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David Richards, Copyright 1998


APRIL, 1990

"I guess I’d better get up." Mike said, brushing the hair away from her neck and giving her a nuzzle. "It’s getting late."

"Do you have to? I’m too comfortable. Can’t you just skip it today?" Deb pouted, latching onto one of his arms.

He nuzzled some more, breathing in the scent of her, and chuckled. "Sorry dear, but I can’t cut corners when it comes to my body...or yours, if I remember last night correctly."

Deb sighed loudly, feigning grief. "If only you could meet your own expectations," she said, reaching around and pinching his thigh. "Oh well, a woman can hope."

"Eh-hem, I distinctly remember not one, but two..."

"All right, all right, go jog yourself before your ego pushes me out of bed. I guess I’ll have coffee waiting when you get back."

"You are a sweetheart, but you won’t have to get up and have coffee waiting for me for the rest of our lives."

"What makes you think that I won’t be up anyway?"

"You still want to work after we’re married? I’ll be making more than enough."

"You know I want to keep working. When the kids start coming, then I’ll think about quitting."

"If you insist. Maybe I’ll be making coffee for you for the rest of our lives."

"Save all that ‘rest of our lives’ stuff for our honeymoon. We’re not married yet." she retorted with a mischievous grin.

"Don’t tease me like that, baby!" he pleaded, doing his best Elvis impression, "It’s only two months away!"

"Well, you know, I’ve been thinking..."

"Hey hey, it was hard enough waiting for the engagement to make love with you. Don’t tease me now when I’ve got it so good."

"I knew it would come out sooner or later. You just want me for my body."

"You know I love you," he said, kissing her cheek.

She turned and transferred the kiss to her lips. "I know. And I love you too. But as I recall, it was you who first brought up the subject of waiting, even though you wouldn’t have gotten me if you had tried. I guess that’s the price to pay for being God-fearing Christians. At least it was worth the wait."

"Now who’s goosing my ego?" he asked, untangling himself and climbing out of bed.

"Nice buns."

"Naughty, naughty," he chided, stretching luxuriously and padding into the bathroom.

He studied himself briefly in the mirror, rooting around for anything new or unusual. A young, almost boyish face gazed back with brilliant blue eyes, the eyes being his most striking feature. Many a heart had been melted with those eyes.

Being twenty-five with the face of a nineteen year-old has its good and bad side. The good side was obvious, as he would probably always look young. The bad side was that he got carded buying candy. He chuckled and finished inspecting his teeth.

He was five feet eight, slim and well muscled. He jogged three or four days a week and on the days he didn’t jog; he lifted weights. He did so for endurance, not bulk, so he looked a bit sinewy. A nice vee and broad shoulders kept him from being skinny.

His body hair was sparse, a good thing because Deb liked it that way. Even though he worked hard to keep his physique, he said a silent prayer of thanks. Besides his health he had everything else a man could be happy for. He had made Head Programmer in less than a year. Granted, it was a small company and luck had much to do with it, but he worked hard and systems analyst was only a year or two away at his present pace. He also took every night course he could find that had something to offer.

Last but not least, he had the woman of his dreams about to marry him. He smiled as he remembered how Deb had changed his opinion of what the perfect woman should be.

Deb was pretty in a plain sort of way, not the voluptuous beauty he had always wanted. Her body was similar, somewhat plain but in good shape. She too worked hard to tone her figure, though in the afternoons, not in the mornings with him. What she lacked in all-out sex appeal she more than made up for by being the funniest, smartest, most affectionate and level-headed woman he had ever met. He had even quickly grown accustomed to her sometimes overwrought feminism. Most of all, she loved him.

He looked down from the mirror, leaned his hands against the counter, and prayed. He loved to pray. Anyone who is, or claims to be, a Christian will tell you that they enjoy prayer; but he really did. He honestly believed that every word was heard, and he enjoyed the sense of peace it gave him. His faith had made life’s occasional hardships easier to take, especially when his parents had been killed.

He finished, being sure to give thanks. To him, saying ‘thank you’ was the most important part. Without his faith, he could never have had a life with such promise.

He stepped into the shower stall and closed the door behind him. Taking a deep breath, he grabbed the cold water faucet and twisted it on. Frigid water blasted onto his face and chest, making him gasp. He did his best not to yell as he was thoroughly soaked. He turned the water off and stepped out, shivering, and grabbed a towel.

"Why do you do that to yourself?" Deb asked from the bed. "One of these days you’re going to give yourself a heart attack."

"Never happen. I include a request that it not kill me in my morning prayer."

"You gonna with me?" she asked as Mike grabbed his jogging clothes from the suitcase.

"I’ll be glad to when I get back. Do you think you can wait, or is there some terrible crime you need to confess in case you suddenly drop dead?" Mike asked with a grin, grabbing yesterday’s socks from beside the bed.

"I’ll wait. Yuck! For the billionth time, will you use clean socks? You’re going to get athlete’s foot."

