Flash Fiction Friday – Distracted Driving

Happy Friday internet people! It’s been a few weeks since I posted one of these. Hope you like it and let me know what you think in the comments!

Distracted Driving – By Adam Wright

Kevin’s pickup truck rattled down the highway. The black asphalt and white stripes on the road whizzed by in front of his eyes in a rhythmic pattern. He stretched his arm across the passenger seat and let out a yawn as he stretched.

He was singing along to some eighties song he’d heard a million times before. The name escaped him. Something about a movie he’d never watched. A glance at the clock told him it was near midnight. Another hour on the road would get him home. All he had to do was stay awake. 

A sip of coffee might be nice but then he’d need to pull over to pee. No way he’d be able to bring himself to keep driving after. Better to hold it.

His eyes were getting heavy when he saw a flash of white in front of his eyes. It was a barefoot woman in a white dress. She was beautiful with raven hair draped down her shoulders. She was in the middle of the road but when Kevin’s headlights shone at her they seemed to go through her, as if she wasn’t there at all.

Slowing the truck to a crawl, he wiped his eyes and opened them again. There was nothing there. Kevin convinced himself he was just seeing things when a voice rang out next to him.

“Jesus, Deep Blue Something? That band was old when I was still alive. Update your taste.” 

Kevin turned to see the woman from the road in his passenger seat. He yanked his arm back and opened his mouth. 

“Don’t scream. I’m so damn tired of screaming. Just get used to it. I don’t want to be here any more than you want me to.”

“You’re a…?”

“You’re driving late at night in an old truck on an open road. What did you expect? Yes, I’m a ghost. Happy now? Do you have a cell phone?”

Kevin tried to talk but a squeak came out.

“It’s not a complicated question. I know your truck looks like it’s from the 80’s but people don’t operate without cell phones anymore. I’m hoping to catch up on the news a little. Maybe watch some Tik-Tok videos. Where is it?”

Kevin pointed to the glove box.

“Can you take it out? I’m not solid anymore. Just start up whatever your favorite social media is. I’ll take anything. Hell, even if it’s NPR. Just hit play on something for me.”

“Uh… are you trying to haunt me? Did I do something to you?”

“Nope. Not trying to haunt anyone. Anytime one of these rickety old ass trucks show up out of nowhere, BOOM, I’m in it.”

Kevin jumped at the sound of the word BOOM.

“Don’t be so jumpy. I’m harmless, promise. I’m just bored as hell. The phone, can you?”

“Why are you here?” Kevin was twenty four years old but his voice cracked as he spoke as if he was fifteen.

“Do you want the long story or the short one? Short one’s easier.”

Kevin watched as a car drove towards his truck, the headlights flashing in his eyes for a brief moment.

“Uh.. short one?”

“I died, hoped to get revenge against my boyfriend. It didn’t work out. Now I’m here. Like, forever I guess.”

Kevin stared at the open road. He didn’t make a move toward the glove box.

“Fine, you want the long version. You’ve heard of the asphalt strangler? Yeah, turns out that asshole was my boyfriend. I had no idea. I found some gritty evidence in his truck one day and, well, you can guess what a dude called the asphalt strangler did to me. I swore with my dying breath I’d get revenge on him and next thing you know, I’m on this highway looking for trucks. Can’t help it.”

“But didn’t…”

“Yeah, that’s the part that didn’t work out. The asphalt strangler died of a goddamned heart attack. Can’t get revenge on a guy who is already dead and in hell can you? You’d think that would be the end for me but, oh no, here I am, night after night in random trucks with random dudes. Most of them are poor conversationalists too. Not like you though. I like you.”

“Thanks?”

“Seriously dude, the phone, like now.”

Kevin kept one eye on the road as he pulled the phone from the glove box. He looked away for the briefest of seconds. 

The world moved in slow motion as another truck slammed into the driver side door. Kevin felt himself tumbling, and saw his phone fly into the air.

“This is your fault, I’ll get you for this,” he spat the words at the woman in white.

The world went black.

Kevin opened his eyes. He was seated in a pickup truck, not unlike his own. There was a woman dressed in white next to him.

“What happened?”

“You wished for revenge. Welcome to the party.” The woman in white turned to the driver. “Do you have a cell phone?”

