Happy Birthday to Me

The Devil’s son died, on his birthday, June sixth, two thousand six, he was six years old. The only problem is, he didn’t stay dead. Now, he can feel the power growing inside him. His eighteenth birthday is fast approaching. He sent out the invitations. All the important people in his life will come. After he massacres them, the power will be his. His father promised.

The Collector

The Collector

“Do you think he’s gone?’

“Be quiet. I don’t know.”

“The screaming stopped at least.”

“She’s probably dead. There was a lot of blood.”

“I hope he doesn’t find us. You think he’ll look in here?”

“How should I know? But, please stop touching me.”

“What are you talking about? I’m not touching you.”

“Then who… uuuhhh…”

“Daren? Darren? What’s wrong?”

“Darren can’t talk right now. He’s dead.”

“What? No! Shit! No! The door won’t open! Please don’t kill me! Why are you doing this?”

“If you’re quiet and sit still, I won’t kill you. I only want your eyes.”

“My eyes? What do you mean? I don’t understand!”

“They’re such a pretty blue. I need them for my collection. Now sit still.”

“Aaaaahhhhh……”

The House in the Woods

“Come on, Gage, enough is enough. Let’s just get to your house.” Sam said.

“I’m not messing with you, bro. These woods shouldn’t be this big. I don’t know where we are anymore. I mean look at that hill. There isn’t even a hill between my house and school. I’ve hiked these woods my whole life and none of this looks right.” Gage shrugged.

“We should go to the top of the hill and look around. Maybe we’ll see something we recognize.” Sam suggested.

“Good idea.” Gage said, and they started walking. After a few minutes, Gage stopped. “What the hell?” He said.

“What now?” Sam asked.

“There’s a house on top of the hill. How did we not see that just a few minutes ago? It looks abandoned and super old. There’s never been an old house in these woods, Sam. I honestly don’t understand what’s going on. What do you want to do?” Gage asked.

“We can’t find our way out of the woods, so it can’t hurt to check out the house. Maybe there’ll be a phone or a map or something. Plus, with all the noises we’ve been hearing in the woods, I’ll be glad to get to the house.” He shrugged and kept walking.

“I guess.” Gage said, following his friend.

They reached the top of the hill and Gage spotted a book on the porch, right next to the front door. He picked it up and started flipping through the pages. He looked more and more confused as he read.

“What’s that?” Sam asked.

“It’s a journal about a guy lost in the woods who finds an old house on top of a hill.” Gage said, still reading.

“Stop messing with me, Gage. Let’s get out of here.” Sam said.

“I’m serious, Sam. It’s dark. Let’s go inside and see if we can find a light and we can read this together. Maybe he found a way out.” Gage said.

Gage led the way into the old house. Sam coughed. “It’s freaking dusty and smells bad in here. I hope we don’t have to stay long.” Sam said.

There’s a lantern on the kitchen table.” Gage turned on the lantern. “Good. It works. Have a seat and let’s check out this journal.”

Sam sat down next to Gage and they began to read.

-October 28,1988-

Hey. My name is Evan Riley and I am extremely confused, and, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m more than a little scared. I don’t know where I am anymore. I know where I should be, but I can’t possibly be there. Plus, I don’t think I’m alone. I always feel like I’m being watched. I’m writing in this stupid journal just in case I don’t find my way out of here. Let me be totally clear with you. This is a journal, not a diary. No offense, but I’m not a “dear diary” kinda guy. I only have this journal, because the school suggested one for all incoming freshman and my mom bought it. It’s been living in the bottom of my backpack ever since, until now.

So, back to my story. Where am I? I don’t have a clue! I can tell you where I should be. I should be in a very small wooded area between the school and my friend Jake’s house. I take the bus to school, but two days ago I missed the bus home. It takes like ten minutes to cut through the woods and get to Jake’s house. My plan was to go there and have his mom give me a ride home or hang out there until my mom or dad could come pick me up. Ten minutes from one side of the woods to the other, but I’ve been in here for two days now and still can’t find my way out.

Me and Jake have been all over these woods, but nothing looks familiar now. You know what’s weirder? This afternoon I spotted an abandoned house on top of a hill in the middle of the woods. Why is that weird you ask? There are no hills or abandoned houses in the woods between Jake’s house and school! If I still can’t find my way out of here in the morning, I’ll check out that house. I swear it wasn’t there yesterday! What the hell is going on?

It’s getting too dark to write and I don’t have a flashlight or even any matches. And you know what? That rubbing two sticks together shit just doesn’t work like it does on tv. Sometime tomorrow when I stop for a break or something maybe I’ll write again. I might be just talking to myself anyway. I mean who would want to read my journal anyway?

-Evan-

———————————————————-

-October 29,1988-

Hey. It’s Evan again. Writing in this stupid journal again. Well, it’s just after noon now and boy am I hungry! I’m also pretty freaking tired. I barely slept last night. Every time I fell asleep, I got woke up by loud noises in the forest. I still haven’t seen what’s out there, but there’s more than one and they sound big. I’ve made my way up to the house if for no other reason than to get out of the forest. The house looks like it’s been here forever, but I swear to God that it wasn’t here just a couple days ago! I guess I don’t have many choices at this point. I’m going to search the house for clues. Maybe I’ll figure out where I am and how to get home. Wish me luck.

-Evan-

—————————————————————-

     -October 30,1988-

     Hey. It’s Evan again. It’s Thursday now. I think I’ve been here since Monday. Thank God this morning I found some berry bushes and a few edible plants. Boy Scouts paid off. For a while there I was tempted to chew off my own fingers. You think I’m joking, but I’m totally not.

     Anyway, I searched the whole house yesterday and couldn’t find anything useful. There is this one locked door that I can’t open. I’ve tried everything. It must lead to the cellar, because there’s a musty odor coming from behind it. After giving up on the door, I started walking back down the hill. Whatever is in the forest kept chasing me back towards the house. I still haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard it and I tell you this, I don’t want to see it!

     So, I’m stuck in this old, smelly, dusty house. Wait a second. What just happened? While I’m sitting here writing this, the door that I couldn’t get open no matter what I did… just swung open all by itself. My anxiety is through the roof, I’m scared out of my mind, but I’m going through the door. Hopefully, I’ll be back to tell you about all the boring stuff I’ll find!

-Evan-

—————————————————————-

-October 31,1988-

Hey. It’s Evan again. Things are even weirder than I wrote about yesterday. Oh, by the way, Happy Halloween. I sure wish I had some candy right about now. Anyway, the basement was dark and dirty and smelled horrible. At first, I didn’t find anything at all. I started to go back upstairs, and I heard a loud creaking noise. I turned to look, and I saw a door over in the corner of the basement swinging open. I know that door hadn’t been there just a few minutes before. There were stairs leading down with a reddish glow coming from the bottom of the stairs. I ran back upstairs. I thought all night long about my options. The things in the woods have the house surrounded. They won’t let me leave. My phone is dead and even when it wasn’t there wasn’t any cell service. There’s nothing in this house that can help me. All that’s left is the second basement or whatever it is. Now, in the bright morning sunshine, I don’t feel quite as terrified. I’m going down the stairs to see what’s there. If I don’t come back, tell my mom that I love her.