"I told you before sweetheart, woman of my dreams, love of my life, goddess of my desire, that I’m only wearing them to jog in. I’ll take a real shower when I get back and put on clean socks. That way I don’t dirty a pair just jogging."

"Bull. You only do it so you run out of socks one day later and therefore can put off doing your laundry. Typical bachelor scum. How will I cope?"

"By doing the laundry."

His reward for that was a pillow in the face. He threw it back and poked her rib, sending her twisting across the bed. He finished dressing and stood. "I’ll be back in a few."

"Have fun."

He stood on the back porch and breathed in the cool morning air. Deb’s house was the last on her street and the back yard ended in a wall of trees. The forest beyond was the perfect place to jog. The trail within was fairly smooth and wound up, down, and around the woods for about five miles before returning to its starting point. Not far in it followed a healthy stream for about a quarter of a mile, and a nearby quarry made the scenery interesting.

He walked across the yard, stretching intermittently along the way. He followed the little trail from her yard to where it intersected the main one. After a few final stretches he started. Keeping his breathing deep and regular, he settled into his usual rhythm.

The trail descended gradually toward the stream bed, following the uneven terrain. He stopped at the stream and scooped up a few swallows. As he continued along the stream, he thought of a song he had just finished writing. Computers were his career, but music was his passion. He figured that writing rock music was okay as long as he kept his lyrics reasonably clean; a hard thing to do as he suffered from an insistently dirty mind.

He had sold a couple of songs to a major label and they were now seeing duty on some band’s album. He had gotten the songs to the right person completely by accident - another one of his life’s fortunate turns - but he took good luck where he could find it. He had high hopes for his latest batch.

For fun he liked to listen to a song a few times and then write it. His friends had called "Mozart" in college, and he had secretly hated that. He wasn’t the same at all. Mozart had composed from scratch. Mike just had a good memory and an ear for music. It would take him a few hours to learn a song, playing it out on one of his guitars or a piano. Eventually, he would get it right. Rock songs were fairly easy to learn. He didn’t feel that he was able to do anything special.

Before they were killed in a car accident, his parents had tried to help him realize his musical potential. They had sent him to numerous classes, where he had always done well; but when his inheritance was accessed to put him through college, he had concentrated on higher math and computers. He was simply too practical a man to risk a career in entertainment. Music had remained an intensive hobby.

As he jogged sparks suddenly appeared in his vision. He blinked a few times, assuming something had blown into his eyes. Strangely, they didn’t hurt or water.

"What’s going on?" he thought aloud as he slowed, planning to rest a few moments. He never made it to a halt. As he slowed, his focus shifted. With a feeling of sudden panic, he saw that the sparks were not in his vision but in the air in front of him. Before he could overcome his momentum, he was upon them.

His whole body went instantly numb. He was yanked from his feet and suspended about three feet above the trail. Bright lights of red, blue, and yellow crackled around him. The forest shimmered as if great heat was radiating from the ground.

"What the hell?" he gasped, succumbing to his greatest vice - foul language - and waving his arms in an attempt to steady himself. Then his nerves came alive. Waves of agony flowed up and down the length of his body. He screamed as he felt himself being twisted this way and that by some invisible force.

As quickly as it had begun, the pain ceased. He was still being jostled about and the lights still flashed around him. He panted heavily and began to feel nauseous.

Then the pain returned tenfold, beginning at his feet and climbing his legs. He screamed again, thrashing against the invisible bonds that held him. Muscle and tendon stood out in bold relief as he struggled, gasping and yelping. The pain was now half-way up his thighs and still climbing, clawing mercilessly at his nerves. His throat was raw, but he couldn’t stop screaming. He managed to raise his head enough to look down at the source of his torment.

Dear God save me!

The pain had reached the middle of his stomach. From that point down, his body was not just numb, but gone. The trail was clearly visible where his legs should be. As he watched in horror, the opaque black halo marking his body’s boundary reached his upper chest, the pain moving with it. He screamed repeatedly for help. As the black halo closed over his head, he felt pain like he never imagined.

Again the pain suddenly stopped. His ears rang loudly as he bounced around just above the ground. He waited for the pain to return, wondering what was happening to him.

With a suddenness that was almost jolting, the lights disappeared and he fell onto the trail with a thud. The forest had stopped shimmering, and he lay there exhausted. His throat ached and his body tingled from head to foot. Here and there a muscle twitched. He panted heavily, hurting his overworked throat, but didn’t care at first; then eventually forced himself to breathe through his nose.

He felt unbearably hot. Moving slowly, he fumbled for the bottom of his t-shirt, fighting off a dizzy spell at the same time. He began working it along his torso, his arms twitching violently. He finally worked it over his head, letting his arms flop to the ground. His head throbbed painfully. Man, I am messed up, he thought.

The exertion proved to strenuous for his exhausted nervous system. Another bout of dizziness hit him like a wall and he passed out.