Halloween Then and Now

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It’s Halloween season, and it’s 70 degrees outside. Kids might pass out from heat exhaustion all around my neighborhood, sweaty  and dehydrated in rubber masks while trick-or-treating. Mosquitoes will get stuck in their make-up, and their costumes will all have salty crusts that will require extra soaking an unceremonious disposals. Some years bring heat during the holiday, while others might be cool and rainy. It’s unpredictable, but at least there’s never any snow. That’s Halloween in eastern North Carolina, very different from where I grew up.

In upstate New York, the hues of the leaves bring tourists this time of year. Soon the foliage will be compost or crunched underfoot. The little goblins, vampires, princesses, and superheroes will be out to score some candy. And they might have to wear coats, thermal underwear, gloves, hats, and scarves. Their costumes may have been crafted to accommodate layers of winter clothing, or they might have to partially disrobe to show off their holiday disguises.

In my small town, my parents knew everybody. There was no mad dash from house to house, like candy bandits on a sugar-fueled crime spree. We stopped and talked with everyone, even the woman who would give me a pencil and a shiny nickel in lieu of sweets. Sometimes after stripping off coat, gloves, and hat, the keeper of the candy would want a good long look at my costume’s intricacies. My mom, bless her, put a lot of work and time into some of them. On one occasion, I even remember being asked to play my host’s violin for him, once it was mentioned that I started taking lessons at school. I scratched out “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to the pain of everyone’s ears, including mine. Then, candy earned and elderly couple amused, I bundled back up again to head out into the cold, October night.

When I got to be 12, maybe 13, I was too grown up for that kid stuff. My sweet-tooth protested, but my pride wouldn’t allow me to trick-or-treat with the little kids anymore. At school, I heard tales that some of my friends would be toilet-papering trees, playing pranks, and getting up to small town mischief without me. I didn’t live in town, and there was no way my folks were going to drop me off in town to “run wild through the streets”. Well, not exactly.

My dad loved a good joke. He could engineer a prank and took quite a bit of pride in it. (See this for the story of his masterpiece.) I have a sneaking suspicion, based on some eyewitness accounts and some rumors, that he led a wilder life in his younger days than I will ever know. Unfortunately he passed away before I reached an appropriate age to brag about such things, and I think he was quite a different guy by the time he started dating my mom. But sometimes a twinkle in his eye told me the mischievous part of his brain wanted to come out and play. Then he would snuff it out, and just smile without a word. One Halloween, he let me have just the slightest peek at the prankster of old.

Armed with shaving cream and toilet paper, after the paralyzing shock of what I believed was about to happen, he drove me into town. I was speechless, so we enjoyed the heat in the car on those dark roads with only the sound of air through the vents and tires on the asphalt. He pulled the car off the road and killed the lights. We gathered our instruments of mayhem and crept through the dark to the single-lane bridge into town. There we wrapped toilet paper around the bridge’s frame and concealed ourselves behind some bushes. The wait was interminable, but soon headlights approached. My giddiness threatened to erupt from my mouth, and I shook with excitement, cold forgotten. For a kid that always followed rules and respected authority, I felt like a rebel! The car slowed, but once the driver realized the barrier was made of double-ply, he sped through. We snickered and wrapped more around the structure again, but no more cars came by. Small town. Most probably took a different route, where it was lit better and we didn’t dare try our prank. We got cold and went home, mission accomplished. I don’t even remember what we did with the shaving cream. But I will always remember the Halloween that my dad and I shared in some juvenile delinquency.

 

 

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The Brain Squatter

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Photo by Ryan Melaugh

There’s a squatter in my brain. He takes up space. His chain-smoking permeates and pollutes every surface. The ashes and butts get haphazardly scattered across my volatile imagination. I spend my energy frantically tidying up after him, left with no creative juice when I’m done. Then he breaks in and tracks muck everywhere, and I’m back where I started.

This is the first bit of writing I’ve attempted since the Traumatic Event, T.E. for short. It wasn’t something life threatening or the death of a loved one. Those would surely be worse, but the T.E. was still devastating enough to steal my appetite, my sleep, my desire to create imaginary worlds with stories to share.

My imagination, always too large and vivid to be suppressed, shriveled away to hide. It bolted the door on the bunker. Now it trembles in the corner, maintaining radio silence. It’s shell shocked and deafened, even to its own voice. My concentration deserted it, and neither one has dared to resurface. They could care less that they’re needed.

