Lisa Criss Griffin: Science Camp

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Dimitis Vetsikas from Pixabay.

Science Camp

Lisa Criss Griffin

Cindy Edwards covered her daughter’s ears as the nightly screaming began. The horrific, guttural shrieks piercing the desert air caused her to shudder in spite of herself. She could only imagine what those monstrous, so called scientists were doing to the poor creature imprisoned in the laboratory at the far end of the FEMA camp.

She and her daughter, Kaylee, arrived two months ago, having been discovered by a roving patrol of Federal thugs hired to hunt down hybrids still in hiding. Her husband Rance found a good hiding place for their family outside the city in the desert after the pandemic vaccine caused their abominable transformation into lizard/human hybrids. The secluded rocky overhang covered a deep alcove barely visible to the naked eye. A tiny, underground spring slowly dripped in the back corner of their hideaway. They ate insects, plants and other smaller reptiles to survive. 

Her son Grayson was out on a hunt when they were discovered. It was Cindy’s fervent prayer he escaped notice. She hoped he had sought out his father, who made the dangerous trek across the desert over eighteen months ago to the lab he shared with his fellow scientist Wes. They were both genetic research scientists. If anyone could help Rance find a cure for this diabolical travesty, it would be Wes. Rance had promised he would return for them, cure or no cure. 

Cindy was hopeful Rance and Wes were having some success when he didn’t return right away. But as the months rolled beyond a year, Cindy secretly began to lose hope. It was possible her husband never even made it to the lab. Her despair deepened when a patrol of Hybrid Hunters discovered their alcove. The Hunters unceremoniously prodded her and Kaylee into the back of a military transport vehicle and dumped them off at this nightmare of a FEMA camp.

The smooth adobe wall of the hut they shared with nine other hybrids was cool against the iridescent green scales covering Cindy’s body. She gazed down at her reptilian hands covering the sides of Kaylee’s shimmering head. Their flowing, gorgeous hair was long gone. She wondered if their beautiful tresses were still lying in elongated clumps on the bathroom floor in their former home in the city. At least their eyes were still human.

Fingers of light from a full moon crept through the open, barred window of the hut, illuminating an olla resting in a recessed shelf. A Camp Enforcer filled several ollas in the hut with drinking water every morning, along with a platter of food for the day. The Enforcers appeared to be fully human, but something was off. It had taken Cindy several weeks of covert study to put her finger on it. 

The Enforcers had no emotional reaction to anything. In fact, their behavior seemed programmed and predictable. Their responses to questions or requests were made with intelligent, but concise replies. And their eyes. Something about the eyes of the Enforcers was highly disconcerting. Their gazes seemed void and empty, with only an occasional flicker of humanity. Cindy harbored a suspicion the Enforcers were also victims of scientific tinkering, much like the hybrids. Only they had been retrofitted with some form of artificial intelligence, rendering them useful and completely obedient to their programmers. 

The horrific shrieking from the laboratory on the other end of the camp ended abruptly. The poor soul. At least he was out of his misery now. His name was Shawn. He had been taken from their hut a couple of days earlier, picked at random by an Enforcer. It always took the scientists a couple of days to finish their findings before they sent an Enforcer for another hybrid. 

Cindy cradled Kaylee, who was trembling in her arms. She had racked her brain for two months trying to come up with a plan to escape this place. But, escape attempts were not tolerated. She had seen too many hybrids murdered outright as they tried various methods of escape. To her knowledge, no one had been successful. The Enforcers were well programmed and armed with tasers and guns. Cindy sighed, allowing herself to relax against the smooth adobe wall, knowing she would need some sleep for the gardening work she and Kaylee were assigned to perform during the daylight hours.

The oasis in the middle of the compound was a thing of beauty. Large fruit trees offered enough shade to allow flowers interspersed with vegetables to grow successfully as long as the clusters of sunken ollas were refilled with water every day. Every bit of the oasis, including the fertile soil, had been brought in and constructed as not only a food source, but a well manicured, flowering landscape. It struck Cindy as odd that the unemotional Enforcers and the callous scientists seemed so taken by the lush greenery and colorful flowers. For that very reason, she and Kaylee made sure every plant they cared for thrived.

A strong thunderstorm blew in unexpectedly the next day, catching Cindy, Kaylee and an Enforcer out in the oasis. Large drops of rain pelted them. Thunder boomed and seemed to shake the ground. Lightning flashed and crackled in the atmosphere. Cindy could almost feel the electrical charges skittering across her scales. The Enforcer prodded them out of the oasis towards their adobe hut. There was a blinding flash of lightning, followed by a groan and a thud behind them.

Cindy turned, curious as to what had happened to their Enforcer. He was lying flat on his back on the ground, a surprised expression playing across his face. She leaned over him, drawn by the expression in his eyes.

“What am I doing here? And…what, are you?”

“My name is Cindy. Do you know where you are?

“No, not really. Am I supposed to take care of you? Is this a zoo?”

“In a manner of speaking. What is your name?”

“Ummmm…I’m not…sure. Tom? Yes, that sounds right. My name is Tom.”

Tom’s face turned white with a hint of green. He rolled his head towards Cindy and vomited, his body jerking uncontrollably. 

“I don’t…understand. Cindy. I…don’t…understand….”

The life faded from Tom’s eyes. The strange, vacant stare returned, but it appeared dead too. Cindy had a sudden revelation in the brunt of the storm. She snatched Tom’s taser and dropped it into an empty olla. She tucked the olla under her arm before she and Kaylee made their way through the driving rain back to their hut. She hid the olla under the blanket she and Kaylee shared, taking care that their hybrid roommates streaming into the hut behind them were none the wiser.

Cindy stood by the barred window, watching the Enforcers. They seemed to be walking about erratically in the rain. Nobody appeared to notice Tom, who was lying motionless in the mud. Electricity crackled through the atmosphere as thunder boomed overhead. An Enforcer walked straight into the side of an adobe hut and fell down. Cindy turned towards her fellow hybrids huddled against the far wall.

“Something is wrong with the Enforcers! One just walked into a wall and fell down. Kaylee and I are getting out of here. Who wants to go with us?”

Hope flared briefly in the hybrids’ eyes, before their collective fear of the Enforcers killed it. No one wanted to take the chance on being gunned down or bludgeoned to a pulp, left to rot in the hot sun for a few days as a reminder to all the inmates. There was no escape.

Cindy grabbed Kaylee’s arm, the olla and stepped out of the hut into the driving rain. As they passed Tom, she thought she heard him call her name. Cindy froze and looked at the Enforcer lying in the mud. He blinked, and reached a shaking hand up towards her.

“I remember. I remember, Cindy! Help me, and I can help you get out of this hellhole! What the hell have these monsters done to us?”

Tom struggled to his feet, his eyes fully human…and angry. Kaylee stepped behind her mother, her scaly fingers palming the taser from the olla.

“We are getting the hell out of here. You can try to stop us, or if you want out, you can join us. Just to be clear, if you attempt to impede our leaving in any way Tom, I will have to hurt you.”

“No, no, you don’t understand. I want out too! I am remembering things now. I am just as desperate to leave as you are! I can help. I have access to the trucks outside the camp. Okay? Please! They will reprogram me if they find out the electrical storm fried my AI implant!”

The raw emotion in Tom’s eyes convinced Cindy his plea was genuine.

“Okay, Tom. Let’s get going.”

The Enforcer escorted the two hybrids across the compound to a hidden side door behind one of the adobe huts. He entered a code. The door unlatched. The three of them slipped through the door into a covered walkway adjacent to a parking lot. A thick fog bank was forming, cutting visibility dramatically. A variety of military vehicles were parked there, although the pounding rain made it even more difficult to distinguish differences. Tom selected a smaller transport with a covered bed in the back, open to the cab on the inside. 

Cindy and Kaylee climbed into the back of the truck Tom selected, still terrified he would turn them in. Tom crawled into the driver’s seat, the stress of being partially electrocuted causing his hands to shake. The three of them sighed in relief as the motor turned over and purred with power. Tom pulled the vehicle out of the lot, straining to see where he was going through the fog, rain and lightning. The last thing he wanted was to drive into the sand and get stuck.

The military truck pulled onto the road, the FEMA camp eerily disappearing into the swirling fog behind them. Thirty minutes later, they reached a T intersection.

“Well, ladies. Which way do we go? Left or right?”

“Do you know where the city is?”

“I’d say it is about three hours from here, if we go left. No offense, but it would be crazy to go there, Cindy.”

“No, my husband’s lab is about an hour out of the city. Rance is a genetic researcher. He is working on a cure for this…this horrible hybridization with his lab partner, Wes. We would be safe with him, or at least have a chance to reverse this horrendous curse!”

“Mmmkay. Left it is. Cindy, keep an eye on me. I’m feeling strange, but I think I can get us to where you want to go.”

It was almost dusk when they reached the turn off to the laboratory. They were a couple of miles down the road to the lab when Tom hit the brakes. The truck skidded to a halt. He turned around, his eyes blank and unemotional.

“We must return. We are not allowed to leave the camp.”

Cindy gasped in horror. Somehow, Tom’s AI implant had been reactivated. Unbelievable! Kaylee stealthily slipped the taser into her mother’s reptilian hand. Cindy leaned forward into the cab.

“What do you mean, Tom?”

“No, not Tom. I am Enforcer Unit 6751. I have my instructions.”

“So do we. I’m sorry.”

Cindy tased Tom. He stiffened, thrashed about for what seemed like a very long time and finally went limp. Cindy and Kaylee caught a whiff of something that smelled like electrical circuitry burning.

“Did you kill him, Mom?”

“I don’t know. I thought he was dead after the lightning got him in camp.”

“What are we going to do? They will kill us if they find us, Mom!!!”

“First, we need to neutralize Tom. See if you can find some of those awful zip ties they used on us, or rope or something. Next, we will go back and run the truck off the main road…away from this turnoff. Then we walk to the lab and hope to heaven your father or Wes can help us.”

Cindy and Kaylee pulled Tom into the back of the truck. Kaylee located a package of zip ties in the glovebox and watched, almost nauseous as her mother tightened several of them around Tom’s wrists and ankles. They threw a blanket over him so they didn’t have to look at the vacant stare on his pallid face.

