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DP: Make  Me Smile

Daily Prompt: Make Me Smile

If you’re feeling blah, what is the one thing you do that you can count on to put a smile on your face?




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I made it through the first round of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge with my entry titled “VirtuaLife“.   The following is my entry for the second round.  My prompts were:

Genre: Historical Fiction

Subject: Saving a Life

Character: A farmer

This story is based on an event in the life of Winema, a rather remarkable Modoc woman.  Although I took a lot of liberties with her story (this is, after all, historical fiction), there are many facets that are true. If she interests you, I suggest reading more about her and her remarkable life. 





I lie on the ground inside a tent.  Blood flows from a deep wound winding down my right wrist.  It feels as if the obsidian knife still sits inside the cut, although I know the cut was clean.  My left hand holds the scalp of an army officer; the bristly hairs already feel coarse and false with no life to feed them.  I feel blood seeping from the private, sacred place where all women bleed. It is not my moon time.  This is what I have lost, along with my people.  Ten years since my last child, and now there will be no others.



When the world was new, only the underground spirit world and the lands where the sun touched existed.  There were no animals, no hunting grounds.  The birds did not fly in blue or grey colored skies. Winter fell but no bears slept, no hares foraged.  There were no farms, like the one I tend, nor farmers to sow them. The world was quiet, but also peaceful.  It was a world I cannot imagine.

In that new world, Ancient Kumush carried his basket of bones from the underworld and seeded the earth with a crop of people for all the lands. He plowed the Klamath, and cursed them with cowardice.  He sowed the Shasta near the snow giant, and graced them with bravery.  But he blessed the Modoc people most of all.  The strongest tribe, who would defeat all of our many enemies.  When he seeded the earth with bones, Kumush gifted our people, and he doomed us. He must have planted the white man’s bones deepest.

            The Modoc have always been at war.  Our greatest enemies, the Klamath, would raid our villages under a dark moon, and we would raid theirs under the full.  At the beginning of spring, we would seek peace by bringing our flowering girls and our young warriors together to trade them in marriage.  It was short-lived. I used to wonder how those young wives managed, knowing at the next moon their handsome husband would be off to seek the scalps of their fathers and brothers.  It was not long before I found out exactly how it felt.




There was always a restless spirit in me, from the time I was laid in my mother’s arms. She named me “strange child”.   I spent my early life sneaking away; from my mother’s side while gathering camas plants and wild onions, or when she cleaned the ducks father hunted on Tule Lake. Alone and awestruck, I huddled in the grasses to watch a doe and her fawn as they foraged.  The gathering of tribes was a time when I flourished, asking questions of other children my age about the lands they lived in, whether the geese flew in the same patterns over their heads in the fall, or if they had a river with rapids like we did.  I became the guide for the young ones, as our hardened feet jumped over the river-smoothed rocks and pushed our canoes into the froth.  I think it was that restlessness that made me chase them through the rapids. I pulled the children to safety when their canoe flipped. They were nearly dashed against the rocks.  The Lagi elders called me Winema after that, “woman chief” and rescuer.  They allowed me more freedom to run, hunt, fish and play than they allowed the other girls.  

            When it came time to be given in marriage, to perform the rites of Shuyuhalsh, they wanted to take that freedom away. It was restlessness and freedom that made me refuse my cousin, Kintpuash.  I was saved an arrangement with a Klamath warrior, but I did not want my cousin that way. We had grown together in our childhoods, and although I knew he was just, he was also sometimes cruel.  He did not approve of my unusual ways.  



I was defiant, and I ran. I found this rough but fertile land.   I met a white man, and loved him.   It took years for my people to accept him, though he gifted my father with horses and cows and observed the customs.  Frank Riddle taught me English words. He put our child in my belly.  Our crops grew, and so did our child. I happily cleaned the ducks my husband brought me from Tule Lake.  I was calmed by this strong man who knew what it was to be an outsider, to not live the role assigned to him, to leave his family and his home to find a new life.  Our firstborn son, Charka, was 10 when the war began. My belly swelled with our second.  




