“Sebastian and Angeline” Fiction by Thom Brucie

It was a match made in the classroom. He, Sebastian, the youthful professor with graying temples; she, Angeline, the dewy eyed graduate student. He had published two books and walked within an air of mild renown; she, mildly submissive, but tart. He, vital and mature; she in the spring ascent of womanhood.

            They rode their bikes, and on a downhill sweep, the front wheel of hers struck a stone. The bike wobbled, and she stretched her legs to hold balance. In the execution of her stabilizing gesture, she kicked him in the leg and he fell, slamming his head against a concrete curb.

            At the hospital, they placed him in a bed and told her he received a concussion. As he slept, she placed round slices of white potatoes between his fingers to pull any poison from him and into them. The nurse, with a look of disfavor, placed rubber gloves on her hand and removed the potatoes to the box labeled toxic waste. Angeline peeled an apple, cutting in a circle around it, keeping the skin in one piece. She placed this, like a headband, across his forehead, the ends dangling past his ears. The nurse, removing it, told her, “We do not practice that kind of medicine here.”

            When she returned the next morning, Angeline was not allowed in Sebastian’s room. She was told he had unfortunately developed signs of pneumonia. He needed rest.

            That night, Angeline brought a cedar log that had been scarred by a lightning bolt to the center of a clearing behind her home. At sunset, she brought fire to it. Throughout the long night, she tended the flames, kept their energy focused on the fierce consummation of the log. She walked in a circle within the smoke, its spice-like bitterness startling within her nose, its vapor seeping deep into her skin.

            When sunrise came and the log-fire waned exhausted, she placed a ladleful of ashes into a silver cup and carried it to the kitchen. A pot of water boiled, and she made a paste mixing her urine with the ashes. She poured the mixture into the boiling water and added two tablespoons of honey for flavor. She stirred this mixture with an aspen branch, thirty times clockwise and thirty times counter-clockwise.

            When she arrived at the hospital, she lifted Sebastian’s sleepy head from the pillow and fed him the soup one small sip at a time.

            Later that day, she searched the woods for a banyan leaf. She pricked her finger with a darning needle and guided one drop of her blood into the cup of the leaf. She put the leaf on a plate and set it on the window ledge for sun.

            Upon arriving at the hospital the next morning, she found that Sebastian had begun to recover, and a woman sat in the chair next to his bed.

            “This is my wife, Maria,” he told her.


            Although she attempted to conceal it, both Sebastian and Maria saw the spirit of anger emerge within Angeline’s face and condemn them through her eyes.

            She walked to Maria and shook her hand. She placed her other hand on Maria’s shoulder and said, “I am pleased that Sebastian is recovering.”

When she removed her hand from Maria’s shoulder, one strand of Maria’s yellow hair clung to Angeline’s fingers.

            At the table of her kitchen, Angeline made a small doll from dried straw. She wrapped the strand of Maria’s hair carefully around the doll’s neck and tied the ends into the double knot of the West Star. She lifted the darning needle and pushed the needle into the breast of the doll.

            At that moment, Maria felt a sharp discomfort in her chest, and she fell into a chair.

Angeline eased the needle from the doll, taking care to feel the withdrawal as one might feel the deliciousness of love.

Maria clutched the sides of the chair, fighting for breath, and in her efforts could engender only unsatisfactory inhales of shallow measure.

            The next morning, Angeline lifted the banyan leaf from the dish, and carried it with her to Sebastian’s room. She went to his side and put the leaf into his open hand.

“What’s this?” he asked.

She held his wrist with one hand, and gently, yet with the firmness of the moon, she closed his fingers around the leaf, encasing it in a precious container made of his flesh. Angeline held him in this embrace and closed her eyes. The second hand on the clock halted its pulse. The nurse entered the room, but unexpectedly she remembered paperwork at her desk.

The moment held sacred in a timeless instant while Sebastian’s skin drank from the leaf, deep and eager.

            At its proper moment, Angeline opened her eyes, the clock clicked to its next second, the nurse looked up from her desk as from a dream, and Angeline spoke to Sebastian.

            “You will love me forever,” she said.

            “Yes,” he answered.

Thom Brucie’s books include the novels, Weapons of Cain and Children of Slate; a book of short stories, Still Waters: Five Stories; and two chapbooks of poems:  Moments Around the Campfire with A Vietnam Vet and Apprentice Lessons.

He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize, and his short stories and poems have appeared in a variety of journals including The San Joaquin ReviewCappersThe Southwestern ReviewPacific ReviewWilderness House Literary ReviewNorth Atlantic Review, and many others.

Dr. Brucie is Professor of English at South Georgia State College.

“Something Like Doubt Tapping at the Door” Fiction by Edward Lee

The bathtub is full, but not with water; I do not know what that substance is, whether it is a solid, a liquid, or if it came from the taps that I have not turned in years, or possibly bled from the walls which shine as though freshly painted, nor can I be sure if it was there when I entered or only appeared after I closed and locked the door. I am not even sure what colour the substance in the bath is as it seems to shimmer as it eats light from the bare bulb hanging from the cracked ceiling, a thousand thin lines stretching on into forever, like a thousand paths, a thousand possibilities, waiting for someone to take a step, a life being left behind so a new life might be begun. And all the while, there is a screaming filling the small room, the word ‘more’ over and again – a screaming I would swear is coming from the substance in the bathtub – almost drowning out the morose tap-tap-tapping on the locked bathroom door, a tap-tap-tapping that began as soon as I slid the lock across, like an ever-repeating echo of the sound of the bolt sliding home.

I refuse to investigate the tapping. I refuse to touch the substance in the bathtub. Both, I know, would be the end of me, and cruel curiosity will not be the pale carrier of my death today, as it has been many times before. I will simply remain standing here at the sink, naked, my clothes long faded into dust, a brand-new razor blade loose in my shaking hand, the unbroken mirror over the sink offering me a fragmentary reflection, a familiar stranger staring back at me. My hand continues to shake, the hand holding the razor blade which shines like the birth of a new sun, while my other hand grips the edge of the sink with a tightness I imagine could still the spin of the world. The bathtub is still full and the tap-tap-tapping grows louder against the door.

Edward Lee’s poetry, short stories, non-fiction and photography have been published in magazines in Ireland, England and America, including The Stinging Fly, Skylight 47, Acumen, The Blue Nib and Poetry Wales. He is currently working on a novel.

He also makes musical noise under the names Ayahuasca Collective, Orson Carroll, Lego Figures Fighting, and Pale Blond Boy.

His blog/website can be found at https://edwardmlee.wordpress.com

“A Tour of Fort Helix” Fiction by Thomas White

Jack O. Crumpet, his billowing robe stirring up clouds of thick dust, scurried frenetically along the edge of Fort Helix’s protective inner fortress wall; his porta-phone buzzed.

A breathless voice jabbered hysterically into Jack O.’s ear: it was Dwarf Twirtle. “Bloody dangers here. We think we see big desert lizards …”

“You have laser cannons in your Sand Wagon so use ‘em to take out the bastards…” snarled Jack O. cutting Twirtle short.

Nasty indifference served Jack O. very well in this cruel, barren world. He had many times ordered Fort Helix staff shot for even buggery or some other minor disobedience.  Jack O. was only looking for efficiency because it translated into profits – though he carefully hid his mercenary desires from the Brethren. It would undermine his moral creditability to let on that he was building an army of killer mutants to help them fight for the Good against Evil solely in the name of filthy cash.