The hybrids climbed into the cab, hoping one of them would have enough dexterity to drive the vehicle. They were afraid to turn on the lights, even though it was dark outside. Cindy had the truck turned sideways in the road when lights appeared in the distance.

“Hurry Mom! Someone is coming!”

Cindy yanked the wheel and backed the truck up. The lights were much closer now. Panicking, she cranked the steering wheel the other way and hit the gas, not realizing she was still in reverse. The truck careened backward, running off the road and into a sand bank. The engine sputtered and died. Cindy and Kaylee fumbled with the door handles, their reptilian hands clumsy in their haste. The door latches finally released.

“Go Kaylee! Go to the lab! Don’t wait on me. Go!”

A set of bright lights unexpectedly lit up the truck and the area surrounding it. Kaylee shuffled out of the light and fled into the desert. Cindy was right behind her.

“Stop! We see you! Stop right there!”

Something was familiar about that voice. Kaylee grabbed her mother’s arm.

“Mom, that sounds like Dad, you know, before the transformation.”

“Stop! We won’t hurt you! We can help!”

Cindy and Kaylee looked at each other in amazement, unable to believe their ears. It WAS Rance. Oh God, it had to be Rance! The two of them watched the familiar figure silhouetted in the headlights walking towards them. They were either saved, or dead.

“It is okay. We can help you!”

“Rance?”

“Daddy? Is that you?”

The figure stopped in surprise.

“Cindy? Kaylee?”

The two hybrids shuffled back through the thick sand, tears of relief running down their iridescent faces as they reached Rance. Rance…who looked completely human again! He folded them both into his arms, a sob of relief escaping from his throat.

“We have been trying to find you two for almost two months! Thank God. Thank God! Grayson saw the Hybrid Hunters take you away. We have been hacking FEMA camp records trying to find you both! And, here you are! How did you escape? Wait. You can tell me later. We need to get you to our new lab and start your treatment right away. It is not really safe here. Come on girls!”

“How is Grayson? Did he find you?”

“He is doing very well. Yes, he came to the lab after you were discovered. Come on, we need to get going.”

“Wait, Rance. There is somebody in the back of the truck we want you to try to help. His name is Tom…sometimes. When his AI implant is working, he is Enforcer Unit 6751. He helped us escape, but somehow his implant reactivated. I had to tase him, then we zip tied him. Can you help him too?

“I don’t know. I would have to clear that with The Guardian.”

“Oh please, Dad! We could never have gotten out if Tom hadn’t helped us! They were using us for horrible science experiments! The screaming of those poor souls…Dad…it was unbearable! We have to help him. We have to try!”

“Alright. You two get in my vehicle. I’ll make the phone call.”

The two hybrids crawled into Rance’s vehicle, still in disbelief over their rescue. Cindy watched as Rance had an animated discussion with someone over the phone. He nodded, hung up and gazed pensively at the stars twinkling like diamonds in the clear, night sky. 

None of them would ever be able to repay the kindness of The Guardian. They could only pay it forward. Guardian medics were on their way to transport Enforcer Unit 6751 to a secret location in an attempt to free him from his bondage. Rance took a deep breath, blinking back tears. He sincerely looked forward to thanking Tom for saving his wife and daughter. Now that The Guardian had direct insider information regarding the horrors of the inherently evil science camps, perhaps they could put a stop to them. He hoped so. With every fiber of his being, Rance sincerely hoped so!

Copyright ©️ 2021 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

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D. A. Ratliff: For the Want of a Crystal Ball

For the Want of a Crystal Ball

D. A. Ratliff

Images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by GimpWorkshop from Pixabay.

Writing. Can’t live with it. Can’t live without it.

Ask anyone who has the urge—no, the need—to write, and they will tell you that once that creative need possesses you, you have to write. I feel a compulsion to write and immense satisfaction that regardless of whether anyone else reads my words, that I wrote them.

A while back, a fellow author asked me to write an article about my writing journey for her blog. Like all writers, I had the usual reasons—a love of reading and influences in the form of my father and my favorite elementary school teacher to spur me to write. But what keeps me writing?

As a fan of mystery novels and action thrillers, my reading, when I can find time for it, centers on works from authors like Michael Connelly, Clive Cussler, or John D. MacDonald. Throw in a good sci-fi or fantasy, and I am a happy reader. When the urge to write began to creep into my soul early in my life, I envisioned being a famous mystery author someday. Of course, I was twelve at the time, so I suppose that daydream wasn’t too embarrassing then. Now, that same desire to publish a mystery novel remains, but hopefully without the delusions of grandeur my twelve-year-old self expected.

I have the good fortune (or, on most days, good fortune) to be an administrator for a large writing group on Facebook. There are many reasons that it is an enjoyable opportunity. Engaging with members at all levels of writing is cathartic. Most writers can identify with the confusion and timidity of novice writers as we have all been there. The experienced and published authors offer guidance and encouragement to those of us who strive to publish our first novel.

All right… let’s get personal—my first novel.

That’s where a crystal ball to tell the future would come in handy.

When I first had the urge to write again after many years, and more importantly, the time, I decided to hone my rusty writing skills by writing fanfiction. While working, I wrote many personal and training manuals, newsletters, marketing material, advertising copy, and the like but zero fiction. As there is a distinct difference in writing fiction and non-fiction (although there is a movement toward creative non-fiction, which is another discussion entirely), I felt writing fanfiction about my favorite canceled science-fiction series would be just the exercise I needed.

I jumped in, and by the time I finished, I had written eighty stories (from short stories to novellas). I believed that by not needing to create the characters or world build, I could concentrate on story development. Once I felt confident in my storytelling ability, I began to create original characters to interact with the canon characters and soon moved on to world building. When I decided my skills were strong enough, I embarked on writing a science fiction/murder mystery/romance.

Okay, pretty ambitious combination of genres and only possible because Amazon/KDP provides a platform for mixed genres that traditional publishers and their narrow marketing programs don’t allow. I finished that novel, all 116,000 words of it. I haven’t published it.

Then I began writing a murder mystery with the main character a photographer. A cozy mystery of sorts with romance thrown in the mix. I finished it. I haven’t published it.

Next, another novel, another murder mystery/thriller with the main character a lawyer but the secondary character a police chief. I finished it. I haven’t published it.

And then—a detective murder mystery intended to be a series. I haven’t quite finished it, but… you get the picture.

So why haven’t I published?

Good question.

Why the heck haven’t I?

That’s where a crystal ball would have come in handy. Seeing what my future was going to be might have facilitated planning things a bit better.

I am not alone. Many of us have finished manuscripts we have yet to query to an agent or find a publisher or self-publish. There are some inherent issues with finding agents and traditional publishers, time being one of them. The process of querying an agent, securing one, and having them find a publisher is tedious and anything but fast. Going directly to a publisher is no guarantee that the process will be any faster.

The time and effort to publish the traditional route is a difficult one that requires patience. Besides, writing a query letter and a book synopsis is more challenging than writing a book. I have drafted a lot of query letters and hated each one of them.

That takes us to self-publishing. A more straightforward path but still wrought with problems. I don’t know about you, but I choose my writing to be grammatically and structurally correct. However, when publishing on one’s own, hiring a professional editor can be expensive but necessary. That issue alone can keep us from hiring an editor.

Don’t forget that pesky cover. What do all the “experts” tell us? The cover of our book needs to be catchy, tasteful, and reflect the book’s plot. Well, no pressure there.

This costs money. Money we may never recoup after publication. So what do those who decide I want to publish, and I want to publish now, do? We do the best we can. First, determine a budget and decide if you can live with the fact you may never realize enough royalties from your work to cover the cost of preparing the book for publication. If you can do that, then search for editors who offer a discount or charge little to start with, but don’t forget the adage that you get what you pay for, because it’s true.

Inexpensive book cover designers advertise on several websites, but please be wary of the “cover for Five dollars” mantra. Again, you get what you… well, you know, so always get references.

But that’s not the only reason that many of us drag our heels before we commit to publishing.

In my case, I am fortunate to have friends who deal with the English language and writing every day who are willing to read my work for grammar mistakes. I also embarked upon educating myself on writing cleaner with fewer grammar mistakes and writing proper structure. Do I use a grammar program? Yes, I do, and I realize grammar programs are not perfect, so I rely on the kindness of my friends to tell me to stop writing comma slices. I hear that a lot.

I am also lucky to have some skill with Photoshop and a decent eye, so I create my covers. I still have them critiqued but so far, so good. That saves me money, but the angst of doing a decent job on a cover is always present.

It would appear my procrastination at publishing is moot. Yet, I haven’t published.

What is my problem?

I think my problem is a lot like all authors who are on the verge of publishing. Life gets in the way. Or at least, we allow it to.

I finished the science-fiction novel just as a family issue arose, and I became a caregiver. Then one personal issue and another, and I’ll stop here. There isn’t anyone who cannot identify with this scenario. I like to tell myself that the time I spend dealing with the large writing group, which takes a great deal of my time, is another reason. After all, we have published five anthologies, and the sixth one is going to press. That takes time.

Okay… that’s an excuse.

And now I have run out of them.

It is time to do this. I have always been a proactive person in most situations but a tad lax when it comes to my own needs.

Please don’t do what I have done. Remember, your needs are essential, and for whatever reason you wish to publish, for money, for possible fame, or the satisfaction of accomplishing your goal, just do it. There is a reader out there who will enjoy your story.

Me? I gazed into that crystal ball. I see a published book with my name on it soon.

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D. A. Ratliff

Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and a love of writing. A career in science and human resources provided the opportunity to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters, but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries and her first novel, Crescent City Lies, will be published in 2021 with a second novel, One of Those Days, to follow. Deborah regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog, Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 78,000+ members from around the globe.

www.thecoastalquill.wordpress.com
www.writersuniteweb.wordpress.comwww.facebook.com/groups/145324212487752

Raymond G. Taylor: The Broken Jar


Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Dimitis Vetsikas from Pixabay.

The Broken Jar

Raymond G. Taylor

It was the one item we were told never to touch. It stood there in its place of honour, an arched recess in the wall of the kitchen where we would sit and eat our breakfast during that long, hot summer. A brown, dirty-looking earthenware jar with a broken handle and glue marks showing around the mouth.

“Hurry up slowcoach,” Miles would say as Millie sat there, fidgeting, waiting for me to finish dipping my bread in the luxurious coffee and hot milk that Aunt Aggie provided for breakfast. We had already been out to the Boulangerie to buy the bread.