I’ve chosen to distract myself with things that often fuel them: books, movies, quiet drives, conversation with friends. I exhausted myself with exercise. I visited family in the peaceful upstate New York summer and stuffed myself with comfort foods. The final dose may have been Mom’s strawberry-rhubarb pie, exactly what I needed. Now time must pass to see if a full recovery is possible.

There’s a periodic clicking, like Morse Code, from the bunker’s depths. My novel beckons to me. I left off partially through my second edit, only a couple of months from the point where I would release it for criticism from beta readers. (Three months have passed since then.) Complications in other writing projects beg for resolution. Slowly they intrude and exert power over the distracting din in my mind. They are the distant construction tools the squatter increasingly fears, and they are coming, if the contractors’ extended lunch break ever ends.

If you noticed my absence, I apologize for the abrupt cessation of my semi-regular posts. I can’t promise the frequency will increase, but I hope you’ll dig through the archives and find a laugh or the results of my writing exercises. I’m proud of a few of them. There will be new entries, but I can’t say when they will appear. Perhaps you’d like to subscribe, if you haven’t already, so anything new will be emailed to you.

I thank you for your patience. Once my mind decides to fully cooperate, I’ll be working it overtime. It owes me for its lengthy vacation.

The Selection on Sale

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For a limited time, grab the thrilling young adult scifi adventure novel “The Selection” from author Jason J. Nugent for only .99!

 

Humans colonized the planet Kepler 186f after Earth’s near total global collapse. Soon after, supply missions ended leaving the colonists to themselves, renaming the planet Anastasia and building a new society far different than Earth’s.

As population imbalance threatened stability in the settlements, a horrific and brutal institution known as The Selection was created.

Centuries later, haunted by the screams of his dead older brother, eighteen year-old Eron fears the unknown terror waiting for him and all boys his age in The Selection. He has thirty days to survive to Victory Point and reunite with his crush Mina. He will have to endure brutal circumstances and forge unlikely alliances if he’s to survive The Selection.

Time is short. Threats are constant. Survival means life. Failure means death—or worse.

 

Between June 9th and June 11th, you can get this action-filled story for only .99! Go to mybook.to/the-selection today before time runs out!

 

JasonJason Nugent was born in Cleveland, OH in 1974. He moved to rural southern Illinois in 1992 and lives there today with his wife, son, and mini-zoo of three cats and two dogs.

Jason is the author of two collections of dark fiction short stories: “(Almost) Average Anthology” and “Moments of Darkness” and the young adult scifi novel “The Selection.”

Jason has written for Sum’n Unique Magazine and game missions for an independently produced video game titled “Status Quo.”

He writes regularly on his blog almostaverageblog.wordpress.com and can be found at jasonjnugent.com.

Thankful for Moms

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Mommy’s Comfort by Thomas Galvez

Mothers are awesome. As a child, instinctively clinging to the woman who gave you life or has put yours before her own, there is no more important person. She’s the one you call when you wake after a nightmare, run to with your boo-boos. You count on her, not just for the things you need, for the mere comfort of her presence. Until you’re a teenager.

I see this occurring with my son now. He’s approaching the age where he wants less to do with his parents. Hugging him is allowed under the strictest of protocols. Who else might see the hug? Is it accompanied by a kiss? How long will the hug last? Is there the potential that his hair might get messed up?

The first time one of my hugs was rebuffed, a twinge of shock and disappointment seized my breath. How much worse would it have been if I’d labored for hours before his birth and carried him in my body for months before that? The teenage years begin a lapse in our memories. While we try to figure out who we are, we forget that it doesn’t matter to the person who loves us more than anything, unconditionally. I forgot. One day, maybe my son will have kids, and they’ll forget as well.

For moms, there is good news. A day will come when mothers’ importance and the gratitude we owe them collide with deafening impacts in the middle of our hearts. The realization that we are blessed with only one mother, perhaps one we hardly see in our adulthood, will send our fingers frantically dialing our phones. And they will answer, overjoyed to hear from us, because they are our moms.

Those fleeting teenage years, when our mothers seem to cling to us with stifling love, are over before we know it. The years that follow are busy growing, learning, and maturing, sometimes with months between phone calls to dear Mom. Maybe the challenges of new parenthood jolt our memories and make us think about our mothers with new awe and appreciation. If anybody deserves to say “I told you so”, it’s a new grandmother.

