Calliope Njo: Christmas Break At Grandma’s

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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Christmas Break At Grandma’s

Calliope Njo

I loved winter break. Midterms done to begin with. I got through them, hated them, but I got through them. Sweatshirts, baggy pants, the food, and skiing was the other thing. The best part, there was no waking up at o’dark-thirty in the morning. I had been looking so forward to spending Christmas week in Colorado. Vail, to be exact.

That plan failed big time. Mom and Dad said that plans changed. No going to Colorado to do anything. As in no Christmas and no skiing. When I asked why, they told me the strangest thing I ever heard. They made plans to send me to North Pole, Alaska, while they had business to do. Who works during Christmas?

An eighteen-year-old girl with a driver’s license, capable of buying groceries, cooking food without burning the house down needed to be looked after. Despite them saying otherwise, I knew how to stay on budget. I screamed. How could they?

Monday morning, at the worst part of the day, the three of us made it to the airport. I got on my plane before they got on theirs. Why is that fair?

Ten hours later, I arrived at a woman’s house that I had never seen before. We sent Christmas cards back and forth, but nothing beyond that. I shook my body, not because of the snow on the ground, but I also wanted to be sure to get rid of any bad vibes. Not that it worked.

A woman answered the door. She had grey hair in a ponytail and wore ear muffs. Tank top and cargo shorts with flip flops on top of that. “Well. You did arrive.” She pulled me inside. “Imogen said she did plan on you arriving but she never said you would be here.” She kept a hold of my hand and pulled me into the kitchen. “Do you have any knowledge of what a carrot looks like?”

Either this woman was dense or she slept in a cave. “Yes, I do.” I took off my coat and gloves and lay them on the chair by the door. Almost too afraid to open the coat closet.

“Splendid. Get four of them. Do you know how to count?”

If I guessed right, I would get an A in Pre-Cal and she’s asking me if I can count? “Yes.”

“Terrific. Now for the hard one. Do you know how to use a knife?”

Dad and I had cutting contests when it was his turn to cook. I couldn’t blame her for asking, though. She had no idea, so take in a deep breath and smile. “Yes, ma’am.”

“You’re Imogen’s daughter? I only ask because nothing worked when I tried teaching her how to use one. Are you sure you are who you say you are and didn’t imagine any of this? You didn’t look anything up on those weird thingamadoohickies?”

I could tell her or I could show her. I got out four carrots from the refrigerator. I saw a knife and cutting board already out, so I used those. After a glance around to see what kind of dish was being cooked, and not spotting any, I went with the standard carrot coins.

She got out one of those huge stewing pots and dropped the carrot coins in it. After that, she got out three potatoes from a closet in the kitchen, and instead of cutting those into chunks, she cut them into big coins. The same was true for everything else she put into the pot. There should be uniformity, granted, but I never thought about making everything the same shape. Dad and I never did.

If I guessed right, it would be another four hours until that pot would be ready. I could be wrong and it could take longer or shorter. “So… uh… how’s the weather?”

“It’s the winter and winter means cold and snow. That also means the sun won’t be out for long. No sirree boop.”

Was there a possibility that I could maybe run away? This was getting too weird. I didn’t see a TV, and chances were, she didn’t have a computer. So I sat at the table and stared at the fireplace while wondering what thingamadoohickies were.

That was when she put a bowl, dish soap, and a cloth in front of me. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Haven’t you ever cleaned the table before? You see, you get that cloth, dip it into the wet and soapy water, and wring it out before wiping the table down. Then when you’re done with that, do the dishes. After that, make a list of everything in the refrigerator. When that’s done, think about what kind of food we’ll need. Everybody gotta eat, you know. You can’t work without it, although the government sure makes it hard. Maybe they’re coming out with food pills. Take the red for your meat. The green one for the veggies. The orange one for the fruit. The white one for the milk. Yeah, that’s what they’re doing.”

I started cleaning the table as I thought about what she said. Food pills? Never heard of that and wasn’t sure where she was going. The table shined when I finished.

It took five seconds to do the two dishes in the sink. I didn’t see a dishwasher, so I did them by hand. As for the refrigerator, nothing in there but eggs, bread, milk, and butter. Out of curiosity, I opened the freezer to see bags of meat. That’s all there was in it. I didn’t want to know any more than that, so I closed it.

I made a list based on what we ate back home. All done while wondering why I didn’t notice anything when I was in there earlier. It was pretty straightforward with meatloaf on Monday, tacos on Tuesday, whatever Wednesday and so on.

“Oh, no dear. Don’t do that. I’ll make the food list. You just clean the table. You young people don’t know how to write, anyway.”

I bit my tongue to keep from answering back at that comment.

She walked over and stared at the table. Against the wall, across from the table, sat a storage cabinet. She opened a drawer and pulled out a piece of cloth. A square on a circle didn’t look bad, but looked odd. At least to me when the cloth was smaller than the table.

“Well, it’s too dark to do anything else. So just go to bed and we’ll continue tomorrow. Don’t stub our toes, don’t forget to brush your teeth, put some clothes on, and don’t forget your underwear. Lights out at six-thirty.”

I scanned the living room and the kitchen for a phone. She didn’t have one. I got out my cell to text Dad one simple message. It seemed like I waited hours instead of the five minutes it did to check for a response. Either he didn’t get it or he’s ignoring me. “Just get me out of here. Dad. Help.”

“Why are you still awake?” Grandma asked from the hallway. “You’re supposed to be sleeping. Whatever it is can wait until morning.”

“It’s only six-thirty. I’m not a little kid who goes to sleep at that early hour. Geeze, Grandma.”

“No. No. No. No. And no. Six-thirty is the perfect time to sleep. You’re a little kid because you don’t have grey hair yet.” She stood there looking at me. “On the other hand, you did spend a day in those big metal contraptions without a chance to get up and do an obstacle course. Your body must still have energy in it if you can’t sleep. Maybe Imogen needs to find that phone number for the Sandman again. You need his help.”

She walked over to the chair and grabbed my coat and gloves before she herded me into another room. Each wall was decorated with a different holiday. One wall was Halloween, another was Thanksgiving, then Christmas, and then New Year’s. I couldn’t get over it. One wall led to another as if it told a story.

She put the coat and gloves on me before placing keys in my hand. “Those keys unlock the lock that keeps it from running away. Bikes do that, you know. When they’re neglected, they run away never to be found again so don’t lose the lock or the keys. Cross your heart and say you will never lie, the keys will always be with me.”

I did what she said while still waiting for the padded truck to arrive. Along with the latest in fashion for crazy wear. OK, maybe I was being too judgmental, but this woman was far beyond anything rational. It was a wonder Mom came out like, well, Mom.

She patted my hand. “That’s a good little princess.” She pinched my cheek. “Now you go on. Be back by Eve.” She left the room.

What Eve and my cheek hurt. That woman could pinch. I looked at the keys and only one of them looked funny, almost like the keys found in computer games.

On my way out, Grandma stopped me in the hallway. “Oh, and by the way, the bike won’t let you slip. If you don’t tell it what to do, it’ll do it for you. And… and… oh I’ll remember later.”

Uhm. Yeah. OK. Definite candidate for the funny farm. As soon as possible, I’m telling Mom and Dad no more Grandma visits. That woman’s loony with a capital L.

I went outside and found the bike. The locks weren’t difficult. Insert key and turn.

It looked sort of small and I wondered if I would be able to ride it without feeling like my knees would hit my nose. I got on anyway and prayed to anyone who would listen that I wouldn’t end up dead.

I started pedaling and the bike got bigger. It didn’t feel child sized. It felt my size. I was all of five foot eight and my knees had room. OK, so where to now?

They say the words pitch black was like saying black black but that was the perfect way to describe the scenery. After the light turned on, all by itself I might add, I could see for a foot in front of me. “OK, so where do I go? I could go to the airport and fly home. This is too weird.”

Without my knowledge, the bike went up into the air and flew on its own. My hands may have been on the handlebars, but I was not turning it. It turned and pedaled itself. I had a haunted bike.

OK, breathe in and out. In and out. In and out and it was not working. OK, I needed to remain calm. If there was the possibility that that old lady put a magic spell on this bike, it wouldn’t last forever, would it? There had to be an expiration date. Right?

Before I knew it, we landed somewhere by a river. I did what the old stories said to do and that was to follow the river. It led to a set of golden gates with a face on it. I could’ve sworn it even smiled.

“Well. Greetings. Happy to see a newcomer here in Christmas Village. I am the Gate Keeper. What are you called?”

“Uh… My… my name is Marlowe.” Things went from weird to bizarre.

“Greetings, Marlowe. What would you like?”

How to answer that question. “Could I take a look around?”

“Of course. You must bring me a holly wreath before you enter. Are you willing?”

“I guess.”

It laughed. “So silly. The holly is around you. Take a look behind you and gather as much as you need. Shape it the best you can and bring it to me. Your gift will be granted to you.”

The gate was right. The leaves were poky so I had to be careful. The more I looked, though, it seemed there was a choice between those that were and those that weren’t. I picked the ones without pointy ends and used those. The gloves made it hard but not difficult. When done, I held it up to look at it. It was round with a lot of holly leaves and berries on it. Not the greatest but I got it done.

I held it out when I got to the gate.

“Oh my. That is beautiful. It needs to be hung above me.”

A little hook hung above its head so that’s where I put it. The gate opened.

I almost forgot about the bike but it followed behind me. It brought me here in one piece so it couldn’t be so bad. It didn’t run me over or anything.

Gingerbread and snow sculptures ran around and decorated the streets. There were snowflakes that skated on the frozen waterways. Trees decorated with bright lighted orbs and berries.

A hidden place where magic was a part of everyday life. It had to be. Bakeries and candy stores of every kind lined the street. A reindeer corral with all of them in their place, even Rudolph, in a stable by the road.

A large castle sat on top of the hill. It could be Santa’s house. He wouldn’t have a castle would he? He could but I didn’t think so.

About to go up the hill, the bike got in front of me and wouldn’t let me pass. It looked like a bull ready to charge the way it was going.

“Look. I don’t know what your problem is but I am curious as to who lives up there. So if you’ll excuse me… .”

It transformed into a motorcycle and revved its engine. It kept pushing me back and that was when I backed into something hard. I turned around and read the sign. Welcome to Christmas Village. Magic lives forever.

“OK. And?”

It sorta kinda pushed me towards a small building. Town Archives.

“Let me guess. I’m supposed to go in there and find out who’s up there. Right? Forget that. I ain’t doin’ it. I’m on vacation here, at least I’m supposed to be. I’m eighteen and do not, I repeat, do not have to do anything you tell me to do. So you’re taking me home and that’s final.”

It shutdown. The lights went out and the motor stopped. I tried to turn the key and the engine wouldn’t turn on. That was when it turned into a tricycle.

“Great. Just great. How am I supposed to get out of here? While I’m stuck here I might as well let Mom and Dad know they can rent out my room seeing as how I no longer live there. Is that what you want?”

It didn’t budge.

“OK. Fine. I’ll go. Is that what you want? Look at me. I’m arguing with a tricycle. I lost my mind. Wait until everybody hears about this. They’ll think I went bonkers which wouldn’t be too far from the truth.”

Archives were a place with old books and papers. Why would I even bother? This was not home. A quick check of the gate and it was closed. The face disappeared.

I tried texting Mom and Dad to get me out of here and it wouldn’t go through. I turned it off and back on again, checked my connection, and that was where I had the problem. No sign or info indicating anything about a Wi-Fi password. Wonderful. Of all the places I get stuck and it was out in the middle of Snowy Nutsville. I screamed as long and as hard as I could. It didn’t work.

My feet were frozen, I couldn’t feel my face, and I wasn’t sure I still had my hands. My solution was to take that hike all the way up the hill. Maybe some physical activity would help to warm me up.

Holy friggin’ sugar. God, help me get out of this crazy place.

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Ray Taylor: Missing 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! 

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Missing You

Ray Taylor

The last time he had seen it was in the shed at the back of the garden. She rode it most days and always left it there, propped against the workbench. Emily loved that bicycle.

It wasn’t until after the funeral that he’d noticed it was missing.

“Just popping round to Sylvia’s for a natter,” she had said. “I won’t be late.” Those were the last words she said to him. The last words she would ever say to him. Sylvia’s house was in the village across the bay, a short way from the little cluster of shops. A pleasant 30-minute ride through the leafy lanes of coastal Dorsetshire.

Robert had started to worry when night began to close in, and Emily hadn’t returned. She hated to ride in the dark. He thought of calling Sylvia but didn’t want her to think he was the kind of husband who insisted on knowing where his wife was every minute of the day and night, so he’d left it. He left it until late that night, sitting in his armchair by the fireplace alone in the dark, an unread book by his side, willing her to come home.

