WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND TIDBITS!: LOSE versus LOOSE

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

LOSE versus LOOSE

People often mix up the words lose and loose. Although they may look similar, they are completely different words and also different parts of speech. Lose is a verb that means to misplace, to not win, or to not hold onto something. Loose is an adjective that means not tight. The information shown here should help people use the words properly.

Lose rhymes with snooze and is a verb that means to misplace, to not win, to suffer a loss, or to part with something. If you are using a verb, use lose.

Examples:

  • She did not want to lose the game.
  • He realized he had nothing left to lose.
  • She knew she needed to lose weight.
  • He looked everywhere — he couldn’t bear to lose that.
  • She told her sister to never lose faith.
  • He told her to keep it safe and never lose it.
  • She did not want to lose sight of the goal.
  • She knew she was about to lose her temper.
  • He was careful not to lose his money.
  • She hated when she would lose a sock in the laundry.
  • He did not want to lose the key again.

Loose rhymes with moose and is an adjective that means not tight. If you are using an adjective, use loose.

Examples:

  • Her clothes were too big and loose on her.
  • She gave a somewhat loose definition of the word.
  • He always carried loose change in his pocket.
  • She wanted to wear something that was loose and comfortable.
  • He sometimes played fast and loose with the rules.
  • Her hair hung loose down her back.
  • He knew he had to fix the loose doorknob.
  • He lets his dog run loose in the back yard.
  • He used a screwdriver to tighten the loose screw.
  • She smiled and showed off her loose tooth.
  • He was worried that the tire would come loose and fall off.

Basically, if you want a verb that means something is misplaced or you didn’t win, use lose.

If you want an adjective that means relaxed or not tight, use loose.

If your ring is too loose, you could lose it.

Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

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I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book. Thank you!
Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

Anita Wu: A Winter’s Day

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

A Winter’s Day

Anita Wu

Winter traditions happened for reasons more than just mere familiar repetitions, Ky liked to believe, so when his best friend decided that a trip away to the sunny, warm beaches of the south with her new-found boyfriend was a decision she didn’t have to even think about, Ky gave her a forced smile.

What stung him the most was the secrecy of the trip, for he was only privy to this information the day before she was set to fly, and he knew — without confirmation — that the only reason for his knowing was that they required his services. They laughed in the backseat of his car, grinning ear to ear, dressed in flowy skirts and loose shirts despite the dusting of snow on the roads. His best friend hugged him goodbye at the airport. He waved and left.

Ky chuckled as he sat alone in the park this dawn, thinking of the betrayal. Sunrises were his favorite time of the day. Watching the sky changing gradually from navy blue to baby blue and witnessing the kiss of the sun bringing reds and oranges and yellows into life always felt better when shared with someone else. Summers were spent with his father on overnight hikes and camps so that they could sit in silence with no other soul near. Winters were spent with his best friend by the lake, a cup of hot cocoa in their hands as they laughed about the new singer that graced the stage the weekend past.

He had no best friend this time, and he passed on the hot cocoa, wary of a possible bitter aftertaste. The park overlooked the lake, which had frozen over, and the ice was thick enough and safe enough that adventurous souls had ventured far away on either foot or skates since days ago.

Ky spotted one such single soul this morning, gliding on the ice as though she were on a stage, her arms moving in tune with the rest of her body as she gave a performance for the world to see — except no one was watching. He smiled. He would do the same if he knew how to balance himself without the need to hold onto someone. His best friend often guided him to the middle then let go, leaving him to curse at the skies until he mustered up enough courage to fall and scramble his way back to land.

“You’re doing great!” he yelled at the woman, almost sure that she did not actually hear him but hinging on the off-chance that she did. He picked up his backpack and sauntered back towards the city. He had to buy groceries before the stores closed this New Year’s Eve, after all.

As he left the park, however, he spotted a familiar figure huddled on a bench. Her tattered, blue, barely-warm blanket rested on her shoulders as she held her cardboard sign so that it did not blow away in the wind. Her red cup sat a few inches away from her, likely with a stone weighing it down, giving people space should they wish to offer aid from afar. Ky approached and sat next to her. 

“Trying a new spot, Ly?” he chirped, hoping his cheery voice would bring a smile to her face. She glanced at him, her lip still a fine line. 

Her words were just as curt. “Yeah.”

He patted her shoulder in silence, understanding if Ly did not want to talk. 

Ly was a kind soul. Ky saw her constantly at the intersection near his journalism school. She was always joking with the person who seemed on the verge of tears or helping an old woman cross a busy street. She wished people a great day, and she always had a genuine smile on her face. 

He told her hello one day, and she greeted him every time he passed by afterwards. Eventually, they conversed and became fast friends. “My name’s Lyra, but you can call me Ly.”

Ly was brilliant. She may not know why the Pythagorean theorem worked — and neither did Ky — but she knew when people lied, when they hurt, or when they held on for far too long. She could have been on the road to a bright future, but she was blessed with an abuser for a mother and addict for a father. She snuck her brother away one night, and neither regretted that decision.

But her little brother had passed a mere month ago, and she was pried away from his body before her tears had the chance to hit the ground. Although malnourished, he was an otherwise healthy and cheerful child, Ky knew from their brief chance meetings. He also knew Ly made sure he always had something to eat even if she did not. Ly confided to Ky that she believed someone had poisoned her brother, and she had her suspicions. Having nothing in her name, though, made it difficult for people with power to care about what actually happened. She could not even grieve in peace. The cold came, the snow came, and life was generally more difficult in the winter for those without a heated shelter over their heads.

She did not give herself the luxury of breaking down.

But he wished that she did. 

“Do you want to have some breakfast?” he asked, almost certain that she had not eaten yet. She merely shook her head, still staring aimlessly at the red cup and refusing to face him.

Ly had never declined his offerings of food before.

“I’ll get you some food anyway. It’s always better to have backup, you said before, right?” He smiled as he moved around to squat in front of her. “Stay here, and I’ll be back, okay?”

***

The bench was empty when he returned, so he gave the muffin and coffee to the next person he saw huddled on the corner of the street. That man had mittens, he noticed, and Ky thought that he should get a pair for Ly. She most likely did not receive any presents, but no one would object that she needed extra care this year. 

He would get them for her the next time he saw her, he promised himself.

But he didn’t expect that he would have the opportunity so soon. Ky spotted the familiar blue blanket turning a corner of the street when he was about to enter a store, packed with last-minute shoppers much like himself.

He followed, winding through pedestrians, never seeming to catch up to this agile girl. And in the sea of the busy streets, where cars blared angrily against traffic and people shoved against others to move along, he lost her. 

He stood, in the middle of the sidewalk, opting to give his surroundings one more survey as the people grumbled around him for his stillness.

“You bitc—” Ky heard the energetic shout, even if just a bit louder than the background noise of the city. Most people seemed to not hear it — or opted to ignore it — while a handful seemed to have gathered at the source: a narrow alleyway. The people who paused and watched, like an audience to a circus exhibition, murmured amongst themselves, gasping under their breaths, bringing their hands to their faces, and taking out their phones to record. 

It meant that the incident would make its way to the internet, and Ky would hear about it one way or another. His concern at the moment was the blue blanket that he spotted maneuvering its way away from the scene. 

He cursed, refusing to let it out of his sight this time.

***

“Ly, are you okay?” were the first words he panted when he caught up to her, plopped against a tree in the park. Contrary to his heavy breathing, Ly seemed unaffected from running three blocks. 

But she was staring straight ahead again, tears welling in her eyes this time, her lips parted and quivering as puffs of white condensed in the cold air. She fisted her hands to stop them from shaking, but it only caused her entire arm to tremble. Ky noticed that she had gloves on, though they appeared to be disposable ones rather than warm, winter ones. 

He placed his hand on her shoulder and eased her to sit. “Hey, hey, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Those words seemed to break her as she let the tears fall and her entire body rock while she brought her gloved hands to her face. Ky adjusted the blanket around her and hugged her close. He imagined her brother would do the same if he were here. 

“I couldn’t do it,” Ly choked out between sobs.

“Couldn’t do what?”

“I couldn’t do it.”

“That’s fine. It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”

She smelled like the clothes she didn’t have the opportunity to change, and her body was much more frail than the illusion she gave since she always wrapped herself in the tattered blanket. Ky held her close as she cried.

“He took away my brother. I wanted to return the favor,” Ly confessed, “but I couldn’t do it. My hand slipped, then my body stopped.

“Because Sam would have yelled at me when I saw him again. He would have told me he was fine, that he didn’t want to be a burden to me. He…” Ly stopped.

“He just wanted you to live your life. I think he knew you did all this for him. He knew that you could be more.” Ky shifted Ly and adjusted himself to face her. Her eyes were red, her cheeks puffy and her frown a disaster. “I do too. You just have to give yourself a chance and don’t hold yourself back.”

“But I can’t. That man’s going to come after me now after that stunt I pulled.” The fear was settling into her face now. Reason always came after emotion. “He won’t stop until I’m dead.”

“Don’t worry. Let him try, and I’ll set the whole world against him.” Ky smiled. “I am a journalist, after all. I can be persuasive.”

He saw the small upward turn on Ly’s lip. Smiles were contagious, after all. 

“That’s not going to work, Ky.”

“But you know what’s going to work?” He kept his smile. “Hot cocoa by the park. Last time I was there, a performance was happening. Maybe it would still be there now. It’s a winter tradition I do, and there’s space for one more person.”

Ly let a small chuckle escape, and her stomach growled in agreement.

“Perhaps some food too.”

Please visit Anita on her blog: https://soreispeaks.wordpress.com/

Calliope Njo: The Christmas Present

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

The Christmas Present

Calliope Njo

“Come on.” I pulled Natasha after me. “You’re about as stubborn as a male elf who insists it’s time to nap.”

She tried to peel my fingers off her wrist, but I kept hold. I stopped and turned to look at her. “I don’t know why you’re having such an issue with this.”

“Because I don’t want to. Christa, let go.”

