Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Just A Light Reading for the Holidays

Greetings Everyone,

I've found myself writing quite a few darker stories recently so I decided to do something a little lighter for this week's prompt. With the combination of my short story group using "Whodunit" as their weekly challenge theme and me having recently read "The Blue Carbunkle" to my son as a bedtime story, I felt inspired. Though I don't normally write fanfic, I thought this story would be fun and I can rarely resist the temptation of trying to mimic another author's writing style.

Anyway, I hope everyone enjoys it. I would love some feedback. And I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season!

James Meadows

"The Dirty Letter"
by James J Meadows III

It was a typical cool spring day in London, during the year of 1884, when the rounds of my practice drew me past Baker Street and the quarters I once shared with my illustrious colleague Sherlock Holmes. Finding myself with an hour or so before my next appointment, I decided to drop in upon my friend and catch up on recent events. My appearance found Holmes bent low above his desk, intent upon the study of a small parcel of folded parchment. He looked up as I entered and his face flushed with delight.

“Ah, Watson,” he cried. “Come in! Come in!”

“I perceive, I am interrupting,” I said. “Perhaps I should return at a later time. You are no doubt employed upon a case at present.”

Holmes gave a laugh then gestured toward my customary armchair beside the fireplace.

“Not at all,” he said. “Please stay. I always enjoy having my chronicler partake of my cases, though I doubt my current case will be much for your records.”

I took my seat beside the fire, basking in its glow. The long morning spent traversing through the crisp spring air, though refreshing, was far from ideal for a man of my constitution. I found myself quite grateful for a momentary escape from its icy chill. I turned back to Holmes and leaned my cane upon the table beside me.

“So, you are employed upon a case, then?” I asked.

“Not employed upon one at present,” he answered. “I have merely the prospect of one, promised by the words of this note, whose associated case may or may not prove to be of interest to me. In the meantime, however, I am dedicated to the much more instructive challenge of deducing what can be learned about the author of this note and solving those mysteries within our power to answer concerning the writer’s identity.”

He held up the parchment with his typical flourish before tossing it to me in a laisse-faire manner.

“Tell me Watson,” he said. “What do you make of it?”

I caught the parcel in my hands. It turned out to be an envelope, composed of fairly inexpensive paper and labelled with a stamp showing a small white rose. A folded note lay stuffed inside the envelope, which I now extracted with appropriate care, lest an inadvertent slip cause me to damage or distort some trace of evidence otherwise useful in unraveling this mystery. The note was composed of similarly cheap paper, badly smeared with foul smelling dirt, and written in a messy scrawl. Upon its surface I read the words:

Dr. Mr. Holmes,

I need your help on an emportint problem. I will arrive at your house at 11 o clock.

Yours,

B.P.

I looked back at Holmes. He had now lit his pipe and sat smiling across from me with the familiar mischievous expression that often marked his more playful moods.

“Well, Watson, you know my methods,” he said. “What do you make of it?”

Lifting the note close to my eyes, I scrutinized the document, attempting to use the tactics I had more than once seen employed by my companion. For several minutes I stared at its messy surface looking for the slightest clue upon its page. At length, I lowered it and handed the note back to him.

“I can make out very little, I’m afraid,” I answered. “The writing is untidy and unsteady, perhaps from the hand of someone intoxicated with too much drink. That might also explain the misspellings and the bizarre odor which seems hang over the page.”

“Ah,” Holmes said smiling, “You have made some very interesting observations. I am afraid, however, that you have missed the items of particular importance and, in so doing, have drawn some erroneous conclusions.”

“What do you read then,” I asked reproachfully.

“I have only taken a precursory glance at it, so far,” Holmes answered. “Yet, from my abbreviated study, I suspect we shall find the author to be a rather careless, left-handed child,” Holmes answered. “One who is from the area of Yorkshire, lives on a farm, and spends a great deal of time outside tending animals.”

“Surely you jest, Holmes,” I exclaimed, “How can you come up with all that from just this simple letter.”

“Come my dear, Watson,” Holmes replied, with the air of a man long suffering. “Even after I have told you the conclusions can you still not see the simplicity of the inferences? Once I explain it to you, I am sure you will, no doubt, see them and say the entire supposition was plain as day. Then I will find myself relegated to the role of just another circus-style charlatan!”

My companion often went on such rants when forced to reveal the source of his conclusions. I waited patiently for him to finish, knowing his somewhat theatrical manner would be unable to resist the temptation of displaying his art.

“The most important clue is the stamp,” Holmes said, at last, indicating the image of a white flower stamped upon the envelope. “These generally show a symbol important to the region where they are printed. The white rose is the emblem of the county of Yorkshire. There are few major cities in Yorkshire, as the country is relatively unspoiled, and the majority of its citizens live on farms. The possibility of our mysterious author living on such a stead is advanced by the regular smears of dirt. Further, the dirt possesses a strange smell, indicative of the mud and grime associated with animal pens and stables. This suggests our author raises animals, furthering the suggestion of a farm. Finally, someone who works outside with animals is most likely male.”

“Well, that is simple enough,” I agreed. “What about the left-handedness and carelessness?”

“The dirt,” he responded, gesturing toward the letter. “The dirt is on top of the ink. This means their hand hit the ink after it finished writing the words. Such smears are a clear sign of left-handedness since the side of a left-hander's palm passes over their writing while the right hander’s palm moves across the page before the writing. Carelessness is indicated by the fact that he drags his hand across the page as he writes, leaving these dirty smears, rather than making the effort to lift his hand up to avoid contacting the ink. It is further emphasized by his forgetting to add the apostrophe in the word, ‘o’clock’.”

“But a man could make those same mistakes,” I responded. “Why must the author be a child?”

“Because the writing is not rushed and yet the scrawl is untidy,” Holmes answered. “You will notice how hard he presses on the paper. Pressing that hard on the paper requires a great deal of effort and involves writing very slowly. Someone writing in a hurry would not take so long and press so hard. Only a child, trying to steady his hand as he works on making the unfamiliar letters, would press so hard and still produce such shaky writing.”

“Could he not simply be a drunkard, making an effort to steady a shaky hand,” I asked.

“That would be a reasonable suggestion, except that even while intoxicated, a drunkard, who is stable enough to write a coherent letter, will know how to spell the word, ‘important’. The word is quite a common one used in correspondence. It is much more likely the author is a child, who, lacking more advanced education, simply guessed at the spelling of a word he hadn’t previously written.”

“You have an answer for everything,” I replied. “What do you suppose he wants?”

“That, I believe, we will find out shortly,” Holmes answered, “For, unless I am greatly mistaken, that is his ring upon the bell.”

As he spoke, the doorbell rang. I heard Ms. Hudson’s steps as she crossed the room to open the door. No sooner did the door below issue its opening creak then a cry of dismay arose from the lips of our landlady. The visitor’s footsteps raced past her without the slightest hesitation or invitation to enter. This sound was soon followed by the noise of light feet scurrying up the stairs. Upon the following instant, we found the door to the chamber flung open and a little boy rushing inside.

He wore the poor clothing of a farmer and carried a long crooked staff in his hands.

“Mister Holmes,” the boy cried desperately. “You must help me. My name is Bo Peep. I’ve lost my sheep and I don’t know where to find them!”

