Beauty of Love and Guilt by S G

This story is an apology letter to the wife of a man whom the writer is having an affair. The tangle of love and guilt and feeling obligated to do the right thing is outshined briefly by a whirlwind of fun and infatuation and intimate relations with a man old enough to be her father. In the end, once a cheat, always a cheat, and no amount of love can make up for betrayal and abuse.

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The Immortal by Ocean Tawiah

“Though my life is ever-lasting, I have not truly lived in a long time,” I explained, “There was not enough passion in these brittle bones for living so I have spent my life in eternal stillness. I’ve walked this earth wanting nothing, accomplishing nothing, waiting for my ashes to be swept away by the breeze- but it was never meant to be. Death has been as elusive as finding a reason to live.”

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Childhood by Sarah Barber

When do children cease to be children? When do they realise that the world is not their sanctuary, that there is darkness in the lightest corners of the earth, and that monsters aren’t beneath their beds but are the ones making their breakfast, lunch and dinner? Lily Beech knew all too soon. 
She knew where the monsters lurked and how to find them.

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Heartbreak and redemption by Sol Cross de Idialu

It was my day off from work, and it had been raining all morning. It wasn’t until
sixteen hundred hours that the rain stopped. Having been indoors all day watching
movies in bits, I was feeling a bit boxed in, so I decided to go for a little drive towards
the outskirts of town. Putting on a fresh Tee to go with my shorts, I grabbed my key and made my way out. That sweet soothing smell-petrichor hit me. Definitely a lovely time to take a slow drive around town. After driving for about fifteen minutes, I hit the freeway. Cars were few and in between, probably because it wasn’t rush hour, nor was it the
weekend yet, when folks will usually be rushing in and out of town. Taking in every little detail as I drove, I came close to the bridge that led to a couple
of suburbs and also led out of the city. Then I saw her. She was no taller than one hundred and forty-two centimeters, and couldn’t have
been a day over thirteen. Standing in the middle of the bridge and staring down into the water, I wasn’t sure
of what to do. What would a child so young be doing by the bridge alone, I wondered.

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Haunted Mansion Ownership by Rix Roundtree-Harrison

The ghost of Grace Jamison loves terrifying the tourists who visit her historic home, Berkeley Plantation. Grace’s subtle ghostly interaction with the guests sends the thrilled tourists fleeing Berkeley with frightened delight. But one day a group of guests arrived at Berkeley that Grace’s ghost couldn’t frighten into leaving. These guests are the ghosts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, the Founding Fathers of our nation.

The ghosts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are scouting for a location for their annual Founding Fathers Reunion party. They have chosen Berkeley as the venue for their event due to its prominent place in the history of the founding of the United States of America. Grace Jamison’s ghost is not happy with this. She enjoys haunting Berkeley herself and doesn’t want these historic distinguished legendary interlopers usurping her home. 

As jittery tour guides try to give professional tours of the haunted Berkeley mansion, a ghostly conflict ensues. The Founding Fathers argue with Grace as to why they have every right to hold their reunion at Berkeley. Grace offers arguments to the contrary. To bolster the arguments of both sides, special guest ghosts, like Benedict Arnold, appear to deliberate the issue. 

Who wins the battle for Berkeley, Grace Jamison or the Founding Fathers? Before a decision is made, a trial takes place in a courtroom filled with historic legendary ghosts that include Abraham Lincoln. The ghosts’ animated arguments turn historic Berkeley Plantation into a horror, humor and history filled haunted house.

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Aurora by Guillaume Antignac

Never, in my life, had I seen such beauty. Such pure ironic beauty.

At around 2000 miles per hour, our little vessel, K2002 475, carries NASA’s finest crew to a destination of almost certain peril. We all knew what where getting ourselves into when we signed up for tryouts. But in a strange way, it was all less surreal after take off. After all the training, it felt in a way good to be gone. Us, the “Braveheart’s” of the United States of America, where sent on what was meant to be the most historically successful space mission of mankind. I remember the times, when we could barely even fly to the moon. And yet still, I am here, when I could be seated at home, by my little daughter. Aurora. That’s her name. Aurora. What a bundle of joy, always looking out for mischief, and yet never causing any havok. It’s strange, how I still feel connected with her, although I am hundreds and hundreds of miles away of her. I feel like I am here, because of her, almost as if I’m trying to prove myself to her, a five year old, who can barely read and write. Yet I still feel like I am on this Mission for only one reason. Aurora.

