Kenneth Lawson: Threat Level

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Threat Level

By Kenneth Lawson

The Space Driver floated past him.

Just out of reach.

Trying to manipulate the engine drive component in gloved hands with no magnet to hold anything where it needed to be was a pain in the ass. It was impossible. 

The Space Driver, the name they gave to a glorified screwdriver designed for use in outer space on spacewalks, floated just out of his reach. He shifted his position slightly in the harness that held him to the space station and was able to barely grasp it — clasping a tether cord to the errant space driver. He let it float while he finished working on the maintenance hatch. Closing it, he collected his tools, the wandering Space Driver being the first one in his bag. He attached a certificate of approval seal over the seam of the hatch door, saying that he had inspected the insides, and all was well.

It wasn’t.

But he couldn’t find anything wrong in the settings or control panel under the hatch. So, he signed off on it. 

Commander Rogers entered the space station, then returned all his tools to their respective cubicles and got out of the spacesuit. As he placed the Space Driver in its case, he realized that if what he suspected was true, a screwdriver, even a specialized one, wouldn’t fix what was wrong. 

Something was off on the space station. Things had been not right for some time, and recently, it had gotten worse. Various systems failed for no apparent reason and suddenly started working again. There were other little things, like small objects moving around, that puzzled him. 

Everything floated up there if not secured, but the stuff always secured somehow wound up in odd places.

So far, no injuries had occurred on the station, but it wouldn’t take much for an essential system to fail, or at least act up, and the result could be fatal.

He was trying to avoid that, especially for himself. He wanted to get back to Earth as soon as possible, and this wasn’t making his job any easier.

He was the space program’s ace troubleshooter, and he wasn’t shooting this trouble. 

In all of the other cases, he’d found something small that no one noticed, a bug in the code, a faulty switch, or an incorrectly set up system. What was going on here was not hardware related. It was the virus. The same virus that had caused several other ships’ crews to become incapacitated, eventually turning them into virtual zombies and shutting down their systems. They all died.

He’d been up here a week, going over the ship’s systems. From life support to water and waste disposal to entertainment, he found nothing. Nothing. Everything was as it should be. He did do a couple of upgrades, but nothing important or mission critical. What he was doing while doing routine systems checks was to see if he could find the source of the virus and, if possible, the transmission path. He found no trace of the virus, only the results and symptoms of it. The crew was not behaving as they should, not remembering what they did, and not being able to explain why they couldn’t remember moving stuff. The lack of memory was one of the first recognizable symptoms of the virus. 

Circling back to his cabin, he stopped at the main control center of the station. Checking in with the commanding officer, he learned everything was as it should be. But he knew better. There seemed to be something slightly off about the way he addressed him. Nothing obvious, but a pattern of speech that was different than it had been all along. Talking to some of the other officers on the deck, he got the same vibe from them. They acted as if they were all right, but they seemed slightly unfocused as if drugged. When he talked to them, they snapped back to a version of reality.

He checked their medical records. Everyone checked out with no issues, either physically or mentally. Especially mentally, they didn’t need a captain going crazy on the bridge of the space station. But he suspected that it was happening, and not just the captain, but most of the crew. 

Going down to the mechanical systems room, he looked around. He’d been down there before; it all looked the same as it had before. The reading on the charts all was within specifications. So, he talked to the chief engineer. He got the same response as he did on the bridge. 

Something was affecting the crew. It was now more than just unexplained occurrences. He did not doubt that the virus was affecting the crew.

The progression of events was identical to the situation on a space station blown up by the action of a crew member years before. A space-borne virus had infected the entire crew. The virus drove them insane and wreaked havoc on their bodies. For the few that survived the blast by making it into escape pods, they had become little more than zombies that stared at the walls and made slow muttering sounds. Within a week of rescue, their bodies shut down, and they died of an uncontrollable infection. The only salvation at the time was that the survivors were in quarantine and the virus didn’t spread. 

If this virus ever got to Earth, he realized that within several months at most, the entire population would be dead. So far, they had no idea of the mode of transmission, or if there was a treatment for it. Distress calls led to the discovery of several ships adrift in space, the entire crew dead, and the virus suspected to be the cause. They still could not locate the virus’s source. 

Back in his cabin, he communicated with his superiors back on Earth. 

His supervisor was concerned. “You sure you haven’t been infected?”

“Yes. I’ve managed not to eat or drink anything here, brought emergency rations with me. I’ve been careful about not touching anything. I’m wearing gloves at all times.” He had been using emergency stores that he had brought with him when he boarded. He noticed they didn’t properly search his packs when he arrived. A lack of interest also pointed to the virus. 

“When I spoke to the crew, they were acting just like the crew did on the old space station a few years ago.”

“Okay, this is it, we have to contain the virus.”

“So that means…?”

