Betty by Rick Stepp-Bolling

Chris, I’m writing this letter to you knowing you will never receive it. There are several reasons for that, but I’m sure you will understand that your mental instability probably ranks highest on the list.

Your mother is dying. At this moment she lies on a hospital bed at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tucson. I wonder if you remember that she has lived in Tucson for nearly a decade and considers it home? As the wife of an Air Force colonel, home meant wherever she was currently stationed for three years. By contrast, ten years was practically a lifetime and translated into friendships on a semi-permanent basis, knowledge of all the back roads to and from her residence in the Catalina Mountains, and a home decorated in Southwestern finery that only an interior designer could manage. All of those vanished in a blink of an eye and the smallest movement of a blood clot in the brain creating a massive stroke powerful enough to disrupt the circuitry of the entire left hemisphere. God, if there is one, works in mysterious ways, Chris, and this perhaps, the most enigmatic of all.

Your mother is seventy. When I entered her room for the first time, she lay flat, her white hair matted, lifeless, her eyes fixated on a moment in time, not on anything tangible. Then her eyes opened and met mine. There was an instance of recognition and a gray-blue fire leaped to life within her. Her left arm held the I. V., which dutifully clicked and dripped; her right arm, motionless, lay to the side, a useless limb. Her right shoulder looked blackened, a bone extruding out where it should not have been, the result of her fall after the stroke. Her eyes locked on me with surprise, recognition, and what I think was a touch of anger. She wanted me there and she wished me gone. I felt the ground become unstable below me.

Your younger sister, Ann, had met me at the airport. She had just recently arrived from Iowa where she had taken an emergency leave from her work and from her own hospital adventure. Scheduled for surgery in another week, she should have been resting or mentally preparing instead of spending her days by her mother’s side and her nights popping tranquilizers. There is no justice in being human. Ann, if you remember, is some ten years younger than you with two daughters and an administrative position at ACT. She supervises the creation of the Pre Law Exam. She was the one you claimed betrayed you, and you threatened to take away her children. It was another reason she hadn’t talked to you in over ten years.

When Ann walked into the room, she did not hesitate. She spoke with a voice committed to lightness but with no truth behind her words or tone. Her voice spoke more of despair and less of hopefulness. The “Hi Mom,” woke your mother from the edge of some unseen pit. Again, her eyes focused with cognition, lit, then dimmed. The nurses dutifully entered, changed bags, I. V. or urine, fixed her position, checked her vital signs. The food service came and packed away her uneaten food. Aides arrived to comb hair, exchange linen, clean floors. There was a business involved with dying—not to be interrupted or disturbed by the last days of someone who had outlived her usefulness.

Even so close to death, this woman had not lost her sense of humor. My weak jokes provoked a brief explosion of air and sound which all of us took to be a laugh. Throughout the morning I maintained the levity, maintained the farce. What I wanted to truly do was rush out of the room, get away from this dying woman and rage at the cruelty of life and mourn my own mortality. By afternoon I had been drained of all of it. The humor, energy, defiance . . . all I had left were tears, and so I sobbed onto Ann’s shoulder, and she on mine, and the day passed into the heat of the Arizona evening.

We spent the night huddling with the memories of our childhood. We played “Do you remember . . . “ into the night, laughing at the ghosts of our former selves—so foolish and innocent in our youth. Then the house suffocated us with its desert flower arrangements, playhouses complete with miniature furnishings, and the wall photographs of dead and dying people. Sobered, we slipped into our rooms hoping to find a kind of peace within the darkness.

Morning found us in the hospital once again. I steeled myself against the antiseptic smells and clinical efficiency of early morning routines. The physical therapists had arrived at the same time as the aide who changed the sheets and sponge-bathed your mother. Attempting to speak, only two words escaped and those barely discernible. Even my feeble efforts to help her communicate, blink once for yes and twice for no, proved futile. The few words she spoke sounded alien. Her brain simply would not allow access to the words she wanted to use. Finally, after a day of struggling, we understood what she wanted from us. Grabbing my hand with her left hand, she placed it on Ann’s hand. “Cousin,” I said. She responded in her unearthly language, but nodded. Then she said something unintelligible, but pushed us away from her. My heart broke. “You want us to leave,” I said quietly. She nodded. She repeated the gesture, placing my hand in Ann’s. “Always,” I said. And that was the last time I saw her.

I tell you this, not because it will make sense to you, not because it will make sense to me, but because all stories must have an ending. Two weeks later, a woman in the hospice called and said your mother died peacefully in the night. I am sure those words were rehearsed with great care. Your mother died and perhaps she was at peace, but the words were for the living to give whatever comfort someone else’s death can give us. This is all I have for you . . . words. I don’t know where you are, I don’t know if your private hell has swallowed you again or if you have found the redemption of sanity in an insane world, but these words are for you.