It’s been a week now, since our departure from Earth. This morning, the sun passed us, at a far distance of course, but still closer than any human being had ever been. She’s beautiful. She displays a light, like no other, red on the outside, but golden from the inside. In fact, she lit up the entire ship for a couple of minutes. I can just imagine our tiny ship, gently hurrying past this magnificently huge mass. The mouse in the Lion’s den, quickly trying to get past, but at the same time, marvelling at the beast. For just a short second, I forgot my destiny, or where I was heading. I was in complete harmony. I felt like in the sun, I could see her, Aurora, shining in the early morning just like she shines every morning along our road. She’s wearing her blue and yellow dress, and she’s prancing along the sidewalk, humming to herself. I call out for her, and she turns her head smiling and her little soft cheeks turn all red , just like the sun. Exactly like the sun. After I lost sight of her, I turned back to my desk and continued with my work. We’re close. Unbelievably close. Must be a matter of days now before we reach it.

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MADNESS by Caitlin Cording

Sometimes my skin itches, but not like on the surface where all my freckles and scars are visible. It itches in a place my nails can’t dig. It’s as though there’s something trapped between the layers— something that wriggles and squirms and yearns to gush through my pores. Sometimes I hear my brain buzzing, and when it does, it conjures memories that sting. I prefer silence for that reason. Stillness too. Whenever I take a bath, I hold my breath and stay as still as I can so the water can’t slosh around. Sometimes I envision myself in a lake and duck underneath. When my throat starts burning like there’s larva spurting from my stomach, I break the surface and gulp the steamy air.

I suppose if I had to label it, I'd call it a need for control. I don’t know why I need it. I guess I just like to be reminded the world can be paused sometimes—that the heart of the hurricane is a serene one, and I can stay there, in its eye, and observe mass destruction without being a part of it.

Is that it? I need to believe one's soul can find peace even in the midst of chaos. Is peace what I’m truly seeking here?

I run my finger over the barrel’s grooves and its scaly leather handle and contemplate the plausibility of this theory. I give it a three out of ten and sigh. My breath vaporises. It shouldn’t be this cold in here. I touch the radiator, then snatch back my hand. It’s not cold in here.

More insight. I’ve got to jot that down.

I grab my diary from the top drawer, take a moment to study the planets and stars adorning its cover, then open to the relevant page and scan the list entitled, 'Epiphanies in Order of Appearance.'

1) I can leave my body

2) I see things; ghosts?

3) I hear voices

4) They tell me to do things

With each day that passes since that day, I've leant something new about myself. Or maybe it’s an old personality quirk I never realised I had until now.

I scrawl, ‘5. My surroundings do not affect my body temperature,’ and slam shut the notebook. It makes a satisfying clap. I smile. Okay, maybe I do like some noises.

My gaze shifts to the gun.

I started scribbling down everything when I began losing track of whatever is happening to me. I thought keeping a diary would help me feel normal again after he had tainted me. I believed if I could find an explanation for each one of these things I experience now, then I realise I'm not the maniac the world suspects me to be. It’s ironic, really, because after tonight, if the police uncover this and stamp it as evidence, then it’ll be my ticket to the mental institution. Does realising this fact prove I’m sane? I don’t know.

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She was a reasonably good looking girl who looked like she was in her late teens. I say reasonably good looking because there was nothing particularly ugly about her. She had long black hair and green eyes. Everything was in proportion and she seemed to have a fairly nice face, but she wore far too much make-up and had the hardened expression of someone who had grown up fast. I thought at first that she might be interested in me because she kept looking in my direction. Granted she wasn’t really my type, but there was something attractive about her which I couldn’t put my finger on. When I caught her gaze, she smiled awkwardly and looked away. After that nothing happened for the whole time we were at the station. She did not approach me and I did not go over to her. When the train came, it seemed like that would be the end of our encounter, but no sooner had I got on, when she took a seat directly opposite me. For the first few minutes of the journey nothing was said, but then just as I had picked up the newspaper from the seat next to me, she spoke.

“Excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but how old are you?”

“I’m 19.”

“Good. Look this is going to sound really weird since I’ve only just met you, but if you’re not doing anything today, I was wondering if you could help me out with something?”

“Depends what it is.”

