Song: A Thousand Years
Artist: Christina Perri
I have died every day waiting for you.
Darling, don't be afraid,
I have loved you for a thousand years.
I'll love you for a thousand more.
A Thousand Years
By Jennifer McMurrain (Heard it in a Song)
"Where is Greg?" I hear my mother ask. "Has anyone seen him?"
I open my mouth to tell her that Greg is on a plane and can't be reached, a last minute trip to Calgary, but another contraction hits and all I can do it cry out in pain. I see my mother's face flush with worry.
"Someone needs to find Greg," she yelled, but the nurses just ignore her.
"Ma'am," says an older nurse, with a heavy southern accent, "right now our main concern is your daughter. She's having contractions, but the baby hasn't turned. She needs a C-section right away and what you need to do is quit worrying about Greg and concentrate on your daughter."
"But he's the father," Mother said. "He should be here. He should be the one doing this."
"Mom, Greg is on a plane," I manage, holding out my hand. "I'd rather have you, anyway."
Understanding caressed her face and she reached for my hand. "I'm right here, baby."
"I'm so scared, Mom. We've tried for so long... what if?"
My mother shushes me. "Everything's gonna be okay. I'm gonna be here with you the entire time. You and my granddaughter are going to be just fine."
"We'll need to get you dressed if you're coming into the operating room," said the southern nurse to my mother.
Mom nodded. "I'll be right back."
I watched my mother walk out of the room and felt myself fading. I felt myself letting go. It was as if the lack of my mother's weighted hand made me float off like a forgotten balloon. My mind drifted back to ten years ago.
"I'm going to cut to the chase," the fertility specialist said as I put a death grip on Greg's hand. "Conditions are not suitable for you to conceive more or less carry a baby to term. It would be life threatening to you and the baby. I would advise you to get a surrogate."
"So there's nothing you can do?" I asked, clinging onto the last bit of hope I had.
"In terms of getting you pregnant, I'm afraid not. But I can recommend a good surrogate agency..."
I know he said more, but at that moment I could no longer hear him. I longed to carry my own child. I wanted to feel the flutters of baby's first turn and every kick and elbow to my ribs. I wanted to endure morning sickness and waddle like a duck during my final months of pregnancy. I wanted to feel the pain of labor and the joy of giving everything I had for this little person I was bringing into the world.
I did not want another woman carrying my baby. Call me petty, but the thought of another woman carrying my baby made me jealous beyond a healthy extent. I wondered if I would ever feel as if the child was mine. In hindsight, this is all very childish thinking, but ten years ago I was a child.
Another labor pain and the snaps of the nurses brought me back to the present. The pain was real, but all this had to be a dream. I was not supposed to be pregnant. I had been warned. Greg and I agreed to live our lives to the fullest sans children.
At first it was hard, unbearable. I grieved for the children I would never have. And even though I came to a point of acceptance, the longing was always there. And a part of me never gave up hope that one day, Greg and I would have a child.
I faded again, this time to our vacation in Hawaii. I had forgotten my birth control pills, but it was of no matter. Greg and I had become more friends than lovers. We had gone to a romantic candlelight dinner that night and had one too many drinks with tiny umbrellas. He looked so handsome in the moonlight as we walked along the ocean. He kissed me with a passion I thought was lost and I was his, right there on the beach. I was his.
Imagine our surprise when six weeks later that little stick came up positive. My heart leapt and I screamed with joy. Greg ran into the bathroom, ready to fight off any beast. I showed him the stick and he swooped me up in hug. It was at that moment I realized how much he wanted this too. It was at that moment I realized how selfish I had been to disregard the surrogate program.
The months that followed were full of appointments and bed rest, more appointments, two hospitalizations and more bed rest. Greg would come home from work with loads of books, both for me and our future child. We'd read and I'd sing.
I never let a minute go by that I didn't tell our daughter how much I loved her. It didn't matter that I was bored out of my mind and yancy to get out of bed. It didn't matter that I missed my friends and family, who lived so far away. It didn't matter that I spent Christmas in the hospital. I told her I loved every minute of it, fearing just one negative thought would make her leave me.
I would gently rub my belly and say, "I have died every day waiting for you. Darling, don't be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years. I'll love you for a thousand more."
More snapping brought me back to reality.
"Honey, come back to me," my mother cooed.
I looked over and smiled. "Hi, Mom."
Mom smiled back. "You have to stay awake now. You're going to have a baby."
"Is it time?"
"Yes, sweetie, they're starting. How do you feel?"
"Like I could fly," I said, a tear escaping down my cheek. "I am so happy."
My mother's eyes filled with tears. "Then I will fly with you, because I am so happy for you."
That's when I heard it. A small cry floated across the room and I thought my heart was going to explode with excitement. "Is she okay?"
"Yes," said the nurse. "we're just going to take her to the nursery and get her cleaned up while they stitch you up. You'll see her very soon."
"Mom, go with her," I urged. "Make sure she's okay."
Mom looked at the baby and then back at me. "Are you sure?"
I nodded as I watched her hustle out behind the nurses. I turned toward the nurse closest to me. "How long till I can see her?"
"Not long," said the nurse. "We just got to get you stitched up. Just rest for now, you're gonna need all your strength taking care of that little one. You did good, Momma."
I closed my eyes and repeated the last word she had spoken, "Momma."
I was a momma and with that knowledge, not only did I fly, but I soared.
I woke up in my hospital room a short time later. It took me a minute to realize where I was, then I spotted my mother sitting on the couch, a small bundle in her arms.
Her eyes caught mine and she smiled. "Hey, little girl, you're momma would like to say hello."
She placed the sweet darling in my arms. She was absolutely perfect, I couldn't help but cry. My little girl followed my cue and cried with me.
I shushed her, just as my mother had done to me in the hospital room earlier and said, "I have died every day waiting for you. Darling, don't be afraid, I have loved you for a thousand years. I'll love you for a thousand more."
By: Jennifer McMurrain (Challenge~Desperation~Victory)
"Don't worry, sir, I'm up for the challenge," Brent spoke into the cell phone, his voice confident. "I'll find her and bring her home."
