Ted Strutz – Little Sally’s Pail

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Little Sally’s Pail

By Ted Strutz

Little Sally left her pail in the grass.

Mr. Robert didn’t want to hit it with his mower so he hung it on a nearby shed.

Coming back with her shovel, Little Sally couldn’t reach it.

She went and found Bobby.

Bobby got down on all fours and Little Sally stood on his back.

She still couldn’t reach the pail.

So she jumped up… still not high enough.

When she came down, Bobby collapsed.

Undeterred, Little Sally got the milking stool and made Bobby get back down on all fours.

Success.

Noontime, Mother clangs the dinner gong.

Little Sally sprints for the house leaving her pail in the grass.

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Please visit Ted’s website: https://tedstrutz.com/

Caroline Giammanco – “A Bucketful of Wishes”

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 Bucketful of Wishes”

By Caroline Giammanco

The warm rays of a glorious June sun played on her ringlets. Annalee was captivated by the butterflies flitting from flower to flower in her grandfather’s pasture. The farm was her favorite place to be and, in all of her four years, boredom had ignored her. Whether it was the cows and horses, Grandpa’s faithful dog Shep, or the whimsy of the breeze, Annalee’s imagination was always at work.

As the butterflies circled her, she filled her pail with the daisies that covered the field, careful to smell each one she plucked. Each time, she closed her eyes and smiled before placing the flower in the bucket. The wind blew wisps of her hair in her eyes, and she wiped her forehead with her arm. A monarch caught her attention, and she playfully chased it, hoping to have it land on her outstretched hand.

Close by her side was good old Shep. He was nearly blind at the age of twelve, but he was devoted to his girl. On the day we brought Annie home from the hospital, Shep had lain beneath her crib, making it clear that she was under his watchful eye. From then on, the two were inseparable whenever we drove to see my mother and father at their eighty-acre farm in the country.

When Annalee made it back to the yard, I had to ask. “Annie, why did you close your eyes every time you put a flower in your bucket?”

“Oh, Mama, I was putting wishes, not flowers, in my bucket. Here, I picked you a bouquet.”

I tousled her hair and swung her up on my hip.

“Let’s put these in a vase. Grandma said lunch is almost ready.”

We made our way up the wooden steps leading to the front door whose threshold I’d crossed thousands of times. I stopped to glance into Annalee’s pink bucket and gave her a little squeeze as I thought about her bucketful of wishes.

I’d grown up on the same piece of land that mesmerized my daughter but, until Annalee showed me its beauty, I’d never recognized the magic it held. Too busy grousing about the endless chores of my childhood, I’d only seen the drudgery of weeding and smelled the stench of the barnyard. My self-centered ways blinded me to the little miracles that surrounded me every day. I grew up, went to college, and secured an office job in the city. Until our Annalee opened my eyes, I missed a lot. I learned, through her, to never miss the chance to see the magic. Even if I came to it a little late, the old homestead tugged increasingly at my heartstrings.

Annalee saw all the miracles. When tadpoles in the pond morphed into frogs, she bounced up and down.

“Mama, just look at them! How does God know that they need to lose their tails and learn to hop?”

“I don’t know, Annie.”

When one of Grandma’s hens hatched a clutch of chicks, Annalee squealed with joy.

“Look at how perfect they are! They’re so good, too. See how they follow their mama everywhere so they don’t get lost?”

She reached her little hand out to me, grasping mine, as she stood wide-eyed in admiration of her new friends.

Just as she saw the magic in the world around her, there was something magical about our strawberry-blonde girl. We weren’t the only ones to notice either. Complete strangers stopped us on the street or in the grocery store.

“What a beautiful child you have!”

“Those eyes are the most amazing shade of blue I’ve ever seen.”

Her zest for life was what impressed everyone the most. She laughed, played, and made friends with everyone she met. Her boundless energy wore us out, but she was a sight to behold. She carried her bucket on most of her adventures, and we were never sure what treasures she’d bring home with her. Rocks, lizards, and fish from the creek all made their way back in her little pink pail. Fearless and determined, she kept us on our toes, and since she was determined to climb trees and to run after her older brother, she always had some sort of bump or scrape.

That’s why we didn’t pay much attention to the bruises she had on her arms and legs. We started to worry, however, when the fevers, joint pain, and fatigue hit her. Instead of our vibrant Annalee, she now fell asleep out of exhaustion an hour after she woke up in the morning.

“Mindy, I think it’s time you and Brian took Annalee into Doc Stevens to see what’s going on.” My mother seldom thought doctors were worth their while, so when she was the one who made the suggestion, we realized we weren’t the only ones who noticed the changes in Annalee.

Doc Stevens took blood samples, and I could tell by the wrinkles on his forehead as he examined our little girl that he was more worried than he let on.

“I’ll send these off to the lab, and we should have the results in a day or two. I’ll let you know when I hear anything, and bring her back in if she seems worse.”

That was the beginning of our nightmare. Leukemia did its best to kill our little girl—and the heart and soul of our family. I stopped eating and refused to leave my bed. Brian worried that he’d have to hospitalize me.

“Mindy, I’m as torn up as you are, but we have to be there for Annalee.”

He was right. I strapped on my emotional armor and made every trip to St. Jude’s in Memphis with her. Our lives revolved around the fight for our daughter’s life.

There are few things I can imagine are more painful than watching a four-year-old undergo cancer treatments. The only thing that was worse was when the doctors said the unthinkable, “We’ve done all we can do for her. We’ll keep her comfortable.”

It was a rainy June day. Annalee had turned five three weeks before, and her celebration had been from inside a hospital room. We’d turned it into a makeshift hotel room, with at least two of us in the room with her at all times. Now that the end was at hand, the entire family, even my brother Evan who lived in Sacramento, had gathered to be with our Annalee. Since animals weren’t allowed, Shep’s favorite toy, a tattered old bear that was no more than rags, was in the bed next to Annalee. She clung to it.

As the beeping of the heart monitor slowed, and the gauges on the machine registered her weakening vitals, Annalee turned to me in almost a whisper.

“Mama, where’s my bucket?”

“It’s in the corner, next to Grandpa.”

“Can you bring it to me?”

I wiped the tears from my eyes as my father handed me the tiny pink pail. He gently squeezed my hand as he gave it to me. Turning back to her bedside, I carefully handed it to Annalee.

She peered inside it and smiled.

“It’s full, Mama. I want you to have it.”

We all glanced curiously at each other, knowing the bucket was empty.

“Why do you want me to have it, Annie?

“I’ve been saving these for you for a long time. I knew you’d need them.”

“Baby girl, I don’t understand.”

“They’re my wishes, Mama. I knew I couldn’t go until I had a bucketful to leave you. You’ll be okay without me now. I put these wishes in here so you’d always have plenty of good luck.”

A tear trickled down the side of my face. Annalee looked out the window as a butterfly landed on the pane. And then my little girl closed her eyes, content that she’d left me with her bucketful of wishes.

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Please visit Caroline’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/BoonieHatBandit/ and her website… http://www.booniehatbandit.com

Marian Wood: Unrest on the Farm

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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Unrest on the Farm

By Marian Wood

Breathing in, I could smell the manure and hay from the stables. The sun-baked earth and the wildflowers. The scents of our farm, the warmth and love of home. I could hear the rumble of the tractor and the pigs grunting in their sty. The clucking of the hens as mum collected their eggs for our breakfast and the cows mooing in the shed as the farm hands pumped their milk.

The sun was now rising over the hills emanating the sheer beauty of the Yorkshire countryside. I have lived here all my life and would not want to live anywhere else.

I met Jack at school and we very quickly fell in love. A Yorkshire-born lad who works hard now for my father. Sharing the large farmhouse has had its problems but we work together and give support where needed.

Elizabeth was born just five years ago, the light of all our lives. Pretty blonde hair, blue eyes and a smile that helps her get off lightly when she’s naughty. Mum has supported us on numerous occasions, sleepless nights and babysitting. Standing here now, she came running up to me. “Mummy, Mummy, you need to come.”

“Aye, love, what’s the matter?”

“Mummy.” She broke down in front of me, her face was wet, and I now could not understand what she was telling me. I could feel my heart beating in my chest. What was going on? Why was Elizabeth so upset?

Running into the house carrying my little girl, I could see my family sitting around the table and my mum was crying. Walking over to Jack I demanded to know what was wrong.

“Zoe, you’d better sit down.”

“Just tell me.”

“Zoe, it’s your dad.”

“Why, what’s the matter? What’s he done?”

Putting his arm around me, Jack said quietly, “Your dad is lying in the milking shed, Zoe, he’s dead.”