“I want to visit my boyfriend in prison, but they won’t let me in because I’m only 16. Apparently I can only go if someone over 18 goes with me, and since my parents don’t approve of me going there and I don’t know anyone else who can take me…”

“You thought you’d ask the first random person you met on the train there,” I said.

To this she laughed.

“When you put it like that it does sound a bit crazy,” she said.

“A little bit. Look I’d love to help you out but I’m meeting someone in Basingstoke so...”

“Please. If you took me I’d be ever so grateful. All you have to do is sign me in and then when I’m done I’ll take you out and get you shit faced. Or I could just give you the money. Your choice.”

“How much money would it be?”

“Fifty quid.”

“Give me a chance to think about it.”

It was the money that would make most people think twice about doing something like this. I mean fifty quid for doing practically nothing is very appealing to anyone. I however had other reasons.

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Narratives have been recycled for thousands of years of human civilisation. The same process of necessity of meaning, and cannibalism of past concepts runs through the lifeblood of storytelling. The department is a natural evolution, and logical extension of this process. The worlds demand stories, they do not care what the stories are, what is provided will be processed, rewritten, edited, translated, marketed, and distributed electronically. They need only be written. Fraud does not exist inside the walls of the Story Department. Every story has already been written to begin their journey.

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The light doesn’t go out of people’s eyes when they die- it happens long before... a slow flickering ... I have seen this for myself ... in him ... and now in me... when I can bear to look in a mirror... And I find now – as its getting darker ... the thing that comes to mind most – unbelievably - The big bang – the thing he loved so much, Frank that is... The thing whose light still burnt in his enquiring eyes.. on the very rare occasion... Everything since a let down ... a limp.. damp something or other. ... he taught me this at least, taught me ? by accident -by mentioning- because it was the only thing he really loved – that was obvious – more than me – if he loved me at all – (only ever said it once)...he hinted and I realised for myself , lets say , yes – that’s it - that I come from that ... that that’s my real heritage not the mum or dad I can’t remember - .. but that awesome moment unimaginably long ago that somehow I still recall in here .. and it’s pretty bloody magnificent as heritages go..– that’s still in me – that original fire – that original bomb – still going off - and I want to know why and who and what what what what that was all about because –because , because, because, god knows how – but I was there – I mean not me not this – I know that fire and that fire is nobody’s bitch – did I say that? Nobody’s bitch - I must have heard it somewhere – Yes - Gina – that’s what she said ... Gina, my lovely neighbour, when I was trying to get her to go back to University and finish her degree – patch it up with the smiley Kamil eyes like sapphires and a total control freak, she said it – and I blushed and felt its fantastic hardness – its steeliness ... she said she was “nobody’s bitch” and it hit me right in the chest and I wanted some of that for myself ... it seemed like a sort of weapon – it made her a little scary – to be honest – but it was thrilling too – fight or flight - more fight than flight – to hell with flight - as if I might have a weapon of my own .. as if I might be like Gina –or have the potential, at least, to be nobody’s bitch.. and then she disappeared without even saying goodbye ... left me ... alone with my dying man ... and this weapon ... except Frank was already slipping away and couldn’t hear a thing – the whole world could have collapsed and he would not have felt it - and what’s the point in being nobody’s bitch if you have no-one to say that to – If you are actually alone... nobody’s anything.

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Red. Crimson. Burgundy. Mahogany. Scarlet.

Just a few of the colours that exploded in his mind. The bright colours danced and convulsed like fire sprites, gayly twisting in the moonlit night.

“Sir!” The boy whipped his head round so suddenly that he felt the consequent pains trickling down his neck. The bright colours receded from his sight as the dark colours of his room and that of the pain coerced to kick them away. He looked a little frightened and sad as he scurried down from the table.

‘It would not bode well for the son of a lord to take part in barbarian festivities.’

The boy rushed past the servant, not giving him a second glance as he ran down the stairs towards the second dining room. As he approached the room, he instinctively slowed down to a stately walk, as was taught him at too young an age to not have become second nature. Unfortunately, the latter qualifier is often misunderstood and only truly reveals itself in such occasions, as the boy teetering awkwardly towards the dining room table. One of the manservants standing at the door followed the boy to his chair and pulled it out for him.

The table already sat two other people. One-- a man with broad shoulders, dark features and a deep look in his eyes that made one spill even the beans they did not know they had every time you looked into them, whether you were hiding anything from him or not. The other-- a woman that looked nothing like the boy, sat in an invisible cloud of perfume and make-up. Her bright red-lipped mouth pursed up as she observed the boy struggling to eat his hot soup.

