Tim Horton’s Cold Brew Contest.

Hey Raga-rootlings,

Before you get to reading the contest entry to the Cold Brew Stories that Tim Horton’s is putting on with Wattpad, it would be amazing if you like the story here, to hop on over to Wattpad. Give a vote, comment or share. It will only take a few moments of your time. Also, all the stories I post here, I also share on there as well so check it out and I hope to share the results of the contest with you all after June 8th! Please enjoy and hope to see you around! https://www.wattpad.com/story/271165918-a-shy-encounter

Stark entered the usual Tim Horton’s down the block from his place. The best thing about his day was heading over to sit, drink and enjoy his time in the small back corner of the store. Most days he would bring a book or write, others he would sit and watch people. His favorite thing to do was people watching. Today he sipped on a Cold Brewed coffee, crossing his legs as he casually scanned around the busy shop. It was at the slow peak of the day, the employees busy as they cleaned and stocked for the next rush, the few customers sitting about at the smaller tables chatting away with deep conversations. 

Looking away, Stark took a deep sip of his cold beverage when he noticed a small note written just on the corner. 

Hey cutie ❤

Stark shot his eyes up around the room. Was this for him? No one caught his eye as he let out a small sigh. This message could have been for anyone. After contemplating it, he finally pulled out a pencil from his bag and wrote a message back. 

Why thank you 😉

How juvenile to write on a table. It made Stark feel like a kid again. With that, he cut his day short and headed home. Over the course of the week, he had returned eagerly to have his mystery conversation. Few words scrawled on the table became paper notes left behind. Some days Stark would have to wait until the next note appeared. It was normal since the person would have time off from work. Who was his secret admirer? Stark decided to write a note and leave it behind for the person at the counter. 

Meet me at the usual time on Saturday.

Stark was anxious, waiting till the day had come. He knew his admirer usually had the day off since he never got a note that day. Nervously he tapped on the table. He didn’t even order his drink because his stomach flipped so much. 

“Here’s your Vanilla Cold Brew Coffee, Sir.”

Stark turned perplexed at the voice. “I’m sorry, I didn’t order anything.”

There Stark’s eyes met with the boy holding his coffee. He offered a brilliant smile, waiting for him to take the coffee.

“I know. You order this every day you come in. I’ve been serving you the entire time. I’m glad we finally could meet in person.”

Stark’s heart fluttered. He was gorgeous! He grabbed the coffee with his one hand, then reached out to shake it with his other. “Stark.”


Brian sat down across from him, blushing a little as he scratched at the back of his head.

“I am sorry I didn’t approach you before. I was scared you wouldn’t like me.”

Stark smiled sweetly. “After getting to know you from our conversation, how could I not?”

Leaning in over his fist, Stark was happy to have his first date. They laughed and talked well into the night.

The end.

The Moment After Death

Writing prompt: All religions are real and the world just ended.

How did I get here? Jake looked around at the surrounding people packed into the white abyss. Slowly he was being shoved towards the same direction as the person in front of him. The last thing he remembered was a sudden blast then, Poof! Here he was alongside thousands.

There has to be some kind of mistake, He continued to think as he suddenly heard several shouts in front. The closer he got, the louder they had become as several people stood holding signs and waving their arms.

“Christians over here! Line up in the denomination once you’ve reached the markers!”

“Buddhists this way. You can choose your reincarnation after having tea and a group meditation!”

Jake stopped, allowing several people to push past as they began to herd towards the shooting men on stands, boxes and even rocks that lined against several gates, halls and building entrances. They were dressed in robes of different colours, sizes and even emblems related to each religion. To his belief, it reminded him of a university club week trying to recruit members for their activities. Jake made his way towards the closest man who was standing under a booth. The sign above was blurry as it shimmered with different symbols and characters before clearing up into a language he understood. It read, “Information booth.”

Jake waited until the man finished pointing to the lost soul before stepping up to inquire about his own fate. “Good Sir, I-“

The robed man interrupted. “Oh no no, I am not good. I am neutral. How may I help you?”

Jake bit his tongue a moment before giving it a shake. What an odd person!

“Hi, I am a little confused about what is going on here!”

Without hesitation, he replied to Jake.

“Well, you are dead. Which faith, belief or ideal did you follow in your life?”

Jake blinked for a moment. How could this man be so blunt!

“Wait what?”

The being before him gave a small sigh while giving a sympathetic smile. “This is the gates to your end. Everyone has different thoughts and believes and we are here to help direct them to the appropriate one.”

Jake shook his head. “What if they aren’t sure and change their mind?”

The man pointed towards a building behind them and to the side, one Jake didn’t see before on his way. “That there is a presentation where you can see the benefits and information clearly. Sometimes down on Earth, it gets a little muddied by changes and misinterpretations.  For those who are still unsure, they can stand by the gates in a waiting area to observe until they have decided.”

Jake scratched at his head. “But what of those who believed in hell and satan? If they know they are going to be judged harshly and meet their demise, why would they choose that!”

The man chortled. “Oh, you mortals. Fear isn’t always the driving factor to the decisions made in your lives. That you can clear up when you meet the doorkeeper where he can judge your life. Either you believe you were “good” or “bad” is all placed on a biased perspective. All we care about is making sure you get to the right place you want to be.”

“Well can I leave if I change my mind?”

The man scoffed, throwing his hands up. “Well of course! Seems kind of silly to stay in one place forever! Of course, you need to meet the requirements or terms needed before making religion changeovers, but that will be covered by the gatekeeper as well when he gives you the pamphlet.”

Jake stood perplexed. Was everything really that easy compared to what they believed on earth?

“Well, what if I was an atheist?”

The being lightened up. “Oh, well if you didn’t believe in any of the religions, then you must be the new helper! Take a robe of any colour and see who needs help ushering the lost souls to the right gate. You will figure out things fine. If you need anything else, let me know!”

And with that, Jake looked at the lined boxes behind the booth and picked a robe. What a strange place this is. He donned his robe and off he went to help the people.

The Meal Mother used to Make.

I decided to do a writing prompt I say, and this one actually made me giggle. 

Please enjoy.

Writing Prompt of the day: Write about the one time you made a meal your mom used to make as a child. 

    Derek was quite certain he would get it this time. Pulling out the cookbook his mom used when he was a little boy, he carefully traced the spine. All of her famous recipes had been written within the worn and brittle book. Her cursive handwriting was clear and crisp, as you could tell she gave it all of her love into the page. With a soft hand, Derek traced the page with a sweet smile. Since her passing, Derek had missed her greatly. When he was clearing out the attic of his childhood home, he found the cookbook within a small box of her things. His mouth began to water at the memories of savoury flavours he craved. Heading into the kitchen, he flipped through the pages debating which one he should try this time. 

Between stir fry, stew and a meat pie, he pondered which one would be feasible. He placed the book down on the stand before looking at his catch of the day as it hung to bleed out. He had taken special care to make sure the meat wouldn’t spoil in the cold room, pulling it down to begin cutting it. Stripping off the outer layer, he hacked and stripped the meat off the bone with precision. With talented handling, he managed to get decent cuts while discarding useless parts. Upon inspection of the cuts, he began to separate and pack several bits for different occasions. Holding a fatty bit, he decided to make a meat pie. The texture seemed right, and the amount he managed to carve would make for several other meals included. Taking the meat, he placed it into his meat mincer and turned the machine on. While he waited for it to process, he cleaned up the mess, making sure to keep the head of his trophy. 