Book Review – Lightblade

Lightblade Book 1 by Zamil Akhtar

Note: This review was made possible by an advanced copy provided by the author Zamil Akhtar. Check out all of his books, including Lightblade and an incredible cosmic horror series called Gunmetal Gods here.

SUMMARY

In three days, Jyosh will slay the God Emperor, or die trying.

But first he must train his lightblade skills. While asleep. Each hour of sleep equals a day in a lucid dream, plenty of time to master the essential lightblade techniques and hopefully get skilled enough to defeat the monster who enslaved him and beheaded his parents and sister.

When Jyosh awakens to learn that the God Emperor has surrendered to an even crueler foe, a mysterious lightblade master who can summon divine dragons to burn whole cities, he’ll face a trial by fire against forces far more frightening than he could ever dream.

That is, if he’s not still in one.

Star Wars meets The Matrix in this progression fantasy adventure inspired by Indian and Persian mythology, featuring dragon gods, energy sword duels, ancient floating cities, and shared dream exploration.

REVIEW

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Lightblade, the latest book from author Zamil Akhtar makes me wonder if there is anything this author cannot pull off. I’ve read all of his cosmic horror books and found them thrilling and fascinating. I was excited when I heard he was going to attempt a progression fantasy but wasn’t quite sure if the story would live up to my expectations.

I’m happy to say, the book surpassed all expectations I had and kept me constantly turning pages, immersing myself in this incredibly colorful and vibrant world.

Jyosh is a laborer at a camp where he spends his days using the green light in his world to create machine parts for an emperor who he has vowed to kill. Unfortunately for Jyosh, he has no combat training, and doesn’t possess a red crystal which would allow him to create a lightblade, an energy weapon which may have a chance at destroying the emperor.

What Jyosh does have is a modified dream crystal which will allow him to train in his sleep. In this world an hour of sleep is equal to a day in the dream. This may just be enough time for Jyosh to hone his skills and seek his revenge. But, there is something different about this training program.

Jyosh is going to have to figure out what he needs to do to survive and figure out what is dream and what is reality or he may lose everything he holds dear.

While the author makes the comparison here to Star Wars meets the Matrix, and that is certainly true, I was most reminded of Inception with this book. There are also fantastic creatures, some amazing illustrations, and tons of action.

If you like futuristic fantasy with elements of Indian and Persian mythology, you. are going to absolutely love this book.

Book Review – Doctor Glass

Doctor Glass by Louise Worthington

Note: This review was made possible by TCK Publishing who kindly granted me a review copy. Find out more about all their books by clicking on their website: https://www.tckpublishing.com/

To get your copy of Doctor Glass click on the Kindle preview above or click the link here: Doctor Glass: A Psychological Thriller Novel

To read more of Louise Worthington’s books check out her website: https://louiseworthington.co.uk/

SUMMARY

Psychotherapist Emma-Jane Glass has prioritized work over leisure for far too long. She does whatever it takes to help her clients, and it’s bordering on professional obsession. When she publishes a controversial article about unstable mothers murdering their children, an anonymous letter arrives on her doorstep:

I will expose you.
Then, I will mutilate you…
Wait for me.


After she is abducted into the night, Doctor Glass finds herself at the mercy of a dangerous sociopath. But being a relentless doctor of the mind, she feels an urge to help her fragile captor, even if it might shatter her sanity—and her life. It becomes a game of survival, and only one mind can win.

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Emma-Jane Glass is a therapist who is not afraid of taking on controversial positions and challenging patients. She has a small practice where she does her best to treat patients with kindness, empathy, and understanding. She will also go the extra mile to help those in need whenever she can. Not everyone in the community appreciates her views on unstable mothers who murder their own children. After she writes an article on the subject she unknowingly puts herself in danger.

Doctor Glass is an intelligent, empathetic, and caring clinician. When she starts receiving threatening notes and letters she will need to use all of her professional skill to understand who might be threatening her and why.

Lucy, the nutritionist and longtime friend of Emma-Jane who has an office next to the psychologist has her own patients and circumstances to deal with. But when Emma-Jane seems to go missing, it is up to Lucy to see if she can find out what happened.

