Short Stories by Rick Jankowski

Speculative and Sensitive Fiction

The Games Thief was originally a short story, published in Green's Magazine, a now defunct Canadian small press.  Since then, the tale has grown to 40,000 words. 

The idea for this story came from a conversation I (over)heard at work. A colleague was discussing his large family and how every year they had a reunion and played street games like Frozen Tag, It and Hide and Seek.  This got me to thinking about my suburb, where kids don't play games outside because they're inside, captives of TV, IPods and video games.   Almost as if a Games Thief had come to town . . .

Here's the first two scenes.   If folks like it, I'll place more of the story on-line. Let me know what you think. 







The Games Thief

Part 1

The Thief and The Mist

 

 

Foreword

 

 

 

It's coming again. I can feel it. It's close.

Fingertips pressed against the cold, moist, cave wall, Simon leaned forward and touched the tip of his tongue against the stone. Involuntarily, his lips puckered and his thin body shuddered. 

It's almost here. Somewhere behind the wall.  I can taste it. It's coming again.

Retracting his tongue, he stepped toward a long, low table set in the center of the cave.  A shackle around his left ankle bit deeply.  He moaned and changed his step to a shuffle.  He could feel blood trickle down the top of his bare foot and ooze between his big and second toe.

When am I going to learn?  I've been here long enough to know I have to move slowly.

He rubbed the palms of his hands against his trousers.  They were grimy with dirt and sweat and torn off just below his knees.  He looked down at the cuff around his ankle.  A heavy metal chain coiled from his foot, across the cave floor, and into a far corner, where it was bolted into the wall.  A solitary candle illuminated that section of the cave. In the flickering light, Simon could just make out a series of vertical lines that he had scratched into the cave wall using a small pointed stone he had stumbled on when they had first locked him in.  He counted thirty-seven scratches. One for each day.

Has everyone forgotten about me?  Do Mom and Dad even remember me? Have they stopped looking?  Do they think I've run away? Or I'm dead? Well, I'm not.  I'm here in this cave, living somewhere underground, in the darkness.  Every day, they give me bread and water and a little meat. 

He rubbed his back and felt a long scar that ran from his ribs to his spine. He shivered.  Don't want to get hit any more.  Glad that finally stopped when I figured out what to do when it came.  And, it's coming again.  I can taste it. 

He shuffled to the dinner table, where several small plastic boxes sat next to a candle, a book of matches and a metal dinner plate.  He retrieved one of the boxes, tucked it under an arm, and shuffled toward the wall near the flickering candle.  With each step, dust stirred from the floor of the cave and his shadow danced crazily through the motes.  When he was just to the left of the scratches, he sank to the floor, where he sat, legs crossed, Indian style. He centered the box on his lap.  Opposite him, near the bottom of the wall, was a jagged crack, maybe two inches wide and almost a foot long.  He positioned himself so that his fingertips could just touch the crack.  He closed his eyes and thought about his parents.  In his mind, he was home again and he and Dad were in a small back yard tossing a baseball back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  With each imaginary toss of the ball, Simon's frail body rocked rhythmically.  He could hear his Dad laugh, see the ball fly though the air, feel it smack into his mitt.  He placed the mitt close to his face and smelled the leather.  Behind him, he knew his Mom was baking cookies in the kitchen. The window was open and he could smell the chocolate-nut aroma wafting into the yard.  He licked his lips.  He could almost taste. . .

His eyelids snapped open and his body trembled.   Oh my God, I can taste it.  I can taste it.  Under his arms, his t-shirt darkened.  It's there, I know it, lurking just beyond the wall.  It's three feet away, two feet away, a foot away. 

His eyes fixed on the crack and his pupils dilated.  It's waiting, just on the other side, Waiting for me. 

He gripped the box tightly.  Quickly, he moved toward the wall.  There was a sharp clicking sound.  He sucked at his cheeks.  Oh my God, it's here, it's here. . .      


 

 

 

Jay's Story

Chapter One

 

Left foot and right knee pressed against the soft underbrush, Jay cautiously moved a branch, and peered into the night. The moon was a sliver in the velvet sky and the air was warm, thick and smelled of moss and decay. Jay brushed his hair out of his eyes and sweat trickled down the side of his face, followed the curve of his ear, and moistened his neck.  He tugged at his collar.  Wearing a sweatshirt on a hot August night. What was I thinking?

