Win $1000 Grand Prize and $20 monthly in short story competition

Extaordinaryreads Short Story Competition. Win $1000 and $20 per month

Entry Rules

  • Entries must be written in English.
  • Entries should be between 500 – 5000 words long.
  • Entries must be suitable for a family-friendly audience, so, they should not include excessive violence or graphically sexual content. If the piece is only suitable for adult eyes the work must include an over eighteen rating, and as such may be disqualified, based on the level of adult content.
  • Entries may be of any genre.
  • Winning entries will be selected by popularity. The story with the highest rating and number of votes, wins. If there is a tie the web mistress, Susan Hern, will choose the winner between the entrants.
  • All announced results must be considered final, and no correspondence will be entered into.
  • Entrants must be older than thirteen.
  • There is no entry fee, but those entries, which include the code published in the website’s magazine ‘The Fresh Voice’, which is on sale at the links below for $0.99, will receive much higher prize payouts.
    Prizes are as follows
    1. First place, $800 if the entry is accompanied by the competition code to be found in The Fresh Voice Magazine(amazon or Smashwords $0.99 or get a free copy by signing up for extaordinaryreads’ newsletter ), $100 if it is not.
    2. Second place $150 if accompanied by magazine code, $10 if it is not.
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    4. Fourth, fifth and sixth places: entries will be published, along with the other winners, in an anthology. The entrants will receive 80% (after retailer’s commission) of all sales from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, Goodreads, Scribd, iTunes and various other digital retail book platforms. The book will also be published in paper back, for distribution to the American market, by Create Space. The publishing contract will include, proofreading, editing, book formatting, cover art and advertising and distribution.
    5. All winners receive the publishing package described above.
    6. One winning story will be published in the magazine ‘The Fresh Voice’, monthly.
    7. The competition is open from the 29th of April 2014, and runs until, 29th of April 2015(or until at least 1000 entries have been received). Monthly, winners will also be selected by the voters, and those winners will receive a $20 Amazon book voucher monthly
    8. A list of winners will be published on Our Newsletter page and in the magazine ‘The Fresh Voice’, monthly.
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  • Winners will be notified by email.
  • The magazine prize enhancement code may be added to entries at any time during the first month of publication, and does not have to be included on upload
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30 Days No Gossip Blog Tour



Can a middle school gossip queen change her ways, or will she lose her BFF for good? Find out in this M!X original novel.

Maddie Evans prides herself on being the gossip queen of Troy Middle School. She is the first person her classmates go to when they need the latest news on the ins-and-outs of TMS—and Maddie never disappoints.

Her best friend since birth, Vi, isn’t crazy about Maddie’s penchant for passing on rumors, but it’s never been an issue in their friendship. Until the day Maddie lets slip who Vi is crushing on—in front of her crush.

Vi is furious, and she confronts Maddie with an ultimatum: no gossip for 30 days, or twelve years of sisterhood goes down the drain.

Biography Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris knew she wanted to be an author from a very young age. In fact, her mother often told her to stop reading so much and go outside and play with the other kids. After graduating from Middle Tennessee State University she somehow found herself working in information technology. But she never stopped writing. When she isn’t crafting fiction, Stephanie is indulging her gadget geek side by writing for online technology sites. She lives in Nashville with her husband.



The key to being a good gossip is timing. You have to get the story before anyone else and tell everyone you can before it becomes news.

I’m always the girl who knows first. As editor of The Troy Tattler, Troy Middle School’s unofficial gossip newsletter, I consider it my job. I get the scoop, write it up, and hand it out in front of the cafeteria before school. My BFF Vi—short for Vivienne—thinks I’m just asking for trouble. She prefers to stay to herself. But I can’t help but notice she always sticks around whenever I have news to report.

“Kelsey is mad,” I said at lunch. Sydney and Jessica were hanging on my every word. Vi was spooning applesauce into her mouth while pretending not to listen. “Kelsey told Emma in secret that she likes Aiden, but now everyone knows.”

“Wait,” Jessica said, setting down her roll. It landed on her tray with a thunk. “Who likes Aiden?”

“Emma,” Sydney interjected. She rolled her eyes and turned back to me. “Go on.”

“Actually, Kelsey likes Aiden,” I continued. “Emma told everyone. That’s why Kelsey’s mad.”

