Kelli J GAvin: Honor

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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Honor

By: Kelli J Gavin 

When my grandmother passed, I felt defeated and utterly broken. She was the last of my grandparents left and I mourned the loss of our truly great matriarch. She was bold and vibrant, loving and forgiving, and an inspiration to anyone who had the honor to be in her presence. Her loss spurred such a season of mourning and grief in my life, that I worried I would never pull myself from the miry pit where I seemed to dwell. 

Receiving a phone call from my grandmother’s attorney was the last call I expected two months after her passing. My grandfather passed away the summer before and I was under the impression that in their old age they had spent everything they had and what was left were the social security and survivor benefit checks that faithfully arrived each month in the mail and the equity in the roof that covered their heads. When the attorney left two and then three messages on my answering service, I knew I needed to make time to return his call. 

“Ms. Garlow, thank you for calling back. I was concerned that you had moved or that I was going to have to stop by your place of business to ensure contact. I would like to request a meeting as soon as possible. I have sold your grandparent’s home, liquidated a small life insurance plan which paid for your grandmother’s funeral and final expenses, and hired a small company to clear out their home. Anything that is sentimental, and all furniture, is now housed in the dining room on the main floor, and the rest of the home is vacant. The final sale will be complete the first of next month and I need you to claim anything that you wish to keep and give me the final instructions for the disposal of the rest of the physical property. Could we meet this Friday morning at 9 a.m. at the house? We should be finished by 11 a.m. Please bring a truck or trailer and at least two people to carry and pack the furniture and belongings.” Mr. Smithers spoke so quickly, I wasn’t tracking.

“Mr. Smithers, I am sorry. What did you say? 9 a.m. this Friday? I already have a truck and don’t anticipate wanting to keep more than I can haul. I will hire two men to arrive by 9:30 a.m. and they can start loading while we finish any paperwork and other business,” I replied. 

“Splendid. I will see you then. You should know that there were instructions about a few pieces, but we can talk about all that when we meet. Have a good day and I look forward to seeing you.” Mr. Smithers quickly hung up the phone. 

Pondering Mr. Smithers’ comments about instructions on a few pieces, I found my mind going down rabbit trails the next few days. Calling to secure a team of two men from the local college service agency, I also made sure that I had plenty of thick blankets and paper boxes for anything that I chose to take with me. Busying myself with preparations for the meeting on Friday made me feel better. I noticed by Thursday morning, I didn’t feel so sad constantly. I was still mourning, but didn’t think that sudden tears were threatening to flood my cheeks at any time. 

Friday morning as I pulled up to my grandparents’ home, I couldn’t help but smile as all of my childhood memories came rushing back to me. Times spent running in the backyard sprinklers, sitting on the back porch eating watermelon with my grandfather, and helping my grandmother decorate the large home each Christmas. Beautiful memories that I knew I would always hold dear. 

Mr. Smithers greeted me at the front door as I reached the top stair of the front porch. “Wonderful, I am glad there was a close parking space by the curb. This street is usually quite full, even during the day. I have the papers ready to go here in the dining room.” 

We both sat down and he pushed two pens in my direction. There were flags on each page and I had no desire to read each document, so I quickly sifted through and signed each spot. Three packets had been prepared for my signature. Two pertaining to the sale of the home, and the last pile was for the distribution of a few small leftover investment assets, liquidating and closing bank accounts, and selling everything that I didn’t want. I also signed a form which reimbursed Mr. Smithers for his extra time spent on everything involving clearing out the home and hiring packers and movers. 

My hand cramped near the end of the third packet. As I passed the signed pages and pens back to Mr. Smithers, I glanced around the room at all of my grandparents’ belongings. Knocking on the door and hearing conversation, the moving men entered the dining room and introduced themselves. Quickly giving instructions about belongings that I knew I wanted immediately, I asked the two young men to take the china hutch, the two side tables and coffee table that were once in the living room and sideboard from the dining room. I located the china and kitchen dishes that had been carefully packed and labeled and my grandmother’s jewelry, my grandfather’s World War II memorabilia and all of the photo albums, journals and family keepsakes. I found my grandfather’s black trench coat and my grandmother’s furs. Not sure that I wanted either, I knew I wasn’t yet ready to part with them. I placed a star on each box I wanted and then moved a few vases that were still sitting on the sideboard to be wrapped and also placed in my truck. I didn’t have a need for any of the beds, dressers or the dining room table or chairs, but knew I still needed to locate the sheets and towels. My grandmother had the most beautiful pillowcases I had ever seen and I always knew someday that I would want those hand-embroidered pieces of art so that I could continue to treasure them in my own home. 

As I made my way to the back of the large row of labeled boxes, I found the sheets and pillowcases in the very last box on the floor placed next to my grandfather’s chest. An audible gasp left my lips as I remembered the last time that I saw the chest as a child. 

“Never, ever touch that chest. That chest is your grandfather’s and no one is allowed to touch it,” my grandmother declared. 

“But what is in it?” I asked.

“That is none of your business. I have never been allowed to touch it either. Just promise me, your hands will never even grace the hinges. Promise me.” Never seeing my grandmother so serious before, I instantly promised her I wouldn’t touch the chest. I was fascinated by the fleur-de-lis metal adornments and the rope handles. It took everything that was in me to not touch the chest which sat in the basement of their old home. I always wanted to even get a glance of it down at the bottom of the rickety stairs. And then one day, it was gone. I knew not to ask about the chest and then I just forgot that it seemed to be missing from the bottom of the stairs. 

“Ms. Garlow. You should know that one of the things that your grandmother had listed in her final instructions was in regard to the chest. Your grandmother wrote that under no circumstance was I to disburse of the chest on my own. That the chest was for you and it needed to go to your home. That opening it wasn’t an option. You have to take the entire chest, contents and all.” I smirked at the attorney’s final disclosure. That sounded exactly like something my grandmother would request. 

“I will take the chest and I promise not to open it until I get home. I think I am done with putting a star on all the boxes. Those movers have done a great job loading all the furniture. I am going to go outside and make sure that they started loading the boxes safely for transport.” When I went outside, I found only one box that should be moved as it was lighter than all the rest. 

Returning indoors I perused the boxes to make sure that each one with a star had already been taken outside, and pointed to the chest. “Don’t open it. Just put it on the floorboard of the front seat of the truck.”

“Of course ma’am,” the second mover quickly replied. 

Mr. Smithers had also been given strict instructions from my grandmother to tell me about who had purchased the home, once purchase papers had been signed and the final sale was pending. 

Once everything was loaded, I decided to do one final walk through of the home. The amazing home that I loved as a child. Saying a silent prayer for the family that purchased the home, I prayed for the children, that they would enjoy each room as much as I did. I prayed for the parents that would raise their kids in the home the same way my grandparents raised my mom and her siblings. Heading home, the two moving men that I hired followed me in their car. So pleased with their hard work after they had brought all of the furniture and boxes into my home and positioned each where I had requested, I paid the two gentlemen in cash and tipped them well. I remembered what it was like to be a struggling college student. 

I had requested that the chest be put on the coffee table in front of the couch. Sitting down slowly, I steeled myself for what I would find. Slowly, as the chest creaked open, the smell of cedar and lavender wafted out. My grandmother had placed the cedar chips and lavender swags to fight against any musty odors that may have sunk in over the years. Sitting in front of the open chest, I stared in disbelief. 

Apparently, the Purple Heart that had always been rumored to have been awarded to my grandfather, had found its resting place inside of the scarred chest. My grandfather had never spoken of his wartime experiences, and even denied being hurt during the war and subsequently sent home. He had mentioned that so many of his friends had lost their lives, and he was grateful to ever make it home. I remember my mother questioning if he thought he was diminishing the experience of those that served and gave their lives when he was only wounded and had the rest of his life to live. Whatever the reason, he valued the Purple Heart enough to keep it and store it for safety. 

Next to the treasured medal was a picture of my grandmother and grandfather. Oh, how young my grandmother looked. I believed the picture was from when they were dating, and turning it over I received confirmation. A handwritten note from my grandmother read, “Come home to me. I will be waiting for you. You are loved.” Tears poked at the corners of my eyes. 

Underneath, I found my grandfather’s class ring from high school, his class ring from college and the small framed award he had received when he had reached 25 years on the job. I also found my grandfather’s watch and wedding ring which my grandmother must have carefully packed away after his passing. Beneath all of these beautiful items, I found something I never expected. There was a single envelope addressed to my grandmother with her maiden name from my grandfather when he was stationed in Europe during the war. The envelope was never sealed, nor was it torn open. The flap had been neatly tucked inside of the envelope. 