-Evan-

—————————————————————-

Gage snapped the journal shut. “That’s it. No more entries after that. What do you think, Sam?”

“It’s a load of bullshit. We’ve searched this whole house. We’re being punked, Gage. There’s no basement.” Sam said.

“I know, but what about the fact that we can’t find our way out of the woods? We’ve both mentioned hearing noises in the forest. And this house, I know it wasn’t here before. I just know,” Gage stopped in mid-sentence and both boys spun towards the far corner of the kitchen. Their eyes as big as saucers, they watched in horror as a door that hadn’t been there moments earlier swung open to reveal a staircase leading down.

The Ghostly Kiss

Ethan stepped slowly into the house. The chilled air made goosebumps form up and down his arm. The frigid air in the house, unusual for July, only made him smile. He knew he was here again. When Ethan bought this house he never expected the added benefit of finding his one true love.

Ethan spent almost all his time at home now. He barely hung out with his friends. Ethan’s family barely spoke to him anyway, but now he stopped trying to reconnect with them. Jake was all he needed. He promised Ethan that after tonight they could be together forever. Ethan walked upstairs to his bedroom. After changing out of his work clothes and into something nicer, he went back downstairs and waited for him to appear.

Jake appeared in front of Ethan who stood to greet him. “Jake, my dear, I’ve looked forward to tonight for a long time now. I’m so happy you finally agreed. Take me, my love. Take me. I belong to you and you to me. Let’s join together forever, my sweet. I love you with all my heart.” Ethan leaned forward as if to kiss him.

Jake leaned into Ethan’s kiss. His ghostly lips lightly touching Ethan’s warm ones. He lifted one translucent hand to Ethan’s face, caressing him. Ethan’s lips and cheek went ice cold. As the ghost continued the kiss, Ethan felt the warmth draining from his entire body and he welcomed it. The feeling of cold was gone. For the first time, Ethan felt Jake’s warm breath on his face. He leaned in and their kiss deepened. Breathless, he pulled back. “This is amazing. I can feel you now, not just the cold. I love you so much, Jacob.”

Jake smiled, and for the first time, he was able to speak to Ethan. “We can be together forever now, Ethan, my love. Let’s go upstairs and celebrate.” He grinned and winked. Ethan took his hand and the two ghosts floated up the stairs. Behind them, the corpse of Ethan Miller lay on the floor of his living room.

Missing Monday

Aaron lay in bed staring at the ceiling. He couldn’t decide if he should stay in bed or get ready for school. What day is it? He didn’t know. He knew it wasn’t Sunday, but it wasn’t Tuesday either. Something felt different. Something felt wrong. Maybe his mom would know. He begrudgingly got out of bed, shivering when his bare feet hit the cold floor. “Mom!” He yelled, walking into the kitchen. “Hey, mom! Is today a school day? I… I’m not sure.”

Aaron’s mother wandered into the kitchen, still in her pajamas. “Aaron, I’m not sure either. I can’t remember what day it is. It feels like a day I should go to work but I know it’s not Tuesday. I don’t know what to do.” She sat down at the table and stared off into space.

Aaron felt like he was walking through fog, but if he thought hard enough it felt like there was an answer in the back of his mind. He stepped outside and looked around. All over the neighborhood, people walked aimlessly like they didn’t know where they were or what was happening. He called over to his neighbor. “Mike! Hey, Mike! Why is everyone just walking around? What’s happening? What day is it anyway?”

The other boy broke into tears and fell to his knees. “Aaron, I don’t know. Look at me, I’m half in my school uniform and half in weekend clothes. My parents are sitting in their car, but they haven’t left yet. They don’t know if they have work today or not.”

Aaron went back into his house. He thought about all he’d seen so far. As he thought about it, the fog in his brain thinned. He went into his room, sat at his desk and opened his laptop. He searched google for “how many days are in a week” and came up with “7”. He searched for the names of the days of the week and came up with “Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday”, but that was only six. He knew yesterday was Sunday, so he searched “what day comes after Sunday” and got an error message saying that google was unable to find that internet page.  He searched several variations on that same question and suddenly the screen of his laptop cracked, and his laptop caught fire. Aaron ran to the kitchen for the fire extinguisher and put out the fire before it spread. Now he knew something was wrong.

Aaron walked back into the kitchen. “Mom, I think there was a day in between Sunday and Tuesday, but I can’t remember what it’s called. Does that sound familiar to you?”

“Nooooo! There’s nothing between… nothing… nothing…nothing…” Aaron’s mother slid out of her chair onto the floor, drool dripping out of her mouth. Before he could run to help his mother, Aaron found himself somewhere else entirely. He wasn’t in his kitchen anymore. He was in a long room, completely white with no window or door. Just in front of him stood two tall grey-skinned creatures. They looked just like pictures of aliens. Tall, slender bodies, silver almond shaped eyes, and long fingers. Aaron just stood staring at them, unsure of what to do. One of the aliens spoke to Aaron.

“Why are all you humans so displeased. We have studied you for centuries and the most common complaint we have heard is about this day called “Monday”. We, Overlords, made the decision to remove Monday to see if overall human happiness improved, but your entire species fell into chaos and confusion in a matter of hours. You seem to grasp what we have done. Have you an explanation for our results?”

“Wait… what? Monday… oh yeah! Monday! That’s it!” Aaron remembered everything now and looked up at the Overlords. “You removed Monday? I can’t even begin to understand how that’s possible or how you are even possible! But if this is real and not some crazy dream I’m having then I think I may have an answer for you. You removed an entire day of the week, but you didn’t replace it with anything. You didn’t even move Tuesday up to fill the gap, so we all woke up this morning and it felt like something was missing… something was wrong. We didn’t understand. There was no Monday but there was nothing in it’s place. We felt empty. We didn’t know what to do.” He spread his hands and looked at them. “You left us in an empty void of nothing.”

The Overlords considered this for a moment. “You are correct. Would it be better to move Tuesday into it’s place and banish Monday from your brains?”

Aaron shook his head. “No. It’s not exactly Monday that we hate, just the end of the weekend. The end of fun. If Tuesday were there, we’d begin to hate Tuesday the same as we hated Monday. Just put Monday back.”

The Overlords conferred with each other then spoke to Aaron. “You are correct. We never considered this possibility. You are a complex species that requires much more study. The Overlord’s silver eyes flashed, and Aaron found himself back in his kitchen.

His mom sat at the table eating breakfast. “There you are, Aaron. Go get ready for school. I don’t know about you. Every Monday you almost miss the bus. Hurry up. It’s an early workday for me and I won’t be able to drive you to school. I hate Monday too, but I have to go to work and you have to go to school.”