Kintpuash held his mother in his arms when next I saw him.  Shot with a white man’s rifle, blood had stopped seeping from her wounds. He would not set her down.  Takoda, one of the young ones I’d saved from the river, lay wide-eyed on the other side of the fire, her stomach gaping and rank.  My hands trembled.  My strained voice slipped back into Luatami when I spoke to Kintpuash, whose keening had not ceased.

“Kintpuash, come.  Auntie must be attended to. And these others.  You must let her go.”

His eyes, glistening with tears shed without shame, met mine filled with fury and hatred.

“You,” he heaved, “You, who left the hearth of your father and lay with the white man.  You, who turned away from what was offered you, as if it was not good enough.  How can you look on the faces of these women, these CHILDREN, and not fling yourself into the rapids?”


His words cut me.  There was a portion of truth in them, and part of me wanted to seek the river, swim with the salmon until they overtook me and guided me to the underworld.  Part of me knew he was wrong, that bad things were done by bad men, no matter the color of their skin or the place they were born.


“Kintpuash, these were some white men, but not all white men.  Because I love a white man does not mean that I do not love our people, that I do not love my Auntie!”  I knelt at the side of Takoda and brushed her hair from her face, closed her eyes.  “It does not mean that I regret dragging Takoda from the rapids.  I did not do this deed.  I want to help our people. We cannot win if we fight the white man.  We can only win if we befriend him.”


Kintpuash pressed his nose into his mother’s neck and inhaled her scent, choking on a sob, then laid her down. Rising, he spat on my feet.  “This is what white men do, Winema.  They kill women.  They kill babies! The Modoc would never kill women and children.”  His eyes melted me with their heat, and he stomped from the hut.



            After the massacre of Kumbat village, Kintpuash and his warriors harried the U.S. soldiers.  They killed many men, including the General.  I was one of the few Modoc who could speak English and Luatami fluently.  Talks and treaties pulled me from my farm and my child, on long excursions translating the peace terms they brought to the people. Frank travelled with me, and our fields languished.  Kintpuash never looked at me during the peace talks, as if I were a ghost.  I had become invisible to the last of my people.


That did not change when Kintpuash stepped into the tent this morning.  Five of his warriors assembled around him, and stared at the army officers with dead eyes.  My translations were not acknowledged, although they awaited my words and responded to them.  

The peace commission, with the chairman at its center, sat at a table. A soldier in the corner was whispering to his friend, a sound I only half paid attention to.  I heard the words “Kumbat massacre” and they both laughed under their breath.  Faster than I could follow, Kintpuash let out an ululating cry and had the soldier’s head in his hands. Chaos erupted in the tent, with Kintpuash’s warriors attacking the guards surrounding the interior.  An obsidian blade appeared from nowhere, and as quickly as a wind on the lava bed, the soldier’s scalp was in Kintpuash’s hand. Frank was held captive by a warrior, and the chairman had a Modoc blade at his throat.


Red spotted the walls and the ground.  A low, grunting noise came from somewhere, and I realized it was my own throat reaching for breath.  A scream emerged, and my eyes finally focused on Kintpuash, holding the soldier’s hair in his hands, heavily breathing. He began to laugh.


I hurled myself at him.  “How dare you! It is a peace meeting! You’ve thrown your honor in mud!” Kintpuash pushed me away, his face hardening.  I launched myself at him again, grabbing the scalp from his hand and shaking it at him.  “You claim for honor, but you have none. None!”  Kintpuash hit me then.  He hit my face first.  Frank shouted from his captive position and pulled against the arms of the young warrior holding him.  Kintpuash hit me, again and again, until I no longer felt where his fist fell.  And then his knife, still in his other hand, caught itself against my wrist as I raised my hands to protect myself.