I now sat, not sure how to react, I started to shake, then pulled Elizabeth closer to me. I could taste salt now as my eyes filled with tears. “Has someone called an ambulance? He can’t be dead, he’s only sixty. He’s too young to die.”

“Darling, they’re sending an ambulance and police. There is something else.”

“What?” I could feel the walls of the farmhouse closing in around me. My eyes focused on the plate with the rooster that I’ve adored all these years. I wanted my father.

“It looks like he’s been shot.”

“Murder? No, this is a quiet farm. This can’t be right.”

“Sorry, but it does look that way unless he shot himself.”

“It’s not true, it can’t be. Dad had no enemies, did he, did he have enemies, did he, Mum?” I could feel myself becoming hysterical. If dad was murdered, then who did it? My eyes looked at Jack. Calm trustworthy Jack, no he wouldn’t do it. We inherit the farm, there’s a motive, but he needs my dad to help run it, so it can’t be him.

Mum sat quietly sobbing, I was still holding Elizabeth. The day had gone from one of beauty to the worst day of my life. Why had someone killed my dad? Or had he killed himself?

Hearing the whir of sirens now, Jack now went to the door to help the police and paramedics. Putting on the kettle, it was going to be a long morning and we needed tea. The fresh eggs sat in a bowl on the worktop. Just wanting to be alone and cry. I had to be strong for mum, I made a pot of tea and held her hand. Today was the beginning of a story that we needed answers to.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Unable to think straight, Jack listened to the hum of noise as the police took their photos, marked out the milk shed and talked on their radios. The decision had been made that this was not suicide due to the angle of the bullet wound in the side of his head and there was no gun to be seen. Joe lay there in what looked like dark red paint pooling around him. A picture of shock across his face, and flies were now gathering. Jack willed the paramedics to take his body away. Josh the farmhand had taken the cows back out to their field.

Thinking back to a few nights ago in the ‘Dog and Duck,’ Jack remembered a conversation he had overheard about a missing farmer. Was this relevant? “Excuse me, Detective, will you be interviewing the farmers in the local area?”

“Yes, why, do you have information?”

“Well, you might want to talk to the barman in the ‘Dog and Duck.’ I overheard something about a farmer going missing.”

Detective Mills was interested now. “Did you hear anything else?”

“No sir.” He had thought nothing of it at the time and now wondered if he was next. Mind now working overtime, he started to feel hot and then shivery. This was not good, he needed to do some sleuthing too. Knowing that he should stay out of it, but now thinking maybe his father-in-law was not the last dead farmer.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Walking into the ‘Dog and Duck,’ some of the locals looked up from their drinks. Being a small community most people recognised Detective Bill Mills. He took in the red carpet, the pictures of farm animals adorning the walls and the cheery atmosphere.

“Yes, Detective, how can I help you?” Ted, the barman, hoped he just wanted a pint.

“Is there anywhere we can talk?”

“Debbie, can you take over the bar?”

A plump lady, maybe in her thirties with a friendly looking face, hurried over. “Aye then.” She wondered what was happening but knew her dad would tell her soon enough.

Showing the Detective into a quiet room, Ted closed the door. “Alright, so how can I help?”

Detective Mills took off his coat, placed it over the back of a chair and then sat down. “We were called this morning to East Dales Farm.” He paused, watching Ted’s face.

“Aye, that’s Joe Wright’s place, him and Jack are regulars ’ere. What’s ’appened, late night party or somethin’?”

“Not quite, sir, Mr Wright was found this morning by Jack Thomas, lying dead in the milk shed.”

Stoney silence enveloped the room. Ted could feel the sweat pouring off his head. Then shaking, he said, “Not sure what to say but there were some men in a few nights ago, said somethin’ about farmers disappearin’. I don’t know if they meant that farmers were going missing or now, oh dear, now I’m wonderin’ whether they were going to off them. Feelin’ a bit stupid now, Detective, I should have phoned your lot at the time but I thought nuthin’ of it.”

“Do you think you would recognise these men again, sir?”

“Yes, Detective, I think I would, cruel-looking men, three of them, there were, and one had a tattoo of an Eagle.”

“Ok, good work, sir. Is there any reason that you know of, why anyone would want to kill the farmers?”

“From what I’ve heard, there is a fight for custom right now. We have six farms serving the local area, where one or two would be enough. Joe had been here the longest. His farm was owned by his father before him. A proper family business. His lass, Zoe, will inherit it.”

Detective Mills had heard enough, then he thought again. “These men, had you seen them before?”

“No sir, never, proper out-of-towners if you ask me. They didn’t fit.”

Detective Mills continued, “And out of the six farms are there any that you think might go as far as murder?”

“Hmm, I’m not sure but old Bob Franks can be a piece of work over at West March Side. So can Brian Williams at West Docks. Maybe you need to see them all. Fred Grior at East Blygate rarely comes in ’ere. Keeps ’imself to ’imself.”

“I will have a drive around the farms. Thank you, you have been most helpful.” He got up, shook Ted’s hand and then put his coat back on. Walking through the bar he waved at Debbie as he walked out. He then heard a lady’s voice.

“Bill, Bill, Detective, I need to talk to you.” At the same time he felt a vibration in his pocket.

“Sorry, hang on, Miss.”

“Detective Mills.” Ruth watched him as his shoulders fell. She had heard about Joe Wright but had also heard rumours about a farm trade war. Now wondering what had happened she started feeling dizzy. She knew from the tone of Bill’s voice that there had been another murder. Putting down the phone, he said, “Sorry, Ruth, it’s Mr Grior at East Blygate. Found not breathing, lying in the pig pen with a very confused mother pig standing over him.” This was serious, two dead farmers. He needed to find these killers and fast.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The last few weeks had been strained. Mum kept crying, Elizabeth was confused, and all I wanted was to be alone. Jack had been quiet, preoccupied, I suspected, worrying about the farm. Trying to be there for my family but constantly thinking about my dad was proving hard work. Jack wouldn’t discuss it and dad’s body was still with the police. Unable to start funeral arrangements and now trying to manage the farm as well.

It was a few days later that Elizabeth came running up to me with her favourite little tin pink bucket with yellow spots, asking to pick flowers for Grandad. She said that Grandad needed flowers because that’s what you do when someone dies, you give them flowers.

I hadn’t seen Jack since early this morning. I assumed he was working in the fields.

Taking Elizabeth’s hand, we walked to the nearby woods. The wildflowers waved at us as we passed by. The scents of the country. The yellow rape in the field. We stopped to watch some rabbits playing, their bobtails a shimmering white in the summer sun. Times with my little girl are special, now especially.

Being mum, putting her needs before mine. For now, it was filling her bucket with flowers. Collecting the blues, pinks and yellows. Making a beautiful arrangement. Elizabeth wanted to hang her bucket on the door of the milking shed, as you would lay flowers on a grave.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Jack had worried enough, today was the day. The police were not doing their job properly. What had Detective Mills been doing? Why no arrests? Someone was killing farmers and they needed to be stopped. With a rifle under his arm, Jack had set off for the nearby farms. He was going to solve this. His hunch was William Tyler at Brook Farm. A beast of a man at six-foot-six and built like a tank. With a team of farmhands, he knew that he was capable of this.

Crossing the fields, jumping over a few streams, avoiding cow pats. The country smells, the stillness, and dale’s beauty surrounding him. Grateful for what he had, he didn’t want to end up dead like Joe. So what if there are too many farms. They would get by somehow and he trusted that Zoe would have ideas. Thinking of Elizabeth, he remembered how her blonde hair shined when the sun reflected on it and smiled to himself.

Hand around his rifle, he could feel its hard coldness. What was he doing? He was scared but he had to do this. Reaching Brook Farm, he crept into one of the barns. The strong smell of hay filled his lungs. Starting now to wonder where to look. He needed to find the murder weapon. Hearing voices, he proceeded to climb on the hay bales. Knowing he was in trouble if found, he began to sweat.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Having questioned the four farm managers and the numerous farm workers, Detective Bill Mills was putting his facts together. They had been competing for years. There was no friendship between the farms. The community was not big enough for all of them. He had come to realise though that this was not as straightforward as farmer against farmer. A piece of this puzzle was missing, he just needed to work out what it was.

