D. A. Ratliff: A Clue

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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A Clue

By D. A. Ratliff

Shiny gold bars.

Clay Jenkins caught his reflection in his darkened computer monitor. His eyes falling onto the newly pinned captain’s bars adorning his uniform collar. Detective Captain Clay Jenkins. He laughed. There were fellow cops from his early days with the department who would have laughed if they knew the rookie beat cop who seemed to have two left feet ended up as the commander of the homicide division.

He would have given his chances a big fat zero back then, but he had persevered. His goal to be a homicide detective pushed him forward. But one day during his second year in the homicide division, he had been called to a crime scene that changed him forever. One that haunted him still.

His eyes trailed this time to the bottom left drawer of his desk hidden by the partially filled boxes that he bought in to clear out his desk. The file was there. Every so often, late at night, or when the squad room was deserted, he would take out the folder and pore over it. But nothing ever changed. No one knew what happened to her. He didn’t know what happened to her. He needed to know.

Lost in thought, he was startled when Chief of Police Watson spoke from the doorway to his office. “Jenkins, what are you doing here? Didn’t I tell you to take the weekend off? Chandler is going be closing out things with his detectives over the weekend. Technically he doesn’t retire until Sunday at midnight, and your transfer doesn’t go into effect until Monday morning. Biggs has already replaced you as assistant commander of vice. So, go, take a three-day weekend, relax, fish, get some fresh air.”

“I should stay and get my files in order.”

“Don’t give me that. I know you have already done that. Get some R and R … you’re going to need it.” 

Knowing that he was going to lose the debate, Clay nodded. “Yes, sir. I’ll take some R and R.”

“Good.” The chief turned to leave but stopped. “Congrats, Jenkins. I have complete faith in you. This is your job.”

Clay sat at his desk for a bit, deep in thought. Was this his job? He wanted it, but he wondered now that he had it if he was up to the task. He had failed once, and that drove him from the detective division nearly ten years before.

Vice detectives, some working leads or covering the night shift, were straggling in and he decided if he was supposed to leave, he should leave. He rose, picked up his keys, then stopped. On impulse, he pushed the boxes under his desk and unlocked the drawer. Taking a deep breath, he took the thick file from its hiding place and walked out of the station. No rest and recreation for him. Time to revisit the past.

~oOo~

As he left the outskirts of the city about mid-day Friday, Clay powered down the driver’s window, allowing the fresh air of the foothills to flow into the car. He breathed in the fragrant aroma of pine and Linden trees and had to admit that he missed being outside of the city as much as he used to be. City and county services were combined under a merged government, and as a patrol officer, he had spent four years assigned to the lake region about twenty miles from the urban center. It was why he was assigned to the case when the call came that morning. He knew the area better than any of the other detectives.

As a vice detective and later assistant commander of vice, his work had rarely taken him out of the city. Maybe the chief was correct, perhaps a couple of days at a slower pace would be good for him. He had called an old friend who ran a hotel at the lake and booked a room. Dug out his fishing gear from storage in his apartment building, threw some clothes in a satchel and headed for Lake Spencer.

He glanced at the accordion file, resting on the passenger seat. He had brought along not only the file from his office but newspaper clippings and follow-up research he had done on the case. Foolish. Nothing would change, but he had never lost hope.

The hotel, a three-story white clapboard building, was located on the lake’s edge next to the marina. There was a wide veranda wrapping around three sides and a restaurant on the first floor. As he climbed the steps, memories from the day they were called to the crime scene flooded his thoughts. He had come here after the investigation to grab a bite to eat. Dave Newsome, the hotel’s owner, had known the victims. Shocked, Dave sought him out that night and provided a lot of insight into the family. But nothing that helped him discover what happened to Hannah or her father. They simply vanished.

After checking in and finding that Dave was out on an errand, he decided to get a sandwich to go. Might as well get on with what he came for — to visit the scene.

~oOo~

The house was about five miles from the marina. As he turned off the main road, he followed the dirt lane to the edge of the lake. Each click of the mileage gauge increased his tension. Get a grip, Clay. A homicide detective needs to stay focused. He scoffed. Not happening with this case.

Tall pines and flowering shrubs surrounded the two-story house. The yard sloped toward a small sandy beach and a small dock. He pulled onto the gravel drive and parked. He couldn’t move. He sat staring at the house, reliving that day.

The call had come into the detective division at 9:30 am on a Wednesday morning. Uniformed officers had been called to do a welfare check on a family because the father had not reported for work. What the officers found prompted the call to homicide. He remembered Captain Bridge’s ashen face when he sent them to the scene. A family brutally murdered.

Clay reached for the file and withdrew a photo. It was worn, not from age, but from the multitude of times he had held it, hoping to understand what he thought was a clue left behind, a child’s sand pail, pink with yellow polka dots. Yet it meant nothing. Or nothing that he could understand.

Forcing himself to exit the car, he walked along the pebbled stone path to the front door. The adult female victim’s sister had vowed to maintain the house and had done so. A caretaker saw that the grounds were mowed and trimmed, flowers thriving in containers, the inside immaculate, but no one had lived in the house since the family died. The sister had given him a key. A key he kept on his keyring as a reminder. He unlocked the door and stepped inside.

Cool air from the air conditioner flowed across him, and he stopped for a moment. While the air was clean, he could smell death. That coppery smell of congealing blood so vivid in his memory that he could taste its metallic tang. He walked to the kitchen, where the first victim was found. The wife, Holly Mason, thirty-six, was lying on her back, her throat slashed. The theory from the blood spatter was that the killer approached from behind, cut her across the neck, and spun her to the floor. 

He stepped carefully as he left the kitchen, shaking his head at his stupidity. There was no blood to step in, but he couldn’t find the courage to step where he knew it had been. Continuing toward the small family room, he paused in the doorway. Three children had been found in the room, single knife cuts across their throats. The scene still made him sick to his stomach. One of his fellow detectives had thrown up on the spot. He knew none of them would forget the sight of a two-year-old boy and two girls aged four and five lying in pools of their own blood.

While they were dealing with the scene inside, uniformed officers searching the grounds had found another body, the father, in the boat shed which sat next to the dock. The adult male victim, Brad Mason, had been brutally murdered. The coroner’s report had listed twelve stab wounds to his chest and back as well as his throat cut. Whoever killed him wanted him good and dead.

Only hours later, when they located the next of kin, did the detectives learn there was another child, an eight-year-old girl. The mother’s sister, Jane Bertram, begged them to find her. They had tried. Ten years later, she was still missing, and he was still trying.

He walked across the sloping back yard toward the boathouse. Conscious of the photo in his shirt pocket, he stopped in mid-reach for the lever door handle. The door was as it had been that day. Pale gray paint, peeling on the edges, the slatted upper door, and rusting hardware, now a bit more worn than ten years ago. What was missing was the pink pail. In the photo, it hung from the door handle. Now, it rested in a box in the evidence room.

The eight-year-old’s name was Hannah, and her aunt informed them that her biological father gave her the pail when she was two, only weeks before he and her mother divorced. The man who died was her stepfather, and from all that he had been told, Hannah was devoted to him and him to her. He pulled the photo from his pocket. What had always concerned him was why the pail was hanging on the handle? It was out of place.

He wandered out of the boat shed and sat on a wrought-iron bench on the dock. The crystal blue water sparkled in the early summer sun. He missed coming here but hadn’t returned since the case was suspended for lack of evidence. His instinct convinced him that Hannah’s biological father had committed the murders and kidnapped her, but the trail had gone cold.

Why had he come here? He had to admit he didn’t know. But for some reason, he felt anxious as if something was going to happen. Probably just anxiety about the new job. Not convinced he could lead a team of homicide detectives. After all, he couldn’t find a young girl.

Walking back to the house, he thought of what Hannah’s aunt Jane had said to him the last time they spoke.

Clay, I cannot bring myself to change a thing in this house. My sister was finally happy with a man who adored her and all their children. I need to believe I will have Hannah back someday. So, until then, and she decides what to do with her house, nothing will change.

He locked the back door, and as he turned to leave by the front door, he spotted the dog food dishes. There had been a new puppy in the household, who also disappeared. He smiled. Jane didn’t give up on Hannah or the dog. He wasn’t going to either.

Back at the marina, he took the fishing pole and tackle from the car, rented a boat and headed out onto the lake, hoping to clear his thoughts of Hannah. Three hours on the lake and he caught four bass, but Hannah was always on his mind.

He returned to the dock and took the fish to the hotel kitchen where they would clean and prepare them for his dinner. After a quick shower, he headed downstairs to find his friend. Dave Newsome was at the front desk.

“Dave, good to see you.”

“Clay, how are you?”

“Okay, caught some fish, want to have dinner with me?”

Dave agreed, and an hour later, they were finishing a fish dinner and a few beers. Dave sighed. 

“I know this place holds bad memories. You know Brad ran the boat repair shop here. Everyone liked him, loved Holly and the kids. Even after all these years, they are still missed by the regulars. Lots of times, people will ask if Hannah was ever found.”

