Monday, January 4, 2010

We All Scream by Nona Wesley

Chapter One

Diahann Marshall alighted from her SUV to the delicious aroma of sweet and sour chicken and the melodious clatter of a foreign tongue. She smiled and cast a glance at the slightly ajar front door of her duplex neighbor, Mrs. Hong. The elderly woman had something delivered, yet again, and it tempted Diahann enough to reconsider the slab of fish marinating in her refrigerator.

Her sister Dee Dee jumped from the compact car parked behind her and rounded the grill of Diahann's monster vehicle, inhaling with vigor. "Mmm-hmm!" she said. "What's cooking?"

Diahann dug into her purse for her house keys, and looked back at the curb. A blue Honda with a magnetic sign affixed to the passenger side door informed her that Mrs. Hong had called the Rising Sun Wok delivery service to her home. She smiled at the clever use of the phone number--easy to remember, 555-CHOP.

They should have done something like that for their shop, she realized, but what four-letter word could be best applied to an ice cream parlor? Cream, fudge, and sundae wouldn't work, and to think of it any of those in a phone number might lead people to think the Marshalls maintained a different kind of business altogether. Diahann shook her head, chuckling to herself at the image of a hundred disappointed perverts coming to MMMarshall's to discover they only used the chocolate topping on desserts.

"Think she'll have extra?" Dee Dee leaned hard to the left, trying to look through the open slit at the threshold to Mrs. Hong's place. "You need to socialize more with the people who live around you, starting right now."

Dee Dee made a comical leap across the grass barrier separating their two walkways. Diahann reached for her but could only graze the back of her sister's collar.

"Get back here!" she admonished. "We are having fish tonight. Remember our pledge to eat better, to lose some weight? You know many calories are in one serving of Kung Pao with all that sauce?"

Dee Dee scoffed. Her ample breasts bounced in her loose-fitting tee-shirt as she hopped back to Diahann's side of the duplex. "Please." She rolled her eyes. "We sell sweet stuff. And with the ever-increasing slow days, ain't anybody at work losing weight. Least of all me."

"Well, that's why we're here, to brainstorm on how to sell ice cream rather than let it go to our waists." Diahann waved her sister toward her foyer, but Dee Dee wouldn't budge.

She gave Diahann a bemused smile. "That pun come off the top of your head?" she asked, as though in disbelief.

"The top of your head is coming off if you don't come inside and stop making a scene," Diahann scolded. Too late, however, as both ladies spied the delivery boy exiting Mrs. Hong's with a backward wave to his customer.

Boy, heh. Hardly. Lean and tall he was, wearing a red shirt with his restaurant's logo stitched on the breast. Each step down the path rippled muscles everywhere--from the tight cords on the underside of his arms to his firm buttocks, molded by blue jeans with worn parts at the knees. Jet black hair, barely dusting his collar, contrasted nicely with his medium yellow-brown skin and obvious Chinese features.

Diahann held a hand to her stomach to steady a sudden flutter. She wanted to attribute the sensation to a craving for Cantonese--to hell with the now unappetizing fish waiting in her fridge--but seeing this handsome young man awakened in her a different kind of hunger, one that hadn't been sated since Wayne last spent the night. He wouldn't be back from his conference for at least a week, either.

Damn, but she was horny now. She decided to make this strategy dinner with Dee Dee short so she could call Wayne later for an extended phone sex session if he wasn't busy.

Dee Dee, ever the diplomat, broke through Diahann's thoughts with her usual brash, joie de vivre. "Hey, Jackie Chan!" she called after the retreating young man. "Got any Dim Sum Cum to spare for a hungry lady?"

"Dee!" How fast could her dark skin turn crimson? Diahann felt grateful no mirrors could reflect her embarrassment, but he would certainly see it. She lurched forward and grabbed her sister, pushing her into the house. "What is wrong with you?"

"Oh, like he understood a word of it," Dee scoffed. "You heard him clicking and clacking back there."