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Dark Discovery

Greetings,

I thought this short story was lost for the longest time. For the last couple of years, I tried to find it but couldn't figure out where I might have saved it. I finally stumbled upon it on an old flash drive a few weeks ago. 

The story was the result of a critique and challenge I received from one of my early short story groups. An individual within the group complained that the magical system in my stories was too simplistic. They felt using magic needed to be more difficult and costly to user and challenged me to come up with such a system. So, when the next week's prompt was "Discovery", I wrote the following story. It is probably the darkest of any story I can remember writing. I hope you enjoy it and I'd love to get feedback!

Thanks,

James

Dark Discovery
by James J Meadows III


Gladia smiled as she gazed at the beautiful bonsai tree basking in the sunlight flowing through her bedroom window. The lush leaves glittered cheerfully before her eyes, tender emerald friends sending soft thank yous for the refreshing water she had just given them. Beside the bonsai, African violets rested on her window seal, their purple blossoms shining like amethysts plucked from the jewels of Solomon himself.  Next to them lay the pink and yellow hibiscus. Beside it stood her Oxalis.

Everything had its place in her bedroom. It was like a mini-arboretum housing her botanical family. She nurtured them, sang to them, and took delight in the growth of each new stem and the bloom of each new flower. She even gave them names.

They were not her only family, either. On a dresser nearby, her white hamster, Noah, rattled merrily away on its wheel. In a separate cage, her guinea pigs, Fluff and Puff, munched happily on their food while her beagle, Patches, slept at her feet. She loved her family.

Gladia loved her real family too. The problem was, they weren’t around as much. Her mother was a district manager of a chain of stores and spent much of her time traveling around the state. Her father was a lawyer and, though he did his best to feed her and show her attention, his work often left him locked in his room, rifling through important documents and typing long legal discourses, like he was today. It was a hard life for a ten year old. Fortunately, she had her other family to keep her company. Her plants and pets were always there for her.
She turned her gaze away from the plants and, with a deep sense of dread, her eyes fell upon her desk and the homework awaiting her. She couldn’t afford to distract herself from it forever or else she would fail her classes. That would certainly get her parent’s attention and not in the way she wanted. On the other hand, if she got straight A’s, her parents would buy her another plant or maybe even another animal to keep her company through the lonely days. She picked up her pencil and looked at the first question on the printout before her.
“Margaret has a chocolate fountain with 1 gallon of chocolate. It takes 2 ounces of chocolate to coat a strawberry. If Margaret coats 16 strawberries, how many ounces of chocolate are left?”
Gladia put her pencil to her lips, thinking back to the previous day’s lesson. If she remembered correctly - which, as one of the top students in her grade, she usually did - a gallon was 128 ounces. If she dipped sixteen strawberries into a gallon of chocolate and each strawberry took away 2 ounces what would she have. A really tasty treat, she thought, smiling in spite of herself. Cherries would be even tastier. She liked cherries much better than strawberries, although she imagined they would be harder to dip in a chocolate fountain.
She had only seen a chocolate fountain once, during one of her father’s business lunches. It didn’t have cherries, so she didn’t know for sure. She would love to find out, though. She stared ahead at the empty space above her desk fantasizing about a chocolate fountain. In her mind, she could smell the fragrance of chocolate wafting in the air above her, could hear the sounds of running chocolate flowing into the pool of brown paradise at the bottom, and almost see the chocolate rolling like a stream from the top of the mighty tower. She reached her hands out with a childish playfulness, preparing to run them beneath the waterfall of molten sweetness and to lick every delightful drop from each solitary finger.
As she held her hands in front of her, she noticed a slight tingling sensation in her palms. Staring ahead, she realized, to her amazement, that she really could see the fountain sitting before her. It was like a strange ghostly mirage growing more solid with each passing second. The tingling in her hands grew faster and a strong wind whipped through the room shaking her plants furiously. She heard the sound of the dog whining and panicked squeals comings from the excited guinea pigs. Scared, she yanked her hands away.
The vision faded, the tingling stopped, and the wind vanished, leaving her plants still again. She gasped for air, her heart beating feverishly in her chest. She looked around the room. Her dog was on his feet, looking at her with startled agitation. The hamster was off the wheel, his nose sniffing the air in the same manner as the guinea pigs, who had abandoned their food. She didn’t know what had just happened. It was like her desire for the fountain made one start to appear. The experience was strange and terrifying, yet exhilarating at the same time. She longed to try again.
She stared above her desk, willing the fountain to reappear. Nothing happened. She thought back to what she was doing the first time it appeared. She recalled carefully imagining every detail of the fountain. She tried this, focusing on the smell of the chocolate, on the sound of its fluids running down the sides, and the images of its savory goodness flowing like a river before her. Still, nothing happened. Then she remembered the sensation in her hands. Maintaining her vision of the fountain and the intensity of her visualization, she extended her arms in front of her with an all-consuming thirst for the fountain to return.
The strange tingling returned to her fingers. Within seconds, the wind arose again within the room, shaking her plants with the fury of a hurricane. The dog whined loudly. The hamsters and guinea pigs scurried around their cages frantically and Gladia let out a laugh of triumph. The fountain reappeared before her, chocolate oozing from its crown like lava erupting from a volcano. It was a ghostly image at first, growing darker, clearer and more substantial as the wind picked up and the tingling in her hands turned into a red hot blaze resembling frost bitten skin plunged into warm water. Lost within the depth of her excitement, Gladia felt no pain.
The vision grew steadier and steadier until she gazed in amazement and delight at the newly formed fountain sending ripples of creamy chocolate cascading down its edges with a splendor befitting Niagara. She remembered her homework. She looked down at the blank worksheet, longing for her homework to be finished, visualizing words and answers taking shake upon the page.
Burning sensations scorched her hands like the fires of Nebuchadnezzar, so intense they turned the skin a violet shade more vibrant than the flowers on her window seal. Wind whipped through the room, almost lifting her into the air and stirring her blond hair into a furious swirling mass. Somewhere in the distance, she heard her dog howling with terror yet she paid it no might. Like a drunk intoxicated by the incredible sensations sweeping her body, she threw her head back and roared with unrestrained laughter.
Words appeared on the pages before her. One letter appeared, followed by another, followed by another. Numbers and lines manifested across the once blank surface like invisible ink revealed by the heat rising from a smoking stove. Pages flipped, as though they were coins tossed through the air by invisible hands, and the writing scrolled faster and faster until the entire packet was complete.
Gladia lowered her arms. The wind stopped. The tingling sensation in her hands died down to a dull throb and the strange euphoria gave way to clear thought. Everything was still. Her breaths came in sharp gasps and her heart pounded from the intensity of the moment.
A chocolate fountain towered above her in breathless grandeur, more glorious than the Eiffel tower, spouting its endless sugary essence as an offering to her palate. Beside it rested her completed homework. She examined the front and back of each page. Every question was solved and each equation drawn out in flawless detail per the teacher’s specifications.
In between these two masterpieces, lay a small plate filled with cherries. Heart pounding, she grabbed one and held it into the chocolate. The rich milky-brown liquid coated the red orb with thick layers of tasty decadence. She stuffed the cherry inside her mouth, savoring the tart flavor blending with the bitter chocolate taste. Her eyes closed in ecstasy and a sound of sweet pleasure escaped her lips. She sighed and opened her eyes, beaming with joy.
“It worked,” she said excitedly. “Patches, look what I did.”
She turned to her dog. Her countenance fell instantly and the excitement waned like the light of a failing moon. The beagle lay on his side, his eyes staring blankly ahead of him, his chest still and devoid of movement.
“Patches?” she said. Her voice cracked as the realization set in. She fell to her knees beside the dog, shaking him anxiously, hoping he was playing some silly game and would spring to his feet. His body was as limp as a rag doll. Patches was dead.
Tears filled her eyes. She shook him harder, crying, “Patches, Patches” over and over as though her desperate pleads could force the life back into his body. At last, she buried her head in her hands. She turned toward the window where light flowed into the room.
“Dear God, please don’t let him be dead,” she wailed, gazing into the light. It was then that she saw her plants. Their once vibrant leaves were crinkled and dried like charcoal and their former flowers drooped over the side in withered despair. Her bonsai, her hibiscus, the African violets, they were all dead.
Gladia stood up, backing away from the plants and the dog, backing away from the fountain and the solved homework. Her mouth fell open. Her lips moved in wordless agitation as she pressed herself against the wall, shaking her head, trying to escape the nightmare she found herself trapped inside. She turned toward the cages. The sight was no better. Her hamster lay on its side while empty sockets glared where guinea pigs eyes once rested.
She had killed them. She had killed her plants. She had killed her pets. She had killed her adopted family; all for the sake of some chocolate and homework. This couldn’t be possible. They couldn’t be dead. They mustn’t be dead. It had to be some horrible dream.