“Not that I didn’t try. When Hannah’s biological father simply disappeared, and the case was suspended for lack of evidence, I hired a private detective to try and find him. He tried for years. Nothing.”

Dave shook his head. “Maybe it will just never be. Let’s hope she’s happy somewhere.”

After dinner, Clay sat alone on the lake’s edge, restless. Deciding that relaxing was not for him, he decided to return to the city. Time to get back to work.

~oOo~

Saturday morning, he had breakfast with Dave before loading the car and heading out. As he reached the main road, he started to turn right toward the city. But a need to return to the house kept gnawing at him. He turned left.

Nothing had changed since yesterday. The house stood silent, keeping the secret that only it knew. He walked back to the small dock and sat on the bench. He needed to face that he would never find her. He needed to let Hannah go.

A crunch of tires on gravel drifted toward him, then stopped. Seconds later, a dog barked. He stood and turned toward the house, just in time to see a black Labrador Retriever racing around the corner.

He was rooted to the spot as a young woman followed the dog. His heart thumped in his chest. She had strawberry blond hair like Hannah. As he tried to find his voice, she spoke.

“Hello. I … I … who are you?”

“I’m Clay Jenkins. May I ask your name?

 “I’m Hannah Clark … uh… Mason. Did you know my family?”

He walked toward her, desperate to gather her in his arms but didn’t for fear of scaring her.

“Hannah, do you know what happened here?”

She nodded, her shoulders trembling. “I do now. I thought they gave me to him. That they didn’t want me. That’s what he said.”

“I was one of the police officers who investigated what happened to your family. I’ve been looking for you all this time.”

Hannah ran to him and began sobbing. “I didn’t — I didn’t know what he had done. He told me that my mother didn’t want me anymore. Then a year ago, he got sick, and he died two weeks ago. I found a letter he wrote to me. In it, he confessed what he did. That he killed them all to get me. He showed up in the boathouse when I was with my dad, the man I loved as my dad. Daddy ordered me to leave, and I went outside with Buster, who was a puppy then. I heard noise from inside like they were fighting, but then my real dad came out, blood all over him and told me that we were leaving and that I couldn’t take anything with me.”

Buster, the dog, snuggled up against her. “I ran to get my pink bucket, I carried it everywhere. I wanted to take it and Buster, but he said I couldn’t have both. I couldn’t leave without Buster, so I hung the bucket on the door for my dad to find, so he’d know what happened.” Her voice cracked. “I didn’t know they were dead.”

“Where have you been living?”

“A little town in Northern California. After I found the letter, I loaded the car with what I could and came here. I needed to know what happened to them.” She gazed at the house. “I didn’t expect to find the house, but I stopped at a gas station to ask, and the clerk knew exactly where it was.”

Clay wrapped his arms around her. “You are safe now. Do you remember your aunt, Jane?” She nodded. “You aren’t alone. She has never given up hope and kept the house here for you. Would you like me to call her?”

“Yes … would you?”

He placed the call and broke the news to Hannah’s aunt. They agreed to meet at the hotel that evening. As he listened to Hannah’s excited voice as she spoke to her aunt, he realized he needed to get her pink polka-dotted pail out of evidence. 

Hannah was back.

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Please visit D. A. Ratliff’s blog, https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/ and her Facebook author page, https://www.facebook.com/D-A-Ratliff-594776510682937/

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Larry Stephens: Can You Help Me

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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Can You Help Me?

By Larry Stephens

Bart Sandstrom whipped a fist the size of an adult goose in an overhead arc and brought it crashing down on his nightstand, in direct contact with an alarm clock that often opted to not perform to specification whenever it damned well felt like it.

Which it did not do on this fine, feckless morning. Hence the smooshed alarm clock.

The lit numbers immediately winked out and shards of crunched plastic exploded all over the place, not including the pieces that punched through the skin of said goose-sized fist.

Bart was late. Again.

He bolted out of bed, not bothering to make it, and raced into the bath of the old two-story walkup located on the north side of Pittsburgh, just across the river from downtown where he worked. Rain pattered on the skylight in the bath, just as it seemed to do every other Monday morning in Pittsburgh over the past three years.

Bart pounded through his ablutions—not the easiest thing in the world for a three-hundred-plus-pound man to do in an apartment the size of a peanut shell. But he made it, stopping at the front door to give himself a quick once-over before daring the ever-present rain. 

Hair? Check.

Pants okay? No stains? Check.

Zipper up? Check.

Shirt tucked in? Check.

Wrinkles? Not so good. Oh well. He shrugged on a rain-slicker and threw the front door open just as a gust of cold wind belted him in the face, followed by angry spits from the skies. Something clanked to the concrete steps at his feet.

What da fu—?

A bucket.

What the hell was a bucket doing at his place? 

Bart bent down and picked it up, studying it, his heavy brow creasing. It was bright pink with gaily speckled yellow polka dots and a wooden handle. The brightness of it was in stark contrast to the gloomy Monday morning.

Why was it here?

Bart almost tossed it aside as either a stupid prank or something of complete insignificance, but then he spied a piece of folded paper inside the bucket, and he plucked it out.

All thoughts of being late were cast to the wind as Bart was totally entranced by these odd things appearing on his doorstep. He glanced around, but saw that none of his neighbors had a bucket like the one he was holding.

Grunting to himself, he unfolded the note.

“Hiya Mister Sandstrom.

My name is Amy and I live kinda close to you. I’m eight. Mommy says I should never talk to people I don’t know. She says that to keep me safe. Does your mommy tell you stuff like that too?

Mommy doesn’t like you—

Well there’s a revelation, who does? 

—cuz she says that you’re a Bad Man. I axed her why she said you was a Bad Man and she got mad and made me go to bed without supper, and I was really hungry too.

I like Minecraft. Do you like Minecraft? Maybe we can play online? That would be fun.

I don’t got friends; mommy makes me stay inside a lot. She says I’m sick, and a lot of times I don’t feel too good. I axed mommy what’s wrong with me and she said I got an organ that aint working right and I need a new one.

I axed her what’s an organ. She said I ax too many questions. Then she cried and cried and told me those are parts of my body that make my body work. Like stuff like breathing and eating and going poo poo. You know what organs are too, right Mister Sandstrom?

I axed her if that was what she was talking about when she said one of them aint working right. She said yeah. Then she said it was my liver. She said I need a transplant, but we aint got no money so she can’t buy me one. She said someone needs to ‘donate’ one to me. I think that means someone has to give me their liver. Well that doesn’t seem too bad, does it Mister Sandstrom?

So what do you think? Will you give me your liver?

Just put your liver in this pretty bucket my mom gave me for my birthday. She said everyone needs a good bucket, and this one’s the best! Bye!”

What the blue hell?

Bart crumpled the note, convinced it was a prank. He jammed it in his pocket, tossed the empty bucket on his door stoop, unlocked his bike and pedaled off, trying to dodge raindrops.

^^

Bart’s workday sucked, to put it eloquently.

It began its downward trajectory when he got to work and realized that he somehow forgot the bike lock. So it was either run to the convenience store and hope like hell they had one, or face a very real possibility of someone boosting his ride.

And of course convenience store number one had no such thing, although Bart could have one hundred ninety-four varieties of energy drinks. 

Convenience store number four did indeed have a lock with an ungodly price tag. 

Needless to say that by the time Bart finally lashed his bike to the post and yanked the seat off, he was quite roundly pissed off.

He tried to sneak in but frowned when he saw a bright yellow Post-It note plastered on the dark screen of his laptop with the boss’s chicken-scratch demanding Bart go to his office immediately. Post-haste. As in, right now. He dropped his backpack, wet rain slicker, bicycle seat and his helmet, and motored his big self to the office of Zebnyk Mikalic, a stream of grumbled curses in his wake.

^^

Son-of-a-bitch.

Fired.

Bart was reeling; replaying the conversation over and over again; sometimes snarling in rage, others in disbelief, fighting off the shocking panic at the loss of his job.

What the hell am I gonna do?

He spun the numbers on the bike lock unconsciously, his brain racing, trying to work out a plan while freaking out about the huge credit card debt that he was now not going to be able to pay. 

Somehow Bart was on his bike and pedaling against the wicked-cold wind that roared off the river, threatening to knock Bart off the bike to plunge into the turbulent, iron-gray waters ninety-four feet below, and Bart wondered if taking a swan dive wasn’t such a bad idea. He gripped the brakes on the bike at that sudden thought and dismounted, dragging the bike with him to the bridge railing.

How bad could it be?

Sure, it would hurt like a royal bitch at first, but then, blessed sleep and nothingness and no more bitching credit collectors or worrying about getting another job or feeling like garbage because of all the stares from people who thought Bart was nothing but a fat slob loser.

Tears streamed down his raw cheeks suddenly and brazenly, and Bart… aka ‘Big Bart’ stood there in the relentless wind and cold and bawled his heart out, tears mingling with persistent rain. He dropped to the pavement leaning his back against the sturdy railing, rattling a cluster of padlocks and hoping that the steel would give out and the decision to take his own life would be made for him.

Coward!

