Writing in Key

A Writing Portfolio by AJ Key


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Michael and the Monster

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‘ROOAARR!’ growled the monster loudly.

‘Yaaaarrrgh!’ Michael cried. Running into his room he slammed the door and dove under his bed.

After a few minutes, he heard the sound of the monster fade away. With a deep breath, he crept out from under the bed and snuck across the room. He opened the door just a crack and looked out. The creature was gone. Tiptoeing into the hallway, quieter than he’d ever crept before, he reached the stairs and began to climb down.

He found his father reading the newspaper in the living room, his glasses sitting low on his nose.  Michael ran across the room and began tugging at his father’s sleeve. ‘Dad! Dad! There’s a monster upstairs!’

‘What kind of monster is it?’ his father asked, lowering the paper.

‘It’s got hair and tentacles and great big mean eyes and stuff, all growing from everywhere!’

His Dad chuckled. ‘You go tell that monster that you aren’t scared of it and it should go back to wherever it came from.’

‘All right, Dad, I will!’ As his father went back to reading the paper, Michael marched up the stairs ready to tell the monster off.

But when he got to the hallway the monster was waiting for him. ‘ROOAARR!’ it growled and started towards him, flailing its tentacles.

‘Monster!’ Michael stood tall. ‘My dad said t-’

‘ROOAARR!’ The creature growled again rushing straight towards him.

‘Yaaaarrrgh!’ Michael cried. Throwing his arms in the air, he ran into his room and slammed the door.

A few minutes later, when the thumping steps of the monster had again faded away, Michael crept out from under his bed. He checked the hall was clear before tiptoeing down the stairs, even quieter than before.

In the kitchen his mother was mixing a fresh batch of cookies, her apron covered in flour.

‘Mum! Mum! There’s a scary monster upstairs!’

‘Don’t be silly, Michael, there’s no such thing as monsters,’ she said, continuing to stir the mixture in a large bowl.

‘But there is, Mum, I swear. It’s got hair and tentacles and great big mean eyes and stuff, all growing from everywhere! And it jumped out at me when I was in the hall.’

‘Oh, I see. Well, if there is a monster, I know just the thing to make it go away.’ She opened a drawer and took out a clean wooden spoon. ‘Go tell the monster that you’ll whack it on the bum if it doesn’t leave you alone.’

‘Alright!’ Grabbing the spoon, he ran back upstairs to where the monster was again waiting for him.

‘ROOAARR!’ it growled when it saw him.

‘Monster!’ Michael stood tall with the spoon ready. ‘My mum says if you don’t go away I can wha-’

‘ROOAARR!’ growled the monster as it raced forward.

‘Yaaaarrrgh!’ Michael cried as both the spoon and his arms flew into the air. Then, without looking back, he ran into his room and slammed the door.

This time, once the monster had gone, he went downstairs to find his older sister. She was in the back yard hanging out the washing.

‘Jenny?’

‘Hey, Michael, what’s up?’ she asked, tucking a lock of blonde hair behind one ear.

‘There’s a monster in the hallway upstairs that keeps scaring me.’

‘Really? A monster?’ She ruffled up his hair.

‘Yes,’ he huffed and looked at the ground. ‘Every time I go up there it jumps out and scares me.’

‘Why don’t you go play at the park or something? Surely it’ll be gone when you get back?’

“No, it’ll still be there.’ He stomped around in frustration. ‘You have to help me!’

‘Oh, all right.’ She sighed as she hung out the last of the clothes. ‘Come with me.’ She picked up the empty basket and walked towards the house.

Inside, he followed her to their mother’s sewing room where she took an old cloth bag and a pair of scissors. She began to cut holes in the bag and finding some pieces of cloth in a drawer, she attached them to the outside until it was almost completely covered. When she had finished, she slipped the bag over his head, so that his eyes, nose and mouth could be seen through the holes. She then held up a little mirror for him to see.

He looked like the scariest monster he had ever seen.

Taking off the bag, he ran into the kitchen and asked his mother for a couple of cookies on a plate. This time when he climbed the stairs, he was careful not to make a sound. He placed the plate and the cookies just outside his room and thumped loudly on the floor before rushing into his room. Hiding behind the door, he pulled the scary bag over his head.