Brent hung up and turned his attention to the stone cottage. The English gardens made the small house a real life Thomas Kinkade painting. Singing wafted throughout the property as Brent made his way to a small gate covered by an arch of victory roses. He'd know that voice anywhere.
Letting himself into the backyard he thought of the words he wanted to say. He knew exactly where she was, but Richard didn't need to know that until he had talked to her. He had to convince her to come back with him, there was no other choice.
The singing grew louder as he rounded the corner to find Amanda placing large pink peonies into a wicker basket.
"Amanda," he said, his voice clear and strong over her singing.
"How did you find me, Brent?" asked Amanda, not looking up from her gardening.
"You forget." He smiled. "It's my job to protect you, which means being able to find you when you drop off the face of the planet after a tour. I have to hand it to you, going back to the name you had before you were adopted threw me off a little, but just a little."
"Well, very few people ever knew I was adopted so it seemed logical. My parents understand my reason for doing it and aren't taking it personal," said Amanda.
She sighed. "I'm not going back, Brent. I'm done with that life and I would appreciate it if you'd tell Richard and the others that. My contract is up, they have no legal hold over me."
"I don't understand. They made all your dreams come true," said Brent. "They made you who you are today."
Amanda shook her head. "No, they made Lady Mood and I'm sure they will find another starlet who is wanting to be famous and make her into something greater than Lady Mood ever was."
"You're not making sense," said Brent, closing the distant between them. "Why leave it all behind?"
"Oh, Brent, I explained it all in the letter. Can't we leave it at that?" She turned back to her peonies.
"No." Brent took her clipping shears. "I need you to explain it to me."
"Fine," said Amanda, gesturing to a wood bench for him to sit. "I came to L.A. with a dream, a voice and five hundred dollars. All I wanted was for people to hear my voice, to hear my songs. I was lucky to get my record contract, I know that. I know the fact that Richard just happened to be at the bar that night was a complete fluke. People work years for record contracts and mine just fell in my lap the second month I was there. But because it happened so fast, I didn't feel I could say anything about the way things were being done. That it would make me seem ungrateful. But, I hated the costumes. I hated going to interviews and acting like a complete idiot, spouting off scripts of being from the moon and hatching out of eggs for the red carpet. The whole thing was ridiculous. But I did it, because people loved it. And I loved the fans."
Amanda turned, Brent could see her wipe the tears off her cheeks before she turned around and finished. "I could stand all that stupid act, but I couldn't stand hearing my voice altered to the point it sounded like a electronic operator at a call center. It was altered so much I had to lip sync at every concert. Not that I could've sung with all that dancing and running around on stage. It stopped being about the music and started being about the spectacle. I just can't live like that."
Brent nodded and patted the spot next to him on the bench. Amanda sat.
"I get all that." He grabbed her hand. "But you could've talked to Richard. You still can! You're a big enough star they'll let you do anything you want as long as you come back. No one is as big as Lady Mood. You could have Richard eating out of your hand. It can all be different, you have all the control now and I'll support whatever changes you want to make to Lady Mood. You can still have the fame and fortune, just on your terms."
"But, I don't want any of it," explained Amanda in desperation. "It isn't fair to my fans or the countless other musicians who want it so bad. I've come to hate every moment of it."
"What about me?" Brent whispered. "Do you hate me?"
Amanda's eyes softened as she caressed his cheek. "Oh, Brent, I could never hate you. I will always love you and you will always be a part of my life in some way."
Her hand fell to her stomach, his eyes followed.
"So why did you leave without telling me goodbye?" he asked. "Given me the chance to come with you?"
"Because, you would've never left it all for us. You've finally gotten the respect you deserve from Richard. It won't be long before you have the office right next to his. That is your dream and I would never take that away from you. But, it was too hard to say goodbye in person for me and I knew you'd turn me into putty and convinced me to stay. It was selfish on my part, and for that I'm sorry. But, I'm not sorry for leaving."
"So we're over?" asked Brent.
"I'm not going back." Amanda stood and took the clipping shears from Brent. "This is my home and I love it. It's peaceful and I am so happy. I don't remember the last time I was truly happy. Even as happy as I was wrapped in your arms I always knew another concert or interview was looming. Soon you will be the one everyone wants pictures of and I have no plans to return to the limelight."
She walked over to a red rose bush and snipped a flower in full bloom. Turning to Brent she placed the flower in his breast pocket like a boutonniere. "Now, please go Brent, and if you tell Richard where I'm at I'll just move again and you'll never find me. I just want to live an ordinary life, that is my new dream."
"Are you sure there's nothing else you want to tell me?" He placed his hand gently on her belly.
"Only that you are free to fly, the choice of where to is up to you."
With that Amanda strolled deeper into the garden leaving Brent with his thoughts. He watched her walk until a Willow tree blocked his view. He turned and started to his car, letting himself out of the garden laden backyard. As he crossed under the rose arch, her singing returned. A soft lullaby sat gently on the wind. In that instant his dream changed.
Pulling out his phone, he called his boss. Richard picked up on the first ring. "Did you find her?"
"No, and I'm afraid I won't be able to help you out any longer." Brent smiled. "I
Hanging up, Brent turned off the phone, threw it in the trash and
walked back into the garden to make his dreams come true.
By Jennifer McMurrain (Pick your Poison)
"How's my angel? Feeling better?" asked Candra, opening the curtains to her daughter's room.
"Yes, Mommy. My tummy doesn't feel icky right now." April sat up in the pink cover bed. "Do you think I could go outside and play today?"
Candra felt her daughter's forehead. "You're still a little warm, so we'll see in a bit, okay?"
"Is anyone coming today?" asked April "I liked that lady from the news station. She brought me a teddy bear and popsicles."
"No visitors today, honey. Everyone just wants you to feel better and to find out why you're sick." Candra sat close to April, giving her cheeks a teasing pinch. "They want to make sure you and I can make ends meet, since Daddy left. Would you like some tomato soup?"
April sighed. "I'm so tired of soup, Mommy. Can't I have a grilled cheese sandwich instead?"
