Flash: Flower Power

Woman with Flower Stock Art

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Gods, I cannot believe what a bunch of losers you guys have become.” Donnie waved with the hand not holding his beer, encompassing the group sitting throughout the upscale living room where they had collapsed after an exhausting evening of interspecies political wrangling. The rant went on and on about the old days and how everything had changed since his friends started pairing off with “the girls,” finally ended with, “We’re monsters for crying loud!”

The host adjusted himself on the arm of the cream and maroon striped settee to better watch his wife as she bustled around the kitchen. “Just because I have chosen to hand the reigns to someone does not mean I am tame.” He nodded happily as Ketzal gave him a wave before she opened the refrigerator. With her hidden behind the stainless steel door, Ebon returned his full attention to his guests, smiling with his canines exposed.

“Get real, the ring on your hand is like a ring through your nose,” Donnie sneered. “Dude, you are so pussy whipped I can’t even hear the crack of the leather anymore.”

Ebon moved faster than even the vampire of the group of immortals could observe. One moment Donnie was leaning against the sofa with Maria and Lorenzo, the next the shifter was holding him at arm’s length with Donnie’s legs swinging nearly a foot above the floor. Black hair sprouted along Ebon’s elongated arms, rock-hard muscular arms ending in claws around Donnie’s neck. The back of the dark elf’s head lay gently against an undamaged silk wallcovering.

Everyone stopped moving, and those that could held their breath.

“Do not think my marriage makes me any less dangerous.” Black eyes glowed red in the centers. Ebon stepped closer to the wall, bending the arm without effort while keeping the elf suffocating mid-air. He brought his short snout and full set of glistening teeth closer to the Wild Hunt rider face.

“Dinner is ready in ten…Ebon, my heart, put Donnie down.”

“Dead or alive,” he growled unmoving, staring into the eyes of his trembling prey.

Ketzal’s sweet voice replied. “I don’t really care, but if you kill him, you will need to dispose of the body after dinner.”

“What are we having?”

An exasperated puff came behind him. “What do you think?”

“Something tomatoey,” her husband replied after sniffing the air close to the elf’s neck.

“Creole Boil.”

If anything, Ebon’s toothy grin grew wider. “You live.” He opened his left hand.

Donnie fell to the floor gasping, rubbing his neck.

“And if you have a minute, can you fetch some wine for the meal?” The brunette swung her waist long hair behind her as the shifter stalked closer to her to give her ear a quick bite.

Whispering into it, which did not obscure the communication to anyone in the room because of their heightened senses, he said, “I will need to give it a taste to choose the right match.”

The goddess of flowers and ephemeral things giggled softly a second before turning her lips to his. “I just sampled the dish.”

He kissed her a long moment.

“The Sidewood Sauvignon Blanc, 2012, should do.” He opened the small door between the living room and kitchen for the wine cellar stairs.

The satisfaction of Ketzal’s sigh left no doubt about the happiness of the couple’s relationship, even as it moved into its second decade. “Dinner is ready for seating as soon as someone helps me set the table.”

Tykevius and Carissa glided from where they had been hovering near the ceiling toward the dining area.

“Oh, and Donnie.” Ketzal’s musical tones carried the bass throb of power.

The elf snapped his head toward the Aztec goddess.

Her sweet smile looked even scarier than her husband’s. “I wouldn’t have seconds if I were you.”

(words 636, first published January 15, 2017)

Flash: Thebe at Nymphs and Satyrs

Image courtesy of marin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The white walled room, so different from the sumptuously decorated rooms Thebe had traveled through to get to this one, was empty of furniture. The opposite wall had a single plain door. Another wall had five floor to ceiling mirrors, each about three foot wide with five feet between. The mirrors reflected the thirty women already present in the room. By the buff and beautiful bodies, Thebe assumed most had far more free time and money than her for gyms, salons, and boutiques.  A couple rivaled her plumpness, one or two wore department store clothes like hers, though probably not Goodwill purchases, and she noticed one person made no attempt at makeup and she really should have. Even so no one fell down on all three as badly as her. Why she had let Rhene talk her into coming? This was not her style at all.

