Jill Richter: A Poem

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A Poem

By Jill Richter

You admire the landscape, breathe in the beauty, and exhale in gratitude.
 
As you get closer to the unknown, fear creeps in and the beauty and gratitude are defeated by worry.
You wonder what lurks inside. You wonder if something or someone is watching you, waiting for you, or is going to get you.
You want to turn around. Everything inside screams go back, leave, get away. You are not safe. Something bad could happen.
 
But just this once you are not going to listen. You can’t go back. Deep down you do not want to go back.
You tell yourself the odds are forever in your favor and you inch your way forward.
The closer you get the darkness fades.
 
Now you are more curious than you ever were afraid, so you enter.
You let the light behind you guide you forward until that light is gone.
 
You rely on your intuition and hands, knees, and feet as you crawl through the darkness. Unsure, unable to see, not knowing what is ahead you keep moving.
 
And then light appears again.
You have to squeeze through one more jagged spot.
 
You step out on the other side and face the most beautiful site you have ever seen.
You admire the landscape, breathe in the beauty, and exhale in gratitude once again.
 
You look back and smile. Proud to have overcome. Proud to have faced the unknown, faced your fear, and happy to have made the choice to move forward.
 
Now you know where you came from, where you have gone, what you have overcome, and you are excited to go explore the unknown.

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Lisa Criss Griffin: Choosing Freedom

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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Choosing Freedom

by Lisa Criss Griffin

The ever-present call of the beloved mountains of his childhood finally brought Jackson home. Home to the farm he grew up on, loved, and left for a greater opportunity. He had been reasonably successful in his white-collar job in the city. But it was all over now. His job was considered nonessential during the seemingly never-ending pandemic. He not only lost his source of income but his lease to his lavish downtown apartment. 

His neighborhood was almost empty now, except for the criminal gangs of looters that roamed the streets and buildings for anything left of value. Other people who inhabited his building were only vague acquaintances except for a couple of tenants on his floor. He had always found the anonymity depressing since he had grown up in a small community where everyone knew everybody else. There were no secrets in his hometown, at least not for long. Here in the city, nobody cared what he did, as long as it wasn’t newsworthy. 

That afternoon, Jackson packed up everything he could fit into his large SUV that was truly important to him. He hit the road for home the next morning before the sun came up. He was excited to see his parents. They had always been a close family. His mother usually kept Jackson’s room in the rambling old farmhouse ready for him in case he found an unexpected opportunity to visit. He enjoyed his visits immensely, unless his brother Grant was there. 

He and Grant had been close until Grant fell head over heels in love with Andrea. Unfortunately, Andrea was Jackson’s fiancé at the time. Andrea eventually called off the wedding because of the growing turmoil between the two brothers. Jackson left the mountains, his heart crushed and bitter. He decided he would do something entirely different with his life. Only a few months after Jackson began his freshman year at the university, Andrea disappeared. Search parties scoured the mountainous area for Andrea for over a month, but never found any signs of her. 

Folks eventually decided she either successfully left the region or had been murdered. Then there were stories of possible alien abductions inevitably spun around campfires at night. Even Bigfoot became a suspect in Andrea’s mysterious disappearance. Jackson had grieved for her deeply, alone in the city. But that had been seven years ago, and it was now a closed chapter in his life.

The road began winding through the familiar wooded mountains. It was late spring and the forests were dotted with splashes of color from the dogwoods, redbuds and other flowering trees. Patches of wild purple phlox sprinkled the rocks bordering the roadway. Jackson lowered his window, enjoying the sweet smell of the fresh mountain air blowing across his face. The air here was different somehow. He always imagined there was a unique healing quality deep in the forests. It was in the air, the dirt, the water and in the whole of God’s natural creation. He suddenly realized he had missed this, way more than he remembered.

Intense orange, maroon and purple striated clouds painted the evening sky as Jackson made the turn onto the freshly graveled drive traversing his family’s land. The 600-acre farmstead was mostly covered with rolling forestland, but there were over 200 tillable acres in the wide valley that housed the barns and the family home place. 

Home was a large white farmhouse with dark green shutters and spacious rooms. The ceilings were high and there were working fireplaces in almost every room. His family had taken great care with the upkeep of the entire farm over the years, and the big house was comfortable, yet immaculate. He used to love to curl up in one of the numerous rocking chairs on the wide, covered porch and listen to the sound of the rain drumming loudly on the metal roof overhead.

The SUV angled around a bend in the road and revealed the home Jackson had been picturing in his mind ever since he entered the mountains he loved. A shimmering silver fog was slowly rolling in, swirling gracefully around the house and the colorful landscaping his mother had already planted with welcoming flowers. Buttery yellow lights poured from the numerous windows of the home, beckoning him to return to the warm embrace of his loving family.

Jackson stepped out of his SUV into the cool evening air and was greeted by the sound of hundreds of tiny, croaking peepers. A light breeze played across the yard, bearing the intensely sweet scent of the tiny trumpet-shaped flowers of a nearby autumn olive.

The front door flew open as Jackson stepped onto the front porch.

“Jackson! Oh, honey. We are so glad you decided to come home!”

“It feels good to be home, Mama.”

“Well, come on in, son. Are you hungry? I have some fresh biscuits and stew still on the stove. And there is cold lemonade too.”

“Well Mama, any feller in his right mind wouldn’t mind driving all day long just for the opportunity to enjoy your fine home cooking. I sure have missed your cooking! Hey, where is Pop?”

“He fell asleep in the recliner waiting for you. Here, eat your supper before we wake him. He has never quite bounced back since we all had that horrible virus. Funny how it made some people so much sicker than others. It killed off both Amos and Janie Blount. Poor ole things died within minutes of each other, while holding hands in his hospital room. I think losing him just broke her heart and she didn’t want to live without him. The doctors said she died of a heart attack. I say she died of a broken heart.”

Evi Abraham sighed softly as she poured cold lemonade into a tall glass and placed it on the table for her son. She was terribly glad he had come home. A piece of her heart had left with him seven years ago when he fled the mountains with his life in tatters. He had done very well for himself, and maybe now he could free himself of the emotional misery he hid so well. She could still sense it, whether he could or not. She sensed it in the way he contemplated his biscuit before breaking it open to slather it with fresh butter. Andrea used to come over and cook with Evi for the family after she and Jackson were engaged. Andrea made the best cathead biscuits Evi had ever eaten. She was also one of the most truly kind girls Evi had ever known. Evi had been devastated when the boys had their falling out over Andrea. She still couldn’t understand what possessed Grant to obsess over Andrea, knowing she was engaged to his brother. She knew for a fact Andrea never encouraged Grant’s affection. 

She still didn’t understand Grant. He had been in and out of trouble for ages, unable to overcome his ongoing drug addiction. She finally joined Al Anon in a desperate attempt to salvage what was left of her sanity after Jackson left. It had been a godsend and an eye opener. She loved both her sons with every fiber of her being, but she could not fix their lives. Only they could do that. Grant was nearing the end of his latest court-ordered treatment program. She hoped it would help him choose to stay sober this time, but it would surprise her if he did. Evi was truly amazed Grant had survived this long. Addiction was a cruel taskmaster.

Jackson finished his meal and thanked her. He walked to the living room, finding his father sound asleep in his recliner. An old episode of the Andy Griffith Show was playing softly in the background on the old TV. Jackson placed a hand on his father’s arm gently.

“Pop. Hey, Pop.”

Duke Abraham’s eyes fluttered open. A grin spread across his grizzled face as he recognized his eldest son.

“Welcome home, son. I am so glad you are here. Hmmmmm. You look awfully tired, boy. Maybe we both should get some sleep and visit tomorrow.”

“Sure, Pop. I am really tired from the drive. We will visit in the morning.”

Duke nodded and patted Jackson’s hand resting on his arm. Jackson finished unloading his car and parked it beside the house under the carport. He fell exhausted into his comfortable bed, noting his mother had opened the window in his room. The fresh air had cleared out the stuffiness of the closed-off room. Jackson fell asleep listening to the familiar songs of nocturnal frogs and birds from his childhood.

She stood at the foot of his bed, glowing softly in the moonlight. Her light blue eyes were filled with despair. Tears slid down her luminescent cheeks as she called to him softly.

“Jackson. Hear me. Find me. Free me. Come, find me and free me, Jackson….” 

Andrea’s familiar voice stirred his soul, and he tossed fitfully in his sleep.

“Jackson, please. Come find me and free me. Help me! I’ve been waiting so long….”

Jackson sat straight up in bed, shocked by the reality of the dream. Was it a dream? A scent of lavender lingered by his bed. Andrea had always spritzed herself lightly with a lavender perfume. He ran his hands through his thick black hair in consternation before he lay back down in his bed. He couldn’t get her lilting voice out of his head. How could he find her after seven years? How could he free her? Free her from what? He hoped he wasn’t losing his mind. No. He was just tired and hadn’t been home for a long time. He turned over and drifted back to sleep.

Morning found the family gathered around the breakfast table, sharing a good, old-fashioned country breakfast and old memories of happier times. It was over too soon, but there were chores to be done. Jackson noticed his father beginning to lose steam by mid-morning and offered to finish up so his Dad could rest. It was obvious Pop had not yet fully recovered from his battle with the COVID-19 virus. Pop thanked him and slowly headed for the house. 

Jackson finished caring for the various animals on the farm and found a couple of areas of fencing to repair. He had the repairs done by lunchtime, then headed out to the large garden to see what needed to be done. It was supper time before he finished weeding and watering. He went straight to bed after a shower and supper. A full belly and a productive day’s work had done wonders for his attitude. 

Jackson stepped back into his role on the farm with ease, and several weeks passed before he knew it. He decided he would take an afternoon off and hike some of the old trails in the forest he and Grant used to explore together as kids. He had always loved the forest and considered it an old friend.

He packed a small backpack, his knife and his old familiar rifle. Bears were starting to come out of hibernation and were hungry. He wasn’t interested in being dinner for an aggressive predator. He took an old trail that had been forged long before he was born. It went past a lovely lake towards the edge of their farm. The lake was one of his favorite places to visit. The thought that he and Andrea spent many hours there flitted quietly in the back of his mind. He quickly dismissed it. Truth be told, Jackson was still a little freaked out by Andrea’s ethereal visitation his first night back, and he deliberately chose not to focus on it during today’s hike.

The emerald lake was as serene and beautiful as Jackson remembered. He sat on a rock and enjoyed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and an apple. He sipped his bottle of water pensively as he allowed the serenity of the place to soothe his soul. He noticed several trees had fallen around the perimeter of the lake. Storms could be wild up here, and no doubt the trees were casualties of Mother Nature. 