"I'm sorry, hun, but I don't think your stomach is ready for that. How about you eat all your soup and we'll see how that settles. If you feel okay, you can have grilled cheese for dinner. Sound like a plan?" Candra cocked her head.
"Okay, Mommy." April smiled.
Candra smiled back. "I'll be right back."
Kissing her daughter on the forehead, Candra headed to the kitchen. She opened the can of tomato soup and poured it into a bowl with some water. Reaching under the sink she took out the glass cleaner and poured a little into the soup.
Stirring the concoction, she cried knowing she was taking minutes from her only child's life.
By: Jennifer McMurrain (Celia Rhodes Photography ~ Image #3)
Rose ran through the snow covered woods. She could hear the men hollering for more water, but knew the barn was far enough from the river, that the holler would go unheeded.
She rounded the bend. The site of the barn on fire in the meadow hit her like a punch to the gut. Falling to the ground, she took in the flames, so high they touched the stars. Getting back to her feet she ran toward the fire, she couldn't let it go.
Firm hands grabbed her, keeping her a safe distance from the fire.
"It's my barn," she cried. "You have to save it!"
"We're doing all we can," said a soot covered man. "We've got a steady stream a buckets coming from the river. Now, it's just a matter of time."
Rose's mind turned to her last night in the barn. Her last night with David. She remembered how he kissed her neck, his musky smell with a hint of mint from his tobacco, tickling her nose. They laid there wrapped in each other's arms, making love until just before sunrise. Soon, he would make an honest woman out of her. He just needed a little more gold first, then they would no longer have to hide in the old barn. Until then the nights would be theirs and the barn was their heaven.
A scream on the wind, brought Rose back to the current crisis at hand. She looked around to see if anyone else had heard it, but if they had, they had no reaction. Again, the sound of a woman screaming filled her ears, but the men continued working. Maybe it was just her mind playing tricks on her, just a trick played by her emotions and the flames.
That's when she smelled his musky scent with a hint of mint. But that wasn't all, there was something else on the air--strawberries. There was only one woman who smelled of strawberries. Missy, who worked at the saloon.
"Tell them to stop," she whispered.
"What?" asked the man who had grabbed her before.
"Tell the men to stop putting out the fire." She turned to him. "Let it burn."
By Jennifer McMurrain (Looks are often deceiving)
"How could you do this to me? I thought what we had was real. I thought we'd be together forever, you are my soul mate. And now you just want me to continue on with my life as if nothing has happened. I'm just supposed to wake up without you every day and not care? Well, I do care. I've always cared.
Haven't I always stood by your side? Do you remember when you were finishing up that big project for work? You were so stressed and there was even a time you thought you couldn't do it. Who helped you with it? Who rubbed your shoulders and encouraged you through every step of the way? I never cared that you were always late for a dinner I worked so hard to make for you. I never cared that our plans were always scrapped in order for you to work. Do you think another woman would be that understanding?
I just don't understand how you could leave me. What did I do? Is there something I could of done better? I tried so hard to show you how much I love you. I can't just turn my love for you off you know. And I know you still love me. So why did you do this? Why did you leave me? What am I supposed to do now?"
Stacey placed a single red rose on her lover's grave and slowly walked away.
By: Jennifer McMurrain (Hero must die)
I've walked these streets a thousand times. People bump into me as if I'm invisible. I buy my coffee at same place every morning, they never remember my face. The skinny blonde woman named Jill, they always remember her face. She doesn't have to say a word, and her coffee magically appears. I bet her whole day is like that.
Work is the same, I keep my head bent over my computer and watch others take credit for my work. I never speak up, never make waves. Even if I tried, no one would believe me anyway. I'm just the girl with the forgettable face, never the star of the show. Never the hero.
So it was with some trepidation I stepped forward. Ignoring my rule of minding my own business. Today was different, today I knew stepping forward would forever change my life, but I could not stand still. I could no longer lurk in the shadows, no longer hide. My step was deliberate, my shove hard. The last thing I saw was the little girl crying over her bloody knee, Mom rushing to her side, as the bus barreled into me -- my face no longer forgettable.
By: Jennifer McMurrain (Sister Sparrow Cover Design)(A Visual Prompt from Sister Sparrow Design)
Dakota Jones brushed a palm leaf the size of a canoe paddle out of his face. Sweat dripped from his forehead. Removing his fedora he wiped his face with his forearm. Nothing was stickier than the South American rainforest in July, a mix of humidity and mosquitoes.
"The entrance to the temple has to be close," he mumbled to himself.
"Still talking to yourself, Dakota?"
Dakota stopped and took a deep breath. "What are you doing here, Ruby?"
"Did you really think I was going to let you have all the fun?" Ruby walked around to face Dakota. "After all it was I who found the map. It was I who lead you to Brazil and it was I who stole the key from
"Yes and it was I who locked you in the basement."
"I forgive you." She traced his chin with her finger, her smoky eyes drawing him in. "So are we going to find the Peridot Princess necklace or sit and have tea?"
Dakota grunted. "Why don't you have tea and I'll find the necklace. I left you in that basement for a reason, sweetheart."
Ruby cringed. "Don't call me sweetheart. I haven't been your sweetheart in years. I have explored more of these jungles than you. Besides we have to get passed the Tata Duende and I'm the only one who knows how."
"The Tata Duende is a mythological creature." Dakota shook his head. "See this is exactly why I locked you in the basement. Come on."
Pushing through the foliage, Dakota scanned the forest. Holding up his hand he gestured for Ruby to
"What now, Dakota?"
"Don't... move... a... muscle."
Dakota could see every muscle in Ruby body tighten up as a large rustle escaped from the bushes.
"Tata Duende," she whispered.
Dakota gave his head a slight shake. "No...worse."
Before Ruby could respond a series of machetes broke through the dense jungle. Two dark skinned men pointed their machetes at Dakota and Ruby to protect the pasty man that followed. Four more men with machetes follow.
"Moses," said Dakota, a sneer on his face.