Then he couldn’t stand it any longer. Picking up the phone, he started to dial the number when he heard a car pull up. She must have gotten a cab back (rare in these parts) and left the bike at Sylvia’s. With a sigh of relief, he stood up to open the door to her but was taken aback at the sight of two uniformed police officers walking up the path. His heart raced as all the possibilities flooded through his mind. Had she been hurt? Was she in hospital?

They wouldn’t tell him until he had sat down, the officers sitting on the divan opposite, fidgeting awkwardly. Then he knew what it was. He hardly heard a word as they explained about the accident, the fall from the cliff path, the people passing along the promenade below. Paramedics had done their best, but she died at the scene, never regaining consciousness. She must have set out to walk home, taking the shortest route from the village along the cliff top over the bay.

He’d thought, again, of phoning Sylvia with the awful news but he just couldn’t face telling her. She, too, would be devastated. He had decided to leave it until the morning but later learnt that the police had called there first, as they had found the address in his wife’s shoulder bag. It was Sylvia who gave them Robert and Emily’s address and they had come straight over.

The funeral was the kind of subdued, tearful, gut-wrenching, tragic affair to be expected when someone so young and so well loved has died. Sylvia and her mother cried throughout the service in the little church and again at the graveside. Robert didn’t shed a single tear. He just felt numb, unable to take it all in. He received condolences, the firm handshakes and the chaste kisses with hardly a mumble of acknowledgement.

That was weeks ago but the feeling of numbness continued, increasing to the point that he wondered at times if he was still alive. Seeing the space in the shed where the bike should have been reminded him of his own absence from the world. As well as wondering what could have happened to the bike, it also reminded him that he had not seen Sylvia since the funeral and had only spoken to her, briefly and haltingly, on the phone. In the depth of his own despair, he had neglected the grief of others. Cursing himself for a heartless fool, he decided he must visit Sylvia. He would leave the car. The walk would do him good and, in any case, he had nothing else to do.

Sylvia received him with hugs and kisses, sweeping him into the house like the prodigal son.

“She didn’t come here at all that day, Robert,” was all Sylvia could say, before breaking into a flood of tears. Nobody knew where Emily had been that day. Only that she had ended up at the bottom of the cliff, where her beautiful life had been snatched away from them. It started Robert off and they held each other in a tight bear hug, crying into each other’s shoulders and rocking each other, side to side, like babies. They stayed that way for an age, before breaking the grip and returning to their cold mugs of tea. Emily and her sister had always been so close and now, in grief, Robert felt that closeness through the warmth and sorrow of the embrace.

Unbeknown to them, Sylvia’s husband Geoff had stepped into the room as they held each other, before tiptoeing out again, guiltily. When he came back into the room later, he greeted Robert with a formal “How have you been?” and could think of little else to say, lost as he was, in his own quiet grief.

After the visit, Robert felt that he had a much better grip on himself. He felt that he had to carry on, if only for the sake of those around him, especially Sylvia. He started to walk into the village most days. Sometimes visiting Sylvia, who was always so pleased to see him, treating him as the brother she never had. They had long talks together, sometimes recalling memories of Emily, others just chatting about the humdrum events of their daily lives. They formed a close bond that Robert, who was an only child, had never felt with anyone else.

It was on one such walk, during a glorious summer’s afternoon, that Robert called on Sylvia. She wasn’t in, so he decided to walk on into the village, maybe get a cup of coffee at the baker’s. They had recently made space for a few tables and an espresso machine, presumably to draw in the tourists. He came to the little line of shops and thought of going into Geoff’s antique place to say hello. He decided against it. Although he got on so well with Sylvia now, Geoff was always a little stand-offish. Instead, he stepped into the deserted alleyway behind Geoff’s shop, bypassing it, so that he could walk, unseen, down to the Wheatsheaf for a coffee, instead of the baker’s. He might even treat himself to a rare pint, perhaps a sign that he was starting to rebuild his life again, after the tragedy of his loss.

Dodging between overgrown elder bushes and picking his way through brambles, he turned the corner and stopped dead in his tracks.

There it was. Emily’s bicycle. chained up and leaning on the faded yellow side wall of Geoff’s shop.

Realising what it meant, anger welled up in Robert to the point that it almost choked him. He grabbed the bike and carried it around to the front of the shop, gripping it with all his strength, his face red and bloated by his wrath. He swung the bike back to throw it at the display window. But he stopped himself, putting the bike back down on the ground. Breathing stertorously, he balanced the bike carefully against the window and flung the door open.

Geoff just stood there, white as a sheet.

“She came here that afternoon to tell me it was over. I begged her not to finish it, but she wouldn’t listen. I closed up the shop and we talked it over, out back.” Nodding to the room behind the counter, where he and Emily had consummated their sordid affair, before he continued. “I pleaded and pleaded with her, but her mind was made up. She loved you, she said, she always loved you. I don’t know how or why it started. All I knew was that it was over. I couldn’t take it. I started to shout at her. It was well after dark by then and she just ran off. I had no idea where she went. She shouted goodbye and slammed the door and was gone.”

At mention of the door, they both glanced over at it and saw, through the display window, Emily’s beloved bike, leaning against the glass. Never to be ridden by her again.

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Enzo Stephens: The Candy Girl

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The Candy Girl

Enzo Stephens 

Anton Markov pushed a battered and rusted shopping cart from a local grocery chain popular in the Greater Pittsburgh Metropolitan area, though truth be told, use of the term ‘Metropolitan’ is a bit of a reach for the half rust-belt city with delusions of high-tech grandeur.

He meandered his way down to Point State Park, the cart’s wheels squeaking and protesting such aggressive outdoor usage. It was never intended to withstand the elements, though these are thoughts that did not occur to Anton. The fucking welfare of a fucking shopping cart is a stupid thing to think about. 

November in Pittsburgh, weather-wise, flat out sucked. To Anton, it was reminiscent of his hometown of Minsk, albeit with subtle differences. 

And today was a banner day for the local weather; the kind of day where the murky sky hugged the earth; and a pervasive, bone-chilling mist shrouded everything.

“This shit’ll turn to ice,” Anton advised a gaggle of pigeons as he wrestled the piece-of-shit grocery cart laden with moth-eaten moldy blankets, piles of newspapers, a startling variety of depleted booze bottles, empty packs of cigarettes and a brand new box of Trojans over a muddy, brown lawn.

Extra Large Trojans.

For Real Men Only.

Anton was a Real Man, for sure. A Real Man with no roof, no money, no food, no booze; and worst of all, ladies and gams, none of that sweet Downer-Dust that wiped out all of Anton’s anxieties and created the most awesome boogers ever.

“And if it does turn to ice, that’s gonna be a fine how-do-you-do. That kind of shit teaches all them that think they’re better ’n everyone else that they can slip ’n slide and fall on their rich, fat-cat asses just like everyone else. Can I get an Amen?”

Pigeons don’t give Amens.

Anton shoved the cart off the mushy lawn of the park and onto a wide walkway separating the park from the rivers, all three of which met at a literal point. 

“Think of a ‘Y’,” which Anton just thought was the funniest thing, since a ‘Y’ is reminiscent of a certain anatomical feature germane to the ladies… 

See the previous note about the Trojans. They’re Extra Large.

His laughter descended into a choking fit of coughs that filled his mouth with the nasty, which he hastily spat into the churning river mere feet away. Taking a deep breath, he wiped tears from his cheeks and glanced around, hoping that the little nook behind one of the statues that gave protection from the wind and the rain would be unoccupied. 

He nudged the cart toward the statue of choice and leaned hard to his left, and, seeing that it was indeed unoccupied, he let out a quick whoop of joy and set to constructing his little shelter, praying that the cops wouldn’t oust him.

And all the while, Anton’s ache for Downer-Dust grew and grew until it consumed him, and he fidgeted as he hunkered down on a pile of newspapers beneath a ceiling of blankets that were already getting waterlogged.

Anton tried to get all Zen-like by just staring at the river. No idea which of the three it was, and it was certainly hard to discern any distinguishing features. They were all brown, murky, swirling, and pretty much unpleasant to look at.

So any Zen gains to be had by staring at the massive toilet escaped Anton. He sighed in frustration.

He needed something. Anything. He begged the earth-bound clouds for a hit of anything to help…

Escape.

Time washed by, though how much was indiscernible because it’s damned hard to measure the path of the sun through all the fucking gray.

A delicate sound caught Anton’s ear; delicate and seemingly so out of place in this dreary scape. And yet, there it was. A tiny jingle jingle off in the distance. Like the bell one would find on a kid’s bike.

Anton peered first to the left, then to the right, scanning the bordering pavement as far as the murk would allow, and saw nothing.

Nada empanada.

He settled back into his nook with a shiver and hunched into himself for warmth. It sucks to be cold AND wet, and yet, such was Anton’s festive day.

Or maybe evening. Fucking clouds.

Another tingly jingle, and closer too. Anton leaned out into the icy mist and spied a flash of color approaching his nook. He rubbed at his eyes, not quite believing what he saw.

Yes indeed, it was a kid’s bike, and the bright, neon pink of it was in stark contrast to the omnipresent gloom, but while that little factoid was somewhat interesting, what was on the bike ratcheted up Anton’s curiosity to the point of drawing him out of his little lean-to to stand in the mud beside the wide concrete walkway, oblivious to the icy muck of the sky.

It was a girl. Maybe nine, maybe ten, pedaling along at a good leisurely pace, smiling, happy; blond pigtails bouncing and fluttering in the wind.

And not a single coat, glove or boot was to be found on the girl. Anton stood there at a complete loss for words, watching her approach.

She wore a blue and white checkered dress with a sparkling white short-sleeved blouse beneath the dress. The ensemble was completed with white ankle socks — also pristine, and black and white shoes.

What the fuck?

The girl pedaled right on up to the staring Anton, who was seriously wondering if he was losing it, and this little chick on the weird, pink bike was just some screwed-up extension of his dope-addled imagination.

She stopped her bike right in front of Anton and turned to look at him. Her eyes were a bright cerulean that sparkled, despite the surrounding gloom. She leaned the bike to one side, standing on one foot while the other rested on a pedal.

Ready to make a break-away in case Anton turned out to be a pedophile or something.

But the whole thing was nothing short of fucking weird. Anton noticed little droplets of rain running down the girl’s bare arms, yet her hair was dry, as was her dress, and Anton then decided that yes indeed, this vision spawned from his wrecked brain.

“Hiya, mister!”

Holy shit, it talks?

“What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?”

“Uhh…”

“What’s your name?”

Anton just stared at her with his mouth hanging open.

“Can you talk?”

“Are you real?”

“Well of course I’m real, silly. I’m standing right in front of you. Listen to my bell — Jing jing. “See? Does that sound real to you?”

“I am not seeing this; this ain’t happening. I must be going through withdrawal or something.”

“Well what’s that mean? Going through withdrawal?”

Well, why not just open up to this… whatever the hell it is? It’s not looking like he was going to get any kind of substance-joy out of this psychotic exchange, so why not?

“Just withdrawing from… stuff. I pound heroin when I can get it, and then I get jacked up on some coke or speed or something. Down then up; up then down. It’s how I make it through the day.”

She glanced at the churning river, quiet for a moment, then, “Well that don’t sound like no fun, mister. What’s your name again?”

“Anton.”

“Anton.” She repeated it again, softly, as if rolling it around on her tongue to get a good feel for the name. “That’s a pretty name!”

“Well shit, whatever. I’m gonna go crawl back in my space and sleep. Too fucking cold. No idea how you’re riding around out here without no coat. And while you’re at it, what’s your name?”

She squared her shoulders somewhat proudly. “I don’t need no coat!”

“Neither do the fucking pigeons.”

“Tell me what you need, Mister Anton.”

“To get stoned.”

“Okay.”

That stopped him in his tracks. He turned back to face the girl, deadly serious. “What do you mean, ‘okay’?”

The girl was cheery as hell. “I meant what I said. Okay.” For the first time in Anton’s life, he finally understood what a ‘sing-song voice’ was, because this girl (if it was a real girl and not some fucked-up apparition), epitomized that very quality.

She stepped to the side of the bike, dropping the kickstand, then rummaged through a gaily-colored wicker basket attached to the bike’s handlebars. Anton stepped out of the muck, his beat-up Cons making a loud sucking noise, and onto the walkway, very curious now.

“Ah, here we go!” She straightened up, all four-feet-three inches of her, and proudly displayed a plastic bottle that looked like a prescription.

“What the…”

“This should do the trick for you, Mister Anton, but I’m not totally sure about it. Can you tell me — and I can’t really read this, but I think it’s ‘Oxy… con—”

“Oxycontin!”

“Yes! That sounds perfect. Is this what you need?”

What the hell? Anton was weeping and he didn’t even know he was weeping. The hunger swept over any reservations he might have had over this entirely weird clusterfuck and he was reaching with desperation. She flipped the bottle to him. He dropped it then scrabbled madly for it on the soaked and icy pavement.

