Message

Message

Fifteen Minute Reads (Or Less)

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I put my hand against the bark. It was warm, like it remembered.

Well, maybe it did.

I was surprised the tree was still alive. After all, I was certain it had been an awfully long time, because nothing here looked, sounded or felt familiar. Something had been unleashed upon the world, a force dark and violent and destructive, and it had warped the terrain into something unrecognizable, almost alien.

Yet in the midst of the wilderness stood this strange tree – strong, tall and beautiful, the only visible living thing for miles around. I could see why it had become the stuff of legend, the people of this age calling it the World Tree.

My fingers found indentations on the bark that felt too geometric to be natural, and I leaned in for a closer look. What I saw took my breath away.

They were numbers.

At first I couldn’t…

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Rendezvous

Rendezvous

Fifteen Minute Reads (Or Less)

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The last thing Nora imagined to find on the rooftop of their office at nearly midnight was a cute guy.

She’d suspected all along that Luella was some kind of weirdo (although an annoyingly pretty one) with her strange habits and inexplicable contradictions, but she didn’t expect her to be scandalous. Yet there she was with some guy, secretly meeting on a foggy night like star-crossed lovers.

Nora pressed herself up against the nearest wall just as he said, “I came as soon as I could.” She was pretty sure they were hugging, and she felt another pang of envy. For all of Luella’s faults, everyone seemed to like her just fine.

“I called Eli, but they’ve cancelled all flights,” the stranger continued. “We’ll have to do it ourselves.”

His last words suddenly made Nora nervous. So this wasn’t a date?

Even Luella sounded anxious. “Jonas, you know I’ve never…

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Bottomless

Bottomless

Fifteen Minute Reads (Or Less)

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“Are we there yet?”

Nora had been thinking of the exact same thing, but she didn’t give herself permission to voice it out. They’d been walking for what felt like hours, down a staircase that spiraled into oblivion, and she had no intention of admitting that she was as frightened as hell. Not when she was the outsider in the group and the weakest link in the chain.

“I don’t recall you being claustrophobic, Eli,” Luella said, but good-naturedly.

Eli huffed in indignation. “I’m not. But I’m sweating like a pig, and all this sweat is ruining my makeup. I need a retouch, pronto.”

Luella laughed, and she seemed genuinely amused because it was loud and contagious. Loud enough to echo through the cavern, contagious enough to make even Jonas smile.

Jonas caught Nora looking at him, and turned his head to meet her gaze. She realized a…

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In Plain Sight

In Plain Sight

Fifteen Minute Reads (Or Less)

Luella’s resumé was a minimalist one-pager. It looked almost sad. “What do you think?” she prompted, looking expectantly at Jonas.

He was frowning. “How are you going to get yourself hired with credentials like this?” He pointed to the space between the Education and Character References sections, which only contained a horizontal line.

“Pleasing personality. And I’m good at doing what I’m told.”

“Is this seriously scented?” Eli asked, sniffing his copy.

Luella’s smile never left her face. “Took a page from Legally Blonde.”

Only Ruvie seemed to look convinced, nodding in satisfaction. “I like it. No one’s going to care about the average pretty-faced girl with no ambition.” She grinned. “Talk about hiding in plain sight.”

“Just be careful you don’t let your smarts show, girl,” Eli reminded. “If the boys find out you’re really from MIT, they’ll get seriously discouraged.”

Luella’s expression turned serious. “You know what’s…

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Exhibit

Exhibit

Fifteen Minute Reads (Or Less)

Art appreciation had never been Jonas’ thing, but he lingered by the giant graffiti wall with interest. It was bright and loud and abstract and untraditional, sticking out in a room filled with polite paintings in golden rectangular frames.

Also, it was unfinished; a burst of color, and then white nothingness.

Like me, he thought, lips pursed together in silent contemplation. He, too, stood out in a crowd. Not just because of his soldier’s frame, but also his upbringing, and the reality that he was a man who could never really be whole.

Please tell me you actually like this,” Luella said, stepping up beside him, her hands casually tucked into the pockets of her jacket. Coming up behind her was Eli, her rather flamboyant friend and the artist responsible for the enigmatic piece of art on display.

“I’m going to take your silence as a compliment, so please…

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Errand

Errand

Fifteen Minute Reads (Or Less)

“Aren’t you scared?”

She glanced at the boy beside her; he was so small, but his eyes were sharp. Untainted, yet unafraid. She, all the more, had no reason to be. “It’s okay. She’s my friend.”

His expression was curious. “Friend?” Jonas asked tentatively, as if trying out the word for the very first time.

Luella nodded, her gaze on the path ahead. Something – or someone – was out there, just behind the veil of mist. “She’s not gonna hurt us,” she said with the certainty of a seven-year-old.

He seemed to sense the presence, too, for he suddenly tensed, and instinctively put his hand inside his jacket. He was only eleven, but he’d been forcibly trained as a soldier of the mountains; his fight-or-flight instincts were kicking in.

But Luella remained impassive. If she was breathing hard, it was only because of the hike, and not out of…

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