Rebonea Setae: What Lurks Beneath

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What Lurks Beneath

By Rebonea Setae

As I lurk beneath the muddy water, making ripples, I try to forge my way home. Centuries have passed and my spirit is long forgotten. My disappearance made headlines. A search party was formed. As I wade beneath the water, the desperate wailing of my mother still echoes around me. Her voice raw from emotion begging God for my return, pleading with our ancestors for a miracle.

My young legs struggle against the vines that hold me hostage. The sound of them leaving fills me with panic. Opening my mouth to shout only to be silenced by the rush of dirty water filling my lungs. Uncontrollable tears make their way down my ashy face. Red rimmed bloodshot eyes stare out to the foggy sky. What a sight I must have made. The last searcher leaves the forest leaving me encompassed by an eerie silence. 

My first night was terrifying but I had hope that soon they would find me and finally I would be able to make my way home. A month has passed, my earlier hope having long diminished to nothing but a speck of dust. My mortal body having long given up, leaving behind rotten flesh and bones. What lurks beneath? A little girl who never made her way home. A young spirit wandering aimlessly searching for a way home, searching for eternal rest among her kin. Those who remembered her but have long left this world. Dusk approaches, my legs ache from trekking the whole day. Looking around, I find myself exactly where I started centuries ago and every day since. A broken tangled mess lies beneath the muddy water.

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Enzo Stephens: Meet American Men dot com…

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.)  

Admin Note: He tried. But Enzo needed more words for this story so we let him have a few more. This is Part One. Part Two will be posted tomorrow.

Meet American Men dot com…

By Enzo Stephens

Part One

A woman of minute physical stature moves rapidly along a spongy, mud-caked trail that may have been carved out by human hands or perhaps a parade of wildlife, one year ago or a hundred years ago. Time moves differently deep in bayou country.

The swamp is flooded by the distant Mississippi that seems to deluge the lowlands anytime a drop of rain plops into its swirling, murky depths. The burgeoning swamp oft tickles the edges of the worn trail, lapping at bent grass and algae and turning the path into a shoe-sucking mess of unpredictable bog.

It is still here, the deep, pervasive silence one finds in ancient forests miles deep and endless swamps where noise is nothing short of utterly invasive. 

It is here that we find this diminutive woman urgently pushing a baby stroller. An egret squawks in the distance, its peal duly noted by ancient cypresses dripping moss and blotting sun, but it sets the woman on edge.

No sound emanates from the depths of the stroller, which is shrouded in a black mesh covering intended to keep mosquitos away from its precious cargo; the woman plunges on through the squishy path and the torpid viscous air without seeming regard for the welfare of the stroller’s occupant.

She mutters. Often. Angrily, and often accompanied by twitchy shakes of her head, which sends thick, tangled snarls of hair whipping around. A hapless mosquito gets knocked out of its quest to have a bit of dinner from the woman’s head by a whipping tendril.

She stops abruptly, so still she looks to be dead, while several feet before her at the edge of the swamp rests a large alligator, swamp slime oozing off its thick hide as it lies half in half out of the tepid water.

A person less experienced with these beasts would presume its quiescence to be that of a lazy semi-slumber, but the agitated woman is much wiser. Sneaky bastard. 

She slowly extracts a long switch from a strap that holds it close to her lean, taut back, her movements slow, precise and gradual, imperceptible to the great lizard. In an eye-blink the switch snaps out, whacking the gator’s left front foot resoundingly, and its response is both violent and predictable. Its head turns to the left with deceptive quickness; cavernous, gaping jaws suddenly snapping down with a booming crack that echoes across the sullen waters of the bayou, and yet the little slip of a woman is already beyond the gator’s reach by several yards.

She chuckles and mutters and sets off again at her frenetic pace, shrouded stroller wobbling over the rough, sodden trail, her old Nikes making sucking sounds that mark her progress. She glances to the west to see the sun dipping low, offers a quick yelp and sets to her stride with increased vigor, her old tattered black skirt billowing out behind her as she’s practically running now.

She thinks back to the time the gator almost won, almost got her, and she only thinks along these lines to avoid the encroaching panic that’s threatening to engulf her in nameless terror that seems to increase exponentially with each passing tick of time that marks the sun’s descent into the abyss.

She has to get home before it gets dark; who knows what’s in the cypress and what nasties come out of the dangling drapes of fetid moss.

The slight woman veers sharply to the left as she spies a dim yellow glow from behind a cellophane window in her home; the glass from that window destroyed long ago when she…

​​​​​^^

Marny Corozco stepped off the airplane at Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans on a chilly day — chilly by Manilla standards — in January. She stopped at the end of the deplane lane to get her bearings and struggled to pick her jaw up from the floor as she looked around in wide-eyed wonder.

Sure she viewed pictures of the airport — well, of New Orleans for that matter on the internet back in Manilla, but pictures did not do this … expanse any justice. The place was huge!

Somebody bumped into Marny from behind, grumbled something about something called a ‘rube’ and poked past her, followed by a stream of Americans dragging little suitcases on wheels and pushing baby strollers with no babies in them.

The sight of the empty baby strollers caused Marny’s heart to jolt with a sudden wrench of painful loss. She ached to hold her son Jose and was surprised at the sudden wash of tears dampening her cheeks.

She brushed her face angrily, spied massive signs for ‘Baggage Claim’ and turned in that direction, long ebon hair whipping behind her.

But while Marny was resolute in her stride, she was assailed by powerful, knee-crippling doubt.

What if he wasn’t there to meet her? What would she do? A new country, new city, amid a people she knew little about and barely enough money to buy a large bubble tea. She kept her eyes and heart hopeful that God would see her through this change of life and protect her and her young son who she left in Manilla in the care of her eternally judgmental mother.

Yet she could not contain her anxiety as her feet found a down escalator. She kept her eyes focused on her feet, afraid to look up at the expanse of milling people and not see him.

He was so different from all the other men Marny had known to that point in her life; he was kind, his big brown eyes expressive, yet penetrating, and though Marny’s English was terribly broken and well sprinkled with Tagalog, she could always find a connection with Lee through his eyes.

He radiated warmth, which was incredibly surprising considering the couple had only communicated virtually. Funny how that happened. Marny remembered the first time they’d chatted; it was a little flirtatious at first, but then Lee punched through the silliness of first meetings between a man and a woman and touched her heart by asking her how she really felt about — well, whatever. Marny’s experience with men up to that point simply didn’t involve exploration of her thoughts and feelings, merely exploration of her body.

And the means that made this meeting, this major life-change for Marny come about, was through a website that seemed pretty stupid to Marny at the time, although her best friend swore by it. MeetAmericanMen dot com.

And yet it seemed as though God led Marny straight to the site because within minutes she found Lee, and in so doing Marny found her new life.

He was always so easy going, so easy to talk to. He looked a little odd; a little older, long hair with blond mustache and beard and wide eyes that seemed to be touched with a hint of sadness that Marny instantly fell in love with.

She told him about Jose, her son. She told him about Jose’s father, how he used her and threw her aside. About how the Philippine culture casts a dark eye on contraceptives, leaving a young Marny burgeoning with child at the age of sixteen and not even out of high school.

She was disgraced in the eyes of her family, and even though she bore a beautiful boy, her beautiful boy was all she had, and so she was desperate to change her lot in life and the sooner the better.

Time wore on, jobs got shittier and shittier until she was practically hooking, and yet through it all was Lee. Ten-thousand-miles-away Lee, encouraging her, gently nudging her to make the move, step out of her comfort zone and come to America.

Manilla was no comfort zone.

When he displayed a pre-paid ticket with the words ‘Japan Air Lines’ (from Manilla to New Orleans via Tokyo and New York City), well that was all she wrote. She begged her Nanay to take care of Jose until she could send for him, packed clothes and a few possessions and set off to change her life and her good fortune, fully confident that God was finally smiling on her.

Marny stepped off the escalator, meandered her way to the appropriate baggage carousel and scanned the milling crowds again for her Lee, and then she saw him, striding purposefully through the door. Marny suppressed an overwhelming urge to go to him as a part of her tended to shy away from public displays of affection. 

Instead, she watched him, her luggage completely forgotten as she studied him; his lean frame, long, wispy hair; tattered, worn denims topped with a black tee shirt and bottomed with a pair of sandals. The tee shirt displayed the words ‘Lynyrd Skynyrd,’ something that had no meaning whatsoever to Marny.

He stopped inside the entrance to the terminal, his eyes bright, so blue they seemed to glow, and scanned the crowd alertly, roving, roving, until they landed on her; their eyes locked across the crowd, smiles bloomed and they rushed to meet each other in crushing hugs and passionate kisses. Public Displays of Affectation be damned.

​​​​​^^

Marny was struggling.

She was trying to make catfish adobo in a cast-iron skillet on a rickety old propane gas stove that made her pine for the stove she had back home in Manilla. In fact, Marny was missing home in a big way, mainly because every day spent in this hell-hole with Lee was pissing her off more and more.

Catfish adobo! Yuk! The honeymoon was over.

The beautiful meeting they had in the airport morphed into silence for the long drive to Lee’s house, which was plopped at the end of a miles-long rutted path that veered off a winding two-lane blacktop. Marny was fine with the quiet as she was trying to absorb the alien landscape in this place.

Everything was … wet! Not dissimilar from the land around her childhood home in Ilagan, except for the huge, old trees and the creepy-assed moss that hung off of everything in sight.

There was a smell here too … rot! She glanced at Lee, noting the long, lean, sinewy arm covered with fine blond fur that clamped loosely on the steering wheel of the jostling pick-up he was slinging around with ease. Marny wondered if he smelled it. His eyes seemed a little … vacant. That gave her a little jolt of fear.