“Yes. Blow it up. Whatever this is, we can’t risk it getting back to Earth or one of the colonies. The only way to make sure it doesn’t spread is to destroy the station.”

~~~

His next stop was the commanding officer of the space station. It was difficult to explain to the commander that the virus had infected him and most of the crew, and what the prognosis of the infection was. They were all going to die. Because they still didn’t know the transmission method of the virus or what catastrophic effects it would have on Earth, they could not risk letting anyone back to Earth. The commander accepted their fate and he decided against telling the crew. Best to allow them to live their last moments in peace. 

The transport shuttle was about halfway to Earth when the space station blew into a million pieces. He watched from the cockpit as the debris field spread, almost reaching him as the small ship approached Earth’s atmosphere.

His heart ached for those who perished, but he wondered only one thing. How much time had he bought for Earth? 

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

Calliope Njo: The Reno

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 Reno

By Calliope Njo

It had been a long day putting the finishing touches on the home renovation. After completion, I handed over the keys to the owners, and the couple’s smile stretched ear to ear. Stainless steel with concrete flooring and white everywhere else looked dull compared to the gleam on their faces.

When I got home, I planned a steak dinner. Someone knocked on my door but I wouldn’t let it interfere with my dinner. Knock ignored, a T-Bone hit the grill. Dinner and beer covered, the next thing was a good movie. We didn’t have the channel ranges of a big city. So it was limited satellite hookup or a good book. TV won out over a book because of the fear of falling asleep while still reading the first page.

Oh good, a war movie. OK, fantasy war movie but at least it was something. That rotten doorbell again better mean something catastrophic happened and no one else on Earth could fix it.

I opened the door to an old man holding a package. “And you wanted what?” Tired of thinking, nothing came out resembling being civil.

“I am Barnaby. I am to deliver this envelope to you, Ms. Remington.” He held out a simple white paper-size envelope. Stuffed full by the expanded edges.

“I don’t know what you’re selling, I’m not buying.” How did he know my name?

“I assure you this is business that you can’t ignore, Ma’am, or I would not be here.”

I tapped my fingers on the door while I imagined how to hurt the guy. “Come back Monday around nine in the morning, then we can talk if it’s about business.” By then I should be refreshed and all the kinks in my body fixed.

“Very well. Good night.” He bowed and left.

The old man put on a tall hat as he left. The temperature was still in the forties so not that cold, but the older folks enjoyed dressing up during the late fall into winter.

Movie and dinner done, I cleaned up and got to bed wondering what that man wanted. All of my men either went home, to the bar, or the BBQ place in the alley between Apple and B Street. So what did he want? I had to wait until Monday to find out. If he returns Monday.

I spent the weekend reviewing the plans for the next job. Nothing that I haven’t done before and it wouldn’t start until after the holidays. I needed to get my mind on something else. That old man kept bugging me.

Monday morning came, and right on the dot, my doorbell rang. I opened the door. “Barnaby, first let me apologize for Friday.” I laughed.

“Do not worry, Ma’am. All is well.” He held out that envelope. “Everything you need to know is in here. I shall see you. Good day, Ma’am.” He bowed before he turned around and left.

OK, time to find out what was in this overstretched paper wrapper. Page upon page upon page came out. It didn’t seem to stop. It started with a three-page letter and ended with the name and address of some legal office.

After reading everything, which took a good couple of hours, it seemed the estate holders of the fabled Blackthorne Manor in Posenville wanted my services.

Everybody had their own version but Blackthorne Manor was said to be the estate of the fabled protector family. Stories about the family ranged from philanthropists to an entire line of wizards.

Those of us in Artemtown never believed either. A fabled town made up by the ramblings of people lost and confused tended to be the popular opinion. It was time to see if either existed.

The bottom line was get in and make everything new again as if the house never aged. Everything had to be as if the keys were handed over to Amadeus Blackthorne a couple of centuries ago. Their words, not mine.

Not an inconceivable task, tough, but not something that couldn’t be done. I’ve done a couple before. Nothing that old, but with a little know-how and creativity it could be accomplished. That and a friend who had a fascination with historical architecture.

Whether I accepted the job, it didn’t matter. I was to report to the estate that night at six o’clock to discuss the details. I planned to come home, so I didn’t think to pack.

What details did they want to discuss because they covered everything? The working crew, the funds, any legal services I would need, our sleeping quarters, and so on. It seemed they hired my people to work on another project.

When that time came around, I got ready to go. The instructions mapped out the route since any map application could not find it. The little red dotted line moved up a highway I never heard of before. There was a highway thirteen — also known as left behind the road, highway twenty-seven — also known as that bloody tree-lined road, but no highway thirty.

It seemed a fork at the top of highway thirteen led to highway thirty which was impossible. The end of that highway went over a cotton pickin’ cliff. It continued on to further explain that was the right fork. To get to the left fork, one had to pass the inspection by the guards before passing through a gate. All one needed was the little gold card that came in the envelope. Uh huh. Sure. Right.

I got to that point and sure enough, there was a guard post. I looked to the right of that, and a metal gate blocked my way. No guard though. I got closer and a gargoyle to the left smiled and his eyes lit red. 

I could’ve run back to my car and hightailed it out of there, but I didn’t. I shoved the card in its mouth and the gate opened. “Thank you. You may proceed to the rest of your journey. A human form will be available come daylight. May the moon protect you.”

That might’ve been their way of telling visitors to have a nice day. I stopped there too much in awe at what happened. A loud buzzer broke me out of my trance. I ran back to the car and started it up.

The curvy and uneven road ended at another locked black iron gate. The yard lights shone over the entryway. One gargoyle sat on each side. When I inspected, they smiled at me.

The eyes of the one on the right lit. I took that as my cue to speak. “Hello? It’s Kane Remington. I—” The gates opened.

I got in my car and drove up to the house. No trees, but lights made it easier to get there. Barnaby waited in front of the door. I ran up the steps when I left the car.

“Good evening. Follow me, if you would.”

I did, and talk about centuries old. The faded colors, peeling wallpaper, wood that needed to be refinished — I saw all of that. Nothing someone else couldn’t do.

“OK, so why me? Why am I even here?”

“You will find out, Ma’am. First, you must be well nourished to be able to accomplish your given task.”

Yeah, I had a lot to apologize for. Something about all of this disturbed me and I didn’t like it. Off to the left of the kitchen, they had prepared a formal dining area.

A table that sat twenty people, made of maple, had been set with gleaming gold cutlery and sparkling white plates. A huge hunk of meat sat in the middle with covered dishes all around. If I knew this was a formal event, I would have put on something better than jeans and a t-shirt.

I stood at the table while I wondered if it was too late to come up with an excuse to leave. A man held out his hand and smiled. Yeah, too late.

“Hi there. I’m Kane Remington.” I held out my hand.

He grasped and shook it. “I’m Johann Blackthorne.”

First Amadeus and then Johann. “Did somebody have an interest in classical music?”

“You noticed, and to answer your question in short, it’s a family tradition.”

I nodded and left it at that. There were kids out there named after compass directions. My mother named me after her favorite TV character, so who was I to say that was strange.

The woman didn’t say anything. She smiled a lot though. Strawberry blonde hair, shorter than mine which wasn’t hard, and emerald green eyes. Everything about her made her look like a teenager.

He held out a chair for her and she sat down in it. He pushed it in for her. “My precious. This is my wife, Trieste.” He smiled and kissed her head and I swore that if I saw another act of love I would leave here a diabetic.

OK, I had to be calm. Potential client and I couldn’t be rude no matter how much whatever this was hurt. Barnaby came back with a big fork and a long knife. He stood next to Johann and started carving, passing the meat around as he went.

A very good meal. The best I’ve had in a long time as a matter of fact. Business needed to be done though before it got too late.

“Mr. and Mrs. Blackthorne, first thank you for the food. It was very good. Second, why did you hire me? After a brief look, nothing here that couldn’t be done by somebody else. Especially a do-it-yourselfer.”

Johann laughed. “I am anything but handy. I could tell you who composed that concerto. I could tell you if that painting was an original. I cannot, however, hammer a nail. Mother always told me I was one that needed to be pampered.” He sipped his wine.

“All right. So you want this entire house to be renovated. I need a few things in order to do that, not to mention what kind of a budget I will be working with.”

Johann picked up a napkin from his lap and put it on the table. He stared at it for a bit before he looked up. “Tell Barnaby whatever it is you will need and he will see to it that it is taken care of. As for a budget, whatever you feel is necessary. That does not mean to scrimp. That means to get it right the first time so that it will last worry-free for as long as can be expected.”

So I got an endless budget no holds barred? Yeah. Right. “I’ll think about it.” And run away. As far away as possible.

“Barnaby assured me there would not be any problems. Your next project, as a matter of fact, had been given to another renovation specialist.” He held up his hand. “It was to be sure your attention would be here and not elsewhere. Not to take away your business. We need the best. You are the best. We want you here to do your job, Ms. Remington.”