Anton ripped the child-proof cap off and dumped a couple of capsules into his mouth, mumbling “Thank you” without actual awareness of anything he was saying.

It would take about 30 minutes for the goods to kick in, but Anton had himself a solution to speed things along, yes he did, and the pigeons could just fuck off too.

He slipped one more capsule from the bottle, re-capped it, and stuffed it in his pocket; he then split the capsule and dumped the contents into the palm of his hand and promptly buried his nose in the powder, inhaling deeply.

BAM! That shit kicked like a mule. Anton fought off the urge to sneeze, squeezing his nostrils together, and fell backward to land on his butt in the mud, dazed.

He struggled to focus through bleary eyes, and when he gained some semblance of vision normalcy, the girl was standing over him with a smile that Anton imagined would be fitting on a vampire or something. He shook his head, but the gray, foggy lethargy was creeping in around the edges, and life was just fucking mellow.

“You okay, Mister Anton?”

“Mmmm.”

“Well, that’s good. You seem so much happier now.”

“Yesth… Happy. Fuuuuccccckkkk, what is that shit?”

“Okey dokey! I’m off!” She climbed back up on her bike, gave the bell a quick jing jing and pedaled away, her pigtails bouncing in the breeze.

“I’ll see you soon, Mister Anton!”

And maybe she would indeed see the good Mister Anton soon, and maybe not, but right about this very snapshot in time, about the only thing Anton was seeing was the inside of his eyelids, and as the moisture from the soggy earth seeped into his ragged britches, Mister Anton concluded that this shit was just about the best candy he’d ever had.

The rivers roiled on in their timeless way; clouds laden with ice still kissed the earth, and Anton sagged to his side in the mud as his heart opted to go the way of Anton’s brain.

Still.

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Marian Wood: My New Old Bike, a Murder, and Gratitude

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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My New Old Bike, a Murder, and Gratitude

Marian Wood

A new bike

What does an eighteen-year-old want for her birthday?

Makeup? Manicure? New boyfriend? Old boyfriend? Me — I desperately wanted a Mountain bike. I’d been dreaming of a smart purple one that was in the local bike shop. Problem was it had a high price tag. My dad worked hard at the local corner shop, but listening to my parents arguing, I knew they were only just keeping the roof over our heads. The landlord was demanding the rent was paid, and the bedroom had a wet patch on the ceiling.

The morning of my birthday my mum shook me awake. I was ready to act pleased for their gift. I must be grateful for what I’m given because whatever it was, my dad had worked hard for it.

Walking slowly down the stairs I could hear my parents talking over their breakfast. They sounded happy which didn’t happen often. Meeting me at the bottom was a familiar shape with newspaper over it. I could feel my heart leap, they had bought it. Grinning like Alice’s Cheshire cat, I proceeded to rip off the paper. As my smile turned to holding back tears, my mum appeared. Lying was something I’m good at, and convincing my parents that I loved the old black bike was easier than it should have been. They had remembered the new pink bike lock though.

Three days later

It was three days later that I took the bike for a ride. Mum waved me goodbye, excited to see me using it. Assuring her that I was safe, despite lack of a bike helmet, I waved at her, then pedalled furiously along the road. It was as I approached the corner, a tall man came running towards me. I had to swerve the bike to avoid him; he dodged out of my way.

The body

Thinking nothing of the incident, I regained control. Continuing pedalling, my mind turned to thinking of my family and my new, old, black bike. Seeing the crowd gathered ahead, something was happening. As I heard the whir of police sirens, the people dispersed and I could see a body in the road. Pulling the bike onto the pavement, I could hear sobbing. I realised it was young Wendy, her long blonde hair plastered across her face. Next to her sat her familiar, pink pushchair with little Rachel kicking her legs, oblivious to what had happened. With one hand on my bike, I nudged Wendy’s arm and then stood quietly, waiting for her to talk to me. 

She sniffed loudly. “Oh Lily, he didn’t deserve this.”

“What happened?”

She started crying again. “It’s my brother Lance, haven’t seen him in months and now he’s been shot dead.”

I didn’t know she had a brother, so I wasn’t expecting this response.

“Any ideas who would do this?”

“No, but I know he didn’t keep good company, he worked away.”

I was curious at the police taping off the area and wondered who had killed him.

“Where’d he work?”

“Don’t know, he was all over. He wore a suit, that’s all I know.”

“Hmmm.” Films started playing through my head, maybe Lance had been a gangster.

A week later

Approaching the city centre, I could see the bike shop window, the purple Mountain bike still on display. I stopped to gaze at it, looking at the £500.00 price tag, something we could not afford. I was just completing my A levels with dreams of being a nurse one day.

Continuing on I saw the police station. I stopped to read the message board outside and a poster caught my eye.

‘£5000 reward for information leading to the arrest for the killer of Lance Jenkins.’

Hesitating, I thought of the man that nearly ran into me. Pushing the heavy door to the police station, I pulled my bike in with me.

“Hi, I need to talk to someone about Lance Jenkins.”

“I will get the Chief Inspector for you, please sit down. You can leave your bike against the wall.”

Questions

He walked off as I left the bike and sat down patiently. I picked up ‘Hello’ magazine and flicked through it. The Windsors happily smiling back at me, I couldn’t help but feel jealous but then would I really want my life all over ‘Hello.’

Seeing the handsome policeman walking over to me, butterflies started flying around my stomach.

“Hello, I’m Chief Inspector Chambers, please come with me.”

Following him into a small room, this was not like television. As he put our conversation on record, he started to question me. Looking at the jug of water and plastic cups, I told him about the man and the time I saw him, how he nearly ran into my bike, and I gave his full description.

The Chief Inspector then took down my phone number; he already had my name. Thanking me he promised to be in touch if my statement led to the arrest of a killer. The man I saw might have been innocent but they would now investigate.

Two weeks later

Woken from sleep I could hear the phone ringing downstairs, then footsteps.

“Lily, it’s the police station for you.” She looked confused. Taking the phone from her I spoke.

“Hello.”

“Hello Miss Green, this is Chief Inspector Chambers. We have found Mr. Jenkins’ killer from your accurate description. We would like you to come and collect your cheque.”

Feeling dizzy, I stammered, “Thank you.” I was in shock. I thought of the bike. I could give my parents the £4500, that would please them.

A week later

Standing on the pedals of my new Mountain bike, my mum sat laughing on my new, old, black bike. I’m proud of my parents and I know they’re proud of me. They were relieved for the extra money as they could now pay a few months’ rent. My mum cried when I told her what had happened. This Christmas was going to be easier for them than ever before. However, I know, in life it is important to be thankful. I have my family with me, my new Mountain bike is a bonus, but a man sadly lost his life. Our future is not promised, we have to live the life we can and try and be happy and grateful for what we have.

This Christmas look after your families and those closest to you. We don’t know what the future has in store.

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Cheryl Ann Guido: MARY’S FANTASTIC JOURNEY

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.

MARY’S FANTASTIC JOURNEY

Cheryl Ann Guido

Benjamin Archibald Franklin had always been the oddball of the family. An accountant by profession, he had never married, instead devoting all of his free time to indulging in his great passion for numbers and equations. Eventually, that unbridled devotion resulted in the invention of many unconventional gadgets, none of which were ever financially successful. Failure never deterred him however, vowing that one day he would achieve success as did his famous doppelganger. Although he lived to the ripe old age of one hundred and two, unfortunately that day never came and he died leaving little to his surviving family members.

Mary Wells sat, hands folded in her lap, in the conference room of Bingham and Bingham along with her parents and grandmother. As Benjamin Archibald Franklin’s only remaining family members, they had gathered for the reading of his will in the Lower Merion Pennsylvania attorney’s law office. Of all of them, Mary had been the closest to her great uncle Archie, as she loved to call him. From the time she was a child, she would sit in his workshop and marvel at the way he constructed strange objects and made them work. They had shared many conversations during those sessions. Uncle Archie had never been shy about imparting his wisdom and advice and by the time Mary reached her twenties, she also had developed an interest in gadgets although hers was not focused on inventing something new as much as seeing how things worked by taking them apart and putting them back together again. Now, unmarried herself at almost thirty, her mentor was gone and she felt an unfillable hole in her heart. Mary’s grandmother Shirley interrupted her reverie.

“Mister Bingham, can we please get started? I’m not getting any younger sitting here.”

The lawyer lifted his head from the document he had been reading and removed his glasses. “Mrs. Wells, I’m afraid you are going to be disappointed. Mr. Franklin did not leave much behind. In fact, in his will, he left instructions for me to sell his home and most of his possessions in order to pay off his considerable debt.”

“Well, I’m not surprised. He was always a careless son of a bitch, spending all of his cash on parts for those stupid inventions of his that never worked and were never good enough to make him any money.”

Mary squirmed in her chair. Grandmother Shirley’s crankiness had always been a source of embarrassment. She winced as she watched Bingham shift his eyes sideways and replace his glasses. He began to read the will. 

“I, Benjamin Archibald Franklin, being of sound mind …”

Once again, Shirley Wells interrupted the lawyer. “No need to read all of that formal mumbo jumbo. Just skip to the part where it says what we’re getting.”

Bingham glared over the top of his glasses. “Right. To my baby sister Shirley Franklin Wells, I leave my old six-quart sauce pan. On many nights when funds were low, it cooked up delicious meals of steaming pasta seasoned with butter and cheese, thus keeping me going despite my shortage of food. I trust it will keep you going as well. If not, at the very least, you now have a pot to piss in.”

Mary stifled the laugh rising in her chest as she watched her grandmother’s cheeks puff out and turn beet red. Uncle Archie’s wit had always been sharp, even in his old age. Eyes narrowed, Shirley Wells gripped the edge of the table and squeezed hard. “Well! I never! What a snarky old bastard! I hope he rots in hell!” After grabbing her purse, she stood up and stormed out of the room. Bingham snickered, then remembered himself, raised his fist to his mouth and coughed.

“Shall I continue?”

The three remaining heirs nodded in unison.

“To my nephew Charles Wells and his wife Abigail, I leave my worn but comfortable loveseat. At least that way the two of you can sit together for a change while you both mindlessly stare at the TV screen instead of having a conversation with each other like married folk should.”

Mary’s mother burst into tears. Charles rolled his eyes and stood up.

“Let’s go, Abbie. I told you this would be a waste of time.”

As the couple walked toward the door, Mary reached over and gently touched Bingham’s arm. “Mr. Bingham, I want to apologize for my family’s rudeness. They never appreciated Uncle Archie and don’t understand what a wonderful and brilliant man he was. It’s a shame that he died penniless.” She too arose from her chair. “I’ll be going now. Thank you for handling my great uncle’s affairs. You were always a good friend to him.”

“Just a moment, Miss Wells. There is a provision for you in the will. Let me continue.”

Mary slowly lowered herself back onto the seat of the chair.

“To my darling great niece Mary, you, are my joy. Your enthusiasm and willingness to share in my crazy experiments made my journey into old age a satisfying one. I think of you as my daughter, my apprentice, my dearest friend. To you I bequeath my most prized possession, a bicycle that will, no doubt, take you on many fantastic journeys.”

Mary cocked her head. “A bicycle? I don’t remember ever seeing a bicycle at Uncle Archie’s home.”

Bingham smiled. “Years ago, your great uncle gave me a letter instructing that it was only to be opened upon his death. The location of the bicycle was divulged inside. Your uncle was a sly one, Mary. It had been hidden behind a fake wall in his basement since you were a young child. It was always intended to be your legacy.”

“You’re kidding! It was down there all along? I can’t tell you how many hours we spent together in that basement working on his gadgets. I’m surprised that he never let me ride it back then. I wonder why he did that knowing that it would be hidden for so many years. That’s really strange.”

“It may sound strange to you, but knowing your uncle for as long as I did, it does not surprise me. I am certain he had his reasons.” Bingham picked up the receiver of a telephone that was on the table, pushed one of the buttons and spoke into it. “Miss Lloyd, please bring in the bicycle.”

Mary turned as the door opened and a middle-aged woman guided the bike into the room. It was ordinary looking, painted a deep blue, and had hand brakes. A small round object was attached to the middle of the handle bars. As Mary took the bicycle from Bingham’s secretary, she looked closer at the object. “What’s this, a compass?”

Bingham shrugged. “I’m afraid I really don’t know but I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

Mary nodded. “Well thank you again, Mr. Bingham. If someone can help me put this bike in the trunk of my Jeep, I sure would appreciate it.”

“Of course, my dear. I shall help you myself.”

***

Sunlight streamed through the window of Mary’s bedroom. As the beams fell across her face, their brightness and warmth awakened her. Turning to her side, she saw that the bedside clock said half-past seven. She sat up, rubbed her eyes and swung her legs over the side of the bed. After pulling on her robe, she padded out of her bedroom and into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door and peeked inside. Onyx, her cat, rubbed against her leg. 