Nymphs and Satyrs didn’t even try to hide the fact it was a sex club. Somehow they never gotten raided or shut down; her bet was the club numbered some high-ranking “up-standing” citizens. People with real money and power, far more than the noticeably privileged women gathered in this room.

People able to offer a one million dollar prize.

The reason why she was here. Why she let Rhene talk her into entering this farce. Student loans and credit card debt were killing her, literally and figuratively. The two jobs she had been able to find kept her in the fast food she ate between the forty-hour jobs. A third job was out of the question as the two jobs were already affecting her health between sleep-deprivation and stress. The poor food alone had added 20% to her already healthy body weight, so she now topped the scales at two hundred forty. Only her height, just shy of six foot, kept her from looking like a complete butterball.

She graduated in a recession with too much education and too little experience. A bachelor’s in Music and a minor in Education turned out to be useless as high school after high school slashed “unnecessary” items from their budgets. Turning around and getting the more practical Masters of Business Administration was even worse as the market flooded with out-of-work and highly experienced MBA professionals. Hoping against hope to get ahead of the financial collapse, Thebe had returned back to school for yet three more years of college and collected a Doctorate of Classical Literature and Art. Museums and libraries were doing booming business at the beginning of the recession as people looked for low cost entertainment. Her thesis comparing mythical allegories in music to painting was the stuff of legends, if one pardons the pun. Her graduation came as unemployment funds dried up and people could no longer afford to leave the house.

Hence Halloween found her at Nymphs and Satyrs, hoping to win their porn queen contest or whatever it was. At least place on the Nympho Court, girls who were the Club hostesses throughout the year and get paid three times what she was making between the two jobs combined, but for only twenty hours of work. If she couldn’t get a job with her brain, she would get one using the oldest skill set available to women. Fortunately, Thebe had studied enough Greek and Roman mythology to offset the Puritan programming ingrained in American culture.

Only one in four would place.

(words 568 – first published 18 December 2016)

Flash: Three Wishes Granted (Part 1)

Red Candle Burning

Image courtesy of Tuomas_Lehtinen at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Smoke curled upward from the flickering candles like fingers clawing the moving shadows hiding the gymnasium ceiling. A fat red candle burned grudgingly at each corner of a triangle. Storebrand sea salt, its box discarded on top of the pile of winter coats and purses in the bleachers, had been poured onto the waxed but scarred wooden surface recently used in a sport ceremony most humans call basketball to form the outer triangle with the red candles. A young woman sat on each side of the triangle, her bare ass just touching but not moving the sea salt, facing the inner black triangle created from crushed coal and burned school work. None of their body parts touched the black shape. Each corner of that triangle had a black taper burning far steadier and faster than the red pillars, but, eerily, no pools of light illuminated the women’s faces from the inner candles or glittered on the embroidered symbols decorating short linen tunics they wore covering their breasts and hovering just above their bellybuttons.

One of the woman, her back to the home team basket, said words which skittered across the mind like fingernails on a chalkboard. The other two hummed and growled responses.

The home team had won. Finally. The college wasn’t known for its sports teams. Jessica, a cheerleader to meet the sports requirement of the liberal arts school, immediately called Emily and Kiran. They had been waiting four months to cast this spell requiring a victorious battleground for their tribal warriors.

Waiting had been a bitch. The setup for the spell required three days of abstinence beforehand, which meant they had been going without sex for nearly four months. Kiran hadn’t minded since she hadn’t been dating anyone, but Emily’s beau dropped her like a rock when she hadn’t put out regularly and Jessica and Austin had degenerated to screaming matches. She knew he was fucking Roxanne on the side, but coven before lovin’.

Jessica sung-shouted the last word, tearing her throat on the power of the Name. Emily and Kiran echoed the Name of the fallen angel, bouncing the Word around the gymnasium in an ever-growing cacophony with each echo taking the Name higher or lower by half a note. Flats and sharps destroyed the beauty of the angelic Name until all the sounds reformed into a new name “Lucifer!”

Sound stopped.

The dim light sneaking in from the hallway backed out. Only the light of the six candles remain and the harsh breathing of the women as they gasped for oxygen after chanting for two hours. Time hovered at three o’clock Sunday morning, the time between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day.