You would excuse me if I don’t believe you. All of this sounds too good to be true and we all know what they say about that. “I have to think about it.”

Johann raised his eyebrow and stood from the table. “All right. Barnaby will show you to your room. Everything had been stocked, however, should you need something please let us know. You have until the morning for your final word. The word we are expecting is yes. We prefer the word restored not renovated.” He pulled out his wife’s chair and she stood. He wrapped his arm around her waist and walked away from the table.

Good grief. Demanding son of a gun. I stood up and moved away from the table.

“Turn around and follow me. We have stairs to climb to get to your room on the first floor.” Barnaby stood to the side while I moved closer.

We were on the first floor, weren’t we? Something to tuck away for further thought until later. He moved away first while I followed. Nothing I saw at first glance required immediate attention. I started to wonder if it had anything to do with that woman. That could’ve been the answer but there were others available to do the same job. I didn’t need to be here.

Barnaby went up to the first-floor landing and turned left. The first door on the right he opened. “Pleasant dreams, Ma’am.”

I’ll think about it. I stepped inside and watched as Barnaby closed the door. Some notice would be nice. No, better not say that. They would get me another envelope full of papers, good grief.

I went to the dresser and pulled open a drawer. The shimmer of the material made me pull it out. After a quick check of the tag to confirm, it was indeed silk, and in my size. It got folded again to be put back. T-shirts and sweatpants provided me with more comfort. The drawer below that one had what I wanted. Not the old sweat pants part but they were thin enough to be comfortable.

Dad always told me to be prepared for anything, because one never knew. The one time I wasn’t this happens.

I changed clothes and got cleaned up. Too many thoughts went through the noggin to be able to relax. The head needed to relax on something, so it got leaned on against the wall while looking out the window.

The door opened. “It would be more appropriate to dress in a nightgown,” Mrs. Blackthorne said.

Did I need to turn around? The head did it anyway. “Oh. This is much more comfortable for me.”

“Hm. I see. Well, you are the help and they do drink a lot of beer. So I suppose a glass of wine would be out of the question.”

All of this made me reconsider my original thought about apologizing for my attitude. Dad always preached to me to show them what you got first. Attitude and behavior are a strict second.

“I’m fine. Thank you, though.”

She turned her head to the right. “But… all right. I was only seeing to our guest. I was not being mean. She came—oh. All right.” She looked straight at me. “I will say good night now.” She left.

Mr. Blackthorne stood at the door. “I do apologize. She can be rather abrupt and I did try to explain what was going on so that she would understand. It seems as though further explanation is in order. Ms. Remington, our families have been doing business together since Great Grandfather Amadeus came here and built his castle for his dear wife.”

My eyebrow raised up in suspicion. “You’ll excuse me if I don’t believe you. I don’t. I never heard of you or even met you until now.”

“I know. I know. All of this is ludicrous. How could this be? I had the same reaction.” He laughed. “Now, you have a good night’s rest.” He held out a box. “This is for you.”

I took it. The thought of not taking it went through my mind. Before it got returned, he vanished.

The door closed as if it had a brain. A lot of strange things happened since this began. I needed to get back to my life with my own people. Customers with impossible demands. Suppliers who didn’t fulfill their end of the business deal. Inspections that tended to take longer than necessary. That was my world. This happened and I didn’t know what to do.

Mom taught me how to cook, clean, appreciate classical music, and read books. Dad taught me how to measure, hammer a nail, and use a screwdriver. None of that taught me what to do.

That bow on the box bugged me to the point I had to pull it. It got undone and I took the top off. A screwdriver that looked a lot like my old one. The one that Dad gave me a long time ago. I cried when I had to get rid of it. It couldn’t screw any screws anymore so there was no reason to keep it. Here it was again. I shook it and something rattled inside.

While looking at it through the light, a piece of rolled-up paper sat inside. I unscrewed the top and shook it a bit to get it out. A message in tiny print was on it. Good thing I got my eyes checked.

Blackthorne and Remington share a life. Always together as if blood.

Nothing else on it, only a mysterious message mentioning something about blood. I couldn’t go based on what was written on a mysterious note. I was even more confused.

Someone knocked on my door. I ignored it until whoever it was kept knocking. I opened it and Barnaby held out a book. I took it and he left.

An Oxford-Dictionary-sized book in my hands and there was no way that thing was going to get read. Nuh uh. No way. Not on this Earth.

OK, maybe one page. This book told the history of both of our towns right outside of nowheresville. Of course, nothing got read past the fifth page, but I could only imagine it told a long history full of impossible microdetails to remember.

Keep up our partnership and hope for the best or leave at first light? I still had no idea and the sun would be up any time now. I went to the shower and stripped along the way. Sometimes the hot pounding water on my head worked to get my brain functioning.

They wanted me to say yes, which made me wonder what would happen if I told them no. Risk the little wife throwing a temper tantrum? Me being beheaded? I turned off the water, still no clue what my answer would be.

The clothes got picked up and a new set lay on the bed. Strange how they knew my size because everything fit right. Not a silk blouse and fine-material slacks person but I took it. Before I left the room, I held up the screwdriver again. I let out a long breath after I realized I had everything to lose and nothing to gain by doing this. I hoped it would all work in the end.

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

Jenny Booker: The Care and Cure Toy Shop

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 Care and Cure Toy Shop

By Jenny Booker

“Mummy!!” she heard him shouting and saw her little man in tears running into the kitchen to receive a warm gentle hug.

He refused to let go for a while but soon pulled away blinking back the tears.

“What is it sweetheart?” she asked worriedly.

“My teddy,” he whimpered.

“Yes?” she said with a smile, relieved he had not injured himself, and wiped away the tears.

“He has a rip on his bot bot,” he stuttered.

“Oh no, not a rip on his bottom?” She sighed.

“Yes, Mr. Geoffrey had an accident and now he is broken,” he cried.

“Well, let’s have a look,” she said, taking his hand and letting him lead her to the scene of the crime.

Yes, Mr. Geoffrey had a big tear and her sewing skills weren’t great. The bear was a jack-in-a-box and was very old. It belonged to her grandma, and he was passed on for generations. But he didn’t work as the springs were so old, but he loved it as it was and never knew what it could do anyway.

She took a while to think, then remembered a new shop in the next town had recently opened. That was like a toy hospital — maybe they should pay them a visit. She could see if they could fix it and maybe grab some last-minute Christmas shopping over there too.

Bundling up in the car not long afterwards, she drove to the town hoping it wouldn’t be so busy as it’s the lead up to Christmas, but managed to park quickly and was soon walking up the high street.

His tiny hand grasped tightly as they finally got to the shop — and both stared for a while looking at the window display before them.

A beautiful Christmas scene was of a big carousel going around, with big snowy trees next to it that were decorated with pretty coloured balls. Glittery nutcrackers glistened as the twinkly lights surrounded the window above them.

As they walked through the door, it rang, alerting the shopkeeper who was busy polishing a doll’s shoe.

He looked up and took off his glasses smiling.

“Hello, and welcome to Care and Cure Toy Shop. Please take a look around. The toys here need a new home, and if you need any help please do let me know,” he said.

“Hello, actually we were wondering if you could fix a toy?” she hoped.

“Why of course — we do fix any toy too,” he beamed.

She took out the teddy from the bag and placed him on the desk.

“Can you see he has a hurt bot bot?” the little boy asked.

She smiled and picked him up so he could see better.

“Ah yes, I see.” He lifted it up and looked at it for a while. “Does the spring work too?” he asked.

“It hasn’t for a very long time,” she sighed.

“Leave it with me — I won’t be too long. You’re welcome to sit and have a hot chocolate or come back in five to ten minutes.”

She looked around the corner thinking the shop was small, but the L-shaped shop was in fact big! At the far end was a hot-drink vending machine with a small sofa next to it. A bookcase with small cushions next to it looked like a magical reading nook. Then many shelves with all sorts of toys filled the walls — some whizzing around with the feeling of pure delight of working and being used.

“All these toys were broken or donated to us,” a lady said appearing next to her, dressed as an elf. “Hello, I’m Maddie. I help out every time I can,” she quickly continued after seeing her shocked look.

Her son was already at the bookcase, so she and Maddie sat down and grabbed a drink.

“This place is lovely,” she said, sipping on the warm hot chocolate.

“I know, it’s amazing what he does and we hope more people will come by as nowadays people chuck broken toys and replace them,” she said sadly.

“I’ve never seen such a place,” she said as she looked around to see a bubble machine started, and her son squealed with joy popping them.

After a little while, she wandered back to see how he was getting on and heard him talking to someone — but no one was there.

He was holding a red screwdriver and was tightening up the box while apologising to it for being upside down, then suddenly the teddy nodded and stretched its arms!

No, that was impossible. Its arms were stiff, and tiredness was making her see things, she thought.

“There,” he said, putting the screwdriver down. “How does that feel?”

“I feel like new,” it said in a deep voice.

“Urm?” she managed to stutter.