“Natasha, the bags have been cleaned and stitched, and milady has gone over our lord’s suit. The team is physically and mentally fit for duty, and the onboard computer diagnostics is complete. We’re a part of the fourth wave. We have nothing to do until the clock strikes midnight.”

She looked down. “Because I don’t know how to ice skate.”

“Is that all?”

She looked up at me with a clenched jaw. “What do you mean is that all? I would be so embarrassed when we get back to work.”

When I let go, she crossed her arms in front of her chest. So, plan B. “There is nobody here. The first and second waves are putting the last-minute touches on the toys. As for the third wave, they’re asleep. Who would laugh?”

She straightened her arms. “I never really learned how. I mean, when I was little, I wanted to, but I never got a chance to. So here I am. The only elf who doesn’t know how to ice skate.”

I cupped her cheek. “You worry too much. Put your skates on and go with it. If you fall, you fall. Besides, the snowflake fairies are about to come out. They will help you.”

“You’re telling tales. There is no such thing.”

“That’s what everybody thinks. Mortals can’t see them. Those of us who reside in Celynville can. They only come out on the shortest days and coldest winters, but the myth says they will come out soon. They only need a little inspiration.”

“They’ll laugh.” She pouted.

“No, they won’t.” I grabbed her hand. I got tired of this conversation, so I pulled her along with me and put her skates on. Then I put mine on and pulled her after me until she figured out how to walk in them.

I kept my pace slow and straightforward. Up and down, back and forth around the ice. Natasha didn’t fall during that time, so I let her go. She screamed and kept going until the snowflake fairies took hold of her.

I got off the ice to let them have it all. They were so magical to watch. Glittering snow always fell while they were out. They glittered a sort of light blue that gave them a magical touch. I couldn’t help but laugh at Natasha’s wide-open mouth and eyes, but she calmed down after a while.

They showed her much better than I ever could. Step by step, the eyes and mouth relaxed as they moved around the ice. That wide-eyed look of fear changed into a smile. It had to be pride that took over.

The sun began to set. “Natasha, it will be time for our last meal of the day. We must go.”

She skated towards me with a smile so broad that it stretched ear to ear. “You were right. They were so… so…. How do you explain it?”

“You can’t.” I sat down to take the skates off and set them by the log. Natasha did the same and followed me back to the main building.

The dining bell sounded, and we kept moving to the dining hall. The long wooden tables were always a treat to see. Covered dishes lined the table with wooden cups on the side filled with hot apple tea, but the traditional eggnog would have to wait until we completed our task. After a roasted chicken and mixed vegetable meal, we went to our room to rest until the clock sounded.

“It shouldn’t be too long. I overheard the first and second waves finished sooner than expected. The other waves had crossed off many names from the list, not because of misbehavior but because of illness that plagues the mortals. Too sad to think of the ones that died too soon.”

Natasha nodded. “What do they do?”

“Who?”

Natasha came over to my bunk and laughed. “You know who.”

I laughed too. “I don’t think anybody knows. They’re magical beings that come out now and then. I don’t remember anyone ever observing them. Like all creatures great and small, they are given space and respect.”

Natasha nodded and went back to the window.

Someone knocked on our door. I opened it. “Noelle, greetings. Is it time already?”

She shook her head. “Our delivery has gone down by fifty-seven percent. Therefore, the bags have been stuffed and readied for delivery sooner than expected. All we need to do is wait for the launch. I came because there seems to be some trouble in the mortal world regarding their tree production.”

“Oh. How can we help?”

“It is frowned upon for any of us to go into their world. There is always a risk of being seen. However, these circumstances have made that rule null and void. There are poor people there that have no way of sharing their joy. So, it was suggested that we execute a plan thought up by our lady.”

“Oh,” Natasha and I said at the same time.

“We cannot take the sleigh with it being so close to launch, and it still needs to be looked over, washed, and waxed. So we are to go there, find a forest of trees, and decorate them instead of delivering. Easier and less expensive.”

We nodded.

Noelle continued. “Four other elves are coming along with us for a total of seven. That should be enough to do what we need to do and leave in time to view the launch.”

“How will we get there? What will we use for decorations?” I asked.

“Our lady will take us there. She already found an area that we could use. As for decorations, keep it simple because we won’t be seeing them again.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Natasha said. “We are ready now.”

We followed Noelle outside and waited for the rest of the crew by the gates. Once everybody was there, we only had to wait for our lady to show.

“Oh good,” our lady said. “Everybody is here. I don’t want to leave anybody behind or get lost, so we’ll keep the route simple and easy to follow. I studied the maps, and it didn’t seem too difficult to get there.”

She led the way, and we followed. We went to a cave and through a long tunnel to the mortal world. Once outside, we focused on the route to a nearby forest.

Get there and get it done. That was our objective. The surrounding flora had bright red berries. Not edible, but they would make beautiful decorations.

We walked by the rejected pile on our way out of camp, and I was able to grab some gingerbread men, thrown out because they didn’t meet specific standards. The trees looked all right between the red berries and the rejected gingerbread men, but something was still missing.

Twinkling came from above. I looked up, and there they came. The snowflake fairies flew around and touched the tree, and the trees sparkled. It was such a magical moment as only a trail of lights was left when they finished.

Noelle passed around a jug of hot chocolate to celebrate. I sat down on a felled tree, and that was when I heard crying. After a glance around, I realized it wasn’t one of us. A few were snoring, and others were laughing, but no one was crying. I stood and walked around to find a mortal baby tucked inside the log we sat on. I pulled it out and took a look.

“Oh my,” Natasha said. “Too small to fend for itself. What are we going to do? We can’t take it with us. Can we?”

“No. We can’t. I have to tell Noelle about this.”

“Christa, you know she would tell you to leave it be.”

“She is our leader, and she must know. I don’t think she would ever say such a thing.”

I was proven wrong. I couldn’t understand how she would even think such a thing. That baby had to be crying because it felt cold, hungry, and unloved. We couldn’t leave it behind.

I jerked back with every word of the last command I heard. “We will not have anything to do with that creature. We have no place for it. My word is final.”

I heard footfalls disappearing and took a look. Noelle left and sat on a log. That gave me a chance to find the baby a place to belong.

I looked up. It would have to be soon before the sun set. “Natasha, help me find something to pull. It’ll help.”

She went one way and I another. I was about to give up when Natasha came back with half a log attached to a vine. I didn’t know where she found it, but it was something, and I wasn’t going to question that.

We placed the baby on it, and I pulled it along after me. I hoped Noelle wouldn’t notice before we left.

“Oh, hush now, little one. You see, I am called Christa. I’m an elf that works in the toy factory.” I looked behind me, and nobody was there. We continued. “You see, I live in Celynville with the rest of the elves that work in the factory. We came here to help all of you rejoice and be happy during this season.” The baby started to calm down. A smile spread across its face.

A male and a female human couple were walking around the forest not that far away. The female smiled and kept chatting about starting a family. The male continued to smile, but I had a feeling he didn’t want to be having that conversation. I couldn’t read minds, but some of his thoughts I heard in my head.

Maybe he could be persuaded otherwise if I presented this baby to them. I saw a lone hare, and it didn’t take much persuasion to convince him to run in front of them and then hop towards the tree stump. With that accomplished, I heard a gasp. They ran towards it.

I ran back, hoping they found the baby and after that, everybody would be happy.

I returned to the campsite and a scowling Noelle. “Finished?”

I gulped. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Let’s go then.”

I followed after her as we returned home. I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened. For some reason, the trip back took longer than the trip away as I was worried.

The time arrived for the launch of our lord, Santa Claus, on his sleigh. I wished him a safe journey around the world to deliver the gifts. Once he departed, eggnog and sweet biscuits were served to all the elves to celebrate this time of success.

About to go back to our huts, someone stepped in front of me. Those red shoes looked familiar. “Excuse me,” she said. “Would you be Christa?”

I looked up, and it was our lady, Mrs. Claus. I nodded. My mouth refused to work.

“It was a nice thing you did with that baby, and I hope everything turns out all right. What do you say if we go back to my house and sit down with a cup of hot apple cider.”

“Yes, milady.”

“Oh, don’t be stiff. That’s Noelle. Just call me Mrs. Claus, and we’ll get along fine.”

I followed alongside Mrs. Claus back to her house. I couldn’t help but wonder about what happened after that. Maybe they weren’t meant for each other, and presenting the baby would’ve been a mistake.

I couldn’t worry about that. It wasn’t my place.

Well, another season had gone well. The toys were made, packed, and delivered without a problem. All that needed to be done was the clean-up.

Clean-up duty involved sweeping, mopping, taking out the garbage, cleaning the stalls, and a whole bunch of other stuff. I did the stalls while I thought about that baby. How could someone leave something that precious? Maybe they didn’t have a choice, though.

After finishing our duty, we went to the frozen lake to ice skate. I laughed as Natasha ran ahead of everybody to get on the ice. It was out of pride, not because I wanted to tease her. She was so adorable now that she could skate.

The snowflake fairies came out once again and skated among us. A sweet time it had been. At the end of the day, the next crew needed to get ready for our lord’s return.

Mrs. Claus appeared and waved me towards her. I looked up and smiled. “Greetings.”

“Greetings. I have some news. The couple you found adopted that baby as it seemed it was too precious to pass up.”

I couldn’t help but smile at that news. “That’s wonderful.”

“Yes, it is. I couldn’t leave until I found what they named the baby.”

I bounced because I got excited about learning more.

“The baby was a girl. They named her Christina.”

Yippee. Hip hip hurray. I did somersaults and ran all over at the news. The best thing that ever happened.

“I thought you would be happy with the news.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “We are going to have a cup of hot tea, you and me. We have some planning to do next year.”

I got off my seat and looked out the window. Up high, in the sky, the biggest and brightest star shone. After that, I had a feeling that everything would be all right.

A good thing happened and the greatest gift, love, was offered and accepted.