“Deux pain sil vous plait,” we would say. It was the first French we had learnt, the day after our arrival. Nobody in the village spoke English, as we soon learnt, but it was not long before our halting attempts to blurt out a few French words, combined with suitable gestures, did the trick.

“Come on Marcus, before it gets too hot out.”

We were off to the beach for a swim. We went there every morning before the sun rose too high. Then, before we had developed any kind of a Mediterranean tan, our pallid complexions would soon be burnt to a bright red, as we learnt to our painful cost.

“I’m going,” said Miles with a huff. With one last look at the jar, I scampered out after him, Millie in tow. As the middle child, Marcus in the middle, it was my job to supervise our younger sister. We were always glad to leave the house and our aunt Agatha, mad aunt Aggie, behind, and I dare say she was pleased to be shot of us too. That way she could spend her day mumbling to herself, chatting to her invisible friends and pacing about the villa in her dusty clothes and unkempt hair.

Aunt Aggie had run away from her home in Surrey and left her parents, our grandparents, when she was a teenager. Ran off with a French film star, or so she claimed. It wasn’t the first time he had run off with a young girl, and wasn’t the last time either, or so it seemed. Having been abandoned by the said film star, our aunt decided to remain where her beau had left her in this torrid coastal town in Provence. She soon found other friends. Aggie was always talking about this Claude, or that Antoine, or how Pierre had swept her off her feet. She would wave her arms about like some demented am-dram actress as she spoke of nights spent in the bars and bistros of the Champs-Élysées, wherever that was. Looking back on it, I don’t think she was ever in Paris, so it was probably just one more of her mad tales. We couldn’t care less what she said, we were happy to scamper along to the sea, barefoot and ready to immerse ourselves in the warm waters of the Med at the beach we later learnt had the exotic name of L’épuisette Plage.

When we weren’t out swimming in the sea or combing the sands and rocks for shellfish and flotsam, we spent our days catching lizards in the woods nearby or running around the village making mischief or finding French children to run around with. At first, they would laugh at us for not understanding them, but we managed to make ourselves understood and, over the years, we became fluent in the language of this part of southern France.

Back at the villa, we would speak to each other in English, occasionally adding a spattering of any new French words and phrases we had learnt that day from our playmates. Aunt Aggie switched between French and English with an easy grace, selecting from one or the other, depending on her mood. When she was in a day-to-day, time-for-a-bath or time-for-bed, or don’t-you-ever-touch-that-jar type of mood, she spoke English to us, with a headmistressey type of accent and emphasis. It seemed she only spoke French when she was in a dreamy, dancey, mad mood. We didn’t take much notice of what she said but, if it was late at night, we tried to keep her talking as long as possible, so that she didn’t notice the time. Sometimes she would fall asleep on the divan, carafe of the pungent local wine by her side, and we would slink off out into the starlit night for some nocturnal adventure or other.

Some days we didn’t go out at all. On those rare days that were hit by the fearsome thunder and torrential rains that sometimes visited those parts of France we were ordered to stay in. We would have gone out, regardless, but Aunt Aggie would not have it.

“You will catch your death,” she would say before repeating the warning in some unintelligible French, waving her arms about in the mad way she did. “Non pas mes petits, you must stay inside.” Even when she spoke English, she would pronounce it with a French accent so that we had to half-guess the meaning. We knew that the “stay inside” fake French accent or not, meant that there was no room for manoeuvre. It was in all truth no hardship. We had spent the past few weeks running around the villages, woods, fields and beaches so it would do us no harm at all to stay inside for a day. At least in theory.

In practice we were, of course, soon bored, having gotten so used to our outdoor adventures, and there was little inside our auntie’s Spartan villa to occupy the minds of three mischievous children. It didn’t take long before the focus of our attention fell on the jar in the wall. Aggie had gone to her room, the one bedroom in the villa, for her afternoon nap. She was already snorting away like a prize pig in a puddle.

“I wonder if there is anything in it,” said Millie, unusually vocal. Miles and I looked at each other, an expression of alarm on his face as he immediately noticed the spread of a wicked grin across mine.

“Oh, no, Marcus. No!” it didn’t stop the spread of the grin and as I got up he leapt on me, repeating the order to desist. I was having none of it but, squirm as I might, I was unable to wriggle out from under him. Then Millie joined in and we all rolled around on the tiles in a tangled heap until, breathless, we separated and sat up, looking at each other. At least the other two were looking at each other. I, for my part, was staring intently at the jar.

“I wonder.” Despite the noise of the rumpus, we could still hear the stentorian snores and snorts from the other room. She would never know.

This time, when I got up and stepped over to the wall, neither sibling tried to stop me. They just watched as I stretched up and, with something of reverence, lifted the jar, just an inch above the shelf it stood on. Immediately I felt a shock pulse through me. Something like an electric shock and yet not. More of a shudder and a warm tingle, that I felt radiating from the jar through my arms and throughout my body. Frightened, I immediately put the jar back down, a little too hard, as it shuddered, and I thought it was going to topple off the shelf and onto the floor.

My pulse was racing as I panted, trying to catch the breath that had been stolen from me. I still felt a bit tingly in the arms. Looking over my shoulder, I could see the other two staring at me, both with mouths agape. In Millie’s case, showing one or two gaps that had yet to be filled by growing canines. I turned back to the jar and there it still stood, almost challenging me. I was not sure what had just happened, but I was not going to let it put me off. Gingerly at first, I touched the sides of the jar with my fingertips, checking it was not hot or that mad aunt Aggie had not somehow wired it up to provide a deterrent electric shock. Gripping one of the rounded handles, and what was left of the other, as tight as I could, I could feel nothing. Then, lifting it again, I felt the tingling, more powerful this time. Not painful, but I could feel it coursing through my body as if my blood had all turned to magic dust, like the kind of fizzing, tingling feel you have in your mouth when you suck on a sherbet fountain or some other fizzy acid sweet. It wasn’t exactly unpleasant, but it did not feel normal at all.

Not only that, as I tried to lift the jar away from its arched shelf it started to feel heavy, really, really heavy. So much so that I was not sure I could hold it, but I was not going to give up either. Turning to face my brother and sister I held it up, straining against the growing weight that seemed to pull my arms to the floor. It was then that it happened. Standing there facing them, holding the jar, arms outstretched, I felt the weight suddenly take the jar out of my fingers and, for an instant, watched it drop towards the floor. Feeling the dizziness of fear, I tried to snatch it back up again but it was gone in an instant. No sound of a fall, no smashing, no splintering, shattering clash of pottery against floor tile, nothing. There was no sound at all. The jar was gone. Not just from my hands, it was gone from the room. As I watched, helpless as it fell to the floor it seemed to dissolve, not into the tiny fragments of ceramic to be expected of such an accident, but nothing. The jar, in front of my eyes, dissolved into nothing. It literally melted into thin air as I watched, dazed and confused and feeling dizzier and dizzier. I could hear an enormous rushing of wind, like a full-blown hurricane, like the ‘twister’ in Wizard of Oz, and I thought of that swirling whirlwind as I was carried down, deep into its vortex and yet, not lifted into the clouds like Dorothy’s house, but plunged into the dark earth beneath me.

As I recovered my senses, I was still standing in the villa but somehow it had changed. Neither Miles nor Millie were anywhere to be seen and the room was transformed. Gone was the furniture, the drapes and the fripperies that characterised my aunt’s house. In their place were two low divans and an even lower table like a kind of coffee table, made from bamboo or woven reeds of some kind. The divans were neither beds nor chairs but kind of in-between. The little table was bare but draped across each of the divans was a man and a woman, dark haired and youthful, each wearing a kind of dress or toga. I could tell that the clothing was expensive as the material was of the purest white and the edges were adorned with a golden material that looked like lace. To say I was astonished would be the understatement of the century. But I can’t think how better to describe my utter bewilderment at the sight. Neither of the two heavenly creatures lying there paid any attention to me, they just seemed to be chatting to each other. Not in French and not in English either.

Just as I was about to blurt out something intelligent like “who are you?” or “what are you doing here,” I felt an enormous blow to my left ear, which knocked me almost off my feet. As I looked up, I saw a fierce looking man dressed in what looked like a simple cloth dressing gown, tied at the middle, ruddy arms bare, staring at me in admonition. The burning pain that was now spreading over half my face confirmed that he must have been telling me off. Then, as if further confirmation were needed, he started to shout at me.

“Inrabit Culina! Culina, Nothus,” or something like that. I had no idea what he was saying but as he pointed one hand and raised the other to strike again, I had no doubt what he meant and quickly scurried towards my aunt’s bedroom, fearful of the hammer blow that was bound to follow had I not. As I walked through the now doorless arch to the room, I was hardly surprised to note the absence of bedroom furniture, given the many other surprises that had already assailed me. I was almost interested to note, however, the remarkable layout of what was obviously a kitchen, though lacking any appliance I could recognise.

The room was filled with the most glorious and varied smells I had ever come across. From behind a wooden door in the recess in the wall where my aunt once kept her cosmetics, was a smell of fresh bread baking, the fire beneath confirming the function of the recess. I could smell the fire, the bread, a strange waft of fish, some half-rancid dairy smell, something that must have been meat beyond its best, overlayed by a thousand spices and herbs to delight the most avid gourmet. I did not have time to identify all these heady perfumes, however, as the gruff man followed me in, shouting something else and pointing to a tray that seemed to be waiting for me on a stone ledge. Fearing another blow, I picked up the tray and, guessing it to be a meal for Mr. and Mrs. Adonis in the other room, I scuttled out with it.

It was a tray covered with little pottery dishes, each containing a food of some kind or another, some covered with a lavish drizzle of oil, some a sticky, shiny glaze that might have been honey. There were dishes of mottled black olives and coarse grey swirling snails in their shells. There were many kinds of fruits I did not recognise and what looked like tiny chicken legs. The gruff man did not follow me but stayed in the kitchen and I could tell by the sudden blast of heat as I left the room that he had opened the oven. I could hear the crackling of bread crust as it met the cooler air outside after the intense heat of the oven.