“What is that smell, Lee?”

“I dunno.”

“How much farther, I will have to pee!”

“Not long.”

And that was it for the rest of the bumping, tortuous ride.

Lee’s beat-up truck’s brakes squealed as he brought the truck to a halt facing a rambling, ramshackle one-story clapboard house that sprawled out in a way that gave Marny a headache.

Lee opened the front door after disengaging a complex series of locks and showed Marny the bathroom which Marny utilized with blessed relief. Lee then gave her a quick tour of the house; it was clearly in need of a woman’s touch!

But not until Marny caught up on some sleep; jet-lag and all that, so Lee trundled her off to his huge bed (California King?), left a small night-light on for her and then sequestered himself away in his ‘Money Room.’

​​​​​^^

“Lee, what is this Money Room? You are in there so much.”

He sat at a battered old Formica kitchen table smoking a cigarette, staring out the window over the kitchen sink. “Nothing for you to be concerned about. Never go in there.”

Marny wasn’t satisfied with Lee’s response. “But I am concerned; you are in there so much. What is in there for you that is taking you away from me like that?”

Lee stood abruptly; his chair clattering to the floor. He turned to face her across the large room. “I told you … it’s. None. Of. Your. Business.” His tone was low and almost a growl and Marny shrank back from his ferocity and his blazing eyes.

She backed up a step. “Okay, it is nothing!”

He glared at her, fury and hatred naked in his eyes, then just as rapidly the fire in Lee’s eyes extinguished; he waved long fingers in the air in her general direction, a gesture of dismissal. 

Marny’s curiosity was a force within her though, and Lee’s dismissiveness caused painful memories of her father doing the same. Marny’s tongue grew bold. “Is it the pornography, Lee? Is that what you are doing in there?”

Lee DuClair strode to a battered steel kitchen sink, his back to Marny. She yearned to go to him, to let him know that she loved him regardless of the pornography. It was a bad thing, soul-sucking and destructive, and men usually needed help to get away from it. Marny vowed to help Lee in his plight and then they could grow together and Jose could finally be with her and maybe they could have their own babies, regardless of the forbidding swampland.

She stepped up behind Lee and circled her arms around his waist, his back towering above her, and she nuzzled her face into his tee shirt. 

Only to find herself sprawled out on the floor several feet away from him, stars reeling against encroaching blackness in her head. 

He hit her, so fast she had no idea it was coming, and it was difficult to comprehend. As she struggled to raise her stunned self from the floor, she heard Lee talking, his body turned sideways, and in his hand was a black hunting knife that seemed to suck the light out of the room.

“You poor little Asian women from all those shit countries — the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, whatever. You’re so damned easy.

“Idiots pony up whatever shekels or pesos or whatever other kind of garbage currency you pin your vapid hopes and dreams on and shell them out to people like me, people who see and smell your desperation from half a world away. 

“Meet American Men dot com.” He snorted in derision. “Pure genius on my part.” He glanced at Marny trembling in a pile on the floor. 

“You’re not the first, you know. I’ve had other women like you, brought them over here without a pot to piss in, gave ’em a roof over their head and screwed their brains out, though that last part got boring. One of ’em I knocked out and tossed her into the drink and watched her wake up screaming and sputtering only to watch her get eaten alive.

“Boy once you see that, you’ve seen it all.” He looked wistfully out the kitchen window, then, “You dipshits made me rich.” Lee dragged the edge of the wickedly-curved blade across the shirt sleeve of his tee-shirt, leaving a thin diagonal slice in the material. “That is one sharp mutha.”

He chuckled, and it sounded dirty, feral, guttural, and everything inhuman about Man that Marny could imagine in the one or two seconds she had to contemplate the escalating situation she found herself in.

Panic kicked in, a blast of adrenaline surged through her veins, propelling her to her sandal-clad feet and into a full gallop in a split-second. Marny slammed her shoulder into Lee’s side, knocking him into the side of the sink, the side of his head taking the brunt of the impact. He tumbled to the floor, knife clattering beside him.

Marny didn’t wait around to see what would happen next; she snared the knife, bolted to the door and flung it open hard enough for it to crack off the opposing wall, and she raced out into the bayou night, terror kicking caution in the ass.

She ran full-bore, stumbling over tree roots and mud that threatened to send her sprawling face first into the dank, stinking and pervasive mud. But Marny held her balance and tore off into the night, her senses focused intently on what she hoped was Lee’s house far, far behind.

Distantly she heard a door slam. Lee! She found a thick bole shrouded in Spanish moss and ducked behind it

“Marny?” Distant, muffled, but then Marny’s head was still reeling from Lee’s punch. A light breeze rippled the obfuscating moss and tickled her shoulders. Something landed on top of her head; she yipped and swiped at it in a panic; something furry and about the size of her hand flew off her and Marny found herself on the run again.

She raced away from what she thought was the direction of Lee’s house; images of him creeping stealthily through the night chasing her. Her foot caught on a tree root and she sprawled into the muck, her left hand landing on a wonderful round rock. Crazily Marny thought that it would make for a good weapon to use on Lee; inflict some blunt force trauma.

But the rock moved, and before she fully processed that event, a ripping searing pain shrieked out from her left hand and she bolted to her feet, backing away from whatever it was that did whatever it did to her. She turned to face dim moonlight and held her hand up in front of her face, only to discover the pinkie and ring finger were … not there.

Shock was setting in as she turned slowly to see what ravaged her hand; she saw the ever-present stinking water ripple and saw that moving rock that was no rock but what looked to be a turtle. Where are my fingers?

Panic kicked in again and she applied the knife to her cotton skirt, slicing a strip of material that she wrapped around her suddenly throbbing left hand, clamping pressure down on the place where her fingers once were.

Marny wasn’t aware of it, but she became aware of sitting in the middle of a swatch of thick, stinking muck when the moisture seeped through her skirt and underwear. She struggled to her feet, then turned in a full circle, wondering what in the world she was going to do next.

Part Two:

Despair washed over Marny, thoroughly inundating her. Why bother getting up? Why bother running, fighting? She was done; may as well have a seat and let the bayou fold her lifeless self into its deep, dank depths.

Just kill me now.

Then, far off in the distance, “Well fuck ya then, bitch. Let the swamp have ya. You ain’t worth the chase!”

Marny’s teeth flashed in the moonlight. A nameless, faceless rage surged within her and she seethed inwardly. She looked at her mangled hand, then at the knife clutched with a death grip in her other hand — she’d forgotten about that knife.

Her hand throbbed, but the pain pushed her to move, to get busy making sure she would survive this night and then the next day and so on.

Marny wobbled slightly as she made her way back to the cypress that hid her before, struggling to hold an encroaching fog of weariness at bay. If she failed, the swamp would have her and she’d be unable to fulfill her new mission in life…

Ay may masamang masira! Marny has an evil to destroy, and she’d not be able to destroy it if she were swamp-fodder. Kailangang mamatay si Lee. Lee has to die, and it would be by Marny’s hand.

First things first. Need the following to survive: fire, water and food. She chuckled to herself; just a few hours ago Marny was complaining about catfish adobo. Now she’d kill for it.

​​​​​^^

Marny slams the door against the setting sun. She moves to the broken window patched haphazardly with a sheet of plastic wrap that flutters in the slight evening breeze, and presses the lower edges of it against strips of double-sided tape to shut out the night. Marny has no idea of how to replace a window and has no intent of bringing a handyman out to the house to put a new one in.

No one from the outside can be allowed to see how she lives.

She peels back the black shroud from the baby stroller to reveal several fat, dead catfish. She pushes the stroller to a freezer chest, pops the lid and transfers the dead fish into the freezer. They stink, smelling like fetid, odiferous swamp water, but they’re food, and the more food she has at hand, the less she has to go out in public to get it.

She wipes her fish-smelling hands on her long, tattered skirt, then moves to a small vanity with a speckled mirror, picks up her hairbrush and tackles the tangles and snarls therein with an angry vengeance, muttering curses with each stroke. Finally satisfied with the lustrous sheen of her mane, she leans forward to wipe her face clean, then reaches for a few cosmetics; eye shadow, lip gloss, a simple foundation, and then sets to making herself appear pretty.

Satisfied, she pulls a simple tee shirt from a drawer, unclips her tattered bra and slips into the tee shirt, shaking her hair free to give it a nice, tousled appearance so it looks like she just climbed out of bed. A quick scan in the mirror and Marny concludes that yes, she is indeed extremely hot.

Marny strides across the main room of the house to another room closed off by a door. She takes a deep breath and releases it slowly, her eyes glittering as a predatory smile settles on her face; a smile of superiority; a smile of knowing that she’s about to reel in something much more dangerous than catfish.

​​​​​^^

Marny strode out of her tiny warren built of tree-fall and brush and held together with strips of bark, a tiny wisp of smoke from her perpetual fire trickling into the still air. It would be a beacon were it not for the ever-present cypress trees and the disgusting shrouds of moss.

Morning in the bayou was when it was at its freshest, and it was the time of day Marny enjoyed the most. 

She wandered several dozen yards to a latrine ditch she dug out by hand and used the ‘facilities,’ scowling as she came to acknowledge that it was almost time to bury this one and dig another one; something else to curse at Lee about.

It was time to see about food and water for the day, and so Marny set out carrying an old helmet she’d found to the edge of the water where she took a healthy scoop and trundled back to her warren to pour it into an old iron pot she also found in an abandoned hut some few miles off. Marny repeated this several times, and then set to banking the fire to boil the water. She then arranged the tree-fall to help dissipate the smoke, and then set off along an old, barely discernible trail.

There were times when she truly missed the last two fingers of her left hand; there were times when they felt as if they were still there. And then she’d curse the snapping turtle that violated her hand roundly. Lately her curses had been intermingled with laughter, and not for the first time did Marny wonder if she were going crazy.