"Ahhh... Dakota it's so nice to see you again," sang Moses, his voice high and nasally. "Oh, and Ruby, lovely as ever. Fancy meeting the two of you here."
"Yeah, fancy that," said Dakota.
Moses walked around Ruby. "So what brings you two out in the jungle on this fine day? Are we looking for a temple? Maybe some ruins?" He grabs Ruby's chin as she tries to flinch back. "Perhaps your searching for a certain peridot necklace?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Ruby, jerking her head away. Moses laughed. "So you're just out here having a little picnic... maybe a lover's trist?"
"What do you want?" Dakota asked, taking the madman's focus away from Ruby.
"The same thing you do, Dakota, world peace, end world hunger, and the Peridot Princess." With a snap of his fingers, the men surround Dakota and Ruby. "And you're going to help me find it, aren't you?"
"And just why would we do that?" asked Dakota.
Moses snapped his fingers signaling one of his thugs to grab Ruby, sliding his machete under her chin.
"Because if you don't I'll kill her."
The thug lifted the knife causing a trickle of blood to drip down Ruby's chin. A small squeak escaped her lips before she could swallow it. "Don't tell him anything, Dakota. I'd rather die than let him get the Peridot Princess. You know what will happen if he wears it."
Moses laughed. "Yes, nature will do my beck and call. All animals, rocks and trees will be under my command. I will control the weather, as well and the seas. Governments will have no choice but to bow down to me if they want their ports to stay above water and their crops to thrive. But don't worry Dakota, I've always been a fair man. Soon I will control the fate of every man, woman and child, but right now I'll let you decide the fate of the fair Ruby. You help or she dies...your choice."
"Fine, let her go. I'll help you find the Peridot Princess."
"Dakota, no!" screamed Ruby. "I'd rather die!"
"All in good time," sang Moses, tweaking Ruby's chin and nodding to the thug to let her go.
"Don't worry, sweetheart," said Dakota, giving Ruby a wink. He looked at Moses. "It's this way."
Dakota started walking south and the group followed.
The ground started to rumble, soon shaking violently. "Earthquake!" yelled Moses as he and his men tumbled to the ground.
The ground broke under Dakota and Ruby, causing them to tumble away from Moses and his men. Ruby was the first to stand and brush herself off. Looking up she gasped.
Closing his eyes Dakota sighed. "It's spiders isn't it? It's always spiders."
Ruby remained silent so Dakota lifted his head. In front of him stood a paradise most men only dream about. A crystal blue stream ran through a luscious green meadow flanked by tall trees. In the middle of the meadow stood a tall ruin under a cloudless sky.
"The pyramid, it looks brand new," whispered Ruby, snapping Dakota out of his trance.
"Come on," said Dakota, walking past Ruby toward the pyramid. "Let's find that necklace."
The two explorers hopped over the stream and crossed the meadow to stand in front of the stairs leading up to the top of the pyramid. Ruby studied the markings on the side of the stairs.
"What does it say?" asked Dakota.
"All those that walk will not stay in the light." Ruby raised an eyebrow. "Wonder what that means."
"It means these stairs are booby trapped, sweetheart." Dakota looked at the stairs. "Does it say anything else?"
Ruby studied the rest of the pyramid. "I don't see anyth... wait on the stairs. The symbol on every third step."
"What does it mean?" asked Dakota.
"It's the symbol for sun."
"And the other two symbols?" Dakota squinted. "The ones on the first and second steps?"
"Well I believe the symbol on the first step is for mountain and on the second... I can't be for sure, but it
looks like snake. But I can't be sure which steps to take... the sun is always in the light, but mountains can bring you closer to the light and a snake has to have heat in order to live."
"Well there's only one way to find out."
"No! Dakota wait!"
Before Ruby could reach out and grab Dakota, he leapt onto the third step. A few pebbles fell on the second step, but Dakota stayed put. "Well, I guess now we know to take every third step, sweetheart."
Dakota winked and held out his hand to Ruby who shook her head. "How you've lived this long I'll never know."
"No, I just didn't over think it. Sometimes it just is what it is, sweetheart." Dakota lifted his leg high over the next two steps, then reached out for Ruby. "You should try it sometime."
"I'd rather over think than die. And quit calling me 'sweetheart' you know I've never liked being called that, especially from you."
Dakota smirked. "Sure thing, cupcake."
Ruby rolled her eyes as the two climbed carefully up the pyramid, soon coming to the top level. Dakota wiped the sweat off his brow as Ruby studied the next set of markings around the door that lead into the pyramid.
"Anything?" Dakota asked.
Ruby shook her head. "It's all gibberish. I've neverseen the markingsarranged like this before. It's almost as if it keep repeating "turtle" over and over."
Dakota walked around the corner. "Ruby, come take a look at this."
Ruby joined Dakota. "Did you find something?"
He pointed to the symbols arranged in a circle.
"Here are the symbols for flora, fauna, then the symbol for home. Unless..." Ruby pushed hard on the symbol for home, then screamed as they fell into darkness.
Dakota and Ruby tumbled into a huge sand pile, each rolling to break their falls.
Dakota was first to his feet, "What'd you do that for?"
"Well a turtle always has its home with him, so I took page from your book and went with my gut." Ruby brushed her hair out of her face.
"Next time a little warning before going with your gut, ok?" Dakota looked around. "Well, we're inside."
"We're more than inside," said Ruby. "Dakota look."
Dakota turned to see a vast treasure of gold and jewels, there in the middle stood a statue of a goddess. A gold crown sat on her head filled with diamonds and pearls, while sapphire eyes stared at the explorers. There around her neck hung the Peridot Princess.
"Be careful," Dakota grabbed her shoulder, pulling her back. "There's trip wire everywhere. One wrong turn and we're toast."
Dakota stepped over the wire and scanned the floor for more, taking careful steps as he advanced toward the statue. Ruby followed him, eyeing the treasures surrounding her. Safely in front of the statue, she read the markings. "Says something about a riddle; answer the riddle from the man with backwards feet and be rewarded." She gasped and whispered. "Tata Duende."