Kiran turned her head and whispered to Jessica, “Do you think it worked?”

“Shh!” Jessica glared at their newest coven member.

Kiran bit her generous lip. The other two were seniors who had picked up the freshman out-of-state student for their group after their third member graduated last year.

A dozen heartbeats passed, then a dozen more, and a dozen after that.

Long after the hallway light hesitantly returned to create two small rectangles of light on the north end, Jessica reached out her arms straight out to both sides. The cold wood floor had completely numbed her butt. Kiran immediately put out her arms either side, and Emily slowly followed suit until all three of their fingertips touched.

“Do you remember how to clear the spell, Kiran?” Emily smiled encouragingly.

Kiran closed her eyes a moment and mouthed a few words before opening her eyes again and responding, “Yes.” As the youngest of those present, backing out of a spell fell on her and a summoning spell is not a magic to leave half-intact by a misremembering. She had been studying her part every day for five months.

“Giving up so soon?”

All three sets of eyes snapped to the center of their formation. The dark candles’ flame finally reflected off of something as all darkness within the inner triangle formed into a man. The handsome devil wore a tuxedo, ruby cufflinks flashing as he snapped the sleeves firmly into place with a jerk at the cuff. His brilliant red bowtie and satin cummerbund brought out the color of his glowing eyes to a stunningly scary sexy perfection. Black hair with frosted tips curled past his shoulders and accented his cheekbones and goatee.

Emily gasped, her hands covering her mouth. Kiran started forward but froze when Jessica ordered, “Don’t cross the lines!”, before standing.

Though the tallest of the women, Jessica at five foot eight still was half a foot shorter than the being trapped in the inner triangle. But she was barefoot and the man was wearing Oxford shoes, so the height difference wasn’t as bad as it seemed. Even so, appearing anyway like a supplicant before anyone wasn’t for her.

Kiran and Emily followed their leader’s action and also stood. The freshman, nearly fifty pounds heavier than her five foot three inch frame should be holding, had the hardest time standing in the limited space between the salt and the coal lines.

The satisfaction Jessica felt twisted her lips up. “What, you were hoping we were some idiots and wouldn’t clean up our little mess? Is that why you didn’t manifest until now?”

“Why would I ever do something as devious as that?” The man in the middle matched Jessica’s evil smile with one of his own. “I live for being pulled away from Hell to revenge some adolescent imagined slight.” He took the one step closer to Jessica, as close as the black coal allowed. Lowering his voice, his red eyes banked to burning coals, he asked, “So what tune are you going to have me play my little witch?”

Jessica licked her lips and controlled the urge to sway closer so the tips of her peaked nipples would rub the linen tunic against his wool tux. No crossing the lines, she reminded herself. “Actually our summoning is to make a deal. Our souls for our wishes.”

A wider grin replaced Lucifer’s smile as he returned to the center of the summoning symbol. “Your soul? I always like collecting red-head souls; it so enhances the myth that the gingers are all my servants. State your wish and we may strike a bargain.”

Jessica shifted. “I’m blonde.”

“And your thatch is red, my dear. You dye that mane of yours.”

The blush started at Jessica’s belly, visible below the short hem of the tunic, popped up above the fabric at the beginning of her cleavage and suffuse her face. She had forgotten they were all naked below the waist.

“Oh, I do seem to have an unfair advantage.” Lucifer started taking out his cufflinks. “How un-gallant of me.” Before they could stop him, the devil had his jacket tossed back into the darkness and his shirt hung open, unbuttoned. He turned a slow circle within the confines of the black triangle, arms open wide, skittering his large hands along the edge of the spell, leaving black cracks in the invisible shield and making his knuckles bleed. “Is this enough or do you want me to remove more? As you can see by my chest hair, I am actually blond but people prefer their demons dark, not the Morning Star.” He stroked down his bare chest leaving a light trail of blood behind.

Kiran stared as his hand stroked over his rock-hard abs and hovered for a moment over a growing bulge in his pants. “Would you like a taste my dark-skin beauty?” He stepped closer to the freshman, opening the flap of his pants to expose buttons and popped the top one.

“Kiran, no!” Emily shouted, but didn’t move from her position within the symbol.

