- Introduction: Dreams and Nightmares by A. J. French
- Flowers in Her Hair by A.J. Brown
- Lifeboat by Larsen
- Paradiso by Châteaureynaud
- The Doll by Hornak
- The One Ton Woman and the Amazonian Half Man by Malinenko
- True Blue by Parks
- The Emperor's Nose by Paul Malone
Flowers in Her Hair
by A.J. Brown
Narrated by Bob Eccles
She picked the flower—a simple four-petal variety—and tucked it behind her ear. It was purple. The light brown hair fell around it. When she turned, the petals shook with the breeze of her twirling.
"We'll be okay, my dear," Max said, holding her by the hand as he had since they were children on the playground, forever in love, forever together. His lips were dry, throat parched.
Carrie stumbled, one hand going out in front of her. Max held her, the hand not intertwined with hers came around, caught her by the stomach, sank into her squishy flesh. He pulled it free, the fingers slurping as they left her.
"I'm sorry, my dear," he whispered.
Their eyes met, like that day …
Her smile was like the sun, radiant, vibrant. Full of life. Her green eyes sparkled beneath soft brown eyebrows. Her white and pink dress puffed out when she spun in circles, arms out to her sides, the flower holding tight to her hair.
… on the playground.
"I'm tired." Her whisper barely met his ears.
"I know, my dear."
Max helped her straighten. Her back creaked, popped. She grimaced, a long intake of air that he knew burned her lungs as much as it helped her continue living.
They walked on, passing burnt-out buildings, crumbling structures from another time; windows shattered, each hole a darkened bruise from yesterday. Bones lay strewn about the streets, few with flesh still remaining on them.
"Where are we going?" Carrie asked, her green eyes filmed over, the life fading … fading …
Buzz inched over to her, a stealthy tiptoeing that she didn't see in her state of bliss, the world spinning around her in blues and whites with her eyes turned to the sky. There was mischief in his smile, the glints of white teeth behind stretched lips. A two-handed shove and she tilted off balance, fell to the ground. The flower fell from her hair …
"Away from here, my dear."
Rats skittered over bones, snakes slithered about. Bugs of different shapes and sizes zoomed from one broken corpse to another, all of them searching for the precious little food there was to offer. Max's foot found a skull. It rolled away, a lopsided rotation until it came to rest upright. Eyeless sockets stared at Max and nothing all the same. A shudder traced its finger along his spine.
His hip flared, a spark of lightning through his nerves tracing down into his knee. This time he scowled in pain. He limped along, careful to hold Carrie close, to not let her fall, to break apart on the streets of desolation and despair.
The dead whispered their names, inconsolable souls with nowhere to go, no Heaven, no Hell, a limbo of darkness, trapped … an eternal nothingness …
Blood blossomed on her knee. She cried as she held her leg. Salty tears traced down her perfect face. Buzz laughed the laugh of a bully. Max dropped from the monkey bars, hands clenched into tight fists, anger flushed on his face …
Her hand was a sponge in his, soft, moist. Squeezing it left indentions, broke fragile bones. Max did his best to hold her gently, like a child would a butterfly … or a young girl would a flower.
"Can we rest?"
He shook his head. The gloom of the world around him held his gaze before he spoke. "Not yet, my dear."
"I'm so tired."
"I know." Max bit back tears. The world had faltered somewhere along the way and the people were the cause. Mother Nature rebelled.
A rumble of thunder came from the low clouds that touched the edges of the few remaining tall structures of the once large city. Max's chest grew tight and his breath hitched. "The rains are coming, my dear. We must hurry."
"Hurry? Max, I can't go much further."
"Just beyond the hill, my dear."
One swing and Buzz lay on the ground near Carrie. Max dropped to his knees, arms flailing, fists striking, drawing blood, cracking bone. He stood when he was finished, turned to Carrie, his chest heaving, heart racing, muscles aching, and offered her a bloodied hand …
She sagged against him and he held her up the best he could. The city behind them, the hill beneath them, sloping further upward.
"Just a little further, my dear."
He felt a rib break as his right arm went around her back and beneath her armpit. The tissue gave way beneath his fingers. She groaned, bared her teeth and took another deep breath. Her chest rattled and it sent shivers dancing along his flaking skin.
Above, the clouds became black, trailing gray tendrils like an aura around them. Invisible lightning streaked behind the clouds and thunder … thunder rumbled disapprovingly as the two made their way to the top of the hill.
Max glanced back to the Sodom and Gomorra of his day. The structures crumbled with the vibrations of thunder. The rain fell in sheets, heading their way. Dust plumed upward, pushed back to the ground where it settled into the world from where it came.
"Max, leave me. I must rest."
"A few more steps, my dear." He scooped her weightless body into his aging arms, felt her sag against him. An arm went around his neck and her head settled on his shoulder. His legs shook as he took the remaining steps up the hill …
Max helped her to her feet. He brushed the dirt from the wound, patted the blood away with the tail of his shirt. He knelt, picked up the flower and placed it in her hair …
At the top of the hill Max stopped. The rain was almost on them, but he had reached their destiny. "Look, my dear. We're here."
Carrie lifted her head, plopped it back on his shoulder. "What is it?"
A circle of green, untouched by the wrath of Mother Nature, sat before them. Blades of grass grew; flower stems stretched upward in clumps, four-petal blooms at each end. All of them purple.
Carefully, he set Carrie to her feet, held her hand as he knelt. Max plucked a flower, twirled the stem slowly between three fingers …
They held hands, spun in circles as they looked to the blue sky above . . . and never let go. . . .
Max tucked the flower into her hair as the first drops of angry tears fell from the sky. His skin burned, what little hair remained on his head began to slide away. Max lifted Carrie back into his arms. His body hurt, the muscles began to tear from bone, the bone began to splinter, but he held her … held her as he slowly spun in a circle, his eyes to the sky, a smile on cracked lips …
AJ Brown writes… he thinks…