“April 11, 1942

Lovely,

I miss you more each day. Know that I will always love you. I won’t overwhelm you with the details, but I am struggling and concerned that I may never see you again. My friends are dying. More and more every day. I have seen so much killing, so much death. I can’t imagine how I will make it three more months, even three more days. If we are not meant to be married, if I do not return, know that I want you to be happy. Find someone who loves you the way you deserve, someone who will treat you like a queen and give you all the babies you want. But promise me you will be happy. Promise me. I need to know this one thing. I love you. I love you. I love you. Always. 

Love, 

Me”

Tears streaming down my face, I took the envelope from the table. The envelope had never been posted. My grandfather wrote this letter and never sent it to my grandmother. Checking the date on the top of the letter, indeed, he returned just over three months later to the United States. He loved her the moment he met her, when he was drafted and was forced to leave her, all while he served his country, and he loved her the moment he was reunited with her after a thirteen-month tour of duty. He loved her and this letter wasn’t meant for her to see, as he planned on returning home to his soon-to-be bride. It also wasn’t meant for me to see either. Until now. 

That day was the day when I knew that things wouldn’t always be so hard. It wouldn’t always hurt so much to continue each day without my grandparents. I would always miss them, but grief would no longer be so heartbreaking.

Thankful for these treasures, I opened the china hutch which was placed in the new desired location in my dining room. The Purple Heart, the wedding ring and picture, the watch, both class rings and the letter in the envelope were all placed accordingly on the top shelf. A shelf of honor.

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Visit Kelli on her blog: https://kellijgavin.blogspot.com/

D. A. Ratliff: The Casquette

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 Casquette

By D. A. Ratliff

The diary was old. The handbound leather cover worn and cracked and the small brass lock tarnished. Jolene Lamont had found the diary and its tiny key tied to a ribbon in a small old trunk in her grandmother’s attic one day when she was fifteen, rummaging for old clothes for a school play. She rushed to her grandmother with her find.

Her grandmother’s eyes softened as she gazed at the leather tome and motioned for Jolene to sit beside her. In her Cajun lilt, her grandmother explained.

“When I was a little girl, I found this diary and brought it to my mother. The writing is in French, and at the time, I could not read it. The diary records the story of how our family came into existence. Mama said when I learned to read French, I could read it for myself. So, I did and made the same charge to your mother, who was more into science than a silly diary. So, I now charge you to learn French and when you do, the diary is yours.”

Jolene’s fingers traced the faded gold-lettered name painted on the cover. She accepted her grandmother’s challenge and not only took French in high school but also minored in French when she entered Tulane. It was at her college graduation when her grandmother handed her the diary and she had learned the story of Blaise Marceau.

She unlocked the diary, carefully turning the fragile linen paper to her favorite entries.

June 4, 1704

I am Blaise Marceau, and today I begin a new life. A few short months ago, I was an orphan, raised in the convent. When word came from the Lieutenant Governor of the first colony in the Louisiana settlement that he wished for young French women to come to the colony as wives for the soldiers, Sister Marie Josephine insisted that I be one of them. My station in life had been among the aristocracy until my father murdered my mother in a rage of jealousy. Unfounded jealousy but he lost his head regardless, and as an orphan, the convent was my only choice.

I now stand on the dock on Dauphine Island, where I and my fellow travelers await our transport to our new home. My meager belongings are in an old trunk the Sister found for me. Constructed of inexpensive wood with only rope handles to carry it by, the trunk had held a surprise. I found this diary and a note from Sister Marie Josephine inside. Her words stay in my heart. She wished me the happy life I deserved and as I read and write, she asked that I record my experiences so that one day perhaps she would know my fate.

So, for the Sister, I will record my life in this new world.

August 19, 1704

My fellow Casquette Girls, as we became known due to the French word for the small trunks we arrived with, settled in the home of the Lieutenant Governor, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, de Bienville. His housekeeper, Madame Langlois oversees our well-being and she has been teaching us the finer points of being a wife. She is the widowed cousin of Monsieur Le Moyne but a few of the girls think she may be more than a housekeeper. I refuse to speculate on such matters.

She has been teaching us to cook. There are native tribes here that she has learned much from about preparing the native foods. I am finding that I love the exotic food we are learning about here. As I can read, I am helping the girls who cannot learn. Madam Langlois is also teaching us to sew, as well. I had been learning embroidery from my mother before she died, not mending, and I find sewing instructions to be upsetting as I remember my mother’s kindness. However, if I am to marry a French soldier, I will need to know how to mend. The Sister told me I should learn everything that I could, and I will honor her. 

September 02, 1704

Music and dance lessons have begun in earnest, for Monsieur Le Moyne is holding a dinner party for some of his officers. His home is near Fort Louis de la Mobile and there are often soldiers visiting. The Monsieur forbids us to meet them, but we often hide on the second-floor balcony to watch them arrive. They are most handsome in their uniforms, but one of the girls, Giselle tells us that most of them are older and the highest bidder will take what he wants. Madam Langlois shushed her and told her that no such thing will occur. That the Monsieur will protect us and not give or sell us to anyone as our needs are also important. Giselle insists she is correct and many of us are now frightened.

October 19, 1704

The night of the dinner party has arrived. I am excited. The Monsieur had gowns made for each of us to wear. Mine is a soft green brocade and I have new slippers. I have not had a new gown for several years.

Monsieur Le Moyne allowed us to have dinner in the dining hall but at a separate table from the guests. As we helped prepare the dinner, we were happy to hear the approval of the soldiers. After dinner, we retired to the grand parlor. We sat in chairs against one wall waiting for a dance request.

As the music began, Monsieur Le Moyne invited his guests to ask his wards to dance. I was shaking, afraid no soldier would choose me but more afraid my dancing would not be acceptable. I was not extremely graceful. It was no surprise that the soldiers chose the lovely Giselle and some of the other girls as soon as the harpsichord and violin began to play. However, I was shocked when one of the younger soldiers walked directly toward me and held out his hand.

His name is Lieutenant Antoine Desper, and by the end of the evening, I was in love.

December 24, 1704

Monsieur Le Moyne was extremely strict on the manner in which the soldiers could court us. They could call twice per week, one on a mid-weeknight and for the Sunday mid-day meal. Since the dinner dance, Lieutenant Desper had not failed to call. Madame Langlois was present for all the visits and she forbade touching, not even holding hands.

As tonight is the eve of Noel, the Monsieur invited the officers to attend the burning of the yule log. We prepared a feast and it was this night that Lieutenant Desper announced he was going to ask Monsieur Le Moyne for my hand in marriage.

January 17, 1705

The morning of my marriage has arrived. I am nervous as I am about to become a wife. Giselle and the others have filled my head with what my wifely responsibilities will involve. I am frightened but prepared. My heart fills with love, and I trust Lieutenant Desper will be kind.

~ooOoo~

A staff member roused Jolene from her reading. The last stock delivery had arrived and as she waited for the driver to bring in the cases, her thoughts drifted to Blaise. Each time she read the story, the emotion it stirred surprised her. But no more than on this day when she was embarking on a new adventure of her own. Love had found her as well and now, so much of her life was similar to the life Blaise experienced. With a couple of her employees putting the stock away, she returned to the diary.

~ooOoo~

November 29, 1705

A joyous day for my beloved Antoine and me as our son, Phillipe Jean-Baptiste Desper was born. He is healthy and we are happy. Madam Langlois attended me, and Monsieur Le Moyne promoted my beloved to Captain on that day.

On the day of my son’s birth, I received my first letter from Sister Marie Josephine. I had written many to her, always including copies of my daily diary entries but had not heard from her. The joy in my heart only grew as I read her words of happiness for my safe journey and good life.

~ooOoo~

Jolene skipped the entries about the growing years of Phillipe and the arrival of his sister, Marie Josephine. They were wonderful years for the Desper family. Antoine continuing to rise in importance within the military and remained in loyal service of Monsieur Le Moyne de Bienville. On this day, she especially wanted to reread the years when the city she loved had come into existence.

~ooOoo~

 May 9, 1718

I have never seen Antoine so excited. Monsieur Le Moyne is once again governor of French Louisiana and has founded a new city on the crescent of a mighty river. It will be a while before we move there, but the Monsieur has told Antoine that he will be among the highest officials of the city’s government.