Farmer Grior’s wife was now staying at the farmhouse with Mary Wright. She was devastated after finding her husband swimming in his blood with the pigs. Unable to go home, they had both been grateful for the company. The last few weeks had affected the whole community. Two farmers missed, the uncertainty of a killer on the loose, and local trade. It was time now to work together. Bill could see this, but underlying feuds needed to be settled.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

I helped Elizabeth hang her pink bucket with her flowers on the door of the cowshed. We then held hands and said a prayer for Grandad. We asked God to look after him and make him comfortable and happy. I knew my dad would like that, I had been raised a devout Christian and my dad had always attended Church on a Sunday when he could. It made me feel calmer inside knowing that even though I could no longer be with him, he was safe in heaven now.

Walking into the farmhouse with Elizabeth, I could see that mum was worried. “Oh no, what’s happened?”

“Do you know where Jack is? It’s 4:00 and I haven’t seen him all day.”

“Isn’t he out in the fields?”

“Hmm, maybe but I haven’t seen him all day.”

“Neither have I mum, but I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Mummy, I’m hungry.”

Distracted now, I said, “Do we still have cake?”

“There’s Sultana cake in the tin. Do you want some, darling?”

“Yes please, Grandma.” Elizabeth jumped up and down excitedly.

She ate her cake and I thought nothing more of mum’s concern till much later when Jack still hadn’t returned.

“Right, I’m phoning that Detective. This can’t be right, where the heck is he?”

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Farmer William Tyler had entered the barn with two of his men to find Jack lying on top of the hay bales. Surprised at his bold trespass, he wasn’t sure what to say. “What the blazes are you doing here? Why are you in my shed?”

Jack responded boldly, “Someone is killing farmers and I want answers.” The men looked at each other and then laughed.

William said, “You want answers, we want answers, this whole scary mess is not just affecting you. We’re all concerned, who is going to be next found dead in the pig pen? Or will it be with the sheep next?”

Climbing down from the hay, Jack said, “So what now, then? Cos that policeman, he’s done nuthin‘ other than question us.”

It was then that the men heard the loud crash of a door being shut and a bolt pulled across.

“What the blazes,” shouted William. “Locked in me own barn.”

Rob Gage, tall and broad, said nervously, “It’s them, we’re done for.”

“Oh no, Agnes, she’s by herself at the house. They’ll go for her and I ain’t got me phone.”

The men looked at each other. None of them had, they were stuck.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

It was 7:00 in the evening when Detective Mills took the call from a very anxious Zoe Wright. He had his suspicions now on who the murderer was. If he was right and Jack had gone searching, then this might not end well. Radioing through for backup, it was about fifteen minutes later when three police cars descended on Brook Farm. Taking the occupants of the farmhouse by surprise, they found Agnes and a man from the village, Bob Cross, a nasty bit of work who was known to the police for brawling.

“Mrs Tyler, the jig’s up, where are you keeping the men?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Detective, aren’t they working on the farm?”

“Don’t play coy with me, I have men searching this place as we talk. If they are here, we will find them.”

The radio then started to crackle. “Sir, we have found a gun.”

The pair now started to look uncomfortable. The guilt was evident right there.

“Right, I repeat, where are the men?”

Knowing the game was over, Agnes said, “Try the hay barn, but it’s locked.” She smirked.

Bill spoke back into the radio, “The men are in the barn but you will need a hammer.”

“I’m arresting the pair of you on suspicion of murder. You don’t need to say anything, but what you do say will be used as evidence.”

The other officers placed handcuffs on them and led them to one of the cars.

As the squad car disappeared, the lock gave way on the barn. Relieved to see the policeman, William said, “Detective, thank you. Where’s Agnes, did they get her?”

“Mr Tyler, I’m afraid your wife has been seeing Bob Cross, they were in it together.”

Shocked, William said, “But that don’t make sense. How? Why?”

“Let’s all go to the house, sir, and talk.”

William led the way, not believing what he had been told. He had been with Agnes thirty years, why was she now murdering farmers?

Sitting down in Brook Farmhouse, Detective Bill Mills explained how he had worked it out. “People in the village had mentioned seeing Agnes and Bob together, which seemed a strange combination. Bob has a history of violence and is certainly not a stupid man. Did not take much to work out that the other farmers are competition for Brook Farm. Get rid of the competition and then start again. The final farmer I’m assuming would have been you, sir. She would have got the insurance and been set up nicely, her and Bob.”

Looking at Jack, he added, “The men you overheard, we are following them up as friends of Mr Cross.”

Jack looked at William. He looked like he was going to be sick.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

When Jack arrived home, I felt relief, he was safe. He then told us all what had happened and about Agnes and Bob. Finally, the murderers had been found. We could get on with our lives and now we could have funerals for our two much-loved farmers. I hoped now that the farmers would work together, find some common ground and we could all help support our thriving working community.

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Please visit Marian’s website at https://justmuddlingthroughlife.co.uk

Paula Shablo: Relapse

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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Relapse

by Paula Shablo

Monica’s breath caught in her throat. Her hands, curled into fists, pressed against her mouth, even as her chin dropped to rest on her chest. She stared over the tops of her glasses, and her eyes filled, then overflowed, with hot tears that instantly soaked her cheeks.

It’s a relapse, she thought.

What a cruel word, and one that she’d discovered fit many situations beyond the medical terminology they’d become so familiar with over the last few years.

Jaime was almost three when she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). There had never been a history of cancer in either Monica’s or Jonah’s families, so they were completely stunned by the revelation once they’d sought answers for Jaime’s increased fatigue, appetite loss and complaints of “Arthur-write-us, just like Grammy.”

Actually, what had sent them flying to the emergency room was the discovery of an odd lump on the child’s neck. Monica was washing Jaime’s hair when she felt it. Not remembering any incident that could have caused a bump to form, she asked Jonah if the toddler had fallen while they were at the park.

Nope. No falls, no crashes into furniture, and yet this very odd lump. Alarm bells went off in their heads, and they sought the advice of experts.

ALL in childhood is a cancer that has been successfully treated, and after the initial devastation they’d felt upon hearing Jaime’s diagnosis, Monica and Jonah had been optimistic.

Jaime had been a trouper beyond expectations. She had a smile for every doctor and nurse involved in her care—and there were dozens of them. Monica was stunned to learn how many different doctors would have to be involved in Jaime’s care. Of course, an oncologist was expected. But there was also an endocrinologist, a nephrologist, and on and on. Since leukemia is a blood-related cancer, it can affect every organ in the body, and so the care team was vast.

At first things went alright. As well as anyone could have expected, anyway. The numbers looked good, even if Jaime looked awful. Chemotherapy took her hair quickly; at the age of three, she didn’t have much to begin with. She’d been one of those little blondes whose hair was practically nonexistent at birth and grew in slowly. She’d finally reached a point where Monica could put her hair in tiny ponytails, and now it was all gone. She sported dark circles beneath blue eyes that never lost their sparkle even on the worst of days.

After the first round of treatment, there was a little break. Then, things went south with the discovery that the blood count numbers had taken a dive into the bad zone.

“Relapse,” oncologist Dr. James said. “We’ll have to move more aggressively.”

Monica had wept on the trip home from that appointment. Jaime slept fitfully in her car seat, as if even in slumber, she knew what was facing her in the next few days. “Move more aggressively?” Jonah had groaned. He was driving, and had waited for a red light to comment at all. “That last round wasn’t aggressive? Dear Christ!”

Monica didn’t reply; what was there to say?

That day began their grievous association with the word “relapse.” There were times of remission, when they would rejoice and plan. But “relapse” lived in the backs of their minds, and most of the plans they made were day trips to the zoo and the Butterfly Pavilion, Disney movies and playgrounds.

Jaime was almost six when the final relapse hit.

They had been planning a surprise birthday party with the Disney Princesses at Disney World, but the likelihood that she’d reach that birthday was in doubt. With the help of a great travel agent and the resort itself, the whole trip was planned in a day, and they flew out within a week of that awful announcement by the oncology team.

Of course, they told Jaime that the trip was early because of their schedules; they would never come right out and express their fears that she wouldn’t have a sixth birthday.

Jaime’s hospital room walls were plastered with photos from the trip: Jaime with all the Princesses; Jaime blowing out her birthday candles; Jaime grinning from ear-to-ear, her blond hair grown in just long enough for a stylish pixie cut, her blue eyes sparkling, her two front teeth missing. Goofy, Mickey and Minnie, Donald and Daisy, Pluto—they were all featured in various shots and different locations throughout the park.

Weak and tired, Jaime still insisted that her wheelchair never be included in the photos. She wanted every picture to look “normal.” Looking at them from her hospital bed, a week after the trip, Jaime smiled and told all her visitors about each picture, each experience, and about how lucky she was that her parents’ schedules netted her an early birthday trip.