A buzzing filled his ears. A small insect landed on his neck and slowly prickled its way over his nape and under his collar.  He twitched his shoulder blades.  Get off me, you blood sucker.  As he raised his hand to slap it, he heard a branch snap. He stopped - senses alert. Another snap - like a bone cracking.  They're here. How did they find me so fast?

 The bushes rustled.  Oh God, they're getting really close.  He narrowed his eyes.  There - no that's a tree.  There - to the left - a shadow creeping through the grass.  Please. Go the other way.

Jay watched the hunter hesitate, and then move slowly toward him. His mouth tasted of bile and his mind raced.  Oh God! Don't move, be calm. They can't see. It's too dark. 

The dark form shuffled close.  Keep going. Please, don't stop here.

The dark figure stopped.

Jay held his breath.  Only the night and full, leafy branches shielded him. His heart pounded against the inside of his chest. Don't move, don't breathe. Be a leaf on the bushes, moss on the ground, invisible.

More buzzing, more mosquitoes - this time a swarm. Jay felt them land on his neck.  His skin prickled as, one-by-one, the thirsty creatures crept under his shirt and followed his perspiration to rendezvous with the scout on his back. Don'tmovedontmovedon'tmove, he commanded his muscles.  A dark stain spread under his arms.

His pursuer stepped to the right, peered behind a bush, hesitated, and then turned to leave.

The mosquitoes struck, their miniature blades piercing his back. Involuntarily, Jay slapped. His pursuer pivoted, targeting the sound.

Jay leaped from his hiding place and crashed through the hedges. Branches clawed at his face and arms, raising long narrow welts on his exposed skin. Adrenaline coursing, he burst through the shrubbery, darted past grasping hands and swerved toward an opening in another stand of bushes.

The hunter howled in anger.

Jay glanced back - and a tree root, hidden in the darkness, grabbed his right shoe. Knees, stomach, and chest crunched to the ground. His head bounced once, and then he tasted grass and dirt. Face down, spitting green and brown sod, he pressed his palms into the moist lawn and tried to push himself up. Too late.  A foot descended firmly onto the small of his back and shoved. Grass forced into his nostrils and he sneezed violently. The hunter reached down, grasped his right shoulder in a vise-like grip and yelled:

"Tag! You're it!"

The knee lifted from Jay's back and he flipped over. Using two fingers, he scooped his mouth clean. With a shirtsleeve, he wiped away the dirt and grass that clung to his face and hair.

"Never would'a got me, if I hadn't tripped."

A soft, high voice taunted, "You are such a nerd sometimes – I knew where you were the whole time - just pretended you were hard to find.  You gotta do better to hide on me."

Jay reached an arm over his shoulder and scratched furiously at the inflamed mosquito bites.

"Darn, Joanie," he said, "those stupid mosquitoes gave me away."

Joanie giggled and stepped out of the darkness, her face and shoulders bathed in the dim yellow light of a nearby street lamp. Even the night shadows couldn't distort her delicate features. The evening breeze rose and sent her light brown hair rippling to her shoulders. She set her hands on the slight swell of her hips and her voice lilted.

"Oh, sure, blame the bugs," she said. "Maybe, you just can't handle it - maybe you're getting too old for Hide and Seek?"

Jay arched both eyebrows. "Twelve's not too old," he said. 

Joanie's right hand moved from her hip to her head, where she scratched subconsciously at a mosquito bite. She turned away from Jay and giggled again. Filling her lungs with warm, moist night air, she yelled triumphantly.

"C'mon out everyone, I found Jay! He's it - again."  Her words echoed throughout the neighborhood.

Jay watched kids slither from under cars, drop like apples from trees and float over fences. Filling the night with shouts and giggles, they scurried back to Jay's front porch for another game. Wooden stairs creaked as they scrambled up, pushing and shoving for a place on the rickety porch swing. Jay's house was the last in the neighborhood with an old fashioned, rest-your-feet, sit-and-talk-a-spell, wooden veranda. One by one, the neighbors had surrendered to modernization and enclosed their white-coated porches. Over the years, vinyl siding plasticized the frame homes, TVs in game rooms replaced long talks by moonlight, and blue shadows on screens stole meaning from life.

"C'mon, Jay," said Joanie.  "You gotta count again."

She extended a hand to help him up, but as their fingers touched, she hesitated. She blinked, and then quietly quivered.  Still on his back, Jay felt her fingertips chill and then her palm and wrist turned icy cold. Glancing up, he saw her eyelids flutter and droop. Her delicate features turned white and waxen.