“Daddy!” she screamed. Turning on her heels, she raced out the door, leapt down the stairs, and charged toward her parent’s room, still shouting for her dad. No voice responded to her cry.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The First Mother of Paris

Greetings and Salutations,

My newest short story is another new one inspired by this week's prompt in my short story group: "Paris". As usual, I went in a slightly different way than than most of the people did with the prompt but I liked the idea. I hope you will enjoy the story too. Feel free to send me some feedback and let me know what you think!

James

The First Mother of Paris

by James J Meadows III

A queen owes a responsibility to her people and her family. She must protect them against all threats, especially when enemies encircle her kingdom on all sides like rabid wolves, sniffing the air for the slightest trace of blood to pounce upon. Any vulnerability, weakness, or opening which might provide her foes the slightest edge becomes a beacon of dark light hailing the doom of her kingdom and those who dwell within its walls; all of whom will die should those walls fall.

She knew it. And she knew she needed to act. But some actions were easier spoken than taken.

Hecuba stood staring at the face of the small baby lying in the cradle before her. Beautiful blue eyes looked back, gleaming sapphires surrounded in a milky white ocean whose mesmerizing depths drew her in until she could hardly bare to remove her gaze from them. With an effort, she wrenched her face away from the innocent stare of the little child and turned her eyes instead to the knife clutched tight in her hands as though it were the only cord binding her to reality in this otherwise surreal situation. She took another look back at the little one. Hecuba knew it must die. Still, how could she kill her own son?

Darkness settled upon the room as the fire in the distant hearth momentarily dwindled. She glanced into the open flames. A collection of long wooden logs provided the fuel for the only source of warmth penetrating the cold night air flowing through the open windows. There was nothing particularly unique or impressive about the logs. Yet, somehow, as she watched, they seemed to alter in shape, taking the form of tall stone battlements and houses, all burning beneath the fiery torches of rival armies.

One of the logs, roasted by the flames building within its interior, broke apart, releasing a fresh burst of heat. The fire rose again, growing taller as its flickering strands swept over the embers, greedily consuming every trace of life which once lingered within its shattered hull. The snaps and pops mingled with the sound of distant human screams and cries which, though muffled, seemed to reach her ears from the depths of the flaming inferno. She knew it was all in her imagination. Still the visions refused to let her be. They were dying. Everyone was dying.

Hecuba spun away from the fire and toward the window on the opposite side of the room. Tears blossomed in her eyes as she gazed at the quiet homes of the city beyond. Were they all destined to be destroyed? Was every one of her subjects, friend and foe, adult and child, master and slave, noble and pauper, all destined to die because she didn’t have the strength to save them?

She gave another look at the baby. Its eyes began to close as it drifted into a quiet slumber within the shelter of its crib and the warm blankets around it. It was so small, so helpless, so sweet and beautiful.

The knife rose in her hands as her footsteps carried her closer and closer to the wooden bed. She could kill it while it slept. It would never even know that something was happening. One swift, well aimed strike could forever end the danger he posed to the kingdom and ensure the safety and welfare of her people for generations to come. This was the moment to strike. This was the time. This was the moment of truth for which all the successive generations throughout all of history would judge her. The knife rose. It didn’t fall.

For nine months she had carried this baby snug within the warmth of her womb. For nine hours she had labored through the day and well into the night to grant the first sweet breathe of glorious life to the lungs of the tiny infant who relied upon her for the protection, love, and affection which every child is supposed to receive from its mother.

How could she betray the trust and faith of motherhood? How could she destroy the gift given to her by the gods and forsake the responsibility to nurture, provide and adore the little one placed into her care? At the same time, how could she betray the trust, faith, and responsibility owed to the hundreds of children and babies not belonging to her, which has also been placed into her care by the gods, who had made her the daughter of one king and the bride to another?

She had to protect her people! Still, the knife did not fall. Hecuba spun around in frustration and humiliation. A tray covered with apples rested on the table beside her and she swatted it with all her might, releasing her rage and self-loathing upon the helpless fruit with the furious scream of a tortured soul, unable to endure its suffering for another minute.

Apples flew into the air, scattering in all directions, as they bounced against wall, table, and floor, propelled into a chaotic retreat from her violent outburst. One of the apples, the largest, roundest, and easily most beautiful prize of the bunch, struck the top railing of the crib, bouncing inside where it landed within reach of the tiny babe, whose precious little fingers stretched out unconsciously to grip the small brown stem and cling tightly to it like the comforting hand of a beloved friend.

 Her head drooped against her chest in defeat. She lifted it again to stare out the window. A small light shining in the distant temple revealed that the priest Aesacus was still awake and milling about its halls. She had gone to see him early the previous day, prior to going into labor. She had sought his advice regarding a series of bizarre nightmares which had haunted her sleep. He had told her the dreams were a prophecy, foretelling the doom of all of her people and her kingdom, a fate which would be brought upon them by this child. The kingdom could only be spared if her baby were to die.

The peaceful hum of the baby’s snores interrupted her reflections. Maybe the priest was wrong. True, he was the greatest prophet in the whole kingdom. And, true, he had never been wrong before. But maybe this time; perhaps this once, if only this once, he was wrong. The gods often revealed their secrets in riddles, and it was possible, however improbable, that the meaning of their message was confusing and the insights misunderstood.

Even as she reflected upon this seemingly reasonable argument, she knew there was no truth to it. The prophecy wasn’t wrong. The words weren’t confused. Her vision wasn’t a lie. She knew all of it was true. She also knew, she couldn’t do it.

The door to the chamber creaked open and the queen’s most loyal confidant, the priestess Herophile entered the room.

“Is it done?” She asked.

“No, it isn’t done,” Hecuba snapped. She threw the knife with all her might against the floor, where the point buried itself into the wood. “And if you want it done so badly, you can do it yourself. Otherwise go tell his father that I couldn’t do it, either. We’ll just have to find some other way to fix this mess.”