“Oh hello — all done, was just about to get you. I have stitched him up and also replaced the spring for you,” he said happily, not bothered or any hint of embarrassment at what she might have seen.

Looking at him, then the teddy, she needed to sit back down.

“Are you alright mummy?” Her son tugged at her trousers, then ran to the counter jumping up and down.

“He fixed, he fixed — mummy?” he asked.

“Yes hun look,” she said as she picked him up and both saw that the teddy was repaired.

“Good as new,” he said.

“Thank you very much,” she managed to say, confused, and slowly paid the man as if in a trance and wanting to know and see more.

On finally leaving, she turned around to see him putting the screwdriver away in a big black box chuckling to himself.

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Please visit Jenny on her blog: https://itsjennythewren.wordpress.com/

Alfred Warren Smith: THE DAY I WAS HANDY

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 Day I Was Handy

By Alfred Warren Smith

My relationship with tools can best be described as ambivalent.

I wasn’t afraid of them, but whenever they had to be used, they produced in me a sense of dread because it meant that something had to be repaired or assembled, and there was always the lingering question: Will I have parts left over when I’m done? Because that meant an improper assembly or repair, and I’d have to do it all over again.

My father was handy, and could pretty much fix anything; he handled tools with a craftsman’s concentration and confidence. He didn’t live with us, but when my mother wanted something done to our apartment and he could do it, he would.

I watched him painstakingly match wallpaper and tile so the patterns weren’t broken.

I watched him glue, wire, carve wood, spackle, grout, paint, and garden (at his place) with alacrity. I had no such confidence in my own skills to even remotely approach the quality of his work.

And then I became a Dad, and then we rented a house with a sizable yard that I was now responsible for as a man whose idea of nature was visiting Central Park and the Bronx Zoo.

Cribs, bikes, dollhouses, power outages, plumbing and car problems when there was no money to pay the tradesmen took care of those things all combined to come at me in a variety of configurations.

And so began the accumulation of hardware, of knowledge that demanded dexterity (if not speed), caution, and in time, more confidence than not. (No pieces left over! Yes!)

Those days are past me now, and the presence of my father is no longer on the earth, but the dust, dirt, and rust on my own toolbox has been hard won.

My ambivalence remains because, as I said before, it means something has gone wrong (Aw man, a problem…) and needs immediate attention, but I think of what my father would do, and how his legacy of excellence guides my hands. (Problem solved!)

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 Please visit Alfred on his website: https://mywritemind.press/

Rochelle Wisoff-Fields: FIXING A WHOLE

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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Authors Note: Twenty-three years ago, I fought the final round with Annie—Annie Wrecks Ya. At present, I’m working on a novel based on my experience. Thus far the working title is Last Dance with Annie, but I’m not married to it. 

FIXING A WHOLE

By Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

The flashbacks started somewhere in my late thirties, upending my memories of a happy childhood. How could I have blocked out such things? Nothing made sense. I loathed the body that had betrayed me. My life spun out of control. 

It’s all about control, you know. 

Annie gave me control. No one, not my husband or even my doctor, could tell me what I could or couldn’t put in my mouth. I controlled my eating—until I didn’t. Annie did. 

Annie controlled my daily frenetic exercise. At the same time, I fantasized about onion rings and fried chicken. Of course, Annie would never allow me to eat them. She constantly reminded me numbers mattered. One hundred calories per meal. Twenty pink pills to purge it. The scale hovered between eighty-five and eighty-four. 

“You like my new jeans?” I asked my friend and coworker Linda. “I can’t believe they fit.” 

“What size?” Her ice-blue gaze met mine. 

“Zero.”

“You’ll look nice in your child-size coffin.” 

Her comment almost became prophecy when my “dieting” caught up to me. After collapsing in a store, I was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital with an eating-disorder unit. 

After two months of treatment and medical leave, I returned to work.

My size-zero jeans no longer zipped and they’d become tight around the hips and thighs. In fact, I’d outgrown my size two’s as well. 

“You look so much better,” said Linda. “There’s color in them thar cheeks.” 

That’s a good thing, right?

Recovery was more difficult than I’d expected. Although Annie’s grip loosened, she continued to haunt me. When someone complimented me on my weight gain, Annie translated it to, “My you’re getting fat.”  

“Body image takes time to change,” my dietitian assured me during my weekly visits. “All I can do is provide the tools. It’s up to you to use them.” 

Tools? What tools?

One of those so-called tools offered by Dr. Wilson, my psychiatrist, was Risperdal, a drug prescribed to treat such conditions as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental health experts hoped the antipsychotic might calm the obsessive thoughts of anorexics and bulimics. 

I detested the way it made me feel. Strange. Out of touch with the rest of the world. Afraid of what I didn’t know. 

Dr. Wilson decided Risperdal alone wasn’t doing what it should. Diagnosing me as “mildly bipolar” and being “slightly” ADD, she added Lithium to my daily pill-age. 

My appetite dwindled and my anxiety level skyrocketed. I began to lose weight again but took little pleasure in it. I barely functioned at work. How I stayed on the payroll is beyond me. 

“I’ve never seen such a severe reaction,” said Dr. Wilson. “Clearly you’re allergic.”

My nightmare was far from over. The drugs’ half-lives of a week or two stretched into over a month. The debilitating side effects continued to take their toll, not only on me but on my frazzled husband as well. 

One night it all came to a head. 

“I don’t know what to do for you anymore,” he fumed when I broke down. “Crying won’t help.” 

I sniffed and choked back sobs. “Stop trying to fix me!”

With a sigh, he sank into his recliner and gathered me onto his lap. Tears streamed down his cheeks. “Maybe you need to go back into the hospital.” 

I snuggled against him. His admission of helplessness comforted me. My true recovery began that very night when, together, we learned crying is sometimes the best of all tools.

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Please visit Rochelle on her website: https://rochellewisoff.com/

Marian Wood: A Screwdriver, a Flat Pack and Heartbreak

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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A Screwdriver, a Flat Pack and Heartbreak

By Marian Wood

The screwdriver

Knocking her to the floor, he now grabbed the first thing that he saw — the screwdriver with its red handle urging him to do something he was going to regret. In the moment, his rage flowed through him, like a waterfall cascading down rocks. This was it, the bitch was not going to hurt him anymore.

***

The attack

Detective Jim Monroe now surveyed the scene of the evident vicious attack with the screwdriver pointing towards the sky, the Ikea ‘Billy bookcase’ unfinished next to her. He had built many flat packs but what had made this person so angry? He was certain that it wasn’t Ikea. Observing those around him, he watched Inspector Tessa Miller talking to the dead woman’s husband, Phil Jakes. Mr. Jakes appeared upset, but was he really? In so many cases it was the person closest to them that was driven to murder. This looked brutal. There must have been a good reason, but what was it?

Writing in his small notebook, he now watched the dead woman’s mother trying to play with the children. It was Christmas time. Not the best time, if there was a best time, to lose a parent or a child. He could see that she was being strong, holding back tears that would keep flowing once she started.

Her father sat staring at his newspaper in silence. Detective Monroe was not sure what to make of the scene, no one was giving anything away. The family was showing life as usual, as if Julie had not just been carried away in a body bag. What had he missed?

The Christmas tree was surrounded by presents. The only person visibly affected was Mr. Jakes, and he was their main suspect. Scratching his head, he now walked out to his patrol car to make some phone calls. There was something really wrong here.

***

On top of the cliffs

Sitting on a bench on the top of a cliff, he stared into the far distance. His eyes were wet with tears. He knew that his life was over. Knowing that he shouldn’t have let his anger control him, he put his head in his hands. He knew that the pain he now felt was nothing compared to little Rosemary and Jack, they had lost their mummy and they would never see her again.

Not knowing what to do now, he wanted to run with the guilt consuming him. It had gone too far, and he couldn’t turn the clock back. Thinking of the children, he could feel his head was pounding. He told himself that he needed to hand himself in, but he was scared. Life in prison would give him shelter and food, but he didn’t want to go. Picturing the red screwdriver, he felt pain in his stomach. Feeling the pressure in his head growing, he knew what was about to happen before he started vomiting. Maybe he should have just concentrated on building the ‘Billy Bookcase.’ He wouldn’t be in this terrible situation now.

***

Phil Jakes

The house was silent as Phil Jakes sat alone at the kitchen table. Working through the beer in the fridge, he couldn’t imagine life without Julie. Losing his wife, he was devastated. Looking at their wedding photograph hanging on the wall, he remembered how happy they both were on that day. Her beautiful smile — they were meant for each other.

They had recently been having some problems which they were working through, and with all the stress of Christmas, he hadn’t paid her as much attention as he normally would have done. The extra hours he had worked to ensure that the children could have nice presents. Jack and Rosemary had both wanted new bicycles. A few nights ago, he had finally purchased them and brought them home. They now sat in the garage waiting for Christmas day. Julie had been overjoyed to see them and had given him a hug for working the extra hours.