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

Riham El-Ashry: The Ice Dancers

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

The Ice Dancers

Riham El-Ashry 

The familiar brown eyes stared at him. Without saying a word, he knew what this look meant: dance! Glancing at the skates, the blades shone, reflecting an exhausted beam before sunset. It seemed to him a farewell of someone on the deathbed. Gwendal shifted on the rock he was sitting on. The vast ice lake expanding in front of him sparkled in the sunlight. A sight, if pleasant to anyone, wouldn’t be to him. 

“Do you have a rope?” a man shouted. 

Gwendal gasped as if shaken from a dream and looked to his right to see a man at a distance waving to him. The area was covered with snow and ice and seemed empty. Winter drained the life out of this park; and snow shrouded the trees, the land, and the lake in white wraps. The man appeared to be very far with a desert of white sands between them. A long way! What might he want the rope for? 

For a second, Gwendal fumbled for a rope in his bag. His hand touched the metallic cold edge. The cumulus clouds in the horizon escaped a thin ray of the dying sun that flickered into his eyes. Raising his eyes to the sky, a violet skirt fluttered across. Skates creaked the ice while the graceful dancer demonstrated her sophisticated turns on the glittering surface. Drummers began to strike; the slappy beats echoed into the empty space.

Memories of that performance flashed in front of him; how their arms flapped simultaneously and their figures glided harmoniously in the arena. The bolero was perfect and their dance was extraordinary. Everyone praised their melodic symmetry swaying with the music. But no one could have ever foreseen what fate had for them after the party was over. It was over for all that was good and exciting. 

“Hey! Man! Throw that rope to me. Let’s save that poor fella.” He pointed to a remote dark shadow struggling in the middle of the white, icy lake. 

Fighting for its life, a reddish-brown fawn scuffled against the freezing water; it was half drowned in the water. Its limbs desperately wrestled the cracking ice that seemed to ambush the helpless creature—giving it a false hope of solidarity but then only crashed down, taking it deeper.

The bolero drumbeats softened when the oboe tunes took over. It was time for their master movement—the moment that he dreaded failure. His tense legs shook dubiously. However, Maria’s assuring look soothed his doubts. It was all about her. She could hold things together; she could hold him together. That was not a performance; it was our love dance. 

A tight grab on his arm shut down the music in his head. Abruptly, he turned towards the voice, “It’s dying. It can’t hold on any longer,” the man exclaimed. “Move fast.” 

Weary, Gwendal measured the rope against the required distance to the fawn, but it was much shorter. Impatient, he groped loudly in his bag, scattering many things on the snow. The violet skates thudded harshly on a frozen rock. 

“Oh, you have skates!” his companion said. “But it takes a professional to be able to reach there and grab the animal out.” 

Gwendal didn’t answer. He was a professional. Was. Truth. There was nothing he could offer now. The fawn cried in terror to his mother that stood not far from the two men who apparently were as helpless as she was. 

Maria wanted to have a special celebration of their outstanding success, but he only wanted her. And though the night fled by merrily, the terrible ending blemished the memories. The police report blamed the opposing car for the crash, though he knew who should have been condemned. 

The screams of the fawn deafened his thoughts and urged him to act quickly. From the bottom of his bag, he brought out his skates and worked fast to put them on. For a second, he hesitated and tried to hide a reluctant tear that shined at the corner of his eye. 

“Are you sure?” 

The special ice skate boots for amputated feet took a few minutes to be fastened well enough to his knee. His companion tapped his shoulder and warned, “you shouldn’t. Let’s call for the rescue team or something.”

The moment Gwendal stood on his feet, he felt lighter and masterfully glided on the icy surface and very carefully avoided the thinner spots. He heard the relieved cries of the anguished deer as if anticipating help. Sliding in circles, he listened to the ice cracking under his bladed boots. Joy spread into his veins forcing a smile on his stiff cheeks. 

The fawn’s eyes got full of joy when he pulled it out of the chilly water. He could feel its body quivering. Snuggling it close, the shudder relaxed a bit when a promise was made. His experience enabled his feet to navigate safely, however, suddenly the violet skirt blinded his sight and the longing snatched his lonely heart. What was life without her? 

A few meters ahead waited his buried desire—the thinnest layer of ice. He could aim straight to it and all his agony would be over. The sun was now sending its latest rays, saying farewell to the world. It seemed his best chance to end it forever. All became dark and still. Motionless. It was silent except for a shocked shout that escaped the fawn’s lips as if it predicted what Gwendal was about to do. The shivering grew so intense that he felt it on his chest while carrying the baby animal. 

“Hey, man!! That was a near thing!” the man said, cuddling the baby before releasing it to its mother. 

“Yes, I had to come back!” Gwendal gazed at the deer nuzzling her baby and smirked.

Please visit Riham on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100010254645147

D. A. Ratliff: Wizard of the North

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

Author’s Note: A bonus prompt….

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Image by Jayne Bersok Photography. Enhanced by Photoshop.

In addition to the December WTS prompt, another image led me to this story. A friend, Jayne Bersok, who is a photographer, took the image of a ‘wizard’ at a Renaissance Fair a few years ago. I loved the photograph and played with Photoshop to come up with this image.

Wizard of the North

D. A. Ratliff 

Wizard Nicolus took a deep draw of his long pipe, savoring the taste of the smokeweed packed into the bowl. He blew out a smoke ring and watched as it dissipated in the cool air, scattering the small group of Woodland Fairies flitting about the trees. One more puff on this pipe, and he turned to continue down the narrow path next to the flowing stream.

A flash of green light startled him, and a fairy, now human-sized, blocked his path.

“How dare you pollute our air with smoke from that pipe. You know better, Wizard.”

“Ah, the fair and lovely Xeris. How are you?” Nicolus puffed on his pipe and blew the smoke above the fairy.

“You’re incorrigible, Wizard.”

“I’m only me and, well, some have called me that before. How are you, old friend?”

Xeris smiled. “Well, as are my brothers and sisters. We have not seen you for several seasons. And now that it is winter, shouldn’t you be on your way north toward home?”

“I am, but I’m taking the scenic route.”

“Then necessity brought you to us?”

“Yes.”

Xeris tossed her head back, her thick red ringlets flowing about her. “Not often a wizard requests the assistance of the Woodland Fairies or any fairy for that matter. What can we do for you?”

“The humans are lacking spirit. War is all they have known for many years. Now, as the magical world has defeated the invading evil, it’s time that we gave humans hope and joy. I need your help and that of the other fairy tribes to return hope to the humans.”

“A tall order, Nicolus. We’ve remained hidden for a very long time because they disbelieved in our existence. How do you propose we bring hope to the humans?”

“When the time comes, be visible. Let the humans know we remain with them.”

“How will we know when the time comes?”

“You will know. I need you to spread the word to the other tribes while I continue my journey.”

Xeris did not respond, but her eyes sparkled with interest, and Nicolus knew that the fairies would help. There was nothing they liked more than spreading their glittering light.

“We will help, Wizard Nicolus, and we’ll be ready.”

“Thank you.”

With a nod, Xeris morphed into her diminutive self and flew off to join the other fairies. Nicolus started to take another puff on his pipe then stopped. No, best to wait until he was safely out of the fairies’ realm.

Still following the narrow stream, Nicolus walked on through the forest as he had many miles to cover until he reached his destination. He pulled his cloak about him as the sun began to set. It would be cold in the northern land of the gnomes where his wizarding family had lived for centuries in the cold climes. He had relished the frigid air, and as a youth, his greatest fun was to skim across the frozen ponds on silver skates his grandfather gave him. He shivered. He would need a thicker cloak as his blood had thinned in the warmer place he now called home.

It was dusk when he decided to find a place to spend the night. A small group of low bushes that would serve as a wind barrier proved promising. He stepped off the path toward the bushes when he heard a whimper. Quietly, he moved farther into the forest and stood still. He sensed a child hiding behind a tree.

“Hello, little one.” No answer. “Don’t be afraid. Please come out.”

Nicolus waited patiently. A rustling of leaves drew his attention to a clump of bushes. He spoke softly. “My name is Nicolus. Join me. Are you hungry?”

A towheaded boy about twelve years old, carrying a rustic bow and a few arrows, stepped onto the path. “I’m Josiah.”

“Come, let’s find a clearing where I can start a fire. I have meat, bread, and cheese.”

Josiah pointed in the direction. “There’s an old campsite past those trees.”

“Then lead the way, and we’ll camp there tonight.”

He followed the boy through the thick brush and, once past the trees, a clearing nestled beside a rocky rise. A ring of stone, filled with ash, marked a campfire.

“Perfect spot, Josiah. Find wood to start a fire with, please.”

The boy nodded and ran off into the trees while he unrolled the bedroll and opened his knapsack, unpacking the food.

Before Josiah returned, he gathered twigs and dry leaves to start a small fire. He pointed his staff at the wood and chanted, “Ignire,” quietly so as not to let the child yet know of his powers. He added more twigs, and the fire was strong when Josiah returned.

“This is good wood. You chose well.” He smiled at Josiah while adding the wood chunks and branches to the fire. A blazing fire was lighting up the darkening sky within a few minutes.

“Come, sit with me and eat.”

He used his jewel-handled knife to slice the cheese, pulled off a hunk of bread, and handed the food to Josiah along with a piece of dried meat. The child’s glance at his jeweled knife had not gone unnoticed, nor had his thin physique and threadbare clothes. This child needed his help, but he must proceed carefully.

They ate in silence, and he handed the boy another slice of cheese and bread which Josiah ate as quickly as he had the first helping. It was dark when they finished. Nicolus gave the water skein to the boy who drank his fill.

Nicolus lit his pipe, took a draw, and blew smoke rings over the fire. Josiah’s eyes widened as he watched the smoke rings fade.

“How did you do that?”

“Lots of practice.”

“Why is your pipe so long?”

Nicolus took another puff and blew out one ring. Both remained quiet until the ring faded. “My pipe is long, so the embers in the bowl don’t catch my beard on fire.”

“Oh. That would be bad.” Josiah nodded.

“Tell me, Josiah, what are you doing in the forest by yourself?”

The boy gazed at the fire. “My family had it tough since the evil broke out. Our village is in a bad way. My father, Eron, and other men left to search for work, but they have been gone for many months, and my mother fears Igron captured him. My brother and sister are hungry, and my mother tries to keep us fed with what’s left of the grain. I snuck out to hunt for something for them to eat.”