"Joanie?" he said. She didn't respond. What was going on?

For a moment, the air above him grew thick and wet. Tiny silver specks seemed to dance and shimmer in the street light - like a million miniature fireflies. Jay sucked in a breath -  and his lips puckered and his tongue recoiled. The air tasted like he had chewed on tin foil. He closed his eyes, shook his head and the taste slowly dissipated. When he opened his eyes, seconds later, the silver specks were gone. Joanie's features began to tighten, the color returned to her face, and she slowly sank to the ground next to him.

Reaching out, he touched the sleeve of her T-shirt. The outside of it was wet. That was weird. He ran his hand along the outside of his shirt. Dry.

"You okay?" he asked. "You went cold?  What happened?"

Joanie blinked rapidly. She shivered and Jay moved closer. His arm brushed hers and he felt goose bumps on her skin. The wind rustled through the bushes and the grass bowed to scrape the earth before she answered.

"Did you feel it?" she asked, her voice a whisper. Her head quivered slightly.

Jay tilted his face close to hers.  "Yeah, I think I did. Cold and wet like, like . . .  I dunno - maybe it's starting to rain?"

"No," she said. "Not rain. It was thick and slippery and, and…" she shivered. "I don't know - a mist."

Was there really something? I didn't just imagine the air changed into tiny silver fireflies, did I? 

"Maybe Mrs. Clark left her sprinkler on and you got doused?"

He pushed to his feet and surveyed the neighborhood. No sprinkler, but further down the block, he spied a long, dark cloak billow in the evening breeze. Circumventing the streetlights at the end of the block, the cloak fluttered around a corner and vanished into the dark. Something tickled Jay's mind. A memory. Another night just like this one, another game. What was it?  He groped to recall, but his mind collided with a blind spot, like a wall with no windows and no door. 

"I feel real weird," said Joanie. She stood and stepped away from him. "I'm going home."

Jay reached across and gently touched her hand. It was warm again. "Anything I can do?" he asked.

"I don't know . . .  I feel - empty."

He smiled. A sad smile.

"When I feel like that," he offered, "cookies usually help. I could go inside and sneak you some. My mom's baking some right now.  You'll love them."

Joanie's lips turned slightly upward. "That's okay," she said. "My mouth's got a weird taste. I don't think I can eat anything - not even your mom's cookies."

She tilted her head and smiled at him.  "You're always so nice," she said. "You're not like the other boys - but, I'm gonna go."

The stranger in the cloak filled Jay's mind. Was it safe to let Joanie go home alone?  Especially since that boy had disappeared . . . 

"Hey," he said, "how about I walk you home?"
Joanie rubbed her face with both hands, and then sighed, "I just feel a little weird," she said. "I'm not afraid of the dark, ya know."

Jay glanced at his shoes, and then looked up at Joanie. "Oh. Okay. I didn't mean anything – I know you can take care of yourself. Hope you feel better. See you tomorrow?  Hide and Seek again?"

"What?"

"Play Hide and Seek again."

Joanie wrapped her arms around herself.

"You're nice, but you say the strangest things sometimes," she said.  Then, she turned away from him, ran across the street, glided up her porch and closed the front door behind her.

Strangest things? thought Jay. Hide and Seek wasn't a strange thing. It's what we were playing. It's what we've played every night since school had let out.  He shook his head and turned to join the rest of the kids on his porch.

The wooden swing creaked and trembled in the evening breeze. The porch was deserted.  They were all gone.  Where was everyone?

"Hey," he yelled. "No hiding ‘til I count."

Jay pivoted toward the street. In the dim yellow light cast by the street lamps, he watched the last of his friends scurry home. Doors banged up and down the block, and then the night was still.

"Hey," he whispered.

The night felt empty, lonely.  What was going on?  First Joanie - now everyone else. Why did they all leave?  They were having such a good time. He pressed his teeth into his lower lip. I don't think I said or did anything stupid, did I?

 His eyes searched for the light above his front door. Mom usually flipped it on to signal it was late and time for everyone to go home.

It was off. It was still early.

He kicked an empty pop can left behind by one of the kids. It rattled across the sidewalk, banged into the curb, spun once, twice, and stopped. Head down, Jay trudged toward his front porch. He slapped at a tree truck as he walked past – and stopped. It was wet, slippery. He bent to inspect it, running his hand along the rough bark from eye level to the ground. The moisture started chin–level and ended abruptly at his knees. What in the world would make it wet like that?  Using his right index finger, he gingerly touched a glistening silver droplet nestled in a crevice of the moist bark. Placing his finger against the tip of his tongue, he grimaced. It was thick and tasted like tin foil.