Aaron smiled to himself. The Overlords already put things back to normal. His mother didn’t remember that anything weird happened. He wondered if he was the only one who would remember this crazy morning. “Ok, mom. I’m going. Mondays do suck but you’re right. They’re a necessary evil.” Aaron laughed and got ready for school.

Star Wars: The New Apprentice

Every muscle ached. Sweat drenched my body. I thought only of showering and going back to the dorms to collapse on my bed. Then he appeared. Anakin Skywalker. I thought he’d tell me about my poor form in training. Boy, was I wrong.

“Hey, Kenji.” Anakin smiled and leaned in close. “I see how you look at me. Honestly, I can’t get you out of my head. I have never thought this way about a boy before. You want to hang out tonight?” He looked at me, blushing. He was as nervous as I was surprised.

“Did you ask me out on a date?” I could barely speak. My mind racing almost as fast as my heart.

“Yea. If you want to.” He looked around making sure we weren’t overheard. Anakin was biting his lower lip and staring at the floor, waiting for my response.

“Of course, I’ll go out with you, Anakin. Tell me when and where and I’ll be there.” I listened as he told me the details and I ran off to get ready. My feet barely touched the floor as I ran.

I slipped out a side door and stuck to the shadows as I made my way to our meeting place. I started to look for him, but then he appeared at my side. I jumped. “Anakin! I didn’t even hear you walk up!”

“Hey. No one saw you leave?” He looked nervous.

“No. I was cautious.” I told him.

“Come on. I know a great place down by the docks.” He led me into the city, towards the river.

We reached our destination in no time. It was small and clean, and everyone seemed very friendly. We sat at a table in the back and ordered our food. We talked. We laughed. We ate. It was the most fantastic dinner of my life. After dessert, we walked along the river with only the light of the full moon lighting our way. We’d been talking the entire night. He stopped walking, and he pulled me around to face him. “Kenji, I’ve had a great night. I like spending time with you, even more than I thought I would. Can we do this again?” He smiled at me, his emerald green eyes sparkling in the moonlight.

I reached up and touched his face. “Yea. We can do this again anytime you want.” My hand slid to the back of his neck, and I pulled his face down close to mine. His eyes closed, and I leaned in and kissed him. He kissed me back, tentatively at first but then with growing passion. His lips parted, and our tongues entwined. His hands slid down my body, and he grasped my hips, pulling me closer to him. He trailed kisses along my jawline and down to my neck. I moaned his name. “Ani, that feels so good.” His hands were now underneath my shirt, and then……

“Anakin Skywalker!” We heard the shout. Master Obi-Wan Kenobi. He was close, but he wasn’t in sight, yet. Anakin gave me one last kiss, and then we grudgingly parted.

Anakin looked panicked. “He can’t find us together. You must go. I’ll deal with Master Obi-Wan. I always manage to find a way out of trouble.” He grinned. “Go. Hurry. Get out of here. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

“This was the best night of my life, Anakin.” I touched his hand then turned and ran off into the darkness.

Sonya’s Flower Shop

Noah paced nervously on the sidewalk before finally walking into Sonya’s Flower Shop. He started looking around, but he didn’t know much about flowers. Noah had no clue what to pick out for his mom. He knew that red roses were for romance, but that was the extent of his flower knowledge. He hoped to find Sonya or at least one of her employees. A girl would know what Noah should get his mom for Valentine’s Day. He absently brushed a few stray strands of his unruly black hair out of his face and walked toward the cash register, looking for help.

Noah stopped dead in his tracks. The cashier was not a girl, but instead was the hottest guy Noah had ever seen. Even from across the room, Noah was captivated by the guy’s stunning blue eyes. Those eyes added with the neatly trimmed blonde hair and killer smile made Noah weak in the knees. He guessed the guy to be sixteen, no more than seventeen, which was perfect since Noah himself was sixteen. He composed himself, so he wouldn’t look or sound like a complete idiot and walked up to the cash register to ask for help.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Aiden spotted the guy as soon as he walked in the door. This dude was hot as hell. Aidan was glad there were no other customers in the store because there was no way he could have concentrated on anyone but this dark-haired, dark-eyed beautiful guy. Aiden chuckled softly to himself. The teen looked utterly lost in the flower shop. Was he searching for a gift for a first girlfriend, maybe? Aiden sure hoped not. If he could get a read on this guy, he wanted to ask him out. The guy started walking towards the cash register, stopped, then started walking again.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Noah took a deep breath and thought about what he wanted to say. He was always nervous when talking to new people, but this guy made him even more nervous than usual. “Uhm, excuse me, sir. I need help in picking out flowers. Is Sonya here? Or do you happen to know anything about flowers? I’ve never bought them before. I know they all mean different things and I’m just so confused on what to buy.”

Aiden grinned. “Well, you’re off to a good start in asking for help. Sonya is not here. I’m her son, Aiden. We live right upstairs, and I’ve always helped out down here, so I do know a thing or two about flowers. I’d love to help you pick some out. Who are they for? A new girlfriend?” Aiden caught himself holding his breath, waiting for an answer.

Noah blushed and couldn’t look at Aiden. “No. I don’t have a girlfriend. They’re for my mom, for Valentine’s Day. It’s been a rough year, and I wanted to get something special for her.”

“Aw, that’s sweet. I hope the year hasn’t been too rough. What flowers does your mom like?”

“Everything is starting to get a little better for both of us, I think.” He looked at Aiden finally. “Could you help me pick out something a mom would like? I honestly have no idea.” He shrugged and gave Aiden a shy smile.

“Yeah. Of course.” Aiden walked out from behind the cash register and clapped Noah on the shoulder. “Come on. Let’s look around. By the way, what’s your name?”

“Oh God. I’m so sorry. I’m Noah. Didn’t you say your name is Aiden?”

“Yeah. I’m Aiden. Pleased to meet you, Noah. Now let’s pick out some flowers.”

They walked around the little store for about fifteen minutes. Aiden showed Noah almost every flower arrangement in the shop. Finally, they narrowed down the choices, and Aiden began to engage Noah in non-flower related conversation. “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before? Are you new in town?”

“Sorta new, I guess. Me and my mom moved here from across town right after my parents got divorced.”

“Oh geez, that really sucks, Noah. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“It’s ok. Things were actually worse when they were together than they are right now.”

Aiden gripped Noah’s shoulder. “It must still be tough. Anyway, what school do you go to?”

 “I’m still going to West Side High, but I’ll be transferring next week. A new school right in the middle of junior year. I hate that so much.” Noah’s smile instantly turned into a frown.

“Hey, I’m sorry. That sucks.” Aidan put his arm around Noah’s shoulders. “You transferring to Mystic River High?”

“Yeah. How’d you know?”

“It’s the only high school around here. It’s not bad. Kinda small.”

“I guess I’ll know one person at least. I’m sorry for getting emotional. I’m still getting used to the whole thing.”