Julie would never know about the bracelet he had bought her. The extra hours worked and haggling on the bikes and cashback had contributed to it. He had been looking forward to the 25th, now just two days away, and it was ruined.

He had let his in-laws put Jack and Rosemary to bed. At five and seven, they were too young to understand, they just kept asking where mummy was. They had been incredible but he was sure that his mother-in-law, Deborah Miller, was going to crack soon and once she did then his father-in-law, Brian, would as well.

***

The lover

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Why else?” Detective Monroe thought. “There always has to be heartache involved.”

“Okay, so who is he?”

“Sir, his name is Mark Wells. He is an engineer at the local power plant. Julie was one of the secretaries.”

“Always the office party, too much Prosecco and fun. A spurned lover had seemed too obvious.”

“Okay, you and Inspector Jeffries please go and bring him in. We will question him at the station.”

Walking to the hot chocolate machine, Detective Jim Monroe was now thinking again about the ‘Billy Bookcase.’ Was it significant to the case? Or was it just coincidence that it was nearly half done? Death by screwdriver was really not the way to go.

Striding back to his office whilst enjoying his warm comforting chocolate, he wondered again about husband Phil.

Pulling out his chair, he now sank himself into it and placed his cardboard cup on his desk. Why was the bookcase bothering him?

The bookcase

It was now 9:00 am, not too early for a phone call. Dialing Mr. Jakes’ number, he willed him to answer.

“Hello.”

“Hello, Mr. Jakes, it’s Detective Monroe.”

“Oh hi, any news?”

“Just wondering, errr, who was building the bookcase?”

Embarrassed, Phil said, “I started it, but gave up. There seemed to be parts missing.”

“Hmm, sounds about right for a flat pack. So, was someone else building it?”

“Julie had decided to do it herself, but I would have been surprised if she had completed it. She has never built a flat pack.”

“So, any ideas whose DNA we might find on the screwdriver?”

Phil thought. “Well I know she has been friendly with one of the engineers at work, someone called Mark. Don’t know why he would kill her though. The bookcase might drive someone insane but not to murder.”

“We will keep you informed, Mr. Jakes.”

“Okay.”

Hanging up the phone, Jim Monroe played through the events in his head. They must have been having quite a conversation for Mark Wells to stab her with the screwdriver. His phone rang, making him jump.

Mark Wells

“Hello, Monroe.”

“Sir, it’s Tessa. Err, Wells, he’s missing and no one has seen him since yesterday.”

“Right, I’m going to phone the lab, check what has been found on the screwdriver.”

“We’ll keep looking, sir.”

“Yes, can you alert the local services and the coast guard, we need to find him.”

“I will do that now.”

“Let me know if you have any news.”

Dragging his hands through his hair, he picked up the phone again.

“Hello, labs.”

“Hi, it’s Monroe. Do you have the results?”

“Yes sir, fingerprints on it match with a Mr. Mark Wells.”

“Thank you very much.”

He put the phone down. So that’s confirmed. Death by screwdriver from a man who was used for a little bit of fun. Senseless entertainment that had led to an incomplete bookcase and a blood-covered screwdriver.

***

So, what has happened to Mark Wells?

Sitting on the cliffs in despair, Mark did not know what else to do. He had nothing to live for. He had murdered the lady he had really cared for. Standing up, he walked to the cliff edge. He took a last look around before closing his eyes and hurling himself off the cliff. Hitting the water with a force that hurt, he let the icy waters take over.

Julie had died at his hands, and now he let the water’s cold embrace take over. Death was better than prison.

***

A day later, his body washed up on the beach, and a couple walking their dog found him. Detective Monroe was not surprised when he was informed. He looked at the screwdriver sitting in his desk drawer. He would never see a flat pack in the same way again or a small screwdriver. A sad story that had ended in the death of two people and a family heartbroken.

Time to speak to Julie’s family again. It was now Boxing Day but felt like any other day. Jim Monroe picked up the phone again. All in a day’s work and all because of a screwdriver in the wrong place.

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

Caroline Giammanco: A Merry Christmas

Welcome to Write the Story! Each month Writers Unite! will offer a writing prompt for writers to create a story from and share with everyone. WU! wants to help our members and followers to generate more traffic to their platforms. Please check out the authors’ blogs, websites, Facebook pages and show them support. We would love to hear your thoughts about the stories and appreciate your support! 

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A Merry Christmas

By Caroline Giammanco

This was Merry Smedley’s favorite time of year. Vintage Bing Crosby crooned in the background as she hummed along while putting the finishing touches on gifts for her husband, Hank. Spread across the king-size bed were wrapping papers of various colors and the treasure trove of gifts she had picked up all year long to make Hank happy. Merry stopped for a moment to look at the light flurries coming down outside her bedroom window.

I think they said the heavy stuff will hit tonight, and we’ll have a white Christmas—just like you’re singing about, Bing.

Glancing at the family photos displayed around the room, Merry’s eye released a tear as she admired the photograph of her father. In the photo, he smiled brightly as he had his arms around his wife and daughter in front of a large, glittering Christmas tree. He’d always told Merry that Christmas was his favorite holiday, and while he was alive he made it a huge event. It accounted for her name, even though she’d been born in the heat of summer.

“My sweet little Merry, you’re the best present Daddy could ever have.” She could hear the soothing baritone voice of her father.

She had always been close to him. That is, until he died suddenly a few weeks before Christmas the year she turned eight. He’d been her knight in shining armor, and she believed in fairy tales and happy endings because of him. Her mother never remarried because, as they all knew in their hearts, there was no replacing Howard Stark. He’d been a loving husband, father, and successful engineer who was missed by everyone who knew him.

The first thing that attracted Merry to Hank Smedley their freshman year in college was that he was an engineering student. He had the same shade of light brown hair as her father had, too, and she was certain she had found her own Prince Charming. Her friends hadn’t been so certain, and her best friend Patty would say, “No, Merry. What you’ve found is the frog. Toss him back.”

Merry wasn’t deterred, however. Even though Hank had a few rough social edges, and maybe he did say some things that came across as rude, she stuck by her prince. They married at the end of their sophomore year at the University of Illinois. The next year, Merry dropped out of her microbiology program to work full time as a secretary. Engineering school was too important for Hank to work a part-time job, and the stress caused him to drink. Merry didn’t mind taking a break from her studies. After all, her prince needed her support. She could pick up a career later. 

Things looked up when Hank was hired by NASA shortly after graduation. His bachelor’s degree earned him a spot as a junior technician at the esteemed organization. Merry and Hank loaded up their car and moved to Huntsville, Alabama for his new career. Merry had visions of a happy life filled with love, vacations, and stability.

When they arrived in Huntsville, Merry continued working as a secretary because Hank said he needed to know dinner would be ready for him after he came home from a long day at work. “If you’re in college, all you’ll want to do is study and the house will go to hell.”

While Merry didn’t agree with his appraisal, she swallowed her hopes and dreams and continued to work as a secretary at the local insurance agency. After all, now that Hank had his career started at NASA, the nice house and the children would be soon to follow anyway.

Then, one day, after Hank had worked at NASA for a year and a half, Merry came home to find him sitting on the couch, drinking heavily. A twelve-pack of “dead soldiers” (the term Merry used for his empty beer cans) sat next to his feet. His drinking had never tapered off after college, and there were mornings he’d still smelled of alcohol when he left for work. Merry could feel the tension the moment she walked through the door.

“Those damn cheats!”

“What do you mean, Hank? What’s happened?”

“The sons-of-bitches can keep their job. They stole my idea, Merry. Just because they have ‘Ph.D.’ after their names, those bastards thought they could walk all over me.”

“Were you fired?”

“They claimed I had poor evaluations and were letting me go. Really they used it as an excuse to take my idea and get famous with it themselves. The dirty bastards.”

Merry’s heart sank. She’d suspected Hank hadn’t been upfront with her when she’d made the “mistake” of asking him if his drinking impacted his work.

She swallowed her pride, however, and relied on the goodwill of her family to get them back to Illinois. That’s where they had lived ever since. Hank went without working for nearly a year, claiming he was “done” with engineering. Finally, her uncle got him a job at the local factory, and that’s where he’d worked for the past fifteen years.

During that time, Libby and Joey came along, and Merry did her best to keep up a good front for them. Her children weren’t ever to know of any strife. She also didn’t utter one word of complaint to her family, although she knew that they believed Hank was deadwood in the family tree. 

“Really, Mom, Hank didn’t mean for that to come out the way it sounded. He has a good heart. You just can’t see it,” she’d said on more than one occasion.

The support of her family was what got them by, especially during the holidays. Hank’s pride kept her from telling him that her Christmas savings fund wasn’t what bought the children their toys from Santa. It was best that he didn’t know that the gifts came from her mother. 

Assembling the toys was Hank’s one contribution to Christmas. Her mother didn’t mince words while unloading the boxes of toys to be put together by her son-in-law. “If there’s one thing Hank is good at, it’s using a screwdriver.” 

Merry’s thoughts were brought back to the present. Hank would shine tonight as her handyman prince and would put together the toys once again.

Let’s hope we don’t have a repeat of the year he drank too much and didn’t tighten Libby’s training wheels.