Kiran pulled her hand back before it broke the cracking barrier and whimpered, “I’m so wet.” Shaking she slipped to the floor far more gracefully than she rose.

“Yes you are little one. I can smell you.” He flicked his forked tongue out. “I would love to taste you.”

Kiran moaned, her hands dropping to her thick thighs, rubbing them. Her head twisting back and forth so she wouldn’t stare at his now-eye-level crotch or meet the glowing coal-red eyes. Her nipples pressed against the symbols of protection embroidered in gold and silver on her linen tunic, the magic fighting the seduction charm leaking through the cracked dark triangle, sending tingles from her tits to her core with each strike and repost of the charm and counter-charm.

“I don’t think so.” Jessica stated as she picked up the removed the athame strapped inside the tunic on her left arm. “Emily, follow my lead.”

Without hesitation, Emily pulled out her ceremonial blade and drew it across her palm in unison with Jessica. They then flung the blood at the invisible barrier. As the droplets hit, non-light splashed out vanquishing the cracks on their sides.

“No!” The devil ordered and crashed his hands against the side Kiran was on. Her head flung back as she screamed, an orgasm taking her.

The witches switched hands with the blades and cut their other hands and flung the blood as close to the side Kiran was on without leaving their positions. The splatter created new centers of healing the barrier and wrapped around the corner, nearly meeting in the center on the freshman’s and throwing the devil to the corner opposite her. His shirt burned and fell off, leaving angry marks. His knuckles no longer bleed, but his hands and shoulders were blistered. The shirt pooled into a dozen shadows and faded.

Kiran had somehow managed to control her fall and lay perfectly between the white salt line and the black coal line with neither smudged. She twitched, moaning as the ecstasy faded.

The man leaped to his feet in the center, his chest expanding and contracting rapidly, the hair on his head even longer, now falling to midwaist, and completely blond. Fists shook either side of his body as he turned to face the coven leader.

“Your eyes.” Jessica stared at the angelic blue eyes set in the most beautiful face she had ever seen.

Gleaming white teeth ground. The devil closed his eyes, tension left his face and it shifted into something darker, more human and less divine. After a moment he opened them and they were gleaming red coals again.

“Your bargain.” He growled.

(To be continued)

(1,737 words, first published 11/27/2016)

Flash: Lonely on the Road

Empty Countryside Road Stock Photo

Image Courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twisting the wrench yielded no results, so Kelly kicked the rental’s tire and walked along the berm cursing herself, her uncharged phone, and, most especially, Jim. She adjusted her purse’s shoulder strap after tucking the wrench inside and headed north along the isolated highway. The last exit was 5 miles back, the next exit was promised to be only 3 miles forward.

Why had she decided to surprise Jim? Sure his corporate construction job kept him away a month at a time wherever a new facility needed building, but the weekends he came home were magical. With the long weekend, she had thought to bring the magic to him.

Well, the surprise was on her. She had known he shared rooms with other guys to cut costs. But she hadn’t known he had shared his bed. Her mind’s eye briefly flashed a picture of the two men she found wrestling in his unlocked bedroom. Two suntanned muscular bodies naked and humping madly.

For a second her imagination added her between the males. Okay, a threesome was her favorite masturbation fantasy.

But the point was Jim was cheating on her! He could have told her he was bi and she could have handled it. Loved to have handled it. Since hooking up with him, she had been monogamous. For three years she had been with only one man; it was kind-of creepy after nicks she had put into her bedpost before they had gotten together. Keeping faithful though didn’t mean she hadn’t looked or wanted more. Kelly could have provided him all sorts of suggestions for male booty calls.

Focus. Cheating. Doesn’t matter if it is male or female, it is still cheating.

Behind her a car beeped. Kelly turned around to see Jim’s beatup pickup pulling over, scattering the gravel. She gave him the single finger salute while he unbuckled and continued walking away.

His long legs ate up the distance. “Kelly wait! Damn it, I’m sorry. It doesn’t mean anything. Wait, Kelly.” He got a little ahead and started walking backwards in front of her. “I didn’t want you to find out that way.”