Formerly a stray kitten, who had wandered the neighborhood for weeks existing only on scraps from garbage cans and the nightly bowls of food that Mary set out for him, he became an important part of her life one cold snowy evening. On that particular night when Mary took out the trash, she found him huddled up against an outside wall of her home, a light dusting of snow covering his jet-black fur. His little balled up form had tugged at her heartstrings and she brought him inside where he would be dry and warm. That was three years ago and he had been with her ever since.

“What shall we have for breakfast today, bud?”

Onyx leaned into the refrigerator and sniffed a plastic container.

“You want some salmon?” She scratched his head. “Okay, salmon for you, bacon, eggs, toast and coffee for me.”

After breakfast, Mary decided to take advantage of the mild sunny weather and go for a ride on her newly acquired bike. She pedaled down her driveway and headed west. As she rode, she noticed a lever on the bar in front of the seat that she hadn’t seen before. Hmm, must be a gear shift, she thought. 

As she headed down the hill toward town, the bicycle picked up speed. Not wanting to hit her brakes too hard and go tumbling over the handlebars, Mary reached down and pushed the lever forward in an attempt to slow her descent. Instead, the bike lurched and Mary’s body somersaulted over the front wheel and landed in a pile of leaves. A bit shaken but unhurt, Mary stood up and brushed off the dead pieces of foliage that clung to her jeans.

“Whoa there, Missy. Are you alright?”

Stunned by the unexpected sound of the male voice, Mary looked up and into the bluest eyes that she had ever seen. The young man was tall and muscular with bronzed skin that made his sandy colored hair look even lighter under the dark brown cowboy hat he wore. His blue jeans were well worn as was the tucked in red checkered shirt held in place by a brown leather belt with a brass buckle. In his hand, he held the rake he had been using to tidy up.

Running her fingers through her long brown hair, Mary nodded. “Yes, thank you. I’m okay.” She took a step forward and stumbled. Dropping the rake, the man instinctively reached out and caught her in his arms.

“I think you need to sit down for a bit.” He guided her over to a nearby house with a long wrap-around porch and helped her into a wooden rocking chair. “I still have some hot coffee inside. You sit here while I fetch you a mug.”

While Mary waited for him to return, she glanced around trying to get a bearing on her surroundings. Nothing looked familiar. In fact, she knew with absolute certainty that she had never been there before. But how could that be? It made no sense. As she rubbed the back of her throbbing head with one hand, a mug full of steaming coffee was placed in the other.

“Thanks. It smells good.”

The young man beamed. “Well, I may not be much of a cook but I do know how to make a decent cup of coffee. Name’s Clint by the way, Clint Evans.”

“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Evans, and thank you for your help. I’m Mary Wells.”

“You can just call me Clint, ma’am. I’ve never seen you around before. You here on vacation?”

“Please don’t call me ma’am. It sounds so … old. Mary is fine.” She chuckled. “And no, I’m not on vacation. I live in Lower Merion.”

Clint cocked his head. “Lower Merion? Never heard of it.”

“You must have. It’s right up that hi …” As Mary pointed toward the steep incline she choked on her words. The path she had ridden down did not descend from her street. Instead, it wound around and led to the top of a snowy mountain. Off to the side of the ranch house, two beautiful horses, a big grey and a paint stood side by side, staring at her over the top of a corral fence. An old blue pickup truck parked on the gravel driveway bore a license plate from the state of Wyoming. She squeezed her eyes shut in hopes that this was all some sort of hallucination caused by her fall. But when she opened them again, she was still seated in the rocking chair holding the mug of coffee.

Clint squatted down and gently laid his hand on hers. “Maybe you oughta go to the hospital. Seems like that bump on your head is worse than you thought.”

“I — maybe.” Something she could not quite put her finger on was nagging at her, something that her uncle had once said, a vague memory of one of their many conversations. “Can you tell me where I am?”

“You mean you don’t know?”

“No, I don’t. Please don’t think I’m crazy. Just tell me what town we’re in and in which state.”

Clint stood up, removed his hat, scratched his head then replaced it. “Well, you’re in Laramie, Wyoming. This is my ranch. Ain’t much but it’s all mine.”

Mary sprang to her feet and raced to her overturned bike. Worried that she might fall again, Clint followed. After lifting the bicycle to an upright position, Mary inspected the compass as she jiggled the lever a bit. A wide grin spread across her face as realization finally hit. “Oh, Uncle Archie, you brilliant clever man. You did it! You really did it!”

Clint scrunched up his nose. “Beg your pardon?”

“I’m sorry, Clint. It’s a long story, an incredible, fantastic wonderful story about an inventor, his greatest invention, instant transportation and … Oh gosh, I’ve said too much. You’ll never believe it. I better go now. That is, if I can figure out how to get back. Thank you again for your hospitality.” She hopped onto the seat but the young man grabbed her arm preventing her from leaving.

“Hang on just a second. I — I … um … you probably should rest up a little more. I was wondering … I wanted to ask … would you like to stay for supper? I’m not the best cook like I told you, but I do know how to grill a mean steak and I have found that potatoes are mighty tasty if you wrap ’em in foil and stick ’em directly into the charcoal until they’re done. ’Sides, you’ll have a lot more energy to get yourself home on a full belly, and while we’re eating, we can talk about anything you want. So, what do you say?” He glanced at the ground and spoke softly. “I’d really like to get to know you better.”

Mary was touched by his shyness. Her gut told her that Clint was sincere and she could tell by the way he looked at her that he liked her a lot. She also felt a connection with the broad-shouldered young man. Spending an evening with him was tempting. Always busy with some project or another, Mary did not often have the opportunity to spend time with others. Clint Evans was charming and she found herself wanting to get to know him better too. In an instant she made her decision.

“I think I’d like that, Clint. I think I’d like that a lot.”

Clint’s eyes lit up and he grinned from ear to ear. “How do you like your steak?”

“Burnt on the outside, rare on the inside.” She threaded her arm through his and they began to walk back to the house. “While you fire up the grill, I’ll tell you all about my great uncle Archie, the inventor. He created that fabulous bike back there, a bike that can take you on many fantastic journeys.”

{{~..~}}

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D. A. Ratliff: A Special Ride

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.

A Special Ride

D. A. Ratliff

It was a fluke. Jake Riley was supposed to be at this friend Will’s house for the afternoon, but Will’s mom was baking Christmas cookies and said she needed their help. A phone call from the hospital sent his mom, a Cardiac Cath tech, to work for an emergency, so Will went to his grandparents, and Jake walked home.

Icy snow was spitting in the air, and he picked up his pace, hoping his mom would take pity on him and make cocoa. He was a few houses away when he saw a delivery van from the local sporting goods store parked in front of his house. The driver raised the truck’s roll-up door as his mom walked out of the garage to join him. He ducked behind a tree, hoping his mom wouldn’t look around.

Jake’s heart thumped in his chest as he saw a bicycle in a rack on the truck—not just any bike. It was the black mountain bike he had wanted for months. The driver took the bike out and rolled it into the garage. His mom signed a receipt and closed the garage door. He waited until the truck left and then continued home.

He dropped his school bag on the entry floor. “Mom, I’m home.”

His mother appeared at the kitchen door. She appeared flustered. “What are you doing here? It’s only six. I thought you were at Will’s making cookies?” She glanced toward the door to the garage.

“She was on call and had to go to work. She dropped Will off at his grandparents, and I walked home. We never got any cookies baked.”

“Oh… well, so sorry, no cookies, honey. Maybe we can make some tonight or tomorrow. Take your bag upstairs. I know you left it in the entry hall. Your dad will be home in a bit, and we’ll order our usual Friday night pizza since you’re here.”

Jake trudged upstairs, took a quick shower, and managed to play a bit of a video game. When he heard the garage door come up, he knew his dad was home. He closed his laptop and headed downstairs.

He stopped short of the kitchen door when he heard his father. “He came home early? Did you get it hidden?”

“No. I came in to check the washer, and then go back to put it in the storage room, but I didn’t want to go into the garage and have him come looking for me. So, I thought better to wait until one of us can keep him out.”

“Yeah, smart move, Leigh. Glad we decided to get him the bike this year.” He paused. “I remember when I was fourteen, I got a new bike for Christmas. My dad and I took a ride together after breakfast. He died the following winter, and we never got to ride again.”

“Jeff, we should’ve gotten you a new bike too. Jake would love it if you rode with him.”

“I don’t need a new bike. I guess I should drag my old bike out of the shed, but….” He took a deep breath. “Never rode it again after my dad died. Just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.” He smiled and kissed Leigh. “Gonna change now… order that pizza, I’m starving.”

Jake raced up the stairs and into his room before his dad had a chance to leave the kitchen. His heart raced as he thought about his dad’s words. He had seen that old bike in the shed—chain rusty, seat cracked, and tires flat. He had no idea his dad hadn’t ridden his bike since his grandfather died. He sat down on his bed, angry that he rarely thought of his biological grandfather. His grandmother had remarried, and Pops was the grandfather he knew. Pops had adopted his father when he was sixteen, and he changed his name to Jeffery Dawson Riley to keep his real dad’s name too.

Thinking back, he always thought his dad didn’t have time to ride bikes with him. He was just a kid, and he had Will to ride with, so he’d never considered his dad might want to ride with him. Will’s dad was a doctor and rarely home, so it worked out for both of them.

He went back to playing a video game when his mom texted him. Pizza will be here in a bit. Come on down. He found his mom in the kitchen.

“Hi, honey. Can you take the plates and napkins into the den? We’re going to eat in there and watch a movie.”

“Sure, Mom. Where’s Dad?”

“Uh…. He’s in the garage, putting away the paper towels and toilet paper I bought this morning.” She reached for her purse, which was sitting on the small desk in the kitchen. “Here is five dollars for the tip. After you take the plates in, wait for the pizza. Should be here any moment.”

The pizza arrived as Jake heard his dad enter the kitchen. His mom told him to take the pizza to the den, and his father followed with drinks. They settled on a new action thriller movie on a streaming site while they ate.

Jake’s thoughts kept drifting to the mountain bike in the garage. He was excited. He wanted to join a bike club at school, and the bike was perfect. But his dad’s words echoed in his head. “Never rode it again after my dad died. Just couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it.” He wished he could ride with his dad.

Late that night, as he drifted to sleep, what he needed to do came to him. Sleepily, he decided that tomorrow, he would put his plan into motion.

~~~

Will followed Jake into the kitchen. “What was so important that I had to get over here now?”

“You have to help me get Dad’s old bike out of the shed.”

“Why?”

“Because he got it for Christmas when he was fourteen, and he only got to ride it once with his dad. Then his dad died, and he never rode it again. I want to fix the bike up so he can ride with me.”

“Why don’t you get him a new one?”

“I can’t afford a new one. Not even sure I had enough money to get this one fixed. But I wanna try. Come with me and help me get it out while Mom and Dad are gone shopping.”

They left footprints in the dusting of snow on the ground as they walked to the metal storage building sitting next to the rear fence. Jake had taken the key from the keyboard in the laundry room, and after fiddling with the lock for a bit, he got the door open.

“Darn it, dark in here. Will, turn on your phone light. I think the bike is in that back corner.”

The light showed Jake that he was right, but there was a lawnmower, snow blower, and a lot of garden equipment in front of it. “Gotta move this stuff. Help me. We need to do this quickly.”

After a few cuss words that their moms would yell at them for and a skinned knuckle or two, the boys managed to get the bike out and everything put back. Will had leaned the bike against the shed while Jake relocked the door.

“Man, Jake, this bike is a mess. It’s rusty, paint peeled, tires cracked.”

“Yeah, I know, but I want to get it to the bike shop and see if Mr. Mason can fix it.”

“It’s a week until Christmas! He can’t fix this in a week.”

“Gonna try. Now, how do we get it downtown?”

“Call Uber?”

“No… how about Ray? He’s home from college, isn’t he? You think he would take us? Can you ask, please?”

“Sure.”

Will made the call and twenty minutes later, his brother Ray drove up in a red pickup. He helped them load the bike, and they headed to town. On the way, Jake texted his parents they were going to get burgers with Ray.

The City Bicycle Shop sat on a tree-lined street on the outskirts of town. Jake and Ray got the bike out of the back and went inside. A small brass bell attached to the door tinkled, bringing the owner out from the back room.

“Hey, boys, what can I do for you?”

“Mr. Mason. This is my dad’s old bike, and I want to get it repaired before Christmas. Can you do it?”

Mason didn’t say anything as he walked around the bike. Jake’s heart was beating out of his chest. He had $247 in his savings account, and he was scared that he wouldn’t have enough money. He managed to eke out, “How much will this cost?”

The shop owner smiled. “You getting this fixed up for yourself?”

“No, sir. It was my dad’s. He got it for Christmas when he was fourteen like I am now. But his dad died, and he only got to ride with him once. I accidentally found out that I got a new bike for Christmas.” Jake took a breath. ”I want to get his bike fixed so he can ride with me.”

“You got a budget you can spend?

“I have 247 dollars.”

A slight smile crossed Mason’s face. “I can probably do it for under 200. Want the original color?”

“Yes, sir. Can you have it done by Christmas Eve?”

“Gonna be tight, but I’ll try. Let’s get some info before you leave.”