October 10, 1719

Flooding of the crescent land along the river has slowed the progress of building the new capital city but not the enthusiasm for the change in our life. There has been talk of leaving the capital in Biloxi, but with the shifting sands making the area unstable, the Monsieur will not have that. He vows to build the new capital, which he will call La Nouvelle-Orléans” in honor of Philippe II, Duke of Orléans. Antoine will be traveling there a great deal to oversee the city’s construction and that of the port. Phillipe begged to travel with his father, and I have reluctantly agreed. Marie Josephine and I will leave our quarters at the Fort and stay with Madam Langlois while they are gone.

November 02, 1721

We arrive in La Nouvelle-Orléans to start our new life. Antoine secured a home for us in the new Vieux Carré. Marie Josephine has grown into a lovely young woman and many suitors have already called. Her papa, however, is not happy at the attention. Phillip is now seventeen and will soon join his father in the military. Giselle’s husband died in an accident on the docks, and we invited her and her two small children to live with us. With Antoine so busy and Phillip about to become a man, I enjoyed having her with Marie and me.

June 30, 1736

Relations with the Chickasaw tribe deteriorated, and Monsieur Le Moyne de Bienville returned from France to become Governor once more. He appointed Antoine as his Lieutenant Governor and we moved to a larger home in the Vieux Carré. Then near tragedy struck when our Phillip suffered a severe injury in a skirmish with the Chickasaw.

Once again, Monsieur Le Moyne was my savior. For this same year, a French sailor and shipbuilder, Jean Louis had left an endowment for the construction of a charity hospital in La Nouvelle-Orléans. The Monsieur had personally overseen the hospital construction and it was there the doctors were able to save his life.

Our family was growing. Antoine, Marie, and I now lived with Giselle and her children and our son and his wife, Victoria, and a granddaughter, Honoré.

 December 24, 1742

This is a bittersweet Noel for us. Monsieur Le Moyne is returning to France. I fear this is the last we will see of a man who has meant so much to my family. My only consolation is that Madam Langlois will remain. She has not been well and wishes to stay in the city she has also grown to love.

 Marie Josephine is now married to a cotton and wheat broker and has two young children, Etienne, and Ronin. Giselle’s children are also married but will be here tonight for the burning of the Yule log. Monsieur’s departure has caused Antione to consider leaving the military and entering into a business.

I do not know what the new year brings, but I am thankful my family is here.

 July 17, 1743

Antoine is excited, more so than I have ever seen him. Today, he and Phillipe are opening a tavern in Vieux Carré for the growing tradesmen. Phillip’s injures left him unable to continue as a soldier and now with his father retiring, they have started a business. Giselle and I will cook for them. Madame Langlois’s cooking lessons of years ago are serving us well.

I received word only a few days ago that Sister Marie Josephine was near death and I feel in my heart that she is no longer with us. Many days have passed since the Casquette Girls left the convent in Paris but most of the girls married well and have had a good life.

As we embark on our new journey in this new world, I think back to the night when the harpsichord was playing, and Antoine asked me to dance. I loved him with all my heart that night and I love him still.

~ooOoo~

Jolene sat, elbows on the polished wood bar and thought about the night she met Robert. He had asked her to dance and she had been in love from the start. A shudder of warmth passed through her as she remembered the shock, then joy on his face when she proposed they open this place in the Vieux Carré, better known now as the French Quarter.

Today was her day to be joyful. She walked behind the bar and stood before the niche that held Blaise’s casquette. Tucking the diary inside the trunk next to the ribbon-bound letters from Sister Marie Josephine, now aged and faded, she closed the lid.

Robert joined her. “Ready, baby?”

A grin as large as she could muster crossed her face. “Yes, I am.”

Jolene flipped the light switch and downlights cast a glow on the trunk and illuminated the sign above.

The Casquette Tavern was open for business.

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Author’s Note:

This story is a work of fiction and I took some liberties in the telling of this story. However, Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville is an actual historical figure and considered the “Father of New Orleans.” He was the first person to find the crescent-shaped bend in the Mississippi River and identify it as an excellent port.

Also, concerned about the fraternization of his soldiers with the local native population, de Bienville called for French girls to immigrate to the Louisiana Territory to serve as brides for the soldiers and settlers. He recruited orphans from convents in France as pure and proper wives. The girls carried their belongings in small trunks called casquettes and they became known as the Casquette Girls. While not proven, the cooking lessons given by Madam Langlois using local foods exotic to France possibly gave rise to Creole cuisine.

Madame Langlois, the Charity Hospital grant from shipbuilder Jean Louis, the Chickasaw War, and the building of Vieux Carré, now known as the French Quarter, are real people, events, and places. A monument stands in New Orleans to recognize de Bienville as the founder of the city.

Resources:

https://www.southalabama.edu/org/archaeology/colonists.html

https://www.al.com/living/2015/09/when_french_orphans_called_cas.html

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Please visit D. A. Ratliff at https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Kenneth Lawson: The Family Trunk

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 Family Trunk

By Kenneth Lawson

The old trunk had been sitting in the closet for decades. 

He knew about the box in the vaguest terms, but only that it had existed, and he had even vaguer memories of seeing it. He’d heard it talked about by older relatives, all who were gone now.

He dragged it out onto the floor. He couldn’t make out any of the writing on the small label tacked to the front of it just under the lock. He lifted it to the nearest table. It was heavy. He wasn’t sure if the weight was because of the trunk itself, or what was in it. Although he suspected most of the weight was the trunk, which appeared constructed of solid wood. 

Shining a proper light on the label, he was barely able to make out a name and date. The name seemed to be that of his grandfather, Robert Brown Strong. The date looked to be early 1900s, around the turn of the century. He had vague memories of the trunk. He’d seen it when he was much younger, as a small child, but didn’t remember anything about it.

Locked—he assumed there had to be a key somewhere. He rummaged through the drawers of his grandfather’s desk and found an old set of small keys. He’d never seen them before, but he’d never gone through the old desk that thoroughly.

To his surprise, one of the keys fit. After carefully jiggling the key, the lock finally opened. The cast-iron hinges squeaked in rebellion, but after much resistance, he lifted the lid.

The light from the lamp off to his side cast a shadow over the insides, making it seem darker than it was. He shifted the light, which gave him a clear view of the inside of the small trunk. The amount of dust inside a sealed box was surprising. He sneezed and coughed as the dust stirred from its resting place of decades. Finely he unearthed several small objects. One was a small notebook, and the other was a pocket watch and various small pieces of jewelry. Now covered in dust and lint and general grossness, he couldn’t tell what they were.

Picking each piece out carefully, he laid them on the desk, in the order that he’d found them. When the box was empty of everything save the dust that didn’t float up into his face and cover his hands, he placed the trunk over on the side table.

He sat down and looked over the collection, removing dust as he fingered each item. He dared not be too aggressive in removing the dust for fear of what too much rubbing or handling could do to the fragile pieces. 

One of the pocket watches seemed familiar. He had hazy memories of the trunk opened by big hairy hands. He seemed to be eye level with it, which meant he’d been pretty small. Something else was playing up in his mind, but he couldn’t quite see it. The memory was a feeling or a shadow of some kind. He tried to force it to his mind’s eye, but it wouldn’t come. 

Setting the watch down, he picked up the ring. It too carried memories. Those memories were brighter. Then it occurred to him. The brightness he remembered was the sun. A bright summer day and a pretty hand wearing the ring was holding his smaller hand. He remembered more as the memories came in flashes. His grandfather, standing at a station of some kind, holding the pocket watch in his hand, the chain dangling between it and his vest. 

Shaking his head, he laid down the jewelry and stood up. Memories that he didn’t want to remember kept rushing back. Pacing back and forth in his grandfather’s old office, he knew what was next.

He closed his eyes, and for the briefest of seconds, the eyes of his mind flashed the shadow of the train as his mother fell into the track. Seconds later, he remembered landing on the wooden deck next to the track. All they were able to find was his grandfather’s pocket watch, which had broken from the chain as it flew out of his pocket when he jumped to save her. His mother fell under the train, and they only found her hand with the ring on it at the scene. 