Immediately, Merry chided herself for thinking such a negative thought. It was the holidays, after all. Her favorite time of year. She busied herself with wrapping gifts. She wanted Hank to be surprised. She’d gotten him a brand new tackle box filled with expensive lures and fishing gear. He so loved his weekend outings to his getaway spot. Merry had never seen Hank happier than when he was heading there.

As she placed the last tag on the last gift, her phone rang. The number was a familiar one. Her mother was calling from Wheaton, Merry’s childhood home near Chicago. They chatted and laughed for a good half hour before Merry heard Hank calling from downstairs.

“Mom, I really need to go. Hank says he needs my help with something in the garage. Love and kisses to you.”

In the darkness of a snowy Christmas Eve, Hank slowly drove his truck with the lights off through the subdivision. Merry had begged many times for him to take her to his special getaway place. He’d never shared that—or many other parts of himself—with her before tonight. Well, Merry was finally going to be at his secret spot.

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Please visit Caroline on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100009880805237

Paula Shablo: Screwed

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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 Screwed

By Paula Shablo

Dread filled her the minute she entered the house through the kitchen door. Was he still in here?

Dinah hadn’t even properly moved in yet, but the kitchen was done; a simple wooden table and four chairs, a cheap coffee maker, a few mismatched dishes, and pots and pans. Everything in its place.

She was coming in with a few groceries, planning how to best strategically fill the mini-refrigerator. That’s when she saw the screwdriver.

It lay in the exact center of the table. Sunlight shining through the small window over the sink hit it with striking precision, casting a shadow and reflection at once.

The screwdriver was a Phillips head. It appeared brand new and sparkling clean.

But near the edge of the table—a single drop of blood.

She set the grocery bags carefully on the floor, pulled her cell phone from her pocket, and dialed 911.

“Willie?” Dinah called, her voice strained and weak. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Willie?”

From somewhere beyond the kitchen, she heard a whine, and then a sharp yip.

Damn it. That answered two questions: 1. The blood was Willie’s, and 2. Dustin was still in the house.

She’d been terror stricken when she saw the screwdriver, and even more so when she saw the blood. But now, that terror left her and was replaced with a blinding rage.

She’d heard it said that angry people “saw red,” but until her own vision was washed with the color, suffusing her world with an overall tint she had to squint through, she’d never believed in the analogy.

It was just like Dustin to pull crap like this. Deliberately leaving just one drop of blood on the table was enough to induce panic; no need for a pool. Holding her dog hostage was an act of cruelty that made her grateful there had been no children; he’d have done the same with a toddler, just to frighten her.

Willie was wounded, that much was clear. How badly?

Dinah plucked the screwdriver from the tabletop and slipped it into her jacket pocket. Feigning ignorance, she called again. “Wee Willie Winkey, where are you, sweet baby? Are you okay? Mummy’s home.”

Faintly, from the cell phone, she could hear an operator asking if she was okay. “Where are you, baby?” she called. “Are you hurt?”

The operator’s voice, slightly louder: “I have your location. Say yes.”

Yes, baby, Mummy is here!”

The operator: “A car is on its way.”

As she spoke, her voice louder than necessary, she tiptoed her way across the kitchen and into the short hallway that led to her bedroom and bath. She suspected that Dustin had taken up space in her tiny living room, but she had to be sure.

“Willie, come to Mummy. What’s wrong, little boy?”

What was wrong, of course, was that Dustin had wounded her little Corgi somehow. He couldn’t come to her.

Bedroom and bath were clear.

“Willie?” Back up the hall she went, taking exaggeratedly long strides. With her short legs, she looked comical, but the situation was far from funny.

Willie was whining and panting hard; she could hear him. There was a love seat in the middle of the living room floor, not yet put in place. The front door was behind it, ajar.

Dustin could be on the front porch, holding the dog, Dinah thought. It would be a good place to ambush her as she walked through.

She didn’t believe it, though. She was certain that he was kneeling behind the love seat. If she stood on her toes, she might be able to see the top of his head. If he peeked out at her, she’d see him for sure.

She cursed herself for putting the shades over the big window. She’d have been able to see outside, see the porch. She’d have been able to see the back side of the love seat reflected in the glass.

Damn it!

She backed slowly into the kitchen, calling, “I’ve got a treat for you sweet boy. Come to Mummy. I’m back from the store.”

She had left the door open, so stunned by the sight of the screwdriver that her first thought had been of a ready escape. She slipped out now, and ran around to the front.

As she went, she put her phone to her ear and whispered urgently, “I’m pretty sure someone is in my house. I think it’s my ex.”

“Ma’am? Are you—?”

Dinah quickly recited her new address, which she had taken great care to memorize in case something like this happened. She left the line open, so she could be found, and put the phone in her pocket.

From the postage-stamp-sized front yard, she could see the porch and the open front door. She cursed the blinds again; her need for privacy had bushwhacked her need to see inside her own living room.

Dustin was surely behind the love seat, and if he was watching the door, he would be able to see her coming.

Unless she crawled up from the other side.

Quickly, she assessed the logistics. The porch ran the length of the front of the house. It was more a deck than anything, with fence-like railing on either side of the steps leading to the front door, and about five feet deep from the yard side to the outer wall of the house.

Dinah crept up to the railing farthest from the door and slid underneath onto the deck floor and up against the wall. She was under the window. Carefully she inched her way up the wall to try to get a peek inside, hoping against hope that the blinds would be far enough away from the edge of the pane to allow her a glimpse inside.

Luck was with her, and better than she expected. Through her left eye, she could see Dustin kneeling behind the love seat, clutching her beloved Corgi against his side. His back was to the door—praise be to whatever deities might be out there.

Willie was squirming, trying to escape, and whining piteously. Dinah flinched when Dustin flicked his finger into the little dog’s forehead, making Willie yip. She could see blood on the floor near her dearest friend, but there weren’t copious amounts of it, thank goodness.

Willie was panting hard now, and Dinah hoped that would mask any sounds she might be making as she crawled under with window toward the open door. Luck was with her again; the door was positioned to be open on her side, so she wouldn’t have to go around to get inside. It was ajar enough to allow plenty of space without pushing it open further.

Now, if only Willie would be cooperative enough not to look around and give her away.

Dustin was actually aiding her cause in that respect, since he had pressed Willie’s head against his side. Willie was struggling to get loose, but no more so than he’d been doing previously.

Dinah pulled the screwdriver out of her pocket, slid through the door and pressed the tip to the back of Dustin’s neck, all in the space of about ten seconds. “Let him go,” she hissed.

“I’ll break his damn neck, is what I’ll do,” Dustin hissed back.

Dinah pushed the screwdriver harder into the back of his neck. “I’ll sever your spine in a heartbeat if you don’t let him go RIGHT NOW.”

Dustin released his hold on the dog.

“Run, Willie,” Dinah ordered, and to her relief, the little dog obeyed, dashing into the kitchen.

Dinah applied more pressure, forcing Dustin’s head down until his forehead thumped against the floor. “Put your hands under the couch.”

“What the—?”

“Now! Get them under there, now, asshole!”

Dustin pushed his hands under the love seat.

“Keep going. Slide those arms under there.”

“Dinah—”

“Do it!” Dinah made a quick jab with the screwdriver, puncturing the skin and leaving a wicked scratch.

Dustin shrieked and shoved his arms under the love seat nearly to the elbows, the skin on his forearms dented from the tightness. The top of his head was now pressed against the back of the seat, his elbows slightly bent. He was still on his knees with his butt in the air.

Dinah fought the sudden urge she had to simply shove the screwdriver right up his ass. Instead, she used her free arm to sweep under his belly and crotch to knock his knees out from under him and slam his body into the floor.

Dustin grunted and tried to pull his arms free, but Dinah quickly moved the blade of the screwdriver into the cup of his ear. “Go ahead and try to move, you son of a bitch.”

“I’ll kill you for this!” Dustin promised.

“I’m sure you’ll try,” Dinah replied. “I should probably just kill you now. Get it over with.”

Willie came in through the front door, leapt onto Dustin’s back and delivered a fierce bite between his neck and shoulder. Dustin screamed. “I should have killed that bastard the second I came through the door!”

“The only reason you’re still alive right now is because he is,” Dinah stated flatly.

She could hear the sirens getting closer.

A profound inner conflict raced on within her. If the police released him, she was a dead woman walking.

One strong shove was all it would take to make sure that didn’t happen.

But then she’d be no better than he was.

He was bleeding from the scratch and the bite. It sickened Dinah to realize how gratifying it was to see Dustin bleed.

Over the next several seconds, she relived every slap, every shove, every punch she had suffered at Dustin’s hands. She remembered being kicked repeatedly as she crawled across the floor, begging for mercy. She recalled every cruel word, every threat, every false accusation.

Somehow, she kept her hand from trembling. Somehow, she kept her hand from shoving the tool into his demented brain.

A month ago, she never would have had the guts to confront him. She would have fled the minute she saw the screwdriver and knew he was in her house.

But the little rescue Corgi and a drop of blood were what it took, apparently, to bring out the power she never knew she had.