Shrugging his shoulders, Jack O. Crumpet glanced at his watch. Damn: another scheduled freak meat cargo was supposed to be here shortly, along with a Very Important Person, Agro the Esteemed, an alleged emissary from Magnifico the Divine. Dwarf Twirtle and his team were now on their own; and it really made no difference anyway. The stranded mutant shipment (and Twirtle and the other handlers) would probably soon be eaten by desert lizards. At least Jack O. would not have to feed the useless mouths of that bunch of wastrels anymore. If they could not even handle a routine cargo haul of freaks, they were not cost effective. “Cut your losses while you can” was Jack’s creed –  brutal but effective.

Approximately forty minutes later, Fort Helix’s gates slammed behind the solar-powered heavy-duty cargo truck – an odd boxy-looking vehicle with sun panels jutting out like massive, upraised palms – towing large silver-metal freak meat pods. Behind the controls was Agro the Esteemed, also the freak handler. In Magnifico’s world, even messengers of his Divine Word still had to get dirty and sweaty, as well as multi-task.

Jack O. slid gracefully forward with a small bow and said in an agreeable tone, “Come in kind sir; we truly welcome you as a respected messenger from the Most Honorable, Most Holy One, The Divine Magnifico. We exist here to serve Him and his sacred mission.”

Agro’s purple helix-shaped tattoos, emblazoned on his naked arms, suggested that this driver-handler wielded considerable power within the spiritual ranks. Often an unlikely person, no matter how crude or stupid, was granted emissary authority by the Magnifico – especially if that person pleased Him during sex. Jack O. looked at Agro’s thick neck, and shuddered at the thought of the Magnifico’s thick, sweaty, passionate fingers running over its reptilian scales.

 “So lead me,” said Agro, “to deese Brethren who can speak truly of The Change of the Soul – and also speak,” he added grimly, “without defiling the sacred power of the Holy One and his Good-Words.”

 “These holy worthies will enhance not defame Magnifico’s Divine Mission I can assure you,” Jack O. Crumpet groveled worshipfully.

 Agro merely grunted, dropping his self-righteous tone. “Let’s first free the weird meat.” Rattling his keys, he went around to the convoy’s trailer to collect the cargo of mutants for in-processing. Jack O. made a mental note to ask about his cash.


Jack O. Crumpet, waving his strobe lamp, like a baton, inched forward in the Helix Hives’ gloomy, chilly underground, leading Agro and a small retinue of dwarfish Fort Helix servants, who pushed the four metal, casket-shaped pods, containing the mutants, bouncing and rattling on wheeled carts, which Agro had delivered for re-coding. Groveling before such useless creatures as Agro was the price he paid for maintaining his business contacts with the Magnifico. Mutant Re-Coding was becoming a growth industry in the Battle against Evil waged today by numerous wacko religious cults. Magnifico just happened to have the most money and organizational strength: the biggest mobster in town always ensured Jack O. Crumpet’s fervent allegiance in the War of the Goodies versus the Baddies.

“This tunnel is ringed by genetic Change Rooms,” Jack O. said loudly, trying to sound authoritative despite his non-technical management role at the Fort, “but there is a meaning here that goes deeper…”

 “What pray may that be?” scowled Agro, his one normal cool green eye suddenly flaring angrily. “Only the Magnifico is the Way and the Path and can speak of where to find da sacred meanings.”

Remembering how quickly Agro had angered when Jack O. had kept the  creature waiting to enter the Change Rooms Complex – this ‘emissary’ obviously had the passionate, indeed dangerous, ambitions of the fanatical and single-minded – Jack O. calmly replied, “I rely simply on local interpretations of the uses of these Hive technologies as offered by our Fort’s illustrious teachers, trusted scholars whose canonical opinions have been ratified by the Magnifico himself…” Jack O. Crumpet loved uttering these pompous words in order to subtly mock Agro’s  now obvious ignorance of Fort Helix‘s spiritual and technical culture.

Jack O. wondered if there was any particular reason why Agro had not been properly briefed on the Fort’s customs and details. Since everything Magnifico did and said often had hidden meanings, Agro’s mission perhaps had other non-spiritual purposes. Possibly this, Jack O. reflected, was a ploy, the Magnifico using Agro as a clumsy spy to snoop around and find out if Jack O. was fomenting heresy far from His Holiness’s watchful eyes. After all Fort Helix, which was used to bioengineer the harmlessly deformed into killing machines, was a central cog in the Magnifico’s war against the forces of darkness. And the Brethren, as a valuable ally, needed to be watched and protected against subversion or insurgency.  

However, Jack O. really had no real interest in puzzling all this out, or exploring Agro’s “real” intentions. As far as Jack O. was concerned, Agro was a cheap, two-bit operator, a career bootlicker, and spiritual elitist wannabe who was nothing else than a pain in the ass – Jack’s ass. Political schemes and ambition bored him to tears; he was a businessman with no patience for fools. But Jack knew how to play brain-games for fun with this arrogant egotist.

 A little holo-trickery might do the job. Using his laser wand like a pen, Jack made scribbling motions in the tunnel’s frosty air: flat, cartoonish monk-like figures appeared and then began automatically fleshing themselves out into three-dimensional, realistic hooded shapes, grouped into choir-like rows. Rich, booming voices swelled forth in poetic hymns from the holograph:

O His Holiest the Magnifico

Creator of our Sacred Halo

We praise Thy Numinous Name

By singing of Thy Glorious Fame

As we gather at Fort Helix

To destroy the Evil Geek

To cleanse our beloved home

By creating the killer chromosome.

“The Brethren are indisposed at this moment,” Jack O. said, “uh…in deep prayer, so this simulation will have to suffice. These are High Worship Days at Fort Helix. You actually chose a bad time to come here.”

“You mean I drove all dis way,” Agro whined, “to just ice da weird meat without even gettin’ to see the operation or break bread with da local Holies?”

 “We have an iron rule here your Graciousness” (Jack O. mentally winced at his shameful humility). Before touring the Hives, you have to have a purification blessing, and only the Brethren can dispense that,” Jack O. replied. “Besides, the genetic re-coding process is secret; only a small cadre of select brethren – elderly, technically astute, trustworthy, beyond reproach – who have been personally vetted and chosen by The August Magnifico Himself are privy to our dear Fort’s inner sanctum. At best Agro you would get only a cursory walk-through of the Vats – without special access rights –  even with the prescribed blessing…”  Jack smiled inwardly; he could almost feel the air whooshing out of Agro’s over-inflated ego. Clearly, this miserable creature had had no special office granted to him by Magnifico, as Jack had first incorrectly surmised; those tattoos must be fraudulent, not signifying any valid spiritual dispensation.  To be so uninformed about the Fort’s High Worship Days clinched Jack O.’s doubts: Agro was nothing more than small beans – despite his pretentious title and airs – a two-bit delivery boy only hired for cheap wages by Magnifico to haul mutants to Fort Helix for re-coding. Probably not even a spy either. Too stupid. Now Jack O. regretted his earlier fawning before this low-life – but then one could never be too careful. Agro’s minor associations with the spiritual elite had clearly convinced him that he had a future as something more important than a mere lackey. When Jack O. wrote his official report about this visit, he would report his suspicions about Agro’s false tattoos to the Brethren.

