D. A. RAtliff: Going Home

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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Going Home

By D. A. Ratliff

I hadn’t planned on going. Fate brought me to speak at a seminar out of state, and the fact that I was only an hour’s drive from my old homestead kept gnawing at me. I tried to push it away, but the itch was there and needed attention.

Foolish to do it. That chapter of my life had been closed for over thirty years. I had made my escape from the doldrums of country life and had never looked back. Didn’t want to look back. Memories suppressed were the best kind as far as I was concerned. But I did it anyway. I decided to go home.

A flurry of activity by my assistant secured a change in my travel plans, an extra night in the hotel, and a rental car. After a leisurely breakfast with colleagues before they caught their flights home, I set out down the state highway to the town where I once existed.

I say existed because I hated every moment there. I was born for more than the 4H Club. I hated cows and chickens and plows. And my family—they were the worst.

As I neared the small town, I was a bit surprised at the pressure building in my chest. The day I left and never looked back, I was seething with anger. That burn of hate was building again. I fought it back, no need for that anger now. I was free.

The town had changed little. A rail line cut through the center of Main Street, several shops shuttered and dilapidated. The diner I was dragged to by my father on Saturday mornings was still open. I had to chuckle, probably still serving those awful, doughy pancakes and rancid coffee. A few old codgers sat outside the courthouse, moving nothing but their eyes as they watched my luxury rental pass through. I laughed out loud. I could hear them now, Who’s that city slicker?  If they knew, they would bust a vein. If they knew.

The cotton mill on the edge of town was in ruins. My mother and grandmother had worked there. Both got brown lung from the cotton dust, and I got so tired of them hacking and spitting up mucus. Not how people should have to live. Certainly not how I had to live.

Two miles on the other side of town, I slowed down to look for the gate. I almost passed it by, but the old mailbox was still standing. Bent, broken and rusted, but it was there. I turned onto the overgrown gravel drive and drove in as far as I dared until the car was past the tree line and, hopefully, couldn’t be seen from the highway.

I got out of the car and looked down at my expensive loafers. I hadn’t planned on hiking, so I really wasn’t prepared. I’d have to be careful. This place wasn’t worth scuffing my shoes.

As I walked deeper into the now overgrown land, I had to admit that it was beautiful. The grove of trees where my parents built the house was now thick with underbrush, lush and green. Beyond the tree line were the family cotton fields. I leased those out, not stupid enough to lose money on the place. Just wanted no part of life here.

When I spotted the path, I stopped. A chill passed through me despite the building heat of a summer day in Louisiana. My mother had painstakingly dug out the path, laying steel rails across it so she could terrace the slope, something she had seen in a magazine. She had made me help her. Hour after hour, leveling each slightly raised terrace and filling it with finely ground granite. Made her feel like a queen to have such a grand path to the house. Made her look like a fool to me.

As I continued along the walkway my mother created, it was apparent that all that fine granite that had sparkled with bits of quartz in the sunlight was now nothing but dirt, the metal rails exposed, limbs fallen across her grand path. The carefully manicured edges now ragged with weeds. It was grand alright.

It was at the end of the path that I felt my first pang of regret. I shouldn’t have come here. Every cell in my body was irritated. The old hatred for how they tried to ruin my life came flaring back. They had tried, but I had won.

Where the large, white, French-style farmhouse had stood was only worn cinder blocks that were once the house’s foundation. I cracked a slight smile from a bit of morbid satisfaction. There were still marks on the blocks from the fire that raged that night. Now only a partial outline of the house remained. Vegetation filled in where rooms once existed.

If they had only listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened. But my dream to be an attorney since I was young was met with disdain and outright amusement. I had to follow in my father’s and grandfather’s footsteps, grow cotton and be happy about it. It was my fate in life.