Pushing the images from his mind, he opened his eyes. This was the twenty-fifth year that they had held a memorial service. And each time it tore him up when he had to speak. He cleared his throat and tucked the watch and ring in his coat pocket. His family was waiting in the parlor for the service to begin, and he knew he wasn’t going to give the speech he rehearsed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in a moment of silence in remembrance of my grandfather, Robert Brown Strong, and my mother, Mary Jeanne Strong. Then I will tell you about the family trunk.”

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

Caroline Giammanco: The Hope Chest

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 Hope Chest

By Caroline Giammanco

A lone watchman sits, leaning back against the stone wall of the mountain tower, as he wearily gazes across the desolate valley below. The once verdant fields are mere dreams now. The rolling thunder in the distance is no promise of replenishing rain, but instead is the ever-present rumble of artillery. The land, and its people, are all but ruined.

The world wasn’t always like this. I remember my grandfather’s stories.

Closing his eyes, he could smell the delicate aroma of his mother’s cooking wafting, mixing with the earthy smell of the wood fire as rain poured down outside their modest home. Sitting at the foot of his grandfather, wise and respected, a man of honor and integrity in their village, young Milo gazed at the old man in complete admiration. The soft fur of the bear rug upon which he sat mingled with memories as he took a passage back in time. His grandfather sat in the well-worn rocking chair, taking puffs from his pipe as he amused the children with tales of far away places and of a time when their land was full of peace and plenty.

“Tell us again about the ancient war, Grandfather.”

“Oh, my child, you have heard that story so many times. Surely you are tired of it by now.”

A chorus of young voices, pleading for him to tell the story, won the old man over—as everyone in the house knew they would. Milo’s parents shared a wink across the kitchen as they prepared the last of the evening meal. They knew their beloved patriarch would not miss an opportunity to tell one of his favorite tales. That’s all it was, they knew. These stories were nothing but lore that had passed from generation to generation. There was no more truth to them than the stories of imps and fairies. How could there be? It did keep the children occupied, however, and it gave the old man a chance to bask in their attention.

“Well, it was a long time ago, back when we didn’t have the modern conveniences that we do now. We were still a prosperous people, though. For centuries, our people farmed this valley. Life was wonderful, and everyone had more food than they could eat. Our cattle and goats were fat and sleek. No one saw the trouble that was coming. Our people were content, and sometimes when we become content we lose our watchfulness. Fat and satisfied, we were blinded to the evil approaching.”

The children huddled together. A gentle shudder passed among them. Lex, Milo’s older brother, wrapped a blanket around Milo and gave him a reassuring hug.

“It was the end of the harvest season, and oh, what a harvest it had been. The trees hung heavy with fruit that fall, and the silos overflowed with grain. Mounds of vegetables sat in everyone’s cellars, and the women were busy preserving as much food as they could from daybreak to sundown. The men labored in the fields to bring in the last of the abundance.”

“What did the children do, Grandpa?” Shia, Milo’s little sister, was smart for her age. At three, she was as involved as the older children in listening to the tales.

“The children?” Grandfather stopped to shake out his pipe and refill it with tobacco.

Impatiently, his audience nudged each other, eager for the story to continue.

“Yes, Grandpa, the children,” Shia said in an effort to prod him.

“The children, like children will do, played and made up games.”

“What kind of games?”

“Those with sticks and balls and races—the types of games I’m sure you all enjoy once you are done with your chores and your studies.”

“Races are my favorite.” Milo beamed. He was known as the fastest boy in the village.

“You are quick, my little one, and Shia is quick in her own way, aren’t you, dear?” His wrinkled hand patted her on her head. “Shia’s curiosity and Milo’s speed remind me of the heroes of this story.”

Milo and Shia blushed from the comparison.

“Before we can talk about heroes, however, we must talk of the terrible, terrible things that happened.” 

The faces of the children fell. They knew this story. 

“The marauders swept down from the north in a fury. Their horses were fast and their hearts were cold. They killed and destroyed our people and our land. We fought back, however, and the war raged for many, many years. Starvation raged, and many of our people died from illness. Fierce battles took a toll on them as well.”

Shia and her cousin, Ana, clasped hands and held each other. A tear trickled down Ana’s sweet face.

“The war went on for years, and even our wisest and bravest leaders didn’t know how to overcome our enemies.”

“Were you alive then? Did you see this yourself?” Pater, Ana’s older brother, was always a skeptic.

“No, son, I was not alive then. My great-great-great-grandfather wasn’t alive when this happened. This story has been handed down for centuries, but it is true.”

“What happened? How did our people live?” Milo brought everyone’s attention back to the moment.

“We had all but given up. Our people were ready to surrender and be massacred. But then, two of the children saved us.”

This, of course, caused the children to sit up straighter and to open their eyes wide.

“There was a boy.” Grandfather nodded at Milo. “And a girl.” He glanced at Shia. “They were clever young children. Always curious, even in the midst of war, they played their favorite games. One was hide-and-seek.”

“We play hide-and-seek all the time!” The children wiggled with excitement that they carried on an ancient tradition of their people.

“Yes, you do. Now one day these two children, Oli, the boy, and Ara, the girl, went far beyond the boundaries of the village. They ran deep into the forest where they found a cave. This was no ordinary cave. It was in the base of the Holy Mountain.”

Looks of awe swept across the children.

“Down, down, down they climbed into the cave. They were so amazed that they forgot to hide from one another. The wind gently whistled through the cave, and they were drawn to a glowing room. In the center of this room—it was no bigger than this house,” Grandfather motioned his hands in the air, “was a chest. A beautiful wooden chest with sturdy metal hinges.”

“And on the top of the chest there were words, weren’t there Grandpa?” Shia knew. She knew the importance of the words.

“Yes, my child. The words said, ‘He who possesses this can never lose. Carry this into any battle you are facing, and you will surely never fail.’ Oli and Ara carefully lifted the trunk by the handles and carried it to their village.”

The moon had risen by this time, and the light from the fire flickered on Grandfather’s face. 

“As they approached their village, they saw terrible carnage. Homes were on fire, and the marauders were killing families as the darkness began to fall.”

A whimper escaped Ana’s lips.

“Ara and Oli were afraid, but they were brave—braver than most grown men who have faced battle many times. They knew how to return to their village unseen. Their hours of playing hide-and-seek had taught them nooks and crannies that most adults walked past unnoticed.”

The screech of an owl outside caused everyone in the room to jump. Even Grandfather jerked ever-so-slightly. Mother and Father had stopped their activities in the kitchen and were also listening. The story was so powerful that they couldn’t deny it their attention.

“Tell us, Grandpa. What happens to little Ara and Oli?”

“It was dangerous, and they tired from the weight of the trunk. Several times they dodged flaming arrows and once Oli was caught in the tangle of a fence. Death surrounded them everywhere. Finally, exhausted, they gently knocked on the back door of their cabin. Their mother ushered them inside, shocked by the trunk they dragged into the house.”

“They had to be so tired and scared by then.” Little Shia had concern in her voice.

“The children collapsed onto the floor as their parents read the message on the top of the trunk. Their mother called for the oldest son, Link, to find the king, which was no easy task given the battle raging throughout the valley. Find him, he did, and the leaders gathered around the trunk, eager to find what magic it held that would allow them to win any battle.”

By now, Milo’s mother and father knelt on the floor alongside the children.

“The wise men of the community opened the latches on the trunk as a bright light radiated through the crack in the lid. Carefully, oh so carefully, they lifted the lid off the chest as blinding light rushed out of the trunk and shot in all directions. Inside, still glowing, was a golden plate with one word inscribed upon it. ‘Hope’ was all it said. Hope was all our people needed.”

The cold wind across the desolate valley brought Milo out of his reverie. He had volunteered to be the watchman for what was regarded as a foolhardy mission. 

“You’re stupid to believe the rubbish of fairy tales, Milo. Be realistic and flee with the rest of us,” he was told as the rest of the village scrambled to escape to the rugged mountains of Ryon.

Milo and Lex would not give up, however. They could not accept surrender, even if their plan may be no more than a misplaced homage to their grandfather’s long-ago stories. Lex had ridden his horse, through dangerous enemy territory, to the base of the Holy Mountain. Now Milo waited as the watchman to see if it had been in vain.

As the ashen sun set, Milo saw the nearly imperceptible movement of his brother’s large bay horse across the valley. A distinct amber hue, one bright enough to be seen even at this distance, radiated around the horse and his rider.

When all seemed lost, they had found hope.