As the monster came along the hall to investigate the cookies, Michael leapt through the doorway growing loudly, ‘ROOAARR!’

‘Yaaaarrrgh!’ the monster cried, and as it did, its head came off, leaving his brother Paul standing there with a frightened look on his face.

‘ROOAARR!’ Michael growled again, and Paul ran off down the hallway to his room and slammed the door.

With the bag still on his head, Michael picked up the cookies and went into his room ready to scare his brother again.

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Gingerbread Cookies

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My sister and I have been best friends all of our lives. But two weeks ago she moved away, and this little town where we grew up just hasn’t been the same. Without her here my life is just bland and uninteresting. I wish I could move away too, but someone has to look after our ageing father since our stepmother died.

Then, this past Monday, after a particularly dreary weekend, I arrived at work to find a pair of gingerbread cookies on my desk. By the steam gently rising from them, they were still warm! I don’t know what it is about gingerbread cookies, but they’ve always been my favourite.

I looked around the office to see who could have put these delights on my desk, but the office was empty. I sat there staring at the cookies, their smell intoxicating me until I could no longer resist. With small savouring bites, I ate them both. Then with a happy heart and indeed a happier stomach, I set about my day.

The next day on arriving at work, I was surprised to find another pair of cookies. I could tell they were there even before I saw them, the smell of gingerbread hitting me as I opened the door. Again I stared at them wondering who could possibly have put them there. But like the first two, they got better of me and were gone in seconds.

There were more there on Wednesday and Thursday. This time I enquired with my work colleagues, but no one seemed to know anything about them. They believed I was acting out because I was missing my sister. So I tried to ring her, in case it was her trying to ease my loneliness. But she didn’t answer. I figured her new life must have been keeping her busy.

By Friday I was actually excited to go to work. As I opened the door, I could smell them. They called to my desires and my mouth watered in anticipation. How my dull life had been changed in such a short time by this small daily gift. I flicked on the light, and there they were in all of their splendour. But this time, they were not alone. Next to the cookies was an envelope and it had my name on it. The excitement I felt was beyond imagining. Not only did I have more cookies but I felt I was about to learn the identity of my mystery cookie benefactor.

When I picked up the envelope, it felt heavier than I expected as if there was more than just a note inside. I gently tore open the envelope with my thumbnail and lifted it open. Inside was a folded piece of paper that smelled of gingerbread and tucked inside that was an old metal key.

The note was written in a flowing curled script that could only belong to my sister. As I read, I couldn’t help but munch on the cookies.

My dear brother,

I hope you’ve enjoyed the cookies I’ve had left you this week. I figured you’d be lonely, so I arranged for a friend to bake them for you. She’s just moved to the area, and I think she’ll be a perfect replacement for me.

This afternoon after work, come and meet us at her place. She lives in the woods near where we used to play as kids. Do you remember? Take the path in the woods behind your work.

I will see you soon,

Your loving sister.

The rest of the day was a struggle. It had only been two weeks, but all I could think about was meeting my sister and her new friend. And I have to admit I was also looking forward to more of the cookies.

Finally, when my workday had finished, I packed up my desk and with the key in my pocket, made my way through the office’s back door towards the trees I’d almost forgotten were there.

In the darkening wood, I found a path dotted with white pebbles. In the gloom the pebbles seemed to glow slightly, ensuring that I’d be able to find my way out again. I followed the path for almost fifteen minutes until it led to a clearing and within, a large wooden cottage. Lights from inside seemed to give it a sense of warmth, with smoke gently drifting from the brick chimney at the back.

I climbed the steps to a wooden porch and stood before the front door. I knocked once and again, but there was no response. So drawing forth the old metal key, I inserted it into the door and slowly turned it. There was a sharp click, and the door swung inwards silently as if the cottage was beckoning me to enter. Inside, there was a hall with closed wooden doors on either side. The room was sparsely decorated, and at the end, I could see the light coming from under a door. I assumed it was the kitchen and made my way across the wooden floor towards it, surprised that my steps made not a sound. When I reached the door, I pushed, and it swung effortlessly inwards on well-oiled hinges.