Monica knew Jaime understood perfectly why she’d celebrated her birthday early, although they never spoke of it. Jaime had been through a great deal in three years, and Monica suspected the child went along with the story more for her parents’ sake than her own.

Jaime slipped away in the earliest hours of the morning, twelve days before her sixth birthday. Jonah and Monica were with her, holding her hands. Her final words: “Love you, good ni…” The final word had faded out on her last breath.

Jonah and Monica kissed her, whispering, “Love you, baby. Love you, little Jaime. We love you so much.” They repeated it over and over, love, love, so the words and the feelings would follow her to wherever she was going next.

Grief relapses, too.

Monica had gone out the back door of the house, intending to get gardening tools to clean up the yard. Winter had not been kind this year, and the place was looking rough.

Now she stood staring at the shed door, where Jaime’s little sand bucket was hanging on the door handle. Pink, with yellow dots, the bucket should have looked weather beaten after the long winter. The shed door was sporting flaking paint and rust spots, but somehow, the bucket looked pristine.

Its last use had been almost a year before, on a day trip to the lake. Jonah had caught a sixteen-inch rainbow trout, which he’d then cooked over a campfire for their lunch. Jaime had put all the bones into the bucket and brought them home. She said she was going to reassemble them as an art project.

God, were they still in the bucket? Monica moved closer, sobbing.

The bucket was empty.

Like me, Monica thought. Just like me. Empty. But…

Where are the bones?

It occurred to her that she should search for them, but where on earth would she start? Surely one of them had thrown the things away before hanging the bucket on the shed door!

Was there an actual art project somewhere in the house, one with reassembled trout bones? That didn’t seem likely; she’d have remembered that.

Unable to bear a search on her own, Monica decided to wait for Jonah to get home from work.

They had left Jaime’s room mostly untouched in the past few months. Still, Monica reasoned, fish bones would have smelled…well, fishy. If they were in here, wouldn’t she or Jonah have found them by now?

“This is not how I envisioned cleaning out her room,” Jonah remarked, his voice froggy with unshed tears.

“We’re not cleaning out her room,” Monica replied, rather harshly. Jonah flinched, but didn’t answer.

They found it on the bottom shelf of the bookcase: the trout’s spine traveled from the top left corner to the bottom right corner of a sheet of poster board, and all the rib bones had been neatly laid out.

Jaime had apparently spread glue on the poster board and assembled the bones. Once dry, she’d painted over them, thickly coating them in a rust-colored paint. She’d glued rocks and twigs around the skeleton and the whole effect was reminiscent of a 3-D archeological find.

“My God, it’s perfect!” Jonah cried, and now the tears did flow. “Did you know she could do this?”

Monica shook her head. She was already planning the framing, and where to hang it. She knew the grief would relapse every time she saw it, but so would the pride, and the memory of Jonah’s grin when he’d pulled that fish from the lake, the smell of it roasting over the fire, the taste as they’d eaten fresh trout while sitting in front of a little fire, laughing about this and that.

Jaime had said she would reassemble the bones in an art project. Neither of them knew when she’d done it, but here it was, and it was a part of them all that they could keep forever. Jaime must have known they’d find it and understand that.

Love relapses, too.

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Jane Hale – Bucket Full of Dreams

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 Full of Dreams

By Jane Hale

Remember when we were kids and wore our bathing suits to feed the horses so we could go swimming at the creek when we were finished?

Living on adjoining farms, you rode over to my farm to get away from a house full of sisters. I was an only child and happy to have a make-believe brother. You loved to draw. I loved to make up stories. Together we produced some children’s illustrated story books. Your oldest sister sent them to a publishing house. Our series “Bronco’s Bucket List,” written while we were horsing around, became a five-star winner on Amazon.

I close my eyes and see two kids lounging on the bank of the creek. You are wearing Mighty Mouse boxers. I’m sporting my pink teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini. We dreamed big dreams. We wrote our own bucket lists. I wonder what ever happened to the list?

In a happy-ever-after world, our relationship might have become more than make-believe brother and sister. In the real world my parents died in a plane crash on their way to my graduation from MSU with a degree in journalism.

Your family attended my parents’ funerals. You rode over to my farm later after everyone left. You helped me grieve as we visited the barn, now empty of horses and the door padlocked. We wandered down to the creek almost dried up from drought. We discussed our plans for the future. I’d been offered a job with a publishing house in Columbia. Your creativity in drawing evolved into a world of CAD software.

I gave a toast at your wedding reception which was held at my family farm I’d sold earlier to your oldest sister. My reference to Mighty Mouse was appreciated by your sisters and rewarded by a wink from you.

You gave a toast at my wedding including a remark about my pink teenie weenie yellow polka-dot bikini, causing my husband to give me a reproving look. Your sister saved the day by producing a bucket she’d painted pink with yellow polka dots, filled with wedding presents.

Each year we exchanged Christmas cards showing how our families grew as we each added children. Your card always included a drawing of Mighty Mouse. Our card contained a poem about a bikini.

The year my youngest left for college, my husband died of cancer. I fell into a stage of depression. Your sister invited me to stay with her on my family farm, now her home. The few weeks I spent with her were my salvation. I later returned the bucket she’d painted and given to me as a wedding present filled with thank-you gifts to her.

She shyly pulled out a folded piece of paper and handed it to me. “Read it, Grace.”

My eyes filled with tears as I reread our bucket list compiled as youngsters on the bank of the creek where we spent hours swimming and composing together. She’d underlined one of the items on the bucket list. It read: One day may we both be able to bring laughter to a world filled with harsh reality.

I sat with your family group a few years later when your wife passed away. You stayed with your brother who’d bought your parents’ farm.

I accepted your sister’s invitation to spend the weekend with her.

Years passed with each of us remaining single. Your sister kept each of us up-to-date on failing relationships.

One weekend I received an invitation to a family reunion your sister had organized at her farm.

It read: We always considered you family, Grace. I hope you’ll be able to attend. I’d like you to be my guest for the weekend.

I was not surprised to receive a note from you saying you were attending the reunion and hoped I’d be there too.

I was surprised to arrive and find you and me the only people attending besides your sister who had a smug self-satisfied look on her face. She said, “The others won’t arrive until tomorrow, but I’ve arranged a special treat for the two of you.” She handed you a blank drawing pad and pencils. To me she gave a blank notebook and pencil. “Why don’t you two wander down to the barn and on down to the creek? See if you can’t create something worth publishing.”

Happy to be together again, we headed toward the barn thinking we might find she’d bought a horse or two. Instead we found the old barn door still padlocked but with a pink bucket with yellow polka dots hanging on the door handle.

Looking inside we found a folded paper. It was our bucket list with the item underlined: One day may we both be able to bring laughter to a world filled with harsh reality.

Was that a hint of tears I saw in your eyes when you read it?

Laughter drifted over the creek filled with a summer of rain when you handed me the pad on which you’d drawn a middle-aged man with an exaggerated belly hanging over the waistband of his Mighty Mouse boxers.

You chuckled when I handed you my tablet on which I’d written: “There once was a young lady named Grace, who wore a yellow polka-dot bikini, pink with lace. When she jumped in to dunk, her bikini, it shrunk—a lot. Now, Grace is just one big yellow polka dot.”

As we walked back toward the farmhouse hand in hand, I thought of one of the other items on our bucket list: No matter what kind of weather, may we always be together, through thick and thin.

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Please visit Jane on her page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ozarkwritersinc/

Lynn Miclea – Bucket of Life

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 of Life

by Lynn Miclea

Squeezing pressure. Hard to breathe. My chest ached. My jaw hurt. Dizziness flooded through me and I felt weak. I stumbled to the phone and called 9-1-1. Didn’t feel well. Nauseous. Felt awful. Could not take a deep breath. Shuffled to the front door and unlocked it. Lay down on the floor in front of the unlocked door and hoped they would get there in time. Darkness.

Surrounded by a flurry of activity. I was placed on a gurney. I felt a mask pressed to my face. I felt movement and heard sirens as the ambulance raced to the hospital. Felt hot and sweaty. Would I make it? Not sure I would survive. Darkness.

A room. Surrounded by doctors in blue scrub suits. I ached all over. Felt heavy. Something was horribly wrong.

“We’re losing her again.”

I floated up. Surrounded by brilliant white light. Warm and soothing.

“Clear!”

Who was talking? I looked down from the ceiling and watched my body bounce on the hospital bed. Doctors frantically moved and worked on my body. But I was up here above it all. That wasn’t me anymore. I was light and free. No more pain.

The light softened and I was surrounded by dazzling yellow flowers. They were so beautiful. And butterflies—hundreds of them. Thousands. They were exquisite. What was this place? Where was I?

