Lisa Criss Griffin: The Old Flame

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

The Old Flame

Lisa Criss Griffin

She blazed back into Jackson’s life like a magnificent sunrise, full of life, exuberance and laughter. Her parents had named her aptly. Gloria. Gloria King. He was pleasantly surprised she remembered him. His former classmates gazed at his name tag, sincerely trying to put his name with his face. Most of them attempted to make polite conversation before moving on. The most awkward moment of his high school reunion so far, had been when Greg Jones looked at his name tag and sputtered his surprise indelicately. 

“Jackson Meade. Jack…son Meeeede. What the…? I thought you were dead, man!”

Greg peered up at him over his bifocals and squinted, seemingly unconvinced. He sipped on his drink before clapping Jackson’s arm, congratulating him on being alive. Before Jackson could respond, Greg walked away, a slight stagger in his step. Jackson sought refuge at a table with his back to the wall after that experience. He held no grudge. After all, it had been forty years since he had seen any of these people. 

Jackson had moved back to town temporarily to care for his elderly father. His wife of nearly thirty-five years passed away three years ago, and their two children inevitably moved away as lucrative employment opportunities presented themselves. To cope with his inconsolable grief over Lila’s death, Jackson devoted himself to his career and a rigorous schedule of daily physical workouts at home. Financially, it had been great for him. Socially, it was a disaster. Eventually, people stopped calling or dropping by. He told himself he didn’t mind. But he did. Jackson was lonely, and it was his own fault.

So here he was, at his fortieth high school reunion, trying to make a connection with someone, anyone, out of his past. His father had encouraged him to come, realizing Jackson needed a life beyond the walls of their family home. He knew he wasn’t trying very hard, but the truth was he barely knew the people he had met so far. The crowd he was part of in high school had either not arrived yet, or heck…maybe they were all dead. He had no way of knowing. 

An unexpected slap on the tabletop jolted Jackson out of his reverie.

“Jackson! Jackson Meade! How are ya, man? It’s me! Mike Mendenhall. Awww…surely you remember me. The madcap M&M brothers? We should have been in way more trouble over the years for the stunts we pulled!”

“Hot damn, Mike! It is great to see you! It has been too long…way too long! Here, pull up a seat before I convince myself I’m attending the wrong reunion. Seriously, I barely remember any of these people. Have you seen any of the old gang here?”

“No, not yet, other than you. Carl, Dan and Rob died, all in various accidents years ago. Others, like yourself, moved away. I run into Gary Holt and Junior Nance sometimes. Beth Graves-Grant is a lawyer here in town. Gloria King owns and operates a popular beauty salon by the park downtown. She usually trims up what is left of my hair when it gets too shaggy. Since my wife Ellen died, I don’t go as much as I probably should.”

“I sure am sorry to hear that. So you actually married little Ellen King? Gloria’s younger sister? You dog, you. She was always sweet on you. I am very sorry to hear of her passing, my friend. My sweet wife Lila died three years ago. We were married almost thirty-five years. I confess, I have been absolutely lost without her.”

The two old friends locked eyes in mutual understanding, both men relieved to have reconnected with a kindred soul.

“So what brings you back to our old stomping ground, Jack?”

“My Dad needs some help. I promised him years ago I would do what I could to help him stay in his home as he got older. He was adamant about living in their home after Mom died. It has been nice being back, although you are the first person I have reconnected with since I moved here.”

Jackson felt her presence before she reached the table and joined the two friends. It was like a delicious ray of sunshine plopping into the chair next to him, casting a brilliant and delighted smile his way. His breath caught in his throat as their eyes met. He swallowed nervously, unable to believe the sudden tingle of excitement in his belly. Gloria. She was still so frickin gorgeous! Older like all of them, but time had been kind to Gloria. He nervously clenched his hands together under the table, overwhelmed by feelings he thought were long dead throbbing through his well toned body.

“Jackson? I haven’t seen you since…high school, I guess. How are you? What have you been doing? You look great, although you could use a professional haircut.”

Jackson made a valiant effort to pull himself together while Gloria laughed softly, radiating her innate zest for life into the atmosphere.

“Hi, Gloria. It certainly has been a long time. It is wonderful to see you! I recently moved back to town to help out my Dad. I was just telling Mike how nice it is to run into old friends.”

“Last I heard, you married and moved away…to Georgia?”

“Close. Lila and I lived in Tennessee for about thirty-five years. She died three years ago.”

Gloria touched his arm gently, her green eyes mirroring the sincere compassion in her heart for her old flame.

“I am so sorry, Jack. I always hoped you were happy and were doing well. Honestly, I never thought we would ever see you again. It seemed like you simply disappeared from the surface of the planet after you moved away.”

Her soft touch raced through his body like fire. What the hell was wrong with him? This felt like high school all over again. Jack was not prepared for his intense reaction to her touch, to her very presence. He hoped his enormous attraction to her was not obvious. He glanced over at Mike, silently pleading for help. All he got was a knowing grin in return. 

“Well guys, who wants a drink? I think there is punch…most likely spiked if ole Greg had anything to do with it, cola or bottled water. Any takers?”

“I’ll take a cola.”

“Water for me, thanks.”

The two men watched as Gloria made her way through the crowd towards the refreshments. Mike caught Jack’s eye.

“You know she is single, Jack.”

“Erm…no, I didn’t know. Why?”

“She married briefly, but he was highly abusive. She divorced the sob right before he was killed in a motorcycle accident. She never remarried. I can’t really blame her though. The man brutalized her unmercifully. Just between you and me, it is a miracle she is still so upbeat, but that is Gloria. She is always a ray of sunshine, although I haven’t seen her glow like this since you two were an item.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really. And you might want to put your eyeballs back into your head and pull your tongue off of the floor, my man.”

“Oh no! Was I that obvious?”

“Only to someone who has seen that reaction before. Remember high school? You two were crazy about each other. And back then, it really showed. Too bad you left town for college.”

“It wasn’t just that. Her father really didn’t like me. He pulled me aside, told me I wasn’t good enough for his daughter and to stay the hell away from her. He may have had a point. I was pretty wild back then. Funny how having to work your way through college will teach you some responsibility. I had calmed down a lot by the time I met Lila. She was so great, Mike. I miss her. And I miss having someone to share my life with. I mean, I love my Dad, but it is not the same thing.”

“You should go get that haircut, man. Then ask her out for coffee…maybe dinner, a movie.”

“I haven’t dated in thirty-eight years, Mike.”

“Well, it is high time you tried. Just get a haircut and take it from there. The worst thing that could happen would be a damn fine haircut, even if she says no. Do it, Jack! You really have nothing to lose.”

Gloria returned with their drinks and a couple of plates filled with snacks. The three old friends found themselves reminiscing and laughing about old times. Before they knew it, the organizers were herding everyone out the door. The three of them exchanged their contact information before parting ways. 

Jack walked Gloria to her car as a safety precaution, even though it was a reasonably safe part of town. Gloria found her keys and unlocked the car door before she turned to say good night. Their eyes locked, and without warning, they were both transported back into the irresistible magic of their high school days. It was all Jack could do to not lean forward and kiss her familiar, soft lips. Gloria rewarded him with one of her radiant smiles. She reached up and ran her delicate fingers through his thick, silver mane.

“You could use a trim. Come see me soon, okay?”

“I will. I promise.”

Jack stood in the parking lot, watching her drive away. He was already in way over his head. She still had the power to crush his heart if she wanted to. The possibility was terrifying, yet immensely exciting. Life coursed through his veins as he drove home. He hadn’t realized how dead the last three years of his life had been until Gloria unexpectedly walked back into his life and dazzled him tonight. Once home, he checked on his sleeping father before rolling into bed. He stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep. It was well after four in the morning before he finally drifted off into a fitful slumber, dreaming of a time long past, when he and Gloria were out of their minds in love.

The little bell on the front door tinkled a friendly greeting as Jackson stepped across the threshold and into the entryway of the salon. Gloria was busy rinsing a client’s hair, but flashed him a delighted smile. He returned the smile and found a seat. He couldn’t help but watch her as she dried and styled her client’s hair. She was certainly talented in her profession. 

Her happy customer finally left. Jackson stood in fervent anticipation of the feel of Gloria’s delicate hands caressing his head for the next thirty minutes or so. The front door unexpectedly banged open, the attached bell clanging in protest. A disheveled man barreled in, brandishing a knife.

“Give me all your cash, bitch, or I’ll slash you the hell up!!!” 

Gloria froze in place, shocked by the violent intrusion.

“I ain’t got all day, woman. Move it! Move it!”

The thug stepped toward Gloria aggressively, the wicked looking knife flashing in his hand. He knocked a delightfully feminine display of delicate jewelry and handcrafted floral cards off of the front counter for emphasis as he bore down on his victim. He never saw the airborne chair that took him down, or the muscular man that pinned him to the floor. Jackson viciously stomped the hand clutching the blade. The sickening sound of crunching bone accompanied the thief’s surprised scream of pain. Jackson snatched the knife and held it to the man’s neck as he pressed his full weight into the perpetrator’s back with his knee.

“Hold still, asshole, or this blade will slit your worthless jugular. Gloria, get something to bind his arms with…a cord, tape…whatever you have.”

The thug struggled, trying to see who he was dealing with. Jackson made a shallow slice on the man’s neck. His icy blue eyes froze the perpetrator in place as the man realized Jackson would kill him if he had to. The sound of duct tape being pulled off the big roll in Gloria’s hands brought a smile to Jackson’s lips. 

“Tape his wrists, then his ankles, honey.”

The man started to struggle slightly, then thought better of it as the knife pricked his tender skin. A small drop of blood trickled down the curve of the thug’s neck, hanging suspended for a moment before plopping onto the floor. The thief cursed, muttering threats as Gloria trussed him up. She ripped off another piece of duct tape and slapped it across his foul mouth.

“Nicely done!” Jackson exclaimed in admiration. “Now, call 911 before this knife accidentally slips any further.”

The cops arrived quickly, removing the frustrated perpetrator from the premises. The two of them gave their statements to the police and waited for the go ahead before cleaning up the mess the thug had made in the salon. Gloria finished the restoration of her front counter display before walking to the front door and locking both the door and the deadbolt. She turned her store sign over to read “closed,” then closed the shades covering her front windows. It was surprisingly dark in the room.

Gloria flipped a switch behind the main counter. The darkened ceiling illuminated the salon with tiny twinkling lights, reminding Jackson of the summer nights they used to spend together enjoying the majestic enormity of the star-studded sky overhead. She slid into the safety of his arms. He could feel her trembling, and pulled her close. They pressed into each other, old memories and intense feelings washing over them as they embraced. Jackson dared to press slow, tender kisses into her fragrant hair, before tilting her head up slowly towards his lips.

He searched her lovely green eyes before gently claiming her softly parted lips with his own. The kiss almost buckled his knees. It felt like Gloria was kissing his very heart, and he never wanted it to end. Her kisses had always had this effect on him…he had forgotten the intensity of the emotions and promises inherent in their kisses. He breathed her name reverently as his kisses moved from her velvety lips to her eyes. He gently kissed each eye, surprised to taste a salty tear escaping down her soft cheek.