Laying the tray down on the little table, which is where I guessed it was supposed to be, I stepped back and looked up, wondering what to do next. Neither of the two reclining there paid me any attention. They just reached forward, delicately picking with their fingers at the foods in front of them, making no attempt to sit up, still speaking their unintelligible words. I just stood there, not knowing what to do next. Should I bow and leave, should I stay and wait for further orders, or expect more blows from the ogre in the kitchen? As if in answer, the man picked up a little goblet and held it up to me without a word.

A sudden panic, as I wondered where the wine or water or whatever he wanted to drink could be. Looking over my shoulder, I saw it, there in the recess, in exactly the same place it had been in my aunt’s house, or this house as it was, or will be or whenever or wherever it could have been. It certainly seemed an age since I had dropped the thing from my hand.

Knowing the consequence of hesitation, I didn’t stop to think but strode over to the shelf and grabbed the jar, this time heavy from being filled with what I assumed was water. As I lifted the jar off the shelf, this time with both handles intact, and turned back to the table, I was suddenly gripped by an almighty terror. The jar was as heavy as it had been when I had dropped it before and, as I gripped the handles at the side of the vessel, tighter and tighter, so again it slipped from my grasp. This time, I was not saved by any miraculous dissolution, but was hit by a mighty crashing and splintering and gushing, as the container split asunder on contact with the floor, its contents spreading and splashing all over. Now, the two diners did notice me, looking up with their mouths wide open and about to speak when I heard the most fearful of exclamation and incomprehensible expostulation from the kitchen.

In no doubt as to my fate, I sunk to my knees, feeling the fragments of ceramic pierce my flesh, clutching my arms about my ears, awaiting the blow.

The roaring from the kitchen swirled all around me and dissolved into a murky mire of sound as I clutched my head, eyes gripped tight shut, and wished myself back in Kansas, as I remember thinking my home was at the time.

As the swirling clouds of mist began to clear I could see Aunt Aggie crouching over me and could taste the sharp tang of a metal teaspoon being shoved between my teeth. Thankfully, she removed it as I gasped for breath, not knowing if I was in Kansas, The French Riviera, or home in Surrey.

Recovering quickly, I clearly looked more than a little dazed as I jumped up with a start, looking over at the recess in the wall where the jar had stood before I broke it. Yet there it was. Standing in its proud place, looking a lot less worse-for-wear than I felt.

Glancing back at Aunt Aggie I saw, for once, the intense comprehending expression of someone who could take in the whole story in a single glance.

She knew where I had been.

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Please visit Ray on his blog: https://raymondgtaylor.com/ And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Raymond.G.Taylor.author/

WRITE THE STORY: April 2021 PROMPT

Welcome to Write the Story!

A pocket watch resting in sand created a wealth of imaginative stories in March. f you haven’t joined in the fun yet, please do so and write a story for April’s prompt.

A reminderWU! created this project with two goals: providing a writing exercise and promoting our author sites to increase reader traffic. We ask that you please include a link to the Writers Unite! blog when you post your story elsewhere. By doing so, you are also helping promote your fellow members and Writers Unite! We encourage all of you to share each other’s stories to help all of us grow. Thanks!

Write the Story! April 2021 Prompt

Here’s the plan:

You write a story of 3000 words or less (minimum 500 words) or poem (minimum 50 words) and post it on the author site you wish to promote. Don’t forget to give your story a title. (Note: You do not have to have a website/blog/FB author page to participate, your FB profile or WordPress link is fine.)

Please edit these stories. We will do minor editing, but WU! reserves the right to reject publishing the story if poorly written.

The story must have a title and author name and must include the link to the site you wish to promote.

Send the story and link to the site via Facebook Messenger to Deborah Ratliff or email to writersunite16@gmail.com. Put “Write the Story” in the first line of the message.

Please submit your story by the 25th day of the month.

WU! will post your story on our blog and share it across our platforms— FB, Twitter, Instagram, etc. The story will also be available in the archives on the WU! blog, along with the other WTS entries.

We ask that you share the link to the WU! blog so that your followers can also read your fellow writers’ works.

The idea is to generate increased traffic for all. It may take some time, but it will happen if you participate. The other perk of this exercise is that you will also have a blog publishing credit for your work.

—————–

(Please note: all images are free-use images and do not require attribution.)

Michele Sayre: Writing Through Walls

 Image by chitsu san from Pixabay

Writing Through Walls

Michele Sayre

A while back I wrote an essay about how I feel ‘writer’s block’ is a real thing. I told my stories of what has stopped me from writing over the years and I would love to say this article forever-cured my writer’s block. But it didn’t. And I honestly don’t know if I will ever be cured from writer’s block but I’m not going to worry about that or justify times when I can’t get it together to write.

First, I have never really had ‘ideal’ conditions to write in. Oh, I’ve had rooms of my own but my time hasn’t always been all my own. I’ve lived on my own for close to eighteen years but in those years I’ve worked demanding jobs with long hours, was a caregiver to my father until he passed away, and I have dealt with physical issues that have kept me from writing. I have freely admitted I can’t always write under stress or when I’m exhausted. That’s not whining or complaining to me but just a fact of my life.

But over the last few years, I’ve realized a wall can come up and stop me from writing. And over the years, I’ve had to figure out what those walls were and how to work through them.

In the Fall of 2016, I conceived two writing projects, both of them book-length non-fiction that I had never attempted before. The first was simply labeled, ‘Untitled Self-Help/Memoire Hybrid’ and the other ‘Untitled Political Book’. The premise for both was that I would use writing to figure out why I thought and felt like I did about myself and the world around me. What I didn’t know then, and what no one could have known, was this would involve a dive in the deepest, and most painful parts of my psyche. It would involve working through emotions and thoughts about things I had boxed up and not dealt with until these past few years. This is by the far the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’m glad I did it. Writing about it though… well, that’s been the hard part.

Talking about this is hard, too because I have heard this could be seen as whining or complaining. I’m not blaming anyone or anything for my problems and difficulties and therefore I don’t see how talking about not being able to write is a form of whining or complaining. I don’t need ‘ideal conditions’ or anything else. I need to work through the walls that still come up for me, and probably will continue to come up for me for the rest of my life.

These walls can feel like huge blocks of brick or cement or some other hard and impenetrable material. And you may think you can blast your way through them or walk away from them and do something else instead. I’m not going to fault anyone who does that but that’s not how I write.

This past week a wall came up that stopped me from writing until this piece. I was trying to write a blog-series about past and present events and I just felt like my writing was not where I wanted it to be. So I took a step back and stared at the wall in front of me until I could see the words there. Those words were: we weren’t having the conversations back then like we are now. Because my non-fiction involves my past, I didn’t want to just write it as a contrast of past to present. I needed some sort of context, or framework to explain what I’m writing and why I’m writing this. I don’t feel like this was wasted time either as I’m not on any deadline nor do I feel like I have to justify the way I do things.

I’m writing this piece to any writer who has felt any kind of pressure to write despite facing a wall. I want to tell those writers it’s okay to stop and stare at that wall until you see the words you’re looking for. This isn’t about perfection. It’s about finding the words that you need to write the way you want to. I’ve always writing is mostly instinct and I think the time spent staring at the walls is one way of honing that instinct.

For me, it’s not about writing under less-than-ideal conditions, or just pushing through no matter what. I think for some writers walls do come up because I feel writing is a journey. And when you come to a wall you don’t need to blast through it or find a way over it or around it. Instead, you can look at until you see the words you may not even know you’ve been looking for. But once you find them, the wall will go away and you’ll be able to move forward and write again… even if you keep coming to walls.

Image by Greg Reese from Pixabay

Michele Sayre is a writer, blogger, and observer of like as well as an admin for Writers Unite!

Read More of Michele’s Observations on Writing and Life Here

Please Note: Images used are free use and require no attribution.

Stephen Oliver: Conditions – A Writer’s Perspective

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Janeb13 from Pixabay

CONDITIONS – A WRITER’S PERSPECTIVE

Stephen Oliver

Here are some thoughts I had during a writers’ retreat in May 2019, but it’s still as true now.

“I can’t write because…”

Name your problem: space, time, people, inspiration, whatever.

I have heard this, seen this, read this, more times than I care to remember, especially in the last year, since I became active in several Facebook writing groups.

Sorry, people, but that isn’t a reason for not writing. It’s an excuse. And a lame one at that.

Yesterday, I stood in the cottage where Samuel Taylor Coleridge lived for three years with his wife and family. It was by far the worst house in the village. The rooms were small, and the only heating came from a small fire in one room. When the family moved in, the thatched roof was leaking, mice were running riot, and he had no money. Moreover, there were often other people visiting: the Wordsworths, Poole, and so on.

And yet…

While there, he penned some of the greatest lyrical ballad poems of the age: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and “Kublai Kahn” (sadly incomplete due to that idiot from Porlock, down the coast), to mention but two.

He did this despite the frankly appalling conditions in his home. Cold so bad, for instance, that his son Hartley would cry at night, forcing Coleridge to bring him downstairs to his writing room because it had a fire. The mice I have already mentioned. And how they accommodated their visitors, I shudder to think.

And yet…

“In Xanadu did Kublai Khan / A stately pleasure dome decree…”

If he could write that in these terrible conditions, then you, sitting in front of your computer in a warm, comfortable home or an air-conditioned office, have no excuse at all.

So, get off your backsides, or on them, as the case may be, and start writing. Even if you can’t create something as wonderful and ethereal as Coleridge did, it will still be far better than the nothing you are producing right now while whining at me.

Please visit Stephen’s website for more great articles: http://stephenoliver-author.com/

About Stephen Oliver

I’m a ‘Pantser’ (aka ‘Discovery Writer’), meaning that I write ‘by the seat of my pants’.

In other words, I have no idea what I’m writing until I’ve written it. Give me a picture or a writing prompt (a sentence, a phrase… heck, even a word will do) and let me loose. I can come up with something in twenty minutes, 400-500 words to create a new story. I don’t stop there, of course. Those few words can turn into four or five thousand, or more. The next day or week, the Muse will strike again, and I’ll finish it off, creating something weird, wonderful or just plain odd.

Once I’m done, then comes the hard part: turning it into something good. I’ve had to learn that what I wrote initially is only the beginning. Read, revise, edit, wash, rinse, repeat. And repeat. And repeat… There are some stories I’ve gone over dozens of times, and I’ll still find something to improve, on occasion.