Let’s remind our kids how special their bonds are to their mothers. Before their teenage years, let’s plant the seed of gratitude and water if often. It might not bloom for years, but it will take root. One day it will bear fruit. That’s always a welcome gift, on Mother’s Day or any other.

Happy Mother’s Day, to my mother and yours. Let’s help them celebrate the day because they give so many other days to us.

Leave me a comment and tell me something you appreciate about your mom. I’ll wait if you want to call her first.

Nidor- A Writing Prompt

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burger

For Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They’re meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

Write a vignette infused with nidor, the particular scent of cooking meat or burning fat.

The idea might have come from my mother or hers, since we lived next door to my grandparents at the time. I can’t remember my age, but I couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven. My sister was seven or eight, a pig-tailed bundle of mixed joy and mischief. Wherever the idea originated, it sounded like fun, maybe the best idea ever (for a bored, pre-internet, ten year old kid, anyway). As the older kid, I was in charge, and I took responsibility as seriously as my Cub Scout oath.

We received empty cans, the family-sized variety that held a week’s worth of applesauce or baked beans. My mom cut little windows on the bottoms of the open ends, where we could feed fuel into the upside-down can. The tops got punctured around their circumferences to let the fat drain and fuel the flames. That was where the meat would cook, as if on tiny griddles.

We turned the cans upside-down in the gravel driveway and set out to find small twigs for our fires. Wood was plentiful where we lived, plenty waiting in the yard normally splintered by the lawnmower. While we gathered, Mom prepared burger patties.

The kindling got stuffed through the window of each can. Mom provided the matches and let us start out fires with bits of wadded newspaper. The flames warmed us in the shade of the maples, summer’s heat seldom oppressive there in upstate New York. My stomach growled in anticipation of lunch.

The can fires consumed the twigs almost as quickly as we could feed them, until Mom pronounced them hot enough to serve as stoves. She fetched the patties and plopped them onto the cans. The roar of sizzling meat startled us, and in moments the heavenly scent of the cooking beef wafted up to taunt us. Fat gathered and congealed along the sides of the patties. Little flames shot up from the grease vents, at which Mom would caution us and snuff them with her spatula. Any moment, the piping-hot burgers would be ready to eat. Or so I thought.

Mom flipped the burgers that still wept blood and grease, fearful they would burn. My hunger built until its ache swelled beyond my belly and threated to eat me. The scent of hot grease engulfed me, teased my nostrils with its promises. Still the burgers sizzled but defied my impatience. They took nearly an hour to finish cooking. To two hungry kids, that felt like forever. Not only were we waiting for them to finish, but one of the neighborhood dogs sat nearby. We’d dubbed him Picnic Puppy after he’d snatched a sandwich out of my sister’s hand a couple of years before. None of us wanted to take our eyes off him while the burgers remained targets.

I don’t know if it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten, but it was surely the most highly anticipated. I devoured it in record time and could have eaten another if there had been room on top of the can. The experiment had been fun, but I remind myself of that day whenever I have to wait more than a few minutes for fast food.

 

 

Boots- A Writing Prompt

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bootsFor Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They’re meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

Consider your favorite outfit or article of clothing. Describe it in detail here.

These days, I don’t have a favorite article of clothing. Now that I’m technically a grown-up, I mostly dress for work. I don’t enjoy the shirts and slacks that only remind me of my adult responsibilities. In my off time, I wear what’s comfortable. Usually that’s a worn pair of blue jeans and geeky t-shirt ensemble. I’ve never had a sense of style, but I remember when I thought I did.

My college years were the early 1990s, when grunge crowd surfed its way over the remains of hair metal, and flannel replaced leather. I still clung to my rock-n-roll mullet for a while, even though everybody thought they were duty-bound to convince me to cut it. I wasn’t about to sell out. I met a girl who thought my hair was cool and wore her own tributes to Guns-n-Roses and the rest. For my birthday, she bought me the baddest leather boots ever. They were patterned in faux snakeskin. The silvery caps over the toes protected them from dings during the breaking-in period, when I still felt like they were clown-shoe sized. The heels catapulted me to an almost dizzying 5-foot-six. Flared tops allowed me to tuck my ripped jeans inside. By far, the best feature was the removable leather strap, complete with silvery buckle, that circled each boot like a gunfighter’s belt. ROCK-N-ROLL!