She also found herself keeping a running dialogue of chatter that she was unaware of giving voice to. Didn’t matter, Marny rationalized the need for that chatter to keep from going crazy. 

“Here little fishies, time for you to come to your nanay so I can eat you up, you know you wanna feed my belly to make me strong to kill that evil…”

And so it went as Marny went, stopping now and again to pull at some lines along the water’s edge that were held in place by very heavy rocks. She arrived at another such ‘fishing station’ and was rewarded when one of the lines she pulled went taut. Dinner! She pulled and pulled and finally a hefty catfish broke the surface; Marny yanked violently on the line and the catfish plopped and flopped on the mucky trail. Marny took a thick stick that was attached to a makeshift belt at her waist and whacked the head of the fish until it quit moving. Satisfied, she replaced the stick and set to freeing the hook…

Something powerful yanked her off her feet by her skirt. She whipped her head around to see a fat gator clamped onto her long skirt, backing up into the water, and panic surged in Marny; she had to get free before that thing submerged or it would take her with it and then she was done.

She scrabbled at her belt as the monster heaved her along with it, its thick tail breaking into the fetid water and she knew her time was running out. Her hand landed on the black-bladed hunting knife she stole from Lee and she wrenched it free then buried it in the snout of the beast with a scream.

The thing started whipping its head from side to side, at first hauling Marny along with it, but she managed to cut and rip her skirt until she tumbled free of the wounded beast, taking the knife with her. She bolted to her feet, skittering backwards, the realization what she just survived slamming into her with the force of an emotional wrecking ball.

The ’gator slipped back into the water, a piece of her skirt hanging out of its mouth. Marny watched, her chest heaving, trying to settle her fluttering heart, when the still water before her erupted in a churning fury of converging ’gators, all hungry for a bit of cannibalism.

Marny raced back to her warren where she huddled for long and long, catfish and dinner forgotten, but her smoldering rage against Lee newly stoked.

​​​​^^

Days flowed into nights and back into days and Marny lost count, and the amount of time passed didn’t seem to matter. Life was survival, but it was becoming a bit easier for Marny.

She explored, finding another shack with passable relics of women’s clothing that she had to shake vermin and spiders from, but skirts and shirts were there to be had.

Marny kept her warren and continued to improve on it, patching and solidifying the makeshift roof and building up a wall of stones for more protection. No ’gators wandered into her lair, but other creatures found it enticing; all ended up as cooked meat for Marny’s dinner.

She also kept watch on Lee; it became the high point of her day when she could sneak around his house without him knowing. See him. Hate him. And when Marny saw him…

A torrent of emotion would burst and she’d be assailed by so many conflicting thoughts and emotions that it took everything in her power to hold herself in check to wait for the ‘right’ time. Everything, including giving herself a quick slash on the forearm or thigh just to steel her focus. Marny knew God would tell her when the time was right, and on a particularly dreary, rain-soaked day when the swamps threatened to extinguish her permanent fire, God spoke to Marny.

Beset with angry twitches, Marny felt fire and power within, and it fueled her the distance to Lee’s rambling house, and when he stepped outside, shirtless, well then it was time.

Marny snagged a low-hanging cypress tree branch and swung up to the roof, then crept to the front of the house where she crouched down to watch him stand outside and stretch expansively and then scratch himself.

She remembered the one time they were intimate, and she was utterly disgusted with herself. Suddenly an image of her son Jose floated before her mind’s eye, and then she had to drop to her belly in fear of him looking up and seeing her crying like a baby. Jose!

She silently sobbed because she’d forgotten what her child looked like. How was that possible?

There was a deafening crack that came from … right beneath her body! Then another and finally one more before the patch of roof she occupied collapsed into the main room of Lee’s house.

Several things happened at once; Marny tried to roll away, and as she did, she dropped the knife; a stray chunk of roof fell in and slapped her on the side of the head, knocking her to her back on the floor; and Lee burst in through the front door, yelling “What the f—?”

Marny’s senses sharpened and time slowed to a crawl. Detached, she watched herself snap to hand and feet and skitter away from Lee, who strode across the floor to where she was just a moment ago, a roar sounding off in the distance. His eyes were wide and blazing, red rimmed, and then Marny paused, watching him closely with her back against the wall.

He stopped and studied her. “You’re alive!”

“You figure that out all by yourself, Lee?” She barked his name as if it were profanity. Two sets of eyes found the knife simultaneously. He lunged for it and…

Marny let him. He stood brandishing the blade proudly, and Marny swept in, low, hands formed into talons, and she swiped with one hand to his exposed calf and the other toward his testicles. She scored with both and scampered out of the way of the downward arc of the swinging blade.

Lee howled, suddenly bent over at the waist. “You bitch!” he snarled as Marny skittered against the wall behind him, faster than he could turn his body, and Marny leapt landing on his back. Both combatants plummeted to the floor and the rage of centuries boiled forth from Marny.

She screeched over and over, her hands curled into claws, ripping, gouging, shredding, pummeling, thunderous blood rushing until her hands ran red and grew sticky with Lee’s blood, and still it wasn’t enough, but she pulled herself away, rolling off his back.

She gained her feet, breath heaving, adrenaline surging, and stared at the mess that was once Lee. Her eyes grew flat, emotionless, watching him, taking in the carnage and destruction of what was once his head. Marny didn’t want to see what was left of his face. She snatched the knife from his flaccid grip, then sank into a cross-legged seat.

Breath whistled in and out of him and she saw his chest move. Marny smiled, tucked the knife into her belt and darted into the bedroom, returning with a sheet. She laid it out and rolled him onto it. Then, with energy and strength borne out of insanity, she dragged his moaning self out of the house and across the trail to the swamp. Marny hauled him to the edge of it and dropped the sheet, now sodden with his blood, then backed to a cypress tree and settled down to catch her breath and watch the show. It wouldn’t be long. Marny hoped he would awaken soon, and then…

A groan, loud, and Lee’s long, inert body began to move. He turned his demolished, ruined face to Marny — she smiled when she saw that she did indeed claim an eye, and groaned again. Then, “You bitch—”

Just as a mammoth ’gator slammed behemoth jaws down on everything north of his navel; the sound of crunching bones would accompany Marny to her last breath. And Lee was gone in a froth of fetid swamp water.

​​​​^^

Marny changed the studio, getting rid of all the manly trappings that Lee once used, and replaced it with a spare bed and candles and decorative Christmas lights, drapes and crisp sheets. 

The desk chair is immensely comfortable, and Marny sits in it now, checking electronic boxes with blinking lights, and then she presses the power button to the powerful computer system she now commands, and it switches on and boots rapidly, flawlessly. She glances at a small table beside her in full view of the camera where a colorful array of ‘toys’ sits; everything is in order.

Marny taps a button and the mic activates; another button and the cam switches on, just as a picture of a Filipino swims into view, a man named Romeo. He is young and earnest and still just a man, a man that wants only one thing, and he is her newest subscriber. Marny smiles and…

“Welcome to Meet American Women dot com, Romeo.”

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Calliope Njo: Case File #79267

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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Case File #79267

By Calliope Njo

Certain factors in life needed to be explored. This time, it involved a familiar myth about a local swampy area. Something about finding your destiny’s path.

This case needed further investigation due to a large number of unexplained disappearances. The swamp gas turned hallucinogenic or the local wildlife attacked the people had been theorized but not proven. Hence the need to explore the area.

I arrived at the swamp, got out of my Jeep, and went towards the dock. I had the urge to sing row row row your boat when I got in. If only I remembered to use bug spray. They had a feast.

Ripples in the water did not come from my boat or anything that swam. That was my first clue. The residents knew about the gators here. They somehow had an extended life span whenever they started to live in this swamp. Ask anyone and an alligator named Ol’ Gold Tooth had to be about a hundred and ten years old.

No report had been able to prove that because people vanished without a trace, and because of the huge population of alligators, nobody ever showed up anywhere.

Cattails and barnyard grass grew thick on either side. Muskrats ran in between them. I could only guess they noticed me and thought of me as a predator. Mud hens swam on the side of me.

Bald cypress branches provided cover from the sun, making that only visible if I looked straight ahead. Moss hung from the branches, which might be where the local insect population flourished.

Dragonflies and darning needles flew around me. One even hovered in front of my eyes as if to guide me down this watery trail.

An environment all its own. Every flora and fauna seemed to have a set of rules to follow. This area could very well survive on its own and may have.

It got darker as I went farther down this watery trail. As much as I enjoyed observing, there was a job to do. If there was only a way to gain more information than what I did when I arrived here in town. People shied away when I asked them questions. One old man warned me to never come for fear the swamp would swallow me whole.

The story told of a spirit that arose from the trees to point the way to either the end of the watery trail or to your doom. The old folks suggested nothing but a story. Some stated they had no idea such a tale existed. One old man told me something somebody came up with to lure everyone away from the gold at the end of the rainbow.

A lone tree in the middle provided the perfect place for me to turn around so I could get back. Some cases required time and a lot of patience. I had more time than I did patience, and since nothing happened, there was no need to stay.

Jolene

I stopped rowing. What? Nobody knew my real name. People around me always called me Jo. I didn’t want to be associated with Dolly Parton’s song. Nice song but still…

Jolene

There it was again. My intention was to observe and write a report of my conclusions to be turned in for further research if required later. I couldn’t go on with this voice calling me.

I blocked out the call to concentrate better. The trees thinned as I went along. The wildlife became sparse. Even the mosquitoes up and vanished.

Jolene. You know the way.

No. No. There had to be a good logical scientific justification. Past cases mentioned stories about haunted buildings and land. Often those stories proved to be genuine while a few had been a product of a wild tale.