Though the priestess gave Hecuba a derisive look, Hecuba noticed the priestess made no attempt of her own to harm the baby. Instead, she turned around and hurried from the doorway. Hecuba turned her eyes back toward her baby, fresh tears blooming as she struggled with the horrible curse overshadowing what should have been a joyous occasion for the whole kingdom.

She reached out to pet the head of the sleeping baby, then, quickly withdrew her hand. She feared growing too attached to the beautiful boy. It was torture not to touch the one thing every atom in her body wanted, more than anything else in the world, to hold tight against her bosom and never let go. Instead she turned her back to him and crossed to the door. She took one last look over her shoulder at the crib and wiped away a tear.

“Good night, my sweet Paris,” she said.  With these words, the queen of Troy left the room, the apple, and the baby behind in the warm glow of the firelight.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Voice

Greetings Again!

This story is the first completely new story I have posted to this blog - I just finished just yesterday - so I would love to get some feedback on it. It was written in response to my writing group's prompt for this week: Fireworks. It is entitled the voice and I hope everyone enjoys it!

The Voice
By James J Meadows III

Some people might have felt sorrow. I did not. Looking out from the cavern’s mouth, high upon the ancient mountainside, I felt only anger as I surveyed the distance houses sprawled along the bank of an ancient lake, whose depths held mysteries mankind had yet to penetrate. What secrets lay concealed within its gloomy waters; what treasures waited hidden beneath its murky waves; what dangers lurked just below the glassy surface of the seemingly placid exterior, few speculated.

Most people were content to merely throw their nets in after the fish or sail their boats across to distant towns. Or, on nights like tonight, they were content to float their boats lazily upon the waters shooting fireworks high into the air for the amusement of children, who, somewhere in the distance, raced to and fro through the city streets shouting in excitement. This was my home. Once I had been one of those children. But I was not a girl anymore. I was a woman. And I would be even more than that when I returned.

“They look happy don’t they,” hissed a dark voice beside my ear. “Look how they laugh and play, oblivious to all except the shallow pleasure of the flashing lights distracting their puny minds from the darkness lingering within themselves.”

A chill rose up my spine. Not so much because of the words. Rather because of the icy tone of the voice speaking them. Hairs rose upon my arms, silent monoliths perched atop hills of goose-pimples, forming a checkered landscape from the tips of my wrists to the tops of my shoulders. I didn’t turn to look at the speaker. I knew there would be nothing there. The stories said so.

“They are fools,” I said, trying to maintain my wits. “They revel in ignorance, abandoning curiosity, meaning and the greater mysteries of life to seek safety within delusion’s shallow folds. I seek more.”

“You seek me,” the voice stated.

I said nothing. My heart was beating so hard and fast, I thought my chest would burst. I didn’t trust my voice to remain strong.

“Silence?” it hissed. “Do you give me no answer?”

“I seek that which you can give me,” I said finding my voice at last.

“Is that why you climbed the mountain?” The voice asked. “Is that why you risked your life to ascend the steep slopes? Is that why you ran away?”

“I didn’t run away,” I snapped, turning to face the open air beside me. Upon seeing nothing there, I turned to face the darkness of the cave behind me. “I’m not running away from anything! I’m running toward everything!”

“Oh are you?” the words now came from behind me, drifting lazily to my ears from the open air beyond the cliff face. “Why must it be so? Money, family, homes, spouses, and security all lay below you. Don’t you want any of those? What more does a young woman desire than the town can give you?”

“Answers,” I said, whirling around as quickly as I could to face the direction from which the voice echoed.

I glanced all around me, desperate to see something. The voice’s every word, slithering through the gloom, sent shivers through my body, forcing my knees to buckle and quiver until I could hardly stand upon my already weary feet. If I could just see the source of the mysterious voice, I was sure I could find my courage. No source appeared, however. Only darkness greeted my gaze wherever I turned.

“Why should you want answers?” the voice asked. “Are there really questions so enchanting that they are worth giving up all to know? Should you really be asking such questions at all?”

“People tell me I shouldn’t,” I answered, somewhat sheepishly.  “They say some questions shouldn’t be answered. They tell me I should remain content to be who and what I am, content to know who and what I know, to be like a child who refuses to open their closet door for fear of the monster which may lurk within.”

My voice grew strong as I finished the last sentence. Years of anger and frustration, of repression and revulsion burst from me as I yelled my words in defiance from the mountaintop. Fireworks added strength to my words as they detonated in a chorus of explosions, emphasizing each furious outburst erupting from the volcano of my lips, scorching the open air with my wrath.

“But I won’t do it! I’m not going to sit and bury my head in the sand! I refuse to spend my years slaving away like a simpleton, surrounded by ignorant buffoons lacking the courage to open their eyes and see the reality waiting on the other side of their shut-up lids! Too long have I lived in a greedy world who hordes her cryptic secrets like an insatiable miser clinging to his coins lest the least of them touch the starving masses banging upon his door. I want to know those secrets! I want to see the sparkling jewels of truth displayed before me! I want to feel them, to soak in their glory, to bathe in their riches! I don’t want to be the world’s slave! I want to be…”

Here I paused as I realized the words I was about to utter.

“You want to be its master!” The voice finished the words for me.

There was a twinge of delight in the voice which made me even more uncomfortable. I could only nod my head in affirmation, wishing more than anything else in the world at that moment, that I had kept my mouth shut; wishing that I had listened to all the people who told me to be content; wishing I were anywhere right now, other than here.

“Of course you do!” The voice’s hiss turned into a sort of coo. The gently spoken words only made the voice creepier and the chills sharper. “Why shouldn’t you? Why would anyone want to stay enslaved to the lies and laws of a cruel master like ignorance when they can weld the truth like a scepter over the head of that ancient slave driver? I can help!”

My growing apprehension told me I should shut-up and say no more. Yet the pride and selfish-desire, which had driven me with tattered skirt and battered tresses through the dark forests and up the steep slopes of this mountain; which had compelled me to trek for days without food or water and pushed me onward through cuts, tears, and bloody knees to ascend to the mysterious cave where no sane villager would go; refused to let me stay quiet. My eyes narrowed and my brow furled with unwavering determination as I uttered one word.

“How?”

            The sound of the distant fireworks faded as an eerie silence engulfed me. A blaze of light, clear and bright as the noonday sun, pierced the night air. It was coming from the cave behind me. I spun around to see a sight beyond comprehension.

            Row upon row of books stretched before me in an endless line reaching toward infinity. Like silvery monoliths glistening beneath the glow of a moonless sky, they basked in the illumination of a light lacking any visible source. Each tome seemed to call to me, whispering of secrets and powers long forgotten over the ancient eons of man. I found myself drifting toward them almost unconsciously as their magnetic allure drew me into their folds.

            “Go on,” the voice cooed. “Take them!”

A warning somewhere within the distant recesses of my mind tried to still my footsteps.

            “What are they?” I managed to ask, fighting to free myself from whatever hypnotic pull the vision had over me.

            “Knowledge,” came the quiet whisper. “All the knowledge of all the ages; secrets of this world and every world; answers to every question ever asked and even those not asked, since the dawn of this time and every time; all await you within. You need merely to touch them.”