~~~

Christmas was in two days, and he was supposed to pick up the bike on Christmas Eve. Ray was going to drive him, but he needed to get the money from his savings account, which meant going to the bank. Since he was on vacation from school, he didn’t have to worry about skipping, but getting downtown was another. He told his mom he was going to Will’s and then walked seven blocks to the main road and waited for a city bus to take him to a branch bank.

He walked into the lobby, his stomach churning. He had never been to the bank by himself, but he was here for a reason. He stepped up the teller window and presented his bank book and his school ID. As grown-up as he could, he announced his intentions. “I would like to withdraw the money from this savings account.”

The teller looked up the account. She shook her head, a woeful smile on her face. “I am so sorry, but your father and mother are on the account, and it requires one of their signatures to withdraw these funds. I am sorry.” She pushed the bank book and ID back to him. “Perhaps one of them could come with you.”

Jake’s heart was in his throat. He only nodded, grabbed the items, and fled the bank. Once outside, he sat on the curb, fear overwhelming him. He had to figure out how to pay for the bike. But how…. He was staring into the distance, racking his brain for what to do. He didn’t hear the soft footballs of someone approaching.

“Jake?”

He looked up to see Pops standing over him. “Pops, I uh…“ He scrambled to his feet. “Hi.”

“I don’t see your parents’ cars. Are you here alone?”

Jake could only nod, and his grandfather pressed him. “What are you doing here?”

Tears welled in Jake’s eyes, and the story spilled out. His grandfather listened without comment until Jake finished.

“So, the bike is now at the shop, and you are going to need to pay for it?”

“Yeah, I—I just wanted to do something for him so he could ride with me.” Finally, the tears spilled from his eyes, and Pops pulled him into a hug.

“Let’s go see what we can do. I’m your grandfather. Maybe I can be the other signature.”

Inside the bank, Pops told him to sit in one of the chairs while he talked to the manager. To Jake, the wait felt like an eternity as fear overwhelmed him. The sense of dread faded a bit as Pops motioned him to join him at the same teller window. Pops was smiling.

“I told the bank manager the money was for you to buy a present for your father, and it was a secret, so he’s going to let me sign with you.”

Five minutes later, they walked out of the bank with the money Jake needed and his nerves intact.

“Let me take you home. But before we do, do you have a present for your mom?”

“I got her a scarf and hat. Haven’t done any more shopping, and I don’t have the spare money.”

“Get in the car. I’ll spot you the money for another gift for your mom.”

~~~

Jake was pacing the floor. Mr. Mason told him that he would have the bike ready at four-thirty and be there on time as he closed the store for Christmas Eve. He told his Mom that Will’s mom wanted him to stop by and get his present and some cookies, and Ray and Will were going to come to get him. Fact was the gifts were already in Ray’s truck.

It was just after four when Ray pulled up. Jake called out. “Ray’s here, back soon,” and rushed out the door. He nearly slipped on the side as an icy rain was falling. He jumped in the cab.

“Wow, thought you weren’t coming?”

“Sorry, dude. This weather is getting worse. Let’s get there so we can get back.”

A sinking feeling came over Jake, scared they had waited too late. The icy rain turned into sleet, and the road was becoming slicker by the minute. As they passed by the park where there was little traffic, the truck began to slide. Ray tried to keep the truck under control but hit an icy spot. It careened off the curb and over the embankment into a thicket of bushes, landing on its side.

~~~

Pops and Jeff’s mother, Emily, arrived, followed shortly by Leigh’s parents, Gordon and Cheryl. They were placing gifts under the tree when Jeff’s phone rang. His shocked expression told all something was wrong.

“That was the police. Ray’s truck skidded on the ice near the park and landed on its side. Officer said the kids are fine but on the way to the hospital.”

Leigh began to cry, and Jeff hugged her. “They’re fine, a few scrapes and bruises, but fine. Just taking them to the hospital to get checked out. We need to go get him.”

Pops spoke. “We’ll finish dinner and get the rest of the presents under the tree. You go get our boy.”

The grandmothers busied themselves with finishing dinner while the granddads got all the presents under the tree. They had finished when the doorbell rang. Pops opened the door and smiled broadly. “I am happy to see you.”

An hour and a half later, Jake and his parents returned. He was sporting a bruised shoulder and cheek and a small cut above his eye. His grandmothers fussed over him until he blushed bright pink and pushed them away.

“Stop, I’m okay. It wasn’t Ray’s fault. The roads were getting icy.”

His mother nodded. “We know it wasn’t his fault, but we don’t know why you were out near the park?”

Jake glanced toward Pops. “Ray was going to pick up something.”

She hugged him. “Just glad you are okay. Hungry?” He nodded. She kissed him gingerly on the forehead. “I’m so glad you are okay.”

Jake held back as the family headed to the dining room to talk to his grandfather. “Pops, we didn’t get to the shop in time.”

Pops put a finger to his mouth. “I have it on good authority that Santa took care of it.”

“What?”

“Mr. Mason had to go home, but he wanted you to have the bike, so he dropped it off here. I hid it in the bedroom we’re sleeping in.”

“Pops!” Jake threw his arms around his grandfather. “Thanks.”

~~~

Christmas morning was a surprise for Jake. The bicycle he expected was not under the tree, nor was his dad’s. He woke up and remembered he hadn’t paid for the repairs, so he had tucked the money from the bank into his robe pocket. He suspected Pops had paid Mr. Mason.

They opened presents, and Jake was pleased but confused. When there were no more presents, we looked toward Pops, who only winked at him. Then his mother approached and handed the savings bank book to him, which he had returned to the drawer without marking the withdrawal. He swallowed hard. He was in trouble.

“Jake, we know that you were saving money to get a new bike, but we had other ideas. We want this savings account to go toward a car for you in a couple of years. Your dad and I and your grandparents have contributed to the account. You now have a thousand dollars in the account, and all of us, plus what money you earn, will keep depositing to the account so that we have a down payment for a car for your senior year in high school.”

He couldn’t breathe. “Mom, no—no, I can’t…”

Pops interrupted, “Jeff, Leigh, don’t you have something to show Jake?”

“I believe we do.” Jeff left the living room and returned with the shiny, black mountain bike adorned with a red ribbon. “Merry Christmas, son.”

Jake hugged his parents and sat on the bike. “Wow, I love this. Thanks.” He looked for Pops, who had left the room.

“Dad, Mom, I have a confession to make. I overheard you talking about the bike last week and Dad, about how you got a bike for Christmas when you were fourteen but only rode with your dad once. So…” His voice broke. “I decided to do something… I took your bike from the shed and had it fixed.”

Pops rolled Jeff’s bike into the room to surprised gasps. Jake was shaking, so afraid his dad would be angry. He watched as his dad walked to the bike and ran his hand along the handlebars. “It looks like it did when I first got it.” Tears streamed down his face, and Jake ran to his dad, who hugged him tightly. Jeff looked over his son’s head toward his stepfather. “Pops, you have been my father longer than I had my real father. You have given me nothing but love and care over the years, and that means so much. Please forgive me for this moment when I can bring my father’s memory to my son.”

“Jeff, you are my son, but this is the right thing to do, and know that this was Jake’s doing.”

Jeff hugged his son again. “Might be a bit icy this morning, but it’s going to warm up this afternoon. Then we go for a ride.”

~~~

After breakfast, Jake found Pops. “The money, that day at the bank…” He pulled the money from his robe pocket. “This was from you and not my account, wasn’t it?”

“They weren’t going to let me help you, so I did the next best thing.”

“You paid Mr. Mason last night.”

Pops laughed. “No. When he found out you didn’t get there because you were in a wreck, he told me he never intended to charge you. He was a boy who rode bikes with his dad, and you brought back those memories for him.”