I didn’t add the words ‘keep up’ because that would be rude, but sheesh. Did I have to draw a road map for these people?
Ooh, what a great idea! I grabbed my pen, opened my notebook and hastily jotted an idea for a cute drawing in the next issue of The Troy Tattler. Maybe it could even become a regular thing. A gossip cycle. I could draw arrows and cartoon stick people to illustrate the whole ‘Kelsey likes Aiden who likes Sarah who likes Trevor’ thing. I wasn’t a very good artist so I might need to get someone to help—


That was Sydney, calling me back to earth. I slapped my notebook shut, set my pen on top, and turned my attention back to my tuna sandwich. We were only allowed thirty-five minutes for lunch so I had to make it count. That meant I had to squeeze at least one piece of gossip in between each bite of sandwich.

Today I’d have to take smaller bites.

“So what’s the deal with the field trip?” Sydney prompted.

Oh, that. I chewed as quickly as I could and swallowed. I needed a drink of water but I had to get this one little piece of info out first.

“It’s still on, but Kelsey’s sitting at the back of the bus.”

Vi shook her head. I saw it out of the corner of my eye. She had to do that, though. It was her job. I gossiped and she played the disapproving best friend. It had been like that since elementary school.

That, in a nutshell, was why Vi and I were so good together. Our moms were in the same room at the hospital when we were being born and we ended up in bassinets next to each other in the nursery. I guess the whole thing bonded our moms to each other because they became BFFs in the way moms become BFFs, which basically means they get together every weekend and talk about mom stuff while telling us to go outside and play so we can’t hear what they’re saying.

Anyway, Vi and I ended up being like sisters. So even though she’s quiet and shy and not at all into being part of the whole gossip thing, she’s still the best friend I’ve ever had. Besides, being friends with me means she gets to hear everything that’s going on before anyone else.

“How on earth do you find out all this stuff?” Jessica asked. I could hear the awe in her voice.

I shrugged. “I’m good” was all I said. That’s all they needed to know.

The truth was, all I did was listen. You’d be amazed what you can find out just by watching and listening. Most of the time, people were surprisingly unguarded about what they said, especially when they were upset. I could stand at my locker and overhear six juicy conversations without even trying.

“So,” Vi broke in, drawing everyone’s attention to her end of the table. “Is everyone ready for the math midterm?”

Midterms. The very subject I didn’t want to talk about right now. It was the biggest exam so far that year and I’d done my best to study. But I’d also been working on the Tattler, which meant splitting my attention between studying and writing gossip. So, the answer was no. I wasn’t ready.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Sydney said. “I want to know what Kelsey thinks sitting at the back of the bus on the way to Four Cedars Park will do. Aiden will be in the front with Sarah—”

“And Emma,” I broke in to say.

“But Aiden likes Sarah,” Sydney corrected.

“Sarah’s taken.”

Vi was the one who said that. We all turned to look at her.

She sighed and set her sandwich down. “Sarah’s going out with Trevor Finn.” She looked at me. “Remember?”

Of course, I remembered. It was the first piece of gossip I’d delivered to the school at large. It was the very thing that had given me the ‘queen of gossip’ title for which I was now unofficially known.

I’d found out about Sarah and Trevor the same way I found out about everything: I paid attention. It was at the spring social, where everyone was more interested in what kind of ice cream was being handed out than what was going on in the bleachers just a few feet away. But I was watching.

Toward the back of the bleachers, I saw Sarah and Trevor talking and holding hands when they thought no one was looking. By the next morning, thanks to me, Sarah Dooley and Trevor Finn were officially a couple.

I consider it a favor, really.

“Can we get back to the exam?” Vi asked, even though she had to know none of us would want to talk about math when the subject of Trevor Finn, the number one cutest guy in seventh grade, was so much more interesting.

“I say we get on the bus before Trevor does and get a seat near him,” Jessica suggested.

“How can we do that?” Sydney asked. “He’s not on there yet, so we won’t know where he’ll sit. Right?”

She looked at me for that last word. I should have an answer for that. They’d expect me to know some dirt on Trevor at this point. I didn’t have anything on him. I made a mental note to try to catch up with him after fifth period to see if I could overhear anything.

“Easy,” Vi said.

Again, we all turned to look at her. She was chattier than usual today. I figured this time she’d start talking about math again.

“Maddie and I have been riding the bus with him since first grade,” Vi began, frowning at her sandwich before setting it down, folding her hands in front of her, and looking at us. “Based on his past behavior, he’ll sit in the front two rows. We’ll be safe by staying in the third row. The second row would be too far forward.”

See? Math.

After a long, awkward silence, Jessica took a deep breath and continued. “So what’s the deal with Travis Fisher?”