So it is that I’ve self-published a self-help book, written dozens of short stories, completed a novel, and am still working on two more. My genres cover science fiction, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, humour (very dark), noir, detective fiction, fairytales and fairy stories. Often more than one in a single tale… Oh, and there’s a second self-help book in the works, too.

I came to writing fairly late in life, but that ain’t going to stop me now. As Harlan Ellison once said, “A writer is some poor schmuck who can’t help putting words on paper.” That’s me, because I’ve already written over a million words since I began. I’ll be done when they peel my cold, dead fingers off my keyboard.

Mind you, given the kinds of stories I write, that will probably be because one of the monsters I created finally finished me off…!

WU!’s 2021 Short Story Contest

A reminder!

Writers Unite!’s 2021 Short Story Contest Is underway!

We are one month into submissions for the WU! Short Story Contest! and stories are coming in!

Courage is the theme!

Check out the details below and start writing!

Deadline May 31, 2021

Submissions

Open Now

Deadline

Monday, May 31, 2021, 11:59 p.m. ET

Genre

Open

Theme

Courage

Entry Requirement

Must be a follower of Writers Unite! on Web https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/(Click on Follow or join via email.)

Prize

$50.00 Amazon Gift Card

Description

Write a fiction story based on the theme “Courage.”

Word Count

3000 maximum  (1000 minimum)

Contact Information

Writers Unite!: writersunite16@gmail.com

Website

https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/

Guidelines

  • Contributors’ work must be original and not posted on any website, social media site, magazine, or traditionally or self-published. No exceptions.
  • Word count must not exceed 3000 words (minimum 1000 words).
  • Story must be fiction and rated G, PG, or R. (No excessive gore or erotica.)
  • Only one submission per author.
  • Stories submitted via email at writersunite16@gmail.com
    Subject Line: “2021 Short Story Contest.”
  • Submissions deadline May 31, 2021 11:59 p.m. E.T.
  • A panel of three experienced authors will judge the stories anonymously.
  • One winner announced on August 01, 2021.
  • Grand Prize:  $50.00 Amazon Gift Card.
  • Winner and top ten runners-up featured on the Writers Unite! blog.

Formatting the Manuscript

  • Document: MS Word.docx or Google doc
  • Font: 12-point Times New Roman or Courier 
  • Visual: Black text on white background
  • Margins: One-inch margins and one-half-inch first-line indents
  • Paragraphs: Set to double-spaced, zero lines before/after
  • Spacing: Left justified with consistent one-space spacing between sentences
  • Name/Word Count: Single-spaced true identity and word count in top right of first page
  • Title: Centered title, about one-third down first page
  • Byline: Centered one double-space after title 
  • Main Text: Begin text two double-spaces below byline
  • Header: Name / Title / Pg.# on pages 2 and above
  • Dialogue: Must be enclosed in quotation marks
  • End of Text: Place <end> after last line

Printable copy of Guidelines

D. A. Ratliff: The Tell-Tale Watch

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

The Tell-Tale Watch

D. A. Ratliff

The breeze from the ocean brushed Ree Cannon’s cheeks, its salty aroma lingering. The soft sand beneath her bare feet was warm, gritty, connecting her with nature in a way she hadn’t experienced in many years. Pink tinges of light peeked over a band of gray morning clouds on the horizon, and except for the soft waves butting against the beach and the breakers, it was quiet.

This—this was why she came here, for the peace. She had little of that in the last several months. After resisting her parents’ insistence that she come home for a bit, breathing in the fresh salty air told Ree that her parents were right once again. Too bad she hadn’t listened to them about her choice in men.

She stood quietly soaking in the peaceful sunrise until a raucous bark from her companion, a feisty Golden Retriever, roused her from her solitude.

“Dexter, shhh—you’ll wake the neighbors. Let’s go back in the house, boy. My coffee should be ready and time for your breakfast.”

She opened the gate in the fence surrounding her grandparents’ beach house, and Dexter ran past her and up to the deck to his water bowl. “Worked up a thirst, did you? I’m thirsty too.”

Pouring a mug of coffee, she grabbed her laptop and returned to the deck, settling into a comfortable cushioned lounge chair. The sun was above the horizon, and she stared at the ocean, sparkling gold in the early morning light. Maybe she should stay here. No reason she shouldn’t—her ties to Atlanta were long gone. A simple signature on a divorce decree and freedom was hers.

However, the freedom not to work was currently unavailable. Ree opened her laptop to check her emails. As a screenwriter, she was fortunate to write from anywhere. She supplemented her income by teaching an online course in screen and playwriting and offering freelance editing. New classes didn’t start for a month. She had just sold her latest screenplay and had a backlog of editing to do. Now she had time to do it.

The sun was high in a crystal blue sky, the deck bathed in sunlight, and the air heavy with humidity when she realized that she was getting hot. She gazed at the ocean, and although it had been a long time since she had spent many days at the beach, she recognized the signs of an impending storm. Dark clouds looming in the west were closing in on the fluffy white clouds dancing along the eastern horizon, which meant thunderstorms were on the way.

“Come on, Dex. Let’s go inside and fix something to eat.” She picked up her laptop and coffee mug and led the dog indoors. While she was rummaging for something to fix for lunch, the doorbell dinged. Peering through the peephole, she saw her mother’s sister Ester standing at the door, holding several bags. Ree flung open the door as Dexter barked, his tail wagging because of visitors.

“Aunt Ester, what brings you here?” She took some of the bags from her aunt. “Please come in. I’m so happy to see you.”

After placing the bags on the dining table, Ree hugged her aunt. “I can’t believe you would drive all this way to see me.”

“Lawd, child, it’s an hour’s drive, which I can make in fifty minutes if those pesky state police boys aren’t around.”

“Are you still driving that Mustang?”

“Not giving up my Shelby for anyone, Ree Cannon.” Her aunt paused. “It is Cannon again, right?”

“Yes, had the judge change my name back to Cannon as part of the decree.”

“Good, then we are done with that fool.”

“Why are you here?”

“Well, I didn’t make the trip just for you, I am still a member of the Edisto Island Art League, and we had our monthly meeting today.” Ester turned to the bags. “I brought you a few things. Help me unpack these.”

Twenty minutes later, with the food and books tucked away, they sat down with sweet tea and chicken salad sandwiches from the food Ester brought.

“Ummm… this chicken salad is heavenly. How did you make it?”

Ester laughed. “Me, cook? Oh no, darling, Jeffery does all the cooking now. He threw me out of the kitchen when he retired early. That came from the deli I love in Charleston. You need to shop there when you come to town.”

“I’m anxious to see Grandma and Gramps. Have you heard from them?”

“Yes, actually talked to them this a.m. Your parents were off on some tour, and Momma and Daddy were at the hotel enjoying breakfast. Said to tell you they love you and will see you in a week.”

“Why didn’t you and Uncle Jeff go with them?”

“With renovating the old house, we didn’t have time to be away. You have to come by and see the place as soon as possible. We couldn’t believe we could repurchase the family house after all these years. When it came on the market, we couldn’t turn it down, but it’s taken a lot of money to fix it up. Luckily we got a local builder who loves old houses. I think he’s having more fun than we are.

“I can’t wait to see it. I remember driving by the lane when I was a little girl and wished I could live there.”

“Well, maybe someday you will. As you are the only grandchild, I think you are going rake in the goods when we all croak. Until then, I think you will be staying right here. This is where you belong.”

“Aunt Ester, stop that nonsense.”

Ester took a sip of tea, then stared into Ree’s eyes. “Allison Marie, how are you?”

“I’m fine. Took a while, but I am fine. Learning that your husband is having an affair is never easy.”

“Bastard—didn’t like him from the start.”

“I know. I should have listened to you, and mom, and well, everyone.”

“Darling, I didn’t mean that. It’s just, well… he was sly and that always made me uncomfortable.”

Dexter, who was lying at Ester’s feet, stirred, and Ester leaned over, scratching the Golden Retriever behind the ears. “Now, if Martin had been as sweet as this darling dog, we might have kept him.”

Ree sighed. She hadn’t admitted what she was about to say to anyone. “I had a revelation after the shock wore off. I hadn’t been in love with him for a long time.”

“I look at it this way. You are older and wiser, so next time you will really know what love truly is, and you will be ready for it.” Ester glanced at her watch. “Darling, I have to go. Need to stop by the house and take pictures of some molding we need to match. With storms predicted this afternoon and tonight, I need to get going. I’ll be back on the island in two days. We’ll do lunch and then go to the house.”

Ree walked her aunt to her black Shelby Mustang and smiled as she watched her drive away. Everyone should have an Ester in their life for the wisdom she offers and the joy she spreads.

She tidied up and then worked for three more hours before deciding she needed to do a couple of things before the storm hit. She checked the weather, and since high winds were in the forecast, she took the chairs and the table umbrella and stored them in the utility closet off the deck. She dragged the garbage cans into the garage next to her car and then lowered the garage door.

The sky had turned dark by then, so Ree took Dexter out for a quick run, and as they returned, thunder had begun rolling across the sky with streaks of lightning illuminating the dark clouds. She took a quick shower, dried her hair, and by then, hard rain was beginning to fall. Snuggling on the couch with Dexter next to her, she watched the thunderheads roll in, the heavy wind pushing waves onto the shore.

Dexter whimpered at a loud clap of thunder that rattled the windows. “It’s okay, boy. We’re fine. Mother Nature’s throwing a party to welcome us home.”

~~~

The sunrise brought orangey-red skies and the threat of more rain. Dexter scratched at the deck door to go out and fled into the yard to do his business. She walked out onto the deck, watching as the big dog ran along the fence line. Her grandparents had put up the fence when she was only three to keep her and their Boston terriers from running onto the beach alone. She was glad the fenced area was big enough to hold Dexter in because there was nothing the ten-month-old pup loved more than to run. She laughed—other than eating, that was.

Ree was about to turn to go inside when Dexter barked and began to paw at the sand. He backed away and barked again and then started digging in the wet sand. She went down the stairs and joined him. “What is it? What did you find?”

As he continued to dig, she saw a gold chain dulled with age. She moved Dexter out of the way and tugged on the chain. Light from the rising sun glinted on the face of a pocket watch. Dexter whimpered and jumped toward her hand, which she pulled out of the way.

“No, sorry, not a bone for you, but you certainly found something.” Raindrops struck her face. ”Come on. It’s starting to rain.”

Inside, Ree made coffee, fed Dexter, and sat at the kitchen table to examine the watch. It appeared to be an antique, but she was no expert. She wiped off the sand-encrusted case, surprised to find the watch face pristine with no evidence of wear or mildew. She suspected that the chain and case, though dulled, would gleam again after a good cleaning and polish.

Turning the case over, she read the inscription on the back of the watch. Gerald, you will always be my love. Fiona with the date, March 4, 1943, engraved underneath the words. So many years ago, but she didn’t think that the watch could have possibly been in the ground for that long.

The lights flickered as lightning flashed, and an enormous thunderclap sent Dexter diving under the table. Ree reached underneath the tabletop and scratched his ears. “You big baby, come on. Let’s go into the living room. You’ll be safe there.” She put the watch in the kitchen catch-all drawer, refilled her coffee cup, and she and Dexter headed for the couch.