Once the meat was minced, he scaled and packaged the rest in which he would use later. With enough to make a few pies, he nodded with satisfaction. Derek headed to the kitchen with his bowl of meat in one arm and his mother’s cookbook in the other. First, he needed to cook the meat and boil potatoes. Starting up the skillet, he seasoned and spiced the meat to his mother’s instructions. Covering the meat, he began to peel potatoes and waited for the pot of water to boil. Standing back, he quickly tapped the book to read. Somehow he felt like he was missing something. Right, he snapped his fingers with a hand gunshot, the recipe called for some corn. 

Brushing his hands on his chest, he headed to the panty. Usually, he kept a good stock of canned veggies and soups for this occasion, so having a small can of corn wouldn’t be a problem. He shuffled a few cans around, eventually finding one as he cheered with a happy grunt. It was cream of corn, which in his mind was a better option. Can’t always follow the recipe to a T, he thought with a chuckle. Returning to the oven, he checked the process of the meat before grabbing the can opener. After opening the can, he placed it down and turned the oven on. With a spoon, he mixed both the meat and the potatoes, making sure they were well on their way. The meat was partially ready as he pulled it off the stovetop. No point in over-cooking it when he was going to bake it all.

 Derek pulled out a glass bakeware bowl, pouring three-quarters of the meat into it. Next, he took the cream of corn and created a small layer of it across the top of the meat. He took a small silver spoon to help smooth it all out, making sure it was covered entirely. Lastly, he checked the potatoes. They were the perfect cook to mash as he pulled it off the stovetop and drained the water. With a good mash, milk and butter, he whipped it up something fierce before globbing it up with a wooden spoon. Craftily, he plopped it on top of the layers in the glassware, covering the corn and meat without spilling it over the edge. With a fork, he fluffed the layer about, giving it a good texture to bake. With a small smile of delight, Derek was excited to see the potato crisp into a lovely golden texture. Placing it into the oven, he stood with his fists on his hip in triumph. 

Now all he had to do was wait. Blowing as raspberry, he looked around at the dishes. Well, he had some time to waste. With that, he began to clean up his mess, then set the table. He had just finished lighting candles when the timer ran for the pie. Licking his lips at the delicious smell, he opened the oven to take a peek first. His expectation of the crispy potato design on the top was spot on. There it was, the beautiful masterpiece from his mother’s recipe. Pulling it out, he hardly could wait as he skipped to the table, placing it down on a cork trivet.  Before sitting down, Derek quickly ran to the kitchen to grab a wine class and his finest red. 

Oh, how he waited for this moment, rubbing his hands together he anxiously poured himself a glass before cutting into the meat pie. With a big scoop, he dished it to his plate and delicately picked up his fork. The moment of truth to see how well he was able to cook his own killed game. With trembling fingers, he loaded his fork with a bit of each layer and took a bite. The flavour swirled his taste buds. The tenderness of the meat, the creamy corn and potato perfectly mingling the juices and spices. The more he chewed, however, the more that there was something missing. It was everything he was hoping for but it wasn’t like his mother’s. He took a few more bites, his euphoria dissipating quickly as he frowned into his meat pie. What was he missing? Was it the cream corn? Maybe the meat was too fresh since she always just made it with store-bought products. 

With a heavy sigh, he finished his plate using a bit of bread to scoop up the juices running amuck on his plate from the meat. Sitting back he smacked his lips, grabbing his glass of wine as he stared at the head of his prized kill sitting on the other side of the table. With a narrow glare, he took a sip as he stared into the eyes of the blue eyes of the man whose body he cut up. Maybe it was the meat, Derek thought as he swished the wine within his mouth to clear his pallet. With a crooked smile, he continued to stare darkly. Next time, I will get it right.

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Turan Turnip

Overtaking Kings

Kicking the doors open, Athello stepped into the vast empty halls prepared, his companions beside him as they stood at the ready. This was the moment he was waiting for as the battle spread across the castle. He fought long and finally the tyrant king would be brought to justice. At the end of the long hall, sat the king. His crown brightly glinting on the top of his head, his robes neatly pressed and cleaned. He was magnificent to behold, as the rumors had rang true. King Galford was a beast of a man as he sat waiting, holding the arms of the grand chair as the light of the torches gave him a sinister appeal. Holding his hand to halt his comrades, Athello walked forward alone. It was a long stretch from the door to the chair as his footsteps echoed off the walls. 

Time itself seemed to stop as Athello’s body shifted into that of a different being. The embodiment of Chaos stepped out from the shell of the man while he smiled mockingly. With a grand gesture, he opened his arms wide as if to accept an embrace from the king. Stopping with still space between them, he called out to him.

“It has been a while, Order. Or shall I call you ‘Brother’?”

Hiding a wince, the king grumbled. “Chaos. I should have known you would have been behind this all.”

Chuckling, Chaos dropped his arms as he took upon his true name. “Yes, it wasn’t hard to find you. Being that it was always easy to seek you out. To come and destroy what you have built so meticulously. Although, I must say, you did a fine job making it difficult at first.”

Order gripped with white knuckles at the King’s chair. “And what was it this time that called you out of your hole? Was it the structure of peace between the other countries? The strong alliances of nobles and their resources? Surely there was no reason to besmirch my efforts.” 

Standing up the king waved his hand off towards the farmlands he knew laid in the far distance for his window. 

“I have made this kingdom more prosperous than it has ever been. Our lands are rich in soil and abundant in harvest. We have ships and armies that could conquer our enemies and change the way of things.” 

Order took a few steps towards the wall, placing his hands behind his back as he stood with such regal beauty. With a heavy heart, he sighed as he closed his eyes. “Everything was going according to plan, so why must you bring your influence here?”

Tiptoeing towards the King, Chaos giggled like a child. “Because it was not ‘free’ brother. Your obsession of influence was stifling.” 

Dramatically sliding the rest of the way to stand beside Order, Chaos conjured with his hand across the wall, sharing the image of the castle from afar.

“You see prosperity, I see devastation. The people of the lands were suffering while the rich were feasting and plumpening up.To see those who work their hands to the bone, tilling the soil with blood and tears while those who were born into better lives sit on the carcasses of the hard working. Fat pigs on fertilizer, they stop the innocent into the ground and to their deaths.” 

The image flashed as it showed the farmers in their fields, weak and frail, some passing out from the heat. From there it showed carts full of those who have died from hunger and starvation. The king gruffed. 

“This is necessary to build. Without their sacrifices, we could accomplish nothing. They provided food for the soldiers to fight and keep peace.”

The image flashed to the guards enforcing the time curfew as well as beating those who could not pay taxes.

“What about the suppression? Adding the curfew to those who wandered around the streets? How the people feed the armies that in turn beat and assault them?”

Order turned snarling, “I gave them a choice! Offering help to those in need and asking only of them to work. Instead they lazed about and drank away their gains, gambled their fortunes and whored at the brothels. They refused to listen so I gave them guidelines to reconstruct their failures. The weak are only in their will, abiding by the rules would have saved them.” 

Chaos tilted his head, curious to learn more. “And yet they starve, unable to provide more than what was taken from them. Death tolls increasing, food stores drying up and yet the nobles throw parties. Even while you throw balls and festivals, doing the very thing you punish your people for.”

With a dominating presence, Order pointed his finger up towards Chaos. 