A figure approached. Familiar, but looked different. My mom! She looked like she used to look when she was younger.

“Mom!” I called out to her.

She approached, a smile on her face. “It’s not your time.”

“What? No, I like it here. I don’t want to go back.”

“We’ll meet again, I promise. But there’s something you still need to do down there.”

“No, I’m done there. I want to be here with you.”

Beautiful music surrounded me. Beethoven? Chopin? Mozart? I wasn’t sure. But it was familiar and overpowering. I loved it.

My mom had something in her hand. “You have to go back and do something.”

“No, don’t make me go back.”

“Here.” She handed me something.

“What is this?” I looked at it. It was a small bucket.

“You’ll know what to do.”

“Huh?” I looked at the bucket—it was pink with yellow polka dots. What was this for?

“Clear!”

I bounced on the bed. I was so achy. Pain radiated throughout my body.

“She’s back!”

“Jenna, can you hear me?”

Where was I? I tried to respond. My eyes wouldn’t open. My mouth was dry.

“I see movement. She’s responding now.”

My eyes flew open. Doctors surrounded me, peering down at me.

“Jenna, can you hear me?”

I nodded. What happened to my dream? I remembered having such a nice dream. I couldn’t quite remember it, but it was nice.

A mask was placed on my face and I relaxed. There was a flurry of activity. I was moved to another gurney and wheeled somewhere. I slept.

***

A month later, I sat at my kitchen table for lunch and sipped an iced tea. I had recovered from my heart attack, but that really scared me and left me feeling vulnerable. And recovery was slow—I still didn’t feel great. I was alive, but I was not sure for what. Here I was, in my late sixties, retired, and no close friends. Why had I even survived? What good was my life?

I finished my sandwich and drank more iced tea. Feeling fatigued, I closed my eyes and let out a long sigh. It felt good to relax, even if I was still achy. Vague memories of a dream flitted through my mind, but I couldn’t quite catch it. I remembered seeing my mom. It had seemed so real. And she had given me something. Something important. But I couldn’t remember what it was.

I got up, placed the dirty dishes in the sink, and wandered aimlessly into the garage. Glancing around, everything seemed in place, except … what was that? It looked like a few of my storage boxes had been moved. But I didn’t remember moving them.

I moved closer. A pink handle of some sort stuck out next to one of the boxes. Something tickled in the back of my mind as I slowly reached forward and pulled on the handle. A pink bucket with yellow polka dots. What the … I gasped as the memory flooded back. The dream! That’s what my mom had given me in that dream! Nooooo!

How was that possible? I never had this object in real life. This was a dream object. It crossed over from the dream world into the real world. It made no sense. A shiver ran through me.

I looked inside the bucket. There was a folded piece of paper at the bottom—a note with writing on it. I cautiously pulled out the note, opened it, and read it.

Hartview Bridge. Today. 2:00 pm.

I felt my heartbeat quicken. My mouth went dry. What was this? I felt a vague pressure in the air. Was I having another heart attack? No, I felt okay. Just a vague overall pressure. I didn’t know why, but I knew I had to be at the Hartview Bridge at 2:00. I glanced at my watch. I’d have to leave in ten minutes. I didn’t want to be late for whatever it was.

I arrived at the bridge with five minutes to spare. I quickly scanned the area but didn’t see anything. Then movement caught my eye, and I squinted and started walking closer. A young teenager, male, maybe fifteen or sixteen, walked to the middle of the bridge. I felt that pressure increase. I still didn’t understand it, but I knew this young man was why I was here.

I quickened my steps and rushed forward. As I got closer, I could see that his hair was disheveled and his face was streaked with tears. Now twenty feet away, I could hear gasps and choking sobs coming from him.

He climbed up onto the first of three rungs that spanned the length of the bridge. I knew instantly that he intended to jump. I sprinted to him, and as he climbed up onto the second rung, I grabbed him around the waist and pulled him down.

He gasped and sputtered and spun around, looking at me. “What the hell? Leave me alone!”

“No, please don’t jump. Please. Talk to me. Whatever it is, don’t end your life. You’re needed here.”

He scowled and looked angry. “You don’t know me. You don’t know anything.”

I nodded. He was right. I had no idea what his life was like. “Please just talk to me.” I spoke softly. “My name is Jenna. What is your name?”

He hesitated. “Shawn,” he whispered.

“Shawn, whatever you’re dealing with—”

“No, you don’t understand. I can’t take it anymore. I’m tired of the bullying. I’m tired of getting beat up.” His face contorted and he sobbed. “Everyone hates me and makes fun of me because I’m gay. But that’s who I am. I can’t—”

I squeezed his shoulder. “Actually, I do understand. My cousin is gay and I know what he’s been through. And I’m bi.” I hesitated and then went on. “Shawn, I promise you’re safe with me.” He sniffed and nodded. When he stayed and didn’t run away, I continued. “Can I buy you lunch? Please? Let’s talk.”

He nodded and began sobbing again. I reached for him and hugged him. I held onto him. After a couple minutes, I felt his body relax and I felt him cling to me. My heart broke for him. As we walked to my car and I took him to lunch, the pressure around me eased, and I knew that’s what I was here for. And I also knew I was the right person to help him.

***

A couple weeks later, I went into the garage to get a bottle of water. I felt a familiar pressure building. It occurred to me that I had not looked in that bucket in a while. I picked up the pink pail with the yellow polka dots and looked inside. Another note was at the bottom. How was this possible?

I picked up the note and read it.

439 Magnolia Blvd. Today. 10:30 am.

Chills ran up my spine. I felt gripped by that same pressure as it increased. I knew I had to be there. And I had to leave right away.

Parking my car two houses away from that address, I walked toward the building. It was a modest, two-story, gray house with white shutters and white trim. What was I doing here? I walked closer to the house. The lawn had been recently mown, and the hedges were neatly trimmed.

Shouts from the second story drew my attention. Looking up, I saw smoke billowing out of one of the windows. A woman, holding a baby, leaned out the window as flames shot out behind her. She wailed and looked around frantically. “Help!” she called out. “Is anyone there?” She screamed. “I’m not going to make it.” Flames licked the wall around her. “I’m sorry, my baby. Please survive.” She threw the baby out the window, trying to aim for some shrubbery.

I saw the baby flying through the air, screeching, its little arms flailing. I rushed forward toward the baby and caught him as he fell into my arms. I held him and rocked him as I heard sirens racing toward us. I glanced up and saw the woman straddling the window, ready to jump. She looked toward the sound of the fire engines and then saw me holding her precious baby. I rocked her sweet baby and talked to him as his mother’s heart-wrenching sobs filled the air. Within moments, firefighters rushed over with ladders and they climbed up to rescue the woman.

A few minutes later, I handed her the sweet baby, who was now cooing and reaching for his mama.

The pressure around me eased, and I knew I was done. I got back in my car and headed home.

***

Confusion settled around me. Who was putting the notes in that bucket? Why was I chosen for this? How long would this go on? But I received no answers.

Later that week, I felt the familiar pressure building again, and I ran to the garage and looked in the pink bucket. Sure enough, there was a note in there.

Lake Granada. South side. Today. 3:00 pm.

My gut knotted up. What was going on? Why me? I didn’t understand any of it. But I also knew I had to be there.

Parking my Honda in the parking lot by the lake, I checked the sign to make sure I was at the south end of the lake. I was. I got out of the car and looked around at the peaceful setting. Graceful sycamore and maple trees surrounded the lake. A cool fresh breeze blew off the water and washed over me as I walked toward the lake.

I thought I heard something. The pressure around me intensified. Again I heard a sound. Whimpering. Coming from the lake. I ran to the edge. Something was in the water—a small dog struggling to stay afloat. I could tell it was fatigued and could not make it to shore. I quickly took off my shoes and socks and ran into the cold water. The dog went under, then came back up, its snout barely breaking the surface. I swam as fast as I could. The dog saw me coming and tried to hold on, but I could see it was losing strength. It went under again just as I reached it. I quickly grabbed the furry brown dog and pulled him out of the water and held him to me. He clung to me as best he could, panting, making small whimpering noises.

Holding the poor dog in one hand I slowly made my way through the water to the shore. Breathing heavily and climbing out onto the small sandy area, I looked at the dog. I was fatigued myself, and I knew the dog would not have lasted much longer.

Grabbing an old towel from the back of my car, I sat down in a grassy area and examined the dog as I dried him with the towel. He looked like a terrier mix to me, exhausted but okay. I sat with him a few more minutes, drying him and comforting him. He licked my face. He was a sweet dog and looked like he had been well cared for. He must have gotten lost. He had a collar and a tag, and I called the number listed. The owner answered. Yes, he had lost his dog and had been frantic, trying to find him.