Jake handed Pops the money. “Hold this for next Christmas. Who knows what we might need to buy?”

~~~

The sun was out around two p.m., and father and son rolled their bikes to the sidewalk.

“Ready, Jake?”

“I sure am, Dad.”

And off they rode.

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Amber C. Deck: The Secrets of Mistletoe Canyon

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

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The Secrets of Mistletoe Canyon

 Amber C. Deck

Ana Garrett sighed as she chained her bike to a metal stand in front of her bookstore. It had been two years to the day since her ex-fiancé had walked out on her — leaving the bike as the only memory of him.

Well, a bike and a whole lot of hurt. Ana ran her hand over the cold blue metal between the handlebars. At least you won’t leave me for my former business partner.

Ana frowned as she walked to her shop door and unlocked it — stepping inside as a cold winter wind blew by. She sighed again as she turned on the lights and flipped the sign to OPEN. It was still early morning in the sleepy little town of Mistletoe Canyon, which was why she knew no one would be by as she tossed her things in the office. Mistletoe Canyon was predictable in that way — even at Christmas time.

The faint jingle of the bell above her shop door caused Ana to look up from the coffee station near the register. As the aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled the air, Ana glanced around a table of current bestsellers to see who had entered the small bookstore. To her surprise, she saw two men standing there — both looking out of place in their three-piece suits.

Ana approached the men cautiously. She was unsure why two professional-looking — and rather handsome — men would be in her shop. She wasn’t the only place open in town this early. Plenty of shops on Main Street had been open for at least an hour now.

“Welcome to Mystic Mistletoe Books, gentlemen,” Ana said to them. She tucked a strand of long, wavy, dark brown hair behind her ear. Two pairs of vivid green eyes met hers — causing her own dark brown eyes to widen. The duo had to be brothers — with one slightly shorter than the other. They both towered over her, but that was to be expected when one was five-foot-five. “Can I help you with something?”

The shorter one — who probably stood a little over six feet — was the first to speak. His jet black hair was cut short, while the taller one had shaggy, light brown hair. Both were very fit, which is why Ana assumed the two meant business. Whatever that business was, of course.

“Are you Ana Whitmire?” The man’s voice was gruff. His stern expression made her feel uneasy.

“Who?” No one had called her that in years — 200 years, to be exact. She had left that name behind when she left England — and her grandfather. It had been his advice to change her name and eventually adopt an American accent. It was to keep her safe. “I do not know of anyone by that name.”

“So, you’re not Ana Whitmire? Should I instead ask if you are an 800-year-old sorceress or the granddaughter of Merlin?” The sarcastic tone in the man’s voice caused a flare of anger in Ana, and he could see that. “Relax. Merlin’s still alive and kicking in London. He’s got more guards to protect him than most of Europe, I hear.”

“Cut it out, Cal,” the taller man said. He smiled reassuringly at Ana. “We are not here to hurt you or your grandfather. You have both been through enough with losing your entire family in one day during the war of 1224.” He took a step closer to Ana, who instinctively stepped back — causing her lower back to hit the table behind her. “We’re not going to hurt you. We need your help.”

“I don’t know who you are talking about, gentlemen.” Ana tried to make herself sound stronger than she felt at the moment. “My name is Ana Garrett. I’m from Mistletoe Canyon, and I own this bookstore.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Garrett.” The taller one smiled at her. He was undoubtedly the more handsome one of the two — if she had to pick. Something in his eyes made him seem sincere and… trusting. “My name’s Bradley Sloane, and this is my brother.”

“Cal.” The man’s gruff voice confirmed. “Listen, you can go by whatever you want. We know who and what you are. It’s our jobs, and we’ve been searching all over town for you.”

Hunters. That single word caused fear to grip Ana. She’d seen the work of the Sloane brothers plastered all over the supernatural media sites she followed. She should have recognized them by the description from some of her non-human friends. Well, those that had survived meeting the two.

“You’re hunters,” Ana whispered as she tried to back up more. The table full of books was blocking her potential escape route. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’ve not used any major magic — only a few healing remedies to help some people in town. You don’t have to kill me.”

“Whoa, Miss Garrett. Calm down. We are not going to hurt you.” Bradley spoke in a calming tone. “We need your help. Our dad recommended you. He said you helped him years ago when he got attacked by something. His name is Dylan Sloane. Remember him?”

Ana nodded slowly. “He was injured after a wendigo attacked him. It surprised him as he was laying a trap for it. Luckily, I was gathering berries for a remedy for a person in town that day.” Ana eyed the two men cautiously. “I heard him yell and helped him destroy the creature. I treated his wounds afterward, and he promised to keep my secret. That was the only time I used big magic, too. That was almost thirty-five years ago. He still remembers me?”

“You bet.” Cal grinned at her this time. “You helped him get home to his wife, a two-year-old, and a newborn. Right, little bro?”

Bradley looked slightly embarrassed at being called the younger brother. Ana thought the endearment was rather cute, and it made the two hunters a little less scary to her.

“Well, how can I help Dylan’s two boys?” Ana walked back to the register that sat on a tall wooden counter. Cal and Bradley followed her closely. “I owe him for keeping my secret.”

“It’s a bit complicated, Miss Garrett.” Bradley ran his fingers through his hair. “It has to do with a curse — much like the one that killed your family.”

Ana froze. That curse was supposed to have been destroyed years ago. Merlin had decreed that it was to be removed from all spell-books immediately. The curse had driven the kingdom mad — affecting only humans who entered its path. Both armies couldn’t stop tearing each other apart until Merlin broke the curse. By then, only he and Ana remained in the Whitmire bloodline.

“That spell was outlawed after the war of 1224.” Ana’s eyes locked with Bradley’s. “If it has returned, that means the true originator of the curse has as well. They are the only one who could remember the curse without a spell-book.” Ana motioned for the men to follow her to the office behind the counter. The three entered the room, and Ana shut the door before walking to a bookcase on the far wall. “What I am about to show you hasn’t been seen by mortal eyes — ever.”

Ana removed a book and felt behind it. A soft click sounded, and she quickly replaced the book before the large bookcase slid to the side. A staircase was slowly revealed as the massive structure slowly moved out of the way. 

Ana walked up the stairs as the two men followed. Lights flashed on as they ascended the stairs, and she heard the bookcase slide back into place as they reached the floor above her shop. She waved her hand over the heavy wooden door in front of her — hearing it unlock before opening it. The trio stepped inside, and she could see the look of amazement on the two men’s faces as she closed the door behind them.

“This room holds all of the memories from my past.” Ana walked by the two brothers as she spoke. She approached a large wooden trunk nestled between two tall bookcases — both filled with ancient-looking books written in Latin. “My ex-fiancé never even knew about this room. Of course, I never got to tell him who I truly was before he left me.” She felt Bradley and Cal standing behind her now as she knelt in front of the trunk. She whispered a few words in Latin before the trunk popped open. “I guess I didn’t need to use magic to make him run away. My former business partner was already pushing me out of the picture.”

Bradley knelt beside her and placed his hand on her arm. “I’m sorry about what happened to you. It was probably a good thing this guy never realized who you were, though. He could have tried to hurt you.” He grinned at her as she nodded in agreement. He topped his head toward the open trunk. “Now, how about you show that jerk what he lost while helping us save the world?”

Ana smiled at him. “Alright, I’ll help — since you put it that way.” She glanced at Cal, who had knelt beside her as well. She cleared her throat as she reached into the trunk and pulled out a thick, leather-bound book. “This belonged to my grandfather, but he gave it to me when he decided to advise for the current royal family. I honestly thought I would never have to use it, but Grandfather told me that I might need to one day. He always knows these things…”

The sound of Cal clearing his throat startled Ana. It was clear that he was getting annoyed with her trip down memory lane. She glanced over at Bradley and saw him giving his brother a sharp look.

“You said that this curse could only be brought back by the person who created it.” Cal was trying to hide his annoyance as he spoke. Ana could tell he was an “all action, no thinking” type of guy. “So, we’re looking at an ancient dude who’s bored?”

“Cal…” Bradley warned as he gave his brother another stern look.

“It’s alright, Bradley. I can handle this.” Ana readjusted herself to where she was sitting cross-legged on the floor. She opened the book and turned several pages before laying it on her lap. “Cal, this ‘ancient dude’ you so casually speak of nearly destroyed two kingdoms during one war. In that same war, I lost my parents and siblings. The only reason I survived is because I was in the castle with my grandfather. He had created a magical barrier to prevent the curse from reaching the rest of the royal family. Sadly, the Queen did not survive the war after the King became cursed on the battlefield.” Ana stared directly into Cal’s eyes. “I was four years old and lost almost my entire family. If I hadn’t been born with powers, I could have fallen to the curse just as easy as my siblings did.”

“I’m sorry, Miss Garrett,” Cal muttered as he looked down at the floor.

“It’s okay. I’ve made my leave with everything that happened back then.” Ana took a deep breath. “Please call me Ana — both of you. Miss Garrett makes me sound like an old librarian. I’m only 800 years old, not 8000.” She gave a small smile as they grinned at her. “Now, let’s get back to the curse. The sorcerer who created this curse is not a sorcerer. She’s a sorceress, but she only uses dark magic. At least, she has for as long as I’ve known her.”

“Okay… Why would she be back now?” Bradley asked. “Didn’t Merlin destroy her in 1224?”

“No.” Ana shook her head as she pointed to a page in the book. Both men leaned closer to look at where she was pointing. “He stopped the curse, destroyed all copies of it, and prohibited its use in the magic world. The sorceress was imprisoned in an underground cell protected by runes and spells. This prison is also underneath the deepest part of the ocean — buried under twenty feet of sand and rock.” She pointed to a picture in the book. “Here is a painting of the sorceress. Grandfather used a spell to shrink it to fit into this book.”

Bradley’s eyes widened as he looked at the petite brunette in the portrait. “Is she standing beside Merlin in that painting?”

“Yes, and, before you say it, Cal, I know she looks like me.” Ana sighed. She had to tell the brothers who they were dealing with — even if she didn’t want to expose yet another secret. “This is Morganna — Merlin’s sister and my great-aunt. If she’s back, then she’s back for two things: revenge and this book.”

“Why would she start a curse for that?” Bradley gave her a curious look. “Why wouldn’t she come directly after you and Merlin?”

“I’m more concerned with how she got out of an underground prison that was supposed to be protected,” Cal grumbled.

“Morganna is very powerful, Cal. She has had centuries to find a way to escape. It was only a matter of time before she found that way, I guess.” Ana rubbed her forehead with one hand. “As for the curse, she craves chaos. It makes her stronger. The curse will hit here and soon — if she finds me.” 

Ana flipped through a few pages in the book on her lap before stopping. She spoke a few words in Latin and then placed her hand on each man’s chest for a few seconds. Both of them looked at her in a combination of surprise and shock.

“That will protect you from the curse,” Ana told them as she shut the book and stood up. Bradley and Cal did the same — watching her as she waved a hand over the trunk. It closed with a soft thud and locked. “I now need to hide this book before Morganna finds it…”

“You would keep a treasured family heirloom from your dear Aunt Morganna?” A silky-toned voice with an English accent caused the trio to spin around and face the door. “Hello, Ana. It’s been ages since I’ve seen you. You’ve grown up so much!” She sneered at the two men with her. “I can’t say I like the company you are keeping, but your parents were mortal. It makes sense you would have a soft spot for these creatures. Just like my dear brother does. He did marry one, after all.”

Ana gripped the book against her chest. “Don’t you dare speak about my grandfather like that. He has a good heart, where you have nothing but darkness in your soul.” Anger flashed in Ana’s eyes, but she managed to keep her tone calm. “I know why you created the curse again, Morganna. You cannot have this book.”

“Oh? Who is going to stop me from prying it away from your lifeless body?” Morganna gave her an evil smile. “These two mortals? They are hardly a match for me.”

“No, Morganna. I’m going to end this. Permanently.” Ana opened the book about halfway and spoke a few sentences in Latin. She pointed her right index finger toward Morganna as she repeated the sorceress’s name. “There, that should do it. Check with your father, Cal. See if the curse is over.”

Cal nodded and dialed his father. Bradley looked over at Morganna to see her standing there with her mouth open. When Cal confirmed the curse was over, the woman collapsed on the floor.

“What have you done to me, Ana?!” Morganna wailed as she looked at her hands. Her skin was beginning to wrinkle rapidly in front of her eyes. “I feel… I feel…”

Ana interrupted her. “Grandfather prepared me for this day — should it ever happen. He told me of the only spell that would stop you from ending the world.” Morganna met Ana’s gaze as her hair started graying. “I made you mortal, Morganna. Now, you will know how it feels to be completely human — even if just for a few moments.”

Ana, Bradley, and Cal watched as Morganna opened her mouth to scream at them. No sound escaped as the rapid aging process continued. It only took a few more minutes before Morganna was nothing but dust on the floor.

“That was… interesting,” Bradley stated as he shook his head. He watched as Ana returned the book to the trunk. “Are you okay, Ana?”

“Surprisingly, I am fine,” Ana replied as she rejoined him and Cal. “Morganna was given a just punishment. I will call Grandfather later and inform him.” She grabbed a broom and dustpan that was leaning against a wall. “For now, I’ll just clean her up and get back to work.”

“Let me help you,” Bradley said as he reached for the broom and dustpan. He gently took them from her grasp and started sweeping. “It’s the least I can do for you helping us.”

Bradley glanced over at Cal, who now stood by the door. His brother never wanted to help out after a job. Typically, Bradley would just follow him and head back home. Meeting Ana today made him want to stick around for a few more hours.

“You go on home, Cal, and give Dad our report.” Bradley glanced at Ana before looking back at his brother. “I’m going to stay here with Ana for a little bit and help her out.”

“Uh-huh.” Cal raised an eyebrow and grinned. He opened the door and started down the stairs.

“We’re just in the next town,” Bradley told Ana. “I can get a ride later.”

“I can take you home.” Ana smiled. “Only my bike is here, but sorceresses have other ways of traveling.”

Bradley laughed along with her. It would be good to know a sorceress, and Bradley planned to make this relationship personal — even if she was 800 years young…

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Lynn Miclea: Love and Fear

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.

Love and Fear

Lynn Miclea

Brandon jumped on his bicycle and took off. He hated leaving things unfinished, and he hated fighting with his girlfriend. He hoped Bethany wasn’t still mad. Or worse, maybe she wouldn’t even want to see him. But he needed to talk to her.

Pedaling as fast as he could, he thought about her. Images of her long blond hair, her gentle touch, and her soft lips washed over him. And even more important than that, her kindness and thoughtfulness overwhelmed him and deeply touched him. That always made him feel special. She was smart and funny and overlooked all his faults and quirks. She supported him no matter what, and she was always gentle and loving. So what was he so scared of?

He didn’t deserve her love. He knew she wanted more from him, but that made him uneasy and made him want to run. He wasn’t ready for that. Especially after watching his own parents fight for years. He didn’t want that, and he had pulled back. But he knew he loved her. He was simply scared.

And now he realized he had pulled back for too long. He knew he had hurt her and was suddenly afraid of losing her. He had to make this right. She deserved better. She deserved more. Actually, they both deserved more.

His legs furiously pedaled up the hill, around the corner, down the next street, and finally he saw her home up ahead. As he got closer, he noticed a man leaving her house and walking down the street and getting into a car. Who was that? Was she seeing someone else? Was he too late?

Hoping she still wanted to see him, he rode his bicycle up her driveway, walked it onto the porch, and locked it.

Taking deep breaths, he tried to calm himself. “Please be home and want to see me,” he muttered under his breath as he approached the front door. He hesitated a few moments and then rang the bell, hearing the muffled chimes inside the house.

Fidgeting with his fingers, he stared at the door, hoping she was willing to talk to him.

A minute later, as he raised his finger to ring the bell again, the door opened. Bethany stood there, a look of confusion fluttering over her soft features as her lips curled up in a small smile.

“Brandon,” she whispered as she backed up. “Come in.”

“Bethany, I’m so sorry,” he said as he followed her in.

She led him into the den and turned to him. “I thought you were coming over later.”

“Yes, I was. But there’s something that can’t wait.”

“What?”

Brandon paused. “First, who was that guy who just left from here?”

Bethany rolled her eyes. “A solicitor. I got rid of him really fast. I hate solicitors.”

Brandon nodded as relief flooded him, and he opened his arms. “Can I please hold you for a moment?”

She hesitated for a second and then moved into his arms.

He held her tight, buried his face in her hair, and then kissed her gently. “I’m so sorry.”

“For what?” Her light blue eyes brightened and then darkened. “And we need to talk.”

He nervously licked his lips. “I haven’t treated you the way I should have. I know you want more, and I’ve held back.” He glanced away and then back at her blue eyes. “I’ve let you down. I haven’t given you as much as you deserve. And I’m sorry. It’s all my fault.”

“Hey,” she said softly, reaching for his hand. “You’re right. And we need to talk about it.” Sitting next to each other on the den couch, she looked at him. “First, why did you bike over? Where’s your car?”

Brandon sighed. “In the shop. It was making a funny noise, so I brought it in and … well, it won’t be ready until tomorrow, and I couldn’t wait to talk to you in person, so I just bicycled over.”

Bethany watched him squirm. “So what is so important? Tell me what you want to say.”

He hesitated. “Are you mad at me?”

She searched his face for a few moments. “Not mad, but maybe disappointed. I feel like we are so good together. And I don’t think you feel the same. And I can’t force you to feel the same — you feel what you feel. And if it’s just not there for you, then this is not working for either of us. And that leaves me very uncomfortable.” She paused and tightened her lips. “Are you breaking up with me?”

Tears burned Brandon’s eyes. “No, no, no. I’m so sorry.” He reached forward and slid his fingers over her cheek. “And you’re right. You deserve so much more from me. I was just scared.”

A look of confusion flitted across her face. “Scared?”

He nodded. “That I’m not enough for you. That I wouldn’t be able to be what you need or who you need. That we would fight like my parents do.”

She shook her head. “But you know none of that is true. I love you. I’ve told you that.” She stared at him. “But I do need more. We’ve been together for six years. I can’t keep going like this without our relationship going somewhere.”

He glanced away, stared at the rug for a few moments, and then brought his gaze back to her. “I don’t want to lose you. You are everything to me.”

She let out a long breath. “You have a funny way of showing it.”

“I know, I know. I’m sorry.” He shook his head. “I want to change that. Starting now.”

“So, what does that mean?”

Brandon’s gaze fell over her features. Her blond hair, her light blue eyes, her soft skin … he didn’t deserve her. A choking sensation reached his throat. He loved her. Why was this so hard? He would never forgive himself if he blew this now. His hand shook as it reached forward and took her hand. “Bethany …”

“What is it, Brandon? I can tell you’re nervous. Whatever it is, talk to me. What is going on? What are you trying to say?”

“You are my life, Bethany. I’ve been a fool. But I can’t lose you.”

“And? What do you want here? I can’t keep—”

“Do you remember that day we were goofing around in the jewelry store and you had pointed to a ring with two-toned gold swirls in it and said if we ever get married you want that one?”

She stared at him for a few heartbeats. “I remember that clearly. You remember that day? And that ring? That was such a beautiful ring, and I’ve never seen one like that since. It was—”

“Bethany, please marry me. Please?” Brandon pulled a small box from his pocket and opened it, facing it toward Bethany.

“What? That’s the ring! You got it!” She looked up into his eyes. “Are you serious?”

“Yes. More than I’ve ever been. Will you marry me? Please?”

She paused and blinked. “Are you sure? Is that what you really want?”

He nodded. “Yes! Yes! You complete me. I am always my best and happiest when we are together. I want you for a lifetime. I want you to be my wife. Please, Bethany.”

Her lips slowly curved up into a smile that grew bigger and warmer, finally reaching her eyes and making them sparkle. “Brandon, I …”

“Please say yes, Bethany.”

Her fingers reached over and caressed his lips. “Yes,” she whispered.

“What? Did you say yes?”

She giggled. “Yes, you idiot. I will marry you.”

A laugh escaped him. Brandon leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. “This is the best day ever. I swear, I will do everything possible to make you happy.” He took the ring out of the box. “Can I put this on your finger?”

She laughed. “Yes, please.” She held her left hand out and he slipped the ring on. “Wow — it looks even better on me.”

Brandon looked at the ring on her finger as elation surged through him. “Thank you for saying yes. I will spend my entire life making it up to you and making you the happiest woman in the world.”

She tilted her head. “You know I will remember you said that and hold you to it, right?”

He laughed. “Absolutely, you can count on it.”

“And we are not your parents. We don’t fight like that. We hardly fight at all.”

“I know. You’re right.” He gently kissed her. “And you know something? I’m not even scared anymore. This feels like the most right and beautiful thing in the world.”

She gazed at the ring, then back at him and smiled. “Because it is.”

“My beautiful fiancée, can I take you out to dinner tonight to celebrate?”

She giggled, her eyes dancing with joy. “On your bicycle?”

He laughed. “Oops. Maybe we’ll order in.”

Bethany looked into his eyes. “Thank you, Brandon.”

“For ordering in?”

She shook her head. “For being honest and for moving past your fears.”

He chewed on his lower lip. “I couldn’t stand the thought of losing you.” His voice was soft. “I need you. You’re the most important part of my life.”

“And you are that for me, too.”

He took her hand and squeezed it. “I’m so sorry it took me this long.”

“Thank you for getting there. You had to do it on your own and when you were ready. And now we’re a team. And we can do anything together.”

“Like ordering dinner?”

She laughed. “Like building a life together. But we can start with dinner.”

“I like that.”

She tossed her hair behind her and looked at him through her eyelashes. “And maybe you’ll even get lucky tonight.”

Brandon chuckled. “I already got lucky since you said yes.” He leaned in and kissed her soft lips, the kiss growing more passionate as their tongues hungrily searched for each other and danced together. He pulled back and searched her eyes. “I’m the luckiest man in the world,” he murmured, as he leaned in and kissed her again.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2020 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/2020/12/20/love-and-fear/

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

D. A. Ratliff: My English Rose

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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My English Rose

D. A. Ratliff

Vicar Addison Wakefield was not a fan of modern technology. One of the reasons he chose to relocate to Hampton Green was its quiet lifestyle and charm. However, technology caught up with the village, two hours by train from London, and it didn’t make him happy, especially when he was on his bicycle for an early morning ride.

The ding of a text message interrupted his daydreaming as he pedaled down Serpents Lane toward the weir on the river near town. He loved to sit on a flat rock on the bank, listen to the water cascading over the dam, drink his thermos of tea, and enjoy the early mid-summer morning. The only quiet time he had.

The message from his wife, Muriel, read: Mrs. Marcum called. She isn’t feeling well and would like for you to stop in when you can.

He sighed, texted Muriel he was on his way, and turned the bicycle around, heading toward town. As he sped toward the village, he considered what he knew about Edith Marcum. She was the widow of greengrocer Jasper Marcum and had taught botany at the local college. She owned the local florist and lived two blocks from the village square in Hollyhock House. The fragrance wafting from Edith’s garden reached him while he was several meters away.

Addison leaned his bike next to the gate and walked along the narrow cobblestone path, admiring the hollyhocks, pinks, delphiniums, phlox, and the other flowers filling the front garden. The hint of honeysuckle permeated the air. He rapped the door knocker on the heavy wooden door and heard a feeble voice respond to come in.

The parlor drapes remained closed to block out the early morning sun. Edith was lying on the couch, a knitted throw across her lap. Addison pulled an ottoman close to the couch and sat.

“My dear Edith, I am sorry that you feel ill. Have you spoken to Doctor Andrews?”

“No, he would just tell me to rest.” She paused. “I am glad you came, Vicar. I have to tell you that I feel my time on Earth is nearly over.”

“Now, now, Edith. That’s no way to talk.”

“Just a premonition, but I am rarely wrong.” She closed her eyes as a grimace crossed her face. She reached out for the vicar’s hand. “I am having serious headaches… dizzy… sick to my stomach. It is only getting worse. I have been trying to write my paper to send to the horticultural society about the new rose I created, but I was simply too sick.” She gestured toward her dining table covered with notebooks, papers, and a shiny purple laptop. “I need to finish that before….” She was too weak to continue.

“I insist on calling the doctor.” She protested, but he pulled out his mobile. “No argument.”

The doctor arrived within fifteen minutes. Addison waited outside while Andrews examined her. When the doctor exited the house, his expression revealed concern.

“Not certain what is wrong, Vicar, but I am glad you called me. She said she had been feeling poorly for about a week, and it is getting progressively worse.” He patted his black leather bag. “I drew some blood and gave her some medication for the headache and nausea.”

“Should someone stay with her, William?”

“Yes. She had me call her friend, Imogen Smyth, who’s coming over now.”

The vicar nodded. “Ah—good. She owns the florist along with Edith.” He stepped toward the door. “I should say goodbye.”

“No, she was getting drowsy as I left. Let her sleep. I’ll check on her this afternoon.”

The doctor was not the only one to check on Edith. Later that afternoon, the Vicar called, and Imogen said she was resting comfortably.

The call that she was not, came at three a.m. the following morning.