The kitchen was warm and inviting. The smell of gingerbread that permeated the rest of the house was strongest here. On the far side of the room, with her back to me was my sister, her golden hair hanging about her shoulders as she peered out through a window.

‘Hello?’ I asked, taking a step forward, an excited smile on my face.

My sister turned suddenly and gazed at me, a look of horror on her face. ‘Hansel? No!’

I heard the cottage’s front door slam and before my very eyes, the walls begin to change. The illusion of the kitchen fell away to leave walls of gingerbread, chairs and tables of chocolate, and all else made of candy.

‘Gretel, what’s going on?’ I peered around the gingerbread room in shock and fear. I’d seen this room before. Before my sister could answer an evil cackle issued forth from the very walls. A face appeared at the window my sister had been peering thought, a face that stepped right out of my childhood nightmares. It had burns across much of its skin, and most of its hair was missing, but in its eyes, the first of a witch burned.

‘Finally, we meet again, my little darlings.’ The croaking of her voice grated in my ears. ‘But this time, it shall be you who meets the fire. And I shall have roasted children.’ She flung her head back and cackled loudly. ‘Roasted children!’

As the heat in the room began to rise and furniture began to melt, I looked around for an escape. But the walls of gingerbread had begun to sag and crumple to the ground leaving behind walls of stone. The fire blackened stone of a huge oven.

 

©2013 – AJ Key


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Black Cat

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‘I haven’t seen her in over a month,’ Kyle said into the phone. He was talking to his mother as he did most weeks. As he spoke he absently stroked the fur of the black cat languishing across his lap. After each stroke, it nuzzled his hand and purring loudly, its eyes closed in ecstasy.

‘I liked her but she was a bit strange.’ He paused as he listened. ‘No, I wouldn’t say bipolar, more hot and cold.’ He slid the cat from his lap, ignoring its vocal complaint, and rose from the couch, the leather squelching as he did.

‘When she was here, she’d be really affectionate, always wanting to touch me. Like she couldn’t get enough or something.’ As he crossed the living room towards the kitchen and the little black cat followed him, its eyes shining with expectation. As he stopped to turn on the kettle, it rubbed back and forth on his leg, still purring loudly.

‘Then, she’d just disappear, sometimes for a week or longer.’ He scratched at his neck absently as he listened. ‘Yeah, but she’d never answer. She said her housemates didn’t like guests, so we never hung-out at her place.’ He took a mug from a hook and slung a tea bag into it.

‘Then, one day, I’d come home from work to find her sitting on my doorstep.”  Opening the sugar container, he scooped some into the mug. ‘No, I don’t think she was stalking me.  I would have seen her in the last month if she was…’ He peered out the window into the darkening yard as steam began to shoot up like a geyser from the kettle’s spout.

He poured the water and with the tea bag’s yellow tag hanging from the steaming mug, he headed back towards the living room. As he came through the door the little cat darted past him and across to the front door where it turned and glared at him.

‘Go out the window, girl,’ he replied to the unspoken demand.

The green-eyed glare continued and it added an indignant meow.

With a sigh, he walked to the door and opened it.  The cat stared at him for a moment before slipping out through the gap.

***’The cat wanted to go out,’ he said as he closed the door again. “No, it’s not mine.  Someone along the street, I guess.  It comes to visit me sometimes.”  He crossed the room to the open window. “No.  I don’t think it has fleas.”  He pulled the window closed but left a small gap.  “Rabies, Mum, really?”  As he reached for the curtain, he saw the little cat slinking across the lawn.

“It’s a lot like Carole, actually,” he said as it reached the hedge at the edge of his yard.  It turned to look at him its round eyes glowing in the night.  “It waits for me on the doorstep, lays all over me when I’m watching TV and then disappears for days.”  Pulling one of the curtains closed, he watched it begin preening itself.  “No, I quite enjoy its visits.”  He pulled the second curtain in place, blocking out the darkness from outside.

“What’s been happening with you, anyway?” he asked as he returned to the couch and his mug of tea.

******

Outside, the slender black cat slunk across the lawn to sit beside the hedge.  She peered at the living room window and saw her man standing there.  With an inner smile, she began licking her fur with long strokes. As she worked, she heard the faint squelching of the couch and looked up to see the curtains had been closed.