“No worries, Noah. I’ll show you around and introduce you to my friends. You’ll know a ton of people in no time at all.”

“Thank you so much. Maybe buying flowers for my mom was a better idea than I thought.” Noah finally smiled again.

“Flowers are the answer to everything.” Aidan winked. “You pick out a college yet?”

“God, no! Still working on the applications. I don’t even know what I want to do with my life. Ugh.” Noah rolled his eyes and laughed. “I’m such a mess. Just put my picture in the dictionary next to ‘teen angst.’”

Aiden smiled and poked Noah in the ribs. “How about next to ‘teen hottie’ instead.”

Noah blushed and cleared his throat. “Uh, I’m totally not hot but thanks. Uhm, I think I’ll go with these.” He pointed at the display of tulips.

“Good choice, hottie,” Aidan smirked and winked again. “Everyone loves tulips. I’ll put in a few assorted colors, and I’ll be right back.” Aiden went into the back room then returned with an armful of tulips. “Here you go. One dozen multi-colored tulips and a nice mom appropriate vase.” His blue eyes gazed up and down Noah’s body. “You play a lot of sports?”

Noah blushed again. “I run track and cross country, and I play lacrosse. What about you? I’d guess football or maybe wrestling?” Noah tried to give a sexy smirk, but only accomplished a shy smile.

“I get my workouts around here. Lots of lugging bags of soil and fertilizer everywhere. I don’t have time for sports, but hey I do know one of the guys on the lacrosse team. Zac Simpson. He just started dating one of my best buds, Cole. It was so sweet. Their first date was on New Year’s Eve at the biggest party of the year in this town.”

“Simpson? The Simpsons that own half the town? Wow. I’m not sure if I’m more surprised that he goes to public school or that he came out while he’s playing high school sports! I..” Noah stopped what he was going to say, blushing furiously. “Any jock would get their ass beat at my old school for coming out. I mean yeah, there’s gay kids at my school, but the jocks are the ones that pick on them. They wouldn’t accept one of their own coming out.”

Aiden rolled his eyes. “Homophobia is so stupid. I do give Zac credit for coming out. The lockerroom is a different place than the classroom. His coming out does make it easier for any other gay lacrosse players to come out, though.” Aiden said with a smile.

Noah blushed even redder and walked with Aiden back to the cash register. “After I deduct the hot boy discount your total comes to $23.99.” Aiden said.

Noah smiled and handed the money to Aidan. “You don’t stop, do you?”

“Not until I get what I want.”

“We’ll see about that.”

“Here’s your change, sir. I guess this means I’ll have to let you leave now. I hope your mom loves the flowers.”

Noah glanced down at the flowers. “Hey, Aiden, you made a mistake. There’s an extra flower in here. A red rose.”

Aiden’s grin returned. He reached into the bouquet of flowers and pulled out a single red rose. “It’s not a mistake. It’s more like a question. If you don’t already have plans, would you like to go out to with me for dinner Friday night?”

“Friday is Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t a sweet-talking gorgeous guy like you already have plans?”

“No. And even if I did, you are worth canceling any other plans I might have. Noah, will you be my Valentine?”

Noah nearly jumped for joy. “Yes! Absolutely, yes! I would love to go out to dinner with you. And I’d be honored to be your Valentine.”

Noah put Aiden’s contact info into his phone and smiled. A first date and on Valentine’s Day. He hoped that would be a good omen. He left Sonya’s Flower Shop, clutching his rose close to his chest, happier than he had been in a long, long time.

The Creature

“The lights went out, but the chaos continued all around me.” Joshua Taylor told his young grandson.

“Grandpa, this is a great story, but it isn’t true, and that kid has no clue what he is doing at the register. This waiting is killing me!” Jase Taylor was a very hyperactive 12-year-old and kept giving the boy at the cash register dirty looks. The kid at the cash register was obviously new to his job and kept messing things up with the orders of all the customers.

“Jase, that is exactly what I am trying to tell you. Impatience can kill you if you are impatient with the wrong person. Listen to my story and heed my warning. Not everything is always as it seems to be and not everyone is who they appear to be.” Josh looked down at his grandson and continued his story. “After the lights went out, I just tried to hide and stay out of its sight. I hid behind a big display of canned spinach. I figured that if it came to it I could use the cans as a weapon. My priority though was to get the hell out of there and as far away from Sam’s Market as I could.”

Jase’s twin brother Jesse ran up to them. “Grandpa! Jase! Hey, what were you guys talking about?”

“Gramps was just telling me a story from when he was our age. He says that there was a monster right here in this store!” Then Jase leaned in and whispered to his twin. “Not sure if I believe him though!”

“Can you tell me, too, Grandpa?” Jesse asked.

I suppose I can. Now both of you listen close to my story. Every word is true.

Josh began telling the story all over again. “One minute I had just been standing in the checkout line here at Sam’s Market and the next minute I felt like I was in a scene from a horror movie. I had been more than a little irritated with the incompetence of the young girl at the checkout counter, but my irritation paled in comparison to that of the boy in front of me. He had gone from grumbling under his breath to loudly hurling insults at the girl and her supervisor who was attempting to help her. The girl kept apologizing to everyone in line, but that did not stop the boy’s insults. The girl was becoming more and more visibly upset and then she actually started to transform. I could not believe what I was seeing. I just stood and watched in disbelief. In twenty minutes’ time, I witnessed a face that could have only been described as magnificent turn into something horrid.”

“Grandpa, you’re pulling my leg. Aren’t you?” Jase was looking up at his grandfather with wide unbelieving eyes. Jesse looked on with an expression of eager anticipation waiting for the story to continue.

“No. Not at all. This is what really happened. Let me finish, Jase.” Josh cleared his throat and started talking again.

 “Before my astonished eyes the sweet smile of that check out girl became a snarl of pure rage. Her calm unblemished face twisted into that of some demonic entity. Eyes as blue as a clear summer sky became red glowing embers. Her long dark hair spiraled upward and compressed into large sharply pointed horns. Her small frame shuddered with the force of transforming from about 5’2” to well over 7 feet tall.

As the beast that had been the girl heaved the overflowing grocery basket of the next customer in line roughly 150 feet across the store, I abandoned my own cart and started backing away. The beast-girl leaped over the checkout countered and roared at the boy who had been insulting her. Before he could react, the beast had grabbed him by the head with both of its gigantic claws. Its fingers clasped the back of his head and it sunk both thumbs into his eye sockets. I heard two sickening pops as his eyes were crushed and the thumbs pushed into his brain. Before I turned away I caught a glimpse of blood and brains dripping down both sides of what remained of the boy’s face. The creature then crushed the boy’s skull and threw his body aside. It pulled the entire checkout counter out of the floor and smashed it against the nearest wall. The counter must have hit a fuse box as it smashed through the wall because there was a shower of bluish sparks and that is when the lights went out.” Josh looked at Jase and then at Jesse. “This is where I was in the story when you ran up. Jesse. As I was telling your brother, when the lights went out, I looked for a place to hide to stay out of the beast’s sight. I found a display of canned spinach which I figured could double as a hiding place and a source of possible weapons if the need arose. My first thoughts were of trying to escape though. I had no intention of even trying to fight that beast.”