            I drifted forward. Cries from the depth of my mind pleaded caution, telling me to go back, begging me with every footfall to not to take another step. Their silent call touched my dazed mind. I took my eyes off the books and turned away from the cave gazing into the open air, trying to clear my thoughts. The fireworks were still going off above the far away village. Their explosions came in quick pairs, the faint cracks taking the shape of harsh words echoing their gentle entreaty, the first pop saying “come” and the second “back”.

            “Take them,” the voice hissed again.

            Images swam before my eyes, ripples of light and color forming visions of glory and grandeur. I saw myself towering over the children on the school grounds who once spat upon me and mocked my bookish nature. Like a colossus I rose over the teachers who once cursed me for questioning them and berated my arrogance. No more would I be the foolish girl who didn’t know her place in the world, no longer would I be the silly woman cursed with the plague of too much questioning and not enough obeying! I would have freedom! I would have power! I would have everything!

            As though responding to these images, a distant part of my brain fought to recall memories of playing with friends, the warmth of kind strangers, and the feel of my parents’ love. These visions sought to take shape in my mind, yet they paled before the nightmarish memories of the insults, jeers, scorn, and abuse suffered at the hands of numerous hateful antagonists.

            “They should be punished,” the voice cooed, as though sensing my thoughts. “I know the pain they caused you. I know what it’s like to suffer slander and debasement from the spiteful masses who lack your curiosity; who want to keep you dumb and powerless. You don’t have to endure them any longer. Vengeance is within your grasp. All the secrets, all the knowledge, all the power they are too weak to seek is right before you. All you have to do is grab it!”

            I found my head turning back toward the cave and my body drifting through the opening. Again the warnings sounded but I silenced them. There would be no turning back, there would be no more stalling! I wanted this knowledge! I needed this knowledge! I needed it now!

            As though in answer to these thoughts, a book lifted on its own from the shelf and floated toward me. I drifted toward it, sinking deeply into the light until I stood just inches from its gleaming cover. It opened before my gaze, revealing words and letters written in some foreign alphabet whose bizarre markings assumed unfamiliar crooked shapes like stick figures penned in golden ink against the silver leaflets. Somehow I seemed to know their meanings. The words shaped themselves into letters, which seem to float off the page and into my mind.

            Soon other books on other shelves were drifting off their cases and spiraling around me. The pages flipped and their words lifted, flowing like water through me. All the secrets of the universe; the secrets of the universes before the universe; all the mysteries of space and time and mysteries beyond space and time; all the wisdom and knowledge of ancient races, current races, and races yet to come; all coalesced inside me, melding with me, assimilating into my consciousness in a whirl of knowledge, insights, and revelations. The words soaked into my body.

            Or so I thought. A sudden and horrifying realization occurred to me. I didn’t have a body.
          
            A shout of surprise arose from me, echoing down the long hallway, though I no longer possessed a body to give such a shout. I had no feeling, no touch, and yet I could see all around me and hear all around me. Little more than a disembodied floating voice, I could speak, think, and observe my surroundings. What I couldn’t do, however, was move. I seemed to have melded into the light, a captive imprisoned within its glow.

            As I processed this revelation, I saw my body standing outside the cave staring at me. Or, at least, what had once been my body. It wasn’t my body anymore. A small, cruel smile spread across the lips and a wicked gleam glittered in the eyes, which had once both been my own.

            “You cannot imagine you how many centuries I have waited for someone to take my place and release me to travel the world once more,” a cruel icy voice hissed from my lips. “And I cannot tell you how many centuries you shall have to wait before someone is foolish enough to take your place and release your back into the world. If it is any consolation, there is one thing I can tell you. The vengeance you dreamed of in your images and retributions you longed to inflict upon those who wronged you, shall come to pass. It won’t exactly be you who inflicts them. But they shall come to pass nonetheless. May you enjoy your newfound knowledge.”

            With these words, I watched my body turn and start back toward the town, resting on the shore of a lake whose dark secrets, I now knew only too well. From within my prison, I watched helplessly as the creature possessing my body advanced toward the unsuspecting village. And the fireworks greeted its return.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Headmaster's Lesson

Hey Everyone,

In honor of the three year anniversary of "Tyrants, Tormentors and the Tiara" being published, I thought I would post one of the first short stories I ever wrote. It was originally written at the idea of an editor, who said the background history of the novel's characters was interesting enough that I should write prequels for them (a view later echoed in one of the reviews). While I have never gotten to whole prequels, I have written a few stories and this is one of the first. It has been through more revisions and edits than I can count since it was first written and I'd be delighted for any additional feedback to make it better. I hope everyone enjoys it!

Thanks,

James

The Headmaster’s Lesson
                
                The Rhorian Academy of Magic needed a new Headmaster.

                Lillian reflected upon this fact as she drifted through the open iron gates leading to her home.  The house was a vibrant mansion in the wealthy northern section of the continent’s largest city. The expansive brick building was both incredibly opulent and outstandingly gaudy, decorated with hand carved oak doors and stained glass windows situated within gold encrusted frames.

                Yet its beauty paled in comparison to Lillian.  Long pale blonde hair reached down her back blending with the white silk dress covering her slender body. A light lace cloak with a lowered hood clung to her shoulders, glittering in the silvery moonlight washing over the sleeping city. Her flawless pale skin was soft as the lace and she possessed enchanting green eyes which seemed to glow like a cat’s. Attractive and wealthy, Lillian was the desire of many young men seeking the affections of the delicate looking nineteen-year-old. 

                The fragile appearance was a mirage, however. Lillian wasn’t just another enchanting beauty. She was a gifted magical prodigy. She graduated at the top of her class at the academy, winning almost every award for scholastic achievement bestowed by the school.  Many people credited her success to favoritism resulting from the high political status and wealth of her family. She didn’t care. She was content to let her enemies doubt her skills.

                Lillian passed through the entryway to her home, cradling a small package in her hands. She was greeted by a stout middle aged man with graying red hair.  He wore a fancy tailor-made suit, so clean and neat one might think the outfit was brand new. He was the butler. Like everyone living under her father’s roof, he understood the importance of maintaining a perfect image at all times.

                “Welcome home, Lady Lillian,” he said, removing her cloak.

                “Good Afternoon, Arthur,” Lillian responded.

                “You’re home late tonight.”

                The hour was well past midnight. Such late outings were normal for her. She was a new teacher at the magical academy and spent many evenings performing experiments or training apprentices. Further, she was a noblewoman and spent most other nights socializing with fellow aristocrats at the palace.

                “Urgent matters required my attention,” she said. “Is my father home?”

                “Yes, my Lady. He is upstairs in his study. Would you like me to send a messenger for you?”

                “No. I shall go speak with him. We have important business to discuss.”

                “Very well. Shall I take your package for you?”

                “No, thank you,” Lillian said, pulling the box close to her body. “It’s a special present for my father. I’d like to deliver it myself.”

                “Very well, my Lady.”

                Arthur bowed but Lillian was already past him. She hurried across the spotless tile floor and up the elegant marble staircase.  Reaching the landing, she turned left down a short wooden hallway ending at a polished wooden door. The stone staircase inside ascended to the top of the circular tower housing her father’s study.

                Lillian had expected her father to be there. He was a powerful wizard and influential figure within the kingdom. He spent most nights working in his study, answering various requests and correspondence from important regents both local and abroad. His efforts were well rewarded in the form of favors and allies.

                She sighed. Politics were at the heart of all life inside the Academy of Magic and corruption ran rampant throughout the school. Every teacher and sorcerer found themselves somehow involved in the scheming, sometimes out of simple necessity to survive. No one was more corrupt than Headmaster Sorin.