I kept going. “Gramma, is that you?” She would be the only one who called me that. Then again, she died last year due to a heart attack.

Jolene. Remember. Once around the tree and twice around the sun. Three times to board. The fourth to lead the way.

I stopped and thought about the message. It did sound familiar. Everybody knew the one to four riddle but no one in town had been able to decipher it.

There had to be meaning to that riddle as was often the fact. It could mean nothing but something deep inside of me screamed at me not to ignore it. Not that I could, there was no way to know what it meant.

A bird squawked and circled above me. Not knowing what else to do, I followed it to wherever it led me.

I followed the bird to a grassy area. No sign of swamp gas either. I went for it and got out of that boat. Not sure if the swamp did get to me, I lost my mind, or all of the above as I walked straight up the hill.

Nothing there. I turned back around to get back in the boat and it disappeared. As in vanished, as in no longer in existence, so how the hell was I going to get home.

The house up ahead looked brand new. The windows still unbroken, the front porch didn’t have any big holes in it, and the building itself didn’t need any repairs. Experience told me to be cautious. The neat and elegant house meant nothing.

I knocked on the door and a tall woman, compared to my four-foot-ten stature, with straight and shiny black hair answered. Those gorgeous eyes drew me in. No description could fit other than they drew me in. Did I say drew me in twice? My mind left me.

She grabbed my hand and brought me in. Could that happen? I had no idea what went on or if I had any mental capabilities.

Something hypnotized me. She not only hypnotized me but an unseen hand pushed me inside. I had no life here, so there had to be another explanation for this. 

“Jolene,” she said. “You arrived.”

I shook my head. “I came to investigate—”

“Shh. No time for that. I am Kay. You have arrived to fulfill your destiny.” She kissed my hand.

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Please visit Calliope’s blog: https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog

Lynn Miclea: Love from a Hummingbird

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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Love from a Hummingbird

by Lynn Miclea

Matthew pulled on the oars, gliding the kayak gently through the canal. He breathed in, taking the rich, humid air deep into his lungs. He loved being out here in the bayou with nothing but the gentle flow of the water, the overhang of trees brimming with fragrant green leaves, and the birds that silently watched as he eased by.

He loved these inlets and byways that he had discovered off the main river. He was a few miles from the main tributary that fed this area, and it was private, serene, and cozy here. He rarely saw another person this far off the main waterway, and he liked it that way.

He wished Amber could have been here. But it hurt too much to think about that, and he pushed it from his mind and kept paddling.

He aimed the kayak down another channel, farther away from the original river. Huge cypress trees lined the banks, weeds jutted out of the water, and a few wading birds stood along the side. A deep sense of peace permeated the entire area.

Finally reaching his destination, Matthew paddled the kayak onto a small sandy shore, one of the few small islands that he knew in this area, and one that he had only been to one time before.

He got out and pulled the kayak up onto the soft sand so it wouldn’t be sucked out with the gentle pull of the water. He knew Amber would have loved this. She had loved the water, she had loved kayaking, and best of all, she had loved him.

He pictured her in the blue and purple dress that he loved the most — the one she wore on their second date when he had taken her dancing for the first time. He could still see it and the way the beautiful, silky dress swirled and flowed as she moved, the blues and purples swishing back and forth. He shook his head. He couldn’t think of that now. The ache in his heart felt like it would overwhelm him. One hot tear slid down his cheek, and he quickly brushed it away.

He pulled out a plastic bag from one end of the kayak and sat in the warm golden sand. Unwrapping his chicken sandwich and opening a small bag of potato chips, he settled in and took a deep breath. He couldn’t bring Amber back, and he needed to find a way to live without her.

Against his will, his mind drifted back and he pictured her honey-blond hair falling in waves below her shoulder. Dancing with her and holding her close. The softness of her skin and the smell of her hair. He took a deep breath. The pain of her illness and then her death six months ago threatened to overwhelm him. His eyes burned with tears.

He ate his lunch, swallowing past the lump in his throat. He opened a can of beer and gulped it down. It was hard to do anything without thinking of her.

Looking around at the rippling water and the canopy of trees, he knew there was nothing like this anywhere else, and it was the only place where he felt at peace. He tried to appreciate the beauty of the area and ignore the aching emptiness he felt. It was not the same without her, and it never would be. But he still loved being here, and he listened to the subtle sounds of the water, birds, leaves, and insects that surrounded him.

After finishing his lunch, he put all the trash in a bag, placed that in the kayak, and then inched the kayak into the water. Holding the kayak steady, he carefully climbed in, let out a loud belch, and dipped the paddles into the water.

Matthew moved the kayak out toward the larger inlet. Having only been to this small island once before, he hesitated when he came to the first split in the water channel. Which was the way home? Was it to the right or the left? He thought it was to the left. But it didn’t look familiar. It must be to the right. He paddled to the right, passing more cypress trees.

The waterway didn’t look right. He suddenly wasn’t sure anymore. How could he get that turned around and confused? Was he that distraught? A gnawing fear clawed at his belly as he realized he wasn’t certain which way he had come. Each way he looked now looked the same, and none of it seemed familiar. He had been here just last week. Was he now lost? That was impossible.

He continued paddling, moving the kayak forward, expecting to find something familiar and have it all click in and make sense. He was sure any moment he would know exactly where he was. But nothing looked familiar. His hands grew damp and he stopped paddling.

Which was the way out? Which was the way back home? Where were his familiar landmarks?

Matthew ran his fingers through his hair. This was not the way he wanted this day to go. How could he get lost? He let out his breath slowly. He did not want to paddle in circles or go too far in the wrong direction. Which way should he go? It had to be the other way.

He looked around, trying to find a familiar tree. Something moved across his vision. A small bird — a blue and purple hummingbird. He looked around at the cypress trees again. Then more movement, insistent this time — the hummingbird flew in front of him and looked directly at him. Then it flew off and stopped. It turned back and looked at him.

“What do you want?” he murmured to the bird.

The bird stared at him. Was he supposed to follow the bird? That was absurd. How would a bird know he was lost or what he needed or where he wanted to go?

Something inside him urged him to follow the bird.

Matthew shook his head. “This is crazy,” he muttered under his breath.

It made no sense, and he shrugged. But he was out of options and didn’t want to go in the wrong direction. What did he have to lose? Maybe the bird knew something he didn’t. And something about it just felt right.

He slowly paddled after the hummingbird. The bird took off, stopping every now and then to look back as though checking to make sure he was following it. The bird went around a turn in the stream, and Matthew worried that he would lose sight of it. But once he reached the turn, the hummingbird was there waiting for him.

He started feeling comfortable. Two more turns, and he saw his landmark — the large tree with the old log angled up on it. Now he knew where he was. He smiled to himself and turned to thank the hummingbird, but the beautiful blue and purple bird was no longer in sight.

Had he imagined it? No, he knew that bird had been there. And it had definitely brought him home. That beautiful blue and purple hummingbird — the same colors as Amber’s dress that he loved. How was that possible? His mind swam with questions. It didn’t make sense.

He pulled up to the dock by his home and pulled the kayak up onto the dirt by the side of the dock. Sadness and longing pulled at him, and he sat on the edge of the dock, his feet dangling over the gurgling water.

As he looked back over the bayou, movement drew his eye to the beautiful blue and purple hummingbird that hovered in the air for a few moments, looking at him, as though making sure he was safe, and then it took off. He knew it was the same bird.

A combination of warmth, sadness, and grief filled him. Tears ran down his face, and his body shook with sobs. A few minutes later, he took a deep, ragged breath and then slowly let it out. He wasn’t sure what to believe, but something in him shifted.

His beautiful, sweet Amber, so young and taken too soon. Maybe she was still here with him. He stood up and turned. Something landed on the dock at his feet. Something soft — a feather. He bent down and picked it up. A soft blue feather tipped in purple.

His heart leaped into his throat. “Amber…” he whispered.

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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-py

Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/

Chester Harper: Boggy Creek

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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Boggy Creek 

By Chester Harper

Annette swatted at the millionth mosquito of the night. Maybe if she burned some green limbs the smoke would keep them away. She had camped at the edge of the swamp and hoped beyond hope that she would see the famous Boggy Creek Monster. Her crew would arrive tomorrow and then the likelihood of seeing the monster would decrease significantly. If the beast made an appearance tonight, the motion activated cameras should capture an image and maybe, just maybe, she could get a shot with her digital camera. 

She didn’t hear a thing before the attack. A hiss and a roar and she was being dragged toward the swamp by a huge alligator that had chomped down on her leg. She was helpless to do anything except scream. She frantically grabbed on to anything near her trying to slow the progression to the water. Once in the water, she was a goner. She pulled down lights and electrical equipment, and sparks were flying everywhere. Suddenly, the smell of ozone filled the air and she was released. It was a clear night with not a cloud in sight. Had a benevolent God miraculously saved her with a well-aimed lightning bolt? This sounded more like Zeus than the Christian God in whom she believed. She felt herself being lifted from the ground and smelled a musky, not unpleasant odor. The pain in her leg was excruciating and as she slipped into oblivion, she wondered how badly she had been injured and who had rescued her. 

Blake arrived at the camp early the next morning to see if Annette had any luck with her solitary vigil. He came upon a devastating scene of violence. The tent was torn down and electrical equipment, as well as camp gear, was scattered everywhere. Most horrific was the dead alligator with a human leg in its massive jaws. Annette’s leg, judging by the well-worn hiking boot still on the foot. Blake swallowed the bile rising in his throat, called 911, and began the search for the rest of his colleague. The gator was dead. Where was Annette? 