“What’s the matter, babe? Are you injured? Did I squeeze you too hard and accidentally hurt you? Tell me what is wrong, Gloria.”

“No, no. It is nothing like that, Jack. I…I never thought I would ever feel this way again for a man. You don’t know…you don’t know about the monster I was married to after you left. He was brutal, and I was young and terrified. I finally found the courage to divorce him.”

Gloria released a ragged sigh filled with emotion.

“He was coming here to kill me after the divorce was final when he wrecked his motorcycle. He died instantly when he hit the old oak tree in the bend of Sandy Creek Road headfirst. The fool never wore a helmet. It was not a pretty scene, according to the papers. I haven’t met anyone I wanted to explore an intimate relationship with since that awful time in my life.”

Gloria backed away and caught Jack’s gaze with her own, her entire being seeming to glow under the ambiance of the twinkling overhead lights. He stiffened slightly, terrified she was getting ready to cut him out of her life. She leaned forward and slid her arms around his neck. He felt her gently toying with the hair at the nape of his neck, before huskily whispering in his ear. 

“Until now, Jack. Until now.”

“Ohhhh, Gloria….”

His lips sought hers once again, drinking in the sweet nectar of their rekindled love for each other. They were so entwined and caught up in one another, it took a moment for the loud banging on the front door to register. 

“Gloria! Gloria King! Open up! Open the door for heaven’s sake! Are you okay? It’s Mike Mendenhall and Sargent Derek Hurley from the city police department. Are you all right? We are worried about you. Open the door for crying out loud!”

Jack and Gloria pulled apart reluctantly, their eyes speaking volumes to each other. The couple turned and made their way to the door. The banging continued as Gloria fumbled for the light switch.

“Persistent old cuss, isn’t he? But a true friend, Jack. And only a friend.”

Gloria unlocked the door and opened it. Jack’s hand tightened around her shoulder protectively. Mike stepped in and stopped, instantly aware he had interrupted something. The cop spoke first.

“We thought we’d better do a welfare check on you after all the trouble here today. Are you okay, ma’am? Is everything alright?”

Gloria beamed up into Jackson’s concerned face, the glow of their renewed love sending waves of joyful energy all around the entrance of the salon.

“Yes, yes…we are okay, and everything is fine…better than fine now that Jack is home.”

The two men nodded in acknowledgment, shutting the door behind them. Mike walked away, silently rejoicing for the obvious happiness of his childhood friends.

Jack pulled Gloria back into his arms, his eyes filled with emotion.

“I give you my solemn pledge I will never intentionally hurt you, Gloria. With all my heart, I desire you for my own. I never believed I would feel like this again…ever! I love you, babe.”

“I don’t think I ever stopped loving you, Jack. Ever.”

“Ohhhh, my beloved girl. I will protect you and care for you as long as we live. Everything will be alright, honey. I promise you, everything will be alright.”

And for the first time in a very long time, Gloria truly believed it. She leaned forward into Jackson’s loving embrace. Everything was going to be better than okay. They finally had their chance for a fabulous future…together. For as long as they both still lived.

————–

Copyright ©️ 2022 Lisa Criss Griffin
All rights reserved

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Calliope Njo: The Rose Box

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

The Rose Box

Calliope Njo

Bridget traced the wooden flower on top of the box. Tears flowed down her cheeks as the banging got louder. Something had to have exploded. Maybe an outer wall had fallen.

Rats left traces of their existence by the holes in the walls. She still didn’t know how they did it, but they managed to go through rock. One hole seemed to be the right size to make it fit. She pushed it inside as deep as it would go. She thought she had hidden it where no one could find it. With the surrounding rubble and a couple of stones in front of the hole, they would never think to look in the wall. It would be too obvious, and they would never fall for it.

Soldiers outside banged on the door. “Come out, oh Mistress of the Castle. Come out now, and maybe we will go easy on you.”

“No. I won’t.” There had to be a place where she could hide. The bookcase fell, and all the books had scattered around the floor. If she could crawl over and pile the books on herself, they might leave and never find her. On the other hand, they might get bored and further their search for the Rose Box.

The door fell. Three smiling soldiers stood in the doorway, arms at the ready. One stepped forward and grabbed her chin. He pushed his lips on hers and squeezed so hard she felt pain and not satisfaction. “Ha.” He laughed. “More to follow.” He put chains on her wrists and pulled her behind him.

Everybody left the room, she guessed from the footfalls. She thanked whoever would bother to listen.

The last thing she wanted would be for them to find it. She would go through hell in both body and soul before allowing anyone to search for it. He threw her up on a tall black horse, and he sat behind her.

Her body ached, she hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink for days. She wouldn’t dare complain. Not that he would care.

She bounced along as she felt droplets from something. She could only imagine what. Not being able to turn her head only allowed for her imagination to take over. Back to his camp where he would have his way with her.

She wanted to save herself for the one who would take her heart if that were ever possible. They stopped at last.

“Bridget, oh Bridget, oh apple of my eye,” he said, as he grabbed her chin, “won’t you pleasure me as only you would dream.”

She gathered whatever energy she had and spat in his face. “Never, to the likes of you. I would rather scream bloody murder while being eaten by a dragon.”

He grabbed something on the other side of his body before turning away. Someone must’ve called his name. She heard someone call out Commander Mortimer. That name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place it.

Hands and feet tied, tired, and in pain didn’t allow for a quick escape. However, maybe with a little effort, she might be able to. Rodents were always hungry. Everybody knew that. The trick was to attract them with the right treat.

Sweetness lingered in the air, among other odors, so she expected the cooking area to be nearby. They might have the right treat.

Either nobody expected her to be able to do anything, or they forgot about her. She was left behind where she was dumped. No guard or even the occasional taunt. Strange.

She didn’t question it and used that to her advantage. Commander Mortimer didn’t come back yet, so she scooted towards the sound and smell of cooking. The pain started again. She tried to convince herself that the trick to not feeling any pain was not minding the pain. It worked up to a point, but something must have broken because it was beyond any mind trick she could think of.

The kitchen staff was often too busy to pay attention to anything else. Honey jar on a table. The perfect bait to lure the only animal with a mouth strong enough to go through stone.

It took a few bumps, but she was able to coat enough of the rope and her body for her plan to work. She made it outside and encountered something she should’ve thought of. Tiny bitey little creatures started crawling all over her and around the areas honey had poured onto. It made things beyond uncomfortable.

By the sound of it, a water stream was nearby. A quick roll, or maybe two or three, and she made it into the river. A fist-sized mound surfaced as she splashed hard enough to get them off her. She stopped as she hoped nobody heard her.

She didn’t hear anything or anyone. A sharp rock by the water’s edge gave her another way to become unbound. She wrung herself out as best she could. At least to the point, she couldn’t track water.

She knew how to ride, but any loss of the horses would be noticed. Her only choice was to go on foot. That was when she heard the call out to find her. Out of choices, she grabbed a horse, hopped on, and hoped for the best.

She knew the direction she had to go. It was only a matter of getting there. The horse would tire soon. It ran long and hard to camp. She stopped by a boulder and climbed down. 

After a pat, the horse trotted away. She still needed a way to get back. Unless she took to the trees. The only problem with that was her dress was too long. It would get caught on the branches.

It had already been torn and ripped into a lot of pieces. Using that as her guide, she took an already present tear and ripped as much of her skirt as she could. Wrapped it around a high branch. They would never know unless they looked up. By that time, she would be on her way back to the castle.

She flew from branch to branch using the techniques she learned as a child. It was fun back then. Necessary now. Who would’ve—that was it. Commander Mortimer was the one who taught her battle skills. He would know everything she would need to do to get back there.

The one thing he hated her doing because he couldn’t was that she had the ability to form wings. It came from her mother, who taught her everything she needed to know. 

Once transformed, things were easier. She flew high enough that she could remain undetected. Of course, doing so took a lot of energy to accomplish. She didn’t have a long way to go.

Once she reached her destination, she transformed and ran through the halls. Old clothes scattered the halls, so she took what she could and put them on. Better than going around naked.

Back to the room, back to the hole, and pushed aside the rubble, she opened the box. As expected, everything was there for her to take the crown—mother’s flower, a letter describing the one to take the crown, and another letter to dictate who would be giving orders.

All were necessary documents for her to take her mother’s place. That was why she guarded the box. It held her future.

She closed and locked the box before she left the room. The council was held in the mountains above with the religious order for safety. They hadn’t reached the castle yet. They would’ve stormed in like they did the last time. They were never subtle.

It would take the time she didn’t have to get up there. She didn’t have a choice. Do or die. There were trees along the way, so they would provide cover.

She rested along the way up. Strange, Commander Mortimer hadn’t reached the castle yet. It made her wonder if they took over the religious order. That meant the council would be compromised.

Her mother once told her only in cases of extreme emergency could she act alone. Either the council had been captured or compromised. There were no guards left. No guards were left, and there was a possibility that the council had been compromised. She had to act alone.

Box in hand, she did the last thing she hoped she had to do to save her home. Her father hired the best people he could to teach her weaponry, fighting, horseback riding, and enemy identification. Her mother taught her how to use the gift she had been given to her advantage.

She disrobed and transformed. She flew up into the sky, and with every ounce of will, she summoned all the animals. Turn against their knowledge and use that to destroy the ones who took advantage.

She couldn’t keep it up for long. There was still lingering pain, and exhaustion played a role in her ability to carry out her wishes. She had to come down from the sky and put the clothes back on. She hoped it was enough.

Something cold and wet woke her up. After a couple of blinks, she realized it was the horse she rode earlier. Somehow it found her. It seemed to like the offered nose rub.

About a moment later, she stood and watched as the horse walked away. She still needed to see if everything or everyone was all right. It didn’t take long to reach her destination.

Flying insects were all over the place. She could not only hear them but see them as well. The vast majority of them seemed to have centered around the back building. Out of curiosity, she walked in that direction.

She stopped in the doorway. She forced a swallow as she saw bugs crawling over the bodies against the back wall. Wood-burrowing bugs still crawled over the remains of a wooden door. Against the back wall of the room, the council members huddled together.

One of them stepped out in front of the others. “Bridget. Our savior. Have you come for us?”

“Yes. I have. I take command of this kingdom as the former queen had wished.” She patted around herself and realized she must’ve left the box back at the castle.

“Do you have the box?”

Bridget nodded. She wondered how he knew. Mother told no one but the next in line. “We must move quickly.”

She jogged ahead of the council as she celebrated going downhill. Commander Mortimer still hadn’t shown yet. It made her wonder.

She remembered the path she took and used it the same way as she looked for the box. There it was against the tree. She picked it up, opened it up, and presented it to them.

The one council member picked up the contents and stepped out front again. “Everything is here as described. You are now our leader until you have met your demise.”

She had heard that phrase before. “You were the one. You were the one who convinced Commander Mortimer to get rid of me.”

