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At two o’clock in the morning the night before Bradley arrived, the cloudless skies over Hunts Point twinkled with stars. The new moon made the Point just a little darker. New moons are an active time for rats at night. The cover of darkness paired with the lack of moonlight brought the rats out of their burrows in droves. From deep under the streets, rats scuttled through the dirt and slime-covered sewer walls, past rusting access ladders and grimy concrete conduits. Trash, long since forgotten, lined the old sewer walls as rats made their way to the streets in search of food.
Sam slept a fitful sleep in his ground floor apartment on Casanova. He tossed and turned in his bed, as if he could sense the rising tide of rats beneath him. He could hear their teeth forever gnawing, chewing through anything, his apartment door, his mattress, his legs and arms.
Sam’s scream woke him up in a cold sweat. His chest heaved like he had just run a marathon. He sat amongst his strewn sheets, and kept his body as still as possible. Sam listened and watched for movement. The air was still and all he could hear was his own breath.
He noticed that he had left his bedroom window open again. The past week had been uncomfortably warm, and Sam had opened his bedroom window during the day in an attempt to air out the place, but he kept forgetting to close it. But the sunshine and warmth sure beat the ice, snow and sub-zero temperatures of last January when Sam had moved in.
After five months a free man, he wasn’t used to the smells of normal life. Instead, he still preferred the antiseptic institutional smell of a prison cell. At least he didn’t have to deal with the body odor of other inmates any more.
He rolled off the bed, walked to the window, and paused to scan the alley. Sam’s sleep-weary eyes couldn’t spot any movement. He could smell Kingsley Fried Chicken & Pizza from one block over, his go-to joint, mixed with the funk of garbage from the overflowing dumpster in the alley. Fried chicken was one thing, but mixed with rancid garbage was quite another.
Sam closed the window and collapsed back into bed.
There are no rats here. It’s all in my head. Sam repeated his mantra and closed his eyes. He was desperate to relax. In twelve hours he would leave to meet the son he’d never known.
But there were rats here, outside, and they bubbled up all over Hunts Point. One rat emerged from a sewer grate and almost looked adorable if it weren’t for its wet, matted fur and long, greasy gray tail.
Rats are omnivores and opportunists. They’re intelligent and go where the food and water are plentiful. They used the interconnected sewers and catch basins of the Hunts Point Pollution Control Plant as their travel conduits. It was the perfect breeding ground. Rats multiply rapidly and produce a new litter of up to a dozen pups every three weeks. Many believe that there is a rat for every person who lives in New York City. Eight point five million. One of those rats was perched below Sam’s window.
The rodent caught a scent in the air, and scurried along the sidewalk’s curb and over to the alley beside Sam’s building. It was a familiar path for the rats in this area. Anyone who looked close enough would see the grimy paths painted onto the sidewalk from nightly food runs.
Up on its haunches, the rat paused, sniffed, and reassessed its chosen route. There was a different smell in the air, one that wasn’t entirely foreign to this rat, but also one that signaled caution.
Out of the darkness, a new, different rat emerged to block the other rat’s path. This newcomer was leaner but bigger, with clearly defined muscles and a white-tipped tail that flicked and seemed to glow, even in the moonless dark.
Being social animals, the first rat stretched its head forward. The rat’s cautious whiskers twitched madly, and it sniffed the new rat in a rodent greeting. The new rat remained motionless and held its ground. Its whiskers vibrated as it gnawed its own incisors down into sharpened points.
In a matter of seconds, the first rat’s head was clamped in the jaws of the second. The first rat began to squeal and struggle in a desperate attempt to break free. It curled its back around to try and kick the new rat, but the aggressor’s jaws remained locked in a death grip.
The screeching sounds of struggle lured new rats out of their dark hiding spots, new rats with white-tipped tails that flipped wildly. The swarm descended on the first rat with vicious intensity. They worked together to eviscerate the first rat’s body with quick precision.
The killers with white-tipped tails, provoked into a feeding frenzy by their blood lust, fought over the remaining carcass. Their snouts, soaked in sticky crimson, sniped at each other in order to win the ultimate prize of the last bite. The battle for the remains pulled what was left of the first rat onto the sidewalk and left behind a messy red smear, like the first stroke of a plein-air painting. The blood feast was cut short when headlights from a passing vehicle washed the sidewalk with light. The rats with the white-tipped tails and gory muzzles scattered and disappeared into the shadows. What was left of the carcass remained on the sidewalk, abandoned.