The book is part thriller, part mystery, and part exercise in human understanding. The beginning of the book ratchets up the intensity immediately. While parts of the story waver, for the most part this is a page-turner.

Emma-Jane Glass is a fascinating character in not only how she deals with others but how she deals with her own traumatic experiences. There were times in the story where it seemed like some more sensible choices could have been made but overall it’s a believable story with a lot of intense emotion.

There is a side story involving Lucy which some readers may not enjoy but it does contrast nicely with what Emma-Jane is going through with her own patients.

If you like tightly wound psychological thrillers where the protagonist has to user their own wits and experience to get out of serious trouble, you’ll enjoy this book.

The first installment of The Glass Minds series has strong potential to carry the story forward and become a reliable read for enjoyable psychological suspense thrillers and I look forward to reading more in the series.

Flashbang! Volume III: Available Today!

Flashbang! Volume III Available today May 10, 2022

Hey internet people, I’ve got an exciting announcement for you. Today May 10th the
third volume of FLASHBANG! is available for purchase on DriveThruFiction.com.

What is FLASHBANG! and why are there three volumes you ask? This is part of a workshop run by the Storytellers Collective. A group of writers was given a prompt a day for the month of February. Then each writer wrote a flash fiction story based on that day’s prompt. At the end of the month the writers chose their best work and submitted stories to be published in this anthology. Editors then curated the anthology. This was the third year this workshop has run so this is the third volume.

Why am I so excited about this? There are over 50 authors who have contributed to this flash fiction anthology so there is going to be at least one story here any reader would love. And I happen to have written one of those stories. Mine is the first story titled The Librarian. But don’t buy this book just for my story. Buy it to support independent authors and to have something great to read. Each story is a thousand words or less so even if you don’t have a lot of time to read, you can take a few minutes, enjoy a story and go on with your day.

For $4.99 I would say you’re getting a great value. I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

Purchase your copy here or at the banner above. I hope you’ll give it a chance and let me know what you think of the stories once you have read them.

And if you would like to read the story I wrote for the second volume of Flashbang!, titled Space Walk, get it here.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!

(Note that if you do purchase through any of the links at this post I will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.)

Adam Wright

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone – Book Review

Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone by J.T. Michaels

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

The Great War ended a century ago. Peace reigns across the eight countries. Epic tales of heroic men and women of those times are recounted in song and story. Yet, history seems to have forgotten a young battlefield healer, Tessa Marlise…

Sixteen-year-old Jimmy Chartron has just enrolled at the Navale Academy of Eagleon, his mind set on becoming an electrician. A chance magical encounter binds him to the trapped soul of Tessa Marlise. As Jimmy struggles to deal with this shocking development, murder and mystery unravel in the academy. Caught in the middle of everything, Jimmy realizes that a larger evil is afoot and that only two things can stop it: himself and the ghost in his head…

REVIEW

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Jimmy Chartron is a hard working, sixteen year old, boy. He’s been accepted to the Navale Academy where he wants to learn to be an electrician. He also works on the docs. But a chance encounter with a bit of magic pairs him with a ghost named Tessa. Tessa is stuck in Jimmy’s mind and the two of them have to find a way to work together to keep Jimmy safe, unravel a mystery, and quite possibly save the world.

The book is a bit of a mix of Harry Potter and futuristic technology. At the same time, it’s got a unique feel to it and manages to tell an original story. While the relationship between Jimmy and Tessa is the main narrative there is a wide cast of supporting characters and J.T. Michaels does a good job of balancing the action with the characters.

Parts of the story do feel like something you may have read before but there is enough of an original spin here to keep the reader interested. It would have been nice to have just a little more of the background of the war which ended a century ago. But I believe this could easily be expanded upon in future installments of the series.

There is also a well thought out magic system in use here that feels like a good blend of traditional ideas of magic with a bit of technology thrown in for good measure. And there are some unique creatures populating the landscape as well.

This definitely feels like a book with good series potential where the stakes and action can rise in the future.

If you like fast paced adventure books starring adolescents such as Harry Potter, Septimus Heap or Rick Riordan books you will enjoy Jimmy Chartron and the Lost Keystone.