"Damn it, girl!" Surely the young man had heard it. He did turn back when Dee addressed him. Diahann chanced a look behind her shoulder to see the delivery man approaching. Great. Diahann felt her skin heat with her humiliation, and she shoved her sister into her side of the duplex and scrambled to think of an apology.

Before she could speak, he was on her front step with a folded brochure in hand. His smile nearly touched his ears, showing the whitest, straightest teeth Diahann had ever seen outside a dental ad.

"Please." His voice--perfectly English, though accented--held a quiet, polite tone, not unlike Diahann had experienced when dining out at more upscale restaurants. "There are coupons inside," he added, nodding to the paper now in her hands, "and we deliver late."

"Th-thanks." The tingling sensation left by the slight brush of his hand against hers during the exchange remained with her, shooting up her arm into her heart, where it softened and spread. Surely she couldn't be so lonely for Wayne that even a simple friendly overture from a delivery man aroused her? Quickly she put the thought out of her head and thanked him again.

With a slight bow, he muttered something in presumed Chinese and retreated. If he were bothered by Dee Dee's uncouthness, he didn't show it. Diahann took a deep breath before entering her home, if anything to keep from unleashing her wrath upon her sister.

She slapped the Rising Sun menu on the kitchen counter, where the red light on Diahann's phone blinked twice rapidly, then paused, then twice again. Two messages on her voice mail had been left, and she knew to disregard one since her other sister, Lena, told her earlier that she'd tried her at the house first before finally reaching her. Thinking the other missive might be from Wayne, she asked DeeDee to get the table ready.

DeeDee, her head in one cabinet, leaned back with two wineglasses in hand. "Way ahead of you."

Diahann pressed the recall button on her machine and let Wayne's silky deep voice envelop her. "Hey, baby, just wanted to touch base with you. Arrived safely, and I'm all checked in. Looks like it's going to be another schedule full of meetings, too bad you're not here to add a little excitement to his trip."

"I'd rather be there instead of here, eating fish," DeeDee muttered, and Diahann silenced her with a wave.

"Anyway, hit me up on my cell or text me later. I'll be at an orientation mixer tonight, so I don't know when I'll be able to get back to you," the message continued. "Take care, baby." A click, then the robotic voice of the machine informed her when the call was placed.

DeeDee made an exaggerated kissing noise. "Text me, baby," she mimicked Wayne's sultry drawl. "You know how those sexy smileys turn me on."

"Least I got a man to text." Never one to fidget, Diahann went straight for the kill. Fat lot of good it did, however. Nothing stuck to DeeDee. Surely the good folks at Teflon lusted for the secret to her ability to shrug off insults and splattered dessert toppings.

"Six months of dating and he can't say ‘I love you' on a voice mail?" DeeDee shook her head, as she uncorked a bottle of Chardonnay.

Diahann let the comment pass. Given the noise in the background, Wayne sounded pressed for time when he called. As he'd said he loved her in the past--and in person--she was confident enough that his feelings toward her were genuine.

"Let me call him quick, then I'll pop in the fish. It won't take long to cook, and the salad's already made." She held the receiver in one hand, dialing with her thumb, and pointed with the other to direct DeeDee to their first course. As a pleasant greeting diverted her attention, she asked to be connected to Wayne's hotel in Charlotte.

Dee made a face. "You're not calling his cell?"

Diahann waited for the concierge first, then asked to be patched to Wayne's room. "He stays at the same place every time he's in Charlotte," she explained as the phone rang in her ear. "I could call his cell, but he leaves it off at conferences and business parties and I want to hear his voice."

"Then why would he tell you to--"

Diahann waved her sister silent when she heard a click. She prepared to greet her lover, but the voice she heard on the other line belonged to a woman. Diahann's greeting caught in her throat, and she struggled to think of something to say when a second, more insistent "Hello?" hit her.

Perhaps the hotel had connected her to the wrong room. Yes, that better be it, she decided as the bile churned in her stomach. "Forgive me, ma'am," she said calmly, "I'm trying to reach Mr. Wayne Dinkins."