We made arrangements to meet, and I felt the pressure ease.

***

I hoped that would be all I was requested to do. I did not want to be in this position. I was tired and confused and still did not understand any of it.

The next week, I felt that familiar pressure building again. Reluctantly, I went into the garage and looked in the pink bucket with the yellow polka dots. Another note.

Market St. and Fourth Ave. SW corner. Today. 11:00 am.

Did I want to do this? I had to. I had no choice—it was compelling. The pressure was building, and I knew I needed to be there.

I parked my Honda down the street and walked to that corner. I didn’t see anything unusual, and I felt uncomfortable standing there just waiting for something to happen.

The pressure increased. Traffic was busy at that intersection, but not busier than usual. The light turned green, and I saw an older man waiting to cross the street as he watched the light but not the cars. A van was barreling down the street, and it was clear that it was not going to stop—it was going to run the red light. The man stepped off the curb, into the path of the van.

I jumped forward, grabbing the man’s arm and pulling him back onto the curb. “Hey—” he yelled as he fell back onto me and we both crashed to the sidewalk. “What the hell—”

The van rushed past us, the wind and dust kicking up behind it and blowing over us. We both stared after the van. “It would have hit you,” I said softly.

The old man looked at me. “I just wanted to get a newspaper,” he muttered.

“Are you okay?”

He nodded and I helped him get up. “Thank you, miss.” He ran his fingers through his thinning hair. “Thank you.”

I felt the pressure ease, and I patted him on the back. Before I left, I warned him to look both ways at the traffic before he stepped off the curb, and to be safe.

***

There were no more notes for a couple weeks, and then it started again. A few times each month I went on assignments, following the instructions on each note as it appeared. As much as it was rewarding to help others, it was also a bit unnerving. It was hard to wrap my head around it, and I never felt worthy of being in that position.

After about six months, the bucket remained empty for a few weeks. I wondered if it was over. Was I done? Who was sending the notes anyway? And how? It was all baffling and also exhausting. And I still did not understand any of it or why it was happening. And why me? Was I supposed to learn something? Make amends for something? I had no idea.

Then I felt the pressure build again. I made my way into the garage to the familiar bucket and pulled out the note.

Your living room. Today. 8:00 pm.

Huh? What or who would need my help in my own living room? But I knew I would honor the call. At 7:30, I sat on the couch in my living room. All was quiet. I turned on the TV and watched the news. Almost 8:00. The pressure increased. But no one else was there.

The pressure suddenly intensified. My heart pounded. My heart felt like it was exploding in my chest. What was this? My jaw ached. No! Nausea overwhelmed me and I broke out in a sweat. I ran for the phone. My legs gave way and I collapsed after a few steps. I could not reach the phone. It was hard to breathe. My vision grew black.

The room now flooded with bright light.

My mom was here again! “Mom!”

She smiled and opened her arms to greet me. “Hi, honey.”

I felt light and free. Brilliant yellow flowers were everywhere. Butterflies filled the air. A sweet, delicate fragrance washed over me.

I remembered that I had questions and needed answers. “Mom, how did the pink bucket appear in physical form? And why did I have to do all that? And why me?”

She laughed and glowed with love. “It will all become clear as you meet with your guide. That will happen shortly. Then you will understand all of it.”

“Okay.” That made sense and satisfied me for now. I smiled back at her as the butterflies danced around us. “Can I stay here this time?”

She nodded, as warmth and light radiated from her. “Yes, you can stay. Welcome home, honey.”

I was floating and it was intoxicating. Sparkles of glittering light flowed endlessly around me. That beautiful music permeated the air. A powerful sense of love enveloped me. I couldn’t help laughing as joy bubbled up within me.

The answers to my questions could wait. It was all okay.

I was home.

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Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please also visit Lynn’s blog, like the story there, and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-oIPlease also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields – With This Ring

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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With This Ring

By Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Laura Gwynn cradled her month-old son in her arms. Lulled by the steady rhythm of the train taking her from familiar Pennsylvania to unknown Missouri, she shut her eyes. How had it come to this?

She longed to confide in Mama or cry on Papa’s shoulder. This was never to be. Mama died of consumption and Papa couldn’t live with his broken heart. Laura had no siblings. Left alone at fifteen with nothing but a rundown farmhouse and a barren field, she sold the property and moved to the city. When she went to deposit the money from the sales at the bank, the teller’s deep brown eyes and dazzling smile captivated her. It didn’t take long for her to fall in love with Thomas Gwynn.

Not long afterward, she accepted his proposal making her a bride at sixteen.

Thomas had a bright future with the bank. He promised her jewels and servants. Instead, he managed to get himself arrested for cheating at cards. The night before his scheduled trial, the men he had cheated lynched him, leaving Laura a widow at seventeen.

Filled with pity for her, Mr. Willoughby, the bank president, loaned her the money to cover Thomas’ gambling debts. He provided her with room and board and a position as a maid to pay off the loan.

Afraid she would lose her job, she kept her condition a secret. However, her small build and short stature made it impossible to hide for very long.

Mary and Charles Willoughby, who desperately wanted children, offered to adopt Laura’s baby.

“He’ll be heir to the Willoughby fortune. Surely, you see the wisdom in this.” Charles, an imposing presence with bushy white eyebrows and balding pate handed her a contract. “If you sign this, the child will never have to work a day in his life.”

Laura pressed her palms against her belly. The baby kicked against them. She remembered Thomas’ words when they wed. “You are now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.”

The child moved again. Laura refused to sign and uttered a feeble whisper. “I—I can’t.”

“You can,” Charles thundered and waved the paper under her nose, “and you will!”

“Oh my dear, consider your little one.” Mary grasped Laura’s hands, her faded eyes awash with longing. “Why you’re a wee child yourself.”

So certain Laura would relent, Mary put a full layette together. She made sure Laura ate well and didn’t do any heavy lifting. While Laura didn’t mind being pampered, she had no doubt as soon as Mary Willoughby had the baby in her clutches, she would cast Laura out on the street.

During her seventh month Laura noticed an advertisement in the newspaper for mail-order brides. Pictures of potential husbands accompanied mailing addresses. Laura scanned the blurry photographs.

A young man with a pleasant face caught her attention. Alfred Cromwell. He listed himself as a truck farmer in Harrisonville, Missouri. She winced. More than she hated farm life, she hated being servant to a pair of vultures with designs on her child—bone of her bone, flesh of Thomas’s flesh.

She had a photograph taken and enclosed it in a letter.

A month later Mr. Cromwell replied in scrawling longhand.

“5 May 1890

“Dear Mrs. Gwynn,

“I’d be right proud if you’d be my bride. I ain’t got much to offer but I got a sturdy cabin that could use a lady’s gentle touch. I promise to do my best to make you happy. If you accept, I’ll be sending you a train ticket.”

“Yours truly,

“Alfred C. Cromwell”

How could she refuse? The baby would be here any day.

The promised ticket arrived a week after Jason’s birth. One night, as soon as she felt strong enough, Laura packed her suitcase with her few belongings and Mary’s layette. She swaddled the baby, tucked him into a large wicker basket and laid a light blanket over it. Without so much as a note of explanation, Laura stepped out into the night and made her way to the depot.

By now, the Willoughbys had discovered her treachery. Did they send someone after her? The countryside zipped by. Jason opened his brown eyes and squinted at the early morning sunlight. Laura’s heart thudded against her ribs. She hadn’t told Alfred about the baby. What would he say—or do?

***

Clutching a bouquet of roses, Alfred studied Laura’s photograph. “She claims she’s almost eighteen and a widow woman, but she don’t look much older than fourteen, does she, Bert?”

“That’s a fact, Alf.” His brother Bert let out a long slow whistle. “Didja happen to tell her you’re nigh onto thirty-seven? You was a might younger when that picture you put in the paper was took.”

Alfred’s face warmed. “I mighta forgot to mention it.”

Bert’s wife Ginny adjusted Alfred’s necktie. “Don’t you worry none. You’re still a fine specimen. Any gal would be proud to have you. As for her being a widow, it don’t matter how old a woman is. If her husband dies, she’s a widow. Plain and simple.”

The train pulled up to the platform, its whistle heralding its arrival. Alfred tightened his grip on the flowers. He surveyed the passengers exiting the train. “She says she’s not very tall.”

Ginny shielded her eyes with her hand and craned her neck. She pointed. “Wonder if she could be that little girl with the big basket slung over her arm.”