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Book Review – The Scepter of Amon

The Scepter of Amon

Note: this review was first posted on Reedsy Discovery, an awesome website that pairs independent authors and readers. To see the post there, click here.

If you are a book reviewer and want to contribute reviews on Reedsy Discovery, click here.

(Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you purchase something through this post I will get a small commission at no extra cost to you)

SUMMARY

Kill the treasure-hoarding monster, find the ancient artifact, and deliver it to the wizard. Every adventurer knows the drill. But what if that adventurer is a troll?

The wizard has run out of heroes to send after the Scepter of Amon, so he picks Kevrin, a troll who desires to be human. He is powerful, resilient, and just a little bit scared of fire. A simple magical disguise allows Kevrin to interact with other humans, but can Kevrin fit in? He can’t read. He doesn’t understand sarcasm. And he has no idea what a scepter even looks like. But since the wizard promised to turn him into a human if he is successful, he has all the motivation in the world.

Can Kevrin trust his new friends if they find out what he really is? Can he trust the wizard? Will he find what he is really looking for? Or will he eat his horse the next time he gets too hungry?

The Scepter of Amon is told in a classic fantasy setting and is the first book in the Hero’s Path trilogy.

REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Most adventuring stories, and most adventurers have something in common. They go on a quest to kill a monster, get some treasure and come back for a reward. Kevrin has set out to do these things as well. But he’s no common adventurer. He may look human but he’s actually a troll, more comfortable eating raw meat from a fresh kill than dining on cooked steak, stronger than most men, and unsure of what a scepter looks like even though he knows he is supposed to bring one back. Kevrin never fit in with the other trolls and he wants more than anything to be human. If he can complete his quest he may just get his wish.

The Scepter of Amon is a fantasy adventure with pretty intriguing twist. What if the adventurer was a monster? The story puts a lot of the standard fantasy tropes on their heads and makes for a fun read. The adventure has a fair amount of action, a smattering of romance, and a bit of a murder mystery in it as well. Kevrin is most certainly a memorable character who lives in the readers heart long after the story has been read.

While the story itself is well written and full of adventure it would have been nice to see more female characters in the story. The woman who is in the story is well developed and doesn’t just belong in the background, it just would have been better if there were more female characters at all here.

This is the first book in a trilogy and it comes to a nice conclusion while still leaving the reader eager for the next installment.

If you play Dungeons & Dragons you will especially relate to this book. Even if you don’t but like fantasy adventure books like Lord of the Rings, The Crystal Shard or even the Discworld series you’re going to find something here you like. It’s definitely worth reading.

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I’m Writing a Book! Here’s How You Can Follow Along

Hello out there internet!

Let me get right to the point. You probably know me on this blog as Slick Dungeon but my real name is Adam Wright and I have a bit of news to share.

I’ve decided to take the big leap and write a book! It’s an epic fantasy book and I want all of you who read this blog to be able to jump into the action early. I’m still writing the first draft but if you want to read the first chapter as it is now, you can join me on ChapterBuzz. Just click on this link to check it out!

If you join my fan club, you’ll get access to some exclusives in the future such as a prequel chapter to the book, early notification of when it will be published, and any other cool stuff I can think of between now and then.

If you like books like The Wheel of Time series, Lord of the Rings or The Sword of Shannara series, I’m hoping you will like my book.

It’s called The Man of the Daggers. Here’s a little blurb about it.

Feran Stormweather is a dark mage. His family has held off the forces of the Army of Radiance for generations. After Feran sacrifices everything he holds dear to keep his people safe he must go into hiding and becomes known as The Man of the Daggers.

This is still the first draft of the book so plenty may change but I’d love for you to follow along as I go through the challenge of writing the book. I took on the 365 Day writing challenge on ChapterBuzz so I would have a deadline to hold myself accountable. I’m hoping some of you will choose to share in this journey with me and maybe even find you enjoy the story.

Also, if you do like it, feel free to share it, post it etc. to spread the word.

Again, you can read the first chapter already by clicking here and if you click on the ChapterBuzz image above you should be able to join my fan club there if you so choose.

Thanks as always for reading and if you do read any of my book I would love to know what you think.