No. It was not my fate. I was a brilliant student, and the local schools couldn’t keep up with my need for knowledge. Only one of my teachers recognized that and he arranged for me to get lessons through the mail from a college. I lived for those lessons. I had to rush home to get the mail before my mother got home from the mill and my father came out of the fields. He’d laughed at my crazy ideas and thrown the envelopes in my face if he got to the mailbox first. His words cut through me still. You ain’t going to college, boy. You are gonna stay right here and raise cotton.

I was nearing seventeen when I began to formulate my plan. I agreed to work for my father during the summer before my senior year in high school. He was so happy, certain that he had beaten me down. He had no idea. I saved my money and right before I started my senior year, I applied for life insurance policies on my parents from one of those companies that didn’t do medical exams. Or rather my grandmother did. She was getting sicker from the brown lung and the lack of breathing well made her lethargic and confused. She signed the applications without question. I paid the premiums in her name via money order, five-hundred-thousand-dollar policies on each of my parents, and I was the beneficiary. My parents may have been fools but I was not. I also got the key to my grandmother’s safety deposit box at the bank. Small town—who would ever doubt a loving grandson wouldn’t go to the bank for his grandmother to put something in it for her. Fools they were, but the insurance documents were safe.

During my senior year, I applied to the colleges that I wanted to attend, and with my grades, they were clamoring for me. I was offered several scholarships without my parents knowing as I had rented a post office box and kept everything secret. As the end of the school year approached, I hatched my plan.

The house was heated by an old oil furnace and cooking heat was provided by gas. I began to sabotage the furnace in February so that there would be a trail of repairs. Then the night I made my escape, I waited until my parents and grandmother were sound asleep and I blew up the furnace, which in turn caused the gas line to explode. The house was engulfed in minutes. By the time the fire department arrived, called by me seconds before I lit the oil furnace on fire, I was covered in soot, hands burned from trying to rescue my family. They believed me.

The town was in mourning for my tragic loss. I played the shocked son and allowed all the good folks to take care of me. I graduated from high school, and a month later I turned eighteen and received the settlement from the insurance company. I was out of this town as fast as I could flee and never said goodbye.

With one last look around, I decided it was time to leave. I had enough nostalgia for a lifetime. As I walked along the path toward the car, I took in the dappled sunlight streaming through the thick copse of trees. I knew I should feel remorse, but I didn’t. If I hadn’t escaped, I wouldn’t be a federal judge and wield the power I now possessed.

Better than growing cotton.

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Visit Deborah at her blog.
https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Write the Story: March 2019 Collection







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Stephanie Angelea: To Stand With Trees

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

To Stand With Trees

By Stephanie Angelea



Her name was GiAia.

She was Vietnamese and beautiful. Blind at birth, she learned to work hard at a young age, pulling her weight with the help of her devoted, twin brother, Bao, who was mischievous but a highly intelligent young man.

She was also a survivor of the underground cities. Cities built beneath the tallest forest trees, plush landscapes of beautiful Lotus flowers, the deepest and most secluded marble mountains in Ba Na.


Today marked the second anniversary since her people carefully laid by hand the first of many marble steps to build the walkways to each city. Steps that allowed them to escape the spray of bullets killing their families from a war they did not understand and knew nothing about.


In the beginning, the villages joined together constructing three interconnecting cities with sweat and blood, soon to boom with life. Self-sustaining and rich in power plus great wealth, but not of your typical paper money from before it was destroyed by Napalm. The currency of choice became seashells blown from the salt water beaches below the mountains littering the sand dunes in abundance, each contributing its own amount of worth. Daily she picked up shells in a burlap sack dropped by a friend of her people next to the forbidden step.

As the war escalated, their cities trembled but the marble walls held strong. Protection she felt only God could provide. While blood spilled into the rivers above, their rivers flowed of fresh water from springs traveling from unknown tunnels. A gift they knew only Mother Nature would provide.