“Since when did you care for the people and suppression? Are you not the one that brings misery to those around you? To hurt the innocent bystanders in your war as you trampled them at the gate? Had they listened to me there would have been no death or blood shed. Harmony alongside others. We could accomplish great things and yet they turn their backs on those they do not know!”

Chaos swung his sword in hand, playfully as the sound whirled around it. “It is as you would say part of the cycle. It’s not about the death’s or emotions of those involved. If not for your disturbance in the balance, there would be no need for either mine or your influence. Your power had over reached its limits, giving me power. The power to pull at the small tethers of rebellion in the hearts of the free wills. Without my chaos, there could never be order. Your power is to keep those in line, yet when that line is to narrow it is hard to keep a strong step. The bridge over the water would crumble as those trying to cross would parish. The lines of power are too much push and no pull.” 

Order fumed, his fists clenched tightly as he held dearly to the body of the king. “Everything was fine! I was so close to perfection and beginning this world to a new order! Laws and expectations finally match! The only influence you brought was to undermine my greatness!

Placing a hand on Order’s shoulder, Chaos gave him a tender smile while trying to calm him. 

“I am not destroying your work, Dear brother. I am only helping encourage it. With my help you can rebuild again, stronger and more unwavering than before. The slate will wipe clean and a new path reborn.” 

Order held stern to Chao’s eyes, shaking in his anger only for a moment. Had he been blind to how out of control of the influence he had been? Scanning the sincerity of his brother’s face, he looked back to the images of the present. The pain of the people unable to keep up and the gluttony of the ones who rode on their backs. It was not his plan at all as he defeatedly dropped his hand to his side. Yes, his brother had been right to come and cleanse the land of this terror that had ruled over them all. He had been so blind and focused on the goals that he had truly lost sight of the real goal he had come to achieve. The utopia he sought to bring had fallen short and the glass had now shattered. Looking back to Chaos, Order accepted his fate as the skin of the King faded away. There in a golden glow was Order’s true form. 

“You are right, little brother. You were always right. I have overstayed my time, warped the minds of the people. Please forgive my shortcomings and may you do better to succeed in my stead.”

Reaching out to grasp his brother’s shoulder, Order smiled with care as they held each other. “It was good to see you once more brother. Next time I shall make it more exciting for you and not keep you too far out of reach.”

Chaos smiled brightly, nodding proudly. 

“I await with anticipation.”

It was a flash as the peasant cupped the back of the King’s head, thrusting the sword deep into the rib cage and into the heart. Chaos looked down to see the sword thrusted into him, his appearance shaping back into that of King Galford. He looked up as Order held strong unto the hilt, the shape of Athello covering his face. King Galford coughed up blood as it dribbled down his chin. Athello grabbed tight to the King’s body as he helped him lay down to the ground. They watched each other as the life seeped out of Galford’s eyes. Waiting a few moments more as the air finally let loose from his lungs, Athello ripped his blade from the body and stood up. Looking down at the now dead King, he nodded with solemn eyes. “Goodbye brother. I will miss these family meetings.”

Athello turned to the men by the door as they cheered. The tyrant king now slain and a new leader born as Athello took the crown from the body and placed it upon his head. The war had ended as they exchanged the hands of power. As Athello now became ruler of the land, he stood on the steps of the castle as he took in the faces of the people who fought beside him.

“The King is dead! And I in his stead will lead us to the new beginnings! I will bring order and peace, as we rebuild what the king had destroyed. This time, I will do it right.”The crowd’s cheer was deafening as Athello looked out across the sea of people. Order smirked with determination. Yes, I will do it right this time.