 In the gloom, Agro’s patterned forearms seem to squirm brightly, as if in furious reply to Jack O.’s doubts, like exotic, rippling fish; a scowl slipped over Agro’s face. “Why didn’t somebody tell me dis? I coulda have sent a team of Smalls to merely haul flesh – if that is what dis is all about.”

Better not, Jack O. thought, push Agro too far – the creature was ill-tempered and troublesome. “Nothing keeps you from seeing other parts of the process; your time here won’t be wasted, but first,” said Jack O. clearing his throat significantly, “we need to talk about my commissions”.


The black beasts, their long sweaty fur flowing like dreadlocks, heaved, snorted, hopped, and lumbered about the fenced-in training field, constructed adjacent to Fort Helix’s administrative center. Bush Dwarfs, chittering happily, bounced and scampered, doing back flips, feints, and generally tormenting the Killer Kangaroos by skittering around their feet. (An occasional shrill yelp indicated that a kangaroo had gotten lucky, and thumped one of his tormentors.). Jack O. stood with Agro on a small observation deck overlooking the action.

Grumpy, after a complementary tour of the Hives’ boring anterooms – far away from the forbidden, more interesting, processing areas – and having failed to meet any of the real-life Brethren, Agro glared sullenly at the kangaroo/dwarf antics. Jack O. delighted to see that he had gotten under Agro ‘s skin, explained the scenes before them with the gusto of an eager tour guide.

 “Agro my good mate these are the warm-ups. The Smalls are here to piss off the Killer ‘roos; then we bring in the re-coded weird meat to fight them. It is part of their ‘killer instinct’ training since, as you know, most pure genetic mutants normally are cowardly wimps …”

Agro’s voice, depressed and emotionally flat, interrupted, “I know, but you –  we – spend a lot of time and trouble capturing and codin’ dis bait; how da you keep da ‘roos from killing ‘em?”

 “Well, it rarely happens but just in case we keep some shooters handy,” Jack O.  pointed toward three very muscular hunchbacks lurking on the edges of the training field like knotty tree stumps, “to take out any ‘roo who gets too hyper-manic”.

“So show me some real action… I didn’t drive through bloody Hell’s hell to see a circus act,” grumbled Agro.

 Jack O. quickly hid a gleeful smile with his hand. “No worries, mate”.

With a wave, Jack O. signaled for the release of the killer trainees. The Bush Dwarfs scattered. Six bow-legged, pink-eyed albinos softly loped onto the field chased by three handlers, whips snapping. Two of the albinos, crying and trembling, suddenly broke from the group, peeing and vomiting on themselves. One of the hunchbacks fired; the first crumpled and fell. Tripping on its own feet, the second went sprawling. Before either could be dragged away, an especially aggressive Bull Kangaroo bounded in one leap and kicked the second albino in the ribs. Barfing a splash of blood, the agonized mutant shrank into the fetal posture. Another hunchback fired; the attacking ’roo, fatally wounded, spun crazily across the field, crashing against a far fence. As if on cue, the other re-coded freaks, drawing laser pistols, rushed the remaining kangaroos. Agro grunted with sadistic pleasure, “Finally!” Barely attending to the violence, Jack O. Crumpet was quickly figuring the cash value of his latest crop of properly genetically modified mutant products that would staff the killer army to fight the Forces of Evil. The numbers made him smile.          

Thomas White’s poems, fiction, and essays have appeared in online and print magazines in Australia, the United States, and Canada. In addition, he is a Wiley-Blackwell Journal author, and contributor to various non-literary journals on topics ranging from the meaning of Evil to reality as a computer simulation.  

Thomas notes that “A Tour of Fort Helix” was originally published as “Fort Helix” by Whispers of Wickedness in 2007.

“Medium Well” and “Into the Smoke” Fiction by Jennifer Shneiderman

Medium Well

After Ethel Kramer had bid on a psychic reading at a charity auction, Alex Miller, a young man with topaz eyes, showed up at her door.  Ethel tried to remember where she had seen eyes that color.  To her amazement, the kid knew things.  He knew the night nurse stole Sam’s Oxycontin.  And he knew that Sam had a flirtation with a buxom torch singer when he was on tour with Tommy Dorsey.  Alex said Sam was sorry and Ethel wiped her wet eyes.  Before Alex left, Ethel begged him to see the recording studio Sam had built.

They walked to a secluded back house on Ethel’s property, the late afternoon sun low in the sky, the only sound their boots crunching on freshly fallen snow.  The windowless structure was obscured by low hanging pines. Ethel punched a code into an alarm pad and ushered Alex into a musty-smelling, dimly lit studio. There was a cobweb-covered drum kit with missing cymbals and some microphones in the middle of the room. A dirty twin mattress covered in crushed candy wrappers was on the floor next to an unopened case of Bud Light. A doll with cigarette burn eyes hung by a thin rope from the ceiling. Alex hesitated but a dusty Les Paul guitar beckoned and Ethel nodded her permission. Alex picked up the instrument and slung the leather strap around his neck. His fingers gently tickled the strings. Ethel quickly stepped into the control room, shutting the soundproof door behind her. Alex returned the guitar to its stand and pulled on the door lever.  It wouldn’t turn. He waved at Ethel through the studio window, mouthing, “It’s locked.”

Ethel approached the control panel and pressed the intercom.  It crackled to life. “I’m sorry, Alex,” Ethel said calmly into the microphone.  “You are my only connection to Sam. I can’t let you leave.”

Alex stared at her, disbelief distorting his face.  Ethel looked back at him impassively, turned and walked out.  She glanced back and saw Alex screaming and throwing flimsy music stands against the thick glass. Now she remembered where she had seen topaz eyes.  In sheep.  She had spent a summer on a farm in upstate New York. Sheep—with their 300 degree peripheral vision and strange, rectangular pupils.  And yet, they couldn’t see in front of their noses. 

Ethel would come back later.  And then she could have a chat with her beloved Sam. Oh, yes, they would have many chats in the months and years to come. 

Into the Smoke

Within moments the entire brokerage firm would know. Ellen wouldn’t be able to pay back the money her lover convinced her to steal. She watched as the plane hit the north tower. Alarms went off and, while everyone was mesmerized, she ran for the elevator. She paced the sidewalk and chain-smoked, knowing she could not go home. When the towers fell, she ran, emerging unrecognizable and disappeared into the smoky streets.

Jennifer Shneiderman is a landlady living in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in many publications, including: The Rubbertop Review, Nanoism, Writers Resist, Anti-Heroin Chic, The Daily Drunk and Montana Mouthful. She received an Honorable Mention in the Laura Riding Jackson 2020 Poetry Competition. 

“Escape to Paradise” Fiction by Curtis Bass

At 8 pm on a Thursday in January, Jenna heard a knock at her door. She looked through her peephole and began shivering. It was Dusty. Dustin Randall, her ex-boyfriend. Dustin, the ex-boyfriend who wouldn’t let go. Dustin, the ex-boyfriend who nearly put her in the hospital the last time he beat her. Which would be the LAST time he beat her, she had decided. She had packed her bags and left him. First, she fled to the Women’s Center. They helped her get an apartment. She never gave him her new apartment location. Someone must have ratted her out.

            “Go away, Dusty!” she shouted through the door. She was aware he could hear her through the cheap thin material.

            “Come on, baby. Let me in,” he wheedled.

