The Ritual

“Please come with me,” she whispered softly.

And who could say no?

We drove in silence, her eyes straight ahead: focused, determined, anxious, but also frightened.

The forest was dark, the evening cold.

“Here,” she said.  We pulled over.  Stepped out.

“Wait here,” she said, and vanished into the trees.

I waited.

There were no stars.  If the moon shone, it did so darkly.  It was eerily silent.  Bitterly cold.

I waited.

Nothing.  More silence.

I waited.

But it was too dark.  Too cold.  Too long.

I stepped into the forest the way she had gone.

Nothing.

Darker.  Deeper.  Deeper darkness.  Deeper silence.

I continued blindly.

Until, carried on the wind, a soft song.  A humming, whispered, thrumming chant.

I aimed in that direction.

A dark prayer rose through the trees like smoke.  No language I had ever heard.

I drew closer.

A hint of light teased the corner of my eye.

I drew closer still.

A glow rose now with the prayer, the song, fire-like it flickered, but smaller, though also rising.

Then I saw her, and here was the moon, shining almost blue on her bare back, lotus legs, arms out like Guanyin.

Chanting.

I pictured candlelight dancing with shadows across her chest.  I watched.  And waited.

Her arms went down, raised up again, holding something now.  Glinting.  Sharp.  She raised it high.

Silence.

And then a scream (mine? hers? someone else’s?).

I tore through the forest, limbs and blackness ripping at my clothes and skin.

Had she seen me?  Observing her observe her mystery communion with…whatever?

I made it to the car.  Got in.

Time passed.

And then her door opened, a powerful waft of incense and pine, cool air and a salty, familiar tang.

I was scared to look at her directly, but thought I saw her lick something dark and red from the corner of her mouth.

And, despite myself, all I could think about was how my hands would feel against her still icy, just-dressed skin.

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Guido’s Revenge

"You shoulda come to me first."

“Please turn right,” an artificially pleasant, female-sounding voice said from the dashboard.

Jimmy turned right.

“What the hell was that?” asked Johnny.

“She said ‘turn right,’” said Jimmy.

“I heard what she said,” said Johnny.  “But I’m tellin’ you, I been there, and it ain’t right.”

“Maybe she knows a shortcut,” said Jimmy.

“And maybe you’re an idiot,” said Johnny, “takin’ directions from a broad,” he added, under his breath, “fat, dumb, salsiccia-eatin’, robot-dame-whipped…direction-takin’ mother-…”

“What was that?” Jimmy, the bigger of the two, asked.

“Nothin’,” said Johnny.

“That’s what I thought,” said Jimmy.

“Flip a U-turn up here,” said Johnny.

“Please turn left,” said the robot voice.

Jimmy turned left.

“What…the…HELL?!?!” screamed Johnny.

“She said ‘turn left.’  I’m turnin’ left.  Just sit back…relax…we’ll be there in a jiff,” said Jimmy.

“Oh, so you givin’ orders now?  You know what Junior said.  I’m the brains on this operation; you’re the brawn.”

“This here’s the only brain I need,” said Jimmy, tapping the dash.

“But I been there, Jimmy.  That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell ya.  Where’d you get that thing anyway?”

“Over at Gambino’s.  I know a guy.”

“Gambino’s Electronics?  What’s the guy’s name?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  Greg.  Gary.  Somethin’ with a ‘g.’ I ain’t no good with names,” said Jimmy.

And that was true; Jimmy was no good with names.  Otherwise, he would have remembered that the Gambinos were related to the Gambonis.  And Gill “The Gadget” Gambino (of Gambino’s Electronics) was cousins with Guido Gamboni, with whom Jimmy had had an unfortunate (i.e. permanent) “misunderstanding.”  Both the Gambinos and the Gambonis were great with technology.  And revenge.

“Approaching destination,” said the robot voice.

Of course, it was not their destination, but a dark alley.

“Prepare to die,” said the robot, with the same chirpy pleasantness.

Just then, thugs in trench coats emerged from the darkness.  As bullets pierced the windshield, Jimmy wondered if he still had his receipt.

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First Date

“So I’ve got I Know What You Did Last Summer and Titanic; which will it be?”  he asked.  She could tell he was leaning towards the first one.  As long as he was there, she really didn’t care.

“Why don’t you pick?” she offered.

“Well, my roommate said the first one’s really good.  If you don’t mind…”

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said.

“Great!  See you then.”

He hung up.  She couldn’t wait.

David was the first guy she had actually been interested in since coming out to school.  He sat three seats in front of her in their food science class.  She loved his easy smile and his sun-blonde hair.  He was a nice guy.  A good guy.  She could tell.

She showered.  Picked her favorite dress.  Spent extra time on her hair and makeup.  Was sure to wear the perfume he had said he liked.

She showed up right at eight, not wanting to seem too eager, but not wanting to miss one moment of their time together.

The movie started.  He sat next to her on the couch.  Close.  His leg almost touching hers.  She could feel the warmth of his body.  Would he hold her hand?  Kiss her?  The anticipation was almost too much.

About halfway through the movie, there was a knock at the door.  “I’ll get it,” said a roommate, bounding down the stairs.

“Well this is a surprise!” the roommate said a moment later.

“I know,” said a bubbly voice.  “I wanted to surprise him.”

“Oh, you have,” said the roommate, chuckling.

Rachel?!?!” David exclaimed, rising from the couch.

“Yeah, baby, it’s me,” she said, running across the room, flinging herself into his arms.

Baby???

“Gwen, this is Rachel,” he offered sheepishly.  “Rachel, Gwen.”

But Gwen decided not to stick around for awkward explanations or seating arrangements.  She grabbed her purse and headed out the door.

She had never felt so cheap.

And really couldn’t believe she had watched Jennifer Love Hewitt for this guy.

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Just Friends

“There’s nothing cute about it,” he said. The register of his voice indicated decision more so than discussion.

She disagreed heartily and privately, staring past his head and out the window behind him.

He was being silly.  Stephen was her oldest, dearest friend.  His attentions were sweet; flattering, yet perfectly harmless.  A little innocent flirting.

But Stewart knew there was no such thing as “innocent flirting.”

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