Several years (and girlfriends) later, the boots collected dust in the back of my closet. I’d replaced them with a pair of hiking boots. My jeans were still ripped, but I wore a knotted flannel shirt around my waist, courtesy of my grandfather’s closet. Nobody needed to know that part. My roommates and I hosted a party with the theme: ’80s. My girlfriend talked me into letting her make me up like a glam-rocker, and the boots completed the ensemble. They received enough compliments to outweigh the derision from several years before. My mullet was gone. What was left got spiked and shellacked to lethal sharpness before eye makeup and other assorted powders were applied. When I was at last allowed to view the results in a mirror, I missed my mullet. Even though the costume wowed people, I couldn’t wait to smear cold cream over the gunk and scrape it off my face.

I considered wearing the boots from time to time but never had the nerve. Some kind of nostalgia, even over that short period of time, kept me from getting rid of them. I would look back the days before I sold out and wonder how I could have liked that music and admired those gravity-defying hairdos on MTV. I think my younger sister eventually appropriated the boots, and I never saw them again. She probably wore them far better than I ever did.

Someday my son might own those boots, or more likely some other clothing accessory that he finds awesome. I’ll try to remember how cool those boots made me feel before I tell him he looks silly. If he ever wears anything I think is ridiculous, I’ll bite my tongue and look forward to whatever fashion takes its place. Wouldn’t it be funny if those boots came back into style? For the sake of humanity, I hope they never do. If they ever were.

Do you have a favorite article of clothing or outfit you used to love from earlier in life? Drop me a comment and let me know. Extra points if you look back at it and cringe like I do about my old boots.

The Roof Mystery Writing Prompt

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For Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They’re meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

There’s something strange on top of your roof right now. What is it?

I like the ladder I bought, but I hate using it. The ladder telescopes to adjust its length and hinges at the middle, where it can be locked open or into a stepladder position. My fear of heights, more a fear of falling, can be experienced on any ladder, stool, or flight of stairs. It’s more about potential energy and precarious position. I feel somehow safer in planes and on rollercoasters.

The fear makes cleaning the gutters an ordeal, even though I live in a ranch home. I triple-check the ladder’s position to make certain it’s level and on firm footing. Whenever possible, both of my hands grip the rungs or side rails. If I use it near a door that might collide with it, everyone in the house is loudly and sternly educated concerning the dangerous mission I’m about to undertake.

For all of this fear, I occasionally venture onto the roof itself. There has to be a significant accumulation of pine straw (pine needles, for you Yankees), or the drier vent has to be virtually plugged with lint. Of course, my wife holds the base of the ladder as I make my transition from ladder to shingles. There is repeated back-and-forth.

Me: Are you holding it?

Her: That’s what she said.

Me: Seriously! Please, for the love of God, hold the ladder.

Her: I’ve got it! Relax.

But there was one time, clinging for my very life at the top of the ladder, that I momentarily forgot to be scared. Something was up there on the roof, something that should not have been there at all, let alone be perfectly intact like the day it was made. It defied reason. It could only be real if I held it in my hand.

I wiggled to test the ladder, and when I was satisfied that it wouldn’t slide away from the roof, I climbed up. The object was lodged in some pine straw where two roof sections met. I needed to gather up the pine straw anyway, before it all washed into the gutters during the next inevitable thunderstorm. I flattened myself against the shingles and eased my way toward it.

It was whole, fluffy, and golden like it fell straight out of a TV commercial. The biscuit, probably of the fast food breakfast variety, was completely unmarred: no bite marks, no evidence it had even been pecked by a lucky crow. If I hadn’t found it on my roof, I probably would’ve slathered some honey on that sucker and wolfed it down with my coffee.

The laughter started slowly but eventually caused me tears and aching ribs. Until my feet slid out from under me. Thankfully I didn’t slide far before I found my footing at the expense of the biscuit, half crushed beneath me. I threw it over the side along with the pine straw, but I set it aside for the birds after I climbed down to bag the pine straw.

The only explanation I could imagine was that someone had thrown it up there. Maybe a kid walking to the bus stop didn’t want it. Maybe a bully stole it and flung his victim’s breakfast out of reach. Surely a bird would’ve taken a few experimental pecks before it decided it would rather have an English muffin. I would never know for sure, but I was glad to stand firmly on the ground again.

Have you ever found anything strange on your roof? Drop me a comment and let me know!