“Your mother does not know you are gone?”

“No.” He dropped his head. “I wasn’t going to be gone long, but I got lost. Tried to follow the stream, but nothing looked right. Then I heard someone on the path, and I got scared and hid.”

“I’m glad I found you. In the morning, I’ll take you home.”

“You know the way?”

“I know the way.” Nicolus stood and motioned to the bedroll. “Sleep here, and at daybreak, we’ll leave.”

Nicolus waited until the child was asleep, then walked into the copse of trees where he whispered on the breeze. “Vocare Xeris.”

The glittering green light appeared in front of him, and wizard and fairy spoke in hushed tones. When Xeris flitted away, he returned to the campfire. He added more wood to the fire to chase away the chill, settled against a tree, and fell asleep.

The sun rose, waking them, and after a bit of bread and cheese, Nicolus packed up the food and bedroll while Josiah made sure the fire was out. The morning songbirds sang as they followed the stream toward the village.

~~~

Even though the sun shone brightly overhead, Josiah’s village felt dark and gloomy. With his charge in tow, Nicolus walked down the center of the road, drawing the attention of gawking villagers. One woman squealed Josiah’s name and ran down the street. Within minutes, a small dark-haired woman holding the hands of two young children appeared, her smile erupting when she saw Josiah.

The boy yelled, “Ma-Ma,” and ran to her. She embraced her son and then spoke to Nicolus.

“I’m Mala. Thank you for bringing my son home. My little ones told me he had gone into the forest to hunt.”

“My pleasure to bring him home to you.”

“Please, you must be hungry. I have bread and cheese. You must join us for a meal.”

“Please, Nicolus, please.” Josiah tugged at his sleeve as he begged the wizard to stay.

Nicolus knelt beside the boy. “I’ll stay for a bit.”

He rose and addressed Mala. “I’m pleased to dine with you, then be on my way.”

Mala led him to a small house. Before Igron attempted to spread evil worldwide, the village had prospered. The industrial revolution created a small forge and a pottery plant. All lost when Igron’s armies of ogres ransacked the land.

Nicolus ate a hard roll, and a piece of cheese washed down with delicious mead and took his leave, choosing to press on. Once clear of the village, he summoned a hawk to deliver a message to the elves to join him in his home village.

He pressed on until fatigue and darkness overtook him, and settled into a bed of pine needles to sleep. The sun peeking through the trees awoke him, and he sensed a familiar presence. He spoke softly.

“Josiah, why are you here?”

Light footballs sounded, and Josiah stood beside him. “My mother woke me. She heard a noise last night and discovered food in the larder. Everyone had food, and I saw green flashes like when we camped.”

“You were spying on me?”

“I was afraid you were leaving me, so I ran after you. I saw you talking to a green light that flickered like a candle. My mother said she had heard stories, and it had to be a fairy.” He paused. “You brought us food. My mother thinks you are a wizard.”

“I am. And I’m on a mission with no time to return you home.”

“I don’t want to go. Mother sent me here to see if you would help find my father.”

Nicolus’s heart was heavy as he could not promise that. He smiled. “I will try. Now we must make haste. We have a ways to go before we can find assistance.”

~~~

They trekked north to the edge of the land of ice. Josiah was cold as his cloak was thin, but he didn’t complain. His awe at the vast snow-covered mountains on the horizon helped to lessen the brunt of the cold as they reached a hill and climbed to the top. Nicolus pounded his staff three times on the ground, and a clear, melodious tone sounded. Warning Josiah to be quiet, they waited.

A dark speck appeared in the sky, and as it grew closer, Josiah began to tug at his sleeve. “Is that a…”

“Yes, that’s a dragon who is coming to take us the rest of the way.”

Majestic in his amber and green scales, the dragon landed his enormous body gracefully near them. A burst of fire erupted from his nostrils. “Wizard Nicolus, it’s good to see you.”

“And you, my old friend. Josiah, this is Pendod, Champion of the Golden Dragons and my friend.”

The dragon nodded and then dipped his head to the ground. Nicolus picked Josiah up and placed him behind the scales on Pendod’s neck, and climbed aboard after him. The dragon rose into the air, large leathery wings flapping.

As they soared across the ice and snow, Josiah’s face was full of wonder, and Nicolus knew his plans were what the world needed.

They landed in the center of the village. Magical creatures raced to them, excited to see Nicolus after so long. Elven Master Dain, his long platinum hair shiny in the sunlight, strode toward Nicolus as the wizard helped Josiah off the dragon’s back.

“Too long, Wizard. It’s good to have you return home.” They embraced warmly, and Dain led them to the town hall, where a large crowd awaited them.

“Nicolus, what are they?” Josiah pointed to the assembled magicals.

The wizard smiled. “Dain and the tall, pointy-eared ones are High Elves. The small ones with pointed ears are Yule Elves, and those brutes in the corner are trolls who are protectors despite their gruff exterior. Those wearing pointed hats are Nordic gnomes, bigger than most and a bit on the mischievous side. The ones who look like me and you are wizards and witches.” Two flickering blue lights flew into the room and morphed into human form. “And may I present King Aedan and Queen Bryla of the Snow Fairies.”

Bryla knelt before Josiah. “Xeris told us about the plight of your village. I’m so glad we could help.” She stood.

“Wizard Nicolus, you now wish to put your plan in motion to instill spirit back into the lives of the humans we are here to protect?”

“I am.”

“Then tell us what you need.”

Hours later, the plans for what Nicolus proposed were in place, and the magicals had their assignments. Nicolus, Dain, Aedan, and Bryla headed outside. Snowflakes swirled about them, falling softly onto the snow-laden ground. At the skating rink in the center of the village square, Josiah watched as a lone elf skated gracefully.

Bryla joined Nicolus. “The human child is fascinated by skating.”

“Yes, as I was growing up in this village.”

The Snow Fairy queen smiled. “I remember those days well.”

“It’s a good thing what you are doing, but it will be a lifetime of commitment.”

“Good thing I have a long lifetime.”

Dain bit his lip. “You said that the boy’s father has disappeared?”

“Yes, along with others in his village.”

“We heard that Igron’s followers are massing an attempt to free him.”

Rage raced through Nicolus. “Igron will never be free again. The Triumvirate, the most powerful witches and wizards among us, cast a spell that cannot be undone. He created havoc, fear, and suffering—he will not be allowed to walk free for eternity.”

“I know, Nicolus, but that will not stop those committed to Igron’s cause. While you continue north, we’ll search for where Igron’s minions are gathering to attack and free the hostages.”

“Thank you. We must stop them.”

Dain departed, and Nicolus joined Josiah at the frozen pond. “Have you ever skated, Josiah?”

“No. We didn’t have anything like those skates. We slid across on our shoes.”

“I need to ask you a question. Dain and the elves have heard rumors that followers of Igron are plotting to free him. We cannot allow that to happen, and the elves are going to see if this is true and if they have hostages.”

“Are they going to look for my father? Can I go?”

“The elves are going to search for your father, but it’s too dangerous for you to go with them. If you wish, you can come with me to the north while they search, or I can have Pendod take you home. Which would you rather do?”

“I want to go with you. I don’t want to go home without my father.”

“Then you can come with me, and I’ll send word to your mother.”

~~~

For the next few weeks, Josiah rarely left Nicolus’s side except when he traveled to the northern compound on his own or the young snow fairy Cosmos visited. The young boys had become great friends, which thrilled Nicolus. If these boys could bridge the gap between the human and magical world, perhaps there was hope for all.

There was much to do. Nicolus had decided to build a compound in the most northern reaches of the world. It was convenient because the Yule Elves, who loved to make things, lived in the snowy domain. With the aid of the dragons, the trolls cleared heavy timbers for use in constructing dwellings, workshops, and stables.

A wonderland emerged from the vast snowy terrain. The Yule Elves’ magical skills turned the timber into a warm and cozy dwelling. When Nicolus brought Josiah and Cosmos from the village to the north, the boys excitedly ran up and down the magnificent wooden staircase. Nicolus built a fire in the enormous stone fireplace. Mesmerized, the boys sat cross-legged in front of the roaring fire, where Nicolus joined them, bringing cheese and fruit to snack on.

“What do you think, boys?”

Josiah grinned. “Wonderful. I’ve never been in a place this pretty and so warm.”

Cosmos agreed. “It’s always drafty in the castle where the Snow Fairies live. I like being warm.”

Josiah stared into the fire for a few seconds before speaking. ”Wizard Nicolus, what are you doing here?”

“I want to bring joy back to children and their parents.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Come, let me show you.”

Josiah and Cosmos followed Nicolus into the snowy night. They crossed the courtyard where a tall red and white striped pole sat in the center with several signs attached that had “South” painted on them.

“Nicolus, why do the signs say south?”

“Because we are at the North Pole, and all directions from here are south. Now come, I have a surprise.”

They entered a long building, and the boys gasped when they realized the building was much larger on the inside. Rows upon rows of workbenches stretched as far as they could see, and Yule Elves at the benches were making dolls, wooden trains, balls, teddy bears, and many other toys.

Cosmos pointed to chutes along one side where finished toys were flying into and vanishing. “Where are those toys going?”

“I’ll show you in a moment.” Nicolus pointed to a bench where an elf was putting the finishing touches on a doll. A flick of his finger and a word uttered under his breath and brown yarn hair, in pigtails, appeared on the doll. Another flick of his finger and the doll floated toward a chute.

The wizard smiled. “The Yule Elves love to build toys. As Cosmos knows, these are magical elves and can work at incredible speeds. Now, for an even bigger surprise, follow me.”

They walked toward the stable, hearing soft baying sounds. Nicolus swept his wand to his right, and the stable doors opened to stalls full of reindeer. Josiah and Cosmos ran toward one stall, climbing on the gates to pet one of the magnificent creatures.

“They’re smaller than the horses at the stable at home.”

“Yes, they are. They are the North Star reindeer. They can fly great distances in an instant but follow the north star home. These beautiful animals will be pulling that sleigh.” He pointed to a red sleigh decorated with gold bells, railings, and green stripes. “I’ve chosen the eve of Christmas to deliver the toys. The reindeer will pull the sleigh and bring joy to the children of the world.”

“Can we come with you?”

“We’ll see. Now off to bed. We have a lot of work to do starting tomorrow.