I heard a lot of crashing and screaming in the darkness. I stayed hidden behind the canned goods. The beast roared again, and the big front window of the store shattered from the force of a large shelf being thrown through it. People started running out of the store and into the parking lot. I followed cautiously. I got to the broken front window and peered outside. Chaos. Destruction. People running everywhere. I tried to get to where I left my bicycle, but I was knocked down by a panicked man running for his life. I rolled onto my back and was looking up into the red glowing eyes of the beast.

       The beast was snarling, hot drool dripping down onto my face. I thought I was going to die. The beast was crouched over me, it’s muzzle inches from my face. I struggled but couldn’t break free. I thought about the girl, how panicked she looked just before the change. I locked eyes with the beast and started talking to it, to her. I don’t even remember what I said but the beast seemed to calm down. Then crashes and screams from behind us distracted her and she snarled, and her mouth opened, her teeth glinting in the lights of parking lot. Just when I thought the end was near, the beast’s face kinda relaxed and then it moaned as if in pain. The beast got up, then fell to the ground rolling around in agony. A few minutes later it was the girl again.

She looked around in horror at the remains of the storefront and the chaos of the parking lot. “Oh my god! What have I done?” The girl dropped to her knees, covered her face with her hands, and started to cry.

She looked so scared and innocent…and beautiful. I got to my feet, draped my jacket over her bare shoulders and pulled her to her feet. “Come with me. You need to get out of here before they notice you.”

She looked at me strangely, “Why would you help me? I would have killed you.”

“You didn’t kill me tho. You didn’t kill anyone. That beast did.”  I walked her over to where my bike was parked. “Take my bike. Get as far away as you can.”

She touched my arm. “Thank you. I don’t even know your name. “

“My name doesn’t matter. Just take the bike and get out of here before they see us!”

She disappeared into the woods behind the store. They searched for weeks. Searched for the beast and for the girl. She’s never been caught. I hope she’s still alive.

So, boys that’s my story. Just remember when you are in line and you’re feeling impatient with the clerk; the beast is still at large.

Jase said “Aww gramps you’re pulling out legs! Not one word of that story is true!” Jesse nodded in agreement with his twin. But both boys were much quieter and kept a close eye on the boy at the checkout register.

The Frog’s Prince

The Frog Prince

Once upon a time in a land far away, there was a boy named Jonah. Jonah sat in the shadow of the old oak tree and chuckled quietly to himself. He watched the parade of prancing princesses proceed down to the pond, kiss the poor frog, and then storm angrily away when nothing happened. He chuckled because he knew his best friend in the entire world, Lucas, was having yet another dreadful day. He continued to watch until all the princesses were gone, and the frog sat alone by the edge of the pond. Jonah left his hiding spot and walked down to the pond and sat facing the poor little frog. 

“No luck again today I see, Lucas. Just how many princesses are there in the world anyway?” Jonah grinned down at the frog.

“Ribbit.” Said the frog. The frog made a face as close to annoyance as a frog’s face can get.

“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Jonah said and reached down and touched the frog’s head.

“UGH! Thanks. That’s much better. I still can’t figure out why that only works for you. I can’t even talk to my father or brother. As far as the princesses go, there seems to be an unending supply! I wish one would finally break this spell. I’m sick of being a frog!” The frog darted its head to the side, flicked out its tongue and caught and ate a fly.

“That’s so gross, Lucas!” Jonah pretended to gag but ended up laughing.

“I know, right! But I can’t help it. It seems to be instinct for this body. This curse really sucks!” Lucas groaned.

“Why were you cursed, Luke? We’ve never talked about that. Obviously, I know you are the prince of this kingdom, is that why she cursed you?” Jonah asked.

“Get me out of this pond for a while. Let’s go for a walk, and I’ll tell you.” Lucas said. Jonah reached over and picked up his friend. He set the frog on his left shoulder, stood and walked onto the path into the woods.

Lucas began his story. “Even as a small child, I was a spoiled rotten brat. My dad always told me that I’m meant to lead our glorious kingdom, but all I wanted to do was play and have fun. Book learning and army training were boring. I avoided my duties as often as I could. Then I turned thirteen, and my mind switched from my toys to girls. If I’m honest with you, I didn’t treat the girls any better than I treated my toys. They were princesses who were sent to woo me and win the heart of the crown prince of Lerithia, and I played silly games with their hearts, kissed them once or twice and sent them on their way.“ Lucas blushed, well as much as a frog can be said to blush.

“That just doesn’t sound like the Lucas that I know.” Jonah turned his head, so he was looking at Lucas. “You’ve changed so much. Cut yourself some slack. Hell, maybe being a frog has been good for you.” Jonah snickered.

“Anyway.” Lucas rolled his little froggy eyes at Jonah. “To continue my story, I was mean to a lot of people, especially girls. One night at dinner, this old lady burst into our dining hall and pointed right at me. She shouted at me about how I broke her granddaughter’s heart.” Lucas sighed. “Jonah, I couldn’t even remember what her granddaughter looked like. Anyway, then she drew a wand out of her cloak and pointed it at me. My father’s guards reacted, but not in time. The wand glowed, and she said ‘Shallow Prince with much vanity, like a frog you’ll now be. No cure for you shall they find until True Love’s Kiss clears your mind. If no love finds you before eighteen, you’ll end your days with skin of green.’” Lucas sighed again. “I’m doomed, Jonah. Tomorrow is my eighteenth birthday!”

Jonah let out a gasp and sat down on the side of the trail on an old tree stump. “Oh my god, Luke. Why didn’t you say something before? Tomorrow? Is that why your dad has been bringing in even more princesses than usual the last couple of weeks?”

“Yeah. My dad thinks if enough girls kiss me, one will be the right one. Trouble is, I can’t even talk to any of them like I can talk with you. How can I know if it’s true love? Do I want some silly spell to decide my future even if the curse is broken?” Lucas sounded depressed even in his froggy voice.

Jonah wanted so bad to reach out and comfort him, but how do you hug a frog? “What kind of girl would you want it to be if you could choose?” Jonah thought maybe he could get Lucas talking and get his mind off tomorrow.

“Someone kind and caring and compassionate. Someone who listens to me and doesn’t just want to talk about herself and her clothes. Someone… well someone just like you, Jonah. Why can’t you be a beautiful princess?” Lucas laughed.

Now it was Jonah’s turn to blush. “Shut up, Luke. I’m trying to help figure this out for you.” Jonah got back up and started walking back towards the pond. Suddenly, Kings Guards burst through the trees. One scooped Lucas off Jonah’s shoulder, and two more grabbed Jonah by the arms. The one in charge said, “Aha! We’ve found you! How dare you kidnap Prince Lucas. To the dungeon with you!”