            “You’re not supposed to be here. I have a restraining order.”

            “Yeah, my daddy’s getting it dismissed. Come on, babe. I just want to talk.”

Jenna closed her eyes and prayed for strength. The results of their last ‘talk’ had not yet healed, leaving lingering yellow and green marks on her face and arms.

            “I’m calling the cops!” she yelled.

            “And what are they gonna do? They’re all on my daddy’s payroll.”

            “My lawyer said I could call the State Troopers. They don’t kowtow to your family.”

            “You don’t want to make me mad, Jenna. You know how I get. You just bring the misery upon yourself. Don’t make me hurt you.”

            “Go away! I’m done with you. I don’t ever want to see you again. Can’t you get that through your thick head?”

            “You know I can’t do that, honey. We belong together. You and me. You belong to me. And I aim to keep what’s mine. Now open this freaking door!” Jenna had just finished dialing 911.

            “911 Emergency. What is the nature of your emergency?”

            “There’s a man trying to break into my apartment,” she whispered.

            “Are you able to get out of the apartment?”

            “No. He’s at the only door.”

            “Do you know the identity of the intruder?”

            “Yes, my ex-boyfriend. I have a restraining order against him.”

            “I’ve already dispatched the police, in the meantime..,”

            “No. The police are on his daddy’s payroll. They won’t do anything. Can you send the State Patrol?”

            “Sorry, ma’am. We’re only connected to the police. Your police department is not owned by any family. They will protect you. I suggest you get into the most secure room you can and barricade the door. The police should be there in five minutes.”

            Wham! Jenna dropped the phone at the sound of Dusty trying to break the through the door. She could hear the faint squawk of the 911 operator still trying to talk to her. Jenna scurried into the kitchen, clawed open a drawer, and pulled out the revolver she had just bought. Rechecking that she had loaded the gun and that the safety was off, she put her back against the wall directly in front of the door. With arms extended, holding the gun with both hands, Jenna pointed it at the door. The end of the revolver trembled violently.

            “Dusty, go away! I have a gun.”

            “And what do you think you’re gonna do with a gun? I ain’t scared of you, girl. You ain’t got the balls to shoot me. We gonna have us some fun. You ever heard of being pistol whipped?” Wham! A huge crack appeared in the door.

Wham! The thin veneer of the door shattered. Dusty pushed his arms through, knocking the plywood out of his way. He leered evilly when he saw Jenna ten feet away, scared out of her wits. She usually thought he was so handsome, and he usually was. But when he got that evil look on his face, she knew she was in trouble. He forced his way into the room. Before he said anything, Jenna fired the pistol at him three times. All three missed, mostly because she turned her head to the side and closed her eyes as she fired.

            “What the hell, girl? You gonna pay for that.”

            Jenna fired the remaining three shots. At least one hit him because Dusty went down howling in pain. Bright red appeared on his thigh. She could hear sirens in the distance.

            Dusty looked at Jenna through the grimace of pain on his sweaty face.

            “You have just signed your death warrant, bitch.”


            The police swarmed in a few minutes later. They immediately recognized Dusty and knew what was what. Jenna was disarmed and taken into custody. They called an ambulance for Dusty. She called her lawyer from the police department. Since she was in her own apartment, had a restraining order and a broken-down door her lawyer could bully the night cops into not booking her but releasing her to him. Mr. Randall would probably fire them.

            As he drove her to a friend’s house he said, “Too bad you didn’t kill the bastard. Save us all a lot of trouble.”

            “He said he is going to kill me. He means it, too.”

            “Well, he’s going to have to wait. Violating the restraining order, breaking down your door, communicating threats. We might put him away for a while this time.”

            “No, we won’t,” Jenna said with defeat in her voice. “His daddy will just paper over it. He’ll be bandaged up and out on bail by morning. He’s never going to stop. Not till one of us is dead.”

            “That’s just defeatist talk. Come on. There’s a new judge who isn’t owned by the Randalls and I think I can get this before him. We might get that ass some serious time.”

            “You really think so?” For the first time there was hope in her voice.

            “Yeah, I do. Here we are.” He pulled up in front of Arlene’s house. Arlene was Joyce’s half-sister. Joyce was Jenna’s best friend. Joyce’s apartment would be the first place Dusty would look. Dusty didn’t know Joyce had a half-sister which made it a perfect hideout. Arlene opened the door as they got to the porch.

            “Come on in, honey. That bastard acting up again?”

            “Ms. Connors, thanks for taking Jenna in like this. Remember, for both of your safety, the Randalls mustn’t find out she’s here.”

            “I ain’t scared of Dusty Randall. Let that punk set foot on my property. I got a shotgun and I don’t miss. I’d love a chance to blow his ass clear across North Carolina.”

            “I love your fighting spirit but please, lie low. Good night, Jenna. Get some rest. I’ll call you tomorrow.” He left.


            When her lawyer called the next day, the news was as expected—not good. They had released Dusty on bail that morning. He never went to the jail. His family arranged for him to be held overnight at the hospital. The Randalls were making noises about suing her, but her lawyer explained NC law was on her side. The broken door, the recording of the 911 call and the all-important restraining order proved that she was within her rights to defend herself, with deadly force if necessary. The good news was that he had the case placed before the new unbiased judge. The bad news was that the case wouldn’t be heard for another month. Until that time, Dusty was free to do as he pleased.

            “He knows where I work. I can’t take a month off. He’s going to find me and kill me.”

            “We’ll work something out,” he said.


            On Monday morning, Jenna drove her five-year-old Honda Civic to the State Employees’ Credit Union where she worked. She didn’t see Dusty’s Camaro anywhere in the parking lot, but still waited for the security guard to come out to escort her into the building. She worked in an office, not as a teller, so Dusty would have to get past the security guard and locked doors to get to her. She knew he was crazy enough to try it, though.

            After work, the security guard walked her out to her car. As she pulled away, she thought she saw Dusty’s blue car a few blocks behind. Since he didn’t get any closer, she figured he was trying to tail her to her apartment. As planned, she drove straight to her attorney’s office in a highrise. It had the benefit of a gated parking lot. The gate guard watched as she entered the building. Once inside, she went through the building, out another little-used service entrance, across an alley to where Arlene was waiting. Tomorrow Arlene would bring her back to enter through the side entrance and she would take her car to work. Jenna knew this would not work for long. Dusty was a lot of disagreeable things, but stupid was not one of them. Crazy, but not stupid. That’s what made him so dangerous. He would figure out there was a ruse and discover it. But she had a few days.


            “Aruba? You think I can afford to go to Aruba?” Jenna exclaimed over the phone to Joyce. It was Wednesday evening.

            “Yes, you can. My brother and his fiancée are having to cancel. They can turn the tickets over to us. They’re willing to let them go for half-price. It’s a steal. And it leaves this Saturday. You can get away from dickhead and relax. By the time you get back, it’ll be 14 days closer to the hearing. Less than a week to go at that point.”

            Jenna was hesitant. She had vacation time and her boss at the credit union was very supportive and concerned about her situation. It was a near certainty that she would approve the time off. But a cruise? Such a luxury seemed almost obscene considering the trouble she was facing. But then again. Fourteen days without having to hide, look over her shoulder, be constantly on edge would be heaven.

            “How much?” she finally said. Then, “I’m in.”