~~~

Christmas Eve arrived, and Wizard Nicolus, now wearing a plush red cloak and pointed hat, walked into the stables, Josiah and Cosmos in tow. Pendod and the dragons grazed on grain in the square. Inside the stable, the Yule Elves, King Aedan, Queen Bryla of the Snow Fairies, and Elven Master Dain, along with a few gnomes and trolls, had assembled. Now decked in holly branches and leather bridles with gold trim, the reindeer were hooked to the sleigh, laden with large velvet bags of gifts.

Queen Bryla approached Nicolus. “We have heard that the weather is frightful in many locales, and we thought you might wish extra guidance. I requested the Fire Fairies to help guide you.” Three fairies with fiery red hair stepped forward and morphed into tiny forms, their light sparkling red. They flew to the lead reindeer and landed on his nose.

Nicolus beamed. “Thanks to you all for this wonderful night and for helping bring joy to the world again.” He stepped into the sleigh. “Well, boys, are you coming?”

With squeals of delight, the boys jumped into the sleigh. Nicolus guided the team into the square, called Up, Up, Away, and rose into the snowy night.

The reindeer flew with astonishing speed, stopping only seconds to deliver the toys. At one stop, Nicolus landed in a small village.

“Josiah, do you recognize this place?”

Josiah nodded. ”This is my village.”

“Yes, I want you to spend this holiday with your family.”

“But I don’t want to leave you or Cosmos.”

“You will not be leaving us. We’ll see you very soon. Now, go.”

Josiah hugged Nicolus and Cosmos and jumped out of the sleigh. “Promise you will come back for me.”

“I’ll be back in the wink of an eye.”

The sleigh vanished into the night, and Josiah rushed inside. He stopped, his heart pounding—his father was home.

“Father.” He ran to his father’s outstretched arms, tears streaming. “How?”

“I never believed the myths, but an army of elves and fairies stormed the bastion where they held us. They eliminated Igron’s followers and saved us. I returned to an amazing story of my older son’s bravery and a happy and well-fed family.”

Mala hugged him. “Let me get you food, and you can tell us all about your adventure.”