Beauty and the Nerd: Christmas special

The morning was cool and crisp as Colby finished her last set of crunches. She stood up to grab the towel off her chair, wiping the sweat off her neck, chugging the water from a bottle. Her focus was on the calendar as she caught her breath, setting the bottle down to rub the towel under her hair. Christmas was coming up soon. Every year she dreaded it; it was her least favorite time of the year. Sitting in her chair, she picked at the corner of the desk. It was customary that Lance and herself got one gift, and occasionally they gifted something to each other. They would have a small dinner as a family then sing carols after while her dad played the old string guitar. It was always off-tune, and they were not a talented family by any means. The time spent with family wasn’t terrible; it was the kids at school leading up to the holidays and even after. Bragging and showing off their new gifts and toys, where they travelled, and how much they got. Friends would bring presents and share baked goods with each other as Colby would sit alone. With a heavy heart, Colby got dressed and headed off to school. Since it was too cold outside, Colby stopped going to the park to meet up with Yuru. Her track record of being on time was terrible, and since there were more than a handful of times where she didn’t show up at all, Colby thought it best to just sit in the class. It was hard to believe some days why Colby was dating her. Her long wavy hair tied up in different styles, her ice-blue eyes as they pierced her soul, even her sense of fashion as she wore the latest trends. Yuru was beautiful compared to Colby, wearing her usual baggy shirts and loose-fitting pants. It never really mattered to her before about what she wore since studying was all that mattered before. Her face burned red as Colby thought about her, pulling out her comic to bury her face in. Brushing her dark raven hair behind her ear, Colby paused as it slowly dawned on her. This is my first Christmas with a girlfriend. Colby puffed her cheeks with a hard exhale. Well, first year dating someone. I never had one previously. The idea of spending time during the holidays made her heart race. Being able to see Christmas lights together, drink hot chocolate while listening to Christmas toons, and perhaps a kiss under the mistletoe? Colby dropped her comic, grabbing her face. What about a Christmas gift? She bopped her forehead for being so dense. Why did it take her so long to figure this out? With only two weeks till Christmas, she needed to think of something to give her. What did she like? Would she be able to find something on short notice? Caught up in her thoughts, Colby didn’t hear Yuru as she stood beside her. With a giggle, she leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “You look so deep in thought, it’s rare to see that kind of expression on you. What were you thinking about?” Sitting at the desk next to Colby, Yuru smiled brightly, waiting for her answer. Colby burned as she stammered; there was no way she could just come out and tell her. Digging her hands into her lap, she looked away. “Nothing really, just daydreaming.”Yuru was intrigued further. “Daydreaming? About what? You don’t seem like the kind of person to daydream!”Mina pshed loudly, standing beside Yuru as she leaned against the desk. “Probably about something dirty with a certain someone.” Heavily stressing on the last word, Yuru choked. Could it be possible she really was?Colby shot a look of dismay at Mina, confirming that she had not been. Yuru pouted a little, slightly disappointed. Was it just Yuru who was being such a perv, thinking of Colby in such a way? Mina chuckled as she leaned back, adjusting her glasses. “Figures, Colby’s too pure to be thinking about that kind of stuff. Bet you it was about the upcoming exams.” Yuru thwaped her hand against Mina. “Stop picking on her.” The redhead tsked Yuru, turning to greet Shawna and Claire as they approached them. Shawna greeted them cheerfully as she wore a tiny Santa hat between her messy brunet space buns. Quickly behind her, Claire pulled out envelopes to pass around to them all, little bells jiggling as she moved about. “Alright, first things first. I am giving your cards and gifts now to get that out of the way. I can’t be bothered to carry this around on Christmas, so enjoy them when you feel like it.” First, she shoved a card at Shawna, then dug in her bag to give a small, neatly wrapped box. Second, she leaned in to kiss Yuru on the cheek as she handed the card. “From mom, and here you go.”She handed a thin wide box with a small bow in the corner. Colby was a little upset at the kiss. However, the feeling in her gut dropped as they all received gifts. Turning away, she tried to ignore them as she picked her comic back up. Claire handed a card to Mina with a plaid wrapped gift, and finally, she stopped in front of Colby. With a sweet smile, she held the card out. “Here, this is from my family and me. It’s an invitation to come to our new year’s party that we host every year. Make sure to pass this along to your parents and let me know ASAP.” Colby’s eyes widened as she took the card, her smile lighting up her face. Claire giggled with delight, passing the next item to her. “And here, this is from me. I know it’s not much, so please enjoy it. I expect one in return, Miss. Larson, and you will be held accountable!”Claire clapped her hands together, ringing two small bells on her wrist bands, turning towards her desk near the front as she flung her short curly blonde hair with her turn. Colby had taken the long white box with a red ribbon that tied it neatly as she looked at it intently. Her first gift from a friend. Excitedly, she didn’t wait to open it as she pulled the ribbon apart. The ribbon fell aside as she lifted the lid to look inside. With a chortle, Colby pulled out the two gifts within. A small mechanical pencil with her favorite superhero, Batman, and a bookmark of her favorite comic book series, ‘The Battle at Falksworn’. With wonder, she picked the bookmark up, looking at the detail and quality. For being a bookmark, it was incredibly sturdy and flexible. Tracing her hand down the front of it, the decal stuck out to give it depth. Colby gasped as she recognized it as being the collector’s edition, the one she had missed when they released its 10th volume. She flipped it over and saw the print to confirm it. Looking up at Claire near the front, she couldn’t believe how thoughtful it was for her. Claire smiled, turning back to her magazine with a satisfied nod. Yuru sat at her desk as she watched Colby fidget around with her new bookmark, unsure if she should place it back in the box or place it in her comic book. The excitement was that of a child on their first Christmas. Mina leaned in to whisper at Yuru. “Boy, if she’s that thrilled about a bookmark, she’s gonna be super easy to please.”Shawna snickered from behind them. “You know Claire has always been one to give the best gifts. It might be a tough act to follow.”Yuru gulped. Shawna was right; if Colby was stoked by a bookmark, then it must have been a big deal. Nervously, she wondered if her gift was good enough.Lunch soon came as they all headed off to the cafeteria. Lance stood waiting in the hall, fist-bumping Colby as he joined them along the way. Yuru noticed that from the start, her relationship with her brother had improved. He was taller and sporty, unlike Colby, who was the classic definition of a bookworm. Although they were related, Lance had blonde hair like his mom, where Colby looked like her dad. Standing side by side, you could see the family resemblance. They found a table and gathered around, relaxing as they joked around and began to eat. Some time had passed when finally Mina asked the crew the usual question. “So has everyone finished their Christmas shopping yet? Aside from Claire, which we already know she’s done.”Mina held up her engraved zippo lighter as she shamelessly flipped it around to open and light before closing it again to place in her pocket. Shawna sighed exasperatedly. “You are just looking for any excuse to show that off now.”“For the record, I am very happy about my gift and want everyone to acknowledge how great of a friend Claire is.” Mina winked while shooting a finger gun at Claire with a click. Claire flipped the page of her magazine, pretending not to notice as she hid a smirk. Yuru stepped in before they started bickering. “Well. I, for one, am done. I just need to wrap the gifts and then good to go.” Shawna nudged Yuru, raising her eyebrows several times. “Hey, wanna wrap mine for me? I have yours done already since mama wanted everything ready under the tree for Christmas photos.” Claire glanced up from her mag with excitement. “Are the decorations already done? Your tree is always so beautiful! I can’t wait to party with you guys on Christmas day!” Shawna crossed her arms smugly. “Yes, it is! I helped put them up myself this year just so I didn’t have to during the break. Mama has tons of food again this year, too!”Mina tossed her head back, closing her eyes dreamily. “Yesssss! I can’t wait to eat your mom’s baked goods. Each year I always look forward to it! I swear she should just make them in July just so I don’t have to wait a full year to eat them.”The girls all laughed while Colby sat silently beside Lance. She fidgeted with her hands on her lap, anxious as the girls all talked about gifts and parties. Finally, she spoke out. “Don’t you guys spend Christmas with your families?” Mina leaned into the table, adjusting her glasses. “Yeah, they all do theirs Christmas day. My mom and I actually open our gifts on Christmas eve; that way, we don’t have to wait. We used to make dinners, but it just wasn’t worth the hassle since it’s just the two of us.”Claire nodded. “Yeah, my family always throws the big party for new years; we don’t really bother to do anything big other than stockings. It gets to be too much doing both, and since we’ve always hosted New years, it just made sense not to.” Yuru rubbed the back of her neck as she averted Colby’s gaze, knowing she was curious about her family. Shawna took a sip of her pop before speaking on her behalf. “My family does gift openings Christmas morning, Yuru included. Since her parents don’t celebrate at all, I started inviting her over to my place when we were in grade school.” Placing an arm around Yuru, she jostled her a little with a smile. “Since then, she comes over every year. As we made friends with these two, we started inviting them over for dinner to celebrate. It’s kind of become our tradition.”Colby’s heart sank as she learned about Yuru’s family, not celebrating. She thought about inviting her to come over for hers, but that was quickly trashed. Faking a smile, she nodded. “That’s really neat. It’s cool how close your families are.” Finishing her words, Lance nudged her ribs under the table. The girls laughed together as Colby glared at him, mouthing her words at him. “What?”Using his eyes, he looked at them, then back to her. He did this a few times, adding his head as he nodded towards them as they spoke about the plans for the party. Colby assumed he was trying to ask her to see if they could join. With a frown, she shook her head. It seemed silly for her to intrude on tradition as she focused back on the conversation. Mina had finished sharing a story of last Christmas when Yuru looked over at Colby. “What about you, guys? What does your family do for Christmas?” Lance looked between them both, trying to answer for them. “Well, actually, we..” Colby cut him off, landing a kick to his shin. As he grunted, Colby interjected. “It’s about the same. We open gifts, eat Chinese food, and play games together. Before the end of the night, my dad likes to bring out his old guitar and play some toons. It’s not really good since our family can’t really sing well.”Claire closed her book as she leaned in closer. “Awe, that’s actually really sweet!” Glancing over at Lance, she smiled sweetly. “I’m sure you guys are fine at singing.” Lance blushed as Colby snorted. “Yeah, right. Lance is tone-deaf, and I can’t keep a beat.” In retaliation, Lance slammed his foot into Colby’s. She bit her tongue, trying not to cry out, burying the pain. It was known that Lance and Claire had a thing, pretending they didn’t know each other at school. Outside of school, however, they had been dating in secret. Yuru and Colby had helped in setting them up, agreeing that they would be a cute couple. Although she knew his intentions to go to Shawna’s party was so Colby could see Yuru, she also knew that he just wanted to spend time with Claire as well. If Colby couldn’t go, neither could he. As if Shawna was reading her mind, she piped in. “Hey, I have an idea. Why don’t you guys come over and celebrate with us? The parents can come too since we usually just hang out downstairs while the parent’s party upstairs.” Colby chuckled nervously, waving her hands in front. “Ah, thanks, but it’s ok. We just usually have a small Christmas, and my parents like the time to bond.” Lance angrily punched Colby in the leg, causing a charlie horse. Grunting, Colby sacked him hard. “Thank you anyway.” The girls all protested in response. “Awe, come on.”