Annette awoke with vague memories of alligators, being carried, and hospital rooms. The room she was presently in bore no resemblance to any of that. She appeared to be in a small cabin with rustic furnishings. An equally rustic-appearing young lady was sitting in the chair next to the bed. 

“Praise be, you are finally awake.” 

Annette attempted to swallow the cotton in her mouth and cleared her throat. “Where am I?”

“You are in my home. You are safe and being well taken care of.” 

“I was in the swamp investigating the Boggy Creek Monster. I remember being attacked by an alligator. The rest is really fuzzy. Something about hospital rooms and being carried.” 

“You remember more than we thought you would. Tell me exactly what you remember.” The young lady smiled but Annette could see a glimmer of something else in her eyes. What was going on here? 

“I remember the attack and then a strong smell of ozone. I was then picked up and smelled a musky odor and I think I was wrapped in a furry or fuzzy blanket. I blacked out and the next thing I remember was an operating suite manned by sasquatch. That’s really weird. Must have been a trauma or drug-induced hallucination.” 

“Yes, well, you were grievously injured and lost a lot of blood. That can cause all sorts of visions and dreams.” 

“Where, exactly, am I?” Annette emphasized the word exactly. 

“As I said, you are in my home and you are safe. That is enough for now.” 

“No, it is not enough. I am very grateful for all you have done, but I want answers instead of vague niceties.” 

“Very well, the alligator traumatically amputated your left lower extremity. You were hemorrhaging quite severely when Samuel was able to disable the alligator and then achieve hemostasis with a strategically placed tourniquet. He then brought you to me and I further treated you.” The woman’s demeanor had changed and she seemed more like a medical professional than the country bumpkin of minutes before. 

“You say my leg was traumatically amputated. I see I have both legs and no pain. Am I to believe that you reattached my leg out here in the middle of nowhere?” 

“No, I did not reattach the limb. We regenerated the limb. It took quite some time but we are very pleased with the results.” 

“You keep saying ‘we.’ Who is we?” 

“I am Dr. Willow.” She smiled as she said, “Samuel, come and formally meet our guest.” 

Annette’s mouth fell open and she didn’t know whether to scream or faint as a large hairy beast stepped into her line of vision. 

“Hello, Annette. I am Samuel, Dr. Willow’s assistant.” The creature had a very deep voice and Annette assumed she was hallucinating. 

“What kind of drugs have you given me?” 

Willow laughed. “No drugs. Not yet anyway.” Her voice grew somber. “Dr. Annette Johnston, you have realized your greatest dream. You have seen a sasquatch. We will now, unfortunately, wipe your memory and then return you to your work.” 

“Wipe my memory? No!” Annette went to jump from the bed and felt a sharp pain in her upper arm. She looked down at the needle and syringe as she went unconscious. 

Annette awoke on the side of a two-lane road. As she got to her feet, she noticed that she had only one boot. Where was she and what had happened to her boot? The lights from an oncoming car caught her attention and she was relieved to see that it was a deputy sheriff’s patrol car. 

“Thank you for stopping, officer.” Annette smiled. “I seem to have lost my way or something. The last thing I remember is being at my camp.” 

“Dr. Johnston?” 

“Yes.” 

“Dr. Annette Johnston, famous anthropologist and bigfoot hunter?” 

“I prefer sasquatch. But, yes. Why are you staring at me? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” 

“Yes, ma’am. Please get in. I’ll take you into town.” 

“Can you just take me back to my camp? My team will be here tomorrow.” Annette patted her pockets. “I seem to have lost my phone.” 

“I’ll just take you into town and we’ll find someone to help you.” 

Annette sat in the visitor’s chair of the sheriff’s office, drinking bad coffee and trying to remember anything about the last twenty-four hours. 

The sheriff walked in and sat down. He had obviously been roused from sleep and was freshly showered. He smiled at Annette. “Dr. Johnston, we seem to have a slight problem.” 

“Yes, sheriff?” 

The sheriff looked at her with a puzzled expression. “What is today’s date, doctor?” 

“That’s a rather odd question.” Annette returned the expression. “September 19, 2019. Unless it’s after midnight, then it would be the twentieth.” 

“Dr. Johnston, it is November 17, 2019. You disappeared two months ago and were presumed dead due to evidence at the scene.” 

Annette was eating breakfast the next morning, trying to figure out where the last two months of her life had gone, when Blake walked in with a look of amazement on his face. 

“It’s really you.” 

“Yep, the amazing reappearing anthropologist.” 

“Where have you been?” 

“I have absolutely no idea. The last thing I remember was sitting in my tent swatting mosquitoes.” 

“You don’t remember anything else about that night?” Blake looked deep into her eyes. “Alligator attack. Electrical shock. Anything?” 

“No.” 

“Has anybody filled you in on what we think happened that night?” Annette just looked up at him and shook her head. “OK, give me a minute.” Blake paced back and forth. “The camp was torn to pieces with floodlights and wiring everywhere. A huge alligator was lying there, dead. It looked like he had been electrocuted or something. That is the story the investigators came up with, anyway. There was blood everywhere and we assumed you had been dragged off and eaten by other gators. Now here you are standing on two good legs drinking coffee.” 

“Why did you emphasize me standing here on two good legs?” 

“We found a leg in the jaws of the alligator.” Blake looked into Annette’s shocked eyes. “Annette, if you are here on two good legs, whose leg was in the gator’s mouth … and why did it match your DNA?” 

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Please visit Chester on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/C-W-Harper-Author-101485477895994/

Caroline Giammanco: The Beast

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 Beast

By Caroline Giammanco


The water gently laps at the dock jutting crudely from my front steps. Night will fall shortly, and for some reason I become more reminiscent at this time of day. To some, this bayou evokes fear as the alligators bellow to one another while the shadows grow long. This place holds no fear for me, however, just a melancholy sadness that ebbs and flows like the water in a dark eddy within the confines of this bayou. It’s the only place I’ve ever known.

I remember brighter days. Memories of happy times give me a fleeting respite from the loneliness. I can picture childhood as clearly as I can the events of yesterday. My friends and I spent hours exploring every nook and cranny of our neighborhood. As my mind harkens back through the years, I can hear my mother’s sweet soprano lifting above the voices of the other mothers beckoning their children in for the evening.

“Lennox, dinner’s ready!” 

“Mama, can’t I play just a little longer?”

“No, son. Even the gators are going to bed. It’s time for you to join us.”

I seldom disobeyed my mother, but if I tarried too long chasing bullfrogs or tossing rocks across the placid water with my friends, I was rewarded with the less-than-comforting calls from my father.

His deep baritone drowned out the more pleasant sounds of the impending evening. His booming voice growled, “Lennox, get in here this minute, or I’m going to tan your hide!” 

My father was an imposing figure. Not only was he taller than average, but he had the strength of ten men it seemed. My brothers, sister, and I seldom received physical punishment from him, but that’s not to say he was above applying a swift and forceful blow to our backsides when he deemed it appropriate. Needless to say, that added to our willingness to respect our mother’s sweet soprano calls the first time.

Oh, how I wish I could hear her voice again. It’s been far too long since she’s been gone, but she is not the only one I’ve lost throughout this life of mine.

Which, of course, brings my lovely Adeline to mind. She was the prettiest girl I’d ever seen. And cook? She could make a meal worth dropping anything for. It was her kind and loving heart, the softness of her brown eyes, and the serene touch of her hand that left the greatest marks on my heart, however. In my younger days, I’d been a ruffian, and I played the field a good deal with the other beauties who lived nearby. Once I locked eyes with my dear Adeline, however, I was a reformed man.

My brothers, all fine fellows in their own rights, followed suit and married, as did my sister Cici. Happiness was short for that girl as she died in childbirth not long after she and Enos moved to the other side of the bayou. Her death was a dark spot in our hearts for many years. My mother couldn’t bear to hear her daughter’s name without tears trickling down her cheeks. 

Years went by, and my friends, brothers, and I raised our families. We worked hard, provided for our wives and children, and cared for our parents as they aged. It’s a sad day when our once-robust fathers had to set aside their tools and admit that they now needed to be cared for by us. Our mothers may have fought the inevitable even harder when the day came for us to dote on them. That is the way of life, I suppose.

Then life changed. It started with whispers that there were newcomers to our bayou. I had my doubts about their existence, but the rumors continued. According to the stories, at first, they simply passed through. Some were stricken with malaria. Others succumbed to the alligators and other bayou predators. Steadily, they continued to come. As I said, I heard the rumors, but I had my doubts.

In fact, I didn’t believe my youngest brother, Milo, when he told me he’d seen them with his own eyes.

“Surely you’re pulling my leg.” What he was telling me was not possible. I believed the intruders were simply myths that fueled stories around our campfires at night.

“I swear it, Len. I hid behind a cypress and watched as five of them crept through on a boat. I don’t think they saw me, but when I gasped at what I saw, they stopped and listened for a long time. They are real.”

In the quiet of the evening, after our children had been put to bed, I shared what Milo told me with Adeline.

“Lennox, you know that Milo has always had an imagination.”

“That he does, Adie, but there was a fear in his eye that I’ve never seen before. I know my brother, and he didn’t look like he was telling a tale.”

“Please be careful tomorrow when you’re out fishing. I don’t like the sounds of this if it’s true.”

The next morning, as I checked my trotlines for catfish, I heard unfamiliar voices, speaking in a language I’d never heard before. I knelt behind a tree and held my breath as a canoe passed carrying four figures. Suddenly, they raised a long stick and pointed it at a rising heron that took flight as they approached.

Boom!

The noise deafened me, and I fell backward. I’d have been noticed no doubt if they hadn’t been so preoccupied in their joy. The heron fell dead on the shore, and the intruders laughed and shouted triumphantly. Then, they did the unthinkable: They drifted away without taking their kill.