The council member smiled. “You do not believe that a woman could rule over a kingdom. It takes skill and knowledge. Something only a man is capable of. Your father was too weak. I had to choose.” He held up the box. “Now that I have this, there is nothing to say a woman will wear the crown.”

She heard squeaking from somewhere. Maybe a rodent made the noise, but whatever it was, there were more urgent matters at hand.

A line of giant rats came towards them. The council members in the back screamed as the rats crawled over them. They stopped when they reached the traitor. He screamed as they chewed. She turned her head. She couldn’t watch. No matter the reason why his heart turned black, he didn’t deserve this kind of suffering.

“M’lady. It is I. Uh… they have… devoured everything. Have left. M’lady?”

She opened her eyes and blinked. Nothing was left but cloth and bone. Ugh. She shook her head. She straightened herself up and nodded. “Do me a favor, would you? Find someone who would be willing to clean up this mess. I have to go find Mortimer.”

“Of course, M’lady.” The surviving council members bowed.

She watched them bow and wondered who they were bowing to. She didn’t deserve it. She could’ve done something to stop the rats but didn’t. She caused his demise.

The local villagers came to help clean and bring in the day’s harvest to help feed their new ruler. It had been a good fortnight since all of that happened.

She did find Mortimer and the rest of his army. They were trampled to death. She didn’t need to find out by what when she saw a horseshoe by one of the bodies.

Death by fighting or other means didn’t matter. Not any more. She dug thirteen holes to put the bodies in. They were not gravesites. That would mean a marker of some sort which also meant somebody cared. They were dead body holes.

A lot of work still needed to be done on the castle. The villagers were willing to help make everything right again. On the outside, everything would look as it should.

On the inside, though, a black hole existed in Bridget’s heart as she wondered if she was indeed responsible for everybody’s death. Did they have to die that way? Was there another choice? What about their families? What would she tell them?

Those questions and more lingered in the back of her mind. She took a deep breath and painted a smile on her face as she left her room. The emotions that surrounded her were anything but happy. Hence the painted smile.

She left the room as horns announced her arrival. She sat down as she wished her mother’s shoulder were there to lean against. She almost laughed out loud as she remembered what her mother had told her once. “Bridget, I have just finished the beginning of your entry into the darkest period of your life. I hope beyond all hope you do not find out what that means.”

Oh, Mother. I found out. A scent carried by a slight breeze made her turn her head. She expected to see Mother, and that she did. Mother’s spirit would always linger as long as Bridget remembered love.

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Anita Wu: Running Home

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

Running Home

Anita Wu

“Please, Fenn. Just this time, for me?” Elle clasped her fingers together, shone her sweetest smile, and fluttered her lashes at him. They both knew that he always gave in to her demands, but she gave him her face of innocence for extra measure. She needed him gone right now. 

Fenn sighed as his shoulders visibly drooped. “You can’t do this all the time, Elle. Besides, the chef has to prepare for the gala this evening.”

“Oh, it’s a tiny cake.” She twirled around him, large movements to ensure her dress followed in dance. She stopped behind him and laid both hands on his shoulders. She pressed her cheek against his own. “You can have a bite too.”

“You’re not going to stop until I go, are you?”

“Nope!” She beamed.

“Fine, I’ll tell the chef you want a double chocolate pistachio mini-cake. But you have to go to your piano lesson.” Elle watched as her loyal aide stormed off muttering, then disappeared around the corner of the hallway.

Her smile faded as she gathered the letter, tied with twine, that she had taken from her father’s study earlier. 

She often visited her father in his study, for that was the only time outside of breakfast and dinner that she had the opportunity to see him, the only time that he would ever talk to her. When she visited him, sometimes he would call for a servant to bring a chair so that she could sit beside him, and he would tell her about what he was doing and why. He explained to her once that he denied Mr. Yenrall’s request to use another acre of land for corn since he already held significant control over the city’s corn production, and that was unfair to other farming families. Sometimes, he would let her lounge by the couch as he met with noble guests from neighboring cities to discuss political matters. She never quite understood what they were talking about, but perhaps that was why her father let her stay. Most times, though, he would not look up from his desk and merely instruct her to leave. Despite being his only child and therefore heir to the title of Duchess, to the role of overseer of the city, Elle never felt as though her father wanted her. 

Today, he was not at his study, but she found a neatly tied letter with a photo on his desk. The photo was that of a young man, almost handsome with his shy smile. But he looked visibly uncomfortable in his blue coat — the color reserved for the lesser merchants — as though he were forced to hold a posture in front of the white, empty backdrop. The photo caught her eye, but it was the letter that forced her hand, forced her to crush the paper in her palms and run to her room instead of going to her scheduled piano lesson.

She tucked the letter into her dress now, secured by the bow tied around her waist, and left her room, avoiding everyone on her way out. “I’m sorry, Fenn,” she thought with every step, her heart aching with betrayal.

She knew Fenn would be punished if she disappeared, given that he was assigned as her close servant. He was supposed to be her father’s eyes on his daughter. But Fenn had long since shown her where his loyalties lay — every time he spun a tale to the head housekeeper about why Elle was not in a place she should be, and every time he snuck her a piece of cake when she was confined to her room for disobedience. Fenn gave her wings to fly when her father and the manor locked her in a cage, a pretty bird on display.

She could not confide in Fenn this time, though. It was too risky. If she told Fenn, he would vow to help, but if her father had the slightest suspicions that he was involved, she would not put it beyond her father to force answers out of him by holding his family hostage. If she left Fenn out, he and his family would be spared any pain as a result of her actions.

Or at the very least, she held this hope in her heart as she snuck out of the manor through the underground pathway in the garden that the guards did not know of. 

***

Elle didn’t know where she would go or what she would do after she exited the manor. But habit sent her down the bustling streets of the market where merchants offered her the sweetest strawberries under the shade of awnings, through familiar alleyways with hooded bodies leaning against brick walls with smoke in their mouths, and down endless flights of stairs to the outskirts of the city. Her body sent her to her friend in the fields. 

She looked for the frail body with sun-kissed skin amongst the acres of crops. She saw the hay hats and ragged clothes on many adults and followed the repetitive motion of the arms slamming tools into the soil. Every person who looked up studied her for a moment. She stood out sorely in her extravagant dress, the hem soiled from the trek here.

She walked slowly, her eyes searching for someone she knew, for someone who would greet her. 

“Elle?” She found her familiar voice. Elle turned to the direction of the words and found Sara carrying two buckets of water, balanced by a stick resting along her shoulders. “Why are you here?”

The bite in the question hurt her. She knew that she had never come unannounced before. She knew that her visits were always planned, far in between, and she had just visited Sara a mere week ago. But she didn’t know where else she could go.

I don’t know. The answer resonated in her mind as her rash actions caught up to her. She lived her entire life around wealth. Her parents showered her with lavish clothes and ensured a chef fed her daily. She followed lesson plans carefully laid out for her to become a proper lady. She never had to lift a finger if she ever needed something. Even Fenn had been by her side for as long as she could remember. She visited Sara occasionally, secretly through that underground pathway, but she always returned home. She always had a home.

Elle found tears welling up in her eyes as she failed to form words. She brought her hands to wipe away the tears, but they kept flowing as her lungs heaved in agony and her knees gave away under her.

She felt her friend’s arms around her. Heard a softer, kinder voice. “What’s wrong?”

“Father is selling me to a merchant,” Elle sobbed, “so I ran, but I don’t know what to do.”

“I don’t know what to do,” she repeated. She felt her friend’s arms tighten around her. “I don’t want to be sold away.”

“Oh Elle,” Sara began, her voice soothing as she brushed Elle’s hair. “Are you sure? Your Pa—”

“SARA!” a voice shouted in the distance, angry, interrupting. “Sara, here. Now!”

“Sorry,” Sara sighed as she let go of Elle and brought their faces together, “Ma will yell until I give her water. Be back.”

Sara picked up the buckets of water she had put down and trudged into the fields, towards one of the figures working on the soil. Elle watched as her friend left her. She had her own life. She did not have the time for her. She probably didn’t even have a place for her.

Elle wiped her tears away and felt the sting in her eyes and the dryness in her throat. She did not even have water, something so simple. How was she to survive outside home?

She noticed a figure walking towards the field. Not in the same tattered clothing as everyone else, the man stood out in uniform — the red of her father’s aides. As he got closer, Elle recognized the familiar gait as Fenn’s. No. She immediately stood and started running in the opposite direction.

***

Elle found herself at the edge of an alleyway, the turn that would send her into one. She stayed close to the main roads where the people scrambled to purchase produce before the merchants closed their stalls for the day, where the light felt safe. But she remained hidden in the shadows of the side roads so that no one would stare at her. She crouched beside a broken, abandoned couch, its covering torn and its stuffings exposed. A half-eaten apple festered in a suffocating plastic atop a browned pillow. She tugged her knees closer to her as she wondered if she should return home. She reached to her waist to retrieve the letter she tucked there only to find it gone. Her bow had loosened throughout the day, so she suspected it fell.

She hoped Sara found it — preferred that she did. Sara would not be able to house her, but she would hold the letter for her, in confidence. Elle didn’t want rumors spreading through the city. Word of mouth would change the narrative: a sale could become a business deal, political treaty, or marriage proposal. She could be kidnapped. Elle chuckled — perhaps her kidnapping would be easier. She would at least have hope that she would return home.

But she had no home to return to now. Her father may be too preoccupied with the gala tonight, but he would hear the news of her disobedience tomorrow. He would send guards to the streets to find her and bring her back. He would expedite the sale.

She had to find a place before then.

“What are you doing here, little miss?” The question broke her from her thoughts. A man towered over her, a soft smile on his face. He was standing just at the edge of the main road, facing her in the alleyway. She opened her mouth to respond but realized she did not have an answer.

The man crouched down so that their faces were level. She noticed the sharpness of his jaw, and it reminded her of Fenn. So did the warm hazel eyes.

“You look distraught,” he commented quietly. “Are you hungry?”

She kept quiet as she took in his black shoes and gray suit — neat and pressed like he was on his way to the gala. 

“A slice of chocolate cake, perhaps?” He continued despite her silence, extending both hands. One held a clear plastic container with a slice of double-layered chocolate cake with a coating of pistachio nuts. The other held a note tied with a short twine. 

Elle stared at the twine, and the man pushed the note towards her. She saw her name written on the paper.

“Who are you?” Elle finally spoke.

“Just read the note,” the man spoke softly, almost comforting. She cautiously took the paper from his hand, removed the twine, unfolded the paper, and read:

Elle,

My brother Mark. Stay with him. He can teach you anything you want to know to survive in the world. But if you want to come back to the castle, I am here.

Fenn.

Tears welled in her eyes again. Always her loyal aide.

“Fenn knew you would leave one day. He told me about you. Always exploring the underground mazes, always staring out the windows, always sneaking out at night to look at the stars. He didn’t know what would set you off, but he always thought you would tell him, and he would carry the load for you. So this,” Mark paused as Elle held his gaze, “took him as a surprise.”