Tony McManus joins Electric Eclectic

Introducing the latest author to join our Electric Eclectic family, let’s give him a warm welcome.

Tony hails from Manchester, England, but has a touch of the ‘Wild Geese’ about him.

To serve his passion for travel, Tony has worked as an English teacher, Bartender, Taxi driver and, in southern Africa, on construction work in the Transvaal goldmines, and the copper mines of Zambia.

He spent a year as a Special Forces mercenary in Central Africa.

He is a keen outdoorsman, sailor, kayaker, and canoeist, he also loves hiking, back-country skiing, and snowshoeing, he now resides, alternately, in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and Ste. Adele, Quebec, Canada.

Tony has five novels under his belt.

THE IRAN DECEPTIONa stand-alone espionage novel set in Israel, England, and the USA.

THE SUM OF THINGSbook #1 in the James Fallon SAS Series.

UP FOR ITbook #2 in the James Fallon Series.

A BANGKOK INTERLUDEbook #1 in the Mike Villiers Series.

BANGKOK WANTONbook #2 in the Mike Villiers Series.

Tony’s first Electric Eclectic book is dua shortly.

A Touch of Venom by Rick Stepp-Bolling

I first met Gandolf just outside Beggars Crossing, Arizona, where he saved my life . . . twice. I say Gandolf only because I never knew what else to call him since he never introduced himself and he’s exactly what I imagined Gandolf–the White, not the Grey–would look like, if in fact, Gandolf had actually existed and spent his time wandering the Sonora desert some fifty miles east of Tucson instead of roaming the mountains of New Zealand. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.

​Beggars Crossing had the distinction of being the final destination of one Samuel Beggar in the late 1860s. Samuel had set out for California gold from West Virginia after the war. He made it as far as the Arizona Territory before he ran out of provisions, money, and desire. The vision he saw to the Westwas daunting—high red cliffs and a hurt load of white sand between him and the Catalinas. He made it as far as Rattlesnake Gorge at the base of the cliffs when the spirits spoke to him in a dialect only one from West Virginia could understand, telling him he would forever more be the inspiration for those seeking redemption. Samuel agreed to set up shop right then and there if the spirits would be so kind as to keep him alive a few more years. Apparently, it was a mutual agreement, for Samuel founded the town after his own ordeal and made his fortune selling water and whiskey to travelers heading west.

​Beggars Crossing has since become a pilgrimage for those seeking salvation from the wear and tear of modern civilization and all its supposed evils. Travelers from around the world come here during the monsoon season just to make the same trek Samuel did, hoping to be equally inspired by the spirits of the desert or those in Rattlesnake Whiskey, distilled to this day in Beggars Crossing.

​As an apprentice reporter for the Los Angeles Press, it was my job to follow up on the offbeatangles that no one else on the paper wanted—UFO, Elvis, or Miley Cyrus sightings. That’s how I wound up in Beggars Crossing, notebook in hand and without a need for redemption or sobriety. 

​“You say the town used to be over that rise?” I said to the man with the white beard and eyes of doom.

​“Used to be,” he said without an accent but withthe distinct odor of Virginia whiskey on his breath. “Used to be, but I can’t attest to that any more.”

​He held up his cane with the handle shaped like some wild bird as though he were about to lecture me. For a moment, I saw the same bird reflected in his eyes, but it was only a moment, and the weather being what it was, the image could well have been a thundercloud or glaucoma. “Where do the pilgrims go when they cross that expanse?” I asked pointing to the desert that shimmered like a watery grave.” There must be some kind of housing arrangement?”

​“Can’t say,” he said too quickly. “Maybe they carry their own houses with them?”

​He fixed his glare upon my notebook. “You mean tents,” I said trying not to stare at the folds of skin between his eyes. “They carried tents with them . . . not houses.”

​He shrugged his shoulders and a small dust storm arose from his shirt. “They carried troubles with them. Maybe tents, but mostly troubles.” Then he showed me his yellow teeth, sharpened like tiny knives, in a kind of grin that sent ice into my veins.

​I scribbled something unintelligible in my notebook until the feeling passed. The reporter in me gnawed, begged to be released, forcing another question I didn’t want to ask. “Troubles? What kind of troubles?”