“So how did you want me to find out?” Kelly stopped to save all her breath to yell at him.

Jim stopped too, scratching the back of his head. His jeans hung low, showcasing his six-pack and a little more. He hadn’t bothered to grab a shirt before following her, or put on shoes. That gravel had to hurt.

“Actually, never,” he admitted.

“Finally something honest!”

He looked hurt. “I’m always honest.”

“Except about sleeping around,” Kelly accused.

“Umm, I never lied about it, I just never mentioned it.”

She closed the distance to hiss up into his face. “The truth, the WHOLE truth and nothing but the truth.”

Pushing his chest she demanded “What? Am I suppose to have you swear on a stack of bibles every time you came home?!!”

Muscle-bound ape that he was, her push didn’t rock him, but he took a step back from her fury anyway. “…No?” he responded, clearly hoping it was the right answer.

“Damn right, no.” Kelly pushed her hair back so she could look up and watch his face while she stood toe-to-toe. She kept encroaching into his space. “A relationship is about trust. I don’t care how much I love you, but if I can’t trust you – we got nothing.”

She stepped around him and started stomping north again. “Kelly, don’t be this way,” he begged trotting after her. “It doesn’t mean anything.” He grabbed her arm to stop her.

“So how long have you been sleeping with him?” Kelly turned back to him to stare him in the eye. “And don’t lie to me now – I will wash your briefs with the red towels.”

His mouth stopped half-way opened. He closed it a second, sighed, and admitted. “Luis and I have been bunkmates for about nine months now.”

“Bunkmates?” Kelly laughed harshly. “Is that what they call it now? … And who was before him.”

“I don’t know, Carlo, maybe.” Jim shrugged. “I don’t really keep track.”

Her eyes grew round. They had started trying for a child a year ago.

“Oh, no, no. Sweetheart, I always use a condom, and I get tested twice a year. I ain’t stupid.”

“Could have fooled me,” she said icily, putting her hands on her hips. “So do you only cheat on me with guys?”

He stood up straighter, looking indigent. “I’ve never cheated on you. Not ever. Yeah, I sleep with guys, but I don’t love them or anything. It’s just sex. And loneliness, a whole lot of loneliness when you are not around.”

Kelly rolled her eyes. “Been saving that one up?”

“Nope, just kind-of came to me,” Jim smiled boyishly. “Good though, right?”

Damn, why did she have to love him so much. “Yep, that was pretty good. … Only guys, right?”

“You are the only girl for me. In fact, …” He yanked the back of his jeans up and down a bit before kneeling in front of her. “Will you marry me?”

In his hands was a dark blue velvet box. He opened it to reveal a Marzin cut diamond surrounded by a rainbow of precious smaller gems.

She looked at the box, then him kneeling in gravel, then at the box again. “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”

“No joke. I made the last payment yesterday. Been working on buying it since we started this project and saw it at the mall.” Smiling hopefully he added, “I’m glad fate let me have it available at the right time.”

“That is another great line Jimbo.” Kelly sighed as she gently closed the box in his hands. “But until we work out other things, this will have to wait.”

Jim sagged. “So you are leaving me?”

“I didn’t say that either.” She offered him an arm to help him stand. “Let’s go back to the hotel. I want to meet this Luis and we can all have a good talk.”

 (words 1,009- first published 5/7/2013; republished new blog format 11/06/2016)

Flash: Christmas Stocking

Ice in Cabin

Image Courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The wind tore the sturdy wood door from Maria’s numbed hands. Giving over now that the battle to reach shelter had been won, she let the driving snow push her exhausted body into the cabin. Tugged along by the life-line connecting them, her companion stumbled across the threshold. No longer feeling the gale force winds, Laars summoned the remainder of his strength to close the thick pine barrier behind them. The rustic cabin’s solid stone walls, slate roof and wooden floors provided welcomed relief from the blizzard.

The ceasure of the ice being driven into their bodies made the cabin feel hot. The park ranger flipped the mitten portion of her gloves back to free her fingers. Halfheartedly she lifted her goggles to view the room, knowing it would reveal the lost hikers weren’t here either. No welcoming flames were dancing in the riverstone-constructed fireplace; the table and mismatched chairs left behind by others were still stacked in a corner. The one open door would lead into a separate sleeping area, but little hope remained. Maria heard a sob escape and it took her a moment to realize the sound came from her own throat. Behind her, the intern assigned to her search-and-rescue team slowly slid to the floor.