"Ruby, it's a myth... " Dakota stopped as something large jumped into the hole they had fallen through.
A nasally laugh filled the air.
Dakota sighed. "I thought you were still playing in the dirt."
"Luckily me and a couple of friends were able to follow you." He motioned toward his four machete armed guards. "Seize them!"
Dakota held up his hands. "No! It's booby trapped!" but it was too late for the first two guards, whose heads left their bodies by way of a giant machete.
Dakota turned his attention back to Moses and the remaining machete carrying goons. "We got lucky this time. The next trap could send this whole place down."
Moses placed his hand on his cheek. "Well, you got over there easy enough. I'm sure my men can do the same." He looked at the remaining guards and shooed them forward. "Go ahead, seize them, but be careful this time."
Before the men could advance a swirl of leaves and twigs blocked their path. Just outside the chamber an eerie whistle filled the air. An ugly little man with a long grey beard and big red hat appeared in front of Moses.
"You seek the treasure?" the little man asked Moses in a baritone that didn't match his stature.
"It's the Tata Duende," Ruby whispered. "He's the one with the riddle. We've got to answer the riddle first or he'll give it to Moses. Whatever you do don't show him your thumbs."
"What?" Dakota shook his head.
"Trust me," Ruby hissed in his ear.
"We are," Dakota called out before Moses could answer. It was obvious Moses didn't know what to think of the little man so Dakota continued. "My friend and I are here for the Peridot Princess, and he is not my friend."
Tata Duende winked at Moses. "I'll be right back. But don't go anywhere. You may have your treasure yet."
Before Moses could move, roots shot up from the ground and wrapped around his ankles.
The two goons dropped their machetes and took off, ignoring Moses' pleas of help.
Ruby screamed as Tata Duende appeared in front of them within a blink. "You should only be scared if you can't answer the riddle," said Tata Duende.
"You just startled me," said Ruby. "What is your riddle?"
"I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all, To live and breathe on this terrestrial ball," answered Tata Duende.
"That's not a riddle, that's a poem," said Dakota.
"Does this mean you cannot answer?" asked Tata Duende. "It would not be wise to not even try. I don't believe you would like the outcome." His eerie laugh filled the chamber, shaking the walls.
As the laughter faded, he stared at Dakota. "Your answer or your death."
Dakota rubbed the back of his neck and repeated the riddle. He looked at Ruby. "Any clue?"
Ruby shook her head. "It doesn't make any sense to me. You're right it's just a poem."
Tata Duende clicked his tongue and shook his head. "This does not look good for you and I grow tired of
your confused faces. I must have an answer within a minute or I will kill you."
"Just hold on," Dakota said, holding out his hand. "Let me think."
Dakota repeated the poem over and over in a whisper, eyes darting back and forth as he thought about each stanza.
Ruby grabbed his shoulder. "Dakota, we're running out of time."
"I don't hear you coming up with an answer, sweetheart. If you want to see tomorrow you'll..." His eyes widened. "That's it... the answer is the future."
Tata Duende nodded. "You have answered my riddle correctly, the treasure is yours. But take only what you can carry, you will not be allowed back. One last question before I leave you be. How many fingers do you have?" His mouth curled in a evil smile.
Ruby stepped in front of Dakota, holding her hands up, palms facing toward her she tucked her thumbs in and showed Tata Duende four fingers on each hand. Dakota followed suit.
Tata Duende shook his head and his body began to fade as he spoke, "That is too bad. I was hoping for five."
Ruby looked around the room. "What all should we take?"
Dakota looked up at the goddess statue and reached around her neck, unlatching the Peridot Princess necklace. "Only this, the rest is hers to keep." He nodded toward the goddess.
"He said we could take as much as we could carry," Ruby retorted. "We can't just take the necklace. We could be set for life with everything we could carry out."
"Greed only leads to trouble..."
Before Dakota could finish his thought, a scream pierced the air.
Dakota grabbed Ruby, pushing her behind him, ready to take on the next monster or trap in the treasure cave. But upon looking around the room, he saw they were not the ones in danger.
Tata Duende towered above Moses, a hand wrapped around both of Moses' thumbs, as Moses continued to scream in agony.
"Oh my God," whispered Ruby, "Tata Duende is taking his thumbs."
"What?" Dakota raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, the legend is true. Tata Duende is seeking thumbs from people because he has none for himself. That's why I told you not to show him your thumbs."
A sickening pop filled the air as Moses sank to his knees and continued to scream at his now thumbless hands. Tata Duende turned toward Dakota and Ruby with a broad smile, bowed as the caved filled with a whistle, then disappeared.
"Guess Moses wasn't lucky enough to have you on his team, huh, sweetheart?" Dakota grabbed the necklace off the statue, shoved it into his bag and rushed to Moses, followed closely by Ruby.
Reaching into his bag, Dakota pulled out two rolls of gauze and handed one to Ruby. "We need to stop the bleeding."
Now it was Ruby's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You want me to help the guy who put a machete to my neck?"
Dakota nodded. "There's really only one difference between Moses and I."
"Oh yeah," said Ruby. "What's that?"
Dakota held up the gauze. "This." He started to wrap Moses' trembling hand. "We both want to be the first to find the treasure, but I won't let a man die to do it."
"You're right." Ruby sighed, then started wrapping Moses' other hand. "He would've left us here to die."
"And who says I won't now?" Moses sprang up and grabbed Dakota's bag. Dakota dodged,causing Moses to fall into the bulk of the treasure, but not before the bag was ripped from his shoulder.
Moses stood and started laughing as he wrapped the Peridot Princess around his wrist, as he scooped treasure after treasure into Dakota's bag. "You're a fool for taking only the necklace. A fool!"
The ground started to umble.
"He's hit a trip wire," yelled Dakota. "Run!"
Dakota and Ruby ran toward the opening, relived to see Moses' men had left their ropes. Each grabbed a rope and started to climb. Dakota took one last look down, just n time to see Moses and the rest of the treasure being sucked down into a giant sand whirlpool. There were no screams from Moses this time, for his mouth was full of sand.