                Like a puppet master pulling the strings of his marionettes, the ambitious sorcerer was the ultimate schemer, beguiling the kingdom’s nobility, exploiting the school’s students, and twisting everyone around him to suit his ends. Now his time was up. The Academy was about to get a new headmaster.

Lillian worked hard to bring this day to pass. She was a clever and intelligent diplomat. She understood the intricacies of the political world and knew how to play the bureaucratic games. She was the true master: better than any king, better than any noble and better than even Sorin.

She shook her head. She wasn’t always so manipulative. Once upon a time, she rejected the notion of corruption, believing the country’s leaders to be guided by their sense of right and wrong. She was na├»ve, ignorant of the evil filling the world around her. She even possessed the audacity to confront Sorin when she discovered his true nature.  The encounter still haunted her.

She was only a child, barely older than ten. At the time, Lillian possessed a close relationship with the headmaster, who also taught at the academy. She learned Sorin was abusing one of his students. An orphan with no wealth or influence, the boy was beaten, ridiculed and forced to flee the school. Lillian was appalled.

She arranged a private meeting where she lashed out against Sorin, calling him a fickle and unfeeling tyrant, among other less savory accusations. She suspected her childish rant was pathetic to observe. The headmaster wasn’t amused. Rising from his desk, he towered over her, rigid with anger. Despite the close bond they’d shared, Lillian believed he was going to kill her.

Then, his body relaxed and a compassionate smile crossed his lips. He held out his hand to her. His voice was gentle and soft when he spoke.

“Come with me,” he said.

“Where are we going?” she asked, fidgeting uncomfortably.

“I want to take you somewhere,” he replied. “Don’t worry, I’m not punishing you and I’m not going to hurt you. I want to show you something. Perhaps when I’m done you’ll be wiser.”

His easy demeanor dismissed her misgivings. Lillian rose from her seat and accepted his hand. With a simple spell he rendered them invisible. He led her from his office and beyond the school grounds into the city. 

They walked for several miles. Lillian gazed around, uncertain where they were going. To her horror, she discovered they were approaching the far southern section of city. She was forbidden to enter this area and felt apprehensive about continuing. Her discomfort grew as they left behind the familiar streets and entered a foreign landscape.

Buildings were crowded close together. Laundry water ran down the streets mingling with the rotting garbage lining the avenues.  Swarms of flies buzzed everywhere and cockroaches carpeted the alleys. Mosquitoes thrived in pools of stagnant water, forming curtains of disease and pestilence. Mange-covered animals fought with hungry beggars as they pilfered piles of standing garbage seeking sustenance amid the trash.  

Lillian gave a squeal as rats raced past her feet. Disease covered faces of homeless vagabonds turned toward the open street seeking the source of the cry. She gripped Sorin’s hand and squeezed herself against him.  

Sorin gave a reassuring smile. With a wave of his hand, he whispered “Proch”.  The mosquitoes dispersed and transient animals of the street veered off their intended paths to avoid them.
 
They continued down the grimy avenues fighting to withstand the horrid stench. Lillian’s eyes fastened on the boys and girls lining the streets. She gazed at their distorted, prematurely aged faces and disfigured bodies. Though many were her age, they were different from her classmates. They lacked hope. They lacked joy. They lacked the dream of a better future she saw in the faces of her fellow students. She shivered.

“What are we doing here?” she asked.

“Tell me,” Sorin said. “Do you want to live here?”

“No,” Lillian answered, shaking her head as she looked at the poverty stricken ghetto.

“Me either,” he said. “These people have no money, no power, and will be trapped in this dark existence until the day they die.”

He steered her around and they hurried from the blighted area. Lillian hoped the trip was over but they didn’t retrace their steps toward the academy. Instead he led her toward the busy northwestern marketplace. As they moved through the cleaner urban streets, he often stopped beside large dusty windows instructing her to gaze inside.

In one building, Lillian saw line after line of women sitting in chairs, sewing clothes, quilts and other various items. Like mindless automatons, thy raised and lowered their arms in endless repetition. With one stitch, then another stitch, followed by another, they plugged away at their task. The overwhelming monotony of the endless cycle was broken occasionally when one woman would strike up a brief conversation with her co-workers. The conversation was quickly stymied, however, when a manager would appear and squelch the noise.

In other windows, she watched copyists, bookkeepers and lawyers work diligently to record notes, maintain ledgers and otherwise perform the menial tasks necessary for the operation of their small businesses. Though dressed in nicer attire than the spinsters, they nevertheless carried on their hum-drum tasks in the same mind-numbing and endless continuity. Like the spinsters, they found themselves trapped in an eternal cycle of awaiting the day’s end only to come back and do it again the next.

As they approached the central market, the crowd grew thicker. Sorin levitated Lillian and himself off the ground to avoid getting jostled.  After the sickening stagnation of the slums and imprisoning solitude of quiet offices, the den of activity was a welcome break. A cacophony of voices rose from the myriad of merchants, shoppers, children and animals littering the central square. After a few minutes though, the chaotic scene started bothering her.

There were too many voices. Everyone was jostling everyone else in an attempt to get helped or served before their fellow shoppers. She could see a shopkeeper, perspiring in the noon day heat as he rushed back and forth between customers vying for his attention. Haggling with buyers, shouting at shoplifters, answering questions, and defending the quality of his product, the trader endured endless minutes of turmoil just to squeeze a miniscule profit from his wares. He was the lucky one.

At other booths, merchants stood pleading for attention. They assaulted pedestrians with a litany of shouts and cries imploring their business. Disinterested shoppers struggled to get away as these merchants transformed into beggars seeking sales sufficient to feed their families for another night.

“Every day is the same,” Sorin said. “Every single day, these people perform endless hours of non-stop labor. Day in and day out, they break their backs in an eternal quest just to make enough money to survive. Today, tomorrow, the next day, until the end of their lives, these people will slave away. All with the thin hope that maybe someday far in the future, when their bodies are too broken to be of any use to society, they’ll while away their final years in front of their fireplaces.  They have money but no power to better their lives. Is that how you want to live?”

“No,” Lillian answered.

“Me either,” Sorin said.

He guided Lillian beyond the busy thoroughfare and dismissed the levitation spell. Their new road was a residential street Lillian knew well. They were moving northeast, back toward the academy. Lillian believed the trip was over. She was mistaken.

Sorin led her past the academy without stopping. At last they reached a series of mighty bulwarks. It was the outer wall of the Royal Palace, home for regents of the continent’s largest fortified city. They passed through the portcullis and into the courtyard.

Stepping onto the palace grounds was like stepping into a new world. Everything was beautiful, peaceful and tranquil. Gardens grew on both sides of the stone path they walked on, encircled with gates of finest gold. The smell of honeysuckle rose from the garden walls tickling Lillian’s nose with its enticing aroma. Royal children played hide-and-seek among the citrus trees, surrounded by butterfly bushes and jasmine growing throughout the lush paradise.

They left the gardens and passed through the open front doors into the entry hall. A large domed ceiling lined with crystalline chandeliers cast colorful rainbows around the lavish chamber.  This was Lillian’s first time inside the palace. She gawked at the beauty and magnificence around her.