Time passed, the sun was plunging into the west when Bart finally hauled himself to his feet. Many people had streamed by him as his emotions flayed his guts and his pain until everything became just one great big ache. Some dropped coins at his feet. Bart scooped them up and climbed back on his bike.

^^

He chained his bike to the rail in front of his walkup, feeling dead inside. Spent. Exhausted. And more than a little feeling sorry for himself as he trudged heavily up the three steps to his front door where he was greeted by a pink, polka-dotted bucket hanging from the door handle.

Bart lifted the bucket and peered inside to see another note squished on the bottom of the pail. He sighed heavily and jammed a key in the lock and let himself inside.

He dropped his backpack, helmet and bike seat on the floor as he stepped into his apartment; shucked out of his slicker and let that fall to the wooden floor as well, not giving a single ounce of care if the damned floor got wet.

Magically there was a full fifth of vodka in his fist. Glass or bottle? He wrenched the twist-cap off the bottle and chugged a third of it, then dropped onto a beat-up couch from his college days, numb.

Fired.

The window caught his unblinking gaze and Bart stared at the twinkling lights through the rain tracks on the glass, not thinking, just feeling. Washed out. Trashed. He took another long belt.

A long time passed before Bart climbed to his feet and switched a lamp on, then made his way to the front door and began picking up his belongings when he spied the bucket again. A sudden surge of anger boiled up in him as he scooped the bucket from the floor. 

He wanted to take that bucket and crush Mikalic’s head with it; just batter the guy until his face looked like a mashed piece of memory foam. Rage threatened to overwhelm him; he recognized it and pumped the brakes on it. 

He had a lifetime of dealing with uncontrollable rage and knew all too well what that rage could do. Bart blinked several times and looked into the bucket. The note…

“Hiya Mister Sandstrom.

I didn’t see no liver from you in this wonderful bucket and I was sure hoping there would be one.

Hows come you didn’t give me your liver Mister Sandstrom? Don’t you like me?

You should like me cuz mommy says I’m a really nice girl. She says that she’d have 10 or even 20 babies if they was all just like me. But I dunno if I’d want all them brothers and sisters. Do you have brothers and sisters Mister Sandstrom?

Mommy says ‘you don’t get nuthin if you don’t ax for it.’ Do you believe that too Mister Sandstrom?

Well just because mommy said that, I guess I’m axing you if you wanna give me your liver so I’d be able to grow up to be a beautiful princess like mommy says I am.

Please tell me that you do Mister Sandstrom. You can just put it in this bucket and I’ll get it and I’ll be the happiest girl in the world! Bye.”

Bart crumpled the note and stuffed it into his back pocket, joining the previous note this crackpot wrote him this morning, just before he was… fired.

He wrenched the creaky window open and tossed the bucket into the night, ignoring the clankety-clank of it hitting the pavement as he slammed the wood casement down, barely missing his little finger. Bart crossed the room and dropped onto the couch and was asleep in under ten breaths, lamp and bucket and liver and Zebnyk Mikalic be damned.

^^

The next morning saw Bart rumbling down the stairs of his walkup with purpose and direction. He flew awake after a horrific nightmare in which all his organs decided to just up and leave his body. Bart awoke screaming.

Shaken, he decided to make some serious changes in his life, and the time to start making those changes was right… freaking… NOW!

First things first. Shave. Then, get a haircut. Break open the piggy bank and get some new business clothes and new shoes and start working out big time to get himself into shape.

And so it was with great determination and purpose when Bart threw that front door open and the cute little bucket fell off the doorknob and rattled around on the walkway, stopping Bart in his tracks.

He watched the bucket, noting the glint of sunlight reflecting from it. It was almost… hypnotic.

He angrily shook his head and strode past it to the sidewalk to set to his first goal for the day, the haircut. Making a sharp left he strode, taking in the cold, crisp air and the bright skies and his heart soared, convinced that this was the Right Thing To Do.

After all, it’s not how a person gets knocked down; it’s how they get back up! Hells ya! Bart wasn’t sure who said that little gem, but it was a dandy for sure.

But something ahead, rounding the narrow corner from Tripoli Street onto River Road. Bart squinted to try to make it out but it seemed fuzzy and hazy. 

Something to add to the All New and Improved Bart! New glasses.

As Bart neared, it began to take form. Looked like a girl. Young. But something was off about the girl. For one thing…

Where the hell’s her coat? It’s colder than… Oh f—

Bart stopped cold as the girl approached and realization of who was now standing right in front of him. Amy. I-want-your-liver Amy. “Amy?”

She looked up at him, her face elfin, thick dark blond bangs hung over her forehead. Her lips were thin and pressed together in an even line and when her eyes met Bart’s, he took an involuntary step back.

Flat. Unemotional. They were…

Dead.

A tingle of irrational fear danced around Bart’s spine and started worming its way around to his belly. Amy took small, halting steps toward him as she pinned him with her lifeless eyes. “Hiya Mister Sandstrom.”

The cheerful greeting was surreal and terrifying when presented with a deep, guttural bark from the mouth of a little eight-year-old girl sporting pigtails. All Bart could do was stand there as that little tendril of fear bloomed into flat-out terror. Unbidden urine tumbled down his legs and stained his pants and the advancing girl laughed which made things far, far worse.

“Can I have your liver, Mister Sandstrom? Just put it in that pretty bucket my mommy gave me for my birthday!”

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Please visit Larry on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/Enzo.stephens.5011

Stephanie Angelea: The Huntress

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 Huntress

By Stephanie Angelea

Ida Blackwood looked almost human crouched over two dead bodies in the dining room, wearing her new feathered flats and black sequined dress.

“I’ll enjoy watching you two burn in Hell!” she sneered at them, yanking the metal spoons still lodged in their mouths.

That night, the weather was unusually warm for October and even with the air conditioner still running full blast Ida was hot. She shivered from anger holding the empty ice bucket she unwrapped for her honeymoon with Jeff on their wedding night almost three years ago. 

Earlier in the day, she placed it near the microwave oven and filled it with the finest black powder from the best seeded apples grown locally at Jarret’s Orchard. A favorite garnish she used on her famous tapioca pudding. It was an old recipe handed down to her from grandmother Isadora who unfortunately died last month in prison at the age of ninety-five serving three consecutive life sentences for a triple murder.

She chose the recipe carefully adding the mysterious powder of dried apple seeds she ground fresh that morning. A secret ingredient she prepared only for those who betrayed her.

Smiling, she blended in the poisonous powder, remembering all the late nights she spent crying, missing the touch of her husband and the date nights they used to share.

His promotion at work and long hours took him away from her but with it came a six-figure income and numerous perks including “mandatory” travels to beautiful cities around the world and stays at the most luxurious hotels — not that she got to enjoy any of it.

She was left behind to endure the heartache of their crumbling marriage and to understand his continued interest in holding it together despite his deteriorated love for her and badmouthing her bankrupt family.

But Ida pushed all of that aside and concentrated on the dinner preparations, proud of her food choices including grilled tofu, fresh corn, and sweet peas.

Before the dessert, an innocent gesture triggered the obvious answer to a question that had been nagging her for a while and the decision to serve the powdered garnish on the tapioca pudding was positively decided.

Her mother, of all people, cheating with her husband, was too much and she felt something snap inside her watching them exchange nervous glances from across the table. The thoughts of them together infuriated her and made her feel so ugly, her eyes turned as black as the smudged mascara running down her face.

“No one will ever find either of you. I swear it!” Ida promised, dragging the bodies to the kitchen where a sharp hook hung from the ceiling over a drain pail, the knife stood tall, gleaming from the chopping block, and the oven had completed its preheating to her specified temperature.

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https://www.facebook.com/tjdsam

Lynn Gordon: The Weary Traveller

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 Weary Traveller

by Lynn Gordon

The door is closed and bolted, access is denied. 

I must be wrong, it can’t be locked yet three times now I’ve tried.


My journey is almost over, and now I need to rest

But the door is closed and bolted what to do for the best.


My food supply diminished, my drinking water spent.

The heat is overwhelming, the sun does not relent.


The door is closed and bolted and shelter is denied

My limbs are heavy and aching, I need to be inside.


The door is closed and bolted, in frustration I lash out

I kick the darn thing hard and mean and now in pain I shout


Why are you closed and bolted? You were to be my sanctuary

On you I was relying, but you’ve abandoned me.


I’m desperate for some shelter, some water and some rest

I hold my head in weary pain, my fortitude is lost.


The door is closed and bolted, and I am so alone

This was to be my shelter on my long journey home.


I can’t go on, I simply can’t. I’m weak and hot and pained


This was to be my shelter, this bothy on the moor

And now it only offers – a closed and bolted door.


For many years it’s welcomed weary travellers, of which I am just one

But now it’s closed and bolted and my chance for rest is gone.


The door is closed and bolted, and yet I feel some hope 


A bucket, pink and shining adorned with dots snow white. 

Beckons me to take a look and what a welcome sight.


For nestled in the bucket, the answer to my prayers 


A bottle of cool water, a straw hat for my head

A note from a fellow traveller; and here is what it said


The door is closed and bolted, and this may bring dismay

So please accept my gift to you, to help you on your way.