Lucas was yelling at the top of his lungs for them to unhand his friend, but all they heard was the ribbiting of a frog. Jonah proclaimed his innocence, but they wouldn’t listen and dragged him off to the castle dungeons. Jonah was yelling, “You don’t understand! He’s my friend! You don’t know what’s going on. You don’t even know who I am!” The guards refused to even talk to him and locked him away in the dungeon.

That night and the next day passed slowly for both Lucas and Jonah. Jonah couldn’t find a way out of the dungeon. No one even came to talk to him. He was concerned and scared for his friend. He wanted to be with him, especially since it was such an important day for Lucas.

Lucas was also worried about Jonah and blamed himself for Jonah getting locked in the dungeon, possibly forever. If he couldn’t break this curse, and talk to his father, there would be no way to convince his dad to free Jonah. So, in hopes of miraculously breaking the curse, instead of running off to be with Jonah, Lucas stayed in his pond and submitted himself to today’s parade of princesses.

Night fell without the curse breaking. The princesses were gone, and the guards were out of sight. Lucas decided that, since he didn’t know if he’d still be able to talk to Jonah after the curse became permanent, he wanted to spend his last few hours before midnight with his best friend. He hopped out of his pond and headed for the tree line. Once in the trees, he hopped as fast as he could towards the castle. Lucas knew precisely where his dad would have locked up Jonah, and Lucas knew how he could get to him. He snuck in, undetected, through the back-kitchen doors when the cooks were bringing the night’s trash out. He stayed hidden amongst the pots and pans and brooms and finally found his chance to sneak into the cellar when a cook left the door open. From the basement, he made his way to the dungeons. He hopped right into Jonah’s cell. Jonah curled tightly into a ball and crying, didn’t see Lucas at first. Lucas hopped over to him. “I’m here, Jonah, I’m here.”

Jonah looked up and saw Lucas was still a frog and started crying even harder. Through his tears, he said, “No luck with the princesses again? I’m so sorry, Luke. I’m just so sorry. If that witch could see you now, maybe she’d undo the spell herself. You’re not a spoiled, arrogant brat anymore. You’re the kindest, sweetest guy I’ve ever met.”

Lucas blushed. “Thanks, Jonah. You’re a pretty great guy yourself.”

“Luke, it’s almost midnight. What’s going to happen? Will I still hear you like now?” Jonah asked.

“I don’t know. I hope so, but I just don’t know. I’ve never understood why you’re the only one who hears me anyway.” Lucas said.

Jonah reached down and picked up Lucas. He stared directly into the frog’s eyes. “If this is our last conversation, then I have to say this out loud for you to hear. I love you so much, Luke. More than you know. You’re my best friend in the entire world. I… I think if you were a boy and not a frog that I might love you even more than that.” Jonah blushed a deep, bright red. “You have an amazing soul, Lucas. I’ll love you forever.” He bent down and kissed the frog.

Electricity crackled around the boy, and the frog and a purplish colored smoke swirled around them. When the smoke cleared, Jonah was looking up into the bright, crystal blue eyes of, a now human, Prince Lucas. Lucas brought both hands up and cupped Jonah’s face between his hands. He bent down and kissed Jonah. After he broke the kiss, Lucas smiled and said, “I love you, too, Jonah.”

——————————————————————————————————————————–

A small army led by the neighboring King entering his lands, interrupted King Samuel’s night of worry over his son Lucas’s predicament. King Samuel personally led a small force out to greet the other king. King Edmond rode out from his army and greeted King Samuel.

“My guards last saw my son, Prince Jonah, entering your kingdom, King Samuel, and he has not returned home. I’ve come looking for him. Have you or any of your people seen him?” Edmond described Jonah to Samuel. One of the King’s Guards spoke up and told his King what had happened at the pond and that he thought Jonah might be that boy. Samuel relayed that information to Edmond with his apologies, and they rode together to the castle.

The two kings walked together into the dungeon, turned the corner, and saw the two boys curled up together, sound asleep in each other’s arms. Both kings were speechless for a moment, and then King Samuel yelled out, “Lucas! You’ve broken the spell! How? Who broke the spell? Why are you in this cell? Guards, unlock this cell at once!”

The boys, shocked by the sudden intrusion, untangled from each other’s embrace and stood up. Jonah noticed his father standing behind the other king. Lucas spoke first. “Dad!” He ran and hugged his father as soon as the guards opened the cell door. “I hopped in here when I was still a frog. I wanted to spend my last few hours with Jonah. Then, just before midnight, Jonah kissed me and broke the spell!”

Both kings audibly gasped and turned and looked at each other. Samuel looked back at his son. “How do you feel about this son? Do you feel like he is your True Love? The spell said only True Love’s Kiss could break the enchantment.”

Lucas blushed and looked down. “Yes, dad. I’m in love with Jonah, and he’s in love with me. We want to be married. You always told me that whoever broke the enchantment was who I would marry. I couldn’t talk to you, but I heard everything you said to me. I want you to keep your word. I want to marry Jonah.” Lucas told his father that, for the last year, Jonah could hear him, and they talked for hours every evening after the princesses left. He told his father everything.

“Jonah? Son, is this what you want also?” King Edmond asked, stepping forward.

King Samuel stepped aside to let King Edmond to the front. Samuel said to Lucas, “Lucas, this is King Edmond from Garlandia. He is Prince Jonah’s father.”

Lucas’s jaw dropped, and he turned to Jonah. “Prince Jonah? You never told me!”

“It wasn’t and still isn’t the most important thing about me. I love you, not your kingdom and I wanted the same in return. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you, but I didn’t want it to get in the way of our friendship.” Jonah said.

“It’s fine, Jonah, I definitely understand,” Lucas said.

Jonah turned towards his father. “Dad, to answer your question. Yes. This is what I want. I know I’m just sixteen. I know you planned on me marrying some princess and having lots of babies, but I’ve never wanted those things. I just didn’t know how to tell you. I’m in love with Luke. Like head over heels type in love. The love I still see between you and mom. Please let me have this.” Jonah was looking at his father, but his hands were gripping Lucas’s arm, and he was leaning into the taller boy.

The two kings looked at each other and nodded in silent agreement. King Samuel spoke. “I’ll put the proclamation out to the other kingdoms. The marriage of our sons, the crown princes of Lerithia and Garlandia, will take place one month from today. May fortune smile on you both and upon both our kingdoms.”

Even with both their fathers and a dozen guards right there, Lucas pressed his forehead against Jonah’s and whispered: “I love you.” Jonah leaned in, and they kissed.