As soon as the cut was made, I knew it was dire. The blood was flowing too quickly.  I felt dizzy, and I fell.




I lie on the ground of a tent belonging to the U.S. Army.  I can hear voices raised in anger, in indignation, in horror and in shock.  For some reason there is a puddle beneath me, even though I am protected from the elements, and I can see that the day is sunny.  I open my eyes, and see Kintpuash above me.  He is shouting back at a man, held with his arms behind his back, whose face is red with the vehemence of his shouts.  Frank.  Kintpuash still has killing in his eyes, and I am almost relieved when he turns away from Frank and toward the chairman.


I roll over onto my stomach.  It is so difficult to get my legs beneath me, and so I manage only a crawl.  I drag myself toward the chairman.  The scalp falls from my hand and lies in the trail my wrist leaves in my wake.  As I make it to the feet of the chairman, a hush falls.  Every warrior, every soldier, watches my painful trek across the tent.  Panting with exertion, I push myself to standing, balancing against an overturned chair.


“Kintpuash, stop!  They will kill you for this.  Try you in a white man’s court, and hang you from the trees!”


“They all deserve to die! They are dogs.  They reveled in the killings at our village. You heard them! Laughing!” He lunges at the chairman with his blade, but I lurch between them. The motion causes a fresh gush of blood to roll down my leg. Kintpuash looks in horror at my face, drained pale and remarkably similar to his mother’s. I find my voice. I hear the voices of all the senselessly dead in each word.


 “You will have to kill me first!  Do Modoc kill women and children, Kintpuash? Do they kill babies?”  His eyes slowly lower down to my skirts, where the lifeblood of my second son stains me. The knife falls from his hand, and lands at my feet. I hold his gaze as more soldiers rush into the tent and bind him.



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This is what Autism looks like.  Quirky, eh?

This is what Autism looks like. Quirky, eh?

I think everyone who knows me knows that April is Autism Awareness month.  The standard of spreading awareness is pretty high in recent years, we are definitely getting the word out.  It would be nice if the funding and services kept up with both the diagnosis and the awareness, but I digress.

What I want to talk about is a phenomenon that I’ve witnessed personally (people have said these things to me) and also online.  We all know that the internet is full of trolls that you should ignore and shouldn’t take personally.  Those people are not the ones that I am talking about.  I am talking about the friend of a friend, or the person randomly commenting on some awareness photo – those ones who just don’t get it.  Or worse, who don’t get it but think that they do.  In the last week alone, I’ve been in 5 – no less than 5 – heated discussions with people about the rise in diagnoses of Autism  Surprisingly otherwise well-educated, somewhat well-meaning, but sometimes ridiculous people arguing that there’s nothing about the rise in Autism diagnoses except the fact that we’re labeling “shy” and “quirky” kids with Autism, when we weren’t before. Although it definitely doesn’t explain everything (Most scholarly reports show that while between 30 and 50% of the rise in Autism diagnoses can be explained by increased awareness and a greater ability of parents or caregivers to identify signs of Autism in cognitively able children, that leaves a good percentage of the increase unexplained.), Autism is increasing broadly, across all levels of the spectrum.  In spite of the increase in numbers, the ratio of diagnoses between male and female autists has remained level, with 4.5 boys diagnosed per every one girl. But the thing that bothers me – I won’t say most, but a LOT – about this argument is that it absolutely marginalizes a good portion of actual autism diagnoses and the hardships, difficulties, and exclusions involved in the manifestation of their symptoms.

Autism is a spectrum disorder.  As a result of being a spectrum disorder, it is definitely, well, spectrumy.  Yes, there are many people who have high functioning autism (formerly Asperger’s Syndrome in its own right, but now under the full umbrella of Autism in the DSM-V) who can “pass” as neurotypicals.  I dislike even saying the word pass, it’s so … whatever, but people who *actually think this way* would use that word.  By suggesting to those high functioning autists that they are merely shy, you are negating their experiences and their difficulties that are diagnosed by professionals, often after years and years of questioning whether there was really something different in the way they processed things. High functioning autists often fear the label, too, or wonder whether their experiences are what everyone experiences.  And they, or their parents if they are still young enough, are fed this line about just being shy or quirky (or that there is nothing wrong with them except bad parenting), and it puts them off of seeking proven therapies that can help them.