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Lynn Miclea: Good Friends

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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Good Friends

by Lynn Miclea

Brooke sat at his bedside holding his cool, frail hand. After months of a rapidly moving cancer ravaging his body, he was losing his fight. She knew he didn’t have much time left.

“Matt,” she said softly. “I’m here for you. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” She wiped a tear away. “And I need to tell you something before you go.” She cleared her throat. “I know we’ve been friends for a long time. Good friends.” She paused and blew her nose. “I need to let you know that I am in love with you. I fell in love with you a while back. For a long time now, I’ve wished we could be more than friends.”

She lifted his hand to her lips and gently kissed it. “I wish I had the courage to have told you sooner, but I was afraid to ruin our friendship and possibly lose you as a friend. I loved our friendship and couldn’t bear to lose that.” She held his hand against her cheek. “And now saying good-bye to you is so painful. I’ve always dreamed of what might have been between us. I wish I had spoken up long ago. But I’m so glad you’ve been my friend.” A sob broke from her and she stopped speaking for a few minutes.

When she started talking again, her voice was barely above a whisper. “Matt, just know that I love you with all my heart. I can’t let you go without you knowing that.” She leaned forward and gently kissed his soft lips.

Matt turned his head and gazed at her. He blinked a few times, and his lips curled up into a small smile. He squeezed her hand. Then his eyes fluttered, he inhaled, and he breathed out his last breath.

Brooke sobbed the whole way home. She was glad she finally told him how she felt. She wished it could have been different, but her conscience was clear. He at least knew she loved him.

One month later, as gray clouds filled the sky and a light rain seemed never ending, her doorbell rang. A young man in a uniform had a large delivery for her. She signed the papers and brought in the large box. What was this?

Unwrapping it, she found a wooden trunk. A letter from an attorney was taped to the top of it explaining that as part of Matt’s will, he had given her this trunk. Her eyes stung with tears as she slowly lifted the cover. The only thing in it was an envelope at the bottom. Her hands trembling, she reached in and pulled out the envelope. She smelled it, and the familiar scent of him washed over her. She held the envelope to her lips for a full minute before opening it. Inside was a letter, dated three months earlier, and she instantly recognized his scrawl.

My Dearest Brooke,

Now that I have cancer and it seems to be moving rapidly and winning, I know I will be dying soon. I’m sorry to leave you, but before I go, I have a confession to make.

I have fallen in love with you. I wanted to tell you so many times and I came close a few times. But I chickened out, as I was afraid you did not feel the same way. And I could not risk losing our friendship, as it meant so much to me.

But you deserve to know the truth. I love you, Brooke. I have wanted to propose to you many times, but I didn’t. You always talked about wishing you could find the right guy, and I wanted so many times to tell you — here I am. But I was too scared to say it out loud. But now I can tell you — I love you and I wanted to marry you.

As my last gift to you, I want to make sure you know that I love and cherish you. And this chest is filled with all my love and dreams and best wishes for you. There is not a chest large enough to hold all of it, but this will have to do.

I love you, Brooke, more than you could ever know. My heart is always full when you’re near me, and I long for you any time we’re apart. You have been the best part of my life.

Please have a good life. And I hope you finally find the guy of your dreams. I just wish it could have been me.

Love Always,

Matt

Brooke crumpled to the floor, sobs wracking her body. She held the letter to her heart. “Matt,” she whispered, choked with tears. “I love you too.” Her sobs filled the room until she was too exhausted to cry.

She slowly sat up and inhaled the air from the chest. “Thank you, Matt. You will always be the one for me.”

————————–

Copyright © 2019 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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Stephen Wylder: THE CHEST OF HOPE AND DREAD

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 CHEST OF HOPE AND DREAD

By Stephen Wylder

Monday, May 11, 1970

Parklawn Married Student Apartments, Iowa City

“Thomas, stay in bed with me. I know you have had one of your dreams.”

“Helena,” I lied, “it wasn’t a dream. I have an eight-thirty class.”

“There will be no need to go to class,” she said. “President Boyd said you may simply take the grade you had before the troubles. Do not go to Chicago.”

She was right about the class. When riots had virtually shut down the university after four students were shot to death at Kent State University in Ohio, there had been a boycott of classes. University president Willard Boyd had officially refused to close the university, but he had allowed students several options if they did not wish to stay for finals. The protests had begun nationwide when President Richard Nixon had announced an invasion of neutral Cambodia. But when the Ohio National Guard had fired live ammunition into a crowd, killing four students, the Iowa campus erupted in violence. For all intents and purposes, the campus was shut down.

And, she was right about the dream. She and I were both apprentices in the Metaphysicians’ Guild, an organization that goes back to the time when philosophers and sorcerers were one and the same. I’m what the Guild calls a receiver—someone who can receive messages through the spirit world, but can’t “do” magic, as Helena can. This message had been from Gregory Alverdy, an instructor at Northeastern Illinois State College in Chicago, but also a master metaphysician. I must have said something in my sleep about going to Chicago. I hoped I hadn’t said that I had to go alone.

I had met Helena MacKechnie nearly two years before when I was a youth reporter for the Indianapolis Post, and she was running from a former lover. And while her father was a Scottish-American diplomat with no magical abilities to my knowledge, her mother had been a Zoroastrian from Lahore, British India, and a descendant of Persian Magi. We fell in love amid the chaos of the Yippies’ “Festival of Life” during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Gregory had been best man at our wedding, and his wife, Linnea Thorvaldsen, was matron of honor. Linnea, who was also a master in the Metaphysicians’ Guild, was usually the one to send me dreams. Why had this dream come from Gregory? And was it really from him? There were masters who could fool even other masters with their disguises.

I sat up on the edge of the bed. “Thomas,” she said, “please stay with me. There is evil abroad.“

She hadn’t acted this way since I first met her when there was evil abroad. I turned, looking into her mahogany-brown eyes, when a loud bang in the hallway startled us both. It sounded like someone had dropped something right outside our door. I put on a robe and walked to the metal door, keeping the chain bolt on until I could see what if anything was outside. It was an old-fashioned wooden chest, though it didn’t appear to be old. It was unpainted and looked to be of pine.

Helena, who had put a robe over her black nightgown, stood behind me and gasped. “It is the Chest of Hope and Dread,” she said.

I looked at her, dumbfounded.

“What is inside will offer something we dearly hope for, but it will require great personal cost to achieve. And it could be a false promise, even when one has made the sacrifice. The chest itself is not evil. You may bring it inside.”

After I determined that I could lift the chest, I carried it into the living room and set it in front of the sofa. After a brief pause, I unlatched the hasp and opened it. I was looking at a photocopy of a Des Moines Register article by Clark Mollenhoff. The headline was a shock: “VANCE, LE DUC THO SIGN PEACE PACT.” The subhead read “Coalition Government to rule until September Elections.”

But there was another shock in the first paragraph: “PARIS, France—Special Envoy Cyrus Vance announced today that South Vietnamese envoy Tran Van Lam, North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho and Viet Cong representative Nguyen Chi Thanh had reached an agreement to form a coalition government until a general election, supervised by the United Nations, in September. President Hubert H. Humphrey declared it “a great achievement for world peace.” It was dated April 10, 1968.

“It is another stream of history, Thomas,” she said, “or a clever forgery. In that stream, if it is true, Humphrey has become president and has put an end to this terrible war. But there will be a dilemma.”

Underneath the first photocopy was another, with the headline, “JOHNSON DEAD IN FREAK ACCIDENT. HUMPHREY SWORN IN.” It was datelined ELKHART, Ind., Apr. 14 AP—President Lyndon B. Johnson, while surveying the damage to this northern Indiana city from Sunday’s deadly tornadoes, died when he fell while walking over a pile of debris. The president was attempting to reach an American flag hanging from a propped-up pole in the ruins of a house, when he slipped and fell, his chest hitting the corner of a concrete block. Johnson, who has had heart problems since 1955, suffered a massive heart attack as a result of the impact…”

“Johnson came to Elkhart after the Palm Sunday Tornadoes in 1965,” I said, “but of course he didn’t die.”

“If peace negotiations ended the war, in April 1968,” she said, “there would have been no Festival of Life in Chicago. You would never have met me.”

I saw a tear fall down her cheek.

“Sometimes,” she said, “we must sacrifice true love for a greater good. Even though this involves the premature death of President Johnson, such a peace would save thousands of American and Vietnamese lives. Unless we can prove this is a forgery, you must take the train to Chicago and see Gregory.