That loud gulp we all heard came from Vi’s direction. Jess and Syd turned to look at her, but I kept my gaze firmly planted on the two of them. They weren’t supposed to know Vi liked Travis. It was the one secret I’d been pinky-sworn to since third grade, when he’d rescued her lunch sack from the hands of a couple of bullies and become her real-life superhero. I had a feeling Jessica and Sydney had figured it out, though. The way Vi was always staring at him all moony-eyed when he passed, they’d have to be blind not to have noticed.

“I don’t know anything about Travis Fisher.”

They both turned and looked at me. Hey, at least I’d taken their attention from Vi. Now I had to scramble to come up with something else to say.

“I heard he might be kicked off the football team.” Jessica shrugged. “He has to pick his grades up in history or he’s…”

“History,” Sydney added. They both giggled.

I glanced over at Vi. She was good at disguising what she was thinking, which was completely the opposite of me.

People could read my thoughts right on my face. Kimberly Browning had told me that about Travis in first period, but I’d been keeping it to myself. My goal had been to tell Vi at the right time, but I guess it was too late now. Jessica and Sydney had delivered the bad news in their own cutesy way.

At the end of lunch, Jessica and Sydney took off ahead of us out of the cafeteria, giving me a few much-needed minutes alone with Vi. I had to get a feel for how she was feeling before I rushed off to my next class, otherwise it would be bugging me for the next hour.

“You okay?” I asked as we tossed our trash into the nearby garbage and wove our way through the exiting crowd.

She broke out into a smile and nodded.

I stopped walking and turned to stare at her. “Wait, you’re happy?”

She nodded again, this time even more enthusiastically. Maybe there was some other piece of news I’d missed. I waited for her to clarify. In typical Vi style, though, she just kept walking with that big cheesecake-eating grin on her face. I’d have to dig it out of her.

I chased after her, following her through the cafeteria doors and out into the hallway. If there was one thing I could do well, it was dig information out of people. But Vi wasn’t like ordinary people. Vi was secretive.

All the way to her locker, I tried to get it out of her. She was still smiling, but not talking. I tried guessing, begging, and reminding her that I was her best friend in the whole wide world. Finally it became clear. I’d have to go for bribery.

“Fine,” I snapped, crossing my arms over my chest and leaning against the locker next to hers. “I’ll help you with your room.”

I knew that would do it. Vi lit up. She turned and looked at me, her eyes all sparkly.

“Really? You’d do that?”

She seemed to realize what she’d have to do to get me to do that and deflated a little. Not completely, though.

Decorating was important to Vi. You could say it was her hobby, like The Troy Tattler is my hobby. She somehow turned decorating into smart stuff, though, carefully calculating every square inch of her bedroom and drawing exactly what she’d be doing with that inch. It meant so much to Vi, helping her with her room would be like her writing a column for the Tattler.

I felt a little stab of guilt that I was only offering to help Vi to get some info out of her. But, seriously. We’re talking weeks of listing to words like “geometric design” and “optimized space.” Compared to other people, I was average, but compared to Vi and her ten-ton brain, I was completely clueless.

“Okay,” she agreed. “I’ll tell you. But you can’t tell anyone.”

There was a reason Vi said things like that. One of the downfalls of being the gossip queen of Troy Middle School was that sometimes I got the feeling people didn’t want to tell me things. Actually, it wasn’t even a feeling. People stopped talking when they saw me walking by and even my friends—the people who were supposed to trust me more than anything—would start to say something, look at me, and clamp their mouths shut.

Which is why I had to be extra-good at eavesdropping.

“I don’t tell anyone anything you tell me,” I told Vi. That wasn’t entirely true and she knew it. I just hoped she wouldn’t point out the time I let it slip that she still slept with her childhood teddy bear in front of everyone in gym class.

Luckily, she was too caught up in her excitement to worry about that. She closed her locker and leaned in close to tell me her secret.

“I figure it’s like this.” Vi‘s voice was barely above a whisper. “Travis is off the football team, right?”

I nodded, even though we weren’t sure about that. Sometimes you just had to go with a rumor.

“If he’s off the team, I might have a chance,” Vi said. From the look on my face, she probably got that I wasn’t following. “He might like me back.”

I looked around. The halls were crowded, reminding me just how hard it was to stand out around here. It didn’t help that Vi was so shy. She barely talked to anyone but me. Any friends I had became friends of hers, too.

There was no way Travis would just start noticing her, even if he was off the football team.