~~~

At three in the morning, Ree woke abruptly in a cold sweat. She struggled for a deep breath and willed her heart rate to slow. Dexter, who woke as well, whimpered, and threw his head across her thigh. She sat up and rubbed his neck.

“Goodness, Dex, I had a bad dream, I guess.”

She got up, padded to the bathroom, and splashed water on her face. Moonlight glinted off the mirror. Thirsty, she headed to the kitchen for tea but diverted to the patio doors, drawn by the moonglow. The storm clouds had dissipated, and a nearly full moon hung over the ocean, casting its spell. For a moment, she allowed the calmness to wash over her. This. This was where she was supposed to be.

She yawned, and after getting a quick drink, she retraced her steps toward the bedroom. As she exited the kitchen area, she stopped. She could hear ticking, like a clock. She looked around, thinking there must be a wall clock that she hadn’t noticed, but she didn’t see one in the dim light. Another yawn, and she decided that she needed sleep rather than exploring for a clock.

~~~

The day passed quickly. She had spent the morning in calls with her agent, discussing a studio’s request to do a screenplay adaptation of a book, followed by more editing. She stopped at noon, took Dexter for a long walk on the beach, and ate the rest of Ester’s chicken salad for lunch. Deciding she needed a few things from the store, she changed clothes and grabbed her keys when the ticking started again.

“What the heck, Dexter? What is ticking?” She searched, and the only clock she found was the broken one on the ancient stove. Her grandmother told her the timer and clock on the stove only worked when it wanted to and that when she returned from Europe, she planned on buying a new stove.

“Well, must be from that old clock, although it doesn’t look like it’s working at all. Okay, boy, off I go. Promise to bring back treats.”

~~~

It was ten p.m., and tired from staring at her laptop for hours, Ree turned on the TV to watch a movie and promptly fell asleep. An hour later, she woke to the ticking noise. She rose from the couch and realized the ticking was coming from the kitchen, but not from the stove, from the drawer where she had put the pocket watch Dexter had found. With more trepidation than she was willing to admit, she opened the drawer.

The watch lay where she had placed it—the second hand not moving. Ree picked it up and shook it, then laughed. Well, that was foolish. Could the watch be intermittently ticking? Who knew? Next week, she was going to Charleston when her parents and grandparents returned, so she thought the smart thing to do was take the watch to a jeweler and get it cleaned and appraised. She dropped the watch back in the drawer and went to bed.

The ticking started at midnight. Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Incessant. Ree lay in the dark, trying not to breathe as the steady sound rose louder and louder. She gripped the sheets, terrified, but she knew she couldn’t remain in bed. She had to rise. The watch was calling to her.

She flipped the covers back, the chilled air replacing the warmth of her bed. She forced her body to move, her heart beating in time with the tick-tock echoing in her head. Each step she took toward the kitchen drawer took more strength until she had to support herself on the kitchen counter until she could open the drawer. Her hand trembled as she grasped the handle and tugged with all her might to open the drawer. The pocket watch was glowing, the ticking becoming louder and louder until she ran screaming outside, wanting to run to the sea.

In a blink of an eye, she was standing in the sand, inside the fenced area. The sea roiled, waves crashing as streaks of lightning stabbed the inky sky. Her need to flee was strong, but she was rooted to the spot, her eyes drawn to the corner of the yard, petrified at what she saw.

Bony fingers, glowing iridescent in the lightning, pushed through the sand. As she stood transfixed, the fingers became a forearm, then a shoulder, and then a skull pushed through the sand. She screamed, but no sound escaped her. Within seconds, a skeleton stood before her.

“Finally, I made a connection. You have to tell them. He killed me. He killed me and buried me here above the tide line, thinking no one would find me. But you, you found the watch I had given him. The watch he buried with me. He wanted no reminder of me as he had a new lover. Tell them, tell them I am here. My soul has been imprisoned long enough.”

Ree’s vision blurred as the skeleton sank into the sand once more. The scream she couldn’t utter before shattered the night.

Her scream woke up Dexter, who began barking furiously. Ree nearly fell out of bed as she hurried to get up. As she left the bedroom, the agitated dog raced past her to the deck doors and began pawing at the glass. Ree, nerves shattered, checked the locks, and sank to the floor, arms around the big Golden Retriever. She glanced toward the kitchen drawer, but there was no ticking.

Burying her head in Dexter’s back, she willed her breathing to slow. “You sensed it too, didn’t you?” The dog growled, and that was enough of an answer for her. She rose and closed the drapes over the door and led Dexter back to the bedroom. Aunt Ester was coming tomorrow. She had to tell her.

~~~

“Gracious, child, what a nightmare.” Ester set her sweet tea glass down.

“Do you know anything about this history of the beach house?’

“No, but Daddy might. Let me call him, he might be eighty-four, but his mind is sharp as ever.

Nervous, Ree waited as Ester called her grandfather. From hearing only one side of the conversation, it appeared Ester had some news.

“Well, it seems that when Momma and Daddy bought the house from the old owners in the late seventies, the seller told them there was a scandal. The wife of the previous owner had disappeared sometime after WWII ended. The police suspected foul play, but they never found a body. As you know, your grandparents tore the old house down and rebuilt this one in the late nineties.”

“But no sign of a body?”

“No, but here is a funny thing. The family’s name was Baxter, Gerald and Fiona Baxter.”

Ree gasped. “The names on the watch.”

“An old family here, and my builder’s name? Gerry Baxter. Time we went to the house.”

 ~~~

Two days later, the Colleton County coroner’s office dug up the corner of Ree’s yard and discovered a female skeleton, presumed to be Fiona Baxter. Ree, Ester, and Gerry Baxter stood outside the fence watching as the coroner’s techs loaded the remains into a county van. Gerry spoke with an Edisto Island police officer, then returned to them.

“They are going to do DNA testing to make sure this was my great-aunt. Officer said it appeared cause of death was a blow to the head.” He smiled at Ree. “If your dog hadn’t found that watch, we might never have known what happened. The family loved Fiona, but my great-uncle Gerald was a scoundrel. He disappeared not long after Fiona went missing.”

“This has been the most bizarre thing that has ever happened to me.”

 “From what Ester told me, you had quite the nightmare.”

“Yes, it was, and I still don’t understand.” She reached in her purse and held out the pocket watch. “This belongs to you, I believe.”

“Thank you. Never believed in ghosts until now, but hard to deny what happened. My mother was intrigued by this story. She will love to have the watch.” He paused. “You’re going to stay here?”

“Yes, my grandparents said I could live here as long as I want.”

“Good. Then let’s have dinner soon, and I’ll tell you all I know about Fiona.”

“I’d like that.”

As Gerry drove away, Ester elbowed her in the ribs. “Told you you’d be staying here. And I’m thinking that handsome young builder is remodeling a house he just might live in one day.”

Ree gave her aunt an amused side-eye, but she was thinking the same thing. 

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Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Kenneth Lawson: The Estate

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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The Estate

Kenneth Lawson

The old estate had stood empty for decades. In the backyard, a children’s sandbox sat surrounded by a mass of overgrown weeds. The sand inside had managed to stave off most of the weeds, and remains of plastic toys lay half-buried in the box.

Out of curiosity, Josh Letterman took an old half-broken sand shovel and began digging around in the sand. He didn’t expect to find anything but more old broken toys. As he dug, he thought of the days when he had played in a box very much like this.

The sun beat down on his back, and the breeze blew sand in light, quick gusts as it caught the spray from the shovel. After a short time, his knees began to tell him he wasn’t ten anymore. He was about to stand to resume the work he was here for when he caught a glint of something in the sand—definitely not plastic but appeared to be a gold chain.

Josh tugged gently, and a pocket watch slid from under the sand. He stood up and held the watch by the chain. It spun. The sun’s glinting rays reflected off the gold surface.

The watch was a puzzle. There were no markings on the face other than numerals, but things seldom looked this good after having been in the ground for any length of time. So why did this watch look new?

He pocketed the watch—no time to think about that now. Renovations were going on inside the house, and the city hired him to clean up the grounds. They were planning on turning the estate into a park and event facility.

The first task was taming the expansive lawn. Josh spent a couple of hours on a bush hog as he mowed down the tall brush that covered the front yard, each pass crunching debris scattered across the grass. He found bottles, toys, cans, and remains of junk food, even pants, shirts, underwear, and shoes. He wondered who threw away clothes and why. He spent the next two hours hauling all the debris into a large portable dumpster parked by the driveway.

It was too hot to work in the sun at mid-day, and he decided to eat his brown-bag lunch in the shade on the porch steps. As he reached for a thermal jug filled with cold lemonade, Josh felt the chain in his pocket move. He pulled the watch out to look at it.

He examined it more carefully and determined it was indeed an old watch, but its condition was surprisingly good. Opening the back, he checked out the mechanical movement, which looked intact. Winding it carefully, he listened for the telltale tick of the mainspring as it began to tell time again. Shrugging, he set it with his watch.

By now, the sun had worked its way around so he could resume work on the side yards. By late afternoon he was hot, tired, and his bones hurt in places he didn’t know he had. The dumpster bin in the driveway was almost full. He called it a day.

The next day Josh was back at the old estate. After hiding the pocket watch in a sock at home, he forgot about it. Each day brought a new army of weeds and debris that he tamed. By the end of the week, the lawn looked like a lawn again.

The sandbox, now repainted, sat prominently under trees in the backyard and was filled with pristine new sand. Even though the landscapers would arrive soon to replant shrubs and flowers, he wanted to leave something pretty.

