Archive for February 24th, 2014

I am participating in the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge.  It is my first time, and this is my first story.

The idea is that you write a story, based on specific prompts, in a specific word count, in a specific time frame.  I am enamored of the word specific today.

I’m not pleased with my story entirely.  This is what was submitted to the judges by deadline, but I have been working on it and it may re-appear, revised and enhanced, at a later date.



Genre – Suspense
Subject – Online Dating

Character – A Taxi Driver
Word count limit – 2500


Most people look for love online, but sometimes love comes hunting for you.


I pull against the bindings around my wrists. At least my hands are bound in front of me, rather than behind.  I need to have a plan, but the only thing I can think of is Jaz. She’ll be worried, but if it were not for her, I wouldn’t be bound in the basement of a psychopath.


I met Jaz the first week of my job at VirtuaLife (originally VirtuaLove), the company that had taken online dating from its original form into a completely immersive social environment. Jaz rescued me from the dusty Archives division, where I was sorting ancient documents. She showed me where the canteen was, and where I could find freshly filtered air.

Three months later, my position was made permanent, and Jaz took me under her tiny wing. Although Jaz came up to my shoulder and weighed less than my shoes, her spark had brought me out of my shell.  We sat in my apartment, an empty bottle of wine between us.

“Come on, Sarah! You already have a dermachip. It’s really easy to link you up”.

“My chip is only for banking and identity verification.”

“No.  Well, it could be, if you want to be BORING. Here, I’ll show you mine.”

Jaz sat in front of the Household Terminal and directed it to engage with her chip. Jaz’s holofigure appeared in front of us.  I laughed.

“Not exactly true to life, is it?”

Jaz giggled and shook her hips. Her voluptuous holofigure mimicked her every move.  Not a bit of subtlety was wasted on this avatar.  Long, fuchsia hair curled down her back. Large breasts, a microscopic waist, and the longest legs I had ever seen graced my living room.

“Do you secretly want to be tall?” I asked Jaz.

“Shut it, you.  That’s the luxury of VirtuaLife. You can be whatever you want to be. You should see some of the others!”

“I’m not sure I want to!”

“It’s freeing, like wearing a mask.”

I brought my hands to my face, running fingers over the broken bones of my nose, and exploring my jutting cheekbones.  “I don’t want to wear anymore masks.”

Jaz raised her eyebrow at me. “Well, you’re a ‘Tural, then.  I should have guessed.”

Jaz spoke command prompts into the display.  Within 15 minutes, a near replica stood before me.  I walked slowly up to it, until my face was only inches away from…my face.  Brown, mid-length hair framed pale skin.  A slightly more crooked nose sat above lips just a touch thinner and less lush. Almond-shaped brown eyes with arresting flecks of yellow stared back at me.

“Your dermachip and its peripherals direct her.  It picks up every change in your biometric – knows what you want to do before you do.  You’ll feel cold through her skin.  When she eats something, you’ll taste it. When someone touches you,” Jaz grinned broadly, “You will definitely feel that. Any avatar you create attached to your chip will learn what you like and how you respond all on its own. Come on, I’ll show you a mingle center.”

Jaz spoke more commands into the system, and soon we stood in a room full of outrageous people.  I stared in awe at a man covered entirely in tiger fur.  Jaz yanked me away.

“You’re older than me, and you’re like a kid on their first trip to the zoo.”

“Zoo seems the correct term for this.  Maybe circus!”

“We need to set your preferences.  I already input your vitals. You’re entirely ‘Tural, you could easily run off to some commune in the woods.  So, what are you interested in?”

“Interested in?” I asked.

“What are you looking for in a relationship? Men, women, multiples, experimentals?”

“Oh.” I paused.  “Men. Only men.  Serious, monogamous relationships only.”

Jaz stopped in her tracks.  “Monogamy? NO ONE does monogamy any more.  Are you serious?”  Jaz sat on a couch nearby, stunned.  “I know you’re a ‘Tural, Sarah.  But are you also Trad?”

I sat next to Jaz, covered my face in my hands, and nodded.

“I was married.” I dropped my hands from my face and looked at Jaz.  “I moved here and started working at VirtuaLife when I left Sam.”

“You were married?  Whoa. I’ve never met someone who was Trad, and I definitely never met anyone who was married.  But Trads don’t get divorced, do they?”

I looked back at the array of characters mingling near the bar.  “Sam was never mentally stable.  And then my Dad…died.  Sam was over the edge. Awful, abusive, controlling. I had to get away or I would have died there, too.”

Jaz’s green eyes filled with tears.  She looked away, studying the carpet. “You know if I put that you’re interested in men only, for a serious, monogamous relationship, you will get absolutely no hits. Ever.  Right?”