Sorin led her past luxurious pools of magically heated water where aristocrats soaked in pleasant leisure while servants accommodated their every whim. She strolled through vast libraries where timeless tomes of knowledge unavailable to the masses lay at the beck and call of any noble reclining in the plush armchairs.  She watched as massive banquets of rare and savory delicacies lay before princes and diplomats alike to appease their hungry palates.

Lillian gaped at the gaudy lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Decadence and extravagance were a part of life in the king’s court. The poverty and humdrum existence of the working classes, she observed earlier, seemed like torture compared to the free and easy lifestyle of the rich and powerful. Sorin seemed to sense her thoughts. He looked down at her with a self-satisfied smirk.

“These people have wealth and power,” he said. “They can live in whatever manner they want, above the law, above poverty, enjoying the finest things in life while others bow to their every desire. Nothing they want is outside their reach.”

Lillian nodded. Sorin knelt down until he was at her eye level. He placed a hand on each of her shoulders, twisting her to look at him.  

“I’ve shown you three different lifestyles today,” he said. “I’ve shown you those with no money or power. I’ve shown you those with money but no power, and I’ve shown you those with money and power. Which would you rather be?”

The answer was obvious but Lillian didn’t answer. She stared at him with stubborn defiance.
“What does this have to do with what I told you earlier?” she asked. “How does this justify you treating others with cruel contempt?”

“Because others don’t matter,” Sorin explained. “If you want to live this kind of life, you need to know what’s necessary to reach the top and do what’s necessary to stay there. There are three types of people in the world:  those who can help you attain power, those who can’t help you attain power, and those who stand in your way! The first must be manipulated to your ends. The second are garbage to be discarded. The third must be destroyed!”

“Look around,” he continued. “Don’t you think the people in the slums and the market would do anything to be here right now? Isn’t power worth any price?”

Lillian thought about her answer to the question. Eight years had passed since the fateful confrontation. She was no longer a child but a graduate of the academy and a fiercely courted debutante. Still, she doubted any class or piece of instruction from all her years at the school made as much of an impact upon her as the headmaster’s lesson.

She’d learned the country’s leaders weren’t in their positions because of skill but cunning. She recognized being headmaster of the Rhorian Academy wasn’t based upon tenure, age, or even talent. It was based upon connections. Anyone could be headmaster, noble or even king if they knew how to pull the right strings at the right time.

Sorin knew this too. His corruption grew with his political might until the whole school was permeated by his schemes. Like a spider in his web, the shyster carefully positioned his tangled threads until he stood in line for the throne. Meanwhile, beneath his gaze, Lillian was constructing her own plan.

She reached the top of the stairs and entered her father’s study. The chamber was furnished with plush arm chairs and side tables covered with papers. The walls were lined with ancient tomes detailing subjects too numerous to name. A large fire roared in the hearth, illuminating the room. Asleep in an armchair beside the fireplace, her father dozed with his head tilted back. His hand, still clutching a number of letters, rested on the side table.

Lillian expected this. The hour was late and he was getting old. He often dozed off in his study following long days. She crossed the room to stand in front of him. She placed the box on the side table and gently untied the long ribbon enclosing it. Inside rested a beautiful golden medallion decorated with a variety of priceless stones. A platinum chain formed the top of the necklace, which rested on a soft raised stand. Lillian ignored it.

She lifted the false bottom to the box and placed the medallion on the table beside the armchair. Beneath it lay a long dagger made entirely of smooth clear glass. She picked it up and looked at her father. Without a word, she raised the blade and plunged it through his throat. His eyes flew open in alarm. His hands darted to his punctured neck as Lillian yanked the dagger back out and hurled it into the fireplace. The glass shattered into a thousand pieces as it struck the hot brick behind and the shards vanished among the burning embers.

Lillian looked back at her father. He was writhing, gripping his neck, choking as he attempted to breathe through the blood filling his pierced throat. Gargling sounds issued from his mouth as he tried in vain to utter a spell.

“Sorry, father,” she said. “But, as you say: There are three types of people in the world, those who can get you power, those who can’t get you power, and those who stand in your way. The latter must be destroyed. Lesson learned.”

The light faded from Sorin’s eyes as life left his body. His head fell backwards and his eyes gazed unseeing at the ceiling. Lillian returned the necklace to the box, retying the string. In a few minutes, she would go down and alert the guards that she had discovered her father’s murdered body. Next, she’d signal her agents. In the morning, she would be nominated as the new headmaster and following a fixed vote, would assume the post. All this was prearranged.

Lillian looked back at her father. She took no joy in his death. She was neither happy nor sad. She’d learned power was everything and you must do whatever is necessary to get it.

Thus the Rhorian Academy of Magic got a new headmaster.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Physics Test

Hello Everyone!

This is another short story that I wrote a number of years ago. It was originally written for a writing contest with a prompt of "Dream Come True". I was inspired to pull it out again and tamper with it this week when an online short story group I recently joined posted the topic "Back in Time" for their prompt. It is a little different from what I normally write, so let me know what you think. As always, I appreciate any feedback!


The Physics Test
by James Meadows

When a forty-five year-old single accountant wakes up in the morning, he expects to see his bedroom ceiling and feel the familiar sheets of his plush bed. As my consciousness left the world of sleep, I experienced neither of these sensations.  The bed was hard and unfamiliar. The sheets were thin and ragged, very different from my normal linens.

I opened my eyes and gazed around the blurry room, allowing my vision to focus. The bed chamber was definitely not mine. This was not my house. The room was very small. There was barely enough space for the bed, small desk, and nearby dresser. High on the wall, a long thin window ran perpendicular to the foot of my bed. The small window was just large enough to flood the entire room with the bright light of the early morning sun.

The shock of finding myself in the unexpected surroundings caused me to bolt upright in bed gazing around the room. I knew this room. This was my college apartment. I lived here during my junior and senior years. What was I doing here?

As my stunned mind attempted to digest the revelation, I heard footsteps outside the door to my room. The knob turned and my already puzzled mind was greeted by an even more incredible sight. Sarah entered the room.

“Good morning sleepy head,” she cooed, running her hand through my hair as she sat beside me on the bed. She noticed the odd expression on my face. “Are you okay?”

I didn’t know what to say. My mind was swimming. I just sat there for a second.

“I am…incredible,” I said.

“Well, you better be,” she teased, giving me a quick kiss. “You have your physics final today and you better not fail it!”

She rose from the bed and walked toward the doorway. As she passed through, she added, “You better get cleaned up. I’ll have breakfast on the table in a few. I’m making your favorite.”

Sarah gave me a wink as she disappeared around the corner. My eyes flew open in alarm. I remembered this day. This was the last day of my junior year. The details soared back into my mind. I had struggled with physics all semester and needed an ‘A’ on the final in order to pass the class. My parents had told me, if I failed physics, they would take me out of college and bring me back home. Sarah had spent all week, neglecting her own classes, helping me study for the final. We both knew what would happen if I failed the test.

I thought about her as I went to my closet and got dressed. Funny how I still remembered where everything was after all of these years. I grabbed an old pair of jeans and a t-shirt before heading into the bathroom for my shower. After bathing and dressing, I stopped to look in the mirror. I ran my hands down my face. I couldn’t believe how young I looked. My body was strong, healthy, athletic, and agile again. This wasn’t possible.