Repeatedly claiming that the increase in numbers is a result of categorizing previously “shy” or “quirky” people as autistic is also problematic for all the people diagnosed with autism that fall under Classic Kanner’s autism.  In other words, those who are not high functioning enough to “pass”, who do not have asperger’s syndrome, who have speech issues or speech loss, who have repetitive physical stims that interfere with social function or social interaction, who may have self-injurious behaviors, who may have severe anxiety related to ASD.  This would be my son.  He is not a prodigy.  He is not an autistic savant.  He doesn’t have some magical skill with numbers, He is a typical pre-teen boy who hates homework and happens to have Autism. There is no one who can interact with him who will not immediately know that he has classic Autism.  He will never “pass”.  By focusing the attention on increase in Autism rates only on high functioning Autism or on Asperger’s Syndrome, you COMPLETELY NEGATE the increase in all other forms of Autism.  High functioning Autism isn’t increasing.  Asperger’s Syndrome isn’t increasing.  AUTISM is increasing.  The entirety of the spectrum, on all levels.

Non-verbal autists are the most excluded by this commentary.  If the public perception of Autism is that it is a diagnosis for parents who are seeking to explain away their children’s behaviors, or the diagnosis du jour for greedy doctors, or whatever that perception may be, it takes away valuable time, resources, trained staff, available pharmacology, research dollars…essentially everything important to advancing our understanding of the causes and impacts of Autism on the individual.  This always affects those who cannot express, with their own words and voices, the detrimental effect it has on them.  They have no way to communicate all of these things unless a family member or trained professional finds a way to help them access their own words. Sometimes that never happens.  One boy I worked with had only one word, over the 4 years I worked with him – he could only say his own name (No, I won’t engage in a remote television character diagnosis, much as I love Hodor). As a person who has experienced both the parental and the professional side of working with people affected by Autism, I have to tell you – we’re exhausted, yo.  But we know we can’t stop.  Because for some, we are their only voice.

Autism is increasing.  We need to know ALL of the reasons why, without disdaining or discrediting ANY of the reasons why.  So stop with the “paranoid parents” and the “designer diagnosis” commentary.  It’s not helpful, and frankly when I hear people do that, a Lily Allen song runs through my head. Get involved.  Find a way to help people at all stages of diagnosis.  Find a way to help fund some research.  Find a genetic databank to get entered into.  DO SOMETHING.  But don’t just complain about it, because that just makes you bitter, and others bitter, and no one benefits.


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DP Weekly Challenge:  The Power of Names

Warning for triggers about child loss and infertility.

There is an empty space in my life.  It is a vacuum, a hole that I don’t know how to fill, or whether I should.  It is, unfortunately, a common void in many lives.  Many of you will know the pain of this.  I’m sorry. 

Our family is complete.  We have three beautiful, fantastic boys that i would not trade for anyone, or anything.  Each of their names has a power over me, and over anyone who knows them.  That power is associative; the memories we have of their actions, the way they’ve shaped us, the way they’ve made us laugh or cry or excelled in such a way that made us absolutely burst with pride.  The power of their names brings every memory to life with the mere mention of it, which is why I named that part that of mine that is missing.  And that name will always bring associative memories as well, but the memories are not of grueling days changing diapers or nights spent nursing a colicky baby.  The associative memories are all fantasies, suppositions, and what ifs. 