The Little Match Boy

The Little Match Boy

Dylan shivered in the frigid wind, snow blowing all around him. He felt lucky that he still had his coat and shoes. The man who robbed him last night attempted to take those as well. Dylan woke up in time to run away, but he lost his backpack and everything in it. Three nights on his own and now he owned only the clothes on his back, three dollars and thirty-seven cents, a stick of gum, and a matchbook with three remaining matches. Pathetic. The wind and snow drove him to get up and get moving again. The cops moved him along if he stayed in one place too long anyway. He got up, brushed the snow off his clothes and walked off into the night, destination unknown.

Dylan considered the last three days of his life, while he searched for a place to crash for the night. He turned fourteen three days ago. The day began awesomely. His fourteenth birthday, a week before Christmas, everything seemed perfect to him. He thought that telling his parent would make things even better. He thought they would understand. He thought they loved him no matter what. So, with a broad grin on his face, Dylan walked into the family room and told his parents that he was gay. Their reaction shocked him. His mother burst into tears and ran out of the room. His father demanded that he stop lying and admit that he was straight. Dylan almost did just that, but he decided that he had come this far, he had to be honest with them and with himself.

Dylan’s mother returned to the room and dropped his backpack on the floor at his feet. This confused him at first, and he looked from his mother to his backpack and back again. She didn’t even look him in the eye, she just told him to leave. She didn’t want him and his sinful ways infecting his little brother. Dylan burst into tears, picked up the backpack and left the only home he had ever known.

A cry for help brought Dylan out of his memories and back into the cold reality of his new life. The sound came from an alley of to his right. He ran to the opening and looked towards the sounds. A man stood over a young boy. The boy, sprawled on the wet pavement, noticed Dylan and yelled louder. “Help! He’s stealing all my stuff! Help!”

That’s when Dylan noticed his own backpack slung over the man’s shoulder. “Hey!” Dylan yelled, running towards the man. “Give that stuff back!” The man glanced back at Dylan and then took off running. “Crap,” Dylan said. “that guy has my stuff, too.” Dylan extended his hand to the other boy to help him up. “I’m Dylan. What’s your name?”

The other boy stood up and brushed as much of the snow and dirt off himself as he could. “Thanks a lot, bro. My name is Jason, but please call me Jay.” Jay looked down at his feet. “I can’t believe he stole my shoes and my socks. I hate to think of what else may have happened if you hadn’t come. Thanks again, Dylan.” Jay wrapped his arms around himself, shaking with cold.

“Jay? Where do you live? Can I walk you back there?” Dylan asked with trepidation. Afraid that this boy, like him, may not have a home to go back to.

Jay frowned. “I ran away. My parents died in a car crash last year. I’ve been living with my aunt, but things haven’t been great. My uncle gets drunk and mean almost every night.” Jay scowled and didn’t meet Dylan’s eyes.

“Hey, I understand. No sweat, bro. No judgments from me. Do you have any other clothes, or did he get everything?” Dylan asked.

“He stole everything I had. Even my shoes and socks. I might have to try a shelter tonight, even though most are almost as dangerous as the streets.” Jay’s eyes glistened with tears, but he held firm and did not cry. “Don’t worry about me, Dylan. You look like you have as many problems as I do.”

Dylan sighed. “I guess. My parents kicked me out because I’m gay. My perfect little life blew up three days ago, on my fourteenth birthday no less. I totally misjudged my parents. My mom told me she didn’t want my sinful, disgusting ways to infect my little brother. Being gay isn’t a disease!” Dylan kicked a rock across the alley and clenched his fists. “I just don’t understand how they could do that to me. I’m their son. Aren’t they supposed to love and support me no matter what?”

“Gee, bro, I’m sorry. Yeah, that really sucks. People get so stupid about that stuff. Who you love shouldn’t matter to anyone but you. I’m only twelve, and I understand that. What’s the matter with parents?” Jay put his hand on Dylan’s shoulder to try and comfort him.

Dylan shrugged his shoulders. “Thanks, Jay. I appreciate it. I have some things I want to give you. I can’t just leave you like this. That dick took your shoes and socks for crying out loud. And it’s snowing!” Dylan sat on a nearby fire escape and took off his shoes and socks. He handed the socks to Jay and put his shoes back on. Before the boy had a chance to thank him, Dylan took off his jacket and his hoodie. He tossed the hoodie to Jay and put his coat back on. Next, he emptied his pockets and looked at his remaining belongings. He handed Jay the stick of bubblegum and one matchstick, leaving himself with three dollars and thirty-seven cents and two matches. “I hope that helps. Jay. It’s the best I can do. Kids like us got to stick together. Take care of yourself, bro.”

Jay couldn’t believe it. “Dylan, this is too much. I can’t take all this.” He lost his battle to not cry as tears streamed down his face. “This is the nicest thing anyone has done for me since my parents died. What am I supposed to do with the match though?” Through his tears, Jay smiled as he asked about the match.

Dylan just smiled. “Keep it. All of it. I don’t need it. Maybe you can start a fire somewhere with the match and warm yourself up. Take care of yourself, Jay. See you around.” Dylan turned and left the alley, taking one last look back and waving to Jay as he turned the corner.

Dylan fought his way through the wind and snow as he made his way through town. The snow pelted his face, coming down harder than ever. He walked closer to the buildings, trying to avoid the worst of the wind. He bent his head forward and attempted to walk faster. He needed to find a safe place to sleep soon, exhaustion was overtaking his body. He heard a noise and stopped. He looked all around and then noticed someone huddled in the doorway of the building he just walked past. Dylan turned and walked back to the doorway and peered in. An old man shivered, wrapping his arms around his knees, trying to stay warm. The man wore no coat, no hat, no gloves. Dylan bent down next to the man.

“Sir, are you ok? Is there somewhere you can go? It’s snowing pretty hard.” Dylan shook the man’s shoulder.

The man slowly looked up. “The shelters filled up before I got there. I’ll shelter here tonight. I’ve survived worse.” The old man tried to smile reassuringly. “What about you, son. Why are you out on such a snowy night?”

“My parents kicked me out. Then a man robbed me, so I left that place, too.   I’m looking for a new place to crash. Right now, I’m more worried about you, sir.” Dylan said.

“Don’t worry about an old man like me. I’ve survived two wars and three divorces; a little snow won’t kill me.” He tried to laugh but ended up coughing.

Dylan frowned and stood up. He took off his jacket and wrapped it around the man’s shoulders, then he handed the old man his gloves. “Take these. Don’t even try to say no. You need them more than I do.” He reached into his pocket and took out the matchbook. He ripped one of the two remaining matches out of the book and handed it to the old man. “Here, sir. Take this, too. Maybe when it stops snowing, you can light a fire.” Dylan shrugged and gave the man a half-smile.

“Thank you, son.” The man said with tears forming at the corners of his eyes. “You don’t even know how many people walked right past me tonight and none stopped except you. You may be just a boy, but you have a bigger heart than any grown man I have ever known. Take care of yourself. I will never forget you.” Holding back tears of his own, Dylan said goodnight to the old man, turned and continued with his search for a place to sleep.