Sam was nervous. He had every right to be. Apart from the one photograph he had been allowed to keep during his fifteen years behind bars, Sam had no idea what his son Bradley looked like.
He pulled his wallet out of his front pocket and ran his hand across it. Black, smooth and thin, made of genuine leather. Unblemished, just like new from being stored in the property room for all those years. Claire had given the wallet to him on his twenty-fourth birthday. Now, he held onto it like an anchor, as if without it he’d float away, back into a life owned by the State of New York.
Sam flipped it open. The wallet contained a small amount of cash, his driver’s license (five months old), and his only picture of Bradley framed in one of its windowed pockets. Bradley had been one at the time the picture was taken. Sam remembered the day with ease. Bradley smiled on the kitchen floor as he played with a Tupperware Shape-O-Toy. Sam began and ended each day memorizing that smile. The photo was faded and worn on the edges from years of exposure on his cell wall, but intact, even after guards had tossed his cell, moved him to other cell blocks or thrown him in solitary. That photo was Sam’s only tangible link to the life he had known. He had received no updates or letters. Claire had seen to that.
After Sam was convicted Claire had wasted no time. She packed up and moved across the country to California and left no forwarding address. She had always hated New York. “Too crowded and dirty,” she had said.
The conversations were all the same: short-tempered, intolerant, and unforgiving. They all melted together in his memory, but as with all memories, bits and pieces would forever stand out. With Claire, it was the bad memories that floated to the top.
“You don’t deserve to know him,” she would say. “Once a drunk, always a drunk.” That was the death knell of the calls. After that, there would be no convincing her, even though he knew he would never touch a drop of alcohol again for the rest of his life. He knew this as surely as he knew his own name, but Claire would never understand.
Sam would protest anyway. He would claim to be a changed man, a better man (he was). Even after all these years, Sam could still picture Claire on the other end of the phone, as she shook her head and fumed silently. He used to find her reaction endearing, back when their marriage was young and he still had a life that resembled something close to normal, but now it just frustrated him. He just wanted to see his son, and maybe, if he was lucky, update his old and bleached photo of Bradley. From the little snippets of dialog he heard in the background, it sounded like Bradley’s interest in seeing him was mutual, but he couldn’t be sure. Claire would have none of it.
“Send him out for a week,” Sam remembered saying. “Let me hang with him for a while.”
“I’m not going through this again.” Predictably, Claire hung up the phone and that was that. It was the last time Sam would speak to her. When he was released five months ago, he had tried to call her, but the number was out of service. Not even Sara Armstrong, his parole officer, was able to track down Claire’s new phone number this time.
It was all a great unknown. When Sam got the unexpected news that Bradley would be visiting, his brain started tick-tocking in all the wrong places. It didn’t help his mood, either. The idea that Sam found himself falling back on and the only answer that made sense, was that Claire had gotten tired of Bradley’s questions about him and relented.
Sara had called Sam last week to let him know that Bradley would be visiting for the summer.
“For the entire summer?” Sam remembered feeling happy, stunned, and mostly scared.
“That’s what Claire said.”
“I said a week. I don’t know if I can handle an entire summer,” Sam’s mind raced. “What am I going to do?”
“Try being a dad,” Sara said.
“Yeah. Easy for you to say. By any chance did she leave a phone number?” Sam knew it was a long shot.
“What do you think?” Sara flipped through her file on Sam. “I already checked. She used a pay phone. That woman’s got serious hate going on for you.”
Serious hate. How can I fight that?
Sam pushed Claire and her bad energy to the back of his mind. He had other worries now, like how to entertain a sixteen year old boy for ten weeks.
Sam found himself at John F. Kennedy International Airport three hours early. He stood and waited in Arrivals, close to gate C38 in Terminal 8. He had looked forward to meeting his son all week and didn’t want to make a bad first impression by being late.
J.F.K. was a massive, busy complex and served more than fifty million passengers per year. He hadn’t set foot in an airport for the better part of two decades and Sam found the sheer number of people in one place amped his feelings of insecurity. Most days he longed for the solitude of a prison cell.
But three hours early? What am I, nuts?