The numbers of soldiers carrying guns quickly multiplied, setting up camps near the base of the mountains where she would sneak up to sit on the steps. She would stand beside the tall trees reaching as far as she could feel, hoping to reach the Heavens and kiss the Sun whose warmth she felt on her ivory cheeks.


Her ears heard the chatter of the mountain critters screaming in anger at the sounds of grenade explosions and diesel loaders digging the mass graves while the jumping spiders spun their silky webs without a care in the world. They were cities without a name, and it was forbidden for any villager to open the entrance step much less exit it into a country of war.

She and her brother knew the rules, but he was the rebel and she was the follower. While he gathered “much-needed contraband” and stole new technologies from the growing naval base of the foreigners, she sat quietly, waiting and listening to life in the woods. Their parents would be furious with them both if they knew, but her need for peace from the controlled chaos below gave her a chance to be alone and was worth any light punishment she would receive. Bao, on the other hand, would not get off so lightly.

One particular Spring day dawned and the weather was unusually cooler than normal. She sat contemplating the world, daydreaming of her longtime boyfriend, Xang, and sighed, thinking what a sweetheart he was — everything she could have wished for in a fellow — understanding and sensitive. Bao often teased her, whistling wedding bell tunes, yet something felt distant in their relationship she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Only she did know exactly the reason why. It was because of another who was not of their people and had already captured her attention and her heart long ago. A relationship more scandalous than the war itself.


Still, she daydreamed and brushed off a cobweb that had fallen to her nose. Plundering through the camouflage burlap full of seashells, she soon became annoyed at the cobweb tickling her nose and tiny spider legs running across her face.

“OK, little spider, enough! Time to leave me alone,” she desperately pleaded. Assuming it had jumped, she went about her business only to stop short with silent screams when Mr. Spider sunk its teeth into her eye. A bite that felt like huge fangs of a venomous snake.

“Never scream!” she remembered her father saying over and over. “The enemy will hear.”

“Who are our enemies, father?” GiAia replayed the question in her mind.

“Everyone, darling!” he replied.

Reminiscing helped her to cope with the excruciating pain only to repeat the scene while enduring a second bite to the other eye. GiAia’s eyes throbbed, and rubbing them only made it worse.

“Where are you brother? Hurry!” she whispered, sobbing to herself.

“GiAia! RUN!” Bao screamed running toward his sister. “Open it!”

She immediately sprang to open the first step, forgetting her pain and tears, still slapping the spider with its tiny legs crawling over her face. She had it open. The first step to their wonderful city. She could hear her brother running, one stomping foot after another, knowing then that trouble had followed.

Bao’s breath was quick and heavy but he made it to her, sadly convulsing to the ground with three bullets to the back. For a brief moment, she turned to him and they held each other tight, hugging under the step. Her tears and pain returned.

“RUN!” Bao’s pained scream rang in her ears.

“I won’t leave you!” yelled GiAia.

Without fear, she bolted, dragging her brother down the corridor. Her legs felt weak but she had to reach the foyer, set the charges, and close the boulder. It was their only hope and nothing was going to stop her. They knew this place better than anyone and she was fast.
Though the faster they ran, the sooner the enemy caught up to them and infiltrated the corridor to their city.


It confused her and she couldn’t help seeing the worst had finally come to their doorstep.
The corridor seemed to grow longer the more she ran, and she turned to see the Americans chasing them. Just a small glance for them to know she saw their faces! Their faces drew nearer yelling after them and firing machine guns, but it was not the Americans they were fleeing from but the newest enemy of their people from across the border.

People of their own nationality who decided that killing their own would bring them more power. She didn’t understand and it angered her, especially seeing how they had hurt her brother. The entrance was near and a great sense of relief overwhelmed her because they were closer to safety, but it was short lived. The enemy was upon them. GiAia gasped as Bao pushed her through the entrance where she hit the floor rolling.

“Bao!” she screamed, begging, reaching for him to get up.

“STAY! Blow them all, NOW!” he ordered.