The power to screw Dustin.

When the police came inside, Dinah was kneeling next to Dustin, a shiny, clean screwdriver in her hand and well away from his ear. Willie was sitting next to her, oozing blood from the puncture wound in his back thigh, his own and Dustin’s blood in his fur and muzzle.

Dustin was on his belly, hands and forearms tightly wedged under the love seat, bleeding from the bites administered by Dinah’s beloved pet.

Most likely, the scratch and puncture from the screwdriver could be attributed to Willie, who had bitten to protect his person from the vicious man who had stabbed him.

If Dustin accused her of assault and it could be proven she’d wounded him, so be it. Dinah knew her rights. She could defend herself in her own home. There was a restraining order in place. He was never supposed to come near her again.

Dinah hadn’t killed him.

Still, Dustin was royally screwed.

And he had provided the screwdriver.

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Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.wordpress.com/

Caroline Giammanco: Hank’s First Christmas

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

Hank’s First Christmas

By Caroline Giammanco 

Hank Smedley hated Christmas. Well, not the holiday itself, but certainly all the “honey-dos” he was forced to tangle with during the hectic days around it. His wife, Merry (and oh, how she thought it was hilarious to tell everyone she wished them a “Merry” Christmas), had never-ending lists of work for him to do. All Hank wanted to do was relax.

His job at the factory wasn’t bad. Monotonous? Yes. Bad? Well, not really. He had spent the past fifteen years with a screwdriver in his hand, securing Part A to Part B on the assembly line. Maybe that was why he resented the “Assembly Required” warnings on each box he opened that quiet, snowy evening. 

How would she like it if I made her be a secretary here at home? Huh? I’ve never told her that she needs to take dictation or file paperwork when she’s on vacation. Why can’t she ever give me a break?

The clock tick-tocked on the wall, and sweat formed on Hank’s forehead. He sat in silence, staring at the screwdriver in his hand. It fit perfectly. Tonight that had been useful. The red on the handle reminded him that he still had much to do before the morning arrived. There would be people coming to the house over the next few days. The red just wouldn’t do.

Why does she insist on buying toys that have to be assembled? Why couldn’t she let me enjoy the holiday?

With each turn of the screwdriver, his frustration mounted. Years of resentment and anger caused him to lean in with every rotation.

Hank shrugged. He knew he shouldn’t complain. Not really. Tonight was like all the Christmas Eves he’d spent since their oldest, Libby, had been born eight years before, but he was certain this wouldn’t happen again. His time had come to enjoy Christmas too. 

His thoughts drifted to the year Libby opened her little, pink, motorized convertible. 

I swear I thought this screwdriver was going to give me blisters that night.

Hank had to smile, however, at the vision of his Libby giggling with joy. 

The smile left his face when he remembered Merry’s harping the year he didn’t tighten the training wheels on Lib’s bicycle. Five stitches at the emergency room on Christmas morning hadn’t been how she wanted to spend the day. As if it was all about her? No thanks for the hours he’d spent putting it all together. No concern about Libby’s forehead that had whacked the pavement on the driveway as the bicycle tipped over. 

Damn it, Merry. Why did everything always have to be about you?

The clock chimed 12:30.

Hank knew if he’d gotten started on the toys sooner, he wouldn’t be in the rush he was now. If it hadn’t been for Merry nagging about one thing and another, he’d have gotten these toys assembled hours ago.

But there was the issue of Merry.

Turning the television set on with the volume low, he searched for the Weather Channel. 

“Accumulations are expected to be in the eight-to-twelve-inch range this evening with a coating of ice to be added in the early morning hours of Christmas Day. Stay tuned for updated forecasts for your area.”

Eight inches should be enough. Hell, twelve inches will be even better. 

Hank returned his thoughts to the diagram laid out before him. One side of the directions was in Chinese. The other in English. None of the diagrams made sense to him. The only thing that kept Hank going was knowing how excited Libby and Joey would be in the morning. 

Once I’m done with this, I’ll finish cleaning up the mess.

After an hour of assembling and reassembling the pieces, he completed the last toy of the evening. His knees ached as he stood. A good stretch and a yawn helped clear his head. 

The smell of bleach still permeated the room, and he knew that had to go. He quietly slipped into the kitchen pantry where Merry stored the Scentsy wax. “Apples and Cinnamon” sounded delicious. Opening the door to the garage and turning on ceiling fans, Hank hoped to remove the antiseptic smell while he went from wax warmer to wax warmer depositing double doses of scented magic into each one.

Breathing deeply, Hank quietly said, “Ah, that’s much better.”

He washed the screwdriver carefully—meticulously—and placed it in the dishwasher for good measure. 

“That should take care of that.”

He stepped into the garage to take inventory. The set of clothes he’d worn earlier in the day was secured in the large black trash bag. Yes, he had both gloves in there as well, and he had properly disposed of his boots by double-wrapping them before putting them in the bag. Slipping into his vehicle, he left the lights off as he drove out of the subdivision, turned onto Highway 205, and went to his favorite getaway spot. He was glad he had thought to put the camper shell on the back. He hated nosey neighbors.

Within forty-five minutes, he was back home. The snow was really falling now. Looking out the kitchen window, the tire tracks into his driveway were almost erased already. 

At around four o’clock, well before his children would awake to see what Santa had brought them, Hank, sleepy and spent, stumbled into his bedroom where he saw the king-sized bed Merry had insisted he put together five years ago. She’d said the mattress would help her back. Hank crawled under the covers, stretching out fully in this bed that he now had all to himself.

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Lisa Criss Griffin: Fixing the Screwed

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.)  

Fixing The Screwed

by Lisa Criss Griffin

“Oh, no…I’m totally SCREWED!” Kendra whispered to herself guiltily. She stared at the small screwdriver wrapped in a tiny red bow resting on the computer keyboard in her cubicle. She was completely humiliated! Kendra fervently wished the floor would suddenly open up and suck her down into the anonymity of total darkness for the rest of her workday.

It was the latest fad going around the office at BotTech. Ever since the recent H.R. policy was implemented to change accountability to workgroups instead of individuals, the actual offenders were being revealed by the subversive gift of a decorative screwdriver from unknown sources! 

Kendra knew she should have taken care of making the arrangements for the conference room for this morning’s meeting a week ago. Unfortunately, she had completely forgotten about arranging for the conference room until yesterday and had spent a good part of her day scrambling to find an appropriate place for the meeting. She had finally wrangled a room in the basement from the Safety Committee, who were not thrilled to be relocated to a corner in the cafeteria across the hall. The tone of the nasty email they sent her regarding the change was still burning in her brain.

She reached out and snatched up the little screwdriver, hurriedly hiding it in the unfathomable depths of her fashionably large purse. Kendra looked furtively around the office to see if anyone else had noticed it. Multiple heads instantly popped down behind the sea of beige cubicle walls, reminding her of the game of “whack a mole” she used to play as a kid. A chorus of muted murmurs drifted by her cubicle as she put her purse away and turned on her computer. At least it was a minor offense, and thus a tiny screwdriver. Unlike the screwdriver, poor Lance Bastian had received a week ago.

To be fair, Lance had really screwed up. He was about to leave on vacation and in his haste to wrap things up, he sent the wrong file to his team. His file was a big part of a major project and his team had panicked. Fortunately, he had been able to access and send the correct file the next morning when he came back in to work for his remaining half day. 

Lance had not gone on a vacation in two years. It had taken him that long to recover financially from the vitriolic divorce he had barely survived. In the end, he had given her almost everything in order to put a stop to the pain. It had been worth it to him, even if he had to start over financially, to get the vindictive woman out of his life. Thankfully, there were no kids involved, and he was truly free of her once the divorce was final. The sad part was that he had really loved her, tried to make her happy, and he never cheated on her. She decided he had cheated though, and nothing he said or did could change her mind.

Lance had walked into his cubicle at BotTech the morning before his vacation was to begin and found the large screwdriver with a big red bow propped up against the side of his monitor screen. Poor guy…somebody had even downloaded a new screensaver to his computer. Shortly after turning on his computer, multiple screwdrivers slowly rotated in unison as they scrolled across the computer screen. Lance promptly rectified his error, deleted the screensaver and hid in his cubicle until he could escape at noon. He could not wait to get on the plane for Florida so he could spend the next two weeks on a beach with no one to answer to! 

Nobody was sure what Lance did with the large screwdriver since it was nowhere to be found after he bolted out the door at precisely twelve o’clock. Some of Lance’s teammates were sorry they had taken it so far, and they hoped they would have the chance to make it up to him when he returned. Lance was a good guy and very well liked among his coworkers. They knew the hell he had been through and now regretted causing him any further angst.

Some of the more pragmatic employees seemed safe from the public humiliation of the dreaded screwdriver, but not always. The highly efficient receptionist who fielded and directed all the business calls within the company had accidentally transferred an incoming call from the V.P. of one of BotTech’s best customers to Sanitation. The guys in Sanitation were convinced they were being pranked, and the whole conversation had easily and predictably devolved into a highly inappropriate verbal carnival. The Sanitation Department was a separate entity from BotTech, so beyond lodging a complaint with a faceless voice in another state, the kerfuffle was out of BotTech’s hands. 

