Line of Departure

“This line is not moving,” Marcy complained.

All of the people ahead of her and behind her in line grumbled in agreement. Marcy left work early hoping to get to the toy store and get in line before everyone else, but everyone else had the same idea.

At the front of the line, the store manager stood on top of the counter. “We have plenty of the Rocket Man Deluxe toys left so everyone stay in an orderly line and we’ll make sure you get one,” he said.

Marcy could see the pile of Rocket Man toys behind the counter. Five employees worked the counter, handing out the toys and collecting the “Toy Reserved” tickets, but it was taking too long. Two hours until she needed to board a plane. Her son would be waiting.

She was thinking about pleading her case with the people in front of her when the building started to shake. Toys fell off their shelves and people started yelling. “Remain calm,” the manager yelled. “It’s a minor earthquake.”

While the shaking intensified, a high pitched squeal pierced the air forcing everyone in the building to cover their ears. Over the noise, the manager mouthed something, but no one could hear him. Even if they could, their eyes and their focus were on the roof crumbling above them and being sucked away into the sky.

A dark shadow loomed above the store in the open sky, blocking out the sun and casting them into darkness. Only the emergency lights remained. As Marcy and everyone else in the store turned to run, a translucent wall of orange appeared over the exit, blocking anyone from leaving.
A single point of light shone in the center of the black mass and flashed like a strobe light. Slowly, but steadily, creatures emerged from the light. They descended one by one until the store was filled with feathery monsters with three legs and gnarled hooves.

“Stay calm,” Marcy tried to tell the people around her. “We’ll get through this and… oh no.”

She watched as each monster hopped over the counter to grab a Rocket Man Deluxe. As soon as one of the toys was in one of their claws, the light above blinked and the monster disappeared.

The shoppers around her tried to stop her, but she ran through their hands towards the counter. Only a handful of toys remained and the monsters were eagerly fighting over each other to get to the pile. “Get away from those,” she screamed. The piercing noise masked her words, allowing her to throw an elbow into the back of the head of the nearest creature.

It collapsed before her and she managed to land solid kicks and forceful punches on three others before the light above blinked wildly. In an instant, the noise disappeared, the blockade vanished and the monsters were gone.

She grabbed her toy and ran through the cheering and applauding crowd. “Move! I’ve got a flight to catch,” she said.

An Orb for a Better World

red orb

Max sighed. Solving for x was boring, so mind numbingly boring that he didn’t notice the flickering blue light hovering in his room. It crackled and popped, growing until a shimmering rectangle stretched from floor to ceiling.

A hand pushed out from the rectangle, and a moment later, a man stood in his room, smiling. His grey robe hung loosely, hiding his small frame.

“Greetings, Max,” he said.

“You have one second to leave before I call the police,” Max said.

“Do not do that. Please. I have come a long way bearing a great gift.” He reached up one of his sleeves and produced a red orb. “It has changed my life and I hope it will change yours.”

Max squinted and studied the orb. “What is it? And… how do you know my name?”

“I seek disadvantaged people with good hearts, like you, to create better futures. This is a magical orb of ancient power. Focus its energy on another person and they will realize incredible wealth and power.” He handed the orb to Max who rolled it in his hands.

“Why don’t I just use it on myself and get the wealth and power?”

“The orb comes from another time when people were selfless. It will not work on your own person. If it is wealth and power you desire, then choose a recipient that will benefit you directly. Perhaps a parent.”

“Good luck,” he said and stepped into the portal. It closed behind him.

Max held the orb, unsure of what just happened. A car door slammed and he saw his father walking up the driveway in his suit with campaign signs tucked under his arm. “I’m home,” his father announced. “I almost raised money.”

Money had been tight since his mother died, and now every available penny went towards his father’s new aspirations. Perhaps this orb could help them.

As a test, he aimed it at a stuffed alligator on his shelf. A second later, the alligator erupted into flames.

The portal appeared once again and the mysterious man stepped through. “Hello. I just wanted to check in on you. Have you not give your father endless wealth?”

“Who are you, really?”

The man scrunched his face. “I am sorry?”

“This is not magical. It’s a killing device,” Max said, pointing to the alligator.

“I have told you. It can only be used on a person.”