Sincerely,

Adam Wright

Flash Fiction Friday – Radio Hour

Happy Friday everyone! I’m back with another Flash Fiction story for you. When I was a kid my dad used to tell me about listening to old radio shows. One of the most popular of those was a show called The Shadow. This story was inspired by listening to one of those episodes. After the story, I’ll also point you to a great YouTube channel where you can actually listen to old archives of these shows. Hope you like the story and let me know what you think in the comments!

Radio Hour – By Adam Wright

Agnes adjusted the knobs on the radio, sailing past the static, twisting and tuning until the sound came in clearly. The large wooden box was still new but she had gotten used to sitting next to it every evening while she knitted. She looked out the window and saw the stars were out, the moon hanging low in the sky.

There was an advertisement, something about what kind of coal to buy. It reminded her she needed to tend the fire so she poked at it a bit, letting the warmth grow. She settled back in her chair and picked up her knitting needles. 

A narrator began the program. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” 

Agnes picked up where she had left off, her long fingers moving deftly as what was once a ball of yarn grew into the beginnings of a scarf. She would need it for these cold nights when the fires grew low. 

On the program, the hero was some kind of hypnotist. Listening to the sounds coming through the airwaves she was able to picture everything that was happening. The sounds of a door closing, a phone ringing. The radio was a marvel. Like living inside a book. She didn’t mind the story was a little silly, she just wondered how they were able to make it seem so real.

Soon the hero was in a battle for the control of his own mind. A rival hypnotist nearly got the better of him but the hero won out in the end. She smiled to herself as the next program began. It was a dance program. You were supposed to find a partner and waltz right from the comfort of your own living room. Well, when she got herself a partner she might just try it. For now, she was content to listen.

She glanced out the window again but this time it wasn’t the stars she noticed. There was the shape of a man. He was standing in the hedges peering in. Agnes froze. The man moved closer to the window. Like the hero on the program before, Agnes was determined to keep her head about her. 

The man must not have seen Agnes because he started to slide the window open. She saw something in his hand. It was black and heavy. A gun. She waited until the man had crawled halfway inside the room. Before the man could react she moved forward, knitting needle in hand and jabbed at his eye. She hit it. The man looked at her with shock as he stumbled back out of the window. 

She knew she should have been afraid but she wasn’t. She phoned the police station to let them know about the intruder. When they caught the man they asked Agnes how she had kept her cool during the whole affair. Her answer was simple. “I know what evil lurks in the hearts of men.”

Want to Hear some Old fashioned Radio?

If you do, check out this YouTube channel called The Late Late Horror Show. They have a bunch of great stuff for late night listening.

The Shadow Knows on The Late Late Horror Show YouTube channel

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Flash Fiction Friday – The Fate of the World Rests in Your Hands

Happy April everyone! It’s the first of the month and a Flash Fiction Friday. I decided to play around with second person point of view for this one. Read to the end and let me know what you think in the comments!

The Fate of the World Rests in Your Hands – By Adam Wright

As you check your mail, you notice a letter and you stop in your tracks. Your armor jingles slightly as you move toward the table, the links clattering together. Looking down you notice the parchment on the tray is fresh and it appears to be written in the script of the King’s handwriting. His intricate seal holds the contents in place. It has been months since you were home and now, already, you are called to serve again.

You know you must answer this call. It could be anything from an invitation to dine with him, to an order to go back into the marshy fields, wading your way across miles of broken bodies, and leading more men to their doom. Before you pick up the letter you remove your helmet. Your gauntlets are removed by your trusty servant Roric. He moves to assist with the rest of your armor but you wave him off; this letter is too important to wait.

You tear open the seal, breaking through the wax depicting a lion holding a shield. The letter is long and a feeling of dread washes down your core, leaving you with beads of sweat trickling down your face. You think again of the restless nights, trying to defend against all enemies. You think of the cold nights you have spent, stirring at the slightest sound, always coiled to react in case your next action might become your last. You think of the stench of battles, the sound of steel clashing against steel, the sound of screams and pain. You think of all the crimson blood you have seen wash past your feet. You are not sure you can do this again.