They left it there to rot. They aren’t even going to eat the magnificent bird they just killed.

The thought of their senseless slaughter sickened me. I checked my remaining lines and returned home, shaken by what transpired.

That evening, I called a meeting of my neighbors. Some didn’t want to believe what I witnessed, but I didn’t have a foolhardy reputation, so most took me seriously. We tossed around ideas of how to handle this new menace, but since we were by-and-large a peaceful people, we were at a loss. 

“I fear what that weapon of theirs can do, Lennox,” my brown-eyed Adeline said to me as she snuggled next to me that night.

“I’ll watch over you, dear. No one will harm you.” I held her until her breathing became deep and regular, and I knew she was soundly resting.

If only my promise to protect her had been the truth. Within a year, our community and our family were on the run. The intruders brought dogs with them and literally hounded us until we found refuge in the remotest corner of the bayou. Food was scarce, our wives and children looked pale, and we all feared the booming sounds of their weapons and the baying howls of their dogs.

Little did we know we would not be decimated by booming sticks or relentless hounds. 

My Adeline was one of the first to become sick. The fever hit quickly, and then the scabbing blisters covered her whole body. Nothing I gave her soothed her pain or lowered her fever which seared so hot she became delusional. For hours she writhed in our pallet, pounding her fist against the wall, muttering unintelligible words. She died within three days. Then our children, all six of them, did the same.

I was distraught and nearly went out of my mind. My family’s destruction was repeated throughout our community. Finally, only I was left. I don’t know why I was spared. I would’ve rather died alongside my family and friends, but it was not to be. This disease known as “the pox” wiped out everyone I knew or ever cared about. For centuries we had lived in peace in this bayou, and then we were gone.

Today, I live a quiet life, still afraid to venture far from my own front steps. Sometimes, on the occasions when I stray too far from home, I’ve had close calls with these men who maraud our homeland. 

One day, I barely dodged sure death as two of them fired their weapons at me.

These careless hunters called “humans” yelled, “Look, it’s a beast—a swamp monster! Get ’em!” Bullets sprayed around me as I quickly made my way into the shadows.

I’m left to wonder who the beast really is.

As I rock in my favorite chair this evening, I watch the heavy shadows fall around me and listen to the crying sounds of a night bird. Such is the end of another lonely day.

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Check out Caroline’s website! http://www.booniehatbandit.com/

D. A. Ratliff: Woman of the Bayou

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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Woman of the Bayou

By D. A. Ratliff

It was too quiet.

There was the occasional soft chirp from a swallow, and in the distance, he could hear the echo of a sapsucker pecking on a cypress tree for the sweet sap inside. Otherwise, the normal noises of the bayou during the morning were absent. It was as if they knew his destination.

He didn’t tell his peers where he was going. They would have laughed at him, but after every lead to the killer of several teens in New Orleans had gone stale, an urge to visit her had built until he could no longer contain it.

Piloting his grandfather’s old wooden fishing boat, he steered the trolling motor down the natural pathways through the bayou. The water was high due to heavy rains along the Mississippi River that spilled into the swamps and deltas of Louisiana. He was thankful. He hadn’t steered a boat through the thick roots lying just below the water’s surface in a long time. The last thing he wanted was to get stranded deep in the wilderness.

A splash of water nearby rattled his nerves. Looking quickly to his left, he caught a glimpse of a long dark object, an alligator, sliding under the surface of the water away from him. A blue heron standing on cypress roots nearby stared as he passed. He was convinced they knew he was on his way to see her and were being respectful.

Instinct took him along a familiar path. He had been fourteen when he last accompanied his grandmother to the small cabin deep in the bayou. Now, thirty years later, he still knew the way. That was how powerful she was.

The closer that he got to the cove where she lived, his apprehension rose. It was hot and sticky in the early morning, but his palms were not sweaty from the heat. As a child, he had been anxious in her presence. He still felt the same.

Twenty minutes later, the small boat brought him to an ancient cypress tree. The landmark he was hoping to find. The loa of Papa Loko, patron of healers, was carved into the trunk. The symbol he had seen many times. His grandmother had explained the loas were the spirit gods of voodoo. The watery path to his right would take him to her.

The cabin, sitting on slightly higher ground, was exactly as he remembered it. Unpainted wood siding now grayed and stained with age with a wide porch stretching across the front of the small dwelling brought him back to when he was fourteen. Perhaps the cabin was so old that passing years no longer took their toll.

He eased the boat toward the small dock where a canoe was tied up, cutting the motor off and drifting against the pilings. He secured a line to a cleat and stepped onto the dock. The wood creaked as he walked across it and, just as he started to step on the ground, a soft voice with a thick Cajun lilt called out to him.

“Elijah, it has been a long time.” She stepped from the shadows at the corner of the house.

Elijah Debois took a deep breath. She was older now. The soft café-au-lait skin was wizened, but she remained as beautiful as he thought when he was young.

“Madam Clarisse, you remember me?”

She smiled. “Of course, your grandmama was one of my closest friends. I mourn her loss to this day.”

“She spoke of you right before she died.”

Her smile lit up the bayou. “She did? What did she say, chere?”

He swallowed before replying. This was difficult for him. “She told me if I should find myself in need of help, I should come to you. That you would never fail me.”

“Then you best come in. We have some talking to do.”

The interior of the small cabin was spotless. Dark inside even in the daylight, the glow from a dozen white candles illuminated the room. He detected the slight scent of sandalwood and cornbread in the air. She motioned for him to sit. Before she joined him, she opened a cabinet and removed two candles, one yellow and one silver. She placed them on the altar to the right of the fireplace and struck a long match. Closing her eyes, she muttered a chant and then turned toward him.

“If I remember correctly, as a young boy, you loved my mango lemonade. I’ll get you a glass.”

He gazed at the two candles, their wicks burning with intensity. He knew the colors were significant, but he had no recollection why. He smiled. If one didn’t know that Madam Clarisse was considered a Voodoo priestess, one would think she was an eccentric woman living in the swamp. He scoffed. Maybe that was all she was, and he was foolish.

“Here you are.” She returned to the small parlor with a glass of light orange liquid and set it on the small table in front of him.

His mouth watered as he remembered the taste, and he gulped the drink down. Nirvana sliding down his throat. For a fleeting second, he wondered if she put something in the lemonade to make him feel so instantly relaxed. 

As he set the glass down, she spoke. “While I am glad to see you, Elijah, I know that you are here for a reason. A case, it is troubling you, and you seek my help.”

“You — you know about the killer we are searching for? How?”

She laughed. “My chere, while I am clairvoyant, I am not out of touch with civilization.” She pointed to a radio sitting on a corner cupboard. “The kindly Ranger Thomason sees to it that I have supplies. He also brought me a satellite radio so that I may listen to the news. And there are a few who often come to see me to gossip.”

“I am glad to know you are being watched over.”

Clarisse sat back in the rocking chair across from him. “You are searching for a man who has been killing the young. Tell me about him.”

He drank a bit more lemonade and sat with elbows on his knees. “That’s just it, we know very little. He has killed seven teenagers so far. They have been between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, boys and girls. No connection to drugs, no connection to anything that we can discover. Kids from varying backgrounds, neighborhoods, social and economic levels. It makes no sense.”

“He leaves no clues?”

Elijah shook his head. “No, nothing. They die from a single knife wound to the chest. The only clue we have is the ME’s conjecture about the kind of knife used.”

“And that is?”

“A boning knife like used in butcher shops and kitchens. We’ve tried to run down that lead, but there are a lot of butchers and restaurants in New Orleans.”

“These children. They did not know each other?”

“No, no connection of any kind that we can find.”

She stood up. “I was about to have a bit of lunch when you arrived. How about some beans and cornbread?”

“I smelled your cornbread the second I got here. Made me hungry.”

“Good, then I’ll get a plate.”

They sat at the small table in the tiny kitchen. Elijah was ravenous, again not sure if he was truly hungry or if she had given him something to allow him to relax and enjoy the food. He stabbed a chunk of andouille sausage and stuck it in his mouth. Still chewing, he asked her a question.

“Young man, I know your mama, and your grandmama taught you better manners. Don’t speak with your mouth full.”

Sheepishly, he complied and swallowed the bite. “Sorry, just anxious.”

“Better. Now, what did you want to ask me.”

“I came here hoping that you could help me.” He stood up, stepping to the small kitchen window. The bayou looked so serene, but he knew within the moss-covered trees, and amid the cypress stumps, life was teeming. The perceived solitude was overwhelming knowing that fact. He turned toward her.

“Grammy always told me that you had a gift. That you knew things the rest of us didn’t know. I can’t tell another parent that their child is dead. I need to stop this, and I have nothing. I need your help.”

“Sit. Finish your meal, and I will answer your questions.”

He helped her clean up and then with fresh lemonade, they returned to the parlor. She motioned him to sit and then put her finger to her lips. He remembered she did that when he was quite young to keep him quiet. He nodded, he understood.

Madam Clarisse stood at the altar. She wore a simple purple cotton skirt and white peasant blouse, he thought they were called. A sash woven of red and gold encircled her waist, a brightly patterned headwrap encased her head. For the first time since he arrived, he felt the full presence of Madam Clarisse.

Raising her hands, she spoke quietly in Creole. When she finished, she drew a symbol in chalk on a piece of slate, then recited another chant. When done, she turned to him. “I have something for you.”

She sat in her chair. “The person you seek is in pain from a great loss. You might be surprised that I believe the killer is a woman.”

“A woman? Wow… That’s unusual. We never rule it out, but it is rare for a woman to be a serial killer.”

“I do not think she is a serial killer the way you define it, but killing to make a whole. I am not certain what that means, but I feel that.”

“It will change how we look at this case.”