“Did you see President Johnson when he visited Elkhart?”

“Yes,” I said. “I skipped school and rode my bike down to Dunlap—that’s the name of the area the tornado hit—so I could see the president.”

“So, Gregory would send your soul back there to meld with your younger soul. And then with some kind of enhancement, you would relive the event and somehow change what happened. That seems very unlikely, Thomas. If this is the true Chest, every change from today’s reality will be explained. We shall have to do some research today. But first, let us have breakfast and bless each other.”

After our breakfast of tea and English muffins, we returned to the bedroom and made love, perhaps for the last time. And then we dressed and set off in her white Volkswagen Beetle to the university library, where we parked not far from the burnt-out ruins of the Old Armory Temporary, a barracks-like building that had been “temporary” for over twenty years. Nobody knew whether it had been torched by protestors or had just succumbed to faulty wiring.

We walked up the steps to the library and began searching the card catalogs and encyclopedias. Around noon we broke for lunch to have a sandwich in the Gold Feather Room of the student union, just two blocks away. Then it was back to research. At three o’clock we left the library and drove to the Rock Island Lines station.

The railroad was trying to get rid of its last trains through Iowa City. The ominous “Notice of Proposed Discontinuance of Service” was posted on the doors of the red-brick depot. I bought a one-way ticket to Chicago after learning that Train No. 10 was half an hour late. Helena kissed me and said she needed to return to the library.

“There was something blocking us back at the library—something so powerful that I could feel it,” she said. ”Whatever it was, and it must have come from a third-degree master, the block on my mind is gone. Our adversary now believes he has won. I have at least forty-five minutes before the train arrives. I do not believe the story is a real stream of history, but I must be sure.”

After thirty minutes, I became worried. She seemed to have known what she was looking for. As No. 10’s maroon engines rumbled across Clinton Street, I stood on the platform, looking down the street for the sight of Helena’s car. After the train stopped and the conductor opened the vestibule door for detraining passengers, I heard a faint voice calling my name. I turned, and there was Helena, running toward me, a block away, her long jet-black hair in disarray.

“All aboard,” said the conductor. I stepped aside and let the other passengers board. Helena was still running. “This train won’t wait,” said the conductor.

“It’s a fake!” yelled Helena as the conductor was trying to get me to board. It was one of the few times I’d heard her use a contraction. The conductor closed up the coach door as the engineer gave two short blasts on the horn. I ran toward her. Helena, out of breath and drenched in sweat, threw herself into my arms just as the train was leaving. After her breathing had returned to normal, she said, “Nguyen Chi Thanh died in 1967. And there was nothing in the articles to explain why he was the Viet Cong representative.”

“What happened to your car?” I asked.

“Vandalized. Whoever delivered that chest was desperate to send your soul back into the past. He did not count on my running the eight blocks to the station. I should not be at all surprised if you were to meet with a hit-and-run accident back in 1965.”

We walked back to the library, where Helena used a payphone to call police, the insurance company, and the towing service. As soon as the car was on its way to You Smash ‘Em, I Fix ‘Em, we took the Manville Heights bus to our apartment. The chest, no longer one of hope and dread, was still there in the living room.

“You need a place to put your train timetables,” she said. “But first, let us celebrate that we are still together.”

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Marian Wood: A Ghost Sighting and a Wooden Box

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A Ghost Sighting and a Wooden Box

By Marian Wood

A ghost and Lisa

Do you like to reminisce? Reflect on life gone by and try and convince yourself that you are not really getting old, you are just wiser, with more grey hair and wrinkles. Sitting here, with my hands around my warm mug, drinking tea, I’m alone, thinking about my home and family. I feel a sense of contentment. Things were right in my world or so I thought.

My best friend, Lisa, has been having health problems. Diagnosed as depressed with a referral to the mental health team, she has joined a waiting list. She will phone me daily, crying, distressed over something she believes to have seen in her home. Husband Steve refuses to move, he believes that she is mentally ill. In his words, “ghostly apparitions, what a load of rubbish.”

I am not sure whether a ghost can exist, there is no evidence against them, but why would Lisa be seeing them? Finishing my drink, my mobile rings, Lisa’s usual phone call. Answering the phone, I feel a sinking feeling. I can hear her crying but cannot hear what she is saying. I knew I needed to see her, I could not ignore this, she sounded scared. I looked around me wondering whether I should pick up my daughter’s rounders bat on the way out.

Stressful journey

Surely nothing was happening to her, I put my mug in the kitchen sink, and grabbed my coat and keys. Hesitating, I now collected the rounders bat, better safe than sorry.

Driving through the Friday traffic, I was no longer relaxed. This was the most unwell Lisa had ever been. Thinking the worst now, I slammed on my brakes at a red light. Telling myself to concentrate on my driving, I now tried to force thoughts of Lisa to the back of my mind.

Fifteen minutes later I swung my car into her drive. Digging in the flower bed, I found the spare door key and let myself in.

“Lisa.” No answer. Starting to search for her, I started to feel sick. What if someone had broken in and taken her?

Noticing that the old toy box was open, I dismissed it, admiring the familiar scribble on the front. I am not sure what Lisa kept in it, but it’s not toys. As I went upstairs, I felt an uneasy feeling; something wasn’t right, but I couldn’t sense what it was. The atmosphere was not welcoming. This was usually a cheerful home; right now it felt as if something bad was about to happen.

The ghost man with the axe

Lisa and Steve moved in here just a year ago. I realised now that her issues started just afterwards. Creeping into the bedroom, I could hear a faint sobbing. Getting down on hands and knees I looked under the bed. There she was, hiding, she looked terrified. I crawled under next to her.

“What’s happening?”

“Shhhh, it will hear you.”

Whispering, I asked, “What will?”

“The ghost man with the axe.”

“What man? I didn’t see him.”

“He came out of the toy box; I ran up here and phoned you.”

Looking at her, I could see that she really thought she had seen a man. The house did not feel right and I was ready to believe her.

The wooden toy box

“Lisa, where did the toy box come from?”

“It was here when we moved in. Steve refuses to throw it out, but I know it’s dangerous.”

“How do you mean, dangerous?”

“Laura, I’ve seen an old lady with a chihuahua, an old man with a long beard, and the man and the axe. He is the worst and I know he wants to kill me.”

“Right, we need to lose that box, you and me, we could burn it.”

“I’ve thought of that. When I tried to drag it outside, I got stopped by the dog. It’s a ghost but it can bite, and it hurt. Steve won’t believe me, he just thinks I’m mad. Laura you need to believe me, I’m living a nightmare.”

“Okay, how do we get out of this bedroom?”

“I’m not sure, we are stuck.”

“Right, I’m texting Phil. I think they are hiding from Steve; there is a clever game going on here.”

A rescue

It was twenty minutes later that Phil arrived, dubious about my story. However, he also sensed something was wrong here. Seeing his boots from under the bed, my heart leapt.

“Phil, is all okay out there?”

“Yes, come on out. Lisa, stand between us, you can come home with us.”

Pleased that he was being so calm and understanding, I felt a surge of relief. Leaving the bedroom, we all kept close behind each other as if we were doing the Locomotion. As we got to the stairs, Lisa screamed. I grabbed her hand. It was now that I saw him; I had never seen a ghost before and neither had Phil. The three of us stood stunned, looking at the man with an axe. We could see straight through him, but he was definitely there.

Shaking, I said, “Okay, what now?”

Calmly, Phil said, “We keep walking.” He went to walk forward but now got flung backwards by the ghost.

“What do you want?” Phil asked.

“I want you out. I’ve told the lady, get out.”

“Why should they leave here, it’s their home?” Phil was being brave, but I could see he was scared.

“It’s our home, get out,” the man boomed.

“Phil, let’s go, we need to research this house and the toy box.”

“Toy box?”

“I will explain in the car.”

“We are going now,” I said to the ghost man still swinging his axe.

Now dragging Lisa forwards, we needed to leave and somehow get Steve to come and stay with us. He needed to believe this house was bad, or its ghostly inhabitants were bad. They couldn’t all live here safely.

Steve

Three hours later Steve arrived. Walking in, he was frustrated,

“What is this nonsense about the toy box?”

Phil stood up; he had been busy on the internet.

“Steve, you need to see this. Laura, how about you and Lisa get some dinner on.”

Knowing that he must have read something bad, I put my arm around Lisa and guided her to the kitchen.