Silence was all they heard, in between the civilised quiet clink and clank of cutlery and plates before the little boy cleared his throat and spoke up. “Father? May I go and observe the Chinese New Year Festival?” Those lights had taunted him every year, and while they had not reached him as deeply before, they seemed to have ignited him anew with the hope that he could get approval from his father to see them in person.

There was a loud clank of metal against the china and the boy looked up to see his father’s eyes boring into his skull as he was glaring at him. “How many times do we have to tell you?”

The boy looked down at his food feeling foolish as he droned, “It would not bode well for the son of a lord to take part in barbarian festivities…”


“It would not bode well for the son of a lord to allow commoners to think themselves of his level...”

“So the answer is?”

“N-No…” he hesitated. He struggled to keep his tears behind as he stared at his soup, a yellowish pasty substance swimming around the white china bowl.

“May I be excused, sir?” The Lord grunted his approval for the sake of his peace and the little boy left his tasteless soup on the dining table with his hunger and his dreams unsated.

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INTO A FUTURE by Ashley Gallaher - Pollard

The rest, as they say, is history. A fellow named Dirge was waiting just inside the tree line for us - Sudi nearly stabbed him in surprise - and he explained the lies we were fed were indeed just that - lies. The grand scheme of this cryo-project had been truthful - they had wanted the best and brightest to help rebuild. What they didn't tell us was that it was to be for the sake of their corporation to infiltrate the COP and take back our seats of power from the Foltash. The enhancements made to us were on, of course, by design - definitely not an accident. And all the training we did was in preparation for this mission. We had been destined for would-be assassin roles, dispensable in the end. After Sudi and I expressed our outrage and anger, Dirge took us to his underground network, where the resistance against corporations like the ones we were held in, as well as Foltash-based factions, congregated. Dirge said they called themselves The Rebirth Renegades. He introduced us to some of the others there - resistance higher ups. We were greeted by their tech, Trey; their communications officer, Ace; and their lieutenant, Val.

They gave us the option of joining them. We had the training that they needed for undercover work, and who better than us to get into where they needed to be - inside the COP. Sudi, of course, didn't hesitate to agree. It felt right to join them, but did that mean it was a good idea? I wasn't sure. The only thing I was sure of was that I was angry for being betrayed by my own people. I had lost everything only to become a pawn. I wasn't anyone anymore, except a new body to be pushed into battle in the hopes that I would make a difference.

And you know what? That was alright with me.

I signed on.

They gave us new identities, outfits, quarters, and special telecom devices for communication. Cellphones were a thing of the past: they had implants you could make direct calls to, on hidden networks or public channels. They had watches that allowed vid-calls - it was like Skype, but far superior. We had made great strides in this past millennium, and I felt the worse for missing it. My anger had suddenly appeared, and it was almost a relief to feel something other than confusion. I was tired of being told where to go with no direction or goal. Just do as you're told, and that's it. No, I didn't want to be some puppet.

I thought about my long-dead wife's words again: this is not God's plan. It surely was not. I wasn't a believer in the gods or a higher purpose. I believed in science. So when they asked me what I wanted to be called, I told them the Preacher. My real name would come later.

We would move on the Foltash, and the ones who would corrupt the human purpose of living. We would go forth to set correct what was made unbalanced a millennia ago. This wasn't God's plan. This was my plan.

Alleluya, you are dismissed, amen.

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The dust settles as I sit on top of the cabinet, my new found place. I stare down at the bed that we used to lie, where we shared laughs and tears. An empty glass on the bedside table, and my little girl, my beautiful little girl, she’s still, as if she was asleep. I stare at her and the silence that hauntingly echos the room, Her door plastered in happy childhood photos lies shut. I beg for it to open and for the hall way light to come pouring onto the carpet floor. It doesn’t. It never does.

I stare at her, the long curls that delicately cover the pillow on the bed that has grown as she has. I remember back to when we first met. When we were introduced. Her gurgles and babbles that made little sense but always made me smile. I was always her favourite, she would refuse to go anywhere without me. We were a team, I’d support her though colds and flus and nightmares and restless nights. We were like two peas in a pod, inseparable, as we were often told.