In the darkness of the yard she began to transform.  As her form grew, her forelimbs extended, slowly reshaping into arms and lifting from the ground.  The fur on her body began to thin then disappear, while a long black mane grew from her head to cascade around her naked shoulders.

“You belong to me,” she whispered as she shivered in the cool breeze.  Standing, she drew her clothes from their hiding place and began to dress in silence.  When she was done, she peered at the window one last time before stalking quietly through the hedge and off along the street.

 

© AJ Key 2013


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Can’t Let Go

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Mel ducked low in her seat. She chanced a look through the front windscreen at the car that had gone past. It wasn’t Darren’s. She exhaled sharply and screwed up her nose in annoyance. Running a hand through her hair, she looked across at his apartment block a few houses down on the other side of the road.

I shouldn’t be here.

She knew he’d be angry if he saw her here and he might even accuse her of stalking him. But by sitting here outside his apartment wasn’t that exactly what she was doing? Stalking him? If only he hadn’t insisted on no contact after the break up.

Mel heard another car approaching. She was about to duck again when she saw it wasn’t his silver sedan. Once it had passed she dropped her head into her hands, her blonde hair cascading over her fingers and through the gaps in the steering wheel.

Why am I so jumpy? What am I even doing here?

This wasn’t like her at all. She worried about men stalking her, not the other way around! Yet here she was stalking a man she’d dated for less than a year. The thing was, she still couldn’t understand why they’d stopped seeing each other in the first place.

Where is he? He’s usually home by now.

The connection between them had been something crazy. His touch was like electricity and his kiss… She closed her eyes and breathed deeply as she pondered his lips; their soft moistness when they touched hers, the prickle of his stubble and that fuzzy feeling it gave her.

A car went by and her eyes flicked open to see the colour silver. A wave of apprehension rolled over her, but cleared when she realised it wasn’t his.

This is stupid. I shouldn’t be here.

He’d be home any time now and he’d see the car with her inside. He’d come right over and demand a reason why she was here with an annoyed look on his face – a look she’d always found so damn cute. But she had no idea what she would say.

She swung the sun flap down and peered into the mirror. She looked pale, with bags heavy beneath her eyes. Her brow furrowed as she cast her eyes slowly down.

Why am I doing this?

Her phone rang.

The sudden, sharp tone caused her to jump and she caught her head on the rounded edge of the sun flap. Picking up the phone, she rubbed her forehead and looked at the screen. It was her roommate.

“Jeannie?” she asked, trying to keep an even tone. “What’s up?”

“Hey, Mel. Where are you?” Jeannie’s voice sounded a little concerned.

“I’m…ah…in the car. On the way home.”

“You alright? You don’t sound your cheerful self.”

“No, no I’m fine.” Another car went past and she watched it stop at the end of the street and turn left. “The phone startled me, that’s all. What’s up?”

“Are you and Darren back together?”

Mel almost choked. “What?” She tried to compose herself again. “Um, no, not that I’m aware of. What makes you think that?”

“Well, he’s sitting in his car across the road. He’s been there for like an hour.”

Deep furrows again appeared in Mel’s brow as she pondered what she’d just heard. But as the moments passed, her face smoothed and the slightest of smiles began to grow.

“Mel?”

“Sorry, yeah, I’m here,” she said quickly. “He’s outside our house? For an hour?”

“Yeah, it’s like he’s stalking you or something. Want me to call the cops?”

“No, don’t do that!” Mel shook her head and chuckled. “I’m on my way and I’ll talk to him when I get there.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah, won’t be long.” She put the phone down, took a brush from her bag and ran it through her hair. Then, with an increasingly excited smile, she started the car and pulled out into the street.

 

© AJ Key 2013


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The Audition

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Harry was late.

He pulled into the first available parking spot and peered at the car’s console clock. Ten past five. He took the yellow porkpie hat from the seat beside him and pushed it onto his head as he got out of the car. He slid the keys into the pocket of his loose-fitting blue-jeans, their bottom cuffs rolled up, and ran along the footpath, his ox blood brothel creepers making a reassuring thud on the footpath as he went.