Except for Judy the receptionist. It really had been an honest mistake; the two extensions only being different by one digit, but Judy found the dreaded screwdriver tied to her phone the next morning by a festive red ribbon. Fortunately, Judy was known for her exceptional sense of humor, and she simply found the whole thing amusing. She even made a little sign for her desk that she propped up behind the decorative screwdriver, announcing:

“Excellence comes with smidgens of imperfection!” 

Of course, the story of the whole debacle had made the rounds throughout the company by then, and various people stopped by to chat about their common human imperfections with Judy over the course of the day. Moments of spontaneous laughter filled her workday, including guffaws over imaginative scenarios involving several of the irrepressible pranksters within the Sanitation department. Judy went home giggling and feeling somewhat vindicated. 

The reaction to Judy’s screwdriver turned out to be the pivot point in everyone’s view of the dreaded tool. People began to acknowledge the fact that everybody screwed up sometimes and usually tried to fix their mistakes. Subsequent decorative screwdrivers began showing up along with small notes of encouragement!

Ted drug his feet as he entered the office area, convinced he had a freakin’ screwdriver waiting for him in his cubicle. He sighed as he trudged between the endless rows of beige cubicle walls toward his workspace. His twin brother was dying of cancer and he had been distracted and preoccupied lately. He recently miscalculated some figures that had thrown off the specs for his team’s project, putting them behind schedule. 

He had stayed late yesterday to fix the error, but now he was barely functioning on a couple hours of sleep. Ted had gone directly to visit his beloved brother after fixing his mistake. He spent most of the night sitting next to his brother’s bed, holding his hand and reminiscing about their lives together. Ted felt the hot sting of tears in his eyes once again as he turned the corner and entered his cubicle.

Sure enough, there was a dang screwdriver wrapped in a red bow resting at the base of his monitor. But there was something else. An envelope with his name on it was taped to the screwdriver under the red bow. Ted wiped his eyes, wondering what kind of fresh hell he was in for now. 

He sat down and removed the envelope from the screwdriver, pulling out a small card. Ted took a deep, rather shaky breath and opened the card, steeling himself for further humiliation. His face relaxed in surprise as he read it.

“Ted, thank you for taking your valuable time to help us get our project back on schedule. We know your time with your brother is precious and we wanted you to know how much we appreciate you. You did a good job fixing the problem for us.”

The card was unsigned, but it didn’t matter. Suddenly, the screwdriver was a symbol of appreciation for something he had fixed for his work family! Ted put the decorative screwdriver beside his monitor along with the card of encouragement. He folded the card open so he could read it during his workday. Ted found himself smiling the rest of the day, and there was a spring in his step when it was time to leave. 

Melanie watched Ted leave, wondering what had caused such a difference in his behavior. She hurriedly shut down her computer and almost ran out the door. She was a single mother and her schedule left little wiggle room for unexpected surprises. Melanie glanced at her cell phone, noting the time. She had to pick up her kids from the babysitter on time, or she was afraid the sitter would quit. 

Melanie was developing a new marketing strategy with Brian and Kelly for BotTech, and she could not afford to fall behind. She had downloaded some of the most promising ideas to Dropbox so she could work on them at home after the kids went to bed. 

Melanie pulled up to the babysitter’s house with five minutes to spare. She hopped out of the car and knocked on the front door. The door swung open, and two excited little boys piled into her waiting arms. 

“Mommie! Mommie!” they cried as they covered her face with boyish kisses.

Melanie hugged them close, aware that moments like this were why she worked so hard to be able to take care of the little fellas. She helped the boys into their car seats and buckled them in for the ride home. Both children were already sleepy as she pulled into the garage. She turned off the car as the garage door shut behind them.

She fed them, gave them their baths and read them a bedtime story as they both nodded off. Melanie tucked both of them in, kissing their sweet-smelling foreheads gently. She turned off the light and barely closed the door, making sure to leave a crack so she could hear them if they needed her. 

Melanie pulled out her laptop and began working on an idea she had for the company’s marketing proposals. Her eyelids grew heavy as the hours passed, and she finally fell asleep on the couch, the bluish glow of the computer illuminating the faint lines of exhaustion in her youthful face.

Morning came before she knew it. Two bouncy little boys woke her up, clamoring for some breakfast. She immediately fixed them some oatmeal and juice, laid out their clothes and turned on their favorite cartoon. She hurriedly dressed for her workday. She had a meeting with Brian and Kelly this morning to go over their ideas and she had overslept. She tried to text Kelly that she was running late as the garage door slowly opened, but her cell phone was dead.

Melanie dropped her little ones off at the babysitter and quickly drove to BotTech. She was already thirty minutes late for the meeting and she was a bundle of nerves. They had allotted an hour for the meeting, so she hoped it wouldn’t be a total loss. Melanie rushed directly to the meeting room. It was empty. 

A wave of fear washed over her as she reluctantly made her way through the endless beige cubicle walls to her work station. Would she even get a chance to share the innovative marketing idea she had come up with at home? Was her job in jeopardy? She had never been late like this before, and had never missed a meeting. She wondered how pissed Brian and Kelly were right now. She was afraid she was about to find out as she neared her cubicle.

Melanie plopped down in her office chair, staring in dismay at the ominous screwdriver resting by her mouse. It was adorned with a curly red bow…and something else. She reached out hesitantly and picked up the envelope lying under the screwdriver. This was the stuff of her worst nightmares. She could not afford to lose her job! Tears welled up in her eyes as she pulled the card out of the envelope. Melanie felt her throat tighten in apprehension as she slowly opened the card.

“Melanie, we have rescheduled our meeting for one o’clock. After noticing the information you placed in Dropbox yesterday evening, we realized you must have worked at home late last night after getting your boys to bed, and most likely overslept this morning. We appreciate the extra effort you are making for our new marketing campaign. We are excited to hear what you have come up with!”

Melanie exhaled slowly, realizing she had been holding her breath while she read the note. Relief flooded her entire being as she had an aha moment. Her coworkers knew her situation. They valued her enough to extend her some much-needed grace. It was wonderful to be acknowledged as a person rather than just a company resource! Melanie smiled as she moved the ribboned screwdriver and the card to the side of her desk…out of the way, but where she could still see them. She needed reminders of her intrinsic value in this world. No, not just her, everybody needed them!

The evening of the company Christmas party finally arrived. There was real excitement among the BotTech employees about attending the festivities this year. The atmosphere in the office had changed dramatically since the decorative screwdrivers began to appear with the notes of encouragement. People had decorated their cubicles and everybody was much more cheerful. The usual sea of beige had been transformed into a riot of festive colors, and someone had started a very popular Christmas treat table. Spontaneous bursts of laughter aptly described the mood in the workplace, especially since the guys from Sanitation had discovered their penchant for humor was appreciated by the office personnel.

Walter Fox, the Human Resources manager, leaned back in his chair as he twirled a pen through his fingers thoughtfully. He had been quite concerned how his folks would react to the new policy mandated by corporate a couple of months ago. It had not been well received at other BotTech plants, and people had been losing their jobs. Walter was worried when the screwdrivers began to appear. He was pretty sure that type of accountability was illegal, but he had been unable to catch the perpetrators. 

Walter Fox had decided not to interfere after the notes of encouragement began to accompany the decorative screwdrivers. Walter could understand the backlash against the new corporate policy. He didn’t care much for it either, but his hands were tied. Sure, there were always people who could, and would, find something to gripe about. But this had been different, and he could relate to the frustration his employees felt over the policy change.

Then, something wonderful and unexpected happened. His employees chose to encourage those who were making mistakes instead of simply condemning them. The decorative screwdrivers were now visible testimonies of support by fellow staffers. People were actually displaying them on their desks as evidence of goodwill and peer validation. The whole attitude in the office had shifted and he reveled in the sounds of merriment outside his office. 

Walter chuckled at the audacious nerve of whoever had dared to dream up the crazy screwdriver protest idea. The beauty of it was that it had morphed from a petty protest into a unique way to encourage and validate fellow coworkers who were struggling. 

Walter stood up, cleared his throat and stepped out of his office into an atmosphere of frivolity flavored with a hint of freshly baked sugar cookies. He looked around the expanse of colorful cubicles and smiled enigmatically. It would be an extremely cold day in hell before Walter Fox revealed that he personally…had been the very first recipient of the dreaded and by far the largest, decorative screwdriver at BotTech!

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