The muscles in Jay's chest tightened. He could feel his heart thump against the inside of his ribs. He backed away from the tree, then turned and bolted for his porch. Hiding behind a wooden column, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and listened to the night.  Crickets rattled off the temperature, while a cicada shrieked its annoyance.

Opening his eyes, Jay peeked around the column. The dark pressed close. Down the block, a bone-thin mongrel slinked across a pool of light cast by a streetlamp. With a cowering, sideways gait, the stray angled toward the spot where Jay had seen the cloaked figure. Abruptly, it halted, lifted its head, and sniffed frantically at the air. It lowered its head, released a deep-in-the throat growl, then, it backed away before scurrying in the opposite direction.

Jay clasped and unclasped his hands. What was going on?  Strangers?  Mists?  Metal tastes?  And what about Joanie and Hide and Seek?  It was like she didn't know what it was. Something was weird, something was definitely wrong. But what?

The door behind him creaked and then opened wide.  Golden light streamed over the threshold and illuminated the darkest recesses of the porch.  A curly haired, oval-faced woman wiped her hands on an apron, brushed a smudge of flour from her cheek and smiled.

"Cookies in fifteen minutes . . ." she began.  Then she glanced around and placed her hands on her hips.

"Tarnation," she said. "Where'd everybody go?"

Jay shrugged his shoulders.

"You get into an argument with the other kids, honey?"

Jay chewed his bottom lip.  How can I explain what happened?  I'm not sure myself. It doesn't make sense.

"No," he said.  "I think everyone just got tired of playing."

Jay's mom ran her fingers through her hair. "You kids sure get bored easy nowadays," she said.  "Just last week you stopped playing Swim and now you're already tired of Hide and Seek?  Tarnation, we used to play the same games all summer.  If you ask me there's too much music and television. . ."

"Swim?" said Jay, hoping to cut her off before she really got started about the good old days. 

"Oh, Honey, whatever that game was that you all played last week.  You know, the one where kids stand on both sides of the street and one of you stands in the middle?  Then, the one in the middle yells ‘swim' and the other kids try to run across without being tagged.  I watched you through the front window.  You're good at it, you're so quick."

Jay's lips formed a thin straight line. Swim? There it is again, that wall in my mind.  I don't remember . . . can't.  Wait . . .something is there. It's like an old, faded, black and white home movie.  Kids scattering in all directions. Me, spinning madly.  Caught you . . . and you and . . .as quickly as the memory came, it stole away. Gone, gone, gone . . .

"Honey," said Mom.  "Are you okay?  You seemed so far away for a moment."

Jay nodded his head.  "Yeah, Mom, I'm just a little tired."

"Well, sweetie, c'mon in.  Besides, ever since that boy went missing, I don't like you to be outside by yourself.  He was just about your age.  His poor parents.  I hope he's okay."

She bit her lip, hesitated and then mussed Jay's hair.  "Land sake's," she said.  "I do go on sometimes.  C'mon in, the cookies are ready.  I'll pour you a big glass of cold milk and you'll feel better in no time.

Jay followed her into the house.  He glanced down the street before closing the door behind him and locking the darkness outside.

 

***

The next evening, Jay sprawled in the tall grass next to Joanie. Grass and earth had stained the knees of his jeans olive and brown and the sun had colored his skin bronze. His dark brown hair had grown. It flopped into his eyes and curled around his ears, but he was careful to brush it back when his mom was around. He hated haircuts - and besides, Joanie liked it long. She said it made him look tough. Not a lot – but a little. And, every once in awhile, she'd lay in the grass next to him and play with the curls.  That was worth getting the stink-eye from Mom.

Jay shaded his eyes against the setting sun and gazed at the western sky. At the horizon, darkening clouds, like grey and silver cathedrals, rose high above the Midwestern plains.  The giggly laughs of ten year old girls fluttered on the humid air. Next to him, Joanie lay on her stomach, chin cradled in the palms of her hands, a blade of prairie grass between her front teeth. 

Jay studied Joanie's face. She seems to be her normal self again - except for not remembering Hide and Seek - and I'm gonna work on that.

"Seven, eight, nine, Sky Blue!"