Alfred inched closer for a better look. The girl in question was clad in black from her bonnet to her shoes. She stood on tiptoe as if she were searching for someone.

“Mrs. Gwynn?” He stepped toward her. She couldn’t be more than five feet tall, if that. “Laura?”

She raised her head to reveal surprised blue eyes and freckled cheeks framed by sleek amber locks. “Mr. Cromwell? I thought—”

“—I’d be younger?” He took her suitcase and handed her the bouquet. “I can explain that.”

A tear made a trail through her freckles. His heart sank. He reached for the basket. “Lemme carry that for you.”

“No.” She blushed and shrank back. “I’ll carry…it.”

She laid the bouquet on top of the basket and slipped her hand through the crook of his offered arm.

“I hope the ring I bought ain’t too big.” He pointed to Bert and Ginny who waited in the carriage. “There’s our best man and maid of honor.”

“You mean…?”

“I figured we’d go straight to the courthouse while we’re in town.”

Laura bit her lip.

“Unless you’re a-changing your mind. I’ll understand. On account I lied about my age and all.”

She flashed a quivering smile. “No. I gave you my word. My mama used to say it’s bad luck to get married in black.”

“Hogwash!” He helped her into the carriage’s back seat and climbed in beside her. “Let’s get ourselves hitched.”

A noise came from Laura’s basket. “That ain’t what I think it is, is it?” He leaned over and pushed the blanket aside. “You never said nothing about no baby.”

Ginny turned in her seat, her gray eyes sparkling. “Now ain’t that something, Alfie? I guess you ain’t the only one keeping secrets.”

***

A week later, Laura cuddled Jason and drank in his sweet scent. Alfred’s snores came from the front room where he slept on a palette on the floor. On their wedding night, he had gathered his blankets and left the bed to her and the baby. “I don’t expect you to be beholding to your wifely duty until you’re ready.”

Although Alfred couldn’t hold a candle to Thomas when it came to looks, he had nice enough features. She liked his sky-blue eyes and dimpled smile. The honest face of a simple man.

She held her left hand up to the lamp on the roughhewn night table and studied her new wedding ring. Unlike the cheap band Thomas gave her, Alfred had taken great care to choose one with style. She admired the way the intricate filigree shimmered in the light.

A hollow sense of desolation and shame flooded her as she reflected on her wedding day.

The tight-lipped justice of the peace droned the marriage ceremony as it was written in his book. Ginny held Jason who howled from “Dearly beloved” to “I now pronounce you man and wife.” Laura clung to her slightly wilted bouquet to keep her hands from shaking. Alfred promised to “love, honor and cherish.” All the while he glowered at the baby.

***

Alfred leaned against the doorjamb and watched Laura sleep. Her son curled up in the crook of her arm. Morning sunlight illuminated her flaxen hair which splayed across her pillow. Her long eyelashes fringed her translucent cheeks. He ached with longing, but he’d vowed not to push her.

She opened her eyes. “Good morning, Mr. Cromwell.”

A month had passed since the wedding. She still refused to call him by his first name and continued to wear black. Ginny assured him his young bride would warm up to him. She just needed time. How much time? His back hurt from sleeping on the unforgiving floor.

“Good morning, Mrs. Cromwell.”

***

Laura decided it was high time she repay Bert and Ginny’s kindness with a home-cooked meal—fried chicken, mashed potatoes and green beans from the garden.

The older woman provided good company and made Laura feel welcomed and appreciated. More than that, she made Laura feel like family.

While Bert and Alfred worked the fields, Ginny helped Laura put the finishing touches on gingham curtains. As her needle flashed in and out of the cloth, she chattered, regaling Laura with amusing stories about Alfred.

“He’s always been kind-of awkward and tongue-tied around women. I’m the one who suggested he send away for a bride. Honey, you could be exactly what the doctor ordered.”

Laura put down her sewing. “Could be?”

Ginny leveled her gaze on Laura. “You ain’t man and wife yet, are you?”

Laura’s cheeks blazed. “I said ‘I do.’”

“‘I do’ don’t amount to a hill of beans when you’re dressing like a widow and dragging your chin on the ground. Alfie deserves better and so do you.”

Hours later, fingering the pink polka-dotted fabric of her new dress, Laura grinned. “Ginny’s right.” She dropped the green beans in salted water and stirred them.

“Why don’t you look purty, Mrs. Cromwell?” Alfred circled his hands around her shoulders. “Smell nice, too.”

She whipped about and gently poked his shoulder with her spoon. “Please, Mr. Cromwell. Don’t disturb the cook.”

He dropped open his mouth. “Are you flirting with me, Mrs. Cromwell?”

The baby in his basket whimpered. Soon the whimper grew into a squall. Laura heaved an exasperated sigh. “He can’t be hungry. Would you mind holding him while I fry the chicken, Mr. Cromwell?”

Alfred knelt and gathered Jason in his arms. “You sure is growing, son. Come to Papa.”

Laura’s pulse raced. “What did you say?”

“I—I know I ain’t his pa. It jest slipped out.” Alfred held the baby tighter. “I ain’t no fool, Laura. You didn’t marry me for love. You married me to get out of a bad situation. Fact is I do love you and this here young’un. Would ya consider allowing me to give him my name?”

She sank down on his lap and wreathed her arms around his neck. “My darling Alfie. Cromwell is a wonderful name.”

Jason’s indignant cries rousted Laura from Alfred’s deep and lingering kiss. She looked up to see Ginny and Bert.

Bert chuckled. “Time for dinner yet?”

“Come to Aunt Ginny before you suffocate.” Ginny lifted Jason from Alfred’s shoulder. “Looks to me like dinner’s gonna be a bit late tonight. Your ma and pa got some serious business to attend to.”

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Please visit Rochelle’s website at https://rochellewisoff.com

Authors’ Words – Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman

Prolific author Neil Gaiman was born and raised in England but moved to the United States in 1992, where he continues to reside outside Minneapolis. He is well known as a master storyteller working in a variety of mediums who mixes modern reality with the fantastic.

Gaiman began his career as a freelance journalist, writing for various British newspapers and magazines. He later moved into many other areas of writing, including comic books, screenplays, fiction, young adult novels, children’s books and nonfiction. Gaiman’s critically acclaimed comic book series The Sandman ran for 75 issues, from 1989 until 1996. The Sandman was later collected into a series of 10 graphic novels. In addition to creating The Sandman series, Gaiman has been called upon to reimagine other comic creators’ works, including The Eternals miniseries for Marvel Comics and an issue of Spawn for Image Comics. The Sandman series inspired a number of spin-off series by other writers as well as spin-offs by Gaiman, including Death: The High Cost of Living.

Gaiman’s fiction includes Neverwhere, which was originally conceived as a BBC television miniseries; Good Omens, a humorous novel about the apocalypse co-written with Terry Pratchett, who is known for his comic fantasy Discworld series; the short story collection Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fictions and Illusions; and American Gods, which garnered numerable awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, SFX and Locus.

The many awards Gaiman has won give evidence of his talent and popularity. His young adult novel The Graveyard Book won the Newbery Medal in 2009. Coraline won the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2003 Nebula Award for Best Novella and the 2002 Bram Stoker Award for Best Work for Young Readers. In 2000, The Sandman: The Dream Hunters won a Bram Stoker award for Best Illustrated Narrative. Issue #19 of The Sandman, entitled A Midsummer Night’s Dream, won the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction.

Resources:

https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/neil_gaiman_461447

Please note: Image from the Internet… no source available. Credit to photographer. Bio from the Chicago Public Library Site.

E. C. Fisher – Sally Lou Daisys

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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Sally Lou Daisys

By E.C. Fisher

A legend exists in Rockford Fall, North Dakota, about a young girl who carries a small pink-with-yellow-polka-dotted tin around. You can hear her skip along gravel roads or hop on concrete sidewalks, her tin bucket swinging and rattling along with her. She sounds like a cheerful young girl who is only out to play, but she is anything but cheerful.

In this backwater town not located on any map and far from modern society, Sally Lou Daisys is a vengeful spirit who kills bullies or those who step out of line. It was isolated generations ago to protect the world from Sally Lou as her vengeance seeks any who dare oppose her.

Every generation, without fail, there is always one, one who doesn’t believe the legend, who tests their mantle against her. He or she sets the present generation straight and makes them toe the line. Rockford Falls is the most pleasant town; courteous people, with smiles on their lips, but only their lips.

Every day is a battle, a fight with oneself, to control the urge to shout, yell, or curse. Sally Lou is always watching, waiting, skipping and hopping along through the town. She monitors her captives, waiting for those who brandish ill will. She doesn’t act against the innocence of youth. When a child becomes an adult at fifteen in Rockford Falls, the gloves come off and they’re fair game.