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Please visit Lynn on her Facebook page and give her a like: https://www.facebook.com/LynnGordonAuthor/

Kenneth Lawson: A Debt Repaid

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.)

Kenneth Lawson has been treating us to a series of stories about the character, Cole Webber, on the various prompts. Today’s story concludes the series. Enjoy “A Debt Repaid”. The other stories in the series are listed at the end. If you haven’t read the previous stories, be sure you check them out!

A Debt Repaid

By Kenneth Lawson

The first thing he noticed was the old door.

The blue paint had long ago submitted to the elements. In fact, the rest of the old bath house had given up long ago. Windows that ran across the top of the wall just under the eaves to let in light and maybe some air on hot summer afternoons were broken and paint on the cement walls was faded and peeling.

As he approached the door he noted that the louvers on it had somehow managed not to be cracked and broken, in spite of the heavy use it had seen in its day.

It was then he noticed the small pink sand bucket hanging on the door handle. It stopped him in his tracks for a minute.

The bucket was new.

It had not seen the years of weather and rust that the rest of the old beach house had. Looking around he saw no signs of anyone having been there recently.

The little bucket sent chills up and down his spine. Who had been here?

And why?

And more importantly, were they still here?

He carefully removed the little bucket from its perch on the door handle. Setting it on the ground next to the door, he gently tried the lever. The lever released the door from its catch. The hinges squeaked with annoyance at being forced to work. 

The room was dark, with only light streaming in shafts making odd shapes along the floor and walls. Glass was scattered around the floor. 

Standing in the doorway, he surveyed the room. What he could see of it in the dim light. It was clear it had been years since the glass had been broken. It had been walked over many times over and ground into fine shards. In a few spots, it had been roughly pushed to one side making small piles of shattered glass and fine glass dust.

He felt the chill again as he looked around. 

On the bench on the other side of the room lay a neatly folded beach blanket.

This too was new. Approaching it he saw it was a child’s blanket. At least the print on it indicated that it was probably a child’s blanket.

But where were they?

Listening he heard nothing but the waves gently working their way in and out some distance from the house. A light breeze came through the open windows as the breeze shifted slightly and moved a torn piece of notebook paper lying next to the blanket. He hadn’t noticed the paper, which caused a shudder to run though him. It took some time for him to work up the nerve to pick it up.

Bending down, he carefully picked up the paper. He recognized the writing immediately. It was his wife’s.

Reading the hastily scrawled note, he pushed it into his pocket and picked up the small blanket. Under the neatly folded blanket was a picture. The picture showed him and his wife in better days. He knew where the picture had been kept. In their bedroom. This told him all he needed to know.

He stopped at the door and took the small bucket from the sand by the door. Carrying everything, he put it in the back of his car.

The gravel flew in several different directions as he turned his car around in the dirt driveway. He drove for several minutes before his mind cleared.

Images of what could be happening to his wife tried to force their way into his mind. He refused to let them stay. Almost physically pushing them out.

By the time he reached his house, he had a plan. Sort of.

Checking the house, he found it as he feared. Empty. And sure enough, the picture was missing from the dresser in their room. Standing in the middle of the room, he studied it. He knew exactly how his wife liked to keep everything. Going over their usual morning routine in his mind. He knew what should be where. Her nightgown lay on the bed. The bathroom showed the telltale signs of a recent shower. And the damp towels hanging neatly on the rack waiting for the trip to the laundry basket later that day. Checking her dresser, he found a set of clothes missing. So, she had gotten dressed before they came. In the kitchen, coffee was getting cold in the pot. 

Going into his office he opened his safe. Taking out the guns, he loaded them. First, the pump shotgun, four slugs in the tube magazine, and one in the chamber.

Then his revolver. Taking a speed loader and dropping the shells into the chambers of the cylinder of the gun then closed it, keeping a box of ammunition and reloaded the speed loader. Guns and extra ammunition in hand, he closed the big safe. He already had the rest of his gear, a knife, and a flashlight.

Back in his car, he noticed his breathing and heart rate were up. Leaning back in the seat he closed his eyes. Breathing in and out slowly he was able to bring his respiration and heart rate down. Not to where it should be, but he was calmer at least for the moment. Pulling out the note from his pocket. He read it again.

Damn, he was almost out of time. He pushed the car harder than he had before.

Pulling into the dirt road, he pulled the revolver from his holster and laid it on his lap. Edging the car a foot at a time down the road he finally found the clearing.

The old cabin looked like a set from a movie. Stopping the car in the mouth of the driveway that led to the cabin. He got out.

“Where is she?” he called.

“Right here.” She stepped out of the shadow of the building.

“You’re late.” Another voice came from the other corner of the building.

He recognized the voice just as he appeared in the sunlight.

Raising the shotgun he released the safety.

She approached him. It was then he noticed the pistol in her hand.

“Did you really think I didn’t know about her?” Her eyes narrowed as she positioned herself directly in front of him. “Or about your plan to kill me and run off with my money?” By now she was within a few feet of him, directly in front of his shotgun. “Go ahead, pull the trigger. You’ll be dead before I hit the ground.”

He stepped back a few paces to give himself time to think and room to move.

It came together. The kidnapping note, and the old beach house.

He had spent many a happy day there decades ago, with his first wife.

It had been so long he forgot about the beach house and the connection with his first wife now dead. Oh, he knew she was dead. He buried her in the ravine near the cabin where he’d shot her.

“Charlene was her name? Right? And your grandpa’s name was William Webber?” she prompted. “And your real name is Webber, Cole Webber. Not this bullshit name you made up when you met me. In fact, this whole life is bullshit. A lie. To con me out of my money. If that doesn’t work, kill me and inherit it. Either way is ok with you.” Her voice trailed off into a half cry and whisper.

He spun around looking down the barrel of his shotgun. First at her. Then at James, her brother. Both holding guns. He lowered his gun. He knew there was no way he could shoot his way out of this.

His only hope was to talk his way out.

“You’re right. My name’s Cole Webber. And I did, I did kill my first wife Charlene. But you must understand what she did, and the games she played. And lives she ruined.”

“And you’re not playing games and ruining lives?” She visibly trembled. He imagined from anger.

“Yes. Yes, I guess I am. It didn’t start out like that. Honest. I love you, but…”

“But you loved my money even more,” she interrupted.

“NO…! I wanted to stay here with you, but I had to have the money to pay off some people I owe.”

“Yeah right, how much money can you owe these guys?”

“20 million,” Cole stated flatly and with a finality that caught her off guard.

“20 million? Who owes that kind of money and to who?” Even her brother James was taken aback by the numbers.

“It’s a long and complicated story. The money I got from my grandpa, William, was robbery money from a job he did decades ago. Long before he married. It had been hidden away for years. He had let it slip one night when he was drinking. And when he had the heart attack, I remembered it and found it and kept it. I thought it was safe to use. After all, it’d been decades from the robbery. I used some to set up a new life and invested some in an internet scheme that stole data from secure servers. And used the information to make more money. It all went pretty good. Until…”

“Until what, Cole?”

“The people grandpa stole it from found me. I guess through the money, they must have had traces on the serial numbers. When the bills started showing up again, they found me.”

Cole leaned against the car. Too tired to put up a front.

“Let me guess, they wanted their money back?” James pushed. Stepping closer, he was starting to relax.

“With interest. The principle which was about 5 million, and interest over the last 30-40 years comes to a round figure of about 20 million, so they say.”

“I don’t have anywhere near that,” she observed.

“I know, but what I could get out of you would hold them for a while, while I figured out what to do next.”

“So you were going to kill me to save your skin?”

Cole shook his head. “No, no, I never wanted to hurt you. Steal your money, only because I had to, yes, but never hurt you. Why do you think I came here with these?” Cole indicated the guns. “To rescue you from what I thought was a kidnapping.”

“I’m not sure I believe you. Even if what you say is true, what do we do now?”

“I don’t know.” 

“I do. Go directly to jail.” A voice came from out of the woods. Cole turned and raised his shotgun, aiming it where the voice came from.

Clayton Morris. His old friend stood before him, holding a shotgun. The badge pinned to his coat told another story.

“Cole Webber or whatever the hell you’re calling yourself these days. You’re under arrest for the murder of Charlene Webber, your wife, and the suspicion of the murder of William Webber, and the federal theft of military secrets and a lot more I don’t have time to go over.” 

Several more uniformed officers appeared out of the woods and from inside the cabin.

“You alright Mrs. Reynolds?” 

She nodded. Opening her blouse, she pulled the clip from the front of her bra, handing the microphone and the tiny box connected to the wire, to Clayton. “Here. You get everything?”

“Yes ma’am, more than enough to convict him.”

The officers relieved Cole of his shotgun and the revolver.

As he was being put in the unmarked police car, it all began to make sense.

The drive back to the police station was long and quiet. Clayton rode in front while an officer sat beside him, his gun never too far from his hand.

Hours later, after being booked and fingerprinted and logged into the federal system, he sat in an interrogation room. It was empty except for the chair and table which had been bolted to the floor. His handcuffs had been removed and longer cuffs that were mounted to the table hooked to his hands.