"Oh, this is Mr. Dinkins' room," the woman said. "My husband's not available, but I can take a message for him."

Husband! Diahann nearly dropped the phone. She turned quickly toward the foyer, walking, sensing a curious Dee close on her heels. That lying son of a bitch was married...and quite suddenly a lot of things made sense, not just the cell phone. He rarely discussed his family, and she had yet to see the inside of his apartment. Her place was closer to his work and perfect for evening get-togethers, he'd said, whereas he had a condo, somewhere downtown, near the river. She'd managed to get that much from him after a night of particularly rough lovemaking. Now she wondered if he'd lied about that as well.

To think now she could easily inform Mrs. Dinkins that she was talking to his mistress, but no way in hell would she refer to herself as the other woman. She hadn't known, and refused to bear the shame of Wayne's omission of his marital status.

"This is Myra from Chez Madeleine," she lied coolly, "calling to confirm a reservation for two at nine o'clock on Saturday."

"Chez Madeleine?" That caught the missus off-guard, but Diahann practically felt the heat of his wife's beaming smile when she responded, "Wayne never mentioned dinner…Oh, dear, I bet this was supposed to be a surprise." Diahann flashed Dee a pained smile as Mrs. Dinkins giggled in her ear. "Okay, well, I won't tell if you won't. Saturday at nine sounds wonderful."

"Great, see you then!" The faked enthusiasm in Diahann's voice faded and she clicked off, longing for the days of old when people had traditional rotary phones instead of handheld receivers. The old school models were better for slamming away calls and throwing across the room in a fit of anger.

She palmed the receiver, tightening her grip. How long before the plastic casing cracked under the pressure? Shaking her head, Diahann instead returned it to its cradle on the counter. She liked this phone, and didn't see the point in destroying something nice that belonged to her because her now ex-boyfriend turned out to be a lying, two-timing rat.

If she ever saw him again, she'd break his phone and tell him to consider himself lucky she didn't try for anything else.

"Dee," she said finally, "I don't think I want fish for dinner..."

Behind her, Dee opened the freezer door and pulled out two pints of ice cream and a frosted bottle of vanilla vodka. "Way ahead of you, hon."

Finding Home by Jude Mason

Chapter One

As Joe Cob bent to get a better look at the big buck's footprint, a torrent of rainwater sluiced from his hat, filling the small depression, and washing away any hope of seeing how fresh it was. Jacob Cob cursed under his breath. Heavy rain made tracking the animal a whole lot easier, but it had its drawbacks. The dull green rain jacket he had on made it impossible to be quiet, and limited visibility. Even the normal woodland smells faded to nothing but wet dirt and leaves.

Hunting rifle held across his chest, he moved slowly ahead, continuing to peer down at the mud. He hoped to catch a glimpse of yet one more footprint. Bingo. A large, very fresh indentation sunk deep in the mud next to a puddle. He must be close. The rain hadn't crumbled the edge of the print, and almost no water filled the depression. And, he just felt that this one was near.

His skin crawled, and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. He looked around trying to see through the heavy underbrush, but the salmon berry bushes and other scrub restricted his sight to only a few feet. The river wasn't far, and its roar made it impossible to hear much of anything.

He straightened and took another reading from his compass before going on. The last thing he needed was to get turned around in this weather.

Something grunted to his left and he squatted down, rifle to his shoulder. The howling of the storm surrounded him. He heard nothing else but the wind.

Rising, he slid the compass into its pocket on his vest. Slowly, he eased his way toward the noise, ready for the animal he'd been tracking for the past two hours to bolt. Clambering over a well-rotted log, he pushed through the ferns, keeping as silent as possible. He slowly turned, listening and watching for any movement or sound that seemed "not right." Rain pelted off his hat to the beat of a snare drum gone wild.

There, a flicker of movement, about ear height on a buck.

Bringing his rifle to his shoulder, he took careful aim, only to lose his target when it crashed into the bush ahead. "Damn," he cursed, scowling at whatever had spooked it. Again, he made his way after the buck.