One of the fallen trees caught his eye. It was hollow, and at least ten feet in circumference. Moss had covered the outer bark, so it must have fallen years ago. Jackson was intrigued. He packed up his gear and made his way around the edge of the lake to the huge fallen giant. The opening smelled seductively of lavender. A subtle breeze seemed to caress his cheek momentarily as he peered into the dark opening. 

He pulled a bright flashlight out of his pack and flicked it on. He stepped inside the log, amazed that at 6’2”, he still had plenty of headroom. Wary of predators, he explored the interior with his light before proceeding farther into the interior of the fallen tree. Each step brought him closer to a subtle glow towards the back of the ancient hollow log. His breathing accelerated and he felt his heart begin to race as he drew closer. He was quite surprised he wasn’t afraid. He was more excited than anything. Whatever was about to happen felt like destiny. He stopped dead in his tracks and gasped out loud as the glow suddenly rose up from behind a large knot in the tree. It slowly transformed into a vision of the most beautiful girl he had ever seen in his life!

“Andrea…” he whispered in awe.

“Yes. You finally came! I knew you would if you ever came home.”

“I don’t understand. What has happened to you? How can I help you?”

“I need you to free me, Jackson.”

“How can I free you, Andrea?”

“There is only one way. You must forgive your brother. And forgive me.”

“Well, that is a tall order where Grant is concerned. But you, I don’t resent you, Andrea.”

“Don’t you, Jackson? I tried not to hurt your family by stepping out of an impossible situation. By doing so, I hurt your heart most of all. I am so sorry, Jackson. My actions broke both our hearts. And I made a fateful decision when I realized you were never coming back. Please forgive me, Jackson. Please.”

The ice encasing Jackson’s heart began to melt. He loved Andrea. From the first moment he saw her, he wanted her for his own. Nothing had changed. He still loved her, and was willing to forgive her anything if it would help her somehow.

“Yes, I choose to forgive you, Andrea. But I don’t understand. What could you have possibly done to disappear without a trace for seven years? You don’t even look any older. Tell me what is going on!”

Andrea sighed. Her troubled blue eyes captured his full attention as she shared her fateful secret with him.

“After you left, I was devastated. A few weeks later, in desperation, I paid a visit to old Granny Moffet up on Witch Mountain. To make a long story short, she cast a spell to heal us all. So far, it has not worked out well for any of us.”

Andrea wiped an errant tear from her pale cheek.

“The only way you can free me, Jackson, is to forgive me. And you have to be willing to forgive Grant for all his shortcomings too. If you choose not to do these things, I will never be free. And honestly, my beloved, neither will you.”

Andrea began to fade before Jackson’s eyes. He grabbed for her, but only came up with a handful of lavender scented mist. He backed out of the gigantic, overturned tree, with a mission he wasn’t sure he could complete. He made his way home, relieved when he reached the edge of the farmhouse yard. A storm was rumbling in the distance as he stepped onto the porch. Pop was sitting on the porch with somebody. Jackson locked eyes with the unexpected visitor.

“Well, hello there, Grant. Long time, no see.”

Grant looked much older than his actual age, and his body slumped with regret. 

“Hi, Jackson. You look well, brother.”

“Pull up a chair, Jackson. Grant has something he wants to say to you.”

Jackson sighed and mentally rolled his eyes as he pulled up a rocker next to his brother. Grant looked at Jackson with a sincerity Jackson had not seen in his eyes since they were young.

“I’d like to try to make amends for all the horrible things I’ve put you through over the years. And especially for my foolishness over Andrea. I had no right to pursue her, and believe me, she had no interest in an addict like me. I am so sorry for what I did. I have no excuses other than I was not in my right mind at the time. But I am still responsible for my bad behavior. I would treasure your forgiveness Jackson, if you can ever choose to forgive me. I have one year of sobriety now, and I am doing what I have to do to stay sober every day. I hope you will forgive your foolish little brother.”

Rain began to thump on the metal roof of the porch, triggering memories of the two brothers huddled in a rocker under a quilt to watch the storms over the years. Jackson stood up and gazed into the fading light.

“I forgive you, Grant. You are my brother. You were lost to us all, and now you are back.”

Jackson turned and met Grant’s surprised gaze.

“I forgive you.”

A blinding crack of lightning accompanied a booming roll of thunder that shook the old farmhouse. Andrea stepped out of the shadows and ran into Jackson’s waiting arms. The spell was broken. Forgiveness had freed them from their shackles of despair. Life was beginning anew, for all of them.

****************

Copyright © 2020 Lisa Criss Griffin

All rights reserved

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Michele Sayre: Two In the Woods

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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Two In the Woods

By Michele Sayre 

“Fall back! Fall back!”

Where to, Jim thought as he ran like hell through the woods. This part of Germany had pristine forests that were probably going to be blasted to bits in this crazy war before it was all over. Tanks had rolled from the Russian East and then the Allied West rolled theirs and pretty soon it was World War Three without nukes at least.

Shots rang out through the trees and he slid down into the undergrowth. He put his back against a tree and checked his ammo clip before putting it back in his rifle. Even as the gunfire sounded like it was moving off, he decided he needed better shelter so he looked around… and found something a little more substantial.

He ran across the forest floor to a huge tree that had fallen down. The base of it looked like it would provide enough shelter to keep the rain from soaking him.

He slid back against the dirt and muck of the fallen tree-base just as a huge crack of thunder rocked the sky, and just as someone else slid into the shelter of the tree close to him.

He raised his rifle just as the other person did the same but neither fired as the wind blew hard and the rain poured down.

“Let’s back in a little further before we shoot each other.” Jim lowered his rifle then scooted back across the mud.

As the person opposite him lowered their rifle, he saw two things that made him think this might not have been his best decision: a red hammer-and-sickle emblem on their left breast-pocket, and that his companion was a woman with a long-barreled sniper rifle.

“Shit. I’m stuck with a Russian sniper-bitch.”

She raised her rifle right at him. “Watch what you say, American pig.”

“Pig? Is that the best you can do?”

She didn’t lower her rifle and he knew that one round from it would blast his head into a lot of bloody pieces.

“Okay, how about you lower that rifle because if you blow my head off my corpse is going to stink all to hell.”

She lowered her rifle but kept a hold of it even as she sat back a little.

“Thanks.” He said. “What’s your name?”

“Tatiana.”

“That’s a mouthful.”

“Mouth… full?”

He smiled at her struggle with his language. “It’s a lot of syllables. You got a nickname? Something shorter maybe?”

She was silent for a moment then she said, “My friends call me Tania.”

“My friends call me Jim.”

“Like Captain Kirk’s friends do.”

That made him laugh a little in appreciation. “I like that.”

“I like Captain Picard much better.” She said in that cute Russian accent of hers.

“Yeah, he’s good.” Jim set his rifle aside and shrugged off his backpack. She tensed up as he began to open his bag.

“It’s alright. Just looking for a bite to eat. You got food because if not, I’ll share mine with you.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Yeah, well I feel like a snack.” He dug into his bag to see if he still had any candy or cookies that were edible.

The rain came down hard now and he could feel cold mist from it. Tania sat with her knees up to her chest, holding herself tightly. She looked like she was in her late twenties maybe, with dark hair slipping out in tendrils from under her helmet. She had big brown eyes and a full mouth, and probably was a real beauty underneath her baggy uniform.

“Here.” He held out a candy bar towards her.

She took it from him. “Thank you.”

“It’s good old American chocolate.”

“I like Belgian chocolate better.”

He laughed at that but not in a way that felt like he was insulting her. “You always have a good comeback for me, don’t you?”

She didn’t say anything to that because she was eating. But she decided to take the time to really look at him.

He was as dirty and muddy as she was yet his eyes were kind, a nice soft brown along with his smile that she was sure had charmed many ladies. He pulled off his helmet and his dark hair was wet and matted with sweat yet it curled gently in an unkempt way that she suddenly found very attractive.

They finished their chocolate in silence as the rain slowly let up. He took her empty wrapper from her and jammed it into his bag. Then he stood up.

“Come on.”

“Where to?” She stood up, too and slung her rifle over her shoulder.

“To find someplace with a better roof. More weather is coming and I don’t feel like spending a night out in the cold and the wet.”

“But this is all forest?”

He stepped out from the under the fallen tree they’d taken shelter in. “This used to be prime hunting ground according to the intel I got. There’s probably a few old hunting shacks left around here somewhere. We just have to find one.”

“And if not?”

He turned back to face her. “Then the cold and wet it is.”

Tania knew she should try to get back to her unit but she didn’t want to go back to a bunch of foul, smelly men who constantly looked at her in ways that made her always be on her guard. Because even though Jim was supposed to be the enemy, he had treated her so much better than her fellow comrade-soldiers.

But could she trust him? As she followed him into the woods, she felt like she could. She just hoped she wasn’t wrong.

She almost stumbled as Jim dropped to his knees before she saw why. Up ahead about twenty meters away was a little wooden cabin. It looked old but sturdy. Thunder rumbled overhead, and it was getting dark quickly. “Can you look through your scope and see if anyone’s in there? I don’t want to surprise anyone.”

She used the tree stump in front of her to rest her rifle on while she peered through the scope.

“Can that thing pick up heat signatures?”

“Heat signatures?” She asked.

Damn language barrier- “Body heat from people.”

“No.” She peered through her scope through the two windows that faced where they were. “I don’t see anyone inside.”

“Okay. Follow me and watch my back.”

She kept herself a few paces behind him as he slowly went up to the little cabin. He crouched down and touched the door knob, then slowly turned it. He eased slowly forward as he pushed open the door. Then he stood up and went inside. After about a minute, he called out to her, “Clear.”

She followed him inside and was surprised to find a single open room with a old bed against one wall, a stone fireplace on the other wall, a small kitchen, and a sofa in front of the fireplace with a small table in front of it.

She set her rifle against the side of the sofa along with her pack then she sat down on the sofa. She watched as Jim set his rifle beside the opposite end of the sofa and his pack down, too.

“You got any food in your pack?”

“Just rations.”

“And by the look on your face you don’t really want them, do you?”

Tania laughed a little at that. “I don’t ask what it’s in them anymore.”

“Well then, how about an American MRE?” And at her puzzled look, “Meals Ready to Eat. I’ve got two packets of spaghetti here that aren’t half-bad.”

She watched as he slid pouches into an envelope-like thing. “What are you doing?”

“Heating them up. It’ll take a few minutes.” He got up from the sofa and started a fire in the fireplace.

The cabin quickly warmed up as rain began to fall outside. She took off her boots as Jim came back and sat down on the other end of the sofa.

“So, what part of Russia are you from?”

“I grew up in Odessa, on the Black Sea. My parents died when I was two and my grandparents raised me. My grandfather was a sniper in the Russian Army but I wanted to be a champion target shooter.”