This time he smiled. It was a toothless smile where the edges of the mouth rise like cracks in summer mud flats. “The kind you don’t want,” he said. The kind that haunt you every minute, every day of your life until the burden to keep carrying them bends your back and bows your shoulders, and the agony of that burden decays your whole being from the inside out until one day it explodes and evil erupts into this world.” Then he nudged me with the end of his cane so that I lost my balance and stepped backwards. “You got any of those troubles?” he hissed.

​“I . . . I’m just here to get a story.” Maybe I sounded too defensive for when he paused, his cane inches away from my chest, something like surprise filled his eyes.

​His hands trembled as he planted his cane into the white sand beneath him, his body sagging under the weight of time, and for the briefest of moments he appeared fragile, hollowed by the ravages of years and ready to blow away with the first strong wind. Then his lungs filled with the heated air and he straightened his shoulders and raised his head. “A story? There are a thousand stories to be told here. Just listen to voices carried by the winds. They’ll tellyou stories that’ll make the flesh fall off your bones.”

​I didn’t know how to respond to that. His use of hyperbole and concrete images elicited my demons of college literature, professors frothing up Coleridge or Milton, speaking in poetic tongues I didn’t understand. “I’m writing a story about the pilgrimages made at Beggars Crossing. It’s my editor’s idea. I just do the story or get fired,” I said.

​“The story you write will get you fired,” he returned.

​That made sense in a Machiavellian kind of way, because I was sure if I wrote the story about this funny man and his apocryphal end of the world, my boss would fire me or put me in drug rehab. The idea that sanity had not visited Gandolf for many a moon crossed my mind. “Well, I think I’ll get some quotes from the pilgrims themselves,” I said edging toward my VW Jetta. “Know anywhere around here that sells diesel?”

It was then that fate took a hand in the game. Rattlesnake Gorge was not a name chosen at random. The heat of the afternoon drove critters to find shelter in shady spots, usually underground or under large boulders. Apparently in the eyes of some snakes, my VW resembled the closest thing there was to a large boulder in the middle of this sea of white sand. When I opened the car door, my foot slipped beneath the car and woke a particularly nasty red diamond back. Evidently upset at having his sleep disturbed by a Converse tennie, he lashed out at the nearest warm-blooded appendage and sank his venom fangs into my leg. Neither one of us was too happy at what ensued. I stepped back and did my best one-legged hopscotch imitation, the rattler still attached to my leg and whirling around like a mad lariat. Gandolf, for his part, leaned upon his staff watching my death dance with bemusement. It wasn’t until the pain increased that my hopping decreased. Now this next part gets a little crazy and I’m not sure if rattlesnake venom had a part in my delusion or Beggars Crossing’s sun did. The old man slowly raised his cane and pointed it in my direction. A raptor, the size of an ancient roc appeared out of nowhere. The bird seized the rattler in his steely talons and ripped him from my leg. The last thing I remember was the bird and the rattler flying due west. Then I passed out.

When I awoke again, I was staring into blue eyes. Nothing else made much sense at the time, but blue eyes certainly helped put a proper perspective to the moment. “Can you hear me?” came the voice of the blue eyes.

​I was hesitant, groggy, hopeful. I was hoping that Gandolf didn’t have blue eyes or blue contacts. In addition, I wasn’t altogether sure that relatives greeting me in heaven weren’t blue-eyed. 

​“Can you sit up?”

​Well, that answered one question. If I were at the Pearly Gates, sitting up would not be something someone wanted to know. Wings, harp or halo, yes. Abs, no. I struggled to a sitting position.

​“Take a sip of this,” and a bottle of something much stronger than water passed my lips.

​I coughed, but let the liquid warm my throat until it sunk into my stomach and a rosy feeling like Christmas Eve made its way through my body. My mouth searched for more of the liquid, but there was none to be had.

​“I think he’ll live,” came the response from blue-eyes.

​Then the haze disappeared and I found myself looking into the face of an angel. Okay, a man, but angel is the closest description I can use without having to go into extended passages about the firm jaw with a set of white teeth that made Kilimanjaro blush with envy, or the nose that may well have led Augusta’s army into battle against the Egyptians, or the perfect ears that framed . . . well, you get the idea. “I . . . I . . .” I stammered.

​“It’s okay. We found you in the desert. Some of the pilgrims heard you moaning and called 911. Heat exposure.”

​I grabbed my leg, but all I felt was the thin hair that covered my skin. No bite marks, no oozing, no blackening of decayed skin. Then I remembered the wild bird with the angry snake in his mouth, the old man with the cane, and my Jetta.

​I looked around me. An ambulance with its lights flashing was the only vehicle. My Jetta, the bird and Gandolf had disappeared.