When all she did was run away from him, Fenn never left her side. 

“Fenn said he would cover for you as long as he could, but word of your escape through that underground passageway would reach your father eventually. He does have guards secretly stationed there, you know.

“I live in the next town over, two hours away, if you’d like to stay with me. Until you figure out what you want to do.”

Elle nodded, staring at the letter in her hand. Comfort came to her in the words of her faithful friend. The home she would always have.

-Please visit Anita’s website: https://soreispeaks.wordpress.com/

WRITING TIPS, TOOLS, AND TIDBITS!: SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD

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.

SUBJUNCTIVE MOOD

There are three moods in the English language — the indicative mood, the imperative mood, and the subjunctive mood. Each has its own rules for how verbs are used.

The indicative mood

The indicative mood states facts.

Examples:

  • He plays the piano.
  • I am here now.
  • She arrives at work on time.
  • He is at the meeting.

The imperative mood

The imperative mood expresses a command or a request.

Examples:

  • Give me that now.
  • I demand that he play the piano starting at 8:00.
  • He asked that she be there on time.
  • My boss demanded that I be at the meeting.

The subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood shows a wish or an imagined situation. It is used to express wishes, suggestions, imagined situations, possibilities, desires, hypothetical situations, or actions that have not yet occurred. When the subjunctive mood is paired with the verb be, the verb changes, and was becomes were.

Examples:

  • If he were to play the piano, that would help us.
  • I wish I were somewhere else.
  • If I were not sick, I would do it myself.
  • If I were rich, I would get a new car.
  • If I were you…
  • If I were king…
  • If I were to win the lottery…
  • If I were wealthy…
  • If it were me…
  • If I were the boss…
  • If I were free…
  • If I were a rich man…
  • If I were going…
  • I wish that were real…
  • I wish I were taller…
  • He wishes he were rich…
  • I wish I were lying on a beach…

However, if it’s something in the past that actually happened, then was is correct.

  • If I was wrong, then I apologize.
  • If I was late to the meeting last week, it was due to that accident blocking traffic.

However, if it has not yet occurred, or if it’s a wish or hypothetical, then were is correct (as in the above examples).

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/

Lynn Miclea: A New Beginning

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

A New Beginning

Lynn Miclea

Ellie stared at Mike. He had become a stranger to her — an angry, volatile stranger. Why had she ever gotten involved with him? It needed to end. Now.

For the hundredth time, she thought about Jeremy and wished she had given him a chance when she had the opportunity. Her mind drifted a few years back to her high school days.

For years, she had a crush on Jeremy and hoped he would ask her to the prom. He had finally approached her just before the prom, and her heart beat faster, her excitement building. He smiled shyly at her and gazed into her eyes, his hazel eyes showing both fear and hope. “Ellie, would you like to —” She smiled as she anticipated the question, ready and eager to say yes.

Then Mike bounded over, loud and intrusive, interrupting them. “Ellie, how ’bout going to the prom with me?”

Her heart fell, and she glanced at Jeremy. His face showed surprise, sadness, and defeat. He looked at Mike, then at Ellie, and then stared at the floor, looking out of place. Then he turned slowly, before she had a chance to respond, and he slowly shuffled away.

She looked up into Mike’s impatient face. “C’mon, Ellie, it will be fun. What do you say?”

Ellie looked after Jeremy’s retreating figure as he shuffled down the hall. Her heart broke for him. Then she looked up at Mike. What if Jeremy wasn’t going to ask that? What if no one else asked her to the prom? Disappointed and unsure, she answered quietly. “Okay.”

“What? Did you say yes?” Mike’s voice was loud and insistent.

“Yes.” But she knew her heart was with Jeremy. Over the following few months, any time she had passed Jeremy in the halls, she saw the sadness and hurt in his eyes, feelings which matched her own. She had only gone to the prom with Mike because he was insistent and it was easier at the time. But her heart had always been with Jeremy.

Now, three years later, she knew going to the prom with Mike had been a big mistake. Getting involved with him at all was a mistake. In the beginning it was okay, although he was too loud and bossy. Then they started fighting more and more. Now all they did was fight. He was demanding and controlling. And on top of that, he insulted her all the time. She had enough and had no idea why she had stayed with him as long as she had.

She now stared at him across the kitchen table. His face was red as he yelled at her. “Where were you this morning? You know I wanted to leave early today.” Spittle flew from his mouth. “Answer me!”

This was the last straw. She couldn’t be with him another minute, and she was glad she still had her own apartment. Something in her knew to hang on to it and not move in with him. She stared at the table and her voice was soft. “You know where I was. I had to go to the drug store. There was a line there, and —”

He glared at her, his face deepening to a dark red as his voice grew louder. “I don’t believe you!”

Ellie swallowed hard. She needed to get out of there. She couldn’t take this anymore. “I —”

“I don’t want to hear any more excuses. I’m going out for a bit without you.” He gestured around the kitchen. “I’m sick of you and your excuses. When I come back, this place had better be cleaned up.” He turned and stormed out, slamming the door behind him.

A sob escaped her as Ellie stood up. She looked around the kitchen. It was all his stuff — his dishes, his mess, his half-eaten food, his apartment. She was not his maid. She had had enough. More than enough. She couldn’t take any more.

She ran into the bedroom and grabbed the few clothes and belongings she had kept there, throwing them into a bag. She could not be with him another minute, and she was grateful she had a safe place to go home to. Eyes burning with tears, she wrote a quick note and left it on the kitchen table. “This is not working. I’m leaving. Do not call me. Goodbye, Mike.”

After a quick glance around the tiny apartment, she left. Heart pounding, she ran down the flight of stairs, raced to her car, jumped in, and slammed the door shut. Tears ran down her face and she could barely see. Finally, she started the car and drove off, a mixture of anger, hurt, loss, and freedom battling inside her.

Sobbing the whole way, not caring how she drove, she barely paid attention to the road. After a car honked at her as she swerved, she gripped the wheel tighter and focused on her driving, pushing other thoughts aside.

Finally she arrived at her own apartment and ran inside, shutting the door behind her. Collapsing on the living room couch, she sobbed, hurt and anger rushing through her. She wished she had left him sooner. He was not worth it. No relationship was worth that.

She finally stopped crying and took a deep breath. Her own apartment, clean and neat and homey, surrounded her. Peace enveloped her. Relief flooded her. She was free.

What would her life have been like if she had gone to the prom with Jeremy back in high school? Sweet, sensitive Jeremy, who was unfairly pushed aside. She wished she could go back in time and do it differently. But she couldn’t, and it was now years later. Did he still think of her? Was he with someone else now?

Maybe she could write him a letter just to say hello. She used to have his address — she remembered exchanging birthday cards with him a couple of times. She shook her head. He had probably moved on by now. She wasn’t ready for anything this soon anyway — she needed time to recover from the disaster named Mike.

The ringing phone interrupted her thoughts, and she glanced at who was calling — it was Mike. She pulled her hand back and did not pick up. She did not want to talk to him. Letting out a long breath, she hoped he would stop calling.

Two days later, feeling better, she felt a renewed urge to send Jeremy a letter. She needed to apologize to him for not going to the prom with him, and to let him know she still thought about him. Even if nothing came of it, she would at least feel better and could let it go. She sat down and wrote, keeping the letter light and friendly. Then, hoping he was still at the same address, or that it could be forwarded if needed, she ran out before she could change her mind. Quickly walking two streets over, she dropped the letter in the mailbox.

Feeling both relieved and a bit nervous, she returned home, made a cup of tea, closed her eyes, and relaxed. It felt good to not have anyone yelling at her or telling her she was not good enough and did everything wrong. Peace and a quiet home felt wonderful.

Mike called less often, and after two weeks went by without a call from him, Ellie felt free. She went for her daily walk around the neighborhood, feeling invigorated. All she needed now were some new friends. After she had started dating Mike, most of her friends had drifted away. The peace was nice, but she longed to have a connection with someone.

As she returned to her apartment after her morning walk, she heard the phone ringing. Hoping it was not Mike, she peered at the phone. It was a number she did not recognize. She hesitated and then answered it. “Hello?”

A soft male voice on the other end sounded tentative. “Ellie?”

“Yes?”

“This is Jeremy. Um … I got your letter.”

Her heart beat faster, and she felt her throat constrict. “Hi, Jeremy.”

“Um, I’d like to talk to you in person. Could we maybe meet for lunch?”

She could barely breathe. “Sure, that would be great.”

“Are you free today?”

***

Two hours later, hands shaking, Ellie parked at the coffee shop. Feeling nervous, she bit her lip and then checked her image in the rear-view mirror. What did he want to talk to her about? Was he married? Was he still hurt and angry? Did he want to let her down in person? She hoped this was not a mistake.

As she got out of her car, she glanced around and saw Jeremy at the entrance, scanning the parking lot. Then he spotted her and gave a tentative wave.

Ellie smiled and waved back. He still looked good — more mature and even better looking than she remembered. She locked her car and approached him.

He smiled as she got near. “Ellie, you look beautiful.”

“Thank you, and you look even more handsome than you used to.”

He gave a nervous laugh. “Thank you for meeting me.” She gazed at him as easy-listening music came from the overhead speakers above the entrance area. He looked a bit more confident but still seemed somewhat shy and awkward. “And thank you for the letter and for reaching out. That meant a lot to me.”

“Jeremy, I want to apologize.” She hesitated and collected her thoughts. “I am so sorry for not going to the prom with you. You have no idea how much I wanted to go with you. I just …” She looked away, trying to ignore the ache and guilt building within her. Then she pointed up. “Hey, do you hear that? A song from our high school days.”

“A great song.” A look of wistful sadness crossed his face. “I really wanted to go with you to the prom so bad. You were the only one I wanted to ask. I never did ask anyone else.” He took a deep breath. “I wanted more than that with you, too.” He held her gaze. “Hey, would you dance with me now?”

She glanced around the entrance to the coffee shop. “What? Now? Here?”

He chuckled. “Sure. It’s a good song they’re playing. This can be our prom.”

Ellie laughed and slowly moved into his arms. He felt warm and comfortable as his arms closed around her and held her tight, and they swayed back and forth to the music. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she wished it could last forever.

They danced for a couple of minutes, and then he whispered in her ear, “Thank you. That was the best prom ever.”

She looked up into his hazel eyes which sparkled with warmth. “I really enjoyed that.” She paused for a moment. “Hey, are you seeing anyone? Married?”

Jeremy shook his head. “No. I only wanted you. I dated a couple of girls, but no one could compare to you. You were always the one for me.”

Ellie felt her eyes burn with tears. “I always wanted you too. Even when I was seeing Mike, I always wished it was you.”

Jeremy looked away for a few moments and then back at Ellie. “Maybe we can make a new start and give this a chance.”

“I would really like that.”

“Let’s start with lunch. Does that sound okay?”

Ellie leaned forward and lightly kissed him. “Absolutely.”