“I’m starved.”

~~~

The next morning, Josiah and his brother played ball outside while their sister played with her doll. Josiah was about to toss the ball when a snort sounded above him. He looked up to see Pendod gliding to a landing beside the house. Dressed in his royal blue robes, Nicolus slid off the dragon.

Josiah yelled for his parents, who rushed outside, and ran to Nicolus. “You came back.”

“As I promised.” He spoke to Eron. “I am glad to see you are safe.”

“I’m sure I have you to thank for my rescue.”

“Thank the good elves and fairies. They are the brave ones. Let’s go inside. I have a proposition.”

Once settled inside, Nicolus puffed on his pipe, blowing smoke rings to the delight of the children. As they watched the smoke wafting through the air, he spoke to Josiah’s parents.

“Mala and Eron, would you consider becoming the caretakers of my compound at the North Pole? I have other responsibilities to keep me occupied during the year, and I need someone I can trust to oversee the elves and the reindeer. You may travel back and forth to visit your family as you choose.”

Josiah grabbed his father’s arm. “Please, father, it’s beautiful there.”

His parents shared glances, and Mala nodded and answered. “We would be honored to serve your quest to bring joy to all.”

“Good, then it’s settled.” He rose. “Pack your things, and we’ll travel to the North Pole tomorrow.”

The family followed Nicolus outside. Mala hugged him. “You saved Eron and have offered us a good life. We’re in your debt.”

“The honor is mine.” Nicolus knelt beside Josiah. “Cosmos will join us as his parents manage the reindeer herd.”

Josiah beamed.

“Perhaps someday you’ll take over and deliver the toys. I almost forgot. I have another present for you.” From under his cloak, he pulled out a pair of silver skates. “I believe you know what to do with these.”

As Nicolus flew away on Pendod, Josiah raced for the pond, silver skates flung over his shoulder. 

***

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

Paula Shablo: Swish

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

Swish

Paula Shablo

The lake had frozen over last month, and Jules was happy to see it—now he could cross instead of taking a two-day trek around it.

Walking was a drag, but it had been over a year since the truck had been usable. No one was making fuel anymore—that industry had died when the world ended. No one knew how to do it, and even if they could, there was no way to power up the refineries. Solar and wind power only went so far.

Dad had laughed at the irony: you need oil to get oil, and oil to use oil.

It didn’t matter. In the summer, Jules could row the boat across, and in the winter, he could skate. But during those blustery days of autumn and the rainy days of spring, the boat was dangerous, and skating wasn’t an option.

That was when Jules would have to pack up his tent and start walking, backpack on his back.

He didn’t like it, not because he minded the walk, but because he didn’t like leaving his parents alone for so long.

The world was all wrong now.

This side of the lake, many houses were now unoccupied, the residents having decided to move on for one reason or another. Jules couldn’t imagine leaving his home in the little village. He’d been born there and fully expected to die there someday.

Possibly today, if things went wrong on his trip to the city.

He strapped a shoulder holster across his chest. He made sure no bullet was in the chamber and double-checked the safety before settling his pistol into its nest and snapping it securely. He put a flannel shirt on over his thermal undergarment, added a down vest, and then donned his parka.

It seemed stupid, on the whole. He’d have to undress to get to the gun if he needed it before he got across the lake. But his father insisted he be armed with something besides the crossbow.

“This bow will be plenty, Dad,” he’d said. But arguing with Nathan Graham about anything was a fool’s errand, and Jules knew there was no time to waste. He packed ammunition in the backpack and adjusted his quiver to fit in the most efficient manner. The crossbow was locked and loaded, but sometimes more than one arrow was needed for the job.

Jules had several reasons for preferring the crossbow, but the main reason was the fact that it was quiet. He didn’t care to draw attention to himself.

Vivian Graham gave him her list—medications were the most important items, of course, but any sort of canned food he could bring back would be more than welcome.

Jules planned to visit the pharmacy first and anything extra would be catch as catch can. They weren’t starving, as many people in this new world were. The village people had always maintained their own gardens and were seasoned hunters. A surplus was always nice, but he had necessities on his mind today.

Missy was diabetic. Insulin was the first item on the list. There were folks needing rescue inhalers for asthma and COPD. Vivian needed her blood pressure medication and Nathan had gout.

The doctor who had taken care of them all for years had died recently, but Vivian had been his nurse, and her list was meticulously drawn from their records. “I just hope you can find everything,” she told Jules as he carefully folded the paper and slipped it into his inside pocket. “I’m very worried about the insulin…”

Jules was worried, too. Insulin didn’t have an indefinite shelf life and needed to be stored cold. He didn’t know what the power situation was over there.

Missy was the love of his life. He didn’t want to fail her.

She joined him at the lake’s edge as he sat on the park bench lacing his skates. “You don’t have to do this,” she told him. “God knows what’s going on over there.” She looked across the lake, industrial buildings dominant on the shoreline within their sight.

“I do have to do this,” Jules replied. He leaned toward her and captured her lips with his own for a lingering kiss. “I’ll be careful. I promise.”

“Oh, Jules!” Missy threw her arms around him and held him tight. “You come home to me, do you hear?”

“I hear very well.”

Missy pulled the hood of his parka up over his ears and tied the laces. “Can you hear me now?”

“What? What?”

They shared a laugh and a last sweet kiss.

Jules made use of his speed-skating skills and headed for the city. He hurried away, not wanting to hear the sobs of his love as he started his trek.

When one went to the city, it was never a certainty that one would be returning.

The world had gone wrong…

His skates made an ominous sound as he skated away.

Swish.

Swish.

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

Kenneth Lawson: The Photos

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

The Photos

Kenneth Lawson

Lance Cardiff tossed a picture onto the table in front of me. It was of me skating. He then added several more photos of me, one of a woman skating by herself, followed by a dozen more of us skating together or sitting at a park bench adjusting our skates.

I glanced at them and back to him. “So?”

“Mr. Tate, you met with Veronica Smith, and she passed you information.”

“I used to skate a lot back then. I was young, and it was fun. As for her, what’s her name? I sat at a lot of benches and fixed my skates a lot. I would expect that I sat next to a lot of people over the years.” 

I had spent time in New York City right after I got back from Vietnam back in nineteen sixty-eight. Back then, I skated a lot. I’d met Veronica in Nam, and she’d been transferred to the states with her boss not long after I got here. She had contacted me and arranged the meeting.

I had retired from the spook business decades ago. But then, one never completely retires from anything—especially from the company as the CIA was known. I did remember the meeting, but I wasn’t going to give them the satisfaction of admitting it. Besides, it was all water under the bridge, and nothing could be gained from digging it up now.

“You must have been bored or had a lot of extra manpower to follow me around,” I noted as I glanced through the pictures again. The photos were from the same spot, the bench, but she faced a different direction than me. I knew a data sheet accompanied the photos and logged every frame, time, and location. 

“Ok, I’m tired and bored. I’m leaving.” I shifted around in my chair to stand up.

“Whoa, you can’t just leave like that. We have questions for you.” Cardiff’s face flushed pink.

By now, I was standing and getting my jacket.

“Look, you’re not charging me with anything. I’m not going to sit here and try to remember something that happened thirty or forty years ago to appease a bunch of kids who weren’t even born when someone took these pictures. I have important things to do. Like watching reruns of Hawaii Five-O.” 

The door slammed behind me as I left.

Outside I hailed a cab and watched my back as it took me to the address I’d given it.

I’d done it. I buffaloed them and got out of there without admitting anything, but it wouldn’t last. I remembered the meeting with Veronica and the information she’d passed me in the glove she laid between us while we fixed our skates. I still had it, and it was time to use it.

Several hours later, I was in my second safe house. Having taken great pains to make sure I wasn’t followed or bugged. I retrieved the information from the place I’d hidden it decades ago.

The small microfilm roll of pictures would cause a lot of people a lot of trouble. At the time, I had decided not to use it and allow things to progress as they were, but I knew the truth would come out eventually. I didn’t think it would take this long.

It was time.

Veronica had gotten pictures of our government’s involvement in war crimes in Vietnam. As a private secretary for several high-ranking government officials, her job gave her access to information that she’d sworn she’d never reveal. She had always kept her non-disclosure agreement, except for one set of pictures she processed and a copy of them. I had that copy. Now, thirty-two years later, they wanted it.

I wondered why they wanted to dredge this up after decades. The war was almost forgotten, and most vets were close to retirement or retired, as were the government officials involved with the war. There was no one it could hurt anymore. Veronica died a few years ago and had no family. Why not just let it stay buried along with the rest of the state’s secrets?

Someone was digging up the past for a reason.

Back at my place, I considered what to do with the microfilm. Burning it was an option, but they would never believe it was gone. 

Lance Cardiff, the spook that interviewed me, seemed sure he had me. Those pictures didn’t prove anything, and I told him as much. The surveillance didn’t surprise me. What was rattling around in the back of my mind was who were they watching, Veronica or me? At this point, it almost didn’t matter. She was gone. I wasn’t far from it. But why the interest in a forgotten war or incident buried decades ago?

Pulling out my old microfilm reader, I examined the pictures one more time.

Time had changed nothing. 

The images remained as horrifying as they had been at the time. The black and white pictures clearly showed the terror and desperation of the civilians slaughtered in the small village. I didn’t recognize the village. I’d been in Vietnam in ’68 but never left the bases. My assignment to find a mole within base command was over quickly. I discovered the mole and handed him over to the military. I never knew what happened after that and didn’t want to know. This was different. Veronica had copied a report on a village that a squad of rogue soldiers had destroyed. No one talked about it or the soldiers in question.

It went away except for the pictures copied on microfilm she’d smuggled to me.

I never knew what to do with them. So, I hid the microfilm and tried to forget the entire incident. 

But now, someone knew about the pictures and what they revealed and wanted them. The question was, what do they show? It was time to find out. I scanned the roll of film into the computer and enlarged the images. 

The pictures were grainy, and blown up on a large monitor didn’t help, but with the software I used, I was able to sharpen and clarify them.

Then I understood.

One of the soldiers shown firing his M16 into the crowd of children was a face I knew. 

I’d known him for decades. Charles Winston McGraw’s service record was exemplary, not a blemish on it. He’d served with distinction in a dozen campaigns during his career, and I was involved in many of them. He retired as a three-star general and still held sway over significant policymakers, and his next challenge was to run as a governor of his home state. A position he had a good chance of winning, given his background and current standing with the public. An excellent chance unless the public learned of his involvement in a rogue operation that killed innocent civilians. It would destroy his reputation and political career before it began. 

The disgrace would follow him to his grave. How he knew about the pictures or Veronica, I didn’t know. 

I saved the files to a thumb drive and put the original film back in the safe. I nursed a large tumbler of rye whisky as I considered what to do with the pictures. Going directly to him and asking if he was behind the Fed goons that interrogated me was out of the question. As much as I wanted to hear his side, experience had taught me never to let your opponent know how much you know. 

I decided the best approach was to tell him I heard he was running for governor, and offer my help, perhaps for security issues. I called, and he agreed to meet me the following day.

I didn’t sleep at all that night. The images of the atrocities in the village kept coming back into my mind. What could the general say that would explain them and his actions? I knew I couldn’t ask him directly without revealing that I had seen the pictures. I wasn’t sure how to angle to it without tipping him off.

***

I remained unsure how to approach the subject with him as I pulled into the restaurant where we chose to meet. I decided to do what I always did, not say much, and let the other person talk.

At almost sixty years old, Ret. General Charles McGraw still looked the part. He’d been retired now for several years, and despite being a civilian from what I heard, he preferred to be called general. Because of that, I knew I could get him to relive his not-so-glory days at some point. I only needed to prod him.

Pushing the thought aside, I greeted him with the usual comments and small talk. Over the next hour, I led the conversation from his early career and his time in Vietnam and how he’d risen through the ranks, eventually coming out as a captain. He regaled me with stories of his days “in country,” as they called it back then.

At one point, I asked him about rumors of rogue operations that had killed innocent civilians. He looked at me and, for a second, turned white, but as a good liar and leader, he quickly regained his composure.

“Yes, there had been operations that had gone wrong, but they were all documented and personal responsibility dealt with.”

I let it slide and moved on to his later career and aspirations for being the governor. 