​“We usually get one or two calls every year,” the angel said. “People don’t hydrate properly, but by the looks of it, you were only here a couple of hours.” Blue eyes flashed my notebook in front of me. Every entry had a date and time. I was very methodical about that sort of thing.

​I tried my voice. It sounded like aluminum foil being crushed, but at least I could speak. “The old man,” I said, “there was an old man.”

Blue Eyes turned around hoping to find the individual I was referring to. Finding no one, he spoke to the other EMTs. “Anyone see an older man?”

A young woman in hiking boots with canteens attached to her at every conceivable spot spoke up. “He was alone when we found him. Alone and unconscious.”

Angel nodded his thanks. “Keep an eye out for anyone else around here,” he told his staff.” Then he turned to me and said, “What were you doing out here? Were you on the pilgrimage?” He was staring at my converse shoes, my khaki pants, and my very pale skin.

“I’m a reporter,” I said lamely. “I was doing a story on the pilgrims at Beggars Crossing.”

“The redemption thing?” he asked.

I nodded.

Then he leaned over and whispered into my ear, “Did you leave a trouble?”

It was so unexpected that I just sat there with my mouth open.
Then he broke into a perfect smile with his perfect teeth and said, “It doesn’t matter. I’m just glad you’re safe. Did you get enough material for your story?”

It all came back to me in a rush—Beggars Crossing, the raptor, the old man and our conversation. It was more than enough for a story, but it would be a story no one believed, especially my editor.

So this is the story of Beggars Crossing. Now that you’ve read it, you’ll need to decide for yourself what was real, what was imagined, what was sun or venom induced. My editor liked it, but fired me anyway. Said there was a very strict drug abuse clause in my contract with the paper. My Jetta? It never returned and so I bequeathed it to the old man. I hope he has more luck finding diesel in Arizona than I did. That just about sums it up. Wait. If you’re wondering why I said he saved me twice, well, you already know about the snake, and now you know about the angel who saved me—Sam

Insatiable by Audrina Lane

He had to leave as we shuffled about in the kitchen together. Hours earlier we had been entangled in bedcovers, a jumble of limbs and lips in all sorts of places. I had my dressing gown on, he was dressed. We stared at each other, drinking in all the fine points that we needed to remember.

The pale dawn light was just seeping through the cracks in the blinds, casting dapples on the cold tiles. He reached for me and easily picked me up, our eyes locked together then as his lips touched mine. I wrapped my legs around his waist.

He walked a few paces so that my back was against the wall and then his mouth opened. Our tongues touched tips and then slid against each other, searching and igniting all the desire we thought had been spent upstairs.

We were insatiable, unable to stop as his fingers looped into my hair, keeping me in place so that I thought I would never breath again. In this pure moment that seemed the least of my worries. I wanted to be with him again, never leave him again, never let him leave me again. We were one!

His tongue travelled down my neck and I don’t know how, but his hand followed and crept into the wide cowel neck of my dressing gown. His fingertips searching and finding the sensitive nub of my nipple. I sighed so loudly and closed my eyes.

I felt him stagger with me across to the oak table that dominated the corner of the room. My hands helped to free him from his jeans and I could feel his solid girth.

This was going to be fast and frantic as I knew we were running out of time. My husband would be home soon and we faced discovery.

Our bodies just couldn’t stop and he plunged into me as I clawed at his back. My hands on the skin that I had earlier licked and caressed. I’d traced all his muscles and sinews like a blind person reading braille. The scars backed up the harrowing story he had told me about his marriage.

In a mere few thrusts, I was on the brink, and as he groaned, I let go of my most intense orgasm yet. I milked his cock until the searing heat of him filled me once again. We lay joined on the table until he receded from me and left an ache that filled my whole body. Empty!

But then I stiffened, the sound of an engine and tyres on the driveway. He heard them too, and quickly pulled up his jeans.

“Quick, you’ll have to leave through the front door, as he will come in at the back.” I whispered urgently. I pulled my dressing gown back around me as his semen trickled slowly down my inner thigh.
“When will I see you again?”

“I don’t know, we shouldn’t.” I shook my head, not wanting to commit to something that might never happen again.

The engine died and I quickly unlocked the front door. My mind suddenly raced to upstairs. Had I shut the spare room door? Had I thrown the extra towel from the shower we’d shared, into the washing basket? Would my husband smell the scent of another man on me? That memory nearly stalled me as I let the cold air rush in from outside.

“Quick go, follow the path round the side and slip through the hedge into our neighbour’s garden. Go along the hedge and you’ll be on the road in seconds.”

He paused and pulled me close once more, unable to let me go without another taste of my lips.