Jeremy kissed her back gently, then again with more passion, sending tingles deep inside her. When he pulled back, his eyes were wet. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

“Me too,” she whispered as heat flooded her body.

He stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers, sending a shiver down her body. “Okay, let’s have lunch and then we’ll take it from there.” He held the door for her and they entered the coffee shop.

A thrill of excitement rushed through Ellie as they followed the hostess to their booth. She felt Jeremy’s warm hand press against her back as they walked, and it felt incredibly natural and right. Then he reached for her hand and squeezed it, the warmth from his hand moving up into her body.

Maybe this would be a great new beginning.

—————————————–

Copyright © 2022 Lynn Miclea. All Rights Reserved.

Please visit Lynn’s blog and follow her at – https://lynnpuff.wordpress.com/
Please also visit Lynn’s website for more information on her books – https://www.lynnmiclea.com/
And please visit her Amazon author page at – https://www.amazon.com/Lynn-Miclea/e/B00SIA8AW4

Kenneth Lawson: Before I Met Her

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

Before I Met Her

Kenneth Lawson

She had been dead for forty years when I met her.

I digress. I met her record in a vintage record store. Digging through a sea of old records looking for a gem in an ocean of old vinyl recordings in every genre you could think of, was my hobby. I found her. Lorena Day.

In theory, once sorted into artist and genre, the albums in the bins were a jumble after years of people picking through them. I stumbled over the record where it shouldn’t be. I had heard of Day and that she was good, so when I found the record, and it appeared playable, I grabbed it and added it to the stack I already had.

Once home, I placed her record on my turntable and hoped for the best. Buying a used record is a bit of a crapshoot as sometimes the grooves look good, but it’s not damaged. I’ve purchased records that looked perfect and then turned out scratchy.

Her album played as well as it looked.

Sitting back in my chair, I closed my eyes as Day’s voice filled the room. For the next twenty minutes, I was in her world. Her voice was butter smooth, with the passion of her life. The base and background musicians filled the gaps in the music beautifully. After I played the second side, I played the whole thing again.

Fast forward through a few years, and I learned about her life and collected all of her records I could find. I was even going as far as paying too much for copies online and buying reissues of her seminal records.

I thought I knew everything there was about her. That is until I ran into her granddaughter at a vintage record store. When I pulled an album of Day’s from a bin, she spoke to me.

“You a fan of Lorena Day?”

I glanced down at the record in my hand. “I am, and I was missing this one from my collection.”

The young woman looked embarrassed. “It’s good to see someone enjoying her music. Lorena Day was my grandmother.”

This was my chance to learn more about my favorite jazz singer. I decided to be forward. “I’m Daniel James. I’ve become a huge fan of Day. I—I wonder if you would like to join me for coffee. I’d like to know more about your grandmother.”

To my surprise, she nodded. “I would like that. I’m Melissa Gordon, and I’ve been trying to learn more about her myself.” 

That coffee turned into many more afternoons. Melissa, who reminded me of a younger version of her grandmother, told me stories about her career that never made it into the books. We spent hours discussing Day’s records, and I became increasingly intrigued with the singer. 

It wasn’t until Melissa’s mother died that we learned more about Lorena Day. At one of our coffee meetings, she asked me if I would like to visit the house where Lorena spent her last days. I enthusiastically said yes. 

The tiny house sat on the outskirts of the urban jungle we called home. Melissa’s parents divorced, and she had been somewhat estranged from her mother and grandmother. Now that both were gone, the house became hers. 

We entered the house, and Melissa led me to her grandmother’s room. We were shocked to find the bedroom as her grandmother likely left it when she died. Photos of her performing lined the walls, along with a few solid-gold records awards she had received. 

Melissa stood in the middle of the room. “My father allowed me to visit occasionally, but I was never allowed in this room. It smells like her even now. There was always the scent of lavender about her.” 

I started to open a drawer out of curiosity but held back. Melissa laughed. “Please, you may know my grandmother better than I do. Please look anywhere you want.”

To say that standing in the same room that my idol lived in, surrounded by the things she’d touched and used, was not weird would be a lie. There was an odd sense of awe and fear I couldn’t put my finger on. I hesitantly opened drawers and glanced inside them as Melissa went through a chest. It was her closet that called to me. It was a sliding door affair, with the sliding doors covering one side or the other. 

I slid open one door to find clothing cramped together tight on their hangers. One side contained everyday house dresses, coats, and sweaters. On the other side, a collection of evening gowns, many I recognized from her album covers and the films I had found of her performances. 

From casual to glittered heels, shoes covered the closet floor, but what caught my eye was a stack of shoeboxes. Some contained shoes, others odd and ends, but buried in the back was a shoebox tied with a string. It seemed unique, somehow like it had resisted the assault of the other boxes piled on it left to gather dust. 

I pulled the box out, and Melissa and I sat on the bed. I carefully untied the string and opened the box with a bit of fanfare. Inside were several packets of letters, each neatly tied together with the same string. 

For a minute, I didn’t dare touch them. I recognized the scrawl on the envelopes as belonging to her, having collected Day’s autographs. 

Melissa sat staring at the box as if she didn’t want to touch it. I was also hesitant even to touch them, but one of us had to do it.

“May I?” 

She nodded yes and added, “Let’s go to the kitchen, and I’ll make tea.” I took the box and followed her. 

We drank tea for the next few hours and read the long-forgotten letters. We became part of her world and how she struggled with her fame. Her early years as a singer were a struggle, picking up gigs where she could get them. We learned about the people she met, some who helped her, others who took advantage of her with each letter. She had loved a man deeply once, and he betrayed her, and we could feel her pain as she wrote about her lost love. 

What Melissa and I treasured the most were the photographs that were also in the box. Candid photos of her as a young singer, some with the big bands she sang with, some with a man who we assumed she loved, some as she got older. 

I had heard pain mature in her voice as she got older, and now I knew why. Melissa and I decided to keep her memories private for now but write a book about her life one day. 

Now, as I listen to her music, her voice fills my soul with her passion. I understand her now more than I did before I met her. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is divider-2.png

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

Writing Tips, Tools, and Tidbits!: INSURE, ENSURE, and ASSURE

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.

INSURE, ENSURE, and ASSURE

People often mix up the words insure, ensure, and assure. Although these words sound somewhat similar, they have different meanings and uses. This should help to keep them straight.

Insure means to take out an insurance policy to protect against risk. If you mean to insure something with an insurance policy, then use insure.

Examples:

  • She was told she needed to insure her car before driving it.
  • He looked for a good policy to insure his family against illness.
  • She hoped the insurance company would insure her home against floods.
  • He decided to insure his car with a different insurance company.
  • She was glad their house was insured after the storm hit.
  • He made sure his kids were insured when he signed up for health insurance.

Ensure means to make certain something happens or to guarantee it. If you mean to make sure something happens, then use ensure.

Examples:

  • She read the recipe twice to ensure she would prepare it properly.
  • He studied hard to ensure he would do well on the test.
  • She practiced every day to ensure she would be picked for the team.
  • She checked all the doors to ensure everything was locked.
  • He set the timer to ensure they would leave on time.
  • She stayed home to ensure her kids would do their homework.

Assure means to remove someone’s doubts, give assurance, or say with confidence. If you mean to remove someone’s doubts and say it will be okay, use assure.

Examples:

  • He assured her they would get to the movie on time.
  • She assured her boss she would get the report done by Friday.
  • He assured them he had experience with computers.
  • She assured the dog walker that her dogs were friendly.
  • The restaurant assured them that they would remain open.
  • He assured me everything would be fine.

They assured me they would help insure my car, and they ensured that I understood.

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/

MANEUVERING THROUGH TODAY’S MARKETING ENVIRONMENT

by Guest Authors of the Writer’s Journey Blog

Of all the issues today’s writer faces, marketing is the trickiest and probably for most, reviled. No one likes it and yet it is essential. That beautiful work of inspiring prose will not reach an adoring public or put a cent in your coffers resting there in your Documents folder, read by your mother and a few Facebook or Twitter friends.

I don’t know the Secret. I am constantly searching and trying new options. I have had some limited successes but to tell you the truth… The differences and similarities in what writers are using these days included in this article, caught me by surprise. There are great ideas in here. I will be trying several of them in the future. We should get together and talk about this more often!

One of my responses showed his frustration when he said, “I’ve spent lots of time and money on marketing my debut books—and then realized that no amount of advertising can save them because they are not marketable. So, the lesson I have learned is that first, you need to research the market and then write a book that fits the market and meets the readers’ expectations.

Also, splurge on the cover, as it is the first thing a reader will see. You can have the world’s best story, but if the cover sucks and if the story doesn’t hit the right tropes, the book won’t sell. Ever.” P.C. Darkcliff, Author of the Deathless Chronicles.

Next, storyteller and songwriter, Mike Turner has this to say. “I’m convinced that “marketing” is the true “dark art” of the writing world! I rely heavily on social media, primarily Facebook and Twitter – I try to take advantage of every opportunity, in posts and comments, to mention my book and how to obtain it. I’ve also begun approaching local independent bookstores about carrying my book on a consignment basis – be aware that many bookstores are resistant, if not hostile, to books published/marketed on Amazon, whom they see as their direct competitor (I don’t understand that mindset – if they don’t carry my book, they don’t get to make any money from its sale, and they need to deal with the reality of Amazon in the marketplace). I also actively pursue opportunities to do video/print interviews, guest blogs (like The Writers’ Journey Blog), podcasts, library reading/signing events, and the like, always looking to reach new audiences as potential readers, fans, and purchasers.”

I found Celestial Echo Press (Gemini Wordsmiths) to have an interesting and informative opinion on getting out there with your work. I had not thought of conferences in the context of marketing. (Not now, but maybe post Covid I will definitely consider this option)

“Each day thousands of books hit the market. If you are one of the lucky authors to complete and publish, now you’re ready to sell. Your novel has to stand out from the crowd. You have to market to achieve that stardom. And successful marketing comes in many forms.”

We at Celestial Echo Press employ several strategies. Aside from social media and tapping reviewers, one marketing tool we use is making appearances at conventions such as Philcon, the longest-running sci-fi convention in the country.

In fact, that is where we hawked our latest publication, TIME Blinked, a time-travel baseball novel written by George W. Young. We held a book launch and signing because attendees at the con were the target audience for this genre of novel…. Ann Stolinsky & Ruth Littner Celestial Echo Press

Steve Carr of Sweetycat Press who supports the #WritingCommunity on a consistent basis says, “Marketing is the least fun I have as the publisher of Sweetycat Press. I primarily publish anthologies, so marketing works best when both I and the authors work in tandem to promote an anthology. I encourage the authors to announce to their networks (friends, family, local writing groups, Facebook groups, and other social media sites they belong to) that the anthology is available for purchase, almost always on Amazon.com. Since any extra money earned above that which pays for the publication costs, advertising, and website fees, is used 100% on publishing the next anthology, the more anthologies that everyone sells, the better. It’s a team effort.