In the middle of a question about his ideas for governor, I asked if he had nightmares about his time in Vietnam. He stopped mid-sentence and gave me a funny look.

“Nightmares? That was thirty years ago. Why should I still think about that?” He sipped his coffee and shifted in his seat.

“I just wondered, is all. I know some people have nightmares until their dying day.” I watched his face, trying to read him.

 “Yeah, I did some pretty bad stuff in the name of war and saw even worse, but I locked all that away a long time ago.”

“Hmmm.” I thought for a minute.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he snapped.

“I know I still have nightmares from what I’ve seen…” I let that thought trail off.

Which, strictly speaking, wasn’t true. I had had some bad dreams from some of the operations I’d been on over the years, but nothing approaching what I hinted at him having.

He sat up straight, holding his coffee mug in his hands. Steam rising from the mug clouded his eyes for a second, but he didn’t comment. I continued.

“Just curious is all. Being governor is a lot of stress, and I wouldn’t want past stresses to come back and haunt you.” I watched his eyes widen and decided to switch gears quickly to rattle him. “Hey, you remember the old gang. Whatever happened to them?” Changing the subject quickly.

“Huh? What are you talking about, Tate?”

“You know the ops crew—Leon, Brent, and Veronica?”

Technically she wasn’t part of it, just a glorified secretary, but I knew better, and so did he.

“Hell, I don’t know or care.”

I let it slide. Leon was alive and working in corporate security. As for Brent, he was killed in a firefight during a mission for the company a few years ago. I knew what the official report said and what happened.

The general was cool. He never blinked when I mentioned Veronica or rogue missions or Vietnam. So, I tried a new tact.

“Have you heard about section 21? They’re going through all the old files, checking for mislabeled files or what they can declassify. I heard they were working on your old section from back in the day.”

“So?” McGraw grunted.

“Just wondering what they may find, is all. I know my section’s pretty clean…”

“I cleaned up my messes.”

“I’m sure you did. Funny, a company man, you might know him. Lance summoned me to meet with him the other day. He asked me about some files they found.”

“What files?”

“Not sure. They didn’t say. You know how spooks are. They assume you know what they’re talking about, so they give no details. Something about a missing village. They seemed to think pictures were floating around of a massacre, but they never really said as much. Just hinted like I was supposed to know, which I don’t.”

“You were there too.”

“Yeah, but never off the base where I was assigned.” I was there towards the end in ’sixty-eight, and McGraw had acquired lieutenant’s bars by then and was already angling for captain’s bars. I was familiar with McGraw’s record, having read it earlier in the morning before the meeting.

“What’s this about? Don’t bullshit me, Tate. What’s going on?” He’d lost his patience with me.

“All right, here’s the deal. When Lance Cardiff hauled me in the other day, he showed me some pictures—boring pictures of people skating.

“Yeah, so.”

“I did some checking. He works for you, not directly, but for people you know very well. My question is this, General McGraw. Why are you interested in people skating thirty years ago?”

I leaned back and waited. McGraw rolled his coffee mug on the table as his eyes shifted around the room. He lowered his voice and leaned forward. I leaned in to meet him halfway across the table. 

“Look, Bobby, I’ve known you for years. Decades even. We’ve always been straight with each other.”

The truth was I hadn’t seen him in years and hadn’t missed him. I said nothing. 

“They say there was a village where a lot of people died, and there are pictures.” I put words in Lance’s mouth.

“Yeah, there probably is. So what? It’s too late to fix it now.”

“What if someone in the pictures later becomes a public figure…” I let it trail off as well, then took a breath. “Phi Dinh Loc sound familiar? Of course not. It’s not here anymore.”

He turned white.

“There’s a picture of you, a young lieutenant, shooting into a crowd of children.” 

“There can’t be.” He gulped for air. “I wasn’t there.”

“You were, and you know somehow that Veronica smuggled a copy to me. How did you know about her?”

For once in his life, I suspected, Ret. General McGraw was at a loss for words. He stared at the tabletop then raised his eyes.

“Bobby, you have to understand.”

“I don’t care. I wasn’t involved. If it weren’t for the pictures…”

“The pictures, can I have them?”

“What do you think, McGraw? No. They’re safe unless you don’t call off Lance and his spook brigade.”

He nodded. “Done.”

“And today, within the next hour, you’ll announce your withdrawal from the governor’s race and public life. If I ever see or hear from you again, those pictures go straight to the press.”

I stood and walked away but decided I needed to give him one more piece of advice. Turning around, I walked back to the table. Leaning down, I glared at him. “One more thing. If I ever so much as feel like I’m being watched or stalked, you’ll be dead in twenty-four hours.”

I left Retired General Charles McGraw sitting alone at the table. His face drained of color.

Never mess with a retired company man.

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

WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND TIDBITS!: WAVE versus WAIVE

Writers Unite!’s mission is to offer a haven for writers to share their work and hone their craft. As the writing process is our focus, author, and WU! admin, Lynn Miclea has created a series of “tips, tools, and tidbits” about writing for our members or anyone interested in writing to help improve their writing. Check the menu bar for any tips you may have missed or click on this link.

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!

Images are free use and require no attribution. Image from Pixabay.

WAVE versus WAIVE

People often mix up the words wave and waive. Although they sound the same, these words have different meanings and are used differently. This should help to use them correctly.

Wave is usually a verb that means to move back and forth, such as waving your hands or waving a flag, or to dismiss something. It can also be a noun meaning a small ridge of moving water, a pattern of sound or light, or a slight curl in the hair. For the most part, if you mean to move something back and forth, use wave

Examples:

  • She lifted her hand and waved hello.
  • He didn’t hear her, but he saw her wave her hand.
  • The flag waved in the breeze.
  • She waved to him from across the room.
  • He waved aside the question and continued speaking.
  • She stood outside and waved at the cars that passed.
  • He waved his hat in the air in celebration.
  • She waved a handkerchief above her head to ask for help.
  • He loved to surf and looked for a good wave to use.
  • Her hair hung to her shoulders in soft waves.

Waive is a verb that means to let go of something, relinquish, forfeit, or give up a right to something, or to not enforce something. It is a transitive verb and always takes an object — you waive something. If you mean to relinquish or let go of something, use waive.

Examples:

  • He agreed to waive his rights to have an attorney present.
  • She felt sorry for him and waived the entrance fee so he could get in.
  • He waived his right to sue when he signed the form.
  • She was relieved when they waived the penalty fee.
  • They refused to waive the entrance fee and I had to pay.
  • He signed the agreement and waived his right for an appeal.
  • She waived her rights to inherit the house and stepped aside.
  • The doctor waived his fee and treated the patient.
  • He was glad they waived the late fee on his bill.
  • She was advised not to waive her rights, but she signed anyway.

Hint: Waive has an “I” in it, as in I waive my rights.

Basically, wave has multiple meanings such as to move back and forth, while waive has only one meaning.

If you mean to give up a right or not enforce a rule, use waive. For all other meanings, use wave.

Please look at the chart for an easy summary and helpful reminder.

—————-

I hope you find this helpful. These tips and more grammar tips and tools are also on my website and blog, and also in my Grammar Tips book.

Thank you!

Website – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
Blog – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Grammar Tips Book – https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09N2BQMCG/

Lisa Criss Griffin: Christmas Cookies

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

Christmas Cookies

Lisa Criss Griffin

The bleakness of the dark winter afternoon was an accurate reflection of Anthony Bailey’s innermost thoughts and feelings about the impending holiday season. It would be another lonely night before Christmas at his home, in front of the fireplace. At some point, Casey the Cat might offer to take up his usual residence on Tony’s lap as the minutes slowly ticked away this Christmas Eve. 

The tall, athletic man unconsciously clasped his leather-gloved hands behind his back as he slowly carved an elongated figure eight on the hard ice of the deserted city lake. Tony’s childhood memories of learning to ice skate on the large pond in his neighborhood bubbled up through his melancholy. The tightness in his jaw relaxed as he allowed the memories to flood his mind.

Tony and his little brother Garrett both received a pair of double-bladed ice skates one Christmas, and spent most of that winter on the ice. Eventually, they learned how to navigate the uneven surface wrought with bumps from trapped air bubbles, moss and submerged sticks. Sometimes they brought their sled and took turns sliding down the hill headfirst onto the lake. The sled skittered across the ice as each brother steered away from the other kids, upended skate blades glinting in the sunlight like the tail of a miniature aircraft.

After a few hours, the two of them would go home just long enough to warm up, drink hot cocoa and maybe eat a sandwich. Then they were gone again until the streetlights lit up, or the temperature dropped, whichever came first. In many ways, it had been a magical childhood. 

Then, they had grown up and their family inexplicably scattered to different parts of the country. Tony couldn’t remember the last time he had spent Christmas with any of them. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to…they all just lived so far apart. His mother and brother lived thousands of miles away. At least his father’s home was only a sixteen-hour drive.

The bright memories sank below a burgeoning wave of sadness as he made his way off the ice to a small bench to remove his skates. The wind was picking up. Tony quickly slipped his feet into his fleece-lined boots and hung his lace-tethered skates over his shoulder after he stood.

He sighed. The last time he had been able to fly out to visit his elderly mother was several years ago. He had stayed with his brother, who lived nearby. Garrett had always enjoyed a much better relationship with their mother and was a truly kind, considerate soul.

It had been a nice visit, and his mother shared many things about her side of the family he had never known. Tony’s last visual memory of his mother was of her turning away as he was leaving. It seemed so…final. The next year, the pandemic hit. Tony was still trying to come to terms with the very real possibility he would never get to see her alive again.

A heavy snow began to fall. Large, fat flakes quickly dotted his exposed face and began to clump on his eyebrows and eyelashes as he trudged down the sidewalk toward his apartment. He shivered as a harsh blast of wind bit through his jacket, causing him to look for a place to get out of the cold. Most of the stores had already closed. Tony found himself in front of a small stone church with a bright red front door. Decorative pine greenery and golden light beaming from the windows beckoned him up the steps and into the warmth of the entryway.

He closed the heavy wooden door behind him carefully, relieved to be out of the harsh weather. A children’s choir was rehearsing at the front of the sanctuary. The pungent scent of fresh pine branches mingled with a hint of melting beeswax and incense. Tony slipped into a wooden pew at the back of the church, silently placing his skates on the tile floor. He shrugged out of his coat and draped it across the back of the pew. 

Although a few lights were on, large candles lit the sills of the stained glass windows. Their warm, flickering flames cast jewel-like colors on the surrounding stone. The lilting melody of the children’s voices was calming, and Tony found himself enjoying an unexpected moment of serenity. He had always loved the Christmas Eve service at his childhood church. It felt like he had somehow stepped back into a simpler, more loving and familiar time. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, soaking in the smells reminiscent of all the childhood Christmases he had enjoyed with his family.

“Excuse me….”

Tony’s eyes popped open. A petite, elderly woman was sitting next to him on the pew, a covered basket on her lap. She was stylishly dressed in red, a sprig of green holly pinned to her lapel. Her blue eyes sparkled behind an ornate silver pair of horn-rimmed glasses. She smiled kindly as her white-gloved hand patted his arm reassuringly.

“I didn’t mean to startle you, honey. I am giving out my Christmas cookies and wondered if you would like one?”

“Well…ummm.”

The little old lady pulled the cover from the basket, revealing several different kinds of cookies to choose from.

“I always make several kinds of Christmas cookies. Of course, there are the holiday shaped, decorated sugar cookies, the little danish cookies, and my favorite…the filled cookies. Would you like one?”

Tony leaned over, perusing the cookies. He, Garrett, and his mother used to make cookies and fruitcake every Christmas. His favorite Christmas cookie was an old family recipe for a raisin-filled cookie. He had coveted those filled cookies every year. His mother knew how much he loved them and always put a tin of them aside for him to enjoy through the holiday. It was an act of love he would always treasure.

“Are those raisin-filled cookies?”

“Why yes. Yes, they are! The recipe has been handed down through my family for generations. I have always loved them. Would you like one?”

The petite elder in red slid the basket toward him, delighted he knew about raisin-filled cookies. They were all shaped like fat Christmas trees, with full bellies. Tony picked one up carefully, memories of good times rolling through him.

“Go ahead. Take a bite. I made them with love. Tell me what you think!”

The cookie crunched, then the filling melted sweetly across Tony’s tongue. It was exactly like his mother’s recipe. How long had it been since he had enjoyed a filled Christmas cookie? Decades? His eyes closed as he savored the flavors of his Christmas past.

“Mmmmm. This is wonderful! Thank you.”