            Jenna packed in her apartment on Thursday night with a State Trooper guarding her. She realized she hadn’t obsessed about Dusty for several hours and was feeling a little happy again. Just one more day to go.


            As she ate her lunch on Friday at her desk, as she usually did, Jenna heard a commotion out in the lobby area of the credit union. Someone was shouting. She walked over to the security station near her office and looked at the console which had a view from all the security cameras in the building. Sure enough, in the lobby was Dustin Randall, red faced, probably a little drunk facing off against two security guards. He ranted while they just impassively stood in front of the door that gave access to the rest of the offices. Her boss showed up beside her.

            “That asshole needs to get shot, and not in the leg,” she said. “You’re doing the right thing to get out of town for a few weeks. Send me a postcard. I can stick it on my refrigerator as my inspiration to get back into my bikini.”

            As they watched the camera footage, Dusty seemed to wind down his rant and give up. He turned as if to leave, but it was just a feint. He swung back around with a roundhouse punch aimed at the first security officer’s jaw. The officer reacted in time and only got a glancing blow. Immediately the guards jumped on Dusty, taking him to the floor. In no time they cuffed him, with him screaming obscenities and Jenna’s name, waiting for the police to come pick him up. Jenna revised her estimation of Dusty. Looks like he is stupid, after all. Well, she thought, this will keep him tied up until tomorrow. It looks like I will get away.


            “Wow, I didn’t realize how big it is,” Jenna gaped at the Ocean Flyer, pride of the Cormorant line, as they were boarding.

            “Yep, just us and 2,000 of our closest friends,” joked Joyce.

            Once on board, they hustled up to the Lido deck for the buffet lunch. Sitting at a table, looking out over the palmed resorts of Fort Lauderdale, Jenna momentarily wondered if she was just having a wonderful dream. She was so afraid she’d wake up to find Dusty breaking down her door. This is paradise.

            “Forget him,” Joyce said, placing her hand on Jenna’s. “At least for the next 14 days. Relax, unwind, get drunk, flirt with some cute guys. That’s what vacation is for.”

            “You’re right. Tell the waiter I’ll have a margarita. And find me some cute guys.” They both laughed gaily.


            There were so many activities on board the ship they hardly knew what to do first. They would be at sea for two days before any island stops so they’d have plenty of time to explore. Jenna found one activity that she considered a must.

            “There’s an orchestra playing ballroom music in the Queen’s Lounge after dinner. Let’s go.”

            “Ballroom? Seriously?”

            “Yes. I took lessons for a couple of years, BD, Before Dusty. I let that get away. I want to reclaim something that he has no part of.”

            “Okay,” Joyce said dubiously. “But you’re buying the drinks. And if it’s all old folks, I’m outta there.”


            It turned out there were mixed ages in the lounge and several single men. That immediately caught Joyce’s eye. She and Jenna were attractive young ladies, so they quickly caught the attention of the men present. A very attractive fortyish man came to their table.

            “I’m Jack, a ship dance host. May I have this dance?” He held his hand out to Joyce. She giggled girlishly and accompanied him to the floor. Two minutes later, after she had walked all over his feet, he sadly returned her to the table.

            “Sorry, guess I should have told you I don’t know how to dance,” she said to him sheepishly. Jenna could tell he was biting his tongue. “You should ask Jenna here. She’s a bona fide ballroom dancer.”

            “Joyce! I am not. I haven’t danced in two years.”

            “It’s like riding a bicycle. It comes back easily. May I?” the host asked. Jenna allowed him to lead her to the floor. She could tell it was a foxtrot.

            “I only know American style foxtrot,” she said. It impressed the host she recognized it was a foxtrot and that she knew there was a difference in styles. He beamed, took her in dance hold and moved off. Slow, quick, quick. Jenna found that it came back. They floated around the room effortlessly. This is what dancing is all about, she said to herself. It’s like flying. Just skimming along, free and easy. We’re like Fred and Ginger. Oh, how I have missed this. When the host returned her to her table, he commented it was one of the best dances he’d had recently and hoped she would allow him to dance with her again later. She smiled and assured him he was welcome anytime. She felt like she was glowing.

            “Ooh. He likes you,” Joyce giggled. “And so debonair. Looks like Cary Grant.”

            After another song, a young man, upper twenties, their age, came to their table. He was cute, and Jenna found his nervous look endearing.

            “I’m nowhere near as good as you, but do you want to dance? I’m Drew, by the way,” he said to Jenna. It was a rumba. Jenna figured even a novice could probably handle it.

            Drew proved that he had a basic understanding of the dance. He only stepped on her a few times, but mostly he did basic moves. This gave her an opportunity to talk to him.

            “So, are you enjoying the cruise?” was all she could think to say. She grimaced at how trite it sounded.

            “Slow, quick, quick,” he said. “Can’t talk. Counting. Slow, quick, quick.”  She giggled and allowed him to finish the dance without further interruption.

            He returned her to her table and asked Joyce to dance, but she said no. She decided she wasn’t a ballroom dancer and was content to just watch. Plus, she was on her third hurricane.

            Drew came back a couple more times that evening to ask Jenna to dance as did Jack. The third time Drew returned her to the table, Joyce asked him to stay awhile.

            “Shtay awhile,” she drawled. “It’ll shave ush all time.” He looked at Jenna and she just grinned. Joyce was a lovable drunk. Drew pulled up a chair and sat by Jenna.

            “Look at that old couple,” Jenna pointed out a couple in the crowd. It was a waltz so nearly everyone was dancing. “They aren’t doing anything fancy, but they look so happy. They’ve probably been dancing with each other 50 years. It’s so romantic to be so comfortable and in sync with someone. Her eyes are closed. She’s probably remembering the handsome boy she fell in love with.”

            “Her husband or some other guy?” Drew asked. Then he winked and laughed.

            “Oh, you,” Jenna chided and swatted his arm lightly.

            “You are such a romantic,” he said. “It’s nice to find that. I’m afraid I don’t see it all that much.”

            “Drew. You have a southern accent. Where are you from, anyway?”

            “Well, I grew up in Winston-Salem. That’s in North Carolina. Now I work for a bank in Charlotte. Me and my buddy Bill decided to take a cruise together. He’s probably up in the disco putting moves on underage girls. He’s a mess.”

            “Hey, we’re from North Carolina, too. Just outside Greensboro. And I work in a bank. Well, at least, a credit union.”

            “Wow, howdy homegirl,” he laughed. They heard a snore and noticed Joyce was out.

            “Well, I guess I need to get Sleeping Beauty to bed. Come on, girl. Up.” She grabbed Joyce’s arm and dragged her up. Joyce stumbled a little, and Jenna put her arm around her.

            “Let’s go, babe. Goodnight, Drew. I hope to see you around the ship.”



            Midmorning next day found Jenna ensconced at a small table on the Lido deck enjoying the sunshine and a breakfast of fruit.

            “I swear I’m not stalking you. Really. Cross my heart.” Jenna looked up and Drew stood by her table with a tray of food.

            “Well, good morning, have a seat,” she invited.

            “Thanks. Where’s your other half?”

            “In bed with an ice pack on her head.”


            “That’s what she said,” she quipped. “How about Bill?”

            “Oh, he’s out at the pool chasing a bikini.”

            “Already? It’s barely past 10,” she asked with surprise.

            “I guess the early bird gets the bimbo,” he said.

            “You don’t seem to think much of Bill, sometimes.”