The boy had been amazing. Maria was all for equal rights, but sometimes tasks just needed to go to the taller and stronger. Laars had at least a foot on her five foot two frame and the strength of a twenty-one year old male that enjoyed outside activity. He had blazed the trail since false dawn and took the brunt of the wind, until the storm unleashed whiteout conditions. She had often joked she could find her way around the park blindfolded; for the last two hours she might as well had been. She released the gorilla clip connecting the lifeline to her utility belt.

The sleeping room revealed a half dozen cot frames leaned against the walls, waiting for hiker’s pillows and bags. She closed the door. They only needed to heat one room tonight. A quick inspection showed the fireplace sturdy and ready for wood, but the box for wood was empty.

Maria closed her eyes; Patrick had been the one assigned to prep the cabins for winter. Laars replaced him in November, about the same time Maria came back to work full time after taking two months off to complete her GED. They were still discovering what had not been done by Patrick at the end of his six-month internship. The park manager, Nelson, was a wonderful trusting man who was willing to hire a migrant worker’s daughter, and she loved him for it. But that personality characteristic prevented him from double-checking work when an intern reported a task complete. He trusted people who were willing to work in the middle of his beloved beautiful nowhere.

Stepping over Laars’ long legs, Maria idly noted she still had on her snowshoes. Good, because she was going to need to bring in a lot of wood. College-boy and her had restock the sheds just after Thanksgiving, so there would be plenty. It would just feel like an eternity bringing the wood in.

Maria drew in a breath as she stood before the cabinet. The heavy thing was made from two inch seasoned oak and weighed over three hundred pounds, mostly to prevent campers from moving it around. Inside was suppose to be an emergency first aid kit, two tins of dried foot, several gallons of water for when the water pipes froze outside, and other survival materials.

Laars lifted his head when she switched from Spanish to English after examining the interior. It wasn’t like she had a Latin temper, but sometimes … She hoped she didn’t shock the kid’s whitebread sensitivities. Though he was two years older than her, he had a very protective upbringing. Upper middle class somewhere in Washington, a state her family picked apples in for two months when they did the West Coast circuit. His father was a doctor, lawyer or something like that.

Leaning his head against the door, his goggles completely fogged so he talked to the ceiling, Laars asked “Problem?”

Maria’s lips twitched. Single word sentences, but humor was returning. A good sign. They had just spent a full day of an unsuccessful search for three hikers who were stupid enough not to check the weather reports or to check in with the ranger’s office before taking one of the dozens of trails. They had found the car last night when closing the park, planned and fretted all night as the old man mountain promised to have his way, and initiated the search and rescue at first light. He had fallen down not one but two gorges, hiked over 20 miles in high winds that kept the helicopters grounded, and after no sleep and reaching an exhaustion he probably had never experienced before in his life, he could still joke.

She licked her cracked lips before answering. “Nope, none at all. Only we should have fired Patrick before we hired him.”

“Right.” Laars lifted one ice coated mitten to try and move his goggles, but gravity claimed the weight of the arm when lack of fingers prevented him from accomplishing his task. “No food, huh?”

“No food, blanket, and the first aid kit is a nest for something. There is not even a pot to piss in.” She closed the door to the cabinet before walking over to the intern. “Or melt snow for water.”

Standing over him, she continued. “Speaking of water, we need to get you stripped.” She picked up his hands. “Alley-up.” Fortunately, Laars had regained enough energy to help her pull him up. She was just over a hundred pounds soaking wet, and he had to weigh close to two hundred pounds in soaking wet gear. Nothing was dripping since inside the cabin was still the ambient temperature of the outside. Only lacking was the wind-chill factor.

She helped him remove his mittens then his gloves and muttered a short prayer to her family for sending her a pair of gloves that had mittens that flipped on and off the finger area. She set to work on the ice locked lifeline while he removed his eye and face protection. Her fingers, fragile from the cold, tore and bled a little but she managed to remove the line from around his body and unhook the front of his backpack so he would be able to take off his parka.