~~~

A misty rain fell as the Vicar raced on his bike from the vicarage toward Edith’s house. He pulled the slicker hood over his head and pumped faster, crossing the mile’s distance in record time. As he arrived, in addition to the doctor’s SUV, he saw two yellow and blue checkered police cars and a lone ambulance, blue lights illuminating the night. The ambulance crew sat inside, out of the rain. A sinking feeling in his chest told him the outcome could not be good.

Nodding to a policeman standing inside the doorway, Addison entered. Edith remained on the couch, but her pale face and blue lips confirmed his fears. Edith Marcum was dead.

Dr. Andrews turned, gesturing toward Imogen, sitting at the dining room table. “Imogen said she took a turn for the worst about two-fifteen a.m. and called me. I called the ambulance on the way, but by the time they got here, she was gone.”

“Doctor.” A voice from the doorway caused the men to turn around to find Detective Chief Inspector Gordon Winston entering.

He shook the doctor’s hand, then the vicar’s. “Tell me what happened here.”

The Vicar and doctor recounted the events since the Vicar first arrived. The detective had them step into the dining room while he spoke to the ME and then to Imogen.

Addison pulled out a dining chair and sat wearily. “Any idea what happened to Edith?”

“Could be a lot of things. A virus, but she didn’t have a fever—not sure. Blood work I sent off yesterday will be back in forty-eight hours, and the ME will likely do an autopsy, so we should know in a few days.”

An hour passed before DCI Winston released them. The vicar asked to say a prayer before the ME removed the body, then watched in silence as Edith Marcum left her garden for the last time.

~~~

Edith Marcum’s son, Liam, arrived later in the afternoon and called on the vicar. Muriel escorted him to the vicar’s office, then excused herself to make tea.

“Liam, it has been a long time.” Addison crossed the room to meet him. “My deepest condolences on your mother’s passing.”

“Thank you. It’s been quite a shock.”

“Please sit.” Addison motioned to a chair and returned to sit behind his desk. “How are your wife and daughter?”

“Good, but as confused as I am. My mother was a good woman, a healthy woman. We did not expect her to be gone so soon.”

“Have you spoken to DCI Winston?” 

“Yes. He feels that her death is from natural causes.” Liam stared out the window into Muriel’s garden.

“I see mother’s roses in your garden. That yellow rose with the orange edges was the one she created for my father. He was able to see it bloom before he died.”

“Your father was a good man, as well.”

“Yes.” Liam sighed. “Vicar, the medical examiner said that it might be a week before he will release my mother’s body. I have a predicament. My wife has accepted a yearlong teaching fellowship in Sydney, and I’ve taken a job at the university as well. Our flight leaves in three days. We were coming to see my mother two days from now.”

“I am so sorry that you were not able to see her.”

“I’m not sure how to ask this, but I would like to have a memorial service before we leave. I have no other close family, but my wife’s parents have agreed to handle the situation when Mum’s body is released.”

Addison nodded. “That’s not a problem. We can arrange a memorial for your mother in two days. Do you have some ideas about the service?” Liam nodded, and the vicar continued. “Let’s get started.”

~~~

The morning of the memorial service was unseasonably warm and sunny. Addison breathed in the sweet fragrance of roses and other flowers that adorned the sanctuary. Imogen Smyth was standing next to an easel that held a large photo of Edith and her husband. She was placing flowers in a tall arrangement.

“Imogen, I am so sorry for your loss. I know you and Edith were best friends.”

She blinked away tears as she turned toward the vicar. “Thank you. I miss her greatly. This is why I asked Liam if I could use flowers from her garden to honor her.”

Members of the village filled the sanctuary for the service. Edith and her husband were well liked, and many came to say goodbye to her. After the choir sang and the vicar spoke, Liam rose to make brief remarks.

He stood at the podium beside the photo of his parents. A wreath of yellow roses adorned the easel. Fingers gripping the edges, Liam cleared his throat, then spoke.

“I chose this photo of my parents because they were inseparable in life and now joined again in death. As shocking as my mother’s unexpected death has been that they are together brings those of us who love her peace.”

He talked briefly about his life growing up and ended talking about Edith’s love for her family.

“The wreath you see below the photos is created from the beautiful rose that my mother developed, and the UK Horticultural Society recognized it. She named the rose Jasper’s Love after the love she and my father shared. My father called her My English Rose. May the rose live as a symbol of their love and of how we loved them.”

After the service, the vicar and his wife offered a light lunch to the family and mourners. Having refreshed his tea, Addison stood in the vicarage doorway, his eyes on Imogen and Liam, who appeared to be having a quiet but intense argument. He watched as Imogen angrily spun and walked away toward the village. He was surprised to see Liam spot him and head in his direction.

“Vicar, I have a favor to ask of you.”

“Of course. What can I do?”

Liam pulled a set of keys from his pocket. “My in-laws are returning to Cambridge with us and are taking us to Heathrow tomorrow. Would you be so kind as to look after Hollyhock House as well as the floral shop until my father-in-law can return?”

“Of course, I will.” Addison hesitated for a moment, unsure if he should question the conversation he had witnessed. “Liam, you seemed to be arguing with Imogen. Is everything okay?”