            “Don’t get me wrong. I love him like a brother. It’s just he has no judgment. He just thinks with his, well, his smaller head.” Jenna couldn’t help but giggle.

            After breakfast, Drew went to check on Bill. Jenna thought a walk along the deck would be nice. As she neared the front of the ship she saw people gathering at the rail and pointing. She went to see what was going on. Just fifty yards away she saw a family of dolphins leaping about playing and having a marvelous time. Everyone was exclaiming and taking pictures. She was as charmed as anyone. She looked up and saw people on other decks had also noticed the dolphins. About two decks up she noticed a handsome man, a very handsome man with an evil leer. He was staring at her. It was a face she knew all too well. It was Dustin Randall. She froze for a second and then bolted. She raced as fast as she could back to her room. Once inside, she bolted the door and slumped to the floor leaning against it. Her heart felt as if it would burst.

            “What’s going on?” Joyce croaked blearily from her bed.

            “Oh my god, Joyce. Dusty is on the ship.”

            “What? He can’t be? How would he even know?”

            “Hell, his family knows everything that goes on. They probably had your phone bugged or something. I just saw him on deck, staring at me.”

            “Are you sure it was him?”

            “Joyce. I lived with him for six months. I know what he looks like. He’s here. He’s come after me. What am I gonna do?”

            “We need to see the captain.”


            They soon found out that no one can just ‘see the captain’. The purser’s office directed them to the security office.

            “So you think your boyfriend followed you on this ship?” said Chief Security Officer Nigel Scott.


            “Has he made contact or threatened you in any way?”

            “No. But I have a restraining order that he can’t come within a thousand feet. Anywhere on this ship is inside that. And he knew I was coming on this ship.”

            “What’s the name?”

            “Dustin Lee Randall.” The security officer pulled up a computer file.

            “No one by that name on the manifest. Does he have an alias?”

            “Not that I know of.”

            “Well, there’s no one with that name listed. And our security is too tight for any stowaways. Maybe you just made a mistake.”

            “It wasn’t a mistake. You took pictures for our key cards when we got on. Let me look through the pictures and I’ll find him.”

            “I can’t let you go through our files, miss. That’s about a dozen breaches in security protocols. And even then, there are about a thousand men on this ship.”

            Jenna pulled out her phone. She didn’t have service on the ship but the camera app worked.

            “Here’s his picture. Can you look for him for me?”

            “Miss. I have more important things to do than look through a thousand pictures trying to find a person who isn’t even on the ship.”

            “Oh, please. I’ll never be able to relax if I think he’s here. He’s said he will kill me.” She hated playing the damsel in distress, but this was an emergency.

            “Okay, look. Go to the purser’s desk and buy some phone minutes. Send his picture to this number.” He handed her a scribbled number. “When I have some free time, I’ll try to run through the guest photos. All right?”

            “Yes, thank you.”

            Jenna followed his instructions and then locked herself in her room.

            “So you gonna stay here in the room the rest of the cruise?” Joyce asked, hands on her hips.

            “What else can I do?”

            “Oh, babe. Get over it. Go and live it up. There’s like a hundred people around you all the time on the ship. He’s not going to try anything here. Plus, there are hunky deck crew, totally kissable, too, standing every few feet on the deck. They can surely take care of him. You’re safe here. Safer than anywhere else. Don’t let him take this away from you.”

            “You think so?” Jenna was unsure.

            “I’ll be right beside you. If I see him, I’ll scream bloody murder. Everyone will be watching. Probably taking video.”


            Joyce had recovered by the evening, but sipping only ginger ale. She raised an eyebrow as Drew approached their table in the Queen’s Lounge.

            “Mind if I join you ladies?”

            “Please, sit,” offered Jenna. After a moment, Joyce gave Jenna a pointed look. A look that said ‘go for it’.

            “I’ve got a roll of quarters I need to throw away. I’ll be in the casino if anybody needs me,” she said airily and walked away.

            “Is it something I said?” Drew looked puzzled.

            “No, just Joyce being Joyce.”

            They danced to several songs. While he was nowhere near the skill level of the dance host, Jack, he was competent. Jack claimed a few dances, but he had to work the entire room. After about her fourth dance with Drew, Jenna said, “You should probably dance with some other ladies or people might talk.”

            “Let them talk. I enjoy dancing with you.”

            Jenna knew she was blushing, but it was nice to be getting positive attention for a change.

            “You seem preoccupied. I hope I’m not boring you,” Drew breathed.

            “Oh, it’s not you. I just had a bad moment today. I thought I saw my boyfriend.”

            “Boyfriend? Um, am I in the way?”

            “My ex-boyfriend. He’s been harassing me. I think he’s on the cruise, the bastard.’

            “I don’t want to get mixed up in any weird domestic stuff. Why don’t I go sit at another table?”

            “Don’t go, Drew. He’s not going to cause any trouble. I alerted the ship. They’re looking for him. As Joyce said, we’re always surrounded by like a hundred people. What’s he going to do?”

            “You sure. I don’t want to cause you any trouble.”

            “You won’t. You’re the nicest thing that’s happened to me in a while. I’m enjoying it.” Drew smiled self-consciously. She thought she saw a hint of a blush. It was adorable.

            “We’re stopping at the private island tomorrow. Care to explore it with me?” he asked.

            “I’ve already talked with Joyce about hitting the beach.”

            “Bring her. If I can pry Bill away from his bikini bimbo, we can make a foursome.”



            Drew showed up at the gangway the next morning alone.

            “No Bill?” Jenna asked.

            “The bikini apparently held more promise. I swear she’s not even 17.”

            The three of them left the ship and were soon walking along the sand under palm trees. It was the middle of January and here she was in paradise. Bright sunshine, sparkling water in a shade of blue only seen in the Caribbean, gentle breeze softly scented with tropical flowers and coconut. If only I could stay here forever, Jenna thought. Stay here with someone like Drew.

            “Listen, you kids. I don’t need a sunburn as my souvenir, so I’m going to park it in a chaise under a palm tree. I’ve got a novel full of heaving bosoms to keep me occupied. You go have fun.” Joyce shooed them away. So they explored. Jenna had a delightful time. Drew turned out to be quite charming.


            That evening the purser found her at her dining table and asked to see her for a moment.

            “Security Officer Scott has checked the photo you provided against the passengers. It doesn’t match anyone on board. I’ve talked with the captain. Our security team will remain on alert, but we feel sure it was just mistaken identity. It’s happened before. Please try to relax. Here is a complimentary pass from the captain for a day in the spa. Please enjoy.”

            Back at the table, she told Joyce that there was no sign of Dusty.

            “I was sure I saw him.”

            “Your nerves have been a mess, girl. You probably just saw what you fear. Kinda like your worst nightmare.”

            “I guess.”


            After dinner, they went back to the room to freshen up. Joyce said she had actually won money at the casino and would try her luck again.

            “Anything beats watching you and Casanova make cow eyes at each other.”

            “Joyce!” Jenna was shocked.

            “Hey, I just call it like I see it. He’s way hunky. I say go for it. I’m okay with the old bra on the doorknob, but I’m not spending all night in the library. Make it a quickie.”

            “Joyce! You’re scandalous. I’m not bringing Drew back to my room.”

            “Okay. Go to his. But mark my words. Sex is in the air.” She leered playfully and left before Jenna could throw anything at her.