Pulling himself onto the pyramid landing, he leaned against the wall with Ruby. She handed him her canteen. "It wasn't a trip wire," she said, panting.
"No?" Dakota took a swig of water.
"You said it best, greed only leads to trouble. He didn't answer the riddle, so he wasn't allowed the treasure," Ruby explained. "Once the necklace was in his possession the gods made sure he didn't leave with it."
"Are you saying I was right?" A smile caressed Dakota's face as he handed the canteen back.
"Not on your life," She took a swig. "So are you sorry about the necklace?"
"No man should have that kind of power. I was going to destroy it, but Moses saved me the trouble." Dakota hopped up and extended a hand to Ruby. "Have you ever heard of the crystal skulls?"
Back in the treasure cave, Tata Duende admired the new addition to his collection. In the corner, just
past the goddess that once wore the Peridot Princess, sat a dozen gold statues. Until today there had only been eleven. The new one had a twisted look of pain on his face, the Peridot Princess wrapped around his wrist and no thumbs.
By Jennifer McMurrain (Ancient ~ Wisdom ~ Closure)
Diamond gazed down at the girl laying in the path. The sun was setting and Soledad would soon be on the prowl. Usually, Soledad wouldn't bother with a skinny girl, he preferred pray with more meat, but she was draped in a scarlet satin gown. Between the girl's alabaster skin and raven hair, all Soledad would see was red.
Diamond learned the hard way that Soledad hated the color red after painting the roses red on Soledad's favorite bush. Soledad had thrashed the bush apart and Diamond had barely escaped with his life. Soledad had made it very clear all colors were acceptable in his forest, save the color red.
But, how to wake the girl when Diamond was no bigger than her finger? Spreading his iridescent wings he coasted to the where the girl lay.
"Excuse me," he said, tugging on the girl's hand. She didn't stir.
Diamond rubbed his chin. There had to be a way to wake this Child of Eve before Soledad caught sight of her. An idea popped into his head, she wouldn't like it, but no time could be wasted.
Rubbing his hands together Diamond chanted a prayer, "Dear Mother Earth, my situation's dire. Please give to me the ancient power of fire."
Soon a small ember began to glow in the palm of his hand and quickly grew into a small flame. Diamond gently held the fire under the girl's dainty wrist. "Painful, but quick," he thought.
And he was right, upon seconds of feeling the heat the girl bolted up, knocking Diamond into a nearby bush. He was thankful it was his peonies bush that was quick to catch him within her soft leaves and not one of his beloved roses.
Straightening his clothes and wiping off his wings, he flew to the girl. "I do apologize, my lady, but I had to wake you. You must hide before Soledad begins his nightly hunt."
"But it is because of Soledad that I am here. I must face him or we are all doomed."
Diamond forced a smile. "I see someone has filled your head with nonsense not wisdom, Child of Eve. The only one who is fated to be doomed is you, if you don't hide your scarlet frock. Soledad cannot stand the sight of the color of red."
"I am here to offer myself up as sacrifice so Soledad will leave the tomato crop alone. We can no longer pick them while green, they are too bitter. The merchants have refused to buy our bitter fruit. My father is desperate and has threatened to..."
"I will just paint your tomatoes purple, problem solved." Diamond's smile broadened.
"You didn't let me finish, my father is the keeper of the sun. He is threatening to never let the sun set, so Soledad cannot hunt and will never see the red tomatoes."
"But he cannot do that! What of the nightingale and the opossum? The Moon Fairies and the Dragon Fruit flower?" Diamond paced back and forth. "Have you gone to Mother Earth? Has she any advice?"
"She is on holiday with the Father Spirit. I have sent a message with the wind, but time is not on our side. Father has said tonight is the last night he'll let the sun set."
The girl gathered her skirt. "I must find Soledad. I must give him my life in return for the safety of the crops. It is the only way. Please tell my father what I have done, so that all will be right, and there will be closure." She turned to run.
"But I don't even know what they call you, Child of Eve," he shouted.
"They call me Crystal, daughter of Sol and Cielo." Then she disappeared into dark forest.
Diamond watched the girl, too stunned to move. The prophecy was coming true.
Coming to his senses, Diamond chased the girl. "Wait, you mustn't do this!" he called after her.
If she heard him, she didn't heed his warning, running so fast he was barely able to keep up. Then she stopped suddenly, giving Diamond only a moment to fly up before colliding with her back. He turned to talk some sense into her when he caught sight of the object that made her freeze her sprint. Soledad loomed over her.
"Girl!" Soledad growled and slapped the ground with his large paw. "Red is forbidden in my realm. Do you wish to die? For that is the path you have chosen by coming here."
"They call me Crystal, daughter of Sol and Cielo. I am here to offer myself to you in exchange for the safety of our tomato crop. My father is refusing to let the sun set, so you cannot hunt and will therefore never see our red tomatoes."
Soledad laughed. "Your father is as foolish as you. There are consequences to obstructing the natural ways of life. I will eat you now, then hunt your father. Let his death be a warning to the next keeper of the sun. I will be obeyed."
Diamond cleared his throat. "Master Soledad, might we come to an understanding without bloodshed? This young Child of Eve was willing to sacrifice her life not only for the sun, but for your livelihood. You would starve to death if the sun never set. She is saving your life as well as her people's welfare. Perhaps you show her mercy if they agree to pick all the red tomatoes before sun down?"
"Fairy you forget your place." Soledad glared at Diamond before baring his teeth at Crystal. "This disobedience will not be tolerated." His eyes narrowed. "Tonight I will hunt twice. Do you want to run? We'll make a sport out of it. Either way, you die tonight."
Diamond inched closer to Soledad. "Master, she is the daughter of Sol, the keeper of the sun, and Cielo, the keeper of the sky."
Soledad snorted. "Her bloodline makes no difference to me. They will all be dead before sunrise. Unless you want to bare their same fate you will stand aside, fairy."
"But the prophecy," Diamond whispered. "It is told to all fairies that one day a daughter of the keeper of the sky will be killed in an act of noble sacrifice, which will cause the sky to cry for years. The sky's tears will flood the earth perishing all land dwellers."