Bradley was due to arrive on American Airlines flight AA-288, 4:35 pm. His flight had been on schedule for the past two hours, every time Sam checked the vertical display screens that listed arrivals. For the first hour of Sam’s wait, Bradley’s flight didn’t even show up on the display screen. He thought he got the day wrong but a woman at the information desk assured him that flight AA-288 was on its way and on time.
Sam checked his watch, then checked the arrivals display screen. His watch was two minutes fast every time he looked. As the time of Bradley’s arrival approached, Sam’s heart pounded harder in his chest. Even though he hadn’t drunk a drop for fifteen years, he would forever feel the pull of alcohol. A beer would take the edge off.
Sam distracted himself by checking his watch, then the arrivals screen, and back to his watch. He noticed a barely perceptible tremor in his arm. He raised his other hand up to confirm his shakes, then balled his fists.
Relax. Any time now.
Sam shifted his gaze to the sliding doors that separated arriving passengers from waiting loved ones, or in his case, an absent ex-con father who had no idea what his son looked like.
A deadbeat. Claire was fond of that title.
Fucking Claire. How else have you poisoned Bradley against me?
Cold sweat collected on the hairline of Sam’s closely cropped buzz cut. His long-sleeved flannel shirt had become damp from his soaked t-shirt underneath. He wiped his brow with his sleeve and his hand brushed against his coarse five o’clock shadow. He had forgotten to shave.
Great. I look like a god damned bum.
The first passengers began to trickle out of the arrivals gate. The sliding doors opened and closed with an audible shhhik. Sam scanned their faces looking for something, anything familiar. Soon the trickle became a mad crush. People flowed out and made a beeline for the luggage carousel. The sliding doors never had a chance to close.
Is it the kid with the USC t-shirt? Or the one wearing the Cincinnati Reds ball cap? Or the fat one there?
Sam couldn’t keep up. He watched the unknown faces move and squeeze past him. He was sure he had missed some, but didn’t dare check to look behind for fear of missing more people exiting the arrivals door. He felt his knees weaken under his anxious weight and had to sit down on a nearby row of seats. His lower seated position wasn’t optimal because people further back were more easily obscured.
I haven’t missed him, have I? Shit. Wouldn’t it be a joke to have to look for Bradley at the Lost and Found?
The numbers of passengers began to thin dramatically. Sam scratched his head.
For fuck’s sake, I missed him. Why couldn’t Claire have sent me a more recent picture? Bitch.
Sam stood up. He steadied himself on the seat back, and headed towards the sliding doors of arrivals, which were now closed. He looked down the corridor beyond the glass and spotted the pilots and flight attendants approach. The arrivals door slid open.
“Are you from flight AA-288?” Sam’s eyes flitted between the pilots and the attendants.
“Yes,” the taller pilot said. He shot a glance to his co-workers, then back to Sam. “Are you alright, sir?”
“Is anyone else on the plane?”
“The crew is always the last off,” the pilot said. “Do you need assistance?”
Sam shook his head and let out a sigh.
Sam nodded, and walked toward the open arrival doors.
“Sir, I’m afraid you can’t go in that way.” The other pilot held Sam back as the doors slid shut.
Sam’s shoulders slumped, defeated.
What am I reading? What am I writing?
Bradley’s flight was just over five hours. He hadn’t eaten enough before takeoff and was famished by the time the flight attendant came to take his order. The only meal options left were a Chicken Apple Sausage Skillet or a Kid’s Snack Pack.
“I’m not a kid, so I’ll take the skillet.” Bradley was curious what sausage made from chicken and apples tasted like. It couldn’t be all bad.
The flight attendant took the crumpled ball of bills from Bradley and handed him his meal.
The picture in the brochure always looked better than the real thing. His skillet was light on the sausage and heavy on the potato and scrambled eggs. He counted three pieces of apples. To be fair, the meal tasted fine, but it was hot in the center and cold on the edges. Bradley stirred it to give it an overall lukewarm temperature. For some reason, the flight attendant handed him a fruit cup as well. It was mostly melon. He hated melon.
Bradley had been up since five-thirty in the morning. At this point he didn’t care what he shoveled into his stomach. He ate like there was no tomorrow, wolfing down everything, including the melon, plus coffee and orange juice.