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Suddenly, I felt trapped. I was surrounded my heat, circles of pessimism and strong gushes of it coming at me. This weapon trying to attack me used to be the most beautiful weapon of all but in this moment, I could not feel at all attracted to it. Its ferocity came sneaking its way through the trees dominating me. The lambent embers leaped and entangled me in a fiery dance, in a hot air before cascading to everything around me, anything I touched it would destroy. I felt cold shivers rapidly run up my spine and my blood trembled as it swirled across my body yelping for someone to save me. What was this feeling? It was fear wasn't it? How could I suddenly be anxious to even look at something that used to seem so powerful to me, was I beginning to fear fire out of all elements on this earth?

I screamed for help and woke up sweating, it was just a dream.

However, fire is everywhere. The lighter we use to light up a candle, our fireplace decorated with hot coal, our gas… everywhere around us there’s fire. Then what is the real reason we fear this the most if we use it in our everyday life? Is it because it may even take away a life and maybe we aren’t ready to say goodbye to what we haven’t even considered ours? The real question for me always was why I seemed to always be afraid of fire in my dreams but in real life not feel any uneasiness around it?

I was in this liminal state of being two people at once. In my dreams I was a child again with all these fears around me, tormenting me and trying to capture me but as soon as I'd wake up I’d be fearless again, the odd one out but still the unnoticed one. What more could I have done to be like everyone else? Should I have put on a disposition to be full of fears, full of anxiety and lie. Each lie leading to another to just be hated again in the end, what disposition would have seemed accurate? I wish I could have painted a face of normality and carved it slowly into the now so marred skin of mine. With each carve I would have engraved the idea of acceptance on all of my veins and stapled down the loose ends of my flaws but I couldn’t make it sound so easy.

I began to wonder that perhaps my dreams were not feeling transcendental any more, I felt as if I was really there, they felt real. But my real everyday life started to make me wonder if it felt more unreal than before.

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After dinner, Otis, a middle-aged, overweight,

balding man, walked out onto the front porch, while his

wife, Gertrude, remained inside the kitchen washing the


He lifted his binoculars to his eyes and peered

across the meadow towards his neighbor's house. He saw

that the Real Estate sign had a SOLD sticker upon it.

"Looks like the neighbor house sold."

Gertrude, shapely, if not a little on the plump

side, walked out onto the porch drying her hands on a

kitchen towel. "No, kidding! That was fast."

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The Jar Of Tears

There was a knock on the front door. The heavy, empty sound that she feared would be there someday. She put on her bathrobe and scurried down the stairs.

“Mrs. Mc Clarin?” The uniformed officer asked as she peered through the peephole.

“Yes, I’m Laura Mc Clarin.”

“I’m Captain Jack Marlboro, your husband worked for me.” He had a chest full of medals.

“Worked?” All those nightmares came true. The horrible dreams of her loving husband murdered in the line of duty. She judiciously opened the door.

“I’m sorry Laura, I have some bad news. Your husband has been shot. If you can get dressed I’ll take you over to Saint Luke’s Hospital where Frank is in critical condition.”

Laura quickly slipped into her gray slacks and tattered green sweater. She only thought of comfort as fashion was on the back burner. Captain Marlboro closed the door behind her and scooted around to the driver’s side of the unmarked cruiser.

“We got the guy down at the stationhouse.” The captain said as cool as ice cream.

“What guy?”

“The guy that attacked your husband Laura. We’re questioning him right now.” He had a sneer on his mug that told Laura it wasn’t just words that were being pelted upon the attacker.

“Tell me exactly what happened, Captain.”

“Well, as far as I know, Frank was coming to the aide of an old man in a liquor store down in Surrey. The man had called because some young guns were trashing the place, like something out of ‘A Clockwork Orange’. One of the guys shot Frank in the stomach. Back up arrived immediately and captured all three of the little bastards.”

They pulled into the hospital portico and Laura jumped out before the car came to a halt. She went straight to the information desk

“My name is Mc Clarin. Where is my husband?”

The matronly lady behind the counter looked at her computer screen. She made that face. You know, the one you make when you don’t know what to say. Laura knew from that feeble expression, Frank was gone. Before the lady could say a word Laura was gone. She went into the lounge off the emergency room and sat on the cold, red pleather couch. Jack Marlboro found her.

“I’m so sorry Laura. We’re gonna make that motherfucker pay for this.”

“Will that bring Frank back?”

“No, but it will give you satisfaction.”

“The only satisfaction I could get is to see my husband again. Revenge will do nothing.”