“Last chance. Who are you?”

The man raised his hands defensively and backed towards the portal. “You do not know what is at stake. The future… You and only you must use it on your father. I – “

Flames engulfed the man, dropping him to the ground. A second later, his father burst through the door. “What was that?” He looked at Max holding the orb, the dead man on the floor and the blue portal, swirling in the center of the room. His jaw dropped.

“I think this man wanted me to stop you from winning the election.”

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A Tennessee Swimming Hole

“What. Is. That?” Sid asked, staring at the shaggy ball of fur sitting in the living room. Its tongue hung out of its mouth and its tail beat against the carpet.

“This is Ranger,” his mom said. “I don’t know what breed he is, but he’s a sweetie pie.” She stroked the panting animal’s head causing its eyes to roll into the back of its head with delight.

“Uh, what is that doing here?”

Uh, he lives here now. Duh,” his mom said. “He’s your dog.”

“I don’t want that thing. Why would I want that thing?”

“Dogs are good companions. A boy needs a good dog. I thought that since it’s the first summer without your father that… you know. Go see Sid, Ranger.”

Ranger trotted towards Sid and sat before him. Its dark brown eyes looked up at him and it almost looked like it was smiling when it panted.

“What I want is to play ball with dad. Why can you bring him back here instead of this stupid thing?”

His mother sighed. “Your father made his choice. You know he’s not going to…”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. It still doesn’t mean I want this ugly idiot.”

Sid avoided Ranger as best he could during the first few weeks of summer vacation. If he was out in the yard throwing a ball against the barn and Ranger came out, he would go inside and leave the dog out there.

When he rode his bike up and down the dirt road, he would make sure to ride extra hard to tire out the chasing Ranger. By the end of the day, Ranger would be too exhausted to bother him anymore.

At night his mom began to open his bedroom door and he would wake up with a snoring Ranger lying in his bed. There wasn’t much he could do about that except yell at Ranger when he woke up and yell at his mom over breakfast.

“I’m going to the swimming hole,” he announced one afternoon and tiptoed down the stairs so Ranger wouldn’t hear him up and about. As he pushed open the front door, he heard his mom yell “Take Ranger with you.”

Ranger’s little legs could barely keep up with Sid’s purposefully long strides. The shaggy brown mess carried a stick alongside Sid and begged for him to throw it every so often. Sid would heave the stick as far into the woods as he could and then start running when the dog was out of sight. Somehow, the dog always found its way back to Sid’s side with the same stupid stick.

“You can’t come swimming with me,” Sid told him at the swimming hole. This is my spot. Well, my dad showed me this spot so it’s only for family. That means you can’t come in.”

Ranger’s eyes were focused on the body of water twelve feet below them. Its ears were perked up and its tail was moving a million miles per second. “Did you hear me? Are you listening? You can’t go in there. I don’t want your stupid dog fur polluting it.” Its ears perked up and its plopped down on the ground. “Good. You stay there and don’t you dare move or I’ll leave you here and tell my mom a coyote ate you.”

Sid stripped down and took a dozen steps away from the ledge of the swimming hole like he always did to get a running start. “Now, you better watch this,” he said to Ranger. “This is called the Sid Special and dogs aren’t capable of doing something this cool. I bet I’ll make a big enough splash that you’ll get soaked all the way up here.”

Sid started sprinting towards the ledge and jumped. He tucked his knees in and folded his arms around them. The splash of water reached high into the air, but not high enough to splash Ranger.

Ranger stood and wagged its tail as Sid came up the trail for another jump. “Sit back down,” he said and the dog obeyed. “I bet I can splash you this time. I forgot to do the little turn that my dad showed me. Watch.”

He took off running again and at the ledge he tried to jump, but the loose dirt beneath his feet gave way and he tumbled forward, smacking his head against the ledge before plunging into the water.

Sid woke hours later with a pounding headache and a bump on his head to match. The sun had begun to set and his body had long since dried. He remembered slipping and falling. “How did…” He sat up and looked around and saw that he was lying far from the water. Ranger sat in front of him with its tongue sticking out and its tail beating against the ground.

Sid reached out and ruffled the fur atop Ranger’s head. “All right. All right.”

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