He left, his job done, and he was feeling good about it.

***

Several months later, Josh was rummaging for something in his drawer when he touched an old sock with something in it. The pocket watch. He had forgotten about it. He pulled it out of the sock drawer. He pulled it from the sock and set and rewound it.

This time he didn’t put it back in the drawer. Instead, he dressed and slid it into the vest pocket of the suit he was wearing, fastening the chain to a buttonhole in the vest like he’d seen done in the old movies his father had liked to watch. Standing in front of the mirror, he had to admit the gold chain against the black vest looked good and matched his gold ring—time to return to the estate for the party.

The city had raised donations to return the estate to its former glory. Everyone in town knew the estate’s history. It had belonged to a land developer and speculator who had made millions in the early 1920s. The family had long ago let the land go back to the city, but the Old Letterman Estate name was how everyone knew the place. While he had the same last name, he knew he wasn’t related to the family. To him, the yard cleanup had been just another job.

Josh hadn’t told anyone about finding the watch early in the process. He’d forgotten about it until tonight. He didn’t think the watch had anything to do with former owners of the estate, but it felt right to wear it tonight for some reason.

He had been invited to the estate’s official relaunching, a black-tie gala, complete with live music and catering and the finest champagne the city could buy. While his part had been relatively small, the guest list included anyone who had worked on the project. It was an excuse for a night out, so he decided to go.

He parked his old car on the driveway in the spot where the portable dumpster sat for months. The lawn looked immaculate, well manicured, and the trees trimmed. The new shrubs and flowers had taken hold nicely and appeared as if they had always been there.

The afternoon sun that had caused him problems months before now shone over several large tents, spread over the large backyard. People milled around with champagne glasses in their hands, chatting to whomever would listen. Oohs and ahs echoed at the restoration work that brought the house to its former glory.

He caught a glimpse of the house’s interior as he worked his way around the side yard to the main tents. One housed the caterers, and the smell of food wafted from the tent, luring in the guests. A bar was set up in another tent, and a table next to the bar held an ample amount of champagne already poured into glasses ready for guests to serve themselves. A bigger tent beyond held tables for six, and many seats were filled with people talking and drinking.

He felt very much out of his element.

Wandering across the yard, Josh found himself standing next to the small sandbox, happy to see that only a cover had been added to the restoration he did before he completed his job.

“They say the kids used to play here.” A voice slightly beside and behind startled him, and he swiftly turned around.

The voice belonged to a plump, matronly lady, wearing a dress out of the 1950s, with its faded flower pattern and flowing sleeves that fluttered in the breeze. In one hand, she held a champagne glass, mostly full, and in the other, a small parasol. Not that any sun could get through the big floppy hat she wore.

“You knew them?” 

“Well, no, but my great-aunt was the housekeeper here back in the day. She told me stories about those kids of theirs, and,” she flashed a sly grin, “all the family secrets.”

Josh turned and looked her over more closely. She was older than she first appeared.

“You worked on the estate?”

He shuffled his shoes in the grass, looking down for a second. “Yeah, I was one of the original crew that cleaned up the yards.”

Her face lit up. “You did a marvelous job!” Quite gleefully, she swept her arms around the yard, nearly spilling her champagne.

“Thank you,” he responded as he ducked under her parasol, which nearly poked him in the eye as she swung it wildly.

They introduced themselves. She was Margo Petrie, but she was gulping down the champagne as he said his name and she didn’t seem to be paying attention. It turned out she was distantly related to the old family. The former owners liked to give jobs to their shirttail relatives, as she called them.

No, she never met them in response to his question, but she had once met the children who once played in the sandbox. By then, they were adults and spoiled brats, and she didn’t hide her disdain for them. Trying to be polite, he made appropriate comments and nodded accordingly. He noticed she was swaying and suspected the now empty glass of champagne in her hand was the last of several glasses.

He spotted one of his fellow workers nearby and found an opening to leave her to reminisce. Excusing himself, he started to head in that direction.

“That chain, it looks familiar,” she blurted out of nowhere just as he was about to turn to leave. He stopped short and turned back to look at her.

“The chain?”

The smell of champagne on her breath drifted toward him as she approached, her face a study of concentration. She seemed to sober up quite quickly as she gave him the once over.

“You look vaguely familiar too.”

“I’m sorry?” 

“You’re from around here?”

“Yes, I’ve lived in town almost all my life, except when I was at college a few years back.”

“What’d you say your name was?”

“Letterman. Josh Letterman.”

She looked him square in the face. “Your father?”

“Everett Letterman, ma’am. Why are you asking?”

She said nothing, just continued to stare. Then she pointed to the chain. “The watch?”

He pulled it from his vest pocket. Its gold case and the white dial glistened in the sunlight. The fancy hands keeping excellent time.

She took it from him, and he fumbled as he unhooked the chain from the buttonhole on his vest.

“Do you know whose watch this is?”

“Eh, no. I just found it.” 

“You found it?”

“Yeah, the first day I was here. I was doing preliminary cleanup on the yards. It was in there.” Josh pointed to the sandbox. “Almost buried in the sand. I found it and took it home and forgot about it. I haven’t even looked at it too much until today when I decided to wear it with the suit.”

“Is there an inscription?”

“I didn’t see one.”

She handed him the empty champagne glass and pulled her glasses from a dress pocket. Squinting in the sunlight, she examined every inch of the watch and chain as he waited impatiently.

“May I? I need to show this to someone.” 

Josh watched her scurry toward a group of men who were talking. Her yellow flowing dress stood out in a sea of black suits. A few minutes later, she returned, followed by two men.

“Josh Letterman, this is Roger Lane and Derrick Krane. They’re in charge of the estate. They haven’t seen this watch since the children were here.”

“Josh Letterman? Your father is Everett Letterman?” He nodded yes.

“Mother?”

“Ellie Thornton.”

They exchanged glances, and Josh’s knees shook.

Lane nodded to the woman and motioned to him. “Come with us, please.”

“What’s this all to do with me and an old watch?”

Once inside, they sat down at a table. Josh clutched his hands together, fingers interlaced, nerves raw.

“Josh, Everett Letterman was related to the old family. A family secret as the old man liked the ladies. When one of his lady friends showed up with a kid, which turned out to be your father, he hushed it up. But certain things were written in old diaries. Names, dates, and places were recorded in his wife’s diary, possibly for her protection. However, the diaries were lost and not discovered until the restoration, hidden in a compartment in an antique desk—forgotten. We informed the city but had no idea where to look for the son mentioned in the diary.” Lane looked toward Krane, who nodded.

“We think you, as Letterman’s grandchild, might be the rightful heir to the estate. Of course, they’ll be blood tests and background checks and all of that, but if we’re right, this is yours.” He waved his arm to encompass the entire estate.

“What about the watch?”

Lane, who was still holding the watch, pulled a jeweler’s loop from a side pocket. He smiled. “I keep this to help read old documents.” He studied it for several minutes.

“It’s the old man’s, alright. The serial number matches what we had on file for the records.”

“How’d it get in a sandbox fifty-odd years later?” Josh swallowed hard, stunned.

Margo Petrie, who had been quiet, sputtered. “The only explanation I can come up with is that someone knew what was happening and knew you were doing the job that day and planted it for you to find. It is part of the estate and your inheritance.”

“How… why? This watch looks almost new.” Josh noted the confusion in his voice. He was confused.

Lane responded as he handed the watch back to Josh. “Yes, it does. That’s because until recently, it was presumed lost or stolen. Apparently, someone kept it safe.”

“What now?” Josh slipped the watch into his vest pocket and hooked the chain.

“Well, technically, you found it, so it’s yours. However, there is the matter of the will.”

“The will?”

“Yes.”

“The will.” Josh took a deep breath.

“As you know, Josh, when the old couple died, they left the estate to their children, who took their cash inheritance and went on their way. No one has seen or heard from them in decades. I’m not even sure they’re alive.”

“What does this have to do with the will and the watch?”

“Simply this. The watch was supposed to go to the oldest child, who would inherit the estate. As none have been seen or heard from in decades and are presumed dead, the inheritance goes to you. You have the watch, and once we do the testing, if you prove to have a bloodline to the family, then you inherit the estate.”

“I don’t know anything about the estate or family. It was just a job. A week’s job of clearing and cleaning.”

Roger shook his head. “You have the family watch, so you inherit the estate if all else is in place.”

“How about I just donate the watch to the estate and let it go at that?”

Derrick reached into his jacket and pulled out a large envelope. Opening it, he laid the will out on the table between them. He pointed to a passage in the document. “The will expressly states that the watch is to go to the rightful heir.”

“So there you have it. Once we get all the legal issues out of the way, the estate is yours. You may choose to allow the city to maintain the use of the estate. That is certainly your choice.”

Josh shook his head. “I still don’t understand how the watch got in the sandbox the day I was there.”

He noticed Margo shift in her seat. She gave him a knowing smile and raised a glass of champagne in a toast. “That, my dear relative, is something we will never know.”

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Please visit Kenneth on his website: http://kennethlawson.weebly.com/

Calliope Njo: Time Traveler

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms.  Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

Time Traveler

Calliope Njo

The door slammed shut behind me, and I found myself walking in a load of sand. I held onto my pocket watch while moving through it. The watch had a red glow to it, which meant this was the correct point and I had to fix whatever went wrong.

A lot of noise and men yelling. A couple whistles and calls from somewhere as well. The air was hot and the wind didn’t help any.

Gigantic machines with giant metal structures told me I landed in a construction zone. That would account for the sand. The hazy sky didn’t match the weather. Of course, that could’ve been pollution.

I walked out of an open gate and onto the sidewalk. A lot of tall decorated buildings around, and one of them had a replica of the Statue of Liberty. That didn’t tell me where I was, though.

The hat on my head was still there. The 1940s dress was still in good shape. Although, there were runs on top of runs in my stockings.

A quick glance around told me I wasn’t in 1940s England anymore. A newspaper would give me a better idea what time it was. It seemed I walked around for ages and no newsstand.

A store that sold television sets and one of them faced the window. It was 3:45 PM on July 3rd, 2021. Wow. OK. Based on what I saw around me and on that TV, I needed to get new clothes.

Without money, though, that would not happen. What I had wouldn’t pay for anything. I needed to get my bearings first before I started looking.