When my second son was nearly two years old, I lost a child I didn’t even yet know was growing inside me.  I began to miscarry and that was the first that I knew of my pregnancy.  I know nothing of what could have been; who the child would have grown into, whether the child was a boy or a girl, what they would have enjoyed learning most or what their favourite meal would be.  And I began to dwell on the what ifs – by not knowing, I think I was deprived of the opportunity to mourn for a specific person, I had no tangible, or even real, memories to hold on to or to treasure in my grief.  To some people, mourning a pregnancy that was so early and so unexpected seemed a bit like an act of hubris; those people we can make our own judgments about, hm?  But I needed something to grasp.  In my mind, I’ve named that child, and I’ve imagined that child growing through each developmental stage, I’ve imbued that memory with a personality and a curious nature and a stubborn streak. It comforts me to know that child is not a non-event, that child is not an empty space, that child was, for the blink of an eye, my child. 

Claire Elise.  That is the power of a name. 

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The Daily Post‘s Prompt is Leaving.






I loved him where my breath was caged,

between the space where truth and desire dwell.

The cell tightened by dimensions,

each inhalation grew my shoulders,

brushed against the cold walls,

knees clasped tight to chest

scraped and bled against concrete,

the unlocked door drew shadow bars

upon my face.

VKF 2014


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Oh God

Word. Be.

A Topsy Turvy World

Oh God,
I asketh thou
to utter ‘be’.
But thou
let be
that which
be good
for me.
And I?
I crave
that which
be bad
for me.
A/n: Micropoetry all week. No illustrations / pictures / images this week… 😛 Enjoy! 😀

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I am a roller girl. I am a super hero. I will be a roller girl super hero at this bout. Come watch!

superhero slam crop

We’re getting really excited about our upcoming ‘Superhero Slam’ bout on 12 April – with The Amazing Spider-Man 2  and Captain America: The Winter Soldier both showing now, there’s superhero fever everywhere.  It got us thinking about the startling amount of similarities between roller girls and superheroes. Seriously – we’ve come up with ten reasons! Let us know if you can think of any more…

1. Wearing your pants over your tights
This is an easy one, right? Roller derby is possibly the only sport where rocking up for a game wearing a pair of holographic/sequin/animal print (delete as appropriate) shorts over your leggings is totally normal. Many superheroes go into battle wearing pants over their tights and so do we!

Pants. Over. Tights. Pants. Over. Tights.

2. Alter egos
Selina Kyle was a mild-mannered secretary by day and kick-ass anti-hero Catwoman by night. Some roller girls use their derby name as a way to…

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I am the quiet suburban soccer mom.  I am the responsible one who picks up her children (mostly) on time, who has a strict schedule every day, who does her best to manage the grind of the routine.  I feed everyone, mostly things that I know they will eat rather than what I think is healthy, granted.  But my impulse – what would my impulse be if I gave in to it? 

I would go.  Just one bag, one backpack, and go.  I would hike and travel and take trains and buses and boats and the occasional airplane. To India, to Africa. I would look into the faces of children and see their similarities to my own. I would study the psyche of every person I came across, and bash my suppositions against the truth. I would just be.  I would explore this gray humanity that I seldom feel a part of.  I would look for the color in the world again. I would throw out all schedules and responsibilities and let the world scribe itself onto my memory.  

Seriously, though.  As if I would ever.


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Forever — is composed of Nows

by Emily Dickinson

Forever–is composed of Nows–

`Tis not a different time–

Except for infiniteness–

And latitude of home–

          From this–experienced Here–

          Remove the Dates–to These–

          Let Months dissolve into further Months–

          And Years–exhale into Years–

Without Debate–or Pause–

Or Celebrated Days–

No different Our Years would be

From Anno Dominies–

The longest journey starts with a single step, but one doesn`t need to physically move a muscle if you possess a fertile imagination. Emily was a reclusive person who had an intense, emotionally passionate inner life which was consumed by her poetic genius. Perhaps because of this, she was subject to enormously energetic mood swings that shared the themes of love, death, nature, immortality and beauty. Poetry was her lover, lord and leader…

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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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