“NO! Get up! Please!” she pleaded in tears, running to him.

The enemy continued to shoot and the bullets ricocheted off the marble walls.

“NOW, G! BLOW IT!” he screamed, his last breath, tossing a backpack to her feet.

GiAia stopped, frozen in place as the boulder closed. The corridor on the other side where her brother lay screaming was gone and he with it.

“GiAia, we have to go! He is dead!” her father yelled to her.

She fell to her knees and held the backpack close.

What was so important you would waste energy throwing a backpack instead of saving yourself? You can’t leave me! she thought, drowning out the screams of her father, then her mother.

Her eyes burned less and her surroundings were no longer pitch black. The dirt of the earth become less blurry and now she saw her father’s neatly kept hair lined with gray. The dark fog in her eyes disappeared and her mother stood before her, beautiful with red ribbons in her hair.

“GiAia, your eyes! They are clear,” GiAia’s mother said quietly, holding her tear-drenched cheeks.

She unbuckled Bao’s backpack and it was as always — “much needed contraband” for the cities. She giggled to herself plundering through it one item at a time. Deep inside in a hidden compartment was the newest information and blueprints for building machines specifically for laser surgery — eyes included.

“I can see, brother. I saw you for the first time but you will never know it,” she whispered, rubbing her eyes over the bumpy presence still clinging to her skin as she clung to the backpack and rocked with tears.

“You gave me sight, didn’t you little fella?” GiAia whispered.

Another year passed and the corridor still lay in shambles. The steps laid by hand to their secret city was destroyed. Only holes small enough for her to fit through led to an uprooted tree and was the only access to the boulder she managed to reopen. Bao was smart and he taught her a thing or two about a great many things.

Standing beside the toppled tree, she admired its hollow form — their efforts of turning it into a sight tower.

“False trees,” Bao called them. We could see out over the valleys and cities below but all anyone would see was a tree. The tallest trees in the forest.

The explosions of gunfire still rang in the distance but she was not startled for the seashells collected in the burlap sack was still left every day. The burlap sack Angel dropped off to get the latest Viet Cong intel and where they were in the forest. Thanks to her jumping friend with tiny legs, she could see for miles and had excellent vision.

The web of messages she and Mr. Spider left for the American soldiers today read fifteen southeast. That was fifteen spun knots down the center of the web and a straight line pointing southeast.

The Viet Cong enemy would never know the web held a message and they were all scared of spiders so they steered clear. Messages graciously left in the cobwebs by Mr. Spider before crawling into GiAia’s ear where he would get comfortable draping over it to watch the army creeping along the wooded jungles.

“Angel!” an American soldier hollered out.

“Yeah!” Angel responded.

“Your friend is here!” He smiled, walking away.

Angel approached with his rifle shouldered, pointing to the sack of seashells in her hand and pointing his thumb to the air.

GiAia smiled to him as she had for years holding the burlap sack he left for her daily on the pile of rubble that was once the walkway to the underground cities and the place they first met. His sack of gathered seashells strewn from the explosions of the salt water beaches below.


She smiled, waving proudly to him, grateful he spared her life and that of her brother one Spring day years ago when they first went into hiding, fleeing to their underground cities. In that moment, he ordered his men to help them reach the steps safely after they commuted their first rebellious act of defiance against their parents’ wishes and the strict rules of the newly-appointed leaders.


From that day on, he made their cities wealthy with beautiful seashells blown from the salt water beaches below, unbeknown to everyone.

“No matter. We are a people with no name and on that foundation we grew strong because of him and his American friends.” She spoke proudly. “One day, Mr. Spider, mark my words, I will lead my people and Angel will stand beside me! My name is GiAia and we will be Angels of the Lotus. We will shout louder than all the trumpets in the world to our mutual enemy — WELCOME TO OUR HELL!”

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Stephanie does not currently have an author page but you can find her on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/tjdsam

Write the Story: March 2019 Collection