“It will make the boys feel better.”

“I don’t give a fuck about the boys. Where were the boys when Frank needed them?’

“It happened so fast. There wasn’t any chance for anyone to get there in time.”

“Maybe if one of your boys was his partner like the old days. You assholes and your budget cuts.”

“You’re preachin’ to the choir Laura. You want a coffee?”

“Yes, black, one sugar.” Just as soon as Marlboro left Laura went back to the front desk.

“I want to see my husband, now.”

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"We are over-reliant on organisms whose populations decline. Soon there won’t be enough left to sustain life. You call for a miracle, but we don’t need that. We need to evolve. Imagine a society where we rely only on ourselves. This time is approaching. My people, we are becoming post-human.

"Welcome to our next step in evolution."

I heard those words spoken by my professor – a man I had thought sensible. Then his lecture was watched all over the globe, rapidly turning from a crazy man's theory, to popular opinion, to the Truth: a joke I was left out of. My professor turned from teacher to Prophet. And those of us who heard it first were bestowed the honour of being his Disciples. We were to spread the word... and then enforce it.

I can do that, but I cannot believe it: I am a Pretender, hiding in the shadow of Truth.

Evolution is a staircase. Each step moves upwards. But what happens when we reach the top – the cliff edge?

What happens when we fall?

My life revolves around a game: two truths and a lie.

The lie: I am a complacent citizen awaiting eagerly our post-humanity.

The truth: we have already left humanity behind.

The second truth: I am the leader of a secret organisation aiming to overthrow the Prophet and his post-human society.

If I hadn't told you which the lie was, would you have known? They are all true in some way, but only one is my truth. This is the one I hide:

Our organisation was born from those deaf to the Prophet’s silver tongue. We do not honey-coat our words, nor delude ourselves with illusions of angelic purpose. Instead we fight to save the taste of truth, however faint on our tongues.

We fight to end the reign of the Prophet, for he has forgotten what prophets stand for. They speak for the people, not command them.

And if my deceit makes me a traitor, so be it. But I am no Judas. I fight for a cause greater than he once did.

I am the serpent whose shadow haunts the Garden of Eden. I am the harbinger of truth. And so it is that I ask: why was the snake kicked out of heaven?

The Bible claims the snake deceived, that it shared the truth with those forbidden from hearing it.

But what it is that this God wants to hide?

I don’t claim to be a prophet myself. Yet Prophets and traitors are treated the same in the end…

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IF I LIVED 100 YEARS AGO by Carolina Bomeny

Dear Journal,

What is happening to me? I feel sick all the time and can't control my mood. I feel very vulnerable, like as if I was feeling everything twice as much as I should. Today is different, I am only infuriated. It is Gabriel's birthday and I passed by his workplace to congratulate him, only to find him engaged in a seemingly hilarious conversation with a woman no older than 20. How can he possibly betray me like that? Or maybe she's just a friend, or… wait…. maybe I am just a friend? Can he possibly not love me back? We have something, even if he can't read my thoughts I must not be the only one who feels a sudden rush of energy when our hands touch for the split second he hands me my bag of groceries. Am I crazy? Of course, what was I thinking! I am a married woman and he is a handsome young man who is single and free to decide his own life. You two would never work, EVER, do you understand that Carolina? You have to distance yourself from him, look at you, I've never seen you so unstable, and now you are talking to yourself! Great! Ugh, I'm nauseous again, goodbye.

January 24, 1918

Dear Journal,

My out of control mood now has a name. In fact, it will soon have legs and arms and a little face. It is currently growing inside of me as I write. My lady days have not arrived this month, and my upset stomach only confirms my worst fear: I am pregnant. Pregnant with that man's baby. Just writing this makes me want to throw up again. A baby. It still doesn't sound real. How am I supposed to raise a child if I can barely take care of myself? I don't want a child to grow up in this environment, this is not a home. No one should live with a father that beats a mother and treats women like rubbish. What if I have a daughter? Into what world am I bringing her too? Oh God, please bring me a boy, as selfish as this wish may seem, for I fear my daughter's life already.

It's Thursday, four days left before I can see my mother and ask her for advice. Should I tell my husband? I mean of course, but, how is he going to react? We have never talked about kids, in fact, we've hardly even had real conversations. But a child is good news right? Possibly it'll warm that man's icy stone heart for once in his lifetime.