Video Game Mini Reviews

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Since I started reviewing games for Nerd Bacon, I haven’t posted many reviews in this blog. I can’t recall even mentioning what I’ve recently played or writing any video game related posts. There are some games that I don’t think I could review for Nerd Bacon, mainly because they’re heavily geared for online, multiplayer play. I don’t normally play games with or against other people online. For one, I have the reflexes of a 40+ year old man (because I am one). Also I had a fair amount of negative experiences playing online when I was younger, and I never thought the fun outweighed the juvenile, even abusive, behavior. That said, I don’t think it’s fair of me to review a game when I haven’t tried the core aspects of it. The single-player campaigns of these games, if they have them, are often short and wouldn’t supply me enough for a whole review, but here are some I’ve played in the past few months that are worth noting.

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Destiny got a lot of hype, and most of it was deserved. The big Bungie project reveal looked incredible when I saw trailers, and with a teen rating it was acceptable to buy for my son to play on our new Xbox One. It is undeniably beautiful, with impressively crafted environments, alien races, and a mind-bending variety of weapons, armor, and spaceships. I was disappointed that the spaceships weren’t for players to pilot, only for travel during cut scenes, and the land vehicles were limited to hover-bike type vehicles and occasionally a hover-tank when it was available to steal from enemies. The missions soon became repetitive, but I still find myself returning to the game. It’s fun, no doubt, and its heroic elements and challenging play are a welcome addition to my game collection. The always-online play allows complete strangers to cooperate during sandbox play and to be matched up for tougher missions, and these experiences have only been positive for me. There’s been a heap of DLC for the game, and I’ve enjoyed most of it, though I haven’t purchased the latest update. The game is just not compelling enough for me to shell out the asking price so close to its launch. Eventually I will probably buy it, since my son and I both enjoy the game.

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Star Wars Battlefront was another game I bought primarily for my son. OK, fine, it triggered my nostalgia button big time. From the opening screen, when the music started, I was entranced. All the familiar battlegrounds were available, if I was willing to shell out additional money for them, but I was happy to play those that came with the basic version of the game. The split-screen, cooperative modes are my favorites, because my son and I can fend off waves of Stormtroopers and other Imperials together. Playing as one of the heroes or villains, like Vader, Luke, Boba Fett, or Han Solo, wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be, but that has been pretty typical of most Star Wars games I’ve played where that’s been an option. The online battles are massive, and weren’t much fun for me, though I appreciate the chance to pilot a Tie Fighter, X-wing, or AT-ST. If you’re a fan of the movies and like co-op play, I recommend the game, though I find its replay value limited and wish there were a single-player campaign.

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The Division is one of only several military-style, first-person shooters I think I have ever purchased. I’m just not big on games where I semi-realistically kill human characters. Of course, all the humans killed in this game are bad guys: murderous looters, vigilantes, criminals, and terrorists. Your role is like that of Judge Dredd and less like a police officer. I bought the game to play online with a friend, but we’ve only managed to do so a few times. The game really pushes cooperative play, going as far as dedicated match-up mechanics at checkpoints throughout the game’s environment. While there is a single-player campaign mode, the story was lost on me most of the time. It was so difficult to get very far in the story as a single player, that I often lost track of what was happening with the story. Many of my play sessions were spent randomly fighting with opponents around the city to claim gear I could sell. This allowed me to eventually obtain new gear and weapons that could hurt my enemies, villains who could withstand hundreds and hundreds of rounds before succumbing to their wounds. I enjoyed the challenge of more realistic movement and tactics than in games like Destiny, but I have found little reason to return to the game after finishing the campaign. The DLC holds no real interest for me. I imagine I will return to it, once the opportunity arises to play with my friend but not before. I can’t really recommend the game, especially after experiencing buggy play and connectivity issues with the Ubisoft servers nearly every time I started it. Since an internet connection is required to play, it seems like they would have worked harder to iron out such a wrinkle by the time I had started playing, months after release.

What am I playing now? I’m attempting, with disappointing results, to replay Dying Light on the “hard” difficulty setting. I wanted to see if there would be better gear unlocked by the difficulty change, but it looks like it will all be the same. I plan to return to the game, Styx, a dark fantasy game heavy on stealth and black humor. That’s a title that I hope to review for Nerd Bacon in the coming weeks, so stay tuned for that. Red Dead Redemption has also been tempting me to finish it, and I will likely start it over again since it’s been so long since I played.

What are you playing that you would recommend? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Pre-Orders for “The Selection”

Jason Nugent’s new novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, a steal at $.99!