"I do not believe in the tales and nonsense of fairies' bedtime stories. Now stand aside, Diamond!" Soledad bared his teeth.
"Please, brave fairy," said Crystal gently, "go before you get hurt and give my message to my parents. I have sealed my fate." She turned to Soledad. "I will play your game, but I insist you give me a fair start."
Diamond raised an eyebrow at the girl. The corner of her lip turned slightly upward as Diamond heard her voice in his head. "Go, fairy, warn my parents. I will keep Soledad busy as long as I can. Keep them safe until Mother Earth as returned. The rest will be in her hands."
With a heavy heart and sheer determination Diamond rushed toward the village. It was a long flight, but he would make it before Soledad. He had too. His mind raced as fast as his wings fluttered, what if the prophecy was true? Had he just doomed the earth by leaving Crystal alone with Soledad?
A scream pierced the sky. Was it Crystal? He turned toward the sound, he wouldn't leave her to face Soledad alone. He had to save her, saving her meant saving them all.
The flash of her red gown told him that Crystal was still alive and running. She was leading him south of the village toward the Gorge of Infinity. Diamond rushed ahead, trying to think of a plan. Crystal tripped near the gorge's cliff and scrambled away from the edge. Before Diamond could blink Soledad hovered over her. He rushed to the scene.
Gaining ground he could see Soledad's big paw tower over the girl. He straightened his body and pushed his tired wings to go faster, while chanting, "With all my power with all my might, let me save this girl tonight."
Diamond threw himself in front of Crystal taking the force of Soledad's giant paw. A burst of white light exploded between the two, causing Soledad to fly backwards. Diamond saw Soledad's face turn pale only a moment before the monster fell into the gorge abyss.
Diamond felt all the strength leave his body as he dropped toward the ground.
Crystal raised her delicate hand, giving him a perch. "You saved me."
"No, he saved us all," came a voice from behind.
Crystal and Diamond turned to see Mother Earth and Father Spirit descend from the sky.
"The prophecy was true," explained Mother Earth. "Our daughter, Cielo, would have been devastated at the loss of Crystal. She would have flooded the earth with her tears." She turned to Diamond. "You have shown great bravery Diamond, and for your courage I have created a new stone in your name. It will be the most desired stone, but also the hardest to destroy. Thank you, my friend."
Diamond blushed, before bowing to Mother Earth. "I am humbled by your gesture."
"Now, dear," said Father Spirit, helping Crystal to her feet, "shall we get you home and hold a celebration. Let's have the villagers throw tomatoes at each other, you know, to paint the town red, now that Soledad is gone." He turned to Diamond. "Feel up to some painting?"
Diamond grinned. "Yes, sir. I do believe red is my new favorite color."
by Jennifer McMurrain (Flying~Strawberries~Handyman)
Gwen shoved the pillow over her head trying to drown out the sound of a hammer. Who on God's green earth was doing construction at 6:30 am?
Gwen threw the pillow to the side. "Aarrrghhh!" she screamed.
She'd been up half the night working on a plot twist that didn't want to twist. Starting from Friday at 7pm till Sunday at 7pm she was a writer. The rest of the week as a teacher was reserved for term papers, snotty noses and teens who couldn't keep their mouths shut. She enjoyed being a teacher, but not as much as she loved being a writer. This was her time, and having some demented handyman interrupt what little sleep she got on the weekends was not going to fly.
Sitting up she threw the covers to the side and slid her feet into her strawberry slippers. She knew most grown women didn't have slippers that looked like giant strawberries, but she didn't care. They were comfortable, had been a gift from her sister, and she loved them. They were her writing slippers, but right now they were going to be her handyman butt kicking slippers.
Without so much of a robe, a brush to the hair or even a glance in the mirror, Gwen marched outside in her pink pajamas, down the sidewalk and up to the neighbor's house. She knocked hard three times, then stood tapping her strawberry clad foot.
The door opened and Gwen's jaw dropped. It was Harry.
Harry Armes was once Gwen's live-in boyfriend. Close to ten years had gone by since she saw him last. Memories of that last day flooded threw her mind: coming home early from student teaching, hearing noises in the bedroom, and then seeing Harry white rump plowing into Emma Cash's body.
Gwen reached up and slapped Harry.
"Hi, Gwen," he said rubbing his jaw. "I'm pretty sure I earned that."
She slapped him again.
"Ow, not sure I earned that one."
"The first one was for... well you know. The second was for hammering at 6:30 on a Saturday morning."
Harry gave Gwen a once over. "I take it you live around here?"
"I live next door." Gwen's foot started tapping again.
Harry ran his hand through his hair. "So as my neighbor will you be flying off the handle on a daily basis? Just want to prepare myself."
"Your neighbor?" Gwen's jaw dropped. "You mean you bought this place?"
Harry chuckled. "Closed on it yesterday. I've been up all night replacing some of the pipes in the wall. I was trying to get the sheet rock up before the movers come with my stuff, hence the hammering. I'm very sorry I woke you."
"You moved here?" Gwen asked.
"I did," said Harry. "I'm the new principle at the high school."
Gwen gave herself a mental slap. Her ex-boyfriend was going to be her new boss. Fantastic! Not only were they going to be neighbors but she was going to get to see his cheating face every day. Yay!
Gwen nodded. "Fine then. Guess I'll be seeing you around."
"I'll try to keep it down," offered Harry.
"No worries, I'm up now." Gwen started home.
"Hey, Gwen," said Harry.
She stopped and turned. "Yes?"
"I really am sorry," said Harry.
She waived him off. "Don't worry about it, really."
"No, not just about the hammering." Harry walked onto the porch to meet Gwen. "I'm sorry about Emma Cash. I'm sorry I cheated. I'm sorry you found out that way and I'm sorry I didn't apologize then. But mostly I'm sorry I let you go."
Gwen took a deep breath. "It was a long time ago, Harry. Please, don't give it a second thought."
Harry smiled. "I guess I better let you get back to your husband."