The entertainment offerings were lame, and he didn’t want to pay for Internet access. He had grown bored of the games on his phone and kicked himself for not downloading something new for the trip. He eased the seat back and managed to get an hour or so of shut-eye.
Claire had ruined his summer and his fitful dreams picked up on his anger and ran with it. He had wanted to get a job after school was out and earn some extra money for a new computer. He wanted to meet his dad, maybe spend a couple weeks with him, but the entire summer?
“I had plans, Mom!”
“Sam’s been on my case to meet you, so here’s your chance,” Claire said. “Maybe now he’ll shut up about it.”
“But ten weeks?” Bradley said. “I don’t even know him. What if I hate him?”
“Then that’ll make two of us.” Claire kissed Bradley on the forehead. “You’ll know for sure by September.”
Bradley fumed. “This sucks, Mom.”
“Give it a couple weeks,” Claire said. “If it sucks as much as you say it will, we can renegotiate.”
Bradley awoke in a foul mood, and angry with Claire. There was still two hours left in the flight. He tried to distract himself by watching one of the flight attendants. “Trix” was emblazoned on her lapel pin and he fantasized about getting hot and heavy with her. But Claire’s head kept popping in and ruining the scene.
“Do you love her, Brad?” Claire’s voice echoed in his head. “She’s not good enough for you, Brad.”
Jesus Christ, Mom, leave me alone.
He pulled his day pack out from underneath his seat and unzipped one of the pockets. He removed an old photo of Sam and Claire and studied it. The date on the back: May 28, 2000. Claire was kissing Sam’s cheek. He was looking up feigning surprise in a playful way. A happier time and a much more useful reference than the baby photo Sam had of him. Bradley pulled out his phone and took a picture of the old photo, just in case. He worked the digital image with his fingers to enlarge the view.
What would my family have been like if you hadn’t gone to prison? Would I have been happy like this?
Sam’s face in the photo continued to grin his goofy grin, as if he was averting his eyes from any other questions. Bradley shoved the photo back into his day pack without care and pocketed his phone, now pissed at both his parents. The summer was bound to suck, guaranteed.
He was seated beside the wings in the middle of the plane, not even a window seat like he had asked Claire for. When the plane touched down, he disembarked well-mixed with the rest of the passengers. His little black cloud followed him and kept his mood in a dark funk.
Bradley moved through the arrivals exit door and spotted Sam right away. His hair was shorter than in the old picture and he looked thinner, too. Bradley wasn’t ready to meet his dad, so he decided to have some fun.
He pushed his way to the outer edge of the surge of bodies and moved towards the baggage carousels, opposite Sam’s position. Bradley hunched down a little and looked to his left, which obscured his face from Sam’s view. When he was sure he was clear of the exit, Bradley doubled back and took a wide route. He positioned himself behind a support pillar and kept Sam in view with every step. He felt like a private investigator.
Bradley poked his head out and watched Sam crane his head from side to side, trying to find him in the exodus. The passengers thinned and Sam sat down. It looked like he was in a panic, which gave Bradley a small sense of satisfaction. A little bit of payback. If he had been asked why payback seemed important then, Bradley would have had no answer. As the last passengers streamed past Sam, the arrivals door slid closed with a shhhik.
Bradley watched Sam stand up, steady himself on the seat back and walk toward the arrival doors. He looked through the glass.
Sam took a step back as the flight crew exited the arrivals door. They talked but Bradley was too far away to hear their conversation. One of the pilots held Sam back as the arrival door slid shut. Crestfallen, he stepped back from the sliding doors as the flight crew walked away. Sam remained standing, and looked through the glass as if he expected something to change.
Bradley’s little escapade had done wonders for getting him out of his bad mood, even if it was at Sam’s expense. But it was time to come clean.
He stepped out from behind the pillar and began to walk towards Sam, but something stopped him halfway.
Sam sensed someone behind him and turned. When their eyes met, he knew it was Bradley in an instant. The fact that they were the only two people left in arrivals made no difference. He saw himself, he saw Claire all at once in his son’s face and eyes. Bradley’s day pack hung off broad, young shoulders.
“Bradley?” Sam’s legs went rubbery as he fought to maintain his composure.
Bradley nodded and offered a small wave. “Hi.”
Sam took a tentative step forward, then another. Bradley closed the gap between them. Now he stood face to face with his dad, a completely familiar stranger.