Dylan barely walked two blocks before he heard another noise that stopped him in his tracks. He heard loud banging and what sounded like a baby crying from behind the supermarket. Curious and concerned, he, once again, abandoned his own quest and investigated possible trouble. Dylan turned the corner and couldn’t believe his eyes. A baby sat in a beat-up stroller, alone, beside a big green dumpster. Dylan ran up to check the condition of the baby. He barely had any clothes of his own left, he had no idea how he would keep a baby warm if no one came back for it. Just before he reached the stroller, a girl’s head appeared from inside the dumpster and shouted at him.

“Hey! You! Help! I’m stuck in here. I reached in to see if I could find any food for Olivia and me, but I slipped and fell, and now I can’t get out.” The girl said while waving over at Dylan. “Please!”

Dylan walked over to the dumpster. He stepped up on a wooden crate and reached his arm over the side of the dumpster. When he felt the girl grab on, he pulled her out. They both fell off the crate, the girl landing on top of him. She smiled down at him. “Thanks a million, doll.” She kissed his forehead and got up.

Dylan blushed and looked more closely at her. She didn’t look much older than him. Sixteen, maybe seventeen, if he had to guess. “You’re welcome. I’m Dylan. Glad I could help. Why are you out here with your baby?  I’m frozen. Your baby must be even colder.”

The girl turned towards Dylan. “I’m Natalie, and this is my son, Alexander. There’s nowhere for us to go. My mom kicked me out when I got pregnant, and Alex’s father won’t even admit he’s his son. The ignorant bastard.” Natalie’s voice held a mixture and anger, sadness and despair.

“I’m so sorry, Natalie. I’ve only been out here on the streets for three days, and I’ve already heard such horrible stories of what people do to each other. It’s overwhelming.” Dylan said.

“What’s your own sad story, Dylan? Why are you out here?” Natalie asked, placing her hand on Dylan’s arm.

“My parents kicked me out because I’m gay. They kicked me out on my fourteenth birthday no less! I… I thought my parents would love me no matter what.” He gave her a sympathetic look. “I thought they’d be cool with it, but they kicked me out with just a backpack full of stuff. And the backpack was stolen just two days later!” He shrugged.  “Other people have it worse than me. I can see that already. It’s rougher out here than you can ever imagine when you’re safe at home. I never thought about the people, the kids, out here on the streets. It really sucks.”

Natalie nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it does suck. We’ll find a way to make it, though. I’m sure you will, too. You seem very smart and strong. And the sweetest guy I’ve met in a long time.” She smirked and winked at him, causing him to blush. “Anyway, this dumpster was a bust. We’re going to look for another one. You want to join us?”

Dylan shook his head. “Nah, I’m going to keep looking for a new place to crash. Good luck with your search.” Dylan dug into his pants pocket and pulled out the contents. “Here, I know it’s just three dollars and thirty-seven cents, but I don’t know, maybe you can get baby food or something. I don’t even know how expensive that stuff is” He shrugged. “And take this match and my beanie. Find somewhere out of the snow and light a fire to get warm. Alex looks really cold.”

Natalie hugged him and kissed his cheek, eliciting yet another episode of blushing. “Thank you so much, Dylan. We’ll never forget you. Good luck with finding a place to sleep.”

Dylan turned and left. Now with empty pockets, no hat, no jacket, no hoodie, no socks, and no gloves, he walked off and continued his quest for a warm place to sleep.

Dylan’s could barely feel his face, his hands, or his feet by the time he heard the bells. The church! The church bells always sounded at midnight on Christmas Eve. Shivering uncontrollably, Dylan headed in the direction of the bells. He hoped the pastor left the church unlocked. A warm building, any warm building, filled his thoughts. Dylan saw the lights of the church at the end of the street. Just a few more yards. Then the world spun, and everything went black. Dylan collapsed into the snow.

Dylan heard a voice and felt warm hands rubbing his arms and face. “My dear boy, wake up. I need to get you into the church where it’s warm, but I’m not sure I can carry you there by myself.” The voice said. Dylan blinked his eyes, trying to open them. They felt frozen shut. Ice crusted on his eyelashes. He finally opened his eyes and stared up at the person trying to lift him out of the snow. It was a lady, maybe a little older than his mom. Her small frame struggled just to keep his upper body out of the snow while she tried to rub warmth into his arms and hands.

Dylan groaned. “Where am I? What’s happening?” Weak and disoriented, he tried to sit up. “Who are you?”

“I’ll answer all of your questions as soon as we’re inside, young man. Let’s get you out of this snow.” The lady helped him to his feet, and they walked into the church and sat in the back pew. “I am Amelia. I came here to pray, and when I left, I found you in the snow. I should be asking you the questions, but first let me get you a blanket or an old coat from the church’s donation bin.” Amelia left him sitting on the bench, lost in his thoughts. She returned a few minutes later with both a big puffy jacket and a blanket. Dylan quickly put on the coat and wrapped the blanket around himself as tightly as he could.

“Thank you so much, Amelia. I… I think you might have saved my life. My name is Dylan. I’ll tell you anything you want to know… as soon as my teeth stop chattering.” Dylan gave Amelia a half-smile and pulled the blanket even tighter around himself.

Amelia thought about taking Dylan to her house, but she didn’t want to chance taking him back out in the cold yet. She gave him the time he needed to warm up before asking him any more questions. When he felt a bit warmer, Dylan looked at Amelia and began his story. He told her everything. From his parents kicking him out to the man stealing his backpack and everything that happened to him tonight. When he finished, they both had tears streaming down their faces.

Dylan pulled back from her a little and spoke. “You seem like a church lady, just like my parents. If you want to kick me out of this church now that you know I’m gay I understand.” He sobbed. The tears now freely flowing down his cheeks.

Amelia started crying even harder. “Oh no, Dylan. Never. No one should kick anyone out of church. And you… you’re the sweetest angel I have ever met.” She reached over and wiped away his tears. “The bible I read teaches love not hate. Your parents were wrong to kick you out. You’re only fourteen! The things you’ve done amazing things tonight and I believe that God led me here to save your life as you may have saved three other lives tonight. I woke out of a sound sleep with a burning desire to come here to this church and pray. I can’t explain why. I’ll just call it a Christmas miracle. Right after the bells rang to signal Christmas, I left the church and found you face down in the snow! God doesn’t care that you’re gay. He cares that you have more love in your heart than any other person I’ve ever met. He brought me here to save you. I truly believe that. Dylan. I’m bringing you home with me tonight if that’s ok with you. We’ll talk about plans beyond that after I feed a nice big breakfast tomorrow morning. No one should ever make plans on an empty stomach.” She looked at him with questioning eyes.

“I think I’d like that, Amelia,” Dylan said, a genuine smile forming on his face for the first time in days. “Oh yeah, Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, Dylan.” Amelia took his hand in hers, and they walked out of the church. The snow finally stopped falling, and the light of the full moon lit their way home.