When she started working on her own backpack, Laars said, “Let me.” Maria willingly let him take over; he could see the hooks, snaps, and buckles and she could not. When she tried to shoulder off the backpack she discovered that ice had bonded it to her parka. She turned around and let the taller man leverage the pack off then did the same for him.

Placing her pack on the beatup table, she chipped away a little of the snow. The table wobbled; one of the legs was missing and someone had duct taped a branch to replace it. Eventually she was able to remove the two reflective rescue blankets. Not much good if the person was in hypothermia and not generating his own heat, but better than being naked. Turning around she noticed Laars was swaying back and forth and had made no further progress on undressing.

Grabbing what looked like the sturdiest chair, an old camp chair missing the canvas on one arm, she place it behind him and ordered him to sit. Maria took a moment to examine his eyes while she wrapped one blanket around his shoulders and placed the other on his lap. Good, her shadow cast by getting between the overbright whiteout windows and Laars caused his pinpoint pupils to get larger and darker. Some shock, but not life threatening. Not yet, if they could get a fire going. She wanted to get wood right away, but one more thing needed to be done.

Unclipping the satellite phone from her utility belt, she dialed the home office and reluctantly placed the cold metal to her ear after pushing back the parka hood. Someone she didn’t know answered. “Team Gamma has reached Merveille Chalet. No sightings of Greens. Over,” she reported.

“Verify Team Gamma at shelter. No sightings of Greens,” came the crackling response. The cell phone had trouble boosting through the storm.

Since she didn’t know who the person was, she bet he was someone from the National Guard. “Yes. Any luck at your end?”

“No Gamma, but the storm is suppose to clear tonight and the birds can fly tomorrow.” The dispatcher shared. “All other teams made it back; only you are still out in the field. I have marked you secured for the night.”

“Roger. We will report in the morning.”

“Roger and good luck tonight,” replied the solider. “Stay warm.”

No wanting to worry anyone, since they couldn’t help Laars and her anyway she responded with, “Will try, over and out.” The satellite phones were a great invention, able to get through most of the rugged terrain of the park. But the three pounds added up over time. She turned off the phone and took off the utility belt. No need for that extra weight when fetching wood.

Remembering one other rescue supply in her pack, she pulled out two cans of soup and activated the heat elements. Crouching down in front of Laars, she examined his skin, lips, and eyes again. He was awake but not doing well. “Laars, here is some soup.” She pressed warming can into his hand. “Drink it. I am going out and will be back as quick as I can.”

Debating a moment, she finished emptying her pack beside the table. She could carry twice as much wood this way, even if she wouldn’t be able to buckle it. She could carry it in her arms; on her back, the wind would pull it off balance and her with it.

Between the second and third load, she noticed he had switched soup cans. With the fourth load, he had started putting the tinder and kindling from the first load together in the fireplace. “I should be doing that,” he said as he tried to stand when she came in to dump the load of fuel logs. He nearly toppled over into the stone, but managed to grabbed the mantle before doing so. The Mylar blanket drifted off his shoulders to the floor. The mantle was a huge expanse of native wood nearly six inches in diameter and five feet long, varnished with the bark still on it. Several nails had been pounded into it to hang things and various carved names of previous visitors decorated it.

“No, you shouldn’t,” she said as she removed the wood from her backpack. The backpack provided an added bonus of moving the wood without getting snow on it during transportation. “There are at least four fire pits between here and there, and I guarantee that unless you know where each obstacle is out there you will twist an ankle or break a leg.”

Sinking back to the floor, he commented, “I am not clumsy.”

“Oops, sorry, didn’t mean it like that. I had no business having you break the trail after we passed marker 12 on Sunrift Gorge.” She pushed back her goggles to better see him. “Laars, you did incredible things today and should be proud. I could have never made it the distance without you.”

“I fell twice and you had to pull me out of a creek.” Came the sulking reply.

“So, you were my windbreak, practically carried me through some four foot drifts, and removed one rock slide.” Making certain his clear blue eyes met her brown ones. “Really, I needed you today. Understand?”