            Jenna changed to a dress a little less formal than her dinner wear and headed for the lounge. She left her room and began walking up the long narrow hallway. You could see nearly the entire length of the ship here. It was dimly lit and kind of spooky. There was no one about except a gentleman coming from the direction she was heading. She started out. She suddenly noticed the man’s limping walk looked familiar. Her heart flew into her throat as he got close enough for her to make out his face. Dusty!

            She turned and fled back to her room. She could hear his running steps behind her.

            “Jenna! Stop, damn you!”

            She zipped her card in the lock and quickly slipped in the room and bolted the door. As she leaned back on the door, sobbing, she slid slowly to the floor. Would this nightmare never end?

            Once she was relatively together, she called the security desk. She explained that regardless of what they had told her, someone matching the description of her ex-boyfriend had just chased her back to her room. She realized she was sounding hysterical but couldn’t help it. Before long Security Officer Scott, her room steward and the ship’s doctor were in her room.

            She accepted a sedative from the doctor. “He called my name. I know his voice. Why doesn’t anyone believe me?”

            “I’m sorry, miss, but I just don’t see any way he could have gotten on the ship. I have passed the photo you gave us to all ship’s personnel. If he is on this ship, we’ll find him. There is a suite available on the King’s deck. Entrance to the deck is key carded. We can upgrade you and your roommate there for extra security if you wish. No charge, of course,” the security chief offered.

            The purser had paged Joyce, and she burst into the room.

            “What’s happened? Jenna, are you okay?”

            “No. Dusty IS on board. He chased me down the hall.”

            “Oh, shit. Sorry, guys,” she apologized for her colorful language.

            “I was just telling Miss Davenport that we can upgrade the two of you to a more secure deck.”

            “It’ll be a bitch to move all this stuff again,” she groused.

            “Don’t worry,” he said. “Your steward can arrange for some porters to transfer your belongings.”


            By nearly midnight, they had moved into the new suite.

            “Nice digs,” noted Joyce. “We actually can turn around without bumping butts.”

            “Yeah,” Jenna said wanly. She was a little spaced by the sedative. Joyce sat on the bed beside her.

            “Jenna, level with me,” Joyce said seriously. “What’s going on? Did you really see Dusty? Or do you just think you did? I mean, be honest. How could he have gotten on the ship with no one knowing? It doesn’t make sense.”

            “Not you, too,” moaned Jenna. “No one believes me. Do I have to turn up with a freaking knife in my chest to make you believe me?”

            “Oh, no, baby.” Joyce tried to soothe her, taking her in her arms. “I believe you. If you say you saw him, then you did.” Jenna just folded herself into a ball in Joyce’s arms and cried.


            Drew found them at a table during lunchtime the next day. He came up to their table, smiling.

            “Ok. This time I am stalking you. What happened last night? I missed you in the Queen’s Lounge.” He suddenly noticed her pallor. “Oh god, what’s happened? The boyfriend again?”

            “Yeah, he attacked her last night,” Joyce told him.

            “Oh my god. I thought the ship said he wasn’t on board.”

            “Apparently the ship screwed up,” Joyce said tersely.

            “I’m so sorry. Is there anything I can do?”

            “Well,” Joyce said. “I gotta take a leak. Stay here while I go.”

            “Your friend has a way with words,” Drew murmured, trying to lighten the mood. Jenna just looked at him.

            “She’s just angry. Dusty has ruined her vacation, too. He poisons everything.”

            “I’m sorry you’ve had to go through this. You are such a nice lady.”

            “Thanks. I think I’ll go back to my room.” She got up to walk away.

            “Shouldn’t you wait for your friend?”

            “Oh yeah. Walk me to the elevator? They restrict my deck entry. I’ll be safe from there.”

            He walked her down to the nearest elevator.

            “I know you’re feeling low right now. But I hope you come to the Queen’s Lounge tonight. It’s just not the same without you. I’ll miss you.”

            Jenna made a half smile. “I’ll see.”

            The elevator opened, and some people got off. She got in, with a group of people, pressing ‘King’s Deck’ on the panel. Drew seemed quite taken with her, she thought. She was somewhat taken with him, as well. Too bad the cruise was such a bomb. She could really do with two weeks of mindless flirting.

            The elevator stopped. A few people got off, a few got on. When the elevator stopped on the Queen’s deck, most people got off. It required a key card to go further. As the last person exited the elevator, Jenna glanced in the mirrored wall and almost died on the spot. The reflection showed that Dusty was right behind her in the elevator.

            “I said I’d kill you,” he hissed. He grabbed for her arm, but she evaded him, and dove out the rapidly closing door, screaming. By the time security personnel had arrived, the elevator was long gone. One of the deck crew lifted her in his arms like a child and carried her to sickbay.


            Hours later, Joyce helped Jenna climb into the bed in their suite.

            “It’s going to be all right, babe. Don’t you worry. Joyce is here and everything’s going to be fine.”

            “No, it’s not. They think I’m crazy. You do, too. Everyone does. Maybe I am.”

            “Now, that’s crazy talk. You know I’m with you on this. You just get some rest.”


            The next day, the ship’s doctor, purser and captain came to see her.

            “Miss Davenport,” the captain began. “We are terribly upset that your vacation has been marred by problems on this ship. My crew and I have done everything we can to ensure your safety, but I don’t know what else we can do. Tomorrow, we dock in Curaçao. There is an American embassy there. If you wish, my staff will assist you in contacting them to arrange air transport back to your home destination. Unfortunately, we cannot offer a refund since the voyage is nearly half over, but if you have purchased trip insurance, our ship’s doctor will assist you with filing.”

            Jenna thought for a few moments. “Yes, I’d like to go home. Joyce, I want you to stay. There’s no need to ruin both our vacations.”

            “Nothing doing, hon. We’re in this together. I go where you go. Besides, I’d have a crappy time without you here to enjoy it with me. Looks like it’s time to pack.”


            “You up for dinner in the dining room tonight?” Joyce asked later that day.

            “Yeah, I think so. Might as well use it while we can. I have enjoyed the food on this cruise.”

            “You and me, too. A couple more days and I’d have to break out my fat britches.”  Jenna had to laugh.


            After dinner, Joyce said, “Come on. I’ll go with you to the Queen’s Lounge. You know Romeo will be there looking for you. And don’t worry. Neither of us will leave you for a second. Total protection. But you need to unwind a little.”

            “You don’t like the music. I hate to make you go through that.”

            “Oh, hell, girl. I’ve gone through much worse for a lot less. Just buy me a couple of hurricanes and I’ll be fine.”

            As soon as they found a table in the Queen’s Lounge, Drew showed up.

            “I was so worried about you,” he said to Jenna. “Are you going to be okay?” She had taken a half a sedative tab after dinner, so she felt she had a grip on her nerves. For now.

            “Thanks, Drew. You’re a dear. I’ve enjoyed meeting you.”

            “That sounds a lot like goodbye,” he said, puzzled.

            “It is. I’m leaving the cruise tomorrow. The captain said I can get a flight back to the US from Curaçao. I just don’t feel safe on the ship anymore.”

            Drew’s breath caught quickly. “Are you sure that’s the right thing to do? To just toss the whole vacation?”

            “I don’t know what else I can do. Constantly look over my shoulder waiting for him to attack me? That’s not a vacation.

            “Joyce, talk some sense into her. She’s just giving up.”