“There is more, chere. The knife is from a kitchen. I see a large room with a lot of stainless steel and many people.”

“A restaurant?”

“No, much bigger, a hotel or commercial — a commercial kitchen.”

“We will check that out. Anything else?”

“She is broken, her heart shattered. She wears it on her wrist.”

“Wears what on her wrist?”

“A broken heart.”

He collapsed against the couch back. “We’ve been looking in the wrong places.”

She shook her head. “You had nothing to go on. Chere, I cannot be certain I am correct, but I feel this.”

He stood. “I need to go. I need to get back to the squad room. We have to start over.” He turned toward the door, then looked at her. “I have a question. I remember the white candles are for purity and peace. You always burn them as my grandmother did, but the yellow and silver candles, what are they for?”

“You remember well. The yellow represents the brain. It is used to focus, to help with visualization. The silver candle helps with accessing the astral realm and increases clairvoyance. All to supplement my thoughts.”

He hugged her. “Thank you. I will be back when we catch this killer.” As he reached the door, she stopped him.

“Here.” She pressed a carved silver charm into his palm. “Take this. It is a good-fortune talisman and the charm of Loa Brigitte, the grandmother of loas. She uses her influence to encourage the other loas to watch over you. It will keep you safe.”

“Thank you.”

As he pushed the boat from the dock, she waved to him from the porch.

~ooOoo~

Three days later, a SWAT team waited outside of Pride Foods, an industrial kitchen that produced bulk packaged food sold by food service companies. Clarisse’s comment about trying to make a whole started him thinking that the killer was seeking revenge for something larger than a single death. Elijah searched for an event where several people died at once.

While reviewing police files, he came across an accident report of a bus crash that occurred two months before. A bus carrying twelve high school students returning from a debate with a rival high school was run off the road by a drunk driver killing all of the students and both drivers. Looking into it further, he discovered one Marsha Theos was the mother of two teens killed in the crash. She worked as a shift supervisor at Pride Foods. After interviewing neighbors who talked of how the widowed Theos was despondent after her children’s deaths, he was convinced she was the killer.

Hoping that a SWAT raid wouldn’t be necessary, Elijah convinced his captain to allow him to go in with only one SWAT team member. As they entered the work area, he gazed around the room until he saw the woman who matched the DMV photo he had in his pocket. He walked toward her. His breath caught when he saw a small broken heart tattooed on Theos’s right wrist.

She turned, and from the look on her face, he knew she realized it was over. She glanced about the room toward her coworkers who had fallen silent.

“Marsha Theos?”

“Yes.”

“You know why I’m here.”

“I killed them.”

“Why?” He had to know.

“My babies were dead. I prayed to God to bring them back, but he didn’t. I thought if I gave him others to keep, he would give me back my kids. I couldn’t take any of their friends, so I went searching for kids I didn’t know. I just wanted my children back. They are all I had.”

Her eyes darted to a large-blade knife on the counter beside her. She lunged for it, but the SWAT officer was quicker and subdued her.

Elijah stepped closer to her. “I am arresting you for murder.” He proceeded to recite her rights as the officer slipped handcuffs on her.

“I know my rights, but it doesn’t matter. I killed them. God should have given my children back to me.”

“It doesn’t work that way. I’m sorry.”

“I had to try.”

As the officer led Theos out of the building, Elijah reached into his pocket. The cool metal talisman had brought good fortune.

He would be visiting the bayou again soon.

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Please visit D. A. Ratliff on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com

Paula Shablo: Crossroads of Depression

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.) 

Admin Note: Today’s entry from Paula Shablo is an interesting one and proof that an image prompt does not always have to take us to a story but can take us to introspection. We encourage you to interpret the prompts as your muse sees fit and Paula’s muse has given us something to ponder as we travel the bayou of life.

Crossroads of Depression

By Paula Shablo

Anywhere else in the world, coming to a crossroads is a well-defined setting. In the swamps, you don’t have definition, just a vague notion that you might be able to take a left or right turn instead of going straight ahead.

I have come to define depression as a crossroads of sorts. Going back is never an option. You only get three choices: left, right, or forward.

During normal times, you look in each direction, and you can see possibilities. Right might lead to a new job. Left could take you to a new city. Straight ahead might mean meeting that special someone.

During a depressive state, you look down those roads and see nothing. Good, bad, interesting, scary—those things would be something; but there’s nothing. The road goes on and on, and there isn’t anything to make one direction more appealing than any other.

You look backward. Nearest to you might be a total shit-storm of bad. Farther away, some happy times, some interesting people, some success stories. Most of it is just la-dee-dah, ho-hum-drum stuff that many of our days are made of. At least it’s something, though. At least it’s visible and tangible evidence that the past was made up of something.

The future, now. You’d settle for some of that hum-drum la-dee-dah, wouldn’t you? But no matter where you look, there’s nothing to see.

Probably it’s best to just sit right down here in the middle, look backward and refuse to move. Don’t make any choices. Stagnate.

I contend that this state is even worse in the swamp. You can’t even see the damn road! All you can do is guess where that left or right turn might be. And all you can see is muddy water, weeds, snakes and possibly a crocodile or two. The shit-storm just behind you almost looks like a dull school dance. You’d go back if you could, but back is never a choice.

Sitting down isn’t a choice either, especially not in a swamp. God knows what you might sit on.

So what’s it going to be? Snakes? Crocodiles? Some creeping vines just under the surface that will wrap around your ankles and drag you down to drown?

Swamp or desert, the crossroad demands a choice, and the only real choice is to just keep moving. Left or right, or straight ahead, there will at some point be a little something to see on the road in front of your eyes—you just have to keep moving until you see it.

Until you see it, imagine it—the new job, the new city, the new love. Believe that it is out there, and all you have to do to get to it is just keep moving. Just keep fighting. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

It will be hardest in the swamp—you’ll be slogging through murky waters filled with sludge and slime. Remind yourself that your legs will be stronger than they’ve ever been when you reach dry land again. Remind yourself that in the wider scheme of things, Louisiana isn’t that big—there’s a lot less swamp than dry land out there, and you will be walking tall once you get there.

Sure, you’ll get muddy. Mud washes off. Roads eventually lead somewhere, and you are worth the trip. Pick a direction, and keep moving. Never give up, never give in, never stop fighting for you. Go.

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Visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.wordpress.com/2019/08/21/crossroads-of-depression

Sean Bracken: Sacrifice

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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Sacrifice

By Sean Bracken

Bullfrogs croaking out their love songs after last night’s thunderstorm disturbed the silence of the bayou. The heat of the morning sun awoke thousands of butterflies. They swarmed in multicoloured kaleidoscopes all around me, as my little dingy putt, putt, putted its way through the still water, shattering the reflection of tall Cypress trees swathed in Spanish Moss in its wake. 

After a lifetime of running away, I was coming home. Forty years ago I had abandoned this place. A place of mystery and legend, a place of Creole magic and superstition. I had escaped into the world. A world of science, a world of facts and reality.

The Gods of Creole and Voodoo, even the Christian God were gone. My God became the God of Science, the God of Fact, the God of Truth. I was a born again realist. I was converted.

Working two and sometimes three jobs, I graduated from CalTec with a degree in Astrophysics and earned my Ph. D. from a thesis on time/space distortion from Trinity College. 

My life was perfect. I was devoted to two things, my research, and my beautiful daughter Tasha.

Tasha was conceived after a once off, drunken, encounter at a campus party. Her mother wanted an abortion, but after many nights of argument, debate and many, many tears, she agreed to carry the baby to full term and allow me to adopt her. I suppose the generous donation I made to her bank account helped her to change her mind.

Last year during a routine visit to her doctor, Tasha discovered that she had breast cancer. A month short of her twenty-fifth birthday, all of her ambitions, her future, her life had been stolen away from her.

I kept my faith in my God of Science. I trusted Him. I believed in Him. I knew that my God would find a cure. My God was real.

Months passed. Months immersed in chemotherapy, radiation therapy, drugs, pain killers, morphine. My angel faded away from me. Her radiant mane of blonde hair became wisps of tumbleweed clinging to an emaciated skull. Her beautiful body reduced to a fragile, skeletal memory of who she once had been.

My God had abandoned me. I had devoted my life to Him. Now, when I needed Him most, He had no answers, no solutions, no salvation.

Just as He deserted me, I deserted Him. And so here I was, a desperate man, doing desperate things, coming home, back to the faith of my ancestors.

I was searching for Mama Doc Duprince, a mythical memory from my childhood.

Born and raised in a corrugated tin roof shack with five brothers and four sisters, life here had been harsh. Our shack stood in the middle of a wilderness of poverty, surrounded by a community of fierce independent swamp people. All eking out an existence from fishing and hunting, distilling moonshine, speaking French and playing Cajun music.

Hidden and isolated, these people, filled with mistrust of the outside world, believed in ancient Gods, ancient rituals and long-forgotten traditions and fables.

Abandoned by my God, perhaps the ancient Gods could save my Tasha. I had to find Mama Doc.

Some primeval instinct, an inner mental compass, guided me through the labyrinth of side waters and back channels. Other than the throb of my outboard there was nothing but silence and shadows, disturbed only by the occasional ripple of a gator looking for a meal and glimpses of Kingfishers perched on overhanging branches. 

The old dingy carried me through a narrow stretch of water; overhead the treetops merged into a solid green blanket, obscuring the sunlight, turning day to night. The channel arced gently to the left. Ahead, I could see flickers of light calling me forward. The boat burst out from the shadows into a broad expanse of crystal clear water. I had to shield my eyes from the intense sunlight. As my sight adjusted, I spotted an island rising up maybe a hundred feet above the water’s surface.