Within a town so isolated, you’d think the residents would have just faltered and stopped having children. You’d think that, right? But, alas, with nothing else to do, people fornicate like rabbits. Maybe it’s the fear that drives them to coupling. Maybe it’s revenge, let their kids feel their grief. I don’t know. Sally Lou holds a death grip on the town and we’re nothing more than offerings to slake her appetite.

Did you hear that? Shh. Listen. Sounds like gravel being kicked. She’s coming.

Did I forget to mention, you can’t escape this town. Visitors may enter, but no one can leave. Oh, what did I do to gain her wrath? Everything. This is my suicide attempt. Without fail. One hundred percent guaranteed success rate. I’ll end this suffering and pray for an afterlife. If hell is my fate, then I welcome the sweeter embrace.

You may find my words contradicting my actions. Don’t be mistaken. This is more like a game of tag. She is going to work for my death. I will parade her around this town. Shouting her name. Let them all see. What can I say, let my death entertain them.

The sound of her cheerful giggles increases as she draws near. The rattle of her bucket and gravel weakens my knees. I curl up in a ball, shut my eyes tight. The sounds abruptly stop behind me.

‘Sally Lou, skips a few, carrying her pail beside her

‘Her dress is blue, with red-stained hands

‘To pluck the heart she desires

‘Be not worried, be not scared, for your death is one of joy

‘In the ground, your soul be bound, in the garden of folly

‘In despair, you lie here as my hand reaches for you

‘I grip your heart and pull it out

‘Feast your eyes, I gain my prize and place it in my pail

‘Sally Lou, hops a few, carrying her full pail to her garden

‘She digs a hole and sets the soul

‘Adding another to her garden of folly

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Doug Blackford – Some Days

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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Some Days

By Doug Blackford

“Daddy! Daddy! Look!”

“You’re doing great, baby!”

What else was I supposed to say? Being a single dad was both the scariest and most rewarding thing I’d ever done in my life, and that was counting three tours in Afghanistan and getting shot twice. I was proud of my little girl riding Blanca on her own, but it terrified me she might fall off.

“Don’t grip the reins too tight, baby. You wouldn’t want someone yanking hard on your mouth. Hold them firm, but not tight. She only needs a little of a tug for direction.”

“I know, Daddy!”

Ten-year-old exasperation crept into her voice, but it just made me smile. I think we’re all like that at that age. Truth be told, the aging mare didn’t need the reins at all, but not all horses were trained to respond to neck taps or voice commands. Better for Liv to learn the regular way before teaching her anything more advanced.

My wife didn’t want Liv riding alone until she was at least ten, but riding with me was okay. Today was Liv’s tenth birthday, so I’m sure you can imagine her delight. I mean, what little girl doesn’t want a horse at some point? The fact we had several only made it better.

My government disability helped, but it wasn’t enough to make all the ends meet. I still needed to make a living, so boarding and hosting trail rides covered the difference. Blanca was my horse — a beautiful white Appaloosa with just a smattering of black on her flanks and hindquarters. She had been all sorts of spirited when she was younger, and she and I had numerous discussions and arguments about that fact, but she was in her late teens now and had settled into a middle-aged comfort zone. Every once in a while we’d play the game when it was just us, but she was very careful with Liv.

“Watch, Daddy!”

Liv urged Blanca into a trot and stood up in the stirrups. Her legs bent with the changed rhythm of the gait, but I could tell by how far Blanca’s head was angled down that Liv was pulling too hard on the reins to try and keep her balance.

“Put your butt back in that saddle, young lady!”

To her credit, she sat down quickly, and I motioned for her to come over. I continued leaning against the top split rail of the fence with one forearm and rubbed Blanca’s nose with the other hand when Liv pulled her up.

“You can’t pull on the reins that hard, baby. Blanca’s not going to throw you for doing it, but that hurts her mouth. Her mouth is just as sensitive as yours and that bit in her mouth is made of metal. You have to use your legs to keep your balance when you stand up, not the reins. Understand?”

She had her eyes downcast and a slight pout to her lips, playing up the look of chastisement and hurt feelings to the hilt. She knew she was doing it, too. I swear, girls seem to become ever more self-aware at a younger and younger age. I don’t recall them being like that when I was that age, but then again, us guys seem to be pretty clueless around then, and later, so I probably just never noticed.

“Don’t even. I’m not upset and you know it, so quit with the puppy dog.”

Liv giggled a little and raised her eyes to meet mine. Hers were so brilliantly blue that there was no doubt she had gotten them from her mother. The sudden pain of the gut punch caught me off guard when I met those eyes. My heart felt like it skipped a beat and it was all I could do to not gasp for air as my wife’s face filled my vision.

I covered by ducking through the rails and rubbing Blanca’s neck with one hand and resting the other on Liv’s leg.

“Look, I just want you to learn how to ride her right so you’ll both enjoy it. You’ll be amazed at what she can do when she trusts you to ride her right. You’ve seen me ride her without you. She can do all that with you, too, once she trusts you not to hurt her.”

Liv showed every indication of understanding when she nodded. “I know, but it’s hard!”

Of course, she had a ten-year-old whine at the end — always impatient. I did my best not to chuckle at her, but couldn’t keep from smiling.

“I know. It just means you’ll have to practice. I guess that means you’ll have to ride her a lot.”

I’m not sure there is anything better in the world than seeing your daughter full of happiness and love, but when it’s directed at you, well, words cannot describe it. It’s something you have to experience to understand. She damn near leaped out of the saddle and into my arms, then started kissing me all over my face.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Daddy! I love you! Thank you!” Liv pulled back her head and looked in my eyes again with a wide grin. “Did I say thank you? Thank you!”

I could laugh now and did. “Yeah, okay already. You’re welcome. Happy birthday, baby. One rule, though. You can only ride when I’m around to watch. I know you’re smart and all, but no riding on your own until I say you’re good enough. Deal?”

“Awww, really? Yeah, okay.”

“Promise?”

“I promise.”

I let her down to the ground and leaned down to kiss the top of her head. “Now go unsaddle Blanca and rub her down. I’ll come hang up the tack and turn her out when you’re done.”

“Okay, Daddy.”

I watched her pick up the reins and lead Blanca off to the stable. I needed a few minutes to collect myself after the gut punch. I was still feeling it.

It had been over two years since my wife had died of cancer. I had reached a point where I could go without thinking about it some days. Not most days, but some days. It had happened quick — six months from start to finish. She didn’t know anything was wrong, then it was, and by then the doctors said it was too late to reverse the damage. They could try all the standards, but it would only delay things and make her miserable in the meantime. We went with the painkillers and that was it. We made the most of that six months until she became too weak, and then she was gone.

Twenty-plus years gone, but they were wonderful years. Our love of horses brought us together while I was in the military, and the love of horses was what helped me and Liv get through the loss of her mother. It wasn’t always easy, and we certainly had our bad days, but riding Blanca together had helped us bond and find joy amidst the pain and anger. I missed her, but I could endure the sadness now without breaking down or falling into a depression.

It only took a few minutes to feel solid again, passing through shock and sadness to remembered joys and a daughter with her mother’s eyes. I headed towards the main stable, but cast a glance towards one of its side doors, knowing what I would see.

My wife had bought a pink pail with polka dots while pregnant with Liv. She used it to feed her horse, Char, but she would never tell me why. She told me the reason shortly before she died and then I understood.

“Char isn’t much older than Liv, so when she’s old enough to ride him, he will still be a fire-blooded Arabian. He will be a handful for her. He needs to trust her and the best way to get a horse to trust you is familiarity. Besides riding it, the best way to do that is to feed it. I use the same pail to feed Char every day, and only Char. And when I’m not strong enough to do it anymore, Liv will do the same. You’ll teach her to ride and when she’s old enough, she and Char will be ready for each other.”

The pail hung on the side door, where it had always been put since my wife had gotten it. It had been repainted a couple of times to renew the paint, but it always hung in the same place. Char’s stall was the first one inside that door. My wife, always thinking of the future. Char was always going to be Liv’s.

Just the sight of it made me smile again. “Not yet, love, but we’re getting there.”

As I approached the stable, I yelled, “Liv! Don’t forget to feed Char!”

I grinned as Liv yell-whined back at me, “I know, Dad!”

Sometimes Daddy, sometimes Dad. Still about equal, but she was growing up. That was tomorrow’s terror. Today was not one of the bad days.

Copyright © 2019 DJ Blackford. All Rights Reserved.

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