“Spaghetti Bolognese? Come on.” Thankfully, she followed without questioning me. Putting dinner together, I tried to stay cheerful. My parents had collected all the children and brought them back to ours. They were happily playing and excited about spending the night together.

It was during dinner that Phil told us what he had found. We all listened, stunned, and Steve was apologetic to Lisa. Phil had even phoned the Estate agent and found that the previous owners had been desperate to sell and had asked for it to be sold for whatever the next owner could afford. Hence Steve and Lisa had believed that they had gotten a good deal. They had then left the toy box and its inhabitants behind.

“They probably got bitten by the Chihuahua,” Lisa said miserably.

“Chihuahua?”

“Lisa was bitten by the dog trying to drag the box outside to burn it,” I said.

“Heck, sorry, and I didn’t believe you.” Steve reached for her hand across the table.

“I have researched the box; its inhabitants are reported to have had a death pact. We do not know how the box got in the house. I can only assume that the previous owners bought it, not aware of what it enclosed, but the scribble on the front is not scribble.”

“Not scribble?” I was curious. “So what does it say?”

The ghost mystery solved

“It’s a warning and you are lucky that the dog bit you. It’s ancient. The box dates back decades, but in English the writing says that anyone who destroys the box and its inhabitants will face a gruesome death. So, you have gotten off lightly, bitten by a ghost dog and scared out of your wits, but you are still here.”

“Those bloody stupid people that bought that bloody box.” Lisa was angry and shaking but also relieved that she was not mad.

“So, what now Phil?” I asked,

“Well Steve, Lisa and the kids are staying here for now. We are going to research the box further and see if it can be moved and where to. After it is moved, we will need to send a spiritual expert into the house to check that it is clean from ghosts.” Turning to Steve he said, “Your only other option is selling it for a steal and risking the health of another family.”

“Okay,” Steve said. “Yes, we will research and try and move the box, but I don’t want to be bitten.”

“There is no hurry, a day at a time, we need to ensure it is all done safely. Maybe a museum might like it.”

I hoped he was right. It was lovely to have Lisa and her family here, but I like my own space as well. I’m glad that she is not crazy, but this really was an unbelievable story, one which I’m sure we will all reflect and reminisce on for years to come.

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Please visit Marian on her blog: https://justmuddlingthroughlife.co.uk/

WU! On “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” Podcast!

If you missed Writers Unite! on “Dr. Paul’s Family Talk” on Friday here is the Podcast of the segment. Join host Paul W. Reeves and WU! Admin Deborah Ratliff as they discuss the topic, “Point of View”.

Point of View

If you would like to listen to the show in its entirety (and it’s a lot of fun), click on this Podcast link for Friday’s show!

Dr. Paul’s Family Talk 11-22-19

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Cheryl Ann Guido: The Hope Chest

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 HOPE CHEST

By Cheryl Ann Guido

“Nonna! Nonna! Look what Mommy found!”

I looked up from the old greeting cards that I was sorting through. I wondered what had ever possessed me to keep so many of them. In fact, I wondered what had ever possessed me to keep so many of the things we were cleaning out. I suppose that’s what happens when you live in the same house for sixty-plus years. As I tossed the last card into a large green trash bag, my granddaughter, her mother, laid an old wooden trunk at my feet. She had brought it down from the attic, a place that I no longer was able to go. In the past few years since my husband died, my health had declined significantly and after a family meeting, it was decided that my house would be sold and that I would move to a nice assisted-living facility near my family. My daughter and granddaughter had no idea how painful and difficult the move would be for me, but they were right in their decision. I could no longer care for myself, and as much as moving from this home, the home that held so many precious memories, would break my heart, it was what had to be.

“Open it, Nonna! Let’s see what’s inside.”

My great-granddaughter Skyler was seven and full of life. Precocious did not even begin to describe this bubbly, bouncing child. I could not remember a day when her bright blue eyes did not twinkle or her high-pitched, impish laugh was not infectious. At the moment, she was tugging hard at the clasp that locked the trunk, lips pursed, her nose scrunched up and a fierce determination that I imagined would serve her well when she was grown.

“Skyler, on my dresser there is a jewelry box. Inside, you will find a small tan envelope. Bring it to me.”

Without hesitation, she did as she was told and ran to my bedroom. I could hear her rummaging through my jewelry box as her mother spoke to me.

“Mom-Mom, is it even worth opening this old beat-up thing? What’s in here, more greeting cards?”

Arianna was a good granddaughter and I knew that she did not mean to be rude. I laughed.

“No dear. This is my hope chest.”

“Your hope chest? But aren’t hope chests supposed to contain things you’re going to use when you get married? I mean, you and Grandpa got married what, sixty years ago? Shouldn’t you have used the stuff inside by now?”

“Actually, it’s closer to seventy.”

I grinned as Skyler returned and handed me the envelope. My hands shook as I tore it open and removed the big brass skeleton key that would open the mysterious box.

“Here, give it to me. I’ll unlock it, Nonna.”

Skyler snatched the key away, inserted it into the lock and turned. Using both of her tiny hands, she lifted the lid and her perfectly almond-shaped eyes lit up. Before I could tell her to be careful, the big antique porcelain doll was in her arms and she was dancing across the floor, holding it high in the air by its tiny white china hands.

“Oh Nonna, she’s so beautiful. May I have her?”

“I can’t think of a better mommy than you, sweetheart. Just be gentle with her. She is precious and quite old.”

“Yay!”

Beaming, my granddaughter ran to the guest room. In my mind’s eye, I could see her, sitting on the bed, legs crossed with the doll on her lap as she ran her fingers through the sparse red wig that covered the doll’s head.

Arianna placed her hand on my arm. “I know you, Mom-Mom. I bet there’s a story behind that doll.”

I nodded and suddenly I was transported back in time, to a big ocean liner traveling from Italy to America, our new home. That day, the sea sparkled like an endless azure gem and the air smelled like salt. The sun blazed and I could feel its penetrating warmth on my bare arms as my sister chased me across the deck. I was taunting her, saying that she couldn’t catch me when I bumped into a tall, well-built man dressed in navy blue. Being small, the first thing that caught my eye were the gold stripes that ran down each of his pant legs. I looked up and marveled at the gold buttons on his jacket. He wore fringed epaulettes on each of his shoulders that were golden too and there were four shiny gold stars on his rounded collar. The white curls of his hair were almost hidden by a navy-blue cap and he sported a full, neatly trimmed beard. He was the Captain of the ship but I did not know that, all I knew was that he looked important and I hoped that I was not in trouble for not paying attention and crashing into him.

“Oh my,” he laughed. “You’re certainly in a hurry. But you must watch where you are going, little one.”

He patted my head and continued on down the deck. I breathed a sigh of relief. Not understanding English, I had no idea what he had just said, but I could tell by his smile that I had not been admonished for colliding with such an important man.

“Rosalina! Marietta!”

My sister and I turned to see our mother motioning for us to join her. I ran. Mama was leaning on a railing, smiling broadly as the sea breeze blew through her long, thick black hair. She loosened the brown muslin shawl she always wore and it slipped down a bit, partially baring her shoulders.

“Guarda, guarda,” she cried as she pointed to an enormous green statue of a lady holding a torch. It was then that I knew we had finally reached America and we were about to embark at Ellis Island, New York, where we would reunite with my father.

“Mom-Mom?”

I shook my head as I realized that my granddaughter was still waiting for me to tell her about the doll.

“Sorry, I kind of got caught up in an old memory. That doll was a present to me from my father. He was a merchant who came to the U.S. and then sent for my mother, sister and me to start a new life here. After we were processed through Ellis Island, he gave that doll to me and also gifted one to my sister, Marietta.”

“Marietta? I thought your sister’s name was Mary?”

“Well, when we were processed, we were told that our Italian names were too hard to pronounce so they were changed to something that sounded more American to the people who worked there.”

“You’re kidding. That’s terrible! So, they just arbitrarily changed your names?”

“Yes. That’s what they did back in those days. That’s how our names were recorded on the official immigration documents.”

“So, your name really isn’t Rose?”

I chuckled. “Yes and no. My birth name was Rosalina.”

She shook her head and rolled her eyes. “Rosalina is a beautiful name. I don’t understand why they did that. It’s a shame that you have never been able to use it.”