In all my years of living in the swamp, I had never seen an island like this. It looked as if it belonged in some tropical resort, not here in the bayou. It was covered in lush vegetation, with tall palm trees fringing a shingle shoreline.

I pushed on the throttle and raced my boat towards the shore. I beached my craft and secured it to a tree trunk. I knew that this was the place. The place where I’d find Mama Doc.

I followed a narrow trail up from the beach, through the forest. The farther I penetrated into the island the quieter it got. The sound of birdsong and chirping insects faded into the background. Before long I was walking in total silence.

The silence was broken by the sound of falling water. I followed the sound and stumbled into a small clearing. The clearing wrapped around a small lake, fed at one end by a fifty-foot-high waterfall. At the far end, the pond fed a small stream that meandered downhill towards the bayou.

My throat was dry and my lips were cracked from thirst. I greedily slurped down litres of the cool, fresh liquid, until my thirst was sated. Then leaving my clothes at the forest edge, I entered the water naked. It felt so good, to wash off the dirt and grime of days of exploration.

I swam towards the falls cascading down the cliff face. As I stepped into the falls, I realised that there was a gap behind the falling water. On the far side, there were rough-hewn steps carved into the cliff face and leading up to a cavern, about halfway from the top.

The ascent was wet and treacherous; one false step and I would surely fall to my death. I reached the top safely and stepped into the grotto. It was lit by hundreds of candles. At the far end of the cave, Mama Doc knelt before a low altar, carved from the cavern floor. I had expected an old crone, some wizened hag. Mama Doc was none of these. She was young and majestic. She stood at least six feet tall, her naked, athletic body lean and lithe. Her oiled ebony skin glistened and shimmered in the candlelight.

She called to me. “Jaques DuBois, welcome. Come sit before me.”

I approached her, acutely aware of my own nakedness, and taking in the exquisite beauty of her body. I became aroused and used my hands to cover my shame.

Mama Doc smiled at me and pulled my hands away.

“No need for shame here in this temple, Jaques. It is only you and I and all things natural.”

“How do you know my name?” I asked.

Come now, Jaques, I know all there is to know in the bayou. I know you deserted our ways many years ago, but now you are back looking for our help.”

“Can you help me, Mama Doc? Will you save my Tasha?”

“Yes, I will help you. But, be warned you will pay a very heavy price for this magic.”

Mama Doc ordered me to lie down on the altar. She then offered me a potion to drink.

“This is Ayahuasca. It will help you on your journey. Your body will reject it. Do not allow yourself to be sick. You must hold the Ayahuasca within you until it begins its magic.”

I swallowed the foul liquid in one gulp. My stomach reacted against it and I had an overwhelming urge to vomit. I fought the urge and forced myself to keep the potion down.

My head began to spin; the cave walls moved in and out. In an instant, I was sitting in a green meadow with Tasha. We had a picnic spread out on a blanket. Two golden horses grazed on the grass beside us. We mounted our ponies and began to gallop bareback across the meadow. I reached out my hand to Tasha and she took my hand in hers. Together we raced across fields and pastures. Hand in hand, the steady rhythm of our mounts was intoxicating. My spirit soared and carried Tasha with it, as the steady cadence of the horses carried us on into infinity.

I felt a pull on my soul and suddenly I was drawn back to the grotto. The rhythm of my horse was in fact the rhythm of Mama Doc as she sat astride me, moving as though to the beat of a distant drum that only she could hear. She moved faster and faster until her dance was over and she collapsed onto me.

“This is your first payment, Jaques. I now carry your baby, a girl. You will never see this child, you will never speak of this child. She will stay with me and in time will become the new Mama Doc. You have given a life to me. Now I must give a life to you, Tasha’s life. Return to her, embrace her, hold her hand, as you did in the dream. You will exchange spirits. Tasha will live, but you will take on her pain, you will suffer. In order to succeed, you must accept this burden with a willing heart. Do you accept, Jaques?”

“I do, with a willing and loving heart.”

Three days later, I was back at Tasha’s bedside. The doctors called it a miracle. Tasha went into full remission. I was overjoyed to see her body grow strong and healthy again. I have no fear or regrets. Day by day, as Tasha grows strong, I become weak. As she becomes healthy, I become sick. Before long I will become bedridden and, soon after that, I will say goodbye to this life. The price is worth what it is, a price I’m happy to pay.

The End

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Please visit Sean on his blog: https://sean-bracken.site123.me

Jane Hale: The Big Easy

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.) 

The Big Easy

by Jane Hale 

“Bonjour mes amis — Good day my friends!” A Cajun God had descended and stood among us.

He had me at “Bonjour.”

When I signed up for a writer’s conference in the French Quarter in New Orleans, Louisiana, the location alone enticed me. John Laveau, featured speaker and author of the steamy New York Times Best Sellers List Cajun romance series, Cajun Tart, Cajun Candy, and Cajun Cookie were icing on my vacation cake. The whole world knew John Laveau claimed kinship to the infamous Marie Laveau, New Orleans Witchy Voodoo Queen whose name conjured images of magic and stick-pin dolls.

John’s photo on the back of his books highlighted his eyes. He had heterochromia iridium, where there are two colors of iris. His fans thought it was perfectly imperfect. He’d been compared to Henry Cavill on the website Lady Boners with remarks like … “those eyes,” “that mustache,” “those curls,” “that perfect jawline.” He seemed all those things and more if you were looking for a daddy figure. I was looking for a younger sugar daddy.

We were seated in the great room of a spacious condo. I’d been gawking at the Cajun God who prowled among us and missed an important announcement. The main speaker for the conference had been replaced by his son, Jon Laveau. Jon’s novels leaned toward the dark side with titles like Cajun Swamp Siren and Cajun Bayou Babes. His female protagonist was Vanessa, a swamp Vampiress.

“Would you like another cup of coffee, Cher?” He leaned closer. His warm breath caressed my throat. “I’m Jon, your host author for the conference. I hope you like what you see, Cher?” His laughter rumbled deep in his chest. He placed his long, tanned finger beneath my chin and lifted gently. “Close your lips, Cher. Your fangs are showing.”

A voice from the other side of the room announced, “Jon likes to mingle with his guests and get acquainted with their literary needs. Share your muse and views with him. He’ll satisfy your blood thrust for literature.” Bemused laughter filled the room. “Jon and his dad’s novels are displayed in the library. Jon is available for autographs after our meeting.”

Jon positioned himself on the arm of my oversized stuffed chair and hovered. Writers descended on his person hoping to claim his attention but he included me in his conversations as a preferred confidante. Watching his performance I was reminded of the male vampire in his Cajun series. His Vanessa emulated a vampiress named Lilly in another author’s novel. Vampire hunters were required to behead Lilly; they used her head as their calling card to collect their bounty of ten thousand dollars. Jon’s bounty hunters were required to take Vampiress Vanessa’s heart for their reward. 

 My name on a name tag on my breast hadn’t escaped Jon’s notice. His gaze shifted continuously from guest to guest but always returned to me. His gaze lowered to feast on my name — Vanessa Vanderlick.

I’d considered tantalizing John Laveau with the comparison of my name and his son’s Vampiress, Vanessa. The absence of John Sr. moved me up in importance as an author at this conference without having to breathe a word.

Later, I stood at the library table. I flipped through pages of Cajun Bayou Babes. I felt a rustle of bodies near me. Whispers of “Jon, Jon” alerted me he was headed my way. I turned to a photograph in his book which fascinated me. I studied it. I traced the long line of water nestled in a wetland with trees surrounding it; Vanessa’s Swamp Forest vamped its nourishment from the Mississippi River.

I felt the long line of his body move against me as his fingers covered mine, maneuvering them like the panchette of a Ouija board. My gaze was fixed on the line of trees in Jon’s novel. The trees seemed to open with two trails leading in opposite directions. The shading of trees which moved to the right was a mossy green. The other trees shaded from rays of sunshine were the color of brown I’d just discovered in the iris of Jon’s left eye. His beautiful eyes bore two colors in his iris, the same as his father.

“Paure ti bete — Poor little thing,” he murmured. His fingers continued to move mine along the mossy green path of trees in the book.

A feeling of foreboding caused me to shudder. I withdrew my fingers from his. I moved them along the magnificent line of brown trees on the left in the picture. I tilted my head and gazed into the reality of heterochromia iridium. I asked, “Why poor little thing?”

“Ah, my Vampiress Vanessa, she always chooses the path of green. She loses her heart every time.” He lowered his lids to shade his iris as if afraid he’d betray a secret. “Why did you choose the trail of brown, Cher?”

I turned towards him to answer and found myself captured in his embrace. The room fell away. The people vanished. All that remained was the Cajun God and the strength of his masculine mystique. His lips moved and I read the words, “I’ve got a yearning for some fresh air. Come Cher, I’ll escort you to your hotel.”

Hand in hand we made our way through the crowded room, stopping to chat with other authors and guests. At the doors leading to the outside balcony, Jon stopped to wave to the group. “Vanessa is curious about her namesake’s Swamp Forest. She has many questions. I have many answers. We will see you tomorrow. Perhaps she will do us the honor of sharing what she learned.”

We stepped onto the balcony shrouded in a world of fog. Jon pulled me forward into the blackness of New Orleans — his Witchy Voodoo heritage. Out there somewhere was the Swamp of Vanessa’s Forest where she always lost her heart to a bounty hunter. I followed Jon convinced I’d enjoy tonight’s experience. My only question was — when it was my turn to choose a path, which would it be — mossy green, and lose my heart, or magnificent brown, the path on the left closest to his heart to capture it?

Tonight in the Big Easy I’d feast on them both. 

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Please visit Jane’s page Ozark Writers, Inc on Facebook. A non-profit group that promotes writers from the Ozarks. https://www.facebook.com/ozarkwritersinc/