You skim through the letter, past the initial greetings and compliments the King is so fond of using. Looking through the words you start to wonder if the King has gone mad. He is ordering you not only to take on another battle but to lead men into battles they are surely outmatched for. A thousand years and a million souls would not be enough to defeat the enemy. This is not a question of if men will die, but if any, at all, will survive.

The men you have been fighting, if indeed they can be called men, have an army so large that it cannot be numbered. Your spies have returned with reports they are performing rituals and acts that would summon creatures from the depths of Hell itself. The few spies who have returned have come back barely retaining their senses. Most of them have died by their own hand shortly after returning. And the King wants you to bring the fight to the enemy.

The letter tells you that you have one night to prepare. Only one. Your men need more rest. Immediately you start to think about who you should ask to fight with you and who you should let stay. You think of the men who might have come home to find themselves new fathers. The men who have returned to find a mother or father has passed while they were away. And of the men who are now so injured a return to battle is not possible for them. You decide how many of them you will let stay home. The answer is none.

This fight has been going on for as long as anyone can remember. It predates you and it predates your King. This effort might all be wasted. The battle will never cease. Yet the things you have seen give you pause. Creatures that could not be named, leaping from shadows, tearing with jagged claws and razor teeth. Shadows that looked like nothing more than simple darkness reaching out in physical form to wrap hands around throats until men were lifeless. You are asked to return to this. To stop this before it comes home to take your wife, your child, your mother and all those you care for. You know you must answer the call. You know you must put soldiers, warriors, mages, spies, even rogues and barbarians in harm’s way.

If anyone but your King had asked you to do this, you would refuse. Roric waits patiently for any reply you care to make. Initially you want to reply the King can damn himself to Hell. To tell him he should be the one to lead these men into battle. It should be his horse to travel all the miles you must be carried. You think of telling him what horrors will await him if he was to find his own courage and bring his own might into battle.

You give yourself a moment. You take a deep breath. You are about to craft your reply. Roric has a quill in his hand before you even ask for one. As you realize there is only one reply possible, you will fight the forces of darkness no matter the cost, a visitor approaches your door.

A woman in a forest green gown holds a paper in her hand.

“What is it?” you bellow.

“My Lord, a notice from Zack, er, His Grace the King, has arrived for you.” She gives a slight bow.

“I know, I have just read it. I am preparing my men as fast as I can, however the night is short and we are to march to battle soon.” You expect this reply to be enough and for the woman to leave. Yet she remains.

Dumbfounded, you stare at her. What could be so important she would interrupt your preparations? And the gall of this woman, addressing your very King by his first name as if he were some commoner. You wonder if she too might be a spy for the enemy. However, you wait patiently, for she must have some reason for being here. 

“Well, out with it. Why are you here?” you demand.

“Well, it’s like this Alex, er, I mean, my Lord. Zack, er, His Grace, the King, says we have to postpone.”

“Postpone? But he has just ordered me to attack. Why would we postpone? We don’t have much going for us but a renewed attack might be enough of an advantage to save us all. I was not overly fond of the plan at first, but it has its merits.” You wait for an answer.

“It’s just that the rain has come down so hard the road is washed out and now the state troopers are saying everyone in the area has to head home for shelter. Zack says we can reschedule, to say three weeks from now? The Live Action Role Play committee says we have to go due to safety concerns but we can call this one a draw since the allotted time hasn’t technically completed.”

You stare at the woman for a moment. You want to explain to her all that is at stake. All that is necessary to save the world from the forces of darkness. Just as you are about to refuse to leave, you realize you need to get your parking validated or you will be charged for an overnight stay even though it is only six in the evening. 

You decide the battle must wait for three weeks and plan to watch for an email from Zack… er, His Grace, the King to confirm the details.

Flash Fiction Fridays – The Letter

Welcome to Flash Fiction Friday! I hope you enjoy the story and feel free to let me know what you think in the comments!

The Letter – By Adam Wright

Jim Targus held the envelope pinched between his thumb and forefingers. He held it as far away from his face as his arms would reach. Even at that distance it was still easy to read the bold block letter typescript on the front.

THE BUREAU OF EXISTENTIAL AFFAIRS.

He had waited most of his twenty one years of life to receive this letter. Days spent dreaming and imagining what the future would be. The paper felt rough on his fingers. He took a deep breath, folded it up into neat fourths and stuck it into the back pocket of his jeans.