“It’s Christmas!”“Please come!”Between Lance practically screaming at her with his eyes and the disappointment in her friend’s eyes, Colby felt terrible. Why couldn’t she just say yes and join in with her friends? The thought of breaking tradition made it difficult for Colby to decide. But this was what Christmas was. Spending time with the parents and Lance was all she knew. Yuru sat watching as they all begged Colby before sticking up for her. “Hey, stop, guys. I think it’s really sweet that they are spending Christmas together. I always wished that mine would, I’m really envious of them.” A tinge of guilt hit them as everyone left it at that. Shawna brought back her smile as she cheered up. “Yuru’s right. It’s about spending time with those we love. Besides, we can always meet up the day after to give our gifts! Plus, there’s New Years!” Colby blanched. “Gifts?” Once again, with all her genius, it had taken her this long to realize not only did she have a girlfriend to get a gift for, but now three other friends. Mina chuckled. “Claire isn’t the only one who got you something. I was kind of hoping to exchange them at Shawna’s, however, we can’t wait to do it together.” Nervously laughing once more, Colby faked it. “Oh yes. Right. Yeah, that sounds like a plan! Totally down to exchange gifts. With my friends.” Yuru raised a brow, hiding a smirk as she stared at Colby. “You forgot, didn’t you.”Phishing Yuru, Colby waved her off. “What, noooo. I just… Had a brief moment of amnesia. Will you excuse me a moment? I forgot to tell Lance something important.” With a forceful shove, Colby broke Lance from the staring contest he had with Claire as they ogled at each other. Not only did she need help to figure out what to buy for gifts, but she was also doing everyone a favor from their sicking love display. Once they were well out of sight from the cafeteria, Lance shoved Colby into a locker. Punching him in the shoulder, she yelled at him. “What was that for?!”“The party! Why didn’t you just say yes! You know we both want to be there! Our parents might even have fun for once in their life! We can get away from singing!”Colby ignored him. “That’s not even important. Did you get a gift for Claire yet?”Lance stopped as he stared at Colby like a deer in a headlight.“Yeah, that’s what I thought. This weekend, we need to figure out a gift for Claire and Yuru. You don’t need to really worry about them, but you can’t see Claire without one! Do you have any idea what she likes?”Lance was dumbfounded as he continued to keep that expression on his face. Colby facepalmed; they were equally in the same boat. “Ok. We need to put our heads together. You think about Claire, and I will find something similar but less important not to overshadow your gift.” “Why not just ask them?” Lance furrowed his brow as he tried to figure out a solution. As smart as that would have been, Colby sighed heavily. “Didn’t you hear what I said to them? I told them I didn’t forget! If I ask for help, they’re gonna know I haven’t bought them anything!” Colby ran her hand through her hair. “God, why is having friends so hard. Do you buy gifts for yours?” Lance shook his head. “Naw, I have never bought them a gift. They just know that I don’t do gifts, and I never get them in return.” With a flat face, Colby turned to walk away, not surprised.The week dragged on as they finally hit the holiday season, the countdown for Christmas upon them. Colby and Lance stood outside the mall with determination. After scouring shops and stores, they searched hours to find a perfect gift for their dates. Along the way, Colby managed to pick out a gaming controller with decals of the game they played for Mina and a few keychains of a bear wearing fruit outfits for Shawna. Colby remembered seeing something like that on her backpack and decided she might like them. Mina was a given as they both loved playing zombie games and often had competitions to see who was better. All that was left was finding something for Claire and Yuru. Even though Yuru spent hours with her, Colby still had no idea what to get her. A few times, they stopped at the fashion stores they had been to before, but nothing screamed Yuru. Right now would have helped if she had a sense of style. Stopping to look at some bangles, Colby had a thought. She wore things like this all the time, but they were plain. What would be something Yuru would wear? Looking down at her own wrist, Colby came up with an idea. Matching bracelets. Before she could search more, Lance called her over.Heading over, Lance stood in front of a wall of perfume. The smell was overwhelming as they both awkwardly looked at the different boxes, shapes, and styles.“This? You want to find something like this for her?” Shuffling, Lance looked about the store. “Whenever I am close to her, she smells really good. I thought maybe if I got her something similar to what she is wearing, she would like it.”Thinking back on Yuru, Colby always was drawn to how she smelled like cinnamon. It was intoxicating. Impressed, Lance had a point. “Yeah, that would work. Now how do we pick one?” Randomly they grabbed bottles and sniffed them. After several scents, Colby could hardly tell one from the other. They all reeked of different flowers, and it gave her a headache. Thankfully, she already liked the scent Yuru had and decided her idea was the best. Finally, as Colby placed down a bottle, Lance stiffened, smacking her as he handed the bottle. Not really wanting to smell another bottle, she obliged. It was a soft smell, not sickly sweet but had a subtle hint of mint. Not being a professional in smells, Colby nodded her head. “This is nice.”Lance nodded excitedly as he took it back and sniffed it once more. “Yeah, it reminds me of Claire.” That seemed like a good enough reason to buy it. Colby smiled. “Good. Now I just need something that isn’t going to overshadow your gift for her, and we can go home.”They turned to look around more, Lance helping her scout as he spoke. “Did you find anything for Yuru?” Stopping at the phone cases, Colby shook her head. “No, I decided to make her one.” Spotting a case with a bow on the back, she picked it up and showed Lance, who disagreed. “What are you making?” He pulled her away as they looked back at the bangles Colby was at previously. “Well, I was looking at these and thought of matching bracelets. Too lame?” Lance huffed. “No, that’s actually a good idea. It seems like something you would do. Too bad Claire is a little more girly than Yuru.” Colby giggled. “She did teach Yuru, so it would make sense. I wonder what Yuru was like before Claire got a hold of her?”Leaving the store, they walked around a little more when Colby saw a magazine stand. Walking up, she looked for the same one she saw her reading constantly. Lance looked over her shoulder. “For ideas?” Colby sighed. “Naw, I’m just gonna pay for a subscription for a few months. I see her read it all the time anyway. At least it will be somewhat practical. Plus, it won’t overshine your gift. Either that or I buy her a chocolate bar.” Lance chortled as Colby smiled. “Hey, I can do what I want. I’m not the one dating her.”
Yuru sat on her bed, looking over her phone. Colby had sent her a message wishing her a happy Christmas eve, sending her heart into a flutter. It had been a few days since the last time she saw her, and even though she was going to see her soon, she couldn’t help feeling lonely. It was the first year she had been dating someone, and it wasn’t panning out the way she hoped. The idea of her family having a small celebration together sounded amazing since she loved Joyce and Darven. Colby’s parents had been so kind and supportive to them since they found out they were dating. It cost Colby being grounded and Yuru also being dragged into doing chores as punishment. However, she would take that over her parents finding out any day. Despite being in a religious household, her dad was a firm believer and a strict politician. He didn’t believe in celebrating holidays as he believed it was a distraction to the faith. Not being close to her parents, she couldn’t help feel an affinity with Colby’s. They were loving and open, and it made Yuru feel welcomed. Looking at the time on her phone, Yuru got up and grabbed her bag. Every year, Shawna’s parents bought matching onesies for the family. That way, when they woke up, they could wear it while opening presents. It was a silly tradition, yet it was Yuru’s favorite part. As she showed up, Shawna’s mom cheered, showering her with kisses as she pulled her to join them around the tree. This year, they were matching candy canes and snowmen, taking pictures together to share at the party the next day. Mina and Claire laughed each year at how ridiculous they looked, and as Shawna raced off to prepare the photo, a great sense of loss consumed Yuru. It was like any other year where she was with the ones she loved, except Colby. Later in bed, Yuru laid staring at the roof while Shawna hogged the blankets, snoring loudly. She sat up and grabbed her phone. Opening her message to Colby. “I really wish you were able to come tomorrow. I miss you.” She sat, looking at the message, and fought back the tears. Why was she so sad over this? Wasn’t she the one that told everyone that Colby should spend time with her family? Yet here she was, hoping Colby would leave to join her. Was she selfish?Deleting the message, she closed the phone and wiped her tears. Hardly noticing the sounds of the snoring gone, the bed shuffled as Shawna sat up, crawling over beside Yuru.“Hey. What’s wrong? Was it your dad again?” Wiping her face, Yuru shook her head. “No, no. I stopped caring about that years ago.”Shawna wrapped her arm around Yuru groggily. “Ah, then trouble in paradise?”“No… and yes. We aren’t fighting or anything. Just I am regretting not pushing her to join us. I really wish she could come.” Shawna rested her head on Yuru’s shoulder. “Then why didn’t you just tell her? We all knew you wanted her to come. Hell, we all wanted her to come. She’s a part of your life, and that, in turn, is a part of ours.” With a sniffle, Yuru forced a laugh. “I can’t expect her to stop celebrating with her family just so she could come join mine. I just didn’t think it was going to be so hard. I want to see her for Christmas.” Unable to hold back, Yuru cried. Shawna pulled her in to comfort her. “Hey, don’t be upset. This is just the first year anyway! Besides, it’s Christmas tomorrow! Anything can happen!” It was hard not to get caught up in Shawna’s belief that there is always a chance for a Christmas miracle. She had always said so since they were kids. Yuru half smiled as she rested her head on her best friend’s shoulder. “Yeah, your right. Maybe there will be a miracle.” Shawna hugged her tightly. “You took the words right out of my mouth.”They returned back to sleep, Yuru feeling a little more cheerful. Morning came fast as they quickly bound down the stairs to the tree, cocoa and cinnamon buns waiting. They opened gifts with laughs and cheers. After cleaning up the mess of wrappers, they waited until their friends showed up, Mina and Claire walking in, all dressed up for dinner. It was still early as they played games, shared what their haul was, then started helping set up for the night. Yuru frequently checked her phone all morning, waiting to see if Colby would message her. She bit her lip, unsure if she should message first. She didn’t know what to say. Closing her phone, she put it away and smiled at her friends. Pretending she was fine, she did her best to enjoy what she had.As dinner was close to being ready, Yuru sat looking out the window as Shawna came hopping into the living room wearing her Santa hat and jacket. “Ok, time to get our coats.” Yuru spun her head around as she looked at her friend. “Wait, what? Isn’t dinner about to be served?” Claire got up and grabbed both hers and Yuru’s coat as she walked over to her. “Yes Ma’am. It sure is about to get served! Now get your shit on, and let’s gooooooo.” Yuru got up, putting her coat on as everyone grabbed dishes and carried them to the car. Confused, Yuru tried several times to ask what was going on, each time met with a smile and “You’ll have to see!”Car’s all packed as Mina’s mom showed up to help, they all piled into the cars and drove off.