It's no time for me to be thinking about Gabriel, but I can not stop it. To get over him, I'd have to be taught how to forget to think.

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A LAST DAY ON EARTH by Geoff Nuttall

My God, to live this intensely every moment of your life, the squinting figure thinks, a deep indigo sky sweeping down to the long shard of white sand where he stands. The sand is studded with pink and purple flowers. His nostrils dip to taste their scent. They give off a crushed flower perfume that somehow reminds him of the soft, sliding sounds of Portuguese in the locals’ mouths. A hot breeze blows off the sea. Outdoors, he thinks. For the very last time.

Later, they will not even notice their last moments outdoors, in the short passage from apartment to air-conditioned hire car. From the car drop-off, through the hot breeze, to the sudden chill of the airport terminal. Maybe one or two more such moments the next day, before finally, strapped in the sealed shuttle, they head for a life indoors. In the eternal mall-world of a Martian settlement, where (he will be continually reminded), the kids will thrive, away from the crowd, mixing with the movers and shakers with the foresight to see that this is where opportunity lies. This is the future. The only future with a future, as the vacuous ads say.

He walks further along the beach. The day's heat is growing. But this is living, he thinks. Why did I never see it before? Why did I ever let myself join the hordes who allow themselves a fortnight a year of this and slave the rest of the year in glass and steel boxes for the privilege? And now, somehow, this is my last day of really living. The last real air I will ever breathe. He looks at his watch and remembers his promise to be back by 11, in good time to leave for the airport. And then he realises. He has 30 mins left to live. Or to find another life.

He feels a shattering boom off to his right and in the corner of his eye a point of unwatchable light to rival the sun rises slowly into the sky. Another shuttle leaving. More competition heading for Mars. Need to get moving, the voices in his head say, but he shakes them off. The sand crunches unsatisfyingly underfoot so he rips his beach shoes off and hurls them without looking into the sea, so he can feel the sand on his bare soles, between his toes. He walks on, thinking only, this is too beautiful to leave. I cannot leave. I, we, all of us, must find a way to stay. Somewhere along this beach, he thinks with sudden conviction, I will find another life. And, ignoring the light and the rumble to his right, he runs forwards along the beach, gradually noticing as he does, something bright up ahead.

As he draws nearer, the glare pushes his eyes back but his mind, hungry for any hope it might find, drives forward, willing this glare to give him the answer.

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The stinging scent of candyfloss invaded my nostrils that day. And despite the surge of people swarming around me, there was only one thing in my line of vision. My mother. A small woman, with a slight frame that was unable to give a true portrayal of her irascibility. A vice that followed her around, snapping and snarling at the slightest of things.

On that day, a crown of brown tendrils surrounded her face. And she had bags lurking from the depths of her eyes, paired with unsmiling lips. I should’ve realised something was off; I should’ve paid attention to the way her voice splintered and cracked, sounding hollow and detached as she spoke her last words to me. And more importantly, I should have noticed his absence.

“Bailey,” Her lips were forming into shapes, making syllables, long chains that were supposed to form into words and then eventually a sentence. Yet I couldn’t keep up. Her words weren’t making sense. I was looking at her but at the same time, I wasn’t. For there was a hole forming, an abyss appearing right through the centre of her chest. It gave way to the other side, almost like a window that allowed me to see right through her. Then she was suddenly shaking me, her fingernails digging into my shoulder blades. “Bailey! Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“Yes Mum, “I had muttered out, but it wasn’t true. My attention had been diverted- preoccupied with what was before me. I was finally surrounded by my idea of heaven, and all I wanted to do was explore- and the only thing blocking me from doing so, was her body and her words. So I did what any other seven-year-old would do. I pretended to listen to her, nodding in all the right places, in the hopes she’d release me and allow me to explore. My wish came sooner than expected.

She suddenly stooped over, scooping me up into a tight hug, that caught me so off guard, I almost head-butted her. “Take care Bails,” I didn’t understand her words. They sounded so final, so resolute, almost as if I was to never see her again. But I was. In an hour or two, Mum and Dad would be done with the performance, and they would troop back to the fairground to collect me. That was what had always happened. So why did it begin to feel like today would be different?

She began to stride off, quickening her pace before I could say a word. Instead of pursuing her, I swallowed my doubts, for I finally had the fairground to myself. The window of obstruction had finally rolled down, and I wasn’t about to waste this opportunity

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