She looked at the flames softly dancing in the fireplace as she thought back to her first visit to an Army barracks, all the lewd calls and terrible things that were said to her. She brought her knees up to her chest as she suddenly felt cold despite the warmth in the room now.

“Here.” Jim said as he handed her one of the meal packets. She took it and sampled a bite, then she began to eat like she hadn’t eaten in a week. “I guess you like that.”

She just nodded then they ate their meals in silence. He set their empty packets down on the coffee-table in front of them.

“How long have you been a soldier?”

Jim felt the weight of her question hit him hard as he sat back and put his feet up on the coffee-table. “Too damn long. I joined the Army when I was eighteen and was just about to put in my retirement at twenty years in when this damn war broke out.”

“What would you do if you weren’t a soldier?”

He closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of the sofa. “I’d be sailing somewhere it’s always warm.” He opened his eyes and looked over at her. “I bought a little sailboat a few years ago and it’s docked in Key West. If I could get there from here I’d never come back to fight in this damn war. Do you think I’m a coward for doing that?”

She was silent for a moment and he started to get scared as to what her answer would be. He didn’t know exactly what he wanted from her, but with her he felt a tiny bit of hope, kindness, and attraction.

“No.” She said softly. “I didn’t hear your men searching for you today.”

“What about you? What would you do if you didn’t have to fight?”

She smiled softly. “I like to sail, too. My grandfather had a boat we used to take out almost every day in the summer.”

“You sound like you’d make a good first mate.”

She laughed a little at that, then her expression changed quickly from soft humor to fear as she looked away from him. “If I go back, they might think I deserted. They would rape me first then shoot me.”

“Then come with me.”

“What?” She asked as she looked back at him with wide eyes.

“I’ve seen and done a lot of shit, a lifetime’s worth of nightmares. But I’ve never harmed a woman or a child. And I would never hurt you. And at any time you decide it’s not working for you, you can leave.”

She felt deep inside that he could be trusted to keep his word. He’d had so much opportunity to hurt her, yet he hadn’t touched her at all, nor spoken harshly or in an ugly way.

“How would we get out of here?” She asked with a faint bit of hope.

“We head south till we’re out of Germany. Then I can make contact with a guy I know who can get us papers then on a freighter across the Atlantic. Once we reach Key West and get on the boat, we’ll be in the wind.”

She thought about how good it would feel to be truly free, to feel the sun on her face and the wind in her hair. Most of all, how much she would see Jim smile.

“Alright. I’ll go with you.”

He got up from the sofa and went over to the sink. “I’ll heat up some water so you can clean up. Then you can take the bed.”

She got up from the sofa. “I can sleep on the floor.”

“No.” He used the handpump at the sink to fill a kettle full of water. He took it over to the fireplace and set it in front of the fire. “I’ll sleep on the sofa.”

After a couple of minutes, he handed her the kettle and she took it into the little lavatory. She stripped off her clothes and washed quickly and put on her spare shirt and pants from her bag. When she came out, she saw him sitting on the sofa.

She wanted to go over to him but-.

“Tania, go to bed.”

“Jim…”

He stood up and turned to face her. “We don’t know each other all that well and we don’t need to rush things. Because after we’re out of here, you might not want to be with me.”

She felt her heart fall hard and painfully. “Or maybe you won’t want to be with me.”

He smiled but it didn’t reach his eyes. “And yet you might be the best thing that ever happened to me. But I’m not going to fuck it up by fucking you before we’re ready. Or in a place where it’s safe.”

His words, though a bit harsh and soft at the same time, touched her deeply because they were the words of a man who didn’t believe in himself, but believed in her.

“Alright. We’ll see what happens once we’re safe.”

Jim sat back down on the sofa as he heard Tania climb into bed. It was going to be a long night but as he closed his eyes, he fell asleep. And dreamed of blue water and Tania by his side.

They woke before the dawn and ate and dressed, not saying much to each other. Then as the sun peeked through the clouds, they left the cabin.

She followed close behind him through the forest with only the sounds of birds in the trees. Yet she had a feeling there had to be soldiers around them. Jim said if they met American soldiers he would have to claim her as his prisoner but that she would be under his protection. She told him they had to avoid Russian soldiers no matter what.

Then he stopped suddenly and she almost stumbled into his back. He dragged her down behind a fallen tree. She peered over the moss-covered wood and saw them, five Russian soldiers calling out her name. Then as their voices lowered she heard their terrible threats to her if they found her.

“I gather they’re not saying good things in Russian.”

Tania nodded as she checked her rifle to make sure it was ready to use. She used the fallen tree to rest it on as she looked through her scope to the first soldier she could see.

“Tania,”

She looked over at Jim as he moved close to her side and whispered, “You’ll get maybe a couple of shots before we’ll have to run and set up again. Can you move and shoot that fast?”

She slid the bolt of her rifle to put the first bullet in the chamber. “Yes.”

Jim watched as she went completely still, her breathing slowing like he’d seen snipers do before they let off their deadly shots. Her first round cracked out through the woods and the first Russian soldier fell in a bloody heap with half his head blown off. Then she got off a second round and killed another Russian solider before he grabbed her and found a new position for her to take up.

This time she held her rifle steady and let off two more rounds, each hitting their targets. She was cold now, and deadly. And he knew this wasn’t about being a soldier following orders, but a woman out for revenge. She said they hadn’t hurt her but she wasn’t going to let them hurt anyone else.

He grabbed her again as the last soldier yelled out her name over and over. She took up a position behind a tree then dropped to her knees. She said something in Russian before she let off her last deadly round.

As the forest grew quiet, she felt heart begin to beat again. She’d felt the sniper’s calm as her grandfather had called it like she’d never had before.

She stood up and put another round in her rifle in case other soldiers from her unit came for them.

“Remind me never to piss you off,” Jim said as he stood up beside her.

“Piss… off?”

Jim smiled at Tania’s puzzled look and word-stumble. “Make you angry.”

“Oh. I would never…”

“I know. But you’re more than capable of taking care of yourself.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you beside me.”

They looked at each other for a moment, then he held out his hand to her, “Come on. Let’s get the hell out of here.”

She took his hand, and let him lead her to freedom.

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Calliope Njo: Another World

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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Another World

By Calliope Njo

After compromising with Mom and Dad, I got ready to take us to our cabin. Without internet or WiFi, it would be the ideal place to sit down and talk.

Dad told me about Ashley. She was one in a lengthy line of loving the prestige of being in a relationship with someone who wore a badge. I wanted to prove him wrong. Plus, I did not follow in his footsteps, so why did I have to worry. It was my life and he couldn’t tell me what to do. Not the brightest speech I made.

Every opportunity she had, she filmed our world and put it up for people to examine. It could be a brief story about family or how traumatized she was to find out there were no bullet wounds. Without specific details, people were not interested, and it showed when they didn’t watch.

The arguments grew to be too much. They never stopped, and I got sick of it. No romance, funny mishaps, or time spent being together. None of that ever happened.

That’s what led us to the cabin. Peace and her full attention for what I needed to do. After bringing our bags in, I put them by the door and stared at the fireplace for a minute. She pushed her way by me and stood right there.

“Uh. Hmm. It seems my baby isn’t working. You’re buying me an extra one.” Ashley smiled at me and put her finger under my chin.

I sighed because I knew that was coming. It shouldn’t matter anymore after this, though. “Ashley, I will leave the bags here because we need to sit down and talk.”

“No. You’ll put them away.”

OK, I can do this. Deep exhale out. “After this weekend, we will not be together.” Right now, if I had my way. “We are done. We will no longer be together. Do you understand?”

“You did remember that I definitely must have internet connection so that I can post my life. People absolutely want to know.”

I yelled her name.

“You do not need to yell. I am right here after all. Besides that, I am not a working-class citizen.”

“Stop and listen, Ashley.”

She sat on the sofa, crossed her legs, and put her hands on her knees as if she wanted to impress someone. All of that while she sneered after glancing around the area.

“Ashley, you and I don’t have a relationship. You may be fascinated with my life, but only because you find it amusing enough for people to watch.”

She looked up at me. “Hmm. What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what that means. At first, it was something you did. OK. But we need not record every single little damn thing in our lives. I told you again and again to stop. Borderline picking you up and throwing you out the damn window.”

“Everybody is curious about what happens in our lives. I must provide the details. This is the age of recording everything. Now pick up our bags so we can leave and go somewhere that doesn’t allow mangy mongrels. Now go.” She shooed me away.

It took everything in my power not to pick her up and find out if she would fit inside the chimney if I threw her up said object. “Get your own bags and get out.”

“Good. It’s about time. I am not a… a… hillbilly, you know.”

That was it. I couldn’t take it. I picked up her five bags, opened the door, and threw them out.

To say she opened her mouth wide was an understatement. I could’ve sworn her tonsils were in plain view.

“How dare you? Those are custom made to my specifications. It took an eternity for them to get it right. You threw them out as if they’re garbage? Like your—”

“Say it, and I pick you up next.”

She huffed and puffed at me while she stood there with her hands clenched. 

I slammed the door shut on her and waited about fifteen minutes before checking to see if she left. I wondered how she would get back to the city without a car. Not my dilemma, but it made me curious.

Things didn’t go as planned, but I should’ve known better. Too bad I had to leave Titus with Nathan. He would’ve loved to come up here, but the fewer distractions I had the better. Not that it would’ve made a difference.

I got the fireplace going. Funny how the dancing flames made me hungry. It brought a certain amount of peace.

I brought along some sandwiches. So all I needed was a good pot of percolated coffee. The old-fashioned kind of coffee. Dad got me hooked when I turned eighteen.

I went upstairs to get to bed. The loft was the perfect space with the down comforter and king-sized mattress. It never felt so good.

A weight on my body woke me up. I opened my right eye and noticed two brown ones looking at me. His tail whipped back and forth.

“Titus? What are you doing here?” I sat up and heard someone snoring. I knew that snore.

“Never mind.” I uncovered myself and climbed down the stairs. “Yup.” 

The only thing to accomplish the impossible task of waking up baby brother was Titus sitting on him. It didn’t matter where.

After that, he lifted his head. “Oh. Hi. Mom sent me. I brought food.” I left him to peek in the kitchen. Bags full of food on the counter and even more in the fridge. What did she think, I brought an army up here?

“Nathan. Nate Nate.”

“What. What.” He sniffed and yawned.

“Mom did know that it was going to be just me. So why all this?”

He shrugged. “I’m gonna shower. Titus did his thing. He’s good. Be back.” He turned around and left.

“Well boy, how about if we go for a hike, huh? You would like that especially with the possibility of a squirrel. Huh?”

He danced in place and barked before sitting as he whipped his tail so hard it thudded against the door. I got my gear on and wondered if Nathan bothered to bring Titus’ backpack. I found it on the bottom along with the portable water bowl. Huh, he even brought along a bag of liver treats. Well, I had my bag and Titus had his. I left a note for Nathan on the door and it was off to the wilderness after that.

“Oh my, I so missed this.” I took in all of the smells and the sounds. Nothing could replace it.

I walked along the river. There was something soothing about the noise of the water as it passed over the rocks or any obstacles for that matter. The path of the water washed away all of my stress as I pictured Ashley flowing down with the current. I would take this over traffic any day.

We went a little bit farther and saw a moss-covered tunnel. Titus lay down next to a log on the right side of it as he watched. Something had to be there. I took a few steps forward when someone slid out of it.

Moss covered chin and lips didn’t make for a good landing. May have been soft but gross in my opinion. “Are you OK?”

She lifted her head and spit something out. “Sorry, but there is moss in my mouth.”

“Ew. OK. Can you stand?”

She stood. “I am Sanne.”

“S-A-N-D? or S-A-N?”

“S-A-N-N-E actually.”

I put out my hand for her to grab. “Hi. I’m Tressa.”

She grasped it and shook it. “Where am I? Do you have a location?”

“This is Angelmoor Mountain. It’s quiet up here if you come in between fishing season. What happened?”

“Oh. I am not sure. One minute I was sleeping and the next I ended up in the tunnel. I am uninjured.”

It sounded funny, but for the lack of anything else to go by, I took her word for it. “How about if we go back to my cabin? You can get cleaned up there if you want.”

“Please.”

I waved for her to follow and started back. Titus sniffed her until we started moving, then sneezed. It could’ve been the moss and whatever else lingered in that tunnel. He stayed by my side all the way.

Once back, I looked at the door and the note was gone. A folded blanket and a pillow sat on the sofa.

“Oh, I’m sorry. The shower is up the stairs and in the only room with a door up there. You’ll see a king-sized bed and to the right of that is the shower. Take as long as you like. Anything you might need is in there.”

She nodded and jogged upstairs. Titus followed her all the way up. It made me curious but not worried.

Yeah, every lecture I ever got in my thirty-year life span went through my head about strangers. There was something about this woman though. She didn’t feel threatening. Not a good thing, no, but she didn’t give me any sign that she had malicious intent.

Titus was curious about her and she didn’t say or react in a negative way with his presence. He always growled and stayed low as he watched Ashley but didn’t do that with Sanne. I took that as a good sign.

Dad always told me to trust my gut and my gut told me she was OK.

I looked in the fridge to see what kind of food got dropped off. Mom’s famous mac-and-cheese casserole, four BLTs, five red apples, two oranges, a ready-made salad, and strawberry Jell-O.

The casserole and other stuff we could have later. I went with the BLTs and apples. Sure enough, we had a bag of tortilla chips in the cupboard. Bottled water from the fridge and we were set for lunch.

She stood in the doorway. “Thank you for letting me get cleaned up. I scraped my chin though. It stung but it will heal. What are you doing up here?” She laughed.

“Oh. You’re welcome.” I looked at her chin and it did get scraped. The moss didn’t provide a soft landing. There was a first-aid kit in the bathroom but maybe she didn’t feel she needed it. “As for what I’m doing here, I’m enjoying a bit of a vacation.”

“Vacation?”

“Yeah. I know. Spring break and I choose to come here for a vacation. It worked out though I think. There usually isn’t too many people up here during this time. If you go about ten more miles down the road, there’s where you might find everybody. It’s an entire recreation area with hiking, fishing, rafting, and staying in log cabins and such. No hunting though. It’s an animal preserve.”

She nodded. “Do you know where I might find a place that would have people that dealt with… strange things?”

That got my attention. “Strange things? That’s a pretty vague description.”

“I am not sure how to describe it and, seeing as how this isn’t my home, you hold the advantage over me.”

I got it. I didn’t like what she implied, but as she hinted at, she was the stranger. “We have a lot of different people here. Some that work in the typical nine-to-five jobs. Some in the not so typical nine-to-five jobs. Then there’s everybody else that lingers on the borderline between a normal job and the jobs that require a bit of imagination to understand.” That was about as vague as she was.

She smiled and laughed. “How about if I just ask if you know anyone that deals with something that changes forms?”

We made progress. I noticed her shifting eyes to the table. I forgot about the food. I shook my head as I pulled out the chair.

We sat across from each other. The light gave her hair a sort of orange glow.

I bit into the sandwich and, like I expected, there was cheese in it. As for the question, “I don’t know if anyone studies that. Why do you ask?”

She put her sandwich down. “Well… uh… this is a different world than mine. You’re the only one here.” She cleared her throat. “My mate is a lycanthrope.”

“Lycanthrope? What’s a lycanthrope?”

“The most basic meaning is that they are werewolves and I need to know of any weakness they may have. Not because I want to kill my mate but because there is something far deadlier that we have been fighting against.”

Huh. “If we were in the city I could help you more. About the only thing that may come to mind would be guns, knives, arrows, poisons, or a sudden beheading.”

She nodded. “Wolfsbane repels them when in wolf form. The weapons must be made out of silver and the hunter must be able to use them at a moment’s notice while the hunted is in human form. However, this new breed is impenetrable and does not transform. Almost impossible to kill unless you can get close enough to sever their head.”

I nodded. That almost made them impossible. There had to be a weakness. Every animal had one.

“I was hoping that while I was here, I would find an answer.” She looked up at me and tilted her head. Almost like Titus when he wanted something.

“I’m sorry. I just don’t know. Unless you dump a jar of fleas on them to distract them I don’t know. I’m sorry.”

Her head straightened up and she smiled. “Thank you. That might not be such a bad idea. Just enough of a distraction. Thank you. We had forgotten about that I think. Everything needs food including parasites.”

“You’re welcome?”

We finished our meal and she waited by the door. Nathan barged in.

He nodded towards her. “Guess who I had the pleasure of picking up?”

I groaned and noted his sarcasm. They hated each other from the get-go. “Leave her out there. Maybe she’ll run when she sees a rabbit or something.”

“Titus?” Nathan smiled.

I shook my head. “Chances are she’ll call animal control. Then what?”

“I got connections. Titus. Here boy.”

He appeared from somewhere and stood in front of Nathan. He opened the door and Titus growled from the doorway.

Ashley screamed so loud, the next thing I knew, birds squawked in return. I got to the doorway to see flocks of them fly up into the air. As for Ashley, her so-called personal suitcase fell apart when she tried to run. I couldn’t stop laughing.

I grabbed Titus and pulled him inside. Nathan left to get him a liver treat. I closed the door and tried to regain my composure. “I am so sorry. Just someone I found out was not meant to be.”

She smiled. “I understand. Sometimes princesses are in their own class and cannot look past their own beauty.”

“OK. So now where were we?”

“You gave me an idea. It will be hard but not difficult to gather those parasites. First though, I must return to the tunnel.”

“Do you know where you’re going?”

“If I go in wouldn’t it lead me straight back where I came from?”

I shrugged. I had no idea.

“I will enter running and hope I end up back home. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy myself. It’s that this is not my home.”

“I understand. That won’t guarantee you would end up where you came from.”

“I understand. It is the only chance I have. The only chance we have.”

“What’s going on?” Nathan stood to the side of us while he scratched Titus’ ear.

“Uh. Nate. Uhm… I’ll be back?”

“I hope so. If you don’t, you know what I can do.”

“Yeah. I know. Just be patient. I don’t know how long this will take.”

He nodded and opened the door. “I reserve the right to call Dad.”

I laughed. “Do you remember how far you’ll have to go in order to get to a phone that will reach the city?”

“I reserve the right.”

We both laughed. “OK. All right. Fine. Like I said, it may take time.”

“Roger dodger.” He saluted.

I shook my head as I left. The birds seemed to find their way back. Not only did I hear them, I saw a few of them as well.

We must’ve been a couple of feet from the tunnel with it in plain view when I heard Ashley whine and whimper. “There she is, officer. Her mean dog ripped me apart and tore open my suitcase.”

The officer didn’t look at her, instead looked at me with one raised eyebrow.

I pointed to Titus as he lay next to the tunnel. The officer looked back at Ashley. “Ma’am, unless you have proof that can’t be disputed, like a picture or witness to the attack, there’s nothing I can do.”

“Uh-huh. I got a witness. I got a witness right there. That blonde thing in front of the tunnel.”

“Blonde thing? Excuse me, ma’am. My name is Sanne and I am not a thing. I am—”

I put my hand on her shoulder and shook my head. It would take ages for Ashley to understand, and in the meanwhile, the entire universe would know of her existence.

“I did not witness the canine behave in such a manner as you have explained to the authority.”

“See? Told you that fleabag did it. She even said so.”

How did I even put up with this woman? “Officer, even if he did bite her he has had all of his shots.”

“I have received no evidence to say that dog attacked someone. I will leave now. Good day.” He nodded and left.

“Ashley, what are you doing? Do you even know? Or are you just being a pain?”

She smiled. “I like being a pain and causing trouble. It’s fun.”

Oh God, strike a lightning bolt on me so I can die. I looked at Sanne and she stood in front of the entrance.

“You reminded me of something very basic and I thank you for it.” Sanne backed up a few steps and re-entered the tunnel running. A flash of light, and she didn’t come back.

“I will sue you for a million dollars plus, and there isn’t a thing you can do to stop me. Oh and, I will find a way to get rid of that fleabag.”

“God, please forgive me for what I am about to do.” I moved so Ashley had no choice but to stand in front of the tunnel. I pushed her in, and a flash of light later, she too disappeared.

“Titus. Come here, boy. Time to go home.”

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Kenneth Lawson: Voices

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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Voices

By Kenneth Lawson

There was a bright spot where the sun cut down through the trees. Other than that, it was a world of shadows and leaves and moss.

It had been weeks since it had rained. But the ground under the trees and weeds were still wet and soggy. The only dry spot was in direct sun.

Circling around from the sun-soaked area, he found the entrance, hidden from view by the moss and greenery that covered the entire mound. It was cooler in the shade, but when he stepped closer to the opening, the temperature dropped another ten degrees. This was it.

He had heard legends about the “Hole of No Return” for decades. People had talked about it. Someone they knew who had dared to investigate the hole was never quite the same again. Those that entered never came back.

He stood at the entrance staring into the blackness. The chill that ran up and down his spine told him not to enter.

But he had to.

It was calling.

The coolness engulfed him as he stepped into the blackness. Inside, he turned to look behind him to see daylight through the entrance. As he watched, the light retracted until, within seconds, it was gone. Blackness surrounded him, but his eyes adjusted, and he could see a tunnel in front of him.

As he made his way down the tunnel, out of habit, he pulled out his phone to use the flashlight. It was dead. He pressed on the touch screen, but no response. Funny, it had a 100-percent charge a few minutes ago when he pulled it from the charger in the car. He stuck it back in his pocket, useless.

After walking for what felt like an eternity, but was actually only a few minutes, he found himself in a cavern. Standing very still, he listened, and off in the distance, he heard something, drifting over the soft whistle of a breeze blowing through the tunnel. It sounded like voices or talking in an unfamiliar language.

He looked behind him and felt disoriented. It all looked the same. He had no idea which way was back to the entrance. No wonder people got lost in here and never came out.

He was about to discover getting lost wasn’t the reason people never came back.

It was quiet. Too quiet. The voices were gone, as was the breeze.

“You came.”

He was aware of the words, but he didn’t hear them with his ears. There was no echoing of a voice through the tunnel. It just appeared in his mind as a thought.

 “I was beginning to think you never would.” More thoughts materialized in his mind. He spun around where he stood.

“Who are you? What—where are you?” he yelled into the darkness, his words echoing off the walls into the distance.

“Calm down,” came from the response, this time from echoes in the tunnel.

“Calm Down?” He heard his own voice in his head.

“Yes, you’re fine. But you won’t be if you don’t shut up.” 

He shut up and stopped asking questions.

 A vision flashed into his mind.

That of an old man, dressed in an old robe or blanket that hung from his shoulders, covering him completely. His beard was long, and hair flowed to his shoulders. The old man seemed to be carrying or holding something. He could not make it out.

 “Who are you?” Once again, he asked without speaking.

 “I am you …” came the response in his head.

“Me?”

“Yes, in several hundred years.”

“I’m barely twenty years old now.”

“We know. We’ve been waiting for you for centuries.”

“Centuries? Waiting for me?”

“Yes. we need your help to save the world.”

He looked around. There had to be someone in the cavern with him, but there was no one. He was talking to someone, but he was alone.

“Save the world.? How …? Why—me?”

“You’ll know what to do when the time comes …” The voice in his mind faded off into nothingness.

***

He opened his eyes and, without moving, looked around the room. The ceiling was the same. Shifting his eyes, what he could see of his bedroom was the same. He turned his head to the side, thankful to find his wife lying safely beside him.

She shifted slightly, and he could feel her breath on his face. He mentally checked all his parts to see that they were still intact. Hands worked—fingers, toes, legs. Check. Check. All here. Relieved, his mind started questioning what had happened.

He vividly remembered the entire scene. He had gotten out of the car near the woods. The phone. He glanced over at the side table. It was there, and he tapped on it. Fully charged. He tapped on the screen. The phone was working perfectly. It had not worked in the cavern.

He remembered the voices in his mind and decided they could not have been real. It had to be a dream.

He replayed the entire sequence of events in his mind. It had seemed real, but it couldn’t have been. There had been no one in the tunnel with him. No one. The last thing he remembered was the vision of the old man. The voice said it was a future him. Sitting up effortlessly in bed, he was definitely not an old man yet. His beard was neatly trimmed, and his hair far from long and flowing.

His wife stirred. He watched her get up and head for the bathroom. As she returned, she leaned against the doorframe, looking at him. “You all right?”

“All right, yeah, what? Don’t I look all right?”

“No, you don’t. You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

She was right. He didn’t feel quite right, and he couldn’t put his finger on it.

It crossed his mind he’d like a cup of coffee. He was about to suggest that she go make a pot. Just as he started to open his mouth to ask her, he smelled something. Coffee! Turning in his bed, it was there in his favorite cup, a perfect cup of coffee. She stared at it too.

“What the …? They uttered the words together.

They both knew neither of them had moved. He knew he didn’t ask for it. But there it was.

A perfect cup of coffee.

He reached over and gently touched the cup, afraid if he touched it, it would disappear. It didn’t. It was real. Picking it up, the ceramic cup was warm in his hands. He could smell the aroma of fresh coffee as he got closer to it. Tasting it. It was perfect, not too hot, not too cold. And it was good. Not bitter or over-extracted. In fact, he hated to admit it, but it was a perfect cup of coffee. Better than he or his wife ever made. He handed it to her. She tried it. Not only was it real, it was good. She said as much.

They ran to the kitchen. Nothing had changed from last night—the coffee pot sat untouched. The only thing missing was his cup. The cup was in his hand.

They stared at each other.

Back in the bedroom, he recounted the entire story of the tunnel and cavern, telling her everything he could remember.

“You heard voices in your mind?”

“Yes, I was thinking. Just like with the coffee, and someone answered. But it was in my mind. No voices, no people, only thoughts in my head.”

“They didn’t tell you how you were to save the world?”

“No. Nothing. The next thing I knew, I was here this morning.”

“Nothing about new powers?”

“I told you, they didn’t say anything!” He started breathing hard, fist clenched.

“Calm down. Take it easy, it’s okay.” She pulled him close. “Relax and clear your mind.’’

“I’m sorry, I’m just scared is all.”

“I don’t blame you.” They kissed, and he allowed his mind and body to enjoy the feeling of her next to him. For a second, he imagined her in a black, slinky negligee.

She pulled away from him, shock on her face as she looked down. “What the heck?!”

She was wearing exactly what he had imagined. It was black spaghetti strings, cut low in the center, and very sheer, revealing all of her under the material.

They sat, stunned.

“Damn, you look nice …” was all he could say.

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything, wait …” He thought for a minute.

“When you hugged me, I had a thought for a second—wondered what you’d look like in a black nightie, is all. I barely even thought it. Just like the coffee. I barely even had it in my mind for a second …”

***

Over the next few weeks, he experimented with his new powers. At first, little stuff like the coffee cups, clothes, and eventually bigger stuff. They had a lot of accidents as it took immense will power to control his new powers. Over time he became accustomed to having to harness his abilities. Several accidents had happened in public. Fortunately, his accidents injured no one and seemed to go unnoticed.

A few months later, he found he was having difficulty getting out of bed. He felt old. His body seemed to not respond as it always had. He was getting tired sooner and took longer to recover even from a simple cold. In short, he was feeling older than his years.

One day as he was shaving, he noticed he looked older. He had lines and wrinkles he hadn’t had months before. By now, he rarely used his power, having harnessed it enough that the accidents were few and far between.

At his yearly doctor’s checkup, his doctor came back with an unusual comment. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you have the body of an old man.” After running more blood tests and EKGs and a cat scan, the doctor confirmed his theory.

In the last six months or so, his body had aged at least fifty years. He now had the body of a seventy-year-old man. He wasn’t stabilizing, and had all the classic signs of a failing body. His memory failed, his tolerance of cold and extreme temperature had long ago disappeared, and his fine motor skills were gone.

It didn’t take long for it to dawn on him. It was six months ago when he had been in the “Hole of No Return” and gotten his new powers. It was clear to him that the price for this new power was his body rapidly aging. He couldn’t exactly tell the doctors what had happened and explain it to them. They wouldn’t believe it. And he knew what the authorities would try to do with him if they found out.

But now, looking into the mirror, there was no denying what was happening. Staring back at him was the old man in the vision from the cave. Only one thought entered his mind.

Now what?

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Alfred Warren Smith: The Last of the Magic

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 Last of the Magic

By Alfred Warren Smith

It was good to be out in the countryside after that interminably harsh winter.

The morning dew was evaporating, and the smell of the earth’s loam in the wetness stirred up visions of being in this place when it was primeval, far removed from the intrusions of men, and filled with mysteries unknown.

The vibrant, thick growth that sprawled like an emerald carpet across the ground softened the harsh angles of the tree limbs, cushioned the late mid-morning shadows, and overwhelmed by the sheer joy of the sensory assault, I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths, filling my lungs with the cool, clean air.

When I opened them again, I noticed a short distance away a small cave entrance in a mound of dirt, as if a large animal had burrowed in and made its home inside.

Curiosity overrode caution; at first glance it seemed abandoned, but I wasn’t sure. Still I walked toward it, a dreamlike state settling over me the closer I got. My hunting knife was reassuring in the sheathe on my right hip, and I kept a cautionary grip on it as I arrived at the entrance and waited.

Silence. Not a snarl, growl, warning rumble, or even a shuffling and snuffling of anything that might be living in there.

Peering in, it was a solid block of darkness, no holes in the roof to let in any light.

Then a pair of eyes opened, green as the surrounding fauna, but with a slight glow.

I swallowed, and tightened the grip on my knife, staring at whatever was staring back at me, still silent at first, and then a voice, soft and low, female, spoke in the darkness.

“So typical of your kind. Are you here to kill me?”

“No, so long as you don’t move to kill me.”

There was a slight echo to our voices, surprising in so seemingly small a place.

The green things that passed for eyes blinked slowly. “Have you fire?”

“No. I wasn’t expecting to… encounter… anything that needed one.”

The being gave a heavy sigh. “Very well.” A soft aura of shifting shades of green surrounded it. It was a being of sepia brown, with short, chestnut hair, and winged, but the wings were torn, its knee-length dress was torn, and it had been cut, but its blood was a sticky sap.

“You’re hurt…”

“I’m dying.”

“What happened?”

“I am the last.”

“The last… of what?”

“The last of the Magic, the ones who inspired the legends of so many tales, so many suspicions, and traditions that gave rise to the tales of gods.”

“You’re of the fey?”

“And more. I am the last of the ones who tied them all together to the earth, and gave them their powers and missions.”

“A goddess?”

“Again, one name among many.”

I was surprised to find myself crying. “What can I do to help? Can I help?”

“There is a way… come here.”

“Will I need to kill you?” I sat down on the fallen log next to her.

“No. We will share lives.”

“Share…?” I thought of running, of bolting away like a frightened deer, not giving a backward glance or a thought other than my own survival. But I was alone in the world, and had been a long time away from caring about anyone or anything.

Perhaps it was a last chance, a seed, for my own redemption; I had no reason to go back to the life I’d known. This forest was more full of life than my loneliness.

She pushed against the log to stand, and held out her arms, the green of her eyes and aura growing dim. “Hurry.”

We held each other tight, as if clinging to driftwood in a raging storm, and the soft green aura flared around the both of us.

“You are now the way of our return. As long as there is a remnant of magic in the world, there is hope.”

***************

I don’t know how long I’ve been here, but the seasons have changed many times.

Her body has long since faded from my grasp, from my sight, but I thrum with the power of a burgeoning earth as when it first grew green and flush, and I see the visions of castles, hear the songs of battle, the dirges, the choirs of coronations of royalty, the songs of the workmen, and the solemn, sibilant spells of pagan ritual sacrifice, and the joyful, whirling dances of holy marriage.

I see the hands of the old gods, open in blessing and love, and clenched with malice and rage.

My reflection in the river water shows my green eyes, my skin as dark as wet oak, my hair like the bounteous sprawl of a fertile vineyard, and I hear her voice in my dreams, as full of longing as when she fused her soul to mine. 

And when I lie down to sleep in the cave, I pray to whatever gods are yet listening that they send someone in time, when it becomes my turn to pass the emerald aura of the last of the magic.

….there is hope.

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Please visit Alfred on his blog: https://nightshadestories.com/

D.L. Tillery: The Hole In Me

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

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

The Hole In Me

By D.L. Tillery

 ​

My tears they fall,

yet not like rain,

denied the peace of a rainbow’s stain.

The beats inside were once strong and solid,

now the hollow has crept in behind it.

The hurt,

the pain

it seeps from my veins.

I once felt grounded like a great forest tree,

but now there’s this hole in me.

Without your touch

without your smile

how can I hope that time will pass,

I wish all these memories to fade…

yet I pray to recall you every day.

Time has eluded me, with this pain,

but I continue with these stains.

I’m not healed

I bleed that truth,

here I lie in shadowed roots.

Deep inside I’ve fallen asleep,

in a forest planted by me.

Spring has come, yet no flowers will bloom.

All the tears that I have shed,

is the only nourishment I have had.

No…

time won’t change this wound,

but I have learned to cope,

and forever love you.
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Please visit D. L. on her website: https://authordltillery.wixsite.com/

Reflections on a Pandemic

COVID-19 Reflections on Quarantine

For the past several weeks, most of the world has been in quarantine due to the COVID-19 virus. An experience that will undoubtedly remain with us for a lifetime. Writers Unite! offered our members the opportunity to put their experience during this pandemic into words.

We asked WU! members to write a short essay answering this question:

In twenty years, what will you tell your children, grandchildren, or other loved ones about your experience during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Several writers chose to write a letter but some chose to write an essay on the experience in another form such as a statement of the current situation or a fictionalized account. Regardless, we felt it important that we document this experience in some manner.

Jordan Haines

Dear You,

So, a reader for the letter? Must mean we made it out the other side eventually. I’m glad. No one could have predicted it would be this way.

I was in primary school in 2012 when everyone was scared the world would end, my schoolyard was full of stories of tidal waves burying continents, of earthquakes swallowing us or rains of blood and fire, we were scared, but we lived.

I was in high school in 2016, when every week in class it seemed, someone would be mourning the loss of another idol. Musicians, actors, storytellers, humanitarians, some of the best people who gave us fantasy and love to cling to were suddenly struck down, some far too soon, some far too cruelly, but we lived.

I was in University in 2020, when the world ground to a halt when life as we knew it seemed to end overnight. you think the end of the world would be huge, crashing lighting, screaming, irreparable damage, and destruction. But it wasn’t, sure we knew the disease was out there, we knew people were sick, but it wasn’t here, it wasn’t affecting us, we didn’t listen until it was too late.

The world didn’t end in fire and screaming, it just wheezed, slowed to a stop as one person got into somewhere they shouldn’t have and the sickness bloomed out unhindered. Suddenly it was everywhere, every hour I’d see another country report tens, hundreds, thousands of cases, the numbers changed so quickly we couldn’t keep up, people were sick, people were dying, and we hid in our houses holding each other at arm’s length.

The animals came back because we disappeared. The end of the world at least taught us that the climate crisis was us when we left, the air got clearer, things started living in our place.

Fernando Rojas Santos

Dearest grandchildren:

You’ve probably heard the story, but not from me. Back in 2020, we were all in lock-down, including you when you were very little, definitely the most bizarre experience of all our lives. We could not go out, unless it was extremely necessary, just to prevent the spread of a virus that originated in China and that it was killing thousands everywhere, having to stay home for months. Although it was annoying, I saw this as an opportunity to make changes in my life; I had so much time in my hands, you see, that I thought it would be a waste not to take advantage of it. Though the first two weeks I was working from home and didn’t have much time to do anything else, I was furloughed at work the week after, and then, I did not have any more excuses, so I started getting my hands into the jungle I called garden and started making it more habitable, so you kids could enjoy it at a later date; I made myself face the tens of boxes with memorabilia I had gathered for 32 years and had to bite the bullet so I could throw most of it away; I definitely made myself available to do things with granny and uncle Dan like playing games or watching stuff on telly; and I finally came to terms with my good old writing projects, no excuses this time. I even thought I was given a second chance, after being unemployed the year before and not doing much writing despite the free time, so, basically, although I knew COVID-19 was a terrible thing that happened to many people, I saw the time granted as a blessing in disguise, and finally became the writer I always wanted to be.

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Ash Lee

To My Beloved Family,

If you are reading this, I just wanted you to know that you should live your life with good deeds and actions; live your life being aware of your surroundings and the people you came across; live your life here on Earth as a memorable one.

Years 2019 and 2020 are undoubtedly the years the world has remembered for a lifetime. Those were the years that the world started to change physically — its people and the Earth itself. We may see each passing year as a challenge but those years were the ones that the world began to lock itself from interacting physically with each other. During those times, hardships and sacrifices became visible through the presence of people who are working as front-liners fighting and facing the uncommon enemy. What made the world change was because of a disease — The Corona Virus Disease 2019. A small disease that turned into a pandemic that set the world into lockdown with the countries being in their self-quarantines. Thousands died from the virus, perhaps millions.

It was hard to be in that situation even if you’re only a civilian. You cannot go out directly to buy foods and gather supplies for the family because you have to be always prepared in going out. Here in our country, the Philippines, our government is trying their best to help those who are in dire need and to always comfort the people that this storm will pass soon if we fully cooperate with the rules and regulations only for our own safety and protection.

I hope that you tell this information to your future children and the children after them. For as long as men draw breath, this phenomenon will be remembered.

Yours Truly, Ashley T.

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Lisa Criss Griffin

I am not afraid of COVID19. Concerned, yes. I refuse to live in fear from the plethora of catastrophic theories being propagandized into our everyday lives by various media and online networks who have been pushing a globalist agenda for years. It is also evident to me as an experienced medical professional that information and guidance concerning the COVID19 virus from large, global organizations concerned with the health of human beings everywhere has been faulty at best. From the beginning, the recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and other supposedly benevolent governmental organizations have contradicted what I would expect as best practices for prevention of the spread of a pandemic.

Physicians are being ordered by their employers to list COVID19 as the cause of death, even if it wasn’t the primary cause, for monetary gain. Many hospitals are laying off medical professionals because of the lack of COVID19 patients. Most of the coronavirus patients are recovering without extraordinary measures. Those who get very sick or die are the same vulnerable population groups the familiar seasonal flu targets. 

What if these huge agencies who answer to a small group of powerful people are compelled to admit they “made mistakes” because of the preponderance of contrary evidence? What if this virus was man-made and released globally in order to reduce the vulnerable, surplus population of the world while scaring the survivors into submission to global governance? Is being politically correct more important than seeking out the actual truth here? Are our individual constitutional rights and freedoms still worthy of defense from both domestic and foreign enemies? Have we been played??? Inappropriately harsh lockdowns, the destruction of individual national economies and rights, and rampant fear-mongering may be the greatest political hoax ever perpetrated upon the unsuspecting citizens of our nations. 

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Calliope Njo

April 17, 2020

Dear Brittany,

I’m writing this letter to you to clarify some points about the Covid-19 pandemic. I think they need to be brought up to help you understand. I’m not sure what you know, so bear with me.

Grandma told me that I’m brave when this pandemic started. I wouldn’t say brave, so much as saying I’m trying to believe that everything will work out. Things will become normal again. Going out to run errands or having fun without the gloves and mask, without fear. So it’s not that I’m brave. It’s that I see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I try not to watch the news on TV because it only leads to confusion and frustration. Instead, I choose to stay informed by getting information videos online to stay up to date. The more I know, the more I can go about my daily life.

The mandatory lockdown didn’t alter my life because I didn’t go out much and never went to a party or had a big party. My socialization centered around chat rooms with people from all over. The small things in life were a little more difficult, but with modern devices it wasn’t a big deal.

I’ve seen enough pictures online about this pandemic. Don’t let me catch a picture of you laying in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of your nose and mouth with an IV line in your arm. I would rather you spend time working to become that accountant.

 Stay happy and healthy. Keep going and stay strong. We will come out of this.

Love,

Your Aunt

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Marion Wood

It started March 2020, when we were all in quarantine,
Not allowed out, schools closed, we couldn’t be seen.
Many not allowed to work, some were furloughed,
For those of us that had to work, our courage had to grow.

Being faced with a virus that could make us unwell,
It was incredibly scary, some their fears they didn’t tell.
The nurses, the doctors, the staff on the front line,
We all worked together at this really hard time.

Some lived in hotels away from their families,
Afraid of bringing it home to their partner and babies.
Some were truly isolated for months from the world,
Having food delivered, staying safe, their stories are now told.

There was mighty Captain Tom and the admirable Margaret,
Tom walked his garden and Margaret had a different target.
Climbing her stairs, like climbing a mountain,
These two raised millions and didn’t let doubt in.

The health care workers who put videos on Facebook,
Tic Tok, the rainbows, You Tube, Zoom, Skype and news groups.
Social media it helped us in our isolation,
The virus changed the world and it made our lives uncertain.

There’s so much we can tell you of COVID -19,
A time like no other, a time, unreal even obscene.
The death toll it rose, by the thousands every day,
And we all prayed for a vaccine to make it go away.

A cough or a symptom bought a week’s isolation,
And ignoring this went against the plan of the nation.
It wasn’t long before health workers were offered the COVID swab test,
It was important for us all to work as we were giving our best.

So, twenty years on, the world has gone far,
Those brave souls of 2020, we know how lucky we are.
Staying at home, unable to go out,
We lived it so you have a life to talk about.
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Marjorie Mallon

Each morning I wake up with a sick feeling in my stomach, that sick feeling is COVID19.

In this scary world we’re inhabiting, there are no guarantees what will happen to our family, friends, or to our livelihoods. 

The UK Lockdown came too late; the death toll screams in retribution. Under Government Lockdown rules we must remain at home, venturing out for one walk a day, essential food shopping, or medical emergencies. 

No cute visitors grace our household apart from a ginger cat. I name him Butternut, he caresses my legs, purring. Cats wander freely, we don’t – we are caged animals – we disinfect, wash our hands, and wait.

The coronavirus threatens the weakest – my husband with high blood pressure, my youngest daughter – the asthmatic. Somehow, even when my husband falls ill, he recovers. With no testing, it is uncertain if he’s had the virus. 

The strain of isolation makes us argue, swear, eat, and drink excessively. 

We discuss our hopes and fears, embrace the positive; bake cakes, keep fit, and paint our nails. My poor husband is the lone male, we offer to paint his nails too. He declines! Our youngest daughter Georgina starts a TikTok channel with short, funny clips. I write COVID19 related stories – my usual genre – fantasy seems alien in this strange reality.

Fear becomes too real when my mother waits for forty-five minutes on the 111 number. It is not COVID19. Her face is infected with an insect bite. My ninety-one-year-old father’s voice cracks. He calls himself a coward for not accompanying her to hospital. Sad words that I’ll never forget.

Mum is safe at home now, away from COVID19.

I pray when this is over, we will laugh about that bloody insect. 

In the meantime, we Skype and hope.

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Hayley Sawyer

My dear, beloved children,

I lived through a truly terrifying and hard time twenty years ago in the first half of the year 2020, and that was the Covid-19 pandemic, otherwise known as Coronavirus. It was a flu-like virus, the main symptoms were fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue, and that was if you were symptomatic, meaning you could tell if you were feeling differently than you normally would when you were healthy. 

I, for the majority of the time we were in lockdown, stayed home; I didn’t leave except to pay for my medications at the pharmacy or to walk the dog. I was living with my parents at the time, and I’ll tell you why that was at 26 years old another night. I didn’t have any symptoms for the duration of the lockdown, so I was very lucky. I didn’t lose any loved ones. But many people died. 

The day the pandemic was over, when our great country was finally done opening up again, I hugged my parents so tightly, for human contact within six feet was prohibited before this point.

We stayed obedient and strong throughout the whole lockdown, we weathered the storm until the end. It wasn’t always easy, but we did our part to stop the spread. 

I love you both so much. Learn this lesson and pass it on. You may save lives someday, just as your mother once did. God bless you. 

Love,

Mother

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Eva Brown

Dear VIRUS...
 
Oh COVID-19 YOU VIRAL THING!
LOOK AT HOW MUCH DESTRUCTION YOU BRING?
OUR SCHOOLS OUR SHOPS THEY'VE ALL BEEN  LOCKED DOWN.
WE'RE ALSO NOT ALLOWED TO DRIVE OUT OF TOWN.
 YOU DON'T KNOW THE PAIN AND TROUBLE YOU'VE CAUSED.
WE LOOK AT THE NUMBERS AND WOW WE'RE IN AWE.
JUST THINK IT ALL STARTED OUT WITH A BAT.
WHO PASSED IT TO HUMAN AND NOW THAT IS THAT.
 THE GRIEF THAT WE FEEL NOW, IS UNREAL.
WE WISH IT WERE DREAM BUT IT SEEMS NOW IT'S REAL.
 
SO NOW WE MUST THINK, ABOUT WHERE TO STAND.
WHEN TO GO OUT, OR IF TO EAT OUT?
ALL OF THESE DAILY THINGS, WERE THE NORM.
AND NOW WE ALL MUST BE WELL INFORMED.
 
HOW GOOD WILL IT FEEL TO DIP MY FEET IN THE SEA
TO SEE THE SWIMMERS, SURFERS GLIDING PAST ME
 IT IS OUR DESIRE TO REACH UP MUCH HIGHER.
TO LIFT ALL THE LIMITS AND OPENING MYER!
DRIVING AND FLYING ANYWHERE THAT WE PLEASE.
 
 BUT I THINK RIGHT NOW WE'LL JUST WAIT AND SEE.
COVID, OH COVID, WE'RE BROUGHT TO OUR KNEES.
NOW WE WILL TRY TO CREATE A VACCINE.
TO TRY TO DEFEAT YOU, YES THAT IS OUR AIM.
WE KNOW DEEP WITHIN US, TWO CAN PLAY AT THIS GAME.
WE'RE SMART, WE'RE SAVY WE KNOW WHAT WE'RE FACING
WITH MODERN TECHNOLOGIES AND CONTACT TRACING.
 
SO STAY SAFE, STAY HOME AND DO CHECK ON LOVED ONES
EVEN TO CHECK IF THEY NEEDED SOME WET ONES.
SO NOW AS WE PRACTICE OUR PERSONAL HYGIENE.
 OUR MASKS THAT WE DON UPON EVERY OUTING.
WE KNOW 1.5METRES OF SOCIAL DISTANCING HELPS.
TO HELP STOP THE SPREAD THAT THE WHOLE WORLD HAS FELT.
 
SO COVID, OH COVID YOU VIRAL THING.
US HUMANS WON'T GIVE UP WE WON'T LET YOU WIN.
 
@eva brown

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Carolyn Brissett

For Dominic Harper: To be opened on his 21st Birthday

Darling Dominic,

As I write, you sleep in your carrycot by my side. There are just the two of us now, in our silent house by the sea, guest cabins long empty. So – starting a new page in my plague journal – I will record a true account of how your life began.

Seemingly endless, today has still been too short. It started at dawn as your mother shook me awake, blood spraying through her teeth as she fought for breath. Before slipping to the floor, she gasped “Nick. He won’t wake up!” Groggy with sleep, I ripped my phone from its charger and pressed the all-too-familiar emergency number.

“It’s Tessa Harper again,” I snapped.” My daughter-in-law caught the ‘rona and collapsed. Send someone quickly to the Cove Inn, as I must get the baby.”

Not waiting for a reply, I rushed into the front bedroom, gasping in relief as a hungry cry greeted me. Only a day old, you knew what you wanted, nuzzling my long-dry breasts. A few minutes later, you were sucking hungrily on your bottle when the EMTs knocked on the door.

Heart aching, I dared not go upstairs and risk further contagion, with you in my arms.”Please,” I begged, “check the other bedroom as well, where my son sleeps.” A few minutes later, they walked back into the kitchen, slumped shoulders telling me what I least wanted to hear.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Harper,” said the woman, carefully standing a safe twelve feet away. On her wrist, a fresh V (for vaccinated) pulsed red, still inflamed from the tattoo needles. “Your son passed during the night, and your daughter-in-law went as we put her on oxygen. There was nothing we could do.”

Numb, I nodded as though I understood.

“The inn will be burned tonight, of course. I will bring down whatever I find for the baby and some clothes for you. Please tell me what else you need that can withstand gamma blast sanitization. The Survivor Bus will pick you up within the hour.”

And now, my precious grandson, we are waiting for transport to The Island – two remnants of the Second Spike.

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Paula Shablo

Dearest Little Ones,

You were too little to appreciate the great danger we faced in the early months of the year 2020. There was a lot going on that we, the grown ups, kept from you for your own peace of mind.

I can’t claim we did a good job with that. Children see and hear so much more than we give them credit for, even really young children.

I imagine you remember things we didn’t think about.

Did you hear Mom and Dad fight about money? People lost their jobs, and it was a scary time. Your parents worried about being able to keep a roof over your heads, food in your bellies and clothes on your backs. These are things parents worry about all the time, anyway, but 2020 and the COVID-19 Pandemic made the worries so much more urgent.

Did you miss going to the park or the playground? Large gatherings of people could spread the disease quickly, and your parents wanted you to be safe. I know you wanted to go to McDonald’s and visit your friends in their Play Place. I know you wanted a birthday party. I know you wanted your friend to sleep over. But we wanted you to be safe.

Did you miss going to see Grandma? Did you miss her big hugs and sitting on her lap while you shared stories and dreams? Well, Grandma (that’s me!) missed that too. That was the worst part of the whole thing for Grandma!

I know it was hard for all of us not to go visit and play with friends and go to school. But, because we all stayed at home and practiced social distancing and washed our hands over and over again, things got better.

Now you can visit me again. Hurray!

Love,

Grandma

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D. A. Ratliff

Dearest one:

I was delighted to hear from you and your question regarding my experience during the pandemic of 2020. I find it interesting that you are choosing to write an article about that particular pandemic year as we have had several since then. COVID-19 was different, however. It paralyzed the global community.

The virus outwitted us. A deadly virus that couldn’t make up its mind who it wanted to kill and how it wanted to accomplish its task. Seemingly coming out of nowhere, although the authorities suspected it came through a “Wet” market in China selling live animals for food. A bat. That was the culprit at first. However, eventually, we learned that the virus came from a lab in Canada affiliated with a lab in the Chinese city designated ground zero. Was it a lab accident or a deliberate act that released the virus?

The political intrigue only added to the chaos. Politicians across the globe using the pandemic to improve their positions of power. Thankfully, some stepped up and became the leaders we hoped they would be. However, you wanted to know about my experience.

Everything was off-kilter. Walking through the grocery store was surreal, a Salvador Dali painting surreal. We were always conscious of the virus. People in masks, some people not, and the instinct was to move away from them. Every object touched felt tainted. We washed our hands constantly.

The worst thing for me was that the people that I cared deeply for were far away. I feared for them more than myself, for their families and friends. I suffered through the impact of the virus on my best friend, who survived after becoming infected.

We lived through that time by trusting each other and trusting our faith. For me, all I needed.

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Thanks to Writers Unite! member Caroline Giammanco, an English teacher and author of three true crime novels, who gave her quarantined students this assignment and passed on the suggestion.

Caroline Giammanco: The Garden

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! 

Please note: the images used are free-use images and do not require attribution.

The Garden

By Caroline Giammanco

The gentle hum of the landing gear soothed Seth Langley’s frayed nerves. Normally, he enjoyed his excursions. This time, he craved one.

I never imagined I’d be so happy to get away from home.

Seth winced at the thought. He loved Lori. He really did. The tensions between them had grown in recent months, and the pressures came from many sides. His job with the company occupied more time these days, and her parents nearly demanded that he and Lori pick up and move closer to them. Then there were their struggles with infertility. 

It’s reached the point that we’re trying too hard. Everything’s become mechanical. We’ve lost intimacy. I can’t enjoy time with Lori because I feel forced to perform. I’m not sure I even want to be a father. 

Yes, getting away for this field study came at a good time. He needed a chance to catch his breath. He loved Lori, he loved his job, and he even loved Phil and Doris, his in-laws. He just needed the chance to experience the beauty of the deep forest to rejuvenate his senses. The Cascade Mountains brought him a sense of well-being he could find nowhere else. 

The flight was smooth, and Seth had even allowed himself the guilty pleasure of a nap during the trip. Moments of relaxation were few and far between. As one of the leading scientific researchers in his field, he seldom took breaks. While most people never thought twice about where pharmaceutical discoveries came from, it was Seth’s life. He specialized in the study of using natural elements in medications. The stigma created towards pharmaceuticals by the overuse of chemicals for decades gave rise to the “Back to Nature” movement that became his passion. Natural cures were for the taking, if we would look for them. 

That passion and drive brought Seth here today to the dense forests of the Cascade Range. He lovingly referred to the area as “The Garden.” Seth believed the flora of the old forest held the cures to many diseases. He had three new medications nearing completion of the testing and approval stages, and all came from plants he’d discovered in The Garden. As often as he could, he stole away to this botanical paradise. 

Simply being there healed Seth on so many levels. 

The company, wanting easy access to the area but being environmentally conscious, developed a landing pad and a small research lab that blended into the area so well that no one noticed it unless they knew what to look for. The shuttle, now ready for its passengers and crew to disembark, slid into the hangar. The doors closed behind the vehicle, and the team quickly made its way to the lab. 

Safely past the airlock, Seth slipped out of his travel clothes and into the required biosuit. His skin condition required extra protection from the increased UV rays. Thin mountain air and the elevation of the range blocked fewer of those rays than the atmosphere found at sea level. Seth grimaced as he remembered the time he hadn’t worn his biosuit. 

Never again. 

His company spared no cost to protect its rising star researcher. The suit was clumsy, but once in the woods, Seth forgot his discomfort. He was the only team member allowed to venture into the forest. The rest stayed behind to analyze his samples and to record data. His walks in the woods, while not without risks, were his own. Seth relished them. 

Biosuit safely on, Seth motioned to the staff member in the bubble, more formally known as the control unit. The door slid open, and Seth plodded out the front of the building into the bright sunlight. 

Birds sang, and small animals scampered through the undergrowth. He had no fear of the raccoons, deer, and other small creatures he encountered. Other, larger animals were the threat. Seth carried no weapons, and a few times one would have come in handy. His suit, covered in a material resembling fur, protected him from UV rays, but it masked his resemblance as a person enough that some predators mistook him as either prey or competition. It was a risk he willingly took, even though it could be a fatal one. 

Pushing any lingering fears from his mind, Seth emerged into the forest. His heart swelled with joy. 

This. This is what I’ve needed. 

Immediately, he took the trail down to the first plant plot he cultivated. A particular strain of sword ferns held promise to help the blind. Seth’s college roommate was blind, so this study was close to Seth’s heart. He carefully measured and recorded the plants, collecting samples and putting them in the various velcroed pockets covering his biosuit. Yes, they made the suit bulky, but they freed Seth’s hands. It was a worthwhile trade-off. 

Next, he hiked to a grove of deciduous larch that Seth believed contained an ingredient that would reverse a rare, but devastating, degenerative nerve disease. As he climbed higher, he stopped along the way, measuring, documenting, and collecting various flora. Some new species to study grew wild. If they held potential benefits, he’d return to create plots for those as well. 

Then he heard it. It wasn’t a bear, although those did prowl the mountains. It wasn’t a cougar either. Seth’s blood ran cold when he realized he was being trailed—stalked—by a more dangerous predator. 

Quickly, taking long strides down the mountain trail, Seth bounded for the safety of the laboratory. He tripped and stumbled, nearly sliding down an embankment. The racing footsteps of his enemy approached, and Seth knew he must hurry. The fall injured his knee and aggravated an old back injury, causing him to stoop and hobble as he ran. His friends would have laughed at the sight he made, but this was no laughing matter. 

For a moment, he paused to catch his breath. The high elevation made it difficult for him to run far, even with the aid of the emergency oxygen packs built into the biosuit. 

Have I lost them? 

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, Seth had his answer. No, he had not lost them. His short rest allowed his predators to gain ground on him. 

Two hundred yards separated him from the safety of the concealed lab opening. Could he make it?

I have to make a break for it and keep my head together. I can’t afford another fall. God, how I wish I could tell Lori I love her. That more than anything, I want a baby with her, too. I’ve been an idiot hiding behind work. I’ll make it up to her when I get home. Right now, I have to make sure I get home. 

Mentally plotting his course through the forest, Seth took off on a run. His pursuers yipped behind him, their high-pitched yells and howls searing Seth’s eardrums. 

Then the unmistakable crack of a rifle and the whizzing of a bullet as it sailed past the back of Seth’s head caused him to panic. He’d never had that happen before. In these encounters, he’d merely been chased. Now he was hunted

Fifty yards. Twenty-five yards. Seth’s lungs felt as though they would burst, but another volley of bullets drove him to push harder. 

At the entrance of the cave-like opening, Seth slammed his hand on the emergency button. The door slid open, and he flung himself onto the cold concrete floor as a bullet ricocheted off the door as it slid closed. 

Damn, that was close. Maybe I need to carry a weapon after all. 

Teammates rushed to his side and peeled him out of his biosuit, whisking him away to the on-site doctor. 

Seth, still in shock from the ordeal, had one thought. 

I just want to get off this planet and get home to Lori. 

Outside, his pursuers scrambled to the mouth of the cave. 

“He’s got to be somewhere. He couldn’t have gone far.”

His companion, leaning over, breathless with his hands on his knees, nodded. “Dave, can you believe that? We almost bagged ourselves a Bigfoot!”

Kicking the ground, Dave took his frustrations out on a bracken fern. “We sure enough did. Let’s look around for a blood trail. There’s no way he disappeared into thin air.”

Given the events of the morning, the team decided to concentrate on experiments within the lab. The forest would wait for their next trip to Earth.

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Please visit Caroline on her blog: https://carolinegiammancowrites.home.blog/

Marian Wood: The Mystery of the Green Wood Cave

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 Mystery of the Green Wood Cave

By Marian Wood

Night out at the Cave

It was 10:00 pm as the eighteen-year-olds gathered in Green Wood. Whispering to each other in excitement, they had heard the stories and they wanted to see it for themselves. Meeting under the guise of a sleepover, their parents thought they were at Ben’s house. Ben’s parents thought that he was at Jason’s. Had their parents known they were lying, they would have been worried. Instead, they were all comfortable playing with their television remotes watching television or debating whether 10:00 was too early to go to bed.

The boys had met at 8:00 pm and downed a few pints in the “Black Griffin” in anticipation of the night ahead. With plans discussed and map studied, they were really doing this. Were the terrifying stories real?

Armed with their torches, with a fluttering sick feeling in their stomachs, Ben now led them into the moss-covered cave. Greeted by a wide stone room with a pungent smell, Harry held up his lantern and they all marvelled at the graphics on the walls. He had plans to be an Archaeologist one day, like his hero ‘Indiana Jones.’ Harry knew he would only achieve this by being brave and really studying what he was looking at. Reaching into his bag, he pulled out his 35mm-lens camera, stood on a ledge, and began to take photos.

Missing

Julian stood leaning against a wall with his arms crossed. He wanted to get on, he had no interest in what was written on the walls, he wanted to see ancient remains, not hieroglyphics.

As the boys started calling to one another, there was a scream from Noel. Harry looked around, the fluttering feeling now compounded. His friends had vanished — what was going on? Shining his lantern around the room, it was empty but he could smell something stale and nauseating. Boys don’t just vanish, but they had. Feeling a familiar pain in his stomach, he started to vomit. He needed to get out of there. Holding his camera, torch, and lantern tightly, he ran from the cave. Knowing he needed to tell his parents, he would have to deal with the repercussions.

Harry’s parents

Having decided to take an early night, Sheila Wren was confused when she was woken by a dirty-looking Harry with tears streaming down his face.

“Mum they are gone, all gone.”

“Who’s gone? Sleep, Harry.”

“Noel, Ben, and Julian, they vanished.”

Bill Wren, roused from sleep, now sat up in bed. “Harry, I thought you were at Ben’s. What the heck is going on?”

“Dad they vanished. Errr we were in the Green Wood cave. Sorry, but we needed to see it.”

“Harry, you’ve heard the stories, people get taken. They don’t come back.”

“Yes, and now it’s taken my friends.”

“Right, I’m awake now, downstairs come on, let your mum rest.”

“Don’t be daft, Bill. I’m awake, we need to tell the boys’ parents.”

“Dad, I was photographing hieroglyphics when everyone vanished.”

“Okay we need to put the memory card into the laptop and we really should phone the police.”

“What can the police do, Bill? They were in a cave at night and vanished. I’m phoning the other parents and I don’t care if it’s midnight.”

The parents

An hour later, Harry found himself surrounded by parents, as he sat with the laptop, studying his photos, trying to understand the hieroglyphics. He still hadn’t been to sleep, but his mum had told him it was his own fault for lying and going somewhere so dangerous.

The hero of the party was Bob Fryer, Noel’s dad. Joining Harry with his own laptop, working out the ancient text on the photographs, he cried out, “I’ve got it, I know where the children are. Who’s coming?”

“Coming where?”

“The cave, come on.”

“Come on, Harry, you come with me.”

Harry, in a daze, followed Bob out of the kitchen. Feeling that he had failed, he was intrigued to know what the plan was.

Putting the car into gear, Bob now said, “Harry, before they vanished, Julian was leaning against the wall. The text above it suggested there was a lever near there.”

“A lever?”

“Yes, and before you ask, I do have an interest in ancient text, so I had a head start on your photographs. Where were you standing when everyone vanished?”

“I was on a ledge and focusing the camera on the walls. Noel scared me when he screamed.”

“And you really didn’t see where they went?”

“No, it all happened so fast.”

Bob’s theory

“Right, all this will make sense when we get there. I’m wondering who else we might find.”

“Someone else?”

“I’m sure you have heard the stories. That’s why you were there, right?”

“People going missing, yes we proved that.”

“Yes, but Harry, you took photos. You had the answer to the mystery of the cave. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been investigated before. You and the boys have made a discovery tonight. This is incredible.”

Harry sat listening to Bob’s excitement, hoping that he was right.

It was ten minutes later that they all arrived at the car park and they all climbed out of their cars. Harry’s dad, Bill, now walked over.

“So, what have you worked out, Bob, where are the boys?”

“They are in the cave.”

“Where? How?”

“Come and see.”

Following Bob to the cave, they let him take charge. On entering, Bob said, “All of you need to stand in the doorway.”

The parents stepped back, all desperate to see the boys safe and well.

 The cave floor

They watched as Bob walked across the cave and stepped on the ledge going around the cave wall. Now checking the parents were still in the doorway, he pushed a stone on the wall.

The other parents watched shocked as the floor appeared to disappear. Bob held the stone in to prevent it reappearing. There were now cries as the lads realised they were free. With them were six confused tourists and evidence of previous explorers of the cave, now just piles of bones.

“I don’t believe it.” Julian’s mum was crying,

Ben and Julian’s dad helped to pull everyone out.

The tourists were grateful and stunned that they had been found and now helped.

On leaving the cave, Bob phoned the police station. Explaining what they had learnt, the tourists found, and the remains under the cave floor, it wasn’t long before the police and archaeologists descended on the cave and its tunnels under the vanishing floor.

The cave’s mysteries should have been researched years ago, but the stories had been dismissed as folklore. Stories of strange wailing, stories that said if you go in, you won’t come out. The lad’s curiosity had caused it now to be investigated properly. The true story of the ‘Green Wood Caves’ had now been discovered and the boys night out would not be forgotten.

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