The underbrush grew thinner, and he could see farther, but didn't get a glimpse of the deer for some time. About a kilometer further in, he heard a soft rustling noise to his right. He instinctively froze, moving only his eyes in that direction. He slowly turned his head.

Standing in a clearing, head high, chest thrust out and breathing deeply, the buck he'd been following peered into the undergrowth. His shoulder twitched and he flicked his ears then turned toward where Jacob crouched, stone still.

Suddenly, behind the buck and to the right, he saw--something. For an instant he thought it was a cave, but the edges were too symmetrical, too smooth and there was no vegetation grew around the opening. Six feet across, the inside of the circle was too black, too stark, as if the great maw sucked all the light from the vicinity into it. Even the buck sensed its unnaturalness and turned away, leaping over a fallen cedar and vanishing a few moments later.

Jacob couldn't simply leap away. His curiosity piqued, he slung his rifle over his shoulder and took a step toward the--something. A black hole, its insides twisting and turning--that's what it looked like to him. Getting closer, he realized he was being pulled forward. Not a lot, but enough to get his attention.

He stopped, and looked around. Silence blanketed the area. Still curious, he proceeded with caution.

The pull grew harder, and he quickened his pace. A breeze whipped around him, and ahead, the strange blackness whirled.

Reaching out his hand, he gasped when it vanished. Too late, he tried to stop. The pull dragged him forward--and through.

* * * *

Jacob rolled over, grabbing for his pillow to tuck under his head. For some reason it'd slipped free and he was lying on--

Eyes wide, he climbed to his feet. His heart was in his throat, wedged there by growing panic. The surroundings were strange. He wasn't in his bedroom. Hell, he wasn't in a house, or anywhere he remembered being.

Legs wobbling, he sat down, and cringed when his tailbone struck something solid. He squirmed. "What the fuck!" he mouthed, soundlessly.

Straight ahead, about twenty feet from him, a small stream rushed over boulders and weaved its way around a bend. Overhanging willows trailed long supple branches into the water. All along the banks there were shrubs growing. But, the forest was different. Alders and evergreens mixed, maples, even a few ash trees, not the single variety wood he was used to. First growth came to mind. This wilderness had never been harvested.

He spun around. The black hole. Whatever it was--was gone.

Panic gripped him. His mind blurred. He whirled around, booted feet digging into the grass, desperately looking for something familiar.

It was then he realized how warm it was. The sun shone, the air was clear and smelled of trees and grass. It looked like it hadn't rained for days, at least. His jacket creaked loudly. Not far to his left, a bird launched into the air--a willow grouse.

From habit, he reached for his rifle. It should have been across his back, the sling over his shoulder. It wasn't there. Again, he scrambled around, his panic rising. He spotted the butt lying in the grass and grabbed for it. The long gone game bird didn't matter. He wasn't defenseless.

He got to his feet and went to the stream's side where he bent for a drink. His reflection showed a wild glint to his otherwise calm blue eyes. A shock of long blond hair stuck out from under his hood at odd angles, making him look demented. He pushed back the mottled green head covering, and took a couple of deep breaths, trying to pull himself together. Whatever had happened, there had to be a rational explanation.

Sitting on a log by the creek, he took stock. "Cell phone," he remembered excitedly. What a dummy. Pulling it out of his vest pocket, he flipped it open, pressed the power button, and waited. Finally, the "no signal" popped up. Jacob gaped at the tiny instrument. "What the fu…" He turned, holding the phone out, waiting for it to activate. Again, he got nothing.

Giving up, he closed the flap and stuck the phone back in its pocket. He should have gotten a signal. Hopefully, when he hiked a little further down the stream, he'd get reception. He wished he'd brought a GPS, but never dreamed he'd need one. After all, he knew the area well. Looking around, he decided he didn't, and was again confused.