Which was silly, because Vi was pretty. Even a popular guy like Travis Fisher would like her. If only he knew she existed.
It was like a light bulb went off inside my head. That was my job. As her friend, it was my duty to get through to Travis for her.

I knew she’d freak out if I told her I planned to say something. But I could already imagine the look on her face when I told her he liked her too. At that point, she’d forgive me for giving her secret away.


  • Tell us a little about 30 Days of No Gossip. What makes Maddie’s story so special?
  • I think gossip is a topic we all grapple with, no matter how old we are. We think it’s something that will end once we reach adulthood, but then we find ourselves gathered around the water cooler at the office, talking about our co-workers or last night’s episode of our favorite reality show.

  • Do you think reading 30 Days will cause young girls to stop and think about what they’re saying about others?

  • I do. During the course of the book, Maddie is forced to face some harsh realities about the things she says about other people–and why she says them. When she has information no one else has, people like her. It makes her more popular. But her best friend gives her a real reality check about the things she’s saying about other people.

  • What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

  • After nearly two decades of writing books and trying to get them published, I think I’ve become the poster child for perseverance! Every writer’s journey is different, so I think it’s important for a writer to follow her own heart and try not to pay too much attention to what other writers are doing. But it’s also important to keep trying, no matter how many rejections pile up or how many editors and agents say, “no.” It just takes one “yes!”

  • What advice do you give young readers who want to write someday?

  • Read, read, read. I know every writer says that, but it couldn’t be more true. I’d tell adult authors the same thing! The more we read, the more we are able to learn the basic elements of a story. When you combine avid reading with daily writing, eventually the process of creating a novel becomes to feel natural.

  • Did you know you wanted to be a writer from a young age?

  • I always wanted to become a writer, but I wasn’t sure I had the talent. Like acting, singing, or painting, natural talent is part of it. You can hone that talent by working hard, but it’s important that the natural ability be there. Looking back, though, I was spending more time reading than doing anything else when I was in elementary school. I also began writing poetry when I was twelve. It was bad poetry, but I can look back now and see the passion behind the words I was writing.

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Excerpt and biography: Michelle Muckley author extraordinaire

20131009-035724.jpgShort Biography.
I was born in the town of Warwick in 1981. It is a small historical town in the heart of England, and I was the fifth child born into a family of boys. I developed a huge interest in the written world from a young age, and with more than a little help from Roald Dahl found quite the taste for anything gross and gory. Home now is Limassol, a city on the southern Mediterranean shores of Cyprus. Winters are spent in the mountains, summers are spent at the beach, and pretty much all hours between are sat at a computer where I am writing the next novel, or reading somebody else’s.

Chapter Seven.

BEN HAD NEVER BEEN TO Seventy Fourth Street before, or the park behind it. He had heard of it because he knew that from this road led another small road, a dead end that led to nowhere. At the far end of the road sat a regal building which had been standing for over two hundred years. Its beauty was celebrated, especially at night when the rows of purple blooming Paulownias were illuminated and romanticised by the delicate light of the ancient street lamps. The building once stood as a palatial home of a local aristocrat, who alongside his own home had built a series of coach houses where his servants lived. These coach houses lined a small road that arose from Seventy Fourth Street and now did nothing more than guild the walkway to the square and hide its beauty away from the rest of the city like a beautiful but veiled face, there but unseen. This place of beauty had been left to its own devices, and much like love, after a period without care, attention, or somebody to nurture it, became less than precious and eventually forgotten until it was past the point of recovery. History would regale how this road was purpose built to carry horse drawn coaches many years before the advent of the car, but which now carried only feet towards a crumbling backdrop of long lost decadence. He didn’t much care for being here, and couldn’t for the life of him think why Ami would arrange to meet him in this place. The thought that this dead end could in fact be a trap rose poisonously in his mind like air pockets escaping from a stagnant quagmire, inserting doubt upon pre-existing doubt, cairns set to lead him in the wrong direction. He acknowledged this brief moment of hesitation, but found himself accepting the fact that he had no other option, and so despite his fears steeled himself for the moments ahead.