The large golden letters declaring the office of Phoenix Studios were printed atop a freestanding yellow sign on the footpath. He barely glanced at the words, ‘Auditions today…’ on the sign as he swept past and into the building.

He called the lift and watched the numbers above it count slowly down. As the lift doors slid open, a pair of blonde women flowed out, their perfumes wafting strongly around them. Harry gawked at their nipped waists and stilettos as they fluttered by, stepped in after them and pushed the button to the fourth floor. His hands shook nervously and a line of sweat ran down his back as the lift slowly rose from the ground. His heart raced when the lift opened and he saw the gold-emblazoned Phoenix across the glass doors. He marched into the white vastness of the reception area, stirring up remnants of familiar perfume that hung in the air and came to stop at a white reception desk.

“Can I help you?” the receptionist asked. Her plain brown eyes peered at him over the rims of her glasses.

“I’m… I’m here for the audition.” He placed his hat on the counter and wiped his clammy hands on his pants.

“Sorry, but we’re-” she began nonchalantly.

“You’ve no idea how hard it was to get time off work.” He wrung his hands before him.

“But, Sir, it’s not-”

“I know, I know, I’m late and I’m so, so sorry. But, please, you’ve got to give me a shot.” He raised his hands and pushed his palms together as if in prayer.

“It’s not-”

“All I need is a few moments. This could be my big break!”

“Alright, alright!” She frowned, the frustration thick on her face. “Please, take a seat. I’ll let the producer know you’re here.”

“Thanks so much, this means a lot.” Taking his hat from the counter he chose a seat from the uncomfortable looking chairs lined up against one wall.

“Excuse me, Mister Collingwood,” the receptionist said into her telephone headset as she adjusted the mouthpiece before her. “I have a gentleman here for an audition.” She paused, listening. “Yes I tried to tell him, Sir, but he insisted.” There was another pause and she nodded absently. “Of course, Sir.” She rose from her desk and peered at Harry. “Please follow me,” she said, motioning him to follow. “And your name?”

“Harry. Harry Hartley.” He rose and followed her across the room, marvelling at how short she was even in her heels.

She led him along a corridor to a set of double doors. She knocked and after several moments, pushed the doors open to reveal an office, the wood-panelling inset against walls of blood red.

“Mister Collingwood, this is Mister Hartley.”

Harry held his hat against his chest as he stepped past her into the room. He had expected to be nervous but the sensation of walking into the room knotted his stomach. It felt as if he was being marched into the depth of creature’s maw to be devoured.

“Thank you, Cynthia. That will be all.” The man seated behind the desk waved at her absently.

She nodded and closed the doors behind her.

Without standing, Mr Collingwood motioned towards a pair of chairs opposite him. “Please sit, Mister Hartley.” The expensive designer suit and authority in his voice suggested the producer always got what he wanted.

“Please call me Harry.” He shuffled forward and took a seat.

“Mister Hartley, you understand that-”

“Oh, yes, Sir.” The words rattled forth from Harry’s mouth like a runaway train. “I know I’m very late but it was the only time I could get off work. My boss is usually flexible but we were two staff down and the lunch shift was hectic.”

“Yes, yes, that’s fi-” Mr Collingwood’s words were forced to stop at a crossing as the train thundered past.

“You’ve probably seen plenty of people today all trying to get that big role. Like most of them, I’ve been to many auditions for many different roles over the years and been passed over by most…”

“Yes, I’m s-”

“Sir, if you’ll just let me audition, I’ll prove that I’m the best man for the role.”

“Mr Hartl-”

“It won’t take long. All I need is a few minutes of your time…”

“Harry!” Mister Collingwood’s tone was sharp and he raised his hand before him bringing the train screeching to a halt. “I’ll let you audition, just stop talking!”

“Oh, thank you, Mister Collingwood. I really appreciate the opportunity,” he said more softly.

“Very well.” The producer breathed deeply. “Why don’t you start with a simple character pose?”

With a nod, Harry slipped off his leather jacket to reveal a white tee-shirt, then drew it over his head to expose a tanned chest and crafted stomach. Returning the hat to his head, he pulled it down over his eyes and slouched back into the chair. With a cigarette hanging from his mouth, he casually lit a match.