He nodded, looking like a schoolkid not certain the praise was real but wanting it to be so.

“Okay, so I am bringing in the wood because I am going to need you just as much tomorrow.” She waited for him to acknowledge that with another nod. She was pleased to see the pupils reacting more to changes in light and his lips had lost their blue tinge. He had started thinking again, but not up to full clearness. The man was normally a ball of intelligence and curiosity. Exhaustion and exposure made people do stupid things because they just can’t think. “What I need you to do is set up the fire, and then … drat.”

“What’s the problem?” asked Laars.

She walked over to where she had unpacked her supplies. “I don’t remember my matches. I have the rescue pack set up to go … double checked it last night, matches are on my list … did I check it off?” she mused to herself.

“I’ve got a lighter in my kit.” Volunteered Laars. “My swim should not have affected it.”

“Great.” She walked over to his pack. “Which pocket?”

After extracting the longnecked lighter, she handed it over to him. “Only got two more trips left and then I think we will have wood to get through the night. I want this place to be warm by then.”

“Yes boss.” He smiled.

Carrying the backpack in front of her, she quickly left the building. Outside she was almost grateful for the need to concentrate on moving. While in first aid mode, Maria had forgotten how attracted she was to him until he smiled. With the survival juices flowing she may do something stupid like admit she had fallen for the oaf. Her first day back on the job Nelson had told her to go help the intern and a Boy Scouts troop put up a new information lean-to by Avalanche Point. When she had got there, Laars was helping the tallest boys lift the beams overhead. He had had stripped down to his undershirt and khaki pants. Yum, something about a man working hard.

She had come to admire his willingness to work, but was a little worried about his eagerness to please. Yes, he was an intern but he only had one semester left before finishing college. He was smart, using his internship to study biodiversity within the park for a thesis. He should have more self-confidence.

After all he had everything going for him. Not at all like her with her patchwork schooling over sixteen states. She had been lucky to complete her GED. The only reason Nelson had been willing to hire her was because she spoke four language fluently; she was a guide he couldn’t pass up on. Her dad had dropped off the family at the park while the car was being repair and she had seen the advertisement for a bi-lingual guide. Lying about her age by one year, but not about her citizenship, Nelson had agreed to hire her for the summer. Since the job made more than twice the money she would have made picking crops, the family had been all for it. Maria missed them horribly, but one thing led to another and now three years later she was a full park ranger and had her GED. More than she ever expected from life. Definitely not in Laars’ league, however attractive he was.

The fifth trip through she opened the damper on the chimney; the smoke hadn’t been bad yet. City boys. Yes, think of him as not yet finished. Intern-expert. Worker-boss. Man-woman. Nope, don’t go down that path. Student-graduate. She was a graduate and no longer needed to worry about school ever again.

When she finished the last trip, the fire was just beginning to create a bed of coals, which would regulate heat throughout the night. She returned to the door to take off her snow shoes. The room was warm enough to start melting the snow. She stripped off her parka and outer pants and laid them out to dry before approaching Laars. He also was down to his park uniform and the room was beginning to look like a sporting good store exploded.

His soaked through park uniform; steam was rising from it as he continued to nurse the fire.

“Out of those clothes,” she ordered.

He looked up as she said the first words in nearly an hour. She had pulled the damper without a comment while trudging through. Laars looked at her in confusion, but with sparkling eyes totally aware.

Good, the worst of the exposure seems done, but why was he confused. She ran the words through her mind making certain she had spoken English. Yep. “Your clothes are wet. You know better than to stay in wet things, right?”

“Oh,” he looked at her sheepishly “but I don’t have anything to change into.”

“I know we didn’t bring extra clothes since we were not suppose to be out here all day. Just strip down and change into the extra socks and underwear. The blankets are not the best, but should do.” She said briskly.

“Extra what?” His fair skin allowed a blush to start at his neck and work its way up past his ashen eyebrows to his short curly blond hair.

Since she had taught the survival course herself the first week she was back, she replied icily, “The extra socks and underwear and knit cap that should be in your survival pack in little bags to make certain you can maintain temperature at night in dry undergarments.”

The intern dropped his eyes.

(words 2,932 – first published 10/30/2016)