My first instinct was to lower my arm and pinch myself very hard. It hurt. I turned the shower onto full heat and placed my hand underneath. The burning water scalded me. I even cut myself shaving. It stung like a bee. I wasn’t dreaming. How was this happening?

Washed, dressed and shaved, I walked into the kitchen and sat down across from my girlfriend. She was tying her long black hair into a braid. Her deep blue eyes stared happily at me. I stared back. I had forgotten many things over the years but I had never forgotten how beautiful she was. Still, no memory could do justice to the reality before me. After a few moments, she started laughing.

“What are you looking at me like that for?” she giggled, “Eat your food!”

I took my eyes off her and began eating the eggs and bacon she had made for me. I couldn’t keep my eyes off of her for long, though. I still loved her. And I missed her.

Today was a special day in our relationship. I did make an ‘A’ on the test. In our excitement afterward, we made love for the first time. She would move in with me for my senior year. Afterward, I would ruin everything.

Following my senior year, I was offered a job in Seattle, about as far away from Sarah and College Station as physically possible. I left her behind to take the job. She had to stay to finish her last couple of years of college. Long distance relationships were not easy in the early-90’s prior to the advent of internet and smartphones. We didn’t make it. I lost her.

Two years later, I lost the job as well. I never met another woman like her and spent the rest of my life praying, wishing, and dreaming for a second chance. I didn’t know what miracle had brought it about but somehow, someway, this was that chance.

I finished my food, still staring at her in wonder. She rose from the table and went to my room. A few seconds later, she came back holding my backpack. I thanked her for the breakfast and rose to put on my backpack.

“Good luck,” she said, giving me a soft kiss on the lips and the beautiful smile I remembered only too well. She turned to get the dishes. I couldn’t contain myself anymore. Years of dreaming, longing and wishing seized ahold of me. I race up behind her and threw my arms around her.

“I love you, Sarah,” I said, pulling her close to me. “I love you so very much!”

She smiled and pulled me close. Together we embraced and kissed with unbidden passion. Then she patted me on the chest and took a step back.

“Go do me proud,” she smiled, and turned back to the dishes.

I didn’t want to leave her. I didn’t want to take my eyes off her. But I knew what was at stake, so I hurried out the door. I was within walking distance of the campus. Once again, to my surprise, I remembered the way to my old class as though it were yesterday. As I made the long trek, I thought about the incredible potential of this suddenly realized dream.

Not only could I save my relationship with Sarah, I would be rich. I knew the results of every major sporting event for the next twenty-plus years. I knew the best stocks in which to invest. By the time I was forty-five again, I could be a billionaire. The world was at my mercy!

The rest of my walk, I consumed my mind with visions of wealth and the endless possibilities awaiting me. Soon I was at the door to my class and choosing a seat in the auditorium. As I sat down, the teacher entered and ordered everyone to put all of their belongings beneath their desks except for scantrons and pencils. He then began handing out the tests.

A dark cloud passed over my mind. Perhaps my previous twenty-year old self knew the answers to all of the questions on my test, after a full week of studying. I, however, had not spent a full week studying. I hadn’t studied a word of physics in more than twenty years.

The teacher placed the test in front of me, along with a spare sheet of paper to work math formulas on.  I scanned the questions. I didn’t have the vaguest idea on any of them. The equations for calculating various masses and ratios were long absent from my mind.

A chill went up my spine. If I failed this test, I would lose Sarah anyway. I would be taken home to the northeast, many days drive from Texas. She would be here at college. She was still a sophomore with several years left in school. The long distance relationship didn’t work in Seattle. I had no reason to believe it would work from the other side of the US. She would meet other guys; find other loves. I would be left alone, again.

I tried to rack my brains. Somehow, I had to pass this test. The information had to be in there somewhere. I was back in my twenty year old body and, even though my mind was maintaining the memories and thoughts of my older self, my brain must still be my twenty year old brain. Somehow, after a week of study, some of the information must still be accessible somewhere.

Focusing my thoughts like a yogi, I attempted to clear my mind. If I could just access the memories stored somewhere within my younger brain, I would find the answers. I stared at the question and gradually, like a blurry image clears to reveal a vibrant picture, the memorized learning from weeks of study took form inside my mind. I could remember the answers. I quickly bubbled in my answer to the first question; then the second question; then the third.

A smile spread across my lips. I could still remember everything, even after….after….I couldn’t remember. How old was I before? I looked up in surprise. I was forty-something, I thought. How can I forget my previous age? I could remember everything about my life after the test. I could remember the job in Seattle, losing Sarah, my new career, sporting events, etc. Strangely, however, the images were growing blurry. As I concentrated on them, they become clearer.

Confused, I returned to my paper. I couldn’t remember the answers to the questions anymore. I focused my mind back to my twenty-year old memories, just as I had done before. Again, the answers became clear. I started bubbling in my selections again. I would pass the test. I would stay here with Sarah. And, this time, I would not leave for the job in…where was the job in?

I looked up again. The memories were growing blurry again. I couldn’t remember where I had taken the job. I couldn’t remember my previous age. Everything from before I was given this second chance was growing blurry. After some effort, I was able to remember most of the details, much to my relief.

The memory was little consolation. Each time I focused on being in the mind of my twenty-year old self, the memory of my alternate future grew blurry. I looked at the various questions in front of me. I still had most of the test left. I needed to pass this test in order to keep Sarah. But I also needed to remember the mistakes and errors of the future or I would repeat them and lose her anyway.

Frustration flared inside of me. My sudden dream of getting a second chance was turning into a nightmare. I was caught in a lose-lose situation. I didn’t know what to do. I looked at the clock on the wall. Time was ticking away. There was only an hour remaining. I had lost a third of my time just trying to answer the first few questions. I had to do something. I couldn’t lose Sarah again. I wouldn’t lose Sarah again.

I needed to pass the test. At the same time, I had to find a way to make sure I didn’t lose Sarah. I looked at my piece of notepaper. I could write a note, some words to my twenty-year old self, to prevent me from making a mistake. What could I say?

My mind flashed to all the sports scores I knew, all the stock knowledge I remembered, all the things I wanted to say to myself. There was not enough time to put them all down. I needed to complete the test and already I was under time pressure. I would only be able to tell myself one or two things. What should I do?

I pictured myself as a millionaire, rich from stocks and sports betting. I pictured myself living in plush mansions with beautiful cars and wealth. In those pictures, though, I was without Sarah. On the other hand, I looked at myself with Sarah, poor and yet with her. If I was rich, I could have other women: I could have super models, actresses, star female athletes. Yet if I gave them all up, I could have her.

I looked down at the piece of scrap paper beside me. Raising my pencil, I wrote these words: “Justin, this is your future self. If you remember nothing of your life before being given this second chance, remember this: Whatever you do, do not take the job in Seattle and do not leave Sarah. Stay with her, love her, and treat her as I wish I had treated her the first time. Nothing else matters.”

Folding the paper, I stuffed it into my pocket. I gave a small sigh and allowed my mind to drift back into the memories and thoughts of my twenty-year old self. I looked back at the test and its many questions. The answers came to me. With each new question, I could feel my future self, my alternate self, fade from existence. I smiled.

Most people could only dream of getting the chance to relive their life, to fix their mistakes, or to even just write a note to their past self. I had gotten my chance. I wouldn’t waste it. I may lose myself, my memories, all my knowledge and even the fortune I might have otherwise. But I would not lose Sarah. This was all that mattered.