Stone in a tiny fist, elbows held tightly against her body, Joanie's kid sister, Katie, bent low and jumped for the Sky Blue box outlined in pink chalk on the crumbly sidewalk. Pig-tails flying, she twisted in mid-air and landed backwards on her heels. Teetering, she thrust her arms straight out from her body and waved them frantically to keep her balance. She rocked back and forth, back and forth, and then plopped on her bottom.

Joanie plucked the blade of grass from her mouth and yelled, "You fell! You have to start over."

Katie aimed a pointed pink tongue at Joanie, then stomped behind the other Hop Scotch players, crossed her arms tightly against her body, and sunk to the ground, waiting for her next turn.

The sun's last rays disappeared behind mud-colored houses. Dusk turned the town gray and the incessant hum of insect life filled the air. In the grass, crickets tuned their legs; through the air, mosquitoes buzzed annoyingly close; and from on-high, cicadas shrieked their summer stories.

Jay licked the humid taste of summer air from his lips. Now seemed like a good time.

"Joanie," he said, his voice faltering. "About last night . . ."

Joanie wrinkled her eyes and turned her attention to him.  "Hide and Seek? Again?  Just let it go. I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes, you do - you do know - and you're really good at it."

"I'm good at everything," she said.

"Except remembering," he muttered. His mind returned to the previous night the feeling that he too had forgotten some things. Important things. But, what could they be? 

Joanie rolled onto her left side, cupped her chin in her hand, and looked directly at Jay. The evening darkened, the streetlights flickered on and the fireflies began to tentatively test their torches.

"Seems to me," she said, "you've been wrong about things before."

"What do you mean?  Like what?"

"Well, there was that time in fifth grade you thought the new janitor might be a zombie, and then there was that time you thought we could sneak into the movies without being caught, and then there was that time that you thought Vanessa Roman liked you . . .

Jay's cheeks turned crimson.   "Okay, okay," he said.  "I admit it, sometimes I am wrong and in the case of Vanessa - well, really really really wrong.  But not this time.  You and me and all the kids in the neighborhood, we've been playing Hide and Seek all summer."

"Hide and Seek . . ." Joanie said. She laughed out of the side of her mouth and tossed her hair back over her shoulder, ". . . You just made that name up - you have such a great imagination, but there is no such game. Never was, never will be. No one here in Green Town plays it - and nothing you say will ever convince me."

I'll find a way.  Jay tilted his head away from Joanie, toward the street lamp - and his eyes widened. He blinked rapidly to make sure he wasn't seeing things.

In the light cast by the lamp, a fine, silvery mist skimmed across the street about a foot above the ground. The mist grew smoky tendrils that slithered around trees and oozed through bushes.

The insects stopped conversing.

"Joanie . . ." Jay whispered. "About Hide and Seek . . ."  his voice wavered and faded.

Joanie followed his gaze and made a small "oh" sound in the back of her throat. She started to rise, but Jay grabbed her shirt, tugged her down, and plastered her against the ground. The mist passed over them, a fraction of an inch above their outstretched bodies. The air above them grew thick and wet and silvery. Jay extended his tongue and a silvery drop alighted. He grimaced. Tin foil. Just like yesterday.

"I knew it," he mouthed. "I wasn't imagining things!"

Pressed next to him, he felt Joanie shiver - and senses fully alert, he felt something else – something in the air – something searching, lonely, lost. Before he could shout a warning, the mist engulfed the Hop Scotch players. As Katie swung her arm to toss her Hop Scotch stone, the silvery substance touched her.  Arm extended in mid-swing, she halted as if freeze-dried. Her stone dropped from unfeeling fingers. Clattering to the sidewalk, it bounced once, twice, and then settled in the grass. The mist embraced Katie's body, coated her skin, flowed through her hair and crept under her clothes. Swirling, it enveloped the other Hop Scotch players. It clung to them, swelling and darkening before finally releasing its embrace. It hovered momentarily above them, as if savoring a morsel, before slowly retreating through the twilight and back across the street. Gathering into a single, long tendril, it slipped under the long dark cloak of a figure hiding in the shadows.   Jay felt Joanie startle as they heard a snapping sound, like a chicken bone cracking. Then the shadowy figure tightened his cloak, swept down the street, and dissolved around the corner.

Mosquitoes first, then cicadas, and finally crickets resumed their conversations.