The problem with marketing anthologies is that there is no way to know who has purchased an anthology unless an individual tells you they have purchased it. I’m very careful not to spend more money on advertising (on Facebook or other sites) than I think I can earn back through sales. It’s all about watching the bottom line. Financially, I underwrite everything I publish, so watching the bottom line is really important. But, even so, a lot of my marketing strategy is based on gut feeling and a sense of what sells and what doesn’t. Some more experienced publishers have it down to a science. I’m still in the learning how to use a Bunsen burner phase.

For anthologies, and probably all books, the first key essential in marketing is choosing the right cover. I’ve been extremely lucky with having great covers designed by Priti J, David Harms, and one upcoming anthology cover by Norbert Somosi. I get almost immediate feedback about covers once they are revealed. No cover is going to please and delight everyone, but if a cover gets a lot of negative reaction, then I know I need to make changes to it, but as I said, I’ve been lucky with who designs my covers, so that hasn’t been a big problem.

The other thing about marketing is that it’s a lot like getting a short story published (something I do know a lot about). Just like an editor who reads submissions for stories and is looking for well-written content, if the contents of an anthology are good, then readers will be pleased, and word-of-mouth will generate more sales. For some reason, there is a general reluctance by people who buy books on Amazon to write reviews. Other than asking everyone to do that, which usually doesn’t solve the problem, you have to publish a book or books that get people talking. Hands down, having one individual influence another individual to buy the book is the best marketing tool out there.”

The more I read my fellow writer’s thoughts on marketing, the more I realized everyone seems to be walking the same high wire without a proverbial net and at multiple heights. Here are some of their thoughts!

Marketing Strategies by P.A. O’Neil. “I’m not exactly what you call “tech savvy,” so the majority of my marketing has been by word-of-mouth or Facebook posts. I have used their advertisement feature, it is very low costing, but other than getting my name out there, I don’t know how they relate to sales of my book. I have tried going the News Release method but that has never panned out. The most promising thing I have ever done is create Facebook Page just for my book, Witness Testimony, and Other Tales. On the page, I thank people who have sent me a photo of them with the book, as well as share background information about how the stories were inspired. There are almost 300 members who, in turn, will share those posts on their page. That, along with the over 15,000 followers of my P.A. O’Neil, Storyteller, has created a worldwide marketing campaign.”

Deborah Ratliff. “With my first mystery novel scheduled for release this spring, I am constantly searching for helpful marketing tips, and one thing stood out to me. As part of a large writing group, I noticed authors tend to market heavily to other authors. While those who write do read, we often forget to look for reading groups, book groups, especially those dedicated to our genre. The ‘writing experts’ tell us to write to the audience we want, but do we market to that same audience? Our best readers may not be in the marketing areas that we choose, and it is vital to the success of any novel to find a way to reach them.”

Christy Miller. “I reach out to my target audience. Groups on Facebook are a fabulous wealth of help and advice. If I’m going to write an Arabian horse book set in the middle east. I reach out to breeders in that area and get them involved, including their animals as characters, and even they can be an inspiration for my stories. The people I contact are going to buy the books, tell their friends and create a fan base and niche market. It is much more special to people if they are included in the process.”

Dawn Debraal. “Marketing is a tough nut to crack. I don’t have the first idea of what to do, so I will be interested in what the other authors say. I have friends give books away in exchange for a critique. I’ve been bombarded with ads on Facebook, which makes me think this is not the ideal marketing tool. Don’t tick the people off that you want to sell a book to. I purchase other authors’ books and read them, critique them, and then when my book comes out demand, they do the same! Luckily, I only have one co-authored book which comfortably lives in obscurity because I don’t know how to lift it up.”

This Is A Marketing Plan? by Jack Mulcahy. “My marketing efforts consist of establishing a presence, mostly by using Facebook. I have a fairly large number of friends, and I also belong to nearly twenty writers’ groups. As for group participation, I mostly post links to markets and share articles from various other writers’ blogs. I’ve created two blogs, but only one is still active. I don’t have any readers, have no idea how to attract readers, and don’t know what to blog about. Several other writers, more successful than I, have told me just to keep writing and submitting, and not to worry about a blog.”

Ann Christine Tabaka – poet & author. “My marketing strategies are pretty much that I do not have any. Oh, I tried purchasing ad space on various Literary Websites, and in Literary Publications, but … I never noticed any sales following those ads. I spent money and got nothing in return. Mostly I use my Social Media Sites to advertise my books. I enjoy making fun memes/ads and posting them on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and Twitter. I cannot say how much success those ads have brought me, but I do sell a book or two most months. I am sure it is mostly my friends who are supporting me. I doubt that I ‘grab’ any new customers since I am not a well-known writer/poet.Where I live, there are no venues nearby where I could do readings, etc. Our small local libraries do not host readings or signings for local artists. I have had two book signings at our one small local bookstore. Again, only my friends who came purchased books (and very few of them did). I am uncomfortable reading my work, and mess up terribly when I try to.

I am always asking [on social media] for people that have my books to leave a review on Amazon, but it does not seem to do much good. I get very few reviews, and when I do, I still do not see any increase in sales. For me, it comes down to this … I am not well known, and do not have a lot of experience in hawking my books. I have come to look at my publishing as a hobby. I spend money and do not make money back. But if I played golf as a hobby, I would be paying greens fees and membership dues, replacing equipment, etc. So, in the end, it is what it is.”

Amrita Valan. “When my debut collection of poems Arrivederci was published in May 2021, I tried to promote the poems by raising overall awareness of them on social media. Any open mic that I participated in I read out poems from the collection. I also posted excerpts of a few poems I liked best on my wall, page, and groups. And when my book went online, I plugged it as much as I could in 20 odd groups and inboxed a few who were interested in further details. I keep channels of communication open and humbly request reviews from editors and publishers as this all goes into creating awareness. I realize I should also request reviews from friends who bought my book. And perhaps get them to share my book on their walls. I am daily learning how having good friends over social media groups helps, as they promote your book for you as well. This is something that I am eager to work towards. Other than that, accepting any opportunities to be interviewed so I can talk about my book or post the links also is another option to market my books.”

Jim Bates. “Unfortunately, I would give myself a D – when it comes to marketing. I read with interest what others are doing to promote their books, like a friend of mine, Paula Readman. She’s in touch with Amazon and frequently runs ‘specials’ on her eBooks. She does videos and puts them on Facebook. She stops in local bookstores (she lives in England) to offer them her books. She brings books to events she attends on the off chance she will talk to someone interested in purchasing a book. She promotes her books through her local paper and radio station. I envy her creativity.

My first book was published last year. The publisher Gill James promotes my book and all the other books she publishes through her newsletter and other postings. She’s very active in that regard and I truly appreciate her for doing that. For me, what I’ve done is pretty pathetic. I’ve listed my books on my blog. I’ve started to link to Facebook whenever a book of mine (five, now) gets a review. Just to get the word out. I’ll also continue to do something I started last year, which is to once a month promote one of my books on my Facebook page. Again, to get the word out.

In the future, I’d love to attend a book convention, but Covid stops me from feeling comfortable being in large public gatherings. I’d love to do a book reading/signing but have yet to find a venue here in the states to do that.

So, I will keep muddling along. One of these days, I plan to quit spending so much time writing and really delve into the market side of this endeavor. Until then, I’m afraid I’ll still be an incredibly poor participant in this essential part of our business.”

Justin Wiggins. “The way I go about marketing, whether it is promoting my books, my friend’s music, books, businesses, publishing companies, or podcasts, is through Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and by word-of-mouth when at work, out at coffee shops, bookshops, restaurants, pubs, writer retreats, or at a literary gathering with friends.

By doing this, I have found great joy in cultivating an artistic community globally, cultivating my craft as a writer, promoting what my friends do, expressing great gratitude and joy to my community, and to all the people who have taken the time to read something honest and hopeful I wrote for people of all worldviews.”

There you have it! I hope you got some good ideas and enjoyed the post. If nothing else it lets us all know that we are not alone in our pursuits. Thanks for reading.

The original article can be found on the Writers Journey Blog.

Marketing

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Please check out Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett‘s website where her blog is located. The Writers Journey Blog highlights the journeys of many authors as they ply their craft.

Elaine Marie Carnegie-Padgett

Paula Shablo: Love Letters

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

Love Letters

Paula Shablo

“Hi, Dad.”

“Hey, Penny. What’s up?” Dad was draped across his bed like a throw blanket, with his new puppy, Stub, snuggled in the small of his back. He was reading something—like me, if he found any books while salvaging, he brought them back.

Stub opened one eye, looked me over, and closed it again. Clearly, I was no threat to his bed. I grinned. “You’re going to be sorry for that when he’s grown and still wants to sleep like that,” I said.

Dad chuckled. “I think there might be some Golden Retriever in this guy,” he remarked. “I’m just glad we came across the litter so soon after his mama…well…”

A few days before, Dad and a couple of his friends had returned to camp with a litter of pups, seven in all. They had found the mother—what was left of her—while picking apples in a small orchard they’d discovered. She’d clearly been attacked and killed by something, probably a big cat, and it was obvious that she’d recently given birth, so they’d gone on a search for the puppies.

“You ‘came across,’ yeah,” I said. Beyond that, neither of us really wanted to talk about it. The puppies were alive, they were here now and being cared for, and nothing else mattered. I crossed to the bed and gave the pup a pat, then leaned down to nuzzle his little face when he looked up expectantly. “Cutie pie.”

Dad started to move, and I told him to stay put. “You’re fine, you look so comfortable.”

“My legs are asleep,” he informed me. “If I tried to stand up, I would fall on my face.”

I giggled and lifted Stub off his back so he could roll over and sit up. 

“Ahhhh.” It was half groan, half sigh. “Penny, I think I’m getting old.”

“Getting?”

“Ouch!” He gave me a rueful smile. He pointed to the book. “You might want to read this one when I finish,” he said. “It’s pretty good.”

I looked at the cover. “Stephen King? I’m down.”

He didn’t tell me I was too young for it. Some of the parents here do that, but that’s not Dad’s style. His style is, “If there’s something you don’t understand, come and find me and I’ll try to explain it.” Emphasis on try—even Dads don’t know everything.

I like it when I like my Dad. Today I’m feeling really good about him, and I appreciate that.

Some days, I am irrationally angry with him, even after all the time that has passed since Mamma died. I don’t know why I’m so awful; I just am.

But not today.

“I still have the photo album,” I told him. “We really like looking at the pictures.”

“You’re welcome to keep it with your things,” he told me. He smiled rather shyly. “I’ve been looking for a picture frame out there,” he admitted. “There’s a photo of us I’d like to hang on the wall…”

“Oh, Dad, I bet I know the one!”

“I bet you do, too.”

“I’ll keep my eyes open when we go out,” I promised. Surely a picture frame could be found somewhere.

“Thanks.”

“Anyway, I wanted to ask if I could look through the other boxes sometime. The ones I didn’t look in once I found what I was looking for the other day.”

“Of course, you can. Do you know what you’re looking for this time?”