Liam blew out a deep breath. “My mother had told me she was unhappy with Imogen for some reason. We were going to talk about it when we saw her.” He seemed uneasy. “Imogen wanted to know what we were going to do about the shop. I told her that as far I was concerned, it was business as usual. I said we would have to see what my mother’s will says. Thankfully, my father-in-law is an accountant and will oversee my mother’s interest. Imogen doesn’t seem to want any interference.” Liam shook his head. “The timing couldn’t be worse, but I can’t send my family half-way around the world without me.” He handed the keys to Addison. “Thank you. You have all my numbers, and I’ll text you my father-in-law’s mobile number.”

 ~~~

Addison woke with a nagging feeling he was missing something about Edith’s death. The fact that Liam revealed that his mother was unhappy with Imogen had triggered unease. After breakfast and attending to church business, he kissed Muriel goodbye and headed to the Hampton Green Florals shop. 

A white wreath with a ribbon bearing Edith’s name hung on the front door. He pulled the door open to the tinkle of a small bell. Imogen was putting an arrangement together and looked up as he walked in.

“Vicar.” Her eyes widened. “What brings you here?”

He noted her glance toward the small office behind the counter. The door was open, and he could see the desktop.

“Just wanted to check on you. I know you and Edith have been friends for years. This must be quite difficult to be back in the shop so soon.”

“Oh—yes, awfully hard. We—we were friends since childhood.” She looked away. “However, we have two weddings this weekend and several other orders. Martha has gone to the flower market for me this morning, and I have a part-time person coming in this afternoon to help. Business goes on.”

“Yes, it does, and while it is good to grieve, life must go on. If you need my counsel, please call me.”

“Thanks, Vicar, I will.”

The tinkle of the door faded behind him as he walked toward his bicycle, which he had leaned against the florist store’s marigold colored wall. Now he knew why he felt unease. The night Edith died, when he sat at the dining room table with the doctor waiting to talk to DCI Winston, the table was clear. Only hours before, the table was laden with numerous documents and a unique purple laptop. That purple laptop was now sitting on the desk in the florist office. Why was Edith’s computer from home, sitting on the business desk along with a desk computer and another laptop? Why indeed?

Addison rode quickly to Hollyhock House and let himself inside. He hated the pall of death that he felt walking into a room where a soul departed. Chills passed through him, and he prayed for the dead before he began to walk through the house. Perhaps the laptop he saw in the floral shop was not Edith’s, but he needed to find out. Room after room, no laptop and no sign of the papers and notebooks. He hesitated to call Liam but decided he needed to do so.

“Liam, so sorry to bother you, but I have a couple of questions.”

“No problem, we’re on the way to Heathrow. What questions?”

“I need to know if you removed your mother’s laptop from her house?”

“No, don’t remember seeing one. I know she had one, did all of her horticultural work on it and personal correspondence. Why? Is it missing?”

“I’m not certain. When I saw your mother the afternoon before her death, it was on the dining room table along with a lot of paperwork. When I returned upon learning of her death, it was gone. It’s been bothering me. Do you know what she was working on?”

“I do. She had created another hybrid rose and was applying for recognition from the Society. She was excited and told me that she had a surprise about the rose. My wife and I suspected she was going to name the rose after our daughter. Vicar, I’d appreciate it if you could locate the laptop and her notes. I want to see if I can register the rose in her honor.”

“I’ll do my best.” He took a breath. “Do you know if Imogen had any part in developing the rose? Could that be why your mother was upset?” 

“I don’t know, but Mum was quite upset with her.”

“I’ll let you know when I find the laptop.”

Ending the call, Addison experienced another chill. This one, however, was more sinister. He was beginning to believe that evil was afoot.

~~

Addison had resorted to pacing in his office. Muriel was chairing a meeting for the upcoming village fete, and while he was looking forward to the event, the chattering was annoying. He had called DCI Winston, but the detective chief inspector was testifying in court. He would have to wait.

What was he going to tell the detective? Well, sir, I suspect Imogen knows more about Edith’s death than she let us think? Edith’s computer is now at the floral shop? Edith was unhappy with Imogen. Was that enough to tell Winston he thought Imogen at the very least stole the laptop? No doubt, the detective would think him mad. Maybe he was. When his mobile rang, he nearly jumped out of his skin.

The ID screen revealed Winston’s name. Addison took a deep breath and answered, telling the detective exactly what was running through his mind. The detective listened and surprised him.

“Vicar, I must say I may share your concerns. I spoke with the ME this morning, and he decided to run a few more tests as he was also concerned about the cause of death. It doesn’t appear natural. Calling him now and then I’m coming to Hampton Green.”

Addison sat for a moment, staring out at the garden and Jasper’s Love rose bushes. He couldn’t sit by and decided to visit Imogen again. As he rose, his phone rang. A congregant needed him, so he detoured first to visit the caller and then go to the shop. He needed to know why the laptop was there.

 ~~~

It was four in the afternoon before Addison walked into the shop. A customer was leaving, as was the part-time clerk as he entered. Imogen again looked surprised to see him. 

“What brings you back, Vicar?” 

He noted her tone was sarcastic. He sucked in a deep breath and asked God to forgive him for telling a bit of a lie. “Liam asked me to locate his mother’s computer. There are important documents on it as well as personal photographs. In the chaos of Edith’s death and the need to leave the country so quickly, he forgot to look for it.”

“I wouldn’t have any idea where it is.”

“I believe it is an unusual color, purple. It was on the table with some papers the morning before she died. It wasn’t there after she died. The table was clear.”

Imogen held his gaze for a moment, then smiled. “Would you like some tea? Perhaps, we can think of where her laptop could be.” 

There was a small seating area in the showroom, and she asked him to wait there. He sat where he could see if she went into the office. She didn’t but remained in the small area where there was a hotpot.

Minutes later, she brought two cups of tea, sugar, and cream on a tray and sat at the small table. “Hope you don’t mind that I poured your tea before bringing it. Please help yourself.”

While he added sugar, she chattered on. “Honestly, I don’t have a clue what happened to her laptop. I will say this. I had rushed over and realized I forgot my medications. I went home to get them. I didn’t notice the laptop, but she must have put it away while I was gone.”

“Was she strong enough to do that?”

“She must have been.”

He lifted the teacup. “Do you have a purple computer as well? I thought I saw one in the office this morning.”

“No, you must have seen some purple tissue paper. Drink your tea before it gets cold, Vicar.”

The cup was inches from his lips when a loud voice rang out.

“Don’t drink that, Vicar.”

DCI Winston stood in the doorway, an officer with him.

“Mrs. Smyth,” he handed her a document. “I have a search warrant for these premises and for your home.”

She stood. Her hands clenched. “How dare you.”

“I dare. And I…” A constable holding a bottle with an aged label arrived and a purple laptop tucked under his arm. Winston smiled. “Let me rephrase that. I’m here to arrest you for the murder of Edith Marcum.”

Her eyes flashed with anger. “Yes, I killed her. She took my favorite rose from my garden and created her new hybrid. She told me when she started working on it that she would name the rose for me. But no, her son had a daughter, and she decided to name it the Pink Eloise. I pleaded with her, but she said it was final. Then she said, I think it’s better that I buy out your part of the business. No—this business is mine too, and I wasn’t going to allow it.”

Winston told the constable to read her rights and take her away.

Addison found his voice after stunned silence. “How? How did she kill Edith?”

“The same way she was about to kill you. Arsenic.”

Addison stared at the cup, then at the detective.

“I believe you arrived just in time.”

_____________________

Author’s Note:  I love murder mysteries of any kind, detective or cozy. While I write detective novels, I love to dabble in cozy mysteries, and I offer this story as an homage to the talented cozy authors who entertain us. 

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

Caroline Giammanco: Memory Lane

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.

Memory Lane

Caroline Giammanco

Evangeline Moore brushed the wisps of brown hair out of her eyes as she sailed down Concord Avenue on her bicycle. This old bike took her wherever she wanted to go, and she smiled as the familiar places of her youth passed by her while she picked up speed. 

“Be careful, Evie,” her father always cautioned her. “You have the heart of a lion, and I’m afraid you’re going to hurt yourself one day on that contraption.”

“That’s impossible, Daddy. My bicycle is my freedom.”

Freedom. 

Yes, this old bicycle was her freedom. Whenever she felt down or useless, she hopped on her trusty bike and pedaled. All her cares slipped away as she rode to her heart’s content. 

She remembered her first real bicycle. It had training wheels, and she was four that Christmas. More than anything that year, she’d wanted a bike so she could keep up with her three siblings. Looking back, she wasn’t sure how her parents raised four children on her father’s paycheck, let alone bought them the very presents they desired most, but they managed. Having grown older and wiser, she now guessed that Grandma Wilson had her hand in the gift getting. It was a testament to Granny’s character that she never wanted credit if she had, in fact, bought those presents. 

All Evangeline knew for certain was that her family loved her. What she wouldn’t give to ride bikes with Sallie, Dot, and Mack again. Their absence was the only drawback to her solitary bike rides. She couldn’t bring the people she missed along with her these days. 

She could, however, take rides down memory lane where she heard their peals of laughter and the whirring of their wheels as they raced each other to Sutter’s Orchard or to the top of Crabapple Hill. On especially daring trips, they took moonlit rides around the perimeter of the cemetery. That, of course, didn’t happen until their teenage years. Their parents would have killed them for being out at that hour, so the four had developed a system for leaving their home undetected. 

Evangeline laughed out loud at their antics. They were brave and they were daring, that was for sure. Mack bragged that they came from pioneer stock and that’s what made them fearless. Not a one of them turned down some wholesome fun when they could find it. 

Turning right, she rode past the barber shop, the grocer, and Doc Gower’s office. She winced at the thought of the time she’d fallen from the top of their maple tree and Doc Gower had to reset her arm. Glancing down at her tanned, smooth skin, the white of the scar near her elbow was a reminder of that mishap. She swore she could still feel the pain and hear the sounds as the gentle doctor manhandled her arm back into place. That was one memory she did not care to relive. 

A cottontail hopped across the road in front of her, then it stopped to stare at her while sitting on its hind legs. It was early summer, and she had a suspicion that the bunny came from Mildred McEnany’s garden. 

“Little one, I won’t hurt you, but I can’t make any promises about old Mildred. She’s got buckshot waiting for you if you’re not careful.”

Evangeline slowed to watch the rabbit. It cocked its head, almost as if it considered her advice. A neighborhood dog barked, spooking the cottontail just enough that it decided to hop on along. 

Evangeline, in turn, quickened her pace. Her hometown hadn’t changed a bit, and she wanted to take in all of her favorite spots before her ride was over. 

She turned a corner and saw one of her special places. The glorious oak tree stood as it always had. Just as it stood the night Jacob Moore kissed her for the first time. Butterflies took flight in Evangeline’s heart as she thought of that warm summer evening. 

There is nothing like true love. 

If she listened carefully, she could hear the birds sing the same as they had the night Jacob swore he’d love her forever. And he had. At least until his plane was shot down during the war. The diamonds on her wedding ring lit up as brightly as her heart did whenever she thought of that sweet man. 

Evangeline wiped a tear, blew a kiss at the tree, and rode past. There was no sense in dwelling there. Her memories with Jacob would always be just as vivid. 

Next she rode down Culver Hill and past the schoolyard. Oh, the fun she and her classmates had. The swings. The monkey bars. The teeter-totter. Now those were some good times. 

Kids these days just don’t know what they’re missing with their noses stuck to a screen. 

She was half-tempted to hop off her bike and try out the swing herself, but she thought better of it. She needed to stay on her bike. It was enough to catch a look at the recess yard. 

The church bell tolled noon, and she knew what that meant. It was time to return home. She didn’t dare have Layna arrive at the house while she was gone. Too many questions. Too much unnecessary prying 

My daughter seems to think I can’t take care of myself. 

Evangeline wasted no time pedaling home, wind whipping past her, as she breathed deeply. The rides did so much for her. 

“Exercise is important,” her mother always said. 

She slowed as she approached her house, relieved that Layna had yet to arrive. Leaning her bicycle against the yellow wall by her garden gate, she slowly made her way up the steps and into her kitchen. 

I’d best fix my hair before she gets here. 

Evangeline looked into the mirror. The wrinkled old woman staring back at her reminded her of her grandmother. Her wizened hands, knuckles swollen from arthritis, grasped the brush as she untangled her long grey hair. 

Gone were her youthful arms and legs. Gone was the burst of energy she had while riding her special bicycle. 

Someday. Yes, someday I will tell Layna about my little secret. She, too, will use my magic bicycle to go down her own memory lane. 

Her daughter rapped gently at the front door. 

“Mom, are you ready for me to take you shopping?”

“Yes, dear, I’m coming.”

For now, though, it’s okay for this old girl to keep this secret to herself. 

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Visit Caroline on her blog: https://carolinegiammancowrites.home.blog/