(Almost) Average

I’m beyond excited to share that pre-orders for my upcoming novel “The Selection” are available on Amazon!

The official release date is March 30th. You can grab your copy now for only .99. After it’s released, it will go to the normal price of $2.99.

Unlike my dark collections of short stories, this novel is more of a young adult-sci-fi-adventure story. I do hope you’ll consider picking up your copy today, I’d be grateful if you did.

The Selection

Humans colonized the planet Kepler 186f after Earth’s near total global collapse. Soon after, supply missions ended leaving the colonists to themselves, renaming the planet Anastasia and building a new society far different than Earth’s.

As population imbalance threatened stability in the settlements, a horrific and brutal institution known as The Selection was created.

Centuries later, haunted by the screams of his dead older brother, eighteen year-old Eron fears the…

View original post 75 more words

The Smirk – A Writing Prompt

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For Christmas, I received a book of “questions for creative exploration”. They are writing prompts, not all questions, and I decided that I would include my responses to them in my blog. They’re meant as daily exercises, but I just picked one I liked and got to work. Because I’m a rebel, baby! I also slightly deviated from the instructions because the book’s not the boss of me. The exercise for this day was…

At a raucous house party, one woman stands alone near an open window with a smirk on her face. What’s her story?

The thumping bass rattled my teeth and vibrated my ribs. I stared at the purple beverage in my red plastic cup to see if it rippled, as if in response to T-rex footsteps. Lights strung along the walls pulsed to the beat. In synch to the tapping of my foot, a beautiful girl appeared and disappeared.

Hers was a high-maintenance beauty, pristine after hours of preparation. She could only have been more stunning if she smiled. Instead she smirked toward the DJ’s raised platform. When the light flashed again, she stared off toward a knot of the fraternity brothers who hosted the party. Next her eyes fell on me, so I smiled and tentatively raised my cup in her direction. If she returned the gesture, it was hidden in the next instant of darkness.

In a few days, all the exams, parties, and chances for college fun would be over. It emboldened me, that prospect for at least abbreviated humiliation. I sheltered my beverage against my chest and dodged oblivious dancers. Someone spilled beer on my sneaker, so it squished through my sock with every other step. For a moment, the girl was lost, and my pulse raced in terrified regret. I’d gotten turned around in the semi-dark, and when I got my bearings she still smirked past me toward the hosts.

“Hey,” I half-yelled when I got close enough.

Her eyes widened in surprise, but a smile followed. Her lips formed something I decided was acknowledgement. She pointed at her ear and shook her head. I slid closer.

“Hi. I think you’re in my history class,” I said through her long blond hair, where her ear hid.

“Professor Stuart’s?” she shouted. Then, before I could reply, “Yeah. I’ve seen you looking at me.”

A lump caught in my throat. “Oh. Busted.” I smiled, and she pulled her hair behind her ears. “My name’s Dave.”

“Candace. Nice to meet you, Dave.”

“Do you know the guys throwing the party?” One of the hosts had lived down the hall from me during my freshman year and had invited me. I figured that might score some points.

“Uh huh. I was friends with just about all of them.”

“Was?”

“Do you know Chad?”

“Not really,” I said.

“I used to date him.”

“Oh. Still friends with him though, since you’re here.”

“No. They’re all pretty much jerks. But I wanted to be here for this last party, you know?”

“Sure. To say goodbye?” I guessed.

She put her arms around my neck, and her warm breath tickled my ear. “To watch it happen.”

She raised her chin and pulled my lips down to hers. My pulse raced at odds with the lights until she pulled away. When I opened my eyes, her tongue rested between her lips.

“Where did you get that?” Her eyes darted to my cup.

“There was some left over after they made their signature cocktail. Sully let me have what was left. Why?”

“Only the brothers get that. Usually everybody else just gets beer at these things.” She removed my hand from the small of her back. “I’m sorry, Dave. I didn’t mean for…uh, oh.”

I followed her gaze back over my shoulder. The group of partying brothers held their hands to their stomachs. A couple raced toward the back, where the bathroom lines stretched toward the DJ platform. They pushed and shoved their ways to the doors and hammered the wood while they doubled over. The crowd parted, hands waving in front of disgusted faces.

When the pain clenched my gut, the girl was gone. At the moment, she was the furthest thing from my mind. Weeks later, I was actually able to laugh about it, but I never saw Candace again.