Clayton Morris came into the room. Sitting down, he plopped a large stack of files on the table in front of him.

“Cole, I knew you as a kid. But none of that matters now.” He let it hang.

“I always suspected that you killed Charlene but could never prove it. We never found the body. You disappeared right after she did, so folks just naturally assumed you two left together. When you didn’t come back, we began to wonder, but with no hard evidence or body, we didn’t have anything to go on.” Morris smiled. “Until now. We ran your prints through Interpol, and half a dozen other databases. And we got a hit. Robert James Lacy. That’s your real name, you were adopted by the Webbers. You’ve probably forgotten it. Been so long since you heard it, I suspect. At any rate, that’s the name we’re charging you under. Along with the alias you’ve collected and used over the years.”

So, it came to be that Robert James Lacy/Cole Webber was charged with the murder of his wife Charlene, embezzlement, extortion, and a host of federal crimes stemming from his little venture on the tropical island a year or so ago.

Word got back to the guys who William Webber had stolen the money from all those years ago where to find Cole.

Early one morning, a prison guard found him dead in his cell.

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Kenneth Lawson’s other stories in the Cole Webber series:

February:  “Things Best Left Forgotten”

https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/2019/02/02/kenneth-lawson-things-best-left-forgotten/

March: “When the Memories Return”

https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/2019/03/06/kenneth-lawson-when-the-memories-return/

April: “Any Port in a Storm”

https://writersuniteweb.wordpress.com/2019/04/30/kenneth-lawson-any-port-in-a-storm/

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Please visit Kenneth’s websites and Facebook page: http://thestjamesfiles.weebly.com/

http://kennethlawson.net and https://www.facebook.com/kennethLawson/

Courtney E. Taylor: Hang Up Your Pail

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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Hang Up Your Pail 

By Courtney E. Taylor

Birds and bees,

Rains falling, waters flowing,

The sounds of Spring.

People emerge with the blossoms,

Warmth drawing them forth from the winter.

Joy swells.

Small animals step forward,

Wavering in rhythm with the forecast.

Seeds fall into place.

Summer rushes forth,

Smothering heat, oppressive air

Crops rise and break,

Trees blow and burn.

No stopping time.

Hang up your pail,

Bid farewell to Spring.

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Please visit Courtney’s Facebook page and give her a like: https://www.facebook.com/byCourtneyETaylor

Kelli J. Gavin – Bucket

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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Bucket

By Kelli J Gavin 

I have been told it is too small

My bucket, that is

Too small to hold it all

Hopes and dreams should be big I am told

Bigger than what my bucket can hold

I believe it is just the right size

It contains everything I need

Happiness

Memories

Love

Faith

Kindness extended to me

Forgiveness

Lessons learned

Gratefulness

But what it contains is mine

A little bit of who I am

Of what I have become

When I pour it all out

I gaze at where I once was

Savor where I am now

It is altogether inspiring to me

That my small bucket holds

Everything I need

Hopes for my children

Dreams for my loved ones

Satisfaction of a life being lived well

Stop worrying about my bucket

Start addressing the hole in yours

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Please visit Kelli’s blog and follow her! https://kellijgavin.blogspot.com/2019/06/bucket.htmlo

Bluebell Rizzi : The Inheritance

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 Inheritance

By Bluebell Rizzi

My granddad used to call for me and my sister before we went to sleep. He’d sit there, in his old green armchair, drinking his blueberry muffin tea. We’d sit on the carpet in our pyjamas. And he would tell us stories. 

Magical stories, of fairies in the garden, wizards in the forests, and the angels that guarded the village. 

Our eyes would go wide, and he’d chuckle into his beard and send us to bed.

We believed him, me and my sister. She doesn’t anymore, though. She’s three years younger than me. She came to see me the other night. We sat out on the deck, and I asked her if she thought granddad might have been telling the truth. She just laughed and lit up a cigarette. 

She’s different, since mum and dad died. More reckless, sarcasm dripping from every word. It’s been five years, but the girl that she was before is gone, perhaps forever.

We lost granddad five months ago. I don’t think he ever got over our parents’ death, and he got sick.

Towards the end, I’d sit by his bed in the old-people’s home. When he wasn’t sleeping, he held my hands and told me a story from when my father was young. 

My grandmother, his wife, passed away in her early thirties, when my father was still a toddler.

When she was a child, she found a pail on her doorstep one morning, five months after her mother died. It was small, pink with yellow dots. She loved it, played with it every day, and kept it as she grew up. She lost it, though, when she was in her twenties. She told my granddad about it many a time.

Five months after she died, my dad found a pink pail with yellow dots on the doorstep. He kept it until he was in his twenties, when he lost it. 

My granddad kept telling me this, over and over. I used to cry, because I knew I was losing him.

Yesterday evening, I went out on my deck, and tripped over something. Cursing, I inspected my scraped leg. Getting up to look for a plaster, I stopped. 

In front of the door lay a pink pail with yellow dots.

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Bluebell Rizzi, is a writer, mainly a poet that dabbles in fiction. Please visit her blog , bluebellforawhile.wordpress.com

Rylee Black – Blue Moon Bay

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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Blue Moon Bay

By Rylee Black

June 24 – Present day – Blue Moon Bay, CA

Carlie Schafer’s shoulders were hunched up around her ears, and her grip on the steering wheel was white-knuckled. The road to the family’s cabin on the beach was no longer the well-maintained passage from highway to shore she remembered from her childhood. Sometime in the last ten years it had become no more than a narrow path between trees and bushes, all rutted and uneven and littered with large rocks that seemed to appear out of nowhere. She’d managed to successfully navigate around most of the bigger ones, but several times she’d been caught off guard and hit one, then cringed when the vehicle had jolted hard, then swayed alarmingly as she maneuvered over it. Having a friend who still lived in the area and who also happened to have a beat-up old jeep he’d been willing to loan her had definitely been a godsend.

Her bottom lip throbbed from where she’d been biting it in concentration, and a headache hovered menacingly behind her brow. How long was this darn road anyway? The old saying ‘you can never go home again’ mockingly played over and over again in her exhausted mind. But she didn’t see this trip to the cabin as going back home to relive childhood experiences. She was using it as a means of hiding away for just a little while from well-meaning friends. The fact that it was indeed a place filled with many wondrously happy memories was completely beside the point. Or so she told herself.

Anyway, not all Blue Moon memories were happy memories. That last visit, the one between high school and college, before Daddy died and they’d quit coming to the shore for the summer, had been so bittersweet it brought a pang to her heart and tears to her eyes even now.

Visions of a tall, impossibly good-looking boy named Sullivan Bradford slipped in on the tears. Sully. Her Sully. Sixteen and glorious, with his muscled body all tanned and toned from hours spent working hard and playing harder in the surf and sun. Sully, with that thick sun-bleached blond hair that fell over long-lashed sky-blue eyes. Sully, with those soft, full lips that had lifted into a devastating smile each and every time he’d seen her and taken her places her teen-aged mind had only dreamt of.

They’d been young and totally convinced they were in that forever-and-always kind of love. Then one day he’d gone, without any explanation or even a final good-bye. And that last summer at Blue Moon Bay had ended with Carlie lacking some of the innocence she’d brought with her and nursing a shattered heart. Several years later, her dad had confessed to ordering Sully to stay away from his little girl. By then, too much time had passed to even consider tracking him down.

Carlie pushed all the memories aside when the little cabin came into view. Her breath caught in her chest at the sight, and she pulled to a stop just to take it all in. It looked exactly the same. Mom must have hired someone to care for it for all these years. The walls were still painted a soft, sundrenched, salt-and-sand-softened blue. The shutters and porch railings remained a worn and rustic white. And the rose bushes they’d planted so long ago were covered with dozens and dozens of full pink blooms.

All the sadness she’d been feeling slipped away as she breathed in the salty air and drank in the view of the pretty little cabin and the waves crashing one after another onto the shore just yards away from its pale yellow front door. She sighed contentedly. This was exactly the peaceful retreat her weary soul needed.

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

The sun was setting by the time Carlie had unpacked and eaten a light supper. Seeing that the clouds were beginning to tinge a soft pink, she grabbed the old throw off the sofa and took it and her glass of wine outside. She happily curled up in one of the big white rockers on the porch to watch mother-nature’s show. The surf provided the soundtrack as waves rolled onto the beach with their rhythmic crash and roar. The setting sun supplied the artistry, painting the sky with glorious pinks, reds, and oranges and sending rays of brilliant light out to dance like diamonds across the water. God, how she’d missed this place. Why had she let so many years go by without coming back?

An elderly couple she didn’t recognize walked by hand in hand and exchanged pleasantries with her as they passed. A lump formed in Carlie’s throat, and she took a big sip of wine to wash it away as she watched them disappear on down the beach. Oh, how she envied them.

When she’d married Archie just out of college, she’d thought they had that kind of marriage. That ‘til-death-do-us-part-still-mad-about-each-other-even-when-we’re-old-and-gray kind of love. But the ‘til-death-do-us-part and the old-and-gray thing had obviously been her dream, not his. His dream, as it turned out, was to see how many times he could sleep with the long-legged barely legal redheaded receptionist from the office next door to his before she found out.