The sun was bright and Jim squinted as he looked down the street of his suburban neighborhood. No one seemed to be out but there were sprinklers spraying the lawns of a few houses. Cars wouldn’t be arriving home from workplaces for hours. Jim loved the quiet summer weekdays. He hummed softly to himself as he walked to Angela’s door. She’d want to know he had received it. They’d made a pact to share it if either one of them got it. Jim wondered if Angela had received hers yet. 

Her house was one of those newer models, the kind with the alarm that told the occupants who was at their door before they even arrived. It was all some complicated algorithm that predicted people’s movements. Jim had never quite grasped the science of it. The house was yellow with green trim. Angela and Jim agreed it was the worst color combination imaginable for a house. They had spent hours trying to convince her father to repaint. Jim smiled at the memory.

Even though everyone inside would know it was him, Jim went through the exercise of knocking on the door anyway. He supposed it was habit. They wouldn’t have minded if he just entered but Jim’s mother always insisted on manners.

Angela came out to the door and Jim, as always, was struck by her raven hair and dark brown eyes. Eyes the color of coffee with just the right amount of cream. Soft eyes. Caring eyes.

“Why hello, stranger.” Angela threw her arms around him as if they hadn’t seen each other yesterday.

Jim hugged her back and let her scent wash over him for the briefest of moments. Then he stepped back and gave her his best grin.

“Hiya, Angela, how ya doin’?” Jim gave her a mock salute and she saluted back with a laugh.

“Why, I’m fine, Jim. What brings you all the way out here to my neck of the street?”

Jim held up his left hand in a signal to wait and then with his right he pulled out the letter.

“Is that?”

“It is. Have you gotten yours? You remember our pact, now.” 

“How could I forget? I think we were five when we started that lemonade stand and you started telling me how you were going to get to go to outer space once you got your letter.”

“That we were. And I still remember how the lemonade took hours to wash out of my hair when I told you no girls were allowed on my spaceship. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we?”

Angela didn’t say anything. She just smiled and gave Jim a little punch in the arm.

“Did you get yours?” he asked.

“I’m afraid not. Are you going to open yours or are we waiting for mine?”

“Well, I’m not sure. Do you want to be the first person to see what a famous outer space explorer I’m gonna make? Or should we wait and be the first couple to be accepted to the program at the exact same time?”

“The Bureau’s pretty strict about these sorts of things. You’re supposed to open it the instant you get it. You know that. I hope you haven’t jeopardized your chances.”

“Okay fine, I just wanted you to be here for the big reveal. You know, I’d be lost without you. All those years studying together. What a lunkhead I would be without you.”

Angela rolled her eyes. She looked pointedly at the envelope.

“Alright, alright, hold your horses.”

Jim tore across the top of the envelope, ripping the paper in jagged lines. He pulled out the folded piece of paper inside. As he was about to unfold it and read it, Angela touched his hand. She looked at him with those coffee brown eyes. Jim could feel alive inside those eyes. He could live forever as long as she looked at him.

“Wait there a second. Let me go get something first, okay? Promise me you won’t read it without me?” she asked.

“Whatever you say, sweetheart.” Jim gave another mock salute. 

Angela disappeared into the house. Jim heard her footsteps pad up the stairway. The paper felt heavy in his hands. Surely, it would be fine to open it. Angela would never know he had read it without her. What was the harm? The rules were supposed to be strict but how would they know when he read his?

Jim read the words.

We regret to inform you that your existence is not essential. You will be erased from this existence shortly. Please stand by.

The truth hit Jim’s mind like a thunderclap. He was not needed. For anything. There would be no Angela, no outer space. Just nothing. He watched as his hands began to fade away, the paper dropping from his fingers and fluttering to the ground.

As Angela came to the door, clutching her letter, she burst outside. She knew she had wanted to show the letter to someone. She was proud of the proclamation on it.

You have been deemed essential and will be allowed to pursue your desired career of space exploration. Congratulations.

She looked outside but there was no one standing there. Why had she come out here? She looked down and saw a piece of paper fluttering in the wind. It looked like a letter.

“Is anyone out here?” she asked.

No answer came.