            “Why do you care?” Joyce asked. Drew got quiet.

            “Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know I’m not allowed to have an opinion.”

            “Joyce, you don’t need to be rude,” Jenna said. “Drew, I’d love to stay. I’ve had such a nice time with you, but it isn’t working. I’m a nervous wreck.”

            “Well, it’s just that you’ve become kind of special to me these past few days. You seem to understand me and are so nice. Aw crap, I don’t know how to say it. I like you. And I’d like a chance to know you better.”

            “Drew, don’t start. We’re from different worlds.”

            “What different worlds? Charlotte and Greensboro are what, a couple hours apart? Maybe we were meant to meet.”

            “Oh brother,” Joyce said dryly. “I’m on the Love Boat.”

            “Well, at least, can we dance?” he asked. They danced several dances. Drew seemed determined to keep her dancing. He really is taken with me, she thought.

            A rumba came on. Drew pulled her close, very close. She realized she enjoyed dancing this closely with him. His face was close to hers. He kept looking into her eyes. Oh god, she thought. This feels like one of those trashy novels Joyce loves. He leaned in, as if hoping for a kiss. What the hell, she decided. Give him a nice memory. She opened her mouth to him. Maybe the sedative was just kicking in, but she was feeling a bit lightheaded. Or maybe it was the kiss. Damn! He’s good at this. A moment later, he had his mouth by her ear.

            “Oh, Jenna. I think about you so much. I’ll be lost without you. Won’t you reconsider leaving me?” he whispered in her ear.

            “I’m not leaving you, Drew. It’s this ship. I can’t be on a ship with my ex. And I’m sure he’s somewhere on board.”

            “Jenna, you’re tearing me apart.”

            “Drew, please don’t make this any harder for me.”

            They remained in the lounge until the band quit at 11, but Jenna could tell the life had gone out of Drew. She’d been unaware of how deeply he felt. She liked him, too, but he was way ahead of her. The ladies gathered their belongings to leave.

            “Will I get a chance to see you tomorrow?” he asked. She would swear there were unshed tears in his eyes.

            “We’re doing an early breakfast. I’ll be at Lido at 7.”

            “Okay. Bye.” He looked down at the floor. She felt awful.

            “Drew, you’ll be okay. Just do like Bill. Go chase some bikinis.”

            “I’m not interested in bikinis,” he said like a truculent little boy.

            “Joyce, go on. I need to talk to Drew.”

            Joyce looked at Drew. “She has a curfew of midnight, young man. Not a minute after. Got it?”

            He gave her a half-hearted grin. “Yes, ma’am.”

            Jenna laced her arm through Drew’s. They strolled up the incline out of the lounge into the central part of the ship. He turned right, and they went through the double doors out onto the deck. There was a half moon out. It cast enough light on the water that you could see the outline of an island in the distance. It was quiet and romantic. Drew dropped her arm and propped both of his on the deck railing, looking down into the dark sea.

            “Drew, I’m sorry.”

            “Are you? Was I just a game?”

            “No, Drew. You know I care for you.”

            He petulantly snatched his arms off the railing. He jammed his hands in his pants pockets and started walking away, down the deck. Jenna followed.

            “Drew, I’m not trying to hurt you.” He passed a windbreak and stopped again at the railing. She came up to him. It was darker here. He pulled her gently into himself. She had to admit she liked his arms around her. It had been a while since she felt safe in a man’s arms. He was leaning in again, so she helped and reached her mouth toward his. She also had to admit she liked kissing him. She was becoming lightheaded again. Maybe she shouldn’t have taken that half tab. But it was hours ago. It should have worn off by now. She realized she had trouble keeping her balance. Drew supported her.

            “What’s wrong, hon?” he asked. “Like my kisses that much?”

            She found that she couldn’t get her tongue to work to answer him.

            “That’s okay, baby. You don’t need to say anything. Dusty said you always talk too much.”

            What? her brain flared. She tried to struggle, but could not control her body.

            “Shh, honey. Everything’s okay. It’s just time for you to take a swim. You’ve been depressed and talking crazy the past few days. I’ll say I tried to get to you but you jumped before I could stop you. I had a bit of trouble dosing your drink tonight. That bitch of a roommate of yours wouldn’t take her eyes off me. I can tell she’s hot for me. She’ll need consoling after you go overboard. She’s not bad looking. I can probably get her in bed in no time. Whadaya think?”

            Jenna was paralyzed and could only look at him with eyes wide with terror.

            “You were so easy. You just ate up my sad little boy routine. Dusty said you’d probably spread your legs for me before the week was out. I was hoping for some of that before you went over, but you had to mess it up. He ain’t even on this ship. He’s back in Greensboro. You were crazy to think he’s here, but it works in our favor. Now the whole ship thinks you’re nuts. Anyway, this is where we part ways.” He put an arm under her to lift her over the railing.

            She heard a click and realized it was a gun being cocked.

            “Stop right there, Mr. Wilson.” It was the Chief Security Officer Scott. “Release Miss Davenport and turn around slowly.” When Drew released her, she fell to the deck. The momentary deflection of the guard’s attention gave Drew the moment he needed. He jumped past the guard and raced down the deck. Two burly deck hands cut off his exit. They cornered him. With a crazed look back at Jenna, he dashed to his right and sailed over the railing. A deckhand ran to the side and threw over a life preserver, the other ran to the wall and rang the man overboard bell. The security guard came and propped Jenna up. “Good thing I kept an eye on you.” Once again, a deckhand picked her up like a child and carried her to sickbay.


            Jenna was sitting by her attorney in a courtroom twenty days later. It was the beginning of February, so she was the only one in the courtroom sporting a suntan. She got it during fourteen glorious days in the Caribbean. Once she had realized Dusty wasn’t on the ship, she could relax. She realized she had experienced hallucinations, but they had seemed so real. The ship’s doctor said that was common in survivors of abuse. The final eight days had done her a world of good.

            “Guilty,” the judge intoned. “Sentencing to be on…” he looked at the court calendar. “The 24th of February. Bailiff, take him away.” The bailiff led Dustin Randall in an orange jumpsuit from the courtroom.

            “Your honor. I’m Mr. Mills from the District Attorney’s office,” said a man approaching the gate separating the attorneys from the courtroom. “We’d like to request a delay in sentencing of Mr. Randall until the disposition of our case. I have three warrants for the arrest of Dustin Lee Randall, his cousin Andrew Scott Wilson and his father, D. Jarratt Randall. We plan to charge them with multiple felonies including bribery, racketeering, wiretap, suborning felonies, conspiracy to commit murder, conspiracy to hire a murder, attempted first degree murder, kidnapping, assault with intent to kill, witness tampering. And there may be more.”

            “Your honor,” the Randall lawyer objected. “These charges are all hearsay. A spurned woman violently attacked young Dusty and now they want to drag the Randall family name through the mud. The family has suffered enough. I move to drop the charges as baseless.”             “Objection overruled. The charges will stand. Sentencing is delayed. Since we relate the counts to the current tort, the clerk will calendar them on my court dates. Court adjourned.”

Curtis A. Bass (Curtisstories.blog) is a writer of short stories in a variety of genres from the American South. He has been published in several online and print journals. When not writing he prefers to stay active ballroom dancing or downhill skiing. He is currently working on his second novel.

This story originally appeared in January 2020 in Scarlet Leaf