“I’ll be in touch,” he whispered and then he was gone. Shutting the door

I turned the key just as I heard the other lock click. I hurried through to the kitchen and turned on the lights.

I flicked on the kettle like I’d just woken up. It was normal for my husband to discover me making tea at the end of his night shift.
The door shut and I listened to his footsteps, it didn’t matter that my hair was a mess. What mattered was the tingling sensation I still felt on my scalp where my lover pulled my hair tight to stop me moving.

Luckily, my husband would be tired and not that observant. My lips were bruised and battered, my skin prickled from stubble rash, my cheeks blotchy and wet from the single tear that had fallen unbidden. My nipples remained rock hard and throbbed and rubbed beneath my fleecy dressing gown material.

“Hey love, couldn’t sleep again?” he asked, as he dropped his bag and shed his coat onto the nearest chair.

“Yes, I thought I’d have a cuppa and then go back upstairs. Do you want one?” I hoped I sounded my usual self.
“Please. I’m just going to unwind in the den.” He barely looked at me as he replied.

I watched him pass by the spot where I had so recently been fucked. I made the tea and took his in with a couple of biscuits before I returned upstairs.

Lying in bed, the covers cold, just like my marriage, but what could I do?

I was trapped and so was my Jase. We had been young back then, 35 years ago, young and foolish, not knowing that this was the real thing. It only became real when it was gone.

We’d both made mistakes and our lives had moved on in different directions until now. Talking in the after- glow of love making that night, neither of us could see the path ahead. It remained hidden by briars and brambles of lies, deceit and broken promises.

I finished my tea, my head pounding, my heart still thumped from how close we had come to discovery. I turned off the light and wrapped the duvet close, I had an hour to drift off before my husband would join me.

In my dreams I was with him once more, flicking back through my memories of the past and then to the night we had spent together.

Our bodies knew each other well. Our lips old friends, and longed for a reunion. We had been insatiable, but now I wanted more. But could I live with what I had done? Only time would tell.

Read more from Audrina by visiting her website.

Hug Me, a short story by Karina Kantas

Venice just got home after finishing a double shift at the café. Christmas time was always busy. It wasn’t a job she enjoyed or was proud of but it was means to an end.

Tired and ready for sleep, Venice turned on her laptop to check her socials before turning in.
A message popped up immediately.

TeddyBear: hi
Smiling she typed back –
LonelyGirl: hi, how r u?
For the next two hours, the strangers became friends. Venice’s couldn’t keep her eyes open, so she typed her goodbye promising to chat the next day.
The next morning after she’d turned on her laptop, she jumped back when her wallpaper appeared. It had been changed to a large orange coloured teddy bear. He was smiling and had bright blue eyes. He’s certainly cute.
Venice assumed the guy had hacked into her computer and after all his username was Teddy Bear. Too much of a coincidence.
She asked him about it and he immediately replied as though he was waiting for her message.
TeddyBear: Nope, it wasn’t me. If I knew ur addy I’d send u a real teddy so u could cuddle onto at night.

Venice went to work and tried not to think about the image of the bear. She was excited to continue the flirting banter she had going with her online teddy bear.
A week went by and their online friendship continued. It was a Saturday before Christmas when Venice decided it was time to take their friendship to the next level.
As though he heard her thoughts he messaged her.
TeddyBear: I think it’s time we met up. What do u think?
LonelyGirl: Yes, I’d luv 2
She quickly replied.
Wouldn’t it be romantic to meet up on New Year’s Eve? She imagined how handsome Teddy Bear was and what a romantic time they would have, walking around looking at the Christmas lights, and maybe they could skate on the ice.
TeddyBear: Say the words “I want u 2 hug me.”
Venice paused before he started typing again.
TeddyBear: Humour me. Say the words “I want u 2 hug me.” then I’ll no ur serious about us meeting.
Venice typed.
LonelyGirl: I want u 2 hug me.
TeddyBear NO! DON’T TYPE THEM say them out LOUD.
Venice laughed.
LonelyGirl: but how will u hear me?
TeddyBear didn’t reply.
She shrugged and said to the empty room “I want you to hug me.”

The screen goes black before a growling is heard, then her wallpaper appears. The head of the teddy bear turns as its arms stretch out towards her. Venice screams but before she can run, the bear’s claws come out of the screen and dig into her shoulders, grabbing her with such force her head and then her chest are pulled in. Her legs are the last part of her body that disappear.
The screen goes black and the laptop switches off.

Hug Me was written as a 500 word story challenge.

Karina is a prolific author of 14 fiction novels. She’s also a podcaster, radio host, BookTuber and a multi-award-winning filmmaker.
You can find all her links and online presence on LinkTree.