“Hah.  That’s the idea.”

We woke in my living room, surrounded by empty wine bottles.  I pulled a wet strand of hair out of my mouth, and stumbled to the kitchen.  Coffee and fried eggs revived us enough to have a quiet conversation.

“I don’t think I like VirtuaLife.”

Jaz snorted. “Well, it’s not suited to you.  At least THAT part of it.  Still, you can use it for all sorts of things.  It’s not just dating, like in the Old Days.  Back then most people were traditionals, and everyone wanted to get married.”

I tossed a cushion at Jaz’s head.  “Seriously, what else can I do there?”

“Well, you can take courses.  You can learn another language, or how to fly an airplane.  Or you can do all of your fitness courses – cycling, Tai Chi, Pilates, karate, basketball…”

My eyes perked a bit, then squinted again as the light of day hit wine-sensitive nerves.  “Really? I can learn those things?”

“Sure! I’ll show you.”


Two days later, I saw Sam.  Or thought I saw Sam.  Wiry, lean shoulders brushed with longish hair only a car-length ahead of me on the train into work.  I rushed off at the next stop. I ducked into a quiet doorway to calm myself and fumbled with my anxiety pills.  I could hear my pulse thrumming in my throat.   I noticed a City Cab parked across the road and rather than returning to the station, I placed my wrist under its scanner. The voice said “Welcome, Sarah.  You are a new user.  Please set your driver preferences and speak your destination.”

Creating my Cabatar™ took almost no time at all. I described my driver unconsciously, and gave the address for all my regular destinations. When the preferences were loaded and the Cabatar™ appeared in the driving seat, I sat back against my own seat, breathless; as if a great weight pressed me.

“Hello, Sarah.”

“Hi. It’s good to see you, Da…Charles.”

“Please state your preferred destination.”


I shake myself out of the reverie, focusing instead on sounds in the house above.  No footsteps, all quiet. I hadn’t seen anything before, and attributed my pounding headache to the lump originating from the back of my skull.  I know who gave me that.

I worry my hands on the bracelet of mirrors around my wrist. I count them, from the first one to the left of the clasp to the fifth.  Grasping one rounded edge of the mirror’s circle, I press the other edge, hard, into the floor.  The mirror snaps satisfyingly into two pieces, leaving a semi-circle with a sharp cutting edge.  Levering the edge between two strands of the twine is simple enough. I cut my hands free.  My eyes have already adjusted to the dim light shining through the thin basement windows near the ceiling, so I creep toward the stairs and climb to the landing.  The door is locked.  I run my hands over the frame, looking for a weak point.  Of course not.  Sam is not stupid, but…

Sam thinks that I am.


The night I knew Sam found me, I called Jaz.  She came straight away to my apartment, and looked at the words on my message terminal.

– Hello, my love.  You always knew I’d find you.

– Do you have a new lover already?

– Did you tell your lover how much you like the taste of me on your tongue?

– Where are you? Why aren’t you answering your messages?

– This is never going to end.

“Holy shinola, Sarah.  This is bad.   We need to take these files to the police.”

“It won’t help.  Trust me.”

Jaz pressed her lips together and bit them.  “Well, I’m not leaving you alone tonight.  I’ll stay here. In the morning, go straight to the office.  Talk to Natalie in HR – she’ll know some resources for handling this. I’m at the Jersey campus in the morning, but should be back in time to have lunch with you and discuss what she says.”

“I’ve been with VirtuaLife for 3 years now.  Do you think the system is vulnerable? Sam’s always been good at hacking into systems.”

Jaz shrugged.  “VirtuaLife is one of the largest online communities in the world.  The security is really strong.”

“Strong like those documents in Archives? VirtuaLife and this damned dermachip – that’s how Sam found me.”


I think that was last night.  I’m not sure how long I’ve been here.  I’m not sure where here is. What I am sure of is when I hugged Jaz goodbye this morning and slipped into my City Cab, nothing went as planned.

“Good morning, Charles!” I said, as my Cabatar™ formed in the driver’s seat.  “Destination 1, please.”

Charles’ eyes met mine, and he gave me a pained smile.  The car moved away from the curb. Charles’ usual banter was missing, but I was preoccupied anyway.  After 15 minutes, I noticed we were on a completely unfamiliar road heading out of the city.

“Charles! Destination 1!”

Charles met my eyes in the mirror.  “Destination and user preferences have been changed.”

“What do you mean? Why aren’t you going to the office?”

“I’m sorry, Sarah.  Your dermachip has been over-ridden.  I cannot disclose the new destination.”

“Charles! Stop the car! Let me out!”