Joanie scrambled to her feet, ran to Katie and clutched her by both arms, "Are you all right?" she asked, her face pale, her mouth a red slit.  "Katie – are you all right?"

Katie made a fist and rubbed her eyes. "I'm tired," she answered, "I'm going home."

Jay peered at Katie over Joanie's shoulder, bit his lip, and asked, "How about a last game of Hop Scotch, Katie?  I'll go easy on you."

Katie scrunched her face. "Hop Scotch? What's that?"  

Joanie released her grip on Katie's arms and her eyes sought Jay's.  

"Never mind," Jay said softly. "Why don't you head on home?"

Katie nodded and shuffled away. Joanie started to follow her, but Jay grasped her arm and shook his head.

"Let her be," he whispered. "We need to talk." 

When Katie was out of sight, he reached for Joanie's hand and entwined his fingers with hers. He led her under the streetlight and sank to the ground, his back against the pole. Silently, Joanie slid down next to him. Their shoulders rubbed. An approaching storm rumbled in the distance and fingers of lightning reached toward the earth. The rumbling grew louder, the trees rustled and the upper branches danced with the wind. Joanie nudged closer, her long hair streamed across her face.

"What's going on?" she asked.

Jay ran his fingers through his hair. 

"I'm not sure how to explain," he said. "It seems - crazy. But, it's happened twice.  I've seen it - and now you've seen it."

He kicked at the ground, and then leveled his eyes with Joanie's. "It started last night," he said, "You lost Hide and Seek."

He hesitated. "No, wait, that's not true," he continued, "you didn't lose it. It was stolen from you."

"Stolen? Jay what are you talking about?"

"The guy in the cloak - you saw him today - I saw him yesterday, but was afraid to mention it.  I didn't want you to think I'm weird."

Joanie brushed the hair from her eyes. "I'm sorry, Jay," she said.  "I'm sorry I doubted you.  Please tell me what you think happened - I promise, I won't think you're weird."

Jay swallowed hard and his Adam's apple bobbed in his neck

"Joanie, that guy with the cloak - he's a thief.  He used the mist to steal Hide and Seek yesterday and Hop Scotch today and probably lots of other stuff we don't even remember."

"Jay, how could someone do that? Steal games?  They're not . . . not solid like a car or a bike.  Those are the kinds of things crooks take."

"I don't know," answered Jay. "But, you just saw it happen to Katie. He's been here twice now, probably more. I've been thinking about it.  I can remember stuff about you and me from last summer - like that time you got locked out of the house and I helped you climb in the kitchen window - and that time by the lake when we first - well, never mind. But, I can't remember what we did on a lot of the evenings and you know what a good memory I have."

Joanie nodded. "Yeah," she said, "you memorized that stupid Emily Dickinson poem faster than anyone in class last year."

Jay smiled, and in a monotone began.

"Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for . . .  Hey!"

Jay rubbed his arm where Joanie had smacked it with a knuckle raised fist.

"Stop it," she said, "You're scaring me."

"Oh, sorry, anyway, the guy in the cloak - the Games' Thief - he's gonna come back, I can feel it. And when he does, we gotta be ready for him. We gotta stop him. He can't have any more of our games.  He can't have any more of our memories."

The trees bowed to the wind, the thunder boomed, and the rain arrived. Large, warm drops. Jay slipped off his shirt, and arms stretched above his head, held it protectively over Joanie.

"Thank you," she mouthed.  "You're always so sweet."

"C'mon," said Jay, "Let's get you home."

They splashed across the street to the two-story, brown frame house with white shutters, and up three stairs to the front porch.  Jay took Joanie in his arms. She pressed her head against his chest and clung to him, her shirt sticking to his skin. Rain streamed down Jay's face, saturating his eye brows and dripping from his lashes onto the smooth, pale skin of Joanie's cheeks.  Again, the thunder shook the sky.  Joanie squeezed closer to Jay. He smelled the rain in her hair and on her skin before he reluctantly released his embrace. She opened her screen door a few inches and squeezed inside. Rain plastering her long brown hair, she glanced at Jay and then slowly closed the door. Jay stood silently for a moment, his eyes lingering on the rain streaked door, and then he turned and raced home. From the shelter of his front porch, he wiped the rain from his eyes and watched the outline of the Hop Scotch game dissolve into chalky ribbons curling across the sidewalk and cascading into the gutter.

 

 

 



If you liked this story, you can find more of them in my short story collection, The Sound of Midnight Fire, available on Amazon.com.