Tony opened his eyes and turned toward his benefactress with a satisfied smile. He sat up straight in confusion. She was gone. The basket of cookies was also gone. He looked around the sanctuary for her, but nothing had changed in the church other than her absence. He ran his hand through his dark hair in consternation. What the heck was going on? He could still taste that wonderful cookie. Was he losing his mind? The enforced solitude of the pandemic had taken a toll on everyone. This strange cookie experience worried him.

The old wooden pew creaked in protest as he arose. Tony slipped on his jacket and picked up his skates. He grasped the pew in front of him and felt the unwanted sting of tears as he silently prayed for blessings on each one of his family members during this Christmas holiday. 

Anthony Bailey whirled, strode out of the comforting warmth of the small stone church and disappeared into the swirling white mass of snowflakes falling from the blackened sky.

It was almost midnight before Casey the Cat decided to join his human on the couch. A nice fire was burning in the gas fireplace. In the corner, a small, solitary Christmas tree stood as a reminder that it was the holiday season. Colored lights from the little tree and the firelight were the only source of illumination in the room. 

The phone jangled, scaring Casey the Cat off of the couch. Tony reached for his phone. It was past midnight. Nothing good could come of a call in the middle of the night. It was Garrett’s phone number. It took every bit of emotional stamina Tony still retained to answer the call. He already dreaded what he was about to hear his brother say. He didn’t know if he could handle it.

“Hello…”

“Hey, Tony. This is Garrett. I don’t know how to say this….”

Garrett stifled a sob.

“Is it…Mom?”

“Yes. Earlier this evening….she never woke up from her nap….”

Tony gasped, tears rolling down his face. It was the call he had been dreading for years. She was gone. He would never get to see his mother again in this lifetime. Ever. It was over. He had never felt so agonized as he did in this moment. Something precious had been ripped out of his heart…forever gone. He was starting to hyperventilate.

“Hey, Garrett. Thanks…for letting me know…I…can’t…talk now. Tomorrow? Okay…bye….”

Tony hung up and sobbed brokenly. He cried until he could no longer cry. He found a blanket and curled up on the couch, exhausted. Casey the Cat joined him, attempting to comfort his human in his own unique, feline way. Dawn found the two of them snuggled on the couch, one asleep, one awake.

The one who was awake watched silently as an ethereal young mother slid a cookie tin under the small Christmas tree in the corner. She put her finger up to her lips as she looked over at the cat snuggled with her sleeping son. She blew them a kiss as she vanished into the paradise that had been calling to her for a long time.

“I’ll always love you, son…I’ll see you again…my little one….”

Anthony Bailey rolled over, dislodging Casey the Cat. The thud on the floor woke him up. He sat up, his throbbing head cradled in his hands. He stared blankly at the fire for a while, then at the little tree in the corner. It took several minutes for him to notice the tin under the tree. 

Tony stood, the blanket still clutched in one hand as he walked toward the small Christmas tree in disbelief. What the heck was going on? That looked like one of his mother’s cookie tins from long ago. It looked like the one she always used to put his filled cookies in, for safekeeping over the holidays. 

He sat down and picked up the tin. It was heavy. It felt like it was full of his filled cookies. 

“Mom?” 

Tony choked back a sob and carefully lifted the lid off of the tin. It was full of fat Christmas tree cookies, with full bellies…and a note. The words blurred as Tony tried to read his mother’s handwriting.

“Merry Christmas, Tony.

I’ll always love you, son.

I’ll see you again…my little one.”

***

Copyright ©️ 2021 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

Please visit Lisa on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorlisacrissgriffin

Lynn Miclea: A Haunting Dream

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! 

Images used are free use and require no attribution. Image by ajoheyho from Pixabay.

A Haunting Dream

Lynn Miclea

Gasping, Amy sat up in bed and shook her head. Another dream of the man ice skating on a lake. Why did she keep having the same dream? Who was that guy? What did it mean? It was unnerving, and a feeling of unease permeated the dream.

She shook her head again, and the dream quickly faded from her mind. There was a lot to do today, and she needed to get up. Tomorrow she would be driving up to visit her mom for the holidays, and she still needed to wrap the gifts and bake the cookies. A deep sadness moved through her as she wished her dad were still there. It had been three years since he died, and it didn’t seem to get much easier.

Trying to shift the energy, she sang as she wrapped and labeled the gifts in the morning, happy with all her purchases. Her mom would love them. After lunch, she baked and decorated the cookies, sampling a few of them. Then she placed them on a festive plate and wrapped it in red cellophane.

In the evening, she finally plopped down on the couch, exhausted. The day had sped by, and even though she felt tired, she was excited about the next day. Smiling with anticipation, she got into bed that night, picturing the decorated tree her mom would have in her living room.

She wished she had a boyfriend to bring with her, but now almost thirty years old, she didn’t have much time for dating anymore. Her job kept her too busy, although in her quiet moments, she felt deeply lonely and wished she had someone by her side. Trying to focus on the excitement of the next day, and pushing down all her mixed emotions, it took a while to fall asleep.

Dim light filtered through the curtains the next morning, and she glanced at the clock. Only 6:30. Should she go back to sleep? Her eyes suddenly flew open wide. That same dream again. The man ice skating on a frozen lake. She could still see it clearly in her mind. A sense of danger permeated the dream, but she couldn’t quite grasp what it was about. Then the dream faded.

***

She parked in front of her mom’s house just past noon. This would be a great day — she wished with all her heart that her dad were still with them, but she loved spending the holidays with her mom. Spending time with family, especially when the loss of someone was still so recent, was important. Grabbing the bag of gifts and the plate of cookies, she eagerly walked up to the front door and rang the bell.

It opened almost immediately, and her mom’s face lit up. “Let me help you,” she said, smiling and reaching for the bags. After a warm hug, they placed the gifts under the tree. “Oh, you didn’t have to get me so many gifts,” she murmured, a huge smile on her face.

“Of course I had to,” Amy answered. “You always get me so many. Besides, you’re going to love them!”

“Come in the kitchen — lunch is ready. I hope you’re hungry.”

Amy laughed. “I’m always hungry, especially when you’re cooking.” She sat at the kitchen table and chatted about her job and the latest movie she had seen. Warmth and lively conversation flowed back and forth as they ate.

“So,” her mother said as they were finishing the meal, “I thought it would be nice to walk around the lake this afternoon. It’s such a nice day.”

Amy’s smile quickly faded and a shiver of fear ran up her spine as the dream came back to her. The man skating on the ice. Was the dream some kind of premonition? And if so, was it good or bad? Something felt eerie and spooky, but she wasn’t sure what it was.

Her mother looked at her. “Are you okay?” Concern was etched on her face.

“Yes.” Amy’s voice came out weak and hoarse. “I’ve just had a recurring dream.”

“About what?”

“A man skating on the ice. It just spooked me, that’s all.”

Her mother stood up and started clearing the dishes. “Well, that’s just a dream. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. And anyway, it’s really clear and sunny today. It would be a good day to go there. You always loved walking around the lake.”

“I know.” A wave of uneasiness flowed through her, but she finally relented. “Okay, let’s go.”

“And maybe we can even bring your ice skates in case you want to go skating. You used to love that.”

Amy smiled as childhood memories of skating on the ice came back to her, and her apprehension dissipated. “Actually, that sounds really good.”

Thirty minutes later, they walked on the path that surrounded the lake, and they squinted in the bright sunlight. They smiled at a few other people who were strolling along the path, and then the two of them sat on a bench overlooking the frozen lake.

“Why don’t you go skating?” Her mother gestured to the lake. “It would be good for you to have some fun. I have your ice skates right here.” She patted the box next to her on the bench.

Amy looked out over the ice. The scene looked beautiful and peaceful. There was no sign of any danger, and she relaxed and smiled. “That sounds like a good idea.” She put her skates on and stood up, grateful that they still fit well. “Well, I’ll go see how it is.”

“Have fun, dear. I’ll be here watching.”

Tentatively, Amy stepped onto the ice and pushed off. Skating immediately felt familiar and comfortable, and the childhood joy of skating returned. She picked up speed, enjoying the feeling of flying over the ice.

Then she saw the man. He was about thirty feet away, calmly skating. A rush of anxiety flooded through her. A strong sense of fear and danger. But what was the danger? She didn’t see anything. Maybe the ice was thin where he was and she was supposed to warn him. Maybe the dream was for her to help him.

She skated toward him to warn him. “Hey!” she shouted as she got closer. She waved one arm.

He turned to her, and she tried to explain as she skated up to him. “I think there’s danger here. There might be—”

Her skate caught in a small crack in the ice, and it threw her forward, into the man. He caught her, and they both swayed sideways as something whizzed past.

Amy gasped. “What was that?” Eyes wide, she scanned the area.

The man grabbed her and pulled her close to him, quickly skating to the far side as he tightly clung to her.

“Hey! What are you doing? Let go of me!” She struggled to break free.

“Too late, girlie. Now you’re my ticket out of here.” His haggard and unshaven face looked mean as his eyes scoured the area. “That was a bullet that flew by, and it was meant for me.”

“That was a what?” Terror and shock moved through her.

“It might have hit me if you hadn’t run into me and pushed me to the side. So, thank you. And now,” he said, his voice low and his breath foul, “you’re my safe passage. They won’t shoot while you’re here with me.”

“But—”

“Doesn’t matter now. You came just in time, and you’re gonna help me get out of here.”

“No!” She squirmed and tried to struggle free, but his grip was too strong.

“Stop squirming or you’ll get us both killed.”

“NO!” Amy stuck her skate out in front of him, and as his foot came forward, it ran into hers. He briefly lost his balance and stumbled, but then quickly became stable again. She struggled harder, but he firmly held on to her.

She waited a few seconds and then put her foot in front of him again while ramming her elbow into his gut at the same time. This time he lost his balance and his grip on her loosened. She kicked at him with her skate and spun out of his grip.

As she skated away, she heard a round of pops as a spray of bullets hit the man. She turned back to look at him and saw him fall, a gun in his hand, and a pool of red spreading beneath him on the ice.

Six uniformed police officers ran out onto the ice, weapons drawn, approaching the man lying unmoving on the cold surface. Amy stood there, frozen, watching.

One of the officers approached her. “Are you okay?”

She nodded. “Yes.”

“Do you know him?”

“No, I …” How could she tell them she had seen him in a dream?

“Why did you approach him?”

She thought for a moment. “I thought he looked familiar. But I was wrong. And then he grabbed me.”

The officer nodded, seeming satisfied. “Please stay here for a few minutes. We may have some more questions.”

Amy nodded. She shuddered as she realized the danger from her recurring dream was real. She turned toward the opposite side of the lake where her mom was watching from the bench. Even from a distance, she knew her mom was worried about her. She waved at her and her mom waved back.

She turned back toward the officers and the man lying on the ice. One of the officers called Dispatch for medical assistance, while another approached her to ask more questions. She shivered as she realized how close she had come to something going seriously wrong.

The young officer smiled at her. “So you did not know him?”

“No, I’ve never seen him before. I thought he might be someone I knew, but he wasn’t.”

“You are lucky you got away. This guy was dangerous.” His blue eyes were serious and intense.

She hesitated and then spoke softly. “That first bullet could have hit me.”

“That first bullet was not from us. It was from his partner who turned on him.”

“What?” Her eyes looked around for a threat.

“That partner is now in custody. And this guy pulled out a gun when you broke away.”

“Oh no!”

“Please give me your name and phone number in case we have more questions.”

“Yes, of course.” She gave him the information, and he scribbled down what she told him.

He handed her a card. “If you think of anything else, please call me.” His blue eyes now held warmth and kindness.

“Okay, I will, thank you,” she said, taking the card, thinking he was a really attractive cop.

***

That evening, she sat in her mom’s living room as they gazed at the festive tree. Her mom turned to her. “Was that the dream you had? With the man on the ice?”

Amy nodded. “Yes. The same man skating on the frozen lake. And I knew there was danger, but I didn’t know what. And I guess I misunderstood it.”

“It seems like your dream was a real premonition.” She shook her head. “You could have been killed out there.”

“I know. I had no idea. I need to pay better attention to my dreams from now on.”

“Well, I’m glad you were not hurt and it ended well.” She shook her head. “Were the cops nice?”

Amy smiled. “Yes, they were. Especially the last one. And he had beautiful, intense blue eyes.”

Her mom laughed. “Well, you said you’re lonely and want to find someone.” She chuckled. “Come on, let’s open the gifts.”

As they opened the brightly wrapped presents, Amy felt a rush of love and gratitude for being there with her mom. Especially with her dad now gone and the danger she had just faced, she treasured the time she had with her mom even more. And she vowed to listen to her dreams more closely.

And maybe she would call that nice officer with the blue eyes. She still had the card he gave her, and she was sure she could think of something more to tell him.

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Copyright © 2021 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

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