He turned from Seventy Fourth Street and into the narrow lane. Above him were rows of poorly constructed coach houses, abandoned and no longer in use. Newspapers dating from over twenty years ago had been pasted to the windows in several layers, the deepest of which were peeling and yellow from the heat of the sun and ground with dust and grime. Before him stood the beautiful regal building, decorated with ornate iron balustrades covering the base of the long oversized windows. Underneath the Paulownias there were a series of benches that sat empty and looked rickety and partly rotten. As he approached, he saw that the park opened out to the left and to the right forming a T shape with the narrow lane that led up to it. On his first look he couldn’t see anybody. He was stood beneath the trees, heavily laden with buds that looked set to burst into bloom as the temperature would surely rise next month, coaxing them out. There was no wind here, and it felt immediately warmer surrounded by the height of the buildings proudly standing tall, unashamed of their atrophy and disrepair. He was suddenly hit by an overwhelming desire to bring Hannah here, and to sit with her on the benches beneath the blossoming trees. In his vision they wouldn’t speak, only sit together, needing nothing more than each other’s company and the sight of Matthew playing at their feet. In his visions Matthew remained an eternal toddler, short of words and rich in love and awe for his father. It was only as he saw Matthew in his mind’s eye today, that he realised his reflections were always from the past, every vision born of a time before Bionics.

He was snatched back into reality as he heard Ami whisper his name. As he turned to the direction of the voice he saw her stood in the corner of the square. She was tucked into the shadow of the great building, and she motioned for him to sit. He sat as instructed onto the bench which was facing away from her, but he turned and gripped the panels of brittle and splintered wood in anticipation of her approach, his eyes never once leaving her face.

Ami waited hesitantly for a moment, seconds ticking by at a pace which felt as if time had become stationary, until she eventually took her first steps towards him. He could see her indecision in her cautious steps and in the way that her eyes darted left and right, occasionally looking back over her shoulder. For a moment Ben was sure that he had seen a man dart back into the shadows of the building behind Ami, but as she approached he soon found himself completely focussed on her presence, remembering why he was here and forgetting anything else. Just before she sat down next to him she took a deep and fortifying breath, and he wondered why it was that she looked so fitful and apprehensive. He followed her with his eyes, and as she sat he turned to face her. His leg and arm muscles were braced and ready to run like a watched gazelle in the African bush, aware he was being watched but still anxiously waiting, fearful that any quick and sudden departure could render him vulnerable and exposed.

Her long casual hair that he had admired on so many occasions was wrapped neatly into a bun behind her head, and she was wearing a long Macintosh that swung freely and draped open as she sat. For the first time that he could remember she was wearing trousers. She appeared different from his memory, beautiful still, but rather than the softly painted vision that he kept close in his mind, it was a harder edged reality in which she appeared sharply focused and dangerous.

“Ben, there isn’t much time. You have to listen to me carefully.”

“Hang on Ami.” This was his first chance to try to find out what the hell was going on, and if there wasn’t much time he sure as hell wasn’t going to hand it straight over to her. “Before you start, I need to ask you something.”

“No Ben. You need to listen.” This woman looked like Ami, but for the first time he could detect a slight accent in her voice. It reminded him of Mr. Saad, the man who was trying to fund his continued research programme. This was the first time she had demanded anything.

“No, no. Ami wait. Listen. I have to ask you some things.”

“There will be a time for your questions but it isn’t now. At the moment your questions will get us both killed.” He didn’t interrupt her again and he sat with his arms obediently dropped into his lap, his muscles limp and helpless, sun melted candles, leaves starved of water. “Ben, everything that has happened to you over the last few hours was not supposed to happen. It should already be over. We are only lucky that it is not.” Ben’s mouth dropped open in shock. Lucky? He didn’t feel too damn lucky. “You should already be dead.”

“I know that. Somebody tried to shoot me at the lab.”

“I’m not referring to the lab. You were never supposed to wake up today. They started it much quicker than I anticipated. If I had known I would have found a way to tell you at the bar.”

“What bar? What did they start? Anyway, who are they” Ami wasn’t making much sense to him. “Is this about Mark?”

“Ben, who do you think you work for?”


“You work for the government. Bionics is just the public face of the Office of Scientific Weaponry Development. OSWED.”

“The government?”

“Yes, but not the one you see on the television, or in the newspaper. It’s the same one, but it’s the side of it that nobody knows about.”

“Ami there is only one government.”

“That’s what I just said. There is the government that you see, the one that stands up and leads the country with clean hands, the one that can deny that certain things ever happened because they don’t even know about it. They are public puppets. They are the ones that don’t have to lie. Then there are the rest of us. The people that nobody knows about. The people that do what you might call dirty work.”

“Ami, you’re a scientist.”