Gwen shook her head. "No, I live alone, unless you count my cat, Seaweed."
She grimaced. Why had she just said that? He didn't need to know that she was the stereotypical single cat lady.
"Oh yeah, it's just me and my cat as well," said Harry, "You and Seaweed will have to come over and meet Bear. Maybe we can have a play date?"
Gwen could see him wanting to take back that awkward last sentence, she started down the stairs to avoid his red face.
"Hey, Gwen," Harry said once again.
Gwen once again turned to look at her ex-boyfriend/new boss/new neighbor.
"I hope we can get to know each other again. You always were the one that got away."
Gwen smiled. "I'm sure we can work something out."
Gwen made her way back home and hopped onto her computer. Opening up a new page on her word document she started typing. A new story was about to be written and she already loved the beginning.
By Jennifer McMurrain (Got you Covered/Cover 3)
Becca pulled her coat closer as the wind whipped through her hair. She cursed herself for taking a walk right before the "Blizzard of the Century". Chuckling she shook her head at the press' lack of imagination. Truth was she knew it was going to be her last chance to get out of the house for a while with the impending snow storm looming. Not as if it mattered, she'd be alone and inside regardless of the weather.
Sighing she continued her solo walk through the park. The pathways fit the way her soul felt... empty. Shoving her hands deeper in her pockets, Becca shuffled her feet against the ice laden walk.
Becca had just enough time to glance behind her before a man barreled into her, knocking her to the ground. She laid there, too stunned to give the human bowling ball the tongue lashing he deserved. She blinked away snowflakes as a head blocked out the street light.
"I am so sorry." A hand grabbed her elbow as she felt herself being lifted up. "Are you ok? I lost my footing... stupid tennis shoes. I should've known better than to wear them before the "Blizzard of the Century"." He laughed. "You'd think the news could come up with a punchier name. I think they're getting a bit lazy."
Becca shook her head, still trying to clear the stars. "Who are you?"
The stranger laughed again and took off a glove before extending his hand. "Sorry, I'm Matt, the clumsy oaf who can't walk and... well, who can't walk without taking out a beautiful woman minding her own business."
Becca stated her name while briefly shaking Matt's hand. "Well, I'll be on my way."
She turned to continue her walk.
"Maybe we could walk together?" Matt slid to her side. "I promise I won't take you out again."
"I'd rather be alone," said Becca, picking up her speed.
Matt matched her pace. "It's Christmas. No one really wants to be alone on Christmas."
Matt nodded. "You're right. I had an overwhelming urge to take a walk tonight. Couldn't shake it. So I told my parents I'd be right back and here I am."
"Good for you," said Becca.
Matt blew on his hands before rubbing them together. "Soooo.... you wanna share why you're walking around the park on Christmas before a blizzard?"
"Not really." Becca crossed her arms.
"Come on, I'm a complete stranger. You'll never see me after tonight. It'll do you good to get it out." Matt smiled. "I'm an excellent listener."
Becca stopped. "You're right. I'll never see you again. Just like every other man in my life. You're here for all the fun stuff... for all the "walks in the park". But when the going gets tough, when the cancer comes back, you all disappear. Every time. Just like now. You want to hear my story? You want to be a good listener? Well there you go, I'm walking around alone on Christmas because no one is brave enough to walk with me. OK, you've listened and now you can go."
Matt laughed. "I knew there was a reason I just HAD to go on a walk tonight. I understand." He reached up and took off his winter hat exposing a bald head. "This," he said pointing to his head, "is not by choice. I just finished my last round of chemo. Doctor says it looks good, but it's been a long year." He shook his head. "Point is, I know I just met you, but no one should have to go through this alone. Let me help."
Becca started walking again. "There's no need, Matt. Good-bye."
Matt caught up with her, grabbing her gently on the shoulders. "Becca, if having cancer has taught me anything it's that there's no such thing as a coincidence. I just know I'm here to help you get through this. Why else would I need to leave my parents during Christmas to go for a walk?"
Becca stared at Matt. Who was this man offering to help her? "What's in it for you?"
Matt sighed. "My first day of chemo I met Angie. She showed me the ropes, gave me a shoulder to lean on. It didn't matter if I called her at 3:30 pm or 3:30 am, she answered the phone. She talked me off every cancer ledge imaginable. There was stuff I couldn't talk to my family or friends about. I needed someone to rant to; someone to understand my anger. Angie did."
"Why isn't Angie out here with you now?"
Matt bowed his head. "She died two months ago. Caught the flu after a round of chemo, just couldn't fight it off."
Now it was Becca's turn to sigh. "I'm sorry to hear that."
"Angie knew remission was a long shot for her, but she still took the time to help me. Now it's my turn to pay it forward. Please let me help you. Let me show you there's still some brave men out there."
Becca shook her head. "I don't know. I mean... I've just met you."
"Fine," said Matt, "don't decide now. Come back to my parent's place. We've got more than enough food. My sister will be there soon with the kids. They'll be more than happy to tell you every one of my deep dark secrets. What do you say?"
"Thanks Matt, but I can't. Good luck with everything."
Becca turned and made the journey back to her empty apartments, leaving Matt standing under a park lamp, his bald scalp creating its own halo.
The Blizzard of the Century over, Becca trudged through the foot of snow that lingered to the Cancer Center. It had been over a week since her "walk" with Matt, but she couldn't stop thinking about him. She had seconded guessed her decision to refuse his offer a dozen times. Truth was, even though this wasn't her first time to go through cancer treatments, she never had anyone in her corner. No one to rant to, no one to understand the anger. And she was angry. The doctors told her five years ago she was in remission, that the chances of the cancer coming back were slim. So much for slim.
The automatic doors slid open causing Becca to take in her surroundings. There standing by the reception desk stood Matt. Becca couldn't hide the wide smile that caressed her face. "How'd you find me?"
"I've been here every day since our walk. I knew you'd have to come sooner or later. Does that smile mean you're going to accept my friendship?"
Becca nodded. "I hoped you'd be here. I knew it was impossible, but I hoped."
Matt wrapped his arm around her. "Hope is the first step."