a bicycle and start riding regularly

11. Go to a tango milonga

12. Spend a weekend on Catalina Island

13. Eat dinner at Napa Rose restaurant

14. Finish and publish my two in-progress novels

15. Walk a labyrinth

16. Learn to crochet granny squares and connect them to make something bigger

17. Set up a regular altar for year-round use

18. Eat at The Melting Pot fondue restaurant in T.O.

19. Find a fancy chocolate tasting place and go to a tasting

20. Get a facial

21. Do the wine trail in Ventura Co.

22. Visit the olive oil place in Ventura/Ojai

23. Go to The Painted Cabernet and complete a project

24. Stay at the Madonna Inn

25. Visit Palm Springs

26. Go to LaBrea Tar Pits

27. Go to the Griffith Observatory

28. Complete a “girlie” mud run

29. Go to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and eat something big

30. Donate $50 as random acts of kindness (pay it forward, leave money at vending machines, etc.

31. Walk/hike 50 miles all at once (okay, maybe over a long weekend)

32. Take a helicopter ride

33. Sail on Hawaiian Chieftain/Lady Washington

34. Finish will, advanced directive, body donation arrangements, etc.

35. Have tea at a fancy tea house

36. Do a 24-hour juice cleanse/fast

37. Visit Forest Lawn in Glendale

38. Purchase a piece of jewelry for me

39. Get a mani/pedi

40. Learn to make jelly/jam/marmalade with my canning rig

41. Visit the Time Travel Mart in Echo Park or Venice

42. Take a gondola ride in Seabridge Harbor

43. Visit Rabbit Run Meadery in Santa Clara for a tasting

44. Do the skyscraper stair run in Oxnard in June 2016

45. Visit Meditation Mount in Ojai

46. Visit Tienda Ho in Santa Barbara and buy something

Okay, let’s address some FAQs:

There are only 45 items on your list? Aren’t there supposed to be 50?

Why yes, you are correct. I’m short a few items, but I have plenty to get me started and I have no doubt I’ll think of a few more to fill out the list. If you have any suggestions, post them in the comments!

You’ve never done (insert item number here)?

Either I’ve never done it or I haven’t done it in a really long time and want to do it again. That’s why it’s on the list!

Why is (insert item number here) on your list?/You really want to do (insert item number here)?

This is my list. It may have things on it you don’t want to do. That’s okay. Your mileage may vary, as they say. What is on your list?

Is this your bucket list?

Some of the items are from my bucket list, but this is not my “official” bucket list.

Flash Fiction Challenge – Pick an Opening Sentence

Last week, Chuck challenged us to write an opening sentence. You know where this is going, right? Yep, this week, we are instructed to choose one of the opening sentences and write a 2,000-word story. This one comes in considerably less than that, but more words aren’t necessarily better.

I chose the sentence John Freeter submitted. It felt like the perfect opening to a story I’ve had rattling around in the back of my skull for years.

Trigger Warning – there’s some violence and sexual content here. Enter at your own risk.

_____

I followed the nice man to his basement. He seemed nice enough, anyway, but in truth, his personality and disposition was the furthest thing from my mind. All I cared about was whether or not he would be as good a lay as he purported to be. He had all the requisite parts – lean, muscular body, most of his teeth, a promising bulge straining the front of his grimy jeans. As we walked down the musty stairs, he kept my hand tightly clenched in his own, as if he was afraid I’d run away before the deed was done. He needn’t have worried, though. I wasn’t going anywhere until he gave me what I wanted.

I shucked off my overcoat as we entered the room, draping it over the back of a chair. His eyes raked over my shiny black vinyl corset and patent leather heels, his mouth slack with lust. He reached for the red satin ribbon that laced my generous figure into a perfect hourglass shape, but I slapped his hand away.

“Is that a sleeper sofa?” His eyes darted to a moldering couch in the middle of the room and he nodded.

“Open it.” He hurried to do as I asked, throwing cushions to the floor and extending the frame. The mattress was bare but I was beyond caring, my hunger and need growing fierce. When he stood, I unbuttoned his pants and let them drop around his ankles, admiring his swollen cock. As he reached for me again, I pushed him backwards onto the bed, untying the side of my g-string and straddling him before he could protest. His hard length felt so good inside me that I abandoned all pretense of romance or seduction and began to thrust against him, pinning his wrists on either side of his head. I was dimly aware of his grunts and moans, and as his seed exploded inside me, I slid my hands to his throat, crushing his windpipe as I came. He was dead before my body had stopped spasming.

I slipped my overcoat on and stuffed my panties into my pocket as I walked back up the stairs. I could already feel the new life stirring inside me.

When I arrived home, I was surprised to see that the kids were still awake. After a quick shower and a change into my pajamas, we all crowded into my big, soft bed, four adorable little bodies of various ages and ethnicities snuggling into my own. I ruffled the curly mop of the littlest one, who looked up adoringly.

“Mama, tell me the story of my daddy again.”

“Me too! Tell me about mine too!” the others chimed in.

“Well, Marco, your daddy was a doctor. He used to fix people’s broken bones and hurt joints. And Sherrill, your daddy drove a big, blue truck and delivered fruits and vegetables to all the grocery stores.”

“Mama, are you going to have another baby?” my oldest asked. She was already so wise for her years, I mused.

“Yes, I am, but not until after Christmas,” I said. The kids squealed with delight and patted my belly as I smiled at the memory of this evening’s encounter. I could now add “rock musician,” to my list of mates.

My smile was content as I drifted off to sleep, already looking forward to my new arrival.