“Not even a clue,” I admitted. “I just…it just makes me feel good, looking. And we really needed these,” I added, gesturing to the combs I’d woven into my unruly curls. I’d found a lot of hair accessories the last time I’d gotten into the boxes, and Dad had turned those over to us, admitting that he’d barely looked at Mamma’s things.

“That looks very nice.”

“Thanks!”

Stub was starting to squirm, and Daddy stood up and took him from me. “Someone needs a trip outside, I think,” he said. “Have fun, Penny. And—”

“Please put things away when you’re done,” I finished. We both chuckled, and Dad hurried away with his new little buddy.

Alone, I surveyed the stack of boxes in the corner. The last time I’d been looking for a locket, I quit going through things when I found it in the third box.

This time, I was just…looking.

Well.

I did have some hopes of finding other photographs since Mae and Dawn had really enjoyed the wedding album.

I moved the first two boxes aside. The third we had pretty much emptied, adding to our hair-care stash. I had put Mamma’s jewelry box on Daddy’s nightstand. It looked nice there, and he hadn’t objected or moved it. I regarded the empty wall space above it and made a mental note to tell anyone going out to salvage to keep an eye open for picture frames.

The next box in line yielded nothing of use. Old tax forms, medical records, immunization records, and all our birth certificates and social security cards were in a metal file box. Just seeing that sort of thing made me realize how much hope my mother had had that the future would hold some normalcy.

It was sort of depressing. I took my old marker out of my pocket and wrote “Old World Paperwork” on the box. Nothing meant anything anymore, really, but I would leave any decision making up to Daddy.

A little curious, I did examine all the birth certificates. I suppose it can’t hurt anything to know how old we are. Mae likes knowing what time it is, and what the date is, so I knew this would be something she’d be interested in.

Time goes by—this I know; and beyond that, I’m not all that fussed about whether it’s Tuesday or Saturday. Maybe someday it will matter to me, but not now. Let Mae be the timekeeper.

The next box was more to my liking. It was actually a very large-sized Rubbermaid storage chest, and inside there were stacks of photo albums, loose photographs, and—oh, wow! Our baby books!

I was surprised to see those and more surprised to discover that there were also baby books for Mamma and Daddy. She must have been saving those for years, and it made me wonder about my paternal grandparents. They were both gone before I was even born.

I decided it wouldn’t be fair for me to look through all this alone. We should look as a family. But when I was putting the books back, I discovered a stack of letters at the bottom of the box. I lifted them out, replaced the books, and went to sit on the bed.

Without consideration, I opened the first letter.

“My Love,

“From the first day I met you, my heart no longer resided inside my own body. You carry it with you now, and I can only hope you keep it guarded closely next to your own.”

Oh. I should stop reading, I thought.

I didn’t.

There followed a bit more mushy stuff, and then this curious phrase: “I now believe I should go bald. It is getting hot.”

My Daddy? Bald? What did that mean?

Next, he wrote, “My C.O. has promised I will be home in plenty of time to greet our newest miracle.”

(So this was before Dawn was born!)

“I cannot wait to see you all and hold you in my arms again.

“Kiss my Copper and Belle.”

(That would be me and Mae. He called us Copper Penny and Mae Belle. Pet names; it’s a Dad thing.)

I shook my head as I searched through the stack of letters, slipping first one and then another in and out of the twine-tied bundle. I made up my mind not to read any more—they were private love letters, after all.

Then I saw the envelope marked “To My Copper Penny.”

Well. It’s addressed to me! I can certainly read this one.

Suddenly, a huge lump rose in my throat, and I was nearly overcome with tears. I blinked them back and chided myself for being silly.

I just didn’t remember ever getting a letter from my father.

“Hello, my good-luck Penny!

“Even though I’m pretty sure you are a genius, your Mamma tells me you haven’t learned to read yet. I guess we will have to let her help you read this, and trust that she won’t let it go to her head when I tell you, in secret, that I think your mother is beautiful.

“I am writing today to thank you for the beautiful picture you drew for me. I have hung it on my wall, and everyone here agrees it is the best piece of artwork in this whole place. I sent you a picture!”

I looked inside the envelope, and sure enough, there was a photograph of Daddy, showing off what was a childish—but recognizable—rendition of a barn owl. His smile was huge and proud. Hot tears streamed down my face. I couldn’t have stopped them if I’d tried.

“I am so proud of you, Penny, for being such a good helper for Mamma and such a great big sister to Mae. And the new baby will be blessed with you, too. I want you to know that I worry less about everyone, knowing you are there. You have a great heart. I hope no one ever breaks it.

“I love you very much.

“Daddy.”

I remembered the drawing. For a little while, when I was really little, I was enamored with the messenger owls in the old Harry Potter movies Mamma had collected. When we got our mail, I would ask where the owls were. So, when Mamma said she was sending a letter to Daddy, of course I had to send an owl.

Of course! Mail should come with owls.

Memories are hard; even the good ones are hard.

I put the letter and the photo back into the envelope and tucked it into the front of my shirt. I was sure no one would mind if I kept my own letter.

I brushed tears away and then I returned the rest of the letters to their original place, underneath the baby books. I pushed the container over to sit next to the doorway until Daddy came back.

The rest of the boxes could wait until the next time I felt up to looking. There weren’t many left.

I heard Daddy coming. He was whistling some unfamiliar tune. “Hey, Lucky Penny!” he said. “Find anything good?”

“Lots of pictures. And baby books!”

“Really?” Daddy sighed. “I suppose I should have opened those boxes before now, but…well, I just…”

“I know, Daddy. But I want to look at all the pictures. Can we do it all together? Just the family?”

“Absolutely.” He reached to pat my head. Hesitated, because he never could tell with me; I can be kind of mean.

I hugged him. He hugged me back, and I could feel the love he has. The love he always has, even when I am being mean.

“Do you want Grandma and Gramps, too?”

“Not yet. Just you and me, and Mae Belle and Light of Dawn.”

I was still clinging to him and felt him chuckle. “You have a weird Daddy, don’t you?”

“Just a little weird,” I agreed.

Stub wiggled over to us, lifted a little leg, and peed on Dad’s foot.

So much for a serious moment—we didn’t stop laughing for a while after that.

I do need to ask him about going bald, though. That was a weird phrase…

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is divider-2.png

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

D. A. Ratliff: Tied With Twine

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

Please note: the images are free-use images and do not require attribution. Image by Margarita Kochneva from Pixabay.

A Detective Elija Boone Mystery

Tied With Twine 

D. A. Ratliff


Louisa DeLong wrapped her arms around her, pulling her sweater tighter against her slender body. Mist floated in the air, obscuring the trees as she made her way along the Bayou Lafourche in the early morning hours. The note clutched in her hand instructed her to meet him south of Lockport on LA-1 and park behind his truck. He would wait for her along the banks of the bayou.

She spotted his black truck, parked, and hurried across the road to the water’s edge. Shivering, she carefully picked her way through the underbrush and the gnarly roots covering the bank. Not seeing him, Louisa whispered his name. A twig broke behind her, but before she could turn around, arms swept over her head, hands holding a belt, and the thick, hard strap dug into her throat.

Instinct kicked in, and Louisa screamed, but her effort only resulted in a garbled groan. She attempted to tug at the belt digging into her flesh but couldn’t slip her fingers underneath. Her knees buckled, but pressure from the strap that pinned her against her assailant kept her from collapsing. A coppery taste filled her mouth, and the pain became unbearable as the belt sank into her throat. Her lungs struggled for air but lost the battle. As the world around her faded to blackness, her last thought was why.

~~~

“What the….” 

It took me a second to realize the ringing in my ear was my phone. I grabbed the offending device and might have answered gruffer than I should have.

“Don’t take my head off.” The aggravated voice of my partner, Hank Guidry, was gruff too.

“Sorry, didn’t sleep well. What’s up?”

“Captain got a call from the sheriff in Lafourche Parrish. They’re dredging the bayou there and found remains. Looks to be Louisa DeLong.”

I bolted upright. “You sure?”

“I’m not, but the captain is—said to get our butts down to Lafourche Parrish now.”

“You at the station?”

“Yeah.”

“Be out front in fifteen.”

I took the quickest shower I could, dressed, and left to pick up Guidry. If the remains were Louisa’s, maybe I could bring closure to a family I had become close to in the last seven years. Time I, Detective Elijah Boone, got a break.

~~~

We swung around to a fast-food joint for coffee and cardboard sandwiches. In a city known for its cuisine, having it ‘your way’ should mean, did you want shrimp or chicken etouffee, not dried out buns and flavorless meat. But I was hungry, and cops gotta eat when and where we can.

Hank offered me some of his fries, and I grabbed a couple. “Tell me what the sheriff said.”

“The state’s dredging the bayou after some barges got stuck and some areas flooded on high tide. This morning, just after daybreak, a backhoe was digging out along a bank. Operator pulled the bucket up, finding a chain dangling from a tooth. When the operator lifted the bucket higher, he saw a partial skeleton attached to the chain. Got divers in the water to recover the rest of the remains if they can.”

“What makes them think it’s Louisa?”

“Hand recovered had a ring still on a finger. Sheriff ran the description through the database, and the ring came back identified to the DeLong open case.”

My heart skipped a beat. “Sapphire and diamond ring?”

“Yeah.”

“I guess it’s her.”

Hank shifted in his seat. We weren’t partners when Louisa had gone missing seven years ago. My partner then was Allen Marco who had a fatal heart attack two weeks after Louisa went missing. He’d vowed to keep working to find her, and I suspected Hank knew this case was special to me.

“I know you worked on the case. LaSalle said it was a tough one.”

“Yeah. Louisa was a pretty girl. Sophomore at Tulane. Roommate Jenna Srathworth woke up about four a.m. on the morning she disappeared. Jenna asked her where she was going, but Louisa told her not to worry. She would be back soon.” I shut up for a second to get my voice under control. “No one saw her again.”

“No suspects?”

“None. Jenna said she knew Louisa was seeing someone but had no idea who. Louisa wouldn’t tell her.”

“Your partner, Marco, he died a couple of weeks later?”

I gripped the steering wheel. Losing Al still hurt. “Yeah, heart attack. Told him to stop smoking, but he just puffed away.” I remember his funeral. Al’s widow and two kids stood beside me in a Metairie cemetery as we watched his casket lowered into the ground. I shook it off.

“I was shocked at Al’s funeral to see Louisa’s parents, brother, and sister show up.”

“They came to Marco’s funeral?”

I nodded. “Good people. Felt we were trying to find their daughter and seemed genuinely sorry Al died. Stayed pretty close to them since then.”

Hank’s phone rang. It was forensics about another case we were currently investigating. After he ended the call, we talked about that case until we got to Lockport. The only directions I had was to keep on LA-1 past the shipyards until I spotted cruisers.

We fell silent as we got closer. Hank knew me pretty well, and I guess he could tell how the discovery of Louisa’s remains had affected me. A line of traffic cones slowed us down as only one lane was open. We stopped briefly as a flagger held us up. A lone commercial truck passed, and the flagger motioned us through.