After she’d kicked him out and divorced him, she’d spent the next three years avoiding men like the plague. Her friends began badgering her the day after the only other single girl in their group had married, leaving Carlie the only one without a husband. With no more weddings to plan, they’d all begun to focus their attention on her. It was after her third disastrous blind date that she’d decided it was time to take a break from it all and booked a seat on the first flight out to California. Now, here she was on the beach with a glass of wine, feeling more peace than she had in a very long time.

The sun finally sank below the horizon and the darkening sky began filling with countless points of shining light. One especially brilliant star caught her eye and winked at her. She smiled, thinking about how Dad had told her as he lay dying that when she missed him all she had to do was look up at the stars and he’d let her know he was watching over her. She touched her fingertips to her lips, blew a kiss heavenward, then went inside and slept better than she had in years.

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Morning broke bright and clear, and Carlie stretched luxuriously and yawned. The sea air blew in through the open window, cool and fragrant and carrying the cries of the seagulls already hard at work looking for their breakfast.

Well rested and eager to see what the day would bring, she got up and made quick work of bathing and eating. Dressed in shorts and a bikini top, she ventured outside to explore her surroundings. First she took a swim, then a long walk on the beach. Once she got back, she looked around the house. Memories of time spent with family were everywhere. The very moment she stepped into the back garden she spotted something that made her draw in a startled breath and sent her heart into overdrive. Conscious of her tender bare feet, she made her way gingerly over the uneven stepping stones to the gate post where the little bucket hung, looking just like it had that summer she’d spent here falling in love with a blond-haired, blue-eyed surfer boy.

With trembling hands, she lifted the little pink bucket with its bright yellow polka dots down off the hook, and hugged it to her chest. She closed her eyes and fought back tears while a trembly smile full of the pain of love and loss played across her face. This bucket had been her lifeline to Sully that summer. Her father hadn’t liked him. More to the point, he hadn’t liked the amount of time the two of them spent together alone. He’d said the boy was trouble and that they were far too young to be in love. Carlie and Sully hadn’t cared what he or anyone else thought. They’d known what they meant to each other, and it was love.

It had been Sully’s idea to use the bucket he’d borrowed from his little sister as a means of setting up times and places to meet without her father knowing. Each night he’d slipped undetected into the yard, then every morning she’d crept out of bed before the rest of the family awoke and made her way out to the garden. She still remembered how her heart had beat in happy anticipation of the note she knew she’d find tucked underneath some sort of treasure in the bottom of that little pail. Memories of pulling scraps of paper from under seashells or ribbons or pretty rocks filled her mind. She still had every one of those treasures tucked safely in the wooden box he’d bought her when they’d gone to the fair.

It wasn’t until she pulled the bucket away to look at it again and heard a rattle that she realized there was something inside. With bated breath and her bottom lip held firmly in her teeth, she peered inside. A beautiful sand dollar, complete and shining white, sat nestled in a bed of soft pink rose petals. She tucked the pail into the crook of her arm and reached in to lift the shell and reveal the folded slip of paper it hid.

Deep down she knew there was no way that this note could be from Sully. A decade sitting in the bottom of the bucket through wind, rain, and sun would have destroyed both paper and fragile shell. Plus, she’d check the bucket every day after he’d disappeared, all the way to the morning they’d driven away, and it had been empty every time. Surely he didn’t still live here after all this time, did he? He’d talked so often of his dream of going away to college and getting away from Blue Moon Bay to see the world.

Fingers numb with anticipation fumbled the small scrap of paper as she carefully unfolded it. There were just two words written on it. Two words written in a hand she knew as well as her own. Two simple words that brought joy and broke her heart all at the same time. “I’m sorry.” Could this be real? Was it even possible? She’d thought she’d loved Archie, but if she was honest with herself, she’d admit that there had always been a piece of her heart that belonged to Sullivan Bradford. Her first love. The boy that all boys, and then all men thereafter, had been compared to and judged against. Only now did she realize he’d been the reason she’d never truly given her heart completely to anyone else.

She clutched the note to her with closed eyes and a smile. How pathetic was it that her heart soared at the thought of him? That summer they’d had was ten years and another lifetime ago, for heaven’s sake. They’d been children, really, with no clue about the harsh realities of life. They were adults now with jobs and responsibilities and tons of experiences that had changed them. Carlie had married and divorced, and that had certainly changed her. Her eyes went wide with that thought. Had Sully married? She looked at the note again, trying to read between lines that weren’t there. This wasn’t a declaration of undying love. It was just a request for forgiveness. Probably, he’d somehow heard she was coming and decided to use this opportunity to clear his conscience of any guilt he felt for the way things had ended.

She tucked the note in the pocket of her shorts, dumped the soft pink petals on the ground, and hung the bucket back on the fence. Then she squared her shoulders and headed around the house to the porch, admonishing herself for the dreams of her foolish heart the whole way. “You can’t go home again, Carlie Jo. It’s not just an old adage, it’s the truth. And you certainly can’t expect your childhood love to be anything more than a really wonderful memory. Life has moved on and you need to follow suit. You’re a grown woman, not a starry-eyed teenager for Christ’s sake. Get a grip. Soul mates and true love are just cheesy concepts dreamed up by big business to sell cards, books, and movies. Sullivan Bradford was just a silly teenage fling, and that’s the end of it.” Now, if she could just get her heart to believe that.

She didn’t see him standing there until she was already on the porch. Her Sully, looking like a marvelously filled-out and gloriously grown-up version of the teenaged one. He stepped up close, flashed her that devastating smile of his, and held out a bunch of wildflowers, just as he had ten years ago.

“Hi, I’m Sullivan Bradford.”

She blinked back happy tears and quoted her side of that decade-old conversation. “You don’t look like a Sullivan to me. I think I’ll call you Sully.”

They both laughed, heady with the reality of being together again.

“What are you doing here, Sully?”

He flashed a tender smile. “Looking for something I lost right here a long time ago.”

Her breath hitched. “Oh? And what was it you lost?”

He took a step closer. “The other half of my heart. But it’s okay. I think I just found it.”

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

June 24 – One year later – Blue Moon Bay, CA

Carlie Shafer sat in the rocker on the porch of the cabin and tried hard not to get up and pace. She’d picked up and set down her phone at least a dozen times in the last half hour. He’d said he’d be here. She just needed to be patient. She’d only left him two days ago, for goodness sake. Compared to the ten years before that, two days was nothing.

She sighed and looked down at her phone again. Who was she kidding? Two days felt like a lifetime now that she had him back. She should have waited for him in the city. Being away from him always made her feel like they were wasting precious moments that they could spend together. She chuckled, thinking about what he’d say if he heard her thoughts. He might laugh, though she knew he felt the same way. But he’d insisted she come out here ahead of him because he had something to attend to that came up last minute. He’d be here. Tomorrow was the anniversary not only of their first meeting, but also their reunion just a year ago.

The sun was getting ready to set when she picked up her phone again with the intent to really call this time and see just where he was. Being a silly woman in love had morphed into actual worry about his safety. She set it back down when she heard a bark. It was Harley, Sully’s golden retriever. She stood, concerned something was wrong. Harley’s customary enthusiastic frantic barking when he neared the cabin had sounded muffled, and Sully was still nowhere in sight.

She let out a breath in a rush of relief when Harley came bounding around the curve in the path. The reason for his strange bark became obvious. Clutched in his teeth was a little pail that was an exact replica of the pink and yellow polka-dotted one that hung on the post in the back yard.

The happy dog clambered up the wooden steps and sat in front of her, tail wagging and eyes shining with the excitement of having successfully performed an important job. Or perhaps the excitement had more to do with the fact they kept a jar of treats for him on the table next to the door and he knew he’d soon be getting one for his efforts.

Carlie grinned as she reached down and took the bucket. “Thank you, Harley. You’re such a good boy. You’re going to have to be patient and wait a couple more minutes for your treat while I look to see what surprise your daddy thought was so important that he entrusted it to you.”

She scratched the dog’s ears, then looked around one more time for Sully. Since he wasn’t anywhere around, she figured he’d sent Harley on ahead with the surprise on purpose. So she reached in and pulled out a piece of that tissue paper used in gift bags. That was new. When she saw what was under the tissue paper, she dropped it and put a hand to her lips as tears filled her eyes.

“You just going to stand there, or are you going to read my note?”

She looked up into his blue, blue eyes. “Oh, Sully.” Her words were wobbly and tear drenched.

“Here, let me help.” He climbed up the steps to stand in front of her, and took the bucket. “Go on. Now I’m pretty anxious to know what you have to say about what I wrote.”

With one last look into his eyes, she reached in and pulled out a blue velvet ring box, then the folded slip of paper that lay beneath it. Sully set the bucket down and took the ring box. Carlie unfolded the paper and read the words he’d written. She threw her arms around his neck. The kiss they shared lasted long enough for the sun to set and Harley to give up on his treat and fall asleep under the porch swing.