"I'll never find a road unless I get moving." He got to his feet. Dragging his compass out, he opened it and took a reading. Not knowing where he was, the best he could do was make sure he traveled in a straight line. "Okay, Jacob me boy, let's just follow the stream. If nothing else, I'll at least have water."

The terrain was fairly easy to travel. An animal trail wandered along the bank of the stream giving him time to look around, and become more awestruck by the forest. He saw squirrels and a family of river otters. They didn't appear to be afraid of him. They watched him, of course, but none of them ran.

"I'll be go to hell," he stammered, when a full grown raccoon wandered out from the trees and walked within a dozen feet of him, heading for the creek. He stopped to watch the fat critter walk into the water and begin hunting for its dinner. Other than the tiny splashing sounds coming from the furry little beast, and the odd twitter of a bird, the world was silent.

Jacob enjoyed the quiet, but after two hours of following the stream, he should have come to a logging road or something. Apprehension was setting in. What had happened to him? He surmised he'd been moved from the woods he entered that morning for his day hunt to somewhere else. Perhaps the hole had simply been a cave and he'd wandered around until he came to the other end, and collapsed from some noxious gas. As ludicrous as that sounded, he couldn't think of anything better.

When the sun met the treetops, and he still hadn't reached a road, he realized he'd be spending a night out. As he walked, or scrambled over fallen trees, he searched for shelter. A hole at the base of one of the giant trees, a fallen log over a boulder, anywhere to have even the semblance of a roof over his head.

He'd just about given up, when he smelled wood smoke.

Jacob was ecstatic. Civilization. Still hugging the bank, he hurried forward to what he assumed was a hunting camp. Stumbling over a fallen log, he made his way around a bend in the small stream, and froze.

Let the Sunshine In by Jenna Byrnes

Chapter One

May, 1971

Scott Walker sprang up in bed, listening intently. The howling sounded as if it were right outside the bedroom balcony door.

"What's wrong?" His wife Terri rolled over and yawned sleepily.

"Didn't you hear that?"

"Hear what, babe?"

"The howling. It sounded like a wounded animal. And it sounded close—like it was right outside the door."

Terri chuckled and brushed the hair from her face. "It's just someone's dog or cat. You know the door's locked."

Scott looked at her. She was much braver since they'd moved from Los Angeles to the outskirts of New Orleans. Glancing at the balcony door, he muttered, "I guess so. It just sounded so…painful. Like whatever it was, was in agony."

"Go check." She nodded toward the door.

"Do you think I'm crazy?" He slid under the covers and spooned his body around hers. Nestling his arms under her voluptuous breasts, he pressed into her. Terri tried not to respond, but she'd have to be dead not to feel his hard-on pressed against her ass.

Scott smiled, leaning up to examine her from the side. Even roused from sleep, in the middle of the night, she was a beauty. Tousled brown hair framed her pretty face and fell around shoulders. Two of her most attractive features, not discounting her shapely ass and large, supple breasts, were her spectacular green eyes. People often commented on how they seemed to glow.

He bent down, pressing a kiss on her cheek.

Terri patted his thigh and yawned. "It's late, Scott. I'm tired." She moved away from him, yanking the covers with her.

"Of course you are," he murmured, rolling away from her and trying to pull back enough of the sheet to cover himself.

"Don't get pissy," she spouted, allowing some of the sheet to move back his way. "There's always tomorrow."

"Okay. Night, Terri." Scott closed his eyes. By the time he awoke in the morning, she'd be gone and dressed. Terri was an early riser, always had been. She hadn't always looked for ways to avoid sex, though, that was a recent thing. It started before they'd moved cross-country and settled into the lovely old house near New Orleans.

Scott hoped getting out of California would make a difference. Unfortunate things were happening in their home state. Harsh, seemingly random crimes scared Terri and, frankly, him as well. The place overflowed with hippies and anti-war activists. While he and Terri embraced the hippy messages of peace and love, the violence was frightening.

The Manson trial was all over the news and, living in California, it was hard to get away from. The "family" members were responsible for a crime spree which left at least seven people dead. That event had shaken Terri the most. Her fear surprised Scott. His wife was usually unflappable. But the idea of innocent people being murdered in their own homes shook her to the core.