“I am not authorized to stop the vehicle or change course until I have reached the programmed destination.”

Panicking, I attempted to open the door.  It was locked.  I flung my shoulder against the door again and again, but it would not budge.

“Please remain seated, Sarah.  The doors will not open until the vehicle has come to a full and complete stop.”

Charles’ words sounded forced even to my ears.  My wide eyes met his anxiously, and I could see the fear in my own eyes reflected in his.


The car pulled up to a house at the end of a tree-lined drive with a fountain in the middle of a curving circle.  The house was large but unassuming, old but not ramshackle.  I heard the lock in the door click, and stepped out.  A footstep sounded on the gravel behind me, and everything went black.


I sit down in the place Sam left me, my back against the wall.  I’ve wrapped the twine back around my wrists and pinched the loose ends between my thumb and forefinger to make them look tight.  I hear heavy footsteps from the thick-soled work boots Sam likes to wear.  I hear the door click and open. I keep my head down, eyes to the floor.  All I see are rubber soles and double-knots in the laces.

Sam whispers softly.  “Welcome back, Ruth.  Or is it Sarah now? No, it will never be Sarah.  You’ll always be my Ruth.”

Kneeling down, Sam grasps my chin firmly and lifts my face up.  I try to keep my eyes closed, but give in to temptation. I open them and am staring into Sam’s eyes.  Sam’s eyes – wide and clear and the brightest blue I’ve ever seen.  Short, dark lashes frame them.  Four freckles high on the left cheekbone, just brushed by lower lashes. Sam’s clear, focused gaze.

“Your eyes give you away. You changed your face.  But you forgot to change how you live.  There aren’t many Trad ‘Turals in the cities.” Sam’s low, hypnotic voice brushes feathers against my ear.

“You killed my Dad.”

“You can’t prove that.”

“No.  But you did.”

“But I did.”

Sam’s arms are on either side of my head, hands caging me to the wall. We stare into each other’s eyes for a few breathless seconds.  I am fighting – panic and passion and fear and love. I have been naïve all my life, but I have never been stupid.  I can learn new things.  I did learn new things. I am a new thing.

Not breaking eye contact, I bring my arms between Sam’s wrists, knocking them aside.  As Sam tries to correct for balance, I cup both palms and bring my hands in, hard, against Sam’s ears.  A cry of pain echoes in my own ears. I watch in slow motion as arms move defensively to cover pained eardrums.  Just like the sim.  Just like the class.  I pull my arm back, aim for the soft indentation on the left temple, and put every bit of power in my hips and torso behind the punch.  Sam falls to the floor.
I can hear nothing but my own breathing.  I bend down and check Sam’s pulse.  Removing the remnants of twine from my own wrists, I tie Sam’s wrists around the back.

Then I pause.  I trace Sam’s soot-black eyebrow with my fingertips, and I feel that ache of longing – not in my heart, where the storybooks say it should be.  Behind my belly-button, where everything that feeds me goes.  I trail my fingers down Sam’s soft cheek, over Sam’s shoulder, barely brushing the outline of her breast.  Sam, my Sam.

This is why people do not love any more.  Not because it’s better to have more than one lover, but because we want what we love, even if it harms us.  Because being without it makes us want to die.


Surprisingly, a City Cab waits out front.  Opening the door, I don’t get in.  Scanning my dermachip, I wait for Charles to appear.

“Sarah! It is good to see you! Hurry, I’ll take you home.”

I glance back at the house, knowing what is in the basement.

“Charles, can she make you tell her where we’ve gone?”

Charles’ eyes soften. He nods.

“Do you have to tell her whether I was in the car?”

Charles hesitates. A small smile illuminates his face.  “No, I don’t have to tell her that.”

“Good.  Drive to the airport, please.  And Charles?”


“I’ll miss you.”

I close the door.  Charles starts the engine.  Looking back at me one last time, he moves off.  I wait until he has turned onto the main road, and then jog toward the woods.

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My friend Renay can put things so succinctly, brutally, really, and beautifully. She’s an amazing writer and a wonderful human being.


you will cry ugly I tell her. screaming, gagging cries that will echo through the empty until they hit a solid memory where they will bounce back again. and again. and you will tear your skin like you’re the only one who has ever been shattered.

then you will blame. circumstances. cowardice. convenience. until the shame overcomes you because you were never precious. never enough.

then you will remember the dog is out of food and the washer is broken and you don’t mind being alone so much as you mind being discarded.

this, too, shall pass. because the shattering isn’t over. yet.

this time the blame will pass more quickly. maybe the shame, too, until it comes again like the tide. and the next time, or maybe the one after that, you will be impatient with the hurt.

you won’t ever be precious or adored or even comforted.


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