When they pulled apart, Sully looked down at her, his expression solemn but his eyes shining with happiness and unshed tears. He took the paper from her and held it up with a crooked smile. “So — does that mean your answer is yes?”

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Please visit Rylee’s website for more stories and info about her books! https://www.ryleeblackbooks.com/


Sean Bracken – When We Were Boys

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.)

When We Were Boys

By Sean Bracken

I’d been waiting for over an hour. The Moody Blues were singing ‘Melancholy Man’ on the radio. I was not feeling so much melancholic as nostalgic. I was parked at the top of the drive, close to the front door to Uncle Brendan’s farmhouse. My brother Jack was late, as usual.

Everyone said that Jack would be late for his own funeral. Of course, he would, he’d be the late departed.

Justin Hayward’s rich voice gave way to the haunting sound of Ray Thomas as his flute carried the music towards heaven and carried my mind back to the past.

Back to times of glory, back to the times when Jack and I were adventurers, searching for buried treasure, back to the times when we were spacemen, exploring distant planets, and back to the times when we were knights of old fighting dragons. Back to the times of when we were boys.

Back then, when we were boys, the tallest trees stood only to be climbed, the widest ditches existed only to be jumped. And this farm was our playground, our home, and the centre of our universe for two months every year.

The crunching sound of Jack’s car on the gravel drive shattered the moment.

“You’re late,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said. “Traffic, you know.”

I knew that Jack was reluctant to be here, just as I was. We had come to get the house ready for sale. A task neither of us were looking forward to. After all, this house had been our second home, a place we loved.

Uncle Brendan had passed away two weeks ago. He was one week short of reaching one hundred and two years of age. He had outlived his wife, Auntie Mona, by thirty years. A man with a passion for the land and the environment, Brendan had always looked upon himself as the caretaker of the farm rather than its owner.

Probably because of loneliness, or maybe because of his solid farmer’s common sense, ten years ago Brendan had checked himself into Cedarwood Lodge, a retirement home. He had lived there ever since, but he never surrendered his fierce independence. He insisted on keeping his car, his mobile phone and most importantly to him, control of his bank account.

He had employed a neighbour, Charlie Hayes, as manager for the farm. Two, sometimes three or four times a week, he would drive home, climb into his green and yellow John Deere tractor, and spend the day checking that everything on the farm was in order. He would often spend a night or two back in his own bed. Perhaps, dreaming dreams of days long past.

“That cow’s teats are swollen, she needs the vet. That fence needs looking at. That field needs ploughing.”

That was Brendan. The farmer, the caretaker of the land, right up to two weeks ago, when he simply forgot to wake up.

Brendan and Mona never had children of their own. Somehow, Jack and I became surrogates. As soon as school ended in June, Mam and Dad would pile us into the back of the old Triumph Herald along with our battered, cardboard suitcase and drive us down to Brendan’s farm.

Entering the old house was like stepping back in time. Jack and I were almost reverential as we walked in silence down the hall. Stepping into a sacred place, into the cathedral of our past. Absorbing the feelings, the smells, the memories. Ghosts of our childhood, long forgotten, returned to life with each quiet footstep.

The door into the kitchen and parlour creaked on rusty hinges. Dust mites danced in the air as dappled sunlight lit up the room.

On the right, the Aga solid-fuel range stood waiting to be lit. The Aga was the heart that brought life to this house. A massive oak table filled the centre of the room. A table where more than a dozen farmhands used to sit for breakfast every morning. Beside it, a smaller table, where Uncle Brendan, Jack and I ate our breakfast.

The Welsh Dresser, proudly displaying Auntie Mona’s finest Willow pattern bone china and with cutlery drawers stuffed with enough knives, forks, and spoons to feed an army, filled the alcove on the left.

On rainy days, Jack and I would sit at the small table and read comic books, listen to Flash Gordan on the radio, or draw pictures with crayons.

One miserable cold and damp day, Auntie Mona brought in a plain old galvanised bucket from the milking parlour, along with some paint and brushes.

“Right boys, get to work. Show me what you can do with this old bucket. We’ll use it for the chicken feed, so I want it bright and pretty. If you do a good enough job, there might be an extra slice of rhubarb tart for you after dinner.”

Jack and I set about our task with gusto. The promise of extra rhubarb and ginger tart, smothered in thick, rich, creamy, yellow, homemade custard was more than enough motivation.

Two hours later, we produced our masterpiece, a lurid pink bucket with white polka dots all over it. Auntie Mona was delighted with our efforts, and sure enough, that evening we were rewarded with double helpings of rhubarb tart and custard.

Year after year, that pink bucket played a central role in our lives.

Our mornings began with Tyson’s “Cock, A, Doodle, Do” announcing the dawn of a new day. Out of bed, down the stairs and out the back door to join Uncle Brendan and the farm hands. Into the fields, herding the cows back to be milked. Milked by hand, me, Jack and all the workers squatting on three-legged stools, pulling and squeezing on teats, squirting milk into buckets. As the buckets filled, we emptied them into churns, and as the churns filled they would be lifted out to the back of the tractor and trailer, waiting for delivery to the creamery, three miles away.

After breakfast, it was time to feed the hens and collect the eggs from the coop. Once our chores were finished, Jack and I would set out into the woodland bordering the main pasture. We would run and climb, explore and play. We spent several days building a den from leftover timber and tree branches. The woodland ended on the banks of a river that flowed through the farm and out under an old stone bridge. One day Jack noticed fish swimming in the river.

We developed a technique of our own to catch the fish, big brown trout. At first, we tried using our hands, without much success. After a little trial and error, we found that by lying on the riverbank, holding a stick under the water and waiting for a fish to swim over it, a quick flip of the wrist and the fish would fly up out of the water and land on the bank behind us. There was only one problem, most of the fish we landed would wriggle and flop back into the river. The solution was simple. The pink polka-dot bucket was perfect. From then on we would return to the farmhouse with a bucket full of the day’s catch.

In the mornings, we would collect wild mushrooms while herding the cattle in for milking. Auntie Mona used to throw the fish and mushrooms onto the range, smother them with home-churned butter and add fresh parsley from the herb garden outside the back door. All the farmhands agreed that these were the finest breakfasts they had ever eaten.

It didn’t take us long to find another use for our bucket. Clyde was a huge, brown plough horse, with a white star on his forehead. Retired to pasture ever since Uncle Brendan had bought the tractor. His friend Queen Bess was a younger, more agile, jet black pony. Bess worked on Sunday. Uncle Brendan would harness her to the family trap, which was also lacquered in jet black varnish. The brass on her bridle polished to a shine every Saturday. We made a fine sight as we trotted down the country road, on our way to Mass.

Jack and I were determined to ride the horses. The problem was that they were impossible to catch. That was until we arrived into the meadow with the pink polka-dot bucket filled with oats. It was easy to lead them to a wall where we could climb onto their backs. What joy, the freedom of galloping at full speed, bareback and with no bridle. Clinging to the horses’ manes for dear life. My lifelong passion for horse riding began with Clyde and Queen Bess.

The bucket also served a grimmer purpose. Every Saturday morning Uncle Brendan would bring a chair out into the farmyard. First Jack and then I would be placed in the chair. Brendan would put a bowl on our heads and use the sheep shearer to give us a haircut. I’m sure that both of us must have looked like miniature monks after these weekly shaves.

As soon as this ritual was completed, Auntie Mona would come out, carrying the polka-dot bucket, full of boiling water, and the carving knife from the cutlery drawer. She would sit in the chair and wait for us boys to catch a chicken and bring it to her.

Catching a chicken was always great fun. What came later, maybe not so much. With one swipe of the knife, the chicken would lose its head and then run headless around the yard for a couple of minutes. Then after ducking it into the boiling water, Auntie Mona would pluck away until all its feathers were gone. The deceased chicken was destined to be served up as the Sunday roast, its innards used to make soup.

Modern sensibilities might see this as cruel. They might consider it outrageous to expose two young boys to killing a chicken. Back then, sixty years ago, it seemed natural. Back then, we saw cows give birth, the newborn calves kick their way out of the birthing sac and struggle to stand up on four spindly legs. We saw the bull service the cattle, we learnt to fish, to ride. Life was a true adventure when we were boys.

It didn’t take long to inspect the house. There was little or nothing that needed attention. Charles Hayes sent his wife down on a regular basis to clean and maintain the property. We unlatched the back door and stepped out into the yard. Little had changed. The hay barn, stables and chicken run all looked just the same as they did all those years ago. The milking parlour had been replaced by a new automated modern building, where machines now do all the work we did by hand.

We wandered around the yard, checking the tool shed, stables and haylofts. Walking in silence, both of us lost in personal echoes of a distant, long-forgotten childhood. That was until we came to the chicken coop. There it was, even after all these years, our pink and white polka-dot bucket, hanging where it always did, on the door to the coop.

We glanced at each other, and back to the bucket, and back to each other.

I smiled at Jack and said, “Let’s go fishin’.”

We never did sell the house. We decided to keep it, to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. So if you’re ever driving across an old humpback bridge in County Kildare and you happen to spot two old men carrying a pink and white polka-dot bucket, don’t worry. It’s only me and my brother, reliving sweet memories of when we were boys.