Colby sat on the couch, tossing a ball up in the air and catching it as she waited. They had long opened their gifts and were waiting for the food to arrive. It was strange as her parents usually ordered the meal to come for a certain time, and it seemed to be running late. Lance sat in the armchair beside her, although constantly checking his phone and looking towards the door. Colby had noticed he had been acting weird all day as he continued to fidget. “Dude, what is wrong with you.” Tossing the ball at him, it bounced off his shoulder, spooking him. “Shove off, Colby.” He nervously shifted, making her even more suspicious.Down a ball, Colby flopped her head back against the couch, rolling the thin bracelet between her fingers. Looking over, Lance smiled at his screen. “Talking to Claire?”His head tilt answered her question as he tried to hide his excitement. Groaning, she let out a sigh. “Did you give her your gift yet?” In the middle of his texts, he grinned. “Not yet, pretty soon her though.”Colby glared, about to tell him off if he planned to leave when Joyce came down the stairs. “Alright, get up—foods about to arrive. Lance, go grab the table. Colby, grab the box with the paper plates and cups in your dad’s office.” Lance shot up, practically skipping to the laundry room as Colby hesitantly stood up. “Wait, what table?” Joyce shot her a glare. “Colby, just grab the box, please.”Groaning, she walked to the room, opening the door to look for the box. It was sitting on top of the desk as she looked inside. It was a large pack of everything as Colby squinted within. Why on earth did they need all these? It seemed a lot for just a small Chinese dinner. Even though she didn’t understand, she picked the box up and brought it to the kitchen as Lance unfolded a table to place against the wall, turning the small diner table to sit alongside it. Dropping the box on the table, Colby stared at her mom, puzzled. “What is going on?” Darven came through the back door, carrying several fold-up chairs as the doorbell rang. “Ah good, excellent. Colby, go answer the door.” Darven placed the chairs down as Lance started to unfold them. Each of them holding a smile as they waited for her to go. Slowly, she turned, walking to the door as she heard several voices on the other side. Opening it up, Colby was met with a blast of people yelling. “Merry Christmas!”Shocked, all of her friends were standing there before her, a whole meal packed up and being carried in as they all piled in. Colby stood back, overwhelmed as she wasn’t sure if she should offer taking or to carry things for people. Finally, Yuru stood before her, smiling brightly as everyone made their way into the now fully packed kitchen. Greetings and hugs were exchanged in the background as Yuru pulled Colby into the living room. The shock was still settling in as Colby tried to speak. “Wait… How? What… Why?” Yuru pressed her finger to her lips to silence her, then followed up with a kiss. “Merry Christmas, Colby.” Colby melted from her kiss, wanting more as they both were called to join them in the kitchen.With the parents busy setting the food up, The girls rushed around to the front entrance to give Colby and Yuru a hug. Lance stood in the kitchen, keeping distance as to avoid contact. As they finished, Colby stepped back to face them, Yuru at her side. “What is this! What are you doing here?”Mina placed a hand on Shawna’s shoulder, answering first through a fit of giggles. “Man, this was so hard to keep a secret from you both. We planned this after the last day of school. It was a bummer that our first year as friends, you couldn’t come to join us. So Shawna here, the sneaky bitch, convinced her mom to make the meal and bring it here.” Shawna huffed, shoving Mina off. “Please, I may have convinced my mom, but Claire really is the MVP here. Without her and Lance, we couldn’t have really pulled it off. They helped hook our parents up to help plan this. We told them we wanted this to be a surprise to you guys.” Shawna leaned in a little towards Yuru as she lowered her voice. “We didn’t invite your parents because, you know, just in case they found out about you two. Plus, we didn’t want to risk you being told or worse, not allowed to come.” Leaning back, she smiled again.Astounded by her friends, Colby looked over at Yuru. “Did you know?”
With a giggle, she shook her head. “No, I had no idea. I was just as surprised as you. I only found out as we drove closer to your house.” Claire burst out laughing. “She didn’t believe us as we pulled up too. But enough, chatter! I want my presents!” With that being said, they all pulled out their gifts, passing them around. Unprepared, Colby rushed up to her room. As she opened her closet to pull out the bag of gifts she had wrapped, she heard her door close. Standing up, she stepped back to see Yuru as she pulled her jacket off. The look on her face as she licked her lips told her all she needed to know why she followed her. Dropping the bag, Colby smirked as she stepped in closer to her. The kiss was explosive as Yuru wrapped her arms around her, Colby groping at her hips to pull her in closer. Slowly, they walked towards the bed as Yuru grabbed Colby’s hands away from her, Pushing her to sit as she stood in front of her. “Hang on, we don’t have much time, so I wanted to give you my gift.” Colby sat anxiously. She had been waiting patiently to see what Yuru had got for her. With a playful smile, Yuru raised her top to show her belly button, boosting Colby’s heart rate as she stared at her smooth, creamy skin. Wait, was her gift physical? Running her hands down her stomach, she dragged her thumbs to the top of her jeans, hooking her thumb under the cloth. Colby held her breath, waiting as she watched Yuru slowly push to show the top of her thong straps, dragging her hand further back. Eye wide in anticipation, Yuru suddenly grabbed the gift sticking out from behind her as she passed it to Colby.Dropping her breath, Colby almost whined at the misdirect, looking up at Colby with puppy eyes. She felt duped as Yuru burst out laughing and sat beside her on the bed, leaning against her side as she faced her. “Open it!” Colby looked at the snowflake patterned wrapping paper, pulling at an edge sticking out. It was neatly folded and flawlessly seamed as the paper lined up with the creases. Tearing into it, Colby revealed the box and opened the lid. Inside was a picture frame. Colby took a small breath in as she looked at the picture of them at the mall the first time. Vaguely she had remembered them taking pictures as Yuru had her arm around Colby’s shoulders. Mina stood behind her, sticking her tongue out, as Claire and Shawna held peace signs up. The frame was yellow with the words “The Girls” written on the bottom. And by each one of them, their name is a star around the frame. Colby furrowed her brows as she ran her finger down the side of the frame. “Pull it out, there’s more,” Yuru whispered close to her ear as she waited impatiently.Colby smirked as she pulled the frame out fully and placed it on Yuru’s lap. Behind the frame were two pictures: one of just the two of them posing for a selfie, and one of just Yuru. Picking them up, she dropped the box and held them to her chest, looking over at Yuru. She leaned in to give her a kiss, pulling the pictures away to look at them again. “I noticed you didn’t have any pictures at all, and I wanted you to have some. I know it’s not a lot, and Claire’s gift was probably better. I was that or a schedule book.” Yuru bit her lip nervously.“No, this is perfect. I love them. Thank you.” Colby turned to look into Yuru’s eyes, leaning to push her into the bed to continue what she had started. With a pause, she realized she needed to give hers as well. Pulling away suddenly, Colby stood up, reaching into her desk to pull out a small plain box. She turned to face Yuru as she tapped the box on her fingers.“I didn’t wrap it yet, mostly because I thought I had some more time.” She stepped forward to pass the box, nervously twisting her fingers together as Yuru accepted it and began to open it. With a smile, she placed the lid down, pulling out the slender black bracelet within. Crossing her arms, Colby nibbled at her thumb as Yuru looked at it closely. Neatly braided into it were beads “C and Y”Yuru’s shot up with surprise. “Did you make this?” Nodding, she sat back beside her, taking the bracelet and helping her tie it on. Finishing the knot, she kissed Yuru’s hand then clasped it with the same hand wearing hers.“There, now, while we hold hands, we will be matching.” Colby interlocked her fingers with Yuru’s as she dropped their hands between them. With an unsure look, she held Yuru’s eyes. “It’s Lame, isn’t it.”Yuru smiled, grabbing Colby to pull her over top of her as she laid down, kissing deeply. “It’s perfect.” With a small moan, Colby pressed her full weight on yuru, still holding her hand as they kissed hungrily. It didn’t take long for their heated exchange to come to an end as the door flung open, Mina waltzing in. “Oh hell no! No hiding this sweet action from us!” With total disregard, she leaped on top of Colby to make a sandwich. Shawna was close on her heels as she leaped on top of Mina. Claire shook her head as she sat on the chair, finding the bag of goodies as she snooped through the presents to find hers. With the sudden chaos, the girls burst into laughter as they toppled over, Yuru screaming to watch out for the picture frame. Showing off the gifts Colby and Yuru exchanged, they finished passing out the rest of them, opening them in the room as they cheered at their presents, passing around hugs and thank you’s before heading downstairs to eat. As they sat around the kitchen table, Lance handed his gift to Claire in the living room as Colby saw her give him a kiss in return. If Lance got a gift in return, Colby would have to find out later. With everyone seated, they began eating, as the parents got to know each other better, and the girls teased with jokes around. As Colby watched with a smile on her face, she occasionally would stop and share a moment with Yuru as they silently appreciated the family they had together.
Merry Christmas,Turan Turnip.