“Correct. But I don’t work for you. I work for OSWED. They are supposed to be the people that keep you safe. It’s supposed to be about intelligence and development. They believe it is what makes your Great Country so great.” Ben could hear a certain level of sarcasm coming through in her newly accented voice. “We work outside of standard military intelligence. We don’t exist, at least as far as the rest of the world knows. That counts for the rest of the staff at Bionics.”

“You’re telling me that I work for a secret government agency, and that all of the staff I work with knew nothing about it except for you? What have you done with them? What happened to my research?”

“NO. Start paying attention Ben. You’re the only one that doesn’t know anything about it. Why do you think the lab and all of the staff have disappeared? The mission was complete. Your theory had been proven and NEMREC worked.” She could detect the surprise on his face, the inability to understand as his mouth hung limply open. She wished that she could spare him the details, but she had to be honest. If ever there was a time it was now. “You were already supposed to be dead.”

“What the hell!”

“They knew how good you were. They targeted you. They knew you would succeed so they started to control everything about you. They wanted your brilliance in the palm of their hand, and they did everything they could to get it. Your friends, your wife, your whole life. It’s a set up Ben. It was all about getting NEMREC. You did it. They don’t need you anymore.”

“You’re saying my whole life is a set up? That’s bullshit Ami!” He was up and off the bench now, arms flailing like compliant branches in the wind without any control over their own movement. Who the hell does she think she is? Mark? Hannah? Matthew? She had to be lying.

“It’s not bullshit. It’s the truth. It’s the first truthful thing you have heard in years. You discovered how to change people’s DNA Ben. You know what they can do with that kind of knowledge.” She was up on her feet now too, trying to make contact with him and reaching out for his arms as he span around, propelled by the inertia of disbelief.

“I’m trying to cure disease, Ami not make weapons for your government.”

“Your government, Ben. You might not be trying to make weapons but OSWED are. They want the ability to change DNA to build a stronger army. An elite force. They don’t want to manufacture pharmaceuticals to cure Huntington’s disease like you do. They want to make a stronger army and build weapons. They want people to be their weapons, and you have given them everything they need.”

“And you?” He was stood still staring straight at her. “Why are you helping me if you work for them?” She sat down onto the bench, her head bowed. For a moment he thought he could see tears forming in her dark almond eyes.

“I want what you want, Ben.” She turned her head up to look at him, and her eyes looked swollen and set to burst. “My father is dying. So am I. I want a chance to live to grow old.” The pain in her face, in her blurry eyes and crumpled brow was a feeling that he recognised. He understood the feelings that she described, and he felt them every day in every one of his mutated cells. Her words could have been his own, his own feelings, his own hopes, his own aspirations. Any fears he had, any caution for the woman before him had passed. He saw his own reflection in her glassy eyes as he contemplated her sadness and regret. It softened him and he sensed the need for truth and trust, believing in the freedom and strength that it offered.

“Ami, why am I not dead already?”

“I don’t know. You should be. What she gave you should have been enough to kill you?”

“What who gave me?” He saw that same sense of pity on her face, as she wiped away a tear from her cheek. He traced his thoughts back to when he passed out on his settee, how he assumed he had merely been drunk, and how he had been dragged up the stairs, and how he had slept for thirty six hours, and how he had been sick, and how it was still there the next morning, and the next morning, and how Hannah hadn’t been home. Suddenly he had visions of her as a spy carrying a gun and speaking in Russian on a foreign mission and seducing people to steal data chips, right before he reminded himself that the explanation that he had conjured up seemed utterly ridiculous. Yet still he said it. “You think Hannah tried to kill me?”

“No Ben. I know she tried to kill you. She poured you champagne, it was drugged. That’s why you feel so awful now.” She sat down on the bench, steadying herself, and attempting also to steady Ben, hoping that their current connection was enough to pull him towards her. Skin on skin, a real connection. She knew they had felt it before, and she hoped he felt it now.

“I threw up.” He thought back to the pile of sick on the floor and couldn’t remember ever being so pleased that he had been ill. He tried again to remind himself of the absurdity of her accusations, but found that the more time that passed and the more he listened to himself, the dismissal of her theory didn’t seem quite so easy.

“Then that’s why you’re still here.”

“Ami. What do they want from me?”

“They want you dead, Ben. It’s their only aim. To them,” she paused apologetically before she finished her sentence, “you already are. There is no record of your life anymore. It’s not like you died, it’s like you never existed.”

“Ami, will you help me?” She nodded reassuringly. After everything that had happened this morning he had only one other question. “Ami, where have they taken my son?”