The End

When We Were Boys

By Sean Bracken

I’d been waiting for over an hour. The Moody Blues were singing ‘Melancholy Man’ on the radio. I was not feeling so much melancholic as nostalgic. I was parked at the top of the drive, close to the front door to Uncle Brendan’s farmhouse. My brother Jack was late, as usual.

Everyone said that Jack would be late for his own funeral. Of course, he would, he’d be the late departed.

Justin Hayward’s rich voice gave way to the haunting sound of Ray Thomas as his flute carried the music towards heaven and carried my mind back to the past.

Back to times of glory, back to the times when Jack and I were adventurers, searching for buried treasure, back to the times when we were spacemen, exploring distant planets, and back to the times when we were knights of old fighting dragons. Back to the times of when we were boys.

Back then, when we were boys, the tallest trees stood only to be climbed, the widest ditches existed only to be jumped. And this farm was our playground, our home, and the centre of our universe for two months every year.

The crunching sound of Jack’s car on the gravel drive shattered the moment.

“You’re late,” I said.

“Sorry,” he said. “Traffic, you know.”

I knew that Jack was reluctant to be here, just as I was. We had come to get the house ready for sale. A task neither of us were looking forward to. After all, this house had been our second home, a place we loved.

Uncle Brendan had passed away two weeks ago. He was one week short of reaching one hundred and two years of age. He had outlived his wife, Auntie Mona, by thirty years. A man with a passion for the land and the environment, Brendan had always looked upon himself as the caretaker of the farm rather than its owner.

Probably because of loneliness, or maybe because of his solid farmer’s common sense, ten years ago Brendan had checked himself into Cedarwood Lodge, a retirement home. He had lived there ever since, but he never surrendered his fierce independence. He insisted on keeping his car, his mobile phone and most importantly to him, control of his bank account.

He had employed a neighbour, Charlie Hayes, as manager for the farm. Two, sometimes three or four times a week, he would drive home, climb into his green and yellow John Deere tractor, and spend the day checking that everything on the farm was in order. He would often spend a night or two back in his own bed. Perhaps, dreaming dreams of days long past.

“That cow’s teats are swollen, she needs the vet. That fence needs looking at. That field needs ploughing.”

That was Brendan. The farmer, the caretaker of the land, right up to two weeks ago, when he simply forgot to wake up.

Brendan and Mona never had children of their own. Somehow, Jack and I became surrogates. As soon as school ended in June, Mam and Dad would pile us into the back of the old Triumph Herald along with our battered, cardboard suitcase and drive us down to Brendan’s farm.

Entering the old house was like stepping back in time. Jack and I were almost reverential as we walked in silence down the hall. Stepping into a sacred place, into the cathedral of our past. Absorbing the feelings, the smells, the memories. Ghosts of our childhood, long forgotten, returned to life with each quiet footstep.

The door into the kitchen and parlour creaked on rusty hinges. Dust mites danced in the air as dappled sunlight lit up the room.

On the right, the Aga solid-fuel range stood waiting to be lit. The Aga was the heart that brought life to this house. A massive oak table filled the centre of the room. A table where more than a dozen farmhands used to sit for breakfast every morning. Beside it, a smaller table, where Uncle Brendan, Jack and I ate our breakfast.

The Welsh Dresser, proudly displaying Auntie Mona’s finest Willow pattern bone china and with cutlery drawers stuffed with enough knives, forks, and spoons to feed an army, filled the alcove on the left.

On rainy days, Jack and I would sit at the small table and read comic books, listen to Flash Gordan on the radio, or draw pictures with crayons.

One miserable cold and damp day, Auntie Mona brought in a plain old galvanised bucket from the milking parlour, along with some paint and brushes.

“Right boys, get to work. Show me what you can do with this old bucket. We’ll use it for the chicken feed, so I want it bright and pretty. If you do a good enough job, there might be an extra slice of rhubarb tart for you after dinner.”

Jack and I set about our task with gusto. The promise of extra rhubarb and ginger tart, smothered in thick, rich, creamy, yellow, homemade custard was more than enough motivation.

Two hours later, we produced our masterpiece, a lurid pink bucket with white polka dots all over it. Auntie Mona was delighted with our efforts, and sure enough, that evening we were rewarded with double helpings of rhubarb tart and custard.

Year after year, that pink bucket played a central role in our lives.

Our mornings began with Tyson’s “Cock, A, Doodle, Do” announcing the dawn of a new day. Out of bed, down the stairs and out the back door to join Uncle Brendan and the farm hands. Into the fields, herding the cows back to be milked. Milked by hand, me, Jack and all the workers squatting on three-legged stools, pulling and squeezing on teats, squirting milk into buckets. As the buckets filled, we emptied them into churns, and as the churns filled they would be lifted out to the back of the tractor and trailer, waiting for delivery to the creamery, three miles away.

After breakfast, it was time to feed the hens and collect the eggs from the coop. Once our chores were finished, Jack and I would set out into the woodland bordering the main pasture. We would run and climb, explore and play. We spent several days building a den from leftover timber and tree branches. The woodland ended on the banks of a river that flowed through the farm and out under an old stone bridge. One day Jack noticed fish swimming in the river.

We developed a technique of our own to catch the fish, big brown trout. At first, we tried using our hands, without much success. After a little trial and error, we found that by lying on the riverbank, holding a stick under the water and waiting for a fish to swim over it, a quick flip of the wrist and the fish would fly up out of the water and land on the bank behind us. There was only one problem, most of the fish we landed would wriggle and flop back into the river. The solution was simple. The pink polka-dot bucket was perfect. From then on we would return to the farmhouse with a bucket full of the day’s catch.

In the mornings, we would collect wild mushrooms while herding the cattle in for milking. Auntie Mona used to throw the fish and mushrooms onto the range, smother them with home-churned butter and add fresh parsley from the herb garden outside the back door. All the farmhands agreed that these were the finest breakfasts they had ever eaten.

It didn’t take us long to find another use for our bucket. Clyde was a huge, brown plough horse, with a white star on his forehead. Retired to pasture ever since Uncle Brendan had bought the tractor. His friend Queen Bess was a younger, more agile, jet black pony. Bess worked on Sunday. Uncle Brendan would harness her to the family trap, which was also lacquered in jet black varnish. The brass on her bridle polished to a shine every Saturday. We made a fine sight as we trotted down the country road, on our way to Mass.

Jack and I were determined to ride the horses. The problem was that they were impossible to catch. That was until we arrived into the meadow with the pink polka-dot bucket filled with oats. It was easy to lead them to a wall where we could climb onto their backs. What joy, the freedom of galloping at full speed, bareback and with no bridle. Clinging to the horses’ manes for dear life. My lifelong passion for horse riding began with Clyde and Queen Bess.

The bucket also served a grimmer purpose. Every Saturday morning Uncle Brendan would bring a chair out into the farmyard. First Jack and then I would be placed in the chair. Brendan would put a bowl on our heads and use the sheep shearer to give us a haircut. I’m sure that both of us must have looked like miniature monks after these weekly shaves.

As soon as this ritual was completed, Auntie Mona would come out, carrying the polka-dot bucket, full of boiling water, and the carving knife from the cutlery drawer. She would sit in the chair and wait for us boys to catch a chicken and bring it to her.

Catching a chicken was always great fun. What came later, maybe not so much. With one swipe of the knife, the chicken would lose its head and then run headless around the yard for a couple of minutes. Then after ducking it into the boiling water, Auntie Mona would pluck away until all its feathers were gone. The deceased chicken was destined to be served up as the Sunday roast, its innards used to make soup.

Modern sensibilities might see this as cruel. They might consider it outrageous to expose two young boys to killing a chicken. Back then, sixty years ago, it seemed natural. Back then, we saw cows give birth, the newborn calves kick their way out of the birthing sac and struggle to stand up on four spindly legs. We saw the bull service the cattle, we learnt to fish, to ride. Life was a true adventure when we were boys.

It didn’t take long to inspect the house. There was little or nothing that needed attention. Charles Hayes sent his wife down on a regular basis to clean and maintain the property. We unlatched the back door and stepped out into the yard. Little had changed. The hay barn, stables and chicken run all looked just the same as they did all those years ago. The milking parlour had been replaced by a new automated modern building, where machines now do all the work we did by hand.

We wandered around the yard, checking the tool shed, stables and haylofts. Walking in silence, both of us lost in personal echoes of a distant, long-forgotten childhood. That was until we came to the chicken coop. There it was, even after all these years, our pink and white polka-dot bucket, hanging where it always did, on the door to the coop.

We glanced at each other, and back to the bucket, and back to each other.

I smiled at Jack and said, “Let’s go fishin’.”

We never did sell the house. We decided to keep it, to be enjoyed by our children and grandchildren. So if you’re ever driving across an old humpback bridge in County Kildare and you happen to spot two old men carrying a pink and white polka-dot bucket, don’t worry. It’s only me and my brother, reliving sweet memories of when we were boys.

The End

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Please visit Sean’s blog at https://sean-bracken.site123.me