I shrugged my shoulders as she reached inside the chest and removed a large, rectangular envelope. Inside were my copies of the immigration papers I had received so long ago. A small picture partially sticking out of the envelope caught my eye. After removing the photograph, I handed it to Arianna.

“That’s us in the parlor of our first home, two rooms and a kitchen in a basement apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey. I was seven, my sister was six, and the woman is my mother.

Arianna frowned. “She looks so stoic.”

“I suppose she does. I don’t remember her ever looking different and she rarely smiled. You see, shortly after we arrived, my father left us. She wouldn’t tell us why, but I always suspected that there was another woman. Anyway, all I know is that he left and I never saw him again.”

“You’re kidding. How did you survive?”

“Well, since the streets were not paved with gold like we all thought they’d be, my poor mother worked her fingers to the bone, taking in laundry, making dresses and even cooking sauces that she could sell. I didn’t realize at the time that it was a terrible struggle for her, but she never complained, not once.”

Arianna’s eyes grew wide. “Wow. People actually thought the streets were paved with gold?”

I chuckled. “Yes we did.”

Then she frowned. “Why didn’t you ever tell me any of this before?”

“Those were hard times that I don’t like to speak about.”

I reached into the chest and withdrew a dress. I shook it out in a vain attempt to smooth the wrinkles that had formed from so many years of being packed away.

“My mother made this for me. Even though we were poor, she wanted her daughters to always have clean, neat clothes to wear. I only wore this one once, but it was the last dress she ever made for me so it is very special.”

I ran my fingers across the yellowed white lace collar perfectly hand stitched to the blue gingham dress. A row of precisely lined buttons attached the short sleeved dress at the back and a white sash around the waist tied into a big bow. Once again, I was taken back in time. My mother sewed this dress for me to wear to a high-school dance. I had received my first kiss at that dance by some boy that I don’t even remember now. On the way home, I was floating on air and could not stop chattering about him to my sister. When we reached our building, we were stopped by a policeman. He told us that there had been a drive-by shooting. Some gangsters had shot five people and my mother was one of them. She had been hit as she walked back from delivering some laundry. I cannot even begin to describe the heartbreak of losing my beloved mother, especially in such a senseless way and on that fateful day, my life was changed forever. I wiped away a tear before it could slip down my cheek for Arianna to see. I was not quick enough.

“Mom-Mom, are you okay? Maybe we should just close up this box and save it for another time.”

“I’m okay, Arianna. It’s just … it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at these things.”

I pulled out a stained and tattered white apron.

“Well, will you look at this. I forgot I put this in here. I wore this apron at my first job. I was seventeen and worked as a waitress at the Bus Stop Diner on Edgewater Lane.”

“You were a waitress?”

“I was, for almost five years. Then the war came and I worked in a factory that manufactured airplane parts. You see, our boys were all out on the front lines fighting. So many of them never came back. Many women took their jobs and worked in factories making items we needed for everyday use and weapons for the war.”

I rummaged around the bottom of the trunk until I found the aluminum rivet that I had kept to remind myself that I could do anything if I put my mind to it.

“We used these in the construction of bomber planes.”

“Wow Mom-Mom, you were a regular Rosie the Riveter!”

“She wasn’t real, you know,” I snorted, “she was just a symbol. It’s just a coincidence that we share the same name … really.” I winked.

Just then, Skyler returned. She sat on the carpet and carefully placed the doll on its back beside her.

“I think I’ll name her Molly,” she announced.

I nodded. “Molly is a good name.”

Then, Skyler reached into the chest and pulled out a worn, scuffed roller skate. She held it over her head, twirling the ball bearing boot by its stained white laces.

“Where’s the other one, Nonna?”

“It’s in there somewhere,” I replied as Skyler tore through the trunk looking for the skate’s mate.

“Mom-Mom, you used to roller skate?”

“It’s how I met your grandfather. We met at a roller rink. That was where a lot of young people went to meet others back then. He was a wonderful skater and so handsome. He pretty much swept me off my feet. I knew he was perfect for me from the first time I met him.”

The memory of my dear sweet late husband filled my heart with joy. Tony was a good Italian boy, one who would have been wholeheartedly approved of by my mother had she still been alive when we met. A baker by trade, he worked hard and never spent money foolishly. Once the war came, he enlisted. Shipped overseas, he saw combat, survived malaria and came back alive despite the fact that a supply truck that he was driving had set off a mine that threw him over the side of a cliff.

Again, I searched the chest and fished out a tiny white jeweler’s box. After I opened it, my hand flew to my heart. There was Tony’s wedding band, bent and misshapen. It had caught on a branch, nearly ripping his finger off as he was thrown over the precipice. Sadly, he was never able to wear it again. But, neither of us minded because that ring had saved his life. It had saved both of our lives.

Arianna fished out another photograph. This one was of myself, my husband, and our daughter Antonia when she was a young child. We were all posed in front of our home, this home, the first day we moved in.

“Oh my gosh, is this mom?”

“It sure is.”

“She was such a cute kid. I can’t wait to show this to her when she gets here later.”

“It will be good to see your mother again. I’ve missed her.”

Arianna replaced the picture inside the chest.

“Well, we do live half a country away. But now that you’re going back with us, we will all be together again.”

“Yes,” I said as I took out the last item. The little pink onesie still looked new. Its furry fabric was still just as bright and fuzzy as it was when I first put it on my baby daughter and took her home from the hospital where she had been born. Was it really that long ago? When you are my age, the days all run together and before you know it, you are old and celebrate each day as if it was your last, because it may well be. I brought the tiny garment to my nose and inhaled deeply. I swore that I could still smell the lightly scented powder and oil that I so lovingly applied to my baby whenever I changed her diaper. But Antonia wasn’t a baby anymore. She was a grown woman, with a daughter and granddaughter of her own.

Once again, the sound of Arianna’s voice brought me back to my living room. “What a wonderful trunk of memories, Mom-Mom. There are things here from the beginning of each stage of your life.”

I nodded and picked up an envelope from the end table next to my chair.

“When we get home, I want to add this.”

Arianna took the envelope, opened it and removed its contents.

“This is your boarding pass for our flight home next week.”

“Yes. For many years I have hoped that we could all be together again one day. That piece of paper you’re holding will make it happen. Now let’s put all this stuff back into the chest and go get some dinner.”

~FIN~

This short story is dedicated to my mother who immigrated to the U.S. in 1928 at the age of 7. These are her memories. Although this is written as fiction, these are events that actually happened. Only the names have been changed.

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Please visit Cheryl on her blog: https://cherg1.wixsite.com/cherylannguido/

Calliope Njo: The Mysterious Chest

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 Mysterious Chest

By Calliope Njo

It had been a journey that took the better part of two years. At first, it didn’t seem that dreadful. With the map at the ready, I boarded a ship to take me to an island off the western coast of Africa. Once I disembarked, prearranged transportation took me to the campsite. Since they had employed most of that town, it shouldn’t be an issue to find it. Right?

Wrong. I got to the ship and got to the port. OK. No trouble. The instructions I received didn’t mention which village or town, and because there were more than one, it took the better part of three days to find it. At last, yes, the town lay right ahead of me. “Yay ha!” Went out when I saw it. The happiest declaration I ever had in my twenty-five years of life.

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting a McDonald’s or Kentucky Fried Chicken. I’m not that naive. The preparation for a meal that comprised of insects I couldn’t…bleck. I never ate so much fish as I did during that time.

My stomach did the topsy-turvy thing for the rest of the journey, but was able to survive on bits of food here and there. No relief existed so I had to grit my teeth and bear it. It reminded me every time the thought of food entered my brain.

Exhaustion won out though as we located the Soul of Greed. A remarkable treasure chest filled with precious metals and jewels. No key would open it. Instead, a chant and a series of pushes and pulls had to be done in the right order before the lid would open. It needed to be chanted in the original language and done by a woman.

The woman part wasn’t the bad part, because hello, I am a woman. The original language part was the difficult one. A complete set of interpretations for the language didn’t exist. What we had, none of us were sure was correct. We couldn’t find an expert on the language either. The best we could do was sit there and stare at it.

If any hardware tool was used to break the chest that would’ve been a catastrophe. Burning it would’ve been worse. The lock was such that nothing could get between the lid and latch to open it either.

So there it sat in the main room of the lab. Waiting to be opened, and yes, we tried to do the magic genie thing out of desperation. No, that didn’t work.

It’s a pretty chest to look at though.

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Please visit Calliope on her blog! https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog/