Paula Shablo: Leavings of Joy and Sorrow

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.

Leavings of Joy and Sorrow

Paula Shablo

Marlo had closed the house and gone on a soul-cleansing trip after the funeral.

Her brother had protested—a little — but had eventually agreed that there was nothing inside that needed her immediate attention. The place had been cleaned before receiving after-service guests and again after everyone had left.

The day had been long and heart-wrenching. Cleaning up after the last guest had departed had taken most of the night, but Marlo was content to have something to do. It kept her from thinking too much about how much she had lost in such a short time.

There was so much food. Too much, truthfully. People fall back on their need to feed when they can’t think of the right words, Marlo believed. She spent a few hours in the dining room and kitchen, wrapping and labeling food items and putting them in the freezer for later consumption.

She washed numerous casserole dishes and put sticky notes on them with the names of the people she’d have to return them to. She silently blessed those who had used disposable containers.

Marlo over-watered the many plants and flowers before leaving for a long weekend away. She practically flew out the door when the shuttle bus to the airport arrived.

She took an early morning flight to Las Vegas, where she indulged herself with show after show, buffet meals, and a few rounds with the one-armed bandits. She spoke only when she had to, looked no one in the eyes, and slept an extravagant number of hours.

She turned off her cell phone for the entire trip. She didn’t want to answer questions, make arrangements, learn of any problems or report to anyone about anything for the entire 60 hours of her mini vacation.

Monday at 8:32 p.m., her plane landed, and she reluctantly turned the phone on. The little device instantly began to chime and ding with notification tones for text and voice messages. Marlo sighed, wishing she had waited until she was back at the house. People on the plane were staring at her. Her seatmate quietly commented, “Busy lady!”

Marlo shoved the offending phone into her back pocket and stood to retrieve her carry-on bag. The shuttle service was waiting for her; she was getting good at prearranging things like that. Generally, she would have asked her brother for a ride or left her car in long-term parking, but she hadn’t wanted to drive, and she hadn’t wanted the burden of conversation with anyone who knew her personally.

Once she arrived at the house, she stood on the stoop for several minutes, her bag at her feet and the key in her hand. She took cleansing breaths and tried to calm herself.

This wasn’t her house, but it had been home for the past three years. She had moved one of her kids into her own place as caretaker while she took care of her aging parents.

For most of their time together, her parents had been in relatively good health, just no longer able to get about as well as they had. They were prone to more frequent falls, and the basement stairs had become a hazard to folks with 80-plus years under their belts.

Marlo regarded the wheelchair ramp, newly installed less than a month ago. They’d barely had occasion to use it; no one was getting out much these days. Her mother had been using a walker for quite some time, but her father’s declining strength had led to the decision to install the ramp. He was reluctant to use a cane and flatly refused to consider a walker for himself. Marlo and her brother negotiated a deal with him: a ramp from doorway to sidewalk and handrails from doorway all the way down the driveway to the mailbox. It was a rare day that he even went outdoors, but he agreed that handrails were a good, safe idea.

Marlo shrugged. They were a good, safe idea for her, too. Winters here were killer cold and icy, and there wasn’t a thing wrong with having something to hold onto on a trip to get the mail.

Not that she would still be here by winter.

She unlocked the door and went inside.

She had been gone fewer than three days, but the place felt strange to her now. Cooler. Emptier. There was a cloying odor of floral life in various stages of decay. There was also a lingering aroma from the many food items she had packed away before leaving Saturday morning.

She wandered through the house, depositing her carry-on and handbag on her bed. She considered looking for something to eat, then dismissed the idea. She’d had plenty to eat at the buffet before her flight; at this point, eating was just a way to put off doing anything else.

She studied the many floral arrangements scattered about in the living room and dining room, then went for a small garbage bucket. She plucked dead roses from their places of honor in bouquets of mixed flowers and threw them away. The carnations and chrysanthemums had fared better; she left them alone and added water to all the vases.

She watered all the live plants, hoping against hope that she wouldn’t drown any of them. Her mother was the one with the green thumb in the family. Marlo suspected that her own thumbs might be grey. Or black, more likely. She’d have to find homes for these lovely green things, or they would be doomed.

Finally, she pulled her phone out of her pocket and flopped down on the sofa. She couldn’t bring herself to sit in either of the chairs. The recliner was Dad’s, forever. The rocker was Mom’s, also forever.

She swiped the face of the phone and hit the speaker button so she wouldn’t have to hold the damn thing up to her face. “I’m back,” she announced, once her brother had answered. “How’s Gadget?”

“He’s upset and displaced,” Don replied. He sounded testy, but you never could tell with him. He didn’t have a phone-friendly voice. “Can I bring him home?”

“Sure,” Marlo replied. “I’m upset and displaced myself. Maybe we can cheer each other up.”

There was a pause, and then Marlo heard a loud *sniff* over the line. She blinked hard, determined not to cry again. “I’ll be there in a few,” Don said. “Do you need anything?”

“Nah, I’m good.”

“Did you eat?”

“Too much,” Marlo chuckled. “Buffet was actually just the ticket this weekend.”

“You ate buffet? What a waste of money! You never get seconds.”

“Like I said, too much. I ate like food was going out of style. I don’t know why.”

“Stress.”

“I guess.”

“See you soon.”

Marlo willed herself off the sofa. Gadget would be home soon, and his bowls would have to be filled with fresh food and water.

Don arrived and released Gadget from his leash as soon as the door was closed. The little pug squealed when he saw Marlo and raced to her on stubby legs, then wiggled himself silly, whining and yipping. His bulgy eyes were full of tears when she managed to lift him up and cuddle him over her shoulder, and his tongue swept over her cheek repeatedly. “Yes, baby boy, I’m home, Mamma’s home. Don’t cry, sweetie.”

“I don’t think he stopped crying the whole time you were away,” Don scolded.

“I should have taken him with me.”

Don shook his head, contrite. “How would you hit the buffets and slots with a dog in tow?”

“I guess I should have stayed—”

“Stop. I was being selfish when I told you not to go. If anyone needed a little vacation, you did.”

Marlo didn’t argue with him. She’d been the primary caregiver for their parents for quite a long time; Don visited less than once a week, and sometimes went as long as two weeks before showing up. Marlo didn’t hold it against him. He had a traveling job, and he got there as often as he could. But she had needed a little time away after everything.

“You want a soda, Don? There’s about a million choices in the fridge.”

They walked together into the kitchen and selected soft drinks. “Glass of ice?” Marlo offered.

“Sure.”

They sat at the table, sipping soda and sneaking peeks at each other. Gadget settled his head on Marlo’s shoulder and went to sleep. Little pug-snores soon ensued.

“Wow,” Don said, looking fondly at the roly-poly dog. “He’s asleep. Finally.”

“He wouldn’t sleep?” Marlo felt terrible. She should never have gone—poor little dog.

“Not much. He had bad dreams.” Don held up a hand, palm facing her. “Don’t ask. I know what I know.”

Marlo nodded. “I’m sorry about all this,” she said.

“What? Why?” Don frowned at her. “This is not your fault, Marlo.”

“I shouldn’t have let them go!” Marlo wailed.

“You couldn’t have stopped them.” Don frowned at her. “They wanted to go. It was their thing. You know that.”

“They couldn’t even dance anymore.”

“They were the best dancers on canes and walkers ever.” Don stood up. “Come on,” he said. “I have something to show you.”

He led the way to the study, and Marlo followed, reluctant but curious.

On the desk, Dad’s glasses, a magnifying glass, and a digital camera sat together in the center of his leather mouse pad.

“Where did the camera come from?” Marlo asked.

“The police returned it right after you left,” Don replied. “It was in a different bag and didn’t get sent to the…to the mortuary.”

“Don—”

Don picked it up and turned it on, then opened the files so the most recent photos could be seen on the viewing screen. “Just look, Marlo. I don’t know who took the pictures, but…well, you’ll see.”

Marlo sat at the desk and moved Gadget to her lap. He moaned in protest, then settled himself. She took the camera and held it close to her face.

“Use the magnifying glass,” Don advised.

Marlo did.

As she flipped through the photographs, she saw her parents, with various others in their square-dancing group, dressed to the nines in their colorful costumes, dancing and laughing, twirling with their canes and walkers and obviously having a wonderful time.

“Oh, God!” Marlo sobbed. “Look at them! They had a ball, didn’t they?”

“They did.”

It was an annual festivity, one their parents hadn’t missed in decades. Marlo had discouraged them from this year’s trip, but they wouldn’t hear of skipping the fun. The group had taken a chartered bus and had spent two days in competition. Their last night away, the hotel had experienced a gas leak in one wing, and several people in their group had gone to sleep and never woke up.

Marlo kept looking at the photos. “Wow. Look at them go. Amazing!”

Don grinned. “I haven’t seen them looking that happy in a long time. Have you?”

“Not really,” Marlo admitted.

“They went to sleep tired and happy,” Don told her. He looked at her expectantly.

“It’s still not fair!” Marlo snapped.

“No, it’s not,” Don agreed. “But…”

“But what? It could have been worse? They didn’t suffer?”

Don sighed deeply. “Yeah. I’m sick of the platitudes, too. Even if it’s true.”

Marlo stared at a photo of her parents, nose to nose, and laughing as they both leaned on Mom’s walker. The joy on their faces, the love in their eyes as they stared at each other—it shouted out from the little camera, and Marlo couldn’t wait to have the shot enlarged.

“Marlo?”

“This should have been the main picture at the wake,” she said. Don looked and nodded. “I’ll get two copies.”

“Okay.”

“No.” She frowned, thinking.

“What?”

“I’ll get copies for the kids, too.” Her tone was decisive. “This is a joy that should be shared.” She shook her head. “Just look at them!”

“I know.”

“It’s not fair!” A flood of tears rolled down her cheeks.

“I know.” Don didn’t bother to brush away his own tears.

He pulled the extra chair around and sat beside her. While Gadget snored his pug-dog snores, they sat shoulder to shoulder and looked at the pictures of their dancing, laughing parents. They spoke no more for quite a while.

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

D. A. Ratliff: I Will Remember You

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.

I Will Remember You

D. A. Ratliff

A busy newsroom buzzed around him, but Jason Kane was oblivious. His attention focused on the newspaper lying on the desk. The headline read: First break in the disappearance of local women.

The thump of his heartbeat echoed in Jason’s head as he stared at the color image just above the fold. The photo showed him standing with city police Detective Sergeant Logan Brisbane and the County Sheriff, John Camden, as they watched two forensic techs brush dirt from a shallow grave. The suspected resting place of a victim of a serial killer nicknamed The Ghost. He scoffed. He loved the moniker, surreal, mysterious. The suspect had written it on the back of the photo of a dead woman he mailed to Jason and included longitude and latitude of her location. Who better to send a record of a kill to other than WLAT’s top investigative reporter?

Jason took off his glasses and leaned back in his chair, recounting the live interview he had given earlier in the day. It was on cable news, and he was excited as the hour’s anchor was his favorite.

  “Jason, thanks for coming on to tell us about this truly bizarre story.”

“Thanks, Christie, glad to be here.”

“Mortified is the only word I would use if I had gotten that photo. Tell us what happened.”

“About a week ago, I received an envelope that contained a photograph of a young woman. On the back, written in bold handwriting, “my first, find her” and two sets of numbers which turned out to be longitude and latitude.”

“The image was of her grave?”

“Yes, she was lying in a shallow grave, and there was no question that she was dead.”

He remembered the anchor’s eyes widening ever so slightly when he uttered the word dead. She continued. “Several young women have disappeared from the community. Do authorities suspect the body found is one of them?”

“They do but, as of yet, have not made a positive ID. Over the last eighteen months, nine women have gone missing from the area. Vanished without a trace, and it wasn’t until the photo mailed to me and signed The Ghost that the authorities deemed the disappearances connected. They believe his term ‘my first’ means something.”

“Why do you think the suspected killer sent you the photo?”

“I had done an investigative series on the disappearances. Talking to the families and friends and the police, hoping to uncover something that might help to find out what happened to these women. The police believe now that he has the spotlight on him, he will continue to communicate.”

The anchor shook her head. “Frightening for those families but, hopefully, more will be learned about this soon. Please keep us posted, Jason, and thanks for joining me. We’ll have you back as more developments occur.”



He smiled. The spotlight was not bad.

~oOo~

The second envelope arrived the following week—the same parchment brown paper, letter-sized, no return address, single standard stamp. Nestled between other mail, Jason let the envelope drop to the dining room table untouched and called the police, then his producer. He sat next to the table, his fingers tapping lightly on the surface near the envelope, itching to open it.

A uniformed officer was first on the scene to take custody of the envelope until forensics arrived. Ten minutes later, Detective Brisbane and his partner came, followed by a forensics tech. As soon as the tech placed a plastic sheet on the table and had evidence bags in place, she opened the envelope and removed the contents, a photo. She placed the photo and envelope in separate evidence bags, sealed and ID’d them, and handed the bagged photo to the detective.

The image was nearly identical to the first he received. The body of a young woman, nude and lying in a shallow grave, a scarf tied around her neck. The only differences were the victim’s identity and the location.

The detective turned the photo over to find another note. My second. Find her. Along with a list of numbers, the location of the body.

Jason’s pulse quickened as he gazed at the body. She lay covered with soil and leaves to preserve her modesty, as the victim had been in the first photo.

“…. Jason, did you hear me?” Brisbane tapped his shoulder.

“Yes, sorry. I was thinking about how horrible this is for the family.”

“It is, but at least they will have closure.” He wrote the location coordinates down and handed the evidence bag to the tech. “Get this image out to the field team. Come on, Kane, you can ride with me, but you know the drill, stay out of the way.”

The GPS coordinates took them ten miles north of town to a remote section of a state park, miles from the location of the first body. The detective turned off the main highway onto a narrow dirt fire road. About a quarter of a mile after the turnoff, they found a forensics van, several squad cars, and the media already there.

Brisbane parked along the shoulder, and with both hands on the wheel, he turned his head toward Jason. “I figured you called your people. Let me remind you, you reveal anything about what we find here before authorized, and your sources dry up. Understand?”

Jason nodded. “Understood.”

The lead forensic tech, a forensic anthropologist, used GPS on a pad and led them along an inclined path next to a shallow ravine filled with broken logs and rotting leaves. The musty odor was overpowering, and city boy Jason preferred the smell of asphalt to damp earth. He stood quietly as the anthropologist held up her pad and scanned the area at the target location. She stopped after scanning to her left. “Detective, this looks like the place. If you note, there is a bit of indention on the forest floor here. We’ll check here and the immediate area. But from the photo, I think this is the spot.” Accompanied by a uniformed officer, each of the four techs chose a separate location and began moving away dirt. Jason stood to the side, jotting notes on his phone.

For endless minutes, their silence only marred by an occasional bird caw or a low clatter from the police radios, they waited until the anthropologist stood up. “Here. She’s here.” The tech pointed to two thin bones, “The ulna and radius, the forearm. With the absence of flesh on the bones, I would say she has been here at least twelve months, likely longer.”

A few hours dragged by, and after repeated requests from his producer, Brisbane permitted Jason to break the story on the eleven o’clock news. Brisbane would appear with him.

Bright temporary floodlights set up on the hill behind them framed the shot, as the anchor in the studio began to speak.

“We begin tonight with breaking news of a body discovered in a remote location in the state park. Investigative reporter Jason Kane is on the scene. Jason, I understand you received another photograph, and that led to the discovery of a second body in a shallow grave.”

“Yes, Ted, unfortunately, I received a second envelope today with a photo inside and instructions where to find the body. I called the police immediately and turned the evidence over to them. Detective Logan Brisbane allowed me to accompany them to the site, where we have been since late afternoon.” He glanced over his shoulder. “You can see the floodlights set up at the location police discovered the remains.”

Ted interjected. “Any idea who the victim is.”

“I think Detective Brisbane should answer that.”

Jason held the microphone near the detective. “It is certainly too early to tell who the victim is. We can confirm the remains are female and suspect she may be a victim of the killer who refers to himself as The Ghost. However, we have only suspicions at this time, no proof. The remains will be removed from here shortly, and it will be up to the medical examiner to determine identity and cause of death.”

“Ted, that’s all we know for now but will keep you informed as further details come in.”

“Thanks, Jason. Tragic discovery, but we look forward to your update. In other news…”

The bright camera lights shut off and Jason turned toward Brisbane. “Thanks, I appreciate you going live.”

“No problem. You are our conduit to this killer, and he’s watching, so it is in both our interests to keep this story going. These guys dropping you off home?”

“Yeah, but Eric, my producer, wants them to stay until the ME removes the remains. He wants body bag footage. So, I’ll be here a while. Okay, if I go back up with you?”

“Sure. Just…”

“…stay out of the way. Got ya, Detective.”

~oOo~

Three days later, the ME identified the victim as Jennifer Cramer, nineteen, and a student at the local community college. Her roommate had reported her missing fourteen months before. Jason stared at her image on his computer screen. A slender young girl with pale skin and bright blue eyes. Twenty years younger than he was and so much promise.

“That the latest vic?”

Jason swiveled his chair to answer his producer. “Yeah, that’s her. Pretty thing.”

Eric sneered. “Wonder if he raped them?”

Anger welled up inside Jason at such an insensitive question. He clenched a fist but answered calmly. “ME at the first scene said almost impossible to tell with only skeletal remains. He said they might never know unless they caught the guy.”

“You got lucky to be the one to get the letters. Jacoby was preening about the publicity for the station in the morning meeting. Your buddy Maya even seemed happy about it.” Eric slapped him on the shoulder. “If we are lucky, you will get more letters. Okay, got to go. Meeting with Maya on a special she wants to do, and I think you need to be in on this. She has an idea about looking at safety on college campuses in the area. See ya later.”

Eric left, and Jason’s eyes drifted back to the screen where the image of Jennifer Cramer morphed into the face of Maya Reyes, WLAT’s top evening news anchor. A wave of heat coursed through his veins. Wonder what The Ghost would do with her?

~oOo~

A three-day holiday slowed mail delivery, and it was nine days before he received a third letter. Going through the same ritual as before, he called the police, waited for them to arrive to secure the letter, and then rode with Detective Brisbane to the scene. Once again, the newspaper headline read Third Victim of The Ghost Found. Another young college student, dead for an estimated ten months and not quite skeletonized. He shivered when he saw a patch of red hair attached to her skull as an ME assistant lifted it from the grave.

After the discovery of a third victim, the atmosphere began to change. The local police called in both the FBI and the US Postal Inspectors, who held his mail for screening at the post office prior to delivery. He had undergone a detailed interview by a serious and humorless local FBI agent who kept asking him if he went to bars in the campus area, had he seen these women. He had laughed. He didn’t drink, didn’t go to bars. The agent was a fool.

A month later, there were six victims, and he was a fixture on cable news. The pretty blond anchor Christie messaged him on Facebook several times a day, hinting that some people at the network were getting interested in his reporting. Facebook was full of friend requests, and his Twitter followers were rising quickly. The Ghost was not the only one in the limelight.

It was late when he returned from the sixth gravesite, but although tired, exhilaration filled him. Two weeks before and quite unexpectedly, a book agent had offered to represent him. He was waiting for removal of the latest victim when she called, saying she had secured a book deal with a well-known publisher. She had even located a ghostwriter for him.

He punched the remote, and the WLAT eleven p.m. news appeared. Maya led with his filed story from earlier as the satellite truck was unavailable. He sat motionless, watching himself. He had to admit, he was good at speaking in the correct, respectful tone to cover such a heinous crime. His pulse quickened as Maya turned to her co-anchor and talked about him.

“Jason has done such an amazing job covering this horrific story. Kudos to him and his producer, Eric Watson, for giving us such professional coverage and critical information. Our hearts go out to the families of these young women for their unspeakable loss.”

Her co-anchor responded in his usual groveling fashion. “Jason and Eric are the best. I know you have taken these horrible crimes to heart and will be doing an upcoming special on how women, especially these young women, preyed on so often, can be safer in the community.”

“Thanks. That special will be airing soon, and hopefully, we will provide some insight into how we can all be safer on our streets. Now, let’s turn to our crack meteorologist for a first look at tonight’s forecast.”

Jason smashed the power button with his thumb and flung the remote onto the couch. Bitch. She was why he did it. She stole the anchor job from him. He had the best demo tapes, creds as a weekend anchor at a station in a larger market, a degree in broadcast journalism, but no, Maya Reyes got the job.

Anger began to roil in him. He stood in the middle of the room, nails digging into his palms from his clenched fists. The station manager had smiled when he told him the job wasn’t his. Something about demographics favoring female anchors, and if they were going to take over number one in the market, they needed her. Yeah, well that worked out, they were still number two in the market. But wait until the next ratings book came out, that would change. They would be number one, and he would be the reason.

A smile spread across his face. He closed the drapes and moved some furniture, then rolled back the oriental rug. Three years before, he had inherited his grandfather’s house as the rest of his family was gone and had made a curious discovery when refinishing the floors—a secret room. The house appeared to have only a half-basement but looks could be deceiving. He took a letter opener from the roll-top desk and slipped it in the seam between two boards, prying up the hatch, seamless when looking at it closely. He reached in and pulled on a cord, and lights came on in the underground room. He climbed down the ladder into his haven.

His grandfather, who owned a portrait studio, had unbeknownst to anyone, become quite the photographer of nude women. He had lived in the house alone for many years, his wife dying when she was only twenty-seven. Jason had found file after file of naked women in various poses against backdrops now stored in the room. He also found receipts of the sales made to men’s magazines.

The Hasselblad professional camera his grandfather used had a broken shutter, but he dared not get it fixed. Too many questions, but the old Nikon 35-millimeter worked fine for his purpose. A small refrigerator held several rolls of 35-millimeter film all intact and unspoiled. The coup de gras, however, was the darkroom, equipped to process color film. It was a learning curve, but he had mastered the technique.

He was considering destroying his grandfather’s photos and negatives when the urge to photograph women crept into his thoughts. After losing the anchor job, he was furious and drove around the city to cool off, finally stopping about nine p.m. at an all-night diner where he met his first victim, Alexandria Toombs. She was studying for an exam with only coffee in front of her. He noticed she looked at his scrambled eggs and waffles longingly. Poor student, he thought, and he bought her breakfast. He never understood what made him suggest she pose for him, but he talked her into it, and he took her home with the promise to pay her that night.

Jason never intended her to be his first victim. He just wanted to photograph her. When they arrived at his house, he turned on the television so she could relax while he set up the backdrop in one of the bedrooms. When he returned to the living room, Maya Reyes was on the screen, and Alexandria made a fatal error.

He remembered her words. Maya Reyes just announced that she is going to be the lead anchor starting next week. Isn’t that wonderful? I just love her. You know she isn’t much older than I am.

Something snapped. He had never understood why, but rage as he had never felt before washed over him, and he grabbed her by the neck and strangled her. When she was dead, a calm descended over him, and he proceeded to take the photos. He loved a woman’s body but disapproved of the graphic images his grandfather took. He remembered a box of his grandmother’s scarves stored in the regular basement and retrieved them. He tied one around her neck to hide the bruising, using others to drape her breasts and groin.

He left her in the bedroom then carried her to the garage after her body came out of rigor. He placed her in the car trunk, and before dawn the following morning, Jason drove to a remote wooded area. He dug a shallow grave and took one last photo making sure to maintain her modesty.

There was a sense of satisfaction, a pleasurable sensation, and the urge returned. Each death became more gratifying.

Wearing rubber gloves as he always did, he opened his favorite photo box and pulled out the photo of victim number seven. He took off his glasses and picked up the old magnifying glass for one last closeup look of her face, beautiful even in death. He whispered, “I will remember you.” Turning the photo over, he printed the coordinates from a little book he kept and My seventh. Find her.

Slipping the photo into a parchment colored envelope, he carefully addressed it to himself. In a few days, he would drive to a random part of the city and find a mailbox on the street.

Carefully he put everything away, but before climbing the ladder, he glanced at the little refrigerator. Several rolls of film remained stored inside. He smiled. A book deal, a possible job at a cable news network, and social media friends galore, all because he became The Ghost.

He was going to need that film.

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Please visit Deborah on her blog: https://thecoastalquill.wordpress.com/

Caliope Njo: What I Did Last Summer

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.

What I Did Last Summer

Calliope Njo

I rode my bike to the community pool for a little fun. The temps felt like it already hit above the one hundred degrees mark. Perfect for swimming. One foot inside the pool felt awesome.

All that sunscreen washed off my body I bet, but who cared. This was worth it.

Between the mini polo games, swim races, and sword fighting, I made five laps before I came out to take a dive in the diving pool. It took a few minutes to wait for the area to clear. After all, diving on someone wouldn’t be a good thing.

The wait was worth it. I left the area to go up again. This time though, a tall girl stood in front of me. From where I stood, her head reached the clouds — she was that tall.

She did a fancy dive far beyond my capabilities and it looked perfect to me. After I finished, I felt insignificant at that point, but this was my fun time so I kept swimming. I had an hour.

My fun time done, I returned home. Mom worked which left me to clean the house and get dinner. Chores didn’t take long, even the vacuuming didn’t take long. Mom still insisted on the old-fashioned vacuum cleaner. She couldn’t trust that something that small could pick up any sort of dirt. Whatever, so I did it the old-fashioned way. Lucky for me it took fifteen minutes to complete the house.

It was a Friday and that meant fun food. There was enough money in the food jar to get pizza, so that’s what we were going to do. Half pepperoni and half ham with pineapple was our pizza choice.

Mom mentioned something about going up to the attic to get some pictures. I could do that since she wasn’t home yet. Another shower wouldn’t hurt.

I grabbed the pole and hooked the latch. The ladder unfolded as the door opened. Six steps up and I was in. The chain to turn on the light was somewhere in the middle. My head hit it before so I used that as my guide.

Light on, about six different boxes sat against the wall. Did we have that many? Without any sort of description, it was hard to pull the picture or pictures she wanted. A wooden crate sat all by itself in the middle. I didn’t remember that one, not that I’d been here a lot.

A metal latch kept it closed. Well, it couldn’t hurt to look. I had to know what was inside.

I pushed the lid up and a magnifying glass sat inside. I grabbed the glass, and the cushion it sat on came up with it. It showed a camera. An old camera from the looks of it with those big disks that pointed to the front.

Mom came home. I put everything back and started down when I heard her clearing her throat. “You wanted to see what sort of species of spiders we had?”

“Ew. No. I wanted to get those pictures you mentioned out for you.” I went to the kitchen to wash my hands.

“Oh. Don’t worry about those. Those aren’t necessary at the moment. Besides, I don’t even know what boxes they’re in.” She left the kitchen.

The magnifying glass and camera stayed in my head. Should I or shouldn’t I ask about them? That would only be too nosy.

“So how was the community pool today?”

“What makes you think I went?”

“One, I saw a towel in the laundry room. Two, it is summer. Three, you’re my daughter.”

I laughed. “One, we don’t have a laundry room. Two, you caught me. It was fine. Three, a new girl showed up today.”

“OK, laundry closet. Anything else? Whose medical bill will I be paying by the way?”

“Mother.”

“My medical bill? I’m in perfect health.” She smiled.

The doorbell rang. “That would be dinner.” I paid the delivery man and put the pizza on the table. The aromatic smell of sauce, herbs, and dough made themselves known. Heaven as far as I was concerned.

“Wait, before you leave… uhm… there’s something that I need to talk to you about since you went up there.” She folded her napkin into a crane.

I sat back down.

“There’s a box up there. The contents of which are very old. One is capable of finding things that cannot prove something’s existence any other way. The other is—maybe it’s best I show you.”

She grabbed the pole and pulled the latch. She came down again a few minutes later with the magnifying glass and camera in hand. The next thing I knew, she grabbed my hand and pulled me after her.

Somehow, she kept hold of those things and my hand and was able to grab the keys off the side table by the door. She opened the back door of her car and put the glass and the camera inside. I got in the passenger side while she went in the driver’s side and started the car.

We ended up at the community sanctuary. They were supposed to help local species of any sort of animal or insect. No public allowed.

She put the magnifying glass in my hands and started walking. “When I was your age, all I was told was that it was our responsibility to keep the gate secure. No one and nothing should or ever pass through them.”

“Yeah but the sanctuary?”

She fluttered her lips. “Don’t worry. They stay on their side, we stay on ours, and we’ll be in Scotland before them.”

I looked at her not sure where she was going with that.

The first thing that came to mind was the story series about a young wizard. Animal sidekicks, magic wands, beasty books, and a place for the weird to belong. I didn’t read the stories until after the movie series. I loved them both.

“Start using your glass and look towards the ground. You should see something.”

“What is it I’m looking for?”

“You’ll know it when you see it.”

She could’ve been more descriptive. I didn’t see anything except grass. It took a couple steps before I did see something different.

Green step stones that created a path. I followed them to a golden door. “I think I found it.”

She looked around. “Yeah. This would be about the place.”

Sort of weird and yet all too funny, we ended up between two big trees. “So now what?”

“Now you’re going to take pictures. Here, there, and everywhere until you run out of film.”

“Film? Does that still exist?”

“What do you think?”

“I just asked. You don’t have to be so mean.” I brought up the camera and did what she told me.

“I’m sorry. It’s just I hated waiting until this moment to do it. Something about maturity and timeline and how it all plays together in the end to create a better gatekeeper.”

I ran out of film. “I don’t know if anything came out.” I handed it over.

“Oh it did. You could be the worst photographer and these pictures would still come out. You have to promise me you won’t tell anyone.”

I shrugged. “Nothing to tell. My Mom gave me a camera and I took pictures? Big whoop.”

“OK. OK. I get it. Let’s go home.”

We made it back home and she pulled me into her bathroom with her. Door closed and lights off, she switched on another light that gave everything a blue glow. “Awesome.”

“Yeah, it does.” She opened the camera and took out the film roll. In one canister, some chemicals went into it, and then she put the roll into a machine and it whooshed as pictures came out. “I’ll teach you how to do this later. FYI? This is not how you develop pictures. Only these pictures.”

“Right. OK.”

Off one light and the normal light came back on. To say the process was confusing was an understatement of the century. I still had no idea what happened.

“OK.” She put the pictures in front of me. “Here are the pictures you took. Notice anything different?”

“No.”

“You can’t tell if you don’t look through them. Now look again.” She pointed to the pictures.

I had no idea what I was looking for. Everything seemed normal. The trees, the birds on the trees, the little people with wings on the trees—wait, what? I looked at the pictures again. “There’s fairies on the trees.”

“They are supposed to be there. They help protect the area from invaders and signal for help when necessary. Anything else?”

I looked at all of them again. The last picture was of a fairy who waved and smiled but nothing else. “No.”

“Good. That’s how it should be. From this moment forward, it is your responsibility to be sure that the gate you saw stays locked. If it’s open, that means trouble and you will tell me pronto. Intellexerunt?”

“Wha?”

“Understood?”

“Yeah. OK. How long and how often do I have to do this?”

“Until you have a girl and she turns sixteen or for the rest of your life depending on how fate works for you. As for how often, rely on your instincts. They’ll get stronger as time goes on. Got it?”

“I guess. Are you going to teach me how to work the developer?”

“Yeah. That’s tomorrow when we take more pictures. In the meanwhile, there’s a movie on tonight, and we still have ice cream unless you ate it all.”

“No. It’s still there. I’ll get it. You just find the movie.” I went into the kitchen as I thought about it. Still had no idea what happened or what I was supposed to do. As far as I was concerned, it was all a nightmare or a practical joke. My money was on the practical joke idea. On the other hand, this was Mom so maybe a nightmare. Ice cream ready, I brought it out to Mom.

“I found a movie. Romantic comedy. We can laugh at how unreal it is.”

I shrugged and sat down. Good thing school started soon. I hated it but at least then I had an idea of the comings and goings. It made sense.

The next morning, a duffle bag and a computer tote sat by the door. Mom walked by with keys jiggling in her hand. “I got a text bright and early this morning. My work wants me in Dallas until Wednesday. That means you’re on your own. That means you have to follow the rules or suffer the consequences. The likes of which you won’t be able to have any sort of fun until your retirement. Got it?”

“Does that mean I can’t party?” I smiled.

She got in my face. “What do you think, Missy?”

“You’re serious. OK. I promise.”

“Yes, I am. I don’t like it but I have to do it. No trouble of any kind. Remember your promise. A man’s word is worth nothing if he has no intention or will to fulfill that promise.”

“I understand.”

“Good.” She hugged me and kissed my head before she grabbed her bags and left.

That left me wondering what that was all about. It was the weekend. What happened that couldn’t wait until Monday?

Cereal for breakfast. Quick and easy meal to start the day. I was going to sit with my laptop when something made a noise by the front door.

Somebody leaned against my front door. “Who are you and how did you get in?”

“Hmm. Greetings little one. Mother didn’t say you would be so tiny. Hmm. Well, I’m Mischeleine.”

“I’m short. Not tiny. If you don’t leave, I’m calling 911.”

“I was hoping we could get together and have some fun.” She put her finger under my chin and lifted it up. “Hmm? Come now. Since we have to work together I thought we might as well become friends. What do you say?”

I had no idea who she was or how she got in. I ran away from her to grab my phone from my room. I turned it on to dial EMS when it got jerked out of my hand and into the air.

I backed up and away from her. Who was she? “Now look…” My mouth turned dry. “There’s isn’t much money. Take whatever you want. Take me if that’s what you want.”

“Tsk. Tsk. Tsk.” She held up my phone, looked at it, and then it floated back to me.

I grabbed my phone. Her voice was higher than I thought it would be. Sort of like a witch’s voice from the old movies.

“You really think my voice is too high?” She cleared her throat. “All right then, how’s this?” She jumped in the air, lay on her side, and floated to me. “I just wanted to have a little fun. With Mother being so boring of late, I wanted to find out if my new partner would be willing to get wet again? Your diving lacked finesse and style.”

She read my mind? “Holy cow.” I gulped. “How? Uh… What… What did you have in mind?” I hoped it didn’t involve eye of newt and dragon’s blood.

Somebody rang the doorbell. What was it? A silent telegram went out to everybody that said Mom’s out of town. Quick, go bug Leighanne?

I went to answer the doorbell and holy mother of god she was gorgeous.

“Greetings. I am Mischeleine. And you would be?”

Confused. “I’m Leighanne. Did you need something?”

“There is someone here that does not belong. She is about as tall as I, bean-pole skinny, long yellow hair, gray eyes, has a mousy voice though she does try to hide it.”

“Yeah. She was just here.” I scanned the area and didn’t see her. “I don’t think she’s here anymore.”

“Bull’s pizzle.”

“Say what?”

“Never mind that. She is the owner of not one good quality so I suggest you stay away from her. Never agree to anything she says. Understand?”

I let her inside so she wouldn’t be stuck in the doorway. “I would if you could explain why.” Ever since yesterday, things went from strange to downright bizarre.

“As simple as I can explain, good for her, bad for you. Repeat exactly what she told you.”

“Nothing really. Just that she was surprised that I thought her voice was too high and she wanted to play with me. That’s all.”

“All right. Since when have you been a gatekeeper?”

“Since yesterday.”

“Since yesterday? You have been given this responsibility since yesterday?”

“Yeah.”

“My name is Mischeleine. Her name is Frieda. Remember that. If you say her name three times she cannot transform until the next full moon. When she does return, call out my name. I will come. Where is your guardian?”

“I don’t know.” I knew I forgot to ask something. “She just went out on a business trip.”

It was scorching hot outside and she wore a black leather trench coat. It took me a little bit to realize that.

“This?” She took it off and threw it in the air. “Better?” That revealed a blue tank top and denim shorts.

I nodded. “Now—”

Frieda floated towards me again. I pointed in Mischelein’s direction and that was when spit and blood flew in the air. They poofed out of the house.

The phone rang. “Hello?”

“Hi baby girl. How’s things?”

Tell her the truth? “They’re all right.”

“Sounds a lot better for you than me. I’m stuck at the airport. In the meanwhile, don’t forget to lock the doors and always spread the smudge stick on your windowsill. I usually do that but I can’t. Obviously.”

Now she says something. “OK. Anything else?”

“Don’t burn the house down and always take pictures of your area even when you don’t see anything. It doesn’t have to be of that particular area. Any space. OK?”

Couldn’t she have told me that sooner? “Will do. Travel safe. Come back in one piece.”

“I plan on it. See ya later, Kiddo. Love ya.”

“Love you too.” Alone at last. Maybe there’s a good show on that I could lose myself with.

I flipped through one thousand and something channels and not a darn thing to watch. I went back to my computer to do something. There had to be a good game I could play.

That kept me occupied until my stomach growled. I heated up some canned spaghetti to eat and got ready to go outside. The sun wouldn’t go down for another few hours yet.

I grabbed the magnifying glass and went back to the sanctuary. Nothing seemed out of place since last time. I went around the trees and a wall existed that I didn’t notice before. Maybe because I didn’t look. About halfway around on the right side, I saw a hole.

No sharp edges and it was a clean cut.

“Yes, I see.” A hand came towards mine which made me scream. “Oh, don’t worry. It’s me.”

“Mischeliene?”

“Yes. I see a hole that should not exist. That was how she escaped. I will alert the others. What you need to do in the meanwhile is to keep her occupied any way you can. Use a forked tongue and go along with whatever she tells you to do until further notice.”

“Huh?”

“Lie. She will be coming any moment now. You go and I will stay here. I will hold your glass until then. Go along now.”

I left her there and considered what she said. Lie and go along with Frieda. What did that mean? Kill someone? Rob a bank? I had to go back to the house to get my cell so I could call Mom. What the hell was I supposed to do?

And they said summertime is the best time.

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Paula Shablo: After

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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After

Paula Shablo

Getting things organized kept her mind and body busy over the days and nights following his death.

Who needed to be called? What paperwork needed to be done?

Phone calls to strangers, beginning with, “I am calling to report the death of…” She always faltered here, even after the tenth call. This wasn’t supposed to be her job. Her job was keeping him fed and hydrated, clean and warm.

Instead, she found herself in a funeral home for the first time ever in her life, picking out an urn, choosing designs for the guest book and programs for the funeral, signing paperwork.

Oh, dear Lord, the paperwork! Who even thinks about all the forms that have to be filled out and signed? Who thinks about military records so there can be an honor guard present? Who thinks about changing the names on the bank accounts and the title of the house? Who thinks about powers of attorney that will now have to be arranged for someone to take care of her own shit when she kicks the bucket.

They had bought and paid for their cremation niches years ago, and made arrangements well in advance, so why was she doing all this now? The things no one tells you about, she thought. So many things!

So the days following his death were a blur of work and arrangements, and by the time the funeral came around, she was numb. She sat in the pew at the front of the church and recited the prayers and sang the songs and let the tears flow as she listened to others extoll the virtues of the man she had spent her entire adult life with.

It wasn’t until they had gone to the cemetery for the inurnment that she began to wake up from the comfort of numbness. There were long, long moments with the unfolding, displaying and refolding of the flag that seemed to stretch out into eternity. Then the military unit played Taps and it really hit her: He is gone. He is not coming back.

She couldn’t have told a soul what it was about the playing of Taps that made it all real to her. It may have been just the lifelong exposure to the song. It may have been simply the fact that Taps is the most mournful tune she had ever heard.

Now the house was empty. The visitors had gone home. The kids had gone home. There were no grandchildren having meltdowns or running up and down the halls.

Too quiet.

Her daughters had done all the laundry, and she didn’t know what to do with it. Neatly folded pajamas—the last outfit he had worn—smelled of laundry detergent and fabric softening sheets when all she really wanted to smell were the last smells of him. The aftershave he’d been wearing, the essential odors from his body that she’d grown accustomed to over years of marriage. The sheets and blankets from his bed were already folded away in the linen closet.

She spent a day looking for something the girls might have missed, something that still held his scent. But they’d done a thorough job, and there was nothing left at all.

She sat in his reclining chair until the little dog’s reproachful looks got on her nerves. “I can sit here if I want,” she told the pup who had spent that final day on the bed, only leaving when she needed to go outside and relieve herself. The dog whined. She got out of the chair and sat in her own. Their little pet jumped into her lap and they both sighed extravagantly. Tears stood out brightly in two sets of eyes.

She needed to go through his things.

She went to his office. Finding his camera on the desktop, she wondered about the last photos she might find on the digital storage card. She sat in his chair and stared at the camera. She moved his glasses from one side of it to the other, then put them on her face. Nope. She couldn’t see a thing. She took them off, folded them, placed them beside the camera again. She toyed with a magnifying glass and wondered what he’d been doing with it. It had belonged to her grandfather, once upon a time.

She got up and left the room without checking the camera for photos. She couldn’t bear it, not right now.

No one can tell you about AFTER, she thought. You have to be there, in AFTER, to really get it.

AFTER has sharp teeth. And it bites, over and over.

Even the dog understands that.

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chester Harper: Life Lessons

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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Life Lessons

Chester Harper

Julie McAllister, Mac to her friends, waited patiently for the fawn to get into just the right position amongst the ferns and wild columbines. This was going to be an award-winning photograph, for sure. Children’s laughter broke the silence. The fawns ears went up, followed by its tail as it ran away from the sudden commotion.

Mac shook her head and stomped her foot in frustration. She only had five or six more pictures on this roll of film and she was eager to finish it. She had been camping for several days and had some awesome nature shots already. This was her last roll of film, and her nearly antique camera had been behaving itself, so far. She was leaving tomorrow, and the fawn shot would have been the cherry on top of her ice cream sundae, but no, some bratty kids had to ruin it.

Mac paused in her internal tirade as something occurred to her. She was in the middle of the Ozark wilderness; there shouldn’t be any kids out here. She slowly walked in the direction she thought the laughter had come from.

Sunlight poured down into a natural clearing amongst the trees. Wild daisies grew amongst the wild grasses and a gentle breeze made them sway back and forth. A pretty, dark-haired girl of about five years popped out from behind a tree at the edge of the clearing. She was dressed in a plain-cut floral dress and boots.

“You can’t catch me, Jack. You’re too big and slow.” The girl laughed and ran towards another tree.

Mac wondered where the children’s parents were. Surely they were not out here unsupervised. She racked her brain trying to think of any homes within walking distance of this location. Maybe, like her, they were camping in the beautiful Ozark foothills. Her eyes grew wide and she stifled a scream of surprise as a creature emerged from the trees and chased after the little girl. It wasn’t a bear, as she first thought. It was probably five feet tall and definitely humanoid, covered in thick reddish-brown fur. If she didn’t know better, she’d think it was a bigfoot monster. She started snapping pictures as fast as she could without compromising quality. After four shots, the camera jammed. She let it drop against her chest in frustration. It had worked perfectly for days and now it chose to jam. It had done this before and she knew she would have to be very careful in removing the film from the camera. If not, the last few pictures would be ruined, including the bigfoot and child pictures. She continued watching the pair play what appeared to be tag, amongst the trees.

“I will catch you, Columbine,” the creature shouted as it ran after the girl. Mac was unable to stifle a little cry and felt somewhat faint. The creature spoke in perfect English and sounded like a young boy.

The call of a whippoorwill made the two stop playing. The girl looked around as if frightened, looked straight at Mac, and then ran into the trees with the creature hot on her heels.

Mac bolted across the clearing and into the trees but they were gone — lost amongst the trees and boulders of the hollow they had run into.

Mac sat on a nearby boulder to get her breath and think about what she had just seen. The excess adrenaline in her system had her shaking uncontrollably and she felt as if she might vomit. It was too early in the day for a whippoorwill to be calling. So what had made the call that alerted the children? She looked at her camera and then tried to rewind the film. Nope, it was jammed to the point of not working at all. She loved her old camera and the quality of the pictures it produced. It had done this before; she would need to remove the film in the safety of a darkroom, as any light at all would ruin her photos. That was not a problem, as she developed her own film. She could not risk this film being exposed. It had the potential of making her famous. She got her bearings and headed back to her campsite. She needed a good night’s rest before the hike out tomorrow.

***

Jack and Columbine stood with bowed heads and slumped shoulders as their mother lectured them about their carelessness.

“You knew a camper was in the area. We told you to stay close to home and not draw attention to yourselves. What in the world made you think playing tag and yelling at the top of your voices was acceptable?” Willow’s eyes flashed as she reprimanded her children.

“Now, Sis, I know they should have been more cautious, but they are only five years old.” Flint nervously ran his hand through his head fur.

Willow turned her wrath to her brother. “And, where were you? You were supposed to be watching them while Adam was at the dig and I was on shift at the clinic. When did you become irresponsible? I trusted my children with you and you…” Willow started sobbing as what could have happened to her children overwhelmed her. Her sobbing frightened Columbine and she too began crying.

Adam rushed to his wife and took her into his arms. “Willow, it will be all right. We can fix this.”

“I know,” Willow sniffed. “I just never expected to need to.”

Jack saw his mother and sister crying, his father trying to comfort both as his nine-foot-tall uncle stood there looking as embarrassed as he could considering his stature. In that moment, he determined that he would never put them into a situation like this again and he would protect them forever.

***

Willow sat about ten yards from the tent. The sun had set quite some time ago and she waited patiently for Mac to fall asleep. She had been gently probing Mac’s mind and had learned several things. Mac had absolutely no telepathic qualities. This was good; it made her more susceptible to implanted suggestions. She had taken only four pictures of the children and was quite excited to get the film out of the camera and processed. This was bad; the more powerful the emotion connected to the event, the more difficult it was to override. She would discuss with Adam how to deal with the film. Mac also had strong emotions connected to the memory of the fawn she had seen earlier in the day. That could be very useful to Willow and play to her advantage.

Willow rose and walked to where Adam and Flint waited for her. “She’s asleep. I believe I can override the memory of the children and replace it with an earlier memory.” She looked at Adam. “Can you take care of the film in the camera?” Willow explained, as well as she could, what Mac had unknowingly revealed about her camera. When she finished, Adam reassured her that he could take care of the problem.

“Ok. Let’s do this,” Willow declared.

They crept up to the tent and, after ensuring Mac was still asleep, Willow and Adam entered the tent. While Willow whispered intently into Mac’s ear, Adam took the camera from beside Mac’s glasses and magnifying glass and took it outside into the light of the full moon. As he opened the back of the camera, exposing the film, he quietly said, “I’m sorry.” He waited a few seconds and closed the camera. He took it back inside the tent and, after wiping it down, placed it back in place.

As he and Willow left the tent, Mac was sleep-talking about a pretty fawn and how it was in the perfect position for an award-winning photo. She smiled in her sleep and exclaimed, “Got it.”

After getting a good distance away, Willow confided, “That worked. I’m sure. She has a very impressionable mind.” Willow stumbled and the men both caught at her arms. “It drained me, though.” She smiled. “Our kids are worth it.”

“Yes, they are,” the men replied in unison.

“You’re still in trouble, Flint.”

“I know, Sis. I know.”

***

Mac patiently performed all of the steps necessary to remove and process the film from her camera. “Well darn!” she exclaimed as the last six frames proved to be blank. “I just knew that fawn picture was an award winner. I’m going to have to get a new camera. As much as I love my old camera, I can’t risk shots like that getting lost.” She carefully finished processing the rest of the roll and left the darkroom. “Oh well, better luck next time.”

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Anita Wu: Costly Affair

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.

Costly Affair

 Anita Wu

People find peace sometimes in walking through a park, sometimes swimming in a lake, attacking a punching bag, or shouting to empty space. Jaz found it in her dark basement, baths of film solution bringing her photos to life.

She wondered what led people to their decisions: what pushed them to posing in front of a meaningless statue, kissing someone, committing to vows. To flirting with someone else, lying to someone’s heart, taking a knife to someone’s throat, or aiming a gun to the head. She had taken photographs of all these scenarios at one point in her career, but none had ever made sense to her.

She looked at one of the finished photos under the dim light: a woman in a pink floral dress, hair pinned up, youth radiating from her face. She had her arms around a man, her smile teasing him as he pulled her close. It would have been a sweet photo, but she took it from across the street, unbeknownst to the duo. The two lovebirds hid behind a tree in a private garden. Jaz was capturing evidence of an affair.

She placed the photo back on the table. “No questions” was her policy. She asked none, and in return, they would not soil her reputation as a professional high-end photographer. Affairs were fascinating. Secretly following someone to see if they were actually up to no good, pretending to take pictures of the beautiful butterflies nearby in case anyone suspected her. The game was fun, but fairy-tale weddings and lavish parties brought in the money and kept a roof over her head.

Rich people weren’t going to hire a photographer for a wedding venue if they knew she was also available for hire as a spy.

Jaz heard the creak of the basement door. She was sure she closed the door on her way down, but she turned to peek if there was any harsh light coming in — she didn’t want to risk her developing photos. The darkness greeted her, but she heard another creak — the sound of the old stairs she never bothered to upgrade. They may be worn, but they never made sounds by themselves.

“Hello? Someone there?” Jaz reached for her cellphone. No questions also meant she had to trust her clients: trust that pictures were simply for affairs and nothing more, trust that they would never contact her again unless they had a friend who wanted her service or another job they wanted photos for.

Sometimes she wondered if she should have learned how to attack a punching bag. The creak sounded again, and she knew someone was here for her.

“I’m calling the police, so you better leave,” Jaz warned the intruder, though she couldn’t really turn on her phone or her photos would suffer. At that moment, a blur of black charged at her. She felt the cool touch of a wet rag on her mouth as she fell back onto her photo station from the impact, her phone slipping from her hands. She gasped in the sharp alcoholic smell of the rag and coughed. Jaz brought her hands to her face, trying to peel the hand and rag off her face, while she kicked aimlessly, hoping it did SOMETHING.

She frantically tried to scratch her intruder’s uncovered face while holding her breath. Her eyes roamed his face, taking in any distinguishing characteristics. Black hair, fair skin, pierced ears. A scar on his cheek. Her intruder was calm, mouth a thin line as he looked down on her. She saw him grin before she felt the punch to her throat, knocking her out.

Sen entered the kitchen, nodding at the two men standing guard just outside. Helna sat at the head of the table, sumptuous dishes laid bare on the table, untouched and cold. She held her hands together to her chest, her eyes shifted through every corner of the room, restless despite the five men meant to keep her safe.

“Oh Sen,” she sighed at the sight of him, her shoulders relaxing just a bit. The other men nodded with respect. “Have you any news? Did you manage to catch the woman who killed Don?”

“We have her in a basement for questioning,” Sen replied. “You should eat. I hear you haven’t had a thing all day. It is late afternoon.”

“And risk being poisoned like Don? No, not until that woman is just as dead,” she scoffed. “Why is she just being held?” Helna slammed the table and stood, eyes narrowed, revenge bubbling in her voice. The pink floral dress she wore did not suit her outburst. She seemed more childish than controlling.

“She should be lying on the cold hard floor, lifeless. She’s the only one who followed Don the past few days. She had studied his routine and known how best to take him out. We can’t let her slip past you. Who knows what she’ll do next.”

“Helna, we will handle it.” Sen’s voice was firm, commanding. Helna was privy to many of the gang’s monies, operations, and secrets. But she did not know how to run the organization. He would not let her assume control just because the Don was murdered and she was his valued wife. He would investigate and determine if the woman acted alone or under direction of someone — and if so, who.

She narrowed her eyes at him, unaccustomed to anyone other than the Don discounting her words. The Don had not allowed anyone to undermine her words while he was present in the room, and anyone who did so while he was away disappeared once he caught wind of the exchange. Helna was known for crying to the Don about everything. But the Don wasn’t here anymore.

“Eat,” Sen told her again as he turned, walking out. Before you become a burden.

Jaz woke to a dull pain in her neck. She groaned, trying to bring her hand to massage it only to realize she couldn’t — they were tied together behind her to the chair she was sitting on. Her ankles were also secured to each leg of the chair.

A light flickered in a rusted lamp on the center of the table. The constant drip of water behind her echoed through the small enclosed room. She could see the mold growing on the wall across the table.

“Hello! Anyone there? What do you want?” Jaz shouted, checking if anyone was keeping an eye on her. In response, the creak of a door opening sounded behind her.

“I see you’re awake.” The cheery voice did not match her dire situation. Her visitor sat on the chair across from her. Jaz recognized the scar across the cheek.

“Who do you work for?” he asked her, the liveliness in his voice instantly gone.

“Excuse me?”

“Who do you work for?” he repeated, monotone.

“I heard you the first time. But you break into my house, attack me in my basement, kidnap and tie me here. And then YOU ask ME who I work for.”

“Who do you work for?” His mouth a fine line, no grins.

“No one. I work for myself. Photography. Weddings, events.”

“And why would a photographer follow and kill the Don?”

Jaz raised an eyebrow. “Wait, KILL? No, no, no, you’ve got this all wrong. I’ve killed no one. I don’t even know who that is.”

The man crossed his arms and stared at her, unconvinced.

“Come on,” Jaz continued, exasperated. “What do I have to do? I don’t know who you are, what this is about. I don’t know who YOU’RE working for, what you’re talking about.”

Silence.

“When did he die? I’ll give you my alibi.”

The man remained quiet, meeting her baseless words with a calm demeanor. Begging didn’t work in these scenarios. Movies told her as much. Jaz attempted to grasp at straws.

“Follow. You mentioned follow. I followed someone recently. For work. I am professionally a high-end photographer, but I accept jobs requesting to capture photo evidence of people in their lies. They’re usually affairs. So I follow someone throughout a day or two, to ‘catch them in the act’ if you will.

“I followed a man two days ago. Stephen Matange.” Jaz saw the interest in her captor’s eyes for one second. This must be the “Don” that he was referring to.

“I took the job from his wife. She had suspected he was cheating on her. So, she hired me to find proof. I followed him after he left work to a bar, but he was just drinking with a group of guys. I followed him the next day and saw that he met up with a woman. I took my pictures, and I left. I was done. I never interacted with him, never stepped foot within five meters of him. I swear I did nothing to him.”

Jaz pleaded with her captor. Her hands bound and with no knowledge of self-defence, she could do nothing but reason with him for her freedom and innocence. The man simply stared at her, his countenance revealing nothing.

He finally spoke. “You do know that if I don’t believe you, you’re dead. You have no proof. I don’t care if I don’t find out who you’re working for. They’ll send someone else against us, and I can catch them and try this all over again.”

The bluntness hit her like a knife. Jaz felt the sweat in her palms and the pounding in her chest. The situation was so unreal, she could laugh, but she fought against the tears that wanted to tinge her eyes at the injustice.

“Uh, but, uh, no, no.” She was having difficulty forming words.

“The photos!” she suddenly exclaimed. “The photos developing in my basement. They can be my proof, if they haven’t been destroyed.”

Her captor looked at her face. Whatever he saw made him grin.

“Are you accusing me?” Helna demanded, fists slammed on the table. The food had been cleared away, Sen noticed.

“I am simply letting you know what the woman claimed,” Sen replied calmly, standing opposite her seat at the head of the table. The four men still stood at each corner, and one man stood behind her for her protection.

“And you sure seem to be believing her. I warned you that she would spew nonsense,” she scoffed, eyes narrowed at him. “I have been nothing but loyal to Don. I was with him before he even took over this gang. And now that he’s gone, you dare to act all high and mighty, reducing me to nothing.”

Helna continued. “I could have you thrown out.”

Sen raised an eyebrow at that declaration. He looked at the three men that he could see; his eyes met theirs, all mirroring the same questionable look.

Sen ignored her statement. “Then why do you think she would say that? She knew the Don’s name — and yours.” Of course, she only knew the Don’s name, but Helna had no way of knowing.

“Don is a well-established businessman. Many know his name, and I am his wife, so they could probably find my name as well. Names are common knowledge.”

“Is it then also common knowledge that you are having an affair with Matthew Orell?”

Helna paused, her mouth a fine line.

“What nonsense are you spewing? Let me repeat myself,” she spoke slowly. “I have always been by Don’s side in all that he did, always supportive, always loyal. Even now after his death, I am here to lead in his absence. And you dare turn your back on me, on this gang, in hopes of overthrowing Don’s legacy to gain power?”

Sen laughed. “Did you really think you held the power these past few days after the Don’s death?”

He walked towards Helna, sitting at the head of the table, eyebrows knitted together in anger, red lipstick and a floral dress, believing in an illusion. Believing that she would not fall suspect when she was the one who could easily poison the Don himself.

He slipped a photograph towards her: it showed her in that same floral dress, laughing in a park, arms around Matthew Orell.

He watched the color drain from her face.

“You’ve never once had power, sweetie,” he told her.

“Jackson,” he addressed the man who had to stand behind Helna, “you can have the luxury of dealing with the traitor.”

Sen saw the wicked smile on Jackson’s face as he grabbed her shoulders, not giving her a chance to slip away.

“No, wait, no,” Helna shouted, but Sen walked out of the room.

“What about the other woman?” one of the men waiting outside asked him.

“Thank her for the photos. But she knows my face. She can’t live.” Sen smiled.

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Kenneth Lawson: Final Story

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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Final Story

Kenneth Lawson 

Forty years of chasing demons and saints had finally caught up with him.

He was tired. But it was a good tired. He had spent most of his life as a reporter and later a freelance investigative reporter—always in search of the truth.

Most of the time, the truth lay somewhere in the gray area between right and wrong, but he’d never stopped looking. Now his time was almost up. He was about to succumb to the ravages of time. While the decades of travel had taken him all over the world. It hadn’t been kind to his body. Cancer had started eating him alive several years ago. So, he stopped traveling. He had been working only from home. Eventually, even that stopped. Now he barely did more than write and sleep. 

Mostly he slept. He wanted to drift back into the ever-inviting world of sleep. As he did, he saw the table near him where his old friends lay—the camera, magnifying glass, and reading glasses. 

Those items had been around the world with him. On a shelf across the room were the notebooks he’d filled in his decades of work—notes on good guys, bad guys, and everyone in between. A shelf on the other wall held his awards.

His reporting had brought him the notoriety he only dreamed of when he was a kid watching Redford and Hoffman play the reporters he eventually became. The center of the shelf held his most prized award, the Pulitzer Prize, which sat in a place of honor in the middle. He had earned that in his middle years as a reporter.

The tales told. The awards received. His work complete.

That was over now. He was old and sick. Too old and sick to go traipsing around the world looking for trouble. Trouble? Do you say? Oh, he found trouble, usually at the point of a gun, or in a jail cell.

But it had been worth it.

Over the years as an investigative reporter, he had broken many stories, but the days of asking the tough questions to people who didn’t want to answer them were over.

Closing his eyes, he slipped off to sleep. As the darkness of sleep engulfed him, he remembered his inspiration. It was a movie of all things.

As a child, he had watched many movies with his father, an avid movie fan. But one movie stuck with him over the years. It was the inspiration for his career as a reporter and a journalist. “All the President’s Men.” 

Years later, he had the privilege to interview the stars of that movie. He had met Woodward and Bernstein at a news function a few years before, and they had become good friends. That connection allowed him access to Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, and their interviews had become legend.

In the last few years, cancer had made it increasingly difficult for him to work the way he wanted, but he had one final story to tell.

The only story he hadn’t told—his. 

No one knew the truth behind the stories he had written, the effort, the danger he faced as he did his investigative work and told other people’s stories. Stories he received accolades for, but he never revealed the truth or found the time to tell his story.

Now he had the time, but he didn’t. He was nearing the end of his beat, and he desperately wanted to get one last story written. He forced himself to stay awake, pushing off the bliss of a long dark sleep, for it was only then that his body was at peace from the pain and memories.

He refused to give in, and he sat at the table one more time and dragged the old typewriter to him. Sliding another sheet of paper in the roller, he wound it down and started typing his last story.

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Lisa Criss Griffin: The Riddle of Grandfather Mountain

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The Riddle of Grandfather Mountain 

Lisa Criss Griffin

A clap of thunder rattled the windows of Lanie’s secluded cabin tucked away in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. It was cozy, solidly built, and sat on property her family had owned for generations. Rain drummed heavily on the dark green metal roof, adding an element of drama as she struggled with the ancient clasps on her great grandfather’s trunk. Her mother had it shipped to her right before she passed away, with instructions not to open it until after her cremation. Momma had died two years ago, and in her grief, Lanie had forgotten all about the trunk until she accidentally hit her toe on the end of it. Once the pain subsided, she wrestled the antiquated trunk into the living room. 

The wood in her fireplace popped as it burned, casting a flickering orange glow across the knotty pine walls. Lanie heard the reluctant click of the final clasp, and carefully opened the lid. There was a sectioned wooden tray with several packets of letters, a vintage camera and some old pictures. She removed the tray and explored the lower area of the ancient trunk. Surprisingly, there was only an old leather-bound book, a large hunting knife, and a magnifying glass wrapped in what appeared to be a fur of some kind.

Lanie placed the items wrapped in the fur on the table and held the pelt up in the light. It wasn’t all that large, but the fur was a gorgeous auburn color. The skin side was very soft. Lanie was about to place it back in the chest when something unusual caught her eye. She looked a little closer, realizing there seemed to be a faded map of some sort inked into the leather of the pelt. It was rudimentary, but it was obviously a map. She stared at it awhile, then finally put it away, unable to make sense of the symbols.

A faint memory of something her great grandfather had done niggled in the back of her brain, but she couldn’t remember what the story was. The family stories shared during supper had stopped when her father and grandfather had been killed in a mining accident when she was six. Her mother never recovered from the shock of losing both her husband and father, and lived just long enough to see Lanie turn twenty-two. An only child, she inherited a substantial amount of mountainous land and the vintage cabin she currently called home. But she was drowning in debt from her mother’s funeral along with her personal and student loans. The debts worried Lanie…a lot.

The old leather-bound book caught her eye. Lanie picked it up and opened it carefully. It appeared to be a short journal of some sort, along with a cryptic, nonsensical poem. The handwriting was in cursive and difficult to read due to some fading and her great grandfather’s blatant disregard for neat penmanship. Most of it talked about the property she now owned, describing boundaries and features of the land. Lanie wondered how much of it would be recognizable now, after more than one hundred years. Fortunately, her father had the foresight to have the land surveyed and the boundaries marked with permanent markers before his untimely death. Mountain folk didn’t take kindly to trespassing of any kind, and the last thing she wanted was trouble with her neighbors.

Lanie reread the poem, sipping a warm cup of tea as she tried to make sense of it.

“Never will untrustworthy fellows see

The gift I have hidden just for family.

Grandfather stands taller than all the trees,

His side pierced and weeping for me.

He has only the one eye for sight

And he won’t give it up without a fight.

Beware of things that go bump in the night

But some be guardians of your birthright.

Further away and yet stranger still

Avoid the heartbreak that is real.

Tread lightly by the teeth, you will.

Yours is the back molar, capped and filled.”

Lanie leaned back in her chair, the written enigma swirling in her mind. Maybe the letters and pictures would shed some light on the mysterious riddle. Mama would always cry when Lanie asked about her father and grandparents. She knew little of her great grandfather since she had stopped asking Mama questions about the family at an early age. As a child, she had vowed to never hurt her mother further if at all possible. Unfortunately, it meant much of her family’s personal history died with her beloved Mama.

Lanie picked up the pile of old pictures gently and gazed at the first one. The man was young, tall and muscular. The slim girl on his arm was a natural beauty. Both looked solemn, but there was a hint of a rebellious smirk in the young man’s face. She turned the picture over, hoping there might be some record of who the couple was on the back. 

“Ethan and Jenny Parker, wedding day”

It was a picture of her great-grandparents. The same great-grandfather who had written the riddle! She thumbed through the other pictures, able to pick out her grandparents, and then her mother as a girl. It was comforting to have some record of her family, but the pictures offered no help in deciphering the mysterious message.

Lanie was startled out of her reverie by the jangle of her landline phone. Cell service was spotty to nonexistent this far back in the Appalachian mountains.

“Hello?”

“Lanie! Thank goodness. Bradley is on his way up there. He wants to see you and wouldn’t take no for an answer. He is not taking your breakup with him well. He just flew in from the west coast. I thought you should know.”

“Oh geez. I told him I was not interested in a long-distance relationship now that he has taken a job so far away! I am certainly not interested in moving. What part of that simple statement was unclear?”

“I don’t know, hon, but he will probably be there within an hour. Anything you want me to do?”

“No. I’ll call you back later. Thanks for the heads up, Katie.”

“No problem, my friend.”

Lanie clicked the phone off, sighing in exasperation. Even in college, Bradley had never been good at taking no for an answer. It had served him well in the business world, but she was done being second to his work, and she wasn’t moving from her home. She had a job as an online case manager, which meant she could work from home since her internet access was tied in with her landline service. 

She tossed another log on the fire, watching the red sparks fly up into the flue. She was pulling back the spark guard, when somebody knocked on her front door. It surprised her Bradley could have gotten here so quickly. She stood, took a deep breath, and forced herself to approach the entryway. Lanie steeled herself and pulled open the door. 

The man standing there was not Bradley. In fact, she didn’t know who he was. He was tall, but his features were hidden by his hat and ankle-length slicker. Water was puddling on her covered front porch around his boots. Lanie shot a quick glance at the shotgun she kept by the door, mentally kicking herself for answering the door without it. The tall man removed his hat, revealing a pleasantly handsome face and tousled dark hair.

“Excuse me, Miss Lanie. My name is Justin Morgan. My Granny Morgan, your neighbor, sent me over to see if you might have some flour she could borrow. My dog, Kingston, accidentally knocked her new bag of flour all over the floor. Needless to say, she is short a few cups of flour for her cathead biscuits.”

The man turned slightly and nodded towards a pitiful hound dog sitting in the driving rain beyond the porch, watching them with sadly repentant eyes. Lanie’s heart melted.

“Yes, yes of course. Please bring poor Kingston out of the rain. Don’t worry about the puddles, my porch will dry. I will be right back with some flour for your granny. Just a moment.”

Lanie retrieved a bag of flour and something else from her pantry and reopened her front door.

“Cathead biscuits, you say, Mr. Morgan? Mmmmmmm. I haven’t had a good cathead biscuit in ages! Here ya go, Kingston.”

Lanie handed the flour to Justin and tossed a sizable piece of jerky to the dog on her porch. The animal watched her with adoring eyes as he enjoyed his unexpected treat.

“That was mighty nice of you, Miss Lanie. Would you care to join us for some cathead biscuits and supper? Gran always fixes plenty. She was best friends with your grandmother, so I know you would be welcome.”

“Well, I….”

An SUV came roaring up the gravel driveway, narrowly missing Justin’s truck and scattering Lanie’s yard with loose rocks. Bradley jumped out of the vehicle and barreled onto the porch, a fistful of drooping flowers in his left hand.

“Hey, baby! I’m here! Wait. What!!! Who the heck is this guy?”

Bradley looked at Justin, jealousy firing in his eyes. He took a step towards Justin aggressively, drawing a growl from Kingston.

“Hey man, I just came to borrow some flour for my granny. Back off, dude.”

“Don’t tell me what to do. Stay away from my girl. She is mine! Mine!”

“No Bradley, I am not your girlfriend any longer. I made my decision and nothing you can say or do will change it now. You had your chance. It will never work between us. We want different things, and frankly, I don’t love you. Please take your lousy wilted flowers, leave, and never, ever come back here!”

Bradley ignored her, glared at Justin and took another step closer. Kingston scrambled to his feet, growling with his teeth bared. Lanie’s blue eyes blazed with anger as she reached for her shotgun. She swung the business end of the barrel out the door and pointed it at Bradley’s chest. Justin backed away, his free hand raised in the air. Bradley pinned her with the rage boiling from his eyes.

“Get the hell off my porch, and NEVER come back or call me, Bradley! Ever.”

Lanie cocked the gun, pissed to the core. Bradley swore at her and stalked off the porch into the pelting rain. The SUV sprayed more gravel into her yard as it careened away quickly and disappeared down the drive into the forest. The wilted flowers lay strewn across Lanie’s yard, a testament to Bradley’s displeasure.

“I’m sorry, Lanie. We sure didn’t come here to cause you any trouble. Are you okay?”

“No, it wasn’t you. He had no business coming here. Actually, I am relieved someone else was here when he arrived. Bradley can be…unpredictable…and violent.”

“Come on up to Gran’s with us. You will be safe there, especially if that fool tries to come back. Besides, Kingston and I think you have earned those delicious cathead biscuits.”

“You’re right! Give me a moment and I will follow you over there.”

“We will be waiting for you in my truck.”

Lanie put the gun away, closed the doors on the fireplace and grabbed her keys. She was more scared than she had let on. She shakily ran a brush through her sun-streaked blonde hair, grabbed her jacket and slid behind the wheel of her Jeep after locking her cabin.

The drive to Granny Morgan’s house wasn’t far, and looked slightly familiar. Maybe she had been here before when she was little. She didn’t know. Lanie ran up the steps onto the large porch of the friendly white house with blue shutters. Buttery yellow light spilled invitingly out of the windows into the yard. Justin was waiting for her, having already settled Kingston down on the porch by a rocker. He opened the door and ushered her inside.

“Hey Gran! Look who is joining us for supper!”

A short, white-haired woman turned away from the stove, a look of delight on her face.

“Miss Lanie! Let me look at you, dear. Why, you look just like your lovely grandmother. She and I were great friends. You used to come with her to visit when you were just a little thing. I am so glad you have returned. I’ve missed having visits with my favorite neighbors. Here, sit down while I fix these cathead biscuits. They used to be a great favorite of yours, you know!”

“So, Mrs. Morgan….”

“Please call me Gran, honey.”

“Well, Gran. Maybe you can help me. What do you know about my great-grandfather Parker?”

“Aaaah yes. Mr. Ethan. He was a wily old fox, that one was! Sure did love his family and his land though. They are all buried on your land at the base of Grandfather mountain. Justin goes over and maintains the cemetery during the summer. Have you been there?”

“No. I knew there was a family cemetery, but I haven’t found it yet. Grandfather mountain? Where is that?”

“It is the high mountain at the back of your property. You were there when we buried your father and grandfather, but you were so little, I’m not surprised you don’t remember it. It is an interesting place. It looks like it has an eye…always watching over the land. Your great grandfather was quite taken with it. Rumor was he hid something quite valuable there, but of course I am the only person left alive that remembers that tall tale!”

“Oh, I must visit the cemetery and see Grandfather mountain too! Would you take me Justin? Maybe tomorrow?”

“Sure, Lanie. Come over in the morning about ten. We’ll take a couple of horses, some cathead biscuits and make a day of it.”

~oo0oo~

The two horses emerged from the barely visible forest trail into a clearing with several headstones. Lanie took a moment to reconnect with her family members from generations past. She caressed the top of each stone as she read them. A wave of regret flowed through her. She wished she knew more about her family who lived here earlier. She mounted her horse, noticing Justin had waited reverently for her to finish her visit.

“Thank you for keeping our family cemetery well groomed, Justin. I want to visit Grandfather mountain now. Will you help me?”

“Sure thing. Follow me.”

The two of them found themselves zigzagging up the steep hill. The autumn leaves were turning red, orange and yellow, some littering the ground like colored confetti. The sound of water perked up the horses. They quickly found themselves at the base of a waterfall. They dismounted, allowing the horses a much needed drink.

Lanie looked up and found the eye in the side of the mountain. It really did resemble an eye. She found it slightly creepy.

“Will you go with me to the eye, Justin? I have to see it up close! There is something I am supposed to find!”

“Alright, but we will need to go on foot.”

Lanie pulled the journal and the knife wrapped in the small pelt from a saddle bag and slid them into an interior pocket of her coat. It took thirty minutes to reach the base of the eye. The shale rock was slippery, and they had to fight to keep from sliding back down the mountain. Once they reached the edge of the eye, they noticed a narrow passage between the rocks. The way was pitch black once the light was blocked by the stones.

Lanie clicked on her tactical flashlight, surprised the passage doglegged left immediately. They entered the passage and found themselves in a cavern with several passages. 

“Ugh! Bats!”

Justin pulled his boot out of a guano pile. Lanie flicked her light on the walls and found a symbol from the pelt on the wall of a passageway. She pulled out the pelt and examined it for the next symbol. They followed the symbols, finding themselves deep within Grandfather mountain. The sound of water caught their attention. They rounded a corner, and there sat an old fashioned still. 

“I’ll bet your Ethan Parker had a nice bootlegging business back in the day, Lanie!”

Lanie laughed, acknowledging it was most likely true. She flicked her light around the area beyond the still, noting there was a partial crevasse to the right. The couple made their way carefully through the left side of the passage and were amazed to find themselves surrounded by stalagmites and stalactites. They did look like teeth! Lanie searched along the back, looking for something resembling a molar. Her light rested on a stalagmite that appeared to have broken off. 

“Here it is!!!”

Lanie pulled out her knife and began chipping away at top of the damp stone. She unexpectedly hit something that felt like wax.

“Help me pull this waxy stuff out, Justin!”

The two of them worked carefully. Once the opening was clear, Lanie slid her arm down into the base. She felt something solid, like leather. It was very heavy, and it took their combined strength to tease it out of the hole. They laid the bag on the cold rock floor. Lanie’s eyes locked with Justin’s in awe.

“Let’s take it to my cabin before I open it. This cave is wearing on my nerves!”

“Agreed!”

They carefully made their way back out of the cave and down to their horses. Justin knew a shortcut to Lanie’s cabin. They were there within the hour. 

The heavy leather pouch opened easily. Beautifully cut gemstones tumbled out on Lanie’s table, along with gold bars and multiple gold and silver coins. Shocked, Lanie gasped audibly. What an amazing legacy!!! She could easily pay off her debts and keep her family heritage intact for future generations to enjoy. And…she could stash the excess for another generation to find once again, deep in Grandfather mountain.

Copyright © 2020 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

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Lynn Miclea: Caught on Film

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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Caught on Film

Lynn Miclea

Adjusting his camera for a close-up shot, Jeremy squatted and held his breath as he clicked the shutter. Even without his macro lens, he figured that would be a great shot of the bright orange poppies. He took a few more shots at varying angles and distances, stood up, and stretched.

Walking through the field always refreshed and renewed him. Nothing else existed but him and nature and his camera. He inhaled deeply, savoring the fresh fragrance of the native plants and wildflowers that grew there.

As he turned to look for another shot, movement got his attention. Squinting into the distance, he saw a large, round metal object a few hundred yards away, and two beings standing in front of it. Confused and bewildered, he squinted again, trying to see better. Was that …

He sucked in a deep breath and watched. It was clearly some type of alien spacecraft and two alien creatures in front of it. What the …

He watched for a couple minutes as the alien creatures fiddled with a metallic device. Then instinct clicked in. He quickly switched to a telephoto lens, raised his camera, zoomed in, and took pictures. Grateful that it was a new roll of film, he zoomed in even further and clicked away, taking multiple shots of the aliens and the spaceship. A shiver ran up his spine as he realized not only what he was taking pictures of, but that he also needed to get away before he was seen.

Suddenly the aliens stood up straight and peered in his direction. Did they see him? Nervous and jittery, sweat rolling down his back, he crouched down.

His legs felt weak as the aliens took a few steps toward him and raised a strange-looking object, aiming it at him.

Noooooo!

Blackness enveloped him.

A couple hours later, Jeremy woke up dazed, flat on his back, groggy, achy. He was still in the field and the camera was still in his hand. Why was he lying down? Did he lie down for a nap? He couldn’t figure it out.

His head pounded with a headache that seemed to get worse by the minute. He slowly sat up and rubbed his temples. His entire body ached. What happened? He couldn’t remember anything other than taking pictures of poppies.

He stood up, licked his dry lips, and looked around. Nothing was unusual — a field of grasses, trees, a few bushes, and colorful wildflowers. His mind felt fuzzy and it was hard to concentrate. Why didn’t he feel well? Why had he been lying down? It felt like he was missing some crucial bit of information, but he couldn’t quite grasp it.

On shaky, rubbery legs, he stumbled back through the field to the parking lot and found his car. Could he drive okay? He thought so — at least he’d be sitting down. He got in his car, grabbed a water bottle and took a long drink. Feeling a little better, he carefully drove home, his mind trying to figure out what happened. It was like his memory just wasn’t there — something was missing, or maybe he was simply overtired.

Once home, he took a couple pills for his headache and then took a deep breath. It was good to be home. Whatever he had taken photos of, he hoped the pictures came out. And maybe that would shed some light on what happened. And if not, at least he’d have some good pictures anyway.

Grateful for having his own darkroom, he entered the room, shut the door, and turned on the red light. After putting on gloves, he carefully removed the film from the camera. He checked the developer, fixer, rinse, chemicals needed, the thermometer, and clips for hanging the film to dry. He was ready. Still feeling a little out of it and somewhat nervous, he started the developing process.

A short time later, he inspected the film. He placed the negatives on a lightbox on his dining room table, grabbed a magnifying glass, and peered at the images.

For some strange reason, a few shots showed that the film was clearly burned in places, and some images were destroyed, and he had no idea why. But most of the images were good. Vivid colors of the poppies greeted his eyes. And then … what was that? Did someone play a trick on him?

Incredibly clear images were there. Indisputable, crystal clear. Gray-green alien beings, their skin glistening in the sunlight, large black oval eyes, and a metallic device between them. A spaceship behind them. Jeremy gasped as he bent forward, studying the images. Vague memories tickled at the outer fringes of his mind. A shot where the alien beings looked directly at the camera. His eyes opened wide as he studied the last shot: the aliens holding a metallic device, aimed directly at him.

That’s what happened! They must have erased my memory! Shaky, hands trembling, eyes wide, he stared at the images. Who could he give these to? Who would believe him? He needed to call the TV news stations, the newspaper, and the police. He had proof, and this would make an incredible story.

Feeling weak, he sat down and rubbed his face. And what if he were asked questions? He couldn’t remember anything. It was a shaky story at best. And if no one believed him … this could ruin his career. Was it worth it? A wave of nausea ran through him and he broke out in a sweat.

After taking a few deep breaths, he inspected the images again. He could almost remember … it looked so familiar … he had been there …

He reached for his phone. They may have taken away part of his memory, but he had proof. He had pictures and the original negatives. The story needed to be told.

Suddenly distracted by sizzling and crackling that filled his mind, he put the phone back down. What was happening? Closing his eyes, he held his head in his hands and took deep breaths.

The memories immediately rushed back, clear and vivid. He saw all of it — the spaceship, the creatures, the device … and he could hear a strange buzzing and chirping. What was that?

Instantly he understood. He could hear and understand their language. Whatever they shot him with must have opened some channel and created a connection. He knew why they were there and what they wanted. A shudder rushed through him. They were definitely not friendly.

He gasped in horror as the realization hit him more forcefully. After harvesting various resources and what they needed from Earth, they wanted to make sure humans did not interfere. They were going to land, invade, and annihilate any humans they encountered. And it would be under the cover of a thunderstorm, which would become widespread.

Who could he tell? He had to warn everyone — or at least somehow get the word out. But this was even less believable than simply seeing alien beings. He would be laughed at and branded a mad man, crazy, insane.

He sat for a few minutes, thinking. As he considered his options, thunder boomed overhead, followed by an intense flash of lightning. Within seconds, another crash of thunder exploded, rattling the windows of his house.

Crackling sounds filled his mind. Jeremy could hear and feel their presence.

They were here. It was happening. Now.

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Copyright © 2020 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.
Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://wp.me/p4htbd-tE
Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
And visit her Amazon author page at – https://www.amazon.com/Lynn-Miclea/e/B00SIA8AW4

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Enzo Stephens: Inheritance

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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Inheritance

Enzo Stephens

“Mario, c’mon dude, get out of the way already.” Jenny shoved past her recalcitrant younger brother to the front doors of their Uncle Murv’s house, which was far too ostentatious for Jenny’s tastes.

The front doors were huge, opening down the middle. Mario guessed them at twelve feet high, also guessing that the bitches weighed a ton. Each. “Murv was a fuckin’ perv. Murv the perv.”

Jenny rounded on Mario immediately after pushing both doors open to reveal a dimly lit, cool, marble-tiled entrance. “Mario, what the fuck? You need to respect the dead, dumbass.”

“Yeah, whatever. Let’s get this show on the road.” He took a step to trail along after his sister, but her big, burly hubby Rocco barged past Mario, elbowing his lean body into the outer doorframe.

“Me first, punk.”

Mario stared bullets at the broad back of the ape. “Asshole.” He stepped inside, kicking the doors closed behind him. They glided shut soundlessly and Mario wondered if there was some kind of electronic assist involved.

His rubber-soled Vans squeaked on the gleaming marble tile; a blaring, nerve-jangling screech. All three stopped at the juncture of marble tile and gleaming mahogany floorboards, and stared with open-mouthed astonishment.

The foyer opened into a mammoth chamber with a sweeping, curved double-staircase on either side of a small sitting area. The entire back wall, all of twenty-five feet high, was glass. The entire vista reminded Jenny of something out of that old classic movie, Gone With The Wind.

Rocco whistled and Mario winced at the obnoxiousness of both the whistle and the guy, and not for the first time, Mario choked back just how much he despised the buffoon. What the hell did Jenny see in him anyway?

He must have a big unit.

He chirped a quick laugh at the thought but choked it off quickly.

“Ole Murv the perv must have been freaking loaded, eh babe?”

Jenny ignored her husband. “You two need to stop calling him that. Respect the fucking dead. What the hell’s the matter with you guys?”

Mario was utterly floored by Uncle Murv’s place, even though he’d just walked in the front door. “I don’t get it Jen. He was always so—”

“Cheap.”

“—Right. He was hiding all this shit from the whole family?”

“Well, he is dad’s brother, so there’s that.”

“Was.”

Jenny and Mario looked at the towering Rocco. “Was. Ain’t he dead?”

Jenny pulled her smart phone from her back pocket and began swiping. “Here we go. His letter.”

Mario and Rocco moved in closer to Jenny, either to hear better or — in the case of Rocco, to see with his own eyes the crazy fortune Murv the perv willed to his wife, and thusly, to him. 

“Okay, so turning right from the entrance, we’ll pass a few rooms on the left, and then a big room on the right. Uncle Murv’s office will be on the right, just past that big room he mentioned.”

“What are these rooms? Does he say?”

“Nothing beyond his office, Mario. I guess he figures we’ll explore them at our leisure.”

Mario and Jenny set off along the rich floor, but Rocco hadn’t moved yet. Jenny turned to see him rubbing his bristly cheek, deep in thought. “Rocco? What’s up?”

“I’m trying to remember who this Murv guy was. You know, put a face to the name.”

Helpful Mario pulled his phone. “I got a picture of him. Hang on.” Mario meandered back to Rocco, focused on his phone when Rocco swiped it out of Mario’s hand. “Hey—”

“Piss off, punk. You’re too slow.”

“Gimme my phone back, asshole.”

“Mario!” Jenny held her tongue from scolding her little brother at his use of profanity.

“Yeah bitch, reach for it and I’ll give you a new smile; a toothless-special. Fuck-o.” Rocco glared at Mario, who leaned forward, jaw jutting, frustrated rage at this… this fucking bully. Fists clenching at his sides, Mario wanted to tear into him and right then, he did not give shit one if the guy outweighed him by over 100 pounds. At least Mario would get a shot in.

“Stop it you two! Mario, let him use it. He’s not gonna do anything to it.” Jenny stepped to her younger brother, the palm of her hand pressing against his thin chest. “Please, Mario.”

Mario seethed while Rocco swiped with big, meaty sausage-fingers, likely smearing the screen with his filthy grease.

Then, “Is this the guy? He looks kind of familiar.” Rocco held the phone out to Jenny and Mario. Jenny nodded, flashing a quick smile at the visage of Uncle Murv. 

The picture was a right-side shot and the first thing one noticed was the gleaming blue eye. It seemed to shine with an unearthly light, beneath heavy, white brows and pronounced cheekbones. A black fedora rested atop his silvery mane. Thin lips lay beneath a bent and crooked nose — broken in a few fights over the years, and finally finishing off with a sharp, pointed chin, a feature the young Mario inherited.

 “That’s what I thought. This is the jerk who didn’t come to our wedding; said I was no good for you.”

Jenny laid her hand on his biceps. “Yeah, I remember, Rocco. Let it go—”

“Fuck no!” He shook her hand off. “Do you remember what that son-of-a-bitch said to me? Do you?”

“C’mon, baby—”

“He said that the most good I could do for this world was to leave it. I’ll never forget that shitheel.” 

Rocco threw Mario’s phone across the foyer. It bounced off the wall with a crack and landed on the marble floor with finality. “Shit!” Mario raced over to pick it up, then swore roundly as he saw the extent of the damage.

He turned to Rocco in fury. “You’re paying me for that, jag-off.”

Rocco had already moved out of the foyer and off to the right, moseying his way down the rich, understated hall. “Well, let’s see what this dickwad left you.”

Jenny threw Mario a pleading look, a quick shrug, then darted off to follow her husband, leaving Mario to stand there with his demolished phone and a buttload of unquenched rage.

He shoved the phone in his pocket, blew out a huge breath, then followed after his sister. Someone was going to pay for the broken phone.

The trio moved slowly down the hallway, taking everything in, although Mario was still seething over his abused phone. But Uncle Murv’s house soon occupied Mario’s interest as his fingers dragged along wall-mounted tapestries. “This stuff seems pretty expensive, Jen.”

She was leading the trio to Murv’s office but paused. “I know. I don’t know anything about tapestries, but damn, some kind of rug to cover a wall is pretty big-time.”

Rocco snapped his impatience. “Can we just get to the damned office already?” 

Mario paused. “I don’t know why, but something feels… off.”

Jen stopped in her tracks. They just passed the big room on the right. “What do you mean?”

“I dunno. I just—”

“You just forgot your tampon, punk.” Rocco pushed past Jenny. “Can we just get this show on the road already.”

Jenny glared at Rocco. “I’m trying to ignore how much of an asshole you are, Rocco. I’m not succeeding.”

He stopped and turned to Jenny slowly and with no shortage of menace. “You’d better be kidding.”

Jenny ignored him, turning to Mario. “Tell me what’s going on with you, bro.”

Mario touched a rich tapestry. “This whole thing is pretty screwy, Jen. We find out that Uncle Murv is loaded. And… well, actually, I dunno what else.”

Jenny stared at her brother for a moment, then turned to follow Rocco. “The sooner we do this, the sooner it’s done.”

In moments, the three stepped into another world; from rich mahogany and the feel of ‘Old Money,’ they stepped across the threshold into Uncle Murv’s office, and all three needed a moment to stop and stare.

Crisp, stark white furniture, punctuated with touches of brushed aluminum; all in neat, orderly tight geometrics; the space was nothing short of breathtaking. Not to mention cavernous. Twenty-five-foot ceilings with one entire wall of glass providing a spectacular view of the Appalachian foothills; and immediately before that window perched a massive block of white furniture, with a white and aluminum chair tucked before it.

If it looks like a desk and smells like a desk, it’s probably a desk, and the trio moved toward it rapidly; Jenny circling around to slide the beautiful chair out on soundless wheels. She checked Murv’s letter on her phone again while the two men in her life hovered on either side of the desk; each impatient in their own way.

Jenny slid the center drawer open revealing three large, manilla envelopes. Jenny extracted one with her name on it, then removed one for Rocco and finally one for Mario. Each bore a lumpy appearance, as if the envelope held something other than paper.

Rocco snatched his and turned away from the others, ripping the top off and burrowing his meaty paw deep into the bowels of the envelope, just as both Mario and Jenny each unfastened their own envelopes in a far more civilized manner.

Rocco’s voice rang forth echoing across the vast chamber. “What the fuck is this?”

Mario and Jenny both looked up in alarm to see Rocco holding a magnifying glass in his fist while his envelope fluttered to the floor. Jenny ignored him while Mario absently removed his treasure; a pair of spectacles. “This is… interesting.”

Rocco approached Jenny, who had taken a seat in the sumptuous chair, watching the two men. “What did he leave you?”

Jenny ignored the question. “Did you look at it? I mean, really LOOK at it? That thing could be immensely valuable. I mean, we don’t know how Murv got rich; maybe he dealt in antiquities or something.”

“That’s ridic—”

The comment died as Rocco looked into the glass. Where one would expect to see things magnified on the other side of the lens, Rocco saw his childhood playing out in a constant stream of heinous abuse, and it caused him to reel backwards to slam into a wall, then sag to his butt as a series of groans slipped from his lips.

Rocco, aged 5, being whipped with a belt by a man resembling Rocco-the-man, only shorter. A man with prodigious strength, who wielded the leather with wicked and determined accuracy across the backs of Rocco’s bare thighs…

Rocco, aged 8, not seeing the cast-iron skillet that sailed through the air and crashed into his skull until the sudden blast of pain, a resounding clang and the onset of darkness rushed over him…

Rocco, aged 11, forced to parade before a nameless array of his parents’ drunken friends in Batman masks, clad in a short, plaid skirt and a bra with no tighty-whities; shame absolutely obliterating any sense of value or worth as they laughed, jeered, slapped his ass and pinched his nipples and pulled at his…

Rocco, the very next day beating a smaller boy to death mindlessly in the locker room at school…

Rocco, aged 15, ripping sensors and needles from his father’s body, setting off a cacophony of shrieks and buzzers just as he smashed a pillow over the evil old shithead’s face. 

The montage of horror flowed, yet Rocco could not tear his gaze from that magnifying glass.

Jenny had no idea what the hell was wrong with Rocco, but managed to push aside her shock at his reaction to whatever was happening to him and kick to her feet, sending that beautiful, comfy chair skittering back to clank into the floor-to-ceiling window, just as she heard Mario gasp. She stopped, turning to her brother, and watched him stagger backwards, hands bunched before his mouth.

He had the old-fashioned spectacles on, and his face was sheer white, staring unblinking at Rocco, muttering, “I see it I see it I see it—” over and over. Jenny turned again to Rocco, shocked to see tears streaming.

Jenny didn’t know what to do; go to Rocco or go to Mario. Both were in significant distress. She froze, turning from one to the other unable to decide.

Mario was utterly horrified. The episode of Rocco in the skirt and bra played over and over again, and Mario’s heart suddenly ached for the brute. The implications of that single event dawned on Mario; he came to understand how that so completely shaped the man; his behavior, his attitude; everything about him, which happened to be just about everything Mario despised about him.

But Mario was seeing the root cause of it now, and he was completely appalled. 

He tore his stunned gaze away from Rocco to see his sister, and what he saw dropped him to the gleaming, tiled floor just like his brother-in-law.

Jenny, pre-teen on a swing, the sun behind her as her hair flew out in boundless blonde waves and the giggles and the “Whee!”s filled the idyllic scene, and the scene stirred warm memories in Mario, but then a big, powerful man wearing a Batman mask crept up behind the gleeful young girl and snatched her right off the swing just as she was on her downward arc, clamping his gloved hand over her face. 

Mario was shocked. He didn’t remember this at all.

The man dragged kicking and thrashing Jenny back into a copse of bushes…

And that was it.

The scene started anew for Mario, just in case he missed the first rendition.

Jenny saw that Mario was staring at her; eyes huge and unblinking. “Mario, why are you staring at me?”

“Jen… Jen, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know, I just—” And Mario started crying; quiet tears flowing out of reddened eyes.

It was too much; Mario was overwhelmed. He turned away from Jenny back to Rocco and was instantly assailed again with the same scene as Rocco was lying on his side, curled into a fetal position, great sobs wracking his heavily muscled body, still staring through the magnifying glass.

And Mario was moved by the overlaying images of young Rocco and adult Rocco, and he found himself kneeling before the shuddering Rocco, then helping raise the weeping man to a sitting position. Mario gently pushed the hand clamped over the wooden handle of the glass down, out of Rocco’s line of sight, and was rewarded with a great sigh.

Mario wrapped his long, lean arms around Rocco, who leaned into Mario’s hug and rested his head on Mario’s shoulder. The two men wept.

It was all very stunning to Jenny, and it all went down in less than three minutes, and while she struggled to process what she’d witnessed, she absently wondered about the contents of her own envelope.

That thought moved her to retrieve her envelope and finish opening it. She upended it, and an old-fashioned camera clunked out onto the desk. She picked it up, turning it over and over. Looked like it was made in the 1960’s, with a metal case, and it was entirely mechanical as far as she could tell.

She began to lift the viewfinder to her eye, but hesitated due to what happened to Rocco and Mario. 

She still didn’t know what Mario was talking about, and even though she had an inkling of an idea, she immediately pushed that away from her mind. Momma said that was a dark time and it was better that Jenny not remember anything.

Jenny took that as gospel.

She snapped herself back to the here-and-now; seeing her brother hugging her husband and him returning the hug was unbelievable, so much so that Jenny absent-mindedly raised the camera to her eye and snapped a picture of the scene, and…

The camera worked! As far as Jenny could tell. She studied the thing, locating the exposure-counter, which read ‘1.’

Something caught her eye and she turned to the office entryway quickly to see Uncle Murv.

“Uncle Murv…” She gasped as the camera slipped from her fingers and clunked on the desk.

Uncle Murv turned to Jenny and smiled, giving her a quick nod and a wink of that cerulean eye. He then turned to the two men hugging on the floor and his smile grew.

Jenny had questions; in fact, she had a whole shitload of them, and she turned to her secretive Uncle. “Uncle Murv, just what…”

He glanced at Jenny again; she saw his mouth move. Jenny was not a lip-reader, though as she looks back now on the events, she is positive that’s what dear old Uncle Murv said was…

Batman mask. 

Uncle Murv gave Jenny a thumbs-up, then faded away to nothingness.

Jenny came to an understanding right then and there; that no inheritance could beat what their cagey old Uncle Murv left them.

She stepped to the two men on the floor, the men in her life, and joined them in their hug.

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