Unexpected Changes

She started climbing down the side of the rocky cavern. The air was dark, heavy and dead. Obviously, there hasn’t been any airflow for some years now. How come a tunnel that ran deep into the earth like this has never been uncovered before? Cindy finally made it to the sandy bottom where she let out a harsh grunt. It’s been a while since she’s had to free climb in a long time without gear. She turned from the wall and looked out into the newly entered room of the tunnel. It was completely pitch black. Cindy turned on the light from her headband, squinting from the sudden brightness that enveloped the entirety of the room. It was a spacious gap that spread out into a circular almost smooth dome. The floor was a sandy spiral of speckled colors and small stones, reflecting the light coming from her headband. It gave a beautiful eyry glow. 

Cindy stepped out into the open space, no echo bounced back as she took each step. It took her by surprise the silence from her boots as she expected the sound to vibrate off the walls. The room emitted a strange peace where everything seemed to be locked away in a different spectrum of time. She scanned the walls to see if any other tunnels lead further in, but found that this was a dead end. She reached the center of the cavern and inspected the middle. Shockingly there was a plaque with strange symbols discreetly placed just under the sand. She hardly noticed it as it purposely blended with the surroundings, bouncing off the same eyry glow the rest of the stones and sand did. With one slower glance around the room, Cindy knelt down to get a closer look at the plaque. She had studied different symbols from the past as well as dead cultures that left a very subtle hint of existence but had not encountered anything like this before. She reached out to touch the carved symbols but stopped just hovering over them. Instinctively she felt a sense of foreboding and withdrew her hand. She stood up and pulled her walky-talky out of her pocket. Still looking at the plaque she radioed her assistant. 

With a damped bloop, she spoke into the mic, “Joe, I found what looks to be a meditation ring.” As she let go of the button another damp bloop sounded, signifying she was done talking. 

A split second later a returning bloop rang and a male voice crackled through, “Anything cool looking? I don’t want to go home empty-handed this time.” 

It ended with another bloop. Cindy frowned and shook her head. Did he think that all the explorations had to end with some big treasure? This was a quest for knowledge, not gold and silver. Her voice was laced with irritation as she replied, “Just get your ass down here.” 

With the last bloop, she shoved with talky back into her pocket. He was going to take a while as he wasn’t very good at rock climbing. Cindy vindictively envisioned him falling on his attractive looking face as he came down. Why she chose him to be her assistant was beyond her comprehension. He was mediocre with any history or culture, greedy and very sly. A part of her wanted to release him from the position she gave him, but she had this nagging feeling he would be handy someday for her. She let him stay on her gut feelings. Cindy could never quite understand how she could understand these feelings, but they drew her to places no one else knew or discovered. This made her very successful with being the first person to uncover these hidden civilizations that people thought to have never existed. Although she firmly believed Atlanta didn’t exist, people urged her to go and find it because of her gift. Thankfully she proved herself right thus far. 