Wait, that TV mentioned Las Vegas. The last time I was here was in 1953. I kept Marcello Caifano happy. Whatever and whenever he wanted something, I got it. That included the arson job in retaliation for being denied his pleasure. Sometimes, I hated history.

The place changed a lot since then. Well, I won’t know why I arrived for a while. How long that while lasted could vary.

The heat I could do without. The dress didn’t help any and the sand in my shoes I didn’t need. After pouring the sand out of my shoes, I went inside one building and a cool rush of air swept over me. I never felt so much relief in an instant as I did at that moment.

Dings and buzzes all around with people talking. Slot machines have become a little brighter and a little more entertaining since I last saw them. The style may have changed, but the concept didn’t.

OK, the best way to get money was to find a job. A place like this, there should be a lot of jobs available. Before I did that, though, I needed to find out why I came here.

I must’ve circled the casino floor about a hundred times and nothing. Well, it gave me a chance to cool off. Freezing cold, I walked outside only to be blasted by desert wind. It didn’t take long to defrost, so to speak.

The sun set down some, although it still burned my eyes. It didn’t help any; I didn’t have money. I think I had that thought before. Nothing could be done about it, though.

I walked up and down the sidewalk among other people while hoping I might feel something. Those high hopes plummeted because again, there was nothing. Maybe it wasn’t so much a time or a person. If not, then what could it be. A vacation? I laughed.

I walked into a big building called Treasure Island to get out of the heat and sit for a bit. A woman walked by me. She set off my radar. Not having any other choice, I followed her despite my tired and aching legs.

There had to be something. As I got closer, the more it pinged. I wouldn’t know why until I confronted her. More often than not, finding out information was easier said than done.

We ended up outside. She must’ve felt something, because she kept looking behind herself. I had to hide. I stopped between two potted plants and watched as she opened a time doorway.

I ran through and followed. The lit path was the one to take. Step outside the boundaries, and one could get lost in time for an eternity.

We returned to 1940s England. She wasn’t a Time Traveler. I was familiar with everybody, and she wasn’t one of us. If that was the case, how did she open a door?

Glad I didn’t change clothes after all, I followed behind her until she stopped in front of someone’s house. I needed a bath and to wash my clothes. Here I knew how to do that.

I didn’t know this street, but that only meant I had to walk around to find out where I ended up. I made a mental note of where I was and started looking around. The house on the corner with the green door. I had dealings with that house. That meant I could trade them a chore for an opportunity to wash up. They always needed something.

I knocked on the door, but nobody answered. I tried the doorbell and still nobody. Well, I had to push through what I wanted to what I needed and it was necessary to find out more information on that woman.

That and food would be good.

I went back to the house I knew before I left and knocked. The door opened. “Yes. May I help you?” Frank asked.

“Is there a small woman here with you?”

“No. No. No.” He shook his head and moved his left hand out in front of his stomach and pointed behind him. “Nobody here.”

Two things telling me contrary to each other. “I’m sorry. I must be mistaken. Lost American.”

He reached for me and pulled me inside before closing the door. Take off your shoes, he mouthed while he pointed at them.

I nodded and set them by the door. He pointed toward the sitting room. She’s in there, he mouthed.

I tiptoed to the room and walked behind her. “What are you and how did you get here?”

She stood from the chair and turned towards me. Eyes and mouth opened wide, she ran from the room screaming. “No. You weren’t supposed to find me. This was my only chance.” She ran up the stairs.

I caught her as she stepped onto the landing. “You can never escape a Time Traveler. It is never an if it is always a when. Explain.” I picked her up and held her against the wall.

“You wouldn’t understand.”

I stood close, but I let go. “I have heard any and every excuse anyone could ever think of. Nothing you tell me would surprise me.”

“Yeah, but… .”

“But what?” This was annoying.

“I needed to get back to my time. I made a horrible mistake. I met someone like you and he traded me. My life for his. Only problem was, he didn’t tell me how to work the watch. Since I dropped it, I don’t think it works anymore, anyway. Please, just… just drop me off at June 1, 2019 and you won’t see me anymore.”

“A he you said.” Took me a minute to remember. There would be only one. He always complained about changing times, no money, and how hard he had to work to stay alive. “Would that be Julian?”

“Yeah. That’s him. I can’t forget that weird name. He gave it to me, but he didn’t tell me how to work it. Please, you have to tell me how.”

I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I opened them again with the inevitable in mind. “You do not control where or when you go. The watch you hold controls everything.”

She opened her eyes wide and shook her head. “No. That’s not right. You’re supposed to set the watch to where and when you want to go. He told me. He just didn’t. Please, you have to help me.”

There it was. Every rookie that became a Time Traveler went through the same thing. Being one of the more experienced crowd, it was left up to us to teach them what wasn’t taught. I hoped that this wouldn’t take long.

Here’s hoping. “The watch controls everything. It is up to you to find out the information, do what needs to be done, and move on.”

“No. No. No. You don’t understand. I have to go back.” Her face turned red with tears streaming down her cheeks. Hands spread out on either side of her body. Then the sobbing.

“I already told you. The watch controls where you go and when you go. You do not control it. It controls you.” Why couldn’t I find a nice deserted island somewhere and bury the watch?

“You don’t understand. You have to help me reset it. Please. Don’t you know how?” She brought it out of her pocket and held it out.

Oh boy and there it went. “My name is Paige by the way and I already told you. It. Is. Not. Up. To. Us. It. Is. Up. To. The. Watch.” Maybe the slower pace might help. I didn’t know anymore. I ran out of ideas.

“You can’t be. I left you and—”

The sirens blared. I grabbed her hand and pulled her behind me. Frank pointed in the direction of the backyard. After he closed the door, we went inside the buried metal structure. He closed the door.

“What’s your name?”

“I’m Rose. Don’t you remember?”

Either the woman had mental issues, or suffered from an emotional trauma. I didn’t know which. I didn’t know what else to do other than wait until the sirens stopped.

Leaving memories behind was a common occurrence. The theory was that there would be too many memories to hold with too much emotion attached to them. Therefore, the mind guarded itself by not remembering certain events or people. However, I think I would’ve remembered this woman if I met her before.

Yes, she was cute. Short, petite, yellow blonde hair with sky blue eyes. Other than that, she was not… oh what was that word. Anyway, she was someone I couldn’t forget.

She stood next to me and squeezed my hand until the sirens stopped. Frank stood and opened the door. He poked his head out for a while before he turned around. “I think everything is OK.” After he left, he got up and lay down on the ground to help us out.

“I’d invite you for tea but supplies are scarce with the war and all. About all I can do is offer you some water and what they call bread. Dry, hard, and tastes like dirt I say.”

I smiled. “That’s fine. Thank you.”

I sat down at the table and Rose sat next to me. She became attached to me all of a sudden. All I had to say I’ve already said. There was nothing more. I didn’t know how to get her to understand.

After our snack, we retreated to a couch in another room. I almost felt guilty with everything that happened. I never expected it to take this long.

I bowed my head and closed my eyes in the hopes that an idea would come to mind. How do I get rid of her and get her to understand? Thank you, Julian, for giving her the wrong information. I’d slap you if I could.

I raised my head up and opened my eyes. Nothing changed. She still sat next to me. I didn’t want to have another roundabout argument.

It was time for lights out. I didn’t mind staying on the couch so I lay down. She opted to lie on top of me. I tried to push her off but she continued to crawl on top of me.

“You are not a child. Stop and find somewhere else.”

“Nuh uh.” The sniffling had to come from her.

Great. “You are not a child. I’ve said and done all I could. Unfortunately, I can’t leave until you understand that.” At least, that was the assumption that ran through my mind. Otherwise, I would’ve been gone.

“You have to help me. He said you have to set it. So you can set it.” She held up her watch in front of her face.

“If you start screaming, you’re going to wake him up and I don’t think you want that. You know my response to what Julian said.”

“Then why would he tell me that? Why would he lie?” She put down the watch and grabbed my hands. “You’re not telling me something because you love me.”

“That’s for him to answer. Not me.” I tried to push her off again and about as far as that got was her sitting on the floor.

A thump followed by more sniffling were the next noises. I laughed into the couch because it was either that or screaming.

Did I need to worry that the sniffling stopped? No, but I was curious. I looked up and she fell asleep.

My watch turned green. Five… four… three… two… I hope the next stop was a tropical island.

Those plans changed when I felt something grab me from behind. Rose must’ve run inside while the door was still open. I didn’t want to push her off the trail but she gave me no choice.

She wouldn’t be the first one or the last. I continued down the pathway until it stopped.

I heard people calling from somewhere when I walked through the door. The dim lights didn’t help much. By the sounds of it, I was still in England.

“He struck again. He struck again. One of the whores was murdered.” He grabbed my collar. “You have to help her. Do something.”

I grabbed his hands and pulled them off my collar. “If she’s already dead, there’s nothing much that can be done. If anything.”

He shook his head. “Bloody hell. Limbs and blood all over I tell you. He killed her.”

Here we go. This would be the point I either got called an idiot or something worse. “Could you tell me where I am?”

“It shook you up too. Didn’t it? I should’ve known. A fine lady like you should not see such things. This is Whitechapel. Third of April in 1888. Remember now?”

Yeah, that did sound familiar. That would be about the time and place of the mysterious murders. Jack the Ripper.

“Body parts, everywhere, I tell you.” He grabbed my collar again. “Isn’t there anything? I saw that strange door you walked through. You are with him. I know you are. You can’t play innocent. Not for long.” He ran away screaming after that.

That meant not only did I find that body and alert the authorities, but I had to find whoever it was that man saw.

I threw away my hat. One of the street beggars would find it there. In the meanwhile, see if I can trade this dress for something a little more time consistent.

I looked in the rubbish containers, like everybody else did around here, and found a few things. They stunk, plain and simple, but it was the best I could do. Maybe with the next rain, I could scrub it against something to get most of that rotten smell off.

I opened my watch to check on it and it had a yellow glow to it. If it was yellow, then something or someone messed up this time period to his or her every advantage. That also meant, not only did I have to fix whatever needed fixing, but I had to disarm and render them a non-traveler.

Maybe if I got myself arrested, I could think of it as a break. I laughed at the thought and walked around a bit longer.

Between the dim lights and the thick smelly air it was not a pleasant place to be. I had to start looking when the sun rose, until then, stop somewhere and rest.

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