We drove a short distance until we spotted several cruisers, blue lights flashing, parked on the right side of the road. Several officers were standing across the road on the narrow strip of land along the water.

It was July, and the second I opened the car door, the heavy humidity washed over me. I felt like I’d had a shower. I took off my suit jacket and noticed Hank did the same. The one thing we couldn’t get away from was the briny, fishy stench in the air. And I thought decomposed bodies smelled bad.

Sheriff Carlton Thibodeaux noticed us and waved us across the road. I’d met Thibodeaux before when his deputies caught a fugitive wanted by the NOLA police.

“Detective Boone, good to see you.”

“Good to see you, Sheriff. My partner, Hank Guidry.”

Thibodeaux nodded. “So it seems this gal’s the one who went missing a few years ago.”

“It appears that way. You got the ring here?”

“No, sent it back to the station with a deputy so we could run the photo through the database. I was surprised when we got a match.”

“So was I. Can I see the remains?”

“Yeah, sure, what there is.”

We climbed onto the berm that served as a flood barrier. A large barge dredging the main channel sat in front of the shipyard. A large backhoe, its bucket raised, brought in to dredge the bank, sat perched on the narrow strip of land on the roadside. Hence the need to close one lane of LA-1. A salvage diving team that assisted the county in water rescue continued to search for additional remains.

Thibodeaux motioned us a few feet south of the backhoe, where a plastic sheet lay on the ground, a chain, and part of a skeleton lying on the sheet. I hoped no one noticed the impact seeing the remains of a young girl with her life ahead of her, now nothing but bones had on me. I crouched down as if getting closer to the remains was going to make me feel better. It didn’t.

A splash of water interrupted my self-pity party, and I looked around to see a diver coming out of the water. I couldn’t say much. He was holding a skull. The ME onsite took the skull and gently laid it on the sheet. I stood up—that was too close.

The diver, partially out of the water, held up an object. “Found the skull wedged beneath a rock, and this,” he held a belt, “was caught in the broken part of the skull.” The diver took a breath. “Looks like someone chained the body to five big concrete blocks.”

The deputy placed the waterlogged leather belt onto the plastic sheet. Attached to one end was an ornate buckle that appeared made of solid gold. I slipped on gloves and knelt again, this time carefully picking up the buckle decorated with an embossed wolf face.

 “Carl, need to keep this belt in water until the techs can look at it. Got anything we can put It in?”

One of his deputies spoke up. “Got a cooler in the back of my cruiser. I’ll get it.”

While the deputy went for the cooler, I asked the divemaster the odds of finding more remains.

“Not good, Detective. The current’s strong on the tide, even this far inland. The backhoe snagged the arm and collarbone. We found the ribcage and part of the spine on the first dive. It looks like the body got wedged in the submerged roots, then covered with silt. Backhoe stirred everything up. It’s murky under the surface, and my guess is we won’t find any more remains. We’ll continue to look for a while anyway.”

“Thanks. Appreciate it.” I stared at the shipyards across the bayou. Louisa was thrown in the water here, and no one saw. The thought made me sick to my stomach.

After the belt was secured in the cooler with bayou water in it and logged in as evidence, we took it and headed to the station to pick up the ring. We established chain of custody and jurisdictional rights with the sheriff, transferring all evidence to our case. Hank and I returned to New Orleans. It was three o’clock in the afternoon, and I needed to speak to the DeLongs after talking to Captain Ferguson.

After logging the ring and the belt into evidence at the crime lab, Hank and I went to see the captain. I think Fergusons might feel like I did. Even though we suspected Louisa was dead, no one wanted to believe it.

I had the ring with me. Ferguson held the plastic evidence bag in his hand, staring at it. “You sure this is her ring?”

I pulled a photo from my wallet. “Lisa DeLong gave me this picture of Louisa from her high school graduation.” I handed it to him. The photo showed Louisa in her cap and gown, proudly displaying her late grandmother’s ring that her parents gave her for graduation. The captain handed the photo and the ring back to me.

“Time to tell them, Boone.”

~~~

I called ahead. When I arrived, I realized Lisa must have heard the emotion in my voice when I told her I had something to discuss with them. Several cars were in the drive and parked along the street in the quiet, upscale neighborhood they lived in along Lake Pontchartrain.

I pushed the doorbell, and Geoffrey DeLong opened the door. His eyes reflected what was in mine. He knew why I had come.

“Eli, come in.” Before we reached the den, he stopped. “Just tell us.”

Lisa and their other two children were in the den. Lisa ran to me, hugging me tightly. “We’ll be okay.”

I had talked to them, texted with them but hadn’t seen the family in nearly a year. Son Duncan had graduated from law school, and daughter Marissa was a senior at Tulane. The entire family stared at me. I had to say the words.

“This morning, I got a call about remains found during a dredging operation on Bayou Lafourche. We had reason to believe the remains were Louisa’s. My partner Hank Guidry and I drove down there.”

“It was her.” Lisa’s voice was solid, steady.

“We don’t have an identification yet, but we recovered a ring.” I reached in my pocket. My hands were shaking, and I took a minute to get a grip on my emotions. I pulled out the evidence pouch. Geoffrey took it from me.

This time Lisa’s voice betrayed her. “Geoff, tell me. Is that Mom’s ring?”

He nodded, and Lisa reached for him. I gave them a moment as Duncan and Marissa joined their parents. True to the strength of this family, they regained composure quickly.

Duncan spoke first, ever the new lawyer. “Eli, what do you know?”

“Not much. We recovered partial remains, but we can check dental records, which the ME will do soon. I’ve had the remains brought from Lafourche Parrish here for our forensics unit to examine. Other than the remains, we only discovered the ring and a man’s belt with a gold buckle and the image of a wolf embossed on it.”

“Do you think it belongs to whoever murdered her?”

“I don’t know, but we are certain someone murdered her.”

“How are you certain?”

“Her remains were attached to a chain and weighted down by several cement blocks.”

Lisa grabbed her son’s hand and looked toward me. “Eli, you’ve brought us closure. We know where she is. If you find her killer, we’d be glad. But know that we are grateful that you brought her home to us.”

 ~~~

Two days passed, and we had confirmation from her dental records that the remains were Louisa. I didn’t know if I should be relieved we found her or furious that her killer was out there somewhere going about his life. I decided to be both.

I sat at my desk, looking through Louisa’s case file as I had countless times. I slipped out the packet of notes tied with twine found among her things. Her roommate was sure she was seeing someone, but we hadn’t found any clues as to who. The notes were signed with the initials WL, but a search for anyone with that name never panned out. I know because I was still trying to find him.

I’d read and reread the notes so often they were worn. Just typical ‘I love you and as soon as I am free’ rhetoric. Ten to one, the guy was married and having his way with a young college student. Bastard needed to be taken down for that alone, but if he killed her—well—I didn’t want to admit what I wanted to do to him.

I was putting the file away when the desk sergeant called to say I had a visitor. I was surprised when I saw Jenna Srathworth entering the squad room.

“Jenna, good to see you. I take it you’ve heard.”

“Yes. I’ve remained close with the family, especially Marissa, but Lisa called me, which is why I’m here. Lisa said there was a gold belt buckle found with her… uh… body that had a wolf head on it.”

“Yes. Do you know something about it?”

“I’m not sure. You know we lived on Magazine, and I’d gone to the nearby drug store. When I came out, I saw her across the street. She met an older man who hugged her, and they walked around the corner. I’d forgotten all about this until Lisa mentioned the gold buckle. I remember he was wearing a belt that glinted in the sun. I asked her later, and she said it was a family friend. I’m sorry, just never thought about this.”

My heartbeat increased. At last, a small clue we hadn’t had before, but a long shot after so long.

“Do you think you could give us a description of this man, maybe help with a sketch?”

“I didn’t see him well, and it’s been a while, but I can try.”

~~~

A week had passed. The dive team found no additional remains, and we had nothing but a possible sketch of a mysterious man and a gold belt buckle. Doubt that we would discover Louisa’s killer fleetingly entered my mind, but I beat it back with a stick. I would find the bastard.

My stomach rumbled, and I decided my partner and I needed food. I grabbed my coat and told Hank to come with me. Time for some home cooking at Mama Leone’s.

It had been eight months since the shooting at the restaurant, and I had no qualms about admitting I felt a bit of deja vu when I enter the place. I dealt with it by never sitting with my back to the door.

Mama Leone spotted us and showed us to a table, brought us a bottle of wine, took our orders, then disappeared into the kitchen. Tom waved to us from the kitchen pass-through, and Uncle Matteo was engrossed in conversation with a guest. The world felt right to me here. This was my neighborhood and my friends.

Hank poured the wine. “This is a great place, and they like you.” He snickered. “No accounting for taste.”

I glowered at Hank, but he was right. For whatever reason, they did like me. We tap-danced around the real issue in front of us until Hank brought it up.

“You figured out what happened when those guys shot up this place. You’ll figure this out.”

“We need a break. We searched the databases for any mention of the gold buckle and checked with jewelry stores, leather shops. Nothing.”

Hank nodded. “Nothing on the sketch either.”

I stared at the photo of the buckle on my phone. Someone must have seen it before. I laid the phone down as Winona, one of the servers, brought our meals. I was about to say the Pomodoro smelled delicious when she pointed to my phone.

“Eli, I’ve seen that before.”

“Where?”

“On a buckle. Guy comes in here now and then.”

“Any idea who he is?”

“No, but Matteo might. I’ll get him.”

Matteo knew from the look on my face that it wasn’t time for niceties. “You looking for the man with the gaudy belt buckle?”

“Yes.” I showed him the buckle and the sketch. Matteo bit his lip.

“I know this man. He must be fifty, but always bringing in a young girl. Gives me the creeps.”

“Know his name?”

“Connor Chauvin. Runs a video production company three blocks from here.”

 ~~~

We picked the bastard up two hours later at his studio. He wore a wolf head solid gold belt buckle. No surprise that his video production company was making pornographic videos.

It took three hours to get a confession, but he knew the belt buckle convicted him. He admitted to luring Louisa to the bayou, strangling her with his belt and dropping her in the water tied to concrete blocks. He seemed upset he lost his belt in the process. Chauvin drove Louisa’s car to Dufrene Pond, where he owned a fish camp that he used for videos, hid the car in the garage, and rode his scooter back to his truck.

Why did he kill her? He said he loved luring young college girls into posing nude and making porn. I’ll never forget his words. “Louisa refused to play, and I knew she’d turn me in. Foolish bitch thought she loved me. Promised her I’d quit making porn. She knew about the cabin, so I told her to meet me, and we’d talk. Couldn’t let her ruin my good thing, so she had to die.”

I asked one last question. Why the wolf head on the buckle? Chauvin scoffed. “My name, Connor, means wolf lover.”

Wolf Lover. WL—the initials on the notes tied with twine. The notes he used to make her believe he loved her.

As the sun rose, I left the station. Time to tell the DeLong family we had justice for Louisa. 

————–

If you enjoyed this Detective Elijah Boone story, please check out this story in the series.

The Neighborhood

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