While she was deep in thought she walked towards the walls and ran her finger along the almost perfectly smooth walls. It was as if the walls were somehow shaped naturally from water, like how broken glass would be smoothed down on the beach from the tide. Of course, that couldn’t have happened as they found the original cave so far inland from any major bodies of water. To top it off all the rest of the tunnels leading to this room were sharp and jagged, proving to be difficult to climb and hike through. As Cindy walked the outskirts of the room still running her hands on the stone, she felt like there was a reason she was brought here. This was no small coincidence that she happened upon the entrance and bullied Joe to follow along. She found herself smiling as he remembered his bitching and complaining the whole way through as she found slight pleasure in torturing him. He was a pretty city boy who struggled to the outback. It did come in handy though as he was amazing with technology where she was awful with computers.

Cindy shook her head as she realized she zoned out on thoughts again. As she forced herself back into the present she realized she was stopped at a particular part of the room facing the wall. Her hand stopped right on top of some very subtle markings left on the wall. It was the same style of symbols that was on the plaque. She hardly even noticed them as she moved her hand off the markings. She astonished herself on her inept ability to just stumble across things. She sighed and whispered aloud, “Now if I could only obtain the ability to communicate with people the same way I can discover things, I think I would be a pro.”

As she finished whispering, Joe fell off the remainder of the wall and landed flat on his face with a damp thud sound. She jumped as it broke her train of thought and she looked over at him. The room had an incredible ability to dampen noise that it was terrifying. She sighed as she realized it was just Joe and put her hands on her hips. “Are you wearing those boots I got you with the grip?” 

Joe stood up with a grunt and he brushed off the sand caught in his stubbly face. He looked rough with the week look of growth and drenched with sweat. He said with absolute confidence once he was brushed off, “No. I am not.” 

Joe turned on his headband and looked quickly around the room and drooped with disappointment. Cindy scowled but turned around back to the wall. 

“It’s just an empty stupid room.” Joe whinnied, “What use is this to us? “Let’s go off the hard beaten path,” she says, “let’s go into this sketchy cave!” she says. “Hey, I brought us to a dead end with no profit,” she says!” 

Cindy rolled her eyes and she hardly heard him kick something and caught him saying “ow” under his breath. Ignoring Joe, she pulled out some paper and lead to place over the top of the symbols. She thankfully imprinted the symbols onto the paper and studied the page intensely. 

“I wonder what this means..” she thought out loud then trailed into thought. 

Joe limped over behind her and looked over her shoulder at the page. Puzzled he asked, “How did you even see that? Do you think there is a hidden pathway that would open up from here?” 

He gently reached for the paper out of her hand, brushing hers as he did so. Cindy blushed at the contact and let him take it. 

Stammering she replied,” Oh.. uh… I kinda just… Found it. Like how I usually just “find” things.” She nervously chuckled as crossed her arms. She hesitated to say anything further as she always thought he would never believe her. Joe turned and walked towards the center of the room, studying the paper just as intensely as Cindy was. She watched him still with her arms crossed. 

As he was walking she remembered the plaque on the ground and yelled, “ Stop! Don’t stand on the…” He kept walking and stepped on the plaque which shot a blinding light up and out of the ground. He was caught in the pillar of light jerked outwards as he shot his head up and silently screamed, pain wrenched through his face. Cindy was quickly dazed by the light and felt a harsh energy blow right through her. Voices of a different language blurred into her mind as she recovered her sight to see Joe trapped in the pillar of light. Confusion slammed her as the voices yelled loudly as she tried to take a step towards Joe. Cindy yelled out but nothing came out. As quickly as the light had burst out from the middle, a thunderous wind blew out and slammed Cindy to the wall. The deafening voices stopped and the light disappeared. Everything went black. 

Cindy woke up. Her head throbbed violently as she tried to sit up. She must have hit the wall hard enough to knock her out. It took her a good while to recollect herself and try to make sense of where she was. It was still pitch black and she reached for her headband to feel it was missing. She rolled to her hands and knees and felt along the sandy ground to attempt to find the light, still in a daze. Suddenly she remembered Joe and the pillar of light and in a panic screamed his name. There was no reply and no echo in return. Oddly enough in her panic, she felt a strange calm. She tried to scream his name again but found her voice was quieter than she intended. She crawled still feeling the sand under her hand, the throb in her head still pounding. She couldn’t tell where she was in the room if they were still in the room, but she felt herself stop her hand in midair. Instinct hit her again as she knew she had reached the plaque. Where was Joe? 

She felt the ground around the area and felt the fabric of a headband. Cindy fumbled as she gripped the band tightly and felt for the light switch on the light. Light burst forth from the bulb as she shakily tried to put the band around her head. She sat on her bottom, closed her eyes, and took slow deep breaths. Now that she could see, she needed to calm down. No use being unreasonable while trying to figure out what had happened. She allowed the strange peace to envelop her as she took her firm and steady breaths. On the last exhale she opened her eyes, ready for the worst. She scanned the room to find that she was indeed in the middle of the room and the plaque was right in front of her. The room was as if nothing had happened. There also was no Joe. 

“Ok. Rationally, there is no way he could have disappeared.” Talking to herself helped her feel like she was still sane. “Maybe he got up and tried to leave.” 

She leaned back onto her knees to look for footprints. As she surveyed the area she realized that there were no markings anywhere. The sand moved under her hands but left no indents as she shuffled on the ground. The sand purposely leveled out as if there was a brush flattening it as she moved around. 

She leaned back on her legs and sat there. He was gone with no trace. She realized he had the paper that she traced the markings on. She looked around again and realized not only was there any signs of tracks. There was no sign of anything at all, including the paper. Sadness hit her just as hard as the wind did.

 “What is happening…?” She felt like crying but the peace the room emitted would not allow for it. Cindy got up and walked to the wall where the symbols were. Maybe she could get some clues from the writings but as she approached they too, where missing. She stared into nothingness for a moment, then glanced at the plaque. The only way she is going to know what happened is to do the same thing. She crawled over to the plaque and took a deep breath. She slammed her hand down on the stone and closed her eyes while she did so. Still keeping her eyes close she waited. Nothing happened. She waited a moment longer then slowly let go of her breath and opened her eyes. She looked at the plaque and realized that something was different about it. She blinked, and slowly the realization started to sink in. 

An angry, annoyed eye stared up from the stone, her hand over the other one. She blinked again. “Oh, God. I must still be dreaming. Or… or I hit my head really badly.” 

A voice spoke into her head. ‘Please remove your hand from my eye. That really hurt.’

She ripped her hand from the plaque and yelped. She stared at the plaque and shook her head slowly. “No. This is impossible.” 

The plaque no longer had any markings or symbols, just the eyes now staring back up at her. The look was now concerned and desperate. Cindy felt a sharp pain within her chest. She felt around the plaque and felt loose sand around it. She dug along the edges of the stone in the ground as desperation hit her hard despite the peace she felt from the room. She began to uncover the edges and was able to pull the plaque out of the ground. She lifted up the piece and slowly sank back into the ground, holding it shakily. Her mouth was dry as she was panting, and managed to finally force out the words.