Terri suffered a miscarriage shortly after the murderers of Sharon Tate and her unborn baby were convicted. The miscarriage was hard for them both, but worse for Terri, especially when the doctor told her she might not be able to conceive again. She was devastated. After that, their sex life went down the tubes.

Scott tried to be understanding. He suggested therapy, but Terri insisted everything was fine. She gave him sex occasionally, but it wasn't the same level of passion. It was more functional and routine. He wanted desperately to discuss it with her, but her mind was closed.

Scott's father, the last of their relatives in California, passed away suddenly. He left them enough money which, if invested properly, would establish them for life. He also left them a house in New Orleans, a place Scott never knew existed. Apparently, his aunt lived here before she died. He never really knew his father's family; they lived across the country and, for some reason, kept to themselves.

Scott and Terri jumped at the opportunity for a fresh start. They moved from their apartment in Los Angeles straight into the beautiful large house just outside New Orleans.

The place was old but remarkably well maintained. Since they had money, they updated it. The kitchen especially was in need of remodeling. Scott spared no expense and gave Terri the best appliances in the newest hip shade of deep avocado green.

Lying in bed, unable to sleep, he worked out more kitchen plans in his head. He had been doing most of the work himself. It was new to him, but something he wanted to try. So far, he'd done a decent job.

Scott smiled. If the guys in his old accounting office could see him now, wielding a hammer and installing cabinets, they'd never believe it. He wasn't the athletic type. Though he was fit, his body was on the scrawny side. The kind of guy you'd see behind a desk, crunching numbers with a calculator. He'd been ready to break free of that mold, and enjoyed working on the house.

I need to get to sleep, he told himself. His hard-on had long since deflated. He wasn't sure exactly what was keeping him awake. Something had him feeling uneasy. He tried to put it out of his mind and willed himself to fall asleep. Must sleep.

Pale Fire by Penny Ash

Prologue

Roswell, New Mexico, July 1947

The rancher looked out at the field of shiny debris. He spat, unhappy with what he saw before him. Now he’d have to move his sheep to a different area. Damn Army and their weather balloons, don’t they know how stupid sheep are? Spooks the damn livestock every time one of the damn things crashes.

He gave a heavy sigh and whistled to the dogs. At his signal they began rounding up the sheep and heading off to the west range. Something made him pause and gaze at the glittering debris again. The rancher swore and spat again. The more he looked at the damn stuff, the stranger it appeared. He got down off his horse and collected a few pieces of the junk.
He examined a piece of the odd metal. It looked like tin foil, shiny on one side and dull on the other. The thin stuff crumpled with ease but when he opened his hand the metal flattened back out as if it had never been crushed. The hair on the back of his sunburned neck stood up. This was no Army weather balloon. He mounted his horse and headed for the ranch house. This would be worth an early trip into town.

***

The Army officers looked at the damaged craft and then at each other. When this news reached him, the president would hit the ceiling. They walked over to the man dressed in strange clothes. He looked up at them and squinted in the hot, bright New Mexico sun. A truck rumbled up and several soldiers jumped out of the back.

The beautiful alien bowed his head and awaited his fate. Perhaps he could make himself understood. Eventually. Perhaps he could bargain for his life with technology; these beings that inhabited this pretty blue planet seemed very backward. He hoped the distress call had made it to someone who could help.

One of the human soldiers nudged his arm with the barrel of the weapon he held. He struggled to his feet and took the time to brush the dust from his robes. They were torn and stained with dirt, machinery grime and the blood of his companions, but he would go to his fate in a dignified manner despite his circumstances. Universe defend us, we were only a simple scouting and observation team.

He blinked painfully. He had lost his eye shielding in the crash, and it would not be long before this world's sun blinded him. Fortune send, the diplomats got there soon. He glanced at his dead companions and began to recite the Ke Mira Esh'hev for them in his thoughts. It was all he could do for them now.