Sam didn’t know what to do with himself. “Do I hug you now? I’m a little rusty.”
“About as rusty as you can get.” Bradley offered his right hand to shake.
Sam took his hand and they exchanged a firm handshake. Overwhelmed, Sam pulled Bradley close and gave him a hug anyway.
“I’ve been waiting fifteen years to do that,” he said.
Bradley didn’t reciprocate. It was too soon for him. When Sam released him and stepped back, Bradley noticed Sam’s eyelids were rimmed with tears. He wiped them away before the tears had a chance to fall.
“It’s good to finally meet you…” Sam paused and searched his memory. “Do you prefer Bradley or Brad?”
“Brad. That’s what my friends call me.”
“Okay, Brad. Let’s go get your luggage.”
Sam lead Bradley past the entrance and into the luggage carousel area of Terminal 8.
David’s Summer – A story of love and loss
How far would you go to save the life of your child?
After her newborn son David is diagnosed with cancer, Deanna’s life quickly focuses on her frantic need for a cure. Her husband Max, however, has other ideas.
Based on his own troubled and secretive past, Max challenges Deanna to consider quality of life versus quantity. Deanna chooses to seek treatment options alone and risks not just the life of David, but her relationship with her family as well.
Her thirteen year old son Alex is caught in the middle, left to navigate this family crisis on his own. An unexpected friendship may offer the perspective he needs.
This emotionally rich and compelling story will draw you in to its bittersweet world.
Bradley took out his phone and tapped something into it. Sam studied his son absorbed by this small electronic device.
“Who are you talking to?”
Bradley looked at Sam like he had asked for his deepest secret. “I’m texting Mom.” He turned to hide the screen of his phone from Sam.
Sam nodded. “Cool.” He thought about asking Bradley to say hello for him, but the thought evaporated faster than he could say the words. It wouldn’t have meant anything anyway.
Bradley wore jeans and a leather jacket over a t-shirt with the words “Guess what?” and an arrow that pointed to a chicken’s rear end. A raccoon tail hung from his belt. Sam didn’t get it and made a mental note to ask Bradley about it later.
Baggage began to flow down from the ramp in the ceiling and onto the revolving carousel.
“Which bag is yours?” Sam scanned the bags that were already following their perpetual circle route. “What should I be looking for?”
“No worries,” Bradley tapped at his phone with his thumbs. “I got it covered.”
Weren’t kids supposed to respect their elders?
Not today. Bradley was engrossed with his phone. He ignored the baggage making its rounds, as well as Sam who stood by and waited.
“How long does it take to send a message to your mom with one of those things?”
“Mom already knows,” Bradley said.
“So who are you texting now?”
That was it. Sam had had enough, of the crowd, the delays, and the lack of respect. He walked up to Bradley and grabbed his phone out of his hands.
“Hey! What the hell are you doing?” Bradley tried to grab his phone back, but Sam shoved it into his front pocket.
“I’ll make you a deal,” Sam said. “Get your bags and I’ll give it back.”
Bradley daggered him with a look that promised revenge. “Uncool.” He sulked over to the carousel and started to look for his baggage.
Sam took Bradley’s phone out of his pocket and looked at it. One huge difference Sam noticed from fifteen years ago was how much cell phones had changed, and how much people relied on them. When he had began his prison sentence, cell phones could make calls, send texts and had monochrome LCD screens. Now they could do practically everything, but the technology was foreign to him. Not only could he not afford it, he had no interest in it.
Bradley looked back at Sam and saw him with his phone. “Hey!” he yelled back. “Don’t touch that.”
Sam put the phone back into his pocket. “Cool your jets, Brad.”
Bradley’s two bags slid into view. He grabbed them and dragged them over to where Sam stood. He held out his hand. “Give me my phone back.”
“Didn’t Mom teach you any manners?”
The muscles in Bradley’s jaws clenched in angry angles. “Give me my phone back, please.”
Sam dug Bradley’s phone out and handed it back to him.
“You better not have done anything to it.”
Sam grabbed Bradley’s shirt by the collar and pulled him close. “How about a little respect?” As soon as the words were out of Sam’s mouth, he knew he’d fucked up.
They exchanged angry gazes, both recognizing themselves in each other’s eyes. Sam held his hand out towards one of the bags.