“Mister Hartley! You can’t smoke in here!”

“Oh…well, I…I don’t actually smoke.” Harry broke the pose and shook the match until it went out. “They all smoke in these old movies and I…ah…well…wanted to get it right.”

“I see, well, you did a good job.” The producer rested his hands on the desk where a small mountain of files sat. “What about lines, do you have prepared?”

“I do, Sir.” Harry pushed the brim of the hat up with his index finger. “Listen, baby, when we first met, you and me, you thought I was common. Well, how right you was. I was common as dirt. You showed me a snapshot of a place with columns, and I pulled you down off them columns and you loved it; havin’ ‘em coloured lights goin’. Wasn’ we happy together? Wasn’ it all okay ‘til she showed here? Huh? Wasn’…wasn’ we happy together, wasn’ it all okay ‘til she showed here, hoity toity describing me like an ape?”

“Wow.” Mister Collingwood nodded slightly, a look of surprised in his eyes. “That’s the best Brando I’ve heard. Been rehearsing long?”

“Jus’ ‘is week.” Harry retained the voice as he replied.

“I’m impressed! So, you look like him and sound like him, but can you act like him?” Mr Collingwood waved to an open area beside his desk. “Show me.”

Getting to his feet, Harry took the cigarette in hand, tossed the hat to the floor and began stalking around the room, his gait perplexed and tense. He flexed his arm and lifted the unlit cigarette to his mouth. Then, with a frown he took a single deep breath and stiffened his arms before him. “Stel-laa!”

Harry turned at the sound clapping and saw the producer was standing. “Amazing. Just amazing. You could be Brando himself.”

“I watched the movie a few times, Sir, that’s all.” He smiled, a warm rush sweeping over him. “How do you think I went? Do I have a chance at the role?”

“You did a good job; a very good job. But it’s a little hard to say.” Mister Collingwood sat down again. Leaning back, he crossed one of his legs over the other.

“I wasn’t good enough?” Harry said self-consciously as he collected the hat from the floor and held it before him by the rim.

“Your audition was near perfect, Harry, but unfortunately you’re completely wrong for the part…”

Mr Collingwood paused as Harry’s face sank, the colour draining from it.

“…the part of either Stella Kowalski or Blanche DuBois, that is, which is who I am auditioning for today. With that in mind I won’t be asking you to screen test. However, I am auditioning for the character of Stanley Kowalski tomorrow morning at ten sharp. I suggest you come back then.”

Harry could only stand there dumbfounded.

“And, Mr Hartley, don’t be late.”

* * * * *

“You got all that from one picture?” Karl asked. He stared up at the painting they’d been looking at for some time. It was their first date and he was already starting to feel out of his depth with this girl. He turned back to the painting of the bare-chested man sitting in a deep red room with an unlit cigarette.

“Every picture tells a story,” Anita said. “You just have to be able to pick it.”

“But, it’s just a picture.” Karl’s face gave away his confusion. “Where do cars, actors and elevators come into it?”

“Your imagination, of course!” She chuckled, but it didn’t break the look of befuddlement from his face.

“Did he get the role?”

“Probably.” She shrugged, her eyes flashed at him as she moved on to the next painting.

“What do you mean, ‘probably’? Didn’t you just make it up?”

“I just don’t understand,” Anita said, in male voice, as she peered up at the new painting. It was of a confused man standing in a park near a pond. “I just don’t understand what happened to all the fish!”

© AJ Key 2013


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The Writing Portfolio

I’ve been writing now for over half of my life.  At the time of writing – 2013 – that’s over 22 years.  Most of the time I’ve been writing short fiction pieces mainly for the enjoyment of myself and a small group of friends.  Of late, I’ve been blogging on several different subjects, like hiking and travelling, and have been enjoying the process greatly.  But my writing passion is based more around the creative than the informational, so…

It seems like a timely opportunity to begin posting some of my stories for the world to see.  It’s far better for them to be available for reading than to be hidden away on a hard drive somewhere. So, over the next few months, I will be posting many of my stories.

If you enjoy them, please like or even share them,
AJ Key