Bradley relented and handed over one of the bags. He was glad not to have to carry it, but he’d never tell Sam that.
“Follow me,” Sam said as he began to walk toward the exit of Terminal 8. Bradley followed a short distance behind, his eyes narrowed and a scowl on his face. The little black cloud was back.
That went well, Sam thought. Way to alienate your son in two minutes. Fuck, I’m shitty at this.
Sam found his beat-up old Ford F-250, flipped open the tailgate and hefted Bradley’s bag into the truck bed.
Bradley stared at the truck in awe. Its faded orange paint job made the rusted holes in the side panels harder to see.
“Holy shit.” Bradley dug his phone out and prepared to take a picture. “Is this thing safe?”
Sam reached towards Bradley’s other bag. “Come on. Let’s load up. And put that damn thing away.”
“Chill.” An audible click sounded from the phone. “I’m just documenting your life.” Bradley rolled the bag over to Sam, who waited at the back of the truck.
“Who said I wanted my life documented?” The notion of Sam’s meager existence recorded for all to see chilled him to the bone.
“I just thought—”
“You thought wrong.” Sam threw Bradley’s second bag into the back of the truck and closed the tailgate with a slam. “Get in.”
Bradley pocketed his phone and grabbed the passenger door handle. It didn’t budge. Sam reached over to unlock it from inside the cab. The door groaned and creaked as he pulled its dead weight open. Again, thoughts of safety wandered through his head. Bradley threw his day pack into the footwell and climbed into the truck. He closed the door behind him with a tired, mechanical clrunk.
“Aren’t you going to tie down my bags?” Bradley locked his seatbelt across his waist. He pulled his raccoon tail out of the way so it wouldn’t get caught.
“They’ll be fine.” Sam jammed his key into the ignition and gave it a turn. The whine of the starter rose up from the front of the truck but the engine failed to turn over. Sam repeated the sequence without success.
“Come on you piece of shit!” Sam turned and held the key’s position. The starter released a high-pitched grinding sound that reminded him of the metal lathe in the prison workshop. It was a case of third time lucky. The engine roared to life, then settled into a low rumble. “Know anything about cars?”
“Damn,” Sam said. “Was hoping you could help me with a tune up.”
Sam left J.F.K. and headed north on Van Wyck Expressway. Traffic was heavier today and the trip took longer than the usual hour. He chose to take Grand Central Parkway because he thought it was a more scenic route.
Bradley sat, silent and sullen under his black cloud. So far the visit hadn’t gone at all like he thought it would.
Sam wished he could have a do-over, but he accepted the consequences of his actions. The drive helped sooth him, and it was something he had missed in prison. But the heavy silence in the cab was overwhelming. Sam couldn’t stand it anymore.
He switched on the radio to Nash 94.7 FM. Carrie Underwood’s “Heartbeat” crackled over the old speakers.
“Country?” Bradley said. “Are you serious?” He reached forward and turned the radio off.
“What, you don’t like country?” Sam said.
Bradley sat and brooded.
They passed the New York State Pavilion. “Hey, remember Men in Black? With Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones?”
Bradley said nothing, but his eyes crept to look out the passenger window.
“They shot part of the movie there, the first one,” Sam said.
“I wasn’t born yet.”
“Oh. Yeah.” Sam did a quick calculation in his head. Bradley was right.
I can’t win for losing, he thought. Sam decided to keep his mouth shut for the rest of the drive. If this was how the summer was to begin, he dreaded how it would end.
You’ve been reading Vermin 2.0
Rats. They brought the Black Death. They’re fiercely intelligent. They eat anything.
Now there’s a new breed of rat in the sewers of New York City…a version 2.0…and they’re hungry for blood.
Ex-con Sam Shaw has problems. Bradley, his estranged son of fifteen years, has moved in for the summer and Sam has no clue how to be a dad. Plus, the building he maintains has become infested with super smart rats that crave living flesh. But Sam’s problems don’t stop there. He also has a debilitating fear of rats. With the help of a crew of rodent experts, Sam and Bradley must battle the infestation before they, and the building’s tenants, are eaten alive.
Vermin 2.0… Can they be stopped?
You’ve read this far. Perhaps you’re willing to go a bit further? Continue reading to the end of the tail…er, I mean tale. 😉
Want a little more of the story? Please continue on to read Chapter 2.